Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/Verner's Pride - Part 25
BY THE AUTHORESS OF “EAST LYNNE.”
CHAPTER XLIX. TURNING OUT.
The battle that there was with Mrs. Verner! She cried, she sobbed, she protested, she stormed, she raved. Willing enough, was she, to go to Lady Verner’s; indeed the proposed visit appeared to be exceedingly palatable to her; but she was not willing to go without Mademoiselle Benoite. She was used to Benoite; Benoite dressed her, and waited on her, and read to her, and took charge of her things; Benoite was in her confidence, kept her purse; she could not do without Benoite, and it was barbarous of Lionel to wish it. How could she manage without a maid?
Lionel gravely laid his hand upon her shoulder. Some husbands might have reminded her that until she married him she had never known the services of a personal attendant: that she had gone all the way to Melbourne, had—as John Massingbird had expressed it with regard to himself—been knocking about there, and had come back home again alone, all without so much as thinking of one. Not so Lionel. He laid his hand upon her shoulder in his grave kindness.
“Sibylla, do you forget that we have no longer the means to keep ourselves? I must find a way to do that, before I can afford you a lady’s maid. My dear, I am very sorry; you know I am; for that, and all the other discomforts that you are meeting with; but there is no help for it. I trust that some time or other I shall be able to remedy it.”
“We should not have to keep her,” argued Sibylla. “She’d live with Lady Verner’s servants.”
Neither did he remind her that Lady Verner would have sufficient tax, keeping them, himself and her. One would have thought her own delicacy of feeling might have suggested it.
“It cannot be, Sibylla. Lady Verner has no accommodation for Benoite.”
“She must make accommodation. When people used to come here to visit us, they brought their servants with them.”
“Oh, Sibylla! can you not see the difference? But—what do you owe Benoite?” he added in a different tone.
“I don’t owe her anything,” replied Sibylla eagerly, quite mistaking the motive of the question. “I have always paid her every month. She’d never let it go on.”
“Then there will be the less trouble,” thought Lionel.
He called Benoite to him, then packing up Sibylla’s things for Deerham Court, inquired into the state of her accounts, and found Sibylla had told him correctly. He gave Benoite a month’s wages and a month’s board wages, and informed her that as soon as her mistress had left the house, she would be at liberty to leave it. A scene ensued with Sibylla, but for once Lionel was firm.
“You will have every attendance provided for you, Sibylla, my mother said. But I cannot take Benoite; neither would Lady Verner admit her.”
John Massingbird had agreed to keep on most of the old servants. The superfluous ones, those who had been engaged when Verner’s Pride grew gay, Lionel found the means of discharging: paying them as he had paid Benoite.
Heavy work for him, that day! the breaking up of his home, the turning forth to the world. And, as if his heart were not sufficiently heavy, he had the trouble of Sibylla. The arrangements had been three or four days in process. It had taken that time to pack and settle things, since he first spoke to Lady Verner. There were various personal trifles of his and Sibylla’s to be singled out and separated from what was now John Massingbird’s. But all was done at last, and they were ready to depart. Lionel went to John Massingbird.
“You will allow me to order the carriage for Sibylla? She will like it better than a hired one.”
“Certainly,” replied John, with much graciousness. “But what’s the good of leaving before dinner?”
“My mother is expecting us,” simply answered Lionel.
Just the same innate refinement of feeling which had characterised him in the old days. It so happened that Lionel had never bought a carriage since he came into Verner’s Pride. Stephen Verner had been prodigal in his number of carriages, although the carriages had a sinecure of it, and Lionel had found no occasion to purchase. Of course they belonged to John Massingbird, like everything else belonged to him. He—for the last time—ordered the close carriage for his wife. His carriage, it might surely be said, more than John Massingbird’s. Lionel did not deem it so, and asked permission ere he gave the order.
Sibylla had never seen her husband quietly resolute in opposing her whims, as he had been with regard to Benoite. She scarcely knew what to make of it; but she had deemed it well to dry her tears, and withdraw her opposition. She came down dressed at the time of departure, and looked about for John Massingbird. That gentleman was in the study. Its large desk, a whole mass of papers crowded above it and underneath it, pushed into the remotest corner. Lionel had left things connected with the estate as straight as he could. He wished to explain affairs to John Massingbird and hand over documents and all else in due form, but he was not allowed. Business and John had never agreed. John was sitting now before the window, his elbows on the sill, a rough cap on his head, and a short clay pipe in his mouth. Lionel glanced with dismay at the confusion reigning amid the papers.
“Fare you well, John Massingbird,” said Sibylla.
“Going?” said John, coolly turning round. “Good day.”
“And let me tell you, John Massingbird,” continued Sibylla, “that if ever you had got turned out of your home, as you have turned us, you would know what it was.”
