Mannering looked up from the letter, and again his eyes met Hester’s. The secret was theirs alone. Very carefully he tore the pages into small pieces. Then he opened the stove and watched them consumed.
“No one will ever know,” Hester said. “She said—when she left—that it was a morning’s ride—but motors were so uncertain that she took a bag.”
Mannering’s eyes were filled once more with tears. The intolerable pity of the whole thing, its awful suddenness swept every other thought out of his mind. He remembered how anxiously she had tried to please him on that last night. He loathed himself for the cold brutality of his chilly affection. Hester came and knelt by his side, but she said nothing. So the hours passed.
THE PERSISTENCY OF BORROWDEAN
“And what does Mannering think of it all, I wonder!” Lord Redford remarked, lighting a fresh cigarette. “This may be his opportunity, who can tell!”
“Will he have the nerve to grasp it?” Borrowdean asked. “Mannering has never been proved in a crisis.”
“He may have the nerve. I should be more inclined to question the desire,” Lord Redford said. “For a man in his position he has always seemed to me singularly unambitious. I don’t think that the prospect of being Prime Minister would dazzle him in the least. It is part of the genius of the politician too, to know exactly when and how to seize an opportunity. I can imagine him watching it come, examining it through his eyeglass, and standing on one side with a shrug of the shoulders.”
“You do not believe, then,” Berenice said, “that he is sufficiently in earnest to grasp it?”
“Exactly,” Lord Redford said. “I have that feeling about Mannering, I must admit, especially during the last two years. He seems to have drawn away from all of us, to live altogether too absorbed and self-contained a life for a man who has great ambitions to realize, or who is in downright earnest about his work.”
“What you all forget when you discuss Lawrence Mannering is this,” Berenice said. “He holds his position almost as a sacred charge. He is absolutely conscientious. He wants certain things for the sake of the people, and he will work steadily on until he gets them. I believe it is the truth that he has no personal ambition, but if the cause he has at heart is to be furthered at all it must be by his taking office. Therefore I think that when the time comes he will take it.”
“That sounds reasonable enough,” Lord Redford admitted. “By the bye, did you notice that he is included in the house party at Sandringham again this week?”
Anstruther, the youngest Cabinet Minister, and Lord Redford’s nephew, joined in the conversation.
“I can tell you something for a fact,” he said. “My cousin is Lady-in-Waiting, and she’s been up in town for a few days, and she asked me about Mannering. A Certain Personage thinks very highly of him indeed. Told some one that Mr. Mannering was the most statesman-like politician in the service of his country. I believe he’d sooner see Mannering Prime Minister than any one.”