"The best in all the world?" queried Sibyl.
"I am sure at least of one thing, that no little girl ever had a fonder father."
"And you own up you told a lie? You do own up that father's quite perfect?"
"Men like myself don't care to own themselves in the wrong," said Lord Grayleigh, "and the fact is—listen, you queer little mortal—I don't like perfect people. It is true that I have never met any."
"You have met my father and my mother."
"Come, Sibyl, shall we make a compromise? I like you, I want you to like me. Forget that I said what I myself have forgotten, and believe that I have a very great respect for your father. Come, if he were here, he would ask you to be friendly with me."
"Would he?" said the child. She looked wistful and interested. "There are lots of things I want to be 'splained to me," she said. Then, after a moment—"I'll think whether I'll be friends with you, and I'll let you know, may be to-morrow."
As she said the last words she pushed aside his detaining hand, and ran out of the summer-house. He heard her eager, quick steps as she ran away, and a moment later there came her gay laughter back to him from the distance. She had joined the other children, and was happy in her games.
"Poor little maid!" he said to himself, and he sat on grave and silent. He did not like to confess it, but Sibyl's words had affected him.
"The faith she has in that poor fellow is quite beautiful," was his inward thought; "it seems a sin to break it. If he does go to Queensland it will be broken, and somewhat rudely. I could send Atherton. Atherton is not the man for our purpose. His report won't affect the public as Ogilvie's report would, but he has never yet been troubled by conscience, and Sibyl's faith will be unshaken. It is worth considering. It is not every man who has got a little daughter like Sibyl."
These thoughts came and worried him; presently he rose with a laugh.
"What am I," he said to himself, "to have my way disturbed by the words of a mere child?" And just then he heard the soft rustle of a silk dress, and, looking up, he saw the pretty face of Mrs. Ogilvie.
"Come in and sit down," he said, jumping up and offering her a chair. "It is cool and yet not draughty in here. I have just had the pleasure of a conversation with your little daughter."
"Indeed! I do hope she has been conducting herself properly."
"I must not repeat what she said; I can only assure you that she behaved charmingly."
"I am so relieved; Sibyl so often does not behave charmingly, that you don't wonder that I should ask you the question."
"She has a very great respect for you," said Lord Grayleigh; "it makes me think you a better woman to have a child regard you as she does."
Mrs. Ogilvie fidgeted; she had seated herself on a low rustic chair, and she looked pretty and elegant in her white summer dress, and her hat softening the light in her beautiful eyes. She toyed with her white lace parasol, and looked, as Sibyl had looked a short time ago, across the lovely summer scene; but in her eyes there shone the world with all its temptations and all its lures, and Sibyl's had made acquaintance with the stars, and the lofty peaks of high principle, and honor, and knew nothing of the real world.
Lord Grayleigh, in a kind of confused way which he did not himself understand, noticed the difference in the glance of the child and the woman.
"Your little girl has the highest opinion of you," he repeated; "the very highest."
"And I wish she would not talk or think such nonsense," said Mrs. Ogilvie, in a burst of irritation. "You know well that I am not what Sibyl thinks me. I am an ordinary, everyday woman. I hope I am"—she smiled—"charming."
"You are that, undoubtedly," said the nobleman, slightly bowing his head.
"I hope I am what a man most likes in a woman, agreeable, charming, and fairly amiable; but I am no saint, and I don't want to be. Sibyl's attitude towards me is therefore most irritating, and I am doing my utmost——"
"You are doing what?" said Lord Grayleigh. He rose, and stood by the summer-house door.
"To open her eyes."
"I would not if I were you," he said, gravely; "it is not often that a child has her faith. To shake it means a great deal."
"What are you talking about now?"
"I don't often read my Bible," he continued, "but, of course, I did as a boy—most boys do. My mother was a good woman. I am thinking of something said in that Holy Book."
"You are quite serious; I never knew you in this mood before."
"I must tell it to you. 'Whosoever shall offend one of these little ones, it were better that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the depths of the sea.'"
"How unpleasant," said Mrs. Ogilvie, after a pause, "and I rather fail to see the connection. Shall we change the subject?"
"What arrangement did you make with Philip yesterday?"
"I made no absolute arrangement, but I think he will do according to your wishes."
"Then he will assay the mine, act as the engineer to the company?"
"Has he promised?"
"Not yet, but my impression is that he will do it."
"What does assaying the mine mean?"
Mrs. Ogilvie knitted her pretty dark brows, and looked as inquisitive and childish at that moment as Sibyl herself.
"To assay a mine means to find out accurately what it contains," said Lord Grayleigh. Once again his eyes turned away from his questioner. He had very little respect for Mrs. Ogilvie's conscience, but he did not want to meet anyone's gaze at that instant.
"Nevertheless," he continued, after a pause, "your husband has not definitely promised, and it is on the cards that he may refuse."
"He will be a madman if he does," cried Mrs. Ogilvie, and she stamped her pretty foot impatiently.
"According to Sibyl's light, he will be the reverse of that; but then, Sibyl, and your husband also, believe in such a thing as conscience."
"Philip's conscience!" said the wife, with a sneer; "what next?"
"It appears to me," said Lord Grayleigh, "that he has an active one."
"It has come to life very quickly, then. This is mere humbug."
"Let me speak. To be frank with you, I respect your husband's conscience; and, perhaps, if you respected it more——"
"I really will not stay here to be lectured," said Mrs. Ogilvie. "It is to your advantage, doubtless, that Philip should do something for you; it must be to your advantage, for you are going to pay him well. Will he do it, or will he not? That is the question I want answered."
"And I cannot answer it, for I do not know."
"But you think he will?"
"That is my impression."
"You can, at least, tell me what occurred."
"I can give you an outline of what occurred. I made him an offer to go to Queensland."
"To go where?" said Mrs. Ogilvie, looking slightly startled.
"As the mine happens to be in Queensland, how can he assay it in England?"
"I didn't know."
"Yes, if he does anything, he must go to Queensland. He must see the mine or mines himself; his personal report is essential. He will be paid well, and will receive a large number of shares."
"What do you mean by being paid well?"
"He will have his expenses, and something over."
"Something over! that is a very elastic term."
"In your husband's case it will mean thousands."
"Oh, I see; and then the shares?"
"The shares will practically make him a rich man."
"Then of course he will consent. I will go at once, and send him a line." She turned to leave the summer-house. Lord Grayleigh followed her. He laid his hand for an instant on her slim arm.
"If I were you," he said, and there was an unwonted tremble in his voice as he spoke, "if I were you, upon my honor, I'd leave him alone."
"Leave him alone now? Why should not the wife influence the husband for his own good?"
"Very well," said Lord Grayleigh; "I only ventured to make a suggestion."
She looked at him in a puzzled way, raised her brows, and said:
"I never found you so disagreeable before." She then left the summer-house.
Lord Grayleigh stood still for a moment, then, with quick strides, he went in the direction of the shrubbery. Sibyl, hot, excited, breathless after her game, did not even see him. He called her and she stopped.
"May I speak to you?" he said. He had the courteous manner to her which he did not vouch-safe to many of his gay lady acquaintances.
She ran to his side at once.
"Don't you want to send your father a letter by this post?"
"Yes, of course; is there time?"
"I will make time; go into the house and write to him."
"He would like to hear from you."
"Do you want me to say anything special?"
"Nothing special; write to him from your heart, that is all." And then Lord Grayleigh turned away in the direction of his stables. He ordered the groom to saddle his favorite horse, and was soon careering across country. Sibyl's letter to her father was short, badly spelt, and brimful of love. Mrs. Ogilvie's was also short, and brimful of worldliness.
The two letters, each as wide as the poles apart in spirit and in intention, met in the post-box, and were each carried as rapidly as mail trains could take them to the metropolis.
On the next morning these letters lay beside Philip Ogilvie's plate at breakfast. Sibyl's was well blotted and sealed with her favorite violet seal. Mrs. Ogilvie's was trim, neat, and without a blemish. Ogilvie read them both, first the mother's, then the child's. Sibyl's was almost all kisses: hardly any words, just blots and kisses. Ogilvie did not press his lips to the kisses this time. He read the letter quickly, thrust it into his pocket, and once more turned his attention to what his wife had said. He smiled sarcastically as he read. The evening before he had written Lord Grayleigh accepting the proffered engagement. The die was cast.
The following letter reached Philip Ogilvie late that same evening:—
MY DEAR OGILVIE,
Your decision is naturally all that can be desired, and I only hope you may never live to regret it. I have, most unfortunately, given my ankle a bad sprain. I had a fall yesterday when out riding, and am obliged to lie up for a day or two. There is much that I should wish to talk over with you before you go to Queensland. Can you come down here to-morrow by the first train? I will not detain you an hour longer than I can help. All other arrangements are in the hands of my agents, Messrs. Spielmann & Co.
Yours sincerely, GRAYLEIGH.
Ogilvie read this letter quickly. He knit his brow as he did so. It annoyed him a good deal.
"I did not want to go there," he thought. "I am doing this principally for the sake of the child. I can arrange all financial matters through Spielmann. Grayleigh wants this thing done; I alone can do it to his satisfaction and to the satisfaction of the public. He must pay me—what he pays will be Sibyl's, the provision for her future. But I don't want to see the child—until all this dirty work is over. If I come back things may be altered. God only knows what may have occurred. The mine may be all right, there may be deliverance, but I didn't want to see her before I go. It is possible that I may not be able to keep my composure. There are a hundred things which make an interview between the child and me undesirable."
He thought and thought, and at last rose from his chair and began to pace the room. He had not suffered from his heart since his interview with Dr. Rashleigh. He gave it but scant consideration now.
"If I have a fatal disease it behooves me to act as if I were absolutely sound," he said to himself. And he had so acted after the first shock of Rashleigh's verdict had passed off. But he did not like the thought of seeing Sibyl. Still, Grayleigh's letter could not be lightly disregarded. If Grayleigh wished to see him and could not come to town, it was essential that he should go to him.
