“Mrs. Bonner,” said Hugh a few minutes later, “I am going to trust you absolutely. Miss Meredyth and I—are—old friends. It is urgent that I see her. I want you to take this letter to her; tell no one at the Hall that the letter is from me, tell no one that I am back. No one knows. I did not meet a soul on the road from the station, and I don’t want my presence here known. I am trusting you!”
“You can, sir!”
“I am sure of it. Take that note to Miss Meredyth, ask to see her personally. Don’t mention my name. Give her that letter, and if, when she has read it, she will come with you, bring her here, because I must see her, and to-night.”
It was Alice Betts who opened the door to Mrs. Bonner.
“Oh, good evening, Mrs. Bonner!”
“I didn’t come ’ere to bandy no words with you,” said Mrs. Bonner. “I never held with you, Alice Betts,” she added severely.
“I don’t see what I’ve done!”
“No pre-aps you don’t. Anyhow, I’m here to see your mistress. You go and tell her I am here.”
“If I say I’ve brought a letter that gel will guess who it is from,” Mrs. Bonner thought, so, wisely, she held her peace.
A few minutes later Mrs. Bonner was shewn into the drawing-room. She dropped a curtsey.
“You want to see me?”
“Yes, miss, but first—excuse me, miss!”
Mrs. Bonner hurriedly opened the door.
“I thought so,” she said. “Didn’t you best be getting off to your work?”
Alice Betts went.
“A spy! If I might make so bold, miss, I’d get rid of her. Them Bettses never was no good, what with the drink and things. I got a letter for you, miss, only I didn’t want that gel to know it.”
“Joan, I am back again. No one knows that I am, here except Mrs. Bonner and now yourself. I have reasons for wishing my return to remain unknown. But I must see you. You will believe that I would not ask you to come to me here if there was not urgent need.”
There was urgent need, and she knew it, for had she not written that appeal to him barely twenty-four hours ago? There had been no delay this time in his coming.
“And he, Mr. Alston, is at your cottage?”
“Yes, miss, came back only about a hour ago, and he’s waiting there. He told me maybe you might come back with me, and he’s trusting me not to tell anyone he’s here, miss.”
“Yes, I understand. And, Mrs. Bonner, you think that girl is a spy?”
“I know it. Wasn’t she starting to listen at the keyhole and me hardly inside the room?”
Joan was silent for a moment. “Go back! Tell him—I shall come—presently. Tell him I am grateful to him for coming so quickly.”
“I’ll tell him.”
Mrs. Bonner was gone, and Joan sat there hesitating. A trembling fit of nervousness had come to her, a sense of fear, strangely mingled with joy.
“I must go, there is no one else, but—I do not wish to see him,” and yet she knew that she did. She wished to see him more than she wanted to see anything on earth. So presently when Helen, who retired early, had gone upstairs, Joan slipped a cloak over her shoulders and stole out of the house as surreptitiously as any maid stealing to a love tryst.