The Magic Circle
by Ethel May Dell
The persistent chirping of a sparrow made it almost harder to bear. Lady
Brooke finally rose abruptly from the table, her black brows drawn close
together, and swept to the window to scare the intruder away.
"I really have not the smallest idea what your objections can be," she
observed, pausing with her back to the room.
"A little exercise of your imagination might be of some assistance to
you," returned her husband dryly, not troubling to raise his eyes from
He was leaning back in a chair in an attitude of unstudied ease. It was
characteristic of Sir Roland Brooke to make himself physically
comfortable at least, whatever his mental atmosphere. He seldom raised
his voice, and never swore. Yet there was about him a certain amount of
force that made itself felt more by his silence than his speech.
His young wife, though she shrugged her shoulders and looked
contemptuous, did not venture upon open defiance.
"I am to decline the invitation, then?" she asked presently, without
"Certainly!" Sir Roland again made leisurely reply as he scanned the
page before him.
"And give as an excuse that you are too staunch a Tory to approve of
such an innovation as the waltz?"
"You may give any excuse that you consider suitable," he returned with
"I know of none," she answered, with a quick vehemence that trembled on
the edge of rebellion.
Sir Roland turned very slowly in his chair and regarded the delicate
outline of his wife's figure against the window-frame.
"Then, my dear," he said very deliberately, "let me recommend you once
more to have recourse to your ever romantic imagination!"
She quivered, and clenched her hands, as if goaded beyond endurance.
"You do not treat me fairly," she murmured under her breath.
Sir Roland continued to look at her with the air of a naturalist
examining an interesting specimen of his cult. He said nothing till,
driven by his scrutiny, she turned and faced him.
"What is your complaint?" he asked then.
She hesitated for an instant. There was doubt—even a hint of
fear—upon her beautiful face. Then, with a certain recklessness, she
"I have been accustomed to freedom of action all my life. I never
dreamed, when I married you, that I should be called upon to sacrifice
Her voice quivered. She would not meet his eyes. Sir Roland sat and
passively regarded her. His face expressed no more than a detached and
"I am sorry," he said finally, "that the romance of your marriage has
ceased to attract you. But I was not aware that its hold upon you was
ever very strong."
Lady Brooke made a quick movement, and broke into a light laugh.
"It certainly did not fall upon very fruitful ground," she said. "It is
scarcely surprising that it did not flourish."
Sir Roland made no response. The interest had faded entirely from his
face. He looked supremely bored.
Lady Brooke moved towards the door.
"It seems to be your pleasure to thwart me at every turn," she said. "A
labourer's wife has more variety in her existence than I."
"Infinitely more," said Sir Roland, returning to his paper. "A
labourer's wife, my dear, has an occasional beating to chasten her
spirit, and she is considerably the better for it."
His wife stood still, very erect and queenly.
"Not only the better, but the happier," she said very bitterly. "Even a
dog would rather be beaten than kicked to one side."
Sir Roland lowered his paper again with startling suddenness.
"Is that your point of view?" he said. "Then I fear I have been
neglecting my duty most outrageously. However, it is an omission easily
remedied. Let me hear no more of this masquerade, Lady Brooke! You have
my orders, and if you transgress them you will be punished in a fashion
scarcely to your liking. Is that clearly understood?"
He looked straight up at her with cold, smiling eyes that yet seemed to
convey a steely warning.
She shivered very slightly as she encountered them. "You make a mockery
of everything," she said, her voice very low.
Sir Roland uttered a quiet laugh.
"I am nevertheless a man of my word, Naomi," he said. "If you wish to
test me, you have your opportunity."
He immersed himself finally in his paper as he ended, and she, with a
smile of proud contempt, turned and passed from the room.
She had married him out of pique, it was true, but life with him had
never seemed intolerable until he had shown her that he knew it.
