THE CITY OF BEGGARS
There were other Americans in Cubitas, as O’Reilly soon discovered. During his first inspection of the village he heard himself hailed in his own language, and a young man in dirty white trousers and jacket strode toward him.
“Welcome to our city!” the stranger cried. “I’m Judson, Captain of Artillery, Departmento del Oriente; and you’re the fellow who came with that quinine lady, aren’t you?”
O’Reilly acknowledged his identity, and Judson grinned:
“The whole camp is talking about her and those mangoes. Jove! It’s a wonder she didn’t die of fright. Something tells me you’re Irish. Anyhow, you look as if you’d enjoy a scrap. Know anything about artillery?”
“I’m sorry. We need gunners. Still, you know as much as the rest of us did when we came.”
“I’m not a fighter,” Johnnie told him. “I’m here on—other business.”
Captain Judson was plainly disappointed. Nevertheless, he volunteered to assist his countryman in any way possible. “Have you met the old man,” he inquired—“General Gomez?”
“No, I’d like to meet him.”
“Come along, then; I’ll introduce you. This is about the right time of day for it; he’ll probably be in good humor. He has dyspepsia, you know, and he’s not always pleasant.”
It was nearly sundown; the eastern slopes were in shadow, and supper was cooking. As the two men passed down the wide street between its rows of bohios the fragrance of burning fagots was heavy in the air—that odor which is sweet in the nostrils of every man who knows and loves the out-of-doors. To O’Reilly it was like the scents of Araby, for his hopes were high, his feet were light, and he believed his goal was in sight.
Gen. Maximo Gomez, father of patriots, bulwark of the Cuban cause, was seated in a hammock, reading some letters; O’Reilly recognized him instantly from the many pictures he had seen. Gomez was a keen, wiry old man; the color of his swarthy, sun-bitten cheeks was thrown into deeper relief by his snow-white mustache and goatee. He looked up at Judson’s salute and then turned a pail of brilliant eyes, as hard as glass, upon O’Reilly. His was an irascible, brooding face; it had in it something of the sternness, the exalted detachment, of the eagle, and O’Reilly gained a hint of the personality behind it. Maximo Gomez was counted one of the world’s ablest guerrilla leaders; and indeed it had required the quenchless enthusiasm of a real military genius to fuse into a homogeneous fighting force the ill-assorted rabble of nondescripts whom Gomez led, to school them to privation and to render them sufficiently mobile to defy successfully ten times their number of trained troops. This, however, was precisely what the old Porto-Rican had done, and in doing it he had won the admiration of military students. He it was, more than any other, who bore the burden of Cuba’s unequal struggle; it was Gomez’s cunning and Gomez’s indomitable will which had already subjugated half the island of Cuba; it was Gomez’s stubborn, unflagging resistance which was destined to shatter for all time the hopes of Spain in the New World.