The Disinheriting Of A Son

: The Strange Story Book

Near a large town in England there lived in the last century a gentleman

with his son and daughter. His wife died when her children were quite

young, leaving a large fortune behind her, and in a few years her

husband married again. Now, though the new lady of the manor had seemed

gentle and amiable as long as she was a girl, she soon grew jealous of

her stepson and his sister, and treated them very harshly and unkindly.

She thought that anything was good enough for them, but that the moment

she wished for anything she was to have it--quite forgetting that the

money which bought her horses and diamonds belonged of right to the

children. When she began to have babies of her own, matters grew worse,

and as soon as her husband's eldest son declared that he wished to leave

England and pass some years in foreign countries, the stepmother broke

into a furious rage, and declared that he must stop at home, for there

was no money to waste on him.

The young man saw that no help was to be expected from his father, who

was always afraid of his wife's temper, so he said no more, but wrote at

once to his own mother's brother to beg his assistance. This was at once

given, and thus it came about that very soon Alexander started off to

see the world.

In the beginning, the allowance which his father had agreed to make him

was paid regularly, and as regularly the son wrote home to tell where he

was and what he was doing. Then gradually the payments were delayed, for

the stepmother had always some good reason why the money could not be

forthcoming at that particular date, and at length they ceased

altogether. And when the payments ceased, the letters ceased also.

For four years things remained in this state, but the stepmother was not

idle. She intended in one way or another to work upon her husband till

she had forced him to do as she wished, and this was to leave the estate

to her own son, 'as it was quite certain,' she went on, 'that Alexander

must be dead, or by this time they would have heard something about


At first her husband would not listen to her, and many and frequent were

their quarrels; but, as we know, 'the dropping of water wears away a

stone,' and in the end he showed signs of giving way. His wife noticed

it, and redoubled her efforts. 'If Alexander were alive,' she declared,

'it was unpardonable of him to have treated his father in such a manner,

and that fact alone would make him worthy of disinheritance; and if he

were dead, then, of course, her boy was the proper heir to the estate.'

Still, in spite of all her arguments, she could not entirely bend her

husband to her will; and the utmost she could get from him was a promise

that if he did not hear from his son in four years he would agree to her


For the moment the wife felt that no more could be gained, but soon she

began her grumblings afresh, and worried him so perpetually that at last

he consented to reduce the time of waiting from four years to one. This

was not done very easily, and many angry words passed between them, till

one day the wife burst out in a passion that she hoped his son's ghost

would appear to him and tell his father that he was dead, and that

justice ought to be done to his other children.

'And I,' cried the father, 'only wish his ghost would appear before the

year is up, and tell us that he is alive.'

* * * * *

It happened not long after that they were sitting one summer evening in

the parlour, disputing over the same subject--for nowadays they never

talked about anything else--when suddenly the wife became silent and

started up.

'Did you see that hand at the window?' she cried. 'There must be thieves

in the garden!'

'Thieves!' he exclaimed, and rushed to the door, but he quickly

returned, saying:

'You have made a mistake; there is nobody in the garden.'

'But there must be,' she answered.

'It was a ghost, then,' he replied, 'for no one could have got over the

walls without my seeing him.'

'I am certain,' persisted the wife, 'that I saw a man put up his hand to

the window, and if it was a ghost, it was the ghost of your son, who

came to tell you that he is dead.'

'If it was my son,' said the husband, 'he is come to tell us he is

alive, I warrant you, and to ask how you can be so wicked as to wish to

disinherit him. Alexander! Alexander!' he cried, looking towards the

window. 'If you are alive, show yourself, and don't let me be vexed

daily with tales of your death.'

As he spoke, the window flew open, and Alexander looked in. He stared

angrily at his stepmother, who shrieked and fainted; and uttering the

word 'Here' in a clear voice, the young man vanished.

Immediately her husband rushed outside and tried the doors leading from

the garden into the stables and some fields, but found them all barred.

Then he inquired of some men if anyone had passed, but they had seen no


After that he returned to the parlour, and seated himself in his chair,

waiting till his wife had recovered herself.

'What was it?' she asked as soon as she could speak.

