IT WAS a quarter after eleven by the jeweled traveling clock on Bob Hammersly's marble mantelpiece when that elegant young gentleman opened his heavy eyelids, swallowed once or twice with some difficulty, and gave vent to a mournful, inarticulate roar for the purpose of summoning the colored valet whose services he shared with his fellow-lodgers. Receiving no response he suppressed a maudlin inclination to weep, and cursed loudly the folly which had caused him to invite Mademoiselle Celestine Forsythe to a late supper after her turn upon the Victoria Roof the preceding evening, during which exhilarating experience, costing the modest sum of thirty-nine dollars, he had imbibed a quantity of liquid refreshment resulting in a dull headache over his right temple; while he attributed a peculiarly bitter and altogether unpleasant taste on the roof of his mouth to the extraordinary number of heavy cigars which he had consumed during the same period.
As he thrust off the coverlet and swung his legs over the side of the bed he took no pleasure in the glorious coloring of his silken pajamas nor the golden sunlight streaming through the half-raised window-shade. The former had not been paid for and the latter hurt his eyes. He felt ill and decidedly shaky. Again he cursed loudly the neglect of his servant, feeling sure the nigger was at that moment shooting craps in the neighboring stable.
He groped around with his toes for his slippers, and unexpectedly came in contact with his boots, confused inextricably with his evening clothes, upon the floor. His tall hat hung dejectedly from an electric burner. There was a stale smell of cigar and cigarette smoke in the air. It was nothing more nor less than an oft-repeated dawn of the morning after.
A more uselessly ornamental member of society than Bob Hammersly at twenty-six it would have been hard to find. His father, a respected member of the New York Bar, had died while his son was still at boarding-school, and Bob had lost his mother a year or so after. He had no guardian and no near relatives, and the small and laboriously accumulated paternal estate yielded only the moderate income of two thousand a year. This, however, had been ample to allow him to cut a good deal of a dash at Harvard, where he had accomplished little save to develop an extraordinary capacity for doing nothing artistically, and to cultivate to a high degree of refinement his taste for wines, liquors and cigars. He had been known there as a cool hand at poker and an excellent polo player, which sport his limited means allowed him to indulge in only vicariously. But he had been exceedingly popular, had made most of the clubs, and was regarded by his friends as a gentleman of no mean order. While he had in his freshman and sophomore years occasionally gone out to try for the track and other teams, he had soon tired of it, preferring the more easily-won distinction of being a social favorite and one of the first "ten." Thus, his figure, which had originally been lithe and muscular, had long since tended to flabbiness.
After graduation he had spent eight or ten months floating through the capitals of Europe, consuming large quantities of beer at Munich, and eventually returned to his native city with no greater ambition than to lead the easy life of a young man about town, aping the speech and manners of the elderly roués who sat in the windows of the club and honored him with cynical comments upon society at large. It was probably the insidious philosophy of these worldly-wise men that had done most to make him what he was and to weaken his regard for any but the material side of life. They liked and petted him, these useless old boys, and were quite willing to ruin him out of hand in return for the pleasure he gave them. For Bob was a good-natured lad and would spend a whole afternoon in the bay window with one of them, just to keep him from being lonely. In fact, for this and other reasons, his life had come to be more and more circumscribed by the walls of the club. One could sign little slips for things there and not be called on to pay until the end of the month—a highly important consideration. Moreover, not owning a motor himself, he found it convenient to be on hand where he could, without great effort, requisition those of his friends.
Five years of gilded youth, while it could in no sense be said to have sobered him, had left him highly dissatisfied. His income was insufficient for his tastes and he was badly in debt. His health had suffered considerably from late hours and a minimum of solid food. He felt soggy and wondered at the fellows who could put in a couple of hours at racquets without feeling it. So far as ideals went he had entirely ceased to have any. The thought of work was abhorrent. Eventually he supposed he should marry some rich little girl who would not interfere too much with his liberty, but until that step became necessary he preferred to drift uselessly along, from the club to the card-table. Occasionally—but only occasionally—he felt himself a poor thing. This was usually before breakfast on such mornings as the present, when he had been hitting it up the night before and was seedy in consequence.
