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A salmon for the White House.


Pale, but still unshaken, EdnaSouthworth approached the bench and climbed the two steps to the witness chair. There was nothing to get jittery about, she told herself. All she had to do was to tell the exact truth and add just those few words--to say she had torn up the will but had done so at Althea's request. That one little lie would mean that she would get Althea's entire estate--$50,000. She paused a minute to regain full composure, smiled faintly at Judge Perkins, and calmly took the oath.

"Mrs. Southworth," Mr. Tuttbegan, "as the only niece of the testatrix, Althea Parsons, you were her sole heir and next of kin?"

"She had no other living relatives,"Edna replied.

"Did you ever talk to your auntabout her testamentary intentions?" he insinuated.

Edna raised her chin. "Never. Iwouldn't have considered it seemly."

"You knew that if she died intestate,you would inherit her entire estate?"


"So that when she made a will leavingone half to Helen Kirkham and only one half to you, you felt gypped?"

"Not at all," Edna answered loftily. "Myaunt was entitled to do what she wished with her property. It was a matter of entire indifference to me."

Mr. Tutt took a cheaply boundbook from the table beside him. "Of such indifference that you sent to Boston for this book?"

Edna's expression hardened. "Whatbook are you talking about?"

"This one, which I found in thelibrary at Miss Parson's house. Is it not a fact that early in December--after you learned that your aunt intended to leave half her estate to Helen Kirkham--you sent to Boston for this book, entitled How to Make a Will?"

She stared at him without replying. Howmuch did the old fox know? With a supreme effort, she pulled herself together. "Sure, I did. I was planning to make my own will, too, and wanted what information I could get on the subject."

"Mrs Southworth," Mr. Tuttthundered, advancing toward her, "tell us who destroyed your aunt's will!"

Edna, in spite of her resolution,wilted. She sensed that this terrible old man must somehow know all. For a moment her powers of reason seemed stultified. What should she say?

Her mind flew back to that graymorning after Christmas when she had peeked through the door of her aunt's bedroom. Again she felt her shock at that first sight of death, a shock almost instantly overcome by the realization that lying in the bed table, beside and within arm's length of the body, was the paper that would deprive her of half the property she might otherwise inherit. She saw herself steal across the room and, with averted eyes, open the drawer. Yes, the will was just where she had put it! She took a step toward the fireplace, where some embers still smoldered, and then paused. No, too many people knew of the will's existence. Better make it seem that her aunt had decided to revoke it. It was hard to tear, and at first it resisted her efforts, but at last she succeeded. Breathless, she shoved the fragments back in the drawer. Then, with her heart fluttering, she had tiptoed out and closed the door.

"Answer!" Mr. Tutt challenged. "Youknow who destroyed your aunt's will! Who was it?"

She gape at him, her mind ondead center. Judge Perkins wheeled point-blank at her.

"Was it you?" he demanded.

Edna swayed and gripped the armsof the witness chair. "I--I----" she gasped.

Her reply was cut off by a commotionat the door of the courtroom. An elderly woman was being escorted by an officer toward the bench. Beneath her arm she held another book tightly.

"Excuse me, Henry,"she said timidly to His Honor. "I hope I haven't done wrong in coming here this way, but when I read in the Commercial last evening that Althea Parsons' will had been destroyed and that they were looking for another, I remembered----"

She flushed and stoppedin embarrassment.

"Yes, go on, Eliza!" thejudge encouraged, smiling down at her. "What did you remember?"

"Why, I remembered theafternoon five or six years ago, during my husband's lifetime, when Althea came over to our house and asked to see him. I was having tea with some friends in the front room, and Charles was sitting by himself in the library. So I showed Althea in there, and a few minutes later they both came out. Charles had his arm around her and was laughing. He said: "Althea's drawn her own will on a single sheet of writing paper and wants you to witness it. It's all right, too'--excuse me!--'a damn good one!' So we all put our names on it, and Althea left it with Charles to keep. This morning I looked through all his papers, but i couldn't find hide nor hair of it anywhere. So I tried to think what book he'd been reading at the time, and I finally recalled that it was the Memoirs of General Grant, and I got it out of the bookcase--the one with the glass front--and, sure enough, there was Althea's will, stuck in as a bookmark in Volume Two at page 291. So I brought it right over."

