“You don’t speak, Lionel,” impatiently cried Lady Verner. In truth he did not; he did not know how to begin. He rose, and approached her.
“Mother, can you bear disappointment?” he asked, taking her hand, and speaking gently, in spite of his agitation.
“Hush!” interrupted Lady Verner. “If you speak of ‘disappointment’ to me, you are no true son of mine. You are going to tell me that Stephen Verner has left nothing to me. Let me tell you, Lionel, that I would not have accepted it—and this I made known to him. Accept money from him! No. But I will accept it from my dear son,”—looking at him with a smile—“now that he enjoys the revenues of Verner’s Pride.”
“It was not with money left, or not left, to you, that I was connecting disappointment,” answered Lionel. “There is a worse disappointment in store for us than that, mother.”
“A worse disappointment!” repeated Lady Verner, looking puzzled. “You are never to be saddled with the presence of Mrs. Verner at Verner’s Pride, until her death!” she hastily added. A great disappointment, that would have been; a grievous wrong, in the estimation of Lady Verner.
“Mother, dear, Verner’s Pride is not mine.”
“Not yours!” she slowly said. “He surely has not done as his father did before him?—left it to the younger brother, over the head of the elder? He has never left it to Jan!”
“Neither to Jan nor to me. It is left to Frederick Massingbird. John would have had it, had he been alive.”
Lady Verner’s delicate features became crimson; before she could speak, they had assumed a leaden colour. “Don’t play with me, Lionel,” she gasped, an awful fear thumping at her heart that he was not playing with her. “It cannot be left to the Massingbirds!”
He sat down by her side, and gave her the history of the matter in detail. Lady Verner caught at the codicil, as a drowning man catches at a straw.
“How could you terrify me?” she asked. “Verner’s Pride is yours, Lionel. The codicil must be found.”
“The conviction upon my mind is that it never will be found,” he resolutely answered. “Whoever took that codicil from the desk where it was placed, could have had but one motive in doing it—the depriving me of Verner’s Pride. Rely upon it, it is effectually removed ere this, by burning, or otherwise. No. I already look upon the codicil as a thing that never existed. Verner’s Pride is gone from us.”
“But, Lionel, whom do you suspect? Who can have taken it? It is pretty nearly a hanging matter to steal a will!”
“I do not suspect any one,” he emphatically answered. “Mrs. Tynn protests that no one could have approached the desk unseen by her. It is very unlikely that any one could have burnt it. They must, first of all, have chosen a moment when my uncle was asleep; they must have got Mrs. Tynn from the room; they must have searched for and found the keys; they must have unlocked the desk, taken the codicil, relocked the desk, and replaced the keys. All this could not be done without time, and familiarity with facts. Not a servant in the house—save the Tynns—knew the codicil was there, and they did not know its purport. But the Tynns are thoroughly trustworthy.”