Gillian had learned a great deal about Catherine Vallincourt by now, both from Lady Arabella and from Magda herself, who, before leaving the community, had discovered the identity of its head. And she could visualise the stern, fanatical woman, obsessed by her idea of disciplining Magda and of counteracting the effects of her brother’s marriage with Diane Wielitzska, opening the letter and, after perusal, calmly sealing it up in its envelope again and returning it to the sender.
“Magda never had that letter, Michael,” she repeated. “Listen!” And then, without preamble, but with every word vibrant with pity for the whole tragedy, she poured out the story of Magda’s passionate repentance and atonement, of her impetuous adoption of her father’s remorseless theory, mistaken though it might be, that pain is the remedy for sin, and of the utter, hopeless despair which had overwhelmed her now that she believed it had all proved unavailing.
“She has come to believe that you don’t want her—never could want her, Michael—because she has failed so much.”
There was more than one reproach mingled with the story, but Michael made no protest. It was only when she had finished that Gillian could read in his tortured eyes all that her narrative had cost him.
“Yes,” he said at last. “It’s true. I wanted the impossible. I was looking for a goddess—not a woman. . . . But now I want—just a woman, Gillian.”
“Then, if you want her, you must save her from herself. You’ve just twenty-four hours to do it in. To-morrow she’s still Magda. The next day she’ll be Sister Somebody. And you’ll have lost her.”
Half an hour later, when Michael’s nurse returned, she found her patient packing a suit-case with the assistance of a pretty, brown-haired girl whose eyes shone with the unmistakable brightness of recent tears.
“But you’re not fit to travel!” she protested in horrified dismay. “You mustn’t think of it, Mr. Quarrington.”
But Michael only laughed at her, defying her good-humouredly.
“If the man you loved were waiting for you in England, nurse, you know you’d go—and you wouldn’t care a hang whether you were fit to travel or not!”
The nurse smiled in spite of herself.
“No,” she admitted. “I suppose I shouldn’t.”
As the Havre-Southampton boat steamed through the moonlit night, Dan and Gillian were pacing the deck together.
“I’m so glad Michael is going back to Magda without knowing—about June,” said Gillian, coming to a standstill beside the deck-rail. “Going back just because his love is too big for anything else to matter now.”
“Haven’t you told him?”—Storran’s voice held surprise.
“No. I decided not to. I should like Magda to tell him that herself.”
They were both silent for a little while. Gillian bent over the rail, looking down at the phosphorescent water breaking away from the steamer’s bow. Suddenly a big hand covered hers.