Printer Friendly

A salmon for the White House.


"Try one more cast," Old ManTutt said to the girl in the bow, "and we'll call it a day."

They were the last canoe left on theriver, and already it was nearly dark. Helen Kirkham cast at right angles across the twisting purple current and watched her line sweep downstream in a billowy arc toward the railroad bridge outlined against the topaz afterglow.

"There's a star over the bridge,Uncle Eph," she said.

"Aye! And a fish under it!" AngusOgilvy, the guide, quickly retorted as, the line having nearly straightened, there was a swirl at the end of it and the fly was sucked down out of sight. She struck heavily, the reel screamed, the line tightened to a telegraph wire, and beyond the piles of the bridge, a silver disk hurtled end over end through the air and fell back in a shower of spray.

"A 400-pounder!" Ogilvy cried. "Unlessyou stop him, he'll carry us clear to Belfast!" he warned.

"I can't!" she gasped. "The line'salmost out! Pull your killick, Angus!"

The guide swung in the weight andgrabbed his paddle just in time to ease the strain on the line as the salmon shot downriver, towing the canoe with its three occupants beneath the bridge, past the wharves and schooners of Bangor to where the Penobscot widened before narrowing to shoot between pine-clad bluffs.

"You've got to head him," warnedMr. Tutt, who had a firm grip on the girl's waist. "Once he makes the rapids----"

Just then the salmon leaped again,feebly, dropping back with a heavy crash.

"He's tired!" Angus said. "Get inyour line!"

Yielding slowly, the big fish beganto come in. Fifteen minutes later the guide steered the canoe ashore and gaffed him in the shallow water. "He'll go 40 strong!" he said, hefting it firmly.

"Good work, my dear," Mr. Tuttsaid and smiled. "The president will get a mighty fine fish this year."

They paddled back to the wharfnearest the railroad station and sent Angus for a taxi. The afternoon had made an exciting climax for Mr. Tutt's annual visit to his old friend, Althea Parsons, with whom Helen Kirkham lived as a sort of adopted daughter.

"I'm afraid Aunt Althea will havebeen worrying about us," she said as they drove up the hill to where the old house stood on its elm-covered terrace. "She's been growing more and more captious lately."

"She's been lucky to have had sucha devoted companion all these years," Mr. Tutt answered. "I hope someday you'll be rewarded for what you've done for her."

"I don't want any reward," the girlreplied softly. "I love her dearly."

Little white-haired Miss Parsonswas waiting for them in the doorway. She had aged rapidly during the past year.

"Where you been all this time,Ephraim?" she called irritably. "It's nearly nine o'clock and supper's been ready since six. I've a good mind to let you go without your vittles!"

Mr. Tutt proudly held up theircatch. "Sorry to be late, Althea, but we got what we went after--the first salmon of the year from the Bangor Pool. Isn't it a beauty?"

"Salmon! Who wants to eatsalmon? I've eaten fish out of that old pool for nearly 75 years--until I'm sick of it."

"You won't have to eat any thistime, Aunt Althea," Helen soothed. "We're giving it away."

"Who to?" Miss Parsons snapped.

"To the president," Mr. Tutt gentlyexplained. "You know the old custom--the first Bangor fish goes to the White House."

"That man!" Althea snorted. "Notif I know it!"

"But, Aunt Althea!"

"Don't 'Aunt Althea' me!" MissParsons stormed. "I'm not your aunt, even if I have supported you for 11 years. I've only one relative in the world--and that's my real niece, Edna Southworth, over on Coombs Street. A lot of gratitude you've shown, gettin' engaged to that Ted Armstrong and threatening to go off and leave me."

"But I've no intention of leavingyou, Dear!" Helen protested. "That is, until Ted and I can afford to marry, and that may not be for years."

"Come, come, Althea!" protestedMr. Tutt, starting across the threshold. "After 50 years don't let's quarrel over a fish."

But Miss Parsons was now whollybeyond reason. Planting herself directly in front of him, she screamed: "Listen to me, Ephraim Tutt! I wont have you give that salmon to that man! And I won't have you two taking sides against me either! You act as if you owned this house! I know what you're after! All you want is your fishing, and this girl is after my money!"

