Olga was never nervous except in his presence, but she would have rather died than have had him know it.
“Nick taught me,” she said, “years ago, when he first lost his arm. It’s about the only thing he can’t do himself.”
“I’ve noticed that he’s fairly agile,” commented Max. “What did he have his arm cut off for? Couldn’t he make himself conspicuous enough in any other way?”
Olga’s cheeks flamed. “He was wounded in action,” she said shortly.
Max cocked one corner of his mouth. “And so entered Parliament in a blaze of glory,” he said. “Vote for the Brave! Vote for the Veteran! Vote for the One-Armed Hero! Never mind his politics! That empty sleeve must have been absolutely invaluable to him in his electioneering days.”
But joking on this subject was more than Olga could bear. The sight of the empty sleeve was enough to bring tears to her eyes at times even now. To hear it thus lightly spoken of was intolerable.
“How dare you say such a thing!” she exclaimed. “As if Nick—Nick!—would ever stoop to take advantage of a thing like that. Nick, who might have won the V.C., only—” She broke off with vehement self-repression. “I’m an idiot to argue with you!” she said.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself!” said Max kindly. “Your imbecility takes quite an attractive form, I assure you. So our gallant hero occupies the shrine of your young affections, does he? It must be rather cramping for him. Is he never allowed to come out and stretch himself?”
Olga said no word in answer. Her lips were firmly closed.
“Poor chap!” said Max. “He must find it a tight squeeze, notwithstanding his size. If you don’t slow up pretty soon, fair lady, you will knock the Priory into a heap of ruins.”
“I know what I’m about,” breathed Olga.
He caught the remark and threw it back with his customary readiness. “Do you really? I humbly beg to question that statement. If you did know, you would proceed with caution.”
Olga applied her brake and brought the car adroitly to a standstill in front of the house before replying. Then she flung him a challenging glance.
“Yes,” he said with deliberation. “I don’t question your cleverness, fair lady;—only your wisdom. You are too prone to let your feelings run away with you, and that is the most infectious disorder that I know.”
She laughed, avoiding his eyes, and hotly aware of a certain embarrassment that made reply impossible. “Perhaps, when you have quite finished your lecture, you will get out,” she said, “and let me do the same. It’s hot sitting here.”
“Evidently,” said Max.
He turned and descended, held up a hand to her, then, as she ignored it, stooped to guard her dress from the wheel. She whisked it swiftly from his touch, and ran in through the open door, encountering the master of the house just coming out with a suddenness that involved a collision.