The Allen House, or Twenty Years Ago and Now by T.S. Arthur
The first thing done was to place the will on record; the next to give proper legal notice of its existence to the executors under the previous will, Judge Bigelow and Squire Floyd. Mr. Dewey, on the announcement of this discovery, unhesitatingly declared the paper a forgery; but the witnesses to the signature of Captain Allen were living, and ready to attest its genuineness. They remembered, very distinctly, the time when their names were appended to the document. It was only a year before the Captain's death. They were walking past the Allen House, when the old man called them in, and asked them to witness the signing of a paper. Of its contents they had no knowledge, as he did not make any communication on the subject. But he signed it in their presence, and their signatures showed this will to be the paper then executed.
Notwithstanding this, it came to our ears, that Mr. Dewey persisted in alleging fraud, forgery, and the complicity of these witnesses. And from the manner of Judge Bigelow and Squire Floyd, in the first brief interview I had with them, it was plain that they were far from being satisfied that all was right. Their manner was that of men utterly confounded. If the property in question had been held by them as really their own, they could hardly have exhibited more feeling.
After the will was entered at the proper office, and thus made public, the following paragraph appeared in our "Weekly Star"--
"Remarkable Discovery of a Will.--A singular circumstance happened in our town last week, no less than the discovery of a new and more recent will of the late Captain Allen, by which all of his large property is devised to his sister and her heirs. It was found in a secret drawer, contained in an antiquated French Secretary, which Dr.----bought when the furniture of the Allen House was sold, previous to a renovation of the old mansion for the residence of Mr. Ralph Dewey. The late Mrs. Montgomery, who resided for a time at the Allen House, was sister to Captain Allen, and her daughter is now the wife of our townsman, Henry Wallingford, Esq. We congratulate the parties on the good fortune which has come to their door."
The marriage of Mr. Dewey took place within a month after the discovery of this will, and he brought his new wife to S----, installing her as mistress of the Allen House. She was a showy woman, past thirty, with a pair of brilliant black eyes, and a dark, rich complexion. Her long, thin nose, and delicate, but proudly arching lips, showed her to possess will and determination. It was the rumor in S----, that she brought her husband a considerable fortune. But she was not well received among us. The families of Judge Bigelow, and Joshua Kling, Cashier of the Clinton Bank, called immediately. Something later called the wives of two Directors in the Bank, and afterwards the wives of one or two citizens who had embarked some capital in the cotton mills. Beyond this, no advances were made towards an acquaintance with the new Mrs. Dewey.
It shocked my sensibilities to see this woman dashing about through S----in the elegant equipage once the pride of the now humbled daughter of Squire Floyd, who, since the divorce granted on her application, had lived in strict retirement in her father's house. The only time when she was seen abroad, was on the Sabbath, at church, with her two children. The oldest, a daughter, in her thirteenth year; and the youngest, a boy, ten years of age. The terrible ordeal passed through by this unhappy woman, had told upon her severely. In a year, she seemed to have lived ten. All the fine roundness of her face and person had given way, and she presented the appearance of one who had come out of a long and exhausting illness.
Constance made it a point of duty to visit her often. She found her states of mind exceedingly variable. Sometimes she was in patient, tranquil states, and sometimes she manifested great bitterness of spirit, complaining of man's cruel selfishness, and God's injustice. The marriage of Mr. Dewey disturbed her considerably. One day, not long after this event, Constance called to see her. She was in one of her darker moods; and all the comforting suggestions which my good wife could make, seemed to go for nothing. They were sitting near a window, overlooking the street, when Delia suddenly turned pale, and caught her breath. A carriage went sweeping by at the moment, drawn by two spirited horses,
"Is that the woman?" she exclaimed, as soon as she recovered herself.
"That is the woman," Constance replied.
Delia clutched her hands so tightly that her arms quivered, and grew rigid; while her pale face darkened with an expression so like revenge, that Constance felt a shudder of fear in her heart.
"If my prayers for her are answered," said the excited woman, speaking through her closing teeth, "she will find that day the darkest in the calendar of her life, when she stepped between me and my husband. I have only curses for her in my heart. Only curses!"
Constance, startled, and almost frightened by this wild burst of feeling, endeavored to soothe her; but the storm was too fierce to own the power of her gentle persuasions, and raged on for its brief season.
"I thought her mind had given way," said my wife, on relating what she had seen and heard. "It was fearful to look upon a human creature so terribly moved."
"The trial to her feelings must have been very
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"But I thought the severe discipline through which she had passed, had chastened and subdued her," answered Constance. "I saw, or believed that I saw, the beginnings of a new and true life in her soul. But over all this, passion has swept with its besom of destruction."
"The better states," I replied, "may not have been destroyed in this evil whirlwind. Such states, when once formed, usually retire and hide themselves until the storm has spent its fury."
