He had surely counted upon Verner’s Pride. He had believed himself as indisputably its heir, as though he had been Stephen Verner’s eldest son, and the estate entailed. Never for a moment had a doubt that he would succeed entered his own mind, or been imparted to it from any quarter. In the week that intervened between Mr. Verner’s death and burial, he had acted as entire master. It was he who issued orders—from himself now, not from any other—it was he who was appealed to. People, of their own accord, began to call him Mr. Verner. Very peremptory indeed had been a certain interview of his with Roy the bailiff. Not, as formerly, had he said, “Roy, my uncle desires me to say so and so;” or, “Roy, you must not act in that way, it would displease Mr. Verner;” but he issued his own clear and unmistakable orders, as the sole master of Verner’s Pride. He and Roy all but came to loggerheads that day; and they would have come quite to it, but that Roy remembered in time that he, before whom he stood, was his head and master—his master to keep him on, or to discharge him at pleasure, and who would brook no more insubordination to his will. So Roy bowed, and ate humble pie, and hated Lionel all the while. Lionel had seen this; he had seen how the man longed to rebel, had he dared: and now a flush of pain rose to his brow as he remembered that in that interview he had not been the master; that he was less master now than he had ever been. Roy would likewise remember it.
Mr. Bitterworth took Lionel aside. Sir Rufus Hautley had gone out after the blow had fallen, when the codicil had been searched for in vain, had gone out in anger, shaking the dust from his feet, declining to act as executor, to accept the mourning-ring, to have to do with anything so palpably unjust. The rest lingered yet. It seemed that they could not talk enough of it, could not tire of bringing forth new conjectures, could not give vent to all the phases of their astonishment.
“What could have been your offence, that your uncle should alter his will, two years ago, and leave the estate from you?” Mr. Bitterworth inquired of Lionel, drawing him aside.
“I am unable to conjecture,” replied Lionel. “I find by the date of this will that it was made the week subsequent to my departure for Paris, when Jan met with the accident. He was not displeased with me then, so far as I knew——”
“Did you go to Paris in opposition to his wish?” interrupted Mr. Bitterworth.
“On the contrary, he hurried me off. When the news of Jan’s accident arrived, and I went to my uncle with the message, he said to me—I remember his very words—’Go off at once; don’t lose an instant,’ and he handed me money for the journey and for my stay; for Jan, also, should any great expense be needed for him; and in an hour I was away on my route. I stayed six months in Paris, as you may remember—the latter portion of the time for my own pleasure.