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Herbert Carter's Legacy: Plot Summary

Herbert Carter's Legacy, New York: A.K. Loring, 1875

          Hero Herbert Carter is a poor student, son to a widow. His clothing is mocked for its raggedness by James Leech, fop and son to miser Squire Leech, who holds the mortgage to the Carter cottage. James is noted for being "foolish enough to feel that a man or boy derived importance from the extent of his wardrobe." Herbert turns aside James's insults, and on coming home discovers that his miserly uncle, Herbert, has died. His mother says that one of them should attend the funeral, and Herbert agrees to walk the twenty miles to do so.
Herbert Carter's Legacy cover image is borrowed from the General Collection of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Rochester          Herbert makes it to Randolph for the funeral. Afterwards, Mr. Spencer, his uncle's lawyer, discloses the will. The large majority of the property goes to the town to build a school. Herbert's mother is left one hundred dollars and Herbert gets his uncle's old trunk of clothes. Although he is somewhat disappointed, he looks at the situation optimistically, and remarks that he can always use the fabric to make clothing his own size. When he goes through the trunk, he considers himself very lucky: he finds fifty-two dollars in gold and silver in the pocket of a vest. His optimistic attitude also impresses Mr. Spencer, who invites him to his house for the night. Herbert spends the evening with Spencer's son, Tom, a true gentleman who does not look down on Herbert for his poverty; their other overnight guest is James Leech, who behaves in a most un-gentlemanly fashion.
          The narrator next reveals that Squire Leech wants to buy the Carter's cottage to place a new employee. He plans to foreclose, since the Carters are likely going to miss their next interest payment, but the legacy prevents this action. Next, he tries to buy it outright at seventy-five percent of its value, which the Carters refuse. Unfortunately, Mrs. Carter takes ill and the legacy dwindles while she cannot do any work. Herbert attempts to find work but fails. He is compelled to seek employment under the Squire. However, Turner will provide employment only if Herbert gets his mother to agree to sell. Herbert refuses and looks elsewhere for money. He begins to work a vegetable garden on share, planning to sell his surplus. The returns are obviously quite slow, and he fears that they will not be able to make the next interest payment. Luckily, he then is employed by a Yale undergraduate and patron, John Cameron, who has gone temporarily blind from too-zealous studying. John pays Herbert to read aloud to him, and to spend the day with him for leisure and activity. John's extravagant rate of pay will solve their interest fears, but it will not come in time. Luckily, Herbert's aunt sends twenty dollars to the family out of sympathy for their small legacy. It is enough to make the payment in the nick of time, and the Squire returns to his estate confounded.
          Time passes; Herbert falls into work with John, and performs admirably, learning much of what John is studying. John hears about Herbert's misfortune and takes an interest in helping Herbert to succeed. Herbert reveals that his father invented a cotton-processing machine: John, whose father works in cotton, is intrigued. He expresses a desire to see a model of the device at the next opportunity. In their free time, John and Herbert encounter James, who behaves in his particular manner and leaves a poor impression on both.
          Next, Andrew Temple, a villainous con artist comes to town and makes close friends with the Leeches who recognize his "seediness" but allow themselves to be swayed by his talk of wealth into believing otherwise. Temple persuades Leech to invest the whole of his free money into a mine in Nevada.
          Meanwhile, James attempts to become John's friend. John does not refuse, and uses James's rowboat for exercise. James, however, behaves so poorly that John soon decides that he will buy a boat and have it sent to him, and leave it for Herbert when he returns to Yale. When he does this, James is very envious. The fop does his best to trade boats with Herbert, who refuses. The Squire hears of his son's embarrassment and is ashamed; he agrees to buy him a sailboat after his investment with Temple comes through. To thank John, Herbert invites him to tea at his cottage. While there, he shows John the invention of his father's. John feels that it could indeed be an improvement over the mechanism it is intended to replace, but asks to bring it to his father for a fully qualified opinion.
          Time passes; John is obliged to leave Wrayburn for Rio de Janeiro for his eyes. He gives Herbert a parting gift of three weeks' salary. The Leechs are ecstatic, knowing that this loss of income will allow them to take revenge on the Carters. Herbert decides to go to New York City to seek a position. There he meets Cornelius Dixon, one of his relatives that he met at the opening of the will. He is a spendthrift, and offers little help on finding work. Herbert decides to try his luck as a newsboy. After three weeks of work, he meets James, in town with his father on business. The Squire is quite disappointed with the progress of his investments, but is compelled to invest even more, this time turning to mortgage his real estate, on Temple's advice.
          While in New York, Herbert meets the older Mr. Cameron by happenstance and learns that his father's invention is likely a success. Mr. Cameron invites him to spend a week at his home. After further examining the inventions, Cameron offers Herbert one thousand dollars per year for ten years as payment for half the rights to the invention. He also agrees to advance the Carters one hundred dollars to make their next interest payment. The Carters plan to leave Wrayburn and allow Herbert to attend the academy in Mr. Cameron's hometown; after that, they plan to move to New York so Herbert can take a position in Cameron's manufactory. When the Squire learns of their success, he finally offers a fair price for their home, which they accept. Two years later, Herbert's wealth has grown and he has a respectable position. He finds himself obliged to help James find a position, since his father found himself defrauded by Temple for almost his whole fortune. Herbert does so happily, and hope remains for James, who might learn from the errors of his previous behavior.