"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?" "No doubt." 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?"
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." "Yes, sir."
Would you believe it? Oh, I have to discipline them frequently. To think of you going abroad through the streets, therefore, worries me intensely." "Your solicitude is touching." O'Reilly bowed mockingly; but disregarding his tone, General Antuna proceeded in the same false key: "Suppose you should be found dead some day. Imagine my feelings."
Even an espionage stricter than that to which he had been subjected would utterly defeat his plans. After a moment of thought he said, gravely: "I appreciate the delicacy of your consideration, sir, and I shall go." General Antuna leaped to his feet, his grim face alight; striding to O'Reilly, he pressed his hands he seemed upon the point of embracing him. "I thank you!" he cried.
"I would only be deceiving you, sir," he said. General Antuna sighed. "Then I see embarrassments ahead for both of us." "More arrests?" "Not necessarily. Understand me, I speak as one gentleman to another, but you must have noticed that Americans are unpopular with our troops. Eh? They are impulsive, these troopers; accidents cannot be prevented. Suppose something should happen to you?
With angry, brooding eyes O'Reilly watched the white houses along the water-front dwindle away, the mangrove swamps slip past, and the hills rise out of their purple haze. When the salt breath of the trades came to his nostrils he turned into his state-room, and, taking the crate of cocoanuts with which General Antuna had thoughtfully provided him, he bore it to the rail and dropped it overboard.
There came a loud cry from General Antuna, who had bent closer; he clapped his hands to his face and staggered from his chair, for in suiting his action to his words the colonel had squeezed the bulb, with the result that a spray of salt water had squirted fairly into his superior officer's interested and attentive countenance. "My eyes! Dios mio!
I shall see that a crate of the choicest fruit is placed aboard your steamer. Accept them with my compliments, and when you partake of them think of me." O'Reilly did think of General Antuna, not only when he was escorted to the railway station at daylight, but when he and Branch took their seats and their guards filed in behind them.
At last O'Reilly was recalled; but when he re-entered the big room he found General Antuna awaiting him, alone. "Permit me to apologize for the inconvenience we have put you to," the comandante began. "Then am I free?" "You are." "I thank you." The general's hard eyes gleamed. "Personally I at no time put faith in the idea that you are a powder expert," said he. "No.