The chair in which the Colonel had been used to sit stood a little aloof, at a corner of the fireplace. Often one of the trio would eye it with furtive mournfulness, looking away again directly without a glance at the others.
When Means entered, he was smiling, for the first time that evening. “Well,” he said, “I have seen something to-night that I have never seen before, that I shall never see again, and that no man in this town has ever seen before, or will see again, unless he lives till the millennium.”
The others stared at him. “What d’ye mean?” asked the Squire.
“I have seen something rarer than a white black-bird, and harder to discover than the north pole. I have seen a poor man, clothed and in his right mind, give away every dollar of a fortune within three days after he got it.”
The two men looked at him, speechless. “He hasn’t!” gasped the Squire, finally.
“By the Lord Harry!”
“Well,” said John Jennings, slowly, “if I had started out on a search for such a man I should have wanted more than Diogenes’s lantern.”
“And I should have called for blue-lights and rockets, the aurora borealis, chain lightning, the solar system, and the eternal light of nature, but I discovered him with a penny dip,” said Eliphalet Means, chuckling. He stood on the hearth before his two friends, his back to the fire; it was a cool night, and he had got chilled at the open door.
“He is going to give away the whole of it?” John Jennings said, with wondering rumination.
Means looked at them, all the shrewd humor faded out of his face. “I’ve got something to tell both of you,” he said, gravely; “and, Eben, while I think of it, I have a letter that he wanted given to your daughter. Remind me to hand it over to you to take to her when you go home to-night. I’ve got something to tell you; the time has come; he said it would. I didn’t half believe it, God forgive me. I tell you, I’ve got a keen scent for the bad in human nature, but he had a keen one for the good. He’d have made a sharp counsel on the right side. After he got his money, he used to talk day and night about the poverty of this town. He had a great heart. He—wanted and intended that twenty-five thousand dollars to go just the way it is going.” The lawyer, with every word, shook his skinny right hand before the others’ faces; he paused a second and looked at them with solemn impressiveness; then he continued: “He wanted to give that twenty-five thousand dollars, in equal parts, to the poor of this town, as indicated in that instrument which I drew up at Robinson’s for Prescott and Basset, but instead of giving it himself he left it to Jerome Edwards to give. He said that it would amount to the same thing, and I tried to argue him out of it. I did not believe any man could stand the temptation of a fortune between his fingers, but he said Jerome Edwards could and would, and the money was as sure to go as he intended it to as if he doled it out himself in dollars and cents, and he was right. God bless him! And—that twenty-five thousand dollars is going just the way he meant it to go.”