Cap'n Warren's Wards by Joseph Crosby Lincoln
During the next day Caroline Warren and her brother saw little of their uncle. Not that they complained of this or sought his society. The policy of avoidance and what Stephen called "freezing out" had begun, and the young people kept to themselves as much as possible. At breakfast Caroline was coldly polite, and her brother cold, although his politeness was not overdone. However, Captain Elisha did not seem to notice. He was preoccupied, said but little, and spent the forenoon in writing a second letter to Miss Abigail. In it he told of his experience on board the Empress of the Ocean and of the luncheon at the Central Club. But he said nothing concerning his nephew and niece further than the statement that he was still getting acquainted, and that Caroline was a real nice looking girl.
"I suppose you wonder what I've decided about taking the guardianship," he added, just at the close. "Well, Abbie, I'm about in the position of Luther Sylvester when he fell off the dock at Orham. The tide was out, and he went into the soft mud, all under. When the folks who saw him tumble got to the edge and looked over, they saw a round, black thing sticking out of the mire, and, judging 'twas Lute's head, they asked him how he felt. 'I don't know yet,' sputters Lute, 'whether I'm drowned or smothered, but I'm somewheres betwixt and between.' That's me, Abbie, on that guardian business. I'm still betwixt and between. But before this day's over I'll be drowned or smothered, and I'll let you know which next time I write."
After lunch he took a stroll in the Park and passed up and down the paths, thinking, thinking. Returning, he found that Caroline and Stephen had gone for an auto ride with the Dunns and would not be home for dinner. So he ate that meal in solitary state, waited upon by Edwards.
That evening, as he sat smoking in the library, the butler appeared to announce a caller.
"Someone to see you, sir," said Edwards. "Here's his card, sir."
"Eh? Someone to see me? Guess you've made a mistake, haven't you, Commodore? I don't know anybody who'd be likely to come visitin' me here in New York. Why, yes! Well, I declare! Tell him to walk right in. Mr. Pearson, I'm glad to see you. This is real neighborly."
The caller was young Pearson, the captain's acquaintance of the previous forenoon. They shook hands heartily.
"Perhaps you didn't think I should accept that invitation of yours, Captain Warren," observed Pearson. "I told you I meant it when I said yes. And calling within thirty-six hours is pretty good proof, isn't it?"
"Suits me fust-rate. I'm mighty glad you came. Set right down. Lonesome at the boardin' house, was it?"
Pearson made a grimace. "Lonesome!" he repeated. "Ugh! Let's talk of something else. Were you in time for your appointment yesterday noon?"
"Why, yes; I was and I wasn't. Say, won't you have a cigar? That's right. And I s'pose, bein' as this is New York, I'd ought to ask you to take somethin' to lay the dust, hey? I ain't made any inquiries myself, but I shouldn't wonder if the Commodore--the feller that let you in--could find somethin' in the spare room closet or somewheres, if I ask him."
The young man laughed. "If you mean a drink," he said, "I don't care for it, thank you."
"What? You ain't a teetotaler, are you?"
"No, not exactly. But--"
"But you can get along without it, hey? So can I; generally do, fur's that goes. But I'M from South Denboro. I thought here in New York--"
"Oh, there are many people, even here in New York, who are not convinced that alcohol is a food."
"You don't tell me! Well, I'm livin' and learnin' every day. Judgin' from stories and the yarns in the Boston newspapers, folks up our way have the idea that this town is a sort of annex to the bad place. All right, then we won't trouble the Commodore. I notice you're lookin' over my quarters. What do you think of 'em?"
Pearson had, in spite of himself, been glancing about the room. Its luxury and the evident signs of taste and wealth surprised him greatly.
"Astonish you to find me livin' in a place like this, hey?"
"Why, why, yes, it does, somewhat. I didn't realize you were such an aristocrat, Captain Warren. If I had, I might have been a little more careful of my dress in making my first call."
"Dress? Oh, you mean you'd have put on your Sunday clothes. Well, I'm glad you didn't. You see, I haven't got on my regimentals, and if you'd been on dress parade I might have felt bashful. Ho, ho! I don't wonder you are surprised. This is a pretty swell neighborhood, ain't it?"
"Yes, it is."
