“To be, or not to be?” soliloquised he, from his seat on the gate, as he plucked thin branches off from the bare winter hedge, and scattered them. “Old stepfather’s wiry yet, he may last an age, and this is getting a horrid, humdrum life. I wonder what he’ll leave me, when he does go off? Mother said one day she thought it wouldn’t be more than five hundred pounds. She doesn’t know; he does not tell her about his private affairs—never has told her. Five hundred pounds! If he left me a paltry sum such as that, I’d fling it in the heir’s face—Master Lionel’s.”
He put a piece of the thorn into his mouth, bit it up, spat it out again, and went on with his soliloquy.
“I had better go. Why, if nothing to speak of does come to me from old Verner, this money of John’s would be a perfect windfall. I must not lose the chance of it—and lose it I should, unless I go out and see after it. No, it would never do. I’ll go. It’s hard to say how much he has left, poor fellow. Thousands—if one may judge by his letters—besides this great nugget that they killed him for, the villains! Yes, I’ll go—that’s settled. And now, to try to get Sibylla. She’ll accompany me fast enough. At least, I fancy she would. But there’s that old West! I may have a battle over it with him.”
He flung away what remained in his hand of the sticks, leaped off the gate, and bent his steps hastily in the direction of Deerham. Could he be going, there and then, to Dr. West’s, to try his fate with Sibylla? Very probably. Frederick Massingbird liked to deliberate well when making up his mind to a step; but, that once done, he was wont to lose no time in carrying it out.
On this same afternoon, and just about the same hour, Lionel Verner was strolling through Deerham on his way to pay a visit to his mother. Close at the door he encountered Decima—well, now—and Miss Tempest, who were going out. None would have believed Lionel and Decima to be brother and sister, judging by their attire—he wore deep mourning, she had not a shred of mourning about her. Lady Verner, in her prejudice against Verner’s Pride, had neither put on mourning herself for John Massingbird, nor allowed Decima to put it on. Lionel was turning with them; but Lady Verner, who had seen him from the window, sent a servant to desire him to come to her.
“Is it anything particular, mother?” he hastily inquired. “I am going with Decima and Lucy.”
“It is so far particular, Lionel, that I wish you to stay with me, instead of going with them,” answered Lady Verner. “I fancy you are getting rather fond of being with Lucy, and—and—in short, it won’t do.”
Lionel, in his excessive astonishment, could only stare at his mother.
“What do you mean?” he asked. “Lucy Tempest! What won’t do?”
“You are beginning to pay Lucy Tempest particular attention,” said Lady Verner, unscrewing the silver stopper of her essence-bottle, and applying some to her forehead. “I will not permit it, Lionel.”