She met Dr. Lancaster as she came out from the candle-lit room and clutched him convulsively by the hand.
“Is that—being dead?” she whispered, pointing to the room she had just quitted.
Very gently he tried to explain things to her. Afterwards Magda overheard the family lawyer asking him in appropriately shocked tones of what complaint Lady Vallincourt had died, and there had been a curious grim twist to Lancaster’s mouth as he made answer.
“Heart,” he said tersely.
“Ah! Very sad. Very sad indeed,” rejoined the lawyer feelingly. “These heart complaints are very obscure sometimes, I believe?”
“Sometimes,” said Lancaster. “Not always.”
The next happening that impressed itself on Magda’s cognisance as an event was the coming of Lady Arabella Winter. She arrived on a day of heavy snow, and Magda’s first impression of her, as she came into the hall muffled up to the tip of her patrician nose in a magnificent sable wrap, was of a small, alert-eyed bird huddled into its nest.
But when the newcomer had laid aside her furs Magda’s impression qualified itself. Lady Arabella was not in the least of the “small bird” type, but rather suggested a hawk endowed with a grim sense of humour—quick and decisive in movement, with eyes that held an incalculable wisdom and laughed a thought cynically because they saw so clearly.
Her hair was perfectly white, as white as the snow outside, but her complexion was soft and fine-grained as that of a girl of sixteen—pink and white like summer roses. She had the manner of an empress with extremely modern ideas.
Magda was instructed that this great little personage was her godmother and that she would in future live with her instead of at Coverdale. She accepted the information without surprise though with considerable interest.
“Think you’ll like it?” Lady Arabella shot at her keenly.
“Yes,” Magda replied unhesitatingly. “But why am I going to live with you? Sieur Hugh isn’t dead, too, is he?”—with impersonal interest.
“And who in the name of fortune is Sieur Hugh?”
Lady Arabella looked around helplessly, and Virginia, who was hovering in the background, hastened to explain the relationship.
“Then, no,” replied Lady Arabella. “Sieur Hugh is not dead—though to be sure he’s the next thing to it!”
Magda eyed her solemnly.
“Is he very ill?” she asked.
“No, merely cranky like all the Vallincourts. He’s in a community, joined a brotherhood, you know, and proposes to spend the rest of his days repenting his sins and making his peace with heaven. I’ve no patience with the fool!” continued the old lady irascibly. “He marries to please himself and then hasn’t the pluck of a rabbit to see the thing through decently. So you’re to be my responsibility in future—and a pretty big one, too, to judge by the look of you.”