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A Lost Leader
by E. Phillips Oppenheim
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Borrowdean smiled for the first time.

"I have still some hopes of doing so," he admitted.

The Duchess glanced at the little Louis Seize time-piece, and hesitated.

"You had better abandon them," she said. "Lawrence Mannering may be wrong, or he may be right, but he believes in his choice. He has no ambition. You have no motive left to work upon."

Borrowdean shook his head.

"You are wrong, Duchess," he remarked, simply. "I never believed in Mannering's sentimentality. To-day, with his own lips, he has confessed to me that another, an unbroached reason, stands behind his refusal!"

"And he never told me," the Duchess murmured, involuntarily.

"Duchess," Borrowdean answered, with a faint, cynical parting of the lips, "there are matters which a man does not mention to the woman in whose high opinion he aims at holding an exalted place."

There was a knock at the door. The Duchess's maid entered, carrying a long cloak of glimmering lace and satin.

The Duchess nodded.

"I come at once, Hortense," she said, in French. "Sir Leslie," she added, turning towards him, "you are making a great mistake, and I advise you to be careful. You are one of those who think ill of all men. Such men as Lawrence Mannering belong to a race of human beings of whom you know nothing. I listened to you once, and I was a fool. You could as soon teach me to believe that you were a saint, as that Mannering had anything in his past or present life of which he was ashamed. Now, Hortense."

Borrowdean walked off, still smiling. How simple half the world was.



CHAPTER IX

THE PUMPING OF MRS. PHILLIMORE

Hester sprang to her feet eagerly as she heard the front door close, and standing behind the curtain she watched the man, who was already upon the pavement looking up and down the street for a hansom. His erect, distinguished figure was perfectly familiar to her. It was Sir Leslie Borrowdean again.

She resumed her seat in front of the typewriter, and touched the keys idly. In a few moments what she had been expecting happened. Her mother entered the room.

Of her advent there were the usual notifications. An immense rustling of silken skirts, and an overwhelming odour of the latest Bond Street perfume. She flung herself into a chair, and regarded her daughter with a complacent smile.

"That delightful man has been to see me again," she exclaimed. "I could scarcely believe it when Mary brought me his card. By the bye, where is Mary? I want her to try to take that stain out of my pink silk skirt. I shall have to wear it to-night."

"I will ring for her directly," the girl answered. "So that was Sir Leslie Borrowdean, mother! Why did he come to see you again so soon?"

"I haven't the least idea," Mrs. Phillimore announced, "but I thought it was very sweet of him. It seems all the more remarkable when one considers the sort of man he is. He's very ambitious, you know, and devoted to politics."

"Where did you meet him first?" Hester asked.

"It was at the Metropole at Bexhill," Mrs. Phillimore answered. "We motored down there one day, and Lena Roberts told me that she heard him inquiring who I was directly we came into the room. He joined our party at luncheon. Billy knew him slightly, so I made him go over and ask him."

Hester nodded, and seemed to be absorbed in some trifling defect of one of the keys of her typewriter.

"Does he still ask you many questions about Mr. Mannering, mother?" she asked, quietly.

"About Mr. Mannering!" Mrs. Phillimore repeated, with raised eyebrows. "Why, he scarcely ever mentions his name."

She took up a small mirror from the table by her side, and critically touched her hair.

"About Mr. Mannering, indeed," she repeated. "Why do you ask me such a question?"

The girl hesitated.

"Do you really want to know, mother?" she asked.

"Of course!"

"When Mr. Mannering was here last," Hester said, "he asked me whether Sir Leslie Borrowdean was a friend of yours. I fancy that they are political acquaintances, but I don't think that they are on very good terms."

Mrs. Phillimore laid down the mirror and yawned.

"Well, there's nothing very strange about that," she declared. "Lawrence isn't the sort to get on with many people, especially since he went and buried himself in the country. How pale you are looking, child. Why don't you go and take a walk, instead of hammering away at that old typewriter? Any one would think that you had to do it for a living!"

"I prefer to earn my own living," the girl answered, "and I am not in the least tired. Tell me, are you going to see Sir Leslie Borrowdean again, mother?"

The woman on the couch smoothed her hair once more, with a smile of gratification.

"Sir Leslie has asked me to join a small party of friends for dinner at the Carlton this evening," she announced. "Why on earth are you looking at me like that, child? You're always grumbling that my friends are a fast lot, and don't suit you. You can't say anything against Sir Leslie."

The girl had risen to her feet. The trouble in her face was manifest.

"Mother," she said, slowly, "I wish that you were not going. I wish that you would have nothing whatever to do with Sir Leslie Borrowdean."

"Good Heavens!—and why not?" the woman exclaimed, suddenly sitting up.

"I believe that he only asked you because he has an idea that you can tell him—something he wants to know about Mr. Mannering," the girl answered, steadily. "I don't think that you ought to go!"

"Rubbish!" her mother answered, crossly. "I don't believe that he has such an idea in his head. As though he couldn't ask me for the sake of my company. And if he does ask me questions, I'm not obliged to answer them, am I? Do you think that I'm to be turned inside out like a schoolgirl?"

"Sir Leslie is very clever, and he is very unscrupulous," the girl answered. "I wish you weren't going! I believe that he wants to find out things."

Mrs. Phillimore frowned uneasily.

"I'm not a fool!" she said. "He's welcome to all he can get to know through me. I don't know what you want to try to make me uncomfortable for, Hester, I'm sure. Sir Leslie has never betrayed the least curiosity about Mr. Mannering, and I don't believe that he's any such idea in his head. Upon my word I don't see why you should think it impossible that Sir Leslie should come here just for the sake of improving an acquaintance which he found pleasant. That's what he gave me to understand, and he put it very nicely too!"

"I do not think that Sir Leslie is that sort of man, mother."

"And I don't see how you know anything about it," was the sharp response. "Ring the bell, please. I want to speak to Mary about my skirt."

"You mean to dine with him then, mother?" she asked, crossing the room towards the bell.

"Of course! I've accepted. To-night and as often as he chooses to ask me. Now don't upset me, please. I want to look my best to-night, and if I get angry my hair goes all out of curl."

The girl went back to her typewriter. She unfolded a sheet of copy, and placed it on the stand before her.

"If you have made up your mind, mother, I suppose you will go," she said. "Still—I wish you wouldn't."

Mrs. Phillimore shrugged her shoulders.

"If I did what you wished all the time," she remarked, pettishly, "I might as well drown myself at once. Can't you understand, Hester?" she added, with a sudden change of manner, "that I must do something to help me to forget? You don't want to see me go mad, do you?"

The girl turned half round in her chair. She was fronting a mirror. She caught a momentary impression of herself—pallid, hollow-eyed, weary. She sighed.

"There are other ways of forgetting," she murmured. "There is work."

Her mother laughed scornfully.

"You have chosen your way," she said, "let me choose mine. Turn round, Hester."

The girl obeyed her languidly. Her mother eyed her with an attention she seldom vouchsafed to anything. Her plain black frock was ill-fitting and worn. She wore no ribbon or jewellery or adornment of any sort. Negatively her face was not ill-pleasing, but her figure was angular, and her complexion almost anaemic. The woman on the couch represented other things. She was tastefully, though somewhat elaborately dressed. She wore chains and trinkets about her neck, rings upon her fingers, and in her face had begun in earnest the tragic struggle between an actual forty and presumptive twenty. She laughed again, a little hardly.

"And you are my daughter," she exclaimed. "You are one of the freaks of heredity. I'm perfectly certain you don't belong to me, and as for him—"

"Stop!" the girl cried.

The woman nodded.

"Quite right," she said. "I didn't mean to mention him. I won't again. But we are different, aren't we? I wonder why you stay with me. I wonder you don't go and make a home for yourself somewhere. I know that you hate all the things I do, and care for, and all my friends. Why don't you go away? It would be more comfortable for both of us!"

"I have no wish to go away," the girl said, softly, "and I don't think that we interfere with one another very much, do we? This is the first time I have ever made a remark about any—of your friends. To-night I cannot help it. Sir Leslie Borrowdean is Mr. Mannering's enemy. I am sure of it! That is why I do not like the idea of your going out with him. It doesn't seem to be right—and I am afraid."

"Afraid! You little idiot!"

"Sir Leslie Borrowdean is a very clever man," the girl said. "He is a very clever man, and he has been a lawyer. That sort of person knows how to ask questions—to—find out things."

"Rubbish!" the woman remarked, sitting up on the couch. "Why do you try to make me so uncomfortable, Hester? Sir Leslie may be very clever, but I am not exactly a fool myself."

She spoke confidently, but under the delicate coating of rouge her cheeks had whitened.

"Besides," she continued, "Sir Leslie has never even mentioned Mr. Mannering's name in anything except the most casual way. You don't understand everything, Hester. Of course Lena and Billy Aswell and Rothe and all of them are all right, but they are just a little—well, you would call it fast, and it does one good to be seen with a different set sometimes. Sir Leslie Borrowdean and his friends are altogether different, of course."

The girl bent over her work.

"No doubt, mother," she answered, "There's Mary stamping on the floor. I expect she has your bath ready."

An hour or so later Mrs. Phillimore departed in a hired brougham. Her hair had been carefully arranged by a local expert who had an establishment in the next street, her pink silk gown had come through the ordeal of cleansing with remarkable success, and the heels on her new evening shoes resembled more than anything else, miniature stilts. Her face was wreathed in smiles, and she possessed the good conscience and light heart of a woman who feels that she has made a successful toilette. All the vague misgivings of a short while ago had vanished. She gave her hair a final touch in the side window of the carriage as she drove off, and quite forgot to wave her hand to Hester, who was standing at the window to see her go. If any misgivings remained at all between the two, they were not with her. She settled herself back amongst the cushions with a little sigh of content. Sir Leslie was a most charming person, and evidently not at all insensible to her charms. She was sure that she was going to have a delightful evening.

