"I wish," Ellice said, and said it without passion, but with a deep certainty in her voice, "I wish that I were dead, Connie." "You ought to be thoroughly ashamed of yourself," said Connie, who could think of nothing better to say. She made one more attempt when Starden was reached. "Ellice, child, why not go back with Hobbins?" "I am coming with you," Ellice said.
Bonner did not contradict her. "And gone sudden." "Very!" "Depend on it, it was the letter done it. Well, I won't be keeping you." "No, I ain't got no time for talking," said Mrs. Bonner, and closed the door. "A nosey Parker if ever there was one! Always shoving 'er saller face where she ain't wanted. I can't abide that gel!" Miss Alice Betts hurried off to the Bettses' cottage in Starden.
"Funny his going off like he did in such a hurry." "Then you you mean he is gone?" "Thursday night, miss." Gone! A feeling of desolation and helplessness swept over Joan. Gone when she had counted so on his help! She remembered what she had written: "I ask you earnestly to leave Starden," and he had obeyed her. It was her own fault; she had driven him away, and now she needed him.
And now the landscape was growing familiar, a little while, and they were running through Starden village. Villagers who had come to know him touched their hats. They passed Mrs. Bonner's little cottage, and now through the gateway, the gates standing wide as in welcome and expectation of his coming. And she, watching for him, saw his coming, and her heart leaped with the joy of it.
So, day after day, Johnny drove over to Starden, and when he came Helen would smile quietly and take herself off about some household duty, leaving the young people together. And Joan would greet him with a smile from which all coldness now had gone, for she accepted him as a friend. She saw his sterling worth, his honour and his honesty. He was like some great boy, so open and transparent was he.
Then suddenly Ellice broke away, and a few minutes later was riding hard down the road to Starden. It was always to Starden that she rode. Always she passed the great gates of Starden Hall, yet never even glanced at them.
"Helen? Oh, she's got to Starden then?" said John. "And wants us to come over, dear." "Of course! We'll go over next week some time. I'm busy now with " "It wouldn't be kind not to go at once." "Who is Helen?" demanded Ellice. She looked fierce-eyed at Connie and then at John. "Who is she?" A tinge of colour came into her cheeks. Connie saw it, and sighed a little.
"Very good, sir. Where shall I send them to?" "I don't know yet. I'll wire you an address." Yes, he must go to London. He could not go and watch Joan at Starden, but he could go to London and watch Mr. Philip Slotman. "What I'll do is this I'll have a watch kept on that man. There are private detective chaps who'll do it for me. If he goes down to Starden, I'll be after him hot-foot.
"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.
The door of the cottage stood open, and against the yellow light within they could see the figure of a man and of a girl, and both knew the girl to be Joan Meredyth, and the man to be Mrs. Bonner's lodger, the man that Joan had cut that day in Starden.