Hugh Alston had raised his hat, and she had given him the coolest of bows. He was turning away, true to his promise to trouble her no more, and her heart seemed to cry out against it suddenly.
If she could have believed that he had been here of deliberate intent, to find her, to see her, she would have felt cold anger against him; but it was an accident, and Joan knew suddenly that for some reason she was unwilling to let him go.
What she said she hardly knew, something about the unexpectedness of meetings that were common enough in London. At any rate she spoke, and was rewarded by the look that came into his face. A starving dog could not have looked more gratitude to one who had flung him a bone than Hugh Alston, starving for her, thanked her with his eyes for the few conventional words.
Before he could realise what had happened, she had introduced him to her companion.
“Helen, this is Mr. Alston—whom I—I know,” she said.
“Alston.” Helen Everard congratulated herself afterwards that she had given no sign of surprise, no start, nothing to betray the fact that the name was familiar.
Here was the man then whom Lady Linden believed to be Joan’s husband, the man whom Joan had denied she had married, and who she had stated to General Bartholomew was scarcely more than a stranger to her.
And, looking at him, Helen knew that if Hugh Alston and she met again, he would certainly not know her, for he had no eyes for anything save the lovely cold face of the girl before him.
“Oh, Joan,” she said, “there is one of those bags I have been wanting to get for a long time past. Excuse me, Joan dear, will you?” And Helen made hurriedly to a shop hard by, leaving them together.
Joan felt angry with herself now it was too late. She ought to have given him the coldest of cold bows and then ignored him; but she had been weak, and she had spoken, and now Helen had deserted her.
“I will say good-bye, Mr. Alston, and go after my friend.”
“No, wait—wait. I want to speak to you, to thank you.”
“To thank me?” She lifted her eyebrows. “For what?”
“For speaking to me.”
“That sounds very humble, doesn’t it?” She laughed sharply.
“I am very humble to you, Joan!”
“Mr. Alston, do you realise that I am very angry with myself?” she said coldly. “I acted on a foolish impulse. I ought not to have spoken to you.”
“You acted on a generous impulse, that is natural to you. Now you are pretending one that is unworthy of you, Joan.”
“I do not think you have any right to speak to me so, nor call me by that name.”
“I must call you by the name I constantly think of you by. Joan, do you remember what I said to you when we last met?”
“No, I—” She flushed suddenly. To deny, was unworthy of her. “Yes, I remember.”