“But as I have shamed and angered you, I have come to offer the only reparation in my power—a poor one, I will admit.”
He looked at her, paused for a moment to give her an opportunity of speaking, but she did not speak. She looked at him steadily.
“May I briefly explain my position? I am practically alone in the world. My home is at Hurst Dormer, one of the finest old buildings in Sussex. I have an income of eight thousand a year.”
“What has this to do with me?”
“Only that I am offering it to you, myself and all I possess. I am asking you to do me the honour of marrying me. It seems to me that it is the one and the only atonement that I can make for what has passed.”
“You are—very generous! And—and you think that I would accept?”
“I hoped that you might consider the offer.”
Slotman gripped at the edge of the table against which he leaned.
He could scarcely believe his own ears—Joan, who had held her head so high, whom he had believed to be above the breath of suspicion!
If it were possible for such a man as Mr. Philip Slotman to be shocked, then Slotman was deeply shocked at this moment. He had come to regard Joan as something infinitely superior to himself. Self-indulgent, a libertine, he had pursued her with his attentions, pestered her with his admiration and his offensive compliments. Then it had slowly dawned on the brain of Mr. Philip Slotman that this girl was something better, higher, purer than most women he had known. He had come to realise it little by little. His feelings towards her had undergone a change. The idea of marriage had come to him, a thing he had never considered seriously before. Little by little it grew on him that he would prefer to have Joan Meredyth for a wife rather than in any other capacity. He could have been so proud of her beauty, her birth and her breeding.
And now everything had undergone a change. The bottom had fallen out of his little world of romance. He stood there, gasping and clutching at the edge of the table, while he listened to the man in the adjoining room offering marriage to Joan Meredyth “as the only possible atonement” he could make her!
Naturally, Mr. Philip Slotman could not understand in the least why or wherefore; it was beyond his comprehension.
And now he stood listening eagerly, holding his breath waiting for her answer.
Would she take him, this evidently rich man? If so, then good-bye to all his hopes, all his chances.
Within the room the two faced one another in momentary silence. A flush had come into the girl’s cheeks, making her adorable. For an instant the coldness and hardness and bitterness were all gone, and Hugh Alston had a momentary glimpse of the real woman, the woman who was neither hard, nor cold, but was womanly and sweet and tender.
And then she was her old self again, the bitterness and the anger had come back.