"I SHALL FORGET HER"
Restless and unhappy, Hugh Alston
had returned to Hurst Dormer, to find there that everything
was flat, stale, and unprofitable. He had an
intense love for the home of his birth and his boyhood,
but just now it seemed to mean less to him than it
ever had before. He watched moodily the workmen
at their work on those alterations and restorations
that he had been planning with interested enthusiasm
for many months past. Now he did not seem to
care whether they were done or no.
“Why,” he demanded of
the vision of her that came to him of nights, “why
the dickens don’t you leave me alone? I
don’t want you. I don’t want to remember
you. I am content to forget that I ever saw you,
and I wish to Heaven you would leave me alone!”
But she was always there.
He tried to reason with himself; he attempted to analyse
“One cannot love a thing,”
he told himself, “unless one has every reason
to believe that it is perfection. A man, when
he is deeply in love with a woman, must regard her
as his ideal of womanhood. In his eyes she must
be perfection; she must be flawless, even her faults
he will not recognise as faults, but as perfections
that are perhaps a little beyond his understanding that’s
all right. Now in the case of Joan, I see in
her nothing to admire beyond the loveliness of her
face, the grace of her, the sweet voice of her and oh,
her whole personality! But I know her to be mean-spirited
and uncharitable, unforgiving, ungenerous. I
know her to be all these, and yet
“Lady Linden, sir, and Miss Marjorie Linden!”
They had not met for weeks. Her
ladyship had driven over in the large, comfortable
carriage. “Give me a horse or, better still,
two horses things with brains, created
by the Almighty, and not a thing that goes piff, piff,
piff, and leaves an ungodly smell along the roads,
to say nothing of the dust!”
So she had come here behind two fine horses, sleek
“Hello!” she said.
“Hello!” said Hugh, and
kissed her, and so the feud between them was ended.
“You are looking,” her ladyship said,
“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
“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.
“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!”
“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
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.
A week had passed since Slotman’s
visit, and since she had with her own hands posted
the letter to Hugh Alston. A week of waiting,
and nothing had come of it! This morning she
glanced through the letters. Her eyes had lost
their old eagerness; she no longer expected anything.
As usual, there was nothing from “Him,”
but there was one for her in a handwriting that she
knew only too well. She touched it as if it were
some foul thing. She was in two minds whether
to open and read it, or merely return it unopened
and addressed to Philip Slotman, Esq., Gracebury,
London, E.C. But she was a woman. And it
takes a considerable amount of strength of will to
return unopened and unread a letter to its sender,
especially if one is a woman.
What might not that letter contain?
Apology retraction, sorrow for the past,
or further insolent demands, veiled threats, and a
repetition of proposals refused with scorn and contempt which
was it? Who can tell by the mere appearance of
a sealed envelope and the impress of a postmark?
Joan put the letter into her pocket.
She would debate in her mind whether she would read
it or no.
“A letter from Connie, dear,”
said Helen. “She is coming over this afternoon
and bringing Ellice Brand with her. Joan, it is
a week or more since Johnny was here.”
“Yes, about a week I think,”
said Joan indifferently. She was thinking meanwhile
of the letter in her pocket.
Helen looked at her. She wanted
to put questions; but, being a sensible woman, she
did not. She had a great affection for Johnny.
What woman could avoid having an affection and a regard
for him? He was one of those fine, clean things
that men and women, too, must like if they are themselves
possessed of decency and appreciation of the good.
Yes, she was fond of Johnny, and she
had grown very fond of late of this girl. She
looked under the somewhat cold surface, and she recognised
a warm, a tender and a loving nature, that had been
suppressed for lack of something on which to lavish
that wealth of tenderness that she held stored up
in her heart.
