Democracy An American Novel by Henry Adams
The next morning Carrington called at the Department and announced his acceptance of the post. He was told that his instructions would be ready in about a fortnight, and that he would be expected to start as soon as he received them; in the meanwhile, he must devote himself to the study of a mass of papers in the Department. There was no trifling allowable here.
Carrington had to set himself vigorously to work. This did not, however, prevent him from keeping his appointment with Sybil, and at four o'clock they started together, passing out into the quiet shadows of Rock Creek, and seeking still lanes through the woods where their horses walked side by side, and they themselves could talk without the risk of criticism from curious eyes. It was the afternoon of one of those sultry and lowering spring days when life germinates rapidly, but as yet gives no sign, except perhaps some new leaf or flower pushing its soft head up against the dead leaves that have sheltered it. The two riders had something of the same sensation, as though the leafless woods and the laurel thickets, the warm, moist air and the low clouds, were a protection and a soft shelter. Somewhat to Carrington's surprise, he found that it was pleasant to have Sybil's company. He felt towards her as to a sister--a favourite sister.
She at once attacked him for abandoning her and breaking his treaty so lately made, and he tried to gain her sympathy by saying that if she knew how much he was troubled, she would forgive him. Then when Sybil asked whether he really must go and leave her without any friend whom she could speak to, his feelings got the better of him: he could not resist the temptation to confide all his troubles in her, since there was no one else in whom he could confide. He told her plainly that he was in love with her sister.
"You say that love is nonsense, Miss Ross. I tell you it is no such thing.
For weeks and months it is a steady physical pain, an ache about the heart, never leaving one, by night or by day; a long strain on one's nerves like toothache or rheumatism, not intolerable at any one instant, but exhausting by its steady drain on the strength. It is a disease to be borne with patience, like any other nervous complaint, and to be treated with counter-irritants. My trip to Mexico will be good for it, but that is not the reason why I must go."
Then he told her all his private circumstances; the ruin which the war had brought on him and his family; how, of his two brothers, one had survived the war only to die at home, a mere wreck of disease, privation, and wounds; the other had been shot by his side, and bled slowly to death in his arms during the awful carnage in the Wilderness; how his mother and two sisters were struggling for a bare subsistence on a wretched Virginian farm, and how all his exertions barely kept them from beggary.
"You have no conception of the poverty to which our southern women are reduced since the war," said he; "they are many of them literally without clothes or bread." The fee he should earn by going to Mexico would double his income this year. Could he refuse? Had he a right to refuse? And poor Carrington added, with a groan, that if he alone were in question, he would sooner be shot than go.
Sybil listened with tears in her eyes. She never before had seen a man show suffering. The misery she had known in life had been more or less veiled to her and softened by falling on older and friendly shoulders. She now got for the first time a clear view of Carrington, apart from the quiet exterior in which the man was hidden. She felt quite sure, by a sudden flash of feminine inspiration, that the curious look of patient endurance on his face was the work of a single night when he had held his brother in his arms, and knew that the blood was draining drop by drop from his side, in the dense, tangled woods, beyond the reach of help, hour after hour, till the voice failed and the limbs grew stiff and cold. When he had finished his story, she was afraid to speak. She did not know how to show her sympathy, and she could not bear to seem unsympathetic. In her embarrassment she fairly broke down and could only dry her eyes in silence.
Having once got this weight of confidence off his mind, Carrington felt comparatively gay and was ready to make the best of things. He laughed at himself to drive away the tears of his pretty companion, and obliged her to take a solemn pledge never to betray him. "Of course your sister knows it all," he said; "but she must never know that I told you, and I never would tell any one but you."
Sybil promised faithfully to keep his confidence to herself, and she went on to defend her sister.
"You must not blame Madeleine," said she; "if you knew as well as I do what she has been through, you would not think her cold. You do know how suddenly her husband died, after only one day's illness, and what a nice fellow he was. She was very fond of him, and his death seemed to stun her. We hardly knew what to make of it, she was so quiet and natural. Then just a week later her little child died of diphtheria, suffering horribly, and she wild with despair because she could not relieve it. After that, she was almost insane; indeed, I have always thought she was quite insane for a time. I know she was excessively violent and wanted to kill herself, and I never heard any one rave as she did about religion and resignation and God. After a few weeks she became quiet and stupid and went about like a machine; and at last she got over it, but has never been what she was before. You know she was a rather fast New York girl before she married, and cared no more about politics and philanthropy than I do. It was a very late thing, all this stuff. But she is not really hard, though she may seem so. It is all on the surface. I always know when she is thinking about her husband or child, because her face gets rigid; she looks then as she used to look after her child died, as though she didn't care what became of her and she would just as lieve kill herself as not. I don't think she will ever let herself love any one again. She has a horror of it. She is much more likely to go in for ambition, or duty, or self-sacrifice."