* * * * *

Borrowdean, if he possessed no conscience, was not altogether free from some kindred eccentricity. He was reminded sharply enough of the fact about one o'clock the next morning, when the door of the little house on Merton Street was suddenly opened before he could touch the bell. Framed in a little slanting gleam of light, Hester, still wearing her plain black gown, stood and looked at him. His careless words of explanation died away upon his lips. The fire which flashed from her hollow eyes seemed to wither up the very sources of speech within him. The half lights were kind to her. He saw nothing of the hollow cheeks. The weariness of her pose and manner had passed like magic away. She stood there, erect as a dart, her head thrown back, a curious mixture of scorn, of loathing, and of fear in her expression. She looked at him steadily, and he felt his cheeks burn. He was ashamed—ashamed of himself, ashamed of his errand.

"Your mother," he said, struggling to look away from her, "is—a little unwell. The heat of the room—"

She swept down the steps and passed him. Before he could reach her side she was tugging at the handle of the carriage door.

"Mother," she cried, through the window, "undo the door!"

But Mrs. Phillimore made no answer. When at last the door was opened she was discovered half asleep in a corner. Her hair was in some disorder, and her cheeks no longer preserved that even colouring which is a result of the artistic use of the rouge-pot. Her head was thrown back, and she was apparently asleep. Hester stifled a sob. She took her mother by the arm, and shook her.

Mrs. Phillimore sat up and smiled a sleepy smile. She made a few incoherent remarks. They helped her into the house and into an easy-chair, where she promptly turned her face towards the cushions and resumed her slumber. Sir Leslie moved towards the door, then hesitated.

"Miss Phillimore," he said, "I cannot tell you how sorry I am that this should have happened."

She was on her knees before her mother. She turned and rose slowly to her feet. Sir Leslie never quite forgot her gesture as she motioned him towards the door. It was one of the most uncomfortable moments of his life.

"I am afraid—"

She did not speak a word, yet Sir Leslie obeyed what seemed to him more eloquent than words. He turned and left the room and the house. Without any change in her tense expression she waited until she heard him go. Then she sank upon her knees on the hearthrug, and hid her face in her hands.



CHAPTER X

THE MAN WITH A MOTIVE

Mannering sat alone in the shade of his cedar tree. He had walked in his rose-garden amongst a wilderness of drooping blossoms, for the season of roses was gone. He had crossed the marshland seawards, only to find a little crowd of holiday-makers in possession of the golf links and the green tufted stretch of sandy shore. The day had been long, almost irksome. A fit of restlessness had driven him from his study. He seemed to have lost all power of concentration. For once his brain had failed him. The shadowy companions who stood ever between him and solitude remained uninvoked. His cigar had burnt out between his fingers. He threw it impatiently away. These were the days, the hours he dreaded.

Clara came down the garden from the house, and seeing him, crossed the lawn and sat down beside him.

"Why, my dear uncle," she exclaimed, "you look almost as dull as I feel! Let us be miserable together!"

"With all my heart," he answered. "Whilst we are about it, can we invent a cause?"

"Invent!" she repeated. "I do not think we need either of us look very far. Every one seems to have gone away whose presence made this place endurable. Uncle, do you know when Mrs. Handsell is coming back? She promised to write, and I have never heard a word!"

Mannering turned his head. A little rustling wind had stolen in from seaward. Above their heads flights of sea-gulls were floating out towards the creeks. He watched them idly until they dropped down.

"I do not think that she will come back at all," he said, quietly. "I heard to-day that the place was to let again."

"And Sir Leslie Borrowdean?"

"I think you may take it for granted," Mannering remarked, dryly, "that we shall see no more of him."

The girl leaned back and sighed.

"Uncle, what is it that makes you such a hermit?" she asked.

"Age, perhaps, and experience," he answered, lightly. "There are not many people in the world, Clara, who are worth while!"

"Mrs. Handsell was worth while," she murmured.

Mannering did not reply.

"And Sir Leslie Borrowdean," she continued, "was more than just worth while. I think that he was delightful."

"Very young ladies, and very old ones," Mannering remarked, grimly, "generally like Borrowdean."

"And what about Mrs. Handsell?" she asked, with a spice of malice in her tone.

"Mrs. Handsell," Mannering answered, coolly, "was a very charming woman. Since both these people have passed out of our lives, Clara, I scarcely see why we need discuss them."

"One must talk about something," she answered. "At least I must talk, and you must pretend to listen. I positively cannot exist in the house by myself any longer."

"Where is Richard?" Mannering asked.

"Gone into Norwich to dine at the barracks with some stupid men. Not that I mind his going," she added, hastily. "I wish he'd stay away for a month. Of course he's a very good sort, and all that, but he's deadly monotonous. Uncle, really, as a matter of curiosity, before I get to be an old woman I should like to see one other young man."

"Plenty on the links just now!"

"I know it. I sat out near the ninth hole all this morning. There are some Cambridge boys who looked quite nice. One of them was really delightful when I showed him where his ball was, but I can't consider that an introduction, can I? Heavens, who's this?"

Behind the trim maid-servant already crossing the lawn, and within a few yards of them, came a strange, almost tragical, figure. Her plain black clothes and hat were powdered with dust, there were deep lines under her eyes, she swayed a little when she walked, as though with fatigue. She seemed to bring with her into the cool, quiet garden, with its country odours and general air of peace, an alien note. One almost heard the deep undercry from a far-away world of suffering—the great, ever-moving wheels seemed to have caught her up and thrown her down in this most incongruous of places. Clara, in her cool white dress, her fresh complexion, her general air of health and girlish vigour, seemed, as she rose to her feet, a creature of another sex, almost of another world. The two girls exchanged for a moment wondering glances. Then Mannering intervened.

"Hester!" he exclaimed. "Why—is there anything wrong?"

"Nothing—very serious," she answered. "But I had to see you. I thought that I had better come."

He held out his hands.

"You have had a tiring journey," he said. "You must come into the house and let them find you something to eat. Clara, this is Hester Phillimore, the daughter of an old friend of mine. Will you see about a room for her, and lend her anything she requires?"

"Of course," Clara answered. "Won't you come into the house with me?" she added pleasantly to the girl. "You must be horribly tired travelling this hot weather, and this is such an out-of-the-way corner of the world!"

Hester lingered for a moment, glancing nervously at Mannering.

"I must go back to-night," she said. "I only came because I thought that it would be quicker than writing."

"To-night?" he exclaimed. "But, my dear girl, that is impossible. There are no trains, and you are tired out already. Go into the house with my niece, and we will have a talk afterwards."

He walked across the lawn with them, talking pleasantly to Hester, as though her visit were in no sense of the word unpleasant, or an extraordinary event. But when he returned to his seat under the cedar tree his whole expression was changed. The lines about his face had insensibly deepened. He leaned a little forward, looking with weary, unseeing eyes into the tangled shrubbery. Had all men, he wondered, this secret chapter in their lives—the one sore place so impossible to forget, the cupboard of shadows never wholly closed, shadows which at any moment might steal out and encompass his darkening life? He sat there motionless, and his thoughts travelled backwards. There were many things in his life which he had forgotten, but never this. Every word that had been spoken, every detail in that tragic little scene seemed to glide into his memory with a distinctness and amplitude which time had never for one second dimmed. So it must be until the end. He forgot the girl and her errand. He forgot the carefully cultivated philosophy which for so many years had helped him towards forgetfulness. So he sat until the sound of their voices upon the lawn recalled him to the present.

"I will leave you to have your talk with uncle," Clara said. "Afterwards I will come back to you. There he is, sitting under the cedar tree."

The girl came swiftly over to his side. For a moment the compassion which he had always felt for her swept away the memory of his own sorrow. Her pallid, colourless face had lost everything except expression. If the weariness, which seemed to have found a home in her eyes, was just now absent, it was because a worse thing was shining out of them—a fear, of which there were traces even in her hurried walk and tone. He rose at once and held out his hands.

"Come and sit down, Hester," he said, "and don't look so frightened."

She obeyed him at once.

"I am frightened," she said, "because I feel that I ought not to have come here, and yet I thought that you ought to know at once what has happened. Sir Leslie Borrowdean has been coming to see mother. Last night he took her out to dinner. She came home—late—she was not quite herself. This morning she was frightened and hysterical. She said—that she had been talking."

"To Sir Leslie Borrowdean?"

"Yes."

Mannering showed no signs of dismay. He took the girl's thin white hand in his, and held it almost affectionately.

"I am very glad to know this at once, dear," he said, "and you did what was right and kind when you came to see me. But Sir Leslie Borrowdean has no reason to make himself my enemy. On the contrary, just now he seems particularly anxious to cultivate my friendship."

"Then why," the girl asked, "has he gone out of his way to—to—"

Mannering stopped her.

"He had a motive, of course. Borrowdean is one of those men who do nothing without a motive. I believe that I can even guess what it is. Don't let this thing distress you too much, Hester. I do not think that we have anything to worry about."

"But he knows!"

"I could not imagine a man," Mannering answered, "better able to keep a secret."

The girl sat silent for a moment.

"I suppose I have been an idiot," she remarked.

"You have been nothing of the sort," Mannering asserted, firmly. "You have done just what is kind, and what will help me to save the situation. I must confess that I should not like to have been taken by surprise. You have saved me from that. Now let us put the whole subject away for a time. How I wish that you could stay here for a few days."

The girl smiled a little piteously.

"I ought not to have left her even for so long as this," she said. "I must go back to-morrow morning by the first train."

