Chapter XXVIII.
 

The conduct of Mr. Wallingford, in regard to the estate which had fallen into his hands, rather puzzled Dewey. He had anticipated an early notification to remove, and, true to his character, had determined to annoy the new owner by vexatious delays. But after the passage of several weeks, in which came to him no intimation that he must give up the possession of his elegant home, he began to wonder what it could mean.

One day, not long after the conversation with Wallingford, mentioned in the last chapter, I met Mr. Dewey in the street. He stopped me and said, in half-sneering way,

"What of our honorable friend? Impatient, I suppose, to see the inside of the Allen House?"

"No," I replied, "he has no wish to disturb you for the present."

"Indeed! You expect me to believe all that, of course."

There was a rudeness in his manner that was offensive; but I did not care to let him see that I noticed it.

"Why should you not believe my remark?" said I. "Is it a new thing in your experience with men to find an individual considerate of another?"

"What do you mean by considerate of another?"

My form of speech touched his pride.

"Mr. Wallingford has manifested towards you a considerate spirit," said I, speaking slowly and distinctly. "It naturally occurs to him that, as you are so pleasantly situated at the Allen House, an early removal therefrom might be anything but desirable. And so he has rested quietly up to this time, leaving a decision as to the period with yourself."

"Humph! Very unselfish, truly!"

His lip curled in disdain.

"If you feel restive under this concession in your favor," said I, putting on a serious manner, "I would suggest independence as a remedy."

He looked at me curiously, yet with a scowling contraction of his brows.

"Independence! What am I to understand by your remark?"

"Simply this, Mr. Dewey. You are in the occupancy of property belonging to Mr. Wallingford, and by his favor. Now, if you cannot receive a kindness at his hands, in the name of all that is manly and independent, put yourself out of the range of obligation."

I was not able to repress a sudden feeling of indignation, and so spoke with warmth and plainness.

"Thank you for your plainness of speech, Doctor," he retorted, drawing himself up in a haughty manner.

"As to removing from the Allen House, I will do that just when it suits my pleasure."

"Mr. Wallingford, you may be assured," said I, will not show any unseemly impatience, if you do not find it convenient to make an early removal. He knows that it cannot be agreeable for you to give up the home of years, and he is too much of a Christian and a gentleman to do violence to another's feelings, if it can be in any way avoided."

"Pah! I hate cant!"

He threw his head aside in affected disgust.

"We judge men by their actions, not their words," said I. "If a man acts with considerate kindness, is it cant to speak of him in terms of praise? Pardon me, Mr. Dewey, but I think you are letting passion blind you to another's good qualities."

"The subject is disagreeable to me, Doctor. Let us waive it."

"It was introduced by yourself, remember," I replied; "and all that I have said has been in response to your own remarks. This much good has grown from it. You know just how Mr. Wallingford stands towards you, and you can govern yourself according to your own views in the case. And now let me volunteer this piece of advice. Never wantonly give offence to another, for you cannot tell how soon you may find yourself in need of his good services."

Dewey gave me a formal bow, and passed on his way.

About a week afterwards, Judge Bigelow inquired of Wallingford as to when he wished to get possession of the Allen House.

"Whenever Mr. Dewey finds it entirely convenient to remove," was the unhesitating reply.

"Suppose it should not be convenient this fall or winter?"

"Very well. The spring will suit me. I am in no hurry. We are too comfortable in Ivy Cottage to be in any wise impatient for change."

"Then it is your pleasure that Mr. Dewey remain until spring?"

"If such an arrangement is desirable on his part, Judge, it is altogether accordant with my feelings and convenience. Say to him that he has only to consult his own wishes in the case."

"You are kind and considerate, Mr. Wallingford," said the Judge, his manner softening considerably, for there had been a coldness of some years' standing on the part of Judge Bigelow, which more recent events had increased.

"And why should it be otherwise, Judge?" inquired his old student.

"Mr. Dewey has not given you cause for either kindness or consideration."

"It would hurt me more than it would him, were I to foster his unhappy spirit. It is always best, I find, Judge, to be right with myself."

"All men would find it better for themselves, were they to let so fine a sentiment govern their lives," remarked Judge Bigelow, struck by the language of Wallingford.

"It is the only true philosophy," was replied. "If a man is right with himself, he cannot be wrong towards others; though it is possible, as in my case, that other eyes, looking through a densely refracting medium, may see him out of his just position. But he would act very unwisely were he to change his position for all that. He will be seen right in the end."

Judge Bigelow reached out his hand and grasped that of Mr. Wallingford.

"Spoken like a man, Henry! Spoken like a man!" he said, warmly. "I only wish that Ralph had something of your spirit. I have seen you a little out of your right position, I believe; but a closer view is correcting the error."

Wallingford returned the pressure as warmly as it was given, saying, as he did so--

"I am aware, Judge, that you have suffered your mind to fall into a state of prejudice in regard to me. But I am not aware of any thing in my conduct towards you or others, to warrant the feeling. If in any thing I have been brought into opposition, faithfulness to the interests I represented has been the rule of my conduct. I have sought by no trick of law to gain an advantage. The right and the just I have endeavored to pursue, without fear and without favor. Can you give me a better rule for professional or private life?"

"I cannot, Henry," was the earnest reply. "And if all men would so pursue the right and the just, how different would be the result for each, as the sure adjustment of advancing years gave them their true places in the world's observation!"

The Judge spoke in a half--absent way, and with a shade of regret in his tones; Wallingford noted this with a feeling of concern.

"Let us be friends in the future," he added, again offering his hand to Wallingford.

