“I’ve answered a hundred already. One more won’t hurt.”
“Have you ever been in love?”
“Don’t I speak plainly enough? Have—you—ever—been—in—love?”
“With a woman?”
“Why, yes,” she railed. “With a woman, of course. I don’t mean with your musty science.”
“Well, you needn’t be violent. Have you ever been in love with anything?”
“Oh, perhaps!” she taunted. “There are no perhapses in that. With what?”
“With what every man in the world is in love with once in his life,” he replied thoughtfully.
She made a little still step forward and peeped down at him. He stood leaning against the face of the rock, gazing out over the hot blue Caribbean, his hat pushed back and his absurd goggles firm and high on his nose. His words and voice were in preposterous contrast to his appearance.
“Riddle me your riddle,” she commanded. “What is every man in love with once in his life?”
“Ah! And your ideal—where do you keep it safe from the common gaze?”
“I tether it to my heart—with a single hair,” said the man below.
“Oh,” commented Miss Brewster, in a changed tone. And, again, “Oh,” just a little blankly. “I wish I hadn’t asked that,” she confessed silently to herself, after a moment.
Still, the spirit of reckless experimentalism pressed her onward.
“That’s a peril to the scientific mind, you know,” she warned. “Suppose your ideal should come true?”
“It won’t,” said he comfortably.
Miss Brewster’s regrets sensibly mitigated.
“In that case, of course, your career is safe from accident,” she remarked.
He moved out into the open.
“Mr. Beetle Man,” she called,
He looked up and saw her with her chin cupped in her hand, regarding him thoughtfully.
“I’m not just a casual acquaintance,” she said suddenly. “That is, if you don’t want me to be.”
“That’s good,” was his hearty comment. “I’m glad you like me better than you did at first.”
“Oh, I’m not so sure that I like you, exactly. But I’m coming to have a sort of respectful curiosity about you. What lies under that beetle shell of yours, I wonder?” she mused, in a half breath.
Whether or not he heard the final question she could not tell. He smiled, waved his hand, and disappeared. Below, she watched the motion of the bush-tops where the shrubbery was parted by the progress of his sturdy body down the long slope.
AN UPHOLDER OF TRADITIONS