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CHAPTER X V.
WHO SHALL BE HEIR ?
“I care not, Fortune, what you me deny,
You cannot rob me of free Nature's grace ;
HEN we parted from Mr. Pompilard, he was trying to
negotiate a mortgage for thirty thousand dollars on some real estate belonging to his wife. This mortgage was effected without recourse to the Berwicks, as was also a second mortgage of five thousand dollars, which left the property so encumbered that no further supply could be raised from it.
The money thus obtained Mr. Pompilard forthwith cast upon the waters of that great financial maelstrom in Wall Street which swallows so many fortunes. This time he lost; and our story now finds him and his family established in the poorer half of a double house, wooden, and of very humble pretensions, situated in Harlem, some seven or eight miles from the heart of the great metropolis. Compared with the princely seat he once occupied on the Hudson, what a poor little den it
A warm, almost sultry noon in May was brooding over the unpaved street. The peach-trees showed their pink blossoms, and the pear-trees their white, in the neighboring enclosures. All that Mr. Pompilard could look out upon in his poor, narrow little area was a clothes-line and a few tufts of
with the bald soil interspersed. Yet there in his little back parlor he sat reading the last new novel.
Suddenly he heard cries of murder in the other half of his domicil. Throwing down his book, he went out through the open window, and, stepping on a little plank walk dignified with the name of a piazza, put his legs over a low railing and
passed into his neighbor's house. That neighbor was an Irish tailor of the name of Pat Maloney, a little fellow with carroty whiskers and features intensely Hibernian.
On inquiring into the cause of the outcry, Pompilard learned that Maloney was only “larruping the ould woman with a bit of a leather strap, yer honor.” Mrs. Maloney excused her husband, protesting that he was the best fellow in the world, except when he had been drinking, which was the case that day; "and not a bad excuse for it there was, your honor, for a band of Irish patriots had landed that blessed morning, and Pat had only helped wilcom them dacently, which was the cause of his taking a drap too much.”
With an air of deference that he might have practised towards a grand-duchess, Pompilard begged pardon for his intrusion, and passed out, leaving poor Pat and his wife stunned by the imposing vision.
No sooner had Pompilard resumed his romance, than the dulcet strains of a hand-organ under the opposite window solicited his ear. Pompilard was a patron of hand-organs ; he had a theory that they encouraged a taste for music humbler classes. The present organ was rich-toned, and was giving forth the then popular and always charming melody of “ Love Not.” Pompilard grew sentimental, and put his hand in his pocket for a quarter of a dollar; but no quarter responded to the touch of his fingers. He called his wife.
Enter a small middle-aged lady, dressed in white muslin over a blue under-robe, with ribbons streaming in all directions. She was followed by Antoinette, or Netty, as she was generally called, a little elfish-looking maiden, six or seven years old, with her hands thrust jauntily into the pockets of her apron, and her bright beady eyes glancing about as if in search of mischief.
“ Lend me a quarter, my dear, for the organ-man,” said Pompilard. “Ah! there you have me at a disadvantage, husband,” said
“Do you know I don't believe ten cents could be raised in the whole house ?”
And the lady laughed, as if she regarded the circumstance as an excellent joke. The child, taking her cue from the
mother, screamed with delight. Then, imitating the sound of a bumble-bee, she made her father start up, afraid he was going to be stung. This put the climax to her merriment, and she threw herself on the sofa in a paroxysm.
“ What a little devil it is !” exclaimed Pompilard, proudly smiling on his offspring. “ Is it possible that no one in the house has so much as a quarter of a dollar? Where are the girls ? Girls !”
His call brought down from up-stairs his two eldest, children of his first wife, - one, Angelica Ireton, a widow, whose perplexity was how to prevent herself from becoming fat, for she was already fair and forty; the other, Melissa (by Netty nicknamed Molasses), a sentimentalist of twenty-five, affianced, since her father's last financial downfall, to Mr. Cecil Purling, a gentleman five years her senior, who labored under the delusion that he was born to be an author, and who kept on ruining publishers by writing the most ingeniously unsalable books. Angelica had a son with the army in Mexico, and two little girls, Julia and Mary, older than Netty, but over whom she exercised absolute authority by keeping them constantly informed that she was their aunt.
