July 26, 1862.]
And there he stopped. In turning his eyes towards his mother as he spoke of her, he saw that she had fainted away.
Jan was sent for, in all haste. Dr. West was Lady Verner’s medical adviser; but a feeling in Decima’s heart at the moment prevented her summoning him. Jan arrived, on the run: the servant had told him she was not sure but her lady was dying.
Lady Verner had revived then; was better; and was re-entering upon the grievance which had so affected her. “What could it have been?” wondered Jan, who knew his mother was not subject to fainting fits.
“Ask your brother, there, what it was,” resentfully spoke Lady Verner. “He told me he was going to marry Sibylla West.”
“Law!” uttered Jan.
Lionel stood; haughty, impassive; his lips curling, his figure drawn to its full height. He would not reproach his mother by so much as a word, but the course she was taking, in thus proclaiming his affairs to the world, hurt him in no measured degree.
“I don’t like her,” said Jan. “Deborah and Amilly are not much, but I’d rather have the two, than Sibylla.”
“Jan,” said Lionel, suppressing his temper, “your opinion was not asked.”
Jan sat down on the arm of the sofa, his great legs dangling. “Sibylla can’t marry two,” said he.
“Will you be quiet, Jan?” said Lionel. “You have no right to interfere. You shall not interfere.”
“Gracious, Lionel, I don’t want to interfere,” returned Jan, simply. “Sibylla’s going to marry Fred Massingbird.”
“Will you be quiet?” reiterated Lionel, his brow flushing scarlet.
“I’ll be quiet,” said Jan, with composure. “You can go and ask her for yourself. It has all been settled this afternoon; not ten minutes ago. Fred’s going out to Australia, and Sibylla’s going with him, and Deborah and Amilly are crying their eyes out, at the thought of parting with her.”
Lady Verner looked up at Jan, an expression of eager hope on her face. She could have kissed him a thousand times. Lionel—Lionel took his hat and walked out.
Believing it? No. The temptation to chastise Jan was growing great, and he deemed it well to remove himself out of it. Jan was right, however.
Much to the surprise of Frederick Massingbird, very much to the surprise of Sibylla, Dr. West not only gave his consent to the marriage as soon as asked, but urged it on. If Fred must depart in a week, why they could be married in a week, he said. Sibylla was thunderstruck: Miss Deborah and Miss Amilly gave vent to a few hysterical shrieks, and hinted about the wedding clothes and the outfit. That could be got together in a day, was the reply of Dr. West, and they were too much astonished to venture to say it could not.
“You told me to wait for Lionel Verner,” whispered Sibylla, when she and her father were alone, as she stood before him, trembling. In her mind’s eye she saw Verner’s Pride slipping from her: and it gave her chagrin, in spite of her love for Fred Massingbird.
Dr. West leaned forward and whispered a few words in her ear. She started violently, she coloured crimson. “Papa!”
“It is true,” nodded the doctor.
As Lionel passed the house on his way from Deerham Court to Verner’s Pride, he turned into it, led by a powerful impulse. He did not believe Jan, but the words had made him feel twitchings of uneasiness. Fred Massingbird had gone then, and the doctor was out. Lionel looked into the drawing-room, and there found the two elder Miss Wests, each dissolved in a copious shower of tears. So far, Jan’s words were borne out. A sharp spasm shot across his heart.
“You are in grief,” he said, advancing to them. “What is the cause?”
“The most dreadful voyage for her!” ejaculated Miss Deborah. “The ship may go to the bottom before it gets there.”
“And not so much as time to think of proper things for her, let alone the getting them!” sobbed Miss Amilly. “It’s all a confused mass in my mind together: bonnets, and gowns, and veils, and wreaths, and trunks, and petticoats, and calico things for the voyage!”
Lionel felt his lips grow pale. They were too much engrossed to notice him; nevertheless, he covered his face with his hand as he stood by the mantlepiece. “Where’s she going?” he quietly asked.
“To Melbourne with Fred,” said Miss Deborah. “Fred’s going out to see about the money and gold John left, and to realise it. They are not to stay: it will only be the voyage out and home. But, if she should be taken ill out there, and die! Her sisters died, Mr. Lionel. Fred is her cousin, too. Better have married one not of kin.”
They talked on. Lionel heard them not. After the revelation, that she was about to marry, all else seemed a chaos. But he was one who could control his feelings.
“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 light 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,