The Allen House, or Twenty Years Ago and Now by T.S. Arthur
On the day following, the young husband bore his bride away to grace the prouder home that awaited her in New York; and affairs in our town settled themselves down into the old routine.
During the few months that have passed since the opening of our story, the only matter that has occurred, of any interest to the reader, at the Allen House, is the fact that Judge Bigelow has undertaken the management of Mrs. Montgomery's affairs, and the establishment of her claim to the possession, as only heir, of the whole of Captain Allen's property. Some legal difficulties, bearing upon her identification as his sister, were in the way; and in the effort to remove these, there had been considerable correspondence with persons in England.
The first fact to be clearly proved was the solemnization of a marriage between Mrs. Montgomery's mother and the elder Captain Allen. Next, the identity of Mrs. Montgomery as her child. No marriage certificate, nor any record of the fact, as to the exact time and place, were known to be in existence; and without them, or evidence of a very conclusive character, the title of Mrs. Montgomery could not be clearly established.
This, Judge Bigelow stated to her in the beginning; but, up to this time, no such evidence had been found.
Mrs. Montgomery's health was not good, and as she required occasional medical aid, my visits to the Allen House were continued. The more intimately I came to know this lady, the higher did she rise in my esteem. She united strength of mind with clearness of perception: and decision of character with prudence and justice. She had, likewise, a depth and tenderness of feeling that often exhibited itself in beautiful incidents. The dignity of manner, which at first seemed touched with hauteur, now only gave grace to her fine proportions.
She had, from the beginning, spoken to me without reserve of her affairs, in which I naturally took deep interest. One day she said:--
"Doctor, I wish to get your opinion in regard to an individual whom Judge Bigelow proposes to send out to England for me on important business. He is a young man, associated with him, as I understand it, professionally.
"Mr. Wallingford, you mean?"
"Yes, that is the name, I believe. Do you know him?"
"Is he prudent, intelligent, and reliable?"
"I think so."
"You only think so, Doctor?"
"I can speak in stronger terms. As far as one can know another, I am ready to say that he is prudent, intelligent, and reliable. If I had important business to transact at a distant point, and needed a trusty agent, I would select him before any other man in S----."
I wish no better testimony, Doctor, and am glad to know that I can procure an agent so well qualified."
"Have you seen him?" I inquired.
"No. But Judge Bigelow is to bring him here today, in order that I may see and converse with him."
"You will find him," said I, a young man of few words and unobtrusive manners--but solid as a rock. I have seen him under circumstances calculated to test the character of any man."
"What are the circumstances, if you are free to speak of them?" asked Mrs. Montgomery. "We get always a truer estimate of a man, when we see him in some great battle of life; for then, his real qualities and resources become apparent."
I thought for a little while before answering. It did not seem just right to draw aside the veil that strangers' eyes might look upon a life-passage such as was written in Wallingford's Book of Memory. The brief but fierce struggle was over with him; and he was moving steadily onward, sadder, no doubt, for the experience, and wiser, no doubt. But the secret was his own, and I felt that no one ought to meddle therewith. Still, a relation of the fact, showing how deeply the man could feel, and how strong he was in self-mastery, could not but raise him in the estimation of Mrs. Montgomery, and increase her confidence.
"It is hardly fair," said I, "to bring up the circumstances of a man's life over which he has drawn a veil; and which are sacred to himself alone. In this case, however, with the end of enabling you more fully to know the person you think of sending abroad on an important service, I will relate an occurrence that cannot fail to awaken in your mind an interest for the young man, such as we always feel for those who have passed through deep suffering."
Blanche was sitting by her mother. Indeed, the two were almost inseparable companions. It was a rare thing to find them apart. I saw her face kindle with an earnest curiosity.
"Judge Bigelow's nephew was married, recently," I said.
"So the Judge informed me. He spoke very warmly of his nephew, who is a merchant in New York, I think he said."
"He is a partner in a mercantile firm there. The bride was Squire Floyd's daughter; a very superior girl--lovely in character, attractive in person, and, mentally, well cultivated. I have always regarded her as the flower of our town."
"The young man had good taste, it seems," Mrs. Montgomery remarked.
"Better than the young lady showed in taking him for a husband," said I.
"Ah? Then your opinion of him is not so favorable."
"He was not worthy of her, if I possess any skill in reading character. But there was one worthy of her, and deeply attached to her at the same time."
"This young Wallingford, of whom we were speaking?"
"But she didn't fancy him?"
"She did fancy him. But--"
"Was not able to resist the attractions of a New York merchant, when put in opposition to those of a humble country lawyer?"
"The truth lies about there. She took the showy effigy of a man, in place of the real man."
