Chapter XVIII.
 

Steadily, under the busy hands of hundreds of workmen, the new buildings arose, stretching their far lengths along, and towering up, story after story. Steam, in addition to water power, was contemplated here also, for the looms and spindles to be driven were nearly twice the number contained in the other mill.

Disappointments and vexatious delays nearly always attend large building operations, and the present case formed no exception. The time within which everything was to be completed, and the mill to go into operation, was one year. Two years elapsed before the first bale of goods came through its ample doors, ready for market.

Of course there was a large expenditure of money in S----, and this was a great thing for our town. Property rose in value, houses were built, and the whole community felt that a new era had dawned--an era of growth and prosperity. Among other signs of advancement, was the establishment of a new Bank. The "Clinton Bank" it was called. The charter had been obtained through the influence of Judge Bigelow, who had several warm personal friends in the Legislature. There was not a great deal of loose money in S----to flow easily into bank stocks; but for all that the shares were soon taken, and all the provisions of the charter complied with. Judge Bigelow subscribed freely; so did Squire Floyd and Mr. Dewey. Other townsmen, to the number of twenty or thirty, put down their names for a few shares. It was from New York, however, that the largest subscriptions came; and it was New York shareholders, voting by proxy, who elected the Board of Directors, and determined the choice of officers. Judge Bigelow was elected President, and a Mr. Joshua King, from New York, Cashier. The tellers and book-keepers were selected from among our own people.

The Clinton Bank and the new mills went into operation about the same time. Years of prosperity followed. Money was plenty in our town, and everybody was growing better off. Dewey was still the manufacturing partner of the large house in New York, whose demand for goods it seemed impossible to satisfy. He was a great man in S----. People spoke of him as possessing vast mental as well as money resources; as having expansive views of trade and finance; as being a man of extraordinary ability. I listened to all these things as I passed around among our citizens, plodding along in my profession, and managing to grow just a little better off each year; and wondered within myself if I were really mistaken in the man--if there was a solid basis of right judgment below all this splendid seeming.

And what of our friend Wallingford, during those busy years? Like myself, he moved so quietly through his round of professional duties, as to attract little attention. But he had been growing in all this time--growing in mental stature; and growing in the confidence of all just men. Judge Bigelow's interest in the mills, and in the new Bank, drew his attention so much away from his law cases, that clients began to grow dissatisfied, and this threw a great deal of excellent business into the hands of Wallingford, who, if not always successful in his cases, so managed them as to retain the confidence and good will of all who employed him. He got the character in our town of a safe adviser. If a man had a difficulty with a neighbor, and talked of going to law with him, in all probability some one would say--

"Go to Mr. Wallingford; he will tell you, on the spot, if there is any chance for you in Court."

And he bore this character justly. A thorn in the side he had proved to the three great mill owners, Judge Bigelow, Squire Floyd, and Ralph Dewey. The two former failed entirely, in his view, as to the right steps for discovering the heirs to the large property in their hands, all of which had been changed from its original position; while the latter showed ill-feeling whenever Wallingford, as he continued to do, at stated intervals, filed interrogatories, and required answers as to the condition of the trust, and the prospects of finding heirs.

Ten years had elapsed since the discovery of Mr. Allen's will, and yet no heirs had presented themselves. And now Mr. Wallingford took formal issue in the case, and demanded the property for his client, Mrs. Montgomery, who was still living in Boston with her daughter, in a retired way. Nearly one-half of her income had been cut off, and her circumstances were, in consequence, greatly reduced. Her health was feeble, having steadily declined since her removal from S----. An occasional letter passed between her and my wife; and it was in this way that I learned of her health and condition. How free was all she wrote from repining or despondency--how full of Christian faith, hope, and patience! You could not read one of her letters without growing stronger for the right--without seeing the world as through a reversed telescope.

A time was fixed for hearing the case, which, now that it assumed this important shape, excited great interest among the people of S----. When the matter came fairly into court, Mr. Wallingford presented his clearly arranged documentary evidence, in proof of Mrs. Montgomery's identity as the sister of Captain Allen, and claimed the property as hers. He covered, in anticipation, every possible ground of objection; bringing forward, at the same time, such an array of precedents and decisions bearing upon the case, that it was clear to every one on which side the decision would lie.

At this important juncture a letter, post-marked in New York on the day before, was offered in court, and a demand, based on its contents, made for a stay of proceedings. It came from the Spanish Consul, and was addressed to Abel Bigelow and John Floyd, executors of the late Captain Allen, and notified them that he had just received letters from San Juan De Porto Rico, containing information as to the existence of an heir to the estate in the person of a boy named Leon Garcia, nephew to the late Mrs. Allen. The case was immediately laid over until the next term of court.

