O’Reilly eyed the speaker with appreciation. On the way north he had learned to know Leslie Branch and to like him, for he had discovered that the man possessed a rare and pleasing peculiarity of disposition. Ordinarily Branch was bitter, irritable, pessimistic; but when his luck was worst and his fortunes lowest he brightened up. It seemed that he reacted naturally, automatically, against misfortune. Certainly his and O’Reilly’s plight upon leaving Cuba had been sufficiently unpleasant, for they were almost penniless, and the invalid, moreover, knew that he was facing a probably fatal climate; nevertheless, once they were at sea, he had ceased his grumbling, and had surprised his traveling-companion by assuming a genuinely cheerful mien. Even yet O’Reilly was not over his amazement; he could not make up his mind whether the man was animated by desperate courage or merely by hopeless resignation. But whatever the truth, the effect of this typical perversity had been most agreeable. And when Leslie cheerfully volunteered to share the proceeds of his newspaper work during their stay in New York, thus enabling his friend to seize the first chance of returning to Cuba, Johnnie’s affection for him was cemented. But Branch’s very cheerfulness worried him; it seemed to betoken that the fellow was sicker than he would confess.
That evening O’Reilly anticipated his dinner engagement by a few moments in order to have a word alone with Alvarado.
“I’ve seen Enriquez,” he told the doctor, “but he won’t promise to send me through. He says the Junta is besieged by fellows who want to fight for Cuba—and of course I don’t. When I appealed in Rosa’s name he told me, truthfully enough, I dare say, that there are thousands of Cuban women as badly in need of succor as she. He says this is no time for private considerations.”
“Quite so!” the doctor agreed. “We hear frightful stories about this new concentration policy. I—can’t believe them.”
“Oh, I guess they are true; it is the more reason why I must get back at once,” O’Reilly said, earnestly.
“This lady who is coming here to-night has influence with Enriquez. You remember I told you that she has contributed liberally. She might help you.”
“I’ll implore her to put in a word for me. Who is she?”
“Well, she’s my pet nurse—”
“A nurse!” O’Reilly’s eyes opened wide. “A nurse, with money! I didn’t know there was such a thing.”
“Neither did I. They’re rarer even than rich doctors,” Alvarado acknowledged. “But, you see, nursing is merely Miss Evans’s avocation. She’s one of the few wealthy women I know who have real ideals, and live up to them.”
“Oh, she has a ’mission’!” Johnnie’s interest in Doctor Alvarado’s other guest suddenly fell away, and his tone indicated as much. As the doctor was about to reply the ringing of the door-bell summoned him away.