The Allen House, or Twenty Years Ago and Now by T.S. Arthur
"Mrs. Dewey is at her father's," said my wife to me, one evening in August, as we sat at the tea-table.
"Ah! have you seen her?" I was interested at once. Six months had elapsed since Delia's wedding, and this was her first visit home; though her mother had been twice down to New York, in company with the Squire, who had business with the firm to which Ralph belonged. In fact, since his marriage to Squire Floyd's daughter, young Dewey had prevailed upon his father-in-law to make the house of Floyd, Lawson, Lee & Co., agents for the entire product of his manufactory--an arrangement which the Squire regarded as greatly to his advantage.
My question was answered in the affirmative.
"How is she?"
"Looking very well."
There was no warmth or feeling in my wife's voice or manner, although Delia had been a favorite with her, and we had often talked about the pleasure we should have in meeting her again.
"Have you nothing more to say of our young friend?" I asked.
"She is very much changed."
"For the better?"
"Some might think so. I do not." There was a disappointed manner about my wife.
"In what respect is she changed?"
"Some would say that she had grown handsome; and, in truth, her countenance strikes you, at first, as much improved. It is rounded to a fuller outline, and has a style about it, caught, I suppose, from city life and feeling. But she carries her head with a statelier air than is becoming Squire Floyd's daughter; and I am very sure, that, as the wife of Ralph Dewey, she has acquired no special consequence. Rich jewelry may be very well in city drawing-rooms, and public assemblages, where dress is made conspicuous. But to sport diamond ear-rings and breastpin, splendid enough for a countess, in her father's little parlor, and before the eyes of friends who loved her once for herself alone, savored so strongly of weak pride and vanity, that I could not look upon her with any of my old feelings. It was Delia Floyd no longer. Already, the pure, sweet, artless maiden, had changed into a woman of the world, dressed up for show. Ah, my husband! if this is the effect of city life, let me never breathe its tainted atmosphere."
And she dropped her eyes, with a sigh, and sat, lost in thought, for several moments.
"Your account of Delia pains me," said I. "Is the case indeed so bad?"
"It is. Alas! the fine gold is dimmed. Our sweet young friend has strayed from the paths of nature, and will never, I fear, get back again."
"Had you any conversation with her?" I inquired.
"Yes: or, rather I listened to her, as she ran on about her city life; the grand people with whom, she had already become acquainted; and the splendor of balls, parties, soirees, and operas. I grew sober as she talked: for not one true womanly sentiment fell from her lips. She did not express interest in any of her new friends and acquaintances for the good qualities they possessed; but spoke of their wealth, style of living, social connections, and other attractions wholly external to the individual. She was even eloquent over star actresses and opera singers; one or two of whom she spoke of having met at the house of a fashionable friend."
"How true the old adage, that evil communications corrupt good manners!" said I.
"There must be some radical weakness in a case of such sudden deterioration as this," replied my wife. "Some latent vanity and love of the world. I cannot believe that one sensible young woman in ten would be spoiled to the degree that Delia is spoiled, if you passed her through like temptations."
I saw Delia myself, on the next day. She was dressed in New York, not in S----, style; and so, naturally, appeared to disadvantage in my eyes. I found her very bright and animated; and to my questions as to her new city life, she spoke warmly of its attractions. At times, in the intervals of exciting talk, her countenance would fall into its true expression, as nearly all countenances will when thought ceases to be active--that expression, in which you see, as in a mirror, the actual state of mind. It revealed far more than came into her consciousness at the time, else would she have covered it with one of the rippling smiles she had already learned to throw, like a spangled veil, over her face.
Mrs. Dewey spent nearly a month in S----and then went back with her husband to New York. I saw them several times together during this period. He had grown more pompous in manner, and talked in a larger way. Our little town was simply contemptible in his eyes, and he was at no pains to conceal his opinion. New York was everything; and a New York merchant of passable standing, able to put two or three towns like S----in his breeches pocket.
The only interest I felt in this conceited young man was as the husband of my young friend; and as touching their relation to each other, I observed both of them very closely. It did not take me long to discover that there was no true bond of love between them. The little fond attentions that we look for in a husband of only six months' standing; and the tender reciprocations which are sure to follow, were all wanting here. Constance spoke of this, and I answered, lightly, to cover the regret the fact occasioned--
"It is not fashionable in good society, you know, for husband and wife to show any interest in each other."
She laid her hand suddenly upon my arm, and looked lovingly into my face.
"May we never make a part of good society, then!"
I kissed her pure lips, and answered,
"There is no present prospect of it, my Constance. I am not ambitious of social distinction. Still, our trial in this direction may come, for you know that I am not without ambition professionally. A chair in one of the medical schools might tempt me to an Atlantic city."
Constance smiled, as she still rested her hand upon my arm. Then looking from my face to our little ones, two of whom were playing on the floor, while the third slept like a vision of innocence in the cradle, she said:--
"I shall not need the glitter of diamonds--these are my jewels."
Turn your eyes away, good society reader, lest they be offended at sight of a husband's kiss. Could I do less than breathe my tender love upon her lips again?
"And richer jewels were never worn in the diadem of a queen," said I. "As a mother, woman attains her highest glory."
"As wife and mother," Constance answered quickly. And now she leaned against me, and I drew my arm tenderly around her.
"And all this," she said, "a good society woman must give up; and for what? God help them in the time of life's bitter trials and painful experience, which all must endure in some degree!" She spoke with strong feeling. "On what arm can a woman lean, who has no husband in the true sense? Is she strong enough, standing alone, for life's great battles? What has she to sustain her, when all the external support, received from pride, is swept away? Alas! Alas! Is there a blinder folly than the pageantry of fashionable society? It is the stage on a grander scale, glittering, gorgeous, fascinating to the senses--but all a mere show, back from which the actors retire, each with an individual consciousness, and the sad words pressing to tremulous lips--'The heart knoweth its own bitterness.'"