He rang his bell and sent off a telegram to the effect that he would arrive at Grayleigh Manor at an early hour on the following day.
This telegram Lord Grayleigh showed to Mrs. Ogilvie before she went to bed that night.
"He has consented to go, as of course you are well aware," said Lord Grayleigh, "and he comes here to see me to-morrow. But I would not say anything about his departure for Queensland to your little daughter, until after his visit. He may have something to say in the matter. Let him, if he wishes it, be the one to break it to her."
"But why should not the child know? How ridiculous you are!"
"That is exactly as her father pleases," replied Lord Grayleigh. "I have a kind of intuition that he may want to tell her himself. Anyhow, I trust you will oblige me in the matter."
Mrs. Ogilvie pouted. She was not enjoying herself as much at Grayleigh Manor as she had expected, and, somehow or other, she felt that she was in disgrace. This was by no means an agreeable sensation. She wondered why she was not in higher spirits. To visit Australia nowadays was a mere nothing. Her husband would be back again, a rich man, in six months at the farthest. During those six months she herself might have a good time. There were several country houses where she might visit. Her visiting list was already nearly full. She would take Sibyl with her, although Sibyl sometimes was the reverse of comforting; but it looked effective to see the handsome mother and the beautiful child together, and Sibyl, when she did not go too far, said very pathetic and pretty things about her. Oh yes, she and her little daughter would have a good time, while the husband and father was earning money for them in Australia: while the husband and father was raking in gold, they might really enjoy themselves.
As she thought of this, Mrs. Ogilvie felt so light-hearted that she could have skipped. Those debts which had weighed so on what she was pleased to call her conscience, would be liquidated once and for all, and in the future she would have plenty of money. It was the be-all of existence to her feeble soul. She would have it in abundance in the time which lay before her.
"Philip is a wise man. It was very silly of him to hesitate and make a fuss," she thought; "but he has decided wisely, as I knew he would. I shall give him a kiss when I see him, and tell him that I am quite pleased with him."
She went to bed, therefore, cheerful, and the next morning put on her very prettiest dress in order to meet her husband.
Ogilvie walked from the little station, which was only half a mile away. Mrs. Ogilvie, going slowly up the avenue, saw him coming to meet her. She stood under the shade of a great overhanging beech tree, and waited until he appeared.
"Well, Mildred, and how are you?" said her husband. He took her hand, and, bending forward, brushed the lightest of kisses against her cheek.
"Quite well," she replied. "Is not the day pleasant? I am so glad about everything, Phil. But you don't look quite the thing yourself. Have you taken cold or suffered from one of those nasty rheumatic attacks?"
"I am all right," he answered shortly. "I have a very few moments to be here, as I want to catch the 12.30 back. Do you know if Lord Grayleigh is anywhere to be found?"
"I saw him half an hour ago. I think you will find him in the smoking-room. He is expecting you."
"And"—Ogilvie glanced to right and left—"the child?"
"She is with the other children. Shall I send her to you?"
"It is so nice of you to go, Phil; it will do you no end of good. You will enjoy your voyage," continued Mrs. Ogilvie, turning now and laying her hand on her husband's arm.
Mr. Rochester, who was quite a young man himself, and was deeply occupied at this time with thoughts of love and marriage, happened to see the pair as they sauntered by together. He knew nothing, of course, of Ogilvie's intended visit to Australia, nor was he in any sense of the word behind the scenes. On the contrary, he thought that Mrs. Ogilvie and her husband made a perfect picture of beautiful love between husband and wife.
"It is good of you," pursued Mrs. Ogilvie, turning once more to her husband. "I am greatly obliged. I am more than obliged, I am relieved and—and satisfied. We shall have a happy life together when you come back. There are, of course, little matters we ought to talk over before we go."
"Debts, you mean," said Ogilvie, bluntly. "I opened your bills in your absence. They will be——"
"Oh, Phil!" Mrs. Ogilvie's face turned very white.
"I will speak about them before I leave," he continued. "Now I must find Grayleigh."
"Is it true that you are going on Saturday?"
"Had I not better return to town with you? There will be several things to put in order."
"I can write to you, Mildred. Now that you are here you had better stay here. The change will be good for you. You need not return to the house in town before next week."
"If you really don't want me, I am certainly enjoying myself here."
"I don't want you," he replied, but as he spoke his grey eyes looked wistful. He turned for an instant and glanced at her. He noted the sunny, lovely hair, the agile, youthful, rounded figure. Once he had loved her passionately.
"Sibyl will be delighted to see you," continued Mrs. Ogilvie. "She has been, on the whole, behaving very nicely. Of course, making both friends and foes, as is her usual impetuous way."
"That reminds me," said Ogilvie. "I shall see Sibyl before I leave; but that reminds me."
"I do not wish her to be told."
"Told what? What do you mean? My dear Phil, you are eccentric."
"I have no time to dispute the point, Mildred. I wish to give one hasty direction, which is to be obeyed. Sibyl is not to be told that I am going to Australia."
"She must be told when I am gone, but not till then. I will write to her, and thus break the news. She is not to be told to-day, not until she gets home, you understand? I won't go at all if you tell her."
"Oh, of course, I understand," said Mrs. Ogilvie, in a frightened way; "but why should not the child hear what really is good tidings?"
"I do not wish it. Now, have you anything further to say, for I must see Lord Grayleigh immediately."
Mrs. Ogilvie clutched her husband's arm.
"You will leave me plenty of money when you go, will you not?"
"You shall have a bank-book and an account, but you must be careful. My affairs are not in the most prosperous condition, and your bills are terribly heavy."
"My bills! but I really——"
"We will not dispute them. They shall be paid before I go."
"Oh, my dear Philip, and you are not angry?"
"They shall be paid, Mildred. The liquidation of your debts is part of the reward for taking up this loathsome work."
"Philip, how ridiculously morbid you are!"
The husband and wife walked slower and slower. Ogilvie saw Grayleigh standing on the steps.
"There is Lord Grayleigh," he said. "I must go at once. Yes, the bills will be paid." He laid his hand for a moment on her shoulder.
"There is nothing else, is there, Mildred?"
"No," she began, then she hesitated.
"A trinket, it took my fancy—a diamond cross—you noticed it. I could not resist it."
"How much?" said the man. His face was very stern and white, and there was a blue look round his lips.
"Two thousand pounds."
"Let me have the bill to-morrow at latest. It shall be cleared. Now don't keep me."
He strode past her and went up to where Lord Grayleigh was waiting for him.
"This is good," said the nobleman. "I am very sorry I could not come to town. Yes, my ankle is better, but I dare not use it. I am limping, as you see."
"Shall we go into the house?" said Ogilvie; "I want to get this thing over. I have not a moment if I am to start on Saturday."
"You must do what we want. The public are impatient. We must get your report as soon as possible. You will wire it to us, of course."
"Now listen, Ogilvie," said Lord Grayleigh, as they both entered the study of the latter and Ogilvie sank into a chair, "you either do this thing properly or you decline it, you give it up."
"Can I? I thought the die was cast."
"The worldly man in me echoes that hope, but I could get Atherton to take your place even now."
"Even now?" echoed Philip Ogilvie.
"Even now it may be possible to manage it, although I"—Lord Grayleigh had a flashing memory of Sibyl's face and the look in her eyes, when she spoke of her perfect father. Then he glanced at the man who, silent and with suppressed suffering in his face, stood before him. The irresolution in Ogilvie's face took something from its character, and seemed to lower the man's whole nature. Lord Grayleigh shivered; then the uncomfortable sensation which the memory of Sibyl gave him passed away.
"I shall regret it extremely if you cannot do what I want," he said, with emphasis.
Ogilvie had a quick sensation of momentary relief. His wife owed another two thousand pounds. It would be bankruptcy, ruin if he did not go. He stood up.
"The time for discussing the thing is over," he said. "I will go—and—do as you wish. The only thing to put straight is the price down."
"What do you mean by the price down?"
"I want money."
"Of course, you shall have it."
"I want more than my expenses, and something to cover the loss to my business which my absence may create."
"How much more?" Lord Grayleigh looked at him anxiously.
"Ten thousand pounds in cash now, to be placed to my credit in my bank."
"Ten thousand pounds in cash! That is a big order."
"Not too big for what you require me to do. You make hundreds of thousands by me eventually; what is one ten thousand? It will relieve my mind and set a certain matter straight. The fact is—I will confide in you so far—my own pecuniary affairs are anything but flourishing. I have had some calls to meet. What little property I own is settled on my wife. You know that a man cannot interfere with his marriage settlements. I have one child. I want to make a special provision for her."
"I know your child," said Lord Grayleigh, in a very grave tone; "she is out of the common."
A spasm of pain crossed the father's face.
"She is," he answered slowly. "I wish to make a provision for her. If I die (I may die, we are all mortal; I am going to a distant place; possibilities in favor of death are ten per cent. greater than if I remain at home)—if I die, this will be hers. It will comfort me, and make it absolutely impossible for me to go back. You understand that sometimes a miserable starved voice within me speaks. I allude to the voice of conscience. However much it clamors, I cannot listen to it when that sum of money lies in the bank to my credit, with my last will and testament leaving it eventually to my daughter."
"I would not give your daughter such a portion, if I were you," thought Lord Grayleigh, but he did not say the words aloud. He said instead, "What you wish shall be done."
The two men talked a little longer together. Certain necessary arrangements were concluded, and Ogilvie bore in his pocket before he left a check for ten thousand pounds on Lord Grayleigh's private account.
"This clinches matters," he said, and he gave a significant glance at Grayleigh.
"You will see Spielmann for all the rest," was Grayleigh's answer; "and now, if you must catch the train——"
"Yes, I must; good-by."
Lord Grayleigh walked with him as far as the porch.
"Have you seen your wife?" he asked. "Can we not induce you to wait for the next train and stay to lunch?"
"No, thanks; it is impossible. Oh, I see you have sent for the dog-cart; I will drive to the station."
