Cap'n Warren's Wards by Joseph Crosby Lincoln
November weather on Cape Cod is what Captain Elisha described as "considerable chancey." "The feller that can guess it two days ahead of time," he declared, "is wastin' his talents; he could make a livin' prophesyin' most anything, even the market price of cranberries." When Caroline, Sylvester, and the captain reached South Denboro after what seemed, to the two unused to the leisurely winter schedule of the railroad, an interminable journey from Fall River, the girl thought she had never seen a more gloomy sky or a more forbidding scene. Gray clouds, gray sea, brown bare fields; the village of white or gray-shingled houses set, for the most part, along the winding main street; the elms and silver-leaf poplars waving bare branches in the cutting wind; a picture of the fag end of loneliness and desolation, so it looked to her. She remembered Mr. Graves's opinion of the place, as jokingly reported by Sylvester, and she sympathized with the dignified junior partner.
But she kept her feelings hidden on her uncle's account. The captain was probably the happiest individual in the state of Massachusetts that morning. He hailed the train's approach to Sandwich as the entrance to Ostable County, the promised land, and, from that station on, excitedly pointed out familiar landmarks and bits of scenery and buildings with the gusto and enthusiasm of a school boy.
"That's Ostable court-house," he cried, pointing. "And see--see that red-roofed house right over there, just past that white church? That's where Judge Baxter lives; a mighty good friend of mine, the Judge is. I stopped to his house to dinner the night Graves came."
A little further on he added, "'Twas about here that I spoke to Graves fust. I noticed him sittin' right across the aisle from me, with a face on him sour as a sasser of green tamarind preserves, and I thought I'd be sociable. 'Tough night,' I says. 'Umph,' says he. 'Twa'n't a remark cal'lated to encourage conversation, so I didn't try again--not till his umbrella turned inside out on the Denboro platform. Ho! ho! I wish you'd have seen his face then."
At Denboro he pointed out Pete Shattuck's livery stable, where the horse and buggy came from which had been the means of transporting Graves and himself to South Denboro.
"See!" he cried. "See that feller holdin' up the corner of the depot with his back! the one that's so broad in the beam he has to draw in his breath afore he can button his coat. That's Pete. You'd think he was too sleepy to care whether 'twas to-day or next week, wouldn't you? Well, if you was a summer boarder and wanted to hire a team, you'd find Pete was awake and got up early. If a ten-cent piece fell off the shelf in the middle of the night he'd hear it, though I've known him to sleep while the minister's barn burned down. The parson had been preachin' against horse-tradin'; maybe that sermon was responsible for some of the morphine influence."
Sylvester was enjoying himself hugely. Captain Elisha's exuberant comments were great fun for him. "This is what I came for," he confided to Caroline. "I don't care if it rains or snows. I could sit and listen to your uncle for a year and never tire. He's a wonder. And I'm crazy to see that housekeeper of his. If she lives up to her reputation there'll be no disappointment in my Thanksgiving celebration."
Dan, the captain's hired man, met them with the carriage at the station, and Miss Baker met them at the door of the Warren home. The exterior of the big, old-fashioned, rambling house was inviting and homelike, in spite of the gloomy weather, and Caroline cheered up a bit when they turned in at the gate. Five minutes of Miss Abigail's society, and all gloom disappeared. One could not be gloomy where Miss Abbie was. Her smile of welcome was so broad that, as her employer said, "it took in all outdoor and some of Punkhorn Neck," a place which, he hastened to add, "was forgot durin' creation and has sort of happened of itself since."
Abbie conducted Caroline to her room--old-fashioned, like the rest of the house, but cozy, warm, and cheery--and, after helping in the removal of her wraps, seized her by both hands and took a long look at her face.
"You'll excuse my bein' so familiar on short acquaintance, dearie," she said, "but I've heard so much about you that I feel's if I knew you like own folks. And you are own folks, ain't you? Course you are! Everyone of 'Lisha's letters have had four pages of you to one of anything else. I begun to think New York was nothin' but you and a whole lot of ten-story houses. He thinks so much of you that I'd be jealous, if I had that kind of disposition and the time to spare. So I must have a good look at you... I declare! you're almost prettier than he said. May I kiss you? I'd like to."
She did, and they were friends at once.
