The Allen House, or Twenty Years Ago and Now by T.S. Arthur
I saw Mrs. Montgomery a few days afterwards, and inquired if she had seen the young associate of Judge Bigelow. She replied in the affirmative.
"How does he impress you?" I asked.
"Favorably, upon the whole; though," she added with one of her meaning smiles, "I can't help thinking all the time about the cool, calculating, resolute way in which he went about disentangling himself from an unfortunate love affair. I look at his calm face, over which you rarely see a ripple of feeling go, and ask myself, sometimes, if a heart really beats within his bosom."
"There does; a true, large, manly heart, full of deep feeling; you may be sure of this, madam," I answered, with some warmth.
"I will not gainsay your words, Doctor. I trust for his sake that it may be so."
"Leaving out the heart matter, and regarding him only as to his fitness for the work in hand, you are favorably impressed?"
"Quite so. I find him quick of apprehension, intelligent, and of sufficient gravity of deportment to ensure a respectful attention wherever he may go. He made one suggestion that ought to have occurred to me, and upon which I am acting. As no will has been found, it has been assumed that Captain Allen died intestate. Mr. Wallingford suggests that a will may have been executed; and that a thorough search be made in order to discover if one exists. In consequence of this suggestion, Blanche and I have been hard at work for two days, prying into drawers, examining old papers, and looking into all conceivable, and I had almost said inconceivable places."
"And if you were to find a will?" said I, looking into her earnest face.
"The question would be that much nearer to a solution."
"Is it at all probable that it would be in your favor?"
I saw her start at the query, while her brows closed slightly, as if from a sudden pain. She looked at me steadily for a few moments, without speaking; then, after a long inspiration, she said:
"Whether in my favor or not, any disposition that he has made of his property, in law and right, must, of course, stand good."
"You might contest such a will, if not in your favor."
She shook her head, compressed her lips firmly, and said:
"No. I should not contest the will. My belief was, when I came here, that he died without making a bequest of any kind, and that his property would go, in consequence, to the heir-at-law. This was the information that I received. If it should prove otherwise, I shall make no opposition."
"Do you intend, under this view, continuing the search for a will?"
Something in the tone of voice touched her unpleasantly. I saw the light in her eyes glow intenser, and her lips arch.
"Why not?" she asked, looking at me steadily. I could have given another meaning to my question from the one I intended to convey, had it so pleased me, and thus avoided a probable offence. But I wished to see a little deeper into the quality of her mind, and so used the probe that was in my hand.
"If you find a will, devising the property out of your line, all your present prospects are at an end," said I.
"I know it."
Her voice was firm as well as emphatic.
"Then why not take the other horn of this dilemma? Give up searching for a will that can hardly be in your favor, and go on to prove your title through consanguinity."
"And thus shut my eyes to the probable rights of others, in order to secure a personal advantage? Do you think I would do this, Doctor? If so, you have mistaken me."
There was a tone of regret in her voice.
"Pardon me," I replied. "The suggestion was natural under the circumstances, and I gave it utterance."
"Were you in my place, would you give up the search here?"
She fixed on me a penetrating look.
The probe had changed hands.
"It is difficult," I answered, "for us to say what we would do if we were to change places with another. In my experience, it is easy to see what is right for our neighbor, but very difficult to see the right way for ourselves, when under the allurement of some personal advantage."
"Would it be right in me to give up the search?"
"I think not."
My answer was without hesitation.
"And I will not," she said, firmly. "If my brother has devised his property, I have only to know the terms of his will. If it is against me, well. I shall not oppose its operation."
"It sometimes happens," I suggested, "that a testator is manifestly out of his right mind as to the direction given to his property, and bequeaths it in a manner so evidently unwise and improper, that both justice and humanity are served in the act of setting aside the will. And it might prove so in this case."