"These--er--apartments, now. 'Bout as good as any in town, are they?"
"Pretty nearly. There are few better--much better."
"I thought so. You wouldn't call livin' in 'em economizin' to any consider'ble extent, would you?"
"No," with a laugh; "no, I shouldn't, but my ideas of economy are--well, different. They have to be. Are you ecomomizing, Captain?"
Captain Elisha laughed and rubbed his knee.
"No," he chuckled, "I ain't, but my nephew and niece are. These are their rooms."
"Oh, you're visiting?"
"No, I don't know's you'd call it visitin'. I don't know what you would call it. I'm here, that's about all you can say."
He paused and remained silent. His friend was silent, also, not knowing exactly what remark to make.
"How's the novel comin' on?" asked the captain, a minute later.
"Oh, slowly. I'm not at all sure it will ever be finished. I get discouraged sometimes."
"No use in doin' that. What sort of a yarn is it goin' to be? Give me a gen'ral idea of the course you're tryin' to steer. That is, if it ain't a secret."
"It isn't. But there's mighty little worth telling. When I began I thought I had a good scheme, but it seems pretty weak and dish-watery now."
"Most things do while their bein' done, if you really care about doin' 'em well. Heave ahead! You said 'twas a sea yarn, and I'm a sort of specialist when it comes to salt water. Maybe I might prescribe just the right tonic, though 'tain't very likely."
Pearson began to outline the plot of his novel, speaking slowly at first, but becoming more interested as he continued. Captain Elisha listened meditatively, puffing solemnly at his cigar, and interrupting but seldom.
"I think that's a pretty good idea," he observed, at length. "Yes, sir, that sounds promisin', to me. This cap'n of yours now, he's a good feller. Don't get him too good, though; that wouldn't be natural. And don't get him too bad, neither. I know it's the fashion, judgin' by the sea yarns I've read lately, to have a Yankee skipper sort of a cross between a prize fighter and a murderer. Fust day out of port he begins by pickin' out the most sickly fo'mast hand aboard, mashes him up, and then takes the next invalid. I got a book about that kind of a skipper out of our library down home a spell ago, and the librarian said 'twas awful popular. A strong story, she said, and true to life. Well, 'twas strong--you could pretty nigh smell it--but as for bein' true to life, I had my doubts. I've been to sea, command of a vessel, for a good many years, and sometimes I'd go weeks, whole weeks, without jumpin' up and down on a single sailor. Fact! Got my exercise other ways, I presume likely.
"I tell you," he went on, "the main trouble with that tale of yours, as I see it, is that you're talkin' about things you ain't ever seen. Now there's plenty you have seen, I wouldn't wonder. Let's see, you was born in Belfast, you said. Live there long, did you?"
"Yes, until I went away to school."
"Your father, he went to sea, did he?"
"Yes. But his ship was lost, with all hands, when I was a baby."
"But your Uncle Jim wa'n't lost. You remember him well; you said so. Tell me something you remember."
Before the young man was aware of it, he was telling of his Uncle Jim, of the latter's return from voyages, of his own home life, of his mother, and of the village where he spent his boyhood. Then, led on by the captain's questioning, he continued with his years at college, his experiences as reporter and city editor. Without being conscious that he was doing so, he gave his host a pretty full sketch of himself, his story, and his ambitions.
"Mr. Pearson," said Captain Elisha, earnestly, "don't you worry about that yarn of yours. If you'll take the advice of an old feller who knows absolutely nothin' about such things, keep on rememberin' about your Uncle Jim. He was a man, every inch of him, and a seaman, too. Put lots of him into this hero of yours, and you won't go fur wrong. And when it comes to handlin' a ship, why--well, if you want to come to me, I'll try and help you out best I can."
Pearson was delighted.
"You will?" he cried. "Splendid! It's mighty good of you. May I spring some of my stuff on you as I write it?"
"Sartin you may. Any time, I'll be tickled to death. I'll be tickled to have you call, too; that is, if callin' on an old salt like me won't be too tirin'."
The answer was emphatic and reassuring.
"Thank you," said Captain Elisha. "I'm much obliged. Come often, do. I--well, the fact is, I'm likely to get sort of lonesome myself, I'm afraid. Yes, I shouldn't wonder if I did."
