He laid his hand for an instant on her arm as she
prepared to enter.
“You understand I am in earnest, don’t you?” he said.
She looked into his queer, yellow face with a feeling that was almost awe as she answered meekly. “Yes, Nick.”
“And don’t forget it,” he said, as he let her go.
ON THE BRINK
“Is that you, Allegro? There is no one with you?”
Violet raised herself from her pillows, turning a haggard face to meet her friend. She looked as if years had passed over her. Her great eyes shone out of dark circles. They looked beyond Olga in evident apprehension.
“It’s only me, darling,” said Olga, going swiftly to her.
Feverish hands caught and held her. “Goodness, child! How cold you are!” exclaimed Violet. “Mrs. Briggs, I can do without you now. You had better go and look after Briggs.” She broke into a brief laugh. “He always gets up to mischief as soon as your back is turned.”
“He can very well look after ’imself,” said Mrs. Briggs austerely. “And I’m not a-goin’ to leave you like this, my dearie. But I’ll tell you what I will do. I’ll go down to the kitchen and make them lazy hussies stir themselves and get you a meal of some sort.”
In the days when Mrs. Briggs had been Violet’s nurse she had reigned supreme in the Priory kitchen, and she still regarded it as an outlying portion of her dominions.
Violet leaned back upon her pillows with exhaustion written plainly on her pale face. “Oh, do as you like, Nanny! But I don’t want anything. I’ve got my cigarettes.”
Mrs. Briggs grunted, and turned to go. The patient Cork here seized the opportunity to assert himself, and gently but firmly pressed into the room.
“Drat the dog!” said Mrs. Briggs.
“Leave him alone!” Violet commanded. “He knows how to take care of me.”
As Cork was fully determined to enter, no effort on Mrs. Briggs’s part would have availed to stop him, and Mrs. Briggs, realizing this, sniffed and departed.
The huge animal lay down by the foot of the bed and heaved a sigh of satisfaction as he dropped his nose upon his paws.
And then Violet turned her face to Olga, sitting on the bed, and whispered, “Does he know?”
“Who?” whispered back Olga.
“Max, of course! Who else?”
Olga hesitated. Violet’s hands were gripping her very tightly. “Know what, dear?” she said at last.
A quick frown drew Violet’s forehead. “Oh, you know what I mean. Does he know about my going mad? Have you told him?”
“My dearest,”—keen distress rang in Olga’s voice—“don’t—don’t talk like that! You’re not mad! You’re not mad!”
Violet’s frown changed into a very strange smile. “Oh yes, but I am,” she said. “I’ve been mad for some time now. It’s been gradually coming on, but to-day—to-day it is moving faster—much faster.” Her low voice quickened. “I haven’t much sanity left, Allegro. I can feel it slipping from me inch by inch like a paid-out rope. Only enough left now to know that I am mad. When I don’t know that any longer, I shall have lost it all.”