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—freedom!
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.