E-text prepared by Joseph E. Loewenstein, M.D.
First published in serial form in the Manchester Weekly Times and the North British Weekly Mail in the spring of 1879 and in book form in October, 1879
I. Uncle Indefer II. Isabel Brodrick III. Cousin Henry IV. The Squire's Death V. Preparing for the Funeral VI. Mr Apjohn's Explanation VII. Looking for the Will VIII. The Reading of the Will IX. Alone at Llanfeare X. Cousin Henry Dreams a Dream XI. Isabel at Hereford XII. Mr Owen XIII. The Carmarthen Herald XIV. An Action for Libel XV. Cousin Henry Makes Another Attempt XVI. Again at Hereford XVII. Mr Cheekey XVIII. Cousin Henry Goes to Carmarthen XIX. Mr Apjohn Sends for Assistance XX. Doubts XXI. Mr Apjohn's Success XXII. How Cousin Henry Was Let Off Easily XXIII. Isabel's Petition XXIV. Conclusion
"I have a conscience, my dear, on this matter," said an old gentleman to a young lady, as the two were sitting in the breakfast parlour of a country house which looked down from the cliffs over the sea on the coast of Carmarthenshire.
"And so have I, Uncle Indefer; and as my conscience is backed by my inclination, whereas yours is not—"
"You think that I shall give way?"
"I did not mean that."
"If I could only make you understand how very strong is my inclination, or disinclination—how impossible to be conquered, then—"
"Then you would know that I could never give way, as you call it, and you would go to work with your own conscience to see whether it be imperative with you or not. You may be sure of this,—I shall never say a word to you in opposition to your conscience. If there be a word to be spoken it must come from yourself."
There was a long pause in the conversation, a silence for an hour, during which the girl went in and out of the room and settled herself down at her work. Then the old man went back abruptly to the subject they had discussed. "I shall obey my conscience."
"You ought to do so, Uncle Indefer. What should a man obey but his conscience?"
"Though it will break my heart."
"No; no, no!"
"And will ruin you."
"That is a flea's bite. I can brave my ruin easily, but not your broken heart."
"Why should there be either, Isabel?"
"Nay, sir; have you not said but now, because of our consciences? Not to save your heart from breaking,—though I think your heart is dearer to me than anything else in the world,—could I marry my cousin Henry. We must die together, both of us, you and I, or live broken-hearted, or what not, sooner than that. Would I not do anything possible at your bidding?"
"I used to think so."
"But it is impossible for a young woman with a respect for herself such as I have to submit herself to a man that she loathes. Do as your conscience bids you with the old house. Shall I be less tender to you while you live because I shall have to leave the place when you are dead? Shall I accuse you of injustice or unkindness in my heart? Never! All that is only an outside circumstance to me, comparatively of little moment. But to be the wife of a man I despise!" Then she got up and left the room.
A month passed by before the old man returned to the subject, which he did seated in the same room, at the same hour of the day,—at about four o'clock, when the dinner things had been removed.
"Isabel," he said, "I cannot help myself."
"As to what, Uncle Indefer?" She knew very well what was the matter in which, as he said, he could not help himself. Had there been anything in which his age had wanted assistance from her youth there would have been no hesitation between them; no daughter was ever more tender; no father was ever more trusting. But on this subject it was necessary that he should speak more plainly before she could reply to him.
"As to your cousin and the property."
"Then in God's name do not trouble yourself further in looking for help where there is none to be had. You mean that the estate ought to go to a man and not to a woman?"
"It ought to go to a Jones."
"I am not a Jones, nor likely to become a Jones."
"You are as near to me as he is,—and so much dearer!"
"But not on that account a Jones. My name is Isabel Brodrick. A woman not born to be a Jones may have the luck to become one by marriage, but that will never be the case with me."
"You should not laugh at that which is to me a duty."
"Dear, dear uncle!" she said, caressing him, "if I seemed to laugh"—and she certainly had laughed when she spoke of the luck of becoming a Jones—"it is only that you may feel how little importance I attach to it all on my own account."
"But it is important,—terribly important!"
"Very well. Then go to work with two things in your mind fixed as fate. One is that you must leave Llanfeare to your nephew Henry Jones, and the other that I will not marry your nephew Henry Jones. When it is all settled it will be just as though the old place were entailed, as it used to be."
"I wish it were."
"So do I, if it would save you trouble."
"But it isn't the same;—it can't be the same. In getting back the land your grandfather sold I have spent the money I had saved for you."
"It shall be all the same to me, and I will take pleasure in thinking that the old family place shall remain as you would have it. I can be proud of the family though I can never bear the name."
"You do not care a straw for the family."
"You should not say that, Uncle Indefer. It is not true. I care enough for the family to sympathise with you altogether in what you are doing, but not enough for the property to sacrifice myself in order that I might have a share in it."
"I do not know why you should think so much evil of Henry."
"Do you know any reason why I should think well enough of him to become his wife? I do not. In marrying a man a woman should be able to love every little trick belonging to him. The parings of his nails should be a care to her. It should be pleasant to her to serve him in things most menial. Would it be so to me, do you think, with Henry Jones?"
"You are always full of poetry and books."
"I should be full of something very bad if I were to allow myself to stand at the altar with him. Drop it, Uncle Indefer. Get it out of your mind as a thing quite impossible. It is the one thing I can't and won't do, even for you. It is the one thing that you ought not to ask me to do. Do as you like with the property,—as you think right."
"It is not as I like."
"As your conscience bids you, then; and I with myself, which is the only little thing that I have in the world, will do as I like, or as my conscience bids me."
These last words she spoke almost roughly, and as she said them she left him, walking out of the room with an air of offended pride. But in this there was a purpose. If she were hard to him, hard and obstinate in her determination, then would he be enabled to be so also to her in his determination, with less of pain to himself. She felt it to be her duty to teach him that he was justified in doing what he liked with his property, because she intended to do what she liked with herself. Not only would she not say a word towards dissuading him from this change in his old intentions, but she would make the change as little painful to him as possible by teaching him to think that it was justified by her own manner to him.
For there was a change, not only in his mind, but in his declared intentions. Llanfeare had belonged to Indefer Joneses for many generations. When the late Squire had died, now twenty years ago, there had been remaining out of ten children only one, the eldest, to whom the property now belonged. Four or five coming in succession after him had died without issue. Then there had been a Henry Jones, who had gone away and married, had become the father of the Henry Jones above mentioned, and had then also departed. The youngest, a daughter, had married an attorney named Brodrick, and she also had died, having no other child but Isabel. Mr Brodrick had married again, and was now the father of a large family, living at Hereford, where he carried on his business. He was not very "well-to-do" in the world. The new Mrs Brodrick had preferred her own babies to Isabel, and Isabel when she was fifteen years of age had gone to her bachelor uncle at Llanfeare. There she had lived for the last ten years, making occasional visits to her father at Hereford.
Mr Indefer Jones, who was now between seventy and eighty years old, was a gentleman who through his whole life had been disturbed by reflections, fears, and hopes as to the family property on which he had been born, on which he had always lived, in possession of which he would certainly die, and as to the future disposition of which it was his lot in life to be altogether responsible. It had been entailed upon him before his birth in his grandfather's time, when his father was about to be married. But the entail had not been carried on. There had come no time in which this Indefer Jones had been about to be married, and the former old man having been given to extravagance, and been generally in want of money, had felt it more comfortable to be without an entail. His son had occasionally been induced to join with him in raising money. Thus not only since he had himself owned the estate, but before his father's death, there had been forced upon him reflections as to the destination of Llanfeare. At fifty he had found himself unmarried, and unlikely to marry. His brother Henry was then alive; but Henry had disgraced the family,—had run away with a married woman whom he had married after a divorce, had taken to race courses and billiard-rooms, and had been altogether odious to his brother Indefer. Nevertheless the boy which had come from this marriage, a younger Henry, had been educated at his expense, and had occasionally been received at Llanfeare. He had been popular with no one there, having been found to be a sly boy, given to lying, and, as even the servants said about the place, unlike a Jones of Llanfeare. Then had come the time in which Isabel had been brought to Llanfeare. Henry had been sent away from Oxford for some offence not altogether trivial, and the Squire had declared to himself and others that Llanfeare should never fall into his hands.
Isabel had so endeared herself to him that before she had been two years in the house she was the young mistress of the place. Everything that she did was right in his eyes. She might have anything that she would ask, only that she would ask for nothing. At this time the cousin had been taken into an office in London, and had become,—so it was said of him,—a steady young man of business. But still, when allowed to show himself at Llanfeare, he was unpalatable to them all—unless it might be to the old Squire. It was certainly the case that in his office in London he made himself useful, and it seemed that he had abandoned that practice of running into debt and having the bills sent down to Llanfeare which he had adopted early in his career.
