He nodded. “It was.”
Her hands clasped the front of his coat with nervous force. She looked him straight in the face.
As of old, the flickering eyes evaded her. They met and passed her over a dozen times, but imparted nothing.
“Nick,” she said, “will you please tell me how it happened? I am strong enough to bear it now, and indeed—indeed, I must know.”
“I have been waiting to tell you,” Nick said. “Put on a hat, and we will go in the garden.”
She rose at once. Somehow his brief words reassured her. She felt no agitation, was scarcely aware of shock. In his presence even the shadow of Death became devoid of all superstitious fears. In some fashion he made fear seem absurd.
Nick waited for her on the verandah with his face turned up to the sky. He scarcely looked like a man bracing himself for a stiff ordeal, but it was not his way to stoop under his burdens. He had learned to tread jauntily while he carried a heart like lead.
When Olga joined him, he put his hand through her arm and led her forth. The path wound along between the tangle of shrubs and lower growth till it reached the cypresses, and here was a shady stretch where they could pace to and fro in complete privacy.
Arrived here, Nick spoke. “It wasn’t altogether news to you, was it?”
She passed her hand across her eyes in the old, puzzled way. “I didn’t remember,” she said, “and yet I wasn’t altogether surprised. I think somehow at the back of my mind—I suspected.”
“You remember now,” said Nick.
She looked at him with troubled eyes. “No, I don’t, dear. That’s just it. I—I can’t remember. It—frightens me.” She clasped his hand with fingers that trembled.
“No need to be frightened,” said Nick. “You were ill, you know; first the heat and then the shock. After brainfever, people very often do forget.”
“Ah, yes,” she said, with a piteous kind of eagerness. “But it is coming back now. I only want you to help a little.” She stood suddenly still. “Nick, you are not afraid of Death, I know. Wasn’t it you who called it the opening of a Door?”
“It is—just that,” said Nick.
“But the body,” she said, “the body dies.”
“The body,” he said, “is like a suit of clothes that you lay aside till the time comes for it to be renovated and made wearable again.”
“Ah! She couldn’t die, could she, Nick?” Olga’s eyes implored him. “Not she herself!” she urged. “She was so full of life. I can’t realize it. I can’t—I can’t! Tell me how it happened! Surely I never saw her dead! Whatever came after, I never could have forgotten that!”
“Tell me how much you do remember, kiddie,” Nick said gently. “And I will fill in the gaps.”
Her forehead contracted in a painful frown. “It’s so difficult,” she said, “so disjointed—like a dreadful dream. I know she was horribly afraid of Max. And then there was Major Hunt-Goring. I can’t believe she ever liked him. It was only because he—flattered her, and gave her those dreadful cigarettes.”