THE day after her funeral Mr. Oliphant brought home a copy of her will and read it to his wife and their sons and daughter-in-law in the library. He read slowly, while his four auditors sat in a silence broken only once, though the document was a long one. The single interruption was a vocal sound from Dan when the bequest to himself was mentioned, an exclamation the import of which was not determinable by the others.
But before the reading Mr. Oliphant made some introductory remarks as he wiped his glasses: The estate appeared to be “somewhat larger than anticipated,” he said, as Mrs. Savage’s boxes in the bank’s deposit vaults contained securities she had never mentioned;—she had always been “very reticent in such matters.” The value of her possessions might be “estimated roughly at probably upward of eight hundred thousand dollars, in addition to her house and a small amount of other real estate.” Then he took up the typewritten sheets of the will.
Mrs. Savage had always been known in the town as “pretty close”; for her early youth was of the “old-settler” days when people who failed to be thrifty might also fail to keep themselves alive; and something of this quality had the air of striving to survive her in the posthumous expression of her wishes. She had left one hundred and thirty-five dollars to each of her three elderly servants; and seven hundred and fifty dollars to every “established charitable institution of worth and merit” in the city, the “worth and merit” to be determined by her executors, those two discreet men of substance, Mr. George Rowe and Mr. John P. Johns.
Mr. Oliphant’s throat seemed to trouble him when he came to the next clause, for he read it huskily, the papers trembling slightly in his hand. The paragraph concerned Mrs. Savage’s “dearly and well-beloved grandson, Daniel Oliphant” and carefully explained her reasons for making what might seem an unfair division of her property.
Inasmuch as my said grandson, Daniel, has not seen fit to avail himself of the sound advice of those more experienced, and in particular has acted directly contrary to my own counsel for his well-being, both in the conduct of his business and in other affairs, wherein I have endeavoured to assist him and offer him guidance, and although I intend this clause in no manner to reflect upon or in any way impugn his probity and honour, which have always been above reproach, I am compelled to draw the conclusion that he has not shown that discretion in the management of his affairs which would convince me that in his hands any large sum or parcel of my estate might not soon be dispersed and disappear without profit to himself. Therefore, out of regard to his welfare, as well as to my own peace of mind, and as a token only of the sincere affection I bear him, I devise and bequeath to my said grandson, Daniel Oliphant, to be paid to him in cash by my executors out of the sum remaining on deposit to my credit at the First National Bank of this city after my funeral expenses and other just debts and the above mentioned bequests shall have been paid, the sum of thirty-five hundred dollars.
It was then that the indeterminable vocal sound came from the corner where Dan sat—a sound not unlike a slight, irrepressible gasp, though not distinctly that; nor was the nature of the emotion producing it indicated by the sound itself. No one looked at Dan, and his father hastily went on with the reading.
To Mrs. Oliphant her mother had left the income to be derived from “securities to the value of two hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars, these securities to be held in trust for her.” Mrs. Oliphant was to have the income from them during her life, but she could not sell them or give them away, though she was left at liberty to bequeath them to whom she pleased. And the rest of the estate, much the greater part of it, was left without condition—and also without defining him as “dearly and well-beloved”—to her grandson, Harlan, the residuary legatee.
“Good Lord!” Harlan said loudly, and, without further explanation of his feelings, sat staring blankly at the wall opposite him.
Wiping her eyes, Mrs. Oliphant looked at Dan; and her husband also turned in that direction.
“Dan, old fellow,” he began, in a distressed voice, “you mustn’t think——”
But Lena interrupted him. She jumped up from her chair, and her cheeks and temples were alive with a colour that outdid all the extraneous tinting her grandmother-in-law had so hated. “This is aimed at me!” she cried. “I understand perfectly the real meaning of that precious document! Heaven knows why, but she must have disliked me before Dan ever brought me here! She showed spite at her first sight of me, and tried to hurt me, and did hurt me. And now she cuts us off with nothing and gives it all to Harlan just to show she thought that all I care about is money—yes, and to prove she can still injure me and insult me even after she’s dead!”
But here the hot little voice was choked with anger and tears;—she ran to the door. “What are such people?” she sobbed, stopping there for a moment, and addressing to the upper air of the room this inquiry of passionate wonderment. “Oh, my heavens! What are these people I’ve got to spend my life among?”