"I know not how that may be, "Mrs. Montgomery answered, soberly, yet firmly. "But this I do know"--she spoke resolutely--"God helping me, I will not stain my hands with gold that, in any legal right, belongs to another. What is clearly mine, I will take and use. as it is my right and duty. But I must be certain that it is mine. If there is no will, I am clear as to who is the owner of this estate; if there is a will, and I and mine are not included in its provisions, I will step aside. First, however, the obligation to search for a will is imperative; and I shall continue it until clearly satisfied that no such document exists."
What a womanly dignity there was in Mrs. Montgomery as she said this, drawing her tall form up to its full height in speaking--not proudly, but with conscious integrity!
"What is right is always best." I made the remark as well approvingly as in expression of an immutable truth.
"Always, always," she replied, with earnestness. "There is no blinder folly than that of grasping a present worldly good, at the expense of violated justice. Whoever does so, comes out that far wrong in the end. There is only one way that leads to peace of mind: the way of honor and right. All other ways, no matter into what rich harvest fields they may lead in the beginning, terminate in wretchedness. There never has been, and never will be, any exception to this rule. We see its operation daily, turn our eyes whatsoever way we choose. And God forbid that I should deliberately enter the way that leads to ultimate unhappiness! Self-denial in the present is better than gnawing regret in the future. The good things of this world prove to be curses instead of blessings, unless the mind be rightly adjusted for their enjoyment. And such a right adjustment is impossible where the very fact of their possession involves a moral wrong. I see this so clearly, Doctor, that I shudder inwardly at the bare imagination of committing such a wrong."
"It is by trial that God proves us," said I, "and may He bring you out of this one, should the trial come, as gold from the refiner's furnace!"
"Amen!" was her solemnly uttered response; "if it should come, may I be found strong enough to do the right!"
For over a week this search for a will was continued, until it was clear to all concerned that no such document was in existence. Then preparation was made for the visit to England, in search of evidence bearing upon the identity of Mrs. Montgomery as the sister of Captain Allen. Two or three months elapsed, however, before Mr. Wallingford could so arrange his business as to be absent for the length of time it might take to complete his mission. He sailed for England in June, between three and four months after the marriage of Delia Floyd. He called to see me on the day before leaving, and I had a brief but pleasant talk with him. He was in good health and good spirits, and anticipated a successful visit.
"I shall gain," he remarked, "in two ways by this trip. Professionally and intellectually. I have had many a dream of that land of our forefathers--England--now to be realized. I shall see London, walk its streets, and linger amid its historic places. Don't smile at this almost boyish enthusiasm, Doctor. London has always been the Mecca of my desires."
I had never seen him so animated. A higher life seemed flowing in his veins. His countenance had a brighter aspect than usual, and his head an erecter carriage. There was a depth of meaning in his eyes never observed before--a look as if some new born hope were lending its inspiration to his soul. Altogether manlier was his aspect and bearing than I had ever seen it.
"God speed your mission," said I, as I shook hands with him in parting.
"If it depends on human agency, directed with earnestness, patience, and will, my mission will have a prosperous result," he replied. "It is to be my first entirely self-reliant experience, and I think the discipline of mind it will involve must strengthen me for higher professional work than any in which I have yet been engaged. You are aware, Doctor, that my heart is in my profession."
"So I have seen from the beginning."
"I will not deny," he added, "that I have ambition. That I wish to be distinguished at the bar."
"An honorable ambition," said I.
"Nor that, sometimes--in moments of weakness, perhaps--my dreams have gone higher. But I am a very young man, and youth is ardent and imaginative," he added.
"And you have this great advantage," I replied, "that, with every year added to your life, you may, if you will, grow wiser and stronger. You stand, as all young minds, at the bottom of a ladder. The height to which you climb will depend upon your strength and endurance."
"If we both live long enough, Doctor, you may see me on the topmost rundle, for I shall climb with unwearying effort."
He spoke with a fine enthusiasm, that lent a manly beauty to his face.
"Climb on," I answered, "and you will rise high above the great mass, who are aimless and indolent. But you will have competitors, few, but vigorous and tireless. In the contest for position that you must wage with these, all your powers will be taxed; and if you reach the topmost rundle to which you aspire, success will be, indeed, a proud achievement."
