Cap'n Warren's Wards by Joseph Crosby Lincoln
"This is your room, Mr. Graves," said Miss Abigail Baker, placing the lighted lamp on the bureau. "And here's a pair of socks and some slippers. They belong to Elisha--Cap'n Warren, that is--but he's got more. Cold water and towels and soap are on the washstand over yonder; but I guess you've had enough cold water for one night. There's plenty hot in the bathroom at the end of the hall. After you change your wet things, just leave 'em spread out on the floor. I'll come fetch 'em by and by and hang 'em to dry in the kitchen. Come right downstairs when you're ready. Anything else you want? No? All right then. You needn't hurry. Supper's waited an hour 'n' a half as 'tis. 'Twon't hurt it to wait a spell longer."
She went away, closing the door after her. The bewildered, wet and shivering New Yorker stared about the room, which, to his surprise, was warm and cozy. The warmth was furnished, so he presently discovered, by a steam radiator in the corner. Radiators and a bathroom! These were modern luxuries he would have taken for granted, had Elisha Warren been the sort of man he expected to find, the country magnate, the leading citizen, fitting brother to the late A. Rodgers Warren, of Fifth Avenue and Wall Street.
But the Captain Warren who had driven him to South Denboro in the rain was not that kind of man at all. His manner and his language were as far removed from those of the late A. Rodgers as the latter's brown stone residence was from this big rambling house, with its deep stairs and narrow halls, its antiquated pictures and hideous, old-fashioned wall paper; as far removed as Miss Baker, whom the captain had hurriedly introduced as "my second cousin keepin' house for me," was from the dignified butler at the mansion on Fifth Avenue. Patchwork comforters and feather beds were not, in the lawyer's scheme of things, fit associates for radiators and up-to-date bathrooms. And certainly this particular Warren was not fitted to be elder brother to the New York broker who had been Sylvester, Kuhn and Graves' client.
It could not be, it could not. There must be some mistake. In country towns there were likely to be several of the same name. There must be another Elisha Warren. Comforted by this thought, Mr. Graves opened his valise, extracted therefrom other and drier articles of wearing apparel, and proceeded to change his clothes.
Meanwhile, Miss Abigail had descended the stairs to the sitting room. Before a driftwood fire in a big brick fireplace sat Captain Warren in his shirt-sleeves, a pair of mammoth carpet slippers on his feet, and the said feet stretched luxuriously out toward the blaze.
"Abbie," observed the captain, "this is solid comfort. Every time I go away from home I get into trouble, don't I? Last trip I took to Boston, I lost thirty dollars, and--"
"Lost it!" interrupted Miss Baker, tartly. "Gave it away, you mean."
"I didn't give it away. I lent it. Abbie, you ought to know the difference between a gift and a loan."
"I do--when there is any difference. But if lendin' Tim Foster ain't givin' it away, then I miss my guess."
"Well," with another chuckle, "Tim don't feel that way. He swore right up and down that he wouldn't take a cent--as a gift. I offered to make him a present of ten dollars, but he looked so shocked that I apologized afore he could say no."
"Yes, and then lent him that thirty. Shocked! The only thing that would shock that good-for-nothin' is bein' set to work. What possessed you to be such a soft-head, I don't know. When you get back a copper of that money I'll believe the millennium's struck, that's all."
"Hum! Well, I'll help you believe it--that is, if I have time afore I drop dead of heart disease. Abbie, you'd make a good lawyer; you can get up an argument out of a perfect agreement. I said the thirty dollars was lost, to begin with. But I knew Tim Foster's mother when she used to think that boy of hers was the eighth wonder of the world. And I promised her I'd do what I could for him long's I lived... But it seems to me we've drifted some off the course, ain't we? What I started to say was that every time I go away from home I get into trouble. Up to Boston 'twas Tim and his 'loan.' To-night it's about as healthy a sou'-wester as I've ever been out in. Dan fetched in the team, has he?"
"Yes. It's in the stable. He says the buggy dash is pretty well scratched up, and that it's a wonder you and that Graves man wa'n't killed. Who is he, anyhow?"
"Land knows, I don't."
"You don't know! Then what's he doin' here?"
