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Cousin Henry

 

 

CHAPTER XVII

Mr Cheekey
 

A month had been left for Cousin Henry to consider what he would do,—a month from the day in which he had been forced to accede to Mr Apjohn's proposal up to that on which he would have to stand before the barrister at Carmarthen, should he be brave enough at last to undergo the ordeal. He had in truth resolved that he would not undergo the ordeal. He was quite sure of himself that nothing short of cart-ropes or of the police would drag him into the witness-box. But still there was the month. There were various thoughts filling his mind. A great expense was being incurred,—most uselessly, if he intended to retreat before the day came,—and who would pay the money? There was hardly a hope left in his bosom that the property would remain in his hands. His hopes indeed now ran in altogether another direction. In what way might he best get rid of the property? How most readily might he take himself off from Llanfeare and have nothing more to do with the tenants and their rents? But still it was he who would be responsible for this terrible expense. It had been explained to him by the lawyer, that he might either indict the proprietor of the newspaper on a criminal charge or bring a civil action against him for damages. Mr Apjohn had very strongly recommended the former proceeding. It would be cheaper, he had said, and would show that the man who brought it had simply wished to vindicate his own character. It would be cheaper in the long-run,—because, as the lawyer explained, it would not be so much his object to get a verdict as to show by his presence in the court that he was afraid of no one. Were he to sue for damages, and, as was probable, not to get them, he must then bear the double expense of the prosecution and defence. Such had been the arguments Mr Apjohn had used; but he had considered also that if he could bind the man to prosecute the newspaper people on a criminal charge, then the poor victim would be less able to retreat. In such case as that, should the victim's courage fail him at the last moment, a policeman could be made to fetch him and force him into the witness-box. But in the conduct of a civil action no such constraint could be put upon him. Knowing all this, Mr Apjohn had eagerly explained the superior attractions of a criminal prosecution, and Cousin Henry had fallen into the trap. He understood it all now, but had not been ready enough to do so when the choice had been within his power. He had now bound himself to prosecute, and certainly would be dragged into Carmarthen, unless he first made known the truth as to the will. If he did that, then he thought that they would surely spare him the trial. Were he to say to them, "There; I have at last myself found the will. Here, behold it! Take the will and take Llanfeare, and let me escape from my misery," then surely they would not force him to appear in reference to a matter which would have been already decided in their own favour. He had lost that opportunity of giving up the will through Mr Griffith, but he was still resolved that some other mode must be discovered before the month should have run by. Every day was of moment, and yet the days passed on and nothing was done. His last idea was to send the will to Mr Apjohn with a letter, in which he would simply declare that he had just found it amongst the sermons, and that he was prepared to go away. But as the days flew by the letter was left unwritten, and the will was still among the sermons.

It will be understood that all this was much talked of in Carmarthen. Mr Henry Jones, of Llanfeare, was known to have indicted Mr Gregory Evans, of the Carmarthen Herald, for the publication of various wicked and malicious libels against himself; and it was known also that Mr Apjohn was Mr Jones's attorney in carrying on the prosecution. But not the less was it understood that Mr Apjohn and Mr Evans were not hostile to each other in the matter. Mr Apjohn would be quite honest in what he did. He would do his best to prove the libel,—on condition that his client were the honest owner of the property in question. In truth, however, the great object of them all was to get Henry Jones into a witness-box, so that, if possible, the very truth might be extracted from him.

Day by day and week by week since the funeral the idea had grown and become strong in Carmarthen that some wicked deed had been done. It irked the hearts of them all that such a one as Henry Jones should do such a deed and not be discovered. Old Indefer Jones had been respected by his neighbours. Miss Brodrick, though not personally well known in the county, had been spoken well of by all men. The idea that Llanfeare should belong to her had been received with favour. Then had come that altered intention in the old squire's mind, and the neighbours had disapproved. Mr Apjohn had disapproved very strongly, and though he was not without that reticence so essentially necessary to the character of an attorney, his opinion had become known. Then the squire's return to his old purpose was whispered abroad. The Cantors had spoken very freely. Everything done and everything not done at Llanfeare was known in Carmarthen. Mr Griffith had at length spoken, being the last to abandon all hope as to Cousin Henry's honesty.

Every one was convinced that Cousin Henry had simply stolen the property; and was it to be endured that such a deed as that should have been done by such a man and that Carmarthen should not find it out? Mr Apjohn was very much praised for his energy in having forced the man to take his action against Mr Evans, and no one was more inclined to praise him than Mr Evans himself. Those who had seen the man did believe that the truth would be worked out of him; and those who had only heard of him were sure that the trial would be a time of intense interest in the borough. The sale of the newspaper had risen immensely, and Mr Evans was quite the leading man of the hour.

