All that might have been embarrassing in the encounter seemed dissolved by the utterly conventional tone of her greeting. Sir Leslie Borrowdean came up and joined them, and Lord and Lady Redford. Then the little party, escorted by the landlord, disappeared into the hotel. Mannering resumed his seat and continued his dinner. He leaned over and addressed his wife. His tone was kinder than usual.
“When we have had our coffee,” he said, “I hope that you will feel like a walk. The moon is coming up over the sea.”
She shook her head.
“Take Hester,” she said. “She loves that sort of thing. I have a headache, and I should like to go upstairs as soon as possible.”
So Hester walked with Mannering out to the rocks where pools of water, left by the tide, shone like silver in the moonlight. They talked very little at first, but as they leaned over the rail and looked out seawards Hester broke the silence, and spoke of the things which they both had in their minds.
“I am sorry they came,” she said. “I am afraid it will upset mother, and it is not pleasant for you, is it?”
“For me it is nothing, Hester,” he answered, “and I hope that your mother will not worry about it. They all behaved very nicely, and we need not see much of them.”
She passed her arm through his.
“Tell me how you feel about it,” she begged. “It must seem to you like a glimpse of the life you left when—when you—married!”
“Hester,” he said, earnestly, “don’t make any mistake about this. Don’t let your mother make any mistake. It was my political change of views which separated me from all my former friends—that entirely. To them I am an apostate, and a very bad sort of one. I deserted them just when they needed me. I did it from convictions which are stronger to-day than ever. But none the less I threw them over. I always said that they very much exaggerated my importance as a factor in the situation, and my words are proved. They carried the elections without any difficulty, and they have formed a strong Government. They can afford to be magnanimous to me. If I had stayed with them I should have been in office. As it was, I lost even my seat.”
“You did what you thought was right,” she said, softly. “No one can do any more!”
Mannering thought over her words as they walked homewards over the sand-dunes. Yes, he had done that! Was he satisfied with the result? He had become a minor power in politics. Men spoke of him as a weakling—as one who had shrunk from the burden of great responsibility, and left the friends who had trusted him in the lurch. And then—there was the other thing. He had paid a great price for this woman’s salvation. Had he succeeded? She had given up all her old ways. She dressed, she lived, she carried herself through life even with a furtive, almost a pathetic, attempt to reach his standard. Often he caught her watching him as though fearful lest some word or action of hers had been displeasing to him. And yet—he wondered—was this what she had hoped for? Had he given her what she had the right to expect? Had he indeed received value for the price he had paid? He asked Hester a sudden question: