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Chapter Nineteen

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« on: June 11, 2023, 11:31:30 am »

HUGO shut the door behind them. It made a little sound like a farewell. The house that it guarded slept on.

They came into a dark street where nothing moved. Everything was still and dim. They crossed the road. There was no light in any window of no. 50, and the taxi that had ticked before the door was gone. The way was clear.

Morrington Road was not quite so deserted. When they came to it, there were still people abroad and a taxi or two plying. Here each lamp as they passed it showed them to each other. Hugo saw that Loveday wore a grey jumper and skirt. She was coatless and hatless. Two of the people they met turned and stared as the light fell on the brown tumbled hair. She caught his arm.

“Have I still got a smut on my face?”

“No---it’s gone. I mean they’re gone---there were two.”

“Then why did they stare?”

“Well, you know you haven’t got a hat or a coat, and you’re not in evening clothes---the hat wouldn’t matter if you were.”

The lamplight shone on them. He saw her wide, delightful smile and the dimple in her chin.

“Give me yours. Will you?”

Hugo blushed, because he hadn’t thought of this for himself, and it was so simple.

She crammed the old felt well down on her head and laughed.

“Is it becoming?”

“Not v-very. You’ve got it on crooked.”

He put it straight for her quite seriously, and was disconcerted because she laughed again. It was very important that she should not be noticed. A man without a hat is nothing; but a girl in a grey jumper suit, hatless at midnight in the Bayswater Road, with wildly tumbled hair, would go on being stared at until he could get her into shelter. His hat made all the difference; in the Bayswater Road the few people whom they met did not stare at all.

They stopped at Notting Hill Gate Tube station.

“Where are we going? What are you going to do with me, Hugo?”

Hugo had made up his mind. He would have to try and get Mr. Smith on the telephone. Something had to be done with Loveday, and Mr. Smith would have to take a hand. Besides, there were things he ought to know.

Having picked out Mr. Smith’s remarkable name from amongst several closely printed pages of other Smiths, Hugo asked for the number and put his pennies in the slot. He rather blessed the godfathers and godmothers who had so conveniently afflicted Benbow Collingwood Horatio. He hoped and trusted with all his heart that Mr. Smith sat late amongst his books.

The telephone rattled and a voice said, “Who is there?”

“I want to speak to Mr. Smith.” This was to make assurance doubly sure, for he recognized the calm, dreamy tones.

“I am Mr. Smith.”

“Hugo speaking.”

“Where from?” The question came with astonishing sharpness.

“Notting Hill Gate Tube station. I thought that wouldn’t m-matter. It’s v-very important.”

“Very well---go on. What has happened?”

Hugo felt a sudden conviction that Mr. Smith would disapprove very much of his interview with Cissie and the whole of this Lexley Grove adventure. He began to stammer a good deal.

Mr. Smith did not help him at all. He let Hugo get his story out in embarrassed jerks, and maintained a most complete and unhelpful silence until the end.

The ensuing pause was broken by the voice of the operator, who demanded two more pennies.

“Are you there, s-sir?”

“Yes,” said Mr. Smith dryly. “Is that, may I ask, the full tale of your indiscretions?”

“Yes, s-sir.”

“You shouldn’t have gone---I suppose you know that. The question is, did anyone recognize you?”

“No one s-saw me.”

“The woman who gave you the key?”

Hugo was beginning to feel better.

“She didn’t see me---it was dark.”

“That makes no difference. You had just got the address from Miss Cissie. If the woman tells tales, I think we may suppose that Miss Cissie will put two and two together; and then, as far as you are concerned, the game is up---you are of no further use.”

“I don’t think she’d tell---she was scared stiff.”

“Well, that remains to be seen. I’ll find out and let you know. Now what about this young woman you’ve run off with? Where is she?”

“She’s here, sir.”

“And what do you propose to do with her?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

Mr. Smith appeared to be considering. There was quite a long pause. Then he said,

“She must go back to the cousin she was living with.”

“Will that be safe, sir?”

“Perfectly---if she does what she’s told. I’ll arrange for her to have police protection. Let me see---the cousin lives at Ledlington, I think you said. Well, the young woman is to stay in Ledlington. No trapesing about---no gadding. She’s to keep to frequented places and not go out alone at night or talk to strangers.”

Hugo felt a most unjustifiable annoyance. Loveday was not a young woman. She was Loveday. It was revolting to think of her being forced back into the society of James. The conviction that Mr. Smith’s advice was good merely heightened the annoyance.

