“Sibylla, allow me to request, nay, to insist, that when you have fault to find, or reproach to cast to me, you choose a moment when we are alone. If you have no care for what may be due to me and to yourself, you will do well to bear in mind that something is due to others. Now, then, tell me what you mean about Rachel Frost.”
“I won’t,” said Sibylla. “You are killing me,” and she burst into tears.
Oh, it was weary work!—weary work for him. Such a wife as this!
“In what way am I killing you?”
“Why do you leave me so much alone?”
“I have undertaken work, and I must do it. But, as to leaving you alone, when I am with you, you scarcely ever give me a civil word.”
“You are leaving me now—you are wanting to go to Verner’s Pride to-night,” she reiterated with strange inconsistency, considering that she had just insinuated he did not want to go there.
“I must go there, Sibylla. I have told you why; and I have told you truth. Again I ask you what you meant about Rachel Frost.”
Sibylla flung up her hands petulantly. “I won’t tell you, I say. And you can’t make me. I wish, I wish Fred had not died.”
She turned round on the sofa and buried her face in the cushions. Lionel, true to the line of conduct he had carved out for himself, to give her all possible token of respect and affection ever, whatever might be her provocation—and all the more true to it from the very consciousness that the love of his inmost heart grew less hers, more another’s, day by day, bent over her and spoke kindly. She flung back her hand in a repelling manner towards him, and maintained an obstinate silence. Lionel, sick and weary, at length withdrew, taking up the parchment.
How sick and weary, none, save himself, could know. Lucy Tempest had the tea before her, apparently ready, when he looked into the drawing-room.
“I am going on now to Verner’s Pride, Lucy. You can tell my mother so, should she ask after me when she returns. I may be late.”
“But you will take some tea, first?” cried Lucy, in a hasty tone. “You asked me to make it for you.”
He knew he had—asked her as an excuse to get her from the room.
“I don’t care for it,” he wearily answered.
“I am sure you are tired,” said Lucy. “When did you dine?”
“I have not dined. I have taken nothing since I left home this morning.”
“Oh!” She was hastening to the bell. Lionel stopped her, laying his hand upon her arm.
“I could not eat it, Lucy. Just one cup of tea, if you will.”
She, returned to the table, poured out the cup of tea, and he drank it standing.
“Shall I take Mrs. Verner up a cup?” asked Lucy. “Will she drink it, do you think?”
“Thank you, Lucy. It may do her head good. I think it aches much to-night.”
He turned, and departed. Lucy noticed that he had left the parchment behind him, and ran after him with it, catching him as he was about to close the hall door. She knew that all such business-looking papers went up to Verner’s Pride.