"You maintain your note on the clause, then, to the letter?" I said.
"Yes—deuce take it! I have no other alternative." He walked to the fireplace and warmed himself, humming the fag end of a tune in a rich convivial bass voice. "What does your side say?" he went on; "now pray tell me—what does your side say?"
I was ashamed to tell him. I attempted to gain time—nay, I did worse. My legal instincts got the better of me, and I even tried to bargain.
"Twenty thousand pounds is rather a large sum to be given up by the lady's friends at two days' notice," I said.
"Very true," replied Mr. Merriman, looking down thoughtfully at his boots. "Properly put, sir—most properly put!"
"A compromise, recognising the interests of the lady's family as well as the interests of the husband, might not perhaps have frightened my client quite so much," I went on. "Come, come! this contingency resolves itself into a matter of bargaining after all. What is the least you will take?"
"The least we will take," said Mr. Merriman, "is nineteen- thousand-nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine-pounds-nineteen-shillings- and-elevenpence-three-farthings. Ha! ha! ha! Excuse me, Mr. Gilmore. I must have my little joke."
"Little enough," I remarked. "The joke is just worth the odd farthing it was made for."
Mr. Merriman was delighted. He laughed over my retort till the room rang again. I was not half so good-humoured on my side; I came back to business, and closed the interview.
"This is Friday," I said. "Give us till Tuesday next for our final answer."
"By all means," replied Mr. Merriman. "Longer, my dear sir, if you like." He took up his hat to go, and then addressed me again. "By the way," he said, "your clients in Cumberland have not heard anything more of the woman who wrote the anonymous letter, have they?"
"Nothing more," I answered. "Have you found no trace of her?"
"Not yet," said my legal friend. "But we don't despair. Sir Percival has his suspicions that Somebody is keeping her in hiding, and we are having that Somebody watched."
"You mean the old woman who was with her in Cumberland," I said.
"Quite another party, sir," answered Mr. Merriman.