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."



"Let us not deceive each other," he insisted. "We are alone. Let

us be honest. Do not ask me to put faith in your grief. I find my

excuse in the extraordinary nature of this situation."



"Nothing can excuse indelicacy," she answered, evenly. "You

transgress the commonest rules of decency."



But he was impatient. "What sentiment! You did not love your

husband. You were for years his prisoner. Through the bars of your

prison I saw and loved you. Dios! The first sight of your face

altered the current of my life. I saw heaven in your eyes, and I

have dreamed of nothing else ever since. Well, Providence opened

the doors and set you free; God gave heed to my prayers and

delivered you to me. Now you pretend to grieve at your

deliverance; you ask me to respect the memory of your jailer!

Decency? Delicacy? What are they except artificialities, which

vanish in times of stress? Alexander the Great, Caesar, Napoleon,

Porfirio Diaz--they were strong, purposeful men; they lived as I

live. Senora, you dally with love."



Alaire's face was white with anger as she replied: "You cause me

to forget that you are my guest. Are you the man I considered you

or the man you are reported to be?"



"Eh?"



"Are you the gentleman, the friend, you pretended to be, or--the

vandal whom no woman can trust? You treat me as if you were my

jailer. What do you mean? What kind of man are you to take

advantage of my bereavement?"



After a moment's consideration Longorio began haltingly: "I don't

know what kind of man I am, for you have changed me so. There was

a time--I--I have done things--I have scorned all restraint, all

laws except those of my desires, and so, perhaps, I am a vandal.

Make sure of this, however--I shall not injure you. Christ is no

more sacred to me than you, my heart's treasure. You accuse me of

indelicacy because I lack the strength to smother my admiration. I

adore you; my being dissolves, my veins are afire with longing for



you; I am mad with the knowledge that you are mine. Mad? Caramba!

I am insane; my mind totters; I grope my way like a man blinded by

a dazzling light; I suffer agonies. But see! I refuse to touch

you. I am a giant in my restraint. The strength of heroes is mine,

and I strangle my impulses as they are born, although the effort

kills me. Senora, I await the moment of your voluntary surrender.

I wait for you." He extended his arms, and Alaire saw that his

olive features were distorted with emotion; that his hands, his

whole thin, high-strung body were shaking uncontrollably.



She could summon no coherent words.



"You believed I was a hawk and would seize you, eh?" he queried.

"Is that why you continue to shrink? Well, let me tell you

something, if my tongue will frame the thoughts in my mind. My

passion is so deep and so sacred that I would not be content with

less than all of you. Your lips would not satisfy mine unless they

were hot with love, your kisses wet with desire. I must have you

all, and so I wait, trembling. I say this so badly that I doubt if

you understand. Listen, then: to possess you by force would be--

well, as if I sacked a cathedral of its golden images and expected

to gain heaven by clutching the Madonna in my arms. Senora, in you

I see the priceless jewel of my life, which I shall wear to dazzle

the world, and without which I shall destroy myself. Now let me

tell you what I can offer you, what setting I can build for this

treasure. Marriage with Luis Longorio--"



Alaire could not control a start.



As if quickened by his intensity, the man read her thought. "You

did not imagine that I offered you anything less?"



"What was I to think? Your reputation--"



"Mother of God!" breathed the general. So! That is what you meant

a moment ago. That is why you refuse my embraces. No, no! Other

women have feared me and I have laughed in their hair as they tore

at my arms, but you--you will be my wife, and all Mexico shall bow

at your feet." He checked her denial with a gesture. "Wait until I

tell you the vision I have seen during these days of my despair. I

see Mexico made whole by my hands; a land of peace and plenty; a

people with one name upon their lips--the name of Longorio the

Deliverer; and you as the first lady of them all. You know me for

a man of tremendous ability in every line. Well, I know myself,

too. I have measured myself carefully, and I have no weakness.

There is no other like me. Pancho Gomez? Bah! He is a red-handed

bandit of no culture. Candeleria, his chief? The idol of the

ignorant and a dreamer of no force. Potosi? He is President today,

but what of tomorrow? Those who surround him are weaklings, and he

stumbles toward oblivion. Who will succeed him? Who will issue

from the coming struggle as the dominant figure of Mexico? Who but

that military genius who checks the Yankee hordes and saves the

fatherland? I am he. Fate points the path of glory and I am her

man of destiny. You see, then, what I bring you--power, position,

riches. Riches? Caramba! Wait until my hands are in the treasury.