She offered the book to Mr. Tutt,who seized and opened the inserted paper.

"May I read this to Your Honor?

"I, Althea Parsons, wish all myproperty of every kind to go to my devoted friend, Helen Kirkham, who has been more than a daughter to me.


"May 21, 1925.





"If the court please, I offer thisnewly found holographic will of the late Althea Parsons for probate!" the old man cried.

Edna tried to collect her thoughts. Thewill produced by Eliza Holbrook, if valid, changed everything! And it would be held valid, if the court found that the later will offered for probate by Mr. Tutt had been revoked by the testatrix or at her direction. Unless she herself were prepared to swear that she had destroyed Althea's later will of her own motion, and without authority, she would lose the entire estate. Well, why not say so? It was the truth. Half a loaf was better than none! She moistened her lips and leaned forward, ready to testify. But Mr. Tutt raised his hand.

"Before you answer His Honor'squestion," he warned, "let me read you the law contained in the Revised Statutes of Maine, Chapter 138, respecting the unauthorized destruction of the will of another. It is as follows:

"Whoever willfully suppresses, secretes,defaces, or destroys any last will and testament of a deceased person, in his possession or under his control, with intent to injure or defraud any person interested therein, shall be punished as provided in Section Four.

"The next section providesfor a punishment of not more than $1,000 fine and imprisonment for not more than one year. Now tell us who destroyed Althea Parsons' will."

Edna turned from yellowto green. She had certainly gotten herself into an awful jam. If she confessed the truth--that she had destroyed the will herself--she would go to prison; whereas if she testified that she had done so at Althea's request, Helen would get the entire estate. It wasn't fair! What should she do? For a moment she hung undecided, her bosom rising and falling. No, she wasn't going to jail--not even for $25,000. She set her lips.

"I did--but because she asked meto!" she answered defiantly.

A smile of triumph spread over Mr.Tutt's wrinkled face. "Well, well," he chirped. "Please tell us all about it!"

Edna stabbed him with a look. "Why"--shehesitated, thinking as fast as she could--"when I went up to bring down Althea's tray on Christmas night, I found althea sitting up in bed--with the will in her two hands. She seemed to be trying to tear it apart, but--but i guess--she was too weak. 'Here, Edna,' she said to me. 'Take this thing and tear it up. It isn't what I want. I'm going to revoke it.' So I did as she asked."

Mr. Tutt winked at Judge Perkins. "Thankyou," he said. "Thank you very much! I shall call no other witnesses."

Judge Perkins looked down hisnose at Edna. "You are the only person who knows the truth, Mrs. Southworth," he said. "I accept your testimony as conclusive." Then, turning toward the spectators, he rapped for order. "On the evidence of this witness, who swears that at the direction of the testatrix she destroyed the will offered for probate, such evidence being against her own interest, I decline to receive it. Let judgment be entered to that effect. Mr. Tutt, you may proceed to introduce proof of Althea Parsons' holographic will dated May 21, 1925. Call Eliza Holbrook to the stand." Edna had remained pilloried in the chair. The judge handed her back the book. "That is all, Mrs. Southworth. This treatise on making a will," he said, "in fairness to its readers, should explain that it is a crime to destroy one."

"I am just as pleased it doesn't,"Mr. Tutt said. "Isn't there a verse from Proverbs that reads: 'Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein'?"

His Honor replied, "And he thatrolleth a stone, it will return upon him.' You're not the only one who knows his Bible, Ephraim."

"Do I really get it all, Uncle Eph?"Helen asked as she clung to Mr. Tutt's arm at the top of the snow-covered steps outside the courtroom.

"Every cent!" he assured her.

"I shall give half to Mrs. Southworth,as her Aunt Althea wanted."

"The suggestion does you credit,"he replied. "All the same, you'd better think twice before you do so. Besides, there are other things to consider--my fee, for instance."

"Your fee! How much will it be?"

Mr. Tutt squeezed her arm. "Awhacking big one. After you're married, I want the right in perpetuity to visit you and Ted in the old house every year when the salmon are running. W've got to keep the White House supplied, you know!"
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Title Annotation:short story
Author:Train, Arthur Cheney
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1987
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