CY WHITTAKER'S PLACE
By Joseph C. Lincoln
I.— THE PERFECT BOARDING HOUSE
II.— THE WANDERER'S RETURN
III.— "FIXIN' OVER"
IV.— BAILEY BANGS'S EXPERIMENT
V.— A FRONT DOOR CALLER
VI.— ICICLES AND DUST
VII.— CAPTAIN CY PROVES DELINQUENT
VIII.— THE "COW LADY"
IX.— POLITICS AND BIRTHDAYS
X.— A LETTER AND A VISITOR
XI.— A BARGAIN OFF
XII.— "TOWN MEETIN'"
XIII.— THE REPULSE
XIV.— A CLEW
XV.— DEBBY BEASLEY TO THE RESCUE
XVI.— A REMARKABLE DRIVE AND WHAT FOLLOWED
XVII.— THE CAPTAIN REMEMBERS HIS AGE
XVIII.— CONGRESSMAN EVERDEAN
XIX.— THE TOPPLING OF A MONUMENT
XX.— DIVIDED HONORS
XXI.— CAPTAIN CY'S "PICTURE"
CY WHITTAKER'S PLACE
THE PERFECT BOARDING HOUSE
It is queer, but Captain Cy himself doesn't remember whether the day was Tuesday or Wednesday. Asaph Tidditt's records ought to settle it, for there was a meeting of the board of selectmen that day, and Asaph has been town clerk in Bayport since the summer before the Baptist meeting house burned. But on the record the date, in Asaph's handwriting, stands "Tuesday, May 10, 189-" and, as it happens, May 10 of that year fell on Wednesday, not Tuesday at all.
Keturah Bangs, who keeps "the perfect boarding house," says it was Tuesday, because she remembers they had fried cod cheeks and cabbage that day—as they have every Tuesday—and neither Mr. Tidditt nor Bailey Bangs, Keturah's husband, was on hand when the dinner bell rang. Keturah says she is certain it was Tuesday, because she remembers smelling the boiled cabbage as she stood at the side door, looking up the road to see if either Asaph or Bailey was coming. As for Bailey, he says he remembers being late to dinner and his wife's "startin' to heave a broadsides into him" because of it, but he doesn't remember what day it was. This isn't surprising; Keturah's verbal cannonades are likely to make one forgetful of trifles.
At any rate, whether Tuesday or Wednesday, it is certain that it was quarter past twelve, according to the clock presented to the Methodist Society by the Honorable Heman Atkins, when Asaph Tidditt came down the steps of the townhall, after the selectmen's meeting, and saw Bailey Bangs waiting for him on the opposite side of the road.
"Hello, Ase!" hailed Mr. Bangs. "You'll be late to dinner, if you don't hurry. I was headin' for home, all sail sot, when I see you. What kept you?"
"Town business, of course," replied Mr. Tidditt, with the importance pertaining to his official position. "What kept YOU, for the land sakes? Won't Ketury be in your wool?"
Bailey hasn't any "wool" worth mentioning now, and he had very little more then, but he mopped his forehead, or the extension above it, taking off his cap to do so.
"I cal'late she will," he said, uneasily. "Tell you the truth, Ase, I was up to the store, and Cap'n Josiah Dimick and some more of 'em drifted in and we got talkin' about the chances of the harbor appropriation, and one thing or 'nother, and 'twas later'n I thought 'twas 'fore I knew it."
The appropriation from the government, which was to deepen and widen our harbor here at Bayport, was a very vital topic among us just then. Heman Atkins, the congressman from our district, had promised to do his best for the appropriation, and had for a time been very sanguine of securing it. Recently, however, he had not been quite as hopeful.
"What's Cap'n Josiah think about the chances?" asked Asaph eagerly.
"Well, sometimes he thinks 'Yes' and then again he thinks 'No,'" replied Bailey. "He says, of course, if Heman is able to get it he will, but if he ain't able to, he—he—"
"He won't, I s'pose. Well, I can think that myself, and I don't set up to be no inspired know-it-all, like Joe Dimick. He ain't heard from Heman lately, has he?"
"No, he ain't. Neither's anybody else, so fur as I can find out."
"Oh, yes, they have. I have, for one."
Mr. Bangs stopped short in his double-quick march for home and dinner, and looked his companion in the face.
"Ase Tidditt!" he cried. "Do you mean to tell me you've had a letter from Heman Atkins, from Washin'ton?"
Asaph nodded portentously.
"Yes, sir," he declared. "A letter from the Honorable Heman G. Atkins, of Washin'ton, D. C., come to me last night. I read it afore I turned in."
"You did! And never said nothin' about it?"
"Why should I say anything about it? 'Twas addressed to me as town clerk, and was concernin' a matter to be took up with the board of s'lectmen. I ain't in the habit of hollerin' town affairs through a speakin' trumpet. Folks that vote for me town-meetin' day know that, I guess. Angie Phinney says to me only yesterday, 'Mr. Tidditt,' says she, 'there's one thing I'll say for you—you don't talk.'"
Miss Phinney boarded with the Bangses, and Bailey was acquainted with her personal peculiarities; for that matter so were most of Bayport's permanent residents.
"Humph!" he snorted indignantly. "She thought 'twas a good thing not to talk, hey? SHE did? Well, by mighty! you never get no CHANCE to talk when she's around. Angie Phinney! Why, when that poll parrot of hers died, Alph'us Smalley declared up and down that what killed it was jealousy and disapp'inted ambition; he said it broke its heart tryin' to keep up with Angie. Her ma was the same breed of cats. I remember—"
The talking proclivities of females is the one topic upon which Keturah's husband is touchiest. Asaph knew this, but he delighted to stir up his chum occasionally. He chuckled as he interrupted the flow of reminiscence.
"There, there, Bailey!" he exclaimed. "I know as much about Angie's tribe as you do, I cal'late. Ain't we a little mite off the course? Seems to me we was talkin' about Heman's letter."
"Is that so? I judged from what you said we wa'n't goin' to talk about it. Aw, don't be so mean, Ase! Showin' off your importance like a young one! What did Heman say about the appropriation? Is he goin' to get it?"
Mr. Tidditt paused before replying. Then, bending over, he whispered in his chum's ear:
"He never said one word about the appropriation, Bailey; not one word. He wanted to know if we'd got this year's taxes on the Whittaker place. And, if we hadn't, what was we goin' to do about it? Bailey, between you and me and the mizzenmast, Heman Atkins wants to get ahold of that place the worst way."
"He does? He DOES? For the land sakes, ain't he got property enough already? Ain't a—a palace like that enough for one man, without wantin' to buy a rattletrap like THAT?"
The first "that" was emphasized by a brandished but reverent left hand; the second by a derisively pointing right. The two friends had reached the crest of the long slope leading up from the townhall. On one side of the road stretched the imposing frontage of the "Atkins estate," with its iron fence and stone posts; on the other slouched the weed-grown, tumble-down desolation of the "Cy Whittaker place." The contrast was that of opulent prosperity and poverty-stricken neglect.
If our village boasted one of those horseless juggernauts, such as are used to carry sightseers in Boston from the old North Church to the Public Library and other points of interest—that is, if there was a "seeing Bayport" car, it is from this hill that its occupants would be given their finest view of the village and its surroundings. As Captain Josiah Dimick always says: "Bayport is all north and south, like a codfish line. It puts me in mind of Seth Higgins's oldest boy. He was so tall and thin that when they bought a suit of clothes for him, they used to take reefs in the sides of the jacket and use the cloth to piece onto the bottoms of the trousers' legs." What Captain Joe means is that the houses in the village are all built beside three roads running longitudinally. There is the "main road" and the "upper road"—or "Woodchuck Lane," just as you prefer—and the "lower road," otherwise known as "Bassett's Holler."
The "upper road" is sometimes called the "depot road," because the railroad station is conveniently located thereon—convenient for the railroad, that is—the station being a full mile from Simmons's "general store," which is considered the center of the town. The upper road enters the main road at the corner by the store, and there also are the Methodist meetinghouse and the schoolhouse. The townhall is in the hollow farther on. Then comes the big hill—
"Whittaker's Hill"—and from the top of this hill you can, on a clear day, see for miles across the salt marshes and over the bay to the eastward, and west as far as the church steeple in Orham. If there happens to be a fog, with a strong easterly wind, you cannot see the marshes or the bay, but you can smell them, wet and salty and sweet. It is a smell that the born Bayporter never forgets, but carries with him in memory wherever he goes; and that, in the palmy days of the merchant marine, was likely, to be far, for every male baby in the village was born with web feet, so people said, and was predestined to be a sailor.
When Heman Atkins came back from the South Seas early in the '60's, "rich as dock mud," though still a young man, he promptly tore down his father's old house, which stood on the crest of Whittaker's Hill, and built in its place a big imposing residence. It was by far the finest house in Bayport, and Heman made it finer as the years passed. There were imitation brownstone pillars supporting its front porch, iron dogs and scroll work iron benches bordering its front walk, and a pair of stone urns, in summer filled with flowers, beside its big iron front gate.
Heman was our leading citizen, our representative in Washington, and the town's philanthropist. He gave the Atkins memorial window and the Atkins tower clock to the Methodist Church. The Atkins town pump, also his gift, stood before the townhall. The Atkins portrait in the Bayport Ladies' Library was much admired; and the size of the Atkins fortune was the principal subject of conversation at sewing circle, at the table of "the perfect boarding house," around the stove in Simmons's store, or wherever Bayporters were used to gather. We never exactly worshipped Heman Atkins, perhaps, but we figuratively doffed our hats when his name was mentioned.