"So you are going to have Mr Balsam against me?" said Mr Evans to Mr Apjohn one day. Now Mr Balsam was a very respectable barrister, who for many years had gone the Welsh circuit, and was chiefly known for the mildness of his behaviour and an accurate knowledge of law,—two gifts hardly of much value to an advocate in an assize town.

"Yes, Mr Evans. Mr Balsam, I have no doubt, will do all that we want."

"I suppose you want to get me into prison?"

"Certainly, if it shall be proved that you have deserved it. The libels are so manifest that it will be only necessary to read them to a jury. Unless you can justify them, I think you will have to go to prison."

"I suppose so. You will come and see me, I am quite sure, Mr Apjohn."

"I suppose Mr Cheekey will have something to say on your behalf before it comes to that."

Now Mr John Cheekey was a gentleman about fifty years of age, who had lately risen to considerable eminence in our criminal courts of law. He was generally called in the profession,—and perhaps sometimes outside it,—"Supercilous Jack," from the manner he had of moving his eyebrows when he was desirous of intimidating a witness. He was a strong, young-looking, and generally good-humoured Irishman, who had a thousand good points. Under no circumstances would he bully a woman,—nor would he bully a man, unless, according to his own mode of looking at such cases, the man wanted bullying. But when that time did come,—and a reference to the Old Bailey and assize reports in general would show that it came very often,—Supercilious Jack would make his teeth felt worse than any terrier. He could pause in his cross-examination, look at a man, projecting his face forward by degrees as he did so, in a manner which would crush any false witness who was not armed with triple courage at his breast,—and, alas! not unfrequently a witness who was not false. For unfortunately, though Mr Cheekey intended to confine the process to those who, as he said, wanted bullying, sometimes he made mistakes. He was possessed also of another precious gift,—which, if he had not invented, he had brought to perfection,—that of bullying the judge also. He had found that by doing so he could lower a judge in the estimation of the jury, and thus diminish the force of a damnatory charge. Mr Cheekey's services had been especially secured for this trial, and all the circumstances had been accurately explained to him. It was felt that a great day would have arrived in Carmarthen when Mr Cheekey should stand up in the court to cross-examine Cousin Henry.

"Yes," said Mr Evans, chuckling, "I think that Mr Cheekey will have something to say to it. What will be the result, Mr Apjohn?" he asked abruptly.

"How am I to say? If he can only hold his own like a man, there will, of course, be a verdict of guilty."

"But can he?" asked he of the newspaper.

"I hope he may with all my heart,—if he have done nothing that he ought not to have done. In this matter, Mr Evans, I have altogether a divided sympathy. I dislike the man utterly. I don't care who knows it. No one knows it better than he himself. The idea of his coming here over that young lady's head was from the first abhorrent to me. When I saw him, and heard him, and found out what he was,—such a poor, cringing, cowardly wretch,—my feeling was of course exacerbated. It was terrible to me that the old squire, whom I had always respected, should have brought such a man among us. But that was the old squire's doing. He certainly did bring him, and as certainly intended to make him his heir. If he did make him his heir, if that will which I read was in truth the last will, then I hope most sincerely that all that Mr Cheekey may do may be of no avail against him. If that be the case, I shall be glad to have an opportunity of calling upon you in your new lodgings."

"But if there was another will, Mr Apjohn,—a later will?"

"Then of course, there is the doubt whether this man be aware of it."

"But if he be aware of it?"

"Then I hope that Mr Cheekey may tear him limb from limb."

"But you feel sure that it is so?"

"Ah; I do not know about that. It is very hard to be sure of anything. When I see him I do feel almost sure that he is guilty; but when I think of it afterwards, I again have my doubts. It is not by men of such calibre that great crimes are committed. I can hardly fancy that he should have destroyed a will."

"Or hidden it?"

"If it were hidden, he would live in agony lest it were discovered. I used to think so when I knew that he passed the whole day sitting in one room. Now he goes out for hours together. Two or three times he has been down with old Griffith at Coed, and twice young Cantor found him lying on the sea cliff. I doubt whether he would have gone so far afield if the will were hidden in the house."

"Can he have it on his own person?"

"He is not brave enough for that. The presence of it there would reveal itself by the motion of his hands. His fingers would always be on the pocket that contained it. I do not know what to think. And it is because I am in doubt that I have brought him under Mr Cheekey's thumbscrew. It is a case in which I would, if possible, force a man to confess the truth even against himself. And for this reason I have urged him to prosecute you. But as an honest man myself, I am bound to hope that he may succeed if he be the rightful owner of Llanfeare."

