The Lamp of Fate
Part 4 out of 7
She was heading for a spot she knew of, a quarter of a mile below,
where a wooden bridge spanned the river and the sun's heat poured down
unchecked by sheltering trees. Here she proposed to scramble out and
bask in the golden warmth.
She had just established herself on a big, sun-warmed boulder when a
familiar step sounded on the bridge and Dan Storran's tall figure
emerged into view. He pulled up sharply as he caught sight of her, his
face taking on a schoolboy look of embarrassment. Deauville /plage/,
where people bathed in companionable parties and strolled in and out
of the water as seemed good to them, was something altogether outside
"Oh, I'm sorry," he began, flushing uncomfortably.
Magda waved to him airily.
"You needn't be. I'm having a sun-bath. You can stay and talk to me if
you like. Or are you too busy farming this morning?"
"No, I'm not too busy," he said slowly.
There was a curious dazzled look in his eyes as they rested on her.
Sheathed in the stockingette bathing-suit she wore, every line and
curve of her supple body was revealed. Her wet, white limbs gleamed
pearl-like in the quivering sunlight. The beauty of her ran through
his veins like wine.
"Then come and amuse me!" Magda patted the warm surface of the rock
beside her invitingly. "You can give me a cigarette to begin with."
Storran sat down and pulled out his case. As he held a match for her
to light up from, his hand brushed hers and he drew it away sharply.
It was trembling absurdly.
He sat silent for a moment or two; then he said with an odd
"I suppose you find it frightfully dull down here?"
Magda laughed a little.
"Is that because I told you to come and amuse me? . . . No, I don't
find it dull. Change is never really dull."
"Well, you must find it change enough here from the sort of life
you've been accustomed to lead."
"How do you know what sort of life I lead?"--teasingly.
"I can guess. One has only to look at you. You're different--different
from everyone about here. The way you move--you're like a thoroughbred
amongst cart-horses." He spoke with a kind of sullen bitterness.
Magda drew her feet up on to the rock and clasped her hands round her
"Now you're talking nonsense, you know," she said amusedly. "Frankly,
I like it down here immensely. I happened to be--rather worried when I
came away from London, and there's something very soothing and
comforting about the country--particularly your lovely Devon country."
"Worried?" Storran's face darkened. "Who'd been worrying you?"
"Oh"--vaguely. "All sorts of things. Men--and women. But don't let's
talk about worries to-day. This glorious sunshine makes me feel as
though there weren't any such things in the world."
She leaned back, stretching her arms luxuriously above her head with
the lithe, sensuous grace of movement which her training had made
second nature. Storran's eyes dwelt on her with a queer tensity of
expression. Every gesture, every tone of her curiously attractive
voice, held for him a disturbing allure which he could not analyse and
against which he was fighting blindly.
He had never doubted his love for his wife. Quite honestly he had
believed her the one woman in the world when he married her. Yet now
he was beginning to find every hour a blank that did not bring him
sight or sound of this other woman--this woman with her slender limbs
and skin like a stephanotis petal, and her long Eastern eyes with the
subtle lure which seemed to lie in their depths. Beside her June's
young peach-bloom prettiness faded into something colourless and
"It must be nice to be you"--Magda nodded at him. "With no vague,
indefinable sort of things to worry you."
He smiled reluctantly.
"How do you know I haven't?"
"Oh, because I do."
"A woman's reason!"
"Quite. But women's reasons are generally very sound--we were endowed
with a sixth sense, you know! Besides--it's obvious, isn't it? Here
you are--you and June--living a simple, primitive kind of existence,
all to yourselves, like Adam and Eve. And if you do have a worry it's
a real definite one--as when a cow inconveniently goes and dies or
your root crop fails. Nothing intangible and uncertain about that!"
"Have you forgotten that the serpent intruded even upon Adam and Eve?"
he asked quietly.
"Is that a hit at Gillian and me? I know--June told us--that you were
horribly opposed to anyone's coming here for the summer. I thought
that you had got over that by now?"
"So I have"--bluntly.
"Then we're not--not unwelcome visitors any longer?" the soft,
tantalising voice went on. The low cadence of it seemed to tug at his
He leaned nearer to her and, catching both her hands in his, twisted
her round so that she faced him.
"Why do you ask?" he demanded, his voice suddenly roughened and
"Because I wanted to know--of course!"--lightly.
"Then--you're not an unwelcome visitor. You never have been! From the
moment you came the place was different somehow. When you go----"
He stopped as though startled by the sound of his own words--struck by
the full significance of them.
"When you go!" he repeated blankly. His grip of her slight hands
tightened till it was almost painful. "But you won't go! I can't let
you go now! Magda--"
The situation was threatening to get out of hand. Magda drew quickly
away from him, springing to her feet.
"Don't talk like that," she said hastily. "You don't mean it, you
With a sudden, unexpected movement she slipped from his side and ran
down to the river's edge. He caught a flashing glimpse of scarlet,
heard the splash as her slim body cleaved the water, and a moment
later all he could see was the red of her turban cap, bobbing like a
scarlet poppy on the surface of the river, and the glimmer of a moon-
white arm and shoulder as a smooth overhand stroke bore her swiftly
away from him.
He stood staring after her, conscious of a sudden bewildered sense of
check and thwarting. The blood seemed leaping in his veins. His heart
thudded against his ribs. He stepped forward impetuously as though to
plunge in after the receding gleam of scarlet still flickering betwixt
the branches which overhung the river.
Then, with a stifled exclamation, he drew back, brushing his hand
across his eyes as though to clear their vision. What mad impulse was
this urging him on to say and do such things as he had never before
conceived himself saying or doing?
Magda had checked him on the brink of telling her--what? The sweat
broke out on his forehead as the realisation surged over him.
"God!" he muttered. "God!"
THE LATEST NEWS
Magda hardly knew what impulse had bidden her save Dan Storran from
himself--check the hot utterance to which he had so nearly given voice
and which to a certain extent she had herself provoked. Driven by the
bitterness of spirit which Michael's treatment of her had engendered,
she knew that she had flirted outrageously with Dan ever since she had
come to Stockleigh. She had bestowed no thought on June--pretty,
helpless June, watching with distressed, bewildered eyes while Dan
unaccountably changed towards her, his moods alternating from sullen
unresponsiveness to a kind of forced and contrite tenderness which she
had found almost more difficult to meet and understand.
It was indeed something altogether apart from any sympathy for June
which had prompted Magda to leave Storran before he uttered words that
he might regret, but which no power on earth could ever recall. Still
beneath the resentment and wounded pride which Michael's going had
caused her flickered the spark of an ideal utterly at variance with
the whole tenor of the teaching of poor Diane's last embittered days--
the ideal of womanhood which had been Michael's. And the impulse which
had bade her leave Storran so abruptly was born of the one-time
resolution she had made to become the sort of woman Michael would wish
his wife to be.
She felt oddly perturbed when at last she reached the seclusion of her
chintzy bedroom underneath the sloping roof. A vague sense of shame
assailed her. The game, as between herself and Dan, was hardly a fair
one, after all, and she could well picture the cold contempt in
Michael's eyes had he been looking on at it.
Though he had no right to disapprove of her now! He had forfeited that
right--if he had ever had it--when he went away without a word of
farewell--without giving her even the chance to appeal against the
judgment which, by his very going, he had silently pronounced against
For months, now, she had been a prey to a conflicting jumble of
emotions--the pain and hurt pride which Michael's departure had
occasioned her, the craving for anything that might serve to distract
her thoughts and keep them from straying back to those few vibrant
meetings with him, and deep down within her an aching, restless wonder
as to whether she would ever see him again.
With an effort she dismissed the fresh tangle of thought provoked by
the morning's brief scene with Dan Storran, and, dressing quickly,
went downstairs to the mid-day dinner which was the order of things at
At first the solid repast, with its plentitude of good farmhouse fare
partaken of during the hottest hour of the day, had somewhat appalled
Magda. But now she had grown quite accustomed to the appearance of a
roast joint or of a smoking, home-cured ham, attended by a variety of
country vegetables and followed by fruit tart and clotted cream.
Although she herself, as befitted a woman whose "figure was her
fortune" according to Lady Arabella, partook extremely sparingly of
this hospitable meal, it somehow pleased her to see big Dan Storran
come in from his work in the fields and do full justice to the
substantial fare. To Magda, ultra-modern and over-civilised as she
was, there was something refreshing in the simple and primitive usages
of Stockleigh Farm and its master--this man who toiled, and satisfied
his hunger, and rested from toil, just as his fathers had done before
him, literally fulfilling the law: In the sweat of thy face shalt thou
And perhaps if Magda had never crossed his path Dan Storran might have
gone his way contentedly, toiling from sun-up to sun-down till all his
days were finished.
Even although she had crossed it, she might still have left him pretty
much as she found him--unawakened to the deeps of his own nature--if
she had remained in her present ambiguous mood, half-remorseful, half
indifferent. But it was precisely at this particular juncture that it
pleased Fate to give a fresh twist to her swiftly turning wheel.
Storran did not come in until dinner was half over, and when finally
he appeared he was somewhat taciturn and avoided meeting Magda's eyes.
June got up from the table and went dutifully into the kitchen to
fetch the joint of meat and vegetables which she had been keeping hot
for him there. Abruptly Dan followed her.
"Sorry I'm late, June," he said awkwardly. "Here, give the tray to me;
I'll carry it in."
