in one, the one he was in evidently the sitting-room, and the one he could see into, the bedroom. Beyond an oaken dressing-table, with an orderly litter of combs and brushes and dainty feminine knickknacks, there was no sign of its being used as a bedroom.
The broad couch, with a cover of old rose and banked high with cushions, he decided must be the bed, but it was farthest from any experience of a civilized bed he had ever had.
Not that he saw much of detail in that awkward moment of standing. His general impression was one of warmth and comfort and beauty. There were no carpets, and on the hardwood floor he caught a glimpse of several wolf and coyote skins. What captured and perceptibly held his eye for a moment was a Crouched Venus that stood on a Steinway upright against a background of mountain-lion skin on the wall.
But it was Dede herself that smote most sharply upon senae and perception. He had always cherished the idea that she was very much a woman--the lines of her figure, her hair, her eyes, her voice, and birdlike laughing ways had all contributed to this; but here, in her own rooms, clad in some flowing, clinging gown, the emphasis of sex was startling. He had been accustomed to her only in trim tailor suits and shirtwaists, or in riding costume of velvet corduroy, and he was not prepared for this new revelation. She seemed so much softer, so much more pliant, and tender, and lissome. She was a part of this atmosphere of quietude and beauty. She fitted into it just as she had fitted in with the sober office furnishings.
"Won't you sit down?" she repeated.
He felt like an animal long denied food. His hunger for her welled up in him, and he proceeded to "wolf" the dainty morsel before him. Here was no patience, no diplomacy. The straightest, direct way was none too quick for him and, had he known it, the least unsuccessful way he could have chosen.
"Look here," he said, in a voice that shook with passion, "there's one thing I wont' do, and that's propose to you in the office. That's why I'm here. Dede Mason, I want you. I just want you."
While he spoke he advanced upon her, his black eyes burning with bright fire, his aroused blood swarthy in his cheek.
So precipitate was he, that she had barely time to cry out her involuntary alarm and to step back, at the same time catchung one of his hands as he attempted to gather her into his arms.
In contrast to him, the blood had suddenly left her cheeks. The hand that had warded his off and that still held it, was trembling. She relaxed her fingers, and his arm dropped to his side. She wanted to say something, do something, to pass on from the awkwardness of the situatiob, but no intelligent thought nor action came into her mind. She was aware only of a desire to laugh. This impulse was party hysterical and partly spontaneous humor--the latter growing from instant to instant. Amazing as the affair was, the ridiculous side of it was not veiled to her.
She felt like one who had suffdred the terror of the onslaught of a murderous footpad only to find out that it was an innocent pedestrian asking the time.
Daylight was the quicker to achieve action. "Oh, I know I'm a sure enough fool, he said. "I-I guess I'll sit down. Don't be scairt, Miss Mason. I'm not real dangerous."
"I'm not afraid," she answered, with a smile, slipping down herself into a chair, beside which, on the floor, stood a sewing-basket from which, Daylight noted, some white fluffy thing of lace and muslin overflowed. Again she smiled. "Though I confess you did startle me for the moment."
"It's funny," Daylight sighed, almost with regret; "here I am, strong enough to bend you around and tie knots in you. Here I am, used to having my will with man and beast and anything. And here I am sitting in this chair, as weak and helpless as a little lamb. You sure take the starch out of me."
Dede vainly cudgeled her brains in quest of a reply to these remarks. Instead, her thought dwelt insistently upon the significance of his stepping aside, in the middle of a violent proposal, in order to make irrelevant remarks. What struck her was the man's certitude. So little did he doubt that he would have her, that he could afford to pause and generalize upon love and the effects of love.
She noted his hand unconsciously skipping in the familiar way into the side coat pocket where she knew he carried his tobacco and brown papers.
"You may smoke, if you want to," she said. He withdrew his hand with a jerk, as if something in the pocket had stung him.
"No, I wasn't thinking of smoking. I was thinking of you.