They rode on for a while in silence, Carrington perplexed by the problem how two harmless people such as Madeleine and he could have been made by a beneficent Providence the sport of such cruel tortures; and Sybil equally interested in thinking what sort of a brother-in-law Carrington would make; on the whole, she thought she liked him better as he was. The silence was only broken by Carrington's bringing the conversation back to its starting-point: "Something must be done to keep your sister out of Ratcliffe's power. I have thought about it till I am tired. Can you make no suggestion?"
No! Sybil was helpless and dreadfully alarmed. Mr. Ratcliffe came to the house as often as he could, and seemed to tell Madeleine everything that was going on in politics, and ask her advice, and Madeleine did not discourage him. "I do believe she likes it, and thinks she can do some good by it. I don't dare speak to her about it. She thinks me a child still, and treats me as though I were fifteen. What can I do?"
Carrington said he had thought of speaking to Mrs. Lee himself, but he did not know what to say, and if he offended her, he might drive her directly into Ratcliffe's arms. But Sybil thought she would not be offended if he went to work in the right way. "She will stand more from you than from any one else. Tell her openly that you--that you love her," said Sybil with a burst of desperate courage; "she can't take offence at that; and then you can say almost anything."
Carrington looked at Sybil with more admiration than he had ever expected to feel for her, and began to think that he might do worse than to put himself under her orders. After all, she had some practical sense, and what was more to the point, she was handsomer than ever, as she sat erect on her horse, the rich colour rushing up under the warm skin, at the impropriety of her speech. "You are certainly right," said he; "after all, I have nothing to lose. Whether she marries Ratcliffe or not, she will never marry me, I suppose."
This speech was a cowardly attempt to beg encouragement from Sybil, and met with the fate it deserved, for Sybil, highly flattered at Carrington's implied praise, and bold as a lioness now that it was Carrington's fingers, and not her own, that were to go into the fire, gave him on the spot a feminine view of the situation that did not encourage his hopes. She plainly said that men seemed to take leave of their senses as soon as women were concerned; for her part, she could not understand what there was in any woman to make such a fuss about; she thought most women were horrid; men were ever so much nicer; "and as for Madeleine, whom all of you are ready to cut each other's throats about, she's a dear, good sister, as good as gold, and I love her with all my heart, but you wouldn't like her, any of you, if you married her; she has always had her own way, and she could not help taking it; she never could learn to take yours; both of you would be unhappy in a week; and as for that old Mr. Ratcliffe, she would make his life a burden--and I hope she will," concluded Sybil with a spiteful little explosion of hatred.
Carrington could not help being amused by Sybil's way of dealing with affairs of the heart. Emboldened by encouragement, she went on to attack him pitilessly for going down on his knees before her sister, "just as though you were not as good as she is," and openly avowed that, if she were a man, she would at least have some pride. Men like this kind of punishment.
Carrington did not attempt to defend himself; he even courted Sybil's attack. They both enjoyed their ride through the bare woods, by the rippling spring streams, under the languid breath of the moist south wind. It was a small idyll, all the more pleasant because there was gloom before and behind it. Sybil's irrepressible gaiety made Carrington doubt whether, after all, life need be so serious a matter. She had animal spirits in plenty, and it needed an effort for her to keep them down, while Carrington's spirits were nearly exhausted after twenty years of strain, and he required a greater effort to hold himself up. There was every reason why he should be grateful to Sybil for lending to him from her superfluity. He enjoyed being laughed at by her. Suppose Madeleine Lee did refuse to marry him! What of it?
"Pooh!" said Sybil; "you men are all just alike. How can you be so silly?
Madeleine and you would be intolerable together. Do find some one who won't be solemn!"
They laid out their little plot against Madeleine and elaborated it carefully, both as to what Carrington should say and how he should say it, for Sybil asserted that men were too stupid to be trusted even in making a declaration of love, and must be taught, like little children to say their prayers. Carrington enjoyed being taught how to make a declaration of love.
