The Lamp of Fate
Part 3 out of 7
"Only without the capacity for falling in love! She's as chilly as an
iceberg and yet somehow gives you the idea she's all fire and passion.
No wonder the men get misled, poor lambs!"
"She's not cold, really," asserted Gillian positively. "Of that I'm
sure. No one could dance as she does--and be an iceberg."
Lady Arabella chuckled again, wickedly.
"A woman who can dance like that ought to be preceded through life by
a red flag. She positively stirs my old blood--that's been at a
comfortably tepid temperature for the last thirty years!"
"Some day," said Gillian, "she'll fall in love. And then--"
"Then there'll be fireworks."
Lady Arabella completed the sentence briskly just as the car pulled up
in front of her house. She skipped nimbly out on to the pavement.
"Fireworks, my dear," she repeated emphatically. "And a very fine
display, too! Good-night."
The car slid away north with Gillian inside it reflecting rather
ruefully upon the very great amount of probability contained in Lady
Arabella's parting comment.
THE GARDEN OF EDEN
Lady Arabella's big rooms were filling rapidly. The dinner to which
only a few of the elect had been bidden was over, and now those who
had been invited to the less exclusive reception which was to follow
were eagerly wending their way towards Park Lane.
The programme for the evening promised to be an attractive one. A solo
from Antoine Davilof, Lady Arabella's pet lion-cub of the moment; a
song from the leading operatic tenor; and afterwards a single dance by
the Wielitzska--who could never be persuaded to perform at any other
private houses than those of her godmother and the Duchess of
Lichbrooke--the former's half sister. So, in this respect, Lady
Arabella enjoyed almost a monopoly, and such occasions as the present
were enthusiastically sought after by her friends and acquaintances.
Later, when the artistes had concluded their programme, there was to
be a dance. The ballroom, the further end of which boasted a fair-
sized stage, had been temporarily arranged with chairs to accommodate
an audience, and in one of the anterooms Virginie, with loving,
skilful fingers, was putting the finishing touches to Magda's
Magda submitted passively to her ministrations. She was thinking of
Michael Quarrington, the man who had come into her life by such
strange chance and who had so deliberately gone out of it again. By
the very manner of his going he had succeeded in impressing himself on
her mind as no other man had ever done. Other men did not shun her
like the plague, she reflected bitterly!
But from the very beginning he had shown her that he disapproved of
her fundamentally. She was the "type of woman he hated!" Night and day
that curt little phrase had bitten into her thoughts, stinging her
with its quiet contempt.
She felt irritated that she should care anything about his opinion.
But if she were candid with herself she had to admit that she did
care, intensely. More than that, his departure from England had left
her conscious of an insistent and unaccountable little ache. The
knowledge that there could be no more chance meetings, that he had
gone right out of her ken, seemed like the sudden closing of a door
which had just been opening to her. It had somehow taken the zest out
"Voila!" Virginie drew back to survey the results of her labours,
turning for approval to Gillian, who was in attendance in her capacity
of accompanist. "Is it not that mademoiselle looks ravishing?"
"Quite ravishing, Virginie," agreed Gillian. "Did you expect her to
look anything else by the time you had finished decking her out?" she
"It is nothing that I do," responded the old Frenchwoman seriously.
"Mademoiselle cannot help but be beautiful to the eye--/le bon dieu/
has created her like that."
"I believe He has," assented Gillian, smiling.
As she spoke the bell of the telephone instrument on the table beside
her rang imperatively and she lifted the receiver. Magda, watching her
face as she took the message, saw it suddenly blanch.
"Coppertop! . . . He's ill!" she gasped.
"Ill?" Magda could hardly credit it. Two hours ago they had left the
child in perfect health.
"Yes." Gillian swallowed, moistening her dry lips. "They've sent for
the doctor. It's croup. Oh!"--despairingly, and letting the receiver
fall unheeded from her grasp--"What am I to do? What am I to do?"
Magda stepped forward, the filmy draperies of the dress in which she
was to dance floating cloudily about her as she moved. She picked up
the receiver as it hung dangling aimlessly from the stand and replaced
it on its clip.
"Do?" she said quietly. "Why, you'll go straight home, of course. As
quickly as the car can take you. Virginie"--turning to the maid--"fly
and order the car round at once."
Gillian looked at her distractedly.
"But you? Who'll play for you? I can't go! I can't leave you!" Her
voice was shaken by sobs. "Oh, Coppertop!"
Magda slipped a comforting arm round her shoulder.
"Of course you'll go--and at once, too. See, here's your coat"--
lifting it up from the back of the chair where Gillian had thrown it.
"Put it on."
Hardly conscious of what was happening, Gillian allowed herself to be
helped into the coat. Suddenly recollection returned.
"But your dance--your dance, Magda? You've forgotten!"
Magda shook her head.
"No. It will be all right," she said soothingly. "Don't worry,
Gillyflower. /You've/ forgotten that Davilof is playing here
"Antoine?" Gillian stared at her incredulously. "But you can't ask him
to play for you! You'd hate asking him a favour after--after his
refusal to accompany you any more."
Magda smiled at her reassuringly.
"My dear," she said, and there was an unaffected kindliness in her
voice which few people ever heard. "My dear, I'm not going to let a
little bit of cheap pride keep you away from Coppertop."
She bent suddenly and kissed Gillian's white, miserable face just as
Virginie reappeared in the doorway to announce that the car was
"There, run along. Look, would you like to take Virginie with you?"
"No, no." Gillian shook her head decidedly. "I shall be quite all
right. Oh, Magda!"--impulsively drawing the slender figure close into
her arms a moment. "You are /good/!"
Magda laughed a trifle bitterly.
"That would be news to the world at large!" she replied. Then
cheerfully: "Now, don't worry, Gillyflower. Remember they've got a
doctor there. And 'phone me presently about Coppertop. If he's worse,
I'll come home as early as I can get away. Send the car straight back
As soon as Gillian had gone, Magda flung a loose wrap over her
diaphanous draperies and turned to Virginie.
"Where is Monsieur Davilof? Do you know?"
"/Mais oui, mademoiselle/! I saw him through the doorway as I came
from ordering the car. He is in the library."
"/Oui, mademoiselle/!" Virginie nodded eloquently. "He smokes a
cigarette--to steady the nerves, I suppose."
Magda went swiftly out of the room. She reached the hall by way of an
unfrequented passage and slipped into the library closing the door
At the sound of her voice Davilof, who had been standing by the fire,
"You!" he exclaimed violently. "You!" And then remained silent,
staring at her.
"You knew I was dancing here to-night," she said chidingly. "Why are
you so startled? We were bound to meet, weren't we?"
"No, we were not. I proposed leaving the house the moment my solo was
Magda laughed a little.
"So afraid of me, Antoine?" she mocked gently.
He made no answer, but his hands, hanging at his sides, clenched
Magda advanced a few steps towards him and paused.
"Davilof," she said quietly. "Will you play for me to-night?"
He looked at her, puzzled.
"Play for you?" he repeated. "But you have Mrs. Grey."
"No. She can't accompany me this evening."
"And you ask me?" His voice held blank amazement.
"Yes. Will you do it?"
"Do you remember what I told you the last time we met? That I would
never play for you again?"
Magda drew her breath slowly. It was hurting her pride far more than
Gillian knew or could imagine to ask a favour of this man. And he
wasn't going to make it easy for her, either--that was evident. But
she must ask it, nevertheless. For Gillian's sake; for the sake of
poor little Coppertop fighting for breath and with no "mummie" at hand
to help and comfort him; and for the sake of Lady Arabella, too. After
promising to dance for her she couldn't let her godmother down by
crying off at the last moment, when all the world and his wife had
come crowding to her house on the strength of that promise.
So she bent her head in response to Davilof's contemptuous question.
"Yes, I remember," she said quietly.
"And you still ask me to play for you?"
"I still ask you."
"You amaze me! And supposing I reply by saying I refuse?"
"But you won't," dared Magda.
Davilof's eyes held something of cruelty in their hazel depths as he
"On the contrary--I do refuse."
Her hand went up to her throat. It was going to be more difficult than
she had anticipated!
"There is no one else who can play for me as you do," she suggested.
"No," fiercely. "Because no one loves you as I do."
"What is the use of saying you love me when you won't do the one
little thing I ask?" she retorted. "It is not often that I ask
favours. And--and no one has ever refused me a request before."
Davilof could hear the note of proud resentment in her voice, and he
realised to the full that, in view of all that had passed between them
in the Mirror Room, it must have been a difficult matter for a woman
of Magda's temperament to bring herself to ask his help.
But he had no intention of sparing her. None but himself knew how
bitterly she had hurt him, how cruelly she had stung his pride, when
she had flung him that contemptuous command: "I shall want you
to-morrow, Davilof!--same time." He had unveiled his very soul before
her--and in return she had tossed him an order as though he were a
lackey who had taken a liberty. All his pain and brooding resentment
came boiling up to the surface.
"If I meant anything to you," he said slowly, "if you had even looked
upon me as a friend, you could have asked what you liked of me. But
you showed me once--very clearly--that in your eyes I was nothing more
than your paid accompanist. Very well, then! Pay me--and I'll play for
"Oh, not in money"--with a short laugh.
