“What do you mean by kind?” said Max. “You don’t seem to realize that the poor girl was mad. If I had been soft with her she would have been beyond my control at once.”
“Oh, but she wasn’t mad then,” Olga’s hands clasped each other tightly. “Max,” she said, and there was no longer indignation in her voice—it held only pain, “I’m afraid you and I have a good deal to answer for.”
“Perhaps,” said Max. He was frowning still; but he did not appear angry. She did not wholly understand either his look or tone. “I suppose she thought I treated her badly,” he said.
Olga nodded silently.
“She told you so?” His voice sounded stern; yet, still he did not seem to be angry.
“No, never.” Almost involuntarily she answered him. “But she did say—once—that you cared only for your profession, that it was not in you to—to worship any woman.”
“And you think that too?” he said.
His voice was softer now; it moved her subtly. She turned her face away from him and stifled a sob in her throat.
“No; but, Max—to build our life-happiness on—on the ruin of hers; that—that—is what troubles me.”
“But my dear girl!” he said. He took her two hands clasped into his. “I can’t reason with you, Olga,” he said. “You are quite unreasonable, and you know it. If you were any other woman, I should say that you felt in the mood for a good cry and so were raking up any old grievance for a pretext. As you are you, I won’t say that. But I absolutely prohibit crying in my presence. If you want to indulge in tears, you must wait till I am out of the way.”
She smiled at him faintly. “Max, I—I loved her-so; and I wasn’t even with her—when she died.”
Max was silent, suddenly and conspicuously silent, so that she knew on the instant that he had no sympathy to bestow on this point.
Yet an inner longing that was passionate urged her to brave his silence. Pleadingly she raised her face to his.
“Max, you were there, I know. Tell me—tell me about it!”
But he looked straight back at her with eyes that told her nothing, and she saw that his face was hard. For a little she tried to withstand him, mutely beseeching him; but at length her eyes fell before his.
And then Max spoke, briefly yet not unkindly. “My dear Olga, believe me, in nine cases out of ten it is better to forget those things that are behind; and this is one of the nine. I can’t tell you anything on that subject, so we had better regard it as closed.”
It was a bitter disappointment to her; but she saw that there was no appealing against his decision. She made as though she would turn away.
But he stopped her with quiet mastery. “No, I won’t have that,” he said. “I am not so cold-blooded as you think. I haven’t hurt you—really, Olga!”
A note of tenderness sounded in his voice. She yielded to him, albeit under protest.