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Cousin Henry

 

 

CHAPTER XXI

Mr Apjohn's Success
 

Early on the Wednesday morning Mr Apjohn and Mr Brodrick were on foot, and preparing for the performance of their very disagreeable day's work. Mr Brodrick did not believe at all in the day's work, and in discussing the matter with Mr Apjohn, after they had determined upon their line of action, made his mind known very clearly. To him it was simply apparent that if the will had fallen into the power of a dishonest person, and if the dishonest man could achieve his purpose by destroying it, the will would be destroyed. Of Cousin Henry he knew nothing. Cousin Henry might or might not be ordinarily honest, as are other ordinary people. There might be no such will as that spoken of, or there might be a will accidentally hidden,—or the will might have been found and destroyed. But that they should be able to find a will, the hiding-place of which should be known to Cousin Henry, was to his thinking out of the question. The subtler intellect of the other lawyer appreciating the intricacies of a weak man's mind saw more than his companion. When he found that Mr Brodrick did not agree with him, and perceived that the other attorney's mind was not speculative in such a matter as this, he ceased to try to persuade, and simply said that it was the duty of both of them to leave no stone unturned. And so they started.

"I'll take you about half a mile out of our way to show you Mr Evans's gate," Mr Apjohn said, after they had started. "His house is not above twenty minutes from Llanfeare, and should it be necessary to ask his assistance, he will know all about it. You will find a policeman there ready to come back with you. But my impression is that Cousin Henry will not attempt to prevent any search which we may endeavour to make."

It was about ten when they reached the house, and, on being shown into the book-room, they found Cousin Henry at his breakfast. The front door was opened for them by Mrs Griffith, the housekeeper; and when Mr Apjohn expressed his desire to see Mr Jones, she made no difficulty in admitting him at once. It was a part of the misery of Cousin Henry's position that everybody around him and near to him was against him. Mrs Griffith was aware that it was the purpose of Mr Apjohn to turn her present master out of Llanfeare if possible, and she was quite willing to aid him by any means in her power. Therefore, she gave her master no notice of the arrival of the two strangers, but ushered them into the room at once.

Cousin Henry's breakfast was frugal. All his meals had been frugal since he had become owner of Llanfeare. It was not that he did not like nice eating as well as another, but that he was too much afraid of his own servants to make known his own tastes. And then the general discomforts of his position had been too great to admit of relief from delicate dishes. There was the tea-pot on the table, and the solitary cup, and the bread and butter, and the nearly naked bone of a cold joint of mutton. And the things were not set after the fashion of a well-to-do gentleman's table, but were put on as they might be in a third-rate London lodging, with a tumbled tablecloth, and dishes, plates, and cups all unlike each other.

"Mr Jones," said the attorney from Carmarthen, "this is your uncle, Mr Brodrick, from Hereford." Then the two men who were so nearly connected, but had never known each other, shook hands. "Of course, this matter," continued Mr Apjohn, "is of great moment, and Mr Brodrick has come over to look after his daughter's interests."

"I am very glad to see my uncle," said Cousin Henry, turning his eye involuntarily towards the shelf on which the volume of sermons was resting. "I am afraid I can't offer you much in the way of breakfast."

"We breakfasted before we left Carmarthen," said Mr Apjohn. "If you do not mind going on, we will talk to you whilst you are eating." Cousin Henry said that he did not mind going on, but found it impossible to eat a morsel. That which he did, and that which he endured during that interview, he had to do and had to endure fasting. "I had better tell you at once," continued Mr Apjohn, "what we want to do now."

"What is it you want to do now? I suppose I have got to go into the assizes all the same on Friday?"

"That depends. It is just possible that it should turn out to be unnecessary."

As he said this, he looked into Cousin Henry's face, and thought that he discerned something of satisfaction. When he made the suggestion, he understood well how great was the temptation offered in the prospect of not having to encounter Mr Cheekey.

"Both Mr Brodrick and I think it probable that your uncle's last will may yet be concealed somewhere in the house." Cousin Henry's eye, as this was said, again glanced up at the fatal shelf.

"When Mr Apjohn says that in my name," said Mr Brodrick, opening his mouth for the first time, "you must understand that I personally know nothing of the circumstances. I am guided in my opinion only by what he tells me."

"Exactly," said Mr Apjohn. "As the father of the young lady who would be the heiress of Llanfeare if you were not the heir, I have of course told him everything,—even down to the most secret surmises of my mind."