She took her invitation with her, and in her own room sat down to read
it once again. It was from a near neighbour, Lady Blythebury, an
acquaintance with whom she was more intimate than was Sir Roland. Lady
Blythebury was a very lively person indeed. She had been on the stage in
her young days, and she had decidedly advanced ideas on the subject of
social entertainment. As a hostess, she was notorious for her
originality and energy, and though some of the county families
disapproved of her, she always knew how to secure as many guests as she
desired. Lady Brooke had known her previous to her own marriage, and she
clung to this friendship, notwithstanding Sir Roland's very obvious lack
He knew Lord Blythebury in the hunting-field. Their properties adjoined,
and it was inevitable that certain courtesies should be exchanged. But
he refused so steadily to fall a captive to Lady Blythebury's bow and
spear, that he very speedily aroused her aversion. He soon realised that
her influence over his wife was very far from benevolent towards
himself, but, save that he persisted in declining all social invitations
to Blythebury, he made no attempt to counteract the evil. In fact, it
was not his custom to coerce her. He denied her very little, though with
regard to that little he was as adamant.
But to Naomi his non-interference was many a time more galling than his
interdiction. It was but seldom that she attempted to oppose him, and,
save that Lady Blythebury's masquerade had been discussed between them
for weeks, she would not have greatly cared for his refusal to attend
it. When Sir Roland asserted himself, it was her habit to yield without
But now, for the first time, she asked herself if he were not presuming
upon her wifely submission. He would think more of her if she resisted
him, whispered her hurt pride, recalling the courteous indifference
which it was his custom to mete out to her. But dared she do this
She took up the invitation again and read it. It was to be a fancy-dress
ball, and all were to wear masks. The waltz which she had learned to
dance from Lady Blythebury herself and which was only just coming into
vogue in England, was to be one of the greatest features of the evening.
There would be no foolish formality, Lady Blythebury had assured her.
The masks would preclude that. Altogether the whole entertainment
promised to be of so entrancing a nature that she had permitted herself
to look forward to it with considerable pleasure. But she might have
guessed that Sir Roland would refuse to go, she reflected, as she sat in
her dainty room with the invitation before her. Did he ever attend any
function that was not so stiff and dull that she invariably pined to
depart from the moment of arrival?
Again she read the invitation, recalling Lady Blythebury's gay words
when last they had talked the matter over.
"If only Una could come without the lion for once!" she had said.
And she herself had almost echoed the wish. Sir Roland always spoilt
Well!—She took up her pen. She supposed she must refuse. A moment it
hovered above the paper. Then, very slowly, it descended and began to
The chatter of many voices and the rhythm of dancing feet, the strains
of a string-band in the distance, and, piercing all, the clear, high
notes of a flute, filled the spring night with wonderful sound. Lady
Blythebury had turned her husband's house into a fairy palace of
delight. She stood in the doorway of the ballroom, her florid face
beaming above her Elizabethan ruffles, looking in upon the gay and
ever-shifting scene which she had called into being.
"I feel as if I had stepped into an Arabian Night," she laughed to one
of her guests, who stood beside her. He was dressed as a court jester,
and carried a wand which he flourished dramatically. He wore a
close-fitting black mask.
"There is certainly magic abroad," he declared, in a rich, Irish brogue
that Lady Blythebury smiled to hear. For she also was Irish to the
"You know something of the art yourself, Captain Sullivan?" she asked.
She knew the man for a friend of her husband's. He was more or less
disreputable, she believed, but he was none the less welcome on that
account. It was just such men as he who knew how to make things a
success. She relied upon the disreputable more than she would have
"Egad, I'm no novice in most things!" declared the court jester, waving
his wand bombastically. "But it's the magic of a pretty woman that I'm
after at the present moment. These masks, Lady Blythebury, are uncommon
inconvenient. It's yourself that knows better than to wear one. Sure,
beauty should never go veiled."
Lady Blythebury laughed indulgently. Though she knew it for what it was,
the fellow's blarney was good to hear.
"Ah, go and dance!" she said. "I've heard all that before. It never
means anything. Go and dance with the little lady over there in the pink
domino! I give you my word that she is pretty. Her name is Una, but she
is minus the lion on this occasion. I shall tell you no more than that."
