That night, much to his surprise, Hugh found he could not sleep.
“It’s the strange bed,” he said. “It’s the noise of the London streets.” Sleeplessness had never troubled him before, but to-night he rolled and tossed from side to side, and then at last he sat bolt upright in the bed.
“Good Lord!” he said. “Good Lord, it can’t be!” He stared into the thick darkness and saw an oval face, crowned by waving brown hair, that glinted gold in the highlights. He saw a sweet, womanly, tender, smiling mouth and a pair of grey eyes that seemed to burn into his own.
“It can’t be!” he said again. And yet it was!
“Bless my soul!” said General Bartholomew. He had turned to the last page and looked at the signature. “Alicia Linden! I haven’t heard a word of her for five and twenty years. A confoundedly handsome girl she was too. Hudson, where’s my glasses?”
“Here, General,” said the young secretary.
The General put them on.
“My dear George,” he read.
It was a long letter, four pages closely written in Lady Linden’s strong, almost masculine hand.
“...I remember that when she visited me years ago, she told that me you were an old friend of her father’s. This being so, I think you should combine with me in trying to bring these two wrong-headed young people together. I have quarrelled with Hugh Alston, so I can do nothing at the moment; but you, being on the spot so to speak, in London, and Hugh I understand also being in London...”
“What the dickens is the woman drivelling about?” the General demanded. “Hudson!”
“Read this letter carefully, digest it, and then briefly explain to me what the dickens it is all about.”
The secretary took the letter and read it carefully.
“This letter is from Lady Linden, of Cornbridge Manor House, Cornbridge. She is deeply interested in a young lady, Miss Joan Meredyth. At least—” Hudson paused.
“Joan, pretty little Joan Meredyth—old Tom Meredyth’s girl. Yes, go on!”
“Three years ago,” Hudson went on, “Miss Meredyth was married in secret to a Mr. Hugh Alston—”
“Hugh Alston, of course—bless me, I know of Hugh Alston! Isn’t he the son of old George Alston, of Hurst Dormer?”
“Yes, that would be the man, sir. Her ladyship speaks of Mr. Alston’s house, Hurst Dormer.”
“That’s the man then, that’s the man!” said the General, delighted by his own shrewdness. “So little Joan married him. Well, what about it?”
“They parted, sir, almost at once, having quarrelled bitterly. Lady Linden does not say what about, and they have never been together since. A little while ago she received a letter from Miss Meredyth, as she still continues to call herself, asking her assistance in finding work for her to do. And that reminds me, General, that a similar letter was addressed to you by Miss Meredyth, which I sent on to you at Harrogate.”