Johnny was not good at guess-work. Here was something beyond him. If it were Ellice, then why should the sight of Ellice upset Joan? And why—it came to him suddenly—had Joan cut Ellice?
For in cutting the man Joan had also cut the girl, and had not thought, the girl meaning little or nothing to her.
“Johnny, I—I—don’t think me unkind—or ungracious—but—I would like to go back soon. I don’t mean—” She paused. “Let’s go back by way of Bennerden.”
It meant that she did not want to go back by the same road with the chance of seeing those two again.
Ellice’s cheeks were burning, and her eyes were bright with anger. Joan Meredyth had cut her, and it seemed to her that Johnny had aided and abetted.
Then she happened to glance at Hugh Alston, and intuition prompted her.
“I think you know her,” she said quickly.
“Yes, I—I know her.”
“And she was not pleased to see you?”
“Apparently not!” he laughed, but the laughter was shaky. “Here we are! We’ll soon get the bicycle fixed up.”
Ellice stood watching him while with a borrowed spanner he adjusted the handle-bars.
What did this man know of Joan, and why had Joan cut him dead? Perhaps they were old lovers, perhaps a thousand things? Ellice shrugged her shoulders. It was nothing to her. If she must fight this woman, this rich, beautiful woman for her love’s sake, she would not fight with underhand weapons. There would be no digging in pasts, for Ellice.
“Thank you,” she said. “You have been very kind!” Again she held out her hand to him, and gave him a frank and friendly smile. “I hope that we shall meet again.”
“I think,” he said, “that we shall often meet again.”
He stood and watched the graceful little figure of her as she sped swiftly down the road, then turned and walked slowly back towards Mrs. Bonner’s cottage.
So Joan had seen him, and had cut him dead.
“If I was not so dead sure, so dead certain sure that Slotman will turn up eventually, I would clear out,” Hugh thought to himself. “I’d go back to Hurst Dormer and stick there, whether I wanted to or not.”
Ellice, pedalling homeward, went more slowly now she was clear of the village. She wanted to think it all over in her mind, and arrived at conclusions. At first she had thought that Joan Meredyth and Johnny too had deliberately cut her dead. But that was folly; they had cut her, but then in this matter she had not counted. She was gifted with plenty of common-sense. Connie’s teaching and precept had not gone for nothing with the girl.
“Joan Meredyth knows that man, and he knows her.”
Half a mile out of Little Langbourne, Ellice put on the brake and alighted.
“How is Snatcher?” she asked.
Rundle touched his hat. A big and fearsome-looking man was Rundle. Village mothers frightened small children into good behaviour by threatening them that Rundle would come and take them away—a name to conjure with. Little Langbourne only knew peace and felt secure when Rundle was undergoing one of his temporary retirements from activity, when, as a guest of the State, he cursed his luck and the gamekeepers who had been one too many for him.