“Muriel’s first!” commanded Nick; and, with hands that shook, Olga slit open the envelope.
He put his arm about her shoulders as she withdrew the sheet and opened it out. “Yes, you can read it too. I know what’s in it, bless her heart!”
So together they read the closely-written pages. There was silence in the room as they did so, broken only by the crackling of the paper, while Max Wyndham kept a motionless watch, his shaggy brows drawn close.
Suddenly Olga lifted her face. “Oh, Nick, isn’t she a darling? I—I—it makes me feel such a beast!”
Nick’s hand pinched her cheek in answer. His lips twitched a little, but he did not speak or raise his eyes.
She leaned her cheek against his shoulder. “I won’t read any more, Nick. It’s too private. May I open Dad’s?”
He took his wife’s letter between his fingers and dexterously folded it. “All right, Olga mia! Let us hear the verdict of the great Dr. Jim!”
He glanced up at Max with the words and instantly looked away.
Olga had apparently forgotten his very existence. She opened her father’s letter still in quivering haste, and again there was a silence of several seconds while they read.
It was broken in a fashion which not one of the three anticipated. Quite suddenly Olga’s lips began to quiver. She raised her head with the agitated gesture of one straining for self-control; and then in a moment the tears were running down her cheeks, and she covered her face and sobbed.
“Kiddie! Kiddie!” remonstrated Nick.
But it was Max who stooped and swiftly lifted her, holding her against his heart, stroking the fair hair with his steady capable hand. And surely there was magic in his touch, for almost immediately her weeping ceased. She looked up with slightly startled eyes, and drew herself gently but quite definitely from him.
“Thank you,” she said, with a quaint touch of dignity. “You’re very kind. Nick dear, I’m sorry. I—I’m all right now. Dad’s very sweet to put it like that, pretending he doesn’t mind a bit. I don’t know how ever I shall say good-bye to him.”
“You are really going then?” said Max.
She looked at him with a fleeting smile. “Yes, really!” she said.
“I congratulate you,” he said.
Nick chuckled. “He is pretending he doesn’t mind, too, Olga.”
Olga flushed a little. “Oh, Max never pretends,”
she said. “Do you,
He smiled in his grim fashion. “It is not for me to contradict you,” he said. “Permit me to congratulate you instead, and to hope that the East will not take as great liberties with your complexion as it has with Nick’s.”
“I’d rather be like Nick than anyone else in the world,” she declared, with one arm wound about her hero’s neck.
“Curious, isn’t it?” grinned Nick.
“Almost incredible!” said Max.