The Second Generation
By David Graham Phillips
Public Domain Books
Chapter V - The Will
When Hiram had so far improved that his period of isolation was obviously within a few days of its end, Adelaide suggested to Arthur, somewhat timidly, “Don’t you think you ought to go to work at the mills?”
He frowned. It was bad enough to have the inward instinct to this, and to fight it down anew each day as a temptation to weakness and cowardice. That the traitor should get an ally in his sister–it was intolerable. The frown deepened into a scowl.
But Del had been doing real thinking since she saw her father stricken down, and she was beginning clearly to see his point of view as to Arthur. That angry frown was discouraging, but she felt too strongly to be quite daunted. “It might help father toward getting well,” she urged, “and make such a difference–in every way.”
“No more hypocrisy. I was right; he was wrong,” replied her brother. He had questioned Dr. Schulze anxiously about his father’s seizure; and Schulze, who had taken a strong fancy to him and had wished to put him at ease, declared that the attack must have begun at the mills, and would probably have brought Hiram down before he could have reached home, had he not been so powerful of body and of will. And Arthur, easily reassured where he must be assured if he was to have peace of mind, now believed that his outburst had had no part whatever in causing his father’s stroke. So he was all for firm stand against slavery. “If I yield an inch now,” he went on to Adelaide, “he’ll never stop until he has made me his slave. He has lorded it over those workingmen so long that the least opposition puts him in a frenzy.”
Adelaide gave over, for the time, the combat against a stubbornness which was an inheritance from his father. “I’ve only made him more set by what I’ve said,” thought she. “Now, he has committed himself. I ought not to have been so tactless.”
Long after Hiram got back in part the power of speech, he spoke only when directly addressed, and then after a wait in which he seemed to have cast about for the fewest possible words. After a full week of this emphasized reticence, he said, “Where is Arthur?”
Arthur had kept away because–so he told himself and believed–while he was not in the least responsible for his father’s illness, still seeing him and being thus reminded of their difference could not but have a bad effect. That particular day, as luck would have it, he for the first time since his father was stricken had left the grounds. “He’s out driving," said his mother.
“In the tandem?” asked Hiram.
“Yes,” replied Ellen, knowing nothing of the last development of the strained relations between her husband and her “boy.”
“Then he hasn’t gone to work?”
“He’s stayed close to the house ever since you were taken sick, Hiram," said she, with gentle reproach. “He’s been helping me nurse you.”
Hiram did not need to inquire how little that meant. He knew that, when anyone Ellen Ranger loved was ill, she would permit no help in the nursing, neither by day nor by night. He relapsed into his brooding over the problem which was his sad companion each conscious moment, now that the warning “Put your house in order” had been so sternly emphasized.
The day Dr. Schulze let them bring him down to the first floor, Mrs. Hastings–"Mrs. Fred,” to distinguish her from “Mrs. Val"–happened to call. Mrs. Ranger did not like her for two reasons–first, she had married her favorite cousin, Alfred Hastings, and had been the “ruination” of him; second, she had a way of running on and on to everyone and anyone about the most intimate family affairs, and close-mouthed Ellen Ranger thought this the quintessence of indiscretion and vulgarity. But Hiram liked her, was amused by her always interesting and at times witty thrusts at the various members of her family, including herself. So, Mrs. Ranger, clutching at anything that might lighten the gloom thick and black upon him, let her in and left them alone together. With so much to do, she took advantage of every moment which she could conscientiously spend out of his presence.
