He saw matters with rather more reasonable eyes when he awoke after six hours of very refreshing sleep—more than his poor mother had during the whole night. He saw that all that passionate longing for her which had taken possession of him in the early night was of no effect. He could not possibly have her with him inside twenty-four hours, as was his desire.

In the new light that came to him he saw a good many things. He saw that there were such elements as delicacy and decency which were highly respected by all respectable young women, and that in his case the amalgamation of the two meant delay. Was she a girl, he asked himself, who would be likely to fall in love with such a fellow as he? He could not bring himself to answer this question without a certain sinking at heart. All the conceit had been knocked out of him with the broadening of the light of day. He no longer felt himself to be a conqueror. The brazen bucklers of the Trojan heroes were not for him. He felt that he was not brave enough even to be a suitor. He feared her eyes—they were beautiful eyes, but they were capable of expressing a pretty fair amount of derision when occasion arose, and he could not imagine them wearing any other expression when he thought of his standing before her and asking her if she would consent to love him.

What chance would he or any other man have with that particular girl? Even if she were well disposed in regard to him, what would that amount to in the face of the experience which had been hers? Had she not had enough experience of men, and of marrying, to last her for some time at any rate, if not for the rest of her life? And was he, Jack Wingfield, the sort of man who would tempt that girl into a second adventure? In spite of his recent successes—at tennis and in his own Augean dairy—he had not got out of his old habit of thinking slightingly of himself and the possibility of his reaching to any high level of attainment. What he had achieved the day before he had achieved through her. He placed it to her credit without any reservation—he did not deduct even the customary commission which should have accrued to him as an agent.

And when she had shown herself to be strong enough to make him do all that he had done, was she likely to be weak enough to listen to his prayer?

All this form of reflection was very disheartening to him. He was a very different man indeed from the one who had taken part in those fancy flights on the terrace before the dawn, when he had put his cheek down to that cushion where he had pictured her head to be lying.

“Lord, what a bounder!” was the thought that came to him from that reflection now.

In the course of his reflections he did not even get so far as his mother had gone, when she had thought that, let the worst come to the worst—the best to the best was how he would have put it—a full year was bound to pass before he could have her with him. There was no need for him to draw upon so distant a source of uneasiness when there were so many others to supply him close at hand.

His mother never came down to breakfast, but he invariably went to her room to bid her good morning. He thought that now she looked at him narrowly, and he had an intuition that by some means she had come to know of his late hours on the terrace, so like a sensible man, who confesses when he knows he has been found out, he said cheerily:

“I had rather a bad night. I went out upon the terrace when you left me, and, by George! it was dawn—almost daylight—before I got to bed.”

“That was very foolish of you, Jack,” said she. “But I suppose you were thinking about—about—something of importance.”

“That was it,” he assented, with the glibness of the accomplished liar, though he was not a liar but only a lover. “That was it: I was wondering if I had not been a bit too hasty with Verrall. Perhaps I should give him another chance. Well, well; a chap doesn’t like starting life at home by kicking out a man who has been about the place for so long as Verrall has been. Oh, yes; I had a lot to think over. Well, wish me luck.”

“Wish you luck, dear—how?” said the mother.

“How? Don’t you know that I am down to play some giants to-day, and won’t you wish your little Jack—Jack the giant killer—the best of luck?”

“With all my heart—with all my heart—the best of good luck,” said she, and he kissed her, and went away whistling like a successful dissembler.

And then there happened the best thing that could befall a man who is inclined to be weak-kneed and who stands in great need of a stiffening. Mr. Dunning, the agent whom he had taken over from the trustees when he had entered into possession of the estate, had had things his own way for something like eleven years; there had been no voice of authority but his own on the estate, and the result of two or three interviews which he had with Mr. Jack Wingfield had been of so pleasing a character that he felt that his voice would continue to give the word of command from the Dan of Dington at one end of the property to the Beersheba of Little Gaddlingworth at the other. He had communicated his estimate of young Wingfield to his enquiring wife by a shrewd shake of the head and a smile. He thought precious little of this young Wingfield.

He was therefore all the more surprised when he received a visit the previous day from Farmer Verrall, whom he had installed at the home farm, to acquaint him with the fact that young Mr. Wingfield had practically kicked him out of the place. Mr. Dunning felt that it would never do for him to stand such an insult from a fellow who was nothing more than the owner of the property. He saw clearly that now was the time for him to strike. If he were to submit to such high-handed action without protest he should have no end of trouble in the future. The owner might even go so far as to exercise some authority over his estate. Yes, he would show this young man what was his place.

