Andy had already decided how he would spend the afternoon. He had heard a good deal about the Boston Museum, its large collection of curiosities, and the plays that were performed there. One of the pleasantest anticipations he had was of a visit to this place, the paradise of country people. Now that his business was concluded, he determined to go there at once. But first he must inquire the way.
Turning around, he saw Fairfax without recognizing him.
"Can you direct me to the Boston Museum?" he asked.
"Certainly, with pleasure," said Fairfax, with alacrity. "In fact, I am going there myself. I suppose you are going to the afternoon performance?"
"Have you ever been there?"
"No; but I have heard a good deal about it. I don't live in the city."
"Nor do I," said Fairfax. "I am a merchant of Portland, Maine. I have come to the city to buy my winter stock of goods. As I only come twice a year, I generally try to enjoy myself a little while I am here. Do you stay in the city overnight?"
"Yes," said Andy.
"So do I. Here is the Museum."
They had reached the Museum, which, as some of my readers are aware, is situated in Tremont Street.
"We go up these stairs," said Fairfax. "If you don't object, we will take seats together."
"I shall be glad to have company," said Andy, politely.
Reserved seats adjoining were furnished, and the adventurer and his intended victim entered the Museum.
CHAPTER XXVI SPINNING THE WEB
There was a short interval before the play commenced. This Andy improved by examining the large stock of curiosities which have been gathered from all parts of the world for the gratification of visitors. Fairfax kept at his side, and spoke freely of all they saw. There was something about him which seemed to Andy strangely familiar. Was it in his features, or in his voice? He could not tell. The red whig and whiskers misled him. Andy finally set it down as a mere chance resemblance to someone whom he had met formerly, and dismissed it from his mind.
At length the increasing crowds pouring into the lecture-room reminded them that the play was about to begin.
"Shall we go in and take our seats?" said Fairfax.
Andy assented, and they were speedily in their seats.
I do not propose to speak of the play. It was a novelty to Andy to see a dramatic representation, and he thoroughly enjoyed it. Fairfax was more accustomed to such things, but pretended to be equally interested, feeling that in this way he could ingratiate himself better into Andy's confidence.
At last it was over, and they went out of the building.
"How did you like it?" asked Fairfax.
"Tiptop," said Andy, promptly. "Don't you think so?"
"Capital," answered Fairfax, with simulated delight. "I am glad I had company. I don't enjoy anything half as well alone. By the way, where do you pass the night?"
"At some hotel—I don't know which."
"Suppose you go to the Adams House. I've got to stop overnight somewhere, and it might be pleasanter going in company."
"Where is the Adams House?"
"On Washington Street, not very far off—ten or fifteen minutes' walk."
"If it's a good place, I'm willing."
"It is an excellent hotel, and moderate in price. We might go up there now, and engage a room, and then spend the evening where we like."
"Very well," said Andy.
They soon reached the Adams House—a neat, unpretending hotel—and entered. They walked up to the desk, and Fairfax spoke to the clerk.
"Can you give us a room?"
"Certainly. Enter your names."
"Shall we room together?" asked Fairfax, calmly.
Now Andy, though he had had no objection to going to the theater with his present companion, did not care to take a room with a stranger, of whom he knew nothing. He might be a very respectable man, but somehow, Andy did not know why, there was something in his manner which inspired a little repulsion. Besides, he remembered that he had considerable money with him, and that consideration alone rendered it imprudent for him to put himself in the power of a companion. So he said, a little awkwardly:
"I think we'd better take separate rooms."
"Very well," said Fairfax, in a tone of indifference, though he really felt very much disappointed. "I thought it might have been a little more sociable to be together."
Andy did not take the hint, except so far as to say:
"We can take rooms alongside of each other."
"I can give you adjoining rooms, if you desire," said the clerk.
Fairfax here entered his name in the hotel register as "Nathaniel Marvin, Portland, Maine," while Andy put down his real address. His companion's was, of course, fictitious. He did not venture to give the name of Fairfax, as that might be recognized by Andy as that of the highwayman, with whose little plans he had interfered.
A servant was called, and they went up to their rooms, which, as the clerk had promised, were found to be adjoining. They were precisely alike.
"Very comfortable, Mr. Burke," said Fairfax, in a tone of apparent satisfaction. "I think we shall have a comfortable night."
"I guess so," said Andy.
"Are you going to stay here now?"
"No; I'm going to wash my face, and then take a walk around. I want to see something of the city."
"I think I'll lie down awhile; I feel tired. Perhaps we shall meet later. If not, I shall see you in the morning."
"All right," said Andy.
In a few minutes he went out.
CHAPTER XXVII THE DROP GAME
Fairfax had an object in remaining behind. He wanted to see if there was any way for him to get into Andy's room during the night, that he might rob him in his sleep. To his great satisfaction, he found that there was a door between the two rooms, for the accommodation of persons in the same party, who wished to be in adjoining apartments. It was, however, locked, but Fairfax was not unprepared for such an emergency. He took a bunch of keys from his pocket, and tried them, one after another, in the lock. There was one that would very nearly fit. For this again, Fairfax was prepared. He took from the same pocket a file, and began patiently to file away the key till it should fit. He tried it several times before he found that it fitted. But at last success crowned his efforts. The door opened.
His eyes danced with exultation, as he saw this.
"I might as well be in the same room," he said, to himself. "Now, you young rascal, I shall take your money, and be revenged upon you at the same time."
He carefully locked the door, and then, feeling that he had done all that was necessary to do at present, went downstairs, and took supper. Andy was out, and did not see him.
Meanwhile, our young hero was out seeing the sights. He walked up Washington Street, and at Boylston Street turned and reached Tremont Street, when he saw the Common before him. It looked pleasant, and Andy crossed the street, and entered. He walked wherever fancy led, and then found himself, after a while, in a comparatively secluded part. Here he met with an adventure, which I must describe.
Rather a shabby-looking individual in front of him suddenly stooped and picked up a pocketbook, which appeared to be well filled with money. He looked up, and met Andy's eyes fixed upon it. This was what he wanted.
"Here's a pocketbook," he said. "Somebody must have dropped it."
Andy was interested.
"It seems to have considerable money in it," said the finder.
"Open it, and see," said Andy.
"I hain't time. I have got to leave the city by the next train. I mean, I haven't time to advertise it, and get the reward which the owner will be sure to offer. Are you going to stay in the city long?"
"I'm going out to-morrow."
"I must go. I wish I knew what to do."
He seemed to be plunged into anxious thought.
"I'll tell you what I'll do," he said, as if a bright idea had suddenly struck him. "You take the pocketbook, and advertise it. If the owner is found, he will give you a reward. If not, the whole will belong to you."
"All right," said Andy. "Hand it over."
"Of course," said the other, "I shall expect something myself, as I was the one to find it."
"I'll give you half."
"But I shall be out of the city. I'll tell you what give me ten dollars, and I'll make it over to you."
"That's rather steep," said Andy.
"Heft it. There must be a lot of money inside."
"I'm afraid the reward might be less than ten dollars," said Andy.
"Well, I'm in a great hurry—give me five."
It is possible that Andy, who was not acquainted with the "drop game," might have agreed to this, but a policeman hove in sight, and the shabby individual scuttled away without further ceremony, leaving Andy a little surprised, with the pocketbook in his hand.
"What's he in such a hurry for?" thought our hero.
He opened the pocketbook, and a light flashed upon him, as he perceived that there was no money inside, but was stuffed with rolls of paper.
"He wanted to swindle me," thought Andy. "It's lucky I didn't pay him five dollars. Anyway, I'll keep it. The pocketbook is worth something."
He put it in his pocket, without taking the trouble to remove the contents.
CHAPTER XXVIII THE GUEST OF TWO HOTELS
Andy wandered about till nine o'clock, determined to see as much of the city as possible in the limited time which he had at his disposal; but at last he became tired, and returned to the hotel. Fairfax was seated in the reading-room. He looked up as Andy entered.
"Have you been looking around the city?" he asked.
"Yes," said Andy; "I wanted to improve my time."
"I suppose, as this is your first visit, you see a good deal that is new?"
"It's all new," said Andy. "I feel tired, walking around so much."
"No doubt. Are you going to bed now?"
"I guess I'll turn in."
"I shan't go up quite yet. I have been staying here quietly, and I don't feel tired. I shall go up in the course of an hour or two."
"Good-night, then," said Andy.
