Nursing a Legacy
by Jonathan F.
Waiting for dead men's shoes is a slow and not very sure business;
sometimes it pays and sometimes it don't. I know a genius who lost by
it, and his case will bear repeating, for there is both morality and
fun in it.
Lev Smith, a native of the Eastern shore of Maryland, and a
resident of a small town in the lower part of Delaware, began life on a
very limited capital, and because of a natural disposition indigenous
to the climate and customs of his native placegeneral apathy and
unmitigated patience peculiar to people raised on fish and
Johnny-cake, amid the stunted pine swamps and sand-hills of that
Lord-forsaken countryLev never increased it. Lev had an uncle, an old
bachelor, without chick or child, and was reported to be pretty well
off. Old man Gunter was proverbially mean, and as usual, heartily
despised by one half of the people who knew him. He had a small estate,
had lived long, and by his close-fisted manner of life, it was believed
that Gunter had laid by a pretty considerable pile of the root of all
evil, for something or somebody; and one day Lev Smith, the nephew,
came to the conclusion that as the old man was getting quite shaky and
must soon resign his interests in all worldly gear, he would
volunteer to console the declining years of his dear old uncle, by his
own pleasant company and encouragement, and the old man very gladly
accepted the proposals of Lev, to cut wood, dig, scratch and putter
around his worn out and dilapidated farm. Uncle Gunter had but two
negroes; through starvation and long service he had worn them about
out; he had little or no stock upon his farm, quite as scant
an assortment of utensils, few fences, and in fact, to any actively
disposed individual, the general appearance and state of affairs about
old Gunter's place would have given the double-breasted blues.
But Lev Smith had come to loaf and lounge, and not to display any very
active or patriotic evolutions, so he was not so much disheartened by
his uncle's dilapidated farm, as he was annoyed by the beggarly way the
old man lived, and the assiduous desire he seemed to manifest for Lev
to be stirring around, gathering chips, patching fences, cutting brush;
from morn till night, he and the two superannuated cuffies; and the old
man barely raising enough to keep soul and body of the party together.
At first, the job he had undertaken proved almost too much for Lev
Smith's constitution, but the great object in view consoled him, and
the more he saw of the old man's meanness, the more and more he took it
for granted that his uncle had necessarily hoarded up treasure; but,
after three years' drudgery, Lev's courage was on the point of breaking
down; the only stay left seemed the fact that now he had served so long
a time, so patiently and lovingly, and the old man apparently upon his
very last legsit seemed a ruthless waste of his golden dreams to give
out, so he made up his mind towait a little longer. Another year
rolled on; Uncle Gunter got indeed low, and the lower he got the more
assiduous got nephew Smith, and even the neighbors wondered how a young
man could stick on, and put up with such a miserly, mean,
selfish and penurious old curmudgeon as old Joe Gunter. Gunter himself
was apprized of the great indulgence and wonderful patience of his
nephew, and not unfrequently said, in a groaning voice:
Ah, my dear Levi, you're a good boy; I wish to the Lord it was in
your poor, miserable, wretched old uncle's distressed power to
Never mind, never mind, Uncle Joe, Lev would most deceitfully
respond; I ask nothing for myself; what I do, I do willingly!
I know, I know you do, poor boy, but your poor, old, miserable,
wretched uncle don't deserve it.
Don't mind that, dear uncle, says Lev. It's my duty, and I'll do
Good boy, good boy; your poor, old, miserable uncle will be
I know thatI feel sure he will, dear Uncle Joeand that's
enough, all I ask.
And if he don'tpoor, miserable old creature,if he don't pay
you, the Lord will, Levi!
And that will be all that's needed, Uncle Joe, says the humbugging
nephew. And so they went, Lev not only waiting on the old man with the
tender and faithful care of a good Samaritan, but out of his own
slender resources ministering to the old man's especial comfort in many
ways and matters which Uncle Joe would have seen him hanged and
quartered before he would in a like manner done likewise. But the end
camethe old fellow held on toughly; he never died until Lev's
patience, hope and slender income were quite threadbare; so he at last
went off the handleLev buried him and mourned the dispensation in
true Kilkenny fashion.