At sight of Henrietta, Hiram’s face brightened; and well it might. In old-fashioned Saint X it was the custom for a married woman to “settle down” as soon as she returned from her honeymoon–to abandon all thoughts, pretensions, efforts toward an attractive exterior, and to become a “settled” woman, “settled” meaning purified of the last grain of the vanity of trying to please the eye or ear of the male. And conversation with any man, other than her husband–and even with him, if a woman were soundly virtuous, through and through–must be as clean shorn of allurement as a Quaker meetinghouse. Mrs. Fred had defied this ancient and sacred tradition of the “settled” woman. She had kept her looks; she frankly delighted in the admiration of men. And the fact that the most captious old maid in Saint X could not find a flaw in her character as a faithful wife, aggravated the offending. For, did not her devotion to her husband make dangerous her example of frivolity retained and flaunted, as a pure private life in an infidel made his heresies plausible and insidious? At “almost” forty, Mrs. Hastings looked “about" thirty and acted as if she were a girl or a widow. Each group of gods seems ridiculous to those who happen not to believe in it. Saint X’s set of gods of conventionality doubtless seems ridiculous to those who knock the dust before some other set; but Saint X cannot be blamed for having a sober face before its own altars, and reserving its jeers and pitying smiles for deities of conventionality in high dread and awe elsewhere. And if Mrs. Fred had not been “one of the Fuller heirs,” Saint X would have made her feel its displeasure, instead of merely gossiping and threatening.
“I’m going the round of the invalids to-day,” began Henrietta, after she had got through the formula of sick-room conversation. “I’ve just come from old John Skeffington. I found all the family in the depths. He fooled ’em again last night.”
Hiram smiled. All Saint X knew what it meant for old Skeffington to “fool ’em again.” He had been dying for three years. At the first news that he was seized of a mortal illness his near relations, who had been driven from him by his temper and his parsimony, gathered under his roof from far and near, each group hoping to induce him to make a will in its favor. He lingered on, and so did they–watching each other, trying to outdo each other in complaisance to the humors of the old miser. And he got a new grip on life through his pleasure in tyrannizing over them and in putting them to great expense in keeping up his house. He favored first one group, then another, taking fagots from fires of hope burning too high to rekindle fires about to expire.
“How is he?” asked Hiram.
“They say he can’t last till fall,” replied Henrietta; “but he’ll last another winter, maybe ten. He’s having more and more fun all the time. He has made them bring an anvil and hammer to his bedside, and whenever he happens to be sleeping badly–and that’s pretty often–he bangs on the anvil until the last one of his relations has got up and come in; then, maybe he’ll set ’em all to work mending his fishing tackle–right in the dead of night.”
“Are they all there still?” asked Hiram. “The Thomases, the Wilsons, the Frisbies, and the two Cantwell old maids?”
“Everyone–except Miss Frisbie. She’s gone back home to Rushville, but she’s sending her sister on to take her place to-morrow. I saw Dory Hargrave in the street a while ago. You know his mother was a first cousin of old John’s. I told him he ought not to let strangers get the old man’s money, that he ought to shy his castor into the ring.”
“And what did Dory say?” asked Hiram.
“He came back at me good and hard,” said Mrs. Fred, with a good-humored laugh. “He said there’d been enough people in Saint X ruined by inheritances and by expecting inheritances. You know the creek that flows through the graveyard has just been stopped from seeping into the reservoir. Well, Dory spoke of that and said there was, and always had been, flowing from every graveyard a stream far more poisonous than any graveyard creek, yet nobody talked of stopping it.”
The big man, sitting with eyes downcast, began to rub his hands, one over the other–a certain sign that he was thinking intently.
“There’s a good deal of truth in what he said,” she went on. “Look at our family, for instance. We’ve been living on an allowance from Grandfather Fuller in Chicago for forty years. None of us has ever done a stroke of work; we’ve simply been waiting for him to die and divide up his millions. Look at us! Bill and Tom drunkards, Dick a loafer without even the energy to be a drunkard; Ed dead because he was too lazy to keep alive. Alice and I married nice fellows; but as soon as they got into our family they began to loaf and wait. We’ve been waiting in decent, or I should say, indecent, poverty for forty years, and we’re still waiting. We’re a lot of paupers. We’re on a level with the Wilmots.”
“Yes–there are the Wilmots, too,” said Hiram absently.
