“Lady Elisabeth,” he whispered, “I feel like a traitor. I feel myself moved to say things to you under false pretences. I ought not to have come here.”
“What do you mean?” she demanded. “You can’t mean—”
Their eyes met. He read the truth unerringly. “No, not that,” he answered. “There is no one. What I feel is, at any rate, consecrate. But I have no right. I am not sure, even at this moment, whether it is not in my heart to take a step which you would look upon as the blackest ingratitude. My life, Lady Elisabeth, holds issues in it far apart, and it is vowed, dedicate.”
“You are going to break away?” she asked quietly.
“I may,” he admitted. “That is the truth. That is why I hesitated about coming here to-night. And yet, I wanted to come. I wasn’t sure why. I know now—it was to see you.”
“Oh, don’t be rash!” she begged. “Don’t! I may talk to you now really from my heart, mayn’t I?” she went on, looking steadfastly into his face. “Don’t imagine that that great gulf exists. It doesn’t. If you break away, it will be a mistake. You want to feel your feet upon the clouds. You don’t know how much safer you will be if you keep them upon the earth. You may bring incalculable suffering and misery upon the very people whom you wish to benefit. You think that I am a woman, perhaps, and I know little. Yes, but sometimes we who are outside see much, and it is dangerous, you know, to act upon theories. I haven’t spoken a single selfish word, have I? I haven’t tried to tell you how much I should hate to lose you.”
He rose to his feet.
“I am going away,” he said hoarsely. “I must fight this thing out alone. But—”
He looked around. The words seemed to fail him. Their little corner of the winter garden was still uninvaded.
“But, Lady Elisabeth,” he continued, “you know the thing which makes it harder for me than ever. You know very well that if I decide to do what must make me a stranger in this household, I shall do it at a personal sacrifice which I never dreamed could exist.”
She swayed a little towards him. Her face was suddenly changed, alluring; her eyes pleaded with him.
“You mustn’t go away,” she whispered. “If you go now, you must come back—do you bear?—you must come back!”
It was the eve of the reopening of Parliament. Maraton, who had been absent from London—no one knew where—during the last six weeks, had suddenly reappeared. Once more he had invited the committee of the Labour Party to meet at his house. His invitation was accepted, but it was obvious that this time their attitude towards the man who welcomed them was one of declared and pronounced hostility. Graveling was there, with sullen, evil face. He made no attempt to shake hands with Maraton, and he sat at the table provided for them with folded arms