“Yes. Misunderstood me altogether.”
“I don’t believe it!”
“But you must believe it,” she insisted. “It’s the truth!”
He stared at her.
“Then what have you meant all these weeks?”
“I’ve not meant anything.”
“It’s a lie!” he gave back savagely. “Unless”—he came closer to her—“unless—is it that man, that damned foreigner, who was here to-day?”
“Antoine? No. Oh, Dan”—she forced an uncertain little laugh to her lips—“if you knew me better you’d know that I never do—’mean anything’!”
The bitter intonation in her voice—the gibe at her own poor ruins of love fallen about her—was lost on him. He was in total ignorance of her friendship with Quarrington. But the plain significance of her words came home to him clearly enough. He did not speak for a minute or two. Then: “You’ve been playing with me, then—fooling me?” he said heavily.
Magda remained silent. The heavy, laboured speech seemed to hold something minatory in it—the sullen lowering which precedes a tempest.
“Answer me!” he persisted. “Was that it?”
“I—I suppose it was,” she faltered.
He drew still closer and instinctively she shrank away. A consciousness of repressed violence communicated itself to her. She half expected him to strike her.
“And you don’t love me? You’re quite sure?”
There was an ominous kind of patience in the persistent questioning. It was as though he were deliberately giving her every possible chance to clear herself. Her nerves frayed a little.
“Of course I’m sure—perfectly sure,” she said with nervous asperity. “I wish you’d believe me, Dan!”
“I only wanted to make sure,” he returned.
Something in the careful precision of his answer struck her with a swift sense of apprehension. She looked up at him and what she saw made her catch her breath convulsively. His face was ashen, the veins in his forehead standing out like weals, and his eyes gleamed like blue flame—mad eyes. His hands, hanging at his sides, twitched curiously.
“I’m sure now,” he said. “Sure. . . . Do you know what you’ve done? You’ve smashed up my life. Smashed it. June and I were happy enough till you came. Now we’ll never be happy again. I expect you’ve smashed other lives, too. But you won’t do it any more. I’m the last. Women like you are better dead!”
His great arms swung out and gripped her.
“No, don’t struggle. It wouldn’t be any good, you know.” He went on speaking very carefully and quietly, and while he spoke she felt his left arm tighten round her, binding her own arms down to her sides as might a thong, while his right hand slid up to the base of her throat. She writhed, twisting her body desperately in his grip. “Keep still. I’ve kissed you. And now I’m going to kill you. You’ll be better dead.”