"Then--then what do you mean?" Her face had whitened a little.
"It's quite simple. Later on there is a dance. Give me a dance with
Magda hesitated. In other circumstances she would have refused point-
blank. Davilof had offended her--and more than that, the revelation of
the upsettingly vehement order of his passion for her that day in the
Mirror Room had frightened her not a little. There was something
stormy and elemental about it. To the caloric Pole, love was love, and
the fulfilment of his passion for the adored woman the supreme
necessity of life.
Realising that she had to withstand an ardour essentially unEnglish in
its violently inflammable quality, Magda was loth to add fuel to the
flame. And if she promised to dance with Davilof she must let him hold
her in his arms, risk that dangerous proximity which, she knew now,
would set the man's wild pulses racing unsteadily and probably serve
as the preliminary to another tempestuous scene.
"Well?" Davilof broke in upon her self-communings. "Have I asked too
high a price?"
Time was flying. She must decide, and decide quickly. She took her
courage in both hands.
"No," she returned quickly. "I will dance with you, Antoine."
"Our bargain is complete, then," he said ironically. "I shall be
charmed to play for you, mademoiselle."
An hour or so later the last burst of applause had died away, and the
well-dressed crowd which had sat in enthralled silence while the
Wielitzska danced emerged chattering and laughing from the great
Their place was immediately taken by deft, felt-slippered men, who
proceeded swiftly to clear away the seats and the drugget which had
been laid to protect the surface of the dancing floor. In the
twinkling of an eye, as it were, they transformed what had been to all
intents and purposes a concert-hall into a flower-decked ballroom,
while the members of the band engaged for the dance began climbing
agilely into their allotted places on the raised platform preparatory
to tuning up for the evening's work.
Magda, released at last from Virginie's worshipfully careful hands,
came slowly down the main staircase. She was in black, diaphanous and
elusive, from which her flower-pale face and shoulders emerged like a
water-lily starring the dark pool on which it floats. A crimson rose
glowed just above her heart--that and her softly scarlet lips the only
touches of colour against the rare black-and-white loveliness of her.
She was descending the stairs reluctantly, mentally occupied in
screwing up courage to fulfil her promise to Davilof. A 'phone message
from Friars' Holm had come through saying that Coppertop was better.
All danger was passed and there was no longer any need for her to
return early. So it remained, now, for her to keep her pact with the
As she rounded the last bend in the staircase, she saw that a man was
standing with bent head at the foot of the stairs, apparently waiting
for someone, and she threw a quick, nervous glance in the direction of
the motionless figure, thinking it might be Davilof himself. It would
be like his eager impatience to await her coming there. Then, as the
lights gleamed on fair, crisply waving hair she realised that the man
was Michael--Michael, whom she believed to be on his way to Spain!
Perhaps it was merely chance, or perhaps it was at the direct
inspiration of Lady Arabella, but, whatever may have been the cause,
Gillian had not confided to Magda that Quarrington was to be at her
godmother's reception. The sudden, totally unexpected meeting with
him--with this man who had contrived to dominate her thoughts so
inexplicably--startled a little cry of surprise from her lips. She
drew back abruptly, and then--quite how it happened she could not
tell--but she missed her footing and fell.
For the fraction of a second she experienced a horrible sensation of
utter helplessness to save herself; then Michael's arms closed round
her as he caught her before she reached the ground.
The shock of the fall stupefied her for a moment. She lay against his
breast like a terrified child, clinging to him convulsively.
"It's all right," he murmured soothingly. "You're quite safe."
Unconsciously his arms tightened round her. His breath quickened. The
satin-soft hair had brushed his cheek as she fell; the pale, exquisite
face and warm white throat lay close beneath his lips--all the
fragrant beauty of her gathered unresisting against his heart. He had
only to stoop his head----
With a stifled exclamation he jerked himself backward, squaring his
shoulders, and released her, though he still steadied her with a hand
beneath her arm.
"There, you are all right," he said reassuringly. "No bones broken."
The commonplace words helped to restore her poise.
"Oh! Thank you!" The words came a little gaspingly still. "I--I don't
know how I came to fall like that. I think you startled me--I didn't
expect to see you here."
"I didn't expect to be," he returned, smiling a little.
Magda did not ask how it had come to pass. For the moment it was
enough for her that he /was/ there--that he had not gone away! She was
conscious of a sudden incomprehensible sense of tumult within her.
"It was lucky for me you happened to be standing just at the foot of
the stairs," she said a little unsteadily.
"I didn't 'happen.' I was there of /malice prepense/"--the familiar
crooked smile flashed out--"waiting for you."
"Waiting for me?"
"Yes. Lady Arabella asked me to shepherd you into the supper-room and
see that you had a glass of champagne and a sandwich before the
"Orders from headquarters?"--smiling up at him.
He held out his arm and they moved away together. As they passed
through the crowded rooms one man murmured ironically to another:
"Quarrington's got it badly, I should say."
The second man glanced after the pair with amused eyes.
"So he's the latest victim, is he? I head young Raynham's nose was out
"You don't mean she's fired him?"
The other nodded.
"Got the push the day before yesterday," he answered tersely.
"Poor devil! He'll take it hard. He's a hotheaded youngster. Just the
sort to go off and blow his brains out."
Meanwhile Quarrington had established Magda at a corner table in the
empty supper-room and was seeing to it that Lady Arabella's commands
were obeyed, in spite of Magda's assurances that she was not in the
"Then you ought to be," he replied. "After dancing. Besides, unlike
the rest of us, you had no dinner."
"Oh, I had a light meal at six o'clock. But naturally, you can't
consume a solid dinner just before giving a performance."
"I'm not going to pay you compliments about your dancing," he observed
quietly, after a pause. "You must receive a surfeit of them. But"--
looking at her with those direct grey eyes of his--"I'm glad I didn't
leave England when I intended to."
"Why didn't you?" she asked impulsively.
"Because it's so much easier to yield to temptation than to resist,"
he answered, not taking his eyes from her face.
She flushed a little.
"What was the temptation?" she asked uncertainly.
He waited an instant, then answered with deliberation:
"The temptation of seeing you again."
"I should have thought you disapproved of me far too much for that to
be the case! Saint Michel, don't you think you're rather hard on me?"
"Am I? I had an old-fashioned mother, you see. Perhaps my ideas about
women are out of date."
"Tell me them."
He regarded her reflectively.
"Shall I? Well, I like to think of a woman as something sweet and
fragrant, infinitely tender and compassionate--not as a marauder and
despoiler. Wherever she comes, the place should be the happier for her
coming--not bereft by it. She should be the helper and healer in this
battered old world. That's the sort of woman I should want my wife to
be; that's the sort of woman my mother was."
"And you think I'm--not like that? I'm the marauder, I suppose?"
He remained silent, and Magda sat with her bent head, fingering the
stem of her wine-glass restlessly.
"You like my dancing?" she said at last.
"You know I do."
"Well"--she looked at him with a mixture of defiance and appeal. "My
dancing is me--the real me."
He shook his head.
"You're not the 'Swan-Maiden,' whose love was so great that she forgot
everything except the man she loved--and paid for it with her life."
"The process doesn't sound exactly encouraging," she retorted with a
flash of dry humour. "But how do you know I'm not--like that?"
"How do I know? Because, if you knew anything at all about love, you
couldn't pay with it as you do. Even the love you've no use for is the
biggest thing the poor devil who loves you has to offer you; you've no
right to play battledore and shuttlecock with it."
He spoke lightly, but Magda could hear the stern accusation that
underlay the words. She rose from the table abruptly.
"I think," she said, "I think I'm afraid of love."
As she spoke, she made a movement as though to quit the supper-room,
but, either by accident or design, Michael barred her way.
"Love," he said, watching her face intently, "means sacrifice--
"And you believe I'm not capable of it?"
"I think," he replied slowly, drawing aside to let her pass, "I think
I'm afraid to believe."
Something in the deep tones of his voice sent a thrill of
consciousness through her. She felt her breath come and go unevenly
and, afraid to trust herself to speak, she moved forward without
response in the direction of the door. A moment later they were drawn
into the stream of people wending their way by twos and threes towards
As they entered, Antoine Davilof broke away from a little group of men
with whom he had been conversing and came to Magda's side.
"The next dance is just beginning," he said. "Are you engaged? Or may
I have it?"
"No, I'm not engaged," she answered.
She spoke flurriedly. She was dreading this dance with Antoine. She
felt as though the evening had drained her of her strength and left
her unequal to a battle of wills should Antoine prove to be in one of
his hotheaded moods.
She glanced round her with a hint of desperation in her eyes. If only
Michael had asked her to dance with him instead! But he had bowed and
left her as soon as the musician joined them, so that there was no
escape to be hoped for that way.
Davilof was watching her curiously.
"I believe," he said, "that you're afraid to dance with me!"
On an impulse she answered him with perfect candour.
"I believe I am."
"Then why did you promise? You did promise, you know."
"I know. I promised. I promised because Coppertop had croup and they
had telephoned down for his mother to go to him. And you wouldn't
accompany me unless I gave you this dance. So I promised it."
