The Second Generation by David Graham Phillips
Chapter X. "Through Love for My Children"
On the day after the funeral, Mrs. Ranger and the two children and young Hargrave were in the back parlor, waiting for Judge Torrey to come and read the will. The well-meant intrusions, the services, the burial--all those barbarous customs that stretch on the rack those who really love the dead whom society compels them publicly to mourn--had left cruel marks on Adelaide and on Arthur; but their mother seemed unchanged. She was talking incessantly now, addressing herself to Dory, since he alone was able to heed her. Her talk was an almost incoherent stream, as if she neither knew nor cared what she was saying so long as she could keep that stream going--the stream whose sound at least made the voice in her heart, the voice of desolation, less clear and terrible, though not less insistent.
There was the beat of a man's footsteps on the side veranda. Mrs. Ranger started up, listened, sat again. "Oh," she said, in the strangest tone, and with a hysterical little laugh, "I thought it was your father coming home to dinner!" Then from her throat issued a stifled cry like nothing but a cry borne up to the surface from a deep torture-chamber. And she was talking on again--with Adelaide sobbing and Arthur fighting back the tears. Hargrave went to the door and admitted the old lawyer.
He had a little speech which he always made on such occasions; but to-day, with the knowledge of the astounding contents of that will on his mind, his lips refused to utter it. He simply bowed, seated himself, and opened the document. The old-fashioned legal phrases soon were steadying him as the harness steadies an uneasy horse; and he was monotonously and sonorously rolling off paragraph after paragraph. Except the judge, young Hargrave was the only one there who clearly understood what those wordy provisions meant. As the reading progressed Dory's face flushed a deep red which slowly faded, leaving him gray and haggard. His father's beloved project! His father's! To carry out his father's project, Arthur and Adelaide, the woman he loved and her brother, were to lose their inheritance. He could not lift his eyes. He felt that they were all looking at him, were hurling reproaches and denunciations.
Presently Judge Torrey read: "I make this disposal of my estate through my love for my children and because I have firm belief in the soundness of their character, and in their capacity to do and to be. I feel they will be better off without the wealth which would tempt my son to relax his efforts to make a useful man of himself and would cause my daughter to be sought for her fortune instead of for herself."
At the words "without the wealth," Arthur shifted sharply in his chair, and both he and Adelaide looked at Judge Torrey in puzzled wonder. The judge read on, read the names of signer and witnesses, then laid the will down and stared gloomily at it. Mrs. Ranger said: "And now, judge, can you tell us in plain words just what it means?"
With many a pause and stammer the old lawyer made it clear: the house and its contents and appurtenances, and seven thousand a year to the widow for life; two thousand a year to Adelaide; five thousand in cash to Arthur and the chance to earn the mill and factory; the rest, practically the whole estate, to Tecumseh University.
"Any further questions?" he asked, breaking the silence that followed his explanation.
No one spoke.
Still without looking at anyone, he put away his glasses? "Then I guess I'll be going. It won't be necessary to do anything further for a day or two."
And, with face like that of criminal slinking from scene of crime, he got himself to the door by a series of embarrassed bows and shuffling steps. Outside, he wiped the streaming sweat from his forehead. "It wasn't my fault," he muttered, as if some one were accusing him. Then, a little further from the house, "I ain't sure Hiram hasn't done right. But, God help me, I couldn't never save my children at such a price."
He was clear of the grounds before Adelaide, the first to move, cast a furtive glance at her brother. Her own disaster was swallowed up for her in the thought of how he had been struck down. But she could read nothing in his face. He was simply gazing straight ahead, and looking so like his father at his most unfathomable. As soon as he had fully realized what the will meant, his nerves had stopped feeling and his brain had stopped thinking. Adelaide next noted Dory, and grew cold from head to foot. All in a rush it came over her how much she had relied upon her prospective inheritance, how little upon herself. What would Dory think of her now? And Ross--what a triumph for him, what a narrow escape! Had he suspected? Had others in the town known that of which they of the family were in complete ignorance? Oh, the horror of the descent--the horror of the rude snatching away of the golden aureole! "Father, father, how could you do it? How could you hurt us so?" she muttered. Then, up before her rose his face with that frightful look in the eyes. "But how doing it made him suffer!" she thought. And the memory of those hours on hours she had spent with him, buried alive, flooded over her. "Doing it killed him!" she said to herself.
