“How have you heard it?” demanded Lionel.
“I met Roy just now,” replied Dr. West. “He stopped me, saying he had heard from his son by this afternoon’s post; that there was bad news in the letter, and he supposed he must go to Verner’s Pride, and break it to them. He gave me the letter, and I undertook to carry the tidings to Mrs. Verner.”
“It is awfully sudden,” said Lionel, “By the mail, two months ago, he wrote himself to us, in the highest spirits. And now—dead!”
“Life, over there, is not worth a month’s purchase just now,” remarked Dr. West; and Lionel could but note that had he been discussing the death of a total stranger, instead of a nephew, he could only have spoken in the same indifferent, matter-of-fact tone. “By all accounts, society is in a strange state there,” he continued; “ruffians lying in wait ever for prey. The men have been taken, and the gold found upon them, Luke writes.”
“That’s good, so far,” said Lionel.
When they reached Verner’s Pride, they found that a letter was waiting for Frederick Massingbird, who had not been home since he left the house early in the afternoon. The superscription was in the same handwriting as the letter Dr. West had brought—Luke Roy’s. There could be no doubt that it was only a confirmation of the tidings.
Mrs. Verner was in the drawing-room alone, Tynn said, ready to go in to dinner, and rather cross that Mr. Lionel should keep her waiting for it.
“Who will break it to her—you or I?” asked Dr. West of Lionel.
“I think it should be you. You are her brother.”
Broken to her it was, in the best mode they were able. It proved a severe shock. Mrs. Verner had loved John, her eldest born, above every earthly thing. He was wild, random, improvident, had given her incessant trouble as a child and as a man; and so, mother fashion, she loved him best.
A CONTEMPLATED VOYAGE.
Frederick Massingbird sat perched on the gate of a ploughed field, softly whistling. His brain was busy, and he was holding counsel with himself, under the gray February skies. Three weeks had gone by since the tidings arrived of the death of his brother, and Frederick was deliberating whether he should, or should not, go out. His own letter from Luke Roy had been in substance the same as that which Luke had written to his father. It was neither more explanatory, nor less so. Luke Roy was not a first-hand at epistolary correspondence. John had been attacked and killed for the sake of his gold, and the attackers and the gold had been taken hold of by the law; so far it said, and no further. That the notion should occur to Frederick to go out to Melbourne, and lay claim to the gold and any other property left by John, was only natural. He had been making up his mind to do so for the last three weeks; and perhaps the vision of essaying a little business in the gold-fields on his own account, urged him on. But he had not fully made up his mind yet. The journey was a long and hazardous one; and—he did not care to leave Sibylla.