“I hope not,” heartily responded Lionel. “Lucy, I wish I could forget her?”
“I wish you could—if you do wish to do it,” simply replied Lucy.
“Wish! I wish I could have swallowed a draught of old Lethe’s stream last February, and never recalled her again!”
He spoke vehemently, and yet there was a little undercurrent of suppressed consciousness deep down in his heart, whispering that his greatest solace was to remember her, and to talk of her as he was doing now. To talk of her as he would to his own soul: and that he had now learned to do with Lucy Tempest. Not to any one else in the whole world could Lionel have breathed the name of Sibylla.
“Do you suppose she will soon be coming home?” asked Lucy, after a silence.
“Of course she will. The news of his inheritance went out shortly after they started, and must have got to Melbourne nearly as soon as they did. There’s little doubt they are on their road home now. Massingbird would not care to stop to look after what was left by John, when he knows himself to be the owner of Verner’s Pride.”
“I wish Verner’s Pride had not been left to Frederick Massingbird!” exclaimed Lucy.
“Frankly speaking, so do I,” confessed Lionel. “It ought to be mine by all good right. And, putting myself entirely out of consideration, I judge Frederick Massingbird unworthy to be its master. That’s between ourselves, mind, Lucy.”
“It is all between ourselves,” returned Lucy.
“Ay. What should I have done without you, my dear little friend?”
“I am glad you have not had to do without me,” simply answered Lucy. “I hope you will let me be your friend always!”
“That I will. Now Sibylla’s gone, there’s nobody in the whole world I care for, but you.”
He spoke it without any double meaning: he might have used the same words, been actuated by precisely the same feelings, to his mother or his sister. His all-absorbing love for Sibylla barred even the idea of any other love to his mind, yet awhile.
“Lionel!” cried Lucy, turning her face full upon him in her earnestness, “how could she choose Frederick Massingbird, when she might have chosen you?”
“Tastes differ,” said Lionel, speaking lightly, a thing he rarely did when with Lucy. “There’s no accounting for them. Some time or other, Lucy, you may be marrying an ugly fellow with a wooden leg and red beard; and people will say, ‘How could Lucy Tempest have chosen him?’”
Lucy coloured. “I do not like you to speak in that joking way, if you please,” she gravely said.
“Heigh ho, Lucy!” sighed he. “Sometimes I fancy a joke may cheat me out of a minute’s care. I wish I was well, and away from this place. In London I shall have my hands full, and can rub off the rust of old grievances with hard work.”
“You will not like London better than Deerham.”
“I shall like it ten thousand times better,” impulsively answered Lionel. “I have no longer a place in Deerham, Lucy. That is gone.”