“Blesss you! I’ve never had anything of my own to be turned out of, except a tent,” said John, with a laugh.
“It is to be hoped that you may, then, some time, and that you will be turned out of it! That’s my best wish for you, John Massingbird.”
“I’d recommend you to be polite, young lady,” returned John, good-humouredly. “If I sue your husband for back rents, you’d not be quite so independent, I calculate.”
“Back rents!” repeated she.
“Back rents,” assented John. “But we’ll leave that discussion to another time. Don’t you be saucy, Sibylla.”
“John,” said Lionel, pointing to the papers, “are you aware that some valuable leases and other agreements are amongst those papers? You might get into inextricable confusion with your tenants, were you to mislay, or lose them.”
“They are safe enough,” said careless John, taking his pipe from his mouth to speak.
“I wish you had allowed me to put things in order for you. You will be wanting me to do it later.”
“Not a bit of it,” said John Massingbird. “I am not going to upset my equanimity with leases, and bothers of that sort. Good bye, old fellow. Lionel!”
Lionel turned round. He had been going out.
“We part friends, don’t we?”
“I can answer for myself,” said Lionel, a frank smile rising to his lips. “It would be unjust to blame you for taking what you have a right to take.”
“All right. Then, Lionel, you’ll come and see me here?”
They went out to the carriage, Lionel conducting his wife, and John in attendance, smoking his short pipe. The handsome carriage, with its coat of ultramarine, its rich white lining, its silver mountings, and its arms on the panels. The Verner arms. Would John paint them out? Likely not. One badge on the panels of his carriages was as good to John Massingbird as another. He must have gone to the Heralds’ College had he wanted to set up arms on his own account.
And that’s how Lionel and his wife went out of Verner’s Pride. It seemed as if Deerham pavement and Deerham windows were lined on purpose to watch the exodus. The time of their departure had got wind.
“I have done a job that goes again the grain, sir,” said Wigham to his late master, when the carriage had deposited its freight at Deerham Court, and was about to go back again. “I never thought, sir, to drive you out of Verner’s Pride for the last time.”
“I suppose not, Wigham. I thought it as little as you.”
“You’ll not forget, sir, that I should be glad to serve you, should you ever have room for me. I’d rather live with you, sir, than with anybody else in the world.”
“Thank you, Wigham. I fear that time will be very far off.”
“Or, if my lady should be changing her coachman, sir, perhaps she’d think of me. It don’t seem nateral to me, sir, to drive anybody but a Verner. Next to yourself, sir, I’d be proud to serve her ladyship.”
Lionel, in his private opinion, believed that Lady Verner would soon be compelled to part with her own coachman, to lay down her carriage. Failing the income she had derived from his revenues, in addition to her own, he did not see how she was to keep up many of her present expenses. He said farewell to Wigham and entered the Court.
Decima had hastened forward to welcome Sibylla. Decima was one, who, in her quiet way, was always trying to make the best of surrounding circumstances,—not for herself, but for others. Let things be ever so dark, she would contrive to extract out of them some little ray of brightness. Opposite as they were in person, in disposition she and Jan were true brother and sister. She came forward to the door, a glad smile upon her face, and dressed rather more than usual: it was one of her ways, the unwonted dress, of showing welcome and consideration to Sibylla.
“You are late, Mrs. Verner,” she said, taking her cordially by the hand. “We have been expecting you some time. Catherine! Thérèse, see to these packages.”
Lady Verner had actually come out also. She was too essentially the lady to show anything but strict courtesy to Sibylla, now that she was about to become an inmate under her roof. What the effort cost her, she best knew. It was no light one: and Lionel felt that it was not. She stood in the hall, just outside the door of the ante-room, and took Sibylla’s hand as she approached.
“I am happy to see you, Mrs. Verner,” she said, with stately courtesy. “I hope you will make yourself at home.”
They all went together into the drawing-room, in a crowd, as it were. Lucy was there, dressed also. She came up with a smile on her young and charming face, and welcomed Sibylla.
“It is nearly dinner-time,” said Decima to Sibylla. “Will you come with me up-stairs, and I will show you the arrangements for your rooms. Lionel, will you come?”
She led the way up-stairs to the pretty sitting-room with its blue-and-white furniture, hitherto called “Miss Decima’s room:” the one that Lionel had sat in when he was growing convalescent.
“Mamma thought you would like a private sitting-room to retire to when you felt disposed,” said Decima. “We are only sorry it is not larger. This will be exclusively yours.”
“It is small,” was the not very gracious reply of Sibylla.
“And it is turning you out of it, Decima!” added Lionel.