"Good-night. I hope you'll sleep sound," said Fairfax, who was certainly entirely sincere in this wish, as the success of his plans depended on the soundness of our hero's repose.
Andy went upstairs, and lighted the gas in his bedroom. He noticed the door communicating with the next one, and tried it, but found it to be locked.
"That's all right," said Andy. "Nobody can get in that way."
He locked the principal door, and bolted it, also, which seemed to make him perfectly secure.
"Now," thought he, after undressing, "where shall I put the money?"
This was an important question, as he had between five hundred and a thousand dollars belonging to the Misses Grant, of which it was his duty to take even more care than if it belonged to himself.
"I guess I'll put it under the bolster," he reflected, "covering it up with the sheet. Nobody can get in, that I can see, but it is best to be careful."
In emptying his pockets, he came across the pocketbook, with its sham contents, of which mention has already been made.
"I'll leave that in my pocket," he said to himself, with a smile. "I'm not afraid of losing that. By the powers, it wouldn't be much of a prize to the man that took it; I'm sure of that."
He laid his clothes on a chair, in the middle of the room, and jumped into bed, when he soon sank into a deep sleep.
Meanwhile, Fairfax remained below in the reading-room. He was not at all sleepy, as he had told Andy, and his mind was full of the scheme of robbery, which appeared so promising. He was glad Andy had retired so early, as he would be asleep sooner, and this would make things favorable for his entering his young companion's chamber. It was his intention, after he had secured the "plunder"—to adopt a Western phrase—to come downstairs and leave the hotel, not to return, as otherwise, as soon as Andy should discover his loss, the door between the two rooms would, naturally, point to him as the thief.
He didn't go up to his room till half-past ten. This was an hour and a half later than Andy retired, and would give him a chance to get fast asleep.
"He must be asleep now," he thought.
On reaching the corridor on which both of the chambers were situated, he stood a moment before Andy's door, and listened. It was not often that our young hero was guilty of snoring, but to-night he was weary, and had begun to indulge in this nocturnal disturbance. The sounds which he heard were very satisfactory to Fairfax.
"The boy's fast asleep," he muttered. "I'll go into his room, and make quick work of it. Fairfax, you're in luck, for once. Fortune has taken a turn."
Softly he opened the door of his own room, and entered. He lit the gas, and then, going to the door of communication between the two rooms, he listened again. There was no cessation of the sounds which he had heard from the outside. He determined to make the attempt at once. Taking the proper key from his pocket, he fitted it into the lock, and, turning it, the door opened, and he stepped into the adjoining apartment. It was dark, for Andy had extinguished the gas on going to bed, but the gas from his own room made it sufficiently light for his purpose. He at once caught sight of Andy's clothes lying on the chair, where he had placed them. He glanced cautiously at our hero, as he lay extended upon the bed, with one arm flung out, but he saw no reason for alarm. Quickly he glided to the chair with noiseless step (he had removed his boots, by way of precaution), and thrust his hand into the pocket of the coat. It came in contact with the false pocketbook, which seemed bulky and full of money. Fairfax never doubted that it was the right one, and quickly thrust it into his own pocket. Just then Andy moved a little in bed, and Fairfax retreated, hastily, through the door, closing it after him.
"Now, the sooner I get out of this hotel, the better!" he thought. "The boy may wake and discover his loss. It isn't likely, but it may happen. At any rate it's very much better to be on the safe side."
He did not stop to examine the prize which he had secured. He had no doubt whatever that it contained the money he was after. To stop to count it might involve him in peril. He, therefore, put on his boots, and glided out of the chamber and downstairs.
To the clerk who was at the desk he said, as he surrendered his key:
"How late do you keep open? Till after midnight?"
"Certainly," was the reply.
"All right. I may be out till late."
He left the key, and went out into the street. He hailed a passing car in Tremont Street, and rode for some distance. In Court Street he got on board a Charlestown car, and in half an hour found himself in the city everywhere known by the granite shaft that commemorates the battle of Bunker Hill. He made his way to a hotel, where he took a room, entering here under the name of James Simmons, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Anxious to examine his prize, he desired to be shown at once to a chamber. He followed the servant who conducted him with impatient steps. The stolen money was burning in his pocket. He wanted to know how much he had, and was more than half resolved to take an early train the next morning for the West, where he thought he should be secure from discovery.
"Is there anything wanted, sir?" asked the servant, lingering at the door.
"No, no," said Fairfax, impatiently. "It's all right."
"Might be a little more polite," muttered the snubbed servant, as he went downstairs.
"Now for it!" exclaimed Fairfax, exultingly. "Now, let me see how much I have got."
He drew the pocketbook from his pocket, and opened it. His heart gave a quick thump, and he turned ashy pale, as his glance rested upon the worthless roll of brown paper with which it had been stuffed.
"Curse the boy!" he cried, in fierce and bitter disappointment. "He has fooled me, after all! Why didn't I stop long enough to open the pocketbook before I came away? Blind, stupid fool that I was! I am as badly off as before—nay, worse, for I have exposed myself to suspicion, and haven't got a penny to show for it."
I will not dwell upon his bitter self-reproaches, and, above all, the intense mortification he felt at having been so completely fooled by a boy, whom he had despised as verdant and inexperienced in the ways of the, world—to think that success had been in his grasp, and he had missed it, after all, was certainly disagreeable enough. It occurred to him that he might go back to the Adams House even now, and repair his blunder. It was not likely that Andy was awake yet. He was very weary, and boys of his age were likely, unless disturbed, to sleep through the night. He might retrieve his error, and no one would be the wiser.
"I'll do it," he said, at length.
He went downstairs, and left the hotel without the knowledge of the clerk. Jumping into the horse-cars, he returned to Boston, and entered the Adams House about half-past twelve o'clock. He claimed his key at the desk, and went upstairs to his room. He had scarcely lit the gas, however, when a knock was heard at the door. Opening it unsuspiciously, he turned pale, as he recognized the clerk, in company with an officer of the law.
"What's wanted?" he faltered.
"You are wanted," was the brief reply.
"What for?" he gasped.
"You are charged with entering the adjoining room, and stealing a pocketbook from the boy who sleeps there."
"It's a lie!" he said, but his tone was nervous.
"You must submit to a search," said the officer.
"Do you mean to insult me?" demanded Fairfax, assuming an air of outraged virtue.
"Not at all. I am only giving you a chance to clear yourself from suspicion."
"I am a respectable merchant from Portland. I was never so insulted in my life," said Fairfax.
"If the charge proves groundless, I will make you an ample apology," said the officer.
Fairfax was compelled to submit to the search. He cursed his stupidity in not throwing away the worthless pocketbook, but this he had neglected to do, and, of course, it was very significant evidence against him. Not only was this found, but the variety of keys already referred to.
"You carry a great many keys," said the officer.
"It isn't a crime to carry keys, is it?" demanded Fairfax, sullenly.
"Not if no improper use is made of them. I suspect that one of them will open the door into the next chamber."
The keys were tried, and one did open the door. As the light flashed into the room, Andy got up.
"Come here, young man," said the officer. "Can you identify that pocketbook?"
"I can," said Andy.
"Is it yours?"
"When I went to bed, it was in the pocket of my coat, lying on that chair."
"It is certainly a wonderful pocketbook. I have just found it in that gentleman's pocket."
Fairfax's eyes were bent malignantly upon Andy. A light flashed upon him. Now, he recognized him.
"I know you," he said. "You are the man that stopped Colonel Preston, and tried to rob him."
"You lie, curse you!" exclaimed Fairfax, springing forward, and trying to throw himself upon Andy. But he was not quick enough. The officer had interposed, and seized him by the collar.
"Not so fast, Mr. Marvin, or whatever your name is. We don't allow any such games as that. Sit down till I want you."
The baffled adventurer was jerked into a chair, from which he continued to eye Andy savagely.
"What's that affair you were talking about, young man?" asked the officer.
Andy briefly related his adventure with Fairfax on a former occasion.
"I'll trouble you to come with me, Mr. Marvin, or Fairfax," said the officer. "There's another hotel where lodgings are provided for such as you."
Resistance was useless, and the detected thief, though his name was registered at two hotels, was compelled to occupy a less agreeable room at the station-house. How he was detected will be explained in the next chapter.
CHAPTER XXIX A STARTLING EVENT
Sometimes, the mere presence of a person in the room is sufficient to interrupt even sound repose. At all events, whether it was the entrance of Fairfax, acting in some mysterious way upon Andy, or the light that streamed into the room, his slumber was disturbed, and his eyes opened just as the adventurer was retiring, with his supposed booty.
