“All the rest and residue of the property of which I may die possessed I leave to my beloved husband, James Manning, whose devoted affection has made happy the last years of my life. Having implicit confidence in his good judgment and kindness of heart, I request him to make proper provision for my dear son Frank, whose happiness I earnestly desire. I hope that he will consent to be guided by the wisdom and experience of his stepfather, who, I am sure, will study his interests and counsel him wisely. In my sorrow at parting with my dear son, it is an unspeakable comfort to me to feel that he will have such a guardian and protector.”
Frank listened with amazement, which was shared by all present.
Practically, he was disinherited, and left wholly dependent upon his stepfather.
The contents of the will created general astonishment. There was not one in the room who didn’t know the devotion of Mrs. Manning to her son Frank, yet, while speaking of him affectionately, she had treated him, as they considered, most cruelly. Why should she have left such a dangerous power in her husband’s hands?
And how was Mr. Manning affected?
He summoned to his face an expression of bewilderment and surprise, and, feeling that all eyes were fixed upon, him, he turned toward the lawyer.
“Mr. Ferret,” he said, “I need hardly say that this will surprises me very much, as I see that it does the friends who are present. Are you sure that there is no codicil?”
“I have been unable to discover any, Mr. Manning,” said the lawyer, gravely, as he scanned the face of the widower keenly.
Mr. Manning applied his handkerchief to his eyes, and seemed overcome by emotion.
“I knew my dear wife’s confidence in me,” he said, in a tremulous voice, “but I was not prepared for such a striking manifestation of it.”
“Nor I,” said Mr. Ferret, dryly.
“Knowing her strong attachment to Frank,” paused Mr. Manning, “I feel the full extent and significance of that confidence when she leaves him so unreservedly to my care and guidance. I hope that I may be found worthy of the trust.”
“I hope so, sir,” said Mr. Ferret, who, sharp lawyer as he was, doubted whether all was right, and was willing that Mr. Manning should be made aware of his feeling. “It is certainly a remarkable proviso, considering the affection which your wife entertained for her son.”
“Precisely, Mr. Ferret. It shows how much confidence the dear departed felt in me.”
“So far as I can see, the boy is left wholly dependent upon you.”
“He shall not regret it!” said Mr. Manning, fervently. “I consecrate my life to this sacred trust.”
“You acquiesce in the arrangement, then, Mr. Manning?”
“I cannot do otherwise, can I?”
“There is nothing to prevent your settling the property, or any part of it, on the natural heir, Mr. Manning. You must pardon me for saying that it would have been wiser had your wife so stipulated by will.”