Clifford Refuses A Fortune
So William Faxon Temple Wilton's mortal experience on this plane of existence came to an end. Love of ease and pleasure, selfishness and greed, the fostering of malice, passion, and appetite invariably bring their punishment, even here.
When all was over it was found, upon making a thorough examination of his papers, that the man had left no will. A memorandum of a few bequests was discovered in a little blankbook in his desk, showing that he had given some thought to the subject; but these, of course, amounted to nothing, and Philip Wentworth was appalled when he realized what such culpable neglect on the part of Mr. Temple meant in connection with his mother and sister.
"Mother, this is simply awful!" he exclaimed, when they were at last obliged to relinquish their fruitless search; "you and Minnie are literally penniless, for not a dollar of Mr. Temple's fortune can either of you touch. Clifford Faxon, who is his son by that other woman, becomes the sole heir to his magnificent property."
"Can that be possible?" said Mrs. Temple, greatly distressed. "Oh, it seems dreadful that Minnie--that innocent child--must suffer for the sin of another. She was her father's idol, and, of course, he intended that she should be his heiress. I know if he had even dreamed that the truth would be revealed he would have made a will in her favor, and settled the matter irrevocably."
"He did know," said Phil, flushing with indignation; "don't you know he said that he realized that Faxon was his son, as long ago as when he met him at the mountains. I cannot understand how he dared to leave matters so at loose ends."
"Well," observed Mrs. Temple, after a thoughtful pause, "I am not going to cast reflections upon him now. I told him that I forgave him, and I will hold to what I said. I begin to think that unlimited wealth is a snare which binds and warps all that is best in our natures. I am not literally penniless, as you said. I have my own small fortune, which Will insisted upon settling upon me when we were--ah! why do I refer to that miserable farce!" she interposed with sudden passion.
But she calmed herself almost instantly and continued:
"I am sure I can manage with what I have quite comfortably, though, of course, we will have to give up all this style and exercise economy. Now, Phil"--with an air of determination--"I am not going to have any legal contest or gossip over these matters. Everything has been kept quiet so far, and for both Minnie's and my sake there must be no scandal. I am going to send for Mr. Faxon, tell him frankly that there is no will, and relinquish everything to him."
"That would be neither right nor sensible!" cried Philip hotly, his old grudge against Clifford flaming up anew. "Of course, I can understand that Faxon--hem! has certain legal rights that will have to be respected; but, morally, he has no right to this fortune--Minnie should have every dollar of it. Blast it all!" he burst forth, as he sprang to his feet and excitedly paced the room, "we are in a horrible situation. If we fight for the property that damnable secret will all have to come out----"
"Yes, and there would be no use in fighting, for Mr. Faxon can easily prove his own position and get everything. Oh, it would be worse than folly, Phil, to attempt to contest the matter--our hands are tied--we are utterly helpless; so I am going to quietly give up everything. I would rather forfeit every penny than have the world know our shameful story."
Philip was almost beside himself in view of this unforeseen calamity. Since the trouble has fallen upon his mother he had borne himself with more dignity and manliness than he had ever manifested. He had seemed to be suddenly transformed, and had been a veritable staff and support to her. He had even appeared somewhat softened toward Clifford upon learning how nobly considerate he had been and that he had given his word to preserve their secret inviolate.
But now, when he realized that he alone was Mr. Temple's heir, and that his mother and sister would be deprived of the luxuries to which they had always been accustomed, his old hatred revived with tenfold fury, and he became capable for the time of almost any crime in his desire to wreck vengeance upon his rival.
But Mrs. Temple proceeded to put her resolution into immediate action, and wrote a brief, courteous note to Clifford, requesting him to call at his earliest convenience, as she had a matter of the most vital importance to discuss with him.
He at once surmised something of the nature of the matter--for he knew that if he had not been mentioned in Mr. Temple's will he could break it if he chose--and accordingly presented himself at the Temple mansion that same evening.
