My First Case by Edmund Leamy
I had just been admitted a solicitor, and had been
induced to start practice, or, rather, to look for it,
in a town in one of the midland counties, where I
had been persuaded there was a good opening for
an attorney, the name by which members of my
profession were then generally known. It was in
the good old days before examinations became the
stiff ordeals that they have been for many years,
and I must confess that my attendance in the office
where I was supposed to be serving my time was
not as regular as it might have been. However, with
a fair share of assurance, which the old clerk in my
master’s office impressed on me was the chief secret
of success, I opened my office, put a brass plate on
the door, and installed as my clerk a young fellow of
twenty-one or thereabouts, who had had some slight
experience in the business of a country office. Day
followed day, and the hoped for client never came.
My clerk spent the time writing text—“this
indenture,” and “whereas,” and other important
words, which would figure in the deeds he expected
one day to be called on to engross—but he at least
had the satisfaction of drawing a salary, not a very
large one, it is true, but it was something. As for
me, I confess I was beginning to get heartily weary
of waiting, and to feel almost ashamed of the brass
plate on the door.
Sometimes a step sounding in the hall would set
my heart fluttering; but this only announced
a lady who wanted to know did we want eggs,
or cabbage, or other articles of commerce. This,
of course, was dreadfully disappointing; still, it was
consoling to know that someone had found the house.
It was more assuring when one or two came in to
know if “Torney Brown was in,” although that was
the name of a rival practitioner long established in
the town. It gave my clerk the opportunity of
stating, in impressive tones, “No, this is ’Torney
Malone’s office,” which he and I flattered ourselves
was an excellent advertisement, and would some
day have good results. Then came one day, a long,
gawky-looking countryman to know when the
Quarter Sessions were coming on, and what time
had he for issuing a process. This was downright
cheering. I asked him into my own office and made
him sit down. I wrote out the date of the sessions
and the last day for service on a sheet of notepaper
with my address printed on it at the top. This
induced him to tell me his case, in which, I need
not say, I became deeply interested. It was a
simple case of trover of a saddle, but I think I made
as much out of it as if it were a question involving
a thousand pounds. I examined and cross-examined
him, like, I persuaded myself, an old hand, and felt
certain that I had deeply impressed my client,
for so I loved to think him. At last apparently
satisfied, he rose to go.
“Well, good evenin’ to ye now, yer honour, and
good luck, and myself ’ill come again before Thursday,”
as he moved towards the door.
Then he hesitated for a second, and looking back
“Aren’t you ’Torney Brown, yer honour?”
I felt nettled, but controlling myself said quietly:
“No, I’m Mr. Malone, as you’ll see by the notepaper
you have in your hand.”
He looked a little sheepishly at the notepaper,
and then said as he moved off:
“Well, yer a very civil gentleman, anyhow.”
Thursday came, but my client did not turn up.
The sessions day came, and although I had no
business I thought I ought to put in an appearance
in court. Amongst the first cases called was that
in which my client, as I have called him, was
plaintiff—his attorney was Mr. Brown. I fear I
went back to my office in rather better humour that
I otherwise would have done, when the barrister, as
the County Court Judge was called then, dismissed
the case, and with costs, against “my client.”
After this, weeks passed and no one came near the
office, and I began to long even for the step of the
vegetable woman, but towards dusk one October
evening, just as I was about thinking of leaving the
office, where I had been sitting before the fire
whiling away the time with a novel, my clerk came
in with a gleeful face to inform me that a gentleman
desired to see me on legal business. My heart
jumped into my mouth. I quickly hid the novel,
put on my most professional appearance, seated
myself at my desk, began to write, and was so
engaged when the gentleman was shown in.
He was a man, I should say of five and forty, and
had all the appearance of a country gentleman. I
handed him a chair, which he took, and asked him
what I could do for him.
