Cap'n Warren's Wards by Joseph Crosby Lincoln
It was April; and May was close at hand. The weather was all that late April weather should be, and so often is not. Trees, bushes, and vines were in bud; the green of the new grass was showing everywhere above the dead brown of the old; a pair of bluebirds were inspecting the hollow of the old apple tree, with an eye toward spring housekeeping; the sun was warm and bright, and the water of the Sound sparkled in the distance. Caroline, sitting by the living-room window, was waiting for her uncle to return from the city.
In the kitchen Annie Moriarty was preparing dinner. Annie was now cook as well as chamber-maid, for, of all the Warren servants, she was the only one remaining. Edwards, the "Commodore," had been dismissed, had departed, not without reluctance but philosophically, to seek other employment. "Yes, miss," observed Edwards, when notified that his services were no longer required; "I understand. I've been expecting it. I was in a family before that met with financial difficulties, and I know the signs. All I can say is that I hope you and Mr. Stephen will get on all right, miss. If there's anything I can do to help you, by way of friendship, please let me know. I'd be glad, for old times' sake. And the cook wanted me to tell you that, being as she's got another job in sight and was paid up to date, she wouldn't wait for notice, but was leaving immediate. She's gone already, miss."
The second maid went also. But Annie, Irish and grateful, refused to go. Her mother came to back her in the refusal.
"Indeed she'll not leave you, Miss Caroline--you nor Captain Warren neither. Lord love him! Sure, d'ye think we'll ever forget what you and him done for me and my Pat and the childer? You've got to have somebody, ain't you? And Annie's cookin' ain't so bad that it'll kill yez; and I'll learn her more. Never mind what the wages is, they're big enough. She'll stay! If she didn't, I'd break her back."
So, when the apartment was given up, and Captain Elisha and his wards moved to the little house in Westchester County, Annie came with them. And her cooking, though not by any means equal to that at Delmonico's, had not killed them yet. Mrs. Moriarty came once a week to do the laundry work. Caroline acted as a sort of inexperienced but willing supervising housekeeper.
The house itself had been procured through the kind interest of Sylvester. Keeping the apartment was, under the circumstances, out of the question, and Caroline hated it and was only too anxious to give it up. She had no suggestions to make. She would go anywhere, anywhere that her guardian deemed best; but might they not please go at once? She expected that he would suggest South Denboro, and she would have gone there without a complaint. To get away from the place where she had been so miserable was her sole wish. And trusting and believing in her uncle as she now did, realizing that he had been right always and had worked for her interest throughout, and having been shown the falseness and insincerity of the others whom she had once trusted implicitly, she clung to him with an appeal almost piteous. Her pride was, for the time, broken. She was humble and grateful. She surrendered to him unconditionally, and hoped only for his forgiveness and love.
The captain did not suggest South Denboro. He did, however, tell Sylvester that he believed a little place out of the city would be the better refuge for the present.
"Poor Caroline's switched clear around," he said to the lawyer, "and you can't blame her much. She cal'lates New York's nothin' but a sham from stern to stern, manned by liars and swindlers and hypocrites and officered by thieves. 'Tain't no use to tell her 'tain't, though she might pretend to believe it, if I told her, for just now the poor girl thinks I'm Solomon and Saint Peter rolled into one. The way she agrees to whatever I say and the way she looks at me and sort of holds on to me, as if I was her only anchor in a gale, I declare it makes me feel meaner than poorhouse tea--and that's made of blackberry leaves steeped in memories of better things, so I've heard say. Am I a low down scamp, playin' a dirty mean trick on a couple of orphans? What do you think, Sylvester?"
"You know what I think, Captain Warren," replied the lawyer. "You're handling the whole matter better than any other man could handle it. No one else would have thought of it, to begin with; and the results so far prove that you're right."
"Yup. Maybe. I wish you was around to say that to me when I wake up nights and get to thinkin'. However, as I said, Caroline believes New York is like a sailors' dance hall, a place for decent folks to steer clear of. And when the feller you've been engaged to is shown up as a sneak and your own dad as a crook--well, you can't blame a green hand for holdin' prejudice against the town that raised 'em. She'll get over it; but just now I cal'late some little flat, or, better still, a little home out where the back yards ain't made of concrete, would be a first-class port for us to make for. Don't know of such a place at a reasonable rent, do you?"
"I might find one. And you may be right; your niece might like it better, though it will be somewhat of a change. But how about your nephew? He has no objection to the metropolis, I should judge. What will he say?"