Davilof's eyes held a curiously concentrated expression.
"And you did this so that Mrs. Grey could go to her little boy--to
Magda inclined her head.
"Yes," she said simply.
"But you hated asking me--/loathed/ it!"
"Yes," she said again.
He was silent for a moment. Then he drew back from her. "That was
kind. Extraordinarily kind," he commented slowly. His expression was
one of frank amazement. "I did not believe you could be so kind--so
"Womanly?" she queried, puzzled.
"Yes. For is not a woman--a good woman--always ready to sacrifice
herself for those she loves?"
Magda almost jumped. It was as though she were listening to an echo of
Quarrington's own words.
"And you sacrificed yourself," continued Davilof. "Sacrificed your
pride--crushed it down for the sake of Mrs. Grey and little Coppertop.
Mademoiselle"--he bowed gravely--"I kiss your hands. And see, I too, I
can be generous. I release you from your promise. I do not claim that
If any single thing could have astonished Magda more than another, it
was that Davilof should voluntarily, in the circumstances, renounce
the dance she had promised him. It argued a fineness of perception and
a generosity for which she would never have given him credit. She felt
a little warm rush of gratitude towards him.
"No, no!" she cried impulsively, "you shan't give up your dance."
Then, as he still hesitated: "I should /like/ to dance with you--
really I should, Antoine. You've been so--so /decent/."
Davilof's face lit up. He looked radiant--like a child that has been
patted on the back and told it is good.
"No wonder we are all in love with you!" he exclaimed in low, vehement
tones; adding quickly, as he detected a flicker of apprehension in
Magda's eyes: "But you need not fear to dance with me. I will be as
your brother--I will go on being 'decent.'"
And he was. He danced as perfectly as any of his music-loving
nationality can dance, but there was a restraint, a punctilious
deference about him that, even while it amazed, availed to reassure
Magda and restore her shaken confidence in the man.
She did not realise or suspect that just those two simple actions of
hers--the good turn she had done Gillian at some considerable cost to
herself in the matter of personal pride, and her quick recognition of
the musician's sense of fair play in renouncing his dance with her
when he knew the circumstances which had impelled her to promise it--
these two things had sufficed to turn Davilof's heady, emotional
devotion into something more enduring and perhaps more dangerous, an
abiding, deeply rooted love and passion for her which was stronger
than the man himself.
He left the house immediately after the conclusion of his dance with
her, and Magda was speedily surrounded by a crowd of would-be
partners. But she felt disinclined to dance again, and, always chary
of her favours in this respect, she remained watching the dancing in
preference to taking any part in it, exchanging small-talk with the
men who, finding she could not be induced to reconsider her decision,
clustered round her chair like bees round a honey-pot.
It was towards the end of the evening that Michael Quarrington finally
joined the group. Magda's eyes rested on him with a mixture of
annoyance and approval--annoyance because she had expected him to ask
her for a dance quite early in the course of the programme and he had
failed to do so, and approval because he was of that clean-cut, fair-
haired type of man who invariably contrives to look particularly well-
groomed and thoroughbred in evening kit.
She had no intention of permitting him to request a dance at this late
hour, however, and rose from her seat as he approached.
"Ah! You, Mr. Quarrington?" she said gaily. "I am just going home.
It's been a charming evening, hasn't it?"
"Charming," he rejoined courteously. "May I see you to your car?"
He offered his arm and Magda, dismissing her little court of
disgruntled admirers with a small gracious nod, laid her slim hand on
his sleeve. As they moved away together the orchestra broke into the
swinging seductive rhythm of a waltz.
Quarrington paused abruptly.
"Don't go yet!" he said. "Dance this with me."
His voice sounded strained and uneven. It was as though the words were
dragged from him without his own volition.
For an instant the two pairs of eyes met--the long, dark ones with
their slumbrous fire brooding beneath white lids, and the keen, hawk-
like grey ones. Then:
"Very well," she answered a trifle breathlessly.
She was almost glad when the waltz came to an end. They had danced it
in utter silence--a tense, packed silence, vibrant with significances
half-hidden, half-understood, and she found herself quivering with a
strange uncertainty and nervousness as she and Quarrington together
made their way into the dim-lit quiet of the winter-garden opening off
Overhead the green, shining leaves of stephanotis spread a canopy,
pale clusters of its white, heavy-scented bloom gleaming star-like in
the faint light of Chinese lanterns swung from the leaf-clad roof.
From somewhere near at hand came the silvery, showering plash of a
fountain playing--a delicate and aerial little sound against the
robust harmonies of the band, like the notes of a harp.
It seemed to Magda as though she and Michael had left the world behind
them and were quite alone, enfolded in the sweet-scented, tender
silence of some Garden of Eden.
They stood together without speaking. In every tingling nerve of her
she was acutely conscious of his proximity and of some rapidly rising
tide of emotion mounting within him. She knew the barrier against
which it beat and a little cry escaped her, forced from her by some
impulse that was stronger than herself.
"Oh, Saint Michel! Can't you--can't you believe in me?"
He swung round at the sound of her voice and the next moment she was
crushed against his breast, his mouth on hers, his kisses burning
their way to her very heart. . . .
Then voices, quick, light footsteps--someone else had discovered the
Eden of the winter-garden, and Michael released her abruptly.
Behind the chimneystacks the grey fingers of dawn were creeping up in
the sky as Magda drove home. In the wan light her face looked
unusually pale, and beneath the soft lace at her breast her heart
Five minutes ago Michael had held her in his arms and she had felt
herself stirred to a sudden passionate surrender and response that
Was this love--the love against which Diane had warned her? It had all
happened so suddenly--that last, unpremeditated dance, those tense,
vibrant moments in the winter-garden, then the jarring interruption of
other couples seeking its fragrant coolness. And she and Michael
Afterwards, only the barest conventionalities had passed between them.
Nothing else had seemed possible. Their solitude had been ruthlessly
destroyed; the outside world had thrust itself upon them without
warning, jerking them back to the self-consciousness of suddenly
"I must be going." The stilted, banal little phrase had fallen
awkwardly from Magda's lips, and Quarrington had assented without
She felt confused and bewildered. What had he meant? Had he meant
anything at all? Was it possible that he believed in her now--trusted
her? It had been in answer to that low, imploring cry of hers--"/Saint
Michel, can't you believe in me?/"--that he had taken her in his arms.
Looking out through the mist-blurred window at the pale streamers of
dawnlight penciling the sky, Magda's eyes grew wistful--wonderingly
questioning the future. Was she, too, only waiting for the revelation
of dawn--the dawn of that mysterious thing called love which can
transmute this everyday old world of ours into heaven or hell?
Gillian was at the door to welcome her when at length the car pulled
up at Friars' Holm. She looked rather white and there were purple
shadows under her eyes, but her lips smiled happily.
"Coppertop? How is he?" asked Magda quickly.
"Sleeping, thank God! He's safe now! But--oh, Magda! It's been awful!"
And quite suddenly Gillian, who had faced Death and fought him with a
dogged courage and determination that had won the grave-eyed doctor's
rare approval, broke down and burst into tears.
Magda petted and soothed her, until at last her sobs ceased and she
smiled through her tears.
"I /am/ a fool!" she said, dabbing at her eyes with a moist, screwed-
up ball of something that had once been a cambric handkerchief. "But
I've quite recovered now--really. Come and tell me about everything.
Did Davilof play for you all right? And did you enjoy the dance
afterwards? And, oh, I forgot! There's a letter for you on the
mantelpiece. It was delivered by hand while we were both at Lady
Mechanically, as she responded to Gillian's rapid fire of questions,
Magda picked up the square envelope propped against the clock and slit
open the flap. It was probably only some note of urgent invitation--
she received dozens of them. An instant later a half-stifled cry broke
from her. Gillian turned swiftly.
"What is it?" she asked, a note of apprehension sharpening her voice.
Magda stared at her dumbly. Then she held out the letter.
"Read it," she said flatly. "It's from Kit Raynham's mother."
Gillian's eyes flew along the two brief lines of writing:
"Kit has disappeared. Do you know where he is?--
THE FIRST REAPING
At breakfast, some hours later, Magda was in a curiously petulant and
uncertain mood. To some extent her fractiousness was due to natural
reaction after the emotional excitement of the previous evening.
Granted the discovery of the Garden of Eden, and add to this the
almost immediate intrusion of outsiders therein--for everybody else is
an "outsider" to the pair in possession--and any woman might be
forgiven for suffering from slightly frayed nerves the following day.
And in Magda's case she had been already rather keyed up by finding
the preceding few days punctuated by unwelcome and unaccustomed
They all dated from the day of the accident which had befallen her in
the fog. It almost seemed as though that grey curtain of fog had been
a symbol of the shadow which was beginning to dog her footsteps--the
shadow which stern moralists designate "unpleasant consequences."
First there had been Michael Quarrington's plain and candid utterance
of his opinion of her. Then had followed Davilof's headlong wooing and
his refusal, when thwarted, to play for her again. He, too, had not
precisely glossed things over in that tirade of accusation and
reproach which he had levelled at her!