The "Cy Whittaker place" faced the Atkins estate from the opposite side of the main road, but it was the general opinion that it ought to be ashamed to face it. Almost everybody called it "the Cy Whittaker place," although some of the younger set spoke of it as the "Sea Sight House." It was a big, old-fashioned dwelling, gambrel-roofed and brown and dilapidated. Originally it had enjoyed the dignified seclusion afforded by a white picket fence with square gateposts, and the path to its seldom-used front door had been guarded by rigid lines of box hedge. This, however, was years ago, before the second Captain Cy Whittaker died, and before the Howes family turned it into the "Sea Sight House," a hotel for summer boarders.
The Howeses "improved" the house and grounds. They tore down the picket fence, uprooted the box hedges, hung a sign over the sacred front door, and built a wide veranda under the parlor windows.
They took boarders for five consecutive summers; then they gave up the unprofitable undertaking, returned to Concord, New Hampshire, their native city, and left the Cy Whittaker place to bear the ravages of Bayport winters and Bayport small boys as best it might.
For years it stood empty. The weeds grew high about its foundations; the sparrows built nests behind such of its shutters as had not been ripped from their hinges by February no'theasters; its roof grew bald in spots as the shingles loosened and were blown away; the swallows flew in and out of its stone-broken windowpanes. Year by year it became more of a disgrace in the eyes of Bayport's neat and thrifty inhabitants—for neat and thrifty we are, if we do say it. The selectmen would have liked to tear it down, but they could not, because it was private property, having been purchased from the Howes heirs by the third Cy Whittaker, Captain Cy's only son, who ran away to sea when he was sixteen years old, and was disinherited and cast off by the proud old skipper in consequence. Each March, Asaph Tidditt, in his official capacity as town clerk, had been accustomed to receive an envelope with a South American postmark, and in that envelope was a draft on a Boston banking house for the sum due as taxes on the "Cy Whittaker place." The drafts were signed "Cyrus M. Whittaker."
But this particular year—the year in which this chronicle begins—no draft had been received. Asaph waited a few weeks and then wrote to the address indicated by the postmark. His letter was unanswered. The taxes were due in March and it was now May. Mr. Tidditt wrote again; then he laid the case before the board of selectmen, and Captain Eben Salters, chairman of that august body, also wrote. But even Captain Eben's authoritative demand was ignored. Next to the harbor appropriation, the question of what should be done about the "Cy Whittaker place" filled Bayport's thoughts that spring. No one, however, had supposed that the Honorable Heman might wish to buy it. Bailey Bangs's surprise was excusable.
"What in the world," repeated Bailey, "does Heman want of a shebang like that? Ain't he got enough already?"
His friend shook his head.
"'Pears not," he said. "I judge it's this way, Bailey: Heman, he's a proud man—"
"Well, ain't he got a right to be proud?" broke in Mr. Bangs, hastening to resent any criticism of the popular idol. "Cal'late you and me'd be proud if we was able to carry as much sail as he does, wouldn't we?"
"Yes, I guess like we would. But you needn't get red in the face and strain your biler just because I said that. I ain't finding fault with Heman; I'm only tellin' you. He's proud, as I said, and his wife—"
"She's dead this four year. What are you resurrectin' her for?"
"Land! you're peppery as a West Injy omelet this mornin'. Let me alone till I've finished. His wife, when she was alive, she was proud, too. And his daughter, Alicia, she's eight year old now, and by and by she'll be grown up into a high-toned young woman. Well, Heman is fur-sighted, and I s'pose likely he's thinkin' of the days when there'll be young rich fellers—senators and—and—well, counts and lords, maybe—cruisin' down here courtin' her. By that time the Whittaker place'll be a worse disgrace than 'tis now. I presume he don't want those swells to sit on his front piazza and see the crows buildin' nests in the ruins acrost the road. So—"
"Crows! Did you ever see a crow build a nest in a house? I never did!"
"Oh, belay! Crows or canary birds, what difference does it make? SOMETHIN' 'll nest there, if it's only A'nt Sophrony Hallett's hens. So Heman he writes to the board, askin' if the taxes is paid, if we've heard any reason why they ain't paid, and what we're goin' to do about it. If there's a sale for taxes he wants to be fust bidder. Then, when the place is his, he can tear down or rebuild, just as he sees fit. See?"
"Yes, I see. Well, I feel about that the way Joe Dimick felt when he heard the doctor had told Elviry Pepper she must stop singin' in the choir or lose her voice altogether. 'Whichever happens 'll be an improvement,' says Cap'n Joe; and whatever Heman does 'll help the Whittaker place. What did you decide at the meetin'?"
"Nothin'. We can't decide yet. We ain't sure about the law and we want to wait a spell, anyhow. But I know how 'twill end: Atkins 'll get the place. He always gets what he wants, Heman does."
Bailey turned and looked back at the old house, forlorn amidst its huddle of blackberry briers and weeds, and with the ubiquitous "silver-leaf" saplings springing up in clusters everywhere about it and closing in on its defenseless walls like squads of victorious soldiery making the final charge upon a conquered fort.
"Well," sighed Mr. Bangs, "so that 'll be the end of the old Whittaker place, hey? Sho! things change in a feller's lifetime, don't they? You and me can remember, Ase, when Cap'n Cy Whittaker was one of the biggest men we had in this town. So was his dad afore him, the Cap'n Cy that built the house. I wonder the looks of things here now don't bring them two up out of their graves. Do you remember young Cy—'Whit' we used to call him—or 'Reddy Whit,' 'count of his red hair? I don't know's you do, though; guess you'd gone to sea when he run away from home."
Mr. Tidditt shook his head.
"No, no!" he said. "I was to home that year. Remember 'Whit'? Well, I should say I did. He was a holy terror—yes, sir! Wan't no monkey shines or didos cut up in this town that young Cy wan't into. Fur's that goes, you and me was in 'em, too, Bailey. We was all holy terrors then. Young ones nowadays ain't got the spunk we used to have."
His friend chuckled.
"That's so," he declared. "That's so. Whit was a good-hearted boy, too, but full of the Old Scratch and as sot in his ways as his dad, and if Cap'n Cy wan't sot, then there ain't no sotness. 'You'll go to college and be a parson,' says the Cap'n. 'I'll go to sea and be a sailor, same as you done,' says Whit. And he did, too; run away one night, took the packet to Boston, and shipped aboard an Australian clipper. Cap'n Cy didn't go after him to fetch him home. No, sir—ee! not a fetch. Sent him a letter plumb to Melbourne and, says he: 'You've made your bed; now lay in it. Don't you never dast to come back to me or your ma,' he says. And Whit didn't, he wan't that kind."
"Pretty nigh killed the old lady—Whit's ma—that did," mused Asaph. "She died a little spell afterwards. And the old man pined away, too, but he never give in or asked the boy to come back. Stubborn as all get-out to the end, he was, and willed the place, all he had left, to them Howes folks. And a nice mess THEY made of it. Young Cy, he—"
"Young Cy!" interrupted Bailey. "We're always callin' him 'young Cy,' and yet, when you come to think of it, he must be pretty nigh fifty-five now; 'most as old as you and I be. Wonder if he'll ever come back here."
"You bet he won't!" was the oracular reply. "You bet he won't! From what I hear he got to be a sea cap'n himself and settled down there in Buenos Ayres. He's made all kinds of money, they say, out of hides and such. What he ever bought his dad's old place for, I can't see. He'll never come back to these common, one-horse latitudes, now you mark my word on that!"
It was a prophecy Mr. Tidditt was accustomed to make each year to the crowd at the post office, when the receipt for the draft for taxes caused him to wax reminiscent. The younger generation here in Bayport regard their town clerk as something of an oracle, and this regard has made Asaph a trifle vain and positive.
Bailey chuckled again.
"We WAS a spunky, dare-devil lot in the old days, wan't we, Ase?" he said. "Spunk was kind of born in us, as you might say. And even now we're—"
The Atkins tower clock boomed once—a solemn, dignified stroke. Mr. Tidditt and his companion started and looked at each other.
"Godfrey scissors!" gasped Asaph. "Is that half past twelve?"
Mr. Bangs pulled a big worn silver watch from his pocket and glanced at the dial.
"It is!" he moaned. "As sure's you're born, it is! We've kept Ketury's dinner waitin' twenty minutes. You and me are in for it now, Ase Tidditt! Twenty minutes late! She'll skin us alive."
Mr. Tidditt did not pause to answer, but plunged headlong down the hill at a race-horse gait, Bailey pounding at his heels. For "born dare-devils," self-confessed, they were a nervous and apprehensive pair.
The "perfect boarding house" is situated a quarter of a mile beyond "Whittaker's Hill," nearly opposite the Salters homestead. The sign, hung on the pole by the front gate, reads, "Bayport Hotel. Bailey Bangs, Proprietor," but no one except the stranger in Bayport accepts that sign seriously. When, owing to an unexpected change in the administration at Washington, Mr. Bangs was obliged to relinquish his position as our village postmaster, his wife came to the rescue with the proposal that they open a boarding house. "'Whatsoe'er you find to do,' quoted Keturah at sewing-circle meeting, 'do it then with all your might!' That's a good Sabbath-school hymn tune and it's good sense besides. I intend to make it my life work to run just as complete a—a eatin' and lodgin' establishment as I can. If, when I'm laid to rest, they can put onto my gravestone, 'She run the perfect boardin' house,' I'LL be satisfied."
