Page:Once a Week Volume 7.djvu/304

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296
Sept. 6, 1862.
ONCE A WEEK.

I say, Lionel, Uncle Stephen need not have left Verner’s Pride to the Massingbirds: they have not lived to enjoy it. Neither need there have been all that bother about the codicil. I know what.”

“What?” asked Lionel, looking at him: for Jan spoke significantly.

“That Madam Sibylla would give her two ears now, to have married you, instead of Fred Massingbird.”

Lionel’s face flushed, and he replied coldly, hauteur in his tone. “Nonsense, Jan! you are speaking most unwarrantably. When Sibylla chose Fred Massingbird, I was the heir to Verner’s Pride.”

I know,” said Jan. “Verner’s Pride would be a great temptation to Sibylla; and I can but think she knew it was left to Fred when she married him.”

Lionel did not condescend to retort. He would as soon believe himself capable of bowing down before the god of gold, in a mean spirit, as believe Sibylla capable of it. Indeed, though he was wont to charm himself with the flattering notion that his love for Sibylla had died out, or near upon it, he was very far off the point when he could think any ill of Sibylla.

“My patients will be foaming,” remarked Jan, who continued his way to Verner’s Pride with Lionel. “They will conclude I have gone off with Dr. West: and I have his list on my hands now, as well as my own. I say, Lionel, when I told you the letters from Australia were in, how little we guessed they would contain this news.”

“Little, indeed!” said Lionel.

“I suppose you won’t go to London now?”

“I suppose not,” was the reply of Lionel. And a rush of gladness illumined his heart as he spoke it. No more toil over those dry old law books! The study had never been to his taste.

The servants were gathered in the hall when Lionel and Jan entered it. Decorously sorry, of course, for the tidings which had arrived, but unable to conceal the inward satisfaction which peeped out: not satisfaction at the death of Fred, but at the accession of Lionel. It is curious to observe how jealous the old retainers of a family are, upon all points which touch the honour or the well-being of the house. Fred Massingbird was an alien; Lionel was a Verner; and now, as Lionel entered, they formed into a double line that he might pass between them, their master from henceforth.

Mrs. Verner was in the old place, the study. Jan had seen her in bed that morning; but, since then, she had risen. Early as the hour yet was, recent as the sad news had been, Mrs. Verner had dropped asleep. She sat nodding in her chair, snoring heavily, breathing painfully, her neck and face all one colour—carmine red. That she looked—as Jan had observed—a very apoplectic subject, struck Lionel most particularly on this morning.

“Why don’t you bleed her, Jan?” he whispered.

“She won’t be bled,” responded Jan. “She won’t take physic; she won’t do anything that she ought to do. You may as well talk to a post. She’ll do nothing but eat and drink, and fall asleep afterwards; and then wake up to eat and drink, and fall asleep again. Mrs. Verner”—exalting his voice—“here’s Lionel.”

Mrs. Verner partially woke up. Her eyes opened sufficiently to observe Jan; and her mind apparently grew awake to a confused remembrance of facts. “He’s gone to London,” said she to Jan. “You won’t catch him:” and then she nodded again.

“I did catch him,” shouted Jan. “Lionel’s here.”

Lionel sat down by her, and she woke up pretty fully.

“I am grieved at this news for your sake, Mrs. Verner,” he said in a kind tone, as he took her hand. “I am sorry for Frederick.”

“Both my boys gone before me, Lionel!” she cried, melting into tears. “John first; Fred next. Why did they go out there to die?”

“It is indeed sad for you,” replied Lionel. “Jan says Fred died of fever.”

“He has died of fever. Don’t you remember when Sibylla wrote, she said he was ill with fever? He never got well. He never got well! I take it that it must have been a sort of intermittent fever—pretty well one day, down ill the next—for he had started for the place where John died—I forget its name, but you’ll find it written there. Only a few hours after quitting Melbourne, he grew worse and died.”

“Was he alone?” asked Lionel.

“Captain Cannonby was with him. They were going together up to—I forget, I say, the name of the place—where John died, you know. It was nine or ten days’ distance from Melbourne, and they had travelled but a day of it. And I suppose,” added Mrs. Verner, with tears in her eyes, “that he’d be put into the ground like a dog!”

Lionel, on this score, could give no consolation. He knew not whether the fact might be so, or not. Jan hoisted himself on to the top of a high bureau, and sat in comfort.

“He’d be buried like a dog,” repeated Mrs. Verner. “What do they know about parsons and consecrated ground out there? Cannonby buried him, he says, and then he went back to Melbourne to carry the tidings to Sibylla.”

“Sibylla? was Sibylla not with him when he died?” exclaimed Lionel.

“It seems not. It’s sure not, in fact, by the letters. You can read them, Lionel. There’s one from her and one from Captain Cannonby.

“It’s not likely they’d drag Sibylla up to the diggings,” interposed Jan.

“And yet—almost as unlikely that her husband would leave her alone in such a place as Melbourne appears to be,” dissented Lionel.

“She was not left alone,” said Mrs. Verner. “If you’d read the letters, Lionel, you would see. She stayed in Melbourne with a family; friends, I think she says, of Captain Cannonby’s. She has written for money to be sent out to her by the first ship, that she may pay her passage home again.”

This item of intelligence astonished Lionel more than any other.

“Written for money to be sent out for her