“And it’s horribly selfish,” put in Olga.
“My dear child, don’t be so frightfully moral!” protested Violet. “I can’t rise to it. Nick, why doesn’t it always answer to take what one wants?”
“Because one doesn’t always succeed in keeping it,” said Nick.
“He means,” said Max, a spark of humour in his eyes, “that a champion,—no, a chaperon—sometimes comes along to the rescue of the stolen article. But—from what I’ve seen of life—I scarcely think the odds would be on the side of the chaperon. What is your opinion, Miss Campion?”
“If the chaperon were Nick, I should certainly put my money on him,” she answered lightly.
“And lose it!” said Max.
“And win it!” said Olga.
“Order! Order!” commanded Nick. “Once more I refuse to be the bone of contention between you. You will tear me to shreds among you, and even the great Dr. Wyndham might find some difficulty in putting me together again. Olga, give us some music!”
“I can’t, dear,” said Olga.
He frowned at her. “Why not?”
She hesitated. “I’m not in the mood for it. At least—”
“Am I the obstacle?” asked Max.
She could not control her colour, though she strove resolutely to appear as if she had not heard.
He turned to Violet, faintly smiling. “Shall we take a stroll in the garden?”
She rose, flinging a gay glance at Olga. “Just two turns!” she said.
He held aside the curtain for her, and followed her out, with a careless jest. The two who were left heard them laughing as they sauntered away. Olga rose with a shiver.
“What’s the matter?” said Nick.
To which she answered, “Nothing,” knowing that he would not believe her, knowing also that he would understand enough to ask no more.
She went to the piano, put aside the mandolin, and began to play. Not even to Nick, her hero and her close confidant, would she explain the absolute repugnance that the association of Max Wyndham with her friend had inspired in her.
But though she played with apparent absorption, her ears were strained to catch the sound of their voices in the garden behind her, the girl’s light chatter, her companion’s brief, cynical laugh. For she knew by the sure intuition which is a woman’s inner and unerring vision, that jest or trifle as he might his keen brain was actively employed in some subtle investigation too obscure for her to fathom, and that behind his badinage and behind his cynicism there sat a man who watched.
“I am going over to Brethaven to see Mrs. Briggs to-day,” Olga announced nearly a week later, waylaying Max after breakfast on his way to the surgery with the air of one prepared to resist opposition. “Are you wanting the car this morning, Dr. Wyndham?”
She knew that he would be engaged at the cottage-hospital that morning, but it was one of Dr. Ratcliffe’s strict rules that the car should never be used unprofessionally without express permission from himself or his assistant. Naturally Olga resented having to observe this rule in her father’s absence and her manner betrayed as much, but she was too conscientious to neglect its observance.