CAP'N WARREN'S WARDS
By Joseph C. Lincoln
Author of "The Depot Master," "The Woman Haters," "The Postmaster," "Cap'n Erie," "Mr. Pratt," etc.
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY EDMUND FREDERICK
A. L. BURT COMPANY PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
COPYRIGHT 1911, BY D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
Published October, 1911
Printed in the United States of America
CAP'N WARREN'S WARDS
"Ostable!" screamed the brakeman, opening the car door and yelling his loudest, so as to be heard above the rattle of the train and the shriek of the wind; "Ostable!"
The brakeman's cap was soaked through, his hair was plastered down on his forehead, and, in the yellow light from the car lamps, his wet nose glistened as if varnished. Over his shoulders the shiny ropes of rain whipped and lashed across the space between the cars. The windows streamed as each succeeding gust flung its miniature freshet against them.
The passengers in the car—there were but four of them—did not seem greatly interested in the brakeman's announcement. The red-faced person in the seat nearest the rear slept soundly, as he had done for the last hour and a half. He had boarded the train at Brockton, and, after requesting the conductor not to "lemme me git by Bayport, Bill," at first favored his fellow travelers with a song and then sank into slumber.
The two elderly men sitting together on the right-hand side of the car droned on in their apparently endless Jeremiad concerning the low price of cranberries, the scarcity of scallops on the flats, the reasons why the fish weirs were a failure nowadays, and similar cheerful topics. And in his seat on the left, Mr. Atwood Graves, junior partner in the New York firm of Sylvester, Kuhn and Graves, lawyers, stirred uneasily on the lumpy plush cushion, looked at his watch, then at the time-table in his hand, noted that the train was now seventy-two minutes late, and for at least the fifteenth time mentally cursed the railway company, the whole of Cape Cod from Sandwich to Provincetown, and the fates which had brought him there.
The train slowed down, in a jerky, hiccoughy sort of way, and crept on till the car in which Mr. Graves was seated was abreast the lighted windows of a small station, where it stopped. Peering through the water-streaked pane at the end of his seat, the lawyer saw dim silhouettes of uncertain outline moving about. They moved with provoking slowness. He felt that it would be joy unspeakable to rush out there and thump them into animation. The fact that the stately Atwood Graves even thought of such an undignified proceeding is sufficient indication of his frame of mind.
Then, behind the door which the brakeman, after announcing the station, had closed again, sounded a big laugh. The heartiness of it grated on Mr. Graves's nerves. What idiot could laugh on such a night as this aboard a train over an hour late?
The laugh was repeated. Then the door was flung briskly open, and a man entered the car. He was a big man, broad-shouldered, inclined to stoutness, wearing a cloth cap with a visor, and a heavy ulster, the collar of which was turned up. Through the gap between the open ends of the collar bristled a short, grayish beard. The face above the beard and below the visor was sunburned, with little wrinkles about the eyes and curving lines from the nostrils to the corners of the mouth. The upper lip was shaved, and the eyebrows were heavy and grayish black. Cap, face, and ulster were dripping with water.
The newcomer paused in the doorway for an instant, evidently to add the finishing touch to a conversation previously begun.
"Well, I tell you, Ezra," he called, over his shoulder, "if it's too deep to wade, maybe I can swim. Fat floats, they tell me, and Abbie says I'm gettin' fleshier every day. So long."
He closed the door and, smiling broadly, swung down the aisle. The pair of calamity prophets broke off their lament over the declining fisheries and greeted him almost jovially.
"Hello, Cap'n!" cried one. "What's the south shore doin' over here in this flood?"
"What's the matter, Cap'n?" demanded the other. "Broke loose from your moorin's, have you? Did you ever see such a night in your life?"
The man in the ulster shook hands with each of his questioners, removing a pair of wet, heavy leather gloves as he did so.
"Don't know's I ever did, Dan," he answered. "Couldn't see much of this one but its color—and that's black. I come over this mornin' to attend to some business at the court-house—deeds to some cranberry bog property I just bought—and Judge Baxter made me go home with him to dinner. Stayed at his house all the afternoon, and then his man, Ezra Hallett, undertook to drive me up here to the depot. Talk about blind pilotin'! Whew! The Judge's horse was a new one, not used to the roads, Ezra's near-sighted, and I couldn't use my glasses 'count of the rain. Let alone that, 'twas darker'n the fore-hold of Noah's ark. Ho, ho! Sometimes we was in the ruts and sometimes we was in the bushes. I told Ez we'd ought to have fetched along a dipsy lead, then maybe we could get our bearin's by soundin's. 'Couldn't see 'em if we did get 'em,' says he. 'No,' says I, 'but we could taste 'em. Man that's driven through as much Ostable mud as you have ought to know the taste of every road in town.'"
"Well, you caught the train, anyhow," observed Dan.
"Yup. If we'd been crippled as well as blind we could have done that." He seated himself just in front of the pair and glanced across the aisle at Mr. Graves, to find the latter looking intently at him.
"Pretty tough night," he remarked, nodding.
"Yes," replied the lawyer briefly. He did not encourage conversation with casual acquaintances. The latest arrival had caught his attention because there was something familiar about him. It seemed to Graves that he must have seen him before; and yet that was very improbable. This was the attorney's first visit to Cape Cod, and he had already vowed devoutly that it should be his last. He turned a chilling shoulder to the trio opposite and again consulted the time-table. Denboro was the next station; then—thank the Lord—South Denboro, his destination.
Conversation across the aisle was brisk, and its subjects were many and varied. Mr. Graves became aware, more or less against his will, that the person called "Cap'n" was, if not a leader in politics and local affairs, still one whose opinions counted. Some of those opinions, as given, were pointed and dryly descriptive; as, for instance, when a certain town-meeting candidate was compared to a sculpin—"with a big head that sort of impresses you, till you get close enough to realize it has to be big to make room for so much mouth." Graves, who was fond of salt water fishing, knew what a sculpin was, and appreciated the comparison.
The conductor entered the car and stopped to collect a ticket from his new passenger. It was evident that he, too, was acquainted with the latter.
"Evening, Cap'n," he said, politely. "Train's a little late to-night."
"It is—for to-night's train," was the prompt response, "but if it keeps on at the rate it's travelin' now, it'll be a little early for to-morrow mornin's, won't it?"
The conductor laughed. "Guess you're right," he said. "This is about as wet a storm as I've run through since I've been on the road. If we get to Provincetown without a washout we'll be lucky.... Well, we've made another hitch. So far, so good."
The brakeman swung open the door to shout, "Denboro! Denboro!" the conductor picked up his lantern and hurried away, the locomotive whistled hoarsely, and the train hiccoughed alongside another little station. Mr. Graves, peering through his window, imagined that here the silhouettes on the platform moved more briskly. They seemed almost excited. He inferred that Denboro was a bigger and more wide-awake village than Ostable.
But he was mistaken. The reason for the excitement was made plain by the conductor a moment afterwards. That official entered the car, removed his uniform cap, and rubbed a wet forehead with a wetter hand.
"Well, gentlemen," he said, "I've been expecting it, and here it is. Mark me down as a good prophet, will you? There's a washout a mile further on, and a telegraph pole across the track. It's blowing great guns and raining pitchforks. It'll be out of the question for us to go forward before daylight, if then. Darn a railroad man's job anyhow!"
Five minutes later Mr. Graves descended the steps of the car, his traveling bag in one hand and an umbrella in the other. As soon as both feet were securely planted on the platform, he put down the bag to wrestle with the umbrella and the hurricane, which was apparently blowing from four directions at once. Feeling his hat leaving his head, he became aware that the umbrella had turned inside out. He threw the wreck violently under the train and stooped to pick up the bag. The bag was no longer there.
"It's all right," said a calm voice behind him. "I've got your satchel, neighbor. Better beat for harbor, hadn't we? Here! this way."
The bewildered New Yorker felt his arm seized in a firm grip, and he was rushed across the platform, through a deluge of wind-driven water, and into a small, hot, close-smelling waiting room. When he pushed his hat clear of his eyes he saw that his rescuer was the big man who boarded the train at Ostable. He was holding the missing bag and smiling.
"Dirty weather, hey?" he observed, pleasantly. "Sorry your umbrella had to go by the board. I see you was carryin' too much canvas and tried to run alongside in time to give you a tow; but you was dismasted just as I got there. Here's your dunnage, all safe and sound."
He extended the traveling bag at arm's length. Mr. Graves accepted his property and murmured thanks, not too cordially. His dignity and temper had gone overboard with the umbrella, and he had not yet recovered them.
"Well," went on his companion, "here we are! And I, for one, wanted to be somewheres else. Caleb," turning to the station master, who came in at that moment, "any way of my gettin' home to-night?"
"'Fraid not, Cap'n," was the answer. "I don't know of any. Guess you'll have to put up at the hotel and wait till mornin'."
"That's right," agreed the passenger called "Dan," who was standing near. "That's what Jerry and I are goin' to do."
"Yes, but you and Jerry are bound for Orham. I'm booked for South Denboro, and that's only seven miles off. I'd swim the whole seven rather than put up at Sim Titcomb's hotel. I've been there afore, thank you! Look here, Caleb, can't I hire a team and drive over?"
"Well, I don't know. S'pose you might ring up Pete Shattuck and ask him. He's pretty particular about his horses, though, and I cal'late he—"
"All right. I'll ring him up. Pete ought to get over some of his particularness to oblige me. I've helped him once or twice."