"I have the will, the ambition, the courage, and the endurance, Doctor," was his reply. "So, if I fail, the fault will lie here," and he touched, significantly, his forehead.
"For lack of brains?" said I, smiling.
"Yes. The defect will lie there," he answered, smiling in return.
"Brains are remarkable for latent capacity. If stimulated, they develop new powers, and this almost without limit. All they want is to be well supplied with the right kind of food, and well worked at the same time."
"I believe that, Doctor, and find vast encouragement in the thought," and Wallingford laughed pleasantly.
Our parting words were growing voluminous. So we shook hands again, repeated our mutual good wishes, and separated. In the afternoon he started for Boston, from whence he sailed, on the next day, for England.
This was towards the latter end of June. He was to write to Mrs. Montgomery immediately on his arrival out, and again as soon as he had obtained an interview with the Willoughby family. Early in August, she received his first letter, which was brief, simply announcing his arrival at Liverpool.
About three weeks after the coming of this letter, I received a note from Mrs. Montgomery asking me to call. On meeting her, I noticed something in her manner that struck me as unusual. She did not smile, as was her wont, when we met, her countenance retaining its usual serious expression. I thought she looked paler, and just a little troubled.
"Thank you for calling so promptly, Doctor," she said. "I am afraid you will think me troublesome. But you have always shown a kindly interest in me, though a stranger; and have proved, in all cases, a sound adviser."
I bowed, and she continued:
"I have a second letter from Mr. Wallingford. He has, he writes, been well received by my relatives, who had placed in his hands, for examination, a large quantity of papers that belonged to Colonel Willoughby."
"If they contain any evidence in the right direction, he will be sure to find it," said I.
"No doubt of that. But"--I thought her voice faltered a little--" the question is solved, and he may return."
"Solved! How?" I asked quickly.
"I have found the will."
"I have found the will," she repeated, in a steady tone, "and that solves the question."
"Is it in your favor?" I asked, and then held my breath for a reply. It came in a firmly uttered--
We looked steadily into each other's face for several moments.
"In whose favor?"
"In favor of Theresa Garcia his wife," she replied.
"But she is dead," I answered quickly.
"True--but I am not his heir."
She said this resolutely.
"She died childless," said I, "and will not the descent stop with her?--the property reverting to you, as next of kin to Captain Allen?"
"She may have relatives--a brother or sister," said Mrs. Montgomery.
"That is scarcely probable," I objected.
"It is possible; and in order to ascertain the fact, all right means ought to, and must be, taken."
"Where did you find the will?" I inquired.
"Blanche was examining a small drawer in an old secretary, when she accidentally pressed her hand against one side, which yielded. She pressed harder, lad it continued to yield, until it was pushed back several inches. On withdrawing this pressure, the side returned to its place. She then tried to see how far it could be forced in. As soon as it had passed a certain point, a secret drawer, set in vertically, sprung up, and from the side, which fell open, the will dropped out."
"It is singular," said I, "that it should come to light just at this time."
"It is Providential, no doubt," Mrs. Montgomery remarked.
"What course will you pursue?" I inquired.
"My first step will be to recall Mr. Wallingford."
"I must take the liberty of a friend, and object to that," said I.
"On what ground?"
"This will may be worth the paper on which it is written, and no more. If the legatee have no relatives, you stand just where you stood before, and will require the evidence as to identity for which Mr. Wallingford is now in search. Oh, no, Mrs. Montgomery; he must not be recalled."
The lady mused for a little while, and then said--
"Perhaps you are right, Doctor."
"I am sure of it," I replied, speaking earnestly. "This will, if we find it, on examination, to be an instrument executed according to legal forms, puts your rights in jeopardy, though by no means sets them aside."
"You take the correct view, no doubt," was her reply to this. Her voice was not so firm as in the beginning. As the probabilities began to show themselves again in her favor, she lost a degree of self-possession.
"Let Mr. Wallingford complete his work," said I, "and find, if possible, the evidence you require, in case you prove to be the legal heir, as I trust you will. And until his return, the existence of this important document had better remain a secret."
