“I tell you I can’t,” reiterated John, taking his pipe from his mouth to make a spittoon of the carpet—another convenience he had learned at the diggings. “I’m sure I don’t know how on earth my money goes; I never did know all my life how money went; but, go it does. When Fred and I were little chaps, some benevolent old soul tipped us half a crown apiece. Mine was gone by middle-day, and I could not account for more than ninepence of it—never could to this day. Fred, at the end of a twelvemonth’s time, had got his half-crown still snug in his pocket. Had Fred come into Verner’s Pride, he’d have lived in style on a thousand of his income yearly, and put by the rest.”
He never would, Sibylla being his wife, thought Lionel. But he did not say it to John Massingbird.
“An estate, such as this, brings its duties with it, John,” said he. “Remember those poor people down with sickness.”
“Bother duty,” returned John. “Look here, Lionel; you waste your breath and your words. I have not got the money to spend upon it; how do you know, old fellow, what my private expenses may be? And if I had the money, I should not do it,” he continued. “The present state of the property was deemed good enough by Mr. Verner; it was so deemed (if we may judge by facts) by Mr. Lionel Verner; and it is deemed good enough by John Massingbird. It is not he who’s going to have the cost thrown upon him. So let it drop.”
There was no resource but to let it drop; for that he was in full earnest, Lionel saw. John continued—
“You can save up the alterations for yourself, to be commenced when you come into the property. A nice bonne bouche of outlay for you to contemplate.”
“I don’t look to come into it,” replied Lionel.
“The probabilities are that you will come into it,” returned John Massingbird, more seriously than he often spoke. “Barring getting shot, or run over by a railway train, you’ll make old bones, you will. You have never played with your constitution; I have, in more ways than one: and in bare years I have considerably the advantage of you. Psha! when I am a skeleton in my coffin, you’ll still be a young man. You can make your cherished alterations then.”
“You may well say in more ways than one,” returned Lionel, half joking, half serious. “There’s smoking among the catalogue. How many pipes do you smoke in a day? Fifty?”
“Why didn’t you say day and night? Tynn lives in perpetual torment lest my bed should ignite some night, and burn up him, as well as Verner’s Pride. I go to sleep sometimes with my pipe in my mouth as we do at the diggings. Now and then I feel half inclined to make a rush back there. It suited me better than this.”
Lionel bent over some papers that were before him—a hint that he had business to do. Mr. Massingbird did not take it. He began filling his pipe again, scattering the tobacco on the ground wholesale in the process, and talking at the same time.