Thought was busy in his brain. How could it be otherwise? Should he get home to find the news public property? Had Captain Cannonby made it known to Sybilla? Most fervently did he hope not. Better that he, Lionel, should be by her side to help her to bear it when the dreadful news came out. Next came another thought. Suppose Frederick Massingbird should have discovered himself? should have gone to Verner’s Pride to take possession? his home now; his wife. Lionel might get back to find that he had no longer a place there.
Lionel found his carriage waiting at the station. He had ordered it to be so. Wigham was with it. A very coward now, he scarcely dared ask questions.
“Has Captain Cannonby arrived at the house to-day, do you know, Wigham?”
“A strange gentleman from London. Captain Cannonby.”
“I can’t rightly say, sir. I have been about in the stables all day. I saw a strange gentleman cross the yard just at dinner-time, one I’d never seen afore. May be it was him.”
A feeling came over Lionel that he could not see Captain Cannonby before them all. Better send for him to a private room, and get the communication over. What his after course would be was another matter. Yes; better in all ways.
“Drive round to the yard, Wigham,” he said, as the coachman was about to turn on to the terrace. And Wigham obeyed.
He stepped out. He went in at the back door, almost as if he were slinking into the house, stealthily traversed the passages, and gained the lighted hall. At the very moment that he put his feet on its tessellated floor, a sudden commotion was heard up the stairs. A door was flung open, and Sibylla, with cheeks inflamed and breath panting, flew down, her convulsive cries echoing through the house. She saw Lionel, and threw herself into his arms.
“Oh, Lionel, what is this wicked story?” she sobbed. “It is not true! It cannot be true that I am not your wife, that——”
“Hush, my darling!” he whispered, placing his hand across her mouth. “We are not alone!”
They certainly were not! Out of the drawing-rooms, out of the dining-room, had poured the guests; out of the kitchen came peeping the servants. Deborah West stood on the stair like a statue, her hands clasped; and Mademoiselle Benoite frantically inquired what anybody had been doing to her mistress. All stared in amazement. She, in that terrible state of agitation; Lionel supporting her with his white and haughty face.
“It is nothing,” he said, waving them off. “Mrs. Verner is not well. Come with me, Sibylla.”
Waving them off still, he drew her into the study, closed the door, and bolted it. She clung to him like one in the extremity of terror, her throat heaving convulsively.
“Oh, Lionel! is it true that he is come back? That he did not die? What will become of me? Tell me that they have been deceiving me; that it is not true!”