The Magician 'I don't know at all,' answered Margaret. She braced herself for further questions, but Susie, without interest, put down the sheet of paper and struck a match. Margaret was ashamed. Her nature was singularly truthful, and it troubled her extraordinarily that she had lied to her greatest friend. Something stronger than herself seemed to impel her. She would have given much to confess her two falsehoods, but had not the courage. She could not bear that Susie's implicit trust in her straightforwardness should be destroyed; and the admission that Oliver Haddo had been there would entail a further acknowledgment of the nameless horrors she had witnessed. Susie would think her mad. There was a knock at the door; and Margaret, her nerves shattered by all that she had endured, could hardly restrain a cry of terror. She feared that Haddo had returned. But it was Arthur Burdon. She greeted him with a passionate relief that was unusual, for she was by nature a woman of great selfâˆ’possession. She felt excessively weak, physically exhausted as though she had gone a long journey, and her mind was highly wrought. Margaret remembered that her state had been the same on her first arrival in Paris, when, in her eagerness to get a preliminary glimpse of its marvels, she had hurried till her bones ached from one celebrated monument to another. They began to speak of trivial things. Margaret tried to join calmly in the conversation, but her voice sounded unnatural, and she fancied that more than once Arthur gave her a curious look. At length she could control herself no longer and burst into a sudden flood of tears. In a moment, uncomprehending but affectionate, he caught her in his arms. He asked tenderly what was the matter. He sought to comfort her. She wept ungovernably, clinging to him for protection. 'Oh, it's nothing,' she gasped. 'I don't know what is the matter with me. I'm only nervous and frightened.' Arthur had an idea that women were often afflicted with what he described by the oldâˆ’fashioned name of vapours, and was not disposed to pay much attention to this vehement distress. He soothed her as he would have done a child. 'Oh, take care of me, Arthur. I'm so afraid that some dreadful thing will happen to me. I want all your strength. Promise that you'll never forsake me.' He laughed, as he kissed away her tears, and she tried to smile. 'Why can't we be married at once?' she asked. 'I don't want to wait any longer. I shan't feel safe till I'm actually your wife.' He reasoned with her very gently. After all, they were to be married in a few weeks. They could not easily hasten matters, for their house was not yet ready, and she needed time to get her clothes. The date had been fixed by her. She listened sullenly to his words. Their wisdom was plain, and she did not see how she could possibly insist. Even if she told him all that had passed he would not believe her; he would think she was suffering from some trick of her morbid fancy. 'If anything happens to me,' she answered, with the dark, anguished eyes of a hunted beast, 'you will be to blame.' 'I promise you that nothing will happen.'
Published on Apr 1, 2012