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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 247, 20 January 1881
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
THE MILLER’S WILL. ' i rf? ■ : - .
Bedford-row is a spot that everybody knows, but no.one,knows it better than Mr. Manby,’ the family solicitor. People meeting him only on legal business consider him a dry, cautious man, far more;;disposed to rquestion than answer or pass an opinion ; but at iris own home, where I see him at times, he is very different. If on a quiet evening there are only a comfortable pair, or, at most, a trio of friends present, Manby unbends, and at once becomes the most genial and frank of hosts. He can tell many stories of his curious experiences and difficult cases.
“ About the neatest and most curious case of fraud I ever handled,” he said, “ was that in connection with a testy old client of mine, a miller by trad£. He had made a deal of money, and didn’t know what to do with it. The man’s name was Stokes—Matthew Stokes.
“ One day he called upon me, and said he wanted to ask my opinion upon some matter, but I soon fpund he had 'made up his mind what to do, and the asking, my opinion was only his way of getting me to carry out his ideas. He went into his story with great energy and bitterness. He was worth thousands, he said that I knew —all securely invested, and his only heir was his daughter, an only child, who had aggravated him by eloping, and marrying one of his clerks, named Morley. ‘ The clerk was one of those goodIqoking whipper-snappers,’ the old man said with passion. ‘ Never coqld see anything in him but impudence and tallf—a kipd of cleverness that would have helped to make him a gopd showman— but she thought he was'heavenly; and after they got to love .eacji other, as lie said, if his impudence didn’t write to pie, asking me tq give him my daughter in marriage ( I gave him his nqtice at once,‘and a fortnight’s Wages ; but that didn't cure the silly girl. She' took to moping and melancholy, ‘“One day I found that ‘ hkd eloped, and the next, he sent me wprd that they were ' married. I felt it lawfully;. J itplV;-you, aud could have him if I had met him that day, and her .toQ}, alpipst/ Theylre raises ably poqr, that ? 9 one; 1 comfort, though he’s*in a place and does copying at
night, and they’ve some children and lots of trouble; so I ought te be happy, if I ainh. But here’s the danger. I’m getting old, and my. doctor says I might be taken off suddenly, so I want you to make my will, strong and firm as you can make it, doing her out of the least chance of getting my money —cutting her off with a shilling, as it is called.’
“ ‘ Seeing you have no other relations for whom you care, do I understand you wish the monejf. to be left to charities ?’ I said, not liking my task over well, for I had no doubt that, if the poor daughter, had been there, she could have given quite a different look to the love story. “ ‘ To’charity ! No, hang charity!” he cried, with a snort. ‘ I want it all given to Henry Gunson, a cousin of mine in the city. I don’t care twopence for him, and know little about him, but he once did me a kindness. It’s all the.same to me who gets the money, sa as they don’t get it. See ?’ “ I did see perfectly, but thought I would try to alter his determination, for, if one thing displeases me more than another, it is to be the means of carrying dissension and hatred beyond the grave. Could he not, instead of trying to crush the young man who had married his daughter, try and lift him up ? From his own account it appeared that he was a hard-working, dilligent fellow, toiling hard for his wife and children.' What more could a father wish for his. son-in-law ? In a word, I tried to pour oil upon the waters, but I might as well have poured it upon fire. The fury of the old mam increased, and was even turned upon me when I pointed out that in commercial circles the cousin, Henry Gunson, of whom he had 'spoken, was 1 looked' upon with strong" suspicion, owing to an ugly bankruptcy case with which ' I had to do. He remained unmoved. f
“‘ I tell you it’s all 'the same to me who gets it,’ he persisted. It’s nothing to me whether the man’s good or bad. Disobedience in children must be punished, and I can’t do better than enrich my own cousin.’ “ Finding him so firmly resolved, I promised to have a draft of his will prepared, and to send it to him for perusal by my confidential clerk, which was . done. the following week. The will, being read to him, was approved, and as soon as a fair copy had been made he came to my office and signed it, The witnesses were clerks ot my own. When signed I was about to place it with the other papers connected with his business, when the .old man snappishly told me that he meant to keep that himself, and accordingly it was handed to him.