"Curse the coon!" he growled, filling a tall glass from a siphon upon the window-sill and tincturing it darkly with brandy. "I don't suppose he's even laid out a clean shirt for me."
He felt a sudden humiliation at not being able to afford a proper English valet—ashamed of the poverty that forced him to live in such a hole. He jerked up the shade viciously and a dull pain shot through his head. Somehow the brandy did not seem to have its usual effect. Life was a beastly mess, anyhow. His eye caught a pile of letters on the corner of the table, and while he held the tumbler to his lips with one hand he fumbled them over with the other. There were five dinner invitations for the coming month, a varied assortment of bills alternately marked "Account rendered" and "Please remit," and a letter from a firm of lawyers threatening suit if he did not at once pay a bill of several hundred dollars. "Well, let 'em sue"—that was all the good it would do them. There was one letter addressed in a fine, copperplate hand which he almost neglected to open and only picked up after he had started dressing. It was dated four days before, and he had a confused impression that it had been lying around there for some time.
March 27, 19—
My dear Mr. Hammersly: If you have no other engagement will you do me the honor of dining with me at the club on Thursday, April the first, at eight o'clock? As an old friend of your father I am much interested in your career and hope to have the pleasure of knowing you before long.
Hammersly tossed the letter upon his dressing-table and made a very wry face in the glass. These old boys who had been "friends of your father" were such a bore! Always preaching around about following in his footsteps and doing honor to a distinguished name! Usually they hadn't been friends of your father at that—only anxious to make talk. But Middleton—wasn't he the rich old guy that had founded the Orthopedic Hospital? Sure he was. Bob remembered him well—a punctilious old gentleman, a good deal of a swell, and reputed to be immensely rich. He recalled having been introduced to him once in the billiard-room. The old chap had mentioned his father then. There was nothing to do now but to accept the invitation. He'd telephone some excuse for not having answered and say he'd come.
"Beg pardon, sir," said Rufus, the valet, interrupting his chain of thought, "but they is three gentlemen downstairs what is askin' for you."
"You reptile!" shouted Hammersly; "where have you been all this time? Sick aunt? Sick Tommy-cat! What do these fellows downstairs look like?"
"They looks like they was after real money," replied Rufus with a stage grin, as he dodged to a safe distance from mere force of habit.
"I am delighted to see you, Mr. Hammersly," exclaimed Mr. Middleton cordially as he grasped Bob's hand in the reading-room of the club. "It is very kind of you to give a whole evening to an old fellow like me. I hope you won't regret it. No cocktail, eh? Sure you won't—just one? Well, I admire you all the more for it. Your father never touched anything. A wonderful man—your father! One of my most intimate friends."
"I often heard him speak of you, sir," replied Bob, feeling this polite lie to be a necessary sacrifice to good taste. As for the cocktail, he had declined it owing to a temporary abhorrence therefor, due to the state of his head. He had no intention of giving the impression that he was a teetotaler, but if the old boy understood it that way—why——
"I hear very flattering accounts of you!" continued Mr. Middleton, his little beadlike eyes twinkling at his guest. "You seem to be a great favorite with everybody. It would have been a great satisfaction to your father."
"You flatter me!" stammered Bob in some embarrassment. "I'm afraid I hardly measure up to my father's standards."
He almost blushed as he made these modest answers, wondering who the devil old Middleton took him for, anyway.
"And now," said his host, pressing a bell and handing him a bill-of-fare, "what shall we have for dinner? How about some nice anchovies? or do you prefer fresh caviar? Some onion soup au gratin, eh?—and after that flaked crab meat à la Newburg?"
