Chapter XXIX.
 

In accordance with the advice of Mr. Wallingford, the first reactionary movement on the part of Judge Bigelow, was his refusal to endorse any more paper for his nephew, or the firm of which he was a member, on the ground that such endorsements, on his part, were of no real value, considering the large amounts for which he was already responsible, and consequently little better than fraudulent engagements to pay.

A storm between the uncle and nephew was the consequence, and the latter undertook to drive the old gentleman back again into the traces, by threats of terrible disasters to him and all concerned. If Judge Bigelow had stood alone, the nephew would have been too strong for him. But he had a clear-seeing, honest mind to throw light upon his way, and a young and vigorous arm to lean upon in his hour of weakness and trial. And so Ralph Dewey, to his surprise and alarm, found it impossible to bend the Judge from his resolution.

Then followed several weeks, during which time Dewey was flying back and forth between New York and S----, trying to re-adjust the disturbed balance of things. The result was as Mr. Wallingford had anticipated. There was too much at stake for the house of Floyd, Lawson, Lee, & Co., to let matters fail for lack of Judge Bigelow's endorsements. Some other prop must be substituted for this one.

The four months that followed were months of anxious suspense on the part of Judge Bigelow and his true friend, who was standing beside him, though invisible in this thing to all other eyes, firm as a rocky pillar. No more endorsements were given, and the paper bearing his name was by this time nearly all paid.

"Right, so far," said Mr. Wallingford, at the expiration of the time in which most of the paper bearing Judge Bigelow's name reached its maturity. "And now for the next safe move in this difficult game, where the odds are still against us. You must get out of this Bank."

The Judge looked gravely opposed.

"It may awaken suspicion that something is wrong, and create a run upon the Bank, which would be ruin."

"Can you exercise a controlling influence in the position you hold? Can you be true, as President of the Clinton Bank, to the public interest you represent?"

"I cannot. They have made of me an automaton."

"Very well. That settles the question. You cannot honorably hold your place a single day. There is only one safe step, and that is to resign."

"But the loose way in which I held office will be exposed to my successor."

"That is not the question to consider, Judge--but the right. Still, so far as this fear is concerned, don't let it trouble you. The choice of successor will fall upon some one quite as facile to the wishes of Ralph Dewey & Company as you have been."

The good counsels of Mr. Wallingford prevailed. At the next meeting of the Board of Directors, the resignation of Judge Bigelow was presented. Dewey had been notified two days before of what was coming, and was prepared for it. He moved, promptly, that the resignation be accepted. As soon as the motion was carried, he offered the name of Joshua Kling, the present Cashier, for the consideration of the Board, and urged his remarkable fitness. Of course, Mr. Joshua Kling was elected; and his place filled by one of the tellers. To complete the work, strong complimentary resolutions, in which deep regret at the resignation of Judge Bigelow was expressed, were passed by the Board. In the next week's paper, the following notice of this change in the officers of the Bank appeared:

"Resignation of Judge Bigelow.--In consequence of the pressure of professional engagements, our highly esteemed citizen Judge Bigelow, has found it necessary to give up the office of President in the Clinton Bank, which he has held with so much honor to himself since the institution commenced business. He is succeeded by Joshua Kling, Esq., late Cashier; a gentleman peculiarly well-fitted for the position to which he has been elevated. Harvey Weems, the first Teller, takes the place of Cashier. A better selection, it would be impossible to make. From the beginning, the affairs of this Bank have been managed with great prudence, and it is justly regarded as one of the soundest in the State."

"My dear friend," said the grateful Judge, grasping the hand of Wallingford, who called his attention to this notice, "what a world of responsibility you have helped me to cast from my shoulders! I am to-day a happier man than I have been for years. The new President is welcome to all the honor his higher position may reflect upon him."

"The next work in order," remarked the Judge's clear-headed, resolute friend, "is to withdraw your investments from the cotton mills. That will be a slower and more difficult operation; but it must be done, even at a sacrifice. Better have fifty thousand dollars in solid real estate, than a hundred thousand in that concern."

And so this further disentanglement was commenced.