This remark, and subsequent similar declarations, were widely quoted, and, therefore, though casual visitors may refer to the "Bayport Hotel," to us natives the Bangs residence is always "Keturah's perfect boarding house." As for the sign's affirmation of Mr. Bangs proprietorship, that is considered the cream of the joke. The idea of meek, bald-headed little Bailey posing as proprietor of anything while his wife is on deck, tickles Bayport's sense of humor.
The perspiring delinquents panted into the yard of the perfect boarding house and tremblingly opened the door leading to the dining room. Dinner was well under way, and Mrs. Bangs, enthroned at the end of the long table, behind the silver-plated teapot, was waiting to receive them. The silence was appalling.
"Sorry to be a little behindhand, Ketury," stammered Asaph hurriedly. "Town affairs are important, of course, and can't be neglected. I—"
"Yes, yes; that's so, Ketury," cut in Mr. Bangs.
"Hum! Yes, I see." Keturah's tone was several degrees below freezing. "Hum! I s'pose 'twas town affairs kept you, too, hey?"
"Well, well—er—not exactly, as you might say, but—" Bailey squeezed himself into the armchair at the end of the table opposite his wife, the end which, with sarcasm not the less keen for being unintentional, was called the "head." "Not exactly town affairs, 'twan't that kept me, Ketury, but—My! don't them cod cheeks smell good? You always could cook cod cheeks, if I do say it."
The compliment was wasted. Mrs. Bangs had a sermon to deliver, and its text was not "cod cheeks."
"Bailey Bangs," she began, "when I was brought to realize that my husband, although apparently an able-bodied man, couldn't support me as I'd been used to be supported, and when I was forced to support HIM by keepin' boarders, I says, 'If there's one thing that my house shall stand for it's punctual promptness at meal times. I say nothing,' I says, 'about the inconvenience of gettin' on with only one hired help when we ought to have three. If Providence, in its unscrutable wisdom,' I says, 'has seen fit to lay this burden onto me, the burden of a household of boarders and a husband whom—'"
And just then the power referred to by Mrs. Bangs intervened to spare her husband the remainder of the preachment. From the driveway of the yard, beside the dining-room windows, came the rattle of wheels and the tramp of a horse's feet. Mrs. Matilda Tripp, who sat nearest the windows, on that side, rose and peered out.
"It's the depot wagon, Ketury," she said. "There's somebody inside it. I wonder if they're comin' here."
"Transients" were almost unknown quantities at the Bayport Hotel in May. Consequently, all the boarders and the landlady herself crowded to the windows. The "depot wagon" had drawn up by the steps, and Gabe Lumley, the driver, had descended from his seat and was doing his best to open the door of the ancient vehicle. It stuck, of course; the doors of all depot wagons stick.
"Hold on a shake!" commanded some one inside the carriage. "Wait till I get a purchase on her. Now, then! All hands to the ropes! Heave—ho! THERE she comes!"
The door flew back with a bang. A man sprang out upon the lower step of the porch. The eye of every inmate of the perfect boarding house was on him. Even the "hired help" peered from the kitchen door.
"He's a stranger," whispered Mrs. Tripp. "I never see him before, did you, Mr. Tidditt?"
The town clerk did not answer. He was staring at the depot wagon's passenger, staring with a face the interested expression of which was changing to that of surprise and amazed incredulity. Mrs. Tripp turned to Mr. Bangs; he also was staring, open-mouthed.
"Godfrey scissors!" gasped Asaph, under his breath. "Godfrey—SCISSORS! Bailey, I—I believe—I swan to man, I believe—"
"Ase Tidditt!" exclaimed Mr. Bangs, "am I goin' looney, or is that—is that—"
Neither finished his sentence. There are times when language seems so pitifully inadequate.
THE WANDERER'S RETURN
Here in Bayport, nowadays, the collecting of "antiques" is a favorite amusement of our summer visitors. Those of us who were fortunate enough to possess a set of nicked blue dishes, a warming pan, or a tall clock with wooden wheels, have long ago parted with these treasures for considerable sums. Oddly enough Sylvanus Cahoon has profited most by this craze. Sylvanus used to be judged the unluckiest man in town; of late this judgment has been revised.
It was Sylvanus who, confined to the house by an illness brought on by eating too much "sugar cake" at a free sociable given by the Methodist Society, arose in the night and drank copiously of what he supposed to be the medicine left by the doctor. It happened to be water-bug poison, and Sylvanus was nearly killed by the dose. He is reported as having admitted that he "didn't mind dyin' so much, but hated to die such a dum mean death."
While convalescent he took to smoking in bed and was burned out of house and home in consequence. Then it was that his kind-hearted fellow citizens donated, for the furnishing of his new residence, all the cast-off bits of furniture and odds and ends from their garrets. "Charity," observed Captain Josiah Dimick at the time, "begins at home with us Bayporters, and it generally begins up attic, that bein' nighest to heaven."
Later Sylvanus sold most of the donations as "antiques" and made money enough therefrom to buy a new plush parlor set. Miss Angeline Phinney never called on the Cahoons after that without making her appearance at the front door. "I'll get some good out of that plush sofy I helped to pay for," declared Angeline, "if it's only to wear it out by settin' on it."
There are two "antiques" in Bayport which have not yet been sold or even bid for. One is Gabe Lumley's "depot wagon," and the other is "Dan'l Webster," the horse which draws it. Both are very ancient, sadly in need of upholstery, and jerky of locomotion.
Gabe was, as usual, waiting at the station when the down train arrived, on the Tuesday—or Wednesday—of the selectmen's meeting. The train was due, according to the time-table, at eleven forty-five. This time-table, and the signboard of the "Bayport Hotel" are the only bits of humorous literature peculiar to our village, unless we add the political editorials of the Bayport Breeze.
So, at eleven forty-five, Mr. Lumley was serenely dozing on the baggage truck, which he had wheeled to the sunny side of the platform. At five minutes past twelve, he yawned, stretched, and looked at his watch. Then, rolling off the truck, he strolled to the edge of the platform and spoke authoritatively to "Dan'l Webster."
"Hi there! stand still!" commanded Mr. Lumley.
Standing still being Dan'l's long suit, the order was obeyed. Gabe then loafed to the door of the station and accosted the depot master, who was nodding in his chair beside the telegraph instrument.
"Where is she now, Ed?" asked Mr. Lumley, referring to the train.
"Just left South Harniss. Be here pretty soon. What's your hurry? Expectin' anybody?"
"Naw; nobody that I know of, special. Sophrony Hallett's gone to Ostable, but she won't be back till to-morrow I cal'late. Hello! there she whistles now."
Needless to say it was the train, not the widow Hallett, that had whistled. The depot master rose from his chair. A yellow dog, his property, scrambled from beneath it, and rushing out of the door and to the farther end of the platform, barked furiously. Cephas Baker, who lives across the road from the depot, slouched down to his front gate. His wife opened the door of her kitchen and stood there, her wet arms wrapped in her apron. The five Baker children tore round the corner of the house, over the back fence, and lined up, whooping joyously, on the platform. A cloud of white smoke billowed above the clump of cedars at the bend of the track. Then the locomotive rounded the curve and bore down upon the station.
"Stand still, I tell you!" shouted Gabe, addressing the horse.
Dan'l Webster opened one eye, closed it and relapsed into slumber.
The train, a combination baggage car and smoker, two freight cars and a passenger coach, rolled ponderously alongside the platform. From the open door of the baggage car were tossed the mail sack and two express packages. The conductor stepped from the passenger coach. Following him came briskly a short, thickset man with a reddish-gray beard and grayish-red hair.
"Goin' down to the village, Mister?" inquired Mr. Lumley. "Carriage right here."
The stranger inspected the driver of the depot wagon, inspected him deliberately from top to toe. Then he said:
"Down to the village? Why, yes, I wouldn't wonder. Say! you're a Lumley, ain't you?"
"Why! why—yes, I be! How'd you know that? Ain't ever seen you afore, have I?"
"Guess not," with a quiet chuckle. "I've never seen you, either, but I've seen your nose. I'd know a Lumley nose if I run across it in China."
The possessor of the "Lumley nose" rubbed that organ in a bewildered fashion. Recovering in a measure he laughed, rather half-heartedly, and begged to know if the trunk, then being unloaded from the baggage car, belonged to his prospective passenger. As the answer was an affirmative nod, he secured the trunk check and departed, still rubbing his nose.
When he returned, with the trunk on the truck, he found the stranger, with his hands in his pockets, standing before Dan'l Webster and gazing at that animal with an expression of acute interest.
"Is this your—horse?" demanded the newcomer, pausing before the final word of his question.
"It's so cal'lated to be," replied Gabe, with dignity.
"Hum! Does he work nights?"
"Work nights? No, course he don't!"
"Oh, all right! Then you can wake him up with a clear conscience. I didn't know but he needed the sleep. What's his record?"
"Yup; his trottin' record. Anybody can see he's built for speed, narrow in the beam and sharp fore and aft. Shall I get aboard the barouche?"
The depot master, who was on hand to help with the trunk, grinned broadly. Mr. Lumley sulkily made answer that his passenger might get aboard if he wanted to. Apparently he wanted to, for he sprang into the depot wagon with a bounce that made the old vehicle rock on its springs.
