“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 the week was out, 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 is not high, but low, as you know; I shall not alter it.”
And so Roy continued on the estate.
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 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 has 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.