Just then Sibyl, Gus and Freda appeared in view. Sibyl was extremely dirty. She had been climbing trees to good effect that morning, and there was a rent in front of her dress and even a very apparent hole in one of her stockings. She and Gus were arguing somewhat fiercely, and the cap she wore was pushed back, and her golden hair was all in a tangle. Suddenly she raised her eyes, caught sight of her father, and, with a shout something between a whoop and a cry, flung herself into his arms.
"Daddy, daddy!" she cried.
He clasped her tightly to his breast. He did not notice the shabby dress nor the torn stocking; he only saw the eager little face, the eyes brimful with love; he only felt the beating of the warm, warm heart.
"Why, dad, now I shall be happy. Where are you, Gus? Gus, this is father; Gus, come here!"
But at a nod from Lord Grayleigh both Gus and Freda had vanished round the corner.
"I will say good-by, if you must go, Ogilvie," said Grayleigh. He took his hand, gave it a sympathetic squeeze, and went into the house.
"But must you go, father? Why, you have only just come," said Sibyl.
"I must, my darling, I must catch the next train; there is not ten minutes. Jump on the dog-cart, and we will drive to the station together."
"Oh, 'licious!" cried Sibyl, "more than 'licious; but what will mother say?"
"Never mind, the coachman will bring you back. Jump up, quick."
In another instant Sibyl was seated between her father and the coachman. The spirited mare dashed forward, and they bowled down the avenue. Ogilvie's arm was tight round Sibyl's waist, he was hugging her to him, squeezing her almost painfully tight. She gasped a little, drew in her breath, and then resolved to bear it.
"There's something troubling him, he likes having me near him," thought the child. "I wouldn't let him see that he's squeezing me up a bit too tight for all the world."
The mare seemed to fly over the ground. Ogilvie was glad.
"We shall have a minute or two at the station. I can speak to her then," he thought. "I won't tell her that I am going, but I can say something." Then the station appeared in view, and the mare was pulled up with a jerk; Ogilvie jumped to his feet, and lifted Sibyl to the ground.
"Wait for the child," he said to the servant, "and take her back carefully to the house."
"Yes, sir," answered the man, touching his hat.
Ogilvie went into the little station, and Sibyl accompanied him.
"I have my ticket," he said, "we have three minutes to spare, three whole precious minutes."
"Three whole precious minutes," repeated Sibyl. "What is it, father?"
"I am thinking of something," he said.
"What?" asked the girl.
"For these three minutes, one hundred and eighty seconds, you and I are to all intents and purposes alone in the world."
"Father! why, so we are," she cried. "Mother's not here, we are all alone. Nothing matters, does it, when we are alone together?"
"You don't look quite well, dear father."
"I have been having some suffering lately, and am worried about things, those sort of things that don't come to little girls."
"Of course they don't, father, but when I'm a woman I'll have them. I'll take them instead of you."
"Now listen, my darling."
"Father, before you speak ... I know you are going to say something very, very solemn; I know you when you're in your solemn moments; I like you best of all then. You seem like Jesus Christ then. Don't you feel like Jesus Christ, father?"
"Never, Sib, never; but the time is going by, the train is signalled. My dearest, what is it?"
"Mayn't I go back to town with you? I like the country, I like Gus and Freda and Mabel, but there is no place like your study in the evening, and there's no place like my bedroom at night when you come into it. I'd like to go back with you, wouldn't it be fun! Couldn't you take me?"
"I could, of course," said the man, and just for a moment he wavered. It would be nice to have her in the house, all by herself, for the next two or three days, but he put the thought from him as if it were a temptation.
"No, Sib," he said, "you must go back to your mother; it would not be at all right to leave your mother alone."
"Of course not," she answered promptly, and she gave a sigh which was scarcely a sigh.
"It would have been nice all the same," said Ogilvie. "Ah! there is my train; kiss me, darling."
She flung her arms tightly round his neck.
"Sibyl, just promise before I leave you that you will be a good girl, that you will make goodness the first thing in life. If, for instance, we were never to meet again—of course we shall, thousands of times, but just suppose, for the sake of saying it, that we did not, I should like to know that my little girl put goodness first. There is nothing else worth the while in life. Cling on to it, Sibyl, cling tight hold to it. Never forget that I——"
"Yes, father, I will cling to it. Yes, father!"
"That I wish it. You would do a great deal for me?"
"For you and Lord Jesus Christ," she answered softly.
"Then I wish this, remember, and whatever happens, whatever you hear, remember you promised. Now here's my train, stand back. Good-by, little woman, good-by."
"I'll see you again very, very soon, father?"
"Very soon," answered the man. He jumped into the carriage, the train puffed out of the station. A porter came up to Sibyl and spoke to her.
"Anybody come to meet you, Miss?"
"No, thank you," she answered with dignity; "I was seeing my father off to town; there's my twap waiting outside."
The man smiled, and the little girl went gravely out of the station.
Sibyl went back to Lord Grayleigh's feeling perplexed. There was an expression about her father's face which puzzled her.
"He ought to have me at home with him," she thought. "I have seen him like this now and then, and he's mostly not well. He's beautiful when he talks as he did to-day, but he's mostly not well when he does it. I 'spect he's nearer Lord Jesus when he's not well, that must be it. My most perfect father wants me to be good; I don't want to be good a bit, but I must, to please him."
Just then a somewhat shrill and petulant voice called the child.
"My dear Sibyl, where have you been? What are you doing on the dog-cart? How unladylike. Jump down this minute."
The man pulled up the mare, and Sibyl jumped to the ground. She met her mother's angry face with a smile which she tried hard to make sweet.
"I didn't do anything naughty, really, Mummy," she said. "Father took me to the station to say good-by. He's off back to town, and he took me with him, and I came back on the twap."
"Don't say twap, sound your 'r'—trap."
"Tw-rap," struggled Sibyl over the difficult word.
"And now you are to go into the house and ask Nurse to put on your best dress. I am going to take you to a garden party, immediately after lunch. Mr. Rochester and Lady Helen Douglas are coming with us. Be quick."
"Oh, 'licious," said Sibyl. She rushed into the house, and up to the nursery. Nurse was there waiting to deck her in silk and lace and feathers. The little girl submitted to her toilet, and now took a vast interest in it.
"You must make me quite my prettiest self," she said to the nurse; "you must do your very best, 'cos mother——"
"What about your mother now, missy?"
"'Cos mother's just a little——Oh, nothing," said Sibyl, pulling herself up short.
"She likes me best when I'm pretty," continued the child; "but father likes me always. Nursie, do you know that my ownest father came down here to-day, and that I dwove to the station to see him off? Did you know it?"
"No, Miss Sibyl, I can't say I did."
"He talked to me in a most pwivate way," continued Sibyl. "He told me most 'portant things, and I promised him, Nursie—I promised him that I'd——Oh, no! I won't tell you. Perhaps I won't be able to keep my promise, and then you'd——Nothing, Nursie, nothing; don't be 'quisitive. I can see in your face that you are all bursting with 'quisitiveness; but you aren't to know. I am going to a party with my own mother after lunch, and Lady Helen is coming, and Mr. Rochester. I like them both very much indeed. Lady Helen told me stories last night. She put her arm round my waist, and she talked to me; and I told her some things, too, and she laughed."
"What did you tell her, Miss Sibyl?"
"About my father and mother. She laughed quite funnily. I wish people wouldn't; it shows how little they know. It's 'cos they are so far from being perfect that they don't understand perfect people. But there's the lunch gong. Yes, I do look very nice. Good-by, Nursie."
Sibyl ran downstairs. The children always appeared at this meal, and she took her accustomed place at the table. Very soon afterwards, she, her mother, Lady Helen, and Mr. Rochester, started for a place about ten miles off, where an afternoon reception was being given.
Sibyl felt inclined to be talkative, and Mrs. Ogilvie, partly because she had a sore feeling in her heart with regard to her husband's departure, although she would not acknowledge it, was inclined to be snappish. She pulled the little girl up several times, and at last Sibyl subsided in her seat, and looked out straight before her. It was then that Lady Helen once more put her arm round her waist.
"Presently," said Lady Helen, "when the guests are all engaged, you and I will slip out by ourselves, and I will show you one of the most beautiful views in all England. We climb a winding path, and we suddenly come out quite above all the trees, and we look around us; and when we get there, you'll be able to see the blue sea in the distance, and the ships, one of which is going to take your——"
But just then Mrs. Ogilvie gave Helen Douglas so severe a push with her foot, that she stopped, and got very red.
"What ship do you mean?" said Sibyl, surprised at the sudden break in the conversation, and now intensely interested, "the ship that is going to take my—my what?"
"Did you never hear the old saying, that you must wait until your ship comes home?" interrupted Mr. Rochester, smiling at the child, and looking at Lady Helen, who had not got over her start and confusion.
"But this ship was going out," said Sibyl. "Never mind, I 'spect it's a secret; there's lots of 'em floating round to-day. I've got some 'portant ones of my own. Never mind, Lady Helen, don't blush no more." She patted Lady Helen in a patronizing way on her hand, and the whole party laughed; the tension was, for the time, removed.
Ogilvie made a will leaving the ten thousand pounds which Lord Grayleigh had given him absolutely to Sibyl for her sole use and benefit. He also made all other preparations for his absence from home, and started for Queensland on Saturday. He wrote to his wife on the night before he left England, repeating his injunction that on no account was Sibyl to be yet told of his departure.
"When she absolutely must learn it, break it to her in the tenderest way possible," he said; "but as Grayleigh has kindly invited you both to stay on at Grayleigh Manor for another week, you may as well do so, and while there I want the child to be happy. The country air and the companionship of other children are doing her a great deal of good. I never saw her look better than I did the other day. I should also be extremely glad, Mildred, if on your return to town you would arrange to send Sibyl to a nice day-school, where she could have companions. I have nothing to say against Miss Winstead, but I think the child would be better, less old-fashioned, and might place us more on the pedestal which we really ought to occupy, if she had other children to talk to and exchange thoughts with. Try to act, my dear wife, as I would like in this particular, I beg of you. Also when you have to let my darling know that I am away, you will find a letter for her in my left-hand top drawer in my study table. Give it to her, and do not ask to see it. It is just a little private communication from her father, and for her eyes alone. Be sure, also, you tell her that, all being well, I hope to be back in England by the end of the summer."
