Copyright © 2021 Robert Loney
The Birthright
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The Birthright

An excerpt from Chapter 5

At Elmhurst

The year is 1884. It's April and the Clark family has gathered for the spring interment of their father. He died in January and the atmosphere is less somber now that three months have passed. His daughters and their husbands are visiting in the sitting room of the Clark mansion...

   "Oh, Richard," complained Christine. "You're not going to bore everyone with that, are you?"
   "Maybe you think it's boring," replied her husband as he opened a long, flat box on the coffee table. "Let's see what the others think."
   "This is your get-rich-quick scheme we've heard so much about?" asked Ronald.
   "I'm not promising anything, but I think it has merit."
   "What is it?" asked Olivia.
   "It's a game I think I might be able to market."
   "He has wasted more time on this thing," said Christine.
   "You play it on this board?" asked Virginia, graciously showing some interest.
   "That's right. It's like a large checkerboard, with more squares. The game consists of 120 of these little wooden tiles, each with a letter of the alphabet on it. You put them together on the board to form words."
   "Let's humor him," suggested his wife, picking out some of the letters. "Richard, you can lead us into the poorhouse, but I'll always love you."
   "Give it a chance," begged the reckless husband. "Now, look. Each tile has a tiny number in the corner. The number indicates the value of the letter and varies according to how frequently the letter appears in the English language. E is the most commonly used letter, so it only has a value of 1. Z is the least common and has a value of 12. All the tiles are face down in the box and everyone draws out eight of them. Then we take turns trying to string together a word. Here... I can make MOTHER."
   He laid down the six letters.
   "The M is worth 6, the O 3, the T 2, the H 4, the E 1, and the R 4. That adds up to 20. So I record that and pick up six more letters, and the next person takes their turn. You try to put together the most valuable word you can. And now that I've made the first move, you have to incorporate one of my letters into your word and count its value."
   "So I can use your O?" asked Christine.
   "That's right."
   "Okay," said his wife, "I've got an F, and another O, and an L, an I, an S, and an H. That spells FOOLISH."
   "That's worth 29," said Richard, recording her score. "Very good. Now pick up six more letters."
   "And I've got a B," said Olivia, "and a U, and an S, and your T. That spells BUST."
   "You can't do that," Richard explained. "You're running up against the F. You have to form a word every way. If FS was a word, you could do it."
   "O-kay... I've got an R, and the U, Christine's I, and an N." That spells RUIN."
   "That's worth 16. Pretty good."
   "I've got a B," said Virginia, "an O, Richard's R, an I, an N, and a G. That spells BORING."
   "Good for 28," said the inventor and scorekeeper. "Now I'll put an S in front of MOTHER and we've got SMOTHER. I get all the points from MOTHER plus 4 points for the S. That gives me 44 altogether."
   "I'll use that H from FOOLISH," said Christine, "and an O, a P, an E, an L, another E, and two S's. That spells HOPELESS."
   "Good show: 29 again. That gives you 58."
   "And I've got an A, and I'll use one of those S's, and I've got an I, an N, another I, another N, and an E," offered Olivia. "That spells ASININE."
   "Another 20 for you. You've got 36 now."
   "If I had a V, I could make POVERTY," said Virginia.
   "If the U were open, you could make PENURY," Olivia suggested.
   "If I had another G, I could make MORTGAGE," Christine remarked. "Or, over here I could make BEGGAR."
   "How much would HAREBRAINED be worth?" asked Clifford, looking on.
   "Or how about STARVATION?" added Olivia.
   "Or DESPERATE?" Ronald inquired.
   "That's enough!" Richard erupted. "I'm not letting you play my game."
   "Who would want to play it?" asked Olivia mercilessly. "Richard, you're never going to sell that. You've got a wife to look out for, and a child on the way. Keep your feet on the ground."
   "O-kay... o-o-o-kay. That does it. I've embarrassed myself enough over this." Richard swept the elements of the game into their box and pitched the whole into the fire.
   "It was just getting good!" Christine objected.
   "Give the man credit" said Clifford, lighting a cigar. "He's enterprising."
   "I thought it looked promising," Richard eulogized over his late creation. "Chess and checkers have been around for centuries. Isn't it time someone came up with another game?"
   "If there were other games to be invented, someone probably would have thought of them by now," countered Olivia. "Richard, stop trying to carve out a place in history. It's juvenile."
   "And if you are going to invent a game, make sure it's entertaining," added Virginia. "I think that's an unavoidable requirement."
   "Livy, I've hardly been thinking about a place in history," said Richard. "You say I should think of my wife and children, and I am. Wouldn't I like to buy her a big house and treat her to some luxury. Look at what she's grown up with."
   "Aw-w-w, Richard," said his wife affectedly. "You know it's not those things that matter to me. And we don't live far away. When I want to enjoy the good life, I just have to come back here."
   "What harm does it do to spend some extra time at something like that?" asked Ronald. "He's got a good job."
   "Tell him that," replied Olivia. "He's always complaining about it."
   "Richard, you're not doing badly," said Clifford. "People can go a long way in the bank. Be patient. You can't start out as vice-president."
   "Well... Maybe I find finance kind of boring."
   "Ri-chard!" his wife protested.
   "My heart just missed a beat," said Virginia, laughing slightly and catching her breath. "Don't do that, Richard."
   "You'd like to have a place like this," said Olivia vehemently. "Our father worked hard to bring it about. Maybe sometimes he was bored, but he put up with it."
   "Okay, okay," said Richard. "No more harebrained schemes. I'll be as dull as you want."
   "Thank you," replied his wife with great relief. "That's my Richard."


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