“You are free of me, Michael.” She spoke in a curious, still voice. “I know Marraine and Gillian between them have brought you back. But you are free of me. As you see—I shall never do any more harm. No other man will come to grief for the sake of the Wielitzska. . . . I determined that as I had made others pay, so I would pay. I think”—suddenly moving towards the window and standing full in the brilliant sunlight—“I think you’ll agree I’ve settled the bill.”
Michael came to her side.
“I want you for my wife,” he said simply.
She held out her work-roughened hands, while the keen-edged sunlight pitilessly revealed the hollowed line of cheek and throat, the lustreless dark hair, the fine lines that Pain, the great Sculptor, had graved about her mouth.
“You are an artist before everything, Michael,” she said. “Look—look well!”
He took the two work-worn hands in his and drew her nearer him.
“I’m your lover before everything,” he answered. “When will you come to me, Magda?”
“No, no,” she said whisperingly. “I mustn’t come. You’ll never—never quite forgive me. Some day the past would come between us again—you’ll never forget it all.”
“No,” he replied steadily. “Perhaps not. Consequences cannot be evaded. There are things that can’t be forgotten. But one forgives. And I love you—love you, Magda, so that I can’t face life without you.” His voice vibrated. “The past must always lie like a shadow on our love. But you’re my woman—my soul! And if you’ve sinned, then it must be my sin, too——”
She leaned away from him.
“Do you mean—June?” she asked.
He nodded with set lips.
“Then—then you don’t know—you haven’t heard?”
His expression answered her and her face changed—grew suddenly radiant, transfigured. “Oh, Saint Michel—Saint Michel! Then there is one thing I can do, one gift I have still left to give! Oh, my dear, I can take away the shadow!” Her voice breathless and shaken, she told him how June had died—all that Dan Storran had learned from the doctor who had attended her.
“I know I hurt her—hurt her without thinking. But oh, Michael! Thank God, it wasn’t through me that she died!”
And Michael, as he folded his arms about her, knew that the shadow which had lain between him and the woman he loved was there no longer. They were free—freed from those “ropes of steel” which had held them bound. Free to go together and find once more their Garden of Eden.
Presently, when those first perfect moments of reunion were past, Magda gave utterance to the doubts and perplexities that still vexed her soul.
“Pain may purify,” she said slowly. “But it spoils, Michael, and blots, and ruins. I think, after all, pain is meaningless.”
Michael’s grey, steady eyes met her troubled ones.
“I don’t think pain—just as pain—purifies,” he answered quickly. “Pain is merely horrible. It is the willingness to suffer that shrives us—not the pain itself.”