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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Keeper Of The Door - Part 2 - Chapter 29. The Man's Point Of View
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The Keeper Of The Door - Part 2 - Chapter 29. The Man's Point Of View Post by :ClickBank Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2331

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The Keeper Of The Door - Part 2 - Chapter 29. The Man's Point Of View


That letter to Max was perhaps the hardest task that Olga had ever undertaken. She spent the greater part of three hours over it, oblivious of everything else; and then, close upon the dinner-hour, tore up all previous efforts in despair and scribbled a brief, informal note that was curiously reminiscent of one she had written once in a moment of impulsive penitence and pinned inside his hat.

"Dear Max," it ran, "I want to tell you that everything has come back to me, and I am very, very sorry. Will you forgive me and let us be friends for the future? Yours, Olga."

This letter she addressed and stamped and took downstairs with her, laying it upon the hall-table to be posted. Thence she passed on to the library to find a book she wanted.

The glow of sunset met her on the threshold, staying the hand she raised to the electric switch. She moved slowly through the dying light to the window and stood before it motionless, gazing forth into the glory. It poured around her in a rosy splendour, lighting her pale, tired face. For several minutes she stood drinking in the beauty of it, with a feeling at her heart as of unshed tears.

Then at last with a long sigh she slowly turned, and moved across to a row of bookshelves. Perhaps there was light enough for her purpose after all. She began to search along the backs of the books with her face close to them.

"Are you looking for Farrow's _Treatise on Party Government by any chance?" asked a leisurely voice behind her.

She sprang round as if a gun had been discharged in the room. She stared widely, feeling back against the bookshelves for support.

He was lounging on the edge of the table immediately facing her--a square strong figure, with hands in his pockets, the red light of the sunset turning his hair to fire.

"Because if you are," he continued, a note of grim humour in his voice, "I'm afraid you won't find it--to-night. What's the matter with you, fair lady? You don't seem quite pleased to see me."

"I am pleased," she whispered. "I am pleased."

But her voice was utterly gone. Her throat worked spasmodically. She put up both hands to it as if she were choking.

He stood up abruptly and came to her. He took her hands and drew them gently away. "I shall begin to think I'm bad for you if you do that," he said. "What's the matter, child? Did I frighten you?"

"No!" she whispered back. "No! It was only--only--"

"Only--" he said. "Look here! You mustn't cry. It's one better than fainting, I admit; but I'm not going to let you do either if I can help it. Come over here to the window!"

He led her unresisting, one steady arm upholding her.

"Do you know," he said, "a curious thing happened just now? I'd only been in the house twenty minutes or so when, coming downstairs to look for you, I discovered a letter in the hall addressed to me. I took the liberty of opening and reading it, in spite of the fact that it was plainly intended for the post." He paused. "I thought that would make you angry," he observed, looking down at her critically.

She uttered a desperate little laugh and tried to disengage herself from his arm. "No, I'm glad you've got it," she said rather breathlessly.

"It was a very silly letter," remarked Max, calmly frustrating the attempt. "It didn't say half it might have said, and what it did say wasn't to the point."

"Yes, it was," she maintained quickly. "It--it--I meant to say just that."

"Then all I can say is that you have quite missed the crux of the situation," said Max. "Why are you very, very sorry? Why do you want me to forgive you? And why in the name of wonder do you suggest that we should become friends when you know that we are so constituted as to be incapable of being anything but the dearest of enemies?"

He looked down again suddenly into her quivering, averted face. "Still I shall value that letter," he said, "if only as a sample of the sweet unreasonableness of women. Are you still very sorry, Olga?"

She moved at the utterance of her name, moved and made a more decided effort to free herself.

"Not a bit of good," said Max. "Don't you know I'm waiting for the kiss of peace?"

"I can't!" she protested swiftly. "I can't!"

"Can't what?" said Max.

Her lips were trembling, but she shed no tears. He seemed in some magic fashion to keep her from that.

"I can't kiss you, Max, really--really!" she said.

"Why not?" said Max.

She was silent, but he persisted, still holding her pressed to him.

"Tell me why not! Is it because you don't want to Or you think you ought not to? Or because you are just--shy?"

She caught the smile in his voice and pictured the cocked-up corner of his mouth. "I think I ought not to," she murmured, with her head still turned from him.

"Conscientious objections?" suggested Max.

