Part 6 out of 7
The fanatical Vallincourt blood which ran in Magda's veins caused her
to respond instinctively to this aspect of the matter. But the strain
of her passionate, joy-loving mother which crossed with it tempered
the tendency toward quite such drastic self-immolation as had appealed
to Hugh Vallincourt.
To Magda, Michael had come to mean the beginning and end of everything
--the pivot upon which her whole existence hung. So that if Michael
shut her out of his life for ever, that existence would no longer hold
either value or significance. From her point of view, then, the
primary object of any kind of self-discipline would be that it might
make her more fit to be the wife of "Saint Michel."
He despised her now. The evil she had done stood between them like a
high wall. But if she were to make atonement--as Suzette had atoned--
surely, when the wickedness had been purged out of her by pain and
discipline, Michael would relent!
The idea lodged in her mind. It went with her by day and coloured her
thoughts by night, and it was still working within her like yeast when
she at last nerved herself to go and see her godmother.
Lady Arabella, as might have been anticipated, concealed her own sore-
heartedness under a manner that was rather more militant than usual,
if that were possible.
"Why you hadn't more sense than to spend your time fooling with a sort
of cave-man from the backwoods, I can't conceive," she scolded. "You
must have known how it would end."
"I didn't. I never thought about it. I was just sick with Michael
because he had gone abroad, and then, when I heard that he was
married, it was the last straw. I don't think--that night--I should
have much cared what happened."
Lady Arabella nodded.
"Women like you make it heaven or hell for the men who love you."
"And hell, without the choice of heaven, for ourselves," returned
The bitterness in her voice wrung the old woman's heart. She sighed,
then straightened her back defiantly.
"We have to bear the burden of our blunders, my dear."
There was a reminiscent look in the keen old eyes. Lady Arabella had
had her own battles to fight. "And, after all, who should pay the
price if not we ourselves?"
"But if the price is outrageous, Marraine? What then?"
"Still you've got to pay."
Magda returned home with those words ringing in her ears. They fitted
into the thoughts which had been obsessing her with a curious
precision. It was true, then. You had to pay, one way or another. Lady
Arabella knew it. Little Suzette had somehow found it out.
That night a note left Friars' Holm addressed to the Mother Superior
of the Sisters of Penitence.
It was a bald, austere-looking room. Magda glanced about her
curiously--at the plain, straight-backed chairs, at the meticulously
tidy desk and bare, polished floor. Everything was scrupulously clean,
but the total absence of anything remotely resembling luxury struck
poignantly on eyes accustomed to all the ease and beauty of
surroundings which unlimited money can procure.
By contrast with the severity of the room Magda felt uncomfortably
conscious of her own attire. The exquisite gown she was wearing, the
big velvet hat with its drooping plume, the French shoes with their
buckles and curved Louis heels--all seemed acutely out of place in
this austere, formal-looking chamber.
Her glance came back to the woman sitting opposite her, the Mother
Superior of the Sisters of Penitence--tall, thin, undeniably
impressive, with a stern, colourless face as clean-cut as a piece of
ivory, out of which gleamed cold blue eyes that seemed to regard the
dancer with a strange mixture of fervour and hostility.
Magda could imagine no reason for the antagonism which she sensed in
the steady scrutiny of those light-blue eyes. As far as she was
concerned, the Mother Superior was an entire stranger, without
incentive either to like or dislike her.
But to the woman who, while she had been in the world, had been known
as Catherine Vallincourt, the name of Magda Wielitzska was as familiar
as her own. In the dark, slender girl before her, whose pale,
beautiful face called to mind some rare and delicate flower, she
recognised the living embodiment of her brother's transgression--that
brother who had made Diane Wielitzska his wife and the mother of his
All she had anticipated of evil consequence at the time of the
marriage had crystallised into hard fact. The child of the "foreign
dancing-woman"--the being for whose existence Hugh's mad passion for
Diane had been responsible--had on her own confession worked precisely
such harm in the world as she, Catherine, had foreseen. And now, the
years which had raised Catherine to the position of Mother Superior of
the community she had entered had brought that child to her doors as a
penitent waveringly willing to make expiation.
Catherine was conscious of a strange elevation of spirit. She felt
ecstatically uplifted at the thought that it might be given to her to
purge from Hugh's daughter, by severity of discipline and penance, the
evil born within her. In some measure she would thus be instrumental
in neutralising her brother's sin.
She was supremely conscious that to a certain extent--though by no
means altogether--her zealous ardour had its origin in her rooted
antipathy to Hugh's wife and hence to the child of the marriage. But,
since beneath her sable habit there beat the heart of just an
ordinary, natural woman, with many faults and failings still
unconquered in spite of the austerities of her chosen life, a certain
very human element of satisfaction mingled itself with her fervour for
With a curious impassivity that masked the intensity of her desire she
had told Magda that, by the rules of the community, penitents who
desired to make expiation were admitted there, but that if once the
step were taken, and the year's vow of penitence voluntarily assumed,
there could be no return to the world until the expiration of the time
Somehow the irrevocability of such a vow, undertaken voluntarily, had
not struck her in its full significance until Catherine had quietly,
almost tonelessly, in the flat, level voice not infrequently acquired
by the religious, affirmed it.
"Supposing"--Magda looked round the rigidly bare room with a new sense
of apprehension--"supposing I felt I simply couldn't stand it any
longer? Do you mean to say, /then/, that I should not be allowed to
"No, you would not be permitted to. Vows are not toys to be broken at
"A year is a long time," murmured Magda.
The eyes beneath the coifed brow with its fine network of wrinkles
"The body must be crucified that the soul may live," returned the cold
Magda's thoughts drew her this way and that. A year! It was an
eternity! And yet, if only she could emerge purified, a woman worthy
to be Michael's wife, she felt she would be willing to go through with
It was as though the white-faced, passionless woman beside her read
"If you would be purified," said Catherine, "if you would cast out the
devil that is within you, you will have to abide meekly by such
penance as is ordained. You must submit yourself to pain."
At the words a memory of long ago stirred in Magda's mind. She
remembered that when her father had beaten her as a child he had said:
"If you hurt people enough you can stop them from committing sin."
Groping dimly for some light that might elucidate the problems which
bewildered her, Magda clutched at the words as though they were a
revelation. They seemed to point to the only way by which she might
repair the past.
Catherine, watching closely the changes on the pale, sensitive face,
"Of course, if you feel you have not the strength of will to keep your
vow, you must not take it."
The words acted like a spur. Instantly, Magda's decision was taken.
"If I take the vow, I shall have strength of mind to keep it," she
The following evening Magda composedly informed Gillian that she
proposed to take a vow of expiation and retire into the community of
the Sisters of Penitence for a year. Gillian was frankly aghast; she
had never dreamed of any such upshot to the whole miserable business
of Magda's broken engagement.
"But it is madness!" she protested. "You would hate it!"
"That's just it. I've done what I liked all my life. And you know what
the result has been! Now I propose to do what I /don't/ like for a
Neither persuasion nor exhortation availed to shake her resolution,
and in despair Gillian referred the matter to Lady Arabella, hoping
she might induce Magda to change her mind.
Lady Arabella accepted the news with unexpected composure.
"It is just what one might expect from the child of Hugh Vallincourt,"
she said thoughtfully. "It's the swing of the pendulum. There's always
been that tendency in the Vallincourts--the tendency towards atonement
by some sort of violent self-immolation. They are invariably
/excessive/--either excessively bad like the present man, Rupert, or
excessively devout like Hugh and Catherine! By the way, the Sisters of
Penitence is the community Catherine first joined. I wonder if she is
there still? Probably she's dead by now, though. I remember hearing
some years ago that she was seriously ill--somewhere about the time of
Hugh's death. That's the last I ever heard of her. I've been out of
touch with the whole Vallincourt family for so many years now that I
don't know what has become of them."
"You don't mean to say that you're going to /let/ Magda do what she
proposes?" exclaimed Gillian, in dismayed astonishment.
"There's never much question of 'letting' Magda do things, is there?"
retorted Lady Arabella. "If she's made up her mind to be penitential--
penitential she'll be! I dare say it won't do her any harm."
"I don't see how it can do her any good," protested Gillian. "Magda
isn't cut out for a sisterhood."
"That's just why it may be good for her."
"I don't believe in mortification of the flesh and all that sort of
thing, either," continued Gillian obstinately.
"My dear, we must all work out our own salvation--each in his own way.
Prayer and fasting would never be my method. But for some people it's
the only way. I believe it is for the Vallincourts. In any case, it's
only for a year. And a year is very little time out of life."
Nevertheless, at Gillian's urgent request, Lady Arabella made an
effort to dissuade Magda from her intention.
"If you live long enough, my dear," she told her crispy, "providence
will see to it that you get your deserts. You needn't be so anxious to
make sure of them. Retribution is a very sure-footed traveller."
"It isn't only retribution, punishment, I'm looking for," returned
Magda. "It is--I can't quite explain it, Marraine, but even though
Michael never sees me or speaks to me again, I'd like to feel I'd made
myself into the sort of woman he /would/ speak to."
From that standpoint she refused to move, declining even to discuss
the matter further, but proceeded quietly and unswervingly with her
arrangements. The failure to complete her contract at the Imperial
Theatre involved her in a large sum of money by way of forfeit, but
this she paid ungrudgingly, feeling as though it were the first step
along the new road of renunciation she designed to tread.
