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The $30,000 Bequest and Other Stories

Mark Twain



  The $30,000 Bequest

  A Dog's Tale

  Was It Heaven? Or Hell?

  A Cure for the Blues

  The Enemy Conquered; or, Love Triumphant

  The Californian's Tale

  A Helpless Situation

  A Telephonic Conversation

  Edward Mills and George Benton: A Tale

  The Five Boons of Life

  The First Writing-machines

  Italian without a Master

  Italian with Grammar

  A Burlesque Biography

  How to Tell a Story

  General Washington's Negro Body-servant

  Wit Inspirations of the "Two-year-olds"

  An Entertaining Article

  A Letter to the Secretary of the Treasury

  Amended Obituaries

  A Momument to Adam

  A Humane Word from Satan

  Introduction to "The New Guide of the Conversation in Portuguese and English"

  Advice to Little Girls

  Post-mortem Poetry

  The Danger of Lying in Bed

  Portrait of King William III

  Does the Race of Man Love a Lord?

  Extracts from Adam's Diary

  Eve's Diary

  THE $30,000 BEQUEST


  Lakeside was a pleasant little town of five or six thousand inhabitants, and a rather pretty one, too, as towns go in the Far West. It had church accommodations for thirty-five thousand, which is the way of the Far West and the South, where everybody is religious, and where each of the Protestant sects is represented and has a plant of its own. Rank was unknown in Lakeside--unconfessed, anyway; everybody knew everybody and his dog, and a sociable friendliness was the prevailing atmosphere.

  Saladin Foster was book-keeper in the principal store, and the only high-salaried man of his profession in Lakeside. He was thirty-five years old, now; he had served that store for fourteen years; he had begun in his marriage-week at four hundred dollars a year, and had climbed steadily up, a hundred dollars a year, for four years; from that time forth his wage had remained eight hundred--a handsome figure indeed, and everybody conceded that he was worth it.

  His wife, Electra, was a capable helpmeet, although--like himself-- a dreamer of dreams and a private dabbler in romance. The first thing she did, after her marriage--child as she was, aged only nineteen-- was to buy an acre of ground on the edge of the town, and pay down the cash for it--twenty-five dollars, all her fortune. Saladin had less, by fifteen. She instituted a vegetable garden there, got it farmed on shares by the nearest neighbor, and made it pay her a hundred per cent. a year. Out of Saladin's first year's wage she put thirty dollars in the savings-bank, sixty out of his second, a hundred out of his third, a hundred and fifty out of his fourth. His wage went to eight hundred a year, then, and meantime two children had arrived and increased the expenses, but she banked two hundred a year from the salary, nevertheless, thenceforth. When she had been married seven years she built and furnished a pretty and comfortable two-thousand-dollar house in the midst of her garden-acre, paid half of the money down and moved her family in. Seven years later she was out of debt and had several hundred dollars out earning its living.

  Earning it by the rise in landed estate; for she had long ago bought another acre or two and sold the most of it at a profit to pleasant people who were willing to build, and would be good neighbors and furnish a general comradeship for herself and her growing family. She had an independent income from safe investments of about a hundred dollars a year; her children were growing in years and grace; and she was a pleased and happy woman. Happy in her husband, happy in her children, and the husband and the children were happy in her. It is at this point that this history begins.

  The youngest girl, Clytemnestra--called Clytie for short-- was eleven; her sister, Gwendolen--called Gwen for short-- was thirteen; nice girls, and comely. The names betray the latent romance-tinge in the parental blood, the parents' names indicate that the tinge was an inheritance. It was an affectionate family, hence all four of its members had pet names, Saladin's was a curious and unsexing one--Sally; and so was Electra's--Aleck. All day long Sally was a good and diligent book-keeper and salesman; all day long Aleck was a good and faithful mother and housewife, and thoughtful and calculating business woman; but in the cozy living-room at night they put the plodding world away, and lived in another and a fairer, reading romances to each other, dreaming dreams, comrading with kings and princes and stately lords and ladies in the flash and stir and splendor of noble palaces and grim and ancient castles.


