“He won’t take it,” she answered. “I sent for him—what with this court business and the threat of incendiarism, I am like one upon thorns—and he said he would not undertake it. He seemed to fear contact with Roy.”
“Were I to take the management, Mrs. Verner, my first act would be to discharge Roy.”
Mrs. Verner tried again to shake his resolution. But he was quite firm. And, wishing her good-day, he left Verner’s Pride, and bent his steps towards the village.
On passing through Deerham from Verner’s Pride, a little below the shop of Mrs. Duff, you come upon an opening on the left hand, which led to quite a swarm of cottages. Many of the labourers congregated here. If you took this turning, which was called Clay Lane, and continued your way past the cottages in a straight line over the fields, you would arrive at the residence of the gamekeeper, Broom, leaving some brick-fields to the right, and the Willow Pool, which had been the end of poor Rachel Frost, on the left. But, unless you climbed hedges, you could not get to the pool from this quarter without going round, near the gamekeeper’s. The path which led to Verner’s Pride past the pool, and which Rachel had taken that unfortunate night, had its commencement higher up in the village, above Mrs. Duff’s. A few cottages were scattered again beyond the gamekeeper’s, and one or two on this side it; but we have nothing to do with them at present.
A great part of the ill-feeling rife on the estate was connected with these brick-fields. It had been a great mistake on Mr. Verner’s part ever to put Roy into power; had Mr. Verner been in the habit of going out of doors himself, he would have seen this, and not kept the man on a week. The former bailiff had died suddenly. He, the bailiff, had given some little power to Roy during his lifetime; had taken him on as a sort of inferior helper; and Mr. Verner, put to shifts by the bailiffs death, had allowed Roy so to continue. Bit by bit, step by step, gradually, covertly, the man made good his footing: no other was put over his head, and in time he came to be called Roy the bailiff, without having ever been formally appointed as bailiff. He drew his two pounds per week—his stipulated wages—and he made, it is hard to say what, besides. Avarice and tyranny were the predominant passions of Roy’s mind; bad qualities, and likely to bring forth bad fruits when joined to petty power.
About three years previous to Mr. Verner’s death, a stranger had appeared in Clay Lane, and set up a shop there. Nearly every conceivable thing in the shape of eatables was sold in it; that is, such eatables as are in request among the poor. Bread, flour, meat, potatoes, butter, tea, sugar, red herrings, and the like. Soap and candles were also sold; and afterwards the man added green vegetables and coals, the latter doled out by the measure, so much a “kipe.” The man’s name was Peckaby; he and his wife were without family, and they managed the shop between them. A tall, strong, brawny man was he; his wife was a remarkably tall woman, fond of gossip and of smart caps. She would go gadding out for hours at a stretch, leaving him to get through all the work at home, the preparing meals, the serving customers.