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53 Complete Works of E. Phillips OppenheimA Lost LeaderA Maker of HistoryA Millionaire of YesterdayA Monk of CrutaA People's ManA Prince of SinnersAn Amiable CharlatanAnna the AdventuressBereniceHavocJacob's LadderJeanne of the MarshesMr Grex of Monte CarloMr. Marx's SecretMysterious Mr. SabinNobody's ManPeter Ruff and the Double FourThe AvengerThe BetrayalThe Black BoxThe Box with Broken SealsThe Cinema MurderThe Devil's PawThe Double FourThe Double LifeThe Double TraitorThe Evil ShepherdThe Golden WebThe GovernorsThe Great ImpersonationThe Great Prince ShanThe Great SecretThe HillmanThe Illustrious PrinceThe Kingdom Of The BlindThe Lighted WayThe Lost AmbassadorThe MalefactorThe Master MummerThe Mischief MakerThe MissionerThe Moving FingerThe New TenantThe Pawns CountThe ProfiteersThe SurvivorThe Tempting of TavernakeThe TraitorsThe Vanished MessengerThe Wicked MarquisThe Yellow CrayonThe Zeppelin's PassengerTo Win the Love He Sought
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The Complete Collection of E. Phillips Oppenheim
A Lost Leader
A Maker of History
A Millionaire of Yesterday
A Monk of Cruta
A People's Man
A Prince of Sinners
An Amiable Charlatan
Anna the Adventuress
Jeanne of the Marshes
Mr Grex of Monte Carlo
Mr. Marx's Secret
Mysterious Mr. Sabin
Peter Ruff and the Double Four
The Black Box
The Box with Broken Seals
The Cinema Murder
The Devil's Paw
The Double Four
The Double Life
The Double Traitor
The Evil Shepherd
The Golden Web
The Great Impersonation
The Great Prince Shan
The Great Secret
The Illustrious Prince
The Kingdom Of The Blind
The Lighted Way
The Lost Ambassador
The Master Mummer
The Mischief Maker
The Moving Finger
The New Tenant
The Pawns Count
The Tempting of Tavernake
The Vanished Messenger
The Wicked Marquis
The Yellow Crayon
The Zeppelin's Passenger
To Win the Love He Sought
A Lost Leader
A LOST LEADER
E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM
Author of "A Maker of History," "Mysterious Mr. Sabin," "The Master Mummer," "Anna the Adventuress," Etc.
Illustrated by Fred Pegram
Boston Little, Brown & Company
II The Woman with an Alias
III Wanted--A Politician
IV The Duchess Asks a Question
V The Hesitation of Mr. Mannering
VII The Duchess's "At Home"
VIII The Mannering Mystery
IX The Pumping of Mrs. Phillimore
X The Man with a Motive
XI Mannering's Alternative
I Borrowdean makes a Bargain
II "Cherchez la Femme"
III One of the "Sufferers"
IV Debts of Honour
V Love versus Politics
VI The Conscience of a Statesman
VII A Blow for Borrowdean
VIII A Page from the Past
IX The Faltering of Mannering
X The End of a Dream
XI Borrowdean shows his "Hand"
XII Sir Leslie Borrowdean incurs a Heavy Debt
XIII The Woman and--the Other Woman
I Matrimony and an Awkward Meeting
II The Snub for Borrowdean
III Clouds--and a Call to Arms
V The Journalist Intervenes
VI Treachery and a Telegram
VII Mr. Mannering, M.P.
VIII Playing the Game
IX The Tragedy of a Key
X Blanche finds a Way Out
I The Persistency of Borrowdean
II Hester Thinks it "A Great Pity"
III Summoned to Windsor
IV Checkmate to Borrowdean
V A Brazen Proceeding
A LOST LEADER
The two men stood upon the top of a bank bordering the rough road which led to the sea. They were listening to the lark, which had risen fluttering from their feet a moment or so ago, and was circling now above their heads. Mannering, with a quiet smile, pointed upwards.
"There, my friend!" he exclaimed. "You can listen now to arguments more eloquent than any which I could ever frame. That little creature is singing the true, uncorrupted song of life. He sings of the sunshine, the buoyant air; the pure and simple joy of existence is beating in his little heart. The things which lie behind the hills will never sadden him. His kingdom is here, and he is content."
Borrowdean's smile was a little cynical. He was essentially of that order of men who are dwellers in cities, and even the sting of the salt breeze blowing across the marshes--marshes riven everywhere with long arms of the sea--could bring no colour to his pale cheeks.
"Your little bird--a lark, I think you called it," he remarked, "may be a very eloquent prophet for the whole kingdom of his species, but the song of life for a bird and that for a man are surely different things!"
"Not so very different after all," Mannering answered, still watching the bird. "The longer one lives, the more clearly one recognizes the absolute universality of life."
Borrowdean shrugged his shoulders, with a little gesture of impatience. He had left London at a moment when he could ill be spared, and had not travelled to this out-of-the-way corner of the kingdom to exchange purposeless platitudes with a man whose present attitude towards life at any rate he heartily despised. He seated himself upon a half-broken rail, and lit a cigarette.
"Mannering," he said, "I did not come here to simper cheap philosophies with you like a couple of schoolgirls. I have a real live errand. I want to speak to you of great things."
Mannering moved a little uneasily. He had a very shrewd idea as to the nature of that errand.
"Of great things," he repeated slowly. "Are you in earnest, Borrowdean?"
"Because," Mannering continued, "I have left the world of great things, as you and I used to regard them, very far behind. I am glad to see you here, of course, but I cannot think of any serious subject which it would be useful or profitable for us to discuss. You understand me, Borrowdean, I am sure!"
Borrowdean closely eyed this man who once had been his friend.
"The old sore still rankles, then, Mannering," he said. "Has time done nothing to heal it?"
Mannering laughed easily.
"How can you think me such a child?" he exclaimed. "If Rochester himself were to come to see me he would be as welcome as you are. In fact," he continued, more seriously, "if you could only realize, my friend, how peaceful and happy life here may be, amongst the quiet places, you would believe me at once when I assure you that I can feel nothing but gratitude towards those people and those circumstances which impelled me to seek it."
"What should you think, then," Borrowdean asked, watching his friend through half-closed eyes, "of those who sought to drag you from it?"
Mannering's laugh was as free and natural as the wind itself. He had bared his head, and had turned directly seawards.