"I really don't know that to do,"Helen said, as she and tEd Armstrong sat the next evening in the gazebo, looking out across the shining Penobscot. "she says she wants me to got away, but I can't believe it. I've taken care of her now for so long that she really needs me. I think she's suffering from some sort of nervous collapse and doesn't really know her own mind."

"In my opinion, she's nothing butan unreasonable old woman," he answered. "If the lumber company hadn't gone under, or I could only get another job, I'd insist on marrying you at once and taking you away."

"But I can't ear to leave her withpeople who take no interest in her. Edna Southworth, even if she is Althea's niece, hasn't set foot in the house in five years. How do I know that she'll give her proper attention?"

"I don't see what you can do aboutit," he retorted. "If she wants someone else in lace of you, it's her own funeral. Personally, I'll be glad to see you relieved of responsibility. You have plenty of friends you can stay with until we can make a home for ourselves."

"I can get a job, for that matter,"she replied. "It's not myself I'm thinking of, but Althea. I'm just as fond of her as if she were my own mother. Now that she's sick and unhappy, I hate to leave her."

Their conversation was interruptedby the arrival of a taxi at the front gate. A thin, stoop-shouldered man carrying a bag had followed a heavily built woman up the steps.

"There are the Southworths now!"Helen exlcaimed. "Althea must have telphoned for them. I suppose I'd better give them the best welcome I can."

"All right!" her fiance said. "Andthen you'd better pack your own things and let me take you over to Judge Smith's. They'll be glad to have you visit them for as long as you wish."

Mr. Tutt, having shipped thesalmon by express to the White House, had boarded the train for New York that morning, leaving his old friend under the charge of her physician, Dr. Durkin, who reported that, though her condition was not serious, she needed absolute rest and quiet. That Althea, in spite of her outburst the preceding evening, actually contemplated sending Helen away and substituting two comparative strangers, he had not taken seriously. He was surprised, therefore, to receive the girl's letter telling of Miss Parson's condition. Poor Althea! Well, everyone had to keep his date with Old anno Domini.

Under the stres of his professionalresponsibilities, the thought of Bangor and his friends there faded from his mind until, seven months later, on entering the office the morning after Christmas, he found a telegram lying on his desk.


For a moment, any consciousnessof the unusual wording of the telegram was drowned in his sense of personal loss. Then it jacsed him up with a snap. Why should Althea's will have been "mutilated" and "revoked by destruction"? What could be the peculiar circumstances referred to by his former colleague, ex-Judge Smith? Jumping Jehoshaphat! He'd soon find out. But no salmon fishing this time.

He was met on the icy platform atBangor the next morning by Helen Kirkman, young Armstrong, and Judge Smith, who frequently accompanied him on his camping trips.

"Yes, it's too bad abut Althea,Eph," the latter said. "But I guess she'd nothing much to live for. The funeral's at noon today, and Martha's got a room ready for you over at our house. Helen's staying with us too. This business about Althea's will has got me beat. Let's go over to my office for a few minutes, where we can be quiet." He shook his head. "It's a strange setup!"

Together they crossed the squarenext to the station and climbed the stairs to the lawyer's sanctum in the old stone block. Ted and Helen sat down by the window and Mr. Tutt looked on while the judge removed from his safe four batches of torn paper and spread them upon his desk.

"That," he said dramatically, "isall that is left of the will I drew for Althea Parsons, which she executed in my presence in her bedroom on Christmas Day. That was the last time I saw her alive. Yesterday, about ten in the morning, Mrs. Southworth telephoned me that Althea was dead and asked me to comve over at once. When I got there, she took me into the downstairs sitting room and handed me what was left of the will. I asked her where the pieces came from, and she said that Ezra, her husband, had found them in the drawer of her Aunt Althea's bed table."

"But who is this Mrs. Southworth?"asked the old man, drawing his brows together.

