“Then let you and me be cowards,” he answered. “We shall at least be happy.”
She shook her head a little sadly.
“I doubt it,” she answered. “Happiness is a gift, not a prize. It comes seldom enough to those who seek it.”
He laughed scornfully.
“I am not a seeker,” he cried. “I possess. It seems to me that all the beautiful things of life are here to-night. Listen! Do you hear the sea, the full tide sweeping softly up into the land, a long drawn out undernote of breathless harmonies, the rustling of leaves there in the elm trees, the faint night wind, like the murmuring of angels? Lift your head! Was there anything ever sweeter than the perfume from that hedge of honeysuckle? What can a man want more than these things—and—”
“And the woman he loves! There, I have said it. Useless words enough! You know very well that I love you. I meant to have said nothing just yet, but who could help it—on such a night as this! Don’t talk of going away, Berenice. I want you here always.”
She held herself away from him. Her face was deathly white now. Her eyes questioned him fiercely.
“Before I answer you. You were in London last week?”
“I had business.”
“In Chelsea, in Merton Street?”
He gave a little gasp.
“What do you know about that?” he asked, almost roughly.
“You were seen there, not for the first time. The person whom you visited—I have heard about. She is somewhat notorious, is she not?”
He was very quiet, pale to the lips. A strange, hunted expression had crept into his eyes.
“I want to know what took you there. Am I asking too much? Remember that you have asked me a good deal.”
“Has Borrowdean anything to do with this?” he demanded.
“I have known Sir Leslie Borrowdean for many years,” she answered, “and it is quite true that we have discussed certain matters—concerning you.”
“You have known Sir Leslie Borrowdean for many years,” he repeated. “Yet you met here as strangers.”
“Sir Leslie divined my wishes,” she answered. “He knew that it was my wish to spend several months away from everybody, and, if possible, unrecognized. Perhaps I had better make my confession at once. My name is not Mrs. Handsell. I am the Duchess of Lenchester.”
Mannering stood as though turned to stone. The woman watched him eagerly. She waited for him to speak—in vain. A sudden mist of tears blinded her. She closed her eyes. When she opened them Mannering was gone.
THE HESITATION OF MR. MANNERING