"Changin' his duds, I guess. That's what I'd do if I looked as much like a drowned rat as he did."
"'Lisha Warren! if you ain't the most provokin' thing! Don't be so unlikely. You know what I mean. What's he come here, to this house, for?
"Don't know, Abbie. I didn't know he was comin' here till just as we got down yonder by Emery's corner. I asked him who he was lookin' for, he said 'Elisha Warren,' and then the tree caved in on us."
"'Lisha, you--you don't s'pose 'twas a--sign, do you?"
"Yes, a sign, a prophecy-like, a warnin' that somethin' is goin' to happen."
The captain put back his head and laughed.
"Sign somethin' had happened, I should think," he answered. "What's goin' to happen is that Pete Shuttuck'll get his buggy painted free-for-nothin', at my expense. How's supper gettin' along? Is it ready?"
"Ready? It's been ready for so long that it'll have to be got ready all over again if... Oh! Come right in, Mr. Graves! I hope you're drier now."
Captain Warren sprang from the chair to greet his visitor, who was standing in the doorway.
"Yes, come right in, Mr. Graves," he urged, cordially. "Set down by the fire and make yourself comf'table. Abbie'll have somethin' for us to eat in a jiffy. Pull up a chair."
The lawyer came forward hesitatingly. The doubts which had troubled him ever since he entered the house were still in his mind.
"Thank you, Captain," he said. "But before I accept more of your hospitality I feel I should be sure there is no mistake. I have come on important business, and--"
"Hold on!" The captain held up a big hand. "Don't you say another word," he commanded. "There's just one business that interests me this minute, and that's supper. There's no mistake about that, anyhow. Did you say 'Come ahead,' Abbie? or was you just going to? Good! Right into the dinin' room, Mr. Graves."
The dining room was long and low. The woodwork was white, the floor green painted boards, with braided rag mats scattered over them. There were old-fashioned pictures on the walls, pictures which brought shudders to the artistic soul of Atwood Graves. A broad bay window filled one side of the apartment, and in this window, on shelves and in wire baskets, were Miss Baker's cherished and carefully tended plants. As for the dining table, it was dark, old-fashioned walnut, as were the chairs.
"Set right down here, Mr. Graves," ordered the captain. "I'll try to keep you supplied with solid cargo, and Abbie'll 'tend to the moistenin'. Hope that teapot is full up, Abbie. Hot tea tastes good after you've swallered as much cold rain as Mr. Graves and I have... Father-we-thank-thee-for-these-mercies-set-before-us-Amen... How's your appetite when it comes to clam pie, Mr. Graves?"
Mr. Graves's appetite was good, and the clam pie was good. So, too, were the hot biscuits and the tea and homemade preserves and cake. Conversation during the meal was, for the most part, a monologue by the captain. He gave Miss Baker a detailed and exaggerated account of his adventures in Ostable, on board the train, and during the drive home. The housekeeper listened, fidgeting in her chair.
"'Lisha Warren," she interrupted, "how you do talk! Rainin' so hard you had to hold the reins taut to keep the horse's head out of water so he wouldn't drown! The idea!"
"Fact," asserted Captain Warren, with a wink at his guest. "And that wa'n't the worst of it. 'Twas so dark I had to keep feelin' the buggy with my foot to be sure I was in it. Ain't that so, Mr. Graves?... Here! Abbie won't like to have you set lookin' at that empty plate. She's always afraid folks'll notice the gilt's wearin' off. Pass it over quick, and let me cover it with some more pie."
"Yes, and have some more tea," urged Miss Abbie. "You mustn't pay attention to what he says, Mr. Graves," she went on. "Some day he'll tell the truth by accident, and then I'll know it's time to send for the doctor."
Several times the lawyer attempted to mention the business which had brought him to the Cape, and the probability of his having made a mistake. But neither host nor housekeeper would listen.
"When you've been in South Denboro as long as I have," declared the former, "you'll understand that the time to talk business is when you can't think of anything else. Wait till we get into the settin' room. Abbie, those six or eight biscuits I've ate are gettin' lonesome. I'll take another for sociability, thank you."
But, at last, when all the biscuits but one were gone, and the cake plate looked like the Desert of Sahara, the captain pushed back his chair, rose, and led the way into the next room. Miss Baker remained to clear the table.