Ogilvie added some more words to his letter, and Mrs. Ogilvie received it on Saturday morning. She read it over carelessly, and then turned to Jim Rochester who stood near. During her visit to Grayleigh Manor she had got to know this young man very well, and to like him extremely. He was good-looking, pleasant to talk to, well informed, and with genial, hearty views of life. He had been well brought up, and his principles were firm and unshaken. His notion of living was to do right on every possible occasion, to turn from the wrong with horror, to have faith in God, to keep religion well in view, and as far as in him lay to love his neighbor better than himself.
Rochester, it may be frankly stated, had some time ago lost his heart to Lady Helen Douglas, who, on her part, to all appearance returned his affection. Nothing had yet, however, been said between the pair, although Rochester's eyes proclaimed his secret whenever they rested on Lady Helen's fair face.
He watched Mrs. Ogilvie now with a sudden interest as she folded up her husband's letter.
"Well," she said, turning to him and uttering a quick sigh; "he is off, it is a fait accompli. Do you know, I am relieved."
"Are you?" he answered. He looked at her almost wistfully. He himself was sorry for Ogilvie, he did not know why. He was, of course, aware that he was going to Queensland to assay the Lombard Deeps, for the talk of the great new gold mine had already reached his ears. He knew that Ogilvie, moreover, looked pale, ill at ease, and worried. He supposed that this uneasiness and want of alacrity in carrying a very pleasurable business to a successful issue was caused by the man's great attachment to his wife and child. Mrs. Ogilvie must also be sorry when she remembered that it would be many months before she saw him again. But there was no sorrow now in the soft eyes which met his, nothing but a look of distinct annoyance.
"Really," she said with an impatient movement, "I must confide in some one, and why not in you, Mr. Rochester, as well as another? I have already told you that my husband is absolutely silly about that child. From her birth he has done all that man could do to spoil her."
"But without succeeding," interrupted Jim Rochester. "I am quite friendly with your little Sibyl now," he added, "and I never saw a nicer little girl."
"Oh, that is what strangers always say," replied Mrs. Ogilvie, shrugging her shoulders, "and the child is nice, I am not denying it for a moment, but she would be nicer if she were not simply ruined. He wants her to live in an impossible world, without any contradictions or even the smallest pain. You will scarcely believe it, but he would not allow me, the other day, to tell her such a very simple, ordinary thing as that he was going to Queensland on business, and now, in his letter, he still begs of me to keep it a secret from her. She is not to know anything about his absence until she returns to London, because, forsooth, the extra week she is to spend in the country would not do her so much good if she were fretting. Why should Sibyl fret? Surely it is not worse for her than for me; not nearly as bad, for that matter."
"I am glad you feel it," said Rochester.
"Feel it? What a strange remark! Did you think I was heartless? Of course I feel it, but I am not going to be silly or sentimental over the matter. Philip is a very lucky man to have this business to do. I would not be so foolish as to keep him at home; but he is ruining that child, ruining her. She gets more spoilt and intolerable every day."
"Forgive me, Mrs. Ogilvie," said Lady Helen, who came upon the scene at that moment, "I heard you talking of your little daughter. I don't think I ever met a sweeter child."
Mrs. Ogilvie threw up her hands in protest.
"There you go," she said. "Mr. Rochester has been saying almost the very same words, Lady Helen. Now let me tell you that Sibyl is not your child; no one can be more charming to strangers."
As Mrs. Ogilvie spoke she walked a few steps away; then she turned and resumed her conversation.
"The annoying part of this letter," she said, "is that Philip has written a private communication to Sibyl, and when she hears of his absence she is to be given this letter, and I am not even to see it. I don't think I shall give it to her; I really must now take the management of the child into my own hands. Her father will be absent——Oh, there you are, Sibyl. What are you doing, loitering about near windows? Why don't you play with your companions?" For Sibyl had burst in by the open window, looking breathless.
"I thought—I thought," she began; "I thought, mother, that I heard you——" her face was strangely white, and her wide-open eyes looked almost wild in expression.
"It's not true, of course; but I thought I heard you say something about father, and a—a letter I was to have in his absence. Did you say it, mother?"
"I said nothing of the sort," replied Mrs. Ogilvie, flushing red, and almost pushing Sibyl from the room, "nothing of the sort; go and play."
Sibyl gave her an earnest and very penetrating look. She did not glance either at Mr. Rochester or Lady Helen.
"It's wicked for good people to tell lies, isn't it?" she said then, slowly.
"Wicked," cried her mother; "it's shamefully wicked."
"And you are good, mother, you don't ever tell lies; I believe you, mother, of course." She turned and went out of the room. As she went slowly in the direction of the field where the other children were taking turns to ride bareback one of the horses, her thoughts were very puzzled.
"I wish things would be 'splained to me," she said, half aloud, and she pushed back her curls from her forehead. "There are more and more things every day want 'splaining. I certainly did hear her say it. I heard them all talking, and Lady Helen said something, and Mr. Rochester said something, and mother said that father wished me not to know, and I was to have a letter, and then mother said 'in his absence.' Oh, what can it mean?"
The other children shouted to her from the field, but she was in no mood to join them, and just then Lord Grayleigh, who was pacing up and down his favorite walk, called her to his side.
"What a puzzled expression you are wearing, my little girl," he said. "Is anything the matter?"
Sibyl skipped up to him. Some of the cloud left her face. Perhaps he could put things straight for her.
"I want to ask you a question," she said.
"You are always asking questions. Now ask me something really nice; but first, I have something to say. I am in a very giving mood this morning. Sometimes I am in a saving mood, and would not give so much as a brass farthing to anybody, but I am in the other sort of mood to-day. I am in the mood to give a little golden-haired girl called——"
"Sibyl," said the child, beginning to laugh; "if she is golden-haired it must be me. What is it you want to give me?"
Her attention was immediately arrested; her eyes shone and her lips smiled.
"What would you like best in the world?"
"Oh, best in the whole world? But I cannot have that, not for a week—we are going home this day week."
"And what will you have when you go home?"
"Father's kiss every night. He always comes up, Lord Grayleigh, and tucks me in bed, and he kisses me, and we have a cozy talk. He never misses, never, when he is at home. I am lonesome here, Lord Grayleigh, because mother does not think it good for me that she should come; she would if she thought it good for me."
"Well," said Lord Grayleigh, who for some reason did not feel quite comfortable as Sibyl talked of her father's kisses, "we must find something for you, not quite the best thing of all. What would be the next best?"
"I know," said Sibyl, laughing, "a Shetland pony; oh, I do want one so badly. Mother sometimes rides in the Park, and I do so long to go with her, but she said we couldn't afford it. Oh, I do want a pony."
"You shall have one," said Lord Grayleigh; "it shall be my present to a very good, charming little girl."
"Do you really think I am good?"
"Good? Excellent; you are a pattern to us all."
"Wouldn't father like to hear you. It's wonderful how he talked to me about being good. I am not really good, you know; but I mean to try. If you were to look into my heart, you would see—oh, but you shan't look." She started back, clasped her hands, and laughed. "But when father looks next, he shall see, oh, a white heart with all the naughtiness gone."
"Tell me exactly what sort of pony you would like," said Lord Grayleigh, who thought it desirable to turn the conversation.
"It must have a long mane, and not too short a tail," said Sibyl; "and be sure you give me the very nicest, newest sort of side-saddle, same as mother has herself, for mother's side-saddle is very comfy. Oh, and I'd like a riding habit like mother's, too. Mother will be sure to say she can't 'ford one for me, but you'll give me one if you give me the pony and the side-saddle, won't you?"
"I'll give you the pony and the side-saddle, and the habit," said Lord Grayleigh. "I'll choose the pony to-morrow, and bring him back with me. I am going to Lyndhurst, in the New Forest, where they are going to have a big horse fair. You will not mind having a New Forest pony instead of a Shetland?"
"I don't mind what sort my darling pony is," answered the child. "I only want to have it. Oh, you are nice. I began by not liking you, but I like you awfully now. You are very nice, indeed."
"And so are you. It seems to me we suit each other admirably."
"There are lots of nice people in the world," said Sibyl. "It's a very pleasant place. There are two quite perfect, and there are others very nice; you and Mr. Rochester and Lady Helen. But, oh, Lord Grayleigh, I know now what I wanted to say. A perfect person couldn't never tell a lie, could she?"
"Oh, it's the feminine gender," said Lord Grayleigh softly, under his breath.
"It's a she," said Sibyl; "could she; could she?"
"A perfect person could not, little girl."
"Now you have made me so happy that I am going to kiss you," said Sibyl. She made a spring forward, flung her arms round his neck, and kissed him twice on his rough cheek. The next instant she had vanished out of sight and joined her companions.
"It's all right," she said to Gus, who looked at her in some amazement. "It's all right; I got a fright, but there wasn't a word of it true. Come, let's play. Oh, do you know your father is going to give me a pony? I am so happy."
In a week's time Mrs. Ogilvie and Sibyl returned to town. Sibyl was intensely joyful on this occasion, and confided in everyone what a happy night she would have.
"You don't know what father is," she said, looking full up into Rochester's eyes. He was standing on the terrace, and the little girl went and stood by his side. Sibyl was in her most confiding mood. She considered Lord Grayleigh, Mr. Rochester, Lady Helen, and the children were all her special friends. It was impossible to doubt their entire sympathy and absolute ability to rejoice in her joy.
"I have had a good time here," she said, "very good. Lord Grayleigh has been nice; I began by not liking him, but I like him now, and I like you awfully, but after all there's no place for me like my own, own home. It's 'cos of father."