Bob turned white in spite of himself. Any evening but this such a dinner would have delighted him.
"Excuse me," he interrupted as courteously as possible; "you might leave me out of all that, if you don't mind. Fact is, I care for very little and only the simplest things. Got out of the habit—training in college, you know!"
"Well, well!" cried Mr. Middleton. "I like to see a young man keeping his appetites well in hand. Frugality in diet is the secret of health. All one really needs is a certain amount of proteids—the rest is superfluous and clogs the system. I congratulate you!"
He smiled admiringly at Bob to the latter's extreme embarrassment and considerately ordered a frugal and wineless repast of soup and roast chicken.
Bob was obliged to admit that his host was an entertaining and attractive companion. He had traveled all over the world and appeared to know everybody worth knowing both in America and Europe; but in spite of the fact that life was obviously a serious matter to him he illumined every subject upon which he touched with an elusive humor. It was only at the conclusion of the repast, however, when they were comfortably sipping their coffee, that the little man disclosed the real purpose of his invitation.
"Yes," he said, flecking the ash from his cigar, "I knew your dear father very well. Fine type of man. Highest principles and all that. In the early days I used to be at the house a good deal. You don't remember me, of course. But his death was a great shock to me. Besides, he had been a lot of help to me professionally. Sound judgment he had. Well, I've lived all over the world since then and had my ups and downs, my good luck and my bad, and now I'm settled down here comfortably to end my days. I've never married and all my relatives are dead and gone long ago."
Hammersly nodded sympathetically. His experiences with other old men had enabled him to listen to just this sort of rot indefinitely. Mr. Middleton gave him a quizzical glance over his cigar.
"And now," he remarked quietly, "I'm looking around for an heir—some straight, honest, high-minded, clean young fellow like yourself."
His glance brightened until it broke into a tender smile. "Like yourself!" he repeated, with a note almost of affection in his voice. Bob felt a sudden palpitation of the heart and the blood coursed upward, suffusing his face.
"Oh—oh!" he stammered, "I—really—you know——"
"Perhaps I know more than you think," continued Mr. Middleton. "I've heard a lot about you, Robert, my boy. You don't mind an old fellow calling you by your first name, eh? Particularly if he's going to make you his heir! And I believe from what I have learned that you will be admirably suited to inherit what little I shall leave. I want my successor to be the type of young man best qualified to make the most of it."
Bob's astonishment and confusion rendered him all but speechless. He could hardly doubt Mr. Middleton's sincerity, yet it was obvious the latter had a curiously abortive idea of his real character. Where, he wondered, could his host have secured such extraordinary information concerning him? Who could have been his eulogist? Was it quite honest to accept such generosity without undeceiving him? He hesitated with a feeling of guilt.
"Really," he replied a little excitedly, but in his most charming manner, "I hardly know how to thank you. It's tremendous. I never expected any such thing, of course. I'm glad you think I'm the sort of chap you approve of. I'm really not, I'm afraid—not the fellow you imagine me. But I'll try to fill the bill and make good."
"Ah! That's the right spirit!" exclaimed the little man eagerly. "I knew I shouldn't go wrong. You are your father's own son. A chip of the old block."
He held out his thin, wrinkled hand and Bob shook it heartily, while his heart leaped inside his immaculate shirt bosom. By George, what luck! Here was a fortune without having to marry it. Talk about being born with a golden spoon in your mouth! Why here was an old chap trying to cram one down your throat. He hardly listened to what Middleton was saying.
"I do not think that you will find the terms onerous," continued the old gentleman, "in view of your present physical and mental condition. Of course, perfect health is indispensable—a sound mind in a sound body—mens sana in corpore sano, you know. No late hours, no tobacco and no alcohol—which to you, I am glad to say, will be no deprivation. Then you must fit yourself for whatever department of work you may select by going in at the bottom and learning the business right from the ground up."
