I discreetly questioned Miss Ross, Miss Dangerfield and others whom I met, and all that I learned was this: A few days after my departure the Hardings suddenly decided to go to England, or France or Germany or somewhere. Carter was with them much of the time, but none of them talked of their plans, and all the hints dropped to me by the married and unmarried ladies of Woodvale were unproductive of information. They had been here; they were abroad—and that was all there was to it.
It was yet early in the day and I took the first train for the city and went straight to Mr. Harding’s office. I am known to his representatives there. They told me that all they knew was that Mr. Harding had gone abroad to remain for a time.
“I assure you, Mr. Smith,” said his private secretary, “that I do not know where he is. He said that his family was going with him, and that nothing possibly could happen here which would warrant bothering him. I am sure he would be glad to see you, and I can only advise you to call on his London bankers, who may have his address.”
“Do you think the family are in England?” I asked, willing to accept the faintest clue.
“I have no more idea than have you,” he replied and I am convinced he was telling the truth.
The “Oceanic” was the first boat to sail, and here I am. I doubt if a sane man ever went on so absurd and hopeless a quest. I have had nothing to do for several days but think over this situation, and the mystery of the sudden departure resolves itself into these two possibilities; first, that they have gone abroad to keep away from me; and, second, that they have gone to England for the purpose of celebrating the marriage of Carter and Miss Harding.
I do not see how I shall be of much use in either event. But this good ship is cleaving the water toward England at the rate of twenty-five knots an hour and I cannot turn back if I would.
I do not see how I am to stop the wedding. I remember that Carter once told me that if he ever married it would be in London. I suppose they are married before this time. Perhaps they will assume that I came across on purpose to congratulate them.
I cannot understand why Mr. Harding did not leave some word for me. Surely I have not offended him?
[Illustration: “I cannot turn back if I would”]
I met and chatted with him a few minutes before Miss Harding said the words which have made me the most miserable of human beings.
This thing is past my solving. I only know that whatever she has done or whatever she may do I love her and ever shall love her.
ENTRY NO. XXIII
A FEW CLOSING CONFESSIONS
On my arrival in London I lost no time in presenting myself to Mr. Harding’s bankers. I also presented a letter of introduction from that gentleman’s private secretary, and I presume these London financiers called a meeting of the board of directors to consider this weighty matter. I waited for hours, and was finally ushered into a private office. It was as dingy and inadequate as are most London offices, and I was properly impressed with its age, traditions and smells.