Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/Verner's Pride - Part 9
BY THE AUTHORESS OF “EAST LYNNE.”
CHAPTER XVII. HOME TRUTHS FOR LIONEL.
Lionel Verner grew better. His naturally good constitution triumphed over the disease, and his sick soreness of mind lost somewhat of its sharpness. So long as he brooded in silence over his pain and his wrongs, there was little chance of the sting becoming much lighter; it was like the vulture preying upon its own vitals; but that season of silence was past. When once a deep grief can be spoken of, its great agony is gone. I think there is an old saying, or a proverb—“Griefs lose themselves in telling,” and a greater truism was never uttered. The ice once broken, touching his feelings with regard to Sibylla, Lionel found comfort in making it his theme of conversation, of complaint, although his hearer and confidant was only Lucy Tempest. A strange comfort, but yet a natural one; as those who have suffered as Lionel did may be able to testify. At the time of the blow, when Sibylla deserted him with coolness so great, Lionel could have died, rather than give utterance to a syllable betraying his own pain; but several months had elapsed since, and the turning-point was come. He did not, unfortunately, love Sibylla one shade less; love, such as his, cannot be overcome so lightly; but the keenness of the disappointment, the blow to his self-esteem—to his vanity, it may be said—was growing less intense. In a case like this, of faithlessness, let it happen to man or to woman, the wounding of the self-esteem is not the least evil that must be borne. Lucy Tempest was, in Lionel’s estimation, little more than a child, yet it was singular how he grew to love to talk with her. Not for love of her—do not fancy that—but for the opportunity it gave him of talking of Sibylla. You may deem this an anomaly; I know that it was natural; and, like oil poured upon a wound, so did it bring balm to Lionel’s troubled spirit.
He never spoke of her save at the dusk hour. During the broad, garish light of day, his lips were sealed. In the soft twilight of the evening, if it happened that Lucy was alone with him, then he would pour out his heart, would tell of his past tribulation. As past he spoke of it; had he not regarded it as past, he never would have spoken. Lucy listened, mostly in silence, returning him her earnest sympathy. Had Lucy Tempest been a little older in ideas, or had she been by nature and rearing less entirely single-minded, she might not have sat unrestrainedly with him, going into the room at any moment, and stopping there, as she would had he been her brother. Lucy was getting to covet the companionship of Lionel very much—too much, taking all things into consideration. It never occurred to her that, for that very reason, she might do well to keep away from it. She was not sufficiently experienced to define her own sensations; and she did not surmise there was anything inexpedient or not perfectly orthodox in her being so much with Lionel. She liked to be with him, and she freely indulged the liking upon any occasion that offered.
“Oh, Lucy, I loved her! I did love her!” he would say, having repeated the same words perhaps fifty times before in other interviews; and he would lean back in his easy-chair, and cover his eyes with his hand, as if willing to shut out all sight save that of the past. “Heaven knows what she was to me! Heaven only knows what her faithlessness has cost!”
“Did you dream of her last night, Lionel?” answered Lucy, from her low seat where she generally sat, near to Lionel, but with her face mostly turned from him.
And it may as well be mentioned that Miss Lucy never thought of such a thing as discouraging Lionel’s love and remembrance of Sibylla. Her whole business in the matter seemed to be to listen to him and help him to remember her.
“Ay,” said Lionel, in answer to the question. “Do you suppose I should dream of anything else?”
Whatever Lucy may or may not have supposed, it was a positive fact, known well to Lionel—known to him, and remembered by him to this hour,—that he constantly dreamt of Sibylla. Night after night, since the unhappy time when he learnt that she had left him for Frederick Massingbird, had she formed the prominent subject of his dreams. It is the strict truth: and it will prove to you how powerful a hold she must have possessed over his imagination. This he had not failed to make an item in his revelations to Lucy.
“What was your dream last night, Lionel?”
“It was only a confused one: or seemed to be when I awoke. It was full of trouble. Sibylla appeared to have done something wrong, and I was defending her, and she was angry with me for it. Unusually confused it was. Generally my dreams are too clear and vivid.”
“I wonder how long you will dream of her, Lionel? For a year, do you think?”
“I hope not,” heartily responded Lionel. “Lucy, I wish I could forget her!”
“I wish you could—if you do wish to do it,” simply replied Lucy.
