The Lamp of Fate by Margaret Pedler
Chapter XV. The Day After
"Magda, how could you?" Gillian's voice was full of blank dismay. "You ought to be thoroughly ashamed of yourself!"
Magda perched on the foot of Gillian's bed, her hands clasped round her knees, nodded.
"Yes, I suppose I ought. I don't know what made me do it--except that he'd suggested I should leave Stockleigh! I'm not used to being-- shunted!"
"Heaven knows you're not!" agreed Gillian ruefully. "It would be a wholesome tonic for you if you were. I told you only yesterday that it would be better if we left here. And on top of that you must needs go and dance in the moonlight, of all things, while Dan Storran looks on! What ordinary man is going to keep his head in such circumstances, do you suppose? Especially when he was more than half in love with you to start with. . . . Oh, I should like to shake you!"
"Well, I'll leave now--as soon as ever you like," replied Magda, slipping down from the bed. She was unwontedly meek, from which Gillian judged that for once she felt herself unable to cope with the situation she had created. "Will you arrange it?"
Gillian shrugged her shoulders.
"I suppose so," she returned resignedly. "As usual, you break the crockery and someone else has to sweep up the pieces."
Magda bent down and kissed her.
"You're such a dear, Gillyflower," she said with that impulsive, lovable charm of manner which it was so difficult to resist. "Still"-- her voice hardening a little--"perhaps there are a few odd bits that I'll have to sweep up myself."
And she departed to her own room to complete her morning toilette, leaving Gillian wondering rather anxiously what she could have meant.
When, half an hour later, the two girls descended for breakfast, Dan Storran was not visible. He had gone off early to work, June explained, and Magda experienced a sensation of distinct relief. She had dreaded meeting Dan this morning. The mad, bizarre scene of the night before, with sudden unleashing of savage and ungoverned passions, had shaken even her insouciant poise, though she was very far from seeing it in its true proportions.
June received Gillian's intimation that they proposed leaving Stockleigh Farm that day without comment. She was very quiet and self- contained, and busied herself in making the necessary arrangements for their departure, sending a boy into Ashencombe to order the wagonette from the Crown and Bells to take them to the station whilst she herself laboriously made out the account that was owing. When she presented the latter, with a perfectly composed and business-like air, and proceeded conscientiously to stamp and receipt it, no one could have guessed how bitter a thing it was to her to accept Miss Vallincourt's money. Within herself she recognised that every penny of it had been earned at the cost of her own happiness.
But as she stood at the gate, watching the ancient vehicle from the Crown and Bells bearing the London visitors towards the station, a little quiver of hope stirred in her heart. Early that morning Dan himself had said to her before starting out to his work: "Get those people away! They must be out of the house before I come into it again. Pay them a week's money instead of notice if necessary. We can afford it." So it was evident that he, too, had realised the danger of their happiness--hers and his--if Miss Vallincourt remained at Stockleigh any longer.
He did not come in till late in the evening, when June was sitting in the lamplight, adding delicate stitchery to some tiny garments upon which she was at work. She hid them hastily at the sound of his footsteps, substituting one of his own socks that stood in need of repair. Not yet could she share with him that wonderful secret joy which was hers. There must be a clearer understanding between them first. They must get back to where they were before Miss Vallincourt came between them, so that nothing might mar the sweetness of the telling.
Presently Dan came into the room and sat down heavily. June looked across at him.
"She has gone, Dan," she said quietly. She did not use the word "they." Those others did not count as far as she was concerned. Her use of the pronoun sounded significantly in Storran's ears.
"You know, then?" he said dully. Adding, after a moment's pause. "Did she tell you?"
"Tell me?" repeated June doubtfully. "Tell me what?"
"That she's robbed you of all that belongs to you."
Her face blanched. "What do you mean, Dan?" she asked falteringly. "I don't think I understand."
Her wide, questioning blue eyes, with that softness and depth of expression dawning in them which motherhood gives to women's eyes, searched his face. The innocent appeal of them cut him to the heart. He had loved his wife; and now he had to tell her that he loved her no longer.
"You've got to understand," he said roughly. His hatred of being compelled to hurt her made him almost brutal. "I--everything is changed between us, June." He stopped, not knowing how to go on.
"Changed? How, Dan?" Her voice sharpened with apprehension. "Do you mean--that you don't--care any longer?"
"Yes. It's that. It's Magda--Oh, good God! Can't you understand?"