"Jerushy!" he exclaimed, "she rolls some, don't she? Never mind, MY ballast 'll keep her on an even keel. Trunk made fast astern? All right! Say! you might furl some of this spare canvas so's I can take an observation as we go along. Don't go so fast that the scenery gets blurred, will you? It's been some time since I made this cruise, and I'd rather like to keep a lookout."
The driver "furled the canvas"—that is, he rolled up the curtains at the sides of the carryall. Then he climbed to the front seat and took up the reins.
"Git up!" he shouted savagely. Dan'l Webster did not move.
The passenger offered a suggestion. "Why don't you try hangin' an alarm clock in his fore-riggin'?" he asked.
"Haw! haw!" roared the depot master.
"Git up, you—you lump!" bellowed the harassed Mr. Lumley. Dan'l pricked up one ear, then a hoof, and slowly got under way. As the equipage passed the Baker homestead, the whole family was clustered about the gate, staring at the occupant of the wagon. The stare was returned.
"Who lives in there?" demanded the stranger. "Who are those folks?"
"Ceph Baker's tribe," was the sullen answer.
"Baker, hey? Humph! new folks, I presume likely. Used to be Seth Snow's house, that did. Where'd Seth go to?"
Gabe grunted that he did not know. He believed Mr. Snow was dead, had died years before.
"Humph! dead, hey? Then I know where he went. Do you ever smoke—or does drivin' this horse make you too nervous?"
Mr. Lumley thawed a bit at the sight of the proffered cigar. He admitted that he smoked occasionally and that he guessed "'twouldn't interfere with the drivin' none."
"Good enough! then we'll light up. I can talk better if I'm under a head of steam. There's a new house; who built that?"
The "new" house was fifteen years old, but Gabe gave the name of its builder. Then, thinking that the catechising had been altogether too one-sided, he ventured an observation of his own.
"This is a pretty good cigar, Mister," he said. "Smokes like a Snowflake."
"Like a what?"
"Like a Snowflake. That's about the best straight five center you can get around here. Simmons used to keep 'em, but the drummer's cart ain't called lately and he's all out."
"That's a shame. I told the train boy that these smoked like somethin', but I didn't know what to call it. Much obliged to you. Here's another; put it in your pocket. Oh, no thanks; pleasure's all mine. Who's Simmons?"
Gabe described the Simmons general store and its proprietor. Then he added:
"I was noticin' that trunk of yours, mister; it's all plastered over with labels, ain't it? Cal'late that trunk's done some travelin', hey?"
"Think so, do you?"
"Yup. Gee! I'd like to travel myself. But no! I got to stay all my life in this dead 'n' alive hole. I wanted to go to Boston and clerk in a store, but the old man put his foot down, and here I've stuck ever sence. Git up, Dan'l! What's the matter with you?"
The passenger smiled, but there was a dreamy look in his gray eyes.
"Don't find fault, son," he said. "There's worse places in the world than old Bayport, and worse judgment than mindin' your dad. Don't forget that or you may be sorry for it some day." He sniffed eagerly. "Ah!" he exclaimed, "just smell that, will you? Ain't that FINE?"
"Humph! that's the flats. You can smell 'em any time when the tide's out and the wind's right. You see, the tide goes out pretty fur here and—"
"Don't I know it? Son, I've been waitin' thirty odd year for that smell and here 'tis at last. Drive slow and let me fill up on it. Just blow that—that Snowstorm of yours the other way for a spell, won't you? Thanks."
The request to be driven slow was so superfluous that Mr. Lumley paid no attention to it. He puffed industriously at the Snowflake and watched his companion, who, leaning forward on the seat, was gazing out at the town and the bay beyond it. The "depot hill" is not as high as Whittaker's Hill, but the view is almost as extensive.
"Excuse me, Mister," observed Gabe, after an interval, "but you ain't said where you're goin'."
The passenger came out of his day dream with a start.
"Why, that's right!" he exclaimed. "So I haven't! Well, now, where would you go, if you was me? Is there a hotel or tavern or somethin'?"
"Yup. There's the Bayport Hotel. 'Tain't exactly a hotel, neither. We call it the perfect boardin' house 'round here. You see—"
He proceeded to tell the story of "the perfect boarding house." His listener seemed greatly interested, and although he laughed, did not interrupt until the tale was ended.
"So!" he said, chuckling. "Bailey Bangs, hey? Stub Bangs! Well, well! And he married Ketury Payson! How in time did he ever find spunk enough to propose? And Ketury runs the perfect boardin' house! Well, that ought to be job enough for one woman. She runs Bailey, too, on the side, I s'pose?"
"You bet you! He don't dast to say 'boo' to a chicken when she's 'round. I say, Mister! I don't know's I know your name, do I? I judge you've been here afore so—"
"Yes, I've been here before. Whose is that big place up there across our bows? The one with the cupola on the main truck?"
"That, sir," said Mr. Lumley, oratorically, "belongs to the Honorable Heman G. Atkins, and it's probably the finest in this county. Heman is our representative in Washin'ton, and—Did you say anything?"
The passenger had said something, but he did not repeat it. He was leaning from the carriage and gazing steadily up the slope ahead. And his gaze, strange to say, was not directed at the imposing Atkins estate, but at its opposite neighbor, the old "Cy Whittaker place."
Slowly, laboriously, Dan'l Webster mounted the hill. At the crest he would have paused to take breath, but the driver would not let him.
"Git along, you!" he commanded, flapping the reins.
And then Mr. Lumley suffered the shock of a surprise. The hitherto cool and self-possessed occupant of the rear seat seemed very much excited. His big red hand clasped Mr. Lumley's over the reins, and Dan'l was brought to an abrupt standstill.
"Heave to!" he ordered, sharply, and the tone was that of one who has given many orders and expects them to be obeyed. "Belay! Whoa, there! Great land of love! look at that! LOOK at it! Who did that?"
The mate to the big red hand pointed to the front door of the Whittaker place. Gabe was alarmed.
"Done what? Done which?" he gasped. "What you talkin' about? There ain't nobody lives in there. That house has been empty for—"
"Where's the front fence?" demanded the excited passenger. "What's become of the hedge? And who put up that—that darned piazza?"
The piazza had been where it now was almost since Mr. Lumley could remember. He hastened to reply that he didn't know; he wasn't sure; he presumed likely 'twas "them New Hampshire Howeses," when they ran a summer boarding house.
The stranger drew a long breath. "Well, of all the—" he began. Then he choked, hesitated, and ordered his driver to heave ahead and run alongside the hotel as quick as the Almighty would let him. Gabe hastened to obey. He was now absolutely certain that his companion was an escaped lunatic, and the sooner another keeper was appointed the better. The remainder of the trip was made in silence.
Mrs. Bangs opened the door of the perfect boarding house and stood majestically waiting to receive the prospective guest. Over her shoulders peered the faces of the boarders.
"Good afternoon," began the landlady. "I presume likely you would like to—"
She was interrupted. The newcomer turned toward her and extended his hand.
"Hello, Ketury!" he said. "I ain't seen you sence you wore your hair up, but you're just as good-lookin' as ever. And ain't that Bailey? Yes, 'tis, and Asaph, too! How are you, boys? Shake!"
Mr. Bangs and his chum, the town clerk, had emerged from the doorway. Their mouths and eyes were wide open and they seemed to be suffering from a sort of paralysis.
"Well? What's the matter with you?" demanded the arrival. "Ain't too stuck up to shake hands after all these years, are you?"
Bailey's mouth closed in order that it's possessor might swallow. Then it slowly reopened.
"I swan to man!" he ejaculated. "WELL! I swan to man! I—I b'lieve you're Cy Whittaker!"
"Course I am. Have to dye my carrot top if I want to play anybody else. But look here, boys, you answer my question: who had the cheek to rig up that blasted piazza on my house? It starts to come down to-morrow mornin'!"
Miss Angeline Phinney made no less than nine calls that afternoon. Before bedtime it was known, from the last house in Woodchuck Lane to the fish shanties at West Bayport, that "young Cy" Whittaker had come back; that he had come back "for good"; that he was staying temporarily at the perfect boarding house; that he was "awful well off"—having made lots of money down in South America; that he intended to "fix over" the Whittaker place, and that it was to be fixed over, not in a modern manner, with plush parlor sets—a la Sylvanus Cahoon—nor with onyx tables and blue and gold chairs like those adorning the Atkins mansion. It was to be, as near as possible, a reproduction of what it had been in the time of the late "Cap'n Cy," young Cy's father.
"I think he's out of his head," declared Miss Phinney, in confidence, to each of the nine females whom she favored with her calls. "Not crazy, you understand, but sort of touched in the upper story. I says so to Matildy Tripp, said it right out, too: 'Matildy,' I says, 'he's got a screw loose up aloft just as sure as you're a born woman!' 'What makes you think so?' says she. 'Well,' says I, 'do you s'pose anybody that wan't foolish would be for spendin' good money on an old house to make it OLDER?' I says. Goin' to tear down the piazza the fust thing! Perfectly good piazza that cost ninety-eight dollars and sixty cents to build; I know, because I see the bill when the Howeses had it done. And he's goin' to set out box hedges, somethin' that ain't been the style in this town sence Congressman Atkins pulled up his. 'What in the world, Cap'n Whittaker,' says I to him, 'do you want of box hedges? Homely and stiff and funeral lookin'! I might have 'em around my grave in the buryin' ground,' I says, 'but nowheres else.' 'All right, Angie,' says he, 'you shall have 'em there; I'll cut some slips purpose for you. It'll be a pleasure,' he says. Now ain't that crazy talk for a grown man?"
