Cap'n Warren's Wards by Joseph Crosby Lincoln
Pearson called. He appeared at the apartment a week after the luncheon at the boarding house and was welcomed by the Captain Elisha, who, hearing his voice, strode into the hall, sent the shocked Edwards to the right-about in a hurry, seized his friend's hand, and ushered him into the library. Pearson said nothing concerning his change of mind, the course of reasoning which led him to make the visit, and the captain asked no questions. He took it for granted that the young fellow's common sense had turned the trick, and, the result being what it was, that was sufficient.
They spent a pleasant afternoon together. Caroline was out, and they had the library to themselves. The newest chapters of the novel were read and discussed, and the salty flavor of the talk was as pronounced as ever. Pearson left early, but promised to come again very soon.
When Caroline returned her uncle told her of his visitor. She seemed unfeignedly pleased, but regretted that she had not been there. "He was such a friend of father's," she said, "that seeing him here would be almost like the old days. And so many of those whom we thought were his friends and ours have left us."
This was true. Rodgers Warren and his children had had many acquaintances, had been active in church and charitable work, and their former home was a center of entertainment and gayety while he lived. But his death and the rumors of shrinkage in the family fortune, the giving up of the Fifth Avenue residence, the period of mourning which forbade social functions, all these helped to bring about forgetfulness on the part of the many; and Caroline's supersensitiveness and her firm resolve not to force her society where it might be unwelcome had been the causes of misunderstanding in others, whose liking and sympathy were genuine. "I don't see what has come over Caroline Warren," declared a former girl friend, "she isn't a bit as she used to be. Well, I've done my part. If she doesn't wish to return my call, she needn't. I sha'n't annoy her again. But I'm sorry, for she was the sweetest girl I knew."
Stephen had never been very popular, and his absence at college still further reduced the number of young people who might be inclined to call. Their not calling confirmed Caroline's belief that she and her brother were deliberately shunned because of their change in circumstances, and she grew more sensitive and proudly resentful in consequence. Naturally she turned for comfort to those who remained faithful, the Dunns in particular. They were loyal to her. Therefore, with the intensity of her nature, she became doubly loyal to them. The rector of St. Denis dropped in frequently, and others occasionally, but she was lonely. She craved the society of those nearer her own age.
Pearson's coming, then, was psychologically apt. When he made his next call upon Captain Elisha, to find the latter out but his niece at home, she welcomed him cordially and insisted upon his waiting until her guardian returned. The conversation was, at first, embarrassing for the ex-reporter; she spoke of her father, and Pearson--the memory of his last interview with the latter fresh in his mind, and painfully aware that she knew nothing of it--felt guilty and like a hypocrite. But soon the subject changed, and when the captain entered the library he found the pair laughing and chatting like old acquaintances, as, of course, they were.
Captain Elisha, paying no attention to his friend's shakes of the head, invited his niece to be present at the reading of the latest addition to what he called "mine and Jim's record-breakin' sea yarn."
"It's really mine, you understand, Caroline," he observed, with a wink. "I'm silent partner in the firm--if you can call the one that does all the talkin' silent--and Jim don't do nothin' but make it up and write it and get the profits. Course, you mustn't mention this to him, 'cause he thinks he's the author, and 'twould hurt his feelin's."
"He's quite right," declared Pearson, emphatically. "If the thing is ever finished and published he will deserve all the credit. His advice had already remade it. This uncle of yours, Miss Warren," he added, turning to her, "is like the admiral Kipling wrote about--he has 'lived more stories' than ever I could invent."
The captain, fearful that his niece might take the statement seriously, hastened to protest.
"He's just foolin', Caroline," he said. "All I've done is set and talk and talk and talk. I've used up more of his time and the surroundin' air than you'd believe was possible. When I get next to salt water, even in print, it's time to muzzle me, same as a dog in July. The yarn is Jim's altogether, and it's mighty interestin'--to me anyhow."
"I'm sure it will be to me, also," declared the young lady. "Captain Warren has told me all about it, Mr. Pearson, and I'm very eager to hear the new portion."
"There!" Captain Elisha slapped his knee. "There, Jim!" he exclaimed, "you hear that? Now you've got to read it. Anchor's apeak! Heave ahead and get under way."
So, because he could not well refuse, the author reluctantly began to read. And, as usual, his nautical friend to interrupt and comment. Caroline listened, her eyes twinkling. When the reading and the arguments were at an end, she declared it was all splendid; "Just like being at sea one's self," she said. "I positively refuse to permit another installment to be submitted unless I am--on deck. That's the proper phrase, isn't it, Captain?"
"Aye, aye, ma'am! Jim, we've shipped a new second mate, and she's goin' to be wuth her salt. You hear me!"
She proved to be worth all of that, at least in Pearson's opinion. His calls and the readings and discussions became more and more frequent. Each of the trio enjoyed them greatly, Caroline quite as much as the others. Here was something new and fresh, something to furnish a real interest. The story advanced rapidly, the character of the nautical hero shaped itself better and better, and the heroine, also, heretofore a somewhat shadowy and vague young woman, began to live and breathe. She changed surprisingly, not only in mental but in physical characteristics.
