“I am glad of it,” he said. “I could have wished you had come into a great deal.”
“I have!” she said quietly.
“I am truly glad,” he said. “It was one of the things that troubled me most, the thought of you—you forced to go out into the world to earn your living, you who are so fine and exquisite and sensitive, being brought into contact with the ugly things of life. I am glad that you are saved that—it lightens my heart too, Joan.”
“Haven’t I told you? I hated the thought of you having to work for such a man as Slotman. I am thankful you are freed from any such need.”
She had wronged him by that thought, she was glad to realise it. He had not known, then.
“My uncle died. He left me his fortune and the old home of our family, which he had recently bought back, Starden Hall, in Kent. I am living there now with Mrs. Everard, my friend and companion, and now—”
While she had been waiting to be served with a bag that she did not particularly require, Helen Everard watched them through the shop-window. She watched him particularly.
“I like him; he looks honest,” she thought. “It is all strange and curious. If it were not true what Lady Linden said, why did she say it? If it is true, then—then why—what is the cause of the quarrel between them? Will they make it up? He does not look like a man who could treat a woman badly. Oh dear!” Helen sighed, for she had her own plans. Like every good woman, she was a born matchmaker at heart. She had a deep and sincere affection for John Everard. She had decided long ago that she must find Johnny a good wife, and here had been the very thing, only there was this Mr. Hugh Alston.
She had been served with the bag, it had been wrapped in paper for her, and now Helen came out. She had lingered as long as she could to give this man every chance.
“I am afraid I have been a long time, Joan,” she began.
Hugh turned to her eagerly.
“Mrs.—Everard,” he said, “I have been trying to induce Miss Meredyth to come and have lunch with me.”
“Oh!” Joan cried. The word lunch had never passed his lips till now, and she looked at him angrily.
“I suggest Prince’s,” he said. “Let’s get a taxi and go there now.”
“Thank you, I do not require any lunch,” Joan said.
“But I do, my dear. I am simply famished,” said Helen.
It was like a base betrayal, but she felt that she must help this good-looking young man who looked at her so pleadingly.
“And it is always so much nicer to have a gentleman escort, isn’t it?”
“You can’t refuse now, Joan,” Hugh said.
Joan! The name suggested to Helen that Joan had not spoken quite the truth when she had told General Bartholomew that she and this man were practically strangers. A strange man does not usually call a young girl by her Christian name.