The rest of that day and evening were busy times. Captain Elisha showed his visitors about the place, the barn, the cows, the pigpen--the pig himself had gone to fulfill the unhappy destiny of pigs, but they would meet him by sections later on, so the captain assured them. The house and buildings were spotless in paint and whitewash; the yard was raked clean of every dead leaf and twig; the whole establishment was so neat that Caroline remarked upon it.
"It looks as if it had been scoured," she said.
"Um-hm," observed her uncle, with a gratified nod; "that's Abbie. She hates dirt worse than she does laziness, and that ain't sayin' a little. I tell her she'd sand-soap the weather vane if she could climb up to it; as 'tis, she stays below and superintends Dan while he does it. If godliness wants to stay next to cleanliness when she's around it has to keep on the jump. I always buy shirts two degrees heavier'n I need, 'cause I know she'll have 'em scrubbed thin in a fortni't. When it comes to real Domestic Science, Caroline, Abbie ain't in the back row of the primer class, now I tell you."
Miss Baker had planned that her young guest should sit in state, with folded hands, in the parlor. She seemed to consider that the proper conduct for a former member of New York's best society. She was shocked when the girl volunteered to help her about the house.
"Course I sha'n't let you," she said. "The idea--and you company! Got more help than I know what to do with, as 'tis. 'Lisha was determined that I should hire a girl to wash dishes and things while you was here. Nothin' would do but that. So I got Annabel Haven's daughter, Etta G. There's fourteen in that family, and the land knows 'twas an act of charity takin' one appetite out of the house. Pay her fifty cents a day, I do, and she's out in the kitchen makin' believe wash windows. They don't need washin', but she was lookin' out of 'em most of the time, so I thought she might as well combine business with pleasure."
But Caroline refused to sit in the parlor and be "company." She insisted upon helping. Miss Baker protested and declared there was nothing on earth to be done; but her guest insisted that, if there was not, she herself must sit. As Abbie would have as soon thought of attending church without wearing her jet earrings as she would of sitting down before dinner, she gave in, after a while, and permitted Caroline to help in arranging the table.
"Why, you do fust-rate!" she exclaimed, in surprise. "You know where everything ought to go, just as if you'd been settin' table all your life. And you ain't, because 'Lisha wrote you used to keep hired help, two or three of 'em, all the time."
"I've been studying housekeeping for almost a year," she said.
"Studyin' it! Why, yes, now I remember 'Lisha wrote you'd been studyin' some kind of science at college. 'Twa'n't settin' table science, I guess, though. Ha! ha!"
"That was part of it." She explained the course briefly. Abigail listened in amazement.
"And they teach that--at school?" she demanded. "And take money for it? And call it science? My land! I guess I was brought up in a scientific household, then. I was the only girl in the family, and mother died when I was ten years old."
After dinner she consented to sit for a time, though not until she had donned her Sunday best, earrings and all. Captain Elisha and Sylvester sat with them, and the big fireplace in the sitting room blazed and roared as it had not since its owner left for his long sojourn in the city. In the evening callers came, the Congregational minister and his wife, and some of the neighbors. The latter were pleasant country people, another retired sea captain among them, and they all seemed to have great respect and liking for Captain Elisha and to be very glad to welcome him home. The two captains spun salt water yarns, and the lawyer again decided that he was getting just what he had come for. They left a little after nine, and Caroline said good night and went to her room. She was tired, mentally and physically.
But she did not fall asleep at once. Her mind was still busy with the suspicion which her uncle's words concerning his future plans for Steve had aroused. She had thought of little else since she heard them. The captain did not mention the subject again; possibly, on reflection, he decided that he had already said too much. And she asked no more questions. She determined not to question him--yet. She must think first, and then ask someone else--Sylvester. He knew the truth and, if taken by surprise, might be driven into confession, if there should be anything to confess. She was waiting for an opportunity to be alone with him, and that opportunity had not yet presented itself.
The captain would have spoken further with her concerning James Pearson. He was eager to do that. But her mind was made up; she had sent her lover away, and it was best for both. She must forget him, if she could. So, when her uncle would have spoken on that subject, she begged him not to; and he, respecting her feelings and believing that to urge would be bad policy, refrained.