June paused in the middle of the kitchen, flushing right up to the
soft tendrils of hair that curled about her forehead. It was weeks
since Dan had offered to relieve her of any of her housewifely tasks,
although at one time he had been wont to hurry home, if he could
manage to do so, on purpose to help her. Dozens of times they had laid
the table together, punctuating the process with jokes and gay little
bursts of laughter and an odd kiss or two thrown in to sweeten the
work. But not lately--not since the visitors from London had come to
So June blushed and looked at her husband with eyes that were suddenly
sweet and questioning. She knew, though she had not told him yet, that
there was a reason now why he should try to save her when his greater
strength could do so, and for a moment she wondered shyly if he had
"Why, Dan, Dan----" she stammered.
His face darkened. Her obvious surprise irritated him, pricking his
"It's not very complimentary of you to look so taken aback when I
offer to carry something for you," he said. "Anyone might think I
never did wait on my wife."
The blood drained away from June's face as suddenly as it had rushed
"Well, you don't often, do you?" she returned shortly.
They re-entered the sitting-room together and Magda glanced up,
smiling approval. She, too, was feeling somewhat conscience-stricken,
and to see Dan helping his wife in this everyday, intimate sort of
fashion seemed to minimise the significance of that little incident
which had occurred by the river's edge.
"What a nice, polite husband!" she commented gaily. "Mr. Storran, you
really out to come up to London and give classes--'Manners for Men,'
you know. Very few of them wait on their wives these days."
June upset the salt and busied herself spooning it up again from the
cloth. There was no answering smile on her face. She was not quite
clear /why/ Dan had followed her out into the kitchen so unexpectedly,
but she sensed that it was not the old, quick impulse to wait upon her
which had actuated him.
Had she but known it, it was the same instinct, more primitively
manifested, which induces a man whose conscience is not altogether
clear respecting his loyalty towards his wife to bring her home an
unexpected gift of jewellery.
The disturbing memory of a lithe, scarlet-sheathed figure had been
with Dan all morning as he went about his work, and he was sullenly
ashamed of the riot which the vision occasioned within him and of his
own utter helplessness to master it. It--it was damnable! So he
accompanied his wife to the kitchen and offered to carry in the joint.
Following upon this incident the atmosphere seemed to become all at
once constrained and difficult. June sat very silent, her eyes holding
that expression of pain and bewilderment which was growing habitual to
them, while Storran hurried through his meal in the shortest possible
time. As soon as he had finished he pushed back his chair abruptly
and, with a muttered apology, quitted the room and went out again on
to the farm. June rose and began clearing the table mechanically.
"Can't I help you?" Gillian paused as she was about to follow Magda
out of the room. "You look so tired to-day."
June's lip quivered sensitively. She was in the state of nerves when a
little unexpected sympathy is the most upsetting thing imaginable.
"Oh, I can't let you!" she answered hastily. "No--really!"--as Gillian
calmly took the tray she was carrying out of her hands.
"Supposing you go and lie down for a little while," suggested Gillian
practically. "And leave the washing-up to Coppertop and me!"
The tears suddenly brimmed up into the wide-open blue eyes.
"Oh, I couldn't!"
"Wouldn't you like a little rest?" urged Gillian persuasively. "I
believe you'd be asleep in two minutes!"
"I believe I should," acknowledged June faintly. "I--I haven't been
sleeping very well lately."
A little shudder ran through her as she recalled those long hours each
night when she lay at Dan's side, staring wide-eyed into the darkness
and wondering dully what it was that had come between herself and her
husband--come just at the time when, with his unborn child beneath her
heart, they two should have been drawn together in to the most
wonderful and blessed comradeship and understanding. Only Dan didn't
know this--didn't know that before the snowdrops lifted their white
heads again from the green carpet of spring there would be a little
son--June was sure it would be a son, to grow up tall and strong like
Dan himself!--born of the love which had once been so sweet and
untroubled by any creeping doubts.
"I assure you"--Gillian broke in on the miserable thoughts that were
chasing each other through June's tired brain--"I assure you,
Coppertop and I are very competent people. We won't break a single
"But you've never been used to that kind of thing--washing-up!"
protested June, glancing significantly at Gillian's white hands and
soft, pretty frock of hyacinth muslin.
"Haven't I?" Gillian laughed gaily. "I haven't always been as well off
as I am not, and I expect I know quite as much about doing 'chores' as
you! Come now!" She waited expectantly.
"Dan would be awfully angry if he knew--it's my duty, you see,"
objected June, visibly weakening.
"If he knew! But what a husband doesn't know his heart doesn't grieve
over," replied Gillian sagely. "There, that's settled. Come along
upstairs and let me tuck you up in your bed, and leave the rest to
Coppertop and me."
And June, with her heart suddenly warmed and comforted in the way in
which an unexpected kindness does warm and comfort, went very
willingly and, tired out in body and mind, fell asleep in ten minutes.
Meanwhile Magda had established herself in the hammock slung from the
boughs of one of the great elms which shaded the garden. She had
brought a book with her, since her thoughts were none too pleasant
company just at the moment, and was speedily absorbed in its contents.
It was very soothing and tranquil out there in the noonday heat. The
gnats hovered in the sunlight, dancing and whirling in little
transient clusters; now and again a ladybird flickered by or a swallow
swooped so near that his darting shadow fell across her book; while
all about her sounded the pleasant hum of a summer's day--the soft
susurration of the pleasant hum of a thousand insect voices blending
into an indefinite, murmurous vibration of the air.
Occasionally the whir of a motor-car sweeping along the adjacent road
broke harshly across the peaceful quiet. Magda glanced up with some
annoyance as the first one sped by, dragging her back to an unwilling
sense of civilisation. Then she bent her head resolutely above her
book and declined to be distracted any further, finally losing herself
completely in the story she was reading.
So it came about that when a long, low, dust-powdered car curved in
between the granite gateposts of Stockleigh Farm and came abruptly to
a standstill, she remained entirely oblivious of its advent. Nor did
she see the tall, slender-limbed man who had been driving, and whose
questing hazel eyes had descried her almost immediately, slip from his
seat behind the steering-wheel and come across the grass towards her.
The book fell from her hand and she sat up suddenly in the hammock.
"What on earth are you doing here?" she demanded. There was no welcome
in her tone.
For a moment Davilof remained watching her, the sunshine, slanting
between the leaves of the trees, throwing queer little flickering
lights into the hazel eyes and glinting on his golden-brown hair and
"What are you doing here?" she repeated.
"I came--to see you," he said simply.
There was something disarming in the very simplicity of his reply. It
seemed to imply an almost child-like wonder that she should ask--that
there could possibly be any other reason for his presence.
But it failed to propitiate Magda in the slightest degree. She felt
intensely annoyed that anyone from the outside world--from her world
of London--should have intruded upon her seclusion at Ashencombe, nor
could she imagine how Davilof had discovered her retreat.
"How did you learn I was here?" she asked.
Magda's eyes darkened sombrely.
"Do you mean you bribed him?" she asked quickly. "Oh, but surely not!"
--in dismayed tones. "Melrose would go to the stake sooner than accept
Davilof's mouth twisted in a rueful smile.
"I'm sure he would! I tried him, but he wouldn't look at a bribe of
any sort. So I had to resort to strategy. It was one evening, when he
was taking your letters to post, and I waited for him at the pillar-
box. I came up very quietly behind him and just nipped one of the
letters, readdressed to you, out of his hand. I read the address and
then posted the letter for him. It was very simple."
He recounted the incident with a little swaggering air of bravado,
boyishly delighted at the success of his small ruse. Vexed as she was
Magda could hardly refrain from smiling; the whole thing was so
eminently un-English--so exactly like Davilof!
"Well, now that you have seen me, will you please go away again?" she
said coolly, reopening her book as though to end the conversation.
He regarded her with unqualified reproach.
"Won't you even ask me to tea?" he said plaintively.
"Certainly not," Magda was beginning. But precisely as she spoke June
Storran, looking more herself again after her short sleep, came
towards them from the house.
Her face brightened as she caught sight of Davilof. Even to June's
inexperienced eyes it was quite obvious that he admired the woman with
whom he was talking. The very way he looked at her told her that.
Presumably he was one of her London friends who had motored to
Devonshire to see her. No man--within the limited scope of June's
knowledge of men--did that deliciously absurd, extravagant kind of
thing unless he was tremendously in love. Nor would any nice woman let
a man take such a journey on her behalf unless she reciprocated his
feelings. Of this June--whose notions were old-fashioned--felt
assured. So her spirits rose accordingly. Since, if these two were on
the verge of becoming engaged, the mere fact would clear away the
indefinable shadows which seemed to have been menacing her own
happiness from the time Miss Vallincourt had come to Stockleigh.
"Tea is just ready," she announced, approaching. "Will you come in?
And perhaps your friend will have tea with us?" she added shyly.
Davilof was presented and June repeated her invitation. He shot a
glance of triumph at Magda.
"I shall be delighted, madame," he said, giving June one of his quaint
little foreign bows. "But--the sun is shining so gloriously--might we
not have it out here?"
June looked round her doubtfully. As is often the case with people
born and bred in the country, it never occurred to the Storrans to
have the family meals out-of-doors, and June felt considerable
misgiving as to whether Dan would appreciate the innovation.
"Ah, please, madame!" pleaded Davilof persuasively. "Let us have it
here--under this tree. Why, the tree grows here expressly for the
Davilof had all the charm of his nationality, and June capitulated,
retreating to make the necessary arrangements.