To the manager she offered no further explanation than that she
proposed to give up dancing, "at any rate for a year or so," and
although he was nearly distracted over the idea, he found his
arguments and persuasions were no more effective than those King
Canute optimistically addressed to the encroaching waves. The utmost
concession he could extract from Magda was her assent to giving a
farewell appearance--for which occasion the astute manager privately
decided to quadruple the price of the seats. He only wished it were
possible to quadruple the seating capacity of the theatre as well!
Meanwhile Gillian, whose normal, healthy young mind recoiled from the
idea of Magda's self-imposed year of discipline, had secretly resolved
upon making a final desperate venture in the hope of straightening out
the tangle of her friend's life. She would go herself and see Michael
and plead with him. Surely, if he loved Magda as he had once seemed to
do, he would not remain obdurate when he realised how bitterly she had
repented--and how much she loved him!
It was not easy for Gillian to come to this decision. She held very
strong opinions on the subject of the rights of the individual to
manage his own affairs without interference, and as she passed out of
the busy main street into the quiet little old-world court where
Michael had his rooms and studio she felt as guilty as a small boy
caught trespassing in an orchard.
The landlady who opened the door in response to her somewhat timid
ring regarded her with a curiously surprised expression when she
inquired if Mr. Quarrington were in.
"I'll see, miss," she answered non-committally, "if you'll step
The unusual appearance of the big double studio where she was left to
wait puzzled Gillian. All the familiar tapestries and cushions and
rare knick-knacks which wontedly converted the further end of it into
a charming reception room were gone. The chairs were covered in plain
holland, the piano sheeted. But the big easel, standing like a tall
cross in the cold north light, was swathed in a dust-sheet. Gillian's
heart misgave her. Was she too late? Had Michael--gone away?
A moment later a quick, resolute footstep reassured her. The door
opened and Michael himself came in. He paused on the threshold as he
perceived who his visitor was, then came forward and shook hands with
his usual grave courtesy. After that, he seemed to wait as though for
some explanation of her visit.
Gillian found herself nervously unready. All the little opening
speeches she had prepared for the interview deserted her suddenly,
driven away by her shocked realisation of the transformation which the
few days since she had last seen him had wrought in the man beside
His face was lined and worn. The grey eyes were sunken and burned with
a strange, bitter brilliance. Only the dogged, out-thrust jaw remained
the same as ever--obstinate and unconquerable. Twice she essayed to
speak and twice failed. The third time the words came stumblingly.
"Michael, what--what does it mean--all this?" She indicated the
holland-sheeted studio with a gesture.
"It means that I'm going away," he replied. "I'm packing now. I leave
"You mustn't go!"
The words broke from her imperatively, like a mandate.
He glanced at her quickly and into his eyes came a look of
"You're a good friend," he said quietly. "But I must go."
"No, no, you mustn't! Listen--"
"Nothing can alter my decision," he interrupted in a tone of absolute
finality. "Nothing you could say, Gillian--so don't say it."
"But I must!" she insisted. "Oh, Michael, I'm not going to pretend
that Magda hasn't been to blame--that it isn't all terrible! But if
you saw her--now--you'd /have/ to forgive her and love her again." She
spoke with a simple sincerity that was infinitely appealing.
"I've never ceased to love her," he replied, still in that quiet voice
of repressed determination.
"Then if you love, her, can't you forgive her? She's had everything
against her from the beginning, both temperament and upbringing, and
on top of that there's been the wild success she's had as a dancer.
You can't judge her by ordinary standards of conduct. You /can't/! It
"I don't presume to judge her"--icily. "I simply say I can't marry
"If you could see her now, Michael----" Her voice shook a little. "It
hurts me to see Magda--like that. She's broken----"
"And my sister, June, is dead," he said in level, unemotional tones.
Gillian wrung her hands.
"But even so----! Magda didn't kill her, Michael. She couldn't tell--
she didn't know that June----" She halted, faltering into silence.
"That June was soon to have a child?" Michael finished her sentence
for her. "No. But she knew she loved her husband. And she stole him
from her. When I think of it all, of June . . . little June! . . . And
Storran--gone under! Oh, what's the use of talking?"--savagely. "You
know--and I know--that there's nothing left. Nothing!"
"If you loved her, Michael--"
"If I loved her!" he broke out stormily. "You're not a man, and you
don't know what it means to want the woman you love night and day, to
ache for her with every fibre of your body--and to know that you can't
have her and keep your self-respect!"
"Oh--self-respect!" There was a note of contempt in Gillian's voice.
"If you set your 'self-respect' above your love--"
"You don't understand!" he interrupted violently. "You're a woman and
you can't understand! I must honour the woman I love--it's the kernel
of the whole thing. I must look up to her--not down!"
Gillian clasped her hands.
"Oh!" she said in a low, vehement voice. "I don't think we women
/want/ to be 'looked up to.' It sets us so far away. We're not
goddesses. We're only women, Michael, with all our little weaknesses
just the same as men. And we want the men who love us to be comrades--
not worshippers. Good pals, who'll forgive us and help us up when we
tumble down, just as we'd be ready to forgive them and help them up.
Can't you--can't you do that for Magda?"
"No," he said shortly. "I can't."
Gillian was at the end of her resources. She would not tell him that
Magda proposed joining the Sisters of Penitence for a year. Somehow
she felt she would not wish him to know this or to be influenced by
She had made her appeal to Michael himself, to his sheer love for the
woman he had intended to make his wife. And she had failed because the
man was too bitter, too sore, to see clearly through the pain that
His voice, curt and clipped, broke the silence which had fallen.
"Have you said all you came to say?" he asked with frigid politeness.
"All," she returned sadly.
He moved slowly towards the door.
"Good-bye," she said, holding out her hand.
He took it and held it in his. For a moment the hard eyes softened a
"I'm sorry I can't do what you ask," he said abruptly.
Gillian opened her lips to speak, but no words came. Instead, a sudden
lump rose in her throat, choking her into silence, at the sight of the
man's wrung face, with its bitter, pain-ridden eyes and the jaw that
was squared implacably against love and forgiveness, and against his
own overwhelming desire.
"CHILDREN STUMBLING IN THE DARK"
As Gillian mingled once more with the throng on the pavements she felt
curiously unwilling to return home. She had set out from Friars' Holm
so full of hope in her errand! It had seemed impossible that she could
fail, and she had been almost unconsciously looking forward to seeing
Magda's wan, strained face relax into half-incredulous delight as she
confided in her the news that Michael was as eager and longing for a
reconciliation as she herself.
And instead--this! This utter, hopeless failure to move him one jot.
Only the memory of the man's stern, desperately unhappy eyes curbed
the hot tide of her anger against him for his iron refusal.
He still loved Magda, so he said. And, indeed, Gillian believed it.
But--love! It was not love as she and Tony Grey had understood it--
simple, forgiving, and wholly trustful. It seemed to her as though
Michael and Magda were both wandering in a dim twilight of
misunderstanding, neither of them able to see that there was only one
thing for them to do if they were ever to find happiness again. They
must thrust the past behind them--with all its bitterness and failures
and mistakes, and go forward, hand in hand, in search of the light.
Love would surely lead them to it eventually.
Yet this was the last thing either of them seemed able to think of
doing. Magda was determined to spend the sweetness of her youth in
making reparation for the past, while Michael was torn by bitterly
conflicting feelings--his passionate love for Magda warring with his
innate recoil from all that she had done and with his loyalty to his
Gillian sighed as she threaded her way slowly along the crowded
street. The lights of a well-known tea-shop beckoned invitingly and,
only too willing to postpone the moment of her return home, she turned
in between its plate-glass doors.
They swung together behind her, dulling the rumble of the traffic,
while all around uprose the gay hum of conversation and the chink of
cups and saucers mingling with the rhythmic melodies that issued from
a cleverly concealed orchestra.
The place was very crowded. For a moment it seemed to Gillian as
though there were no vacant seat. Then she espied an empty table for
two in a distant corner and hastily made her way thither. She had
barely given her order to the waitress when the swing doors parted
again to admit someone else--a man this time.
The new arrival paused, as Gillian herself had done, to search out a
seat. Then, noting the empty place at her table, he came quickly
Gillian was idly scanning the list of marvellous little cakes
furnished by the menu, and her first cognisance of the new-comer's
approach was the vision of a strong, masculine hand gripping the back
of the chair opposite her preparatory to pulling it out from under the
"I'm afraid there's no other vacant seat," he was beginning
apologetically. But at the sound of his voice Gillian's eyes flew up
from that virile-looking hand to the face of its owner, and a low cry
of surprise broke from her lips.
Simultaneously the man gave utterance to her own name.
Gillian stared at him stupidly. Could this really be Dan Storran--
Storran of Stockleigh?
The alteration in him was immense. He looked ten years older. An
habitual stoop had lessened his apparent height and the dark, kinky
hair was streaked with grey. The golden-tan bestowed by an English sun
had been exchanged for the sallow skin of a man who has lived hard in
a hot country, and the face was thin and heavily lined. Only the eyes
of periwinkle-blue remained to remind Gillian of the splendid young
giant she had known at Ashencombe--and even they were changed and held
the cynical weariness of a man who has eaten of Dead Sea fruit and
found it bitter to the taste.