"Hatred, my dear Borrowdean," he declared, "if I thought that they had a single chance of success. As it is--indifference."
Borrowdean's eyebrows were raised. He held his cigarette between his fingers, and looked at it for several moments.
"Yet I am here," he said slowly, "for no other purpose."
Mannering turned and faced his friend.
"All I can say is that I am sorry to hear it," he declared. "I know the sort of man you are, Borrowdean, and I know very well that if you have come down here with something to say to me you will say it. Therefore go on. Let us have it over."
Borrowdean stood up. His tone acquired a new earnestness. He became at once more of a man. The cynical curve of his lips had vanished.
"We are on the eve of great opportunities, Mannering," he said. "Six months ago the result of the next General Election seemed assured. We appeared to be as far off any chance of office as a political party could be. To-day the whole thing is changed. We are on the eve of a general reconstruction. It is our one great chance of this generation. I come to you as a patriot. Rochester asks you to forget."
Mannering held up his hand.
"Stop one moment, Borrowdean," he said. "I want you to understand this once and for all. I have no grievance against Rochester. The old wound, if it ever amounted to that, is healed. If Rochester were here at this moment I would take his hand cheerfully. But--"
"Ah! There is a but, then," Borrowdean interrupted.
"There is a but," Mannering assented. "You may find it hard to understand, but here is the truth. I have lost all taste for public life. The whole thing is rotten, Borrowdean, rotten from beginning to end. I have had enough of it to last me all my days. Party policy must come before principle. A man's individuality, his whole character, is assailed and suborned on every side. There is but one life, one measure of days, that you or I know anything of. It doesn't last very long. The months and years have a knack of slipping away emptily enough unless we are always standing to attention. Therefore I think that it becomes our duty to consider very carefully, almost religiously, how best to use them. Come here for a moment, Borrowdean. I want to show you something."
The two men stood side by side upon the grassy bank, Mannering broad-shouldered and vigorous, his clean, hard-cut features tanned with wind and sun, his eyes bright and vigorous with health; Leslie Borrowdean, once his greatest friend, a man of almost similar physique, but with the bent frame and listless pallor of a dweller in the crowded places of life. Without enthusiasm his tired eyes followed the sweep of Mannering's arm.
"You see those yellow sandhills beyond the marshes there? Behind them is the sea. Do you catch that breath of wind? Take off your hat, man, and get it into your lungs. It comes from the North Sea, salt and fresh and sweet. I think that it is the purest thing on earth. You can walk here for miles and miles in the open, and the wind is like God's own music. Borrowdean, I am going to say things to you which one says but once or twice in his life. I came to this country a soured man, cynical, a pessimist, a materialist by training and environment. To-day I speak of a God with bowed head, for I believe that somewhere behind all these beautiful things their prototype must exist. Don't think I've turned ranter. I've never spoken like this to any one else before, and I don't suppose I ever shall again. Here is Nature, man, the greatest force on earth, the mother, the mistress, beneficent, wonderful! You are a creature of cities. Stay with me here for a day or two, and the joy of all these things will steal into your blood. You, too, will know what peace is."
Borrowdean, as though unconsciously, straightened himself. If no colour came to his cheeks, the light of battle was at least in his eyes. This man was speaking heresies. The words sprang to his lips.
"Peace!" he exclaimed, scornfully. "Peace is for the dead. The last reward perhaps of a breaking heart. The life effective, militant, is the only possible existence for men. Pull yourself together, Mannering, for Heaven's sake. Yours is the faineant spirit of the decadent, masquerading in the garb of a sham primitivism. Were you born into the world, do you think, to loiter through life an idle worshipper at the altar of beauty? Who are you to dare to skulk in the quiet places, whilst the battle of life is fought by others?"
Another lark had risen almost from their feet, and, circling its way upwards, was breaking into song. And below, the full spring tide was filling the pools and creeks with the softly flowing, glimmering sea-water. The fishing boats, high and dry an hour ago, were passing now seaward along the silvery way. All these things Mannering was watching with rapt eyes, even whilst he listened to his companion.
"Dear friend," he said, "the world can get on very well without me, and I have no need of the world. The battle that you speak of--well, I have been in the fray, as you know. The memory of it is still a nightmare to me."
Borrowdean had the appearance of a man who sought to put a restraint upon his words. He was silent for a moment, and then he spoke very deliberately.
"Mannering," he said, "do not think me wholly unsympathetic. There is a side of me which sympathises deeply with every word which you have said. And there is another which forces me to remind you again, and again, that we men were never born to linger in the lotos lands of the world. You do not stand for yourself alone. You exist as a unit of humanity. Think of your responsibilities. You have found for yourself a beautiful corner of the world. That is all very well for you, but how about the rest? How about the millions who are chained to the cities that they may earn their living pittance, whose wives and children fill the churchyards, the echoes of whose weary, never-ceasing cry must reach you even here? They are the people, the sufferers, fellow-links with you in the chain of humanity. You may stand aloof as you will, but you can never cut yourself wholly away from the great family of your fellows. You may hide from your responsibilities, but the burden of them will lie heavy upon your conscience, the poison will penetrate sometimes into your most jealously guarded paradise. We are of the people's party, you and I, Mannering, and I tell you that the tocsin has sounded. We need you!"
A shadow had fallen upon Mannering's face. Borrowdean was in earnest, and his appeal was scarcely one to be treated lightly. Nevertheless, Mannering showed no sign of faltering, though his tone was certainly graver.
"Leslie," he said, "you speak like a prophet, but believe me, my mind is made up. I have taken root here. Such work as I can do from my study is, as it always has been, at your service. But I myself have finished with actual political life. Don't press me too hard. I must seem churlish and ungrateful, but if I listened to you for hours the result would be the same. I have finished with actual political life."
Borrowdean shrugged his shoulders despairingly. Such a man was hard to deal with.
"Mannering," he protested, "you must not, you really must not, send me away like this. You speak of your written work. Don't think that I underestimate it because I have not alluded to it before. I myself honestly believe that it was those wonderful articles of yours in the Nineteenth Century which brought back to a reasonable frame of mind thousands who were half led away by the glamour of this new campaign. You kindled the torch, my friend, and you must bear it to victory. You bring me to my last resource. If you will not serve under Rochester, come back--and Rochester will serve under you when the time comes."
Mannering shook his head slowly.