He scarcely waited for young Wingfield to bid him good morning.

“Good morning. What’s this I hear about Verrall?” he said, all in a breath.

“What’s what you hear about Verrall?” said young Wingfield, after a pause.

“This about his being turned out of his farm at a moment’s notice?”

And then young Wingfield took the measure of his visitor, and saw with great clearness what was the object of his visit.

“Look here, Mr. Dunning,” he said, “if you know all about the matter, it seems hardly necessary for you to bother yourself coming to ask me about it?”

“Mr. Wingfield, I’m not accustomed to be treated in this cavalier fashion,” cried the agent. “I think an explanation is due to me.”

“Of course an explanation is due to you, Mr. Dunning. I was about to send you a message asking you when it would be convenient for you to drop in on me.”

“It would have been much better if you had sent for me in the first instance.” Mr. Dunning’s tone was now one of forgiveness, tempered by reproof. “So far as I can gather, you told Verrall to turn out of his farm, neck and crop. That was a bit high-handed, and not just the thing that one might expect, considering that you have scarcely found your feet on the property, Mr. Wingfield. The tenants are not accustomed to such high-handed treatment, and I must say that neither am I, Mr. Wingfield.”

“I place myself in your hands, Mr. Dunning,” said Jack. “You see, I’m new to this sort of thing, and you are not. What am I to do in the future?”

And then Mr. Dunning felt that his little plan had succeeded. Firmness—there was nothing like firmness with chaps like young Wingfield. Give them to understand at the outset that you’ll stand no dam nonsense. That was what he felt, and he spoke in the spirit of his philosophy.

“You don’t know the mischief you may do—the difficulties that you may place in my way,” he said. “In future you must leave these things to me. In case you see anything that you think needs explanation, just acquaint me with what you think should be done, and I’ll consider it.”

“That will be very kind of you, Mr. Dunning,” said young Wingfield. “Well, I may as well begin now. What I think should be done is to get a couple of first-class men from a first-class London accountant’s office to come down here on Monday and go over all the books of the estate—all the books, mind you; the farm books in particular. I suppose that although you haven’t been near the farm for the past eighteen months yourself, you know all about the expenditure, and will be able to say if it was I who paid for the feed of those greyhounds of Verrall’s and what has been done with the milk of that splendid herd of cows that I saw at the farm. The game books and the timber books will be gone through carefully by the accountants with me sitting at one side and you at the other, Mr. Dunning. Now I have acquainted you with my intentions as you told me I should, and I’ve no doubt that we’ll get on all right together in the future.”

“What do you mean, sir?” cried the agent. “Do you mean to suggest that I—that I—I have fallen under your suspicion? Do you suspect that I—I——”

“Good Lord! Is it me—suspect—suspect—you? Mr. Dunning, you have risen too early—you can’t be quite awake yet.”

“I think that your remarks can bear but one construction, Mr. Wingfield. They suggest that you have unworthy suspicions in regard to my integrity.”

“You never were further mistaken in your life, Mr. Dunning. All I suspect is your capacity. One of the most important of the farms has been vacant for over three years because you refused to allow a man who understood his business a year’s grace to carry out a scheme which a little consideration by a competent person would have shown to be a first-rate one. That meant some thousands of pounds out of my pocket, and you have shown your incapacity to judge character by allowing Verrall to have a free hand with the home farm, though he wasn’t a tenant but a paid manager. Wherever I go I see evidence of carelessness and incapacity.”

“I did not come here to be insulted, Mr. Wingfield.”

“No, you came here to do the insulting, Mr. Dunning. You came here thinking to browbeat me—assuming that I was a juggins—a juggins, Mr. Dunning—in other words, a mug. I saw what you thought of me the day you pretended to set before me the principles of the management of the property. But all the same I took a note of those matters which you waved your hands over, telling me that they were not in my line—that I should not understand them. I daresay I led you on to think poorly of me, Mr. Dunning, and to put your tongue in your cheek when I had gone out of your office and you were alone with your clerk; but though I may have been a juggins at heart I wasn’t one at head, you must know. Now will you stay and have some breakfast?”

“No, thank you, Mr. Wingfield. I must consider my position, after what you have said to me; I feel that it is necessary in justice to myself to consider my position. I should be very unwilling to resign the position of trust in which I was placed on the death of your grandfather.”

