“You are not afraid of me, Allegro?” Violet asked her suddenly, as she arranged her black hair with swift, feverish movements.
And Olga answered with truth. “No, dear. I should never be that.”
“Not whatever happened? That’s right. I’m not really dangerous—so long as you keep Max out of my way. But, mind—I must never see him again, never—never—while I live!” She turned from the glass, facing Olga with eyes in which an awful fire had begun to burn. “I know him!” she said. “I know him! He will want to shut me up—to keep me as a specimen for him—and men like him—to study. He and Bruce will do it between them if they get the chance. But they won’t—they won’t! Allegro—darling, you must help me to get away. I can’t—can’t—be imprisoned for life. You will help me? Promise me! Promise!”
“I promise, dearest!” Olga made answer very earnestly.
Something of relief softened the agony in the dark eyes. Very suddenly Violet took her friend’s face between her hands and passionately kissed her on the lips.
“I love you, Allegro!” she said. “And I trust you—and you only—till death.”
It was then—at first but dimly—that Olga began to realize that the burden laid upon her might be heavier than she could bear, and yet that she alone must bear it even if it crushed her to the earth.
Passing out at length into the passage, she felt Violet’s hand close with a convulsive pressure upon her arm, and she knew that here was fear such as she had never before encountered or imagined,—the deadly, unfathomable fear of a mind that hovered on the brink of the abyss.
She caught the hand warmly, protectingly, into her own. And she swore then and there a solemn, inward oath that, cost what it might, the trust reposed in her should not be in vain. When her friend turned to her for help in extremity, she should not find her lacking.
For of such stuff was Olga Ratcliffe fashioned, and her loyalty was that same loyalty which moves men even unto the sacrifice of their lives.
OVER THE EDGE
Marshalled by Mrs. Briggs, the Priory servants brought them luncheon, laying a table at one side of the great entrance-hall, for all the lower rooms were shuttered and closed.
Violet, with the great dog Cork vigilant and silent beside her, sat before it as one wrapt in reverie. Now and then she roused herself to answer at random some remark from Nick, but for the most part she sat mutely brooding.
The meal was but a dreadful farce to Olga. She was waiting, she was listening, she was watching. It seemed ludicrous to her stretched nerves to be seated there with food before her, when every instant she expected the devastating power that lurked behind the stillness to burst forth and engulf them. It was like sitting at the very mouth of hell, feeling the blistering heat, and yet pretending that they felt it not.