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Chapter Thirty-Nine

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« on: June 13, 2023, 01:04:54 pm »

THEY caught a train at Meade Halt---caught it by the skin of their teeth, running for it as they had run for Loveday’s train on the night of their first meeting.

When the train left the station, Loveday sat back in her corner and shut her eyes. She didn’t want to talk and she didn’t want to think, and she didn’t want Hugo to touch her. They hadn’t really talked at all; because you can’t talk when you’re running. She had given Hugo the plans and said, now she would go back to Ledlington. And Hugo had said, how could she go back to Ledlington all by herself in the middle of the night?

Loveday was miserably aware that if she had had any proper pride she would have insisted on going back to Ledlington. Nine o’clock isn’t the middle of the night really; and even if it were, a girl with any proper pride would rather walk seven miles by herself along a lonely country road than run away to London with someone who didn’t love her, or he wouldn’t have kissed other people.

Loveday despised herself dreadfully for not having any proper pride. She felt she would rather die than go along that dark road again with things rustling in the hedges and strange, crying sounds coming suddenly out of the dark cloudy air. She was passionately glad to be in a lighted railway carriage with Hugo; but she wouldn’t speak to him, and she certainly wouldn’t let him kiss her.

Hugo felt dreadfully damped, because he wanted very much to kiss Loveday and to tell her how clever she was, and all about Treneath and his uncle’s will being found. And then he called himself a perfect beast, because of course she was most frightfully tired and it was much better for her to go to sleep---only he didn’t see why she couldn’t have gone to sleep with her head on his shoulder.

At the next station a fat man in a large overcoat got in, and did a cross-word puzzle all the way up to town.

---

The clock on Mr. Smith’s mantelpiece struck eleven.

“Well,” said Mr. Smith, “we shall see what we shall see.” He addressed a stout, round, plump-faced gentleman, who gazed at him with some asperity and replied,

“That’s all very well.”

“We shall see what we shall see,” repeated Mr. Smith. “To which I would add the cheering phrases, ‘Don’t be down-hearted,’ and ‘Never say die.’ ”

The short stout gentleman snorted. “That’s all very well!”

“You repeat yourself, my dear Green,” said Mr. Smith.

Mr. Green snorted again.

“If what you say is true, that man Minstrel’s assurance is past belief.”

“Nothing is past belief,” said Mr. Smith placidly.

“I tell you,” said the indignant Mr. Green, “I tell you, he browbeat me---he positively browbeat me. He said if we hadn’t worried him out of his life, he’d never have sent the papers off by this young fellow-me-lad of a secretary---said it was my fault if they were lost---my fault! Personally, I believe the man’s out of his mind. He raved up and down my room like---like a hyena, and he told me he’d driven at seventy miles an hour to get here. I tell you I think he’s mad.”

“There’s a little method in his madness,” said Mr. Smith dryly.

“He’s a most unpleasant fellow to deal with---offensive---downright offensive. He seemed to think I was a policeman---a policeman! Seemed to think it was my job to go dashing round the country arresting his damned secretary! Told me in the most offensive terms that it was my job! Mad, I say! Anyhow the plans are gone!”

The door opened. Mr. Smith’s confidential servant approached him.

“Someone to see you, sir.”

He laid a strip of paper on the arm of his master’s chair. Mr. Smith took it and got up.

“The dining-room, Walters.” Then, as the man withdrew, “Will you wait a minute, Green? I think---no, I won’t tell you what I think. Converse with Ananias until I return.”

Ananias cocked a cold eye at the guest as Mr. Smith went out. When the door had closed, he sidled to the end of his perch, once more regarded Mr. Green with distaste, and then in a very ostentatious manner turned his back.

Mr. Smith went into the dining-room, and found two young people where he had only expected to find one. Mr. Hugo Ross was on one side of the room, and Miss Loveday Leigh on the other. Mr. Hugo Ross was flushed, and Miss Loveday Leigh was pale---Miss Loveday Leigh was very pale indeed. Hugo was the nearest to him.

He said, “I’ve got ’em, sir! I’ve g-g-g-got ’em!” And without more ado he thrust some badly crumpled papers upon Mr. Smith, who took them in an absent-minded manner and continued to look inquiringly at the pale girl on the other side of the room.

“L-Loveday got ’em!” said Hugo eagerly.

“Indeed?”

“I thought I’d absolutely mucked it up. You see, he sent me off to town with the p-plans, and they drugged my c-c-coffee---only of course I wasn’t such a mug as to drink it. And I let them take the p-plans Ananias sent me, because I’d hidden the real ones in my f-flute---only they took the flute too, and I thought I’d absolutely m-mucked it up---only Loveday got them back. And we had to run like billy-oh to catch our train, and I thought we’d better come straight to you, because I haven’t the l-least idea where to find Mr. Green at this time of night.”

