On his return from London Mr Apjohn wrote the following letter to his
client, and this he sent to Llanfeare by a clerk, who was instructed
to wait there for an
My dear Sir,—
I have just returned from London, where I saw Mr Balsam, who will be employed on your behalf at the assizes. It is necessary that you should come into my office, so that I may complete the instructions which are to be given to counsel. As I could not very well do this at Llanfeare without considerable inconvenience, I must give you this trouble. My clerk who takes this out to you will bring back your answer, saying whether eleven in the morning to-morrow or three in the afternoon will best suit your arrangements. You can tell him also whether you would wish me to send a fly for you. I believe that you still keep your uncle's carriage, in which case it would perhaps be unnecessary. A message sent by the clerk will suffice, so that you may be saved the trouble of writing.
The clerk had made his way into the book-room in which Cousin Henry was sitting, and stood there over him while he was reading the letter. He felt sure that it had been arranged by Mr Apjohn that it should be so, in order that he might not have a moment to consider the reply which he would send. Mr Apjohn had calculated, traitor that he was to the cause of his client,—so thought Cousin Henry,—that the man's presence would rob him of his presence of mind so as to prevent him from sending a refusal.
"I don't see why I should go into Carmarthen at all," he said.
"Oh, sir, it's quite essential,—altogether essential in a case such as this. You are bound to prosecute, and of course you must give your instructions. If Mr Apjohn were to bring everything out here for the purpose, the expense would be tremendous. In going there, it will only be the fly, and it will all be done in five minutes."
"Who will be there?" asked Cousin Henry after a pause.
"I shall be there," answered the clerk, not unnaturally putting himself first, "and Mr Apjohn, and perhaps one of the lads."
"There won't be any—barrister?" asked Cousin Henry, showing the extent of his fear by his voice and his countenance.
"Oh, dear, no; they won't be here till the assizes. A barrister never sees his own client. You'll go in as a witness, and will have nothing to do with the barristers till you're put up face to face before them in the witness-box. Mr Balsam is a very mild gentleman."
"He is employed by me?"
"Oh, yes; he's on our side. His own side never matters much to a witness. It's when the other side tackles you!"
"Who is the other side?" asked Cousin Henry.
"Haven't you heard?" The voice in which this was said struck terror to the poor wretch's soul. There was awe in it and pity, and something almost of advice,—as though the voice were warning him to prepare against the evil which was threatening him. "They have got Mr Cheekey!" Here the voice became even more awful. "I knew they would when I first heard what the case was to be. They've got Mr Cheekey. They don't care much about money when they're going it like that. There are many of them I have known awful enough, but he's the awfullest."
"He can't eat a fellow," said Cousin Henry, trying to look like a man with good average courage.
"No; he can't eat a fellow. It isn't that way he does it. I've known some of 'em who looked as though they were going to eat a man; but he looks as though he were going to skin you, and leave you bare for the birds to eat you. He's gentle enough at first, is Mr Cheekey."
"What is it all to me?" asked Cousin Henry.
"Oh, nothing, sir. To a gentleman like you who knows what he's about it's all nothing. What can Mr Cheekey do to a gentleman who has got nothing to conceal? But when a witness has something to hide,—and sometimes there will be something,—then it is that Mr Cheekey comes out strong. He looks into a man and sees that it's there, and then he turns him inside out till he gets at it. That's what I call skinning a witness. I saw a poor fellow once so knocked about by Mr Cheekey that they had to carry him down speechless out of the witness-box."
It was a vivid description of all that Cousin Henry had pictured to himself. And he had actually, by his own act, subjected himself to this process! Had he been staunch in refusing to bring any action against the newspaper, Mr Cheekey would have been powerless in reference to him. And now he was summoned into Carmarthen to prepare himself by minor preliminary pangs for the torture of the auto-da-fé which was to be made of him.
"I don't see why I should go into Carmarthen at all," he said, having paused a while after the eloquent description of the barrister's powers.
"Not come into Carmarthen! Why, sir, you must complete the instructions."
"I don't see it at all."
"Then do you mean to back out of it altogether, Mr Jones? I wouldn't be afeared by Mr Cheekey like that!"
