The old man drained his goblet to the dregs, and then turned a flushed face upon the Englishman and laid his hand upon his sword. My dear love had no thoughts of prudence left, for Melinza's words had been a direct charge of cowardice, so for all answer he took the frail goblet from the table and threw it in the younger Spaniard's face.
"If the little Margarita believed Melinza's pretty fable about Habana, and the excellent company there which his wife would enjoy, 'tis no wonder that she made a tangle of her own little web." "But Doña Orosia, think you he would deal unfairly with me? His words rang so true even a bad man may love honestly! And if I trifle with the one saving virtue in his heart, will it not be a grievous sin?"
I had already pictured him, in my thoughts, as a man of commanding presence, with keen, dark eyes set in a stern countenance; crisp, curling locks such as Melinza's but silvered lightly on the temples; an air of potency, of fire, as though his bold spirit defied the heavy hand of time.
I was thankful for Melinza's absence, for to play at love-making that night would have been beyond my powers. At first I could eat nothing; but an urgent glance from Doña Orosia, and the thought of what need there would be for all my strength prompted me to force some morsels, in spite of the convulsive swelling of my throat.
"'Tis not at the court of our Charles only that kissing, or promotion, goes by favour!" was his answer, in a quick aside. Then he met the advancing dignitary and responded with grave punctilio to the suave welcome that was accorded us. Melinza's part was that of master of ceremonies on this occasion.
But 'twas not alone for myself that I feared: the thought of my dear love in Melinza's power terrified me more than aught else, yet I dared not put my suspicions into words. I tried hard to control my voice as I implored that I might be taken back to the fort and to Mr. Rivers. "Is it for the Englishman, or Melinza, that you are weeping?" demanded my companion sharply. "Madame!"
"I will forget him, madame, when I cease to remember the treachery of those who called themselves his entertainers." She flushed angrily. "Your tongue has more of spirit than your face. I wonder that you have the courage to say this to me." "I dare, because I have nothing more to lose, madame!" "Say you so? Would you rather I gave you into Melinza's keeping?" "Nay!"
Sometimes I think it would have been far better had he left me to follow my own course. There are some men who need only a hint of rivalry to spur them on where of their own choice they had never thought to adventure. Melinza's attentions did not diminish, while his manner toward Mr. Rivers lost in cordiality as time went on.
Melinza's hand went to his sword; he drew the blade and held it to my dear love's throat. At last my voice came back to me; I laid my hand upon the Spaniard's arm. "Spare the man, Don Pedro! I like not the sight of blood!" Then I saw mortal agony in a brave man's eyes. He made no move to rise, but lay there at my feet and looked at me. "Margaret Tudor," he said, "do you love me still?"
'Tis something better than either Padre Ignacio's hut or Melinza's galley, is it not? Are you content to remain?" "Madame," I said desperately, "do with me what you will; only see, I pray you, that my betrothed comes to no harm." "What should harm him?" she demanded. "Is he not the guest of my husband?" "His guest, madame, or his prisoner?" She gave me a keen glance.