"I pray that it may be so in this case," said Constance. "But from what I saw to-day, my fears are on the other side."
In the mean time we were taking such steps as the responsibility of our position required, towards getting possession of the property, which, under the will of Captain Allen, must come into our hands. My co-executor, Mr. James Wilkinson, a merchant of S----, was for adopting the most summary proceedings. He was annoyed at the questions, doubts, and delays which Judge Bigelow and Squire Floyd permitted to intervene; and more especially by the intermeddling of Dewey, towards whom, from some cause, he entertained hostile feeling.
As a matter of course, we were guided in all our movements by Mr. Wallingford. At the earliest term of court, we brought forward the claim of Mrs. Wallingford, under the last will and testament of her uncle. A feeble effort was made to throw doubt upon the genuineness of the document; but the oath of the witnesses to the signature of Captain Alien settled the question beyond the reach of cavil, and the executors under the first will were ordered to transfer, by a certain date, all property belonging to the estate into our hands.
I saw plainly enough, from the beginning, that the idea of giving an account of their stewardship was not an agreeable one to either of the executors under the old will. The direction which the property must take was one that would not admit of any holding back or covering up on their part. They would be required to exhibit clean hands.
The property clearly shown as having passed into their possession, was the old mansion and valuable grounds, which had been sold, under an order of the court, at a heavy sacrifice--bringing only thirty-five thousand dollars, instead of sixty thousand, its real value--and the proceeds re-invested. Then there was other town property worth twenty thousand dollars, and stocks valued at as much more: making seventy-five thousand dollars in all as the principal. Interest added, would swell the sum for which they must give account to over one hundred thousand dollars.
It was found, on looking into the business, that the whole of this immense sum was invested in the cotton mills. The search made into the legal condition of these mill properties was not satisfactory. There were several mortgages against them, one of which, for twenty-five thousand dollars, was held by the Clinton Bank as collateral security for loans.
After various delays and failures on the part of the old executors to meet us in a satisfactory manner, we all assembled, by appointment, in the office of Judge Bigelow. Mr. Dewey I was surprised to find present. But it was plain that he was there either by the consent or request of the Judge and Squire. The court had given a certain time for the executors under the first will to make up their accounts, and hand over the property in trust. That time had expired.
There was manifest embarrassment on the part of Judge Bigelow and his associate; while Dewey looked stern and dogged. We soon got into the centre of the business, and found it pretty earnest work. It was admitted by the executors that the greater portion of the estate was in the cotton mills. How to get it out was the question.
"I had always understood," said Mr. Wallingford, "that the mills were chiefly owned in New York."
"The New York interest is large," replied Squire Floyd, in a husky voice.
"And can be increased, no doubt, to almost any extent, in order to enable you to withdraw the trust investments" resumed Mr. Wallingford.
"Why cannot you let it remain where it is for the present? The investment is safe and the interest sure," said Judge Bigelow.
"There isn't safer security in the state," spoke up Mr. Dewey, with animation.
"It isn't the kind of security we wish to hold," said Mr. Wilkinson firmly. "We have given heavy bonds, and prefer to get the property in a different shape."
Here followed a chilling silence, which was broken by Mr. Wallingford.
"There is one way in which this can be arranged," said he.
All eyes were turned upon him.
"If it is not convenient to transfer to new parties interests of such magnitude, we will take, at a fair valuation, the Allen House and grounds appertaining thereto, including the mill site."
Mr. Dewey was on his feet in a moment, and said--
"Never!" with considerable excitement of manner.
Judge Bigelow and Squire Floyd looked at each other in a bewildered manner, and then at Mr. Dewey, who was walking the floor with many signs of disturbance.
"This is the family property," continued Mr. Wallingford, coolly--" and ought never to have been sold. It is but fair that it should come back."
"It can't go back," spoke up Mr. Dewey. "The present owners will not let it pass out of their hands."
"If that is the case," said Mr. Wallingford, "we shall have to look in another direction. It occurred to me that this might suit all parties, and lead to an easy arrangement. But if that cannot be--if the present owners, to use Mr. Dewey's words, will not let it go back--then my suggestion falls to the ground, and we must look to the investments as they stand. We do not press the matter."
I observed Mr. Dewey closely; the amount of feeling he displayed having drawn my attention upon him. Once or twice I saw him dart malignant glances towards Mr. Wallingford. And so, by degrees, I began to have a glimpse of what was passing in his mind. To go out from that elegant home, and let Wallingford succeed him as the owner, was something to which his proud heart could not submit--Wallingford, the once despised and contemned student of his uncle! That was too bitter a humiliation.
As nothing could then be decided, another meeting, to take place in three or four days, was agreed upon, and we separated.