The Lamp of Fate
Part 1 out of 7
Etext prepared by Dagny, email@example.com
and John Bickers, firstname.lastname@example.org
THE LAMP OF FATE
Then to the rolling Heav'n itself I cried,
Asking, "What Lamp of Destiny to guide
Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?"
And--"A blind Understanding!" Heaven replied.
The "Rubaiyat" of Omar Khayyam.
To AUDREY HEATH
DEAR AUDREY: I always feel that you have played the part of Fairy
Godmother in a very special and delightful way to all my stories,
and in particular to this one, the plot of which I outlined to you
one afternoon in an old summer-house. So will you let me dedicate
it to you?
THE LAMP OF FATE
THE NINTH GENERATION
The house was very silent. An odour of disinfectants pervaded the
atmosphere. Upstairs hushed, swift steps moved to and fro.
Hugh Vallincourt stood at the window of his study, staring out with
unseeing eyes at the smooth, shaven lawns and well-kept paths with
their background of leafless trees. It seemed to him that he had been
standing thus for hours, waiting--waiting for someone to come and tell
him that a son and heir was born to him.
He never doubted that it would be a son. By some freak of chance the
first-born of the Vallincourts of Coverdale had been, for eight
successive generations, a boy. Indeed, by this time, the thing had
become so much a habit that no doubts or apprehensions concerning the
sex of the eldest child were ever entertained. It was accepted as a
foregone conclusion, and in the eyes of the family there was a certain
gratifying propriety about such regularity. It was like a hall-mark of
Hugh Vallincourt, therefore, was conscious at this critical moment of
no questionings on that particular score. He was merely a prey to the
normal tremors and agitations of a husband and prospective father.
For an ageless period, it seemed to him, his thoughts had clung about
that upstairs room where his wife lay battling for her own life and
another's. Suddenly they swung back to the time, a year ago, when he
had first met her--an elusive feminine thing still reckoning her age
in teens--beneath the glorious blue and gold canopy of the skies of
Their meeting and brief courtship had been pure romance--romance such
as is bred in that land of mellow warmth and colour, where the flower
of passion sometimes buds and blooms within the span of a single day.
In like manner had sprung to life the love between Hugh Vallincourt
and Diane Wielitzska, and rarely has the web of love enmeshed two more
dissimilar and ill-matched people--Hugh, a man of seven-and-thirty,
the strict and somewhat self-conscious head of a conspicuously devout
old English family, and Diane, a beautiful dancer of mixed origin, the
illegitimate offspring of a Russian grand-duke and of a French
artist's model of the Latin Quarter.
The three dread Sisters who determine the fate of men must have
laughed amongst themselves at such an obvious mismating, knowing well
how inevitably it would tangle the threads of many other lives than
the two immediately concerned.
Vallincourt had been brought up on severely conventional lines, reared
in the narrow tenets of a family whose salient characteristics were an
overweening pride of race and a religious zeal amounting almost to
fanaticism, while Diane had had no up-bringing worth speaking of. As
for religious views, she hadn't any.
Yet neither the one nor the other had counted in the scale when the
crucial moment came.
Perhaps it was by way of an ironical set-off against his environment
that Fate had dowered Hugh with his crop of ruddy hair--and with the
ardent temperament which usually accompanies the type. Be that as it
may, he was swept completely off his feet by the dancer's magic
beauty. The habits and training of a lifetime went by the board, and
nothing was allowed to impede the swift (not to say violent) course of
his love-making. Within a month from the day of their first meeting,
he and Diane were man and wife.
The consequences were almost inevitable, and Hugh found that his
married life speedily resolved itself into an endless struggle between
the dictates of inclination and conscience. Everything that was man in
him responded passionately to the appeal and charm of Diane's
personality, whilst everything that was narrow and censorious
disapproved her total inability to conform to the ingrained prejudices
of the Vallincourts.
Not that Diane was in any sense of the word a bad woman. She was
merely beautiful and irresponsible--a typical /cigale/ of the stage--
lovable and kind-hearted and pagan, and possessing but the haziest
notions of self-control and self-discipline. Even so, left to
themselves, husband and wife might ultimately have found the road to
happiness across the bridge of their great love for one another.
But such freedom was denied them. Always at Hugh's elbow stood his
sister, Catherine, a rigidly austere woman, in herself an epitome of
all that Vallincourts had ever stood for.
Since the death of their parents, twenty years previously, Catherine
had shared her brother's home, managing his house--and, on the
strength of her four years' seniority in age, himself as well--with an
iron hand. Nor had she seen fit to relinquish the reins of government
when he married.
Privately, Hugh had hoped she might consider the propriety of
withdrawing to the dower house attached to the Coverdale estates, but
if the idea had occurred to her, she had never given it utterance, and
Hugh himself had lacked the courage to propose such an innovation.
So it followed that Catherine was ever at hand to criticise and
condemn. She disapproved of her brother's marriage wholly and
consistently. In her eyes, he had committed an unpardonable sin in
allying himself with Diane Wielitzska. It was his duty to have married
a woman of the type conventionally termed "good," whose blood--and
religious outlook--were alike unimpeachable; and since he had
lamentably failed in this respect, she never ceased to reproach him.
Diane she regarded with chronic disapprobation, exaggerating all her
faults and opposing her joy-loving, butterfly nature with an aloofly
Amid the glacial atmosphere of disapproval into which marriage had
thrust her, Diane found her only solace in Virginie, a devoted French
servant who had formerly been her nurse, and who literally worshipped
the ground she walked on. Conversely, Virginie's attitude towards Miss
Vallincourt was one of frank hostility. And deep in the hearts of both
Diane and Virginie lurked a confirmed belief that the birth of a child
--a son--would serve to bring about a better understanding between
husband and wife, and in the end assure Diane her rightful place as
mistress of the house.
"/Vois-tu/, Virginie," the latter would say hopefully. "When I have a
little baby, I shall have done my duty as the wife of a great English
milord. Even Miss Catherine will no longer regard me as of no
And Virginie would reply with infinite satisfaction:
"Of a certainty, when madame has a little son, Ma'moiselle Catherine
will be returned to her place."
And now at last the great moment had arrived, and upstairs Catherine
and Virginie were in attendance--both ousted from what each considered
her own rightful place of authority by a slim, capable, and apparently
quite unconcerned piece of femininity equipped against rebellion in
all the starched panoply of a nurse's uniform, while downstairs Hugh
stared dumbly out at the frosted lawns, with their background of bare,
brown trees swaying to the wind from the north.
The door behind him opened suddenly. Hugh whirled round. He was a tall
man with a certain rather formal air of stateliness about him, a
suggestion of the /grand seigneur/, and the unwontedly impulsive
movement was significant of the strain under which he was labouring.
Catherine was standing on the threshold of the room with something in
her arms--something almost indistinguishable amid the downy, fleecy
froth of whiteness amid which it lay.
Hugh was conscious of a new and strange sensation deep down inside
himself. He felt rather as though all the blood in his body had rushed
to one place--somewhere in the middle of it--and were pounding there
against his ribs.
He tried to speak, failed, then instinctively stretched out his arms
for the tiny, orris-scented bundle which Catherine carried.
The next thing of which he was conscious was Catherine's voice as she
placed his child in his arms--very quiet, yet rasping across the
tender silence of the room like a file.
"Here, Hugh, is the living seal which God Himself has set upon the sin
of your marriage."
Hugh's eyes, bent upon the pink, crumpled features of the scrap of
humanity nestled amid the bunchy whiteness in his arms, sought his
sister's face. It was a thin, hard face, sharply cut like carved
ivory; the eyes a light, cold blue, ablaze with hostility; the pale
obstinate lips, usually folded so impassively one above the other,
For a moment brother and sister stared at each other in silence. Then,
all at once, Catherine's rigidly enforced composure snapped.
"A girl child, Hugh!" she jeered violently. "A /girl/--when you prayed
for a boy!"
Hugh stared stupidly at the babe in his arms.
"Ay, a girl!" taunted Catherine, her voice cracking with rising
hysteria. "/A girl!/ . . . For eight generations the first-born has
been a son. And the ninth is a girl! The daughter of a foreign
dancing-woman! . . . God has indeed taken your punishment into His own
THE WIDENING GULF
The birth of a daughter came upon Hugh in the light of an almost
overwhelming shock. He was quite silent when, in response to
Catherine's imperative gesture, he surrendered the child into her arms
once more. As she took it from him he noticed that those thin, angular
arms of hers seemed to close round the little swaddled body in an
almost jealously possessive clasp. But there was none of the tender
possessiveness of love about it. In some oddly repugnant way it
reminded him of the motion of a bird of prey at last gripping
triumphantly in its talons a victim that has hitherto eluded pursuit.