He nodded. He felt that it was useless to combat her resolution.

"You and I," he said, gravely, "have both our burdens to carry. Only it seems a little unfair that Providence should have made my back so much the broader. Listen, Hester!"

The full murmur of the sea growing louder and louder as the salt water flowed up into the creeks betokened the change of tide. Faint wreaths of mist were rising up from over the shadowy marshland. Above them were the stars. He laid his hand upon her shoulder.

"Dear child!" he said, "I think that you understand how it is that the burden, after all, is easier for me. A man may forget his troubles here, for all the while there is this eternal background of peaceful things."

Her hand stole into his.

"Yes," she murmured, "I understand. Don't let them ever bring you away."



CHAPTER XI

MANNERING'S ALTERNATIVE

Once again Mannering found himself in the over-scented, overheated room, which was perhaps of all places in the world the one he hated the most. Fresh from the wind-swept places of his country home, he found the atmosphere intolerable. After a few minutes' waiting he threw open the windows and leaned out. Hester was walking in the Square somewhere. He had a shrewd idea that she had been sent out of the way. With a restless impatience of her absence he awaited the interview which he dreaded.

Her mother's coming took him a little by surprise. She seemed to have laid aside all her usual customs. She entered the room quietly. She greeted him almost nervously. She was dressed, without at any rate any obvious attempt to attract, in a plain black gown, and with none of the extravagances in which she sometimes delighted. Her usual boisterous confidence of manner seemed to have deserted her. Her face, without its skilful touches of rouge, looked thin, and almost peaked.

"I am so glad that you came, Lawrence," she said. "It was very good of you."

She glanced towards the opened windows, and he closed them at once.

"I am afraid," he said, "that you have not been well!"

There was a touch of her old self in the hardness of her low laugh.

"It is remorse!" she declared. "I think that for once in my life I have permitted myself to think! It is a great mistake. One loses confidence when one realizes what a beast one is."

He waited in silence. It seemed to him the best thing. She sat down a little wearily. He remained standing a few feet away.

"I have given you away, Lawrence," she said, quietly.

"So," he remarked, "I understand."

"Hester has told you, of course. I am not blaming her. She did quite right. Only I should have told you myself. I wanted to be the first to assure you of this. Our secret is quite safe. The man—with whom I made a fool of myself—has given me his word of honour."

"Sir Leslie Borrowdean's—word of honour!" Mannering remarked, with slow scorn. "Do you know the man, I wonder?"

"I know that he wishes to be your friend, and not your enemy," she said.

"He chooses his friends for what they are worth to him," Mannering answered. "It is all a matter of self-interest. He has some idea of making me the stepping-stone to his advancement. I have a place just now in his scheme of life. But as for friendship! Borrowdean does not know the meaning of the word."

"You speak bitterly," she remarked.

"I know the man," he answered.

"Will you tell me," she asked, "what it is that he wants of you?"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Is this worth discussing between us?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Very well, then, you shall know. He wants me to re-enter political life, to be the jackal to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for him."

"To re-enter political life! And why don't you?"

Mannering turned abruptly round and looked her in the face. He had been gazing out of the window, wondering how long it would be before Hester returned.

"Why don't I!" he repeated, a little vaguely. "How can you ask me such a question as that?"

She was undisturbed. Again he marvelled at the change in her.

"Is it so very extraordinary a question?" she said. "I have often wondered whether you meant to content yourself with your present life always. It is scarcely worthy of you, is it? You were born to other things than to live the life of a country gentleman. You dabble in literature, they say, and poke your stick into politics through the pages of the reviews. Why don't you take your coat off and play the game?"

Mannering was silent for several moments. He was, however, meditating his own reply less than studying his questioner. Her attitude was amazing to him. She watched him all the time, frowning.

"You are not usually so tongue-tied," she remarked, irritably. "Have you nothing to say to me?"

"I am wondering," he said, quietly, "what has given birth to this sudden interest in my proceedings. What does it matter to you how my days are spent, or what manner of use I make of them?"

"There was a time—" she began.

"A time irretrievably past," he interrupted, shortly.

"I am not so sure!" she declared, doubtfully.

"What has Borrowdean to do with this?" he asked her, abruptly.

"Borrowdean?"

"Surely! Some one has been putting notions into your head."

"Why take that for granted?" she asked, equably. "The pity of the whole thing is obvious enough, isn't it? Sometimes I think that we were a pair of fools. We played into the hands of fate. We were brought face to face with a terrible situation. Instead of meeting it bravely we played the coward. Why don't you forget, Lawrence, as I have done? Take up your work again. Set a seal upon—that memory."

"I have outgrown my ambitions," he answered. "Life was hot enough in my veins then. Desire grows cold with the years. I am content."

"But I," she answered, "am not."

"We each chose our life," he reminded her.

"Perhaps. I am not satisfied with my choice. You may be with yours."

"I am."

She leaned over towards him.

"Once," she said, "you offered me what you called—atonement. I refused it. Just then it seemed horrible. Now that feeling has passed away. I am lonely, Lawrence, and I am weary of the sort of life I have been living. Supposing I asked you to make me that offer again?"

Mannering turned slowly towards her. He was not a man who easily showed emotion, but there were traces of it now in his face. The hand which rested on the back of his chair shook. There was in his eyes the look of a man who sees evil things.

"It is too late, Blanche," he said. "You cannot be in earnest?"

"Why not?" she murmured, dropping her eyes. "I am tired of my life. What you owed me then you owe me now. Why should it be too late? I am not an old woman yet, nor are you an old man, and I am weary of being alone."

Mannering walked to the window. His hand went to his forehead. It was damp and cold. He was afraid! If she were in earnest! And she spoke like a woman who knew her mind. She was always, he remembered, a creature of caprice. If she were really in earnest!

"We have drifted too far apart, Blanche," he said, making an effort to face the situation. "Years ago this might have been possible. To-day it would be a dismal failure. My ways are not yours. The life I lead would bore you to death."

"There is no reason why you should not alter it," she answered, calmly. "In fact, I should wish you to. Blakely all the year round would be an impossibility. You could come and live in London."

He looked at her fixedly.

"Have you forgotten?" he asked.

She covered her face with her hands for a moment. If indeed she really felt any emotion it passed quickly away, for when she looked up again there were no traces left.

"I have forgotten nothing," she declared, defiantly. "Only the horror and fear of it all has passed away. I don't see why I should suffer all my life. In fact, I don't mean to. I don't want to be a miserable, lonely old woman. I want a home, something different from this."

Mannering faced her gravely.

"Blanche," he said, "you are proposing something which would most surely ruin the rest of our lives. What we might have been to one another if things had been different it is hard to say. But this much is very certain. We belong now to different worlds. We have drifted apart with the years. Even the little we see of one another now is far from a pleasure to either of us. What you are suggesting would be simply suicidal."

She was silent. He watched her anxiously. As a rule her face was easy enough to read. To-day it was impenetrable. He could not tell what was passing behind that still, almost stony, look. Her silence forced him again into speech.

"You agree with me, surely, Blanche? You must agree with me?"

She raised her head.

"I am not sure that I do," she answered. "But at least I understand you. That is something! You want to go on as you are—apart from me. That is true, isn't it?"

"Yes!"

She nodded.

"At least you are candid. You want your liberty—unfettered. What are you willing to pay for it?"

He looked at her incredulously.

"I do not quite understand!" he said.

She laughed, and the laugh belonged to her old self.

"Indeed! I thought that I was explicit enough, brutally explicit, even. What have you to offer me in place of your name and yourself? What sacrifice are you prepared to make?"

He looked at her furtively, as though even then he doubted the significance of her words.

"You have already half my income," he said, slowly.

She shrugged her shoulders.

"A thousand a year! What can one do on that? To live decently in town one needs much more."

"It is as much as I can offer," he remarked, stiffly.

"Then you should earn money," she declared. "It's easy enough for men with brains. Go back into politics instead of idling your time away down in Blakely. I mean it! I've no patience with men who have a right to a place in the world which they won't fill."

"Surely," he remonstrated, "I may be allowed to choose the manner of my life!"

"If you can afford to—yes," she answered. "But I want one of two things. The first seems to scare you to death even to think of. The second is more money—a good deal more money."

"But," he protested, "even if I did as you suggested, and went back into politics, it would be some time, if ever, before I should be any better off."

"I will wait until that time comes," she answered, "provided that when it does, you share with me."

Then Mannering understood.

"Upon my word," he exclaimed, "you are an apt conspirator indeed. All this time you have been fooling me. I even fancied—bah! How much is Borrowdean giving you for this?"

"Nothing at all," she answered, coolly. "It is my own sincere desire for your welfare which has prompted all that I have said to you. I am ambitious for you, Lawrence. I should like to see you Prime Minister. I am sure you could be if you tried. You are letting your talents rust, and I don't approve of it!"

The faint note of mockery in her tone was clearly apparent. Mannering found it hard to answer her calmly.

"Come," he said, "put it into plain words. What does it mean? What do you want?"

"Sir Leslie tells me," she said, raising her eyes and looking him in the face, "that his party is prepared to find you a safe seat to-morrow. I want you to give up your hermit's life and accept it."

"And the alternative?"

"You have it already before you. Your reception of it was not, I must admit, altogether flattering."

"I am allowed," he said, "some short space of time for consideration?"

"Until to-morrow, if you wish," she answered. "I imagine you know pretty well what you mean to do."

He picked up his hat and turned towards the door.

"Yes," he said, "I suppose I do!"



BOOK II



CHAPTER I

BORROWDEAN MAKES A BARGAIN

Borrowdean sank into the chair which Berenice had indicated, with a little sigh of relief.

