“So I have”—bluntly.
“Then we’re not—not unwelcome visitors any longer?” the soft, tantalising voice went on. The low cadence of it seemed to tug at his very heartstrings.
He leaned nearer to her and, catching both her hands in his, twisted her round so that she faced him.
“Why do you ask?” he demanded, his voice suddenly roughened and uneven.
“Because I wanted to know—of course!”—lightly.
“Then—you’re not an unwelcome visitor. You never have been! From the moment you came the place was different somehow. When you go——”
He stopped as though startled by the sound of his own words—struck by the full significance of them.
“When you go!” he repeated blankly. His grip of her slight hands tightened till it was almost painful. “But you won’t go! I can’t let you go now! Magda—”
The situation was threatening to get out of hand. Magda drew quickly away from him, springing to her feet.
“Don’t talk like that,” she said hastily. “You don’t mean it, you know.”
With a sudden, unexpected movement she slipped from his side and ran down to the river’s edge. He caught a flashing glimpse of scarlet, heard the splash as her slim body cleaved the water, and a moment later all he could see was the red of her turban cap, bobbing like a scarlet poppy on the surface of the river, and the glimmer of a moon-white arm and shoulder as a smooth overhand stroke bore her swiftly away from him.
He stood staring after her, conscious of a sudden bewildered sense of check and thwarting. The blood seemed leaping in his veins. His heart thudded against his ribs. He stepped forward impetuously as though to plunge in after the receding gleam of scarlet still flickering betwixt the branches which overhung the river.
Then, with a stifled exclamation, he drew back, brushing his hand across his eyes as though to clear their vision. What mad impulse was this urging him on to say and do such things as he had never before conceived himself saying or doing?
Magda had checked him on the brink of telling her—what? The sweat broke out on his forehead as the realisation surged over him.
“God!” he muttered. “God!”
THE LATEST NEWS
Magda hardly knew what impulse had bidden her save Dan Storran from himself—check the hot utterance to which he had so nearly given voice and which to a certain extent she had herself provoked. Driven by the bitterness of spirit which Michael’s treatment of her had engendered, she knew that she had flirted outrageously with Dan ever since she had come to Stockleigh. She had bestowed no thought on June—pretty, helpless June, watching with distressed, bewildered eyes while Dan unaccountably changed towards her, his moods alternating from sullen unresponsiveness to a kind of forced and contrite tenderness which she had found almost more difficult to meet and understand.