He did not ask where Sybil had learned so much about men's stupidity. He thought perhaps Schneidekoupon could have thrown light on the subject. At all events, they were so busily occupied with their schemes and lessons, that they did not-reach home till Madeleine had become anxious lest they had met with some accident. The long dusk had become darkness before she heard the clatter of hoofs on the asphalt pavement, and she went down to the door to scold them for their delay. Sybil only laughed at her, and said it was all Mr. Carrington's fault: he had lost his way, and she had been forced to find it for him.
Ten days more passed before their plan was carried into effect. April had come. Carrington's work was completed and he was ready to start on his journey. Then at last he appeared one evening at Mrs. Lee's at the very moment when Sybil, as chance would have it, was going out to pass an hour or two with her friend Victoria Dare a few doors away. Carrington felt a little ashamed as she went. This kind of conspiracy behind Mrs. Lee's back was not to his taste.
He resolutely sat down, and plunged at once into his subject. He was almost ready to go, he said; he had nearly completed his work in the Department, and he was assured that his instructions and papers would be ready in two days more; he might not have another chance to see Mrs. Lee so quietly again, and he wanted to take his leave now, for this was what lay most heavily on his mind; he should have gone willingly and gladly if it had not been for uneasiness about her; and yet he had till now been afraid to speak openly on the subject. Here he paused for a moment as though to invite some reply.
Madeleine laid down her work with a look of regret though not of annoyance, and said frankly and instantly that he had been too good a friend to allow of her taking offence at anything he could say; she would not pretend to misunderstand him. "My affairs," she added with a shade of bitterness, "seem to have become public property, and I would rather have some voice in discussing them myself than to know they are discussed behind my back."
This was a sharp thrust at the very outset, but Carrington turned it aside and went quietly on:
"You are frank and loyal, as you always are. I will be so too. I can't help being so. For months I have had no other pleasure than in being near you.
For the first time in my life I have known what it is to forget my own affairs in loving a woman who seems to me without a fault, and for one solitary word from whom I would give all I have in life, and perhaps itself."
Madeleine flushed and bent towards him with an earnestness of manner that repeated itself in her tone.
"Mr. Carrington, I am the best friend you have on earth. One of these days you will thank me with your whole soul for refusing to listen to you now.
You do not know how much misery I am saving you. I have no heart to give.
You want a young, fresh life to help yours; a gay, lively temperament to enliven your despondency; some one still young enough to absorb herself in you and make all her existence yours. I could not do it. I can give you nothing. I have done my best to persuade myself that some day I might begin life again with the old hopes and feelings, but it is no use. The fire is burned out. If you married me, you would destroy yourself You would wake up some day, and find the universe dust and ashes."
Carrington listened in silence. He made no attempt to interrupt or to contradict her. Only at the end he said with a little bitterness: "My own life is worth so much to the world and to me, that I suppose it would be wrong to risk it on such a venture; but I would risk it, nevertheless, if you gave me the chance. Do you think me wicked for tempting Providence? I do not mean to annoy you with entreaties. I have a little pride left, and a great deal of respect for you. Yet I think, in spite of all you have said or can say, that one disappointed life may be as able to find happiness and repose in another, as to get them by sucking the young life-blood of a fresh soul."
To this speech, which was unusually figurative for Carrington, Mrs. Lee could find no ready answer. She could only reply that Carrington's life was worth quite as much as his neighbour's, and that it was worth so much to her, if not to himself, that she would not let him wreck it.
Carrington went on: "Forgive my talking in this way. I do not mean to complain. I shall always love you just as much, whether you care for me or not, because you are the only woman I have ever met, or am ever likely to meet, who seems to me perfect."
If this was Sybil's teaching, she had made the best of her time.
Carrington's tone and words pierced through all Mrs. Lee's armour as though they were pointed with the most ingenious cruelty, and designed to torture her. She felt hard and small before him. Life for life, his had been, and was now, far less bright than hers, yet he was her superior. He sat there, a true man, carrying his burden calmly, quietly, without complaint, ready to face the next shock of life with the same endurance he had shown against the rest. And he thought her perfect! She felt humiliated that any brave man should say to her face that he thought her perfect! She! perfect! In her contrition she was half ready to go down at his feet and confess her sins; her hysterical dread of sorrow and suffering, her narrow sympathies, her feeble faith, her miserable selfishness, her abject cowardice. Every nerve in her body tingled with shame when she thought what a miserable fraud she was; what a mass of pretensions unfounded, of deceit ingrained. She was ready to hide her face in her hands. She was disgusted, outraged with her own image as she saw it, contrasted with Carrington's single word: Perfect!