Lev Smith now awaited the settlement of Uncle Gunter's affairs in
grief and solicitude. Another party also awaited the upshot of the
matter, with due solemnity and expectation, and that party was Polly
Williams, Lev's intended, and her poor and miserly dad and marm, who
knew Lev Smith, as they said, was a lazy, lolloping sort of a feller,
but sure to get all that his poor, miserable uncle was worth in the
world, and therefore, with more craft and diligence, if possible, than
Lev practised, the Williamses set Polly's cap for Lev, and who, in
turn, was not unmindful of the fact that Williams had something too,
as well as his two children, Polly and Peter. Things seemed indeed
bright and propitious on all sides. The day came; Lev was on hand at
Squire Cornelius's, to hear the will read, and the estate of the
As usual in such cases in the country, quite a number of the
neighbors were on handold Williams, of course.
He was a queer old mortal, began the Squire.
But a good man, sobbed Lev Smith, drawing out his bandanna, and
smothering his sharp nose in it. A good man, 'Squire.
God's his judge, responded the Squire, and a number of the
neighbors shook their head and stroked their beards, as if to say amen.
Joseph Gunter mout have been a good man and he mout not, continued
the Squire; some thinks he was not; I only say he was a queer old
mortal, and here's his will. Last will and testament of Joseph Gunter,
&c., &c., continued the Squire.
Poor, dear old man, sobbed Lev. Poor dear old man!
Being without wife or children, continued the 'Squire.
O, dear! poor, dear old man, how I shall miss him in this
world of sorrow and sin, sobs Lev, while old Williams bit his skinny
lips, and the neighbors again stroked their beards.
To comfort my declining years
Poor, dear old man, he was to be pitied; I did all I could
do, groaned the disconsolate Lev, but I didn't do half enough.
Passing coldly and cheerless through the world continued the
Yes, he did, poor old man; O, dear! says Lev.
Cared for by none, hated and shunned by all (Lev looked vacantly
over his handkerchief, at the Squire), I have made up my mind (Lev all
attention) that no mortal shall benefit by me; I have therefore
mortgaged and sold (Lev's eyes spreading) everything I had of a
dollar's value in the world, and buried the money in the earth where
none but the devil himself can find it!
There was a general snicker and stareall eyes on Lev, his face as
blank as a sham cartridge, while old Williams's countenance fell into a
concatenation of grimaces and wrinkleslanguage fails to describe!
But here's a codicil, says the 'Squire, re-adjusting his glasses.
Knowing my nephew, Levi Smith, expects something (Lev brightens up,
old Williams grins!)he has hung around me for a long time, expecting
it (Lev's jaw falls), I do hereby freely forgive him his six years
boarding and lodging, and, furthermore, make him a present of my two
old negroes, Ben and Dinah.
Thethethecussed old screw, bawls old Williams.
The infernal, double and twisted, mean, contemptible, miserable old
scoundrel! cries poor Lev, foaming with virtuous indignation, and
swinging his doubled up fists.
And youyouyou cussed, do-less, good for nothing, hypocritical
skunk, you, yells old Williams, shaking his bony fingers in poor Lev's
face, the neighbors grinning from ear to ear, to humbug me, my wife,
my Polly, in this yer way. Now clear yourselftake them old niggers,
don't leave 'em here for the crows to eatclear yourself!
Lev Smith sneaks off like a kill-sheep dog, leaving old Ben and
Dinah to the tender mercies of a quite miserable and equally wretched
neighborhood. Polly Williams didn't take on much about the matter,
but in the course of a few weeks took another venture in love's
lottery, andwas married. Poor Lev Smith returned to the scenes of his
childhood, a wiser and a poorer man.