Rainbow's End by Rex Ellingwood Beach
XI. The Hand of the Captain-General
On the stroke of midnight O'Reilly was arrested. After a thorough search of his person and his premises he was escorted to Government headquarters, where he found Leslie Branch.
The invalid looked taller, thinner, more bloodless than ever, and his air of settled gloom admirably became the situation.
"Hello, Earl. What luck?" Johnnie flashed at him.
An officer sharply commanded them to be silent.
There ensued a long delay, introduced, perhaps, for its effect upon the prisoners; then they were led into a large room where, it seemed, the entire staff of the Spanish garrison was waiting. It was an imposing collection of uniforms, a row of grim faces and hostile eyes, which the two Americans beheld. Spread out upon a table in front of the officers were the personal belongings of both men.
The prisoners were ordered to stand side by side, facing their accusers. Then each in turn was subjected to a rigorous examination. Owing to his acquaintance with Spanish, O'Reilly was able to defend himself without the aid of an interpreter. He began by asserting that he had come to Cuba for his health, and declared that he had endeavored at all times since his arrival to conduct himself in strict conformity with local regulations. If in any way he had offended, he had not done so intentionally, He denied having the remotest connection with the rebels, and demanded an explanation of his arrest.
But his plausible words did not in the least affect his hearers. General Antuna, the comandante, a square-faced man with the airs of a courtier, but with the bold, hard eyes of a fighter, leaned forward, saying:
"So you suffer from ill health, senor?"
"I do, severely. Rheumatism."
The general nodded. "Three days ago you were overtaken by a rain- storm while walking through the city."
"When the rain had passed, you returned to your hotel. At the junction of San Rafael and Estrella streets a pool of water had gathered and you leaped it. Am I right?"
General Antuna consulted a report before him. "That pool measured six feet four inches in width. Do you ask me to believe that a person suffering from rheumatism could do that?"
Leslie Branch shifted his weight and wet his lips, but O'Reilly only shrugged impatiently. "My dear General," said he, "did you never experience a neuralgia? Well then, was the pain continuous? In this climate my affliction troubles me very little. That is why I remain here."
From among the articles in front of him the general selected a solitary 44-caliber revolver cartridge and, holding it up, said:
"What do you say to this?"
"I don't know what to say. Where did it come from?"
"It was found in the cloth pocket of your valise."
O'Reilly frowned; then a light of understanding irradiated his frank countenance. "It must have lain there ever since I left Matanzas, three months ago."
"Ha! Matanzas!" fiercely ejaculated a colonel. "What were you doing in Matanzas?"
It was unnecessary to prevaricate now. Johnnie told of his earlier connection with the Carter Importing Company, gave names, dates, and facts to bear out his statements, and challenged his accusers to verify them.
Undoubtedly some of his hearers were impressed, but they were by no means convinced of the innocence of his present purpose, and, in fact, the ferocious colonel seemed to regard past residence in Cuba as proof conclusive of a present connection with the rebels. Johnnie gathered that he was suspected of being one of those American engineers who were reported to have been engaged to instruct the enemy in the use of explosives: his inquisitors did their best to wring such an admission from him or to entrap him into the use of some technical phrase, some slip of the tongue which would verify their suspicions. They even examined his hands with minutest care, as if to find some telltale callous or chemical discoloration which would convict him. Then finally, to give him the lie absolute, the aggressive colonel seized a nickel- plated atomizer from the table and brandished it triumphantly before the young men's eyes.
"Enough of this pretense!" he cried. "What is this instrument, eh?"
"It is evidently an atomizer, a nasal syringe. I never saw it before."
"It's mine," said Leslie Branch; but the colonel did not heed the interruption.
"Ha! And pray explain its use."
Johnnie undertook to do so, but it was plain that his words carried no conviction, for his mocking inquisitor gave a loud snort and gestured eloquently to his commander. "There you have it!" he declared, proudly. "This impostor betrays himself."
The other officers were eying the unfamiliar article curiously; one of them ventured gingerly to handle it; they exchanged whispers.
"What do you call it?" the general inquired, leaning forward.
This was the colonel's moment. "I will tell you!" he said, with a sneer at O'Reilly. "I am something of a genius at mechanical inventions, and therefore I am not for a moment deceived by this fellow's common lies. This"--he paused dramatically and held his brother officers with a burning glance--"this instrument, in my opinion, was devised for the purpose of injecting fulminate of mercury into dynamite."
There was a breathless hush. The Spaniards stared at the little syringe with amazement.
