“I have five hundred of my own, you know, Jan,” he said. “More than I can use yet awhile.”
So he fixed upon the Bar, and would have hastened to London but for Lady Verner’s illness. In the weak, low state to which disappointment and irritability had reduced her, she could not bear to lose sight of Lionel, or permit him to depart. “It will be time enough when I am dead; and that won’t be long first,” was the constant burden of her song to him.
He believed his mother to be little more likely to die than he was, but he was too dutiful a son to cross her in her present state. He gathered certain ponderous tomes about him, and began studying law on his own account, shutting himself up in his room all day to do it. Awfully dry work he found it; not in the least congenial; and many a time did he long to pitch the whole lot into the pleasant rippling stream, running through the grounds of Sir Rufus Hautley, which danced and glittered in the sun in view of Lionel’s window.
He could not remain at his daily study without interruptions. They were pretty frequent. People—tenants, workmen, and others—would persist in coming for orders to Mr. Lionel. In vain Lionel told them that he could not give orders, could not interfere; that he had no longer anything to do with Verner’s Pride. They could not be brought to understand why he was not their master as usual—at any rate, why he could not act as one, and interpose between them and the tyrant, Roy. In point of fact, Mr. Roy was head and master of the estate just now, and a nice head and master he made! Mrs. Verner, shut up in Verner’s Pride with her ill health, had no conception what games were being played. “Let be, let be,” the people would say. “When Mr. Fred Massingbird comes home, Roy’ll get called to account, and receive his deserts;” a fond belief in which all did not join. Many entertained a shrewd suspicion that Mr. Fred Massingbird was too much inclined to be a tyrant on his own account, to disapprove of the acts of Roy. Lionel’s blood often boiled at what he saw and heard, and he wished he could put miles between himself and Deerham.
A WHISPERED SUSPICION.
Dr. West was crossing the courtyard one day, after paying his morning visit to Lady Verner, when he was waylaid by Lionel.
“How long will my mother remain in this weak state?” he inquired.
Dr. West lifted his arched eyebrows. “It is impossible to say, Mr. Lionel. These cases of low nervous fever are sometimes very much protracted.”
“Lady Verner’s is not nervous fever,” dissented Lionel.
“It approaches near to it.”
“The fact is, I want to be away,” said Lionel.
“There is no reason why you should not be away, if you wish it,” rejoined the physician. “Lady Verner is not in any danger; she is sure to recover eventually.”
“I know that. At least, I hope it is sure,” returned Lionel. “But, in the state she is, I cannot reason with her, or talk to her of the necessity of my being away. Any approach to the topic irritates her.”