But to forget, she found, was an impossibility. In the excitement of the journey and the arrival amid new surroundings, she had managed to keep up a show of good spirits, but now alone once more, with the wind singing mournfully about the gables and rattling the windows, she was sad and so lonely. She thought what her life had once promised to be and what it had become. She did not regret the old life, that life she had known before her father died; she had been happy in it while he lived, but miserable after his death. As for happiness, she had been happy that summer, happy with her uncle and with--him. And with him now, even though they would be poor, as she was used to reckoning poverty, she knew she could be very happy. She wondered what he was doing then; if he was thinking of her. She ought to hope that he was not, because it was useless; but she wished that he might be, nevertheless. Then she told herself that all this was wicked; she had made up her mind; she must be true to the task she had set, duty to her brother and uncle.
Her uncle! why had her uncle done all this for her? And why had her father made him their guardian? These were old questions, but now she asked them with a new significance. If that strange suspicion of hers was true it would explain so much; it would explain almost everything. But it could not be true; if it was, why had he not told her when the discovery of her father's dishonesty and of the note forfeiting the estate was made? Why had he not told her then? That was what troubled her most. It did not seem like him to do such a thing--not like his character at all. Therefore, it could not be true. Yet she must know. She resolved to question Sylvester the next day, if possible. And, so resolving, she at last fell asleep.
Her opportunity came the following morning, the day before Thanksgiving. After breakfast Captain Elisha went downtown to call on some acquaintances. He invited Caroline and the lawyer to accompany him, but they refused, the latter because he judged his, a stranger's, presence during the calls would be something of a hindrance to good fellowship and the discussion of town affairs which the captain was counting on, and Caroline because she saw her chance for the interview she so much desired.
After the captain had gone, Sylvester sat down before the fire in the sitting room to read the Boston Transcript. As he sat there, Caroline entered and closed the door behind her. Miss Abigail was in the kitchen, busy with preparations for the morrow's plum pudding.
The girl took the chair next that occupied by the lawyer. He put down his paper and turned to her.
"Well," he asked, "how does this Cape Cod air effect your appetite, Caroline? I'm ashamed of mine. I'm rather glad to-morrow is Thanksgiving; on that day, I believe, it is permissible, even commendable, to eat three times more than a self-respecting person ordinarily should."
She smiled, but her answer was in the form of another question, and quite irrelevant.
"Mr. Sylvester," she said, "I wish you would tell me something about the value of a seat on the Stock Exchange. What is the price of one?"
The lawyer looked at her in surprise.
"The value of a seat on the Stock Exchange?" he repeated.
"Yes; what does it cost to buy one?"
He hesitated, wondering why she should be interested in that subject. Captain Elisha had not told him a word of the interview following Pearson's last visit. He wondered, and then surmised a reason--Stephen, of course. Steve's ambition was to be a broker, and his sister was, doubtless, with sisterly solicitude and feminine ignorance of high prices, planning for his future.
"Well," he replied, smiling, "they're pretty expensive, I'm afraid, Caroline."
"Are they?" innocently.
"Yes. I think the last sale was at a figure between ninety and one hundred thousand dollars."
"Indeed! Was father's seat worth as much as that?"
"But," with a sigh, "that, I suppose, went with the rest of the estate."
"Into the hands of the man who took it all?"
"Yes; the same hands," with a sly smile at his own private joke.
"Then how does it happen that my uncle has it in his possession?"
The lawyer smiled no more. He turned in his chair and gazed quickly and keenly at the young lady beside him. And her gaze was just as keen as his own.
"What did you say?" he asked.
"I asked you how it happened that my uncle now has father's Stock Exchange seat in his possession."
"Why!... Has he?"
"Yes. And I think you know he has, Mr. Sylvester. I know it, because he told me so himself. Didn't you know it?"
This was a line shot from directly in front and a hard one to dodge. A lie was the only guard, and he was not in the habit of lying, even professionally.
"I--I cannot answer these questions," he declared. "They involve professional secrets and--"
"I don't see that this is a secret. My uncle has already told me. What I could not understand was how he obtained the seat from the man to whom it was given as a part of father's debt. Do you know how he obtained it?"
"Er--well--er--probably an arrangement was made. I cannot go into details, because--well, for obvious reasons. You must excuse me, Caroline."