"Althea's niece. I forget you don'tknow all that's happened. Our friend never really recovered from her illness of last spring, and although she became well enough to go about a little, she had a relapse toward the end of the summer and for several months was bedridden. You see, she'd built up some sort of obsession about Helen's being ungrateful in getting engaged to Ted here. There was a salmon mixed up in it somehow, too."

"So Helen was not in the housewhen Althea died?" Mr. Tutt asked.

"Oh, no. I've been living withJudge and Mrs. Smith ever since last spring," the girl interposed. "Thy've been perfectly lovely to me!"

Mr. Tutt rubbed his chin. "Justwhat sort of people are the Southworths, Horace?"

"All right, I guess. Ezra Southworthhas been paying teller down at the bank for over 20 years, and his wife is active in church affairs. I've never heard anything against 'em, except they're a bit tight about money."

"waht disposition did Althea makeof her property in the will you drew?"

"She left half to Helen and half toEdna Southworth."

"Had you drawn any prior will forher?"

"No. and she never spoke of havingmade one. So far as I know, she died intestate."

"Then, unless this will is admittedto probate, Edna Southworth will get the entire property?"

"Yes. And Helen won't get a penny."

"What's the estate worth, conservatively?"

"About $50,000."

Mr. Tutt whistled. "That's apowerful lot of dough for Bangor, Maine!" he remarked. "Well, Horace, who do you think did it?"

Judge Smith ran his fingersthrough his gray mane. "That's what gets me! There were only three people in the house that night--Althea herself and Ezra and Edna Southworth. Now, I can't imagine why Althea should execute a will at three in the afternoon and revoke it by destruction the same day, can you? On the other hand, the Southworths claim they don't know anything about it. Since Althea retained the will in her possession and it was found destroyed after her death, there is a conclusive presumption of law that she revoked it."

"That's right," the old managreed. "The law is absolutely settled in that regard. In default of other evidence, no court in the land would admit this mutilated will to probate. After the funeral I think I'll go over to the house and give these Southworths the once-over. As executor, I guess I'm entitled to snoop around a little. But, by Suffering Moses, it looks as if they have us hogtied!"

"We've kept everything just asdear Althea left it. We were so fond of her. We haven't so much as opened a drawer of her desk." Mrs. Southworth, a sallow woman with an aquiline nose and firm mouth and chin, pressed a black-bordered handkerchief to her lips and sniffed.

"It's my duty to investigate thepossibility of your aunt having made a prior will," the old man answered gently, as she ushered him into the familiar library. "Did she ever mention having done so?"

"No," Mrs. Southworth replied. "Butshe may have made one, for all I know. I'll be glad to help you look through her papers."

"If you don't mind, I'd prefer toexamine them by myself," he suggested.

"Just as you like. If you need me,I'll be right upstairs."

Mr. Tutt, after Mrs. Southworthhad gone out, glanced about the room. Nothing appeared to have been changed. Of course, if she'd wanted to, she'd had time to destroy a dozen prior wills. He got up, inspected the mantelpiece, and crossed to the tall bookcase. The handsomely tooled sets were in their accustomed places. He peered along each shelf until he came to the corner by the window, where, on the lowest of all, stood a heterogeneous row of odd volumes. It was a bit dark behind the hangings, and he had to put on his spectacles. Suddenly he grunted, yanked one out, and looked at the title page. Then his lips drew together and his eyes gleamed. Slipping the book into the tail pocket of his old frock coat, he stepped quickly to the door. Did he imagine it, or had he heard the faint rustle of a dress and the creak of a board upon the stairs?

"All right, Edna," he muttered. "Itisn't much of a clue, but it's something to go on. Anyhow, if you want a fight, I'll give you one."

During the next fortnight the oldman, assisted by Helen Kirkham and Judge Smith, ransacked every drawer, closet, and corner in the Parsons' house without turning up the slightest evidence bearing upon Althea Parsons' testamentary intentions or negativing the presumption that she had revoked her own will by destruction. In spite of this, Mr. Tutt had offered the four fragments for probate. All citations had been waived, and there had been no appearances entered other than his own, as executor, and of Helen Kirkham as legatee of half the estate under the propounded paper.

