“About you?” said Olga.
He laughed and looked away. “Even so, fair lady. I conclude it was something you would rather not repeat. I had already fathomed the fact that I was not beloved by Mrs. Briggs.”
“It’s your own fault,” said Olga, speaking on the impulse to escape from a difficult subject. “You have such a knack of making all your patients afraid of you.”
“Really?” said Max.
“Oh, don’t be supercilious!” she said quickly. “You know it’s true.”
“It must be if you say so,” he rejoined, “though there again it is more my misfortune than my fault. If my patients elect to make me the butt of their neurotic imagination, surely I am more to be pitied than blamed.”
“No, I don’t pity you at all,” Olga said. “It’s want of sympathy, you know. You go and do a splendid thing like—like—” She stopped suddenly.
“Please go on!” said Max. “Let’s hear my good points, by all means!”
But Olga was in obvious confusion. “I didn’t mean to mention it,” she said. “It just slipped out. I was really thinking of—what happened last night.”
He frowned instantly. “Who told you anything about it?”
“I should like to wring his skinny little neck,” said Max.
“How dare you?” said Olga indignantly.
“You don’t think I’m afraid of you, do you?” he said, with a smile.
“No,” she admitted rather grudgingly. “I don’t think you are afraid of anyone or anything. But it is a pity you spoil things by being so—unfriendly.”
“Are you speaking on Mrs. Briggs’s behalf or your own?” asked Max.
She met his eyes with a feeling of reluctance. “Well, I do hate quarrelling,” she said.
“I never quarrel,” said Max placidly.
“Oh, but you do!” she exclaimed. “How can you say such a thing?”
“No, I don’t!” said Max. “I go my own way, that’s all. If anyone tries to stop me, well, they get knocked down and trampled on. I don’t call that quarrelling. It simply happens in the natural course of things.”
“No wonder people don’t like you!” said Olga.
“Don’t you like me?” said Max.
He put the question with obvious indifference, yet his green eyes still studied her critically. Olga poured out some water with a hand so shaky that it splashed over. He reached forward and dabbed it up with his table-napkin.
“Well?” he said.
“I don’t know,” she murmured somewhat incoherently.
“Don’t know! But you knew this morning!” The green eyes suddenly laughed at her. “I say, don’t try to drink that yet!” he said. “You’ll choke if you do. Go on! Tell me some more about Mrs. Briggs! Did she give you any of that filthy concoction she calls rhubarb wine?”
“It isn’t filthy! It’s delicious,” declared Olga. “You can’t have tasted it.”
“Oh, yes, I had some the day the old woman died. In fact, I was trying to sleep off the effects that afternoon, when you caught me in Uncle Nick’s library. It’s horribly strong stuff. I suppose that is what made you so late for luncheon?”