“It is quite hopeless,” he said.
“She can never be herself again—not even by a miracle?”
“Such miracles don’t happen,” said Max, with grim decision. “It is much the same as a person going blind. There are occasional gleams for a little while, but the end is total darkness. That is all that can be expected now.” He added, a hint of compassion mingling with the repression of his voice: “It is better that you should know the whole truth. It’s not fair to bolster you up with false hopes. You can help now—if you have the strength. You won’t be able to help later.”
“But I will never leave her!” Olga said.
“My dear child,” he made answer, “in a very little while she won’t even know you. She will be—as good as dead.”
“Surely she would be better dead!” she cried passionately.
“God knows,” said Max.
He spoke with more feeling than he usually permitted himself, and at once changed the subject. “What we are at present concerned in is to make her temporarily better. Now you know this stuff?” He took a bottle from his pocket. “I am going to put it in your charge. Give her a teaspoonful now in a wine-glass of water, as you did before. I hope it will make her sleep. If it doesn’t, give her a second dose in half an hour. But if she goes off without that second dose, all the better. Remember, it is rank poison. She ought to sleep for some hours then, and when she wakes I think she will probably be herself for a little. That’s quite clear, is it?”
He was looking at her closely as he handed her the bottle; but she met the look with absolute steadiness. She had plainly recovered her self-control, and was ready to shoulder her burden once more.
“I quite understand,” she said.
He laid his hand for a moment on her arm, and smiled at her with abrupt kindliness.
“Stick to it, Olga!” he said. “I am counting on you.”
She smiled back bravely, though her lips quivered. She did not say a word.
But Nick answered for her, his arm thrust suddenly about her waist. “And so you can, my son,” he said. “She is the pluckiest kid I know.”
THE OPENING OF THE DOOR
The utterance was very faint, yet it reached Olga, sitting, as she had sat for hours, by her friend’s side, watching the long, still slumber that had followed Max’s draught.
She bent instantly over the girl upon the bed, and warmly clasped her hand. “I am here, darling.”
The shadows were lengthening. Evening was drawing on. Very soon it would be dark.
“Allegro!” The low voice said again. It held a note of unutterable weariness, yet there was pleading in it too. The hand Olga had taken closed with a faint, answering pressure.
“Are you wanting anything?” whispered Olga, her face close to the face upon the pillow, the beautiful face she had watched, with what a passion of devotion, during the long, long afternoon.