"Egad! It's more than enough!" said the court jester, as he bowed and
The lady indicated stood alone in the curtained embrasure of a
bay-window. She was watching the dancers with an absorbed air, and did
not notice his approach.
He drew near, walking with a free swagger in time to the haunting
waltz-music. Reaching her, he stopped and executed a sweeping bow, his
hand upon his heart.
"May I have the pleasure—"
She looked up with a start. Her eyes shone through her mask with a
momentary irresolution as she bent in response to his bow.
With scarcely a pause he offered her his arm.
"You dance the waltz?"
She hesitated for a second; then, with an affirmatory murmur, accepted
the proffered arm. The bold stare with which he met her look had in it
something of compulsion.
He led her instantly away from her retreat, and in a moment his hand was
upon her waist. He guided her into the gay stream of dancers without a
They began to waltz—a dream—waltz in which she seemed to float without
effort, without conscious volition. Instinctively she responded to his
touch, keenly, vibrantly aware of the arm that supported her, of the
dark, free eyes that persistently sought her own.
"Faith!" he suddenly said in his soft, Irish voice. "To find Una without
the lion is a piece of good fortune I had scarcely prayed for. And what
was the persuasion that you used at all to keep the monster in his den?"
She glanced up, half-startled by his speech. What did this man know
"If you mean my husband," she said at last, "I did not persuade him. He
never wished or intended to come."
Her companion laughed as one well pleased.
"Very generous of him!" he commented, in a tone that sent the blood to
He guided her dexterously among the dancers. The girl's breath came
quickly, unevenly, but her feet never faltered.
"If I were the lion," said her partner daringly, "by the powers, I'd
play the part! I wouldn't be a tame beast, egad! If Una went out to a
fancy ball, my faith, I would go too!"
Lady Brooke uttered a little, excited laugh. The words caught her
"And suppose Una went without your leave?" she said.
The Irishman looked at her with a humorous twist at one corner of his
"I'm thinking that I'd still go too," he said.
"But if you didn't know?" She asked the question with a curious
vehemence. Her instinct told her that, however he might profess to
trifle, here at least was a man.
"That wouldn't happen," he said, with conviction, "if I were the lion."
The music was quickening to the finale, and she felt the strong arm
grow tense about her.
"Come!" he said. "We will go into the garden."
She went with him because it seemed that she must, but deep in her heart
there lurked a certain misgiving. There was an almost arrogant air of
power about this man. She wondered what Sir Roland would say if he knew,
and comforted herself almost immediately with the reflection that he
never could know. He had gone to Scotland, and she did not expect him
back for several weeks.
So she turned aside with this stranger, and passed out upon his arm into
the dusk of the soft spring night.
"You know these gardens well?" he questioned.
She came out of her meditations.
"Not really well. Lady Blythebury and I are friends, but we do not visit
"And that but secretly," he laughed, "when the lion is absent?" She did
not answer him, and he continued after a moment: "'Pon my life, the
very mention of him seems to cast a cloud. Let us draw a magic circle,
and exclude him!" He waved his wand. "You knew that I was a magician?"
There was a hint of something more than banter in his voice. They had
reached the end of the terrace, and were slowly descending the steps.
But at his last words, Lady Brooke stood suddenly still.
"I only believe in one sort of magic," she said, "and that is beyond the
reach of all but fools."
Her voice quivered with an almost passionate disdain. She was suddenly
aware of an intense burning misery that seemed to gnaw into her very
soul. Why had she come out with this buffoon, she wondered? Why had she
come to the masquerade at all? She was utterly out of sympathy with its
festive gaiety. A great and overmastering desire for solitude descended
upon her. She turned almost angrily to go.
But in the same instant the jester's hand caught her own.
"Even so, lady," he said. "But the magic of fools has led to paradise
She laughed out bitterly:
"A fool's paradise!"