He turned back dully to his contemplation of the wintry garden, nor,
in his absorption, did he hear the whimpering cry--almost of protest--
that issued from the lips of his first-born as Catherine bore the
For a space it seemed as though his mind were a blank, every thought
and feeling wiped out of it by the stupendous, nullifying fact that
his wife had given birth to a daughter. Then, with a rush as torturing
as the return of blood to benumbed limbs, emotions crowded in upon
Catherine's incessant denunciations of his "sin" in marrying Diane
Wielitzska--poured upon him without stint throughout this first year
of his marriage--seemed to din in his ears anew. Such phrases as
"selling your soul," "putting a woman of that type in our sainted
mother's place," "mingling the blood of a foreign dancing-woman with
our own," jangled against each other in his mind.
Had he really been guilty of a sin against his conscience--satisfied
his desires irrespective of all sense of duty?
He began to think he had, and to wonder in a disturbed fashion if God
thought so too. What was it Catherine had said? /"God has indeed taken
your punishment into His own Hands."/
Hugh was only too well aware of the facts which gave the speech its
trenchant significance. He himself had inherited owing to the death of
an elder brother in early childhood. But there was no younger brother
to step into his own shoes, and failing an heir in the direct line of
succession the title and entailed estate would of necessity go to
Rupert Vallincourt, a cousin--a gay and debonair young rake of much
charm of manner and equal absence of virtue. From both Catherine's and
Hugh's point of view he was the last man in the world fitted to become
the head of the family. Hence the eagerness with which they had
anticipated the arrival of a son and heir.
And now, prompted by Catherine's bitter taunt, the birth of a daughter
as his first-born--the first happening of the kind for eight
successive generations--appeared to Hugh in the light of a direct
manifestation of God's intention that no son born of Diane Wielitzska
should be dowered with such influence as the heir to the Vallincourts
must necessarily wield.
Better, even, that the title and estates should go to Rupert! Bad as
his reputation might be, good blood ran in his veins on either side--
an inherited tradition of right-doing which was bound to assert itself
in succeeding generations. Whereas in the offspring of Diane heaven
alone knew what hidden inherited tendencies towards evil might lie
fallow, to develop later and work incalculable mischief in the world.
Hugh felt crushed by the unexpected blow which had befallen him. Since
his marriage, he had opposed a forced indifference to his sister's
irreconcilable attitude, finding compensation in the glowing moments
of his passion for Diane. Nevertheless--since living in an atmosphere
of disapproval tends to fray the strongest nerves--his temper had worn
a little fine beneath the strain; and with Diane's faults and failings
thrust continually on his notice he had unconsciously grown more
critical of her.
And now, all at once, it seemed as though scales had been torn from
his eyes. He saw his marriage for the first time from the same
standpoint as Catherine saw it, and in the unlooked-for birth of a
daughter he thought he recognised the Hand of God, sternly uprooting
his most cherished hopes and minimising, as much as possible, the
inevitable evil consequences of his weakness in marrying Diane.
He was conscious of a rising feeling of resentment against his wife.
Words from an old Book flashed into his mind: /"The woman tempted
With the immediate instinct of a weak nature--the very narrowness and
rigidity of his views was a manifestation of weakness, had he but
realised it--he was already looking for someone with whom to share the
blame for his lapse from the Vallincourt standard of conduct, and in
that handful of wayward charm, red lips, and soft, beguiling eyes
which was Diane he found what he sought.
Again the room door opened. This time, instead of putting a longed-for
end to a blank period of suspense, the little quiet clicking of the
latch cut almost aggressively across the conflict of Hugh's thoughts.
He turned round irritably.
"What is it?" he demanded.
A uniformed nurse was standing in the doorway. At the sound of his
curtly-spoken question she glanced at him with a certain contemplative
curiosity in her eyes. They might have held surprise as well as
curiosity had she not lately stood beside that huge, canopied bed
upstairs, listening pitifully to a woman's secret fears and longings,
unveiled in the delirium of pain.
"I know you sometimes wish you hadn't married me. . . . I'm not good
enough. And Catherine hates me. Yes, she does, she does! And she'll
make you hate me too! But you won't hate me when my baby comes, will
you, Hugh? You want a little son . . . a little son . . ."
Nurse Maynard could hear again the weary, complaining voice, trailing
off at last in the silence of exhaustion, and an impulse of
indignation added a sharp edge to her tone as she responded to Hugh's
"Her ladyship is asking to see you, Sir Hugh. She ought to rest now,
but she is too excited. She has been expecting you."
There was no mistaking the implied rebuke in the last sentence, and
Hugh's face darkened.
"I'll come," he said, briefly, and followed the crisp starched figure
up the stairs and into a half-darkened room, smelling faintly of
Vaguely the white counterpane outlined the slim figure of Diane upon
the bed. The nurse raised the blind a little, and the light of the
westering sun fell across the pillow, revealing a small, dark head
which turned eagerly at the sound of Hugh's entrance.
"Hugh!" The voice from the bed came faintly.
Hugh looked down at his wife. Probably never had Diane looked more
The little worldly, sophisticated expression common to her features
had been temporarily obliterated by the holy suffering of motherhood,
and the face of the "foreign dancing-woman," born and bred in a
quarter of the world where virtue is a cheap commodity, was as pure
and serene as the face of a Madonna.
She held out her hands to her husband, her lips curving into a smile
that was all love and tenderness.
The lover in him sent him swiftly to her side, and as he drew her into
his arms she let her head fall back against his shoulder with a
tremulous sigh of infinite content.
And then, from the firelit corner of the room, came the sound of a
feeble wailing. Hugh started as though stung, and his eyes left his
wife's face and riveted themselves upon the figure in the low chair by
the hearth--Virginie, rocking a little as she sat, and crooning a
Breton lullaby to the baby in her arms.
In a moment remembrance rushed upon him, cutting in twain as though
with a dividing sword this exquisite moment of reunion with his wife.
Insensibly his arms relaxed their clasp of the frail body they held,
and Diane, sensing their slackening, looked up startled and
Her eyes followed the direction of his glance, then, coming back to
his face, searched it wildly. Instantly she knew the meaning of that
suddenly limp clasp and all that it implied.
"Hugh!" The throbbing tenderness had gone out of her voice, leaving it
dry and toneless. "Hugh! You don't mean . . . you're /angry/ that it's
He looked down at her--at the frightened eyes, the lovely face fined
by recent pain, and all his instinct was to reassure and comfort her.
But something held him back. The old, narrow creed in which he had
been reared, whose shackles he had broken through when he had
recklessly followed the bidding of his heart and married Diane, was
once more mastering him--bidding him resist the natural human impulses
of love and kindliness evoked by his wife's appeal.
/"God Himself has taken your punishment into His own Hands."/
Again he seemed to hear Catherine's accusing tones, and the fanatical
strain inbred in him answered like a boat to its helm. There must be
no more compromise, no longer any evasion of the issues of right and
wrong. He had sinned, and both he and the woman for whose sake he had
defied his own creed, and that of his fathers before him, must make
atonement. He drew himself up, and stood stiff and unbending beside
the bed. In his light-grey eyes there shone that same indomitable
ardour of the zealot which had shone in Catherine's.
"No," he said. "I am not angry that the child is a girl. I accept it
as a just retribution."
No man possessed of the ordinary instincts of common humanity would
have so greeted his wife just when she had emerged, spent and
exhausted, from woman's supreme conflict with death. But the fanatic
loses sight of normal values, and Hugh, obsessed by his newly
conceived idea of atoning for the sin of his marriage, was utterly
oblivious of the enormity of his conduct as viewed through unbiased
The woman who had just fought her way through the Valley of the Shadow
stared at him uncomprehendingly.
"Retribution?" she repeated blankly.
"For my marriage--our marriage."
Diane's breath came faster.
"What--what do you mean?" she asked falteringly. Suddenly a look of
sheer terror leaped into her eyes, and she clutched at Hugh's sleeve.
"Oh, you're not going to be like Catherine? Say you're not! Hugh,
you've always said she was crazy to call our marriage a sin. . . . /A
sin!/" She tried to laugh, but the laugh stuck in her throat, caught
and pinned there by the terror that gripped her.
"Yes, I've said that. I've said it because I wanted to think it," he
returned remorselessly, "not because I really thought it."
Diane dragged herself up on to her elbow.
"I don't understand. You've not changed?" Then, as he made no answer:
"Hugh, you're frightening me! What do you mean? What has Catherine
been saying to you?"
Her voice rose excitedly. A patch of feverish colour appeared on
either cheek. Old Virginie sprung up from her chair by the fire,
"You excite madame!"
Hugh turned to leave the room.
"We'll discuss this another time, Diane," he said.
Diane moved her head fretfully.
"No. Now--now! Don't go! Hugh!"
Her voice rose almost to a scream and simultaneously the nurse came
hurrying in from the adjoining room. She threw one glance at the
patient, huddled flushed and excited against the pillows, then without
more ado she marched up to Hugh and, taking him by the shoulders with
her small, capable hands, she pushed him out of the room.
"Do you want to /kill/ your wife?" she demanded in a low voice of
concentrated anger. "If so, you're going the right way about it."
The next moment the door closed behind her, and Hugh found himself
standing alone on the landing outside it.
