And then, quite suddenly, his mood softened. He leaned slowly forward.
“You needn’t be afraid of me,” he said. “I’m not a heady youngster. I shan’t gobble you up.”
She laughed at that—a quick, nervous laugh. “And you won’t beat me either? Promise!”
He frowned at her. “Beat you! I?”
She nodded several times, faintly smiling. “Yes, you, Mr. Monster! I’m sure you could.”
He smiled also, somewhat grimly. “You’re wrong, madam. I couldn’t beat a child.”
“Oh, my!” she said, and threw up her arms with a quivering laugh, dropping his coat in a heap on the floor. “How old do you think this child is?” she questioned, glancing down at him in her sidelong, speculative fashion.
He looked at her hard and straight, looked at the slim young body in its sheath of iridescent green that shimmered with every breath she drew, and very suddenly he rose.
She made a spring backwards, but she was too late. He caught and held her.
“Let me go!” she cried, her face crimson.
“But why?” Merryon’s voice fell curt and direct. He held her firmly by the shoulders.
She struggled against him fiercely for a moment, then became suddenly still. “You’re not a brute, are you?” she questioned, breathlessly. “You—you’ll be good to me? You said so!”
He surveyed her grimly. “Yes, I will be good to you,” he said. “But I’m not going to be fooled. Understand? If you marry me, you must play the part. I don’t know how old you are. I don’t greatly care. All I do care about is that you behave yourself as the wife of a man in my position should. You’re old enough to know what that means, I suppose?”
He spoke impressively, but the effect of his words was not quite what he expected. The point of a very red tongue came suddenly from between the red lips, and instantly disappeared.
“That all?” she said. “Oh yes; I think I can do that. I’ll try, anyway. And if you’re not satisfied—well, you’ll have to let me know. See?
Now let me go, there’s a good man! I don’t like the feel of your hands.”
He let her go in answer to the pleading of her eyes, and she slipped from his grasp like an eel, caught up the coat at her feet, and wriggled into it.
Then, impishly, she faced him, buttoning it with nimble fingers the while. “This is the garment of respectability,” she declared. “It isn’t much of a fit, is it? But I shall grow to it in time. Do you know, I believe I’m going to like being your wife?”
“Why?” said Merryon.
She laughed—that laugh of irrepressible gaiety that had surprised him before.
“Oh, just because I shall so love fighting your battles for you,” she said. “It’ll be grand sport.”
“Think so?” said Merryon.
“Oh, you bet!” said the Dragon-Fly, with gay confidence. “Men never know how to fight. They’re poor things—men!”