And now, just when it seemed as though she had put these other ugly
happenings behind her, Kit Raynham, who for the last six months had
been one of the little court of admirers which surrounded her, had
seen fit to complicate matters by vanishing without explanation; while
his mother, in an absurd maternal flurry of anxiety as to what had
become of him, must needs write to her as though it inevitably
followed that she was responsible for his disappearance!
Magda was conscious of an irritated sense of injury, which Gillian's
rather apprehensive little comments on the absence of further news
concerning young Raynham scarcely tended to allay.
"Oh, don't be tiresome, Gillian!" she exclaimed. "The boy's all right.
I expect he's been having a joy-day--which has prolonged itself a
"It seems he hasn't been seen or heard of since the day before
yesterday," responded Gillian gravely. "They're afraid he may--may
have committed suicide"--she brought out the word with a rush.
"They've been dragging the lake at his home."
"Where did you hear all this--this nonsense? You said nothing about it
"Lady Raynham told me. She rang up half an hour ago--before you were
down--to ask if by any chance we had had any news of him," replied
Magda pushed away her plate and, leaving her breakfast unfinished,
moved restlessly across to the window.
"There's nothing about it in this morning's paper, is there?" she
asked. Her tone sounded apprehensive.
Gillian's eyes grew suddenly compassionate.
"Yes. There is--something," she returned, laying her hand quickly over
the newspaper as though to withhold it.
But Magda swung round and snatched it from her. Gillian half rose from
"Don't look--don't read it, Magda!" she entreated hastily.
The other made no response. Instead, she deliberately searched the
columns of the paper until she found a paragraph headed: Disappearance
of the Honourable Kit Raynham.
No exception could reasonably be taken to the paragraph in question.
It gave a brief resume of Kit Raynham's short life up to date,
referred to the distinguished career which had been predicted for him,
and, in mentioning that he was one of the set of brilliant young folks
of whom Magda Wielitzska, the well-known dancer, was the acknowledged
leader, it conveyed a very slightly veiled hint that he, in
particular, was accounted one of her most devoted satellites. The
sting of the paragraph lay in its tail:
"It will be tragic indeed if it should eventually transpire that a
young life so full of exceptional promise has foundered in seas
that only a seasoned swimmer should essay."
It was easy enough for Magda to read between the lines. If anything
had happened to Kit Raynham--if it were ultimately found that he had
taken his own life--society at large was prepared to censure her as
more or less responsible for the catastrophe!
Side by side with this paragraph was another--a panegyric on the
perfection of Wielitzska's dancing as a whole, and dwelling
particularly upon her brilliant performance in /The Swan-Maiden/.
To Magda, the juxtaposition of the two paragraphs was almost
unendurable. That this supreme success should be marred and
overshadowed by a possible tragedy! She flung the newspaper to the
"I think--I think the world's going mad!" she exclaimed in a choked
Gillian looked across at her. Intuitively she apprehended the mental
conflict through which her friend was passing--the nervous
apprehension and resentment of the artiste that any extraneous
happening should infringe upon her success contending with the genuine
regret she would feel if some untoward accident had really befallen
Kit Raynham. And behind both these that strange, aloof detachment
which seemed part of the very fibre of her nature, and which Gillian
knew would render it almost impossible for her to admit or even
realise that she was in any way responsible for Kit Raynham's fate--
whatever it might be.
Of what had taken place in the winter-garden at Lady Arabella's
Gillian was, of course, in ignorance, and she had therefore no idea
that the intrusion of Kit Raynham's affairs at this particular
juncture was doubly unwelcome. But she could easily see that Magda was
shaken out of her customary sang-froid.
"Don't worry, Magda." The words sprang consolingly to her lips, but
before she could give them utterance Melrose opened the door and
announced that Lady Raynham was in the library. Would Mademoiselle
Wielitzska see her?
The old man's face wore a look of concern. They had heard all about
the disappearance of Lady Raynham's son in the servants' hall--the
evening papers had had it. Moreover, it always seems as though there
exists a species of wireless telepathy by which the domestic staff of
any household, great or small, speedily becomes acquainted with
everything good, bad, or indifferent--and particularly bad!--which
affects the folks "above-stairs."
A brief uncomfortable pause succeeded Melrose's announcement; then
Magda walked quietly out of the room into the library.
Lady Raynham rose from a low chair near the fire. She was a little,
insignificant woman, rather unfashionably attired, with neat grey hair
and an entirely undistinguished face, but as she stood there,
motionless, waiting for Magda to come up to her, she was quite
unconsciously impressive--transformed by that tragic dignity with
which great sorrow invests even the most commonplace of people.
Her thin, middle-aged features looked drawn and puckered by long hours
of strain. Her eyes were red-rimmed with sleeplessness. They searched
Magda's face accusingly before she spoke.
"What have you done to my son?"
"Where is he?" Magda's answering question came in almost breathless
"You don't know!"
Lady Raynham sat down suddenly. Her legs were trembling beneath her--
had been trembling uncontrollably even as she nerved herself to stand
and confront the woman at whose door she laid the ruin of her son. But
now the spurt of nervous energy was exhausted, and she sank back into
her chair, thankful for its support.
"I don't know where he is," she said tonelessly. "I don't even know
whether he is alive or dead."
She fumbled in the wrist-bag she carried, and withdrawing a crumpled
sheet of notepaper held it out. Magda took it from her mechanically,
recognising, with a queer tightening of the muscles of her throat, the
boyish handwriting which sprawled across it.
"You want me to read this?" she asked.
"You've /got/ to read it," replied the other harshly. "It is written
to you. I found it--after he'd gone."
Her gaze fastened on Magda's face and clung there unwaveringly while
she read the letter.
It was a wild, incoherent outpouring--the headlong confession of a
boy's half-crazed infatuation for a beautiful woman. A pathetic enough
document in its confused medley of passionate demand and boyish
humbleness. The tragic significance of it was summed up in a few lines
at the end--lines which seemed to burn themselves into Magda's brain:
"I suppose it was cheek my hoping you could ever care, but you were
so sweet to me you made me think you did. I know now that you
don't--that you never really cared a brass farthing, and I'm going
right away. The same world can't hold us both any longer. So I'm
going out of it."
Magda looked up from the scrawled page and met the gaze of the sad,
merciless eyes that were fixed on her.
"Couldn't you have left him alone?" Lady Raynham spoke in a low,
difficult voice. "You have men enough to pay you compliments and run
your errands. I'd only Kit. Couldn't you have let me keep him? What
did you want with my boy's love. You'd nothing to give him in return?"
"I had!" protested Magda indignantly. "You're wrong. I was very fond
of Kit. I gave him my friendship."
Her indignation was perfectly sincere. To her, it seemed that Lady
Raynham was taking up a most unwarrantable attitude.
"Friendship?" repeated the latter with bitter scorn. "Friendship? Then
God help the boys to whom you give it! Before Kit ever met you he was
the best and dearest son a woman could have had. He was keen on his
work--wild to get on. And he was so gifted it looked as if there were
nothing in his profession that he might not do. . . . Then you came!
You turned his head, filled his thoughts to the exclusion of all else
--work, duty, everything that matters to a lad of two-and-twenty. You
spoilt his chances--spoilt his whole life. And now I've lost him. I
don't know where he is--whether he is dead or alive." She paused. "I
think he's dead," she said dully.
"I'm sorry if--"
"Sorry!" Lady Raynham interrupted hysterically. Her composure was
giving way under the strain of the interview. "Sorry if my son has
taken his own life--"
"He hasn't," asserted Magda desperately. "He was far too sensible and
"Yes. Till you turned his head!"
Lady Raynham rose and walked towards the door as though she had said
all she came to say. Magda sprang to her feet.
"I won't--I won't be blamed like this!" she exclaimed rebelliously.
"It's unfair! Can I help it if your son chose to fall in love with me?
You--you might as well hold me responsible because he is tall or
short--or good or bad!"
The other stopped suddenly on her way to the door as though arrested
by that last defiant phrase.
"I do," she said sternly. "It's women like you who are responsible
whether men are good--or bad."
In silence Magda watched the small, unassuming figure disappear
through the doorway. She felt powerless to frame a reply, nor had Lady
Raynham waited for one. If her boy were indeed dead--dead by his own
hand--she had at least cleared his memory, laid the burden of the mad,
rash act he had committed on the shoulders that deserved to bear it.
Normally a shy, retiring kind of woman, loathing anything in the
nature of a scene, the tragedy which had befallen her son had inspired
Alicia Raynham with the reckless courage of a tigress defending its
young. And now that the strain was over and she found herself once
more in her brougham, driving homeward with the familiar clip-clop of
the fat old carriage-horse's hoofs in her ears, she shrank back
against the cushions marvelling at the temerity which had swept her
into the Wielitzska's presence and endowed her with words that cut
like a two-edged sword.
Like a two-edged sword in very truth! Lady Raynham's final thrust,
stabbing at her with its stern denunciation, brought back vividly to
Magda Michael Quarrington's bitter speech--"I've no place for your
kind of woman."
Side by side with the recollection came a sudden dart of fear. How
would all this stir about Kit Raynham--the impending gossip and
censure which seemed likely to be accorded her--affect him? Would he
judge her again--as he had judged her before?
