“I am about to marry,” said Lionel, plunging into the news headlong. “And I fear that you will not approve my choice. Nay, I know you will not.”
A foreshadowing of the truth came across her then. She grew deadly pale, and put up her hands, as if to ward off the blow. “Oh, Lionel! don’t say it! don’t say it!” she implored. “I never can receive her.”
“Yes, you will, mother,” he whispered, his own face pale too, his tone one of painful entreaty. “You will receive her for my sake.”
The aversion with which the name was avoided was unmistakable. Lionel only nodded a grave affirmative.
“Have you engaged yourself to her?”
“I have. Last night.”
“Were you mad?” she asked in a whisper.
“Stay, mother. When you were speaking against Sibylla at breakfast, I refrained from interference, for you did not then know that defence of her was my duty. Will you forgive me for reminding you that I cannot permit it to be continued, even by you?”
“But do you forget that it is not a respectable alliance for you?” resumed Lady Verner. “No, not a respectable—”
“I cannot listen to this; I pray you cease!” he broke forth, a blaze of anger lighting his face. “Have you forgotten of whom you are speaking, mother? Not respectable!”
“I say that it is not a respectable alliance for you—Lionel Verner,” she persisted. “An obscure surgeon’s daughter, he of not too good repute, who has been out to the end of the world, and found her way back alone, a widow, is not a desirable alliance for a Verner. It would not be desirable for Jan; it is terrible for you?”
“We shall not agree upon this,” said Lionel, preparing to take his departure. “I have acquainted you, mother, and I have no more to say, except to urge—if I may do so—that you will learn to speak of Sibylla with courtesy, remembering that she will shortly be my wife.”
Lady Verner caught his hand as he was retreating.
“Lionel, my son, tell me how you came to do it,” she wailed. “You cannot love her! the wife, the widow of another man! It must have been the work of a moment of folly. Perhaps she drew you into it!”
The suggestion, “the work of a moment of folly,” was so very close a representation of what it had been, of what Lionel was beginning to see it to have been now, that the rest of the speech was lost to him in the echo of that one sentence. Somehow, he did not care to refute it.
“She will be my wife, respected and honoured,” was all he answered, as he quitted the room.
Lady Verner followed him. He went straight out, and she saw him walk hastily across the courtyard, putting on his hat as he traversed it. She wrung her hands, and broke into a storm of wailing despair, ignoring the presence of Decima and Lucy Tempest.
“I had far rather that she had stabbed him!”