He was looking straight into her face of agitation. There was a certain remorselessness about him that made him in a fashion imposing. Olga quivered a little under the insistence of his eyes, but she flinched no more.
“Yes?” she said. “Well, I do authorize you. It’s got to be stopped somehow. I never dreamed of his saying that.”
“Quite so,” said Max. “But that isn’t enough. You will have to go a step further. Give me a free hand! It’s the only way if you don’t want Nick rushing in. Give me the right to protect you! I promise to use it with discretion.”
He smiled very slightly with the words; but Olga only gazed at him uncomprehendingly.
“How? I don’t know what you mean.”
He held out his hand to her abruptly. “Don’t faint!” he said. “Let me tell him—as a dead secret—that you are engaged to me!”
Max got up. “Only as a temporary expedient,” he said. “I’ll let you go again—when you wish it.”
His hand remained outstretched, and after a very considerable pause she laid hers within it.
“But really,” she said, with an effort, “I don’t think we need do anything so desperate as that.”
“A desperate case requires a desperate remedy sometimes,” said Max, with a humorous twinkle in his eyes “It doesn’t mean anything, but we must floor this rascal somehow. Is it a bargain?”
She hesitated. “You won’t tell anyone else?”
“Not a soul,” said Max.
She still hesitated. “But—he won’t believe you.”
“He will if I refer him to you,” said Max.
Olga pondered the matter. “Are you sure it’s the only way?”
“If you don’t want Nick to know,” he said.
“And what if he—spreads it abroad?” she hazarded.
“We can always treat it as idle gossip, you know,” said Max. “Imminent but not actual—the sort of thing over which we blush demurely and say nothing.”
She smiled in spite of herself. “It’s very good of you,” she said with feeling.
“Not a bit,” said Max. “I shall enjoy it. I think it ought to put an effectual stop to all unwelcome amenities on his part. We’ll try it anyhow.”
He released her hand, and resumed his darning, still looking quizzical.
Olga lingered, dubiously reminding herself that only a few hours before she had distrusted this man whom circumstance now made her champion.
“Scissors, please!” said Max.
She gave them to him absently. He held out the unsevered wool, his eyes laughing at her over it.
“You can do the cutting,” he said.
She complied, and in the same instant she met his look. “Max,” she said rather breathlessly, “I—don’t quite like it.”
“All right,” he said imperturbably. “Don’t do it!”
She paused, looking at him almost imploringly. “You’re sure it won’t mean anything?”
“It can mean as much or as little as you like,” said Max.