“Let’s be honest,” he said. “You know and I know that I can’t get well.”
Norine was engaged in straightening up the interior of the bark hut in which her patient was installed; she ceased her labors to inquire with lifted brows:
“Tut! Tut! Pray what do you mean by that?”
“There’s something desperately wrong with me and I realized it long ago. So did you, but your good heart wouldn’t let you—”
Norine crossed quickly to the hammock and laid her cool hand upon the sick man’s forehead.
“You mustn’t be discouraged,” she told him, earnestly. “Remember this is a trying climate and we have nothing to do with. Even the food is wretched.”
Esteban’s smile became wistful. “That isn’t why my fever lasts. If there were any life, any health left in me you would rekindle it. No, there’s something desperately wrong, and—we’re wasting time.”
“You simply mustn’t talk like this,” she cried. Then at the look in his eyes she faltered for the briefest instant. “You’ll—undo all that we’ve done. Oh, if I had you where I could take proper care of you! If we were anywhere but here you’d see.”
“I—believe you. But unfortunately we are not elsewhere.”
“I’m going to take you away,” she exclaimed, forcefully.
Esteban stroked her hand softly. “You can’t do that, Miss Evans. You have been wonderful to me and I can’t begin to express my gratitude—” Norine stirred, but he retained his grasp of her fingers, gaining courage from the contact to proceed. “I have been trying for a long time to tell you something. Will you listen?”
Norine possessed a dominant personality; she had a knack of tactfully controlling and directing situations, but of a sudden she experienced a panic-stricken nutter and she lost her air of easy confidence.
“Not now,” she exclaimed, with a visible lessening of color. “Don’t bother to tell me now.”
“I’ve waited too long; I must speak.”
Norine was amazed at her own confusion, which was nothing less than girlish; she had actually gone to pieces at threat of something she had long expected to hear.
“I know how tired of this work you have become,” the man was saying. “I know you’re eager to get back to your own work and your own life.”
“You have stayed on here just to nurse me. Isn’t that true?”
She nodded somewhat doubtfully.
“Now then, you must stop thinking about me and—make your arrangements to go home.”
Norine eyed the speaker queerly. “Is that what you have been trying so long to tell me?” she inquired.
There was a moment of silence. “Yes. You see, I know how tired you are of this misery, this poverty, this hopeless struggle. You’re not a Cuban and our cause isn’t yours. Expeditions come from the United States every now and then and the Government will see that you are put safely aboard the first ship that returns. I’ll manage to get well somehow.”