Miss Phinney was not the only one in our village to question Captain Cy Whittaker's sanity during the next few months. The majority of our people didn't understand him at all. He was generally liked, for although he had money, he did not put on airs, but he had his own way of doing things, and they were not Bayport ways.
True to his promise, he had a squad of carpenters busy, on the day following his arrival, tearing down the loathed piazza. These carpenters, and more, were kept busy throughout that entire spring and well into the summer. Then came painters and gardeners. The piazza disappeared; a new picket fence, exactly like the old one torn down by the Howeses, was erected; new shutters were hung; new windowpanes were set; the roof was newly shingled. Captain Cy, Senior, had, in his day, cherished a New England fondness for white and green paint; therefore the new fence was white and the house was white and the blinds a brilliant green. Rows of box hedge, the plants brought from Boston, were set out on each side of the front walk. The Howes front-door bell—a clamorous gong—was removed, and a glass knob attached to a spring bell of the old-fashioned "jingle" variety took its place. An old-fashioned flower garden—Cap'n Cy's mother had loved posies—was laid out on the west lawn beyond the pear trees. All these changes the captain superintended; when they were complete he turned his attention to interior decoration.
And now Captain Cy proceeded to, literally, astonish the natives. Among the Howes "improvements" were gilt wall papers and modern furniture for the lower floor of the house. The furniture they had taken with them; the wall paper had perforce been left behind. And the captain had every scrap of that paper stripped from the walls, and the latter re-covered with quaint, ugly, old-fashioned patterns, stripes and roses and flowered sprays with impossible birds flitting among them. The Bassett decorators has pasted the gilt improvement over the old Whittaker paper, and it was the Whittaker paper that the captain did his best to match, sending samples here, there, and everywhere in the effort. Then, upon the walls he hung old-fashioned pictures, such as Bayport dwellers had long ago relegated to their attics, pictures like "From Shore to Shore," "Christian Viewing the City Beautiful," and "Signing the Declaration." To these he added, bringing them from the crowded garret of the homestead, oil paintings of ships commanded by his father and grandfather, and family portraits, executed—which is a peculiarly fitting word—by deceased local artists in oil and crayon.
He boarded up the fireplace in the sitting room and installed a base-burner stove, resurrected from the tinsmith's barn. He purchased a full "haircloth set" of parlor furniture from old Mrs. Penniman, who never had been known to sell any of her hoarded belongings before, even to the "antiquers," and wouldn't have done so now, had it not been that the captain's offer was too princely to be real, and the old lady feared she might be dreaming and would wake up before she received the money. And from Trumet to Ostable he journeyed, buying a chair here and a table there, braided rag mats from this one, and corded bedsteads and "rising sun" quilts from that. At least half of Bayport believed with Gabe Lumley and Miss Phinney that, if Captain Cy had not escaped from a home for the insane, he was a likely candidate for such an institution.
At the table of the perfect boarding house the captain was not inclined to be communicative regarding his reasons and his intentions. He was a prime favorite there, praising Keturah's cooking, joking with Angeline concerning what he was pleased to call her "giddy" manner of dressing and wearing "side curls," and telling yarns of South American dress and behavior, which would probably have shocked Mrs. Tripp—she having recently left the Methodist church to join the "Come-Outers," because the Sunday services of the former were, with the organ and a paid choir, altogether "too play-actin'"—if they had not been so interesting, and if Captain Cy had not always concluded them with the observation: "But there! you can't expect nothin' more from ignorant critters denied the privileges of congregational singin' and experience meetin's; hey, Matilda?"
Mrs. Tripp would sigh and admit that she supposed not.
"Only I do wish Mr. Daniels, OUR minister, might have a chance to preach over 'em, poor things!"
"So do I," with a covert wink at Mrs. Bangs, who was a stanch adherent of the regular faith. "South America 'd be just the place for him; ain't that so, Keturah?"
He evaded all personal questions put to him by the boarders, explaining that he was renovating the old place just for fun—he always had had a gang of men working for him, and it seemed natural somehow. But to the friends of his boyhood, Asaph Tidditt and Bailey Bangs, he told the real truth.
"I swan to man!" exclaimed Bailey, almost tearfully, as the trio wandered through the rooms of the Cy Whittaker place, dodging paper hangers and plasterers; "I swan to man, Whit, if it don't almost seem as though I was a boy again. Why! it's your dad's house come back alive, it is so! Look at this settin' room! Seem's if I could see him now a-settin' by that ere stove, and Mrs. Whittaker, your ma, over there a-sewin', and old Cap'n Cy—your granddad—snoozin' in that big armchair—Why! why, whit! it's the very image of the chair he always set in!"
Captain Cy laughed aloud.
"It's more n' that, Bailey," he said; "it's THE chair. 'Twas up attic, all busted and crippled, but I had it made over like new. And there's granddad's picture, lookin' just as I remember him—only he wan't quite so much of a frozen wax image as he's painted there. I'm goin' to hang it where it always hung, over the mantelpiece, next to the lookin' glass.
"Great land of love, boys!" he went on, "you fellers don't know what this means to me. Many and many's the time I've had this old house and this old room in my mind. I've seen 'em aboard ship in a howlin' gale off the Horn. I've seen 'em down in Surinam of a hot night, when there wan't a breath scurcely and the Caribs went around dressed in a handkerchief and a paper cigar, and it made you wish you could. I've seen 'em—but there! every time I've seen 'em I've swore that some day I'd come back and LIVE 'em, and now, by the big dipper! here I am. Oh, I tell you, chummies, you want to be fired OUT of a home and out of a town to appreciate 'em! Not that I blame the old man; he and I was too much alike to cruise in company. But Bayport I was born in, and in the Bayport graveyard they can plant me when I'm ready for the scrap heap. It's in the blood and—Why, see here! Don't I TALK like a Bayporter?"
"You sartin do!" replied Asaph emphatically.
"A body 'd think you'd been diggin' clams and pickin' cranberries in Bassett's Holler all your life long, to hear you."
"You bet! Well, that's pride; that's what that is. I prided myself on hangin' to the Bayport twang through thick and thin. Among all the Spanish 'Carambas' and 'Madre de Dioses' it did me good to come out with a good old Yankee 'darn' once in a while. Kept me feelin' like a white man. Oh, I'm a Whittaker! I know it. And I've got all the Whittaker pig-headedness, I guess. And because the old man—bless his heart, I say now—told me I shouldn't BE a Whittaker no more, nor live like a Whittaker, I simply swore up and down I would be one and come back here, when I'd made my pile, to heave anchor and stay one till I die. Maybe that's foolishness, but it's me."
He puffed vigorously at the pipe which had taken the place of the Snowflake cigar, and added:
"Take this old settin' room—why, here it is; see! Here's dad in his chair and ma in hers, and, if you go back far enough, granddad in his, just as you say, Bailey. And here's me, a little shaver, squattin' on the floor by the stove, lookin' at the pictures in a heap of Godey's Lady's Book. And says dad, 'Bos'n,' he says—he used to call me 'Bos'n' in those days—'Bos'n,' says dad, 'run down cellar and fetch me up a pitcher of cider, that's a good feller.' Yes, yes; that's this room as I've seen it in my mind ever since I tiptoed through it the night I run away, with my duds in a bundle under my arm. Do you wonder I was fightin' mad when I saw what that Howes tribe had done to it?"
Superintending the making over of the old home occupied most of Captain Cy's daylight time that summer. His evenings were spent at Simmons's store. We have no clubs in Bayport, strictly speaking, for the sewing circle and the Shakespeare Reading Society are exclusively feminine in membership; therefore Simmons's store is the gathering place of those males who are bachelors or widowers or who are sufficiently free from petticoat government to risk an occasional evening out. Asaph Tidditt was a regular sojourner at the store. Bailey Bangs, happening in to purchase fifty cents' worth of sugar or to have the molasses jug filled, lingered occasionally, but not often. Captain Cy explained Bailey's absence in characteristic fashion.
"Variety," observed the captain, "is the spice of life. Bailey gets talk enough to home. What's the use of his comin' up here to get more?"
"Oh, I don't know," said Josiah Dimick, with a grin, "we let him do some of the talkin' himself up here. Down at the boardin' house Keturah and Angie Phinney do it all."
"Yes. Still, if a feller was condemned to live over a biler factory he wouldn't hanker to get a job IN it, would he? When Bailey was a delegate to the Methodist Conference up in Boston, him and a crowd visited the deef and dumb asylum. When 'twas time to go, he was missin', and they found him in the female ward lookin' at the inmates. Said that the sight of all them women, every one of 'em not able to say a word, was the most wonderful thing ever he laid eyes on. Said it made him feel kind of reverent and holy, almost as if he was in Paradise. So Ase Tidditt says, anyway; it's his yarn."
"'Tain't nuther, Cy Whittaker!" declared the indignant Asaph. "If you expect I'm goin' to father all your lies, you're mistaken."
The crowd at Simmons's discuss politics, as a general thing; state and national politics in their seasons, but county politics and local affairs always. The question in Bayport that summer, aside from that of the harbor appropriation, was who should be hired as downstairs teacher. Our schoolhouse is a two-story building, with a schoolroom on each floor. The lower room, where the little tots begin with their "C—A—T Cat," and progress until they have mastered the Fourth Reader, is called "downstairs." "Upstairs" is, of course, the second story, where the older children are taught. To handle some of the "big boys" upstairs is a task for a healthy man, and such a one usually fills the teacher's position there. Downstairs being, in theory, at least, less strenuous, is presided over by a woman.