Our hero did not immediately take in the situation. He was naturally a little bewildered, being just aroused from sleep, but in a short time the real state of the case dawned upon him.
"By the powers!" he said to himself, "it's that man that went to the museum with me! He saw my money, and he came in for it! I'll get up and see."
Quietly and noiselessly he got out of bed, and, going to the chair, felt in his pockets, and so discovered the loss of the stuffed pocketbook.
Andy wanted to laugh, but forbore, lest the sound should be heard in the next room.
"It's a good joke on the dirty thafe!" said Andy, to himself. "He's welcome to all the money, he's got—it won't carry him far, I'm thinkin'."
Prudence suggested another thought. When Fairfax found out the worthlessness of his booty, would he not come back and search for the real treasure?
"If he does, I'll fight him," thought Andy.
Still, he knew the conflict would be unequal, since the other was considerably his superior in strength. However, Andy determined that, come what might, he would defend his trust, "or perish in the attempt." But, while he was coming to this determination, he heard the door of the adjoining chamber open softly, and then he could hear steps along the corridor. Evidently, the thief had not found out the actual character of his booty, but was going off under the impression that it was valuable.
"Maybe he'll come back," thought Andy. "I guess I'd better go down and give notice at the desk. Then, if he comes back, he'll get into hot water."
He hastily dressed himself, and, locking his door, went downstairs. First, however, he removed the money from under his pillow, and put it into his pocket. He found the clerk at the desk.
"Has the man that came in with me gone out?" asked Andy.
"He went out about five minutes ago."
"Did he say anything about coming back?"
"He said it would be late when he returned. He asked me if we kept open after twelve. Did you want to find him?"
"I should like to have the police find him," said Andy.
"How is that?" asked the clerk, surprised.
"He has robbed me."
"Did you leave your door unlocked?"
"No; but there was a door between our rooms. He opened it, and stole a pocketbook from the pocket of my coat."
"While you were asleep?"
"Yes; but I awoke just in time to see him go through the door."
"How much money was there in it?"
"That's the joke of it," said Andy, laughing; "there was no money at all, only some folds of paper. He got hold of the wrong pocketbook."
Thereupon, he told the story of the "drop game," of which he came near being a victim, and what a useful turn the bogus treasure had done him.
"There's the right pocketbook," he said, in conclusion. "I wish you would take care of it for me till to-morrow. The money isn't mine, and I don't want to run any more risk with it."
"I'll lock it up in the safe for you," said the clerk. "Is there much?"
"Several hundred dollars."
"You were very fortunate in escaping as you did," said the clerk.
"True for you," said Andy. "He may come back when he finds out how he has been fooled."
"If he does, I'll call a policeman. We'll make short work with him."
The reader has already heard how Fairfax (or Marvin) did return, and how he met with a reception he had not calculated upon. Andy was informed in the morning that it would be necessary for him to appear as a witness against him in order to secure his conviction. This he did the next day, but the judge delayed sentence, on being informed that the accused was charged with a more serious offense, that of stopping a traveler on the highway. His trial on this count must come before a higher court, and he was remanded to prison till his case was called in the calendar. Andy was informed that he would be summoned as a witness in that case also, as well as Colonel Preston, and answered that he would be ready when called upon.
We will so far anticipate events as to say that the testimony of Andy and the colonel was considered conclusive by the court, and, on the strength of it, Mr. Fairfax, alias Marvin, was sentenced to several years' imprisonment at hard labor.
Andy met with no further adventures in his present visit, but had the satisfaction of delivering the money he had been sent to collect to Miss Priscilla Grant.
Now, advancing our story some three months, we come to an afternoon when Miss Sophia Grant, returning from a walk, with visible marks of excitement, rushed, breathless and panting, into her sister's presence.
"What's the matter, Sophia?" asked Priscilla.
"Such an awful thing!" she gasped.
"What is it?"
"You won't believe it."
"Tell me at once what it is!"
"It seems so sudden!"
"Good heavens! Sophia, why do you tantalize me so?"
"Just so!" gasped Sophia.
"If you don't tell me, I'll shake you!"
"Colonel Preston's dead—dropped dead in the store ten minutes ago. I was there, and saw him."
This startling intelligence was only too true. Suddenly, without an instant's warning, the colonel had been summoned from life—succumbing to a fit of apoplexy. This event, of course, made a great sensation in the village, but it is of most interest to us as it affects the fortunes of our young hero.
CHAPTER XXX COLONEL PRESTON'S WILL
Mrs. Preston was a cold woman, and was far from being a devoted wife. She was too selfish for that supreme love which some women bestow upon their husbands. Still, when Colonel Preston's lifeless form was brought into the house, she did experience a violent shock. To have the companion of nearly twenty years so unexpectedly taken away might well touch the most callous, and so, for a few minutes, Mrs. Preston forgot herself and thought of her husband.
But this was not for long. The thought of her own selfish interests came back, and in the midst of her apparent grief the question forced itself upon her consideration, "Did my husband make a will?"
Of course, she did not give utterance to this query. She knew what was expected of her, and she was prudent enough to keep up appearances before the neighbors, who poured into the house to offer their sympathy. She received them with her cambric handkerchief pressed to her eyes, from which, by dint of effort, she succeeded in squeezing a few formal tears, and, while her bosom appeared to heave with emotion, she was mentally calculating how much Colonel Preston had probably left.
"Shan't I stay with you, my dear Mrs. Preston?" said worthy Mrs. Cameron, in a tone full of warm interest and sympathy.
"Thank you," said Mrs. Preston, in a low voice; "you are very kind, but I would rather be left alone."
"But it must be so sad for you to be alone in your sorrow," said her neighbor.
"No. I can bear sorrow better alone," said the newly made widow. "Perhaps I am peculiar, but I would prefer it."
"If you really wish it," said the other, reluctantly.
"Yes, I wish it. Thank you for your kind offer, but I know my own feelings, and the presence of others would only increase my pain."
This was what she said to others who made the same offer. It did not excite great surprise, for Mrs. Preston had never leaned upon anyone for sympathy, nor was she ready with her sympathy when others were in trouble. She was self-poised and self-contained, and, in fact, for this reason was not popular with her neighbors. Still, in this her distress they were ready to forget all this and extend the same cordial sympathy which they would have done in other cases. There was but one person whose company she did crave at this time and this was her son, Godfrey. So, when Alfred Turner offered to go for him the next morning, she accepted his offer with thanks.
At last she was left alone. The servant had gone to bed, and there was no one but herself and her dead husband in the lower part of the house. She no longer sat with her handkerchief pressed before her eyes. Her face wore its usual look of calm composure. She was busily thinking, not of her husband's fate, but of her own future.
"Did he leave a will? And, if so, how much did he leave me?" she thought.
If there was a will, it was probably in the house, and Mrs. Preston determined to find it, if possible.
"Of course, all ought to come to me and Godfrey," she soliloquized. "I don't think it is right to leave money to charitable institutions as long as a wife and child are living. Fortunately, my husband had no brothers or sisters, or perhaps he would have divided the property. If there is no will, I shall have my thirds, and shall have the control of Godfrey's property till he comes of age. I think I will go to Boston to live. My friend, Mrs. Boynton, has a very pleasant house on Worcester Street. I should like to settle down somewhere near her. I don't know how much Mr. Preston was worth, but I am sure we shall have enough for that. I always wanted to live in the city. This village is intolerably stupid, and so are the people. I shall be glad to get away."
Could the good women, whose kind hearts had prompted them to proffer their sympathy, have heard these words they would not have been likely to obtrude any more on the hard, cold woman who held them in such low estimation.
Mrs. Preston took the lamp in her hand, and began to explore her husband's desk. She had often thought of doing so, but, as his death was not supposed to be so near, she had not thought that there was any immediate cause of doing so. Besides, it had almost been her belief that he had made no will. Now she began to open drawers and untie parcels of papers, but it was some time before she came to what she sought. At length, however, her diligence was rewarded. In the middle of a pile of papers, she found one labeled on the outside:
Her heart beat as she opened it, and, though there was no need, for it was now past ten o'clock, and there was not likely to be a caller at that late hour, she looked cautiously about her, and even peered out of the window into the darkness, but could find no one whose observation she might fear.
