She laid an imploring hand on his arm, and at the touch of her his iron composure shook a little. For a moment the hardness in his eyes was wiped out by a look of intolerable pain. Then, with a quiet, inexorable movement he released himself from her straining clasp.
“There’s no question of mercy,” he said inflexibly. “I’m not judging you, or punishing you. It’s simply that I can’t marry you. . . . You must see that June’s death—my sister’s death—lies at your door.”
“No,” she said. “No. I suppose you can’t marry me—now.”
Her breath came in short, painful gasps. Her face seemed to have grown smaller—shrunk. There was a pinched look about the nostrils and every drop of blood had drained away, leaving even her lips a curious greyish-white. She leaned forward, swaying a little.
“I suppose,” she said in a clear, dry voice, “you don’t even love me any more?”
His hands clenched and he took a sudden impetuous step towards her.
“Not love you?” he said. And at last the man’s own agony broke through his enforced calm, shaking his voice so that it was hoarse and terrible. “Not love you? I love you now as I loved you the day I first saw you. God in heaven! Did you think love could be killed so easily? Does it die—just because it’s forbidden by every decent instinct that a man possesses? If so, nine-tenths of us would find the world an easier place to live in!”
“And there is—no forgiveness, Michael?” The lovely grief-wrung face was uplifted to his beseechingly.
“Don’t ask me!” he said hoarsely. “You know there can be none.”
He turned and strode to the door. He did not look back even when his name tore itself like a cry between her lips. The next moment the sound of a door’s closing came dully to her ears.
She looked vaguely round the room. The fire was dying, the charred logs sinking down on to a bed of smouldering cinders. A touch would scatter them from their semblance of logs into a heap of grey, formless ash. Outside the window the snow still fell monotonously, wrapping the world in a passionless, chill winding-sheet.
With a little broken cry she stumbled forward on to her knees, her arms outflung across the table.
The long, interminable night was over at last. Never afterwards, all the days of her life, could Magda look back on the black horror of those hours without a shudder. She felt as though she had been through hell and come out on the other side, to find stretching before her only the blank grey desolation of chaos.
She was stripped of everything—of love, of happiness, even of hope. There was nothing in the whole world to look forward to. There never would be again. And when she looked back it was with eyes that had been vouchsafed a terrible enlightenment.