Two or three years passed, during which I made large and frequent investments for him, but no further mention was made of his will. One morning I received a note from his housekeeper, tellmg me of his somewhat sudden death, and shortly after reading the note I was called upon by his cousin, Henry Gunson. “I am a good judge of faces, and disliked the man the moment I saw him. He was not a hypocrite, and made no show of sham grief at the death of his relative; on the contrary, he smiled and appeared perfectly jubilant at the stroke of good fortune. “ ‘ You have heard,’ he said,' ‘.of my cousin’s death, and I came here because he one told me that, three or four years since, you had drawn up a will in my favor.’
“All this was natural enough, but there was something in the man’s manner that made me study his face closely.; It seemed to me that under'an appearance of simplicity he was playing a deep game. Yet what game could he be playing ? I was forced to dismiss the thought, and turned my attention to business. “ ‘lt is true that Mr. Stokes did en-‘ trust me to draw up such a will, but he did not entrust the , keeping of the document to me.’ I answered. ‘ J have the draft of it, and that is all.’ ~ ■; . “ ‘ The man looked startled, but the look< was not one of genuine surprise, and only made me suspect him more strongly than ever. . “ ‘ Where in the world can the will be, •then ?’ he said. ‘Perhaps you could go out with me and take charge of things, and see if.it can be found.’ “This Was said with a curiops look into my face, as if he had been saying to himself, ‘I wonder if he suspects me ?’; Andj, r contrary . .to ,my usual practice, I resolved to go in person, instead of sending a clerk. “ A cab which he had kept in waiting took us to the house, in which we found the nurse who had attended’the old man in his last illness, and an .elderly woman who had acted as his housekeeper. The nurse was not so; stupid as many old-fashioned nurses, and took occasion, during the momentary absence of Gunson, to draw me aside and say, ‘ I hope the old man’s money won’t go to that man. He was here ever so often before Mr. Stokes died, and they quarrelled hot, I can tell you.” “ ‘ What did they quarrel about ?’ I asked with much interest.
“ ‘ I. think that man asked for money, for I heard bim say : “ I shall be ruined if I cannot pay.” I did not hear all that was said, but it was bitter while it lasted, and the old man had me in with a fearful ring of the bell, ■ and told me to show that villian out. ‘“I sayy murder in his eye,” he said, ‘ and not a penny of my money shall he ever: finger. I wish I knew where my poor girl lives. She should have all, poor thing.’ Then he ordered me out of the room, and I heard him shuffle across to the fire, and when I came back I pould see he had burned some, thing in the fireplace—which I believe sir, it was the will.
“No doubt the old man’s days had been shortened by the excitement from those frequent quarrels. When;a man pf no moral principles, like Gunson, is given an interest in another’s death, it is not at all unlikely that he will try . to hasten the removal of all that stands between him and a fortune —especially when he thinks it can be done without danger of discovery. I felt, however, as the man rejoined me, .a thorough re-' pugnance.to him,,’and was very near telling him not td'trouble to look for the will, as I had, reason to believe it bad been destroyed, 1 blit I conquered the feeling as well as I could arid indeed, I had no evidence to prove the will had been destroyed. , ; ? r . “ t'lie housekeepkf'theti trunk in which old Stokes had kept all
his paper. I opened it, and at the top’-) I found a little packet of letters from his daughter. I glanced at one. It was lull of sorrow and tenderness, asking so earnestly if she might show him their boy. The letter went on : ‘We call him Matthew, father ; and when we were without bread the little fellow said he would come to you and ask for some for mother. He was sure you would not say no; but now my dear husband has work, and although it would not be to beg we should come, yet I do want, dear father, to see you once more.’ Over the next few words the ink had run, or the paper had got so wet that I could not read them. Perhaps, if the miller had been alive he could have told us how this happened. “ I folded up the letter, and turning suddenly to Gunson, who had been looking over me, I saw a sardonic smile on his face, which did not improve my opinion of him. We went over all the papers, hut could not find the will. “Just as 1 was about to close the trunk, Gunson said, ‘We have not looked in the pocket inside the lid.’ I did so, and to my surprise came upon a folded paper, which appeared to be the will, or so exact a copy of it that 1 was not prepared to deny its identity. It was written on a kind of paper that I have used for half a lifetime,, and the writing was unmistakably that of a clerk of; mine, named Peter Phipps. 