“Try to hear me! Try!” There was fierce agony in the cry. “Where is Rosa? ... Rosa? ... You’re safe now; you can tell me. ... You’re safe with O’Reilly. ... I came back ... I came back for you and Rosa. ... Where is she? ... Is she—dead?”
Other men were assembling now. The column was ready to move, but Judson signaled to Colonel Lopez and made known the identity of the sick stranger. The colonel came forward swiftly and laid a hand upon O’Reilly’s shoulder, saying:
“So! You were right, after all. Esteban Varona didn’t die. God must have sent us to San Antonio to deliver him.”
“He’s sick, sick!” O’Reilly said, huskily. “Those Spaniards! Look what they’ve done to him.” His voice changed. He cried, fiercely: “Well, I’m late again. I’m always just a little bit too late. He’ll die before he can tell me—”
“Wait! Take hold of yourself. We’ll do all that can be done to save him. Now come, we must be going, or all San Antonio will be upon us.”
O’Reilly roused. “Put him in my arms,” he ordered. “I’ll carry him to camp myself.”
But Lopez shook his head, saying, gently: “It’s a long march, and the litter would be better for him. Thank Heaven we have an angel of mercy awaiting us, and she will know how to make him well.”
When the troop resumed its retreat Esteban Varona lay suspended upon a swinging bed between O’Reilly’s and Judson’s horses. Although they carried him as carefully as they could throughout that long hot journey, he never ceased his babbling and never awoke to his surroundings.
EL DEMONIO’S CHILD
During the next few days O’Reilly had reason to bless the happy chance which had brought Norine Evans to Cuba. During the return journey from San Antonio de los Banos he had discovered how really ill Esteban Varona was, how weak his hold upon life. The young man showed the marks of wasting illness and of cruel abuse; starvation, neglect, and disease had all but done for him. After listening to his ravings, O’Reilly began to fear that the poor fellow’s mind was permanently affected. It was an appalling possibility, one to which he could not reconcile himself. To think that somewhere in that fevered brain was perhaps locked the truth about Rosa’s fate, if not the secret of her whereabouts, and yet to be unable to wring an intelligent answer to a single question, was intolerable. The hours of that ride were among the longest O’Reilly had ever passed.
But Norine Evans gave him new heart. She took complete charge of the sick man upon his arrival in camp; then in her brisk, matter-of-fact way she directed O’Reilly to go and get some much-needed rest. Esteban was ill, very ill, she admitted; there was no competent doctor near, and her own facilities for nursing were primitive indeed; nevertheless, she expressed confidence that she could cure him, and reminded O’Reilly that nature has a blessed way of building up a resistance to environment. As a result of her good cheer O’Reilly managed to enjoy a night’s sleep.