Hugh Alston did not recognise himself in this restless dissatisfied, unhappy man, who took to loitering and wandering about the streets, haunting certain places and keeping a sharp lookout for someone who might or might not come.
So the days passed. He had gladdened his eyes three times with a view of old General Bartholomew. He had seen that ancient man leaning on his stick, taking a constitutional around the square.
And that was all! He passed the house and watched, yet saw no sign of her. He came at night-time, when tell-tale shadows might be thrown on the blinds, but saw nothing, only the shadow of the General or of his secretary, never one that might have been hers.
And then he slowly came to the conclusion that Joan Meredyth could no longer be there. It had taken him nearly a week to come to that decision.
That Joan had left General Bartholomew’s house he was certain, but where was she? He had no right to enquire, no right to hunt her down. If he knew where she was, how could it profit him, for had he not promised to trouble her no more?
Yet still for all that he wanted to know, and casting about in his mind how he might find her, he thought of Mr. Philip Slotman.
It was possible that if she had left the General’s she had gone back to take up her work with Slotman again.
“I’ll risk it,” he thought, and went to Gracebury and made his way to Slotman’s office.
It was a sadly depleted staff that he found in the general office. An ancient man and a young boy represented Mr. Philip Slotman’s one-time large clerical staff.
“Mr. Slotman’s away, sir, down in the country—gone down to Sussex, sir,” said the lad.
“To Sussex? Will he be away long?”
“Can’t say, sir; he may be back to-morrow,” the boy said. “At any rate, he’s not here to-day.”
“I may come back to-morrow. You might tell him that Mr. Alston called.” And Hugh turned away.
Another disappointment. He realised now that he had built up quite a lot of hope on his interview with Slotman.
“Shall I wait till to-morrow, or shall I go back to-day?” Hugh wondered. “This is getting awful. I don’t seem to have a mind of my own, I can’t settle down to a thing. I’ve got to get a grip on myself. How does the old poem go: ’If she be fair, but not fair to me, what care I how fair she be?’ That’s all right; but I do care, and I can’t help it!”
He had made his aimless way back to the West End of London. It was luncheon time, and he was hesitating between a restaurant and an hotel.
“I’ll go back to the hotel, get some lunch, pack up and leave by the five o’clock train for Hurst Dormer,” he decided, and turned to hail a taxicab.
And, turning, he came suddenly face to face with the girl who was ever in his thoughts.
She had been helping a middle-aged, pleasant-faced woman out of a cab, and then, as she turned, their eyes met, and into Joan Meredyth’s cheeks there flashed the tell-tale colour that proved to him and to all the world that this chance meeting with him meant something to her after all.