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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Keeper Of The Door - Part 2 - Chapter 26. A Fool's Errand
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The Keeper Of The Door - Part 2 - Chapter 26. A Fool's Errand Post by :tpearl5 Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :3277

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The Keeper Of The Door - Part 2 - Chapter 26. A Fool's Errand

PART II CHAPTER XXVI. A FOOL'S ERRAND

Dr. Jim's expectations, so far as Olga was concerned, were fulfilled. When he went back to Weir, she remained in town with Nick and Muriel. But he did not go back alone. Will, Daisy, and Peggy went with him. Daisy's love for Dr. Jim was almost as great as her love for Nick, and Will had spent his boyhood under his care.

There was a cottage close to the doctor's house which Daisy had tenanted seven or eight years before when she had been obliged to come Home for her health and Will had been left behind in India. Dr. Jim had managed to secure this cottage a second time, and here they were soon installed with all the joy of exiles in an English spring.

"But we are not going to forego the honeymoon," Will said on their first evening, as he and Daisy stood together in the ivy-covered porch.

She laughed--that little laugh of hers half-gay, half-sad, that seemed like a reminiscence of more mirthful days. "Isn't this romantic enough for you?"

He slipped his arm about her waist. "I'm not altogether sure that I did right to let you come here," he said.

"Oh, nonsense!" She leaned her head against him with a very loving gesture. "I am not so morbid as that. I love to be here, and close to dear old Jim. He hasn't altered a bit. He is just as rugged--and as sweet--as ever."

Will laughed. "How you women, do love a masterful man!"

"Oh, not always," said Daisy. "There are certain forms of mastery in a man which to my mind are quite intolerable. Max Wyndham for instance!"

"What! You've still got your knife into him? I'm sorry for the man myself," said Will. "It must be--well, difficult, to say the least of it, to see his brother come home in possession of his girl and to keep smiling."

"He doesn't care!" said Daisy scathingly. "Geniuses haven't time to be human."

"I wonder," said Will.

He knew, and had never ceased to regret, his wife's share in the accomplishment of Max's discomfiture; and he fancied that secretly, her antipathy notwithstanding, she had begun to regret it also.

He changed the subject, and they went on to talk of Noel.

"Olga tells me that they think of operating next Sunday," Daisy said. "How anxious she will be, poor girl! I am thankful she has Nick and Muriel to take care of her. It has been a terrible time for her all through."

"Poor child!" said Will compassionately.

He shrewdly suspected that the time that lay ahead of Olga would be harder to face than any she had yet experienced.

Olga herself had already begun to realize that. Noel's refusal to consider her suggestion had surprised and disappointed her. She had not anticipated his refusal, though she fully understood it and respected him for it. But it made matters infinitely more difficult for her. She longed for the time when Max's part should be done and he should have passed finally out of her life. Not that he intruded upon her in any way. He scarcely so much as glanced in her direction; but his very presence was a perpetual trial to her. She had a feeling that the green eyes were watching continually for some sign of weakness, even though they never looked her way.

Nick was a great comfort to her in those days, but she felt that even he did not wholly grasp the difficulties of the situation. He supported her indeed, but he did not realize precisely where lay the strain. And it was the same with Dr. Jim. He had accepted her engagement without demur after a gruff enquiry as to whether she loved the fellow. But he had not asked for any details, and had made no reference to her former engagement. She supposed that he found out all he wanted to know on this subject from Nick; and she was grateful for his forbearance, albeit, after a woman's fashion, slightly hurt by it.

She had not, however, much time for reflection of any sort during those first days in town. Noel occupied all her thoughts.

On the day before that fixed for the operation, he went into a private nursing-home. He was extremely cheery over all the preparations, and made himself exceedingly popular with his nurses before he had been more than a few hours in the place.

Even Max was somewhat surprised by the boy's fund of high spirits, and Sir Kersley openly expressed his admiration.

"You Wyndhams are a very remarkable family," he said to Max that night.

Max smiled sardonically in recognition of the compliment. "But the boy has more backbone than I thought," he admitted. "I don't think he will give us much trouble after all, thanks to Olga."

"Ah!" Sir Kersley said. "You think this is due to her?"

"In a great measure," said Max.

Sir Kersley's face was grave. "I am afraid the strain is telling upon her," he said.

"You think she looks ill?" Max shot the question with none of his customary composure.

"No, not actually ill," Sir Kersley said, without looking at him. "But she is too thin in my opinion, and she looks to me very highly strung."

"She always was," said Max.

"Yes; well, she mustn't have a nervous break-down if we can prevent it," said Sir Kersley gently.

"No," Max agreed curtly. "She has got to keep up for Noel's sake."

That seemed to be his main idea just then--his brother's welfare. Very resolutely he kept his mind fixed, with all the strength of which it was capable, upon that one object, and he was impatient of every distraction outside his profession.

Late that night he went round for a last look at Noel, and was told by a smiling nurse that he had "gone to sleep as chirpy as a cricket." He went in to see him, and found him slumbering like an infant. The pulse under Max's fingers was absolutely normal, and an odd smile that had in it an element of respect touched Max's grim lips. Certainly the boy had grit.

The first sound he heard when he arrived at the home on the following day was Noel's heartiest laugh. He was enjoying a joke with one of the nurses who was Irish herself and extremely gay of heart. But the moment Max entered, he sobered and asked for Olga.

Olga was in the building with Nick, but they had thought it advisable to keep visitors away from him on the morning of the operation. Noel, however, was absolutely immovable on the point, refusing flatly to proceed until he had seen her. So for five short minutes Olga was admitted and left alone with him.

