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Enchanting Tanya Massison is the toast of Bohemian Chelsea. An artists' model and exquisite dancer, she is vivacious, alluring - and a breaker of men's hearts. Life is for living, and Tanya lives every minute to the full, without a care in the world. All this changes, however, when Cecil Lemsford, a married man, kills himself for love, and Tanya meets Gordon Hays. For the first time ever she falls deeply, irrevocably in love. But their happiness is short-lived, as a tragic coincidence transforms passion into anger and despair...
Release date: October 16, 2014
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Print pages: 208
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A dozen different voices took up the cry in the crowded studio.
‘Darling Tanya … dance for us.’
It was nearing midnight. Another of the frequent parties given by Cecil Lemsford, well-known black-and-white sketch artist, was at its height.
The long, low room with its silver walls and ceiling and subdued lighting was full of people, many of them in fancy dress. Couples sat, arms twined, on cushions here, there and everywhere. Champagne flowed freely. A black-haired, feverish-looking young man with a death-white face was playing a piano at one end of the studio. An exotic girl with languorous eyes and a sleek Eton-crop was balanced on the end of the piano, legs crossed, singing … clutching a goblet of champagne as she sang:
‘Mad about the boy,
I know I’m stupid to be
Mad about the boy …’
A pretty girl, in her teens, half reclined in the arms of a man and took up the chorus murmuring against his ear:
‘Mad about the boy …
Although I must admit
That here and there are traces of
The cad about the boy …’
He laughed and kissed her.
‘Maybe a cad, but I’m mad about the girl …’
A charming, fair-haired woman, dressed as Colombine and with the legs of a ballet dancer, came on the tips of her toes into the centre of the room, looked round, saw a tall Pierrot, and jumped, light as thistledown, into his embrace.
‘“Mad about the boy …”’ she breathed luxuriously as his arms folded her.
A melancholy-eyed clown, flopping on a cushion with an empty glass in his hand, shook his head drearily and muttered:
‘Nobody’s mad about me … Wish I were dead!’
Cecil Lemsford, attractive man, clever painter, excellent host, stood at the far end of the studio with a group of girls in motley costumes hanging on to his arm, and they were all joining in the chorus:
‘Mad about the boy.’
He had a light word for them all, but his gaze wandered restlessly round the studio. The silver walls were hung with his sketches, the majority of them drawings of a girl’s head. Always the same head. Flawless features, beautiful eyes, a gay, provocative mouth. Tanya—Lemsford’s favourite model.
The man at the piano stopped playing. The shout went up again:
‘Dance for us, Tan, darling … do.”
On a raised dais at one end of the studio stood a girl wearing a wisp of chiffon and a leopard’s skin slung from shoulder to hip across her slim, perfect body. A wreath of imitation purple grapes and dark-green leaves encircled her dark, curly head. She was Bacchante … lovely and seductive with her lily-white limbs and her wonderfully poised head. She stood on tiptoe with a reed-pipe lifted to her red lips. Tanya, the prettiest model in Chelsea, the darling of the Bohemian gods. Tanya, spoiled, wilful, idolised and the most generous person in the world. Tanya with a heart of gold, who would give her last penny to somebody who needed it less than herself. Tanya, who, for all her beauty, her passionate, impulsive nature, was straight as a die. And every man in her particular world knew it.
None knew it better than Cecil Lemsford. He, who had sketched her a thousand times, had begged in vain as many times for her kisses. He was madly in love with her. But he had never got more than a light caress or a flippant word. Friendship—the most that any man could get from Tanya Maddison.
Cecil pushed his way through the crowd of laughing girls and dropped on to the dais at Tanya’s feet. Somebody pushed a glass of champagne into his hand, and he lifted it towards her.
‘To you—darling!’ he whispered.
She laughed down at him. She liked him a little, this good-looking Cecil Lemsford with his ardent blue eyes and sleek fair head. But she wished that he wouldn’t be quite so ardent.
