“You are still a young woman,” he said, quietly. “The world expects you to marry again.”
“I have no interest in what the world expects of me,” she answered, “but I may tell you at once that my refusal has nothing whatever to do with the question of marriage in the abstract. You are a man of perception, Sir Leslie! It will be, I trust, sufficient if I say that I have no feelings whatever towards you which would induce me to consider the subject even for a moment.”
She was unchanged, then! This time he recognized the note of finality in her tone. All the time and thought he had given to this matter were wasted. He had failed, and he knew why. He seldom permitted himself the luxury of anger, but he felt all the poison of bitter hatred stirring within him at that moment, and craving for some sort of expression. There was nothing he could do, nothing he could say. But if Mannering had been within reach then he would have struck him. He rose and walked slowly away.
HESTER THINKS IT “A GREAT PITY”
“You will understand,” Mannering said, as the brougham drove off, “that you and I are speaking together merely as friends. I have nothing official to say to you. It would be presumption on my part to assume that the time is ripe for anything definite while you are still at the head of an unbeaten Government. But one learns to read the signs of the times. I think that you and I both know that you cannot last the session.”
“It is a positive luxury at times,” Redford answered, “to be able to indulge in absolute candour. We cannot last the session. You pulled us through our last tight corner, but we shall part, I suppose, on the New Tenement Bill, and then we shall come a cropper.”
“The Opposition,” he said, “are not strong enough to form a Government alone. And I do not think that a one-man Cabinet would be popular. It has been suggested to me that at no time in political history have the conditions been more favourable for a really strong coalition Government, containing men of moderate views on both sides. I am anxious to know whether you would be willing to join such a combination.”
“Under whom?” Lord Redford asked.
“Under myself,” Mannering answered, gravely. “Don’t think me over-presumptuous. The matter has been very carefully thought out. You could not serve under Rushleigh, nor could he serve under you. But you could both be invaluable members of a Cabinet of which I was the nominal head. I do not wish to entrap you into consent, however, without your fully understanding this: a modified, and to a certain extent an experimental, scheme of tariff reform would be part of our programme.”
“You wish for a reply,” Lord Redford said, “only in general terms?”
“Only in general terms, of course,” Mannering assented.