In the meantime, steps were promptly taken to ascertain the truth of this assumption. An agent was sent out to the island of Porto Rico, who brought back all the proofs needed to establish the claim, and also the lad himself, who was represented to be in his fourteenth year. He was a coarse, wicked-looking boy, who, it was plain, had not yet fully awakened to a realizing sense of the good fortune that awaited him.

A resolute opposition was made by Wallingford, but all the evidence adduced to prove Leon Garcia's relationship to Mrs. Allen was too clear, and so the court dismissed the case, and appointed Ralph Dewey as guardian to the boy, who was immediately placed at school in a neighboring town.

So ended this long season of suspense. Immediately on the decision of the case, Wallingford went to Boston to see Mrs. Montgomery, and remained absent nearly a week. I saw him soon after his return.

"How did she bear this final dashing of her hopes to the earth?" I asked.

"As any one who knew her well might have expected," he answered, with so little apparent feeling that I thought him indifferent.

"As a Christian philosopher," said I.

"You make use of exactly the right words," he remarked. "Yes, as a Christian philosopher. As one who thinks and reasons as well as feels. I have seen a great many so-called religious people in my time. People who had much to say about their-spiritual experiences and hopes of heaven. But never one who so made obedience to the strict law of right, in all its plain, common-sense interpretations, a matter of common duty. I do not believe that for anything this world could offer her, Mrs. Montgomery would swerve a hair's breadth from justice. I have been in the position to see her tempted; have, myself, been the tempter over and over again during the ten years in which I represented her claims to the Allen estate; but her principles were immovable as the hills. Once, I shall never forget the incident--I pressed her to adopt a certain course of procedure, involving a law quibble, in order to get possession of the property. She looked at me for a moment or two, with a flushing face. Then her countenance grew serene, almost heavenly, and she gave me this memorable reply--'Mr. Wallingford, I have a richer estate than this in expectancy, and cannot mar the title.' And she has not marred it, Doctor."

"How did her daughter receive the news?" I inquired. I thought he turned his face a little away, as he answered.

"Not so well as her mother." I knew his voice was lower. "When I announced the fact that the claims of young Garcia had been admitted by the court, tears sprung to her eyes, and a shadow fell upon her countenance such as I have never seen there before."

"She is younger and less disciplined," said I.

"Few at her age," he answered, are so well disciplined"

"Will they still remain in Boston?" I asked.

"Yes, for the present," he answered, and we parted. A few months after this, my wife said to me one day,

"Did you hear that Mr. Wallingford had bought the pretty little cottage on Cedar Lane, where Jacob Homer lived?"

"Is that true?"

"It is said so. In fact, I heard it from Jane Homer, and that is pretty good authority."

"Is he going to live there with his mother?"

"Jane did not know. Her husband went behind hand the year he built the cottage, and never was able to get up even with the world. So they determined to sell their place, pay off their debts, and find contentment in a rented house. Mr. Homer said something to Mr. Wallingford on the subject, and he offered to buy the property at a fair price."

A few days afterwards, in passing along Cedar Lane, I noticed a carpenter at work in the pretty cottage above referred to; and also a gardener who was trimming the shrubbery.

Good morning, William, "I spoke to the gardener with whom I was well acquainted. This is a nice cozy place."

"Indeed and it is, Doctor. Mr. Homer took great pride in it."

"And showed much taste in gardening"

"You may well say that, Doctor. There isn't a finer shrubbery to any garden in S----."

"Is Mr. Wallingford going to live here, or does he intend renting the cottage?"

"That's more than I can answer, Doctor. Mr. Wallingford isn't the man, you know, to talk with everybody about his affairs."

"True enough, William," said I smiling and passed on.

"Did you know," said my wife, a few weeks later, "that Mr. Wallingford was furnishing the cottage on Cedar Lane?"

"Ah! Is that so?"

"Yes. Mrs. Dean told me that Jones the cabinet maker had the order, which was completed, and that the furniture was now going in. Everything, she says, is plain and neat, but good."

"Why, what can this mean, Constance? Is our young friend about to marry?"

"It has a look that way, I fancy."

"But who is the bride to be?" I asked.

"Mrs. Dean thinks it is Florence Williams."

"A fine girl; but hardly worthy of Henry Wallingford. Besides, he is ten year her senior," said I.

"What is the difference in our ages. dear?" Constance turned her fresh young face to mine--fresh and young still, though more than thirty-five years had thrown across it their lights and shadows, and laid her head fondly against my breast.

I kissed her tenderly, and she answered her own question.

"Ten years; and you are not so much my senior. I do not see any force in that objection. Still if I had been commissioned to select a wife for Mr. Wallingford, I would not have chosen Florence Williams."

"Her father is well off, and growing richer every day."

