He paused. Olga was listening with white face upturned. She spoke no word; only the agony in her eyes spoke for her.
He went on very quietly, with a gentleness to which she was wholly unaccustomed. “It has been coming on for some little time now. I hoped at first that it would be slow in developing, and so at first it appeared to be. Sometimes, at the very beginning, it is not possible to detect it with any certainty. It is only when the disease has begun to manifest itself unmistakably that it moves so rapidly. It was because I feared a sudden development that I asked Sir Kersley to come down. He was of the opinion that that was not imminent, that three months or even six might intervene. I feared he was mistaken, but I hoped for the best. Of course a sudden shock was more than sufficient to precipitate matters. But I knew that she was less likely to encounter any in your society than anywhere else. Nick wanted me to warn you, but—rightly or wrongly—I wouldn’t! I thought you would know soon enough.”
He paused again, as if to give her time to blame him; but still she spoke no word, still she waited with face upturned.
He went on gravely and steadily. “I knew that opium was a very dangerous drug for her to take in however minute a quantity, but I hoped I had put a stop to that. I could not foresee to-day’s events. Hunt-Goring is no favourite of mine, but I never anticipated his taking such a step. I did not so much as know that he was in a position to do so. He suppressed that fact on the sole occasion on which Miss Campion’s name was mentioned between us.”
Olga spoke for the first time, her stiff lips scarcely moving. “I think he is a devil,” she said slowly.
Max made a gesture expressive of indifference on that point. “People who form the drug habit are seldom over-squeamish in other respects,” he said. “He has certainly hastened matters, but he is not responsible for the evil itself. That has been germinating during the whole of her life.”
“And—that—was why Sir Kersley jilted her mother?” Olga spoke in a low, detached voice. She seemed to be trying to grasp a situation that eluded her.
“It was.” Max answered with a return to his customary brevity; his tone was not without bitterness. “Kersley was merciful enough to think of the next generation. He was a doctor, and he knew that hereditary madness is the greatest evil—save one—in the world. Therefore he sacrificed his happiness.”
“What is the greatest evil?” she asked, still with the air of bringing herself painfully back as it were from a long distance.
He was watching her shrewdly as he answered. “Hereditary vice—crime.”
“Is crime hereditary?”
“In nine cases out of ten—yes.”
“And that is worse than—madness?”
“I should say much worse.”
“I see.” She passed a hand across her eyes, and very suddenly she shivered and seemed to awake. “Oh, is it quite hopeless?” she asked him piteously. “Are you sure?”