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 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 bare-headed 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.
But Lionel greeted him in a quiet, courteous tone; to meet any one, 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 brick-yard, sir—over the men generally?”