“You’ll go?” quickly cried Miss Evans. “You’ll go! You’re not strong enough. It would be suicide. You, with a price upon your head! Everybody knows you there. Matanzas is virtually a walled city. There’s sickness, too—yellow fever, typhus—”
“Exactly. And hunger, also. Suppose no one has taken Rosa in? Those concentration camps aren’t nice places for a girl.”
“But wait! I have friends in Washington. They’re influential. They will cable the American consul to look after her. Anyhow, you mustn’t think of returning to Matanzas,” Norine faltered; her voice caught unexpectedly and she turned her face away.
O’Reilly nodded shortly. “You’re a sick man,” he agreed. “There’s no need for both of us to go.”
Esteban looked up. “Then you—”
“I leave at once. The Old Man has given me a commission to General Betancourt, and I’ll be on my way in an hour. The moon is young; I must cross the trocha before—”
“That trocha!” Esteban was up on his elbow again. “Be careful there, O’Reilly. They keep a sharp lookout, and it’s guarded with barbed wire. Be sure you cut every strand. Yes, and muffle your horse’s hoofs, too, in crossing the railroad track. That’s how we were detected. Pablo’s horse struck a rail, and they fired at the sound. He fell at the first volley, riddled. Oh, I know that trocha!”
“Damn the trocha!” O’Reilly exclaimed. “At last I’ve got a chance to do something. God! How long I’ve waited.”
Esteban drew O’Reilly’s tense form down and embraced his friend, after the fashion of his people. “She has been waiting, too,” he said, huskily. “We Varonas are good waiters, O’Reilly. Rosa will never cease waiting until you come. Tell her, for me—”
Norine withdrew softly out of earshot. There were a lump in her throat and a pain in her breast. She had acquired a peculiar and affectionate interest in this unhappy girl whom she had never seen, and she had learned to respect O’Reilly’s love. The yearning that had pulsed in his voice a moment before had stirred her deeply; it awoke a throb in her own bosom, for O’Reilly was dear to her. She wanted him to go, yet she knew the hazards that lay in his way. If, indeed, the girl were in Matanzas, how, Norine asked herself, was it possible for him to reach her? That O’Reilly had some mad design was evident; that he would utterly disregard his own safety she felt sure. But that he would meet with failure, perhaps worse, seemed equally certain. Matanzas was a beleagured city, and strangers could not enter or leave it at will. If Rosa had not put herself behind prison walls, if she were still in hiding somewhere on the island, it would be a simple matter to seek her out. But Matanzas, of all places!
Then, too, the pacificos, according to all reports, were dying like flies in the prison camps. Norine wondered if there might not be a terrible heartache at the end of O’Reilly’s quest? Her face was grave and worried when, hearing him speak to her, she turned to take his outstretched hand.