"I wish I could convince you," he said, "once and for all, that my refusal springs from no such reasons as you seem to imagine. I would sooner sit here, with a volume of Pater or Meredith, and this west wind blowing in my face, than I would hear myself acclaimed Prime Minister of England. Let us abandon this discussion once and for all, Borrowdean. We have arrived at a cul-de-sac, and I have spoken my last word."
Borrowdean threw his half-finished cigarette into the ever-widening creek below. It was characteristic of the man that his face showed no sign of disappointment. Only for several moments he kept silence.
"Come," Mannering said at last. "Let us make our way back to the house. If you are resolved to get back to town to-night, we ought to be thinking about luncheon."
"Thank you," Borrowdean said. "I must return."
They started to walk inland, but they had taken only a few steps when they both, as though by a common impulse, stopped. An unfamiliar sound had broken in upon the deep silence of this quiet land. Borrowdean, who was a few paces ahead, pointed to the bend in the road below, and turned towards his companion with a little gesture of cynical amusement.
"Behold," he exclaimed, "the invasion of modernity. Even your time-forgotten paradise, Mannering, has its civilizations, then. What an anachronism!"
With a cloud of dust behind, and with the sun flashing upon its polished metal parts, a motor car swung into sight, and came rushing towards them. Borrowdean, always a keen observer of trifles, noticed the change in Mannering's face.
"It is a neighbour of mine," he remarked. "She is on her way to the golf links."
"Golf links!" Borrowdean exclaimed.
"Behind the sandhills there," he remarked.
There was a grinding of brakes. The car came to a standstill below. A woman, who sat alone in the back seat, raised her veil and looked upwards.
"Am I late?" she asked. "Clara has gone on--they told me!"
She had addressed Mannering, but her eyes seemed suddenly drawn to Borrowdean. As though dazzled by the sun, she dropped her veil. Borrowdean was standing as though turned to stone, perfectly rigid and motionless. His face was like a still, white mask.
"I am so sorry," Mannering said, "but I have had a most unexpected visit from an old friend. May I introduce Sir Leslie Borrowdean--Mrs. Handsell!"
The lady in the car bent her head, and Borrowdean performed an automatic salute. Mannering continued:
"I am afraid that I must throw myself upon your mercy! Sir Leslie insists upon returning this afternoon, and I am taking him back for an early luncheon. You will find Clara and Lindsay at the golf club. May we have our foursome to-morrow?"
"Certainly! I will not keep you for a moment. I must hurry now, or the tide will be over the road."
She motioned the driver to proceed, but Borrowdean interposed.
"Mannering," he said, "I am afraid that the poison of your lotos land is beginning to work already. May I stay until to-morrow and walk round with you whilst you play your foursome? I should enjoy it immensely."
Mannering looked at his friend for a moment in amazement. Then he laughed heartily.
"By all means!" he answered. "Our foursome stands, then, Mrs. Handsell. This way, Borrowdean!"
The two men turned once more seaward, walking in single file along the top of the grassy bank. The woman in the car inclined her head, and motioned the driver to proceed.
THE WOMAN WITH AN ALIAS
Borrowdean seemed after all to take but little interest in the game. He walked generally, some distance away from the players, on the top of the low bank of sandhills which fringed the sea. He was one of those men whom solitude never wearies, a weaver of carefully thought-out schemes, no single detail of which was ever left to chance or impulse. Such moments as these were valuable to him. He bared his head to the breeze, stopped to listen to the larks, watched the sea-gulls float low over the lapping waters, without paying the slightest attention to any one of them. The instinctive cunning which never deserted him led him without any conscious effort to assume a pleasure in these things which, as a matter of fact, he found entirely meaningless. It led him, too, to choose a retired spot for those periods of intensely close observation to which he every now and then subjected his host and the woman who was now his partner in the game. What he saw entirely satisfied him. Yet the way was scarcely clear.
They caught him up near one of the greens, and he stood with his hands behind him, and his eyeglass securely fixed, gravely watching them approach and put for the hole. To him the whole performance seemed absolutely idiotic, but he showed no sign of anything save a mild and genial interest. Clara, Mannering's niece, who was immensely impressed with him, lingered behind.
"Don't you really care for any games at all, Sir Leslie?" she asked.
He shook his head.
"I know that you think me a barbarian," he remarked, smiling.
"On the contrary," she declared, "that is probably what you think us. I suppose they are really a waste of time when one has other things to do! Only down here, you see, there is nothing else to do."
He looked at her thoughtfully. He had never yet in his life spoken half a dozen words with man, woman or child without wondering whether they might not somehow or other contribute towards his scheme of life. Clara Mannering was pretty, and no doubt foolish. She lived alone with her uncle, and possibly had some influence over him. It was certainly worth while.
"I do not know you nearly well enough, Miss Mannering," he said, smiling, "to tell you what I really think. But I can assure you that you don't seem a barbarian to me at all."
She was suddenly grave. It was her turn to play a stroke. She examined the ball, carefully selected a club from her bag, and with a long, easy swing sent it flying towards the hole.
"Wonderful!" he murmured.
She looked up at him and laughed.
"Tell me what you are thinking," she insisted.
"That if I played golf," he answered, "I should like to be able to play like that."
"But you must have played games sometimes," she insisted.
"When I was at Eton--" he murmured.
Mannering looked back, smiling.
"He was in the Eton Eleven, Clara, and stroked his boat at college. Don't you believe all he tells you."
"I shall not believe another word," she declared.
"I hope you don't mean it," he protested, "or I must remain dumb."
"You want to go off and tramp along the ridges by yourself," she declared. "Confess!"
"On the contrary," he answered, "I should like to carry that bag for you and hand out the--er--implements."
She unslung it at once from her shoulder.
"You have rushed upon your fate," she said. "Now let me fasten it for you."
"Is there any remuneration?" he inquired, anxiously.
"You mercenary person! Stand still now, I am going to play. Well, what do you expect?"
"I am not acquainted with the usual charges," he answered, "but to judge from the weight of the clubs--"
"Give me them back, then," she cried.
"Nothing," he declared, firmly, "would induce me to relinquish them. I will leave the matter of remuneration entirely in your hands. I am convinced that you have a generous disposition."
"The usual charge," she remarked, "is tenpence, and twopence for lunch."
"I will take it in kind!" he said.
She laughed gaily.
"Give me a mashie, please."
He peered into the bag.
"Which of these clubs now," he asked, "rejoices in that weird name?"
