“Thanks!” Nick’s eyes flashed open as if at the pulling of a string. “If it isn’t an empty phrase, I value it.”
“I don’t deal in empty phrases as a rule,” said Max.
“Quite so. Only with a definite end in view? I hold that no one should ever do or say anything without a purpose.”
“So do I,” said Max.
Nick’s eyes flickered over him and closed again. “Then, my dear chap,” he said, “why in Heaven’s name make yourself so damned unpleasant?”
“So what?” said Max.
“What I said.” Coolly Nick made answer. “It’s not an empty phrase,” he added. “You will find a meaning attached if you deign to give it the benefit of your august consideration.”
Max uttered a grim, unwilling laugh. “I suppose you are privileged to say what you like,” he said.
“I observe certain limits,” said Nick.
“And you never make mistakes?”
“Oh, yes, occasionally. Not often. You see, I’m too well-meaning to go far astray,” said Nick, with becoming modesty. “You must remember that I’m well-meaning, Wyndham. It accounts for a good many little eccentricities. I think you were quite right to make her extract that needle. I should have done it myself. But you are not so wise in resenting her refusal to kiss the place and make it well. I speak from the point of view of the chaperon, remember.”
“Who told you anything about a needle?” demanded Max, suddenly turning brick-red..
“That’s my affair,” said Nick.
“No, pardon me, not yours!” Again his eyes took a leaping glance at his companion.
Doggedly Max faced it. “Did she tell you?”
“Who?” said Nick.
“Olga.” He flung the name with half-suppressed resentment. His attitude in that moment was aggressively British. He looked as he had looked to Olga that afternoon, undeniably formidable.
But Nick remained unimpressed. “I shan’t answer that question,” he said.
“You needn’t,” said Max grimly.
“That’s why,” said Nick.
“Oh! I see.” Max’s eyes searched him narrowly for a moment, then returned to the ceiling. “Does she think I’m in love with her?” he asked rather curtly.
“Well, scarcely. I shouldn’t let her think that at present if I were you. In my opinion any extremes are inadvisable at this stage.”
“I suppose you know I am going to marry her?” said Max.
“Yes, I’ve divined that.”
“And you approve?”
“I submit to the inevitable,” said Nick with a sigh.
Max smiled, the smile of a man who faces considerable odds with complete confidence. “She doesn’t—at present.”
Nick’s grin of appreciation flashed across his yellow face and was gone. “No, my friend. And you’ll find her very elusive to deal with. You will never make her like you. I suppose you know that.”
“I don’t want her to,” said Max.