University of Virginia Library

Search this document 

a web of many textures

collapse section 
expand section 


It was always a mystery to me what Pritchard did
with that will,” said a corpulent old gentleman, with
very white hair and a very red face, to another old gentleman,
with whom he was conversing. “He made a will,
I know, because I 've got a memorandum of having
witnessed it a year before he died. Let 's see, that
would make it more than thirty-five years ago. How
time does fly away! Pritchard was a very careful man,
and that the will was n't found seems very strange.”

“Perhaps he destroyed it,” said the other old gentleman.
“Some folks don't like to think of dying, and after
they have made their wills they destroy 'em. They 're
kind o' superstitional like.”

“Well, Pritchard was n't one of that sort. He
knowed he 'd have to die; and he was a very careful
man. I do wish it had been found. I guess that oldest
son of his would n't have fared so much better than
the rest.”

“I guess not,” said his shadow; “and how he 's managed
to get it all into his own hands, away from Thomas,
who is worth forty of him as a man, is more than I can


Page 77

“Why, 't is the same old story,” says the red-faced
man; “Thomas must foolishly go to speculating, and
ruin himself in that way; and then his kind brother
relieved him by paying half of what his share of the
patrimony is worth. It 's plain enough. Then his
younger brother, that he had sent off in one of his ships,
dies in the Indies, and he steps in for the whole of his
share on a pretended will from Henry. He must be
dead; for he has n't been heard of for more 'n thirty
years now.”

“Hush!” said the other; “here he comes in his
coach, with his wife and daughters, as proud as peacocks.”

The coach rolled by them as he spoke, and James
Pritchard bowed coldly to the old friends of his father,
who returned it for the father's sake, but not for his

“I han't got no patience with that fellow!” says the
one whom the red-faced man had been speaking to,
striking his cane on the ground. “He was the last, I
know, in his father's regard, and is now enjoying all his
money. It 'll make the old man unhappy in his grave,
if he knows anything about it.”

“I guess he does n't care about it,” said the red-faced
man; “where he 's gone our exchange is n't negotiable;
but sometimes, as I pass the old house, there, that 's
been shut up so long, I almost expect to see the old
man step out of the door. I wonder why James does n't
tear it down.”

“He dare not do it, it is thought,” replied his companion;
“for they say that the housekeeper, before she
died, hinted to him that when he pulled down the old
house, he would fall with it. It has doubled in value
since Pritchard died.”


Page 78

“Good-by,” said the red-faced man. — “Good-by,” responded
his friend; and they separated, rattling the
bricks with their canes as they moved away.

It was at the close of the day on which the above
conversation occurred that the family of James Pritchard
were seated in his magnificent drawing-room, supplied
with every luxury that wealth and art could produce.
The feet sunk in carpets wrought on foreign
looms, luxurious couches wooed repose, heavy curtains
gave a grandeur to the apartment, exquisite pictures
graced the walls, costly candelabras glittered upon the
marble mantelpieces, and large mirrors multiplied on
every hand the splendors collected there.

“James, who were those gross-looking people who
bowed to us as we were riding, this afternoon?” said
Mrs. Pritchard, as her husband sat, with a half-abstracted
air, reading the paper.

“Old Varney and Slade,” was his reply, somewhat
abruptly, and a little harsh, “old friends of my father's.”

“Well, what claims have they upon your attention,
if they were only his friends? I think their presumption
in speaking to you unbearable. You should respect your
daughters' feelings, Mr. Pritchard, if you have no regard
for your wife's, and not encourage any such familiarity.
Poor things!”

“One was such a horrid fat man!” said the youngest
daughter, raising her jewelled hands.

“And the other was so terribly gaunt!” said the
elder, with a tone of horror.

“Why, really, ladies,” said Mr. Pritchard, with a
chagrin that he vainly strove to conceal, “you treat my
father's old friends with considerable freedom. They
are very respectable citizens, and, besides, they are very
necessary people to me — or those whose good-will I


Page 79
would fain secure, though I half suspect, from their
coldness, that I have n't got it.”

“Very well,” said his wife; “I suppose it will always
be the case that a woman is to have no voice in determining
who her husband is to be intimate with, though
she herself must be circumspect in her acquaintance.
At any rate, the mother of your daughters will try to
retrieve what their father loses.”

His brow contracted, and his heart prompted a bitter
reply, — no unusual thing in that household, — when
the door-bell rang, and Mr. Varney was announced.
With a half-imprecation, he ordered the servant to admit
him; and, as the haughty wife and daughters swept in
stately pride from the room, our fat old friend of the
afternoon's conversation entered.

