Now while Esteban was thus busied, Pancho Cueto was entertaining an unwelcome guest. In the late afternoon he had been surprised by the visit of a dozen or more Volunteers, and inasmuch as his relations with their colonel had been none of the friendliest since that ill-starred expedition into the Yumuri, he had felt a chill of apprehension on seeing the redoubtable Cobo himself at their head.
The colonel had explained that he was returning from a trip up the San Juan, taken for the purpose of rounding up those inhabitants who had been dilatory in obeying the new orders from Havana. That smoke to the southward was from fires of his kindling: he had burned a good many crops and houses and punished a good many people, and since this was exactly the sort of task he liked he was in no unpleasant mood. He had demanded of Cueto lodging for himself and his troop, announcing that a part of his command was somewhere behind and would rejoin him later in the night.
Cueto had welcomed his visitor in all humility; he put up the soldiers in the bate of the sugar-mill, and then installed Cobo in his best room, after which he ransacked the house for food and drink and tobacco.
Later he and the colonel sat long over their supper, for the latter’s exultant humor continued. Cobo, it transpired, was delighted with the new captain-general, a man of blood and iron, a man after his own heart. This Weyler, he predicted, would put an end to the insurrection; there would be no more of Campos’s weak, merciful methods, which were, in reality, nothing less than encouragement to revolt. Cueto, of course, agreed.
“We’re sweeping the country as with a broom, and already Matanzas is bulging with refugees,” the officer told him. “They call themselves pacificos, but they carry information and aid our enemies. We’ll have no more of that.”
“Will it not be a great expense to feed so many people?” Cueto ventured.
“Let them feed themselves. Is it our fault that they make such measures necessary? By no means. Once we have them safe, we shall exterminate all whom we encounter in the country.” The speaker drank deeply of Cueto’s good wine and smacked his lips. “It’s the kind of work I like. Extermination! They have had their warning. From now on we shall spare neither man, woman, nor child. The men are traitors, the women breed, and the children grow up.”
Cueto nodded his complete approval of this program. “Oh, decidedly,” said he. “This spirit of violence must be stamped out or none of us will be safe. Let me tell you I myself live in constant dread of that young villain, Varona. I—hope you haven’t forgotten him.”
“Forgotten him?” Colonel Cobo fingered a lately healed scar which further disfigured his ugly face, then he cursed frightfully. “It’s by God’s mercy alone that I’m alive to-night. And I haven’t forgotten the girl, either. She’ll have to come in, along with the others. The boy may stay out, but she can’t.” He licked his lips. “Wait until I have finished with this valley. I’ll drive the Yumuri next, as a hunter drives a thicket for his game, and nothing will slip through.”