“Now, my chicken, to roost!” said Nick.
He turned to give her his paternal embrace, but paused as Olga very slightly drew back from it.
They stood in the dining-room which they had entered on arrival. Max had lounged across to the mantelpiece, and propped himself against it in his favourite attitude. He looked on as it were from afar.
“Please,” Olga said rather breathlessly, and she addressed Nick as though he were the only person in the room, “I want to ask you something before we say good-night.”
“Something private?” asked Nick.
She put her hand to her throat; her face was ghastly. Her voice came with visible effort. “It concerns—Max,” she said.
Max neither moved nor spoke. He was looking very fixedly at Olga. There was something merciless in his attitude.
Nick flashed a swift glance at him, and slipped his arm round the girl. She was quivering with agitation, yet she made as if she would free herself.
“Please, Nick!” she said imploringly. “I want to be strong. Help me to be strong!”
“All right, dear,” he said gently. “You can count on me. What’s the trouble? Hunt-Goring again?”
She shivered at the name. “No—no! At least—not alone. He hasn’t worried me.”
She became silent, painfully, desperately silent, while she fought for self-control.
Again Nick glanced across at Max. “Pour out a glass of wine!” he said briefly.
Max stood up. He went to the table, and very deliberately mixed a little brandy and water. His face, as he did it, was absolutely composed. He might have been thinking of something totally removed from the matter in hand.
Yet, as he turned round, the air of grimness was perceptible again. He held out the glass to Nick. “I think I’ll go,” he said.
“No!” It was Olga who spoke. She stretched out a detaining hand. “I want you—please—to stay. I—I—”
She faltered and stopped as Max’s hand closed quietly and strongly upon hers.
“Very well,” he said. “I’ll stay. But drink this like a sensible girl! You’re cold.”
She obeyed him, leaning upon Nick’s shoulder, and gradually the deadly pallor of her face passed. She drew her hand out of Max’s grasp, and relinquished Nick’s support.
“I’m dreadfully sorry,” she said, and her voice came dull and oddly indifferent. “You are both so good to me. But I think one generally has to face the worst things in life by oneself. Nick, I asked you a little while ago to fill in a gap in my memory—to tell me something I had forgotten. Do you remember?”
“I do,” said Nick. Like Max, he was watching her closely, but his eyes moved unceasingly; they glimmered behind his colourless lashes with a weird fitfulness.
Olga was looking straight at him. She had never stood in awe of Nick.