“Well—yes, it did.” He laughed under his breath—“I don’t mind telling you now that it fractured the bridge of my nose.”
“What!”—in horror. “That perfectly delicious straight nose of yours!”
“Oh, I had it fixed,” he said, laughing. “If you deal me no more vital blows than that I’ll never mind——”
“I—deal you a—a blow, Duane! I!”
“For instance, by not marrying me right away——”
The smile had died out in her eyes and on her lips.
“You know I can’t, don’t you?” she said tenderly. “You know I’ve got to be fair to you.” Her face grew graver. “Dear—when I stop and try to think—it dismays me to understand how much in love with you I am.... Because it is too soon.... It would be safer to wait before I start to love you—this way. There is a cowardly streak in me—a weak streak——”
“What blessed nonsense you do talk, don’t you?”
She moved slightly toward him, settling close, as though within the circle of his arms lay some occult protection.
For a while she lay very close to him, her pale face pressed against his shoulder, brown eyes remote. Neither spoke. After a long time she laid her hands on his arms, gently disengaging them, and, freeing herself, sprang to her feet. A new, lithe and lovely dignity seemed to possess her—an exquisite, graceful, indefinable something which lent a hint of splendour to her as she turned and looked down at him.
Then, mischievously tender, she stooped and touched her childish mouth to his—her cheek, her throat, her hair, her lids, her hands, in turn all brushed his lips with fragrance—the very ghost of contact, the exquisite mockery of caress.
“If you don’t go at once,” she murmured, “I’ll never let you go at all. Wait—let me see if anybody is in the corridor——”
She opened the door and looked out.
“Not a soul,” she whispered, “our reputations are still intact. Good-bye—I’ll put on a fresh gown and meet you in ten minutes!... Where? Oh, anywhere—anywhere, Duane. The Lake. Oh, that is too far away! Wait here on the stairs for me—that isn’t so far away—just sit on the stairs until I come. Do you promise? Truly? Oh, you angel boy!... Yes—but only one more, then—to be quite sure that you won’t forget to wait on the stairs for me....”
Deliciously weary, every fibre in her throbbing with physical fatigue, she had nevertheless found it impossible to sleep.
The vivid memory of Duane holding her in his arms, while she gave her heart to him with her lips, left her tremulous and confused by emotions of which she yet knew little.
Toward dawn a fever of unrest drove her from her hot, crushed pillows to the cool of the open casements. The morning was dark and very still; no breeze stirred; a few big, widely scattered stars watched her. For a long while she stood there trying to quiet the rapid pulse and fast breathing; and at length, with an excited little laugh, she sank down among the cushions on the window-seat and lay back very still, her head, with its glossy, disordered hair, cradled in her arms.