“I did not use it much,” she answered, proceeding to another room on the same floor. “This is your bed-room, and this the dressing-room,” she added, entering a spacious apartment and throwing open the door of a smaller one which led out of it. “We hope that you will find everything comfortable. And the luggage that you don’t require to use, can be carried up stairs.”
Lionel had been looking round, somewhat puzzled.
“Decima! was not this Lucy’s room?”
“Lucy proposed to give it up to you,” said Decima. “It is the largest room we have, and the only one that has a dressing-room opening from it, except mamma’s. Lucy has gone to the small room at the end of the corridor.”
“But it is not right for us to turn out Lucy,” debated Lionel. “I do not like the idea of it.”
“It was Lucy herself who first thought of it, Lionel. I am sure she is glad to do anything she can, to render you and Mrs. Verner comfortable. She has been quite anxious to make it look nice, and moved nearly all the things herself.”
“It does look comfortable,” acquiesced Lionel as he stood before the blaze of the fire, feeling grateful to Decima, to his mother, to Lucy, to all of them. “Sibylla, this is one of your fires; you like a blaze.”
“And Catherine will wait upon you, Mrs. Verner,” continued Decima. “She understands it. She waited on mamma for two years, before Thérèse came. Should you require your hair done, Thérèse will do that; mamma thinks Catherine would not make any hand at it.”
She quitted the room as she spoke and closed the door, saying that she would send up Catherine then. Lionel had his eyes fixed on the room and its furniture; it was really an excellent room,—spacious, lofty, and fitted up with every regard to comfort as well as to appearance. In the old days, it was Jan’s room, and Lionel scarcely remembered to have been inside it since; but it looked very superior now to what it used to look then. Lady Verner had never troubled herself to improvise superfluous decorations for Jan. Lionel’s chief attention was riveted on the bed, an Arabian, handsomely carved, mahogany bed, with white muslin hangings, lined with pink, matching with the window-curtains. The hangings were new; but he felt certain that the bed was the one hitherto used by his mother.
He stepped into the dressing-room, feeling more than he could have expressed, feeling that he could never repay all the kindness they seemed to be receiving. Equally inviting looked the dressing-room. The first thing that caught Lionel’s eye were some delicate paintings on the walls, done by Decima.
His gaze and his ruminations were interrupted. Violent sobs had struck on his ear from the bed-chamber; he hastened back, and found Sibylla extended at full length on the sofa, crying.
“It is such a dreadful change after Verner’s Pride!” she querulously complained. It’s not half as nice as it was there! Just this old bed-room and a mess of a dressing-room, and nothing else! And only that stupid Catherine to wait upon me!”
It was ungrateful. Lionel’s heart, in its impulse, resented it as such. But, ever considerate for his wife, ever wishing, in the line of conduct he had laid down for himself, to find excuses for her, he reflected the next moment that it was a grievous thing to be turned from a home as she had been. He leaned over her; not answering as he might have answered, that the rooms were all that could be wished, and far superior they, and all other arrangements made for them, to anything enjoyed by Sibylla until she had entered upon Verner’s Pride; but he took her hand in his, and smoothed the hair from her brow, and softly whispered:
“Make the best of it, Sibylla, for my sake.”
“There’s no ‘best’ to be made,” she replied, with a shower of tears, as she pushed his hand and his face away.
Catherine knocked at the door. Lionel called out “Come in,” and she entered, saying, Miss Decima had sent her, and dinner was on the point of being served. Sibylla sprang up from the sofa, and dried her tears.
“I wonder whether I can get at my gold combs?” cried she, all her grief flying away.
Lionel turned to Catherine: an active little woman with a high colour and a sensible countenance, looking much younger than her real age. That was not far off fifty; but in movement and lissomeness, she was young as she had been at twenty. Nothing vexed Catherine so much as for Lady Verner to allude to her “age.” Not from any notions of vanity, but lest she might be thought growing incapable of her work.
“Catherine, is not that my mother’s bed?”
“To think that you should have found it out, Mr. Lionel!” echoed Catherine, with a broad smile. “Well, sir, it is, and that’s the truth. We have been making all sorts of changes. Miss Lucy’s bed has gone in for my lady, and my lady’s has been brought here. See, what a big, wide bed it is!” she exclaimed, putting her arm on the counterpane. “Miss Lucy’s was a good-sized bed, but my lady thought it would be hardly big enough for two; so she said hers should come in here.”
“And what’s Miss Lucy sleeping on?” asked Lionel, amused. “The boards?”
Catherine laughed. “Miss Lucy has got a small bed now, sir. Not, upon my word, that I think she’d mind if we did put her on the boards. She is the sweetest young lady to have to do with, Mr. Lionel! I don’t believe there ever was one like her. She’s as easy satisfied as ever Mr. Jan was.”