"Don't laugh!" she whispered.

"My dear child, I'm as serious as a judge. What are the objections?"

"There is--Noel," she said.

"You will have to chuck Noel," said Max coolly.

That vitalized her very effectually; she turned on him with burning cheeks. "Max, how dare you--how dare you suggest such a thing!"

His eyes met hers, green and dominant. She saw again that old mocking gleam of conscious mastery with which he had been wont to exasperate her. He answered her with a directness almost brutal.

"Because you don't love him."

"I do love him!" she declared fiercely. "I do love him!"

"Better than me?" said Max.

She shrank visibly from the question. "I love him too well to throw him over," she said.

His lips twisted cynically. "That is curious," he said.

She winced again from that which he left unsaid. "Oh, Max, don't hurt me!" she pleaded. "Try--try to understand!"

It was an appeal for mercy. But Max would not hear. He took her by the shoulders, compelling her to face him. "So you really mean to marry Noel," he said. "Do you think you will be happy with him?"

"I could never be happy if I didn't," she answered rather incoherently.

Max frowned. "Look here!" he said. "It's no good expecting me to understand if you won't even answer my questions."

She quivered in his hold. "You ask such--impossible things," she said.

"They are only impossible," Max said relentlessly, "because you are afraid to tell me the truth. You are afraid to tell me that you are sacrificing yourself. You are afraid to be honest--even with yourself."

"I am not!" she protested fierily. "Max, you have no right----"

"I have a right." He broke in upon her sternly. "I have the first and foremost right. Remember, you were mine before you were his. You gave yourself to me because you loved me. You only threw me over because of a fancied unworthiness. Now I am cleared of that, do you think you owe me nothing more than an apology?"

"Oh, but, Max," she pleaded, "think of Noel! Think of Noel!"

"Well?" said Max, "then think of him! Don't you think he can make a better bargain for himself than marriage with a woman who doesn't love him best? Why, nearly every woman he meets falls in love with him, and could offer him more than you do. You women who are so keen on sacrificing yourselves never look at the man's point of view, and so the only thing he really wants, you make it impossible for him to get."

"Max! Max!" she cried in distress.

"Well, isn't it so?" said Max. "Just admit that, and p'raps I won't bully you any more. You know he doesn't come first with you--and never would."

"But I could make him happy," she said.

"Oh, could you? And suppose his happiness depended upon yours? Suppose he were man enough to want you to be happy too? Could you do that for him?"

She hesitated.

He pressed on without mercy. "Could you drive me utterly out of your thoughts, your dreams? Could you stifle every regret, every secret longing? Could you empty your heart of me and put him in my place? Tell me! Could you?"

But she could not tell him. She only turned her face from him and wept.

He set her free then, just as he had set her free on that day long ago when her will had first bruised itself against the iron of his. He went away from her, went to the door as if he would leave her; then stood still, and after a space came back.

She trembled at his coming. She had a feeling that he had armed himself with another, stronger weapon to overcome her resistance.

He stopped in front of her. "Olga," he said, "have you thought about me at all?"

She made a sharp gesture--the involuntary wincing of the victim from the knife.

He went on, very quietly, as if he had not seen. "Do you think I'm going to be happy without you? I've got my career, haven't I, and all my brilliant successes? How much do you think they are worth to me? How far do you think they are going to satisfy me--make up for that which you have taken away?"

He paused, but she could not answer him, could not so much as lift her eyes to his.

He went on. "A little while ago you appealed to my love, and--I don't claim to be more than human--it stood the strain. I appealed to yours, and you sent me about my business. You had some excuse. I had deceived you. But this time--this time--are you going to do the same this time, Olga?"

"I can't help it!" she whispered through her tears.

He came nearer to her, but he did not touch her. "Is that the truth?" he said. "Don't you love me well enough? Is that it? Is my love so little to you that you can afford to throw it away? You know I love you, don't you? You believe in my love?" His voice suddenly vibrated; his hands clenched. "It's stood a good deal," he said. "But, by Heaven! I don't think it will stand this!"

She lifted her face suddenly. "Max, stop! I can't bear it!"

"Neither can I!" He flung back fiercely. "It's too much to ask--too much to give! Olga, you shall come to me! You shall! You shall!"

He caught her to him with the words, holding her mercilessly in a grip that was savage. She felt the hard, passionate beat of his heart against her own. And she gasped and gasped again, as one suddenly immersed in deep waters.