  Now came great news! Stunning news--joyous news, in fact. It came from a neighboring state, where the family's only surviving relative lived. It was Sally's relative--a sort of vague and indefinite uncle or second or third cousin by the name of Tilbury Foster, seventy and a bachelor, reputed well off and corresponding sour and crusty. Sally had tried to make up to him once, by letter, in a bygone time, and had not made that mistake again. Tilbury now wrote to Sally, saying he should shortly die, and should leave him thirty thousand dollars, cash; not for love, but because money had given him most of his troubles and exasperations, and he wished to place it where there was good hope that it would continue its malignant work. The bequest would be found in his will, and would be paid over. PROVIDED, that Sally should be able to prove to the executors that he had TAKEN NO NOTICE OF THE GIFT BY SPOKEN WORD OR BY LETTER, HAD MADE NO INQUIRIES CONCERNING THE MORIBUND'S PROGRESS TOWARD THE EVERLASTING TROPICS, AND HAD NOT ATTENDED THE FUNERAL.

  As soon as Aleck had partially recovered from the tremendous emotions created by the letter, she sent to the relative's habitat and subscribed for the local paper.

  Man and wife entered into a solemn compact, now, to never mention the great news to any one while the relative lived, lest some ignorant person carry the fact to the death-bed and distort it and make it appear that they were disobediently thankful for the bequest, and just the same as confessing it and publishing it, right in the face of the prohibition.

  For the rest of the day Sally made havoc and confusion with his books, and Aleck could not keep her mind on her affairs, not even take up a flower-pot or book or a stick of wood without forgetting what she had intended to do with it. For both were dreaming.

  "Thir-ty thousand dollars!"

  All day long the music of those inspiring words sang through those people's heads.

  From his marriage-day forth, Aleck's grip had been upon the purse, and Sally had seldom known what it was to be privileged to squander a dime on non-necessities.

  "Thir-ty thousand dollars!" the song went on and on. A vast sum, an unthinkable sum!

  All day long Aleck was absorbed in planning how to invest it, Sally in planning how to spend it.

  There was no romance-reading that night. The children took themselves away early, for their parents were silent, distraught, and strangely unentertaining. The good-night kisses might as well have been impressed upon vacancy, for all the response they got; the parents were not aware of the kisses, and the children had been gone an hour before their absence was noticed. Two pencils had been busy during that hour--note-making; in the way of plans. It was Sally who broke the stillness at last. He said, with exultation:

  "Ah, it'll be grand, Aleck! Out of the first thousand we'll have a horse and a buggy for summer, and a cutter and a skin lap-robe for winter."

  Aleck responded with decision and composure--

  "Out of the CAPITAL? Nothing of the kind. Not if it was a million

  Sally was deeply disappointed; the glow went out of his face.

  "Oh, Aleck!" he said, reproachfully. "We've always worked so hard and been so scrimped: and now that we are rich, it does seem--"

  He did not finish, for he saw her eye soften; his supplication had touched her. She said, with gentle persuasiveness:

  "We must not spend the capital, dear, it would not be wise. Out of the income from it--"

  "That will answer, that will answer, Aleck! How dear and good you are! There will be a noble income and if we can spend that--"

  "Not ALL of it, dear, not all of it, but you can spend a part of it. That is, a reasonable part. But the whole of the capital-- every penny of it--must be put right to work, and kept at it. You see the reasonableness of that, don't you?"

  "Why, ye-s. Yes, of course. But we'll have to wait so long. Six months before the first interest falls due."

  "Yes--maybe longer."

  "Longer, Aleck? Why? Don't they pay half-yearly?"

  "THAT kind of an investment--yes; but I sha'n't invest in that way."

  "What way, then?"

  "For big returns."

  "Big. That's good. Go on, Aleck. What is it?"

  "Coal. The new mines. Cannel. I mean to put in ten thousand. Ground floor. When we organize, we'll get three shares for one."

  "By George, but it sounds good, Aleck! Then the shares will be worth-- how much? And when?"

