But Sibylla came up at length, and Deborah entered upon her task. Whether she accomplished it clumsily, or whether Sibylla’s ill-disciplined mind was wholly in fault, certain it is that there ensued a loud and unpleasant scene. The scene to which you were a witness. Scarcely giving herself time to take in more than the bare fact hinted at by Deborah—that her first husband was believed to be alive—not waiting to inquire a single particular, she burst out of the room and went shrieking down the stairs, flying into the arms of Lionel, who at that moment had entered.
MEETING THE NEWS.
Lionel Verner could not speak comfort to his wife; or, at the best, comfort of a most negative nature. He held her to him in the study, the door locked against intruders. They were somewhat at cross-purposes. Lionel supposed that the information had been imparted to her by Captain Cannonby; he never doubted but that she had been told Frederick Massingbird had returned and was on the scene; that he might come in any moment—even that very present one as they spoke—to put in his claim to her. Sibylla, on the contrary, did not think (what little she was capable of thinking) that Lionel had had previous information of the matter.
“What am I to do?” she cried, her emotion becoming hysterical. “Oh, Lionel! don’t you give me up!”
“I would have got here earlier had there been means,” he soothingly said, wisely evading all answer to the last suggestion. “I feared he would be telling you in my I absence; better that you should have heard of it from me.”
She lifted her face to look at him. “Then you know it!”
“I have known it this clay or two. My journey to-day—”
She broke out into a most violent fit of emotion, shrieking, trembling, clinging to Lionel, calling out at the top of her voice that she would not leave him. All his efforts were directed to stilling the noise. He implored her to be tranquil, to remember there were listeners around; he pointed out that, until the blow actually fell, there was no necessity for those listeners to be made cognisant of it. All that he could do for her protection and comfort, he would do, he earnestly said. And Sibylla subsided into a softer mood, and cried quietly.
“I’d rather die,” she sobbed, “than have this disgrace brought upon me.”
Lionel put her into the large arm-chair, which remained in the study still, the old arm-chair of Mr. Verner. He stood by her and held her hands, his pale face grave, sad, loving, bent towards her with the most earnest sympathy. She lifted her eyes to it, whispering—
“Will they say you are not my husband?”
“Hush, Sibylla! There are moments, even yet, when I deceive myself into a fancy that it may be somewhat averted. I cannot understand how he can be alive. Has Cannonby told you whence the error arose?”