I am not about to recite at length the items in the will, which covered a page of foolscap. It is enough to quote two items, which Mrs. Preston read with anger and dissatisfaction. They are as follows:
"Item.—To my young friend, Andy Burke, son of the widow Burke, of this village, in consideration of a valuable service rendered to me on one occasion, and as a mark of my regard and interest, I give and bequeath the sum of five thousand dollars; and to his mother, as a token of gratitude for her faithful nursing when I was dangerously sick with the smallpox, I give and bequeath, free of all incumbrance, the cottage in which she at present resides.
"Item.—To the town I give five thousand dollars, the interest to be annually appropriated to the purchase of books for a public library, for the benefit of all the citizens, provided the town will provide some suitable place in which to keep them."
All the balance of the property was left to his wife and son, in equal proportions, his wife to be the guardian of Godfrey till he should have attained his majority. As Colonel Preston was well known to be rich, this seemed to be an adequate provision, but Mrs. Preston did not look upon it in that light. On the contrary, she was deeply incensed at the two legacies of which mention has been made above.
"Was ever anything more absurd than to waste five thousand dollars and a house upon that Irish boy and his mother?" she said to herself. "I don't suppose it was so much my husband's fault. That artful woman got around him, and wheedled him into it. I know now why she was so willing to come here and take care of him when he was sick. She wanted to wheedle him into leaving money to her low-lived boy. She is an artful and designing hussy, and I should like to tell her so to her face."
The cold and usually impassible woman was deeply excited. Her selfish nature made her grudge any of her husband's estate to others, except, indeed, to Godfrey, who was the only person she cared for. As she thought over the unjust disposition, as she regarded it, which her husband had made of his property, a red spot glowed in her usually pale cheek.
Then it was another grievance that money should have been left to the town.
"What claim had the town on my husband," she thought, "that he should give it five thousand dollars? In doing it, he was robbing Godfrey and me. It was wrong. He had no right to do it. What do I care for these people? They are a set of common farmers and mechanics, with whom I condescend to associate because I have no one else here, except the minister's and the doctor's family, to speak to. Soon I shall be in the city, and then I don't care if I never set eyes on any of them again. In Boston I can find suitable society."
The more Mrs. Preston thought of it, the more she felt aggravated by the thought that so large a share of her husband's property was to go to others. She fixed her eyes thoughtfully on the document which she held in her hand, and a strong temptation came to her.
"If this should disappear," she said to herself, "the money would be all mine and Godfrey's, and no one would be the wiser. That Irish boy and his mother would stay where they belonged, and my Godfrey would have his own. Why should I not burn it? It would only be just."
Deluding herself by this false view, she persuaded herself that it was right to suppress the will. With steady hand she held it to the flame of the lamp, and watched it as it was slowly consumed. Then, gathering up the fragments, she threw them away.
"It is all ours now," she whispered, triumphantly, as she prepared to go to bed. "It was lucky I found the will."
CHAPTER XXXI MRS. PRESTON'S INTENTIONS
Godfrey returned home on the day after his father's death. He had never witnessed death before, and it frightened him, for the time, into propriety. He exhibited none of the stormy and impetuous grief which a warm-hearted and affectionate boy would have been likely to exhibit. It was not in his nature.
When he and his mother were left alone, he showed his resemblance to her, by asking:
"Do you know how much property father left?"
"I don't know. He never told me about his affairs as he ought. I think he must have left near a hundred thousand dollars."
Godfrey's eyes sparkled.
"That's a pile of money," he said. "It goes to me, don't it?"
"To us," said Mrs. Preston.
"A woman doesn't need so much money as a man," said Godfrey, selfishly.
"You are not a man yet," said his mother, dryly. "Your father may have left a will. In that case, he may have left a part of his property to others."
"Do you think he has?" inquired Godfrey, in alarm.
"I don't think any will will be found," said his mother, quietly. "He never spoke to me of making one."
"Of course not. That wouldn't be fair, would it?"
"It is fitting that the property should all go to us."
"When shall I get mine?"
"When you are twenty-one."
"That's a long time to wait," said Godfrey, grumblingly.
"You are only a boy yet. I shall probably be your guardian."
"I hope you'll give me a larger allowance than father did."
"Must I go back to boarding school? I don't want to."
"If I go to Boston to live, as I think I shall, I will take you with me, and you can go to school there."
"That'll be jolly," said Godfrey, his eyes sparkling with anticipation. "I've got tired of this miserable town."
"So have I," said his mother. "We shall have more privileges in Boston."
"I can go to the theater as often as I please there, can't I?"
"We will see about that."
"How soon shall we move to the city?"
"As soon as business will allow. I must settle up your father's affairs here."
"Can't I go beforehand?"
"Would you leave me alone?" asked his mother, with a little touch of wounded affection, for she did feel attached to her son. He was the only one, indeed, for whom she felt any affection.
"You won't miss me, mother. It'll be awfully stupid here, and you know you'll be coming to the city as soon as you get through with the business."
Mrs. Preston was disappointed, but she should not have been surprised. Her only son reflected her own selfishness.
"It would not look well for you to go to the theater just at the present," she said.
"So soon after your father's death."
Godfrey said nothing, but looked discontented. It was early to think of amusement, while his father lay yet unburied in the next room. He left the room, whistling. He could not gainsay his mother's objections, but he thought it hard luck.
A funeral in a country village is a public occasion. Friends and neighbors are expected to be present without invitation. Among those who assembled at the house were Mrs. Burke and Andy. They felt truly sorry for the death of Colonel Preston, who had been a friend to both. Mrs. Preston saw them enter, and, notwithstanding the solemnity of the occasion, the thought intruded: "They're after the legacy, but they will be disappointed. I've taken good care of that."
Godfrey saw them, also, and his thought was a characteristic one:
"What business has that Irish boy at my father's funeral? He ought to know better than to poke himself in where he is not wanted."
Even Godfrey, however, had the decency to let this thought remain unspoken. The services proceeded, and among those who followed on foot in the funeral procession were Andy and his mother. It never occurred to them that they were intruding. They wanted to show respect for the memory of one who had been a friend to them.
On the day after the funeral Squire Tisdale called at the house, invited by Mrs. Preston. The squire had a smattering of law, and often acted as executor in settling estates.
"I invited you to come here, Squire Tisdale," said Mrs. Preston, "to speak about my affairs. Of course, it is very trying to me to think of business so soon after the death of my dear husband"—here she pressed her handkerchief to her tearless eyes—"but I feel it to be my duty to myself and my boy."
"Of course," said the squire, soothingly. "We can't give way to our feelings, however much we want to."
"That is my feeling," said Mrs. Preston, whose manner was wonderfully cool and collected, considering the grief which she desired to have it thought she experienced for her husband.
"Did Colonel Preston leave a will?" asked the squire.
"I don't think he did. He never mentioned making one to me. Did you ever hear of his making any?"
"I can't say that I ever did. I suppose it will be best to search."
"Won't it be more proper for you to make the search, Squire Tisdale?" said the widow. "I am an interested party."
"Suppose we search together. You can tell me where your husband kept his private papers."
"Certainly. He kept them in his desk. I locked it as soon as he died; but here is the key. If there is a will, it is probably there."
"Very probably. We shall soon ascertain, then."
Squire Tisdale took the key, and Mrs. Preston led the way to her late husband's desk. A momentary fear seized her.
"What if there was an earlier will, or two copies of the last?" she thought. "I ought to have made sure by looking over the other papers."
But it was too late now. Besides, it seemed very improbable that there should be another will. Had there been an earlier one, it would, doubtless, have been destroyed on the drafting of the one she had found. She reassured herself, therefore, and awaited with tranquillity the result of the search.
The search was careful and thorough. Mrs. Preston desired that it should be so. Knowing the wrong she had done to Andy and his mother, as well as the town, she was unnecessarily anxious to appear perfectly fair, and assured Squire Tisdale that, had there been a will, its provisions should have been carried out to the letter.
"There is no will here," said the squire, after a careful search.
"I did not expect you would find one," said the widow; "but it was necessary to make sure."
"Is there any other place where your husband kept papers?"
"We will look in the drawers and trunks," said Mrs. Preston; "but I don't think any will be found."
None was found.
"Can I do anything more for you, Mrs. Preston?" asked the squire.
"I should like your advice, Squire Tisdale. I am not used to business, and I would like the aid of your experience."
"Willingly," said the squire, who felt flattered.
"As my husband left no will, I suppose the estate goes to my son and myself?"
"How ought I to proceed?"
