She felt sickened, faint, and horrified, yet she gave no sign.
“Money you said!” he shouted, “and money it shall be! Ten thousand pounds, or I’ll give you away, so that every man and woman in Starden will count ’emselves your betters! I’ll give you away to the poor fool you think you are going to marry! There won’t be any wedding. I’ll swear a man couldn’t marry a thing—with such a name as I shall give you! Money, yes! you’ll pay! I want ten thousand pounds! Not five, remember, but ten, and perhaps more to follow. And if you don’t pay, there won’t be many who will not have heard about your imaginary marriage to that dog, Hugh Alston.”
The girl drew a deep shuddering sigh. She pressed her hands over her breast. From the shadows about the old barn a deeper shadow moved, something vaulted the gate lightly and came down with a thud on the ground beside Mr. Philip Slotman.
“Joan,” said a voice, “you will go away and leave this man to me. I will attend to the paying of him.”
Slotman turned, his rage gone, a cold sweat of fear bursting out on his forehead; his loose jaw sagged.
“A—a trap,” he gasped.
“To catch a rat! And the rat is caught! Joan, go. I will follow presently.”
No word passed between the two men as they watched the girl’s figure down the road. She walked slowly; once she seemed to hesitate as though about to turn back. And it was in her mind to turn back, to plead for mercy for this man, this creature. Yet she did not. She flung her head up. No, she would not ask for mercy for him: Hugh Alston was just.
So in silence they watched her till the darkness had swallowed her.
“So you refused to accept my warning, Slotman?”
“I—I refuse to have anything to do with you. It is no business of yours, kindly allow me—”
Slotman would have gone. Hugh thrust out a strong arm and barred his way.
“Wait!” he said, “blackmailer!”
“I—I was asking for a loan.”
“A gift of money with threats—lying, infamous threats. How shall I deal with you?” Hugh frowned as in thought. “How can a man deal with a dog like you? Dog—may all dogs forgive me the libel! Shall I thrash you? Shall I tear the clothes from your body, and thrash you and fling you, bleeding and tattered, into that field? Shall I hand you over to the Police?”
“You—you dare not,” Slotman said; his teeth were chattering. “It will mean her name being dragged in the mud, the whole thing coming out. You—you dare not do it.”
“You are right. I dare not, for the sake of her name—the name of such a woman must never be uttered in connection with such a thing as yourself. How, then, shall I deal with you? It must be the thrashing, yet it is not enough. It is a pity the duel has gone out, not that you would have fought me with a sword or pistol, Slotman, still—Yes, it must be the thrashing.”