Captain Elisha was first to notice the latter peculiarity.
"Say, Jim!" he interrupted, one afternoon, "what was that you just read about Mary? Her hat blowin' off to leeward and her brown hair blowin' after it? Or somethin' of that sort?"
Caroline laughed merrily. The author turned to the passage mentioned.
"Not exactly, Captain," he replied, smiling. "I said her hat had blown away, and her brown curls tossed in the wind. What's wrong with that? Hats do blow away in a sou'wester; I've seen them."
"Perhaps he thinks she should have been more careful in pinning it on," suggested the feminine member of the advisory board.
Captain Elisha shook his head. "No," he observed calmly, "but why was she wearin' that kind of hair? She's pretty young to use a switch, ain't she?"
"Switch?" repeated "Mary's" creator, with some indignation. "What are you talking about? When I first described her, I said that her hair was luxuriant and one of her chief beauties."
"That's a fact! So you did. What made her dye it?"
"Dye it? What do you think she is--a chorus girl?"
"If I remember right she's a postmaster's daughter. But why is she wearin' brown hair, if it ain't neither false or dyed? Back in the third chapter 'twas black, like her eyes."
Caroline burst into another laugh. Pearson blushed to his forehead. "Well, by George!" he admitted, "you're right. I believe I did have it black, at first."
"You sartin did! I ain't got any objections to either color, only it ought to stay put, hadn't it? In a town of the size she's livin' in, a girl with changeable hair is likely to be kind of conspicuous. I tell you! maybe it bleached out in the sun. Ho, ho!"
The writer made a note on the margin of his manuscript and declared that his heroine's tresses and eyes should be made to correspond at all stages. They did, but they remained brown. Captain Elisha chuckled inwardly, but offered no further comments. Caroline, whose own hair and eyes were brown, did not refer to the matter at all.
She and the young man became better acquainted at each succeeding "literary clinic," as the latter called them. When Rodgers Warren first introduced him at their former home he had impressed her favorably, largely because of her desire to like anyone whom her father fancied. She worshiped the dead broker, and his memory to her was sacred. She would have forgiven and did forgive any wrong he might have done her, even his brother's appointment as guardian, though that she could not understand. Unlike Stephen, who fiercely resented the whole affair and said bitter things concerning his parent, she believed he had done what he considered right. Her feeling against Captain Elisha had been based upon the latter's acceptance of that appointment when he should have realized his unfitness. And his living with them and disgracing them in the eyes of their friends by his uncouth, country ways, made her blind to his good qualities. The Moriarty matter touched her conscience, and she saw more clearly. But she was very far from considering him an equal, or other than what Mrs. Corcoran Dunn termed him, an "encumbrance," even yet. She forced herself to be kind and tolerant and gave him more of her society, though the church-going experience was not repeated, nor did she accompany him on his walks or out-of-door excursions.
If Pearson's introductions had been wholly as a friend of her guardian, her feeling toward him might have been tinged with the same condescension or aversion, even. But, hallowed as he was by association with her father, she welcomed him for the latter's sake. And, as she became interested in the novel and found that her suggestions concerning it were considered valuable, she looked forward to his visits and was disappointed if, for any reason, they were deferred. Without being aware of it, she began to like the young author, not alone because he wrote entertainingly and flattered her by listening respectfully to her criticisms, or because her father had liked him, but for himself.
Captain Elisha was much pleased.
"I told you, Jim!" he said. "She's just as glad to see you as I am. Now don't you see how foolish it was to stay away 'cause you and 'Bije had a spat? Think of all the good times we'd have missed! And we needed a female aboard your Uncle Jim's craft, to help with 'Mary' and the rest."
His friend nodded. "She has been a great help, certainly," he answered. "But I can't help feeling guilty every time I come here. It is too much like obtaining her friendship under false pretenses. She should know the whole thing, I believe."
"She shall know it, when I think it's time for her to. But I want her to know you first. Then she'll be able to judge without so much prejudice. I told you I'd take the responsibility. You leave the ship in my charge for a spell."
In spite of this confident assertion, the captain also felt a trifle guilty. He realized that selfishness was involved in his keeping Pearson's secret from his niece. He was thoroughly enjoying himself with these two, and he could not bear to risk the breaking up which might follow disclosure.
One evening, while a "clinic" was in progress and the three were deep in consultation, Edwards entered to announce Mrs. Corcoran Dunn and Mr. Malcolm. The butler's giving the lady precedence in his announcing showed that he, too, realized who was ranking officer in that family, even though the captain's "conundrum" had puzzled him. Mrs. Dunn and her son entered at his heels.
The lady took in the group by the table at a glance: Pearson, with the manuscript in his hands; Captain Elisha leaning back in his chair, frowning at the interruption; Caroline rising to welcome the guests, and coloring slightly as she did so. All these details Mrs. Dunn noted, made an entry in her mental memorandum-book, and underscored it for future reference.
