His wife! Ah, poor Lionel had enough upon his hands, looking on one side and another. She was the heaviest weight. Lionel had thanked God in his true heart that they had been spared the return of Frederick Massingbird; but there was little doubt that the return of Frederick would have been regarded by her as a light calamity, in comparison with this. She made no secret of it. Ten times a day had Lionel to curb his outraged feelings, and compress his lips to stop the retort that would rise bubbling up within them. She would openly lament that it was not Frederick who had returned, in which case she might have remained at Verner’s Pride!
“You’ll not turn them out, Massingbird?” cried Jan, in his straightforward way, drawing the gentleman into the fruit-garden to a private conference. “I wouldn’t.”
John Massingbird laughed good-humouredly. He had been in the sunniest humour throughout; had made his first appearance at Verner’s Pride in bursts of laughter, heartily grasping the hands of Lionel, of Sibylla, and boasting of the “fun” he had had in playing the ghost. Captain Cannonby, the only one of the guests who remained, grew charmed with John, and stated his private opinion in the ear of Lionel Verner that he was worth a hundred such as Frederick.
“How can I help turning them out?” answered he. “I didn’t make the will—it was old Daddy Verner.”
“You need not act upon the will,” said Jan. “There was a codicil, you know, superseding it, though it can’t be found. Sibylla’s your cousin—it would be a cruel thing to turn her from her home.”
“Two masters never answered in a house yet,” nodded John. “I’m not going to try it.”
“Let them stop in Verner’s Pride, and you go elsewhere,” suggested Jan.
John Massingbird laughed for five minutes. “How uncommon young you are, Jan!” said he. “Has Lionel been putting you up to try this on?”
Jan swung himself on a tolerably strong branch of the mulberry-tree, regardless of any damage the ripe fruit might inflict on his nether garments, as he answered—
“Knowing Lionel, you needn’t ask it, Massingbird. There’d be a difficulty in getting him to stop in Verner’s Pride now, but he might be coaxed to do it for the sake of his wife. She’ll have a fit of illness if she has to go out of it. Lionel is one to stand by his own to the last; while Verner’s Pride was his, he’d have fought to retain its possession, inch by inch; but let ever so paltry a quibble of the law take it from him, and he’d not lift up his finger to keep it. But, I say, I think he might be got to do it for Sibylla.”
“I’ll tell you a secret, Jan,” cried John Massingbird. “I’d not have Sibylla stop in Verner’s Pride if she paid me ten thousand a year for the favour. There! And as to resigning Verner’s Pride the minute I come into it, nobody but a child or Jan Verner could ever have started so absurd an idea. If anything makes me feel cross, it is the thought of my having been knocking about yonder, when I might have been living in clover here. I’d get up an Ever-perpetual Philanthropic Benefit-my-fellow-creature Society, if I were you, Jan, and hold meetings at Exeter Hall!”