Read CHAPTER XXIII - A STRANGE STORY of Uncle Terry A Story of the Maine Coast , free online book, by Charles Clark Munn, on

Uncle Terry and Albert had just seated themselves on the point that evening when Telly came out with a thick gray shawl and wrapped it around her father’s shoulders. “It’s a little chilly to-night,” she said, “and I think you need it.” Then turning to Albert she added, “Wouldn’t you like one too, Mr. Page?” He didn’t in the least need any protection, but that made no difference. “I would, thank you,” he answered, “if you have another to spare.” He would have answered yes if she had asked him to put on woollen mittens. She returned to the house and came back, this time bearing a white zephyr wrap, and handed it to Albert. “I will bid you good-night, now,” she said, “for I presume you will sit here long after bed-time.”

Uncle Terry’s eyes followed her back to the house, and then he turned to his guest.

“I s’pose ye’d rather be talking to Telly than me, out here in the moonlight,” he said bluntly, “now that ye’ve got a little acquainted. It’s the way o’ young folks.”

“I’ve had a very pleasant visit with your daughter this afternoon,” responded Albert; “she was good enough to go with me to where I got left yesterday. I wanted to finish the sketch I began there.” Uncle Terry made no answer, but sat puffing away at one of the cigars Albert had given him.

“We don’t git cigars like this here,” he said at last, “an’ they must cost a lot o’ money.” Albert made no reply, but waited quietly for the revelation he felt was coming.

“Mr. Page,” said Uncle Terry at last, “I’ve worried a good deal since last night ‘bout what you told me, an’ I’ve made up my mind to tell ye the hull story an’ trust ye with what no one else knows. To begin with, it’s ’bout twenty years ago last March when thar war a vessel got a-foul o’ a ledge jest off’n the pint here in a snow-storm, an’ all hands went down; that is, all but a little yearlin’ baby that cum ashore tied up ‘tween two feather-beds. I fished her out o’ the surf, an’ Lissy an’ me has taken care on her ever since, an’ to-day she’s worth a thousand times more’n she cost. How much she thinks o’ me I’ll let ye jedge by the way she thought ’bout my comfort to-night. There was a few trinkets came ashore with her-picturs o’ her father an’ mother, we knew, an’ a locket an’ ring and some other things, so we knowed her name and whar she cum from. Since then we have never heard a word from no one regardin’ her people, or whether any was livin’, till last winter I cum across a notice in a paper sayin’ information was wanted ’bout an heir to an estate in Sweden, and tellin’ facts that made me sure Telly was the one wanted. The notice was signed by that lawyer, Frye, that I asked ye ‘bout, an’ I went to see him. He wanted proofs an’ all that, an’ I gave ’em to him, an’ wussen that, he wanted money, an’ I gave that to him. He’s kept askin’ fer money ever since, an’ I, like a dum fool, kept sendin’ it, in hopes, if Telly had anything comin’, she’d git her dues. I’ve sent him the locket and things that belonged to her, and all I’ve got so far is letters askin’ for more money an’ tellin’ ’bout expenses an’ evidence an’ witnesses’ fees an’ bonds to be filed. Lissy an’ Telly know ’bout the case, but they don’t know how much money I’ve paid out, an’ I don’t want they should. That’s the hull story, an’ now as you’re a lawyer, an’ I b’lieve an honest one, I ask ye what’s best to be done.”

For fully five minutes Albert said nothing. The story was so startling and opened such a wide horizon of possibilities that he was speechless. Then, perhaps, the distress in Uncle Terry’s face and speech appealed to him, for he said: “I see now, Mr. Terry, why you distrust lawyers, and I do not wonder at it. To the best of my belief you have been swindled in the most outrageous manner by Frye. He no doubt is acting for some law firm who have instructed him to find an heir, if there is one, to this estate, and they would naturally advance all expense money. Do you know the vessel’s name, where she sailed from, and who her master was?”

“She was a square-rigger, and the master’s name was Peterson; in the newspaper piece the name was Neils Peterson who cum from Stockholm,” answered Uncle Terry. “I’ve got it in my wallet now, an’ on the locket was the letters E. P., an’ on a piece o’ paper that was pinned to the baby’s dress was the name Etelka Peterson.”