“Wish! I wish I could have swallowed a draught of old Lethe’s stream last February, and never recalled her again!” He spoke vehemently: and yet there was a little under-current of suppressed consciousness down deep in his heart, whispering that his greatest solace was to remember her, and to talk of her as he was doing now. To talk of her as he would to his own soul: and that, he had now learnt to do with Lucy Tempest. Not to any one else in the whole world could Lionel have breathed the name of Sibylla.
“Do you suppose she will soon be coming home?” asked Lucy, after a silence.
“Of course she will. The news of his inheritance went out shortly after they started, and must have got to Melbourne nearly as soon as they did. There’s little doubt they are on their road home now. Massingbird would not care to stop to look after what was left by John, when he knows himself to be the owner of Verner’s Pride.”
“I wish Verner’s Pride had not been left to Frederick Massingbird!” exclaimed Lucy.
“Frankly speaking, so do I,” confessed Lionel. “It ought to be mine by all good right. And, putting myself entirely out of consideration, I judge Frederick Massingbird unworthy to be its master. That’s between ourselves, mind, Lucy.”
“It is all between ourselves,” returned Lucy.
“Ay. What should I have done without you, my dear little friend?”
“I am glad you have not had to do without me,” simply answered Lucy. “I hope you will let me be your friend always!”
“That I will. Now Sibylla’s gone, there’s nobody in the whole world I care for, but you.”
He spoke it without any double meaning: he might have used the same words, been actuated by precisely the same feelings, to his mother or his sister. His all-absorbing love for Sibylla barred even the idea of any other love to his mind, yet awhile.
“Lionel!” cried Lucy, turning her face full upon him in her earnestness, “how could she choose Frederick Massingbird, when you had chosen her?”
“Tastes differ,” said Lionel, speaking lightly, a thing he rarely did when with Lucy. “There’s no accounting for them. Some time or other, Lucy, you may be marrying an ugly fellow with a wooden leg and red beard; and people will say, ‘How could Lucy Tempest have chosen him?”
Lucy coloured. “I do not like you to speak in that joking way, if you please,” she gravely said.
“Heigh ho, Lucy!” sighed he. “Sometimes I fancy a joke may cheat me out of a minute’s care. I wish I was well, and away from this place. In London I shall have my hands full, and can rub off the rust of old grievances with hard work.”
“You will not like London better than Deerham.”
“I shall like it ten thousand times better,” impulsively answered Lionel. “I have no longer a place in Deerham, Lucy. That is gone.”
“You allude to Verner’s Pride?”
“Everything’s gone that I valued in Deerham,” cried Lionel, with the same impulse—“Verner’s Pride amongst the rest. I would never stop here to see the rule of Fred Massingbird. Better that John had lived to take it, than that it had come to him.”
“Was John better than his brother?”
“He would have made a better master. He was, I believe, a better man. Not but that John had his faults. As we all have.”
“All:” echoed Lucy. “What are your faults?”
Lionel could not help laughing. She asked the question, as she did all her questions, in the most genuine, earnest manner: really seeking the information. “I think for some time back, Lucy, my chief fault has been grumbling. I am sure you must find it so. Better days may be in store for us both.”
Lucy rose. “I think it must be time for me to go and make Lady Verner’s tea. Decima will not be home for it.”
“Where is Decima this evening?”
“She is gone her round to the cottages. She does not find time for it in the day, since you were ill. Is there anything I can do for you before I go down?”
“Yes,” he answered, taking her hand. “You can let me thank you for your patience and kindness. You have borne with me bravely, Lucy. God bless you, my dear child.”
She neither went away, nor drew her hand away. She stood there—as he had phrased it—patiently, until he should release it. He soon did so, with a weary movement: all he did was wearisome to him then, save the thinking and talking of the theme which ought to have been a barred one—Sibylla.
“Will you please to come down to tea this evening?” asked Lucy.
“I don’t care for tea; I’d rather be alone.”
“Then I will bring you some up.”
“No, no; you shall not be at the trouble. I’ll come down, then, presently.”
Lucy Tempest disappeared. Lionel leaned against the window, looking out on the night landscape, and lost himself in thoughts of his faithless love. He aroused himself from them with a stamp of impatience.
