“I do not understand you, Mrs. Duff. What bill?”
“The bill what’s owing to me, sir, from Verner’s Pride. It’s a large sum for me, sir—thirty-two pound odd. I have to keep up my payments for my goods, sir, whether or not, or I should be a bankrupt to-morrow. Things is hard upon me just now, sir; though I don’t want everybody to know it. There’s that big son o’ mine, Dick, out o’ work. If I could have the bill, or only part of it, it ’ud be like a God-send.”
“Who owes you the bill?” asked Lionel.
“It’s your good lady, sir, Mrs. Verner.”
“Who?” echoed Lionel, his accent quite a sharp one.
“Mrs. Verner, sir.”
Lionel stood gazing at the woman. He could not take in the information; he believed there must be some mistake.
“It were for things supplied between the time Mrs. Verner came home after your marriage, sir, and when she went to London in the spring. The French madmizel, sir, came down and ordered some on ’em; and Mrs. Verner herself, sir, ordered others.”
Lionel looked around the shop. He did not disbelieve the woman’s words, but he was in a maze of astonishment. Perhaps a doubt of the Frenchwoman crossed his mind.
“There’s nothing here that Mrs. Verner would wear!” he exclaimed.
“There’s many odds and ends of things here, sir, as is useful to a lady’s tilette—and you’d be surprised, sir, to find how such things mounts up when they be had continual. But the chief part o’ the bill, sir, is for two silk gownds as was had of our traveller. Mrs. Verner, sir, she happened to be here when he called in one day last winter, and she saw his patterns, and she chose two dresses, and said she’d buy ’em of me if I ordered ’em. Which in course I did, sir, and paid for ’em, and sent ’em home. I saw her wear ’em both, sir, after they was made up, and very nice they looked.”
Lionel had heard quite enough. “Where is the bill?” he inquired.
“It have been sent in, sir, long ago. When I found Mrs. Verner didn’t pay it afore she went away, I made bold to write and ask her. Miss West, she gave me the address in London, and said she wished she could pay me herself. I didn’t get a answer, sir, and I made bold to write again, and I never got one then. Twice I have been up to Verner’s Pride, sir, since you come home this time, but I can’t get to see Mrs. Verner. That French madmizel’s one o’ the best I ever see at putting folks off. Sir, it goes again the grain to trouble you; and if I could have got to see Mrs. Verner, I never would have said a word. Perhaps if you’d be so good as to tell her, sir, how hard I’m put to it, she’d send me a little.”
“I am sure she will,” said Lionel. “You shall have your money to-day, Mrs. Duff.”
He turned out of the shop, a scarlet spot of emotion on his cheek. Thirty-two pounds owing to poor Mrs. Duff! Was it thoughtlessness on Sibylla’s part? He strove to beat down the conviction that it was a less excusable error.