During all this time the old Squire was terribly troubled about the property. His will was always close at his hand. Till Isabel was twenty-one this will had always been in Henry's favour,—with a clause, however, that a certain sum of money which the Squire possessed should go to her. Then in his disgust towards his nephew he changed his purpose, and made another will in Isabel's favour. This remained in existence as his last resolution for three years; but they had been three years of misery to him. He had endured but badly the idea that the place should pass away out of what he regarded as the proper male line. To his thinking it was simply an accident that the power of disposing of the property should be in his hands. It was a religion to him that a landed estate in Britain should go from father to eldest son, and in default of a son to the first male heir. Britain would not be ruined because Llanfeare should be allowed to go out of the proper order. But Britain would be ruined if Britons did not do their duty in that sphere of life to which it had pleased God to call them; and in this case his duty was to maintain the old order of things.
And during this time an additional trouble added itself to those existing. Having made up his mind to act in opposition to his own principles, and to indulge his own heart; having declared both to his nephew and to his niece that Isabel should be his heir, there came to him, as a consolation in his misery, the power of repurchasing a certain fragment of the property which his father, with his assistance, had sold. The loss of these acres had been always a sore wound to him, not because of his lessened income, but from a feeling that no owner of an estate should allow it to be diminished during his holding of it. He never saw those separated fields estranged from Llanfeare, but he grieved in his heart. That he might get them back again he had saved money since Llanfeare had first become his own. Then had come upon him the necessity of providing for Isabel. But when with many groans he had decided that Isabel should be the heir, the money could be allowed to go for its intended purpose. It had so gone, and then his conscience had become too strong for him, and another will was made.
It will be seen how he had endeavoured to reconcile things. When it was found that Henry Jones was working like a steady man at the London office to which he was attached, that he had sown his wild oats, then Uncle Indefer began to ask himself why all his dearest wishes should not be carried out together by a marriage between the cousins. "I don't care a bit for his wild oats," Isabel had said, almost playfully, when the idea had first been mooted to her. "His oats are too tame for me rather than too wild. Why can't he look any one in the face?" Then her uncle had been angry with her, thinking that she was allowing a foolish idea to interfere with the happiness of them all.
But his anger with her was never enduring; and, indeed, before the time at which our story commenced he had begun to acknowledge to himself that he might rather be afraid of her anger than she of his. There was a courage about her which nothing could dash. She had grown up under his eyes strong, brave, sometimes almost bold, with a dash of humour, but always quite determined in her own ideas of wrong or right. He had in truth been all but afraid of her when he found himself compelled to tell her of the decision to which his conscience compelled him. But the will was made,—the third, perhaps the fourth or fifth, which had seemed to him to be necessary since his mind had been exercised in this matter. He made this will, which he assured himself should be the last, leaving Llanfeare to his nephew on condition that he should prefix the name of Indefer to that of Jones, and adding certain stipulations as to further entail. Then everything of which he might die possessed, except Llanfeare itself and the furniture in the house, he left to his niece Isabel.
"We must get rid of the horses," he said to her about a fortnight after the conversation last recorded.
"My will has been made, and there will be so little now for you, that we must save what we can before I die."
"Oh, bother me!" said Isabel, laughing.
"Do you suppose it is not dreadful to me to have to reflect how little I can do for you? I may, perhaps, live for two years, and we may save six or seven hundred a year. I have put a charge on the estate for four thousand pounds. The property is only a small thing, after all;—not above fifteen hundred a year."
"I will not hear of the horses being sold, and there is an end of it. You have been taken out about the place every day for the last twenty years, and it would crush me if I were to see a change. You have done the best you can, and now leave it all in God's hands. Pray,—pray let there be no more talking about it. If you only knew how welcome he is to it!"
When Mr Indefer Jones spoke of living for two years, he spoke more hopefully of himself than the doctor was wont to speak to Isabel. The doctor from Carmarthen visited Llanfeare twice a week, and having become intimate and confidential with Isabel, had told her that the candle had nearly burnt itself down to the socket. There was no special disease, but he was a worn-out old man. It was well that he should allow himself to be driven out about the place every day. It was well that he should be encouraged to get up after breakfast, and to eat his dinner in the middle of the day after his old fashion. It was well to do everything around him as though he were not a confirmed invalid. But the doctor thought that he would not last long. The candle, as the doctor said, had nearly burnt itself out in the socket.
And yet there was no apparent decay in the old man's intellect. He had never been much given to literary pursuits, but that which he had always done he did still. A daily copy of whatever might be the most thoroughly Conservative paper of the day he always read carefully from the beginning to the end; and a weekly copy of the Guardian nearly filled up the hours which were devoted to study. On Sunday he read two sermons through, having been forbidden by the doctor to take his place in the church because of the draughts, and thinking, apparently, that it would be mean and wrong to make that an excuse for shirking an onerous duty. An hour a day was devoted by him religiously to the Bible. The rest of his time was occupied by the care of his property. Nothing gratified him so much as the coming in of one of his tenants, all of whom were so intimately known to him that, old as he was, he never forgot the names even of their children. The idea of raising a rent was abominable to him. Around the house there were about two hundred acres which he was supposed to farm. On these some half-dozen worn-out old labourers were maintained in such a manner that no return from the land was ever forthcoming. On this subject he would endure remonstrance from no one,—not even from Isabel.
Such as he has been here described, he would have been a happy old man during these last half-dozen years, had not his mind been exercised day by day, and hour by hour, by these cares as to the property which were ever present to him. A more loving heart than his could hardly be found in a human bosom, and all its power of love had been bestowed on Isabel. Nor could any man be subject to a stronger feeling of duty than that which pervaded him; and this feeling of duty induced him to declare to himself that in reference to his property he was bound to do that which was demanded of him by the established custom of his order. In this way he had become an unhappy man, troubled by conflicting feelings, and was now, as he was approaching the hour of his final departure, tormented by the thought that he would leave his niece without sufficient provision for her wants.
But the thing was done. The new will was executed and tied in on the top of the bundle which contained the other wills which he had made. Then, naturally enough, there came back upon him the idea, hardly amounting to a hope, that something might even yet occur to set matters right by a marriage between the cousins. Isabel had spoken to him so strongly on the subject that he did not dare to repeat his request. And yet, he thought, there was no good reason why they two should not become man and wife. Henry, as far as he could learn, had given up his bad courses. The man was not evil to the eye, a somewhat cold-looking man rather than otherwise, tall with well-formed features, with light hair and blue-grey eyes, not subject to be spoken of as being unlike a gentleman, if not noticeable as being like one. That inability of his to look one in the face when he was speaking had not struck the Squire forcibly as it had done Isabel. He would not have been agreeable to the Squire had there been no bond between them,—would still have been the reverse, as he had been formerly, but for that connexion. But, as things were, there was room for an attempt at love; and if for an attempt at love on his part, why not also on Isabel's? But he did not dare to bid Isabel even to try to love this cousin.
"I think I would like to have him down again soon," he said to his niece.
"By all means. The more the tenants know him the better it will be. I can go to Hereford at any time."
"Why should you run away from me?"
"Not from you, Uncle Indefer, but from him."
"And why from him?"
"Because I don't love him."
"Must you always run away from the people you do not love?"
"Yes, when the people, or person, is a man, and when the man has been told that he ought specially to love me."
When she said this she looked into her uncle's face, smiling indeed, but still asking a serious question. He dared to make no answer, but by his face he told the truth. He had declared his wishes to his nephew.
"Not that I mean to be in the least afraid of him," she continued. "Perhaps it will be better that I should see him, and if he speaks to me have it out with him. How long would he stay?"
"A month, I suppose. He can come for a month."
"Then I'll stay for the first week. I must go to Hereford before the summer is over. Shall I write to him?" Then it was settled as she had proposed. She wrote all her uncle's letters, even to her cousin Henry, unless there was, by chance, something very special to be communicated. On the present occasion she sent the invitation as follows:—
Llanfeare, 17th June, 187—, Monday.
MY DEAR HENRY,
Your uncle wants you to come here on the 1st July and stay for a month. The 1st of July will be Monday. Do not travel on a Sunday as you did last time, because he does not like it. I shall be here the first part of the time, and then I shall go to Hereford. It is in the middle of the summer only that I can leave him. Your affectionate cousin,
She had often felt herself compelled to sign herself to him in that way, and it had gone much against the grain with her; but to a cousin it was the ordinary thing, as it is to call any different man "My dear sir," though he be not in the least dear. And so she had reconciled herself to the falsehood.
