“I’m afraid there’s no other vacant seat,” he was beginning apologetically. But at the sound of his voice Gillian’s eyes flew up from that virile-looking hand to the face of its owner, and a low cry of surprise broke from her lips.
Simultaneously the man gave utterance to her own name.
Gillian stared at him stupidly. Could this really
Storran—Storran of Stockleigh?
The alteration in him was immense. He looked ten years older. An habitual stoop had lessened his apparent height and the dark, kinky hair was streaked with grey. The golden-tan bestowed by an English sun had been exchanged for the sallow skin of a man who has lived hard in a hot country, and the face was thin and heavily lined. Only the eyes of periwinkle-blue remained to remind Gillian of the splendid young giant she had known at Ashencombe—and even they were changed and held the cynical weariness of a man who has eaten of Dead Sea fruit and found it bitter to the taste.
There were other changes, too. Storran of Stockleigh was as civilised, his clothes and general appearance as essentially “right,” as those of the men around him. All suggestion of the “cave-man from the backwoods,” as Lady Arabella had termed him, was gone.
“I didn’t know you were in England,” said Gillian at last.
“I landed yesterday.”
“You’ve been in South America, haven’t you?”
She spoke mechanically. There seemed something forced and artificial about this exchange of platitudes between herself and the man who had figured so disastrously in Magda’s life. Without warning he brought the conversation suddenly back to the realities.
“Yes. I was in ’Frisco when my wife died. Since then I’ve been half over the world.”
Behind the harshly uttered statement Gillian could sense the unspeakable bitterness of the man’s soul. It hurt her, calling forth her quick sympathy just as the sight of some maimed and wounded animal would have done.
“Oh!” she said, a sensitive quiver in her voice. “I was so sorry—so terribly sorry—to hear about June. We hadn’t heard—we only knew quite recently.” Her face clouded as she reflected on the tragic happenings with which the news had been accompanied.
At this moment a waitress paused at Storran’s side and he gave his order. Then, looking curiously at Gillian, he said:
“What did you hear? Just that she died when our child was born, I suppose?”
Gillian’s absolute honesty of soul could not acquiesce, though it would have been infinitely the easier course.
“No,” she said, flushing a little and speaking very low. “We heard that she might have lived if—if she had only been—happier.”
He nodded silently, rather as though this was the answer he had anticipated. Presently he spoke abruptly:
“Does Miss Vallincourt know that?”
Gillian hesitated. Then, taking her courage in both hands she told him quickly and composedly the whole story of the engagement and its rupture, and let him understand just precisely what June’s death, owing to the special circumstances in which it had occurred, had meant for Magda of retribution and of heartbreak.