He was on his way to the ticket office, where the telephone hung on the wall. But Mr. Graves stepped forward and spoke to him.
"Excuse me, sir," said the lawyer. "Did I understand you to say you were going to South Denboro?"
"Yes. I am, if the powers—and Pete Shattuck—'ll let me."
"You were going to drive over? May I go with you? I'm very anxious to get to South Denboro to-night. I have some very important business there, and I want to complete it and get away to-morrow. I must be back in New York by the morning following."
The captain looked his questioner over. There was a doubtful look on his face, and he smiled quizzically.
"Well, I don't know, Mr.—"
"Graves is my name."
"I don't know, Mr. Graves. This ain't goin' to be a pleasure cruise exactly. You might get pretty wet."
"I don't care. I can get dry again when I get there. Of course I shall share the expense of the livery. I shall be greatly obliged if I may go with you. If not, I must try for a rig myself."
"Oh, if you feel that way about it, why, come ahead and welcome. I was only warnin' you, that's all. However, with me aboard for ballast, I guess we won't blow away. Wait a jiffy till I get after Pete."
He entered the ticket office and raised a big hand to the little crank of the telephone bell.
"Let's see, Caleb," he called; "what's Shattuck's number?"
"Four long and two short," answered the station master.
Graves, wondering vaguely what sort of telephone system was in use on Cape Cod, heard his prospective pilot ring the instrument for a full two seconds, repeating the ring four times altogether. This he followed with two sharp tinkles. Then came a series of shouted "Hellos!" and, at last, fragments of one-half of a dialogue.
"That you, Shattuck? Know who this is, don't you? Yes, that's right.... Say, how many folks listen every time a bell rings on this line? I've heard no less'n eight receivers come down so far.... Two of 'em went up then, did you hear 'em?... Sartin.... I want to hire a team to go over home with.... To-night—Sartin.... I don't care.... Yes, you will, too.... Yes, you will... Send my man back with it to-morrow... I don't care what it is, so it's got four legs and wheels...."
And so on for at least five minutes. Then the captain hung up the receiver and came back to the waiting room.
"Bargain's made, Mr. Graves," he announced. "Pete'll have some sort of a turn-out alongside soon's he can get it harnessed. If you've got any extra storm duds in that satchel of yours, I'd advise you to put 'em on. We're goin' to have a rough passage."
Just how rough it was likely to be, Graves realized when he emerged from the station to board the Shattuck buggy. "Pete" himself had driven the equipage over from the livery stable.
"I wouldn't do this for anybody but you, Cap'n," he vouchsafed, in what might be called a reproachful shout. Shouting was necessary, owing to the noise of the storm.
"Wouldn't do what?" replied the captain, looking first at the ancient horse and then at the battered buggy.
"Let this horse out a night like this."
"Humph! I should think night would be the only time you would let him out.... There! there! never mind. Get aboard, Mr. Graves. Put your satchel on the floor between your feet. Here, let me h'ist that boot for you."
The "boot" was a rubber curtain buttoned across the front of the buggy, extending from the dashboard to just below the level of the driver's eyes. The lawyer clambered in behind it, the captain followed, the end of the reins was passed through a slit in the boot, Mr. Shattuck, after inquiring if they were "all taut," gave the command, "Gid-dap!" and horse and buggy moved around the corner of the station, out into darkness.
Of the next hour Graves's memories are keen but monotonous,—a strong smell of stable, arising from the laprobe which had evidently been recently used as a horse blanket; the sound of hoofs, in an interminable "jog, jog—splash, splash," never hurrying; a series of exasperated howls from the captain, who was doing his best to make them hurry; the thunderous roar of rain on the buggy top and the shrieking gale which rocked the vehicle on its springs and sent showers of fine spray driving in at every crack and crevice between the curtains.
The view ahead, over the boot, was blackness, bordered by spidery trees and branches whipping in the wind. Occasionally they passed houses sitting well back from the road, a lighted window gleaming cozily. And ever, as they moved, the storm seemed to gather force.
Graves noticed this and, at length, when his nervousness had reached the breaking point, screamed a question in his companion's ear. They had attempted no conversation during the ride, the lawyer, whose contemptuous opinion of the locality and all its inhabitants was now a conviction, feeling that the result would not be worth the effort, and the captain busy with his driving.
"It is blowing worse than ever, isn't it?" yelled the nervous Graves.
"Hey? No, just about the same. It's dead sou'west and we're getting out of the woods, that's all. Up on those bare hills we catch the full force of it right off the Sound. Be there pretty soon now, if this Old Hundred of a horse would quit walkin' in his sleep and really move. Them lights ahead are South Denboro."
The lights were clustered at the foot of a long and rather steep hill. Down the declivity bounced and rocked the buggy. The horse's hoofs sounded hollow on the planks of a bridge. The road narrowed and became a village street, bordered and arched by tall trees which groaned and threshed in the hurricane. The rain, as it beat in over the boot, had, so the lawyer fancied, a salty taste.
The captain bent down. "Say, Mister," he shouted, "where was it you wanted to stop? Who is it you're lookin' for?"
"I say—Heavens to Betsy! how that wind does screech!—I say where'bouts shall I land you. This is South Denboro. Whose house do you want to go to?"
"I'm looking for one of your leading citizens. Elisha Warren is his name."
"Elisha Warren. I—"
He was interrupted. There was a sharp crack overhead, followed by a tremendous rattle and crash. Then down upon the buggy descended what, to Graves, appeared to be an avalanche of scratching, tearing twigs and branches. They ripped away the boot and laprobe and jammed him back against the seat, their sharp points against his breast. The buggy was jerked forward a few feet and stopped short.
He heard the clatter of hoofs and shouts of "Whoa!" and "Stand still!" He tried to rise, but the tangle of twigs before him seemed impenetrable, so he gave it up and remained where he was. Then, after an interval, came a hail from the darkness.
"Hi, there! Mr. Graves, ahoy! Hurt, be you?"
"No," the lawyer's tone was doubtful. "No—o, I—I guess not. That you, Captain?"
"Yes, it's me. Stand still, you foolhead! Quit your hoppin' up and down!" These commands were evidently addressed to the horse. "Glad you ain't hurt. Better get out, hadn't you?"
"I—I'm not sure that I can get out. What on earth has happened?"
"Tree limb carried away. Lucky for us we got the brush end, 'stead of the butt. Scooch down and see if you can't wriggle out underneath. I did."
Mr. Graves obediently "scooched." After a struggle he managed to slide under the tangle of branches and, at length, stood on his feet in the road beside the buggy. The great limb had fallen across the street, its heavy end near the walk. As the captain had said, it was fortunate for the travelers that the "brush" only had struck the carriage.
Graves found his companion standing at the horse's head, holding the frightened animal by the bridle. The rain was descending in a flood.
"Well!" gasped the agitated New Yorker. "I'll be hanged if this isn't—"
"Ain't it? But say, Mr. Graves, who did you say you was comin' to see?"
"Oh, a person named Elisha Warren. He lives in this forsaken hole somewhere, I believe. If I had known what an experience I must go through to reach him, I'd have seen him at the devil."
From the bulky figure at the horse's head came a chuckle.
"Humph! Well, Mr. Graves, if the butt of that limb had fetched us, instead of t'other end, I don't know but you might have seen him there. I'm Elisha Warren, and that's my house over yonder where the lights are."
"This is your room, Mr. Graves," said Miss Abigail Baker, placing the lighted lamp on the bureau. "And here's a pair of socks and some slippers. They belong to Elisha—Cap'n Warren, that is—but he's got more. Cold water and towels and soap are on the washstand over yonder; but I guess you've had enough cold water for one night. There's plenty hot in the bathroom at the end of the hall. After you change your wet things, just leave 'em spread out on the floor. I'll come fetch 'em by and by and hang 'em to dry in the kitchen. Come right downstairs when you're ready. Anything else you want? No? All right then. You needn't hurry. Supper's waited an hour 'n' a half as 'tis. 'Twon't hurt it to wait a spell longer."
She went away, closing the door after her. The bewildered, wet and shivering New Yorker stared about the room, which, to his surprise, was warm and cozy. The warmth was furnished, so he presently discovered, by a steam radiator in the corner. Radiators and a bathroom! These were modern luxuries he would have taken for granted, had Elisha Warren been the sort of man he expected to find, the country magnate, the leading citizen, fitting brother to the late A. Rodgers Warren, of Fifth Avenue and Wall Street.
But the Captain Warren who had driven him to South Denboro in the rain was not that kind of man at all. His manner and his language were as far removed from those of the late A. Rodgers as the latter's brown stone residence was from this big rambling house, with its deep stairs and narrow halls, its antiquated pictures and hideous, old-fashioned wall paper; as far removed as Miss Baker, whom the captain had hurriedly introduced as "my second cousin keepin' house for me," was from the dignified butler at the mansion on Fifth Avenue. Patchwork comforters and feather beds were not, in the lawyer's scheme of things, fit associates for radiators and up-to-date bathrooms. And certainly this particular Warren was not fitted to be elder brother to the New York broker who had been Sylvester, Kuhn and Graves' client.
It could not be, it could not. There must be some mistake. In country towns there were likely to be several of the same name. There must be another Elisha Warren. Comforted by this thought, Mr. Graves opened his valise, extracted therefrom other and drier articles of wearing apparel, and proceeded to change his clothes.
