“Penalty; yes. The penalty of letting me find you outside of King’s Highway, alone,” I explained brazenly.
She tried a lever hurriedly, and the car growled up at her so that she quit. Then she pulled herself together and faced me nonchalantly.
“Oh-h. You mean about the black velvet mask? I’m afraid—I had forgotten that funny little—joke.” With all she could do, her face and her tone were not convincing.
I gathered courage as she lost it. “I see that I must demonstrate to you the fact that I am not altogether a joke,” I said grimly, and got down from my horse.
I don’t, to this day, know what she imagined I was going to do. She sat very still; the kind of stillness a rabbit adopts when he hopes to escape the notice of an enemy. I could see that she hardly breathed, even.
But when I reached her, I only got a wrench out of the tool-box and yanked open the hood to see what ailed the motor. I knew something of that make of car; in fact, I had owned one before I got the Yellow Peril, and I had a suspicion that there wasn’t much wrong; a loosened nut will sometimes sound a good deal more serious than it really is. Still, a half-formed idea—a perfectly crazy idea—made me go over the whole machine very carefully to make sure she was all right.
When I was through I stood up and found that she was regarding me curiously, yet with some amusement. She seemed to feel herself mistress of the situation, and to consider me as an interesting plaything. I didn’t approve that attitude.
“At all events,” she said when she met my eyes, and speaking as if there had been no break in our conversation, “you are rather a good joke. Thank you so much.”
I put away the wrench, fastened the lid of the tool-box, and then I faced her grimly. “I see mere words are wasted on you,” I said. “I shall have to carry you off—Beryl King; I shall carry you off if you look at me that way again!”
She did look that way, only more so. I wonder what she thought a man was made of, to stand it. I set my teeth hard together.
“Have you got the—er—the black velvet mask?” she taunted, leaning just the least bit toward me. Her eyes—I say it deliberately—were a direct challenge that no man could refuse to accept and feel himself a man after.
“Mask or no mask—you’ll see!” I turned away to where my horse was standing eying the car with extreme disfavor, picked up the reins, and glanced over my shoulder; I didn’t know but she would give me the slip. She was sitting very straight, with both hands on the wheel and her eyes looking straight before her. She might have been posing for a photograph, from the look of her. I tied the reins with a quick twist over the saddle-horn and gave him a slap on the rump. I knew he would go straight home. Then I went back and stepped into the car just as she reached down and started the motor. If she had meant to run away from me she had been just a second too late. She gave me a sidelong, measuring glance, and gasped. The car slid easily along the trail as if it were listening for what we were going to say.