"I don't fancy Dan Storran will at all approve of the alteration from
his usual customs which you've engineered," observed Magda when they
were again alone.
"Dan Storran?" Davilof's glance flashed over her face, searching,
"The owner of the place. He's been teaching me to ride," she added
"Who is he?"--with swift jealousy. "The little fair-haired lady's
"No, her husband. I said /Mrs./ Storran."
Davilof's interest waned suddenly.
"Did you?"--indifferently. "I didn't notice. She's a pretty little
Magda agreed absently. A fresh difficulty had occurred to her; Davilof
might chance to give away to the Storrans the secret of her identity.
"Oh, by the way," she said hurriedly. "They don't know me here as
Magda Wielitzska. I'm plain Miss Vallincourt to them--enjoying the
privileges of being a nobody! You'll be sure to remember, won't you?"
He nodded, and she pursued more lightly: "And now, as you insist on
having your tea here, you might begin to earn it by telling me the
latest London gossip. We hear nothing at all down here. We don't even
get a London newspaper.
"I don't think there is much news. There never is at this time of the
year. Everybody's out of town."
He vouchsafed one or two items concerning mutual friends--an
engagement here, a forthcoming divorce there. So-and-so was in Italy
and Mrs. Somebody Else was said to have eloped with a well-known
actor-manager to America--all the odds and ends of gossip that runs
like wildfire over the social prairie.
"Oh, by the way," he went on, "your artist friend--"
"Which artist friend?" Magda interrupted almost rudely. She was moved
by a perfectly irrational impulse to stop him, to delay what he had to
"Why, Quarrington--Michael Quarrington. It seems he has married a
Spanish woman--a rather lovely person who had been sitting to him for
one of his pictures. That's the latest bit of news."
For an instant it seemed to Magda as though the whole world stood
still--gripped in a strange, soundless stillness like the catastrophic
pause which for an infinitesimal space of time succeeds a bad
accident. Then she heard herself saying:
"Really? Where did you hear that?"
"Oh, there've been several rumours of a beautiful Spaniard whom he has
been using as a model. The Arlingtons were travelling in Spain and saw
her. Mrs. A. said she was a glorious creature--a dancer. And the other
day I saw in one of the papers--the /Weekly Gossip/ I think it was--
that he'd married her."
The carelessly spoken words drove at Magda with the force of utter
certainty. It was true, then--quite true! The fact that the Spaniard
had been a dancer gave an irrefutable reality to the tale; Michael so
worshipped every form of dancing.
"Never give your heart to any man." Her mother's last cynical warning
beat in Magda's brain with a dull iteration that almost maddened her.
She put her hand up to her throat, feeling as if she were choking.
Then, dimly, as though from a great way off, she heard Antoine's voice
"I'm glad Quarrington's married. He was the man who saved you in the
fog--you remember?--and I've always been afraid you might get to care
Magda was conscious of one thing and one thing only--that somewhere,
deep down inside her, everything had turned to ice. She knew she would
never feel anything again--much. . . . She thought death must come
like that sometimes--just one thrust of incredible, immeasurable
agony, and then a dull, numbed sense of finality.
". . . afraid you might get to care for him." The meaning of Antoine's
last words slowly penetrated her mind. She gave a hard little laugh.
"Why should I? Does one 'get to care' for a man just because he does
the only obvious thing there is to do in an emergency?"
She was surprised to hear how perfectly natural her voice sounded. It
was quite steady. Reassured, she went on, shrugging her shoulders:
"Besides--do I ever care?"
Antoine, sitting on the grass at her feet, suddenly raised himself a
little and put his hand over hers as they lay very still and folded on
"You shall care--some time," he said in a low, tense voice. "I swear
DAN STORRAN'S AWAKENING
"Fairy Lady, we're going to have a picnic tea!"
Coppertop's excited voice, shrilling across the garden as he came
racing over the grass, put an abrupt end to a scene that was
threatening to develop along the familiar tempestuous lines dictated
by Antoine's temperament.
The child's advent was somewhat differently received--by Magda with
unmixed relief, by Antoine with a baulked gesture of annoyance.
However, he recovered himself almost immediately, and when, a moment
later, June reappeared, laden with the paraphernalia for tea, he
rushed forward with his usual charming manners to assist her.
Presently Gillian joined them, exclaiming with surprise as she
perceived who was the visitor.
"Why, this is like a bit of London appearing in our very midst," she
declared, shaking hands with Davilof. "Where have you hailed from? I
heard the car but never suspected you were the arrival."
"I'm on holiday," he replied. "And it struck me"--his hazel eyes
smiled straight into hers--"that Devonshire might be a very delightful
place in which to spend my holiday."
Magda looked up suddenly from stirring her tea.
"I think you've made a mistake, Davilof," she said curtly. "You're not
likely to enjoy a holiday in Devonshire."
June, innocently unaware of any double entente in Magda's speech,
glanced across at her in astonishment.
"Oh, but why not, Miss Vallincourt? Devon is a lovely county; most
people like it so much. But perhaps you don't care for the country,
Mr.--Mr. Davilof?" She stumbled a little over the foreign name.
"I think it would depend upon who my neighbours were--whether I liked
it or nor," he returned, meeting Magda's glance challengingly over the
top of June's head, bent above the teacups. "I feel sure I should like
it here. And there is a charming little inn at Ashencombe where one
Gillian divined that a veiled passage of arms between Magda and the
musician underlay the light discussion. Moreover--though she had no
clue to the cause--she was sensitively conscious that the former was
not quite herself. She had seen that white, set look on her face
before. Something had distressed her, and Gillian felt apprehensive
lest Davilof had been the bearer of unwelcome tidings. It was either
that, or else he must have succeeded in frictioning Magda in some way
himself, since, beyond flinging an occasional double-edged sentence in
his direction, she seemed absent and disinclined to take part in the
It was almost a relief to Gillian when Dan Storran appeared, although
the recollection of the strained atmosphere which had attended the
previous meal did not hold out much promise of better things to come.
His face was still clouded and he glowered at the tea-table under the
elms with dissatisfied eyes.
"What on earth's the meaning of this?" he demanded ungraciously of his
wife. "Is it some newfangled notion that's got you?"
June coloured up nervously, and was about to falter an explanation of
the innovation when Magda suddenly took the matter out of her hands.
"There's nothing newfangled about tea out-of-doors, on a glorious day
like this," she said. "It's the only sensible thing to do. You don't
really mind, do you?"
She smiled up at him provocatively and his sombre face lightened.
"Not if you like it," he replied shortly.
"Well, I do. So sit down and be pleased--instead of looking like a
thundercloud, please." The softness in her voice robbed the speech of
its sharpness. "I have a friend here--and we're having tea outside in
She introduced the two men, who exchanged a few commonplace words--
each, meanwhile, taking the measure of the other through eyes that
were frankly hostile. They were of such dissimilar type that there was
practically no common ground upon which they could meet, and with the
swift, unerring intuition of the lover each had recognised the other
as standing in some relationship to Magda which premised a just cause
for jealousy. Both men endeavoured to secure her undivided attention
and, failing lamentably, their mutual antagonism deepened, smouldering
visibly beneath the stiff platitudes they exchanged with one another.
Gillian, thrust rather into the position of an onlooker, watched the
proceedings with amused eyes--her amusement only tempered by the
slightly apprehensive feeling concerning Magda of which she had been
vaguely conscious from the first moment she had found her in Davilof's
company, and which continued to obsess her.
True, she no longer wore that set, still look which Gillian had
observed on her face prior to Dan Storran's appearance upon the scene.
But even when she smiled and talked, playing the men off one against
the other with a deft skill that was inimitable, there seemed a
curious new hardness underlying it all--a certain reckless deviltry
for which Gillian was at a loss to account.
June watched, too, with troubled eyes. Half an hour ago she had been
feeling ridiculously happy, comfortably assured in her own mind that
this tall, rather exquisite foreigner and the woman whose presence in
her home had occasioned so much bitter heart-burning were only
hesitating, as it were, on the brink of matrimony. And now--now she
did not know what to think! Miss Vallincourt was treating Davilof with
an airy negligence that to June's honest and candid soul seemed
altogether incompatible with such circumstances.
Meanwhile, with her own ears attuned to catch each varying shade of
Dan's beloved voice, she could not but perceive its change of quality,
slight, but unmistakable, when he spoke to Magda--the sudden deepening
of it--and the unconscious self-betrayal of his glance as it rested on
her. It was a relief when at last he got up and moved off, excusing
himself on the plea that he had some work he must attend to. As he
shook hands with Davilof the eyes of the two men met, hard as steel
and as hostile.
Storran's departure was the signal for the breaking-up of the party.
June returned to the house, while Gillian allowed herself to be
carried off by Coppertop to visit the calves, which were a never-
failing source of interest to him.
Left alone, an awkward pause ensued between Davilof and Magda,
backwash of the obvious clash of antagonism between the two men.
"So!" commented Davilof, at last. "It looks as though there might be
another Raynham episode down here before long."
The colour rushed up into Magda's face.
"Don't you think that remark is in rather bad taste?" she replied
He shrugged his shoulders.
"Perhaps it was. But the men who love you get rather beyond
considering the matter of good or bad taste."
She made a petulant gesture.
"Oh, don't begin that old subject again. We've had it all out before.
"It's not finished."
There was a clipped, curt force about the brief denial. The good-
humoured, big-child mood in which Davilof had joyously narrated to her
how he had circumvented the unfortunate Melrose had passed, leaving
the man--turbulent and passionately demanding as of old.