"Is ever green," he said whimsically. "Faith, it's no place at all for
cynics. Shall we go hand in hand to find it then—in case you miss the
She laughed again at the quaint adroitness of his speech. But her lips
were curiously unsteady, and she found the darkness very comforting.
There was no moon, and the sky was veiled. She suffered the strong clasp
of his fingers about her own without protest. What did it matter—for
just one night?
"Where are we going?" she asked.
"Wait till we get there!" murmured her companion. "We are just within
the magic circle. Una has escaped from the lion."
She felt turf beneath her feet, and once or twice the brushing of twigs
against her hand. She began to have a faint suspicion as to whither he
was leading her. But she would not ask a second time. She had yielded to
his guidance, and though her heart fluttered strangely she would not
seem to doubt. The dread of Sir Roland's displeasure had receded to the
back of her mind. Surely there was indeed magic abroad that night! It
seemed diffused in the very air she breathed. In silence they moved
along the dim grass path. From far away there came to them fitfully the
sound of music, remote and wonderful, like straying echoes of paradise.
A soft wind stirred above them, lingering secretly among opening leaves.
There was a scent of violets almost intoxicatingly sweet.
The silence seemed magnetic. It held them like a spell. Through it,
vague and intangible as the night at first, but gradually taking
definite shape, strange thoughts began to rise in the girl's heart.
She had consented to this adventure from sheer lack of purpose. But
whither was it leading her? She was a married woman, with her shackles
heavy upon her. Yet she walked that night with a stranger, as one who
owned her freedom. The silence between them was intimate and wonderful,
the silence which only kindred spirits can ever know. It possessed her
magically, making her past life seem dim and shadowy, and the present
And yet she knew that she was not free. She trespassed on forbidden
ground. She tasted the forbidden fruit, and found it tragically sweet.
Suddenly and softly he spoke:
"Does the magic begin to work?"
She started and tried to stop. Surely it were wiser to go back while she
had the will! But he drew her forward still. The mist overhead was
faintly silver. The moon was rising.
"We will go to the heart of the tangle," he said. "There is nothing to
fear. The lion himself could not frighten you here."
Again she yielded to him. There was a suspicion of raillery in his voice
that strangely reassured her. The grasp of his hand was very close.
"We are in the maze," she said at last, breaking her silence. "Are you
sure of the way?"
He answered her instantly with complete self-assurance.
"Like the heart of a woman, it's hard, that it is, to find. But I think
I have the key. And if not, by the saints, I'm near enough now to break
The words thrilled her inexplicably. Truly the magic was swift and
potent. A few more steps, and she was aware of a widening of the hedge.
They were emerging into the centre of the maze.
"Ah," said the jester, "I thought I should win through!"
He led her forward into the shadow of a great tree. The mist was passing
very slowly from the sky. By the silvery light that filtered down from
the hidden moon Naomi made out the strong outline of his shoulders as he
stood before her, and the vague darkness of his mask.
She put up her free hand and removed her own. The breeze had died down.
The atmosphere was hushed and airless.
"Do you know the way back?" she asked him, in a voice that sounded
unnatural even to herself.
"Do you want to go back, then?" he queried keenly.
There was something in his tone—a subtle something that she had not
detected before. She began to tremble. For the first time, actual fear
took hold of her.
"You must know the way back!" she exclaimed. "This is folly! They will
be wondering where we are."
"Faith, Lady Una! It is the fool's paradise," he told her coolly. "They
will not wonder. They know too well that there is no way back."
His manner terrified her. Its very quietness seemed a menace.
Desperately she tore herself from his hold, and turned to escape. But it
was as though she fled in a nightmare. Whichever way she turned she met
only the impenetrable ramparts of the hedge that surrounded her. She
could find neither entrance nor exit. It was as though the way by which
she had come had been closed behind her.
But the brightness above was growing. She whispered to herself that she
would soon be able to see, that she could not be a prisoner for long.
Suddenly she heard her captor close to her, and, turning in terror, she
found him erect and dominating against the hedge. With a tremendous
effort she controlled her rising panic to plead with him.
