He twisted the dainty sheet of paper round his fingers, while he slowly recalled the events of yesterday up to the point of his last decision, to see Lucia to-day and tell her how grievously he had been disappointed, and what she had been and still was to him. But then came the natural consequence of this; he would still, afterwards, have to meet both Lucia and her mother constantly for some days, and to behave to them just as usual. It had seemed to him already that to do so would be difficult; now he began to think it impossible. What to do then? To keep silence now and always, or to speak and then go away home, where he was needed? He must lose her sweet company—sweet to him still. He must lose it, and what matter whether a few days sooner or later? It was better to see her once again, and go.
He dressed hastily and went to the breakfast-room. Sir John always took an early stroll, and might not yet be back; was not, in fact, and Lady Dighton was there alone. Maurice only saw so much before he began to speak.
“I am sorry,” he said, “that you expected me last night. I came in very tired, and went straight to bed.”
“We waited dinner some time for you,” Lady Dighton answered, “and you know how punctual Sir John is; but never mind now. You are looking ill, Maurice.”
“I am quite well. I am afraid I must go back to England though. Should you think me a barbarian if I started to-night and left you behind?”
“Is something wrong? Your father is well?”
“Quite well. But—I had letters last night. I am not certain that I must go, only I thought you ought to know at once that I might have to do so.”
“And Lucia? What will she say?”
“I don’t know. You will not tell her, please?”
“Certainly not. I do not like carrying bad news. But you will see her no doubt before I do.”
Maurice hesitated a moment, and then made boldly a request which had been in his mind.
“I want to see her. I should like to see her this morning if I could. Will you help me?”
“You don’t generally require help for that. But I suppose the fact is, you want to see her alone?”
“I own I fancied you had settled your affairs yesterday; however, I can help you, I think. Mrs. Costello half promised to go out with me some morning. I will go and try to carry her off to-day.”
“You are always kind, Louisa. What should I do without you?”
“Ah! that is very pretty just now. By-and-by we shall see how much value you have for me.”
“Yes, you shall see.”
“But seriously, Maurice, you look wretched. One would say you had not slept for a week.”
“On the contrary, I slept later than usual to-day. It is that, I suppose, which makes me look dull. Here is Sir John. What time will your drive be?”
They fixed the time, and as soon as breakfast was finished, Maurice went back to his room. He tore up the letters he had written last night, and wrote others announcing his return home, took them to the post himself, and then walked about in sheer inability to keep still, until it should be time to go to Mrs. Costello’s.