“Don’t call it that.”
“Very well, then,” she declared, “I will tell him the truth myself.”
“That,” he answered, “is all that I should dare to ask. He would come to us to-morrow.”
“You used not to underrate me,” she murmured, with a glance towards the mirror.
“There is no other man like Mannering,” he said. “He abhors any form of deceit. He would forgive a murderer, but never a liar.”
“My dear Leslie,” she said, “as a friend—and a relative—”
“Neither counts,” he interrupted. “I am a politician.”
She sat quite still, looking away from him. The peaceful noises from the village street found their way into the room. A few cows were making their leisurely mid-day journey towards the pasturage, a baker’s cart came rattling round the corner. The west wind was rustling in the elms, bending the shrubs upon the lawn almost to the ground. She watched them idly, already a little shrivelled and tarnished with their endless struggle for life.
“I do not wish to be melodramatic,” she said, slowly, “but you are forcing me into a corner. You know that I am rich. You know the people with whom I have influence. I want to purchase Lawrence Mannering’s immunity from your schemes. Can you name no price which I could pay? You and I know one another fairly well. You are an egoist, pure and simple. Politics are nothing to you save a personal affair. You play the game of life in the first person singular. Let me pay his quittance.”
Borrowdean regarded her thoughtfully.
“You are a strange woman,” he said. “In a few months’ time, when you are back in the thick of it all, you will be as anxious to have him there as we are. You will not be able to understand how you could ever have wished differently. This is rank sentiment, you know, which you have been talking. Mannering here is a wasted power. His life is an unnatural one.”
“He is happy,” she objected.
“How do you know? Will he be as happy, I wonder, when you have gone, when there is no longer a Mrs. Handsell? I think not! You are one of the first to whom I should have looked for help in this matter. You owe it to us. We have a right to demand it. For myself personally I have no life now outside the life political. I am tired of being in opposition. I want to hold office. One mounts the ladder very slowly. I see my way in a few months to going up two rungs at a time. We want Mannering. We must have him. Don’t force me to make that slip of the tongue.”
The sound of a gong came through the open window. She rose to her feet.
“We are keeping them waiting for luncheon,” she remarked. “I will think over what you have said.”
Sir Leslie carefully closed the iron gate behind him, and looked around.