“Lionel! I can’t find my gold combs!” exclaimed Sibylla, coming from the dressing-room, with a face of consternation. “They are not in the dressing-case. How am I to know which box Benoite has put them in?”
“Never mind looking for the combs now,” he answered. “You will have time to search for things to-morrow. Your hair looks nice without combs. I think nicer than with them.”
“But I wanted to wear them,” she fractiously answered. “It is all your fault! You should not have forced me to discharge Benoite.”
Leaving her in the hands of Catherine, Lionel went down. Lucy was in the drawing-room alone.
“Lady Verner,” she observed, “has stepped out to speak to Jan.”
“Lucy, I find that our coming here has turned you out of your room,” he gravely said. “I should earnestly have protested against it, had I known what was going to be done.”
“Should you?” said she, shaking her head quite saucily. “We should not have listened to you.”
“We! Whom does the we include?”
“Myself and Decima. We planned everything. I like the room I have now, quite as much as that. It is the room at the end, opposite the one Mrs. Verner is to have for her sitting-room.”
“The sitting-room again! What shall you and Decima do without it?” exclaimed Lionel, looking as he felt—vexed.
“If we never have anything worse to put up with, than the loss of a sitting-room that was nearly superfluous, we shall not grieve,” answered Lucy with a smile. “How did we do without it before—when you were getting better from that long illness? We had to do without it, then.”
“I think not, Lucy. So far as my memory serves me, you were sitting in it a great portion of your time—cheering me. I have not forgotten it, if you have.”
Neither had she—by her heightened colour.
“I mean that we had to do without it for our own purposes, our drawings and our work. It is but a little matter, after all: I wish we could do more for you and Mrs. Verner. I wish,” she added, her voice betraying her emotion, “that we could have prevented your being turned from Verner’s Pride.”
“Ay,” he said, speaking with affected carelessness, and turning about an ornament in his fingers, which he had taken from the mantel-piece, “it is not an every-day calamity.”
“What shall you do?” asked Lucy, going a little nearer to him, and dropping her voice to a tone of confidence.
“Do? In what way, Lucy?”
“Shall you be content to live on here with Lady Verner? Not seeking to retrieve your—your position in any way?”
“My living on here, Lucy, will be out of the question. That would never do, for more reasons than one.”
Did Lucy Tempest wonder what one of these reasons might be? She did not intend to look at him, but she caught his eyes in the pier-glass, looking at her. Lionel smiled.
“I am thinking what a trouble you must find me. You and Decima.”
She did not speak at first. Then she went quite close to him, her earnest, sympathising eyes cast up to his.
“If you please, you need not pretend to make light of it to me,” she whispered. “I don’t like you to think that I do not know all you must feel, and what a blow it is. I think I feel it quite as much as you can do—for your sake, and for Mrs. Verner’s. I lie awake at night, thinking of it: but I do not say so to Decima and Lady Verner. I make light of it to them, as you are making light of it to me.”
“I know, I know!” he uttered, in a tone that would have been a passionate one, but for its wailing despair. “My whole life, for a long while, has been one long scene of acting—to you. I dare not make it otherwise. There’s no remedy for it.”
She had not anticipated the outburst; she had simply wished to express her true feeling of sympathy for their great misfortunes, as she might have expressed it to any other gentleman who had been turned from his home with his wife. She could not bear for Lionel not to know that he had had her deepest, her kindliest, her truest sympathy: and this had nothing to do with any secret feeling she might, or might not, entertain for him. Indeed, but for the unpleasant latent consciousness of that very feeling, Lucy would have made her sympathy more demonstrative. The outbreak seemed to check her; to throw her friendship back upon herself; and she stood irresolute: but she was too single-minded, too full of nature’s truth, to be angry with what had been a genuine outpouring of his inmost heart, drawn from him in a moment of irrepressible sorrow. Lionel let the ornament fall back on the mantel-piece, and turned to her, his manner changing. He took her hands, clasping them in one of his; he laid his other hand lightly on her fair young head, reverently as any old grandfather might have done.
“Lucy!—my dear friend!—you must not mistake me. There are times when some of the bitterness within me is drawn forth, and I say more than I ought: what I never should say, in a calmer moment. I wish I could talk to you; I wish I could give you the full confidence of all my sorrows, as I gave it you on another subject once before. I wish I could draw you to my side, as if you were my sister, or one of my dearest friends, and tell you of the great trouble at my heart. But it cannot be. I thank you, I thank you for your sympathy. I know that you would give me your friendship in all single-heartedness, like Decima might give it me; and it would be to me as a green spot of brightness in life’s arid desert. But the green spot might for me grow too bright, Lucy; and my only plan is to be wise in time, and to forego it.”