‘Darling!’ he repeated. ‘Dance … for me.’
She let her hand rest carelessly an instant on his head. Lemsford caught it and carried it to his lips. Lips that burned her cool flesh. She frowned slightly. Everybody was looking. Everybody knew that Cecil was wildly in love with her. They nudged one another and grinned. Well, what matter? Tanya was used to scandal. One could not be beautiful and young and alone without mischievous rumours circulating about one. And she had Russian blood in her veins and was an artist’s model into the bargain! What did she care? She knew in her heart that she was straight. She found life sweet. She never hurt anybody unless she could help it, and she wanted to be gay and happy and to live for To-day. Life was too short … to worry overmuch about To-morrow.
The young man at the piano began to play a wild Russian tune that suited Tanya’s mood.
She danced. Swift, graceful, exquisite to look upon. Nobody else in the studio moved now. Everybody was watching her. Cecil Lemsford’s burning eyes never left her face. A face of maddening beauty, ivory pale with wide-set eyes of velvet brown under curving jet-black lashes. She had a wide scarlet mouth with a short upper lip, exquisite hands and small, arched feet with pink, polished nails. In all his career as an artist, Cecil Lemsford had never known a woman with lovelier feet.
She danced feverishly, eyes half closed, forgetting the world, immersed in the joy of her own artistry. When the music ended she took off her vine wreath and flung it in the air. Lemsford caught it and crushed it into his pocket. Then he jumped on to the dais, caught her whirling figure and lifted her right up in his arms.
‘Marvellous … wonderful … dance again, Tanya!’ shouted a score of voices.
‘Oh, I say, you’re too, too divine!’ said a languishing youth from a corner.
Lemsford carried Tanya through the studio, his face flushed.
‘What I have I hold!’ he cried.
Everybody laughed. The piano broke into Coward’s haunting melody again:
‘Mad about the boy … mad about the boy.’
But Tanya was not laughing. She could feel the mad thumping of Lemsford’s heart against her breast, and it worried her. She liked him, but she could not return his love that way. It wasn’t that she loved anybody else. She had never been in love with any man. The parents who had brought her up in Paris, and trained her to be a dancer, were dead. She had learnt to look after herself, fiercely proud, innately chaste, swift to defend honour where it was necessary, and beautiful enough to find work as a model in spite of ‘the slump.’ Chelsea was mad about Tanya. Men had wanted to love her, to marry her, and she had loved none of them. She knew that one day she would love, and for the man who was going to make her give body, heart and soul she was waiting. That man had not yet come into her life.
She was too used to the wild, Bohemian atmosphere of these studio parties to resent being carried through the studio by Lemsford. But when he set her on her feet in an empty room opposite, she tried to show him that here the game must end.
‘Thanks for the lift, Cecil. Now I’d better take a train back. I want to dance.’
‘Wait,’ he said hoarsely, ‘let me have just a few minutes with you alone.’
‘Silly old thing,’ she murmured.
He caught her close. He was shaking from head to foot.
‘Tanya, why do you make me love you so … you send me mad!’
‘You send yourself mad. I’ve got nothing to do with it,’ she said.
The man, crazy with passion, covered her throat with feverish kisses.
‘Be kind to me … be nice to me … love me a little, Tanya. I can’t bear life unless you do.’
She strained away from him. Somehow he made her afraid. He was clever and charming and gifted. Other women found him most magnetic. Yet she was never flattered by his passion—it only troubled her. At times she found him weak and hysterical. She was not quite certain what to say or do. She had dealt with other men, the painters, writers, musicians, who had made wild love to her. She was just Tanya, who had nothing and nobody to live for but herself. She laughed her way through life. But from this persistent and hysterical love-making from Cecil Lemsford she wanted to fly and hide herself.
‘Don’t be so serious, Cecil,’ she begged him. ‘Let’s go back to the others.’
‘Not till you’ve told me that you will love me a little.’
