She dashed down the front blinds of the carriage, and laid her head upon his bosom, sobbing repentantly.
“You would bear with me, Lionel, if you knew the pain I have here”—touching her chest. “I am sick and ill with fright.”
He did not answer that he did bear with her—bear with her most patiently—as he might have done. He only placed his arm round her that she might feel its shelter; and, with his gentle fingers, pushed the golden curls away from her cheeks, for her tears were wetting them.
She went into her sister’s house alone. She preferred to do so. The carriage took Lionel on to Deerham Court. He dismissed it when he alighted; ordering Wigham back to Miss West’s, to await the pleasure of his mistress.
Lionel had probably obeyed the summons sooner than was expected by Lady Verner and Decima; sooner, perhaps, than they deemed he could have obeyed it. Neither of them was in the breakfast-room: no one was there but Lucy Tempest.
By the very way in which she looked at him—the flushed cheeks, the eager eyes—he saw that the tidings had reached her. She timidly held out her hand to him, her anxious gaze meeting his. Whatever may have been the depth of feeling entertained for him, Lucy was too single-minded not to express all she felt of sympathy.
“Is it true?” were her first whispered words, offering no other salutation.
“Is what true, Lucy?” he asked. “How am I to know what you mean?”
They stood looking at each other. Lionel waiting for her to speak; she hesitating. Until Lionel was perfectly certain that she alluded to that particular report, he would not speak of it. Lucy moved a few steps from him, and stood nervously playing with the ends of her waist-band, the soft colour rising in her cheeks.
“I do not like to tell you,” she said simply. “It would not be a pleasant thing for you to hear, if it be not true.”
“And still less pleasant for me, if it be true,” he replied, the words bringing him conviction that the rumour they had heard was correct. “I fear it is true, Lucy.”
“That—some one—has come back?”
“Some one who was supposed to be dead.”
The avowal seemed to take from her all hope. Her hands fell listlessly by her side, and the tears rose to her eyes. “I am so sorry!” she breathed. “I am so sorry for you, and for—for——”
“My wife. Is that what you were going to say?”
“Yes, it is. I did not like much to say it. I am truly grieved. I wish I could have helped it!”
“Ah! you are not a fairy with an all-powerful wand yet, Lucy, as we read of in children’s books. It is a terrible blow, for her and for me. Do you know how the rumour reached my mother?”
“I think it was through the servants. Some of them heard it, and old Catherine told her. Lady Verner has been like any one wild; but for Decima, she would have started——”