all this time?" said Anna, quietly; "have we sinned in dining together, and talking together, and walking together?"
"Of course not," said Sir Richard, flushing; "but one has no right to thrust the details of their private life and their most sacred convictions. … They wouldn't be understood, to begin with. People would misunderstand us altogether."
"What does that matter so long as we understand ourselves?" said Anna.
"I could not bear to place you in a false position. I have been far too careless of appearances as it is. In that respect I have been abominably selfish."
The subject dropped: they never returned to it again. But Society never heard his most sacred convictions.
If Anna had been true to herself, however, at that crisis she would have passed out of his life for ever and begun the world afresh, unfriended. But while she could face the world, she could not face the loneliness: solitude à deux makes solitude only one of two things—perfect rest or complete destruction. In her case she feared it would mean destruction. Richard, with all his shortcomings, had grown, as it were, part of her nature; losing him would mean losing her dearest weakness. She knew, too, that her influence and affection were more to him than all the moon-swearing passion in the world; that if he could or might love a dozen others for their ears or their eyebrows, or their way of eating bread-and-butter, he would always look to her in trouble and perplexity. She would not desert him. Matters were at this stage when Mrs. Prentice came to Hurst Place on a long