He sighed, tossed away the stump of his cigar, and added,
"Now, I want to ask you somethin'. You newspaper fellers are supposed to know about all there is to know of everything under the sun. Do you know much about the Stock Exchange?"
"All I can afford to know," he said.
"Humph! That's a pretty good answer. Knowledge is power, they say, but--but I cal'late knowledge of the Stock Exchange is poverty, with a good many folks."
"I think you're right, Captain. It's none of my business, but--were you planning to tackle Wall Street?"
Captain Elisha glanced, under his brows, at his new friend, and his eyes twinkled.
"Didn't know but I might," he replied, solemnly. "Ain't got any--er--tips, any sure things you want to put me on to, have you?"
"I have not. My experience of Wall Street 'sure things' leads me to believe that they're sure--but only for the other fellow."
"Hum! I know a chap down home that made money in stocks. He made it so easy that, as the boys say, 'twas almost a shame to take the money. And 'twas the makin' of him, too."
Pearson was embarrassed and troubled. If this big-hearted, simple-minded countryman had come to New York to buck the stock market, it was time to sound a warning. But had he, on such short acquaintance, the right to warn? The captain was shrewd in his own way. Might not the warning seem presumptuous?
"So--this--this friend of yours was a successful speculator, was he?" he asked. "He was lucky."
"Think so? Well, maybe. His name was Elkanah Chase, and his dad was old man 'Rastus Chase, who made consider'ble in cranberries and one thing or 'nother. The old man brought Elkanah up to be what he called a gentleman. Ho! ho! Hi hum! I ain't sure what 'Rastus's idea of a gentleman was, but if he cal'lated to have his son a tramp in go-to-meetin' clothes, he got his wish. When the old man died, he willed the boy fifteen thousand dollars. Well, fifteen thousand dollars is a fortune to some folks--if they ain't economizin' in New York--but to Elkanah 'twas just about enough to make him realize his poverty. So, to make it bigger, he got one of them 'tips' from a college friend down here in Wall Street, and put the heft of ten thousand into it. And, I swan, if it didn't double his money!"
Captain Elisha's visitor shook his head. He did not even smile.
"He was extremely fortunate," he said. "I give you my word, Captain Warren, that the majority of first speculators don't turn out that way. I hope he was wise enough to keep his profits."
The captain rubbed his chin.
"Jim--" he began. "Excuse me, I should have said Mr. Pearson, but I've got sort of in the habit of callin' folks by their first names. Livin' where you know everybody so well gets you into those habits."
"Jim suits me. I hope you'll cultivate the habit."
"Do you? Well, I will. Now, Jim, referrin' to what I was goin' to say, you, bein' a newspaper man, ought to know everything, but it's pretty plain you don't know Elkanah Chase. Keep his profits! Why, when a feller is all but convinced that he knows it all, one little bit of evidence like that speculation settles it for him conclusive. Elkanah, realizin' that Wall Street was his apple pie, opened his mouth to swaller it at one gulp. He put his profits and every other cent he had into another sure thing tip."
"And won again?"
"No. He lost all that and some more that he borrowed."
"But I thought you said it was the making of him!"
"It was. He had to take a job over at the overalls factory in Ostable. As a fifteen thousand dollar gentleman, he was pretty average of a mess, but they tell me he makes middlin' good overalls. Elkanah convinced me that Wall Street has its good points."
He chuckled. Pearson, relieved, laughed in sympathy. "Has he paid back the money he borrowed?" he inquired.
"No-o! I guess the creditors'll have to take it out in overalls. However, it's a satisfaction to some of 'em to watch Chase really work. I know that gives me my money's worth."
"Oh, ho! You are one of the creditors! Captain Warren, I'm surprised. I sized you up as a shrewder judge of investments."
Captain Elisha colored. "I judged that one correct," he answered. "If I hadn't thought 'twould have turned out that way I never would have plunged. You see, old man Chase was a friend of mine, and--However," he added, hastily changing the subject, "we've strayed some off the course. When I mentioned the Stock Exchange I did it because my brother was a member of it, and I cal'late you might have known him."
Pearson was astonished. "Your brother was a member of the Exchange?" he repeated.
