“Good Lord! You—” O’Reilly swallowed hard. “I won’t tell you the truth when you know it so well.”
“The richest man in Matanzas asked for my hand this very afternoon.”
“Who? Mario de Castano?”
O’Reilly laughed with relief, and though Rosa tried to look offended, she was forced to smile. “He’s fat, I know,” she admitted, “and he makes funny noises when he breathes; but he is richer than Croesus, and I adore rich men.”
“I hate ’em!” announced O’Reilly. Then for a second time he took Rosa’s dimpled hand, saying, earnestly: “I’m sure you know now why I make love so badly, dear. It’s my Irish conscience. And you’ll wait until I come back, won’t you?”
“Will you be gone—very long?” she asked.
O’Reilly looked deeply now into the dark eyes turned to his, and found that at last there was no coquetry in them anywhere—nothing but a lonesome, hungry yearning—and with a glad, incoherent exclamation he held out his arms. Rosa Varona crept into them; then with a sigh she upturned her lips to his.
“I’ll wait forever,” she said.
Although for a long time Dona Isabel had been sure in her own mind that Pancho Cueto, her administrador, was robbing her, she had never mustered courage to call him to a reckoning. And there was a reason for her cowardice. Nevertheless, De Castano’s blunt accusation, coupled with her own urgent needs, served to fix her resolution, and on the day after the merchant’s visit she sent for the overseer, who at the time was living on one of the plantations.
Once the message was on its way, Isabel fell into a condition bordering upon panic, and was half minded to countermand her order. She spent an evening of suspense, and a miserable night. This last, however, was nothing unusual with her; she was accustomed to unpleasant dreams, and she was not surprised when old familiar shapes came to harass her. Nor, in view of her somnambulistic vagaries, was she greatly concerned to find, when she woke in the morning, that her slippers were stained and that her skirt was bedraggled with dew and filled with burs.
Scarcely a month passed that she did not walk in her sleep.
Cueto was plainly curious to learn why he had been sent for, but since he asked no questions, his employer was forced to open the subject herself. Several times he led up to it unsuccessfully; then she took the plunge. Through dry, white lips she began:
“My dear Pancho, times are hard. The plantations are failing, and so—” Pancho Cueto’s eyes were set close to his nose, his face was long and thin and harsh; he regarded the speaker with such a sinister, unblinking stare that she could scarcely finish: “—and so I—can no longer afford to retain you as administrador.”
“Times will improve,” he said.