But she only stiffened at his action, and became intensely still. In the seconds that followed she did not so much as breathe. She was as one turned to stone.
For the space of a full minute he waited; and through it the wild beating of her heart rose up in the stillness, throbbing audibly. But still she sat before him mutely, making no sign.
Then, after what seemed to her an eternity of waiting, very quietly he straightened himself and took his hand away.
She shrank away involuntarily with a nervous contraction of her whole body. For that moment she was unspeakably afraid.
But he gave her no cause for fear. He bore himself with absolute self-possession.
“Very well,” he said. “That ends it. You are free.”
With the words he turned deliberately from her, walked to the door, passed quietly out. And she was left alone.
THE EASIEST COURSE
“I won’t be a party to it,” said Nick.
“You can’t help yourself.”
Bluntly Max made reply. He lounged against the window while his host dressed. The presence of the stately khitmutgar who was assisting Nick was ignored by them both.
“I can generally manage to help myself,” observed Nick.
Max’s mouth took its most cynical downward curve. “You see, old chap, this chances to be one of the occasions on which you can’t. It’s my funeral, not yours.”
Nick sent a brief glance across. “You’re a fool, Max,” he said.
“Thanks!” said Max. He took his pipe from his pocket and commenced to fill it with extreme care. There was something grimly ironical about his whole bearing. He did not speak again till his task was completed and the pipe alight. Then very deliberately through a cloud of rank smoke, he took up his tale. “It is one of the most interesting cases that have ever come under my notice. I am only sorry that I shall not be able to continue to keep it under my own personal supervision.”
Nick laughed, a crude, cracked laugh. “It seems a pity certainly, since you came to India for that express purpose. I suppose you think it’s up to me to continue the treatment?”
“Exactly,” said Max.
“Well, I’m not going to.” Again Nick’s eyes flashed a keen look at Max’s imperturbable countenance. “I held my peace last night,” he said, “because matters were too ticklish to be tampered with. But as to keeping it up-----”
Max thrust his hands deep into his pockets. “As to keeping it up,” he said, “you’ve no choice; neither have I. It may be a matter for regret from some points of view, but a matter of the most urgent expediency it undoubtedly is. I tell you plainly, Nick, this is not a thing to be played with. There are some risks that no one has any right to take. This is one.”
He looked at Nick, square-jawed and determined; but Nick vigorously shook his head.