I will load you with gold and jewels, and I will make you the

richest woman in the world. Senora, I offer you dominion. I offer

you the President's palace and Chapultepec. And with all that I

offer you such passionate love as no woman of history ever

possessed.



He paused, spent by the force of his own intensity; it was plain

that he expected an immediate surrender.



Alaire's lips parted in the faintest of mocking smiles. "You have

great confidence in yourself," she said.



"Yes. I know myself as no one knows me."



"Why do you think I care for you?"



Longorio's eyes opened. His expression plainly showed that he

could not imagine any woman in her senses failing to adore him.



"Don't you take much for granted?" Alaire insisted.



The Mexican shook his head. Then his face lightened. "Ah! Now I

see. Your modesty forbids you to acknowledge your love--is that

it? Well, I know that you admire me, for I can see it. All women

admire me, and they all end by loving me." His chest arched

imperceptibly; with a slender finger he delicately smoothed his

black eyebrows. Alaire felt a wild impulse to laugh, but was glad

she had subdued it when he continued: "I am impetuous, but

impetuosity has made me what I am. I act, and then mold fate to

suit my own ends. Opportunity has delivered to me my heart's

desire, and I will not be cheated out of it. Among the men I

brought with me to La Feria is a priest. He is dirty, for I caught

him as he was fleeing toward the border; but he is a priest, and

he will marry us tonight."



Alaire managed to gasp, "Surely you are not in earnest."



"Indeed I am! That is why I insisted that you dine with me this

evening. I cannot waste more time here, for necessity calls me

away. You shall go as my wife."



"Do you think I would remarry on the very day I find myself a

widow?"



"The world will never know."



"You dare to say that!" Her tone was one of disgust, of finality.

"I wonder how I have listened to so much. It is horrible."



"You are still a little hysterical, and you exaggerate. If I had

more time I could afford to wait." He ogled her with his luminous

gaze. "I would let you play with me to your heart's content and

exercise your power until you tired and were ready to surrender."



Alaire raised her head proudly, her nostrils dilated, her eyes

ablaze with hostility. "This is very humiliating, but you force me

to tell you that I hate you."



Longorio was incredulous rather than offended. He drew himself up

to his full height and smiled, saying, "That is impossible." Then,

ignoring her impatience: "Come! You cannot deceive me. The priest

is waiting."



When Alaire spoke next it was with an expression and with a tone

of such loathing that his yellow face paled "Your conceit is

insufferable," she breathed.



After a brief struggle with himself, the Mexican cried, hoarsely:

"I will not be refused. You wish me to tame you, eh? Good! You

have found your master. Make your choice, then. Which shall it be,

surrender or--compulsion?"



"So! You have been lying, as I thought. Compulsion! Now the real

Longorio speaks."



He flung up his hands as if to ward off her fury. "No? Have I not

made myself clear? I shall embrace you only with the arms of a

husband, for this is not the passion of a moment, but of a

lifetime, and I have myself to consider. The wife of Mexico's next

President must be above reproach; there must be no scandal, no

secrets hidden away for enemies to unearth. She must stand before

the people as a perfect woman; she must lend prestige to his name.

When I speak of compulsion, then, I mean the right of a husband--"



Alaire uttered an exclamation of disgust and turned away, but he

intercepted her, saying: "You cannot hold me at bay. It is

destiny. You shall be mine tonight. Think a moment! We are alone

in the heart of a country lacking in every law but mine. Your

friends do not know where you are, and, even if they knew, they

could not help you. Your nation's protest would avail nothing.

Outside of these walls are enemies who will not let you leave this

house except under the protection of my name."



"Then I shall never leave it," she told him.



For the first time Longorio spoke roughly: "I lose patience. In

God's name have I not waited long enough? My strength is gone."

Impulsively he half encircled her with his thin arms, but she

seemed armored with ice, and he dropped them. She could hear him

grind his teeth. "I dare not lay hands upon you," he chattered.

"Angel of my dreams, I am faint with longing. To love you and yet

to be denied; to feel myself aflame and yet to see you cold; to be

halted at the very doors of Paradise! What torture!"



The fellow's self-control in the midst of his frenzy frightened

Alaire more than did his wildest avowals; it was in something of a

panic that she said:



"One moment you tell me I am safe, the next you threaten me. You

say I am free, and yet you coerce me. Prove your love. Let me go--"

"No! No! I shall call the priest."



