“It’s kind of you to come, Lionel,” said she. “I want to talk to you. What will you have?—some wine?”
“Not anything,” replied Lionel. “Tynn said you wished to see me for something particular.”
“And so I do. You must take the management of the estate until Fred’s at home.”
The words grated on his ear, and his brow knit itself into lines. But he answered calmly—
“I cannot do that, Mrs. Verner.”
“Then what can I do?” she asked. “Here’s all this great estate, nobody to see after it, nobody to take it in charge! I’m sure I have no more right to be teased over it than you have, Lionel.”
“It is your son’s.”
“I asked you not to leave Verner’s Pride. I asked you to take the management of out-door things! You did so, between your uncle’s death and his burial.”
“Believing that I was taking the management of what was mine,” replied Lionel.
“Why do you visit upon me the blame of all that has happened?” pursued Mrs. Verner. “I declare that I knew nothing of what was done; I could not believe my own ears when I heard Matiss read out the will. You should not blame me.”
“I never have blamed you for it, Mrs. Verner. I believe you to be as innocent of blame in the matter as I am.”
“Then you ought not to turn haughty and cold, and refuse to help me. They are going to have me up before the Justice Courts at Heartburg!”
“Have you up before the Justice Courts at Heartburg!” repeated Lionel, in great astonishment.
“It’s all through Roy; I know it is. There’s some stupid dispute about a lease, and I am to be had up in evidence. Did you hear of the threat?”
“What threat?” asked he.
“Some of the men are saying they’ll burn down Verner’s Pride. Roy turned them off the brick-yard, and they threaten they’ll do it out of revenge. If you would just look to things and keep Roy quiet, nothing of this would happen.”
Lionel knew that.
“Mrs. Verner,” he said, “were you the owner of Verner’s Pride, I would spare no pains to help you. But I cannot act for Frederick Massingbird.”
“What has Fred done to you?” she asked quickly.
“That is not the question—he has done nothing,” answered Lionel, speaking more rapidly still. “My management would—if I know anything of him—be essentially different from your son’s; different from what he would approve. Neither would I take authority upon myself only to have it displaced upon his return. Have Roy before you, Mrs. Verner, and caution him.”
“It does no good. I have already had him. He smoothes things over to me, so that black looks white. Lionel, I must say that you are unkind and obstinate.”
“I do not think I am naturally either one or the other,” he answered, smiling. “Perhaps it might answer your purpose to put things into the hands of Matiss, until your son’s return.”