Another incident in Isabel's life must be told to the reader. It was her custom to go to Hereford at least once a year, and there to remain at her father's house for a month. These visits had been made annually since she had lived at Llanfeare, and in this way she had become known to many of the Hereford people. Among others who had thus become her friends there was a young clergyman, William Owen, a minor canon attached to the cathedral, who during her last visit had asked her to be his wife. At that time she had supposed herself to be her uncle's heiress, and looking at herself as the future owner of Llanfeare had considered herself bound to regard such an offer in reference to her future duties and to the obedience which she owed to her uncle. She never told her lover, not did she ever quite tell herself, that she would certainly accept him if bound by no such considerations; but we may tell the reader that it was so. Had she felt herself to be altogether free, she would have given herself to the man who had offered her his love. As it was she answered him anything but hopefully, saying nothing of any passion of her own, speaking of herself as though she were altogether at the disposal of her uncle. "He has decided now," she said, "that when he is gone the property is to be mine." The minor canon, who had heard nothing of this, drew himself up as though about to declare in his pride that he had not intended to ask for the hand of the lady of Llanfeare. "That would make no difference in me," she continued, reading plainly the expression in the young man's face. "My regard would be swayed neither one way nor the other by any feeling of that kind. But as he has chosen to make me his daughter, I must obey him as his daughter. It is not probable that he will consent to such a marriage."
Then there had been nothing further between them till Isabel, on her return to Llanfeare, had written to him to say that her uncle had decided against the marriage, and that his decision was final.
Now in all this Isabel had certainly been hardly used, though her ill-usage had in part been due to her own reticence as to her own feelings. When she told the Squire that the offer had been made to her, she did so as if she herself had been almost indifferent.
"William Owen!" the Squire had said, repeating the name; "his grandfather kept the inn at Pembroke!"
"I believe he did," said Isabel calmly.
"And you would wish to make him owner of Llanfeare?"
"I did not say so," rejoined Isabel. "I have told you what occurred, and have asked you what you thought."
Then the Squire shook his head, and there was an end of it. The letter was written to the minor canon telling him that the Squire's decision was final.
In all this there had been no allusion to love on the part of Isabel. Had there been, her uncle could hardly have pressed upon her the claims of his nephew. But her manner in regard to the young clergyman had been so cold as to leave upon her uncle an impression that the matter was one of but little moment. To Isabel it was matter of infinite moment. And yet when she was asked again and again to arrange all the difficulties of the family by marrying her cousin, she was forced to carry on the conversation as though no such person existed as her lover at Hereford.
And yet the Squire remembered it all,—remembered that when he had thus positively objected to the grandson of the innkeeper, he had done so because he had felt it to be his duty to keep the grandson of an innkeeper out of Llanfeare. That the grandson of old Thomas Owen, of the Pembroke Lion, should reign at Llanfeare in the place of an Indefer Jones had been abominable to him. To prevent that had certainly been within his duties. But it was very different now, when he would leave his girl poorly provided for, without a friend and without a roof of her own over her head! And yet, though her name was Brodrick, she, too, was a Jones; and her father, though an attorney, had come of a family nearly as good as his own. In no case could it be right that she should marry the grandson of old Thomas Owen. Therefore, hitherto, he had never again referred to that proposal of marriage. Should she again have spoken of it his answer might perhaps have been less decided; but neither had she again spoken of the clergyman.
All this was hard upon Isabel, who, if she said nothing, still thought of her lover. And it must be acknowledged also that though she did not speak, still she thought of her future prospects. She had laughed at the idea of being solicitous as to her inheritance. She had done so in order that she might thereby lessen the trouble of her uncle's mind; but she knew as well as did another the difference between the position which had been promised her as owner of Llanfeare, and that to which she would be reduced as the stepdaughter of a stepmother who did not love her. She knew, too, that she had been cold to William Owen, giving him no sort of encouragement, having seemed to declare to him that she had rejected him because she was her uncle's heiress. And she knew also,—or thought that she knew,—that she was not possessed of those feminine gifts which probably might make a man constant under difficulties. No more had been heard of William Owen during the last nine months. Every now and then a letter would come to her from one of her younger sisters, who now had their own anxieties and their own loves, but not a word was there in one of them of William Owen. Therefore, it may be said that the last charge in her uncle's purpose had fallen upon her with peculiar hardness.
But she never uttered a complaint, or even looked one. As for utterance there was no one to whom she could have spoken it. There had never been many words between her and her own family as to the inheritance. As she had been reticent to her father so had he to her. The idea in the attorney's house at Hereford was that she was stubborn, conceited, and disdainful. It may be that in regard to her stepmother there was something of this, but, let that be as it might, there had been but little confidence between them as to matters at Llanfeare. It was, no doubt, supposed by her father that she was to be her uncle's heir.
Conceited, perhaps, she was as to certain gifts of character. She did believe herself to be strong of purpose and capable of endurance. But in some respects she was humble enough. She gave herself no credit for feminine charms such as the world loves. In appearance she was one calculated to attract attention,—somewhat tall, well set on her limbs, active, and of good figure; her brow was broad and fine, her grey eyes were bright and full of intelligence, her nose and mouth were well formed, and there was not a mean feature in her face. But there was withal a certain roughness about her, an absence of feminine softness in her complexion, which, to tell the truth of her, was more conspicuous to her own eyes than to any others. The farmers and their wives about the place would declare that Miss Isabel was the finest young woman in South Wales. With the farmers and their wives she was on excellent terms, knowing all their ways, and anxious as to all their wants. With the gentry around she concerned herself but little. Her uncle's habits were not adapted to the keeping of much company, and to her uncle's habits she had fitted herself altogether. It was on this account that neither did she know the young men around, nor did they know her. And then, because no such intimacies had grown up she told herself that she was unlike other girls,—that she was rough, unattractive, and unpopular.
Then the day came for the arrival of Henry Jones, during the approach to which Uncle Indefer had, from day to day, become more and more uneasy. Isabel had ceased to say a word against him. When he had been proposed to her as a lover she had declared that she had loathed him. Now that suggestion had been abandoned, or left in abeyance. Therefore she dealt with his name and with his coming as she might with that of any other guest. She looked to his room, and asked questions as to his comfort. Would it not be well to provide a separate dinner for him, seeing that three o'clock would be regarded as an awkward hour by a man from London? "If he doesn't like it, he had better go back to London," said the old Squire in anger. But the anger was not intended against his girl, but against the man who by the mere force of his birth was creating such a sea of troubles.
"I have told you what my intentions are," the Squire said to his nephew on the evening of his arrival.
"I am sure that I am very much obliged to you, my dear uncle."
"You need not be in the least obliged to me. I have done what I conceive to be a duty. I can still change it if I find that you do not deserve it. As for Isabel, she deserves everything that can be done for her. Isabel has never given me the slightest cause for displeasure. I doubt whether there is a better creature in the world living than Isabel. She deserves everything. But as you are the male heir, I think it right that you should follow me in the property—unless you show yourself to be unworthy."
This was certainly a greeting hard to be endured,—a speech very difficult to answer. Nevertheless it was satisfactory, if only the old Squire would not again change his mind. The young man had thought much about it, and had come to the resolution that the best way to insure the good things promised him would be to induce Isabel to be his wife.
"I'm sure she is all that you say, Uncle Indefer," he replied.
Uncle Indefer grunted, and told him that if he wanted any supper, he had better go and get it.
Cousin Henry found his position to be difficult and precarious. That suggestion of his uncle's,—or rather assertion,—that he could still change his mind was disagreeable. No doubt he could do so, and, as Cousin Henry thought, would be the very man to do it, if angered, thwarted, or even annoyed. He knew that more than one will had already been made and set aside. Cousin Henry had turned the whole matter very much in his mind since he had become cognizant of his uncle's character. However imprudent he might have been in his earlier days, he was now quite alive to the importance of being Squire of Llanfeare. There was nothing that he was not ready to do to please and conciliate his uncle. Llanfeare without Isabel as a burden would no doubt be preferable, but he was quite ready to marry Isabel to-morrow, if Isabel would only accept him. The game he had to play was for Llanfeare. It was to be Llanfeare or nothing. The position offered to him was to come, not from love, but from a sense of duty on the part of the old man. If he could keep the old man firm to that idea, Llanfeare would be his own; but should he be excluded from that inheritance, there would be no lesser prize by which he might reconcile himself to the loss. His uncle would not leave him anything from love. All this he understood thoroughly, and was therefore not unnaturally nervous as to his own conduct at the present crisis.
It was only too manifest to him that his uncle did in fact dislike him. At their very first interview he was made to listen to praises of Isabel and threats against himself. He was quite prepared to put up with both, or with any other disagreeable hardship which might be inflicted upon him, if only he could do so successfully. But he believed that his best course would be to press his suit with Isabel. Should he do so successfully, he would at any rate be safe. Should she be persistent in refusing him, which he believed to be probable, then he would have shown himself desirous of carrying out his uncle's wishes. As to all this he was clear-sighted enough. But he did not quite perceive the state of his uncle's mind in regard to himself. He did not understand how painfully the old man was still vacillating between affection and duty; nor did he fathom the depth of the love which his uncle felt for Isabel. Had he been altogether wise in the matter, he would have kept out of his uncle's presence, and have devoted himself to the tenants and the land; but in lieu of this, he intruded himself as much as possible into his uncle's morning room, often to the exclusion of Isabel. Now it had come to pass that Uncle Indefer was never at his ease unless his niece were with him.