"Indeed, I must go back!" she said, her voice unsteady, but very urgent.
"I have already stayed too long. You cannot wish to keep me here against
She saw him shrug his shoulders slightly.
"There is no way back," he said, "or, if there is, I do not know it."
There was no dismay in his voice, but neither was there exultation. He
simply stated the fact with absolute composure. Her heart gave a wild
throb of misgiving. Was the man wholly sane?
Again she caught wildly at her failing courage, and drew herself up to
her full height. Perhaps she might awe him, even yet.
"Sir," she said, "I am Sir Roland Brooke's wife. And I—"
"Egad!" he broke in banteringly, "that was yesterday. You are free
to-day. I have brought you out of bondage. We have found paradise
together, and, my pretty Lady Una, there is no way back."
"But there is, there is!" she cried desperately. "And I must find it! I
tell you I am Sir Roland Brooke's wife. I belong to him. No one can keep
me from him!"
It was as though she beat upon an iron door.
"There is no way out of the magic circle," said the jester inexorably.
A white shaft of light illumined the mist above them, revealing the
girl's pale face, making sinister the man's masked one. He seemed to be
smiling. He bent towards her.
"You seem amazingly fond of your chains," he said softly. "And yet, from
what I have heard, Sir Roland is no gentle tyrant. How is it, pretty
one? What makes you cling to your bondage so?"
"He is my husband!" she said, through white lips.
"Faith, that is no answer," he declared. "Own, now, that you hate him,
that you loathe his presence and shudder at his touch! I told you I was
a magician, Lady Una; but you wouldn't believe me at all."
She confronted him with a sudden fury that marvellously reinforced her
"You lie, sir!" she cried, stamping passionately upon the soft earth. "I
do none of these things. I have never hated him. I have never shrunk
from his touch. We have not understood each other, perhaps, but that is
a different matter, and no concern of yours."
"He has not made you happy," said the jester persistently. "You will
never go back to him now that you are free!"
"I will go back to him!" she cried stormily. "How dare you say such a
thing to me? How dare you?"
He came nearer to her.
"Listen!" he said. "It is deliverance that I am offering you. I ask
nothing at all in return, simply to make you happy, and to teach you the
blessed magic which now you scorn. Faith! It's the greatest game in the
world, Lady Una; and it only takes two players, dear, only two players!"
There was a subtle, caressing quality in his voice. His masked face was
bending close to hers. She felt trapped and helpless, but she forced
herself to stand her ground.
"You insult me!" she said, her voice quivering, but striving to be calm.
"Never a bit!" he declared. "Since I am the truest friend you have!"
She drew away from him with a gesture of repulsion.
"You insult me!" she said again. "I have my husband, and I need no
He laughed sneeringly, the insinuating banter all gone from his manner.
"You know he is nothing to you," he said. "He neglects you. He bullies
you. You married him because you wanted to be a married woman. Be
honest, now! You never loved him. You do not know what love is!"
"It is false!" she cried. "I will not listen to you. Let me go!"
He took a sudden step forward.
"You refuse deliverance?" he questioned harshly.
She did not retreat this time, but faced him proudly.
"Listen!" he said again, and his voice was stern. "Sir Roland Brooke has
returned home. He knows that you have disobeyed him. He knows that you
are here with me. You will not dare to face him. You have gone too far
She gasped hysterically, and tottered for an instant, but recovered
"I will—I will go back!" she said.
"He will beat you like a labourer's wife," warned the jester. "He may do
She was swaying as she stood.
"He will do—as he sees fit," she said.
He stooped a little lower.
"I would make you happy, Lady Una," he whispered. "I would protect
you—shelter you—love you!"
She flung out her hands with a wild and desperate gesture. The
magnetism of his presence had become horrible to her.
"I am going to him—now," she said.
Behind him she saw, in the brightening moonlight, the opening which she
had vainly sought a few minutes before. She sprang for it, darting past
him like a frightened bird seeking refuge, and in another moment she was
lost in the green labyrinths.