Then she ran through the hall and up the stairs, sobbing more and more uncontrollably, and audible below until the vigorous action of her splendidly constructed bedroom door produced a sonorous climax, followed by instantaneous silence. Dan had risen, apparently intending to follow her, but he paused as his father spoke to him.
“I believe I wouldn’t, if I were you, Dan.”
“Wouldn’t what, sir?”
“I think I’d just let her alone to have it out with herself. I’ve noticed it seems to work better, she gets herself in hand sooner that way.”
“Yes, sir,” Dan said, and moved to depart.
“Wait just a minute. I think your mother has something she wants to say to you.” Mrs. Oliphant, who was holding her handkerchief to her eyes, had made a slight gesture, which her husband thus interpreted, and Dan turned back quickly and stood before her.
“What is it, mother?”
She caught his hand and held it, speaking brokenly:
“You—you mustn’t think——Mother loved you—she did! She—she left it so that I could always—always take care of you, if you—if you needed it. She didn’t mean anything unkind to you.”
Mr. Oliphant supplemented this. “I believe your mother’s entirely right, Dan. The division may seem unfair, but I’m strongly of the opinion there was no intention to be unkind or to—or to hurt you!”
“ ‘Hurt me!’ ” Dan exclaimed loudly. His face was aglow and his eyes were shining. “Hurt me? Why, she didn’t leave you anything, sir, and you’re not hurt. And just look what she’s done for me! Why, even you and mother had begun to think I couldn’t hold on to Ornaby this time, but grandma’s left me not only enough to tide me over, but to go ahead with! I’m goin’ to set out the stakes for that automobile factory to-morrow!”
He turned again toward the door as he spoke; and his father again mistook his intention. “Dan, I—I really wouldn’t go up to talk to Lena just now. If we all just let her alone when she’s in one of these—ah—that is, I’ve noticed if we keep away——”
“Yes, so have I,” Dan agreed heartily. “That’s not where I’m headed for, sir.”
His mother had retained his hand in spite of his movement to go, and now she tried to draw him nearer her. “Stay with us, dear,” she pleaded. “You’re so plucky, you poor boy, but I know it has hurt you. I know you want to get outdoors and walk and walk and grieve to yourself, but if you’d stay with your father and me——”
“I can’t,” he said, and detached his hand from hers though she still sought to keep it. “I got to go, mother.”
“But where?” she begged. “Where do you want to go at such a time as this, dear?”
“Where?” he cried triumphantly. “Why, to see those executors and get that money! I’m goin’ to make George Rowe and old John P. Johns agree to advance it to me the first thing to-morrow morning. Grandma’s saved Ornaby for me, God bless her!”
He waved an exultant hand over his head and departed at a long and rapid stride, leaving his father and mother to stare at one another with pathetic inquiry; but after a moment or two of this Mr. Oliphant laughed vaguely, sighed, shook his head, and said: “Why, he means it!”
“You don’t think he’s just covering up what he feels? Pretending——”
“Pretending? No!” her husband returned. “All your mother’s will means to him is that he can go on with his Addition!”
“But he can’t. Thirty-five hundred dollars won’t——”
“No, not long,” Mr. Oliphant admitted. “But it looks like a million to him to-day, because it pulls him around this particular corner. Of course in a little while there’ll be another corner that he can’t get pulled around, but he doesn’t see that one now. All he’s thinking about——”
“But he expects to begin a factory!” she exclaimed. “I haven’t a doubt he’ll try to.”
“Neither have I; and that’ll bring the corner he can’t turn just so much nearer.”
“It seems so pitiful,” the mother lamented. “I’ll help him all I can. There’s the income of what she’s given me——”
“It won’t go very far,” Oliphant informed her, ruefully amused. “Not with the kind of plans Dan’ll be making now that he’s got hold of thirty-five hundred dollars!”
“Well, but then,” she said brightly, yet with a little timidity, “you see, there’s Harlan. Harlan could——” She hesitated; and both of them turned, though not confidently, toward their younger son who still continued to sit motionless in his chair, in the bay window, staring at the opposite wall. He seemed unaware that they were looking at him, until his mother addressed him directly. “Harlan, you would, wouldn’t you?”
He merged from his deep interior of thought like a man blinking in the sun after exploring a cavern. “What?”
“I said, wouldn’t you——”
“Oh, yes,” he interrupted. “Yes, I heard what you said, though I was thinking of something else. I wonder if either of you understand just what grandma was up to.”