Although the scene with her husband did not kill Diane, it went very
near it. For some time she was dangerously ill, but at last the
combined efforts of doctor and nurse restored her once more to a frail
hold upon life, and the resiliency of youth accomplished the rest.
Curiously enough, the remembrance of Hugh's brief visit to her bedside
held for her no force of reality. When the fever which had ensued
abated, she described the whole scene in detail to Virginie and the
nurse as an evil dream which she had had--and pitifully they let her
continue in this belief.
Even Hugh himself had been compelled, under protest, to take part in
this deception. The doctor, a personal friend of his, had not minced
"You've acted the part of an unmitigated coward, Vallincourt--salving
your own fool conscience at your wife's expense. Even if you no longer
"But I do love her," protested Hugh. "I--I /worship/ her!"
Jim Lancaster stared. In common with most medical men he was more or
less used to the odd vagaries of human nature, but Hugh's attitude
struck him as altogether incomprehensible.
"Then what in the name of thunder have you been getting at?" he
"I both love and hate her," declared Hugh wretchedly.
"That's rot," retorted the other. "It's impossible."
"It's not impossible."
Hugh rose and began pacing backwards and forwards. Lancaster's eyes
rested on him thoughtfully. The man had altered during the last few
weeks--altered incredibly. He was a stone lighter to start with, and
his blond, clear-cut face had the worn look born of mental conflict.
His eyes were red-rimmed as though from insufficient sleep.
"It's not impossible." Hugh paused in his restless pacing to and fro.
"I love her because I can't help myself. I hate her because I ought
never to have married her--never made a woman of her type the mother
of my child."
"All mothers are sacred," suggested the doctor quietly.
Hugh seemed not to hear him.
"How long is this pretence to go on, Lancaster?" he demanded
"This pretence that nothing is changed--nothing altered--between my
wife and myself?"
"For ever, I hope. So that, after all, there will have been no
But the appeal of the speech was ineffectual. Hugh looked at the other
"It's no use hoping that you and I can see things from the same
standpoint," he added stubbornly. "I've made my decision--laid down
the lines of our future life together. I'm only waiting till you, as a
medical man, tell me that Diane's health is sufficiently restored for
me to inform her."
"No woman is ever in such health that you can break her heart with
Hugh's light-grey eyes gleamed like steel.
"Will you answer my question?" he said curtly.
Lancaster sprang up.
"Diane is in as good health now as ever she was," he said violently.
And strode out of the room.
During the period of her convalescence Diane, attended by Nurse
Maynard, had occupied rooms situated in a distant wing of the house,
where the invalid was not likely to be disturbed by the coming and
going of other members of the household, and it was with almost the
excitement of a schoolgirl coming home for the holidays that, when she
was at last released from the doctor's supervision, she retook
possession of her own room. She superintended joyously the restoration
to their accustomed place her various little personal possessions, and
finally peeped into her husband's adjoining room, thinking she heard
him moving there.
On the threshold she paused irresolutely, conscious of an odd sense of
confusion. The room was vacant. But, beyond that, its whole aspect was
different somehow, unfamiliar. Her eyes wandered to the dressing-
table. Instead of holding its usual array of silver-backed brushes and
polished shaving tackle, winking in the sunshine, it was empty. She
stared at it blankly. Then her glance travelled slowly round the room.
It had a strangely untenanted look. There was no sign of masculine
attire left carelessly about--not a chair or table was a hairbreadth
out of its appointed place.
Her hand, resting lightly on the door-handle, gripped it with a sudden
tensity. The next moment she had crossed the room and torn open the
doors of the great armoire where Hugh kept his clothes. This, too, was
empty--shelves and hanger alike. Impulsively she rang the bell and,
when a maid appeared in response, demanded to know the meaning of the
The girl glanced at her with the veiled curiosity of her class.
"It was made by Sir Hugh's orders, my lady."
With an effort, Diane hid the sudden tumult of bewilderment and fear
that filled her. Her dream! Had it been only a dream? Or had it been
an actual happening--that terrible little scene with her husband when,
standing rigid and unbending beside her bed, he had told her that the
birth of their daughter was a just retribution for a union he regarded
as a sin?
Memories of their brief year of marriage came surging over her in a
torrent--Catherine's narrow-minded opposition and disapproval, Hugh's
own moodiness and irritability and, latterly, his not infrequent
censure. There had been times when Diane--rebuked incessantly--had
fancied she must be the Scarlet Woman herself, or at least a very near
relative. And then had come moments when Hugh, carried away by his
ardour, had once more played the lover as he alone knew how, with all
the warmth and abandon of those days when he had wooed her in Italy,
and Diane would forget her unhappiness and fears in the sure knowledge
that she was a passionately beloved woman.
But always she was subconsciously aware of a sense of strife--of
struggle, as though Hugh loved her in spite of himself, in defiance of
some inner mandate of conscience which accused him.
And now, fear mastered her. Her dream had been a reality. And this--
this sweeping away from what had been his room of every familiar
little personal possession--was the symbol of some new and terribly
changed relation between them.
Forcing herself to move composedly while the maid still watched her,
she walked slowly out of the room, but the instant the door had closed
behind her she flew downstairs to her husband's study and, not pausing
to comply with the unwritten law which forbade entrance there without
express permission, broke in upon him as he sat at his desk, busily
occupied with his morning mail.
Hugh turned towards her with a cold light of astonished disapproval in
"You know I don't like to be interrupted----"
"I know, I know. But I /had/ to come. Something's happened. There's
been a mistake. . . . Hugh, they've taken everything out of your room.
All your things."
She stood beside him breathlessly awaiting his reply--her passionate
dark eyes fixed on his face, two patches of brilliant colour showing
on the high cheek-bones that bore witness to her Russian origin.
They made a curious contrast--husband and wife. She, a slender thing
of fire and flame, hands clenched, lips quivering--woman every inch of
her; he, immaculate and composed, his face coldly expressionless, yet
with a hint of something warmer, a suppressed glow, beneath the
deliberately chill glance of those curious light-grey eyes--the man
and bigoted fanatic fighting for supremacy within him.
"Hugh! Answer me! Don't sit staring at me like that!" Diane's voice
held a sharpened sound.
At last he spoke, very slowly and carefully.
"There has been no mistake, Diane. Everything that has been done has
been with my sanction--by my order. Our marriage has been a culpable
mistake. Catherine realised it from the beginning. I only realise my
full guilt now that I am punished. But whatever I can do in atonement
--reparation, that I have made up my mind to do. The first--the chief
thing--is that our married life is at an end."
She heard him with a curious absence of surprise. Somehow, from the
instant she had seen his dismantled room she had known, known surely,
that the long fight between herself and Catherine was over. And that
Catherine had won.
"At an end? Hugh, what do you mean? What are you going to do? You're
not, you're not going to send me away?"
"No, not that. I've no right to punish you. You've been guilty of no
"Except the fault of being myself," she flung back bitterly.
"But I ought never to have married you. I did it, knowing you were not
fit--suitable"--he corrected himself hastily. "So I alone am to blame.
You will retain your position here as my wife--mistress of my home."
Diane, remembering Catherine's despotic rule, smiled mirthlessly. "But
henceforth you will be my wife in name only. I shall have no wife."
Diane caught that note of dull endurance in his voice, and seized upon
it. He still cared!
"Hugh, you've listened to Catherine till you've lost all sense of
truth." She spoke gently, pleadingly. "Don't do this thing. We've been
guilty of no sin that needs atonement. It isn't wrong to love."
But he was implacable.
"No," he returned. "It isn't wrong to love--but sometimes love should
Diane drew nearer to him, and laid her hand on his arm.
"Not ours, Hugh," she whispered. "Not love like ours--"
Hugh sprang to his feet, his eyes ablaze, his voice hoarse and
"Don't tempt me! Do you think I've found it easy to decide on this?
When every fibre of my body is calling out for you? My God, no!"
"Then don't do it! Hugh--dearest--"
With sudden violence he caught her by the arms.
"Be silent, I tell you! Don't tempt me! I'll make my penance, accept
the burden laid on me--that my first-born should be a girl!"
Diane clung to him, resisting his attempt to thrust her from him.
"Hugh! Ah, wait! Listen to me! . . . Dear, some day there may be a
little son, yours and mine--"
He flung her from him violently.
"There shall never be a son of ours! Never! It is the Will of God."
With an immense effort he checked the rising frenzy within him--the
ecstasy of the martyr embracing the stake to which he shall be bound.
He moved across to the door and held it open for her.
"And now, will you please go? That is my last word on the matter."
Diane turned hesitatingly towards the doorway, then paused.
There was an infinite appeal in her voice. Her eyes were those of a
frightened, bewildered child.
"Go, please," he repeated mechanically.
A convulsive sob tore its way through her throat. She stepped blindly
forward. The next moment the door closed inexorably between husband
SAINT-MICHAEL AND THE WONDER-CHILD
Day by day her husband's complete estrangement from her was rendered
additionally bitter to Diane by Catherine's complacent air of triumph.
