“Nonsense! No!” said Lionel. “I beg you—I beg you, Miss West, not to say anything more that can distress or disturb her. If the—the—explosion comes, of course it must come; and we must all meet it as we best may, and see then what is best to be done.”
“But it is not right that she should remain with you in this uncertainty,” urged Deborah, who could be obstinate when she thought she had cause. “The world will not deem it to be right. You should remember this.”
“I do not act to please the world. I am responsible to God and my conscience.”
“Responsible to—Good gracious, Mr. Verner!” returned Deborah, every line in her face expressing astonishment. “You call keeping her with you acting as a responsible man ought! If Sibylla’s husband is living, you must put her away from your side.”
“When the time shall come. Until then, my duty—as I judge it—is to keep her by my side; to shelter her from harm and annoyance, petty as well as great.”
“You deem that your duty!”
“I do,” he firmly answered. “My duty to her and to God.”
Deborah shook her head and her hands. “It ought not to be let go on,” she said, moving nearer to the study door. “I shall urge the leaving you upon her.”
Lionel calmly laid his hand upon the lock. “Pardon me, Miss West. I cannot allow my wife to be subjected to it.”
“But if she is not your wife?”
A streak of red came into his pale face. “It has yet to be proved that she is not. Until that time shall come, Miss West, she is my wife, and I shall protect her as such.”
“You will not let me see her?” asked Deborah, for his hand was not lifted from the handle.
“No. Not if your object be the motives you avow. Sleep a night upon it, Miss West, and see if you do not change your mode of thinking and come over to mine. Return here in the morning with words of love and comfort for her, and none will welcome you more sincerely than I.”
“Answer me one thing, Mr. Verner. Do you believe in your heart that Frederick Massingbird is alive and has returned?”
“Unfortunately I have no resource but to believe it,” he replied.
“Then, to your way of thinking I can never come,” returned Deborah in some agitation. “It is just sin, Mr. Verner, in the sight of Heaven.”
“I think not,” he quietly answered. “I am content to let Heaven judge me, and the motives that actuate me; a judgment more merciful than man’s.”
Deborah West, in her conscientious, but severe rectitude, turned to the hall door and departed, her hands uplifted still. Lionel ordered Tynn to attend Miss West home. He then procured some water for his wife and carried it in, as he had previously carried in the wine.
A fruitless service. Sibylla rejected it. She wanted neither water nor anything else, were all the thanks Lionel received, querulously spoken. He laid the glass upon the table, and, sitting down by her side in all patience, he set himself to the work of soothing her, gently and lovingly as though she had been what she was showing herself—a wayward child.