She felt cruel fingers grinding into her arm. With a sharp cry she sprang up. Her brother was facing her, his features ablaze with all the evil passions in his untrained and unrestrained nature. "You knew!" he hissed. "You traitor! You knew he was doing this. You honeyfugled him. And you and Hargrave get it all!"
Adelaide shrank as she would not have shrunk under a lash.
"O Arthur! Arthur!" she cried, clasping her hands and stretching them toward him.
"You admit it, do you?" he shouted, seizing her by the shoulders like a madman. "Yes, your guilty face admits it. But I'll undo your work. I'll break the will. Such an outrage as that, such a robbery, won't stand in court for a minute."
Dory had risen, was moving to fling the brother from the sister; but Mrs. Ranger was before him. Starting up from the stupor into which Judge Torrey's explanation had thrown her, she thrust herself between her children. "Arthur!" she said, and her voice was quiet and solemn. "Your father is dead." She drew herself up, and facing her son in her widow's black, seemed taller than he. "If I had needed any proof that he was right about what he did with his own," she went on, "I'd have found it in your face and in what you just said to your sister. Go to the glass there, boy! Look at your face and remember your words!"
Young Hargrave left the room, went to the garden where they could see him from the windows and call him if they wished. Arthur hung his head before his mother's gaze. "It isn't his will," he muttered. "Father in his right mind would never have made such a will."
"He never would have made such a will if his children had been in their right mind," replied his mother sternly; and sternness they had never before seen in those features or heard in that voice. "I know now what he was broodin' over for weeks. Yes--" and her voice, which rose shrill, was the shriek of the tempest within her--"and I know now what made him break so sudden. I noticed you both driftin' off into foolishness, ashamed of the ways of your parents, ashamed of your parents, too. But I didn't give no attention to it, because I thought it was the silliness of children and that you'd outgrow it. But he always did have a good head on him, and he saw that you were ridin' loose-rein to ruin--to be like them Whitneys. Your pa not in his right mind? I see God in that will."
She paused, but only for breath to resume: "And you, Arthur Ranger, what was in your head when you came here to-day? Grief and love and willingness to carry out your dead father's last wishes? No! You came thinking of how you were to benefit by his death. Don't deny! I saw your face when you found you weren't going to get your father's money."
"Mother!" exclaimed Arthur.
She waved him down imperiously; and he was afraid before her, before her outraged love for her outraged dead. "Take care how you stamp on my Hiram's grave, Arthur Ranger!"
"He didn't mean it--you know he didn't," pleaded Adelaide. At that moment she could not think of this woman as her mother, but only as the wife, the widow.
But Ellen's instinct told her that her son, though silent, was still in traitorous rebellion against her idol. And she kept on at him: "With Hiram hardly out of the house, you've forgot all he did for you, all he left you--his good name, his good example. You think only of his money. I've heard you say children owe nothing to their parents, that parents owe everything to the children. Well, that's so. But it don't mean what you think. It don't mean that parents ought to ruin their children. And your pa didn't spare himself to do his duty by you--not even though it killed him. Yes, it killed him! You'd better go away and fall on your knees and ask God to forgive you for having shortened your father's life. And I tell you, Arthur Ranger, till you change your heart, you're no son of mine."
"Mother! Mother!" cried Arthur, rushing from the room.
Mrs. Ranger looked vacantly at the place where he had been, dropped into a chair and burst into a storm of tears.
"Call him back, mother," entreated Del.
"No! no!" sobbed Ellen Ranger. "He spoke agin' my dead! I'll not forgive him till his heart changes."
Adelaide knelt beside her mother and tried to put her arms around her. But her mother shrank away. "Don't touch me!" she cried; "leave me alone. God forgive me for having bore children that trample on their father's grave. I'll put you both out of the house--" and she started up and her voice rose to a shriek. "Yes--I'll put you both out! Your foolishness has ate into you like a cancer, till you're both rotten. Go to the Whitneys. Go among the lepers where you belong. You ain't fit for decent people."
She pushed Adelaide aside, and with uncertain steps went into the hall and up toward her own room.