Mr. Smith went on speaking.

“For to-night take her to 105 Meeson Street. It’s about five minutes’ walk from where you are. Ask for Miss Agnes and say Ananias sent you. She’ll take the girl in for the night and pack her off to her relations to-morrow.”

“S-supposing she won’t go, sir?”

Mr. Smith made no reply to this.

“That’s all. And please remember that you are on no account to use the telephone again.”

Hugo came out of the telephone box.

“What ages you were---what simply ages! What are we going to do?”

“I’m going to take you to a house near here.”

“Whose house?”

“A Miss Agnes. And---and he s-says you m-must go back to Ledlington to-morrow.”

Loveday turned on him with her chin in the air and her eyes very bright under the brim of his old hat---it really was quite becoming enough.

“Who says?”

“Well, I can’t tell you. But we’ve b-both got to do what we’re told.”

“I haven’t!” said Loveday.

“Yes, you have. It’s f-frightfully important. I can’t explain.”

The eyes became tragic.

“Do you want me to go back to Ledlington and marry James?”

Hugo didn’t want anything of the kind, but he clutched at common sense. “Why should you m-marry James?”

“I’ve never been able to think of any reason why I shouldn’t---that’s just it.”

“Then nobody can m-make you.”

Loveday broke into an unexpected gurgle of laughter.

“You don’t know much about girls---do you?”

“Why should I?”

“Some people do. James does---at least he thinks he does. James thinks that any girl can be made to do anything if you’re only persevering enough. And he just goes on being persevering, and singing awful sentimental slosh at me, and taking about ten minutes to shake hands every time I see him, and calling me ‘Loveday’ in the sort of voice that treacle would have if it could talk. And perhaps---perhaps he’ll end by converting me, and then I shall marry him in a sort of treacly trance. Do you want me to marry James in a treacly trance?”

They had been walking along the street. When Loveday asked this ridiculous question, she stood still and took hold of Hugo’s arm with both hands. She shook the arm and said,

“Do you want me to marry James?”

They were out of the thoroughfare. The street was dark and empty. Loveday’s face was turned up to him. Hugo did the sort of bold thing that only very shy people do. He said, “I’d hate you to m-marry James,” and he kissed her. The kiss landed near her eyelashes where the smudge had been.

Loveday said “Oh!” pinched him very hard, and then let go and began to run away. Her heart was beating so fast that she didn’t really know what she was doing. She did not run very fast, and Hugo caught her quite easily. His heart was beating too. He did not know what he was going to say, but he heard himself saying, “I’m f-frightfully sorry.” And then Loveday said, “Are you?” and his heart beat harder still, and he said, “No.

Loveday stopped and stamped her foot.

“You’re not!

“N-no.”

Quite suddenly Hugo stopped being shy. He took Loveday’s hands and said,

“Oh, Loveday, do you w-want me to be sorry?”

Loveday said, “I don’t know,” and then she began to cry.

Hugo had always thought of her laughing. Now she was crying, and it was he who had made her cry. He ought to have been struck to the heart. Actually, he felt very large and strong and uplifted by the fact that he had made Loveday cry; it made him feel about six foot high and as strong as Samson.

When Loveday snatched away her hands and covered her face, he put his arms round her and kissed the little bare, cold fingers and the point of her chin.

“Oh!” said Loveday with a heartrending little sob. And then all at once she put her head on his shoulder and clung to him.

Hugo said all the words he had never said to anyone before; words like darling and sweetheart just crowded into his mind and said themselves into Loveday’s ear. It was the most astonishing thing that had ever happened.

“Darling love! Darling love!”

Loveday pinched him with all her might.

“I’m so frightened!” she sobbed.

“Don’t be frightened. Darling, don’t be frightened.”

“I am frightened---I’m dreadfully frightened. Oh, please hold me.”

“I am holding you. You needn’t be frightened any more.”

“Why did they want to carry me off? I’m frightened about it.”

“You’re quite safe. I think they wanted to get you out of the way. Did Cissie know what you overheard about me?”

“Yes---I told her. Wasn’t I an idiot?”

“Yes,” said Hugo. He kissed her again.

“I told Cissie, and it was after that she wouldn’t let me go out alone, and she used to lock the door when she went out. She said it was because the other people in the house weren’t very nice; and that gave me a horrid sort of frightened feeling. She said Maggie’s husband wasn’t very nice---and I don’t think he was.”

