James R. (James Roberts) Gilmore.

The last of the Thorndikes online

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"The last of a goodly race,

The blood of worthy sires
In him bore kindly trace
Of a by-gone, better time."






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? family, the American ancestor of which emigrated to

|5 Boston with John Winthrop, in 1630. This old Puri-

o tan built his house in Charlestown, near the mansion

of Governor Winthrop, but a descendant of his of the

third generation removed to Dorchester, even then a

O delightful suburb of the three-hilled town, and there

& erected, about a hundred and fifty years ago, a quaint,

roomy mansion which he surrounded with a spacious

garden that was "a joy to all beholders." In this

mansion all the Thorndikes lived who came into this

^ world and went out of it between that date and the

time when this history opens, nearly half a century


This could easily be, for the house was large, and
none of the family ever had a numerous progeny



seldom more than two in a generation, and one of
those was reasonably certain to be a bachelor. If one
of the young men happened to marry, he took his wife
home to the old mansion, there being in it room
enough for all without any crowding of the old folks.
Moreover, numbers never produced any disharmony
among the Thorndikes, for the entire lineage respected
one another and themselves, and had none of those
petty envies and jealousies which cause discomfort in
so many households.

This lack of numerical extension in the Thorndike
family has made it an easy task to trace the pedigree,
and estimate the characters of all its members, even
down to the ancient psalm-singer, who led the choir
in the Old North Church, and, in his old age, took
regularly his Sunday nap under Increase Mather's
preaching. The conclusion I have come to is that
while not " overmuch righteous " they were a worthy
race even those starched old Puritans who sang
Old Hundred with a nasal twang, and gave deliberate
assent to the roasting of new-born infants over a hot
fire, kept continually burning in an underground region
styled Gehenna. But time turns even winter into
summer, and after the lapse of about a century it
softened the harsh Calvinism of the old Thorndikes
into the genial tenets of William Ellery Channing.
About the year 1820, the grandfather of the youth
whose history I am writing, became a zealous disciple
of that eminent man, and some twenty-five years
later, his son, Robert Thorndike, was converted to
even the anti-supernaturalism of Theodore Parker,


which accounts the miracles myths or " old-wives
tales," and Jesus merely a remarkable young man,
with a wonderful genius for religious truth, but not
the central figure in human history, the re-creator of
the moral world, and, by natural right, the King of
all mankind.

However, I suspect that their religious tenets never
sat very oppressively upon any of the family. It is
certain that none of the later generations were ever
seen at prayer meeting, or at church on a rainy Sun
day ; and it is even reported that they preferred a
night at the play or the opera to the week-day-even
ing service at the old Dr. Harris meeting-house.
Notwithstanding this, they paid their pew-rent, were
liberal patrons of the contribution box, respectful to
their clergyman, loving to one another, and kindly-
affectioned to all, especially to their humbler neigh
bors ; and if they did not manifest what has been
termed the " enthusiasm of humanity," they certainly
exhibited a hereditary disposition to be of practical
service to their fellow-creatures. And this disposition
was manifested so habitually, and in so many ways, as
to secure for them the good-will and esteem of a very
wide circle of acquaintance. If they had any consti
tutional failing it was an intense family pride, and a
lofty contempt for social pretensions when based upon
the mere possession of money. Money-getting they
regarded as too low a pursuit for a gentleman ; and it
was probably owing to this fact that scarcely any prop
erty ever descended from father to son, except the
old homestead to which the mere passage of time had


given the larger part of its value. Almost without
exception they were lawyers, some of them of fine
abilities and large incomes ; but the incomes were
pretty sure to be balanced by the outgoes, and these
were not always expended upon- themselves, but in
public projects or upon their poorer neighbors.

These family traits were all combined in Robert
Thorndike, the uncle of young Richard, and besides
him, at the opening of this history, the only surviving
member of the ancient family. The parents of Rich
ard had died when he was but a child, and this uncle
had brought him up, and lavished upon him the ab
sorbing affection of a strong, manly nature. He had
never married, never perhaps thought of marriage,
certainly never since that day in 1832, when both the
boy's parents, stricken down by the cholera scourge,
were laid away together in one grave of the old church
yard. Then, taking the two-year-old lad in his arms,
he had said to him, " Don't cry, Dickey. Uncle Rob,
will now be both father and mother to you."

