Lucy’s voice died away. Gliding in at the door, with a white face and drawn-back lips, was Lady Verner. She caught hold of Lionel, her eyes searching his countenance for the confirmation of her fears, or their contradiction. Lionel took her hands in his.
“It is true, mother. Be brave, for my sake.”
With a wailing cry she sat down on the sofa, drawing him beside her. Decima entered and stood before them, her hands clasped in pain. Lady Verner made him tell her all the particulars; all he knew, all he feared.
“How does Sibylla meet it?” was her first question when she had listened to the end.
“Not very well,” he answered, after a momentary hesitation. “Who could meet it well?” “Lionel, it is a judgment upon her. She—”
Lionel started up, his brow flushing.
“I beg your pardon, mother. You forget that you are speaking of my wife. She is my wife,” he more calmly added, “until she shall have been proved not to be.”
No. Whatever may have been Sibylla’s conduct to him personally, neither before her face nor behind her back, would Lionel forget one jot of the respect due to her. Or suffer another to forget it; although that other should be his mother.
“What shall you do with her, Lionel?”
“Do with her?” he repeated, not understanding how to take the question.
“When the man makes himself known?”
“I am content to leave that to the time,” replied Lionel, in a tone that debarred further discussion.
“I knew no good would come of it,” resumed Lady Verner, persistent in expressing her opinion. “But for the wiles of that girl you might have married happily, might have married Mary Elmsley.”
“Mother, there is trouble enough upon us just now without introducing old vexations,” rejoined Lionel. “I have told you before that had I never set eyes upon Sibylla after she married Frederick Massingbird, Mary Elmsley would not have been my wife.”
“If he comes back, he comes back to Verner’s Pride?” pursued Lady Verner in a low tone, breaking the pause which had ensued.
“Yes. Verner’s Pride is his.”
“And what shall you do? Turned, like a beggar, out on the face of the earth?”
Like a beggar? Ay, far more like a beggar than Lady Verner, in her worst apprehension, could picture.
“I must make my way on the earth as I best can,” he replied in answer, “I shall leave Europe—probably for India. I may find some means, through my late father’s friends, of getting my bread there.”
Lady Verner appeared to appreciate the motive which no doubt dictated the suggested course. She did not attempt to controvert it; she only wrung her hands in passionate wailing.
“Oh, that you had not married her! that you had not subjected yourself to this dreadful blight!”
Lionel rose. There were limits of endurance even for his aching heart. Reproaches in a moment of trouble are as cold iron entering the soul.