Lionel Verner had remained in Paris six months, when summoned thither by the accident to his brother. The accident need not have detained him half that period of time; but the seductions of the gay French capital had charms for Lionel. From the very hour that he set foot in Verner’s Pride on his return, he found that Mr. Verner’s behaviour had altered to him. He showed bitter, angry estrangement, and Lionel could only conceive one cause for it—his long sojourn abroad. Fifteen or sixteen months had now elapsed since his return, and the estrangement had not lessened. In vain Lionel sought an explanation. Mr. Verner would not enter upon it. In fact, so far as direct words went, Mr. Verner had not expressed much of his displeasure; he left it to his manner. That said enough. He had never dropped the slightest allusion as to its cause. When Lionel asked an explanation, he neither accorded nor denied it, but would put him off evasively; as he might have put off a child who asked a troublesome question. You have now seen him do so once again.
After the rebuff, Lionel was crossing the hall when he suddenly halted, as if a thought struck him, and he turned back to the study. If ever a man’s attitude bespoke utter grief and prostration, Mr. Verner’s did, as Lionel opened the door. His head and hands had fallen, and his stick had dropped upon the carpet. He started out of his reverie at the appearance of Lionel, and made an effort to recover his stick. Lionel hastened to pick it up for him.
“I have been thinking, sir, that it might be well for Decima to go in the carriage to the station, to receive Miss Tempest. Shall I order it?”
“Order anything you like; order all Verner’s Pride—what does it matter? Better for some of us, perhaps, that it had never existed.”
Hastily, abruptly, carelessly was the answer given. There was no mistaking that Mr. Verner was nearly beside himself with mental pain.
Lionel went round to the stables, to give the order he had suggested. One great feature in the character of Lionel Verner was its complete absence of assumption. Courteously refined in mind and feelings, he could not have presumed. Others, in his position, might have deemed they were but exercising a right. Though the presumptive heir to Verner’s Pride, living in it, brought up as such, he would not, you see, even send out its master’s unused carriage, without that master’s sanction. In little things as in great, Lionel Verner could but be a thorough gentleman: to be otherwise he must have changed his nature.
“Wigham, will you take the close carriage to Deerham Court. It is wanted for Miss Verner.”
“Very well, sir.” But Wigham, who had been coachman in the family nearly as many years as Lionel had been in the world, wondered much, for all his prompt reply. He scarcely ever remembered a Verner’s Pride carriage to have been ordered for Miss Verner.