More than once during those minutes his cheery laugh made itself heard again. He had a hundred and one things to say, not one of which could Olga ever remember afterwards save the last, when, holding her close to him, he whispered, "And if I don't come out of it, sweetheart, you're to marry another fellow; see? No damn' sentimental rot on my account, mind! I never was good enough for you, God knows! There! Run along! Good-bye!"

His kiss was the briefest he had ever given her, but there was something in the manner of its bestowal that pierced her to the heart. Her own farewell was inarticulate. She was only just able to restrain her tears.

But she mastered her weakness almost immediately, for Max was waiting in the passage outside. He was talking to a nurse, and she would have slipped past him without recognition; but he broke off abruptly and joined her, walking back with her to the room where Nick was waiting.

"Look here!" he said, "I don't think you need be so anxious, I give you my word I believe the operation will be a success."

It was so contrary to his custom to express an opinion in this way that Olga raised her eyes almost involuntarily to gaze at him.

His eyes met and held them instantly. He looked at her with a species of stern kindness that seemed to thrust away all painful memories.

"Even if it isn't a success," he said, "I won't let him die, I promise you. Now, will you follow my advice for once?"

"Yes," she murmured, wondering at her own docility.

He smiled upon her with instant approval, and her heart gave a wild leap that almost made her gasp. "That's wise of you," he said in that voice of cool encouragement that she remembered so well--so well! "Then get Nick to take you for a walk that'll last for an hour and a half. Go and look at the frogs in the Serpentine! Awfully interesting things--frogs! And have a glass of milk before you start! Good-bye!"

Strong and steady, his hand closed upon hers, gave it a slight admonitory shake and set it free.

The next moment he had turned and was striding back along the corridor. Olga stood and watched him out of sight, but he did not turn his head.

* * * * *

The search for frogs in the Serpentine was scarcely as engrossing a pastime as Nick could have desired for the amusement of his charge on that sunny April morning, but he did his valiant best to keep her thoughts on the move. He compelled her to talk when she yearned to be silent, and again in a vague, disjointed fashion Olga wondered at his lack of penetration. Yet, since he was actually obtuse enough to misunderstand her preoccupation and to be even mildly hurt thereby, she exerted herself for his sake to respond intelligently to his remarks. So, with cheery indifference on his part and aching suspense on hers, they passed that dreadful interval of waiting.

On the return journey Olga's knees shook so much that they would scarcely support her; and then it was that Nick seemed suddenly to awake to the situation. He gave her a swift glance, and abruptly offered his arm.

"There, kiddie, there!" he said softly. "Keep a stiff upper lip! It's nearly over."

She accepted his help in silence, and in silence they pursued their way. Nick looked at her no more, nor spoke. His lips were twitching a little, but he showed no other sign of feeling.

So they came at last to the tall building behind its iron railings that hid so many troubles from the world.

The door opened to them, and they went within.

Silence and a curious, clinging perfume met them as they entered.

Olga stood still. She was white to the lips. "Nick," she said, in a voiceless whisper, "Nick, that is--the pain-killer!"

And then, very quietly from a room close by, Max came to them. He glanced at Nick and nodded. There was an odd, exultant look in the green eyes. He took Olga's hands very firmly into his own.

"It's all right," he said.

She stared at him, trying to make her white lips form a question.

"It's all right," he said again. "Well over. As satisfactory as it could possibly be. Now don't be silly!" Surely it was the Max of old times speaking! "Pull up while you can! Come in here and sit down for a minute! I am going to take you to see him directly."

That last remark did more towards restoring Olga's self-control than any of the preceding ones. She went with him submissively, making strenuous efforts to preserve her composure. She even took without a murmur the wineglass of _sal volatile with which he presented her.

Max stood beside her, still holding one of her hands, his fingers grasping her wrist, and talked over her head to Nick.

"Absolutely normal in every way. Came round without the least trouble. He'll be on his legs again in a fortnight. Of course we shan't turn him loose for a month, and he will have to live in the dark. But he ought to be absolutely sound in six weeks from now."

"And--he will see?" whispered Olga.

Max bent and laid her hand down. He looked at her closely for a moment. "Yes," he said. "There is no reason why he shouldn't make a complete recovery. Are you all right now? I promised to let him have a word with you."

She stood up. "Yes, I am quite all right. Let us go!"

Her knees still felt weak, but she steadied them resolutely. They went out side by side.

In silence Max piloted her. When they reached the darkened room he took her hand again and led her forward. The cheerful Irish nurse was at the bedside, but she drew away at their approach. And Olga found herself standing above a swathed, motionless figure in hushed expectancy of she knew not what.

The hand that held hers made as if to withdraw itself, but she clung to it suddenly and convulsively, and it closed again.

"All right," said Max's leisurely tones. "He's a bit sleepy still. Noel!" He bent, still holding her hand. "I've brought Olga, old chap, as I promised. Say good-night to her, won't you?"

The voice was the voice of Max Wyndham, but its tenderness seemed to rend her heart. She could have wept for the pain of it, but she knew she must not weep.

The figure in the bed stirred, murmured an incoherent apology, seemed to awake.

"Oh, is Olga there?" said Noel drowsily. "Take care of her, Max, old boy! Make her as happy as you can! She's awfully--fond--of you--though I'm not--supposed--to know."

The voice trailed off, sank into unconsciousness. Max's hand had tightened to a hard grip. He straightened himself and spoke, coldly, grimly.

"He isn't quite himself yet. I'm afraid I've brought you on a fool's errand. You can kiss him if you like. He probably won't know."

But Olga could not. She turned from the bed with the gesture of one who could bear no more, and without further words he led her from the room.

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