She leaned over the grey balustrade. With her it was a moment of weakness. She was suddenly conscious of the fact that she was no longer a young woman. The time when she might hope to find in life the actual flavour and joy of passionate living was nearing the end. And a little while ago they had seemed so near! The pity of it stirred up a certain sense of rebellion in her heart. She was still a beautiful woman. She knew very well the arts by which men are enslaved. Why should she not try them upon him—this man who loved her, who seemed willing to sacrifice both their lives to a piece of senseless quixoticism? Her fingers touched his, and held them softly. Thrilled through all his senses, he turned towards her wonderingly.
“Are we wise, Lawrence,” she whispered, “if indeed you love me? Life is so short, and I am not a young woman any more. I have been lonely so long. I want a little happiness before I go.”
“Don’t!” he cried, hoarsely. “You know—what comes between us.”
She was a little indignant, but still tender.
“This woman does not want you, Lawrence,” she cried. “I do! Oh, Lawrence!”
He faltered. She laid her fingers upon his arm.
“Come down the steps,” she murmured, “and I will show you Lady Redford’s rose-garden.”
Her touch was compelling. He could not have resisted it. And about his heart lay the joy of her near presence. Side by side they moved along the terrace—it seemed to him that they passed towards their destiny. The gentle rustling of her clothes, their slight, mysterious perfume, was like music to him. A sudden wave of passion carried him away. The primitive virility of the man, awake at last, demanded its birthright.
And then upon the lower step they met Borrowdean, and he placed himself squarely in their way.
“I am sorry to interrupt you,” he said, gravely, “but Lord Redford has sent me out to look for you and to send you at once into the library. Something rather serious has happened.”
Mannering came down to earth.
“The evening papers have come,” Borrowdean said. “The Pall Mall has the whole story. You were seen at the working-men’s club in Glasgow!”
Mannering turned towards the house. His nerves were all tingling with excitement, but the thread had suddenly been snapped. He was no longer in danger of yielding to that flood of delicious sensations. His voice had been almost steady as he had begged Berenice to excuse him. Berenice stood quite still. Her hand was pressed to her side, her dark eyes were lit with passion. She leaned forward towards Borrowdean, and seemed about to strike him.
“You will find yourself—repaid for this, Sir Leslie,” she murmured.
Then she turned abruptly away. For an hour or more she walked alone amongst the trellised walks of Lady Redford’s rose-garden. But Mannering did not return.