The Lamp of Fate
Part 2 out of 7
"Mrs. Braithwaite--my housekeeper--is looking after your chauffeur in
the kitchen," he observed presently. "Possibly you may be interested
to hear"--sarcastically--"that he wasn't hurt in the smash-up."
Magda felt herself flushing a little under the implied rebuke--as much
with annoyance as anything else. She knew that she was not really the
heartless type of woman he inferred her to be, to whom the fate of her
dependents was only of importance in so far as it affected her own
personal comfort, and she resented the injustice of his assumption
that she was.
She had been so bewildered and dazed by the suddenness of the accident
and by the blow she herself had received that she had hardly yet
collected her thoughts sufficiently to envisage the possible
consequences to others.
With feminine perverseness she promptly decided that nothing would
induce her to explain matters. If this detestably superior individual
chose to think her utterly heartless and selfish--why, let him think
"And the car?" she asked in a tone of deliberate indifference. "That's
quite as important as the chauffeur."
"More so, surely?"--with polite irony. "The car, I am sorry to say,
will take a good deal of repairing. At present it's still in the
middle of the street with red lights fore and aft. It can't be moved
till the fog lifts."
"What a nuisance! How on earth am I to get home?"
"There are such things as taxis"--suggestively. "Later, when it clears
a bit, I'll send out for one."
"Thanks. I'm afraid I'm giving you a lot of trouble."
He did not hastily disclaim the idea as most men would have done.
"That can't be helped," he returned bluntly.
Magda felt herself colouring again. This man was insufferable!
"Evidently the role of knight-errant is new to you," she observed.
"Quite true. I'm not in the habit of rescuing damsels in distress. But
how did you guess?"--with interest.
"Because you do it with such a very bad grace," she flashed at him.
He smiled--and once more Magda was aware of the sense of familiarity
even with that whimsical, crooked smile.
"I see," he replied composedly. "Then you think I ought to have been
overwhelmed with delight that your car cannoned into my bus--
incidentally I barked my shins badly in the general mix-up--and that I
had to haul you out and bring you round from a faint and so on?"
The question--without trimmings--was unanswerable. But to Magda,
London's spoiled child, conscious that there were men who would have
given half their fortune for the chance to render a like service, and
then counted themselves amply rewarded by the subsequent hour or two
alone with her, the question was merely provocative.
"Some men would have been," she returned calmly.
"Ah! Just because you are the Wielitzska, I suppose?"
She stared at him in blank astonishment.
"You knew--you knew who I was all the time?" she gasped.
"Certainly I knew."
"Then why wasn't I suitably impressed?" he suggested drily.
She sprang to her feet.
"Oh! you are intolerable!" she exclaimed hotly. "You know I didn't
He regarded her quite placidly.
"You did. That is precisely what you were thinking. Only you funked
putting it into plain words."
He got up and came to her side and stood looking down at her.
"Isn't it a fact?" he insisted. "Isn't it?"
Magda looked up, tried to answer in the negative and failed. He had
spoken the simple truth and she knew it. But none the less she hated
him for it--hated him for driving her up into a corner and trying to
force an acknowledgment from her. She remained obstinately silent.
He turned away with a short, amused laugh.
"So you haven't even the courage of your convictions," he commented.
Magda clenched her hands, driving the nails hard into the soft palms
of them. He was an absolute boor, this man who had come to her rescue
in the fog! He was taking a brutal advantage of their relative
positions to speak to her as no man had ever dared to speak to her
before. Or woman either! Even old Lady Arabella would hardly have
thrust the naked truth so savagely under her eyes.
And now he had as good as told her that she was a coward! Well, at
least he should not have the satisfaction of finding he was right in
that respect. She walked straight up to him, her small head held high,
in her dark eyes a smouldering fire of fierce resentment.
"So that is what you think, is it?" she said in a low voice of bitter
anger. "Well, I /have/ the courage of my convictions." She paused.
Then, with an effort: "Yes, I did think you weren't 'suitably
impressed,' as you put it. You are perfectly right."
He threw her a swift glance of surprise. Presumably he hadn't
anticipated such a candid acknowledgment, but even so he showed no
disposition to lay down the probe.
"You didn't think it possible that anyone could meet the Wielitzska
without regarding the event as a piece of stupendous good luck and
being appropriately overjoyed, did you?" he pursued relentlessly.
Magda pressed her lips together. Then, with an effort:
"No," she admitted.
"And so, just because I treated you as I would any other woman, and
made no pretence of fatuous delight over your presence here, you
supposed I must be ignorant of your identity? Was that it?"
Magda writhed under the cool, ironical questioning with its
undercurrent of keen contempt. Each word stung like the flick of a
lash on bare flesh. But she forced herself to answer--and to answer
"Yes," she said very low. "That was it."
He shrugged his shoulders and turned away.
"Comment is superfluous, I think."
She made an impulsive step towards him.
For some unfathomable reason she minded--minded intensely--that this
man should hold her in such poor esteem. She wanted to put herself
right with him, to justify her attitude in his eyes.
"Have you ever seen me dance?" she asked abruptly.
Surely if he had ever seen that wonderful artistry which she knew was
hers, witnessed the half-crazy enthusiasm with which her audience
received her, he would make allowance, judge her a little less harshly
for what was, after all, a very natural assumption on the part of a
An expression of unwilling admiration came into his eyes.
"Have I seen you dance?" he repeated. "Yes, I have. Several times."
He did not add--which would have been no more than the truth--that
during her last winter's season at the Imperial Theatre he had hardly
missed a dozen performances.
"Then--then----" Magda spoke with a kind of incredulous appeal. "Can't
you understand--just a little?"
"Oh, I understand. I understand perfectly. You've been spoilt and
idolised to such an extent that it seems incredible to you to find a
man who doesn't immediately fall down and worship you."
Magda twisted her hands together. Once more he was thrusting at her
with the rapier of truth. And it hurt--hurt inexplicably.
"Yes, I believe that's--almost true," she acknowledged falteringly.
"But if you understand so well, couldn't you--can't you"--with a swift
supplicating smile--"be a little more merciful?"
"No. I--I /hate/ your type of woman!"
There was an undertone of passion in his voice. It was almost as
though he were fighting against some impulse within himself and the
fierceness of the struggle had wrung from him that quick, unvarnished
"Then you despise dancers?"
"Despise? On the contrary, I revere a dancer--the dancer who is a
genuine artist." He paused, then went on speaking thoughtfully.
"Dancing, to my mind, is one of the most consistent expressions of
beauty. It's the sheer symmetry and grace of that body which was made
in God's own likeness developed to the utmost limit of human
perfection. . . . And the dancer who desecrates the temple of his body
is punished proportionately. No art is a harder taskmistress than the
art of dancing."
Magda listened breathlessly. This man understood--oh, he understood!
Then why did he "hate her type of woman"?
Almost as though he had read her thoughts he pursued:
"As a dancer, an artist--I acknowledge the Wielitzska to be supreme.
But as a woman----"
"Yes? As a woman? Go on. What do you know about me as a woman?"
He laughed disagreeably.
"I'd judge that in the making of you your soul got left out," he said
Magda forced a smile.
"I'm afraid I'm very stupid. Do you mind explaining?"
"Does it need explanation?"
"Then--one of my best pals was a man who loved you."
Magda threw him a glance of veiled mockery from beneath her long white
"Surely that should be a recommendation--something in my favour?"
His eyes hardened.
"If you had dealt honestly with him, it might have been. But you drew
him on, /made/ him care for you in spite of himself. And then, when he
was yours, body and soul, you turned him down! Turned him down--
pretended you were surprised--you'd never meant anything! All the old
rotten excuses a woman offers when she has finished playing with a man
and got bored with him. . . . I've no place for your kind of woman. I
tell you"--his tone deepening in intensity--"the wife of any common
labourer, who cooks and washes and sews for her man day in, day out,
is worth a dozen of you! She knows that love's worth having and worth
working for. And she works. You don't. Women like you take a man's
soul and play with it, and when you've defiled and defaced it out of
all likeness to the soul God gave him, you hand it back to him and
think you clear yourself by saying you 'didn't mean it'!"
The bitter speech, harsh with the deeply rooted pain and resentment
which had prompted it, battered through Magda's weak defences and
found her helpless and unarmed. Once she had uttered a faint cry of
protest, tried to check him, but he had not heeded it. After that she
had listened with bent head, her breath coming and going unevenly.
When he had finished, the face she lifted to him was white as milk and
her mouth trembled.
"Thanks. Well, I've heard my character now," she said unsteadily. "I--
I didn't know anyone thought of me--like that."
