“No, I don’t think I’m better. I am so weak here.”
She touched her chest as she spoke. Lucy, perhaps somewhat at a loss what to say, stood in silence.
“I have been very cross to you sometimes, Lucy,” she resumed. “I meant nothing. I used to feel vexed with everybody, and said foolish things without meaning it. It was so cruel to be turned from Verner’s Pride, and it made me unhappy.”
“Indeed I do not think anything about it,” replied Lucy, the tears rising to her eyes in her forgiving tenderness. “I know how ill you must have felt. I used to feel that I should like to help you to bear the pain and the sorrow.”
Sibylla lay panting. Lucy remained as she was; Lionel also. Presently she, Sibylla, glanced at Lucy.
“I wish you’d kiss me.”
Lucy, unnerved by the words, bent closer to her, a shower of tears falling from her eyes on Sibylla’s face.
“If I could but save her life for you!” she murmured to Lionel, glancing up at him through her tears as she rose from the embrace. And she saw that Lionel’s eyes were as wet as hers.
And now there was a commotion outside. Sounds, as of talking and wailing and crying, were heard. Little need to tell Lionel that they came from the Misses West; he recognised the voices; and Lucy glided forward to open the door.
Poor ladies! They were wont to say ever after that their absence had happened on purpose. Mortified at being ignored in Miss Hautley’s invitations, they had made a little plan to get out of Deerham. An old friend in Heartburg had repeatedly pressed them to dine there and remain for the night, and they determined to avail themselves of the invitation this very day of the fete at Deerham Hall. It would be pleasant to have to say to inquisitive friends, “We could not attend it; we were engaged to Heartburg.” Many a lady, of more account in the world than Deborah or Amilly West, has resorted to a less innocent ruse to conceal an offered slight. Jan had despatched Master Cheese by the new railway that morning with the information of Sibylla’s illness; and here they were back again, full of grief, of consternation, and ready to show it in their demonstrative way.
Lionel hastened out to them, a Hush—sh! upon his tongue. He caught hold of them as they were hastening in.
“Yes; but not like this. Be still, for her sake.”
Deborah looked at his pale face, reading it aright. “Is she so ill as tha’?” she gasped. “Is there no hope?”
He only shook his head. “Whatever you do, preserve a calm demeanour before her. We must keep her in tranquillity.”
“Master Cheese says she went to the ball—and danced,” said Deborah. “Mr. Verner, how could you allow it?”
“She did go,” he answered. “It was no fault of mine.”
Heavier footsteps up the stairs now. They were those of the physician, who had come by the train which had brought the Misses West. He, Dr. Hayes, entered the room, and they stole in after him; Lionel followed; Jan came bursting in, and made another; and Lucy remained outside.