There were other changes, too. Storran of Stockleigh was as civilised,
his clothes and general appearance as essentially "right," as those of
the men around him. All suggestion of the "cave-man from the
backwoods," as Lady Arabella had termed him, was gone.
"I didn't know you were in England," said Gillian at last.
"I landed yesterday."
"You've been in South America, haven't you?"
She spoke mechanically. There seemed something forced and artificial
about this exchange of platitudes between herself and the man who had
figured so disastrously in Magda's life. Without warning he brought
the conversation suddenly back to the realities.
"Yes. I was in 'Frisco when my wife died. Since then I've been half
over the world."
Behind the harshly uttered statement Gillian could sense the
unspeakable bitterness of the man's soul. It hurt her, calling forth
her quick sympathy just as the sight of some maimed and wounded animal
would have done.
"Oh!" she said, a sensitive quiver in her voice. "I was so sorry--so
terribly sorry--to hear about June. We hadn't heard--we only knew
quite recently." Her face clouded as she reflected on the tragic
happenings with which the news had been accompanied.
At this moment a waitress paused at Storran's side and he gave his
order. Then, looking curiously at Gillian, he said:
"What did you hear? Just that she died when our child was born, I
Gillian's absolute honesty of soul could not acquiesce, though it
would have been infinitely the easier course.
"No," she said, flushing a little and speaking very low. "We heard
that she might have lived if--if she had only been--happier."
He nodded silently, rather as though this was the answer he had
anticipated. Presently he spoke abruptly:
"Does Miss Vallincourt know that?"
Gillian hesitated. Then, taking her courage in both hands she told him
quickly and composedly the whole story of the engagement and its
rupture, and let him understand just precisely what June's death,
owing to the special circumstances in which it had occurred, had meant
for Magda of retribution and of heartbreak.
Storran listened without comment, in his eyes an odd look of
concentration. The waitress dexterously slid a tray in front of him
and he poured himself out a cup of tea mechanically, but he made no
attempt to drink it. When Gillian ceased, his face showed no sign of
softening. It looked hard and very weary. His strong fingers moved
restlessly, crumbling one of the small cakes on the plate in front of
"'Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding
small,'" he quoted at last, quietly.
Gillian met his harshly cynical glance with one of brave defiance.
"I don't think God's mills have anything to do with it," she said
swiftly. "He'd understand all the excuses and allowances that should
be made for her better even than I do. And I shouldn't want to punish
Magda. I'd make her--happy. She's never known what it means to be
really happy. Success and gaiety aren't /happiness/."
"And you?" he asked quickly.
There was a soft and wonderful shining in the brown eyes that were
lifted to his.
"I had one year of utter happiness," she answered gently. "And I've
got Coppertop--so I can't ever be quite unhappy."
"If there were more women like you----" he began abruptly.
She shook her head.
"No, no," she said, smiling a little. "If there were more men like
Tony! You men are so hard--so cruelly hard."
He looked at her very directly.
"Haven't I the right to be?" he demanded bitterly.
"Ah! Forgive me!" Gillian spoke with an accent of self-reproach. "I'd
forgotten you still--care."
"For Magda?" He laughed shortly. "No. That's dead, thank God! I killed
it. Worked it out of my system in 'Frisco"--with exceeding bitterness.
"Then I got the news of June's death. Her sister wrote me. Told me she
died because she'd no longer any wish to live. That sobered me-
brought me back to my sense. There was a good deal more to the letter
--my sister-in-law didn't let me down lightly. I've had to pay for
that summer at Stockleigh. And now Magda's paying. . . . Well, that
seems to square things somehow."
"Oh, you are brutal!" broke out Gillian.
His eyes, hard as steel and as unyielding, met hers.
"Am I?"--indifferently. "Perhaps I am."
This was a very different Dan from the impetuous, hot-headed Dan of
former times. Gillian found his calm ruthlessness difficult to
understand, and yet, realising all that he had suffered, she could not
but condone it to a certain extent.
When at last she rose to go, he detained her a moment.
"I am remaining in England now. I should like to see you sometimes.
She hesitated. Then something that appealed in the tired eyes impelled
"If you wish," she said gently.
Back once more in the street she made her way as quickly as possible
to the nearest tube station, in order to reach it before the usual
evening crowd of homeward-wending clerks and typists poured into the
thoroughfares from a thousand open office doors. But as soon as she
was safely seated in the train her thoughts reverted to the two
strange interviews in which she had taken part that afternoon.
She felt very low-spirited. Since she had seen and talked with the two
men in whose lives Magda had played so big a part, she was oppressed
with a sense of the utter hopelessness of trying to put matters right.
Things must take their course--drive on to whatever end, bitter or
sweet, lay hidden in the womb of fate.
She had tried to stem the current of affairs, but she had proved as
powerless to deflect it as a dried stick tossed on to a river in
spate. And now, whether the end were ultimate happiness or hopeless,
irretrievable disaster, Michael and Magda must still fight their way
towards it, each alone, by the dim light of that "blind Understanding"
which is all that Destiny vouchsafes.
The curtains swung together for the last time, the orchestra struck up
the National Anthem, and the great audience which had come from all
parts to witness the Wielitzska's farewell performance began to
A curious quietness attended its departure. It was as though a pall of
gravity hung over the big assemblage. Public announcements of the
performance had explained that the famous dancer proposed taking a
long rest for reasons of health. "But," as everyone declared, "you
know what that means! She's probably broken down--heart or something.
We shall never see her dance again." And so, beneath the tremendous
reception which they gave her, there throbbed an element of sadness,
behind all the cheers and the clapping an insistent minor note which
carried across the footlights to where Magda stood bowing her thanks,
and smiling through the mist of tears which filled her eyes.
The dance which she had chosen for her last appearance was the /Swan-
Maiden/. There had seemed a strange applicability in the choice, and
to those who had eyes to see there was a new quality in the
Wielitzska's dancing--a depth of significance and a spirituality of
interpretation which was commented upon in the Press the next day.
It had been quite unmistakable. She had gripped her audience so that
throughout the final scene of the ballet no word was spoken. The big
crowd, drawn from all classes, sat tense and silent, sensitive to
every movement, every exquisite, appealing gesture of the Swan-Maiden.
And when at last she had lain, limp in death, in her lover's embrace,
and the music had quivered into silence, there followed a vibrant
pause--almost it seemed as though a sigh of mingled ecstasy and regret
went up--before the thunderous applause roared through the auditorium.
The insatiable few were still clapping and stamping assiduously when
Magda, after taking innumerable calls, at last came off the stage. It
had been a wonderful night of triumph, and as she made her way towards
her dressing-room she was conscious of a sudden breathless realisation
of all that she was sacrificing. For a moment she felt as though she
must rush back on to the stage and tell everybody that she couldn't do
it, that it was all a mistake--that this was not a farewell! But she
set her teeth and moved resolutely towards her dressing-room.
As her fingers closed round the handle of the door, someone stepped
out from the shadows of the passage and spoke:
The voice, wrung and urgent, was Antoine Davilof's.
Her first impulse was to hurry forward and put the dressing-room door
betwixt herself and him. She had not seen him since that night when he
had come down to the theatre and implored her to be his wife, warning
her that he would prevent her marriage with Michael. He had carried
out his threat with a completeness that had wrecked her life, and
although, since the breaking-off of her engagement, he had both
written and telephoned, begging her to see him, she had steadfastly
refused. Once he had come to Friars' Holm, but had been met with an
inexorable "Not at home!" from Melrose.
"Magda! For God's sake, give me a moment!"
Something in the strained tones moved her to an unexpected feeling of
compassion. It was the voice of a man in the extremity of mental
Silently she opened the door of the dressing-room and signed to him to
"Well," she said, facing him, "what is it? Why have you come?"
The impulse of compassion died out suddenly. His was the hand that had
destroyed her happiness. The sight of him roused her to a fierce anger
"Well?" she repeated. "What do you want? To know the result of your
handiwork?"--bitterly. "You've been quite as successful as even you
could have wished."
"Don't," he said unevenly. "Magda, I can't bear it. You can't give up
--all this. Your dancing--it's your life! I shall never forgive myself
. . . I'll see Quarrington and tell him--"
"You can't see him. He's gone away."
"Then I'll find him."
"If you found him, nothing you could say would make any difference,"
she answered unemotionally. "It's the facts that matter. You can't
Davilof made a gesture of despair.
"Is it true you're going into some sisterhood?" he asked hoarsely.
"And it is I--I who have driven you to this! /Dieu/! I've been mad--
His hands were clenched, his face working painfully. The hazel eyes--
those poet's eyes of his which she had seen sometimes soft with dreams
and sometimes blazing with love's fire--were blurred by misery. They
reminded her of the contrite, tortured eyes of a dog which, maddened
by pain, has bitten the hand of a beloved master. Her anger died away
in the face of that overwhelming remorse. She herself had learned to
know the illimitable bitterness of self-reproach.
"Antoine----" Her voice had grown very gentle.
He swung round on her.
"And I can't undo it!" he exclaimed desperately. "I can't undo it!
. . . Magda, will you believe me--will you /try/ to believe that, if
my life could undo the harm I've done, I'd give it gladly?"
"I believe you would, Antoine," she replied simply.
With a stifled exclamation he turned away and, dropping into a chair,
leaned his arms on the table and hid his face. Once, twice she heard
the sound of a man's hard-drawn sob, and the dry agony of it wrung her
heart. All that was sweet and compassionate in her--the potential
mother that lies in every woman--responded to his need. She ran to him
and, kneeling at his side, laid a kind little hand on his shoulder.