Longorio turned toward the door, but halfway across the floor he

was halted by a woman's shriek which issued from somewhere inside

the house. It was repeated. There was an outburst in a masculine

voice, then the patter of footsteps approaching down the tiled

hallway. Dolores burst into her mistress's presence, her face

blanched, her hair disordered. She flung herself into Alaire's

arms, crying:



"Senora! Save me! God's curse on the ruffian. Oh--"



"Dolores!" Alaire exclaimed. "What has happened?"



Longorio demanded, irritably: "Yes. Why are you yelling like

this:"'



"A man--See I One of those dirty peladors. Look where he tore my

dress! I warned him, but he was like a tiger. Benito will kill me

when he learns--"



"Calm yourself. Speak sensibly. Tell me what happened."



"One of those miserable soldiers who came today--pig!" Dolores was

shaking, her voice was shrill. "He followed me. He has been

drinking. He followed me about like a cat, purring and grinning

and saying the most horrible things. Just now, when I went to your

room, he was waiting in the darkness and he seized me. God! It was

dreadful."



"A soldier? One of my men?" Longorio was incredulous.



Alaire turned upon him with a blazing anger in her face. "Is this

more of your protection?" she stormed. "I give you and your men

the freedom of my ranch, and you insult me while they assault my

women."



He ignored her accusation, inquiring of the elder woman, "Who was

the fellow?"



"How do I know," Dolores sobbed. "He is a--a thick, black fellow

with a scar on his lip, like a snarl."



"Felipe!"



"Yes, Felipe! I believe they called him that."



Longorio strode to the end of the livingroom, flung open the

wooden shutters of a window and, leaning far out, whistled sharply

on his fingers.



"Oiga! Teniente! Ho, you fellows!" he shouted.



From the darkness a voice answered; a man, evidently on guard,

came running.



"Call old Pancho," the general directed. "Tell him to bring me

black Felipe, the fellow with the torn lip. Quick!"



"Yes, general," came the voice; then the metallic rattle of spurs

and accoutrements as the sentry trotted away.



Dolores had completely broken down now, and Alaire was trying to

comfort her. Their guest remained by the window, frowning. After a

time there sounded a murmur of voices, then a shuffling of feet in

the hall; Alaire's friend, the old lieutenant, appeared in the

doorway, saluting. Behind him were several others.



"Here is Felipe," he announced.



"Bring him in."



A sullen, frowning man in soiled uniform was pushed forward, and

Dolores hid her face against her mistress's shoulder.



"Is this the fellow?" Longorio inquired.



Dolores nodded.



"Well, what have you to say for yourself?" The general transfixed

his trooper with a stare; then, as the latter seemed bereft of his

voice, "Why did you enter this house?"



Felipe moistened his scarred lips. "That woman is--nice and clean.

She's not so old, either, when you come to look at her." He

grinned at his comrades, who had crowded in behind old Pancho.



"So! Let us go outside and learn more about this." Longorio waved

his men before him and followed them out of the room and down the

hall and into the night.



When a moment or two had dragged past, Dolores quavered. "What are

they going to do with him?"



"I don't know. Anyhow, you need not fear--"



There sounded the report of a gunshot, deadened indeed by the

thick adobe walls of the house, yet sudden and loud enough to

startle the women.



When Longorio reappeared he found Alaire standing stiff and white

against the wall, with Dolores kneeling, her face still buried in

her mistress's gown.



"Give yourself no concern," he told them, quickly. "I beg a

thousand pardons for Felipe. Henceforth no one will molest you."



"Was that a--shot?" Alaire inquired faintly.



"Yes. It is all settled."



"You killed him?"



The general nodded. "Purely for the sake of discipline--one has to

be firm. Now your woman is badly frightened. Send her away so that

we may reach an understanding."



"Oh-h! This is frightful," Alaire gasped. "I can't talk to you.

Go--Let me go."



The man pondered for an instant. "Perhaps that would be better,"

he agreed, reluctantly, "for I see you, too, are unstrung. Very

well! My affairs will have to wait. Take a few hours to think over

what I have told you. When you have slept you will feel

differently about me. You will meet me with a smile, eh?" He

beamed hopefully.



"Sleep? You expect me to sleep?"



"Please," he begged. "Beauty is like a delicate flower, and sleep

is the dew that freshens it. Believe me, you can rest in all

security, for no one can come or go without my consent. You are

cruel to postpone my delight; nevertheless, I yield to your

feelings. But, star of my life, I shall dream of you, and of that

little priest who waits with the key of Paradise in his hands."



He bowed over Alaire's cold fingers, then stood erect until she

and Dolores had gone.





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