"Come over here, I'm buying you roses!" exclaimed Phoebe.
She and Sibella had spent the afternoon shopping in the city, and Phoebe had spotted a stand overflowing with flowers across the street.
At the same time as the women reached the stand, a gentleman approached. He picked a bouquet of deep red roses with sprigs of tiny white flowers tucked between them, and as he reached for his pocket, Sibella recognised him.
William March was a member of society's elite. The March family was well-moneyed and well bred, and William was a popular party guest in the Hollands' circle. Sibella had met him several times.
"Mr. March!" spoke the blonde. "Good afternoon!" Sibella gave him her usual dazzling smile. Phoebe removed her nose from a bunch of deep purple blooms to look at the gentleman.
"How dare you speak to me, filthy whore!" Sibella froze in shock, and he took advantage of that moment to spit at her, staining her skirts. He threw a few coins at the vendor and turned on his heel, stalking away in the opposite direction.
Phoebe rested a hand lightly on Sibella's back, but she remained quiet. Stepping around to face Sibella, she looked up at the taller woman. The blonde was utterly stunned, and she looked as though March had physically struck her.
"Let's go home, darling," Phoebe said softly. Sibella nodded mutely and they turned to leave, but were stopped momentarily.
"Beggin' your pardon, mum," the vendor addressed Phoebe. Stepping out from behind the stand, he extended a handful of pale pink roses to her. "For the lady," he nodded slightly in Sibella's direction. Before Phoebe could speak, he turned around and picked up the purple flowers that Phoebe had been admiring. "An' for you."
"Thank you, that's very kind." The brunette took the flowers from him, grateful for the generosity.
"T'aint a problem. You take care now." He touched the brim of his hat and tipped his head in their direction before returning to his place behind his stand.
The whole carriage ride home, Phoebe gave soft whispers and loving caresses to Sibella, watching attentively for any sign of tears. But the blonde simply stared forward with her eyes slightly lowered, and though they were fixed on one place, she seemed to gaze at nothing at all.
Monty came to meet them at the door when they returned to Highhurst, but his bright smile quickly faded as he saw Sibella's vacant and somber expression and Phoebe's concerned one. Sibella walked towards him and immediately he embraced her.
"What happened?" he asked Phoebe while he held the blonde.
"William March. We came across him, Sibella said hello, and he-" she broke off, not caring to repeat his words. "Well, he was very rude."
"Go into the drawing room, have yourself a cup of tea," Monty spoke gently to Sibella, pressing a kiss into her hair. She nodded, and left the foyer with no protestation.
"What did he say to her?" He turned back to Phoebe once he was sure that the blonde was out of earshot.
"He- he called her a... a filthy whore." Phoebe grimaced at the words coming out of her mouth. When she heard no response, she looked up at him.
Monty's expression was one of pure and unrestrained rage. His anger was quiet but profound, and as Phoebe met his eyes she was slightly frightened.
"I'll kill him." Monty's voice was low and severe, and for a moment Phoebe was worried that his threat was in earnest.
"Monty, please don't do anything foolish, we don't need any more talk about us."
"He must be made to know that what he said is- Sibella?" he stopped abruptly, seeing the blonde cross back through the foyer.
"Are you going somewhere, darling?" asked Phoebe, watching her pull her coat around her shoulders.
"I'm going back to Lionel, to our house," the blonde spoke, rather matter-of-factly.
"But I thought you were staying here?" questioned Monty, putting aside his anger for the moment.
"I have to go back."
"But why?" Phoebe asked.
"Because he's right."
"You can't possibly mean-" Monty began, but Sibella cut him off.
"William March, he's right. I can't go on like this, I have a husband and here I am carrying on with not just one but both members of a married couple!"
"Both members of a married couple who love you very much," Phoebe interjected.
"That doesn't matter! I am bedding not one, not two, but three different people! And one of them is a woman! What kind of person does that? A whore, a slut, a tart, a harlot, a-a..." She stopped speaking abruptly as tears began to spill over her bottom lashes. Her breath caught in her throat and she pressed her hand over her mouth to try to muffle a sob.
Without speaking, Monty and Phoebe both stepped forward simultaneously to wrap their arms around her. The two of them held Sibella close as she wept, Monty running his fingers through her hair and Phoebe rubbing gentle circles on her back.