“Apparently,” said Max, staring deliberately at a point some inches above Nick’s head.
Nick pivoted round abruptly, and found Violet standing in the doorway directly behind him. He went instantly to meet her.
“Hullo, Miss Campion! You’re just in time for breakfast. Come and have some!”
His tone was brisk and kindly. He took her hand and drew her forward. She submitted listlessly. Her face was white and her eyes deeply shadowed. She scarcely raised them as she advanced.
“Hullo, Nick!” she said indifferently. “Hullo, Allegro! No, I don’t want any breakfast. I’m not hungry to-day.” She reached the table, and for the first time seemed to become aware of Max, seated on the opposite side of it.
Her eyes suddenly opened wide. She stood still and faced him. “I want my cigarettes,” she said, with slow emphasis.
Olga glanced at him sharply, in apprehension of she knew not what. Max’s face, however, expressed no anxiety. He even faintly smiled.
“What! Haven’t you got any? I shall be happy to supply you with some,” he said, feeling in his pocket for his own case.
She leaned her hands upon the table in a peculiar, crouching attitude that struck Olga as curiously suggestive of an angry animal.
“I don’t want yours,” she said, in a deep voice that sounded almost like a menace. “I want my own!”
Max looked straight at her for a few seconds without speaking. Then, “I am sorry,” he said very deliberately. “But you mustn’t smoke that sort any more. They are not good for you.”
“And you have dared to take them away?” she said.
He shrugged his shoulders. “I had no choice.”
“No choice!” She echoed the words in a voice that vibrated very strangely. “You speak as if—as if—you had a right to confiscate my property.”
“I have a right to confiscate that sort,” said Max.
“What right?” She flung the question like a challenge, and as she flung it she straightened herself in sudden splendid defiance. All the pallor had gone from her face. She glowed with fierce, pulsing life.
Max remained looking at her. There was a glint of mercilessness in his eyes. “What right?” he repeated slowly. “If you saw a blind man walking over a precipice, would you say you hadn’t the right to stop him?”
“I am not blind!” she flung back at him. “And I refuse to be stopped by you—or anyone!”
Max raised his red brows. “You amaze me,” he said. “Then you are aware of the precipice?”
She clenched her hands. “I know what I am doing—yes! And I can guide myself. I refuse to be guided by you!”
“Violet!” Nervously Olga interposed. “Never mind now, dear! Do sit down and have some breakfast! The eggs are getting cold.”
“Quite so,” said Nick, putting down his letters abruptly. “The coffee also. Olga, you may tear up all my correspondence. It’s nothing but bills. Miss Campion, wouldn’t you like to butter some toast for me? You do it better than anyone I know. And I’m deuced hungry.”