[Aug. 30, 1862.
ONCE A WEEK.
“Law, if you go by all that’s said in Deerham, you’ll have enough to do,” cried Jan. “One says one thing and one says another. No two are ever in the same tale. When that codicil was lost at Verner’s Pride, ten different people were accused by Deerham of stealing it.”
“Were they?” responded Miss Deborah, abstractedly.
“Did you never hear it? You just ask Deerham about the row between the doctor and Chalk Cottage, and you’ll hear ten versions, all different. What else could be expected. As if he’d take the trouble to explain the rights of it to them! Not that I should advise you to ask,” concluded Jan, pointedly. “Miss Deborah, do you know the time?”
“It must be half-past eight,” she repeated mechanically, her thoughts buried in a reverie.
“And turned,” said Jan. “I’d be glad of breakfast. I shall have the gratis patients here.”
“It shall be ready in two minutes,” said Miss Deborah, meekly. And she went out of the surgery.
Presently young Cheese came leaping into it.
“The breakfast’s ready,” cried he.
Jan stretched out his long arm, and pinned Master Cheese.
“What have you been saying to Miss Deb?” he asked. “Look here: who is your master now?”
“You are, I suppose,” said the young gentleman.
“Very well. You just bear that in mind; and don’t go carrying tales indoors of what Deerham says. Attend to your own business and leave Dr. West’s alone.”
Master Cheese was considerably astonished. He had never heard such speech from easy Jan.
“I say, though, are you going to turn out a bashaw with three tails?” asked he.
“Yes,” replied Jan. “I have promised Dr. West to keep you in order, and I shall do it.”
Dr. West’s was not the only departure from Deerham that was projected for that day. The other was that of Lionel Verner. Fully recovered, he had deemed it well to waste no more time. Lady Verner suggested that he should remain in Deerham until the completion of the year: Lionel replied that he had remained in it rather too long already; that he must be up and doing. He was eager to be “up and doing,” and his first step towards it was the proceeding to London and engaging chambers. He fixed upon the first day of November for his departure, unconscious that that day had also been fixed upon by Dr. West for his. However, the doctor was off long before Lionel was out of bed.
Lionel rose all excitement, all impulse, to begin his journey, to be away from Deerham. Somebody else rose with feelings less pleasurable: and that was Lucy Tempest. Now that the real time of separation had come, Lucy awoke to the state of her own feelings; to the fact, that the whole world contained but one beloved face for her—that of Lionel Verner.
She awoke with no start, she saw nothing wrong in it, she did not ask herself how it was to end, what the future was to be; any vision of marrying Lionel, which might have flashed across the active brain of a more sophisticated young lady, never occurred to Lucy. All she knew was, that she had somehow glided into a state of existence different from anything she had ever experienced before; that her days were all brightness, the world an Eden, and that it was the presence of Lionel that made the sunshine.
She stood before the glass, twisting her soft brown hair, her cheeks crimson with excitement, her eyes bright. The morrow morning would be listless enough; but this, the last on which she would see him, was gay with rose hues of love. Stay! not gay. That is a wrong expression: it would have been gay but for that under current of feeling, which was whispering that a short hour or two and all would change to the darkest shade.
“He says it may be a twelvemonth before he shall come home again,” she said to herself her white fingers trembling as she fastened her pretty morning dress. “How lonely it will be! What shall we do all that while without him? Oh, dear, what’s the matter with me this morning?”
In her perturbed haste, she had fastened her dress all awry, and had to undo it again. The thought that she might be keeping them waiting breakfast—which was to be taken that morning a quarter of an hour earlier than usual—did not tend to expedite her. Lucy thought of the old proverb: “The more haste, the less speed.”
“How I wish I dare ask him to come sooner than that to see us! But he might think it strange. I wonder he should not come! there’s Christmas, there’s Easter, and he must have holiday then. A whole year, perhaps more; and not to see him!”
She passed out of the room and descended, her soft skirts of pink-shaded cashmere sweeping the staircase. You saw her in it the evening she first came to Lady Verner’s. It had lain by almost ever since, and was now converted into a morning dress. The breakfast-room was empty. Instead of being behind her time, Lucy found she was before it. Lady Verner had not risen: she rarely did rise to breakfast: and Decima was in Lionel’s room, busy over some of his things.
Lionel himself was the next to enter. His features broke into a glad smile when he saw Lucy. A fairer picture, she, Mr. Lionel Verner, than even that other vision of loveliness which your mind has been pleased to make its ideal—Sibylla!
“Down first, Lucy!” he cried, shaking hands with her. “You wish me somewhere, I dare say, getting you up before your time.”
“By how much—a few minutes?” she answered, laughing. “It wants twenty minutes to nine. What would they have said to me at the rectory, had I come down so late as that?”
“Ah, well, you won’t have me here to torment you to-morrow. I have been a trouble to you, Lucy, take it altogether. You will be glad to see my back turned.”