Cousin Henry




Cousin Henry Dreams a Dream

From what had passed with Mrs Griffith, it was clear to Cousin Henry that he must go out of the house and be seen about the place. The woman had been right in saying that his seclusion was mysterious. It was peculiarly imperative upon him to avoid all appearance of mystery. He ought to have been aware of this before. He ought to have thought of it, and not to have required to be reminded by a rebuke from the housekeeper. He could now only amend the fault for the future, and endeavour to live down the mystery which had been created. Almost as soon as Mrs Griffith had left him, he prepared to move. But then he bethought himself that he must not seem to have obeyed, quite at the moment, the injunctions of his own servant; so he re-seated himself, resolved to postpone for a day or two his intention of calling upon one of the tenants. He re-seated himself, but turned his back to the shelf, lest the aspect of his countenance should be watched through the window.

On the following morning he was relieved from his immediate difficulty by the arrival of a letter from Mr Apjohn. It was necessary that a declaration as to the will should be made before a certain functionary at Carmarthen, and as the papers necessary for the occasion had been prepared in the lawyer's office, he was summoned into Carmarthen for the purpose. Immediately after that he would be put into full possession of the property. Mr Apjohn also informed him that the deed had been prepared for charging the estate with four thousand pounds on behalf of his Cousin Isabel. By this he would bind himself to pay her two hundred a year for the next two years, and at the end of that period to hand over to her the entire sum. Here was an excuse provided for him to leave the house and travel as far as Carmarthen. There were the horses and the carriage with which his uncle had been accustomed to be taken about the estate, and there was still the old coachman, who had been in the service for the last twenty years. So he gave his orders, and directed that the carriage should be ready soon after two, in order that he might keep the appointment made by the lawyer at three. The order was sent out to the stable through the butler, and as he gave it he felt how unable he was to assume the natural tone of a master to his servants.

"The carriage, sir!" said the butler, as though surprised. Then the owner of Llanfeare found himself compelled to explain to his own man that it was necessary that he should see the lawyer in Carmarthen.

Should he or should he not take the book with him as he went? It was a large volume, and could not well be concealed in his pocket. He might no doubt take a book,—any book,—with him for his own recreation in the carriage; but were he to do so, the special book which he had selected would be marked to the eyes of the servants. It required but little thought to tell him that the book must certainly be left in its place. He could have taken the will and kept it safe, and certainly unseen, in the pocket of his coat. But then, to take the will from its hiding-place and to have it on his person, unless he did so for the purpose of instant and public revelation, would, as he thought, be in itself a felony. There would be the doing of a deed in the very act of abstracting the document; and his safety lay in the abstaining from any deed. What if a fit should come upon him, or he should fall and hurt himself and the paper be found in his possession? Then there would at once be the intervention of the police, and the cell, and the angry voices of the crowd, and the scowling of the judge, and the quick sentence, and that dwelling among thieves and felons for the entire period of his accursed life! Then would that great command, "Thou shalt not steal," be sounding always in his ear! Then would self-condemnation be heavy upon him! Not to tell of the document, not to touch it, not to be responsible in any way for its position there on the shelf,—that was not to steal it. Hitherto the word "felon" had not come home to his soul. But were he to have it in his pocket, unless with that purpose of magnanimity of which he thought so often, then he would be a felon.

Soon after two he left the room, and at the moment was unable not to turn a rapid glance upon the book. There it was, safe in its place. How well he knew the appearance of the volume! On the back near the bottom was a small speck, a spot on the binding, which had been so far disfigured by some accident in use. This seemed to his eyes to make it marked and separate among a thousand. To him it was almost wonderful that a stain so peculiar should not at once betray the volume to the eyes of all. But there it was, such as it was, and he left it amidst its perils. Should they pounce upon it the moment that he had left the room, they could not say that he was guilty because it contained the will.

He went to Carmarthen, and there his courage was subjected to a terrible trial. He was called upon to declare before the official that to the best of his belief the will, which was about to be proved, was the last will and testament of Indefer Jones. Had this been explained to him by the lawyer in his letter, he might probably have abstained from so damning a falsehood. There would have been time then for some resolution. Had Mr Apjohn told him what it was that he was about to be called upon to perform, even then, before the necessity of performance was presented to him, there would have been a moment for consideration, and he might have doubted. Had he hesitated in the presence of the lawyer, all would have been made known. But he was carried before the official not knowing that the lie was to be submitted to him, and before he could collect his thoughts the false declaration had been made!

