“You don’t imagine that I want to keep you as a patient, do you?” he said.
“You know you always like people best when they are ill,” she retorted.
“Do I?” he said.
“Well, don’t you?”
“I wonder what makes you think so,” he said.
She looked straight up at him with something of defiance. “You never bother to be nice to people unless they are ill.”
He frowned a little. “I’ve been as nice as you would let me,” he said.
“Yes, yes,” said Olga rather hurriedly. “Of course we are friends. But, Max, there’s something I want to say to you. It’s very particular. Be quick with my pulse!”
He let her hand slip from his. “It’s about a hundred and fifty,” he observed, “but that seems to be the normal rate with you. I don’t think you had better talk to me now unless it’s to be a professional consultation. You can get up if you want to, and I will give Nick a list of the things you are not to do.”
He would have gone with the words, but imperiously she detained him.
“You must wait a minute now. I want to speak about—about that compact we made the other day. You—you knew I was only joking, didn’t you? You didn’t—really—? tell Major Hunt-Goring—that?”
“Yes, I did,” said Max. “And do you generally go and cry into the surgery towel when you are enjoying a joke?”
“Oh, Max! You told him?” Her face was tragic. “And what did he say?”
“He congratulated me,” said Max.
“My dear girl, I’m telling you the truth; but really, since you have discharged yourself as cured, this has become a highly improper situation. Don’t you think we had better postpone this discussion to a more suitable moment?”
Max was openly laughing into her face of distress. She suddenly felt abundantly reassured. He could not—surely—look and speak like this if he dreamed of wooing her in earnest!
“I don’t want any discussion,” she hastened to tell him. “Only—please, do go and tell Major Hunt-Goring that—that—there’s been a mistake, and—in short—”
“In short that you’ve thrown me over?” said Max. “Oh, thanks, no! You can tell him that—if you wish!”
“He must be told,” she said.
“I don’t see why.” Max smiled upon her with good-natured indulgence. “Have you suddenly taken fright at something?” he asked.
She smiled also, but a little anxiously. “I’m afraid it wasn’t a very wise move after all. I want to put an end to it.”
“You can’t put an end to an engagement that doesn’t exist,” he said. “You will have to wait till I propose, and then you can go and tell everyone—including Hunt-Goring—that you have said No.”
It was impossible to treat the matter seriously. She had a feeling that he was deliberately restraining her from so doing, deliberately offering her an easy means of escape from her own indiscretion. She seized upon it, eager to convince him that she had never deemed him in earnest.