“Or a certain place—that has been mentioned this morning—might have to go without a mistress for good,” he whispered.
What made him say it? It is true he spoke in a light, joking tone; but the words were not justifiable, unless he meant to follow them up seriously in future. He did mean to do so when he spoke them.
Decima came in, sent by Lady Verner to demand Lionel’s attendance.
“I am coming directly,” replied Lionel. And Decima went back again.
“You ought to take Jan to live at Verner’s Pride,” said Lucy to him, the words unconsciously proving that she had understood Lionel’s allusion to it. “If he were my brother, I would not let him be always slaving himself at his profession.”
“If he were your brother, Lucy, you would find that Jan would slave just as he does now, in spite of you. Were Jan to come into Verner’s Pride to-morrow, through my death, I really believe he would let it, and live on where he does, and doctor the parish to the end of time.”
“Will Verner’s Pride go to Jan after you?”
“That depends. It would, were I to die as I am now, a single man. But I may have a wife and children some time, Lucy.”
“So you may,” said Lucy, filling up her tumbler from the jug of lemonade. “Please to go into the drawing-room now, or Lady Verner will be angry. Mary Elmsley’s there, you know.”
She gave him a saucy glance from her soft bright eyes. Lionel laughed.
“Who made you so wise about Mary Elmsley, young lady?”
“Lady Verner,” was Lucy’s answer, her voice subsiding into a confidential tone. “She tells us all about it, me and Decima, when we are sitting by the fire of an evening. She is to be the mistress of Verner’s Pride.”
“Oh, indeed,” said Lionel. “She is, is she! Shall I tell you something, Lucy?”
“If that mistress-ship—is there such a word?—ever comes to pass, I shall not be the master of it.”
Lucy looked pleased. “That is just what Decima says. She says it to Lady Verner. I wish you would go to them.”
“So I will. Good-bye. I shall not come in again. I have a hundred and one things to do this afternoon.”
He took her hand and held it. She, ever courteous of manner, simple though she was, rose and stood before him to say her adieu, her eyes raised to his, her pretty face upturned.
Lionel gazed down upon it, and, as he had forgotten himself once before, so he now forgot himself again. He clasped it to him with a sudden movement of affection, and left on it some fervent kisses, whispering tenderly—
“Take care of yourself, my darling Lucy!”
Leaving her to make the best of the business, Mr. Lionel proceeded to the drawing-room. A few minutes’ stay in it, and then he pleaded an engagement, and departed.