For the next few hours Philip Slotman was a busy man. He went to the church and looked up the register. No marriage such as he looked for had taken place between Hugh Alston and Joan Meredyth in June, nineteen eighteen, nor any other month immediately before or after. No marriage had taken place at the local Registrar’s office. But he was not done yet. Six miles from Marlbury was Morchester, a far larger and more important town. Thither went Philip Slotman and pursued his enquiries with a like result.
Neither at Marlbury, nor at Morchester had any marriage been registered in the name of Hugh Alston and Joan Meredyth in the year nineteen eighteen; and having discovered that fact beyond doubt, Philip Slotman took train for London.
“When I am not with you”
A fortnight had passed since Johnny Everard’s first visit to Starden, and during that time he had been again and yet again. He had never taken Ellice with him since that first time.
Two days after the first visit he had driven Constance over, and Constance and Joan Meredyth had become instant friends.
“You’ll come again and often; it is lonely here,” Joan had said. “I mean, not lonely for me, that would be ungrateful to Helen, but I know she is very fond of you, and she will like you to come as often as possible, you and your brother.”
“Con,” Johnny said as he drove her home that evening, “don’t you think we might run to a little car, just a cheap two-seater? It would be so useful. Look, we could run over to Starden in less than half an hour. We can be there and back in an hour if we wanted to, and Helen would be so jolly glad, don’t you think?”
Constance smiled to herself.
“We haven’t much money now, Johnny,” she said. “Last year’s hops were—awful!”
“They are going to be ripping this year. I’ve got that blight down all right,” he said cheerily.
“Yes, dear; well, if you think—” She hesitated.
“Oh, we can manage it somehow,” he said hopefully.
Constance looked at him out of the corner of her eyes.
“It will be useful for you to run over to Starden to see Helen—won’t it?”
“Yes, to see Helen. She’s a good sort, one of the best, dear old Helen! Isn’t it ripping to have her near us again?”
“She could always have come to Buddesby if she had wanted to.”
“Oh, there isn’t much room there!”
“But always room enough for Helen, Johnny. You haven’t told me what you think of Joan Meredyth.”
She watched him out of the corners of her eyes. He stared straight ahead between the ears of the old horse.
“Joan Meredyth,” he repeated, and she saw a deep flush come stealing under the tan of his cheeks. “Oh, she’s handsome, Con. She almost took my breath away. I think she is the loveliest girl I ever saw.”