CHAPTER II


A STRANGE WILL


"Well, I'm glad to see you are on time, Dick," said Mr. Hamilton, as his son, having left Rex at the stables, and sent one of the grooms on a horse to the aid of Henry, entered the handsome library. "Right to the minute. That is what I like to see. It speaks well for what we have in hand."

Dick had never known his father to be quite so solemn save on one former occasion, and that was the dreadful day when the house was dark and in confusion, followed by a strange stillness, and then his loving mother was seen no more. She had gone away—somewhere—he did not understand where until long afterward, and it now made him a little sad to recall the scene.

But his thoughts were interrupted by a sudden rush of feet, and a big bulldog, with fore legs arched almost grotesquely, and with two big teeth showing from under the upper lip, leaped joyously upon him.

"Grit, old boy !" exclaimed Dick, as he caressed the brute, handsome in its very ugliness, a dog, the look of which impressed strangers with fear as to its temper, but which, to all friends, was as gentle as a kitten. It was a fine specimen of the bulldog, of good stock and very valuable.

"My son," began Mr. Hamilton, as he drew from his pocket a folded paper, "I asked you to meet me here to-day to listen to some of the provisions of your dear, departed mother's will. I have a copy of it, the original being on file at the court house according to law. Soon after you were born she had it drawn up, and, having told me the nature of it, asked if I was satisfied. I told her I was, absolutely.

"You may have heard, in a general way, that your mother was very wealthy in her own right. She was, more so than you have any idea of, perhaps. It is not necessary to go into figures now, but sufficient to say that her fortune was a very large one, and that it can be counted in the millions. Part of it was left her by her father, and the rest accumulated through wise investments.

"In fact, your mother was a great believer in wise and paying investments, as you will see. She was worried lest her only son, when he grew up, would not appreciate the value of money; nor understand how much good can be done with it.

"Therefore, in order to make sure that you would not do as so many rich youths have done—wasted the wealth left to them—she has seen fit to make certain provisions and restrictions. You are to inherit her great wealth—if you fulfill these conditions."

"What are they?" asked Dick, who was not a little impressed by what his father had said. "Down, Grit, down," he commanded gently, for the dog was trying to clamber all over its master, so glad was it to see Dick. "Down, Grit," and the noble animal obeyed, crouching at the youth's feet, but ever keeping a watchful eye on his face, ready to begin the demonstration again at the first sign of encouragement.

"You are to inherit your mother's wealth on this condition, among others," went on Mr. Hamilton. "Beginning with this, your birthday, which is the time she set, you are to be supplied with a large amount of cash. You are to be allowed to spend it as you please, when you please, and for what you please, subject, of course, to certain common-sense restrictions, of which I am to be the judge."

"Does that mean I'll have all the money I want to spend just as I please?" asked Dick joyfully.

"Practically so. But here is the restriction: You are required to make, within one year from date, one wise and paying investment with some of the money you spend. It may be a large one or it may be a small one, but at the end of the year it must show a respectable profit."

"And if it doesn't?"

"Then you will lose considerable," went on Mr. Hamilton. "In the event of your failure to make such an investment within twelve months your mother's fortune will be tied up so that you can not touch it, or derive any benefit from it, for a certain period, which will be disclosed later."

"Does that mean I will have to be—be poor?"

"Well, not exactly poor, but you will have to put up with a good deal less than you have now. You see, your mother's idea was to have you avoid the pitfalls and snares into which fall many wealthy youths with millionaire parents. She wanted to make you appreciate the value of money, to know how to spend it, and to learn, above everything else, that money begets money.

"That is why she made such a peculiar will, and, I think, she did wisely. So, for a year, at least, you are to live as do other millionaires' sons who are older. In fact, you are to have more money to spend than you ever had before, for, though I have been liberal with you, I wanted you to have something still better to look forward to. So, now, your fortune is your own to make.

"If you devote some of the money you are to have to a wise and paying investment, you will, comparatively soon, come into possession of your mother's vast wealth, though, of course, the executors of the will, of whom I am one, are to have certain control over you. You have twelve months from to-day in which to make your try, Dick, my boy."

"A year to make money out of money. But how, father? I have no knowledge of business."

