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The CASE of the 16 BEANS
Boyce Barkstone leaned forward in his chair, aghast.
“And do you mean to tell me,” he repeated, unbelievingly, to the attorney seated facing him, “that my grandfather left me only a handful of beans—out of an estate of practically $100,000? And left the $100,000 itself—or nearly so—to that fool Academy for the Proving of Social Theories?”
“I’m sorry to say I do,” echoed the white-mustached man facing him in the bright high-up skyscraper office, and contemplating him gravely at the same time through round owl-like tortoise-shell eyeglasses. “For you’ve just read his will—or the carbon copy of it. With which at least, Boyce, I can say I had nothing to do. It was my partner who actually drew it up—for, like yourself, I’ve been out of town for a week, you know—though even he tried to argue your grandfather out of it—but to no avail.”
“My God!” commented Boyce Barkstone, passing a hand over his forehead and shoving away the lock of brown hair that persisted in falling downward over his steel grey eyes. “That’s—that’s what comes of knowing a few smart-alecky wisecracks—and handing ’em out—free gratis!”
Glumly he gazed out of the broad window next to the capacious chair in which he sat, which looked down on the morning traffic pouring, this sunny June morning, past 47th and Broadway, far far below; then, withdrawing his gaze, he contemplated himself glumly, across the thickly green carpeted and mahogany-furnished office, in the tall cheval mirror fastened to the closet door in the opposite wall, seeing only, however, just a young man of 28 or so, with steel grey eyes, who, not so terribly long ago, as it seemed to him, had been wearing a blue naval coast patrol uniform, but who today, now that the war was over and gone, was dressed in a brisk pepper-and-salt suit, and four-in-hand tie with a colorful plaid of just such a degree as a modern New Yorker might safely wear.
Oliver Tydings—of Tydings and Plenderleith, Attorneys-at-Law—was, in the meantime, gazing puzzledly at Barkstone, tapping thoughtfully on his glass-topped desk with the fingers of one hand, adjusting with the other a small bronze ashtray to a better position, moving slightly the little onyx desk clock whose hands now stood at 9:01 o’clock.
“What on earth do you mean, Boyce?” he asked curiously. “About knowing ‘smart-alecky wisecracks’—and handing them out free gratis? Just because you’ve run your grandfather’s poky, stodgy little real-estate business for 6 years, there at the 242nd Street station of the Broadway Subway—or 6 years minus your year-and-a-quarter time out while serving on that Navy coast patrol vessel—doesn’t mean you can’t speak—as a young man might—any longer. Real-estate men aren’t supposed to be old fogies, are they? And besides, the matter has nothing whatsoever to do with your grandfather’s will, so far as I see it.”
“Oh, no?” was Boyce Barkstone’s sepulchral rejoinder, the while he gazed oddly, in turn, at the other. “Well, listen to this little incident then.” He paused. “The last time I saw Grandfather alive—which, according to the date on this will, was the morning of the day he drew the will—I said, inadvertently, and not knowing I was addressing him—it was a beastly comedy of errors, understand—a ghastly mistake—a case of—of two other men, as you might put it—anyway, I said to him—inadvertently and unwittingly: ‘Nuts to you, you old fool!’ ”
“Oh-oh!” echoed the attorney. And gazed, understanding written on his face for the first time, at a large white tag, attached to a tiny white cotton tobacco bag sealed with wax, on his desk, the uppermost side of which tag bore handwriting which read:
Beans to YOU, sonnyboy, as per my will!
“And so that’s what’s back of his bitter bequest, eh, Boyce?” he echoed. “That you’d said to him—to your own grandfather—who had befriended you—‘Nuts to you’—and called him an old fool to boot?” He frowned deprecatingly, though still puzzledly, unbelievingly. “And so you said that to him, in the morning? And he comes straight down here, in the late afternoon, and makes out a will which leaves to you—”
“Beans—yes!” retorted the younger man frankly. “The perfect comeback! Nuts to him—from me; beans to me—from him! Of all the prime snappy retorts in all History, this—this wins the hand-painted rolling-pin. Oh, not because I got cut out of his estate—no!—I give you my word on that—but because he should even die thinking he had to slap me down. Why, Mr. Tydings, those words from my mouth were all due to a miserable grotesque mistake in which I didn’t even know I was addressing Grandfather—didn’t even know I was talking in his direction.”
