She laid her hand on his coat sleeve pleadingly, and he lifted it to his lips.
“Nina ... the Queen can do no wrong. But I saw you were driving Sebastian to stubbornness. I tried to let him see we meant to be his friends if he would let us.”
“Yes, you were right. Tell me everything, please.” She paused just a moment before she said quietly: “But first, what about Mr. Gordon? He is ... uninjured?”
“Beaten and mauled and starved, but still of the gayest courage,” answered the Spaniard with enthusiasm. “Did I not say that he was a hero? My cousin, I say it again. The fear of death is not in his heart.”
He did not see the gleam in her dark eyes, the flush that beat into her dusky face. “Starved as well as beaten, Manuel?”
“They were trying to force him to give up his claim to the valley. But he—as I live the American is hard as Gibraltar.”
“They dared to starve him—to torture him. I shall see that they are punished,” she cried with the touch of feminine ferocity that is the heritage of the south.
“No need, Valencia,” returned Pesquiera with a dry little laugh. “Mr. Gordon has promised himself to attend to that.”
He told her the story from first to last. Intently she listened, scarce breathing until he had finished.
Manuel had told the tale with scrupulous fairness, but already her sympathies were turning.
“And he wouldn’t agree not to prosecute?” she asked.
“No. It is his right to do so if he likes, Valencia.”
She brushed this aside with an impatient wave of her hand. “Oh, his right! Doesn’t he owe something to us—to me—and especially to you?”
“No, he owes me nothing. What I did was done for you, and not for him,” the Spaniard replied instantly.
“Then to me at least he is in debt. I shall ask him to drop the prosecution.”
“He is what his people call straight. But he is hard—hard as jade.”
They were walking along a dark lane unlighted save by the stars. Valencia turned to him impetuously.
“Manuel, you are good. You do not like this man, but you save him because—because my heart is torn when my people do wrong. For me you take much trouble—you risk much. How can I thank you?”
“Nina mia, I am thanked if you are pleased. It is your love I seek, Heart of mine.” He spoke tremulously, taking her hands in his.
For the beat of a heart she hesitated. “You have it. Have I not given my word that—after the American was saved——?”
He kissed her. Hers was a virginal soul, but full-blooded. An unsuspected passion beat in her veins. Not for nothing did she have the deep, languorous eyes, the perfect scarlet lips, the sumptuous grace of an artist’s ideal. Fires lay banked within her in spite of the fine purity of her nature. Nature had poured into her symmetrical mold a rich abundance of what we call sex.