XXI. Treasure
 

It was a balmy, languid morning about two weeks after O'Reilly's return to the City among the Leaves. The Cubitas Mountains were green and sparkling from a recent shower; wood fires smoldered in front of the bark huts, sending up their wavering streamers of blue; a pack-train from the lower country was unloading fresh vegetables in the main street, and a group of ragged men were disputing over them. Some children were playing baseball near by.

In a hammock swung between two trees Esteban Varona lay, listening to the admonitions of his nurse.

Johnnie O'Reilly had just bade them both a hearty good morning and now Norine was saying: "One hour, no more. You had a temperature again last night, and it came from talking too much."

"Oh, I'm better this morning," Esteban declared. "I'm getting so that I want to talk. I was too tired at first, but now--"

"Now, you will do exactly as you are told. Remember, it takes me just one hour to make my rounds, and if you are not through with your tales of blood and battle when I get back you'll have to finish them to-morrow." With a nod and a smile she left.

As Esteban looked after her his white teeth gleamed and his hollow face lit up.

"She brings me new life," he told O'Reilly. "She is so strong, so healthy, so full of life herself. She is wonderful! When I first saw her bending over me I thought I was dreaming. Sometimes, even yet, I think she cannot be real. But she is, eh?"

"She is quite substantial," O'Reilly smiled.

"I can tell when she is anywhere near, for my illness leaves me. It's a fact! And her hands--Well, she lays them on my head, and it no longer hurts; the fever disappears. There is some cool, delicious magic in her touch; it makes a fellow want to live. You have perhaps noticed it?"

"N-no! You see, she never lays her hands on my head. However, I dare say you're right. All the sick fellows talk as you do."

Esteban looked up quickly; his face darkened. "She--er--nurses others, eh? I'm not the only one?"

"Well, hardly."

There was a brief pause; then Esteban shifted his position and his tone changed. "Tell me, have you heard any news?"

"Not yet, but we will hear some before long I'm sure."

"Your faith does as much for me as this lady's care. But when you go away, when I'm alone, when I begin to think--"

"Don't think too much; don't permit yourself to doubt," O'Reilly said, quickly. "Take my word for it, Rosa is alive and we'll find her somewhere, somehow. You heard that she had fallen into Cobo's hands when he sacked the Yumuri, but now we know that she and the negroes were living in the Pan de Matanzas long after that. In the same way Lopez assured me positively that you were dead. Well, look at you! It shows how little faith we can put in any story. No, Rosa is safe, and General Gomez will soon have word of her. That's what I've been waiting for--that and what you might have to tell me."

"You know all that I know now and everything that has happened to me."

"I don't know how you came to be in a cell in San Antonio de los Banos, two hundred miles from the place you were killed. That is still a mystery."

"It is very simple, amigo. Let me see: I had finished telling you about the fight at La Joya. I was telling you how I fainted."

"Exactly. Norine bound and gagged you at that point in the story."

"Some good people found me a few hours after I lost consciousness. They supposed I had been attacked by guerrillas and left for dead. Finding that I still had life in me, they took me home with them. They were old friends from Matanzas by the name of Valdes-- cultured people who had fled the city and were hiding in the manigua like the rest of us."

"Not Valdes, the notary?"

"The very same. Alberto Valdes and his four daughters. Heaven guided them to me. Alberto was an old man; he had hard work to provide food for his girls. Nevertheless, he refused to abandon me. The girls had become brown and ragged and as shy as deer. They nursed me for weeks, for my wounds became infected. God! It seems to me that I lay there sick and helpless for years. When my brain would clear I would think of Rosa, and then the fever would rise again and I would go out of my head. Oh, they were faithful, patient people! You see, I had walked east instead of west, and now I was miles away from home, and the country between was swarming with Spaniards who were burning, destroying, killing. You wouldn't know Matanzas, O'Reilly. It is a desert.

"I finally became able to drag myself around the hut. But I had no means of sending word to Rosa, and the uncertainty nearly made me crazy. My clothes had rotted from me; my bones were just under the skin. I must have been a shocking sight. Then one day there came a fellow traveling east with messages for Gomez. He was one of Lopez's men, and he told me that Lopez had gone to the Rubi Hills with Maceo, and that there were none of our men left in the province. He told me other things, too. It was from him that I learned--" Estban Varona's thin hands clutched the edges of his hammock and he rolled his head weakly from side to side. "It was he who told me about Rosa. He said that Cobo had ravaged the Yumuri and that my sister--was gone. Christ!"

"There, there! We know better now," O'Reilly said, soothingly.

