In Mrs. Bonner’s tiny sitting-room Hugh was pacing restlessly in the confined space, pausing now and again to listen.
She was coming—coming. Presently she would be here, presently he would see her, this girl of his dreams, standing before him with the lamplight on her sweet face.
But it was not to pour out the story of his love that he had sent for her to-night. He must remember that she came unattended, unprotected, relying on his chivalry. Hugh took a grip on himself, and now he heard the familiar creaking of the little gate, and in a moment was at the door. But the excitement, the enthusiasm of just now was passed.
He looked at her standing before him. Looking at her, he pictured her as he had seen her before, cold and haughty, her eyes hard and bright, her lips curved with scorn for him, and now—he saw her with a flush in her cheeks, and the brightness of her eyes was not cold, but soft and misty, and her red-lipped mouth trembled.
Once he had seen her as now, all sweetness and tenderness. And so in his dreams of her had he pictured her, and now he saw her so again, and knew that his love for her and need of her were greater even than he had believed.
“I sent for you, Hugh.” She hesitated, and again the colour deepened in her cheeks.
“You sent for me, dear?”
“Because I need you. I want your advice, perhaps your help. He—he came back again.”
“And I left here Thursday,” he smiled. “Joan, you have a spy in your house who reports my movements and yours to Slotman. No sooner was I gone from here than he was advised, and so he came. Now do you understand why I am here. I knew that man would come. He needs money, there is the magnet of your gold. He will never leave you in peace while he thinks you alone and unprotected, but while I was here you were safe, for he is a very coward.”
“And that was why you came, knowing that he—”
She paused. “And I—I cut you in the street, Hugh.”
“And hurt yourself by doing it,” he said softly.
“Yes.” She bowed her head, and then suddenly she thrust the softness and the tenderness from her, for they must be dangerous things when she loved this man as she did, and was promised to another.
“I must not forget that—I am—” She paused.
“Promised to another man? But you will never carry out that promise, Joan—you cannot, my dear! You cannot, because you belong to me. But it was not of that that you came to speak. Only remember what I have said. It is true.”
“It cannot be true. I never break a promise! What am I to do? Tell me and advise me. You know—what he—he says—what he thinks or—or pretends to think.” Again the burning flush was in her cheeks.
“And even though it is all a vile and cruel lie, yet I could not bear—”