The latter knew that she had won, severed the tie which bound her
brother to "the foreign dancing-woman," and she did not scruple to let
Diane see that she openly rejoiced in the fact.
At first Diane imagined that Catherine might rest content with what
she had accomplished, but the grim, hard-featured woman still
continued to exhibit the same self-righteous disapproval towards her
brother's wife as hitherto.
Diane endured it in resentful silence for a time, but one day, stung
by some more than usually acid speech of Catherine's, she turned on
her, demanding passionately why she seemed to hate her even more since
the birth of the child.
"I nearly gave my life for her," she protested with fierce simplicity.
"I could do no more! Is it because /le bon dieu/ has sent me a little
daughter instead of a little son that you hate me so much?"
And Catherine had answered her in a voice of quiet, concentrated
"If you had died then--/died childless/--I should have thanked God day
Diane, isolated and unhappy, turned to her baby for consolation. It
was all that was left to her out of the wreck of her life, and the
very fact that both Hugh and Catherine seemed to regard the little
daughter with abhorrence only served to strengthen the passionate
worship which she herself lavished upon her.
The child--they had called her Magda--was an odd little creature, as
might have been expected from the violently opposing characteristics
of her parents.
She was slenderly made--built on the same lithe lines as her mother--
and almost as soon as she was able to walk she manifested an amazing
balance and suppleness of limb. By the time she was four years old she
was trying to imitate, with uncertain little feet and dimpled,
aimlessly waving arms, the movements of her mother, when to amuse the
child, she would sometimes dance for her.
However big a tragedy had occurred in Magda's small world--whether it
were a crack across the insipid china face of a favourite doll or the
death of an adored Persian kitten--there was still balm in Gilead if
/"petite maman"/ would but dance for her. The tears shining in big
drops on her cheeks, her small chest still heaving with the sobs that
were a passionate protest against unkind fate, Magda would sit on the
floor entranced, watching with adoring eyes every swift, graceful
motion of the dancer, and murmuring in the quaint shibboleth of French
and English she had imbibed from old Virginie.
On one of these occasions Hugh came upon the two unexpectedly and
brought the performance to a summary conclusion.
"That will do, Diane," he said icily. "I should have thought you would
have had more self-respect than to dance--in that fashion--in front of
"It is, then, a sin to dance--as it is to be married?" demanded Diane
bitterly, abruptly checked in an exquisite spring-flower dance of her
"I forbid it; that is sufficient," replied Hugh sternly.
His assumption of arrogant superiority was unbearable. Diane's self-
control wavered under it and broke. She turned and upbraided him
despairingly, alternately pleading and reproaching, battering all her
slender forces uselessly against his inflexible determination.
"This is a waste of time, Diane--mine, anyway," he told her. And left
her shaken with grief and anger.
Driven by a sense of utter revolt, she stormed her way to Catherine,
who was composedly sorting sheets in the linen room.
"I will not bear it!" she burst out at her furiously. "What have I
done that I should be treated as an outcast--a pariah?"
Catherine regarded the tense, quivering little figure with chill
"You married my brother," she replied imperturbably.
"And you have separated us! But for you, we should be happy together--
he and baby and I! But you have spoilt it all. I suppose"--a hint of
the Latin Quarter element in her asserting itself--"I suppose you
think no one good enough to marry into your precious family!"
Catherine paused on her way to the cupboard, a pile of fine linen
pillowslips in her hands.
"Yes," she said quietly. "It is I who have separated you--spoilt your
happiness, if you like. And I am glad of it. I can't expect anyone
like you to understand"--there was the familiar flavour of
disparagement in her tones--"but I am thankful that my brother has
seen the wickedness of his marriage with you, that he has repented of
it, and that he is making the only atonement possible!"
She turned and composedly laid the pile of pillowslips in their
appointed place on the shelf. A faint fragrance of dried lavender
drifted out from the dark depths of the cupboard. Diane always
afterwards associated the smell of lavender with her memories of
Catherine Vallincourt, and the sweet, clean scent of it was spoiled
for her henceforward.
"I hate you!" she exclaimed in a low voice of helpless rage. "I hate
you--and I wish to God Hugh had never had a sister!"
"Well"--composedly--"he will not have one much longer."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that as far as our life together is concerned, it is very
"Do you mean"--Diane bent towards her breathlessly--"do you mean that
you are /going away/--going away from Coverdale?"
"Yes. I am entering a sisterhood--that of the Sisters of Penitence, a
community Hugh is endowing with money that is urgently needed."
"As part of the penance he has set himself to perform." Catherine's
steely glance met and held the younger woman's. "Thanks to you, the
remainder of his life will be passed in expiation."
Diane shook her head carelessly. Such side-issues were of relatively
small importance compared with the one outstanding, amazing fact:
Catherine was going away! Going away from Coverdale--for ever!
"Yes"--Catherine read her thoughts shrewdly--"yes, you will be rid of
me. I shall not be here much longer."
Diane struck her hands together. For once, not even the fear of
Catherine's gibing tongue could hold her silent.
"I'm glad--glad--/glad/ you're going away!" she exclaimed
passionately. "When you are gone I will win back my husband."
"Do you think so?" was all she said.
But to Diane's keyed-up consciousness it was as though the four short
words contained a threat--the germ of future disaster.
In due time Catherine quitted Coverdale for the austere seclusion of
the sisterhood, and a very few weeks sufficed to convince Diane that
her forebodings had been only too well founded.
Catherine had long been anxious to enter a community, restrained from
doing so solely by Hugh's need of her as mistress of his house, and
now that her wish was an accomplished fact, it seemed as though he
were spurred on to increasing effort by the example of his sister's
renunciation of the world. He withdrew himself even more completely
from his wife, sometimes avoiding her company for days at a time, and
adopted a stringently ascetic mode of life, denying himself all
pleasure, fasting frequently, and praying and meditating for hours at
a stretch in the private chapel which was attached to Coverdale. As
far as it was possible, without actually entering a community, his
existence resembled that of a monk, and Diane came to believe that he
had voluntarily vowed himself to a certain form of penance and
expiation for the marriage which the bigotry of his nature had led him
to regard as a sin.
His life only impinged upon his wife's in so far as the upbringing of
their child was concerned. He was unnecessarily severe with her, and,
since Diane opposed his strict ruling at every opportunity, Magda's
early life was passed in an atmosphere of fierce contradictions.
The child inherited her mother's beauty to the full, and, as she
developed, exhibited an extraordinary faculty for getting her own way.
Servants, playmates, and governesses all succumbed to the nameless
charm she possessed, while her mother and old Virginie frankly
The love of dancing was instinctive with her, and this, unknown to
Hugh, her mother cultivated assiduously, fostering in her everything
that was imaginative and delicately fanciful. Magda believed firmly in
the existence of fairies and regarded flowers as each possessed of a
separate entity with personal characteristics of its own. The
originality of the dances she invented for her own amusement was the
But, side by side with this love of all that was beautiful, she
absorbed from her mother a certain sophisticated understanding of life
which was somewhat startling in one of her tender years, and this,
too, betrayed itself in her dancing. For it is an immutable law that
everything--good, bad, and indifferent--which lies in the soul of an
artist ultimately reveals itself in his work.
And Magda, inheriting the underlying ardour of her father's
temperament and the gutter-child's sharp sense of values which was her
mother's Latin Quarter garnering, at the age of eight danced, with all
the beguilement and seductiveness of a trained and experienced dancer.
Even Hugh himself was not proof against the elusive lure of it. He
chanced upon her one day, dancing in her nursery, and was so carried
away by the charm of the performance that for the moment he forgot
that she was transgressing one of his most rigid rules.
In the child's gracious, alluring gestures he was reminded of the
first time that he had seen her mother dance, and of how it had
thrilled him. Beneath the veneer with which his self-enforced
austerity had overlaid his emotions, he felt his pulses leap, and was
bitterly chagrined at being thus attracted.
He found himself brought up forcibly once more against the inevitable
consequences of his marriage with Diane, and reasoned that through his
weakness in making such a woman his wife, he had let loose on the
world a feminine thing dowered with the seductiveness of a Delilah and
backed--here came in the exaggerated family pride ingrained in him--by
all the added weight and influence of her social position as a
"Never let me see you dance again, Magda," he told her. "It is
forbidden. If you disobey you will be severely punished."
Magda regarded him curiously out of a pair of long dark eyes the
colour of black smoke. With that precociously sophisticated instinct
of hers she realised that the man had been emotionally stirred, and
divined in her funny child's mind that it was her dancing which had so
stirred him. It gave her a curious sense of power.
"Sieur Hugh is /afraid/ because he likes me to dance," she told her
mother, with an impish little grin of enjoyment.
(On one occasion Hugh had narrated for her benefit the history of an
ancestor, one Sieur Hugues de Vallincourt, whose effigy in stone
adorned the church, and she had ever afterwards persisted in referring
to her father as "Sieur Hugh"--considerably to his annoyance, since he
regarded it as both disrespectful and unseemly.)
