“I don’t presume to judge her”—icily. “I simply say I can’t marry her.”
“If you could see her now, Michael——” Her voice shook a little. “It hurts me to see Magda—like that. She’s broken——”
“And my sister, June, is dead,” he said in level, unemotional tones.
Gillian wrung her hands.
“But even so——! Magda didn’t kill her, Michael. She couldn’t tell—she didn’t know that June——” She halted, faltering into silence.
“That June was soon to have a child?” Michael finished her sentence for her. “No. But she knew she loved her husband. And she stole him from her. When I think of it all, of June . . . little June! . . . And Storran—gone under! Oh, what’s the use of talking?”—savagely. “You know—and I know—that there’s nothing left. Nothing!”
“If you loved her, Michael—”
“If I loved her!” he broke out stormily. “You’re not a man, and you don’t know what it means to want the woman you love night and day, to ache for her with every fibre of your body—and to know that you can’t have her and keep your self-respect!”
“Oh—self-respect!” There was a note of contempt in Gillian’s voice. “If you set your ‘self-respect’ above your love—”
“You don’t understand!” he interrupted violently. “You’re a woman and you can’t understand! I must honour the woman I love—it’s the kernel of the whole thing. I must look up to her—not down!”
Gillian clasped her hands.
“Oh!” she said in a low, vehement voice. “I don’t think we women want to be ‘looked up to.’ It sets us so far away. We’re not goddesses. We’re only women, Michael, with all our little weaknesses just the same as men. And we want the men who love us to be comrades—not worshippers. Good pals, who’ll forgive us and help us up when we tumble down, just as we’d be ready to forgive them and help them up. Can’t you—can’t you do that for Magda?”
“No,” he said shortly. “I can’t.”
Gillian was at the end of her resources. She would not tell him that Magda proposed joining the Sisters of Penitence for a year. Somehow she felt she would not wish him to know this or to be influenced by it.
She had made her appeal to Michael himself, to his sheer love for the woman he had intended to make his wife. And she had failed because the man was too bitter, too sore, to see clearly through the pain that blinded him.
His voice, curt and clipped, broke the silence which had fallen.
“Have you said all you came to say?” he asked with frigid politeness.
“All,” she returned sadly.
He moved slowly towards the door.
“Good-bye,” she said, holding out her hand.
He took it and held it in his. For a moment the hard eyes softened a little.
“I’m sorry I can’t do what you ask,” he said abruptly.
Gillian opened her lips to speak, but no words came. Instead, a sudden lump rose in her throat, choking her into silence, at the sight of the man’s wrung face, with its bitter, pain-ridden eyes and the jaw that was squared implacably against love and forgiveness, and against his own overwhelming desire.