"These all-night sittings," he remarked, "get less of a joke as one advances in years. You read the reports this morning?"

She nodded.

"And Mannering's speech?"

"Every word of it."

"Our little conspiracy," he continued, "is bearing fruit. Honestly, Mannering is a surprise, even to me. After these years of rust I scarcely expected him to step back at once into all his former brilliancy. His speech last night was wonderful."

"I heard it," she said. "You are quite right. It was wonderful."

"You were in the House?" he asked, looking up quickly.

"I was there till midnight," she answered.

Borrowdean was thoughtful for a moment.

"His speech," he remarked, "sounded even better than it read."

"I thought so," she admitted. "He has all the smaller tricks of the orator, as well as the gift of eloquence. One can always listen to him with pleasure."

"Will you pardon me," Borrowdean asked, "if I make a remark which may sound a little impertinent? You and Mannering were great friends at Blakely. On my first visit there you will remember that you did not attempt to conceal that there was more than an ordinary intimacy between you. Yet to-day I notice that there are indications on both your parts of a desire to avoid one another as much as possible. It seems to me a pity that you two should not be friends. Is there any small misunderstanding which a common friend—such as I trust I may call myself—might help to smooth away?"

Berenice regarded him thoughtfully.

"It is strange," she said, "that you should talk to me like this, you who are certainly responsible for any estrangement there may be between Mr. Mannering and myself. Please answer me this question. Why do you wish us to be friends?"

Borrowdean shrugged his shoulders.

"You and he and myself, with about a dozen others," he answered, "form the backbone of a political party. As time goes on we shall in all probability be drawn closer and closer together. It seems to me best that our alliance should be as real a thing as possible."

Berenice smiled.

"Rather a sentimental attitude for you, Sir Leslie," she remarked. "Have you ever considered the fact that any coolness there may be between Lawrence Mannering and myself is entirely due to you?"

"To me!" he exclaimed.

"Exactly! At Blakely we were on terms of the most intimate friendship. I had grown to like and respect him more than any man I had ever met. I don't know exactly why I should take you so far into my confidence, but I am inclined to do so. Our friendship seemed likely to develop into—other things."

"My dear Duchess—"

"Don't interrupt me! I have an idea that you were perfectly aware of it. Perhaps it did not suit your plans. At any rate, you made statements to me concerning him which, as you very well knew, were likely to alter my entire opinion of him. I had an idea that there was some code of honour between men which kept them from discussing the private life of their friends with a woman. You seem to have been troubled with no such scruples. You told me things about Lawrence Mannering which made it absolutely necessary that I should hear them confirmed or denied from his own lips."

"You would rather have remained in ignorance, then?" he asked.

"I would rather have remained in ignorance," she repeated, calmly. "Don't flatter yourself, Sir Leslie, that a woman ever has any real gratitude in her heart for the person who, out of friendship, or some other motive, destroys her ideals. I should have married Lawrence Mannering if you had not spoken."

Borrowdean was silent. In his heart he was thinking how nearly one of the most cherished schemes of his life had gone awry.

"I am afraid, then," he said, "that even at the risk of your further displeasure I have no regrets to offer you."

"I do not desire your regrets," she answered, scornfully. "You did what it suited you to do, and I presume you are satisfied. As for the rest, I can assure you that the relations between Mr. Mannering and myself are such that the balance of your political apple-cart is not likely to be disturbed. Now let us talk of something else. I have said all that I have to say on this matter—"

Sir Leslie was not entirely satisfied with the result of his afternoon call. He walked slowly from Grosvenor Square to a small house in Sloane Gardens, in front of which a well-appointed victoria was waiting. He looked around at the well-filled window-boxes, thick with geraniums and marguerites, at the coachman's new livery, at the evidences of luxury which met him the moment the door was opened, and his lips parted in a faint, unpleasant smile.

"Poor Mannering," he murmured to himself. "What a millstone!"

Mrs. Phillimore was at home. She would certainly see Sir Leslie, the trim parlour-maid thought, with a smile. She left him alone in a flower-scented drawing-room, crowded with rococo furniture and many knick-knacks, where he waited more or less impatiently for nearly twenty minutes. Then Mrs. Phillimore swept into the room, elaborately gowned for her drive in the park, dispersing perfumes in all directions and bestowing a dazzling smile upon him.

"I felt very much inclined not to see you at all," she declared. "How dared you keep away from me all this time? You haven't been near me since I moved in here. What do you think of my little house?"

"Charming!" he declared.

"Every one likes it," she remarked. "Such a time I had choosing the furniture. Hester wouldn't help with a single thing. You know that she has left me?"

"I understood that she had gone to Mr. Mannering as secretary," he answered. "She has done typing for him for some time, hasn't she?"

Mrs. Phillimore nodded.

"Worships him, the little fool!" she remarked. "I must admit I detest clever men. You are all so dull, and such scheming brutes, too."

Borrowdean smiled. A certain rough-and-ready humour about this woman always appealed to him. He looked around.

"You seem to have done very nicely with that little offering," he said.

"Oh, ready money goes a long way," she declared, carelessly.

"And when it is spent?" he asked. "Five thousand pounds is not an inexhaustible sum."

"By the time it is spent," she answered, "your party will be in, and I suppose you will make Lawrence something."

Borrowdean regarded the woman thoughtfully.

"Has it ever occurred to you," he asked, "that the time is likely to come when Mannering might want his money for himself? He might want to marry, for instance."

She laughed mirthlessly, but without a shade of uneasiness.

"You don't know Lawrence," she declared, scornfully. "He'd never do that whilst I was alive."

"I am not so sure," Borrowdean answered, calmly. "Between ourselves, I cannot see that your claim upon him amounts to very much."

"Then you're a fool!" she declared, brusquely.

"No, I'm not," Borrowdean assured her, blandly. "Now I fancy that I could tell you something which would surprise you very much."

"Has he been making love to any one?" she asked, quickly.

"Something of the sort," he admitted. "Mannering is quixotic, of course, and that hermit life of his down in Norfolk has made him more so. Now he has come back again into the world it is just possible that he may see things differently. I flatter myself that I am a man of common sense. I know how the whole affair seems to me, and I tell you frankly that I can see nothing from the point of view of honour to prevent Mannering marrying any woman he chooses. I think it very possible that he may readjust his whole point of view."

The woman looked around her, and outside, where her victoria was waiting. At last she had attained to an environment such as she had all her life desired. The very idea that at any moment it might be swept away sent a cold shiver through her. Borrowdean had a trick of speaking convincingly. And besides—

"Who is the woman?" she asked.

"I had been wondering," Borrowdean said, "whether it would not be better to tell you, so that you might be on your guard. The woman is the Duchess of Lenchester."

She stared at him.

"You're in earnest?"

"Absolutely!"

Her face hardened. Whatever other feelings she may have had for Mannering, she had lived so long with the thought that he belonged to her, at least as a wage-earning animal, a person whose province it was to make her ways smooth so far as his means permitted, that the thought of losing him stirred in her a dull, jealous anger.

"I'd stop it!" she declared. "I'd go and tell her everything."

"I am not sure," Borrowdean continued, smoothly, "that that would be the best course. Supposing that you were to tell her the story just as you told it to me. It is just possible that her point of view might be mine. She might regard Lawrence Mannering as a quixotic person, and endeavour to persuade him that your claim was scarcely so binding as he seems to imagine. In any case, I do not think that your story would prevent her marrying him."

"Then all I can say is that she is a woman with a very queer sense of right and wrong," Mrs. Phillimore declared, angrily.

Borrowdean smiled.

"A woman," he said, "who is fond of a man is apt to have her judgment a little warped. The Duchess is a woman of fine perceptions and sound judgment. But she is attracted by Lawrence Mannering. She admires him. He is the sort of person who appeals to her imagination. These feelings might easily become, if they have not already developed into, something else. And I tell you again that I do not believe your story would stop her from marrying him."

She leaned a little towards him.

"What would?" she asked, earnestly.

He hesitated.

"Well," he said, "I think I could tell you that!"

She held up her hand.

"Stop, please," she said. "I want to ask you something else. Are you Lawrence's enemy?"

"I? Why, of course not!"

"Then where do you come in?" she asked, bluntly. "You couldn't persuade me that it is interest on my account which brings you here and makes you tell me these things. You don't care a button for me."

Borrowdean took her hand and leaned forward in his chair. She snatched it away.

"Oh, rot!" she exclaimed. "I may be a fool, but I'm not quite fool enough for that. I'm simply a useful person for the moment in some scheme of yours, and I just want to know what that scheme is. That's all! I'm not the sort of woman you'd waste a moment with, except for some purpose of your own. You've proved that. You wormed my story out of me very cleverly, but I haven't quite forgotten it yet, you know. And to tell you the truth," she continued, "you're not my sort, either. You and Lawrence Mannering are something of the same kidney after all, though he's worth a dozen of you. You've neither of you any time for play in the world, and that sort of man doesn't appeal to me. Now where do you come in?"

Borrowdean looked at her thoughtfully. He had the air of a man a trifle piqued. Perhaps for the first time he realized that Blanche Phillimore was not altogether an unattractive-looking woman. If she had desired to stir him from his indifference she could not have chosen any more effectual means.

"I am not going to argue with you," he said, quietly. "I have ambitions, it is true, and the world is not exactly a playground for me. Nevertheless, I am not an ascetic like Mannering. The world, the flesh and the devil are very much to me what they are to other men. But in a sense you have cornered me, and you shall have the truth. I want to marry the Duchess of Lenchester myself."

She nodded.

"That's right," she said. "Now we know where we are. You want to marry the Duchess, and therefore you don't want her to have Lawrence. You think that I can stop it, and as I don't want him married, either, you come to me. That is reasonable. Now how can I prevent it?"

