“But I don’t need to ask him, Max,” she said. “I know that for myself.”
“Really?” said Max.
He stretched out his hand to her, without rising. His manner had changed completely. It was no longer passionate, but intensely quiet.
She came to him slowly, feeling compelled. She laid her hand in his.
His eyes were still upon hers. “I can’t marry you against your will, can I?” he said. “It’s not done nowadays.”
She smiled a little. “I’m not afraid of that.”
“Shall we go on being engaged, then,” he said, “and see how we like it? We won’t tell anyone yet—if you’d rather not.”
She hesitated. “But—if I go to India with Nick?”
He frowned momentarily. “Well. I shouldn’t ask you to marry me first.”
Olga’s face cleared somewhat. This was reassuring. It might very well lead to nothing after all.
“But,” said Max impressively, “you wouldn’t get engaged to any other fellow without letting me know.”
She laughed at that. “I certainly shan’t marry anyone out there.”
Max looked grim. “You will give me the first refusal in any case?”
“But I needn’t promise anything?” she said quickly.
“No, you needn’t make any promise. Just bear me in mind, that’s all; though I don’t suppose for a moment that you could forget me if you tried,” said Max with the utmost calmness.
“Why do you say that?” said Olga rather breathlessly.
It suddenly seemed to her that she had gone a little further than she had intended. She made an instinctive effort to get back while the way remained open.
But she was too late. She felt his hand tighten. For a moment she caught that gleam in his eyes which always disconcerted her.
And then it was gone, even as his hand released hers. He turned back to the writing-table with his supercilious smile.
“Because, fair lady,” he said, “you have met your fate. If Hunt-Goring pesters you any further, of course you will let me know. Hadn’t you better go now? The little god in the shrine will be jealous. And I have work to do.”
And Olga went, somewhat precipitately, her heart throbbing in such a clamour of confused emotions that she hardly knew what had happened or even if she had any real cause for distress.
THE DARK HOUR
He had not made love to her! That was the thought uppermost in Olga’s mind when the wild tumult of her spirit gradually subsided. He had not so much as touched upon his own feelings at all. Not the smallest reason had he given her for imagining that he cared for her, and very curiously this fact inclined her towards him more than anything else. Had he proposed to her in any more ardent fashion, she would have been scared away. Possibly he had fathomed this, and again possibly he had not wanted to be ardent. He was hard-headed, practical, in all he did. She was sure that his profession came first with him. He probably thought that a wife would be a useful accessory, and he was kind-hearted enough to be willing to do her a good turn at the same time that he provided for his own wants.