He rose to go.
"One moment more," she said, "and one more question. Mr. Sylvester, who is this mysterious person--this stockholder whom father defrauded, this person who wishes his name kept a secret, but who does such queer things? Who is he?"
"Caroline, I tell you I cannot answer these questions. He does wish to remain unknown, as I told you and your brother when we first learned of him and his claim. If I were to tell you I should break my faith with him.... You must excuse me; you really must."
"Mr. Sylvester, perhaps you don't need to tell me. Perhaps I can guess. Isn't he my--"
"Caroline, I cannot--"
"Isn't he my uncle, Elisha Warren?"
Sylvester was half way to the door, but she was in his path and looking him directly in the face. He hesitated.
"I thought so," she said. "You needn't answer, Mr. Sylvester; your face is answer enough. He is."
She turned away, and, walking slowly to the chair from which she had arisen, sank into it.
"He is," she repeated. "I knew it. I wonder that I didn't know it from the very first. How could I have been so blind!"
The lawyer, nervous, chagrined, and greatly troubled, remained standing by the door. He did not know whether to go or stay. He took his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his forehead.
"Whew!" he exclaimed. "Well, by--George!"
She paid no attention to him, but went on, speaking, apparently, to herself.
"It explains everything," she said. "He was father's brother; and father, in some way, took and used his money. But father knew what sort of man he was, and so he asked him to be our guardian. Father thought he would be kind to us, I suppose. And he has been kind--he has. But why did he keep it a secret? Why did he... I don't understand that. Of course the money was his; all we had was his, by right. But to say nothing... and to let us believe... It does not seem like him at all. It..."
Sylvester interrupted quickly. "Caroline! Caroline!" he said, "don't make any mistake. Don't misjudge your uncle again. He is a good man; one of the best men I ever knew. Yes, and one of the wisest. Don't say or think anything for which you may be sorry. I am speaking as your friend."
She turned toward him once more, the distressed, puzzled look still on her face. "But I don't understand," she cried. "He... Oh, Mr. Sylvester, please, now that I do know--now that you have told me so much--won't you tell me the rest; the reason and--all of it? Please!"
The lawyer shook his head, regarding her with an expression of annoyance and reluctant admiration.
"Now that I've told you!" he repeated. "I don't remember that I've told you anything."
"But you have. Not in words, perhaps, but you have told me. I know. Please go on and tell me all. If you don't," with determination, "I shall make Uncle Elisha tell me as soon as he comes. I shall!"
Sylvester sighed. "Well, by George!" he repeated, feelingly. "I'll tell you one thing, young woman, you're wasting your talents. You should be a member of the bar. Anyone who can lead a battle-scarred veteran of cross-examination like myself into a trap and then spring it on him, as you have done, is gifted by Providence."
"But will you tell me?"
He hesitated, perplexed and doubtful.
"I ought not to say another word on the subject," he declared, emphatically. "What Captain Warren will say to me when he finds this out is unpleasant to consider. But... But yet, I don't know. It may be better for you to learn the real truth than to know a part and guess wrongly at the rest. I... What is it you want me to tell you?"
"Everything. I want you to sit down here by me and tell me the whole story, from the beginning. Please."
He hesitated a moment longer and, then, his mind made up, returned to his chair, crossed his legs and began. "Here it is," he said.
"Caroline, about twenty years ago, or such matter, your father was a comparatively poor man--poor, I mean, compared to what he afterward became. But he was a clever man, an able business man, one who saw opportunities and grasped them. At that time he obtained a grant in South America for--"
"I know," she interrupted; "the Akrae Rubber Company was formed. You told Steve and me all about that. What I want to know is--"
"Wait. I did not tell you all about it. I said that another man invested ten thousand dollars with your father to form that company. That man, so we now know, was your uncle, Captain Elisha Warren."
"I guessed that. Of course it must have been he."
"It was. The captain was older than your father, had lived carefully, and had saved some money. Also, at that time, he idolized his brother and believed in his shrewdness and capability. He invested this ten thousand on Rodgers Warren's word that the investment was likely to be a good one. That, and to help the latter in business. For a few years the company did nothing; during that time your father and uncle disagreed--concerning another matter, quite unconnected with this one--and they did not see each other again while Rodgers lived. In that long period the Akrae Company made millions. But Elisha supposed it to be bankrupt and worthless; because--well, to be frank, because his brother wrote him to that effect."
