Alaire sank into the nearest chair, her nerves quivering, her mind in a turmoil. This Mexican was detestable, and he was far from being the mere maker of audaciously gallant speeches, the poetically fervent wooer of every pretty woman, she had blindly supposed him. His was no sham ardor; the man was hotly, horribly in earnest. There had been a glint of madness in his eyes. And he actually seemed to think that she shared his infatuation. It was intolerable. Yet Longorio, she was sure, had an abundance of discretion; he would not dare to offer her violence. He had pride, too; and in his way he was something of a gentleman. So far, she had avoided giving him offense. But if once she made plain to him how utterly loathsome to her was his pursuit, she was sure that he would cease to annoy her. Alaire was self-confident, strong-willed; she took courage.
Her thoughts turned from her fears to the amazing reality of her widowhood. Even yet she could not wholly credit the fact that Ed’s wasted life had come to an end and that she was free to make the most of her own. Alaire remembered her husband now with more tenderness, more charity, than she would have believed possible, and it seemed to her pitiful that one so blessed with opportunity should have worked such havoc with himself and with those near to him.
Doubtless it was all a part of some providential scheme, too blind for her to solve. Perhaps, indeed, her own trials had been designed to the end that her greater, truer love, when it did come, would find her ripe, responsive, ready. As for this Mexican general, she would put him in his place.
Alaire was still walking the floor of her chamber when Dolores entered, at dusk, to say that supper was ready and that General Longorio was waiting.
“Ask him to excuse me,” she told her servant.
But Longorio himself spoke from the next room, saying: “Senora, I beg of you to honor me. I have much of importance to say, and time presses. Control your grief and give me the pleasure of your company.”
After an instant’s consideration Alaire yielded. It was best to have the matter over with, once for all.
THE DOORS OF PARADISE
Alaire began the mockery of playing hostess with extreme distaste, and as the meal progressed she experienced a growing uneasiness. Longorio’s bearing had changed since his arrival. He was still extravagantly courteous, beautifully attentive; he maintained a flow of conversation that relieved her of any effort, and yet he displayed a repressed excitement that was disturbing. In his eyes there was a gloating look of possession hard to endure. Despite her icy formality, he appeared to be holding himself within the bounds of propriety only by an effort of will, and she was not surprised when, at the conclusion of the meal, he cast restraint aside.
She did not let him go far with his wooing before warning him: “I won’t listen to you. You are a man of taste; you must realize how offensive this is.”