Some way down the road, perhaps a quarter of a mile distant, stood a large shabby car drawn up against a hedge, and in that car dozed a chauffeur.
Mr. Slotman took out his watch and looked at it in the dim light.
It was past nine, and he muttered an oath under his breath.
“She won’t be such a fool as not to come now that fellow’s gone!” he thought, and he was right, for a few moments later she was there.
“So you did come?”
“I am here,” Joan said quietly. “You wish to speak to me?”
“Don’t be so confoundedly hold-off! Aren’t you going to shake hands?”
“Oh, very well!” he snarled. “Don’t then. Still putting on your airs, my lady!”
“I am here to hear anything you wish to say to me. Any threats that you have to make, any bargain that you wish to propose. I thought when I paid you that money—”
“That money’s gone; it went in a few hours.”
He felt savagely angry at her calmness, at her pride and superiority. Why, knowing what he knew, she ought to be pretty well on her knees to him.
“Please tell me what you wish to see me about and let me go. It is money, of course?”
Her voice was level, filled with scorn and utter contempt, and it made the man writhe in helpless fury.
“Look here, stow that!” he said coarsely. “Don’t ride the high horse with me. Remember I know you, know all about you. I know who you are and what you are, and—and don’t—don’t”—he was stuttering and stammering in his rage—“don’t think you can put me in my place, because you can’t!”
Joan did not answer.
“If I want money I’ve got a right to ask for it! And I do. I’ve got something to sell, ain’t I?—knowledge and silence. And silence is worth a lot, my girl, when a woman’s engaged to be married, and when there’s things in her past she don’t care about people knowing of. Yes, Miss Joan Meredyth, my lady clerk on three quid a week was one person, but Miss Meredyth of Starden Hall, engaged to be married to Mr. John Everard of Buddesby, is another, ain’t she?”
“Please say what you have to say,” she said coldly. “I do not wish to stay here with you.”
“But you are going to,” he said. “You are going to!” He reached out suddenly and gripped her hand. He had expected that she might struggle; it would have been human if she had, but she didn’t.
“Please release my hand,” she said coldly. “I do not wish to stay here with you!” She paused. “Tell me why you wish to see me!”
He dropped her hand with a snarling oath.
“Well, if you want to know, it is money, and this time it is good money. I am up against it, and I’ve got to have money. I’ve been down here several times, hunting round, listening to things, hearing things. I heard about your engagement. I have heard about you. Oh, everyone looks up to you round here—Miss Meredyth of Starden!” He laughed. “And it is going to pay Miss Meredyth of Starden to shut my mouth, ain’t it? June, nineteen eighteen, ain’t so long ago, is it? Mr. Hugh Alston—hang him!—you set him on to me, didn’t you?”