Keith's Masterful Wooing





Keith faced toward home, with Redcloud following at his heels like a pet

dog. For some reason, which he did not try to analyze, he was feeling

light of heart--as though something very nice had happened to him.

It might have been the unexpected clearing up of the mystery of the

prairie-fire, though he was not dwelling particularly upon that. He

was thinking a great deal more of Beatrice's blue-brown eyes, which had

never been more baffling, so far as he knew. And his blood was still

dancing with the smile she had given him; it hardly seemed possible that

a girl could smile just like that and not mean anything.



When he reached the level, where she was waiting for him, he saw that

she had her arms around the neck of her horse, and that she was crying

dismally, heart-brokenly, with an abandon that took no thought of his

presence. Keith had never seen a girl cry like that before. He had

seen them dab at their eyes with their handkerchief, and smile the next

breath--but this was different. For a minute he didn't quite know what

to do; he could hear the blood hammering against his temples while he

stood dumbly watching her. He went hesitatingly up, and laid a gloved

hand deprecatingly upon her shoulder.



"Don't do that, Miss Lansell! The fellow isn't worth it. He's only

living the life he chose for himself, and he doesn't mind, not half

as much as you imagine. I know how you feel--I felt sorry for him

myself--but he doesn't deserve it, you know." He stopped; not being

able, just at the moment, to think of anything more to say about Kelly.

Beatrice, who had not been thinking of Kelly at all, but remorsefully of

a fellow she had persisted in misjudging, only cried the harder.



"Don't--don't cry like that! I--Miss Lansell--Trix--darling!" Keith's

self-control snapped suddenly, like a rope when the strain becomes too

great. He caught her fiercely in his arms, and crushed her close against

him.



Beatrice stopped crying, and gasped.



"Trixie, if you must cry, I wish you'd cry for me. I'm about as

miserable a man--I want you so! God made you for me, and I'm starving

for the feel of your lips on mine." Then Keith, who was nothing if not

daring, once he was roused, bent and kissed her without waiting to see

if he might--and not only once, but several times.



Beatrice made a half-hearted attempt to get free of his arms, but Keith

was not a fool--he held her closer, and laughed from pure, primitive

joy.



"Mr. Cameron!" It was Beatrice's voice, but it had never been like that

before.



"I think you might call me Keith," he cut in. "You've got to begin some

time, and now is as good a time as any."



"You--you're taking a good deal for granted," she said, wriggling

unavailingly in his arms.



"A man's got to, with a girl like you. You're so used to turning a

fellow down I believe you'd do it just from habit."



"Indeed?" She was trying to be sarcastic and got kissed for her pains.



"Yes, 'indeed.'" He mimicked her tone. "I want you. I want you! I wanted

you long before I ever saw you. And so I'm not taking any chances--I

didn't dare, you see. I just had to take you first, and ask you

afterward."



Beatrice laughed a little, with tears very close to her lashes, and

gave up. What was the use of trying to resist this masterful fellow, who

would not even give her a chance to refuse him? She did not know quite

how to say no to a man who did not ask her to say yes. But the queer

part, to her, was the feeling that she would have hated to say no,

anyway. It never occurred to her, till afterward, that she might

have stood upon a pedestal of offended dignity and cried, "Unhand me,

villain!"--and that, if she had, Keith would undoubtedly have complied

instantly. As it was, she just laughed softly, and blushed a good deal.



"I believe mama is right about you, after all," she said wickedly. "At

heart, you're a bold highwayman."



"Maybe. I know I'd not stand and see some other fellow walk off with my

Heart's Desire, without putting up a fight. It did look pretty blue

for me, though, and I was afraid--but it's all right now, isn't it?

Possession is nine points in law, they say, and I've got you now! I'm

going to keep you, too. When are you going to come over and take charge

of the Cross ranch?"



"Dear me!" said Beatrice, snuggling against his shoulder, and finding

it the best place in the world to be. "I never said I was going to take

charge at all!" Then the impulse of confession seized her. "Will you

hate me, if I tell you something?"



"I expect I will," Keith assented, his eyes positively idolatrous. "What

is it, girlie?"



"Well, I--it was Dick's fault; I never would have thought of such a

thing if he hadn't goaded me into it--but--well, I was going to make

you propose, on a wager--" The brown head of Beatrice went down out of

sight, on his arm. "I was going to refuse you--and get Rex--"



"I know." Keith held her closer than ever. "Dick rode over and told me

that day. And I wasn't going to give you a chance, missy. If you hadn't

started to cry, here-- Oh! what's the use? You didn't refuse me--and

you're not going to, either, are you, girlie?"



Beatrice intimated that there was no immediate danger of such a thing

happening.



"You see, Dick and I felt that you belonged to me, by rights. I fell in

love with a picture of you, that you sent him--that one taken in your

graduation gown--and I told Dick I was going to take the next train

East, and carry you off by force, if I couldn't get you any other way.

But Dick thought I'd stand a better show to wait till he'd coaxed you

out here. We had it all fixed, that you'd come and find a prairie knight

that was ready to fight for you, and he'd make you like him, whether

you wanted to or not; and then he'd keep you here, and we'd all be happy

ever after. And Dick would pull out of the Northern Pool--and of course

you would--and we'd have a company of our own. Oh! we had some great

castles built out here on the prairie, let me tell you! And then, when

you finally came here, you had milord tagging along--and you thinking

you were in love with him! Maybe you think I wasn't shaky, girlie! The

air castles got awfully wobbly, and it looked like they were going to

cave in on us. But I was bound to stay in the game if I could, and Dick

did all he could to get you to looking my way--and it's all right, isn't

it, Trixie?" Keith kept recurring to the ecstatic realization that it

was all right.



Beatrice meditated for a minute.



"I never dreamed--Dick never even mentioned you in any of his letters,"

she said, in a rather dazed tone. "And when I came he made me believe

you were a horrible flirt, and I never can resist the temptation to

measure lances."



"And take a fall out of a male flirt," Keith supplemented. "Dick," he

went on sententiously and slangily, "was dead onto his job." After that

he helped her into the saddle, and they rode blissfully homeward.



Near the ranch they met Dick, who pulled up and eyed them anxiously at

first, and then with a broad smile.



"Say, Trix," he queried slyly, "who does Rex belong to?"



Keith came to the rescue promptly, just as a brave knight should. "You,"

he retorted. "But I tell you right now, he won't very long. You're going

to do the decent thing and give him to Trixie--for a wedding present."



Dick looked as though Trix was welcome to any thing he possessed.





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