The Allen House, or Twenty Years Ago and Now by T.S. Arthur
Spring opened again, and the days glided swiftly on towards summer; and yet, so far as the movements of the executors could be traced, nothing had been done in the work of searching for the heirs. One day, early in June, Mrs. Montgomery sent for Mr. Wallingford. On attending her, she placed in his hands a communication which she had just received. It was from the executors, giving notice in a kind and respectful way, that, for the interest of the legal heirs, and their own security, it would be necessary for them to assume full possession of the mansion and grounds, unless she felt willing to pay a rental that was equivalent to the interest on their value.
"I have expected this," said the lady; "and, so far from considering myself aggrieved, feel grateful that a quiet residence here has been so long accorded me."
"You will remove?"
"There is no other course left. My income will not justify a rent of some three thousand dollars."
"As the property is unproductive, no such rent as that will be required."
"The letter says, 'a rental equivalent to the interest on their value.'"
"I will see Judge Bigelow this morning, and ascertain precisely what views are held in regard to this matter."
They were sitting near one of the parlor windows that looked out upon the portion of the grounds that sloped away towards the stream, that threw its white folds of water from one rocky ledge to another in graceful undulations. As Mr. Wallingford ceased speaking, Mrs. Montgomery turned her head quickly and looked out. The sound of voices had reached her ears. Three men had entered the grounds, and were passing the window at a short distance.
"Who are they?" asked Mr. Wallingford. Then, answering his own question, he said, "Oh, I see; Judge Bigelow, Squire Floyd, and Ralph Dewey, his son-in-law."
The three men, after going a few hundred rods in the direction of the stream, turned and stood for some minutes looking at the house, and talking earnestly. Dewey appeared to have the most to say, and gesticulated quite freely. Then they moved on to that portion of the stream where the water went gliding down the mimic rapids, and remained there for a considerable time. It was plain that some scheme was in their heads, for they took measurement by pacing off the grounds in various directions; drew together in close conference at times; then separated, each making some examination for himself; and again stood in close deliberation. At last, as if satisfied with their investigations, they returned by way of the mansion, and passed out without calling.
"Put that and that together, and there is a meaning in this procedure beyond the simple rental of the place," said Wallingford.
"What is your inference?" asked Mrs. Montgomery.
"I have made none as yet," he replied. "But I will see Judge Bigelow, and have some talk with him. Of course, I can have nothing to say, adverse to a requirement of rent. Executors are responsible for the right use of property in their hands, and must see that it produces an interest, if in a position to pay anything. You do not, of course, wish to occupy the whole of these grounds. It may be, that the use of the house, garden, lawn, and appurtenances, may be secured at a moderate rent. If so, do you wish to remain?"
"I would prefer remaining here, if the rent is within a certain sum."
"Say three hundred dollars?"
"Yes. If not beyond that sum, I will remain," replied Mrs. Montgomery.
The interview which Mr. Wallingford held with Judge Bigelow a few hours afterwards, was not satisfactory. The proposition to let Mrs. Montgomery and her daughter occupy the house, separate from the extensive grounds, would not be entertained. It finally came out, that an offer to purchase had been made by the firm of Floyd, Lawson, Lee, & Co., with a view to the erection of extensive mills, and that the executors were going to ask the Court for power to sell, as a handsome sum could now be obtained. It further came out, that in case this power was granted, Mr. Dewey was to reside in S----, to superintend the erection of these mills, and afterwards to join Squire Floyd in the management of both establishments--a consolidation of interests between the mercantile and manufacturing branches being about to take place. The old mansion was to undergo a thorough revision, and become the domicile of the resident partner.
With these plans in view, the executors insisted upon the removal of Mrs. Montgomery; and notice as to time was given, which included three months. Formal application was made to the Court having power in the case, for authority to sell and re-invest. The reasons for so doing were set forth in detail, and involved plausible arguments in favor of the heirs whenever they should be found.
Mr. Wallingford had personal reasons for not wishing to oppose this application. The executors had been his friends from boyhood. Especially towards Judge Bigelow did he entertain sentiments of deep gratitude for his many favors and kindnesses. But his duty, as counsel to Mrs. Montgomery, left him no alternative. She was heir prospective to this property, and he did not believe that the plans in view were best for her interests, in case no other heir was found. So, he went before the Court, and opposed the prayer of the executors. In doing so, he gained their ill-will, but did not succeed in preventing a decree authorizing a sale of the property. Dewey was present, a deeply interested listener to the arguments that were advanced on both sides. After the decision, as Wallingford was passing from the court-room, Dewey, who stood near the door, talking with a gentleman, said, loud enough for the young lawyer to hear him.
"The hound! He got on the wrong scent that time!"
A feeling of indignation stirred in Wallingford's bosom; but he repressed the bitter feeling, and moved on without giving any intimation that the offensive remark had reached him.
As soon as this decree, authorizing a sale of the property, was made, Mrs. Montgomery began to make preparation for removal. At first she seemed inclined to favor a return to England; but after repeated conferences with Mr. Wallingford, she finally concluded to remain in this country.