Then it occurred to him that if he did mean to back out of it altogether he could do so better at a later period, when they might hardly be able to catch him by force and bring him as a prisoner before the dreaded tribunal. And as it was his purpose to avoid the trial by giving up the will, which he would pretend to have found at the moment of giving it up, he would ruin his own project,—as he had done so many projects before,—by his imbecility at the present moment. Cheekey would not be there in Mr Apjohn's office, nor the judge and jury and all the crowd of the court to look at him.
"I don't mean to back out at all," he said; "and it's very impertinent of you to say so."
"I didn't mean impertinence, Mr Jones;—only it is necessary you should come into Mr Apjohn's office."
"Very well; I'll come to-morrow at three."
"And about the fly, Mr Jones?"
"I can come in my own carriage."
"Of course. That's what Mr Apjohn said. But if I may make so bold, Mr Jones,—wouldn't all the people in Carmarthen know the old Squire's carriage?"
Here was another trouble. Yes; all the people in Carmarthen would know the old Squire's carriage, and after all those passages in the newspapers,—believing, as he knew they did, that he had stolen the property,—would clamber up on the very wheels to look at him! The clerk had been right in that.
"I don't mean it for any impertinence, Mr Jones; but wouldn't it be better just to come in and to go out quiet in one of Mr Powell's flies?"
"Very well," said Cousin Henry. "Let the fly come."
"I thought it would be best," said the clerk, taking cowardly advantage of his success over the prostrate wretch. "What's the use of a gentleman taking his own carriage through the streets on such an occasion as this? They are so prying into everything in Carmarthen. Now, when they see the Bush fly, they won't think as anybody particular is in it." And so it was settled. The fly should be at Llanfeare by two o'clock on the following day.
Oh, if he could but die! If the house would fall upon him and crush him! There had not been a word spoken by that reptile of a clerk which he had not understood,—not an arrow cast at him the sting of which did not enter into his very marrow! "Oh, nothing, sir, to a gentleman like you." The man had looked at him as he had uttered the words with a full appreciation of the threat conveyed. "They've got a rod in pickle for you,—for you, who have stolen your cousin's estate! Mr Cheekey is coming for you!" That was what the miscreant of a clerk had said to him. And then, though he had found himself compelled to yield to that hint about the carriage, how terrible was it to have to confess that he was afraid to be driven through Carmarthen in his own carriage!
He must go into Carmarthen and face Mr Apjohn once again. That was clear. He could not now send the will in lieu of himself. Why had he not possessed the presence of mind to say to the clerk at once that no further steps need be taken? "No further steps need be taken. I have found the will. Here it is. I found it this very morning among the books. Take it to Mr Apjohn, and tell him I have done with Llanfeare and all its concerns." How excellent would have been the opportunity! And it would not have been difficult for him to act his part amidst the confusion to which the clerk would have been brought by the greatness of the revelation made to him. But he had allowed the chance to pass, and now he must go into Carmarthen!
At half-past two the following day he put himself into the fly. During the morning he had taken the will out of the book, determined to carry it with him to Carmarthen in his pocket. But when he attempted to enclose it in an envelope for the purpose, his mind misgave him and he restored it. Hateful as was the property to him, odious as were the house and all things about it, no sooner did the doing of the act by which he was to release himself from them come within the touch of his fingers, than he abandoned the idea. At such moments the estate would again have charms for him, and he would remember that such a deed, when once done, would admit of no recall.
"I am glad to see you, Mr Jones," said the attorney as his client entered the inner office. "There are a few words which must be settled between you and me before the day comes, and no time has to be lost. Sit down, Mr Ricketts, and write the headings of the questions and answers. Then Mr Jones can initial them afterwards."
Mr Ricketts was the clerk who had come out to Llanfeare. Cousin Henry sat silent as Mr Ricketts folded his long sheet of folio paper with a double margin. Here was a new terror to him; and as he saw the preparations he almost made up his mind that he would on no account sign his name to anything.
The instructions to be given to Mr Balsam were in fact very simple, and need not here be recapitulated. His uncle had sent for him to Llanfeare, had told him that he was to be the heir, had informed him that a new will had been made in his favour. After his uncle's death and subsequent to the funeral, he had heard a will read, and under that will had inherited the property. As far as he believed, or at any rate as far as he knew, that was his uncle's last will and testament. These were the instructions which, under Mr Apjohn's advice, were to be given to Mr Balsam as to his (Cousin Henry's) direct evidence.
