Lucy went close to his chair and stood before him meekly.
“I am so sorry,” she whispered. “I cannot help seeing things, but I did not mean to make you angry.”
He rose, steadying himself by the table, and laid his hand upon her head, with the same fond motion that a father might have used.
“Lucy, I am not angry—only vexed at being watched so closely,” he concluded, his lips parting with a faint smile.
In her earnest, truthful, serious face of concern, as it was turned up to him, he read how futile it would be to persist in his denial.
“I did not watch you for the purpose of watching. I saw how it was, without being able to help myself.”
Lionel bent his head.
“Let the secret remain between us, Lucy. Never suffer a hint of it to escape your lips.”
Nothing answered him save the glad expression that beamed out from her countenance, telling him how implicitly he might trust to her.
Lionel Verner grew better. His naturally good constitution triumphed over the disease, and his sick soreness of mind lost somewhat of its sharpness. So long as he brooded in silence over his pain and his wrongs, there was little chance of the sting becoming much lighter; it was like the vulture preying upon its own vitals; but that season of silence was past. When once a deep grief can be spoken of, its great agony is gone. I think there is an old saying, or a proverb—“Griefs lose themselves in telling,” and a greater truism was never uttered. The ice once broken, touching his feelings with regard to Sibylla, Lionel found comfort in making it his theme of conversation, of complaint, although his hearer and confidant was only Lucy Tempest. A strange comfort, but yet a natural one, as those who have suffered as Lionel did may be able to testify. At the time of the blow, when Sibylla deserted him with coolness so great, Lionel could have died rather than give utterance to a syllable betraying his own pain; but several months had elapsed since, and the turning-point was come. He did not, unfortunately, love Sibylla one shade less; love such as his cannot be overcome so lightly; but the keenness of the disappointment, the blow to his self-esteem—to his vanity, it may be said—was growing less intense. In a case like this, of faithlessness, let it happen to man or to woman, the wounding of the self-esteem is not the least evil that must be borne. Lucy Tempest was, in Lionel’s estimation, little more than a child, yet it was singular how he grew to love to talk with her. Not for love of her—do not fancy that—but for the opportunity it gave him of talking of Sibylla. You may deem this an anomaly; I know that it was natural; and, like oil poured upon a wound, so did it bring balm to Lionel’s troubled spirit.