“Ah, ha! That’s it—just a piece of luck! The name struck me—Alston—I thought of George Alston. I said to myself, ‘Can this be his boy?’ And you are, eh? George Alston, of Hurst Dormer.”
The General rambled on, but he forgot to explain to Hugh how it was that he had found him out at the Northborough Hotel, and presently Hugh forgot to enquire, which was what the General wanted.
“You’ll dine with me to-night, eh? I won’t take no—understand. I want to talk over old times!”
“I thought of returning to Sussex to-night,” said Hugh.
“Not to be thought of! I can’t let you go! I shall expect you at seven.”
The old fellow seemed to be so genuinely anxious, so kindly, so friendly, that Hugh had not the heart to refuse him.
“Very well, sir; it is good of you. I’ll come, I’ll put off going till to-morrow. I remember you well now, you used to come for the shooting when I was a nipper.”
Not till after the old fellow had gone did Hugh wonder how he had unearthed him here in the Northborough Hotel. He had meant to ask him—he had asked him actually, and the General had not explained. But it did not matter, after all. Some coincidence, some easily understandable explanation, of course, would account for it.
“And to-morrow I shall go back,” Hugh thought, as he drove to the General’s house in a taxicab. “I shall go back to Hurst Dormer, I shall get busy doing something and forget everything that I don’t want to remember.”
But his thoughts were with the girl he had seen last in Mr. Slotman’s office. And he saw her in memory as he had seen her for one brief instant of time—softened and sweetened by some thought, some influence that had come to her for a moment. What influence, what thought, he could not tell; yet, as she had been then, so he saw her always and remembered her.
A respectful manservant took Hugh’s coat and hat; he led the way, and flung a door wide.
“General Bartholomew will be with you in a few moments, sir,” he said; and Hugh found himself in a large, old-fashioned London drawing-room.
“To-morrow,” Hugh was thinking, “Hurst Dormer—work, something to occupy my thoughts till I can forget. It is going to take a lot of forgetting, I suppose I shall feel more or less a cad all my life, though Heaven knows—”
He swung round suddenly. The door had opened; he heard the swish of skirts, and knew it could not be General Bartholomew.
But who it would be he could not have guessed to save his life. They met again for the third time in their lives. At sight of him the girl had started and flushed, had instinctively drawn back. Now she stood still, regarding him with a steadfast stare, the colour slowly fading from her cheeks.
And Hugh stood silent, dumbfounded, astonishment clearly shown on his face.