"Don't Antoine!" she said pitifully. "Ah, don't, my dear!"
He caught the hand and held it against his cheek.
"It's unforgivable!" he muttered.
"No, no. I do forgive you."
"You can't forgive! . . . Impossible!"
"I think I can, Antoine. You see, I need forgiveness so badly myself.
I wouldn't want to keep anyone else without it. Besides, Michael would
have been bound to learn--what you told him--sooner or later." She
rose to her feet, pushing back the hair from her forehead rather
wearily. "It's better as it is--that he should know now. It--it would
have been unbearable if it had come later--when I was his wife."
Antoine stumbled to his feet. His beautiful face was marred with
"I wish I were dead!"
The words broke from him like an exceeding bitter cry. To Magda they
seemed to hold some terrible import.
"Not that, Antoine!" she answered in a frightened voice. "You're not
thinking--you're not meaning----"
He shook his head, smiling faintly.
"No," he said quietly. "The Davilofs have never been cowards. I shan't
take that way out. You need have no fears, Magda." The sudden tension
in her face relaxed. "But I shall not stay in England. England--
without you--would be hell. A hell of memories."
"What shall you do, then, Antoine? You won't give up playing?"
He made a fierce gesture of distaste.
"I couldn't play in public! Not now. Not for a time. I think I shall
go to my mother. She always wants me, and she sees me very little."
Magda nodded. Her eyes were wistful.
"Yes, go to her. I think mothers must understand--as other people
can't ever understand. She will be glad to have you with her,
He was silent for a moment, his eyes dwelling on her face as though he
sought to learn each line of it, so that when she would be no more
beside him he might carry the memory of it in his heart for ever.
"Then it is good-bye," he said at last.
Magda held out her hands and, taking them in his, he drew her close to
"I love you," he said, "and I have brought you only pain." There was a
tragic simplicity in the statement.
"No," she answered steadily. "Never think that. I spoiled my own life.
And--love is a big gift, Antoine."
She lifted her face to his and very tenderly, almost reverently, he
kissed her. She knew that in that last kiss there was no disloyalty to
Michael. It held renunciation. It accepted forgiveness.
"Did you know that Dan Storran was in front to-night?" asked Gillian,
as half an hour later she and Magda were driving back to Hampstead
together. She had already confided the fact of her former meeting with
him in the tea-shop.
Magda's eyes widened a little.
"No," she said quietly. "I think I'm glad I didn't know."
She was very silent throughout the remainder of the drive home and
Gillian made no effort to distract her. She herself felt disinclined
to talk. She was oppressed by the knowledge that this was the last
night she and Magda would have with each other. To-morrow Magda would
be gone and one chapter of their lives together ended. The gates of
the Sisters of Penitence would close upon her and Friars' Holm would
be empty of her presence.
Everything had been said that could be said, every persuasion used.
But to each and all Magda had only answered: "I know it's the only
thing for me to do. It probably wouldn't be for you, or for anyone
else. But it is for me. So you must let me go, Gillyflower."
Gillian dreaded the morrow with its inevitable moment of farewell. As
for Virginie, she had done little else but weep for the last three
days, and although Lady Arabella had said very little, she had kissed
her god-daughter good-bye with a brusqueness that veiled an
inexpressible grief and tenderness. Gillian foresaw that betwixt
administering comfort to Lady Arabella and Virginie, and setting
Magda's personal affairs in order after her departure, she would have
little time for the indulgence of her own individual sorrow. Perhaps
it was just as well that these tasks should devolve on her. They would
serve to occupy her thoughts.
The morning sunlight, goldenly gay, was streaming in through the
windows as Magda, wrapped in a soft silken peignoir, made her way into
the bathroom. Virginie, her eyes reddened from a night's weeping, was
kneeling beside the sunken bath of green-veined marble, stirring
sweet-smelling salts in to the steaming water. Their fragrance
permeated the atmosphere like incense.
"My tub ready, Virginie?" asked Magda, cheerfully.
Virginie scrambled to her feet.
"/Mais oui, mademoiselle/. The bath is ready."
Then, her face puckering up suddenly, she burst into tears and ran out
of the room. Magda smiled and sighed, then busied herself with her
morning ablutions--prolonging them a little as she realised that this
was the last occasion for a whole year when she would step down into a
bath prepared and perfumed for her in readiness by her maid.
A year! It was a long time to look forward to. So much can happen in a
year. And no one can foresee what the end may bring.
Presently she emerged from her bath, her skin gleaming like wet ivory,
her dark hair sparkling with the drops of water that had splashed on
to it. As she stepped up from its green-veined depths, she caught a
glimpse of herself in a panel mirror hung against the wall, and for a
moment she was aware of the familiar thrill of delight in her own
beauty--in the gleaming, glowing radiance of perfectly formed,
perfectly groomed flesh and blood.
Then, with a revulsion of feeling, came the sudden realisation that it
was this very perfection of body which had been her undoing--like a
bitter blight, leaving in its wake a trail of havoc and desolation.
She was even conscious of a fierce eagerness for the period of penance
to begin. Almost ecstatically she contemplated the giving of her body
to whatever discipline might be appointed.
To anyone hitherto as spoiled and imperious as Magda, whose body had
been the actual temple of her art, and so, almost inevitably, of her
worship, this utter renouncing of physical self-government was the
supremest expiation she could make. As with Hugh Vallincourt, whose
blood ran in her veins, the idea of personal renunciation made a
curious appeal to her emotional temperament, and she was momentarily
filled with something of the martyr's ecstasy.
Gillian's arms clung round Magda's neck convulsively as she kissed her
at the great gates of Friars' Holm a few hours later.
"Good-bye! . . . Ah, Magda! Come back to me!"
"I shall come back."
One more lingering kiss, and then Magda stepped into the open car.
Virginie made a rush forward before the door closed and, dropping on
to her knees on the footboard, convulsively snatched her adored young
mistress's hand between her two old worn ones and covered it with
"Oh, mademoiselle, thy old Virginie will die without thee!" she sobbed
And then the car slid away and Magda's last glimpse was of the open
gates of Friars' Holm with its old-world garden, stately and formal,
in the background; and of Virginie weeping unrestrainedly, her snowy
apron flung up over her head; and of Gillian standing erect, her brown
eyes very wide and winking away the tears that welled up despite
herself, and her hand on Coppertop's small manful shoulder, gripping
As the car passed through the streets many people, recognising its
occupant, stopped and turned to follow it with their eyes. One or two
women waved their hands, and a small errand-boy--who had saved up his
pennies and squeezed into the gallery of the Imperial Theatre the
previous evening--threw up his hat and shouted "Hooray!"
Once, at a crossing, the chauffeur was compelled to pull up to allow
the traffic to pass, and a flower-girl with a big basket of early
violets on her arm, recognising the famous dancer, tossed a bunch
lightly into the car. They fell on Magda's lap. She picked them up
and, brushing them with her lips, smiled at the girl and fastened the
violets against the furs at her breast. The flower-girl treasured the
smile of the great Wielitzska in her memory for many a long day, while
in the arid months that were to follow Magda treasured the sweet
fragrance of that spontaneous gift.
Half an hour later the doors of the grey house where the Sisters of
Penitence dwelt apart from the world opened to receive Magda
Vallincourt, and closed again behind her.
THE GREY VEIL
Magda felt a sudden stab of fear. The sound of the latch clicking into
its place brought home to her the irrevocability of the step she had
taken. That tall, self-locking door stood henceforth betwixt her and
the dear, familiar world she had known--the world of laughter and
luxury and success. But beyond, on the far horizon, there was Michael
--her "Saint Michel." If these months of discipline brought her nearer
him, then she would never grudge them.
The serene eyes of the Sister who received her--Sister Bernardine--
helped to steady her quivering pulses.
There was something in Sister Bernardine that was altogether lacking
in Catherine Vallincourt--a delightfully human understanding and
charity for all human weakness, whether of the soul or body.
It was she who reassured Magda when a sudden appalling and unforeseen
idea presented itself to her.
"My hair!" she exclaimed breathlessly, her hand going swiftly to the
heavy, smoke-black tresses. "Will they cut off my hair?"
As Sister Bernardine comfortingly explained that only those who joined
the community as sisters had their heads shaven, a strange expression
flickered for an instant in her eyes, a fleeting reminiscence of that
day, five-and-twenty years ago, when the shears had cropped their
ruthless way through the glory of hair which had once been hers.
And afterwards, as time went on and Magda, wearing the grey veil and
grey serge dress of a voluntary penitent, found herself absorbed into
the daily life of the community, it was often only the recollection of
Sister Bernardine's serene, kind eyes which helped her to hold out.
Somehow, somewhere out of this drastic, self-denying life Sister
Bernardine had drawn peace and tranquillity of soul, and Magda clung
to this thought when the hard rules of the sisterhood, the
distastefulness of the tasks appointed her, and the frequent fasts
ordained, chafed and fretted her until sometimes her whole soul seemed
to rise up in rebellion against the very discipline she had craved.