"It was a hideous story, a story of rape, murder. I wonder that I didn't go mad. It never occurred to me to doubt, and as a matter of fact the fellow was honest enough; he really believed what he told me. Well, I was sorry I hadn't died that night in the sunken road. All the hope, all the desire to live, went out of me. You see, I had been more than half expecting something of the kind. Every time I had left Rosa it had been with the sickening fear that I might never see here again. After the man had finished I felt the desire to get away from all I had known and loved, to leave Matanzas for new fields and give what was left of me to the cause.

"I presume Alberto and the girls were relieved to get rid of me, for it meant more food for them. Anyhow, between us we prevailed upon the messenger to take me along. I was free to enlist, since I couldn't reach Lopez, and I came to join our forces in the Orient.

"That is how you found me in this province. Lopez's man never delivered those despatches, for we were taken crossing the trocha- -at least I was taken, for Pablo was killed. They'd have made an end of me, too, I dare say, only I was so weak. It seems a century since that night. My memory doesn't serve me very well from that point, for they jailed me, and I grew worse. I was out of my head a good deal. I seem to remember a stockade somewhere and other prisoners, some of whom nursed me. You say you found me in a cell in San Antonio de los Banos. Well, I don't know how I got there, and I never heard of the place."

"It will probably all come back to you in time," said O'Reilly.

"No doubt."

The two men fell silent for a while. Esteban lay with closed eyes, exhausted. O'Reilly gave himself up to frowning thought. His thoughts were not pleasant; he could not, for the life of him, believe in Rosa's safety so implicitly as he had led Esteban to suppose; his efforts to cheer the other had sapped his own supply of hope, leaving him a prey to black misgivings. He was glad when Norine Evans's return put an end to his speculations.

Esteban was right; the girl did have an unusual ability to banish shadows, a splendid power to rout devils both of the spirit and of the flesh; she was a sort of antibody, destroying every noxious or unhealthy thing mental or physical with which she came in contact. This blessed capability was quite distinct from her skill with medicines--it was a gift, and as much a part of her as the healing magic which dwells in the sunshine.

Certainly her knack of lending health and strength from her own abundant store had never been better shown than in Esteban's case, for with almost no medical assistance she had brought him back from the very voids. It was quite natural, therefore, that she should take a pride in her work and regard him with a certain jealous proprietary interest; it was equally natural that he should claim the greater share of her attention.

"Have you harrowed this poor man's feelings sufficiently for once?" she inquired of O'Reilly.

"I have. I'll agree to talk about nothing unpleasant hereafter."

Esteban turned to his nurse, inquiring, abruptly, "Do you think Rosa is alive?"

"Why, of course I do! Aren't you alive and--almost well?"

Now, as an argument, there was no particular force in this suggestion; nevertheless, both men felt reassured. Esteban heaved a grateful sigh. After a moment he said,

"There is something I want to tell you both."

"Wait until to-morrow," Norine advised.

But he persisted: "No! I must tell it now. First, however, did either of you discover an old coin in any of my pockets--an old Spanish doubloon?"

"That doubloon again!" Norine lifted her hands protestingly, and cast a meaning look at O'Reilly. "You talked about nothing else for a whole week. Let me feel your pulse."

Esteban surrendered his hand with suspicious readiness.

"You were flat broke when we got you," O'Reilly declared.

"Probably. I seem to remember that somebody stole it."

"Doubloons! Pieces of eight! Golden guineas!" exclaimed Norine. "Why those are pirate coins! They remind me of Treasure Island; of Long John Silver and his wooden leg; of Ben Gunn and all the rest." With a voice made hoarse, doubtless to imitate the old nut- brown seaman with the saber-scar and the tarry pig-tail, who sat sipping his rum and water in the Admiral Benbow Inn, she began to chant:

  "Fifteen men on the dead man's chest--
       Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle  of rum!
   Drink and the Devil had done for the rest--
       Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!"

Esteban smiled uncomprehendingly. "Yes? Well, this has to do with treasure. That doubloon was a part of the lost treasure of the Varonas."

"Lost treasure!" Norine's gray eyes widened. "What are you talking about?"

"There is a mysterious fortune in our family. My father buried it. He was very rich, you know, and he was afraid of the Spaniards. O'Reilly knows the story."

Johnnie assented with a grunt. "Sure! I know all about it."

Esteban raised himself to his elbow. "You think it's a myth, a joke. Well, it's not. I know where it is. I found it!"

Norine gasped; Johnnie spoke soothingly:

"Don't get excited, old man; you've talked too much to-day."