"By a slight variation from your story," he answered. "In fact, words are not needed. A suggestion only would be enough, and circumstances," he added, glancing around, "are strongly in favour of that suggestion."

"You mean—"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Mannering is security for your lease," he remarked. "You pay in his cheques to your bank every quarter. He occupies just that position which in a general way is capable of one explanation only."

"Well?"

"Let the Duchess believe him, or continue to believe him, to be an ordinary man—instead of a fool—and she will never marry him."

"And she will you?"

"I hope so!"

She leaned back in her chair. He could not altogether understand her silence. Surely she could have no scruples?

"It seems to me," she said at last, "that I am to play your game for nothing. I don't care so very much, after all, if he marries. He'd settle all he could on me. In fact, I should have just as much claim on him as I have now."

"I did not say that you should play it for nothing," he answered. "I want us to understand each other, because I have an idea that you may be seeing something of the Duchess at any moment. Let us put it this way. Suppose I promise to give you a diamond necklace of the value of, say five thousand pounds, the day I marry the Duchess!"

She rose and put pen and paper before him. He shook his head.

"I can't put an arrangement of that sort on paper," he protested. "You must rely upon my word of honour."

She held out the pen to him.

"On paper, or the whole thing is off absolutely," she declared.

"You won't trust me?"

She looked at him.

"There isn't much honour about an arrangement of this sort, is there?" she said. "It has to be on paper, or not at all."

A carriage stopped outside. They heard the bell.

"That," she remarked, "may be the Duchess of Lenchester."

He caught up the pen and wrote a few hurried lines. The smile with which he handed it to her was not altogether successful.

"After all, you know," he said, "there should be honour amongst thieves."

"No doubt there is," she answered. "Only thieves are a cut above us, aren't they?"

"I don't believe," Borrowdean said to himself, as he reached the pavement, "that that woman is such a fool as she seems."



CHAPTER II

"CHERCHEZ LA FEMME"

Mannering hated dinner parties, but this one had been a necessity. Nevertheless, if he had known who his companion for the evening was fated to be he would most certainly have stayed away. Her first question showed him that she had no intention of ignoring memories which to him were charged with the most subtle pain.

He looked down the table, and back again into her face.

"You are quite right," he said. "This is different. We cannot compare. We can judge only by effect—the effect upon ourselves."

"Can you be analytical and yet remain within the orbit of my understanding?" she asked, with a faint smile. "If so, I should like to know exactly how you feel about it all."

He passed a course with a somewhat weary gesture of refusal, and leaned back in his chair.

"You are comprehensive—as usual," he remarked. "Just then I was wondering whether the perfume of these banks of hot-house flowers—I don't know what they are—was as sweet as the odour of the salt from the creeks, or my roses when the night wind touched them."

"You were wondering! And what have you decided?"

"Ah, I must not say. In any case you would not agree with me. Wasn't it you who once scoffed at my idyll in the wilderness?"

"I do not think that I believe in idylls, nowadays," she answered. "One risks so many disappointments when one believes in anything."

He raised his eyebrows.

"You did not talk like this at Blakely," he remarked.

"I am nearly a year older," she answered, "and a year wiser."

"You pain me," he answered, with a little sigh. "You are a person of intelligence, and you talk of growing wiser with the years. Don't you know that the only supreme wisdom is the wisdom of the child? Our inherent ignorance is fed and nourished by experience."

"You are hiding yourself," she remarked, "behind a fence of words—words that mean less than nothing! I don't suppose that even you would hesitate to admit that you have come into a larger world. You may have to pay for it. We all do. But at any rate it is an atmosphere which breeds men."

"And changes women," he murmured, under his breath.

She did not speak to him for several moments. Then the alteration in her tone and manner was almost marked.

"You mentioned Blakely a few minutes ago," she said. "I wonder whether you remember our discussion there upon precisely what has come to pass."

"Perfectly!"

"I remember that in those days," she continued, reflectively, "you were very firm indeed, or was it my poor arguments that were at fault? Your vegetable and sentimental existence was a part of yourself. Ambition! You had forgotten what it was. Duty! You spouted individualism by the hour. Gratify my curiosity, won't you? Tell me what made you change your mind?"

Mannering was silent for a moment. A close observer might have noticed a certain alteration in his face. A touch of the coming weariness was already there.

"I have never changed my mind," he answered, quietly. "My inclinations to-day are what they have always been."

She dropped her voice a little.

"You puzzle me," she said, softly. "Do you mean that it was your sense of duty which was awakened?"

"No, I do not mean that," he answered. "Forgive me—but I cannot tell you what I do mean. Circumstances brought me here against my will."

"You talk like a slave," she said, lightly enough. She, too, was brave. She drank wine to keep the colour in her cheeks, and she told herself that the pain at her heart was nothing. Nevertheless, some words of Borrowdean's were mocking her all the while.

"We are all slaves," he answered. "The folly of it all is when we stop to think. Then we realize it."

Their conversation was like a strangled thing. Neither made any serious effort to re-establish it. It was a great dinner party, chiefly political, and long drawn out. Afterwards came a reception, and Mannering was at once surrounded. It was nearly midnight when by chance they came face to face again. She touched him with her fan, and leaned aside from the little group by whom she was surrounded.

"Are you very much occupied, Mr. Mannering," she asked, lightly, "or could you spare me a moment?"

He stopped short. Whatever surprise he may have felt he concealed.

"I am entirely at your service, Duchess," he answered. "Mr. Harrison will excuse me, I am sure," he added, turning to his companion.

She rested her fingers upon his arm. The house belonged to a relative of hers, and she knew where to find a quiet spot. When they were alone she did not hesitate for a moment.

"Lawrence," she said, quietly, "will you imagine for a moment that we are back again at Blakely?"

"I would to God we were!" he answered, impulsively. "That is—if you wish it too!"

She did not answer at once. The sudden abnegation of his reserve took her by surprise. She had to readjust her words.

"At least," she said, "there are many things about Blakely which I regret all the time. You know, of course, the chief one, our own altered selves. I know, Lawrence, that I need to ask your forgiveness. I came there under an assumed name, and I will admit that my coming was part of a scheme between Ronalds, Rochester and myself. Well, I am ready to ask your forgiveness for that. I don't think you ought to refuse it me. It doesn't alter anything that happened. It doesn't even affect it. You must believe that!"

"I believe it, if you tell me so," he answered.

"I do tell you," she declared. "I can explain it all. I am longing to have it all off my mind. But first of all, there is just one thing which I want to ask you."

His face as he looked towards her gave her almost a shock. Very little was left of his healthy colouring. Already there were lines under his eyes, and he was certainly thinner. And there was something else which almost appalled her. There was fear in his manner. He sat like a man waiting for sentence, a man fore-doomed.

"I want to know," she said, "what has brought you—here. I want to know what manner of persuasion has prevailed—when mine was so ineffectual. Don't think that I am not glad that you decided as you did. I am glad—very. You are in your rightful place, and I am only too thankful to hear about you, and read—and watch. But—we are jealous creatures, we women, you know, and I want to know whose and what arguments prevailed, when mine were so very insufficient."

He answered her without hesitation, but his tone was dull and spiritless.

"I cannot tell you!"

There was a short silence. She gathered her skirts for a moment in her hand as though about to rise, but apparently changed her mind. She waited for some time, and then she spoke again.

"Perhaps you think that I ought not to ask?"

He looked at her hopelessly.

"No, I don't think that. You have a right to ask. But it doesn't alter things, does it? I can't tell you."

"You asked me to marry you."

"It was at Blakely. We were so far out of the world—such a different world. I think that I had forgotten all that I wished to forget. Everything seemed possible there."

"You mean that you would have married me and told me nothing of circumstances in your life, so momentous that they have practically exercised in this matter of your return to politics a compelling influence over you?"

"I am sure," he said, "that I should not have told you!"

His unhappiness moved her. She still lingered. She drew a little breath, and she went a good deal further than she had meant to go.

"It has been suggested to me," she said, "that your reappearance was due to a woman's influence. Is this true?"

"A woman had something to do with it," he admitted.

"Who is she?"

"Her name," he answered, "is Blanche Phillimore. It was the person to whom you yourself alluded."

The Duchess maintained her self-control. She was quite pale, however, and her tone was growing ominously harder.

"Is she a connection of yours?"

"No!"

"Is there anything which you could tell me about her?"

"No!"

"Yet at her bidding you have done—what you refused me."

"I had no choice! Borrowdean saw to that," he remarked, bitterly.

She rose to her feet. She was pale, and her lips were quivering, but she was splendidly handsome.

"What sort of a man are you, Lawrence Mannering?" she asked, steadily. "You play at idealism, you asked me to marry you. Yet all the time there was this background."

"It was madness," he admitted. "But remember it was Mrs. Handsell whom I asked to be my wife."

"What difference does that make? She was a woman, too, I suppose, to be honoured—or insulted—by your choice!"

"There was no question of insult, I think."

She looked at him steadfastly. Perhaps for a moment her thoughts travelled back to those unforgotten days in the rose-gardens at Blakely, to the man whose delicate but wholesome joy in the wind and the sun and the flowers, the sea-stained marshes and the windy knolls where they had so often stood together, she could not forget. His life had seemed to her then so beautiful a thing. The elementary purity of his thoughts and aspirations were unmistakable. She told herself passionately that there must be a way out.

"Lawrence," she said, "we are man and woman, not boy and girl. You asked me to marry you once, and I hesitated, only because of one thing. I do not wish to look into any hidden chambers of your life. I wish to know nothing, save of the present. What claim has this woman Blanche Phillimore upon you?"

