The Allen House, or Twenty Years Ago and Now by T.S. Arthur
We did not see a great deal of Mr. Dewey in S----for some months after this. I heard it casually remarked that he was traveling in the South and West, for a part of the time, on business. The large interests of his firm involved in the two mills, however, made his presence necessary among us, and late in the fall he came back, and remained through the winter residing at the Allen House.
In the spring a rumor got afloat that Mr. Dewey was soon to be married. A lady in New York was mentioned; the same, it was said, to whom the letter found by Mrs. Dewey was addressed. A few signs of renovation at the Allen House gave confirmation of this rumor, which at length assumed a more positive shape.
The intimacy between Mrs. Wallingford and Constance, had grown into a close interior friendship, and scarcely a week passed that an evening was not spent by them together, sometimes at our house, and sometimes at Ivy Cottage. Mr. Wallingford had developed into a man after my own heart; and so I shared, when professional engagements allowed, in the enjoyment of these pleasant seasons.
One evening Mr. and Mrs. Wallingford came round to spend an hour with us. I was happily at leisure. Conversation naturally falls into the current of passing events, and on this occasion, the approaching marriage of Mr. Dewey came naturally into the field of topics. This led to a review of the many strange circumstances connected with Mrs. Wallingford's presence in S----, and naturally, to an inquiry from my wife as to the present position of the property left by Captain Allen.
"What about this young Garcia?" said Constance, addressing Mr. Wallingford. "I haven't heard of him for some time."
"He is at school yet, I believe," replied Mr. Wallingford, not showing much interest in the matter.
"He must be nearly of age," said I.
"About twenty, if his years were correctly given."
"He will come into the possession of a handsome property," I remarked.
"Yes, if it can be found by the time he is ready to receive it."
"Can be found! I don't comprehend you, Mr. Wallingford? Do you mean to question the integrity of the men who are executors to the estate?"
"No. But, they have embarked in the same vessel with an unscrupulous villain--so I regard Ralph Dewey--and have, as far as I can see, given the rudder into his hands. If he do not wreck them on some dangerous coast, or sunken rock, it will be more from good fortune than anything else."
"He is partner in a very wealthy firm," said I.
"The standing of Floyd, Lawson, Lee & Co., is, you know, undoubted. He can't wreck out friends Bigelow and Floyd, without ruining them also."
"I was in New York a few months ago, on business," Mr. Wallingford replied, "and it so happened, that I heard the firm of which Dewey is a partner spoken of. Among other remarks, was this: 'They are thought to be very much extended.'"
"What is the meaning of that?" asked Mrs. Wallingford.
"It is understood in business circles," replied her husband, "to mean, that a house is doing too much business for the amount of capital employed, and that it has issued, in consequence, a large amount of paper. Any very heavy losses to a firm in this condition might prove disastrous."
"Too much extended?" said I, thoughtfully, some new impressions forming themselves in my mind.
"Yes, that was the opinion held by the individual I refer to; and he was not one to speak carelessly on so grave a matter."
"If the house of Floyd, Lawson, Lee, & Co. should go down," I remarked, "there will be sad work in S----."
"There will, without any doubt," replied Mr. Wallingford.
"The executors to the Allen estate might find themselves in a most unfortunate position," said I.
"Such a position as I would not be in, for all the world. Any thing but dishonor!"
"How dishonor?" asked Constance.
"The whole estate would be, I fear, involved."
"They gave security," said I.
"But the sureties are not worth a tenth part of the sum for which they stand responsible. The court acted with a singular want of discretion in appointing them."
"You don't mean to have us infer that Judge Bigelow and Squire Floyd have used the funds of this estate for their own purposes, to any great extent?"
"I would not care to say this out of doors, Doctor, but that is just my opinion of the matter as it now stands. Dewey is guardian to the heir, and would favor, rather than oppose, such a use of the funds."
"It might be just so much in favor of the heir," remarked Mrs. Wallingford, "if two-thirds of the property had disappeared by the time he reached his majority; for, from all that I have heard of him, he is not likely to become a man fitted to use large wealth either to his own or any body else's advantage. He was low born and low bred, in the worst sense of the words; and I fear that no education will change his original quality, or greatly modify his early bias. So while the wasting of his substance is a great wrong in the abstract, it may be a real blessing to him. Events in this life work out strangely to our human eyes, yet there is a Providence in them that ever educes good from evil."