"It's not finished," he repeated. "It never will be--till you're my
Magda laughed lightly.
"Then I'm afraid it will have to remain unfinished--a continued-in-
our-next kind of thing. For I certainly haven't the least intention of
becoming your wife. Do understand that I /mean/ it. And please go
away. You had no business to come down here at all."
A smouldering fire lit itself in his eyes.
"No!" he said, taking a step nearer her. "No! I'm not going. I came
because I can't bear it any longer without you. Since you went away
I've been half-mad, I think. I can't eat or sleep! I can't even play!"
--he flung out his sensitive musician's hands in a gesture of despair.
Magda glanced at him quickly. It was true. The man looked as though he
had been suffering. She had not noticed it before. His face had
altered--worn a trifle fine; the line from chin to cheek-bone had
hollowed somewhat and his eyes held a certain feverish brightness. But
although she could see the alteration, it did not move her in the
least. She felt perfectly indifferent. It was as though the band of
ice which seemed to have clasped itself about her heart when she heard
of Michael's marriage had frozen her capacity for feeling anything at
"I thought once"--Davilof was speaking again--"I thought once that you
had said 'no' to me because of Quarrington. But now I know you never
cared for him----"
"How do you know?"
The question sprang from her lips before she was aware.
"How do I know?" Davilof laughed harshly. "Why, because the man who
was loved by Magda Wielitzska wouldn't marry any other woman. There
would be no other woman in the world for him. . . . There's no other
woman in the world for me." His control was rapidly deserting him.
"Magda, I can't live without you! I've told you--I can neither eat nor
sleep. I burn for you! If you refuse to give yourself to me, you
Swept by an emotion stronger than himself, his acquired Englishisms
went by the board. He was all Pole in the picturesque ardour of his
Magda regarded him calmly.
"My dear Davilof," she said quietly. "What weight do you suppose such
an argument would have with me?"
The cool, ironic little question, with its insolent indifference,
checked him like the flick of a lash across the face. He turned away.
"None, I suppose," he admitted bitterly. "You are fire and flame--but
within, you are ice."
"Yes," she said, almost as though to herself. "Within, I'm ice. I
believe that's true."
"True!" he repeated. "Of course it's true. If it were not----"
A slight smile tilted her mouth.
"Well?" she echoed. "If it were not?"
He swung round. With a quick stride he was beside her. His eyes
blazing with a sudden fury of passion and resentment, he caught her by
the shoulders, forcing her to face him.
"God!" he muttered thickly. "What are you made of? You make men go
through hell for you! Even here--here in this little country place--
you do it! Storran's wife--one can see her heart breaks, and it is you
who are breaking it. Yet nothing touches you! You've no conscience
like other women--no heart--"
Magda pulled herself out of his grasp.
"Oh, do forget that I'm a woman, Davilof! I'm a dancer. Nothing else
matters. I don't want to be troubled with a heart. And--and I think
they left out my soul."
"Yes," he agreed with intense bitterness. "I think they did. One day,
Magda some man will kill you. You'll try him too far."
"Indeed? Is that what you contemplate doing when you finally lose
patience with me?"
He shook his head.
"I shall not lose patience--until you are another man's wife," he said
quietly. "And I don't intend you to be that."
An hour later, Gillian, having dispatched her small son to bed and
seen him safely tucked up between the lavender-scented sheets,
discovered Magda alone in the low-raftered sitting-room. She was lying
back idly in a chair, her hands resting on the arms, in her eyes a
curious abstracted look as though she were communing with herself.
Apparently she was too absorbed in her own thoughts to notice
Gillian's entrance, for she did not speak.
"What are you thinking about? Planning a new dance that shall out-vie
/The Swan-Maiden/?" asked Gillian at last, for the sake of something
to say. The silence and Magda's strange aloofness frightened her in
It was quite a moment before Magda made any answer. When she did, it
was to say with a bitter kind of wonder in her voice:
"What centuries ago it seems since the first night of /The Swan-
"It's not very long," began Gillian, then checked herself and asked
quickly: "Is there anything the matter, Magda? Did Antoine bring you
bad news of some kind?"
"He brought me the offering of his hand and heart. That's no news, is
The opening was too good to be lost. With the remembrance of June's
wistful face before her eyes, Gillian plunged in recklessly.
"Apropos of such offerings--don't you think it would be wiser if you
weren't quite so nice to Dan Storran?"
"Am I nice to him?"
"Too much so for my peace of mind--or his! It worries me, Magda--
really. You'll play with fire once too often."
"My dear Gillian, I'm perfectly capable of looking after myself. Do
you imagine"--with a small, fine smile--"that I'm in danger of losing
my heart to a son of the soil?"
Gillian could have shaken her.
"/You?/ You don't suppose I'm afraid for you! It's Dan Storran who
isn't able to look after himself." She stooped over Magda's chair and
slipped an arm persuasively round her shoulders. "Come away, Magda.
Let's leave Stockleigh--go home to London."
"Certainly not." Magda stood up suddenly. "I'm quite well amused down
here. I don't propose to leave till our time is up."
She spoke with unmistakable decision, and Gillian, feeling that it
would be useless to urge her further at the moment, went slowly out of
the room and upstairs. As she went she could hear Dan's footstep in
the passage below. It sounded tired--quite unlike his usual swinging
stride with its suggestion of impetuous force.
But it was not work that had tired Dan Storran that afternoon. When he
had quitted the little party gathered beneath the elms, he had started
off across the fields, unheeding where he went, and for hours he had
been tramping, deaf and blind to the world around him, immersed in the
thoughts that had driven him forth.
The full significance of the last few weeks had suddenly come home to
him. Till now he had been drifting--drifting unthinkingly, conscious
only that life had become extraordinarily full of interest and of a
breathless kind of happiness, half sweet, half bitter. Bitter when
Magda was not with him, sweet with a maddening sweetness when she was.
He had not stopped to consider what it all meant--why the dull,
monotonous round of existence on the farm to which he had long grown
accustomed should all at once have come alive--grown vibrant and quick
with some new impulse.
But the happenings of to-day had suddenly shown him where he stood.
That revealing moment by the river's edge with Magda, the swift,
unreasoning jealousy of Davilof which had run like fire through his
veins--jealousy because the other man was so evidently an old
acquaintance with prior rights in her which seemed to set him, Dan
Storran, quite outside the circle of their intimacy--had startled him
into recognition of how far he had drifted.
He loved her--craved for her with every fibre of his being. She was
his woman, and beside the tumultuous demand for her of all his lusty
manhood the quiet, unexacting affection which he bore his wife was as
water is to wine.
And since in Dan's simple code of ethics a man's loyalty to his wife
occupied a very definite and unassailable position, the realisation
came to him fraught with the acme of bitterness and self-contempt. Nor
did he propose to yield to the madness in his blood. Hour after hour,
as he tramped blindly across country, he thrashed the matter out. This
love which had come to him was a forbidden thing--a thing which must
be fought and thrust outside his life. For the sake of June he must
see no more of Magda. She must go--leave Stockleigh. Afterwards he
would tear the very memory of her out of his heart.
Dan was a very direct person. Having taken his decision he did not
stop to count the cost. That could come afterwards. Dimly he
apprehended that it might be a very heavy one. But he was strong, now
--strong to do the only possible thing. As he stood with his hand on
the latch of the living-room door, he wondered whether what he had to
say would mean to Magda all, or even a part, of what it meant to him--
wondered with a sudden uncontrollable leaping of his pulses. . . . The
latch grated raucously as he jerked it up and flung open the door.
Magda was standing by the window, the soft glow of the westering sun
falling about her. Dan's eyes rested hungrily on the small dark head
outlined against the tender light.
"Why--Dan----" She faltered into tremulous silence before the look on
his face--the aching demand of it.
The huskily sweet voice robbed him of his strength. He strode forward
and caught her in his arms, staring down at her with burning eyes.
Then, almost violently, he thrust her away from him, unkissed,
although the soft curved lips had for a moment lain so maddeningly
near his own.
"When can you and Mrs. Grey make it convenient to leave Stockleigh
Farm?" he asked, his voice like iron.
The crudeness of it whipped her pride--that pride which Michael had
torn down and trampled on--into fresh, indignant life.
"To leave? Why should we leave?"
Storran's face was white under his tan.
"Because," he said hoarsely, "because you're coming between me and my
wife. That's why."
THE MOONLIT GARDEN
The chintzy bedroom under the sloping roof was very still and quiet.
The moonlight, streaming in through the open casement, revealed the
bed unoccupied, its top-sheet neatly folded back just as when June had
made her final round of the house some hours earlier, leaving
everything in order for the night.
Magda, crouched by the window, glanced back at it indifferently. She
did not want to go to bed. If she went, she knew she would not sleep.
She felt as though she would never sleep again.
She had no idea of the time. She might have been there half an hour or
half eternity--she did not know which. The little sounds of movement
in the different bedrooms had gradually died down into silence, until
at least the profound tranquillity and peace of night enshrouded the
whole house. Only for her there was neither tranquility nor peace.
She was alone now, face to face with the news which Davilof had
brought her--the news of Michael's marriage. Throughout the rest of
the day, after Davilof had gone, she had forced the matter into the
background of her thoughts, and during supper she had kept up a light-
hearted ripple of talk and laughter which had deceived even Gillian,
convincing her that her apprehensions of the afternoon were unfounded.
