The blood-red mist was before Hugh’s eyes, and out of that mist appeared a vision of a face, an unpleasant face, with starting eyes and gaping mouth.
This he saw, and then his vision cleared, and with a shudder he released his hold on the man’s throat, and Philip Slotman subsided limply into his chair.
Helen Everard’s pleasant face was beaming. Her smile expressed complete contentment and satisfaction, for everything was going as everything should go. Johnny was an accepted lover, Joan’s future would be protected; she herself would be left free to make her long journey to the dear ones at the other side of the world. All was well!
Joan had been to London yesterday, had rushed off with scarcely a word, and had returned at night, tired and seemingly dispirited.
Joan, quiet and calm, smiled at Helen and kissed her good morning, but spoke hardly at all.
“You had a tiring day in Town yesterday, dear?”
Helen asked no more questions. She thought of Hugh Alston. Could it be anything to do with him? She could never quite understand the position of Hugh Alston. Of course the talk about a marriage having taken place years ago between Hugh Alston and Joan was absurd, was ridiculous. Joan was proving the absurdity of it even now by accepting Johnny.
“Connie is coming over this afternoon to see you, Joan,” she said. “She sent me a note over yesterday by a boy. Johnny has told her of course, and Connie is delighted beyond words. She sends you her dear love.”
“Thank you!” Joan said calmly.
“Of course,” Helen hesitated, “the marriage need not be long delayed. You see—” She paused, and then went into explanations about Jessie and the children out in Australia, and her own promise to go to them.
“So this afternoon I want you and Connie to have a long, long talk,” Helen said. “There will be so much for you to discuss. Connie is the business man, you know. Poor Johnny is hopeless when it comes to discussing things and—and arrangements. Of course, dear, you quite understand that Johnny is not well off.”
“I know, but that does not matter.”
“I know, but even though Johnny is one of the finest and straightest men living, it will be better if in some way your own money is so tied up that it belongs to you and to you only. Johnny himself would wish it. He doesn’t want to touch one penny of your money!”
“I am sure of that.” Joan rose. She went out into the garden. She wanted to get away from Helen’s well-meant, friendly, affectionate chatter about the future, and about money and marriage. She went to the bench beside the pool and sat there, staring at the green water.
“It was true,” she whispered to herself, “all true, what I said. I—I do despise him. How could I love a thing that I despised; and I do despise him!”