“I did but mean to express my sorrow for you and Mrs. Verner,” she timidly answered. “My sense of the calamity which has fallen upon you.”
“Child, I know it: and I dare not say how I feel it; I dare not thank you as I ought. In truth it is a terrible calamity. All its consequences I cannot yet anticipate: but they may be worse than anybody suspects, or than I like to glance at. It is a deep and apparently an irremediable misfortune: I cannot but feel it keenly: and I feel it for my wife more than for myself. Now and then, something like a glimpse of consolation shows itself—that it has not been brought on by any fault of mine; and that, humanly speaking, I have done nothing to deserve it.”
“Mr. Cust had used to tell us, that however dark a misfortune might be, however hopeless even, there was sure to be a way of looking at it, by which we might see that it might have been darker,” observed Lucy. “This would have been darker for you, had it proved to be Frederick Massingbird, instead of John: very sadly darker for Mrs. Verner.”
“Ay; so far I cannot be too thankful,” replied Lionel. The remembrance flashed over him of his wife’s words that day—in her temper—she wished it had been Frederick. It appeared to be a wish that she had already thrown out frequently: not so much that she did wish it, as to annoy him.
“Mr. Cust used to tell us another thing,” resumed Lucy, breaking the silence. “That these apparently hopeless misfortunes sometimes turn out to be great benefits in the end. Who knows but in a short time, through some magic or other, you and Mrs. Verner may not be back at Verner’s Pride? Would not that be happiness?”
“I don’t know about happiness, Lucy; sometimes I feel tired of everything,” he wearily answered. “As if I should like to run away for ever, and be at rest. My life at Verner’s Pride was not a bed of rose-leaves.”
He heard his mother’s voice in the ante-room, and went forward to open the door for her. Lady Verner came in, followed by Jan. Jan was going to dine there; and Jan was actually in orthodox dinner costume. Decima had invited him, and Decima had told him to be sure to dress himself: that she wanted to make a little festival of the evening to welcome Lionel and his wife. So Jan remembered, and appeared in black: but the gloss of the whole was taken off by Jan having his shirt fastened down the front with pins, where the buttons ought to be. Brassy-looking, ugly bent pins, as big as skewers, stuck in horizontally.
“Is that a new fashion coming in, Jan?” asked Lady Verner, pointing with some asperity to the pins.
“It’s to be hoped not,” replied Jan. “It took me five minutes to pin the thing, and there’s one of the pins sticking into my wrist now. It’s a new shirt of mine that they’ve sent home, and they have forgotten the buttons. Miss Deb caught sight of it, when I went in to tell her I was coming here, and ran after me to the gate with a needle and thread, wanting to sew them on.”
“Could you not have fastened it better than that, Jan?” asked Decima, smiling as she looked at the shirt.
“I don’t see how,” replied Jan. “Pins were the readiest to hand.”
Sibylla had been keeping them waiting dinner. She came in now, radiant in smiles and in her gold combs. None, to look at her, would suppose she had that day lost a home. A servant appeared and announced dinner.
Lionel went up to Lady Verner. Whenever he dined there, unless there were other guests besides himself, he had been in the habit of taking her into dinner. Lady Verner drew back.
“No, Lionel. I consider that you and I are both at home now. Take Miss Tempest.”
He could only obey. He held out his arm to Lucy, and they went forward.
“Am I to take anybody?” inquired Jan.
That was just like Jan! Lady Verner pointed to Sibylla, and Jan marched off with her. Lady Verner and Decima followed.
“Not there, not there, Lucy,” said Lady Verner, for Lucy was taking the place she was accustomed to, by Lady Verner. “Lionel, you will take the foot of the table now, and Lucy will sit by you.”
Lady Verner was rather a stickler for etiquette, and at last they fell into their appointed places. Herself and Lionel opposite each other, Lucy and Decima on one side the table, Jan and Sibylla on the other.
“If I am to have you under my wing as a rule, Miss Lucy, take care that you behave yourself,” nodded Lionel.
Lucy laughed, and the dinner proceeded. But there was very probably an under-current of consciousnees in the heart of both—at any rate, there was in his—that it might have been more expedient, all things considered, that Lucy Tempest’s place at dinner had not been fixed by the side of Lionel Verner’s.
Dinner was half over when Sibylla suddenly laid down her knife and fork, and burst into tears. They looked at her in consternation. Lionel rose.
“That horrid John Massingbird!” escaped her lips. “I always disliked him.”
“Goodness!” uttered Jan, “I thought you were taken ill, Sibylla. What’s the good of thinking about it?”
“According to you, there’s no good in thinking of anything,” tartly responded Sibylla. “You told me yesterday not to think about Fred, when I said I wished he had come back instead of John—if one must have come back.”
