His excitement thrilled her; a vivid colour surged over neck and brow.
“Duane, I did not dream that you cared so much, so truly—Oh, I—I do love you then!—I love you, Duane! I love you!”
He drew her suddenly into his arms, close, closer; she lifted her face; he kissed her; and she gave him her heart with a sob.
“You will wait for m-me, won’t you?” she stammered, striving to keep her reason through the delicious tumult that swept her senses. “Before I m-marry you I must be quite certain that you take no risk——”
She looked up into his steady eyes; a passion of tenderness overwhelmed her, and her locked arms tightened around his neck.
“Oh,” she whispered, “you are the boy I loved so long, so long ago—my comrade Duane—my own little boy! How was I to know I loved you this way, too? How could I understand!”
Already the glamour of the past was transfiguring the man for her, changing him back into the lad she had ruled so long ago, glorifying him—drawing them together into that golden age where her ears already caught the far cries and laughter of the past.
Now, her arms around him, she looked at him and looked at him as though she had not set eyes on him since then.
“Of course, I love you,” she said impatiently, as though surprised and hurt that he or she had ever doubted it. “You always were mine; you are mine! Nobody else could ever have had you—no matter what you did—or what I did.... And nobody except you could ever, ever have had me. That is perfectly plain now.... Oh, you—you darling”—she murmured, drawing his face against hers. Tears sprang to her brown eyes; her mouth quivered.
“You will love me, won’t you? Because I’m going quite mad about you, Duane.... I don’t think I know just what I’m saying—or what I’m doing.”
She drew him closer; he caught her, crushing her in his arms, and she yielded, clung to him for a moment, drew back in flushed resistance, still bewildered by her own passion. Then, into her eyes came that divine beauty which comes but once on earth—innocence awakened; and the white lids drooped a little, and the mouth quivered, surrendering with a sigh.
* * * * *
“You never have, never could love any other man? Say it. I know it, but—say it, sweetheart!”
“Only you, Duane.”
“Are you happy?”
“I am in heaven.”
She closed her eyes—opening them almost immediately and passing one hand across his face as though afraid he might have vanished.
“You are there yet,” she murmured with a faint smile.
“So are you,” he whispered, laughing—“my little dream girl—my little brown-eyed, brown-haired, long-legged, swift-running, hard-hitting——”
“Oh, do you remember that dreadful blow I gave you when we were sparring in the library? Did it hurt you, my darling—I was sure it did, but you never would admit it. Tell me now,” she coaxed, adorable in her penitence.