“Yes, Virginie, I’ve enjoyed it. And I think your niece was certainly a brave fille. I’m glad she’s happy now.”
For long after Virginie had left her, Magda sat quietly thinking. The story of the old Frenchwoman’s niece had caught hold of her imagination. Like herself she had sinned, though differently. Within her own mind Magda wondered whether she or Suzette were in reality the greater sinner of the two. Suzette had at least given all, without thought of self, whereas she had only taken—taken with both hands, giving nothing in return.
Probably Suzette had been an attractive little person—of the same type of brown-eyed, vivacious youth which must have been Virginie’s five-and-thirty years ago—and her prettiness had caused her downfall. Magda glanced towards the mirror. It was through her beauty she herself had sinned. It had given her so much power, that exquisite, perfect body of hers, and she had pitifully misused the power it had bestowed. The real difference between herself and Suzette lay in the fact that the little French girl had paid the uttermost farthing of the price demanded—had submitted herself to discipline till she had surely expiated all the evil she had done. What if she, likewise, were to seek some such discipline?
The idea had presented itself to her at precisely the moment when she was in the grip of an agony of recoil from her former way of life. Like her father, she had been suddenly brought up short and forced to survey her actions through the eyes of someone else, to look at all that she had done from another’s angle of vision. And coincidentally, just as in the case of her father, the abrupt downfall of her hopes, the sudden shattering of her happiness, seemed as though it were due to the intervention of an angry God.
The fanatical Vallincourt blood which ran in Magda’s veins caused her to respond instinctively to this aspect of the matter. But the strain of her passionate, joy-loving mother which crossed with it tempered the tendency toward quite such drastic self-immolation as had appealed to Hugh Vallincourt.
To Magda, Michael had come to mean the beginning and end of everything—the pivot upon which her whole existence hung. So that if Michael shut her out of his life for ever, that existence would no longer hold either value or significance. From her point of view, then, the primary object of any kind of self-discipline would be that it might make her more fit to be the wife of “Saint Michel.”
He despised her now. The evil she had done stood between them like a high wall. But if she were to make atonement—as Suzette had atoned—surely, when the wickedness had been purged out of her by pain and discipline, Michael would relent!
The idea lodged in her mind. It went with her by day and coloured her thoughts by night, and it was still working within her like yeast when she at last nerved herself to go and see her godmother.