His business was quickly explained. His aunt,
an old lady, who resided with him, was dying,
and desired to make her will. She wished to leave
everything to her nephew—the gentleman who was
consulting me, and who gave his name as Mr.
George Ralph Jephson, “but my aunt calls me
Ralph,” he added. “So I suppose,” he said, “it
will not take you much time to prepare a will
leaving everything to me? I should wish you,
also, to come out with me and witness the execution
of it. I suppose your clerk could come also?”
I replied that I would prepare the will according
to his instructions in a few moments. I took down
the name of the intending testatrix and his own
information as to the nature of her property. Half
a dozen lines were quite sufficient to dispose of it,
as it was all to go, without any reservation or condition,
to the one person. I got my clerk to make out
a clean copy, and when this was done, he and I,
and Mr. Jephson got into the latter’s dog cart,
which a small boy was holding outside the office
Of Mr. Jephson I knew nothing, save that he had
recently taken the house and demesne of Longfield,
which had been untenanted for many years, owing
to a tragedy that had taken place there, and it was
said that he had come from Dorsetshire. His house
was about nine miles outside the town, but the road
was good and the horse a fast goer, and we did it in
a little over the hour. A short, winding avenue led
up to the house, which looked gloomy, as the only
light visible escaped through the fanlight over the
This, when he pulled up, was opened in answer
to Mr. Jephson’s knock by an old, rather slatternly
woman. He showed my clerk and me into the
dining-room, where a bright fire was burning, and,
requesting us to be seated, said he would go up to
see if the lady were ready to receive us. He returned
in a few moments, ushered us up the stairs, and,
turning down the right corridor pushed in a door
that was not fastened.
The room, which was not over-well furnished for
so pretentious a house, was lighted by two candles.
On a bed raised not more than a foot from the
ground, and placed in a corner behind the door, lay
a woman of at least seventy years old. She was
very small, and her face had a very gentle expression,
and, notwithstanding her advanced age, was
wonderfully fair, and had but very few wrinkles.
Her eyes were still bright, and it was evident she
must have been a very pretty girl.
There was no one else in the room save Mr.
Jephson, the clerk, and myself, and the door was
closed. I produced the draft will and said, addressing
myself to the lady:
“You wish to make your will?”
“Yes; oh, yes.”
“And you wish to leave everything to your
“Yes, to Ralph—to Rafy—everything.”
“Then please listen, madam, while I read this,
it is very short.”
“Bring the candle nearer your face and let me
look at you,” she said.
The request surprised me, but I could not well
“No, no, you are not like him, my——Rafy; but
he had blue eyes like yours——blue eyes, and you
could see the gold glint in his hair.”
This speech perplexed me. Mr. George Ralph
Jephson, who was standing in the shadow behind
me, although inclined very much to grey now, had
evidently had very dark hair, while his eyes were
of a deep, almost dark grey.
“May I read the will?”
“Is everything given to Rafy?”
“I, Eleanor Glasson, devise and bequeath all the
property, real and personal, I die seized and possessed
of, or to which I may become entitled to in
expectancy, reversion, or remainder, to my dear
nephew, George Ralph Jephson.”——
“Say to Rafy; write Rafy. Will not that do?”
interrupted the old lady in a tone of mingled
tenderness and eagerness.
“But I had better put in his full name,” I said.
“Well, then, read it again.”
“Not George! Ralph—Rafy. It is to Rafy.”
“You see, she never called me George,” said Mr.
Jephson, in a low voice, “tell her it is all right.”
Before I could reply, the old woman said:
“Let me look at you again,” and she laid her
hand in mine. “Bend down and let me look into
your eyes. Ay, they are like Rafy’s blue eyes. Will
you let me kiss you for his sake?” and she put up
her little wasted hands against my cheeks and
kissed me. “I knew you wouldn’t wrong Rafy,
“No, no,” said I, much touched and somewhat
confused, and then turning to Mr. Jephson, I said,
“There must be something wrong.”
