Rainbow's End by Rex Ellingwood Beach
XVIII. Speaking of Food
It was part of the strategy practised by the Cuban leaders to divide their forces into separate columns for the purpose of raiding the smaller Spanish garrisons and harassing the troops sent to their relief, reassembling these bands only when and where some telling blow was to be struck. Not only had the military value of this practice been amply demonstrated, but it had been proved a necessity, owing to the fact that the Insurrectos were compelled to live off the country.
When O'Reilly and Branch enlisted in the Army of the Orient they were assigned to the command of Colonel Miguel Lopez, and it was under his leadership that they made their first acquaintance with the peculiar methods of Cuban warfare.
Active service for the two Americans began at once; scarcely a week had passed before Leslie Branch gained his opportunity of tasting the "salt of life" in its full flavor, for the young Matanzas colonel was one of the few Cuban commanders who really enjoyed a fight.
There had been, at first, some doubt of Branch's fitness to take the field at all--he had suffered a severe hemorrhage shortly after his arrival at Cubitas--and it was only after a hysterical demonstration on his part that he had been accepted as a soldier. He simply would not be left behind. At first the Cubans regarded him with mingled contempt and pity, for certainly no less promising volunteer had ever taken service with them. Nevertheless, he would doubtless have made many friends among them had he not begun his service by refusing to abide by discipline of any sort and by scorning all instruction in the use of arms, declaring this to be, in his case, a silly waste of effort. Such an attitude very naturally aroused resentment among the other men; it was not long before they began to grumble at the liberty allowed this headstrong weakling. But upon the occasion of the very first fight this ill-will disappeared as if by magic, for, although Branch deliberately disobeyed orders, he nevertheless displayed such amazing audacity in the face of the enemy, such a theatrical contempt for bullets, as to stupefy every one. Moreover, he lived up to his reputation; he continued to be insanely daring, varying his exploits to correspond with his moods, with the result that he attained a popularity which was unique, nay, sensational.
His conduct in the face of this general admiration was no less unexpected than his behavior under fire: Branch gruffly refused to accept any tribute whatever; he snarled, he fairly barked at those of his comrades who tried to express their appreciation of his conduct--a demeanor which of course awakened even greater admiration among the Cubans. He was uniformly surly and sour; he sneered, he scoffed, he found fault. He had the tongue of a common scold, and he used it with malevolent abandon.
It was fortunate indeed that he knew no Spanish and that most of his companions were equally ignorant of English, for mere admiration, even of the fervent Latin quality, would scarcely have been proof against his spleen. As it was, his camp-mates endured his vituperations blandly, putting him down as a pleasing eccentric in whom there blazed a curious but inspiring spirit of patriotism.
O'Reilly alone understood the reason for the fellow's morbid irritability, his suicidal recklessness; but when he privately remonstrated he was gruffly told to mind his own business. Branch flatly refused to modify his conduct; he seemed really bent upon cheating the disease that made his life a misery.
But, as usual, Fate was perverse; she refused to humor the sick man's hope. When, after blindly inviting death, Leslie had emerged from several engagements unscathed, his surprise--and perhaps a natural relief at finding himself whole--became tinged with a certain apprehension lest he survive those deliberately courted dangers, only to succumb to the ills and privations of camp life. Cuban equipment was of the scantiest. Cuban dews are heavy; Cuban nights are cool--these were perils indeed for a weak-lunged invalid. Branch began to fret. Rain filled him with more terror than fixed bayonets, a chill caused him keener consternation than did a thousand Spaniards; he began to have agonizing visions of himself lying in some leaky hovel of a hospital. It was typical of his peculiar irritability that he held O'Reilly in some way responsible, and vented upon him his bitterness of spirit.
The fellow's tongue grew ever sharper; his society became intolerable, his gloom oppressive and irresistibly contagious. When, after several weeks of campaigning, the column went into camp for a short rest, O'Reilly decided that he would try to throw off the burden of Leslie's overwhelming dejection, and, if possible, shift a portion of it upon the shoulders of Captain Judson.
