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Cousin Henry

 

 

CHAPTER VIII

The Reading of the Will
 

On the whole of the next day the search was continued. In spite of his late watches, Cousin Henry rose up early, not looking at anything that was being done while the search was continued in other rooms, but still sitting, as he had heretofore sat, among the books. The two men whom Mr Apjohn had sent from his office, together with the butler and Mrs Griffith, began their work in the old man's bed-room, and then carried it on in the parlour. When they came to the book-room, as being the next in turn, Cousin Henry took his hat and went out into the garden. There, as he made short turns upon the gravel path, he endeavoured to force himself away from the close vicinity of the window; but he could not do it. He could not go where he would have been unable to see what was being done. He feared,—he trembled in his fear,—lest they should come upon the guilty volume. And yet he assured himself again and again that he wished that they might find it. Would it not in every way be better for him that they should find it? He could not bring himself to destroy it, and surely, sooner or later, it would be found.

Every book was taken from its shelf, apparently with the object of looking into the vacant spaces behind them. Through the window he could see all that was done. As it happened, the compartment in which was the fatal shelf,—on which was the fatal volume,—was the last that they reached. No attempt was made to open the books one by one; but then this volume, with so thick an enclosure to betray it, would certainly open of itself. He himself had gone to the place so often that certainly the enclosure would betray itself. Well, let it betray itself! No one could say that he had had guilty cognizance of its whereabouts! But yet he knew that he would have been unable to speak, would have gasped, and would surely have declared himself to be guilty by his awe-struck silence.

Three by three the books came down, and then were replaced. And now they were at the shelf! Why could he not go away? Why must he stand there fixed at the window? He had done nothing,—nothing, nothing; and yet he stood there trembling, immovable, with the perspiration running off his face, unable to keep his eyes for a moment from what they were doing! At last the very three came down, in the centre of which was the volume containing the will. There was a tree against which he leaned, unable to support himself, as he looked into the room. The vacant place was searched, and then the three books were replaced! No attempt was made to examine the volumes. The men who did the work clearly did not know that these very volumes had been in constant use with the old Squire. They were replaced, and then the search, as far as the room was concerned, was over. When they were gone, Cousin Henry returned again to the room, and there he remained during the rest of the day. The search as it was carried on elsewhere had no interest for him.

Whatever harm might be done to others, whoever else might be injured, certainly no one was ill-treated as he had been ill-treated. It was thus he thought of it. Even should the will never be found, how cruel would be the injustice done to him! He had not asked to be made heir to the property! It was not his doing. He had been invited to come in order that he might be received as the heir, and since he had come, every one about the place had misused him. The tenants had treated him with disdain; the very servants had been insolent; his Cousin Isabel, when he had offered to share everything with her, had declared that he was hateful to her; and his uncle himself had heaped insult upon injury, and had aggravated injustice with scorn.

"Yes; I had intended that you should be my heir, and have called you hither for that purpose. Now I find you to be so poor a creature that I have changed my mind." That in truth was what his uncle had said to him and had done for him. Who, after that, would expect him to go out of his way in search of special magnanimity? Let them find the will if they wanted it! Even though he should resolve himself to have nothing to do with the property, even though he should repudiate any will in his own favour, still he would not tell them where this will might be found. Why should he help them in their difficulty?

Every carpet was taken up, every piece of furniture was moved, every trunk and box in the house was examined, but it occurred to no one that every book should be opened. It was still July, and the day was very long. From six in the morning till nine at night they were at work, and when the night came they declared that every spot about the place had been searched.

"I think, Miss, that the old Squire did destroy it. He was a little wandering at last." It was thus that Mrs Griffith had expressed her opinion to Isabel.

Isabel was sure that it was not so, but said nothing in reply.

If she could only get away from Llanfeare and have done with it, she would be satisfied. Llanfeare had become odious to her and terrible! She would get away, and wash her hands of it. And yet she was aware how sad would be her condition. Mr Apjohn had already explained to her that the Squire had so managed his affairs as to have left no funds from which could be paid the legacy which had nominally been left to her. She had told her father when at Hereford that her uncle had taken such care of her that she would not become a burden upon him. Now it seemed that she would have to return home without a shilling of her own. For one so utterly penniless to think of marrying a man who had little but his moderate professional income would, she felt, be mean as well as wrong. There must be an end to everything between her and Mr Owen. If her father could not support her, she must become a governess or, failing that, a housemaid. But even the poor-house would be better than Llanfeare, if Llanfeare were to be the property of Cousin Henry.

Mr Apjohn had told her that she could not now leave the place on the Wednesday as she had intended. On the Wednesday he again came to Llanfeare, and then she saw him before he proceeded to his business. It was his intention now to read the last will which had been found, and to explain to those who heard it that he proposed, as joint executor with Dr Powell, to act upon that as the last will;—but still with a proviso that another will might possibly be forthcoming. Though he had in a measure quarrelled with the Squire over the making of that will, nevertheless, he had been appointed in it as the executor, such having been the case in the wills previously made. All this he explained to her up in her room, assenting to her objection to be again present when the will should be read.

"I could not do it," she said; "and of what use could it be, as I know everything that is in it? It would be too painful."

He, remembering the futile legacy which it contained for herself, and the necessity which would be incumbent upon him to explain that there were no funds for paying it, did not again ask her to be present.

"I shall go to-morrow," she said.

Then he asked her whether she could not remain until the beginning of next week, urging objections to this final surrender of Llanfeare; but she was not to be turned from her purpose. "Llanfeare will have been surrendered," she said; "the house will be his to turn me out of if he pleases."