He paused, fearful of the effect which this announcement might have upon the girl. But she had guessed this part of her father's dishonor and was prepared for it. She made no comment, and he continued.
"Now we come to the will. Your father, Caroline, was not a bad man at heart. I knew him well, and I believe that may be said truthfully. He realized what he had done, how he had defrauded the brother who had been so kind to him, and he meant, he kept promising himself, to some day repay the money he had taken. To insure that, he put that note with the other papers of the Company. If he did repay, it could be destroyed. If he did not, if he should die, it would be there to prove--what it did prove. But always in his mind was the thought of you and Steve, the children he loved. He had quarreled with his brother it is true; he had cheated him, but restitution for that cheat he had provided. But what would become of you, left--in case he died without making restitution--penniless? He knew his brother, as I said; knew his character, respected his honesty, and believed in his conscientiousness and his big heart. So he made his will, and in it, as you know, he appointed Elisha your guardian. He threw his children and their future upon the mercy and generosity of the brother he had wronged. That is his reason, as we surmise it, for making that will."
He paused again. Caroline did not speak for a moment. Then she asked:
"And no one knew--you or my uncle or anyone--of all this until last March?"
"No. Graves had, with his usual care and patience, pieced together the evidence and investigated until we were sure that a stockholder in the Akrae Company existed and that all of your father's estate belonged to him. Who that stockholder was we did not know until that day of the meeting at our office. Then Captain Warren told us."
"But he did not know, either?"
"Not until then. He supposed his Akrae stock worthless, and had practically forgotten it. When we told him of its value, of the note, and of the missing shareholder, he knew, of course."
"What did he say?"
"Say? Caroline, he was the most distressed and conscience-stricken man in the city. One would have thought he was the wrongdoer and not the wronged. He would have gone straight to you and asked your pardon, if we would have permitted it."
"But, Mr. Sylvester, now we are coming to the part I cannot understand. Of course the estate belonged to him, I know that. It is his. But why didn't he tell Steve and me the truth then, at once? Why did he let us believe, and employ you to lead us to believe, that it was not he but someone else? Did he think we would blame him? Why has he--"
"Caroline! Caroline! don't you understand yet? Do you imagine for one moment that your uncle intends keeping that money?"
She stared at him in utter amazement.
"Keeping it?" she repeated. "Why not? It is his. It belongs to him."
"Caroline, I'm afraid you don't know him, even yet. He was for going to you at once and destroying the note in your presence. He would have done it, but we persuaded him to wait and think it over for a day or two. He did think and then decided to wait a little longer, for your sake."
"For my sake? For mine?" she passed her hand in a bewildered way across her forehead. "Mr. Sylvester, I don't seem to understand even now. I--"
"For your sake, Caroline. Remember, at that time you were engaged to Malcolm Dunn."
Her intent gaze wavered. She drew a long breath. "I see," she said, slowly. "Oh... I see."
"Yes. Captain Warren is one of the best judges of character I ever met. The Dunns did not deceive him for one moment. He was certain Malcolm intended marrying you because of your money; for that matter, so was I. But his was the plan entirely which showed them to you as they were. He knew you were too honest and straightforward to believe such things of the man to whom you were engaged if they were told you; you must see the proof with your own eyes. And he showed it to you."
"But then," she begged, distractedly, "why couldn't he tell me after that? I--I am so stupid, I suppose--but, Mr. Sylvester, all this is--is--"
"He might have told you then, but he did not think it best. Caroline, your uncle has always believed in you. Even when you sent him from your home he did not blame you; he said you were deceived, that was all. But, too, he has always declared that you had been, as he expressed it, 'brought up wrong.' Your money had, in a way, warped your estimate of people and things. He believed that, if you were given the opportunity, you would learn that wealth does not, of itself, mean happiness. So he decided not to tell you, not to give you back your share of your father's money--he refuses to consider it his--until another year, until you were of age, at least. And there was Steve. You know, Caroline, that money and what it brought was spoiling Steve. He has never been so much a man as during the past year, when he thought himself poor. But your uncle has planned for him as well as for you and, when he believes the time has come, he--"
"Please," she interrupted, falteringly; "please don't say any more. Let me think. Oh, please let me think, Mr. Sylvester... You say that Uncle Elisha intends giving us all that father took from him? All of it?"
