Then, with a revulsion of feeling, came the sudden realisation that it was this very perfection of body which had been her undoing—like a bitter blight, leaving in its wake a trail of havoc and desolation. She was even conscious of a fierce eagerness for the period of penance to begin. Almost ecstatically she contemplated the giving of her body to whatever discipline might be appointed.
To anyone hitherto as spoiled and imperious as Magda, whose body had been the actual temple of her art, and so, almost inevitably, of her worship, this utter renouncing of physical self-government was the supremest expiation she could make. As with Hugh Vallincourt, whose blood ran in her veins, the idea of personal renunciation made a curious appeal to her emotional temperament, and she was momentarily filled with something of the martyr’s ecstasy.
Gillian’s arms clung round Magda’s neck convulsively as she kissed her at the great gates of Friars’ Holm a few hours later.
“Good-bye! . . . Ah, Magda! Come back to me!”
“I shall come back.”
One more lingering kiss, and then Magda stepped into the open car. Virginie made a rush forward before the door closed and, dropping on to her knees on the footboard, convulsively snatched her adored young mistress’s hand between her two old worn ones and covered it with kisses.
“Oh, mademoiselle, thy old Virginie will die without thee!” she sobbed brokenly.
And then the car slid away and Magda’s last glimpse was of the open gates of Friars’ Holm with its old-world garden, stately and formal, in the background; and of Virginie weeping unrestrainedly, her snowy apron flung up over her head; and of Gillian standing erect, her brown eyes very wide and winking away the tears that welled up despite herself, and her hand on Coppertop’s small manful shoulder, gripping it hard.
As the car passed through the streets many people, recognising its occupant, stopped and turned to follow it with their eyes. One or two women waved their hands, and a small errand-boy—who had saved up his pennies and squeezed into the gallery of the Imperial Theatre the previous evening—threw up his hat and shouted “Hooray!”
Once, at a crossing, the chauffeur was compelled to pull up to allow the traffic to pass, and a flower-girl with a big basket of early violets on her arm, recognising the famous dancer, tossed a bunch lightly into the car. They fell on Magda’s lap. She picked them up and, brushing them with her lips, smiled at the girl and fastened the violets against the furs at her breast. The flower-girl treasured the smile of the great Wielitzska in her memory for many a long day, while in the arid months that were to follow Magda treasured the sweet fragrance of that spontaneous gift.
Half an hour later the doors of the grey house where the Sisters of Penitence dwelt apart from the world opened to receive Magda Vallincourt, and closed again behind her.