And he had kept his word. From that day forth
that orphan child became the chief, almost the sole,
object of his life. He watched over and tended him
in early childhood, and in boyhood guided his sports,
shared his studies, and always on Saturdays, when
the lad could be released from his books, had him as
his constant companion. Then, taking him and a
little girl playmate into his gig, he would drive into
town, and have the two about him all the day in his
office, or beside him in the dingy court-room, listening
to the dry pleadings. This over, the three would


trudge hand in hand, through State and Washington
streets, to Dexter's stables in Franklin Street, where
the old gray horse, and the old-fashioned gig, would
be in waiting to take them home. Then they would
sup, and pass the evening together, the children often
screaming with delight as the man emptied into their
laps the budget he had carefully filled, during all the
week, with droll, Saturday-night stories.

Thus the man lived in the boy ; and it was but
natural that the boy should grow up feeling for the
man a corresponding affection, and should copy his ways,
his erect, easy carriage, firm, manly gait, genial, cour
teous manners; and should imbibe his opinions, see
the world through his eyes this world, and also that
hazy, unknowable realm, which stands for the future life
in the creed of agnosticism. To the uncle the nephew
was all the world ; but, before the latter had arrived
at the age of sixteen, he became aware of the fact
that, though he was devotedly attached to his uncle,
his world was centred in the gentle young girl who
had been his constant companion since childhood.

It was about this time, when the lad had finished
the studies preparatory to college, that he had a con
ference with his uncle which exerted an important
influence upon his future career. The latter was
seated after supper, in his library, a large, high-ceil-
inged room on the ground floor of the old mansion.
A pet kitten was perched upon the top of the high-
backed arm-chair he occupied, and another was asleep
in the arms of a large dog, with long, pendulous ears,
that lay curled up at his feet. The curtains were


drawn, and one burner of a huge chandelier cast a soft
light upon the rows of books that lined the walls, and
the many busts and articles of virtu which filled every
niche of the spacious apartment, all revealing the
refined taste of a man, who was at once a brilliant
lawyer, a cultivated scholar, and a polished gentleman.
His slippered feet were perched upon a chair before
him, and he was leaning back in his seat, in one hand
his evening cigar, in the other a manuscript at which
he was glancing with considerable interest. At this
moment his nephew entered the room, and throwing
himself upon a lounge, took up the evening news
paper which his uncle had let fall upon the floor.

After a few moments, still glancing at the manu
script, the uncle said to him. " I say, Dick, this isn't
bad: (reading,)

" They are marvellous eyes, of a hazel hue,
From whose still depths a soul looks through,
Serene and deep as the ether blue.

"Born of the gorgeous sunset skies,
They have the twilight's loveliest dyes,
And all its glory in them lies.

" They lit my boyhood's earliest dream,
And on my manhood they will beam,
Robing it all in a golden gleam.

" That is very good, Dick, very good, and more
over, it's very true Lottie has marvellous eyes. And
the rest is very sensible more so than most poetry

"I'll sing those eyes while I've voice to sing,
And clasp that maid while I've arms to cling,
And richer I'll be than any king :


" For in those eyes, those hazel eyes,
The all of earthly beauty lies,
And half the bliss of Paradise.

"That is good sense, Dick. I'd do so myself, if I
were of your age. If I had met a girl like Lottie
thirty years ago, it wouldn't have been left solely to
you to perpetuate the family."

The youth while listening to this reading, had kept
his recumbent position ; now he sat upright, and asked,
" How did you get that paper, Uncle? "

" Why I stole it. You see, Dick, Lottie was so
delighted with the verses, she couldn't keep them to
herself, she had to run over here and read them to
me ; and as she wouldn't give them up, I took them
from her by force and arms. The fact is, Dick, I've a
private detective over you Lottie herself so you'd
better not say anything to her you don't wish me to

" I don't want to keep anything from you, Uncle
Rob," said the young man in an earnest tone.