"It is her secret," he answered, "not mine alone."

"She lives in your house—through her you are a poor man—through her you are back again, a worker in the world."

"Yes!"

"It must always be so?"

"Yes."

"And you have nothing more to say?"

"If I dared," he said, raising his eyes to hers, "I would say—trust me! I am not exactly—one of the beasts of the field."

"Will you not trust me, then? I am not a foolish girl. I am a woman. You may destroy an ideal, but there would be something left."

"I can tell you no more."

"Then it is to be good-bye?"

"If you say so!"

She turned slowly away. He watched her disappear. Afterwards, with a curious sense of unreality, he remained quite still, his eyes still fixed upon the portiere through which she had passed.



CHAPTER III

ONE OF THE "SUFFERERS"

Mannering kept no carriage, and he left Downing Street on foot. The little house which he had taken furnished for the season was in the somewhat less pretentious neighborhood of Portland Crescent, and as there were no hansoms within hail he started to walk home. An attempt at a short cut landed him presently in a neighborhood which he failed to recognize. He paused, looking about him for some one from whom to inquire the way. Then he at once realized what he had already more than once suspected. He was being followed.

The footsteps ceased as he himself had halted. It was a wet night, and the street was ill-lit. Nevertheless, Mannering could distinguish the figure of a man standing in the shadows of the houses, apparently to escape observation. For a moment he hesitated. His follower could scarcely be an ordinary hooligan, for not more than fifty yards away were the lights of a great thoroughfare, and even in this street, quiet though it was, there were people passing to and fro. His curiosity prompted him to subterfuge. He took a cigarette from his case, and commenced in a leisurely manner the operation of striking a light. Instantly the figure of the man began to move cautiously towards him.

Mannering's eyes and hearing, keenly developed by his country life, apprised him of every step the man took. He heard him pause whilst a couple of women passed on the other side of the way. Afterwards his approach became swifter and more stealthy. Barely in time to avoid, he scarcely knew what, Mannering turned sharply round.

"What do you want with me?" he demanded.

The man showed no signs of confusion. Mannering, as he looked sternly into his face, lost all fear of personal assault. He was neatly but shabbily dressed, pale, and with a slight red moustache. He had a somewhat broad forehead, eyes with more than an ordinary lustre, and, in somewhat striking contradiction to the rest of his features, a large sensitive mouth with a distinctly humorous curve. Even now its corners were receding into a smile, which had in it, however, other elements than mirth alone.

"You are Mr. Lawrence Mannering?"

"That is my name," Mannering answered, "but if you want to speak to me why don't you come up like a man, instead of dogging my footsteps? It looked as though you wanted to take me by surprise. What is that you are hiding up your sleeve?"

The man held it out, placed it even in Mannering's hand.

"A life preserver, steel, as you see, and with a beautiful spring. Deadly weapon, isn't it, sir? Even a half-hearted sort of blow might kill a man."

Mannering swung the weapon lightly in his hand. It cut the air with a soft, sickly swish.

"What were you doing following me, on tiptoe, with this in your hand?" he asked, sternly.

"Well," the man answered, as though forced to confess an unpleasant truth, "I am very much afraid that I was going to hit you with it."

Mannering looked up and down the street for a policeman.

"Indeed!" he said. "And may I ask why you changed your mind?"

"It was an inspiration," the man answered, easily. "To tell you the truth, the clumsiness of the whole thing grated very much upon me. Personally, I ran no risk, don't think it was that. My escape was very carefully provided for. But one thinks quickly in moments of excitement, and it seemed to me as I took those last few steps that I saw a better way."

"A better way," Mannering repeated, puzzled. "I am afraid I don't quite understand you. I presume that you meant to rob me. You would not have found it worth while, by the bye."

The man laughed softly.

"My dear sir," he exclaimed, "do I look like a robber? Rumour says that you are a poor man. I should think it very likely that, although I am not a rich one, I am at least as well off as you."

Mannering looked out no more for the policeman. He was getting interested.

"Come," he said, "I should like to understand what all this means. You were going to tap me on the head with this particularly unpleasant weapon, and your motive was not robbery. I am not aware of ever having seen you before. I am not aware of having an enemy in the world. Explain yourself."

"I should be charmed," the man answered. "I do not wish to keep you standing here, however. Will you allow me to walk with you towards your home? You can retain possession of that little trifle, if you like," he added, pointing to the weapon which was still in Mannering's hand. "I can assure you that I have nothing else of the sort in my possession. You can feel my pockets, if you like."

"I will take your word!" Mannering said. "I was on my way to Portland Crescent, but I fancy that I have taken a wrong turn."

"We can get there this way," the man answered. "Excuse me one second."

He paused, and lit a cigarette. Then with his hands behind his back he stepped out by Mannering's side.

"What was that you said just now?" he remarked, "that you were not aware of having an enemy in the world? My dear sir, there was never a more extraordinary delusion. I should seriously doubt whether in the whole of the United Kingdom there is a man who has more. I know myself of a million or so who would welcome the news of your death to-morrow. I know of a select few who have opened, and will open their newspapers to-morrow, and for the next few days, in the hope of seeing your obituary notice."

A light commenced to break in upon Mannering. He looked towards his companion incredulously.

"You mean political opponents!" he exclaimed. "Is that what you are driving at all the time?"

The man laughed softly.

"My friend," he said—"excuse me, Mr. Mannering—you remind me irresistibly of Punch's cartoon last week—the ostrich politician with his head in the sand. You have thrust yours very deep down indeed, when you talk of political opponents. Do you know what they call you in the North, sir?"

"No!"

"The enemy of the people! It isn't a pleasant title, is it?"

"It is a false one!" Mannering declared, with a little note of passion quivering in his tone.

"It is as true and certain as the judgment of God!" his companion answered, with almost lightning-like rapidity.

There was a moment's silence. They passed a lamp-post, and Mannering, turning his head, scrutinized the other's features closely.

"I should like to know who you are," he said, "and what your name is."

"It is a reasonable curiosity," the man answered. "My name is Fardell, Richard Fardell, and I am a retired bookmaker."

"A bookmaker!" Mannering repeated, incredulously.

"Precisely. I should imagine from what I know of you, Mr. Mannering, that my occupation, or rather my late occupation, is not one which would appeal to you favourably. Very likely not! I don't see why it should myself. But at any rate, it taught me a lot about my fellow men. I did my business in shillings and half-crowns, you see. Did it with the working classes, the sort who used to go to a race-meeting for a jaunt, and just have a bit on for the sake of the sport. Took their missus generally, and made a holiday of it, and if they lost they'd grin and come and chaff me, and if they won they'd spend the money like lords. I made money, of course, bought houses, and made a lot more. Then business fell off. I didn't seem to meet with that cheerful holiday-making crew at any of the meetings up in the North, and I got sick of it. You see, I'd made sort of friends with them. They all knew Dicky Fardell, and I knew hundreds of 'em by sight. They'd come and mob me to stand 'em a drink when the wrong horse won, and I can tell you I never refused. They were always good-tempered, real sports to the backbone, and I tell you I was fond of 'em. And then they left off coming. I couldn't understand it at first. The one or two who came talked of bad trade, and when I asked after their pals they shook their heads. They betted in shillings instead of half-crowns, and I didn't like the look of their faces when they lost. I tell you, it got so at last that I used to watch for the horse they'd put their bit on to win, and feel kind o' sick when it didn't. You can imagine I couldn't stand that sort of thing long. I chucked it, and I went to look for my pals. I wanted to find out what had become of them."

Mannering looked at him curiously.

"You found, I hope," he said, drily, "that the British workman had discovered a better investment for his shillings and half-crowns than the race-course."

Mr. Richard Fardell smiled pleasantly, but tolerantly.

"It's clear," he said, "that you, meaning no offence, Mr. Mannering, know nothing about the British workman. Whatever else he may be, he's a sportsman. He'll look after his wife and kids as well as the best of them, but he'll have his bit of sport so long as he's got a copper in his pocket. When he didn't come I put my kit on one side and went to look for him. I went, mind you, as his friend, and knowing a bit about him. And what I found has made a changed man of me."

Mannering nodded.

"I am afraid things are bad up in the North," he said. "You mustn't think that we people who are responsible for the laws of the country ignore this, Mr. Fardell. It is a very anxious time indeed with all of us. Still, I presume you study the monthly trade returns. Some industries seem prosperous enough."

"I'm no politician," Fardell answered, curtly. "Figures don't interest me. They're just the drugs some of your party use to keep your conscience quiet. Things I see and know of are what I go by. And what I've seen, and what I know of, are just about enough to tear the heart out of any man who cares a row of pins about his fellows. Now I'm going to talk plain English to you, Mr. Mannering. I bought that little article you have in your pocket seriously meaning to knock you on the head with it. And that may come yet."

Mannering looked at him in amazement.

"But my dear sir," he said, "what is your grievance against me? I have always considered myself a people's politician."

"Then the people may very well say 'save me from my friends'," Fardell answered, grimly. "Mind, I believe you're honest, or you'd be lying on your back now with a cracked skull. But you are using a great influence on the wrong side. You're standing between the people and the one reasonable scheme which has been brought forward which has a fair chance of changing their condition."

Then Mannering began to understand.

"I oppose the scheme you speak of," he answered, "simply because I don't believe in it. Every man has a right to his opinion. I don't believe for a moment that it would improve the present condition of things."

"Then what is your scheme?" Fardell asked.

"My scheme!" Mannering repeated. "I don't quite understand you!"