"Yes," said Rochester. He looked anxiously, as Sibyl spoke, towards the house. Everyone at Grayleigh Manor now knew that Sibyl was not to be told of her father's absence during her visit. No one approved of this course, although no one felt quite towards it with the same sense of irritation that Mrs. Ogilvie herself did. Rochester wished at this instant that Lord Grayleigh or someone else would appear. He wanted anything to cause a diversion, but Sibyl, in happy ignorance of his sentiments, talked on.
"It is at night that my father is the most perfect of all," she said. "I wish you could see him when he comes into my room. I am in bed, you know, lying down flat on my back, and mostly thinking about the angels. I do that a lot at night, I have no time in the day; I think of the angels, and Lord Jesus Christ, and heaven, and then father comes in. He opens the door soft, and he treads on tiptoe for fear I'm asleep, as if I could be! And then he kisses me, and I think in the whole of heaven there can never be an angel so good and beautiful as he is, and he says something to me which keeps me strong until the next night, when he says something else."
"But your mother?" stammered Rochester. He was about to add, "She would go to your room, would she not?" when he remembered that she herself had told him that nothing would induce her to adopt so pernicious a course.
"Oh, you're thinking about my perfect mother, too," said Sibyl. "Yes, she is perfect, but there are different sorts in the world. My own mother thinks it is not good for me to lie awake at night and think of the angels and wait for father. She thinks that I ought to bear the yoke in my youth. Solomon, the wise King Solomon—you have heard of him, haven't you?"
"He wrote that verse about bearing the yoke when you are young. I learnt it a week ago, and I felt it just 'splained about my mother. It's really very brave of mother; but, you see, father thinks different, and, of course, I nat'rally like father's way best. Mother's way is the goodest for me, p'waps. Don't you think mother's way is the goodest for me, Mr. Rochester?"
"I dare say it is good for you, Sibyl. Now, shall we go and find Lady Helen?"
"Seems to me," said Sibyl, "I'm always looking for Lady Helen when I'm with you. Is it 'cos you're so desperate fond of her?"
"Don't you like her yourself?" said the young man, reddening visibly.
"Like her? I like her just awfully. She's the most 'licious person to tell stories I ever comed across in all my borned days. She tells every sort of story about giants and fairies and adventures, and stories of little girls just like me. Does she tell you stories about men just like you, and is that why you like to be with her?"
"Well, I can't honestly say that she has ever yet told me a story, but I will ask her to do so."
"Do," said Sibyl; "ask her to tell you a story about a man like yourself. Make him rather pwoper and stiff and shy, and let him blush sometimes. You do, you know you do. Maybe it will do you good to hear about him. Now come along and let's find her."
So Sibyl and Rochester hunted all over the place for Lady Helen, and when they found her not, for she had gone to the nearest village on a commission with one of the children, Rochester's face looked somewhat grave, and his answers to the child were a little distrait. Sibyl said to him in a tone of absolute sympathy and good faith—
"Cheer up, won't you? She is quite certain to marry you in the long run."
"Don't talk like that," said Rochester in a voice of pain.
"Don't what? You do want to marry Lady Helen. I heard mother say so yesterday. I heard her say so to Hortense. Hortense was brushing her hair, and mother said, 'It would be a good match on the whole for Lady Helen, 'cos she is as poor as a church mouse, and Jim Rochester has money.' Is my darling Lady Helen as poor as a church mouse, and have you lots of money, Mr. Rochester?"
"I have money, but not lots. You ought not to repeat what you hear," said the young man.
"But why? I thought everybody knew. You are always trying to make her marry you, I see it in your eyes; you don't know how you look when you look at her, oh—ever so eager, same as I look when father's in the room and he is not talking to me. I hope you will marry her, more especial if she's as poor as a church mouse. I never knew why mice were poor, nor why mother said it, but she did. Oh, and there is mother, I must fly to her; good-by—good-by."
Rochester concealed his feelings as best he could, and hurried immediately into a distant part of the grounds, where he cogitated over what Sibyl, in her childish, way, had revealed.
The pony had been purchased, and Sibyl had ridden it once. It was a bright bay with a white star on its forehead. It was a well-groomed, well-trained little animal, and Lord Grayleigh had given Sibyl her first riding lesson, and had shown her how to hold the reins, and how to sit on her saddle, and the riding habit had come from town, and the saddle was the newest and most comfortable that money could buy.
"It is my present to you," said Lord Grayleigh, "and remember when you ride it that you are going to be a good girl."
"Oh dear, oh dear," said Sibyl, "I don't want everyone to tell me that I am to be a good girl. If it was father; but—don't please, Lord Grayleigh; I'll do a badness if you talk to me any more about being so good."
"Well, I won't," said Lord Grayleigh, laughing.
"I 'spect father will write you a most loving letter about this," said Sibyl. "Won't he be 'sprised? And did you tell mother about me having a ride every morning?"
"And did you speak to her about the food for my pony all being paid for?"
"Yes, everything is arranged. Your pony shall be the best cared for in all London, and you shall ride him every day for half-an-hour before you go to school."
"Oh, I never go to school," said Sibyl in a sorrowful voice. "I have a Miss Winstead to teach me. She is the sort that—oh, well, no matter; she means all right, poor thing. She wants the money, so of course she has to stay. She doesn't suit me a bit, but she wants the money. It's all right, isn't it?"
"So it seems, little girl; and now here is the carriage, and the pony has gone off to London already, and will be ready to take you on his back to-morrow morning. Be sure you think of a nice name for him."
"Father will tell me a name. I won't let anybody else christen my ownest pony. Good-by, Lord Grayleigh. I like you very much. Say good-by to Mr. Rochester for me—oh, and there is Lady Helen; good-by, Lady Helen—good-by."
They all kissed Sibyl when they parted from her, and everyone was sorry at seeing the last of her bright little face, and many conjectures went forth with regard to the trouble that was before the child when she got to London. One and all thought that Ogilvie had behaved cruelly, and that his wife was somewhat silly to have yielded to him.
Sibyl went up to town in the highest spirits. She chatted so much on the road that her mother at last told her to hold her tongue.
"Sit back in your seat and don't chatter," she said, "you disturb other people."
The other people in the carriage consisted of a very old gentleman and a small boy of Sibyl's own age. The small boy smiled at Sibyl and she smiled back, and if her mother had permitted it would have chatted to him in a moment of her hopes and longings; but, when mother put on that look, Sibyl knew that she must restrain her emotions, and she sat back in her seat, and thought about the children who bore the yoke in their youth, and how good it was for them, and how rapidly she was growing into the sort of little girl her father most liked.
"Mother," she said, as they got towards the end of the journey, "I'm 'proving, aren't I?"
"Proving, what do you mean?"
"I can't say that I see it, Sibyl; you have been very troublesome for the last few days."
"Oh!" said the child, "oh!"
Sibyl changed seats from the one opposite, and nestled up close to her mother, she tucked her hand inside her arm, and then began to talk in a loud, buzzing whisper.
"It's 'cos of father," she said; "he begged me so earnest to be a good girl, and I have tried, haven't you noticed it, mother? Won't you tell him when we get home that I have tried?"
"Don't worry me, Sibyl, you know my views. I want you to be just a sensible, good child, without any of those high-flown notions. When we return to town you must make up for your long holiday. You must do your lessons with extreme care, and try to please Miss Winstead."
"And to please father and Lord Jesus."
"Yes, yes, child."
"And to have a ride every morning on my darling pony?"
"We will try and manage that. Lord Grayleigh has been almost silly over that pony; I doubt whether it is wise for you to have it."
"Oh, mother, he did say he would buy everything—the pony, the saddle, the habit, and he would 'ford the food, too. You have not got to pay out any money, mother, have you?"
"Hush, don't talk so loud."
The old gentleman buried himself in The Times in order not to hear Sibyl's distressed voice, and the little boy stared out of the window and got very red.
"Take up your book and stop talking," said Mrs. Ogilvie.
Sibyl took up a book which she already knew by heart, and kept back a sorrowful sigh.
"But it don't matter," she said to herself; "when I see father, he'll understand."
They got to town, where a carriage was waiting for them. Sibyl could scarcely restrain her eagerness.
"Mother, may I ask John if father's likely to be at home? Sometimes he comes home earlier than usual. P'waps he came home to lunch and is waiting for us. Can I call out to John through the window, mother?"
"No, sit still, you do fidget so."
"I'll try to be quiet, mother; it's only 'cos I'm so incited."
"Oh, dear," said Mrs. Ogilvie to herself, "what an awful evening I am likely to have! When the silly child really finds out that her father has gone, she will burst into hysterics, or do something else absurd. I really wish it had been my luck to marry a husband with a grain of sense. I wonder if I had better tell her now. No, I really cannot. Miss Winstead must do it. Miss Winstead has been having a nice holiday, with no fuss or worry of any sort, and it is quite fair that she should bear the burden of this. But why it should be regarded as a burden or a trial is a puzzle. Philip goes on a sort of pleasure expedition to Queensland, and the affair is treated almost as if—as if it were a death. It is positively uncanny."
Sibyl noticed that her mother was silent, and that she looked worried. Presently she stretched out her hand and stroked her mother's.
"What are you doing that for?"
"'Cos I thought I'd rub you the right way," said Sibyl. "You are like a poor cat when it is rubbed the wrong way, aren't you, just now, mother?"
"Don't be so ridiculous." Mrs. Ogilvie snatched her hand away.
They soon reached the house. The footman, Watson, sprang down and lowered the steps. Sibyl bounded out and flew into the hall.
"Father, father!" she called. "I'm back. Are you in, father? Here I are—Sibyl. I'm home again, father. The Angel is home again, father."
She did not often call herself the Angel, the name seemed to have more or less slipped out of sight, but she did on this occasion, and she threw back her pretty head and looked up the wide staircase, as if any moment she might see her father hurrying down to meet her.
Mrs. Ogilvie turned to one of the servants, who was watching the child in astonishment.
