Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/Verner's Pride - Part 9
BY THE AUTHORESS OF "EAST LYNNE."
CHAPTER XVII. HOME TRUTHS FOR LIONEL.
Lionel Verner grew better. His naturally good constitution triumphed over the disease, and his sick soreness of mind lost somewhat of its sharpness. So long as he brooded in silence over his pain and his wrongs, there was little chance of the sting becoming much lighter; it was like the vulture preying upon its own vitals; but that season of silence was past. When once a deep grief can be spoken of, its great agony is gone. I think there is an old saying, or a proverb—"Griefs lose themselves in telling," and a greater truism was never uttered. The ice once broken, touching his feelings with regard to Sibylla, Lionel found comfort in making it his theme of conversation, of complaint, although his hearer and confidant was only Lucy Tempest. A strange comfort, but yet a natural one; as those who have suffered as Lionel did may be able to testify. At the time of the blow, when Sibylla deserted him with coolness so great, Lionel could have died, rather than give utterance to a syllable betraying his own pain; but several months had elapsed since, and the turning-point was come. He did not, unfortunately, love Sibylla one shade less; love, such as his, cannot be overcome so lightly; but the keenness of the disappointment, the blow to his self-esteem—to his vanity, it may be said—was growing less intense. In a case like this, of faithlessness, let it happen to man or to woman, the wounding of the self-esteem is not the least evil that must be borne. Lucy Tempest was, in Lionel's estimation, little more than a child, yet it was singular how he grew to love to talk with Page:Once a Week Volume 7.djvu/248 Page:Once a Week Volume 7.djvu/249 Page:Once a Week Volume 7.djvu/250 enough to stand. What an enemy this low fever is! I wish we could root it out!"
"Many might be all the healthier for it, sir, if could be done," was Robin's answer, spoken indifferently—as he nearly always spoke now. "As for me, I'm not far off being well again."
"They said in the village you were going to die, Robin, did they not?" continued Lionel. You have cheated them, you see."
"They said it, some of 'em, sir, and thought it, Old father thought it. I'm not sure but Mr. Jan thought it. I didn't, bad as I was," continued Robin, in a significant tone. "I had my oath to keep."
"Sir, I have sworn—and you know I have sworn it—to have my revenge upon him that worked ill to Rachel. I can't die till that oath has been kept."
"There's a certain sentence, Robin, given us for our guide, amid many other such sentences, which runs somewhat after this fashion: 'Vengeance is mine,' quietly spoke Lionel. "Have you forgotten who it is says that?"
"Why did he—the villain—forget them sentences? Why did he forget 'em and harm her?" retorted Robin. "Sir, it's of no good for you to look at me in that way. I'll never be baulked in this matter. Old father, now and again, he'll talk about forgiveness: and when I say 'weren't you her father?' 'Ay,' he'll answer, 'but I've got one foot in the grave, Robin, and anger will not bring her back to life.' No it won't," doggedly went on Robin. "It won't undo what was done, neither; but I'll keep my oath—so far as it is in my power to keep it. Dead though he is, he shall be exposed to the world."
The words "dead though he is" aroused the attention of Lionel. "To whom do you allude, Robin?" he asked. "Have you obtained any fresh clue?"
"Not much of a fresh one," answered the man, with a stress upon the word "fresh." "I have had it this six or seven months. When they heard he was dead, then they could speak out and tell me their suspicions of him."
"Who could? What mystery are you talking?" reiterated Lionel.
"Never mind who, sir. It was one that kept his mouth shut, as long as there was any good in his opening it. 'Not to make ill-blood,' was the excuse he gave me after. If I had but knowed at the time," added the man, clenching his fist. "I'd have went out and killed him, if he had been double as far off!"
"Robin, what have you heard?"
"Well, sir, I'll tell you. But I have not opened my lips to a living soul, not even to old father. The villain that did the harm to Rachel was John Massingbird!"
Lionel remained silent from surprise.
"I don't believe it," he presently said, speaking emphatically. "Who has accused him?"
"Sir, I have said that I can't tell you. I passed my word not to do it. It was one that had cause to suspect him at the time. And he never told me—never told me—until John Massingbird was dead!"
Robin's voice rose to a sound of wailing pain, and he raised his hands with a gesture of despair.