"Nothin', I guess--unless he says it to himself. Steve's goin' back to New Haven with things on his mind. He and I had a mornin' service, and I was the parson. He listened, because when you ain't got a cent except what the society allows you, it ain't good orthodoxy to dodge the charity sermon. Steve'll behave, and what he don't like he'll lump. If he starts to open his mouth his ear'll ache, I cal'late. I talked turkey to that young man. Ye-es," with a slight smile, "I'm sort of afraid I lost patience with Stevie."
When Caroline first saw the little house, with its shingled sides, the dead vines over the porch, and the dry stalks of last year's flowers in the yard, her heart sank. With the wind blowing and the bare branches of the old apple tree scraping the roof and whining dolefully, it looked bleak and forsaken. It was so different, so unhomelike, and so, to her eyes, small and poverty-stricken. She made believe that she liked it, exclaimed over the view--which, on the particular day, was desolate enough--and declared the Dutch front door was "old-fashioned and dear." But Captain Elisha, watching her closely, knew that she was only waiting to be alone to give way to wretchedness and tears. He understood, had expected that she would feel thus, but he was disappointed, nevertheless. However, after the front door was passed and they were inside the house, Caroline looked about her in delighted amazement. The living room was small, but bright and warm and cheery. On its walls, hiding the rather vivid paper, were hung some of the best of Rodgers Warren's pictures--the Corot, the codfisher, and others. The furniture and rugs were those which had been in the library of the apartment, those she had been familiar with all her life. The books, many of them, were there, also. And the dining room, except for size, looked like home. So did the bedrooms; and, in the kitchen, Annie grinned a welcome.
"But how could you?" asked Caroline. "How could you keep all these things, Uncle Elisha? I thought, of course, they must all be sold. I cried when they took them away that day when we were leaving to go to the hotel. I was sure I should never see them again. And here they all are! How could you do it?"
The captain's grin was as wide as Annie's. "Oh," he explained, "I couldn't let 'em all go. Never intended to. That five thousand dollar codder up there seemed like own folks, pretty nigh. I'd have kept him, if we had to live in one room and a trunk. And we ain't got to that--yet. I tell you, dearie, I thought they'd make you feel more to home. And they do, don't they?"
The look she gave him was answer sufficient.
"But the creditors?" she asked. "That man who--they belong to him, don't they? I supposed of course they must go with the rest."
Captain Elisha winked. "There's times," he answered, "when I believe in cheatin' my creditors. This is one of 'em. Never you mind that feller you mentioned. He's got enough, confound him! He didn't have the face to ask for any more. Sylvester looked out for that. Five hundred thousand, droppin' in, as you might say, unexpected, ought to soften anybody's heart; and I judge even that feller's got some bowels of mercy."
He changed the subject hastily, but Caroline asked no more questions. She never alluded to the lost estate, never expressed any regrets, nor asked to know who it was that had seized her all. The captain had expected her to ask, had been ready with the same answer he had given Stephen, but when he hinted she herself had forbade his continuing. "Don't tell me about it," she begged. "I don't want to know any more. Father did wrong, but--but I know he did not mean to. He was a good, kind father to me, and I loved him. This man whose money he took had a right to it, and now it is his. He doesn't wish us to know who he is, so Steve says, and I'm glad. I don't want to know, because if I did I might hate him. And," with a shudder, "I am trying so hard not to hate anybody."
Her make-believe liking for the little home became more and more real as spring drew near. She began to take an interest in it, in the flower garden, in the beds beside the porch, where the peonies and daffodils were beginning to show green heads above the loam, and in the household affairs. And she had plans of her own, not connected with these. She broached them to her uncle, and they surprised and delighted him, although he would not give his consent to them entirely.
"You mustn't think," she said, "that, because I have been willing to live on your money since mine went, that I mean to continue doing it. I don't. I've been thinking a great deal, and I realize that I must earn my own way just as soon as I can. I'm not fitted for anything now; but I can be and I shall. I've thought perhaps I might learn stenography or--or something like that. Girls do."
He looked at her serious face and choked back his laugh.
"Why, yes," he admitted, "they do, that's a fact. About four hundred thousand of 'em do, and four hundred thousand more try to and then try to make business men think that they have. I heard Sylvester sputterin' about a couple in his office t'other day; said they was no good and not worth the seven dollars a week he paid 'em."
"Seven dollars a week!" she repeated.
"Yes. Course some make three times that and more; but they're the experienced ones, the good ones. And there's heaps that don't. What makes you so sot on earnin' a livin', Caroline? Ain't you satisfied with the kind I'm tryin' to give you?"
