A few words—I don’t mean angry ones—passed between him and Lionel on the night before the wedding. Lionel had not condescended to speak to Frederick Massingbird upon the subject at all; Sibylla had refused him for the other of her own free will; and there he let it rest. But the evening previous to the marriage day, Lionel appeared strangely troubled; indecisive, anxious, as if he were debating some question with himself. Suddenly he went straight up to Frederick Massingbird’s chamber, who was deep in the business of packing, as his unfortunate brother John had been, not two short years before.
“I wish to speak to you,” he began. “I have thought of doing so these several days past, but have hesitated, for you may dream that it is no business of mine. However, I cannot get it off my mind that it may be my duty; and I have come to do it.”
Frederick Massingbird was half buried amid piles of things, but he turned round at this strange address and looked at Lionel.
“Is there nothing on your conscience that should prevent your marrying that girl?” gravely asked Lionel.
“Do you want her left for yourself?” was Fred’s answer, after a prolonged stare.
Lionel flushed to his very temples. He controlled the hasty retort that rose to his tongue. “I came here not to speak in any one’s interest but hers. Were she free as air this moment—were she to come to my feet and say, ‘Let me be your wife,’ I should tell her that the whole world was before her to choose from, save myself. She can never again be anything to me. No. I speak for her alone. She is marrying you in all confidence. Are you worthy of her?”
“What on earth do you mean?” cried Frederick Massingbird.
“If there be any sin upon your conscience that ought to prevent your taking her, or any confiding girl, to your heart, as wife, reflect whether you should ignore it. The consequences may come home later; and then what would be her position?”
“I have no sin upon my conscience, Poor John, perhaps, had plenty of it. I do not understand you, Lionel Verner.”
“On your sacred word?”
“On my word, and honour, too.”
“Then forgive me,” was the ready reply of Lionel. And he held out his hand with frankness to Frederick Massingbird.
A TROUBLED MIND.
Just one fortnight from the very day that witnessed the sailing of Frederick Massingbird and his wife, Mr. Verner was taken alarmingly ill. Fred, in his soliloquy that afternoon, when you saw him upon the gate of the ploughed field,—“Old stepfather’s wiry yet, and may last an age,”—had certainly not been assisted with the gift of prevision, for there was no doubt that Mr. Verner’s time to die had now come.