Hester came in, followed by a maid with the tea-tray. She looked from one to the other a little anxiously. The atmosphere of the room seemed charged with electricity. Mannering’s face was grey. Her mother was nervously crumpling into a ball her tiny lace handkerchief. Mrs. Phillimore rose abruptly from her seat.
“Have you got the brandy and soda, Hester?” she asked.
“I’m afraid I forgot it, mother,” the girl answered. “Mayn’t I make you some Russian tea? I’ve had the lemon sliced.”
The woman laughed, a little unnaturally.
“What a dutiful daughter,” she exclaimed. “That’s right! I want looking after, don’t I? I’ll have the tea, Hester, but send it up to my room. I’m going to lie down. That wretched motoring has given me a headache, and I’m dining out to-night. Good-bye, Mr. Mannering, if I don’t see you again.”
She nodded, without glancing in his direction, and left the room. The maid arranged the tea-tray and departed. Hester showed no signs of being aware that anything unusual had happened. She made a little desultory conversation. Mannering answered in monosyllables.
When at last he put his cup down he rose to go.
“You are quite sure, Hester,” he said. “You have made up your mind?”
She, too, rose, and came over to him.
“You know that I am right,” she answered, quietly. “The life you offer me would be paradise, but I dare not even think of it. I may not do any good here, perhaps I don’t, but I can’t come away.”
“You are a true daughter of your sex,” he said, smiling. “The keynote of your life must be sacrifice.”
“Perhaps we are not so unwise, after all,” she answered, “for I think that there are more happy women in the world than men.”
“There are more, I think, who deserve to be, dear,” he answered, holding her hand for a moment. “Good-bye!”
Mannering walked in somewhat abstracted fashion to the corner of the street, and signalled for a hansom. With his foot upon the step he hesitated.
The duchess’s “At home”
“The perfect man,” the Duchess murmured, as she stirred her tea, “does not exist. I know a dozen perfect women, dear, dull creatures, and plenty of men who know how to cover up the flaw. But there is something in the composition of the male sex which keeps them always a little below the highest pinnacle.”