“Perhaps you had better come downstairs with
me and I’ll explain,” said Mr. Jephson in, I thought,
a slightly agitated tone.
We went to the dining-room, and Mr. Jephson
having carefully closed the door, stood with
one elbow resting on the fireplace, and addressed
“Over thirty years ago a cousin of mine, another
nephew of Miss Glasson’s, whose name was Ralph,
and of whom she was passionately fond, eloped
with a girl beneath his position, and his father
proving unforgiving the young couple went to the
United States. A short time after arriving there
the news of his death by drowning came home. It
nearly broke my aunt’s heart, for she had favoured
the marriage out of her love for Ralph, and now
seemed to think she was in some way responsible
for his death. For a time she was bereft of her
senses and was under surveillance; when she
recovered she seemed to give her whole affection
to me, and insisted on my dropping the name of
George and calling myself Ralph, which I am entitled
to do, as it is my second name. At times she used
to speak of him to me and only to me, and she used
to talk of the difference between his eyes and mine;
of late she very often speaks of him, and, as is often
the way of old people, forgets he is dead, but I am
the only Ralph in the family now, and it is to me
that she intends to leave what she has.”
“I should like to talk to the lady by myself if
you see no objection,” I said.
“I fear it would only excite her,” he replied, with
a faint suggestion of annoyance. “I have told you
everything she can tell. She is ready to sign the
will if you will witness it.”
“But if, as you say, she believes the other Ralph
is still alive it appears to me it is to him she desires
to leave the property.”
“If that is your opinion and you will not accept
my statement, I suppose there is no more to be said,”
he answered rather gruffly.
I rose to go and signalled to my clerk.
“You will let me offer you a glass of wine,” he
said; “and I should be glad if you will stay and
dine with me. Your drive home is a pretty long one.”
I accepted the wine and some biscuits, as did also
my clerk, and then, when I declared we were ready
for the road, Mr. Jephson said he would drive us
I thought it was rather strange he did not offer
to send the coachman, as he had himself already
covered the road twice that day. But as he and I
sat in the dog-cart in front he volunteered an explanation.
He did not wish, he said, his servants
to know too much about his business. But this
appeared to me rather a curious explanation. There
was nothing about the business that required concealment,
I said to myself.
“And that is the reason why I wished you to
bring your clerk with you. I like to have discreet
people, and not babblers about me, and I always
make it a point whenever I can to employ professional
This was intended, no doubt, as flattering, and I
fear I was not above being pleased with it. I knew
after that it was also intended as a hint that he
expected I would not speak about the business
which had taken me to Longfield.
When we arrived at my office he offered me a fee
of five guineas; but I refused this on the ground
that the business in which he had employed me
had come to nothing. Saying good-night in a cordial
way Mr. Jephson drove away.
It would seem as if this case brought me luck.
The very next day a defendant in a rather bad
assault case came in to engage my services. I
appeared for him at the Petty Sessions and made
what, I flattered myself, was a very good defence.
Anyhow, he was acquitted, and I had the satisfaction
of reading in the local paper, the “Midland
Gazette,” “that the ingenious defence and the
brilliant speech made by Mr. Malone on behalf of
the accused proves that he is a valuable acquisition
to our local Bar.”
After this, business began to come in pretty rapidly,
but, to my regret, my clerk, who was very anxious to
settle in Dublin, got the chance of a situation in
the then well-known firm of solicitors in Dame
Street, Messrs. Wrexham & Co. I gave him, as
he deserved, an excellent character, which procured
the place for him.
He had left me about a month, and something
like two months had elapsed since Mr. Jephson’s
visit, when I read in the obituary column of the
“Irish Times” the announcement of the death of
Miss Glasson, of Longfield House, Co. ——. I
had, of course, often thought of the little old woman
of the sweet face and the undying love for Ralph
of the blue eyes, and I began to wonder if she had
made any will and, if so, who was the legatee. But,
after all, the matter was one in which I had no
concern, yet I felt gratified somehow, that she did
not execute the will which, acting on Mr. Jephson’s
instructions, I had prepared for her. I addressed myself
to my increasing business and the matter soon
passed from my mind.