On the day after their arrival O'Reilly and the big artilleryman took advantage of a pleasant stream to bathe and wash their clothes; then, while they lay in their hammocks, enjoying the luxury of a tattered oil-cloth shelter and waiting for the sun to dry their garments, O'Reilly spoke what was in his mind.
"I'm getting about fed up on Leslie," he declared. "He's the world's champion crepe-hanger, and he's painted the whole world such a deep, despondent blue that I'm completely dismal. You've got to take him off my hands."
Judson grunted. "What ails him?"
"Well, he wears a wreath of immortelles day and night. Haven't you guessed why he runs such desperate chances? He's sick--thinks he's going to die, anyhow, and wants to finish the job quick. I'm the one who has to endure him."
"It amounts to that."
"The devil!" Judson pondered for a moment. "Can't you cheer him up?"
"I?" O'Reilly lifted his hands in a gesture of helplessness. "When I try he gets sore at my heartless indifference; when I sympathize he declares I'm nudging him closer to his grave--says I'm kicking the crutches out from under him. He's just plain vitriol. I--I'd rather live with an adder!"
O'Reilly's youthful asistente, who at the moment was painstakingly manufacturing a huge, black cigar for himself out of some purloined tobacco, pricked up his ears at the mention of Branch's name and now edged closer, exclaiming:
"Carumba! There's a hero for you. Meester Branch is the bravest man I ever seen. Our people call him 'El Demonio'!"
O'Reilly jerked his head toward the Cuban. "You see? He's made the hit of his life, and yet he resents it. The Cubans are beginning to think he carries a rabbit's foot."
"No rabbit's foot about it," the captain asserted. "He's just so blamed thin the Spaniards can't hit him; it's like shooting at the edge of a playing-card. Annie Oakley is the only one who can do that."
"Well, my nerves are frayed out. I've argued myself hoarse, but he misconstrues everything I say. I wish you'd convince him that he has a chance to get well; it might alter his disposition. If something doesn't alter it I'll be court-martialed for shooting a man in his sleep--and I'll hit him, right in the middle, no matter how slim he is." O'Reilly compressed his lips firmly.
The asistente, who had finished rolling his cigar, now lighted it and repeated: "Yes, sir, Meester Branch is the bravest man I ever seen. You remember that first battle, eh? Those Spaniards seen him comin' and threw down their guns and beat it. Jesus Cristo! I laugh to skill myself that day."
"Jacket" was at once the youngest and the most profane member of Colonel Lopez's entire command. The most shocking oaths fell from his beardless lips whenever he opened them to speak English, and O'Reilly's efforts to break the boy of the habit proved quite unavailing.
"Colonel Miguel," continued Jacket, "he say if he's got a hunnerd sick men like El Demonio he'll march to Habana. By God! What you think of that?"
Judson rolled in his hammock until his eyes rested upon the youth. Then he said, "You're quite a man of arms yourself, for a half- portion."
"Eh?" The object of this remark was not quite sure that he understood.
"I mean you're a pretty good fighter, for a little fellow."
"Hell, yes!" agreed the youth. "I can fight."
"Better look out that some big Spaniard doesn't carry you off in his pocket and eat you," O'Reilly warned; at which the boy grinned and shook his head. He was just becoming accustomed to the American habit of banter, and was beginning to like it.
"Jacket would make a bitter mouthful," Judson ventured.
The lad smiled gently and drew on his huge cigar. "You betcher life. That----Spaniard would spit me out quick enough."
This Camagueyan boy was a character. He was perhaps sixteen, and small for his age--a mere child, in fact. Nevertheless, he was a seasoned veteran, and his American camp-mates had grown exceedingly fond of him. He was a pretty, graceful youngster; his eyes were large and soft and dark; his face was as sensitive and mobile as that of a girl; and yet, despite his youth, he had won a reputation for daring and ferocity quite as notable in its way as was the renown of Leslie Branch.
