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Luck and Pluck; or, John Oakley's Inheritance: Plot Summary

Luck and Pluck; or, John Oakley's Inheritance, Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1869

Luck and Pluck cover image is borrowed from the General Collection of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Rochester          The hero, John Oakley, is a young man of fifteen: he is not tall, but stout and well proportioned, and is noted for being stronger than his peers. He is an admirable horseman and outdoorsman, and is known for his "frank, brave, generous nature" (16). The foil to this character is his stepbrother and fop, Ben Brayton. Although he is older by a year and a half, and taller, he is of a slender figure. He dislikes exercise. Ben's mother and John's stepmother, married to John's father, Squire Oakley, who died one week previous. Mrs. Oakley is "by no means handsome." She is tall, thin, sallow, and pale-lipped; despite these faults, she "had somehow acquired an ascendancy over the squire" (15). John is threatened because his father's last will and testament left everything to Mrs. Oakley, an estate totaling sixty thousand dollars.
          Immediately following the death of the Squire, Mrs. Oakley replaces all of the furniture in the house, and begins to treat her own son as her only son. John is treated as a ward for whom she is unfortunately responsible. Although the feelings of dislike are mutual, the narrator mentions that John always treated his stepmother "with the outward respect which propriety required" (18).
          As the novel opens, the reader is presented with a series of conflicts and revelations. Firstly, Ben is seen riding John's horse out of their stable. When confronted by John, who claims that it was his father's wish that he have the horse, Ben attempts to horsewhip him. However, John is a strong young man, and takes the whip away from Ben, and proceeds to strike him twice, saying, "I repay my debts with interest" (12).
          Secondly, it is revealed that the Squire Oakley had fears that his new wife was not what he had thought her to be: "his own frank, open nature could hardly be expected to fathom hers" (36). On his deathbed, he had written a new will, and hid it somewhere in the house. John's schoolmate, Sam Selwyn, is the son of Squire Oakley's lawyer, and he reveals to John the possibility of another intended will. John nearly despairs at the frustrations of his life: "If my poor father had only different all would have been!" But, "his father was no longer on earth to protect and shield him from the malice of Ben and his mother. Trials awaited him, but he determined to be true to himself, and to the good principles which he had been taught" (43).
          Lastly, for striking Ben, Mrs. Oakley punishes John by removing him from his bedroom and sending him to the upstairs servant's quarters.
          Next, the narrator describes John's superior performance in school. He always took cares to prepare his lessons in Virgil, and was at the head of his class. By comparison, Ben did not attend school, feeling that public school did not suit a young gentleman. Despite John's own desires and the desires of his late father, Mrs. Oakley decides not to send John to college; at the same time, she chooses to sell John's horse and give the money to her own son. Out of anger at these injustices, John rashly reveals his suspicions about the second will. Although Mrs. Oakley does not know if his claims are true, she resolves to send John away under an apprenticeship to her villainous brother, Ephraim Huxter, a shiftless alcoholic.
          Just before he leaves, John meets with Sam, who reveals a dream vision that he had the night previous. Sam, Mrs. Oakley, and Ben were looking for the will, but Sam was quick and the first to find it. Trusting in this dream, John employs Sam to continue the hunt in his absence.
          In his new home, John finds Mrs. Huxter to be a kind and gentle woman. She respects him and takes pity on him. Although he is to start work under Ephraim very soon, John takes his first day's leisure to explore the town. He meets with Ephraim's barkeeper, who says that although Ephraim had taken the temperance pledge, he didn't take well to it. John also meets David Wallace, a farm boy with whom he becomes close friends. David offers to give John a ride to the next town. By choosing to go to the next town, John is able to meet Sam's father, who believes John's fears that, should she find it, his stepmother might willfully hide a second will.
Luck and Pluck frontispiece image is borrowed from the General Collection of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Rochester          Meanwhile, Mrs. Oakley does find the will, but is unable to destroy the evidence; her fear of persecution outweighs her prudence.
          That evening at John's new home, Ephraim prepares to flog him for exploring during the day. However, he instead drunkenly falls into scalding water. As Ephraim collects himself, he swears vengeance on John, who prepares to leave that night. Although he is locked in his attic room, he fashions a rope out of his bed sheets and makes it outside. Ephraim pursues John on horseback, but eventually fails when John uses a boat to cross a river and escapes. John goes on to a nearby town where he knows he has an aunt and uncle.
          When he reaches his aunt, John finds his uncle, a storekeeper, recently deceased. He is also thrown into a mystery in which his uncle's assistant, Mr. Hall, is claiming that his late employer owes him two thousand dollars. John's aunt is very suspicious of the claim, despite Hall's production of a receipt, and asks John to help. On seeing Mr. Hall, John remarks, "I don't like his looks" (278). He agrees to help and enters into employment under Hall, without revealing his relation to his uncle. Hall puts him to work cleaning the fireplace, and in doing so, John comes across a sheet of paper in which someone had been practicing duplicating his late uncle's signature. Using this as proof of Hall's forgery, he confronts the man. Hall panics and flees town. John takes on managing the store until a permanent replacement is found.
          Meanwhile, Ben finds himself hustled by pool shark Arthur Winchester. As he debts mount, Ben eventually turns to theft; he searches his mother's drawers for money, but instead finds only the will of Squire Oakley. He decides instead to blackmail his mother for his debt money. However, his cowardice takes hold, and he instead tells his mother that a burglar came into the house. He then offers to hunt the fictional criminal down for a reward, a proposition to which Mrs. Oakley readily and anxiously agrees. While he is off "on the hunt," Ben goes swimming. His leisure is discovered by Sam, who plans a trick to steal Ben's clothing and replace them with a dress and bonnet. In doing so, he discovers the will. Ben walks home in humiliation, and very concerned about the loss of the will. Sam takes the evidence to his father.
          In conclusion, John is summoned home by the Lawyer Selwyn, who implicates Ben in the theft of the will. The will leaves two-thirds of the estate to John, and the remaining third to his wife and stepson. Finding herself defeated, Mrs. Oakley declares her desire to leave town in a week's time. She moves to the city, where Ben loses all of his mother's inheritance through gambling. Mrs. Oakley is then forced to open a boarding house, and live in misery and near poverty. Her brother Ephraim dies of drinking.
          John is persuaded to invite his aunt to sell the store and live on his property. He establishes a trust for Mrs. Huxter to thank her for her kindness. He goes on to college to study law, and the narrator concludes by remarking that "...his warm and generous heart, his personal integrity, and his manly character, [proved] to be John Oakley's MOST VALUABLE INHERITANCE" (343).