The paper which Lawyer Eliphalet Means, standing at the battered and hacked old desk whereon Cyrus Robinson made out his accounts, drew up with a sputtering quill pen—at which he swore under his breath—was as fully elaborated and as formal in every detail as his legal knowledge could make it. Apostrophizing it openly, before he began, as damned nonsense, he was yet not without a certain delight in the task. It was quite easy to see that Simon Basset, whatever motive he might have had in his proposition, was beyond measure terrified at its acceptance. With his bristling chin dropping nervously, and his forehead contracted with anxious wrinkles, he questioned Jerome.
“Look at here,” he said, with a tight clutch on Jerome’s sleeve, “I want to know, young man. There ain’t no property anywheres in your family, is there? There ain’t no second nor third nor fourth cousins out West anywheres that’s got property?”
“No, there are not,” said Jerome, impatiently shaking off his hand.
“Your father didn’t have no uncle that had money?”
“I tell you there isn’t a dollar in the family that I know of,” cried Jerome. “I have nothing to do with all this, and I want you to understand it. All I said was, and I say it now, if in any way any money should ever fall to me, I would give it away; and I will, whether anybody else does or not.”
“You don’t mean money you earn; you mean money that falls to you—”
“I mean if ever I get enough money in a lump to make me rich,” replied Jerome, doggedly.
“I want to know how much money you are goin’ to call rich,” demanded Simon Basset.
“Ten thousand dollars,” replied Jerome, whose estimate of wealth was not large.
Simon Basset cried out with sharp protest at that, and Doctor Prescott evidently agreed with him.
“Any man might scrape together ten thousand dollars,” said Basset. “Lord! he might steal that much.”
The amount of wealth which the document should specify was finally fixed at twenty-five thousand dollars, which was, moreover, to come into Jerome’s possession in full bulk and during the next ten years, or the obligation would be null and void.
Basset also insisted upon the stipulation that Jerome, in his giving, should not include his immediate family. “I’ve seen men shift their purses into women folks’ pockets, an’ take ’em out again, when they got ready, before now,” he said. “I ain’t goin’ to have no such gum-game as that played.”
That proposition met with some little demur, though not from Jerome.
“Might just as well say I wouldn’t agree not to give mother and Elmira the moon, if it fell to me,” he said to Squire Merritt.
The Squire nodded. “Let ’em put it any way they want to,” he said; “it can’t hurt you any. Means knows what he’s about. I tell you that old fox of a Basset feels as if the dogs were after him.” The Squire was highly amused, but Jerome did not regard it as quite a laughing matter. He wondered angrily if they were making fun of him, and would have flown out at the whole of them, with all his young impetuosity, had not Squire Eben restrained him.