Meanwhile, Miss Abigail had descended the stairs to the sitting room. Before a driftwood fire in a big brick fireplace sat Captain Warren in his shirt-sleeves, a pair of mammoth carpet slippers on his feet, and the said feet stretched luxuriously out toward the blaze.
"Abbie," observed the captain, "this is solid comfort. Every time I go away from home I get into trouble, don't I? Last trip I took to Boston, I lost thirty dollars, and—"
"Lost it!" interrupted Miss Baker, tartly. "Gave it away, you mean."
"I didn't give it away. I lent it. Abbie, you ought to know the difference between a gift and a loan."
"I do—when there is any difference. But if lendin' Tim Foster ain't givin' it away, then I miss my guess."
"Well," with another chuckle, "Tim don't feel that way. He swore right up and down that he wouldn't take a cent—as a gift. I offered to make him a present of ten dollars, but he looked so shocked that I apologized afore he could say no."
"Yes, and then lent him that thirty. Shocked! The only thing that would shock that good-for-nothin' is bein' set to work. What possessed you to be such a soft-head, I don't know. When you get back a copper of that money I'll believe the millennium's struck, that's all."
"Hum! Well, I'll help you believe it—that is, if I have time afore I drop dead of heart disease. Abbie, you'd make a good lawyer; you can get up an argument out of a perfect agreement. I said the thirty dollars was lost, to begin with. But I knew Tim Foster's mother when she used to think that boy of hers was the eighth wonder of the world. And I promised her I'd do what I could for him long's I lived.... But it seems to me we've drifted some off the course, ain't we? What I started to say was that every time I go away from home I get into trouble. Up to Boston 'twas Tim and his 'loan.' To-night it's about as healthy a sou'wester as I've ever been out in. Dan fetched in the team, has he?"
"Yes. It's in the stable. He says the buggy dash is pretty well scratched up, and that it's a wonder you and that Graves man wa'n't killed. Who is he, anyhow?"
"Land knows, I don't."
"You don't know! Then what's he doin' here?"
"Changin' his duds, I guess. That's what I'd do if I looked as much like a drowned rat as he did."
"'Lisha Warren! if you ain't the most provoking' thing! Don't be so unlikely. You know what I mean. What's he come here, to this house, for?"
"Don't know, Abbie. I didn't know he was comin' here till just as we got down yonder by Emery's corner. I asked him who he was lookin' for, he said 'Elisha Warren,' and then the tree caved in on us."
"'Lisha, you—you don't s'pose 'twas a—sign, do you?"
"Yes, a sign, a prophecy-like, a warnin' that somethin' is goin' to happen."
The captain put back his head and laughed.
"Sign somethin' had happened, I should think," he answered. "What's goin' to happen is that Pete Shattuck'll get his buggy painted free-for-nothin', at my expense. How's supper gettin' along? Is it ready?"
"Ready? It's been ready for so long that it'll have to be got ready all over again if.... Oh! Come right in, Mr. Graves! I hope you're drier now."
Captain Warren sprang from the chair to greet his visitor, who was standing in the doorway.
"Yes, come right in, Mr. Graves," he urged, cordially. "Set down by the fire and make yourself comf'table. Abbie'll have somethin' for us to eat in a jiffy. Pull up a chair."
The lawyer came forward hesitatingly. The doubts which had troubled him ever since he entered the house were still in his mind.
"Thank you, Captain," he said. "But before I accept more of your hospitality I feel I should be sure there is no mistake. I have come on important business, and—"
"Hold on!" The captain held up a big hand. "Don't you say another word," he commanded. "There's just one business that interests me this minute, and that's supper. There's no mistake about that, anyhow. Did you say 'Come ahead,' Abbie? or was you just going to? Good! Right into the dinin' room, Mr. Graves."
The dining room was long and low. The woodwork was white, the floor green painted boards, with braided rag mats scattered over them. There were old-fashioned pictures on the walls, pictures which brought shudders to the artistic soul of Atwood Graves. A broad bay window filled one side of the apartment, and in this window, on shelves and in wire baskets, were Miss Baker's cherished and carefully tended plants. As for the dining table, it was dark, old-fashioned walnut, as were the chairs.
"Set right down here, Mr. Graves," ordered the captain. "I'll try to keep you supplied with solid cargo, and Abbie'll 'tend to the moistenin'. Hope that teapot is full up, Abbie. Hot tea tastes good after you've swallered as much cold rain as Mr. Graves and I have... Father-we-thank-thee-for-these-mercies-set-before-us-Amen.... How's your appetite when it comes to clam pie, Mr. Graves?"
Mr. Graves's appetite was good, and the clam pie was good. So, too, were the hot biscuits and the tea and homemade preserves and cake. Conversation during the meal was, for the most part, a monologue by the captain. He gave Miss Baker a detailed and exaggerated account of his adventures in Ostable, on board the train, and during the drive home. The housekeeper listened, fidgeting in her chair.
"'Lisha Warren," she interrupted, "how you do talk! Rainin' so hard you had to hold the reins taut to keep the horse's head out of water so he wouldn't drown! The idea!"
"Fact," asserted Captain Warren, with a wink at his guest. "And that wa'n't the worst of it. 'Twas so dark I had to keep feelin' the buggy with my foot to be sure I was in it. Ain't that so, Mr. Graves?... Here! Abbie won't like to have you set lookin' at that empty plate. She's always afraid folks'll notice the gilt's wearin' off. Pass it over quick, and let me cover it with some more pie."
"Yes, and have some more tea," urged Miss Abbie. "You mustn't pay attention to what he says, Mr. Graves," she went on. "Some day he'll tell the truth by accident, and then I'll know it's time to send for the doctor."
Several times the lawyer attempted to mention the business which had brought him to the Cape, and the probability of his having made a mistake. But neither host nor housekeeper would listen.
"When you've been in South Denboro as long as I have," declared the former, "you'll understand that the time to talk business is when you can't think of anything else. Wait till we get into the settin' room. Abbie, those six or eight biscuits I've ate are gettin' lonesome. I'll take another for sociability, thank you."
But, at last, when all the biscuits but one were gone, and the cake plate looked like the Desert of Sahara, the captain pushed back his chair, rose, and led the way into the next room. Miss Baker remained to clear the table.
"Set down by the fire, Mr. Graves," urged the captain. "Nothin' like burnin' wood to look hot and comf'table, is there? It don't always make you feel that way—that's why I put in hot water heat—but for looks and sociableness you can't beat a log fire. Smoke, do you?"
"Yes. Occasionally. But, Captain Warren—"
"Here, try that. It's a cigar the Judge gave me over to Ostable. He smokes that kind reg'lar, but if you don't like it, throw it away. He ain't here to see you do it, so you won't be fined for contempt of court. I'll stick to a pipe, if you don't mind. Now we're shipshape and all taut, I cal'late. Let's see, you wanted to talk business, I believe."
"Yes, I did. But before I begin I should like to be sure you are the Elisha Warren I came from New York to interview. Is there another of that name in Denboro?"
"Um-hm. There's Warrens a-plenty all through this section of the Cape. Our family blew ashore here a hundred and fifty years ago, or such matter. My dad's name was Elisha; so was my grandfather's. Both sea cap'ns, and both dead. There's another Elisha livin' over on the shore lane."
"Indeed. Then perhaps it is he I want."
"P'raps. He's keeper of the town poorhouse. I can tell you better if you give me an idea what your business is."
"I am an attorney. And now let me ask another question, please. Have you—had you a brother in business in New York?"
"Hey?" The captain turned and looked his guest squarely in the eye. His brows drew together.
"I've got a brother in New York," he answered, slowly. "Did he send you here?"
"Was your brother's name A. Rodgers Warren?"
"'A. Rodgers'? No. His name is Abijah Warren, and—Wait! His middle name is Rodgers, though. Did 'Bije send you to me?"
"A moment, Captain. Was your brother a broker?"
"Yes. His office is—or used to be on Broad Street. What—"
"You have not heard from him for some time?"
"Not for eighteen years. He and I didn't agree as well as we might. Maybe 'twas my fault, maybe 'twas his. I have my own ideas on that. If you're lookin' for 'Bije Warren's brother, Mr. Graves, I guess you've come to the right place. But what he sent you to me for, or what he wants—for he wants somethin', or he wouldn't have sent—I don't understand."
"Why do you think he wanted something?"
"Because he's 'Bije Warren, and I was brought up with him. When we was young ones together, he went to school and I went to work. He got the frostin' on the cake, and I got the burnt part next to the pan. He went to college, and I went to sea. He.... However, you mustn't think I find fault with him for that. I sp'iled him as much as anybody, I guess. 'Twas later on that we.... Well, never mind that, either. What is it he wants of me, after eighteen years?"
"He wants a good deal of you, Captain Warren. Or did want it."
"Did? Don't he want it now?"
"I don't know. Captain, I'm surprised that you haven't heard. It seems that I am the bearer of bad news. Your brother—"
"Is 'Bije dead?"
"He died ten days ago very suddenly. In a way it was a great shock to us all, yet we have known that his heart was weak. He realized it, too."
"So 'Bije is dead, hey?" Captain Elisha's face was very grave, and he spoke slowly. "Dead! Well, well, well!"
