“Well?” he said.
Only the one word; but somehow, inexplicably, her heart cried shame upon her, as though she had put a good weapon to an unworthy use. She stood before him, trying vainly to drive it home. But she could not. Further words failed her.
“I see,” he said at last. “You think out of my love for you I ought to be willing to give you up. Is that it?”
She nodded mutely, not daring to look at him, still overwhelmed with that shamed sense of doing him a wrong.
“I see,” he said again. “And—if it would be for your happiness to let you go—I might perhaps be equal to the sacrifice.” His voice was suddenly cynical, and she never guessed that he cloaked an unwanted emotion therewith. “But take the other view of the case. You know you would never be happy away from me.”
“I couldn’t be happy with you—now,” she murmured.
He bent slightly towards her as if not sure that he had heard aright. “Do you really mean that?” he asked.
She was silent.
“Olga!” he said insistently.
Against her will she raised her eyes, and met his close scrutiny. Against her will she answered him, breathlessly, out of a fevered sense of expediency. “Yes—yes, I do mean it! Oh, Max, you must—you must let me go!”
But he held her still. “You have appealed to my love,” he said. “I appeal to yours.”
But that was more than she could bear; the sudden tension snapped the last shreds of her quivering strength. She broke down utterly, standing there between his hands.
He made no attempt to draw her to him. Perhaps he did not wholly trust himself. Neither did he let her go; but there was no element of cruelty about him any longer. In silence, with absolute patience, he waited for her.
She made a slight effort at last to free herself, and instantly he set her free. She sat down again at the table, striving desperately for self-control. But she could not even begin to speak to him, so choked and blinded was she by her tears.
A while longer he waited beside her; then at length he spoke. “If you really honestly feel that you can’t marry me, that to do so would make for misery and not happiness; if in short your love for me is dead—I will let you go.”
The words fell curt and stern, but if she had seen his face at the moment she would have realized something of what the utterance of them cost.
But her own face was hidden, her paroxysm of weeping yet shook her uncontrollably.
“Is it dead?” he said, and stooped over her, holding the back of her chair but not touching her.
She made a convulsive movement, whether of flinching from his close proximity or protest at his words it was impossible to say.
He waited a moment or two. Then: “If it isn’t,” he said, “just put your hand in mine!”
He laid his own upon the table before her, upturned, ready to clasp hers. His face was bent so low over her that his lips were almost on her hair. She could have yielded herself to his arms without effort.