"She does not know yet," whispered Mrs. Ogilvie. "I am going into the library; don't tell her anything, pray, but send Miss Winstead to me immediately."
Mrs. Ogilvie entered the library. Sibyl danced in after her.
"I can't see father anywhere," she said: "I 'spect he's not back yet."
"Of course he is not back so early. Now run upstairs and ask Nurse to make you ready for tea. Leave me, I have something to say to Miss Winstead."
Miss Winstead appeared at that moment. She had enjoyed her holiday, and looked the better for it. Though she understood Sibyl very little, yet at this moment she gazed at the child almost with alarm, for Mrs. Ogilvie had written to her telling her that Mr. Ogilvie's absence had not been alluded to in the child's presence.
Sibyl rushed to her and kissed her.
"I am back, and I am going to be good," she said. "I really, truly am; aren't you glad to see me?"
"Go upstairs now, Sibyl," said her mother. Sibyl obeyed somewhat unwillingly, some of the laughter went out of her eyes, and a little of the excitement faded from her heart. She went up the wide stairs slowly, very slowly. Even now she hoped that it might be possible for her father to appear, turning the angle of the winding stairs, coming out of one of the rooms. He always had such a bright face, there was an eagerness about it. He was tall and rather slender, and that bright look in his eyes always caused the child's heart to leap; then his mouth could wear such a beautiful smile. It did not smile for many people, but it always did for Sibyl. She wanted to see him, oh, so badly, so badly.
"Well, never mind," she said to herself, "he can't help it, the darling; but he'll be back soon," and she tripped into her nursery and sat down; but she did not ask Nurse any questions, she was too busy with her own thoughts.
"Miss Winstead," said Mrs. Ogilvie, "this is all most unpleasant."
"What do you mean?" asked the governess.
"Why, this whim of my husband's. He has been away for over a week, and the child imagines that he is still in London, that he will return at any instant and spoil her, after his usual injudicious fashion."
"Oh, I don't quite think that Mr. Ogilvie spoils your little Sibyl," said Miss Winstead; "he has peculiar ideas, that's all."
"We need not discuss that point," said Mrs. Ogilvie in an irritated tone. "We are back later than I thought, and I have to dine out to-night. I want you, Miss Winstead, to break the tidings to the child that her father has gone to Queensland."
"I?" said Miss Winstead; "I would really rather——"
"I fear your likes or dislikes with regard to the matter cannot be considered. I cannot tell her, because I should not do it properly; and also, a more serious reason, I really have not the time. You can give Sibyl a treat, if you like, afterwards. Take her out for a walk in the Park after tea, she always likes that; and you can take her to a shop and buy her a new toy—any toy she fancies. Here's a sovereign; you can go as far as that, you ought to get her something quite handsome for that; and you might ask the little Leicesters next door to come to tea to-morrow. There are a hundred ways in which the mind of a child can be diverted."
"Not the mind of Sibyl with regard to her father," interrupted Miss Winstead.
"Well, for goodness' sake, don't make too much of it. You know how peculiar he is, and how peculiar she is. Just tell her that he has gone away for a couple of months—that he has gone on an expedition which means money, and that I am pleased about it, that he has done it for my sake and for her sake. Tell her he'll be back before the summer is over. You can put it any way you like, only do it, Miss Winstead—do it!"
"When?" asked Miss Winstead. She turned very pale, and leant one hand on the table.
"Oh, when you please, only don't worry me. You had better take her off my hands at once. Just tell her that I am tired and have a headache, and won't see her until the morning; I really must lie down, and Hortense must bathe my forehead. If I don't I shall look a perfect wreck to-night, and it is going to be a big dinner; I have been anxious for some time to go. And afterwards there is a reception at the Chinese Embassy; I am going there also. Please ask Watson, on your way through the hall, to have tea sent to my boudoir. And now you quite understand?"
"But, please, say exactly what I am to tell your little girl."
"Don't you know? Say that her father has gone—oh, by the way, there's a letter for her. I really don't know that she ought to have it. Her father is sure to have said something terribly injudicious, but perhaps you had better give it to her. You might give it to her when you are telling her, and tell her to read it by-and-by, and not to be silly, but to be sensible. That is my message to her. Now pray go, Miss Winstead. Are you better? Have you had a nice time while we were away?"
"I still suffer very badly with my head," said Miss Winstead, "but the quiet has done me good. Yes, I will try and do my best. I saw Mr. Ogilvie the day he left; he did not look well, and seemed sorrowful. He asked me to be kind to Sibyl."
"I sincerely trust you are kind to the child; if I thought you did not treat her with sympathy and understanding I should be obliged——"
"Oh, you need not go on," said Miss Winstead, coloring, and looking annoyed. "I know my duty. I am not a woman with very large sympathies, or perhaps very wide views, but I try to do my duty; I shall certainly do my utmost for your dear little daughter. There is something very lovable about her, although sometimes I fear I do not quite understand her."
"No one seems to understand Sibyl, and yet everyone thinks her lovable," said the mother. "Well, give her my love; tell her I will ride with her in the morning. She has had a present of a pony, quite a ridiculous present; Lord Grayleigh was determined to give it to her. He took an immense fancy to the child, and put the gift in such a way that it would not have been wise to refuse. Don't forget, when you see Watson, to tell him to bring tea to my boudoir."
Miss Winstead slowly left the room. She was a very quiet woman, about thirty-five years of age. She had a stolid manner, and, as she said herself, was a little narrow and a little old-fashioned, but she was troubled now. She did not like the task set her. As she went upstairs she muttered a solitary word.
"Coward!" she said, under her breath.
"I wish I was well out of this," thought the governess. "The child is not an ordinary one, and the love she bears her father is not an ordinary love."
Miss Winstead's schoolroom looked its brightest and best. The days were growing quite long now, and flowers were plentiful. A large basket of flowers had been sent from Grayleigh Manor that morning, and Miss Winstead had secured some of the prettiest for her schoolroom. She had decorated the tea-table and the mantelpiece, but with a pain at her heart, for she was all the time wondering if Sibyl knew or did not know. She could not quite understand from Ogilvie's manner whether she knew or not. He was very reserved about her just at the last, he evidently did not like to talk of her.
Miss Winstead entered the schoolroom. She sat down for a moment near the open window. The day was still in its prime. She looked at the clock. The under-housemaid, who had the charge of the schoolroom tea, now came in with the tray. She laid the cloth and spread the tea-things. There was a plate of little queen-cakes for Sibyl.
"Cook made these for Miss Sibyl," she said. "Does she know yet, Miss Winstead, that the master has gone?"
"No," said Miss Winstead; "and I have got to tell her, Anne, and it is a task I anything but like."
"I wouldn't be in your shoes for a deal, Miss," replied Anne, in a sympathetic voice.
Just then a light, childish step was heard in the passage, and Sibyl burst into the room.
"Here I am. Oh, I am so glad tea is ready. What's the hour, please, Miss Winstead? How are you, Anne; is your toothache better?"
"I have not had any toothache to mention since you left, Miss Sibyl."
"I am glad to hear that. You used to suffer awful pain, didn't you? Did you go to Mr. Robbs, the dentist, and did he put your head between his knees and tug and tug to get the tooth out? That's the way Nurse's teeth were taken out when she was a little girl. She told me all about it. Did Mr. Robbs pull your tooth out that way, Anne?"
"No, Miss, the tooth is better and in my head, I'm thankful to say."
"And how is cook? How are her sneezing fits?"
"All the servants are very well, I thank you, Miss."
"Don't make any more enquiries now, Sibyl, sit down and begin your tea," said her governess.
Sibyl made an effort to suppress the words which were bubbling to her lips. Anne had reached the door, when she burst out with—
"I do just want to ask one more question. How is Watson, Anne, and how is his sweetheart? Has she been kinder to him lately?"
"Sibyl, I refuse to allow you to ask any further questions," interrupted Miss Winstead. She was so nervous and perplexed at the task before her that she was glad even to be able to find fault with the child. It was really reprehensible of any child to take an interest in Watson's sweetheart.
Anne, smiling however, and feeling also inclined to cry, left the room. She ran down to the servants' hall.
"Of all the blessed angel children, Miss Sibyl beats 'em," she cried. "Not one of us has she forgot; dear lamb, even to my tooth and your sneezing fits, cook; and Watson, most special did she inquire for Mary Porter, the girl you're a-keeping company with. It's wonderful what a tender heart she do have."
"That she have truly," said the cook, "and I'll make her some more queen-cakes to-morrow, and ice them for her, that I will. It's but to look at her to see how loving she is," continued the good woman. "How she'll live without the master beats me. The missus ain't worthy of her."
This remark was followed by a sort of groan which proceeded from each servant's mouth. It was evident that Mrs. Ogilvie was not popular in the servants' hall.
Sibyl meanwhile was enjoying her tea.
"It's nearly five o'clock," she said, "father is sure to be in at six, don't you think so, Miss Winstead?"
"He often doesn't come home till seven," answered Miss Winstead in a guilty voice, her hand shaking as she raised the teapot.
"Why, what's the matter with you, Winnie dear," said Sibyl—this was her pet name for the governess; "you have got a sort of palsy, you ought to see a doctor. I asked Nurse what palsy was, and she said 'a shaking,' and you are all shaking. How funny the teapot looks when your hand is bobbing so. Do, Winnie, let me pour out tea."
"Not to-night. I was thinking that after tea you and I might go for a little walk."
"Oh, I couldn't, really, truly; I must wait in till father comes."
"It is such a fine evening, that perhaps——"
"No, no, I don't want to go."
"But your mother has given me money; you are to buy anything you please at the toy-shop."
This was a very great temptation, for Sibyl adored toys.
"How much money?" she asked in a tentative voice.
"Well, a good deal, a whole sovereign."