"You should apply for letters of administration, which will enable you to settle up the property."
"Will you help me to take the necessary steps?"
"I should like to settle the estate as rapidly as possible, as I intend to remove to Boston."
"Indeed? We shall be sorry to lose you. Can you not content yourself here?"
"Everything will remind me of my poor husband," said Mrs. Preston, with another application of the handkerchief to her still tearless eyes.
Squire Tisdale was impressed with the idea that she had more feeling than he had thought.
"I didn't think of that," he said, sympathetically. "No doubt you are right."
Mrs. Preston lost no time in applying for letters of administration.
"As soon as I get them," she said to herself, "I will lose no time in ejecting that Irishwoman from the house my husband bought for her. I'll make her pay rent, too, for the time she has been in it."
CHAPTER XXXII MRS. PRESTON'S REVENGE
Andy Burke was passing the house of Mrs. Preston, within a month after Colonel Preston's death, when Godfrey, who had not gone back to boarding school, showed himself at the front door.
"Come here!" said Godfrey, in an imperious tone.
Andy turned his head, and paused.
"Who are you talking to?" he asked.
"To you, to be sure."
"My mother wants to see you."
"All right; I'll come in."
"You can go around to the back door," said Godfrey, who seemed to find pleasure in making himself disagreeable.
"I know I can, but I don't mean to," said Andy, walking up to the front entrance, where Godfrey was standing.
"The back door is good enough for you," said the other, offensively.
"I shouldn't mind going to it if you hadn't asked me," said Andy. "Just move away, will you?"
Godfrey did not stir.
"Very well," said Andy, turning; "tell your mother you would not let me in."
"Come in, if you want to," said Godfrey, at length, moving aside.
"I don't care much about it. I only came to oblige your mother."
"Maybe you won't like what she has to say," said Godfrey, with a disagreeable smile.
"I'll soon know," said Andy.
He entered the house, and Godfrey called upstairs: "Mother, the Burke boy is here."
"I'll be down directly," was the answer. "He can sit down."
Andy sat down on a chair in the hall, not receiving an invitation to enter the sitting-room, and waited for Mrs. Preston to appear. He wondered a little what she wanted with him, but thought it likely that she had some errand or service in which she wished to employ him. He did not know the extent of her dislike for him and his mother.
After a while Mrs. Preston came downstairs. She was dressed in black, but showed no other mark of sorrow for the loss of her husband. Indeed, she was looking in better health than usual.
"You can come into the sitting-room," she said, coldly.
Andy followed her, and so did Godfrey, who felt a malicious pleasure in hearing what he knew beforehand his mother intended to say.
"I believe your name is Andrew?" she commenced.
"Your mother occupies a house belonging to my late husband."
"Yes, ma'am," answered Andy, who now began to guess at the object of the interview.
"I find, by examining my husband's papers, that she has paid no rent for the last six months."
"That's true," said Andy. "She offered to pay it, but Colonel Preston told her he didn't want no rent from her. He said she could have it for nothing."
"That's a likely story," said Godfrey, with a sneer.
"It's a true story," said Andy, in a firm voice, steadily eying his young antagonist.
"This may be true, or it may not be true," said Mrs. Preston, coldly. "If true, I suppose my husband gave your mother a paper of some kind, agreeing to let her have the house rent-free."
"She hasn't got any paper," said Andy.
"I thought not," said Godfrey, sneering. "You forgot to write her one."
"Be quiet, Godfrey," said his mother. "I prefer to manage this matter myself. Then, your mother has no paper to show in proof of what you assert?"
"No, ma'am. The colonel didn't think it was necessary. He just told my mother, when she first came with the rent, that she needn't trouble herself to come again on that errand. He said that she had nursed him when he was sick with the smallpox, and he'd never forget it, and that he'd bought the house expressly for her."
"I am aware that your mother nursed my husband in his sickness," said Mrs. Preston, coldly. "I also know that my husband paid her very handsomely for her services."
"That's true, ma'am," said Andy. "He was a fine, generous man, the colonel was, and I'll always say it."
"There really seems no reason why, in addition to this compensation, your mother should receive a present of her rent. How much rent did she pay before my husband bought the house?"
"Fifteen dollars a quarter."
"Then she has not paid rent for six months. I find she owes my husband's estate thirty dollars."
"Colonel Preston told her she wasn't to pay it."
"How do I know that?"
"My mother says it, and she wouldn't tell a lie," said Andy, indignantly.
"I have nothing to say as to that," said Mrs. Preston. "I am now managing the estate, and the question rests with me. I decide that your mother has been sufficiently paid for her services, and I shall claim rent for the last six months."
Andy was silent for a moment. Then he spoke:
"It may be so, Mrs. Preston. I'll speak to the doctor, and I'll do as he says."
"I don't know what the doctor has to do with the matter," said Mrs. Preston, haughtily.
"He wants to get an excuse for not paying," said Godfrey, with a sneer.
"Mind your business," said Andy, excusably provoked.
"Do you hear that, mother?" said Godfrey. "Are you going to let that beggar insult me before your very face?"
"You have spoken very improperly to my son," said Mrs. Preston.
"He spoke very improperly to me at first," said Andy, sturdily.
"You do not appear to understand the respect due to me," said Mrs. Preston, with emphasis.
"If I've treated you disrespectfully, I'm sorry," said Andy; "but Godfrey mustn't insult me, and call me names."
"We have had enough of this," said Mrs. Preston. "I have only to repeat that your mother is indebted to me for six months' rent—thirty dollars—which I desire she will pay as soon as possible. One thing more: I must request her to find another home, as I have other plans for the house she occupies."
"You're not goin' to turn her out of her house, sure?" said Andy, in some dismay.
"It is not her house," said Mrs. Preston; though it occurred to her that it might have been, if she had not suppressed the will. But, of course, Andy knew nothing of this, nor did he suspect anything, since neither he nor his mother had the faintest idea of being remembered in Colonel Preston's will, kind though he had been to them both in his life.
"I know it isn't," said Andy; "but she's got used to it. I don't know any other place we can get."
"That is your lookout," said Mrs. Preston. "I have no doubt you can get in somewhere. As I said, the house is mine, and I have other views for it."
"Can't we stay till the end of the quarter, ma'am?"
"No; I wish to finish my business here as soon as possible, and then shall go to Boston."
"How long can we stay, then?"
"Till the first of the month."
"That's only three days."
"It is long enough to find another place. That is all I have to say," and Mrs. Preston turned to go.
Andy rose, and followed her, without a word. He saw that it would be of no use to appeal for more time. Her tone was so firm and determined that there evidently was no moving her.
"What will we do?" thought Andy, as he walked slowly and silently along the road.
He felt the need of consulting somebody older and more experienced than himself. Just in the nick of time he met Dr. Townley, in whose friendship he felt confidence.
"Can you stop a minute, Dr. Townley?" he said. "I want to speak to you about something."
"I can spare two minutes, if you like, Andy," said the doctor, smiling.
Andy explained the case.
"It is quite true," said the doctor. "Colonel Preston intended your mother to pay no rent—he told me so himself; but, as your mother has no written proof, I suppose you will have to pay it. Shall I lend you the money?"
"No need, doctor. We've got money enough for that. But we must move out in three days. Where shall we go?"
"I'll tell you. I own the small house occupied by Grant Melton. He sets out for the West to-morrow, with his family. I'll let it to your mother for the same rent she's been paying."
"Thank you," said Andy, gratefully. "It's better than the house we've been living in. It's a good change."
"Perhaps you won't like me for a landlord so well as Mrs. Preston," said the doctor, smiling.
"I'll risk it," said Andy.
Two days afterward the transfer was made. Mrs. Preston was disappointed, and Godfrey still more so, to find their malice had done the widow Burke no harm.
By advice of the doctor, Andy deferred paying the thirty dollars claimed as rent, availing himself of the twelve months allowed for the payment of debts due the estate of one deceased.
"If it was anybody else, I'd pay at once," said Andy; "but Mrs. Preston has treated us so meanly that I don't mean to hurry."
The delay made Mrs. Preston angry, but she was advised that it was quite legal.
CHAPTER XXXIII ANDY LOSES HIS PLACE
Andy and his mother moved into Dr. Townley's cottage. It was rather an improvement upon the house in which they had lived hitherto, but, then, there was this great difference: For the one they had no rent to pay, but for the other they paid fifty dollars rent. Dr. Townley would gladly have charged nothing, but he was a comparatively poor man, and could not afford to be as generous as his heart would have dictated. He had a fair income, being skillful and in good practice, but he had a son in college, and his expenses were a considerable drain upon his father's purse. Still, with the money saved, and Andy's weekly earnings, the Burkes were able to live very comfortably and still pay the rent. But a real misfortune was in store for Andy.