"That is just it. You must gain some knowledge of business or you will never be able to take care of your fortune. That is one reason your mother made such a will. I need not say I hope you will be successful. I shall aid you all I can, but I would rather you relied on yourself. I had to do it when I was your age, and I see no reason why you should not take some responsibility."

"Are these all the restrictions?" asked Dick, his mind somewhat confused by the sudden news.

"No, not all. There are a number of provisions of the will, governing your future life, aside from the matter of the investment. I will not read them to you now, but as soon as the occasion arises you will be made acquainted with them."

"And can I start in and have the money at once? I know a lot of things I want." Dick was walking about excitedly. He had visions of a big automobile and a fine motor boat, two things his father, up to the present, had not allowed him to own.

"One of the provisions of the will," went on Mr. Hamilton, "is that on this date there is to be placed a large sum to your credit in the local national bank, of which you know I am president. You will be given a check book and allowed to draw upon it as you please, subject, as I said before, to certain reasonable restrictions on my part."

"Where is the check book ?" asked Dick. "I've always wanted to have one."

"Not so fast," continued his father, with a smile. "You must first go to the bank and be identified by the proper officials, and also leave your signature there. Then you shall have the check book, Dick. But there is another matter," and Mr. Hamilton turned to the second page of the document in his hand.

Dick's heart sank. Perhaps, after all, he was not to have the wealth with which his imagination was already building fairy castles in the air.

"In case you fail to make this paying investment," went on Mr. Hamilton, "not only do you lose control of the money for a long time, but you have to undergo a sort of penance. It is this. You will have to go and live with your Uncle Ezra Larabee at Dankville—"

"Uncle Ezra!" exclaimed Dick, and his face fell.

"Yes, your Uncle Ezra and Aunt Samanthy. You will have to remain in their charge for a certain period and attend any boarding school they may select for you. That is done to teach you the value of money, and I think, from what I know of your Uncle Ezra, it will be a good place to learn," and Mr. Hamilton smiled rather grimly.

"In order that you may fully appreciate the situation, your mother has provided," proceeded Dick's father, "that you are to spend a week with your Uncle Ezra, beginning to-morrow. Her idea was that you should get better acquainted with her only brother, who, as you may have heard, is quite well off, and one of the wisest men in the matter of money I ever met. He is very conservative about investments, but he makes them pay. Your dear mother thought it would be a good school for you, and I have no doubt but what you will see that for yourself if you spend a week with him. If you should not be able, in the year, to make the paying investment, you will, of course, pass under the control of Mr. Larabee.

"I think I have now told you enough for the present. As I said, there are other provisions in the will regarding you, but we can discuss them when the time comes. I have written to your uncle, and he expects you to-morrow.

"Now, Dick, my son, having gotten this somewhat sad business over—for it makes me sad to recall your dear mother, and the careful way she made provision that you should grow up to be a wise and good man—I think we will have a little lunch. I am hungry and I think you are, so I arranged a little birthday dinner for you."

Mr. Hamilton led the way to the large dining room, where, upon the mahogany table, cut glass and silver sparkled in profusion. There were places for two and, as soon as father and son entered, a solemn butler rang a chiming bell, and servants brought in a dainty but bountiful meal.

"Roast duck!" exclaimed Dick, as he caught sight of it. "That's like you, dad, to remember how fond I am of it. And I'll bet he's ordered frozen pudding for dessert; hasn't he, Mary?" turning to the smiling maid who was arranging some dishes on the sideboard.

"That he has, Master Dick," was the reply.

"Well, I thought I'd give you a good meal before you went to Uncle Ezra's house," said Mr. Hamilton, with a queer smile. "You may not get—But there, Dick, I wish you all the luck in the world, and may we both be as happy on your next birthday," and Mr. Hamilton stood up and gravely shook hands with his son.

"Um," murmured Dick. "Maybe I'll be at Uncle Ezra's a year from now—if I don't make that paying investment. I wonder what sort of a place he has, anyhow? Well, there's no use worrying now. I must take some of that roast duck while it's hot," and he began to investigate his well-filled plate with no little interest.

"You leave for your uncle's on the eight o'clock train to-morrow morning," said Mr. Hamilton. "Have your things all packed to-night, and don't be late, for your uncle is a very particular man—a—very—particular—man," and again that grim smile came over Mr. Hamilton's face; a smile which puzzled Dick. But he was to know the meaning of it soon enough.