“It seems to be plain enough,” his father said. “She’d always been a pretty sharp business woman; she was convinced that your grandfather’s success was mainly due to her advice, and I expect it was, myself—anyhow a good deal of it—so she thought Dan ought to’ve listened to her when she opposed his putting what your grandfather left him and all he could borrow besides into this real-estate venture. I’m afraid she felt rather bitter when he went ahead with it in spite of all she said against it. So it seems pretty clear that she thought if she left him anything substantial it would all be thrown away on a scheme she thinks is bound to fail—she couldn’t imagine the city’s ever growing out that far—and she didn’t want her money wasted. So she left it to you. I don’t see anything particularly enigmatic about it, Harlan.”
“No,” Harlan agreed, though his dry smile was evidence that he withheld his true thought on the matter; “I suppose not. At least, there’s nothing enigmatic about it to me.” He was obviously not elated over his good fortune; and his mother saw fit to commend him for this.
“I think—I think it’s so sweet of you, dear,” she said timidly;—“I mean especially while Dan was here—your not showing any pleasure in having so much come to you. I think it’s noble, Harlan.”
“You do?” he asked, and he laughed briefly without any merriment. “Perhaps I’d better explain what I believe grandma really meant. She never liked me, and she always adored Dan. It’s curious, too, because Dan’s disposition is like grandfather’s, and she certainly never seemed to think much of grandfather! Well, she did hate Dan’s throwing his money away on a wild scheme that can’t possibly do anything in the end but leave him bankrupt; and she certainly understood him—she knew no matter how much he could lay his hands on, he’d pour it all in after the rest—and it’s true she didn’t want her money wasted that way, and knew I wouldn’t let it be wasted at all, if she left it to me; but that wasn’t what she really had in mind. Lord, no!”
“Wasn’t it?” his father inquired gravely. “I don’t see anything else.”
Harlan laughed again with the same dry brevity. “She always hoped Dan would marry Martha Shelby—and she kept on hoping it, even after he married Lena.”
“Harlan!” his mother protested. “You oughtn’t to speak like that! Why, mother couldn’t any more have thought of such a thing, when Dan was already married——”
“She died hoping it,” Harlan insisted. “I tell you——”
Mr. Oliphant interrupted. “That seems to me about as far-fetched an idea as I’ve often heard, Harlan.”
“Does it, sir? Didn’t you ever hear grandmother express her opinion of Lena?”
“Did you ever hear her mention her conviction that Lena was entirely mercenary and married Dan because she thought he was rich?”
“She talked that way sometimes—yes.”
“And didn’t Lena just show us she thinks that’s what the will means, herself?”
“Possibly,” Mr. Oliphant admitted. “But that doesn’t prove——”
“You might just read over that document of grandma’s again,” Harlan suggested. “She appears to leave me everything and Dan nothing, but gives mother a very comfortable living income, and she knew mother will take care of him when he needs it. What’s most significant, she provides that mother can leave the principal to any one she pleases. Don’t you suppose grandma knew it will naturally come to Dan eventually? She’s really taken care of him, and at the same time made it appear that he’s cut off with this thirty-five hundred dollars that’ll last him about a minute. She did it because she hoped Lena would leave him and get a divorce.”
“No, no!” Mrs. Oliphant cried out. “Mother wouldn’t have had such a wicked thought. She had the strictest ideas about morality I ever——”
“Yes, she did,” Harlan agreed. “Yet that’s just what she planned. You may not see it, but it’s as plain to me as if she had written it in her will. And there’s something more than that in it, too.”
“What is it?” Mr. Oliphant inquired skeptically. “What is the something more that’s hidden from every eye but yours?”
Harlan reddened and failed to reply at once;—then he said with a reluctant humour: “I’m afraid she’s played it rather low down on me, sir.”
“What!” Mr. Oliphant stared at him. “You call leaving you five or six hundred thousand dollars playing it rather low down?”
“You’d say it’s a fantastic view, would you, sir?”
“Yes, I believe I should—considerably!”
“Maybe so,” Harlan said. “Yet there seems some ground for it. Grandma knew—that is, I mean she thought—she thought that I had certain hopes about Martha myself, and she told me pretty plainly I’d better keep out of the way. Well, she’s put me in a fine light before Martha, hasn’t she? Here’s Dan, all his life supposed to be the favourite, with great expectations, and now he’s cut off with a shilling, and I get it all! In the eyes of a sympathetic woman who’s always liked him best anyhow, isn’t he the suffering hero, and don’t I play the rôle of the brother that undermined him and supplanted him?”
