John—who was naturally of a roving nature, and who, but for the desirable home he was allowed to call his, would probably have been all over the world before he was his present age, working in his shirt sleeves for bread one day, exalted to some transient luck the next—had latterly taken a fancy in his head to emigrate to Australia. Certain friends of his had gone out there a year or two previously, and were sending home flaming accounts of their success at the gold-fields. It excited in John Massingbird a strong wish to join them. Possibly other circumstances urged him to the step; for it was certain that his finances were not in so desirable a state as they might be. With John Massingbird to wish a thing was to do it; and almost before the plan was spoken of, even in his own family, he was ready to start. Frederick was in his confidence, Lionel partly so, and a hint to his mother was sufficient to induce her to preserve reticence on the subject. John Massingbird had his reasons for this. It was announced in the household that Mr. Massingbird was departing on a visit to town, the only one who was told the truth being Rachel Frost. Rachel was looked upon almost as one of themselves. Frederick Massingbird had also confided it to Sibylla West—but Frederick and Sibylla were on more confidential terms than was suspected by the world. John had made a confident on his own part, and that was of Luke Roy. Luke, despised by Rachel, whom he truly loved, clearly seeing there was no hope whatever that she would ever favour him, was eager to get away from Deerham—anywhere, so that he might forget her. John Massingbird knew this; he liked Luke, and he thought Luke might prove useful to him in the land to which he was emigrating, so he proposed to him to join in the scheme. Luke warmly embraced it. Old Roy, whom they were obliged to take into confidence, was won over to it. He furnished Luke with the needful funds, believing he should be repaid four-fold; for John Massingbird had contrived to imbue him with the firm conviction that gold was to be picked up for the stooping.
Only three days before the tragic event occurred to Rachel, Luke had been despatched to London by John Massingbird to put things in a train of preparation for the voyage. Luke said nothing abroad of his going, and the village only knew he was away by missing him.
“What’s gone of Luke?” many asked of his father.
“Oh, he’s off to London on some spree; he can tell ye about it when he gets back,” was Roy’s answer.
When he got back! John’s departure was intended for the day following that one when you saw him packing his clothes, but the untimely end of Rachel had induced him to postpone it. Or, rather, the command of Mr. Verner—a command which John could not conveniently disobey had he wished. He had won over Mr. Verner to promise him a substantial sum, to “set him up,” as he phrased it, in Australia; and that sum was not yet handed to him.