“Ah!” said John. “Why didn’t you alter it, then, when you had Verner’s Pride?”
“You may well ask! It was my first thought when I came into the estate. I would set about that; I would set about other improvements. Some I did carry out, as you know; but these, the most needful, I left in abeyance. It lies on my conscience now.”
They were in the study. Lionel was at the desk, some papers before him; John Massingbird had lounged in for a chat—as he was fond of doing, to the interruption of Lionel. He was leaning against the door-post; his attire not precisely such that a gentleman might choose, who wished to send his photograph to make a morning call. His pantaloons were hitched up by a belt; braces, John said, were not fashionable at the diggings, and he had learned the comfort of doing without them; a loose sort of round drab coat without tails; no waistcoat; a round brown hat, much bent, and a pair of slippers. Such was John Massingbird’s favourite costume, and he might be seen in it at all hours of the day. When he wanted to go abroad, his toilette was made, as the French say, by the exchanging of the slippers for boots, and the taking in his hand a club stick. John’s whiskers were growing again, and promised to be as fine a pair as he had worn before going out to Australia; and now he was letting his beard grow, but it looked very grim and stubbly. Truth to say, a stranger passing through the village and casting his eyes on Mr. John Massingbird, would have taken him to be a stable helper, rather than the master of that fine place, Verner’s Pride. Just now he had a clay pipe in his mouth, its stem little more than an inch long.
“Do you mean to assert that you’d set about these improvements, as you call them, were you to come again into Verner’s Pride?” asked he of Lionel.
“I believe I should. I would say unhesitatingly that I should, save for past experience,” continued Lionel. “Before my uncle died, I knew how necessary it was that they should be made, and I as much believed that I should set about them the instant I came into the estate, as that I believe I am now talking to you. But you see I did not begin them. It has taught me to be chary of making assertions beforehand.”
“I suppose you think you’d do it?”
“If I know anything of my own resolution I should do it. Were Verner’s Pride to lapse to me to-morrow, I believe I should set about it the next day. But,” Lionel added after a short pause, “there’s no probability of its lapsing to me. Therefore I want you to set about it in my place.”
“I can’t afford it,” replied John Massingbird.
“Nonsense! I wish I could afford things a quarter as well as you.”