"Twenty shillings," said Sibyl, "I could get a lovely doll's house for that. But I think sometimes I am getting tired of my dolls. It's so stupid of 'em not to talk, and never to cry, and not to feel pain or love. But, on the whole, I suppose I should like a new doll's house, and there was a beauty at the toy-shop for twenty shillings. It was there at Christmas-time. I expect it's a little dusty now, but I dare say Mr. Holman would let me have it cheap. I am very fond of Mr. Holman, aren't you, Winnie? Don't you love him very, very much? He has such kind, sorrowful eyes. Don't you like him?"
"I don't know that I do, Sibyl. Come, finish your tea, my dear."
"Have you been trying to 'prove yourself very much while I was away?" said Sibyl, looking at her now in a puzzled way.
"I can never say that whole word. Improve is what I mean. Have you been trying?"
"I always try, Sibyl."
"Then I think Lord Jesus is helping you, for you are 'proved, you're quite sympathisy. I like you when you're sympathisy. Yes, I have finished my tea, and, if you wish it, I'll go out just as far as Mr. Holman's to buy the doll's house. He is poor, and he'll be real glad to sell it. He has often told me how little money he makes by the toys, and how they lose their freshness and get dusty, and children toss 'em. Some children are so careless. Yes, I'll go with you, and then we'll come straight home. Father will be back certain to-night at six. He'll know that I'll be wanting him."
"Sibyl, I have something to tell you."
There was a tremulous note in Miss Winstead's voice which arrested the gay, careless chatter. The child looked at her governess. That deep, comprehensive, strange look visited her eyes. Miss Winstead got up hastily and walked to the window, then she returned to her seat.
"What is it?" said Sibyl, still seated at the tea-table, but turning round and watching her governess.
"It is something that will pain you, dear."
"Oh!" said Sibyl, "go on, please. Out with it! plump it out! as Gus would say. Be quick. I don't like to be kept in 'spense."
"I am afraid, Sibyl, that you will not see your father to-night."
Sibyl jumped up just as if someone had shot her. She stood quite still for a moment, and a shiver went through her little frame; then she went up to Miss Winstead.
"I can bear it," she said; "go on. Shall I see father to-morrow?"
"Not to-morrow, nor the next day, nor the next."
"Go on; I am bearing it," said Sibyl.
She stood absolutely upright, white as a sheet, her eyes queerly dilated, but her lips firm.
"It's a great shock, but I am bearing it," she said again. "When will I see him?"
Miss Winstead turned now and looked at her.
"Child," she said, "don't look like that."
"I'm looking no special way; I'm only bearing up. Is father dead?"
"No; no, my dear. No, my poor little darling. Oh, you ought to have been told; but he did not wish it. It was his wish that you should have a happy time in the country. He has gone to Queensland; he will be back in a few months."
"A few months," said Sibyl. "He's not dead?" She sat down listlessly on the window seat. She heaved a great sigh.
"It's the little shots that hurt most," she said after a pause. "I wouldn't have felt it, if you had said he was dead."
"Come out, Sibyl, you know now he won't be back by six."
"Yes, I'll go out with you."
She turned and walked very gravely out of the room.
"I'd rather she cried and screamed; I'd rather she rushed at me and tried to hurt me; I'd rather she did anything than take it like that," thought the governess.
Sibyl went straight into the nursery.
"Nursie," she said, "my father has gone. He is in Queensland; he did not wish me to be told, but I have been told now. He is coming back in a few months. A few months is like for ever, isn't it, nursie? I am going out with Miss Winstead for a walk."
"Oh, my darling," said nursie, "this has hurt you horribly."
"Don't," said Sibyl, "don't be sympathisy." She pushed nurse's detaining hand away.
"It's the little shots that tell," she repeated. "I wouldn't have felt anything if it had been a big, big bang; if he had been dead, I mean, but I'm not going to cry, I'm not going to let anybody think that I care anything at all. Give me my hat and gloves and jacket, please, nurse."
She went to Miss Winstead, put her hand in hers, and the two went downstairs. When they got into the street Sibyl looked full at her, and asked her one question.
"Was it mother said you was to tell me?"
"Then mother did tell me a——" Sibyl left off abruptly, her poor little face quivered. The suffering in her eyes was so keen that Miss Winstead did not dare to meet them. They went for a walk in the park, and Sibyl talked in her most proper style, but she did not say any of the nice, queer, interesting things she was, as a rule, noted for. Instead, she told Miss Winstead dry, uninteresting little facts, with regard to her visit to the country.
"I hear you have got a pony," said Miss Winstead.
"I don't want to talk about my pony, please," interrupted Sibyl. "Let me tell you just what were the most perfect views near the place we were in."
"But why may we not talk about your pony?"
"I don't want to ride my pony now."
Miss Winstead was alarmed about the child.
"You have walked quite far enough to-night," she said, "you look very white."
"I'm not a scrap tired, I never felt better in my life. Do let us go to the toy-shop."
"A good idea," said the governess, much cheered to find Sibyl, in her opinion, human after all. "We will certainly go there and will choose a beautiful toy."
"Well, this is the turning, come along," said Sibyl.
"But why should we go to Holman's, there is a splendid toy-shop in this street."
"I'd much rather go to Mr. Holman's."
Miss Winstead did not expostulate any further. Presently they reached the shabby little shop. Mr. Holman, the owner of the shop, was a special friend of the child's. He had once or twice, charmed by her sympathetic way, confided some of his griefs to her. He found it, he told her, extremely difficult to make the toy-shop pay; and Sibyl, in consequence, considered it her bounden duty to spend every half-penny she could spare at this special shop. She entered now, went straight up to the counter and held out her hand.
"How do you do, Mr. Holman," she said; "I hope I find you quite well."
"Thank you, Missy; I am in the enjoyment of good health," replied the shopman, flushing with pleasure and grasping the little hand.
"I am glad of that," answered Sibyl. "I have come, Mr. Holman, to buy a big thing, it will do your shop a lot of good. I am going to spend twenty shillings in your shop. What would you like me to buy?"
"You thought a doll's house," interrupted Miss Winstead, who stood behind the child.
"Oh, it don't matter about that," said Sibyl, looking gravely back at her; "I mean it don't matter now. Mr. Holman, what's the most dusty of your toys, what's the most scratched, what's the toy that none of the other children would like?"
"I have a whole heap of 'em," said Holman, shaking his head sadly.
"That he have, poor dear," here interrupted Mrs. Holman. "How do you do, Missy, we are both glad to see you back again; we have had a dull season, very dull, and the children, they didn't buy half the toys they ought to at Christmas time. It's because our shop is in a back street."
"Oh, but it's a very nice street," said Sibyl; "it's retired, isn't it? Well, I'll buy twenty shillings' worth of the most dusty of the toys, and please send them home to-morrow. Please, Miss Winstead, put the money down."
Miss Winstead laid a sovereign on the counter.
"Good-by, Mr. Holman; good-by, Mrs. Holman," said Sibyl. She shook hands solemnly with the old pair, and then went out of the shop.
"What ails her?" said Holman. "She looks as if something had died inside her. I don't like her looks a bit."
Mrs. Ogilvie enjoyed herself very much that evening. Her friends were glad to see her back. They were full of just the pleasant sympathy which she liked best to receive. She must be lonely without her husband. When would he return? When she said in a few months' time, they congratulated her, and asked her how she had enjoyed herself at Grayleigh Manor. In short, there was that sort of fuss made about her which most appealed to her fancy. She forgot all about Sibyl. She looked at other women of her acquaintance, and thought that when her husband came home she would wear just as dazzling gems and just as beautiful dresses, and she, too, might talk about her country place, and invite her friends down to this rural retreat at Whitsuntide, and make up a nice house-party in the autumn, and again in the winter. Oh, yes, the world with its fascinations was stealing more and more into her heart, and she had no room for the best of all. She forgot her lonely child during these hours.
Mrs. Ogilvie returned from a fashionable reception between twelve and one in the morning. Hortense was up and tired. She could scarcely conceal her yawns as she unstitched the diamonds which she had sewn on her mistress's dress earlier in the evening, and put away the different jewels. At last, however, her duties were over, and she went away to her room.
Mrs. Ogilvie got into bed, and closing her eyes, prepared to doze off into delicious slumber. She was pleasantly tired, and no more. As she sank into repose, the house in the country and the guests who would fill it mingled with her dreams. Suddenly she heard a clear voice in her ears. It awoke her with a sort of shock. She raised herself on her elbow, and saw her little daughter standing in her white nightdress by the bedside.
"Mother," said Sibyl.
"What are you doing there, Sibyl? Go back to bed directly."
"Please, mother, I can't sleep. I have got a sort of up-and-down and round-and-round feeling. I don't know what it is, but it's worse when I put my head on my pillow. I 'spect I'm lonesome, mother. Mother, I really, truly, am going to be sensible, and I know all about father; but may I get into your bed just at the other side. I will lie as still as a mouse; may I, mother?"
"Oh dear, how you tremble," said Mrs. Ogilvie; "how more than annoying this is! You certainly are not a sensible child at the present moment. If you felt so strange and nervous, why didn't you ask Nurse or Miss Winstead to sleep in the room with you?"
"But, mother, that wouldn't have done me any good."
"What do you mean?"
"They wouldn't be you. I'll be quite happy if I can get into bed alongside of you, mother."
"Of course you may, child, but please don't disturb me. I am very tired, and want to sleep."
Sibyl ran round to the other side of the bed, slipped in, and lay as quiet as a mouse.
Mrs. Ogilvie curled up comfortably, arranged her pillows, and closed her eyes. She was very sleepy, but what was the matter with her? She could not lose herself in unconsciousness. Was the perfectly still little figure by her side exercising some queer power over her, drawing something not often stirred within her heart to the surface? She turned at last and looked at the child. Sibyl was lying on her back with her eyes wide open.
"Why don't you shut your eyes and go to sleep?" asked her mother.
"I can't, on account of the round-and-roundness feeling," replied Sibyl.
"What a funny little thing you are. Here, give me your hand."
Mrs. Ogilvie stretched out her own warm hand and took one of Sibyl's. Sibyl's little hand was cold.
"May I come quite close to you, mother?" asked Sibyl.