"You love Miss Vallincourt?" June spoke in carefully measured accents. She felt that if she did not speak very quietly indeed she should scream. She wanted to laugh, too. It sounded so absurd to be asking her husband if he loved Miss Vallincourt!
Dan's eyes met her own.
"Yes," he said. "I love her." He paused a moment, then added: "I asked her to go away with me."
June stared at him dumbly. The whole thing seemed unreal. She could not feel as though what Dan was saying had any relation to herself, any bearing on their life together. At last:
"Why didn't you go, then?" she heard herself say--at least, she supposed she must be saying it, although the voice didn't sound a bit like her own.
Dan turned on her with sudden savagery. His nerves were raw.
"You speak as though you were disappointed," he said roughly.
"No. But if you care for Miss Vallincourt and she cares for you, I'm wondering what stopped you."
"She doesn't care for me"--shortly.
June felt a thrill of pure joy. If Magda didn't care, then she could win him back--win back her husband! Within her she was instinctively aware that if Magda had cared, no power of hers could have won back Dan's allegiance. A faint doubt assailed her.
"She--she seemed as if she cared?" she ventured.
Dan nodded indifferently.
"Yes. I was a summer holiday's amusement for her."
"And--was that all?"
As June spoke, her direct gaze sought her husband's face. He met it fair and square, unflinchingly.
"That's all," he replied quietly.
She crossed the room swiftly to his side.
"Then, if that's all, Dan, we--we won't speak of it again--ever," she said steadily. "It--it was just a mistake. It need never come between us. You'll get over it, and I"--her small head reared itself bravely-- "I'll forget it."
The pathetic courage of her! Storran turned away with a groan.
"No," he answered. "I shan't 'get over it.' When a man loves a woman as I love Magda he doesn't 'get over it.' That's what I meant when I told you she had robbed you."
"You will get over it, Dan," she persisted. "I'll help you."
"You can't," he returned doggedly. "You, least of all! Every touch of your hand--I should be thinking what her touch would have meant! The sound of your step--I'd be listening for hers!"
He saw her wince. He wanted to kick himself for hurting her like this. But he knew what he intended doing; and sooner or later she must know too. It would be better for her in the long run to face it now than to be endlessly waiting and hoping and longing for what he knew could never be.
"Dan, I'll be very patient. Don't you think--if you tried--you could conquer this love of yours for Miss Vallincourt?"
He shook his head.
"It's conquered me, June. It's--it's torture!"
"It will be easier now she's gone away," she suggested.
"Gone away? . . . Aye, as far as London! And in five hours I could be with her--see her again----"
He broke off. At the bare thought his heart was pounding against his ribs, his breath labouring in his throat.
"Won't you try, Dan?" Even to herself June's voice sounded faint and far away.
"It would be useless." He got up and strode aimlessly back and forth, coming at last to a standstill in front of her. "A man knows his own limits, June. And I've reached mine. England can't hold the two of us."
June gave a little stifled cry.
"What do you mean? You're not--you're not going to leave me? To go abroad--now?"
There would be need for him in England soon--in a few months. But of course he couldn't know that. Should she tell him. Tell him why he must not leave her now? Keep him with her by a sure and certain chain--the knowledge that she was soon to be the mother of his child?
She debated the question wildly in her mind, tempted to tell him, yet feeling that even if then he stayed with her it would not be because he loved her or had ceased to care for Miss Vallincourt, but only because he was impelled by a sense of duty. And her pride rebelled against holding him by that.
His voice broke in upon her conflicting thoughts.
"Yes. I'm going abroad. It's the only thing, June. I can't stay in England--and keep away from her."
June was silent a moment. Then she said in a very low voice, almost as though speaking to herself:
"I wonder if--if you ever loved me."
He wheeled round, and the desperate misery in his eyes hurt her almost physically.
"Yes," he said harshly. "I did love you. In a way, I do now. But it's nothing--nothing to the madness in my blood! I'm a brute to leave you. But I'm going to do it. No civilised country can hold me now!"
So that was to be the end of it! June recognised the bitter truth at last. Magda had indeed robbed her of everything she possessed. And robbed her wantonly, seeing that she herself set no value on Dan's love--had, in fact, tossed it aside like an outworn plaything.
June ceased to plead with Dan then. She would not wish to hold him by any other chain than his love for her. And if that chain had snapped-- broken irrevocably--then the child born of what had once been love would only be an encumbrance in his eyes, an unwelcome tie, shackling him to a duty from which he longed to escape.
So she let him go--let him go in silence. . . .