“You have everything, eh?” Mr. Carbajal teetered upon the balls of his feet while his small black eyes roved inquisitively.
“Everything in abundance.”
“There is water, eh?” The proprietor peered dutifully into the pitcher, incidentally taking stock of O’Reilly’s toilet articles.
“A veritable ocean of it.”
“One never knows. These servants are so lazy. But—your other baggage, your trunk?”
“I have no trunk.”
“So? I took you to be a great traveler.”
“Selling goods, eh?”
“Indeed? Then you are a pleasure traveler? You see the sights, is that it? Well, Cuba is beautiful.”
“Most beautiful, judging from what I have seen.”
Mr. Carbajal wagged a pudgy forefinger at his guest. “Tut! Tut! You know Cuba. You speak the language better than a native. You can’t fool me, sly one!” He wrinkled his face and winked both eyes. It was an invitation to further confidence, and he was disappointed when it passed unnoticed. “Well, you Americans are a brave people,” he continued, with an obvious effort to keep the conversation going. “You like to be where the fighting is.”
“Not I. I’m a timid man.”
“Ho! Ha! Ha!” the proprietor cackled. Then he became pensive. “There is nothing here at Neuvitas to interest a tourist—except the war.”
“I’m not a tourist.”
“Indeed? Now that is interesting.” Mr. Carbajal seated himself on the edge of the bed, where he could look into O’Reilly’s traveling-bag. “Not a tourist, not a traveling-man. Now what could possibly bring you to Cuba?”
O’Reilly eyed his inquisitor gravely; a subtle melancholy darkened his agreeable countenance. “I travel for my health,” said he.
“You—Health—!” Carbajal’s frame began to heave; his bulging abdomen oscillated as if shaken by some hidden hand. “Good! Ha! There’s another joke for you.”
“I’m a sick man,” O’Reilly insisted, hollowly.
“From what malady do you suffer?” inquired the hotel-keeper.
“Rheumatism? That is no more than a pain in the joints, a stiffness—”
“There! I knew it!” O’Reilly exclaimed in triumph. Rising, he seized his host’s moist hands and shook them violently. “You give me courage! You make a new man of me. These doctors enjoy a fellow’s agony; they’d like to bury him. They’d never recommend this climate. No! ‘Pain in the joints,’ you say, ‘stiffness.’ That proves the abominable affliction is practically unknown here. I thank you, sir.”
“You don’t look sick,” mumbled Carbajal. “Not like the other American.”
“What other American?”
“A peculiar fellow. He went on to Puerto Principe. What a cough! And he was as thin as a wire. He bled at the mouth, too, all the time, when he was not reviling my hotel. You’ll see him if you go there, provided he hasn’t come apart with his coughing. I believe he writes for newspapers. Well, it is my pleasure to serve you. Command me at any hour.” Mr. Carbajal rose reluctantly and went wheezing down-stairs to his grimy tables and the flies.