Olga’s hands clasped one another very tightly. She answered him under her breath. “I expect that’s it, Nick, I don’t love him any more at all. It has killed my love.”
“Then you never loved him,” said Nick with conviction.
She made no attempt to contradict him. Only her strained white face seemed to implore him to torture her no further. He saw it, and his heart smote him.
“I hate to hurt you, my chicken,” he said. “But, dear, you’re making such a hideous muddle of your life. I hate that even worse.”
She flung her arms about his neck; she pressed her lips to his yellow face. “Darling Nick, never mind about me, never mind!” she whispered. “I am doing simply what I must do. I can scarcely think or feel yet. Only I know that I must get free. It isn’t that I’m hard. It’s just that I have no choice. Your case was different. You had to do it. But this—” her words sank, became scarcely audible—“Nick, could anything extenuate—this?”
“God knows,” said Nick. He paused a moment, then added: “I sometimes think, if the whole truth were known, there would be an extenuating circumstance for every mortal offence under the sun.”
She did not argue the point. She seemed beyond argument. “Very likely,” she said. “But really I have no choice. You see, we were such friends—such friends. And then she loved him, while he—he had nothing but a professional interest for her, till he found her case to be hopeless, and then he lost even that. That’s what made it so horrible—so impossible. If he had loved her—even a little—I could have understood. But as it was—Oh, Nick, don’t you see?”
Yes, he did see. It was useless to reason with her. She was like a captive bird beating wild wings for freedom and wholly unable to gauge its awful desolation when won.
For the second time he had to own himself beaten. For the second time he withdrew his forces from the field.
“Well, dear, I’m sorry,” was all he said, but it conveyed much.
When he quitted her presence a little later he carried with him the ring that Max had given her and a brief and piteous message to her lover that he would not try to see her again.
Max received both in grim silence, and within half an hour of so doing he had gone.
ONE MAN’S LOSS
“Oh, damn!” said Noel.
He had made the remark several times before that morning, but he made it with special emphasis on this occasion in response to the news that his brother was waiting to see him.
Hot and cross from the parade-ground, he rolled off his horse and turned towards his quarters. The animal looked after him with a faint whinny of hurt surprise, and sharply Noel flung round again.
The saice grinned, but was instantly quelled to sobriety by his master’s scowl. The horse whinnied again, and tucked a confiding nose under the young officer’s arm.