"Nobody can be more attached to another than I am to Isabel," said the nephew to his uncle on the third morning of his arrival. Whereupon Uncle Indefer grunted. The more he saw of the man, the less he himself liked the idea of sacrificing Isabel to such a husband. "I shall certainly do my best to carry out your wishes."
"My wishes have reference solely to her."
"Exactly, sir; I understand that completely. As she is not to be the heiress, the best thing possible is to be done for her."
"You think that marrying you would be the best thing possible!" This the uncle said in a tone of scorn which must have been very hard to bear. And it was unjust too, as the unfortunate nephew had certainly not intended to speak of himself personally as being the best thing possible for Isabel.
But this too had to be borne. "I meant, sir, that if she would accept my hand, she would have pretty nearly as great an interest in the property as I myself."
"She would have much more," said Uncle Indefer angrily. "She knows every man, woman, and child about the place. There is not one of them who does not love her. And so they ought, for she has been their best friend. As far as they are concerned it is almost cruel that they should not be left in her hands."
"So it will be, sir, if she will consent to do as you and I wish."
"Wish! Pshaw!" Then he repeated his grunts, turning his shoulder round against his nephew, and affecting to read the newspaper which he had held in his hand during the conversation. It must be acknowledged that the part to be played by the intended heir was very difficult. He could perceive that his uncle hated him, but he could not understand that he might best lessen that hatred by relieving his uncle of his presence. There he sat looking at the empty grate, and pretending now and again to read an old newspaper which was lying on the table, while his uncle fumed and grunted. During every moment that was so passed Uncle Indefer was asking himself whether that British custom as to male heirs was absolutely essential to the welfare of the country. Here were two persons suggested to his mind, one of whom was to be his future successor. One of them was undoubtedly the sweetest human being that had ever crossed his path; the other,—as he was inclined to think at the present moment,—was the least sweet. And as they were to him, would they not be to the tenants whose welfare was to depend so much on the future owner of the property? The longer that he endured the presence of the man the more desirous did he feel of turning to the drawer which was close at hand, and destroying the topmost of those documents which lay there tied in a bundle together.
But he did not allow himself to be at once driven to a step so unreasonable. The young man had done nothing which ought to offend him,—had, indeed, only obeyed him in coming down to South Wales. That custom of the country was good and valid, and wise. If he believed in anything of the world worldly, he believed in primogeniture in respect of land. Though Isabel was ever so sweet, duty was duty. Who was he that he should dare to say to himself that he could break through what he believed to be a law on his conscience without a sin? If he might permit himself to make a special exemption for himself in the indulgence of his own affection, then why might not another, and another, and so on? Did he not know that it would have been better that the whole thing should have been settled for him by an entail? And, if so, how could it be right that he should act in opposition to the spirit of such an entail, merely because he had the power to do so? Thus he argued with himself again and again; but these arguments would never become strong till his nephew had relieved him of his presence.
While he was so arguing, Cousin Henry was trying his hand with Isabel. There had been but a week for him to do it, and three days had already passed away. At the end of the week Isabel was to go to Hereford, and Henry, as far as he knew, was still expected by his uncle to make an offer to his cousin. And, as regarded himself, he was well enough disposed to do so. He was a man with no strong affections, but also with no strong aversions,—except that at present he had a strong affection for Llanfeare, and a strong aversion to the monotonous office in which he was wont to earn his daily bread up in London. And he, too, was desirous of doing his duty,—as long as the doing of his duty might tend to the desired possession of Llanfeare. He was full of the idea that a great deal was due to Isabel. A great deal was certainly due to Isabel, if only, by admitting so much, his possession of Llanfeare was to be assured.
"So you are going away in two or three days?" he said to her.
"In four days. I am to start on Monday."
"That is very soon. I am so sorry that you are to leave us! But I suppose it is best that dear Uncle Indefer should not be left alone."
"I should have gone at this time in any case," said Isabel, who would not allow it to be supposed that he could fill her place near their uncle.
"Nevertheless I am sorry that you should not have remained while I am here. Of course it cannot be helped." Then he paused, but she had not a word further to say. She could see by the anxiety displayed in his face, and by a more than usually unnatural tone in his voice, that he was about to make his proposition. She was quite prepared for it, and remained silent, fixed, and attentive. "Isabel," he said, "I suppose Uncle Indefer has told you what he intends?"
"I should say so. I think he always tells me what he intends."
"About the property I mean."
"Yes; about the property. I believe he has made a will leaving it to you. I believe he has done this, not because he loves you the best, but because he thinks it ought to go to the male heir. I quite agree with him that these things should not be governed by affection. He is so good that he will certainly do what he believes to be his duty."
"Nevertheless the effect is the same."
"Oh yes; as regards you, the effect will be the same. You will have the property, whether it comes from love or duty."
"And you will lose it."
"I cannot lose what never was mine," she said, smiling.
"But why should we not both have it,—one as well as the other?"
"No; we can't do that."
"Yes, we can; if you will do what I wish, and what he wishes also. I love you with all my heart."
She opened her eyes as though driven to do so by surprise. She knew that she should not have expressed herself in that way, but she could not avoid the temptation.
"I do, indeed, with all my heart. Why should we not—marry, you know? Then the property would belong to both of us."
"Yes; then it would."
"Why should we not; eh, Isabel?" Then he approached her as though about to make some ordinary symptom of a lover's passion.
"Sit down there, Henry, and I will tell you why we cannot do that. I do not love you in the least."
"You might learn to love me."
"Never; never! That lesson would be impossible to me. Now let there be an end of it. Uncle Indefer has, I dare say, asked you to make this proposition."
"He wrote a letter, just saying that he would like it."
"Exactly so. You have found yourself compelled to do his bidding, and you have done it. Then let there be an end of it. I would not marry an angel even to oblige him or to get Llanfeare; and you are not an angel,—to my way of thinking."
"I don't know about angels," he said, trying still to be good-humoured.
"No, no. That was my nonsense. There is no question of angels. But not for all Llanfeare, not even to oblige him, would I undertake to marry a man even if I were near to loving him. I should have to love him entirely, without reference to Llanfeare. I am not at all near loving you."
"Why not, Isabel?" he asked foolishly.
"Because—because—because you are odious to me!"
"I beg your pardon. I should not have said so. It was very wrong; but, then, why did you ask so foolish a question? Did I not tell you to let there be an end of it? And now will you let me give you one little bit of advice?"
"What is it?" he asked angrily. He was beginning to hate her, though he was anxious to repress his hatred, lest by indulging it he should injure his prospects.
"Do not say a word about me to my uncle. It will be better for you not to tell him that there has been between us any such interview as this. If he did once wish that you and I should become man and wife, I do not think that he wishes it now. Let the thing slide, as they say. He has quite made up his mind in your favour, because it is his duty. Unless you do something to displease him very greatly, he will make no further change. Do not trouble him more than you can help by talking to him on things that are distasteful. Anything in regard to me, coming from you, will be distasteful to him. You had better go about among the farms, and see the tenants, and learn the condition of everything. And then talk to him about that. Whatever you do, never suggest that the money coming from it all is less than it ought to be. That is my advice. And now, if you please, you and I need not talk about it any more." Then she got up and left the room without waiting for a reply.
When he was alone he resolved upon complying with her advice, at any rate in one respect. He would not renew his offer of marriage; nor would he hold any further special conversation with her. Of course, she was hateful to him, having declared so plainly to him her own opinion regarding himself. He had made the offer, and had thereby done his duty. He had made the offer, and had escaped.
But he did not at all believe in the sincerity of her advice as to their uncle. His heart was throbbing with the desire to secure the inheritance to himself,—and so he thought, no doubt, was hers as to herself. It might be that the old man's intention would depend upon his obedience, and if so, it was certainly necessary that the old man should know that he had been obedient. Of course, he would tell the old man what he had done.
But he said not a word till Isabel had gone. He did take her advice about the land and the tenants, but hardly to much effect. If there were a falling roof here or a half-hung door there, he displayed his zeal by telling the Squire of these defaults. But the Squire hated to hear of such defaults. It must be acknowledged that it would have required a man of very great parts to have given satisfaction in the position in which this young man was placed.
But as soon as Isabel was gone he declared his obedience.
"I have asked her, sir, and she has refused me," he said in a melancholy, low, and sententious voice.
"What did you expect?"
"At any rate, I did as you would have me."
"Was she to jump down your throat when you asked her?"
"She was very decided,—very. Of course, I spoke of your wishes."
"I have not any wishes."
"I thought that you desired it."
"So I did, but I have changed my mind. It would not do at all. I almost wonder how you could have had the courage to ask her. I don't suppose that you have the insight to see that she is different from other girls."
"Oh, yes; I perceived that."
"And yet you would go and ask her to be your wife off-hand, just as though you were going to buy a horse! I suppose you told her that it would be a good thing because of the estate?"
"I did mention it," said the young man, altogether astounded and put beyond himself by his uncle's manner and words.
