Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
A SECOND WILL
"You are both fortunate and unfortunate, Mr. Brewster," said Mr. Grant, after the young man had dropped into a chair in the office of Grant & Ripley the next day. Montgomery wore a slightly bored expression, and it was evident that he took little interest in the will of James T. Sedgwick. From far back in the recesses of memory he now recalled this long-lost brother of his mother. As a very small child he had seen his Uncle James upon the few occasions which brought him to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Brewster. But the young man had dined at the Drews the night before and Barbara had had more charm for him than usual. It was of her that he was thinking when he walked into the office of Swearengen Jones's lawyers.
"The truth is, Mr. Grant, I'd completely forgotten the existence of an uncle," he responded.
"It is not surprising," said Mr. Grant, genially. "Everyone who knew him in New York nineteen or twenty years ago believed him to be dead. He left the city when you were a very small lad, going to Australia, I think. He was off to seek his fortune, and he needed it pretty badly when he started out. This letter from Mr. Jones comes like a message from the dead. Were it not that we have known Mr. Jones for a long time, handling affairs of considerable importance for him, I should feel inclined to doubt the whole story. It seems that your uncle turned up in Montana about fifteen years ago and there formed a stanch friendship with old Swearengen Jones, one of the richest men in the far West. Sedgwick's will was signed on the day of his death, September 24th, and it was quite natural that Mr. Jones should be named as his executor. That is how we became interested in the matter, Mr. Brewster."
"I see," said Montgomery, somewhat puzzled. "But why do you say that I am both fortunate and unfortunate?"
"The situation is so remarkable that you'll consider that a mild way of putting it when you've heard everything. I think you were told, in our note of yesterday, that you are the sole heir. Well, it may surprise you to learn that James Sedgwick died possessed of an estate valued at almost seven million dollars."
Montgomery Brewster sat like one petrified, staring blankly at the old lawyer, who could say startling things in a level voice.
"He owned gold mines and ranches in the Northwest and there is no question as to their value. Mr. Jones, in. his letter to us, briefly outlines the history of James Sedgwick from the time he landed in Montana. He reached there in 1885 from Australia, and he was worth thirty or forty thousand dollars at the time. Within five years he was the owner of a huge ranch, and scarcely had another five years passed before he was part-owner of three rich gold mines. Possessions accumulated rapidly; everything he touched turned to gold. He was shrewd, careful, and thrifty, and his money was handled with all the skill of a Wall Street financier. At the time of his death, in Portland, he did not owe a dollar in the world. His property is absolutely unencumbered — safe and sound as a government bond. It's rather overwhelming, isn't it?" the lawyer concluded, taking note of Brewster's expression.
"And he — he left everything to me?"
"With a proviso."
"I have a copy of the will. Mr. Ripley and I are the only persons in New York who at present know its contents. You, I am sure, after hearing it, will not divulge them without the most careful deliberation."
Mr. Grant drew the document from a pigeonhole in his desk, adjusted his glasses and prepared to read. Then, as though struck by a sudden thought, he laid the paper down and turned once more to Brewster.
"It seems that Sedgwick never married. Your mother was his sister and his only known relative of close connection. He was a man of most peculiar temperament, but in full possession of all mental faculties. You may find this will to be a strange document, but I think Mr. Jones, the executor, explains any mystery that may be suggested by its terms. While Sedgwick's whereabouts were unknown to his old friends in New York, it seems that he was fully posted on all that was going on here. He knew that you were the only child of your mother and therefore his only nephew. He sets forth the dates of your mother's marriage, of your birth, of the death of Robert Brewster and of Mrs. Brewster. He also was aware of the fact that old Edwin Peter Brewster intended to bequeath a large fortune to you — and thereby hangs a tale. Sedgwick was proud. When lie lived in New York, he was regarded as the kind of man who never forgave the person who touched roughly upon his pride. You know, of course, that your father married Miss Sedgwick in the face of the most bitter opposition on the part of Edwin Brewster. The latter refused to recognize her as his daughter, practically disowned his son, and heaped the harshest kind of calumny upon the Sedgwicks. It was commonly believed about town that Jim Sedgwick left the country three or four years after this marriage for the sole reason that he and Edwin Brewster could not live in the same place. So deep was his hatred of the old man that he fled to escape killing him. It was known that upon one occasion he visited the office of his sister's enemy for the purpose of slaying him, but something prevented. He carried that hatred to the grave, as you will see."
Montgomery Brewster was trying to gather himself together from within the fog which made himself and the world unreal.
"I believe I'd like to have you read this extraor — the will, Mr. Grant," he said, with an effort to hold his nerves in leash.
Mr. Grant cleared his throat and began in his still voice. Once he looked up to find his listener eager, and again to find him grown indifferent. He wondered dimly if this were a pose.