He stared at her--at the drooping lines of her figure, the quivering
lips, at the half-stunned expression of the dark eyes. And suddenly
realisation of the enormity of all he had said seemed to come to him.
But he did not appear to be at all overwhelmed by it.
"I'm afraid I've transgressed beyond forgiveness now," he said curtly.
"But--you rather asked for it, you know, didn't you?"
"Yes," she admitted. "I think I did--ask for it." Suddenly she threw
up her head and faced him. "If--if it's any satisfaction to you to
know it, I think you've paid off at least some of your friend's
score." She looked at him with a curious, almost piteous surprise.
"You--you've hurt me!" she whispered passionately. She turned to the
door. "I'll go now."
"No!" He stopped her with a hand on her arm, and she obeyed his touch
submissively. For a moment he stood looking down at her with an oddly
conflicting expression on his face. It was as though he were arguing
out some point with himself. All at once he seemed to come to a
"Look, you can't go till the fog clears a bit. Suppose we call a
truce? Sit down here"--pulling forward a big easy-chair--"and for the
rest of your visit let's behave as though we didn't heartily
disapprove of one another."
Magda sank into the chair with that supple grace of limb which made it
sheer delight to watch her movements.
"I never said I disapproved of you," she remarked.
He seated himself opposite her, on the other side of the hearth, and
regarded her quizzically.
"No. But you do, all the same. Naturally, you would after my candour!
And I'd rather you did, too," he added abruptly. "But at least you've
no more devoted admirer of your art. You know, dancing appeals to me
in a way that nothing else does. My job's painting--"
"House-painting?" interpolated Magda with a smile. Her spirits were
rising a little under his new kindliness of manner.
He laughed with sudden boyishness and nodded gaily.
"Why, yes--so long as people continue to cover their wall-space with
portraits of themselves."
Magda wondered whether he was possibly a well-known painter. But he
gave her no chance to find out, for he continued speaking almost at
"I love my art--but a still, flat canvas, however beautifully painted,
isn't comparable with the moving, living interpretation of beauty
possible to a dancer. I remember, years ago--ten years, quite--seeing
a kiddy dancing in a wood." Magda leaned forward. "It was the
prettiest thing imaginable. She was all by herself, a little, thin,
black-and-white wisp of a thing, with a small, tense face and eyes
like black smudges. And she danced as though it were more natural to
her than walking. I got her to pose for me at the foot of a tree. The
picture of her was my first real success. So you see, I've good reason
to be grateful to one dancer!"
Magda caught her breath. She knew now why the man's face had seemed so
familiar! He was the artist she had met in the wood at Coverdale the
day Sieur Hugh had beaten her--her /"Saint Michel"/! She was conscious
of a queer little thrill of excitement as the truth dawned upon her.
"What was the picture called?" she asked, forcing herself to speak
"'The Repose of Titania.'"
She nodded. The picture was a very well-known one. Everybody knew by
whom it had been painted.
"Then you must be Michael Quarrington?"
"Yes. So now, we've been introduced, haven't we?"
It seemed almost as if he had repented of his former churlish manner,
and were endeavouring to atone for it. He talked to her about his work
a little, then slid easily into the allied topics of music and books.
Finally he took her into an adjoining room, and showed her a small,
beloved collection of coloured prints which he had gathered together,
recounting various amusing little incidents which had attended the
acquisition of this or that one among them with much gusto and a
certain quaint humour that she was beginning to recognise as
Magda, to whom the study of old prints was by no means an unknown
territory, was thoroughly entertained. She found herself enthusing,
discussing, arguing points, in a happy spirit of /camaraderie/ with
her host which, half an hour earlier, she would have believed
The end came abruptly. Quarrington chanced to glance out of the window
where the street lamps were now glimmering serenely through a clear
dusk. The fog had lifted.
"Perhaps it's just as well," he said shortly. "I was beginning--" He
checked himself and glanced at her with a sudden stormy light in his
"Beginning--what?" she asked a little breathlessly. The atmosphere had
all at once grown tense with some unlooked-for stress of emotion.
"Shall I tell you?"
"I was beginning to forget that you're the 'type of woman I hate,'"
he said. And strode out of the room, leaving her startled and
When he came back he had completely reassumed his former non-committal
"There's a taxi waiting for you," he announced. "It's perfectly clear
outside now, so I think you will be spared any further adventures on
your way home."
He accompanied her into the hall, and as they shook hands she murmured
a little diffidently:
"Perhaps we shall meet again some time?"
He drew back sharply.
"No, we shan't meet again." There was something purposeful, almost
vehemently so, in the curtly spoken words. "If I had thought that----"
"Yes?" she prompted. "If you had?"
"If I'd thought that," he said quietly, "I shouldn't have dared to
risk this last half-hour."
A momentary silence fell between them. Then, with a shrug, he added
"But we shan't meet again. I'm leaving England next week. That settles
Without giving her time to make any rejoinder he opened the street-
door and stood aside for her to pass out. A minute later she was in
the taxi, and he was standing bare-headed on the pavement beside it.
"Good-bye," she said. "Good-bye--/Saint Michel/."
His hand closed round hers in a grip that almost crushed the slender
"/You/!" he cried hoarsely. There was a note of sudden, desperate
recognition in his voice. "/You/!"
As Magda smiled into his startled eyes--the grey eyes that had burned
their way into her memory ten years ago--the taxi slid away into the
With a grinding of brakes the taxi slowed up and came to a standstill
at Friars' Holm, the quaint old Queen Anne house which Magda had
acquired in north London.
Once within the high wall enclosing the old-world garden in which it
stood, it was easy enough to imagine oneself a hundred miles from
town. Fir and cedar sentinelled the house, and in the centre of the
garden there was a lawn of wonderful old turf, hedged round in summer
by a riot of roses so that it gleamed like a great square emerald set
in a jewelled frame.
Magda entered the house and, crossing the cheerfully lit hall, threw
open the door of a room whence issued the sound of someone--obviously
a first-rate musician--playing the piano.
As she opened the door the twilight, shot by quivering spears of light
from the fire's dancing flames, seemed to rush out at her, bearing
with it the mournful, heart-shaking music of some Russian melody.
Magda uttered a soft, half-amused exclamation of impatience and
switched on the lights.
"All in the dark, Davilof?" she asked in a practical tone of voice
calculated to disintegrate any possible fabric of romance woven of
firelight and fifths.
The flood of electric light revealed a large, lofty room, devoid of
furniture except for a few comfortable chairs grouped together at one
end of it, and for a magnificent grand piano at the other. The room
appeared doubly large by reason of the fact that the whole of one wall
was taken up by four immense panels of looking-glass, cleverly fitted
together so that in effect the entire wall was composed of a single
enormous mirror. It was in front of this mirror that Magda practised.
The remaining three walls were hung with priceless old tapestry woven
of sombre green and greys.
As she entered the room a man rose quickly from the piano and came
forward to meet her. There was a kind of repressed eagerness in the
action, as though he had been waiting with impatience for her coming.
He was a striking-looking man, tall, and built with the slender-limbed
grace of a foreigner. Golden-brown hair, worn rather longer than
fashion dictates, waved crisply over his head, and the moustache and
small Vandyck beard which partially concealed the lower part of his
face were of the same warmly golden colour.
The word "musician" was written all over him--in the supple, capable
hands, in the careless stoop of his loosely knit shoulders, and, more
than all, in the imaginative hazel eyes with their curious mixture of
abstraction and fire. They rather suggested lightning playing over
some dreaming pool.
Magda shook hands with him carelessly.
"We shall have to postpone the practice as I'm so late, Davilof," she
said. "I had a smash-up in the fog. My car ran into a bus--"
"And you are hurt?" Davilof broke in sharply, his voice edged with
"No, no. I was stunned for a minute and then afterwards I fainted, but
I'm quite intact otherwise."
"You are sure--sure?"
"Quite." Hearing the keen anxiety in his tone she smiled at him
reassuringly and held out a friendly hand. "I'm all right--really,
He took the hand in both his.
"Thank God!" he said fervently.
Antoine Davilof had lived so long in England that he spoke without
trace of accent, though he sometimes gave an unEnglish twist to the
phrasing of a sentence, but his quick emotion and the simplicity with
which he made no effort to conceal it stamped him unmistakably as a
A little touched, Magda allowed her hand to remain in his.
"Why, Davilof!" She chided him laughingly. "You're quite absurdly
upset about it."
"I could not have borne it if you had been hurt," he declared
vehemently. "You ought not to go about by yourself. It's horrible to
think of /you/--in a street accident--alone!"
"But I wasn't alone. A man who was in the other half of the accident--
the motor-bus half--played the good Samaritan and carried me into his
house, which happened to be close by. He looked after me very well, I
Davilof released her hand abruptly. His face darkened.