"Yes; just as if it were a bargain! If you will consent to put up with me as a husband, why, then you can go shares with me in the property. That was the kind of thing, wasn't it? And then you come and tell me that you have done your duty by making the offer!"
The heir expectant was then convinced that it would have been better for him to have followed the advice which Isabel had given him, but yet he could not bring himself to believe that the advice had been disinterested. Why should Isabel have given him disinterested advice in opposition to her own prospects? Must not Isabel's feeling about the property be the same as his own?
The Squire's Death
With a sore heart Isabel went her way to Hereford,—troubled because she saw nothing but sorrow and vexation in store for her uncle.
"I know that I am getting weaker every day," he said. And yet it was not long since he had spoken of living for two years.
"Shall I stay?" asked Isabel.
"No; that would be wrong. You ought to go to your father. I suppose that I shall live till you come back."
"Oh, Uncle Indefer!"
"What if I did die? It is not that that troubles me." Then she kissed him and left him. She knew how vain it was to ask any further questions, understanding thoroughly the nature of his sorrow. The idea that this nephew must be the master of Llanfeare was so bitter to him that he could hardly endure it; and then, added to this, was the vexation of the nephew's presence. That three weeks should be passed alone with the man,—three weeks of the little that was left to him of life, seemed to be a cruel addition to the greater sorrow! But Isabel went, and the uncle and nephew were left to do the best they could with each other's company.
Isabel had not seen Mr Owen or heard from him since the writing of that letter in which she had told him of her uncle's decision. Now it would be necessary that she should meet him, and she looked forward to doing so almost with fear and trembling. On one point she had made up her mind, or thought that she had made up her mind. As she had refused him when supposed to be heiress of Llanfeare, she certainly would not accept him, should he feel himself constrained by a sense of honour to renew his offer to her now that her position was so different. She had not accused him in her own heart of having come to her because of her supposed wealth. Thinking well of him in other matters, she thought well of him also in that. But still there was the fact that she had refused him when supposed to be an heiress; and not even to secure her happiness would she allow him to think that she accepted him because of her altered circumstances. And yet she was in love with him, and had now acknowledged to herself that it was so. Her position in this as in all things seemed to be so cruel! Had she been the heiress of Llanfeare she could not have married him, because it would then have been her duty to comply with the wishes of her uncle. No such duty would now be imposed upon her, at any rate after her uncle's death. As simple Isabel Brodrick she might marry whom she would without bringing discredit upon the Indefer Joneses. But that which she had been constrained to do before her uncle had changed his purpose now tied her hands.
It did seem to her cruel; but she told herself that it was peculiarly her duty to bear such cruelty without complaint. Of her uncle's intense love to her she was fully aware, and, loving him as warmly, was prepared to bear everything on his account. His vacillation had been unfortunate for her, but in everything he had done the best according to his lights. Perhaps there was present to her mind something of the pride of a martyr. Perhaps she gloried a little in the hardship of her position. But she was determined to have her glory and her martyrdom all to herself. No human being should ever hear from her lips a word of complaint against her Uncle Indefer.
The day after her arrival her father asked her a few questions as to her uncle's intentions in reference to the property.
"I think it is all settled," she said. "I think it has been left to my Cousin Henry."
"Then he has changed his mind," said her father angrily. "He did mean to make you his heiress?"
"Henry is at Llanfeare now, and Henry will be his heir."
"Why has he changed? Nothing can be more unjust than to make a promise in such a matter and then to break it."
"Who says that he made a promise? You have never heard anything of the kind from me. Papa, I would so much rather not talk about Llanfeare. Ever since I have known him, Uncle Indefer has been all love to me. I would not allow a thought of mine to be polluted by ingratitude towards him. Whatever he has done, he has done because he has thought it to be the best. Perhaps I ought to tell you that he has made some charge on the property on my behalf, which will prevent my being a burden upon you."
A week or ten days after this, when she had been nearly a fortnight at Hereford, she was told that William Owen was coming in to drink tea. This communication was made to her by her stepmother, in that serious tone which is always intended to convey a matter of importance. Had any other minor canon or any other gentleman been coming to tea, the fact would have been announced in a different manner.
"I shall be delighted to see him," said Isabel, suppressing with her usual fortitude any slightest symptom of emotion.
"I hope you will, my dear. I am sure he is very anxious to see you."
Then Mr Owen came and drank his tea in the midst of the family. Isabel could perceive that he was somewhat confused,—not quite able to talk in his usual tone, and that he was especially anxious as to his manner towards her. She took her part in the conversation as though there were nothing peculiar in the meeting. She spoke of Llanfeare, of her uncle's failing health, and of her cousin's visit, taking care to indicate by some apparently chance word, that Henry was received there as the heir. She played her part well, evincing no sign of special feeling but her ear was awake to the slightest tone in his voice after he had received the information she had given him. She knew that his voice was altered, but she did not read the alteration altogether aright.
"I shall call in the morning," he said, as he gave her his hand at parting. There was no pressure of the hand, but still he had addressed himself especially to her.
Why should he come in the morning? She had made up her mind, at the spur of the moment, that the news which he had heard had settled that matter for ever. But if so, why should he come in the morning? Then she felt, as she sat alone in her room, that she had done him a foul injustice in that spur of the moment. It must be that she had done him an injustice, or he would not have said that he would come. But if he could be generous, so could she. She had refused him when she believed herself to be the heiress of Llanfeare, and she certainly would not accept him now.
On the next morning about eleven o'clock he came. She had become aware that it was the intention of all the family that she should see him alone, and she made no struggle against that intention. As such intention existed, the interview must of course take place, and as well now as later. There was no confidence on the matter between herself and her stepmother,—no special confidence between even herself and her half-sisters. But she was aware that they all supposed that Mr Owen was to come there on that morning for the sake of renewing his offer to her. It was soon done when he had come.
"Isabel," he said, "I have brought with me that letter which you wrote to me. Will you take it back again?" And he held it out in his hand.
"Nay; why should I take back my own letter?" she answered, smiling.
"Because I hope—I do not say I trust—but I hope that I may receive an altered answer."
"Why should you hope so?" she asked, foolishly enough.
"Because I love you so dearly. Let me say something very plainly. If it be a long story, forgive me because of its importance to myself. I did think that you were—well, inclined to like me."
"Like you! I always liked you. I do like you."
"I hoped more. Perhaps I thought more. Nay, Isabel, do not interrupt me. When they told me that you were to be your uncle's heir, I knew that you ought not to marry me."
"Well, I knew that it should not be so. I knew that your uncle would think so."
"Yes, he thought so."
"I knew that he would, and I accepted your answer as conveying his decision. I had not intended to ask the heiress of Llanfeare to be my wife."
"Why not? Why not?"
"I had not intended to ask the heiress of Llanfeare to by my wife," he said, repeating the words. "I learned last night that it was not to be so."
"No; it is not to be so."
"Then why should not Isabel Brodrick be the wife of William Owen, if she likes him,—if only she can bring herself to like him well enough?"
She could not say that she did not like him well enough. She could not force herself to tell such a lie! And yet there was her settled purpose still strong in her mind. Having refused him when she believed herself to be rich, she could not bring herself to take him now that she was poor. She only shook her head mournfully.
"You cannot like me well enough for that?"
"It must not be so."
"Must not? Why must not?"
"It cannot be so."
"Then, Isabel, you must say that you do not love me."
"I need say nothing, Mr Owen." Again she smiled as she spoke to him. "It is enough for me to say that it cannot be so. If I ask you not to press me further, I am sure that you will not do so."
"I shall press you further," he said, as he left her; "but I will leave you a week to think of it."
She took the week to think of it, and from day to day her mind would change as she thought of it. Why should she not marry him, if thus they might both be happy? Why should she cling to a resolution made by her when she was in error as to the truth? She knew now, she was now quite certain, that when he had first come to her he had known nothing of her promised inheritance. He had come then simply because he loved her, and for that reason, and for that reason only, he had now come again. And yet—and yet, there was her resolution! And there was the ground on which she had founded it! Though he might not remember it now, would he not remember hereafter that she had refused him when she was rich and accepted him when she was poor? Where then would be her martyrdom, where her glory, where her pride? Were she to do so, she would only do as would any other girl. Though she would not have been mean, she would seem to have been mean, and would so seem to his eyes. When the week was over she had told herself that she must be true to her resolution.
There had been something said about him in the family, but very little. The stepmother was indeed afraid of Isabel, though she had endeavoured to conquer her own fear of using authority; and her half-sisters, though they loved her, held her in awe. There was so little that was weak about her, so little that was self-indulgent, so little that was like the other girls around them! It was known that Mr Owen was to come again on a certain day at a certain hour, and it was known also for what purpose he was to come; but no one had dared to ask a direct question as to the result of his coming.
He came, and on this occasion her firmness almost deserted her. When he entered the room he seemed to her to be bigger than before, and more like her master. As the idea that he was so fell upon her, she became aware that she loved him better than ever. She began to know that with such a look as he now wore he would be sure to conquer. She did not tell herself that she would yield, but thoughts flitted across her as to what might be the best manner of yielding.
