“In what way?” she demanded.
She could see that he was still smiling—that maddening, perpetual smile, and she thought that her sheer abhorrence of the man would choke her. But with all her throbbing strength she held herself in check.
He did not answer her at once. She waited, compelling herself to silence.
At length quite calmly he turned and faced her. “Well now, Olga, listen to me,” he said. “I am a good deal older than you are, but I am still capable of a certain amount of foolishness. What I am now going to say to you, I have wanted to say for some time, but you have been so absurdly shy with me that—as you perceive—I have been obliged to resort to strategy to obtain a hearing.”
He paused, for Olga had suddenly gripped the rail as if she needed support. Her face was deathly, but out of it the pale eyes blazed in fierce questioning.
“What do you mean?” she said. “What strategy?”
He laid his hand upon hers and gripped it hard. “Don’t be hysterical!” he said. “I am paying you the compliment of treating you like a woman of sense.”
She shrank away from him, but he continued to grip her hand with brutal force till the pain of it reached her consciousness and sent the blood upwards to her face. Then he let her go.
“Yes,” he said coolly, “I have been laying my mine for some time now. It has not been particularly easy or particularly pleasant, but since I considered you worth a little trouble I did not grudge it. The long and the short of it is this: I fell in love with you last winter. You may remember that I caught your brothers poaching on my ground, and you came to me to beg them off. Well, I granted your request—for a consideration. You may remember the consideration also. You had been at great pains to snub me until that episode. I made you pay for the snubbing. I imposed a fine—do you remember?”
“I have loathed you ever since,” she broke in.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “I know that. That was what started the mischief. I am so constituted that resistance is but fuel to the flame. In that respect I believe I am not unique. It is a by no means remarkable trait of the masculine character, you will find. Well, I made you pay. It was to be two kisses, was it not? You gave me one, and then for some reason you fled. That left you in my debt.”
“It is a debt I will never pay!” she declared passionately. “I will die first!”
He laughed. There was something in his eyes—something intolerable—that made her avert her own in spite of herself. In desperation she glanced around for Violet.
“She is asleep,” said Hunt-Goring.
She turned on him then like a fury. “You mean you have drugged her!” she cried.
He shrugged his shoulders. “Not to that extent. You can wake her if you wish, but I think you had better hear me out first—for her sake also. It is better for all parties that we should come to a clear understanding.”