“Very well,” replied Lionel. And he went out of the surgery, leaving John Massingbird talking to his brother.
“On business,” John Massingbird had said. Was it to ask him about the mesne profits?—when he could refund them?—to tell him he would be sued, unless he did refund them? Lionel did not know; but he had been expecting John Massingbird to take some such steps.
In going back home, choosing the near cross-field way, as Jan often did, Lionel suddenly came upon Mrs. Peckaby, seated on the stump of a tree, in a very disconsolate fashion. To witness her thus, off the watch for the white animal that might be arriving before her door, surprised Lionel.
“I’m a’most sick of it, sir,” she said. “I’m sick to the heart with looking and watching. My brain gets weary and my eyes gets tired. The white quadruple don’t come, and Peckaby, he’s a-rowing at me everlastin’. I’m come out here for a bit o’ peace.”
“Don’t you think it would be better to give the white donkey up for a bad job, Mrs. Peckaby?”
“Give it up!” she uttered, aghast. “Give up going to New Jerusalem on a white donkey! No, sir, that would be a misfortin’ in life!”
Lionel smiled sadly as he left her.
“There are worse misfortunes in life, Mrs. Peckaby, than not going to New Jerusalem on a white donkey.”
Lionel Verner was seated in the dining-room at Verner’s Pride. Not its master. Its master, John Massingbird, was there, opposite to Lionel. They had just dined, and John was filling his short pipe as an accompaniment to his wine. During dinner, he had been regaling Lionel with choice anecdotes of his Australian life, laughing ever; but not a syllable had he broached yet about the “business” he had put forth as the plea for the invitation to Lionel to come. The anecdotes did not raise the social features of that far-off colony in Mr. Verner’s estimation. But he laughed with John; laughed as merrily as his heavy heart would allow him.
It was quite a wintry day, telling of the passing autumn. The skies were leaden-gray; the dead leaves rustled on the paths; and the sighing wind swept through the trees with a mournful sound. Void of brightness, of hope, it all looked, as did Lionel Verner’s fortunes. But a few short weeks ago he had been in John Massingbird’s place, in the very chair that he now sat in, never thinking to be removed from it during life. And now!—what a change!
“Why don’t you smoke, Lionel?” asked John, setting light to his pipe by the readiest way—that of thrusting it between the bars of the grate. “You did not care to smoke in the old days, I remember.”
“I never cared for it,” replied Lionel.
“I can tell you that you would have cared for it, had you been knocked about as I have. Tobacco’s meat and drink to a fellow at the diggings; as it is to a sailor and a soldier.”