"It will be your fault, not mine, if we are not fast fiends, Judge. I have never forgotten the obligations of my boyhood; and never ceased to regret the alienation you have shown. To have seemed in your eyes ungrateful, has been a source of pain whenever I saw or thought of you."

The two men parted, each feeling better for the interview. A day or two afterwards Wallingford received a note from Judge Bigelow asking him, as a particular favor, to call at his office that evening. He went, of course. The Judge was alone, and received him cordially. But, his countenance soon fell into an expression of more than usual gravity.

"Mr. Wallingford," he said, after the passage of a few casual observations, "I would like to consult you in strict confidence on some matters in which I have become involved. I can trust you, of course?"

"As fully as if the business were my own," was the unhesitating answer.

"So I have believed. The fact is, Henry, I have become so entangled in this cotton mill business with Squire Floyd, Dewey, and others, that I find myself in a maze of bewildering uncertainty. The Squire and Ralph are at loggerheads, and seem to me to be getting matters snarled up. There is no denying the fact that this summary footing of our accounts, as executors, has tended to cripple affairs. We were working up to the full extent of capital invested, and the absence of a hundred thousand dollars--or its representative security--has made financiering a thing of no easy consideration."

"I am afraid, Judge Bigelow," said Wallingford, as the old man paused, "that you are in the hands of one who, to gain his own ends, would sacrifice you without a moment's hesitation."

"Who?"

"You will permit me to speak plainly, Judge."

"Say on. The plain speech of a friend is better than the flatteries of an enemy."

"I have no faith in Ralph Dewey."

The two men looked steadily at each other for some moments.

"Over fifteen years' observation of the man has satisfied me that he possesses neither honor nor humanity. He is your nephew. But that does not signify. We must look at men as they are."

"His movements have not been to my satisfaction for some time," said the Judge; speaking as though conviction had to force itself upon his mind.

"You should canvass all he does with the closest care; and if your property lies in any degree at his mercy, change the relation as quickly as possible."

"Are you not prejudiced against him, Henry?" The Judge spoke in a deprecating tone.

"I believe, sir, that I estimate him at his real value; and I do most earnestly conjure you to set to work at once to disentangle your affairs if seriously involved with his. If you do not, he will beggar you in your old age, which God forbid!"

"I am far from sure that I can disentangle my affairs," said the Judge.

"There is nothing like trying, you know." Wallingford spoke in a tone of encouragement. "And everything may depend on beginning in time. In what way are you involved with him?"

It was some time before Judge Bigelow answered this direct question. He then replied,

"Heavily in the way of endorsements."

"Of his individual paper?"

"Yes. Also of the paper of his firm."

"To an extent beyond your ability to pay if there should be failure on their part?"

"Yes; to three times my ability to pay."

Wallingford dropped his eyes to the floor, and sat for some time. He then looked up into Judge Bigelow's face, and said,

"If that be so, I can see only one way for you."

"Say on."

"Let no more endorsements be given from this day forth."

"How can I suddenly refuse? The thing has been going on for years."

"You can refuse to do wrong on the plea of wrong. If your name gives no real value to a piece of paper, yet accredits it in the eyes of others, it is wrong for you to place your endorsement thereon. Is not this so?"

"I admit the proposition, Henry."

"Very well. The only way to get right, is to start right. And my dear, dear sir! let me implore you to take immediately the first step in a right direction. Standing outside of the charmed circle of temptation as I do, I can see the right way for your feet to walk in better than you can. Oh, sir! Let me be eyes, and hand, and feet for you if need be; and if it is not too late, I will save you from impending ruin."

Wallingford took the old man's hand, and grasped it warmly as he spoke. The Judge was moved by this earnest appeal, coming upon him so unexpectedly; and not only moved, but startled and alarmed by the tenor of what was said.

"The first thing," he remarked, after taking time to get his thoughts clear, "if I accept of your friendly overtures, is for me to lay before you everything just as it is, so that you can see where I stand, and how I stand. Without this, your view of the case would be partial, and your conclusions might not be right."

"That is unquestionably so," Wallingford replied. "And now, Judge, if you wish my friendly aid, confide in me as you would a son or brother. You will find me as true as steel."

A revelation succeeded that filled Mr. Wallingford with painful astonishment. The endorsements of Judge Bigelow, on paper brought to him by Dewey, and of which he took no memorandums, covered, no doubt, from a hundred to a hundred and fifty thousand dollars! Then, as to the affairs of the Clinton Bank, of which Judge Bigelow was still the President, he felt a great deal of concern. The Cashier and Mr. Dewey knew far more about the business and condition of the institution than anybody else, and managed it pretty much in their own way. The directors, if not men of straw, might almost as well have been, for all the intelligent control they exercised. As for Judge, Bigelow, the principal duty required of him was to sign his name as President to great sheets of bank bills, the denomination running from one dollar to a thousand. Touching the extent to which these representatives of value were issued, he knew nothing certain. He was shown, at regular periods, a statement wherein the condition of the bank was set forth, and to which he appended his signature. But he had no certain knowledge that the figures were correct. Of the paper under discount over two-thirds was drawn or endorsed by Floyd, Lawson, Lee, & Co.

At the time Judge Bigelow began investing in mill property, he was worth, in productive stocks and real estate, from thirty to forty thousand dollars. He now estimated his wealth at from sixty to eighty thousand dollars; but it was all locked up in the mills.

The result of this first interview between the Judge and Mr. Wallingford was to set the former in a better position to see the character of his responsibilities, and the extreme danger in which he stood. The clear, honest, common sense way in which Wallingford looked at everything, and comprehended everything, surprised his old preceptor; and gave him so much confidence in his judgment and discretion, that he placed himself fully in his hands. And well for him was it that he did so in time.