The Lamp of Fate
Part 5 out of 7
portrait, while Magda wandered alone through the woods or sculled a
solitary boat up the river, helped to minimize the strain
Nevertheless, it was a relief to everyone concerned when Gillian and
Coppertop were added to the party. A strained atmosphere was somewhat
difficult of accomplishment anywhere within the joyous vicinity of the
latter, while Gillian's tranquil and happy nature reacted on the whole
"That's an extraordinary friendship," commented Quarrington one day as
he and his hostess stood at the window watching Gillian and Magda,
returned from shopping in the village, approaching up the drive. "Mrs.
Grey is so simple and--to use an overworked word--so essentially
The hard look deepened in Michael's eyes.
"Essentially--feminine," he answered curtly. "A quite different
"She hasn't found her soul yet," said Lady Arabella. Adding with
sudden daring: "Suppose you find it for her, Michael?"
"I don't think the search would interest me," he returned coolly. "I
haven't the instinct of the prospector." He paused, then went on
slowly and as though making the admission almost against his will:
"But I'd like to paint her."
"A portrait of her?"
"No, not a portrait."
"Then you mean you want her to sit for your 'Circe'?"
Lady Arabella knew all about the important picture he had in mind to
paint. They had often discussed it together during the progress of the
sittings she had been giving him, and she was aware that so far he had
been unable to find a suitable model.
"Yes," he said slowly. "She is the perfect model for such a subject--
body and soul."
Lady Arabella ignored the sneer.
"Then why not ask her to sit for you?"
Quarrington's brows drew together.
"You know the answer to that, I think, Lady Arabella," he answered
"Oh, you men! I've no patience with you!" exclaimed the old lady
testily. "/I/ shall ask her, then!"
Gillian and Magda, laden with parcels, entered the room as she spoke,
and, before Quarrington could prevent her, she had flashed round on
"Magda, here's Michael in need of a model for the best picture he's
ever likely to paint, and it seems you exactly fit the bill. Will you
sit for him?"
Followed an astonished silence. Gillian glanced apprehensively towards
Magda. She felt as though Lady Arabella had suddenly let off a
firework in their midst. Magda halted in the process of unwrapping a
"What is the subject of the picture?"
There was a perceptible pause. Then Lady Arabella took the bull by the
"Circe," she said tersely.
"Oh!" Magda seemed to reflect. "She turned men into swine, didn't
she?" She looked across at Quarrington. "And I'm to understand you
think I'd make a suitable model for that particular subject?"
"She was a very beautiful person," suggested Gillian hastily.
"Mr. Quarrington hasn't answered my question," persisted Magda.
He met her glance with cool defiance.
"Then, yes," he returned with a little bow. "As Mrs. Grey has just
remarked--Circle was very beautiful."
"You score," observed Magda demurely. There was a glint of amusement
in her eyes.
"Yes, I think he does," agreed Lady Arabella, who was deriving an
impish, pixie-like enjoyment from the situation. Then, recognising
that it might be more diplomatic not to press the matter any further
at the moment, she skilfully drew the conversation into other
It was not until evening, after dinner, that she reverted to the
subject. They had all four been partaking of coffee and cigarettes on
the verandah, and subsequently she had proposed a stroll in the garden
--a suggestion to which Gillian responded with alacrity. Magda, her
slim length extended on a comfortably cushioned wicker lunge, shook
"I'm too comfortable to stir," she declared idly.
Lady Arabella paused at the edge of the verandah and contemplated her
critically. Something in the girl's pose and in the long, lithe lines
of her recumbent figure was responsible for her next remark.
"I can see you as Circe," she commented, "quite well." She tucked her
arm into Gillian's and, as they moved away together, threw back over
her shoulder: "By the way, have you two settled the vexed question of
the model for the picture yet?"
Quarrington blew a thin stream of smoke into the air before replying.
Then, looking quizzically across at Magda, he asked: "Have we?"
"Have we what?"
"Decided whether you will sit for my picture of Circe?"
Magda lifted her long white lids and met his glance.
"Why should I?" she asked lazily.
He shrugged his shoulders with apparent unconcern.
"No reason in the world--unless you feel inclined to do a good turn."
His indifference was maddening.
"I don't make a habit of doing good turns," she retorted sharply.
"So I should imagine."
The contemptuous edge to his voice roused her to indignation. As
always, she found herself stung to the quick by the man's coolly
critical attitude towards her. She was back once more in the
atmosphere of their first meeting on the day he had come to her
assistance in the fog. It seemed almost incredible that all that
followed had ever taken place--incredible that he had ever cared for
her or taught her to care for him. At least he was making it very
clear to her now that he intended to cut those intervening memories
out of his life.
It was a sheer challenge to her femininity, and everything that was
woman in her rose to meet it.
She smiled across at him engagingly.
"I might--perhaps--make an exception."
For a moment there was silence. Quarrington's gaze was riveted on her
slim, supple figure with its perfect symmetry and rare grace of limb.
It was difficult to interpret his expression. Magda wondered if he
were going to reject her offer. He seemed to be fighting something out
with himself--pulled two ways--the artist in him combating the man's
impulse to resist her.
Suddenly the artist triumphed. He rose and, coming to her side, stood
looking down at her.
"Will you?" he said. "/Will you/?"
Something more than the artist spoke in his voice. It held a note of
passionate eagerness, a clipped tensity that set all her pulses
She turned her head aside.
"Yes," she answered, a little breathlessly. "Yes--if you want me to."
A READJUSTMENT OF IDEAS
Magda glanced from the divan covered with a huge tiger-skin to
Michael, wheeling his easel into place. A week's hard work on the part
of the artist had witnessed the completion of Lady Arabella's
portrait, and to-day he proposed to make some preliminary sketches for
Magda felt oddly nervous and unsure of herself. This last fortnight
passed in daily companionship with Quarrington had proved a
considerable strain. Not withstanding that she had consented to sit
for his picture of Circe, he had not deviated from the attitude which
he had apparently determined upon from the first moment of her arrival
at the Hermitage--an attitude of aloof indifference to which was added
a bitterness of speech that continually thrust at her with its
trenchant cynicism. It was as though he had erected a high wall
between them which Magda found no effort of hers could break down, and
she was beginning to ask herself whether he could ever really have
cared for her at all. Surely no man who had once cared could be so
hard--so implacably hard!
And now, alone with him in the big room which had been converted into
a temporary studio, she found herself overwhelmed by a feeling of
intense self-consciousness. She felt it would be impossible to bear
the coolly neutral gaze of those grey eyes for hours at a time. She
wished fervently that she had never consented to sit for the picture
"How do you want me to pose?" she inquired at last, endeavouring to
speak with her usual detachment and conscious that she was failing
miserably. "You haven't told me yet."
He laughed a little.
"I haven't the least intention of telling you," he replied. "'The
Wielitzska' doesn't need advice as to how to pose."
Magda looked at him uncertainly.
"But you've given me no idea of what you want," she protested. "I must
have some idea to start from!"
"I want a recumbent Circe," he vouchsafed at last. "Hence the divan.
Here is the goblet"--he held it out--"supposed to contain the fatal
potion which transformed men into swine. I leave the rest to you. You
posed very successfully for me some years ago--without my issuing any
stage directions. Afterwards you played the part of a youthful Circe,
I remember. You should be more experienced now."
She flushed under the cool, satirical tone. It seemed as though he
neglected no opportunity of impressing on her the poor estimation in
which he held her. Her thoughts flew back to a sunlit glade in a wood
and to the grey-eyed, boyish-looking painter who had kissed her and
called her "Witch-child!"
"You--you were kinder in those days," she said suddenly. She made a
few steps towards him and stood looking up at him, her hands hanging
loosely clasped in front of her, like a penitent school-girl.
"Saint Michel"--and at the sound of her old childish name for him he
winced. "Saint Michel, I don't think I can sit for you if--if you're
going to be unkind. I thought I could, but--but--I can't!"
"Unkind?" he muttered.
"Yes," she said desperately. "Since I came here you've said a good
many hard things to me. I--I dare say I've deserved them. But"--
smiling up at him rather wanly--"it isn't always easy to accept one's
deserts." She paused, then spoke quickly: "Couldn't we--while we're
here together--behave like friends? Just friends? It's only for a
His face had whitened while she was speaking. He was silent for a
little and his hand, grasping the side of the big easel, slowly
tightened its grip till the knuckles showed white like bone. At last
he answered her.
"Very well--friends, then! So be it."
Impulsively she held out her hand. He took it in his and held it a
moment, looking down at its slim whiteness. Then he bent his head and
she felt his lips hot against her soft palm.
A little shaken, she drew away from him and moved towards the divan.
She paused beside it and glanced down reflectively at the goblet she
still carried in her hand, mentally formulating her conception of
Circe before she posed. An instant later and her voice roused
Quarrington from the momentary reverie into which he had fallen.
"How would this do?"
He looked up, and as his gaze absorbed the picture before him an eager
light of pure aesthetic satisfaction leaped into his eyes.
