“And you have quite made up your mind to stay with me, Lechmere?”
“Quite, sir. Short of your turning me out, there is nothing that would get me away from you. No one could be happier than I have been, ever since I rejoined after that wound. It has not been like master and servant, sir. You have just treated me as if you had been the squire and I had been your tenant’s son, and that nothing had ever come between us. You have made a man of me again, and I only wish that I had more opportunities of showing you how I feel it.”
“You have had opportunities enough, and you have made the most of them. You were by my side when I entered that house where there were a score of desperate rebels, and it would have gone hard with us if aid had not come up. You stood over me when I was knocked down by that charge of rebel cavalry, and got half a dozen wounds before the Hussars swept down and drove them back.”
“I was well paid for that, sir,” the man said with a smile.
“Yes, you got the Victoria Cross, and no man ever won it more fairly. But, after all, it was not so much by such things as these that you showed your feelings, Lechmere, as by your constant and faithful service, and by the care with which you looked after me. Still, as I told you before, I don’t like standing in your way. In the natural course of things you would have had your father’s farm, and there is now no reason why you should not go back there.”
“No, sir. Since we heard that that poor girl came back home and died, there is no reason why I should not go back to the old place, but I don’t like to. Two years of such a life as we have been leading does not fit one for farm work. Brother Bob stopped and took my place while I went soldiering, and even if I were willing to go back to it, which I am not, it would not be fair to him for me to step in just as if nothing had happened. But, anyhow, I shall be glad to be back again at the old place and see them all. Father and mother will know now that they suspected me wrongly. But they were not to blame. Mad as I was then, I might have done it if I had had the chance.”
“Well, Lechmere, you know well that I shall be always glad to have you with me as long as you are willing to stay. Perhaps the time will come when you may wish to make a home for yourself, and you may be sure that the first farm on the estate that falls vacant shall be yours, or, as that does not very often happen, I will see that you get a good one somewhere in the neighbourhood.”
The man shook his head, and without answering went on unpacking his master’s portmanteau. They were at the Hummums Hotel, in Covent Garden, and had arrived half an hour before by the evening train, having come overland from Marseilles.