Perhaps she was helped by the fact that Dan failed to put in an
appearance at the supper-table. It was easier to scintillate
successfully for the sole benefit of a couple of other women than
under the eyes of a man who had just ordered you out of his life. But
when at last she was alone in her own room, the sparkle was suddenly
quenched. There was no longer any need to pretend.
Michael was married! Married! And the bitterness which she had been
strenuously keeping at bay since the day, months ago now, when she had
learned from Lady Arabella that he had deliberately left England
without seeing her again swept over her in a black flood.
It had hurt her badly enough when he had gone away, but somewhere in
the depths of her consciousness there had always lurked a little
fugitive hope that he would come back--that she would be given another
chance. Now she knew that he would never come back--that one isn't
always given a second chance in this world.
And beneath the sick anguish of the realisation she was aware of a
fierce resentment--a bitter, rebellious anger that any man could make
her suffer as she was suffering now. It was unjust--a burden that had
been forced upon her unfairly. She could not help her own character--
that was a heritage with which one comes into the world--and now she
was being punished for simply having been herself!
An hour--two hours crept by. Hours of black, stark misery. The clock
in the hall struck one--a single, bell-like stroke that reverberated
through the silent house. It penetrated the numbed confusion of her
mind, rousing her to a sudden recognition of the fact that she had
been crouched so long in one position that her limbs were stiff and
She drew herself up to her feet, stretching her cramped muscles. The
night was warm and the room felt stiflingly hot. She looked longingly
through the window to where the garden lay drenched in moonlight, with
cool-looking alleyways of moon-washed paths threading the black gloom
of overhanging trees, ebony-edged in the silver light.
She felt as though she could hardly breathe in the confined space of
the room. Its low, sloping roof, which she had thought so quaintly
attractive, seemed to press down on her like the lid of a box. She
must get out--out into the black and silver night which beckoned to
her through the open window. She could not stay in this room--this
little room, alone with her thoughts.
She glanced down dubiously at the soft, chiffony negligee which she
had slipped on in place of a frock. Her feet, too, were bare. She had
stripped off her shoes and stockings first thing upon coming upstairs,
for the sake of coolness. Certainly her attire was not quite suitable
for out-of-doors. . . . But there would be no one to see her.
Ashencombe folk did not take their walks abroad at that hour of the
night. And she longed to feel the cool touch of the dewy grass against
Very quietly she opened her door and stole out into the passage. The
house was strangely, wonderfully still. Only the ticking of the hall-
clock broke the silence. So lightly that not a board creaked beneath
her step, Magda flitted down the old stairway, and, crossing the hall,
felt gingerly for the massive bolt which barred the heavy oaken door.
She wondered if it would slide back quietly; she rather doubted it.
She remembered often enough having heard it grate into its place as
Storran went his nightly round, locking up the house. But, as her
slender, seeking fingers came in contact with the knob, she realised
that to-night by some oversight he had forgotten to shoot the bolt
and, noiselessly lifting the iron latch, she opened the door and
slipped out into the moonlit garden. Down the paths she went and
across the lawns, the touch of the earth coming clean and cool to her
bare feet. Now and again she paused to draw a long breath of the night
air, fresh and sweet with the lingering scents of the day's blooming.
An arch of rambler roses led into the distant part of the garden
towards which she was wending her way, its powdering of tiny blossoms
gleaming like star clusters borrowed from the Milky Way. Magda stooped
as she passed beneath it to avoid an overhanging branch. Then, as she
straightened herself, lifting her head once more, she stood still,
suddenly arrested. On a stone bench, barely twenty yards away, sat Dan
Against the pallid ghost-white of the bench his motionless figure
showed black and sombre like some sable statue. His big shoulders were
bowed, his hands hung loosely clasped between his knees, the white
mask of his face, mercilessly revealed in the clear moonlight, was
twisted into harsh lines of mental conflict. A certain grim triumph
manifested itself in the set of his mouth and out-thrust jaw.
He did not see the slight figure standing just within the shade of the
rose-twined arch, and Magda remained for a moment or two watching him
in silence. The unbarred door was explained now. Storran had not come
in at all that night. She guessed the struggle which had sent him
forth to seek the utter solitude of the garden. Almost she thought she
could divine the processes of thought which had closed his lips in
that strange line of ironic triumph. He had told her to go--when every
nerve of him ached to bid her stay. And he was glad that the strength
in him had won.
A bitter smile flitted across her face. Men were all the same! They
idolised a woman just because she was beautiful--for her lips and eyes
and hair and the nameless charm that was in her--and set her up on an
altar at which they could kneel becomingly. Then, when they found she
was merely an ordinary human being like themselves, with her bundle of
faults and failings, hereditary and acquired, the prig in them was
appropriately shocked--and they went away!
An unhappy woman is very often a bitter one. And Magda had been slowly
learning the meaning of unhappiness for the first time in her life--a
life that had been hitherto roses and laurel all the way.
The devils that lie in wait for our weak moments prompted her then.
The bitterness faded from her lips and they curved in a smile that
subtly challenged the stern decision in Dan Storran's face. She
hesitated an instant. Then, with feet that scarcely seemed to brush
the grass, she glided forward, swaying, bending to some rhythmic
measure, floating spirit-like across the lawn.
With a great cry Dan leaped to his feet and stared at her, transfixed.
At the sound of his voice she paused, poised on one bare foot, leaning
a little towards him with curving, outstretched arms. Then, before he
could touch her, she drew away, step by step, and Dan Storran,
standing there in tense, breathless silence, beheld what no one else
had ever seen--the Wielitzska dancing in the moonlight as she alone
He knew nothing of art, nor of the supreme technique which went to
make each supple movement a thing of sheer perfection, instinct with
rhythm and significance. But he was a man, and a man in love, fighting
the strongest instincts of his nature; and the bewildering beauty of
her as she danced, the languorous, ethereal allure, delicately
sensuous as the fragrance of a La France rose, sent the hot blood
rioting through his veins. . . . She was going--slowly retreating from
him. The primal man in him, the innate hunter who took his mate by
capture, swept him headlong. With a bound he sprang past the dusky
shrubbery that hedged the lawn and overtook her, catching her in his
arms. She did not struggle. He felt her yield, and strained the soft,
panting body closer to him. Beneath his hand he could feel the
hurrying beat of her heart. Her breath, quickened by the exertion of
the dance, came unevenly between her lips as she smiled at him.
"Do you still want me to go away, Dan Storran?"
There was a note of half-amused, half-triumphant mockery in her voice.
The last bonds that held him snapped suddenly: "Yes!" he cried
hoarsely. "Yes, I do. To go away with me!"
He crushed his mouth down on hers, draining the sweetness of her in
burning kisses he had thwarted through all these weeks that they had
been together, pouring out his love in disjointed, stumbling phrases
which halted by very reason of the force of passion which evoked them.
Frightened by the tempest of emotion she had aroused she strained away
from him. But she was powerless against his huge strength, helpless to
At length the fierce tensity of his grip relaxed, though his arms
still clasped her.
"Tell me," he commanded triumphantly. "Tell me you love me. I want to
hear it!" His voice vibrated and his eyes sought her face hungrily.
She summoned up all her forces to deny him--to deny him in such a
manner that he should realise his mistake absolutely and at once. "But
I don't! I don't love you! If you thought that, you misunderstood me."
His hands released their hold of her and fell heavily to his sides.
"Misunderstood?" he muttered. The glad triumph went suddenly out of
his voice. "Misunderstood?" he repeated dully.
"Yes. Misunderstood me altogether."
"I don't believe it!"
"But you /must/ believe it," she insisted. "It's the truth!"
He stared at her.
"Then what have you meant all these weeks?"
"I've not meant anything."
"It's a lie!" he gave back savagely. "Unless"--he came closer to her--
"unless--is it that man, that damned foreigner, who was here to-day?"
"Antoine? No. Oh, Dan"--she forced an uncertain little laugh to her
lips--"if you knew me better you'd know that I never /do/--'mean
The bitter intonation in her voice--the gibe at her own poor ruins of
love fallen about her--was lost on him. He was in total ignorance of
her friendship with Quarrington. But the plain significance of her
words came home to him clearly enough. He did not speak for a minute
or two. Then: "You've been playing with me, then--fooling me?" he said
Magda remained silent. The heavy, laboured speech seemed to hold
something minatory in it--the sullen lowering which precedes a
"Answer me!" he persisted. "Was that it?"
"I--I suppose it was," she faltered.
He drew still closer and instinctively she shrank away. A
consciousness of repressed violence communicated itself to her. She
half expected him to strike her.
"And you don't love me? You're quite sure?"
There was an ominous kind of patience in the persistent questioning.
It was as though he were deliberately giving her every possible chance
to clear herself. Her nerves frayed a little.
"Of course I'm sure--perfectly sure," she said with nervous asperity.
"I wish you'd believe me, Dan!"
"I only wanted to make sure," he returned.
Something in the careful precision of his answer struck her with a
swift sense of apprehension. She looked up at him and what she saw
made her catch her breath convulsively. His face was ashen, the veins
in his forehead standing out like weals, and his eyes gleamed like
blue flame--mad eyes. His hands, hanging at his sides, twitched
"I'm sure now," he said. "Sure. . . . Do you know what you've done?
You've smashed up my life. Smashed it. June and I were happy enough
till you came. Now we'll never be happy again. I expect you've smashed
other lives, too. But you won't do it any more. I'm the last. Women
like you are better dead!"
His great arms swung out and gripped her.