"Hold that!" he exclaimed quickly. "Don't move, please!" And,
snatching up a stick of charcoal, he began to sketch rapidly with
swift, sure strokes.
The pose she had assumed was matchless. She was half-sitting, half-
lying on the divan, the swathing draperies of her tunic outlining the
wonderful modelling of her limbs. The upper part of her body, twisting
a little from the waist, was thrown back as she leaned upon one arm,
hand pressed palm downward on the tiger-skin. In her other hand she
held a golden goblet, proffering the fatal draught, and her tilted
face with its strange, enigmatic smile and narrowed lids held all the
seductive entreaty and beguilement, and the deep, cynical knowledge of
mankind, which are the garnerings of the Circes of this world.
At length Quarrington laid down his charcoal.
"It's a splendid pose," he said enthusiastically. "That sideways bend
you've given to your body--it's wonderful! But can you stand it, do
you think? Of course I'll give you rests as often as I can, but even
so it will be a very trying pose to hold."
Magda sat up, letting her feet slide slowly over the edge of the
divan. The "feet of Aurora" someone had once called them--white and
arched, with rosy-tipped toes curved like the petals of a flower.
"I can hold it for a good while, I think," she answered evasively.
She did not tell him that even to her trained muscles the preservation
of this particular pose, with its sinuous twist of the body, was
likely to prove somewhat of a strain. If the pose was so exactly what
he wanted for his Circe, he should have it, whatever the cost to
And without knowing it, yielding to an impulse which she hardly
recognised, Magda had taken the first step along the pathway of
service and sacrifice trodden by those who love.
"It seems as though you were destined to be the model of my two
'turning-point' pictures," commented Quarrington some days later,
during one of the intervals when Magda was taking a brief rest. "It
was the 'Repose of Titania' which first established my reputation, you
"But this can't be a 'turning-point,' " objected Magda. "When you've
reached the top of the pinnacle of fame, so to speak, there isn't any
'turning-point'--unless"--laughing--"you're going to turn round and
climb down again!"
"There's no top to the pinnacle of work--of achievement," he answered
quietly. "At least, there shouldn't be. One just goes on--slipping
back a bit, sometimes, then scrambling on again." His glance returned
to the picture and Magda watched the ardour of the creative artist
light itself anew in his eyes. "That"--he nodded towards the canvas--
"is going to be the best bit of work I've done."
"What made you"--she hesitated a moment--"what made you choose Circe
as the subject?"
His face clouded over.
"The experience of a friend of mine."
Magda caught her breath.
"Not--you don't mean-----"
"Oh, no"--divining her thought--"not the friend of whom you know--who
loved the dancer. She hurt him"--looking at her significantly--"but
she didn't injure him to that extent. Circe turned men into swine, you
remember. My friend was too fine a character for her to spoil like
"I'm glad." Magda spoke very low, her head bent. She felt unable to
meet his eyes. After a short silence she asked: "Then what inspired--
Was it some woman-episode that had occurred while he was abroad which
had scored those new lines on his face, embittering the mouth and
implanting that sternly sad expression in the grey eyes? She must know
--at all hazards, she must know!
Quarrington lit a cigarette.
"It's not a pretty story," he remarked harshly.
Magda glanced towards the picture. The enchanting, tilted face smiled
at her from the canvas, faintly derisive.
"Tell it me," was all she said.
"There's very little to tell," he answered briefly. "There was a man
and his wife--and another woman. Till the latter came along they were
absolutely happy together--sufficient unto each other. The other woman
was one of the Circe type, and she broke the man. Broke him utterly. I
happened to be in Paris at the time, and he came to see me there on
his way out to South America. He'd left his wife, left his work--
everything. Just /quitted/! Since then I believe 'Frisco has seen more
of him than any other place. A man I know ran across him there and
told me he'd gone under--utterly."
"And the wife?"
"Dead"--shortly. "She'd no heart to go on living--no wish to. She died
when their first child was born--she and the child together--a few
months after her husband had left her."
Magda uttered a stifled cry of pity, but Quarrington seemed not to
"That woman was a twentieth-century Circe." He paused, then added with
grim conviction: "There's no forgiveness for a woman like that."
"Ah! Don't say that!"
The words broke impulsively from Magda's lips. The recollection of the
summer she had spent at Stockleigh rushed over her accusingly--and she
realised that actually she had come between Dan Storran and his wife
very much as the Circe woman of Michael's story had come between some
other husband and wife.
A deep compassion for that unknown woman surged up within her. Surely
her burden of remorse must be almost more than she could endure! And
Magda--to whom penalties and consequences had hitherto been but very
unimportant factors with which she concerned herself as little as
possible--was all at once conscious of an intense thankfulness that
she had not been thus punished, that she had quitted Stockleigh
leaving husband and wife still together. Together, they would find the
way back into each other's hearts!
"Don't say that!" she repeated imploringly. "It sounds so hard--so
"I don't think that it is a case for relenting. But I oughtn't to have
told you about it. After all, neither the husband nor wife were
friends of yours. And you're looking quite upset over it. I didn't
imagine that you were so easily moved to sympathy."
She looked away. Of late she had been puzzled herself at the new and
unwonted emotions which stirred her.
"I don't think--I used to be," she said at last, uncertainly.
"Well, please don't take the matter too much to heart or you won't be
able to assume the personality of Circe again when you've rested. I
don't want to paint the picture of a model of propriety!"
It seemed as though he were anxious to restore the conversation to a
lighter vein, and Magda responded gladly.
"I'm quite rested now. Shall I pose again?" she suggested a few
Michael assented and, picking up his palette, began squeezing out
fresh shining little worms of paint on to it while Magda reassumed her
pose. For a while he chatted intermittently, but presently he fell
silent, becoming more and more deeply absorbed in his work. Finally,
when some remark of hers repeated a second time still remained
unanswered, she realised that he had completely forgotten her
existence. As far as he was concerned she was no longer Magda
Wielitzska, posing for him, but Circe, the enchantress, whose amazing
beauty he was transferring to his canvas in glowing brushstrokes. As
with all genius, the impulse of creative work had seized him suddenly
and was driving him on regardless of everything exterior to his art.
Time had ceased to matter to him, and Magda, with little nervous pains
shooting first through one limb, then another, was wondering how much
longer she could maintain the pose. She was determined not to give in,
not to check him while that fervour of creation was upon him.
The pain was increasing. She felt as though she were being stabbed
with red-hot knives. Tiny beads of sweat broke out on her forehead,
and her breath came gaspingly between her lips.
All at once the big easel at which Michael was standing receded out of
sight, and when it reappeared again it was quite close to her, swaying
and nodding like a mandarin. Instinctively she put out her hand to
steady it, but it leaned nearer and nearer and finally gave a huge
lurch and swooped down on top of her, and the studio and everything in
it faded out of sight. . . .
The metallic tinkle of the gold goblet as it fell from her hand and
rolled along the floor startled Michael out of his absorption. With a
sharp exclamation he flung down his brush and palette and strode
hurriedly to the divan. Magda was lying half across it in a little
crumpled heap, unconscious.
His first impulse to lift her up was arrested by something in her
attitude, and he stood quite still, looking down at her, his face
suddenly drawn and very weary.
In the limp figure with its upturned face and the purple shadows which
fatigue had painted below the closed eyelids, there was an
irresistible appeal. She looked so young, so helpless, and the
knowledge that she had done this for him--forced her limbs into
agonised subjection until at last conscious endurance had failed her--
moved him indescribably.
Surely this was a new Magda! Or else he had never known her. Had he
been too hard--hard to her and pitilessly hard to himself--when he had
allowed the ugly facts of her flirtation with Kit Raynham to drive him
Eighteen months ago! And in all those eighteen months no word of
gossip, no lightest breath of scandal against her, had reached his
ears. Had he been merely a self-righteous Pharisee, enforcing the
penalty of old sins, bygone failings? A grim smile twisted his lips.
If so, and he had made her suffer, he had at least suffered equally
He stooped over the prone figure on the divan. Lower, lower still,
till a tendril of dark hair that had strayed across her forehead
quivered beneath his breath. Then suddenly he drew back, jerking
himself upright. Striding across the room he pealed the bell and, when
a neat maidservant appeared in response, ordered sharply:
"Bring some brandy--quick! And ask Mrs. Grey to come here.
Mademoiselle Wielitzska has fainted."
AT THE END OF THE STORM
"This is very nice--but it won't exactly contribute towards finishing
As she spoke Magda leaned back luxuriously against her cushions and
glanced smilingly across at Michael where he sat with his hand on the
tiller of the /Bella Donna/, the little sailing-yacht which Lady
Arabella kept for the amusement of her guests rather than for her own
enjoyment, since she herself could rarely be induced to go on board.
It had been what Magda called a "blue day"--the sky overhead a deep
unbroken azure, the dimpling, dancing waters of the Solent flinging
back a blue almost as vivid--and she and Quarrington had put out from
Netherway harbour in the morning and crossed to Cowes.