Miss Sophia Grant was taken sick with lung fever. The sickness lasted for some weeks, and left her considerably debilitated.
"What do you think of Sophia, Dr. Townley?" asked Priscilla, anxiously. "She remains weak, and she has a bad cough. I am feeling alarmed about her."
"I'll tell you what I think, Miss Priscilla," said the doctor, "though I am sorry to do it. The fact is, the air here is altogether too bracing for your sister. She will have to go to some inland town, where the east winds are not felt."
"Then I must go, too," said Miss Priscilla. "We have lived together from girlhood, and we cannot be separated."
"I supposed you would be unwilling to leave her, so I am afraid we must make up our minds to lose you both."
"Do you think, doctor, that Sophia will, by and by, be strong enough to return here?"
"I am afraid not. The effects of lung fever are always felt for a long time. She will improve, no doubt, but a return to this harsh air would, I fear, bring back her old trouble."
"I asked because I wanted to know whether it would be best to keep this place. After what you have told me, I shall try to sell it."
"I am truly sorry, Miss Priscilla."
"So am I, Dr. Townley. I don't expect any place will seem so much like home as this."
"Have you any particular place that you think of going to?"
"Yes; I have a niece married in a small town near Syracuse, New York State. They don't have east winds there. I'll get Priscilla (she's named after me) to hunt up a cottage that we can live in, and move right out there. I suppose we'd better go soon?"
"Better go at once. Weak lungs must be humored."
"Then I'll write to Priscilla to get me a boarding house, and we'll start next week."
There was one person whom this removal was likely to affect seriously, and this was our young hero.
"I hope Andy'll be able to get a place," said Priscilla, after she had communicated the doctor's orders to her sister.
"Just so, Priscilla. He's a good boy."
"I will give him a good recommendation."
"Just so. Does he know it?"
"No. I will call him in and tell him, so that he can be looking out for another position."
Andy answered the call of Miss Priscilla. He had been sawing wood, and there was sawdust in his sleeves.
"How long have you been with us, Andy?" asked his mistress.
"Over a year, ma'am."
"I wish I could keep you for a year to come."
"Can't you?" asked Andy, startled.
"What's the matter, Miss Priscilla? Have I done anything wrong?"
"No, Andy. We are both of us quite satisfied with you."
"You haven't lost any money, ma'am, have you? I'll work for less, if you can't afford to pay as much as you've been paying."
"Thank you, Andy, but it isn't that. My sister's lungs are weak, and Dr. Townley has ordered her to move to a less exposed place. We are going to move away from the town."
"I'm sorry," said Andy, and he was, for other reasons than because he was about to lose a good place.
"We shall miss you, Andy."
"Just so," chimed in Miss Sophia, with a cough.
"You see how weak my sister's lungs are. It's on her account we are going."
"Shan't you come back again, ma'am?"
"No, Andy. The doctor says it will never be safe for us to do so. I hope you will get a good place."
"I hope so, ma'am; but you needn't think of that."
"We are prepared to give you a good recommendation. We feel perfectly satisfied with you in every way."
"Just so," said Sophia.
"Thank you, ma'am, and you, too, Miss Sophia. I've tried to do my duty faithfully by you."
"And you have, Andy."
"How soon do you go, ma'am?"
"Next week, if we can get away. The doctor says we can't get away too soon. So you had better be looking around, to see if you can get a place somewhere."
"I will, ma'am; but I'll stay with you till the last day. You'll need me to pack up for you."
"Yes, we shall. To-morrow I'll write you the recommendation."
"Thank you, ma'am."
Andy did not sleep as much as usual that night. His wages were the main support of his mother and sister, and he could think of no other place in the village where he was likely to be employed. He had a little money saved up, but he didn't like the idea of spending it. Besides, it would not last long.
"I wish Dr. Townley wanted a boy," thought Andy. "I'd rather work for the doctor than for anybody else in the village. He's a nice man, and he cares just as much for poor folks as he does for rich folks. I am sure he likes me better than he does Godfrey Preston."
But Dr. Townley already had a boy, whom he did not like to turn off. Nor could he have afforded to pay Andy as high wages as he had received from the Misses Grant. There really seemed to be no vacant place in the village for our young hero to fill, and, of course, this troubled him.
Next week the Misses Grant got away from the village. They gave Andy as a present an old-fashioned silver watch, about the size and shape of a turnip. Andy was glad to get it, old-fashioned as it was, and he thanked them warmly.
The day afterward he was walking slowly along the village street, when he came upon Godfrey Preston strutting along, with an air of importance. He and his mother had removed to Boston, but they were visiting the town on a little business.
"Hello, there!" said Godfrey, halting.
"Hello!" said Andy.
"You've lost your place, haven't you?" asked Godfrey, with a sneer.
"How are you going to live?"
"By eating, I expect," answered Andy, shortly.
"If you can get anything to eat, you mean?"
"We got enough so far."
"Perhaps you won't have, long. You may have to go to the poorhouse."
"When I do, I shall find you there."
"What do you mean?" demanded Godfrey, angrily.
"I mean I shan't go there till you do."
"You're proud for a beggar."
"I'm more of a gentleman than you are."
"I'd thrash you, only I won't demean myself by doing it."
"That's lucky, or you might get thrashed yourself."
"You're only an Irish boy."
"I'm proud of that same. You won't find me go back on my country."
Godfrey walked away. Somehow, he could never get the better of Andy.
"I hope I'll see you begging in rags, some day," he thought to himself.
But boys like Andy are not often reduced to such a point.
CHAPTER XXXIV THE WILL AT LAST
The next three months passed very unsatisfactorily for Andy. In a small country town like that in which he lived there was little opportunity for a boy, however industrious, to earn money. The farmers generally had sons of their own, or were already provided with assistants, and there was no manufacturing establishment in the village to furnish employment to those who didn't like agriculture. Andy had some idea of learning the carpenter trade, there being a carpenter who was willing to take an apprentice, but, unfortunately, he was unwilling to pay any wages for the first year—only boarding the apprentice—and our hero felt, for his mother's sake, that it would not do to make such an engagement.
When the three months were over, the stock of money which Andy and his mother had saved up was almost gone. In fact, he had not enough left to pay the next quarter's rent to Dr. Townley.
Things were in this unsatisfactory state, when something happened that had a material effect upon Andy's fortunes, and, as my readers will be glad to know, for their improvement.
To explain what it was, I must go back to a period shortly before Colonel's Preston's death. One day he met the doctor in the street, and stopped to speak to him.
"Dr. Townley," he said, "I have a favor to ask of you."
"I shall be very glad to serve you, Colonel Preston," said the doctor.
Thereupon Colonel Preston drew from his inside pocket a sealed envelope of large size.
"I want you to take charge of this for me," he said.
"Certainly," said the doctor, in some surprise.
"Please read what I have written upon the envelope."
The doctor, his attention called to the envelope, read, inscribed in large, distinct characters:
"Not to be opened till six months after my death."
"I see you want an explanation," said the colonel. "Here it is—the paper contained in this envelope is an important one. I won't tell you what it is. When you come to open it, it will explain itself."
"But, colonel, you are likely to live as long as I. In that case, I can't follow your directions."
"Of course, we can't tell the duration of our lives. Still, I think you will outlive me. If not, I shall reclaim the paper. Meanwhile, I shall be glad to have you take charge of it for me."
"Of course I will. It is a slight favor to ask."
"It may prove important. By the way, there is no need of telling anyone, unless, perchance, your wife. I don't want to force you to keep anything secret from her. Mrs. Townley, I know, may be depended upon."
"I think she may. Well, Colonel Preston, set your mind at rest. I will take care of the paper."
When Colonel Preston died, not long afterward, the doctor naturally thought of the paper, and, as no will was left, it occurred to him that this might be a will; but, in that case, he couldn't understand why he should have been enjoined to keep it six months before opening it. On the whole, he concluded that it was not a will.
Seated at the supper table, about this time, Mrs. Townley said, suddenly:
"Henry, how long is it since Colonel Preston died?"
"Let me see," said the doctor, thoughtfully. "It is—yes, it is six months to-morrow."
