Sep. 6, 1862.]
But Lionel greeted him in a quiet, courteous tone: to meet anyone, the poorest person on his estate otherwise than courteously, was next to an impossibility for Lionel Verner. “Sit down, Roy,” he said. “You are at no loss, I imagine, to guess what my business is with you.”
Roy did not accept the offered seat. He stood in discomfiture, saying something to the effect that he’d change his mode of dealing with the men, would do all he could to give satisfaction to his master, Mr. Verner, if the latter would consent to continue him on.
“You must know yourself that I am not likely to do it,” returned Lionel, briefly. “But I do not wish to be harsh, Roy—I trust I never shall be harsh with any one—and if you choose to accept of work on the estate, you can do so.”
“You’ll not continue me in my post over the brickyard, sir—over the men generally?”
“No,” replied Lionel. “Perhaps the less we go into those past matters the better. I have no objection to speak of them, Roy; but, if I do, you will hear some home truths that may not be palatable. You can have work if you wish for it; and good pay.”
“As one of the men, sir?” asked Roy, a shade of grumbling in his tone.
“As one of the superior men.”
Roy hesitated. The blow had fallen; but it was only what he feared. “Might I ask as you’d give me a day to consider it over, sir?” he presently said.
“A dozen days if you choose. The work is always to be had: it will not run away. If you prefer to spend time deliberating upon the point, it is your affair, not mine.”
“Thank ye, sir. Then I’ll think it over. It’ll be hard lines, coming down to be a workman, where I’ve been, as may be said, a sort of master.”
Roy turned back. He had been moving away. “Yes, sir.”
“I shall expect you to pay rent for your cottage now, if you remain in it. Mr. Verner, I believe, threw it into your post; made it part of your perquisites. Mrs. Verner has, no doubt, done the same. But that is at an end. I can show no more favour to you than I do to others.”
“I’ll think it over, sir,” concluded Roy, his tone as sullen a one as he dared let appear. And he departed.
Before a week had elapsed, he came again to Verner’s Pride, and said he would accept the work, and pay rent for the cottage: but he hoped Mr. Verner would name a fair rent.
“I should not name an unfair one, Roy,” was the reply of Lionel. “You will pay the same that others pay, whose dwellings are the same size as yours. Mr. Verner’s scale of rents was not high, but low; as you know: I shall not alter it.”
A short period elapsed. One night Jan Verner, upon getting into bed, found he need not have taken the trouble, for the night-bell rang, and Jan had to get up again. He opened his side window and called out to know who was there. A boy came round from the surgery door into view, and Jan recognised him for the youngest son of his brother’s gamekeeper, a youth of twelve. He said his mother was ill.
“What’s the matter with her?” asked Jan.
“Please, sir, she’s took bad in the stomach. She’s a groaning awful. Father thinks she’ll die.”
Jan dressed himself and started off, carrying with him a dose of tincture of opium. When he arrived, however, he found the woman so violently sick and ill, that he suspected it did not arise simply from natural causes. “What had she been eating?” inquired Jan.
“Some late mushrooms out of the fields.”
“Ah, that’s just it,” said Jan. And he knew the woman had been poisoned. He took a leaf from his pocket-book, wrote a rapid word on it, and ordered the boy to carry it to the house, and give it to Mr. Cheese.
“Now, look you, Jack,” said he. “If you want your mother to get well, you’ll go there and back as fast as ever your legs can carry you. I can do little till you bring me what I have sent for. Go past the willow pool, and straight across to my house.”
The boy looked aghast at the injunction. “Past the willow pool!” echoed he. “I’d not go past there, sir, at night, for all the world.”
“Why not?” questioned Jan.
“I’d see Rachel Frost’s ghost, may be,” returned Jack, his round eyes open with perplexity.
The conceit of seeing a ghost amused Jan beyond everything. He sat down on a high press that was in the kitchen, and grinned at the boy. “What would the ghost do to you?” cried he.
Jack Broom could not say. All he knew was, that neither he, nor a good many more, had gone near that pond at night, since the report had arisen (which of course it did, simultaneously with the death) that Rachel’s ghost was to be seen there.
“Wouldn’t you go, to save your mother?” cried Jan.
“I’d—I’d not go to be made winner of the leg of mutton atop of a greased pole,” responded the boy, in mortal fright, lest Jan should send him.
“You are a nice son, Mr. Jack! A brave young man, truly!”
“Jim Hook, he was a going by the pond one night, and he seed it,” cried the boy, earnestly. “It don’t take two minutes longer to cut down Clay Lane, please, sir.”
“Be off, then,” said Jan, “and see how quick you can be. What has put such a thing in his head?” he presently asked of the gamekeeper, who was hard at work, preparing hot water.
“Little fools!” ejaculated the man. “I think the report first took its rise, sir, through Robin Frost’s going to the pond of a moonlight night, and walking about on its brink.”
“Robert Frost did!” cried Jan. “What did he do that for?”
“What indeed, sir! It did no good, as I told him, more than once, when I came upon him there. He has not been lately, I think. Folks get up a talk that Robin went there to meet his sister’s spirit, and it put the youngsters into a fright.”