Read CHAPTER XIV - A LEGALIZED PICKPOCKET of Uncle Terry A Story of the Maine Coast , free online book, by Charles Clark Munn, on

“I’ve got ter go ter Boston,” said Uncle Terry to his wife a few days later. “Thar’s some money due us that we ain’t sartin we’ll git. You an’ Telly can tend the lights for a couple o’ nights, can’t ye? I won’t be gone more’n that. Bascom’s to take me up to the head, an’ if the boat’s runnin’ I’ll be all right.”

This plan had cost Uncle Terry a good deal of diplomacy. Not only did he have to invent a reasonable excuse for going by exciting the fears of both Bascom and Oaks regarding money really due them, but he had to allay the curiosity of his wife and Telly as well. In a small village like the Cape every one’s movements were well known to all and commented on, and no one was better aware of it than Uncle Terry. But go to Boston he must, and to do so right in the dead of winter, when to take such a trip was an unheard-of thing, and not excite a small tempest of curious gossip, taxed his Yankee wit.

At Bath he had a few hours’ wait, and went to the bank and drew a sizable sum of money from his small savings.

“Lawyers are sech sharps, consarn ’em!” he said to himself, “I’d better go loaded. Most likely I’ll come back skinned! I never did tackle a lawyer ‘thout losin’ my shirt.”

When, after an all-night ride, during which he sat in the smoking-car with his pipe and thoughts for company, he arrived in Boston, he felt, as he would phrase it, like a cat in a strange garret. He had tried to fortify himself against the expected meeting with this Frye, who he felt sure would, like all his profession, make him pay dearly for any service. When he entered the rather untidy office of that legal light he was not surprised to find that its occupant much resembled a vulture.

“Well, sir, what can I do for you?” asked Frye, after his visitor had introduced himself.

“Wal,” answered Uncle Terry, taking a seat and laying his hat on the floor beside him, “I’ve come on rather a curis errand;” and taking out the slip he had a few days before placed in his wallet, he handed it to Frye with the remark: “That’s my errand.”

Frye’s face brightened.

“I am very glad to see you, Mr. Terry,” he said, beginning to rub his hands together. “If you have any facts in your possession that will aid us in the search for an heir to this estate we shall be glad to pay you for them, provided they are facts. Now, sir, what is your story?”

Uncle Terry looked at the lawyer a moment before answering.

“I didn’t come here to tell all I knew the fust go-off,” he said. “I know all ‘bout this shipwreck, an’ a good deal more that’ll consarn ye, but fust I want to know who is lookin’ for the information, an’ what’s likely to cum on’t.”

It was Frye’s turn to stare now.

“This man won’t be any easy witness,” he thought; and then he said: “That I am not at liberty to disclose until I know what facts you can establish, but rest assured that any information you may have, if it be proved of real value, will entitle you to an ample reward.”

“I reckon ye don’t quite ketch on ter my drift,” replied Uncle Terry. “I didn’t cum here lookin’ fer pay, but to see that justice was sarved and them as had rights got thar dues.”

“Well, sir,” said Frye, in a suave voice, “we too are looking to see the ends of justice served, but you must understand that in a matter of this importance we must make no mistakes. An estate awaits a claimant, but that claimant must establish his or her identity beyond the shadow of a doubt, in order, as you must see, that justice may be done.”

“Wal,” replied Uncle Terry, stroking his chin with his thumb and finger while he deliberated, “I s’pose I may as well tell ye fust as last. I cum here for that purpose, an’ all I want to fix is, if thar’s nothin’ in it ye’d keep it a secret and not raise any false hopes in the minds o’ them as is near and dear to me.”

“It’s a lawyer’s professional duty never to disclose any business confidence that a client may confide to him,” answered Frye with dignity, “and in this matter I infer you wish to become my client. Am I right, Mr. Terry?”

