Democracy An American Novel
THEY drove home in silence, Mrs. Lee disturbed with anxieties and doubts, partly
caused by her sister, partly by Mr. Ratcliffe; Sybil divided between amusement at
Victoria's conquest, and alarm at her own boldness in meddling with her sister's affairs.
Desperation, however, was stronger than fear. She made up her mind that further
suspense was not to be endured; she would fight her baffle now before another hour
was lost; surely no time could be better. A few moments brought them to their door.
Mrs. Lee had told her maid not to wait for them, and they were alone. The fire was still
alive on Madeleine's hearth, and she threw more wood upon it. Then she insisted that
Sybil must go to bed at once. But Sybil refused; she felt quite well, she said, and not in
the least sleepy; she had a great deal to talk about, and wanted to get it off her mind.
Nevertheless, her feminine regard for the "Dawn in June" led her to postpone what she
had to say until with Madeleine's help she had laid the triumph of the ball carefully
aside; then, putting on her dressing-gown, and hastily plunging Carrington's letter into
her breast, like a concealed weapon, she hurried back to Madeleine's room and
established herself in a chair before the fire. There, after a moment's pause, the two
women began their long-deferred trial of strength, in which the match was so nearly
equal as to make the result doubtful; for, if Madeleine were much the cleverer, Sybil in
this case knew much better what she wanted, and had a clear idea how she meant to
gain it, while Madeleine, unsuspicious of attack, had no plan of defence at all.
"Madeleine," began Sybil, solemnly, and with a violent palpitation of the heart, "I want
you to tell me something."
"What is it, my child?" said Mrs. Lee, puzzled, and yet half ready to see that there must
be some connection between her sister's coming question and the sudden illness at the
ball, which had disappeared as suddenly as it came.
"Do you mean to marry Mr. Ratcliffe?"
Poor Mrs. Lee was quite disconcerted by the directness of the attack. This fatal question
met her at every turn. Hardly had she succeeded in escaping trom it at the ball scarcely
an hour ago, by a stroke of good fortune for which she now began to see she was
indebted to Sybil, and here it was again presented to her face like a pistol. The whole
town, then, was asking it.
Ratcliffe's offer must have been seen by half Washington, and her reply was awaited by
an immense audience, as though she were a political returning-board. Her disgust was
intense, and her first answer to Sybil was a quick inquiry:
"Why do you ask such a question? have you heard anything,--has anyone talked about
it to you?"