"You understand, Mr Jones," said the lawyer in the presence of the official, "that we still think that a further will may eventually be found?"

"I understand that," croaked the poor wretch.

"It is well that you should bear it in mind," said Mr Apjohn severely;—"for your own sake, I mean."

There was nothing further spoken on the subject, and he was given to understand that Llanfeare was now in truth his own;—his own, whatever chance there might be that it should be wrested from him hereafter.

Then followed the business as to the charge upon the property which was to be made on behalf of Isabel. The deeds were prepared, and only required the signature of the new Squire.

"But she has refused to take a penny from me," said the Squire, hesitating with a pen in his hand. Let us give him his due by declaring that, much as he hated his cousin, he did not doubt as to bestowing the money upon her. As far as he was concerned, she was welcome to the four thousand pounds.

But the lawyer misinterpreted his client's manner. "I should think, Mr Jones," he said, with still increased severity, "that you would have felt that under the peculiar circumstances you were bound to restore to your cousin money which was expended by your uncle under a misconception in purchasing land which will now be yours."

"What can I do if she will not take it?"

"Not take it? That is an absurdity. In a matter of such importance as this she will of course be guided by her father. It is not a matter requiring gratitude on her part. The money ought to be regarded as her own, and you will only be restoring to her what is in truth her own."

"I am quite willing. I have made no difficulty, Mr Apjohn. I don't understand why you should speak to me in that way about it, as though I had hesitated about the money." Nevertheless, the lawyer maintained the severe look, and there was still the severe tone as the poor wretch left the office. In all this there was so great an aggravation of his misery! It was only too manifest that every one suspected him of something. Here he was ready to give away,—absolutely anxious to give away out of his own pocket,—a very large sum of money to his cousin who had misused and insulted him, by signing the document without a moment's hesitation as soon as it was presented to him, and yet he was rebuked for his demeanour as he did it. Oh, that accursed will! Why had his uncle summoned him away from the comparative comfort of his old London life?

When he returned to the book-room, he made himself sure that the volume had not been moved. There was a slight variation in the positions of that and the two neighbouring books, the centre one having been pushed a quarter of an inch further in; and all this he had marked so accurately that he could not but know whether any hand had been at the shelf. He did not go near to the shelf, but could see the variation as he stood at the table. His eye had become minutely exact as to the book and its position. Then he resolved that he would not look at the book again, would not turn a glance on it unless it might be when he had made up his mind to reveal its contents. His neck became absolutely stiff with the efforts necessary not to look at the book.

That night he wrote a letter to his cousin, which was as follows:—

My dear Isabel,

I have been into Carmarthen to-day, and I have signed a document in the presence of Mr Apjohn, by which four thousand pounds is made over to you as a charge upon the property. He stated that you had what might be called a right to that money, and I perfectly agreed with him. I have never doubted about the money since my uncle's will was read. The agent who receives the rents will remit to you one hundred pounds half yearly for the next two years. By that time I shall have been able to raise the money, and you shall then be paid in full.

I don't want you to take this as any favour from me. I quite understood what you said to me. I think that it was undeserved, and, after all that I have suffered in this matter, cruel on your part. It was not my fault that my uncle changed his mind backwards and forwards. I never asked him for the estate. I came to Llanfeare only because he bade me. I have taken possession of the property only when told to do so by Mr Apjohn. If I could not make myself pleasant to you, it was not my fault. I think you ought to be ashamed of what you said to me,—so soon after the old man's death!

But all that has nothing to do with the money, which, of course, you must take. As for myself, I do not think I shall continue to live here. My uncle has made the place a nest of hornets for me, and all through no fault of my own. Should you like to come and live here as owner, you are welcome to do so on paying me a certain sum out of the rents. I am quite in earnest, and you had better think of it.

Yours truly,

Henry Jones.

