Beauty, why should women want it, unless they are rich and well placed, carefully protected? Beauty to a poor girl is added danger. She would be a thousand, a million times better and happier without it.
She grew calmer presently. She must think. To-morrow the money for her board here would be due, and she had not enough to pay. She would not ask Slotman for the wages for this week, never would she ask anything of that man, never see him again.
Then what lay before her? She sat down and put her elbows on the dressing table with its dingy cheap lace cover, and in doing so her eyes fell on a letter, a letter that had been placed here for her.
It was from General Bartholomew, an answer to the appeal she had written him at the same time that she had written to Lady Linden. It came now, kindly, friendly and even affectionate, at the very eleventh hour.
“I was away, my dear child, when your letter came. It was forwarded to Harrogate to me. Now I am back in London again. Your father was my very dear friend; his daughter has a strong claim on me, so pack your things, my dear, and come to me at once. I am an old fellow, old enough to have been your father’s father, and the little note that I enclose must be accepted, as it is offered, in the same spirit of affection. It will perhaps settle your immediate necessities. To-morrow morning I shall send for you, so have all your things ready, and believe me.
She cried over the letter, the proud head drooped over it; bright tears streamed from the grey eyes.
Could Hugh Alston have seen her now, her face softened by the gladness and the gratitude that had come to her, he would have seen in her the woman of his dreams.
The banknote would clear everything. She did not scruple to accept it in the spirit of affection in which it was offered. It would have been churlish and false pride to refuse.
He had said that he would send for her when the morning came; he had taken it for granted that she would go, and there was no need to answer the letter. And when the morning came she was ready and waiting, her things packed, her last bill to Mrs. Wenham paid.
The maid came tapping on the door.
“Someone waiting for you, miss, in the drawing-room.”
Joan went down. It would be the old fellow, the warm-hearted old man himself come to fetch her! She entered the big ugly room, with its dingy wall-paper and threadbare carpet, its oleographs in tarnished frames, its ancient centre ottoman, its elderly piano and unsafe, uncertain chairs. How she hated this room, where of evenings the ‘paying guests’ distorted themselves.
But she came into it now eagerly, with bright eyes and flushed cheeks, and hand held out, only to draw back with sudden chill.
It was Mr. Philip Slotman who rose from the ottoman.