Most of her tasks were performed under the lynx eyes of Sister
Agnetia, an elderly and sour-visaged sister to whom Magda had taken an
instinctive dislike from the outset. The Mother Superior she could
tolerate. She was severe and uncompromising. But she was at least
honest. There was no doubting the bedrock genuineness of her
disciplinary ardour, harsh and merciless though it might appear. But
with Sister Agnetia, Magda was always sensible of the personal venom
of a little mind vested with authority beyond its deserts, and she
resented her dictation accordingly. And equally accordingly, it seemed
to fall always to her lot to work under Sister Agnetia's supervision.
Catherine had been quick enough to detect Magda's detestation of this
particular sister and to use it as a further means of discipline. It
was necessary that Magda's pride and vanity should be humbled, and
Catherine saw to it that they were. It was assuredly by the Will of
Heaven that the child of Diane Wielitzska had been led to her very
doors, and to the subject of her chastening Catherine brought much
thought and discrimination. /"If you hurt people enough you can make
them good."/ It had been her brother's bitter creed and it was hers.
Pain, in Catherine's idea, was the surest means of chastening, and
Magda was to remember her year at the sisterhood by two things--by the
deadly, unbearable monotony of its daily routine and by her first
acquaintance with actual bodily pain.
Her health had always been magnificent, and--with the exception of the
trivial punishments of childhood and those few moments when she was
sitting for the picture of Circe--physical suffering was unknown to
her. The penances, therefore, which Catherine appointed her--to kneel
for a stated length of time until it seemed as though every muscle she
possessed were stretched to breaking-point, to fast when her whole
healthy young body craved for food, to be chastened with flagellum, a
scourge of knotted cords--all these grew to be a torment almost beyond
Almost! . . . Yet in the beginning the thought of Michael sustained
It was a curious sensation--that first stroke of the flagellum.
As Magda, unversed in physical suffering, felt the cords shock against
her flesh, she was conscious of a strange uplifting of spirit. This,
then, this smarting, blinding thing called pain, was the force that
would drive the will to do evil out of her soul.
She waited expectantly--almost exultantly--for the second fall of the
thongs. The interval between seemed endless. Sister Agnetia was very
deliberate, pausing between each stroke. She knew to a nicety the
value of anticipation as a remedial force in punishment.
Again the cords descended on the bared shoulders. Magda winced away
from them, shivering. For a moment Sister Agnetia's arm hung flaccid,
the cords of the flagellum pendant and still.
"Are you submitting to the discipline, Sister Penitentia?" came her
voice. It was an unpleasant voice, suggestive of a knife that has been
dipped in oil.
Magda caught her breath.
"Yes . . . yes . . . I submit myself."
Dimly she felt that by means of this endurance she would win back
Michael, cleanse herself to receive his love.
"I submit," she repeated in a rapt whisper of self-surrender.
Sister Agnetia's voice swam unctuously into her consciousness once
"I thought you tried to avoid that last stroke. If you flinch from
punishment it is not submission, but rebellion."
Magda gripped her hands together and pressed her knees into the hard
stone floor, her muscles taut with anticipation as she heard the soft
whistle of the thongs cleaving the air.
This time she bore the pang of anguish motionless, but the vision of
Michael went out suddenly in a throbbing darkness of swift agony. Her
shoulders felt red-hot. The pain shot up into her brain like fingers
of flame. It clasped her whole body in a torment, and the ecstasy of
self-surrender was lost in a sick groping after sheer endurance.
The next stroke, crushing across that fever of intolerable suffering,
wrung a hoarse moan from her dry lips. Her hands locked together till
she felt as though their bones must crack with the strain as she
waited for the next inexorable stroke.
One moment! . . . Two! An eternity of waiting!
"Go on!" she breathed. "Oh! . . . Be quick . . ." Her voice panted.
No movement answered her. Unable to endure the suspense, she
straightened her bowed shoulders and turned in convulsive appeal to
where she had glimpsed the flail-like rise and fall of Sister
Agnetia's serge-clad arm.
There was no one there! The bare, cell-like chamber was empty, save
for herself. Sister Agnetia had stolen away, completing the penance of
physical pain by the refinement of anguish embodied in those hideous
moments of mental dread.
Magda almost fancied she could hear an oily chuckle outside the door.
THOSE THAT WERE LEFT BEHIND
For the first month or two after Magda's departure Gillian found that
she had her hands full in settling up various business and personal
matters which had been left with loose ends. She was frankly glad to
discover that there were so many matters requiring her attention;
otherwise the blank occasioned in her life by Magda's absence would
have been almost unendurable.
The two girls had grown very much into each other's hearts during the
years they had shared together, and when friends part, no matter how
big a wrench the separation may mean to the one who goes, there is a
special kind of sadness reserved for the one who is left behind. For
the one who sets out there are fresh faces, new activities in store.
Even though the new life adventured upon may not prove to be precisely
a bed of thornless roses, the pricking of the thorns provides
distraction to the mind from the sheer, undiluted pain of separation.
But for Gillian, left behind at Friars' Holm, there remained nothing
but an hourly sense of loss added to that crushing, inevitable
flatness which succeeds a crisis of any kind.
Nor did a forlorn Coppertop's reiterated inquiries as to how soon the
Fairy Lady might be expected back again help to mend matters.
Lady Arabella's grief was expressed in a characteristically prickly
"Young people don't seem to know the first thing about love nowadays,"
she observed with the customary scathing contempt of one age for
In /my/ young days! Ah! there will never be times like those again! We
are all quite sure of it as our young days recede into the misty past.
"If you loved, you loved," pursued Lady Arabella crisply. "And the
death of half a dozen sisters wouldn't have been allowed to interfere
with the proceedings."
Gillian smiled a little.
"It wasn't only that. It was Michael's bitter disappointment in Magda,
I think, quite as much as the fact that, indirectly, he held her
responsible for June's death."
"It's ridiculous to try and foist Mrs. Storran's death on to Magda,"
fumed Lady Arabella restively. "If she hadn't the physical health to
have a good, hearty baby successfully, she shouldn't have attempted
it. That's all! . . . And then those two idiots--Magda and Michael! Of
course he must needs shoot off abroad, and equally of course she must
be out of the way in a sisterhood when he comes rushing back--as he
will do!"--with a grim smile.
"He hasn't done yet," Gillian pointed out.
"I give him precisely six months, my dear, before he finds out that,
sister or no sister, he can't live without Magda. Michael
Quarrington's got too much good red blood in his veins to live the
life of a hermit. He's a man, thank goodness, not a mystical dreamer
like Hugh Vallincourt. And he'll come back to his mate as surely as
the sun will rise to-morrow."
"I wish I felt as confident as you do."
"I wish I could make sure of putting my hand on Magda when he comes,"
grumbled Lady Arabella. "That's the hitch I'm afraid of! If only she
hadn't been so precipitate--only waited a bit for him to come back to
"I don't agree with you," rapped out Gillian smartly. "Women are much
too ready to do the patient Griselda stunt. I think"--with a vicious
little nod of her brown head--"it would do Michael all the good in the
world to come back and want Magda--want her /badly/. And find he
couldn't get her! So there!"
Lady Arabella regarded her with astonishment, then broke into a
"Upon my word! If a tame dove had suddenly turned round and pecked at
me, I couldn't have been more surprised! I didn't know you had so much
of the leaven of malice and wickedness in you, Gillian!"
Gillian, a little flushed and feeling, in truth, rather surprised at
herself for her sudden heat, smiled back at her.
"But I should have thought your opinion would have been very much the
same as mine. I never expected you'd want Magda to sit down and
twiddle her thumbs till Michael chose to come back to her."
Lady Arabella sighed.
"I don't. Not really. Only I want them to be happy," she said a little
sadly. "Love is such a rare thing--love like theirs. And it's hard
that Magda should lose the beauty and happiness of it all because of
mistakes she made before she found herself, so to speak."
Gillian nodded soberly. Lady Arabella had voiced precisely her own
feeling in the matter. It /was/ hard! And yet it was only the
fulfilment of the immutable law: /Who breaks, pays/.
Gillian's thoughts tried to pierce the dim horizon. Perhaps all the
pain and mistakes and misunderstandings of which this workaday world
is so full are, after all, only a part of the beautiful tapestry which
the patient Fingers of God are weaving--a dark and sombre warp, giving
value to the gold and silver and jewelled threads of the weft which
shall cross it. When the ultimate fabric is woven, and the tissue
released from the loom, there will surely be no meaningless thread,
sable or silver, in the consummated pattern.
A few weeks after Magda's departure Gillian received a letter from Dan
Storran, reminding her of her promise to let him see her and asking if
she would lunch with him somewhere in town.
It was with somewhat mixed feelings that she met him again. He was
much altered--so changed from the hot-headed, primitive countryman she
had first known. Some chance remark of hers enlightened him as to her
confused sense of the difference in him, and he smiled across at her.
"I've been through the mill, you see," he explained quietly, "since
the Stockleigh days."
The words seemed almost like a key unlocking the door that stands fast
shut between one soul and another. He talked to her quite simply and
frankly after that, telling her how, after he had left England, the
madness in his blood had driven him whither it listed. There had been
no depths to which he had not sunk, no wild living from which he had
And then had come the news of June's death. Not tenderly conveyed, but
charged to his account by her sister with a fierce bitterness that had
suddenly torn the veil from his eyes. Followed days and nights of
agonised remorse, and after that the slow, steady, infinitely
difficult climb back from the depths into which he had allowed himself
to sink to a plane of life where, had June still lived, he would not
have been ashamed to meet her eyes nor utterly unworthy to take her
"It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do," he ended. "But she
would have wished it. I can never tell her now how I regret, never ask
her forgiveness. And this was the only thing I could do to atone."