“I don’t doubt it, Mr. Dunning. Pray don’t let anything that I have said lead you to believe that I fail to appreciate how highly you value your position. I have expressed myself badly if I have said anything that suggested that to you. I think that Bacon and Tiddy are good enough accountants for my purpose; but I know that Farside, Kelly and Ransome have a big name for estate work. What do you think?”

“I shall have to consider my position, Mr. Wingfield. I shall have to do so very seriously.”

“I will give you till to-morrow morning to consider it. If I don’t hear from you by the morning I will conclude that you have sent me in your resignation, and act accordingly. Six months’ notice, I suppose? But of course you will go into the books with the accountants.”

“I shall have to consider that point seriously also. I wish a couple of strangers luck if they try to make anything out of the books without me.”

“Oh, you will not desert me—I think I know better of you than to fancy that, Mr. Dunning. You must know what impression would be produced if you were to clear off at such a time.”

“Sir, my position in the county—your grandfather—he was high sheriff that year—he headed the subscription list for the presentation to my father.”

“That was before I was born. Somebody told me that your father’s name was in the county family list. I daresay the Dunnings were a power in the land when the Wingfields were making money in the West Indies. You are still a power in the land, Mr. Dunning, and you’ll let me know by the first post to-morrow without fail.” Mr. Dunning went forth into the sunshine without a word. He had an impression of awaking from a singular dream. He scarcely knew how he came to be outside the house which he had entered so jauntily half an hour before. He now felt not jaunty, but dazed—queer. He could not understand how he had left the house without saying what he had meant to say. He had meant to be very plain with that young Wingfield and to give him to understand once and for all what were their relative positions, but he had had no notion that it would be necessary for him to take the extreme step of threatening to resign. He had really no wish to resign. His position as agent of the Wingfield estates was worth something over a thousand a year to him, but what was he not worth to the property? Of course, juggins though that young Wingfield was, he had still sense enough to recognize the value of such an agent, and to know that without such an agent, he and his property would be in the cart.

No, he never thought that he should have to play that trump card of his—the threat of resigning; all that he meant to do was to bring the young man to his senses and to let him know that when all was said and done he was only the owner, and as such, he had no right to make such a decisive move as the removal of Verrall behind his agent’s back.

And yet now he was walking away from the Manor House feeling that he and Farmer Verrall were practically in the same boat—that they had both got a shove off from the solid shore by the rude boot of a youth who was really little better than an interloper, and that they were now adrift on a choppy sea.

But how it had all come about he could not for the life of him understand. He had not been in the house for more than ten minutes; and surely he had brought the young man within measurable distance of an apology to him for his high-handed conduct, and yet—what had he said?—accountants from London—books of the estate—the farm—the milk—the pheasants—the timber—the underwood—and with all this he, Mr. Dunning, J.P., the agent of the estates, the man whose father had received a presentation of plate—whose name was in the only authentic list of County Families—was to make up his mind by the next morning whether he would remain and give the accountants from London his help in going through the books or clear off with Verrall!

The whole business was extraordinary and not to be fully realized in the course of a morning stroll. He had reached the end of the paddock before he was able to summarize his feelings up to that moment. His summary assumed the form of an exclamatory sentence:

“Who the devil would have thought that the chap had it in him?”

As for young Wingfield, he was nearly as much puzzled by the issue of his interview with Mr. Dunning as that gentleman was himself. When Dunning had left the house Jack hurried to the breakfast-room, whistling an uncertain air. The butler blew out the spirit lamp that heated the breakfast dishes, and laid the latter on the table, with the coffee. But the moment he had left the room, Jack Wingfield put his hands in his pockets and walked away from the breakfast table to one of the windows, and, standing with his legs apart, stared out, allowing his omelette to get chilled and the coffee milk to get a surface on it. Jack Wingfield was also puzzled to account for all that had occurred. Dunning had always occupied in his mind a place of the deepest respect; and his attainments he had been accustomed to think of with something little less than awe. And yet he had been able within twenty-four hours to discover his gross incompetence and, moreover, to tell him of it, and to send him away with no more ceremony than he had thought necessary to employ in clearing out Farmer Verrall and his greyhounds!

The whole thing was too wonderful to be grasped immediately by such an intellect as his. It required a deal of thinking out; so he stood at the window staring at the garden for several minutes.

At last he too thought that he might make a brief summary of the situation and its development up to that moment. He whirled round and gazed at the breakfast things. Then he removed his hands from his pockets, and doubling up his right struck the palm of his left vigorously, saying:

“By the Lord Harry! She has made a man of me!”

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