“Presently. Sibylla, I have been terribly vexed this morning.”
“Oh, now Lionel, don’t you begin about ‘vexing,’” interrupted Sibylla, in the foolish, light, affected manner, which had grown worse of late, more intolerable to Lionel. “I have ordered the ponies. Poynton will send them in; and if there’s really not room in the stables, you must see about it, and give orders that room must be made.”
“I cannot buy the ponies,” he firmly said. “My dear, I have given in to your every wish, to your most trifling whim; but, as I told you a few days ago, these ever-recurring needless expenses I cannot stand. Sibylla”—and his voice grew hoarse—“do you know that I am becoming embarrassed?”
“I don’t care if you are,” pouted Sibylla. “I must have the ponies.”
His heart ached. Was this the loving wife—the intelligent companion for whom he had once yearned?—the friend who should be as his own soul? He had married the Sibylla of his imagination; and he woke to find Sibylla—what she was. The disappointment was heavy upon him always; but there were moments when he could have cried out aloud in its sharp bitterness.
“Sibylla, you know the state in which some of my tenants live; the miserable dwellings they are forced to inhabit. I must change this state of things. I believe it to be a duty for which I am accountable to God. How am I to set about it if you ruin me?”
Sibylla put her fingers to her ears. “I can’t stand to listen when you preach, Lionel. It is as bad as a sermon.”
[Illustration: Sibylla put her fingers to her ears.]
It was ever thus. He could not attempt to reason with her. Anything like sensible conversation she could not, or would not, hold. Lionel, considerate to her as he ever was, felt provoked.
“Do you know that this unfortunate affair of Alice Hook’s is laid remotely to me?” he said, with a sternness, which he could not help, in his tone. “People are saying that if I gave them decent dwellings, decent conduct would ensue. It is so. God knows that I feel its truth more keenly than my reproachers.”
“The dwellings are good enough for the poor.”
“Sibylla! You cannot think it. The laws of God and man alike demand a change. Child,” he continued in a softer tone, as he took her hand in his, “let us bring the case home to ourselves. Suppose that you and I had to sleep in a room a few feet square, no chimney, no air, and that others tenanted it with us? Girls and boys growing up—nay, grown up, some of them; men and women as we are, Sibylla. The beds huddled together, no space between them; sickness, fever——”
“I am only shutting my ears,” interrupted Sibylla. “You pretend to be so careful of me—you would not even let me go to that masked ball in Paris—and yet you put these horrid pictures into my mind! I think you ought to be ashamed of it, Lionel. People sleeping in the same room with us!”