ironServices.com

Cousin Henry

 

 

CHAPTER XXII

How Cousin Henry Was Let Off Easily
 

It was a moment of great triumph and of utter dismay,—of triumph to Mr Apjohn, and of dismay to Cousin Henry. The two men at this moment,—as Mr Brodrick was looking at the papers,—were struggling together upon the ground. Cousin Henry, in his last frantic efforts, had striven to escape from the grasp of his enemy so as to seize the will, not remembering that by seizing it now he could retrieve nothing. Mr Apjohn had been equally determined that ample time should be allowed to Mr Brodrick to secure any document that might be found, and, with the pugnacity which the state of fighting always produces, had held on to his prey with a firm grip. Now for the one man there remained nothing but dismay; for the other was the full enjoyment of the triumph produced by his own sagacity. "Here is the date," said Mr Brodrick, who had retreated with the paper to the furthest corner of the room. "It is undoubtedly my brother-in-law's last will and testament, and, as far as I can see at a glance, it is altogether regular."

"You dog!" exclaimed Mr Apjohn, spurning Cousin Henry away from him. "You wretched, thieving miscreant!" Then he got up on to his legs and began to adjust himself, setting his cravat right, and smoothing his hair with his hands. "The brute has knocked the breath out of me," he said. "But only to think that we should catch him after such a fashion as this!" There was a note of triumph in his voice which he found it impossible to repress. He was thoroughly proud of his achievement. It was a grand thing to him that Isabel Brodrick should at last get the property which he had so long been anxious to secure for her; but at the present moment it was a grander thing to have hit the exact spot in which the document had been hidden by sheer force of intelligence.

What little power of fighting there had ever been in Cousin Henry had now been altogether knocked out of him. He attempted no further struggle, uttered no denial, nor did he make any answer to the words of abuse which Mr Apjohn had heaped on his head. He too raised himself from the floor, slowly collecting his limbs together, and seated himself in the chair nearest at hand, hiding his face with his hand.

"That is the most wonderful thing that ever came within my experience," said Mr Brodrick.

"That the man should have hidden the will?" asked Mr Apjohn.

"Why do you say I hid it?" moaned Cousin Henry.

"You reptile!" exclaimed Mr Apjohn.

"Not that he should have hidden it," said the Hereford attorney, "but that you should have found it, and found it without any search;—that you should have traced it down to the very book in which the old man must have left it!"

"Yes," said Cousin Henry. "He left it there. I did not hide it."

"Do you mean," said Mr Apjohn, turning upon him with all the severity of which he was capable, "do you mean to say that during all this time you have not known that the will was there?" The wretched man opened his mouth and essayed to speak, but not a word came. "Do you mean to tell us that when you refused us just now permission to search this room, though you were willing enough that we should search elsewhere, you were not acquainted with the hiding-place? When I asked you in my office the other day whether you knew where the will was hidden, and you wouldn't answer me for very fear, though you were glib enough in swearing that you had not hidden it yourself, then you knew nothing about the book and its enclosure? When you told Mr Griffith down at Coed that you had something to divulge, were you not then almost driven to tell the truth by your dastardly cowardice as to this threatened trial? And did you not fail again because you were afraid? You mean poltroon! Will you dare to say before us, now, that when we entered the room this morning you did not know what the book contained?" Cousin Henry once more opened his mouth, but no word came. "Answer me, sir, if you wish to escape any part of the punishment which you have deserved."

"You should not ask him to criminate himself," said Mr Brodrick.

"No!" shrieked Cousin Henry; "no! he shouldn't ask a fellow to tell against himself. It isn't fair; is it, Uncle Brodrick?"

"If I hadn't made you tell against yourself one way or another," said Mr Apjohn, "the will would have been there still, and we should all have been in the dark. There are occasions in which the truth must be screwed out of a man. We have screwed it out of you, you miserable creature! Brodrick, let us look at the paper. I suppose it is all right." He was so elated by the ecstasy of his success that he hardly knew how to contain himself. There was no prospect to him of any profit in all this. It might, indeed, well be that all the expenses incurred, including the handsome honorarium which would still have to be paid to Mr Cheekey, must come out of his own pocket. But the glory of the thing was too great to admit of any considerations such as those. For the last month his mind had been exercised with the question of this will, whether there was such a will or not, and, if so, where was its hiding-place? Now he had brought his month's labour, his month's speculation, and his month's anxiety to a supreme success. In his present frame of mind it was nothing to him who might pay the bill. "As far as I can see," said Mr Brodrick, "it is altogether in order."

