“You are too kind to me,” he said; “kinder than I deserve!”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she answered. “I am afraid that my kindness is only another form of selfishness. I am rather a lonely person, you know. Lord Redford is beckoning to you. I am going to break up that croquet party.”
Mannering joined the other two men. Berenice strolled on to the lawn. Major Bristow eyed her coming with some disfavour. He was one of the men whom she always ignored. Clara, on the other hand, seemed proportionately relieved.
“I want you to come to my room as soon as you possibly can, child,” Berenice said. “Shall I wait while you finish your game?”
“Oh, I will come at once,” Clara exclaimed, laying down her mallet. “Major Bristow will not mind, I am sure.”
Major Bristow looked as though he did mind very much, but lacked the nerve to say so. Berenice calmly took Clara by the arm and led her away.
“You are not engaged to Major Bristow by any chance, are you?” she asked, calmly.
“Engaged to Major Bristow? Heavens, no!” Clara answered. “I don’t think he is in the least a marrying man.”
“So much the better for our sex,” Berenice answered. “I wouldn’t spend so much time with him, my dear, if I were you. I have known people with nicer reputations.”
Clara turned a shade paler.
“I can never get away from him,” she said. “He follows me—everywhere, and—”
“You do not by any chance, I suppose, owe him money?” Berenice asked. “They tell me that he has a somewhat objectionable habit of winning money from girls, more than they can afford to pay, and then suggesting that it stand over for a time.”
Clara turned towards her with terrified eyes.
“I—I do owe Major Bristow a little still,” she admitted. “I seem to have been so unlucky. He told me that any time would do, that I should win it back again, and I had no idea what stakes we were playing. I don’t touch a card now at all, but this was at Ellingham House. They insisted on my making a fourth at bridge.”
Berenice tightened her grasp upon the girl’s arm.
“Don’t say anything about this to your uncle just now,” she insisted. “I am going to take you up to my room and write you a cheque for the amount, whatever it may be. Afterwards I will have a talk with Major Bristow. Nonsense, child, don’t cry! The money is nothing to me, and I always promised your uncle that I would look after you a little.”
“I have been such a fool!” the girl sobbed.
Berenice for a moment was also sad. Her lips quivered, her eyes were wistful.
“We all think that sometimes, child,” she said, quietly. “We all have our foolish moments and our hours of repentance, even the wisest of us!”
SIR LESLIE BORROWDEAN INCURS A HEAVY DEBT
“I suppose,” Lord Redford remarked, thoughtfully, “politics represents a different thing to all of us, according to our temperament. To me, I must confess, it is a plain, practical business, the business of law-making. To you, Mannering, I fancy that it appeals a little differently. Now, let us understand one another. Are you prepared to undertake this campaign which we planned out a few months ago?”