Lionel Verner passed the village, branched off to the right, and entered the great iron gates which enclosed the courtyard of Deerham Court. A very unpretending entrance admitted him into a spacious hall, the hall being the largest and best part of the house. Those great iron gates and the hall would have done honour to a large mansion; and they gave an appearance of pretension to Deerham Court which it did not deserve.
Lionel opened a door on the left, and entered a small ante-room. This led him into the only really good room the house contained. It was elegantly furnished and fitted up, and its two large windows looked towards the open country, and to Deerham Hall. Seated by the fire, in a rich violet dress, a costly white lace cap shading her delicate face, that must have been so beautiful, indeed, that was beautiful still, was a lady of middle age. Her seat was low—one of those chairs we are pleased to call, commonly and irreverently, a prie-dieu. Its back was carved in arabesque foliage, and its seat was of rich violet velvet. On a small inlaid table, whose carvings were as beautiful, and its top inlaid with mosaic-work, lay a dainty handkerchief of lace, a bottle of smelling-salts, and a book turned with its face downwards, all close at the lady’s elbow. She was sitting in idleness just then—she always did sit in idleness—her face bent on the fire, her small hands, cased in white gloves, lying motionless on her lap—ay, a beautiful face once, though it had grown habitually peevish and discontented now. She turned her head when the door opened, and a flush of bloom rose to her cheeks when she saw Lionel.
He went up and kissed her. He loved her much. She loved him, too, better than she loved anything in life; and she drew a chair close to her, and he sat down, bending towards her. There was not much likeness between them, the mother and the son; both were very good-looking, but not alike.
“You see, mother mine, I am not late, as you prophesied I should be,” said he, with one of his sweetest smiles.
“You would have been, Lionel, but for my warning. I’m sure I wish—I wish she was not coming! She must remember the old days in India, and will perceive the difference.”
“She will scarcely remember India, when you were there. She is only a child yet, isn’t she?”
“You know nothing about it, Lionel,” was the querulous answer. “Whether she remembers or not, will she expect to see me in such a house, in such a position as this? It is at these seasons, when people are coming here, who know what I have been and ought to be, that I feel all the humiliation of my poverty. Lucy Tempest is nineteen.”
Lionel Verner knew that it was of no use to argue with his mother, when she began upon that most unsatisfactory topic, her position; which included what she called her “poverty” and her “wrongs.” Though, in truth, not a day passed but she broke out upon it.