“It is good to live—and to know this,” she said at last softly.
“It is good to live and, best of all, to know you,” he made answer slowly.
She did not turn from the hills, made no slightest sign that she had heard; but to herself she was saving: “It has come.”
While he pleaded his cause passionately, with all the ardor of hot-blooded Spain, the girl heard only with her ears. She was searching her heart for the answer to the question she asked of it:
“Is this the man?”
A month ago she might have found her answer easier; but she felt that in some subtle, intangible way she was not the same girl as the Valencia Valdes she had known then. Something new had come into her life; something that at times exalted her and seemed to make life’s currents sweep with more abandon.
She was at a loss to know what it meant; but, though she would not confess it even to herself, she was aware that the American was the stimulating cause. He was her enemy, and she detested him; and, in the same breath with which she would tell herself this, would come that warm beat of exultant blood she had never known till lately.
With all his ardor, Don Manuel never quickened her pulses. She liked him, understood him, appreciated his value. He was certainly very handsome, and, without doubt, a brave, courteous gentleman of her own set with whom she ought to be happy if she loved him. Ah! If she knew what love were.
So, when the torrent of Pesquiera’s speech was for the moment dammed, she could only say:
“I don’t know, Manuel.”
Confidently he explained away her uncertainty:
“A maiden’s love is retiring, shy, like the first flowers of the spring. She doubts it, fears it, hides it, my beloved, like——”
He was just swimming into his vocal stride when she cut him short decisively:
“It isn’t that way with me, Manuel. I should tell you if I knew. Tell me what love is, my cousin, and I may find an answer.”
He was off again in another lover’s rhapsody. This time there was a smile almost of amusement in her eyes as she listened.
“If it is like that, I don’t think I love you, Manuel. I don’t think poetry about you, and I don’t dream about you. Life isn’t a desert when you are away, though I like having you here. I don’t believe I care for you that way, not if love is what the poets and my cousin Manuel say it is.”
Her eyes had been fixed absently now and again on an approaching wagon. It passed on the road below them, and she saw, as she looked down, that her vaquero Pedro lay in the bottom of it upon some hay.
“What is the matter? Are you hurt?” she called down.
The lad who was driving looked up, and flashed a row of white teeth in a smile of reassurance to his mistress.
“It is Pedro, dona. He tried to ride that horse Teddy, and it threw him. Before it could kill him, the Americano jumped in and saved his life.”