She regarded him reproachfully. "Please don't say that," she protested. "You always treat your kindness as a joke, but to me it--it--"
"There! there!" quickly. "Don't let's talk foolish. I see what you mean, dearie. It ain't the livin' but because I'm givin' it to you that troubles you. I know. Well, I ain't complainin' but I understand your feelin's and respect 'em. However, I shouldn't study type-writin', if I was you. There's too much competition in it to be comfortable, as the fat man said about runnin' races. I've got a suggestion, if you want to listen to it."
"I do, indeed. What is it?"
"Why, just this. I've been about everythin' aboard ship, but I've never been a steward. Now I'll say this much for Annie, she tried hard. She tumbled into general housekeepin' the way Asa Foster said he fell into the cucumber frame--with a jolt and a jingle; and she's doin' her best accordin' to her lights. But sometimes her lights need ile or trimmin' or somethin'. I've had the feelin' that we need a good housekeeper here. If Annie's intelligence was as broad and liberal as her shoes, we wouldn't; as 'tis, we do. I'll hire you, Caroline, for that job, if you say so."
"I? Uncle Elisha, you're joking!"
"No, I ain't. Course I realize you ain't had much experience in runnin' a house, and I hope you understand I don't want to hire you as a cook. But I've had a scheme in the back of my head for a fortni't or more. Somethin' Sylvester said about a young lady cousin of his made me think of it. Seems over here at the female college--you know where I mean--they're teachin' a new course that they've christened Domestic Science. Nigh's I can find out it is about what our great gran'marms larned at home; that, with up-to-date trimmin's. All about runnin' a house, it is; how to superintend servants, and what kind of things to have to eat, and how they ought to be cooked, and takin' care of children--Humph! we don't need that, do we?--and, well, everything that a home woman, rich or poor, ought to know. At least, she ought to 'cordin' to my old-fashioned notions. Sylvester's cousin goes there, and likes it; and I judge she ain't figgerin' to be anybody's hired help, either. My idea was about this: If you'd like to take this course, Caroline, you could do it afternoons. Mornin's and the days you had off, you could apply your science here at home, on Annie. Truly it would save me hirin' somebody else, and--well, maybe you'd enjoy it, you can't tell."
His niece seemed interested.
"I know of the Domestic Science course," she said. "Several of my friends--my former friends, were studying it. But I'm afraid, Uncle, that I don't see where earning my living has any part in it. It seems to me that it means your spending more money for me, paying my tuition."
"No more'n I'd spend for a competent housekeeper. Honest, Caroline, I'd like to do it. You think it over a spell."
She did, visiting the University and making inquiries. What she was told there decided her. She took up the course and enjoyed it. It occupied her mind and prevented her brooding over the past. She might have made many friends among the other students, but she was careful to treat them only as acquaintances. Her recent experience with "friends" was too fresh in her mind. She studied hard and applied her knowledge at home. She and Annie made some odd and funny mistakes at first, but they were not made twice, and Captain Elisha noticed a great improvement in the housekeeping. Also, Caroline's spirits improved, though more slowly.
Most evenings they spent together in the living room. She read aloud to her uncle, who smoked his cigar and listened, commenting on the doings of the story folk with characteristic originality and aptitude. Each night, after the reading was over, he wrote his customary note to Abbie Baker at South Denboro. He made one flying trip to that village: "Just to prove to 'em that I'm still alive," as he explained it. "Some of those folks down there at the postoffice must have pretty nigh forgot to gossip about me by this time. They've had me eloped and married and a millionaire and a pauper long ago, I don't doubt. And now they've probably forgot me altogether. I'll just run down and stir 'em up. Good subjects for yarns are scurce at that postoffice, and they ought to be thankful."
On his return he told his niece that he found everything much as usual. "Thoph Kenney's raised a beard 'cause shavin's so expensive; and the Come-Outer minister called the place the other denominations are bound for 'Hades,' and his congregation are thinkin' of firin' him for turnin' Free-Thinker. That's about all the sensations," he said. "I couldn't get around town much on account of Abbie. She kept me in bed most of the time, while she sewed on buttons and mended. Said she never saw a body's clothes in such a state in her life."
A few of the neighbors called occasionally. And there were other callers. Captain Elisha's unexpected departure from Mrs. Hepton's boarding house had caused a sensation and much regret to that select establishment. The landlady, aided and abetted by Mrs. Van Winkle Ruggles, would have given a farewell tea in his honor, but he declined. "Don't you do it," he said. "I like my tea pretty strong, and farewells are watery sort of things, the best of 'em. And this ain't a real farewell, anyhow."