There were many of these immature soldiers among the Insurrectos, and most of them were in some way distinguished for valor. War, it seems, fattens upon the tenderest of foods, and every army has its boys--its wondrous, well-beloved infants, whom their older comrades tease, torment, and idolize. Impetuous, drunk with youth, and keeping no company with care, they form the very aristocracy of fighting forces. They gaily undertake the maddest of adventures; and by their examples they fire the courage of their maturer comrades. All history is spiced with their exploits.
Jacket was one of these, and he was perhaps the truest patriot of any soldier in Miguel Lopez's band; for liberty, to him, was not a mere abstraction or a principle, but something real, tangible, alive--something worthy of the highest sacrifice. In his person all the wrongs of Cuba burned perpetually. It mattered not that he himself had never suffered--his spirit was the spirit of his country, pure, exalted, undefiled. He stood for what the others fought for.
In order to expand his knowledge of English--of which, by the way, he was inordinately proud--Jacket had volunteered to serve as O'Reilly's striker, and the result had been a fast friendship. It was O'Reilly who had given the boy his nickname--a name prompted by a marked eccentricity, for although Jacket possessed the two garments which constituted the ordinary Insurrecto uniform, he made a practice of wearing only one. On chilly nights, or on formal occasions, he wore both waistcoat and trousers, but at other times he dispensed entirely with the latter, and his legs went naked. They were naked now, as, with the modesty of complete unconsciousness, he squatted in the shade, puffing thoughtfully at his giant cheroot.
Once Jacket's mind was fastened upon any subject, it remained there, and after a time he continued:
"Yes, I bet I don't taste good to no Spaniard. Did I told you about that battle of Pino Bravo? Eh?" He turned his big brown eyes upward to O'Reilly. "Cristo! I skill more'n a dozen men that day!"
"Oh, Jacket!" the Americans cried. "You monstrous little liar!" commented O'Reilly.
"Si, senors," the boy went on, complacently. "That day I skill more'n six men. It was this way; we came on them from behind and they don't see us. Phui! We skill plenty, all right!"
"It was a hot scrimmage," Judson attested. "Some of Luque's niggers, those tall, lean, hungry fellows from Santiago, managed to hack their way through a wire fence and get behind a detachment of the enemy who had made a stand under a hill. They charged, and for a wonder they got close enough to use their machetes. It was bloody work--the kind you read about--no quarter. Somehow Jacket managed to be right in the middle of the butchery. He's a bravo kid, all right. Muy malo!"
There was a moment's silence, then Judson continued: "Funny thing happened afterward, though. Jacket had to do his turn at picket duty that night, and he got scared of the dark. We heard him squalling and screaming--"
Jacket started to his feet. "That's a dam' lie." he exclaimed, resentfully. "I'm not scared of no dark."
"Didn't you holler till you woke the whole camp?"
"I ain't scared of no dark," the boy repeated; but his pride, his complacency, had suddenly vanished. He dug his toes into the dirt; in his eyes were tears of mortification. His cigar had evidently become tasteless, for he removed it from his lips and gazed at it indifferently.
"Did you cry?" O'Reilly smiled; and the lad nodded reluctantly.
"Did he cry?" Judson echoed. "Why, we thought we were attacked. He put the whole camp in an uproar."
"What was the trouble, Jacket?"
"I--I was--" The boy's smooth brown cheeks paled, and his moist eyes dilated at the memory. "I ain't scared of any-------Spaniard when he's alive, but--it's different when he's dead. I could see dead ones everywhere!" He shuddered involuntarily. "They fetched me to General Gomez and--Caramba! he's mad. But after I tell him what I seen in the dark he say I don't have to go back there no more. He let me go to sleep 'longside of his hammock, and bimeby I quit cryin'. I ain't never stood no picket duty since that night. I won't do it."