The other man passed a hand helplessly over his brow.
“We-ell,” he said undecidedly, not wholly and unreservedly accepting such a statement, “I—I don’t just get it, of course; but if you didn’t know it—well, it looks as though your little mistake—‘error’—or call it what you will—has tossed a hundred thousand dollars squarely into the laps of a bunch of crackpots down there in Greenwich Village that call themselves by the hifaluting title of the Academy for the Proving of Social Theories—and who don’t even need the bequest, thanks to the fact that that fool ‘Corporation Not for Profit’ already has a hundred and fifty thousand in its treasury due to a bequest from old Beachcroft, the one member they had who was rich, and thanks to the more important fact that they never ‘prove’ any social theories except with words, words, words—which cost absolutely nothing.”
“I know—I know,” nodded Boyce Barkstone. “But again, I tell you, my saying ‘Nuts to you, you old fool!’ to Grandfather was—was a mistake.”
“Mistake I’d rather say it was,” commented the lawyer dryly and skeptically. “And a ‘mistake’—as you persist in terming it—that’s cost you a hundred thousand, Boyce. For Balhatchet Barkstone certainly had nobody in the world to—”
He broke off, and withdrawing one of the drawers of his desk took forth a large photograph.
“Of course you have one of these, I suppose—it’s the last one, I think, the old gentleman had taken. He gave me this one a couple of months back.”
“No,” said Boyce interestedly, catching a glimpse of the front of it, “I haven’t. He ran out of copies before he got as far as me—then the photographer burned up, and no more could be gotten.” Curiously and sadly he contemplated his grandfather, who, when living, had been his only existent relative—his grandfather whom he would never again see in this world. The photograph showed Balhatchet Barkstone seated in a huge handcarved throne chair—a little and exceedingly slight-looking man, showing plainly all the 76 years which had been his when he had died, with black string tie etched sharply against his white shirt—a combination of clothing he always wore, rain or shine, Sundays or weekdays!—so frail in stature one would imagine any breeze would have blown him away—his white hair so thin on top that he seemed practically bald. Either his eyes held a twinkle, else the twinkle was suggested by certain small radiating humorous wrinkles at the corners of the eyes, but at the same time, there was severity in the tightly compressed lids of those eyes, and in the somewhat tight line of his lips, which betokened one who brooked no discourtesy, laxness, weakness, follies nor foibles!
The lawyer set the photograph up on the back of his desk, against the wall, a bit apologetically, as does a man doing another man an honor after it is too late to mean anything.
“But as I was saying,” he resumed, “when I thought to fetch out this photo of him, Balhatchet Barkstone certainly had nobody in the world to leave his estate to but you, Boyce. Unless ’twas the old Negro—I’m referring to Josiah, of course—who, after all, has only been with him 10 years as it is. And I think he rewarded Josiah very handsomely for that 10 years of service—in that bequest of $10,000 cash, plus the full use of his bungalow up there on Van Cortlandt Park during the entire year of Probate—and then all the furnishings therein.”
Boyce Barkstone’s face was grim.
“It was Josiah who was the cause of my being cut off this way,” he said quietly.
“You mean,” queried the lawyer, “that he influenced your grandfather against you?”
“Oh no, no, no,” Boyce hastened to explain. “That’s the last thing on earth that faithful old Negro would ever do. No, it was because I thought I was talking to Josiah, when I said, ‘Nuts to you, you old fool!’—and was, instead, talking to Grandfather.”
The lawyer passed a hand helplessly over his chin. “Frankly, I don’t get it. It’s not like you, Boyce, to be insolent or—or uppety even with a Negro servant. It—but what on earth are the circumstances? If you don’t object to revealing them? After all, they’re water over the mill now, you know.”
“Water over the mill is right,” said Boyce Barkstone grimly. “And water that, believe it or not, Mr. Tydings, has swept away all possibilities whatsoever of my marrying the girl I love. For there just happens, you see, to be some damned peculiar complications in my getting cut off this way without a red penny. But I shan’t trouble you with ’em! No. But here are the circumstances of the little incident which has cost me $100,000 and, believe it or not, the swellest girl in the world.”
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