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Cousin Henry

 

 

CHAPTER XXIV

Conclusion
 

Isabel spent one pleasant week with her lover at Hereford, and then was summoned into Carmarthenshire. Mr Apjohn came over at her father's invitation, and insisted on taking her back to Llanfeare.

"There are a thousand things to be done," he said, "and the sooner you begin to do them the better. Of course you must live at the old house, and you had better take up your habitation there for a while before this other change is made." The other change was of course the coming marriage, with the circumstances of which the lawyer had been made acquainted.

Then there arose other questions. Should her father go with her or should her lover? It was, however, at last decided that she should go alone as regarded her family, but under the care of Mr Apjohn. It was she who had been known in the house, and she who had better now be seen there as her uncle's representative.

"You will have to be called Miss Jones," said the lawyer, "Miss Indefer Jones. There will be a form, for which we shall have to pay, I am afraid; but we had better take the name at once. You will have to undergo a variety of changes in signing your name. You will become first Miss Isabel Brodrick Indefer Jones, then Mrs William Owen, then, when he shall have gone through the proper changes, Mrs William Owen Indefer Jones. As such I hope you may remain till you shall be known as the oldest inhabitant of Carmarthenshire."

Mr Apjohn took her to Carmarthen, and hence on to Llanfeare. At the station there were many to meet her, so that her triumph, as she got into the carriage, was almost painful to her. When she heard the bells ring from the towers of the parish churches, she could hardly believe that the peals were intended to welcome her back to her old home. She was taken somewhat out of her way round by the creek and Coed, so that the little tinkling of her own parish church might not be lost upon her. If this return of hers to the estate was so important to others as to justify these signs, what must it be to her and how deep must be the convictions as to her own duties?

At the gate of Coed farmyard the carriage stopped, and the old farmer came out to say a few words to her.

"God bless you, Miss Isabel; this is a happy sight to see."

"This is so kind of you, Mr Griffith."

"We've had a bad time of it, Miss Isabel;—not that we wished to quarrel with your dear uncle's judgment, or that we had a right to say much against the poor gentleman who has gone;—but we expected you, and it went against the grain with us to have our expectations disappointed. We shall always look up to you, miss; but, at the same time, I wish you joy with all my heart of the new landlord you're going to set over us. Of course that was to be expected, but you'll be here with us all the time." Isabel, while the tears ran down her cheeks, could only press the old man's hand at parting.

"Now, my dear," said Mr Apjohn, as they went on to the house, "he has only said just what we've all been feeling. Of course it has been stronger with the tenants and servants than with others. But all round the country it has been the same. A man, if an estate belong to himself personally, can do what he likes with it, as he can with the half-crowns in his pocket; but where land is concerned, feelings grow up which should not be treated rudely. In one sense Llanfeare belonged to your uncle to do what he liked with it, but in another sense he shared it only with those around him; and when he was induced by a theory which he did not himself quite understand to bring your cousin Henry down among these people, he outraged their best convictions."

"He meant to do his duty, Mr Apjohn."

"Certainly; but he mistook it. He did not understand the root of that idea of a male heir. The object has been to keep the old family, and the old adherences, and the old acres together. England owes much to the manner in which this has been done, and the custom as to a male heir has availed much in the doing of it. But in this case, in sticking to the custom, he would have lost the spirit, and, as far as he was concerned, would have gone against the practice which he wished to perpetuate. There, my dear, is a sermon for you, of which, I dare say, you do not understand a word."

"I understand every syllable of it, Mr Apjohn," she answered.

They soon arrived at the house, and there they found not only Mrs Griffith and the old cook, who had never left the premises, but the old butler also, who had taken himself off in disgust at Cousin Henry's character, but had now returned as though there had been no break in his continuous service. They received her with triumphant clamours of welcome. To them the coming of Cousin Henry, and the death of the old Squire, and then the departure of their young mistress, had been as though the whole world had come to an end for them. To serve was their only ambition,—to serve and to be made comfortable while they were serving; but to serve Cousin Henry was to them altogether ignominious. The old Squire had done something which, though they acknowledged it to be no worse on his part than a mistake, had to them been cruelly severe. Suddenly to be told that they were servants to such a one as Cousin Henry,—servants to such a man without any contract or agreement on their part;—to be handed over like the chairs and tables to a disreputable clerk from London, whom in their hearts they regarded as very much inferior to themselves! And they, too, like Mr Griffith and the tenants, had been taught to look for the future reign of Queen Isabel as a thing of course. In that there would have been an implied contract,—an understanding on their part that they had been consulted and had agreed to this destination of themselves. But Cousin Henry! Now this gross evil to themselves and to all around them had been remedied, and justice was done. They had all been strongly convinced that the Squire had made and had left behind him another will. The butler had been quite certain that this had been destroyed by Cousin Henry, and had sworn that he would not stand behind the chair of a felon. The gardener had been equally violent, and had declined even to cut a cabbage for Cousin Henry's use. The women in the house had only suspected. They had felt sure that something was wrong, but had doubted between various theories. But now everything was right; now the proper owner had come; now the great troubles had been vanquished, and Llanfeare would once again be a fitting home for them.

"Oh, Miss Isabel! oh, Miss Isabel!" said Mrs Griffith, absolutely sobbing at her young mistress's feet up in her bed-room; "I did say that it could never go on like that. I did use to think that the Lord Almighty would never let it go on like that! It couldn't be that Mr Henry Jones was to remain always landlord of Llanfeare."

