He was now, with his wife, a burden upon his mother; a burden she could ill afford. Lady Verner was somewhat embarrassed in her own means, and she was preparing to reduce her establishment to the size that it used to be in her grumbling days. If Lionel had but been free! free from debt and difficulty! he would have gone out into the world and put his shoulder to the wheel.
Claims had poured in upon him without end. Besides the obligations he already knew of, not a day passed but the post brought him from London outstanding accounts, for debts contracted by his wife, with demands for their speedy settlement. Mr. Verner of Verner’s Pride might not have been troubled with these accounts for years, had his wife so managed: but Mr. Verner, turned from Verner’s Pride, a—it is an ugly word, but expressive of the truth—a pauper, found the demands come pouring thick and threefold upon his head. It was of no use to reproach Sibylla; of no use even to speak, save to ask “Is such-and-such a bill a just claim?” Any approach to such topics was the signal for an unseemly burst of passion on her part; or for a fit of hysterics, in which fashionable affectation Sibylla had lately become an adept. She tried Lionel terribly—worse than tongue can tell or pen can write. There was no social confidential intercourse. Lionel could not go to her for sympathy, for counsel, or for comfort. If he attempted to talk over any plans for the future, for the immediate future; what they could do, what they could not; what might be best, what worst; she met him with the frivolousness of a child, or with a sullen reproach that he “did nothing but worry her.” For any purposes of companionship, his wife was a nonentity; far better that he had been without one. She made his whole life a penance; she betrayed the frivolous folly of her nature ten times a day; she betrayed her pettish temper, her want of self-control, dyeing Lionel’s face of a blood-red. He felt ashamed for her; he felt doubly ashamed for himself—that his mother, that Lucy Tempest should at last become aware what sort of a wife he had taken to his bosom, what description of wedded life was his.
What was he to do for a living? The only thing that appeared to be open to him was to endeavour to get some sort of a situation, where, by means of the hands or the head, he might earn a competence. And yet, to do this, it was necessary to be free from the danger of arrest. He went about in dread of it. Were he to show himself in London he felt sure that not an hour would pass, but he would be sued and taken. If his country creditors accorded him forbearance, his town ones would not. Any fond hope that he had formerly entertained of studying for the Bar, was not available now. He had neither the means nor the time to give to it—the time for study ere remuneration should come. Occasionally a thought would cross him that some friend or other of his prosperity might procure for him a government