"Let us look at it." Then Mr Apjohn, stretching out his hand, took the document, and, seating himself in Cousin Henry's own chair at the breakfast-table, read it through carefully from beginning to end. It was wonderful,—the exactness with which the old Squire had copied, not only every word, but every stop and every want of a stop in the preceding will. "It is my own work, every morsel of it," said Mr Apjohn, with thorough satisfaction. "Why on earth did he not burn the intermediate one which he made in this rascal's favour,"—then he indicated the rascal by a motion of his head—"and make it all straight in that way?"

"There are men who think that a will once made should never be destroyed," suggested Mr Brodrick.

"I suppose it was something of that kind. He was a fine old fellow, but as obstinate as a mule. Well, what are we to do now?"

"My nephew will have to consult his lawyer whether he will wish to dispute this document or not."

"I do not want to dispute anything," said Cousin Henry, whining.

"Of course he will be allowed time to think of it," said Mr Apjohn. "He is in possession now, and will have plenty of time. He will have to answer some rather difficult questions from Mr Cheekey on Friday."

"Oh, no!" shouted the victim.

"I am afraid it must be 'oh, yes,' Mr Jones! How are you to get out of it; eh? You are bound over to prosecute Mr Evans, of the Herald, for defamation of character. Of course it will come out at the trial that we have found this document. Indeed, I shall be at no trouble to conceal that fact,—nor, I suppose, will be Mr Brodrick. Why should we?"

"I thought you were acting as my lawyer."

"So I was,—and so I am,—and so I will. While you were supposed to be an honest man,—or, rather, while it was possible that it might be so supposed,—I told you what, as an honest man, you were bound to do. The Carmarthen Herald knew that you were not honest,—and said so. If you are prepared to go into the court and swear that you knew nothing of the existence of this document, that you were not aware that it was concealed in that book, that you did nothing to prevent us from looking for it this morning, I will carry on the case for you. If I am called into the witness-box against you, of course I must give my evidence for what it is worth;—and Mr Brodrick must do the same."

"But it won't go on?" he asked.

"Not if you are prepared to admit that there was no libel in all that the newspaper said. If you agree that it was all true, then you will have to pay the costs on both sides, and the indictment can be quashed. It will be a serious admission to make, but perhaps that won't signify, seeing what your position as to character will be."

"I think you are almost too hard upon him," said Mr Brodrick.

"Am I? Can one be too hard on a man who has acted as he has done?"

"He is hard,—isn't he, Mr Brodrick?"

"Hard! Why, yes;—I should think I am. I mean to be hard. I mean to go on trampling you to pieces till I see your cousin, Miss Brodrick, put into full possession of this estate. I don't mean to leave you a loop-hole of escape by any mercy. At the present moment you are Henry Jones, Esq., of Llanfeare, and will be so till you are put out by the hard hand of the law. You may turn round for anything I know, and say that this document is a forgery."

"No, no!"

"That Mr Brodrick and I brought it here with us and put it in the book."

"I sha'n't say anything of the kind."

"Who did put it there?" Cousin Henry sobbed and groaned, but said nothing. "Who did put it there? If you want to soften our hearts to you in any degree, if you wish us to contrive some mode of escape for you, tell the truth. Who put the will into that book?"

"How am I to know?"

"You do know! Who put it there?"

"I suppose it was Uncle Indefer."

"And you had seen it there?" Again Cousin Henry sobbed and groaned.

"You should hardly ask him that," said Mr Brodrick.

"Yes! If any good can be done for him, it must be by making him feel that he must help us by making our case easy for us. You had seen it there? Speak the word, and we will do all we can to let you off easily."

"Just by an accident," said he.

"You did see it, then?"

"Yes;—I chanced to see it."

"Yes; of course you did. And then the Devil went to work with you and prompted you to destroy it?" He paused as though asking a question, but to this question Cousin Henry found it impossible to make any answer. "But the Devil had not quite hold enough over you to make you do that? It was so;—was it not? There was a conscience with you?"

"Oh, yes."

"But the conscience was not strong enough to force you to give it up when you found it?" Cousin Henry now burst out into open tears. "That was about it, I suppose? If you can bring yourself to make a clean breast of it, it will be easier for you."

"May I go back to London at once?" he asked.

"Well; as to that, I think we had better take some little time for consideration. But I think I may say that, if you will make our way easy for us, we will endeavour to make yours easy for you. You acknowledge this to be your uncle's will as far as you know?"

"Oh, yes."

"You acknowledge that Mr Brodrick found it in this book which I now hold in my hand?"