"All right," said Cousin Henry.

"My position," continued Mr Apjohn, "is painful and very peculiar; but I find myself specially bound to act as the lawyer of the deceased, and to carry out whatever was in truth his last will and testament."

"I thought that was proved at Carmarthen," said Cousin Henry.

"No doubt. A will was proved,—a will that was very genuine if no subsequent will be found. But, as you have been told repeatedly, the proving of that will amounts to nothing if a subsequent one be forthcoming. The great question is this; Does a subsequent will exist?"

"How am I to know anything about it?"

"Nobody says you do."

"I suppose you wouldn't come here and bring my uncle Brodrick down on me,—giving me no notice, but coming into my house just when I am at breakfast, without saying a word to any one,—unless you thought so. I don't see what right you have to be here at all!"

He was trying to pluck up his spirit in order that he might get rid of them. Why, oh! why had he not destroyed that document when, on the previous night, it had been brought out from its hiding-place, purposely in order that it might be burned?

"It is common, Mr Jones, for one gentleman to call upon another when there is business to be done," said Mr Apjohn.

"But not common to come to a gentleman's house and accuse him of making away with a will."

"Nobody has done that," said Mr Brodrick.

"It is very like it."

"Will you allow us to search again? Two of my clerks will be here just now, and will go through the house with us, if you will permit it."

Cousin Henry sat staring at them. Not long ago he had himself asked one of Mr Apjohn's clerks why they did not search again. But then the framing of his thoughts had been different. At that moment he had been desirous of surrendering Llanfeare altogether, so that he might also get rid of Mr Cheekey. Now he had reached a bolder purpose. Now he was resolved to destroy the will, enjoy the property, and face the barrister. An idea came across his mind that they would hardly insist upon searching instantly if he refused. A petition to that effect had already been made, and a petition implies the power of refusal on the part of him petitioned.

"Where do you want to look?" he asked.

Upon this Mr Brodrick allowed his eyes to wander round the room. And Cousin Henry's eyes followed those of his uncle, which seemed to him to settle themselves exactly upon the one shelf.

"To search the house generally; your uncle's bed-room, for instance," said Mr Apjohn.

"Oh, yes; you can go there." This he said with an ill-formed, crude idea which sprang to his mind at the moment. If they would ascend to the bed-room, then he could seize the will when left alone and destroy it instantly,—eat it bit by bit if it were necessary,—go with it out of the house and reduce it utterly to nothing before he returned. He was still a free agent, and could go and come as he pleased. "Oh, yes; you can go there."

But this was not at all the scheme which had really formed itself in Mr Apjohn's brain. "Or perhaps we might begin here," he said. "There are my two clerks just arrived in the fly."

Cousin Henry became first red and then pale, and he endeavoured to see in what direction Mr Brodrick had fixed his eye. Mr Apjohn himself had not as yet looked anywhere round the books. He had sat close at the table, with his gaze fixed on Cousin Henry's face, as Cousin Henry had been well aware. If they began to search in the room, they would certainly find the document. Of that he was quite sure. Not a book would be left without having been made to disclose all that it might contain between its leaves. If there was any chance left to him, it must be seized now,—now at this very moment. Suddenly the possession of Llanfeare was endeared to him by a thousand charms. Suddenly all fear of eternal punishment passed away from his thoughts. Suddenly he was permeated by a feeling of contrition for his own weakness in having left the document unharmed. Suddenly he was brave against Mr Cheekey, as would be a tiger against a lion. Suddenly there arose in his breast a great desire to save the will even yet from the hands of these Philistines.

"This is my private room," he said. "When I am eating my breakfast I cannot let you disturb me like that."

"In a matter such as this you wouldn't think of your own comfort!" said Mr Apjohn severely. "Comfort, indeed! What comfort can you have while the idea is present to you that this house in which you live may possibly be the property of your cousin?"

"It's very little comfort you've left me among you."

"Face it out, then, like a man; and when you have allowed us to do all that we can on her behalf, then enjoy your own, and talk of comfort. Shall I have the men in and go on with the search as I propose?"

If they were to find it,—as certainly they would,—then surely they would not accuse him of having hidden it! He would be enabled to act some show of surprise, and they would not dare to contradict him, even should they feel sure in their hearts that he had been aware of the concealment! There would be great relief! There would be an end of so many troubles! But then how weak he would have been,—to have had the prize altogether within his grasp and to have lost it! A burst of foul courage swelled in his heart, changing the very colour of his character for a time as he resolved that it should not be so. The men could not search there,—so he told himself,—without further authority than that which Mr Apjohn could give them. "I won't be treated in this way!" he said.