“Maggie?”

“She let you in. She has the room across the landing. I liked her---I thought she was kind.”

Hugo frowned in the dark.

“It was a beastly house for you to be in. I s-say, darling, I wouldn’t t-tell anyone about it if I were you.”

“Of course not. You’re different---aren’t you?”

“Of course I am. You can tell me anything.”

Loveday gave a little whispering laugh.

“I shan’t. I shall tell you just what I want to.”

“You’ve got to be good---you’ve got to be frightfully good and go back to your cousin Emily. She was Emily, wasn’t she?”

“Emily Brown---Emily---featherbed---Brown. If I go back, she’ll simply smother me with things like ‘I told you so,’ and ‘Look before you leap,’ and masses and masses of good advice and more things like ‘It isn’t done,’ and ‘Just see what comes of it, my dear,’ till I’m choked. And when I’m choked perfectly dumb and helpless, James will come along and propose to me in about five volumes, and I shan’t be able to say ‘No.’ ”

Hugo actually laughed.

“I’m not really afraid of James,” he said.

“Suppose I marry him?”

“You won’t.”

“How d’you know?”

“Because some day you’re going to marry me.”

The street was dark and empty; the wind came down it in gusts. Hugo had the thought that it was like someone laughing---shouting and laughing and rushing by; he felt as if it were a natural thing for the wind to laugh and shout for him and for Loveday, because they were young, and strong, and poor, and immensely happy. He kissed Loveday, and he laughed as he kissed her. And she pinched him and laughed too, and said in a whisper----

“Hugo, why do you laugh? Why?”

“Because I’ve got everything in the world to laugh at.”

Loveday did not laugh again. She put her lips close to Hugo’s ear and said, “You’re not going back?”

“Back where?”

“To that horrible house.”

He had both arms round her. He shook her a little, gently.

“Of course I’m going back.”

“You’re not! You mustn’t!

“Silly little thing! I must.”

“I’m not silly. I’m sensible. It’s silly to go back to a horrible house where you know people have got some horrid plan to get you into trouble.”

“Loveday---listen. I m-must go back. I can’t tell you why, and you m-mustn’t ask. I’ve got a job of work to do, and I’ve simply got to go back. I c-can’t tell you any more than that.”

Loveday went on pinching.

“You said that just like James. James is frightfully earnest. If you’re going to be earnest and secretive, and like James, I won’t ever marry you. Why must you go back? They’ll get you into some horrible, horrible trouble if you do. They felt all horrible and wicked when they were talking. It made me feel cold all down the back of my neck and horribly frightened inside. If you go back, they’ll do something horrid to you---I know they will.”

“No, they won’t. Look here, Loveday---don’t you see it makes all the difference my knowing that they’re going to try it on? I know what they’re up to; and they don’t know that I know. And as long as they think I don’t know, I’m safe. Do you see?”

“I don’t see anything.”

Footsteps sounded, so close to them that they started apart; a man went by with a shuffling tread. Hugo realized with a start how late it was.

The house they were looking for was no more than two minutes’ walk. On the doorstep he asked,

“Have you any money?”

“Cissie’s got it,” said Loveday. “I had twenty pounds, and she said it wasn’t safe to leave it about. And yesterday, when I asked for some, she said it had gone to pay my board and lodging till the end of the month and that I was very lucky to be taken in for so little in London. But I don’t think it was a little---I think it was a frightful lot---don’t you?”

Hugo didn’t say what he thought about Cissie; he rang the bell instead. There was a tinkle of sound.

Loveday came close.

“Someone will come, and you’ll go away.”

“I must.”

“Oh, Hugo!”

“Darling, I must.”

“Will you come and see me?”

“I can’t.”

“Or write to me?”

“No---I can’t.”

“And mustn’t I write to you?”

“N-no, darling.”

He kissed her, and she kissed him back. The door began to open. It opened about six inches and then stopped.

“Who’s there?” said a voice.

What was one to answer? It was no good saying “Miss Leigh”; but what was one to say? Hugo began to stammer: “W-we were s-sent—I mean t-told---I mean he s-said to ask f-for M-miss Agnes.”

“I am Miss Agnes. Who sent you?”

“Ananias,” said Hugo, and thought how mad it sounded.

The door opened wider. A woman in a black dress stood there holding a candle.

“Better come in,” she said.

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