Some weeks after this announcement in the
“Times,” my clerk one day brought a card into my
private office, saying:—
“The gentleman desires to see you, sir.”
I looked at the card. “Mr. Wrexham.” It was
the name of the solicitor to whom my first clerk had
“Show him in,” I said.
Mr. Wrexham, after a courteous salute, took the
proffered chair and plunged into business at once.
“You are doubtless aware,” he said, “that Miss
Glasson died at Longfield House a short time ago?”
I nodded assent.
“She was very wealthy; left about £30,000.
The whole goes by her will, to her nephew, John
Ralph Jephson. My firm has, however, been instructed
by Mrs. Ralph Jephson, the widow of
another nephew who died two years ago——”
“Two years ago?” I exclaimed.
“Yes—we have been instructed by her to contest
the will on the ground of undue influence. We
have accordingly entered a caveat, but, to be frank
with you, I fear we have not much evidence to go
on. We know that the late Miss Glasson entertained
a very strong affection for Ralph Jephson, and always
intended to make him her devisee and legatee—she
had no power to dispose of her property except by
will—but she was living with her nephew, George
Ralph Jephson, and had been bedridden for some
time. He kept away every other relative from his
house. He took this place in Ireland, brought her
hither, and it was not until the announcement of
her death that her other relatives knew of her
whereabouts. It chanced that your late clerk was
given the draft caveat to make a clean copy of it for
lodgment in the office of the Court, and the name
attracting his attention he mentioned to my head
clerk the scene he had witnessed in Miss Glasson’s
room. The clerk related the story to me, and that
accounts for my presence here to-day. I fear,” added
Mr. Wrexham, after a pause, “that a fraud has
been perpetrated, and that the will for which probate
is sought does not express the wishes of the
“Who prepared and witnessed the will?” I asked.
“A solicitor and his clerk.”
“And the solicitor?”
“A young fellow named Devaney; he lives in the
next county—do you know him?”
“He was admitted as a solicitor the same time as
“Mr. Jephson seems to have a preference for
young practitioners,” said Mr. Wrexham, with a
smile, and he added: “Do you happen to know
anything about Devaney?”
“Well, I have heard he does little business, and
he is, I fear, addicted to drink. Otherwise he is
a good fellow.”
“Just the kind of man to be made the innocent
instrument of a fraud; and now I feel certain that
a fraud has been committed on the poor lady who
is dead and on the relatives whom she wished to
benefit, and, of course, your evidence is all-important.
I could, of course, have written and sent you
a subpœna, but I thought it more courteous to wait
on you myself. The case is listed for the day after
to-morrow, when I hope it will be convenient for
you to be in Dublin.”
I confess I should have preferred that my evidence
were dispensed with, but I had no doubt that in some
way or other a fraud had been perpetrated, and the
sweet face and the recollection of the poor dead
lady’s trust in me appealed irresistibly to me.
When the case came on I saw for the first time
the widow of Ralph Jephson. Beside her sat her
daughter. She was rather petite, exceedingly pretty,
and her face bore an unmistakeable likeness to her
dead grand-aunt. I was taken with her at once,
and, I must confess, I found it very difficult to
keep my eyes away from the quarter where she was
The evidence against the validity of the will was,
except mine and my clerk’s, very slight. It
was deposed to by the servants who had been
in the employment of the deceased that she
always spoke of making Ralph Jephson her sole
heir, but these servants had left the employment
more than two years ago. They had to admit, on
cross-examination, that Mr. George Ralph Jephson
was sometimes called Ralph, but they denied that
they had ever heard the testatrix so describe him.