She helped herself, and played her shot.
"I couldn't think," she said, firmly, "of paying the full price to a caddie who doesn't know what a mashie is."
"I will be thankful," he murmured, "for whatever you may give me--even if it should be that carnation you are wearing."
She shook her head.
"It is worth more than tenpence," she said.
"Perhaps by extra diligence," he suggested, "I might deserve a little extra. By the bye, why does your partner, Mr. Lindsay, isn't it, walk by himself all the time?"
"He probably thinks," she answered, demurely, "that I am too familiar with my caddie."
"You will understand," he said, earnestly, "that if my behaviour is not strictly correct it is entirely owing to ignorance. I have no idea as to the exact position a caddie should take up."
"What a pity you are going away so soon," she said. "I might have given you lessons."
"Don't tempt me," he begged. "I can assure you that without me the constitution of this country would collapse within a week."
She looked at him--properly awed.
"What a wonderful person you are!"
"I am glad," he said, meekly, "that you are beginning to appreciate me."
"As a caddie," she remarked, "you are not, I must confess, wholly perfect. For instance, your attention should be entirely devoted to the person whose clubs you are carrying, instead of which you talk to me and watch Mrs. Handsell."
He was almost taken aback. For a pretty girl she was really not so much of a fool as he had thought her.
"I deny it in toto!" he declared.
"Ah, but I know you," she answered. "You are a politician, and you would deny anything. Don't you think her very handsome?"
Borrowdean gravely considered the matter, which was in itself a somewhat humorous thing. Slim and erect, with a long, graceful neck, and a carriage of the head which somehow suggested the environment of a court, Mrs. Handsell was distinctly, even from a distance, a pleasant person to look upon. He nodded approvingly.
"Yes, she is good-looking," he admitted. "Is she a neighbour of yours?"
"She has taken a house within a hundred yards of ours," Clara Mannering answered. "We all think that she is delightful."
"Is she a widow?" Borrowdean asked.
"I imagine so," she answered. "I have never heard her speak of her husband. She has beautiful dresses and things. I should think she must be very rich. Stand quite still, please. I must take great pains over this stroke."
A wild shot from Clara's partner a few minutes later resulted in a scattering of the little party, searching for the ball. For the first time Borrowdean found himself near Mrs. Handsell.
"I must have a few words with you before I go back," he said, nonchalantly.
"Say that you would like to try my motor car," she answered. "What do you want here?"
"I came to see Mannering."
"It would be," he remarked, smoothly, "a mistake to quarrel."
They separated, and immediately afterwards the ball was found. A little later on the round was finished. Clara attributed her success to the excellence of her caddie. Mrs. Handsell deplored a headache, which had put her off her putting. Lindsay, who was in a bad temper, declined an invitation to lunch, and rode off on his bicycle. The rest of the little party gathered round the motor car, and Borrowdean asked preposterous questions about the gears and the speeds.
"If you are really interested," Mrs. Handsell said, languidly, "I will take you home. I have only room for one, unfortunately, with all these clubs and things."
"I should be delighted," Borrowdean answered, "but perhaps Miss Mannering--"
"Clara will look after me," Mannering interrupted, smiling. "Try to make an enthusiast of him, Mrs. Handsell. He needs a hobby badly."
They started off. She leaned back in her seat and pulled her veil down.
"Do not talk to me here," she said. "We shall have a quarter of an hour before they can arrive."
Borrowdean assented silently. He was glad of the respite, for he wanted to think. A few minutes' swift rush through the air, and the car pulled up before a queer, old-fashioned dwelling house in the middle of the village. A smart maid-servant came hurrying out to assist her mistress. Borrowdean was ushered into a long, low drawing-room, with open windows leading out on to a trim lawn. Beyond was a walled garden bordering the churchyard.
Mrs. Handsell came back almost immediately. Borrowdean, turning his head as she entered, found himself studying her with a new curiosity. Yes, she was a beautiful woman. She had lost nothing. Her complexion--a little tanned, perhaps--was as fresh and soft as a girl's, her smile as delightfully full of humour as ever. Not a speck of grey in her black hair, not a shadow of embarrassment. A wonderful woman!
"The one thing which we have no time to do is to stand and look at one another," she declared. "However, since you have tried to stare me out of countenance, what do you find?"
"I find you unchanged," he answered, gravely.
"Naturally! I have found a panacea for all the woes of life. Now what do you want down here?"
"Of course. But you won't get him. He declares that he has finished with politics, and I never knew a man so thoroughly in earnest."
"No man has ever finished with politics!"
"A platitude," she declared. "As for Mannering, well, for the first few weeks I felt about him as I suppose you do now. I know him better now, and I have changed my mind. He is unique, absolutely unique! Do you think that I could have existed here for nearly two months without him?"
"May I inquire," Borrowdean asked, blandly, "how much longer you intend to exist here with him?"
She shrugged her shoulders.
"All my days--perhaps! He and this place together are an anchorage. Look at me! Am I not a different woman? I know you too well, my dear Leslie, to attempt your conversion, but I can assure you that I am--very nearly in earnest!"
"You interest me amazingly," he remarked, smiling. "May I ask, does Mannering know you as Mrs. Handsell only?"
"This," he continued, "is not the Garden of Eden. I may be the first, but others will come who will surely recognize you."
"I must risk it," she answered.
Borrowdean swung his eyeglass backwards and forwards. All the time he was thinking intensely.
"How long have you been here?" he asked.
"Very nearly two months," she answered. "Imagine it!"
"Quite long enough for your little idyll," he said. "Come, you know what the end of it must be. We need Mannering! Help us!"
"Not I," she answered, coolly. "You must do without him for the present."
"You are our natural ally," he protested. "We need your help now. You know very well that with a slip of the tongue I could change the whole situation."
"Somehow," she said, "I do not think that you are likely to make that slip."
"Why not?" he protested. "I begin to understand Mannering's firmness now. You are one of the ropes which hold him to this petty life--to this philandering amongst the flower-pots. You are one of the ropes I want to cut. Why not, indeed? I think that I could do it."
"Do you want a bribe?"
"I want Mannering."
"So do I!"
"He can belong to you none the less for belonging to us politically."
"Possibly! But I prefer him here. As a recluse he is adorable. I do not want him to go through the mill."
"You don't understand his importance to us," Borrowdean declared. "This is really no light affair. Rochester and Mellors both believe in him. There is no limit to what he might not ask."