  "About a year. They'll pay ten per cent. half yearly, and be worth thirty thousand. I know all about it; the advertisement is in the Cincinnati paper here."

  "Land, thirty thousand for ten--in a year! Let's jam in the whole capital and pull out ninety! I'll write and subscribe right now-- tomorrow it maybe too late."

  He was flying to the writing-desk, but Aleck stopped him and put him back in his chair. She said:

  "Don't lose your head so. WE mustn't subscribe till we've got the money; don't you know that?"

  Sally's excitement went down a degree or two, but he was not wholly appeased.

  "Why, Aleck, we'll HAVE it, you know--and so soon, too. He's probably out of his troubles before this; it's a hundred to nothing he's selecting his brimstone-shovel this very minute. Now, I think--"

  Aleck shuddered, and said:

  "How CAN you, Sally! Don't talk in that way, it is perfectly scandalous."

  "Oh, well, make it a halo, if you like, _I_ don't care for his outfit, I was only just talking. Can't you let a person talk?"

  "But why should you WANT to talk in that dreadful way? How would you like to have people talk so about YOU, and you not cold yet?"

  "Not likely to be, for ONE while, I reckon, if my last act was giving away money for the sake of doing somebody a harm with it. But never mind about Tilbury, Aleck, let's talk about something worldly. It does seem to me that that mine is the place for the whole thirty. What's the objection?"

  "All the eggs in one basket--that's the objection."

  "All right, if you say so. What about the other twenty? What do you mean to do with that?"

  "There is no hurry; I am going to look around before I do anything with it."

  "All right, if your mind's made up," signed Sally. He was deep in thought awhile, then he said:

  "There'll be twenty thousand profit coming from the ten a year from now. We can spend that, can we, Aleck?"

  Aleck shook her head.

  "No, dear," she said, "it won't sell high till we've had the first semi-annual dividend. You can spend part of that."

  "Shucks, only THAT--and a whole year to wait! Confound it, I--"

  "Oh, do be patient! It might even be declared in three months-- it's quite within the possibilities."

  "Oh, jolly! oh, thanks!" and Sally jumped up and kissed his wife in gratitude. "It'll be three thousand--three whole thousand! how much of it can we spend, Aleck? Make it liberal!--do, dear, that's a good fellow."

  Aleck was pleased; so pleased that she yielded to the pressure and conceded a sum which her judgment told her was a foolish extravagance-- a thousand dollars. Sally kissed her half a dozen times and even in that way could not express all his joy and thankfulness. This new access of gratitude and affection carried Aleck quite beyond the bounds of prudence, and before she could restrain herself she had made her darling another grant--a couple of thousand out of the fifty or sixty which she meant to clear within a year of the twenty which still remained of the bequest. The happy tears sprang to Sally's eyes, and he said:

  "Oh, I want to hug you!" And he did it. Then he got his notes and sat down and began to check off, for first purchase, the luxuries which he should earliest wish to secure. "Horse--buggy--cutter--lap-robe--patent-leathers--dog--plug-hat-- church-pew--stem-winder--new teeth--SAY, Aleck!"


  "Ciphering away, aren't you? That's right. Have you got the twenty thousand invested yet?"

  "No, there's no hurry about that; I must look around first, and think."

  "But you are ciphering; what's it about?"

  "Why, I have to find work for the thirty thousand that comes out of the coal, haven't I?"

  "Scott, what a head! I never thought of that. How are you getting along? Where have you arrived?"

  "Not very far--two years or three. I've turned it over twice; once in oil and once in wheat."

  "Why, Aleck, it's splendid! How does it aggregate?"

  "I think--well, to be on the safe side, about a hundred and eighty thousand clear, though it will probably be more."

  "My! isn't it wonderful? By gracious! luck has come our way at last, after all the hard sledding, Aleck!"


  "I'm going to cash in a whole three hundred on the missionaries-- what real right have we care for expenses!"

  "You couldn't do a nobler thing, dear; and it's just like your generous nature, you unselfish boy."

  The praise made Sally poignantly happy, but he was fair and just enough to say it was rightfully due to Aleck rather than to himself, since but for her he should never have had the money.