Then Cousin Henry, remembering his last communication to Farmer Griffith, remembering also all that the two Cantors could prove, added something on his own account.
"I saw the old man writing up in his room," he said, "copying something which I knew to be a will. I was sure then he was going to make another change and take the property from me." "No; I asked him no questions. I thought it very cruel, but it was of no use for me to say anything." "No; he didn't tell me what he was about; but I knew it was another will. I wouldn't condescend to ask a question. When the Cantors said that they had witnessed a will, I never doubted them. When you came there to read the will, I supposed it would be found. Like enough it's there now, if proper search were made. I can tell all that to Mr Balsam if he wants to know it."
"Why didn't you tell me all this before?" said Mr Apjohn.
"It isn't much to tell. It's only what I thought. If what the Cantors said and what you all believed yourselves didn't bring you to the will, nothing I could say would help you. It doesn't amount to more than thinking after all."
Then Mr Apjohn was again confused and again in doubt. Could it be possible after all that the conduct on the part of the man which had been so prejudicial to him in the eyes of all men had been produced simply by the annoyances to which he had been subjected? It was still possible that the old man had himself destroyed the document which he had been tempted to make, and that they had all of them been most unjust to this poor fellow. He added, however, all the details of this new story to the instructions which were to be given to Mr Balsam, and to which Cousin Henry did attach his signature.
Then came some further conversation about Mr Cheekey, which, however, did not take an official form. What questions Mr Cheekey might ask would be between Mr Cheekey and the other attorney, and formed no part of Mr Apjohn's direct business. He had intended to imbue his client with something of the horror with which his clerk had been before him in creating, believing that the cause of truth would be assisted by reducing the man to the lowest condition of mean terror. But this new story somewhat changed his purpose. If the man were innocent,—if there were but some small probability of his innocence,—was it not his duty to defend him as a client from ill-usage on the part of Cheekey? That Cheekey must have his way with him was a matter of course,—that is, if Cousin Henry appeared at all; but a word or two of warning might be of service.
"You will be examined on the other side by Mr Cheekey," he said, intending to assume a pleasant voice. At the hearing of the awful name, sweat broke out on Cousin Henry's brow. "You know what his line will be?"
"I don't know anything about it."
"He will attempt to prove that another will was made."
"I do not deny it. Haven't I said that I think another will was made?"
"And that you are either aware of its existence—" here Mr Apjohn paused, having resumed that stern tone of his voice which was so disagreeable to Cousin Henry's ears—"or that you have destroyed it."
"What right has he got to say that I have destroyed it? I have destroyed nothing."
Mr Apjohn marked the words well, and was again all but convinced that his client was not innocent. "He will endeavour to make a jury believe from words coming out of your own mouth, or possibly by your silence, that you have either destroyed the deed,—or have concealed it."
Cousin Henry thought a moment whether he had concealed the will or not. No! he had not put it within the book. The man who hides a thing is the man who conceals the thing,—not a man who fails to tell that he has found it.
"Or—concealed it," repeated Mr Apjohn with that peculiar voice of his.
"I have not concealed it," said the victim.
"Nor know where it lies hidden?" Ghastly pale he became,—livid, almost blue by degrees. Though he was fully determined to give up the will, he could not yield to the pressure now put upon him. Nor could he withstand it. The question was as terrible to him as though he had entertained no idea of abandoning the property. To acknowledge that he knew all along where it was hidden would be to confess his guilt and to give himself up to the tormentors of the law.
"Nor know where it lies hidden?" repeated Mr Apjohn, in a low voice. "Go out of the room, Ricketts," he said. "Nor know where it lies hidden?" he asked a third time when the clerk had closed the door behind him.
"I know nothing about it," gasped the poor man.
"You have nothing beyond that to say to me?"
"You would rather that it should be left to Mr Cheekey? If there be anything further that you can say, I should be more tender with you than he."
"And here, in this room, there is no public to gaze upon you."
"Nothing," he gasped again.
"Very well. So be it. Ricketts, see if the fly be there for Mr Jones." A few minutes afterwards his confidential clerk was alone with him in the room.
"I have learned so much, Ricketts," said he. "The will is still in existence. I am sure of that. And he knows its whereabouts. We shall have Miss Brodrick there before Christmas yet."