“Miss Phillimore,” he said, “I cannot tell you how sorry I am that this should have happened.”
She was on her knees before her mother. She turned and rose slowly to her feet. Sir Leslie never quite forgot her gesture as she motioned him towards the door. It was one of the most uncomfortable moments of his life.
“I am afraid—”
She did not speak a word, yet Sir Leslie obeyed what seemed to him more eloquent than words. He turned and left the room and the house. Without any change in her tense expression she waited until she heard him go. Then she sank upon her knees on the hearthrug, and hid her face in her hands.
THE MAN WITH A MOTIVE
Mannering sat alone in the shade of his cedar tree. He had walked in his rose-garden amongst a wilderness of drooping blossoms, for the season of roses was gone. He had crossed the marshland seawards, only to find a little crowd of holiday-makers in possession of the golf links and the green tufted stretch of sandy shore. The day had been long, almost irksome. A fit of restlessness had driven him from his study. He seemed to have lost all power of concentration. For once his brain had failed him. The shadowy companions who stood ever between him and solitude remained uninvoked. His cigar had burnt out between his fingers. He threw it impatiently away. These were the days, the hours he dreaded.
Clara came down the garden from the house, and seeing him, crossed the lawn and sat down beside him.
“Why, my dear uncle,” she exclaimed, “you look almost as dull as I feel! Let us be miserable together!”
“With all my heart,” he answered. “Whilst we are about it, can we invent a cause?”
“Invent!” she repeated. “I do not think we need either of us look very far. Every one seems to have gone away whose presence made this place endurable. Uncle, do you know when Mrs. Handsell is coming back? She promised to write, and I have never heard a word!”
Mannering turned his head. A little rustling wind had stolen in from seaward. Above their heads flights of sea-gulls were floating out towards the creeks. He watched them idly until they dropped down.
“I do not think that she will come back at all,” he said, quietly. “I heard to-day that the place was to let again.”
“And Sir Leslie Borrowdean?”
“I think you may take it for granted,” Mannering remarked, dryly, “that we shall see no more of him.”
The girl leaned back and sighed.
“Uncle, what is it that makes you such a hermit?” she asked.
“Age, perhaps, and experience,” he answered, lightly. “There are not many people in the world, Clara, who are worth while!”
“Mrs. Handsell was worth while,” she murmured.
Mannering did not reply.
“And Sir Leslie Borrowdean,” she continued, “was more than just worth while. I think that he was delightful.”