"'Say au revoir, but not good-by,'" sang Miss Sherborne sentimentally.
"That's it. Everybody knows what good-by means. We'll say the other thing--as well as we can--and change it to 'Hello' the very first time any of you come out to see us."
They were curious to know his reason for leaving. He explained that his niece was sort of lonesome and needed country air; he was going to live with her, for the present. Consequently Mrs. Ruggles, on the trail of aristocracy, was the first to call. Hers was a stately and ceremonious visit. They were glad when it was over. Lawton, the bookseller and his wife, came and were persuaded to remain and dine. Caroline liked them at sight. The most impressive call, however, was that of Mr. and Mrs. "C." Dickens. The great man made it a point to dress in the style of bygone years, and his conversation was a treat. His literary labors were fatiguing and confining, he admitted, and the "little breath of rural ozone" which this trip to Westchester County gave him, was like a tonic--yes, as one might say, a tonic prescribed and administered by Dame Nature herself.
"I formerly resided in the country," he told Caroline.
"Yes," put in his wife, "we used to live at Bayonne, New Jersey. We had such a pretty house there, that is, half a house; you see it was a double one, and--"
"Maria," her husband waved his hand, "why trouble our friends with unnecessary details."
"But it was a pretty house, 'C.,' dear," with a pathetic little sigh. "I've missed it a great deal since, Miss Warren. 'C.' had a joke about it--he's such a joker! He used to call it 'Gad's Hill, Junior.'"
"Named after some of David B.'s folks?" asked Captain Elisha innocently. The answer, delivered by Mr. Dickens, was condescending and explanatory.
Caroline laughed, actually laughed aloud, when the visit was over. Her uncle was immensely pleased.
"Hooray!" he cried. "I'll invite 'em up to stay a week. That's the fust time I've heard you laugh for I don't know when."
She laughed again. "I can't help it," she said; "they are so funny."
The captain chuckled. "Yes," he said, "and they don't know it. I cal'late a person's skull has got room for just about so much in it and no more. Cornelius Charles's head is so jammed with self-satisfaction that his sense of humor was crowded out of door long ago."
One boarder at Mrs. Hepton's did not call, nor did Captain Elisha allude to him. Caroline noticed the latter fact and understood the reason. Also, when the captain went to the city, as he frequently did, and remained longer than usual, she noticed that his explanations of the way in which he spent his time were sometimes vague and hurried. She understood and was troubled. Yet she thought a great deal on the subject before she mentioned it.
On the April afternoon when Caroline sat at the window of the living room awaiting her uncle's return she was thinking of that subject. But, at last, her mind was made up. It was a hard thing to do; it was humiliating, in a way; it might--though she sincerely hoped not--be misconstrued as to motive; but it was right. Captain Elisha had been so unselfish, so glad to give up every personal inclination in order to please her, that she would no longer permit her pride to stand in the way of his gratification, even in little things. At least, she would speak to him on the matter.
He came on a later than his usual train, and at dinner, when she asked where he had been, replied, "Oh, to see Sylvester, and--er--around." She asked him no more, but, when they were together in the living room, she moved her chair over beside his and said without looking at him:
"Uncle Elisha, I know where you've been this afternoon. You've been to see Mr. Pearson."
"Hey?" He started, leaned back and regarded her with astonishment and some alarm.
"You've been to see Mr. Pearson," she repeated, "haven't you?"
"Why--why, yes, Caroline, I have--to tell you the truth. I don't see how you knew, but," nervously, "I hope you don't feel bad 'cause I did. I go to see him pretty often. You see, I think a good deal of him--a whole lot of him. I think he's a fine young feller. Course I know you don't, and so I never mention him to you. But I do hope you ain't goin' to ask me not to see him."
She shook her head. "No," she said. "I would have no right to ask that, even if I wished to. And I do not wish it. Uncle Elisha, if you were alone here, he would come to see you; I know he would. Invite him to come, please."
His astonishment was greater than ever.
"Invite him to come here?" he asked. "To see you?"
"No," hastily; "to see you. This is your home. I have no right to keep your friends from visiting it. I know you would sacrifice everything for me, even them; but I will not be so selfish as to allow it. Ask him here, please. I really want you to."