The proceedings took place in thebig courthouse before Probate Judge Henry Perkins one snowy day in January, and because there had been some mention of the circumstances of the case in the Bangor Commercial the previous evening, the chamber was well filled. Inside the rail beside Mr. Tutt sat Helen Kirkham with Ted Armstrong, while the Southworths remained modestly in the rear of the room.

The pair, for various reasons,had stumped Mr. Tutt from the very start of his investigations. Prior to their coming to Miss Parsons' they had lived in a small house on Coombs Street without attracting the slightest attention. They had no children or intimate friends, never invited anyone to their home, employed no help, kept no dogs or other pets, and took no vacations except an occasional weekend at Pushaw Pond ten miles away, where Southworth rented a small shack. Their credit at the store was good; their attendance at church, regular. As a couple, they were polite, if not particularly agreeable. The score was purely negative, and unless that fact had in itself significance, it indicated absolutely nothing. But Mr. Tutt always proceeded on the theory that externals were inevitably misleading and that every individual has some controlling motivation, usually deeply hidden. It did not seem possible that any two human beings could be as colorless as the Southworths appeared to be. Surely the woman herself, if not her desiccated little husband, must have some underlying incentive which activated her conduct.

There was no other case on thecalendar, and Mr. Tutt, having pinned the fragments of the will upon a piece of cardboard, passed them up to the judge upon the bench.

His Honor looked at them curiously. "MayI ask why this will--if it be a will--is in the condition in which you offer it?" he inquired.

"Because that is how it wasfound," the lawyer answered. "The testatrix executed it last Christmas Day and retained it in her possession. She died of heart failure during the night. Next morning the will was discovered in the drawer of her bedside table, torn in four parts."

"In that case, of course, the lawcompels me to presume that the testatrix herself revoked it by destruction," Judge Perkins declared.

"True--unless I can overcome thatpresumption," Mr. Tutt replied boldly, with a confidence which he by no means felt. "I hope to prove not only that the testatrix did not herself destroy the document but that some other person did."

The judge raised his eyebrows. "Thiswould seem to be a rather unusual case," he remarked.

"Most unusual," Mr. Tutt agreed. "Infact, it is unique in my experience."

Edna Southworth, sitting besideher husband, heard Mr. Tutt's announcement without concern. No one in the world except herself could rebut by oral testimony the legal presumption that Althea had personally revoked the document. She had not even taken her husband into her confidence.

"I will call as my first witness Mr.Ezra Southworth," Mr. Tutt said.

"Who was the last person to seeMiss Parsons alive?" he then inquired.

"Edna, I guess," the witnessanswered willingly enough. "Mrs. Higgins, her hired help, went home as usual, at three o'clock. Judge Smith came over, with two young men who were attached to his office, about four, and we all went up to Althea's room and she signed the paper. Then Edna put it in the table drawer and the whole thing was over in ten minutes. Dr. Durkin called at six o'clock, and after he'd gone Edna took up Althea's supper on a tray. Along about seven she fetched it away again and fixed her up for the night. When she went back next morning the old lady was dead. I telephoned the doctor and he came right over."

"Then there had been noone else in the house, except you and your wife, from the time Dr. Durkin called late in the afternoon of Christmas Day until he returned the next morning? You are positive of that?"

"Not a soul. After he'dgone, Edna told me to go upstairs and see if the will was there."

"You know that under it MissKirkham took half the estate?"

"Yes, Althea had told us her intentionsover a fortnight before."

"Of course, you also knew that incase of an intestacy your wife would get everything?"

"I knew she was sole heir and nextof kin."

Mr. Tutt glanced at Judge Perkins. "Anddidyou go upstairs as she suggested?"

"Yes. I didn't much like to, althoughthere was a sheet over the body. I just sneaked in, pulled out the drawer of the bed table, and found the will torn up, folded exactly as it is now."

"You didn't destroy that will yourself,so your wife might get the whole property?"

The witness bristled. "Absolutelynot! I wouldn't do such a thing!"

"Thank you, Mr. Southworth."

"Horace Smith, take the stand,"Mr. Tutt directed.

