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    Chapter 15

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    Chapter 15
    Previous Chapter
    Joan Makes a Confession

    Joan read, with as great astonishment, the account of her father's interposition in an evening newspaper, and when he came in to dinner that night she was waiting for him in the hall.

    "Really, Daddy, you're a most wonderful person," she said, kissing him. "Did you see him?"

    "I saw him," admitted Lord Creith, in whom any demonstration of affection on the part of his daughter produced a sense of discomfort, "and quite a nice-looking fellow he is, Joan." He shook his head. "The police say he's a most dangerous rascal. You'd never dream it to see him. To tell you the truth"--he looked round and lowered his voice--"our friend Hamon is infinitely more criminal-looking! And for heaven's sake, don't repeat my words, Joan. The last time I said something unpleasant about Hamon, you blurted it out in the middle of dinner, and I had to lie myself blue to save my face."

    Joan had successfully avoided meeting Miss Lydia Hamon that morning, and was hopeful that so inexcusably rude had she been in her failure to keep an appointment, that the girl would not call upon her. At any other time she would have been curious to see what type of individual a sister of Ralph Hamon would be. To-day one thought and one subject absorbed her.

    The two hours before dinner Lord Creith ordinarily devoted to what he described as a siesta, and Joan usually occupied that period in dealing with her correspondence. She was in no heart to write to-day, and less in a mood to entertain visitors, so that Peters's announcement that Lydia Hamon had called wrung from her a sigh of despair.

    "Ask her to come up," she said, and braced herself to be polite.

    Her first feeling, on seeing the visitor, was one of surprise. Lydia had many accomplishments, not least of which was an exquisite taste in dress, and so fragile and sweet she looked, as she came into the drawing-room, that Joan found it difficult to believe that the girl could claim any relationship with the unprepossessing Mr. Hamon.

    "I'm so sorry I have interrupted you," drawled the visitor, with a glance at the writing-table, which Joan had hastily littered with notepaper in preparation for an excuse to cut the interview short. "I called this morning; Ralph said you would be expecting me, but you were out."

    Joan murmured her apologies, wondering what was the urgency of the business which brought the girl at this unconventional hour to make her call.

    "I am only in London for a few days, and I simply had to see you," said Lydia, as though supplying an answer to the question uppermost in Joan's mind at that moment. "I live in Paris. Do you know Paris very well?"

    "I know it a little. It is not my favourite city," said Joan.

    "Really!" Those arched eyebrows of Lydia's rose. "I can't understand anybody not loving Paris: it is so delightful to people of taste."

    "Then my taste is deficient," said Joan almost good-humouredly.

    "No, I didn't mean that." The girl hastened to correct any possibly bad impression. "I think one lives there. Do you know the Duc de Montvidier? He is a great friend of ours."

    She rattled off the names of a dozen noble Frenchmen without Joan discovering one in whom she might claim to have an interest, let alone an acquaintance.

    "Ralph tells me he has bought your place in Sussex," said Lydia, playing with the handle of her parasol and looking past the girl. "It is a beautiful place, isn't it?"

    "Yes, it is lovely," said Joan quietly.

    "I think it is such a pity," cooed Lydia, "the old place passing out of your possession, which has been in your family for hundreds of years--it must be a great blow to you. I told Ralph that I wondered he had the heart to take possession."

    "He hasn't taken possession yet; he doesn't so long as my father is alive," said Joan, beginning to understand the reason for the visit.

    "Oh, yes, I know. I wasn't thinking about your father, I was thinking about you more particularly. And I know Ralph thinks about you a great deal."

    Lydia looked under her eyelashes at the expressionless face of her hostess.

    "Ralph worries very much. He is awfully kind-hearted. Very few people understand him. To the average every-day person, Ralph is just a money-grabbing Englishman with no soul above commerce. In reality, he is tender and kind and the most loyal of friends."

    "He ought to make some girl a good husband," said Joan, leaping instantly into the breach.

    The reply took Lydia aback. It was so abrupt a declaration of all that she meant to hint, that she lost her place in the narrative she had so well rehearsed.

    "That is what I think. Honestly--though perhaps you will think it an impertinence of me to say so--Ralph is a prize worth winning."

    "I don't know why you should think it an impertinence," said Joan, "since I am not a competitor for the prize."

    A spirit of mischief was in her--the devil which on occasions caused Lord Creith great uneasiness of mind.

    "You see, I couldn't very well marry your brother--to put the matter very plainly."

    "Why not?" Lydia was betrayed into asking.

    "Because I'm already engaged," said Joan. "In fact, the engagement is such a long-standing one that I shouldn't like to break it off."

    "Engaged!"

    It was evidently news to Lydia, and inwardly she grew angry with her brother that he had not added this information to the important details with which he had furnished her.

    "Yes, I'm engaged."

    "But you wear no engagement ring?" said Lydia.

    "An engagement ring is not necessary when two hearts are in unison," replied Joan smugly.

    "My brother doesn't know."

    "Then you have some news to tell him," said Joan.

    Lydia had risen and was twirling her parasol awkwardly, being at a loss now as to how the interview could be terminated with the least possible delay.

    "I'm sure I hope you will be happy," she said tartly, "but I think it is the greatest mistake in the world for a girl of your breeding to marry somebody without money. And of course, if he had any money, he wouldn't have allowed Ralph to have bought your father's estate."

    "Such marriages sometimes turn out badly," said Joan sweetly, "but one hopes this particular match--which is a love match into which the sordid question of money has never intruded--will be an exception."

    The object of the girl's visit was now explained. Her chagrin, her confusion, the undisguised annoyance in her face and mien told Joan all that she wanted to know.

    "Perhaps you will change your mind," said Lydia, holding out a limp hand. "Ralph is the sort of man who is not easily put off anything he wants. He is a very good friend and a very bad enemy. There is a man who is kicking his heels in a prison cell who knows that!"

    She saw the flush dawn in Joan's face, but misunderstood the cause.

    "I don't know why people in prison should amuse themselves by kicking their heels," said Joan coldly; "and in all probability Mr. Morlake is quite cheerful."

    "You know James Morlake?"

    Joan met the dark eyes of Lydia Hamon and held them. "I ought to," she said slowly. "I am engaged to him."
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