Quite what part Hugh Alston had played
in the life of Joan, Helen did not know. But
she hoped for Johnny. She wanted to see these
two come together. She was not above worldly
considerations, for few good women are. It would
be a fine thing for Johnny, with his straitened income
and his habit of backing losers from an
agricultural point of view; but the main thing, as
she honestly believed, was that these two could be
very happy together. So she wondered a little,
and puzzled a little, and worried a little why Johnny
Everard should suddenly have left off paying almost
daily visits to Starden.
“I like Connie, and I shall
be glad to see her,” said Joan.
“I wish Johnny were coming instead of
“So do I!” said Joan heartily.
“I like him, I think, even more than I like
Connie. There is something so so honest
and straight and good about him. Something that
makes one feel, ’Here is a man to rely on, a
man one can ask for help when in distress.’
Sometimes ” She paused, then suddenly
she rose, and with a smile to Helen, went out.
So there had been no quarrel, why
should there have been? Certainly there had not
been. Joan had spoken handsomely of Johnny, and
she had said only what was true.
“I shall tell Connie exactly
what Joan said, and probably Connie will repeat it
to Johnny,” Helen thought, which was exactly
what she wished Connie would do.
In her own room Joan hesitated a moment,
then tore open the envelope, and drew out Mr. Philip
“My dear Joan (her
eyes flashed at the insolent familiarity of it).
Since my visit of a week ago, when you received me
so charmingly, I have constantly thought of you
and your beautiful home, and you cannot guess
how pleased I am to feel that the wheel of fortune
had taken a turn to lift you high above all want and
She went on reading steadily, her
lips compressed, her face hard and bitter.
“Unfortunately of late, things
have not gone well with me. It is almost
as if, when you went, you took my luck away with you.
At any rate, I find myself in the immediate need
of money, and to whom should I appeal for a timely
loan, if not to one between whom and myself there
has always been warm affection and friendship, to
say the least of it? That I am in your confidence,
that I know so much of the past, and that you
trust in me so completely to respect all your
secrets, is a source of pleasure and pride to me.
So knowing that we do not stand to one another
in the light of mere ordinary friends, I do not
hesitate to explain my present embarrassment to
you, and ask you frankly for the loan of three thousand
pounds, which will relieve the most pressing of my
immediate liabilities. Secure in the knowledge
that you will immediately come to my aid, as you
know full well I would have come to yours, had
the positions been reversed, I am, my dear Joan,
The letter dropped from her hands
to the carpet. Blackmail! Cunningly and
cleverly wrapped up, but blackmail all the same, the
reference to his knowledge of what he believed to
be her past! He knew that she was one who would
read and understand, that she would read, as is said,
between the lines.
Three thousand pounds, to her a few
short weeks ago a fortune; to her now, a mere row
of figures. She could spare the money. It
meant no hardship, no difficulty, and yet how
could she bring herself to pay money to the man?
She would not do it. She would
return the letter, she would write across it some
indignant refusal, and then No, she would
think it over, take time, consider. She was strong,
and she was brave she had faced an unkindly
world without losing heart or courage. Yet this
was an experience new to her. She was, after
all, only a woman, and this man was assailing that
thing which a woman prizes beyond all else her
good name, her reputation, and she knew full well
how he might circulate a lying story that she would
have the utmost difficulty in disproving now.
He could fling mud, and some of it must stick!
Charge a person with wrongdoing, and
even though it be definitely proved that he is innocent,
yet people only remember the charge, the connection
of the man’s name with some infamy, and forget
that he was as guiltless as they themselves.
Joan knew this. She dreaded it;
she shuddered at the thought that a breath should
sully her good name. She was someone now a
Meredyth the Meredyth of Starden.
Three thousand pounds! If she paid him for his
silence silence of what, about
what? Yet his lies might She paced
the room, her brain in a whirl. What could she
do? Oh, that she had someone to turn to.
She remembered the unanswered letter she had sent to
Hugh Alston, and then her eyes flashed, and her breast
“I think,” she said, “I
think of the two I despise him the more. I loathe
and despise him the more!”