“Don’t say that!” she repeated imploringly. “It sounds so hard—so relentless!”
“I don’t think that it is a case for relenting. But I oughtn’t to have told you about it. After all, neither the husband nor wife were friends of yours. And you’re looking quite upset over it. I didn’t imagine that you were so easily moved to sympathy.”
She looked away. Of late she had been puzzled herself at the new and unwonted emotions which stirred her.
“I don’t think—I used to be,” she said at last, uncertainly.
“Well, please don’t take the matter too much to heart or you won’t be able to assume the personality of Circe again when you’ve rested. I don’t want to paint the picture of a model of propriety!”
It seemed as though he were anxious to restore the conversation to a lighter vein, and Magda responded gladly.
“I’m quite rested now. Shall I pose again?” she suggested a few minutes later.
Michael assented and, picking up his palette, began squeezing out fresh shining little worms of paint on to it while Magda reassumed her pose. For a while he chatted intermittently, but presently he fell silent, becoming more and more deeply absorbed in his work. Finally, when some remark of hers repeated a second time still remained unanswered, she realised that he had completely forgotten her existence. As far as he was concerned she was no longer Magda Wielitzska, posing for him, but Circe, the enchantress, whose amazing beauty he was transferring to his canvas in glowing brushstrokes. As with all genius, the impulse of creative work had seized him suddenly and was driving him on regardless of everything exterior to his art.
Time had ceased to matter to him, and Magda, with little nervous pains shooting first through one limb, then another, was wondering how much longer she could maintain the pose. She was determined not to give in, not to check him while that fervour of creation was upon him.
The pain was increasing. She felt as though she were being stabbed with red-hot knives. Tiny beads of sweat broke out on her forehead, and her breath came gaspingly between her lips.
All at once the big easel at which Michael was standing receded out of sight, and when it reappeared again it was quite close to her, swaying and nodding like a mandarin. Instinctively she put out her hand to steady it, but it leaned nearer and nearer and finally gave a huge lurch and swooped down on top of her, and the studio and everything in it faded out of sight. . . .
The metallic tinkle of the gold goblet as it fell from her hand and rolled along the floor startled Michael out of his absorption. With a sharp exclamation he flung down his brush and palette and strode hurriedly to the divan. Magda was lying half across it in a little crumpled heap, unconscious.
His first impulse to lift her up was arrested by something in her attitude, and he stood quite still, looking down at her, his face suddenly drawn and very weary.