She was conscious of a fresh impulse of anger against Lady Raynham.
She wanted to forget the past--blot it all out of her memory--and out
of the memory of the man whose contempt had hurt her more than
anything in her whole life before. And now it seemed as though
everything were combining to emphasise those very things which had
earned his scorn.
But, apart from a certain apprehension as to how the whole affair
might appear in Michael's eyes, she was characteristically unimpressed
by her interview with Lady Raynham.
"I don't see," she told Gillian indignantly, "that I'm to blame
because the boy lost his head. His mother was--stupid."
Gillian regarded her consideringly. To her, the whole pitiful tragedy
was so clear. She could envisage the point of view of Kit's mother
only too well, and sympathise with it. Yet, understanding Magda better
than most people did, she realised that the dancer was hardly as
culpable as Lady Raynham thought her.
Homage and admiration were as natural to Magda as the air she
breathed, and it made very little impression on her whether a man more
or less lost his heart to her or not. Moreover, as Gillian recognised
it was almost inevitable that this should be the case. The influences
by which Magda had been surrounded during the first ten plastic years
of childhood had all tended to imbue her with the idea that men were
only to be regarded as playthings, and that from the simple standpoint
of self-defence it was wiser not to take them seriously. If you did,
they invariably showed a disposition to become tyrants. Gillian made
allowance for this; nevertheless she had no intention of letting Magda
"I believe you were created without a soul," she informed her
Magda smiled a little.
"Do you know you're the second person to tell me that?" she said. "The
idea's not a bit original. Michael Quarrington told me the same thing
in other words. Perhaps, perhaps it's true."
"Of course, it's not true!" Gillian contradicted her warmly. "I only
said it because I was so out of patience with you."
"Everybody seems to be hating me rather badly just now." Magda spoke
somewhat forlornly. "And yet--I don't think I'm any different from
"I don't think you are," retorted Gillian. "But it's your 'usual'
that's so disastrous. You go sailing through life like a beautiful
cold star--perfectly impassive and heartless."
"I'm not heartless. I love you--and Marraine. You surely don't blame
me because I don't 'fall in love'? . . . I don't /want/ to fall in
love," she added with sudden vehemence.
"I wish to goodness you would!" exclaimed Gillian impatiently. "If
only you cared enough about anybody to do something really outrageous
--run off with another woman's husband, even--I believe I should
respect you more than I do now."
"Gillyflower, I'm afraid you've no morals. And you here in the
capacity of watchdog and duenna, too!"
"It's all very well to make a joke of everything. But I know--I'm sure
this business about Kit Raynham is going to be more serious than you
think. It's bound to affect you."
Magda stared at her blankly.
"What nonsense! Affect me--why should it? How can it?"
"How can it?"--with bitterness. "Everyone will talk--more than usual!
You can't smash up people's only sons--not lovable, popular boys like
Kit--without there being a fuss. You--you should have left a kid like
And she went out of the room, banging the door behind her like a big
Gillian's prophecy proved only too accurate. People did talk. Kit
Raynham had been a general favourite in society, and his
disappearance, taken in conjunction with the well-known fact of his
infatuation for Magda, created a sensation.
Even when the theory of suicide was finally disproved by his mother's
receiving a letter from Australia, whither it appeared, the boy had
betaken himself and his disappointment, people seemed at first
disinclined to overlook Magda's share in the matter. For a time even
her immense prestige as a dancer suffered some eclipse, but this, with
a performer of her supreme artistry, was bound to be only a passing
The world will always condone where it wants to be amused. And--now
that the gloom of young Raynham's supposed suicide was lifted from the
affair--there was a definite aroma of romance about it which was not
without its appeal to the younger generation.
So that gradually the pendulum swung back and Magda's audiences were
once again as big and enthusiastic as ever. Perhaps even more
enthusiastic, since the existence of a romantic and dramatic
attachment sheds a certain glamour about any well-known artiste.
All of which affected Magda herself comparatively little--though it
irritated her that her actions should be criticised. What did affect
her, however, absorbing her thoughts to the exclusion of all other
matters, was that since the night of Lady Arabella's reception she had
received neither word nor sign from Michael Quarrington.
She could not understand it. Had he been a different type of man she
might have credited him with having yielded to a sudden impulse,
kissing her as some men will kiss women--lightly and without giving or
asking more than the moment's caress.
But Quarrington was essentially not the man to be carried away by a
passing fancy. That he had cared for her against his will, against his
better judgment, Magda could not but realise. /But he had cared!/ She
was sure of it. And he was the only man for whom her own pulses had
ever beaten one whit the faster.
His touch, the sound of his voice, the swift, hawk-like glance of
those grey eyes of his, had power to wake in her a vague tumult of
emotion at once sweet and frightening; and in that brief moment in the
"Garden of Eden," when he had held her in his arms, she had been
tremulously ready to yield--to surrender to the love which claimed
But the days had multiplied to weeks and still the silence which had
followed remained unbroken. As far as Magda was concerned, Michael
seemed to have walked straight out of her life, and she was too proud
--and too much hurt--to inquire amongst her friends for news of him.
It was her godmother who finally tersely enlightened her as to his
Characteristically, Lady Arabella had withheld her judgment regarding
the Kit Raynham affair until it was found that he had betaken himself
off to Australia. But when the whole of the facts were evident, she
allowed nothing--neither the romantic dreams of the episode nor her
own warm affection for her god-daughter--to obscure her clear-sighted
Magda twisted her slim shoulders irritably when taken to task.
"I think I'm tired of being blamed for Kit Raynham's idiocy," she
said, a note of resentment in her voice. "No one seems to consider my
side of the question! I was merely nice to him in an ordinary sort of
way, and there wasn't the least need for him to have chucked up
everything and rushed off to the other side of the world like that.
/I/ couldn't help it!"
Lady Arabella made a gesture of despair.
"I don't believe you could," she acknowledged helplessly. "I'm really
beginning to have a sneaking sympathy with poor Hugh for shelving the
responsibility of having brought you into the world. But at least you
might refrain from baby-snatching!" she added wrathfully.
"Marraine! You're abominable! Kit is four-and-twenty if he's a day.
And I'm barely twenty."
"That has nothing whatever to do with it," retorted Lady Arabella
incisively. "Kit is a babe in arms, while you--you're as old as Eve."
She paused. "Anyway, you've broken his heart and driven him to the
ends of the earth."
"Where he'll probably paste together the pieces and offer the repaired
article to someone else."
Lady Arabella looked up sharply. Cynicism was usually far enough away
from Magda. She was too full of the joy of life and of the genuine
delight an artist finds in his art to have place for it. Egoist she
might be, with the unthinking egotism of youth, irresponsible in her
gay acceptance of the love and admiration showered on her, but there
was nothing bitter or sour in her composition. Lady Arabella, seeking
an explanation for the unwonted, cast her mind back on the events of
the last few weeks--and smiled to herself.
"I suppose you know you've driven someone else out of England besides
Kit Raynham?" she said.
"Whom do you mean?"
Magda spoke mechanically. A faint colour crept up under her white
skin, and she avoided her godmother's keen gaze.
"That charming artist-man--Michael Quarrington."
"Has--he left England?" Magda's throat felt suddenly parched. Then
with an effort she went on: "You're surely not going to put the entire
steamship's passenger list down to me, Marraine?"
"Only those names for which I happen to know you're responsible."
"You don't know about Saint Mi--about Mr. Quarrington. It's mere
guesswork on your part."
"Most of the things we really know in life are mere guesswork,"
replied Lady Arabella sagely. "But in this case----"
"Yes. In this case?"
There was a long pause. Then Lady Arabella answered slowly:
"In this case I'm speaking from first-hand information."
Magda's slender figure tautened. She moistened her lips.
"Do you mean that Mr. Quarrington told you he was leaving England on
my account?" she asked.
"I don't often meddle, Magda--not really meddle." Lady Arabella's
voice sounded unusually deprecating. "But I did in this instance.
Because--oh, my dear, he's the only man I've ever seen to whom I'd be
glad to give you up. He'd--he'd manage you, Magda."
Magda's head was turned away, but the sudden scarlet flush that flew
up into her face surged over even the white nape of her neck.
"And he loves you," went on Lady Arabella, her voice softening
incredibly. "It's only a man here or there who really /loves/ a woman,
my dear. Most of them whip up a hotch-potch of quite commonplace
feelings with a dash of passion and call it love, while all they
actually want is a good housekeeper and presentable hostess and
someone to carry on the name."
No answer came from Magda, unless a stifled murmur could be regarded
as such, and after a few minutes Lady Arabella spoke again, irritably.
"Why couldn't you have left Kit alone?"
Magda raised her head.
"What has that to do with it?"
"Everything"--succinctly. "I told you I meddled. Michael Quarrington
came to see me before he went away--and I know precisely why he left
England. I asked him to go and see you before he sailed."
"What did he say?" The words were almost inaudible.
Lady Arabella hesitated. Then she quoted quickly: "'There is no need.
She will understand.'"
To Magda the brief sentence held all the finality of the bolting and
barring of a door. So Quarrington, like everyone else, had heard the
story of Kit Raynham! And he had judged and sentenced her.
