He held her hands tightly. A great pity for her filled his heart—pity for her, and for himself.
“Blanche,” he said, “there is one way only. It is for you to decide. Will you marry me? I will do my best to make you a good husband!”
“Marry you?” she gasped. “Lawrence, I dare not!”
“I cannot alter the past,” he said, sadly. “It never seemed to me possible that you could care for my—after what happened. But—”
“Oh, it is not that,” she interrupted. “There is—the other woman, and, Lawrence, I should be afraid. I am not good enough!”
“Whatever you are, Blanche,” he said, gravely, “remember that it is I who am responsible for your having been left alone to face the world. Your follies belong to me. I am quite free to share their burden with you.”
“But the other woman?” she faltered.
“I must love her always,” he said, quietly, “but I cannot marry her.”
“And you would kiss me sometimes, Lawrence?” she whispered.
He took her quietly into his arms and kissed her forehead.
“I will do my best, Blanche,” he said. “I dare not promise any more.”
MATRIMONY AND AN AWKWARD MEETING
“How delightfully Continental!” Blanche exclaimed, as the head-waiter showed them to their table. “Hester, did you ever see anything more quaint?”
“It is perfect,” the girl answered, leaning back in her chair, and looking around with quiet content.
Mannering took up the menu and ordered dinner. Then he lit a cigarette and looked around.
“It certainly is quaint,” he said. “One dines out of doors often enough, especially over here, but I have never seen a courtyard made such excellent use of before. The place is really old, too.”
They had found their way to a small seaside resort, in the north of France, which Mannering had heard highly praised by some casual acquaintance. The courtyard of the small hotel was set out with round dining tables, and the illumination was afforded by Japanese lanterns hung from every available spot. A small band played from a wooden balcony. Monsieur, the proprietor, walked anxiously from table to table, all smiles and bows. Through the roofed way, which led from the street, one caught a distant glimpse of the sea.
Mannering, to the surprise of his friends, and to his own secret amazement, had survived the crisis which had seemed at one time likely enough to wreck his life. Politically he was no longer a great power, for the party whose cause he had half espoused had met with a distinct reverse, and he himself was without a seat in Parliament, but amongst the masses his was still a name to conjure with. Socially his marriage with Blanche Phillimore had scarcely proved the disaster which every one had anticipated.