"Ha!" Esteban fell back upon his pillow. "I haven't any fever. I'm as sane as ever I was. That treasure exists, and that doubloon gave me the clue to its whereabouts. Pancho Cueto knew my father, and he believed the story. He believed in it so strongly that-- well--that's why he denounced my sister and me as traitors. He dug up our entire premises, but he didn't find it." Esteban chuckled. "Don Esteban, my father, was cunning: he could hide things better than a magpie. It remained for me to discover his trick."

Norine Evans spoke breathlessly. "Oh, glory! Treasure! Real treasure! How perfectly exciting! Tell me how you found it, quick! Johnnie, you remember he raved about a doubloon--"

"He is raving now," O'Reilly declared, with a sharp stare at his friend.

The girl turned loyally to her patient. "I'll believe you, Mr. Varona. I always believe everything about buried treasure. The bigger the treasure the more implicitly I believe in it. I simply adore pirates and such things; if I were a man I'd be one. Do you know, I've always been tempted to bury my money and then go look for it."

"You're making fun of me. What?" Esteban eyed the pair doubtfully.

"No, no!" Norine was indignant. "Johnnie doesn't believe in pirates or treasure, or--anything. He doesn't even believe in fairies, and he's Irish, too. But I do. I revel in such things. If you don't go on, I'll blow up."

"There is no doubt that my father had a great deal of money at one time," Esteban began; "he was the richest man in the richest city of Cuba and ..."

O'Reilly shook his head dubiously and braced his back against a tree-trunk; there was a look of mild disapprobation on his face as he listened to the familiar story of Don Esteban and the slave, Sebastian.

Young Esteban told the tale well. His own faith in it lent a certain convincingness to his words and Norine Evans hung upon them entranced. She was horrified at the account of Don Esteban's death; her eyes grew dark as Esteban told of his and Rosa's childhood with their avaricious stepmother. That part of the narrative which had to do with the death of Dona Isabel and the finding of the gold coin was new to O'Reilly and he found himself considerably impressed by it. When Esteban had finished, Norine drew a deep breath.

"Oh! That lays over any story I ever heard. To think that the deeds and the jewels and everything are in the well at this minute! How could you go away and leave them?"

"I didn't think it out at the time. I didn't evolve my theory until after I had fled. Naturally, I wasn't able to get back."

"But suppose somebody finds it?" Norine was aghast at the thought.

"Not much chance of that. The treasure has lain there for a generation, and the story itself is almost forgotten." Esteban turned triumphantly to O'Reilly, saying, "Now then, do you think I'm so crazy?"

O'Reilly didn't have it in his heart to say exactly what he really thought. The circumstances of the discovery of the coin were odd enough, certainly, but it seemed to him that they were capable of several explanations. If, indeed, there had ever been a doubloon and if Esteban had found it in the dead hand of his stepmother, that, in O'Reilly's opinion, by no means proved the existence of the mythical Varona hoard, nor did it solve the secret of its whereabouts. What he more than half suspected was that some favored fancy had formed lodgment in Esteban's brain.

"It's an interesting theory," he admitted. "Anyhow, there is no danger of the treasure being uncovered very soon. Cueto had a good look and made himself ridiculous. You'll have ample chance to do likewise when the war is over."

"You must help me find it," said Esteban. "We shall all share the fortune equally, you two, Rosa and I."

"We? Why should we share in it?" Norine asked.

"I owe it to you. Didn't O'Reilly rescue me from a dungeon? Haven't you nursed me back to health? Don't I owe my life to you both?"

"Nonsense! I, for one, sha'n't take a dollar of it," the girl declared. "All I want to do is help dig. If you'll just promise to let me do that--"

"I promise. And you shall have one-fourth of everything."

"No! No!"

"Oh, but you must. I insist. Nursing is a poorly paid profession. Wouldn't you like to be rich?"

"Profession! Poorly paid?" Norine sputtered, angrily. "As if I'd take pay!"

"As if I would accept a great service and forget it, like some miserable beggar!" Esteban replied, stiffly.

O'Reilly laughed out. "Don't let's quarrel over the spoil until we get it," said he. "That's the way with all treasure-hunters. They invariably fall out and go to fighting. To avoid bloodshed, I'll agree to sell my interest cheap, for cash. Come! What will you bid? Start it low. Do I hear a dollar bid? A dollar! A dollar! A dollar! My share of the famous Varona fortune going for a dollar!"

"There! He doesn't believe a word of it," Esteban said.

Norine gave an impatient shrug. "Some people wouldn't believe they were alive unless they saw their breath on a looking-glass. Goodness! How I hate a sneering skeptic, a wet blanket."

O'Reilly rose with one arm shielding his face. "In the interest of friendship, I withdraw. A curse on these buried treasures, anyhow. We shall yet come to blows."

As he walked away he heard Norine say: "Don't pay any attention to him. We'll go and dig it up ourselves, and we won't wait until the war is over."