Judge Smith, seating himself in thechair vacated by Mr. Southworth, nodded familiarly to Judge Perkins.

"When did you first see the papersI now show you?" the lawyer asked.

Judge Smith cleared his throat. "Theyare what is left of a will I drew for the late Althea Parsons. I superintended its execution in the bedroom of the testatrix on December 25 of last year. Both Mr. and Mrs. Southworth were present, as well as two clerks from my law office, who, with myself, acted as witnesses. I asked Miss Parsons whether I should take away the document for safekeeping. Mrs. Southworth volunteered that it would be a wise thing to do, but the testatrix said that she might wish to look it over and told her niece to put it in the drawer of the table beside the bed."

"When did you next seethe will?"

"Within a few hours afterMiss Parsons' death. Mrs. Southworth sent for me and handed me the papers offered for probate, stating that her husband had found them in the drawer in their present condition."

"Now, Judge Smith," Mr. Tuttwent on, "will you, for the benefit of the record, please describe these four pieces of paper?"

"With pleasure. The will, as originallydrawn, consisted of three sheets of stiff, polished bond backed with a heavy cover of fibrous Manila, the top of which was folded over, perforated, and fastened to the enclosed sheets with steel eyelets. The document itself was folded twice--once in the middle and then again--so as to fitthe standard larger-sized mailing envelope."

"Can you tell whether or not thewill was folded when it was torn?"

"I can, positively. Whoever destroyedthat will took it just as it was--folded--and tore it once across the middle, and then did the same to each remaining part; otherwise, the rents in the cover would bear no relation--as they, in fact, do--to the tearings of the sheets inside."

"That is clear enough," His Honoragreed.

"That is all, Horace," Mr. Tuttsaid. "Dr. Durkin, please come up here. . . . You were Miss Althea Parsons' physician, were you not?"

"I was for 20 years," the doctoranswered. "I attended her in her last illness. She died last Christmas night of heart failure. I had called late that afternoon to inquire how she was getting on. I remember that lying beside her among various gifts was an especially pretty pair of bed socks, which she said Miss Kirkham had knitted for her. Apparently, she had been quite touched and pleased at receiving them. Just as I was leaving, she asked me to open the drawer of the bed table and give her the paper I would find there. It was the will which is now before the court, then intact. She looked it over, nodded her head, and then handed it back to me, after which I returned it to the drawer and bade her good night. Early next morning, Mrs. Southworth called me on the telephone and said that her aunt was dead."

Mr. Tutt paused, then asked impressively:"What had been Miss Parsons' physical condition during the last year or so?"

"She had a trauma of the heart andalso suffered from anemia and hardening of the arteries. She had been confined to her bed for three months and was extremely weak."

"Now, Doctor," Mr. Tutt said significantly,"in your professional opinion, would it have been physically possible for Miss Parsons, without assistance, to have taken that will from the drawer and torn it up, folded, as it was?"

"In my opinion," Dr.Durkin answered emphatically, "it would have been utterly impossible."

A murmur ran around thecourtroom, and some of the spectators looked over their shoulders at Mrs. Southworth. Edna's pulse hesitated and then jumped. She had not thought of that. If Althea hadn't torn up the will, only Ezra or she could have done it. There would have been no revocation and the will would be still valid; she'd only get half the property instead of all. The edge of her forehead below her frieze of hair was damp. Then quickly she had an inspiration. Why not tell the truth--namely, that she had herself destroyed the will, but claim that she had done so at her aunt's request? Then everything would be all right.

Mr. Tutt faced the rear ofthe courtroom. "Mrs. Ezra Southworth," he said solemnly. "Please be sworn."
COPYRIGHT 1987 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:short story
Author:Train, Arthur Cheney
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:May 1, 1987
Previous Article:Hypothermia: a springtime hazard.
Next Article:Holland, Michigan.

Related Articles
A salmon for the White House.
Merging old and new; in the San Francisco Bay Area, formal elegance combines with casual comfort.
Charles shown sign of old age.
DISH OF THE WEEK; Just wild about salmon.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters