After Will Colter’s father passes away in a tragic accident, he and his older brother and younger sister go to town to hear the reading of their father’s will. The news isn’t what any of them expected.
Monday morning dawned early. Three days passed since they buried their father, and today was the day they would hear Edward James Colter’s will. Although none of the children knew the specifics of their father’s last wishes, Will was certain each of them would be well cared for. As he donned his usual jeans and work shirt, he glanced out the window. Reuben already waited out front with the wagon and his horse. He must be eager to leave.
Julia sat sullenly next to Reuben, looking down at her folded hands in her lap. Will quickly mounted the saddled horse tied to the post and led the way to town at a gentle pace. The short distance to town passed quickly. Reuben pulled the wagon to a stop in front of the attorney’s office. After helping Julia down, he led the way into the building, leaving Will trailing behind.
Reuben took the seat directly across from Mr. Gainsly, Attorney At Law. Julia sat to his right. Will leaned against the wall furthest from Reuben, crossing his arms over his chest. He rested his right leg over his left, settling the toe of his right boot on the floor.
“Shall we begin,” stated Mr. Gainsly. In his gravelly monotonous voice he read the will. “To my first born son, Reuben James Colter, I give full ownership of the Star C Ranch land and house. The herd and stock are to be equally distributed between Reuben and my second son, William Edward Colter—”
“What!” Reuben shouted, pounding his fist down on Mr. Gainsly’s desk, causing Julia to jump at the abrupt motion. “Why should Will get half of everything?”
Will stood upright, uncrossing his arms. Facing Reuben, he said in a low voice through gritted teeth, “I have as much right to half of the ranch as you do. If anyone should be complaining about the terms, I should—since I am to get none of the land or the house.”
Reuben stood, puffing out his chest. The act made him look ridiculous in his fancy brown suit and bowler hat. Anger creased his face and his tone became harsh, “I am the first born son—”
Will moved closer. “A fact of which you remind me of constantly. Still, that has nothing to do with father’s last wishes.”
Reuben took a step closer towards Will, the two separated only by Julia still seated in the chair. Mr. Gainsly looked horrified by the confrontation between the two brothers and Julia began sobbing.
She reached up and touched Will on the arm. In a soft voice she said, “Please, stop.”
Will looked from Mr. Gainsly’s discomfort, to Reuben’s fierce anger, to Julia’s pleading. Returning his fisted hand to his side, he took a step back, closer to the wall. Nodding towards Mr. Gainsly, Will said in a flat tone, “Please, continue.”
Mr. Gainsly looked from Will to Julia to Reuben. “Very well, then. Mr. Colter,” he said referring to Reuben, “please take a seat. I understand that our loved one’s last wishes can be a bit of a shock—sometimes they make choices we may not agree with. I assure you, your father was very clear, wishing to be as fair as possible for all three of you.”
As Reuben returned to his seat, Mr. Gainsly continued reading, “Other than a sum set aside for Julia Catherine Colter, my daughter, the remaining financial holdings are to be equally divided between Reuben and William,” he paused, looking to Reuben. Reuben growled, but remained seated. “If Julia has not yet reached her majority, Reuben will be her guardian and the trustee of her stipend.”
Reuben’s face went from anger to delight in a few short seconds, prompting Will’s distrust. Why did that news please Reuben? He barely seemed to notice her, though they lived under the same roof. Was it controlling her money? Or was there something more?
Finally, Gainsly’s irritating voice halted. The room remained silent for a few short seconds before Reuben made his wishes known.
“Please see to the details of dividing the money,” Reuben commanded with his usual air of superiority. “If there is nothing further, let us be on our way.”
Standing, Reuben, in an uncharacteristic display, waited for Julia to control herself. Looking at Will over her seated form, Reuben gave him a bone-chilling glare. If Will had any doubt about his brother’s feelings towards him, that look clearly communicated his loathing. When Julia finally rose, Reuben led her to the wagon without waiting for Will. As Will walked out of the attorney’s office, Reuben already set the wagon in motion towards home.
On the ride back to the Star C with the dust of the wagon in the distance, Will considered his options. With half of the financial holdings and half the herd, he could make a nice start somewhere else. He knew there was no chance Reuben would let him stay.