“How very lucid!” said Mr. Smith. “A---er---most masterly abstract.” He glanced at the crumpled papers, then gazed at the pale young lady. “Miss---er----?”

“L-L-Leigh,” said Hugo, and blushed.

Mr. Smith bowed.

“If Miss Leigh will excuse us, I should like you to repeat, and perhaps elaborate, that highly interesting statement of yours to my friend, Mr. Green---he happens to be in the next room. I feel sure that the flute episode will appeal to Green.”

He led the way from the room. The door closed.

Loveday sat down on a chair by the fire. All the excitement was over. Everything was most terribly flat and dull. A horrid succession of flat, cold, dull, unprofitable days stretched out before her to the very end of her life. She would rather---oh, so much rather---be escaping in breathless terror hand in hand with Hugo. What was the use of saying what she would rather do? She would never run away hand in hand with Hugo any more. It was all over. Everything was quite safe, and dull, and cold.

She put her head down on the arm of Mr. Smith’s shabby old leather chair and began to cry the dreadfully miserable tears of buoyant youth. She went on crying for a very long time.

She didn’t know when she drifted into sleep, but she woke with a start to find Hugo’s arms round her. Hugo was kissing her, and the dreadful thing was that before she quite knew what she was doing she had kissed him back. It was frightful.

She drew herself away with a sob.

“Don’t! Oh don’t!”

“Darling---it’s all right---it’s all right. Green’s got the plans. We’ve brought it off! Aren’t you glad? Aren’t you happy? Darling---what’s the matter---why mayn’t I kiss you?”

Loveday strained away from him.

“You kissed her!

“Loveday!”

“You kissed her---Hélène. Oh, I saw you!”

It was Hugo’s turn to draw away.

“Loveday, you don’t believe that!” He got up. “Loveday!”

Loveday got up too. It is easier to be proud when you are standing up.

“You did kiss her! I came back to find you, and I was at the bottom of the steps---and you said good-bye to her---and she kissed you---I know she did!”

Hugo didn’t blush; he got white. A minute ago everything had been all right; and now everything was too rotten for words. He looked at Loveday, and Loveday looked at him.

“You don’t love me,” said Loveday. “Go away! Go to Ellen!

“Thank you!” said Hugo.

He turned away. She had hurt him so frightfully that he didn’t want her to see his face. He wanted a minute to pull himself together. Why had everything gone to bits like this? He turned away.

“Why did you kiss her?” said Loveday.

“I didn’t.”

Something had happened. Loveday believed him. She couldn’t explain why she believed him, but she did. Whether it was something in his voice, or something in her own heart, she couldn’t have said. But she believed him. She believed him, and she said in a laughing, crying voice,

“Ellen was always a most frightful snatch-cat. Emily always told me she was. I believe she tried to snatch Andrew. Oh, just fancy anyone wanting to snatch Andrew! Hugo---are you frightfully angry?”

“Yes, I am,” said Hugo. He turned his head away.

Loveday had no proper pride. She flung her arms round his neck.

“Hugo---don’t be! I’m frightfully miserable---at least I was frightfully miserable when I thought you didn’t love me.”

“Perhaps I don’t,” said Hugo; but he put his arms round her.

“You do---I know you do! You don’t love Ellen a bit---you love me!” She put her face up to be kissed. “You haven’t told me what’s happened.”

“You didn’t seem to want to know.”

“I didn’t want to know---when I thought you didn’t love me. But I want to know now. Tell me! Tell me what’s happened!”

Hugo hugged her.

“Green’s in there,” he said---“and he’s got, the plans. So that’s all right. But I say---would you believe it?---he’s had Minstrel and Hacker here already!”

“How could he?”

“They must have run the innards out of that old car. Don’t you see? They wanted to get in first with their story.”

“Hugo---he doesn’t believe them!”

“I don’t think he wants to have an official row with Minstrel. I think they’ll patch the whole thing up and save Minstrel’s face. I don’t think they care so long as they’ve got the plans. They couldn’t prove anything, you know.”

“But you---” said Loveday. “Hugo---what happens to you?

He laughed.

“It’s not me---it’s us,” he said.

“Oh, tell me!”

“My uncle’s will has turned up.”

“Oh!” said Loveday.

“He’s left me Treneath. I knew he meant to---but he really did it. Loveday, we can get married! We shan’t have to wait. We can get married at once. You’ll love Treneath. Oh, Loveday, you will---won’t you?”

Mr. Smith opened the door gently. He had just let Mr. Green out and made some noise about it, but apparently neither Hugo nor Loveday had noticed anything. They did not notice that the door had opened, neither did they notice when it closed again.

Mr. Smith closed it and returned to his study. He took out his watch and glanced at it.

“I think I’ll give them another five minutes, Ananias,” he said.

THE END

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