For a moment Hammersly's elated spirits took a swoop downward like an aeroplane meeting a cross-draft. Was the old fellow going to make a parson out of him? No whisky? No cigarettes? Ugh! Could he stand it? But the thought of the millions that had endowed the Orthopedic Hospital rushed back to his encouragement. Why, it was worth any sacrifice for a few years. The old fellow could not last long; and then, by George, he could do as he liked!
"Your conditions seem reasonable enough," he replied calmly. "When shall I begin?"
"At once," answered Mr. Middleton. "Take a day or two to think it over and decide what sort of business or profession you would prefer to take up. If you say so, I'll drop over to your rooms some afternoon and we can arrange the details."
"You can't make it too soon for me, sir," answered Bob with a winning smile. "I'm ready to go to work tomorrow."
"Very well," said his host! "I'll come in tomorrow afternoon. Good night, Robert. I believe you will make the best heir an old man ever had."
A few of the boys on their way home from one of the shows, who happened to drop in unexpectedly upon Hammersly a little after twelve that same evening, were greeted by an astonishing vision of Bob in his shirt-sleeves and Rufus in a state of perspiring collapse. The walls had been entirely stripped of their decorations, which—mostly photographs of female stage favorites—lay in a heap in the center of the floor, together with half a dozen sporting prints. A wooden case near the door was piled high with the remains of Bob's cellar, flanked by a double row of empty bottles and siphons. Dust hung on the air in clouds. A neat batch of white envelopes, carefully stamped and addressed, stood on the corner of the mantel. The visitors stared for one instant, staggered by the sight of so much energy.
"What the devil's up? Moving out?" ejaculated the stouter of the two, known as "Ikey" Dupre, by virtue of his ostentatious antisemitism.
Bob regarded him malevolently.
"Nothing of the sort. Cleaning house, that's all. What'll you give for this fine line of stage beauties?"
"Why don't you auction 'em off?" suggested the other. "I'll give you a quarter for that top one."
Bob raised it gingerly by his fingertips. It depicted a young lady in an abbreviated skirt, gazing coquettishly over her folded hands.
"Twenty-five cents for this fascinating picture!" he exclaimed in horror. "Twenty-five cents for Celestine Forsythe! Thirty cents for Celestine—just to save her self-respect."
Ikey dug into the pile with his foot.
"No," he hesitated. "But I'll bid on the lot, though. How'll you trade for five dollars, to include the prints?"
"Ikey! Ikey!" cried Bob. "’Tis done!"
From that hour a new life began for Bob Hammersly. Punctual to the minute Mr. Middleton called, expressed his approval of the austerity of the furnishings of his heir's apartments, discussed with him the choice of an occupation and warned him of the necessity of abiding strictly by the terms of his agreement. These he now made more definite, even reducing them to writing. Bob must rise at six and go through a certain prescribed set of physical exercises. He was then to take a tepid bath and eat a light breakfast consisting of coffee and a boiled egg. After his day's work he could dine where he chose so long as he was in bed by ten. Mr. Middleton also suggested a course of reading in economics and philosophy to occupy his evenings. The theater, cards, wine and tobacco were, of course, prohibited.
Bob listened to him with a sinking of the heart. Somehow, in the cold light of day, the conditions seemed much harder than at the club the night before, beneath the soft comfort of the lamps. As old Middleton rambled on about abstaining from this and forswearing that, Bob wondered how he could possibly give up his cigarettes—he smoked two boxes of them a day. And a fellow had to take a drink once in a while. Work, walks, sleep, economics—he couldn't. What was the use? More than once he was on the point of chucking up the whole thing and telling Mr. Middleton that he had got him wrong, that it was an impossible demand, too big an order! And then he would think of the money! It was worth trying. An easy way to earn a million or two! And, by George, how he'd whoop things up when the old fellow had kicked the bucket!
