“Do you think I have forgotten it?” wailed Mr. Verner. “It has cost me my peace—my happiness, to will it away from Lionel. To see Verner’s Pride in possession of any but a Verner will trouble me so—if, indeed, we are permitted in the next world still to mark what goes on in this—that I shall scarcely rest quiet in my grave.”
“You have no more—I must speak plainly, Stephen—I believe that you have no more right in equity to will away the estate from Lionel, than you would have were he the heir-at-law. Many have said—I am sure you must be aware that they have—that you have kept him out of it; that you have enjoyed what ought to have been his, ever since his grandfather’s death.”
“Have you said it?” angrily asked Mr. Verner.
“I have neither said it nor thought it. When your father informed me that he had willed the estate to you, Sir Lionel being dead, I answered him that I thought he had done well and wisely; that you had far more right to it, for your life, than the boy Lionel. But, Stephen, I should never sanction your leaving it away from him after you. Had you possessed children of your own, they should never have been allowed to shut out Lionel. He is your elder brother’s son, remember.”
Mr. Verner sat like one in dire perplexity. It would appear that there was a struggle going on in his own mind.
“I know, I know,” he presently said, in answer. “The worry, the uncertainty, as to what I ought to do, has destroyed the peace of my later days. I altered my will when smarting under the discovery of his unworthiness; but, even then a doubt as to whether I was doing right caused me to name him as inheritor, should the Massingbirds die.”
“Why, that must have been a paradox!” exclaimed Mr. Bitterworth. “Lionel Verner should inherit before all, or not inherit at all. What your ground of complaint against him is, I know not; but whatever it may be, it can be no excuse for your willing away from him Verner’s Pride. Some youthful folly of his came to your knowledge, I conclude.”
“Not folly. Call it sin—call it crime,” vehemently replied Mr. Verner.
“As you please; you know its proper term better than I. For one solitary instance of—what you please to name it—you should not blight his whole prospects for life. Lionel’s general conduct is so irreproachable (unless he be the craftiest hypocrite under the sun) that you may well pardon one defalcation. Are you sure you were not mistaken?”
“I am sure. I hold proof positive.”
“Well, I leave that. I say that you might forgive him, whatever it may be, remembering how few his offences are. He would make a faithful master of Verner’s Pride. Compare him to Fred Massingbird! Pshaw!”
Mr. Verner did not answer. His face had an aching look upon it, as it leaned out over the top of his stick. Mr. Bitterworth laid his hand upon his friend’s knee persuasively.