Nor was this the worst. Carrington was not the first man who had thought her perfect. To hear this word suddenly used again, which had never been uttered to her before except by lips now dead and gone, made her brain reel. She seemed to hear her husband once more telling her that she was perfect. Yet against this torture, she had a better defence. She had long since hardened herself to bear these recollections, and they steadied and strengthened her.
She had been called perfect before now, and what had come of it? Two graves, and a broken life! She drew herself up with a face now grown quite pale and rigid. In reply to Carrington, she said not a word, but only shook her head slightly without looking at him.
He went on: "After all, it is not my own happiness I am thinking of but yours. I never was vain enough to think that I was worth your love, or that I could ever win it. Your happiness is another thing. I care so much for that as to make me dread going away, for fear that you may yet find yourself entangled in this wretched political life here, when, perhaps if I stayed, I might be of some use."
"Do you really think, then, that I am going to fall a victim to Mr.
Ratcliffe?" asked Madeleine, with a cold smile.
"Why not?" replied Carrington, in a similar tone. "He can put forward a strong claim to your sympathy and help, if not to your love. He can offer you a great field of usefulness which you want. He has been very faithful to you. Are you quite sure that even now you can refuse him without his complaining that you have trifled with him?"
"And are you quite sure," added Mrs. Lee, evasively, "that you have not been judging him much too harshly? I think I know him better than you. He has many good qualities, and some high ones. What harm can he do me? Supposing even that he did succeed in persuading me that my life could be best used in helping his, why should I be afraid of it?"
"You and I," said Carrington, "are wide apart in our estimates of Mr.
Ratcliffe. To you, of course, he shows his best side. He is on his good behaviour, and knows that any false step will ruin him. I see in him only a coarse, selfish, unprincipled politician, who would either drag you down to his own level, or, what is more likely, would very soon disgust you and make your life a wretched self-immolation before his vulgar ambition, or compel you to leave him. In either case you would be the victim. You cannot afford to make another false start in life. Reject me! I have not a word to say against it. But be on your guard against giving your existence up to him."
"Why do you think so ill of Mr. Ratcliffe?" asked Madeleine; "he always speaks highly of you. Do you know anything against him that the world does not?"
"His public acts are enough to satisfy me," replied Carrington, evading a part of the question. "You know that I have never had but one opinion about him."
There was a pause in the conversation. Both parties felt that as yet no good had come of it. At length Madeleine asked, "What would you have me do? Is it a pledge you want that I will under no circumstances marry Mr. Ratcliffe?"
"Certainly not," was the answer; "you know me better than to think I would ask that. I only want you to take time and keep out of his influence until your mind is fairly made up. A year hence I feel certain that you will think of him as I do."
"Then you will allow me to marry him if I find that you are mistaken," said Mrs. Lee, with a marked tone of sarcasm.
Carrington looked annoyed, but he answered quietly, "What I fear is his influence here and now. What I would like to see you do is this: go north a month earlier than you intended, and without giving him time to act. If I were sure you were safely in Newport, I should feel no anxiety."
"You seem to have as bad an opinion of Washington as Mr. Gore," said Madeleine, with a contemptuous smile. "He gave me the same advice, though he was afraid to tell me why. I am not a child. I am thirty years old, and have seen something of the world. I am not afraid, like Mr. Gore, of Washington malaria, or, like you, of Mr. Ratcliffe's influence. If I fall a victim I shall deserve my fate, and certainly I shall have no cause to complain of my friends. They have given me advice enough for a lifetime."
Carrington's face darkened with a deeper shade of regret. The turn which the conversation had taken was precisely what he had expected, and both Sybil and he had agreed that Madeleine would probably answer just in this way.
Nevertheless, he could not but feel acutely the harm he was doing to his own interests, and it was only by a sheer effort of the will that he forced himself to a last and more earnest attack.
"I know it is an impertinence," he said; "I wish it were in my power to show how much it costs me to offend you. This is the first time you ever had occasion to be offended. If I were to yield to the fear of your anger and were to hold my tongue now, and by any chance you were to wreck your life on this rock, I should never forgive myself the cowardice. I should always think I might have done something to prevent it. This is probably the last time I shall have the chance to talk openly with you, and I implore you to listen to me. I want nothing for myself If I knew I should never see you again, I would still say the same thing. Leave Washington! Leave it now!
