At the entrance to Gracebury, which as everyone knows is a cul-de-sac of no considerable extent, Hugh stopped his taxi and got out. He walked down the wide pavement till he came to the familiar door.
“I’ll see him,” he thought. “I’ll go in and have a few words with him, just to remind him that his neck is in jeopardy.”
He went up the stone steps and paused.
The door of Mr. Philip Slotman’s office was closed. On the door was pasted a paper, stating that a suite of three offices was to let.
“Why does she take him from me?”
“Why—why—why?” Ellice asked herself. Why should this woman who did not love him wish to take him away from her, who worshipped the ground he trod on, who looked up to him as the best, the finest of all God’s created creatures?
That Joan Meredyth did not love John Everard no one understood more clearly than Ellice Brand. She had watched them when they were together, she had watched the girl apart; and the watcher’s body might be that of a child, but her eyes were the eyes of a woman, as was her heart too.
“Why should she take him from me?” she asked herself, and all her being rose in passionate revolt and resentment.
“Perhaps she does not know that I love him. Perhaps she looks on me only as a child—a silly, foolish, infatuated child. But I am not! I am not!” Ellice cried. “I am not! I love him. I loved him when I was a baby, when I came here eight years ago, and now I am eighteen and a woman, and I have never changed and never shall!”
During the days that followed the announcement of Joan Meredyth’s engagement to John Everard, Connie watched the girl. She felt troubled, anxious, and yet scarcely could say why. She knew the girl’s passionate nature. Connie almost dreaded something reckless even tragic. She was more worried than she could say and of course she could not consult Johnny. There was no one to consult but Helen, and Helen did not understand Ellice in the least. Helen was inclined to look down on Ellice from her superior height as a wayward, wilful, foolish child—nothing more.
“Send her away. I suppose she is really too old to go to school now, Connie. How old is she, sixteen?”
“She has the heart and the body of a child.”
“And the soul of a woman!”
“Sometimes, Connie dear,” said Helen sweetly, “you make me almost angry. You actually seem to be siding with this foolish little thing!”
Connie sighed. “In—in some ways I do. She loves him so, and I know it. I can’t be hard-hearted, I can’t blind myself to the truth. Of course, I know that Johnny’s marriage with Joan is the best thing in the world for both of them, but—”
“But just because a stupid, self-willed girl of eighteen believes herself deeply in love with Johnny—Oh, Connie, do be your own reasonable self.”