“At any rate, don’t think about unpleasant things now,” was Jan’s answer. “Eat your dinner.”
CHAPTER L. JAN’S SAVINGS.
Lionel Verner looked his situation full in the face. It was not a desirable one. When he had been turned out of Verner’s Pride before, it is probable he had thought that about the extremity of all human calamity; but that, looking back upon it, appeared a position to be coveted, as compared with this. In point of fact it was. He was free then from pecuniary liabilities; he did not owe a shilling in the world; he had five hundred pounds in his pocket; nobody but himself to look to; and—he was a younger man.
In the matter of years he was not so very much older now; but Lionel Verner, since his marriage, had bought some experience in human disappointment, and nothing ages a man’s inward feelings like it.
He was now, with his wife, a burden upon his mother; a burden she could ill afford. Lady Verner was somewhat embarrassed in her own means, and she was preparing to reduce her establishment to the old size that it used to be in her grumbling days. If Lionel had but been free! free from debt and difficulty! he would have gone out into the world and put his shoulder to the wheel.
Claims had poured in upon him without end. Besides the obligations he already knew of, not a day passed but the post brought him outstanding accounts from London, with demands for their speedy settlement; accounts contracted by his wife. Mr. Verner of Verner’s Pride might not have been troubled with these accounts for years, had his wife so managed; but Mr. Verner, turned from Verner’s Pride, a—it is an ugly word, but expressive of the truth—a pauper, found the demands come pouring thick and threefold upon his head. It was of no use to reproach Sibylla; of no use even to speak, save to ask “Is such-and-such a bill a just claim?” Any approach to such topics was the signal for an unseemly burst of passion on her part, or else a fit of hysterics, in which fashionable affectation Sibylla had lately become an adept. She tried Lionel terribly: worse than tongue can tell or pen can write. There was no social confidential intercourse. Lionel could not go to her for sympathy, for counsel, or for comfort; if he attempted to talk over any plans for the future, for the immediate future; what they could do, what they could not; what might be best, what worst; she met him with the frivolousness of a child, or else with a sullen reproach that he “did nothing but worry her.” For any purposes of companionship, his wife was a nonentity; far better that he had been without one. She made his whole life a penance; she betrayed the frivolous folly of her nature ten times a day; she betrayed her pettish temper, her want of self-control, dyeing Lionel’s face of a blood red. He felt ashamed for her; he felt doubly ashamed for himself; that his mother, that Lucy Tempest should at last become aware what sort of a wife he had taken to his bosom, what description of wedded life was his.
What was he to do for a living? The only thing that appeared to be open to him was to endeavour to get some sort of a situation, where, by means of the hands or the head, he might earn a competence. And yet, to do this, it was necessary to be free from the danger of arrest. He went about in dread of it. Were he to go to London he felt sure that not an hour would pass, should his presence there be known, but he would be sued and taken. If his country creditors showed him forbearance, his town ones would not. Any fond hope that he had formerly entertained of studying for the Bar, was not available now. He had neither the means nor the time to give to it: the time for study ere remuneration should come. Occasionally a thought would cross him that perhaps some friend or other of his prosperity might procure for him a government situation. A consulship, or vice-consulship abroad, for instance. Any thing abroad: not to avoid the payment of his creditors, for, whether abroad or at home, Lionel would be sure to pay them, if by dint of pinching himself he could find the means: but that he might run away from home and mortification, take his wife, and make the best of her. But consulships and other government appointments are more easily talked of than obtained: as anybody, who has tried for them under difficulties, knows. Moreover, although Lionel had never taken a prominent part in politics, the Verner interest had always been given against the government party, then in power. He did not see his way at all clear before him: and he found that it was to be still further obstructed on another score.
After thinking and planning and plotting till his brain was nearly bewildered, he at length made up his mind to go to London, and see whether anything could be done. With regard to his creditors, he must lay the state of the case frankly before them, and say: “Will you leave me my liberty, and wait? You will get nothing by putting me in prison, for I have no money of my own, and no friend to come forward and advance it to clear me. Give me time, accord me my liberty, and I will endeavour to pay you off by degrees.” It was, at any rate, a straightforward mode of going to work, and Lionel determined to adopt it. Before mentioning it to his wife, he spoke to Lady Verner.
And then occurred the obstruction. Lady Verner, though she did not oppose the plan, declined to take charge of Sibylla, or to retain her in her house during Lionel’s absence.
“I could not take her with me,” said Lionel. “There would be more objections to it than one. In the first place, I have not the means; in the second—”
He came to an abrupt pause, and turned the words off. He had been about incautiously to say, “She would most likely, once in London, run me into deeper debt.” But Lionel had kept the fact of her having run him into debt at all, a secret in his own breast. Whatever may have been his wife’s faults and failings, he did not make it his business to proclaim them to the world. She proclaimed enough herself, to his grievous chagrin, without his helping.