Here they had lunched and Magda had purchased one or two of the
necessities of life (from a feminine point of view) not procurable in
the village emporia at Netherway. Afterwards, as there was still ample
time before they need think of returning home, Michael had suggested
an hour's run down towards the Needles.
The /Bella Donna/ sped gaily before the wind, and neither of its
occupants, engrossed in conversation, noticed that away to windward a
bank of sullen cloud was creeping forward, slowly but surely eating up
the blue of the sky.
"Of course it will contribute towards finishing the picture."
Quarrington answered Magda's laughing comment composedly. "A blow like
this will have done you all the good in the world, and I shan't have
you collapsing on my hands again as you did a week ago."
"Oh, then, you brought me out on hygienic grounds alone?" derided
She was feeling unaccountably happy and light-hearted. Since the day
when she had fainted during the sitting Michael seemed to have
changed. He no longer gave utterance to those sudden, gibing speeches
which had so often hurt her intolerably. That sense of his aloofness,
as though a great wall rose between them, was gone. Somehow she felt
that he had drawn nearer to her, and once or twice those grey,
compelling eyes had glowed with a smothered fire that had set her
heart racing unsteadily within her.
"Haven't you enjoyed to-day, then?" he inquired, responding to her
question with another.
"I've loved it," she answered simply. "I think if I'd been a man I
should have chosen to be a sailor."
"Then it's a good thing heaven saw to it that you were a woman. The
world couldn't have done without its Wielitzska."
"Oh, I don't know"--half-indifferently, half-wistfully. "It's
astonishing how little necessary anyone really is in this world. If I
were drowned this afternoon the Imperial management would soon find
someone to take my place."
"But your friends wouldn't," he said quietly.
Magda laughed a little uncertainly.
"Well, I won't suggest we put them to the test, so please take me home
As she spoke a big drop of rain splashed down on to her hand. Then
another and another. Simultaneously she and Michael glanced upwards to
the sky overhead, startlingly transformed from an arch of quivering
blue into a monotonous expanse of grey, across which came sweeping
drifts of black cloud, heavy with storm.
"By Jove! We're in for it!" muttered Quarrington.
His voice held a sudden gravity. He knew the danger of those
unexpected squalls which trap the unwary in the Solent, and inwardly
he cursed himself for not having observed the swift alteration in the
The /Bella Donna/, too, was by no means the safest of craft in which
to meet rough weather. She was slipping along very fast now, and
Michael's keen glance swept the gray landscape to where, at the mouth
of the channel, the treacherous Needles sentinelled the open sea.
"We must bring her round--quick!" he said sharply, springing up. "Can
you take the tiller? Do you know how to steer?"
Magda caught the note of urgency in his voice.
"I can do what you tell me," she said quietly.
"Do you know port from starboard?" he asked grimly.
"Yes. I know that."
Even while they had been speaking the wind had increased, churning the
sea into foam-flecked billows that swirled and broke only to gather
It was ticklish work bringing the /Bella Donna/ to the wind. Twice she
refused to come, lurching sickeningly as she rolled broadside on to
the race of wind-driven waves. The third time she heeled over till her
canvas almost brushed the surface of the water and it seemed as though
she must inevitably capsize. There was an instant's agonised suspense.
Then she righted herself, the mainsail bellied out as the boom swung
over, and the tense moment passed.
"Frightened?" queried Quarrington when he had made fast the mainsheet.
Magda smiled straight into his eyes.
"No. We almost capsized then, didn't we?"
"It was a near shave," he answered bluntly.
They did not speak much after that. They had enough to do to catch the
wind which seemed to bluster from all quarters at once, coming in
violent, gusty spurts that shook the frail little vessel from stem to
stern. Time after time the waves broke over her bows, flooding the
deck and drenching them both with stinging spray.
Magda sat very still, maintaining her grip of the wet and slippery
tiller with all the strength of her small, determined hands. Her limbs
ached with cold. The piercing wind and rain seemed to penetrate
through her thin summer clothing to her very skin. But unwaveringly
she responded to Michael's orders as they reached her through the
bellowing of the gale. Her eyes were like stars and her lips closed in
a scarlet line of courage.
"Port your helm! /Hard/! . . . Hold on!"
Then the thudding swing of the boom as the /Bella Donna/ slewed round
on a fresh tack.
The hurly-burly of the storm was bewildering. In the last hour or so
the entire aspect of things had altered, and Magda was conscious of a
freakish sense of the unreality of it all. With the ridiculous
inconsequence of thought that so often accompanies moments of acute
anxiety she reflected that Noah probably experienced a somewhat
similar astonishment when he woke up one morning to find that the
Flood had actually begun.
It seemed as though the storm had reached out long arms and drawn the
whole world of land and sea and sky into its turbulent embrace.
Driving sheets of rain blurred the coastline on either hand, while the
wind caught up the grey waters into tossing, crested billows and flung
them down again in a smother of angry spume.
Overhead, it screamed through the rigging of the little craft like a
tormented devil, tearing at the straining canvas with devouring
fingers while the slender mast groaned beneath its force.
Suddenly a terrific gust of wind seemed to strike the boat like an
actual blow. Magda saw Michael leap aside, and in the same instant
came a splitting, shattering report as the mast snapped in half and a
tangled mass of wood and cordage and canvas fell crash on to the deck
where he had been standing.
Magda uttered a cry and sprang to her feet. For an instant her heart
seemed to stop beating as she visioned him beneath the mass of tackle.
Or had he been swept off his feet--overboard into the welter of grey,
surging waters that clamoured round the boat?
The moment of uncertainty seemed endless, immeasurable. Then Michael
appeared, stepping across the wreckage, and came towards her. The
relief was almost unendurable. She stretched out shaking hands.
"Oh, Michael! . . . Michael!" she cried sobbingly.
And all at once she was in his arms. She felt them close about her,
strong as steel and tender as love itself. In the rocking, helpless
boat, with the storm beating up around them and death a sudden,
imminent hazard, she had come at last into haven.
An hour later the storm had completely died away. It had begun to
abate in violence almost immediately after the breaking of the /Bella
Donna's/ mast. It was as though, having wreaked its fury and executed
all the damage possible short of absolute destruction, it was
satisfied. With the same suddenness with which it had arisen it sank
away, leaving a sulky, sunless sky brooding above a sullen sea still
heaving restlessly with the aftermath of tempest.
The yacht had drifted gradually out of mid-channel shorewards, and
after one or two unsuccessful efforts Quarrington at last succeeded in
casting anchor. Then he turned to Magda, who had been assisting in the
operation, with a smile.
"That's about all we can do," he said. "We're perfectly helpless till
some tug or steamer comes along."
"Probably they'll run us down," she suggested. "We're in the fairway,
"Yes--which is about our best hope of getting picked up before night."
Then, laying his hand on her arm: "Are you very cold and wet?"
Magda laughed--laughed out of sheer happiness. What did being cold
matter, or wet either, if Michael loved her? And she was sure now that
he did, though there had been but the one moment's brief embrace.
Afterwards he had had his hands full endeavouring to keep the /Bella
"I think the wind has blown my things dry," she said. "How about you?"
"Oh, I'm all right--men's clothing being adapted for use, not
ornament! But I must find something to wrap you up in. We may be here
for hours and the frock you're wearing has about as much warming
capacity as a spider's web."
He disappeared below into the tiny, single-berthed cabin, and
presently returned armed with a couple of blankets, one of which he
proceeded to wrap about Magda's shoulders, tucking the other over her
knees where she sat in the stern of the boat.
"I don't want them both," she protested, resisting. "You take one."
There was something rather delightful in this unconventional
comradeship of discomfort.
"You'll obey orders," replied Michael firmly. "Especially as you're
going to be my wife so soon."
A warm flush dyed her face from brow to throat. He regarded her with
quizzical eyes. Behind their tender mockery lurked something else--
something strong and passionate and imperious, momentarily held in
leash. But she knew it was there--could feel the essential, imperative
demand of it.
"Well? Does the prospect alarm you?"
Magda forced herself to meet his glance.
"So soon?" she repeated hesitantly.
"Yes. As soon as it can be accomplished," he said triumphantly.
He seated himself beside her and took her in his arms, blankets and
"Did you think I'd be willing to wait?" he said.
"I didn't think you wanted to marry me at all!" returned Magda, the
words coming out with a little rush. "I thought you--you disapproved
of me too much!"
His mouth twisted queerly.
"So I did. I'm scrapping the beliefs of half a lifetime because I love
you. I've fought against it--tried not to love you--kept away from
you! But it was stronger than I."
"Saint Michel, I'm so glad--glad it was stronger," she said
tremulously, a little break in her voice.
He bent his head and kissed her lips, and with the kiss she gave him
back she surrendered her very self into his keeping. She felt his arms
strain about her, and the fierce pressure of their clasp taught her
the exquisite joy of pain that is born of love.
She yielded resistlessly, every fibre of her being quivering
responsive to the overwhelming passion of love which had at last
stormed and broken down all barriers--both the man's will to resist
and her own defences.