From this time onwards Magda seemed to take a diabolical delight in
shocking her father--experimenting on him, as it were. In some
mysterious way she had become conscious of her power to allure. Young
as she was, the instinct of conquest was awakened within her, and she
proceeded to "experiment" on certain of her father's friends--to their
huge delight and Hugh's intense disgust. Once, in an outburst of fury,
he epitomised her ruthlessly.
"The child has the soul of a courtesan!"
If this were so, Hugh had no knowledge of how to cope with it. His
fulminations on the subject of dancing affected her not at all, and a
few days after he had rebuked her with all the energy at his command
he discovered her dancing on a table--this time for the delectation of
an enraptured butler and staff in the servants' hall.
Without more ado Hugh lifted her down and carried her to his study,
where he administered a sound smacking. The result astonished him
"Do you think you can stop me from dancing by beating me?"
Magda arraigned him with passionate scorn.
"I do," he returned grimly. "If you hurt people enough you can stop
them from committing sin. That is the meaning of remedial punishment."
"I don't believe it!" she stormed at him. "You might hurt me till I
/died/ of hurting, but you couldn't make me good--not if I hated your
hurting me all the time! Because it isn't good to hate," she added out
of the depths of some instinctive wisdom.
"Then you'd better learn to like being punished--if that will make you
good," retorted Hugh.
Magda sped out into the woods. Hugh's hand had been none too light,
and she was feeling physically and spiritually sore. Her small soul
was aflame with fierce revolt.
Just to assure herself of the liberty of the individual and of the
fact that "hurting couldn't make her good," she executed a solitary
little dance on the green, mossy sward beneath the trees. It was
rather a painful process, since certain portions of her anatomy still
tingled from the retributive strokes of justice, but she set her teeth
and accomplished the dance with a consciousness of unholy glee that
added appreciably to the quality of the performance.
"Are you the Fairy Queen?"
The voice came suddenly out of the dim, enfolding silence of the
woods, and Magda paused in the midst of a final pirouette. A man was
standing leaning against the trunk of a tree, watching her with
whimsical grey eyes. Behind him, set up in the middle of a clearing
amongst the trees, an easel and stool evidenced his recent occupation.
Magda returned the scrutiny of the grey eyes. She was no whit
embarrassed and slowly lowered her foot--she had been toe-dancing--to
its normal position while she surveyed the newcomer with interest.
He was a tall, lean specimen of mankind, and the sunlight, quivering
between the interlacing boughs above his head, flickered on to kinky
fair hair that looked almost absurdly golden contrasted with the brown
tan of the face beneath it. It was a nice face, Magda decided, with a
dogged, squarish jaw that appealed to a certain tenacity of spirit
which was one of her own unchildish characteristics, and the keen
dark-grey eyes she encountered were so unlike the cold light-grey of
her father's that it seemed ridiculous the English language could only
supply the one word "grey" to describe things that were so totally
"They're like eyes with little fires behind them," Magda told herself.
Then smiled at their owner radiantly.
"Are you the Fairy Queen?" he repeated gravely.
She regarded him with increasing approval.
"Yes," she assented graciously. "These are my woods."
"Then I'm afraid I've been trespassing in your majesty's domain,"
admitted the grey-eyed man. "But your woods are so beautiful I simply
had to try and make a sketch of them."
Magda came back to earth with promptitude.
"Oh, are you an artist?" she demanded eagerly.
He nodded, smiling.
"I'm trying to be."
"Let me look." She flashed past him and planted herself in front of
"/Mais, c'est bon!/" she commented coolly. "Me, I know. We have good
pictures at home. This is a good picture."
The man with the grey eyes looked suitably impressed.
"I'm glad you find it so," he replied meekly. "I think it wants just
one thing more. If"--he spoke abstractly--"if the Fairy Queen were
resting just there"--his finger indicated the exact point on the
canvas--"tired, you know, because she had been dancing to one of the
Mortals--lucky beggar, wasn't he?--why, I think the picture would be
Magda shot him a swift glance of comprehension. Then, without a word,
she moved towards the bole of a tree and flung herself down with all
the supple grace of a young faun. The artist snatched up his palette;
the pose she had assumed without a hint from him was inimitable--the
slender limbs relaxed and drooping exactly as though from sheer
fatigue. He painted furiously, blocking in the limp little figure with
swift, sure strokes of his brush.
When at last he desisted he flung a question at her.
"Who taught you to pose--and to dance like that, you wonder-child?"
Magda surveyed him with that mixture of saint and devil in her long,
suddenly narrow eyes which, when she grew to womanhood, was the
measure of her charm and the curse of her tempestuous life.
"/Le bon dieu/," she responded demurely.
The man smiled and shook his head. It was a crooked little smile,
oddly humorous and attractive.
"No," he said with conviction. "No. I don't think so."
The daylight was beginning to fade, and he started to pack up his
"What's your name?" asked Magda suddenly.
She looked at him with sudden awe.
"Not--not /Saint Michel/?" she asked breathlessly.
Virginie had told her all about "/Saint Michel/." He was a very great
angel indeed. It would be tremendously exciting to find she had been
talking to him all this time without knowing it! And the grey-eyed man
had fair hair; it shone in the glinting sunset-light /almost/ like a
He quenched her hopes with that brief, one-sided smile of his.
"No," he said. "I'm not Saint Michael. I'm only a poor devil of a
painter who's got his way to make in the world. Perhaps, you've helped
me, Fairy Queen."
And seeing that "The Repose of Titania" was the first of his paintings
to bring Michael Quarrington that meed of praise and recognition which
was later his in such full measure, perhaps she had.
"I think I'm glad you're not a saint, after all," remarked Magda
thoughtfully. "Saint's are dreadfully dull and superior."
He smiled down at her.
"Are they? How do you know?"
"Because Sieur Hugh is preparing to be one. At least Virginie says so
--and she sniffs when she says it. So you see, I know all about it."
"I see," he replied seriously. "And who are Sieur Hugh and Virginie?"
"Sieur Hugh is my father. And Virginie is next best to /petite maman/.
Me, I love Virginie."
Magda made no answer, but she stood looking at him with an odd,
unchildlike deviltry in her sombre eyes.
"Fairy Queen, I should like to kiss you," said the man suddenly. Then
he jerked his head back. "No, I wouldn't!" he added quickly to
himself. "By Jove, it's uncanny!"
Magda remained motionless, still staring at him with those long dark
eyes of hers. He noticed that just at the outer corners they slanted
upwards a little, giving her small, thin face a curiously Eastern
"Please kiss me, Saint Michael," she said.
For a moment he hesitated, a half-rueful, half-whimsical smile on his
lips, rather as though he were laughing at himself. Then, with a shrug
of his shoulders, he stooped quickly and kissed her.
"Witch-child!" he muttered as he strode away through the woods.
THE SEED OF EVIL
Diane sat in the twilight, brooding. Winter had come round again,
gripping the world with icy fingers, and she shivered a little as she
crouched in front of the fire.
She felt cold--cold in body and soul. The passage of time had brought
no cheery warmth of love or loving-kindness to her starved heart, and
the estrangement between herself and Hugh was as definite and absolute
as it had been the day Catherine quitted Coverdale for the Sisterhood
But the years which had elapsed since then had taken their inevitable
toll. Hugh had continued along the lines he had laid down for himself,
rigidly ascetic and austere, and his mode of life now revealed itself
unmistakably in his thin, emaciated face and eyes ablaze with
Diane, thrust into a compulsory isolation utterly foreign to her
temperament, debarred the fulfilment of her womanhood which her
spontaneous, impetuous nature craved, had drooped and pined, gradually
losing both her buoyant spirit and her health in the loveless
atmosphere to which her husband had condemned her.
She had so counted on the prospect that a better understanding between
herself and Hugh would ensue after Catherine's departure that the
downfall of her hopes had come upon her as a bitter disappointment.
Once she had stifled her pride and begged him to live no longer as a
stranger to her. But he had repulsed her harshly, refusing her
pleading with an inexorable decision there was no combating.
Afterwards she had given herself up to despair, and gradually--almost
imperceptibly at first--her health had declined until finally, at the
urgent representations of Virginie, Hugh had called in Dr. Lancaster.
"There is no specific disease," he had said. "But none the less"--
looking very directly at Hugh--"your wife is dying, Vallincourt."
Diane had been told the first part of the doctor's pronouncement, and
recommended by her husband to "rouse herself" out of her apathetic
"'No specific disease!'" she repeated bitterly, as she sat brooding in
the firelight. "No--only this death in life which I have had to
endure. Well, it will be over soon--and the sooner the better."
The door burst open suddenly and Magda came in to the room, checking
abruptly, with a child's stumbling consciousness of pain, as she
caught sight of her mother curled up in front of the fire, staring
mutely into its glowing heart.
"/Maman/?" she begin timidly. "/Petite maman/?"
Diane turned round.
"Cherie, is it thou?"
She kneeled up on the hearthrug and, taking the child in her arms,
searched her face with dry, bright eyes.
"Baby," she said. "Listen! And when thou art older, remember always
what I have said."
Magda stared at her, listening intently.