Mr. Pritchard welcomed him with a shake of the hand,
marked by assumed heartiness, and conducted him to a
seat, at the same time taking his hat from his hand.
But Mr. Varney held to this most tenaciously, for he
was a humble man, and it rather took him aback to witness
the splendors which he saw around him.

“Thank'ee — thank'ee!” said the old man; “your
father, Mr. Pritchard, was a very polite man — very. I
never went into the old house in my life that he did n't
order up the best his cellar had in it, to drink General
Washington's health.”

Mr. Pritchard rang the bell. The servant appearing,
he was ordered to bring a bottle of the best wine from
the cellar, and glasses.

“I did n't speak on that account,” said Mr. Varney;
“but it sounds so like your father! and, as I 've been
walking pretty brisk, I will try a thimble-full.”

The wine being brought, Mr. Varney imbibed rather


Page 80
more than his stipulated amount, and, placing his glass
upon the salver, he said,

“I 've come up, Mr. Pritchard, in this odd way, not
exactly on my own account. You see, about an hour
or so ago, I was sitting on the corner opposite, where
your father's old house is standing, when a stranger
came along, who stopped and looked at the old building,
and asked me who it belonged to. He seemed
mightily taken with it, and went over and tried the door,
as if he wanted to go in. I told him who it belonged
to now, and who used to own it. — Lord bless your
father! I can see him just as plain as if it were

Mr. Pritchard looked over his shoulder, with a troubled
expression, as if he expected to see some sight
which he did n't want to, and said,

“Well, Mr. Varney, this man?”

“So I told him,” continued Mr. Varney, who was
warmed up by his wine, “all that I knew about the
family, and about your father's making a will, and about
my witnessing it, and about how it never was found,
and much of the same sort, when he asked me if I did n't
think you would sell the old house. I told him he had
better come over here and inquire; but he asked me to
come, as I was somewhat acquainted with the family;
and so I 've come.”

“Very well, Mr. Varney, you have done your errand
very handsomely,” said Mr. Pritchard. “You may tell
the one who sent you that the old place is not to be
sold; and I may as well say to yourself that a repetition
of your visit on the same errand would be very
disagreeable to me.”

The old man had poured some wine from the bottle,
preparatory to taking another “thimble-full;” but, as


Page 81
Mr. Pritchard finished speaking, he placed it upon the
salver untasted, and, taking his hat, turned to go. He
was politely bowed to the door, and left the house with
a figurative brushing of the dust from his feet as he

“I could n't have drank it; it would have choked
me,” said he, the thought of the sparkling fluid dancing
through his mind, as if to tempt him into a regret
for his self-denial.

Soon after his departure, the house of James Pritchard
was illuminated with a blaze of light, and merry
sounds of music and the laughter of glad voices came
from the open windows. It was a reception night, and
fashionable forms moved here and there amid the splendors
revealed without. Poor people went by on the
other side, and looked up wistfully; but there was no
atmosphere there, they knew, wherein the virtue of
charity could grow, and they passed on.

A different scene was enacting, at the same moment,
in an obscure part of the town, at the home of the other
of the Pritchard heirs.

Thomas Pritchard sat in his little parlor alone. He
was a man apparently fifty years old, and his iron-gray
hair denoted that care had not passed over him lightly.
There was a gentle expression upon his face, and an
eye indicative of great kindness; but there prevailed
at the same time an expression of indecision and of
shrinking back in his manner, as if from extreme sensitiveness.
His bearing was that of the gentleman, and
his kind voice had a sympathetic and loving tone that
bespoke a heart attuned to rightful feelings. He was a
fine-looking man, intellectually, and his countenance
altogether was prepossessing in the extreme. Such
was Thomas Pritchard. His home exhibited none of