'I he signatures, too, were all right, so far as I could see, but yet I had a doubt. I caught myself taking the valuable paper out of my pocket and scanning it j closely when Gunson was not by, as if j ■ half expecting the senseless paper to reveal some subtle treachery. I got back to my office as soon as possible, and read the will carefully through ; then I hunted up the original draft, and found that it agreed perfectly. “For some two or three days the matter stood over, for I was called out of town on urgent business, but the morning of ray return I was told that an old woman —the nurse of Matthew Stokes —bad called to see me during my absence. She would not leave any message, but said she would call when I returned to town. That day, as I was leaving the office, the nurse came, full of apology, and hoping I should not think any worse of her for what she had to tell. ■ ‘ You know,’ she said, ‘ I told you that I believed Mr. Stokes burnt his will, and my reason for thinking so is this : When he was asleep I picked out two little bits of paper from the ashes, and I kept them in my pocket ever since, and here they are.’ “ Hastily taking them frotn her, I could see from these scraps that it must have been the will that Matthew Stokes had destroyed, for they read : My real and personal Henry Gunson
j ——the testator in— ; —; his presence and in ’ “ I compared the scraps of paper with the copy found in the trunk, and it was, without doubt, the same handwriting. I. would have turned to the clerk, whose name stood first as a witness, but he was dead; or to the one who had written and witnessed the original will, and who at this moment, I felt sure, must know something of this fraud, but he had gone all to drink a year or two before, and I had been reluctantly compelled to part with him. I asked if anyone had got his addess, and by a strange coincidence a letter ■had come from him that very day to one of my clerks, asking for him to call, for he was very ill. The moment I got that I started for Peter’s lodgings in a cab. I found him in bed,' evidently in a rapid consumption, and had only to hold up the forged will and say significantly, ‘ How on earth did you come to do this ? ’ to make the blood leave his face. He would not confess, however, until I gave him a pledge that he would not be punished for his share in the forgery, and that was more than 1 could take upon me to promise; so I left him and made my way to the miserable home of the Morleys, in Golden Lane. By miserable I don’t mean unhappy, but poor. When I was admitted to the house, I found they occupied two rooms on the second floor The heiress of Stokes’ large fortune was busy on her knees before : the fire, toasting bread for her husband’s tea, and her own rosy cheeks at the same time, and Morley himself seated in a corner of the room, writing with a swift hand at the law papers he spent his evenings in copying. Mrs. Morley was quite a young thing, and so good-looking that I could scarcely believe her the daughter of my deceased client. “When I told them of the death of old Matthew Stokes, anyone would have thought they had lost their kindest friend. His daughter was overcome with grief. I assured her that, from what I had heard, her father had forgiven her, and that if he had known their address he certainly would have sent to them Both listened breathlessly to my story, and then, when I gave my opinion that nothing now could stand in the way of her inheriting her father’s wealth, she simply went up to her husband, clasped him tight in her arms and kissed him, and then burst into tears. But when I spoke of prosecuting her father’s cousin, she, with, the true tenderness and tact of a woman, said, ‘ No, my poor father would not have disgraced a relative, | even though he deserved it. Perhaps if you wrote to him telling him what you have discovered, he will trouble us no more.’ “ It was hard to let the rascal slip, but I wrote to Gunson accordingly, and if my pen had been dipped in acid I could not have written stronger. He needed no second dose. Without even having the politeness to reply, he was off to America by the quickest route, fearing every inch of the way, I expect, that the police were in his wake. I got the whole-of the, details .of the plot out of Peter Chipps, from which it appeared that Gunson no sooner discovered that his cousin had really burnt the will formerly executed in his favor than he sought out my late clerk as a. fitting tool to produce a duplicate from the draft. The price given was a mere trifle—some L 5 or L 6 3 but Peter had resolved to bleed his employer without mercy the.moment he got possession of the old man’s money, by means of the forged, document. Peter was dying when he made the confession, but Mrs. Morley was at his'house next day, and took the-poor fellow’s breath away by tellirtg Hihv she would see that his ' wife and cbildreiu were, cared for. The stricken man stared at her some
~'r - - at/Sgfm momenfsin deadsilence, and then he feebly snatched at her hand and burst into tears. He couldn’t speak, but the simple gesture said more than a thousand words could have conveyed. “ Mrs. Morley has not been spoiled by her good fortune. She is the same loving and generous-hearted woman that she was in poverty. She declares to this day that she is not a whit more happy in her grand house that she was in the two-pair back in Golden lane. And I believe she speaks thetruth.”-
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 247, 20 January 1881
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