His resolution as to the first portion of the above letter was taken as he returned in the carriage from Carmarthen; but it was not until the pen was in his hand, and the angry paragraph had been written in which he complained of her cruelty, that he thought of making that offer to her as to the residence. The idea flashed across his mind, and then was carried out instantly. Let her come and live there, and let her find the will herself if she pleased. If her mind was given to godly reading, this might be her reward. Such conduct would, at any rate, show them all that he was afraid of nothing. He would, he thought, if this could be arranged, still remain at his office; would give up that empty title of Squire of Llanfeare, and live in such comfort as might come to him from the remittances which would be made to him on account of the rents, till—that paper had been found. Such was his last plan, and the letter proposing it was duly sent to the post office.

On the following day he again acknowledged the necessity of going about the place,—so that the feeling of mystery might, if possible, be gradually dissipated,—and he went out for a walk. He roamed down towards the cliffs, and there sat in solitude, looking out upon the waters. His mind was still intent upon the book. Oh, if the book could be buried there below the sea,—be drowned and no hand of his be necessary for the drowning! As he sat there, feeling himself constrained to remain away from the house for a certain period, he fell asleep by degrees and dreamed. He dreamt that he was out there in a little boat all alone, with the book hidden under the seats, and that he rowed himself out to sea till he was so far distant from the shore that no eye could see him. Then he lifted the book, and was about to rid himself for ever of his burden,—when there came by a strong man swimming. The man looked up at him so as to see exactly what he was doing, and the book was not thrown over, and the face of the swimming man was the face of that young Cantor who had been so determined in his assertion that another will had been made.

The dream was still vivid as a reality to his intellect when he was awakened suddenly, whether by a touch or a sound he did not know. He looked up, and there was the young man whom he had seen swimming to him across the sea. The land he was on was a portion of old Cantor's farm, and the presence of the son need not have surprised him had he thought of it; but it was to him as though the comer had read every thought of his mind, and had understood clearly the purport of the dream.

"Be that you, Squire?" said the young man.

"Yes, it is I," said Cousin Henry, as he lay trembling on the grass.

"I didn't know you was here, sir. I didn't know you ever com'd here. Good morning, sir." Then the young man passed on, not caring to have any further conversation with a landlord so little to his taste.

After this he returned home almost cowed. But on the following morning he determined to make a still further effort, so that he might, if possible, return to the ways of the world, which were already becoming strange to him from the desolation of the life which he had been leading. He went out, and, taking the road by the church, up the creek, he came at about a distance of two miles from his own house to Coed, the farmstead of John Griffith, the farmer who held the largest number of acres on the property. At the garden gate he found his tenant, whom he was inclined to think somewhat more civil,—a little, perhaps, more courteous,—than others who had met him.

"Yes, sir," said John Griffith, "it's a fine day, and the crops are doing well enough. Would you like to come in and see the missus? She'll take it civil."

Cousin Henry entered the house and said a few words to the farmer's wife, who was not, however, specially gracious in her demeanour. He had not the gift of saying much to such persons, and was himself aware of his own deficiency. But still he had done something,—had shown that he was not afraid to enter a tenant's house. As he was leaving, the farmer followed him to the gate, and began to offer him some advice, apparently in kindness.

"You ought to be doing something, sir, with those paddocks between the shrubberies and the road."

"I suppose so, Mr Griffith; but I am no farmer."

"Then let them, sir. William Griffith will be glad enough to have them and pay you rent. The old Squire didn't like that the land he had held himself should go into other hands. But he never did much good with them lately, and it's different now."

"Yes, it's different now. I don't think I shall live here, Mr Griffith."

"Not live at Llanfeare?"

"I think not. I'm not quite fitted to the place. It isn't my doing, but among you all, I fear, you don't like me." As he said this he tried to carry it off with a laugh.

"You'd live down that, Squire, if you did your duty, and was good to the people;—and took no more than was your own. But perhaps you don't like a country life."

"I don't like being where I ain't liked; that's the truth of it, Mr Griffith."

"Who'll come in your place, if I may be so bold as to ask?"

"Miss Brodrick shall,—if she will. It was not I who asked my uncle to bring me here."

"But she is not to have the property?"

"Not the property;—at least I suppose not. But she shall have the house and the grounds, and the land adjacent. And she shall manage it all, dividing the rents with me, or something of that kind. I have offered it to her, but I do not say that she will agree. In the meantime, if you will come up and see me sometimes, I will take it as a kindness. I do not know that I have done any harm, so as to be shunned."

Then Farmer Griffith readily said that he would go up occasionally and see his landlord.

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