Aug. 2, 1862.]
“And he gave no reason for the alteration—either to you or to Dr. West?”
“None at all. Beyond the assertion that Lionel had displeased him. Dr. West would have pressed him upon the point, but Mr. Verner repulsed him with coldness. He insisted upon our secresy as to the new will; which we promised, and I dare say have never violated. I know I can answer for myself.”
They hastened back to Verner’s Pride, and the lawyer, in the presence of Mr. Bitterworth, received instructions for a codicil, revoking the bequest of the estate to the Massingbirds, and bestowing it absolutely upon Lionel Verner. The bequests to others, legacies, instructions in the former will, were all to stand. It was a somewhat elaborate will; hence Mr. Verner suggested that that will, so far, could still stand, and the necessary alteration be made by a codicil.
“You can have it ready by this evening?” Mr. Verner remarked to the lawyer.
“Before then, if you like, sir. It won’t take me long to draw that up. One’s pen goes glibly when one’s heart’s in the work. I am glad you are willing it back to Mr. Lionel.”
“Draw it up then, and bring it here as soon as it’s ready. You won’t find me gone out,” he added, with a faint attempt at jocularity.
The lawyer did as he was bid, and returned to Verner’s Pride about five o’clock in the afternoon. He found Dr. West there. It was somewhat singular that the doctor should again be present, like he had been at the previous signing—and yet not singular, for he was now in frequent attendance on the patient.
“How do you feel yourself this afternoon, sir?” asked Mr. Matiss when he entered, his great-coat buttoned up, his hat in his hand, his gloves on; showing no signs that he had any professional document about him, or that he had called in for any earthly reason, save to inquire out of politeness after the state of the chief of Verner’s Pride.
“Pretty well, Matiss. Are you ready?”
“We’ll do it at once, then. Dr. West,” Mr. Verner added, turning to the doctor, “I have been making an alteration in my will. You were one of the former witnesses; will you be so again?”
“With pleasure. An alteration consequent upon the death of John Massingbird, I presume?”
“No. I should have made it, I believe, had he been still alive. Verner’s Pride must go to Lionel. I cannot die easy unless it does.”
“But—I thought you said Lionel had done—had done something to forfeit it?” interrupted Dr. West, whom the words appeared to have taken by surprise.
“To forfeit my esteem and good opinion. Those he can never enjoy again. But I doubt whether I have a right to deprive him of Verner’s Pride. I begin to think I have not. I believe that the world generally will think I have not. It may be, that a Higher Power, to whom alone I am responsible, will judge I have not. There’s no denying that he will make a more fitting master of it than would Frederick Massingbird; and for myself I shall die the easier knowing that a Verner will succeed me. Mr. Matiss, be so kind as read over the deed.”
The lawyer produced a parchment from one of his ample pockets, unfolded, and proceeded to read it aloud. It was the codicil, drawn up with all due form, and bequeathing Verner’s Pride to Lionel Verner. It was short, and he read it in a clear, distinct voice.
“Will you like to sign it, sir?” he asked, as he laid it down.
“When I have read it for myself,” replied Mr. Verner.
The lawyer smiled as he handed it to him. All his clients were not so cautious. Some might have said, “so mistrustful.”
The codicil was all right, and the bell was rung for Tynn. Mrs. Tynn happened to come in at the same moment. She was retreating when she saw business agate, but her master spoke to her.
“You need not go, Mrs. Tynn. Bring a pen and ink here.”
So the housekeeper remained present while the deed was executed. Mr. Verner signed it, proclaiming it his last will and testament, and Dr. West and Tynn affixed their signatures. The lawyer and Mrs. Tynn stood looking on.
Mr. Verner folded it up with his own hands, and sealed it.
“Bring me my desk,” he said, looking at Mrs. Tynn.
The desk was kept in a closet in the room, and she brought it forth. Mr. Verner locked the parchment within it.
“You will remember where it is,” he said, touching the desk, and looking at the lawyer. “The will is also here.”
Mrs. Tynn carried the desk back again; and Dr. West and the lawyer left the house together.”
Later, when Mr. Verner was in bed, he spoke to Lionel, who was sitting with him.
“You will give heed to carry out my directions, Lionel, so far as I have left directions, after you come into power?”
“I will, sir,” replied Lionel, never having had the faintest suspicion that he had been near losing the inheritance.
“And be more active abroad than I have been. I have left too much to Roy and others. You are young and strong; don’t you leave it to them. Look into things with your own eyes.”
“Indeed I will. My dear uncle,” he added, bending over the bed, and speaking in an earnest tone, “I will endeavour to act in all things as though in your sight, accountable to God and my own conscience. Verner’s Pride shall have no unworthy master.”
“Try and live so as to redeem the past.”
“Yes,” said Lionel. He did not see what precise part of it he had to redeem, but he was earnestly anxious to defer to the words of a dying man. “Uncle, may I dare to say that I hope you will live yet?” he gently said.
“It is of no use, Lionel. The world is closing for me.”
It was closing for him even then, as he spoke, closing rapidly. Before another afternoon had