Arrived at Deerham Court, Lionel left his horse with his groom, and entered. The first person to greet his sight in the hall was Lucy Tempest. She was in white silk; a low dress, somewhat richly trimmed with lace, and pearls in her hair. It was the first time that Lionel had seen her since his return from London. He had been at his mother’s once or twice, but Lucy did not appear. They met face to face. Lucy’s turned crimson, in spite of herself.
“Are you quite well?” asked Lionel, shaking hands, his own pulses beating. “You are going out this evening, I see?”
He made the remark as a question, noticing her dress; and Lucy, gathering her senses about her, and relapsing into her calm composure, looked somewhat surprised.
“We are going to dinner to Verner’s Pride; I and Decima. Did you not expect us?”
“I—did not know it,” he was obliged to answer. “Mrs. Verner mentioned that some friends would dine with us this evening, but I was not aware that you and Decima were part of them. I am glad to hear it.”
Lucy continued her way, wondering what sort of a household it could be where the husband remained in ignorance of his wife’s expected guests. Lionel passed on to the drawing-room.
Lady Verner sat in it. Her white gloves on her delicate hands as usual, her essence bottle and laced handkerchief beside her, Lionel offered her his customary fond greeting, and placed the cheque in her hands.
“Will that do, mother mine?”
“Admirably, Lionel. I am so much obliged to you. Things get behind-hand in the most unaccountable manner, and then Decima comes to me with a long face, and says here’s this debt and that debt. It is quite a marvel to me how the money goes. Decima would like to put her accounts into my hands that I may look over them. The idea of my taking upon myself to examine accounts! But how it is she gets into such debt, I cannot think.”
Poor Decima knew only too well. Lionel knew it also; though, in his fond reverence, he would not hint at such a thing to his mother. Lady Verner’s style of living was too expensive, and that was the cause.
“I met Lucy in the hall, dressed. She and Decima are coming to dine at Verner’s Pride, she tells me.”
“Did you not know it?”
“No. I have been out shooting all day. If Sibylla mentioned it to me, I forgot it.”
Sibylla had not mentioned it. But Lionel would rather take any blame to himself than suffer a shade of it to rest upon her.
“Mrs. Verner called yesterday, and invited us. I declined for myself. I should have declined for Decima, but I did not think it right to deprive Lucy of the pleasure, and she could not go alone. Ungrateful child!” apostrophised Lady Verner. “When I told her this morning I had accepted an invitation for her to Verner’s Pride, she turned the colour of scarlet, and said she would rather remain at home. I never saw so unsociable a girl; she does not care to go out, as it seems to me. I insisted upon it for this evening.”