Somewhere at the back of her consciousness Diane's urgent warning:
/"Never give your heart to any man. Take everything, but do not
give!"/ tinkled feebly like the notes of a worn-out instrument. But
even had she paused to listen to it she would only have laughed at it.
She knew better.
Love was the most wonderful thing in the world. If it meant anything
at all, it meant giving. And she was ready to give Michael everything
she had--to surrender body, soul, and spirit, the threefold gift that
a man demands of his mate.
She drew herself out of his arms and slipped to her knees beside him.
"Saint Michel, do you believe in me now?"
"Believe in you? I don't know whether I believe in you or not. But I
know I love you! . . . That's all that matters. I love you!"
"No, no!" She resisted his arms that sought to draw her back into his
embrace. "I want more than that. I'm beginning to realise things.
There must be trust in love. . . . Michael, I'm not really hard--and
selfish, as they say. I've been foolish and thoughtless, perhaps. But
I've never done any harm. Not real harm. I've never"--she laughed a
little brokenly--"I've never turned men into swine, Michael. . . .
I've hurt people, sometimes, by letting them love me. But, I didn't
know, then! Now--now I know what love is, I shall be different. Quite
different. Saint Michel, I know now--love is self-surrender."
The tremulous sweetness of her, the humble submissiveness of her
appeal, could not but win their way. Michael's lingering disbelief
wavered and broke. She had been foolish, spoilt and thoughtless, but
she had never done any real harm. Men had loved her--but how could it
be otherwise? And perhaps, after all, they were none the worse for
having loved her.
Deliberately Michael flung the past behind him and with it his last
doubt of her. He drew her back into his arms, against his heart, and
their lips met in a kiss that held not only love but utter faith and
confidence--a pledge for all time.
"Beloved!" he whispered. "My beloved!"
Michael and Magda stood together on the deck of the crippled yacht
which now rocked idly on a quite placid sea. Dusk was falling. That
first glorious, irrecoverable hour when love had come into its own was
past, and the consideration of things mundane was forcing itself on
their notice--more especially consideration of their particular
"It looks rather as though we may have to spend the night here,"
observed Quarrington, his eyes scanning the channel void of any
welcome sight of sail or funnel.
Magda's brows drew together in a little troubled frown.
"Marraine and Gillian will be frightfully worried and anxious," she
said uneasily. It was significant of the gradual alteration in her
outlook that this solicitude for others should have rushed first of
anything to her lips.
"Yes." He spoke with a curious abruptness. "Besides, that's not the
only point. There's--Mrs. Grundy."
Magda shrugged her shoulders and laughed.
"Well, if it's to come to a choice between Mrs. Grundy and Davy Jones,
I think I should decide to face Mrs. Grundy! Anyway, people can't say
much more--or much worse--things about me than they've said already."
Quarrington frowned moodily.
"I'd like to kick myself for bringing you out to-day and landing you
into this mess. I can't stand the idea of people gossiping about you."
"They've left me very little reputation at any time. A little less
can't hurt me."
His eyes grew stormy.
"Don't!" he said sharply. "I hate to hear you talk like that."
"But it's true! No public woman gets a fair chance."
"/You/ will--when you're my wife," he said between his teeth. "I'll
see to that."
Magda glanced at him swiftly.
"Then you don't want me to--to give up dancing after we're married?"
"Certainly I don't. I shall want you to do just as you like. I've no
place for the man who asks his wife to 'give up' things in order to
marry him. I've no more right to ask you to give up dancing than you
have to ask me to stop painting."
Magda smiled at him radiantly.
"Saint Michel, you're really rather nice," she observed impertinently.
"So few men are as sensible as that. I shall call you the 'Wise Man,'
"In spite of to-day?" he queried whimsically, with a rueful glance at
the debris of mast and canvas huddled on the deck.
"/Because/ of to-day," she amended softly. "It's--it's very wise to be
in love, Michael."
He drew her into his arms and his lips found hers.
"I think it is," he agreed.
Another hour went by, and still there came no sign of any passing
"Why the devil isn't there a single tug passing up and down just when
we happen to want one?" demanded Quarrington irately of the
unresponsive universe. He swung round on Magda. "I suppose you're
starving?" he went on, in his voice a species of savage discontent--
that unreasonable fury to which masculine temperament is prone when
confronted with an obstacle which declines to yield either to force or
Magda laughed outright.
"I'll admit to being hungry. Aren't you? . . . It's horribly
unromantic of us, Michael," she added regretfully.
"It is," he assented. "All the same, I believe I could consume a tin
of bully beef and feel humbly grateful for it at the present moment!"
Magda had a sudden inspiration.
"Michael! Let's forage in the locker! There's almost sure to be some
biscuits or chocolate there. Marraine nearly always has things like
that put on board. And there may be something left from the last
A brief search brought to light a half-tin of biscuits and some plain
chocolate, and off these, with the addition of a bottle of soda-water,
also discovered, they proceeded to make an impromptu meal. It was a
somewhat thin substitute for the perfectly appointed little dinner of
which they would have partaken in the ordinary course of events at the
Hermitage, but when you have been a good many hours without food of
any description, and spent the greater part of the time in "saving
your own life at sea," as Michael put it, even biscuits and chocolate
have their uses.
When the improvised feast was over, Quarrington explored the recesses
of the tiny hold and unearthed a lantern, which he proceeded to light
and attach to the broken mast. It burned with a flickering, uncertain
light, momentarily threatening to go out altogether.
"We're not precisely well-equipped with lights," he remarked grimly.
"But at least that's a precaution--as long as it lasts! It may--or may
not--save us from being run down."
Twilight deepened slowly into dark. The lights of Yarmouth sprang into
being, a cluster of lambent orange points studding the dim coast of
the Island. One by one the stars twinkled out in the dusky sky, and a
waning moon, thin and frail like a worn sickle, flung a quivering
ribbon of silver across the sea.
It was strangely still and quiet. Now and again the idle rudder
creaked as the boat swung to the current. Once there came the long-
drawn hoot of a distant siren. Beyond these fitful sounds only the
gurgle of water lapping the sides of the boat broke the silence.
"We're here till morning," said Quarrington at last. "You may as well
go to bed."
"Well, there's a cabin, isn't there?"--smiling. "And a more or less
uncomfortable bunk. Come down and see what you can make of it as an
abiding-place for the night."
"And--and you? Can't we rig up anything for you?" Magda looked round
"I shan't sleep. I'll do sentry-go on deck"--laughing. "It wouldn't do
for us both to go comfortably asleep and get run down without even
having a shot at making our presence known!"
"Then I'll keep watch with you," said Magda.
"You'll do nothing of the sort. You'll go down to the cabin and
"Let me stay, Michael. I couldn't bear to think of your watching all
through the night while I slept comfortably below."
"You won't sleep /comfortably/--if my estimate of the look of that
bunk is correct. But you'll be out of the cold. Come, be sensible,
Magda. You're not suitably attired for a night watch. You'd be
perished with cold before morning."
"Well, let us take it in turns, then," she suggested. "I'll sleep four
hours and then I'll keep a look-out while you have a rest."
"No," he said quietly.
"Then we'll both watch," she asserted. Through the starlit dark he
could just discern her small head turned defiantly away from him.
"Has it occurred to you," he asked incisively, "what a night spent in
the open might mean to you? Rheumatism is not precisely the kind of
thing a dancer wants to cultivate."
"Well, I'm not going below, anyway."
She sat down firmly and Quarrington regarded her a moment in silence.
"You baby!" he said at last in an amused voice.
And the next moment she felt herself picked up as easily as though she
were in very truth the baby he had called her and carried swiftly down
the few steps into the cabin. The recollection of that day of her
accident in the fog, when he had carried her from the wrenched and
twisted car into his own house, rushed over her. Now, as then, she
could feel the strength of his arms clasped about her, the masterful
purpose of the man that bore her whither he wished regardless of
whether she wanted to go or not.
He laid her down on the bunk and, bending over her, kept his hands on
"Now," he demanded, "are you going to stay there?"
A faint rebellion still stirred within her.
"Supposing I say 'no'!"--irresolutely.
"I'm not supposing anything so unlikely," he assured her. "I'm merely
waiting to hear you say 'yes.'"
She recognised the utter futility of trying to pit her will against
the indomitable will of the man beside her.
"Michael, you are a bully!" she protested indignantly, half angry with
"Then you'll stay there?" he persisted.
"You don't give me much choice"--twisting her shoulders restlessly
beneath his hands.
He laughed a little.
"You haven't answered me."
She almost flung the word at him, and instantly she felt him lift his
hands from her shoulders and heard his footsteps as he tramped out of
the cabin and up on to the deck. Presently he returned, carrying the
blankets which he had wrapped round her earlier in the course of their
vigil. Magda accepted them with becoming docility.
"Thank you, Wise Man," she said meekly.
He stood looking down at her in the faint moonlight that slanted in
through the open door of the cabin, and all at once something in the
intentness of his gaze awakened her to a sudden vivid consciousness of
the situation--of the hour and of her absolute aloneness with him.