“That’s nonsense,” his father said a little irritably. “You don’t suppose your grandmother deliberately——”
“I don’t suppose she meant unkindly by me,” Harlan interrupted. “Naturally I don’t suppose my grandmother made me her residuary legatee for the purpose of injuring me. Probably she thought I’d be consoled by what she was leaving me.”
“Oh, Harlan!” his mother cried reproachfully.
But Harlan only smiled at her faintly and did not defend himself.
“So Lena will leave Dan now, will she?” Mr. Oliphant inquired, with satire. “And then Dan will proceed in freedom to carry out the rest of this programme?”
“No, sir; not at all.”
“But haven’t you just been saying——”
“I’ve been saying what I see in the will,” Harlan explained. “I’ve been saying what grandma hoped, and I think she was pretty shrewd, but I believe that her dislike of Lena led her into an error. I haven’t the remotest idea that Lena will leave her husband.”
“I see!” Mr. Oliphant returned sharply. “You mean you haven’t any fantastic ideas yourself, Harlan; it’s only your grandmother who had them, though she’s just left you a fortune!”
His tone was hard; and Harlan, looking at him gravely, pointed out a significance in the hardness. “There it is, sir. Already I’m a little more unpopular with you than usual, because you can’t help sympathizing with Dan and feeling that I’ve got his share as well as my own. Don’t you think other people may feel the same way?”
For a moment Mr. Oliphant looked slightly disconcerted by this bit of analysis, but, recovering himself, “Not necessarily,” he replied. “I’m not criticizing you because of your inheritance, but because it doesn’t seem fair in you to impute all this surreptitious planning to a person who’s shown such generosity to you. You don’t seem to realize——”
“Oh, but I do,” Harlan interrupted. “Mother spoke of my not seeming elated and praised me for it. I don’t deserve her praise. You see, if I don’t feel much elated just at first it’s because to my mind the whole thing is another example of how much better grandma liked Dan and how much better other people are going to go on liking him. Naturally, I’m glad to have the money; I know she meant well by me, and I appreciate it. I appreciate another thing, too. One of the reasons she left it to me was that she knew I put what I had from grandfather into the safest type of municipal bonds. She knew that I’d understand the value of whatever she left me. She knew I’d take care of it.”
He put a slight but sharp and dry emphasis upon the final words, “She knew I’d take care of it,” so that there was a hint of warning in them; and he added, making this note more definite: “She was right about that, because I will take care of it.”
Upon that, he struck both arms of his chair decisively with the palms of his hands, and, as a continuation of this action, rose and turned to the window, his back to his parents. They glanced nervously at each other, each knowing that the other had the same hope and the same doubt; the glance they exchanged meaning, “You speak to him about it!” Mr. Oliphant yielded and coughed uncomfortably as a prelude, but his wife impulsively decided to begin the task for him.
“Harlan, dear,” she said, “your father and I both know you’ve always acted conscientiously in everything you’ve ever done; and of course what mother’s given you ought to be regarded as a sacred trust. You’re right to say you’ll take care if it, but we feel—I mean your father and I feel——” She faltered, and appealed to her husband: “You do feel that perhaps—perhaps under the circumstances—perhaps——”
“Yes,” Mr. Oliphant said as she came to a helpless stop;—“I think under the circumstances Harlan might—might properly see fit to——” But here he, too, hesitated and seemed unable to continue.
Their son, however, understood them perfectly, and turned sharply to face them. “Of course I knew you’d ask it,” he said, and an old bitterness, long held down within him, came to the surface. “I knew you wanted me to let Dan have even that twenty-five thousand dollars grandfather left me. You really wanted me to let him throw it away along with his own, though you never spoke out and asked me to do it. Martha Shelby did, though. She spoke out plainly enough! The fact that grandfather gave it to me never entered her head. She only thought I was miserly for not putting it into Dan’s hands to be squandered. That’s what she thought, and I’ve understood all along that my mother and my father had a great deal the same feeling.”
“No, no,” his mother protested, for the bitterness in his voice had increased as he spoke. “We never reproached you, dear.”
“No, not in words maybe.”
“No, not in any way,” she said. “It was right of you to take care of it, and you’d be right now to take care of what you’ll have. Your father and I only mean that now you have so much——”
“Now that I have so much,” Harlan echoed, “I ought to throw away part of it, even though grandma’s trusted me to save it from just this very wastage and to take care of every bit of it?”
