“Olga,” he said then, speaking very softly, “will you tell me something?”
“Perhaps,” she whispered back.
“Why are you afraid of me? You never used to be.”
She clung a little closer to him and was silent.
“Don’t you know?” he said.
“Not altogether.” Tremulously she made answer.
“I’ve had a feeling—all this time—that you were angry with me for some reason.”
“For what reason?” he said.
“That’s what I never could remember.”
The hand upon her head moved and lightly stroked her cheek; then very gently but with evident determination turned her face upwards. His eyes, green and piercing, looked straight into her soul.
“You think that still?” he asked.
“No.” Panting, she answered him; for deep within her, memory stirred afresh. The phantom of her dread lurked once more darkly in the background. The last time those eyes had searched her thus, her soul had been in agony. Wherefore? Wherefore? She struggled to remember.
And then in a flash all was gone. The past went from her. She was back again in the present, with the throbbing consciousness of Max’s arms enfolding her, and the overwhelming knowledge that Max loved her filling all her world.
“You’re not afraid now,” he said.
“No,” she answered softly.
“Then—” he set her free, bending to her, his face close to hers—“I may go on ‘breathing and hoping,’ may I, without running any risk of scaring you away?”
She laughed—a faint, sweet laugh more eloquent than words, realizing fully that, albeit her defences were down, he would not enter her citadel until she gave him leave.
His chivalrous regard for her went straight to her heart. In Noel it would not have surprised her, but in Max it was so unexpected that for a moment she hardly knew how to meet it.
He waited with the utmost patience, his smile, subtly softened but still unmistakably humorous, hovering at the corner of his mouth.
And so after a moment, half-laughing, with a face on fire, she reached out, took the red head between her hands, and bestowed a very small, shy kiss upon his cheek.
The next instant he held her crushed against his heart while his lips pressed hers with all the fiery passion of a man’s worship....
It must have been several minutes later that a cracked voice was suddenly uplifted in the verandah singing a plantation love-song with more of pathos than tunefulness.
Olga started at the sound, started violently and guiltily, and slipped out of reach with a scarlet countenance.
“Nick!” she whispered.
Max glanced at the open window, raised his brows, shrugged his shoulders, and strolled across to it. Nick it was, stationed at a discreet distance, but dimly discernible in the darkness.
“Let me go to him first!” murmured Olga.