The Allen House, or Twenty Years Ago and Now by T.S. Arthur
Both Judge Bigelow and Squire Floyd were discreet men, and did not, at the outset of their executorship, do more in the way of giving publicity to the fact, than probating the will, and entering into bonds for the faithful performance of the trust. For the present they decided to let Mrs. Montgomery remain in occupancy of the old mansion, and she accepted this concession in her favor.
The property left by Captain Allen was large. The grounds upon which the old house stood, embraced nearly twenty acres, and as the town had grown in that direction, its value might now be estimated by the foot, instead of the acre, as houses had grown up on all sides. Moreover, the stream of water upon which the mill of Squire Floyd stood, ran through these grounds, in a series of picturesque rapids, giving a fall of over twenty feet. The value of this property, including a mill site, was estimated at sixty thousand dollars. Then there were twenty thousand dollars in stock of the County Bank, the interest of which Mrs. Allen had drawn since the death of her husband, regularly, as administratrix of the estate. Besides this property, there were several pieces of unimproved land in and around the town, the value of which could not fall much below twenty thousand dollars. In addition to all this, was a coffee estate on the island of Porto Rico. But as to its extent, or value, no evidence appeared. It might now be richly productive, or a mere tropical wilderness. If productive, no evidence of any return since Captain Allen's death appeared.
The winter passed without any apparent movement on the part of the executors looking to the discovery of Mrs. Allen's heirs. Young Dewey came up from New York every few weeks, to hold business interviews with his uncle and Squire Floyd, touching the mill-extension which was fully determined upon; Judge Bigelow agreeing to invest twenty thousand dollars, and the nephew ten thousand. All these matters were talked of in the beginning, freely, before Wallingford, who still had his office with his old preceptor, and shared in his business. After a while, he noticed a growing reserve on the part of Judge Bigelow and Squire Floyd, when he was by, touching their private affairs; and then they ceased entirely all reference thereto.
Dewey came up as frequently as usual, but avoided any remark in relation to business while in the presence of Wallingford. During his stay in S----, the Judge spent but little time at the office; being, for the most part, at the mill with his nephew and the Squire.
In the spring, a large force of men was set to work on the extension of Squire Floyd's mill; and as Judge Bigelow had become largely interested in the new enterprise, he gave a great deal more attention to what was going on in that direction, than to the business of his office, the heaviest part of which devolved upon Mr. Wallingford. Still, no steps were taken to discover the heirs of Mrs. Allen. Once or twice Mr. Wallingford had approached the subject, but the Judge made no response. At last, he put the question direct, as to what had been done. The Judge seemed a little annoyed; but said, in a hurried way that was unusual with him,
"I must, and will attend to this matter immediately. I have had so much on my mind that it has been neglected."
But the spring months passed--summer glided by--and still there was no advertisement for heirs, nor any steps taken, so far as Wallingford could learn, to ascertain their existence.
Mrs. Montgomery still occupied the old mansion, waiting patiently the issue whatever it might be. Her health, I regretted to find, was not firm. She suffered a great deal from nervous debility; and I saw, plainly, that she had failed considerably during the past few months. Blanche, on the contrary, after recovering from the illness which followed immediately on her arrival in S----, had continued in excellent health; and was growing daily more matured and womanly both as to mental development and personal bearing.
The mill improvements went on all summer, exciting no little interest in our town, and occasioning no small amount of talk and speculation. It was some time in the fall of that year, that I was permitted to hear this brief conversation between a couple of townsmen. Mr. A----had made some query as to the source of all the money expended on the new mill of Squire Floyd, which was now standing forth, under roof, in most imposing proportions, compared with the old works. Mr. B----shrugged his shoulders, and replied,
"Floyd and the Judge are joint executors of old Allen's estate, you know."
"What does that signify?" inquired Mr. A----.
"It may signify a great deal. They have trust funds in their possession to a large amount, I am told."
"They are both honorable men, and would not violate their trust," said A----.
"I will not gainsay that," answered Mr. B----. "Still, they may use these funds temporarily, and wrong no one."
Nothing more was said in my presence, but I turned their remarks over and over again, feeling less satisfied the more I pondered them. A day or two afterwards I met Mr. Wallingford, and said to him,
"How comes on the search for the heirs of the Allen estate?"
The question caused him to look grave.
"No progress has been made, so far as I can learn," he answered.
"Isn't this indifference on the part of the executors a little extraordinary?" I remarked.
"I must confess that I do not understand it," said the young lawyer.
