“CHILDREN STUMBLING IN THE DARK”
As Gillian mingled once more with the throng on the pavements she felt curiously unwilling to return home. She had set out from Friars’ Holm so full of hope in her errand! It had seemed impossible that she could fail, and she had been almost unconsciously looking forward to seeing Magda’s wan, strained face relax into half-incredulous delight as she confided in her the news that Michael was as eager and longing for a reconciliation as she herself.
And instead—this! This utter, hopeless failure to move him one jot. Only the memory of the man’s stern, desperately unhappy eyes curbed the hot tide of her anger against him for his iron refusal.
He still loved Magda, so he said. And, indeed, Gillian believed it. But—love! It was not love as she and Tony Grey had understood it—simple, forgiving, and wholly trustful. It seemed to her as though Michael and Magda were both wandering in a dim twilight of misunderstanding, neither of them able to see that there was only one thing for them to do if they were ever to find happiness again. They must thrust the past behind them—with all its bitterness and failures and mistakes, and go forward, hand in hand, in search of the light. Love would surely lead them to it eventually.
Yet this was the last thing either of them seemed able to think of doing. Magda was determined to spend the sweetness of her youth in making reparation for the past, while Michael was torn by bitterly conflicting feelings—his passionate love for Magda warring with his innate recoil from all that she had done and with his loyalty to his dead sister.
Gillian sighed as she threaded her way slowly along the crowded street. The lights of a well-known tea-shop beckoned invitingly and, only too willing to postpone the moment of her return home, she turned in between its plate-glass doors.
They swung together behind her, dulling the rumble of the traffic, while all around uprose the gay hum of conversation and the chink of cups and saucers mingling with the rhythmic melodies that issued from a cleverly concealed orchestra.
The place was very crowded. For a moment it seemed to Gillian as though there were no vacant seat. Then she espied an empty table for two in a distant corner and hastily made her way thither. She had barely given her order to the waitress when the swing doors parted again to admit someone else—a man this time.
The new arrival paused, as Gillian herself had done, to search out a seat. Then, noting the empty place at her table, he came quickly towards it.
Gillian was idly scanning the list of marvellous little cakes furnished by the menu, and her first cognisance of the new-comer’s approach was the vision of a strong, masculine hand gripping the back of the chair opposite her preparatory to pulling it out from under the table.