“I must shake it off,” he cried to himself; “I will shake it off. None, save myself or a fool, but would have done it months ago. And yet, Heaven alone knows how I have tried and battled, and how vain the battle has been.”
The cottages down Clay Lane were ill-drained. It might be nearer the truth to say, they were not drained at all. As is the case with many another fine estate besides Verner’s Pride, while the agricultural land was well drained, no expense spared upon it, the poor dwellings had been neglected. Not only in the matter of draining, but in other respects, were these habitations deficient: but that strong terms are apt to grate unpleasingly upon the ear, one might say shamefully deficient. The consequence was, that no autumn ever went over, scarcely any spring, but somebody would be down with ague, with low fever; and it was reckoned a fortunate season if a good many were not down.
The first time that Lionel took a walk down Clay Lane after his illness, was a fine day in October. He had been out before in other directions, but not down Clay Lane. He had not yet recovered his full strength; he looked ill and emaciated. Had he been strong as he used to be, he would not have found himself nearly losing his equilibrium, at being run violently against by a woman, who turned swiftly out of her own door.
“Take care, Mrs. Grind! Is your house on fire?”
“It’s begging a thousand pardons, sir! I hadn’t no idea you was there,” returned Mrs. Grind, in lamentable confusion, when she saw whom she had all but knocked down. “Grind, he catches sight o’ one o’ the brick men going by, and he tells me to run and fetch him in; but I had got my hands in the soap-suds, and couldn’t take ’em convenient out of it at the minute, and I was hasting lest he’d gone too far to be caught up. He have now.”
“Is Grind better?”
“He ain’t no worse, sir. There he is,” she added, flinging the door open.
On the side of the kitchen opposite to the door was a pallet-bed stretched against the wall, and on it lay the woman’s husband, Grind, dressed. It was a small room, and it appeared literally full of children, of encumbrances of all sorts. A string extended from one side of the fire-place to the other, and on this hung some wet coloured pinafores, the steam ascending from them in clouds, drawn out by the heat of the fire. The children were in various stages of un-dress, these coloured pinafores doubtlessly constituting their sole outer garment. But that Grind’s eye had caught his, Lionel might have hesitated to enter so uncomfortable a place. His natural kindness of heart—nay, his innate regard for the feelings of others, let them be ever so low in station—prevented his turning back when the man had seen him.
“Grind, don’t move, don’t get off the bed,” Lionel said hastily. But Grind was already up. The ague fit was upon him then, and he shook the bed as he sat down upon it. His face wore that blue, pallid appearance, which you may have seen in agueish patients.
“You don’t seem much better, Grind.”
“Thank ye, sir, I be baddish just now again, but I ain’t worse on the whole,” was the man’s reply. A civil, quiet, hardworking man as any on the estate; nothing against him but his large flock of children, and his difficulty of getting along any way. The mouths to feed were many—ravenous young mouths, too, and the wife, though civil and well-meaning, was not the most thrifty in the world. She liked gossiping better than thrift; but gossip was the most prevalent complaint of Clay Lane, so far as its female population was concerned.
“How long is it that you have been ill?” asked Lionel, leaning his elbow on the mantelpiece, and looking down on Grind, Mrs. Grind having whisked away the pinafores.
“It’s going along of four weeks, sir, now. It’s a illness, sir, I takes it, as must have its course.”
“All illnesses must have that, as I believe,” said Lionel. “Mine has taken its own time pretty well, has it not?”
Grind shook his head.
“You don’t look none the better for your bout, sir. And it’s a long time you must have been a getting strong. Mr. Jan, he said, just a month ago, when he first come to see me, as you was well, so to say, then. Ah! it’s only them, as have tried it, knows what the pulling through up to strength again is, when the illness itself seems gone.”
Lionel’s conscience was rather suggestive at that moment. He might have been stronger than he was, by this time, had he “pulled through” with a better will, and given way less. “I am sorry not to see you better, Grind,” he kindly said.
“You see me at the worst, sir, to-day,” said the man, in a tone of apology, as if seeking to excuse his own sickness. “I be getting better, and that’s a thing to be thankful for. I only gets the fever once in three days now. Yesterday, sir, I got down to the field, and earned what’ll come to eighteenpence. I did indeed, sir, though you’d not think it, looking at me to-day.”
“I should not,” said Lionel. “Do you mean to say you went to work in your present state?”
