“The worst is, those diggings appear to be all a lottery,” remarked Lionel. “Where one gets his pockets lined, another starves. Nay, ten—fifty—more, for all we know, starve for the one lucky one. I should not, myself, feel inclined to risk the journey to them.”
“You! It’s not likely you would,” was the reply of Frederick Massingbird. “Everybody was not born heir to Verner’s Pride.”
Lionel laughed pleasantly. They were pacing the terrace in the sunshine of a winter’s afternoon, a crisp, cold, bright day in January. At that moment Tynn came out of the house and approached them.
“My master is up, sir, and would like the paper read to him,” said he, addressing Frederick Massingbird.
“Oh, bother, I can’t stop now,” broke from that gentleman involuntarily. “Tynn, you need not say that you found me here. I have an appointment, and I must hasten to keep it.”
Lionel Verner looked at his watch.
“I can spare half an hour,” he observed to himself; and he proceeded to Mr. Verner’s room.
The old study that you have seen before. And there sat Mr. Verner in the same arm-chair, cushioned and padded more than it had used to be. What a change there was in him! Shrunken, wasted, drawn: surely there would be no place very long in this world for Mr. Verner.
He was leaning forward in his chair, his back bowed, his hands resting on his stick, which was stretched out before him. He lifted his head when Lionel entered, and an expression, partly of displeasure, partly of pain, passed over his countenance.
“Frederick has an appointment out, sir. I will read to you.”
“I thought you were going down to your mother’s,” rejoined Mr. Verner, his accent not softening in the least.
“I need not go for this half hour yet,” replied Lionel, taking up the Times, which lay on a table near Mr. Verner. “Have you looked at the headings of the news, sir; or shall I go over them for you, and then you can tell me what you wish read?”
“I don’t want anything read by you,” said Mr. Verner. “Put the paper down.”
Lionel did not immediately obey. A shade of mortification had crossed his face.
“Do you hear me, Lionel? Put the paper down. You know how it fidgets me to hear those papers ruffled, when I am not in a mood for reading.”
Lionel rose, and stood before Mr. Verner. “Uncle, I wish you would let me do something for you. Better send me out of the house altogether, than treat me with this estrangement. Will it be of any use my asking you, for the hundredth time, what I did to displease you?”
“I tell you I don’t want the paper read,” said Mr. Verner. “And if you’d leave me alone I should be glad. Perhaps I shall get a wink of sleep. All night, all night, and my eyes were never closed! It’s time I was gone.”
The concluding sentences were spoken as in soliloquy; not to Lionel. Lionel, who knew his uncle’s every mood, quitted the room. As he closed the door, a heavy groan, born of displeasure mingled with pain, as the greeting look had been, was sent after him by Mr. Verner. Very emphatically did it express his state of feeling with regard to Lionel; and Lionel felt it keenly.