Their solitude was as complete as though they had been cast on a
Magda felt her pulses throb unevenly. The whole atmosphere seemed
sentient and athrill with the surge of some deep-lying emotion. She
could feel it beating up against her--the clamorous demand of
something hardly curbed and straining for release.
"Michael----" The word stammered past her lips.
The sound of her voice snapped the iron control he had been forcing on
himself. With a hoarse, half-strangled exclamation he caught her up
from where she lay, crushing her slim, soft body in a grip that almost
stifled her, kissing her fiercely on eyes and lips and throat. Then
abruptly he released her and, without a word, without a backward look,
strode out of the cabin and up on to the deck.
Magda sank down weakly on the edge of the narrow bunk. The storm of
his passion had swept through her as the wind sweeps through a tree,
leaving her spent and trembling. Sleep was an impossibility. Ten
minutes, twenty passed--she could not have told how long it was. Then
she heard him coming back, and as he gained the threshold she sprang
to her feet and faced him, nervously on the defensive. In the pale,
elusive moonlight, and with that startled poise of figure, she might
well have been the hamadryad at bay of one of her most famous dances.
Michael looked rather white and there was a grim repression about the
set of his lips. As he caught sight of her face with its mute
apprehension and dilated eyes, he spoke quickly.
"You should be resting," he said. "Let me tuck you up and then try to
go to sleep."
There was something infinitely reassuring in the steady tones of his
voice. It held nothing but kindness--just comradeship and kindness. He
was master of himself once more. For her sake he had fought back the
rising tide of passion. It had no place while they two were here alone
on the wide waters.
He stooped and picked up the blankets, laying them over her with a
tenderness that seemed in some subtle way to be part of his very
strength. Her taut nerves relaxed. She smiled up at him.
"Good-night, Saint Michel," she said simply. "Take care of me."
He stooped and kissed the slim hand lying outside the blanket.
"Now and always," he answered gravely.
When Magda awoke, seven hours later, the sunlight was streaming into
the cabin. She could hear Michael moving about the deck, and she
sprang up and proceeded to make such toilette as was possible in the
circumstances, taking down her hair and dressing it afresh at the tiny
looking-glass hung on the wall. She had barely completed the operation
when she heard Michael give a shout.
"Ahoy! Ahoy there!"
She ran up on deck. Approaching them was a small steam-tug, and once
again Quarrington sent his voice ringing lustily across the water,
while he flourished a large white handkerchief in the endeavour to
attract the attention of those on board.
Suddenly the tug saw them and, altering her course, came fussing up
alongside. Quarrington briefly explained their predicament--in the
face of the /Bella Donna's/ battered appearance a lengthy explanation
was hardly necessary--and a few minutes later the tug was steaming for
Netherway harbour, towing the crippled yacht behind her.
THE OTHER MAN
"Please, Marraine, will you give us your blessing?"
The joyous excitement and relief incidental to the safe return of the
voyagers had spent itself at last, and now, refreshed and invigorated
by a hot bath and by a meal of more varied constituents than biscuit
and plain chocolate, Magda propounded her question, a gleam of mirth
glancing in her eyes.
Lady Arabella glanced doubtfully from one to the other. Then a look of
undisguised satisfaction dawned in her face.
"Do you mean----" she began eagerly.
"We've been and gone and got engaged," explained Quarrington.
"My dears!" Lady Arabella jumped up with the agility of twenty rather
than seventy and proceeded to pour out her felicitations. Incidentally
she kissed everybody all round, including Quarrington, and her keen
old hawk's eyes grew all soft and luminous like a girl's.
Coppertop was hugely excited.
"Will the wedding be to-morrow?" he asked hopefully. "And shall I be a
page and carry the Fairy Lady's train?"
Magda smiled at him.
"Of course you shall be a page, Topkins. But the wedding won't be
quite as soon as to-morrow," she told him.
"Why not?" insinuated Quarrington calmly. "There are such things as
special licences, you know."
"Don't be silly," replied Magda scathingly. "I've only just been saved
from drowning, and I don't propose to take on such a risk as matrimony
till I've had time to recover my nerve."
Lady Arabella surveyed them both with a species of irritated approval.
"And to think," she burst out at last, indignantly, "of all the hours
I've spent having my silly portrait painted and getting cramp in my
stiff old joints, and that even then it needed Providence to threaten
you both with a watery grave to bring you up to the scratch!"
"Well, we're engaged now," submitted Magda meekly.
Lady Arabella chuckled sardonically.
"If you weren't, you'd have to be--after last night!" she commented
"No one need know about last night," retorted Magda.
"Huh!" Lady Arabella snorted. "Half Netherway will know the tale by
midday. And you may be sure your best enemy will hear of it. They
"Never mind. It will make an excellent advertisement," observed Magda
philosophically. "Can't you see it in all the papers?--'NARROW ESCAPE
OF THE WIELITZSKA.' In big capitals."
They all laughed, realising the great amount of probability contained
in her forecast. And, thanks to an enterprising young journalist who
chanced to be prowling about Netherway on that particular day, the
London newspapers flared out into large headlines, accompanied by
vivid and picturesque details of the narrow escape while yachting of
the famous dancer and of the well-known artist, Michael Quarrington--
who, in some of the cheaper papers, was credited with having saved the
Wielitzska's life by swimming ashore with her.
The immediate result was an augmented post-bag for the Hermitage, and
Gillian had to waste the better part of a couple of sunshiny days in
writing round to Magda's friends assuring them of her continued
existence and wellbeing, and thanking them for their kind inquiries.
It was decided to keep the engagement private for the present, and
life at the Hermitage resumed the even tenor of its way, Magda
continuing to sit daily for the picture of Circe which Michael was
anxious to complete before she returned to London for the autumn
"It's /our/ picture now, Saint Michel," she told him, with a happy,
possessive pride in his work.
In this new atmosphere of tranquil happiness Magda bloomed like a
flower in the sun. To the nameless natural charm which was always hers
there was added a fresh sweetness and appeal, and the full revelation
of her love for him startled even Michael. He had not realised the
deep capacity for love which had lain hidden beneath her nonchalance.
It seemed as though her whole nature had undergone a change. Alone
with him she was no longer the assured woman of the world, the spoilt
and feted dancer, but just a simple, unaffected girl, sometimes a
little shy, almost diffident, at others frank and spontaneous with the
splendid candour and simplicity of a woman who knows no fear of love,
but goes courageously to meet it and all that it demands of her.
She was fugitively sweet and tender with Coppertop, and now and then
her eyes would shine with a quiet, dreaming light as though she
visioned a future wherein someone like Coppertop, only littler, might
lie in the crook of her arm.
Often during these tranquil summer days the two were to be found
together, Magda recounting the most gorgeous stories of knights and
dragons such as Coppertop's small soul delighted in. On one such
occasion, at the end of a particularly thrilling narrative, he sat
back on his heels and regarded her with a certain wistful anxiety.
"I suppose," he asked rather forlornly, "when you're married they'll
give you a little boy like me, Fairy Lady, won't they?"
The clear, warm colour ran up swiftly beneath her skin.
"Perhaps so, Topkins," she answered very low.
He heaved a big sigh. "He'll be a very /lucky/ little boy," he said
plaintively. "If Mummie couldn't have been my mummie, I'd have choosed
And so, in this tender atmosphere of peace and contentment, the summer
slipped by until it was time for Magda to think of going back to
London. The utter content and happiness of these weeks almost
frightened her sometimes.
"It can't last, Gilly," she confided to Gillian one day, caught by an
access of superstitious fear. "It simply /can't/ last! No one was
meant to be as happy as I am!"
"I think we were all meant to be happy," replied Gillian simply.
"Happy and good!" she added, laughing.
"Yes. But I haven't been particularly good. I've just done whatever it
occurred to me to do without considering the consequences. I expect I
shall be made to take my consequences all in a heap together one day."
"Then I suppose we shall all of us have to rally round and get you out
of them," she said cheerfully.
"Perhaps--perhaps you wouldn't be able to."
There was a strange note of foreboding in Magda's voice--an accent of
fatality, and despite herself Gillian experienced a reflex sense of
"Nonsense!" she said brusquely. "What on earth has put all these
ridiculous notions into your head?"
Magda smiled at her. "I think it was four lines I read in a book
yesterday. They set me thinking."
"More's the pity then!" grumbled Gillian. "What were they?"
Magda was silent a moment, looking out over the sea with abstracted
eyes. It was so blue to-day--all blue and gold in the dancing
sunlight. But she knew that self-same sea could be grey--grey and
chill as death.
Her glance came slowly back to Gillian's face as she quoted the
fragment of verse which had persisted in her thoughts:
"To-day and all the still unborn To-morrows
Have sprung from Yesterday. For Woe or Weal
The Soul is weighted by the Burden of Dead Days--
Bound to the unremitting Past with Ropes of Steel."
After a moment she added:
"Even you couldn't cut through 'ropes of steel,' my Gillyflower."
Gillian tried to shrug away this fanciful depression of the moment.