"There is personal, as well as real estate?"
"Yes. Stocks worth twenty thousand dollars."
"I have heard it suggested, that trust funds in the case are going into Squire Floyd's mill."
Wallingford started at the suggestion, and looked for some moments intently in my face; then dropped his eyes, and stood lost in thought a good while.
"Where did you hear the suggestion?" he at length inquired.
I repeated the conversation just mentioned, and named the individuals with whom it had occurred.
"And now, Henry," said I, "put this hint, and the singular neglect of the executors to search for the heirs to the Allen property, together, and tell me how the matter shapes itself in your mind. We speak confidentially with each other, of course."
"I don't just like the appearance of it, that is all I can say, Doctor," he replied in a half absent manner.
"As you represent the interests of Mrs. Montgomery," said I, "is it not your duty to look a little closer into this matter?"
"It is; and I shall give it immediate attention."
He did so, and to his surprise, found that all the bank stock had been sold, and transferred. It was now plain to him where at least a part of the funds being so liberally expended on the mill property of Squire Floyd came from. On venturing to make some inquiries of Judge Bigelow bearing on the subject, that individual showed an unusual degree of irritation, and intimated, in terms not to be misunderstood, that he thought himself competent to manage any business he might undertake, and did not feel disposed to tolerate any intermeddling."
From that time, Wallingford saw that a separation from his old preceptor was inevitable; and he so shaped events, that in less than three months he made the separation easy and natural, and took an office to himself alone.
Still there was no movement on the part of the executors in regard to the valuable estate in their hands. Summer and fall passed, and Christmas saw the splendid improvements of Squire Floyd completed, and the new mill in operation, under the vigorous power of steam. The product thus secured was almost fabulous in the eyes of the half asleep and awake people of S----, many of whom could hardly imagine people enough in the country to consume the miles of cloth that came streaming out from the rattling looms. And yet, we were informed, that more than quadruple this product could be sold by the extensive house of Floyd, Lawson, Lee, & Co.; and that all that stood in the way of creating a magnificent fortune out of cotton bales, was the lack of productive facilities.
During this winter I saw more than usual of Mrs. Dewey. She came up from New York with her nurse and child, a babe not quite a year old, and spent over six weeks with her parents. She had lost, in the two years which had passed since her marriage, nearly all those beautiful traits of character which made her once so charming. Fashionable city life seemed to have spoiled her altogether. Her mind had not grown in the right direction. She had wholly abandoned that tasteful reading through which intellectual refinement comes; and to all appearance, no longer cared for anything beyond the mere sensuous. Nothing in S----had any interest for her; and she scarcely took the pains to conceal her contempt for certain sincere and worthy people, who felt called upon, for the sake of her parents, to show her some attention. She was not happy, of course. When in repose; I noticed a discontented look on her face. Her eyes had lost that clear, innocent, almost child-like beauty of expression, that once made you gaze into them; and now had a cold, absent, or eagerly longing expression, as if her thought were straining itself forward towards some coveted good.
Her conversation was almost always within the range of New York fashionable themes; and barren of any food upon which the mind could grow. There was not even the pretence of affection between her and her husband. The fairest specimen of well bred indifference I had yet seen was exhibited in their conduct to each other. Their babe did not seem to be a matter of much account either. Delia took no personal care of it whatever--leaving all this to the nurse.
It happened one day that I was called in to see the child. I found it suffering from some of the ill effects of difficult dentition, and did what the case required. There was an old friend of Delia's at the house--a young lady who had been much attached to her, and who still retained a degree of her old friendship. They were talking together in a pleasant, familiar way, when I came down stairs from my visit to the sick child--the mother had not shown sufficient interest in the little sufferer to attend me to the nurse's room. A word or two of almost careless inquiry was made;--I had scarcely answered the mother's queries, when her friend said, in a laughing way, looking from the window at the same time,
"There, Delia! see what you escaped."
I turned my eyes in the same direction, and saw Mr. Wallingford walking past, on the opposite side of the street, with his head bent down. His step was slow, but firm, and his air and carriage manly.
Delia shrugged her shoulders, and drew up the corners of her lips. There was an expression very much like contempt on her face.--But she did not make any reply. I saw this expression gradually fade away, and her countenance grow sober. Her friend did not pursue the banter, and the subject dropped.
What she had escaped! It was a dark day in the calendar of her life, when she made that escape; and I think there must have been times when a consciousness of this fact pressed upon her soul like a suffocating nightmare.