"And this man? Who was he?" he demanded jealously. "I hate to think of
any man--a stranger--touching you."
"Nonsense! Would you have preferred me to remain lying in the middle
of the road?"
"You know I would not. But I'd rather some woman had looked after you.
Do you know who the man was?"
"I did not--at first."
"But you do now. Who was it?"
"No one you know, I think," she answered provokingly. His eyes
"Why are you making a mystery about it?" he asked suspiciously.
"You're keeping something from me! Who was this man? Tell me his
"My dear Antoine! Why this air of high tragedy?" she said lightly.
"And what on earth has it to do with you who the man was?"
"You know what it has to do with me----"
"With my accompanist?"--raising her brows delicately.
"No!"--with sudden violence--"With the man who loves you! I'm that--
and you know it, Magda! Could I play for you as I do if I did not
understand your every mood and emotion? You know I couldn't! And then
you ask what it matters to me when some unknown man has held you in
his arms, carried you into his house--kissed you, perhaps, while you
were unconscious!"--his imagination running suddenly riot.
"Stop! You're going too far!" Magda checked him sharply. "You're
always telling me you love me. I don't want to hear it." She paused,
then added cruelly: "I want you for playing my accompaniments,
Davilof. That's all. Do you understand?"
His eyes blazed. With a quick movement he stepped in front of her.
"I'm a man--as well as an accompanist," he said hoarsely. "One day
you'll have to reckon with the man, Magda!"
There was a new, unaccustomed quality in his voice. Hitherto she had
not taken his ardour very seriously. He was a Pole and a musician,
with all the temperament that might be expected from such a
combination, and she had let it go at that, pushing his love aside
with the careless hand of a woman to whom the incense of men's
devotion has been so freely offered as to have become commonplace. But
now the new ring of determination, of something unexpectedly dogged in
his voice, poignantly recalled the warning uttered by Lady Arabella
earlier in the day.
Magda's nerve wavered. A momentary panic assailed her. Then she
intuitively struck the right note.
"Ah, Davilof, don't worry me now--not to-night!" she said appealingly.
"I'm tired. It's been a bit of a strain--the accident and--and----"
"Forgive me!" In a moment he was all penitence--overwhelmed with
compunction. "Forget it! I've behaved like a brute. I ought to have
seen that you were worn out."
He was beside himself with remorse.
"It's all right, Antoine." She smiled forgiveness at him. "Only I felt
--I felt I couldn't stand any more to-night. I suppose it's taken it
out of me more than I knew--the shock, and fainting like that."
"Of course it has. You ought to rest. I wish Mrs. Grey were in."
"Is she not?"
"No. The maid told me she was out when I came, and she hasn't returned
"She's been held up by the fog, I expect," answered Magda. "Never
mind. I'll sit here--in this big chair--and you shall switch off these
glaring lights and play to me, Antoine. That will rest me better than
She was a little sorry for the man--trying to make up to him for the
pain she knew she had inflicted a moment before, and there was a
dangerous sweetness in her voice.
Davilof's eyes kindled. He stooped swiftly and kissed her hand.
"You are too good to me!" he said huskily.
Then, while she lay back restfully in a chair which he heaped with
cushions for her, he played to her, improvising as he played--slow,
dreaming melodies that soothed and lulled but held always an undertone
of passionate appeal. The man himself spoke in his music; his love
pleaded with her in its soft, beseeching cadences.
But Magda failed to hear it. Her thoughts were elsewhere--back with
the man who, that afternoon, had first rescued her and afterwards
treated her with blunt candour that had been little less than brutal.
She felt sore and resentful--smarting under the same dismayed sense of
surprise and injustice as a child may feel who receives a blow instead
of an anticipated caress.
Indulged and flattered by everyone with whom she came in contact, it
had been like a slap in the face to find someone--more particularly
someone of the masculine persuasion--who, far from bestowing the
admiration and homage she had learned to look for as a right, quite
openly regarded her with contemptuous disapproval--and made no bones
about telling her so.
His indictment of her had left nothing to the imagination. She felt
stunned, and, for the first time in her life, a little unwilling doubt
of herself assaulted her. Was she really anything at all like the
woman Michael Quarrington had pictured? A woman without heart or
conscience--the "kind of woman he had no place for"?
She winced a little at the thought. It was strange how much she minded
his opinion--the opinion of a man whom she had only met by chance and
whom she was very unlikely ever to meet again. He himself had
certainly evinced no anxiety to renew the acquaintance. And this, too,
fretted her in some unaccountable way.
She could not analyse her own emotions. She felt hurt and angry and
ashamed in the same breath--and all because an unknown man, an
absolute stranger, had told her in no measured terms exactly what he
thought of her!
Only--he was not really quite a stranger! He was the "Saint Michel" of
her childhood days, the man with whom she had unconsciously compared
those other men whom the passing years had brought into her life--and
always to their disadvantage.
The first time she had seen him in the woods at Coverdale was the day
when Hugh Vallincourt had beaten her; she had been smarting with the
physical pain and humiliation of it. And now, this second time they
had met, she had been once more forced to endure that strange and
unaccustomed experience called pain. Only this time she felt as though
her soul had been beaten, and it was Saint Michel himself who had
The door at the far end of the room opened suddenly and a welcome
voice broke cheerfully across the bitter current of her thoughts.
"Well, here I am at last! Has Magda arrived home yet?"
Davilof ceased playing abruptly and the speaker paused on the
threshold of the room, peering into the dusk. Magda rose from her seat
by the fire and switched on one of the electric burners.
"Yes, here I am," she said. "Did you get held up by the fog, Gillian?"
The newcomer advanced into the circle of light. She was a small,
slight woman, though the furs she was wearing served to conceal the
slenderness of her figure. Someone had once said of her that "Mrs.
Grey was a charming study in sepia." The description was not inapt.
Eyes and hair were brown as a beechnut, and a scattering of golden-
brown freckles emphasised the warm tints of a skin as soft as velvet.
"Did I get held up?" she repeated. "My dear, I walked miles--miles, I
tell you!--in that hideous fog. And then found I'd been walking
entirely in the wrong direction! I fetched up somewhere down Notting
Hill Gate way, and at last by the help of heaven and a policeman
discovered the Tube station. So here I am. But if I could have come
across a taxi I'd have been ready to /buy/ it, I was so tired!"
"Poor dear!" Magda was duly sympathetic. "We'll have some tea. You'll
"I think not, thanks. I'm dining out"--with a glance at his watch.
"And I shan't have too much time to get home and change as it is."
Magda held out her hand.
"Good-bye, then. Thank you for keeping me company till Gillian came."
There was a sudden sweetness of gratitude in the glance she threw at
him which fired his blood. He caught her hand and carried it to his
"The thanks are mine," he said in a stifled voice. And swinging round
on his heel he left the room abruptly, quite omitting to make his
farewells to Mrs. Grey.
The latter looked across at Magda with a gleam of mirth in her brown
eyes. Then she shook her head reprovingly.
"Will you never learn wisdom, Magda?" she asked, subsiding into a
chair and extending a pair of neatly shod feet to the fire's warmth.
Magda laughed a little.
"Well, it won't be the fault of my friends if I don't!" she returned
ruefully. "Marraine expended a heap of eloquence over my misdeeds this
"Lady Arabella? I'm glad to hear it. Though she has about as much
chance of producing any permanent result as the gentleman who occupied
his leisure time in rolling a stone uphill."
"Cat!" Magda made a small grimace at her. "Ah, here's some tea!"
Melrose, known among Magda's friends as "the perfect butler," had come
noiselessly into the room and was arranging the tea paraphernalia with
the reverential precision of one making preparation for some mystic
rite. "Perhaps when you've had a cup you'll feel more amiable--that
is, if I give you lots of sugar."
"What was the text of Lady Arabella's homily?" inquired Gillian
presently, as she sipped her tea.
"Oh, that boy, Kit Raynham," replied Magda impatiently. "It appears
I'm blighting his young prospects--his professional ones, I mean.
Though I don't quite see why an attack of calf-love for me should
wreck his work as an architect!"
"I do--if he spends his time sketching 'the Wielitzska' in half a
dozen different poses instead of making plans for a garden city."
Magda smiled involuntarily.
"Does he do that?" she said. "But how ridiculous of him!"
"It's merely indicative of his state of mind," returned Gillian. She
gazed meditatively into the fire. "You know, Magda, I think it will
mean the end of our friendship when Coppertop reaches years of
Coppertop was Gillian's small son, a young person of seven, who owed
his cognomen to the crop of flaming red curls which adorned his round
button of a head.
"Pouf! By the time that happens I shall be quite old--and harmless."
Gillian shook her head.
