Since the day she and Gillian had left Ashencombe she had heard nothing of Storran or his wife. No least scrap of news relating to them had come her way. In the ordinary course of events it was hardly likely that it would. The circles of their respective lives did not overlap each other. And Magda had made no effort to discover what had happened at Stockleigh after she had left there. She had been glad to shut the door on that episode in her life. She was not proud of it.
There were other incidents, too, which she could have wished were blotted out—the Raynham incident amongst them. With the new insight which love had brought her she was beginning to rate these things at their true value, to realise how little she had understood of all love’s exquisite significance when she played with it as lightly as a child might play with a trinket. She had learned better now—learned that love was of the spirit as well as of the body, and that in playing at love she had played with men’s souls.
She believed she had put that part of her life behind her—all those unrecognising days before love came to her. And now, without warning, sudden as an Eastern night, the past had risen up and confronted her. The implacable ropes of steel held her in bondage.
“Michael . . . can’t you—forgive me?”
Her voice wavered and broke as she realised the utter futility of her question. Between them, now and always, there must lie the young, dead body of June Storran.
“Forgive you?” Michael’s voice was harsh with an immeasurable bitterness. “Good God! What are you made of that you can even ask me? It’s women like you who turn this world into plain hell! . . . Look back! Have you ever looked back, I wonder?” He paused, and she knew his eyes were searching her—those keen, steady eyes, hard, now, like flint—searching the innermost recesses of her being. She felt as though he were dragging the soul out of her body, stripping it naked to the merciless lash of truth.
“June—my little sister, the happiest of mortals—dead, through you. And Storran—he was a big man, white all through—down and out. And God knows who else has had their sun put out by you. . . . You’re like a blight—spreading disease and corruption wherever you go.”
A little moan broke from her lips. For a moment it was a physical impossibility for her to speak. She could only shrink, mute and quivering, beneath the flail of his scorn.
At last: “Is—is that what you think of me?” she almost whispered.
She winced at the harsh monosyllable. There was a finality about it—definite, unalterable. She looked at him dry-eyed, her face tragically beautiful in its agony. But he seemed impervious to either its beauty or its suffering. There was no hint of softening in him. Without another word he swung round on his heel and turned to leave her.
“Michael . . . don’t go!” The lovely voice was a mere thread of sound—hoarse and strangulated. “Don’t go! . . . Oh, be a little merciful!”