The next day he began his regimen. The choice of an occupation had at first afforded him some difficulty, but he had finally decided on the steel business. It was in steel that Mr. Middleton had made most, of his money. There was tact in the selection. Accordingly, the old man took him across the river to a plant in which he was interested. Bob started in as a laborer. Every morning he had to be there in his overalls on the minute of seven. All day long he worked among the glowing furnaces, consumed by thirst, the sweat pouring from his face, his back aching, his legs and arms full of shooting pains. When night came he used to fall asleep on the trolley as he crossed the bridge back to Manhattan. There was no reading of economics or philosophy in the evenings for him—no time to dine at the club! He used to stop on the corner at a quick-lunch room, bolt a steak and two baked potatoes, and then make for bed. And sleep! Ah, the ecstasy of it! The instant release from the grinding labor of the day—the cessation of pain in back and legs!
In those first agonizing weeks Bob's weight dropped forty pounds, his collars became loose, his chin lost its rotundity, his paunch entirely disappeared. He awoke in the mornings ravenously hungry and could hardly wait to swallow his egg and coffee. He felt lame and sore most of the time, but gloriously well. He no longer knew what it was to have a headache. If he had had the time he would have played racquets with some of those fellows he used to envy.
Over at the works he pitched quoits and put the shot at the noon hour, and soon found he was up to his weight with the other men.
But he missed the drink and his tobacco. Six months before, if anybody had told him that he could get through the day without a couple of whiskies and at least one cocktail he would have laughed incredulously. In those days six cigars had been nothing. Now his one longing was for beer and a pipe. It required all his resolution to decline the offers of his comrades when, broiling from the furnaces, they sought the shade of the yard next the public house. At first he worked with set teeth and tears in his eyes; then, as his muscles hardened and the pains left his back, he began to take a certain grim satisfaction in showing the rest of the gang that he was no booby. He had one fight and was soundly pommeled by a smaller ironworker, but he took his medicine, spat out a tooth and shook hands. A tooth was a small thing to sacrifice for a million! His friends in New York knew him no more. He neither had the inclination nor the time to go out into society. Sometimes—on Sunday afternoons he'd make a call or two; but he found it difficult to develop the requisite small talk. He had no longer the ghost of an idea who was the latest craze at the opera or what the best shows were. Most of his friends thought he was traveling. How quickly a fellow dropped out of the running!
And just when he no longer needed money he found that he had plenty of it. His club bills came to practically nothing now at the end of the month, for he neither used cabs nor ran up accounts for clothes, cigars and wine. Moreover, as he never gambled he had no debts of honor.
Gradually he paid off all his bills—even the one upon which suit had been threatened. Two thousand a year? Why, that was forty dollars a week, and he was living on twelve and earning twenty!
At the end of nine months he was made a foreman and his pay raised to twenty-five dollars a week. He had never felt so proud in all his life before. He had come to love the roar of the furnaces and the rumble of the tackle and chains. He joined the union and entered enthusiastically into the life of the men for whom he began to have a strong affection. He knew them all by their first names and they called him Bob. By the side of most of them Ikey Dupre and the rest of his old friends seemed like a gang of cheap sports. Once, and once only, he stopped at the club to see some of them, but their talk of cocktails, shows and chorus girls sickened him.
"Gee!" said Ikey; "you look hard as nails. Gone into training?"
"Yes," answered Bob shortly.
"What for?" asked his friend. "Tryin' to get strong?"
"For money," replied Bob, with a grim laugh.
"Wish I could earn money that way," remarked Ikey ruefully, looking down at his waist measure. "But it would kill me sure."