Miss Seabury, who had been downstairs teacher for one lively term, had resigned that spring in tears and humiliation. Her scholars had enjoyed themselves and would have liked her to continue, but the committee and the townspeople thought otherwise. There was a general feeling that enjoyment was not the whole aim of education.
"Betty," said Captain Dimick, referring to his small granddaughter, "has done fust rate so fur's marksmanship and lung trainin' goes. I cal'late she can hit a nail head ten foot off with a spitball three times out of four, and she can whisper loud enough to be understood in Jericho. But, not wishing to be unreasonable, still I should like to have her spell 'door' without an 'e.' I've always been used to seein' it spelled that way and—well, I'm kind of old-fashioned, anyway."
There was a difference of opinion concerning Miss Seabury's successor. A portion of the townspeople were for hiring a graduate of the State Normal School, a young woman with modern training. Others, remembering that Miss Seabury had graduated from that school, were for proved ability and less up-to-date methods. These latter had selected a candidate in the person of a Miss Phoebe Dawes, a resident of Wellmouth, and teacher of the Wellmouth "downstairs" for some years. The arguments at Simmons's were hot ones.
"What's the use of hirin' somebody from right next door to us, as you might say?" demanded Alpheus Smalley, clerk at the store. "Don't we want our teachin' to be abreast of the times, and is Wellmouth abreast of ANYthing?"
"It's abreast of the bay, that's about all, I will give in," replied Mr. Tidditt. "But, the way I look at it, we need disCIPline more 'n anything else, and Phoebe Dawes has had the best disCIPline in her school, that's been known in these latitudes. Order? Why, say! Eben Salters told me that when he visited her room over there 'twas so still that he didn't dast to rub one shoe against t'other, it sounded up so. He had to set still and bear his chilblains best he could. And POPULAR! Why, when she hinted that she might leave in May, her scholars more 'n ha'f of 'em, bust out cryin'. Now you hear me, I—"
"It seems to me," put in Thaddeus Simpson, who ran the barber shop and was something of a politician, "it seems to me, fellers, that we'd better wait and hear what Mr. Atkins has to say in this matter. I guess that's what the committee 'll do, anyhow. We wouldn't want to go contrary to Heman, none of us; hey?"
"Tad" Simpson was known to be deep in Congressman Atkins's confidence. The mention of the great man's name was received with reverence and nods of approval.
"That's right. We mustn't do nothin' to displease Heman," was the general opinion.
Captain Cy did not join the chorus. He refilled his pipe and crossed his legs.
"Humph!" he grunted. "Heman Atkins seems to be—Give me a match, Ase, won't you? Thanks. I understand there's a special prayer meetin' at the church to-morrow night, Alpheus. What's it for?"
"For?" Mr. Smalley seemed surprised. "It's to pray for rain, that's what. You know it, Cap'n, as well's I do. Ain't everybody's garden dryin' up and the ponds so low that we shan't be able to get water for the cranberry ditches pretty soon? There's need to pray, I should think!"
"Humph! Seems a roundabout way of gettin' a thing, don't it? Why don't you telegraph to Heman and ask him to fix it for you? Save time."
This remark was received in horrified silence. Tad Simpson was the first to recover.
"Cap'n," he said, "you ain't met Mr. Atkins yet. When you do, you'll feel same as the rest of us. He's comin' home next week; then you'll see."
A part at least of Mr. Simpson's prophecy proved true. The Honorable Atkins did come to Bayport the following week, accompanied by his little daughter Alicia, the housekeeper, and the Atkins servants. The Honorable and his daughter had been, since the adjournment of Congress, on a pleasure trip to the Yosemite and Yellowstone Park, and now they were to remain in the mansion on the hill for some time. The big house was opened, the stone urns burst into refulgent bloom, the iron dogs were refreshed with a coat of black paint, and the big iron gate was swung wide. Bayport sat up and took notice. Angeline Phinney was in her glory.
The meeting between Captain Cy and Mr. Atkins took place the morning after the latter's return. The captain and his two chums had been inspecting the progress made by the carpenters and were leaning over the new fence, then just erected, but not yet painted. Down the gravel walk of the mansion across the road came strolling its owner, silk-hatted, side-whiskered, benignant.
"Godfrey!" exclaimed Asaph. "There's Heman. See him, Whit?"
"Yup, I see him. Seems to be headin' this way."
"I—I do believe he's comin' across," whispered Mr. Bangs. "Yes, he is. He's real everyday, Cy. HE won't mind if you ain't dressed up."
"Won't he? That's comfortin'. Well, I'll do the best I can without stimulants, as the doctor says. If you hear my knees rattle just nudge me, will you, Bailey?"
Mr. Tidditt removed his hat. Bailey touched his. Captain Cy looked provokingly indifferent; he even whistled.
"Good mornin', Mr. Atkins," hailed the town clerk, raising his voice because of the whistle. "I'm proud to see you back among us, sir. Hope you and Alicia had a nice time out West. How is she—pretty smart?"
Mr. Atkins smiled a bland, congressional smile. He approached the group by the fence and extended his hand.
"Ah, Asaph!" he said; "it is you then? I thought so. And Bailey, too. It is certainly delightful to see you both again. Yes, my daughter is well, I thank you. She, like her father, is glad to be back in the old home nest after the round of hotel life and gayety which we have—er—recently undergone. Yes."
"Mr. Atkins," said Bailey, glancing nervously at Captain Cy, who had stopped whistling and was regarding the Atkins hat and whiskers with an interested air, "I want to make you acquainted with your new neighbor. You used to know him when you was a boy, but—but—er—Mr. Atkins, this is Captain Cyrus Whittaker. Cy, this is Congressman Atkins. You've heard us speak of him."
The great man started.
"Is it possible!" he exclaimed. "Is it possible that this is really my old playmate Cyrus Whittaker?"
"Yup," replied the captain calmly. "How are you, Heman? Fatter'n you used to be, ain't you? Washin'ton must agree with you."
Bailey and Asaph were scandalized. Mr. Atkins himself seemed a trifle taken aback. Comments on his personal appearance were not usual in Bayport. But he rallied bravely.
"Well, well!" he cried. "Cyrus, I am delighted to welcome you back among us. I should scarcely have known you. You are older—yes, much older."
"Well, forty year more or less, added to what you started with, is apt to make a feller some older. Don't need any Normal School graduate to do that sum for us. I'm within seven or eight year of bein' as old as you are, Heman, and that's too antique to be sold for veal."
Mr. Atkins changed the subject.
"I had heard of your return, Cyrus," he said. "It gave me much pleasure to learn that you were rebuilding and—er—renovating the—er—the ancestral—er—"
"The old home nest? Yup, I'm puttin' back a few feathers. Old birds like to roost comf'table. You've got a fairly roomy coop yourself."
"Hum! Isn't it—er—I should suppose you would find it rather expensive. Can you—do you—"
"Yes, I can afford it, thank you. Maybe there'll be enough left in the stockin' to buy a few knickknacks for the yard. You can't tell."
The captain glanced at the iron dogs guarding the Atkins gate. His tone was rather sharp.
"Yes, yes, certainly; certainly; of course. It gives me much pleasure to have you as a neighbor. I have always felt a fondness for the old place, even when you allowed it—even when it was most—er—run down, if you'll excuse the term. I always felt a liking for it and—"
"Yes," was the significant interruption. "I judged you must have, from what I heard."
This was steering dangerously close to the selectmen and the contemplated "sale for taxes." The town clerk broke in nervously.
"Mr. Atkins," he said, "there's been consider'ble talk in town about who's to be teacher downstairs this comin' year. We've sort of chawed it over among us, but naturally we wanted your opinion. What do you think? I'm kind of leanin' toward the Dawes woman, myself."
The Congressman cleared his throat.
"Far be it from me," he said, "to speak except as a mere member of our little community, an ordinary member, but, AS such a member, with the welfare of my birthplace very near and dear to me, I confess that I am inclined to favor a modern teacher, one educated and trained in the institution provided for the purpose by our great commonwealth. The Dawes—er—person is undoubtedly worthy and capable in her way, but—well—er—we know that Wellmouth is not Bayport."
The reference to "our great commonwealth" had been given in the voice and the manner wont to thrill us at our Fourth-of-July celebrations and October "rallies." Two of his hearers, at least, were visibly impressed. Asaph looked somewhat crestfallen, but he surrendered gracefully to superior wisdom.
"That's so," he said. "That's so, ain't it, Cy? I hadn't thought of that."
"What's so?" asked the captain.
"Why—why, that Wellmouth ain't Bayport."
"No doubt of it. They're twenty miles apart."
"Yes. Well, I'm glad to hear you put it so conclusive, Mr. Atkins. I can see now that Phoebe wouldn't do. Hum! Yes."
Mr. Atkins buttoned the frock coat and turned to go.
"Good day, gentlemen," he said. "Cyrus, permit me once more to welcome you heartily to our village. We—my daughter and myself—will probably remain at home until the fall. I trust you will be a frequent caller. Run in on us at any time. Pray do not stand upon ceremony."
"No," said Captain Cy shortly, "I won't."
"That's right. That's right. Good morning."
He walked briskly down the hill. The trio gazed after him.
"Well," sighed Mr. Tidditt. "That's settled. And it's a comfort to know 'tis settled. Still I did kind of want Phoebe Dawes; but of course Heman knows best."
"Course he knows best!" snapped Bailey. "Ain't he the biggest gun in this county, pretty nigh? I'd like to know who is if he ain't. The committee 'll call the Normal School girl now, and a good thing, too."
