“Never wrote to you?” repeated Mr. Bitterworth.
“Not once, the whole of the time I was away. I wrote to him often; but if he had occasion to send me a message, Mrs. Verner or Fred Massingbird would write it. Of course, this will, disinheriting me, proves that my staying away could not have been the cause of displeasure—it is dated only the week after I went.”
“Whatever may have been the cause, it is a grievous wrong inflicted on you. He was my dear friend, and we have but now returned from laying him in his grave, but still I must speak out my sentiments—that he had no right to deprive you of Verner’s Pride.”
Lionel knit his brow. That he thought the same; that he was feeling the injustice as a crying and unmerited wrong, was but too evident. Mr. Bitterworth had bent his head in a reverie, stealing a glance at Lionel now and then.
“Is there nothing that you can charge your conscience with; no sin, which may have come to the knowledge of your uncle, and been deemed by him a just cause for disinheritance?” questioned Mr. Bitterworth, in a meaning tone.
“There is nothing, so help me Heaven!” replied Lionel, with emotion. “No sin, no shame; nothing that could be a cause, or the shade of a cause—I will not say for depriving me of Verner’s Pride, but even for my uncle’s displeasure.”
“It struck me—you will not be offended with me, Lionel, if I mention something that struck me a week back,” resumed Mr. Bitterworth. “I am a foolish old man, given to ponder much over cause and effect—to put two and two together, as we call it; and the day I first heard from your uncle that he had had good cause—it was what he said—for depriving you of Verner’s Pride, I went home, and set myself to think. The will had been made just after John Massingbird’s departure for Australia. I brought before me all the events which had occurred about that same time, and there rose up naturally, towering above every other reminiscence, the unhappy business touching Rachel Frost. Lionel”—laying his hand on the young man’s shoulder and dropping his voice to a whisper—“did you lead the girl astray?”
Lionel drew himself up to his full height, his lip curling with displeasure.
“To suspect you never would have occurred to me. I do not suspect you now. Were you to tell me that you were guilty of it, I should have difficulty in believing you. But it did occur to me that possibly your uncle may have cast that blame on you. I saw no other solution of the riddle. It could have been no light cause to induce Mr. Verner to deprive you of Verner’s Pride. He was not a capricious man.’