An hour later Esteban and his nurse still had their heads together. They were still talking of golden ingots and pearls from the Caribbean the size of plums when they looked up to see O'Reilly running toward them. He was visibly excited; he waved and shouted at them. He was panting when he arrived.

"News! From Matanzas!" he cried. "Gomez's man has arrived."

Esteban struggled to rise, but Norine restrained him. "Rosa? What does he say? Quick!"

"Good news! She left the Pan de Matanzas with the two negroes. She went into the city before Cobo's raid."

Esteban collapsed limply. He closed his eyes, his face was very white. He crossed himself weakly.

"The letter is definite. It seems they were starving. They obeyed Weyler's bando. They're in Matanzas now."

"Do you hear, Esteban?" Norine shook her patient by the shoulder. "She's alive. Oh, can't you see that it always pays to believe the best?"

"Alive! Safe!" Esteban whispered. His eyes, when he opened them, were swimming; he clutched Norine's hand tightly; his other hand he extended to O'Reilly. The latter was choking; his cheeks, too, were wet. "A reconcentrado! In Matanzas! Well, that's good. We have friends there--they'll not let her starve. This makes a new man of me. See! I'm strong again. I'll go to her."

"You'll go?" quickly cried Miss Evans. "You'll go! You're not strong enough. It would be suicide. You, with a price upon your head! Everybody knows you there. Matanzas is virtually a walled city. There's sickness, too--yellow fever, typhus--"

"Exactly. And hunger, also. Suppose no one has taken Rosa in? Those concentration camps aren't nice places for a girl."

"But wait! I have friends in Washington. They're influential. They will cable the American consul to look after her. Anyhow, you mustn't think of returning to Matanzas," Norine faltered; her voice caught unexpectedly and she turned her face away.

O'Reilly nodded shortly. "You're a sick man," he agreed. "There's no need for both of us to go."

Esteban looked up. "Then you--"

"I leave at once. The Old Man has given me a commission to General Betancourt, and I'll be on my way in an hour. The moon is young; I must cross the trocha before--"

"That trocha!" Esteban was up on his elbow again. "Be careful there, O'Reilly. They keep a sharp lookout, and it's guarded with barbed wire. Be sure you cut every strand. Yes, and muffle your horse's hoofs, too, in crossing the railroad track. That's how we were detected. Pablo's horse struck a rail, and they fired at the sound. He fell at the first volley, riddled. Oh, I know that trocha!"

"Damn the trocha!" O'Reilly exclaimed. "At last I've got a chance to do something. God! How long I've waited."

Esteban drew O'Reilly's tense form down and embraced his friend, after the fashion of his people. "She has been waiting, too," he said, huskily. "We Varonas are good waiters, O'Reilly. Rosa will never cease waiting until you come. Tell her, for me--"

Norine withdrew softly out of earshot. There were a lump in her throat and a pain in her breast. She had acquired a peculiar and affectionate interest in this unhappy girl whom she had never seen, and she had learned to respect O'Reilly's love. The yearning that had pulsed in his voice a moment before had stirred her deeply; it awoke a throb in her own bosom, for O'Reilly was dear to her. She wanted him to go, yet she knew the hazards that lay in his way. If, indeed, the girl were in Matanzas, how, Norine asked herself, was it possible for him to reach her? That O'Reilly had some mad design was evident; that he would utterly disregard his own safety she felt sure. But that he would meet with failure, perhaps worse, seemed equally certain. Matanzas was a beleagured city, and strangers could not enter or leave it at will. If Rosa had not put herself behind prison walls, if she were still in hiding somewhere on the island, it would be a simple matter to seek her out. But Matanzas, of all places!

Then, too, the pacificos, according to all reports, were dying like flies in the prison camps. Norine wondered if there might not be a terrible heartache at the end of O'Reilly's quest? Her face was grave and worried when, hearing him speak to her, she turned to take his outstretched hand.

"You will be careful, won't you?" she implored. "And you'll be stout of heart, no matter what occurs?"

He nodded. "It's a long way back here to Cubitas. You may not see or hear from me again."

"I understand." She choked miserably. "You mean you may not come back. Oh, Johnnie!"

"Tut, tut! We O'Reillys have more lives than a litter of cats. I mean I may not see you until the war is over and we meet in New York. Well, we've been good pals, and--I'm glad you came to Cuba." His grasp upon her two hands was painful.

"You must go, I know, and I wouldn't try to keep you, but--" Norine faltered, then impulsively she drew him down and kissed him full upon the lips. "For Rosa!" she whispered. Her eyes were shining as she watched him pass swiftly out of sight.