"A sad mistake. But it is made every day," said Mrs. Montgomery, "and will continue to be made. Alas for the blindness and folly that lead so many into paths that terminate in barren deserts, or wildernesses where the soul is lost! And so our young friend has been crossed in love."
"The experience is deeper than usual," said I. Then I related, with some particularity, the facts in the case, already known to the reader. Both the mother and daughter listened with deep attention. After I had finished my story, Mrs. Montgomery said,
"He possesses will and strength of character, that is plain; but I can't say that I just like the deliberate process of unloving, if I may use the word, which you have described. There is something too cold-blooded about it for me. Like the oak, bent under the pressure of a fierce storm, he comes up erect too soon."
I smiled at her view of the case, and answered,
"You look upon it as a woman, I as a man. To me, there is a certain moral grandeur in the way he has disenthralled himself from fetters that could not remain, without a life-long disability."
"Oh, no doubt it was the wisest course," said Mrs. Montgomery.
"And may we not look among the wisest men, for the best and most reliable?" I queried.
"Among those who are truly wise," she said, her voice giving emphasis to the word truly.
"What is it to be truly wise?"
"All true wisdom," she answered, "as it appertains to the affairs of this life, has its foundation in a just regard for others; for, in the degree that we are just to others, are we just to ourselves."
"And is not the converse of your proposition true also? In the degree that we are just to ourselves, are we not just to others?"
"Undoubtedly. Each individual bears to common society, the same relation that a member, organ, or fibre, does to the human body, of which it makes a part. And as no member, organ, or fibre of the body, can injure itself without injuring the whole man; so no individual can do wrong to himself, without a consequent wrong to others. Each has duties to perform for the good of common society, and any self-inflicted or self-permitted disabilities that hinder the right performance of these duties, involve a moral wrong."
"Then the case is very clear for my friend Wallingford," said I. "He is a wise man in your sense of the word--wise, in resolutely putting away from his mind the image of one who, if she had been worthy of him, would have taken her place proudly by his side; but, proving herself unworthy, could never afterward be to him more than a friend or stringer. He could not hold her image in his heart, and fondly regard it, without sin; for was she not to be the bride of another? Nor without suffering loss of mental power, and life-purpose, and thus injuring others trough neglect of duty. It was acting wisely, then, for him to come up, manfully, to the work of drawing back his misplaced affections, and getting them again fully into his own possession. And he has done the work, if I read the signs aright. All honor to his manhood!"
"He has, I see, a warm advocate in you, Doctor," said Mrs. Montgomery, again smiling. "Still, in an affair of the heart, where so much was involved, as seemed to be in his case, we can hardly fancy such a matter-of-fact, business-like proceeding as you have described. He might well have been forgiven, if he had shown more weakness of character, and acted even a little unreasonably. I will yield to no one in my regard for manly firmness and self-control, for bravery and endurance; and I have seen these qualities put to some of the severest tests. But in matters of the heart, I must own that I like to see a man show his weakness. Your Mr. Wallingford is too cool and calculating for me. But this is irrelevant to our consideration of his qualities as a business agent. For this purpose, I am satisfied that he is fitted in all things essential."
"And that is quite as far as we need go," said I.
"The business in hand," said Mrs. Montgomery, resuming the conversation after a pause, "is of great importance to me, and may require not only a visit to England, but also to the West Indies. Unless evidence of my mother's marriage can be found, there will be, as you know, considerable difficulty in establishing my full right to inherit my brother's property. And my identity as the sister of the late Captain Allen must also be proved. By the will of my father, which is on record, he left all of his property to my brother. He, as far as is known, died intestate. As next of kin, I am the legal heir; but the proof is yet wanting. My mother's cousin, a Colonel Willoughby, of whom we have before spoken, came over from England, on the strength of some vague rumors that reached the family from Jamaica, and was successful in discovering the only survivor of his uncle's family. She saw it best to abandon her husband, as you know. My purpose in sending an agent, versed in legal matters, and used to weighing evidence, is to have such papers of Colonel Willoughby's as the family possess and will submit for examination, carefully searched, in the hope that some record may be found in his hand-writing, sufficiently clear to establish the fact that my mother was the wife of the elder Captain Allen. So important an event as that of searching out my mother, and inducing her to flee from her husband, could hardly have taken place, it seems to me, without evidence of the fact being preserved. And my hope is, that this evidence, if it can be found, will prove of great value. So you see, Doctor, that I have good reasons for wishing to know well the agent who goes abroad with a matter so vital as this in his hands."
I admitted the importance of a thoroughly reliable man to go upon this mission, and repeated my faith in Wallingford.