“Could you not have fastened it better than that, Jan?” asked Decima, smiling as she looked at the shirt.
“I don’t see how,” replied Jan. “Pins were the readiest to hand.”
Sibylla had been keeping them waiting dinner. She came in now, radiant in smiles and in her gold combs. None, to look at her, would suppose she had that day lost a home. A servant appeared and announced dinner.
Lionel went up to Lady Verner. Whenever he dined there, unless there were other guests besides himself, he had been in the habit of taking her in to dinner. Lady Verner drew back.
“No, Lionel. I consider that you and I are both at home now. Take Miss Tempest.”
He could only obey. He held out his arm to Lucy, and they went forward.
“Am I to take anybody?” inquired Jan.
That was just like Jan! Lady Verner pointed to Sibylla, and Jan marched off with her. Lady Verner and Decima followed.
“Not there, not there, Lucy,” said Lady Verner, for Lucy was taking the place she was accustomed to, by Lady Verner. “Lionel, you will take the foot of the table now, and Lucy will sit by you.”
Lady Verner was rather a stickler for etiquette, and at last they fell into their appointed places. Herself and Lionel opposite each other, Lucy and Decima on one side the table, Jan and Sibylla on the other.
“If I am to have you under my wing as a rule, Miss Lucy, take care that you behave yourself,” nodded Lionel.
Lucy laughed, and the dinner proceeded. But there was very probably an undercurrent of consciousness in the heart of both—at any rate, there was in his—that it might have been more expedient, all things considered, that Lucy Tempest’s place at dinner had not been fixed by the side of Lionel Verner.
Dinner was half over when Sibylla suddenly laid down her knife and fork, and burst into tears. They looked at her in consternation. Lionel rose.
“That horrid John Massingbird!” escaped her lips. “I always disliked him.”
“Goodness!” uttered Jan, “I thought you were taken ill, Sibylla. What’s the good of thinking about it?”
“According to you, there’s no good in thinking of anything,” tartly responded Sibylla. “You told me yesterday not to think about Fred, when I said I wished he had come back instead of John—if one must have come back.”
“At any rate, don’t think about unpleasant things now,” was Jan’s answer. “Eat your dinner.”
Lionel Verner looked his situation full in the face. It was not a desirable one. When he had been turned out of Verner’s Pride before, it is probable he had thought that about the extremity of all human calamity; but that, looking back upon it, appeared a position to be coveted, as compared with this. In point of fact it was. He was free then from pecuniary liabilities; he did not owe a shilling in the world; he had five hundred pounds in his pocket; nobody but himself to look to; and—he was a younger man. In the matter of years he was not so very much older now; but Lionel Verner, since his marriage, had bought some experience in human disappointment, and nothing ages a man’s inward feelings like it.