"Set down by the fire, Mr. Graves," urged the captain. "Nothin' like burnin' wood to look hot and comf'table, is there? It don't always make you feel that way--that's why I put in hot water heat--but for looks and sociableness you can't beat a log fire. Smoke, do you?"
"Yes. Occasionally. But, Captain Warren--"
"Here, try that. It's a cigar the Judge gave me over to Ostable. He smokes that kind reg'lar, but if you don't like it, throw it away. He ain't here to see you do it, so you won't be fined for contempt of court. I'll stick to a pipe, if you don't mind. Now we're shipshape and all taut, I cal'late. Let's see, you wanted to talk business, I believe."
"Yes, I did. But before I begin I should like to be sure you are the Elisha Warren I came from New York to interview. Is there another of that name in Denboro?"
"Um-hm. There's Warrens a-plenty all through this section of the Cape. Our family blew ashore here a hundred and fifty years ago, or such matter. My dad's name was Elisha; so was my grandfather's. Both sea cap'ns, and both dead. There's another Elisha livin' over on the shore lane."
"Indeed. Then perhaps it is he I want."
"P'raps. He's keeper of the town poorhouse. I can tell you better if you give me an idea what your business is."
"I am an attorney. And now let me ask another question, please. Have you--had you a brother in business in New York?"
"Hey?" The captain turned and looked his guest squarely in the eye. His brows drew together.
"I've got a brother in New York," he answered, slowly. "Did he send you here?"
"Was your brother's name A. Rodgers Warren?"
"'A. Rodgers'? No. His name is Abijah Warren, and--Wait! His middle name is Rodgers, though. Did 'Bije send you to me?"
"A moment, Captain. Was your brother a broker?"
"Yes. His office is--or used to be on Broad Street. What--"
"You have not heard from him for some time?"
"Not for eighteen years. He and I didn't agree as well as we might. Maybe 'twas my fault, maybe 'twas his. I have my own ideas on that. If you're lookin' for 'Bije Warren's brother, Mr. Graves, I guess you've come to the right place. But what he sent you to me for, or what he wants--for he wants somethin', or he wouldn't have sent--I don't understand."
"Why do you think he wanted something?"
"Because he's 'Bije Warren, and I was brought up with him. When we was young ones together, he went to school and I went to work. He got the frostin' on the cake, and I got the burnt part next to the pan. He went to college, and I went to sea. He... However, you mustn't think I find fault with him for that. I sp'iled him as much as anybody, I guess. 'Twas later on that we... Well, never mind that, either. What is it he wants of me, after eighteen years?"
"He wants a good deal of you, Captain Warren. Or did want it."
"Did? Don't he want it now?"
"I don't know. Captain, I'm surprised that you haven't heard. It seems that I am the bearer of bad news. Your brother--"
"Is 'Bije dead?"
"He died ten days ago very suddenly. In a way it was a great shock to us all, yet we have known that his heart was weak. He realized it, too."
"So 'Bije is dead, hey?" Captain Elisha's face was very grave, and he spoke slowly. "Dead! Well, well, well!"
He paused and looked into the fire. Graves saw again that vague resemblance he had caught on the train, but had forgotten. He knew now why he noticed it. Unlike as the two brothers were, unlike in almost every way, the trace of family likeness was there. This sunburned, retired captain was the New York financier's elder brother. And this certainty made Mr. Graves's errand more difficult, and the cause of it more inexplicable.
Captain Elisha cleared his throat.
"Well, well!" he sighed. "So 'Bije has gone. I s'pose you think it's odd, maybe," he went on, "that I ain't more struck down by the news. In a way, I am, and, in a way, I'm mighty sorry, too. But, to speak truth, he and I have been so apart, and have had nothin' to do with each other for so long that--that, well, I've come to feel as if I didn't have a brother. And I know he felt that way. Yes, and wanted to feel so--I know that."
"I wouldn't say that, if I were you," observed the lawyer, gently. "I think you're mistaken there."