“No, no; it isn’t that,” Mrs. Oliphant said; and with pathetically naïve artfulness she changed the basis of her appeal. “But you know, dear, you were just telling us how much Martha had wanted you to help Dan—she’s always been such a devoted friend of his—and you said that after she hears about mother’s bequest to you, she may take it as a kind of supplanting your brother, and it would be harder than ever for you to make her fond of you; so don’t you see—don’t you see what a splendid effect it would have on her now, when you’ve got so much, dear, and could spare it—don’t you see, if you’d—if you’d——”
“Yes, I see,” Harlan said grimly. “You think Martha might even admire me enough to marry me, if I’d say to Dan: ‘Here! I won’t accept all this that should have been yours. Here’s half of it.’ ”
“Oh, no,” she cried, “I didn’t mean half of it; I only meant you might——”
“No,” Harlan said; “not any, mother—not a dime! I won’t impress Martha with a pose. I don’t want her or anybody else to like me because of a pose.”
“Would it be a pose,” Mr. Oliphant asked gravely, “to help your brother?”
“Wouldn’t it?” Harlan returned as gravely. “Isn’t it a pose to do something that isn’t natural to you, simply to make a woman admire you? I’d call that a pose, myself, though you may have another definition of the word. I’m not caring to get admiration that way, sir.”
“All right,” his father said, nodding, as the fragile edifice of Mrs. Oliphant’s gentle cunning was thus dispersed upon the air. “I should say you had the right spirit there. But why need it be an attitude? Wouldn’t you really like to help Dan out a little, Harlan?”
Harlan sighed. “Not in a failure, sir. First and last he’s had a pretty long chance to prove what he could do with his Addition, and he’s no nearer succeeding to-day than he was when he began. Instead, he’s lost all his money and all his time. All he’s done was to spoil a farm.”
“But if he had some really substantial assistance, it’s not absolutely impossible he might——”
“No, sir,” Harlan said definitely; “I don’t believe in it, and I’ll never do it. I didn’t want to supplant him. I didn’t ask for what grandma’s done for me; I never did one thing to get it, or for the purpose of making her like me; and, as a matter of fact, she didn’t do it because she liked me. But she did know I’d take care of it, and I’m going to prove she was right about that, anyhow. I won’t throw any of it away on an attitude to make Martha Shelby think well of me. Of course she’ll be all the surer she’s right about me, now that I don’t do anything for him, though I have so much!” He picked up the copy of Mrs. Savage’s will from the table where his father had left it, and, sitting down again, prepared to look over it; but, as he placed in position the eye-glasses already necessary to him when he read, he sent a sidelong glance toward his parents, a glance in which there was the bitterness of an ancient pain. “I wouldn’t even throw any of it away to make my father and mother like me a little better, either,” he said.
Mrs. Oliphant cried out reproachfully: “Oh, Harlan!” and she would have said more; but her husband shook his head at her, and she was silent. Harlan finished his reading, set the manuscript down upon the table, and went away without speaking again, so that his parents were left to themselves and a thoughtful, somewhat melancholy silence.
Mrs. Oliphant broke it diffidently. “You don’t think mother ever dreamed that——”
“That he might help Dan? No; not with the Addition. Harlan’s right when he says that’s just what she trusted him not to do.”
“I didn’t mean that,” Mrs. Oliphant explained. “I mean—you know what he said about mother’s hoping—I mean his saying he thought mother had those wild ideas about Lena’s going away and—and Martha Shelby——”
“No,” her husband said. “No; I don’t think so. It seems unlikely. I don’t think your mother would have——”
“No,” Mrs. Oliphant assented thoughtfully. “I can’t believe she would. Of course there isn’t any way of being sure—now.”
“No; but it’s probably just Harlan’s imagination. He’s sensitive, and that always means imaginative, too. I don’t think we need to dwell on it.”
“I suppose not. Especially as she couldn’t have meant anything like that. You don’t think she could, do you, dear?”
“No, no; I don’t think so,” he answered. “We’d better be worrying over other matters, I suspect.”
“You mean about getting Harlan to help Dan out?”
“Of course I can do something,” she said. “I’ll help all I can with the income mother’s given me; we’ve always managed to live very comfortably without it. But Harlan—why, I almost believe Dan could make a success of the Addition, if Harlan would do something substantial about it. Yes; we ought to be able to think of some way to get him to do it.”