“Listen, Lionel,” said Lady Verner. “You know what my feeling always was with regard to your wife. A closer intercourse has not tended to change that feeling, or to lessen my dislike of her. Now you must forgive my saying this; it is but a passing allusion. Stay on with me as long as you like; stay on for ever, if you will, and she shall stay; but if you leave, she must leave. I should be sorry to have her here, even for a week, without you. In fact, I would not.”
“It would be quite impossible for me to take her to London,” deliberated Lionel. “I can be there alone at a very trifling cost; but a lady involves so much expense. There must be lodgings, which are dear; and living, which is dear; and attendance, and—and—many other sources of outlay.”
“And pray what should you do, allowing that you went alone, without lodgings and living and attendance, and all the rest of it?” asked Lady Verner. “Take a room at one of their model lodging-houses, at half-a-crown a week, and live upon the London air?”
“Not very healthy air for fastidious lungs,” observed Lionel with a smile. “I don’t quite know how I should manage for myself, mother; except that I should take care to condense my expenses into the very narrowest nucleus that man ever condensed them yet.”
“Not you, Lionel. You never were taught that sort of close economy.”
“True,” he answered. “But the most efficient of all instructors has come to me now—necessity. I wish you would increase my gratitude and my obligation to you by allowing Sibylla to remain here. In a little time, if I have luck, I may make a home for her in London.”
“Lionel, it cannot be,” was the reply of Lady Verner. And he knew when she spoke in that quiet tone of emphasis, that it could not be. “Why should you go to London?” she resumed. “My opinion is, that you will do no good by going; that it is a wild-goose scheme you have got in your head altogether. I think I could tell you a better.”
“What is yours?”
“Remain contentedly here with me until the return of Colonel Tempest. He may even now be on his road. He will no doubt be able to get you some civil appointment in one of the Presidencies; he has influence here with the people that have to do with India. That will be the best plan, Lionel. You are always wishing you could go abroad. Stay here quietly until he comes; I should like you to stay, and I will put up with your wife.”
Some allusion, or allusions, in the words brought the flush to Lionel’s cheeks.
“I cannot reconcile it to my conscience, mother, to remain on here, a burthen upon your small income.”
“But it is not a burthen, Lionel,” she said. “It is rather a help.”
“How can that be?” he asked.
“So long as Jan pays.”
“So long as Jan pays!” echoed Lionel, in astonishment. “Does Jan—pay?”
“Yes he does. I thought you knew it? Jan came here the day you arrived—don’t you remember it, when he had the pins in his shirt? Decima had invited him to dinner, and he came in ten minutes before it, and called me out of the room here, where I was with Lucy. The first thing he did was to tumble into my lap a roll of bank-notes, which he had been to Heartburg to get. A hundred and forty pounds, it was; the result of his savings since he joined Dr. West in partnership. The next thing he said was, that all his own share of the profits of the practice, he should bring to me to make up for the cost of you and Sibylla. Jan said he had wanted you to go to him; but Sibylla would not consent to it.”
Lionel’s veins coursed on with a glow. Jan slaving and working for him!
“I never knew this,” he cried.
“I am sure I thought you did,” said Lady Verner. “I supposed it to have been a pre-arranged thing between you and Jan. Lionel,” looking up into his face with an expression of care, and lowering her voice, “but for that hundred and forty pounds, I don’t see how I could have gone on. You had been very liberal to me, but somehow debt upon debt seemed to come in, and I was growing quite embarrassed. Jan’s money set me partially straight. My dear—as you see you are no ‘burthen,’ as you call it, you will give up this London scheme, will you not, and remain on?’
“I suppose I must,” mechanically answered Lionel, who seemed buried in thought.
He did suppose he must. He was literally without money, and his intention had been to ask the loan of a twenty pound note from generous Jan, to carry him to London, and keep him there while he turned himself about, and saw what could be done. How could he ask Jan now? There was little doubt that Jan had left himself as void of ready cash as he, Lionel was. Dr. West’s was not a business where patients went and paid their guinea fee, two or three dozen patients a-day. Dr. West (or Jan for him) had to doctor his patients for a year, and send in his modest bill at the end of it, very often waiting for another year before the bill was paid. Sibylla on his hands, and no money, he did not see how he was to get to London.
“But just think of it,” resumed Lady Verner. “Jan’s savings for nearly three years of practice to amount only to a hundred and forty pounds! I questioned him pretty sharply, asking him what on earth he could have done with his money, and he acknowledged that he had given a good deal away. He said Miss West had borrowed some, the doctor kept her so short; then Jan, it seems, forgot to put down the expenses of the horse to the general account, and that had to come out of his pocket. Another thing he acknowledged to having done. When he finds the poor can’t conveniently pay their bills, he crosses it off in the book, and furnishes the money himself. He has not common sense, you know, Lionel; and never had.”
