“Please kiss me, Saint Michael,” she said.
For a moment he hesitated, a half-rueful, half-whimsical smile on his lips, rather as though he were laughing at himself. Then, with a shrug of his shoulders, he stooped quickly and kissed her.
“Witch-child!” he muttered as he strode away through the woods.
THE SEED OF EVIL
Diane sat in the twilight, brooding. Winter had come round again, gripping the world with icy fingers, and she shivered a little as she crouched in front of the fire.
She felt cold—cold in body and soul. The passage of time had brought no cheery warmth of love or loving-kindness to her starved heart, and the estrangement between herself and Hugh was as definite and absolute as it had been the day Catherine quitted Coverdale for the Sisterhood of Penitence.
But the years which had elapsed since then had taken their inevitable toll. Hugh had continued along the lines he had laid down for himself, rigidly ascetic and austere, and his mode of life now revealed itself unmistakably in his thin, emaciated face and eyes ablaze with fanatical fervour.
Diane, thrust into a compulsory isolation utterly foreign to her temperament, debarred the fulfilment of her womanhood which her spontaneous, impetuous nature craved, had drooped and pined, gradually losing both her buoyant spirit and her health in the loveless atmosphere to which her husband had condemned her.
She had so counted on the prospect that a better understanding between herself and Hugh would ensue after Catherine’s departure that the downfall of her hopes had come upon her as a bitter disappointment. Once she had stifled her pride and begged him to live no longer as a stranger to her. But he had repulsed her harshly, refusing her pleading with an inexorable decision there was no combating.
Afterwards she had given herself up to despair, and gradually—almost imperceptibly at first—her health had declined until finally, at the urgent representations of Virginie, Hugh had called in Dr. Lancaster.
“There is no specific disease,” he had said. “But none the less”—looking very directly at Hugh—“your wife is dying, Vallincourt.”
Diane had been told the first part of the doctor’s pronouncement, and recommended by her husband to “rouse herself” out of her apathetic state.
“‘No specific disease!’” she repeated bitterly, as she sat brooding in the firelight. “No—only this death in life which I have had to endure. Well, it will be over soon—and the sooner the better.”
The door burst open suddenly and Magda came in to the room, checking abruptly, with a child’s stumbling consciousness of pain, as she caught sight of her mother curled up in front of the fire, staring mutely into its glowing heart.
“Maman?” she begin timidly. “Petite maman?”