"In what way do you mean, Mr Jones?"

"I won't have my house searched as though I were a swindler and a thief. Can you go into any man's house and search it just as you please, merely because you are an attorney?"

"You told my man the other day," said Mr Apjohn, "that we might renew the search if we pleased."

"So you may; but you must get an order first from somebody. You are nobody."

"You are quite right," said Mr Apjohn, who was not at all disposed to be angry in regard to any observation offered personally to himself. "But surely it would be better for you that this should be done privately. Of course we can have a search-warrant if it be necessary; but then there must be a policeman to carry it out."

"What do I care for policemen?" said Cousin Henry. "It is you who have treated me badly from first to last. I will do nothing further at your bidding."

Mr Apjohn looked at Mr Brodrick, and Mr Brodrick looked at Mr Apjohn. The strange attorney would do nothing without directions from the other, and the attorney who was more at home was for a few moments a little in doubt. He got up from his chair, and walked about the room, while Cousin Henry, standing also, watched every movement which he made. Cousin Henry took his place at the further end of the table from the fire, about six feet from the spot on which all his thoughts were intent. There he stood, ready for action while the attorney walked up and down the room meditating what it would be best that he should do next. As he walked he seemed to carry his nose in the air, with a gait different from what was usual to him. Cousin Henry had already learned something of the man's ways, and was aware that his manner was at present strange. Mr Apjohn was in truth looking along the rows of the books. In old days he had often been in that room, and had read many of the titles as given on the backs. He knew the nature of many of the books collected there, and was aware that but very few of them had ever been moved from their places in the old Squire's time for any purpose of use. He did not wish to stand and inspect them,—not as yet. He walked on as though collecting his thoughts, and as he walked he endeavoured to fix on some long set of sermons. He had in his mind some glimmering of remembrance that there was such a set of books in the room. "You might as well let us do as we propose," he said.

"Certainly not. To tell you the truth, I wish you would go away, and leave me."

"Mr Cheekey will hear all about it, and how will you be able to answer Mr Cheekey?"

"I don't care about Mr Cheekey. Who is to tell Mr Cheekey? Will you tell him?"

"I cannot take your part, you know, if you behave like this."

As he spoke, Mr Apjohn had stopped his walk, and was standing with his back close to the book-shelves, with the back of his head almost touching the set of Jeremy Taylor's works. There were ten volumes of them, and he was standing exactly in front of them. Cousin Henry was just in front of him, doubting whether his enemy's position had not been chosen altogether by accident, but still trembling at the near approach. He was prepared for a spring if it was necessary. Anything should be hazarded now, so that discovery might be avoided. Mr Brodrick was still seated in the chair which he had at first occupied, waiting till that order should be given to him to go for the magistrate's warrant.

Mr Apjohn's eye had caught the author's name on the back of the book, and he remembered at once that he had seen the volume,—a volume with Jeremy Taylor's name on the back of it,—lying on the old man's table. "Jeremey Taylor's Works. Sermons." He remembered the volume. That had been a long time ago,—six months ago; but the old man might probably take a long time over so heavy a book. "You will let me look at some of these," he said, pointing with his thumb over his back.

"You shall not touch a book without a regular order," said Cousin Henry.

Mr Apjohn fixed the man's eye for a moment. He was the smaller man of the two, and much the elder; but he was wiry, well set, and strong. The other was soft, and unused to much bodily exercise. There could be no doubt as to which would have the best of it in a personal struggle. Very quickly he turned round and got his hand on one of the set, but not on the right one. Cousin Henry dashed at him, and in the struggle the book fell to the ground. Then the attorney seized him by the throat, and dragged him forcibly back to the table. "Take them all out one by one, and shake them," he said to the other attorney,—"that set like the one on the floor. I'll hold him while you do it."

Mr Brodrick did as he was told, and, one by one, beginning from the last volume, he shook them all till he came to volume 4. Out of that fell the document.

"Is it the will?" shouted Mr Apjohn, with hardly breath enough to utter the words.

Mr Brodrick, with a lawyer's cautious hands, undid the folds, and examined the document. "It certainly is a will," he said,—"and is signed by my brother-in-law."


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