"Isabel," he said, taking her by the hand, "Isabel, I have come again, as I told you that I would."
She could not take her hand from him, nor could she say a word to him in her accustomed manner. As he looked down upon her, she felt that she had already yielded, when suddenly the door was opened, and one of the girls hurried into the room.
"Isabel," said her sister, "here is a telegram for you, just come from Carmarthen."
Of course she opened it instantly with perturbed haste and quivering fingers. The telegram was as follows:—"Your uncle is very ill, very ill indeed, and wishes you to come back quite immediately." The telegram was not from her Cousin Henry, but from the doctor.
There was no time then either for giving love or for refusing it. The paper was handed to her lover to read, and then she rushed out of the room as though the train which was to carry her would start instantly.
"You will let me write to you by-and-by?" said Mr Owen as she left him; but she made no answer to him as she rushed out of the room; nor would she make any answer to any of the others as they expressed either hope or consolation. When was the next train? When should she reach Carmarthen? When would she once more be at the old man's bedside? In the course of the afternoon she did leave Hereford, and at about ten o'clock that night she was at Carmarthen. Some one concerned had looked into this matter of the trains, and there at the station was a fly ready to take her to Llanfeare. Before eleven her uncle's hand was in hers, as she stood by his bedside.
Her Cousin Henry was in the room, and so was the housekeeper who had been with him constantly almost ever since she had left him. She had seen at once by the manner of the old servants as she entered the house, from the woeful face of the butler, and from the presence of the cook, who had lived in the family for the last twenty years, that something terrible was expected. It was not thus that she would have been received had not the danger been imminent.
"Dr Powell says, Miss Isabel, that you are to be told that he will be here quite early in the morning."
This coming from the cook, told her that her uncle was expected to live that night, but that no more was expected.
"Uncle Indefer," she said, "how is it with you? Uncle Indefer, speak to me!" He moved his head a little upon the pillow; he turned his face somewhat towards hers; there was some slight return to the grasp of her hand; there was a gleam of loving brightness left in his eye; but he could not then speak a word. When, after an hour, she left his room for a few minutes to get rid of her travelling clothes, and to prepare herself for watching by him through the night, the housekeeper, whom Isabel had known ever since she had been at Llanfeare, declared that in her opinion her uncle would never speak again.
"The doctor, Miss Isabel, thought so, when he left us."
She hurried down, and at once occupied the place which the old woman had filled for the last three days and nights. Before long she had banished the woman, so that to her might belong the luxury of doing anything, if aught could be done. That her cousin should be there was altogether unnecessary. If the old man could know any one at his deathbed, he certainly would not wish to see the heir whom he had chosen.
"You must go—you must indeed," said Isabel.
Then the cousin went, and so at last, with some persuasion, did the housekeeper.
She sat there hour after hour, with her hand lying gently upon his. When she would move it for a moment, though it was to moisten his lips, he would give some sign of impatience. For hours he lay in that way, till the early dawn of the summer morning broke into the room through the chink of the shutters. Then there came from him some sign of a stronger life, and at last, with a low muttered voice, indistinct, but not so indistinct but that the sounds were caught, he whispered a word or two.
"It is all right. It is done."
Soon afterwards she rang the bell violently, and when the nurse entered the room she declared that her old master was no more. When the doctor arrived at seven, having ridden out from Carmarthen, there was nothing for him further to do but to give a certificate as to the manner of death of Indefer Jones, Esq., late of Llanfeare, in the county of Carmarthen.
Preparing for the Funeral
Isabel, when she was left alone, felt that a terrible weight of duty was imposed on her. She seemed to be immediately encompassed by a double world of circumstances. There was that world of grief which was so natural, but which would yet be easy, could she only be allowed to sit down and weep. But it was explained to her that until after the funeral, and till the will should have been read, everything about Llanfeare must be done by her and in obedience to her orders. This necessity of action,—of action which in her present condition of mind did not seem clear to her,—was not at all easy.
The doctor was good to her, and gave her some instruction before he left her. "Shall I give the keys to my cousin?" she said to him. But even as she said this there was the doubt on her mind what those last words of her uncle had been intended to mean. Though her grief was very bitter, though her sorrow was quite sincere, she could not keep herself from thinking of those words. It was not that she was anxious to get the estate for herself. It was hardly in that way that the matter in these moments presented itself to her. Did the meaning of those words impose on her any duty? Would it be right that she should speak of them, or be silent? Ought she to suppose that they had any meaning, and if so, that they referred to the will?
"I think that you should keep the keys till after the will has been read," said the doctor.
"Even though he should ask for them?"
"Even though he should ask for them," said the doctor. "He will not press such a request if you tell him that I say it ought to be so. If there be any difficulty, send for Mr Apjohn."
Mr Apjohn was the lawyer; but there had been quite lately some disagreement between her uncle and Mr Apjohn, and this advice was not palatable to her.
"But," continued Dr Powell, "you will not find any difficulty of that kind. The funeral had better be on Monday. And the will, I suppose, can be read afterwards. Mr Apjohn will come out and read it. There can be no difficulty about that. I know that Mr Apjohn's feelings are of the kindest towards your uncle and yourself."
Mr Apjohn had taken upon himself to "scold" her uncle because of the altered will,—the will that had been altered in favour of Cousin Henry. So much the old man had said to Isabel himself. "If I think it proper, he has no right to scold me," the old man had said. The "scolding" had probably been in the guise of that advice which a lawyer so often feels himself justified in giving.
Isabel thought that she had better keep those words to herself, at any rate for the present. She almost resolved that she would keep those words altogether to herself, unless other facts should come out which would explain their meaning and testify to their truths. She would say nothing of them in a way that would seem to imply that she had been led by them to conceive that she expected the property. She did certainly think that they alluded to the property. "It is all right. It is done." When her uncle had uttered these words, using the last effort of his mortal strength for the purpose, he no doubt was thinking of the property. He had meant to imply that he had done something to make his last decision "right" in her favour. She was, she thought, sure of so much. But then she bore in mind the condition of the old man's failing mind,—those wandering thoughts which would so naturally endeavour to fix themselves upon her and upon the property in combination with each other. How probable was it that he would dream of something that he would fain do, and then dream that he had done it! And she knew, too, as well as the lawyer would know himself, that the words would go for nothing, though they had been spoken before a dozen witnesses. If a later will was there, the later will would speak for itself. If no later will was there, the words were empty breath.
But above all was she anxious that no one should think that she was desirous of the property,—that no one should suppose that she would be hurt by not having it. She was not desirous, and was not hurt. The matter was so important, and had so seriously burdened her uncle's mind, that she could not but feel the weight herself; but as to her own desires, they were limited to a wish that her uncle's will, whatever it might be, should be carried out. Not to have Llanfeare, not to have even a shilling from her uncle's estate, would hurt her but little,—would hurt her heart not at all. But to know that it was thought by others that she was disappointed,—that would be a grievous burden to her! Therefore she spoke to Dr Powell, and even to her cousin, as though the estate were doubtless now the property of the latter.
Henry Jones at this time,—during the days immediately following his uncle's death,—seemed to be so much awe-struck by his position, as to be incapable of action. To his Cousin Isabel he was almost servile in his obedience. With bated breath he did suggest that the keys should be surrendered to him, making his proposition simply on the ground that she would thus be saved from trouble; but when she told him that it was her duty to keep them till after the funeral, and that it would be her duty to act as mistress in the house till after that ceremony, he was cringing in his compliance.
"Whatever you think best, Isabel, shall be done. I would not interfere for a moment."
Then some time afterwards, on the following day, he assured her that whatever might be the nature of the will, she was to regard Llanfeare as her home as long as it would suit her to remain there.
"I shall go back to papa very soon," she had said, "as soon, indeed, as I can have my things packed up after the funeral. I have already written to papa to say so."
"Everything shall be just as you please," he replied; "only, pray, believe that if I can do anything for your accommodation it shall be done."
To this she made some formal answer of courtesy, not, it may be feared, very graciously. She did not believe in his civility; she did not think he was kind to her in heart, and she could not bring herself to make her manner false to her feelings. After that, during the days that remained before the funeral, very little was said between them. Her dislike to him grew in bitterness, though she failed to explain even to herself the cause of her dislike. She did know that her uncle had been in truth as little disposed to love him as herself, and that knowledge seemed to justify her. Those last words had assured her at any rate of that, and though she was quite sure of her own conscience in regard to Llanfeare, though she was certain that she did not covet the possession of the domain, still she was unhappy to think that it should become his. If only for the tenants' sake and the servants, and the old house itself, there were a thousand pities in that. And then the belief would intrude itself upon her that her uncle in the last expression of his wishes had not intended his nephew to be his heir.
