“I did but mean to express my sorrow for you and Mrs. Verner,” she timidly answered; “my sense of the calamity which has fallen upon you.”
“Child, I know it; and I dare not say how I feel it; I dare not thank you as I ought. In truth it is a terrible calamity. All its consequences I cannot yet anticipate; but they may be worse than anybody suspects, or than I like to glance at. It is a deep and apparently an irremediable misfortune. I cannot but feel it keenly; and I feel it for my wife more than for myself. Now and then, something like a glimpse of consolation shows itself—that it has not been brought on by any fault of mine; and that, humanly speaking, I have done nothing to deserve it.”
“Mr. Cust used to tell us that however dark a misfortune might be, however hopeless even, there was sure to be a way of looking at it, by which we might see that it might have been darker,” observed Lucy. “This would have been darker for you, had it proved to be Frederick Massingbird, instead of John; very sadly darker for Mrs. Verner.”
“Ay; so far I cannot be too thankful,” replied Lionel. The remembrance flashed over him of his wife’s words that day—in her temper—she wished it had been Frederick. It appeared to be a wish that she had already thrown out frequently; not so much that she did wish it, as to annoy him.
“Mr. Cust used to tell us another thing,” resumed Lucy, breaking the silence: “that these apparently hopeless misfortunes sometimes turn out to be great benefits in the end. Who knows but in a short time, through some magic or other, you and Mrs. Verner may be back at Verner’s Pride? Would not that be happiness?”
“I don’t know about happiness, Lucy; sometimes I feel tired of everything,” he wearily answered. “As if I should like to run away for ever, and be at rest. My life at Verner’s Pride was not a bed of rose-leaves.”
He heard his mother’s voice in the ante-room, and went forward to open the door for her. Lady Verner came in, followed by Jan. Jan was going to dine there; and Jan was actually in orthodox dinner costume. Decima had invited him, and Decima had told him to be sure to dress himself; that she wanted to make a little festival of the evening to welcome Lionel and his wife. So Jan remembered, and appeared in black. But the gloss of the whole was taken off by Jan having his shirt fastened down the front with pins, where the buttons ought to be. Brassy-looking, ugly, bent pins, as big as skewers, stuck in horizontally.
“Is that a new fashion coming in, Jan?” asked Lady Verner, pointing with some asperity to the pins.
“It’s to be hoped not,” replied Jan. “It took me five minutes to stick them in, and there’s one of the pins running into my wrist now. It’s a new shirt of mine come home, and they have forgotten the buttons. Miss Deb caught sight of it, when I went in to tell her I was coming here, and ran after me to the gate with a needle and thread, wanting to sew them on.”