He pulled his beard. "Caroline," he answered slowly, "I'm much obliged to you. I understand why you're doin' this, and I thank you. But it ain't likely that I'll say yes, is it? And do you suppose Jim would come if I did ask him? He knows you believe he's a--well, all that's bad. You told him so, and you sent him away. I will give in that I'd like to have him here. He's one of the few men friends I've made since I landed in New York. But, under the circumstances--you feelin' as you do--I couldn't ask him, and he wouldn't come if I did."
She remained silent for a time. Then she said:
"Uncle, I want you to tell me the truth about Mr. Pearson and father--just why they quarreled and the real truth of the whole affair. Don't spare my feelings; tell me what you believe is the true story. I know you think Mr. Pearson was right, for you said so."
The captain was much troubled.
"I--I don't know's I'd better, dearie," he answered. "I think I do know the truth, but you might think I was hard on 'Bije--on your father. I ain't. And I sympathize with the way he felt, too. But Jim did right, as I see it. He acted just as I'd want a son of mine to do. And... Well, I cal'late we'd better not rake up old times, had we?"
"I want you to tell me. Please do."
"I don't know's I'd better. You have been told the story different, and--"
"I know I have. That is the reason why I ask you to tell it. Oh," with a flash of scorn, "I was told many stories, and I want to forget them. And," sadly, "I can bear whatever you may tell me, even about father. Since I learned that he was a--a--"
"S-sh, Caroline; don't!"
"After that, I can bear anything, I think. This cannot be worse."
"Worse! No, not! This ain't very bad. I will tell you, dearie. This is just what happened."
He told her the exact truth concerning the Trolley Combine, his brother's part in it, and Pearson's. She listened without comment.
"I see," she said when he had finished. "I think I see. Mr. Pearson felt that, as a newspaper man, an honest one, he must go on. He knew that the thing was wrong and that innocent people might lose money in it. It was his duty to expose it, and he did it, even though it meant the loss of influence and of father's friendship. I see."
"That was about it, Caroline. I think the hardest part for him was when 'Bije called him ungrateful. 'Bije had been mighty kind to him, that's a fact."
"Yes. Father was kind; I know that better than anyone else. But Mr. Pearson was right. Yes, he was right, and brave."
"So I size it up. And I do sympathize with your father, too. This wa'n't such an awful lot worse than a good many stock deals. And poor 'Bije was perfectly desp'rate, I guess. If it had gone through he'd have been able to square accounts with the Rubber Company; and just think what that would have meant to him. Poor feller! poor feller!" He sighed. She reached for his hand and stroked it gently with her own.
After another interval she said: "How I insulted and wronged him! How he must despise me!"
"Who? Jim? No, no! he don't do any such thing. He knows you didn't understand, and who was responsible. Jim's got sense, lots of it."
"But it is my misunderstanding and my insulting treatment of him which have kept you two apart--here, at any rate."
"Don't let that worry you, Caroline. I see him every once in a while, up to the city."
"It does worry me; and it will, until it is made right. And," in a lower tone, but with decision, "it shall be."
She rose and, bending over, kissed him on the forehead. "Good night, Uncle," she said.
Captain Elisha was disappointed. "What!" he exclaimed. "Goin' aloft so soon? We ain't had our readin' yet. Pretty early to turn in, seems to me. Stay a little longer, do."
"Not to-night, dear. I'm going to my room. Please excuse me this time." She turned to go and then, turning back again, asked a final question.
"You're sure," she said, hesitatingly; "you're quite sure he will not come here--to you--if you tell him I understand, and--and you ask him?"
"Well, Caroline, I don't know. You see, I was responsible for his comin' before. He had some scruples against it then, but I talked him down. He's sort of proud, Jim is, and he might--might not want to--to--"
"I see. Good night, Uncle."
The next morning, after breakfast, she came to him again.
"Uncle Elisha," she said, "I have written him."
"What? You've written? Written who?"
"Mr. Pearson. I wrote him, telling him I had learned the true story of his disagreement with father and that he was right and I was wrong. I apologized for my behavior toward him. Now, I think, perhaps, if you ask him, he will come."
The captain looked at her. He realized the sacrifice of her pride which writing that letter must have meant, and that she had done it for him. He was touched and almost sorry she had done it. He took both her hands in his.
"Dearie," he said, "you shouldn't have done that. I didn't expect you to. I know you did it just for my sake. I won't say I ain't glad; I am, in one way. But 'twa'n't necessary, and 'twas too much, too hard for you altogether."
"Don't say that," she begged. "Too much! I never can do enough. Compared to what you have done for me it--it... Oh, please let me do what little I can. But, Uncle Elisha, promise me one thing; promise that you will not ask me to meet him, if he should come. That I couldn't do, even for you."