She looked up. “As it is?”
He uttered a curt laugh, and sat up, thrusting his hand back into his pocket. “Well—he won’t be happy till he gets you.”
Olga sprang to her feet. “But, Max, he couldn’t marry me against my will! That sort of thing isn’t done nowadays.”
Max looked at her, his shrewd eyes very cynical. “Quite true!” he said.
“Then—then—” She stood hesitating, looking at him doubtfully—“what is there to be afraid of?” she asked at length.
“Oh, don’t ask me!” said Max.
She felt the blood rush back to her face, and turned sharply from him.
“You—you don’t help me much,” she said.
He got to his feet abruptly. “You won’t accept my help,” he returned. “You’ve got yourself into a nasty hole, and you can’t climb out alone, and you won’t let me pull you out.”
Olga was silent.
He stood a moment, then turned to the doctor’s writing-table and sat down. “It’s no good talking round and round,” he said. “You’ll have to tell Nick or your father. I can’t do anything further. It’s not in my power.”
He opened a blotter with an air of finality, found a sheet of paper, and began to write.
Olga turned at the sound of his pen, and watched him dumbly. He had apparently dismissed her and her small affairs from his mind. His hand travelled with swift decision over the paper. He was evidently immersed in his own private concerns. He wrote rapidly and without a pause.
Very suddenly, without turning, he spoke again. “How did you like Kersley?”
The question astonished her. She had almost forgotten their visitor of a few hours before. But she managed to answer with enthusiasm.
“I liked him immensely.”
“He is the greatest friend I possess,” Max said, still writing. “He made me.”
“I thought you seemed very intimate,” observed Olga.
He laughed. “We are. I pulled him through a pretty stiff illness once. The mischief was that he wanted to die. I made him live.” A note of grim triumph sounded in his voice, but he still continued to write.
“Was he grateful?” Olga asked.
“No. He fought like a mule. But I had my own way. It was tough work. I crocked up myself afterwards. And then it was his turn.” Max jerked up his head. “After that,” he said, “we became pals. He was only my patron before; since, we have been—something more than brothers.”
He paused. Olga said nothing. She was wondering a little why he had chosen to make this confidence.
Suddenly he turned in his chair and enlightened her. “If you want to know what sort of animal I am,” he said, his eyes going direct to hers, “if you want to know if I am worthy of a woman’s confidence—in short, if I’m a white man or—the other thing, ask Kersley Whitton. For he is the only person in the world who knows.”
The words were blunt, perhaps all the more so for the unwonted touch of fiery feeling which Olga was quick to detect in their utterance. They moved her strangely. It was almost as if he had flung open his soul to her, challenging her to enter and satisfy herself. And something very deep within her awoke and made swift response almost before she knew.