Cousin Henry




Isabel's Petition

The news was soon all about Carmarthen. A new will had been found, in accordance with which Miss Brodrick was to become owner of Llanfeare, and,—which was of more importance to Carmarthen at the present moment,—there was to be no trial! The story, as told publicly, was as follows;—Mr Apjohn, by his sagacity, had found the will. It had been concealed in a volume of sermons, and Mr Apjohn, remembering suddenly that the old man had been reading these sermons shortly before his death, had gone at once to the book. There the will had been discovered, which had at once been admitted to be a true and formal document by the unhappy pseudo-proprietor. Henry Jones had acknowledged his cousin to be the heiress, and under these circumstances had conceived it to be useless to go on with the trial. Such was the story told, and Mr Apjohn, fully aware that the story went very lame on one leg, did his best to remedy the default by explaining that it would be unreasonable to expect that a man should come into court and undergo an examination by Mr Cheekey just when he had lost a fine property.

"Of course I know all that," said Mr Apjohn when the editor of the paper remarked to him that the libel, if a libel, would be just as much a libel whether Mr Henry Jones were or were not the owner of Llanfeare. "Of course I know all that; but you are hardly to expect that a man is to come and assert himself amidst a cloud of difficulties when he has just undergone such a misfortune as that! You have had your fling, and are not to be punished for it. That ought to satisfy you."

"And who'll pay all the expenses?" asked Mr Evans.

"Well," said Mr Apjohn, scratching his head; "you, of course, will have to pay nothing. Geary will settle all that with me. That poor devil at Llanfeare ought to pay."

"He won't have the money."

"I, at any rate, will make it all right with Geary; so that needn't trouble you."

This question as to the expense was much discussed by others in Carmarthen. Who in truth would pay the complicated lawyers' bill which must have been occasioned, including all these flys out to Llanfeare? In spite of Mr Apjohn's good-natured explanations, the public of Carmarthen was quite convinced that Henry Jones had in truth hidden the will. If so, he ought not only to be made to pay for everything, but be sent to prison also and tried for felony. The opinion concerning Cousin Henry in Carmarthen on the Thursday and Friday was very severe indeed. Had he shown himself in the town, he would almost have been pulled in pieces. To kill him and to sell his carcase for what it might fetch towards lessening the expenses which he had incurred would not be too bad for him. Mr Apjohn was, of course, the hero of the hour, and, as far as Carmarthen could see, Mr Apjohn would have to pay the bill. All this, spoken as it was by many mouths, reached Mr Brodrick's ears, and induced him to say a word or two to Mr Apjohn.

"This affair," said he, "will of course become a charge upon the property?"

"What affair?"

"This trial which is not to take place, and the rest of it."

"The trial will have nothing to do with the estate," said Mr Apjohn.

"It has everything to do with it. I only mention it now to let you know that, as Isabel's father, I shall make it my business to look after that."

"The truth is, Brodrick," said the Carmarthen attorney, with that gleam of triumph in his eye which had been so often seen there since the will had tumbled out of the volume of sermons in the book-room, "the whole of this matter has been such a pleasure to me that I don't care a straw about the costs. If I paid for it all from beginning to end out of my own pocket, I should have had my whack for my money. Perhaps Miss Isabel will recompense me by letting me make her will some day."

Such were the feelings and such were the words spoken at Carmarthen; and it need only be said further, in regard to Carmarthen, that the operations necessary for proving the later will and annulling the former one, for dispossessing Cousin Henry and for putting Isabel into the full fruition of all her honours, went on as quickly as it could be effected by the concentrated energy of Mr Apjohn and all his clerks.

Cousin Henry, to whom we may be now allowed to bid farewell, was permitted to remain within the seclusion of the house at Llanfeare till his signature had been obtained to the last necessary document. No one spoke a word to him; no one came to see him. If there were intruders about the place anxious to catch a glimpse of the pseudo-Squire, they were disappointed.

Mrs Griffith, under the attorney's instructions, was more courteous to him than she had been when he was her master. She endeavoured to get him things nice to eat, trying to console him by titbits. None of the tenants appeared before him, nor was there a rough word spoken to him, even by young Cantor.

In all this Cousin Henry did feel some consolation, and was greatly comforted when he heard from the office in London that his stool at the desk was still kept open for him.