"Your type is never harmless, my dear. Unless you fall in love, you'll
be an unexploded mine till the day of your death."
"That nearly occurred to-day, by the way," vouchsafed Magda
tranquilly. "In which case,"--smiling--"you'd have been spared any
further anxiety on Coppertop's account."
"What do you mean?" demanded Gillian, startled.
"I mean that I've had an adventure this afternoon. We got smashed up
in the fog."
"Oh, my dear! How dreadful! How did it happen?"
"Something collided with the car and shot us bang into a motor-bus,
and then, almost at the same moment, something else charged into us
from behind. So there was a pretty fair mix-up."
"Why didn't you tell me before! Was anyone badly hurt? And how did you
get home?" Gillian's questions poured out excitedly.
"No, no one was badly hurt. I got a blow on the head, and fainted. So
a man who'd been inside the bus we ran into performed the rescuing
stunt. His house was close by, and he carried me in there and
proceeded to dose me with sal volatile first and tea afterwards. He
wound up by presenting me with an unvarnished summary of his opinion
of the likes of me."
There was an unwontedly hard note in Magda's voice as she detailed the
afternoon's events, and Gillian glanced at her sharply.
"I don't understand. Was he a strait-laced prig who disapproved of
dancing, do you mean?"
"Nothing of the sort. He had a most comprehensive appreciation of the
art of dancing. His disapproval was entirely concentrated on me--
"But how could it be--since he didn't know you?"
Magda gave a little grin.
"You mean it would have been quite comprehensible if he /had/ known
me?" she observed ironically.
The other laughed.
"Don't be so provoking! You know perfectly well what I meant! You
deserve that I should answer 'yes' to that question."
"Do, if you like."
"I would--only I happen to know you a good deal better than you know
"What do you know about me, then, that I don't?"
Gillian's nice brown eyes smiled across at her.
"I know that, somewhere inside you, you've got the capacity for being
as sweet and kind and tender and self-sacrificing as any woman living
--if only something would happen to make it worth while. I wish--I
wish to heaven you'd fall in love!"
"I'm not likely to. I'm in love with my art. It gives you a better
return than love for any man."
"No," answered Gillian quietly. "No. You're wrong. Tony died when we'd
only been married a year. But that year was worth the whole rest of
life put together. And--I've got Coppertop."
Magda leaned forward suddenly and kissed her.
"Dear Gillyflower!" she said. "I'm so glad you feel like that--bless
you! I wish I could. But I never shall. I was soured in the making, I
think"--laughing rather forlornly. "I don't trust love. It's the thing
that hurts and tortures and breaks a woman--as my mother was hurt and
tortured and broken." She paused. "No, preserve me from falling in
love!" she added more lightly. "'A Loaf of Bread, and Thou beside me
in the Wilderness' doesn't appeal to me in the least."
"It will one day," retorted Gillian oracularly. "In the meantime you
might go on telling me about the man who fished you out of the smash.
Was he young? And good-looking? Perhaps he is destined to be your
"He was rather over thirty, I should think. And good-looking--quite.
But he 'hates my type of woman,' you'll be interested to know. So that
you can put your high hopes back on the top shelf again."
"Not at all," declared Gillian briskly. "There's nothing like
beginning with a little aversion."
Magda smiled reminiscently.
"If you'd been present at our interview, you'd realise that 'a little
aversion' is a cloying euphemism for the feeling exhibited by my late
"What was he like, then?"
"At first, because I wouldn't take the sal volatile--you know how I
detest the stuff!--and sit still where he'd put me like a good little
girl, he ordered me about as though I were a child of six. He
absolutely bullied me! Then it apparently occurred to him to take my
moral welfare in hand, and I should judge he considered that Jezebel
and Delilah were positively provincial in their methods as compared
"Nonsense! If he didn't know you, why should he suppose himself
competent to form any opinion about you at all--good, bad, or
"I don't know," replied Magda slowly. Then, speaking with sudden
defiance: "Yes, I do know! A pal of his had--had cared about me some
time or other, and I'd turned him down. That's why."
"Oh, Magda!" There was both reproach and understanding in Gillian's
Magda shrugged her shoulders.
"Well, if he wanted to pay off old scores on his pal's behalf, he
succeeded," she said mirthlessly.
Gillian looked at her in surprise. She had never seen Magda quite like
this before; her sombre eyes held a curious strained look like those
of some wild thing of the forest caught in a trap and in pain.
"And you don't know who he was--I mean the man who came to your help
and then lectured you?"
"Yes, I do. It was Michael Quarrington, the artist."
"Michael Quarrington? Why, he has the reputation of being a most
Magda stared into the fire.
"I dare say he might have a great deal of charm if he cared to exert
it. Apparently, however, he didn't think I was worth the effort."
IN THE MIRROR ROOM
Shouts of mirth came jubilantly from the Mirror Room as Davilof made
his way thither one afternoon a few days later. The shrill peal of a
child's laughter rose gaily above the lower note of women's voices,
and when the accompanist opened the door it was to discover Magda
completely engrossed in giving Coppertop a first dancing lesson, while
Gillian sat stitching busily away at some small nether garments
afflicted with rents and tears in sundry places. Every now and again
she glanced up with softly amused eyes to watch her son's somewhat
unsteady efforts in the Terpsichorean art.
Coppertop, a slim young reed in his bright green knitted jersey, was
clinging with one hand to a wooden bar attached to the wall which
served Magda for the "bar practice" which constitutes part of every
dancer's daily work, while Magda, holding his other hand in hers,
essayed to instruct him in the principle of "turning out"--that
flexible turning of the knees towards the side which gives so much
facility of movement.
"Point your toes sideways--so," directed Magda. "This one towards me--
like that." She stooped and placed his foot in position. "Now, kick
out! Try to kick me!"
Coppertop tried--and succeeded, greeting his accomplishment with
shrieks of delight.
It was just at this moment that Davilof appeared on the scene, pausing
abruptly in the doorway as he caught sight of Magda's laughing face
bent above the fiery red head. There was something very charming in
her expression of eager, light-hearted abandonment to the fun of the
At the sound of the opening door Coppertop wriggled out of her grasp
like an eel, twisting his lithe young body round to see who the new
arrival might be. His face fell woefully as he caught sight of
"Oh, you can't /never/ have come already to play for the Fairy Lady!"
he exclaimed in accents of dire disappointment.
"Fairy Lady" was the name he had bestowed upon Magda when, very early
in their acquaintance, she had performed for his sole and particular
benefit a maturer edition of the dance she had evolved as a child--the
dance with which she had so much astonished Lady Arabella. Nowadays it
figured prominently on her programmes as "The Hamadryad," and was
"It's not never three o'clock!" wailed Coppertop disconsolately, as
Davilof dangled his watch in front of him.
"I think it is, small son," interpolated Gillian, gathering together
her sewing materials. "Come along. We must leave the Fairy Lady to
practise now, because she's got to dance to half the people in London
"Must I really go?" appealed Coppertop, beseeching Magda with a pair
of melting green eyes.
She dropped a light kiss on the top of his red curls.
"'Fraid so, Coppertop," she said. "You wouldn't want Fairy Lady to
dance badly and tumble down, would you?"
But Coppertop was not to be taken in so easily.
"Huh!" he scoffed. "You /couldn't/ tumble down--not never!"
"Still, you mustn't be greedy, Topkins," urged Magda persuasively.
"Remember all the grown-up people who want me to dance to them! I
can't keep it all for one little boy." He stared at her for a moment
in silence. Suddenly he flung his arms round her slender hips,
clutching her tightly, and hid his face against her skirt.
"Oh, Fairy Lady, you are so booful--/so booful/!" he whispered in a
smothered voice. Then, with a big sigh: "But one little boy won't be
greedy." He turned to his mother. "Come along, mummie!" he commanded
superbly. And trotted out of the room beside her with his small head
Left alone, Davilof and Magda smiled across at one another.
"Funny little person, isn't he?" she said.
The musician nodded.
"Grown-ups might possibly envy the freedom of speech permitted to
childhood," he said quietly. Then, still more quietly: "'Fairy Lady,
you are so beautiful!'"
"But you're not a child, so don't poach Coppertop's preserves!"
retorted Magda swiftly. "Let's get to work, Antoine. I'll just change
into my practice-kit and then I want to run through the 'Swan-
Maiden's' dance. You fix the lighting."
She vanished into an adjoining room, while Davilof proceeded to switch
off most of the burners, leaving only those which illumined the space
in front of the great mirror. The remainder of the big room receded
into a grey twilight encircling the patch of luminance.
Presently Magda reappeared wearing a loose tunic of some white silken
material, girdled at the waist, but yet leaving her with perfect
freedom of limb.