Winter having passed away, Mr. Dewey saw it expedient to retire from the Allen House. By this time nothing more was heard of his Italian Villa. He had something else to occupy his thoughts. As there was no house to be rented in S----, that in any way corresponded with his ideas, he stored his furniture, and took board at the new hotel which had lately been erected.

Mr. Wallingford now made preparations for removing to the old mansion, which was still the handsomest place, by all odds, in our town.

One day, early in the summer, I received a note from Mr. Wallingford, asking me to call around at Ivy Cottage in the evening. At the bottom of the note, was a pencilled line from his wife to Constance, asking the pleasure of seeing her also. We went after tea.

"Come with me to the library, Doctor!" said my excellent friend, soon after our arrival. "I want to have a little talk with you."

So we left the ladies and retired to the library.

"My business with you to-night," said he, as we seated ourselves, facing each other, on opposite sides of the library-table, "is to get at some adjustment of affairs between us, as touching your executorship of the Allen estate. I have asked two or three times for your bills against the estate, but you have always put me off. Mr. Wilkinson, on the contrary, rendered an account for services, which has been allowed and settled."

"The business required so little attention on my part," I replied to this, "that I have never felt that I could, in conscience, render an account. And besides, it was with me so much a labor of love, that I do not wish to mar the pleasure I felt by overlaying it with a compensation."

"No man could possibly feel more deeply your generous good will toward me and mine--manifested from the beginning until now--than I do, Doctor. But I cannot permit the obligation to rest all on one side."

He pulled out a drawer of the library-table, as he said this, and taking therefrom a broad parchment document, laid it down, and while his hand rested upon it continued--

"Anticipating that, as heretofore, I might not be able to get your figures, I have taken the matter into my own hands, and fixed the amount of compensation--subject, of course, to objections on your part, if I have made the award too low. These papers are the title deeds of Ivy Cottage, executed in your favor. There are memories and associations connected with this dear spot, which must for ever be sacred in the hearts of myself and wife; and it would be pain to us to see it desecrated by strangers. In equity and love, then, we pass it over to you and yours; and may God give you as much happiness beneath its roof as we have known."

Surprise kept me silent for some time. But as soon as my thoughts ran free, I answered--

"No--no, Mr. Wallingford. This is fixing the sum entirely beyond a fair estimate. I cannot for a moment--"

He stopped me before I could finish the sentence.

"Doctor!" He spoke with earnestness and deep feeling. "There is no living man to whom I am so heavily indebted as I am to you. Not until after my marriage was I aware that your favorable word, given without qualification, bore me into the confidence of Mrs. Montgomery, and thus opened the way for me to happiness and fortune. My good Blanche has often repeated to me the language you once used in my favor, and which awakened in her mind an interest which gradually deepened into love. My heart moves towards you, Doctor, and you must let its impulses have way in this small matter. Do not feel it as an obligation. That is all on our side. We cannot let Ivy Cottage go entirely out of the family. We wish to have as much property in it as the pilgrim has in Mecca. We must visit it sometimes, and feel always that its chambers are the abodes of peace and love. A kind Providence has given us of this world's goods an abundance. We did not even have to lift our hands to the ripe clusters. They fell into our laps. And now, if, from our plenty, we take a small portion and discharge a debt, will you push aside the offering, and say, No? Doctor, this must not be!"

Again I essayed objection; but all was in vain. Ivy Cottage was to be our pleasant home. When, on returning with Constance, I related to her what had passed between Mr. Wallingford and myself, she was affected to tears.

"If I have ever had a covetous thought," she said, "it has been when I looked at Ivy Cottage. And to think it is to be mine! The sweetest, dearest spot in S----!"

There was no putting aside this good fortune. It came in such a shape, that we could not refuse it without doing violence to the feelings of true-hearted friends. And so, when they removed to their new home, we passed to Ivy Cottage.

The two years that followed were marked by no events of striking interest. The affairs of Judge Bigelow continued to assume a better shape, under the persistent direction of Mr. Wallingford, until every dollar which he had invested in the cotton mills was withdrawn and placed in real estate or sound securities. Long before this there had come an open rupture between the old man and his nephew; but the Judge had seen his real character in so clear a light that friendship was no longer desirable.