--at once! --without giving more than twenty-four hours' notice! Leave it without letting Mr. Ratcliffe see you again in private! Come back next winter if you please, and then accept him if you think proper. I only pray you to think long about it and decide when you are not here."
Madeleine's eyes flashed, and she threw aside her embroidery with an impatient gesture: "No! Mr. Carrington! I will not be dictated to! I will carry out my own plans! I do not mean to marry Mr. Ratcliffe. If I had meant it, I should have done it before now. But I will not run away from him or from myself. It would be unladylike, undignified, cowardly."
Carrington could say no more. He had come to the end of his lesson. A long silence ensued and then he rose to go. "Are you angry with me?" said she in a softer tone.
"I ought to ask that question," said he. "Can you forgive me? I am afraid not. No man can say to a woman what I have said to you, and be quite forgiven. You will never think of me again as you would have done if I had not spoken. I knew that before I did it. As for me, I can only go on with my old life. It is not gay, and will not be the gayer for our talk to-night."
Madeleine relented a little: "Friendships like ours are not so easily broken," she said. "Do not do me another injustice. You will see me again before you go?"
He assented and bade good-night. Mrs. Lee, weary and disturbed in mind, hastened to her room. "When Miss Sybil comes in, tell her that I am not very well, and have gone to bed," were her instructions to her maid, and Sybil thought she knew the cause of this headache.
But before Carrington's departure he had one more ride with Sybil, and reported to her the result of the interview, at which both of them confessed themselves much depressed. Carrington expressed some hope that Madeleine meant, after a sort, to give a kind of pledge by saying that she had no intention of marrying Mr. Ratcliffe, but Sybil shook her head emphatically:
"How can a woman tell whether she is going to accept a man until she is asked?" said she with entire confidence, as though she were stating the simplest fact in the world. Carrington looked puzzled, and ventured to ask whether women did not generally make up their minds beforehand on such an interesting point; but Sybil overwhelmed him with contempt: "What good will they do by making up their minds, I should like to know? of course they would go and do the opposite. Sensible women don't pretend to make up their minds, Mr. Carrington. But you men are so stupid, and you can't understand in the least."
Carrington gave it up, and went back to his stale question: Could Sybil suggest any other resource? and Sybil sadly confessed that she could not. So far as she could see, they must trust to luck, and she thought it was cruel tor Mr. Carrington to go away and leave her alone without help. He had promised to prevent the marriage.
"One thing more I mean to do," said Carrington: "and here everything will depend on your courage and nerve. You may depend upon it that Mr. Ratcliffe will offer himself before you go north. He does not suspect you of making trouble, and he will not think about you in any way if you let him alone and keep quiet. When he does offer himself you will know it; at least your sister will tell you if she has accepted him. If she refuses him point blank, you will have nothing to do but to keep her steady. If you see her hesitating, you must break in at any cost, and use all your influence to stop her. Be bold, then, and do your best. If everything fails and she still clings to him, I must play my last card, or rather you must play it for me.
I shall leave with you a sealed letter which you are to give her if everything else fails. Do it before she sees Ratcliffe a second time. See that she reads it and, if necessary, make her read it, no matter when or where. No one else must know that it exists, and you must take as much care of it as though it were a diamond. You are not to know what is in it; it must be a complete secret. Do you understand?"
Sybil thought she did, but her heart sank. "When shall you give me this letter?" she asked.
"The evening before I start, when I come to bid good-bye; probably next Sunday. This letter is our last hope. If, after reading that, she does not give him up, you will have to pack your trunk, my dear Sybil, and find a new home, for you can never live with them."
He had never before called her by her first name, and it pleased her to hear it now, though she generally had a strong objection to such familiarities.
"Oh, I wish you were not going!" she exclaimed tearfully. "What shall I do when you are gone?"
At this pitiful appeal, Carrington felt a sudden pang. He found that he was not so old as he had thought. Certainly he had grown to like her frank honesty and sound common sense, and he had at length discovered that she was handsome, with a very pretty figure. Was it not something like a flirtation he had been carrying on with this young person for the last month? A glimmering of suspicion crossed his mind, though he got rid of it as quickly as possible. For a man of his age and sobriety to be in love with two sisters at once was impossible; still more impossible that Sybil should care for him.
