She had brought the dark-eyed slip of a girl with her to-day, and from a distance Ellice sat watching the girl whom she told herself she hated—this girl who had in some strange way affected and bewitched Johnny, Johnny who belonged to her, Johnny whom she loved with a passionate devotion only she herself could know the depth of. How she hated her, she thought, as she sat watching the calm, beautiful, thoughtful face, with its strange, dreamy, far-away look in the big grey eyes.
She realised her beauty; she could not blind herself to it. She felt she must admire it because it was so apparent, so glowing, so obtrusive; and because she did admire it, she felt that she hated the owner of it the more.
“Why can’t she leave Johnny alone? I’ve known him all these years, and it seems as if he had belonged to me. He never looked at any other girl, and now—now—she is here with all her money and her looks—and he is bewitched, he is different.”
Helen rose; she wanted a few quiet words with Connie.
“I want to show you something in the garden, Connie,” she said. “I know Joan won’t mind.” And so the two went out and left Joan alone with the girl, who watched her silently.
Out in the garden Helen and Constance had what women love and hold so dear—a heart-to-heart talk, an exchange of secrets and ideas.
“Do you think she cares for him?”
“I don’t know, dear; but do you think he cares for her?”
“I am certain of it!”
“She spoke of him very nicely to-day. She said—” Helen repeated Joan’s exact words.
So they talked, these two in the garden, of their hopes and of what might be, unselfish talk of happiness that might possibly come to those they loved, and in the drawing-room Ellice Brand eyed this girl, her rival, whom she hated.
“Will you excuse me?” Joan said suddenly. “There is a letter I must write. I have just remembered that the post goes at five, so—”
She laughed sharply when Joan had gone out. “If he were here, it would be different. She would be all smiles and graciousness, but I am not worth while bothering about.”
Joan wrote the cheque. It was for a large sum, the largest cheque not only that she had ever drawn, but that she had ever seen in her life. But it would be money well spent; it would silence the slanderous tongue.
“I am sending you the money you demand. I understand your letter thoroughly. I am neither going to defend myself, nor excuse myself to you. I of course realise that I am paying blackmail, and do so rather than be annoyed and tormented by you. Here is your money. I trust I shall neither hear of you nor see you again.
And this letter Joan posted with her own hand in the same post-box into which she had dropped that letter more than a week ago, the letter to a man who was without chivalry and generosity. She thought of him at the moment she let this other letter fall.