"Never, never give your heart to any man," continued Diane. "If you
do, he will only break it for you--break it into little pieces like
the glass scent-bottle which you dropped yesterday. Take everything.
But do not give--anything--in return. Will you remember?"
And Magda answered her gravely.
"/Oui, maman/, I will remember."
What happened after that remained always a confused blur in Magda's
memory--a series of pictures standing out against a dark background of
haste and confusion, and whispered fears.
Suddenly her mother gave a sharp little cry and her hands went up to
her breast, while for a moment her eyes, dilated and frightened-
looking, stared agonisingly ahead. Then she toppled over sideways and
lay in a little heap on the great bearskin rung in front of the fire.
After that Virginie came running, followed by a drove of scared-
looking servants and, last of all, by Hugh himself, his face very
white and working strangely.
The car was sent off in frantic haste in search of Dr. Lancaster, and
later in the day two white-capped nurses appeared on the scene. Then
followed hours of hushed uncertainty, when people went to and fro with
hurried, muffled footsteps and spoke together in whispers, while
Virginie's face grew yellow and drawn-looking, and the tears trickled
down her wrinkled-apple cheeks whenever one spoke to her.
Last of all someone told Magda that "/petite maman/" had gone away--
and on further inquiry Virginie vouchsafed that she had gone to
somewhere called Paradise to be with the blessed saints.
"When will she come back again?" demanded Magda practically.
Upon which Virginie had made an unpleasant choking noise in her throat
Magda was frankly incredulous. /Petite maman/ would never go away like
that and leave her behind! Of that she felt convinced, and said so.
Gulping back her sobs, Virginie explained that in this case madame had
been given no choice, but added that if Magda comported herself like a
good little girl, she would one day go to be with her in Paradise.
Magda found it all very puzzling.
But when, later, she was taken into her mother's room and saw the
slender, sheeted figure lying straight and still on the great bed,
hands meekly crossed upon the young, motionless breast, while tall
white candles burned at head and foot, the knowledge that /petite
maman/ had really gone from her seemed all at once to penetrate her
That aloofly silent figure could not be her gay, pretty /petite maman/
--the one who had played and laughed with her and danced so
exquisitely that sometimes Magda's small soul had ached with the sheer
beauty and loveliness of it. . . .
She met Dr. Lancaster as she came out from the candle-lit room and
clutched him convulsively by the hand.
"Is that--being dead?" she whispered, pointing to the room she had
Very gently he tried to explain things to her. Afterwards Magda
overheard the family lawyer asking him in appropriately shocked tones
of what complaint Lady Vallincourt had died, and there had been a
curious grim twist to Lancaster's mouth as he made answer.
"Heart," he said tersely.
"Ah! Very sad. Very sad indeed," rejoined the lawyer feelingly. "These
heart complaints are very obscure sometimes, I believe?"
"Sometimes," said Lancaster. "Not always."
The next happening that impressed itself on Magda's cognisance as an
event was the coming of Lady Arabella Winter. She arrived on a day of
heavy snow, and Magda's first impression of her, as she came into the
hall muffled up to the tip of her patrician nose in a magnificent
sable wrap, was of a small, alert-eyed bird huddled into its nest.
But when the newcomer had laid aside her furs Magda's impression
qualified itself. Lady Arabella was not in the least of the "small
bird" type, but rather suggested a hawk endowed with a grim sense of
humour--quick and decisive in movement, with eyes that held an
incalculable wisdom and laughed a thought cynically because they saw
Her hair was perfectly white, as white as the snow outside, but her
complexion was soft and fine-grained as that of a girl of sixteen--
pink and white like summer roses. She had the manner of an empress
with extremely modern ideas.
Magda was instructed that this great little personage was her
godmother and that she would in future live with her instead of at
Coverdale. She accepted the information without surprise though with
"Think you'll like it?" Lady Arabella shot at her keenly.
"Yes," Magda replied unhesitatingly. "But why am I going to live with
you? Sieur Hugh isn't dead, too, is he?"--with impersonal interest.
"And who in the name of fortune is Sieur Hugh?"
Lady Arabella looked around helplessly, and Virginia, who was hovering
in the background, hastened to explain the relationship.
"Then, no," replied Lady Arabella. "Sieur Hugh is not dead--though to
be sure he's the next thing to it!"
Magda eyed her solemnly.
"Is he very ill?" she asked.
"No, merely cranky like all the Vallincourts. He's in a community,
joined a brotherhood, you know, and proposes to spend the rest of his
days repenting his sins and making his peace with heaven. I've no
patience with the fool!" continued the old lady irascibly. "He marries
to please himself and then hasn't the pluck of a rabbit to see the
thing through decently. So you're to be my responsibility in future--
and a pretty big one, too, to judge by the look of you."
Magda hardly comprehended the full meaning of this speech. Still she
gathered that her father had left her--though not quite in the same
way as /petite maman/ had done--and that henceforth this autocratic
old lady with the hawk's eyes and quick, darting movements was to be
the arbiter of her fate. She also divined, beneath Lady Arabella's
prickly exterior, a humanness and ability to understand which had been
totally lacking in Sieur Hugh. She proceeded to put it to the test.
"Will you let me dance?" she asked.
"Tchah!" snorted the old woman. "So the Wielitzska blood is coming out
after all!" She turned to Virginia. "Can she dance?" she demanded
"Mais oui, madame!" cried Virginie, clasping her hands ecstatically.
"Like a veritable angel!"
"I shouldn't have thought it," commented her ladyship drily.
Her shrewd eyes swept the child's tense little face with its long,
Eastern eyes and the mouth that showed so vividly scarlet against its
"Less like an angel than anything, I should imagine," muttered the old
woman to herself with a wicked little grin. Then aloud: "Show me what
you can do, then, child."
"Very well." Magda paused, reflecting. Then she ran forward and laid
her hand lightly on Lady Arabella's knee. "Look! This is the story of
a Fairy who came to earth and lost her way in the woods. She met one
of the Mortals, and he loved her so much that he wouldn't show her the
way back to Fairyland. So"--abruptly--"she died."
Lady Arabella watched the child dance in astonished silence.
Technique, of course, was lacking, but the interpretation, the telling
of the story, was amazing. It was all there--the Fairy's first wonder
and delight in finding herself in the woods, then her realisation that
she was lost and her frantic efforts to find the way back to
Fairyland. Followed her meeting with the Mortal and supplication to
him to guide her, and finally the Fairy's despair and death. Magda's
slight little figure sank to the ground, drooping slowly like a storm-
bent snowdrop, and lay still.
Lady Arabella sat up with a jerk.
"Good gracious! The child's a born dancer! Lydia Tchinova must see
her. She'll have to train. Poor Hugh!" She chuckled enjoyably. "This
will be the last straw! He'll be compelled to invent a new penance."
"You're very trying, Magda. Everyone is talking about you, and I'm
tired of trying to explain you to people."
Lady Arabella paused in her knitting and spoke petulantly, but a
secret gleam of admiration in her sharp old eyes as they rested upon
her god-daughter belied the irritation of her tones.
Magda leaned back negligently against the big black velvet cushions in
her chair and lit a cigarette.
"I /want/ everyone to talk about me," she returned composedly. Her
voice was oddly attractive--low-pitched and with a faint blur of
huskiness about it that caught the ear with a distinctive charm. "It
increases the box-office receipts. And there's no reason in the world
for you to 'explain' me to people."
Her godmother regarded her with increasing irritation, yet at the same
time acutely conscious of the arresting quality of the young, vividly
alive face that gleamed at her from its black-velvet background.
Ten years had only served to emphasise the unusual characteristics of
the child Magda. Her skin was wonderful, of a smooth, creamy-white
texture which gave to the sharply angled face something of the pale,
exotic perfection of a stephanotis bloom. Her eyes were long, the
colour of black pansies--black with a suggestion of purple in their
depths. They slanted upwards a little at the outer corners, and this
together with the high cheek-bones, alone would have betrayed her
Russian ancestry. When Lady Arabella wanted to be particularly
obnoxious she told her that she had Mongolian eyes, and Magda would
shrug her shoulders and, thrusting out a foot which was so perfect in
shape that a painting of it by a certain famous artist had been the
most talked-of picture of the year, would reply placidly: "Well, thank
heaven, /that's/ not English, anyway!"
"It certainly required some explanation when you chose to leave me and
go off and live by yourself," pursued Lady Arabella, resuming her
knitting. "A girl of twenty! Of course people have talked. Especially
as half the men in town imagine themselves in love with you."
"Well, I'm perfectly respectable now. I've engaged a nice, tame pussy-
cat person to take charge of my morals and chaperon me generally. Not
--like you, Marraine--an Early Victorian autocrat with a twentieth-
"If you mean Mrs. Grey, she doesn't give me the least impression of
being a 'nice, tame pussy-cat,'" retorted Lady Arabella. "You'll find
that out, my dear."
Magda regarded her thoughtfully.
"Do you think so?"
