“He is glad to be left out,” continued Lionel. “It saves him the trouble of a refusal. I don’t think any ball would get John Massingbird to it; unless he could be received in what he calls his diggings’ toggery.”
“I’d not have gone with him; I don’t like him well enough,” resentfully spoke Sibylla; “but as he is not going, he can let me have the loan of my own carriage—at least, the carriage that was my own. I dislike those old, hired things.”
The words struck on Lionel like a knell. He foresaw trouble. “Sibylla,” he gravely said, “I have been speaking to Jan. He——”
“Yes, you have!” she vehemently interrupted, her pent-up anger bursting forth. “You went to him, and sent him here, and told him what to say—all on purpose to cross me. It is wicked of you to be so jealous of my having a little pleasure.”
“Jealous of—I don’t understand you, Sibylla.”
“You won’t understand me, you mean. Never mind, never mind!”
“Sibylla,” he said, bending his head slightly towards her, and speaking in low, persuasive accents, “I cannot let you go to-morrow night. If I cared for you less, I might suffer you to risk it. I have given up going, and——”
“You never meant to go,” she interrupted.
“Yes, I did; to please my mother. But that is of no consequence——”
“I tell you, you never meant to go, Lionel Verner!” she passionately burst forth, her cheeks flaming. “You are stopping at home on purpose to be with Lucy Tempest—an arranged plan between you and her. Her society is more to you than any you’d find at Deerham Hall.”
Lucy looked up with a start—a sort of shiver—her sweet, brown eyes open with innocent wonder. Then the full sense of the words appeared to penetrate to her, and her face grew hot with a glowing, scarlet flush. She said nothing. She rose quietly, not hurriedly, took up the book she had put on the table, and quietly left the room.
Lionel’s face was glowing, too—glowing with the red blood of indignation. He bit his lips for calmness, leaving the mark there for hours. He strove manfully with his angry spirit: it was rising up to open rebellion. A minute, and the composure of self-control came to him. He stood before his wife, his arms folded.
“You are my wife,” he said. “I am bound to defend, to excuse you so far as I may; but these insults to Lucy Tempest I cannot excuse. She is the daughter of my dead father’s dearest friend; she is living here under the protection of my mother, and it is incumbent upon me to put a stop to these scenes, so far as she is concerned. If I cannot do it in one way, I must in another.”
“You know she and you would like to stay at home together—and get the rest of us out.”
“Be silent!” he said in a sterner tone than he had ever used to her. “You cannot reflect upon what you are saying. Accuse me as you please; I will bear it patiently, if I can; but Miss Tempest must be spared. You know how utterly unfounded are such thoughts; you know that she is refined, gentle, single-hearted; that all her thoughts to you, as my wife, are those of friendship and kindness. What would my mother think were she to hear this?”