And now in the dusk of the evening they set off on the homeward journey. And at Harlowe happened the inevitable, when one has only a small-sized tank, and undertakes a journey longer than the average, the petrol ran out. The car stopped after sundry spluttering explosions and back-firings.
“Nothing else for it, Gipsy. I must tramp back to Harlowe and get some petrol—serves me right, I ought to have thought of it. Are you afraid of being left there with the car?”
“Afraid!” She laughed. “Afraid of what, Johnny?”
He set off patiently with an empty petrol tin in each hand, and she watched him till he was lost in the dusk.
“Afraid!” she repeated. “Afraid only of one thing in this world—of myself, of my love for him!” And then suddenly sobs shook her, and she buried her face in her hands and cried as if her heart must break.
It took Johnny a full hour to tramp to Harlowe and to tramp back with the two heavy tins, and then something seemed to go wrong. The car would not start up: another hour passed, and they had a considerable way to go, and then suddenly, seemingly without rhyme or reason, the car started and ran beautifully, and once more they were off and away.
But they were very late when they came into Starden, and with still some six and a half miles to go before they could reassure Connie.
“Connie will be worrying, Gipsy,” Johnny said. “You know what Connie is, bless her! She’ll think all sorts of tragedies—and—” He paused, his voice faltered, shook, and became silent.
They were running past Mrs. Bonner’s cottage. The door of the cottage stood open, and against the yellow light within they could see the figure of a man and of a girl, and both knew the girl to be Joan Meredyth, and the man to be Mrs. Bonner’s lodger, the man that Joan had cut that day in Starden.
The car was a quarter of a mile further down the road before either spoke, and then Johnny said, and his voice was jerky and uncertain:
“Yes, Connie will be getting nervous. I shall be glad to have you home—Gipsy.”
Why should Joan have been at Mrs. Bonner’s cottage at such an hour? Why should she have been there talking to the very man whom she had a week ago cut dead in the village? Why, if she had anything to say to him, whoever he was, had she not sent for him rather than seek him at his lodgings?
Questions that puzzled and worried Johnny Everard sorely, questions that he could not answer. Jealousy, doubt, and all the kindred feelings came overwhelmingly. Honest as the day, he never doubted a soul’s honesty. If he found out that a man whom he had trusted was a thief, it shocked him; he kicked the man out and was done with him, and nothing was left but an unpleasant memory, but Joan was different.