Page:Once a Week Volume 7.djvu/306

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298
Sept. 6, 1862.
ONCE A WEEK.

almost passionately answered. “You could not think so.”

“You have the right. Had Fred come home, he would have had the right. But I’d hardly reconcile myself to any other house now.”

“It is a right which I should never exercise,” said Lionel.

“I shall mostly keep my room,” resumed Mrs. Verner. “Perhaps wholly keep it: and Mary Tynn will wait upon me. The servants will be yours, Lionel. In fact, they are yours: not mine. What a blessing! to know that I may be at peace from henceforth: that the care will be upon another’s shoulders! My poor Fred! My dear sons! I little thought I was taking leave of them both for the last time.”

Jan jumped off his bureau. Now that the brunt of the surprise was over, and plans began to be discussed, Jan bethought himself of his impatient sick list, who were doubtlessly wondering at the non-appearance of their doctor. Lionel rose to depart with him.

“But, you should not go,” said Mrs. Verner. “In five minutes I vacate this study; resign it to you. This change will give you plenty to do, Lionel.”

“I know it will, dear Mrs. Verner. I shall be back soon; but I must go and acquaint my mother.”

“You will promise not to go away again, Lionel. It is your lawful home, remember.”

“I shall not go away again,” was Lionel’s answer. And Mrs. Verner breathed freely. To be emancipated from what she had regarded as the great worry of life, was felt to be a relief. Now she could eat and sleep all day, and never need be asked a single question, or hear whether the outside world had stopped, or was going on still.

“You will just pen a few words for me to Sibylla, Lionel,” she called out. “I am past much writing now.”

“If it be necessary that I should,” he coldly replied.

“And send them with the remittance,” concluded Mrs. Verner. “You will know how much to send. Tell Sibylla that Verner’s Pride is no longer mine, and I cannot invite her to it. It would hardly be the—the thing for a young girl, and she’s little better, to be living here with you all day long, and I always shut up in my room. Would it, Lionel?”

Lionel somewhat haughtily shrugged his shoulders. “Scarcely,” he answered.

“She must go to her sisters, of course. Poor girl! what a thing it seems, to have to return to her old house again!”

Jan put in his head. “I thought you said you were coming, Lionel?”

“So I am; this instant.” And they departed together: encountering Mr. Bitterworth in the road.

He grasped hold of Lionel in much excitement.

“Is it true—what people are saying? That you have come into Verner’s Pride?”

“Quite true,” replied Lionel. And he gave Mr. Bitterworth a summary of the facts.

“Now look there!” cried Mr. Bitterworth, who was evidently deeply impressed, “it’s of no use to try to go against honest right: sooner or later it will triumph. In your case, it has come wonderfully soon. I told my old friend that the Massingbirds had no claim to Verner’s Pride; that if they were exalted to it, over your head, it would not prosper them. Not, poor fellows, that I thought of their death. May you remain in undisturbed possession of it, Lionel! May your children succeed to it after you!”

Lionel and Jan continued their road. But they soon parted company, for Jan turned off to his patients. Lionel made the best of his way to Deerham Court. In the room he entered, steadily practising, was Lucy Tempest, alone. She turned her head to see who it was, and at the sight of Lionel started up in alarm.

“What is it? Why are you back?” she exclaimed. “Has the train broken down?”

Lionel smiled at her vehemence; at her crimsoned countenance; at her unbounded astonishment altogether.

“The train has not broken down, I trust, Lucy. I did not go with it. Do you know where my mother is?”

“She is gone out with Decima.”

He felt a temporary disappointment: the news, he was aware, would be so deeply welcome to Lady Verner. Lucy stood regarding him, waiting the solution of the mystery.

“What should you say, Lucy, if I tell you Deerham is not going to get rid of me at all?”

“I do not understand you,” replied Lucy, colouring with surprise and emotion. “Do you mean that you are going to remain here?”

“Not here—in this house. That would be a calamity for you.”

Lucy looked as if it would be anything but a calamity.

“You are as bad as our French mistress at the rectory,” she said. “She would never tell us anything: she used to make us guess.”

Her words were interrupted by the breaking out of the church bells; a loud peal, telling of joy. A misgiving crossed Lionel that the news had got wind, and that some officious person had been setting on the bells to ring for him, because of his succession. The exceeding bad taste of the proceeding—should it prove so—called a flush of anger to his brow. His inheritance had cost Mrs. Verner her son.

The suspicion was confirmed. One of the servants, who had been to the village came running in at this juncture with open mouth, calling out that Mr. Lionel had come into his own, and that the bells were ringing for it. Lucy Tempest heard the words, and turned to Lionel.

“It is so, Lucy,” he said, answering the look. “Verner’s Pride is at last mine. But——

She grew strangely excited. Lionel could see her heart beat,—could see the tears of emotion gather in her eyes.

“I am so glad!” she said, in a low, heartfelt tone. “I thought it would be so, sometime. Have you found the codicil?”

“Hush, Lucy! Before you express your gladness, you must learn that sad circumstances are mixed with it. The codicil has not been found: but Frederick Massingbird has died.”