Page:Once a Week Volume 7.djvu/248

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240
[Aug. 23, 1862.
ONCE A WEEK.

her. Not for love of her—do not fancy that—but for the opportunity it gave him of talking of Sibylla. You may deem this an anomaly; I know that it was natural; and, like oil poured upon a wound, so did it bring balm to Lionel’s troubled spirit.

He never spoke of her save at the dusk hour. During the broad, garish light of day, his lips were sealed. In the soft twilight of the evening, if it happened that Lucy was alone with him, then he would pour out his heart, would tell of his past tribulation. As past he spoke of it; had he not regarded it as past, he never would have spoken. Lucy listened, mostly in silence, returning him her earnest sympathy. Had Lucy Tempest been a little older in ideas, or had she been by nature and rearing less entirely single-minded, she might not have sat unrestrainedly with him, going into the room at any moment, and stopping there, as she would had he been her brother. Lucy was getting to covet the companionship of Lionel very much—too much, taking all things into consideration. It never occurred to her that, for that very reason, she might do well to keep away from it. She was not sufficiently experienced to define her own sensations; and she did not surmise there was anything inexpedient or not perfectly orthodox in her being so much with Lionel. She liked to be with him, and she freely indulged the liking upon any occasion that offered.

“Oh, Lucy, I loved her! I did love her!” he would say, having repeated the same words perhaps fifty times before in other interviews; and he would lean back in his easy-chair, and cover his eyes with his hand, as if willing to shut out all sight save that of the past. “Heaven knows what she was to me! Heaven only knows what her faithlessness has cost!”

“Did you dream of her last night, Lionel?” answered Lucy, from her low seat where she generally sat, near to Lionel, but with her face mostly turned from him.

And it may as well be mentioned that Miss Lucy never thought of such a thing as discouraging Lionel’s love and remembrance of Sibylla. Her whole business in the matter seemed to be to listen to him and help him to remember her.

“Ay,” said Lionel, in answer to the question. “Do you suppose I should dream of anything else?”

Whatever Lucy may or may not have supposed, it was a positive fact, known well to Lionel—known to him, and remembered by him to this hour,—that he constantly dreamt of Sibylla. Night after night, since the unhappy time when he learnt that she had left him for Frederick Massingbird, had she formed the prominent subject of his dreams. It is the strict truth: and it will prove to you how powerful a hold she must have possessed over his imagination. This he had not failed to make an item in his revelations to Lucy.

“What was your dream last night, Lionel?”

“It was only a confused one: or seemed to be when I awoke. It was full of trouble. Sibylla appeared to have done something wrong, and I was defending her, and she was angry with me for it. Unusually confused it was. Generally my dreams are too clear and vivid.”

“I wonder how long you will dream of her, Lionel? For a year, do you think?”

“I hope not,” heartily responded Lionel. “Lucy, I wish I could forget her!”

“I wish you could—if you do wish to do it,” simply replied Lucy.

“Wish! I wish I could have swallowed a draught of old Lethe’s stream last February, and never recalled her again!” He spoke vehemently: and yet there was a little under-current of suppressed consciousness down deep in his heart, whispering that his greatest solace was to remember her, and to talk of her as he was doing now. To talk of her as he would to his own soul: and that, he had now learnt to do with Lucy Tempest. Not to any one else in the whole world could Lionel have breathed the name of Sibylla.

“Do you suppose she will soon be coming home?” asked Lucy, after a silence.

“Of course she will. The news of his inheritance went out shortly after they started, and must have got to Melbourne nearly as soon as they did. There’s little doubt they are on their road home now. Massingbird would not care to stop to look after what was left by John, when he knows himself to be the owner of Verner’s Pride.”

“I wish Verner’s Pride had not been left to Frederick Massingbird!” exclaimed Lucy.

“Frankly speaking, so do I,” confessed Lionel. “It ought to be mine by all good right. And, putting myself entirely out of consideration, I judge Frederick Massingbird unworthy to be its master. That’s between ourselves, mind, Lucy.”

“It is all between ourselves,” returned Lucy.

“Ay. What should I have done without you, my dear little friend?”

“I am glad you have not had to do without me,” simply answered Lucy. “I hope you will let me be your friend always!”

“That I will. Now Sibylla’s gone, there’s nobody in the whole world I care for, but you.”

He spoke it without any double meaning: he might have used the same words, been actuated by precisely the same feelings, to his mother or his sister. His all-absorbing love for Sibylla barred even the idea of any other love to his mind, yet awhile.

“Lionel!” cried Lucy, turning her face full upon him in her earnestness, “how could she choose Frederick Massingbird, when you had chosen her?”

“Tastes differ,” said Lionel, speaking lightly, a thing he rarely did when with Lucy. “There’s no accounting for them. Some time or other, Lucy, you may be marrying an ugly fellow with a wooden leg and red beard; and people will say, ‘How could Lucy Tempest have chosen him?”

Lucy coloured. “I do not like you to speak in that joking way, if you please,” she gravely said.

“Heigh ho, Lucy!” sighed he. “Sometimes I fancy a joke may cheat me out of a minute’s care. I wish I was well, and away from this place. In London I shall have my hands full,