“That’s another form of the same disease,” Henrietta went on. “Did you know General Wilmot?”
“He was a fine man,” said Hiram, “one of the founders of this town, and he made a fortune out of it. He got overbearing, and what he thought was proud, toward the end of his life. But he had a good heart and worked for all he had–honest work.”
“And he brought his family up to be real down-East gentlemen and ladies,” resumed Henrietta. “And look at ’em. They lost the money, because they were too gentlemanly and too ladylike to work to hold on to it. And there they live in the big house, half-starved. Why, really, Mr. Ranger, they don’t have enough to eat. And they dress in clothes that have been in the family for a generation. They make their underclothes out of old bed linen. And the grass on their front lawns is three feet high, and the moss and weeds cover and pry up the bricks of their walks. They’re too ’proud’ to work and too poor to hire. How much have they borrowed from you?”
“I don’t know,” said Hiram. “Not much.”
“I know better–and you oughtn’t to have lent them a cent. Yesterday old Wilmot was hawking two of his grandfather’s watches about. And all the Wilmots have got brains, just as our family has. Nothing wrong with either of us, but that stream Dory Hargrave was talking about.”
“There’s John Dumont,” mused Ranger.
“Yes–he is an exception. But what’s he doing with what his father left him? I don’t let them throw dust in my eyes with his philanthropy as they call it. The plain truth is he’s a gambler and a thief, and he uses what his father left him to be gambler and thief on the big scale, and so keep out of the penitentiary–’finance,’ they call it. If he’d been poor, he’d have been in jail long ago–no, he wouldn’t–he’d have done differently. It was the money that started him wrong.”
“A great deal of good can be done with money,” said Hiram.
“Can it?” demanded Mrs. Fred. “It don’t look that way to me. I’m full of this, for I was hauling my Alfred over the coals this very morning"–she laughed–"for being what I’ve made him, for doing what I’d do in his place–for being like my father and my brothers. It seems to me, precious little of the alleged good that’s done with wealth is really good; and what little isn’t downright bad hides the truth from people. Talk about the good money does! What does it amount to–the good that’s good, and the good that’s rotten bad? What does it all amount to beside the good that having to work does? People that have to work hard are usually honest and have sympathy and affection and try to amount to something. And if they are bad, why at least they can’t hurt anybody but themselves very much, where a John Dumont or a Skeffington can injure hundreds–thousands. Take your own case, Mr. Ranger. Your money has never done you any good. It was your hard work. All your money has ever done has been–Do you think your boy and girl will be as good a man and woman, as useful and creditable to the community, as you and Cousin Ellen?”
Hiram said nothing; he continued to slide his great, strong, useful-looking hands one over the other.
“A fortune makes a man stumble along if he’s in the right road, makes him race along if he’s in the wrong road,” concluded Henrietta.
“You must have been talking a great deal to young Hargrave lately,” said Hiram shrewdly.
She blushed. “That’s true,” she admitted, with a laugh. “But I’m not altogether parroting what he said. I do my own thinking.” She rose. “I’m afraid I haven’t cheered you up much.”
“I’m glad you came,” replied Hiram earnestly; then, with an admiring look, “It’s a pity some of the men of your family haven’t got your energy.”
She laughed. “They have,” said she. “Every one of us is a first-rate talker–and that’s all the energy I’ve got–energy to wag my tongue. Still–You didn’t know I’d gone into business?”
“That is, I’m backing Stella Wilmot in opening a little shop–to sell millinery.”
“A Wilmot at work!” exclaimed Hiram.
“A Wilmot at work,” affirmed Henrietta. “She’s more like her great grandfather; you know how a bad trait will skip several generations and then show again. The Wilmots have been cultivating the commonness of work out of their blood for three generations, but it has burst in again. She made a declaration of independence last week. She told the family she was tired of being a pauper and beggar. And when I heard she wanted to do something I offered to go in with her in a business. She’s got a lot of taste in trimming hats. She certainly has had experience enough.”