"I acknowledge that."

"This is all that I ask you to sign your name to. As for the rest, it is sufficient that you have confessed the truth to your uncle and to me. I will just write a few lines that you shall sign, and then we will go back to Carmarthen and do the best we can to prevent the trial for next Friday." Thereupon Mr Apjohn rang the bell, and asked Mrs Griffith to bring him paper and ink. With these he wrote a letter addressed to himself, which he invited Cousin Henry to sign as soon as he had read it aloud to him and to Mr Brodrick. The letter contained simply the two admissions above stated, and then went on to authorise Mr Apjohn, as the writer's attorney, to withdraw the indictment against the proprietor of the Carmarthen Herald, "in consequence," as the letter said, "of the question as to the possession of Llanfeare having been settled now in an unexpected manner."

When the letter was completed, the two lawyers went away, and Cousin Henry was left to his own meditation. He sat there for a while, so astounded by the transaction of the morning as to be unable to collect his thoughts. All this that had agitated him so profoundly for the last month had been set at rest by the finding of the will. There was no longer any question as to what must be done. Everything had been done. He was again a London clerk, with a small sum of money besides his clerkship, and the security of lowliness into which to fall back! If only they would be silent;—if only it might be thought by his fellow-clerks in London that the will had been found by them without any knowledge on his part,—then he would be satisfied. A terrible catastrophe had fallen upon him, but one which would not be without consolation if with the estate might be made to pass away from him all responsibilities and all accusations as to the estate. That terrible man had almost promised him that a way of retreat should be made easy to him. At any rate, he would not be cross-examined by Mr Cheekey. At any rate, he would not be brought to trial. There was almost a promise, too, that as little should be said as possible. There must, he supposed, be some legal form of abdication on his part, but he was willing to execute that as quickly as possible on the simple condition that he should be allowed to depart without being forced to speak further on the matter to any one in Wales. Not to have to see the tenants, not to have to say even a word of farewell to the servants, not to be carried into Carmarthen,—above all, not to face Mr Cheekey and the Court,—this was all he asked now from a kind Fate.

At about two Mrs Griffith came into the room, ostensibly to take away the breakfast things. She had seen the triumphant face of Mr Apjohn, and knew that some victory had been gained. But when she saw that the breakfast had not been touched, her heart became soft. The way to melt the heart of a Mrs Griffith is to eat nothing. "Laws, Mr Jones, you have not had a mouthful. Shall I do you a broil?" He assented to the broil, and ate it, when it was cooked, with a better appetite than he had enjoyed since his uncle's death. Gradually he came to feel that a great load had been taken from off his shoulders. The will was no longer hidden in the book. Nothing had been done of which he could not repent. There was no prospect of a life before him made horrid by one great sin. He could not be Squire of Llanfeare; nor would he be a felon,—a felon always in his own esteem. Upon the whole, though he hardly admitted as much to himself, the man's condition had been improved by the transactions of the morning.

"You don't quite agree with all that I have done this morning," said Mr Apjohn, as soon as the two lawyers were in the fly together.

"I am lost in admiration at the clearness of your insight."

"Ah! that comes of giving one's undivided thoughts to a matter. I have been turning it over in my mind till I have been able to see it all. It was odd, wasn't it, that I should have foretold to you all that happened, almost to the volume?"

"Quite to the volume!"

"Well, yes; to the volume of sermons. Your brother-in-law read nothing but sermons. But you thought I shouldn't have asked those questions."

"I don't like making a man criminate himself," said Mr Brodrick.

"Nor do I,—if I mean to criminate him too. My object is to let him off. But to enable us to do that we must know exactly what he knew and what he had done. Shall I tell you what occurred to me when you shook the will out of the book? How would it be if he declared that we had brought it with us? If he had been sharp enough for that, the very fact of our having gone to the book at once would have been evidence against us."

"He was not up to it."

"No, poor devil! I am inclined to think that he has got as bad as he deserves. He might have been so much worse. We owe him ever so much for not destroying the will. His cousin will have to give him the £4000 which he was to have given her."

"Certainly, certainly."

"He has been hardly used, you know, by his uncle; and, upon my word, he has had a bad time of it for the last month. I wouldn't have been hated and insulted as he has been by those people up there,—not for all Llanfeare twice over. I think we've quenched him now, so that he'll run smooth. If so, we'll let him off easily. If I had treated him less hardly just now, he might have gathered courage and turned upon us. Then it would have been necessary to crush him altogether. I was thinking all through how we might let him off easiest."


1 of 2
2 of 2