In brief, the last will of James T. Sedgwick bequeathed everything, real and personal, of which he died possessed, to his only nephew, Montgomery Brewster of New York, son of Robert and Louise Sedgwick Brewster. Supplementing this all-important clause there was a set of conditions governing the final disposition of the estate. The most extraordinary of these conditions was the one which required the heir to be absolutely penniless upon the twenty-sixth anniversary of his birth, September 23d.
The instrument went into detail in respect to this supreme condition. It set forth that Montgomery Brewster was to have no other worldly possession than the clothes which covered him on the September day named. He was to begin that day without a penny to his name, without a single article of jewelry, furniture or finance that he could call his own or could thereafter reclaim. At nine o'clock, New York time, on the morning of September 23d, the executor, under the provisions of the will, was to make over and transfer to Montgomery Brewster all of the moneys, lands, bonds, and interests mentioned in the inventory which accompanied the will. In the event that Montgomery Brewster had not, in every particular, complied with the requirements of the will, to the full satisfaction of the said executor, Swearengen Jones, the estate was to be distributed among certain institutions of charity designated in the instrument. Underlying this imperative injunction of James Sedgwick was plainly discernible the motive that prompted it. In almost so many words he declared that his heir should not receive the fortune if he possessed a single penny that had come to him, in any shape or form, from the man he hated, Edwin Peter Brewster. While Sedgwick could not have known at the time of his death that the banker had bequeathed one million dollars to his grandson, it was more than apparent that he expected the young man to be enriched liberally by his enemy. It was to preclude any possible chance of the mingling of his fortune with the smallest portion of Edwin P. Brewster's that James Sedgwick, on his deathbed, put his hand to this astonishing instrument.
There was also a clause in which he undertook to dictate the conduct of Montgomery Brewster during the year leading up to his twenty-sixth anniversary. He required that the young man should give satisfactory evidence to the executor that he was capable of managing his affairs shrewdly and wisely, — that he possessed the ability to add to the fortune through his own enterprise; that he should come to his twenty-sixth anniversary with a fair name and a record free from anything worse than mild forms of dissipation; that his habits be temperate; that he possess nothing at the end of the year which might be regarded as a "visible or invisible asset"; that he make no endowments; that he give sparingly to charity; that he neither loan nor give away money, for fear that it might be restored to him later; that he live on the principle which inspires a man to "get his money's worth," be the expenditure great or small. As these conditions were prescribed for but a single year in the life of the heir, it was evident that Mr. Sedgwick did not intend to impose any restrictions after the property had gone into his hands.
"How do you like it?" asked Mr. Grant, as he passed the will to Brewster.
The latter took the paper and glanced over it with the air of one who had heard but had not fully grasped its meaning.
"It must be a joke, Mr. Grant," he said. still groping with difficulty through the fog.
"No, Mr. Brewster, it is absolutely genuine. Here is a telegram from the Probate Court in Sedgwick's home county, received in response to a query from us. It says that the will is to be filed for probate and that Mr. Sedgwick was many times a millionaire. This statement, which he calls an inventory, enumerates his holdings and their value, and the footing shows $6,345,000 in round numbers. The investments, you see, are gilt-edged. There is not a bad penny in all those millions."
"Well, it is rather staggering, isn't it?" said Montgomery, passing his hand over his forehead. He was beginning to comprehend.
"In more ways than one. What are you going to do about it?"
"Do about it?" in surprise. "Why, it's mine, isn't it?"
"It is not yours until next September," the lawyer quietly said.
"Well, I fancy I can wait," said Brewster with a smile that cleared the air.
"But, my dear fellow, you are already the possessor of a million. Do you forget that you are expected to be penniless a year from now?"
"Wouldn't you exchange a million for seven millions, Mr. Grant?"
"But let me inquire how you purpose doing it?" asked Mr. Grant, mildly.
"Why, by the simple process of destruction. Don't you suppose I can get rid of a million in a year? Great Scott, who wouldn't do it! All I have to do is to cut a few purse strings and there is but one natural conclusion. I don't mind being a pauper for a few hours on the 23d of next September."
"That is your plan, then?"
"Of course. First I shall substantiate all that this will sets forth. When I am assured that there can be no possibility of mistake in the extent of this fortune and my undisputed claim, I'll take steps to get rid of my grandfather's million in short order." Brewster's voice rang true now. The zest of life was coming back.
Mr. Grant leaned forward slowly and his intent, penetrating gaze served as a check to the young fellow's enthusiasm.
"I admire and approve the sagacity which urges you to exchange a paltry million for a fortune, but it seems to me that you are forgetting the conditions," he said, slowly. "Has it occurred to you that it will be no easy task to spend a million dollars without in some way violating the restrictions in your uncle's will, thereby losing both fortunes?"