She did not resist him, for she could not. He had her a helpless captive before she could even begin. Perhaps she might not have done so in any case. It was a point she never was able to decide. But from the moment his lips met hers the battle was over. With or without her will her lips clung to his; the flame of his passion kindled an answering flame in her; and the love which she had striven so desperately to restrain leaped forth to him in wild, exultant freedom, so that she forgot all the world beside.

* * * * *

"So that's settled!" said Max a little later into the flushed face that lay against his shoulder. "It's taken a mighty long time to make you see reason."

"It isn't reason," said Olga faintly. "And oh, Max, what--what am I to say to Noel?"

Max's one-sided smile appeared. "I should just say, 'Thank you kindly, sir,' if it were me. There's nothing else left to say."

"Oh, but there is!" she protested.

"There isn't," said Max. "He is coming over to congratulate us to-morrow."

"Max!" She opened her eyes wide and lifted her head. "Max, you don't mean----"

"Yes, I do," said Max imperturbably. "Why do you suppose I came tearing down here to-night, leaving Kersley to kill all my patients as well as his own?"

"Not--surely--to see me?" said Olga, wonderingly.

He laughed grimly. "No. It was to see Noel. Odd how we both put him first, isn't it? The young cub sent me a message that brought me down post-haste, expecting to find him in a state of collapse. Instead of which I found him gaily awaiting me at the station to tell me he had run himself out--or some bosh of the kind--and it was now my innings, and I was to go in and win. On my soul, Olga, he was enjoying himself up to the hilt."

"But why didn't you tell me this before?" said Olga quickly.

Max's mouth went up a little higher. "Various reasons, fair lady."

"Don't be horrid!" she protested, giving him a shake. "And how did it happen? How did he come to know anything? I haven't seen him to-day. It must have been Nick!"

"Yes. I'm going to throttle Nick presently. I've often wanted to. After which I shall turn him into a mummy and send him to India to be worshipped as the little god of intrigue. I daresay he'll get on all right in that capacity. It ought to suit him down to the ground. He's a born meddler."

"How absurd you are!" Olga laughed in spite of herself. "Where is Nick? Don't you think we had better go and find him?"

It was at this point that the handle of the door was turned ostentatiously the wrong way, struggled with, sworn at, and finally put right.

"May I come in?" said Nick, briskly opening the door. "Muriel and I have finished dinner. We knew you wouldn't be wanting any."

"Nick!" Olga exclaimed. "I'm sure you haven't!"

"All right, we haven't," said Nick. "That is to say, we have saved you a little in case you were prosaic enough to want it. Max, my son, your presence here is an honour for which I have scarcely made fit preparation, but I am none the less proud to entertain you, and as your uncle-in-law elect I bid you welcome."

He held out his hand which Max took with a dry, "Thanks! One can't scrag a man under his own roof, I suppose, though it's a sore temptation."

"You will have ample opportunity in the future," Nick assured him genially, "though, as I think I told you long ago, I'm the most well-meaning little cuss that ever walked the earth. I threatened once to put a spoke in your wheel, didn't I? Well, I never did it. I've been pushing and straining to get it out of the bog ever since. And now I've done it, you want to scrag me. Olga, the man's a blood-thirsty scoundrel. If you have the smallest regard for my feelings, you will kick him out of the house at once."

But Olga was holding the two clasped hands in hers, and she would not let them part. "Nick, you're a darling--a darling! And Max knows it, don't you, Max? It was dear of you to make the wheels go round. They would never have done it without you, and we shall never, never forget it as long as we two shall live."

"Amen!" said Max.

"Bless your hearts!" said Nick benevolently. "Well, come and have something to eat!"

He turned towards the door, but Olga hung back. "Is--is Noel here?" she asked.

"Heavens, no!" said Nick. "He eloped with Peggy long ago."

"Oh!" A note of relief sounded in her voice. "I shall see him to-morrow," she said.

"Yes, he'll be over to-morrow." Nick shot her a swift look in the twilight. "Meantime, I have a message to give you from him," he said.

"So have I," cut in Max.

"I know what it is!" said Olga quickly.

"His love," said Max.

"His best love," said Nick.

There was an instant's silence in the room; then Olga bent her head and murmured softly, "God bless him!"

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