‘I’m very fond of you, Cecil.’
‘I don’t want that. I want your love.’
Her dark velvet eyes looked at him kindly, but she shook her head.
‘One can’t force love, Cecil.’
‘But why can’t you love me? I’ll give you everything you want …’
‘Please,’ she interrupted.
‘Darling—for God’s sake——’
He was seeking her lips again, but she grew frightened of his intensity and pushed him away.
‘Oh, God, how can you be so unkind!’ He almost sobbed the words. ‘I tell you I can’t stand it.’
She lost patience, pushed him away and walked past him.
‘I can’t stand this! You must try to control yourself. …’
She returned to the studio and was hailed with enthusiasm by the others. But Cecil Lemsford had spoiled the evening for her.
She was beginning to regret that she had ever been his model, ever drifted into friendship with him, ever encouraged him by one sentimental moment. There had been one or two of those moments … a good-night kiss … a few caresses which had meant nothing to her at all. Just normal behaviour. But Cecil was treating it abnormally, and his wildness, his hysteria, frightened her to death.
Lemsford, after she had left him, walked into his dining-room and began to drink brandy. His nerves were ragged. He had not slept properly for weeks and he had eaten very little. He was all to pieces and he knew it—a spineless idiot who allowed a woman’s beauty to upset him in this way. But he couldn’t help himself.
He should have known all the way along that Tanya was not his just for the asking, as so many others had been. He knew her particular code, too. That code which forbade her to have even the merest flirtation with a married man. But she did not know that he was married. When he had rented this studio flat a year ago, Chelsea had received him as a bachelor. Nobody guessed that down in Sussex in a quiet cottage there was a young wife who worshipped Cecil Lemsford and contented herself with seeing him only at week-ends. There would have been nothing in Tanya’s heart but white-hot rage and contempt for Cecil had she been aware of Molly Lemsford’s existence.
She returned to the studio feeling worried about Cecil. She wondered whether she would sit for him as usual to-morrow morning.
The young man who had played the piano for her and who had asked her to marry him half a dozen times eyed her resentfully.
‘You and Lemsford are never out of each other’s pockets,’ he grumbled. ‘Everyone’s talking, Tanya.’
She turned on him furiously.
‘Don’t interfere with me, Bobby.’
A girl—another model—danced up and put an arm around Tanya.
‘I say, darling, aren’t you being naughty with Cecil Lemsford? Someone said just now that you and he are——’
‘Why not talk about someone else?’ interrupted Tanya. ‘I’m going home. Good night.’
Her eyes were flashing with anger when she left. She did not mind a little playful gossip. But this was too much of a good thing … all this talk about Lemsford and herself. She walked to the door. A good-looking, red-headed boy immediately sprang to her side. Vincent Wallis was a young impressionist painter of growing repute. Tanya had sat for him several times, and, as so many of the others, he was in love with her. She treated him as she treated Lemsford, frivolously, coquetting a little, but with sincere practical friendliness at the bottom of it.
‘Not going already, Tanya darling?’
‘Yes, Vincent; I’m tired.’
‘I’ve got my car outside. I’ll drive you back.’
‘Thanks, old thing,’ she said gratefully.
He was in love with her, but he was sensible, and she was glad of his companionship. She left Lemsford’s studio with him. Cecil Lemsford stood at the window and saw the couple drive away. He was livid when he turned back into the studio. He drank a stiff brandy, then another. He grew very maudlin and sorry for himself.
A pretty American model came up to him and put a bare arm round his neck.
‘Say, baby, don’t look so sad. …’
‘She’s cruel … cruel to me,’ he half wept and hiccoughed.
‘Tanya?’ The American girl, who was jealous of Tanya, shrugged her shoulders. ‘Aw, bolloney; why mind her when this supercharged model is around?’
‘Left me … driven off with Wallis,’ said Lemsford. ‘Oh, my God, I’m so miserable. I could kill myself.’
The American, suddenly scared, went off amongst the crowd.