The moonlight had become clear and strong, casting black shadows all
about her. Twice, in her frantic efforts to escape, she ran back into
the centre of the maze. The jester had gone, but she imagined him
lurking behind every corner, and she impotently recalled his words:
"There is no way out of the magic circle."
At last, panting and exhausted, she knew that she was unwinding the
puzzle. Often as its intricacies baffled her, she kept her head,
rectifying each mistake and pressing on, till the wider curve told her
that she was very near the entrance. She came upon it finally quite
suddenly, and found herself, to her astonishment, close to the terrace
She mounted them with trembling limbs, and paused a moment to summon her
composure. Then, outwardly calm, she traversed the terrace and entered
Lady Blythebury was dancing, and she felt she could not wait. She
scribbled a few hasty words of farewell, and gave them to a servant as
she entered her carriage. Hers was the first departure, and no one
She sank back at length, thankfully, in the darkness, and closed her
eyes. Whatever lay before her, she had escaped from the nightmare horror
of the shadowy garden.
But as the brief drive neared its end, her anxiety revived. Had Sir
Roland indeed returned and discovered her absence? Was it possible?
Her face was white and haggard as she entered the hall at last. Her eyes
The servant who opened to her looked at her oddly for a moment.
"What is it?" she said nervously.
"Sir Roland has returned, my lady," he said. "He arrived two hours ago,
and went straight to his room, saying he would not disturb your
She turned away in silence, and mounted the stairs. Did he know? Had he
guessed? Was it that that had brought him back?
She entered her room, and dismissed the maid she found awaiting her.
Swiftly she threw off the pink domino, and began to loosen her hair with
stiff, fumbling fingers, then shook it about her shoulders, and sank
quivering upon a couch. She could not go to bed. The terror that
possessed her was too intense, too overmastering.
Ah! What was that? Every pulse in her body leaped and stood still at
sound of a low knock at the door. Who could it be? gasped her fainting
heart. Not Sir Roland, surely! He never came to her room now.
Softly the door opened. It was Sir Roland and none other—Sir Roland
wearing an old velvet smoking—jacket, composed as ever, his grey eyes
very level and inscrutable.
He paused for a single instant upon the threshold, then came noiselessly
in and closed the door.
Naomi sat motionless and speechless. She lacked the strength to rise.
Her hands were pressed upon her heart. She thought its beating would
He came quietly across the room to her, not seeming to notice her
"I should not have disturbed you at this hour if I had not been sure
that you were awake," he said.
Reaching her, he bent and touched her white cheek.
"Why, child, how cold you are!" he said.
She started violently back, and then, as a sudden memory assailed her,
she caught his hand and held it for an instant.
"It is nothing," she said with an effort. "You—you startled me."
"You are nervous tonight," said Sir Roland.
She shrank under his look.
"You see, I did not expect you," she murmured.
"Evidently not." Sir Roland stood gravely considering her. "I came
back," he said, after a moment, "because it occurred to me that you
might be lonely after all, in spite of your assurance to the contrary.
I did not ask you to accompany me, Naomi. I did not think you would care
to do so. But I regretted it later, and I have come back to remedy the
omission. Will you come with me to Scotland?"
His tone was quiet and somewhat formal, but there was in it a kindliness
that sent the blood pulsing through her veins in a wave of relief even
greater than her astonishment at his words. He did not know, then. That
was her one all-possessing thought. He could not know, or he had not
spoken to her thus.
She sat slowly forward, drawing her hair about her shoulders like a
cloak. She felt for the moment an overpowering weakness, and she could
not look up.
"I will come, of course," she said at last, her voice very low, "if you
Sir Roland did not respond at once. Then, as his silence was beginning
to disquiet her again, he laid a steady hand upon the shadowing hair.
"My dear," he said gently, "have you no wishes upon the subject?"
Again she started at his touch, and again, as if to rectify the start,
drew ever so slightly nearer to him. It was many, many days since she
had heard that tone from him.