"Um-hm. Never would have guessed it, would you? I s'pose you cal'late all the stock I knew about was on the hoof. Well, I have been acquainted with other breeds in my time. My brother's name was Abijah Warren--A. Rodgers Warren, he called himself."
The effect of this announcement was instantaneous and electric. The young man sat back in his chair.
"A. Rodgers Warren was your brother?" he cried.
"Um-hm. Seems to stagger you some. Contrast between us as big as all that comes to?"
"But--but, Captain Warren--Your brother--Tell me, is Miss Caroline Warren your niece?"
"She is. And Steve is my nephew. 'Tain't possible you're acquainted with them?"
Pearson rose to his feet. "Is--They used to live on the Avenue," he said. "But you said you were visiting. Captain Warren, is this your niece's apartment?"
"Yes, hers and Steve's. Why, what's the matter? Ain't goin', are you?"
"I think perhaps I had better. It is getting late."
"Late! It's only the shank of the evenin'. Jim, I ain't so blind that I can't see through an open window. It ain't the lateness that makes you want to leave so sudden. Is there some trouble between you and Caroline? Course, it's none of my business, and you needn't tell me unless you want to."
The answer was prompt enough.
"No," replied Pearson. "No. I assure you there is nothing of that kind. I--I met Miss Warren. In fact, at one time we were well acquainted. I have the very highest opinion of her. But I think it is best to--"
"Just a minute now. No trouble with Steve? He's a boy and at an age when he's pretty well satisfied with himself and you have to make allowance."
"No. Steve and I were quite friendly. I'm sorry to cut my visit short, but it is late and I must go."
He was moving toward the door. Captain Elisha looked at him intently.
"Well, if you must," he said. "But I hope you'll come again soon. Will you?"
"I hope I may. I give you my word, Captain, that I appreciate your invitation, and I do want to know you better."
"Same here. I don't often take sudden fancies, Jim, but I knew your uncle, and I'd bet consider'ble on any member of his family. And I was kind of interested in that novel of yours. You haven't said you'd come again. Will you?"
Pearson was much embarrassed.
"I should like to come, immensely," he said, with an earnestness unmistakable; "but--but, to be honest, Captain Warren, there is a reason, one which I may tell you sometime, but can't now--neither Miss Warren nor her brother have any part in it--which makes me reluctant to visit you here. Won't you come and see me at the boarding house? Here's the address. Will you come?"
"Sartin! I figured on doin' it, if you gave me the chance."
"Thank you, you'll be welcome. Of course it is only a boarding house, and not a very good one. My own room is--well, different from this."
"Yup. Maybe that's why I expect to feel at home in it. Good night, Jim. Thank you for callin'. Shall I ring for the Commodore to pilot you out?"
"No, I can find my way. I--Someone is coming."
From the hall came the clang of the elevator door and the sound of voices. Before the captain or his friend could move, Caroline, Stephen, Mrs. Corcoran Dunn, and Malcolm entered. Caroline was the first to reach the library. Her entrance brought her face to face with Pearson.
"I beg your pardon," she began. "I did not know there was anyone here."
"It's only a friend of mine, Caroline," explained her uncle, quickly. "Just callin' on me, he was."
"Good evening, Miss Warren," said Pearson, quietly.
The girl looked at him for an instant. Then her expression changed, and, with a smile, she extended her hand.
"Why, Mr. Pearson!" she exclaimed. "I'm very glad to see you. You must excuse me for not recognizing you at once. Steve, you remember Mr. Pearson."
Stephen also extended a hand.
"Sure!" he said. "Glad to see you again, Pearson. Haven't met you for an age. How are you?"
Pearson shook both the hands. He was embarrassed and hesitated in his reply.
"It has been some time since we met," he said. "This is an unexpected pleasure. Ah, Mr. Dunn, good evening."
"It is Mr. Pearson, the financial writer of the Planet, Malcolm," said Caroline. "You used to know him, I think."
"Don't remember, I'm sure. Yes, I do. Met you at the University Club, didn't I?"
"Yes. I was formerly a member."
"And let me present you to Mrs. Corcoran Dunn," went on the girl. "Mr. Pearson used to know father well."
Mrs. Dunn inspected the visitor through her lorgnette, and condescended to admit that she was "delighted."