"He has told me a dozen times," she said, "that he never means to sit in Parliament again."
"There is no reason why he should not change his mind," Borrowdean answered. "Between us, I think that we could induce him."
"Perhaps," she answered. "Only I do not mean to try."
"I wish I could make you understand," he said impatiently, "that I am in deadly earnest."
"Don't call it that."
"Very well, then," she declared, "I will tell him the truth myself."
"That," he answered, "is all that I should dare to ask. He would come to us to-morrow."
"You used not to underrate me," she murmured, with a glance towards the mirror.
"There is no other man like Mannering," he said. "He abhors any form of deceit. He would forgive a murderer, but never a liar."
"My dear Leslie," she said, "as a friend--and a relative--"
"Neither counts," he interrupted. "I am a politician."
She sat quite still, looking away from him. The peaceful noises from the village street found their way into the room. A few cows were making their leisurely mid-day journey towards the pasturage, a baker's cart came rattling round the corner. The west wind was rustling in the elms, bending the shrubs upon the lawn almost to the ground. She watched them idly, already a little shrivelled and tarnished with their endless struggle for life.
"I do not wish to be melodramatic," she said, slowly, "but you are forcing me into a corner. You know that I am rich. You know the people with whom I have influence. I want to purchase Lawrence Mannering's immunity from your schemes. Can you name no price which I could pay? You and I know one another fairly well. You are an egoist, pure and simple. Politics are nothing to you save a personal affair. You play the game of life in the first person singular. Let me pay his quittance."
Borrowdean regarded her thoughtfully.
"You are a strange woman," he said. "In a few months' time, when you are back in the thick of it all, you will be as anxious to have him there as we are. You will not be able to understand how you could ever have wished differently. This is rank sentiment, you know, which you have been talking. Mannering here is a wasted power. His life is an unnatural one."
"He is happy," she objected.
"How do you know? Will he be as happy, I wonder, when you have gone, when there is no longer a Mrs. Handsell? I think not! You are one of the first to whom I should have looked for help in this matter. You owe it to us. We have a right to demand it. For myself personally I have no life now outside the life political. I am tired of being in opposition. I want to hold office. One mounts the ladder very slowly. I see my way in a few months to going up two rungs at a time. We want Mannering. We must have him. Don't force me to make that slip of the tongue."
The sound of a gong came through the open window. She rose to her feet.
"We are keeping them waiting for luncheon," she remarked. "I will think over what you have said."
Sir Leslie carefully closed the iron gate behind him, and looked around.
"But where," he asked, "are the roses?"
Clara laughed outright.
"You may be a great politician, Sir Leslie," she declared, "but you are no gardener. Roses don't bloom out of doors in May--not in these parts at any rate."
"I understand," he assented, humbly. "This is where the roses will be."
"That wall, you see," she explained, "keeps off the north winds, and the chestnut grove the east. There is sun here all the day long. You should come to Blakely in two months' time, Sir Leslie. Everything is so different then."
"You forget, my dear child," he murmured, "that you are speaking to a slave."
"A slave!" she repeated. "How absurd! You are a Cabinet Minister, are you not, Sir Leslie?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I was once," he answered, "until an ungrateful country grew weary of the monotony of perfect government and installed our opponents in our places. Just now we are in opposition."
"In opposition," she repeated, a little vaguely.
"Meaning," he explained, "that we get all the fun, no responsibility, and, alas, no pay."
"How fascinating," she exclaimed. "Do sit down here, and tell me all about it. But I forgot. You are not used to sitting down out of doors. Perhaps you will catch cold."
Sir Leslie smiled.
"I am inclined to run the risk," he said gravely, "if you will share it. Seriously, though, these rustic seats are rather a delusion, aren't they, from the point of view of comfort?"
"There shall be cushions," she declared, "for the next time you come."
"Ah, the next time! I dare not look forward to it. So you are interested in politics, Miss Mannering?"
"Well, I believe I am," she answered, a little doubtfully. "To tell you the truth, Sir Leslie, I am shockingly ignorant. You must live in London to be a politician, mustn't you?"
"It is necessary," he assented, "to spend some part of your time there, if you want to come into touch with the real thing."
"Then I am very interested in politics," she declared. "Please go on."
He shook his head.
"I would rather you talked to me about the roses. You should ask your uncle to tell you all about politics. He knows far more than I do."
"More than you! But you have been a Cabinet Minister!" she exclaimed.
"So was your uncle once," he answered. "So he could be again whenever he chose."
She looked at him incredulously.
"You don't really mean that, Sir Leslie?"
"Indeed I do!" he asserted. "There was never a man within my recollection or knowledge who in so short a time made for himself a position so brilliant as your uncle. There is no man to-day whose written word carries so much weight with the people."
She sighed a little doubtfully.
"Then if that is so," she said, "I cannot imagine why we live down here, hundreds of miles away from everywhere. Why did he give it up? Why is he not in Parliament now?"
"It is to ask him that question, Miss Mannering," Borrowdean said, "that I am here. No wonder it seems surprising to you. It is surprising to all of us."
She looked at him eagerly.
"You mean, then, that you--that his party want him to go back?" she asked.
"You have told him this?"
"Of course! It was my mission!"
"Sir Leslie, you must tell me what he said."
"My dear young lady," he said, "it is rather a painful subject with me just now. Yet since you insist, I will tell you. Something has come over your uncle which I do not understand. His party--no, it is his country that needs him. He prefers to stay here, and watch his roses blossom."
"It is wicked of him!" she declared, energetically.
"It is inexplicable," he agreed. "Yet I have used every argument which can well be urged."
"Oh, you must think of others," she begged. "If you knew how weary one gets of this place--a man, too, like my uncle! How can he be content? The monotony here is enough to drive even a dull person like myself mad. To choose such a life, actually to choose it, is insanity!"
Borrowdean raised his head. He had heard the click of the garden gate.
"They are coming," he said. "I wish you would talk to your uncle like this."
"I only wish," she answered, passionately, "that I could make him feel as I do."
They entered the garden, Mannering, bareheaded, following his guest. Borrowdean watched them closely as they approached. The woman's expression was purely negative. There was nothing to be learned from the languid smile with which she recognized their presence. Upon Mannering, however, the cloud seemed already to have fallen. His eyebrows were set in a frown. He had the appearance of a man in some manner perplexed. He carried two telegrams, which he handed over to Borrowdean.