"Then it is time for you to open that envelope he gave into your charge."
"So it is. My dear, your feminine curiosity inspired that thought," said the doctor, smiling.
"Perhaps you are right. I own I am a little inquisitive in the matter."
"I am glad you mentioned it. I have so much on my mind that I should have let the day pass, and I should be sorry not to fulfill to the letter the promise I made to my friend."
"Have you any suspicion as to the nature of the document?"
"I thought it might be a will; but, if so, I can't understand why a delay of six months should have been interposed."
"Colonel Preston may have had his reasons. Possibly he did not fully trust his wife's attention to his requests."
"It may be so. I am afraid his married life was not altogether harmonious. Mrs. Preston always struck me as a very selfish woman."
"No doubt of that."
"She evidently regarded herself as superior to the rest of us."
"In that respect Godfrey is like her. He is a self-conceited, disagreeable young jackanapes. I wouldn't give much for his chances of honorable distinction in life. I'll tell you of a boy who will, in my opinion, beat him in the race of life."
"Who is that?"
"Andy is a good boy, but I am afraid the family is doing poorly now."
"So I fear. The, fact is, there doesn't appear to be much opening for a lad like Andy in this village."
"I hear that Mr. Graves, the storekeeper, who is getting old, wants to get a boy, or young man, with a small capital to take an interest in his business, and, eventually, succeed him."
"That would be a good chance for Andy, if he had the small capital; but he probably hasn't ten dollars in the world."
"That's a pity."
"If I were a capitalist, I wouldn't mind starting him myself; but as you, my dear, are my most precious property, and are not readily convertible into cash, I don't quite see my way to do anything to assist him."
"I didn't think of you, Henry. Country doctors are not likely to get rich. But I thought Colonel Preston, who seemed to take an interest in the boy, might do something for him."
"If he had lived, he might have done so—probably he would. But Mrs. Preston and Godfrey hate the Burkes like poison, for no good reason that I know of, and there is no chance of help from that quarter."
"I should think not."
The next day, Dr. Townley, immediately after breakfast, drew the envelope already referred to from among his private papers, and, breaking the seal, opened it.
To his surprise and excitement, he discovered that the inclosure was the last will and testament of his deceased friend. Accompanying it was the following note:
"MY DEAR FRIEND, DR. TOWNLEY: This is the duplicate of a will executed recently, and expresses my well-considered wishes as to the disposition of my property. The original will may have been found and executed before you open this envelope. In that case, of course, this will be of no value, and you can destroy it. But I am aware that valuable papers are liable to loss or injury, and, therefore, I deem it prudent to place this duplicate in your possession, that, if the other be lost, you may see it carried into execution. I have named you my executor, and am sure, out of regard to me, you will accept the trust, and fulfill it to the best of your ability. I have always felt the utmost confidence in your friendship, and this will account for my troubling you on the present occasion. "Your friend, "Anthony Preston."
From this letter Dr. Townley turned to the perusal of the will. The contents filled him with equal surprise and pleasure.
"Five thousand dollars to Andy Burke!" he repeated. "That is capital! It will start the boy in life, and with his good habits it will make him sure of a competence by and by. With half of it he can buy an interest in Graves' store, and the balance will, if well invested, give him a handsome addition to his income. Then there's the bequest for the town library—a capital idea, that! It will do a great deal to make the town attractive, and be a powerful agency for refining and educating the people."
Just then Mrs. Townley, who knew what her husband was about, came into the room.
"Well, Henry," she said, "is the paper important?"
"I should say it was. It is Colonel Preston's last will and testatment."
"Is it possible? How does he leave his property?"
"He leaves five thousand dollars for a town library."
"Does he remember Andy Burke?"
"He leaves him five thousand dollars, and gives his mother the house they used to live in."
"That's splendid! But what will Mrs. Preston say?"
"Well, that remains to be seen," said the doctor, laughing.
CHAPTER XXXV MRS. PRESTON IS UNPLEASANTLY SURPRISED
Dr. Townley thought it best to consult with the town authorities as to the course to be pursued, since, as it appeared, the town was interested in the will. It was decided that the doctor and Mr. Graves, who was the Chairman of the Selectmen, should go to Boston the next day and inform Mrs. Preston of the discovery of the will. Until after this interview it was deemed best not to mention the matter to Andy or his mother.
Mrs. Preston was established in a showy house at the South End. At last she was living as she desired to do. She went to the theater and the opera, and was thinking whether she could afford to set up a carriage. Godfrey she had placed at a private school, and was anxious to have him prepare for admission to Harvard College, but in this hope she seemed destined to be disappointed. Godfrey wanted to see life and enjoy himself, and had no intention of submitting to the drudgery of hard study.
"Godfrey," said his mother one morning, "I have received a letter from your teacher, complaining that you don't work."
"I'm not going to work myself to death," answered Godfrey.
"I don't expect you to hurt yourself with work, but I want you to go to college."
"Oh, well, I'll get in somehow."
"Don't you want to stand well as a scholar?" she asked.
"I leave that to the poor fellows that have got to work for a living. I am rich."
"You may lose your money."
"I don't mean to."
"Suppose you do?"
"Then I will go to work."
"I should like to have you graduate well at college and then study law. You might get into Congress," said his mother.
"I guess I'll know enough for that," said Godfrey, carelessly. "I want to have a good time."
That was not the worst of it, however. He extorted from his mother a large allowance, which he spent at bars and billiard saloons, and one day was brought home drunk by a schoolfellow.
"Oh, Godfrey, how can you do so?" exclaimed the selfish woman, for once fairly alarmed on another's account.
"Hush up, old woman!" hiccoughed Godfrey.
Mrs. Preston was mortified to think this should be said to her before Godfrey's schoolmate.
"He does not know what he is saying," she said, apologetically.
"Yes, I do," persisted Godfrey. "I'm a—a gen'leman's son. I don't want you to interfere with gen'leman's son."
He was put to bed, and awoke the next morning with a splitting headache. It was the morning of the day which the doctor and Mr. Graves had chosen to call on Mrs. Preston. She was preparing to go out, when a servant came upstairs to announce that two gentlemen were in the parlor, and wanted to see her.
"Two gentlemen! What do they look like, Nancy?"
"One of 'em looks like he was from the country, mum."
This referred to Mr. Graves, who did have a rustic look. The doctor would readily have passed for a Bostonian.
"Did they give their names?"
"I will go down directly. I suppose they won't stay long."
Mrs. Preston sailed into the parlor with the air of a city lady, as she proudly imagined, but stopped short in some surprise when she recognized her visitors. Of course, she did not suspect the nature of their business.
Dr. Townley arose as she entered.
"Good-morning, Mrs. Preston," he said. "I hope I find you well?"
"I am quite well," said Mrs. Preston, coldly, for she had never liked the doctor. She had an unpleasant feeling that he understood her, and was not among her admirers. "Good-morning, Mr. Graves. You come to the city occasionally?"
"I don't often get time to come up, but the doctor thought I ought to come."
"Indeed! I am sorry to say that I am just going out."
"I must ask you to defer going till we have communicated our business," said the doctor.
"Business?" repeated Mrs. Preston, seating herself in some surprise.
"Yes—business of importance. In short, your husband's will has come to light."
"My husband's will!" exclaimed Mrs. Preston. "I thought——"
She checked herself suddenly. She was about to say, "I thought I had destroyed it," and that would have let the cat out of the bag with a vengeance.
"You thought that he left no will," said the doctor, finishing the sentence for her. "He really left two——"
"That's it—he executed two—exactly alike. One he left in my hands."
"That is a likely story!" said Mrs. Preston, excitedly. "If that is the case, why, I ask, have we heard nothing of this before?"
"Because it was contained in an envelope, which I was requested not to open for six months after his decease. The time having expired——"
"May I ask what are the provisions of this pretended will?" demanded Mrs. Preston, in visible excitement.
"Mrs. Preston," said the doctor, with dignity, "you appear to forget that you are addressing a gentleman. I am above fabricating a will, as you seem to insinuate. As to the provisions, it leaves five thousand dollars to the town for the establishment of a public library, and five thousand dollars to Andy Burke, besides the small house in which she used to live to the widow Burke."
The worst had come. In spite of her criminal act, she must lose the ten thousand dollars; and, worst of all, those whom she hated and despised were to profit by her loss.
"This is simply outrageous, Dr. Townley," she said.
"You are speaking of your husband's will, Mrs. Preston."
"I don't believe he made it."
