“Not very,” replied Lionel. “The cold weather of this winter has tried her; has given her a cough. She will be better, I hope, when it comes in warm.”
“How do you feel, my dear?” inquired the doctor, apparently looking at his coffee-cup instead of Sibylla. “Weak here?”—touching his chest.
“Not more weak than I had used to be,” she answered in a cross tone, as if the confession that she did feel weak was not pleasant to her. “There’s nothing the matter with me, papa; only Lionel makes a fuss.”
“Nay, Sibylla,” interposed Lionel good-humouredly, “I leave that to you and Jan.”
“You would like to make papa believe you don’t make a fuss!” she cried, in a most resentful tone; “when you know, not two days ago, you wanted to prevent my going to the party at Mrs. Bitterworth’s!”
“I plead guilty to that,” said Lionel. “It was a most inclement night, a cold, raw fog that penetrated everywhere, carriages and all else, and I wished you not to venture out in it. The doing so increased your cough.”
“Mr. Verner was right,” said Dr. West. “Night fogs are pernicious to a degree, where the chest and lungs are delicate. You should not stir out of the house, Sibylla, after sunset. Now don’t interrupt, my dear. Let the carriage be ever so closely shut, it makes no difference. There is the change of atmosphere from the warm room to the cold carriage; there are the draughts of air in passing to it. You must not do it, Sibylla.”
“Do you mean to say, papa, that I am to live like a hermit?—never to go out?” she returned, her bosom heaving with vexation. “It is not much visiting that I have had, goodness knows, since quitting Verner’s Pride: if I am to give it all up, you may as well put me out of the world. As good be dead!”
“Sibylla,” said the doctor, more impressively than he often spoke, “I know your constitution, and I know pretty well what you can and what you can not bear. Don’t attempt to stir out after sunset again. Should you get stronger it will be a different matter. At present it must not be. Will you remember this, Mr. Verner?”
“If my wife will allow me to remember it,” he said, bending to Sibylla with a kindly tone. “My will was good to keep her in, all this winter; but she would not be kept.”
“What has Jan been telling you about me, papa? It is a shame of him! I am not ill.”
“Mr. Jan has told me very little indeed of your ailments,” replied Dr. West. “He says you are not strong; he says you are fretful, irritable. My dear, this arises from your state of health.”
“I have thought so, too,” said Lionel, speaking impulsively. Many and many a time, latterly, when she had nearly tired out his heart and his patience, had he been willing to find an excuse for her still—that her illness of body caused in her the irritation of mind. Or, at any rate, greatly increased it.
An eye, far less experienced than that of Dr. West—who, whatever may have been his other shortcomings, was clever in his profession—could have seen at a glance how weak Sibylla was. She wore an evening dress of white muslin, its body very low and its sleeves very short; her chest was painfully thin, and every breath she took lifted it ominously: she seemed to be breathing outside as well as in. The doctor touched the muslin.