"Yes, all. He considers himself merely your guardian still and will accept only his expenses from the estate."
"But--but it is wonderful!"
"Yes, it is. But I have learned to think him a wonderful man."
She shook her head.
"It is wonderful!" she repeated, brokenly. "Even though we cannot take it, it is wonderful."
"What? Cannot take it?"
"Of course not! Do you suppose that either my brother or I will take the fortune that our father stole--yes, stole from him? After he has been living almost in poverty all these years and we in luxury--on his money? Of course we shall not take it!"
"But, Caroline, I imagine you will have to take it. I understand your feelings, but I think he will compel you to take it."
"I shall not!" she sprang to her feet. "Of course I shall not! Never! never!"
"What's that you're never goin' to take, Caroline? Measles? or another trip down in these parts? I hope 'tain't the last, 'cause I've been cal'latin' you'd like it well enough to come again."
Caroline turned. So did Sylvester. Captain Elisha was standing in the doorway, his hand on the knob. He was smiling broadly, but as he looked at the two by the fire he ceased to smile.
"What's all this?" he asked, suspiciously. "Caroline, what--Sylvester, what have you been tellin' her?"
Neither answered at once. The captain looked from one to the other.
"Well, what's up?" he demanded. "What's the matter?"
The lawyer shrugged his shoulders.
"What's up?" he repeated. "Humph! well, I should say the jig was up. The murder's out. The cat is no longer in the bag. That's about the size of it."
"Sylvester!" Caroline had never seen her uncle thoroughly angry before; "Sylvester," he cried, "have you--Have you dast to tell her what you shouldn't? Didn't you promise me? If you told that girl, I'll--I'll--"
His niece stepped forward. "Hush, Uncle Elisha," she said. "He didn't tell me until I knew already. I guessed it. Then I asked for the whole truth, and he told me."
"The whole truth? Caroline!"
He wrung his hands.
"Yes, Uncle, the whole truth. I know you now. I thought I knew you before; but I didn't--not half. I do now."
"Oh, Caroline!" he stepped toward her and then stopped, frantic and despairing. "Caroline! Caroline!" he cried again, "can you ever forgive me? You know--you must know I ain't ever meant to keep it. It's all yours. I just didn't give it to you right off because... because... Oh, Sylvester, tell her I never meant to keep it! Tell her!"
The lawyer shook his head. "I did tell her," he said, with another shrug, "and she tells me she won't accept it."
"What?" the captain's eyes were starting from his head. "What? Won't take it? Why, it's hers--hers and Steve's! It always has been! Do you cal'late I'd rob my own brother's children? Don't talk so foolish! I won't hear such talk!"
Caroline was close to tears, but she was firm.
"It isn't ours," she said. "It is yours. Our father kept it from you all these years. Do you suppose we will keep it any longer?"
Captain Elisha looked at her determined face; then at the lawyer's--but he found no help there. His chin thrust forward. He nodded slowly.
"All right! all right!" he said, grimly. "Sylvester, is your shop goin' to be open to-morrer?"
"Guess not, Captain," was the puzzled reply. "It's Thanksgiving. Why?"
"But Graves'll be to home, won't he? I could find him at his house?"
"I presume you could."
"All right, then! Caroline Warren, you listen to me: I'll give you till two o'clock to make up your mind to take the money that belongs to you. If you don't, I swear to the Lord A'mighty I'll take the fust train, go straight to New York, hunt up Graves, make him go down to the office and get that note your father made out turnin' all his property over to that Akrae Company. I'll get that note and I'll burn it up. Then--then you'll have to take the money, because it'll be yours. Every bit of evidence that'll hold in law is gone, and nobody but you and Steve'll have the shadow of a claim. I'll do it, so sure as I live! There! now you can make up your mind."
He turned, strode to the door and out of the room. A moment later they heard a scream from Miss Baker in the kitchen: "'Lisha Warren, what ails you? Are you crazy?" There was no answer, but the back door closed with a tremendous bang.
