Page:Once a Week Volume 7.djvu/308

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300
Sept. 6, 1862.
ONCE A WEEK.

postman had not come, and it gave Roy a pain in his temper.

“They be a-coming back, that’s what it is,” was the conclusion he arrived at, when his disappointment had a little subsided. “Perhaps they might have come by this very ship! I wonder if it brings folks as well as letters?”

“I know he must be dead!” sobbed Mrs. Roy.

“He’s dead as much as you be,” retorted Roy. “He’s a-making his fortune, and he’ll come home after it—that’s what Luke’s a-doing. For all you know he may be come, too.”

The words appeared to startle Mrs. Roy; she looked up, and he saw that her face had gone white with terror.

“Why! what does ail you?” cried he, in wonder. “Be you took crazy?”

“I don’t want him to come home,” she replied in an awe-struck whisper. “Roy, I don’t want him to.”

“You don’t want to be anything but a idiot,” returned Roy with supreme contempt.

“But I’d like to hear from him,” she wailed, swaying herself to and fro. “I’m always a-dreaming of it.”

“You’ll just dream a bit about getting the dinner ready,” commanded Roy, morosely; “that’s what you’ll dream about now. I said I’d have biled pork and turnips, and nicely you be a-getting on with it. Hark ye! I’m a-going now, but I shall be in at twelve, and if it ain’t ready, mind your skin!”

He swung open the kitchen door just in time to hear the church bells burst out with a loud and joyous peal. It surprised Roy. In quiet Deerham, such sounds were not very frequent.

“What’s up now?” cried Roy, savagely. Not that the abstract fact of the bells ringing was of any moment to him, but he was in a mood to be angry with everything. “Here, you!” continued he, seizing hold of a boy who was running by, “what be them bells a clattering out for?”

Thus brought to summarily, the boy had no resource but to stop. It was a young gentleman whom you have had the pleasure of meeting before—Master Dan Duff. So fast had he been flying, that a moment or Mb elapsed ere he could get breath to speak.

The delay did not tend to soothe his capturer; and he administered a slight shake. “Can’t you speak, Dan Duff? Don’t you see who it is that’s a asking of you? What be them bells a working for?”

“Please, sir, it’s for Mr. Lionel Verner.”

The answer took Roy somewhat aback. He knew—as everybody else knew—that Mr. Lionel Verner’s departure from Deerham was fixed for that day; but to believe that the bells would ring out a peal of joy on that account was a staggerer even to Roy’s ears. Dan Duff found himself treated to another shake, together with a sharp reprimand.

“So they be a ringing for him!” panted he. “There ain’t no call to shake my inside out of me for saying so. Mr. Lionel have got Verner’s Pride at last, and he ain’t a going away at all, and the bells be a ringing for it. Mother have sent me to tell the gamekeeper. She said he’d sure to give me a penny, if I was the first to tell him.”

Roy let go the boy. His arms and his mouth alike dropped. “Is that—that there codicil found?” gasped he.

Dan Duff shook his head. “I dun know nothink about codinals,” said he. “Mr. Fred Massingbird’s dead. He can’t keep Mr. Lionel out of his own any longer, and the bells is a ringing for it.”

Unrestrained now, he sped away. Roy was not altogether in a state to stop him. He had turned of a glowing heat, and was asking himself whether the news could be true. Mrs. Roy stepped forward, her tears arrested.

“Law, Roy, whatever shall you do?” spoke she, deprecatingly. “I said as you should have kept in with Mr. Lionel. You’ll have to eat humble pie, for certain.”

The humble pie would taste none the more palatable for his being reminded of it by his wife, and Roy drove her back with a shower of harsh words. He shut the door with a bang, and went out, a forlorn hope lighting him that the news might be false.

But the news, he found, was too true. Frederick Massingbird was really dead, and the true heir had come into his own.

Roy stood in much inward perturbation. The eating of humble pie—as Mrs. Roy had been kind enough to suggest—would not cost much to a man of his cringing nature; but he entertained a shrewd suspicion that no amount of humble pie would avail for him with Mr. Verner; that, in short, he should be discarded entirely. While thus standing, the centre of a knot of gossipers, for the news had caused Deerham to collect in groups, the bells ceased as suddenly as they had begun, and Lionel Verner himself was observed coming from the direction of the church. Roy stood out from the rest, and, as a preliminary slice of the humble pie, took off his hat, and stood bareheaded while Lionel passed by.

It did not avail him. On the following day Roy found himself summoned to Verner’s Pride. He went up, and was shown to the old business room—the study.

Ah! things were changed now; changed from what they had been; and Roy was feeling it to his heart’s core. It was no longer the feeble invalid, Stephen Verner, who sat there; to whom all business was unwelcome, and who shunned as much of it as he could shun, leaving it to Roy: it was no longer the ignorant and easy Mrs. Verner, to whom (as she herself had once expressed it) Roy could represent white as black, and black as white: but he who reigned now was essentially master—master of himself, and of all who were dependent on him.

Roy felt it the moment he entered: felt it keenly. Lionel stood before a table covered with papers. He appeared to have risen from his chair and to be searching for something. He lifted his head when Roy appeared, quitted the table and stood looking at the man, his figure drawn to its full height. The exceeding nobility of the face and form struck even Roy.