I deposed to what I have already stated, but I was
unable to say that I considered the testatrix had not
testamentary capacity. I could only say I believed
she wished to leave her property to Ralph, and not
to George Ralph, Jephson.
This brought the judge down on me, and he asked
me why, if that was so, I didn’t carry out her intentions?
That it was my duty to do so. I had not
seen it in that light, and felt very uncomfortable as
I left the witness-box.
Then came the witnesses for the defence. Mr.
George Ralph Jephson swore his aunt had habitually
called him Ralph; that occasionally she called him
George; and had frequently promised to leave him
everything, and that it was by her directions he went
on both occasions for a solicitor. What he told Mr.
Malone about his cousin Ralph was, he believed,
true, and he was surprised to learn now for the first
time that he had not been drowned, as was reported,
and had only recently died.
Then came a servant whom I recognised as the
woman who had opened the door for me. She wore
mourning, and scarcely lifted her veil as she kissed
the book. She gave her evidence nervously, and
she began by explaining that she was never in a
courthouse before. She swore she attended deceased,
and that the latter had frequently said that she
would leave everything to her nephew, Mr. George
Ralph Jephson; that sometimes deceased—but that
was only lately, a few weeks before she died—rambled
about little Rafy, as she called him, that
was drowned. As far as she could judge, the lady
was in her right mind.
Mr. Devaney, solicitor, proved that he attended
with a will prepared on the directions of Mr.
Jephson, and which left everything to him. He
had never seen testatrix before. He had no
reason to doubt that she knew what she was
doing. He read the will slowly for her. It was very
short, and she said she understood it thoroughly,
and she added that she wished to leave everything
she had in the world to her nephew there,
pointing, as she did so, to Mr. Jephson, who was
standing at the side of the bed near witness.
Mr. Devaney’s clerk gave similar evidence, and it
appeared as if there was no more to be said. But
Mr. Daunt, Q.C., who had let the previous witnesses
off, I thought, rather easily, proceeded to cross-examine
the clerk very closely.
“You had never seen the testatrix before, I
“But you took a good look at her when you did
“Well, I looked, of course, but I did not notice
her very much—there was not very much light.”
“Oh! there was not very much light,” said Mr.
Daunt, steadying his spectacles and fixing his gaze
on the clerk. “How much light?”
“Only one candle when the testatrix was making
her mark! Was that the reason she gave for not
signing her name in full?”
“No. She said when Mr. Devaney asked her if
she would sign her name, that she did not know
how to write, but that she thought her mark would
“Did not know how to write!” interrupted the
judge. “I thought testatrix was a lady of position.”
“So she was, my lord,” said Mr. Daunt.
“And did you take particular notice of the
testatrix?” said counsel, addressing the witness.
“Well, not particular. I mean, I did not notice
very much of her; but I noticed her hand and her
finger when she was making her mark.”
“Oh, you did! Tell the Court and the jury what
you noticed,” said Mr. Daunt, catching the edges of
his gown and pulling them forward.
“I noticed that her hands were very coarse for
a lady, I thought, my lord,” said the witness looking
up towards the judge. “And I saw that her
forefinger had a deep mark along it, as if it had
been badly cut or crushed some time or other.”
“Come,” said Mr. Daunt, leaning forward and
looking the clerk full in the face. “Do you think
you would know the testatrix if you saw her again?”
A buzz of excitement ran through the crowd.
“If I saw her again? Sure she’s dead.”
“Sure she’s dead,” said Mr. Daunt, echoing him;
“but if she wasn’t, do you think you could recognise
“I think I might.”
“And if you saw the hand and the finger would
you recognise them?”
“Are you sure of that?”
“I—I—well, I am sure. I believe I would.”
“But Mr. Daunt,” put in the judge, “this is an
extraordinary course you are taking. The plea you
have put in on behalf of your client is undue
“Quite so, my lord; but the case is an extraordinary
one, and I ask your lordship to bear with me
for a moment in the interests of justice.”
