“By rail. I started to come back by an omnibus I saw out there, but I did not much care about that mode of conveyance, so I got out and walked.”
“Have you seen Lady Dighton?”
“I have seen no one. I am but just come back.”
“Maurice! Have you not dined, then?”
“No. Never mind that. I will have some tea with you, please, by-and-by.”
But Lucia had received a glance from her mother, and was gone already to try what Claudine’s resources could produce. Mrs. Costello leaned forward, and laid her hand entreatingly on Maurice’s arm,
“Tell me what all this means?” she said.
He tried to smile as he returned her look, but his eyes fell before the earnestness of hers.
“What what means?” he asked.
“Both you and Lucia know something I don’t know,” she answered. “I would rather question you than her. Has she troubled you?”
“Not in the way you think,” he answered quickly. “I have partly changed my plans. I shall be obliged to go back to England with my cousin. Don’t question Lucia, dear Mrs. Costello, let her be in peace for awhile.”
“In peace? But she has been in peace—happy as the day was long, lately.”
“She is disturbed now—yes, it is my fault—and I will do penance for it. You understand I do not give up my hopes—I only defer them.”
“But, Maurice, I don’t understand. You are neither changeable, nor likely to give Lucia any excuse for being foolish. Why should you go away? She exclaimed how sorry she was when your cousin spoke of it.”
“Did she? But I am only a brother to her yet. Don’t try to win more just now for me, lest she should give me less.”
“Well, of course, you know your own affairs best. But it is totally incomprehensible to me.”
Maurice leaned his head upon his hands. He had had a miserable day, and was feeling broken down and wretched. He spoke hopefully, but in his heart he doubted whether it would not be better to give Lucia up at once and altogether, only he had a strong suspicion that to give her up was not a thing within the power of his will.
The evening passed in constraint and embarrassment. Mrs. Costello was both puzzled and annoyed; Maurice, worn out in mind and body, and only resolute to shield Lucia at his own expense; Lucia herself more thoroughly uncomfortable than she had ever been in her life. She partly understood Maurice’s conduct, but doubted its motives. Sometimes she thought he was influenced by his old dislike to Percy, and that even his kindness to herself was mixed with disapproval or contempt. Sometimes a suspicion of the truth, so faint and so unreasonable in her own eyes, that she would not acknowledge it for a moment, flashed across her mind; and this suspicion had its keenly humiliating as well as its comforting side. Besides the confusion of thoughts regarding these things, her mind was burdened with an entirely new trouble—the sense that she was concealing something from her mother; and this alone would have been quite sufficient to disturb and distress her.