"Of course you don't," Fardell answered, vigourously. "You can weave academic arguments, you can make figures and statistics dance to any damned tune you please. If I tried to argue with you, you'd squash me flat. And what's it all come to? My pals must starve for the gratification of your intellectual vanity. You won't listen to Tariff Reform. Then what do you propose, to light the forges and fill the mills? Nothing! I say, unless you've got a counter scheme of your own, you ought to try ours."

"Come, Mr. Fardell," Mannering said, "I can assure you that all I have said and written is the outcome of honest thought. I—"

"Stop!" Fardell exclaimed. "Honest thought! Yes! Where? In your study. That's where you theorists do your mischief. You can't make laws for the people in your study. You can't tell the status of the workingman from the figures you read in your study. You're like half the smug people in the world who discuss this question in the railway carriages and in their clubs. I've heard 'em till I'd like to shove their self-opinionated arguments down their throats, strip their clothes off their backs, and send them down to live with my pals, or starve with them. Any little idiot who buys a penny paper and who's doing pretty well for himself, thinks he can lay down the law about Free Trade. You're all of one kidney, sir! You none of you realize this. There are men as good as any of you, whose wives and children are as dear to them as yours to you, who've got to see them get thinner and thinner, who don't know where to get a day's work or lay their hands upon a copper, and all the while their kids come crying to them for something to eat. Put yourself in their place, sir, and try and realize the torture of it. I've been amongst 'em. I've spent half of what I made, and a good many thousands it was, buying food for them. Can you wonder that my fingers have itched for the throats of these smug, prosperous pigs, who spurt platitudes and think things are very well as they are because they're making their little bit? What right have you—any of you—to hesitate for a second to try any means to help those poor devils, unless you've got a better scheme of your own? Will you tell me that, sir?"

They had reached Mannering's house, and he threw open the gate.

"You must come in with me and talk about these things," Mannering said, gravely. "You seem to be the sort of person I've been wanting to meet for a long time."



CHAPTER IV

DEBTS OF HONOUR

Berenice found the following morning a note from Borrowdean, which caused her some perplexity.

"If you really care," he said, "to do Mannering a good turn, look his niece up now and then. I am afraid that young woman has rather lost her head since she came to London, and she is making friends who will do her no particular good."

Berenice ordered her carriage early, and drove round to Portland Crescent.

"My dear child," she exclaimed, as Clara came into the room, "what have you been doing with yourself? You look ghastly!"

Clara shrugged her shoulders, and looked at herself in a mirror.

"I do look chippy, don't I?" she remarked. "I've been spending the week-end down at Bristow."

"At Bristow?" Berenice repeated. Her voice spoke volumes. Clara looked up a little defiantly.

"Yes! We had an awful spree! I like it there immensely, only—"

Berenice looked up.

"I notice," she remarked, "that there is generally an 'only' about people who have spent week-ends at Bristow. They play cards there, don't they, until daylight? Some one once told me that they kept a professional croupier for roulette!"

"That horrid game!" Clara exclaimed. "Please don't mention it. I've scarcely slept a wink all night for thinking of it."

Berenice looked at her in surprise.

"Do you mean to say," she inquired, deliberately, "that they allowed you to play—and lose?"

"It wasn't their fault I lost," Clara answered. "Oh, what a fool I was. Bobby Bristow showed me a system. It seemed so easy. I didn't think I could possibly lose. It worked beautifully at first. I thought that I was going to pay all my bills, and have lots of money to spend. Then I doubled the stakes—I wanted to win a lot—and everything went wrong!"

"How much did you lose?" Berenice asked. Clara shivered.

"Don't ask me!" she cried. "Sir Leslie Borrowdean gave his own cheques for all my I.O.U.'s. He is coming to see me some time to-day. I don't know what I shall say to him."

"Do you mean to go on playing?" Berenice asked, quietly, "or is this experience enough for you?"

"I shall never sit at a roulette table again as long as I live," she declared. "I hate the very thought of it."

"Then you can just ask Sir Leslie the amount of the I.O.U.'s, and tell him that he shall have a cheque in the morning," Berenice said. "I will lend you the money."

Clara gave a little gasp.

"You are too kind," she exclaimed, "but I don't know when I shall be able to repay you. It is—nearly three hundred pounds!"

"So long as you keep your word," Berenice answered, "and do not play again, you need never let that trouble you. You shall have the cheque before two o'clock. No, please don't thank me. If you take my advice you won't spend another week-end at Bristow. It is not a fit house for young girls. How is your uncle?"

"I haven't seen him this morning," Clara answered. "Perkins told me that he came home after midnight with a man whom he seemed to have picked up in the street, and they were in the study talking till nearly five this morning."

Berenice rose.

"I came to see if you would care to drive down to Ranelagh with me this morning," she said, "but you are evidently fit for nothing except to go back to bed again. I won't forget the cheque, and remember me to your uncle. By the bye, where's that nice young man who used to be always with you down in the country?"

"You must mean Mr. Lindsay," Clara answered. "I have no idea. At Blakely, I suppose."

"If I were you," Berenice said, as she rose, "I should write to him to come up and look after you. You need it!"

She nodded pleasantly and took her leave. Clara threw herself into a chair and rang the bell.

"Perkins," she said, "I have had no sleep and no breakfast. What should you recommend?"

"An egg beaten up in milk, miss," the man suggested, "same as I've just taken Mr. Mannering."

"Is my uncle up?" Clara asked.

"Not yet, miss," the man answered; "He is just dressing."

Clara nodded.

"Very well. Please get me what you said, and if Sir Leslie Borrowdean calls I want to see him at once."

"Sir Leslie is in the study now, miss," the man answered. "I showed him in there because I thought he would want to see Mr. Mannering, but he asked for you."

"Will you say that I shall be there in three minutes," Clara said.

The three minutes became rather a long quarter of an hour, but Clara had used the time well. When she entered the library she had changed her dress, rearranged her hair, and by some means or another had lost her unnatural pallor. Sir Leslie greeted her a little gravely,

"Glad to see you looking so fit," he remarked. "They did us a bit too well down at Bristow, I thought. It's all very well for you children," he continued, with a smile, "but when a man gets to my time of life he misses a night's rest."

She smiled.

"You don't call yourself old, Sir Leslie!" she remarked.

"Well, I'm not young, although I like to think I am," he answered. "I'm afraid there's pretty nearly a generation between us, Miss Clara. By the bye, where's your uncle this morning?"

"Getting up," she answered. "He did not go to bed until after five, Perkins tells me. He brought some one home with him from Dorchester's reception, or some one he picked up afterwards, and they seem to have sat up talking all night."

Borrowdean was interested.

"You have no idea who it was, I suppose?" he asked.

She shook her head.

"None at all. Perkins had never seen him before. When do you poor creatures get your holiday, Sir Leslie?"

He smiled.

"The session will be over in about three weeks," he answered, "unless we defeat the Government before then. Your uncle has been hitting them very hard lately. I think before long we shall be in office."

"Politics," she said, "seems to be rather a greedy sort of business. You are always trying to turn the other side out, aren't you?"

"You must remember," he answered, "that politics is rather a one-sided sort of affair. The party which is in makes a very comfortable living out of it, and we who are out have to scrape along as best we can. Rather hard upon people like your uncle and myself, who are, comparatively speaking, poor men. That reminds me," he said, bringing out his pocket-book, "I thought that I had better bring you these little documents."

"Those horrid I.O.U.'s," she remarked.

"Yes," he answered. "I am sorry that you were so unlucky. I bought these from the bank, Miss Clara, as I thought you would not feel comfortable if you had to leave Bristow owing this money to strangers."

"It was very thoughtful of you," she murmured. He changed his seat and came over to her side on the sofa.

"Have you any idea how much they come to?" he asked, smoothing them out upon his knee.

"I am afraid to nearly three hundred pounds," she answered.

He shook his head gravely.

"I am sorry to say that they come to a good deal more than that," he said. "I hope you do not forget that I took the liberty of advising you more than once to stop. You had the most abominable luck."

"More than three hundred?" she gasped. "How much more?"

"They seem to add up to five hundred and eighty five pounds," he declared. "I must confess that I was surprised myself."

"There—I think there must be some mistake," Clara faltered.

He handed them to her.

"You had better look them through," he said. "They seem all right."

She took them in her hand, and looked at them helplessly. There was one there for fifty pounds which she tried in vain to remember—and how shaky her handwriting was. A sudden flood of recollection brought the colour into her cheeks. She remembered the long table, the men all smoking, the women most of them a little hard, a little too much in earnest—the soft click of the ball, the silent, sickening moments of suspense. Others had won or lost as much as she, but perhaps because she had been so much in earnest, her ill-luck had attracted some attention. She remembered Major Bristow's whispered offer, or rather suggestion, of help. Even now her cheeks burned at something in his tone or look.

"I suppose it's all right," she said, dolefully, "only it's a lot more than I thought. I shall have three hundred pounds in the morning, but I've no idea where to get the rest."

"You are sure about the three hundred?" Sir Leslie asked, quietly.

"Quite."

"Then I think that you had better let me lend you the rest, for the present," he suggested. "I am afraid your uncle would be rather annoyed to know that you had been gambling to such an extent. You may be able to think of some way of paying me back later on."

She looked up at him hesitatingly. There was nothing in his manner which suggested in the least what Major Bristow had almost pronounced. She drew a little breath of relief. He was so much older, and after all, he was her uncle's friend.

"Can you really spare it, Sir Leslie?" she asked. "I can't tell you how grateful I should be."

He looked down at her with a faint smile.

"I can spare it for the present," he answered. "Only if you see any chance of paying me back before long, do so."

"You will pardon my interference," said an ominously quiet voice from the doorway, "but may I inquire into the nature of this transaction between you and my niece, Sir Leslie? Perhaps you had better explain it, Clara!"