"My wishes are yours," she told him faintly.
His hand was caressing her softly, very softly. Again he was silent for
a while, and into her heart there began to creep a new feeling that
made her gradually forget the immensity of her relief. She sat
motionless, save that her head drooped a little lower, ever a little
"Naomi," he said, at last, "I have been thinking a good deal lately. We
seem to have been wandering round and round in a circle. I have been
wondering if we could not by any means find a way out?"
She made a sharp, involuntary movement. What was this that he was saying
"I don't quite understand," she murmured.
His hand pressed a little upon her, and she knew that he was bending
"You are not happy," he said, with grave conviction.
She could not contradict him.
"It is my own fault," she managed to say, without lifting her head.
"I do not think so," he returned, "at least, not entirely. I know that
there have frequently been times when you have regretted your marriage.
For that you were not to blame." He paused an instant. "Naomi," he said,
a new note in his voice, "I think I am right in believing that,
notwithstanding this regret, you do not in your heart wish to leave me?"
She quivered, and hid her face in silence.
He waited a few seconds, and finally went on as if she had answered in
"That being so, I have a foundation on which to build. I would not ask
of you anything which you feel unable to grant. But there is only one
way for us to get out of the circle that I can see. Will you take it
with me, Naomi? Shall we go away together, and leave this miserable
estrangement behind us?"
His voice was low and tender. Yet she felt instinctively that he had not
found it easy to expose his most sacred reserve thus. She moved
convulsively, trying to answer him, trying for several unworthy moments
to accept in silence the shelter his generosity had offered her. But her
efforts failed, for she had not been moulded for deception; and this new
weapon of his had cut her to the heart. Heavy, shaking sobs overcame
"Hush!" he said. "Hush! I never dreamed you felt it so."
"Ah, you don't know me!" she whispered. "I—I am not what you think me.
I have disobeyed you, deceived you, cheated you!" Humbled to the earth,
she made piteous, halting confession before her tyrant. "I was at the
masquerade tonight. I waltzed—and afterwards went into the maze—in the
dark—with a stranger—who made love to me. I never—meant you—to
Silence succeeded her words, and, as she waited for him to rise and
spurn her, she wondered how she had ever brought herself to utter them.
But she would not have recalled them even then. He moved at last, but
not as she had anticipated. He gathered the tumbled hair back from her
face, and, bending over her, he spoke. Even in her agony of
apprehension she noted the curious huskiness of his voice.
"And yet you told me," he said. "Why?"
She could not answer him, nor could she raise her face. He was not
angry, she knew now; but yet she felt that she could not meet his eyes.
There was a short silence, then he spoke again, close to her ear:
"You need not have told me, Naomi."
The words amazed her. With a great start of bewilderment she lifted her
head and looked at him. He put his hands upon her shoulders. She thought
she saw a smile hovering about his lips, but it was of a species she had
never seen there before.
"Because," he explained gently, "I knew."
She stared at him in wonder, scarcely breathing, the tears all gone from
"You—knew!" she said slowly, at last.
"Yes, I knew," he said. He looked deep into her eyes for seconds, and
then she felt him drawing her irresistibly to him. She yielded herself
as driftwood yields to a racing flood, no longer caring for the
interpretation of the riddle, scarcely remembering its existence; heard
him laugh above her head—a brief, exultant laugh—as he clasped her.
And then came his lips upon her own....
"You see, dear," he said later, a quiver that was not all laughter in
his voice, "it is not so remarkably wonderful, after all, that I should
know all about it, when you come to consider that I was there—there
with you in the magic circle all the time."
"You were there!" she echoed, turning in his arms. "But how was it I
never knew? Why did I not see you?"
"Faith, sweetheart, I think you did!" said Sir Roland. Then, at her
quick cry of amazed understanding: "I wanted to teach you a lesson, but,
sure, I'm thinking it's myself that learned one, after all." And, as she
clung to him, still hardly believing: "We have found our paradise
together, my Lady Una," he whispered softly. "And, love, there is no way