“I didn’t seem a bit ill yesterday, sir, except for the weakness. The fever it keeps me down all one day, as may be to-day; then the morrow I be quite prostrate with the weakness it leaves; and the third day I be, so to speak, well. But I can’t do a full day’s work, sir; no, nor hardly half of a one, and by evening I be so done over I can scarce crawl to my place here. It ain’t much, sir, part of a day’s work in three; but I be thankful for that improvement. A week ago, I couldn’t do as much as that.”
More suggestive thoughts for Lionel.
“He’d a get better quicker, sir, if he could do his work regular,” put in the woman. “What’s one day’s work out o’ three—even if ’twas a full day’s—to find us all victuals? In course he can’t fare better nor we; and Peckaby’s, they don’t give much trust to us. He gets a pot o’ gruel, or a saucer o’ porridge, or a hunch o’bread with a mite o’ cheese.”
Lionel looked at the man. “You cannot eat plain bread now, can you, Grind?”
“All this day, sir, I shan’t eat nothing; I couldn’t swallow it,” he answered. “After the fever and the shaking’s gone, then I could eat, but not bread; it seems too dry for the throat, and it sticks in it. I get a dish o’ tea, or something in that way. The next day—my well day, as I calls it—I can eat all afore me.”
“You ought to have more strengthening food.”
“It’s not for us to say, sir, as we ought to have this here food, or that there food, unless we earns it,” replied Grind, in a meek spirit of contented resignation that many a rich man might have taken a pattern from. “Mr. Jan, he says, ‘Grind,’ says he, ‘you should have some meat to eat, and some good beef-tea, and a drop o’ wine wouldn’t do you no harm,’ says he. And it makes me smile, sir, to think where the like o’ poor folks is to get such things. Lucky to be able to get a bit o’ bread and a drain o’ tea without sugar, them as is off their work, just to rub on and keep theirselves out o’ the workhouse. I know I’m thankful to do it. Jim, he have got a place, sir.”
“Jim, which is Jim?” asked Lionel, turning his eyes on the group of children, supposing one must be meant.
“He ain’t here, sir,” cried the woman. “It’s the one with the black hair, and he was six year old yesterday. He’s gone to Farmer Johnson’s to take care o’ the pigs in the field. He’s to get a shilling a week.”
Lionel moved from his position. “Grind,” he said, “don’t you think it would be better if you gave yourself complete rest, not attempting to go out to work until you are stronger?”
“I couldn’t afford it, sir. And, as to its being better for me, I don’t see that. If I can work, sir, I’m better at work. I know it tires me, but I believe I get stronger the sooner for it. Mr. Jan, he says to me, says he, ‘Don’t lie by never, Grind, unless you be obliged to it: it only rusts the limbs.’ And he ain’t far out, sir. Folks gets more harm from idleness nor they do from work.”
“Well, good day. Grind,” said Lionel, “and I heartily hope you’ll soon be on your legs again. Lady Verner shall send you something more nourishing than bread, while you are still suffering.”
“Thank ye kindly, sir,” replied Grind. “My humble duty to my lady.”
Lionel went out. “What a lesson for me!” he involuntarily exclaimed. “This poor half-starved man struggling patiently onward, through his sickness; while I, who had every luxury about me, spent my time in repining. What a lesson! Heaven help me to take it to my heart!”
He lifted his hat as he spoke, his feeling at the moment full of reverence; and went on to Frost’s. “Where’s Robin?” he asked of the wife.
“He’s in the back room, sir,” was the answer. “He’s getting better fast. The old father, he have gone out a bit, a warming of himself in the sun.”
She opened the door of a small back room as she spoke. But it proved to be empty. Robin was discerned in a garden, sitting on a bench: possibly to give himself a warming in the sun—as Mrs. Frost expressed it. He sat in a still attitude: his arms folded, his head bowed. Since the miserable occurrence touching Rachel, Robin Frost was a fearfully changed man: never, from the hour that the coroner’s inquest was held and certain evidence had come out, had he been seen to smile. He had now been ill with ague, like Grind. Hearing the approach of footsteps, he turned his head, and rose when he saw it was Lionel.”
“Well, Robin, how fares it? You are better, I hear. Sit yourself down: you are not strong enough to stand. What an enemy this low fever is! I wish we could root it out!”
