“You will be startled, Sibylla,” said Lionel. “It is one whom we have believed to be dead; though it is not Frederick Massingbird.”
“I wish you’d tell—beating about the bush like that! You need not stare so, Jan. I don’t believe you know.”
“It is your cousin, Sibylla; John Massingbird.”
A moment’s pause. And then, clutching at the hand of Lionel—
“Who?” she shrieked.
“Hush, my dear. It is John Massingbird.”
“Not dead! Did he not die?”
“No. He recovered, when left, as was supposed, for dead. He is coming here to-morrow morning, Jan says.”
Sibylla let fall her hands. She staggered back to a pillar and leaned against it, her upturned face white in the starlight.
“Is—is—is Verner’s Pride yours or his?” she gasped in a low tone.
“It is his.”
“His! Neither yours nor mine?”
“It is only his, Sibylla.”
She raised her hands again; she began fighting with the air, as if she would beat off an imaginary John Massingbird. Another minute, and her laughter and her cries came forth together, shriek upon shriek. She was in strong hysterics. Lionel supported her, while Jan ran for water; and the gay company came flocking out of the lighted rooms to see.
People talk of a nine days’ wonder. But no nine days’ wonder has ever been heard or known, equal to that which fell on Deerham; which went booming to the very extremity of the county’s boundaries. Lionel Verner, the legitimate heir—it may so be said—the possessor of Verner’s Pride, was turned out of it to make room for an alien, resuscitated from the supposed dead.
Sailors tell us that the rats desert a sinking ship. Pseudo friends desert a falling house. You may revel in these friends in prosperity, but when adversity sets in, how they fall away! On the very day that John Massingbird arrived at Verner’s Pride, and it became known that not he, but Mrs. and Mr. Verner must leave it, the gay company gathered there dispersed. Dispersed with polite phrases, which went for nothing. They were so very sorry for the calamity, for Mr. and Mrs. Verner; if they could do anything to serve them they had only to be commanded. And then they left; never perhaps to meet again, even as acquaintances. It may be asked, what could they do? They could not invite them to a permanent home; saddle themselves with a charge of that sort; neither would such an invitation stand a chance of acceptance. It did not appear they could do anything; but their combined flight from the house, one after the other, did strike with a chill of mortification upon the nerves of Lionel Verner and his wife.