“She always looks well,” said Hiram.
“And you’d wonder at it, if you were a woman and knew what she’s had to work on. So I took four hundred dollars grandfather sent me as a birthday present, and we’re going to open up in a small way. She’s to put her name out–my family won’t let me put mine out, too. ’Wilmot & Hastings’ would sound well, don’t you think? But it’s got to be ’Wilmot & Co.’ We’ve hired a store–No. 263 Monroe Street. We have our opening in August.”
“Do you need any–” began Hiram.
“No, thank you,” she cut in, with a laugh. “This is a close corporation. No stock for sale. We want to hold on to every cent of the profits.”
“Well,” said Hiram, “if you ever do need to borrow, you know where to come.”
“Where the whole town comes when it’s hard up,” said Henrietta; and she astonished the old man by giving him a shy, darting kiss on the brow. “Now, don’t you tell your wife!” she exclaimed, laughing and blushing furiously and making for the door.
When Adelaide, sent by her mother, came to sit with him, he said: “Draw the blinds, child, and leave me alone. I want to rest.” She obeyed him. At intervals of half an hour she opened the door softly, looked in at him, thought he was asleep, and went softly away. But he had never been further from sleep in his life. Henrietta Hastings’s harum-scarum gossiping and philosophizing happened to be just what his troubled mind needed to precipitate its clouds into a solid mass that could be clearly seen and carefully examined. Heretofore he had accepted the conventional explanations of all the ultimate problems, had regarded philosophers as time wasters, own brothers to the debaters who whittled on dry-goods boxes at the sidewalk’s edge in summer and about the stoves in the rear of stores in winter, settling all affairs save their own. But now, sitting in enforced inaction and in the chill and calm which diffuses from the tomb, he was using the unused, the reflective, half of his mind.
Even as Henrietta was talking, he began to see what seemed to him the hidden meaning in the mysterious “Put your house in order” that would give him no rest. But he was not the man to make an important decision in haste, was the last man in the world to inflict discomfort, much less pain, upon anyone, unless the command to do it came unmistakably in the one voice he dared not disobey. Day after day he brooded; night after night he fought to escape. But, slowly, inexorably, his iron inheritance from Covenanter on one side and Puritan on the other asserted itself. Heartsick, and all but crying out in anguish, he advanced toward the stern task which he could no longer deny or doubt that the Most High God had set for him.
He sent for Dory Hargrave’s father.
Mark Hargrave was president of the Tecumseh Agricultural and Classical University, to give it its full legal entitlements. It consisted in a faculty of six, including Dr. Hargrave, and in two meager and modest, almost mean “halls,” and two hundred acres of land. There were at that time just under four hundred students, all but about fifty working their way through. So poor was the college that it was kept going only by efforts, the success of which seemed miraculous interventions of Providence. They were so regarded by Dr. Hargrave, and the stubbornest infidel must have conceded that he was not unjustified.
As Hargrave, tall and spare, his strong features illumined by life-long unselfish service to his fellow-men, came into Hiram Ranger’s presence, Hiram shrank and grew gray as his hair. Hargrave might have been the officer come to lead him forth to execution.
“If you had not sent for me, Mr. Ranger,” he began, after the greetings, “I should have come of my own accord within a day or two. Latterly God has been strongly moving me to lay before you the claims of my boys–of the college.”
This was to Hiram direct confirmation of his own convictions. He tried to force his lips to say so, but they would not move.
“You and Mrs. Ranger,” Hargrave went on, “have had a long life, full of the consciousness of useful work well done. Your industry, your fitness for the just use of God’s treasure, has been demonstrated, and He has made you stewards of much of it. And now approaches the final test, the greatest test, of your fitness to do His work. In His name, my old friend, what are you going to do with His treasure?”
Hiram Ranger’s face lighted up. The peace that was entering his soul lay upon the tragedy of his mental and physical suffering soft and serene and sweet as moonlight beautifying a ruin. “That’s why I sent for you, Mark,” he said.
