A pause. But for Lionel’s admirable disposition, how terribly he might have retorted upon her, knowing what he had learned that day.
“Did he tell you I had completed the roguery by pushing her into the pond?” he inquired.
“I don’t know. I don’t remember. Perhaps he did.”
“And—doubting it—you could marry me!” quietly remarked Lionel.
She made no answer.
“Let me set you right on that point once for all, then,” he continued. “I was innocent as you. I had nothing to do with it. Rachel and her father were held in too great respect by my uncle—nay, by me, I may add—for me to offer her anything but respect. You were misinformed, Sibylla.”
She laughed scornfully. “It is easy to say so.”
“As it was for Frederick Massingbird to say to you what he did.”
“If it came to the choice,” she retorted, “I’d rather believe him than you.”
Bitter aggravation lay in her tone, bitter aggravation in her gesture. Was Lionel tempted to forget himself?—to set her right? If so, he beat the temptation down. All men would not have been so forbearing.
“Sibylla, I have told you truth,” he simply said.
“Which is as much as to say that Fred told——” she was vehemently beginning when the words were stopped by the entrance of John Massingbird. John, caught in the shower near Deerham Court, made no scruple of running to it for shelter, and was in time to witness Sibylla’s angry tones and inflamed face.
What precisely happened Lionel could never afterwards recall. He remembered John’s free and easy salutation, “What’s the row?”—he remembered Sibylla’s torrent of words in answer. As little given to reticence or delicacy in the presence of her cousin, as she had been in that of Lucy Tempest, she renewed her accusation of her husband with regard to Rachel: she called on him—John—to bear testimony that Fred was truthful. And Lionel remembered little more until he saw Sibylla lying back gasping, the blood pouring from her mouth.
John Massingbird—perhaps in his eagerness to contradict her as much as in his regard to make known the truth—had answered her all too effectually before Lionel could stop him. Words that burned into the brain of Sibylla Verner, and turned the current of her life’s pulses.
It was her husband of that voyage, Frederick Massingbird, who had brought the evil upon Rachel, who had been with her by the pond that night.
As the words left John Massingbird’s lips, she rose up, and stood staring at him. Presently she essayed to speak, but not a sound issued from her drawn lips. Whether passion impeded her utterance, or startled dismay, or whether it may have been any physical impediment, it was evident that she could not get the words out.
Fighting her hands on the empty air, fighting for breath or for speech, so she remained for a passing space; and then the blood began to trickle from her mouth. The excitement had caused her to burst a blood-vessel.