“More right!” ejaculated Dr. West warmly. “Frederick Massingbird has no right, by the side of Lionel Verner. Why Mr. Verner ever willed it away from Lionel we could not understand.”
“Fred needn’t take it—even if the codicil can’t be found—he can give it back to Lionel by deed of gift,” said practical Jan. “I should.”
“That my master meant Mr. Lionel to succeed, is certain,” interposed Tynn, the butler. “Nearly the last word he said to me, before the breath went out of his body, was an injunction to serve Mr. Lionel faithfully at Verner’s Pride, as I had served him. There can be no difficulty in Mr. Lionel’s succeeding, when my master’s intentions were made so plain.”
“Be quiet, Tynn,” said Lionel. “I succeed by means of legal right to Verner’s Pride, or I will not succeed at all.”
“That’s true,” acquiesced the lawyer. “A will is a will, and must be acted upon. How on earth has that codicil got spirited away?”
How indeed! But for the plain fact, so positive and palpable before them, of the codicil’s absence, they would have declared the loss to be an impossibility. Upstairs and down, the house was vainly searched for it; and the conclusion was at length unwillingly come to that Mr. Verner had repented of his bequest, had taken the codicil out of the desk, and burned it. The suggestion came from Mr. Bitterworth; and Mrs. Tynn acknowledged that it was just possible Mr. Verner’s strength would allow him to accomplish so much, while her back was turned. And yet, how reconcile this with his dying charges to Lionel, touching the management of the estate?
The broad fact that there was the will, and that alone to act upon, untempered by a codicil, shone out all too clearly. Lionel Verner was displaced, and Frederick Massingbird was the heir.
Oh, if some impossible electric telegraph could but have carried the news over the waves of the sea, to the ship ploughing along the mid-path of the ocean; if the two fugitives in her could but have been spirited back again, as the codicil seemed to have been spirited away, how triumphantly would they have entered upon their sway at Verner’s Pride.
It was a terrible blow; there was no doubt of that; very terrible to Lionel Verner, so proud and sensitive. Do not take the word proud in its wrong meaning. He did not set himself up for being better than others, or think everybody else dirt beneath his feet; but he was proud of his independence, of his unstained name—he was proud to own that fine place, Verner’s Pride. And now Verner’s Pride was dashed from him, and his independence seemed to have gone out with the blow, and a slight seemed to have fallen upon him, if not upon his name.