The Errand Boy/Chapter XXVIII
Mr. Carter was taking articles from a bureau and packing them away in an open trunk, when Mrs. Pitkin entered with Alonzo. It is needless to say that his niece regarded his employment with dismay, for it showed clearly that he proposed to leave the shelter of her roof.
"Uncle Oliver!" she exclaimed, sinking into a chair and gazing at the old gentleman spell-bound.
Mr. Carter, whose back had been turned, turned about and faced his niece.
"Oh, it is you, Lavinia!" he said quietly.
"What are you doing?" asked his niece.
"As you see, I am packing my trunk."
"Do you intend to leave us?" faltered Mrs. Pitkin.
"I think it will be well for me to make a change," said Mr. Carter.
"This is, indeed, a sad surprise," said Mrs Pitkin mournfully. "When did you return from Florida?"
"I have never been there. I changed my mind when I reached Charleston."
"How long have you been in the city?"
"About a week."
"And never came near us. This is, indeed, unkind. In what way have we offended you?" and Mrs. Pitkin put her handkerchief to her eyes.
There were no tears in them, but she was making an attempt to touch the heart of her uncle.
"Are you aware that Rebecca Forbush is in the city?" asked the old gentleman abruptly.
"Ye-es," answered Mrs. Pitkin, startled.
"Have you seen her?"
"Ye-es. She came here one day."
"And how did you treat her?" asked Mr. Carter, severely. "Did you not turn the poor woman from the house, having no regard for her evident poverty? Did you not tell her that I was very angry with her, and would not hear her name mentioned?"
"Ye-es, I may have said so. You know, Uncle Oliver, you have held no communication with her for many years."
"That is true--more shame to me!"
"And I thought I was carrying out your wishes in discouraging her visits."
"You also thought that she might be a dangerous rival in my favor, and might deprive you and Alonzo of an expected share in my estate."
"Oh, Uncle Oliver! how can you think so poorly of me?"
Mr. Carter eyed his niece with a half-smile.
"So I do you injustice, do I, Lavinia?" he returned.
"Yes, great injustice."
"I am glad to hear it. I feel less objection now to telling you what are my future plans."
"What are they?" asked Mrs. Pitkin apprehensively.
"I have lived for ten years under your roof, and have had no communication, as you say, with Rebecca. I think it is only fair now that I should show her some attention. I have accordingly installed her as mistress of my house in Madison Avenue, and shall henceforth make my home with her."
Mrs. Pitkin felt as if the earth was sinking under her feet. The hopes and schemes of so many years had come to naught, and her hated and dreaded cousin was to be constantly in the society of the rich uncle.
"Rebecca has played her cards well," she said bitterly.
"She has not played them at all. She did not seek me. I sought her."
"How did you know she was in the city?"
"I learned it from--Philip!"
There was fresh dismay.
"So that boy has wormed his way into your confidence!" said Mrs. Pitkin bitterly. "After acting so badly that Mr. Pitkin was obliged to discharge him, he ran to you to do us a mischief."
"Why was he discharged?" demanded Mr. Carter sternly. "Why did your husband seize the opportunity to get rid of a boy in whom he knew me to be interested as soon as he thought I was out of the way? Why, moreover, did he refuse the boy a reference, without which Philip could scarcely hope to get employment?"
"You will have to ask Mr. Pitkin. I am sure he had good reason for the course he took. He's an impudent, low upstart in my opinion."
"So he is, ma!" chimed in Alonzo, with heartiness.
"Ah! I have something to say to you, Alonzo," said Mr. Carter, turning his keen glances upon the boy. "What became of that letter I gave to you to post just before I went away?"
"I put it in the letter-box," said Alonzo nervously.
"Do you know what was in it?"
"No," answered Alonzo, but he looked frightened.
"There were ten dollars in it. That letter never reached Phil, to whom it was addressed."
"I--don't know anything about it," faltered Alonzo.
"There are ways of finding out whether letters have been posted," said Mr. Carter. "I might put a detective on the case."
Alonzo turned pale, and looked much discomposed.
"Of what are you accusing my boy?" asked Mrs. Pitkin, ready to contend for her favorite. "So that boy has been telling lies about him, has he? and you believe scandalous stories about your own flesh and blood?"
"Not exactly that, Lavinia."
"Well, your near relation, and that on the testimony of a boy you know nothing about. When Lonny is so devoted to you, too!"
"I never noticed any special devotion," said Mr. Carter, amused. "You are mistaken, however, about Philip trying to injure him. I simply asked Philip whether he had received such a letter, and he said no."
"I dare say he did receive it," said Mrs. Pitkin spitefully.
"We won't argue the matter now," said the old gentleman. "I will only say that you and Alonzo, and Mr. Pitkin also, have gone the wrong way to work to secure my favor. You have done what you could to injure two persons, one your own cousin, because you were jealous."
"You judge me very hardly, uncle," said Mrs. Pitkin, seeing that she must adopt a different course. "I have no bad feeling against Rebecca, and as to the boy, I will ask my husband to take him back into the store. I am sure he will do it, because you wish it."
"I don't wish it," answered Mr. Carter, rather unexpectedly.
"Oh, well," answered Mrs. Pitkin, looking relieved, "that is as you say."
"I have other views for Philip," said Mr. Carter. "He is with me as my private secretary."
"Is he living with you?" asked his niece, in alarm.
"There was no need of taking a stranger, Uncle Oliver. We should be glad to have Alonzo act as your secretary, though of course we should want him to stay at home."
"I shall not deprive you of Alonzo," said Mr. Carter, with a tinge of sarcasm in his tone. "Philip will suit me better."
Mr. Carter turned and resumed his packing.
"Are you quite determined to leave us?" asked Mrs. Pitkin, in a subdued tone.
"Yes; it will be better."
"But you will come back--say after a few weeks?"
"No, I think not," he answered dryly.
"And shall we not see you at all?"
"Oh, I shall call from time to time, and besides, you will know where I am, and can call whenever you desire."
"People will talk about your leaving us," complained Mrs. Pitkin.
"Let them talk. I never agreed to have my movements controlled by people's gossip. And now, Lavinia, I shall have to neglect you and resume my packing. To-morrow I shall bring Philip here to help me."
"Would you like to have Alonzo help you, Uncle Oliver?"
This offer, much to Alonzo's relief, was declined. He feared that he should be examined more closely by the old gentleman about the missing money, which at that very moment he had in his pocket.
Mrs. Pitkin went down stairs feeling angry and baffled. All that she had done to retain her ascendency over Uncle Oliver had failed, and Mrs. Forbush and Philip seemed to have superseded herself and Alonzo in his regard. She conferred with Mr. Pitkin on his return from the store, but the more they considered the matter the worse it looked for their prospects.
Could anything be done?