She both smiled and sighed at that. A chord in her responded to the extravagance of his speech, even though vaguely it did not quite satisfy. A woman of the warm-blooded south and no plaster saint, she answered presently with shy, reluctant lips the kisses of her lover. Why should she not? Had he not won her by meeting the test she had given him? Was he not a gallant gentleman, of her own race and caste, bound to her by ties of many sorts, in every way worthy to be the father of her children? If she had to stifle some faint, indefinable regret, was it not right that she should? Her bridges were burned behind her. He was the man of her choice. She listened, eyes a little wistful, while he poured out ardently the tale of his devotion.
“You do love me, don’t you, Manuel?” she demanded, a little fiercely. It was as if she wanted to drown any doubts she might have of her own feeling in the certainty of his.
“More than life itself, I do believe,” he cried in a low voice.
Her lithe body turned, so that her shining eyes were close to his.
“Dear Manuel, I am glad. You don’t know how worried I’ve been ... still am. Perhaps if I were a man it would be different, but I don’t want my people to take the life of this stranger. But they mean him harm—especially since he has come back and intends to punish Pablo and Sebastian. I want them to let the law take its course. Something tells me that we shall win in the end. I’ve talked to them—and talked—but they say nothing except ‘Si, dona.’ But with you to help me——”
“They’d better not touch him again,” broke in her lover swiftly.
“It’s a great comfort to me, Manuel, that you have blotted out your own quarrel with him. It was magnanimous, what I should expect of you.”
He said nothing, but the hand that lay on hers seemed suddenly to stiffen. A kind of fear ran shivering through her. Quickly she rose from the couch.
“Manuel, tell me that I am right, that you don’t mean to ... hurt him?” Her dark eyes searched his unflinchingly. “You don’t mean ... you can’t mean ... that——?”
“Let us forget the American and remember only that we love, my beloved,” he pleaded.
“No ... No!” The voice of the girl was sharp and imperative. “I want the truth. Is it that you are still thinking of murdering him, Manuel?”
The sting of her words brought a flush to his cheeks. “I fight fair, Valencia. I set against his life my own, with all the happiness that has come flooding it. Nor is it that I seek the man’s life. For me he might live a thousand years—and welcome. But my honor——”
“No, Manuel. No—no—no! I will not have it. If you are betrothed to me your life is mine. You shall not risk it in a barbarous duel.”
“Let us change the subject, dear heart.”
“Not till I hear you say that you have given up this wicked intention of yours.”