She was motoring to Netherway, a delightfully small and insignificant place on the Hampshire coast where Lady Arabella had what it pleased her to term her “cottage in the country,” a charming old place, Elizabethan in character—the type of “cottage” which boasted a score or so of rooms and every convenience which an imaginative estate agent, sustained by the knowledge that his client regarded money as a means and not an end, could devise.
Summer invitations to the Hermitage—as the place was quite inaptly called, since no one could be less akin to a hermit than its gregarious owner—were much sought after by the younger generation of Lady Arabella’s set. The beautifully wooded park, with its green aisles of shady solitude sloping down from the house to the very edge of the blue waters of the Solent, was an ideal spot in which to bring to a safe and happy conclusion a love affair that might seem to have hung fire a trifle during the hurly-burly of the London season. And if further inducement were needed, it was to be found in the fact that Lady Arabella herself constituted the most desirable of chaperons, remaining considerately inconspicuous until the moment when her congratulations were requested.
This year a considerable amount of disappointment had been occasioned by the fact that she had left town quite early during the season, and later on had apparently limited her invitations exclusively to the trio at Friars’ Holm. She declared that the number of matrimonial ventures for which the Hermitage was responsible was beginning to weigh on her conscience. Also, she wanted a quiet holiday and she proposed to take one.
And now Magda was on her way to join her, Gillian remaining behind in order to close up the house at Hampstead and settle the servants on board wages. It had been arranged that she and Coppertop should come on to Netherway immediately this was accomplished.
Magda could hardly believe that only a year had elapsed since last the roses beckoned her out of London. It seemed far longer since that hot summer’s day when she had rushed away to Devonshire, vainly seeking a narcotic for the new and bewildering turmoil of pain that was besetting her.
She had learned now that you carry a heartache with you, and that no change of scenery makes up for the beloved face you can no longer see. For Michael had not come back. He had remained abroad and had never by sign or letter acknowledged that he even remembered her existence. Magda had come to accept it as a fact now that he had gone out of her life entirely.
A whiff of air tinged with the salt tang of the sea blew in at the window, and she came suddenly out of her musings to find that the car was winding its way up the hill upon which the Hermitage was perched.
A long, low house, clothed in creeper, it stood just below the hill’s brow, sheltered to the rear by a great belt of woods, and overlooking a sea which sparkled in the sunlight as though strewn with diamond-dust.