That night in the winter-garden he had been on the verge of trusting
her, ready to believe in her, and she had vowed to herself that she
would prove worthy of his trust. She had meant never to fall short of
all that Michael demanded in the woman he loved. And now, before she
had had a chance to justify his hardly-won belief, the past had risen
up to destroy her, surging over her like a great tidal wave and
sweeping away the whole fabric of the happiness she had visioned.
She had not wholly realised before that she loved. But she knew now.
As the empty weeks dragged along she learned what it meant to long for
the beloved one's presence--the sound and touch of voice or hand--with
an aching, unassuagable longing that seems to fuse body and soul into
a single entity of pain.
Outwardly she appeared unchanged. Her pride was indomitable, and
exactly how much Michael's going had meant to her not even Gillian
suspected--though the latter was too sensitive and sympathetic not to
realise that Magda had passed through some experience which had
touched her keenly. Ignorant of the incidents that had occurred on the
night of Lady Arabella's party, she was disposed to assign the
soreness of spirit she discerned in her friend to the general
happenings which had followed from the Raynham episode. And amongst
these she gave a certain definite place to the abrupt withdrawal of
Quarrington's friendship, and resented it. She felt curiously
disappointed in the man. With such fine perceptive faculty as he
possessed she would have expected him to be more tolerant--more
merciful in his judgment.
Once she had tentatively approached the subject, but Magda had clearly
indicated that she had no intention of discussing it.
Not even to Gillian, whom she had gradually come to look upon as her
closest friend, could Magda unveil the wound to her pride. No one, no
one in the whole world, should know that she had been ready to give
her love--and that the offering had been silently, but none the less
Diane's warning now found its echo in her own heart: "Never give your
heart to any man. If you do he will only break it for you--break it
into little pieces like the glass scent-bottle which you dropped
"She was right," Magda told herself bitterly. "A thousand times
THE BACK OF BEYOND
The season was drawing to its close. London lay sweltering under a
heat-wave which had robbed the trees in the Park of their fresh June
greenness and converted the progress of foot-passengers along its
sultry pavements into something which called to mind the mediaeval
ordeal of walking over hot ploughshares.
Even the garden at Friars' Holm, usually a coolly green oasis in the
midst of the surrounding streets, seemed as airless as any back court
or alley, and Coppertop, who had been romping ever more and more
flaggingly with a fox-terrier puppy he had recently acquired, finally
gave up the effort and flung himself down, red-faced and panting, on
the lawn where his mother and Magda were sitting.
"Isn't it nearly time for us to go to the seaside, mummie?" he
Magda smiled down at the small wistful face.
"How would you like to go to the country instead, Topkins?" she asked.
"To a farm where they have pigs and horses and cows, and heaps of
"And strawberries?" interpolated Coppertop pertinently.
"Oh, of course. Or, no--they'll be over by the time we get there. But
there'll be raspberries. That's just as good, isn't it?"
Gillian looked up, smiling a little.
"It's settled we're going 'there,' then--wherever it is?" she said.
"Do you think you'd like it, Gillyflower?" asked Magda. "It's a farm
I've heard of in Devonshire, where they want to take paying-guests for
Gillian, guessing from Magda's manner that the whole matter was
practically arranged, nodded acquiescence.
"I'm sure I should. But will /you/?"--whimsically. She glanced at the
sophisticated simplicity of Magda's white gown, at the narrow suede
shoes and filmy stockings--every detail of her dress and person
breathing the expensiveness and luxury and highly specialised
civilisation of the city. "Somehow I can't imagine you--on a farm in
the depths of the country! I believe you'll hate it."
"I shall like it." Magda got up restlessly. "I'm sick of society and
the theatre and the eternal gossip that goes on in London. I--I want
to get away from it all!"
Gillian's thoughts turned back to the happenings of the last few
months. She thought she understood what lay behind Magda's sudden
decision to bury herself in the country.
"Have you taken rooms at this farm?" she asked.
"Yes, I have"--shortly. Then, with one of those sudden flashes of
affectionate insight which were part of her essential lovableness, she
went on: "Gilly, are you sure you don't mind? I ought to have asked
you first"--remorsefully. "I expect you'll be bored to death. Perhaps
you'd rather not come?"
Gillian's quiet brown eyes smiled at her reassuringly.
"'Where thou goest--'" she quoted. "Of course I want to come. I've
never been to Devonshire. And I know Coppertop will adore the pigs and
"And cream," put in Coppertop ruminatively.
"Tell me about the place," said Gillian. "How did you hear of it?"
"Through the prosaic columns of the /Daily Post/," replied Magda. "I
didn't want a place recommended by anyone I knew. That doesn't cut the
connecting line one bit. Probably the people who've recommended it to
you decide to look you up in their car, just when you think you're
safely buried, and disinter you. I don't /want/ to be disinterred. I
propose to get right away into the country, out of reach of everybody
we know, for two months. I shan't give our address to anyone except
Melrose, and he can forward on all letters." A small amused smile
crossed her lips. "Then we can answer them or not, exactly as we feel
disposed. It will be heavenly."
"Still I don't know where this particular paradise is which you've
selected," returned Gillian patiently.
"It's at the back of beyond--a tiny village in Devonshire called
Ashencombe. I just managed to find it on the Ordnance map with a
magnifying glass! The farm itself is called Stockleigh and is owned
and farmed by some people named Storran. The answer to my letter was
signed Dan Storran. Hasn't it a nice sound--Storran of Stockleigh?"
"And did you engage the rooms on those grounds, may I ask? Because the
proprietor's name 'had a nice sound'?"
Magda regarded her seriously.
"Do you know, I really believe that had a lot to do with it," she
Gillian went off into a little gale of laughter.
"How like you!" she exclaimed.
The train steamed fussily out of Ashencombe station, leaving Magda,
Gillian, and Coppertop, together with sundry trunks and suitcases, in
undisputed possession of the extremely amateurish-looking platform.
Magda glanced about her with amusement.
"What a ridiculous little wayside place!" she exclaimed. "It has a
kind of 'home-made' appearance, hasn't it? You'd hardly expect a real
bona fide train to stop here!"
"This your luggage, miss?"
A porter--or, to be accurate, /the/ porter, since Ashencombe boasted
but one--addressed her abruptly. From a certain inimical gleam in his
eye Magda surmised that he had overheard her criticism.
"Yes." She nodded smilingly. "Is there a trap of any kind to meet us?"
Being a man as well as a porter he melted at once under Magda's
disarming smile, and replied with a sudden accession of amiability.
"Be you going to Stockleigh?" he asked. The soft sing-song intonation
common to all Devon voices fell very pleasantly on ears accustomed to
the Cockney twang of London streets.
"Yes, to Storran of Stockleigh," announced Coppertop importantly.
The porter's mouth widened into an appreciative grin.
"That's right, young master, and there's the wagonette from the Crown
and Bells waiting to take you there."
A few minutes later, the luggage precariously piled up on the box-seat
beside the driver, they were ambling through the leafy Devon lanes at
an unhurried pace apparently dictated by the somewhat ancient
quadruped between the shafts. The driver swished his whip negligently
above the animal's broad back, but presumably more with the idea of
keeping off the flies than with any hope of accelerating his speed.
There would be no other train to meet at Ashencombe until the down
mail, due four hours later, so why hurry? No one ever appears to be in
a hurry in the leisurely West Country--a refreshing characteristic in
a world elsewhere so perforated by tubes and shaken by the ubiquitous
Magda leaned back in the wagonette with a sigh of pleasure. The
drowsy, sunshiny peace of the July afternoon seemed very far removed
from the torrid rush and roar of the previous day in London.
It was almost like entering another world. Instead of the crowded,
wood-paved streets, redolent of petrol, this winding ribbon of a lane
where the brambles and tufted grass leaned down from close-set hedges
to brush the wheels of the carriage as it passed. Overhead, a restful
sky of misty blue flecked with wisps of white cloud, while each
inconsequent turn of the narrow twisting road revealed a sudden
glimpse of distant purple hills, or a small friendly cottage built of
cob and crowned with yellow thatch, or high-hedged fields of standing
corn, deepening to gold and quiveringly still as the sea on a windless
At last the wagonette swung round an incredibly sharp turn and rumbled
between two granite posts--long since denuded of the gate which had
once swung between them--pulling up in front of a low, two-storied
house, which seemed to convey a pleasant sense of welcome, as some
The casement windows stood wide open and through them you caught
glimpses of white curtains looped back with lavender ribbons. Roses,
pink and white and red, nodded their heads to you from the walls, even
peering out impertinently to catch the sun from beneath the eaves of
the roof, whose thatch had mellowed to a somber brown with wind and
weather. Above the doorway trails of budding honeysuckle challenged
the supremacy of more roses in their summer prime, and just within, in
the cool shadow of the porch, stood a woman's slender figure.
Gillian never forgot that first glimpse of June Storran. She looked
very simple and girlish as she stood there, framed in the rose-covered
trellis of the porch, waiting with a slight stir of nervousness to
receive the travellers. The sunlight, filtering between the leaves of
the honeysuckle, dappled her ash-blond hair with hovering flecks of
gold, and a faint, shy smile curved her lips as she came forward, a
little hesitatingly, to greet them.