Davilof watched her as she came down the long room with the feather-
light, floating walk of the trained dancer, and something leaped into
his eyes that was very different from mere admiration--something that,
taken in conjunction with Lady Arabella's caustic comments of a few
days ago, might have warned Magda had she seen it.
But with her thoughts preoccupied by the work in hand she failed to
notice it, and, advancing till she faced the great mirror, she
executed a few steps in front of it, humming the motif of /The Swan-
Maiden/ music under her breath.
"Play, Antoine," she threw at him over her shoulder.
Davilof hesitated, made a movement towards her, then wheeled round
abruptly and went to the piano. A moment later the exquisite, smoothly
rippling music which he had himself written for the Swan-Maiden dance
purled out into the room.
The story of the Swan-Maiden had been taken from an old legend which
told of a beautiful maiden and the youth who loved her.
According to the narrative, the pair were unfortunate enough to incur
the displeasure of the evil fairy Ritmagar, and the latter, in order
to punish them, transformed the maiden into a white swan, thus
separating the hapless lovers for ever. Afterwards, the disconsolate
youth, bemoaning the cruelty of fate, used to wander daily along the
shores of the lake where the maiden was compelled to dwell in her
guise of a swan, and eventually Ritmagar, apparently touched to a
limited compassion, permitted the Swan-Maiden to resume her human form
once a day during the hour immediately preceding sunset. But the
condition was attached that she must always return to the lake ere the
sun sank below the horizon, when she would be compelled to reassume
her shape of a swan. Should she fail to return by the appointed time,
death would be the inevitable consequence.
Every reader of fairy tales--and certainly anyone who knows anything
at all about being in love--can guess the sequel. Comes a day when the
lovers, absorbed in their love-making, forget the flight of time, so
that the unhappy maiden returns to the shore of the lake to find that
the sun has already dipped below the horizon. She falls on her knees,
beseeching the witch Ritmagar for mercy, but no answer is vouchsafed,
and gradually the Swan-Maiden finds herself growing weaker and weaker,
until at last death claims her.
A dance, based upon this legend, had been devised for Magda in
conjunction with Vladimir Ravinski, the brilliant Russian dancer, he
taking the lover's part, and the whole tragic little drama was
designed to terminate with a solo dance by Magda as the dying Swan-
Maiden. Davilof had written the music for it, and the dance was to be
performed at the Imperial Theatre for the first time the following
Davilof played ever more and more softly as the dance drew to its
close. The note of lament sounded with increasing insistence through
the slowing ripple of the accompaniment, and at last, as Magda sank to
the ground in a piteous attitude that somehow suggested both the
drooping grace of a dying swan and the innocence and helplessness of
the hapless maiden, the music died away into silence.
There was a little pause. Then Davilof sprang to this feet.
"By God, Magda! You're magnificent!" he exclaimed with the spontaneous
appreciation of one genuine artist for another.
Magda raised her head and looked up at him with vague, startled eyes.
She still preserved the pose on which the dance had ceased, and had
hardly yet returned to the world of reality from that magic world into
which her art had transported her.
The burning enthusiasm in Davilof's excited tones recalled her
"Was it good--was it really good?" she asked a little shakily.
"Good?" he said. "It was superb!"
He held out his hands and she laid hers in them without thinking,
allowing him to draw her to her feet beside him.
She stood quite still, breathing rather quickly from her recent
exertions and supported by the close clasp of his hands on hers. Her
lips were a little parted, her slight breast rose and fell unevenly,
and a faint rose-colour glowed beneath the ivory pallor of her skin.
Suddenly Davilof's grip tightened.
"You beautiful thing!" he exclaimed huskily. "Magda----"
The next moment, with a swift, ungoverned movement, he caught her to
him and was crushing her in his arms.
"Antoine! . . . Let me go!"
But the pressure of her soft, pulsing body against his own sent the
blood racing through his veins. He smothered the words with his mouth
on hers, kissing her breathless with a headlong passion that defied
restraint--slaking his longing for her as a man denied water may at
last slake his thirst at some suddenly discovered pool.
Magda felt herself powerless as a leaf caught up in a whirlwind--swept
suddenly into the hot vehemence of a man's desire while she was yet
unstrung and quivering from the emotional strain of the Swan-Maiden's
dance, every nerve of her quickened to a tingling sentience by the
underlying passion of the music.
With an effort she wrenched herself out of his arms and ran from him
blindly into the furthest corner of the room. She had no clear idea of
making for the door, but only of getting away--anywhere--heedless of
direction. An instant later she was standing with her back to the
wall, leaning helplessly against the ancient tapestry that clothed it.
In that dim corner of the vast room her slim figure showed faintly
limned against its blurred greens and greys like that of some pallid
"Go . . . go away!" she gasped.
Davilof laughed triumphantly. Nothing could hold him now. The barriers
of use and habit were down irrevocably.
"Go away?" he said. "No, I'm not going away."
He strode straight across the space that intervened between them. She
watched his coming with dilated eyes. Her hands, palms downwards, were
pressed hard against the woven surface of the tapestry on either side
As he approached she shrank back, her whole body taut and straining
against the wall. Then she bent her head and flung up her arms,
curving them to shield her face. Davilof could just see the rounded
whiteness of them, glimmering like pale pearl next the satin sheen of
With a stifled cry he sprang forward and gripped them in his strong,
supple hands, drawing them down inexorably.
"Kiss me!" he demanded fiercely. "Magda, kiss me!"
She shook her head, struggling for speech.
"No!" she gasped. "No!"
She glanced desperately round, but he had her hemmed in, prisoned
against the wall.
"Kiss me!" he repeated unsteadily. "You--you'd better, Magda."
"And if I don't?" she forced the words through her stiff lips.
"But you will!" he said hoarsely. "You will!"
There was a dangerous note in his voice. The man had got beyond the
stage to be played with. In the silence of the room Magda could hear
his laboured breathing, feel his heart leaping against her own soft
breast crushed against his. It frightened her.
"You'll let me go if I do?" The words seemed to run into each other in
her helpless haste.
"I'll let you go."
Slowly, reluctantly she lifted her face to his and kissed him. But the
touch of her lips on his scattered the last vestige of his self-
"My beloved . . . Beloved!"
He seized her roughly in his arms. She felt his kisses overwhelming
her, burning against her closed eyelids, bruising her soft mouth and
"I love you . . . worship you----"
"Let me go!" she cried shrilly, struggling against him. "Let me go--
you promised it!"
He released her, drawing slowly back, his arms falling unwillingly
away from her.
"Oh, yes," he muttered confusedly. "I did promise."
The instant she felt his grip relax, Magda sprang forward and switched
on the centre burners, flooding the room with a blaze of light, and in
the sudden glare she and Davilof stood staring silently at each other.
With the springing up of the lights it was as though a spell had
broken. The strained, hunted expression left Magda's face. She wasn't
frightened any longer. Davilof was no more the man whose sudden
passion had surged about her, threatening to break down all defences
and overwhelm her. He was just Davilof, her accompanist, who, like
half the men of her acquaintance, was more or less in love with her
and who had overstepped the boundary which she had very definitely
marked out between herself and him.
She regarded him stormily.
"Have you gone mad?" she asked contemptuously.
He returned her look, his eyes curiously brilliant. Then he laughed
"Mad?" he said. "Yes, I think I /am/ mad. Mad with love for you!
Magda"--he came and stood close beside her--"don't send me away! Don't
say you can't care for me! You don't love me now--but I could teach
you." His voice deepened. "I love you so much. Oh, sweetest!--/Soul/
of me! Love is so beautiful. Let me teach you how beautiful it is!"
Magda drew back.
"No," she said. The brief negative fell clear and distinct as a bell.
"I won't take no," he returned hotly. "I won't take no. I want you.
Good God! Don't you understand? My love for you isn't just a boy's
infatuation that you can dismiss with a word. It's all of me. I
worship you! Haven't I been with you day after day, worked with you,
followed your every mood--shared your very soul with you? You're mine!
Mine, because I understand you. You've shown me all you thought, all
you felt. You couldn't have done that if I hadn't meant something to
"Certainly you meant something to me. You meant an almost perfect
accompanist. Why should you have imagined you meant more? I gave you
no reason to think so."
It was as though the two short words were the key which unlocked the
floodgates of some raging torrent. Magda could never afterwards recall
the words he used. She only knew they beat upon her with the cruel,
lancinating sharpness of hail driven by the wind.
She had treated him much as other men, evoking the love of his ardent
temperament by that subtle witchery which was second nature to her and
which can be such a potent weapon in the hands of a woman whose own
emotions remain untouched. And now the thwarted passion of the lover
and the savage anger of a man who felt himself deceived and duped
broke over her in a resistless storm--an outburst so bitter and so
trenchant that for the moment she remained speechless before it,
buffeted into helpless, resentful silence. When he ceased, he had
stripped her of every rag of feminine defence.