Captain Cy was still gazing at the dignified form of the "biggest gun in the county."
"Let's see," he asked. "Who's on the school committee? Eben Salters, of course, and—"
"Yes. Eben's chairman and he'll vote Phoebe, anyhow; he's that pig-headed that nobody—not even a United States Representative—could change him. But Darius Ellis 'll be for Heman's way and so 'll Lemuel Myrick.
"Lemuel Myrick? Lem Myrick, the painter?"
"Sartin. There ain't but one Myrick in town."
"Hum!" murmured the captain and was silent for some minutes.
The school committee met on the following Wednesday evening. On Thursday morning a startling rumor spread throughout Bayport. Phoebe Dawes had been called, by a vote of two to one, to teach the downstairs school. Asaph, aghast, rushed out of Simmons's store and up to the hill to the Cy Whittaker place. He found Captain Cy in the front yard. Mr. Myrick, school committeeman and house painter, was with him.
"Hello, Ase!" hailed the captain. "What's the matter? Hasn't the tide come in this mornin'?"
Asaph, somewhat embarrassed by the presence of Mr. Myrick, hesitated over his news. Lemuel came to his rescue.
"Ase has just heard that we called Phoebe," he said. "What of it? I voted for her, and I ain't ashamed of it."
"But—but Mr. Atkins, he—"
"Well, Heman ain't on the committee, is he? I vote the way I think right, and no one in this town can change me. Anyway," he added, "I'm going to resign next spring. Yes, Cap'n Whittaker, I think three coats of white 'll do on the sides here."
"Lem's goin' to do my paintin' jobs," explained Captain Cy. "His price was a little higher than some of the other fellers, but I like his work."
Mr. Tidditt pondered deeply until dinner time. Then he cornered the captain behind the Bangs barn and spoke with conviction.
"Whit," he said, "you're the one responsible for the committee's hirin' Phoebe Dawes. You offered Lem the paintin' job if he'd vote for her. What did you do it for? You don't know her, do you?"
"Never set eyes on her in my life."
"Then—then—You heard Heman say he wanted the other one. What made you do it?"
Captain Cy grinned.
"Ase," he said, "I've always been a great hand for tryin' experiments. Had one of my cooks aboard put raisins in the flapjacks once, just to see what they tasted like. I judged Heman had had his own way in this town for thirty odd year. I kind of wanted to see what would happen if he didn't have it."
BAILEY BANGS'S EXPERIMENT
Lemuel Myrick's painting jobs have the quality so prized by our village small boys in the species of candy called "jaw breakers," namely, that of "lasting long." But even Lem must finish sometime or other and, late in July, the Cy Whittaker place was ready for occupancy. The pictures were in their places on the walls, the old-fashioned furniture filled the rooms, there was even a pile of old magazines, back numbers of Godey's Lady's Book, on the shelf in the sitting room closet.
Then, when Captain Cy had notified Mrs. Bangs that the perfect boarding house would shelter him no longer than the coming week, a new problem arose.
"Whit," said Asaph earnestly, "you've sartin made the place rise up out of its tomb; you have so. It's a miracle, pretty nigh, and I cal'late it must have cost a heap, but you've done it—all but the old folks themselves. You can't raise them up, Cy; money won't do that. And you can't live in this great house all alone. Who's goin' to cook for you, and sweep and dust, and swab decks, and one thing a'nother? You'll have to have a housekeeper, as I told you a spell ago. Have you done any thinkin' about that?"
And the captain, taking his pipe from his lips, stared blankly at his friend, and answered:
"By the big dipper, Ase, I ain't! I remember we did mention it, but I've been so busy gettin' this craft off the ways that I forgot all about it."
The discussion which followed Mr. Tidditt's reminder was long and serious. Asaph and Bailey Bangs racked their brains and offered numerous suggestions, but the majority of these were not favorably received.
"There's Matildy Tripp," said Bailey. "She'd like the job, I'm sartin. She's a widow, too, and she's had experience keepin' house along of Tobias, him that was her husband. But, if you do hire her, don't let Ketury know I hinted at it, 'cause we're goin' to lose one boarder when you quit, and that's too many, 'cordin' to the old lady's way of thinkin'."
"You can keep Matildy, for all me," replied the captain decidedly. "Come-Outer religion's all right, for those that have that kind of appetite, but havin' it passed to me three times a day, same as I've had it at your house, is enough; I don't hanker to have it warmed over between meals. If I shipped Matildy aboard here she and the Reverend Daniels would stand over me, watch and watch, till I was converted or crazy, one or the other."
"Well, there's Angie. She—"
"Angie!" sniffed Mr. Tidditt. "Stop your jokin', Bailey. This is a serious matter."
"I wan't jokin'. What—"
"There! there! boys," interrupted the captain; "don't fight. Bailey didn't mean to joke, Ase; he's full of what the papers call 'unconscious humor.' I'll give in that Angie is about as serious a matter as I can think of without settin' down to rest. Humph! so fur we haven't gained any knots to speak of. Any more candidates on your mind?"
More possibilities were mentioned, but none of them seemed to fill the bill. The conference broke up without arriving at a decision. Mr. Bangs and the town clerk walked down the hill together.
"Do you know, Bailey," said Asaph, "the way I look at it, this pickin' out a housekeeper for Whit ain't any common job. It's somethin' to think over. Cy's a restless critter; been cruisin' hither and yon all his life. I'm sort of scared that he'll get tired of Bayport and quit if things here don't go to suit him. Now if a real good nice woman—a nice LOOKIN' woman, say—was to keep house for him it—it—"
"Well, I mean—that is, don't you s'pose if some such woman as that was to be found for the job he might in time come to like her and—and—er—"
"Ase Tidditt, what are you drivin' at?"
"Why, I mean he might come to marry her; there! Then he'd be contented to settle down to home and stay put. What do you think of the idea?"
"Think of it? I think it's the dumdest foolishness ever I heard. I declare if the very mention of a woman to some of you old baches don't make your heads soften up like a jellyfish in the sun! Ain't Cy Whittaker got money? Ain't he got a nice home? Ain't he happy?"
"Yes, he is now, I s'pose, but—"
"WELL, then! And you want him to get married! What do you know about marryin'? Never tried it, have you?"
"Course I ain't! You know I ain't."
"All right. Then I'd keep quiet about such things, if I was you."
"You needn't fly up like a settin' hen. Everybody's wife ain't—"
He stopped in the middle of the sentence.
"What's that?" demanded his companion, sharply.
"Nothin'; nothin'. I don't care; I was only tryin' to fix things comf'table for Whit. Has Heman said anything about the harbor appropriation sence he's been home? I haven't heard of it if he has."
Mr. Bangs's answer was a grunt, signifying a negative. Congressman Atkins had been, since his return to Bayport, exceedingly noncommittal concerning the appropriation. To Tad Simpson and a very few chosen lieutenants and intimates he had said that he hoped to get it; that was all. This was a disquieting change of attitude, for, at the beginning of the term just passed, he had affirmed that he was GOING to get it. However, as Mr. Simpson reassuringly said: "The job's in as good hands as can be, so what's the use of OUR worryin'?"
Bailey Bangs certainly was not troubled on that score; but the town clerk's proposal that Captain Cy be provided with a suitable wife did worry him. Bailey was so very much married himself and had such decided, though unspoken, views concerning matrimony that such a proposal seemed to him lunacy, pure and simple. He had liked and admired his friend "Whit" in the old days, when the latter led them into all sorts of boyish scrapes; now he regarded him with a liking that was close to worship. The captain was so jolly and outspoken; so brave and independent—witness his crossing of the great Atkins in the matter of the downstairs teacher. That was a reckless piece of folly which would, doubtless, be rewarded after its kind, but Bailey, though he professed to condemn it, secretly wished he had the pluck to dare such things. As it was, he didn't dare contradict Keturah.
With the exception of one voyage as cabin boy to New Orleans, a voyage which convinced him that he was not meant for a seaman, Mr. Bangs had never been farther from his native village than Boston. Captain Cy had been almost everywhere and seen almost everything. He could spin yarns that beat the serial stories in the patent inside of the Bayport Breeze all hollow. Bailey had figured that, when the "fixin' over" was ended, the Cy Whittaker place would be for him a delightful haven of refuge, where he could put his boots on the furniture, smoke until dizzy without being pounced upon, be entertained and thrilled with tales of adventure afloat and ashore, and even express his own opinion, when he had any, with the voice and lung power of a free-born American citizen.
And now Asaph Tidditt, who should know better, even though he was a bachelor, wanted to bring a wife into this paradise; not a paid domestic who could be silenced, or discharged, if she became a nuisance, but a WIFE! Bailey guessed not; not if he could prevent it.
So he lay awake nights thinking of possible housekeepers for Captain Cy, and carefully rejecting all those possessing dangerous attractions of any kind. Each morning, after breakfast, he ran over the list with the captain, taking care that Asaph was not present. Captain Cy, who was very busy with the finishing touches at the new old house, wearied on the third morning.
"There, there, Bailey!" he said. "Don't bother me now. I've got other things on my mind. How do I know who all these women folks are you're stringing off to me? Let me alone, do."
"But you must have a housekeeper, Cy. You'll move in Monday and you won't have nobody to—"
"Oh, dry up! I want to think who I must see this morning. There's Lem and old lady Penniman, and—"
"But the housekeeper, Cy! Don't you see—"
"Hire one yourself, then. You know 'em; I don't."