"Well, by way of a counterblast to your dejection of spirit, I propose
to send an announcement of your engagement to the /Morning Post/.
You're not meaning to keep it private after we get back to town, are
"Oh, no. It was only that I didn't want to be pestered with
congratulations while we were down here. I suppose they'll have to
come some day"--with a small grimace of disgust.
"You'll be snowed under with them," Gillian assured her encouragingly.
The public announcement of the engagement preceded Magda's return from
Netherway by a few days, so that by the time the Hermitage house-party
actually broke up, its various members returning to town, all London
was fairly humming with the news. The papers were full of it.
Portraits of the fiances appeared side by side, together with brief
histories of their respective careers up to date, and accompanied by
refreshing details concerning their personal tastes.
"Dear me, I never knew Michael had a passion for raw meat before,"
remarked Magda, after reading various extracts from the different
accounts aloud for Gillian's edification.
"Has he?" Gillian was arranging flowers and spoke somewhat
indistinctly, owing to the fact that she had the stem of a
chrysanthemum between her lips.
"Yes, he must have. Listen to this, 'Mr. Quarrington's wonderful
creations are evidently not entirely the fruit of the spirit, since we
understand that his staple breakfast dish consists of a couple of
underdone cutlets--so lightly cooked, in fact, as to be almost raw.'
I'm glad I've learned that," pursued Magda earnestly. "It seems to me
an important thing for a wife to know. Don't you think so, Gillian?"
Gillian shouted with delight.
"Of course I do! Do let's ask Michael to lunch and offer him a couple
of raw cutlets on a charger."
"No," insisted Magda firmly. "I shall keep a splendid treat like that
for him till after we're married. Even at a strictly conservative
estimate it should be worth a new hat to me."
"Or a dose of arsenic in your next cup of tea," suggested Gillian,
The following evening was the occasion of Magda's first appearance at
the Imperial after the publication of her engagement, and the theatre
was packed from floor to ceiling. "House Full" boards were exhibited
outside at quite an early hour, and when Magda appeared on the stage
she was received with such enthusiasm that for a time it was
impossible to proceed with the ballet. When finally the curtain fell
on what the critics characterised next day as "the most appealing
performance of /The Swan-Maiden/ which Mademoiselle Wielitzska has yet
given us," she received an absolute ovation. The audience went half-
crazy with excitement, applauding deliriously, while the front of the
stage speedily became converted into a veritable bank of flowers, from
amidst which Magda bowed and smiled her thanks.
She enjoyed every moment of it, every handclap. She was radiantly
happy, and this spontaneous sharing in her happiness by the big public
which idolised her served but to intensify it. She was almost crying
as she returned to her dressing-room after taking a dozen or more
calls, and when, as usual, Virginie met her on the threshold, she
dropped the great sheaf of lilies she was carrying and flung her arms
round the old woman's neck.
"Oh, the dears!" she exclaimed. "The blessed /dears/! Virginie, I
believe I'm the happiest woman alive!"
"And who should be, /mon petite chou/, if not thou?" returned the old
woman with conviction. "Of course they love thee! /Mais bien sur/!
Doest thou not dance for them as none else can dance and give them
angel visions that they could not imagine for themselves?" She paused.
Then thrusting her hand suddenly into the pocket of her apron and
producing a card: "/Tiens/! I forgot! Monsieur Davilof waits. Will
mademoiselle receive him?"
Magda nodded. She had not seen Antoine since her return from
Netherway. He had been away in Poland, visiting his mother whom, by
the way, he adored. But as her engagement to Michael was now public
she was anxious to get her first meeting with the musician over. He
would probably rave a little, despairing in the picturesque and
dramatic fashion characteristic of him, and the sooner he "got it out
of his system," as Gillian had observed on one occasion, the better
for everyone concerned. So Magda braced herself for the interview, and
prepared to receive a tragical and despondent Davilof.
But she was not in the least prepared for the man as he appeared when
Virginie ushered him into the dressing-room and retired, discreetly
closing the door behind her. Magda, her hand outstretched to greet
him, paused in sheer dismay, her arm falling slowly to her side.
She had never seen so great a change in any man. His face was grey--
grey and lined like the face of a man who has had no sleep for days.
His shoulders stooped a little as though he were too weary to hold
himself upright, and there was a curiously rigid look about his
features, particularly the usually mobile mouth. The only live thing
about him seemed to be his eyes. They blazed with a burning brightness
that made her think of flame. With it all, he was as immaculately
groomed, his small golden beard as perfectly trimmed, as ever.
"Antoine!" His name faltered from Magda's lips. The man's face, its
beauty all marred by some terrible turmoil of the soul, shocked her.
He vouchsafed no greeting, but came swiftly to her side.
"Is it true?" he demanded imperiously.
She shrank back from him. There was a dynamic force about him that
"Is what true?"
"Is it true that you're engaged to Quarrington?"
"Of course it is. It was in all the papers. Didn't you see it?"
"Yes, I saw it. I didn't believe it. I was in Poland when I heard and
I started for England at once. But I was taken ill on the journey.
Since then I've been travelling night and day." He paused, adding in a
tone of finality: "You must break it off."
"Break it off? Are you crazy, Antoine?"
"No, I'm not crazy. But you're mine. You're meant for me. And no other
man shall have you."
Magda's first impulse was to order him out of the room. But the man's
haggard face was so pitifully eloquent of the agony he had been
enduring that she had not the heart. Instead, she temporised
"Don't talk like that, Antoine." She spoke very gently. "You don't
mean it, you know. If--if you do care for me as you say, you'd like me
to be happy, wouldn't you?"
"I'd make you happy," he said hoarsely.
She shook her head.
"No," she answered. "You couldn't make me happy. Only Michael can do
that. So you must let me go to him. . . . Antoine, I'd rather go with
your good wishes. Won't you give them to me? We've been friends so
"/Friends/?" he broke in fiercely. "No! We've never been 'friends.'
I've been your lover from the first moment I saw you, and shall be
your lover till I die!"
Magda retreated before his vehemence. She was still wearing her
costume of the Swan-Maiden, and there was something frailly virginal
and elusive about her as she drew away from him that set the hot,
foreign blood in him on fire. In two strides he was at her side, his
hands gripping her bare arms with a savage clasp that hurt her.
His voice was harsh with the tensity of passion, and the cry that
struggled from her throat for utterance was smothered by his lips on
hers. The burning kisses seemed to scorch her--consuming, overwhelming
her. When at last he took his mouth from hers she tried unavailingly
to free herself. But his clasp of her only tightened.
"Now you know how I love you," he said grimly. He was breathing rather
fast, but in some curious way he seemed to have regained his self-
control. It was as though he had only slipped the leash of passion so
that she might, as he said, comprehend his love for her. "Do you think
I'll give you up? I tell you I'd rather kill you than see you
Once more she made an effort to release herself.
"Oh, you're mad, you're mad!" she cried. "Let me go, Davilof! At
"No," he said in a measured voice. "Don't struggle. I'm not going to
let you go. Not yet. I've reached my limit. You shall go when you
promise to marry me. Me, not Quarrington."
She had not been frightened by the storm of passion which had carried
him headlong. That had merely roused her to anger. But this quiet,
purposeful composure which had succeeded it filled her with an odd
kind of misgiving.
"It's absurd to talk like that," she said, holding on desperately to
her self-possession. "It's silly--and melodramatic, and only makes me
realise how glad I am I shall be Michael's wife and not yours."
"You will never be Quarrington's wife."
He spoke with conviction. Magda called up all her courage to defy him.
"And do you propose to prevent it?" she asked contemptuously.
"Yes." Then, suddenly: "/Adoree/, don't force me to do it! I don't
want to. Because it will hurt you horribly. And it will all be saved
if you'll promise to marry me."
He spoke appealingly, with an earnestness that was unmistakable. But
Magda's nerve was gradually returning.
"You don't seem to understand that you can't prevent my marrying
Michael--or anyone else," she said coolly. "You haven't the power."
"I can prevent your marrying Michael"--doggedly.
She was silent a moment.
"I suppose," she said at last, "you think that because he once thought
badly of me you can make him think the same again. Well, you can't.
Michael and I trust each other--absolutely!"
Her face was transfigured. Michael trusted her now! Nothing could
really hurt her while he believed in her. She could afford to laugh at
"And now," she said quietly, "will you please release me?"
Slowly, reluctantly Davilof's hands dropped from her arms, revealing
red weals where the grip of his fingers had crushed the soft, white
flesh. He uttered a stifled exclamation as his eyes fell on the angry-
"/Mon dieu/! I've hurt you--"
"No!" Magda faced him with a defiance that was rather splendid. "No!
/You can't/ hurt me, Davilof. Only the man I love can do that."
He flinched at the proud significance of the words--denying him even
the power to hurt her. It was almost as though she had struck him,
contemptuously disdainful of his toy weapons--the weapons of the man
who didn't count.
There was a long silence. At last he spoke.
"You'll be sorry for that," he said in a voice of concentrated anger.