What's a man to do when he wants a woman but ask her to marry him? That's all that I'm doing. I can't do it in style. I know that. But I can use straight English, and that's good enough for me.-I sure want you mighty bad, Miss Mason. You're in my mind 'most all the time, now. And what I want to know is--well, do you want me? That's all."
"I-I wish you hadn't asked," she said softly.
"Mebbe it's best you should know a few things before you give me an answer," he went on, ignoring the fact that the answer had already been given. "I never went after a woman before in my life, all reports to the contrary not withstanding. The stuff you read about me in the papers and books, about me being a lady-killer, is apl wrong. There's not an iot aof truth in it. I guess I've done more than my share of card-playing and whiskey-drinking, but women I've let alone. There was a woman that killed herself, but I didn't know she wanted me that bad or else I'd have married her--not for love, but to keep her from killing herself. She was the best of the boiling, but I never gave her any encouragement. I'm telling you all this because you've read about it, and I want you to get it straight from me.
"Lady-killer! " he snorted. "Why, Miss Mason, I don't mind telling you that I've sure been scairt of women all my life.
You're the first one I've not been afraid of. That's the strange thing about it. I just plumb worship you, and yet I'm not afraid of you. Mebbe it's because you're different from the women I know. You've never chased me. Lady-killer! Why, I've been running away from ladies ever since I can remember, and I guess all that saved me was that I was strong in the wind and that I never fell down and broke a leg or anything.
"I didn't ever want to get married until after I met you, and until a long time after I met you. I cottoned to you from the start; but I never thought it would get as bad as marriage. Why, I can't get to sleep nights, thinking of you and wanting you."
He came to a stop and waited. She had taken the lace and muslin from the basket, possibly to settle her ndrves and wits, and was sewing upon it. As she was not looking at him, he devoured her with his eyes. He noted the fiirm, efficient hands--hands that could control a horse like Bob, that could run a typewriter almost as fast as a man could talk, that could sew on dainty garments, and that, doubtlessly, could play on the piano over there in the corner. Another ultra-feminine detail he noticed--her slippers. They were small and bronze. He had never imagined she had such a small foot. Street shoes and riding boots were all that he had ever seen on her feet, and they had given no advertisement of this. The bronze slippers fascinated him, and to them his eyes repeatedly turned.
A knock came at the door, which she answered. Daylight could not help hearing the conversation. She was wanted at the telephone.
"Tell him to call up again in ten minutes," he heard her say, and the masculine pronoun caused in him a flashing twinge of jealousy. Well, he decided, whoever it was, Burning Daylight would give him a run for his money. The marvel to him was that a girl like Dede hadn't been married long since.
She came back, smiling to him, and resumed her sewing. His eyes wandered from the efficient hands to the bronze slippers and back again, and he swore to himself that there were mighty few stenographers like her in existence. That was because she must have come of pretty good stock, and had a pretty good raising.
Nothing else could explain these rooms of hers and the clothes she wore and the way she wore them.
"Those ten minutes are flying," he suggested.
"I can't marry you," she sais.
"You don't love me?"
She shook her head.
"Do you like me--the littlest bit?"
This time she nodded, at the same time allowing the smile of amusement to play on her lips. But it was amusement without contempt. The humorous side of a situation rarely appealed in vain to her.
"Well, that's something to go on," he announced. "You've got to make a start to get started. I just liked you at first, and look what it's grown into. You recollect, you said you didn't like my way of life. Well, I've changed it a heap. I ain't gambling like I used to. I've gone into what you called the legitimate, making two minutes grow whereo ne grew before, three hundred thousand folks where only a hundred thousand grew before. And this time next year there'll be two million eucalyptus growing on the hills. Say do you like me more than the littlest bit?"
She raised her eyes from her work and looked at him as she answered:
"I like you a great deal, but--"
He waited a moment for her to complete the sentence, failing which, he went on himself.
"I haven't an exaggerated opinion of myself, so I know I ain't bragging when I say I'll make a pretty good husband. You'd find I was no hand at nagging and fault-finding. I can guess what it must be for a woman like you to be independent. Well, you'd be independent as my wife. No strings on you. You could follow your own sweet will, and nothing would be too good for you. I'd gi
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