"And how does it operate?" queried one.
"It is one of those ingenious Yankee contrivances. I have never seen one quite like it, but my intelligence makes its principle plain. Evidently one inserts the tube into the dynamite, so, and presses the bulb---"
There came a loud cry from General Antuna, who had bent closer; he clapped his hands to his face and staggered from his chair, for in suiting his action to his words the colonel had squeezed the bulb, with the result that a spray of salt water had squirted fairly into his superior officer's interested and attentive countenance.
"My eyes! Dios mio! I am blinded for life!" shouted the unhappy general, and his subordinates looked on, frozen with consternation.
The author of this calamity blanched; he was stricken dumb with horror.
Some one cried: "A doctor, quickly. Jesus Cristo! Such carelessness!"
"This is terrible!" another stammered. "It will explode next."
There was a concerted scramble away from the table.
Leslie Branch laughed--it was the first time that O'Reilly had ever heard him give audible evidence of amusement. His reedy frame was shaken as by a painful spasm; his colorless face was distorted, and from his lips issued queer, hysterical barks and chortles. "Tell 'em it's nothing but brine," he said, chokingly.
When this welcome intelligence had been translated, and when the general had proved it to be true, there was a great sigh of relief, followed by a subdued titter at the colonel's expense. The latter was chagrined. Having made himself and the comandante ridiculous, he took refuge behind an assumption of somber and offended dignity. But it was plain that he still considered these Americans dangerous people, and that his suspicions were as keen as ever.
The interruption served to end O'Reilly's ordeal, for the moment at least, and attention was now turned to his companion. It was evident from the first that Branch's case was hopeless. He readily acknowledged himself to be a newspaper writer, and admitted having sent articles for publication through the mails. This was quite enough; from the attitude of the military men it promised to go hard with him. But he sprung a surprise by boldly proclaiming himself an English citizen and warning his captors not to treat him with the contempt or with the severity they reserved for Americans. Curiously his words had an effect. Judgment for the moment was suspended, and the two prisoners were led away, after which another delay ensued.
At last O'Reilly was recalled; but when he re-entered the big room he found General Antuna awaiting him, alone.
"Permit me to apologize for the inconvenience we have put you to," the comandante began.
"Then am I free?"
"I thank you."
The general's hard eyes gleamed. "Personally I at no time put faith in the idea that you are a powder expert," said he. "No. I had my own suspicions and I regret to say this inquiry has not in the least served to lessen them."
"Indeed? May I ask of what you suspect me?" Johnnie was genuinely interested.
The general spoke with force and gravity: "Mr. O'Reilly, I believe you to be a far greater menace to the interests of my country than--well, than a score of dynamite experts. I believe you are a writer."
The American smiled. "Are writers such dangerous people?"
"That altogether depends upon circumstances. The United States is inclined to recognize the belligerency of these Cuban rebels, and her relations with Spain are becoming daily more strained; ill- feeling grows, and all because of the exaggerations, the mendacities, that have gone forth from here to your newspapers. We are determined to put down this uprising in our own way; we will tolerate no foreign interference. War is never a pleasant thing, but you journalists have magnified its horrors and misrepresented the cause of Spain until you, threaten to bring on another and a more horrible combat. Now then, you understand what I mean when I say that you are more dangerous than a powder expert; that your pen can do more injury, can cause the death of more Spanish troops than could a regiment of Americans with dynamite. Your English friend makes no secret of his business, so we shall escort him to Neuvitas and see him safely out of the country, once for all."
"And yet you permit me to remain?" Johnnie was surprised.
"For the present, yes! That is my official message to you. Privately, however"--the speaker eyed O'Reilly with a disconcerting expression--"I would like to warn you. You are a bright fellow, and you have a way with you--there's no denying it. Under other conditions it would be a pleasure to know you better. It grieves me, therefore, to warn you that your further stay in Cuba will not be--pleasant. I almost regret that there is no conclusive evidence against you; it would so simplify matters. Come now, hadn't you better acknowledge that I have guessed your secret?"
O'Reilly's perplexity was, changing to dismay, for it seemed to him he was being played with; nevertheless, he shook his head. "I would only be deceiving you, sir," he said.
General Antuna sighed. "Then I see embarrassments ahead for both of us."
