With a bluntness not unkind he asked O’Reilly what had brought him to Cuba, Then before the young man could answer he gestured with a letter in his hand, saying:
“Major Ramos gives you splendid credit for helping him to land his expedition, but he says you didn’t come to fight with us. What does he mean?”
When O’Reilly explained the reason for his presence the old fighter nodded.
“So? You wish to go west, eh?”
“Yes, sir. I want to find Colonel Lopez.”
“Lopez? Miguel Lopez?” the general inquired, quickly.
“I believe that’s his name—at any rate the Colonel Lopez who has been operating in Matanzas Province, You see, he knows the whereabouts of my—friends.”
“Well, you won’t have to look far for him.” General Gomez’s leathery countenance lightened into a smile. “He happens to be right here in Cubitas.” Calling Judson to him, he said: “Amigo, take Mr. O’Reilly to Colonel Lopez; you will find him somewhere about. I am sorry we are not to have this young fellow for a soldier; he looks like a real man and—quite equal to five quintos, eh?”
It was the habit of the Cubans to refer to their enemies as quintos—the fifth part of a man! With a wave of his hand Gomez returned to his reading.
As Judson led his companion away he said: “When you have finished with Lopez come to my shack and we’ll have supper and I’ll introduce you to the rest of our gang. You won’t get much to eat, for we’re short of grub; but it’s worse where Lopez comes from.”
Col. Miguel Lopez, a handsome, animated fellow, took O’Reilly’s hand in a hearty clasp when they were introduced; but a moment later his smile gave way to a frown and his brow darkened.
“So! You are that O’Reilly from Matanzas,” said he. “I know you now, but—I never expected we would meet.”
“Esteban Varona told you about me, did he not?”
The colonel inclined his head.
“I’m here at last, after the devil’s own time. I’ve been trying every way to get through. The Spaniards stopped me at Puerto Principe—they sent me back home, you know. I’ve been half crazy. I—You—” O’Reilly swallowed hard. “You know where Esteban is? Tell me-”
“Have you heard nothing?”
“Nothing whatever. That is, nothing since Rosa, his sister—You understand, she and I are—engaged-”
“Yes, yes; Esteban told me all about you.”
Something in the Cuban’s gravity of manner gave O’Reilly warning. A sudden fear assailed him. His voice shook as he asked:
“What is it? My God! Not bad news?”
There was no need for the officer to answer. In his averted gaze O’Reilly read confirmation of his sickest apprehensions. The men faced each other for a long moment, while the color slowly drove out of the American’s cheeks, leaving him pallid, stricken. He wet his lips to speak, but his voice was no more than a dry, throaty rustle.