"I am so glad to see you," she said. "Dan--my husband had to go to
Exeter to-day. He was sorry he could not meet you himself at the
As she and Magda stood side by side the contrast between them was
curiously marked--the one in her obviously homemade cotton frock, with
her total absence of poise and her look of extreme youth hardly
seeming the married woman that she was, the other gowned with the
simplicity of line and detailed finish achieved only by a great
dressmaker, her quiet assurance and distinctive little air of /savoir
vivre/ setting her worlds apart from Dan Storran's young wife.
"Will you come in? The man will see to your luggage."
June was speaking again, still shyly but with her shyness tempered by
a sensitive instinct of hospitality. She led the way into the house
and they followed her through a big, low-raftered living-room and up a
flight of slippery oak stairs.
"These are your rooms," said June, pausing at last at the end of a
rambling passage-way. "I hope"--she flushed a little anxiously--"I do
hope you will like them. I've made them as nice as I could. But, of
course"--she glanced at Magda deprecatingly--"you will find them very
different from London rooms."
Magda flashed her a charming smile.
"I'm sure we shall love them," she answered, glancing about her with
The rooms were very simply furnished, but sweet and fresh with chintz
and flowers, and the whitewashed ceilings, sloping at odd, unexpected
angles, gave them a quaint attractiveness. The somewhat coarse but
spotless bed-linen exhaled a faint fragrance of lavender.
"You ought to charge extra for the view alone," observed Gillian,
going to one of the open lattice windows and looking across the rise
and fall of hill and valley to where the distant slopes of Dartmoor,
its craggy tors veiled in a grey-blue haze, rimmed the horizon.
"I hope you didn't think the terms too high?" said June. "You see, I--
we never had paying-guests before, and I really didn't know what would
be considered fair. I do hope you'll be happy and comfortable here,"
she added timidly.
There was something very appealing in her ingenuousness and wistful
desire to please, and Magda reassured her quickly.
"I haven't any doubt about it," she said, smiling. "This is such a
charming house"--glancing about her--"so dear and old-fashioned. I
think it's very good of you to let us share your home for a little
while. It will be a lovely holiday for us."
June Storran had no possibility of knowing that this dark, slender
woman to whom she had let her rooms was the famous dancer, Magda
Wielitzska, since the rooms had been engaged in the name of Miss
Vallincourt, but she responded to Magda's unfailing charm as a flower
to the sun.
"It will be lovely for us, too," she replied. "Do you know, we were so
frightened about putting in that advertisement you answered! Dan was
terribly against it." A troubled little frown knitted her level brows.
"But we've had such bad luck on the farm since we were married--the
rain spoilt all our crops last year and we lost several valuable
animals--so I thought it would help a bit if we took paying-guests
this summer. But Dan didn't really approve."
"I can quite understand," said Gillian. "Naturally he wanted to keep
his home to himself--an Englishman's home is his castle, you know! And
I expect"--smilingly--"you haven't been married very long."
Mrs. Storran flushed rosily. She was evidently a sensitive little
person, and the blood came and went quickly under her clear skin at
the least provocation.
"Not very long," she acknowledged. "But we've been very happy--in
spite of our bad luck on the farm! After all, that's what matters,
"It's the only thing that really matters at all," said Gillian. Her
eyes had grown suddenly soft with some tender recollection of the
past. "But you mustn't let us give you a lot of trouble while we're
here. You don't look over-strong." Her glance rested kindly on her
hostess's young face. In spite of its dewy blue eyes and clear skin
with the tinge of wild-rose pink in the cheeks, it conveyed a certain
impression of fragility. She looked almost as though a vigorous puff
of wind might blow her away.
"Oh, I'm quite well. Of course I found looking after a farmhouse
rather heavy work--just at first. I hadn't been used to it, and we
can't afford to keep a servant. You see, I married Dan against the
wishes of my people, so of course we couldn't accept any help from
them, though they have offered it."
"I don't see why not," objected Magda. "They can't feel very badly
about it if they are willing to help you."
"Oh, no--they would, gladly. But Dan would hate it in the
circumstances. You can understand that, can't you?"--appealingly. "He
wants to justify himself--to prove that he can keep his own wife. He'd
be too proud to let me take anything from them."
"Storran of Stockleigh appears to be considerably less attractive than
his name," summed up Gillian, as, half an hour later, she and Magda
and Coppertop were seated round a rustic wooden table in the garden
partaking of a typical Devonshire tea with its concomitants of jam and
"Apparently," she continued, "he has married 'above him.' Little Mrs.
Storran obviously comes of good stock, while I expect he himself is
just an ordinary sort of farmer and doesn't half appreciate her.
Anyway, he doesn't seem to consider her much."
Magda made no answer. Characteristically her interest in June Storran
had evaporated, pushed aside by something of more personal concern.
"This is the most restful, peaceful spot I've ever struck," she said,
leaning back with a sigh of pleasure. "Isn't it lovely, Gilly? There's
something homelike and friendly about the whole landscape--a sort of
/intimate/ feeling. I feel as if I'd known it all for years--and
should like to know it for years more! Don't they say Devon folk
always want to come home to die? I'm not surprised."
"Yes, it's very beautiful," agreed Gillian, her gaze resting
contentedly on the gracious curves of green and golden fields, broken
here and there by stretches of ploughed land glowing warmly red
between the ripening corn and short-cropped pasture.
"I believe I could be quite good here, Gillyflower," pursued Magda
reflectively. "Just live happily from one day to the next, breathing
this glorious air, and eating plain, simple food, and feeding those
adorable fluffy yellow balls Mrs. Storran calls chickens, and churning
Gillian's ringing, whole-hearted laughter checked this enthusiastic
epitome of the simple life.
"Never, Magda!" she asserted, shaking her head. "I'm quite expecting
you to get bored in about a week and to rush me off to Deauville or
somewhere of that ilk. And as to being 'good'--why, it isn't in you!"
"I'm not so sure." Magda rose and together they strolled over the
grass towards the house, Coppertop skirmishing happily behind them. "I
really think I might be good here--if only for the sole reason that
there's no temptation to be anything else"--drily.
As she spoke a gate clicked close at hand. Followed the sound of
quick, striding steps, and the next moment a man's figure rounded the
tall yew hedge which skirted the foot of the garden and came towards
He was a big giant of a man--at least six foot two in his socks, and
proportionately broad and muscular in build. There was something free
and bold in his swinging gait that seemed to challenge the whole
world. It suggested an almost fierce independence of spirit that would
give or take as it chose, but would never brook dictation from any man
--or woman either.
Instinctively Magda and Gillian paused, and Magda held out a slim
hand, smiling, as he overtook them.
"I'm sure you must be Mr. Storran," she said.
He halted abruptly and snatched off his cap, revealing a crop of
crinkly dark-brown hair thatching a lean sunburnt face, out of which
gleamed a pair of eyes as vividly blue as periwinkles.
"Yes, I'm Dan Storran," he said simply. "Is it Miss Vallincourt?"
Magda nodded and proceeded to introduce Gillian. But Storran's glance
only rested cursorily on Gillian's soft, pretty face, returning at
once to Magda's as though drawn thither by a magnet.
"I'm sorry I couldn't meet your train myself to-day," he said, a note
of eager apology in his voice.
Magda smiled at him.
"So am I," she answered.
Gillian was sitting alone in the yew-hedged garden, her slim fingers
busy repairing the holes which appeared with unfailing regularity in
the heels of Coppertop's stockings. From the moment he had come to
Stockleigh the number and size of the said holes had increased
appreciably, for, although five weeks had elapsed since the day of
arrival, Coppertop was still revelling whole-heartedly in the
incredible daily delights which, from the viewpoint of six years old,
attach to a farm.
Day after day found him trotting contentedly in the wake of the
stockman, one Ned Honeycott, whom he had adopted as guide,
philosopher, and friend, and whom he regarded as a veritable fount of
knowledge and the provider of unlimited adventure and entertainment.
It was Honeycott who lifted Coppertop on to the broad back of the
steadiest cart-horse; who had taught him how to feed calves by dipping
his chubby little hand into a pail of milk and then letting them suck
the milk from off his fingers; who beneficently contrived that hardly
a load of hay was driven to the great rick without Coppertop's small
person perched proudly aloft thereon, his slim legs dangling and his
shrill voice joining with that of the carter in an encouraging "Come-
up, Blossom," to the bay mare as she plodded forward between the
Gillian experienced no anxiety with regard to Coppertop's safety while
he was in Ned Honeycott's charge, but she missed the childish
companionship, the more so as she found herself frequently alone these
days. June Storran was naturally occupied about her house and dairy,
while Magda, under Dan Storran's tutelage, appeared smitten with an
extraordinary interest in farm management.
It seemed to Gillian that Magda and Dan were in each other's company
the greater part of the time. Every day Dan had some suggestion or
other to make for Miss Vallincourt's amusement. Either it was: "Would
you care to see the hay-loader at work?" Or: "I've just bought a
couple of pedigree Devon cows I'd like to show you, Miss Vallincourt."