It was plain that discussion of this unhappy subject was deeply distasteful to the youthful hero of Pino Bravo, for he edged away, and a moment later disappeared. "Queer little youngster," Captain Judson said, meditatively. "He idolizes you."
O'Reilly nodded. "Yes, poor little kid. I wonder what will become of him after the war? After the war!" he mused. "I wonder if it will ever end."
"Humph! If we had more generals like Gomez and Garcia and Maceo--"
"We've got three better generals than they."
"Generals June, July, and August."
"Oh yes!" The artilleryman nodded his understanding. "There's no end of yellow-jack among the Spaniards. Speaking of that, what do you think of Miss Evans's work in the field hospitals?"
Judson shifted his weight so that his eyes could rest upon a white tent which showed through the greenery at a distance; it was the one tent in all the encampment, and it had been erected that very morning to shelter Norine Evans, but just arrived from headquarters in the Cubitas hills. The captain's lids were half closed; his heavy, homely face was softened by a peculiar rapt expression. He did not seem to expect an answer to his question.
"I don't think much of it," O'Reilly confessed.
"You don't!" Judson brought himself back to earth with a start. "Humph! Well, I think it's perfectly wonderful. I think she's the most wonderful woman, and--" His voice died out; he turned once more in the direction of the tent.
O'Reilly smiled, understanding now the reason for his companion's reckless, almost frenzied use of soap and water that morning, and his cheerful stoicism in the hands of a volunteer barber more accustomed to the uses of a machete than a razor.
Evidently Judson had fallen, too--along with Major Ramos, and Colonel Lopez, and Leslie Branch, and all the rest. Well, it was to be expected. Before he had been a week in Cuba O'Reilly had noticed that Miss Evans was a mystery and a delight to nearly every man she met.
"So you've got it, eh?" he inquired.
"Got what?" Judson did not turn his eyes.
"It? If you can't talk English, talk Spanish."
O'Reilly was not perturbed by this gruffness. "I think her presence here is the silliest, the most scandalous thing I ever heard of," said he. "The idea of a girl of her accomplishments, her means, alone in Cuba! Why, it's criminal!"
Judson's gunny-sacking hammock bulged beneath him. It threatened to give way as he sat up with a jerk and swung his bare legs over the side. His face was dark; he was scowling; his chin was pugnaciously outthrust and his voice rumbled as he exclaimed:
"The deuce it is! Say! I don't like the way you talk about that girl."
"You don't, eh?" O'Reilly eyed him quizzically. "Would you care to have your sister do what she's doing?"
"That's not the point. You can't compare her with ordinary women."
"Well, this isn't an ordinary environment for a woman, no matter who she is. These Cubans are bound to talk about her."
"Are they?" Judson glared at the speaker. "I'd like to hear 'em. I'd like to see somebody get fresh. Why, say!"--he clenched his powerful hands--"I'd fill their hospitals until they bulged." After a moment he continued: "I s'pose it's natural for you to worry, since you're responsible for her being here, in a way, but- -" His tone changed, he relaxed and lay back in his hammock. "Oh, well, you're about the only man I can't hate."
"Jealous, are you? I didn't know you were in so deep."
The other shook his head. "Oh, I'm daffy. D'you think she'd have me?"
"Not a chance."
"Hey? Why not? I'm a good big husky--I'll get a Government job when the war is over and---"
"That's just the trouble. She'll fall for some poor, sickly unfortunate, with one leg. She's the sort that always does. She's the sort that has to have something to 'mother.' Lord, I'd give a good deal to see her safely back in New York!"
Judson, it seemed, had a better understanding of artillery than of women; he pondered O'Reilly's statement seriously, and his face clouded.
"Some sickly fellow. Some fellow like Branch, eh?" After a moment he continued, more hopefully: "Well, it won't be him; he'll soon be dead. There's some consolation in that. I could almost--"
O'Reilly motioned for silence, for at that moment Branch himself approached, his long face set in lines of discontent, even deeper than usual. He had been wandering about the camp in one of his restless fits, and now he began:
"Say, what do you think I've been doing?"
