“Then there’s little doubt upon the point,” observed the doctor, coming to a more rapid conclusion than the words really warranted. “Time was, Mr. Verner, when I thought that young lady would have been your wife.”
“Who?” asked Lionel. But that he only asked the question in his confusion, without need, was evident; the tell-tale flush betrayed it. His pale face had turned red; red to the very roots of his hair.
“In those old days when you were ill, lying here, and Miss Tempest was so much with you, I fancied I saw the signs of a mutual attachment,” continued the doctor. “I conclude I must have been mistaken.”
“Little doubt of that, doctor,” lightly answered Lionel, recovering his equanimity, though he could not yet recover his disturbed complexion, and laughing as he spoke.
Sibylla’s greedy ears had drunk up the words, her sharp eyes had caught the conscious flush, and her jealous heart was making the most of it. At that unfortunate moment, as ill-luck had it, Lucy brought up the basket of cakes and held it out to Dr. West. Lionel rose to take it from her.
“I was taking your name in vain, Miss Tempest,” said the complacent doctor. “Did you hear me?”
“No,” replied Lucy, smiling. “What about?”
“I was telling Mr. Verner that in the old days I had deemed his choice was falling upon another, rather than my daughter. Do you remember, young lady?—in that long illness of his?”
Lucy did remember. And the remembrance, thus called suddenly before her, the words themselves, the presence of Lionel, all brought to her far more emotion than had arisen to him. Her throat heaved as with a spasm, and the startled colour dyed her face. Lionel saw it. Sibylla saw it.
“It proves to us how we may be mistaken, Miss Tempest,” observed the doctor, who, from that habit of his, already hinted at, of never looking people in the face when he spoke to them, had failed to observe anything. “I hear there is a probability of this fair hand being appropriated by another. One who can enhance his value by coupling it with a coronet.”
“Don’t take the trouble, Lucy. I am holding it.”
It was Lionel who spoke. In her confusion she had not loosed hold of the cake-basket, although he had taken it. Quietly, impassively, in the most unruffled manner spoke he, smiling carelessly. Only for a moment had his self-control been shaken. “Will you take a biscuit, Dr. West?” he asked; and the doctor chose one.
“Lucy, my dear, will you step here to me?”
The request came from the other end of the room, from Lady Verner. Lionel, who was about to place the cake-basket on the table, stopped and held out his arm to Lucy, to conduct her to his mother. They went forward, utterly unconscious that Sibylla was casting angry and jealous glances at them; conscious only that those sacred feelings in either heart, so well hid from the world, had been stirred to their very depths.