I had just returned home from hunting with the two rabbits I had shot. I wanted to bag a deer, but they are harder to find, so I had to settled for what I had. As I stood in the doorway, I saw a black carriage roll up. It looked much like one Eleanor used, although I knew, of course that it couldn’t be her. My curiosity was aroused. Who could it be?
I quickly put the rabbits in a little shed we had built and smoothed back my hair as best I could. I was lucky I didn’t dress the rabbits after I shot them, because that would not have failed to smear blood on my clothes.
I went over to the carriage and arrived there as the carriage driver put some small steps under the door and then opened it. A distinguished-looking man dressed all in black with a black top hat came down the steps, looking around. I stepped forward. “Good afternoon, sir. Welcome to our home. I trust you had a good journey.” I felt fortunate that Adolphus had instructed me in a proper welcome.
He extended his hand. “I am Cornelius Barnham, counselor at law, and I am here on a special mission to make delivery of something I am certain will make you glad.”
“I’m Caleb Dillard, and I’m pleased to meet you.”
Barnham nodded. “I know you are are. Your name came up in Mrs. Perry’s will, and that is tied in with the purpose of my visit.”
I nodded. “Before we get to business, may I offer you anything to eat or drink?” I surmised that he would not partake of our rough food, but Laurel and Clinton had discovered a spring not too far from the house. It gave us some of the best-tasting water I have ever had.
“I don’t suppose you have any whiskey.”
“No, sir, we don’t. We’re too poor to afford it and too honest to make it ourselves.”
He laughed. “Well put, sir. Perhaps you have it in you to become a lawyer.” I thought that an odd thing to say since he had just met me, but took his as a polite response.
“I’ll have some water, then.”
“Very good.” I turned to Andrew, who had come out to see what was going on. I turned to him. “Please fetch a new bucket from the spring. And hurry.”
I turned back to Mr. Barnham. “This will take a little while. Would you like to come in and sit down.”
“Yes, please. It was a long ride from Georgetown.”
We went into the house to find Laurel, Hiram, Clinton and little Caleb sitting around the table. They all stood except for Laurel. I introduced each of them in turn, and was pleased that the boys knew the proper way to meet someone. Laurel, of course, knew what to do.
She rose and offered her hand. Mr. Barnham kissed it and said, “Enchanted to meet you, Madame Dillard.”
“And I am pleased to make your acquaintance. Will you have a seat?” She motioned to Clinton, who gave Barnham his seat.
“Thank you, young man. I appreciate your kindness.”
“Think nothing of it, sir.”
Barnham looked around. “Is this everyone in the household?” he asked.
Laurel spoke up. “Other than Andrew, who has gone for water, there’s another one of us, a former seminary student and soldier named Adolphus Custis. He has gone to town on business.”
“Ah. I am sorry to have met him. I believe I knew his father, who is lately deceased.”
“That’s right,” I said, wondering that he knew Adolphus’ father.
“Anyhow, I believe you can relay the contents of our conversation. This, sir—” he handed me a long envelope—“is for you.”
I took it from him and asked, “May I open it now?”
“It is yours, so you may do as you wish.”
With all eyes on me, I tore open the envelope and took out a single long piece of paper. I looked at it and gasped. Then, looking at Barnham, I said, “Surely there has been a mistake.”
“There is no mistake. This is a portion of Mrs. Perry’s estate generously given to you by her brother because of Mrs. Perry’s state.”
“But it’s for $50,000.”
“Indeed it is. But Mrs. Perry was an extremely wealthy woman, thanks to her husband’s work. If she were here, she would not miss this amount.”
“Will you thank her brother for his generosity, then?”
“I would be shirking my duty if I did not.” Just then Andrew came in with the bucket. He set it down next to the pump. Laurel got to her feet and went over to the bucket and pour a glass for each of us. Clinton helped her and Andrew bring it to the table.
Barnham raised his glass. “Here’s to you in your new-found wealth!”
The rest of us raised our glasses and then drank.
“And here’s to John Duncan in his generosity and to you, sir, for your effort.”
Once again we raised our glasses and drank. I noticed Barnham finished his glad quickly. He looked at Laurel and said, “May I have some more?”
“You certainly may.”
She went over and filled Barnham’s glass and took it to him. He stood to receive it and bowed. “My hearty thanks, Madame. I have had the finest wines, but this slakes my thirst like nothing I have ever drunk.”
Laurel blushed. “Thank you, sir. It is only water.”
“But water of the first rate. You could sell this.”
“Thanks to John Duncan, we won’t have to!” I exclaimed.
We all laughed at this, and after we had all finished our water, Barnham stood up, and we with him, with Laurel’s exception.
“I fear I must be going. And I must tell you, my reception here was far better than I had expected.”
“We were pleased to meet you,” I said, “and wish you a safe and comfortable journey back.”
“Your wish for safety I do appreciate, but I am doubtful of the comfort I shall have. Good-bye, now.”
We all went outside to see him off, and saw Adolphus coming toward us. I went to meet him.
“Adolphus, you will not believe what happened!”
“Is it good news or bad?”
“Excellent news, as you shall hear.”
“Humph! Tell me!”
“A lawyer for the estate of John Duncan was here to present us with a check for $50,000.”
“Are you sure?”
I pulled out the check. “Here it is!”
He took it and examined it. “It looks good. If it is good, we can start that school we talked about.”
“That we will. Come in and let’s have a drink to celebrate!”
“You know you have nothing but water.”
“Mr. Barnham the lawyer said it was the best water he had ever tasted. He also said we could sell it if we were so inclined.”
“I’m not ready to get into the water business, but I will toast our success. Let’s go in.”
And so we went in and drank to our good fortune.