He paused and looked into the fire. Graves saw again that vague resemblance he had caught on the train, but had forgotten. He knew now why he noticed it. Unlike as the two brothers were, unlike in almost every way, the trace of family likeness was there. This sunburned, retired captain was the New York financier's elder brother. And this certainty made Mr. Graves's errand more difficult, and the cause of it more inexplicable.
Captain Elisha cleared his throat.
"Well, well!" he sighed. "So 'Bije has gone. I s'pose you think it's odd, maybe," he went on, "that I ain't more struck down by the news. In a way, I am, and, in a way, I'm mighty sorry, too. But, to speak truth, he and I have been so apart, and have had nothin' to do with each other for so long that—that, well, I've come to feel as if I didn't have a brother. And I know he felt that way. Yes, and wanted to feel so—I know that."
"I wouldn't say that, if I were you," observed the lawyer, gently. "I think you're mistaken there."
"I ain't mistaken. Why, look here, Mr. Graves! There was a time when I'd have got down on my knees and crawled from here to New York to help 'Bije Warren. I lent him money to start in business. Later on him and I went into partnership together on a—a fool South American speculation that didn't pan out for nothin'. I didn't care for that. I took my chance same as he did, we formed a stock company all amongst ourselves, and I've got my share of the stock somewhere yet. It may come in handy if I ever want to paper the barn. But 'twa'n't business deals of that kind that parted us, 'twas another matter. Somethin' that he did to other folks who'd trusted us and.... Humph! this don't interest you, of course.... Well, 'Bije was well off, I know. His wife died way back in the nineties. She was one of them fashionable women, and a hayseed salt-herrin' of a bachelor brother-in-law stuck down here in the sandheaps didn't interest her much—except as somethin' to forget, I s'pose. I used to see her name in the Boston papers occasionally, givin' parties at Newport and one thing a'nother. I never envied 'em that kind of life. I'm as well fixed as I want to be. Got some money put by for a rainy spell, comf'table house and land, best town on earth to live in and work for; I'm satisfied and always have been. I wouldn't change for nothin'. But I'm nine year older than 'Bije was—and yet I'm left alive. Hum!"
"Your brother had two children by his marriage," said Graves, after a moment of silence.
"Hey? Two children? Why, yes, I remember he did. Boy and girl, wa'n't they? I never saw em. They've growed up by this time, of course."
"Yes, the eldest, Caroline, is nearly twenty. The boy, Stephen, is a year younger. It is concerning those children, Captain Warren, that I have come to you."
Captain Elisha turned in his chair. "Hey?" he queried. "The children? You've come to me about 'Bije's children?"
Graves nodded. "Yes," he answered, solemnly. "That is what I meant by saying your brother had not forgotten you or wished to forget you. In spite of the estrangement, it is evident that his confidence in your judgment and integrity was supreme. His children were his idols, Captain Warren, and he has left them in your charge."
The captain's pipe fell to the hearth.
"What?" he shouted. "Left his children to—to me! Mr. Graves, you're—you're out of your head—or I am!"
"No, I'm perfectly sane. I have a copy of the will here, and—"
He was interrupted by Miss Baker, who appeared at the door of the dining room. "Did you want me, 'Lisha?" she asked.
Her employer stared at her in a dazed, uncomprehending way.
"Want you?" he repeated. "Want you?"
"Yes; I heard you holler, and I thought p'raps you was callin' me."
"Hey? No, I don't want you, Abbie.... Holler! I shouldn't wonder! If all I did was holler, I'm surprised at myself. No, no! Run along out and shut the door. Yes, shut it.... Now, Mr. Graves, say that over again and say it slow."
"I say that your brother has left his two children in your care until the youngest shall become of age—twenty-one. I have a copy of his will here, and—"
"Wait, wait! let me think. Left his children to me!... to me. Mr. Graves, had 'Bije lost all his money?"
"No. He was not the millionaire that many thought him. Miss Warren and her brother will be obliged to economize somewhat in their manner of living. But, with care and economy, their income should be quite sufficient, without touching the principal, to—"
"Hold on again; the income, you say. What is that income?"
"Roughly speaking, a mere estimate, about twenty to twenty-five thousand yearly."
Captain Elisha had stooped to pick up the pipe he had dropped. His fingers touched it, but they did not close. Instead he straightened up in his chair as if suffering from an electric shock.
"Mr. Graves," he began; "Mr. Graves, are you cra—. No, I asked you that before. But—but twenty thousand a—a year! For mercy sakes, what's the principal?"
"In the neighborhood of five hundred thousand, I believe. Of course, we had no authority to investigate thoroughly. That will be a part of your duties, but—"
"S-shh! Let me soak this into my brains a little at a time. 'Bije leaves his children five hundred thousand, half a million, and—and they've got to economize! And I'm.... Would you mind readin' me that will?"
The attorney drew a long envelope from his pocket, extracted therefrom a folded document, donned a pair of gold-mounted eyeglasses, and began to read aloud.
The will was short and very concise. "'I, Abijah Rodgers Warren, being of sound mind—'"
"You're sartin that part's true, are you?" broke in the captain.
Graves nodded, rather impatiently, and continued. "'Of sound mind, memory and understanding, do make, publish and declare this to be my last will and testament, in manner following, that is to say:—
"'First:—I direct my executor hereinafter named to pay my just debts and funeral expenses as soon as maybe convenient after my decease.'"
"Did he owe much, think likely?" asked Captain Elisha.
"Apparently not. Very little beyond the usual bills of a household."
"Yes, yes. Grocer and butcher and baker and suchlike. Well, I guess they won't have to put in a keeper. Heave ahead."
"'Second:—I give, devise and bequeath all my estate, both real and personal, to my brother, Elisha Warren, if he survive—'"
The captain gasped. "To me?" he cried, in utter amazement. "He leaves it to me? 'Bije leaves—say, Mr. Graves, there's some mistake here somewhere, sure! And besides, you said—"
"Just a minute, Captain Warren, if you please. If you'll be patient and not interrupt, I'll try to make the whole matter plain."
"Well, if you can do that, you'll have King Solomon and all his wisdom beat a mile, that's all I've got to say. Go on."
"'To my brother, Elisha Warren, if he survive me, in trust, nevertheless, for the following purpose, to wit:—
"'To invest the same and to use the income thereof for the education and maintenance of my two children, Caroline Edgecombe Warren—'"
"Edgecombe? Named for some of his wife's folks, I presume likely. Excuse me for puttin' my oar in again. Go on."
"'And Stephen Cole Warren—'"
"That's his wife, sartin. She was a Cole. I swan, I beg your pardon."
"'Until the elder, Caroline Edgecombe Warren, shall have reached her twenty-first birthday, when one-half of the principal of said estate, together with one-half of the accumulated interest, shall be given to her, and the trust continued for the education and maintenance of my son, Stephen Cole Warren, until he shall have reached his twenty-first birthday, when I direct that the remainder be given to him.
"'Third:—I appoint as testamentary guardian of my said children my said brother, Elisha Warren.
"'Fourth:—I appoint as sole executor of this, my last will and testament, my said brother, Elisha Warren.
"'Fifth:—Imposing implicit trust and confidence in Elisha Warren, my brother, I direct that he be not required to give bond for the performance of any of the affairs or trusts to which he has been herein appointed.'
"The remainder," concluded Graves, refolding the will, "is purely formal. It is dated May 15th, three years ago. Your brother, Captain Warren, evidently realized, although no one else seems to have done so, the precarious state of his health, and prepared, as every careful person should, for the great emergency."
The attorney removed his eyeglasses and rubbed them with his handkerchief. Captain Elisha sat silent, staring at the fire. After an interval, Graves spoke again.
"Of course, Captain," he went on, "my errand is now plain. I come to acquaint you with your brother's last wishes and to ascertain whether or not you are willing to accept the trust and responsibility he has laid upon you. As you doubtless know, the state provides a legal rate of reimbursement for such services as yours will—or may—be. Ahem!"
"May be? You mean I ain't got to do this thing unless I want to?"
"Certainly. You have the right to renounce the various appointments, in which case another executor, trustee, and guardian will be appointed. I realize, and I'm sure that your brother's children will realize, your hesitance in assuming such a responsibility over persons whom you have never even met."
"Yes, I guess we'll all realize it; you needn't worry about that. Look here, do the children know I'm elected?"
"Yes. Of course, the will has been read to them."
"Hum! I s'pose likely they was overcome with joy, wa'n't they?"
Graves bit his lip. Remembering the comments of Miss Caroline and her brother when they learned of their uncle's appointment, he had difficulty in repressing a smile.
"Well," he replied, slowly, "of course, one could scarcely expect them to rejoice. They have never seen you. In fact, I doubt if either of them knew their father had a brother, living."
"Y-e-e-s. That part don't surprise me. But the rest of it does. By the miracles of the prophets! the rest of it does! That 'Bije—'Bije—should leave his children and their money to me to take care of is passin' human belief, as our old minister used to say—.... Humph! I s'pose likely, Mr. Graves, you'd like to have me say yes or no to the thing while you're here, hey?"
Graves nodded. "It would be well to do so," he said. "The settlement of the estate must be taken in hand as soon as possible. The law so directs."
"Yes, I see that. Well, what would you advise my doin'?"
To this direct question the lawyer returned a noncommittal answer.