"No one believes it, Mr Apjohn. Not one in all Carmarthen believes it."

"I will not say what I believe myself. Indeed I do not know. But I do hope that by Mr Cheekey's aid or otherwise we may get at the truth."

In his own peculiar circle, with Mr Geary the attorney, with Mr Jones the auctioneer, and Mr Powell, the landlord of the Bush Hotel, Mr Evans was much more triumphant. Among them, and indeed, with the gentlemen of Carmarthen generally, he was something of a hero. They did believe it probable that the interloper would be extruded from the property which did not belong to him, and that the doing of this would be due to Mr Evans. "Apjohn pretends to think that it is very doubtful," said he to his three friends.

"Apjohn isn't doubtful at all," said Mr Geary, "but he is a little cautious as to expressing himself."

"Apjohn has behaved very well," remarked the innkeeper. "If it wasn't for him we should never have got the rascal to come forward at all. He went out in one of my flies, but I won't let them charge for it on a job like that."

"I suppose you'll charge for bringing Cousin Henry into the court," said the auctioneer. They had all got to call him Cousin Henry since the idea had got abroad that he had robbed his Cousin Isabel.

"I'd bring him too for nothing, and stand him his lunch into the bargain, rather than that he shouldn't have the pleasure of meeting Mr Cheekey."

"Cheekey will get it out of him, if there is anything to get," said Mr Evans.

"My belief is that Mr Cheekey will about strike him dumb. If he has got anything in his bosom to conceal, he will be so awe-struck that he won't be able to open his mouth. He won't be got to say he did it, but he won't be able to say he didn't." This was Mr Geary's opinion.

"What would that amount to?" asked Mr Powell. "I'm afraid they couldn't give the place back to the young lady because of that."

"The jury would acquit Mr Evans. That's about what it would amount to," said the attorney.

"And Cousin Henry would go back to Llanfeare, and have all his troubles over," remarked Mr Jones. This they deemed to be a disastrous termination to all the trouble which they were taking, but one which seemed by no means improbable.

They all agreed that even Mr Cheekey would hardly be able to extract from the man an acknowledgment that he had with his own hands destroyed the will. Such a termination as that to a cross-examination had never been known under the hands of the most expert of advocates. That Cousin Henry might be stricken dumb, that he might faint, that he might be committed for contempt of court,—all these events were possible, or perhaps, not impossible; but that he should say, "Yes, I did it, I burnt the will. Yes, I, with my own hands,"—that they all declared to be impossible. And, if so, Cousin Henry would go back again to Llanfeare confirmed in his possession of the property.

"He will only laugh at us in his sleeve when it is over," said the auctioneer.

They little knew the torments which the man was enduring, or how unlikely it was that he should laugh in his sleeve at any one. We are too apt to forget when we think of the sins and faults of men how keen may be their conscience in spite of their sins. While they were thus talking of Cousin Henry, he was vainly endeavouring to console himself with the reflection that he had not committed any great crime, that there was still a road open to him for repentance, that if only he might be allowed to escape and repent in London, he would be too glad to resign Llanfeare and all its glories. The reader will hardly suppose that Cousin Henry will return after the trial to laugh in his sleeve in his own library in his own house.

A few days afterwards Mr Apjohn was up in town and had an interview with Mr Balsam, the barrister. "This client of mine does not seem to be a nice sort of country gentleman," said Mr Balsam.

"Anything but that. You will understand, Mr Balsam, that my only object in persuading him to indict the paper has been to put him into a witness-box. I told him so, of course. I explained to him that unless he would appear there, he could never hold up his head."

"And he took your advice."

"Very unwillingly. He would have given his right hand to escape. But I gave him no alternative. I so put it before him that he could not refuse to do as I bade him without owning himself to be a rascal. Shall I tell you what I think will come of it?"

"What will come of it?"

"He will not appear. I feel certain that he will not have the courage to show himself in the court. When the day comes, or, perhaps, a day or two before, he will run away."

"What will you do then?"

"Ah, that's the question. What shall we do then? He is bound to prosecute, and will have to pay the penalty. In such a case as this I think we could have him found and brought into court for the next assizes. But what could we do then? Though we were ever so rough to him in the way of contempt of court and the rest of it, we cannot take the property away. If he has got hold of the will and destroyed it, or hidden it, we can do nothing as to the property as long as he is strong enough to hold his tongue. If he can be made to speak, then I think we shall get at it."

Mr Balsam shook his head. He was quite willing to believe that his client was as base as Mr Apjohn represented him to be; but he was not willing to believe that Mr Cheekey was as powerful as had been assumed.


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