An appropriate name. For if ever poor human man was proud of a house he has built, old Mr. Verner was proud of that—proud to folly. He laid out money on it in plenty; he made the grounds belonging to it beautiful and seductive as a fabled scene from fairyland; and he wound up by leaving it to the younger of his two sons.
These two sons constituted all his family. The elder of them had gone into the army early, and left for India; the younger had remained always with his father, the helper of his money-making, the sharer of the planning out and building of Verner’s Pride, the joint resident there after it was built. The elder son—Captain Verner then—paid one visit only to England, during which visit he married, and took his wife out with him when he went back. These long-continued separations, however much we may feel inclined to gloss over the fact, do play strange havoc with home affections, wearing them away inch by inch.
The years went on and on. Captain Verner became Colonel Sir Lionel Verner, and a boy of his had been sent home in due course, and was at Eton. Old Mr. Verner grew near to death. News went out to India that his days were numbered, and Sir Lionel Verner was instructed to get leave of absence, if possible, and start for home without a day’s loss, if he would see his father alive. “If possible,” you observe, they put to the request; for the Sikhs were at that time giving trouble in our Indian possessions, and Colonel Verner was one of the experienced officers least likely to be spared.
But there is a mandate that must be obeyed whenever it comes—grim, imperative death. At the very hour when Mr. Verner was summoning his son to his death-bed, at the precise time that military authority in India would have said, if asked, that Colonel Sir Lionel Verner could not be spared, death had marked out that brave officer for his own especial prey. He fell in one of the skirmishes that took place near Moultan, and the two letters—one going to Europe with tidings of his death, the other going to India with news of his father’s illness—crossed each other on the route.
“Steevy,” said old Mr. Verner to his younger son, after giving a passing lament to Sir Lionel, “I shall leave Verner’s Pride to you.”
“Ought it not to go to the lad at Eton, father?” was the reply of Stephen Verner.
“What’s the lad at Eton to me?” cried the old man. “I’d not have left it away from Lionel, as he stood first, but it has always seemed to me that you had the most right to it; that to leave it away from you savoured of injustice. You were at its building, Steevy; it has been your home as much as it has been mine; and I’ll never turn you from it for a stranger, let him be whose child he may. No, no! Verner’s Pride shall be yours. But, look you, Stephen! you have no children; bring up young Lionel as your heir, and let it descend to him after you.”
And that is how Stephen Verner had inherited Verner’s Pride. Neighbouring gossipers, ever fonder of laying down the law for other people’s business than of minding their own, protested against it among themselves as a piece of injustice. Had they cause? Many very just-minded persons would consider that Stephen Verner possessed more fair claim to it than the boy at Eton.