“Roy,” said Lionel calmly, “you are perfectly well aware that the right, not only to interfere between you and the estate, but to invest me with full power over it and you, was sought to be given me by Mrs. Verner at my uncle’s death. For reasons of my own I chose to decline it, and have continued to decline it. Do you remember what I once told you—that one of my first acts of power would be to displace you? After what I have seen and heard to-day, I shall deliberate whether it be not my duty to reconsider my determination, and assume this, and all other power.”
Roy’s face turned green. He answered defiantly, not in tone, but in spirit—
“It wouldn’t be for long, at any rate, sir; and Mr. Massingbird, I know, ’ll put me into my place again on his return.”
Lionel did not reply immediately. The sun was coming down upon his uncovered head like a burning furnace, and he was casting a glance round to see if any friendly shade might be at hand. In his absorption over the moment’s business he had not observed that he had halted with Roy right underneath its beams. No, there was no shade just in that spot. A public pump stood behind him, but the sun was nearly vertical, and the pump got as much of it as he did. A thought glanced through Lionel’s mind of resorting to the advice of the women, to double his handkerchief cornerwise over his head. But he did not purpose staying above another minute with Roy, to whom he again turned.
“Don’t deceive yourself, Roy. Mr. Massingbird is not likely to countenance such doings as these. That Mrs. Verner will not, I know; and, I tell you plainly, I will not. You shall pay the men’s wages at the proper and usual time; you shall pay them in full, to the last halfpenny that they earn. Do you hear? I order you now to do so. We will have no underhanded truck system introduced on the Verner estate.”
“You’d like to ruin poor Peckaby, I suppose, sir!”
“I have nothing to do with Peckaby. If public rumour is to be credited, the business is not Peckaby’s, but yours—”
“Them that says it is a pack of liars!” burst forth Roy.
“Possibly. I say I have nothing to do with that. Peckaby—”
Lionel’s voice faltered. An awful pain—a pain, the like of which, for acute violence, he had never felt—had struck him in the head. He put his hand up to it, and fell against the pump.
“Are you ill, sir?” asked Roy.
“What can it be?” murmured Lionel. “A sudden pain has attacked me here, Roy,” touching his head; “an awful pain. I’ll get into Frost’s, and sit down.”
Frost’s cottage was but a minute’s walk, but Lionel staggered as he went to it. Roy attended him. The man humbly asked if Mr. Lionel would be pleased to lean upon him, but Lionel waved him off. Matthew Frost was sitting indoors alone; his grandchildren were at school, his son’s wife was busy elsewhere. Matthew no longer went out to labour. He had been almost incapable of it before Mr. Verner’s annuity fell to him. Robin was away at work: but Robin was a sadly altered man since the death of Rachel. His very nature appeared to have changed.