"Have you finished?" she asked in a stifled voice.
She made no attempt to palliate matters or to refute anything he had
said. In his present frame of mind it would have been useless pointing
out to him that she had treated him no differently from other men. He
was a Pole, and he had caught fire where others would merely have
"Yes," he rejoined sullenly. "I've finished."
"So much the better."
He regarded her speculatively.
"What are you made of, I wonder? Does it mean nothing to you that a
man has given you his very best--all that he has?"
She appeared to reflect a moment.
"I'm afraid it doesn't. There's only one thing really means much to me
--and that is my art. And Lady Arabella," she added after a pause.
"She'll always mean a good deal."
She sat down by the fire and held out her hands to its warmth. The
slender fingers seemed almost transparent, glowing rosily in the
firelight. Davilof turned to go.
"Good-bye, then," he said curtly.
"Good-bye." Magda nodded indifferently. Then, carelessly: "I shall
want you to-morrow, Davilof--same time."
He swung round.
"I will never play for you again. Did you imagine I should?"
She smiled at him--that slow, subtle smile of hers with its hint of
"You won't be able to keep away," she replied.
"I will never play for you again," he repeated. "Never! I will teach
myself to hate you."
She shook her head lightly.
"It's not impossible. There's very little difference between love and
hate--sometimes. And I want all or nothing."
"I'm afraid it must be nothing, then."
"We shall see. But if I can't have you, /I/ swear no other man shall!"
She glanced up at him, lifting her brows a little.
"Aren't you going too far, Antoine? You can hate me, if you like, or
love me--it's a matter of indifference to me which you do. But I don't
propose to allow you to arrange my life for me. And in any case"--
after a moment--"I'm not likely to fall in love--with you or anyone
"You think not?" He stood looking down at her sombrely. "You'll fall
in love right enough some day. And when you do it will be all or
nothing with you, too. You're that kind. Love will take you--and break
He spoke slowly, with an odd kind of tensity. To Magda it seemed
almost as if his quiet speech held the gravity of prophecy, and she
shivered a little.
"And when that time comes, then you'll come back to me," he added.
Magda threw up her head, defying him.
"You propose to be waiting round to pick up the pieces, then?" she
But only the sound of the closing door answered her. Davilof had gone.
Lady Arabella was in her element. She had two brilliant and unattached
young men dining with her--one, Michael Quarrington, a lion in the
artistic world, and the other, Antoine Davilof, who showed
unmistakable symptoms of developing sooner or later into a lion in the
It was Davilof who was responsible for the artist's presence at Lady
Arabella's dinner table. She had expressed--in her usual autocratic
manner--a wish that he should be presented to her, and had determined
upon the evening of the first performance of /The Swan-Maiden/ as the
Davilof appeared doubtful, and declared that Quarrington was leaving
England and had already fixed the date of his departure.
"He's crossing from Dover the very day before the one you want him to
dine with you," he told her.
But Lady Arabella swept his objections aside with regal indifference.
"Crossing, is he?" she snapped. "Well, tell him I want him to dine
here and go to the show with us afterwards. He'll cross the day
/after/, you'll find--if he crosses at all!" she wound up
So it came about that her two lions, the last-arrived artist and the
soon-to-arrive musician, were both dining with her on the appointed
Lady Arabella adored lions. Also, notwithstanding her seventy years,
she retained as much original Eve in her composition as a girl of
seventeen, and she adored young men.
In particular, she decided that she approved of Michael Quarrington.
She liked the clean English build of him. She liked his lean, square
jaw and the fair hair with the unruly kink in it which reminded her of
a certain other young man--who had been young when she was young--and
to whom she had bade farewell at her parents' inflexible decree more
than fifty years ago. Above all, she liked the artist's eyes--those
grey, steady eyes with their look of reticence so characteristic of
the man himself.
Reticence was an asset in her ladyship's estimation. It showed good
sense--and it offered provocative opportunities for a battle of wits
such as her soul loved.
"Have you seen my god-daughter dance, Mr. Quarrington?" she asked him.
"Yes, several times."
His tone was non-committal and she eyed him sharply.
"Don't admire dancing, do you?" she threw at him.
Quarrington regarded her with a humorous twinkle.
"And I an artist? How can you ask, Lady Arabella?"
"Well, you sounded supremely detached," she grumbled.
"I think Mademoiselle Wielitzska's dancing the loveliest thing I have
ever seen," he returned simply.
The old woman vouchsafed him a smile.
"Thank you," she answered. "I enjoyed that quite as much as I used to
enjoy being told I'd a pretty dimple when I was a girl."
"You have now," rejoined Quarrington audaciously.
Lady Arabella's eyes sparkled. She loved a neatly turned compliment.
"Thank you again. But it's a pity to waste your pretty speeches on an
old woman of seventy."
"I don't," retorted the artist gravely. "I reserve them for the young
people I know of that age."
She laughed delightedly. Then, turning to Davilof, she drew him into
the conversation and the talk became general.
Later, as they were all three standing in the hall preparatory to
departure, she flashed another of her sudden remarks at Quarrington.
"I understand you came to my god-daughter's rescue in that bad fog
The quiet grey eyes revealed nothing.
"I was privileged to be some little use," he replied lightly.
"I hardly gathered you regarded it as a privilege," observed her
The shaft went home. A fleeting light gleamed for a moment in the grey
eyes. Davilof was standing a few paces away, being helped into his
coat by a man-servant, and Quarrington spoke low and quickly.
"She told you?" he said. There was astonishment--resentment, almost--
in his voice.
"No, no." Lady Arabella, smiling to herself, reassured him hastily.
"It was a shot in the dark on my part. Magda never confides details.
She hands you out an unadorned slice of fact and leaves you to
interpret it as you choose. But if you know her rather well--as I do--
and can add two and two together and make five or any unlikely number
of them, why, then you can fill in some of the blanks for yourself."
She glanced at him with impish amusement as she moved towards the
"Come along, Davilof," she said. "I suppose you want to hear your own
music--even if Magda's dancing no longer interests you?"
Davilof gave her his arm down the steps.
"What do you mean, miladi?" he asked. "There is no more beautiful
dancing in the world."
"Then why have you jacked up your job of accompanist? Shoes beginning
to pinch a little, eh?"--shrewdly.
"You mean I grow too big for my boots? No, madame. If I were the
greatest musician in Europe, instead of being merely Antoine Davilof,
it could only be a source of pride to be asked to accompany the
Lady Arabella paused on the pavement, her foot on the step of the
"Then how is it that Mrs. Grey accompanies her now? She was playing
for her at the Duchess of Lichbrooke's the other evening.
"Magda didn't tell you, then?"
"No, she didn't; or I'd not be wasting my breath in asking you. I
asked her, and she said you had taken to playing wrong notes."
A faint smile curved the lips above the small golden beard.
"Then it must be true. Undoubtedly I played wrong notes, miladi."
"Very careless of you, I'm sure." Under the garish light of a
neighbouring street-lamp her keen old eyes met his significantly. "Or
--very imprudent, Davilof. You need the tact of the whole Diplomatic
Service to deal with Magda. And you ought to know it."
"True, miladi. But I was not designed for diplomacy, and a man can
only use the weapons heaven has given him."
"I wouldn't have suggested heaven as invariably the source of your
inspirations," retorted Lady Arabella. And hopped into the car.
They arrived at the Imperial Theatre to find Mrs. Grey already seated
in Lady Arabella's box. Someone else was there, too--old Virginie,
with her withered-apple cheeks and bright brown, bird-like eyes, still
active and erect and very little altered from the Virginie of ten
years before. Just as she had devoted herself to Diane, so now she
devoted herself to Diane's daughter, and no first performance of a new
dance of the Wielitzska's took place without Virginie's presence
somewhere in the house. To-night, Lady Arabella had invited her into
her box and Virginie was a quivering bundle of excitement. She rose
from her seat at the back of the box as the newcomers entered.
"Sit down, Virginie." Lady Arabella nodded kindly to the Frenchwoman.
"And pull your chair forward. You'll see nothing back there, and there
is plenty of room for us all."
"/Merci, madame. Madame est bien gentille./" Virginie's voice was
fervent with ecstatic gratitude as she resumed her seat and waited
expectantly for Magda's appearance.
Other dances, performed principally by lesser lights of the company
and affording only a briefly tantalising glimpse of Magda herself,
preceded the chief event of the evening. But at last the next item on
the programme read as /The Swan-Maiden (adapted from an Old Legend)/,
and a tremour of excitement, a sudden hush of eager anticipation,
rippled through the audience like wind over grass.
