Dropping her hands, he drew back to his corner of the chariot, his head leaning against the fair, white watered silk, as if heavy with weariness. In truth, it was so; heavy with the weariness caused by carking care. He had spoken all too impulsively; the avowal was wrung from him in the moment’s bitter strife. A balm upon his conscience that he had done his duty by her in love? Ay. For the love of his inmost heart had been another’s—not hers.
Sibylla did not understand the allusion. It was well. In her weak and trifling manner, she was subsiding into tears when the carriage suddenly stopped. Lionel, his thoughts never free, since a day or two, of Frederick Massingbird, looked up with a start, almost expecting to see him.
Lady Verner’s groom had been galloping on horseback to Verner’s Pride. Seeing Mr. Verner’s carriage, and himself inside it, he had made a sign to Wigham, who drew up. The man rode up to the window, a note in his hand.
“Miss Verner charged me to lose no time in delivering it to you, sir. She said it was immediate. I shouldn’t else have presumed to stop your carriage.”
He backed his horse a step or two, waiting for the answer, should there be any. Lionel ran his eyes over the contents of the note.
“Tell Miss Verner I will call upon her shortly, Philip.”
And the man, touching his hat, turned his horse round, and galloped back towards Deerham Court.
“What does she want? What is it?” impatiently asked Sibylla.
“My mother wishes to see me,” replied Lionel.
“And what else? I know that’s not all,” reiterated Sibylla, her tone a resentful one. “You have always secrets at Deerham Court against me.”
“Never in my life,” he answered. “You can read the note, Sibylla.”
She caught it up, devouring its few lines rapidly. Lionel believed it must be the doubt, the uncertainty, that was rendering her so irritable; in his heart he felt inclined to make every allowance for her; more, perhaps, than she deserved. There were but a few lines:—
“Do come to us at once, my dear Lionel! A most strange report has reached us, and mamma is like one bereft of her senses. She wants you here to contradict it; she says she knows it cannot have any foundation.
Somehow the words seemed to subdue Sibylla’s irritation. She returned the note to Lionel, and spoke in a hushed, gentle tone. “Is it this report that she alludes to, do you think, Lionel?”
“I fear so. I do not know what other it can be. I am vexed that it should already have reached the ears of my mother.”
“Of course!” resentfully spoke Sibylla. “You would have spared her!”
“I would have spared my mother, had it been in my power. I would have spared my wife,” he added, bending his grave, kind face towards her, “that, and all other ill.”