The death of Taswell Skaggs was stimulating, to say the least, inapplicable though the expression may seem.
He attained the end of a hale old age by tumbling aimlessly into the mouth of a crater on the island of Japat, somewhere in the mysterious South Seas. The volcano was not a large one and the crater, though somewhat threatening at times, was correspondingly minute, which explains—in apology—to some extent, his unfortunate misstep.
Moreover, there is but one volcano on the surface of Japat; it seems all the more unique that he, who had lived for thirty years or more on the island, should have stepped into it in broad daylight, especially as it was he who had tacked up warning placards along every avenue of approach.
Inasmuch as he was more than eighty years old at the time, it would seem to have been a most reprehensible miscalculation on the part of the Grim Reaper to have gone to so much trouble.
But that is neither here nor there.
Taswell Skaggs was dead and once more remembered. The remark is proper, for the world had quite thoroughly forgotten him during the twenty odd years immediately preceding his death. It was, however, noticeably worth while to remember him at this particular time: he left a last will and testament that bade fair to distress as well as startle a great many people on both sides of the Atlantic, among whom it may be well to include certain distinguished members of the legal profession.
In Boston the law firm of Bowen & Hare was puzzling itself beyond reason in the effort to anticipate and circumvent the plans of the firm of Bosworth, Newnes & Grapewin, London, E.C.; while on the other side of the Atlantic Messrs. Bosworth, Newnes & Grapewin were blindly struggling to do precisely the same thing in relation to Messrs. Bowen & Hare.
Without seeking to further involve myself, I shall at once conduct the reader to the nearest of these law offices; he may hear something to his own interest from Bowen & Hare. We find the partners sitting in the private room.
“Pretty badly tangled, I declare,” said Mr. Hare, staring helplessly at his senior partner.
“Hopelessly,” agreed Mr. Bowen, very much as if he had at first intended to groan.
Before them on the table lay the contents of a bulky envelope: a long and stupendous letter from their London correspondents and with it a copy of Taswell Skaggs’s will. The letter had come in the morning’s mail, heralded by a rather vague cablegram the week before. To be brief, Mr. Bowen recently had been named as joint executor of the will, together with Sir John Allencrombie, of London, W.C., one time neighbour of the late Mr. Skaggs. A long and exasperating cablegram had touched somewhat irresolutely upon the terms of the will, besides notifying him that one of the heirs resided in Boston. He was instructed to apprise this young man of his good fortune. This he delayed in doing until after he had obtained more definite information from England. The full and complete statement of facts was now before him.