A waiter eyed him tolerantly, but with no faintest sign of understanding.
“Agwa con yellow—agwa with ice. Ice! Ice!” the man repeated loudly. Still failing of a response, he shouted, “Don’t you know what ‘ice’ is?” He wrapped his long, lean arms about himself and shivered. “Cold! Icie! Freezum! Br-r-r! Savvy?”
Inspiration came to the waiter; a smile irradiated his countenance, and with a murmured apology for his stupidity he hurried away.
O’Reilly stepped over to the stranger’s table and introduced himself. “The hotel-keeper in Neuvitas told me I’d find you here,” he said. “Your name is—”
“Branch; Leslie Branch. So Carbajal said you’d find me here, eh? Oh, the greasy little liar. He didn’t believe it. He thought his cooking would have killed me, long ago, and it nearly did.” This time Mr. Branch’s bony frame underwent a genuine shudder and his face was convulsed with loathing. “Did you try his butter? ’Made in Denmark’ during the early Victorian period. I hate antiques— can’t eat anything oily. Carbajal’s in the Secret Service. Nice fat little spy.”
“So I suspected.”
Mr. Branch’s beverage appeared at this moment. With a flourish the waiter placed a small glass and a bottle of dark liquid before him. Branch stared at it, then rolled a fiercely smoldering eye upward.
“What’s that?” he inquired.
O’Reilly read the label. “It’s bitters,” said he.
“Bitters! And I asked for ’yellow’—a glass of agwa with yellow.” Branch’s voice shook. “I’m dying of a fever, and this ivory-billed toucan brings me a quart of poison. Bullets!” It was impossible to describe the suggestion of profanity with which the speaker colored this innocuous expletive. “Weak as I am, I shall gnaw his windpipe.” He bared his teeth suggestively and raised two talon-like hands.
The waiter was puzzled, but not alarmed. He embraced himself as his customer had done, and shuddered; then pointing at the bitters, he nodded encouragingly.
O’Reilly forestalled an outburst by translating his countryman’s wants. “Un vaso de agua con hielo,” said he, and the attendant was all apologies.
“So, you speak the lingo?” marveled Mr. Branch. “Well, I can’t get the hang of it. Don’t like it. Don’t like anything Spanish. Hell of a country, isn’t it? where the ice is ‘yellow’ and the butter is ‘meant to kill you,’ and does.”
O’Reilly laughed. “You’ve been studying a guide-book, ’with complete glossary of Spanish phrases.’ By the way, Carbajal said you are a writer.”
Mr. Branch nodded listlessly. “I’m supposed to report this insurrection, but the Spaniards won’t let me. They edit my stuff to suit themselves. I’m getting tired of the farce.”
“Don’t dare.” The speaker tapped his concave chest. “Bum lungs. I came down here to shuffle off, and I’m waiting for it to happen. What brings you to Cuba?”