“I cannot tell,” replied Lionel. “It is a question that cannot arise now.”
“No. Sibylla stops it. What are you going to do with yourself?”
“That I cannot tell. I should like an appointment abroad, if I could get one. I did think of going to London, and looking about me a bit; but I am not sure that I shall do so just yet.”
“I say, Lionel,” resumed John Massingbird, sinking his voice, but speaking in a joking sort of way, “how do you mean to pay your debts? I hear you have a few.”
“I have a good many, one way or another.”
“Wipe them off,” said John.
“I wish I could wipe them off.”
“There’s nothing more easy,” returned John in his free manner. “Get the whitewash brush to work. The insolvent court has its friendly doors ever open.”
The colour came into the face of Lionel. A Verner there! He quietly shook his head. “I dare say I shall find a way of paying some time, if the people will only wait.”
“Sibylla helped you to a good part of the score, didn’t she? People are saying so. Just like her!”
“When I complain of my wife, it will be quite time enough for other people to begin,” said Lionel. “When I married Sibylla, I took her with her virtues and her faults; and I am quite ready to defend both.”
“All right. I’d rather you had the right of defending them than I,” said incorrigible John. “Look here, Lionel, I got you up here to-day to talk about the estate. Will you take the management of it?”
“Of this estate?” replied Lionel, scarcely understanding.
“Deuce a bit of any other could I offer you. Things are all at sixes and sevens already. They are chaos; they are purgatory. That’s our word out yonder, Lionel, to express the ultimatum of badness. Matiss comes and bothers; the tenants, one and another, come and bother; Roy comes and bothers. What with it all, I’m fit to bar the outer doors. Roy, you know, thought I should put him into power again! No, no, Mr. Roy; Fred might have done it, but I never will. I have paid him well for the services he rendered me; but put him into power—no. Altogether, things are getting into inextricable confusion; I can’t look to them, and I want a manager. Will you take it, Lionel? I’ll give you five hundred a year.”
The mention of the sum quite startled Lionel. It was far more than he should have supposed John Massingbird would offer to any manager. Matiss would do it for a fourth. Should he take it?
He sat, twirling his wine-glass in his fingers. There was a soreness of spirit to get over, and it could not be done all in a moment. To become a servant (indeed it was no better) on the land that had once been his; that ought to be his now, by the law of right—a servant to John Massingbird! Could he bend to it? John smoked, and sat watching him.
He thought of the position of his wife; he thought of the encumbrance on his mother: he thought of his brother Jan, and what he had done; he thought of his own very unsatisfactory prospects. Was this putting his shoulder to the wheel, as he had resolved to do, thus to hesitate on a quibble of pride? Down, down with his rebellious spirit! Let him be a man in the sight of Heaven!