“Captain Kerissen,” she cried, and there was a ring of gaiety in her voice, “do I understand that you are proposing to me?”
Very formally he bowed, a bow that hid the astonishment and the cynical humor which zigzagged across his handsome face. “I am doing myself that honor,” he most suavely returned, and eyed her with an astonished curiosity that checked his passion.
“Really?... So soon?” she cried very childishly, and again he bowed. But this time she caught his smile.
“Really so soon, little Arlee.”
To his amazement she burst into prankish laughter.
“Oh, you are romantic!” she gave back. “And if I can believe you truly in earnest—last night I was furious at you,” she went on rapidly, interrupting the speech forming on his lips, “for I thought you a dreadful flirt, just taking advantage of my being here, and yet—and yet you didn’t seem that kind. You seemed a gentleman! And now if you really mean—all you are saying—but you can’t, you can’t! I know your words are running ahead of you!”
“My words—let my heart speak—I——”
“But I don’t know whether I ought to listen or not!” she burst out, and with great naivete, “I’m afraid it would be very silly to let myself care for you.”
“Silly? An adorable silliness! Could you not be happy with me here in this palace? You would be a princess, indeed, a queen of my heart. I would put every luxury at your command.” In mingled eagerness and wariness he watched her, incredulous of her assenting mood, but with a hope that lured him on to believe. And in his eyes, dubious, desirous, calculating, watchful, she read the fluctuations of his thought. If afterwards there should happen to be any trouble about this affair, how wonderfully it would smooth things to have the girl infatuated with him, to show that she had been a party to the intrigue! And how spicily it sweetened the taste of success to his lips!
He had caught her two hands in his, and clasping them tightly he bent forward, trying to scan the changes in her hesitating look, while his words poured forth in a stream of praise and promise. She would live like a little princess. His love and his wealth were at her feet. Other women were eager for him, but he was hers alone. She would adore Egypt, the Egypt that he would reveal to her, and when she wearied they would go to the Continent and live always as she desired. Only she must be kind to him, be kind and sweet and lift her eyes and tell him that she would make him happy. She must not keep him waiting. He was not a man with whom one amused oneself.
“And I am not a girl whom one commands!” she gave back with a flash of spirit and a childish toss of her head. “I like you, Monsieur, at least I did like you before you hurt my fingers so horribly”—the tight grasp on her hands relaxed and she drew them swiftly away, rubbing them in mock ruefulness—“and I could like you better and better—perhaps”—her blue eyes flashed a look into his—“if you were very nice and polite and give me time to catch my breath! You are such a hurrying sort of person!” Her whimsical little smile enchanted him, even while he chafed at such delay.