Slowly the heavy silken curtains drew to either side of the stage,
revealing a sunlit glade. In the background glimmered the still waters
of a lake, while at the foot of a tree, in an attitude of tranquil
repose, lay the Swan-Maiden--Magda. One white, naked arm was curved
behind her head, pillowing it, the other lay lightly across her body,
palm upward, with the rosy-tipped fingers curled inwards a little,
like a sleeping child's. She looked infinitely young as she lay there,
her slender, pliant limbs relaxed in untroubled slumber.
Lady Arabella, with Quarrington sitting next to her in the box, heard
the quick intake of his breath as he leaned suddenly forward.
"Yes, it has quite a familiar look," she observed. "Reminds me of your
'Repose of Titania.'"
His eyes flickered inquiringly over her face, but it was evident that
hers had been merely a chance remark. The old lady had obviously no
idea as to who it was who had posed for the Titania of the picture.
That was one of the "slices of fact" which Magda had omitted to hand
out when recounting her adventure in the fog to her godmother.
Quarrington leaned back in his chair satisfied.
"It's not unlike," he agreed carelessly.
Then the entrance of Vladimir Ravinski, the lovelorn youth of the
legend, riveted his attention on the stage.
The dance which followed was exquisite. The Russian was a beautiful
youth, like a sun-god with his flying yellow locks and glorious
symmetry of body, and the /pas de deux/ between him and Magda was a
thing to marvel at--sweeping through the whole gamut of love's
emotion, from the first shy, delicate hesitancy of worshipping boy and
girl to the rapturous abandon of mated lovers.
Then across the vibrant, pulsating scene fell the deadly shadow of the
witch Ritmagar. The stage darkened, the violins in the orchestra
skirled eerily in chromatic showers of notes, and the hunched figure
of Ritmagar approaching menaced the lovers. A wild dance followed, the
lovers now kneeling and beseeching the evil fairy to have pity on
them, now rushing despairingly into each other's arms, while the
witch's own dancing held all of threat and malevolence that superb
artistry could infuse into it.
The tale unfolded itself with the inevitableness of preordained
Ritmagar declines to be appeased. She raises her claw-like hand,
pointing a crooked finger at the lovers, and with a clash of brazen
sound and the dull thrumming of drums the whole scene dissolves into
absolute darkness. When the darkness lifts once more, the stage is
empty save for a pure white swan which sails slowly down the lake and
disappears. . . . Followed a solo dance by Ravinski in which he gave
full vent to the anguish of the bereft lover, while now and again the
swan swam statelily by him. At length the witch appeared once more
and, yielding to his impassioned entreaties, declared that the Swan-
Maiden might reassume her human form during the hour preceding sunset,
and Magda--the Swan-Maiden released from enchantment for the time
being--came running in on the stage.
This love-duet was resumed and presently, when the lovers had made
their exit, Ritmagar was seen gleefully watching while the red sun
dropped slowly down the sky, sinking at last below the rim of the
Then a low rumble of drums muttered as she stole from the stage, the
personification of vindictive triumph, and all at once the great
concourse of people in the auditorium seemed to strain forward,
conscious that the climax of the evening, the wonderful solo dance by
the Wielitzska, was about to begin.
The moon rose on the left, and Magda, a slim white figure in her dress
which cleverly suggested the plumage of a swan, floated on to the
stage with that exquisite, ethereal lightness of movement which only
toe-dancing--and toe-dancing of the most perfectly finished quality--
seems able to convey. It was as though her feet were not touching the
solid earth at all. The feather-light drifting of blown petals; the
swaying grace of a swan as it glides along the surface of the water;
the quivering, spirit-like flight of a butterfly--it seemed as though
all these had been caught and blended together by the dancer.
The heavier instruments of the orchestra were silenced, but the
rippling music of the strings wove and interwove a dreaming melody,
unutterably sweet and appealing, as the Swan-Maiden, bathed in pallid
moonlight, besought the invisible Ritmagar for mercy, praying that she
might not die even though the sun had set. . . . But there comes no
answer to her prayers. A sombre note of stern denial sounds in the
music, and the Swan-Maiden yields to utter despair, drooping slowly to
earth. Just as Death himself claims her, her lover, demented with
anguish, comes rushing to her side, and turning towards him as she
lies dying upon the ground, she yields to his embrace with a last
gesture of passionate surrender.
Slowly the heavy curtains swung together, hiding the limp, lifeless
body of the Swan-Maiden and the despairing figure of her lover as he
knelt beside her, and after a breathless pause, the great audience,
carried away by the tragic drama of the dance, its passion and its
pathos, broke into a thunder of applause that rolled and reverberated
through the theatre.
Again and again Magda and her partner were called before the curtain,
the former laden with the sheafs of flowers which had been handed up
on to the stage. But the audience refused to be satisfied until at
last Magda appeared alone, standing very white and slender under the
blaze of lights, a faint suggestion of fatigue in the poise of her
Instantly the applause broke out anew--thunderous, overwhelming. Magda
smiled, then held out her arms in a little disarming gesture of
appeal, touching in its absolute simplicity. It was as though she
said: "Dear people, I love you all for being so pleased, but I'm very,
very tired. Please, won't you let me go?"
So they let her go, with one final round of cheers and clapping, and
then, as the curtains fell together once more and the orchestra slid
unobtrusively into the /entr'acte/ music, a buzz of conversation
Michael Quarrington turned and spoke to Davilof as they stood
"This will be my last memory of England for some time to come.
Mademoiselle Wielitzska is very wonderful. As much actress as dancer--
and both rather superlatively."
There was an odd note in Quarrington's voice, as if he were forcibly
repressing some less measured form of words.
Davilof glanced at him sharply.
"You think so?" he said curtly.
The musician's hazel eyes were burning feverishly. One hand was
clenched on the back of the chair from which he had just risen; the
other hung at his side, the fingers opening and shutting nervously.
The eyes of the two men met, and Michael became suddenly conscious
that the other was struggling in the grip of some strong emotion. He
could even sense its atmosphere of antagonism towards himself.
"I think"--Davilof spoke with slow intensity--"I think she's a
soulless piece of devil's mechanism." And turning abruptly, he swung
out of the box, slamming the door behind him.
Quarrington frowned. With his keen perceptions it was not difficult
for him to divine what lay at the back of Davilof's bitter criticism.
The man was in love--hopelessly in love with the Wielitzska. Probably
she had turned him down, as she had turned down better men than he,
but he had been unable to resist the bitter-sweet temptation of
watching her dance, and throughout the evening had almost certainly
been suffering the torments of the damned.
The artist smiled a little grimly to himself, remembering the many
evenings he, too, had spent at the Imperial Theatre, drawn thither by
the magnetism of a white, slender woman with night-black hair, whose
long, dark eyes haunted him perpetually, even coming between him and
And then, just as he had made up his mind to go away, first to Paris
and afterwards to Spain or perhaps even further afield, and thus set
as many miles of sea and land as he could betwixt himself and the
"kind of woman he had no place for," fate had played him a trick and
sent her out of the obscurity of the fog-ridden street straight to his
very hearth and home, so that the fragrance and sweetness and charm of
her must needs linger there to torment him.
He thought he could make a pretty accurate guess at the state of
Davilof's feelings, and was ironically conscious of a sense of
fellowship with him.
Lady Arabella's sharp voice cut across his reflections.
"I don't care for this next thing," she said, flicking at her
programme. "Mrs. Grey and I are going round to see Magda. Will you
come with us?"
Quarrington had every intention of politely excusing himself. Instead
of which he found himself replying:
"With pleasure--if Mademoiselle Wielitzska won't think I'm intruding."
Lady Arabella chuckled.
"Well, she intruded on you that day in the fog, didn't she? So you'll
be quits." She glanced impatiently round the box. "Where on earth has
Davilof vanished to? Has he gone up in flame?"
Michael laughed involuntarily.
"Something of the kind, I fancy," he replied. "Anyway, he departed
"Poor Antoine!" Gillian spoke with a kind of humorous compassion. "He
has a temperament. I'm glad I haven't."
"You have the best of all temperaments, Mrs. Grey," answered Michael,
as they both followed Lady Arabella out of the box.
She looked at him inquiringly.
"The temperament that understands other people's temperaments," he
"How do you know?" she asked, smiling.
Lady Arabella was prancing on ahead down the corridor, and for the
moment Michael and Gillian were alone.
"We artists learn to look for what lies below the surface. If your
work is sincere, you find when you've finished a portrait that the
soul of the sitter has revealed itself unmistakably."