"A boy on a bicycle," he remarked, "is waiting for answers. Two telegrams at once is a thing wholly unheard of here, Borrowdean. You really ought not to have disturbed our postal service to such an extent."
Borrowdean smiled as he tore them open.
"I think," he said, "that I can guess their contents. Yes, I thought so. Can you send me to the station, Mannering?"
"I can--if it is necessary," Mannering answered. "Must you really go?"
"I must be in the House to-night," he said, a little wearily. "Rochester is going for them again."
"You didn't take a pair?" Mannering asked.
"It isn't altogether that," Borrowdean answered, "though Heaven knows we can't spare a single vote just now. Rochester wants me to speak. We are a used-up lot, and no mistake. We want new blood, Mannering!"
"I trust that the next election," Mannering said, "may supply you with it. Will you walk round to the stables with me? I must order a cart for you."
"I shall be glad to," Borrowdean answered.
They walked side by side through the chestnut grove. Borrowdean laid his hand upon his friend's arm.
"Mannering," he said, slowly, "am I to take it that you have spoken your last word? I am to write my mission down a failure?"
"A failure without doubt, so far as regards its immediate object," Mannering assented. "For the rest, it has been very pleasant to see you again, and I only wish that you could spare us a few more days."
Borrowdean shook his head.
"We are better apart just now, Mannering," he said, "for I tell you frankly that I do not understand your present attitude towards life--your entire absence of all sense of moral responsibility. Are you indeed willing to be written down in history as a philanderer in great things, to loiter in your flower gardens, whilst other men fight the battle of life for you and your fellows? Persist in your refusal to help us, if you will, Mannering, but before I go you shall at least hear the truth."
"Be precise, my dear friend. I shall hear your view of the truth!"
"I do not accept the correction," Borrowdean answered, quickly. "There are times when a man can make no mistake, and this is one of them. You shall hear the truth from me this afternoon, and when your days here have been spun out to their limit--your days of sybaritic idleness--you shall hear it again, only it will be too late. You are fighting against Nature, Mannering. You were born to rule, to be master over men. You have that nameless gift of genius--power--the gift of swaying the minds and hearts of your fellow men. Once you accepted your destiny. Your feet were firmly planted upon the great ladder. You could have climbed--where you would."
A curious quietness seemed to have crept over Mannering. When he answered, his voice seemed to rise scarcely above a whisper.
"My friend," he said, "it was not worth while!"
Borrowdean was almost angry.
"Not worth while," he repeated, contemptuously. "Is it worth while, then, to play golf, to linger in your flower gardens, to become a dilettante student, to dream away your days in the idleness of a purely enervating culture? What is it that I heard you yourself say once--that life apart from one's fellows must always lack robustness. You have the instincts of the creator, Mannering. You cannot stifle them. Some day the cry of the world to its own children will find its echo in your heart, and it may be too late. For sooner or later, my friend, the place of all men on earth is filled."
For a moment that somewhat cynical restraint which seemed to divest of enthusiasm Borrowdean's most earnest words, and which militated somewhat against his reputation as a public speaker, seemed to have fallen from him. Mannering, recognizing it, answered him gravely enough, though with no less decision.
"If you are right, Borrowdean," he said, "the suffering will be mine. Come, your time is short now. Perhaps you had better make your adieux to my niece and Mrs. Handsell."
They all came out into the drive to see him start. A curious change had come over the bright spring day. A grey sea-fog had drifted inland, the sunlight was obscured, the larks were silent. Borrowdean shivered a little as he turned up his coat-collar.
"So Nature has her little caprices, even--in paradise!" he remarked.
"It will blow over in an hour," Mannering said. "A breath of wind, and the whole thing is gone."
Borrowdean's farewells were of the briefest. He made no further allusion to the object of his visit. He departed as one who had been paying an afternoon call more or less agreeable. Clara waved her hand until he was out of sight, then she turned somewhat abruptly round and entered the house. Mannering and Mrs. Handsell remained for a few moments in the avenue, looking along the road. The sound of the horse's feet could still be heard, but the trap itself was long since invisible.
"The passing of your friend," she remarked, quietly, "is almost allegorical. He has gone into the land of ghosts--or are we the ghosts, I wonder, who loiter here?"
Mannering answered her without a touch of levity. He, too, was unusually serious.
"We have the better part," he said. "Yet Borrowdean is one of those men who know very well how to play upon the heartstrings. A human being is like a musical instrument to him. He knows how to find out the harmonies or strike the discords."
She turned away.
"I am superstitious," she murmured, with a little shiver. "I suppose that it is this ghostly mist, and the silence which has come with it. Yet I wish that your friend had stayed away from Blakely!"
* * * * *
Upstairs from her window Clara also was gazing along the road where Borrowdean had disappeared. And Borrowdean himself was puzzling over a third telegram which Mannering had carelessly passed on to him with his own, and which, although it was clearly addressed to Mannering, he had, after a few minutes' hesitation, opened. It had been handed in at the Strand Post-office.
"I must see you this week.--Blanche."
A few hours later, on his arrival in London, Borrowdean repeated this message to Mannering from the same post-office, and quietly tearing up the original went down to the House.
"I cannot tell," he reported to his chief, "whether we have succeeded or not. In a fortnight or less we shall know."
THE DUCHESS ASKS A QUESTION
Clara stepped through the high French window, and with skirts a little raised crossed the lawn. Lindsay, who was following her, stopped to light a cigarette.
"We're getting frightfully modern," she remarked, turning and waiting for him. "Mrs. Handsell and I ought to have come out here, and you and uncle ought to have stayed and yawned at one another over the dinner-table."
"You have an excellent preceptress--in modernity," he remarked. "May I?"
"If you mean smoke, of course you may," she answered. "But you may not say or think horrid things about my best friend. She's a dear, wonderful woman, and I'm sure uncle has not been like the same man since she came."
"I'm glad you appreciate that," he answered. "Do you honestly think he's any the better for it?"
"I think he's immensely improved," she answered. "He doesn't grub about by himself nearly so much, and he's had his hair cut. I'm sure he looks years younger."
"Do you think that he seems quite as contented?"
"Contented!" she repeated, scornfully. "That's just like you, Richard. He hasn't any right to be contented. No one has. It is the one absolutely fatal state."
He stretched himself out upon, the seat, and frowned.
"You're picking up some strange ideas, Clara," he remarked.
