“You are looking,” her ladyship said, “rotten!”
“I am looking exactly as I feel. How are you, Marjorie?” He held the small hand in his, and looked kindly, as he must ever look, into her pretty round face. Because she was blushing with the joy of seeing him, and because her eyes were bright as twin stars, he concluded that she was happy, and ascribed her happiness, not unnaturally considering everything, to Tom Arundel.
“As the cat,” said Lady Linden, “wouldn’t go to Mahomed—”
“The mountain, you mean!” Hugh said.
“Oh, I don’t know. I knew it was a cat, a mountain or a coffin that one usually associates with Mahomed. However, as you didn’t come, I came—to see what on earth you were doing, shutting yourself up here in Hurst Dormer.”
“They don’t agree with you. I expect it’s the drains. You’re doing something to the drains, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I believe—”
“Then go and get a suitcase packed, and come back with us to Cornbridge.”
He would not hear of it at first; but Lady Linden had made up her mind, and she was a masterful woman.
“Really, I think I had better—not. You see—”
“I don’t see! Marjorie, go out into the garden and smell the flowers. Keep away from the drains.... You’ll come?” she repeated, when the girl had gone out.
“Look here, I know what is in your mind; if I come, it will be on one condition!” Hugh said.
“I know what that condition is. Very well, I agree; we won’t mention it. Come for a week; it will do you good. You’re too young to pretend you are a hermit!”
“You’ll keep that condition; a certain name is not to be mentioned!”
“I am no longer interested in the—young woman. I shall certainly not mention her name. I think the whole affair—However, it is no business of mine, I never interfere in other people’s affairs!” said Lady Linden, who never did anything else.
“All right then, on that condition I’ll come, and it is good of you to ask me!”
Hugh sent for his housekeeper.
“I am going to Cornbridge for a few days. I’ll leave you as usual to look after everything. If any letters—come—there will be nothing of importance, I may run over in a couple of days to see how things are going on. Put my letters aside, they can wait.”
“Very good, sir!” said Mrs. Morrisey. And the first letter that she carefully put aside was the one that Joan Meredyth had written, after much hesitation and searching of mind, in her bedroom that afternoon at Starden.
And during the days that followed Joan watched the post every morning, eagerly scanned the few letters that came, and then her face hardened a little, the curves of her perfect lips straightened out.
She had made a mistake; she had ascribed generosity and decency to one who possessed neither. He had not even the courtesy to answer her letter, in which she had pleaded for a meeting. She felt hot with shame of herself that she had ever stooped to ask for it. She might have guessed.