Lionel caught up his hat, and went out in the moment’s impulse, seeking Jan. Jan was in the surgery alone, making up pills, packing up medicines, answering callers; doing, in fact, Master Cheese’s work. Master Cheese had a head-ache, and was groaning dismally in consequence in an arm-chair, in front of Miss Deb’s sitting-room fire, and sipping some hot elder wine, with sippets of toast in it, which he had assured Miss Deb was a sovereign specific, though it might not be generally known, to keep off the sickness.
“Jan,” said Lionel, going straight up, and grasping him by the hand; “what am I to say to you? I did not know, until ten minutes ago, what it is that you are doing for me.”
Jan put down a pill-box he held, and looked at Lionel.
“What am I doing for you?” he asked.
“I speak of this money that I find you have handed to my mother. Of the money you have undertaken to hand to her.”
“Law, is that all?” said Jan, taking up the pill-box again, and biting one of the pills in two to test its quality. “I thought you were going to tell me I had sent you poison, or something; coming in like that.”
“Jan, I can never repay you. The money I may, sometime; I hope I shall: the debt of gratitude, never.”
“There’s nothing to repay,” returned Jan, with composure. “As long as I have meat and drink and clothes, what do I want with extra money? You are heartily welcome to it, Lionel.”
“You are working your days away, Jan, and for no benefit to yourself. I am reaping it.”
“A man can but work,” responded Jan. “I like work, for my part; I wouldn’t be without it. If old West came home and said he’d take all the patients for a week, and give me a holiday, I should only set on and pound. Look here,” pointing to the array on the counter. “I have done more work in two hours than Cheese gets through in a week.”
Lionel could not help smiling. Jan went on:
“I don’t work for the sake of accumulating money, but because work is life’s business, and I like work for its own sake. If I got no money by it I should work. Don’t think about the money, Lionel: while it lay in that bank where was the use of it? Better for my mother to have it, than for me to be hoarding it.”
“Jan, did it never strike you that it might be well to make some provision for contingencies? Old age, say; or sudden deprivation of strength, through accident or other cause? If you give away all you might save for yourself, what should you do were the evil day to come?”
Jan looked at his arms.
“I am tolerably strong,” said he; “feel me. My head’s all right, and my limbs are all right. If I should be deprived of strength before my time, I daresay God, in taking it, would find some means, just to keep me from want.”
The answer was delivered in the most straightforward simplicity. Lionel looked at him till his eyes grew moist.
“A pretty fellow I should be, to hoard up money while anybody else wanted it!” continued Jan. “You and Sibylla make yourselves comfortable, Lionel, that’s all.”
They were interrupted by the entrance of John Massingbird and his pipe. John appeared to find his time hang rather heavily on his hands: he could not say that work was the business of his life. He might be seen lounging about Deerham at all hours of the day and night, smoking and gossiping. Jan often got honoured with a visit. Mr. Massingbird of Verner’s Pride was not a whit altered from Mr. Massingbird of nowhere: John favoured the tap-rooms like he had used to do.
“The very man I wanted to see!” cried he, giving Lionel a hearty slap on the shoulder. “I want to talk to you a bit on a matter of business. Will you come up to Verner’s Pride?”
“When?” asked Lionel.
“This evening. Come to dinner. Only our two selves.”
“Very well,” replied Lionel.
He went out of the surgery, leaving John Massingbird talking to his brother.
“On business,” John Massingbird had said. Was it to ask him about the mesne profits?—when he could refund them?—to tell him he would be sued, unless he did refund them? Lionel did not know: but he had been expecting John Massingbird to take some such steps.
In going back home, choosing the near cross-field way, as Jan often did, Lionel suddenly came upon Mrs. Peckaby, seated on the stump of a tree, in a very disconsolate fashion. To witness her thus, off the watch for the white animal that might be arriving before her door, surprised Lionel.
“I’m a’most sick of it, sir,” she said. “I’m sick to the heart with looking and watching. My brain gets weary and my eyes gets tired. The white quadruple don’t come, and Peckaby, he’s a-rowing at me everlastin’. I’m come out here for a bit o’ peace.”
“Don’t you think it would be better to give the white donkey up for a bad job, Mrs. Peckaby?”
“Give it up!” she uttered, aghast. “Give up going to New Jerusalem on a white donkey! No, sir, that would be a misfortin’ in life!”
Lionel smiled sadly as he left her.
“There are worse misfortunes in life, Mrs. Peckaby, than the not going to New Jerusalem on a white donkey.”