"Worth taking into the account, I suppose, as one of the reasons in favor of the choice," said my wife. "But I hardly think Wallingford is the man to let that consideration have much influence."

There was no mistake about the matter of furnishing Ivy Cottage, as the place was called. I saw carpets going in on the very next day. All the shrubbery had been trimmed, the grounds cleared up and put in order, and many choice flowers planted in borders already rich in floral treasures.

Curiosity now began to flutter its wings, lift up its head, and look around sharply. Many arrows had taken their flight towards the heart of our young bachelor lawyer, but, until now, there had been no evidence of a wound. What fair maiden had conquered at last? I met him not long after, walking in the street with Florence Williams. She looked smiling and happy; and his face was brighter than I had ever seen it. This confirmed to me the rumor.

Mrs. Wallingford was not to be approached on the subject. If she knew of an intended marriage, she feigned ignorance; and affected not to understand the hints, questions, and surmises of curious neighbors.

A week or two later, and I missed Wallingford from his office. The lad in attendance said that he was away from the town, but would return in a few days.

"I have a surprise for you," said my wife on that very afternoon. She had a letter in her hand just received by post. Her whole face was radiant with pleasure. Drawing a card from the envelope, she held it before my eyes. I read the names of Henry Wallingford and Blanche Montgomery, and the words, "At home Wednesday evening, June 15th. Ivy Cottage."

"Bravo!" I exclaimed, as soon as a momentary bewilderment passed, showing more than my wonted enthusiasm. "The best match since Hymen linked our fates together, Constance."

"May it prove as happy a one!" my wife answered, with a glance of tenderness.

"It will, Constance--it will. That is a marriage after my own heart; one that I have, now and then, dimly foreshadowed in imagination, but never thought to see."

"It is over five years since we saw Blanche," remarked Constance. "I wonder how she looks! If life's sunshine and rain have produced a rich harvest in her soul, or only abraded the surface, and marred the sweet beauty that captivated us of old! I wonder how she has borne the shadowing of earthly prospects--the change from luxurious surroundings!"

"They have not dimmed the virgin gold; you may be sure of that, Constance," was my reply to this.

"At home, Wednesday evening, June fifteenth."

And this was Tuesday. Only a single day intervened. And yet it seemed like a week in anticipation, so eager did we grow for the promised re-union with friends whose memory was in our hearts as the sound of pleasant music.

It was eight o'clock, on Wednesday evening, when we entered Ivy Cottage, our hearts beating with quickened strokes under their burden of pleasant anticipation. What a queenly woman stood revealed to us, as we entered the little parlor! I would hardly have known her as the almost shrinking girl from whom we parted not many years before. How wonderfully she had developed! Figure, face, air, manner, attitude--all showed the woman of heart, mind, and purpose. Yet, nothing struck you as masculine; but rather as exquisitely feminine. It took but one glance at her serene face, to solve the query as to whether there had been a free gift of heart as well as hand. My eyes turned next to the pale, thin face of Mrs. Montgomery, who sat, or half reclined, in a large cushioned chair. She was looking at her daughter. That expression of blended love and pride, will it ever cease to be a sweet picture in my memory? All was right--I saw that in the first instant of time.

The reception was not a formal one. There was no display of orange blossoms, airy veils, and glittering jewels--but a simple welcoming of a few old friends, who had come to heart-congratulations. It was the happiest bridal reception--always excepting the one in which my Constance wore the orange wreath--that I had ever seen. Do you inquire of Wallingford, as to how he looked and seemed? Worthy of the splendid woman who stood by his side and leaned towards him with such a sweet assurance. How beautiful it was to see the proud look with which she turned her eyes upon him, whenever he spoke! It was plain, that to her, his words had deeper meanings in them, than came to other ears.

"It is all right, I see." I had drawn a chair close to the one in which Mrs. Montgomery sat, and was holding in mine the thin, almost shadowy hand which she had extended.

"Yes, it is all right, Doctor," she answered, as a smile lit up her pale face. "All right, and I am numbered among the happiest of mothers. He is not titled, nor rich, nor noble in the vulgar sense--but titled, and rich, and noble as God gives rank and wealth. I came to this land of promise ten years ago, in search of an estate for my child; and I have found it, at last. Ah, Doctor"--and site glanced upwards as she spoke--"His ways are not as our ways. And if we will only trust in Him, He will bring such things to pass, as never entered into the imagination of cur hearts. I did not dream of this man as the husband of my child, when I gave my business into his care. The remote suggestion of such a thing would have offended me; for my heart was full of false pride, though I knew it not. But there was a destiny for Blanche, foreshadowed for me then, but not seen."

"It is the quality of the man," I said, "that determines the quality of the marriage. She who weds best, weds the truest man. The rank and wealth are of the last consideration. To make them first, is the blindest folly of the blindest."

