“I wish he had!” was the retort in Lionel’s heart; but he bit his lips to silence, exchanging the words, after a few minutes’ pause, for others.
“You would have found Frederick Massingbird a less indulgent husband to you than I have been,” he firmly said. “But these remarks are profitless, and will add to the comfort of neither you nor me. Sibylla, I shall send, in your name, to pay this bill of Mrs. Duff’s. Will you give it me?”
“I dare say Benoite can find it, if you choose to ask her.”
“And, my dear, let me beg of you not to contract these paltry debts. There have been others, as you know. I do not like that Mrs. Verner’s name should be thus bandied in the village. What you buy in the village, pay for at once.”
“How can I pay while you stint me?”
“Stint you!” repeated Lionel, in amazement. “Stint you!”
“It’s nothing but stinting—going on at me as you do!” she sullenly answered. “You would like to deprive me of the horses I have set my mind upon! You know you would!”
“The horses you cannot have, Sibylla,” he answered, his tone a decisive one. “I have already said it.”
It aroused her anger. “If you don’t let me have the horses, and all other things I want, I’ll go where I can have them.”
What did she mean? Lionel’s cheek turned white with the taunt the words might be supposed to imply. He held her two hands in his, pressing them nervously.
“You shall not force me to quarrel with you, Sibylla,” he continued, with emotion. “I have almost registered a vow that no offensive word or conduct on your part shall make me forget myself for a moment; or render me other than an ever considerate, tender husband. It may be that our marriage was a mistake for both of us; but we shall do well to make the best of it. It is the only course remaining.”
He spoke in a strangely earnest tone; one of deep agitation. Sibylla was aroused. She had believed that Lionel blindly loved her. Otherwise she might have been more careful to retain his love—there’s no knowing.
“How do you mean that our marriage was a mistake for both of us?” she hastily cried.
“You do your best to remind me continually that it must be so,” was his reply.
“Psha!” returned Sibylla. And Lionel, without another word, quitted her and walked away. In these moments, above all others, would the image of Lucy Tempest rise up before his sight. Beat it down as he would, it was ever present to him. A mistake in his marriage! Ay; none save Lionel knew how fatal a one.
He passed on direct to the terrace, avoiding the lawn, traversed it, and went out at the large gates. Thence he made his way to Poynton’s, the veterinary surgeon, who also dealt in horses. At least, dealt in them so far as that he would buy and sell when employed to do so.
The man was in his yard, watching a horse go through his paces. He came forward to meet Lionel.