Gillian's eyes were very soft as she answered:
"I expect she knows, Dan, and is glad."
After a moment she went on thoughtfully.
"It's rather the same kind of feeling that has driven Magda into a
sisterhood, I think--the desire to do something definite, something
tangible, as a sort of reparation. And a woman is much more limited
that way than a man."
Storran's mouth hardened. Any mention of Magda would bring that look
of concentrated hardness into his face, and as the months went on,
giving Gillian a closer insight into the man, she began to realise
that he had never forgiven Magda for her share in the ruin of his
life. On this point he was as hard as nether millstone. He even seemed
to derive a certain satisfaction from the knowledge that she was
paying, and paying heavily, for all the harm she had wrought.
It troubled Gillian--this incalculable hardness in Dan's nature
towards one woman. She found him kindly and tolerant in his outlook on
life--with the understanding tolerance of the man who has dragged
himself out of the pit by his own sheer force of will, and who,
knowing the power of temptation, is ready to give a helping hand to
others who may have fallen by the way. So that his relentlessness
towards Magda was the more inexplicable.
More than once she tried to soften his attitude, tried to make him
realise something of the conflicting influences both of temperament
and environment which had helped to make Magda what she was. But he
remained stubbornly unmoved.
"No punishment is too severe for a woman who has done what Magda
Vallincourt has done. She has wrecked lives simply in order to gratify
her vanity and insensate instinct for conquest."
Gillian shook her head.
"No, you're wrong. You /won't/ understand! It's all that went before--
her parents' mistakes--that should be blamed for half she's done. I
think you're very merciless, Dan."
"Perhaps I am--in this case. Frankly, if I could lessen her punishment
by lifting my little finger--I wouldn't do it."
Yet this same man when, as often happened, he took Gillian and
Coppertop for a run into the country in his car, was as simple and
considerate and kindly as a man could be. Coppertop adored him, and,
as Gillian reflected, the love of children is rarely misplaced. Some
instinct leads them to divine unfailingly which is gold and which
The car was a recent acquisition. As Storran himself expressed it,
rather bitterly: "Now that I can't buy a ha'p'orth of happiness with
the money, my luck has turned." He explained to Gillian that after he
had left England he had sold his farm in Devonshire, and that a lucky
investment of the capital thus realised had turned him into a
comparatively rich man.
"Even when I was making ducks and drakes of my life generally, I
didn't seem to make a mistake over money matters. If I played cards, I
won; if I backed a horse, he romped in first; it I bought shares, they
jumped up immediately."
"What a pity!" replied Gillian ingenuously. "If only your financial
affairs hadn't prospered, you'd have had to settle down and /work/--
"Playing the fool," he supplemented. "No, I don't suppose I should. I
hadn't learned--then--that work is the only panacea, the one big
"I've learned a lot of things in the last two years," quietly. "And
I'm still learning."
As the months went on, Dan's friendship began to mean a good deal to
Gillian. It had come into her life just at a time when she was
intolerably lonely, and quite unconsciously she was learning to turn
to him for advice on all the large and small affairs of daily life as
they came cropping up.
She was infinitely glad of his counsel with regard to Coppertop, who
was growing to the age when the want of a father--of a man's broad
outlook and a man's restraining hand--became an acute lack in a boy's
life. And to Gillian, who had gallantly faced the world alone since
the day when death had abruptly ended her "year of utter happiness,"
it was inexpressibly sweet to be once more shielded and helped in all
the big and little ways in which a man--even if he was only a staunch
man-friend--can shield and help a woman.
It seemed as though Dan Storran always contrived to interpose his big
person betwixt her and the sharp corners of life, and she began to
wonder, with a faint, indefinable dread, what must become of their
friendship when Magda returned to Friars' Holm. Feeling as he did
towards the dancer, it would be impossible for him to come there any
more, and somehow a snatched hour here and there--a lunch together, or
a motor-spin into the country--would be a very poor substitute for his
almost daily visits to the old Queen Anne house tucked away behind its
high walls at Hampstead.
Once she broached the subject to him rather diffidently.
"My dear"--he had somehow dropped into the use of the little term of
endearment, and Gillian found that she liked it and knew that she
would miss it if it were suddenly erased from his speech--"my dear,
why cross bridges till we come to them? Perhaps, when the time comes,
there'll be no bridge to cross."
Gillian glanced at him swiftly.
"Do you mean that she--that you're feeling less bitter towards her,
Dan?" she asked eagerly.
He smiled down at her whimsically.
"I don't quite know. But I know one thing--it's very difficult to be a
lot with you and keep one's anger strictly up to concert pitch."
Gillian made no answer. She was too wise--with that intuitive wisdom
of woman--to force the pace. If Dan were beginning to relent ever so
little towards Magda--why, then, her two best friends might yet come
together in comradeship and learn to forget the bitter past. The
gentle hand of Time would be laid on old wounds and its touch would
surely bring healing. But Gillian would no more have thought of trying
to hasten matters than she would have tried to force open the close-
curled petals of a flower in bud.
Magda slipped through the tall doorway in the wall which marked the
abode of the Sisters of Penitence and stood once more on the pavement
of the busy street. The year was over, and just as once before the
clicking of the latch had seemed to signify the end of everything, so
now it sounded a quite different note--of new beginnings, of release--
Three months prior to the completion of her allotted span at the
sisterhood Magda had had a serious attack of illness. The hard and
rigorous life had told upon her physically, while the unaccustomed
restrictions, the constant obedience exacted, had gone far towards
assisting in the utter collapse of nerves already frayed by the strain
of previous happenings.
Probably her fierce determination to go through with her self-elected
expiation, no matter what the cost, had a good deal to do with her
ultimate breakdown. With unswerving resolution she had forced herself
to obedience, to the performance of her appointed tasks in spite of
their distastefulness; and behind the daily work and discipline there
had been all the time the ceaseless, aching longing for the man who
had loved her and who had gone away.
It was not surprising, therefore, that the tired body and nerves at
last gave way, and in the delirium of brain fever Magda revealed the
whole pitiful story of the mistakes and misunderstandings which had
brought her in desperation to the Sisters of Penitence.
Fortunately it was upon Sister Bernardine that the major part of the
nursing devolved, and it was into her gentle ears that Magda
unwittingly poured out the history of the past. Bit by bit, from the
ramblings of delirium, Sister Bernardine pieced together the story,
and her shy, virginal heart found itself throbbing in overflowing
sympathy--a sympathy that sought expression in the tender care she
gave her patient.
During the long, slow days of convalescence Magda, very helpless and
dependent, had gradually learned to love the soft-footed little Sister
who came and went throughout her illness--to love her as she would
not, at one time, have believed it possible she could grow to love
anyone behind the high grey walls which encircled the sisterhood.
If the past year had taught her nothing else, it had at least taught
her that goodness and badness are very evenly distributed. She had
found both good and bad behind those tall grey walls just as she had
found them in the great free world outside.
Her last memory, as her first, was of Sister Bernardine's kind eyes.
"Some of us find happiness in the world," the little Sister had said
at parting, "and some of us out of it. I think you were meant to find
yours in the world."
It was Magda's own choice to leave the sisterhood on foot. She had
nothing to take with her in the way of luggage, and she smiled a
little as she realised that, for the moment, she possessed actually
nothing but the clothes she stood up in--the same in which she had
quitted Friars' Holm a year ago, and which, on departure, she had
substituted for the grey veil and habit she was discarding.
At first, as she made her way along the street, she found the
continuous ebb and flow of the crowded thoroughfare somewhat confusing
after the absolute calm and quiet of the preceding months, but very
soon the Londoner's familiar love of London and of its ceaseless,
kaleidoscopic movement returned to her, and with it the requisite
poise to thread her way through the throngs that trod the pavements.
Then her eyes turned to the shop windows--Catherine's stern discipline
had completely failed to stamp out the eternal feminine in her niece--
and as they absorbed the silken stuffs and rainbow colours that
gleamed and glowed behind the thick plateglass, she became suddenly
conscious of her own attire--of its cut and style. When last she had
worn it, it had been the final word in fashionable raiment. Now it was
out of date. The Wielitzska, whose clothes the newspapers had loved to
chronicle, in a frock in which any one of the "young ladies" behind
the counters of these self-same shops into which she was gazing would
have declined to appear! She almost laughed out loud. And then, quick
on the heels of her desire to laugh, came a revulsion of feeling. This
little incident, just the disparity between the fashion of her own
clothes and the fashion prevailing at the moment, served to make her
realise, with a curious clarity of vision, the irrevocable passage of
time. A year--a slice out of her life! What other differences would it
Something else was already making itself apparent--the fact that none
of the passers-by seemed to recognise her. In the old days, when she
had been dancing constantly at the Imperial Theatre, she had grown so
used to seeing the sudden look of interest and recognition spring into
the eyes of one or another, to the little eager gesture that nudged a
companion, pointing out the famous dancer as she passed along the
street, that she had thought nothing of it--had hardly consciously
noticed it. Now she missed it--missed it extraordinarily.
A sudden sense of intense loneliness swept over her--the loneliness of
the man who has been cast on a desert island, only returning to his
fellows after many weary months of absence. She felt she could not
endure to waste another moment before she saw again the beloved faces
of Gillian and Virginie and felt once more the threads of the old
familiar life quiver and vibrate between her fingers.