"Damned sorry. Because it isn't true. I /can/ hurt you. And by God, if
you won't marry me, I will! . . . Magda----" With one of the swift
changes so characteristic of the man he softened suddenly into
passionate supplication. "Have a little mercy! God! If you knew how I
love you, you couldn't turn me away. Wait! Think again--"
"That will do." She checked him imperiously. "I don't want your love.
And for the future please understand that you won't even be a friend.
I don't wish to see or speak to you again!"
THE ROPES OF STEEL
Magda sat gazing idly into the fire, watching with abstracted eyes the
flames leap up and curl gleefully round the fresh logs with which she
had just fed it. She was thinking about nothing in particular--merely
revelling in the pleasant warmth and comfort of the room and in the
prospect of a lazy evening spent at home, since to-night she was not
due to appear in any of the ballets to be given at the Imperial
Outside, the snow was falling steadily in feathery flakes, hiding the
grime of London beneath a garment of shimmering white and transforming
the commonplace houses built of brick and mortar, each capped with its
ugly chimneystack, into glittering fairy palaces, crowned with silver
towers and minarets.
The bitter weather served to emphasise the easy comfort of the room,
and Magda curled up into her chair luxuriously. She was expecting
Michael to dinner at Friars' Holm this evening. They had not seen each
other for three whole days, so that there was an added edge to her
enjoyment of the prospect. She would have so much to tell him! About
the triumphant reception she had had the other night down at the
theatre--he had been prevented from being present--and about the
unwarrantable attitude Davilof had adopted, which had been worrying
her not a little. He would sympathise with her over that--the
effortless sympathy of the man in possession!
Then the unwelcome thought obtruded itself that if the snow continued
falling Michael might be weather-bound and unable to get out to
Hampstead. She uncurled herself from her chair and ran to the window.
The sky stretched sombrely away in every direction. No sign of a break
in the lowering, snow-filled clouds! She drummed on the window with
impatient fingers; and then, drowning the little tapping noise they
made, came the sound of an opening door and Melrose's placid voice
Magda whirled round from the window.
"Michael!" she exclaimed joyfully. "I was just wondering if you would
be able to get over this evening. I suppose you came while you could!"
--laughing. "I shouldn't be in the least surprised if you were snowed
up here. Shall you mind--dreadfully--if you are?"
But Michael made no response to the tenderly mocking question, nor did
her smile draw from him any answering smile. She looked at him
waveringly. He had been in the room quite long enough to take her in
his arms and kiss her. And he hadn't done it.
"Michael----" She faltered a little. "How queer you are! Have you--
brought bad news?" A sudden dread rushed through her. "It's not--
"No, no." He spoke hastily, answering the startled apprehension in her
eyes. "It's not that."
Her mind, alertly prescient, divined significance in the mere wording
of the phrase.
"Then there is--something?"
"Yes, there is something."
His voice sounded forced, and Magda waited with a strange feeling of
tension for him to continue.
"I want to ask you a question," he went on in the same carefully
measured accents. "Did you ever stay at a place called Stockleigh--
Stockleigh Farm at Ashencombe?"
Stockleigh! At the sound of the word it seemed to Magda as though a
hand closed suddenly round her heart, squeezing it so tightly that she
could not breathe.
"I--yes, I stayed there," she managed to say at last.
"Ah-h!" It was no more than a suddenly checked breath. "When were you
there?" The question came swiftly, like the thrust of a sword. With
it, it seemed to Magda that she could feel the first almost
imperceptible pull of the "ropes of steel."
"I was there--the summer before last," she said slowly.
Michael made no answer. Only in the silence that followed she saw his
face change. Something that had been hope--a fighting hope--died out
of his eyes and his jaw seemed to set itself with a curious
She waited for him to speak--waited with a keyed-up intensity of
longing that was almost physically painful. At last, unable to bear
the continued silence, she spoke again. Her voice cracked a little.
"Why--why do you ask, Michael?"
He looked at her and a sudden cynical amusement gleamed in his eyes--
an amusement so bitterly unmirthful that there seemed something almost
brutal about it. Her hand went up to her face as though to screen out
the sight of it.
"You can't guess, I suppose?" he said with dry, harsh irony. Then,
after a moment: "Why did you never tell me you were there? You never
spoke of it. . . . Wasn't it curious you should never speak of it?"
She made a step towards him. She could not endure this torturing
suspense another instant. It was racking her. She must know what
Stockleigh signified to him.
"What do you mean? Tell me what you mean!" she asked desperately.
"Do you remember the story I told you down at Netherway--of a man and
his wife and another woman?"
"Yes, I remember"--almost whispering.
"That was the story of my sister, June, and her husband, Dan Storran.
You--were the other woman."
She felt his eyes--those eyes out of which all hope had died--fixed on
"June--your sister? Your sister? Are you sure?" she stammered
It couldn't be true! Not even God could have thought of a punishment
so cruel, so awful as this. That June--the woman who had died just
because she "had no heart to go on living"--should be Michael's
sister! Oh, it was a crazy tangling of the threads--mad! Like some
macabre invention sprung from a disordered brain. She wanted to laugh,
and she knew if she began to laugh she should never stop. She felt she
was losing her hold over herself. With a violent effort she clutched
at her self-control.
"Will you say it all over again, please?" she said in a flat voice. "I
don't think I understand."
"Nor did I till to-day," he replied shortly. "Davilof made me
"Davilof?" The word seemed to drag itself from her throat. . . .
Davilof--who had been at Stockleigh that summer! Then it was all going
to be true, after all.
"Yes, Davilof. He had chanced on the fact that June was my sister.
Very few people knew it, because, when she married, it was against our
father's wishes, and she had cut herself adrift from the family. I
wanted to help her, but she would never let me." He paused, then went
on tonelessly: "It's all quite clear, isn't it? You know everything
that happened while you were at Stockleigh. I've told you what
happened afterwards. Storran cleared out of the country at once, and
June had nothing left to live for. The only thing I didn't know was
the name of the woman who had smashed up both their lives. I saw Dan
in Paris . . . He came to me at my studio. But he was a white man. He
never gave away the name of the woman who had ruined him. I only knew
she had spent that particular summer at Stockleigh. It was Davilof who
told me who the woman was."
/"I can prevent your marrying Quarrington!"/ Magda could hear again
the quiet conviction of Antoine's utterance. So he had known, then,
when he threatened her, that June was Michael's sister! She wondered
dully how long he had been aware of the fact--how he had first
stumbled across it and realised its value as a hammer with which to
crush her happiness. Not that it mattered. Nothing mattered any more.
The main fact was that he /had/ known.
June was dead! Amid the confused welter of emotions which seemed to
have utterly submerged her during the last few minutes, Magda had
almost lost sight of this as a fact by itself--as distinct from its
identity with the fact that Michael's sister was dead. She felt
vaguely sorry for June.
Since the day she and Gillian had left Ashencombe she had heard
nothing of Storran or his wife. No least scrap of news relating to
them had come her way. In the ordinary course of events it was hardly
likely that it would. The circles of their respective lives did not
overlap each other. And Magda had made no effort to discover what had
happened at Stockleigh after she had left there. She had been glad to
shut the door on that episode in her life. She was not proud of it.
There were other incidents, too, which she could have wished were
blotted out--the Raynham incident amongst them. With the new insight
which love had brought her she was beginning to rate these things at
their true value, to realise how little she had understood of all
love's exquisite significance when she played with it as lightly as a
child might play with a trinket. She had learned better now--learned
that love was of the spirit as well as of the body, and that in
playing at love she had played with men's souls.
She believed she had put that part of her life behind her--all those
unrecognising days before love came to her. And now, without warning,
sudden as an Eastern night, the past had risen up and confronted her.
The implacable ropes of steel held her in bondage.
"Michael . . . can't you--forgive me?"
Her voice wavered and broke as she realised the utter futility of her
question. Between them, now and always, there must lie the young, dead
body of June Storran.
"Forgive you?" Michael's voice was harsh with an immeasurable
bitterness. "Good God! What are you made of that you can even ask me?
It's women like you who turn this world into plain hell! . . . Look
back! Have you ever looked back, I wonder?" He paused, and she knew
his eyes were searching her--those keen, steady eyes, hard, now, like
flint--searching the innermost recesses of her being. She felt as
though he were dragging the soul out of her body, stripping it naked
to the merciless lash of truth.
"June--my little sister, the happiest of mortals--dead, through you.
And Storran--he was a big man, white all through--down and out. And
God knows who else has had their sun put out by you. . . . You're like
a blight--spreading disease and corruption wherever you go."
A little moan broke from her lips. For a moment it was a physical
impossibility for her to speak. She could only shrink, mute and
quivering, beneath the flail of his scorn.
At last: "Is--is that what you think of me?" she almost whispered.
She winced at the harsh monosyllable. There was a finality about it--
definite, unalterable. She looked at him dry-eyed, her face tragically
beautiful in its agony. But he seemed impervious to either its beauty
or its suffering. There was no hint of softening in him. Without
another word he swung round on his heel and turned to leave her.