“Hiram, are you going to leave your wealth so that it may continue to do good in the world? Or, are you going to leave it so that it may tempt your children to vanity and selfishness, to lives of idleness and folly, to bring up their children to be even less useful to mankind than they, even more out of sympathy with the ideals which God has implanted? All of those ideals are attainable only through shoulder-to-shoulder work such as you have done all your life.”
“God help me!” muttered Hiram. The sweat was beading his forehead and his hands were clasped and wrenching each at the other, typical of the two forces contending in final battle within him. “God help me!”
“Have you ever looked about you in this town and thought of the meaning of its steady decay, moral and physical? God prospered the hard-working men who founded it; but, instead of appreciating His blessings, they regarded the wealth He gave them as their own; and they left it to their children. And see how their sin is being visited upon the third and fourth generations! Industry has been slowly paralyzing. The young people, whose wealth gave them the best opportunities, are leading idle lives, are full of vanity of class and caste, are steeped in the sins that ever follow in the wake of idleness–the sins of selfishness and indulgence. Instead of being workers, leading in the march upward, instead of taking the position for which their superior opportunities should have fitted them, they set an example of idleness and indolence. They despise their ancestry of toil which should be their pride. They pride themselves upon the parasitism which is their shame. And they set before the young an example of contempt for work, of looking on it as a curse and a disgrace.”
“I have been thinking of these things lately,” said Hiram.
“It is the curse of the world, this inherited wealth,” cried Hargrave. “Because of it humanity moves in circles instead of forward. The ground gained by the toiling generations, is lost by the inheriting generations. And this accursed inheritance tempts men ever to long for and hope for that which they have not earned. God gave man a trial of the plan of living in idleness upon that which he had not earned, and man fell. Then God established the other plan, and through it man has been rising–but rising slowly and with many a backward slip, because he has tried to thwart the Divine plan with the system of inheritance. Fortunately, the great mass of mankind has had nothing to leave to heirs, has had no hope of inheritances. Thus, new leaders have ever been developed in place of those destroyed by inherited prosperity. But, unfortunately, the law of inheritance has been able to do its devil’s work upon the best element in every human society, upon those who had the most efficient and exemplary parents, and so had the best opportunity to develop into men and women of the highest efficiency. No wonder progress is slow, when the leaders of each generation have to be developed from the bottom all over again, and when the ideal of useful work is obscured by the false ideal of living without work. Waiting for dead men’s shoes! Dead men’s shoes instead of shoes of one’s own.”
“Dead men’s shoes,” muttered Hiram.
“The curse of unearned wealth,” went on his friend. “Your life, Hiram, leaves to your children the injunction to work, to labor cheerfully and equally, honestly and helpfully, with their brothers and sisters; but your wealth–If you leave it to them, will it not give that injunction the lie, will it not invite them to violate that injunction?”
“I have been watching my children, my boy, especially,” said Hiram. “I don’t know about all this that you’ve been saying. It’s a big subject; but I do know about this boy of mine. I wish I’d ’a’ taken your advice, Mark, and put him in your school. But his mother was set on the East–on Harvard.” Tears were in his eyes at this. He remembered how she, knowing nothing of college, but feeling it was her duty to have her children educated properly, a duty she must not put upon others, had sent for the catalogues of all the famous colleges in the country. He could see her poring over the catalogues, balancing one offering of educational advantage against another, finally deciding for Harvard, the greatest of them all. He could hear her saying: “It’ll cost a great deal, Hiram. As near as I can reckon it out it’ll cost about a thousand dollars a year–twelve hundred if we want to be v-e-r-y liberal, so the catalogue says. But Harvard’s the biggest, and has the most teachers and scholars, and takes in all the branches. And we ought to give our Arthur the best." And now–By what bitter experience had he learned that the college is not in the catalogue, is a thing apart, unrelated and immeasurably different! His eyes were hot with anger as he thought how the boy’s mother, honest, conscientious Ellen, had been betrayed.