"Shall I not submit it to Judge Bigelow?"
I reflected for some moments, and then replied--
"Yes. He is your legal adviser, and one in whom the highest confidence may be reposed. The will should be at once placed in his hands for examination."
"And go upon record?"
"Better leave all to his superior legal judgment. But," as the thought occurred to me, "who are named as the executors of this will?"
"I did not examine as to that, being too much interested in the provisions of the writing," she replied.
"May I see the document?"
"Blanche, dear, you will find it in the right-hand drawer of the secretary, in our room;" and Mrs. Montgomery handed a key to her daughter, who left the apartment in which we were sitting. She came back in a few minutes, and handed me a paper, which, on examination, I found to be written throughout, and evidently by the hand of Captain Allen. It was dated San Juan de Porto Rico, January 10, 1820, and was witnessed by two signatures--the names Spanish. The executors were Judge Bigelow and Squire Floyd. There was an important sentence at the conclusion of the will. It was in these words:--"In case my wife, in dying, should leave no relatives, then every thing shall revert to my own right heirs, should any be living."
All this gave the affair, in my mind, a more serious aspect. Before mentioning the executors' names, I said--
"Do you know where Theresa Garcia resided, before her marriage with Captain Allen?"
"In Porto Rico, as I have learned from old 'Aunty,' and also from letters found in searching for the will."
"Which I find was executed at San Juan De Porto Rico, the principal town on the island. Judge Bigelow and Squire Floyd are the executors."
I saw her start slightly, and grow a little pale as I said this.
"Judge Bigelow, and Squire Floyd! That is extraordinary!" She was more disturbed than I had yet seen her in reference to this matter.
"It is remarkable, certainly, that Judge Bigelow, your legal adviser, should be one of the executors of a will, which determines your brother's estate out of the line of consanguinity."
"He must, of course, cease to represent my interest in the case," remarked the lady.
"He cannot represent two diverse interests," said I.
"No; that is clear." She said this in a troubled way; and was, evidently, falling into a perplexed state of mind. "Well, Doctor, what is to be done?" She spoke with recovered self-possession, after a short period of silence, looking at me with her old calmness of expression.
I took some moments for reflection, and then said,
"My advice is, to keep your own counsel, and wait until Mr. Wallingford returns from England. Whenever you place this document in the hands of Judge Bigelow, he must go over to the adverse interest; when you will be compelled to seek another legal adviser. You are not just ready for this; nor will be until after your agent comes back with the result of his investigations. No wrong to any one can possibly occur from letting things remain just as they are for a few months."
"I think your view of the matter correct, Doctor," was her reply. "And yet, to keep this secret, even for an hour, when I have no right to its possession, touches my conscience. Is it just? This will is not in my favor. It does not even recognize my existence. It devises property, of large value, in another line; and there may be heirs ready to take possession, the moment its existence is made known to them. Am I not intermeddling, unjustly, in the affairs of another?"
"But for you," I replied, "this will might never have seen the light. If heirs exist, they can, therefore, have no just reason for complaint at the brief delay to which, under the circumstances, you are, in common justice, entitled. Your conscience may be over sensitive, Mrs. Montgomery."
"I would rather it were over sensitive than obtuse," she said. "Worldly possessions are desirable. They give us many advantages. We all desire and cling to them. But they are dearly bought at the price of heavenly possessions. What will it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Nothing! It were better for him to die like Lazarus. No, Doctor, I am resolved in this matter to be simply just. If, in justice and right, this estate comes into my hands, I will take the wealth thankfully and use it as wisely as I can. But I will not throw a single straw in the way of its passing to the legal heirs of my brother's wife, if any are in existence and can be found."
"But you will keep this secret until Mr. Wallingford's return?" I urged.
"I do not see that wrong to any one can follow such a delay," she answered. "Yes, I will keep the secret."
"And I will keep it also, even from my good Constance," said I, "until your agent's return. The matter lies sacred between us."