He clamped his teeth on the torrent of protest that rose within him when she handed him back his ring. It would do no good to speak more. The immutable fact stood between them.
“I did not know life could be so hard—and cruel,” she cried out in a burst of passion.
She went to the open window and looked out upon the placid, peaceful valley. She had a swift, supple way of moving, as if her muscles responded with effortless ease to her volition; but the young man noticed that to-night there was a drag to her motions.
His heart yearned toward her. He longed mightily to take her in his arms and tell her that he would do as she wished. But, as he had said, something in him more potent than vanity, than pride, than his will, held him to the course he had set for himself. His views of honor might be archaic and ridiculous, but he lived by his code as tenaciously as had his fathers. Gordon had insulted and humiliated him publicly. He must apologize or give him satisfaction. Until he had done one or the other Manuel could not live at peace with himself. He had put a powerful curb upon his desire to wait as long as he had. Circumstances had for a time taken the matter out of his hands, but the time had come when he meant to press his claims. The American might refuse the duel; he could not refrain from defending himself when Pesquiera attacked.
A step sounded in the doorway, and almost simultaneously a voice.
“Dona, are you here?”
The room was lighted only by the flickering fire; but Valencia, her eyes accustomed to the darkness, recognized the boy as Juan Gardiez.
“Yes, I am here, Juan. What have you to tell me?” she said quickly.
“I do not know, senorita. But the men—Pablo, Sebastian; all of them—are gone.”
“Gone where?” she breathed.
“I do not know. To-day I drove a cow and calf to Willow Springs. I am but returned. The houses are empty. Senor Barela’s wife says she saw men riding up the hill toward Corbett’s—eight, nine, ten of them.”
“To Corbett’s?” She stared whitely at him without moving. “How long ago?”
“An hour ago—or more.”
“Saddle Billy at once and bring him round,” the girl ordered crisply.
She turned as she spoke and went lightly to the telephone. With the need of action, of decision, her hopelessness was gone. There was a hard, bright light in her eyes that told of a resolution inflexible as tempered steel when once aroused.
“Give me Corbett’s—at once, please. Hallo, Central—Corbett’s——”
No answer came, though she called again and again.
“There must be something wrong with the telephone,” suggested Don Manuel.
She dropped the receiver and turned quietly to him.
“The wires have been cut.”
“But, why? What is it all about?”
“Merely that my men are anticipating you. They have gone to murder the American. Deputy sheriffs from Santa Fe to-day came here to arrest Pablo and Sebastian. The men suspected and were hidden. Now they have gone to punish Mr. Gordon for sending the officers.”