" I know you don't, my dear boy, and I shouldn't
care if you did. I can trust you you are the best boy
in the world. And, Dick, it's been dawning on me
lately that in you our race will reach the crest of the
wave. You have only to sharpen up your tools well
at college, to outdo all the old Thorndikes, and be an
honor to the family?"

"And your heart is set on my being a lawyer?"
said the youth.

" A lawyer ! Why, what else can you be ? All the
Thorndikes have been lawyers."


"And that's the reason they've all been poor. I
want to be rich ; so, I'd rather be a merchant."

" What ! " exclaimed the uncle. " Bury your fine
talents among a lot of gunny-bags, and pork-barrels! "

"Not that kind of merchant, Uncle Rob," said the
youth. " There are merchants whose ships are on
every sea who trade all over the world. It seems to
me that to manage such a business must require as
much brains as to be a lawyer."

"Well, it does, Dick; and I don't know but more,
for a lawyer has precedents, and a merchant of that
sort has none he must think out his operations for
himself ; be a pioneer ; an original organizer."

" And that's what Mr. Wilder was, and I hear he
has left half a million."

"But it came natural to Wilder," said the uncle,
" he merely succeeded his father and grandfather.
But he didn't leave half a million. All the accounts
were in before I threw up the executorship, and he
won't pan out over three hundred and fifty thousand."

"Why did you throw up the executorship, Uncle?"
asked his nephew.

" Because I couldn't stand the widow, and that
crazy scamp, Cravan, my co-executor. She's as mer
cenary and suspicious as sin, and what of Cravan is not
knave, is fool. But, tell me, Dick, why do you want
to be rich ? Money is a low pursuit, not fit for a mind
like yours."

" For the reason that if I'm not rich, or on the sure
road to riches, Mrs. Wilder will object to my
marrying Lottie," answered the young man. " She


has already told her that she must not think of me as
her future husband, for I shall always be poor. And
she assures Lottie that I am seeking only her money."

" She need not trouble herself very much about the
money, Dick," said his uncle, " for by the time you
are old enough to marry, there'll not be a dollar of it
that is not lost, or in Cravan's pocket."

" That, I think, is not the real consideration "
answered the youth ; " she never did like me ; but for
the past six months ever since Mr. Wilder's death
she has shown an actual repugnance to me. I half
expect she will soon forbid me the house."

" I see how that is," said the older gentleman, " she
has felt the same all along, but "knowing Wilder's
fondness for you she concealed her real feelings while
he was living. Hard-bitted as she is, she was always
as docile as a kitten with Wilder. But, Dick, her
repugnance is not so much to you as to me ; she is
visiting the sins of the uncle upon the nephew. It's a
story I would have told you long ago, had I not seen
that in Lottie's nature there is not a trace of her
mother, or of her scapegrace of an uncle. She is
altogether like her father; and a finer fellow than
Aleck Wilder never trod the footstool."

" Had Mrs. Wilder a brother? I never knew that,"
said the youth.

"That's not singular. I don't believe Lottie knows
it, for they never speak of him, and he disappeared
long ago, when you and she were little bits of things
that your father used to trundle about together in a
baby-wagon. And you were two as pretty rose-buds


as ever grew. It was as good as a play to see you
not half a head taller than she was hand the little
lady out of the carriage, and then put your arm about
her, and kiss her 'good-by.' They say 'matches are
made in heaven,' but that was made in the cradle ;
and I don't mean Mrs. Wilder shall break it up. But
I will tell you about the brother, and then you will
have a knowledge of the enemy's position ; and there
is nothing like having that when you are going into a
conflict of guns, or wits, or of both together.