"I ain't mistaken. Why, look here, Mr. Graves! There was a time when I'd have got down on my knees and crawled from here to New York to help 'Bije Warren. I lent him money to start in business. Later on him and I went into partnership together on a--a fool South American speculation that didn't pan out for nothin'. I didn't care for that. I took my chance same as he did, we formed a stock company all amongst ourselves, and I've got my share of the stock somewhere yet. It may come in handy if I ever want to paper the barn. But 'twa'n't business deals of that kind that parted us, 'twas another matter. Somethin' that he did to other folks who'd trusted us and... Humph! this don't interest you, of course... Well, 'Bije was well off, I know. His wife died way back in the nineties. She was one of them fashionable women, and a hayseed salt-herrin' of a bachelor brother-in-law stuck down here in the sandheaps didn't interest her much--except as somethin' to forget, I s'pose. I used to see her name in the Boston papers occasionally, givin' parties at Newport and one thing a'nother. I never envied 'em that kind of life. I'm as well fixed as I want to be. Got some money put by for a rainy spell, comf'table house and land, best town on earth to live in and work for; I'm satisfied and always have been. I wouldn't change for nothin'. But I'm nine year older than 'Bije was--and yet I'm left alive. Hum!"
"Your brother had two children by his marriage," said Graves, after a moment of silence.
"Hey? Two children? Why, yes, I remember he did. Boy and girl, wa'n't they? I never saw em. They've growed up by this time, of course."
"Yes, the eldest, Caroline, is nearly twenty. The boy, Stephen, is a year younger. It is concerning those children, Captain Warren, that I have come to you."
Captain Elisha turned in his chair. "Hey?" he queried. "The children? You've come to me about 'Bije's children?"
Graves nodded. "Yes," he answered, solemnly. "That is what I meant by saying your brother had not forgotten you or wished to forget you. In spite of the estrangement, it is evident that his confidence in your judgment and integrity was supreme. His children were his idols, Captain Warren, and he has left them in your charge."
The captain's pipe fell to the hearth.
"What?" he shouted. "Left his children to--to me! Mr. Graves, you're--you're out of your head--or I am!"
"No, I'm perfectly sane. I have a copy of the will here, and--"
He was interrupted by Miss Baker, who appeared at the door of the dining room. "Did you want me, 'Lisha?" she asked.
Her employer stared at her in a dazed, uncomprehending way.
"Want you?" he repeated. "Want you?"
"Yes; I heard you holler, and I thought p'raps you was callin' me."
"Hey? No, I don't want you, Abbie.... Holler! I shouldn't wonder! If all I did was holler, I'm surprised at myself. No, no! Run along out and shut the door. Yes, shut it.... Now, Mr. Graves, say that over again and say it slow."
"I say that your brother has left his two children in your care until the youngest shall become of age--twenty-one. I have a copy of his will here, and--"
"Wait, wait! let me think. Left his children to me!... to me. Mr. Graves, had 'Bije lost all his money?"
"No. He was not the millionaire that many thought him. Miss Warren and her brother will be obliged to economize somewhat in their manner of living. But, with care and economy, their income should be quite sufficient, without touching the principal, to--"
"Hold on again; the income, you say. What is that income?"
"Roughly speaking, a mere estimate, about twenty to twenty-five thousand yearly."
Captain Elisha had stooped to pick up the pipe he had dropped. His fingers touched it, but they did not close. Instead he straightened up in his chair as if suffering from an electric shock.
"Mr. Graves," he began; "Mr. Graves, are you cra--. No, I asked you that before. But--but twenty thousand a--a year! For mercy sakes, what's the principal?"
"In the neighborhood of five hundred thousand, I believe. Of course, we had no authority to investigate thoroughly. That will be a part of your duties, but--"
"S-shh! Let me soak this into my brains a little at a time. 'Bije leaves his children five hundred thousand, half a million, and--and they've got to economize! And I'm... Would you mind readin' me that will?"
The attorney drew a long envelope from his pocket, extracted therefrom a folded document, donned a pair of gold-mounted eyeglasses, and began to read aloud.
The will was short and very concise. "'I, Abijah Rodgers Warren, being of sound mind--'"
"You're sartin that part's true, are you?" broke in the captain.