"No, don't struggle. It wouldn't be any good, you know." He went on
speaking very carefully and quietly, and while he spoke she felt his
left arm tighten round her, binding her own arms down to her sides as
might a thong, while his right hand slid up to the base of her throat.
She writhed, twisting her body desperately in his grip. "Keep still.
I've kissed you. And now I'm going to kill you. You'll be better
There was implacable purpose in his strangely quiet, unhurried
accents. Magda recognised it--recognised that death was very close to
her. It would be useless to scream. Before help could come--if anyone
heard her cries, which was unlikely--Dan would have accomplished what
he meant to do.
In the last fraction of time these thoughts flashed through her mind.
Her brain seemed to be working with abnormal clarity and speed. This
was death, then--unavoidable, inevitable.
She felt Dan's hand creep upward, closing round her throat. Quite
suddenly she ceased to struggle and lay still in his grasp. After all,
she didn't know that she would much mind dying. Life was not so sweet.
There would be pain, she supposed . . . a moment's agony. . . .
All at once, Storran's hands fell away from her passive, silent body
and he stepped back. "I can't do it!" he muttered hoarsely. "I can't
For a moment the suddenness of her release left Magda swaying dizzily
on her feet. Then her brain clearing, she looked across to where Dan
Storran's big figure faced her. The nonchalance with which she usually
met life, and with which a few moments earlier she had been prepared
to face inevitable death, stood by her now. A faint, quizzical smile
tilted her mouth.
"So you couldn't do it after all, Dan?" The familiar note of half-
indifferent mockery sounded in her voice.
Storran stared at her. "By God! I don't believe you are a woman!" he
She regarded him contemplatively, her hands lightly touching the red
marks scored by his fingers on the whiteness of her throat.
"Do you know," she replied dispassionately, "I sometimes wonder if I
am? I don't seem to have--feelings, like other women. It doesn't
matter to me, really, a bit that I've--what was it you said?--smashed
up your life. I don't know that it would have mattered much if you had
strangled me." She paused, then stepped towards him. "Now you know the
truth. Do you still want to kill me, Dan Storran! . . . Or may I go?"
He swung aside from her.
"Go!" he muttered sullenly. "Go to /hell/!"
THE DAY AFTER
"Magda, how could you?" Gillian's voice was full of blank dismay. "You
ought to be thoroughly ashamed of yourself!"
Magda perched on the foot of Gillian's bed, her hands clasped round
her knees, nodded.
"Yes, I suppose I ought. I don't know what made me do it--except that
he'd suggested I should leave Stockleigh! I'm not used to being--
"Heaven knows you're not!" agreed Gillian ruefully. "It would be a
wholesome tonic for you if you were. I told you only yesterday that it
would be better if we left here. And on top of that you must needs go
and dance in the moonlight, of all things, while Dan Storran looks on!
What ordinary man is going to keep his head in such circumstances, do
you suppose? Especially when he was more than half in love with you to
start with. . . . Oh, I should like to shake you!"
"Well, I'll leave now--as soon as ever you like," replied Magda,
slipping down from the bed. She was unwontedly meek, from which
Gillian judged that for once she felt herself unable to cope with the
situation she had created. "Will you arrange it?"
Gillian shrugged her shoulders.
"I suppose so," she returned resignedly. "As usual, you break the
crockery and someone else has to sweep up the pieces."
Magda bent down and kissed her.
"You're such a dear, Gillyflower," she said with that impulsive,
lovable charm of manner which it was so difficult to resist. "Still"--
her voice hardening a little--"perhaps there are a few odd bits that
I'll have to sweep up myself."
And she departed to her own room to complete her morning toilette,
leaving Gillian wondering rather anxiously what she could have meant.
When, half an hour later, the two girls descended for breakfast, Dan
Storran was not visible. He had gone off early to work, June
explained, and Magda experienced a sensation of distinct relief. She
had dreaded meeting Dan this morning. The mad, bizarre scene of the
night before, with sudden unleashing of savage and ungoverned
passions, had shaken even her insouciant poise, though she was very
far from seeing it in its true proportions.
June received Gillian's intimation that they proposed leaving
Stockleigh Farm that day without comment. She was very quiet and self-
contained, and busied herself in making the necessary arrangements for
their departure, sending a boy into Ashencombe to order the wagonette
from the Crown and Bells to take them to the station whilst she
herself laboriously made out the account that was owing. When she
presented the latter, with a perfectly composed and business-like air,
and proceeded conscientiously to stamp and receipt it, no one could
have guessed how bitter a thing it was to her to accept Miss
Vallincourt's money. Within herself she recognised that every penny of
it had been earned at the cost of her own happiness.
But as she stood at the gate, watching the ancient vehicle from the
Crown and Bells bearing the London visitors towards the station, a
little quiver of hope stirred in her heart. Early that morning Dan
himself had said to her before starting out to his work: "Get those
people away! They must be out of the house before I come into it
again. Pay them a week's money instead of notice if necessary. We can
afford it." So it was evident that he, too, had realised the danger of
their happiness--hers and his--if Miss Vallincourt remained at
Stockleigh any longer.
He did not come in till late in the evening, when June was sitting in
the lamplight, adding delicate stitchery to some tiny garments upon
which she was at work. She hid them hastily at the sound of his
footsteps, substituting one of his own socks that stood in need of
repair. Not yet could she share with him that wonderful secret joy
which was hers. There must be a clearer understanding between them
first. They must get back to where they were before Miss Vallincourt
came between them, so that nothing might mar the sweetness of the
Presently Dan came into the room and sat down heavily. June looked
across at him.
"She has gone, Dan," she said quietly. She did not use the word
"they." Those others did not count as far as she was concerned. Her
use of the pronoun sounded significantly in Storran's ears.
"You know, then?" he said dully. Adding, after a moment's pause. "Did
she tell you?"
"Tell me?" repeated June doubtfully. "Tell me what?"
"That she's robbed you of all that belongs to you."
Her face blanched. "What do you mean, Dan?" she asked falteringly. "I
don't think I understand."
Her wide, questioning blue eyes, with that softness and depth of
expression dawning in them which motherhood gives to women's eyes,
searched his face. The innocent appeal of them cut him to the heart.
He had loved his wife; and now he had to tell her that he loved her no
"You've got to understand," he said roughly. His hatred of being
compelled to hurt her made him almost brutal. "I--everything is
changed between us, June." He stopped, not knowing how to go on.
"Changed? How, Dan?" Her voice sharpened with apprehension. "Do you
mean--that you don't--care any longer?"
"Yes. It's that. It's Magda--Oh, good God! Can't you understand?"
"You love Miss Vallincourt?" June spoke in carefully measured accents.
She felt that if she did not speak very quietly indeed she should
scream. She wanted to laugh, too. It sounded so absurd to be asking
her husband if he loved Miss Vallincourt!
Dan's eyes met her own.
"Yes," he said. "I love her." He paused a moment, then added: "I asked
her to go away with me."
June stared at him dumbly. The whole thing seemed unreal. She could
not feel as though what Dan was saying had any relation to herself,
any bearing on their life together. At last:
"Why didn't you go, then?" she heard herself say--at least, she
supposed she must be saying it, although the voice didn't sound a bit
like her own.
Dan turned on her with sudden savagery. His nerves were raw.
"You speak as though you were disappointed," he said roughly.
"No. But if you care for Miss Vallincourt and she cares for you, I'm
wondering what stopped you."
"She doesn't care for me"--shortly.
June felt a thrill of pure joy. If Magda didn't care, then she could
win him back--win back her husband! Within her she was instinctively
aware that if Magda /had/ cared, no power of hers could have won back
Dan's allegiance. A faint doubt assailed her.
"She--she /seemed/ as if she cared?" she ventured.
Dan nodded indifferently.
"Yes. I was a summer holiday's amusement for her."
"And--was that all?"
As June spoke, her direct gaze sought her husband's face. He met it
fair and square, unflinchingly.
"That's all," he replied quietly.
She crossed the room swiftly to his side.
"Then, if that's all, Dan, we--we won't speak of it again--ever," she
said steadily. "It--it was just a mistake. It need never come between
us. You'll get over it, and I"--her small head reared itself bravely--
"I'll forget it."
The pathetic courage of her! Storran turned away with a groan.
"No," he answered. "I shan't 'get over it.' When a man loves a woman
as I love Magda he doesn't 'get over it.' That's what I meant when I
told you she had robbed you."
"You /will/ get over it, Dan," she persisted. "I'll help you."
"You can't," he returned doggedly. "You, least of all! Every touch of
your hand--I should be thinking what her touch would have meant! The
sound of your step--I'd be listening for hers!"
He saw her wince. He wanted to kick himself for hurting her like this.
But he knew what he intended doing; and sooner or later she must know
too. It would be better for her in the long run to face it now than to
be endlessly waiting and hoping and longing for what he knew could
"Dan, I'll be very patient. Don't you think--if you tried--you could
conquer this love of yours for Miss Vallincourt?"
He shook his head.
"It's conquered me, June. It's--it's torture!"
"It will be easier now she's gone away," she suggested.
"Gone away? . . . Aye, as far as London! And in five hours I could be
with her--see her again----"
He broke off. At the bare thought his heart was pounding against his
ribs, his breath labouring in his throat.
"Won't you try, Dan?" Even to herself June's voice sounded faint and
"It would be useless." He got up and strode aimlessly back and forth,
coming at last to a standstill in front of her. "A man knows his own
limits, June. And I've reached mine. England can't hold the two of
June gave a little stifled cry.
