But not to sleep—for one of them. Deborah West lay awake through the live-long night, tossing from side to side in her perplexity and thought. Somewhat strict in her notions, she deemed it a matter of stern necessity, of positive duty, that Sibylla should retire, at any rate for a time, from the scenes of busy life. To enable her to do this, the news must be broken to her. But how?
Ay, how? Deborah West rose in the morning with the difficulty unsolved. She supposed she must do it herself. She believed it was as much a duty laid upon her, the imparting these tidings to Sibylla, as the separating herself from all social ties, the instant it was so imparted, would be the duty of Sibylla herself. Deborah West went about her occupations that morning, one imperative sentence ever in her thoughts: “It must be done! it must be done!”
She carried it about with her, ever saying it, through the whole day. She shrank, both for Sibylla’s sake and her own, from the task she was imposing upon herself; and, as we all do when we have an unpleasant office to perform, she put it off to the last. Early in the morning she had said, I will go to Verner’s Pride after breakfast and tell her; breakfast over, she said, I will have my dinner first and go then.
But the afternoon passed on, and she did not go. Every little trivial domestic duty was made an excuse for delaying it. Miss Amilly, finding her sister unusually bad company, went out to drink tea with some friends. The time came for ordering in tea at home, and still Deborah had not gone.
She made the tea and presided at the table. But she could eat nothing—to the inward gratification of Master Cheese. There happened to be shrimps—a dish which that gentleman preferred, if anything, to pickled herrings; and by Miss Deborah’s want of appetite he was able to secure her share and his own, including the heads and tails. He would uncommonly have liked to secure Jan’s share also; but Miss Deborah filled a plate and put them aside, against Jan came in. Jan’s pressure of work caused him of late to be irregular at his meals.
Scarcely was the tea over, and Master Cheese gone, when Mr. Bourne called. Deborah, the one thought uppermost in her mind, closed the door, and spoke out what she had heard. The terrible fear, her own distress, Jan’s belief that it was Fred himself, Jan’s representation that Mr. Bourne also believed it. Mr. Bourne, leaning forward until his pale face and his iron-gray hair nearly touched hers, whispered in answer that he did not think there was a doubt of it.
Then Deborah did nerve herself to the task. On the departure of the vicar, she started for Verner’s Pride and asked to see Sibylla. The servants would have shown her to the drawing-room, but she preferred to go up to Sibylla’s chamber. The company were yet in the dining-room.
How long Sibylla kept her waiting there, she scarcely knew. Sibylla was not in the habit of putting herself to inconvenience for her sisters. The message was taken to her—that Miss West waited in her chamber—as she entered the drawing-room. And there Sibylla let her wait. One or two more messages to the same effect were subsequently delivered. They produced no impression, and Deborah began to think she should not get to see her that night.