“Can you discern him, Lionel?” she asked. “He is going away—going back amidst the trees. Perhaps because he can’t see us any longer, now you have put the light out. Who is it? Why should he have stood there, watching us?”
Lionel snatched her to him with an impulsive gesture. He would have sacrificed his life willingly, to save Sibylla from the terrible misfortune that appeared to be falling upon her.
A CASUAL MEETING ON THE RIVER.
A merry breakfast-table. Sibylla, for a wonder, up, and present at it. The rain of the preceding day, the storm of the night had entirely passed away, and as fine a morning as could be wished was smiling on the earth.
“Which of you went out before the storm was over, and ventured under the great yew-tree?”
It was Mrs. Verner who spoke. She looked at the different gentlemen present, and they looked at her. They did not know what she meant.
“You were under it, one of you,” persisted Sibylla.
All, save one, protested that they had neither been out nor under the tree. That one—it happened to be Mr. Gordon, of whom casual mention has been made—confessed to having been on the lawn, so far as crossing it went; but he did not go near the tree.
“I went out with my cigar,” he observed, “and had strolled some distance from the house when the storm came on. I stood in the middle of a field and watched it. It was grandly beautiful.”
“I wonder you were not brought home dead!” ejaculated Sibylla.
Mr. Gordon laughed. “If you once witnessed the thunder-storms that we get in the tropics, Mrs. Verner, you would not associate these with danger.”
“I have seen dreadful thunder-storms, apart from what we get here, as well as you, Mr. Gordon,” returned Sibylla.
“Perhaps you will deny that anybody’s ever killed by them in this country. But why did you halt underneath the yew-tree?”
“I did not,” he repeated. “I crossed the lawn, straight on to the upper end of the terrace. I did not go near the tree.”
“Some one did, if you did not. They were staring right up at my dressing-room window. I was standing at it with Mr. Verner.”
Mr. Gordon shook his head. “Not guilty, so far as I am concerned, Mrs. Verner. I met some man, when I was coming home, plunging into the thicket of trees as I emerged from them. It was he, possibly.”
“What man?” questioned Sibylla.
“I did not know him. He was a stranger. A tall, dark man with stooping shoulders, and something black upon his cheek.”
“Something black upon his cheek;” repeated Sibylla, thinking the words bore an odd sound.
“A large black mark it looked like. His cheek was white—sallow would be the better term—and he wore no whiskers, so it was a conspicuous looking brand. In the moment he passed me, the lightning rendered the atmosphere as light as——”