“No!” she whispered back. “No! It was only—only—”
“Only—” he said. “Look here! You mustn’t cry. It’s one better than fainting, I admit; but I’m not going to let you do either if I can help it. Come over here to the window!”
He led her unresisting, one steady arm upholding her.
“Do you know,” he said, “a curious thing happened just now? I’d only been in the house twenty minutes or so when, coming downstairs to look for you, I discovered a letter in the hall addressed to me. I took the liberty of opening and reading it, in spite of the fact that it was plainly intended for the post.” He paused. “I thought that would make you angry,” he observed, looking down at her critically.
She uttered a desperate little laugh and tried to disengage herself from his arm. “No, I’m glad you’ve got it,” she said rather breathlessly.
“It was a very silly letter,” remarked Max, calmly frustrating the attempt. “It didn’t say half it might have said, and what it did say wasn’t to the point.”
“Yes, it was,” she maintained quickly. “It—it—I meant to say just that.”
“Then all I can say is that you have quite missed the crux of the situation,” said Max. “Why are you very, very sorry? Why do you want me to forgive you? And why in the name of wonder do you suggest that we should become friends when you know that we are so constituted as to be incapable of being anything but the dearest of enemies?”
He looked down again suddenly into her quivering, averted face. “Still I shall value that letter,” he said, “if only as a sample of the sweet unreasonableness of women. Are you still very sorry, Olga?”
She moved at the utterance of her name, moved and made a more decided effort to free herself.
“Not a bit of good,” said Max. “Don’t you know I’m waiting for the kiss of peace?”
“I can’t!” she protested swiftly. “I can’t!”
“Can’t what?” said Max.
Her lips were trembling, but she shed no tears. He seemed in some magic fashion to keep her from that.
“I can’t kiss you, Max, really—really!” she said.
“Why not?” said Max.
She was silent, but he persisted, still holding her pressed to him.
“Tell me why not! Is it because you don’t want to Or you think you ought not to? Or because you are just—shy?”
She caught the smile in his voice and pictured the cocked-up corner of his mouth. “I think I ought not to,” she murmured, with her head still turned from him.
“Conscientious objections?” suggested Max.
“Don’t laugh!” she whispered.
“My dear child, I’m as serious as a judge. What are the objections?”
“There is—Noel,” she said.
“You will have to chuck Noel,” said Max coolly.
That vitalized her very effectually; she turned on him with burning cheeks. “Max, how dare you—how dare you suggest such a thing!”