“Then why,” the girl asked, “has he gone out of his way to—to—”
Mannering stopped her.
“He had a motive, of course. Borrowdean is one of those men who do nothing without a motive. I believe that I can even guess what it is. Don’t let this thing distress you too much, Hester. I do not think that we have anything to worry about.”
“But he knows!”
“I could not imagine a man,” Mannering answered, “better able to keep a secret.”
The girl sat silent for a moment.
“I suppose I have been an idiot,” she remarked.
“You have been nothing of the sort,” Mannering asserted, firmly. “You have done just what is kind, and what will help me to save the situation. I must confess that I should not like to have been taken by surprise. You have saved me from that. Now let us put the whole subject away for a time. How I wish that you could stay here for a few days.”
The girl smiled a little piteously.
“I ought not to have left her even for so long as this,” she said. “I must go back to-morrow morning by the first train.”
He nodded. He felt that it was useless to combat her resolution.
“You and I,” he said, gravely, “have both our burdens to carry. Only it seems a little unfair that Providence should have made my back so much the broader. Listen, Hester!”
The full murmur of the sea growing louder and louder as the salt water flowed up into the creeks betokened the change of tide. Faint wreaths of mist were rising up from over the shadowy marshland. Above them were the stars. He laid his hand upon her shoulder.
“Dear child!” he said, “I think that you understand how it is that the burden, after all, is easier for me. A man may forget his troubles here, for all the while there is this eternal background of peaceful things.”
Her hand stole into his.
“Yes,” she murmured, “I understand. Don’t let them ever bring you away.”
Once again Mannering found himself in the over-scented, overheated room, which was perhaps of all places in the world the one he hated the most. Fresh from the wind-swept places of his country home, he found the atmosphere intolerable. After a few minutes’ waiting he threw open the windows and leaned out. Hester was walking in the Square somewhere. He had a shrewd idea that she had been sent out of the way. With a restless impatience of her absence he awaited the interview which he dreaded.
Her mother’s coming took him a little by surprise. She seemed to have laid aside all her usual customs. She entered the room quietly. She greeted him almost nervously. She was dressed, without at any rate any obvious attempt to attract, in a plain black gown, and with none of the extravagances in which she sometimes delighted. Her usual boisterous confidence of manner seemed to have deserted her. Her face, without its skilful touches of rouge, looked thin, and almost peaked.