The judge nodded.
“My lord,” continued Mr. Daunt, “would your
lordship be good enough to request the witness,
Agnes Marvel,” that was the name of the servant
who had been examined—“to come forward?”
“But, my lord,” said Mr. Star, Q.C., who was on
the opposite side, “this is quite irregular. My
learned friend had an opportunity of cross-examining
Agnes Marvel when she was in the witness-box.”
“I shall call her forward, and then, if Mr. Daunt
puts any question to which you take exception, I
shall be happy to hear you, Mr. Star.”
“Thank you, my lord,” said Mr. Star, as he
resumed his seat.
“I do not intend to ask any questions,” said Mr.
Daunt. “So my learned friend need not have been
in such a hurry to interpose.”
“Come forward, Agnes Marvel!” said the crier.
The woman came and stood near the clerk who
was giving evidence.
“Lift up your veil, madam,” said Mr. Daunt.
She did so with trembling hands which were
encased in black cotton gloves.
“Now, will you be good enough to remove your
“What is the meaning of this?” said Mr. Star,
Q.C., jumping up.
“My lord, I make this request on my responsibility
“Where is the objection, Mr. Star?” said the
The woman removed her gloves. Her face as she
did so became deathly white, and without a word of
warning she fell back, and would have fallen on the
witness-table if the crier, who was standing near
her, had not caught her in his arms.
There were cries of “Water!” and “Take her
out into the air!”
“Perhaps, my lord,” said Mr. Star, “an adjournment
of the court would be agreeable, as it is near
“What do you say to that, Mr. Daunt?” asked
“May I ask the witness one more question, my
“Did you, witness, see that woman’s hand?”
“Was that the hand that signed the will?”
“I believe so.”
The excitement in court was now intense.
“I think,” said the judge, “we should go on.
Bring in that woman if she has recovered,” he continued,
addressing a policeman.
The woman was brought in.
“Now,” said the judge, turning towards Mr.
Daunt, “you may repeat your question; but first
let me warn this woman. Agnes Marvel?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“The question which counsel is now about to put
concerns you. Listen to it.”
Mr. Daunt repeated the question, and the clerk
answered it as before.
“Do you think you could recognise the features?”
“Now that I look at them I believe I do; but I
won’t be positive.”
“My lord,” said Mr. Daunt, “may I recall Mr.
“For what, Mr. Daunt?”
“That he may describe the appearance of the
lady whom he saw——”
“My lord! my lord!” interrupted Agnes Marvel,
“if ye promise not to hang me I’ll tell the truth.
’Twas I signed the will—’twas I signed it, and
there’s the man that tempted me,” and she pointed
to where Mr. George Ralph Jephson had been
seated, but in the excitement he had succeeded in
There is no need to pursue the narrative further.
Suffice it to say that the false will was set aside,
and luckily, one made some years previous, and
which was in the custody of a solicitor in England,
was forthcoming. By this all the property of the
late Miss Glasson was bequeathed in trust to Ralph
Jephson and his children in equal portions should
he predecease testatrix. The whole, therefore, fell
to Miss Blanche Jephson.
But it may be interesting to state that Mr. Daunt
was as much surprised at the denouement as anyone
else. He had intended to put only a few questions
to Mr. Devaney’s clerk as a matter of form, but the
statement of the latter that the testatrix had said
she had never written a line in her life aroused his
curiosity, and when the clerk described the finger
of testatrix a light suddenly flashed on his mind
that made his way clear. With the acuteness and
habit which come from long practice, he had taken
note of the witness, Agnes Marvel, as she came to
the stand to take the oath. She had, of course, to
remove the glove from her right hand before taking
the book in it, and he saw the disfigurement of the
forefinger. Seeing that he had no case otherwise,
he determined to hazard everything on the chance
that Agnes Marvel had signed the will and not