“Very well,” she answered a trifle breathlessly.
She was almost glad when the waltz came to an end. They had danced it in utter silence—a tense, packed silence, vibrant with significances half-hidden, half-understood, and she found herself quivering with a strange uncertainty and nervousness as she and Quarrington together made their way into the dim-lit quiet of the winter-garden opening off the ballroom.
Overhead the green, shining leaves of stephanotis spread a canopy, pale clusters of its white, heavy-scented bloom gleaming star-like in the faint light of Chinese lanterns swung from the leaf-clad roof. From somewhere near at hand came the silvery, showering plash of a fountain playing—a delicate and aerial little sound against the robust harmonies of the band, like the notes of a harp.
It seemed to Magda as though she and Michael had left the world behind them and were quite alone, enfolded in the sweet-scented, tender silence of some Garden of Eden.
They stood together without speaking. In every tingling nerve of her she was acutely conscious of his proximity and of some rapidly rising tide of emotion mounting within him. She knew the barrier against which it beat and a little cry escaped her, forced from her by some impulse that was stronger than herself.
“Oh, Saint Michel! Can’t you—can’t you believe in me?”
He swung round at the sound of her voice and the next moment she was crushed against his breast, his mouth on hers, his kisses burning their way to her very heart. . . .
Then voices, quick, light footsteps—someone else had discovered the Eden of the winter-garden, and Michael released her abruptly.
Behind the chimneystacks the grey fingers of dawn were creeping up in the sky as Magda drove home. In the wan light her face looked unusually pale, and beneath the soft lace at her breast her heart throbbed unevenly.
Five minutes ago Michael had held her in his arms and she had felt herself stirred to a sudden passionate surrender and response that frightened her.
Was this love—the love against which Diane had warned her? It had all happened so suddenly—that last, unpremeditated dance, those tense, vibrant moments in the winter-garden, then the jarring interruption of other couples seeking its fragrant coolness. And she and Michael suddenly apart.
Afterwards, only the barest conventionalities had passed between them. Nothing else had seemed possible. Their solitude had been ruthlessly destroyed; the outside world had thrust itself upon them without warning, jerking them back to the self-consciousness of suddenly arrested emotion.
“I must be going.” The stilted, banal little phrase had fallen awkwardly from Magda’s lips, and Quarrington had assented without comment.
She felt confused and bewildered. What had he meant? Had he meant anything at all? Was it possible that he believed in her now—trusted her? It had been in answer to that low, imploring cry of hers—“Saint Michel, can’t you believe in me?”—that he had taken her in his arms.