The absence of intellectual companionship among the men led him gradually to take up his long-neglected habit of reading, and by a curious kink of fortune his interest in the union turned him in the direction of economics and sociology. It came to him as rather a joke one night that, after all, he should, in spite of himself, be reading Karl Marx in his room before going to bed. He saw that what his comrades and their families needed was some kind of a healthy social life, which their environment did not afford. This he resolved to remedy if he could, and so he organized a "Men's Club," which soon required so much of his time that he gave up his rooms in New York and took others within walking distance of the factory. Not that this metamorphosis occurred all at once. But it is true that what at first was bitter bread to him before long tasted sweeter than any experiences of his life hitherto. He looked forward, to be sure, to the time when he should come into his inheritance, but not with that hungry eagerness of the first months of his probation. His feeling for Mr. Middleton became one of gratitude for having lifted him out of the slough in which he had been living.
Once in a long while Mr. Middleton would send for him and they would have a talk. The old fellow seemed well pleased at the progress Rob was making, and gave no evidence of having in any way repented of his bargain. On the anniversary of their original compact they spent an evening together at the club, and this time Mr. Middleton ordered a very different sort of dinner from their first. There were various hors-d'œuvres, a rich purée of lobster, terrapin, saddle of mutton, pâté de foie gras with salad, and a complicated dessert. Cocktails were served, but Rob declined this time for a very different reason.
"But tonight there are no rules, no conditions," said Mr. Middleton. "This shall be a dies non. We must celebrate our contract!" Bob shook his head.
"Honest, I don't want to begin again—certainly not on cocktails. The thing might turn my stomach, don't you know. I've got to be careful."
The old gentleman laughed.
"I won't force you," he agreed; "but surely you will have a sip of champagne when we get upstairs."
Bob had worked ten hours that day and his face and neck were a deep red. His shoulders ached under the armpits, but apart from that he felt as though he could eat a house. Yet for some strange reason the anchovies and caviar tasted queer to him, and the soup, following, seemed to be tinctured with copper. He did a little better with the terrapin, made considerable headway on the mutton, but flunked when it came to the foie gras.
"You're not eating, my boy," remarked Mr. Middleton anxiously. "I'm afraid you're not feeling well."
"Somehow things don't seem to taste as they used to," replied Bob apologetically. "I've got so used to living on prunes and bacon! Would you regard it as terribly bad form if I cut out the rest of this Babylonian feast? And—and—if I could—would you mind my having a glass of beer?"
Old Mr. Middleton burst out into a hearty laugh.
"Have I debauched your taste to that extent? Certainly not, my dear boy. Have anything you like. I've decided to relax the conditions a bit, anyhow, and let you have an occasional beer and your pipe."
"Thanks," said Bob. "Do you know, sometimes I've been on the verge of throwing up the whole business just on that account. A fellow gets so tired working there in the dust and steam that I believe he needs something of that sort occasionally. Just think what a lot of 'hog wash' I used to get away with!"
"Did you?" demanded Mr. Middleton in a surprised tone.
It was not more than a month later that Bob was made shop superintendent. There was no one among the men who begrudged him his advancement. The city no longer had any lure for him. He wondered from time to time how he ever could have been satisfied to dawdle his life away when he could have been holding his own among real people and doing something for them. His entire two thousand a year went now toward keeping up his men's club, and he had a boys' gymnasium on the stocks which he expected to have built before long. The fortune that was to be his no longer filled his dreams. He hoped his kind benefactor would live long enough to see him head of the plant. When at length the good old man should, in the fullness of years, be gathered to his fathers Bob intended to build a plant of his own, with model shops and model homes for his employees. It was to be a profit-sharing enterprise, with a hospital, schools for boys and girls, a day nursery and a library. He often spent whole evenings making plans for it and thinking out the details. And while he was dreaming over the distant future Mr. Middleton suddenly died.
The news came to him just as the day men were going home and the night shift was coming on. A messenger-boy, peering cautiously into the dusk of the foundry and watching fearfully the hellish flare from the blast furnaces, timidly handed him the yellow envelope. So, release had come to them both at the same time! He should bid farewell to the scene of his labors, his struggles, his victories. He sat down on a huge casting, holding the telegram between his grimy fingers.