Page 82
the extravagance of wealth, as seen at his brother's;
but, though humble, an air of neatness prevailed on
every side, and competency was evident throughout.
A neat and somewhat extensive library occupied one
side of the small parlor, a piano found a place upon
the other side, some beautiful pictures in water-colors
graced the wall, and a portrait of old Mr. Pritchard
smiled down from above the mantelpiece. A fine taste
was perceptible in the arrangement of a vase of flowers
upon the table, and a stranger might guess that the
hand of woman had given the touch that lent such an
air of neat cheerfulness to the scene. Mr. Pritchard
had been a widower for several years. He had had a
number of children, but they had died, one by one, and
none remained of his family but one young boy, and an
adopted daughter, whose education he had mainly attended
to himself. Her works graced the walls, and
her fingers could awaken sweet tones from the instrument
which held its place in the room. He had
adopted her at a time when, involved in troubles, he
had scarce a hope of being able to give her a support;
and it was a source of joy to him, ever after, that he
had done so. He had cultivated her mind himself, and
trained it in a manner to repay him ten-fold for the care
bestowed; and now that his days were weary with the
thoughts of those he had lost, her voice broke through
the gloom to cheer him, and her hand ministered to his
comfort, as though hers was the reflected love of that
which had fled, returned from the brighter sphere to
soften the sorrow of this.

As we have said, he sat alone. The shadows had fallen
gradually around him, and he was scarcely sensible of
the darkness, when the door opened, and a beautiful
girl entered, clothed in white, and bearing a light. The


Page 83
sudden glare startled him, and he shaded his eyes with
his hand.

“Madeline,” he said, “this gloom is more in keeping
with my present feelings than the light. Carry it away,
my dear child, and come to me.”

She obeyed him, and, returning to where he sat, threw
her arms around his neck and kissed him, with all of
a daughter's tenderness. Laying her head upon his
breast, she looked up into his face as though earnestly
endeavoring to pierce the gloom resting there, and
devise some means for its banishment.

“Father,” said she, in a sweet voice, sinking to her
knee by his side, “shall I sing for you? My voice, you
say, soothes you when your spirit is troubled.”

“No, my child,” replied he, placing his hand tenderly
upon her head; “this is a time when I would not have
my thoughts interrupted, even though they are very
sorrowful ones. Your voice is very sweet to me, my
child, always. This is the anniversary of my father's
death, and the thought comes to me of the strange fate
that has attended his sons — that —”

He ceased; and the whole tide of feeling for the
wrong done him by his brother, and his own humble
condition, rushed through his mind, but found no expression.
He would not wound the gentle ears inclined
towards him with the bitterness swelling up in
his own heart, and he pursued the theme no further.

“This home is too poor for you, my sweet girl,”
said he, kissing her forehead. “A refinement that
would grace a palace should not be hid in obscurity
like this.”

“Dear father,” cried she, starting to her feet, “you,
who have given me this refinement, know that its first
desire is to minister to your pleasure. What other companions


Page 84
do I want than yourself and my dear brother,
and the circle that I call friends? What more of gratification
do I want than my music and my painting? I
desire nothing, but to make you happy.”

The fond girl threw herself into his arms as she spoke,
and the father and daughter momentarily forgot their
sorrows in a loving embrace. They were disturbed by
a voice at their side, which called out,

“Hallo! what courting 's going on here? Who 's
this? You, Pritchard? Ah, yes, and here 's my little
pet, Miss Madeline. Bless you, my darling! That 's
right, love your father.”

This was all spoken in the hearty tones of our old fat
friend Varney, who caught Madeline, as she extricated
herself from her father's arms, into his own, and kissed
her voluminously before she escaped from the room, —
vanishing like a spirit through an opposite door.

Mr. Varney chuckled as she disappeared, and then,
with a renewal of his hearty tone, said,

“Mr. Pritchard, I ask your pardon, but I 've brought
a gentleman here, who wants to make some inquiries
about the old estate yonder, — if you know anything
about its being sold — if it 's ever going to be.”

“We will have a light,” said Mr. Pritchard, rising.

“No,” said another voice beside Mr. Varney's, “no
light is necessary. I merely wished to make inquiry concerning
the property, as I am pleased with its situation,
and would like to purchase it for building purposes.”

“I have no longer any interest in it,” said Mr. Pritchard,
with strong emotion; “my brother has got it all
now (there was a strong emphasis on the word brother),
and he will not sell. He believes the downfall of
his fortune depends upon that of the old house, and he
dare not do it.”


Page 85

“Has he no other brother?” asked the stranger.

“No,” replied Mr. Pritchard; “he never had but
one, beside myself — a little brother, who died abroad.
He was too good, and too frail, for a hard world like

“Well, sir,” said the stranger, “having ascertained
concerning the property, I will now take my leave.
Good-night, sir.”

He passed out as he spoke, but Mr. Varney remained
behind a moment, just to say that the stranger seemed
as rich as a Jew, and that he did n't, for the life of him,
know who he was.