“I know it. Indeed I do not blame you.”
“Lucy, I would have prevented this, had it been in my power. But it was not. I could not help it. All I can do is to take steps that it shall not occur again in the future. I scarcely know what I am saying to you. My life, what with one thing and another, is well-nigh wearied out.”
Lucy had long seen that. But she did not say so.
“It will not be long now before papa is at home,” she answered, “and then I shall leave Deerham Court free. Thank you for speaking to me,” she simply said, as she was turning to leave the room.
He took both her hands in his; he drew her nearer to him, his head was bent down to hers, his whole frame shook with emotion. Was he tempted to take a caress from her sweet face, as he had taken it years ago? Perhaps he was. But Lionel Verner was not one to lose his self-control where there was real necessity for his retaining it. His position was different now from what it had been then; and, if the temptation was strong, it was kept in check, and Lucy never knew it had been there.
“You will forget it for my sake, Lucy? You will not resent it upon her? She is very ill.”
“It is what I wish to do,” she gently said. “I do not know what foolish things I might not say, were I suffering like Mrs. Verner.”
“God bless you for ever, Lucy!” he murmured. “May your future life be more fortunate than mine is.”
Relinquishing her hands, he watched her disappear through the darkness of the room. She was dearer to him than his own life; he loved her better than all earthly things. That the knowledge was all too palpable then, he was bitterly feeling, and he could not suppress it. He could neither suppress the knowledge, nor the fact; it had been very present with him for long and long. He could not help it, as he said. He believed, in his honest heart, that he had not encouraged the passion; that it had taken root and spread unconsciously to himself. He would have driven it away, had it been in his power; he would drive it away now, could he do it by any amount of energy or will. But it could not be. And Lionel Verner leaned in the dark there against the window-frame, resolving to do as he had done before—had done all along. To suppress it ever; to ignore it so far as might be; and to do his duty as honestly and lovingly by his wife, as though the love were not there.
He had been enabled to do this hitherto, and he would still; God helping him.
GOING TO THE BALL.
It was the day of the fete at Deerham Hall. Sibylla awoke in an amiable mood, unusually so for her; and Lionel, as he dressed, talked to her gravely and kindly, urging upon her the necessity of relinquishing her determination to be present. It appeared that she was also reasonable that morning, as well as amiable, for she listened to him, and at length voluntarily said she would think no more about it.