"Hey? Hire one myself? Do you mean you'll leave it in my hands?"
"Yes, yes! I guess so. Run along, that's a good feller."
He departed hurriedly. Mr. Bangs scratched his head. A weighty responsibility had been laid upon him.
Monday morning after breakfast Captain Cy's trunk was put aboard the depot wagon, and Dan'l Webster drew it to its owner's home. The farewells at the perfect boarding house were affecting. Mrs. Tripp said that she had spoken to the Reverend Mr. Daniels, and he would be sure to call the very first thing. Keturah affirmed that the captain's stay had been a real pleasure.
"You never find fault, Cap'n Whittaker," she said. "You're such a manly man, if you'll excuse my sayin' so. I only wish there was more like you," with a significant glance at her husband. As for Miss Phinney, she might have been saying good-by yet if the captain had not excused himself.
Asaph accompanied his friend to the house on the hill. The trunk was unloaded from the wagon and carried into the bedroom on the first floor, the room which had been Captain Cy's so long ago. Gabe shrieked at Dan'l Webster, and the depot wagon crawled away toward the upper road.
"Got to meet the up train," grumbled the driver. "Not that anybody ever comes on it, but I cal'late I'm s'posed to be there. Be more talk than a little if I wan't. Git dap, Dan'l! you're slower'n the moral law."
"So you're goin' to do your own cookin' for a spell, Cy?" observed Asaph, a half hour later, "Well, I guess that's a good idea, till you can find the right housekeeper. I ain't been able to think of one that would suit you yet."
"Nor I, either. Neither's Bailey, I judge, though for a while he was as full of suggestions as a pine grove is of woodticks. He started to say somethin' about it to me last night, but Ketury hove in sight and yanked him off to prayer meetin'."
"Yes, I know. She cal'lates to get him into heaven somehow."
"I guess 'twouldn't BE heaven for her unless he was round to pick at. There he comes now. How'd he get out of wipin' dishes?"
Mr. Bangs strolled into the yard.
"Hello!" he hailed. "I was on my way to Simmons's on an errand and I thought I'd stop in a minute. Got somethin' to tell you, Whit."
"All right. Overboard with it! It won't keep long this hot weather."
Bailey smiled knowingly. "Didn't I hear the up train whistle as I was comin' along?" he asked. "Seems to me I did. Yes; well, if I ain't mistaken somebody's comin' on that train. Somebody for you, Cy Whittaker."
"Somebody for ME?"
"Um—hum! I can gen'rally be depended on, I cal'late, and when you says to me: 'Bailey, you get me a housekeeper,' I didn't lose much time. I got her."
Mr. Tidditt gasped.
"GOT her?" he repeated. "Got who? Got what? Bailey Bangs, what in the world have—"
"Belay, Ase!" ordered Captain Cy. "Bailey, what are you givin' us?"
"Givin' you a housekeeper, and a good one, too, I shouldn't wonder. She may not be one of them ten-thousand-dollar prize museum beauties," with a scornful wink at Asaph, "but if what I hear's true she can keep house. Anyhow she's kept one for forty odd year. Her name's Deborah Beasley, she's a widow over to East Trumet, and if I don't miss my guess, she's in the depot wagon now headed in this direction."
Captain Cy whistled. Mr. Tidditt was too much surprised to do even that.
"I was speakin' to the feller that drives the candy cart," continued Bailey, "and I asked him if he'd run acrost anybody, durin' his trips 'round the country, who'd be likely to hire out for a housekeeper. He thought a spell and then named over some. Among 'em was this Beasley one. I asked some more questions and, the answers bein' satisfactory to ME, though they might not be to some folks—" another derisive wink at Asaph—"I set down and wrote her, tellin' what you'd pay, Cy, what she'd have to do, and when she'd have to come. Saturday night I got a letter, sayin' terms was all right, and she'd be on hand by this mornin's train. Course she's only on trial for a month, but you had to have SOMEBODY, and the candy-cart feller said—"
The town clerk slapped his knee.
"Debby Beasley!" he cried. "I know who she is! I've got a cousin in Trumet. Debby Beasley! Aunt Debby, they call her. Why! she's old enough to be Methusalem's grandmarm, and—"
"If I recollect right," interrupted Bailey, with dignity, "Cy never said he wanted a YOUNG woman—a frivolous, giddy critter, always riggin' up and chasin' the fellers. He wanted a sot, sober housekeeper."
"Godfrey! Aunt Debby ain't frivolous! She couldn't chase a lame clam—and catch it. And DEEF! Godfrey—scissors! she's deefer 'n one of them cast-iron Newfoundlands in Heman's yard! Do you mean to say, Bailey Bangs, that you went ahead, on your own hook, and hired that old relic to—"
"I did. And I had my authority, didn't I, Whit? You told me you'd leave it in my hands, now didn't you?"
The captain smiled somewhat ruefully, and scratched his head. "Why, to be honest, Bailey, I believe I did," he admitted. "Still, I hardly expected—Humph! is she deef, as Ase says?"
"I understand she's a little mite hard of hearin'," replied Mr. Bangs, with dignity; "but that ain't any drawback, the way I look at it. Fact is, I'd call it an advantage, but you folks seem to be hard to please. I ruther imagined you'd thank me for gettin' her, but I s'pose that was too much to expect. All right, pitch her out! Don't mind MY feelin's! Poor homeless critter comin' to—"
"Homeless!" repeated Asaph. "What's that got to do with it? Cy ain't runnin' the Old Woman's Home."
"Well, well!" observed the captain resignedly. "There's no use in rowin' about what can't be helped. Bailey says he shipped her for a month's trial, and here comes the depot wagon now. That's her on the aft thwart, I judge. She AIN'T what you'd call a spring pullet, is she!"
She certainly was not. The occupant of the depot wagon's rear seat was a thin, not to say scraggy, female, wearing a black, beflowered bonnet and a black gown. A black knit shawl was draped about her shoulders and she wore spectacles.
"Whoa!" commanded Mr. Lumley, piloting the depot wagon to the side door of the Whittaker house. Dan'l Webster came to anchor immediately. Gabe turned and addressed his passenger.
"Here we be!" he shouted.
"Hey?" observed the lady in black.
"Here—we—be!" repeated Gabe, raising his voice.
"See? See what?"
"Oh, heavens to Betsey! I'm gettin' the croup from howlin'. I—say—HERE—WE—BE! GET OUT!"
He accompanied the final bellow with an expressive pantomime indicating that the passenger was expected to alight. She seemed to understand, for she opened the door of the carriage and slowly descended. Mr. Bangs advanced to meet her.
"How d'ye do, Mrs. Beasley!" he said. "Glad to see you all safe and sound."
Mrs. Beasley shook his hand; hers were covered, as far as the knuckles, by black mitts.
"How d'ye do, Cap'n Whittaker?" she said, in a shrill voice. "You pretty smart?"
Bailey hastened to explain.
"I ain't Cap'n Whittaker," he roared. "I'm Bailey Bangs, the one that wrote to you."
Mr. Lumley and Asaph chuckled. Bailey colored and tried again.
"I ain't the cap'n," he whooped. "Here he is—here!"
He led her over to her prospective employer and tapped the latter on the chest.
"How d'ye do, sir?" said the housekeeper. "I don't know's I just caught your name."
In five minutes or so the situation was made reasonably clear. Mrs. Beasley then demanded her trunk and carpet bag. The grinning Lumley bore them into the house. Then he drove away, still grinning. Bailey looked fearfully at Captain Cy.
"She IS kind of hard of hearin', ain't she?" he said reluctantly. "You remember I said she was."
The captain nodded.
"Yes," he answered, "you're a truth-tellin' chap, Bailey, I'll say that for you. You don't exaggerate your statements."
"Hard of hearin'!" snapped Mr. Tidditt. "If the last trump ain't a steam whistle she'll miss Judgment Day. I'll stop into Simmons's on my way along and buy you a bottle of throat balsam, Cy; you're goin' to need it."
The captain needed more than throat balsam during the fortnight which followed. The widow Beasley's deafness was not her only failing. In fact she was altogether a failure, so far as her housekeeping was concerned. She could cook, after a fashion, but the fashion was so limited that even the bill of fare at the perfect boarding house looked tempting in retrospect.
"Baked beans again, Cy!" exclaimed Asaph, dropping in one evening after supper. "'Tain't Saturday night so soon, is it?"
"No," was the dismal rejoinder. "It's Tuesday, if my almanac ain't out of joint. But we had beans Saturday and they ain't all gone yet, so I presume we'll have 'em till the last one's swallowed. Aunt Debby's got what the piece in the Reader used to call a 'frugal mind.' She don't intend to waste anything. Last Thursday I spunked up courage enough to yell for salt fish and potatoes—fixed up with pork scraps, you know, same's we used to have when I was a boy. We had 'em all right, and if beans of a Saturday hadn't been part of her religion we'd be warmin' 'em up yet. I took in a cat for company 'tother day, but the critter's run away. To see it look at the beans in its saucer and then at me was pitiful; I felt like handin' myself over to the Cruelty to Animals' folks."
"Is she neat?" inquired Mr. Tidditt.
"I don't know. I guess so—on the installment plan. It takes her a week to scrub up the kitchen, and then one end of it is so dirty she has to begin again. Consequently the dust is so thick in the rest of the house that I can see my tracks. If 'twan't so late in the season I'd plant garden stuff in the parlor—nice soil and lots of shade, with the curtains down."