Chapter 28
 

He got back to Fulham Road in time for the press of Saturday night. Allchin declared that he looked much better, and customers were once more gratified by Mr. Jollyman's studious civility. On Sunday morning he wrote a long letter to Sherwood, which, for lack of other address, he sent to the care of Godfrey's relative in Wales. This was something done. In the afternoon he took a long walk, which led him through the Holland Park region. He called to see Franks, but the artist was not at home; so he left a card asking for news. And the next day brought Franks' telegraphic reply. "Nothing definite yet. Shall come to see you late one of these evenings. I have not been to Walham Green." Though he had all but persuaded himself that he cared not at all, one way or the other, this message did Warburton good. Midway in the week, business being slack, he granted himself a half holiday, and went to Ashtead, merely in friendliness to Ralph Pomfret--so he said to himself.

From Ashtead station to the Pomfrets' house was a good twenty minutes' walk. As he strode along, eyes upon the ground, Will all at once saw the path darkened by a shadow; he then became conscious of a female figure just in front of him, and heedlessly glancing at the face, was arrested by a familiar smile.

"You were coming to see us?" asked Miss Elvan, offering her hand. "What a pity that I have to go to town! Only just time to catch the train."

"Then I'll walk back to the station with you--may I?"

"I shall be delighted, if you don't mind the trouble. I have an appointment with Miss Cross. She has found rooms which she thinks will suit me, and we're going to look at them together."

"So you have decided for London?"

"I think so. The rooms are at Chelsea, in Oakley Crescent. I know how fond you are of London, and how well you know it. And I know so little; only a street or two here and there. I mean to remedy my ignorance. If ever you have an afternoon to spare, Mr. Warburton, I should be so glad if you would let me go with you to see interesting places."

For an instant, Will was surprised, confused, but Rosamund's entire simplicity and directness of manner rebuked this sensation. He replied in a corresponding tone that nothing would please him more. They were now at the railway station, and the train approached. Rosamund having sprung into a carriage, gave her hand through the window, saying:

"I may be settled in a day or two. You will hear--"

With the sentence unfinished, she drew back, and the train rolled away. For a minute or two, Warburton stood on the platform, his lips mechanically prolonging the smile which had answered Miss Elvan's, and his thoughts echoing her last words. When he turned, he at first walked slowly; then his pace quickened, and he arrived at the Pomfrets' house, as though on urgent business. In the garden he caught sight of Ralph, recovered from his attack of gout, sitting at his ease, pipe in mouth. Will told of his meeting with Miss Elvan.

"Yes, yes; she's off to London town--wants to live there, like all the rest of the young people. In thirty years' time she'll have had enough of it, and be glad to creep into a quiet corner like this. My wife's in the house, teaching our new maid to make tea-cakes--you shall have some at five o'clock. I wonder whether any girl could be found nowadays who knows how to make tea-cakes? There's Rosamund-- she knows no more about that kind of thing than of ship-building. Do you know any young lady who could make a toothsome tea-cake?"

"I'm not quite sure," answered Will reflectively, "but I have one in mind who perhaps does--it wouldn't surprise me."

"That's to your credit. By the bye, you know that Norbert has been here."

"Yes, I heard of it. He wrote to tell me."

"Aye, but he's been twice--did you know that? He was here yesterday."

"Indeed?"

Ralph looked at the other with an odd smile.

"One might have expected a little awkwardness between them," he continued. "Not a bit of it. There again--your girl of to-day; she has a way of her own with all this kind of thing. Why they just shook hands as if they'd never been anything but pleasant friends. All the same, as I tell you, Norbert has been a second time."

"I'm glad to hear it," said Warburton.

Will had purposed getting back to the shop about seven o'clock. He was, indeed, back in London at that hour, but his state of mind tempted him to shirk squalid duty; instead of turning toward Fulham Road, he took his way into the Strand, and there loitered in the evening sunshine, self-reproachful, yet enjoying the unwonted liberty. It was dinner-time; restaurants exhaled their pungent odours, and Will felt sharpening appetite. For the first time since his catastrophe, he granted himself the dinner of a well-to-do man, and, as would naturally befall in such a case, made his indulgence large.

Several days passed and brought no letter from any one. But at midnight on Saturday, there lay awaiting him a letter addressed in Sherwood's well-known hand. Godfrey began by excusing himself for his delay in replying; he had had rather a nasty attack of illness, and was only now able to hold his pen. But it was lucky he had not written before; this very morning there had reached him the very best news. "The father of the man who owes me ten thousand pounds is dying. Off and on he has been ill for a long time, but I hear at length that there can be no doubt whatever that the end is near. I can't pretend to any human feeling in this matter; the man's death means life for us--so the world goes. Any day now, you may have a telegram from me announcing the event. Of the prompt payment of the debt as soon as my friend inherits, there is no shadow of doubt. I therefore urge you very strongly not to make a disclosure. It will be needless. Wait till we see each other. I am still in Ireland-- for a reason which I will explain when we meet"

Will drew a long breath. If ever news came opportunely, it was this. He threw up the window of his stuffy little sitting-room, and looked out into the summer night. The murmur of London once more made music to his ears.