"He would not do that."

"He shall not have the chance. I could not hide it from you if I would. He and I do not love each other. Since he has been here I have kept away from him with disgust. He cannot but hate me, and I will not be a guest in his house. Besides, what can I do?"

"The will will not have been proved, you know."

"What difference will there be in that? It will be proved at once. Of course he will have the keys, and will be master of everything. There are the keys." As she said this she handed over to him various bunches. "You had better give them to him yourself when you have read the will, so that I need have nothing to say to him. There are some books of mine which my uncle gave me. Mrs Griffith will pack them, and send them to me at Hereford,—unless he objects. Everything else belonging to me I can take with me. Perhaps you will tell them to send a fly out for me in time for the early train."

And so it was settled.

Then that will was read,—that will which we know not to have been the last will,—in the presence of Cousin Henry, of Dr Powell, who had again come out with Mr Apjohn, and of the farmers, who were collected as before.

It was a long, tedious document, in which the testator set forth at length his reasons for the disposition which he made of the property. Having much considered the matter, he had thought the estate should descend to the male heir, even in default of a regular deed of entail. Therefore, although his love for his dearest niece, Isabel Brodrick, was undiminished, and his confidence in her as perfect as ever, still he had thought it right to leave the old family property to his nephew, Henry Jones. Then, with all due circumstances of description, the legacy was made in favour of his nephew. There were other legacies; a small sum of money to Mr Apjohn himself, for the trouble imposed upon him as executor, a year's wages to each of his servants and other matters of the kind. There was also left to Isabel that sum of four thousand pounds of which mention has been made. When the lawyer had completed the reading of the document, he declared that to the best of his knowledge no such money was in existence. The testator had no doubt thought that legacies so made would be paid out of the property, whereas the property could be made subject to no such demand unless it had, by proper instrument to that effect, been charged with the amount.

"But," he said, "Mr Henry Jones, when he comes into possession of the estate, will probably feel himself called upon to set that matter right, and to carry out his uncle's wishes."

Upon this Cousin Henry, who had not as yet spoken a word throughout the ceremony, was profuse in his promises. Should the estate become his, he would certainly see that his uncle's wishes were carried out in regard to his dear cousin. To this Mr Apjohn listened, and then went on to explain what remained to be said. Though this will, which he had now read, would be acted upon as though it were the last will and testament of the deceased,—though, in default of that for which futile search had been made, it certainly was what it purported to be,—still there existed in full force all those reasons which he had stated on the Monday for supposing that the late Squire had executed another. Here Joseph Cantor, junior, gave very strong symptoms of his inclination to reopen that controversy, but was stopped by the joint efforts of his father and the lawyer. If such a document should ever be found, then that would be the actual will and not the one which he had now read. After that, when all due formalities had been performed, he took his leave, and went back to Carmarthen.

The keys were given up to Cousin Henry, and he found himself to be, in fact, the lord and master of the house, and the owner of everything within it. The butler, Mrs Griffith, and the gardener gave him notice to quit. They would stay, if he wished it, for three months, but they did not think that they could be happy in the house now that the old Squire was dead, and that Miss Isabel was going away. There certainly did not come to him at the present moment any of the pleasures of ownership. He would have been willing,—he thought that he would have been willing,—to abandon Llanfeare altogether, if only it could have been abandoned without any of the occurrences of the last month. He would have been pleased that there should have been no Llanfeare.

But as it was, he must make up his mind to something. He must hide the paper in some deeper hiding place, or he must destroy it, or he must reveal it. He thought that he could have dropped the book containing the will into the sea, though he could not bring himself to burn the will itself. The book was now his own, and he might do what he liked with it. But it would be madness to leave the paper there!

Then again there came to him the idea that it would be best for him, and for Isabel too, to divide the property. In one way it was his,—having become his without any fraudulent doing on his part. So he declared to himself. In another way it was hers,—though it could not become hers without some more than magnanimous interference on his part. To divide it would certainly be best. But there was no other way of dividing it but by a marriage. For any other division, such as separating the land or the rents, no excuse could be made, nor would any such separation touch the fatal paper which lay between the leaves of the book. Were she to consent to marry him, then he thought he might find courage to destroy the paper.

It was necessary that he should see her on that afternoon, if only that he might bid her adieu, and tell her that she should certainly have the money that had been left her. If it were possible he would say a word also about that other matter.

"You did not hear the will read," he said to her.

"No," she answered abruptly.

"But you have been told its contents?"

"I believe so."

"About the four thousand pounds?"

"There need be no question about the four thousand pounds. There is not a word to be said about it,—at any rate between you and me."

"I have come to tell you," said he,—not understanding her feeling in the least, and evidently showing by the altered tone of his voice that he thought that his communication would be received with favour,—"I have come to tell you that the legacy shall be paid in full. I will see to that myself as soon as I am able to raise a penny on the property."

"Pray do not trouble yourself, Cousin Henry."

"Oh, certainly I shall."

"Do not trouble yourself. You may be sure of this, that on no earthly consideration would I take a penny from your hands."

"Why not?"

"We take presents from those whom we love and esteem, not from those we despise."

"Why should you despise me?" he asked.

"I will leave that to yourself to judge of; but be sure of this, that though I were starving I would take nothing from your hands."

Then she got up, and, retiring into the inner room, left him alone. It was clear to him then that he could not divide the property with her in the manner that he had suggested to himself.


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