"What do you mean? You're not--you're not going to leave me? To go
There would be need for him in England soon--in a few months. But of
course he couldn't know that. Should she tell him. Tell him why he
/must not/ leave her now? Keep him with her by a sure and certain
chain--the knowledge that she was soon to be the mother of his child?
She debated the question wildly in her mind, tempted to tell him, yet
feeling that even if then he stayed with her it would not be because
he loved her or had ceased to care for Miss Vallincourt, but only
because he was impelled by a sense of duty. And her pride rebelled
against holding him by that.
His voice broke in upon her conflicting thoughts.
"Yes. I'm going abroad. It's the only thing, June. I can't stay in
England--and keep away from her."
June was silent a moment. Then she said in a very low voice, almost as
though speaking to herself:
"I wonder if--if you ever loved me."
He wheeled round, and the desperate misery in his eyes hurt her almost
"Yes," he said harshly. "I did love you. In a way, I do now. But it's
nothing--nothing to the madness in my blood! I'm a brute to leave you.
But I'm going to do it. No civilised country can hold me now!"
So that was to be the end of it! June recognised the bitter truth at
last. Magda had indeed robbed her of everything she possessed. And
robbed her wantonly, seeing that she herself set no value on Dan's
love--had, in fact, tossed it aside like an outworn plaything.
June ceased to plead with Dan then. She would not wish to hold him by
any other chain than his love for her. And if that chain had snapped--
broken irrevocably--then the child born of what had once been love
would only be an encumbrance in his eyes, an unwelcome tie, shackling
him to a duty from which he longed to escape.
So she let him go--let him go in silence. . . .
WHAT LADY ARABELLA KNEW
Lady Arabella might disapprove of her god-daughter from every point of
the compass, but she was nevertheless amazingly fond of her, so that
when Gillian appeared on her spotless Park Lane doorstep one afternoon
with the information that she and Magda had returned from Devonshire,
she hailed the announcement with enthusiasm.
"But where is Magda? Why didn't she come with you?" she demanded
"Her manager rang up to know if he could see her about various things
in connection with this next winter's season, so there's a great
council in progress. But she's coming to see you to-morrow. Won't I
do"--Gillian wrinkled her brows whimsically--"for to-day?"
"Bless the child! Of course you will! Come along and tell me all about
your Devonshire trip. I suppose," she went on, "you heard the news of
Michael Quarrington's marriage? Or didn't you get any newspapers down
in your benighted village?"
"No, we had no London papers," replied Gillian doubtfully. "But--I
don't understand. Mr. Quarrington isn't married, is he? I thought--I
"You thought he was in love with Magda. So he was. The announcement
startled everybody, I can tell you! And Davilof promptly decided that
a motoring trip would benefit his health and shot off to Devonshire at
top speed. Of course he wanted to impart the news to Magda. He must
have felt a pretty fool since!" And Lady Arabella gave one of her
"Yes. Antoine came down to see us," replied Gillian in puzzled tones.
"But Magda never confided anything special he had said. I suppose he
/must/ have told her----" She broke off as all at once illumination
penetrated the darkness. "That explains it, then! Explains
everything!" she exclaimed.
"What explains what?" demanded Lady Arabella bluntly.
"Why----" And Gillian proceeded to recount the events which had led up
to the abrupt termination of the visit to Stockleigh Farm.
"She was in a very odd kind of mood after Antoine had gone. I even
asked her if he had brought any bad news, but I couldn't get any
sensible answer out of her. And that night she proceeded to dance in
the moonlight with Dan Storran for audience--out of sheer devilment,
"Or sheer heartsickness," suggested Lady Arabella, with one of those
quick flashes of tender insight which combined so incongruously with
the rest of her personality.
"Do you think she--cared, then?" asked Gillian.
"For Quarrington? Of course I do. Oh, well it will all come right in
the end, I hope. And, anyway"--with a wicked little grin--"Davilof
won't have quite such a clear coast as he anticipated."
"But if Michael Quarrington is married--"
"He isn't," interrupted Lady Arabella briskly. "It was contradicted in
the papers the very next morning. Only I suppose Davilof hustled off
to Devonshire in such a hurry that he never saw it.
"Contradicted? But how did such a mistake arise?"
"Oh, whoever supplied that particular tidbit of news got the names
mixed. It ought really to have been /Warrington/, not Quarrington--
Mortrake Warrington, the sculptor, you know. It seems he and Michael
were both using the same woman as a model--only Warrington married
her! Spoiled Michael's picture--or his temper--when he ran off with
her for a honeymoon, I expect!"
On her return to Friars' Holm Gillian hastened to retail for Magda's
benefit the information she had acquired from Lady Arabella, and was
rewarded by the immediate change in her which became apparent. The
haunted, feverish look in her eyes was replaced by a more tranquil
shining, the intense restlessness she had evinced of late seemed to
fall away from her, and she ceased to pepper her conversation with the
bitter speeches which had worried Gillian more than a little,
recognising in them, as she did, the outcrop of some inward and
To Magda, the fact that Michael was not married, after all, seemed to
re-create the whole world. It left hope still at the bottom of the box
of life's possibilities. Looking backward, she realised now how
strongly she had clung to the belief that some day he would come back
to her. It had been the one gleam of light through all those dark
months which had followed his abrupt departure; and the intolerable
pain of the hours that had succeeded Davilof's announcement of his
marriage to the Spanish woman had taught her how much Michael meant to
She was beginning to appreciate, too, the tangle of convictions and
emotions which had driven him from her side. His original attitude
toward her, based on the treatment she had accorded to his friend who
had loved her, had been one of plain censure and distrust,
strengthened and intensified by that strong "partisan" feeling of one
man for another--fruit of the ineradicable sex antagonism which so
often colours the judgments men pass on women and women on men. Then
had come love, against which he had striven in vain, and gradually,
out of love, had grown a new tentative belief which the pitiful
culmination of the Raynham episode had suddenly and very completely
Of late, circumstances had combined to impress on Magda an altogether
new point of view--the viewpoint from which other people might
conceivably regard her actions. She had never troubled about such a
thing before, nor was she finding the experience at all a pleasant
one. But it helped her to understand to a certain extent--though still
only in a very modified degree--the influences which had sent Michael
Quarrington out of England.
And now, in the passionate relief bred of the knowledge that he was
still free, that he had not gone straight from her to another woman,
much of the resentful hardness which had embittered her during the
last few months melted away, and she became once more the nonchalant,
tantalising but withal lovable and charming personality of former
She was even conscious of a certain compunction for her behaviour at
Stockleigh. She had been bitterly hurt herself, and since, for the
moment, to experiment with a new and, to her, quite unknown type of
man had amused her and helped to distract her thoughts, she had not
paused to consider the possible resultant consequences to the subject
of the experiment.
She endeavoured to solace herself with the belief that after she had
gone he would instinctively turn to June once more, and that life on
the farm would probably resume the even tenor of its way. Gradually,
with the passage of time, her thoughts reverted less and less often to
the happenings at Stockleigh, and the prickings of conscience--which
beset her return to London--grew considerably fainter and more
It was almost inevitable that this should be so. With the autumn came
the stir and hustle of the season, with its thousand-and-one claims
upon her thought and time. The management of the Imperial Theatre was
nothing if not enterprising, and designed to present a series of
ballets throughout the course of the winter, in the greater number of
which Magda would be the bright and particular star. And in the
absorption of work and the sheer joy she found in the art which she
loved, the recollection of her holiday at Stockleigh slipped by
degrees into the background of her mind. Fraught with such immense
significance and catastrophe to those others, Dan and June--to Magda
it soon came to occupy no more than an incidental niche in her memory.
Winter had slipped away, pushed from his place by the tender,
resistless hands of spring. And now spring had given place to summer,
and June, arms filled with flowers, was converting the earth into a
garden of roses.
Magda's car, purring its way southward along the great road from
London, sped between fields that still gleamed with the first
freshness of their young green, while through the open window drifted
vagrant little puffs of clean country air, coming delicately to her
nostrils, fragrant of leaf and bloom.
She was motoring to Netherway, a delightfully small and insignificant
place on the Hampshire coast where Lady Arabella had what it pleased
her to term her "cottage in the country," a charming old place,
Elizabethan in character--the type of "cottage" which boasted a score
or so of rooms and every convenience which an imaginative estate
agent, sustained by the knowledge that his client regarded money as a
means and not an end, could devise.
Summer invitations to the Hermitage--as the place was quite inaptly
called, since no one could be less akin to a hermit than its
gregarious owner--were much sought after by the younger generation of
Lady Arabella's set. The beautifully wooded park, with its green
aisles of shady solitude sloping down from the house to the very edge
of the blue waters of the Solent, was an ideal spot in which to bring
to a safe and happy conclusion a love affair that might seem to have
hung fire a trifle during the hurly-burly of the London season. And if
further inducement were needed, it was to be found in the fact that
Lady Arabella herself constituted the most desirable of chaperons,
remaining considerately inconspicuous until the moment when her
congratulations were requested.
This year a considerable amount of disappointment had been occasioned
by the fact that she had left town quite early during the season, and
later on had apparently limited her invitations exclusively to the
trio at Friars' Holm. She declared that the number of matrimonial
ventures for which the Hermitage was responsible was beginning to
weigh on her conscience. Also, she wanted a quiet holiday and she
proposed to take one.
And now Magda was on her way to join her, Gillian remaining behind in
order to close up the house at Hampstead and settle the servants on
board wages. It had been arranged that she and Coppertop should come
on to Netherway immediately this was accomplished.