"No bad news, I hope, sir?" said Larry Moore, his young Irish assistant, coming up to him sympathetically.
"No, Larry; no-o," he answered.
"I'm glad of that, sir," answered the lad, turning away.
One by one the men threw on their coats, picked up their dinner-pails, and, hurrying by, touched their hats and wished him good night. He answered them all with a glow of affection. They were a good lot! How he'd miss them! How he'd miss it all—the shop—the club—his little room at Mrs. Flynn's boarding-house!
The shadows darkened and the furnaces glowed redder. The roar of the wheels, the rumble of the cranes carrying their cups of molten metal, the indistinct shouts of the workmen, the hiss of the steam, the thunder of the rolling-mills merged into a song of farewell. He should never again sit there as part of the machine—one of the units. If he ever came back it would be as an owner, not as one of the crew.
He threw off his coat, which he had slipped on preparatory to going home. The song of the steam-hammer in the adjoining mill stirred his soul. The yellow fire glowing in the pit of the near-by blast furnace illuminated the weird scene about him with fiendish glory. The night shift were just stringing in. He waved his arms and shouted to the men:
"Come on, boys! I'll stay here with you tonight! Let's get to work."
Bob was surprised at the small number of people at Mr. Middleton's funeral—only a handful. It was a wonderful spring day, just two years since he had received his benefactor's invitation. As he drove back alone from the cemetery in the hack provided for him, his mind reverted to the morning he had found the old gentleman's letter upon his dressing-table, and the changes that it had wrought in his career. What a poor thing he had been!
How could Mr. Middleton have possibly made such a mistake about him! And he had permitted the old man to go ahead and leave him a fortune under a false impression.
His conscience smote him sorely about this, now that the old man was dead. What would he do with it? Would he tire of his model foundry, his hospitals and his library? Would reform sociology bore him? Would he build a yacht and go cruising around the world, or run to automobiles and racehorses? The thought of all these things troubled him.
Mr. Wigmore, the attorney in charge of Mr. Middleton's affairs, had whispered to him at the funeral that he would be glad to have him call at his offices during the course of the day, and thither Hammersly repaired later in the morning. The lawyer's windows looked down upon the shining East River and across to Williamsburg, where the plant was situated. From where he sat Bob could see the smoke from the chimney rising in a long black column into the air. Mr. Wigmore was an apple-faced little man with twinkling eyes just like Mr. Middleton's. He greeted Bob very cordially—even tenderly.
"I asked you to call," said he, "because I understood that our late client had given you some reason to believe that you might inherit something under his will. Am I correct?"
"Yes," answered Bob, wondering why the lawyer put the matter so circuitously. "He agreed to make me his heir."
"Of anything he might have at the time of his death, I believe the terms were?" supplemented Mr. Wigmore with a slight cough. "You had a sort of verbal contract—did you not?"
"Yes—I was to get whatever he had," said Bob.
Mr. Wigmore gave a slight shrug of his shoulders.
"My client had a rather curious sense of humor," he remarked, with a dry smile. "He was, so to speak, a trifle eccentric in some ways."
Bob looked quickly at the lawyer—was he going to put some sharp trick over the plate?
"The fact of the situation is," continued the little man, "that Mr. Middleton gave his entire fortune away some years before he died. His private benefactions were exceedingly munificent. He left practically nothing. The last time I saw him, however, he requested me to tell you that he had left you all that he could."
"And what, pray, is that?" inquired Bob blankly. Over the little lawyer's shoulder a huge wall calendar bearing the date "April 1" grinned mockingly at him.
"A future," answered the little man quietly.
For a moment a sense of indignity, almost of bitterness, swept over Bob Hammersly. Then his eye rested upon the smoking chimney of the plant across the river. The sunlight on the swirling currents twinkled, somehow not unlike the smile in old Mr. Middleton's eyes.
"Well," he said, and he gave a little laugh, "he might have done worse."