"Oh, Gillian is all right," affirmed Magda, dismissing the matter
airily. "She's a gorgeous accompanist, anyway--almost as good as
Davilof himself. Which reminds me--I must go home and rehearse my solo
dance in the /Swan-Maiden/. I told Davilof I'd be ready for him at
four o'clock; and it's half-past three now. I shall never get back to
Hampstead through this ghastly fog in half an hour." She glanced
towards the window through which was visible a discouraging fog of the
Lady Arabella sniffed.
"You'd better be careful for once in your life, Magda. Davilof is in
love with you."
"Pouf! What if he is?"
Magda rose, and picking up her big black hat set it on her head at
precisely the right angle, and proceeded to spear it through with a
wonderful black-and-gold hatpin of Chinese workmanship.
Lady Arabella shot a swift glance at her.
"He's just one of a crowd?" she suggested tartly.
Magda assented indifferently.
"You're wrong--quite wrong," returned her godmother crisply. "Antoine
Davilof is not one of a crowd--never will be! He's half a Pole,
"And I'm half a Russian. It must be a case of deep calling to deep,"
she suggested mockingly.
Lady Arabella's shining needles clicked as they came to an abrupt
"Does that mean you're in love with him?" she asked.
"Good gracious, no! I'm never in love. You know that."
"That doesn't prevent my hoping you may develop--some day--into a
normal God-fearing woman," retorted the other.
"And learn to thank heaven, fasting, for a good man's love?" Magda
laughed lightly. "I shan't. At least, I hope not. Judging from my
friends and acquaintances, the condition of being in love is a most
unpleasant one--reduces a woman to a humiliating sense of her own
unworthiness and keeps her in a see-saw state of emotional
uncertainty. No, thank you! No man is worth it!"
Lady Arabella looked away. Her hard, bright old eyes held a sudden
wistfulness foreign to them.
"My dear--one man is. One man in every woman's life is worth it. Only
we don't always find it out in time."
"Why, Marraine--you don't mean--you weren't ever----"
Lady Arabella rose suddenly and came across to where Magda stood by
the fire, one narrow foot extended to the cheerful warmth.
"Never mind what I mean," she said, and her voice sounded a little
uncertain. "Only, if it comes your way, don't miss the best thing this
queer old world of ours has to offer. If it brings you nothing else,
love at least leaves you memories. Even that's something."
Magda glanced at her curiously. Somehow she had never imagined that
behind the worldly-wise old woman's sharp speeches and grim, ironic
humour there lay the half-buried memory of some far-distant romance.
Yet now in the uneven tones of her voice she recognised the throb of
an old wound.
"And meanwhile"--Lady Arabella suddenly resumed in her usual curt
manner--"meanwhile you might play fair with one or two of those boys
you have trailing around--Kit Raynham for instance."
"I don't understand," began Magda.
"You understand perfectly. A man of the world's fair game. He can look
after himself--and probably sizes you up for what you are--a
phenomenally successful dancer, who regards her little court of
admirers as one of the commonplaces of existence--like her morning cup
of tea. But these boys--they look upon you as a woman, even a possible
wife. And then they proceed to fall in love with you!"
Magda's foot tapped impatiently on the floor.
"What's this all leading up to?"
Lady Arabella met her glance squarely.
"I want you to leave Kit Raynham alone. His mother has been to me--
Magda, I'm sick of having their mothers come to me!--and begged me to
interfere. She says you're ruining the boy's prospects. He's a
brilliant lad, and they expect him to do something rather special. And
now he's slacking completely. He's always on your doorstep. If you
care about him--do you, Magda?--tell him so. But, if you don't, for
goodness' sake send him about his business."
She waited quietly for an answer. Magda slipped into a big fur-coat
and caught up her gloves. Then she turned to her godmother abruptly.
"Lady Raynham is absurd. I can't prevent Kit's making a fool of
himself if he wants to. And--and"--rather helplessly--"I can't help it
if I don't fall in love to order." She kissed her godmother lightly.
"So that's that."
A minute later Lady Arabella's butler had swung open the front door,
and Magda crossed the pavement and entered her waiting car.
Outside, the fog hung like a thick pall over London--thick enough to
curtain the windows of the car with a blank, grey veil and to make
progress through the streets a difficult and somewhat dangerous
process. Magda snuggled into her furs and leant back against the
padded cushions. All sight of the outside world was cut off from her,
except for the blurred gleam of an occasional street-lamp or the
menacing shape of a motor-bus looming suddenly alongside, and she
yielded herself to the train of thought provoked by her talk with Lady
In a detached sort of way she felt sorry about Kit Raynham--
principally because Lady Arabella, of whom she was exceedingly fond,
seemed vexed about the matter. It had not taken her long to discover,
when as a child she had come to live with her godmother, the warm
heart that concealed itself beneath the old lady's somewhat shrewish
exterior. And to Lady Arabella the advent of her god-child had been a
matter for pure rejoicing.
Having no children of her own, she lavished a pent-up wealth of
affection upon Magda of which few would have thought her capable, and
though she was by no means niggardly in her blame of Hugh Vallincourt
for his method of shelving his responsibilities, she was grateful that
his withdrawal into the monastic life had been the means of throwing
Magda into her care. Five years later, when death claimed him, she
found he had appointed her the child's sole guardian.
True to her intention, she had asked the opinion of Lydia Tchinova,
the famous dancer, and under Madame Tchinova's guidance Magda had
received such training that when she came to make her debut she leaped
into fame at once. Hers was one of those rare cases where the initial
drudgery and patient waiting that attends so many careers was
practically eliminated, and at the age of twenty she was probably the
most talked-of woman in London.
She had discarded the family surname for professional purposes, and
appeared in public under the name of Wielitzska--"to save the reigning
Vallincourts from a soul convulsion," as she observed with a twinkle.
During the last year, influenced by the growing demands of her
vocation, she had quitted her godmother's hospitable roof and
established herself in a house of her own.
Nor had Lady Arabella sought to dissuade her. Although she and Magda
were the best of friends, she had latterly found the onus of
chaperoning her god-child an increasingly heavy burden. As she herself
remarked: "You might as well attempt to chaperon a comet!"
It was almost inevitable that Magda, starred and feted wherever she
went, should develop into a rather erratic and self-willed young
person, but on the whole she had remained singularly unspoilt. Side by
side with her gift for dancing she had also inherited something of her
mother's sweetness and wholesomeness of nature. There was nothing
petty or mean about her, and many a struggling member of her own
profession had had good cause to thank "the Wielitzska" for a helping
Women found in her a good pal; men, an elusive, provocative
personality that bewitched and angered them in the same breath, coolly
accepting all they had to offer of love and headlong worship--and
giving nothing in return.
It was not in the least that Magda deliberately set herself to wile a
man's heart out of his body. She seemed unable to help it! Apart from
everything else, her dancing had taught her the whole magic of the art
of charming by every look and gesture, and the passage of time had
only added to the extraordinary physical allure which had been hers
even as a child.
Yet for all the apparent warmth and ardour of her temperament, to
which the men she knew succumbed in spite of themselves, she herself
seemed untouched by any deeper emotion than that of a faintly amused
desire to attract. The lessons of her early days, the tragedy of her
mother's married life, had permeated her whole being, and her ability
to remain emotionally unstirred was due to an instinctive reserve and
self-withdrawal--an inherent distrust of the passion of love.
/"Take everything. But do not give--anything--in return."/
Subconsciously Diane's words, wrested from her at a moment of poignant
mental anguish, formed the credo of her daughter's life.
No man, so far, had ever actually counted for anything in Magda's
scheme of existence, and as she drove slowly home from Lady Arabella's
house in Park Lane she sincerely hoped none ever would. Certainly--she
smiled a little at the bare idea--Kit Raynham was not destined to be
the man! He was clever, and enthusiastic, and adoring, and she liked
him quite a lot, but his hot-headed passion failed to waken in her
breast the least spark of responsive emotion.
Her thoughts drifted idly backward, recalling this or that man who had
wanted her. It was odd, but of all the men she had met the memory of
one alone was still provocative of a genuine thrill of interest--and
that was the unknown artist whom she had encountered in the woods at
Even now, after the lapse of ten years, she could remember the young,
lean, square-jawed face with the grey eyes, "like eyes with little
fires behind them," and hear again the sudden jerky note in the man's
voice as he muttered, "Witch-child!"
That brief adventure with "Saint Michel"--she remembered calling him
"Saint Michel"--stood out as one of the clearest memories of her
childhood. That, and the memory of her mother, kneeling on the big
bearskin rug and saying in a hard, dry voice: "Never give your heart
to any man. Take everything. But do not give--anything--in return."
OUT OF THE FOG
A sudden warning shout, the transient glare of fog-blurred headlights,
then a crash and a staggering blow on the car's near side which sent
it reeling like a drunken thing, bonnet foremost, straight into a
Magda felt herself pitched violently forward off the seat, striking
her head as she fell, and while the car yet rocked with the force of
its collision with the motor-bus another vehicle drove blindly into it
from the rear. It lurched sickeningly and jammed at a precarious
angle, canted up on two wheels.
