Given that it was Frederick Massingbird, what could possibly prevent his making himself known? As he dwelt upon this problem, trying to solve it, the idea taken up by Lucy Tempest—that the man under the tree was watching for an opportunity to harm him—came into his mind. That, surely, could not be the solution! If he had taken Frederick Massingbird’s wife to be his wife, he had done it in all innocence. Lionel spurned the notion as a preposterous one; nevertheless, a remembrance crossed him of the old days when the popular belief at Verner’s Pride had been, that the younger of the Massingbirds was of a remarkably secretive and also of a revengeful nature. But all that he barely glanced at; the terrible fear touching Sibylla absorbed him.
He was leaning against a tree in the covered walk near Verner’s Pride, the walk which led to the Willow Pond, his head bared, his brow bent with the most unmistakable signs of care, when something not unlike a small white balloon came flying down the path. A lady, with her silk dress turned over her shoulders, leaving only the white lining exposed to view. She was face to face with Lionel before she saw him.
“Lucy!” he exclaimed, in extreme surprise.
Lucy Tempest laughed, and let her dress drop into a more dignified position. “I and Decima went to call on Mrs. Bitterworth,” she explained, “and Decima is staying there. It began to rain as I came out, so I turned into the back walk and put my dress up to save it. Am I not economical, Mr. Verner?”
She spoke quickly. Lionel thought it was done with a view to hide her agitation. “You cannot go home through this rain, Lucy. Let me take you indoors; we are close to Verner’s Pride.”
“No, thank you,” said Lucy hastily, “I must go back to Lady Verner. She will not be pleased at Decima’s staying out, therefore I must return. Poor Mrs. Bitterworth has had an attack of—what did they call it?—spasmodical croup, I think. She is better now, and begged Decima to stay with her the rest of the day; Mr. Bitterworth and the rest of them are out. Jan says it is highly dangerous for the time it lasts.”
“She has had something of the same sort before, I remember,” observed Lionel. “I wish you would come in, Lucy. If you must go home, I will send you in the carriage; but I think you might stay and dine with us.”
A soft colour mantled in Lucy’s cheeks. She had never made herself a familiar acquaintance at Lionel Verner’s. He had observed it, if no one else had. Sibylla had once said to her that she hoped they should be great friends, that Verner’s Pride would see a great deal of her. Lucy had never responded to the wish. A formal visit with Decima or Lady Verner when she could not help herself; but alone, in a social manner, she had never put her foot over the threshold of Verner’s Pride.
“You are very kind. I must go home at once. The rain will not hurt me.”