Well, what did it matter? She hated him. She had always hated him. She laughed aloud and bitterly at her own thoughts. “Yes,” she repeated to herself, “I hate him. I feel nothing but scorn and contempt for him. I am glad he did not answer my letter. I hope that I shall never see him again. If we do meet, by some mischance, then I shall pass him by.”
Several times this morning Helen had looked curiously at Joan. For Helen was in a secret that as yet Joan did not share. It was a little conspiracy, with Helen as the prime mover in it.
“I am sure that there never was anything between Joan and that Hugh Alston. It was some foolish tittle-tattle, some nonsense, probably hatched by that stupid old talkative Lady Linden.”
Two days ago had come a letter for Helen Everard, with an Australian stamp on it. It was from Jessie, her only sister, urging her to come out to her there, reminding her of an old promise to make a home in that distant land with her and her children. And Helen knew she must go. She wanted to go, had always meant to go, for Jessie’s boys were very dear to her. Yet to leave Joan alone in this great house, so utterly alone!
Last night Helen had driven over quietly to Buddesby, and she and Constance had had a long talk.
“I can’t leave Joan alone. I have written to Jessie, telling her that I shall start in three months. I have said nothing to Joan yet; but, Connie, I can’t leave her alone!”
“Helen, do you think she could care for Johnny enough to become his wife?”
“I believe she is fond of him. I will not say that I think she is desperately in love, but she likes him and trusts him, as she must; and so, Connie, I hope it may come about. Joan will make an ideal wife. He is all a woman could wish and hope for, the truest, dearest, straightest man living, and so—Connie—I hope—”
“I will talk to him to-night, and I will suggest that he comes over to-morrow and puts his fate to the test. I know he loves her.”
And to-day Johnny Everard should be here, if he had listened to his sister’s advice, and that was a thing that Johnny ever did, save in the matter of hops.
There was a look of subdued eagerness, of visible nervousness and uncertainty, about Mr. John Everard that day. And Helen saw it.
“Joan’s in the garden, John,” she said.
“Yes, I—” He fumbled nervously with his hands.
“Helen, I have been talking to Con, at least Con’s been talking to me!”
“And she—she says—Con tells me that there is a chance for me—just a chance, Helen. And, Helen, I don’t want to spoil my chance, if I have one, by rushing in. You understand?”
“I think,” Helen said, “that Joan would like you the better and admire you the more for being brave enough to speak out.”
“That’s it! I’ve got to speak out. You know I love her!”