The Carmarthen Herald, in its final allusion to the state of things at Llanfeare, simply declared that the proper will had been found at last, and that Miss Isabel Brodrick was to be restored to her rights. Guided by this statement, the directors in London were contented to regard their clerk as having been unfortunate rather than guilty.

For the man himself, the reader, it is hoped, will feel some compassion. He had been dragged away from London by false hopes. After so great an injury as that inflicted on him by the last change in the Squire's purpose it was hardly unnatural that the idea of retaliation should present itself to him when the opportunity came in his way. Not to do that which justice demands is so much easier to the conscience than to commit a deed which is palpably fraudulent! At the last his conscience saved him, and Mr Apjohn will perhaps be thought to have been right in declaring that much was due to him in that he had not destroyed the will. His forbearance was recompensed fully.

As soon as the money could be raised on the property, the full sum of £4000 was paid to him, that having been the amount with which the Squire had intended to burden the property on behalf of his niece when he was minded to put her out of the inheritance.

It may be added that, notorious as the whole affair was at Carmarthen, but little of Cousin Henry's wicked doings were known up in London.

We must now go back to Hereford. By agreement between the two lawyers, no tidings of her good fortune were at once sent to Isabel. "There is so many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip," said Mr Apjohn to her father. But early in the following week Mr Brodrick himself took the news home with him.

"My dear," he said to her as soon as he found himself alone with her,—having given her intimation that an announcement of great importance was to be made to her,—"it turns out that after all your Uncle Indefer did make another will."

"I was always quite sure of that, papa."

"How were you sure?"

"He told me so, papa."

"He told you so! I never heard that before."

"He did,—when he was dying. What was the use of talking of it? But has it been found?"

"It was concealed within a book in the library. As soon as the necessary deeds can be executed Llanfeare will be your own. It is precisely word for word the same as that which he had made before he sent for your cousin Henry."

"Then Henry has not destroyed it?"

"No, he did not destroy it."

"Nor hid it where we could not find it?"

"Nor did he hide it."

"Oh, how I have wronged him;—how I have injured him!"

"About that we need say nothing, Isabel. You have not injured him. But we may let all that pass away. The fact remains that you are the heiress of Llanfeare."

Of course he did by degrees explain to her all the circumstances,—how the will had been found and not revealed, and how far Cousin Henry had sinned in the matter; but it was agreed between them that no further evil should be said in the family as to their unfortunate relative. The great injury which he might have done to them he had abstained from doing.

"Papa," she said to her father when they were again together alone that same evening, "you must tell all this to Mr Owen. You must tell him everything, just as you have told me."

"Certainly, my dear, if you wish it."

"I do wish it."

"Why should you not have the pleasure of telling him yourself?"

"It would not be a pleasure, and therefore I will get you to do it. My pleasure, if there be any pleasure in it, must come afterwards. I want him to know it before I see him myself."

"He will be sure to have some stupid notion," said her father, smiling.

"I want him to have his notion, whether it be stupid or otherwise, before I see him. If you do not mind, papa, going to him as soon as possible, I shall be obliged to you."

Isabel, when she found herself alone, had her triumph also. She was far from being dead to the delights of her inheritance. There had been a period in her life in which she had regarded it as her certain destiny to be the possessor of Llanfeare, and she had been proud of the promised position. The tenants had known her as the future owner of the acres which they cultivated, and had entertained for her and shown to her much genuine love. She had made herself acquainted with every homestead, landmark, and field about the place. She had learnt the wants of the poor, and the requirements of the little school. Everything at Llanfeare had had an interest for her. Then had come that sudden change in her uncle's feelings,—that new idea of duty,—and she had borne it like a heroine. Not only had she never said a word of reproach to him, but she had sworn to herself that even in her own heart she would throw no blame upon him. A great blow had come upon her, but she had taken it as though it had come from the hand of the Almighty,—as it might have been had she lost her eyesight, or been struck with palsy. She promised herself that it should be so, and she had had strength to be as good as her word. She had roused herself instantly from the effect of the blow, and, after a day of consideration, had been as capable as ever to do the work of her life. Then had come her uncle's last sickness, those spoken but doubtful words, her uncle's death, and that conviction that her cousin was a felon. Then she had been unhappy, and had found it difficult to stand up bravely against misfortune. Added to this had been her stepmother's taunts and her father's distress at the resolution she had taken. The home to which she had returned had been thoroughly unhappy to her. And there had been her stern purpose not to give her hand to the man who loved her and whom she so dearly loved! She was sure of her purpose, and yet she was altogether discontented with herself. She was sure that she would hold by her purpose, and yet she feared that her purpose was wrong. She had refused the man when she was rich, and her pride would not let her go to him now that she was poor. She was sure of her purpose,—but yet she almost knew that her pride was wrong.

