His choice of Mrs. Massingbird, however, really did afford some grounds for grumbling. She was not worthy of Lionel Verner. So Deerham thought; so Deerham said. He was throwing himself away; he would live to repent it; she must have been the most crafty of women, so to have secured him! Free words enough, and harshly spoken; but they were as water by the side of those uttered by Lady Verner.
In the first bitter hour of disappointment, Lady Verner gave free speech to harsh things. It was in her love for Lionel that she so grieved. Setting aside the facts that Sibylla had been the wife of another man, that she was, in position, beneath Lionel—which facts, however, Lady Verner could not set aside, for they were ever present to her—her great objection lay in the conviction that Sibylla would prove entirely unsuited to him; that it would turn out an unhappy union. Short and sharp was the storm with Lady Verner; but in a week or two she subsided into quietness, buried her grief and resentment within her, and made no further outward demonstration.
“Mother, you will call upon Sibylla?” Lionel said to her one day that he had gone to Deerham Court. He spoke in a low, deprecating tone, and his face flushed; he anticipated he knew not what torrent of objection.
Lady Verner met the request differently.
“I suppose it will be expected of me, that I should do so,” she replied, strangely calm. “How I dislike this artificial state of things! Where the customs of society must be bowed to, by those who live in it; their actions, good or bad, commented upon and judged! You have been expecting that I should call before this, I suppose, Lionel?”
“I have been hoping, from day to day, that you would call.”
“I will call—for your sake. Lionel,” she passionately added, turning to him, and seizing his hands between hers, “what I do now, I do for your sake. It has been a cruel blow to me; but I will try to make the best of it, for you, my best-loved son.”
He bent down to his mother, and kissed her tenderly. It was his mode of showing her his thanks.
“Do not mistake me, Lionel. I will go just so far in this matter as may be necessary to avoid open disapproval. If I appear to approve it, that the world may not cavil and you complain, it will be little more than an appearance. I will call upon your intended wife, but the call will be one of etiquette, of formal ceremony: you must not expect me to get into the habit of repeating it. I shall never become intimate with her.”
“You do not know what the future may bring forth,” returned Lionel, looking at his mother with a smile. “I trust the time will come when you shall have learned to love Sibylla.”
“I do not think that time will ever arrive,” was the frigid reply of Lady Verner. “Oh, Lionel!” she added, in an impulse of sorrow, “what a barrier this has raised between us—what a severing for the future!”