Or, as yesterday: "There's a pony fair to be held to-morrow at
Pennaway Bridge. Would you care to drive in it?" And to each and all
of Storran's suggestions Magda had yielded a ready assent.
So this morning had seen the two of them setting out for Pennaway in
Dan's high dog-cart, while Gillian and June stood together in the
rose-covered porch and watched them depart.
"Wouldn't you like to have gone?" Gillian asked on a sudden impulse.
She regretted the question the instant it had passed her lips, for in
the wide-apart blue eyes June turned upon her there was something of
the mute, puzzled misery of a dog that has received an unexpected
"I couldn't spare the time," she answered hastily. "You see"--the
sensitive colour as usual coming and going quickly in her face--"Miss
Vallincourt is on a holiday."
She turned and went quickly into the house, leaving Gillian conscious
of a sudden uneasiness--that queer "trouble ahead" feeling which
descends upon us sometimes, without warning and without our being able
to assign any very definite cause for it.
She was thinking over the little incident now, as she sat sewing in
the evening light, and meditating whether she should give Magda a hint
that it might be kinder of her not to monopolise so much of Dan's
society. And then the crisp sound of a horse trotting on the hard, dry
road came to her ears, and almost immediately the high dog-cart swung
between the granite gateposts and clattered into the yard.
Dan tossed the reins on to the horse's neck and, springing to the
ground, came round to help Magda down from the cart.
"It's rather a steep step. Let me lift you down," he said.
Magda stood up in the trap and looked down at him with smiling eyes,
unconsciously delighting in his sheer physical good looks. He was a
magnificent specimen of manhood, and the good yeoman blood in him,
which had come down through the generations of the same sturdy stock,
proclaimed itself in his fine physique and splendid virility.
A moment later he had swung her down as easily as though she were a
child, and she was standing beside him.
She laughed up at him.
"Oh, 'girt Jan Ridd'!" she exclaimed softly.
He laughed back, well pleased. (Was there ever a man who failed to be
ridiculously flattered by a feminine tribute to his physical
strength?) Nor did his hands release her quite at once.
"You're as light as a feather! I could carry you all day and--"
"Not know it!" concluded Magda gaily.
His hands fell away from her slim body abruptly.
"Oh, I should know it right enough!" he said jerkily.
His eyes kindled, and Magda, conscious of something suddenly
disturbing and electric in the atmosphere, turned quickly and, leaving
Storran to unharness the horse, made her way to where she espied
The latter looked up from her sewing.
"So you've got back? Did you have a good time?"
"Yes. It was quite amusing. There were heaps and heaps of ponies--some
of them wild, unbroken colts which had been brought straight off the
Moor. They were rearing and plunging all over the place. I loved them!
By the way, I'm gong to learn riding, Gillyflower. Mr. Storran has
offered to teach me. He says he has a nice quiet mare I could start
A small frown puckered Gillian's brows.
"Do you think Mrs. Storran will like it?"
"Why on earth shouldn't she?"
"Well,"--Gillian spoke with a vague discomfort. "He's her husband!"
"I don't see what that has to do with it," replied Magda. "We're
staying here and, of course, the Storrans want to make it as nice as
they can for us. Anyway, I'm going to take such goods as the gods
She got up abruptly and went in the direction of the house, leaving
Gillian to digest as best she might the hint that her interference was
not likely to be either welcomed or effective.
Left to herself, Gillian sighed unhappily. Almost she wished they had
never come to Stockleigh, only that it was pure joy to her to see
Coppertop's rather thin little cheeks filling out and growing sunburnt
and rosy. He had not picked up strength very readily after his attack
of croup, and subsequently the intense heat in London had tried him a
But she was gradually becoming apprehensive that disturbing
consequences might accrue from Magda's stay at Stockleigh Farm. A
woman of her elusive charm, equipped with all the subtle lore that her
environment had taught her, must almost inevitably hold for a man of
Storran's primitive way of life the fascination of something new and
rather wonderful. To contrast his wife with her was to contrast a
field-flower with some rare, exotic bloom, and Gillian was conscious
of a sudden rush of sympathy for June's unarmoured youth and
Magda's curiously uncertain moods of late, too, had worried her not a
little. She was unlike herself--at times brooding and introspective,
at other times strung up to a species of forced gaiety--a gaiety which
had the cold sparkle of frost or diamonds. With all her faults Magda
had ever been lovably devoid of bitterness, but now it seemed as
though she were developing a certain new quality of hardness.
It puzzled Gillian, ignorant of that sudden discovery and immediate
loss of the Garden of Eden. It might have been less of an enigma to
old Lady Arabella, to whom the jigsaw puzzle of human motives and
impulses was always a matter of absorbing interest, and who, as more
or less an onlooker at life during the last thirty years, had become
an adept in the art of fitting the pieces of the puzzle together.
Magda herself was only conscious of an intense restlessness and
dissatisfaction with existence in general. She reflected bitterly that
she had been a fool to let slip her hold of herself--as she had done
the night of Lady Arabella's reception--even for a moment.
It had been thoroughly drilled into her both by precept and example--
her mother's precept and her father's example--that to let a man count
for anything much in her life was the biggest mistake a woman could
make, and Michael's treatment of her had driven home the truth of all
the warnings Diane had instilled.
He had hurt her as she had never been hurt before, and all that she
craved now was change. Change and amusement to drug her mind so that
she need not think. Whether anyone else got hurt in the process was a
question that never presented itself to her.
She had not expected to find amusement at Stockleigh. She had been
driven there by an overmastering desire to escape from London--for a
few weeks, at least, to get right away from her accustomed life and
from everyone who knew her. And at Stockleigh she had found Dan
The homage that had leaped into his eyes the first moment they had
rested on her, and which had slowly deepened as the days slipped by,
had somehow soothed her, restoring her feminine poise which Michael's
sudden defection had shaken.
She knew--as every woman always does know when a man is attracted by
her--that she had the power to stir this big, primitive countryman,
whose way of life had never before brought him into contact with her
type of woman, just as she had stirred other men. And she carelessly
accepted the fact, without a thought that in playing with Dan
Storran's emotions she was dealing with a man who knew none of the
moves of the game, to whom the art of love-making as a pastime was an
unknown quantity, and whose fierce, elemental passions, once aroused,
might prove difficult to curb. He amused her and kept her thoughts off
recent happenings, and for the moment that was all that mattered.
STORRAN OF STOCKLEIGH
It was a glorious morning. The sun blazed like a great golden shield
out of a cloudless sky, and hardly a breath of air stirred the foliage
of the trees.
Magda, to content an insatiable Coppertop, had good-naturally suffered
herself to be dragged over the farm. They had visited the pigs--a new
and numerous litter of fascinating black ones having recently made
their debut into this world of sin--and had watched the cows being
milked, and been chased by the irascible gander, and finally, laughing
and breathless, they had made good their escape into the garden where
Gillian sat sewing, and had flung themselves down exhaustedly on the
grass at her feet.
"I'm in a state of mental and moral collapse, Gilly," declared Magda,
fanning herself vigorously with a cabbage leaf. "Whew! It is hot! As
soon as I can generate enough energy, I propose to bathe. Will you
Gillian shook her head lazily.
"I think not to-day. I want to finish this overall for Coppertop. And
it's such a long trudge from here down to the river."
"Yes, I know." Magda nodded. "It's three interminable fields away--and
the thistles and things prick one's ankles abominably. Still, it's
lovely when you /do/ get there! I think I'll go now"--springing up
from the velvet turf--"before I get too lazy to move."
Gillian's eyes followed her thoughtfully as she made her way into the
house. She had never seen Magda so restless--she seemed unable to keep
still a moment.
Half an hour later Magda emerged from the house wrapped in a cloak, a
little scarlet bathing-cap turbanning her dark hair, and a pair of
sandals on the slim supple feet that had danced their way into the
hearts of half of Europe.
"Good-bye!" she called gaily, waving her hand. And went out by the
wicket gate leading into the fields.
There was not a soul in sight. Only the cows, their red, burnished
coats gleaming like the skin of a horse-chestnut in the hot sun, cast
ruminative glances at her white-cloaked figure as it passed, and
occasionally a peacefully grazing sheep emitted an astonished bleat at
the unusual vision and skedaddled away in a hurry.
Magda emulated Agag in her progress across the field which intervened
between the house and the river, now and then giving vent to a little
cry of protest as a particularly prickly thistle or hidden trail of
bramble whipped against her bare ankles.
At last from somewhere near at hand came the cool gurgle of running
water and, bending her steps in the direction of the sound, two
minutes' further walking brought her to the brink of the river.
Further up it came tumbling through the valley, leaping the rocks in a
churning torrent of foam, a cloud of delicate up-flung spray
feathering the air above it; but here there were long stretches of
deep, smooth water where no boulder broke the surface into spume, and
quiet pools where fat little trout heedlessly squandered the joyous
moments of a precarious existence.
Magda threw off her wrapper and, picking her way across the moss-grown
rocks, paused for an instant on the bank, her slender figure, clad in
its close-fitting scarlet bathing-suit, vividly outlined against the
surrounding green of the landscape. Then she plunged in and struck out
downstream, swimming with long, even strokes, the soft moorland water
laving her throat like the touch of a satin-smooth hand.
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