"Not necessarily. Understand me, I speak as one gentleman to another, but--you must have noticed that Americans are unpopular with our troops. Eh? They are impulsive, these troopers; accidents cannot be prevented. Suppose something should happen to you? There is the trouble. You came to Cuba to enjoy its climate; you cannot be expected to remain indoors. Of course not. Well! Among our soldiers are many new recruits, patriotic, enthusiastic young fellows, but--careless. They are wretchedly unproficient marksmen, and they haven't learned the dangers of promiscuous rifle fire. They are forever shooting at things, merely to score a hit. Would you believe it? Oh, I have to discipline them frequently. To think of you going abroad through the streets, therefore, worries me intensely."
"Your solicitude is touching." O'Reilly bowed mockingly; but disregarding his tone, General Antuna proceeded in the same false key:
"Suppose you should be found dead some day. Imagine my feelings." The speaker's tone and expression were eloquent of concern. "How could I fix the responsibility?"
"By having me followed, as usual, I dare say," O'Reilly said, bitterly.
"Oh, you will of course be shadowed day and night; in fact, to be quite sure of your--er--safety I shall ask you to permit one of my men to accompany you everywhere and even to share your room. We shall try never to lose sight of you, depend upon it. But these detectives are careless fellows at best; I don't trust them. Of course such precautions would exonerate me from all blame and relieve my Government from any responsibility for injury to you, but, nevertheless, it would tend to complicate relations already strained. You see I am quite honest with you." The general allowed time for his words to sink in; then he sighed once more. "I wish you could find another climate equally beneficial to your rheumatism. It would lift a great load from my mind. I could offer you the hospitality of an escort to Neuvitas, and your friend Mr. Branch is such good company he would so shorten your trip to New York!" The speaker paused hopefully; that same sardonic flicker was on his lips.
Johnme could not summon an answering smile, for his heart was like lead. He realized now the utter futility of resistance; he knew that to remain in Puerto Principe after this thinly veiled warning would be to court destruction--and destruction of a shocking character against which it would be impossible to guard. Even an espionage stricter than that to which he had been subjected would utterly defeat his plans. After a moment of thought he said, gravely:
"I appreciate the delicacy of your consideration, sir, and--I shall go."
General Antuna leaped to his feet, his grim face alight; striding to O'Reilly, he pressed his hands--he seemed upon the point of embracing him. "I thank you!" he cried. "You render me a supreme service. See, I breathe easy. Permit me to offer you refreshment-- one of our famous Spanish wines. No? Then the best cigar in all Cuba!"
His expressions of gratitude were fulsome; he swore that O'Reilly had done him the greatest favor of his life, but his words were like poison to his hearer.
"You embarrass me," O'Reilly told him, endeavoring to carry off his defeat with some show of grace. In his bitterness he could not refrain from adding, "If my accursed affliction returns, perhaps we shall meet again before long, either here or elsewhere."
"Oh, I have little hope for such a pleasure," the general quickly replied. "But if we do meet, remember we Spaniards have a cure for rheumatism. It is unpleasant, but efficacious. A little, nickel- plated pill, that is all." General Antuna's teeth shone for an instant. "There is another remedy, not quite so immediate in its effect, but a good one. I have tried it and found it excellent. Drink plenty of cocoanut-water! That is the Cuban remedy; the other I call the Spanish cure. Cocoanuts are splendid. I shall see that a crate of the choicest fruit is placed aboard your steamer. Accept them with my compliments, and when you partake of them think of me."
O'Reilly did think of General Antuna, not only when he was escorted to the railway station at daylight, but when he and Branch took their seats and their guards filed in behind them. He assured himself moodily that he would not cease to think of that sardonic old joker for a long time to come. He cursed savagely; the memory of these wasted weeks, the narrow margin of his failure, filled him with a sick feeling of dismay and impotence. His mind quailed at the consequence of this new delay. Where was Rosa now? How and when would he return? With difficulty he resisted the impulse to fling himself from the moving train; but he composed himself by the thought that Cuba was not fenced about with bayonets. He would come back.
Leslie Branch broke in upon his gloomy preoccupation by asking, "How much money have you?"
"Less than ten dollars."
"You're rich. My landlady cleaned me. Is it the practice of beneficent monarchies to provide transportation for their departing guests?"
Branch coughed dismally. "It 'll be all right if they just buy me a ticket to the first fog. One more hemorrhage and I'll wing my way aloft. God! I'd hate to be buried at sea."
"Cheer up!" O'Reilly reassured him, irritably. "There may be ice aboard."
"Ice!" Leslie gasped. "Oh, bullets!"