“Many might be all the healthier for it, sir, if it could be done,” was Robin’s answer, spoken indifferently—as he nearly always spoke now. “As for me, I’m not far off being well again.”
“They said in the village you were going to die, Robin, did they not?” continued Lionel. “You have cheated them, you see.”
“They said it, some of ’em, sir, and thought it, too. Old father thought it. I’m not sure but Mr. Jan thought it. I didn’t, bad as I was,” continued Robin, in a significant tone. “I had my oath to keep.”
“Sir, I have sworn—and you know I have sworn it—to have my revenge upon him that worked ill to Rachel. I can’t die till that oath has been kept.”
“There’s a certain sentence, Robin, given us for our guide, amid many other such sentences, which runs somewhat after this fashion: ‘Vengeance is mine,’ quietly spoke Lionel. “Have you forgotten who it is says that?”
“Why did he—the villain—forget them sentences? Why did he forget ’em and harm her?” retorted Robin. “Sir, it’s of no good for you to look at me in that way. I’ll never be baulked in this matter. Old father, now and again, he’ll talk about forgiveness: and when I say ‘weren’t you her father?’ ‘Ay,’ he’ll answer, ‘but I’ve got one foot in the grave, Robin, and anger will not bring her back to life.’ No it won’t,” doggedly went on Robin. “It won’t undo what was done, neither; but I’ll keep my oath—so far as it is in my power to keep it. Dead though he is, he shall be exposed to the world.”
The words “dead though he is” aroused the attention of Lionel. “To whom do you allude, Robin?” he asked. “Have you obtained any fresh clue?”
“Not much of a fresh one,” answered the man, with a stress upon the word “fresh.” “I have had it this six or seven months. When they heard he was dead, then they could speak out and tell me their suspicions of him.”
“Who could? What mystery are you talking?” reiterated Lionel.
“Never mind who, sir. It was one that kept his mouth shut, as long as there was any good in his opening it. ‘Not to make ill-blood,’ was the excuse he gave me after. If I had but knowed at the time,” added the man, clenching his fist. “I’d have went out and killed him, if he had been double as far off!”
“Robin, what have you heard?”
“Well, sir, I’ll tell you. But I have not opened my lips to a living soul, not even to old father. The villain that did the harm to Rachel was John Massingbird!”
Lionel remained silent from surprise.
“I don’t believe it,” he presently said, speaking emphatically. “Who has accused him?”
“Sir, I have said that I can’t tell you. I passed my word not to do it. It was one that had cause to suspect him at the time. And he never told me—never told me—until John Massingbird was dead!”
Robin’s voice rose to a sound of wailing pain, and he raised his hands with a gesture of despair.
“Did your informant know that it was John Massingbird?” Lionel gravely asked.
“He had not got what is called positive proof, such as might avail in a court of justice; but he was morally certain,” replied Robin. “And so am I. I am only waiting for one thing, sir, to tell it out to all the world.”
“And what’s that?”
“The returning home of Luke Roy. There’s not much doubt that he knows all about it; I have my reasons for saying so, and I’d like to be quite sure before I tell out the tale. Old Roy says Luke may be expected home by any ship as comes: he don’t think he’ll stop there, now John Massingbird’s dead.”
“Then, Robin, listen to me,” returned Lionel. “I have no positive proof, any more than it appears your informant has; but I am perfectly convinced in my own mind that the guilty man was not John Massingbird. Understand me,” he emphatically continued, “I have good and sufficient reason for saying this. Rely upon it, whoever it may have been, John Massingbird it was not.”
Robin lifted his eyes to the face of Lionel.
“You say you don’t know this, sir?”
“Not of actual proof. But so sure am I that it was not he, that I could stake all I possess upon it.”
“Then, sir, you’d lose it,” doggedly answered Robin. “When the time comes that I choose to speak out——”
“What are you doing there?” burst forth Lionel, in a severely haughty tone.
It caused Robin to start from his seat.
In a gap of the hedge behind them, Lionel had caught sight of a human face, its stealthy ears complacently taking in every word. It was that of Roy the bailiff.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE PACKET IN THE SHIRT-DRAWER.
