“I must be going,” said he quietly, moving from his standing-place with calmness. “Good-day to you.”
He shook hands with them both, amidst a great accession of sobs, and quitted the room. Running down the stairs at that moment, singing gaily a scrap of a merry song, came Sibylla, unconscious of his vicinity; indeed, of his presence in the house. She started when she saw him, and stopped in hesitation.
Lionel threw open the door of the empty dining-room, caught her arm and drew her into it—his bearing haughty, his gestures imperative. There they stood before each other, neither speaking for some moments. Lionel’s very lips were livid; and her rich wax-work colour went and came, and her clear blue eyes fell under the stern gaze of his.
“Is this true, which I have been obliged to hear?” was his first question.
She knew that she had acted ill. She knew that Lionel Verner deserved to have a better part played by him. She had always looked up to him—all the Wests had—as one superior in birth, rank, and station to herself. Altogether, the moment brought to her a great amount of shame and confusion.
“Answer me one question; I demand it of you,” exclaimed Lionel. “Have you ever mistaken my sentiments towards you in the least degree?”
“Have—I—I don’t know,” she faltered.
“No equivocation,” burst Lionel. “Have you not known that I loved you? that I was only waiting my uncle’s death to make you my wife?—Heaven forgive me that I should thus speak as though I had built upon it!”
Sibylla let fall some tears.
“Which have you loved?—all this while! Me?—or him?”
“Oh! don’t speak to me like that,” sobbed Sibylla. “He asked me to marry him, and—and—papa said yes.”
“I ask you,” said Lionel in a low voice, “which is it that you love?”
She did not answer. She stood before him the prettiest picture of distress imaginable; her hands clasped, her large blue eyes filled with tears, her shower of golden hair shading her burning cheeks.
“If you have been surprised or terrified into this engagement, loving him not, will you give him up for me?” tenderly whispered Lionel. “Not—you understand—if your love be his. In that case, I would not ask it. But, without reference to myself at all, I doubt—and I have my reasons for it—if Frederick Massingbird be worthy of you.”
Was she wavering in her own mind? She stole a glance upward—at his tall, fine form, his attractive face, its lineaments showing out in that moment, all the pride of the Verners. A pride that mingled with love.
Lionel bent to her—
“Sibylla, if you love him I have no more to say; if you love me, avow it, as I will then avow my love, my intentions, in the face of day. Reflect before you speak. It is a solemn moment—a moment which holds alike my destiny and yours in its hands.”