"If we could always believe that," said I, "how tranquilly might we pass through life! How clearly would our eyes see through the darkest clouds, and rest upon the silver lining!"
"Is it not so? Does not God's providence follow us in the smallest things of our lives? Do we take a step that falls outside of his cognizance? We have only to look back, to be assured of this. We may walk on tranquilly, Doctor, for, as sure as we live, no evil can befall us that does not have its origin within our own spirits. All the machinations of our most bitter enemies will come to naught, if we keep our hearts free from guile. They may rob us of our earthly possessions; but even this God will turn to our greater gain."
Mrs. Wallingford spoke with a charming enthusiasm.
"With such a confidence," said my wife, "one is richer than if he had the wealth of an Astor."
"And with this great advantage," replied Mrs. Wallingford, "that he may enjoy the whole of his possessions. Moth and rust never corrupt them; and no man can take them away."
"I have a new book from which I want to read you a sentiment," said Constance, rising, and moving towards the secretary and book-case, which stood in the room.
Mrs. Wallingford rose and went with her.
"It is so beautifully accordant with many things I have heard you say," added my wife, as she took down the volume, and commenced turning over its pages.
After reading a few sentences, and commenting upon them, some remark directed the attention of Mrs. Wallingford to the antiquated secretary, which was the one I had purchased when the furniture of the Allen house was sold.
"I have reason to remember this old secretary," she said. "It was here that the will was found which cut off our interest in the estate of my uncle."
As she spoke in a pleasant way, she pulled out a drawer--the very one which had suggested concealment, when I first got possession of the piece of furniture--and said--
"This is where the will lay concealed."
And she pressed against the side firmly, when a portion of it yielded, and there sprung up another drawer, or receptacle, placed in vertically.
We were all very much interested in this curious arrangement. The drawer could not be pulled out much beyond half its depth; the secret portion lying within this limit.
As I stood looking at the drawer, a sudden thought flashed through my mind, and I pressed my hand against the other side. It began to yield! I pressed harder, and up sprung a corresponding secret receptacle, from which a paper fell out. A hard substance rattled on the solid wood. It was a gold locket, tied with a piece of blue ribbon; and attached, with a seal, to the folded paper.
It was some moments before a hand reached forth to lift the document. It was at length taken up by Mr. Wallingford. As he did so, the locket swung free, and we saw that it contained a braid of dark hair. Unfolding the paper, and stepping back to the light, he read, in a low, firm voice, as follows:
"I, John Allen, being of sound mind, do make this as my last will and testament, revoking, at the same time, all other wills. I give and bequeath all my property, real and personal, to my sister Flora, if living; or, if dead, to her legal heirs--reserving only, for my wife, Theresa Garcia, in case she survive me, a legacy of five hundred dollars a year, to be continued during her natural life. And I name as my executors, to carry out the provisions of this will, Doctor Edward-----and James Wilkinson, of the town of S----, State of Massachusetts."
Then followed the date, which was recent, compared with that of the other wills, and the signatures of the testator and witnesses, all in due form. The witnesses were men in our town, and well known to us all.
At the reading of her mother's name, Mrs. Wallingford sat down quickly, and, covering her face, leaned over upon the centre table. I saw that she was endeavoring to control a strong agitation.
I was the first to speak.
"The ways of Providence are past finding out," said I. "Let me congratulate you on this good fortune."
As I spoke, Mrs. Wallingford rose from the table, and, going to her husband, placed her hands upon his arms, and looking up into his face, fondly and tearfully, said:--
"Dear Henry! For your sake, my heart is glad to-night."
He laid the will down, as if it were a thing of little value, and kissing her, said:--
"This cannot add to our happiness, Blanche, and may bring care and trouble."
"Not more trouble than blessing," she replied, "if rightfully used."
The locket attached to the will excited our curious interest. It was, we felt sure, the same that Captain Allen's mother had sent to him by the hands of Jacob Perkins. Doubtless, some memory of his mother, stirred by the sight of this locket, had caused him to revoke his former will, and execute this one in favor of his sister. There was no room to question, for a moment, its genuineness. It had all legal formality, and the men who witnessed the signature were living and well known to us all. I was named as one of the executors. So there was some perplexing business before me; for, in taking things as they were, it was not probable that the executors under the former will would be able, promptly, to give a satisfactory account of their trust, or to hand over the property in a shape acceptable to the right heirs.
But, of this, more anon. Our good friends went home early after this singular discovery, showing more bewilderment than elation of manner. I think that Constance and I were gladder in heart than they.