All the time his eyes sought hers, which avoided the challenge, and the strong masculine charm of magnetism which he possessed in such vital abundance overwhelmed her unaccustomed consciousness. Galen Albret shifted uneasily, and shot a glance in their direction. The stranger, perceiving this, lowered his voice in register and tone, and went on with almost exaggerated earnestness.
“Surely you can forgive me, a desperate man, almost anything?”
“I do not understand,” said Virginia, with a palpable effort.
Ned Trent leaned forward until his eager face was almost at her shoulder.
“Perhaps not,” he urged; “I cannot ask you to try. But suppose, mademoiselle, you were in my case. Suppose your eyes—like mine—have rested on nothing but a howling wilderness for dear heaven knows how long; you come at last in sight of real houses, real grass, real door-yard gardens just ready to blossom in the spring, real food, real beds, real books, real men with whom to exchange the sensible word, and something more, mademoiselle—a woman such as one dreams of in the long forest nights under the stars. And you know that while others, the lucky ones, may stay to enjoy it all, you, the unfortunate, are condemned to leave it at any moment for la Longue Traverse. Would not you, too, be bitter, mademoiselle? Would not you too mock and sneer? Think, mademoiselle, I have not even the little satisfaction of rousing men’s anger. I can insult them as I will, but they turn aside in pity, saying one to another: ’Let us pleasure him in this, poor fellow, for he is about to take la Longue Traverse.’ That is why your father accepts calmly from me what he would not from another.”
Virginia sat bolt upright on the divan, her hands clasped in her lap, her wonderful black eyes looking straight out before her, trying to avoid her companion’s insistent gaze. His attention was fixed on her mobile and changing countenance, but he marked with evident satisfaction Galen Albret’s growing uneasiness. This was evidenced only by a shifting of the feet, a tapping of the fingers, a turning of the shaggy head—in such a man slight tokens are significant. The silence deepened with the shadows drawing about the single lamp, while Virginia attempted to maintain a breathing advantage above the flood of strange emotions which the personality of this man had swept down upon her.
“It does not seem—” objected the girl in bewilderment, “I do not know—men are often out in this country for years at a time. Long journeys are not unknown among us, We are used to undertaking them.”
“But not la Longue Traverse,” insisted the young man, sombrely.
“La Longue Traverse.” she repeated in sweet perplexity.
“Sometimes called the Journey of Death,” he explained.
She turned to look him in the eyes, a vague expression of puzzled fear on her face.