While this was going on, Jacket was proudly advertising his share of the enterprise, not failing to give himself full credit.
“By——! I made a big hit with that comandante,” he told his American friends. “Those people in San Antonio say I’m the bravest boy they ever seen, and they give me more’n a thousand cigars. When I rode away I saluted the comandante; then I yelled, ’Vive Cuba Libre!’ and everybody laughed like hell. I guess those people never seen nobody like me before.”
That afternoon, when it came time for the merchant and his little family to set out for home, a crowd of regretful Insurrectos assembled to bid them farewell and to look for the last time upon the baby. By now the mother’s apprehensions had given way to pride and she could bring herself to smile at the compliments showered upon her offspring and to answer in kind those which were aimed at herself. She even permitted El Demonio to kiss the child good-by. Her husband, since his arrival in camp, had heard much about the eccentric American, and now, after apologizing abjectly for his unwarranted attack, he invited Branch to visit his store when this hideous war was over and Cuba was free. Finally, in spite of Leslie’s frantic struggles, he embraced him and planted a moist kiss upon either cheek.
Amid loud and repeated good wishes and a cheer for the baby the visitors rode away.
Lopez linked his arm within O’Reilly’s as they turned back into the palm-grove. With a smile he said:
“Well, I hope this has taught your friend to steal no more babies.”
“I’m afraid he’ll steal the very next one he sees. He fell in love with that one and wanted to keep it.”
“Oh, he wasn’t alone in that. It’s queer how sentimental soldiers become. I’ve often noticed it. When I was in the Rubi Hills some of my fellows adopted a goat. We had to eat it finally, but those men wouldn’t touch a piece of the flesh—and they were starving. By the way, how is Varona doing?”
“About the same.”
Lopez frowned. “I shall have to send him to Cubitas to-morrow, for we must be under way.”
“If he has to be moved, let me do it. I’d like to be with him when he comes out of his fever, and learn what he knows about his sister.” O’Reilly’s appeal was earnest.
The colonel readily yielded. “Go, by all means. Report to General Gomez, and he no doubt will let you stay until the boy can talk. He may have news from Matanzas by that time.”
O’Reilly pressed his colonel’s hand gratefully. “You’re mighty good,” said he. “There’s one thing more. Will you look out for Branch while I’m gone, and—hold him down?”
Lopez laughed lightly. “Oh, he’ll soon get over his recklessness. This life agrees with him. Why, he’s a different man already! When he gets well and has something to live for he will want to live. You’ll see.”