“Is it a promise?”
She caught his hand and kissed it. “Yes, dear Nick, a promise.”
“All right,” said Nick. “I’ll go.”
But he was obviously loth to leave her, and she detained him to assure him how greatly she loved to be in his care.
“Max tells me I am not in the least fitted to look after you,” he said rather ruefully, “and I believe he’s right.”
The humility of this speech was so extraordinary that it nearly took Olga’s breath away.
“My dear Nick,” she said, “what nonsense! Surely you don’t—seriously—care what Max says?”
“Don’t you?” said Nick.
She began to answer in the negative, but tripped up unexpectedly. “I—I can’t quite say. I haven’t really thought about it. But—anyhow—it’s no business of his, is it?”
“He thinks it is,” said Nick.
“Why?” She suddenly put out her hand to him with a little shiver. “Nick, you haven’t told him about—that scheme of ours?”
“Yes, I have,” said Nick.
“Oh, why?” There was unmistakable distress in the question.
Nick knelt down beside her. “Olga, I had to. He’s a clever chap, cleverer than Jim even. I wanted to know if I’d better go on with it, if he thought—in view of to-day’s misfortune—it might upset your health, supposing you were allowed to go. I couldn’t run the risk of that.”
“What did he say?” said Olga.
Nick chuckled a little. “He said that your normal health appeared to be up to the average young woman’s, but he hadn’t sounded you in any way, and—”
“And he shan’t!” interjected Olga, with vehemence.
“And so couldn’t say for certain,” ended Nick. “But—I’ll tell you this—he doesn’t like our precious scheme—at all.”
“Why not?” said Olga. “What has it got to do with him?”
“I don’t know,” said Nick.
“Why didn’t you ask him?”
“My dear, you can do that in the morning—before I write to Muriel.”
“I will,” said Olga firmly. “It’s my belief that you’re afraid of him,” she added, a moment later.
“No, I’m not,” said Nick simply.
“Then why are you so careful of his feelings?”
“I shouldn’t like to see him writhing in hell,” said Nick. “I’ve done it myself, and I know exactly what it feels like.”
“Yes, really, little sweetheart. You know or p’raps you don’t know—what fools men can be.”
“I know they can be quite unreasonable and very horrid sometimes,” said Olga. “Nick dear, you’ll promise me, won’t you, that if Muriel agrees and Dad agrees you won’t let an outsider like Max stand in our way?”
“Is he an outsider?” asked Nick humorously.
“He is so far as I am concerned,” said Olga. “I can’t imagine why you take any notice of him.”
“Are you sure you don’t yourself?” asked Nick.
“Oh, in some things perhaps. But not in a matter of this sort. I think he is very interfering,” said Olga resentfully.