He had never before called her by her first name, and it pleased her to hear it now, though she generally had a strong objection to such familiarities.
"Oh, I wish you were not going!" she exclaimed tearfully. "What shall I do when you are gone?"
At this pitiful appeal, Carrington felt a sudden pang. He found that he was not so old as he had thought. Certainly he had grown to like her frank honesty and sound common sense, and he had at length discovered that she was handsome, with a very pretty figure. Was it not something like a flirtation he had been carrying on with this young person for the last month? A glimmering of suspicion crossed his mind, though he got rid of it as quickly as possible. For a man of his age and sobriety to be in love with two sisters at once was impossible; still more impossible that Sybil should care for him.
As for her, however, there was no doubt about the matter. She had grown to depend upon him, and she did it with all the blind confidence of youth. To lose him was a serious disaster. She had never before felt the sensation, and she thought it most disagreeable. Her youthful diplomatists and admirers could not at all fill Carrington's place. They danced and chirruped cheerfully on the hollow crust of society, but they were wholly useless when one suddenly fell through and found oneself struggling in the darkness and dangers beneath. Young women, too, are apt to be flattered by the confidences of older men; they have a keen palate for whatever savours of experience and adventure. For the first time in her life, Sybil had found a man who gave some play to her imagination; one who had been a rebel, and had grown used to the shocks of fate, so as to walk with calmness into the face of death, and to command or obey with equal indifference. She felt that he would tell her what to do when the earthquake came, and would be at hand to consult, which is in a woman's eyes the great object of men's existence, when trouble comes. She suddenly conceived that Washington would be intolerable without him, and that she should never get the courage to fight Mr. Ratcliffe alone, or, if she did, she should make some fatal mistake.
They finished their ride very soberly. She began to show a new interest in all that concerned him, and asked many questions about his sisters and their plantation. She wanted to ask him whether she could not do something to help them, but this seemed too awkward. On his part he made her promise to write him faithfully all that took place, and this request pleased her, though she knew his interest was all on her sister's account.
The following Sunday evening when he came to bid good-bye, it was still worse. There was no chance for private talk. Ratcliffe was there, and several diplomatists, including old Jacobi, who had eyes like a cat and saw every motion of one's face. Victoria Dare was on the sofa, chattering with Lord Dunbeg; Sybil would rather have had any ordinary illness, even to the extent of a light case of scarlet fever or small-pox than let her know what was the matter. Carrington found means to get Sybil into another room for a moment and to give her the letter he had promised. Then he bade her good-bye, and in doing so he reminded her of her promise to write, pressing her hand and looking into her eyes with an earnestness that made her heart beat faster, although she said to herself that his interest was all about her sister; as it was--mostly. The thought did not raise her spirits, but she went through with her performance like a heroine. Perhaps she was a little pleased to see that he parted from Madeleine with much less apparent feeling. One would have said that they were two good friends who had no troublesome sentiment to worry them. But then every eye in the room was watching this farewell, and speculating about it. Ratcliffe looked on with particular interest and was a little perplexed to account for this too fraternal cordiality. Could he have made a miscalculation? or was there something behind? He himself insisted upon shaking hands genially with Carrington and wished him a pleasant journey and a successful one.
That night, for the first time since she was a child, Sybil actually cried a little after she went to bed, although it is true that her sentiment did not keep her awake. She felt lonely and weighed down by a great responsibility.
For a day or two afterwards she was nervous and restless. She would not ride, or make calls, or see guests. She tried to sing a little, and found it tiresome. She went out and sat for hours in the Square, where the spring sun was shining warm and bright on the prancing horse of the great Andrew Jackson. She was a little cross, too, and absent, and spoke so often about Carrington that at last Madeleine was struck by sudden suspicion, and began to watch her with anxious care.