Mrs. Temple received him cordially, but Phil, his mother having insisted that he should be present during the interview, barely accorded him a recognition.
Mrs. Temple came to the point at once, stating the case briefly, but plainly, and to say that Clifford was astonished upon learning that there was no will and that he alone was heir to the large fortune which Mr. Temple had left would not feebly express his feelings.
He had never once thought of such a contingency. He supposed, of course, that Mr. Temple had made his will, leaving everything to the woman he adored and the child he worshiped, and that they had sent for him simply to make terms with him to prevent him from making them any trouble in settling the estate. But to learn that there were no terms to be made--to learn that they had sent for him to relinquish everything, without a desire or a condition, except that he would reassure them of his willingness to keep their miserable secret, almost dazed him.
To most people that would have been a moment of signal triumph; but it was not in Clifford's nature to triumph in any one's misfortune, although it did flash upon him, as his mind reverted to that day when Philip Wentworth had so rudely saluted him--"Say, here! you window-washer!"--that the tables had been turned in a most wonderful manner.
It seemed like a dream to be sitting there and know that, for the moment, at least, he was a millionaire, while his old-time enemy and his proud mother were groveling before him in the valley of humiliation.
He listened gravely to all Mrs. Temple had to say, and his heart ached for her in her sorrow, and grew very tender toward her, as well, for was she not the mother of his young sister?
When, at the close of her explanations, she begged him, for Minnie's sake, to take everything and welcome if he would only save them the disgrace of having the world learn the truth and point the finger of scorn at them, he flushed to his brows with wounded feeling.
"My dear madam," he said as she concluded, "I am wondering what your estimate of me can be! I assure you that I am as eager as yourself to keep these matters from the world. I may as well tell you that Mr. Temple offered to settle three hundred thousand dollars upon me upon the same condition; but I say to you now, as I said to him that evening, I cheerfully promise that, as far as I am concerned, the secret shall be inviolate, and I do not want--I will not have--a dollar of this fortune which you assert, and which I can understand, might be mine by the law of inheritance."
At this point Philip Wentworth turned and faced him for the first time during the interview, his face wearing an expression of profound astonishment.
"What are you saying?" he demanded sharply; "you do not intend to take any of Mr. Temple's money?"
"Not a penny, Wentworth," Clifford quietly returned.
"But--I do not understand it!" said Philip, with a blank stare of wonderment.
"It is very simple," returned Clifford, with a frank smile. "Mr. Temple never knew of my existence until a little over five years ago, and even after he learned the fact he manifested no interest in me. All his hopes and plans were centered in his daughter and her mother; his fortune was made for them, and he expected and intended that it would become theirs in the event of his death. Now, I feel that I have no more right to it, morally, than I have to the fortune of one of the Vanderbilts. I can see, as you do, that I might, according to the law governing such matters, claim it all if I was so disposed; but I assure you I want no part of it. Probably the world--if it were conversant with the circumstances--would judge me to be quixotic and say that my pride outweighed my judgment. Possibly, that may be true to a certain extent--I cannot quite define my own feelings regarding the matter; but," he concluded decidedly, "the fact remains--I will not touch it!"
Mrs. Temple had observed him with growing interest, mingled with deepest respect and admiration, during these remarks, and as he concluded she turned to him with an eager light in her eyes:
"Mr. Faxon," she said, "there is, I suppose, a great deal of money; may I beg, as a personal favor, that you will take at least a portion of it--that you will share it with Minnie?"
"Madam, that would be impossible. I most cheerfully resign everything to her," was the firm but courteous response.
"I am amazed!" said the lady, with visible emotion, "and, morally, it does not seem right to me that my child should, under the circumstances, alone be enriched by Mr. Temple' wealth. Oh! I trust that the innocent girl may not fall under the ban of your censure because of her father's wrongdoing."