With a quick, imperative gesture she hailed a taxi and was whirled
away towards Hampstead.
The first excited greetings and embraces were over. The flurry of
broken, scattered phrases, half-tearfully, half-smilingly welcoming
her back, had spent themselves, and now old Virginie, drawing away,
regarded her with bewildered, almost frightened eyes.
"/Mais, mon dieu/!" she muttered. "/Mon dieu/!" Then with a sudden
cry: "Cherie! Cherie! What have they done to thee? What have they
"Done to me?" repeated Magda in puzzled tones. "Oh, I see! I'm
thinner. I've been ill, you know."
"It is not--that! Hast thou looked in the glass? Oh, my poor----" And
the old Frenchwoman incontinently began to weep.
A glass! Magda had not seen her own reflection in a looking-glass
since the day she left Friars' Holm. There were no mirrors hanging on
the walls of the house where the Sisters of Penitence dwelt. Filled
with a nameless, inexplicable terror, she turned and walked out of the
room. There was an old Chippendale mirror hanging at the further end,
but she avoided it. Something in the askance expression of Virginie's
eyes had frightened her so that she dared not challenge what the
mirror might give back until she was alone.
Once outside the door she flew upstairs to her own room and, locking
the door, went to the glass. A stifled exclamation of dismay escaped
her. She had not dreamed a year could compass such an alteration!
Then, very deliberately, she removed her hat and, standing where the
light fell full upon her, she examined her reflection. After a long
moment she spoke, whisperingly, beneath her breath.
"Why--why--it isn't me, at all. I'm ugly. Ugly----"
With a quick movement she lifted her arm, screening her face against
it for a moment.
Her startled eyes had exaggerated the change absurdly. Nevertheless,
that a change had taken place was palpable. The arresting radiance,
the vivid physical perfection of her, had gone. She was thin, and with
the thinness had come lines--lines of fatigue, and other, more lasting
lines born of endurance and self-control. The pliant symmetry of her
figure, too, was marred. She stooped a little; the gay, free carriage
of her shoulders was gone. The heavy manual work at the sisterhood, of
which, in common with the others, she had done her share, had taken
its toll of her suppleness and grace, and the hands she extended in
front of her, regarding them distastefully, were roughened and worn by
the unwonted usage to which they had been subjected. Her hair, so
long, hidden from the light and air by the veil she had worn, was
flaccid and lustreless. Only her eyes remained unchangedly beautiful.
Splendid and miserable, they stared back at the reflection which the
It was a long time before Magda reappeared downstairs, so long,
indeed, that Gillian was beginning to grow nervously uneasy. When at
last she came, she was curiously quiet and responded to all Gillian's
attempts at conversation with a dull, flat indifference that was
strangely at variance with the spontaneously happy excitement which
had attended the first few moments after her arrival.
Gillian was acutely conscious of the difference in her manner, but
even she, with all her intuition, failed to attribute it to its
rightful cause. To her, Magda was so indubitably, essentially the
Magda she loved that she was hardly sensible of that shadowing of her
radiant beauty which had revealed itself with a merciless clarity to
the dancer herself. And such change as she observed she ascribed to
Meanwhile Magda got through that first evening at Friars' Holm as best
she might. The hours seemed interminable. She was aching for night to
come, so that she might be alone with her thoughts--alone to realise
and face this new thing which had befallen her.
She had lost her beauty! The one precious gift she had to give
Michael, that lover of all beauty! . . . The knowledge seemed to beat
against her brain, throbbing and pulsing like a wound, while she made
a pretence at doing justice to the little dinner party, which had been
especially concocted for her under Virginie's watchful eye, and
responded in some sort to Coppertop's periodic outbreaks of jubilation
over her return.
But the moment of release came at length. A final good-night kiss to
Gillian on the landing outside her bedroom door, and then a nerve-
racking hour while Virginie fussed over her, undressing her and
preparing her for bed with the same tender care she had devoted to the
/bebe/ she had nursed and tended more than twenty years ago.
It was over at last.
"Sleep well!" And Virginie switched off the electric light as she
pattered out of the room, leaving Magda alone in the cool dark, with
the silken softness of crepe de chine once more caressing her slender
limbs, and the fineness of lavender-scented linen smooth against her
The ease, and comfort, and wellbeing of it all! Yet this first night,
passed in the familiar luxury which had lapped her round since
childhood, was a harder, more bitter night than any of the preceding
three hundred and sixty-five she had spent tossing weary, aching limbs
on a lumpy straw mattress with a coarse brown woollen blanket drawn up
beneath her chin, vexing her satin skin.
For each of those nights had counted as a step onwards along the hard
road that was to lead her back eventually to Michael. Now she knew
that they had all been endured in vain. Spiritually her self-elected
year of discipline might have fitted her to be the wife of "Saint
Michel." But the undimmed physical beauty and charm which Michael, the
man and artist, would crave in the woman he loved was gone.
The recognition of these things rushed over her, overwhelming her with
a sense of blank and utter failure. It meant the end of everything. As
far as she was concerned, life henceforward held nothing more. There
was nothing to hope for in the future--except to hope that Michael
might never see her again! At least, she would like to feel that his
memory of her--of the Wielitzska whose lithe grace and beauty had
swept him headlong even against the tide of his convictions--would
remain for ever unmarred.
It was a rather touching human little weakness--the weakness and
prayer of many a woman who has lost her lover. . . . Let him remember
her--always--as she was before the radiance of youth faded, before
grief or pain blurred the perfection that had been hers!
Perhaps for Magda the wish was even stronger, more insistent by reason
of the fact that her beauty had been of so fine and rare a quality,
setting her in a way apart from other women.
With the instinct of the wounded wild creature she longed to hide--to
hide herself from Michael, so that she might never see in his eyes
that look of quickly veiled disappointment which she knew would spring
into them as he realised the change in her. She felt she could not
bear that. It would be like a sword-thrust through her heart. . . .
Better if she had never left the sisterhood!
Suddenly every nerve of her tautened. Supposing--supposing she
returned there, never to emerge again? No chance encounter could ever
then bring her within sight or sound of Michael. She would be spared
watching the old, eager look of admiration fade suddenly from the grey
eyes she loved.
Hour after hour she lay there, dry-eyed, staring into the darkness.
And with the dawn her decision was taken.
AN UNANSWERED LETTER
"You shan't do it!"
When first Magda had bruited her idea of rejoining the sisterhood--the
decision which had crystallised out of the long black hours of the
night of her return to Friars' Holm--Gillian had merely laughed the
notion aside, attaching little importance to it. But now, a week
later, when Magda reverted to the subject with a certain purposeful
definiteness, she grew suddenly frightened.
"Do you want to throw away every possibility of happiness?" she
demanded indignantly. "Just because Michael isn't here, waiting for
you on the doorstep, so to speak, you decide to rush off and make it
impossible for him ever to see you again!"
Magda kept her head bent, refusing to meet the other's eyes.
"I don't want him to see me now," she said shrinkingly. "I'm not--not
the Magda he knew any longer."
"That's an absurd exaggeration. You're not looking very well, that's
all," retorted Gillian with her usual practical common sense. "You
can't suppose that would make any difference to Michael! It didn't
make any to me. I'm only too glad to have you back at any price!"
Magda's faint responsive smile was touched with that bitter knowledge
which is the heritage of the woman who has been much loved for her
"You're a woman, Gillyflower," she said. "And Michael is not only a
man--but an artist. Men don't want you when the bloom has been brushed
off. And you know how Michael worships beauty! He's bound to--being an
"I think you're morbidly self-conscious," declared Gillian firmly. "I
suppose it's the result of being out of the world for so long. You've
lost all sense of proportion. You're quite lovely enough, now, to
satisfy most people. You only look rather tired and worn out."
But Magda's face remained clouded.
"But even that isn't--all," she answered. "It's--oh, it's a heap of
things! Somehow I thought when I came back I should see the road
clear. But it isn't. It's all shadowed--just as it was before. I
thought I should have so much to give Michael now. And I haven't
anything. I don't think I ever quite realised before that, however
much you try to atone, you can never /undo/ the harm you've done. But
I've had time to think things out while I was with the Sisters."
"And if you go back to them you'll have time to do nothing but think
for the rest of your life!" flashed back Gillian.
"Oh, no!" Magda spoke quickly. "I shouldn't return under a vow of
penitence. There are working sisters attached to the community who go
about amongst the sick and poor in the slums. I should join as a
working sister if I went back."
Gillian stared at her in amazement. Magda devoting her life to good
works seemed altogether out of the picture! She began to feel that the
whole affair was getting too complicated for her to handle, and as
usual, when in a difficulty, she put the matter up to Lady Arabella.
The latter, with her accumulated wisdom of seventy years, saw more
clearly than the younger woman, although even she hardly understood
that sense of the deadly emptiness and failure of her life which had
overwhelmed Magda since her return to Friars' Holm. But the old woman
realised that she had passed through a long period of strain, and
that, now the reaction had come, the Vallincourt blood in her might
drive her into almost any extreme of conduct.
"If only Michael were on the spot!" she burst out irritably. "I own
I'm disappointed in the man! I was so sure six months would bring him
to his senses."
"I know," assented Gillian miserably. "It's--it's--the most hopeless
state of things imaginable!"
