“I will come in another time when you are more yourself, mother,” was all he said. “I could have borne sympathy from you this morning, better than complaint.”
He shook hands with her. He laid his hand in silence on Decima’s shoulder with a fond pressure as he passed her; her face was turned from him, the tears silently streaming down it. He nodded to Lucy, who stood at the other end of the room, and went out. But, ere he was half-way across the ante-room, he heard hasty footsteps behind him. He turned to behold Lucy Tempest, her hands extended, her face streaming down with tears.
“Oh, Lionel, please not to go away thinking nobody sympathises with you! I am so grieved; I am so sorry! If I can do anything for you, or for Sibylla, to lighten the distress, I will do it.”
He took the pretty, pleading hands in his, bending his face until it was nearly on a level with hers. But that emotion nearly over-mastered him in the moment’s anguish, the very consciousness that he might be free from married obligations, would have rendered his manner cold to Lucy Tempest. Whether Frederick Massingbird was alive or not, he must be a man isolated from other wedded ties, so long as Sibylla remained on the earth. The kind young face, held up to him in its grief, disarmed his reserve. He spoke out to Lucy as freely as he had done in that long-ago illness, when she was his full confidante. Nay, whether from her looks, or from some lately untouched chord in his memory reawakened, that old time was before him now, rather than the present, as his next words proved.
“Lucy, with one thing and another, my heart is half broken. I wish I had died in that illness. Better for me! Better—perhaps—for you.”
“Not for me,” said she, through her tears. “Do not think of me. I wish I could help you in this great sorrow!”
“Help from you of any sort, Lucy, I forfeited in my blind wilfulness,” he hoarsely whispered. “God bless you!” he added, wringing her hands to pain. “God bless you for ever!”
She did not loose them. He was about to draw his hands away, but she held them still, her tears and sobs nearly choking her.
“You spoke of India. Should it be that land that you choose for your exile, go to papa. He may be able to do great things for you. And, if in his power, he would do them, for Sir Lionel Verner’s sake. Papa longs to know you. He always says so much about you in his letters to me.”
“You have never told me so, Lucy.”
“I thought it better not to talk to you too much,” she simply said. “And you have not been always at Deerham.”
Lionel looked at her, holding her hands still. She knew how futile it was to affect ignorance of truths in that moment of unreserve; she knew that her mind and its feelings were as clear to Lionel as though she had been made of glass, and she spoke freely in her open simplicity. She knew, probably, that his deepest love and esteem were given to her. Lionel knew it, if she did not; knew it to his very heart’s core. He could only reiterate his prayer, as he finally turned from her—“God bless you, Lucy, for ever, and for ever!”