If she discerned unpleasant possibilities in the situation, she did not allow them to disturb her outward serenity. She kissed Caroline and called her "dear child" as fondly as usual, shook hands graciously with Captain Elisha, and bowed condescending recognition of Pearson.
"And how is the novel coming on? Do tell me!" she begged. "I'm sure we interrupted a reading. It's too bad of us, really! But Malcolm insisted upon coming. He has been very busy of late--some dreadful 'corner' or other on the exchange--and has neglected his friends--or thinks he has. I told him I had explained it all to you, Caroline, but he would come tonight. It is the first call he has made in weeks; so you see! But there! he doesn't consider running in here a call."
Call or not, it spoiled the evening for at least two of the company. Pearson left early. Captain Elisha excused himself soon after and went to his room, leaving the Dunns to chat with Caroline for an hour or more. Malcolm joked and was languid and cynical. His mother asked a few carefully guarded questions.
"Quite a clever person, this young author friend of yours seems to be, Caroline," she observed. "Almost brilliant, really."
"He isn't a friend of mine, exactly," replied the girl. "He and Captain Warren are friendly, and father used to know and like him, as I have told you. The novel is great fun, though! The people in it are coming to seem almost real to me."
"I daresay! I was a great reader myself once, before my health--my heart, you know--began to trouble me. The doctors now forbid my reading anything the least bit exciting. Has this--er--Mr. Pearson means?"
"I know very little of him, personally, but I think not. He used to be connected with the Planet, and wrote things about Wall Street. That was how father came to know him."
"Live in an attic, does he?" inquired Malcolm. "That's what all authors do, isn't it? Put up in attics and sleep on pallets--whatever they are--and eat crusts, don't they? Jolly life--if you like it! I prefer bucking wheat corners, myself."
Mrs. Dunn laughed, and Caroline joined her, though not as heartily.
"How ridiculous you are, Malcolm!" exclaimed his mother. "Mr. Pearson isn't that kind of an author, I'm sure. But where does he live, Caroline?"
"Somewhere on West 18th Street, I believe. He has rooms there, I think."
"Oh! Really? And how is this wonderful novel of his progressing? When does he expect to favor us with it?"
"I don't know. But it is progressing very well at present. He has written three chapters since last Wednesday. He was reading them to us when you came."
"Indeed! Since last Wednesday? How interesting!"
Malcolm did not seem to find the topic interesting, for he smothered a yawn. His mother changed the subject. On their way home, however, she again referred to it.
"You must make it a point to see her every day," she declared. "No matter what happens, you must do it."
"Oh, Lord!" groaned her son, "I can't. There's the deuce and all on 'Change just now, and the billiard tournament's begun at the Club. My days and nights are full up. Once a week is all she should expect, I think."
"No matter what you think or what she expects, you must do as I say."
"Because I don't like the looks of things."
"Oh, rubbish! You're always seeing bugaboos. Uncle Hayseed is pacified, isn't he? I've paid the Moriarty crowd off. Beastly big bills they were, too!"
"Humph! Uncle Hayseed, as you call him, is anything but a fool. But he isn't the particular trouble at present. He and I understand each other, I believe, and he will be reasonable. But--there is this Pearson. I don't like his calling so frequently."
Malcolm laughed in huge scorn. "Pearson!" he sneered. "Why, he's nothing but a penny-a-liner, without the penny. Surely you're not afraid Caroline will take a fancy to him. She isn't an idiot."
"She's a young girl, and more romantic than I wish she was. At her age girls do silly things, sometimes. He called on Wednesday--you heard her say so--and was there again to-night. I don't like it, I tell you."
"Her uncle is responsible for--"
"It is more than that. She knew him long before she knew her uncle existed. Her father introduced him--her father. And to her mind, whatever her father did was right."
"Witness his brilliant selection of an executor. Oh, Mater, you weary me! I used to know this Pearson when he was a reporter down town, and... Humph!"
"What is it?"
"Why, nothing, I guess. It seemed as if I remember Warren and Pearson in some sort of mix-up. Some... Humph! I wonder."
He was silent, thinking. His mother pressed his arm excitedly.
"If you remember anything that occurred between Rodgers Warren and this man, anything to this Pearson's disadvantage, it may pay us to investigate. What was it?"
"I don't know. But it seemed as if I remembered Warren's... or a friend of his telling me... saying something... but it couldn't be of importance, because Caroline doesn't know it."
"I'm not so sure that it may not be important. And, if you recall, on that day when we first met him at Caroline's, she seemed hurt because he had not visited them since her father died. Perhaps there was a reason. At any rate, I should look into the matter."
"All right, Mater, just as you say. Really you ought to join a Don't Worry Club."
"One member in the family is quite sufficient. And I expect you to devote yourself to Caroline from now on. That girl is lonely, and when you get the combination of a lonely romantic young girl and a good-looking and interesting young fellow, even though he is as poor as a church mouse, anything may happen. Add to that the influence of an unpractical but sharp old Yankee relative and guardian--then the situation is positively dangerous."