The next instant she was lying in her mother's arms. Her mother clasped her close to her breast and kissed her many times.
"Oh, now that's better," said the child with a sob. It was the first attempt at a sob which had come from her lips. She nestled cosily within her mother's clasp.
"I am much better," she said; "I didn't understand, but I understand now. I got his letter."
"Must we talk about it to-night, Sibyl?" asked her mother.
"Not much; there's not much to say, is there? He said I was to be good and to obey you. I was to be good all the time. It's very hard, but I 'spect I'll do it; I 'spect Lord Jesus will help me. Mother, why has father gone to Queensland? It's such a long, long way off."
"For a most excellent reason," said Mrs. Ogilvie. "You really are showing a great deal of sense, Sibyl. I never knew you more sensible about anything. I was afraid you would cry and make scenes and be naughty, and make yourself quite ill; that would have been a most silly, affected sort of thing to do. Your father has gone away just on a visit—we will call it that. He will be back before the summer is over, and when he comes back he will bring us——"
"What?" asked the child. "What has he gone for?"
"My dear child, he has gone on most important business. He will bring us back a great deal of money, Sibyl. You are too young yet to understand about money."
"No, I am not," said Sibyl. "I know that when people have not much money they are sorrowful. Poor Mr. Holman is."
"Who in the world is Mr. Holman?"
"He sells the toys in the back street near our house. I am very much obliged to you, mother, for that sovereign. Mr. Holman is going to send me some dusty toys to-morrow."
"What do you mean?"
"I can't 'splain, Mr. Holman understands. But, mother, I thought we had plenty of money."
"Plenty of money," echoed Mrs. Ogilvie; "that shows what a very silly little child you are. We have nothing like enough. When your father comes back we'll be rich."
"Rich?" said Sibyl, "rich?" She did not say another word for a long time. Her mother really thought she had dropped asleep. In about half an hour, however, Sibyl spoke.
"Is it nice, being rich?" she asked.
"Of course it is."
"But what does it do?"
"Do? It does everything. It gives you all your pretty frocks."
"But I am more comfy in my common frocks."
"Well, it gives you your nice food."
"I don't care nothing about food."
"It gives you your comfortable home, your pony, and——"
"Lord Grayleigh gave me my pony."
"Child, I cannot explain. It makes all the difference between comfort and discomfort, between sorrow and happiness."
"Do you think so?" said Sibyl. "And father has gone away to give me a nice house, and pretty clothes, and all the other things between being comfy and discomfy; and you want to be rich very much, do you, mother?"
"Very much indeed; I like the good things of life."
"I'll try and understand," said Sibyl. She turned wearily on her pillow, and the next instant sleep had visited the perplexed little brain.
"Nursie," said Sibyl, two months after the events related in the last chapter, "mother says that when my ownest father comes back again we'll be very rich."
"Um," replied nurse, with a grunt, "do she?"
"Why do you speak in that sort of voice, nursie? It's very nice to be rich. I have been having long talks with mother, and she has 'splained things. It means a great deal to be rich. I am so glad that my father is coming back a very, very rich man. I didn't understand at first. I thought to be rich just meant to have lots of money, and big, big houses, and heaps of bags of sweeties, and toys and ponies, and, oh, the kind of things that don't matter a bit. But now I know what to be rich really is."
"Yes, dear," said nurse. She was seated in the old nursery close to the window. She was mending some of Sibyl's stockings. A little pile of neatly mended pairs lay on the table, and there was a frock which also wanted a darn reclining on the back of the old woman's chair. Sibyl broke off and watched her nurse's movements with close interest.
"Why do you wear spectacles?" she asked suddenly.
"Because, my love, my sight is failing. I ain't as young as I was."
"What does 'not as young as you was' mean?"
"What I say, my dear."
"I notice," said Sibyl, thoughtfully, "that all very, very old people say they're not as young as they was, and so you wear spectacles 'cos you're not as young as you was, and 'cos you can't see as well as you did."
"That's about it, Missy, and when I have to darn the stockings of a naughty little Miss, and to mend holes in her dress, I have to put on my glasses."
"Then I'm glad we're going to be rich; it will be quite easy to 'splain why I am glad," continued Sibyl, thoughtfully. "When our gold comes, nursie, you'll never have to do no more darning, and you need never wear your glasses 'cept just to read lovely books. Oh, we'll do such a lot when we are rich. There's poor Mr. Holman: I was talking to him only yesterday. Do you know, nursie, his shop isn't paying, not a bit, and he was, oh, so sad about it, and Mrs. Holman began to cry. She told me there's a new big toy-shop in Palace Road, a great big lovely swampy sort of shop. I mean by that, that it takes all the customers. They go in there and they spend their money, and there's none left for poor Mr. Holman. It's just 'cos he lives in Greek Street, and Greek Street is what is called a back street. Isn't it perfectly shameful, nursie? Mr. Holman said if they could afford to have a shop in Palace Road he would get all the little boys and girls back again. But they won't come into his nice, quiet back street. I like back streets, don't you, nursie? It's horrid of the boys and girls not to go to Mr. Holman's."
"It's the way of the world, dear," answered nurse; "the world always goes with the prosperous people. Them that are struggling the world leaves behind. It's a cruel way, but it's the way the world has got."
"Then I hate the world," said Sibyl. "My beautiful Lord Jesus wouldn't allow it if He was on earth now, would He, nursie?"
"Oh, my love, there'd be a lot of things He'd have to change if He came back; but don't ask me any more questions now, Missy. You go out with your governess. You don't get half enough of the air, to my way of thinking; you're looking peaky, and not what the master would like to see."
"But I am perfectly well," answered Sibyl, "I never felt better in all my borned days. You know, nursie, I have got a lot to do now. Father gave me 'rections in that letter that nobody else is to see, and one of them was that I was to keep well, so I'll go for a walk if you think it will be good for me; only I just wish to say that when father comes back dear Mr. Holman shall have his shop in Palace Road, and a lot of fresh toys put in it, and then he'll be quite happy and smiling, and his shop will swamp up all the children, and all the pennies and all the half-pennies and sixpennies, and poor, dear, darling Mrs. Holman won't have to wipe away her tears any more."
Sibyl skipped out of the room, and nurse said several times under her breath—
"Bless her! the darling she is!"
Smartly dressed, as was her mother's wish, the little girl now ran downstairs. Miss Winstead was not ready. Sibyl waited for her in the hall. She felt elated and pleased, and just at that moment a servant crossed the spacious hall, and opened the hall door. Standing on the steps was Mr. Rochester. Sibyl uttered a great whoop when she saw him, rushed forward, and seized him by the hand.
"Oh, I am glad to see you," she said. "Have you come to see me, or to see mother?"
"I am very glad to see you," replied the young man; "but I did call to see your mother."
"Well, come to the drawing-room, I'll entertain you till mother comes. Go upstairs, please, Watson, and tell mother that Mr. Rochester is here. Be sure you say Mr. Rochester—nice Mr. Rochester."
Watson smiled, as he often did when Sibyl addressed him, and nice Mr. Rochester and the little girl disappeared into the drawing-room.
Sibyl shut the door, took his hand, and looked earnestly into his face.
"Well?" she said.
"Why do you say that?" he asked, in some confusion.
"I was only wondering if Lady Helen had done it."
"Really, Sibyl, you say very queer things," answered Rochester. He sat down on a chair.
"Oh, you know you are awfully fond of her, and you want her to marry you, and I want her to marry you because I like you. You are very nice, very nice indeed, and you are rich, you know. Mother has been 'splaining to me about rich people. It's most 'portant that everybody should be rich, isn't it, Mr. Rochester? It's the only way to be truly, truly happy, isn't it?"
"That it is not, Sibyl. Who has been putting such an idea into your head?"
Sibyl looked at him, and was about to say, "Why, mother," but she checked herself. A cloud took some of the brightness out of her eyes. She looked puzzled for a moment, then she laughed.
"When my own father comes back again we'll all be rich people. I hope when you are very, very rich you'll make," she said, "dear Lady Helen happy. I am very glad, now, my father went to Australia. It gave me dreadful pain at the time, but when he comes back we'll all be rich. What has he gone about; do you know, Mr. Rochester?"
"Something about a gold mine. Your father is a great engineer, and his opinion with regard to the mine will be of the utmost value. If he says it is a good mine, with a lot of gold in it, then the British public will buy shares. They will buy shares as fast as ever they can."
"What are shares?" asked Sibyl.
"It is difficult to explain. Shares mean a little bit of the gold out of the mine, and these people will buy them in order to become rich."
"It's very puzzling," said Sibyl. "And it depends on father?"
"Yes, because if he says there is not much gold in the mine, then no one will buy shares. Don't you understand, it all depends on him."
"It's very puzzling," said Sibyl again. "Are you going to buy shares, Mr. Rochester?"
"I think so," he answered earnestly. "I shall buy several shares, I think, and if I do I shall be rich enough to ask Lady Helen to marry me."
"And you will be happy?"
"Very happy if she says 'yes.' But, Sibyl, this is a great secret between you and me, you must never tell it to anyone else."
"You may trust me," said Sibyl, "I never tell things I'm told not to tell. You can't think what wonderful 'portant things father has told me, and I never, never speak of them again. Then you'll be glad to be rich?"
"Yes, because I shall be happy if Lady Helen is my wife," he answered, and just then Mrs. Ogilvie came into the room.
Sibyl and Miss Winstead went out for their daily exercise. Sibyl had already ridden the pony in the morning. It was a nameless pony. Nothing would induce her to give it a title.
"When father comes back he'll christen my pony," she said, "but no one else shall. I won't give it no name till he comes back."
She enjoyed her rides on the brisk little pony's back. She was rapidly becoming a good horsewoman. When her mother did not accompany her the redoubtable Watson followed his little mistress, and the exercise did the child good, and helped to bring a faint color to her cheeks.
Now she and Miss Winstead walked slowly down the shady side of the street. Sibyl was pondering over many things.