Lady Arabella's interview with Magda herself proved unproductive.
"Have you written to Michael?" she demanded.
"Written to him?" A flash of the old defiant spirit sounded in Magda's
voice. "No, nor shall I."
"Don't be a fool, child. He's probably learned something during this
last twelve months--as well as you. Don't let pride get in your way
"It's not pride. Marraine, I never knew--I never thought---- Look at
me! What have I to give Michael now? Have you forgotten that he's an
artist and that beauty means everything to him?"
"'Well!'" Magda held out her hands. "Can't you see that I'm changed?
. . . Michael wouldn't want me to pose for him as Circe now!"
"He wanted you for a wife--not a model, my dear. You can buy models at
so much the hour."
"Oh, Marraine! You won't understand----"
Lady Arabella took the slender, work-roughened hands in hers.
"Perhaps I understand better than you think," she said quietly. "There
are other ways of assessing life than merely in terms of beauty. And
you can believe this, too: you've lost nothing from the point of view
of looks that a few months of normal healthy life won't set right.
Moreover, if you'd grown as plain as a pikestaff, I don't think
Michael would care twopence! He's an artist, I know. He can't help
that, but he's a man first. And he's a man who knows how to love.
Promise me one thing," she went on insistently. "Promise that you'll
do nothing definite--yet. Not, at least, without consulting me."
"Very well. I'll do nothing without--telling you--first."
That was the utmost concession she would make, and with that her
godmother had to be content.
The same evening a letter in Lady Arabella's spirited, angular
handwriting sped on its way to Paris.
"If you're not absolutely determined to ruin both your own and
Magda's lives, my dear Michael, put your pride and your ridiculous
principles in your pocket and come back to England. I don't happen
to be a grandmother, but I'm quite old enough for the job, so you
might pay my advice due respect by taking it."
"I thought I was shelved altogether."
Thus Dan Storran, rather crossly, when, a day or two later, he met
Gillian by appointment for lunch at their favourite little restaurant
in Soho. It was the first time she had been able to fix up a meeting
with him since Magda's return, as naturally his customary visits to
Friars' Holm were out of the question now.
"Well, you expected my time to be pretty well occupied the first week
or two after Magda came back, didn't you?" countered Gillian.
She smiled as she spoke and proceeded leisurely to draw off her
gloves, while Storran signalled to a waiter.
She was really very glad to see him again. There was something so
solid and dependable about him, and she felt it would be very
comforting to confide in him her anxieties concerning Magda. Not that
she anticipated he would have any particular compassion to bestow upon
the latter. But she was femininely aware that inasmuch as Magda's
affairs were disturbing her peace of mind, he would listen to them
with sympathetic attention and probably, out of the depths of his
man's consciousness, produce some quite sound and serviceable advice.
Being a wise woman, however, she did not launch out into immediate
explanation, but waited for him to work off his own individual grumble
at not having seen her recently, trusting to the perfectly cooked
little lunch to exercise a tranquillising effect.
It was not until they had reached the cigarette and coffee stage of
the proceedings that she allowed a small, well-considered sigh to
escape her and drift away into the silence that had fallen between
them. Storran glanced across at her with suddenly observant eyes.
"What is it?" he asked quickly. "You look worried. Are you?"
She nodded silently.
"And here I've been grousing away about my own affairs all the time!
Why didn't you stop me?"
"You know I'm interested in your affairs."
"And I'm interested in yours. What's bothering you, Gillian? Tell me."
"Magda," said Gillian simply.
She was rather surprised to observe that Dan's face did not, as usual,
darken at the mere mention of Magda's name.
"I saw her the other day," he said quickly. "I was in the Park and she
Gillian felt that there was something more to come. She waited in
"She has altered very much," he went on bluntly. Then, after a moment:
"I felt--sorry for her."
"/You/ did, Dan?" Gillian's face lit up. "I'm glad. I've always hated
your being so down on her."
With an abrupt movement he jabbed the glowing stub of his cigarette on
to an ash-tray, pressing it down until it went out. Then, taking out
his case, he lit another before replying.
"I shan't be 'down on her' any more," he said at last. "I never
guessed she'd felt things--like that."
"No. No one did. I don't suppose even Magda herself knew she could
ever go through all she has done just for an ideal."
Then very quietly, very simply and touchingly, she told him the story
of all that had happened, of Magda's final intention of becoming a
working member of the sisterhood, and of Lady Arabella's letter
summoning Michael back to England.
"But even when he comes," added Gillian, "unless he is very careful--
unless he loves her in the biggest way a man can love, so that
/nothing else matters/, he'll lose her. He'll have to convince her
that she means just that to him."
Storran was silent for a long time, and when at last he spoke it was
with an obvious effort.
"Listen," he said. "There's something you don't know. Perhaps when
I've told you, you won't have anything more to say to me--I don't
Gillian opened her lips in quick disclaimer, but he motioned her to be
"Wait," he said. "Wait till you've heard what I have to say. You
think, and Magda thinks, that June died of a broken heart--at least,
that the shock of all that miserable business down at Stockleigh
helped to kill her."
"Yes." Gillian assented mechanically when he paused.
"I thought so, too, once. It was what June's sister told me--told
everyone. But it wasn't true. She believed it, I know--probably
believes it to this day. But, thank God, it wasn't true!"
"How can you tell? All that strain and heart-break just at a time when
she wasn't strong. Oh, Dan! We can never be sure--/sure/!"
"I /am/ sure. Quite sure," he said steadily. "When I came to my senses
out there in 'Frisco, I couldn't rest under that letter from June's
sister. It burned into me like a red-hot iron. I was half-mad with
pain, I think. I wrote to the doctor who had attended her, but I got
no answer. Then I sailed for England, determined to find and see the
man for myself. I found him--my letter had miscarried somehow--and he
told me that June could not have lived. There were certain
complications in her case which made it impossible. In fact, if she
had been so happy that she had longed to live--and /tried/ to--it
would only have made it harder for her, a rougher journey to travel.
As it was, she went easily, without fighting death--letting go,
without any effort, her hold on life."
He ceased, and after a moment's silence Gillian spoke in strained,
"And you never told us! Oh! It was cruel of you, Dan! You would have
spared Magda an infinity of self-reproach!"
"I didn't want to spare her. I left her in ignorance on purpose. I
wanted her to be punished--to suffer as she had made me suffer."
There were tears in Gillian's eyes. It was terrible to her that Dan
could be so bitter--so vengefully cruel. Yet she recognised that it
had been but the natural outcome of the man's primitive nature to pay
back good for good and evil for evil.
"Then why do you tell me now?" she asked at last.
"Why--because you've beaten me--you with your sweetness and courage
and tolerance. You've taught me that retribution and punishment are
best left in--more merciful Hands than ours."
Gillian's hand went out to meet his.
"Oh, Dan, I'm so glad!" she said simply.
He kept her hand in his a moment, then released it gently.
"Well, you can tell her now," he said awkwardly.
"I?" Gillian smiled a little. "No. I want you to tell her. Don't you
see, Dan"--as she sensed his impulse to refuse--"it will make all the
difference in Magda if you and she are--are square with each other?
She's overweighted. She's been carrying a bigger burden than she can
bear. Michael comes first, of course, but there's been her treatment
of you, as well. June, too. And--and other things. And it's crushing
her. . . . No, you must tell her."
"I will--if you say I must. But she won't forgive me easily."
"I think she will. I think she'll understand just what made you do it.
So now we'll go back to Friars' Holm together."
An hour later Storran came slowly downstairs from the little room
where he and Magda had met again for the first time since that
moonlight night at Stockleigh--met, not as lovers, but as a man and
woman who have each sinned and each learned, out of their sinning, how
to pardon and forgive.
Storran was very quiet and grave when presently he found himself alone
"We men will never understand women," he said. "There's an angel
hidden away somewhere in every one of you." His mouth curved into a
smile, half-sad, half-whimsical. "I've just found Magda's."
Lady Arabella and Gillian, both feeling rather like conspirators,
waited anxiously for a reply to the former's letter to Quarrington.
But none came. The time slipped by until a fortnight had elapsed, and
with the passage of each day their hearts sank lower.
Neither of them believed that Michael would have utterly disregarded
the letter, had he received it, but they feared that it might have
miscarried, or that he might be travelling and so not receive it in
time to prevent Magda's carrying out her avowed intention of becoming
a working member of the sisterhood.
Even though she knew now that at least June Storran's death need no
longer be added to her account, she still adhered to her decision. As
she had told Dan with a weary simplicity: "I'm glad. But it won't make
any difference--to Michael and me. Too much water has run under the
bridge. Love that is dead doesn't come to life again."
Each day was hardening her resolve, and both Lady Arabella and Gillian
--those two whose unselfish happiness was bound up in her own--were
beginning to realise that it would be a race against time if she was
to be saved from taking a step that would divide her from Michael as
long as they both should live.
At the end of a fortnight Gillian, driven to desperation, despatched a
telegram to his Paris address: "Did you receive communication from
Lady Arabella?" But it shared the fate of the letter, failing to
elicit any reply. She allowed sufficient time to elapse to cover any
ordinary delay in transit, then, unknown to Magda, taxied down to the
house in Park Lane.
"I want you to invite Magda to stay with you, please," she informed
Lady Arabella abruptly.
"Of course I will," she replied. "But why? You've got a reason."