'Alexander, without a doubt,' answered he, and she fainted a second

time, and was in bed for several days afterwards.

* * * * *

The husband hoped that the fright his wife had undergone would have put

an end to her schemes, but as time went on she forgot her scare, and

began to tease as of old. This so enraged the poor man that he

threatened to summon Alexander again, to which the furious woman

retorted by calling him a magician. Finally the quarrel was ended by the

resolve to refer the dispute to some friends and to beg them to judge

between them. The friends, when they had listened to what had passed,

laughed at the wife, and said that all they could make of it was that

her husband had cried out his son's name, and that someone had answered

'Here.' In their opinion, that was all there was in the affair, and they

advised the two to be reconciled to each other as soon as possible.

Of course, if the husband had possessed any sense he would have turned

his wife's fright to good account, but he was very weak and terribly

afraid of her. He agreed after much arguing to sign the deed she wanted

in the presence of two witnesses, saying as he delivered it to her:

'You have worried me into this by your horrible temper, but I have

signed it against justice and my conscience, and depend upon it, I shall

never perform it, as I am satisfied in my mind that my son is alive.'

When four months had passed, and the year was up, the woman told her

husband that the time was come to perform his promise about the estate,

and to have the new deeds executed to settle it upon her son. Therefore

she had invited the two friends who had helped them before, to dine with

them the next night, and they would see that everything was done


The following evening they were all seated round a table, which was

covered with papers. The new deeds handing over the estate to the second

wife's son on the death of his father were read out and signed, and the

wife took up the old deeds which had appointed Alexander heir to his own

mother's property, and tore off the seal. At that instant an icy,

whistling wind rushed through the room, as if someone had entered from

the hall and passed out by the garden door, which was shut.

Nothing was seen, but they all shivered. The wife turned pale, but,

recovering herself, asked her husband what tricks he was playing now, to

which he answered angrily that he knew no more about it than anybody


'When did you last hear from your son?' asked one of the gentlemen


'Five years ago,' replied the father.

'And have you not written to him about this business?' continued the


'No; for I did not know where to write to.'

'Sir,' said his friend earnestly, 'I never saw a ghost in my life, nor

believed in them; and even now I have seen nothing. But that something

passed through the room just now was quite clear. I heard it


'And I felt the wind it made as it passed by me,' remarked another


'Pray, sir,' said the first, addressing himself to the father; 'have

you seen anything at any time, or heard voices or noises, or dreamed

anything about this matter?'

'Many times I have dreamed that my son was alive, and that I had spoken

with him, and once that I had asked him why he had not written to me for

so long, seeing that I had it in my power to disinherit him.'

'And what answer did he make to that?'

'I never dreamt on so long as to have his answer.'

'And what do you think yourself? Do you believe he is dead?'

'No; I do not. I believe he is alive, and that if I disinherit him I

shall commit a sin.'

'Truly,' said the second witness; 'it begins to shock me. I will meddle

with it no further.' But at these words the wife, who had recovered her

courage, exclaimed:

'What is the use of talking like that? Everything is settled. Why else

are we here? I am not frightened, if you are,' and again she took up

one of the old deeds, in order to tear off the seal.

Then the window flew open and the shadow of a body was seen standing

outside, with its face looking straight at her face.

'Here,' said a voice, and the spectre vanished.

In spite of her boasted courage, the wife shrieked and fell in

hysterics, and the two witnesses took up the deeds.

'We will have no more to do with this business,' cried they, and, taking

up the new deeds which they had signed, they tore off their names, and

by so doing these deeds became of no value, and the elder son was still

heir to the property.

* * * * *

Four or five months later the young man arrived from India, where he had

gone from Portugal soon after leaving home. The two gentlemen who had

been concerned in the matter of the deeds, as well as his father, put

many questions to him as to whether he on his side had seen visions or

heard voices which warned him of the plots going on against him. But

Alexander denied having received warning of any sort, 'unless,' he

added, 'you can so call a dream I once had--which was indeed what sent

me home--that my father had written me a very angry letter, threatening

me, if I stayed away any longer, to deprive me of my inheritance. But

why do you want to know?'