"I've been told you've an almost diabolical genius for expressing just
what a man or woman is really like--in character, I mean--in your
"I can't help it," he said simply. "It comes--it reveals itself--if
you paint sincerely."
"And do you--always paint sincerely?"
"I try to. Though once I got hauled over the coals pretty sharply for
doing so. My sitter happened to be a pretty society woman, possessed
of about as much soul as would cover a threepenny-bit, and when I'd
finished her portrait she simply turned and rent me. 'I wanted a
taking picture,' she informed me indignantly, 'not the bones of my
personality laid bare for public inspection.'"
They were outside Magda's dressing-room by this time, and Virginie,
who had flown to her nurseling the moment the dance was at an end,
opened the door in response to Lady Arabella's preemptory knock.
Gillian paused a moment before entering the room.
"Yours is a wonderful gift of perception," she said quietly. "It ought
to make you--very merciful."
Michael looked at her swiftly. Her eyes seemed to be asking something
of him--entreating. But before he could speak Lady Arabella's voice
"Come in, you two; and for goodness' sake shut the door. There's
draught enough to waft one to heaven."
There was no choice but to obey, and silently Quarrington followed
Mrs. Grey into the room.
MICHAEL CHANGES HIS MIND
Magda's dressing-room at the Imperial Theatre was something rather
special in the way of dressing-rooms. It had been designed expressly
for her by the management, and boasted a beautifully appointed
bathroom adjoining it where she could luxuriate in a refreshing dip
immediately after the strain and fatigue of her work on the stage.
She had been very firm about the bathroom, airily dismissing a
plaintive murmur from the manager to the effect that they were
"somewhat crowded for space at the Imperial."
"Then take another theatre, my dear man," she had told him. "Or build!
Or give the /corps de ballet/ one less dressing-room amongst them. But
if you want /me/, I must have a bathroom. If I dance, I bathe
afterwards. If not, I don't dance."
Being a star of the first magnitude, the Wielitzska could dictate her
own terms, and accordingly a bathroom she had.
She had just emerged from its white-tiled, silver-tapped luxury a few
minutes before Lady Arabella, together with Gillian and Michael
Quarrington, presented themselves at her dressing-room door, and they
found her ensconced in an easy-chair by the fire, sipping a cup of
steaming hot tea.
"I've brought Mr. Quarrington to see you," announced Lady Arabella. "I
thought perhaps you'd like some other congratulations besides family
"Am I permitted?" asked Quarrington, taking the hand Magda held out to
him. "Or are you too tired to be bothered with an outsider?"
Magda looked up at him.
"I've very glad to see you," she said quietly.
She appeared unwontedly sweet and girlish as she sat there, clad in a
negligee of some soft silken stuff that clung about the lissom lines
of her figure, and with her satiny hair coiled in a simple knot at the
nape of her neck. There was little or nothing about her to remind one
of the successful ballerina, and Michael found himself poignantly
recalling the innocent, appealing charm of the Swan-Maiden. It was
difficult to associate this woman with that other who had so
unconsciously turned down his pal--the man who had loved her.
"Well? Did it go all right?"
Magda's eyes sought Gillian's eagerly as she put the question.
"Did it go?" Mrs. Grey's voice held all the unqualified enthusiasm any
artiste could desire.
"Oh, Magda! It was wonderful! The most wonderful, beautiful dance I've
"And you know it as well as we do," interpolated Lady Arabella tartly,
but smiling pridefully in spite of herself.
"Still, of course, she likes to hear us /say/ it." Gillian championed
her friend stoutly.
"The whole world will be saying it to-morrow," observed Quarrington
Here Virginie created a diversion by handing round cups of freshly
"You'll get nerves--drinking tea at this hour of the night," commented
Lady Arabella, accepting a cup with alacrity, nevertheless.
"I take it very weak," protested Magda, smiling faintly. "It's the
only thing I like after dancing."
But Lady Arabella was already deep in conversation with Gillian and
Virginie--a conversation which resolved itself chiefly into a
laudatory chorus regarding the evening's performance. In the
background Magda's maid moved quietly to and fro, carefully putting
away her mistress's dancing dresses. For the moment Michael and Magda
were to all intents and purposes alone.
"I shall not easily forget to-night," he said rather low, drawing a
chair up beside her.
"You liked it, then?" she asked hesitatingly--almost shyly.
"'Like' is hardly the word."
Magda flashed him a swift glance.
"And yet," she said slowly, "I'm the 'type of woman you hate.'"
"You make it rather difficult to maintain the point of view," he
She was silent a moment.
"You were very unkind to me that day," she said at last.
Their eyes met and in hers was something soft and dangerously
disarming. Quarrington got up suddenly from his chair.
"Perhaps I was unkind to you so that I might not be unkind to myself,"
he replied curtly.
Magda's soft laugh rippled out.
"But how selfish! And--and aren't you being rather mysterious?"
"Am I?" he returned pointedly. "Surely self-preservation is the first
instinct of the human species?"
She picked up the challenge and tossed it lightly back to him.
"Is the danger, then, very great?"
"I think it is. So, like a wise man, I propose to avoid it."
"Why, by quitting the danger zone. I go to Paris to-morrow."
Magda experienced a sudden feeling of blankness. It was inexplicable,
but somehow the knowledge that Quarrington was going away seemed to
take all the savour out of things. It was only by a supreme effort
that she contrived to keep her tone as light and unconcerned as his
own as she continued:
"And then--after Paris?"
"After Paris? Oh, Spain possibly. Or the Antipodes!"--with a short
"Who's talking about the Antipodes?" suddenly chimed in Lady Arabella.
"Home to bed's my next move. Gillian, you come with me--the car can
take you on to Hampstead after dropping me in Park Lane. And Virginie
can drive back with Magda."
"Yes, do go with Marraine," said Magda, nodding acquiescence in reply
to Gillian's glance of interrogation. "I have to dress yet."
There was a general move towards the door.
"Good-bye"--Magda's slim hand lay for a moment in Quarrington's. "I--
I'm sorry you're going away, Saint Michel."
Only Michael heard the last two words, uttered in that /trainante/,
slightly husky voice that held so much of music and appeal. He turned
abruptly and made his way out of the room in the wake of Gillian and
"You'd better postpone your visit to the Antipodes, Mr. Quarrington,"
said the latter, as presently they all three stood together in the
vestibule, halted by the stream of people pouring out from the
theatre. "I'm giving a dinner-party next week, with a 'crush' to
follow. Stay and come to it."
"It's awfully kind of you, Lady Arabella, but I'm afraid it's
"Fiddlesticks! You're a free agent, aren't you?"--looking at him
A whimsical light gleamed for an instant in the grey eyes.
"I sometimes wonder if I am," he returned.
"There's only one cord I know of that can't be either unknotted--or
cut. And that's lack of money. That's not your complaint"--
"So you'll come?"
"I'm afraid not."
"Magda has promised to dance for me," proceeded Lady Arabella,
entirely disregarding his quietly uttered negative. "They're not
giving /The Swan-Maiden/ that night at the Imperial. She can't dine,
of course, poor dear. Really, dancers have a lot to put up with--or
rather, to put up /without/! Magda never dares to enjoy a good square
meal. Afraid of getting fat, of course! After all, a dancer's figure's
Like a low, insistent undertone beneath the rattle of Lady Arabella's
volubility Michael could hear again the murmur of a soft, dragging
voice: "I'm sorry you're going away, Saint Michel."
It seemed almost as though Lady Arabella, with that uncanny shrewdness
of hers, divined it.
"You'll come, then?" She smiled at him over her shoulder, moving
forward as the crush in the vestibule lessened a little.
And Michael, with an odd expression in his eyes, answered suddenly:
"Yes, I'll come."
Later, as Lady Arabella and Gillian drove home together, the former
laughed quietly. There was an element of pride and triumph in the
laughter. Probably the hen who has reared a duckling and sees it sail
off into the water experiences, alongside her natural apprehension and
astonishment, a somewhat similar pride in the startling proclivities
evinced by her nurseling.
"That nice artist-man is in love with Magda," crowed Lady Arabella
"Do you think so?"
"I do. Only it's very much against his will, for some reason or other.
Crossing from Dover to-morrow, forsooth!"--with a broad smile. "Not
he! He'll be at my party--and asking Magda to marry him before the
week's out, bar accidents! . . . After all, it's not surprising that
the men are falling over each other to marry her. She's really rather
wonderful. Where do you think she gets it all from, Gillian, my dear?
Not from the Vallincourts, I'll swear!"--chuckling.
Mrs. Grey shook her head.
"I don't know. But I think Magda is a standing argument in favour of
the doctrine of reincarnation! She always seems to me to be a kind of
modern embodiment of Helen of Troy or Cleopatra."
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