The Inheritance - A short story
“Think he’ll really come all this way?”
“Could be. He’s the only living relative.”
“Everybody knows you were meant to have it, Jacob. The old man told folks about it for years.”
“Still, there was no will, so this cousin has a claim.”
Jacob Branch walked to the edge of the porch, sipping his morning coffee. Spread out below was the vast valley of the B bar B, and as always, he was struck by the sheer beauty of it all. Old Harvey Branch had built the house on a hill so that Angie could wheel her chair onto the porch of a morning, and watch the workings of the ranch.
Angie had been crippled as a child during a polio outbreak, but Harvey’s puppy love for her never wavered, and years later, he finally convinced her to marry him, despite her reluctance as a cripple. She knew she could never bear him children, but that was her only regret, because she adored Harvey. Then he found Jacob, and brought him home.
Jacob had been found walking down a wagon trail, all by himself. He looked to be about three years, and was dressed only in a nightshirt. When Harvey asked him his name, he answered, “Jacob’, but he didn’t seem to know his surname. There was no wagon in sight, so Harvey took him home to Angie.
They placed ads in several papers and posted handbills, but no one ever claimed the boy. Finally, Harvey told a joyful Angie that they would simply raise Jacob themselves, and give him their name. That was twenty years ago.
Angie’s fragile health had finally given out ten years prior, and she was buried in the family plot. Harvey never really recovered from the loss, and he too passed on last September. He now rested beside his beloved Angie.
Harvey had given Jacob his name, and it was widely understood that the ranch was to be his too after Harvey's passing, but he never officially adopted Jacob, and no will was found, so the judge ordered a search for surviving kinfolk. He apologized to Jacob, but said he was bound by law. Harvey had often said he had no known kin, but newspaper ad placed in London located a distant cousin, who filed a claim.
The English cousin had corresponded with the judge, asking for a six month extension, but the judge refused. He had allowed two more weeks, extending the deadline for a personal appearance in his courtroom with the proper bona fides proving his claim until the end of April. Otherwise, the ranch went to Jacob.
Mary Albert rose and stood beside Jacob, her long, curly black tresses resting on her slim shoulders. She and Jacob were to be married, but the uncertainty of ranch ownership took priority. Jacob put his arm around her waist, and they stood in silence. The spring roundup was about to get underway, and cattle dotted the valley floor for miles. It had been a good year, and Jacob wished Harvey could see it. He missed the only man he had ever known as a father.
Simon Trivol, the London solicitor, insisted that Jonas Black rehearse his lines once again.
“I’ve corresponded with this judge, and he’s certainly an able man. One slip on your part, and we shall lose that ranch, not to mention the money I’ve invested in forged birth certificates and the like. Now once again, let’s hear your story.”
Jonas Black was perfect. He was tall, slim and handsome, and his air of self importance belied the fact that he was actually a low thief and charlatan. He was also a skilled impersonator, and that’s why Simon Trivol had sought him for this endeavor.
“Learn your part until you believe it to be true yourself. Convince yourself that you are Harvey Branch’s long lost relative, and you shall have no difficulty convincing others. Once we take possession, we'll sell it to investors and you can come back. You'll be well rewarded.”
“I don’t know how it can stay up there, Jacob!”
Jacob Branch and Judge Mallory stood in the dusty street, shading their eyes against the sun and watching the airplane disappearing in the distance. It was the first one either had ever seen, and it was so exciting they had run out of the judge’s office and into the street with the other town folk. The Wright Brothers had first flown some nine years ago, but planes were still rare in the west. They returned to the office.
“He has three weeks to make the deadline, and then I have to assure myself that he’s legitimate.” The judge tapped his fingers on the roll top, looking uncomfortable.
“I know a lawyer who can muddy the water so badly that this cousin’s claim would take years.” He looked down, obviously embarrassed. “I don’t want you to lose that ranch, son, even if I have to stoop to lawlessness.”
Jacob smiled and patted the older man’s back. “You’ve never had a dishonest day in your life judge, and I won’t let you have one now, even if I lose the ranch. It will all work out just the way it’s supposed to. Let’s go eat.”
It had been a two day ride, checking fence and the two line cabins. As usual, the hands were hard at work, because all the dead wood had been weeded out long ago. Harvey Branch had been a hard man, but a fair one. Good hands were paid top wages, and those who failed were paid off and sent packing. Jacob had learned well from the old man, and the hands liked and respected him.
The year had been even better than he thought. The mild winter had been easy on the livestock, and new calves were everywhere. The new grass was green and lush, and the streams were flowing.
He was within a mile of the ranch when he saw the rider. By the way she sat her horse, he recognized Mary. She had long ago refused to ride sidesaddle, infuriating some of the local women who thought it indecent, but now, some of them were also riding astride. Mary was a trend setter.
Spotting him, she drew up in the shade of a big oak, and by the time he rode up, she had a cloth down and was unpacking a picnic lunch. He dismounted, and she handed him a beer she had cooled in the well. He took a grateful swallow.
“Judge Mallory received a letter from that Jonas Black English cousin, Jacob. It seems he’s coming here to claim the ranch. I was hoping he would change his mind.”
“If he’s the rightful heir, there’s nothing we can do. What kind of sandwiches are those?”
Simon Trivol peered over his desk at Jonas Black.
“Very well. You have all the papers, and I’ve written explicit instructions on which trains to take out of New York and Saint Louis. There’s no time to lose if you are to make the deadline, so stick to the schedule.”
Jonas Black nodded. “I hope it’s a fast ship.”
“It's the fastest one afloat. It’s that new one from the White Star line, called ‘Titanic’.”