Nearly three years had woven their many colored web of events, since Mrs. Montgomery had dropped down suddenly among us like a being from cloudland. The friendly relation established between us in the beginning, had continued, growing more and more intimate. My good Constance found in her a woman after her own heart.
"The days I spend at the Allen House," she would often say to me, "are days to be remembered. I meet with no one who lives in so pure and tranquil an atmosphere as Mrs. Montgomery. An hour with her lifts me above the petty cares and selfish struggles of this life, and fills my mind with longings after those higher things into which all must rise before that peace comes to the soul which passeth all understanding. I return home from these interviews, happier in mind, and stronger for life's duties. I do not know any term that so clearly expresses my idea of this lady, as Christian philosopher."
Occasionally Mrs. Montgomery would pay us a visit; and these also were times treasured up in my wife's remembrance. I always observed a certain elevation of feeling, a calmer spirit, and a more loving sphere about her after one of these pleasant seasons.
The daughter came very often. Our children loved her almost as much as they did their mother, and she seemed as happy with them, as if they were her own flesh and blood. Agnes, our oldest, now in her eighth year, almost lived at the Allen House. Blanche never came without taking her home with her, and often kept her for two or three days at a time.
Blanche had developed into a young woman of almost queenly beauty; yet her manners retained the easy grace and truthfulness of a child. She did not seem conscious of her remarkable personal attractions, nor of the admiration her presence always extorted. No one could meet her, as a stranger, without feeling that she stood removed from ordinary contact--a being of superior mould with whom familiarity was presumption.
The companion of such a mother, who had with tender solicitude, from childhood upwards, guarded all the avenues of her mind, lest false principles or false views of things should find entrance; and as carefully selected her mental food, in order that there might be health of mind as well as health of body--it was not surprising to find about her a solidity and strength of character, that showed itself beneath the sweet grace of her external life, whenever occasion for their exhibition arose. From her mother she had imbibed a deep religious sentiment; but this did not manifest itself so much in language, as in dutiful acts. I had often occasion to notice, how, almost instinctively, she referred all things to a superintending Providence; and looked into the future, veiled as it is to all eyes, with a confidence that every thing would come out right, beautiful to contemplate. What she meant by right, was something more than is usually included in the words; for she had learned from her wise teacher, that God's providence disposes the things of this world for every individual in a way that serves best his eternal interests; therefore, what was best in this sense, could not fail to be right.
To our deep regret, Mrs. Montgomery decided to change the place of her residence from S----to Boston. All the reasons that led her to this decision, I was not able to discover. Her life at the Allen House had been quite secluded. She had been courteous to all the people with whom she was brought into any degree of contact, and had reciprocated all friendly visits; but there was a certain distance between her and them, that it seemed impossible for either to pass over. One of my inferences was, that, in removing from the retired old mansion, and taking a modern house, she would stand out more prominently before all eyes than was agreeable to her. Be this as it may, she was in earnest about removing to Boston.
I happened to be present when the announcement of this purposed removal was made to Mr. Wallingford. He had called in, during one of my visits to Mrs. Montgomery, for the transaction of some business.
"To Boston?" he said, in a tone of surprise, and, I thought, disappointment. At the same time I saw his eyes turned towards Blanche.
"Yes; I think it will be best," she replied. "If I have any interests here, I feel that they are safe in your hands, Mr. Wallingford."
She leaned a little towards him, and I thought her voice had in it a softer tone than usual. Her eyes looked steadily into his face.
"I will do all that is right, madam." He spoke a little lower than usual.
"And the right is always the best in any case, Mr. Wallingford," said she with feeling.
"How soon do you think of removing?" the young man inquired.
"In three or four weeks."
Again I noticed that his eyes wandered towards Blanche, who sat close to her mother, with her face bent down and turned partly away.
"There is no reason why we should linger in S----, after all things are ready for removal. It would have suited my feelings and habits of mind to have remained here; but as this cannot be, I prefer going to Boston on more than one account."
"You will leave behind you many sincere friends," said Wallingford.
There was more feeling in his voice than usually showed itself; and I again observed that Mrs. Montgomery, in responding to the remark, fixed her eyes upon him steadily, and with, I thought, a look of more than usual interest.
The few weeks of preparation glided swiftly away, and then we parted from friends who had won their way into our own hearts; and whose memory would ever be to us like the fragrance of holy incense. I learned from Mrs. Montgomery, before she left us, during a more confidential talk than usual, that her income was comparatively small, and that the chief part of this, a pension from Government in acknowledgment of her husband's services, would cease at her death. There was a momentary failure in her voice as she said this, and her eyes turned with the instinct of love towards Blanche.
At her desire, Mr. Wallingford attended them to Boston, and remained away for three or four days. He then returned to S----, bringing with him kind words from the absent ones. The old routine of life went on again, each of us taking up the daily duty; yet I think there was not one of the favored few who had known Mrs. Montgomery and her daughter intimately, that was not stronger to do right in every trial for the memory of these true-hearted strangers--no, friends!