The weather on this day appeared to be as capricious as Sibylla, as strangely curious as the great fear which had fallen upon Lionel. The fine morning had changed to the rainy, misty, chilly afternoon; the afternoon to a clear, bright evening; and that evening had now become overcast with portentous clouds.
Without much warning the storm burst forth; peals of thunder reverberated through the air, flashes of forked lightning played in the sky. Lionel hastened upstairs; he remembered how these storms terrified his wife.
She had knelt down to bury her head amidst the soft cushions of a chair when Lionel entered her dressing-room. “Sibylla!” he said.
[Illustration: “Sibylla!” he said.]
Up she started at the sound of his voice, and flew to him. There lay her protection; and in spite of her ill-temper and her love of aggravation, she felt and recognised it. Lionel held her in his sheltering arms, bending her head down upon his breast, and drawing his coat over it, so that she might see no ray of light—as he had been wont to do in former storms. As a timid child was she at these times, humble, loving, gentle; she felt as if she were on the threshold of the next world, that the next moment might be her last. Others have been known to experience the same dread in a thunder-storm; and, to be thus brought, as it were, face to face with death, takes the spirit out of people.
He stood, patiently holding her. Every time the thunder burst above their heads, he could feel her heart beat against his. One of her arms was round him; the other he held; all wet it was with fear. He did not speak; he only clasped her closer every now and then, that she might be reminded of her shelter.
Twenty minutes or so, and the violence of the storm abated. The lightning grew less frequent, the thunder distant and more distant. At length the sound wholly ceased, and the lightning subsided into that harmless sheet lightning which is so beautiful to look at in the far-off horizon.
“It is over,” he whispered.
She lifted her head from its resting place. Her blue eye was bright with excitement, her delicate cheek was crimson, her golden hair fell in a dishevelled mass around. Her gala robes had been removed, with the diamond coronet, and the storm had surprised her writing a note in her dressing-gown. In spite of the sudden terror which overtook her, she did not forget to put the letter—so far as had been written of it—safely away. It was not expedient that her husband’s eyes should fall upon it. Sibylla had many answers to write now to importunate creditors.
“Are you sure, Lionel?”
“Quite sure. Come and see how clear it is. You are not alarmed at the sheet lightning.”
He put his arm round her, and led her to the window. As he said, the sky was clear again. Nearly all traces of the storm had passed away; there had been no rain with it; and, but for the remembrance of its sound in their ears, they might have believed that it had not taken place. The broad lands of Verner’s Pride lay spreading out before them, the lawns and the terrace underneath; the sheet-lightning illumined the heavens incessantly, rendering objects nearly as clear as in the day.