"Surely not, Mrs. Temple," said Clifford earnestly; "on the contrary, I have long entertained a very tender feeling toward her. How could I help it after the thrilling experience in which we participated a few years ago?--and now the knowledge that we are akin to each other has only served to strengthen the bond. With your permission, I shall be glad to cultivate an even closer friendship than has hitherto existed between us."
"You not only have my permission--I shall be proud to have you for her friend, and--mine," said Mrs. Temple huskily; and then, utterly overcome by his magnanimity, she buried her face in her hands and wept.
"Thank you," returned Clifford heartily, "and allow me to say that you both have had my deepest sympathies during this trial. Had I dreamed of these results I should certainly have refused to comply with Mr. Temple's request for an interview. But we will never refer to the subject again, only let me add that I feel you have shown yourself very honorable in your proposals to me this evening."
"Oh!" cried Mrs. Temple, with a gesture of repudiation, as she lifted her face to him, "do not commend me for what was prompted by purely selfish motives; my only thought was to secure your silence at any cost, but now I really wish, out of a spirit of gratitude and of admiration for your nobility, that I could persuade you to revoke your decision."
"I cannot, Mrs. Temple," said Clifford gravely and decisively, "but"--a genial smile chasing the gravity away--"I will most thankfully avail myself of your proffered friendship, and even though--because of the world--I may not claim my young sister as such, I assure you I shall love her none the less tenderly."
Feeling that the interview should end, Clifford now arose to go, pleading another engagement. Mrs. Temple also arose and came toward him, with outstretched hand.
"I am more grateful to you than I can express," she said, with the tears springing afresh. "I have had a bitter cup to drink--a terrible wound to bear, but you have greatly soothed and comforted me to-night; if I can ever serve you in any way, believe me I shall esteem it a privilege to do so."
"Thank you," said Clifford heartily, as he clasped her trembling hand.
Then he glanced somewhat doubtfully at Philip, who during the last half-hour, had been sitting silent and apparently preoccupied, and wearing a strangely depressed air.
"Good night, Wentworth," he said cordially, after an instant of irresolution.
There was a moment of awkward silence.
"Phil!" broke in his mother, in a tone of surprised reproof.
The young man sprang to his feet and turned a flushed, shamed face upon Clifford.
"I say, Faxon," he faltered huskily, "this has been too much for me! I've been a cad and a knave time and again, but you have set your heel upon me pretty effectually this time! I am simply crushed. You have done to-night what I did not believe any man was capable of doing, and when you entered the room I was in a more murderous frame of mind than I have ever been before; but you have taken the starch all out of me, and I am ready now to eat humble pie. If you won't feel insulted, after all that has passed, I'd like to ask you to shake hands and wipe out old scores."
Clifford's hand went out to him with instant cordiality.
"Gladly!" he said, and in that friendly clasp there was ratified a treaty which endured throughout their lives.
No other word was spoken, for Philip was now beyond the power of speech, and Clifford, recognizing the fact, beat a considerate retreat, and left the house with a buoyant heart, an elastic step, a smile on his lips, and the consciousness of a noble victory gleaming in his expressive brown eyes, for of an enemy he had at last made a friend.
Mrs. Temple and Philip set themselves immediately about winding up Mr. Temple's affairs, and both seemed to have undergone a radical transformation.
The proud, gay butterfly of fashion had suddenly become the gentle, tender, considerate mother--a thoughtful, womanly woman; the indolent, aimless man was fast developing into an attentive son, a wise adviser, an efficient helper and protector.
"You are growing very like your father, Phil," his mother said to him one day, after many hours of patient labor over perplexing accounts and papers. "Thank you, mother, you could not have said anything to have encouraged me more," the young man replied, with grave appreciation, but with a sigh over the wasted years of his life.
