Did Lucy Tempest divine what one of these reasons might be? She did not intend to look at him, but she caught his eyes in the pier-glass. Lionel smiled.
“I am thinking what a trouble you must find me—you and Decima.”
She did not speak at first. Then she went quite close to him, her earnest, sympathising eyes cast up to his.
“If you please, you need not pretend to make light of it to me,” she whispered. “I don’t like you to think that I do not know all you must feel, and what a blow it is. I think I feel it quite as much as you can do—for your sake and for Mrs. Verner’s. I lie awake at night, thinking of it; but I do not say so to Decima and Lady Verner. I make light of it to them, as you are making light of it to me.”
“I know, I know!” he uttered in a tone that would have been a passionate one, but for its wailing despair. “My whole life, for a long while, has been one long scene of acting—to you. I dare not make it otherwise. There’s no remedy for it.”
She had not anticipated the outburst; she had simply wished to express her true feeling of sympathy for their great misfortunes, as she might have expressed it to any other gentleman who had been turned from his home with his wife. She could not bear for Lionel not to know that he had her deepest, her kindliest, her truest sympathy, and this had nothing to do with any secret feeling she might, or might not, entertain for him. Indeed, but for the unpleasant, latent consciousness of that very feeling, Lucy would have made her sympathy more demonstrative. The outbreak seemed to check her; to throw her friendship back upon herself; and she stood irresolute; but she was too single-minded, too full of nature’s truth, to be angry with what had been a genuine outpouring of his inmost heart, drawn from him in a moment of irrepressible sorrow. Lionel let the ornament fall back on the mantel-piece, and turned to her, his manner changing. He took her hands, clasping them in one of his; he laid his other hand lightly on her fair young head, reverently as any old grandfather might have done.
“Lucy!—my dear friend!—you must not mistake me. There are times when some of the bitterness within me is drawn forth, and I say more than I ought: what I never should say, in a calmer moment. I wish I could talk to you; I wish I could give you the full confidence of all my sorrows, as I gave it you on another subject once before. I wish I could draw you to my side, as though you were my sister, or one of my dearest friends, and tell you of the great trouble at my heart. But it cannot be, I thank you, I thank you for your sympathy. I know that you would give me your friendship in all single-heartedness, as Decima might give it me; and it would be to me a green spot of brightness in life’s arid desert. But the green spot might for me grow too bright, Lucy; and my only plan is to be wise in time, and to forego it.”