Page:Once a Week Volume 7.djvu/249

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Aug. 23, 1862.]
241
VERNER’S PRIDE.

and can rub off the rust of old grievances with hard work.”

“You will not like London better than Deerham.”

“I shall like it ten thousand times better,” impulsively answered Lionel. “I have no longer a place in Deerham, Lucy. That is gone.”

“You allude to Verner’s Pride?”

“Everything’s gone that I valued in Deerham,” cried Lionel, with the same impulse—“Verner’s Pride amongst the rest. I would never stop here to see the rule of Fred Massingbird. Better that John had lived to take it, than that it had come to him.”

“Was John better than his brother?”

“He would have made a better master. He was, I believe, a better man. Not but that John had his faults. As we all have.”

“All:” echoed Lucy. “What are your faults?”

Lionel could not help laughing. She asked the question, as she did all her questions, in the most genuine, earnest manner: really seeking the information. “I think for some time back, Lucy, my chief fault has been grumbling. I am sure you must find it so. Better days may be in store for us both.”

Lucy rose. “I think it must be time for me to go and make Lady Verner’s tea. Decima will not be home for it.”

“Where is Decima this evening?”

“She is gone her round to the cottages. She does not find time for it in the day, since you were ill. Is there anything I can do for you before I go down?”

“Yes,” he answered, taking her hand. “You can let me thank you for your patience and kindness. You have borne with me bravely, Lucy. God bless you, my dear child.”

She neither went away, nor drew her hand away. She stood there—as he had phrased it—patiently, until he should release it. He soon did so, with a weary movement: all he did was wearisome to him then, save the thinking and talking of the theme which ought to have been a barred one—Sibylla.

“Will you please to come down to tea this evening?” asked Lucy.

“I don’t care for tea; I’d rather be alone.”

“Then I will bring you some up.”

“No, no; you shall not be at the trouble. I’ll come down, then, presently.”

Lucy Tempest disappeared. Lionel leaned against the window, looking out on the night landscape, and lost himself in thoughts of his faithless love. He aroused himself from them with a stamp of impatience.

“I must shake it off,” he cried to himself; “I will shake it off. None, save myself or a fool, but would have done it months ago. And yet, Heaven alone knows how I have tried and battled, and how vain the battle has been.”

The cottages down Clay Lane were ill-drained. It might be nearer the truth to say, they were not drained at all. As is the case with many another fine estate besides Verner’s Pride, while the agricultural land was well drained, no expense spared upon it, the poor dwellings had been neglected. Not only in the matter of draining, but in other respects, were these habitations deficient: but that strong terms are apt to grate unpleasingly upon the ear, one might say shamefully deficient. The consequence was, that no autumn ever went over, scarcely any spring, but somebody would be down with ague, with low fever; and it was reckoned a fortunate season if a good many were not down.

The first time that Lionel took a walk down Clay Lane after his illness, was a fine day in October. He had been out before in other directions, but not down Clay Lane. He had not yet recovered his full strength; he looked ill and emaciated. Had he been strong as he used to be, he would not have found himself nearly losing his equilibrium, at being run violently against by a woman, who turned swiftly out of her own door.

“Take care, Mrs. Grind! Is your house on fire?”

“It’s begging a thousand pardons, sir! I hadn’t no idea you was there,” returned Mrs. Grind, in lamentable confusion, when she saw whom she had all but knocked down. “Grind, he catches sight o’ one o’ the brick men going by, and he tells me to run and fetch him in; but I had got my hands in the soap-suds, and couldn’t take ’em convenient out of it at the minute, and I was hasting lest he’d gone too far to be caught up. He have now.”

“Is Grind better?”

“He ain’t no worse, sir. There he is,” she added, flinging the door open.

On the side of the kitchen opposite to the door was a pallet-bed stretched against the wall, and on it lay the woman’s husband, Grind, dressed. It was a small room, and it appeared literally full of children, of encumbrances of all sorts. A string extended from one side of the fire-place to the other, and on this hung some wet coloured pinafores, the steam ascending from them in clouds, drawn out by the heat of the fire. The children were in various stages of un-dress, these coloured pinafores doubtlessly constituting their sole outer garment. But that Grind’s eye had caught his, Lionel might have hesitated to enter so uncomfortable a place. His natural kindness of heart—nay, his innate regard for the feelings of others, let them be ever so low in station—prevented his turning back when the man had seen him.

“Grind, don’t move, don’t get off the bed,” Lionel said hastily. But Grind was already up. The ague fit was upon him then, and he shook the bed as he sat down upon it. His face wore that blue, pallid appearance, which you may have seen in agueish patients.

“You don’t seem much better, Grind.”

“Thank ye, sir, I be baddish just now again, but I ain’t worse on the whole,” was the man’s reply. A civil, quiet, hardworking man as any on the estate; nothing against him but his large flock of children, and his difficulty of getting along any way. The mouths to feed were many—ravenous young mouths, too, and the wife, though civil and well-meaning, was not the most thrifty in the world. She liked gossiping better than thrift; but gossip was the most prevalent complaint of Clay Lane, so far as its female population was concerned.