"Well, if I am, that's better than being contented to all eternity with the old ones," she replied. "Mrs. Handsell is doing us all no end of good. She makes us think! We all ought to think, Richard."
"What on earth for?"
"You are really hopeless," she murmured. "So bucolic--"
"Thanks," he interrupted. "I seem to recognize the inspiration. I hate that woman."
"My dear Richard!" she exclaimed.
"Well, I do!" he persisted. "When she first came she was all right. That fellow Borrowdean seems to have done all the mischief."
"Poor Sir Leslie!" she exclaimed, demurely. "I thought him so delightful."
"Obviously," he replied. "I didn't. I hate a fellow who doesn't do things himself, and has a way of looking on which makes you feel a perfect idiot. Neither Mr. Mannering nor Mrs. Handsell--nor you--have been the same since he was here."
"I gather," she said, softly, "that you do not find us improved."
"I do not," he answered, stolidly. "Mrs. Handsell has begun to talk to you now about London, of the theatres, the dressmakers, Hurlingham, Ranelagh, race meetings, society, and all that sort of rot. She talks of them very cleverly. She knows how to make the tinsel sparkle like real gold."
She laughed softly.
"You are positively eloquent, Richard," she declared. "Do go on!"
"Then she goes for your uncle," he continued, without heeding her interruption. "She speaks of Parliament, of great causes, of ambition, until his eyes are on fire. She describes new pleasures to you, and you sit at her feet, a mute worshipper! I can't think why she ever came here. She's absolutely the wrong sort of woman for a quiet country place like this. I wish I'd never let her the place."
"You are a very foolish person," she answered. "She came here simply because she was weary of cities and wanted to get as far away from them as possible. Only last night she said that she would be content never to breathe the air of a town again."
Lindsay tossed his cigarette away impatiently.
"Oh, I know exactly her way of saying that sort of thing!" he exclaimed. "A moment later she would be describing very cleverly, and a little regretfully, some wonderful sight or other only to be found in London."
"Really," she declared, "I am getting afraid of you. You are more observant than I thought."
"There is one gift, at least," he answered, "which we country folk are supposed to possess. We know truth when we see it. But I am saying more than I have any right to. I don't want to make you angry, Clara!"
She shook her head.
"You won't do that," she said. "But I don't think you quite understand. Let me tell you something. You know that I am an orphan, don't you? I do not remember my father at all, and I can only just remember my mother. I was brought up at a pleasant but very dreary boarding-school. I had very few friends, and no one came to see me except my uncle, who was always very kind, but always in a desperate hurry. I stayed there until I was seventeen. Then my uncle came and fetched me, and brought me straight here. Now that is exactly what my life has been. What do you think of it?"
"Very dull indeed," he answered, frankly.
"I have never been in London at all," she continued. "I really only know what men and women are like from books, or the one or two types I have met around here. Now, do you think that that is enough to satisfy one? Of course it is very beautiful here, I know, and sometimes when the sun is shining and the birds singing and the sea comes up into the creeks, well, one almost feels content. But the sun doesn't always shine, Richard, and there are times when I am right down bored, and I feel as though I'd love to draw my allowance from uncle, pack my trunk, and go up to London, on my own!"
He laughed. Somehow all that she had said had sounded so natural that some part of his uneasiness was already passing away.
"Yours," he admitted, "is an extreme case. I really don't know why your uncle has never taken you up for a month or so in the season."
"We have lived here for four years," she said, "and he has never once suggested it. He goes himself, of course, sometimes, but I am quite sure that he doesn't enjoy it. For days before he fidgets about and looks perfectly miserable, and when he comes back he always goes off for a long walk by himself. I am perfectly certain that for some reason or other he hates going. Yet he seems to have been everywhere, to know every one. To hear him talk with Mrs. Handsell is like a new Arabian Nights to me."
"Your uncle was a very distinguished man," he said. "I was only at college then, but I remember what a fuss there was in all the papers when he resigned his seat."
"What did they say was the reason?" she asked, eagerly.
"A slight disagreement with Lord Rochester, and ill-health."
"Absurd!" she exclaimed. "Uncle is as strong as a horse."
"Would you like him," he asked, "to go back into political life?"
Her eyes sparkled.
"Of course I should."
"You may have your wish," he said, a little sadly. "I don't fancy he has been quite the same man since Sir Leslie Borrowdean was here, and Mrs. Handsell never leaves him alone for a moment."
"You talk as though they were conspirators!" she exclaimed.
"That is precisely what I believe them to be," he answered, grimly.
"Can't help it," he declared. "I will tell you something that I have no right to tell you. Mrs. Handsell is not your friend's real name."
"Richard, how exciting!" she exclaimed. "Do tell me how you know."
"Her solicitors told mine so when she took the farm."
"Not her real name? But--I wonder they let it to her."
"Oh, her references were all right," he answered. "My people saw to that. I do not mean to insinuate for a moment that she had any improper reasons for calling herself Mrs. Handsell, or anything else she liked. The explanations given were quite satisfactory. But she has become very friendly with you and with your uncle, and I think that she ought to have told you both about it."
"Do you know her real name?"
"No! It is not my affair. My solicitors knew, and they were satisfied. Perhaps I ought not to have told you this, but--"
"Hush!" she said. "They are coming out. If you like you can take me down to the orchard wall, and we will watch the tide come in--"
Mannering came out alone and looked around. The full moon was creeping into the sky. The breath of wind which shook the leaves of the tall elm trees that shut in his little demesne from the village, was soft, and, for the time of year, wonderfully mild. Below, through the orchard trees, were faint visions of the marshland, riven with creeks of silvery sea. He turned back towards the room, where red-shaded lamps still stood upon the white tablecloth, a curiously artificial daub of color after the splendour of the moonlit land.
"The night is perfect," he exclaimed. "Do you need a wrap, or are you sufficiently acclimatized?"
She came out to him, tall and slender in her black dinner gown, the figure of a girl, the pale, passionate face of a woman, to whom every moment of life had its own special and individual meaning. Her eyes were strangely bright. There was a tenseness about her manner, a restraint in her tone, which seemed to speak of some emotional crisis. She passed out into the quiet garden, in itself so exquisitely in accordance with this sleeping land, and even Mannering was at once conscious of some alien note in these old-world surroundings which had long ago soothed his ruffled nerves into the luxury of repose.
