Towards morning he dropped into an uneasy sleep. He awoke later than his usual hour from a dream of Frederick Massingbird. Dreams play us strange fantasies. Lionel’s had taken him to that past evening, prior to Frederick Massingbird’s marriage, when he had sought him in his chamber, to offer a word of warning against the union. He seemed to be living the interview over again, and the first words when he awoke, rushing over his brain with minute and unpleasant reality, were those he had himself spoken in reference to Sibylla:—“Were she free as air this moment, were she to come to my feet, and say ‘Let me be your wife,’ I should tell her that the whole world was before her to choose from, save myself. She can never again be anything to me.”
Brave words: fully believed in when they were spoken: but what did Lionel think of them now?
He went down to breakfast. He was rather late, and found they had assembled. Lady Verner, who had just heard for the first time of Lionel’s presence in the house, made no secret now of Lionel’s note to her. Therefore Decima and Lucy knew that the “invasion” of Verner’s Pride had been caused by Mrs. Massingbird.
She—Lady Verner—scarcely gave herself time to greet Lionel before she commenced upon it. She did not conceal, or seek to conceal, her sentiments—either of Sibylla herself, or of the step she had taken. And Lionel had the pleasure of hearing his intended bride alluded to in a manner that was not altogether complimentary.
He could not stop it. He could not take upon himself the defence of Sibylla, and say, “Do you know that you are speaking of my future wife?” No, for Lucy Tempest was there. Not in her presence had he the courage to bring home to himself his own dishonour: to avow that, after wooing her (it was very like it), he had turned round and asked another to marry him. The morning sun shone into the room upon the snowy cloth, upon the silver breakfast service, upon the exquisite cups of painted porcelain, upon those seated round the table. Decima sat opposite to Lady Verner, Lionel and Lucy were face to face on either side. The walls exhibited a few choice paintings; the room and its appurtenances were in excellent taste. Lady Verner liked things that pleased the eye. That silver service had been a recent present of Lionel’s, who had delighted in showering elegancies and comforts upon his mother since his accession.
“What could have induced her ever to think of taking up her residence at Verner’s Pride on her return?” reiterated Lady Verner to Lionel.
“She believed she was coming to her aunt. It was only at the station, here, that she learned Mrs. Verner was dead.”
“She did learn it there?”
“Yes. She learned it there.”
“And she could come to Verner’s Pride after that? knowing that you, and you alone, were its master?”
Lionel toyed with his coffee-cup. He wished his mother would spare her remarks.