Then, in these days reports reached her which seemed to confirm her own belief. It had not been the habit of her life to talk intimately with the servants, even though at Llanfeare there had been no other woman with whom she could talk intimately. There had been about her a sense of personal dignity which had made such freedom distasteful to herself, and had repressed it in them. But now the housekeeper had come to her with a story to which Isabel had found it impossible not to listen. It was reported about the place that the Squire had certainly executed another will a few days after Isabel had left Llanfeare.
"If so," said Isabel sternly, "it will be found when Mr Apjohn comes to open the papers."
But the housekeeper did not seem satisfied with this. Though she believed that some document had been written, Mr Apjohn had not been sent for, as had always been done on former similar occasions. The making of the Squire's will had been a thing always known and well understood at Llanfeare. Mr Apjohn had been sent for on such occasions, and had returned after a day or two, accompanied by two clerks. It was quite understood that the clerks were there to witness the will. The old butler, who would bring in the sherry and biscuits after the operation, was well acquainted with all the testamentary circumstances of the occasions. Nothing of that kind had occurred now; but old Joseph Cantor, who had been a tenant on the property for the last thirty years, and his son, Joseph Cantor the younger, had been called in, and it was supposed that they had performed the duty of witnessing the document. The housekeeper seemed to think that they, when interrogated, had declined to give any information on the subject. She herself had not seen them, but she had seen others of the tenants, and she was certain, she said, that Llanfeare generally believed that the old Squire had executed a will during the absence of his niece.
In answer to all this Isabel simply said that if a new will, which should turn out to be the real will, had actually been made, it would be found among her uncle's papers. She knew well the manner in which those other wills had been tied and deposited in one of the drawers of her uncle's tables. She had been invited to read them all, and had understood from a thousand assurances that he had wished that nothing should be kept secret from her. The key of the very drawer was at this moment in her possession. There was nothing to hinder her from searching, should she wish to search. But she never touched the drawer. The key which locked it she placed in an envelope, and put it apart under another lock and key. Though she listened, though she could not but listen, to the old woman's narrative, yet she rebuked the narrator. "There should be no talking about such things," she said. "It had been," she said, "her uncle's intention to make his nephew the owner of Llanfeare, and she believed that he had done so. It was better that there should be no conversation on the matter until the will had been read."
During these days she did not go beyond the precincts of the garden, and was careful not to encounter any of the tenants, even when they called at the house. Mr Apjohn she did not see, nor Dr Powell again, till the day of the funeral. The lawyer had written to her more than once, and had explained to her exactly the manner in which he intended to proceed. He, with Dr Powell, would be at the house at eleven o'clock; the funeral would be over at half-past twelve; they would lunch at one, and immediately afterwards the will should be "looked for" and read. The words "looked for" were underscored in his letter, but no special explanation of the underscoring was given. He went on to say that the tenants would, as a matter of course, attend the funeral, and that he had taken upon himself to invite some few of those who had known the Squire most intimately, to be present at the reading of the will. These he named, and among them were Joseph Cantor the elder, and Joseph Cantor the younger. It immediately occurred to Isabel that the son was not himself a tenant, and that no one else who was not a tenant was included in the list. From this she was sure that Mr Apjohn had heard the story which the housekeeper had told her. During these days there was little or no intercourse between Isabel and her cousin. At dinner they met, but only at dinner, and even then almost nothing was said between them. What he did with himself during the day she did not even know. At Llanfeare there was a so-called book-room, a small apartment, placed between the drawing-room and the parlour, in which were kept the few hundred volumes which constituted the library of Llanfeare. It had not been much used by the late Squire except that from time to time he would enter it for the sake of taking down with his own hands some volume of sermons from the shelves. He himself had for years been accustomed to sit in the parlour, in which he ate his meals, and had hated the ceremony of moving even into the drawing-room. Isabel herself had a sitting-room of her own upstairs, and she, too, had never used the book-room. But here Cousin Henry had now placed himself, and here he remained through the whole day, though it was not believed of him that he was given to much reading. For his breakfast and his supper he went to the parlour alone. At dinner time Isabel came down. But through all the long hours of the day he remained among the books, never once leaving the house till the moment came for receiving Mr Apjohn and Dr Powell before the funeral. The housekeeper would say little words about him, wondering what he was doing in the book-room. To this Isabel would apparently pay no attention, simply remarking that it was natural that at such a time he should remain in seclusion.
"But he does get so very pale, Miss Isabel," said the housekeeper. "He wasn't white, not like that when he come first to Llanfeare." To this Isabel made no reply; but she, too, had remarked how wan, how pallid, and how spiritless he had become.
On the Monday morning, when the men upstairs were at work on their ghastly duty, before the coming of the doctor and the lawyer, she went down to him, to tell him something of the programme for the day. Hitherto he had simply been informed that on that morning the body would be buried under the walls of the old parish church, and that after the funeral the will would be read. Entering the room somewhat suddenly she found him seated, vacant, in a chair, with an open book indeed on the table near him, but so placed that she was sure that he had not been occupied with it. There he was, looking apparently at the bookshelves, and when she entered the room he jumped up to greet her with an air of evident surprise.
"Mr Apjohn and Dr Powell will be here at eleven," she said.
"Oh, ah; yes," he replied.
"I thought I would tell you, that you might be ready."
"Yes; that is very kind. But I am ready. The men came in just now, and put the band on my hat, and laid my gloves there. You will not go, of course?"
"Yes; I shall follow the body. I do not see why I should not go as well as you. A woman may be strong enough at any rate for that. Then they will come back to lunch."
"Oh, indeed; I did not know that there would be a lunch."
"Yes; Dr Powell says that it will be proper. I shall not be there, but you, of course, will be present to take the head of the table."
"If you wish it."
"Of course; it would be proper. There must be some one to seem at any rate to entertain them. When that is over Mr Apjohn will find the will, and will read it. Richard will lay the lunch here, so that you may go at once into the parlour, where the will will be read. They tell me that I am to be there. I shall do as they bid me, though it will be a sore trouble to me. Dr Powell will be there, and some of the tenants. Mr Apjohn has thought it right to ask them, and therefore I tell you. Those who will be present are as follows:—John Griffith, of Coed; William Griffith, who has the home farm; Mr Mortimer Green, of Kidwelly; Samuel Jones, of Llanfeare Grange; and the two Cantors, Joseph Cantor the father, and Joseph the son. I don't know whether you know them by appearance as yet."
"Yes," said he, "I know them." His face was almost sepulchral as he answered her, and as she looked at him she perceived that a slight quiver came upon his lips as she pronounced with peculiar clearness the two last names on the list.
"I thought it best to tell you all this," she added. "If I find it possible, I shall go to Hereford on Wednesday. Most of my things are already packed. It may be that something may occur to stop me, but if it is possible I shall go on Wednesday."
Mr Apjohn's Explanation
The reader need not be detained with any elaborate account of the funeral. Every tenant and every labourer about the place was there; as also were many of the people from Carmarthen. Llanfeare Church, which stands on a point of a little river just as it runs into a creek of the sea, is not more than four miles distant from the town; but such was the respect in which the old squire was held that a large crowd was present as the body was lowered into the vault. Then the lunch followed, just as Isabel had said. There was Cousin Henry, and there were the doctor and the lawyer, and there were the tenants who had been specially honoured by invitation, and there was Joseph Cantor the younger. The viands were eaten freely, though the occasion was not a happy one. Appetites are good even amidst grief, and the farmers of Llanfeare took their victuals and their wine in funereal silence, but not without enjoyment. Mr Apjohn and Dr Powell also were hungry, and being accustomed, perhaps, to such entertainments, did not allow the good things prepared to go waste. But Cousin Henry, though he made an attempt, could not swallow a morsel. He took a glass of wine, and then a second, helping himself from the bottle as it stood near at hand; but he ate nothing, and spoke hardly a word. At first he made some attempt, but his voice seemed to fail him. Not one of the farmers addressed a syllable to him. He had before the funeral taken each of them by the hand, but even then they had not spoken to him. They were rough of manner, little able to conceal their feelings; and he understood well from their bearing that he was odious to them. Now as he sat at table with them, he determined that as soon as this matter should be settled he would take himself away from Llanfeare, even though Llanfeare should belong to him. While they were at the table both the lawyer and the doctor said a word to him, making a struggle to be courteous, but after the first struggle the attempt ceased also with them. The silence of the man, and even the pallor of his face might be supposed to be excused by the nature of the occasion.
"Now," said Mr Apjohn, rising from the table when the eating and drinking had ceased, "I think we might as well go into the next room. Miss Brodrick, who has consented to be present, will probably be waiting for us."
They passed through the hall into the parlour in a long string, Mr Apjohn leading the way, followed by Cousin Henry. There they found Isabel sitting with the housekeeper beside her. She shook hands in silence with the attorney, the doctor, and all the tenants, and then, as she took her seat, she spoke a word to Mr Apjohn. "As I have felt it hard to be alone, I have asked Mrs Griffith to remain with me. I hope it is not improper?"
