“Certainly. I’d have too much respect for you not to.”
She opened wide eyes at this. Then provocatively: “What do you think of me, Mr. Banneker?”
“I can’t answer that.”
“Why not?” she teased.
“I don’t know you well enough to give an opinion.”
“You know me as well as you ever will.”
“Well, a snap judgment, for what it’s worth.... What are you doing there?”
“Making more coffee.”
Io stamped her foot. “You’re the most enraging man I ever met.”
“It’s quite unintentional,” he replied patiently, but with no hint of compunction. “You may drink yours and I’ll drink mine.”
“You’re only making it worse!”
“Very well; then I’ll drink yours if you like.”
“And say it’s good.”
“But what’s the use?”
“And say it’s good,” insisted Io.
“It’s marvelous,” agreed her unsmiling host.
Far from being satisfied with words and tone, which were correctness itself, Io was insensately exasperated.
“You’re treating me like a child,” she charged.
“How do you want me to treat you?”
“As a woman,” she flashed, and was suddenly appalled to feel the blood flush incredibly to her cheeks.
If he noted the phenomenon, he gave no sign, simply assenting with his customary equanimity. During the luncheon she chattered vaguely. She was in two minds about calling off the projected walk. As he set aside his half-emptied cup of coffee—not even tactful enough to finish it out of compliment to her brew—Banneker said:
“Up beyond the turn yonder the right-of-way crosses an arroyo. I want to take a look at it. We can cut through the woods to get there. Are you good for three miles?”
“For a hundred!” cried Io.
The wine of life was potent in her veins.
Before the walk was over, Io knew Banneker as she had never before, in her surrounded and restricted life, known any man; the character and evolution and essence of him. Yet with all his frankness, the rare, simple, and generous outgiving of a naturally rather silent nature yielding itself to an unrecognized but overmastering influence, he retained the charm of inner mystery. Her sudden understanding of him still did not enable her to place him in any category of life as she knew it to be arranged.
The revelation had come about through her description of her encounter with the queer and attentive bird of the desert.
“Oh,” said Banneker. “You’ve been interviewing a cactus owl.”
“Did he unwind his neck carefully and privately after I had gone?”
“No,” returned Banneker gravely. “He just jumped in the air and his body spun around until it got back to its original relation.”
“How truly fascinating! Have you seen him do it?”