Angelica was found to have in her purse the sum required for the organ-man. Pompilard took it, and started for the door, when a prolonged feline cry made him suppose he had trodden on the kitten. “ Poor Puss !” he exclaimed ; “ where the deuce are you
u ?” He looked under the sofa, and an outburst of impish laughter told him he had been tricked a second time by his little girl.
“ That child will be kidnapped yet by the circus people,” said Pompilard, complacently. “Where did she learn all these accomplishments ?”
“Of the children in the next house, I believe,” said Mrs. Pompilard ; or else of the sailors on the river, for she is constantly at the water-side watching the vessels, and trying to make pictures of them.”
Pompilard went to the door, paid the organ-grinder, and reentered the room with an “ Extra” which the grateful itinerant had presented to him.
“What have we here?” said Pompilard ; and he read from the paper the announcement of a terrible steamboat accident, which had occurred on the night of the Wednesday previous, on the Mississippi.
“ This is very surprising, — very surprising indeed,” he exclaimed. “My dear, it
from The noise of a dog yelping, as if his leg had been suddenly broken by a stone, here interrupted him. He rushed to the window. No dog was there.
“ Will that little goblin never be out of mischief? Take her away, Molasses," said the secretly delighted father. Then, resuming his seat, he continued : “ It appears from this account, wife, that among the passengers killed by this great steamboat explosion were your niece Leonora Berwick, her husband, and child. Did she have more than one child ?” “Not that I know of,” said Mrs. Pompilard.
“ Is poor Leonora blown up ? That is very hard indeed. But I never set eyes on her, — though I have her photograph, — and I shall not pretend to grieve for one I never saw. My poor brother could never get over our elopement, you wicked Albert."
“ Your poor brother thought I was cheating you, when I said I loved you to distraction. Now put your hand on your heart, Mrs. Pompilard, and say, if you can, that I have n't proved every day of my life that I fell short of the truth in my professions."
“I sha'n't complain,” replied the lady, smiling ; “but we were shockingly imprudent, both of us; and I tell Netty I shall disown her if she ever elopes.”
“Of course Netty must n't take our example as a precedent.”
Buoyed up on her husband's ever-sanguine and cheerful temperament, Mrs. Pompilard had looked upon their fluctuations from wealth to poverty as so many piquant variations in their
This moving into a little mean house in Harlem, what was it, after all, but playing poor? It would be only temporary, and was a very good joke while it lasted. Albert would soon have his palace on the Fifth Avenue once more. There was no doubt of it.
And so Mrs. Pompilard made the best of the present moment. Her step-daughters (she was the junior of one of them) used to treat her as they might a spoiled child, taking
way of life.
her in their laps, and petting her, and often rocking her to sleep.
The news Pompilard had been reading suggested to him a not improbable contingency, but he exhibited the calmness of the experienced gambler in considering it.
“My dear,” said he, “ if this news is true, it is not out of the range of possibilities that the extinction of this Berwick family may leave you the inheritrix of a million of dollars.”
“ That would be quite delightful,” exclaimed Mrs. Pompilard ; " for then that poor pining Purling could marry Melissa at once. Not that I wish my niece and her husband any
harm. O no!”
Yes, it would n't be an ill wind for Purling and Melissa, that's a fact,” said Pompilard. “The chances stand thus : If the mother died the last of the three, the property comes to you as her nearest heir. If the child died last, at least half, and perhaps all the property, must come to you. If the child died first (which is most probable), and then the father and the mother, or the mother and the father, still the property comes to you. If the father died first, then the child, and then the mother, the property comes to you. But if the mother died. first, then the child, and then the father, the money all goes to Mrs. Charlton, by virtue of her kinship as aunt and nearest relative to Mr. Berwick. So you see the chances are largely in your favor. If the report is true that the family are all lost, I would bet fifteen thousand to five that you inherit the property. I shall go to the city to-morrow, and perhaps by that time we shall have further particulars.”
Pompilard then plunged anew into his novel, and the wife returned to her task of trimming a bonnet, intended as a wedding present to a girl who had once been in her service, and who was now to occupy one of the houses opposite.
The next day, Pompilard, fresh, juvenile, and debonair, descended from the Harlem cars at Chambers Street, and strolled down Broadway, swinging his cane, and humming the Druidical chorus from Norma. Encountering Charlton walking in the same direction, he joined him with a “ Good morning." Charlton turned, and, seeing Pompilard jubilant, drew from the spectacle an augury unfavorable to his own prospects. “ Has the old fellow had private advices ? " thought he.