"I'm afraid that must be answered by yourself alone, Captain Warren," he said. "Of course, the acceptance of the trust will necessarily involve much trouble and inconvenience, especially to one of your—er—settled and—er—conservative—I judge merely from what you have said—your conservative habits. The estate is large, the investments are, doubtless, many and varied, and the labor of looking into and investigating them may require some technical skill and knowledge of finance. Yes."
"Um-hm.... Well, I judge that that kind of skill and knowledge could be hired, if a feller felt like payin' fair wages; hey?"
"Oh, yes, yes. Any good lawyer could attend to that, under the supervision of the executor, certainly. But there are other inconveniences to a—a—"
"Country jay like me. I understand. Go ahead."
"I mean that you would probably be required to spend much, or all, of the next two or three years in New York."
"Would, hey? I didn't know but bein' as a guardian has entire charge of the children and their money and all—I understand that's what he does have—he could direct the children fetched down to where he lived, if he wanted to. Am I wrong?"
"No," the lawyer's hesitancy and annoyance was plainly evident. "No-o. Of course, that might be done. Still, I—"
"You think that wouldn't cause no more rejoicin' than some other things have? Yes, yes; I cal'late I understand, Mr. Graves. Well, I guess you'll have to give me to-night to chew over this. I guess you will. It's come on me so sudden, 'Bije's death and all, that I want to be by myself and think. I don't want to seem unsociable or lackin' in hospitality. The whole house is yours. Help yourself to it. But when I'm caught in a clove hitch, I just have to set down and think myself out of it. I have to. I was built and launched that way, I guess, and maybe you'll excuse me."
"Certainly, Captain Warren. You're quite right in wishing to deliberate on so important a matter. And, if you will excuse me in return, I believe I will go to my room. I've had a rather wearing day."
"And a damp evenin'. Yes, I'll excuse and sympathize with you, too. I'll see you to your room, and I'll hope you'll have consider'ble more sleep than I'm likely to get. Abbie!... Abbie!... Fetch Mr. Graves's lamp, won't you, please?"
It was after two the next morning before Captain Elisha rose from his chair by the fire and entered his bed chamber. Yet, when Atwood Graves came down to breakfast, he found his host in the sitting room awaiting him.
"Afore we tackle Abbie's pancakes and fishballs, Mr. Graves," said the captain, "let's get the rest of that will business off our minds. Then we can have the pancakes to take the taste out of our mouths, as you might say. And let me ask you one more question. This—er—er—Caroline and Stephen, they're used to livin' pretty well—fashionable society, and the like of that, hey?"
"Yes. Their home was on Fifth Avenue, and the family moved in the best circles."
"Hum! I should imagine life on twenty-odd thousand a year must be pretty much all circles, one everlastin' 'turn your partners.' Well, Mr. Graves, my circles down here are consider'ble smaller, but they suit me. I'm worth twenty-odd thousand myself, not in a year, but in a lifetime. I'm selectman and director in the bank and trustee of the church. When I holler 'Boo,' the South Denboro folks—some of them, anyhow—set up and take notice. I can lead the grand march down in this neighborhood once in a while, and I cal'late I'm prettier leadin' it than I would be doin' a solitaire jig for two years on the outside edge of New York's best circles. And I'm mighty sure I'm more welcome. Now my eyesight's strong enough to see through a two-foot hole after the plug's out, and I can see that you and 'Bije's children won't shed tears if I say no to that will. No offense meant, you know; just common sense, that's all."
This was plain speaking. Mr. Graves colored, though he didn't mean to, and for once could not answer offhand.
"So," continued the captain, "I'll ease your and their minds by sayin' that, the way I feel now, I probably sha'n't accept the trust. I probably sha'n't. But I won't say sure I won't, because—well, because 'Bije was my brother; he was that, no matter what our diff'rences may have been. And I know—I know that there must be some reason bigger than 'implicit trust' and the other May-baskets for his appointin' me in his will. What that reason is I don't know—yet."
"Then you intend—?"
"I don't know what I intend—in the end. But for a beginnin', I cal'late to run down to New York some time durin' the next week, take a cruise 'round, and sort of look things over."
"It's a box of a place, though, isn't it," declared Mr. Stephen Warren, contemptuously glancing about the library of the apartment. "A box, by George! I think it's a blooming shame that we have to put up with it, Sis."
Mr. Warren sprawled in the most comfortable chair in the room, was looking out through the window, across the wind-swept width of Central Park West, over the knolls and valleys of the Park itself, now bare of foliage and sprinkled with patches of snow. There was a discontented look on his face, and his hands were jammed deep in his trousers pockets.
His sister, Caroline, sat opposite to him, also looking out at the December landscape. She, too, was discontented and unhappy, though she tried not to show it.
"Why don't you say something," snapped Stephen, after a moment of silence. "Isn't it a box of a place? Now come."
"Yes," replied the young lady, without looking at her brother. "Yes, Steve, I suppose it is. But you must remember that we must make the best of it. I always wondered how people could live in apartments. Now I suppose I shall have to find out."
"Well, I maintain that we don't have to. We aren't paupers, even though father wasn't so well fixed as everyone thought. With management and care, we could have stayed in the old house, I believe, and kept up appearances, at least. What's the use of advertising that we're broke?"
"But, Steve, you know Mr. Graves said—"
"Oh, yes, I know. You swallowed every word Graves said, Caro, as if he was the whole book of Proverbs. By George, I don't; I'm from Missouri."
Mr. Warren, being in the Sophomore class at Yale, was of the age when one is constitutionally "from Missouri." Probably King Solomon, at sixty, had doubts concerning the scope and depth of his wisdom; at eighteen he would have admitted its all-embracing infallibility without a blush.
"I tell you," continued Stephen, "there's no sense in it, Sis. You and I know plenty of people whose incomes are no larger than ours. Do they 'economize,' as Graves is continually preaching? They do not, publicly at least. They may save a bit, here and there, but they do it where it doesn't show and nobody knows. Take the Blaisdells, for instance. When the Sodality Bank went up, and old Blaisdell died, everybody said the family was down and out. They must have lost millions. But did they move into 'apartments' and put up a placard, 'Home of the Dead-Brokes. Walk in and Sympathize?' I guess they didn't! They went into mourning, of course, and that let them out of entertaining and all that, but they stayed where they were and kept up the bluff. That's the thing that counts in this world—keeping up the bluff."
"Yes, but everyone knows they are—bluffing, as you call it."
"What of it? They don't really know, they only suspect. And I met Jim Blaisdell yesterday and he shook my hand, after I had held it in front of his eyes where he couldn't help seeing it, and had the nerve to tell me he hoped things weren't as bad with us as he had heard."
"I never liked the Blaisdells," declared Caroline, indignantly.
"Neither did I. Neither do most people. But Jim is just as much in the swim as he ever was, and he's got his governor's place on the board of directors at the bank, now that it's reorganized, and an office down town, and he's hand and glove with Von Blarcom and all the rest. They think he's a promising, plucky young man. They'll help his bluff through. And are his mother and sister dropped by the people in their set? I haven't noticed it."
"Well, Mrs. Corcoran Dunn told me that everyone was talking about the Blaisdells and wondering how long they could keep it up. And the newspapers have been printing all sorts of things, and hinting that young Mr. Blaisdell's appointment as director, after his father wrecked the bank, was a scandal. At least, we haven't that to bear up under. Father was honest, if he wasn't rich."
"Who cares for the newspapers? They're all run by demagogues hunting sensations. What makes me feel the worst about all this is that Stock Exchange seat of father's. If I were only of age, so that I could go down there on the floor, I tell you it wouldn't be long before you and I were back where we belong, Sis. But, no, I'm a kid, so Graves thinks, in charge of a guardian—a guardian, by gad!"
He snorted, in manly indignation. Caroline, her pretty face troubled, rose and walked slowly across the room. It was a large room, in spite of the fact that it was one of a suite in an apartment hotel, and furnished richly. A. Rodgers Warren spent his money with taste, and spent it freely while he lived. The furniture, the paintings, and bric-a-brac were of the very best, chosen with care, here and abroad.
"Oh, dear!" sighed the girl. "I do hope Mr. Graves will be well enough to call to-day. He expected to. Except for the telephone message telling us that that man at Denboro—"
"Our dear Uncle Elisha," put in Stephen, with sarcasm. "Uncle ''Lish!' Heavens! what a name!"
"Hush! He can't help his name. And father's was worse yet—Abijah! Think of it!"
"I don't want to think of it. Neither did the governor; that's why he dropped it, I suppose. Just what did Graves say? Give me his exact words."
"His partner, Mr. Kuhn, telephoned. He said that Mr. Graves had a bad cold, having been wet through in a dreadful storm down there in the country. The doctor forbade his leaving the house for a day or two, but he would call on Tuesday—to-day—if he was sufficiently recovered. And Mr. Kuhn said that everything was satisfactory. This Captain Warren—a ship captain, I suppose he is—would, in all probability, refuse to accept the guardianship and the rest of it—"
"Refuse? I should think so. I'm just as certain father was insane when he made that will as I am that I'm alive. If I thought he wasn't, I'd never forgive him."
"Hush, Steve. You promised me you wouldn't speak in that way."
