The bright flush was the result of excitement, of some degree of inward fever. Let us allow that it was a trying time for her. She had arrived to find Mrs. Verner dead, her father absent; she had arrived to find that no provision had been made for her by Mr. Verner’s will, as the widow of Frederick Massingbird. Frederick’s having succeeded to the inheritance debarred her even of the five hundred pounds. It is true there would be the rents, received for the short time it had been his. There was no doubt that Sibylla, throughout the long voyage, had cherished the prospect of finding a home at Verner’s Pride. If her husband had lived, it would have been wholly hers; she appeared still to possess a right in it; and she never gave a thought to the possibility that her aunt would not welcome her to it. Whether she cast a reflection to Lionel Verner in the matter, she best knew: had she reflected properly, she might have surmised that Lionel would be living at it, its master. But, the voyage ended, the home gained, what did she find? That Mrs. Verner was no longer at Verner’s Pride, to press the kiss of welcome upon her lips; a few feet of earth was all her home now.
It was a terrible disappointment. There could be no doubt of that. And another disappointment was, to find Dr. West away. Sibylla’s sisters had been at times over-strict with her, much as they loved her, and the vision of returning to her old home, to them, was one of bitterness. So bitter, in fact, that she would not glance at its possibility.
Fatigued, low-spirited, feverishly perplexed, Sibylla did not know what she could do. She was not in a state that night to give much care to the future. All she hoped was, to stay in that haven until something else could be arranged for her. Let us give her her due. Somewhat careless, naturally, of the punctilios of life, it never occurred to her that it might not be the precise thing for her to remain, young as she was, the sole guest of Lionel Verner. Her voyage out, her residence in that very unconventional place, Melbourne, the waves and storms which had gone over her there in more ways than one, the voyage back again alone, all had tended to give Sibylla Massingbird an independence of thought; a contempt for the rules and regulations, the little points of etiquette obtaining in civilised society. She really thought no more harm of staying at Verner’s Pride with Lionel, than she would have thought it had old Mr. Verner been its master. The eyelashes, resting on her hot cheeks, were wet, as she turned round when Lionel entered.
“Have you taken anything, Mrs. Massingbird?”
“But you should have done so,” he remonstrated, his tone one of the most considerate kindness.
“I did not observe that tea waited,” she replied, the covered table catching her eye for the first time. “I have been thinking.”
He placed a chair for her before the tea-tray, and she sat down. “Am I to preside?” she asked.