“And did you send these proofs to Frye?” asked Albert quickly.

“I sent ’em six months ago,” was the reply, “an’ I’ve jest ’bout made up my mind I was a fool to ‘a’ done it, an’ a bigger one to keep sendin’ money.”

“It would have been all right,” answered Albert after a pause, “if you had put them into an honest man’s hands. As it is you are lame-in fact, utterly at the mercy of Frye, who is robbing you.” Then after thinking a moment he added, “I will gladly do what I can to help you, Mr. Terry, and at no cost to you for my own services. The first step must be to get possession of these material proofs, the next to find what firm has employed Frye. That will be easier than to get the trinkets, as you call them, back. We might issue a writ of replevin and search Frye’s office, but then we are not sure of finding them. They are so valuable in the case that you may be sure Frye has them safe in hiding and will deny possession. Even if we find who employ him and lay the matter before them, he will declare us impostors and block us at once. As I said, we are helpless until we get possession of those proofs.”

“Ain’t my word an’ Lissy’s as to savin’ the baby no ’count?” asked Uncle Terry.

“Very good so far as it goes,” answered Albert, “but really no proof that the child you saved is the one wanted for this inheritance. In the matter of a legacy the law is very exacting and demands absolute proof. No, the only way is to use duplicity and trick Frye, or ask him to name his price and pay it, and as the estate may be large, his price will naturally be extortionate.”

Albert thought a moment and then added, “Has Frye ever written you admitting he has received or has those proofs in his possession?”

“Not a word,” answered Uncle Terry; “all he writes is, ’Your case is progressing favorably. I need so much more money,’ an’ I send it an’ lay ’wake nights worryin’.”

“How long since he has sent for money?” asked Albert.

“’Bout a month, I reckon,” replied Uncle Terry.

Albert leaned forward, resting his face on both hands and thinking. It was a hard case to solve, and knowing the manner of man Frye was, and how nearly impossible it would be to trick him, a past master in all kinds of duplicity, he was at his wits’ end. The more he thought the matter over, the harder the problem seemed. “We might have you go into his office with one or two of your neighbors,” he said, “to act as witnesses, and by some question get him to admit he has these articles, and then bring suit; but I do not think he would say anything before a third party. We might employ a detective, but Frye is too shrewd to be caught napping. I confess, Mr. Terry, I am stumped, and can see no way out of the dilemma.” Then he lighted a fresh cigar and gazed meditatively upon the ocean where the ever-broadening path of moonshine stretched away. Only a little way out the ground swells were breaking upon a long narrow reef, and as it caught his eye there came to him the memory of the pictured wreck he had noticed in Uncle Terry’s sitting-room that morning, and Telly’s evident wish to avoid all questions regarding it. Then it dawned upon him that that subject might be a tender one with her, and maybe that in some way she felt her history was a cloud upon her life, or perhaps a humiliation. He turned to Uncle Terry again:

“How does your-I mean, how does Telly feel about this matter, Mr. Terry, for I suppose she knows the story?”

“That’s suthin’ I hate ter talk ‘bout, but as ye’r’ likely to see more o’ us an’ more o’ Telly, it’s better ye know it all. When she was ’bout ten we told her the story, and showed her the things we’d kep’ locked up. She didn’t seem ter mind it then, but as she’s growed older it sorter shadders her life, as it were. We used ter ketch her lookin’ at the things once in a while, an’ cryin’. When I sent ’em to Boston she took on a good deal, an’ ain’t been the same sence. We try to keep her from thinkin’ ’bout it all we can, but she’s curis in her ways, and I’ve thought she was kinder ‘shamed, an’ mebbe broodin’ over it makes it wuss.”

This was a new phase of the trouble to Albert, and one he could not quite understand. “You do not mean that you fear she would make away with herself in a fit of melancholy, do you?” he asked.

“I dunno what to think,” was the answer, “only I hate to have her out o’ sight much, an’ the more lovin’ she is the more I worry. I’ve bin sorry at times I ever went to Frye, but it’s too late ter back out now.”

“One thing please promise me,” said Albert when they had started for the house, “do not hint either to her or your wife that you have told me anything about this matter. I will do all that can be done, and consult only with you, in private.”