The Heir [from The men who succeed] by A. A. Milne

Mr. Trevor Pilkington, of the well-known firm of Trevor Pilkington, fixed his horn spectacles carefully upon his nose, took a pinch of snuff, sneezed twice, gave his pape …

Mr. Trevor Pilkington, of the well-known firm of Trevor Pilkington, fixed his horn spectacles carefully upon his nose, took a pinch of snuff, sneezed twice, gave his papers a preliminary rustle, looked slowly round the crowded room, and began to read the will. Through forty years of will-reading his method of procedure had always been the same. But Jack Summers, who was sharing an ottoman with two of the outdoor servants, thought that Mr. Pilkington’s mannerisms were designed specially to annoy him, and he could scarcely control his impatience.

Yet no one ever had less to hope from the reading of a will than Jack. For the first twenty years of his life his parents had brought him up to believe that his cousin Cecil was heir to his Uncle Alfred’s enormous fortune, and for the subsequent ten years his cousin Cecil had brought his Uncle Alfred up in the same belief. Indeed, Cecil had even roughed out one or two wills for signature, and had offered to help his uncle–who, however, preferred to do these things by himself–to hold the pen. Jack could not help feeling glad that his cousin was not there to parade his approaching triumph; a nasty cold, caught a week previously in attending his uncle to the Lord Mayor’s Show, having kept Cecil in bed.

“To the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, ten shillings and sixpence”–the words came to him in a meaningless drone–“to the Fresh Air Fund, ten shillings and sixpence; to the King Edward Hospital Fund, ten shillings and sixpence”–was all the money going in charities?–“to my nephew Cecil Linley, who has taken such care of me”–Mr. Pilkington hesitated–“four shillings and ninepence; to my nephew, John Summers, whom, thank Heaven, I have never seen, five million pounds—-“

A long whistle of astonishment came from the ottoman. The solicitor looked up with a frown.

“It’s the surprise,” apologised Jack. “I hardly expected so much. I thought that that brute–I mean I thought my cousin Cecil had nobbled–that is to say, was getting it all.”

“The late Mr. Alfred made three wills,” said the lawyer in a moment of expansion. “In the first he left his nephew Cecil a legacy of one shilling and tenpence, in the second he bequeathed him a sum of three shillings and twopence, and in the last he set aside the amount of four shillings and ninepence. The evidence seems to show that your cousin was rapidly rising in his uncle’s estimation. You, on the other hand, have always been a legatee to the amount of five million pounds; but in the last will there is a trifling condition attached.” He resumed his papers. “To my nephew, John Summers, five million pounds, on condition that, within one year from the date of my death, he marries Mary Huggins, the daughter of my old friend, now deceased, William Huggins.”

Jack Summers rose proudly from his end of the ottoman.

“Thanks,” he said curtly. “That tears it. It’s very kind of the old gentleman, but I prefer to choose a wife for myself.” He bowed to the company and strode from the room.

. . . . .

It was a cloudless August day. In the shadow of the great elms that fringed the Sussex lane a girl sat musing; on its side in the grass at her feet a bicycle, its back wheel deflated. She sat on the grassy bank with her hat in her lap, quite content to wait until the first passer-by with a repairing outfit in his pocket should offer to help her.

“Can I be of any assistance?” said a manly voice, suddenly waking her from her reverie.

She turned with a start. The owner of the voice was dressed in a stylish knickerbocker suit; his eyes were blue, his face was tanned, his hair was curly, and he was at least six foot tall. So much she noticed at a glance.

“My bicycle,” she said; “punctured.”

In a minute he was on his knees beside the machine. A rapid examination convinced him that she had not over-stated the truth, and he whipped from his pocket the repairing outfit without which he never travelled.

“I can do it in a moment,” he said. “At least, if you can just help me a little.”

As she knelt beside him he could not fail to be aware of her wonderful beauty. The repairs, somehow, took longer than he thought. Their heads were very close together all the time, and indeed on one occasion came violently into contact.

“There,” he said at last, getting up and barking his shin against the pedal. “Conf—- That will be all right.”

“Thank you,” she said tenderly.

He looked at her without disguising his admiration; a tall, straight figure in the sunlight, its right shin rubbing itself vigorously against its left calf.

“It’s absurd,” he said at last; “I feel as if I’ve known you for years. And, anyway, I’m certain I’ve seen you before somewhere.”

“Did you ever go to The Seaside Girl?” she asked eagerly.

“Often.”

“Do you remember the Spanish princess who came on at the beginning of the Second Act and said, ‘Wow-wow!’ to the Mayor?”

“Why, of course! And you had your photograph in The Sketch, The Tatler, The Bystander, and The Sporting and Dramatic all in the same week?”

The girl nodded happily. “Yes, I’m Marie Huguenot!” she said.

“And I’m Jack Summers; so now we know each other.” He took her hand. “Marie,” he said, “ever since I have mended your bicycle–I mean, ever since I have known you, I have loved you. Will you marry me?”

“Jack!” she cooed. “You did say ‘Jack,’ didn’t you?”

“Bless you, Marie. We shall be very poor, dear. Will you mind?”

“Not with you, Jack. At least, not if you mean what I mean by ‘very poor.’”

“Two thousand a year.”

“Yes, that’s about what I meant.”

Jack took her in his arms.

“And Mary Huggins can go and marry the Pope,” he said, with a smile.

With a look of alarm in her eyes she pushed him suddenly away from her. There was a crash as his foot went through the front wheel of the bicycle.

“Mary Huggins?” she cried.

“Yes, I was left a fortune on condition that I married a person called Mary Huggins. Absurd! As though—-“

“How much?”

“Oh, quite a lot if it wasn’t for these confounded death duties. Five million pounds. You see—-“

“Jack, Jack!” cried the girl. “Don’t you understand? I am Mary Huggins.”

He looked at her in amazement.

“You said your name was Marie Huguenot,” he said slowly.

“My stage name, dear. Naturally I couldn’t–I mean, one must–you know how particular managers are. When father died and I had to go on the stage for a living—-“

“Marie, my darling!”

Mary rose and picked up her bicycle. The air had gone out of the back wheel again, and there were four spokes broken, but she did not heed it.

“You must write to your lawyer to-night,” she said. “Won’t he be surprised?”

But, being a great reader of the magazines, he wasn’t.

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