"Well, all right, I won't. But, Caro, he must have been insane. If he wasn't, do you suppose he would have put us and the estate in the care of a Down-East jay? It's inconceivable! It's ridiculous! Think of it. Suppose this uncle of ours had accepted. Suppose he had come to town here and any of our friends had met him. 'This is our guardian, Captain Warren, of Punkin Centre.' 'Please to meet ye,' says Uncle 'Lish. 'How's taters?' Horrors! Say, Caro, you haven't told anyone, Malcolm or his mother, or anyone, have you?"
"Of course not, Steve. You know I wouldn't."
"Well, don't. They needn't know it, now or at any other time. Graves will probably get himself appointed, and he's respectable if he is an old fogy. We'll worry along till I'm twenty-one, and then—well, then I'll handle our business myself."
Evidently there was no question in his mind as to his ability to handle this or any business, no matter how involved. He rose from his chair and yawned.
"It's deadly dull," he complained. "You don't need me, do you, Caro? I believe I'll go out for a while. That is, unless you really care."
His sister hesitated before replying. When she spoke, there was disappointment in her tone.
"Why, Steve," she said, "I did hope you might be here when Mr. Graves came. He will wish to speak of important matters, and it seems to me that both of us should hear what he has to say."
Young Warren, who had started for the door, stopped and kicked impatiently at the corners of the rug.
"Oh, well!" he observed, "if you want me of course I'll stay. But why doesn't old Graves come, if he is coming. Maybe he's under the weather yet," he added, hopefully. "Perhaps he isn't coming at all to-day. I believe I'll call up Kuhn on the 'phone and find out."
He was on his way to the telephone when the doorbell buzzed.
"Gad! there he is now," he exclaimed. "Now I suppose I'll have to stay. We'll hear about dear Uncle 'Lish, won't we? Oh, joy!"
But the staid butler, when he entered the library, did not announce the lawyer's name.
"Mrs. Corcoran Dunn and Mr. Malcolm," he said. "Will you see them, Miss Caroline?"
The young lady's face lit up.
"Certainly, Edwards," she said. "Show them—Oh, Mrs. Dunn, I'm so glad to see you! It was ever so good of you to come. And Malcolm."
Mrs. M. Corcoran Dunn was tall and, in South Denboro, would have been called "fleshy," in spite of her own and the dressmaker's efforts to conceal the fact. She was elaborately gowned and furred, and something about her creaked when she walked. She rushed into the room, at the butler's heels, and, greeting Caroline with outstretched hands, kissed her effusively on the cheek.
"My dear child," she cried, "how could I stay away? We have spoken of you and Stephen so often this morning. We know how lonely you must be, and Malcolm and I decided we must run in on you after lunch. Didn't we, Malcolm?"
Mr. Malcolm Corcoran Dunn, her son, was a blond young man, with a rather indolent manner.
"Sure, Mater!" he said, calmly. "How d'ye do, Caroline? 'Lo, Steve!"
The quartette shook hands. Mrs. Dunn sank creakingly into a chair and gazed about the room. Malcolm strolled to the window and looked out. Stephen followed and stood beside him.
"My dear," said Mrs. Dunn, addressing Caroline, "how are you getting on? How are your nerves? Is all the dreadful 'settling' over?"
"Very nearly, thank goodness."
"That's a mercy. I should certainly have been here yesterday to help you in superintending and arranging and so on, but I was suffering from one of my 'hearts,' and you know what they are."
Everyone who knew Mrs. Corcoran Dunn was acquainted with her "hearts." The attacks came, so she was accustomed to explain, from an impaired valve, and "some day"—she usually completed the sentence with upturned eyes and a resigned upward wave of the hand.
Her son turned from the window.
"I say, Mother," he explained, wearily, "I do wish you wouldn't speak of your vital organs in the plural. Anyone would imagine you were a sort of freak, like the two-headed boy at the circus. It's positively distressing."
Stephen laughed. He admired young Dunn immensely. Mrs. Dunn sighed.
"Don't, Malcolm, dear," she pleaded. "You sound so unfeeling. One not acquainted with your real kindness of heart—"
"Oh, drop it," interrupted Malcolm. "Let's omit the heart interest. This isn't a clinic. I say, Steve, how do you like the new flat? It is a flat, isn't it?"
Stephen turned red. His sister colored and bit her lip. Mrs. Dunn hastened to the rescue.
"Horrors!" she exclaimed. "Malcolm, you really are insufferable. Flat! Caroline, dear, you mustn't mind him. He will have his joke. Malcolm, apologize."
The command was sharp, and her son obeyed it.
"Beg your pardon, Steve," he said. "Yours, too, Caroline. I was only joking. There's a little beast of a bookkeeper down at the office who is forever talking of his 'nice flat in the Bronx.' It's a standing guy, you know. So far as I can see, these are pretty snug quarters. And attractively arranged, too. Your taste, Caroline, I'm betting."
Miss Warren, slightly mollified, bowed assent.
"I thought so," continued Malcolm. "No one but you would have known exactly the right spot for everything. Show us through, won't you?"
But Mrs. Dunn had other plans.
"Not now, Malcolm," she put in. "Caroline is tired out, I'm sure. A little fresh air will do her good. I was going to suggest that you and she and Stephen go for a short ride. Yes, really you must, my dear," she added, turning to the girl beside her. "Our car is at the door, it's not at all a bad afternoon, and the outing will be just what you need."
"Thank you, Mrs. Dunn," said Caroline, gratefully. "I should like to. Indeed, I should. But we have been expecting a business call from Mr. Graves, father's lawyer, and—"
"Oh, come on, Sis!" interrupted Stephen. "I'm dying to get out of this jail. Let old Graves wait, if he comes. We won't be long; and, besides, it's not certain that he is coming to-day. Come on!"
"I'm afraid I ought not, Steve. Mr. Graves may come, and—and it seems too bad to trouble our friends—"
"It's not trouble, it's pleasure," urged Mrs. Dunn. "Malcolm will be delighted. It was his idea. Wasn't it?" turning to her son.
"Oh, yes! certainly," replied the young gentleman. "Hope you'll come, Caroline. And you, of course, Steve. The blessed machine's been off its feed for a week or more, but Peter says he thinks it's all right again. We'll give it a try-out on the Drive. Hope we have better luck than my last," with a laugh. "They nabbed us for speeding, and I had to promise to be a good boy or to be fined. Said we were hitting it at fifty an hour. We were going some, that's a fact. Ha! ha!"
"But he won't be reckless when you're with him, Caroline," put in his mother. "You will go? That's so nice! As for Mr. Graves, I'll explain if he comes. Oh, no! I'm not going! I shall remain here in this comfortable chair and rest until you return. It's exactly what my physician orders, and for once I'm going to obey him. My heart, you know, my poor heart—"
She waved her hand and raised her eyes. Miss Warren expostulated, but to no purpose. Mrs. Corcoran Dunn would not go, but the others must. So, at last, they did. When Caroline and her brother had gone for their wraps, Mrs. Dunn laid a hand on her son's arm.
"Now mind," she whispered, "see if you can find out anything during the ride. Something more explicit about the size of their estate and who the guardian is to be. There are all sorts of stories, you know, and we must learn the truth very soon. Don't appear curious, but merely friendly. You understand?"
"Sure, Mater," was the careless answer. "I'll pump."
The two departed, leaving their lady visitor ensconced in the comfortable chair. She remained in it for perhaps five minutes. Then she rose and sauntered about the room. She drifted into the drawing-room, returning a moment later and sauntering casually toward the open desk by the fireplace. There were papers and letters scattered about this desk, and these she turned over, glancing toward the door to be sure no one was coming. The letters were, for the most part, messages of sympathy from friends of the Warren family. Hearing an approaching step, she hastily returned to the chair.
Edwards, the butler, entered the library and replenished the fire. Mrs. Dunn languidly accosted him.
"Ah—er—Edwards," she said, "you are—er—growing familiar with your new home?"
"Yes, ma'am," replied Edwards, politely.
"It must seem—er—small compared to the other."
"Smaller; yes, ma'am."
"But very snug and comfortable."
"Yes, ma 'am."
"It is fortunate that Miss Warren and her brother have the aid of such a—an old servant of the family."
"Thank you, ma'am."
"Is Miss Caroline managing her own affairs?"
"Apparently so. Yes, ma'am."
"I presume, however, a guardian has been appointed? With an estate such as the late Mr. Warren must have left, some responsible person would be, of course, necessary."
She paused. Edwards, having arranged the logs to his liking, brushed the dust from his hands.
"I don't know, ma'am, I'm sure," he said. "Neither Miss Caroline nor Mr. Stephen have spoken with me concerning the family affairs."
Mrs. Corcoran Dunn straightened, with hauteur.
"I think that was the doorbell," she remarked, a trifle sharply. "If it should be Mr. Graves, the attorney, you may show him into the library here."
"Yes, ma'am," said Edwards once more, and departed.
The lady visitor heard voices in the passage. She listened, but could hear nothing understandable. Evidently the butler was having an argument with someone. It could not be Graves.
Edwards reappeared, looking troubled.
"It's a—a gentleman to see Miss Caroline," he said. "He won't give his name, ma'am, but says she's expecting him."
"Yes, ma'am. I told him she was out, but he said he was intending to stay a while anyway, and would wait. I asked his business, but he wouldn't tell it."
"That's odd." Mrs. Dunn was slightly interested. "A tradesman, perhaps; or an agent of the landlord."
"No-o, ma'am. I don't think he's either of them, ma'am."
"What sort of a person is he, Edwards?"
