“Ah, please, madame!” pleaded Davilof persuasively. “Let us have it here—under this tree. Why, the tree grows here expressly for the purpose!”
Davilof had all the charm of his nationality, and June capitulated, retreating to make the necessary arrangements.
“I don’t fancy Dan Storran will at all approve of the alteration from his usual customs which you’ve engineered,” observed Magda when they were again alone.
“Dan Storran?” Davilof’s glance flashed over her face, searching, questioning.
“The owner of the place. He’s been teaching me to ride,” she added inconsequently.
“Who is he?”—with swift jealousy. “The little fair-haired lady’s brother?”
“No, her husband. I said Mrs. Storran.”
Davilof’s interest waned suddenly.
“Did you?”—indifferently. “I didn’t notice. She’s a pretty little person.”
Magda agreed absently. A fresh difficulty had occurred to her; Davilof might chance to give away to the Storrans the secret of her identity.
“Oh, by the way,” she said hurriedly. “They don’t know me here as Magda Wielitzska. I’m plain Miss Vallincourt to them—enjoying the privileges of being a nobody! You’ll be sure to remember, won’t you?” He nodded, and she pursued more lightly: “And now, as you insist on having your tea here, you might begin to earn it by telling me the latest London gossip. We hear nothing at all down here. We don’t even get a London newspaper.
“I don’t think there is much news. There never is at this time of the year. Everybody’s out of town.”
He vouchsafed one or two items concerning mutual friends—an engagement here, a forthcoming divorce there. So-and-so was in Italy and Mrs. Somebody Else was said to have eloped with a well-known actor-manager to America—all the odds and ends of gossip that runs like wildfire over the social prairie.
“Oh, by the way,” he went on, “your artist friend—”
“Which artist friend?” Magda interrupted almost rudely. She was moved by a perfectly irrational impulse to stop him, to delay what he had to say.
“Why, Quarrington—Michael Quarrington. It seems he has married a Spanish woman—a rather lovely person who had been sitting to him for one of his pictures. That’s the latest bit of news.”
For an instant it seemed to Magda as though the whole world stood still—gripped in a strange, soundless stillness like the catastrophic pause which for an infinitesimal space of time succeeds a bad accident. Then she heard herself saying:
“Really? Where did you hear that?”
“Oh, there’ve been several rumours of a beautiful Spaniard whom he has been using as a model. The Arlingtons were travelling in Spain and saw her. Mrs. A. said she was a glorious creature—a dancer. And the other day I saw in one of the papers—the Weekly Gossip I think it was—that he’d married her.”