The $30,000 Bequest and Other Stories by Mark Twain

The $30,000 Bequest was one of the funniest stories I have read in ages. Sally and Aleck have a happy life with two daughters. They are not rich but are comfortable. Aleck (her nickname) had invested some money early on in the marriage and was a wise business woman. Sally (his nickname) was also thrifty although not as much so as his wife. Everyone admired them and they were just generally good people.

When a distant relative sends them a note telling them that he is going to leave them $30,000 upon his death they are thrilled. Only, they can’t tell anyone. Ever. And they can’t call to see when the man is dead. He says someone will contact them. And they can’t ever acknowledge where they got the money from. He does this, he says, to insure that they are made just as miserable by the money as he has been his whole life. So they wait. But the announcement of his death in the paper is taken out, they don’t hear about it. So they start dreaming of how they are going to spend that fortune when they do finally inherit it. Of course, Aleck makes wise and prosperous investments and before long they are so wrapped up in their own fantasy world, the rest of the world disappears around them.

They are worth millions and then hundreds of millions. They pass up good marriage opportunities for their daughters because they are too wealthy to marry these boys. Of course the daughters still don’t know about the money. This goes on for years. It all begins to crumble when the stock market crashes and they lose ALL of their imagined wealth. But they are satisfied that it was only dreaming and that they did not really have the money. They decide to be happy that they still have that $30,000 coming their way one day. Except…..when a solicitor comes to the house one day to collect on a bill they failed to pay, he tells them that the “rich” uncle had died years before…destitute. He was so poor that the city had to bury him and the only thing he left to anyone was a broken wheelbarrow to the lawyer. The couple is crushed. They cannot recover from this blow. All of their dreams are gone and they have wasted their lives dreaming of what they never had.

I loved this story. It was funny and sad all at the same time. Made me want to remember to live in the here and now and not pin all my hopes on an uncertain future.

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