Graves nodded, rather impatiently, and continued. "'Of sound mind, memory and understanding, do make, publish and declare this to be my last will and testament, in manner following, that is to say:--
"'First:--I direct my executor hereinafter named to pay my just debts and funeral expenses as soon as maybe convenient after my decease.'"
"Did he owe much, think likely?" asked Captain Elisha.
"Apparently not. Very little beyond the usual bills of a household."
"Yes, yes. Grocer and butcher and baker and suchlike. Well, I guess they won't have to put in a keeper. Heave ahead."
"'Second:--I give, devise and bequeath all my estate, both real and personal, to my brother, Elisha Warren, if he survive--'"
The captain gasped. "To me?" he cried, in utter amazement. "He leaves it to me? 'Bije leaves--say, Mr. Graves, there's some mistake here somewhere, sure! And besides, you said--"
"Just a minute, Captain Warren, if you please. If you'll be patient and not interrupt, I'll try to make the whole matter plain."
"Well, if you can do that, you'll have King Solomon and all his wisdom beat a mile, that's all I've got to say. Go on."
"'To my brother, Elisha Warren, if he survive me, in trust, nevertheless, for the following purpose, to wit:--
"'To invest the same and to use the income thereof for the education and maintenance of my two children, Caroline Edgecombe Warren--'"
"Edgecombe? Named for some of his wife's folks, I presume likely. Excuse me for puttin' my oar in again. Go on."
"'And Stephen Cole Warren--'"
"That's his wife, sartin. She was a Cole. I swan, I beg your pardon."
"'Until the elder, Caroline Edgecombe Warren, shall have reached her twenty-first birthday, when one-half of the principal of said estate, together with one-half of the accumulated interest, shall be given to her, and the trust continued for the education and maintenance of my son, Stephen Cole Warren, until he shall have reached his twenty-first birthday, when I direct that the remainder be given to him.
"'Third:--I appoint as testamentary guardian of my said children my said brother, Elisha Warren.
"'Fourth:--I appoint as sole executor of this, my last will and testament, my said brother, Elisha Warren.
"'Fifth:--Imposing implicit trust and confidence in Elisha Warren, my brother, I direct that he be not required to give bond for the performance of any of the affairs or trusts to which he has been herein appointed.'
"The remainder," concluded Graves, refolding the will, "is purely formal. It is dated May 15th, three years ago. Your brother, Captain Warren, evidently realized, although no one else seems to have done so, the precarious state of his health, and prepared, as every careful person should, for the great emergency."
The attorney removed his eyeglasses and rubbed them with his handkerchief. Captain Elisha sat silent, staring at the fire. After an interval, Graves spoke again.
"Of course, Captain," he went on, "my errand is now plain. I come to acquaint you with your brother's last wishes and to ascertain whether or not you are willing to accept the trust and responsibility he has laid upon you. As you doubtless know, the state provides a legal rate of reimbursement for such services as yours will--or may--be. Ahem!"
"May be? You mean I ain't got to do this thing unless I want to?"
"Certainly. You have the right to renounce the various appointments, in which case another executor, trustee, and guardian will be appointed. I realize, and I'm sure that your brother's children will realize, your hesitance in assuming such a responsibility over persons whom you have never even met."
"Yes, I guess we'll all realize it; you needn't worry about that. Look here, do the children know I'm elected?"
"Yes. Of course, the will has been read to them."
"Hum! I s'pose likely they was overcome with joy, wa'n't they?"
Graves bit his lip. Remembering the comments of Miss Caroline and her brother when they learned of their uncle's appointment, he had difficulty in repressing a smile.
"Well," he replied, slowly, "of course, one could scarcely expect them to rejoice. They have never seen you. In fact, I doubt if either of them knew their father had a brother, living."
"Y-e-e-s. That part don't surprise me. But the rest of it does. By the miracles of the prophets! the rest of it does! That 'Bije--'Bije--should leave his children and their money to me to take care of is passin' human belief, as our old minister used to say--... Humph! I s'pose likely, Mr. Graves, you'd like to have me say yes or no to the thing while you're here, hey?"
Graves nodded. "It would be well to do so," he said. "The settlement of the estate must be taken in hand as soon as possible. The law so directs."
"Yes, I see that. Well, what would you advise my doin'?"
