But I could not bear to speak about that, so I dropped my head on Mildred’s lap.
During the silence that followed we heard the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs.
“Listen! They’re here,” said Mildred. “Get up. Say nothing. Leave everything to me.”
I rose quickly and returned to the window. Mildred dried her eyes, got up from the chair and stood with her back to the fire-place.
There was a knock at my door. I do not know which of us answered it, but my landlady came into the room, followed by three men in tall silk hats.
“Excuse us, my dear,” she said, in an insincere voice. “These gentlemen are making an examination of the house, and they wish to see your room. May they?”
I do not think I made any reply. I was holding my breath and watching intently. The men made a pretence of glancing round, but I could see they were looking at Mildred. Their looks seemed to say as plainly as words could speak:
“Is it she?”
Mildred hesitated for a moment, there was a dreadful silence and then—may the holy Virgin bless her!—she shook her head.
I could bear no more. I turned back to the window. The men, who had looked at each other with expressions of surprise, tried to talk together in ordinary tones as if on common place subjects.
“So there’s nothing to do here, apparently.”
“Let’s go, then. Good day, Sister. Sorry to have troubled you.”
I heard the door close behind them. I heard their low voices as they passed along the corridor. I heard their slow footsteps as they went down the stairs. And then, feeling as if my heart would burst, I turned to throw myself at Sister Mildred’s feet.
But Sister Mildred was on her knees, with her face buried in my bed, praying fervently.
I did not know then, and it seems unnecessary to say now, why my father gave up the search for me in London. He did so, and from the day the milliner’s clue failed him I moved about freely.
Then from the sense of being watched I passed into that of being lost.
Sister Mildred was my only friend in London, but she was practically cut off from me. The Little Sisters had fixed her up (in the interests of her work among the lost ones) in a tiny flat at the top of a lofty building near Piccadilly, where her lighted window always reminded me of a lighthouse on the edge of a dangerous reef. But in giving me her address she warned me not to come to her except in case of urgent need partly because further intercourse might discredit her denial, and partly because it would not be good for me to be called “one of Sister Veronica’s girls”—that being Mildred’s name as a nun.
Oh the awful loneliness of London!
Others just as friendless have wandered in the streets of the big city. I knew I was not the first, and I am sure I have not been the last to find London the most solitary place in the world. But I really and truly think there was one day of the week when, from causes peculiar to my situation, my loneliness must have been deeper than that of the most friendless refugee.