The dinner gone away and the wine on the table, Lionel drew his chair in front of the fire, and fell into a train of thought, leaving the wine untouched. Full half an hour had he thus sat, when the entrance of Tynn aroused him. He poured out a glass, and raised it to his lips. Tynn bore a note on his silver waiter.
“Matiss’s boy has just brought it. He is waiting to know whether there’s any answer.”
Lionel opened the note, and was reading it, when a sound of carriage wheels came rattling on to the terrace, passed the windows, and stopped at the hall door. “Who can be paying me a visit to-night, I wonder?” cried he. “Go and see, Tynn.”
“It sounded like one of them rattling one-horse flies from the railway station,” was Tynn’s comment to his master, as he left the room.
Whoever it might be, they appeared pretty long in entering, and Lionel, very greatly to his surprise, heard a sound as of much luggage being deposited in the hall. He was on the point of going out to see, when the door opened, and a lovely vision glided forward—a young, fair face and form, clothed in deep mourning, with a shower of golden curls shading her damask cheeks. For one single moment, Lionel was lost in the beauty of the vision. Then he recognised her, before Tynn’s announcement was heard; and his heart leaped as if it would burst its bounds—
“Mrs. Massingbird, sir.”
—leaped within him fast and furiously. His pulses throbbed, his blood coursed on, and his face went hot and cold with emotion. Had he been fondly persuading himself, during the past months, that she was forgotten? Truly the present moment rudely undeceived him.
Tynn shut the door, leaving them alone. Lionel was not so agitated as to forget the courtesies of life. He shook hands with her, and, in the impulse of the moment, called her Sibylla; and then bit his tongue for doing it.
She burst into tears. There, as he held her hand. She lifted her lovely face to him with a yearning, pleading look. “Oh, Lionel!—you will give me a home, won’t you?”
What was he to say? He could not, in that first instant, abruptly say to her—No, you cannot have a home here. Lionel could not hurt the feelings of any one. “Sit down, Mrs. Massingbird,” he gently said, drawing an easy-chair to the fire. “You have taken me quite by surprise. When did you land?”
She threw off her bonnet, shook back those golden curls, and sat down in the chair, a large heavy shawl on her shoulders. “I will not take it off yet,” she said in a plaintive voice. “I am very cold.”
She shivered slightly. Lionel drew her chair yet nearer the fire, and brought a footstool for her feet, repeating his question as he did so.
“We reached Liverpool late yesterday, and I started for home this morning,” she answered, her eyelashes wet still, as she gazed into the fire. “What a miserable journey it has been!” she added, turning to Lionel. “A miserable voyage out; a miserable ending!”