In marked contrast to the difficulties of entering Cuba was the ease of leaving it. A ship was sailing from Neuvitas on the very afternoon when the two Americans arrived, and they were hurried aboard. Not until the anchor was up did their military escort depart from them.
With angry, brooding eyes O'Reilly watched the white houses along the water-front dwindle away, the mangrove swamps slip past, and the hills rise out of their purple haze. When the salt breath of the trades came to his nostrils he turned into his state-room, and, taking the crate of cocoanuts with which General Antuna had thoughtfully provided him, he bore it to the rail and dropped it overboard.
"Rheumatism was a fool disease, anyhow," he muttered.
"Great news!" Esteban Varona announced one day as he dismounted after a foraging trip into the Yumuri, "We met some of Lacret's men and they told us that Spain has recalled Captain-General Campos. He acknowledges himself powerless to stem the flood of Cuban revolution. What do you say to that?"
"Does that mean the end of the war?" Rosa eagerly inquired.
"Oh no. They have sent a new man--he's in Havana now--a dark little, old fellow who never smiles. He has a long nose and a big chin; he dresses all in black--a very 'jew-bird' in appearance, from what I hear. His name is Weyler--Valeriano Weyler, Marquis of Teneriffe." Esteban laughed tolerantly, for as yet the name of Weyler meant nothing to him.
"No wonder we knew nothing about it," said the girl. "We hide like animals and we see no one for weeks at a time. I sometimes wonder how O'Reilly will manage to find us."
"Oh, he'll manage it somehow," Esteban declared, cheerfully. Then he ran an approving eye over the new bohio and the new garden plot which Evangelina had courageously begun. "We're not so badly fixed, are we? At least Colonel Cobo won't find us so readily this time."
"Cobo!" shuddered the girl. "I dream about him."
Esteban scowled. "I've seen him at a distance several times, but he takes pains to guard himself well when he comes into the Yumuri. They say he's trying to destroy the whole valley."
"He will never forget."
Esteban covertly appraised his sister's charms, but respecting her terror of Cobo he did not speak his thoughts. He was certain, however, that Rosa knew, as well as he, what motive lay behind the fellow's tireless persecutions of the valley dwellers; for in spite of their isolation stories of Cobo had reached the refugees- -stories that had rendered both the boy and the girl sick with apprehension. The colonel, it seemed, had nearly died of his machete wound, and on recovering he had sworn to exterminate the wasps that had stung him. He had sworn other oaths, too, oaths that robbed Esteban of his sleep.
Esteban idolized his sister; her loyalty to him was the most precious thing of his life, Therefore, the thought of that swarthy ruffian hunting her down as a hound hangs to the trail of a doe awoke in him a terrible anger. Second only to his hatred for the guerrilla chief was his bitterness against the traitor, Pancho Cueto, who had capped his villainy by setting this new peril upon them; and since Rosa's safety and his own honor called for the death of both men, he had sworn that somehow he would effect it. It was, of course, a difficult matter to get at the Colonel of Volunteers, but Cueto still lived in the midst of his blackened fields, and it was against him that the boy was now planning to launch his first blow.
The mention of Cobo's name had momentarily distracted Esteban's thoughts. Now he collected them and said:
"Wait! I am forgetting something. See what Lacret's men handed me; they are posted from one end of the island to the other." He displayed a printed bando, or proclamation, signed by the new captain-general, and read as follows:
It was that inhuman order of concentration, the result of which proved to be without parallel in military history--an order which gave its savage author the name of being the arch-fiend of a nation reputed peculiarly cruel. Neither Esteban nor Rosa, however, grasped the full significance of the proclamation; no one could have done so. No eye could have foreseen the merciless butchery of non-combatants, the starvation and death by disease of hordes of helpless men, women, and children herded into the cities. Four hundred thousand Cubans driven from their homes into shelterless prison camps; more than two hundred thousand dead from hunger and disease; a fruitful land laid bare of all that could serve as food, and changed to an ash-gray desolation; gaunt famine from Oriente to Pinar del Rio--that was the sequel to those printed words of "Weyler the Butcher" which Esteban read.
"Eight days! When is the time up?" Rosa inquired.
"Bless you, this is already two weeks old!" her brother told her.
"Why, then, it means that we'll be shot if we're caught."
"Exactly! But we sha'n't be caught, eh? Let the timid ones take fright at the squeaks of this old black-bird. Let them go into the cities: we shall have the more to eat!" Esteban crumpled the paper in his hand and dropped it. "Meanwhile I shall proceed toward my settlement with Pancho Cueto." His very careless confidence gave Rosa courage.