"There can be no reason on earth," said Mr Apjohn, "why Mrs Griffith should not hear the will of her master, who respected her so thoroughly." Mrs Griffith bobbed a curtsey in return for this civility, and then sat down, intently interested in the coming ceremony.
Mr Apjohn took from his pocket the envelope containing the key, and, opening the little packet very slowly, very slowly opened the drawer, and took out from it a bundle of papers tied with red tape. This he undid, and then, sitting with the bundle loosened before him, he examined the document lying at the top. Then, slowly spreading them out, as though pausing over every operation with premeditated delay, he held in his hand that which he had at first taken; but he was in truth thinking of the words which he would have to use at the present moment. He had expected, but had expected with some doubt, that another document would have been found there. Close at his right hand sat Dr Powell. Round the room, in distant chairs, were ranged the six farmers, each with his hat in hand between his knees. On a sofa opposite were Isabel and the housekeeper. Cousin Henry sat alone, not very far from the end of the sofa, almost in the middle of the room. As the operation went on, one of his hands quivered so much that he endeavoured to hold it with the other to keep it from shaking. It was impossible that any one there should not observe his trepidation and too evident discomfort.
The document lying at the top of the bundle was opened out very slowly by the attorney, who smoothed it down with his hand preparatory to reading it. Then he looked at the date to assure himself that it was the last will which he himself had drawn. He knew it well, and was cognizant with its every legal quiddity. He could judiciously have explained every clause of it without reading a word, and might probably have to do so before the occasion was over; but he delayed, looking down upon it and still smoothing it, evidently taking another minute or two to collect his thoughts. This will now under his hand was very objectionable to him, having been made altogether in opposition to his own advice, and having thus created that "scolding" of which the Squire had complained to Isabel. This will bequeathed the whole of the property to Cousin Henry. It did also affect to leave a certain sum of money to Isabel, but the sum of money had been left simply as a sum of money, and not as a charge on the property. Now, within the last few days, Mr Apjohn had learnt that there were no funds remaining for the payment of such a legacy. The will, therefore, was to him thoroughly distasteful. Should that will in truth be found to be the last will and testament of the old Squire, then it would be his duty to declare that the estate and everything upon it belonged to Cousin Henry, and that there would be, as he feared, no source from which any considerable part of the money nominally left to Miss Brodrick could be defrayed. To his thinking nothing could be more cruel, nothing more unjust, than this.
He had heard tidings which would make it his duty to question the authenticity of this will which was now under his hand; and now had come the moment in which he must explain all this.
"The document which I hold here," he said, "purports to be the last will of our old friend. Every will does that as a matter of course. But then there may always be another and a later will." Here he paused, and looked round the room at the faces of the farmers.
"So there be," said Joseph Cantor the younger.
"Hold your tongue, Joe, till you be asked," said the father.
At this little interruption all the other farmers turned their hats in their hands. Cousin Henry gazed round at them, but said never a word. The lawyer looked into the heir's face, and saw the great beads of sweat standing on his brow.
"You hear what young Mr Cantor has said," continued the lawyer. "I am glad that he interrupted me, because it will make my task easier."
"There now, feyther!" said the young man triumphantly.
"You hold your tongue, Joe, till you be asked, or I'll lend ye a cuff."
"Now I must explain," continued Mr Apjohn, "what passed between me and my dear old friend when I received instructions from him in this room as to this document which is now before me. You will excuse me, Mr Jones,"—this he said addressing himself especially to Cousin Henry—"if I say that I did not like this new purpose on the Squire's part. He was proposing an altogether new arrangement as to the disposition of his property; and though there could be no doubt, not a shadow of doubt, as to the sufficiency of his mental powers for the object in view, still I did not think it well that an old man in feeble health should change a purpose to which he had come in his maturer years, after very long deliberation, and on a matter of such vital moment. I expressed my opinion strongly, and he explained his reasons. He told me that he thought it right to keep the property in the direct line of his family. I endeavoured to explain to him that this might be sufficiently done though the property were left to a lady, if the lady were required to take the name, and to confer the name on her husband, should she afterwards marry. You will probably all understand the circumstances."
"We understand them all," said John Griffith, of Coed, who was supposed to be the tenant of most importance on the property.
"Well, then, I urged my ideas perhaps too strongly. I am bound to say that I felt them very strongly. Mr Indefer Jones remarked that it was not my business to lecture him on a matter in which his conscience was concerned. In this he was undoubtedly right; but still I thought I had done no more than my duty, and could only be sorry that he was angry with me. I can assure you that I never for a moment entertained a feeling of anger against him. He was altogether in his right, and was actuated simply by a sense of duty."
"We be quite sure of that," said Samuel Jones, from The Grange, an old farmer, who was supposed to be a far-away cousin of the family.
"I have said all this," continued the lawyer, "to explain why it might be probable that Mr Jones should not have sent for me, if, in his last days, he felt himself called on by duty to alter yet once again the decision to which he had come. You can understand that if he determined in his illness to make yet another will—"
"Which he did," said the younger Cantor, interrupting him.
"Exactly; we will come to that directly."
"Joe, ye shall be made to sit out in the kitchen; ye shall," said Cantor the father.
"You can understand, I say, that he might not like to see me again upon the subject. In such case he would have come back to the opinion which I had advocated; and, though no man in his strong health would have been more ready to acknowledge an error than Indefer Jones, of Llanfeare, we all know that with failing strength comes failing courage. I think that it must have been so with him, and that for this reason he did not avail himself of my services. If there be such another will—"
"There be!" said the irrepressible Joe Cantor the younger. Upon this his father only looked at him. "Our names is to it," continued Joe.
"We cannot say that for certain, Mr Cantor," said the lawyer. "The old Squire may have made another will, as you say, and may have destroyed it. We must have the will before we can use it. If he left such a will, it will be found among his papers. I have turned over nothing as yet; but as it was here in this drawer and tied in this bundle that Mr Jones was accustomed to keep his will,—as the last will which I made is here, as I expected to find it, together with those which he had made before and which he seems never to have wished to destroy, I have had to explain all this to you. It is, I suppose, true, Mr Cantor, that you and your son were called upon by the Squire to witness his signature to a document which he purported to be a will on Monday the 15th of July?"
Then Joseph Cantor the father told all the circumstances as they had occurred. When Mr Henry Jones had been about a fortnight at Llanfeare, and when Miss Isabel had been gone a week, he, Cantor, had happened to come up to see the Squire, as it was his custom to do at least once a week. Then the Squire had told him that his services and those also of his son were needed for the witnessing of a deed. Mr Jones had gone on to explain that this deed was to be his last will. The old farmer, it seemed, had suggested to his landlord that Mr Apjohn should be employed. The Squire then declared that this would be unnecessary; that he himself had copied a former will exactly, and compared it word for word, and reproduced it with no other alteration than that of the date. All that was wanted would be his signature, efficiently witnessed by two persons who should both be present together with the testator. Then the document had been signed by the Squire, and after that by the farmer and his son. It had been written, said Joseph Cantor, not on long, broad paper such as that which had been used for the will now lying on the table before the lawyer, but on a sheet of square paper such as was now found in the Squire's desk. He, Cantor, had not read a word of what had there been set down, but he had been enabled to see that it was written in that peculiarly accurate and laborious handwriting which the Squire was known to use, but not more frequently than he could help.
Thus the story was told,—at least, all that there was to tell as yet. The drawer was opened and ransacked, as were also the other drawers belonging to the table. Then a regular search was made by the attorney, accompanied by the doctor, the butler, and the housemaid, and continued through the whole afternoon,—in vain. The farmers were dismissed as soon as the explanation had been given as above described. During the remainder of the day Cousin Henry occupied a chair in the parlour, looking on as the search was continued. He offered no help, which was natural enough; nor did he make any remark as to the work in hand, which was, perhaps, also natural. The matter was to him one of such preponderating moment that he could hardly be expected to speak of it. Was he to have Llanfeare and all that belonged to it, or was he to have nothing? And then, though no accusation was made against him, though no one had insinuated that he had been to blame in the matter, still there was apparent among them all a strong feeling against him. Who had made away with this will, as to the existence of which at one time there was no doubt? Of course the idea was present to his mind that they must think that he had done so. In such circumstances it was not singular that he should say nothing and do nothing.
Late in the evening Mr Apjohn, just before he left the house, asked Cousin Henry a question, and received an answer.
"Mrs Griffith tells me, Mr Jones, that you were closeted with your uncle for about an hour immediately after the Cantors had left him on that Tuesday,—just after the signatures had been written. Was it so?"
Again the drops of sweat came out and stood thick upon his forehead. But this Mr Apjohn could understand without making an accusation against the man, even in his heart. The unexpressed suspicion was so heavy that a man might well sweat under the burden of it! He paused a moment, and tried to look as though he were thinking. "Yes," said he; "I think I was with my uncle on that morning."
"And you knew that the Cantors had been with him?"
"Not that I remember. I think I did know that somebody had been there. Yes, I did know it. I had seen their hats in the hall."