“It is impossible that my uncle could have cast a shade of suspicion on me, in regard to that affair,” said Lionel. “He knew me better. At the moment of its occurrence, when nobody could tell whom to suspect, I remember a word or two were dropped which caused me to assure him I was not the guilty party, and he stopped me. He would not allow me even to speak of defence; he said he cast no suspicion on me.”
“Well, it is a great mystery,” said Mr. Bitterworth. “You must excuse me, Lionel. I thought Mr. Verner might in some way have taken up the notion. Evil tales, which have no human foundation, are sometimes palmed upon credulous ears for fact, and do their work.”
“Were it as you suggest, my uncle would have spoken to me, had it been only to reproach,” said Lionel. “It is a mystery, certainly, as you observe; but that is nothing to this mystery of the disappearance of the codicil——”
“I am going, Lionel,” interrupted Jan, putting his head round the room door.
“I must go, too,” said Lionel, starting from the sideboard against which he had been leaning. “My mother must hear of this business from no one but me.”
Verner’s Pride emptied itself of its mourners, who betook themselves their respective ways. Lionel, taking the long crape from his hat, and leaving on its deep mourning band alone, walked with a quick step through the village. He would not have chosen to be abroad that day, walking the very route where he had just figured chief in the procession, but to go without delay to Lady Verner was a duty. And a duty was never willingly omitted by Lionel Verner.
THE REVELATION TO LADY VERNER.
IN the drawing-room at Deerham Court, in their new black dresses, sat Lady Verner and Decima; Lucy Tempest with them. Lady Verner held out her hand to Lionel when he entered, and lifted her face, a strange eagerness visible in its refinement.
“I thought you would come to me, Lionel!” she uttered. “I want to know a hundred things.—Decima, have the goodness to direct your reproachful looks elsewhere; not to me. Why should I be a hypocrite, and feign a sorrow for Stephen Verner which I do not feel? I know it is his burial-day as well as you know it; but I will not make that a reason for abstaining from questions on family topics, although they do relate to money and means that were once his. I say it would be hypocritical affectation to do so. Lionel,” she deliberately continued, “has Jan an interest in Verner’s Pride after you, or is it left to you unconditionally? And what residence is appointed for Mrs. Verner?”
Lionel leaned over the table, apparently to reach something that was lying on it, contriving to bring his lips close to Decima. “Go out of the room, and take Lucy,” he whispered.
Decima received the hint promptly. She rose as of her own accord. “Lucy, let us leave mamma and Lionel alone. We will come back when your secrets are over,” she added, turning round with a smile as she left the room, drawing Lucy with her.