Bound to Rise/Chapter XXVI
"What will the old lady think of you?" said Harry.
"She will have a very bad opinion till she puts on her specs and read the bill. That will explain all. I shouldn't be surprised to see her at my entertainment."
"I wonder if she'll recognize me," said Harry.
"No doubt; as soon as she learns with whom she rode, she'll be very curious to come and see me perform."
"How old were you when you began to be a ventriloquist?"
"I was eighteen. I accidentally made the discovery, and devoted considerable time to perfecting myself in it before acquainting anyone with it. That idea came later. You see when I was twenty-one, with a little property which I inherited from my uncle, I went into business for myself; but I was young and inexperienced in management, and the consequence was, that in about two years I failed. I found it difficult to get employment as a clerk, business being very dull at the time. While uncertain what to do, one of my friends, to whom I had communicated my power, induced me to give me a public entertainment, combining with it a few tricks of magic, which I had been able to pick up from books. I succeeded so well my vocation in life became Professor Henderson."
"It must be great fun to be a ventriloquist."
"So I regarded it at first. It may not be a very high vocation but I make the people laugh and so I regard myself as a public benefactor. Indeed, I once did an essential service to a young man by means of my ventriloquism."
"I should like very much to hear the story."
"I will tell you. One day, a young man, a stranger, came to me and introduced himself under the name of Paul Dabney. He said that I might, if I would, do him a great service. His father had died the year previous, leaving a farm and other property to the value of fifteen thousand dollars. Of course, being as only son, he expected that this would be left to himself, or, at least, the greater part of it. Conceive his surprise, therefore, when the will came to be read, to find that the entire property was left to his Uncle Jonas, his father brother, who, for three years past, had been a member of the family. Jonas had never prospered in life, and his brother, out of pity, had offered him an asylum on his farm. He had formerly been a bookkeeper and was an accomplished penman.
"The will was so extraordinary--since Paul and his father had always been on perfectly good terms--that the young man was thunderstruck. His uncle expressed hypocritical surprise at the nature of the will.
"'I don't believe my father made that will,' exclaimed Paul, angrily.
"'What do you mean by that?' demanded the uncle.
"His anger made Paul think that he had hit upon the truth, particularly as his uncle was an adroit penman.
"He carefully examined the will; but the writing so closely resembled his father's that he could see no difference. The witnesses were his Uncle Jonas and a hired man, who, shortly after witnessing the signature, had been discharged and had disappeared from the neighborhood. All this excited Paul's suspicions.
"His uncle offered him a home on the farm; but positively refused to give him any portion of the property.
"'I sympathize with you,' I said at the conclusion of Paul's story; 'but how can I help you?'
"'I will tell you, sir,' he replied. 'You must know that my Uncle Jonas is very superstitious. I mean, through your help, to play upon his fears and thus induce him to give up the property to me.'
"With this he unfolded his plan and I agreed to help him. His uncle lived ten miles distant. I procured a laborer's disguise and the morning after--Paul having previously gone back--I entered the yard of the farmhouse. The old man was standing outside, smoking a pipe.
"'Can you give me work?' I asked.
"'What kind of work?' inquired Jonas.
"'Farm work,' I answered.
"'How much do you want?'
"'Eight dollars a month.'
"'I'll give you six,' he said.
"'That's too little.'
"'It's the most I'll give you.'
"'Then I'll take,' I replied, and was at once engaged.
"Delighted to get me so cheap, the sordid old man asked me no troublesome questions. I knew enough of farm work to get along pretty well and not betray myself.
"That night I concealed myself in the old man's apartment without arousing his suspicions, Paul helping me. After he had been in bed about twenty minutes, I thought it time to begin. Accordingly I uttered a hollow groan.
"'Eh! What's that?' cried the old man, rising in bed.
"'I am the spirit of your dead brother,' I answered, throwing my voice near the bed.
"'What do you want?' he asked, his teeth chattering.
"'You have cheated Paul out of his property.'
"'Forgive me!' he cried, terror-stricken.
"'Then give him back the property.'
"'The whole?' he groaned.
"'Yes, the whole.'
"'Are--are you really my brother?'
"'I will give you this proof. Unless you do as I order you, in three days you will be with me.'
"'What, dead?' he said, shuddering.
"'Yes,' I answered in sepulchral a tone as possible.
"'Are--are you sure of it?'
"'If you doubt it, disobey me.'
"'I'll do it, but--don't come again.'
"'Be sure you do it then.'
"I ceased to speak, being tired, and escaped as soon as I could. But the battle was not yet over. The next day gave Jonas courage. Afternoon came and he had done nothing. He was with me in the field when I threw a hollow voice, which seemed to be close to his ear. I said, 'Obey, or in three days you die.'
"He turned pale as a sheet and asked me if I heard anything. I expressed surprise and this confirmed him in his belief of the ghostly visitation. He went to the house, sent for a lawyer and transferred the entire property to his nephew. The latter made him a present of a thousand dollars and so the affair ended happily. Paul paid me handsomely for my share in the trick and the next day I made an excuse for leaving the farm."
"Did the old man ever discover your agency in the affair, Professor Henderson?"
"Never. He is dead now and my friend Paul is happily married, and has a fine family. His oldest boy is named after me. But here we are in Holston."