Half an hour after his dramatic exit Captain Elisha was pacing up and down the floor of the barn. It was an old refuge of his, a place where he was accustomed to go when matters requiring deliberation and thought oppressed him. He was alone. Dan had taken the horse to the blacksmith's to be shod.
The captain strode across the floor, turned and strode back again. Every few moments he looked at his watch. It was a long way to two o'clock, but each additional moment was another weight piled upon his soul. As he turned in his stride he saw a shadow move across the sill of the big, open door. He caught his breath and stopped.
Caroline entered the barn. She came straight to him and put her hands upon the lapels of his coat. Her eyes were wet and shining.
"Caroline?" he faltered, eagerly.
"You good man!" she breathed, softly. "Oh, you good man!"
"Caroline!" his voice shook, but there was hope in it. "Caroline, you're goin' to take the money?"
"Yes, Uncle Elisha. Mr. Sylvester has shown me that I must. He says you will do something desperate if I refuse."
"I sartin would! And you'll take it, really?"
"Yes, Uncle Elisha."
"Glory be! And--and, Caroline, you won't hold it against me, my makin' you think you was poor, and makin' you live in that little place, and get along on just so much, and all that? Can you forgive me for doin' that?"
"Forgive you? Can I ever thank you enough? I know I can't; but I can try all my life to prove what--"
"S-s-h-h! s-s-h!... There!" with a great sigh, almost a sob, of relief, "I guess this'll be a real Thanksgivin', after all."
But, a few minutes later, another thought came to him. "Caroline," he asked, "I wonder if, now that things are as they are, you couldn't do somethin' else--somethin' that would please me an awful lot?"
"What is it, Uncle?"
"It's somethin' perhaps I ain't got any right to ask. You mustn't say yes if you don't want to. The other day you told me you cared for Jim Pearson, but that you sent him away 'cause you thought you had to earn a livin' for you and Steve. Now you know that you ain't got to do that. And you said you told him if you ever changed your mind you'd send for him. Don't you s'pose you could send for him now--right off--so he could get here for this big Thanksgivin' of ours? Don't you think you could, Caroline?"
He looked down into her face, and she looked down at the barn floor. But he saw the color creep up over her forehead.
"Send for him--now?" she asked, in a low tone.
"Yes. Now--right off. In time for to-morrow!"
"He could not get here," she whispered.
"Yes, he could. If you send him a telegram with one word in it: 'Come'--and sign it 'Caroline'--he'll be here on to-morrow mornin's train, or I'll eat my hat and one of Abbie's bonnets hove in. Think you could, Caroline?"
A moment; then in a whisper, "Yes, Uncle Elisha."
"Hooray! But--but," anxiously, "hold on, Caroline. Tell me truly now. You ain't doin' this just to please me? You mustn't do that, not for the world and all. You mustn't send for him on my account. Only just for one reason--because you want him."
He waited for his answer. Then she looked up, blushing still, but with a smile trembling on her lips.
"Yes, Uncle Elisha," she said, "because I want him."
The clouds blew away that night, and Thanksgiving day dawned clear and cold. The gray sea was now blue; the white paint of the houses and fences glistened in the sun; the groves of pitchpine were brilliant green blotches spread like rugs here and there on the brown hills. South Denboro had thrown off its gloomy raiment and was "all dolled up for Thanksgivin'," so Captain Elisha said.
The captain and Sylvester were leaning on the fence by the gate, looking up the road and waiting for Dan and the "two-seater" to heave in sight around the bend. The hired man had harnessed early and driven to the station at least thirty minutes before train time. Captain Elisha was responsible for the early start. Steve was coming on that train; possibly someone else was coming. The captain did not mean they should find no welcome or vehicle at the station.
The whistle had sounded ten minutes before. It was time for Dan to appear at the bend.
"I hope to thunder Jim got that telegram," observed the captain for the twentieth time, at least, since breakfast.
"So do I," replied his friend. "There's no reason why he shouldn't, is there?"
"No, no sensible one; but I've scared up no less than a couple of hundred of the other kind. If he shouldn't come--my, my! she'd be disappointed."
"You wouldn't feel any disappointment yourself, of course," said the lawyer, with sarcasm.
"Who? Me? Oh, I'd be sorer'n a scalded wharf rat in a barrel of pepper. But I don't count. There's the real one up there."