"I dun'no'," Captain Judson answered, morosely. "Cheering the sick and wounded; shedding smiles and sunshine as usual, I suppose?"
"Hunh! You're a funny guy, aren't you?--about as comical as a chloroform cone. You make me laugh, you do--just like a broken leg. Well, I've been looking up some grub for Miss Evans, and I can't find any."
"Can't find any?"
"Nothing fit for her to eat. You don't expect her to live on this infernal, eternal, and internal beef stew." Branch shuddered and gagged slightly. "I've eaten parts of animals that were never intended to be eaten. This rebel grub is killing me. What'll it do to her?"
"Didn't Major Ramos bring anything along?" O'Reilly asked.
"He says there's a famine at Cubitas."
"We'd better look into this," Judson exclaimed, and, finding that his clothes were dry, he hurriedly began to dress himself.
Together, the three men made an investigation of the camp's resources, only to discover that Branch was right. There was, indeed, but little food of any kind, and that little was of the coarsest. Ordinarily, such a condition of affairs would have occasioned them no surprise, for the men were becoming accustomed to a more or less chronic scarcity of provisions; but the presence of Norine Evans put quite a different complexion upon the matter. They were still discussing the situation when Miss Evans, having finished her afternoon nap, threw open the flaps of her tent and stepped out.
When she had listened to the account apologetically submitted by her three friends, she drew her brows together, saying, plaintively: "Oh dear! We've been going short for a week, and Major Ramos told me we'd fare better when we got here. I had my mouth all set for a banquet. Couldn't you even find the poor dog a bone?"
Norine was thinner and browner than when she had come to Cuba, but she in no way showed the effect of any serious or continued lack of nourishment. In fact, a simple diet and an outdoor life had agreed with her amazingly.
"I'm afraid the cupboard is bare," O'Reilly acknowledged.
"They're getting ready to slaughter another guttapercha ox," Branch said, gloomily. "He's a veteran of the Ten Years' War. That means stew again! Stew! One puncture-proof, rubber ox and a bushel of sweet-potatoes for four hundred men!"
"Do you know what I want for dinner?" Norine inquired. "Lamb chops with green peas, some nice white bread, a salad, and coffee."
The three men looked at her anxiously. Judson stirred uneasily.
"That's what I want. I don't expect to get it."
With a sigh of relief the captain exclaimed, "I thought you were giving your order."
"Goodness, no!" With a laugh the girl seated herself upon her one camp-chair, inviting her callers to dispose themselves on the ground about her. "If you can stand the food, I dare say I can. Now then, tell me what you've been doing since you left Cubitas. I've been frightened to death that some of you would be hurt. That's one reason why I've been working night and day helping to get the hospitals in shape. I can't bear to think of our boys being wounded."
"Not much chance of our getting shot," O'Reilly told her. "But Leslie--he needs a good talking to. He has gone into the hero business."
Branch uttered a disdainful grunt. "Nothing of the sort. I'm a sick man; if I'd rather get shot than suffer a slow death from neglect, it's my own business, isn't it? Imagine feeding an invalid on boiled bicycle tires! Gee! I'd like to have a meal of nice nourishing ptomaines for a change. Hero? Humph!"
Norine eyed the complainant critically, then said: "The diet agrees with you. You look better than you did."
Branch turned a somber glance upon her and gave vent to a bitter, sneering laugh. It was plain that he believed she, too, was attempting to pull the wool over his eyes. "I wish I could find some poisonous toadstools. I'd eat 'em raw."
"Listen," Norine went on. "Let's play a game. We'll imagine this is Delmonico's and we'll all take turns ordering the best things to eat that we can think of. The one who orders best, wins. We'll call the game--" She frowned thoughtfully.
"Call it 'Vittles,'" O'Reilly suggested.