Shouts and cries, the frenzied hooting of horns, the grinding of
brakes and clash of splintered glass combined into a pandemonium of
Magda, half-dazed with shock, crouched on the floor of the car where
she had been flung. She could see the lights appearing and
disappearing in the fog like baleful eyes opening and shutting
spasmodically. A tumult of hoarse cries, cursing and bellowing
instructions, crossed by the thin scream of women's cries, battered
against her ears.
Then out of the medley of raucous noise came a cool, assured voice:
"Don't be frightened. I'll get you out."
Magda was conscious of a sudden reaction from the numbed sense of
bewildered terror which had overwhelmed her. The sound of that unknown
voice--quiet, commanding, and infinitely reassuring--was like a hand
laid on her heart and stilling its terrified throbbing.
She heard someone tugging at the handle of the door. There came a
moment's pause while the strained woodwork resisted the pull, then
with a scrape of jarring fittings the door jerked open and a man's
figure loomed in the aperture.
"Where are you?" he asked, peering through the dense gloom. "Ah!" She
felt his outstretched hands close on her shoulders as she knelt
huddled on the floor. "Can you get up? Or are you hurt?"
Magda tested her limbs cautiously, to discover that no bones were
broken, though her head ached horribly, so that she felt sick and
giddy with the pain.
"No, I'm not hurt," she answered.
"Then come along. The car's heeled up a bit, but I'll lift you out if
you can get to the door."
She stumbled forward obediently, groping her way towards the vague
panel of lighter grey revealed by the open door.
Once more, out of the swathing fog, hands touched her.
"There you are! That's right. Now lean forward."
She found herself clasped by arms like steel--so strong, so sure, that
she felt as safe and secure as when Vladimir Ravinski, the amazingly
clever young Russian who partnered her in several of her dances,
sometimes lifted her, lightly and easily as a feather, and bore her
triumphantly off the stage aloft on his shoulder.
"You're very strong," she murmured, as the unknown owner of the arms
swung her down from the tilted car.
"You're not very heavy," came the answer. There was a kind of laughter
in the voice.
As the man spoke he set her down on her feet, and then, just as Magda
was opening her lips to thank him, the fog seemed to grow suddenly
denser, swirling round her in great murky waves and surging in her
ears with a noise like the boom of the ocean. Higher and higher rose
the waves, a resistless sea of blackness, and at last they swept right
over her head and she sank into the utter darkness of oblivion.
Someone was holding a glass to her lips and the pungent smell of sal
volatile pricked her nostrils. Magda shrank back, her eyes still shut,
and pressed her head further into the cushions against which it
rested. She detested the smell of sal volatile.
"Drink it! Do you hear?"
The voice seemed to drive at her with its ring of command. She opened
her eyes and looked straight up into other eyes--dark-grey ones, these
--that were bent on her intently. To her confused consciousness they
appeared to blaze down at her.
"No," she muttered, feebly trying to push the glass away.
The effort of moving her arm seemed stupendous. Her head swam with it.
The sea of fog came rolling back again, and this time she sank under
it at once.
Then--after an immensity of time, she was sure--she felt herself
struggling up to the surface once more. She was lying rocking gently
on the top of the waves now; the sensation was very peaceful and
pleasant. A little breeze played across her face. She drew in deep
breaths of the cool air, but she did not open her eyes. Presently a
murmur of voices penetrated her consciousness.
"She's coming round again." A man was speaking. "Go on fanning her."
"Poor young thing! She's had a shaking up and no mistake!" This in a
woman's voice, very kindly and commiserating. A hand lightly smoothed
the fur of her coat-sleeve. "Looks as if she was a rich young lady.
Her people must be anxious about her."
Someone laughed a little, softly.
"Oh, yes, she's a rich enough young lady, Mrs. Braithwaite. Don't you
know who it is we've rescued?"
"I, sir? No. How should I?"
"Then I'll tell you. This is Mademoiselle Wielitzska, the famous
"Never, sir! Well, I do declare----"
"Now, drink this at once, please." The man's voice cut sharply across
the impending flow of garrulous interest, and Magda, who had not
gathered the actual sense of the murmured conversation, felt an arm
pass behind her head, raising it a little, while once more that
hateful glass of sal volatile was held to her lips.
Her eyes unclosed fretfully.
"Take it away," she was beginning.
"Drink it! Do you hear? Do as you're told!"
The sharp, authoritative tones startled her into sudden compliance.
She opened her mouth and swallowed the contents of the glass with a
gulp. Then she looked resentfully at the man whose curt command she
had obeyed in such unexpected fashion. Magda Wielitzska was more used
to giving orders than to taking them.
"There, that's better," he observed, regarding the empty glass with
satisfaction. "No, lie still"--as she attempted to rise. "You'll feel
better in a few minutes."
"I'm better now," declared Magda sulkily.
Her head was growing clearer every minute. She was even able to feel
an intense irritation against this man who had just compelled her to
drink the sal volatile.
He looked at her unperturbedly.
"Are you? That's good. Still, you'll stay where you are till I tell
you that you may get up." He turned to a comfortable-looking woman who
was standing at the foot of the couch on which Magda lay--a
housekeeper of the nice old-fashioned black-satin kind. "Now, Mrs.
Braithwaite, I think this lady will be glad of a cup of tea by the
time you can have one ready."
"Very good, sir."
With a last, admiring glance at the slender figure on the couch the
good woman bustled away, leaving Magda alone with her unknown host and
burning with indignation at the cool way in which he had ordered her
to remain where she was.
He had his back to her for the moment, having turned to poke up the
fire, and Magda raised herself on her elbow, preparatory to getting
off the couch. He swung round instantly.
"I told you to stay where you were," he said peremptorily.
"I don't always do as I'm told," she retorted with spirit.
"You will in this instance, though," he rejoined, crossing the room
swiftly towards her.
But quick though he was, she was still quicker. Her eyes blazing
defiance, she slipped from the couch and stood up before he could
reach her side. She took a step forward.
"There!" she began defiantly. The next moment the whole room seemed to
swim round her as she tottered weakly and would have fallen had he not
"What did I tell you?" he said sharply. "You're not fit to stand."
Without more ado he lifted her up in his arms and deposited her again
on the couch.
"I--I only turned a little giddy," she protested feebly.
"Precisely. Just as I thought you would. Another time, perhaps, you'll
He stood looking down at her with curiously brilliant grey eyes. Magda
almost winced under their penetrating glance. She felt as though they
could see into her very soul, and she summoned up all her courage to
combat the man's strange force.
"I'm not used to obeying orders," she said impatiently.
"No?"--with complete indifference. "Then it will be a salutary
experience for you. Now, lie still until tea comes. I have a letter to
He walked away and, seating himself at a desk in the window, appeared
to forget all about her, while his pen travelled swiftly over the
sheet of notepaper he had drawn towards him.
Magda watched him with rebellious eyes. Gradually, however, the
rebellion died out of them, replaced by a puzzled look of interest.
There was something vaguely familiar about the man. Had she ever seen
him before? Or was it merely one of those chance resemblances which
one comes across occasionally? That fair hair with its crisp wave, the
lean, square-jawed face, above all, the dark-grey eyes with their
bright, penetrating glance--why did she feel as though every detail of
the face were already known to her?
She failed to place the resemblance, however, and finally, with a
little sigh of fatigue, she gave up the attempt. Her brain still felt
muddled and confused from the blow she had received. Perhaps later she
would be able to think things out more clearly.
Meanwhile she lay still, her eyes resting languidly on the face that
so puzzled her. It was not precisely a handsome face, but there was a
certain rugged fineness in its lines that lifted it altogether out of
the ruck of the ordinary. It held its contradictions, too.
Notwithstanding the powerful, determined jaw, the mouth had a
sensitive upward curve at the corners which gave it an expression of
singular sweetness, and beneath the eyes were little lines which
qualified their dominating glance with a hint of whimsical humour.
The clock ticked on solemnly. Presently Mrs. Braithwaite bustled in
with the tea and withdrew again. But the man remained absorbed in his
writing, apparently oblivious of everything else.
Magda, who was rapidly recovering, eyed the teapot longingly. She was
just wondering whether she dared venture to draw his attention to its
arrival or whether he would snap her head off if she did, when he
looked up suddenly with that swift, hawk-like glance of his.
"Ready for some tea?" he queried.
"Yes. Am I"--sarcastically--"allowed to get up now?"
He surveyed her consideringly.
"No, I think not," he said at last. "But as the mountain can't go to
Mahomet, Mahomet shall come to the mountain."
He crossed the room and, while Magda was still wondering what he
proposed to do, he stooped and dexterously wheeled the couch with its
light burden close up to the tea-table.
"Now, I'll fix these cushions," he said. And with deft hands he
rearranged the cushions so that they should support her comfortably
while she drank her tea.
"You would make a very good nurse, I should think," commented Magda,
"Thanks," was all he vouchsafed in answer.
He busied himself pouring out tea, then brought her cup and placed it
beside her on a quaint little table of Chinese Chippendale.
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