Mrs. Tynn, the housekeeper at Verner’s Pride, was holding one of those periodical visitations that she was pleased to call, when in familiar colloquy with her female assistants, a “rout out.” It appeared to consist of turning a room and its contents topsy-turvy, and then putting them straight again. The chamber, this time subjected to the ordeal, was that of her late master, Mr. Verner. His drawers, closets, and other places consecrated to clothes, had not been meddled with since his death. Mrs. Verner, in some moment unusually (for her) given to sentiment, had told Tynn she should like to “go over his dear clothes” herself. Therefore Tynn left them alone for that purpose. Mrs. Verner, however, who loved her personal ease better than any earthly thing, and was more given to dropping off to sleep in her chair than ever, not only after dinner but all day long, never yet had ventured upon the task. Tynn suggested that she had better do it herself after all; and Mrs. Verner replied, perhaps she had. So Tynn set about it.
Look at Mrs. Tynn over that deep, open drawer full of shirts. She calls it “Master’s shirt-drawer.” Have the shirts scared away her senses? She has sat herself down on the floor—almost fallen back as it seems—in some shock of alarm, and her mottled face has turned as white as her master’s was, when she last saw him lying on that bed at her elbow.
“Go down-stairs, Nancy, and stop there till I call you up again,” she suddenly cried out to her helpmate.
And the girl left the room.
Between two of the shirts, in the very middle of the stack, Mrs. Tynn had come upon a parcel, or letter. Not a small letter—if it was a letter—but one of very large size, thick, looking not unlike a government despatch. It was sealed with Mr. Verner’s own seal, and addressed in his own handwriting—“For my nephew, Lionel Verner. To be opened after my death.”
Mrs. Tynn entertained not the slightest doubt that she had come upon the lost codicil. That it—the parcel—must have been lying quietly in the drawer since her master’s death, was certain. The key of the drawer had remained in her own possession. When the search after the codicil took place, this drawer was opened—as a matter of form more than anything else—and Mrs. Tynn herself had lifted out the stack of shirts. There was no need to do it, she had assured those who were searching, for the drawer had been locked up at the time the codicil was made, and the deed could not have been put into it. They accepted her assurance, and did not look between the shirts. It puzzled Mrs. Tynn, now, to think how it could have got in.
“I’ll not tell Tynn,” she soliloquised—she and Tynn being somewhat inclined to take opposite sides of a question, in social intercourse—“and I’ll not say a word to my mistress. I’ll go straight off now and give it into the hands of Mr. Lionel. What a blessed thing!—If he should be come into his own!”
The enclosed paved court before Lady Verner’s residence had a broad flower-bed round it. It was private from the outer world, save for the iron gates, and here Decima and Lucy Tempest were fond of lingering on a fine day. On this afternoon of Mary Tynn’s discovery, they were there with Lionel. Decima went in-doors for some string to tie up a fuchsia plant, just as she, Tynn, appeared at the iron gates. She stopped on seeing Lionel.
“I was going round to the other entrance, sir, to ask to speak to you,” she said. “Something very strange has happened.”
“Come in,” answered Lionel. “Will you speak here, or go in-doors? What is it?”
Too excitedly eager to wait to go in-doors, or to care for the presence of Lucy Tempest, Mrs. Tynn told her tale, and handed the paper to Lionel. “It’s the missing codicil, as sure as that we are here, sir.”
He saw the official-looking nature of the document, its great seal, and the superscription in his uncle’s handwriting. Lionel did not doubt that it was the codicil, and a streak of scarlet emotion arose to his pale cheek.
“You don’t open it, sir!” said the woman, as feverishly impatient as if the good-fortune were her own.
No. Lionel did not open it. In his high honour, he deemed that, before opening, it should be laid before Mrs. Verner. It had been found in her house; it concerned her son. “I think it will be better that Mrs. Verner should open this, Tynn,” he quietly said.
“You won’t get me into a mess, sir, for bringing it out to you first?”
Lionel turned his honest eyes upon her, smiling then. “Can’t you trust me better than that? You have known me long enough.”
“So I have, Mr. Lionel. The mystery is, how it could ever have got into that shirt-drawer!” she continued. “I can declare that for a good week before my master died, up to the very day that the codicil was looked for, the shirt-drawer was never unlocked, nor the key of it out of my pocket.”
She turned to go back to Verner’s Pride, Lionel intending to follow her at once. He was going out at the gate when he caught the pleased eyes of Lucy Tempest fixed on him.
