To-day she and the old General were talking in the drawing-room of the General’s house.
“Of course, if you prefer it and wish it, my dear.”
“I do!” said Joan. “I see no reason why Lady Linden should be in any way interested in me and my affairs. I prefer that you should tell her nothing at all. I was very fond of Marjorie, she is a dear little thing, and Lady Linden was very kind to me once, that is why I wrote to her. But now I would sooner forget it all. I shall go down to Starden and live.”
“I have no one, so I must be alone! Mr. Rankin says that all the business formalities will be completed this week, and there will be nothing to keep me. Mrs. Norton, the housekeeper at Starden, says the house is all ready, so I thought of going down at the beginning of next week!”
“Alone?” the old man repeated.
“Since I am alone, I must go alone.”
“My dear, I am an old fellow, and likely to be in the way, but if—my society—would—”
Joan smiled, and the smile transfigured her. It brought tenderness and sweetness to the young face that adversity had somewhat hardened.
“No, I won’t be selfish, dear,” she said gently. “You would hate it; you are at home here, and you have all you want. There you would be unhappy and uncomfortable; but I do thank you very, very gratefully.”
“But you can’t go alone, child. Why bless me, there’s my niece Helen Everard. She’s a widow, her husband’s people live close to Starden at Buddesby. If only for a time, let me arrange with her to go with you.”
“If you like,” she said.
“I’ll write to her at once,” the General said, and Joan nodded, little dreaming what the sending of that letter might mean to her.
THE BEGINNING OF THE TRAIL
For a while the unrighteous may bask in the sunshine of prosperity, but there comes a time of reckoning, more especially in the City of London, and things were at this moment shaping ill for Mr. Philip Slotman.
He stood at the door of the general office and surveyed his clerks. There were five of them; at the end of the week there would be but two, he decided. Next week probably there would be only one.
“Hello, Slotman!” It was a business acquaintance, who had dropped in to discuss the financial position.
“Things all right?
“Nothing to complain about,” said Slotman, who did not believe in crying stinking fish. Credit meant everything to him, and it was for that reason he wore very nice clothes and more jewellery than good taste warranted.
In Mr. Slotman’s inner office he and his friend, Mr. James Bloomberg, lighted expensive cigars.
“So the pretty typist has gone, of course?” said Bloomberg.
Slotman started. “You mean—?”
“Miss Meredyth; I’ve heard about her.”