“I don’t often meddle, Magda—not really meddle.” Lady Arabella’s voice sounded unusually deprecating. “But I did in this instance. Because—oh, my dear, he’s the only man I’ve ever seen to whom I’d be glad to give you up. He’d—he’d manage you, Magda.”
Magda’s head was turned away, but the sudden scarlet flush that flew up into her face surged over even the white nape of her neck.
“And he loves you,” went on Lady Arabella, her voice softening incredibly. “It’s only a man here or there who really loves a woman, my dear. Most of them whip up a hotch-potch of quite commonplace feelings with a dash of passion and call it love, while all they actually want is a good housekeeper and presentable hostess and someone to carry on the name.”
No answer came from Magda, unless a stifled murmur could be regarded as such, and after a few minutes Lady Arabella spoke again, irritably.
“Why couldn’t you have left Kit alone?”
Magda raised her head.
“What has that to do with it?”
“Everything”—succinctly. “I told you I meddled. Michael Quarrington came to see me before he went away—and I know precisely why he left England. I asked him to go and see you before he sailed.”
“What did he say?” The words were almost inaudible.
Lady Arabella hesitated. Then she quoted quickly: “’There is no need. She will understand.’”
To Magda the brief sentence held all the finality of the bolting and barring of a door. So Quarrington, like everyone else, had heard the story of Kit Raynham! And he had judged and sentenced her.
That night in the winter-garden he had been on the verge of trusting her, ready to believe in her, and she had vowed to herself that she would prove worthy of his trust. She had meant never to fall short of all that Michael demanded in the woman he loved. And now, before she had had a chance to justify his hardly-won belief, the past had risen up to destroy her, surging over her like a great tidal wave and sweeping away the whole fabric of the happiness she had visioned.
She had not wholly realised before that she loved. But she knew now. As the empty weeks dragged along she learned what it meant to long for the beloved one’s presence—the sound and touch of voice or hand—with an aching, unassuagable longing that seems to fuse body and soul into a single entity of pain.
Outwardly she appeared unchanged. Her pride was indomitable, and exactly how much Michael’s going had meant to her not even Gillian suspected—though the latter was too sensitive and sympathetic not to realise that Magda had passed through some experience which had touched her keenly. Ignorant of the incidents that had occurred on the night of Lady Arabella’s party, she was disposed to assign the soreness of spirit she discerned in her friend to the general happenings which had followed from the Raynham episode. And amongst these she gave a certain definite place to the abrupt withdrawal of Quarrington’s friendship, and resented it. She felt curiously disappointed in the man. With such fine perceptive faculty as he possessed she would have expected him to be more tolerant—more merciful in his judgment.