"I'm very glad you called," continued Caroline. "We were just in time, weren't we? Do sit down. And if you will wait a minute until we remove our wraps--Steve ring for Edwards, please."
"I'm afraid I can't wait, Miss Warren. I dropped in to see your uncle, at his invitation, and, as a matter of fact, I didn't know--"
"To see our uncle!" interrupted Stephen, in amazement. "Who?"
"Your uncle, Captain Warren here," explained Pearson, surprised in his turn. "He and I made each other's acquaintance yesterday, and he asked me to call."
"You--you called to see him?" repeated Stephen. "Why, what in the world--?"
"I took the liberty of askin' him, Caroline," observed Captain Elisha quietly, and ignoring the last speaker. "I didn't know you knew him, and I used to sail along with his uncle, so he seemed almost like own folks."
"Oh!" Caroline's manner changed. "I presume it was a business call," she said slowly. "I beg pardon for interrupting. We had not seen you since father's death, Mr. Pearson, and I assumed that you had called upon my brother and me. Excuse me. Mrs. Dunn, we will go into the drawing-room."
She led the way toward the apartment. Captain Elisha was about to speak. Pearson, however, explained for him.
"Miss Warren," he said, "if by a business call you mean one in the interest of the Planet, I assure you that you are mistaken. I am no longer connected with any paper. I met Captain Warren, under rather unusual circumstances. We discovered that we had mutual friends and mutual interests. He asked me to call on him, and I did so. I did not know, until five minutes ago, that he was your uncle or that you and your brother lived here. I beg you won't leave the room on my account. I was about to go when you came. Good evening."
He bowed and stepped toward the hall. Captain Elisha laid a hand on his arm and detained him.
"Just a minute," he said. "Caroline, I want you and Steve to know that what Mr. Pearson says is exactly true. I ain't the kind to talk to the newspapers about the private affairs of my relations, and, if I'm any judge of character, Mr. Pearson, knowin' you as it seems he does, wouldn't be the kind to listen. That's all. Now, Jim, if you must go."
He and his guest were at the door. Caroline and Mrs. Dunn were at the opposite side of the room. Suddenly the girl halted, turned, and, moving across to where her uncle and the young man were standing, once more extended her hand.
"Mr. Pearson," she said, impulsively, "again I ask your pardon. I should have known. I am very sorry I spoke as I did. Will you forgive me?"
Pearson colored. His embarrassment was more evident than before.
"There is no occasion for apology, Miss Warren," he said. "I don't wonder you thought I had come in my former capacity as reporter."
"Yes, you do. You must have wondered. I am very glad you called to see my--my guardian, and I hope you will continue to do so. Father used to speak so highly of you, and I'm sure he valued your friendship. Stephen and I wish to consider his friends ours. Please believe that you are welcome here at any time."
Pearson's reply was brief.
"Thank you, Miss Warren," he said. "You are very kind. Good evening."
In the hall, as they waited for the elevator, Captain Elisha, happier than at any time since his arrival in New York, clapped his friend on the shoulder.
"Jim," he said, "I was beginnin' to doubt my judgment of things and folks. Now I feel better. That niece of mine has got the right stuff in her. After that invitation, you will come and see us once in a while. That makes it easier, hey?"
Pearson shook his head. "I'm not sure, Captain," he observed, slowly, "that it doesn't make it harder. I shall look for you at the boarding house very soon. Don't disappoint me. Good night."
The captain's last remark that evening was made to Edwards, whom he met just outside the door of his bedroom.
"Commodore," he said, "a barn full of rats is a nuisance, ain't it?"
"Sir?" stammered the astonished butler.
"I say a barn full of rats is a nuisance."
"Why--why, yes, sir. I should think it might be, sir."
"Yup. Well, I know a worse one. It's a house full of mysteries. By, by, Son. Pleasant dreams."
He sat up until late, meditating profoundly. Then, taking from its envelope the letter yet unsealed, which he had written to Miss Abigail Baker, he added this postscript:
"Eleven o'clock. I have decided, Abbie, to accept the guardianship and the rest of it, for a spell, anyhow. Shall notify the lawyers in the morning. Necessity is one thing, and pleasure is another. I doubt if I find the job pleasant, but I guess it is necessary. Anyhow, it looks that way to me."