“I have little doubt that the codicil is still in existence,” urged Dr. West. “I remember my impression at the time was that it was only mislaid, temporarily lost. If that codicil turned up, you would be obliged to quit.”
“So I should,” said John, with equanimity. “Let Lionel Verner produce it, and I’ll vacate the next hour. That will never turn up: don’t you fret yourself, Uncle West.”
“Will you not resign it to him?”
“No, that I won’t. Verner’s Pride is mine by law. I should be a simpleton to give it up.”
“Sibylla’s pining for it,” resumed the doctor, trying what a little pathetic pleading would do. “She will as surely die, unless she can come back to Verner’s Pride, as that you and I are at breakfast here.”
“If you ask my opinion, Uncle West, I should say that she’d die, any way. She looks like it. She’s fading away just as the other two did. But she won’t die a day sooner for being away from Verner’s Pride; and she would not have lived an hour longer had she remained in it. That’s my belief.”
“Verner’s Pride never was intended for you, John,” cried the doctor. “Some freak caused Mr. Verner to will it away from Lionel; but he came to his senses before he died, and repaired the injury.”
“Then I am so much the more obliged to the freak,” was the good-humoured but uncompromising rejoinder of John Massingbird.
And more than that Dr. West could not make of him. John was evidently determined to stand by Verner’s Pride. The doctor then changed his tactics, and tried a little business on his own account—that of borrowing from John Massingbird as much money as that gentleman would lend.
It was not much. John, in his laughing way, protested he was always “cleaned out.” Nobody knew but himself—but he did not mind hinting it to Uncle West—the heaps of money he had been obliged to “shell out” before he could repose in tranquillity at Verner’s Pride. There were back entanglements and present expenses, not to speak of sums spent in benevolence.
“Benevolence?” the doctor exclaimed.
“Yes, benevolence,” John replied with a semi-grave face; he “had had to give away an unlimited number of bank-notes to the neighbourhood, as a recompense for having terrified it into fits.” There were times when he thought he should have to come upon Lionel Verner for the mesne profits, he observed. A procedure which he was unwilling to resort to for two reasons: the reason was that Lionel possessed nothing to pay them with; the other, that he, John, never liked to be hard.
So the doctor had to content himself with a very trifling loan, compared with the sum he had fondly anticipated. He dropped some obscure hints that the evidence he could give, if he chose, with reference to the codicil, or rather what he knew to have been Mr. Verner’s intentions, might go far to deprive his nephew John of the estate. But his nephew only laughed at him, and could not by any manner of means be induced to treat the hints as serious. A will was a will, he said, and Verner’s Pride was indisputably his.