“I am so glad,” she simply said. “Do you remember my telling you that you did not look like one who would have to starve on bread-and-cheese?”
Lionel laughed in the joy of his heart. “I am glad also, Lucy. The place is mine by right, and it is just that I should have it.”
“I have thought it very unfair, all along, that Verner’s Pride should belong to her husband, and not to you, after—after what she did to you,” continued Lucy, dropping her voice to a whisper.
“Things don’t go by fairness, Lucy, in this world,” cried he; and he went through the gate. “Stay,” he said, turning back from it, as a thought crossed his mind. “Lucy, oblige me by not mentioning this to my mother or Decima. It may be as well to be sure that we are right, before exciting their hopes.”
Lucy’s countenance fell. “I will not speak of it. But, is it not sure to be the codicil?”
“I hope it is,” cordially answered Lionel, as he finally walked away.
Mrs. Tynn had got back before him. She came forward and encountered him in the hall, her bonnet still on.
“I have told my mistress, sir, that I had found what I believed to be the codicil, and had took it off straight to you. She was not a bit angry: she says she hopes it is it.”
Lionel entered. Mrs. Verner, who was in a semi-sleepy state, having been roused up by Mary Tynn from a long nap after a plentiful luncheon, received Lionel graciously. First of all asking him what he would take—it was generally her chief question—and then inquiring what the codicil said.
“I have not opened it,” replied Lionel.
“No!” said she, in surprise. “Why did you wait?”
He laid it on the table beside her. “Have I your cordial approval to open it, Mrs. Verner?”
“You are ceremonious, Lionel. Open it at once. Verner’s Pride belongs to you, more than to Fred; and you know I have always said so.”
Lionel took up the deed. His finger was upon the seal when a thought crossed him: ought he to open it without further witnesses? He spoke his doubt aloud to Mrs. Verner.
“Ring the bell and have in Tynn,” said she. “His wife also: she found it.”
Lionel rang. Tynn and his wife both came in, in obedience to the request. Tynn looked at it curiously: and began rehearsing mentally a private lecture for his wife, for acting upon her own responsibility.
The seal was broken. The stiff writing-paper of the outer cover revealed a second cover of stiff writing-paper precisely similar to the first: but on this last there was no superscription. It was tied round with fine white twine. Lionel cut it. Tynn and Mrs. Tynn waited with the utmost eagerness: even Mrs. Verner’s eyes were opened wider than usual.
Alas for the hopes of Lionel! The parcel contained nothing but a glove, and a small piece of writing paper, folded once. Lionel unfolded it, and read the following lines:
“This glove has come into my possession. When I tell you that I know where it was found and how you lost it, you will not wonder at the shock the discovery has been to me. I hush it up, Lionel, for your late father’s sake, as much as for that of the name of Verner. I am about to seal it up that it may be given to you after my death: and you will then know why I disinherit you. S. V.”
Lionel gazed on the lines like one in a dream. They were in the handwriting of his uncle. Understand them, he could not. He took up the glove, a thick, fawn-coloured riding-glove, and remembered it for one of his own. When he had lost it, or where he had lost it, he knew no more than did the table he was standing by. He had worn dozens of these gloves in the years gone by: up to the period when he had gone in mourning for John Massingbird, and, subsequently, for his uncle.
“What is it, Lionel?”
Lionel put the lines in his pocket, and pushed the glove towards Mrs. Verner. “I do not understand it in the least,” he said. “My uncle appears to have found the glove somewhere, and he writes to say that he returns it to me. The chief matter that concerns us is”—turning his eyes on the servants—“that it is not the codicil!”
Mrs. Tynn lifted her hands. “How one may be deceived!” she uttered. “Mr. Lionel, I’d freely have laid my life upon it.”
“It was not exactly my place to speak, sir; to give my opinion beforehand,” interposed Tynn, “but I was sure that was not the lost codicil, by the very look of it. The codicil might have been about that size, and it had a big seal like that; but it was different in appearance.”
“All that puzzled me was, how it could have got into the shirt-drawer,” cried Mrs. Tynn. “As it has turned out not to be the codicil, of course there’s no mystery about that. It may have been lying there weeks and weeks before the master died.”
Lionel signed to them to leave the room: there was nothing to call for their remaining in it. Mrs. Verner asked him what the glove meant.
