“If ever she let it come between you,” Hester interrupted, softly, “I believe that she has repented. We women are quick to find out those things, you know,” she added, “and I am sure that I am right. She has never married any one else. I do not believe that she ever will.”
“It is too late,” Mannering said. “A union between us now could only lead to unhappiness. The disintegration of parties is slowly commencing, and I think that the next few years will find me still further apart than I am to-day from my old friends. Berenice”—he slipped so easily into calling her so—“is heart and soul with them.”
“At least,” Hester said, “I think that for both your sakes you should give her the opportunity of choosing.”
“Even that,” he said, “would not be wise. We are man and woman still, you see, Hester, and there are moments when sentiment is strong enough to triumph over principle and sweep our minds bare of all the every-day thoughts. But afterwards—there is always the afterwards. The conflict must come. Reason stays with us always, and sentiment might weaken with the years.”
She shook her head.
“The Duchess is a woman,” she said, “and the hold of all other things grows weak when she loves. Give her the chance.”
“Don’t!” Mannering exclaimed, almost sharply. “You can’t see this matter as I do. I have vowed my life now. I have seen my duty, and I have kept my face turned steadily towards it. Once I was contented with very different things, and I think that I came as near happiness then as a man often does. But those days have gone by. They have left a whole world of delightful memories, but I have locked the doors of the past behind me.”
Hester shook her head.
“You are making a mistake,” she said. “Two people who love one another, and who are honest in their opinions, find happiness sooner or later if they have the courage to seek for it. Don’t you know,” she continued, after a moment’s pause, “that—she understood? I always like to think what I believe to be the truth. She went away to leave you free.”
Mannering rose to his feet and pointed to the clock.
“It is time that you and I were in bed, Hester,” he said. “Remember that we have a busy morning.”
“It seems a pity,” she murmured, as she wished him good-night. “A great pity!”
SUMMONED TO WINDSOR
Berenice, who had just returned from making a call, was standing in the hall, glancing through the cards displayed upon a small round table. The major-domo of her household came hurrying out from his office.
“There is a young lady, your Grace,” he announced, “who has been waiting to see you for half an hour. Her name is Miss Phillimore.”
“Where is she?” Berenice asked.
“In the library, your Grace.”
“Show her into my own room,” Berenice said, “I will see her at once.”