“Look here, Mark,” he blazed out, “if I leave money to your college I want to see that it can’t ever be like them eastern institutions of learning.” He made a gesture of disgust. “Learning!”
“If you leave us anything, Hiram, leave it so that any young man who gets its advantages must work for them.”
“That’s it!” exclaimed Hiram. “That’s what I want. Can you draw me up that kind of plan? No boy, no matter what he has at home, can come to that there college without working his way through, without learning to work, me to provide the chance to earn the living.”
“I have just such a plan,” said Hargrave, drawing a paper from his pocket. “I’ve had it ready for years waiting for just such an opportunity.”
“Read it,” said Hiram, sinking deep in his big chair and closing his eyes and beginning to rub his forehead with his great hand.
And Hargrave read, forgetting his surroundings, forgetting everything in his enthusiasm for this dream of his life–a university, in fact as well as in name, which would attract the ambitious children of rich and well-to-do and poor, would teach them how to live honestly and nobly, would give them not only useful knowledge to work with but also the light to work by. “You see, Hiram, I think a child ought to begin to be a man as soon as he begins to live–a man, standing on his own feet, in his own shoes, with the courage that comes from knowing how to do well something which the world needs.”
He looked at Hiram for the first time in nearly half an hour. He was alarmed by the haggard, ghastly gray of that majestic face; and his thought was not for his plan probably about to be thwarted by the man’s premature death, but of his own selfishness in wearying and imperiling him by importunity at such a time. “But we’ll talk of this again,” he said sadly, putting the paper in his pocket and rising for instant departure.
“Give me the paper,” said Hiram, putting out his trembling hand, but not lifting his heavy, blue-black lids.
Mark gave it to him hesitatingly. “You’d better put it off till you’re stronger, Hiram.”
“I’ll see,” said Hiram. “Good morning, Mark.”
Judge Torrey was the next to get Ranger’s summons; it came toward mid-afternoon of that same day. Like Hargrave, Torrey had been his life-long friend.
“Torrey,” he said, “I want you to examine this plan"–and he held up the paper Hargrave had left–"and, if it is not legal, put it into legal shape, and incorporate it into my will. I feel I ain’t got much time." With a far-away, listening look–"I must put my house in order–in order. Draw up a will and bring it to me before five o’clock. I want you to write it yourself–trust no one–no one!” His eyes were bright, his cheeks bluish, and he spoke in a thick, excited voice that broke and shrilled toward the end of each sentence.
“I can’t do it to-day. Too much haste–”
“To-day!” commanded Hiram. “I won’t rest till it’s done!”
“Of course, I can–”
“Read the paper now, and give me your opinion.”
Torrey put on his glasses, opened the paper. “Oh!” he exclaimed. “I remember this. It’s in my partner’s handwriting. Hargrave had Watson draw it up about five years ago. We were very careful in preparing it. It is legal.”
“Very well,” continued Hiram. “Now I’ll give you the points of my will.”
Torrey took notebook and pencil from his pocket.
“First,” began Hiram, as if he were reciting something he had learned by heart, “to my wife, Ellen, this house and everything in it, and the grounds and all the horses and carriages and that kind of thing.”
“Yes,” said Torrey, looking up from his note making.
“Second, to my wife an income of seven thousand a year for life–that is what it cost her and me to live last year, and the children–except the extras. Seven thousand for life–but only for life.”
“Yes,” said Torrey, his glance at Hiram now uneasy and expectant.
“Third, to my daughter, Adelaide, two thousand a year for her life–to be divided among her daughters equally, if she have any; if not, to revert to my estate at her death.”
“Yes,” said Torrey.
“Fourth, to my son, five thousand dollars in cash.”
A long pause, Torrey looking at his old friend and client as if he thought one or the other of them bereft of his senses. At last, he said, “Yes, Hiram.”