They both turned quickly round. Mannering was standing upon the threshold, the morning paper in his hand. Clara sank into a chair and covered her face with her hands. Sir Leslie shrugged his shoulders.

He was congratulating himself upon the discretion with which he had conducted the interview. He had for a few moments entertained other ideas.

"Perhaps you will allow me to explain—" he began.

"I should prefer to hear my niece," Mannering answered, coldly.

Clara looked up. She was pale and frightened, and she had hard work to choke down the sobs.

"Sir Leslie was down at Bristow, where I was staying—this last week-end," she explained. "I lost a good deal of money there at roulette. He very kindly took up my I.O.U.'s for me, and was offering when you came in to let it stand for a little time."

"What is the amount?" Mannering asked.

Clara did not answer. Her head sank again. Her uncle repeated his inquiry. There was no note of anger in his tone. He might have been speaking of an altogether indifferent matter.

"I am afraid I shall have to trouble you to tell me the exact amount," he said. "Perhaps, Borrowdean, you would be so good as to inform me, as my niece seems a little overcome."

"The amount of the I.O.U.'s for which I gave my cheque," Borrowdean said, "was five hundred and eighty-seven pounds. I have the papers here."

There was a dead silence for a moment or two. Clara looked up furtively, but she could learn nothing from her uncle's face. It was some time before he spoke. When at last he did, his voice was certainly a little lower and less distinct than usual.

"Did I understand you to say—five hundred and eighty-seven pounds?"

"That is the amount," Borrowdean admitted. "I trust that you do not consider my interference in any way officious, Mannering. I thought it best to settle the claims of perfect strangers against Miss Mannering."

"May I ask," Mannering continued, "in whose house my niece was permitted to lose this sum?"

"It was at the Bristows'," Clara answered.

"And under whose chaperonage were you?" Mannering asked.

"Lady Bristow's! She called for me here, and took me down last Friday."

"Are these people who are generally accounted respectable?" Mannering asked.

"I don't think that Bristow is much better or worse than half of our country houses," Borrowdean answered. "People who are at all in the swim must have excitement nowadays, you know. Bristow himself isn't very popular, but people go to the house."

Mannering made no further remark.

"If you will come into the study, Borrowdean," he said, "I will settle this matter with you."

Borrowdean hesitated.

"Your niece said something about having three hundred pounds," he remarked.

Mannering glanced towards her.

"I think," he said, "that that must be a mistake. My niece has no such sum at her command."

Clara rose to her feet.

"You may as well know everything," she said. "The Duchess of Lenchester came in and found me very unhappy this morning. I told her everything, and she offered to lend me the money. I told her then that it was only three hundred pounds. I thought that was all I owed."

"Have you made any other confidants?" Mannering asked.

"No!"

"You will return the Duchess's cheque," Mannering said. "Borrowdean, will you come this way?"



CHAPTER V

LOVE versus POLITICS

Berenice was a little annoyed. It was the hour before dressing for dinner which she always devoted to repose—the hour saved from the stress of the day which had helped towards keeping her the young woman she certainly was. Yet Borrowdean's message was too urgent to ignore. She suffered her maid to wrap some sort of loose gown about her, and received him in her own study.

"My dear Sir Leslie," she said, a little reproachfully, "was this really necessary? You know that after half-past six I am practically a person not existing—until dinner time!"

"I should not have ventured to intrude upon you," Borrowdean said, quickly, "if the circumstances had not been altogether exceptional. I know your habits too well. I have just come from Mannering."

"From Mannering—yes!"

"Duchess," Borrowdean said, "have you—forgive a blunt question—but have you any influence over him?"

Berenice was silent for several moments.

"You ask me rather a hard question," she said. "A few months ago I think that I should have said yes. To-day—I am not sure. What has happened? Is anything wrong with him?"

"Nothing, except that he seems to have gone mad," Borrowdean said, bitterly. "I went to him to-day to get him to fix the dates for his meetings at Glasgow and Leeds. What do you think his answer was?"

"Don't tell me that he wants to back out!" Berenice exclaimed. "Don't tell me that!"

"Almost as bad! He told me quite coolly that he was not prepared finally to set out his views upon the question until he had completed a course of personal investigation in some of the Northern centres of trade, to which he had committed himself."

Berenice looked bewildered.

"But what on earth does he mean?" she exclaimed. "Surely he knows all that there is to be known. His mastery of statistics is something wonderful."

"What he means no man save himself can even surmise," Borrowdean answered. "He told me that he had had information of a state of distress in some of our Northern towns—Newcastle and Hull he mentioned, and some of the Lancashire places—which had simply appalled him. He was determined to verify it personally, and to commit himself to nothing further until he had done so. And he even asked me if I could not find him a pair until the end of the session, so that he could get away at once. I was simply dumbfounded. A pair for Mannering!"

Berenice rose to her feet. She walked up and down the little room restlessly.

"Sir Leslie," she said at last, "I am not sure whether I have what you would call any influence over Mr. Mannering now or not. I might have had but for you!"

"For me?" Borrowdean exclaimed.

"Yes. It was you who told me of—of—that woman," she said, haughtily, but with the colour rising almost to her temples. "After that, of course things were different between us. We are scarcely upon such terms at present as would justify my interference."

Borrowdean dropped his eyeglass, and swung it deliberately by its black ribbon. He looked steadily at Berenice, but his eyes seemed to travel past her.

"My dear Duchess," he said, quietly, "the game of life is a great one to play, and we who would keep our hands upon the board must of necessity make sacrifices. It is your duty to disregard in this instance your feelings towards Mannering. You must consider only his feelings towards you. They are such, I believe, as to give you a hold over him. You must make use of that hold for the sake of a great cause."

Berenice raised her eyebrows.

"Indeed! You seem to forget, Sir Leslie, that my share in this game, as you call it, must always be a passive one. I have no office to gain, no rewards to reap. Why should I commit myself to an unpleasant task for the sake of you and your friends?"

"It is your party," he protested. "Your party as much as ours."

"Granted," she answered. "Yet who are the responsible members of it? You know my opinion of Mannering as a politician. I would sooner follow him blindfold than all the others with my eyes open. Whatever he may lack, he is the most honest and right-seeing politician who ever entered the House."

"He lacks but one thing," Borrowdean said, "the mechanical adjustment of the born politician to party matters. There was never a time when absolute unity and absolute force were so necessary. If he is going to play the intelligent inquirer, if he falters for one moment in his wholesale condemnation of this scheme, he loses the day for himself and for us. The one thing which the political public never forgives is the man who stops to think."

"What do you want me to do?" Berenice asked.

"To go to him and find out what he means, what influences have been at work, what is underneath it all. Warn him of the danger of even appearing doubtful, or for a moment lukewarm. The one person whom the public will not have in politics is the trifler. Think how many there have been, brilliant men, too, who have lost their places through a single false step, a single year, a month of dilettantism. Remind him of them. The man who moves in a great cause may move slowly, if you will, but he must move all the time. Remind him, too, that he is risking the one great chance of his life!"

"He is to be Premier, then?" she asked.

"Yes! There is no alternative!"

"Very well, then," she said, "I will go. I make no promises, mind. I will listen to what he has to say. I will put our view of the situation before him. But I make no promises. It is possible, even, that I shall come to his point of view, whatever it may be."

Borrowdean smiled.

"I have no fear of that," he declared, "but at least it would be something to know what this point of view is. You will find him in a queer mood. That little fool of a niece of his has been getting in with a fast set, and making the money fly. You have heard of her last escapade at Bristow?"

Berenice nodded.

"Yes," she said. "I went there this morning directly I had your note. I feel rather self-reproachful about Clara Mannering. I meant to have looked after her more. She is rather an uninteresting young woman, though, and I am afraid I have let her drift away."

"She will be all right with a little looking after," Borrowdean said. "Forgive me, but it is getting late."

"I will go at once," she said.

* * * * *

Afterwards she wondered often at that strange, uncertain fluttering of the heart, the rush and glow of feelings warmer than any which had lately stirred her, which seemed in those first few minutes of their being together, to make an altered woman of her. Mannering, as he entered the room, pale and listless, was conscious at once of a foreign element in it, something which stirred his somewhat slow-beating pulse, too, which seemed to bring back to him a flood of delicious memories, the perfume of his rose-gardens at evening, the soft night music of his wind-stirred cedars. She had thrown aside her opera cloak. The delicate lines of her bust seemed to have expanded with the unusual rise and fall of her bosom. A faint rose-tint flush of streaming colour had stained the ivory whiteness of her skin—her eyes as they sought his were soft, almost liquid. They met so seldom alone—and she was alone now with him in the room which was so characteristically his own, a room with many indications of his constant presence, which one by one she had been realizing with curiously quickened pulses during the few minutes of waiting. On her way here, driving in an open victoria, through the soft summer evening, she had seemed to be pursued everywhere by a new world of sensuous suggestions. Of the many carriages which she had passed, hers alone seemed to savour of loneliness. She was the only beautiful woman who sat alone and companionless. In a momentary block she had seen a man in a neighbouring hansom slip his hand, a strong, brown, well-looking hand, under the apron, to hold for a moment the fingers of the woman who sat by his side—Berenice had caught the answering smile, she had seen him lean forward and whisper something which had brought a deeper flush into her own cheeks and a look into her eyes, half amused, half tender. These were rare moments with her, these moments of sentiment—perhaps for that reason all the more dangerous. She forgot almost the cause of her coming. She remembered only that she was alone with the one man whose voice had the power to thrill her, whose touch would call up into life the great hidden forces of her own passionate nature. The memory of all other things passed away from her like a cloud gone from the face of the sun. She leaned towards him. His face was full of wonder—wonder, and the coming joy.

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