Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

An Heiress Of Red Dog
by [?]

The first intimation given of the eccentricity of the testator was, I think, in the spring of 1854. He was at that time in possession of a considerable property, heavily mortgaged to one friend, and a wife of some attraction, on whose affections another friend held an encumbering lien. One day it was found that he had secretly dug, or caused to be dug, a deep trap before the front-door of his dwelling, into which a few friends, in the course of the evening, casually and familiarly dropped. This circumstance, slight in itself, seemed to point to the existence of a certain humor in the man, which might eventually get into literature, although his wife’s lover–a man of quick discernment, whose leg was broken by the fall–took other views. It was some weeks later, that, while dining with certain other friends of his wife, he excused himself from the table to quietly re-appear at the front-window with a three-quarter inch hydraulic pipe, and a stream of water projected at the assembled company. An attempt was made to take public cognizance of this; but a majority of the citizens of Red Dog, who were not at dinner, decided that a man had a right to choose his own methods of diverting his company. Nevertheless, there were some hints of his insanity; his wife recalled other acts clearly attributable to dementia; the crippled lover argued from his own experience that the integrity of her limbs could only be secured by leaving her husband’s house; and the mortgagee, fearing a further damage to his property, foreclosed. But here the cause of all this anxiety took matters into his own hands, and disappeared.

When we next heard from him, he had, in some mysterious way, been relieved alike of his wife and property, and was living alone at Rockville fifty miles away, and editing a newspaper. But that originality he had displayed when dealing with the problems of his own private life, when applied to politics in the columns of “The Rockville Vanguard” was singularly unsuccessful. An amusing exaggeration, purporting to be an exact account of the manner in which the opposing candidate had murdered his Chinese laundryman, was, I regret to say, answered only by assault and battery. A gratuitous and purely imaginative description of a great religious revival in Calaveras, in which the sheriff of the county–a notoriously profane sceptic–was alleged to have been the chief exhorter, resulted only in the withdrawal of the county advertising from the paper. In the midst of this practical confusion he suddenly died. It was then discovered, as a crowning proof of his absurdity, that he had left a will, bequeathing his entire effects to a freckle-faced maid-servant at the Rockville Hotel. But that absurdity became serious when it was also discovered that among these effects were a thousand shares in the Rising Sun Mining Company, which a day or two after his demise, and while people were still laughing at his grotesque benefaction, suddenly sprang into opulence and celebrity. Three millions of dollars was roughly estimated as the value of the estate thus wantonly sacrificed. For it is only fair to state, as a just tribute to the enterprise and energy of that young and thriving settlement, that there was not probably a single citizen who did not feel himself better able to control the deceased humorist’s property. Some had expressed a doubt of their ability to support a family; others had felt perhaps too keenly the deep responsibility resting upon them when chosen from the panel as jurors, and had evaded their public duties; a few had declined office and a low salary: but no one shrank from the possibility of having been called upon to assume the functions of Peggy Moffat, the heiress.

The will was contested,–first by the widow, who it now appeared had never been legally divorced from the deceased; next by four of his cousins, who awoke, only too late, to a consciousness of his moral and pecuniary worth. But the humble legatee–a singularly plain, unpretending, uneducated Western girl–exhibited a dogged pertinacity in claiming her rights. She rejected all compromises. A rough sense of justice in the community, while doubting her ability to take care of the whole fortune, suggested that she ought to be content with three hundred thousand dollars. “She’s bound to throw even THAT away on some derned skunk of a man, natoorally; but three millions is too much to give a chap for makin’ her onhappy. It’s offerin’ a temptation to cussedness.” The only opposing voice to this counsel came from the sardonic lips of Mr. Jack Hamlin. “Suppose,” suggested that gentleman, turning abruptly on the speaker,–“suppose, when you won twenty thousand dollars of me last Friday night–suppose that, instead of handing you over the money as I did–suppose I’d got up on my hind-legs, and said, ‘Look yer, Bill Wethersbee, you’re a d—-d fool. If I give ye that twenty thousand, you’ll throw it away in the first skin-game in ‘Frisco, and hand it over to the first short-card sharp you’ll meet. There’s a thousand,–enough for you to fling away,–take it and get!’ Suppose what I’d said to you was the frozen truth, and you know’d it, would that have been the square thing to play on you?” But here Wethersbee quickly pointed out the inefficiency of the comparison by stating that HE had won the money fairly with a STAKE. “And how do you know,” demanded Hamlin savagely, bending his black eyes on the astounded casuist,–“how do you know that the gal hezn’t put down a stake?” The man stammered an unintelligible reply. The gambler laid his white hand on Wethersbee’s shoulder. “Look yer, old man,” he said, “every gal stakes her WHOLE pile,–you can bet your life on that,–whatever’s her little game. If she took to keerds instead of her feelings, if she’d put up ‘chips’ instead o’ body and soul, she’d bust every bank ‘twixt this and ‘Frisco! You hear me?”