To this direct question the lawyer returned a noncommittal answer.
"I'm afraid that must be answered by yourself alone, Captain Warren," he said. "Of course, the acceptance of the trust will necessarily involve much trouble and inconvenience, especially to one of your--er--settled and--er--conservative--I judge merely from what you have said--your conservative habits. The estate is large, the investments are, doubtless, many and varied, and the labor of looking into and investigating them may require some technical skill and knowledge of finance. Yes."
"Um-hm.... Well, I judge that that kind of skill and knowledge could be hired, if a feller felt like payin' fair wages; hey?"
"Oh, yes, yes. Any good lawyer could attend to that, under the supervision of the executor, certainly. But there are other inconveniences to a--a--"
"Country jay like me. I understand. Go ahead."
"I mean that you would probably be required to spend much, or all, of the next two or three years in New York."
"Would, hey? I didn't know but bein' as a guardian has entire charge of the children and their money and all--I understand that's what he does have--he could direct the children fetched down to where he lived, if he wanted to. Am I wrong?"
"No," the lawyer's hesitancy and annoyance was plainly evident. "No-o. Of course, that might be done. Still, I--"
"You think that wouldn't cause no more rejoicin' than some other things have? Yes, yes; I cal'late I understand, Mr. Graves. Well, I guess you'll have to give me to-night to chew over this. I guess you will. It's come on me so sudden, 'Bije's death and all, that I want to be by myself and think. I don't want to seem unsociable or lackin' in hospitality. The whole house is yours. Help yourself to it. But when I'm caught in a clove hitch, I just have to set down and think myself out of it. I have to. I was built and launched that way, I guess, and maybe you'll excuse me."
"Certainly, Captain Warren. You're quite right in wishing to deliberate on so important a matter. And, if you will excuse me in return, I believe I will go to my room. I've had a rather wearing day."
"And a damp evenin'. Yes, I'll excuse and sympathize with you, too. I'll see you to your room, and I'll hope you'll have consider'ble more sleep than I'm likely to get. Abbie!... Abbie!... Fetch Mr. Graves's lamp, won't you, please?"
It was after two the next morning before Captain Elisha rose from his chair by the fire and entered his bed chamber. Yet, when Atwood Graves came down to breakfast, he found his host in the sitting room awaiting him.
"Afore we tackle Abbie's pancakes and fishballs, Mr. Graves," said the captain, "let's get the rest of that will business off our minds. Then we can have the pancakes to take the taste out of our mouths, as you might say. And let me ask you one more question. This--er--er--Caroline and Stephen, they're used to livin' pretty well--fashionable society, and the like of that, hey?"
"Yes. Their home was on Fifth Avenue, and the family moved in the best circles."
"Hum! I should imagine life on twenty-odd thousand a year must be pretty much all circles, one everlastin' 'turn your partners.' Well, Mr. Graves, my circles down here are consider'ble smaller, but they suit me. I'm worth twenty-odd thousand myself, not in a year, but in a lifetime. I'm selectman and director in the bank and trustee of the church. When I holler 'Boo,' the South Denboro folks--some of them, anyhow--set up and take notice. I can lead the grand march down in this neighborhood once in a while, and I cal'late I'm prettier leadin' it than I would be doin' a solitaire jig for two years on the outside edge of New York's best circles. And I'm mighty sure I'm more welcome. Now my eyesight's strong enough to see through a two-foot hole after the plug's out, and I can see that you and 'Bije's children won't shed tears if I say no to that will. No offense meant, you know; just common sense, that's all."
This was plain speaking. Mr. Graves colored, though he didn't mean to, and for once could not answer offhand.
"So," continued the captain, "I'll ease your and their minds by sayin' that, the way I feel now, I probably sha'n't accept the trust. I probably sha'n't. But I won't say sure I won't, because--well, because 'Bije was my brother; he was that, no matter what our diff'rences may have been. And I know--I know that there must be some reason bigger than 'implicit trust' and the other May-baskets for his appointin' me in his will. What that reason is I don't know--yet."
"Then you intend--?"
"I don't know what I intend--in the end. But for a beginnin', I cal'late to run down to New York some time durin' the next week, take a cruise 'round, and sort of look things over."