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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
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
"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
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
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! 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
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
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
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
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
"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
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.
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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.