“So you have seen him?”
“I saw him, curse him! He came and—and—’
“Thrashed you?” Joan asked quietly “I thought he might!”
“Stop it! Stop your infernal airs!” he almost shouted. “I am here for money, and I want it, and mean to have it—five thousand this time!”
“I shall not pay you!”
“Oh, you won’t—you won’t! Then I go to Buddesby. I’ll have a little chat there. I’ll tell them a few things about Marlbury and about a trip to Australia that did not come off, and about a marriage that never took place. I’ve got quite a lot to chat about at Buddesby, and I shan’t be done when I’m through there either. There’s a nice little inn in Starden, isn’t there? If one talked much there it would soon get about the place!”
Under cover of the darkness her cheeks flamed, but her voice was still as cold and as steady as before.
“Have you ever considered,” she asked quietly, “that what you think you know, may not be true?”
“It is true! And if it isn’t true, it is good enough for me; but it is true!”
“It is not!”
He laughed. “It is—at any rate I think so, and others’ll think so. It’ll want a lot of explaining away, Joan, won’t it? if even it isn’t true. But I know better. Well, what about it—about the money?”
“I shall consider,” she said quietly. “I paid you before, blackmail! If I asked you if this was the final payment, and you said Yes. I know that I need not believe you, so—so I shall consider. I shall take time to think it over.”
“Oh, you will?”
Down the road came a cart. It lumbered along slowly, the carter trudging at the horse’s head. Slotman looked at the slow-coming figure and cursed under his breath.
“When shall I hear?”
“I shall think it over, decide how I shall act, whether I shall pay you this money or not,” she said. “In a few days, this day week, not before.” She turned away.
“And—and if I go to Buddesby and get talking?”
“Then of course I pay you nothing!” she said calmly.
That was true. Slotman gritted his teeth. Two minutes later the carter trudging on his way passed a solitary man smoking by a gate, and far down the road a woman walked quickly towards Starden.
“For her sake”
Into Hugh Alston’s life had come two women, women he had loved, both now engaged to be married to other men, and Hugh Alston was a sorely worried and perplexed man about both of them.
“I’ll go to Cornbridge to-morrow,” said Hugh, and he went.
“Where,” asked Lady Linden, “the dickens have you been?”
“In the country!”
“Isn’t your own country good enough for you?” She looked at him shrewdly. She saw the worry in his face; it was too open and too honest to make concealment of his feelings possible.