“How I wish I dare ask him to come sooner than that to see us! But he might think it strange. I wonder he should not come! there’s Christmas, there’s Easter, and he must have holiday then. A whole year, perhaps more; and not to see him!”
She passed out of the room and descended, her soft skirts of pink-shaded cashmere sweeping the staircase. You saw her in it the evening she first came to Lady Verner’s. It had lain by almost ever since, and was now converted into a morning dress. The breakfast-room was empty. Instead of being behind her time, Lucy found she was before it. Lady Verner had not risen; she rarely did rise to breakfast; and Decima was in Lionel’s room, busy over some of his things.
Lionel himself was the next to enter. His features broke into a glad smile when he saw Lucy. A fairer picture, she, Mr. Lionel Verner, than even that other vision of loveliness which your mind has been pleased to make its ideal—Sibylla!
“Down first, Lucy!” he cried, shaking hands with her. “You wish me somewhere, I dare say, getting you up before your time.”
“By how much—a few minutes?” she answered, laughing. “It wants twenty minutes to nine. What would they have said to me at the rectory, had I come down so late as that?”
“Ah, well, you won’t have me here to torment you to-morrow. I have been a trouble to you, Lucy, take it altogether. You will be glad to see my back turned.”
Lucy shook her head. She looked shyly up at him in her timidity; but she answered truthfully still.
“I shall be sorry; not glad.”
“Sorry! Why should you be sorry, Lucy?” and his voice insensibly assumed a tone of gentleness. “You cannot have cared for me; for the companionship of a half-dead fellow, like myself!”
Lucy rallied her courage. “Perhaps it was because you were half dead that I cared for you,” she answered.
“I suppose it was,” mused Lionel, aloud, his thoughts cast back to the past. “I will bid you good-bye now, Lucy, while we are alone. Believe me that I part from you with regret; that I do heartily thank you for all you have been to me.”
Lucy looked up at him, a yearning, regretful sort of look, and her eyelashes grew wet. Lionel had her hand in his, and was looking down at her.
“Lucy, I do think you are sorry to part with me!” he exclaimed.
“Just a little,” she answered.
If you, good, grave sir, had been stoical enough to resist the upturned face, Lionel was not. He bent his lips and left a kiss upon it.
“Keep it until we meet again,” he whispered.
Jan came in while they were at breakfast.
“I can’t stop a minute,” were his words when Decima asked him why he did not sit down. “I thought I’d run up and say good-bye to Lionel, but I am wanted in all directions. Mrs. Verner has sent for me, and there are the regular patients.”
“Dr. West attends Mrs. Verner, Jan,” said Decima.