When they were safely out in the street Branch rubbed his head and complained: “Bullets, you’re strong! You nearly broke a rafter with my head. But I guess I got ’em out of sight.”
“Yes. I hid my American ‘papers,’ too. These Dons are sore on Yankees, you know. I’m going to be an Englishman, and you’d better follow suit. I’m the—the youngest son of the Earl of Pawtucket, and you’d better tell ’em your uncle was the Duke of Ireland, or something.”
THE HAND OF THE CAPTAIN-GENERAL
On the stroke of midnight O’Reilly was arrested. After a thorough search of his person and his premises he was escorted to Government headquarters, where he found Leslie Branch.
The invalid looked taller, thinner, more bloodless than ever, and his air of settled gloom admirably became the situation.
“Hello, Earl. What luck?” Johnnie flashed at him.
An officer sharply commanded them to be silent.
There ensued a long delay, introduced, perhaps, for its effect upon the prisoners; then they were led into a large room where, it seemed, the entire staff of the Spanish garrison was waiting. It was an imposing collection of uniforms, a row of grim faces and hostile eyes, which the two Americans beheld. Spread out upon a table in front of the officers were the personal belongings of both men.
The prisoners were ordered to stand side by side, facing their accusers. Then each in turn was subjected to a rigorous examination. Owing to his acquaintance with Spanish, O’Reilly was able to defend himself without the aid of an interpreter. He began by asserting that he had come to Cuba for his health, and declared that he had endeavored at all times since his arrival to conduct himself in strict conformity with local regulations. If in any way he had offended, he had not done so intentionally, He denied having the remotest connection with the rebels, and demanded an explanation of his arrest.
But his plausible words did not in the least affect his hearers. General Antuna, the comandante, a square-faced man with the airs of a courtier, but with the bold, hard eyes of a fighter, leaned forward, saying:
“So you suffer from ill health, senor?”
“I do, severely. Rheumatism.”
The general nodded. “Three days ago you were overtaken by a rain-storm while walking through the city.”
“When the rain had passed, you returned to your hotel. At the junction of San Rafael and Estrella streets a pool of water had gathered and you leaped it. Am I right?”
General Antuna consulted a report before him. “That pool measured six feet four inches in width. Do you ask me to believe that a person suffering from rheumatism could do that?”
Leslie Branch shifted his weight and wet his lips, but O’Reilly only shrugged impatiently. “My dear General,” said he, “did you never experience a neuralgia? Well then, was the pain continuous? In this climate my affliction troubles me very little. That is why I remain here.”