“Then he’s such a prig!” said Olga.
“You should never use a word you can’t define,” observed Nick, from the depths of the hammock in which his meagre person reposed at length.
She made a face at him, and gave the hammock a vicious twitch which caused him to rock with some violence for several seconds. As he was wont pathetically to remark, everyone bullied him because he was small and possessed only one arm, having shed the other by inadvertence somewhere on the borders of the Indian Empire.
Certainly Olga—his half-brother’s eldest child—treated him with scant respect, though she never allowed anyone else to be other than polite to him in her hearing. But then she and Nick had been pals from the beginning of things, and this surely entitled her to a certain licence in her dealings with him. Nick, too, was such a darling; he never minded anything.
Having duly punished him for snubbing her, she returned with serenity to the work upon her lap.
“You see,” she remarked thoughtfully, “the worst of it is he really is a bit of a genius. And one can’t sit on genius—with comfort. It sort of flames out where you least expect it.”
“Highly unpleasant, I should think,” agreed Nick.
“Yes; and he has such a disgusting fashion of behaving as if—as if one were miles beneath his notice,” proceeded Olga. “And I’m not a chicken, you know, Nick, I’m twenty.”
“A vast age!” said Nick.
For which remark she gave him another jerk which set him swinging like a pendulum.
“Well, I’ve got a little sense anyhow,” she remarked.
“But not much,” said Nick. “Or you would know that that sort of treatment after muffins for tea is calculated to produce indigestion in a very acute form, peculiarly distressing to the beholder.”
“Oh, I’m sorry! I forgot the muffins.” Olga laid a restraining hand upon the hammock. “But do you like him, Nick? Honestly now!”
“My dear child, I never like anyone till I’ve seen him at his worst. Drawing-room manners never attract me.”
“But this man hasn’t got any manners at all,” objected Olga. “And he’s so horribly satirical. It’s like having a stinging-nettle in the house. I believe—just because he’s clever in his own line—that he’s been spoilt. As if everybody couldn’t do something!”
“Ah! That’s the point,” said Nick sententiously. “Everybody can, but it isn’t everybody who does. Now this young man apparently knows how to make the most of his opportunities. He plays a rattling hand at bridge, by the way.”
“I wonder if he cheats,” said Olga. “I’m sure he’s quite unscrupulous.”
Nick turned his head, and surveyed her from under his restless eyelids. “I begin to think you must be falling in love with the young man,” he observed.
“Don’t be absurd, Nick!” Olga did not even trouble to look up. She was stitching with neat rapidity.