‘Cecil’s threatening to commit suicide because Tanya’s driven home with Vincent Wallis,’ she said. ‘Say, is Tanya playing fair with that guy, Cecil? He’s been mighty good to her.’
Public opinion is the most cruel and fickle thing alive. Within ten minutes the crowd in the studio who had been applauding Tanya, screaming for her, adoring her, swung round and condemned her because she was making Lemsford unhappy. It was finally agreed that she was heartless and ‘hard-boiled.’
The American girl, who had always been jealous of Tanya’s popularity, hinted that if ‘anything happened’ to poor Cecil, it would be Tanya’s fault.
TANYA was due at Lemsford’s studio at ten o’clock. She had been engaged to pose for head and shoulders. She earned her living that way. But she was determined to put an end to all those scenes which she had recently had with him. She would refuse to be his model any more. She sent a boy to the studio, which was only a few minutes’ walk from her rooms, to say she could not come.
An answer came back immediately. A note which said:
‘Tanya, come; you must. I’ve been crazy all night. Don’t torture me. Come, and talk things over, anyhow. Cecil.’
Tanya was distressed and worried by this note. She did not want to torture Lemsford. She liked him, and she was too kind-hearted to hurt anybody wilfully. But one couldn’t love to order, and there it was.
The urgent message took her to the studio against her will.
Lemsford was in the silk dressing-gown which he usually wore for breakfast. He looked ill and drawn and his eyes were bloodshot. The moment Tanya entered the studio he rushed to her side and seized her arms.
‘Thank God you’ve come. I’ve been so unhappy!’
‘Cecil—really—this can’t go on,’ she began.
‘Don’t!’ he broke in. ‘Tanya, don’t hurt me any more.’
‘But I haven’t hurt you. It’s wrong—it’s unjust of you to blame me if I can’t return your love!’
He looked at her with his haunted eyes and groaned. She was adorably pretty with a red velvet béret on her dark curls; a short velvet coat and a scarlet floppy bow at her throat. Pretty, young, alluring, the incarnation of Spring and beauty. Lemsford was temporarily off his head about this girl. So mad that he gave no thought to the wife who had implicit faith in him and worshipped him.
‘Tanya, come away with me,’ he said. ‘I’ve got money. I’ll take you to Italy, Spain, anywhere on earth you like.’
She drew back from him.
He tried to take her in his arms.
‘Tanya, be kind!’
She wrenched herself from his fingers. Secretly she was growing afraid of this man and his hysterical outpourings. She regretted that she had come this morning, even in answer to his note. He clutched at her, moaning:
‘Tanya … Tanya!’
‘I can’t stand this,’ she said. ‘I shan’t ever come again—really—it’s too much!’
She turned and ran from the studio. She was thoroughly upset. All her pretty colour had gone.
Down one flight of stairs, leading out of the building, she almost collided with a young man. Bobby Arkell, the pianist of last night. He greeted Tanya with a smile which was almost a sneer.
‘Hello, Tanya. You and Lemsford greeting the dawn together!’
‘What business is it of yours?’ Tanya flashed.
‘Oh, none. But we all thought last night that you were being pretty rotten to Cecil. Why go off with Wallis under his very nose—just to drive him crazy? You women have no scruples …’
‘Don’t dare——’ began Tanya.
Then she stopped. A shot had just rung out … echoed through the building. A revolver shot. And it came from the direction of Cecil Lemsford’s studio.
‘What was that?’ whispered Bobby Arkell.
Tanya put a hand to her lips. Her large eyes were full of fear. Her heart raced.
‘Oh, my God!’ she said under her breath.
Simultaneously they turned and raced up the stairs to Lemsford’s studio.
They flung open the door, which was ajar. And they knew, at once, what had happened. The grim tragedy was there for them to see.
Cecil Lemsford lay on the floor, face downwards; a smoking revolver in his right hand; the blood pouring from, a wound in his side.. . .
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