“I assure you I do not know,” was his reply. And he took it up, and examined it well again. One of his riding gloves, scarcely worn, with a tear near the thumb: but there was nothing upon it, not so much as a trace, a spot, to afford any information. He rolled it up mechanically in the two papers, and placed them in his pocket, lost in thought.
“Do you know that I have heard from Australia?” asked Mrs. Verner.
The words aroused him thoroughly. “Have you? I did not know it.”
“I wonder Mary Tynn did not tell you, The letters came this morning. If you look about”—turning her eyes on the tables and places—“you will find them somewhere.”
Lionel knew that Mary Tynn had been too much absorbed in his business, to find room in her thoughts for letters from Australia. “Are these the letters?” he asked, taking up two from a side table.
“You’ll know them by the post-marks. Do sit down and read them to me, Lionel. My sight is not good for letters now, and I couldn’t read half that was in them. The ink’s as pale as water. If it was the ink Fred took out, the sea must have washed into it. Yes, yes, you must read both to me, and I shall not let you go away before dinner.”
He did not like, in his good-nature, to refuse her. And he sat there and read the long letters. Read Sibylla’s. Before the last one was fully accomplished, Lionel’s cheeks wore their scarlet hectic.
They had made a very quick and excellent passage. But Sibylla found Melbourne hateful. And Fred was ill; ill with fever. A fever was raging in a part of the crowded town, and he had caught it. She did not think it was a catching fever either, she added; people said it arose from the over-population. They could not as yet hear of John, or his money, or anything about him: but Fred would see into it when he got better. They were at a part of Melbourne called Canvas Town, and she, Sibylla, was sick of it, and Fred drank heaps of brandy. If it were all land between her and home, she should set off at once on foot, and toil her way back again. She wished she had never come! Everything she cared for, except Fred, seemed to be left behind in England.
Such was her letter. Fred’s was gloomy also, in a different way. He said nothing about any fever; he mentioned, casually as it appeared, that he was not well, but that was all. He had not learnt tidings of John, but had not had time yet to make inquiries. The worst piece of news he mentioned was the loss of his desk: which had contained the chief portion of his money. It had disappeared in a mysterious manner immediately after being taken off the ship—he concluded by the light-fingers of some crimp, or thief, shoals of whom crowded on the quay. He was in hopes yet to find it, and had not told Sibylla. That was all he had to say at present, but would write again by the next packet.
“It is not very cheering news on the whole, is it?” said Mrs. Verner, as Lionel folded the letters.
“No. They had evidently not received the tidings of my uncle’s death. Or we should have heard that they were already coming back again.”
“I don’t know that,” replied Mrs. Verner. “Fred worships money, and he would not suffer what was left by poor John to slip through his fingers. He will stay till he has realised it. I hope they will think to bring me back some memento of my lost boy! If it was only the handkerchief he used last, I should value it.”
The tears filled her eyes. Lionel respected her grief, and remained silent. Presently she resumed, in a musing tone:
“I knew Sibylla would only prove an encumbrance to Fred, out there; and I told him so. If Fred thought he was taking out a wife who would make shift, and put up pleasantly with annoyances, he was mistaken. Sibylla in Canvas Town! Poor girl! I wonder she married him. Don’t you?”
“Rather so,” answered Lionel, his scarlet blush deepening.
“I do: especially to go to that place. Sibylla’s a pretty flower to sport in the sunshine; but she never was constituted for a rough life, or to get pricked by thorns.”
Lionel’s heart beat. It echoed to every word. Would that she could have been sheltered from the thorns, the rough usages of life, as he would have sheltered her!
Lionel dined with Mrs. Verner, but quitted her soon afterwards. When he got back to Deerham Court, the stars were peeping out in the clear summer sky. Lucy Tempest was lingering in the court-yard, no doubt waiting for him, and she ran to meet him as soon as he appeared at the gate.
“How long you have been!” was her greeting, her glad eyes shining forth hopefully. “And is it all yours?”
Lionel drew her arm within his own in silence, and walked with her in silence till they reached the pillared entrance of the house. Then he spoke:
“You have not mentioned it, Lucy?”
“Of course I have not.”
“Thank you. Let us both forget it. It was not the codicil. And Verner’s Pride is not mine.”