The butler's face twitched for an instant with a troubled smile. Then it resumed its customary respectful calm.
"I hardly know, ma'am. He's an oddish man. He—I think he's from the country."
From behind him came a quiet chuckle.
"You're right, Commodore," said a man's voice; "I'm from the country. You guessed it."
Edwards jumped, startled out of his respectable wits. Mrs. Dunn rose indignantly from her chair.
"I beg your pardon, ma'am," said the intruder, appearing in the doorway. "You mustn't think I'm forcin' my way where I ain't wanted. But it seemed to take so long to make the Admiral here understand that I was goin' to wait until Caroline came back that I thought I'd save time and breath by provin' it to him. I didn't know there was any company. Excuse me, ma'am, I won't bother you. I'll just come to anchor out here in the entry. Don't mind me."
He bowed politely, picked up the large suit-case, plainly bran-new, which he had momentarily placed on the rug at his feet, and, with it in one hand and a big soft felt hat in the other, stepped back into the hall out of sight. The astonished Mrs. Dunn and the paralyzed Edwards heard a chair crack as if a heavy weight had descended upon it. Evidently he had "come to anchor."
The lady was the first to recover the power of speech.
"Why!" she exclaimed, in an alarmed whisper. "Why! I never heard of such brazen impertinence in my life. He must be insane. He is a lunatic, isn't he, Edwards?"
The butler shook his head. "I—I don't know, ma'am," he stammered.
"I believe he is." Mrs. Dunn's presence of mind was returning, and with it her courage. Her florid cheeks flamed a more vivid red, and her eyes snapped. "But whether he is or not, he sha'n't bulldoze me."
She strode majestically to the door. The visitor was seated in the hall, calmly reading a newspaper. Hat and suit-case were on the floor beside him.
"What do you mean by this?" demanded the lady. "Who are you? If you have any business here, state it at once."
The man glanced at her, over his spectacles, rose and stood looking down at her. His expression was pleasant, and he was remarkably cool.
"Yes, ma'am," he said, gravely. "I'll be glad to tell you who I am, if you'd like to have me. I'd have done it before, but I thought there weren't any use troublin' you with my affairs. But, just a minute—" he hesitated—"I haven't made any mistake, have I? I understood your steward—the feller with the brass buttons, to say that Abijah Warren's children lived here. That's so, ain't it? If not, then I am mistaken."
Mrs. Dunn regarded him with indignation. "You are," she said coldly. "The family of the late Mr. Rodgers Warren lives here. I presume the slight resemblance in names misled you. Edwards, show the gentleman out."
"Just one moment more, ma'am. It was Rodgers Warren's children I was lookin' for. A. Rodgers Warren he called himself, didn't he? Yes. Well, the A stood for Abijah; that was his Christian name. And he left two children, Caroline and Stephen? Good! I thought for a jiffy I'd blundered in where I had no business, but it's all right. You see, ma'am, I'm their uncle from South Denboro, Massachusetts. My name is Elisha Warren."
Mrs. Dunn gasped. Edwards, peering over her shoulder, breathed heavily.
"You are—their uncle?" repeated the lady.
"Yes, ma'am. I'm 'Bije's brother. Oh, don't worry. It's all right. And don't fret yourself about me, either. I'll set right down out here and read my paper and wait till Caroline or Stephen get home. They're expectin' me. Mr. Graves, the lawyer, told 'em I was comin'."
He calmly seated himself and adjusted his spectacles. Mrs. Dunn stared at him, then at Edwards. After an instant's indecision, she stepped back into the library and walked to the window. She beckoned, with an agitated finger, to the butler, who joined her.
"Edwards," she whispered, "did you hear what he said?"
"Yes, ma'am," replied Edwards, wide-eyed and wondering.
"Is it true?"
"I don't know, ma'am."
"Did Mr. Warren have a brother?"
"I didn't know that he had, ma'am."
"Do you—do you think it likely that he would have a brother like—like that?"
"I don't know, ma'am."
"Was Miss Caroline expecting him?"
"I don't know, ma'am. She—"
"Oh, you don't know anything! You're impossible. Go away!"
"Yes, ma'am," said Edwards thankfully; and went. Mrs. Corcoran Dunn stood for some minutes by the window, thinking, or trying to think a way to the truth in this astounding development. Of course the man might be a lunatic who had gained his information concerning the Warren family from the papers; but he did not look like a lunatic. On the other hand, he certainly did not look as one would have expected a brother of Rodgers Warren's to look. Oddest of all, if he was such a brother, why had neither Caroline or Stephen mentioned his existence? According to his story, Graves, the Warren lawyer, had warned the children of his coming. Caroline had been very reticent concerning her father's will, the amount of his estate, and the like. And Mrs. Dunn had repeatedly, though discreetly, endeavored to find out these important details. Neither hints nor questions had resulted satisfactorily. Was it possible that this was the reason, this country uncle? If so—well, if so, here was a Heaven-sent opportunity for a little genteel and perfectly safe detective work. Mrs. Dunn creakingly crossed the room and spoke.
"Mr. Warren," she said, "I feel guilty in keeping you out there. Won't you come into the library?"
"Why, thank you, ma'am, I'm all right. Don't you trouble about me. Go right on with your readin' or sewin' or knittin' or whatever you was doin' and—"
"I was not reading," replied Mrs. Dunn, with a slight shudder. "Come in, please. I wish you to."
Captain Elisha folded his paper and put it in his pocket. Entering the library, he stood quietly waiting.
"Won't you sit down?" asked his impromptu hostess, trying hard to be gracious.
"Thank you," said the captain. He sank into an armchair and looked curiously about him.
"So you are the late Mr. Warren's brother?" asked the lady, making her first lead in the game.
"Yes, ma'am. His older brother. 'Bije was ten year younger'n I am, Mrs.—er—"
"Dunn. I am an old friend of the family."
"That's good. I'm glad to hear they've got friends. When you're in sickness or trouble or sorrer, friendship counts for consider'ble. How are the young folks—Caroline and Stephen—pretty smart, hey?"
"Smart? Why, they are intelligent, naturally. I—"
"No, no. I mean are they pretty well?"
"Very well, indeed, considering the shock of their recent bereavement."
"Yes, yes. Of course. And they've moved, too. Movin's an awful job. They say three movin's are as bad as a fire, but I cal'late I'd rather burn up a set of carpets than pull 'em up, 'specially if they was insured. 'Tain't half so much strain on your religion. I remember the last time we took up our carpets at home, Abbie—she's my second cousin, keepin' house for me—said if gettin' down on my knees has that effect on me she'd never ask me to go to prayer-meetin' again. Ho! ho!"
He chuckled. Mrs. Dunn elevated her nose and looked out of the window. Then she led another small trump.
"You say that Miss Caroline and her brother expect you," she said. "You surprise me. Are you sure?"
"Oh, yes, ma'am. I'm sure. When Mr. Graves came down to see me, last week 'twas, I told him to say I'd be up pretty soon to look the ground over. This is a pretty fine place the young folks have got here," he added, gazing admiringly at the paintings and bookcases.
"Yes," assented the lady, condescendingly. "For an apartment it is really quite livable."
"Livable!" Captain Elisha's astonishment got the better of his politeness for the moment. "Um! Yes, I should say a body might manage to worry along in it. Was the place where they used to live any finer than this?"
"You don't tell me! No wonder they talked about economi—Humph!"
"What were you about to say, Mr. Warren?"
"Oh, nothin', nothin'! Talkin' to myself is a habit I've got. Abbie—my second cousin; I guess I told you about her—says it's a sure sign that a person's rich or out of his head, one or t'other. I ain't rich, so—" He chuckled once more.
"Mr. Graves came to see you at your home, did he?"
"Yes, ma'am. At South Denboro. And he certainly did have a rough passage. Ho! ho! Probably you heard about it, bein' so friendly with the family."
"Ahem! Doubtless he would have mentioned it, but he has been ill."
"Sho! I'm sorry to hear that. I was afraid he'd catch cold."
"Yes. I hope Mr. Graves's errand was successful?"
"Well, sort of so-so."
"Yes. He came to see you in connection with your brother's estate—some legacy, perhaps?"
She did not look at the captain when she asked this question. Therefore, she did not notice the glance which he gave her. When he answered, it was in the same deliberate, provokingly deliberate, manner.
"Um-hm. Somethin' of that kind, Mrs. Dunn. I can't help thinkin'," he went on, "how nice it is that Caroline and Steve have such a good friend as you to help 'em. Your husband and 'Bije was chums, I s'pose?"
"No, not exactly. The friendship was on my side of the family."
"So? Want to know! Your husband dead, ma'am?"
Mrs. Dunn changed the subject. Her husband, Mr. Corcoran Dunn—once Mike Dunn, contractor and Tammany politician—was buried in Calvary Cemetery. She mourned him, after a fashion, but she preferred not to talk about him.
"Yes," she answered shortly. "It—it looks as if it might snow, doesn't it?"
"I shouldn't wonder. Have you any children, ma'am?"
"One—a son." The widow's tone was frigid.
"So? He must be a comfort to you. I s'pose likely he's a friend of my nephew and niece, too."
"That's good. Young folks ought to have young friends. You live in this neighborhood, ma'am?"
The lady did not answer. She gazed haughtily at the trees in the Park. Captain Elisha rubbed a smile from his lips with his hand and remained silent. The tall clock ticked loud.