"Did your informant know that it was John Massingbird?" Lionel gravely asked.
"He had not got what is called positive proof, such as might avail in a court of justice; but he was morally certain," replied Robin. "And so am I. I am only waiting for one thing, sir, to tell it out to all the world."
"And what's that?"
"The returning home of Luke Roy. There's not much doubt that he knows all about it; I have my reasons for saying so, and I'd like to be quite sure before I tell out the tale. Old Roy says Luke may be expected home by any ship as comes: he don't think he'll stop there, now John Massingbird's dead."
"Then, Robin, listen to me," returned Lionel. "I have no positive proof, any more than it appears your informant has; but I am perfectly convinced in my own mind that the guilty man was not John Massingbird. Understand me," he emphatically continued, "I have good and sufficient reason for saying this. Rely upon it, whoever it may have been, John Massingbird it was not."
Robin lifted his eyes to the face of Lionel.
"You say you don't know this, sir?"
"Not of actual proof. But so sure am I that it was not he, that I could stake all I possess upon it."
"Then, sir, you'd lose it," doggedly answered Robin. "When the time comes that I choose to speak out——"
"What are you doing there?" burst forth Lionel, in a severely haughty tone.
It caused Robin to start from his seat.
In a gap of the hedge behind them, Lionel had caught sight of a human face, its stealthy ears complacently taking in every word. It was that of Roy the bailiff.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE PACKET IN THE SHIRT-DRAWER.
Mrs. Tynn, the housekeeper at Verner's Pride, was holding one of those periodical visitations that she was pleased to call, when in familiar colloquy with her female assistants, a "rout out." It appeared to consist of turning a room and its contents topsy-turvy, and then putting them straight again. The chamber, this time subjected to the ordeal, was that of her late master, Mr. Verner. His drawers, closets, and other places consecrated to clothes, had not been meddled with since his death. Mrs. Verner, in some moment unusually (for her) given to sentiment, had told Tynn she should like to "go over his dear clothes" herself. Therefore Tynn left them alone for that purpose. Mrs. Verner, however, who loved her personal ease better than any earthly thing, and was more given to dropping off to sleep in her chair than ever, not only after dinner but all day long, never yet had ventured upon the task. Tynn suggested that she had better do it herself after all; and Mrs. Verner replied, perhaps she had. So Tynn set about it.
Look at Mrs. Tynn over that deep, open drawer full of shirts. She calls it "Master's Page:Once a Week Volume 7.djvu/252 Page:Once a Week Volume 7.djvu/253 is it?" said Mrs. Verner, as Lionel folded the letters.
"No. They had evidently not received the tidings of my uncle's death. Or we should have heard that they were already coming back again."
"I don't know that," replied Mrs. Verner. "Fred worships money, and he would not suffer what was left by poor John to slip through his fingers. He will stay till he has realised it. I hope they will think to bring me back some memento of my lost boy! If it was only the handkerchief he used last, I should value it."
The tears filled her eyes. Lionel respected her grief, and remained silent. Presently she resumed, in a musing tone:
"I knew Sibylla would only prove an encumbrance to Fred, out there; and I told him so. If Fred thought he was taking out a wife who would make shift, and put up pleasantly with annoyances, he was mistaken. Sibylla in Canvas Town! Poor girl! I wonder she married him. Don't you?"
"Rather so," answered Lionel, his scarlet blush deepening.
"I do: especially to go to that place. Sibylla's a pretty flower to sport in the sunshine; but she never was constituted for a rough life, or to get pricked by thorns."
Lionel's heart beat. It echoed to every word. Would that she could have been sheltered from the thorns, the rough usages of life, as he would have sheltered her!
Lionel dined with Mrs. Verner, but quitted her soon afterwards. When he got back to Deerham Court, the stars were peeping out in the clear summer sky. Lucy Tempest was lingering in the court-yard, no doubt waiting for him, and she ran to meet him as soon as he appeared at the gate.
"How long you have been!" was her greeting, her glad eyes shining forth hopefully. "And is it all yours?"
Lionel drew her arm within his own in silence, and walked with her in silence till they reached the pillared entrance of the house. Then he spoke:
"You have not mentioned it, Lucy?"
"Of course I have not."
"Thank you. Let us both forget it. It was not the codicil. And Verner's Pride is not mine."
(To be continued.)