“I didn’t mean—quite that,” faltered Olga. “But—it won’t be—it never could be—like a real engagement; could it?”
“Like, yet unlike,” said Max. “It will be a sort of elastic and invisible bond, made to stretch to the utmost limit, never breaking of itself, though capable of being severed by either party at a moment’s notice.”
Olga drew a breath of relief. “If that is really all—”
“What more could the most exacting require?” said Max.
What indeed! Yet the phrase struck Olga somehow as being not wholly satisfactory. Perhaps even then, vaguely she began to realize that the species of bond he described might prove the most inviolable of all. But she raised no further argument, doubts notwithstanding; for, in face of his assurance, there seemed nothing left to say.
The sound of Nick’s cheery, untuneful humming seemed to invest all things with a more normal and wholesome aspect. Olga went to meet him with unfeigned delight.
He put his arm around her, flashing a swift look over her as he did it. “Well, Olga mia. I trust there has been no more bickering in my absence.”
“No, I’ve made friends with Max,” she said. “Come and have tea!”
He went through the house with her to the garden where tea awaited him. Max was seated alone beside the little table under the trees.
“You’re not a very large party,” commented Nick.
“Best we can do under the circumstances,” said Max. “The kids are still paper-chasing, and Miss Campion, overcome by the heat, has retired to bed. I propose to follow her example if the company will excuse me. I only put in two hours last night, and may have to attend another case to-night. Here, Ratcliffe, you can have my chair.”
“Are you coming down to dinner?” asked Olga.
“I am,” he said.
“Because you needn’t. I can send it up.”
“Thanks! I’ll come down,” said Max.
He turned away towards the house, but stopped abruptly as Violet suddenly sauntered forth. She was yawning as she came.
“Good people, pray excuse me! I’m always sleepy after a motor-run. What has become of the dear major, Allegro? You haven’t banished him already!”
“Did you think he was going to live here?” said Olga, with a very unwonted touch of asperity.
“I expect he will, dear, now he knows I’m here.” Violet subsided into the vacant chair with a languid smile at Nick who offered it to her. Her eyes were wonderfully bright, but the lids were heavy. “I’m horribly sleepy still,” she said. “Give me some tea, quick, to wake me up! Max, I haven’t the energy to amuse you, so you may consider yourself excused.”
“Many thanks!” said Max. “I am going to give myself the pleasure of waiting upon you.”
“Nick can do that,” said Olga. “Do go and get a rest!”