When, after a time, no ill effects having appeared, she suggested departing, they whispered together. They agreed at last that it was perhaps the course of wisdom to humor her. She was the guest of their Government; it would not do to displease her. Inasmuch as her end was inevitable, it could matter little whether she died here or elsewhere. Accordingly they saddled their borrowed horses and set out.
All that afternoon Norine was an object of the tenderest solicitude on the part of her three Cuban guides. They momentarily expected to see her stricken. Then when she gave no sign of distress they marveled, and expressed great admiration at her fortitude in enduring pain.
That night was spent at another farm-house. When on the next morning Norine not only was seen to be alive and well, but insisted upon making her breakfast of mangoes and milk, the fellow in the derby hat flung his hands on high and told O’Reilly:
“It is no less than a miracle, but now she courts the wrath of God, senor! As for me, I shall never again associate with eccentric persons who delight to fly in the face of Providence. It is my opinion that all Americans are crazy.”
The party had penetrated to the foot-hills of the Sierra de Cubitas now, and as they ascended, the scenery changed. Rarely is the Cuban landscape anything but pleasing. For the most part green pastures sown with stately palm-trees and laid out as if for a picnic alternate with low rolling hills, and in but few places are the altitudes at all impressive. It is a smiling island. It has been said, too, that everything in it is friendly to man: the people are amiable, warm-hearted; the very animals and insects are harmless. Cuban cattle are shy, but trusting; Cuban horses are patient and affectionate; the serpents have no poison, and although the spiders and the scorpions grow large and forbidding, their sting is ineffective. But here in the Cubitas range all was different. The land was stern and forbidding: canons deep and damp raised dripping walls to the sky; bridle-paths skirted ledges that were bold and fearsome, or lost themselves in gloomy jungles as noisome as Spanish dungeons. Hidden away in these fastnesses, the rebel Government had established its capital. Here, safe from surprise, the soldiers of Gomez and Maceo and Garcia rested between attacks, nursing their wounded and recruiting their strength for further sallies.
It was a strange seat of government—no nation ever had a stranger—for the state buildings were huts of bark and leaves, the army was uniformed in rags. Cook-fires smoldered in the open glades; cavalry horses grazed in the grassy streets, and wood-smoke drifted over them.
The second evening brought O’Reilly and Miss Evans safely through, and at news of the expedition’s success a pack-train was made ready to go to its assistance. Norine’s letter from the New York Junta was read, and the young woman was warmly welcomed. One of the better huts was vacated for her use, and the officers of the provisional Government called to pay their respects.