True enough! Sir Henry simply nodded his head in answer.
“Yes, I loved Lucy; I married another, loving her; I never ceased loving her all throughout my married life. And I had to force down my feelings; to suppress and hide them in the best manner that I could.”
“And Lucy?” involuntarily uttered Sir Henry.
“Lucy—may I dare to say it to you?—loved me,” he answered, his breath coming fast. “I believe, from my very heart, that she loved me in that early time, deeply perhaps as I loved her. I have never exchanged a word with her upon the point; but I cannot conceal from myself that it was the unhappy fact.”
“Did you know it at the time?”
“No!” he answered, raising his hand to his brow, on which the drops were gathering, “I did not suspect it until it was too late; until I was married. She was so child-like.”
Sir Henry Tempest sat in silence, probably revolving the information.
“If you had known it—what then?”
“Do not ask me,” replied Lionel, his bewailing tone strangely full of pain. “I cannot tell what I should have done. It would have been Lucy—love—versus honour. And a Verner never sacrificed honour yet. And yet—it seems to me that I sacrificed honour in the course I took. Let the question drop, Sir Henry. It is a time I cannot bear to recur to.”
Neither spoke for some minutes. Lionel’s face was shaded by his hand. Presently he looked up.
“Do not part us, Sir Henry!” he implored, his voice quite hoarse with its emotion, its earnestness. “We could neither of us bear it. I have waited for her long.”
“I will deal candidly with you,” said Sir Henry. “In the old days it was a favourite project of mine and your father’s that our families should become connected by the union of our children—you and Lucy. We only spoke of it to each other; saying nothing to our wives: they might have set to work, women fashion, and urged it on by plotting and planning: we were content to let events take their course, and to welcome the fruition, should it come. Nearly the last words Sir Lionel said to me, when he was dying of his wound, were, that he should not live to see the marriage; but lie hoped I might. Years afterwards, when Lucy was placed with Lady Verner—I knew, no other friend in Europe to whom I would entrust her—her letters to me were filled with Lionel Verner. ‘Lionel was so kind to her!’—’Everybody liked Lionel!’ In one shape or other you were sure to be the theme. I heard how you lost the estate; of your coming to stay at Lady Verner’s; of a long illness you had there; of your regaining the estate through the death of the Massingbirds; and—next—of your marriage to Frederick Massingbird’s widow. From that time Lucy said less: in fact, her letters were nearly silent as to you: and, for myself, I never gave another thought to the subject. Your present communication has taken me entirely by surprise.”