He motioned with his head toward the window of Caroline's room. Sylvester nodded. "Yes," he said, "I suppose so. Captain, I'm somewhat surprised that you should be willing to trust that niece of yours to another man. She's a pretty precious article, according to your estimate."
"Well, ain't she accordin' to yours?"
"Yes. Pretty precious and precious pretty. Look at her now."
They turned in time to catch a glimpse of the girl as she parted the curtains and looked out on the road. She saw them looking at her, smiled, blushed, and disappeared. Both men smoked in silence for a moment. Then the captain said:
"Waitin'. Hi hum! nothin' like it, when you're waitin' for the one, is there?"
"Yup. Well, for a pair of old single hulks our age, strikes me we're gettin' pretty sentimental. You say you wonder I'd trust Caroline to another man; I wouldn't to the average one. But Jim Pearson's all right. You'll say so, too, when you know him as well as I do."
"I'll trust your judgment, any time. So you won't tell Steve yet awhile that he's not broke?"
"No. And Caroline won't tell him, either. Steve's doin' fust-rate as he is. He's in the pickle tub and 'twill do him good to season a spell longer. But I think he's goin' to be all right by and by. Say, Sylvester, this New York cruise of mine turned out pretty good, after all, didn't it?"
"Decidedly good. It was the making of your niece and nephew. Caroline realizes it now; and so will Steve later on."
"Hope so. It didn't do me any harm," with a chuckle. "I wouldn't have missed that little beat up the bay with Marm Dunn for a good deal. For a spell there we was bows abreast, and 'twas hard to tell who'd turn the mark first. Heard from the Dunns lately?"
"No. Why, yes, I did hear that they were in a tighter box than ever, financially. The smash will come pretty soon."
"I'm sorry. The old lady'll go down with colors nailed to the mast, I'll bet; and she'll leave a lot of suds where she sank. Do you know, I never blamed her so much. She was built that way. She's consider'ble like old Mrs. Patience Blodgett, who used to live up here to the Neck; like her--only there never was two people more different. Pashy was the craziest blue-ribboner you ever saw. Her one idea in life was gettin' folks to sign the pledge. She married Tim Blodgett, who was the wust soak in the county--he'd have figgered out, if you analyzed him, about like a bottle of patent medicine, seventy-two per cent alcohol. Well, Pashy married him to reform him, and she made her brags that she'd get him to sign the pledge. And she did, but only by puttin' it in front of him when he was too drunk to read it."
The lawyer laughed heartily. "So you think Mrs. Corcoran Dunn resembles her, do you," he observed.
"In one way--yes. Both of 'em sacrifice everything else to one idea. Pashy's was gettin' that pledge signed, and never mind ways and means. Mrs. Dunn's is money and position--never mind how they come. See what I'm drivin' at?"
Sylvester laughed again. "I guess so," he said. "Captain Warren, I never saw you in better spirits. Do you know what I think? I think that, for a chap who has just given away half of a good-sized fortune and intends giving away the other half, you're the most cheerful specimen I ever saw."
The captain laughed, too. "I am, ain't I," he said. "Well, I can say truthful what I never expected to say in my life--that once I was wuth ha'f a million dollars. As for the rest of it, I'm like that millionaire--that... Hi! Look! There comes Dan! See him!"
They peered eagerly over the fence. The Warren "two-seater" had rounded the bend in the road. Dan was driving. Beside him sat a young fellow who waved his hand.
"Steve!" cried the captain, excitedly. "There's Steve! And--and--yes, there's somebody on the back seat. It's Jim! He's come! Hooray!"
He was darting out of the gate, but his friend seized his coat.
"Wait," he cried. "I don't want to lose the rest of that sentence. You said you were like some millionaire. Who?"
"Don't bother me," cried Captain Elisha. "Who? Why, I was goin' to say I was like that millionaire chap who passes out a library every time he wakes up and happens to think of it. You know who I mean.... Ahoy there, Jim! Ahoy, Steve!"
He was waving his hand to the passengers in the approaching vehicle.
"Yes," prompted his friend, hastily, "I know who you mean--Carnegie."
"That's the feller. I've come to feel about the way he says he does--that 'twould be a crime for me to die rich."