"'Vittles' it is. Maybe it will give us an appetite for supper. Leslie, you begin. Come now, hand your hat to the hat-boy, then follow the head waiter. This way, sir. Table for one? Very good, sir. Here's a cool one, in front of the electric fan. We have an exceptional selection of cold dishes to-day, sir. Perhaps you would like a nice halibut salad--"
"No halibut salad," Branch answered, striving valiantly to enter into the spirit of Norine's pretending. "I had it for breakfast. And say, turn off that fan; I'm just back from Cuba. Now then, you may bring me some oysters--"
"Oysters are out of season," O'Reilly murmured, politely, "but our clams are very fine."
"Some oysters," Branch insisted, stubbornly. "After that, a cup of chicken broth, a grilled sweetbread, and toast Melba."
Joe Judson put an abrupt end to the invalid's meal by hurling a clod at him, crying: "You're in Delmonico's, not in Battle Creek. Let somebody order who knows how. We'll have steak and onions all around."
"I want strawberries!" Norine cried. "They're ripe now. Strawberries and cream--Oh-h! Think of it!"
There was a tense silence, which O'Reilly broke by saying, "I guess 'Vittles' isn't a very good game, after all."
"It doesn't seem to fill my wants," the girl acknowledged. "Let's talk about something else."
Miss Evans did seem truly concerned for the welfare of her "boys," as she termed the little group of Americans whom she had met, and she showed, by asking numerous questions, that her interest was keen.
The men were glad to talk and she soon gained an insight into the peculiar, aimless, unsatisfactory, and yet effective method of warfare practised by the Insurrecto armies; they told her of the endless marches and counter-marches, the occasional skirmishes, the feints, the inconclusive engagements which were all a part of the general strategy--operations which served to keep the enemy constantly on guard, like a blind swordsman, and would, it was hoped, eventually wear down his patience and endurance. In her turn, Norine related something of what she was doing and how her labor of mercy progressed.
"I'm nearly discouraged," she confessed, finally. "Everything is so different to what I thought it would be, and I'm so weak and ineffective. The medical supplies I brought are nearly all gone, and I've learned what hard work it is fitting up hospitals when there's nothing to fit them up with. I can't teach these people to take care of themselves--they seem to consider precautions against disease as a confession of cowardice. Summer, the yellow-fever season, is here and--well, I'm getting disheartened. Disheartened and hungry! They're new sensations to me." She sighed. "I imagined I was going to work wonders--I thought I was going to be a Florence Nightingale, and the men were going to idolize me."
"Don't they?" Judson demanded.
"No. That is--not in exactly the way I expected."
"They all want to marry her," O'Reilly explained.
"Insolent bunch!" growled the captain. Then he swallowed hard and said, "But for that matter, so do I."
"Why, Joe!" Norine cast a startled glance at the big fellow.
"It's a fact," he asserted, doggedly. "I might as well declare myself here and now. There's always a gang of eavesdroppers hanging around you."
"He means you, Leslie," O'Reilly said. "Hadn't you better take a walk?"
Branch rolled a hostile eye at the artilleryman, and his lip curled. "I'll not move. When he gets through, I'll propose."
"How silly you boys can be!" Norine laughed. "I dare say the others are joking too, but--"
"Joking?" O'Reilly grinned. "Not at all. I'm the only single man in camp who isn't in love with you. When you arrived this morning there was a general stampede for the river. I'll bet the fish in this stream will taste of soap for years to come."
As if to point O'Reilly's words at the moment appeared Colonel Lopez, shaved blood-raw and clad in a recently laundered uniform which was still damp. The three Americans rose to salute him, but discipline was lax and he waved them back to their seats. Other eyes than his, too, had noted Miss Evans's reappearance after her siesta, for Major Ramos, Norine's escort from headquarters, soon joined the group, and he was followed by two Camagueyan lieutenants.
These latter were youths of some family standing. Before the war they had been dandies, and they still had an excellent opinion of their physical charms, but, unfortunately, they spoke no English and hence their attentions to Norine had been somewhat vague and pointless. They possessed eloquent eyes, however, and now they languished melting glances upon her, the meaning of which she had no difficulty in translating.