"Michael . . . don't go!" The lovely voice was a mere thread of sound
--hoarse and strangulated. "Don't go! . . . Oh, be a little merciful!"
She laid an imploring hand on his arm, and at the touch of her his
iron composure shook a little. For a moment the hardness in his eyes
was wiped out by a look of intolerable pain. Then, with a quiet,
inexorable movement he released himself from her straining clasp.
"There's no question of mercy," he said inflexibly. "I'm not judging
you, or punishing you. It's simply that I can't marry you. . . . You
must see that June's death--my sister's death--lies at your door."
"No," she said. "No. I suppose you can't marry me--now."
Her breath came in short, painful gasps. Her face seemed to have grown
smaller--shrunk. There was a pinched look about the nostrils and every
drop of blood had drained away, leaving even her lips a curious
greyish-white. She leaned forward, swaying a little.
"I suppose," she said in a clear, dry voice, "you don't even love me
His hands clenched and he took a sudden impetuous step towards her.
"Not love you?" he said. And at last the man's own agony broke through
his enforced calm, shaking his voice so that it was hoarse and
terrible. "Not love you? I love you now as I loved you the day I first
saw you. God in heaven! Did you think love could be killed so easily?
Does it die--just because it's forbidden by every decent instinct that
a man possesses? If so, nine-tenths of us would find the world an
easier place to live in!"
"And there is--no forgiveness, Michael?" The lovely grief-wrung face
was uplifted to his beseechingly.
"Don't ask me!" he said hoarsely. "You know there can be none."
He turned and strode to the door. He did not look back even when his
name tore itself like a cry between her lips. The next moment the
sound of a door's closing came dully to her ears.
She looked vaguely round the room. The fire was dying, the charred
logs sinking down on to a bed of smouldering cinders. A touch would
scatter them from their semblance of logs into a heap of grey,
formless ash. Outside the window the snow still fell monotonously,
wrapping the world in a passionless, chill winding-sheet.
With a little broken cry she stumbled forward on to her knees, her
arms outflung across the table.
The long, interminable night was over at last. Never afterwards, all
the days of her life, could Magda look back on the black horror of
those hours without a shudder. She felt as though she had been through
hell and come out on the other side, to find stretching before her
only the blank grey desolation of chaos.
She was stripped of everything--of love, of happiness, even of hope.
There was nothing in the whole world to look forward to. There never
would be again. And when she looked back it was with eyes that had
been vouchsafed a terrible enlightenment.
Phrases which had fallen from Michael's lips scourged her anew
throughout the long hours of the night. "Women like you make this
world into plain hell," he had said. "You're like a blight--spreading
disease and corruption wherever you go." And the essential truth which
each sentence held left her writhing.
It was all true--horribly, hideously true. The magical, mysterious
power of beauty which had been given her, which might have helped to
lighten the burden of the sad old world wherever she passed, she had
used to destroy and deface and mutilate. The debt against her--the
debt of all the pain and grief which she had brought to others--had
been mounting up, higher and higher through the years. And now the
time had come when payment was to be exacted.
Quite simply and directly, without seeking in any way to exculpate
herself, she had told Gillian the bare facts of what had happened--
that her engagement was broken off and the reason why. But she had
checked all comment and the swift, understanding sympathy which
Gillian would have given. Criticism or sympathy would equally have
been more than she could bear.
"There is nothing to be said or done about it," she maintained. "I've
sinned, and now I'm to be punished for my sins. That's all."
The child of Hugh Vallincourt spoke in that impassive summing up of
the situation and Lady Arabella, with her intimate knowledge of both
Hugh and his sister Catherine, would have ascribed it instantly to the
Vallincourt strain in her god-daughter. To Gillian, however, to whom
the Vallincourts were nothing more than a name, the strange
submissiveness of it was incomprehensible. As the days passed, she
tried to rouse Magda from the apathy into which she seemed to have
fallen, but without success.
"It's no use, Gillyflower," she would reply with a weary little smile.
"There /is/ no way out. Do you remember I once said I was too happy
for it to last? It was quite true. . . . Have you told Marraine?" she
"Yes. And she wants to see you."
"I don't think I want to see her--or anyone just at present. I've got
to think--to think things out."
"What do you mean? What are you going to do?"
Gillian regarded her with some anxiety. That Magda, usually so
unreserved and spontaneous, should shut her out of her confidence
thoroughly disquieted her. She felt afraid. It seemed to her as though
the girl were more or less stunned by the enormity of the blow which
had befallen her. She went about with a curious absence of interest in
anything--composed, quiet, absorbed in her own thoughts, only rousing
herself to appear at the Imperial as usual. Probably her work at the
theatre was the one thing that saved her from utter collapse.
As far as Gillian knew she had not shed a single tear. Only her face
seemed to grow daily more strained-looking, and her eyes held a
curious expression that was difficult to interpret.
There were days which she spent entirely in the seclusion of her own
room, and then Virginie alone was allowed entrance. The old
Frenchwoman would come in with some special little dish she had cooked
with her own hands, hoping to tempt her beloved mistress's appetite--
which in these days had dwindled to such insignificant proportions
that Virginie was in despair.
"Thou must eat," she would say.
"I don't want anything--really, Virginie," Magda would insist.
"And wherefore not?" demanded Virginie indignantly one day. "Thou art
not one of the Sisters of Penitence that thou must needs deny thyself
the good things of life."
Magda looked up with a sudden flash of interest.
"The Sisters of Penitence, Virginie? Who are they? Tell me about
Virginie set a plate containing an epicurean omelet triumphantly in
front of her.
"Eat that, then, /cherie/, while I tell thee of them," she replied
with masterly diplomacy. "It is good, the omelet. Virginie made it for
thee with her own hands."
Magda laughed faintly in spite of herself and began upon the omelet
"Very well, then. Tell me about the Sisters of Penitence. Are they
always being sorry for what they've done?"
"It is a sisterhood, /mademoiselle cherie/, for those who would
withdraw themselves from the world. They are very strict, I believe,
the sisters, and mortify the flesh exceedingly. Me, I cannot see why
we should leave the beautiful world the /bon dieu/ has put us into.
For certain, He would not have put us in if He had not meant us to
"Perhaps--they are happier--out of the world, Virginia," suggested
"But my niece, who was in the sisterhood a year, was glad to come out
again. Though, of course, she left her sins behind her, and that was
good. It is always good to get rid of one's sins, /n'est-ce pas/?"
"Get rid of your sins? But how can you?"
"If one does penance day and night, day and night, for a whole long
year, one surely expiates them! And then"--with calm certainty--"of
course one has got rid of them. They are wiped off the slate and one
begins again. At least, it was so with my niece. For when she came out
of the sisterhood, the man who had betrayed her married her, and they
have three--no, four /bebes/ now. So that it is evident /le bon dieu/
was pleased with her penance and rewarded her accordingly."
Magda repressed an inclination to smile at the naive simplicity of
Virginie's creed. Life would indeed be an easy affair if one could
"get rid of one's sins" on such an ingenuous principal of quid pro
But Virginie came of French peasant stock, and to her untutored mind
such a process of wiping the slate clean seemed extremely reasonable.
She continued with enthusiasm:
"She but took the Vow of Penitence for a year. It is a rule of the
sisterhood. If one has sinned greatly, one can take a vow of penitence
for a year and expiate the sin. Some remain altogether and take the
final vows. But my niece--no! She sinned and she paid. And then she
came back into the world again. She is a good girl, my niece Suzette.
Mademoiselle has enjoyed her omelet? Yes?"
"Yes, Virginie, I've enjoyed it. And I think your niece was certainly
a brave /fille/. I'm glad she's happy now."
For long after Virginie had left her, Magda sat quietly thinking. The
story of the old Frenchwoman's niece had caught hold of her
imagination. Like herself she had sinned, though differently. Within
her own mind Magda wondered whether she or Suzette were in reality the
greater sinner of the two. Suzette had at least given all, without
thought of self, whereas she had only taken--taken with both hands,
giving nothing in return.
Probably Suzette had been an attractive little person--of the same
type of brown-eyed, vivacious youth which must have been Virginie's
five-and-thirty years ago--and her prettiness had caused her downfall.
Magda glanced towards the mirror. It was through her beauty she
herself had sinned. It had given her so much power, that exquisite,
perfect body of hers, and she had pitifully misused the power it had
bestowed. The real difference between herself and Suzette lay in the
fact that the little French girl had paid the uttermost farthing of
the price demanded--had submitted herself to discipline till she had
surely expiated all the evil she had done. What if she, likewise, were
to seek some such discipline?
The idea had presented itself to her at precisely the moment when she
was in the grip of an agony of recoil from her former way of life.
Like her father, she had been suddenly brought up short and forced to
survey her actions through the eyes of someone else, to look at all
that she had done from another's angle of vision. And coincidentally,
just as in the case of her father, the abrupt downfall of her hopes,
the sudden shattering of her happiness, seemed as though it were due
to the intervention of an angry God.
Back to Full Books