  Then they went up to bed, and in their delirium of bliss they forgot and left the candle burning in the parlor. They did not remember until they were undressed; then Sally was for letting it burn; he said they could afford it, if it was a thousand. But Aleck went down and put it out.

  A good job, too; for on her way back she hit on a scheme that would turn the hundred and eighty thousand into half a million before it had had time to get cold.


  The little newspaper which Aleck had subscribed for was a Thursday sheet; it would make the trip of five hundred miles from Tilbury's village and arrive on Saturday. Tilbury's letter had started on Friday, more than a day too late for the benefactor to die and get into that week's issue, but in plenty of time to make connection for the next output. Thus the Fosters had to wait almost a complete week to find out whether anything of a satisfactory nature had happened to him or not. It was a long, long week, and the strain was a heavy one. The pair could hardly have borne it if their minds had not had the relief of wholesome diversion. We have seen that they had that. The woman was piling up fortunes right along, the man was spending them-- spending all his wife would give him a chance at, at any rate.

  At last the Saturday came, and the WEEKLY SAGAMORE arrived. Mrs. Eversly Bennett was present. She was the Presbyterian parson's wife, and was working the Fosters for a charity. Talk now died a sudden death--on the Foster side. Mrs. Bennett presently discovered that her hosts were not hearing a word she was saying; so she got up, wondering and indignant, and went away. The moment she was out of the house, Aleck eagerly tore the wrapper from the paper, and her eyes and Sally's swept the columns for the death-notices. Disappointment! Tilbury was not anywhere mentioned. Aleck was a Christian from the cradle, and duty and the force of habit required her to go through the motions. She pulled herself together and said, with a pious two-per-cent. trade joyousness:

  "Let us be humbly thankful that he has been spared; and--"

  "Damn his treacherous hide, I wish--"

  "Sally! For shame!"

  "I don't care!" retorted the angry man. "It's the way YOU feel, and if you weren't so immorally pious you'd be honest and say so."

  Aleck said, with wounded dignity:

  "I do not see how you can say such unkind and unjust things. There is no such thing as immoral piety."

  Sally felt a pang, but tried to conceal it under a shuffling attempt to save his case by changing the form of it--as if changing the form while retaining the juice could deceive the expert he was trying to placate. He said:

  "I didn't mean so bad as that, Aleck; I didn't really mean immoral piety, I only meant--meant--well, conventional piety, you know; er--shop piety; the--the--why, YOU know what I mean. Aleck--the--well, where you put up that plated article and play it for solid, you know, without intending anything improper, but just out of trade habit, ancient policy, petrified custom, loyalty to--to--hang it, I can't find the right words, but YOU know what I mean, Aleck, and that there isn't any harm in it. I'll try again. You see, it's this way. If a person--"

  "You have said quite enough," said Aleck, coldly; "let the subject be dropped."

  "I'M willing," fervently responded Sally, wiping the sweat from his forehead and looking the thankfulness he had no words for. Then, musingly, he apologized to himself. "I certainly held threes-- I KNOW it--but I drew and didn't fill. That's where I'm so often weak in the game. If I had stood pat--but I didn't. I never do. I don't know enough."

  Confessedly defeated, he was properly tame now and subdued. Aleck forgave him with her eyes.

  The grand interest, the supreme interest, came instantly to the front again; nothing could keep it in the background many minutes on a stretch. The couple took up the puzzle of the absence of Tilbury's death-notice. They discussed it every which way, more or less hopefully, but they had to finish where they began, and concede that the only really sane explanation of the absence of the notice must be--and without doubt was--that Tilbury was not dead. There was something sad about it, something even a little unfair, maybe, but there it was, and had to be put up with. They were agreed as to that. To Sally it seemed a strangely inscrutable dispensation; more inscrutable than usual, he thought; one of the most unnecessary inscrutable he could call to mind, in fact--and said so, with some feeling; but if he was hoping to draw Aleck he failed; she reserved her opinion, if she had one; she had not the habit of taking injudicious risks in any market, worldly or other.