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Chapter Thirty-Eight

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« on: June 13, 2023, 12:38:18 pm »

LOVEDAY was tired and cold. She was tired of the dark, and the damp that dripped from the trees, and she was tired of waiting all alone in the cold whilst Hugo was in a warm scented room with Hélène de Lara. Sometimes she walked up and down, and sometimes she stood still. The time dragged by in slow, dark minutes.

Minstrel and Hacker passed within a yard of her, walking fast---black figures going by without a word, black figures unknown but frightening. She held her breath until they were quite gone, then turned and stared at the door under the fanlight until it opened and the two black figures went in. She recognized Hacker, and guessed at his companion. The door shut again.

They were in there---and Hugo was in there---and she was outside in a horrible dark, cold drive without the least idea of what was happening or of what they were doing to Hugo---they might be doing simply anything. Loveday began to feel quite desperate. She felt she simply must find out what was going on. If she left the drive she risked missing Hugo. But she just had to risk it---she just had to find out what was going on.

She ran along the dark path that led through the shrubbery to the steps under the terrace. The window of Hélène’s sitting-room was there just across the terrace, only a few yards away. It was there, but she couldn’t see any light. She crossed the gravel and pressed close to the glass. It was all black, thick, opaque; she couldn’t see anything. But she could hear. She could hear voices, but they were faint and muffled. That meant that the shutters were closed. She strained with all her might, but the voices were only a blurred murmur that told her nothing.

She could not have said how long she stood there. It seemed a very long time. Sometimes there was no sound at all, and sometimes the sound was so faint that she could hardly be sure of it. And then, all of sudden, there was a real sound, very sharp and clear and most terrifyingly close at hand. It was the click of a key. Someone was opening the shutter. Someone was going to open the door.

Loveday didn’t know she was going to run, but she found herself on the other side of the terrace quite close to the steps, with all the breath gone out of her and her heart thumping like mad. The long French window had opened. Light came from it in a beam that died gradually into dusk.

Loveday ran down the steps.

There were two people coming across the terrace. She stepped off the path and took the old black yew-tree for shelter, just as Hugo had done on the night Hélène first brought him to Torring House. It was Hugo and Hélène coming now. She was sure of that even before she heard their voices. She held her breath. What did it mean? Hélène and Hugo! She held her breath. They were there, just at the top of the steps, and she heard Hugo say, “Good-bye,” and heard him stammer over saying it.

Loveday felt something like a little fiery spark---she thought of it like that afterwards when she tried to understand what had happened. There was a little fiery spark. It went off with a flash somewhere in her mind, and everything in her caught fire. Hélène’s murmuring voice was like a wind that fanned the flames---Hélène’s whispering, heart-broken voice.

Loveday came forward a step. She didn’t care now whether they saw her or not. She felt like a blazing fire that everyone could see.

Hugo was coming down. No---he had stopped. Against the lighted window she saw two dark figures that melted into one.

“Hugo---don’t go!” Hélène---Hélène said that; and Hugo stammered, “I must.” The two dark figures were one.

The fire in Loveday died with a dreadful suddenness at the sound of a kiss. It died, and she was cold---burnt out and cold.

“Oh, go---go!” said Hélène.

She pushed Hugo away.

Hugo came down the steps, and passed so close to her that she could have easily touched him. She didn’t touch him. She stood still.

Hugo went away. He went away down the dark path, under the dark trees. She heard the sound of his feet---and she stopped hearing it---there wasn’t any sound at all. Hugo had gone away.

Loveday came out on to the path and looked back at the house. She felt like Lot’s wife; she felt like a frozen pillar of salt, frozen tears. She looked back at the house, and she saw Hélène standing on the step of her sitting-room with the light behind her.

Hélène stood there looking after Hugo. And all at once Mr. Hacker came up behind her, and she turned and went in. The door shut, the curtain fell. The house was dark. Loveday was all alone.

She put her hands before her face to shut the darkness out, and just as she did so, something moved close beside her. If her hands hadn’t been over her face, she might have screamed before she could stop herself. As it was, her cold fingers pressed her lips and the scream was only a choking gasp.

Something moved, rustled, and scuttered away. A rat, or a rabbit—she didn’t know what it was; but she began to run, and as soon as she began to run, panic came over her. She ran without knowing where she was going. Once her coat caught on something. She jerked it free so desperately that the strong stuff tore and the sound of the ripping cloth added to her terror. She bruised her shoulder and her knee before she reached the drive. She ran on not knowing where she was.

Hugo didn’t run. He walked at a good brisk pace, because he had to get to Ledlington, find Loveday, and get away to town with the plans. When, he heard the sound of someone running behind him, he stopped to listen, and before he knew what was happening Loveday ran into him in the dark and nearly knocked him down. She was running blindly with her hands out before her. They struck his arm, and she came sobbing and choking against his shoulder.

He knew it was Loveday almost before he knew that it was going to be anyone at all; he heard her sob before she touched him. And then, in a second, she was in his arms and he was saying her name: “Loveday! Loveday!”

Loveday’s panic was so great that it could hardly be greater; yet when her groping hands touched a man’s arm she came to the nightmare point where a dream must break because we can bear no more. Her dream broke when Hugo’s voice said “Loveday!” and his arms tame round her close and safe. She dropped her head upon his shoulder and stayed there, neither breathing nor thinking.

“Loveday! What is it? Loveday---darling!”

Loveday drew breath again, but she did not lift her head.

“What is it? Have they hurt you?”

Loveday drew away.

“I’ve got the plans!” she said.

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