Diane turned round.
“Cherie, is it thou?”
She kneeled up on the hearthrug and, taking the child in her arms, searched her face with dry, bright eyes.
“Baby,” she said. “Listen! And when thou art older, remember always what I have said.”
Magda stared at her, listening intently.
“Never, never give your heart to any man,” continued Diane. “If you do, he will only break it for you—break it into little pieces like the glass scent-bottle which you dropped yesterday. Take everything. But do not give—anything—in return. Will you remember?”
And Magda answered her gravely.
“Oui, maman, I will remember.”
What happened after that remained always a confused blur in Magda’s memory—a series of pictures standing out against a dark background of haste and confusion, and whispered fears.
Suddenly her mother gave a sharp little cry and her hands went up to her breast, while for a moment her eyes, dilated and frightened-looking, stared agonisingly ahead. Then she toppled over sideways and lay in a little heap on the great bearskin rung in front of the fire.
After that Virginie came running, followed by a drove of scared-looking servants and, last of all, by Hugh himself, his face very white and working strangely.
The car was sent off in frantic haste in search of Dr. Lancaster, and later in the day two white-capped nurses appeared on the scene. Then followed hours of hushed uncertainty, when people went to and fro with hurried, muffled footsteps and spoke together in whispers, while Virginie’s face grew yellow and drawn-looking, and the tears trickled down her wrinkled-apple cheeks whenever one spoke to her.
Last of all someone told Magda that “petite maman” had gone away—and on further inquiry Virginie vouchsafed that she had gone to somewhere called Paradise to be with the blessed saints.
“When will she come back again?” demanded Magda practically.
Upon which Virginie had made an unpleasant choking noise in her throat and declared:
Magda was frankly incredulous. Petite maman would never go away like that and leave her behind! Of that she felt convinced, and said so. Gulping back her sobs, Virginie explained that in this case madame had been given no choice, but added that if Magda comported herself like a good little girl, she would one day go to be with her in Paradise. Magda found it all very puzzling.
But when, later, she was taken into her mother’s room and saw the slender, sheeted figure lying straight and still on the great bed, hands meekly crossed upon the young, motionless breast, while tall white candles burned at head and foot, the knowledge that petite maman had really gone from her seemed all at once to penetrate her childish mind.
That aloofly silent figure could not be her gay, pretty petite maman—the one who had played and laughed with her and danced so exquisitely that sometimes Magda’s small soul had ached with the sheer beauty and loveliness of it. . . .