There came the sound of laughter from the passage outside. The hall door opened. A moment later, Caroline, followed by her brother and young Dunn, entered the library.
The girl's cheeks were rosy from the cold wind. Her hair, beneath the fur auto cap, had blown in brown, rippled disorder across her forehead. She was smiling.
"Oh, Mrs. Dunn!" she cried. "I'm so glad I accepted your—Malcolm's—invitation. We had a glorious ride! I—"
She stopped short. Captain Warren had risen from his chair and was facing her. Mrs. Dunn also rose.
"Caroline," she said, nervously, "this"—pausing on the word—"gentleman is here to see you. He says he is—"
The captain interrupted her. Stepping forward he seized his niece's hands in his. "Well, well!" he exclaimed admiringly. "'Bije's girl, that I ain't seen since you was a little mite of a baby! Caroline, I'm your Uncle Elisha."
"Good Lord!" groaned Stephen Warren.
If the captain heard Stephen's fervent ejaculation, he paid no attention to it. Dropping his niece's hand, he extended his own toward his nephew.
"And this is Stephen?" he said. "Well, Steve, you and me have never met afore, I b'lieve. But that's our misfortune, not our fault, hey? How are you? Pretty smart?"
The boy's face was flaming. He mumbled something to the effect that he was all right enough, and turned away without accepting the proffered hand. Captain Elisha glanced quickly at him, then at his sister.
"Well, Caroline," he said, pleasantly, "I s'pose you've been expectin' me. Mr. Graves told you I was comin', didn't he?"
Miss Warren, also, was flushed with embarrassment and mortified surprise.
"No," she stammered. "He has been ill."
"Sho! you don't say! Mrs. Dunn—your friend here—said he was laid up with a cold, but I didn't realize 'twas as bad as that. So you didn't know I was comin' at all."
"No. We—we have not heard from you since he returned."
"That's too bad. I hope I sha'n't put you out any, droppin' in on you this way. You mustn't treat me as comp'ny, you know. If 'tain't convenient, if your spare room ain't ready so soon after movin', or anything of that kind, I can go to a hotel somewheres for a day or so. Hadn't I better, don't you think?"
Caroline hesitated. If only they might have been spared this public humiliation. If the Dunns had not been there. It was bad enough to have this dreadful country uncle come at all; but to have him come now, before they were prepared, before any explanations had been made! What should she do?
Her brother, fidgeting at her elbow, not daring to look at Malcolm Dunn, who, he knew, was thoroughly enjoying the scene, could stand it no longer.
"Caro," he snapped, "what are you waiting for? Don't you know that the rooms are not ready? Of course they're not! We're sorry, and all that, but Graves didn't tell us and we weren't prepared. Certainly he'll have to go to the hotel, for—for the present."
He ventured to raise his eyes and glare indignantly at the captain. Finding the latter looking intently at him, he dropped them again and jammed his clenched fists into his pockets.
Captain Elisha pulled thoughtfully at his beard.
"Humph!" he grunted. "Humph! then I cal'late maybe—" He took a step toward the door, stopped, turned back, and said, with calm decision, "I guess I'd better stay. You won't mind me, Caroline—you and Stephen. You mustn't. As I said, I ain't comp'ny. I'm one of the family, your pa's brother, and I've come some consider'ble ways to see you two young folks and talk with you. I've come because your pa asked me to. I'm used to roughin' it, been to sea a good many v'yages, and if a feather bed ain't handy I can get my forty winks on the floor. So that's settled, and you mustn't have me on your conscience. That's sense, ain't it, Mrs. Dunn?"
Mrs. Corcoran Dunn did not deign a reply. Caroline answered for her.
"Very well," she said, coldly. Stepping to the desk she rang a bell. The butler appeared in the doorway.
"Edwards," said Miss Warren, "this gentleman," indicating the captain, "is to be our guest, for the present. You may show him to his room—the blue room, I think. If it is not ready, see that it is made so."
"Yes, Miss Caroline," replied Edwards. Retiring to the hall, he returned with the suit-case.
"Will you wish to go to your room at once, sir?" he asked.
"Why, I guess I might as well, Commodore," answered Captain Elisha, smiling. "Little soap and water won't do no harm. Fact is, I feel's if 'twas a prescription to be recommended. You needn't tote that valise, though," he added. "'Tain't heavy, and I've lugged it so fur already sence I got off the car that I feel kind of lonesome without it."
The butler, not knowing exactly how to answer, grinned sheepishly. Captain Elisha turned to Mrs. Dunn and her son.
"Well, good afternoon, ma'am," he said. "I'm real glad to have made your acquaintance. Yours, too, sir," with a nod toward Malcolm. "Your mother told me what a friend of the young folks you was, and, as I'm sort of actin' pilot for 'em just now, in a way of speakin', any friend of theirs ought to be a friend of mine. Hope to see you often, Mr. Dunn."
The young man addressed smiled, with amusement not at all concealed, and languidly admitted that he was "charmed."
"Your first visit to the city?" he inquired, in a tone which caused Stephen to writhe inwardly.
"No-o. No, not exactly. I used to come here pretty frequent, back in my sea-goin' days, when my ship was in port. I sailed for Osgood and Colton, down on South Street, for a spell. They were my owners. You don't remember the firm, I s'pose?"
"No. The privilege has been denied me. You find some changes in New York, don't you—er—Captain? You are a captain, or a bos'n, or admiral—something of that sort, I presume?"
"Malcolm!" said his mother, sharply.
"Oh, no offense intended. My sea terms are rather mixed. The captain will excuse me."
"Sartin! Cap'n's what they all call me, mostly. Your son ain't ever been to sea, except as passenger, I cal'late, ma'am?"
"Certainly not," snapped Mrs. Dunn.
"Of course, of course. Well, 'tain't a life I'd want a boy of mine to take up, nowadays. But it did have some advantages. I don't know anything better than a v'yage afore the mast to learn a young feller what's healthy for him to unlearn. Good day, ma'am. Good day, Mr. Dunn. I mustn't keep the Commodore waitin' here with that valise. I'll be out pretty soon, Caroline; just as soon as I've got the upper layer of railroad dust off my face and hands. You'll be surprised to see how light-complected I really am when that's over. All right! Heave ahead, Commodore!"
He departed, preceded by Edwards and the suit-case. Stephen Warren threw himself violently into a chair by the window. Young Dunn laughed aloud. His mother flashed an indignant glance at him, and then hurried to Caroline.
"You poor dear!" she exclaimed, putting an arm about the girl's shoulder. "Don't mind us, please don't! Malcolm and I understand. That is, we know how you feel and—"
"Oh, but you don't know, Mrs. Dunn," cried Caroline, almost in tears. "You don't understand! It's so much worse than you think. I—I—Oh, why did father do it? How could he be so inconsiderate?"
"There! there!" purred the friend of the family. "You mustn't, you know. You really mustn't. Who is this man? This uncle? Where does he come from? Why does he force himself upon you in this way? I didn't know your poor father had a brother."
"Neither did we," growled Stephen, savagely. Malcolm laughed again.
"What does it all mean, dear?" begged Mrs. Dunn. "You are in trouble, I'm sure. Don't you think we—Malcolm and I—might be able to help you? We should so love to do it. If you feel that you can confide in us; if it isn't a secret—"
She paused expectantly, patting the girl's shoulder. But Caroline had heard young Dunn's laugh, and was offended and hurt. Her eyes flashed as she answered.
"It's nothing," she said. "He has come to see us on a matter of business, I believe. I am nervous and—foolish, I suppose. Mr. Graves will see us soon, and then everything will be arranged. Thank you for calling, Mrs. Dunn, and for the ride."
It was a very plain hint, but Mrs. Dunn did not choose to understand it as such.
"You're sure you hadn't better tell me the whole story, dear?" she urged. "I am old enough, almost, to be your mother, and perhaps my advice might.... No? Very well. You know best but—You understand that it is something other than mere curiosity which leads me to ask."
"Of course, I understand," said the girl hastily. "Thank you very much. Perhaps, by and by, I can tell you everything. But we must see Mr. Graves first. I—oh, don't ask me more now, Mrs. Dunn."
The widow of so astute a politician as Mike Dunn had been in his day could have scarcely failed to profit by his teachings. Moreover, she possessed talent of her own. With a final pat and a kiss, she prepared for departure.
"Good-by, then," she said, "or rather, au revoir. We shall look in to-morrow. Come, Malcolm."
"I say, Mal!" cried Stephen, rising hurriedly. "You won't tell anyone about—"
"Steve!" interrupted his sister.
Malcolm, about to utter a languid sarcasm, caught his mother's look, and remained silent. Another meaning glance, and his manner changed.
"All right, Steve, old man," he said. "Good-by and good luck. Caroline, awfully glad we had the spin this afternoon. We must have more. Just what you and Steve need. At your service any time. If there is anything I can do in any way to—er—you understand—call on me, won't you? Ready, Mater?"
The pair were shown out by Edwards. On the way home in the car Mrs. Corcoran Dunn lectured her son severely.
"Have you no common sense?" she demanded. "Couldn't you see that the girl would have told me everything if you hadn't laughed, like an idiot?"
The young man laughed again.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed, "it was enough to make a wooden Indian laugh. The old jay with the barnacles telling us about the advantages of a sailor's life. And Steve's face! Ho! ho!"