"There can be no doubt of it. Mr. Graves has examined it, and he and myself are so familiar with the handwriting of your husband that we have no hesitation in pronouncing the will genuine."
"Colonel Preston must have been insane if he really made such a will."
"I was his medical adviser," said Dr. Townley, quietly, "and I never detected the least sign of an unsound mind."
"The fact of robbing his wife and child to enrich an Irishwoman and her son is proof enough of his insanity."
"Pardon me, madam, but such bequests are made every day. Outside of their legacies your husband left ample fortune, and there is no danger of your being impoverished."
"Did you bring the will with you?"
"No. I did not feel like incurring the risk."
"I shall contest the will," said Mrs. Preston, passionately.
"I would not advise you to. The proof of its genuineness is overwhelming. I suppose you never saw the other will?"
Mrs. Preston, at this unexpected question, in spite of her strong nerves, turned pale, and faltered:
"Of course not," she said, after a slight pause.
"Your husband asserts positively in a note to me that he made one," said the doctor, bending his eyes searchingly upon her, for he suspected the truth, and that it was distrust of his wife that led Colonel Preston to take the precaution he had done. "Its disappearance is mysterious."
"What do you mean?" cried Mrs. Preston, sharply, and not altogether without alarm.
"I meant only to express my surprise."
"If your business is over, I will go out."
"I have only this to say, that, being named in the will as executor, I shall take immediate measures to have the will admitted to probate. Should you make up your mind to contest it, you can give me due notice through your legal adviser. In that case," he added, significantly, "the question of the disappearance of the other will will come up."
"I will consult my lawyer," said Mrs. Preston.
Though she said this, her determination was already made. "Conscience makes cowards of us all," and the doctor's last hint alarmed her so much that she decided to make no opposition to the setting up of the will. But it was a bitter pill to swallow.
"Graves," said Dr. Townley, as he left the house, "that woman destroyed the other will."
"Do you think so?" asked Mr. Graves, startled.
"I feel sure of it. Let me predict also that she will not contest this will. She is afraid to."
And the doctor was right.
CHAPTER XXXVI ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
Andy was quite unconscious of the good fortune which had come to him. Though a manly and stout-hearted boy, he was, in fact, getting discouraged. He was willing and anxious to work, but there seemed to be no work for him to do. He would have left home some time since to try his fortune elsewhere, but for the entreaties of his mother, who didn't like to lose him.
In the morning after Dr. Townley's visit to Boston, our hero knocked at the doctor's front door.
"Is Dr. Townley at home?" he asked.
"Yes, Andy," said the doctor, who overheard the inquiry. "Come right in. You're just the boy I want to see."
Andy entered, twirling his hat awkwardly in his hand.
"Good-morning, Andy," said the doctor, cordially. "Take a seat."
"Thank you, sir," said Andy, but did not sit down.
"What is the matter? You are looking rather blue this morning."
"Faith, doctor, and that's the way I feel entirely."
"You're not sick, are you? Let me feel your pulse."
"No, I'm not sick, but it's discouraged I am."
"Why should a stout boy in good health be discouraged?"
"I can't get any work to do, and I'm afraid we'll all starve."
"It strikes me," said the doctor, fixing his eyes on Andy, enjoying the effect of his intended announcement, "that I wouldn't talk of starving, if I were as rich as you are, Andy."
"As rich as me?" echoed Andy. "Shure, doctor, you're jokin'."
"Not at all."
"Why, I haven't got but seventy-five cents in the world."
"Now it's you that are joking, Andy."
"I wish I was," sighed Andy.
"Why, I had it on good authority that you were worth five thousand dollars."
Andy stared in earnest.
"I see you're laughin' at me, doctor," he said, suspecting that Dr. Townley was making game of him.
"No, I am not. I am in earnest."
"Who told you such a big falsehood as that, now?" asked our hero, bewildered.
"Perhaps I dreamed that somebody told me Colonel Preston had left you five thousand dollars in his will."
"Are you jokin'? Is it true?" asked Andy, eagerly, something in the doctor's face telling him that he really meant what he said.
"Maybe I dreamed, too, that the colonel left your mother the house she used to live in."
"Is it true, doctor? Tell me, quick!" said Andy, trembling with excitement.
"Yes, my boy, it's all true, and I'm glad to be the first to congratulate you on your good fortune."
He held out his hand, which our hero seized, and then, unable to repress his exultation, threw up his cap to the ceiling and indulged in an extempore dance, the doctor meanwhile looking on with benevolent gratification.
"Excuse me, doctor; I couldn't help it," he panted.
"It's all right, Andy. Are you discouraged now?"
"Divil a bit, doctor. It's wild I am with joy."
"And you don't think of starving yet, eh, Andy?"
"I'll wait a bit. But why didn't I know before?"
"Sit down, and I'll tell you all about it."
So Andy heard the account, which need not be repeated.
"Now," continued the doctor, "I'll tell you what plan I have for you. Mr. Graves wants to take a boy into his store who will buy an interest in the business and become his partner. He thinks well of you, and is willing to take you. What do you say?"
"I'll do whatever you think best, doctor."
"Then I think this is a good opening for you. Mr. Graves wants to retire from business before long. Probably by the time you are twenty-one he will leave everything in your hands. You will be paid weekly wages and perhaps be entitled to a portion of the profits—more than enough to support you all comfortably. What do you say? Shall we have a new firm in the village?
"GRAVES & BURKE."
Andy's eyes sparkled with proud anticipation. It was so far above any dream he had ever formed.
"It's what I'd like above all things," he said. "Oh, what will mother say? I must go and tell her."
"Go, by all means, Andy, and when you have told her, come back, and I'll go over with you to Mr. Graves' store, and we'll talk over the arrangements with him."
Mrs. Burke's delight at her own success and that of Andy may be imagined. She, too, had been getting despondent, and it seemed almost like a fairy tale to find herself the owner of a house, and her boy likely to be taken into partnership with the principal trader in the village. She invoked blessings on the memory of Colonel Preston, through whose large-hearted generosity this had come to pass, but could not help speculating on what Mrs. Preston would say. She understood very well that she would be very angry.
Mrs. Preston did not dispute the will. She might have done so, but for her fear that her own criminal act would be brought to light. Godfrey, who was even more disturbed than she was at the success of "that low Irish boy," begged her to do it, but in this case she did not yield to his entreaties. She had never dared to take him into confidence respecting her destruction of the other will.
While we are upon this subject, we may as well trace out the future career of Mrs. Preston. Some years later she was induced, by the expectation of aiding her social standing, to marry an adventurer who appeared to be doing a flourishing business as a State Street broker. By spurious representations, he managed to get hold of her property, and to be appointed Godfrey's guardian. The result may be foreseen. He managed to spend or waste the whole and when Godfrey was twenty-one, he and his mother were penniless. Andy, who was now sole representative of the firm of Graves & Burke, and in receipt of an excellent income, heard of the misfortunes of his old enemy, and out of regard to the memory of his old benefactor voluntarily offered Mrs. Preston an allowance of five hundred dollars. It cost her pride a great deal to accept this favor from the boy she had looked down upon as "only an Irish boy," but her necessity was greater than her pride, and she saw no other way of escaping the poorhouse. So she ungraciously accepted. But Andy did not care for thanks. He felt that he was doing his duty, and he asked no other reward than that consciousness. Mrs. Preston was allowed to make her home, rent free, in Mrs. Burke's old house, Andy having built a better and more commodious one, in which he had installed his mother as mistress. Mrs. Preston grew old fast, in appearance, and fretted without ceasing for the fortune and position which she had lost. Her husband left her, and has not since been heard of. As for Godfrey, Andy secured him a passage to California, where he led a disreputable life. There is a rumor that he was killed in a drunken brawl at Sacramento not long since, but I have not been able to learn whether this is true or not. His loss of fortune had something to do with his going to the bad, but I am afraid, with his character and tendencies, that neither in prosperity nor in adversity would he have built up a good character, or led an honorable career. His course had been, in all respects, far different from that of our hero, who, already prosperous, seems likely to go on adding to his wealth, and growing in the esteem of the best portion of the community. His success, aided, indeed, by good fortune, has served to demonstrate the favorable effects of honesty, industry, and good principles, upon individual success. He is not the first, nor will he be the last, to achieve prosperity and the respect of the community, though beginning life as "only an Irish boy."
Spelling has been left as in the original book. Specifically, the dialect and typographical errors have been left unchanged.