When she came downstairs and took her seat, as she did by chance, in the old arm-chair which her uncle had been used to occupy, Mr Apjohn preached to her another sermon, or rather sang a loud pæan of irrepressible delight.

"Now, my dear, I must go and leave you,—happily in your own house. You can hardly realise how great a joy this has been to me,—how great a joy it is."

"I know well how much we owe you."

"From the first moment in which he intimated to me his wish to make a change in his will, I became so unhappy about it as almost to lose my rest. I knew that I went beyond what I ought to have done in the things that I said to him, and he bore it kindly."

"He was always kind."

"But I couldn't turn him. I told him what I told you to-day on the road, but it had no effect on him. Well, I had nothing to do but to obey his orders. This I did most grudgingly. It was a heartbreak to me, not only because of you, my dear, but for the sake of the property, and because I had heard something of your cousin. Then came the rumour of this last will. He must have set about it as soon as you had left the house."

"He never told me that he was going to do it."

"He never told any one; that is quite certain. But it shows how his mind must have been at work. Perhaps what I said may have had some effect at last. Then I heard from the Cantors what they had been asked to do. I need not tell you all that I felt then. It would have been better for him to send for me."

"Oh, yes."

"So much better for that poor young man's sake." The poor young man was of course Cousin Henry. "But I could not interfere. I could only hear what I did hear,—and wait. Then the dear old man died!"

"I knew then that he had made it."

"You knew that he had thought that he had done it; but how is one to be sure of the vacillating mind of an old dying man? When we searched for the one will and read the other, I was very sure that the Cantors had been called upon to witness his signature. Who could doubt as to that? But he who had so privately drawn out the deed might as privately destroy it. By degrees there grew upon me the conviction that he had not destroyed it; that it still existed,—or that your cousin had destroyed it. The latter I never quite believed. He was not the man to do it,—neither brave enough nor bad enough."

"I think not bad enough."

"Too small in his way altogether. And yet it was clear as the sun at noonday that he was troubled in his conscience. He shut himself up in his misery, not knowing how strong a tale his own unhappiness told against him. Why did he not rejoice in the glory of his position? Then I said to myself that he was conscious of insecurity."

"His condition must have been pitiable."

"Indeed, yes. I pitied him from the bottom of my heart. The contumely with which he was treated by all went to my heart even after I knew that he was misbehaving. I knew that he was misbehaving;—but how? It could only be by hiding the will, or by being conscious that it was hidden. Though he was a knave, he was not cunning. He failed utterly before the slightest cunning on the part of others. When I asked him whether he knew where it was hidden, he told a weak lie, but told the truth openly by the look of his eyes. He was like a little girl who pauses and blushes and confesses all the truth before she half murmurs her naughty fib. Who can be really angry with the child who lies after that unwilling fashion? I had to be severe upon him till all was made clear; but I pitied him from the bottom of my heart."

"You have been good to all of us."

"At last it became clear to me that your uncle had put it somewhere himself. Then came a chance remembrance of the sermons he used to read, and by degrees the hiding-place was suggested to me. When at last he welcomed us to go and search in his uncle's bed-room, but forbade us to touch anything in the book-room,—then I was convinced. I had but to look along the shelves till I found the set, and I almost knew that we had got the prize. Your father has told you how he flew at me when I attempted to lift my hand to the books. The agony of the last chance gave him a moment of courage. Then your father shook the document out from among the leaves."

"That must have been a moment of triumph to you."

"Yes;—it was. I did feel a little proud of my success. And I am proud as I see you sitting there, and feel that justice has been done."

"By your means!"

"That justice has been done, and that every one has his own again. I own to all the litigious pugnacity of a lawyer. I live by such fighting, and I like it. But a case in which I do not believe crushes me. To have an injustice to get the better of, and then to trample it well under foot,—that is the triumph that I desire. It does not often happen to a lawyer to have had such a chance as this, and I fancy that it could not have come in the way of a man who would have enjoyed it more than I do." Then at last, after lingering about the house, he bade her farewell. "God bless you, and make you happy here,—you and your husband. If you will take my advice you will entail the property. You, no doubt, will have children, and will take care that in due course it shall go to the eldest boy. There can be no doubt as to the wisdom of that. But you see what terrible misery may be occasioned by not allowing those who are to come after you to know what it is they are to expect."

For a few weeks Isabel remained alone at Llanfeare, during which all the tenants came to call upon her, as did many of the neighbouring gentry.

"I know'd it," said young Cantor, clenching his fist almost in her face. "I was that sure of it I couldn't hardly hold myself. To think of his leaving it in a book of sermons!"

Then, after the days were past during which it was thought well that she should remain at Llanfeare to give orders, and sign papers, and make herself by very contact with her own property its mistress and owner, her father came for her and took her back to Hereford. Then she had incumbent upon her the other duty of surrendering herself and all that she possessed to another. As any little interest which this tale may possess has come rather from the heroine's material interests than from her love,—as it has not been, so to say, a love story,—the reader need not follow the happy pair absolutely to the altar. But it may be said, in anticipation of the future, that in due time an eldest son was born, that Llanfeare was entailed upon him and his son, and that he was so christened as to have his somewhat grandiloquent name inscribed as William Apjohn Owen Indefer Jones.


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