“Good heavens, no! I’m having the time of my life. I nearly died of curiosity at first—until I found Major Ramos’s tongue.”
“Hm-m! You found it, all right. He appears to be completely conquered.”
“I-I’m afraid so,” the girl acknowledged, with a little grimace. “You’d think he’d never seen a woman before. He’s very—intense. Very!”
“You don’t expect me, as your chaperon, to approve of your behavior? Why, you’ve been flirting outrageously.”
“I had to flirt a little: I simply had to know what was going on. But—I fixed him.”
“I couldn’t let him spoil my fun, could I? Of course not. Well, I put a damper on him. I told him about you—about us.”
O’Reilly was puzzled. “What do you mean?” he inquired.
“You won’t be angry, will you? When he waxed romantic I told him he had come into my life too late. I confessed that I was in love with another man—with you.” As her hearer drew back in dismay Miss Evans added, quickly, “Oh, don’t be frightened; that isn’t half—”
“Of course you’re joking,” Johnnie stammered.
“Indeed I’m not. I thought it would discourage him, but—it didn’t. So I told him a whopper. I said we were engaged.” The speaker tittered. She was delighted with herself.
“Engaged? To be married?”
“Certainly! People aren’t engaged to—to go fishing, are they? I had to tell him something; he was getting positively feverish. If he’d kept it up I’d have told him we were secretly married.”
“This may be funny,” the young man said, stiffly, “but I don’t see it.”
“Oh, don’t look so glum! I’m not going to hold you to it, you know. Why”—Miss Evans’s bantering manner ceased, and she said, earnestly: “Doctor Alvarado told me your story, and I think it is splendid. I’m going to help you find that little Rosa, if you’ll let me. You were thinking about her when I came up, weren’t you?”
“You—might talk to me about her, if you care to.”
O’Reilly’s voice was husky and low as he said: “I daren’t trust myself. I’m afraid. She’s so young, so sweet, so beautiful—and these are war-times. I’m almost afraid to think—”
Norine saw her companion’s cheeks blanch slowly, saw his laughing eyes grow grave, saw the muscular brown hand upon the rail tighten until the knuckles were white; impulsively she laid her palm over his.
“Don’t let yourself worry,” she said. “If money would buy her safety you could have all that I have. Just be brave and true and patient, and you’ll find her. I’m sure you will. And in the mean time don’t mind my frivolity; it’s just my way. You see this is my first taste of life, and it has gone to my head.”
THE CITY AMONG THE LEAVES