"We've been talking about food," Leslie Branch advised his commanding officer. "Miss Evans isn't a burning patriot like the rest of us, and so of course she can't share our ravenous appetite for beef cooked and eaten on the hoof."
"So?" Lopez's handsome face clouded. "You are hungry, then?"
Norine confessed that she was. "I'm starving!" said she. "I haven't had a decent meal for a week."
"God be praised! I know where there is a goat, not two leagues away!" said the colonel.
"But I don't want a goat," Norine complained. "I want--well, pickles, and jam, and sardines, and--candy, and--tooth-powder! Real boarding-school luxuries. I'd just like to rob a general store."
Lopez furrowed his brows and lost himself in thought. Later, while the others were talking, he drew Ramos aside and for a while they kept their heads together; then they invited Judson to join their council.
It was not until perhaps an hour later that O'Reilly had a chance for a confidential talk with Norine, for in the mean time other officers came to pay their respects. But when the last one had reluctantly departed he said:
"I've been talking to Joe about you, and I don't think it's right for you to be running around alone this way."
"You know how mad that sort of talk makes me," she warned him.
"Yes. Just the same, I'll never feel easy until you're safe home again. And I'll never stop bothering you until--"
"In the first place, I'm not alone. I take a woman with me everywhere, a Mrs. Ruiz."
"Bah! She's no more of a chaperon than I am."
Norine uttered an impatient exclamation. "Is this a time to consider such things?"
"Oh, I dare say the nature of your work is unconventional and excuses a good deal, but you don't understand the Latin mind as I do. These Cubans have different standards than ours. They're very apt to think--"
"I don't care what they think," the girl declared, "so long as I think I'm doing right. That's final."
There was a brief pause. Then O'Reilly admitted: "I'm not seriously concerned over that part of it, either, for you are the best judge of what is right and proper. What does concern me, however, is the effect all this may have upon you, yourself. You're impractical, romantic"--Norine laughed shortly, but he went on, stubbornly--"and just the sort of girl to be carried away by some extravagant impulse."
"What makes you think I'm impractical and romantic?"
"You wouldn't be here, otherwise."
"Very well. What are you trying to get at? What do you mean by 'some extravagant impulse'?"
"I'm afraid"--O'Reilly hesitated, then voiced a fear which had troubled him more than he cared to acknowledge--"I'm afraid of some silly entanglement, some love affair--"
Norine's laughter rang out, spontaneous, unaffected. It served to relieve the momentary tension which had sprung up between them.
"All these men are attracted to you, as it is quite natural they should be," O'Reilly hurried on. "I'm worried to death for fear you'll forget that you're too blamed good for any of them."
"What a conscientious duenna you are!" she told him, "but rest easy; I'm thoroughly homesick, and ready to flunk it all at the first good excuse. I'll make you a promise, Johnnie. If I decide to fall in love with any of these ragged heroes I'll choose you. Most of them think there is something between us, anyhow."
"I don't quite understand how I manage to resist you," O'Reilly told her, "for I think you're perfectly splendid. Probably that's why I'd hate to see you married to some one-legged veteran of this amateur war."
"Women don't marry legs," she told him, lightly. Then, more seriously, she asked, "What are you doing about Rosa?"
"I'm waiting to hear from Matanzas Province. When I joined the army I had to go where I was sent, of course, but General Gomez has started inquiries, and as soon as I learn something definite I shall follow it up. I shall go where the trail leads."
"You still have hope?"
He nodded. "I refuse to let myself doubt."
When O'Reilly joined Judson for supper the latter met him with a broad grin on his face. "Well," said he, "it seems you started something with your game of 'Vittles.' You can get ready to saddle up when the moon rises."
"What do you mean?"
"The colonel took Miss Evans at her word. We're going to raid San Antonio de los Banos--two hundred of us--to get her some pickles, and jam, and candy, and tooth-powder."