And now, alone with him in the big room which had been converted into a temporary studio, she found herself overwhelmed by a feeling of intense self-consciousness. She felt it would be impossible to bear the coolly neutral gaze of those grey eyes for hours at a time. She wished fervently that she had never consented to sit for the picture at all.
“How do you want me to pose?” she inquired at last, endeavouring to speak with her usual detachment and conscious that she was failing miserably. “You haven’t told me yet.”
He laughed a little.
“I haven’t the least intention of telling you,” he replied. “’The Wielitzska’ doesn’t need advice as to how to pose.”
Magda looked at him uncertainly.
“But you’ve given me no idea of what you want,” she protested. “I must have some idea to start from!”
“I want a recumbent Circe,” he vouchsafed at last. “Hence the divan. Here is the goblet”—he held it out—“supposed to contain the fatal potion which transformed men into swine. I leave the rest to you. You posed very successfully for me some years ago—without my issuing any stage directions. Afterwards you played the part of a youthful Circe, I remember. You should be more experienced now.”
She flushed under the cool, satirical tone. It seemed as though he neglected no opportunity of impressing on her the poor estimation in which he held her. Her thoughts flew back to a sunlit glade in a wood and to the grey-eyed, boyish-looking painter who had kissed her and called her “Witch-child!”
“You—you were kinder in those days,” she said suddenly. She made a few steps towards him and stood looking up at him, her hands hanging loosely clasped in front of her, like a penitent school-girl.
“Saint Michel”—and at the sound of her old childish name for him he winced. “Saint Michel, I don’t think I can sit for you if—if you’re going to be unkind. I thought I could, but—but—I can’t!”
“Unkind?” he muttered.
“Yes,” she said desperately. “Since I came here you’ve said a good many hard things to me. I—I dare say I’ve deserved them. But”—smiling up at him rather wanly—“it isn’t always easy to accept one’s deserts.” She paused, then spoke quickly: “Couldn’t we—while we’re here together—behave like friends? Just friends? It’s only for a short time.”
His face had whitened while she was speaking. He was silent for a little and his hand, grasping the side of the big easel, slowly tightened its grip till the knuckles showed white like bone. At last he answered her.
“Very well—friends, then! So be it.”
Impulsively she held out her hand. He took it in his and held it a moment, looking down at its slim whiteness. Then he bent his head and she felt his lips hot against her soft palm.
A little shaken, she drew away from him and moved towards the divan. She paused beside it and glanced down reflectively at the goblet she still carried in her hand, mentally formulating her conception of Circe before she posed. An instant later and her voice roused Quarrington from the momentary reverie into which he had fallen.