"A wrap!" she murmured. "How absurd! Come and let us sit under the cedar tree. Those young people seem to have wandered off, and I want to talk to you."
"I am content to listen," he answered. "It is a night for listeners, this!"
"I want to talk," she continued, "and yet--the words seem difficult. These wonderful days! How quickly they seem to have passed."
"There are others to follow," he answered, smiling. "That is one of the joys of life here. One can count on things!"
"Others for you!" she murmured. "You have pitched your tent. I came here only as a wanderer."
"But scarcely a month ago," he exclaimed, "you too--"
"Don't!" she interrupted. "A month ago it seemed to me possible that I might live here always. I felt myself growing young again. I believed that I had severed all the ties which bound me to the days which have gone before. I was wrong. It was the sort of folly which comes to one sometimes, the sort of folly for which one pays."
His face was almost white in the moonlight. His deep-set grey eyes were fixed upon her.
"You were content--a month ago," he said. "You have been in London for two days, and you have come back a changed woman. Why must you think of leaving this place? Why need you go at all?"
"My friend," she said, softly, "I think that you know why. It is very beautiful here, and I have never been happier in all my life. But one may not linger all one's days in the pleasant places. One sleeps through the nights and is rested, but the days--ah, they are different."
"I cannot reason with you," he said. "You are too vague. Yet--you say that you have been contented here."
"I have been happy," she murmured.
"Then you must speak more plainly," he insisted, a note of passion throbbing in his hoarse tones. "I ask you again--why do you talk of going back, like a city slave whose days of holiday are over? What is there in the world more beautiful than the gifts the gods shower on us here? We have the sun, and the sea, and the wind by day and by night--this! It is the flower garden of life. Stay and pluck the roses with me."
"Ah, my friend," she murmured, "if that were possible!"
She sank down into the seat under the cedar tree. Her hands were clasped nervously together, her head was downcast.
"Your words," she continued, her voice sinking almost to a whisper, yet lacking nothing in distinctness, "are like wine. They mount to the head, they intoxicate, they tempt! And yet all the time one knows that it is not possible. Surely you yourself--in your heart--must know it!"
"Not I!" he answered, fiercely. "The world would have claimed me if it could, but I laughed at it. Our destinies are our own. With our own fingers we mould and shape them."
"There is the little voice," she said, "the little voice, which rings even through our dreams. Life--actual, militant life, I mean--may have its vulgarities, its weariness and its disappointments, but it is, after all, the only place for men and women. The battle may be sordid, and the prizes tinsel--yet it is only the cowards who linger without."
"Then let you and me be cowards," he answered. "We shall at least be happy."
She shook her head a little sadly.
"I doubt it," she answered. "Happiness is a gift, not a prize. It comes seldom enough to those who seek it."
He laughed scornfully.
"I am not a seeker," he cried. "I possess. It seems to me that all the beautiful things of life are here to-night. Listen! Do you hear the sea, the full tide sweeping softly up into the land, a long drawn out undernote of breathless harmonies, the rustling of leaves there in the elm trees, the faint night wind, like the murmuring of angels? Lift your head! Was there anything ever sweeter than the perfume from that hedge of honeysuckle? What can a man want more than these things--and--"
"And the woman he loves! There, I have said it. Useless words enough! You know very well that I love you. I meant to have said nothing just yet, but who could help it--on such a night as this! Don't talk of going away, Berenice. I want you here always."
She held herself away from him. Her face was deathly white now. Her eyes questioned him fiercely.
"Before I answer you. You were in London last week?"
"I had business."
"In Chelsea, in Merton Street?"
He gave a little gasp.
"What do you know about that?" he asked, almost roughly.
"You were seen there, not for the first time. The person whom you visited--I have heard about. She is somewhat notorious, is she not?"
He was very quiet, pale to the lips. A strange, hunted expression had crept into his eyes.
"I want to know what took you there. Am I asking too much? Remember that you have asked me a good deal."
"Has Borrowdean anything to do with this?" he demanded.
"I have known Sir Leslie Borrowdean for many years," she answered, "and it is quite true that we have discussed certain matters--concerning you."
"You have known Sir Leslie Borrowdean for many years," he repeated. "Yet you met here as strangers."
"Sir Leslie divined my wishes," she answered. "He knew that it was my wish to spend several months away from everybody, and, if possible, unrecognized. Perhaps I had better make my confession at once. My name is not Mrs. Handsell. I am the Duchess of Lenchester."
Mannering stood as though turned to stone. The woman watched him eagerly. She waited for him to speak--in vain. A sudden mist of tears blinded her. She closed her eyes. When she opened them Mannering was gone.
THE HESITATION OF MR. MANNERING
The peculiar atmosphere of the room, heavy with the newest perfume from the Burlington Arcade, and the scent of exotic flowers, at no time pleasing to him, seemed more than usually oppressive to Mannering as he fidgetted about waiting for the woman whom he had come to see. He was conscious of a restless longing to open wide the windows, take the flowers from their vases, throw them into the street, and poke out the fire. The little room, with all its associations, its almost pathetic attempts at refinement, its furniture which reeked of the Tottenham Court Road, was suddenly hateful to him. He detested his presence there, and its object. He was already in a state of nervous displeasure when the door opened.
The girl who entered seemed in a sense as ill in accord with such surroundings as himself. She was plainly dressed in black, her hair brushed back, her complexion pale, her eyes brilliant with a not altogether natural light. She regarded him with a curious mixture of fear and welcome. The latter, however, triumphed easily. She came towards him with out-stretched hand and a delightful smile.
"You;--so soon again!" she exclaimed. "Were there--so many mistakes?"
Mannering's face softened. He was half ashamed of his irritation. He answered her kindly.
"Scarcely any, Hester," he answered. "Your typing is always excellent."
Her anxiety was only half allayed.
"There is nothing else wrong?" she demanded, breathlessly.
"Nothing whatever," he assured her. "Where is your mother?"
She sat down. The light died out of her face.
"Out!" she answered. "Gone to Brighton for the day. What do you want with her?"
"Nothing," he answered, gravely. "I only wanted to know whether we were likely to be interrupted."
"She will not be in for some time," the girl answered. "She is almost certain to stay down there and dine."
"Hester," he asked, "do you know any one--a man named Borrowdean? Sir Leslie Borrowdean?"
She shook her head a little doubtfully.
"I have heard mother speak of him," she said.
"He is a friend of hers, then?"
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