“Fifth, to my brothers, Jacob and Ezra, four hundred dollars each," continued Hiram, in his same voice of repeating by rote, “and to my sister Prudence, five thousand dollars–so fixed that her husband can’t touch it.”
“Yes,” said Torrey.
“Sixth, the rest of my estate to be made into a trust, with Charles Whitney and Mark Hargrave and Hampden Scarborough trustees, with power to select their successors. The trust to be administered for the benefit of Tecumseh University under the plan you have there.”
Torrey half-rose from his chair, his usually calm features reflecting his inner contention of grief, alarm, and protest. But there was in Hiram’s face that which made him sink back without having spoken.
“Seventh,” continued Hiram, “the mills and the cooperage to be continued as now, and not to be sold for at least fifteen years. If my son Arthur wishes to have employment in them, he is to have it at the proper wages for the work he does. If at the end of fifteen years he wishes to buy them, he to have the right to buy, that is, my controlling interest in them, provided he can make a cash payment of ten per cent of the then value; and, if he can do that, he is to have ten years in which to complete the payment–or longer, if the trustees think it wise.”
A long pause; Hiram seemed slowly to relax and collapse like a man stretched on the rack, who ceases to suffer either because the torture is ended or because his nerves mercifully refuse to register any more pain. “That is all,” he said wearily.
Torrey wiped his glasses, put them on, wiped them again, hung them on the hook attached to the lapel of his waistcoat, put them on, studied the paper, then said hesitatingly: “As one of your oldest friends, Hiram, and in view of the surprising nature of the–the–”
“I do not wish to discuss it,” interrupted Hiram, with that gruff finality of manner which he always used to hide his softness, and which deceived everyone, often even his wife. “Come back at five o’clock with two witnesses.”
Torrey rose, his body shifting with his shifting mind as he cast about for an excuse for lingering. “Very well, Hiram,” he finally said. As he shook hands, he blurted out huskily, “The boy’s a fine young fellow, Hi. It don’t seem right to disgrace him by cutting him off this way.”
Hiram winced. “Wait a minute,” he said. He had been overlooking the public–how the town would gossip and insinuate. “Put in this, Torrey," he resumed after reflecting. And deliberately, with long pauses to construct the phrases, he dictated: “I make this disposal of my estate through my love for my children, and because I have firm belief in the soundness of their character and in their capacity to do and to be. I feel they will be better off without the wealth which would tempt my son to relax his efforts to make a useful man of himself and would cause my daughter to be sought for her fortune instead of for herself.”
“That may quiet gossip against your children,” said Torrey, when he had taken down Hiram’s slowly enunciated words, “but it does not change the extraordinary character of the will.”
“John,” said Hiram, “can you think of a single instance in which inherited wealth has been a benefit, a single case where a man has become more of a man than he would if he hadn’t had it?”
Hiram waited long. Torrey finally said: “That may be, but–” But what? Torrey did not know, and so came to a full stop.
“I’ve been trying for weeks to think of one,” continued Hiram, “and whenever I thought I’d found one, I’d see, on looking at all the facts, that it only seemed to be so. And I recalled nearly a hundred instances right here in Saint X where big inheritances or little had been ruinous.”
“I have never thought on this aspect of the matter before,” said Torrey. “But to bring children up in the expectation of wealth, and then to leave them practically nothing, looks to me like–like cheating them.”
“It does, John,” Hiram answered. “I’ve pushed my boy and my girl far along the broad way that leads to destruction. I must take the consequences. But God won’t let me divide the punishment for my sins with them. I see my duty clear. I must do it. Bring the will at five o’clock.”
Hiram’s eyes were closed; his voice sounded to Torrey as if it were the utterance of a mind far, far away–as far away as that other world which had seemed vividly real to Hiram all his life; it seemed real and near to Torrey, looking into his old friend’s face. “The power that’s guiding him,” Torrey said to himself, “is one I daren’t dispute with.” And he went away with noiseless step and with head reverently bent.