COUSIN Henry, as he shall henceforth ever be known, sat cowed in his now customary spot in the library. The evening was settling in, and the clouds glowered heavy with the threat of a storm above the fields of Llanfeare. ‘It is apt weather for a woe-begotten creature such as myself,’ mused he, a hang-dog expression upon his face. ‘To think that I might be seated in my comfortable London office just now, going happily about my job of work. It’s rotten luck for a decent fellow such as I. Rotten luck indeed!’
The unhappy man had eaten little since his troubles began, and his cheeks had inevitably become angular and drawn. Too many snubs from staff and tenants alike lent a certain deadened quality to his eyes. And the memory of Cousin Isabel’s unfeigned disgust at the moment of his proposal wounded him still. Now this dreadful business with the newspaper editor, the libel suit, and the public assizes, had ploughed fresh furrows across his previously youthful brow. He was not a man who found it easy to be disliked, and his entire countenance had now taken on a sickly aspect. Damn Apjohn and his infernal scheming!
The first drops of water came forth from the fast-blackening sky, as Cousin Henry became lost, once more, in his brooding. There was one matter that was at the core of his troubles, and the object that had precipitated that crisis was never far from his mind, be it waking or dreaming. The damned will itself. The tome that contained the fateful document burned ever more brightly in the corner of his field of vision, drawing his eye whilst others continued oblivious. Sometimes he fancied that the volume in question had begun to glow with a life of its own, and he could not fathom how others ignored it still. Were they simply mocking him? Playing along with the pretence until the most opportune moment came to reveal all, and blacken his good name forever? Yes, endless days of vacillation had taken their toll upon the weak mind of Cousin Henry. But now was the time for positive action.
He stood before the bookcase, and reached for the book of sermons that he now wished to goodness he had never had the misfortune to chance upon. With quivering hands he took hold of the brown, leather covers, and watched idly as the pages fell open at the familiar place where Uncle Indefer’s testament lay. These ominous sheets of parchment had overtaken his body and soul during the long weeks just past, and for the first time he took notice of the words printed upon the pages that had, thus far, shrouded his Uncle’s final wishes from the world. They struck at his heart as a portent and as a threat.
‘And this I say to you now, my brethren in Christ. Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbours’ Goods; his land, his horse, his wife! Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness, to achieve these foul ends. For they are the scourges of our Modern age, driven by lust, and jealousy, and greed, and all of the worst qualities of humanity that are most repugnant to Himself. And to indulge in these passions is the surest path to damnation.’
As his reading drew to a close he felt the faint breath of a fellow human creature upon his neck. He spun around to confront his companion, with a feeling of both horror and relief. Here he was, caught in the act at long last! His trials, for better or for worse, must now be at an end. But there was to be no such relief for the cowardly young man. It was only the shadowy figure of Uncle Indefer who stood beside his shoulder; a serene, satisfied smile upon his face.
It was then that Cousin Henry knew that he could take no more. ‘Eternity be damned, I will not go mad!’ he cried out loud. ‘They might work the truth out of me as matters stand,’ thought he, a fever arising out of his pallid brow. ‘But they will never extract this great felony from me at the assizes, nor at any courthouse in the kingdom.’ He took up the papers and flung them with all his might into the fire.
The flames did not take hold of the document. Rather it was his own arm that burned with a fire that did not belong to this world. This fire had no physical presence, but burned with one hundred-fold the intensity of earthly flames. The desperate chancer that was Henry Jones looked up at the fire in agony, cradling the wounded arm like an injured dog, as the will lay untouched upon the library floor. The plumes of smoke that arose from the fading coals were no longer innocent wisps; they danced and swirled until they formed the face of Uncle Indefer. The face lacked all the benevolence and sympathy that was associated with it in life, as it laughed amongst the flames.
The disruption to his breakfast table was entirely unexpected. Shaken and feverish following the events of the previous evening, Cousin Henry was unable to defend himself in the face of the sudden assault by Apjohn and Mr Brodrick. He watched in utter astonishment as the cogs of Apjohn’s mind turned round and around, guiding him, by a careful process of reasoning, to the very volume that he so longed to keep hidden. As in now a matter of public record, his attempts to block Apjohn were feeble. And it was his momentous discovery that led to the instatement of the rightful heir of Llanfeare, and Cousin Henry’s return to London with the proverbial tail between his legs, in possession of a paltry four thousand pounds sterling for all of his troubles.
Naturally what Cousin Henry did not see was the heavenly body of Mr Indefer Jones standing beside the bookcase, guiding his old friend, with a simple point of the finger, to the correct place upon the shelf.
For many years afterwards Apjohn would extemporise on the importance of deductive reasoning; an art at which he had achieved no little amount of success in the case of the rightful possession by Miss Isabel Brodrick of the estate of Llanfeare. His audience of fellow drinkers, at whichever inn he so happened to patronise on a particular evening, would listen enraptured, delighted, above all, with the return of dear Isabel to her rightful place. The woman who was now Mrs William Owens would, they knew, keep Llanfeare in the spirit of the old departed squire.
Apjohn basked in the glow of their adulation, and expanded his practice considerably upon the back of his new found fame. But always, in his heart, would he thank his old friend Indefer. A man who had rejected his advice at the last. And a man who had come to regret, and atone for, his decision from beyond this mortal coil.