“Yes?” said Max.
“You’re so horrid,” she burst out, “so cold-blooded, so—so—so unsympathetic!”
To her own amazement and dismay, she found herself in tears. In the same instant she was free and the door left unguarded; but she did not use her freedom to escape. Somehow she did not think of that. She only leaned against the wall with her hands over her face and wept.
Max, with his hands deep in his pockets, strolled about the room, whistling below his breath. The gleam had died out of his eyes, but the brows met fiercely above them. His face was the face of a man working out a difficult problem.
Suddenly he walked up to her, and stood still.
“Look here,” he said; “can’t you manage to be sensible for a minute? If you go on in this way you will soon get hysterical, and I don’t think my treatment for hysterics would appeal to you. Olga, are you listening?”
Yes, she was listening—listening tensely, because she could not help herself.
“I’m sorry you think me a brute,” he proceeded. “I don’t think anyone else does, but that’s a detail. I am also sorry that you’re upset about old Mrs. Stubbs, though I don’t see much sense in crying for her now her troubles are over. I think myself that it was just as well I didn’t reach her in time. I should only have prolonged her misery. That’s one of the grand obstacles in the medical career. I’ve kicked against it a good many times.” He paused.
“She did suffer then?” whispered Olga, commanding herself with an effort.
“When she wasn’t under the influence of morphia—yes. That was the only peace she knew. But of course it affected her brain. It always does, if you keep on with it.”
Olga’s hands fell. She straightened herself. “Then—you think she is better dead?” she said.
He squared his great shoulders, and she felt infinitely small. “If I could have followed my own inclination with that old woman,” he said, “I should have given her a free pass long ago. But—I am not authorized to distribute free passes. On the contrary, it’s my business to hang on to people to the bitter end, and not to let them through till they’ve paid for their liberty to the uttermost farthing.”
She glanced at him quickly. Cynical as were his words, she was aware of a touch of genuine feeling somewhere. She made swift response to it, almost before she realized what she was doing.
“Oh, but surely the help you give far outweighs that!” she said. “I often think I will be a nurse when I am old enough, if Dad can spare me.”
“Good heavens, child!” he said. “Do you want to be a gaoler too?”
“No,” she answered quickly. “I’ll be a deliverer.”
He smiled his one-sided smile. “And I wonder how long you will call yourself that,” he said.
She had no answer ready, for he seemed to utter his speculation out of knowledge and not ignorance. It made her feel a little cold, and after a moment she turned from the subject.