" IT is not a thing of yesterday, Richard," said his
uncle, throwing away his cigar, and taking down to his
lap the kitten which was perched on the back of
his chair. " The ill-feeling of Mrs. Wilder goes back
to a time before you were born, when she, and Wilder,
and your father were children, and I was a youth just
graduated. She was the daughter of James Pritchett,
the soap boiler " old Pritchett " he was generally
called, for he was not much respected. He occupied
the house she now lives in, and we lived in this old
mansion, which, you know, has been the family home
stead ever since the days of the Judge, your three
times great-grandfather. Pritchett was thought to be
rich, and she was his only daughter and very pretty ;
but your father and I would as soon have thought of
associating with a servant-maid as with the daughter
of the old soap boiler. We knew her, of course, and
accosted her courteously whenever we met her ; but
we never went to her father's house, and very rarely
encountered her elsewhere. She resented what she
called our exclusiveness, for she was very ambitious,
and really fitted to shine in society, being very bright,


and having had a polite education. This was the soil
in which her repugnance to me took root ; but not
the sole cause of her animosity.

" She grew up a very beautiful woman, and when
about Lottie's age, somehow met Aleck Wilder and
entrapped him into a marriage. I say ' entrapped '
because Wilder was of old stock, with a good deal of
family pride, and he must have been fairly infatuated
to not only marry her, but to make his home with her
beer-drinking father and scapegrace of a brother.
That brother, the younger James Pritchett, was the
cause of the trouble. He had the air and manners of a
gentleman, but was an exact reproduction of the old

"After young Pritchett's graduation he studied law,
and before his admission to the bar, became engaged
to a very estimable young woman, the daughter of a
widow living in Boston. The widow had a moderate
property invested on mortgage, and the interest on
her principal investment not being paid, she gave the
mortgage to the young man to collect. He fore
closed it, and instead of paying the proceeds over to
her, retained the money for re-investment. This he
pretended to do, and as evidence of it, put into her
hands three bonds and mortgages purporting to be
executed by as many different persons. The interest
on these mortgages he professed to collect, and dur
ing a year he did actually pay over to the widow a
sum equal to the income of the mortgages. Then one
day, while the widow was looking through her tin
box, she happened to observe that none of the mort-


gages had been recorded. For some other reason she
had begun to distrust Pritchett, and this led her to
bring the papers to me, with the request that I would
place them on record, and also examine and appraise
the real estate they covered. I did so, and soon ran
against the fact that there was no such property in
existence, nor any such persons as the pretended
mortgagers. In other words, Pritchett had com
mitted forgery, false personation and embezzlement.

" I was satisfied that he had not wasted the money
upon himself, for he was strikingly mean in personal
expenditures. He had lost it, I concluded, in stock
speculations. That being so, the question was how
could it be recovered ? Old Pritchett was reputed to
be slippery, and if I were to approach him on the sub
ject, he would, no doubt, advise his son to get out of
the way, and refuse to pay anything. He might even
let the young man go to prison rather than refund so
large a sum as twenty thousand dollars. I had, there
fore, to proceed with caution, not even disclosing to
the widow my discovery, lest in her indignation she
should reveal it to young Pritchett.

" My first step was to open the whole transaction to
Wilder. He had been a schoolboy with your father,
and your father and I had been his attorneys from his
first going into business. I knew him to be discreet,
and thoroughly honorable and upright. He expressed
no surprise, for, with the instinct of an honest man, he
had detected the real character of both the son and
father. He believed the son would attempt to get
away, and the father would not help him out of the


difficulty. Moreover, he thought the old man could
do nothing if he would his affairs, he said, were
badly embarrassed, and if I should search the records,
I would probably find all his property mortgaged to
its full value. He went away before your father and
I had decided what course to pursue, but we had
gained from him a better knowledge of old Pritchett
and his resources.

