“Then why are you here?” Alaire demanded. “This is no place for you at such a moment.”
Longorio came closer to her, and his voice trembled as he said: “Angel of my soul, my place is at your side.” Again she recoiled, but with a fervor he had never dared display he rushed on heedlessly. “I have told you I harken only to my heart; that for one smile from you I would behead myself; that for your favor I would betray my fatherland; that for your kiss I would face damnation. Well, I am here at your side. The deluge comes, but you shall be unharmed.” He would not permit her to check him, crying: “Wait! You must hear me through, senora, so that you may comprehend fully why I am forced to speak at this time. Out of this coming struggle I shall emerge a heroic figure. Now that Mexico unites, she will triumph, and of all her victorious sons the name of Luis Longorio will be sung the loudest, for upon him more than upon any other depends the Republic’s salvation. I do not boast. I merely state facts, for I have made all my plans, and tomorrow I put them into effect. That is why I cannot wait to speak. The struggle will be long, but you shall be my guiding star in the hour of darkness.”
Under other circumstances the man’s magnificent egotism might have provoked a smile. And yet, for all its grandiloquence, there was something in his speech that rang hard and true. Unquestionably Longorio was dangerous—a real personality, and no mere swaggering pretender. Alaire felt a certain reluctant respect for him, and at the same time a touch of chilling fear such as she had hardly experienced before. She faced him silently for a moment; then she said:
“Am I to understand that you forbid me to leave my own house?”
“For the time being, exactly.”
“What? Then I am your prisoner!”
“No, no!” He made a gesture of denial. “How ridiculous! I merely keep you from certain destruction. You cannot go by train, because the railroad has suspended public service, nor can you ride or drive. I tell you, senora, the people are aroused. For the moment you must accept my protection, whether you wish to or not. Tomorrow”—Longorio smiled warmly, meaningly-"perhaps you will not be in such haste to refuse it, or to leave La Feria. Wait until you understand me better. Then—But enough of this. You are unstrung, you wish to be alone with your thoughts, and what I have to say can wait for a few hours. In the mean time, may I beg the hospitality of your ranch for myself and my men?”
Alaire acquiesced mechanically. Longorio saluted her fingers in his customary manner, and then, with a look eloquent of things unsaid, he went out to see to the comfort of his command.