Upon completing their business-arrangements, Mrs. Temple insisted that the sum of fifty thousand dollars should be made over to Mr. Heatherford, who, she asserted, must have lost fully that amount, first and last, in his dealings with her husband, she and Phil having discovered the fact during their examination of the man's account. The man, at first, demurred against taking it, but she assured him that out of her abundance it would never be missed, and that she would feel that she was retaining money which did not belong to her if he did not accept it; and he finally acceded to her request, for he well knew that the methods which Mr. Temple had employed had amounted to the same thing as taking so much money out of his pockets and transferring it to his own.
During this time Clifford saw considerable of the family, and between him and Minnie there grew up a strong and endearing friendship, which, in after years, became the source of much happiness to them both.
Mollie, also, feeling her sympathies aroused in view of the wrongs and trials of the family, renewed her friendship with them--even with Phil, who was so thoroughly repentant for the past and so changed that she had not the heart to keep him longer under the ban of her displeasure.
Their business-affairs in Washington once arranged, they returned to their home in Brookline, where they dropped into a quiet, peaceful way of living, Minnie throwing her whole heart into her studies to prepare for college; Philip settling down to business in a firm where a young and enterprising man with some capital was needed, while Mrs. Temple devoted herself exclusively to her two children and their interests.
The twenty-fifth of January there was a brilliant society wedding in Washington, when Mollie Heatherford gave herself to her king, and believed that she was the happiest woman living, while Clifford felt himself truly crowned with the supreme joy of his life. Miss Athol was maid of honor to the fair bride, and her fiancé, the son of the British ambassador, was Clifford's best man.
Maria Kimberly and Squire Talford were both bidden to the festivities.
The squire did not respond in any way to the courtesy extended to him, but Maria presented herself a week beforehand, to help the affair along, and she could not have shown a more vigorous interest if Clifford and Mollie had been her own children.
The Temples and Philip Wentworth also received invitations, but they excused themselves on account of their mourning.
Mollie, however, received a family remembrance in the form of a solid silver service, and Clifford a magnificent saddle-horse for his own private use.
Life looked very bright to the happy couple, and, indeed, to Mr. Heatherford, as well, for he had grown very fond of the noble fellow whom his daughter had chosen to be her life companion, and, with health, wealth and congenial tastes, there seemed to be nothing to be desired for their future, and they formed an ideal family in their ideal home.
When the wedding was over Maria returned to the squire, but with a somewhat heavy heart, for she yearned to keep her old-time promise to Clifford--to superintend his culinary department when he was able to set up an establishment of his own.
He had told her that the place was open to her whenever she saw fit to take it, but her sense of duty would not allow her to leave the squire, "who wasn't nigh so chipper as he used to be afore he had that sickness," and she hadn't the heart to leave him--at least, until he got stronger.
The result was she continued to live at Cedar Hill for two years longer, and during which the squire gradually failed in health, and finally was found one morning cold and still in his bed.
He preserved his gruff, cynical, reticent manner till the last; but when his will was read, to the astonishment of every one, it was found he had bequeathed his entire property--excepting three thousand dollars to Maria--which proved to be a very handsome inheritance, to Clifford Faxon; while among his papers there was also found a letter addressed to the young man, in which he had poured out much of the pent-up feeling of many years, and showing plainly that his love for Clifford's mother had been the strongest and most enduring sentiment of his nature.
"I've been proud of you, too," he closed the characteristic epistle by saying--"prouder than you will ever know; but the devil in me that hated your father would never let me show it."
"Poor old man!" said Clifford, as he finished the strange missive, "how glad I would have been to have made his life more enjoyable."
Henceforth the fine estate at Cedar Hill became the summer home of the Faxons, while Maria continued to preside there, a proud and happy queen, in her way, of all she surveyed, for Mollie declared she would never presume to call herself mistress in a place so immaculately kept and well ordered as Clifford's home in the East.
She grew to love the place very dearly, for from the window she could look out upon the very spot where, as a boy, her husband had wielded those vigorous blows which had doubtless saved the lives of hundreds of people and resulted in their first meeting, when she had lost her heart while looking into his brown eyes and had given him the magic cameo, which still graced his strong hand.