" Wilder had no sooner left our office than I went
to the Registry of Deeds, to ascertain if the old man
had any unencumbered real estate. I found nothing
clear except the house he lived in, which was worth
just about the amount the son had embezzled.
Everything else even his soap-boiling establishment
was covered with mortgages, two and three deep,
and this indicated that Wilder was right the old man
was irretrievably embarrassed. However, there were
no judgments against him, and, consequently, he could
give a good title to the homestead. It was evident
that the only way to secure my client was to get for
her the deed of that property, and get it at once,
before the old man's affairs became any more en
tangled. He might decline to give it ; but it was only
just that he should, for he was responsible for bring
ing the young scoundrel into the world. The young
fellow was then not twenty-one a most precocious

" To prevent young Pritchett slipping through my
fingers, I decided to swear out a warrant against him,
and to place it in the hands of an officer ; but not to
have it actually served, unless he should fail to give


security for the money embezzled. Having done this,
I returned to my office with the warrant and a couple
of detectives in citizen's clothes, and then sent for
young Pritchett. He was a brazen, but cowardly fel
low, and I had no sooner taken him into my private
room and showed him the warrant, then he sank back
in his chair as if his very life was oozing out of him.
When he had somewhat recovered himself, I told him
that two detectives were in the adjoining room, one
or the other of whom I proposed should be his con
stant attendant till he had paid, or given security for,
the money he had stolen. He could have a reason
able time in which to do it ; but if it were not done
speedily, I should direct the officer to serve the war
rant and take him to prison, after which, as he knew,
there could be no settlement. He admitted having
lost the money in stock speculations, and said that his
only hope was in his sister's husband, for he was sure
his father would do nothing for him. His sister I
knew to be much attached to him, and, as she is a
woman of imperious will, I feared that she would pre
vail upon Wilder to offer himself as security. This he
could not afford, and it was not right that he should
assume the liability ; but I could keep him out of it by
refusing to accept any guarantee except real estate, of
which he had none.

" When young Pritchett had gone off with one of
the detectives, I prepared a deed of the mansion from
the old man to myself, as trustee for the widow, and
then drafted a return paper agreeing to reconvey the
property to him, or his heirs, at any time within five


years, on his paying back the sum embezzled, together
with the interest. In the meanwhile, he was to have
occupation of the property at a rental of twelve hun
dred dollars, besides insurance and taxes. I expected
them all upon me in the morning, and I decided to
have the papers in readiness to close the business
before the old man should have time to reconsider
any sudden good impulse that might come to him.

" They all came as I expected the old man hob
bling along on his cane, Wilder with the look of a
lamb being led to the slaughter, and his wife with
colors flying, and every sail set from jib to spanker.
The young fellow had lost all the meekness of the day
before, and from his unconcern I inferred that Wilder
had succumbed to his wife, and agreed to give the
security. As soon as they were seated in my private
room, Mrs. Wilder opened directly upon the subject
by saying, as near as I can recollect, ' We have come
upon an unpleasant business, Mr. Thorndike. My
brother has imprudently used another person's money.
He has intended to replace it, but is unable to do so
at the moment. Therefore, my husband has gener
ously agreed to give your client his own obligation to
refund the amount, whatever it is, within a reasonable

" ' That certainly is very generous in your husband,
madam,' I answered. 'Does he offer merely his
personal security?' and I looked inquiringly at

" Giving him no chance to reply, his wife said with
all the concise directness of a business man, ' He can


offer you no other, sir. He has no real estate. All
his capital is in his business ; but being his lawyer you
must know that he is absolutely good for a much
larger sum than this.'

" ' I know that perfectly well, madam,' I answered.
' In any ordinary transaction I would take your hus
band's obligation for twice the amount here involved ;
but this money belonged to a widow. It was
intrusted to your brother to be invested on real-estate
security. Your husband will see the impropriety of
my accepting any other.'

" ' But my husband has no real estate, sir,' replied
Mrs. Wilder, with an imperious toss of her head.

" ' So you have observed, madam,' I remarked ;
' but your father has.' There was a gratified gleam
in Wilder's eyes when I said this, but he sat there as
mute as an oyster.

" ' I have none, sir,' sputtered the old man, ' none
that is not mortgaged heavily mortgaged.'

" ' Then the records are not correct,' I remarked ; ' I
looked them over yesterday, and found the house you
live in entirely free from encumbrance.'

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Online LibraryJames R. (James Roberts) GilmoreThe last of the Thorndikes → online text (page 1 of 19)