“I didn’t cum here exactly purposin’ to hire ye,” answered Uncle Terry; “I cum to find what’s in the wind, an’, if ’twas likely to ’mount to anything, to tell all I knew an’ see that them as had rights got justice. As I told ye in the fust on’t, I’m keeper o’ the light at the end o’ Southport Island, an’ have been for thirty year.

“One night in March, just nineteen year ago comin’ this spring, thar was a small bark got a-foul o’ White Hoss Ledge right off’n the pint and stayed thar hard an’ fast. I seen her soon as ’twas light, but thar was nothin’ that could be done but build a fire an’ stand an’ watch the poor critters go down. Long toward noon I spied a bundle workin’ in, an’ when it struck I made fast to it with a boat hook an’ found a baby inside an’ alive. My wife an’ I took care on’t, and have been doing so ever since. It was a gal baby and she growed up into a young lady. ’Bout ten years ago we took out papers legally adoptin’ her, an’ so she’s ourn. From a paper we found pinned to her clothes, we learned her name was Etelka Peterson, an’ that her mother, an’ we supposed her father, went down that day right in sight o’ us. Thar was a locket round the child’s neck, an’ a couple o’ rings in the box, an’ we have kept ’em an’ the papers an’ all her baby clothes ever since. That’s the hull story.”

“How did this child live to get ashore?” asked Frye, keenly interested.

“That’s the curis part,” replied Uncle Terry; “she was put in a box an’ tied ‘tween two feather beds an’ cum ashore dry as a duck.”

Frye stroked his nose reflectively, stooping over as he did and watching his visitor with hawk-like eyes.

“A very well-told tale, Mr. Terry,” he said at last. “A very well-told tale indeed! Of course you have retained all the articles you say were found on the child?”

“Yes, we’ve kept ’em all, you may be sure,” replied Uncle Terry.

“And why did you never make any official report of this wreck and of the facts you state?” asked Frye.

“I did at the time,” answered Uncle Terry, “but nothin’ cum on’t. I guess my report is thar in Washington now, if it ain’t lost.”

“And do I understand you wish to retain me as your counsel in this matter, and lay claim to this estate, Mr. Terry?” continued Frye.

“Wal, I’ve told ye the facts,” replied Uncle Terry, “an’ if the gal’s got money comin’ I’d like to see her git it. What’s goin’ to be the cost o’ doin’ the business?”

“The matter of expense is hard to state in such a case as this,” answered Frye cautiously. “The estate is a large one; there may be, and no doubt will be, other claimants; litigation may follow, and so the cost is an uncertain one. I shall be glad to act for you in this matter, and will do so if you retain me.”

It is said that those who hesitate are lost, and at this critical moment Uncle Terry hesitated.

He did not like the looks of Frye. He suspected him to be what he was-a shrewd, smooth, plausible villain. Had he obeyed his first impulse he would have picked up his hat and left Frye to wash his hands with invisible soap, and laid his case before some other lawyer, but he hesitated. Frye, he knew, had the matter in his hands and might make the claim that his story was false and fight it with all the legal weapons Uncle Terry so much dreaded. In the end he decided to put the matter in Frye’s hands and hope for the best.

“I shall want you to send me a detailed story of this wreck, sworn to by yourself and wife,” said Frye, “also all the articles found on this child; and I will lay your affidavits before the attorneys for this estate, and report progress to you later on.”

When Uncle Terry turned his face towards home his pocket was lighter by two hundred dollars. With most of us when we take an uncertain step, the farther we get from it the more sure we become that it was an unwise one, and it was so with Uncle Terry.

“I s’posed I’d git skinned,” he muttered to himself after he was well on his way home, “an’ I reckon I have! That dum thief, like all the rest o’ lawyers, knows a farmer at sight, an’ when he ketches one he takes his hay! He’s taken mine fur sartin an’ I begin to think I’m a consarned old fool, that don’t know ‘nuff to go in when it rains! How I’m goin’ to git the wimmin to give up them trinkets, ’thout ‘lowin’ I’ve lost my senses, is one too many fur me!”