"Ah, if this were but rightly understood"--said Mrs. Montgomery--"what new lives would people begin to live in the world! How the shadows that dwell among so many households--even those of the fairest external seeming--would begin to lift themselves upward and roll away, letting in the sunlight and filling the chambers of discord with heavenly music! I have sometimes thought, that more than half the misery which curses the world springs from discordant marriages."

"The estimate is low," I answered. "If you had said two-thirds, you would have been, perhaps, nearer the truth."

Blanche crossed the room, and came and stood by her mother's chair, looking down into her face with a loving smile.

"I am afraid the journey has been too much for you," she said, with a shadow of concern in her face.

"You look paler than usual."

"Paler, because a little fatigued, dear. But a night's rest will bring me up even again," Mrs. Montgomery replied cheerfully.

"How is the pain in your side, now?" asked Blanche, still with a look of concern.

"Easier. I scarcely notice it now."

"Blanche is over anxious about my health, dear girl!" said Mrs. Montgomery, as the bride moved to another part of the room. She thinks me failing rapidly. And, without doubt, the foundations of this earthly house are giving way; but I trust, that ere it fall into ruin, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens, will be ready for my reception."

There was no depressing solemnity in her tones, as she thus alluded to that event which comes to all; but a smiling cheerfulness of manner that was contagious.

"You think of death as a Christian," said I.

"And how else should I think of it?" she replied. "Can I not trust Him in whom I have believed? What is it more than passing from a lower to a higher state of life--from the natural to the spiritual world? When the hour comes, I will lay me down in peace and sleep."

She remained silent for some moments, her thoughts apparently indrawn. The brief, closing sentence was spoken as if she were lapsing into reverie. I thought the subject hardly in place for a wedding occasion, and was about starting another theme, when she said--

"Do you not think, Doctor, that this dread of dying, which haunts most people like a fearful spectre--the good as well as the bad--is a very foolish thing? We are taught, from childhood, to look forward to death as the greatest of all calamities; as a change attended by indefinable terrors. Teachers and preachers ring in our ears the same dread chimes, thrilling the strongest nerves and appalling the stoutest hearts. Death is pictured to us as a grim monster; and we shudder as we look at the ghastly apparition. Now, all this comes from what is false. Death is not the crowning evil of our lives; but the door through which we pass, tranquilly, into that eternal world, which is our destined home. I hold in my thought a different picture of Death from that which affrighted me in childhood. The form is one of angelic beauty, and the countenance full of love. I know, that when I pass along the dark and narrow way that leads from this outer world of nature, to the inner world from which it has existence, that my hand will rest firmly in that of an angel, commissioned of God to guide my peaceful footsteps. Is not that a better faith?"

"Yes, a better and a truer," said I.

"It is not the death passage that we need fear. That has in it no intrinsic evil. It is the sleep of mortality, and the rest is sweet to all. If we give place to fear, let it be for that state beyond the bourne, which will be unhappy in the degree that we are lovers of self and the world--that is, lovers of evil instead of good. As the tree falls, so it lies, Doctor. As our quality is at death, so will it remain to all eternity. Here is the just occasion for dread."

She would have kept on, but her attention was drawn away by the remark of a lady who came up at the moment. I left her side and passed to another part of the room; but her words, tone, and impressive manner remained with me. I turned my eyes often during the evening upon her pale, pure face, which seemed like a transparent veil through which the spirit half revealed itself. How greatly she had changed in five years! There had been trial and discipline; and she had come up from them purer for the ordeal. The flesh had failed; but the spirit had taken on strength and beauty.

"How did Mrs. Montgomery impress you?" said I to my wife, as we sat down together on our return home.

"As one ready to be translated," she answered. "I was at a loss to determine which was the most beautiful, she or Blanche."

"You cannot make a comparison between them as to beauty," I remarked.

"Not as to beauty in the same degree. The beauty of Blanche was queenly; that of her mother angelic. All things lovely in nature were collated, and expressed themselves in the younger as she stood blushing in the ripeness of her charms; while all things lovely in the soul beamed forth from the countenance of the elder. And so, as I have said, I was at a loss to determine which was most beautiful."

I was just rising from my early breakfast on the next morning when I received a hurried message from Ivy Cottage. The angel of Death had been there. Tenderly and lovingly had he taken the hand of Mrs. Montgomery, and led her through the gate that opens into the land of immortals. She received her daughter's kiss at eleven o'clock, held her for some moments, gazing into her face, and then said--"Good-night, my precious one! Good-night, and God bless you!" At seven in the morning she was found lying in bed with a smile on her face, but cold and lifeless as marble! There had been no strife with the heavenly messenger.