Like ourselves, most of Delia's best friends were disappointed, and when she returned to New York, no hearts followed her with tender interest, except those of her own family. She had carried herself with an air of too much self-consequence; or, if she came down to the level of old friends and companions, it was with too evident a feeling of condescension.
I happened to fall into the company of Squire Floyd and Judge Bigelow, not very long after the return of Delia and her husband to New York. The conversation turned upon business, and I learned that the Squire had thought of enlarging his mill, and introducing steam--the water power being only sufficient for its present productive capacity. Judge Bigelow was very much interested, I found, in the particular branch of manufacture in which his neighbor was engaged, and inclined to embark some capital with him in the proposed extension of the works. They frequently quoted the Judge's nephew, Mr. Ralph Dewey, as to the extent to which goods could be put into market by the house of Floyd, Lawson, Lee & Co., who possessed, it was conceded, almost unlimited facilities.
I listened to their conversation, which involved plans of enlargement, statistics of trade, home and foreign production, capital, and the like, until I began to feel that I was moving in a narrow sphere, and destined, in comparison with them, to occupy a very small space on the world. And I will confess it, a shade of dissatisfaction crept over my heart.
A few months later I learned that my two neighbors were jointly interested in the mill, and that early in the ensuing spring steam-power would be introduced, and the capacity of the works increased to more than double their present range.
It was December when Wallingford returned from England. He brought back with him all the evidence required to prove the identity of Mrs. Montgomery. Up to this time only three persons knew of the existence of a will--Mrs. Montgomery, Blanche, and myself; and we formed a council on the question of what was now to be done. I gave it as my opinion, that, as Judge Bigelow was one of the executors, and must in consequence cease to act for Mrs. Montgomery, that we had better call in Mr. Wallingford, and get his view of the case before placing the will in Judge Bigelow's hands. The mother and daughter agreed with me. So a time of meeting was appointed, and a note sent to the young lawyer desiring his presence at the house of Mrs. Montgomery. He seemed very much gratified at the successful result of his visit to England, and referred to it with something of pardonable pride in his manner.
"We have every reason," said Mrs. Montgomery, in response to this, "to be satisfied with the manner in which you have executed an important mission. Since you left America, however, a document has come into my hands, which, had it reached me earlier, would have saved you a long and tedious search among mouldy and moth-eaten papers. It was nothing less than Captain Allen's will."
And she gave him the paper. He looked surprised, and for a moment or two bewildered. Then opening the will, he read it through rapidly. I saw the color leave his face as he progressed, and his hand move nervously. It was plain that his mind took in, at a grasp, the entire series of consequences which the appearance of this document involved.
"This is a serious matter," he said, looking up at Mrs. Montgomery.
"It is," she answered, calmly. "The will appears to be in legal form."
"And must go into the hands of those who are named as executors."
"And be by them entered in the office of probate," added Wallingford.
"I would have placed it in their hands immediately on its discovery, but have, acting under advice from my kind friend here, waited until your return from England. No interest has suffered, I presume, by this delay?"
Wallingford bent his eyes to the floor, and sat for some time as if half-confounded by the discovery.
"What step will the executors probably take?" I inquired.
"It will be their duty to assume possession of the estate, and hold it for the heirs of Mrs. Allen, if any are in existence," he replied.
"And it will be their duty to take all proper means for discovering these heirs?" said I.
"Yes. That follows, of course."
"And if none are found within a reasonable time?" I asked.
"The phrase, a reasonable time, is very indeterminate," said Wallingford. "It may include one, or ten years, according to the facts in the case, the views of the executors and the courts."
"Finally," he answered, "if no heirs come forward to claim the estate, it will revert to the old line of descent through the blood relations of Captain Allen."
"And come into the possession of Mrs. Montgomery?"
"Yes, if the courts are satisfied with the evidence which can be presented in her favor."
There followed a long silence, which Mrs. Montgomery was first to break.
"I believe," she said, firmly, "that I am prepared for the final issue of this matter, whatever it may be. I shall still require legal advice, Mr. Wallingford."
The young man bowed assent.
"And, as Judge Bigelow is one of the executors--"
"I do not think, madam," said Wallingford, interrupting her, "that the fact of his executorship will make him any the less a safe adviser for you. He is a man of the highest integrity of character, clear-seeing, and of impartial judgment."
"I believe in his judgment and integrity," she replied. "Still, I do not think it well to have these two interests represented by the same man. You are his associate, if I understand correctly the relation between you."
"I am, in a certain sense."
"Do you have a share in all of his business?"
"Not in all."
"So he can be independent of you in any special case if he deems it desirable."
"And this is also true as regards yourself?"
"Then, Mr. Wallingford, I shall consult you, individually, in future."
He bowed low in acquiescence.
"And let me say to you, once for all, that I want only my rights, if I have any, protected. I do not wish any impediments thrown in the way of a proper search for the heirs of Mrs. Allen; but desire to see the fullest notice given, and in channels by which it is most likely to reach them. At the same time, it is but just to me and mine that all right steps should be taken to protect my interests, in case no heirs should be found. And I have faith in you, Mr. Wallingford."
"You shall never have cause to regret your confidence, madam," he replied, in a tone so full of manly integrity, that I could not but gaze upon his fine countenance with a feeling of admiration.
"Will you place this will in the hands of Judge Bigelow?" asked Mrs. Montgomery.
"It will be best for you to do that yourself, madam," replied Wallingford.
"I will be guided by your judgment in the case, sir. This very day I will send him a note asking an interview."
"After that, madam," said Wallingford, rising, "I will be at your service."
We retired together.