Magda could hardly believe that only a year had elapsed since last the
roses beckoned her out of London. It seemed far longer since that hot
summer's day when she had rushed away to Devonshire, vainly seeking a
narcotic for the new and bewildering turmoil of pain that was
She had learned now that you carry a heartache with you, and that no
change of scenery makes up for the beloved face you can no longer see.
For Michael had not come back. He had remained abroad and had never by
sign or letter acknowledged that he even remembered her existence.
Magda had come to accept it as a fact now that he had gone out of her
A whiff of air tinged with the salt tang of the sea blew in at the
window, and she came suddenly out of her musings to find that the car
was winding its way up the hill upon which the Hermitage was perched.
A long, low house, clothed in creeper, it stood just below the hill's
brow, sheltered to the rear by a great belt of woods, and overlooking
a sea which sparkled in the sunlight as though strewn with diamond-
Lady Arabella was waiting in the porch when the car drew up and
welcomed her god-daughter with delight. She seemed bubbling over with
good spirits, and there was a half-mischievous, half-guilty twinkle in
her keen old eyes which suggested that there might be some ulterior
cause for her effervescence.
"If you were poor I should say you'd just come into a fortune,"
commented Magda, regarding her judicially. "As you're not, I should
like to know why you're looking as pleased as a child with a new toy.
Own up, now, Marraine! What's the secret you've got up your sleeve?"
"Yes, there is a secret," acknowledged Lady Arabella gleefully. "Come
along and I'll show it you."
Magda smiled and followed her across the long hall and into a room at
the further end of which stood a big easel. On the easel, just nearing
completion, rested a portrait of her godmother. It was rather a
wonderful portrait. The artist seemed to have penetrated beyond the
mere physical lineaments of his sitter into the very crannies of her
soul. It was all there--the thoroughly worldly shrewdness, the
mordant, somewhat cynical humour, and the genuine kindness of heart
which went to make up Lady Arabella's personality as her world knew
it. And something more. Behind all these one sensed the glamour of a
long-past romance, the unquenched spark of a faith that, as Lady
Arabella had herself once put it in a rare moment of self-revelation,
"love is the best thing this queer old world of ours has to offer."
The portrait on the easel was that of a woman who had visioned the
miracle of love only to be robbed of its fulfilment.
Magda stood silently in front of the picture, marvelling at its keen
perceptive powers. And then quite suddenly she realised who must have
painted it. It almost seemed to her as though she had really known it
from the first moment her eyes had rested on the canvas. The
brushwork, and that uncannily clever characterisation, were
"Good likeness, don't you think?"
Lady Arabella's snapping speech broke the silence.
"It's rather more than that, isn't it?" said Magda. "How did you
seduce Michael Quarrington? I thought"--for an instant her voice
wavered, then steadied again--"I thought he was abroad."
"He was. At the present moment he's at the Hermitage."
Magda turned her head aside so that Lady Arabella might not see the
wave of scarlet which flooded her face and then receded, leaving it
milk-white. Michael . . . /here/! She felt her heart beating in great
suffocating throbs, and the room seemed to swim round her. If he were
here, knowing that she was to be his fellow-guest, surely he could not
hate her so badly! She was conscious of a sudden wild uprush of hope.
Perhaps--perhaps happiness was not so far away, after all!
And then she heard Lady Arabella's voice breaking across the riot of
emotion which stirred within her.
"Yes, he has been here the last three weeks painting my portrait. It's
for you, the portrait. I thought you'd like to have it when you
haven't got the original any longer."
Magda turned to her suddenly, her affection for her godmother alertly
"What do you mean?" she said anxiously. "You're--you're not ill,
"Ill? No. But I'm over seventy. And after seventy you've had your
allotted span, you know. Anything beyond that's an extra. And whether
fate gives me a bit more rope or not, I've nothing to grumble at. I've
/lived/, not vegetated--and I've had a very good time, too." She
paused, then added slowly: "Though I've missed the best."
Magda slipped her hand into the old woman's thin, wrinkled one with a
quick gesture of understanding, and a little sympathetic silence fell
"Then you'll find the hanging-room for the portrait at Friars' Holm?"
queried Lady Arabella, breaking it at last in practical tones.
"You know we'd love to have it," replied Magda warmly. In a studiously
casual voice she pursued: "By the way, does Mr. Quarrington know I'm
Lady Arabella nodded. Secretly she was congratulating herself on
having successfully tided over the awkwardness of explaining Michael's
presence at the Hermitage. She had been somewhat apprehensive as to
how Magda would take it. It was quite on the cards that she might have
ordered her car round again and driven straight back to London!
But she had accepted the fact with apparent composure--one's mental
states, fortunately, being invisible to the curious eyes of the
outside world!--and Lady Arabella felt proportionately relieved. Nor
had Quarrington himself evinced any particular emotion, either of
dissatisfaction or otherwise, when she had confided to him the fact
that she was expecting her god-daughter. And although the extreme
composure exhibited by both Michael and Magda was a trifle baffling,
Lady Arabella was fain to comfort herself with her confirmed belief in
propinquity as the resolution of most lovers' problems and
She was fully determined to bring these two together once more if it
were in any way possible, and the commission to paint her portrait had
been merely part of her scheme. Her three score years and ten had had
little enough to do with it. They weighed extremely lightly on her
erect old shoulders, and her spirit was as unquenchable as it had been
twenty years ago. It seemed more than likely that fate was preparing
to allow her quite a good deal of rope.
As for Quarrington, he would probably have refused to return to
England at this juncture to please anyone other than Lady Arabella.
But somehow no one ever did refuse Lady Arabella anything that she
particularly set her heart upon. Moreover, as he reflected upon
receipt of her assured little missive commissioning him to paint her
portrait, he would be obliged to return to England sooner or later,
and by now he felt he had himself sufficiently in hand to risk the
contingency of a possible meeting with Magda. But he had hardly
counted upon finding himself actually under the same roof with her for
days together, and, although outwardly unmoved, he was somewhat taken
aback when halfway through his visit to the Hermitage, Lady Arabella
cheerfully communicated the prospect to him.
He could read between the lines and guess her purpose, and it afforded
him a certain sardonic amusement. It was like Lady Arabella's
temerity, he reflected! No other woman, knowing as much of the special
circumstances as she did, would have ventured so far.
Well, she would soon realise that her attempt to bridge matters over
between himself and her god-daughter was foredoomed to failure. He
would never trust Magda, or any other woman, again. From the moment he
had left England he had made up his mind that henceforth no woman
should have any place in his life, and certain subsequent occurrences
had confirmed him in this determination.
At the same time he was not going to run away. He would stay and face
it out. He would remain at the Hermitage until he had finished the
portrait upon which he was at work, and then he would pack up and
So that when finally he and Magda met in the sun-filled South Parlour
at the Hermitage each of them was prepared to treat the other with a
But Magda found it difficult to maintain her pose after her first
glance at his face. The alteration in it sent a swift pang to her
heart. It had hardened--hardened into lines of a grim self-control
that spoke of long mental conflict. The mouth, too, had learned to
close in a new line of bitterness, and in the grey eyes as they rested
on her there lay a certain cynical indifference which seemed to set
her as far away from him as the north is from the south. She realised
that the gulf between them was almost as wide and impassable as though
he were in very truth the Spanish dancer's husband. This man proposed
to give her neither love nor forgiveness. Only the feminine instinct
of pride--the pride of woman who must be sought and never the seeker--
carried her through the ordeal of the first meeting. Nor did he seek
to make it easier for her.
"It is a long time since you were in England," she remarked after the
first interchange of civilities.
"Very long," agreed Quarrington politely. "It would probably have been
still longer if Lady Arabella had not tempted me. But her portrait was
too interesting a commission to refuse."
"It sounds banal to say how good I think it. You never paint anything
that /isn't/ good, do you?"
"I paint what I see."
"In that case quite a lot of people might be afraid to have their
portraits painted by you--beauty being so much in the eye of the
beholder!" returned Magda with the flippancy that is so often only the
defence behind which a woman takes refuge.
"I don't think so. As a matter of fact I have no objection to painting
a plain face--provided there's a beautiful soul behind it."
"But I suppose a beautiful soul in a beautiful body would satisfy you
"It might, if such a combination existed."
Magda flushed a little.
"You don't think it does?"
The grey, contemptuous eyes swept her face suddenly.
"My experience has not led me to think so."
There was an almost calculated insolence in the careless answer. It
was as though he had tossed her an epitome of his opinion of her.
Magda's spirit rose in opposition.
"Perhaps your experience has been somewhat limited," she observed.
"Perhaps it has. If so, I have no wish to extend it."
In spite of Michael's taciturnity--or perhaps, more truly, on account
of it--Magda's spirits lightened curiously after that first interview
with him. The mere fact of his presence had stilled the incessant ache
at her heart--the ache to see him again and hear his voice. And the
morose cynicism of his thrusts at her was just so much proof that,
although he had forced himself to remain out of England for a year and
a half, yet he had not thereby achieved either peace of mind or
indifference. Magda was too true a daughter of Eve not to know that a
man doesn't expend powder and shot on a woman to whom he is completely
The next day or two were not without their difficulties, as Lady
Arabella speedily realised. A triangular party, when two out of the
three share certain poignant memories, is by no means the easiest
thing to stage-manage. There were inevitable awkward moments that
could only be surmounted by the exercise of considerable tact, and the
hours which Lady Arabella passed sitting to Quarrington for her
Back to Full Books