As for her, however, there was no doubt about the matter. She had grown to depend upon him, and she did it with all the blind confidence of youth. To lose him was a serious disaster. She had never before felt the sensation, and she thought it most disagreeable. Her youthful diplomatists and admirers could not at all fill Carrington's place. They danced and chirruped cheerfully on the hollow crust of society, but they were wholly useless when one suddenly fell through and found oneself struggling in the darkness and dangers beneath. Young women, too, are apt to be flattered by the confidences of older men; they have a keen palate for whatever savours of experience and adventure. For the first time in her life, Sybil had found a man who gave some play to her imagination; one who had been a rebel, and had grown used to the shocks of fate, so as to walk with calmness into the face of death, and to command or obey with equal indifference. She felt that he would tell her what to do when the earthquake came, and would be at hand to consult, which is in a woman's eyes the great object of men's existence, when trouble comes. She suddenly conceived that Washington would be intolerable without him, and that she should never get the courage to fight Mr. Ratcliffe alone, or, if she did, she should make some fatal mistake.
They finished their ride very soberly. She began to show a new interest in all that concerned him, and asked many questions about his sisters and their plantation. She wanted to ask him whether she could not do something to help them, but this seemed too awkward. On his part he made her promise to write him faithfully all that took place, and this request pleased her, though she knew his interest was all on her sister's account.
The following Sunday evening when he came to bid good-bye, it was still worse. There was no chance for private talk. Ratcliffe was there, and several diplomatists, including old Jacobi, who had eyes like a cat and saw every motion of one's face. Victoria Dare was on the sofa, chattering with Lord Dunbeg; Sybil would rather have had any ordinary illness, even to the extent of a light case of scarlet fever or small-pox than let her know what was the matter. Carrington found means to get Sybil into another room for a moment and to give her the letter he had promised. Then he bade her good-bye, and in doing so he reminded her of her promise to write, pressing her hand and looking into her eyes with an earnestness that made her heart beat faster, although she said to herself that his interest was all about her sister; as it was--mostly. The thought did not raise her spirits, but she went through with her performance like a heroine. Perhaps she was a little pleased to see that he parted from Madeleine with much less apparent feeling. One would have said that they were two good friends who had no troublesome sentiment to worry them. But then every eye in the room was watching this farewell, and speculating about it. Ratcliffe looked on with particular interest and was a little perplexed to account for this too fraternal cordiality. Could he have made a miscalculation? or was there something behind? He himself insisted upon shaking hands genially with Carrington and wished him a pleasant journey and a successful one.
That night, for the first time since she was a child, Sybil actually cried a little after she went to bed, although it is true that her sentiment did not keep her awake. She felt lonely and weighed down by a great responsibility.
For a day or two afterwards she was nervous and restless. She would not ride, or make calls, or see guests. She tried to sing a little, and found it tiresome. She went out and sat for hours in the Square, where the spring sun was shining warm and bright on the prancing horse of the great Andrew Jackson. She was a little cross, too, and absent, and spoke so often about Carrington that at last Madeleine was struck by sudden suspicion, and began to watch her with anxious care.
Tuesday night, after this had gone on for two days, Sybil was in Madeleine's room, where she often stayed to talk while her sister was at her toilet.
This evening she threw herself listlessly on the couch, and within five minutes again quoted Carrington. Madeleine turned from the glass before which she was sitting, and looked her steadily in the face.
"Sybil," said she, "this is the twenty-fourth time you have mentioned Mr.
Carrington since we sat down to dinner. I have waited for the round number to decide whether I should take any notice of it or not? what does it mean, my child? Do you care for Mr. Carrington?"
"Oh, Maude!" exclaimed Sybil reproachfully, flushing so violently that, even by that dim light, her sister could not but see it.
Mrs. Lee rose and, crossing the room, sat down by Sybil who was lying on the couch and turned her face away. Madeleine put her arms round her neck and kissed her.
"My poor--poor child!" said she pityingly. "I never dreamed of this! What a fool I have been! How could I have been so thoughtless! Tell me!" she added, with a little hesitation; "has he--does he care for you?"
"No! no!" cried Sybil, fairly breaking down into a burst of tears; "no! he loves you! nobody but you! he never gave a thought to me. I don't care for him so very much," she continued, drying her tears; "only it seems so lonely now he is gone."
Mrs. Lee remained on the couch, with her arm round her sister's neck, silent, gazing into vacancy, the picture of perplexity and consternation.
The situation was getting beyond her control.