But now there would be a triumph. Her eyes gleamed brightly as she thought of the way in which she would achieve her triumph. Her eyes gleamed very brightly as she felt sure within her own bosom that she would succeed. Yes: he would, no doubt, have some stupid notion, as her father said. But she would overcome his stupidity. She, as a woman, could be stronger than he as a man. He had almost ridiculed her obstinacy, swearing that he would certainly overcome it. There should be no ridicule on her part, but she would certainly overcome his obstinacy.

For a day or two Mr Owen was not seen. She heard from her father that the tidings had been told to her lover, but she heard no more. Mr Owen did not show himself at the house; and she, indeed, hardly expected that he should do so. Her stepmother suddenly became gracious,—having no difficulty in explaining that she did so because of the altered position of things.

"My dearest Isabel, it does make such a difference!" she said; "you will be a rich lady, and will never have to think about the price of shoes." The sisters were equally plain-spoken, and were almost awe-struck in their admiration.

Three or four days after the return of Mr Brodrick, Isabel took her bonnet and shawl, and walked away all alone to Mr Owen's lodgings. She knew his habits, and was aware that he was generally to be found at home for an hour before his dinner. It was no time, she said to herself, to stand upon little punctilios. There had been too much between them to let there be any question of a girl going after her lover. She was going after her lover, and she didn't care who knew it. Nevertheless, there was a blush beneath her veil as she asked at the door whether Mr Owen was at home. Mr Owen was at home, and she was shown at once into his parlour.

"William," she said;—throughout their intimacy she had never called him William before;—"you have heard my news?"

"Yes," he said, "I have heard it;"—very seriously, with none of that provoking smile with which he had hitherto responded to all her assertions.

"And you have not come to congratulate me?"

"I should have done so. I do own that I have been wrong."

"Wrong;—very wrong! How was I to have any of the enjoyment of my restored rights unless you came to enjoy them with me?"

"They can be nothing to me, Isabel."

"They shall be everything to you, sir."

"No, my dear."

"They are to be everything to me, and they can be nothing to me without you. You know that, I suppose?" Then she waited for his reply. "You know that, do you not? You know what I feel about that, I say. Why do you not tell me? Have you any doubt?"

"Things have been unkind to us, Isabel, and have separated us."

"Nothing shall separate us." Then she paused for a moment. She had thought of it all, and now had to pause before she could execute her purpose. She had got her plan ready, but it required some courage, some steadying of herself to the work before she could do it. Then she came close to him,—close up to him, looking into his face as he stood over her, not moving his feet, but almost retreating with his body from her close presence. "William," she said, "take me in your arms and kiss me. How often have you asked me during the last month! Now I have come for it."

He paused a moment as though it were possible to refuse, as though his collected thoughts and settled courage might enable him so to outrage her in her petition. Then he broke down, and took her in his arms, and pressed her to his bosom, and kissed her lips, and her forehead, and her cheeks,—while she, having once achieved her purpose, attempted in vain to escape from his long embrace.

"Now I shall be your wife," she said at last, when her breath had returned to her.

"It should not be so."

"Not after that? Will you dare to say so to me,—after that? You could never hold up your head again. Say that you are happy? Tell me that you are happy. Do you think that I can be happy unless you are happy with me?" Of course he gave her all the assurances that were needed, and made it quite unnecessary that she should renew her prayer.

"And I beg, Mr Owen, that for the future you will come to me, and not make me come to you." This she said as she was taking her leave. "It was very disagreeable, and very wrong, and will be talked about ever so much. Nothing but my determination to have my own way could have made me do it." Of course he promised her that there should be no occasion for her again to put herself to the same inconvenience.

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