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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 12. "Town-Meetin'"
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Cy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 12. 'Town-Meetin'' Post by :33851 Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :2383

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Cy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 12. "Town-Meetin'"

CHAPTER XII. "TOWN-MEETIN'"

"This is goin' to be a meMOriable town meetin'!" declared Sylvanus Cahoon, with unction, rising from the settee to gaze about him over the heads of the voters in the townhall. "I bet you every able-bodied man in Bayport 'll be here this forenoon. Yes, sir! that's what I call it, a me-MO-riable meetin'!"

"See anything of Cy?" inquired Josiah Dimick, who sat next to Sylvanus.

"No, he ain't come yet. And Heman ain't here, neither. Hello! there's Tad. Looks happy, seems to me."

Captain Dimick stood up to inspect Mr. Simpson.

"Humph!" he muttered. "Well, unless my count's wrong, he ain't got much to be happy about. 'Lonzo Snow's with him. Tad does look sort of joyful, don't he? Them that laughs last laughs best. When the vote for school committee's all in we'll see who does the grinnin'. But I can't understand--Hello! there's Tidditt. Asaph! Ase! S-s-t-t! Come here a minute."

Mr. Tidditt, trembling with excitement, and shaking hands effusively with everyone he met, pushed his way up the aisle and bent over his friend.

"Say, Ase," whispered Josiah, "where's Whit? Why ain't he on hand? Nothin's happened, has it?"

"No," replied the town clerk. "Everything seems to be all right. I stopped in on the way along and Cy said not to wait; he'd be here on time. He's been kind of off his feed for the last day or so, and I cal'late he didn't feel like hurryin'. Say, Joe, now honest, what do you think of my chances?"

Such a confirmed joker as Dimick couldn't lose an opportunity like this. With the aid of one trying to be cheerful under discouragement he answered that, so far, Asaph's chances looked fair, pretty fair, but of course you couldn't always sometimes tell. Mr. Tidditt rushed away to begin the handshaking all over again.

From this round of cordiality he was reluctantly torn and conducted to the platform. After thumping the desk with his fist he announced that the gathering would "come to order right off, as there was consider'ble business to be done and it ought to be goin' ahead." He then proceeded to read the call for the meeting. This ceremony was no sooner over than Abednego Small, "Uncle Bedny," was on his feet loudly demanding to be informed why the town "hadn't done nothin'" toward fixing up the Bassett's Hollow road. Uncle Bedny's speech had proceeded no further than "Feller citizens, in the name of an outrageous--I should say outraged portion of our community I--" when he was choked off by a self-appointed committee who knew Mr. Small of old and had seated themselves near him to be ready for just such emergencies. The next step, judged by meetings of other years, should have been to unanimously elect Eben Salters moderator; but as Captain Eben refused to serve, owing to his interest in the Whittaker campaign, Alvin Knowles was, by a small majority, chosen for that office. Mr. Knowles was a devout admirer of the great Atkins, and his election would have been considered a preliminary victory for the opposition had it not been that many of Captain Cy's adherents voted for Alvin from a love of mischief, knowing from experience his ignorance of parliamentary law and his easy-going rule. "Now there'll be fun!" declared one delighted individual. "Anything's in order when Alvin's chairman."

The proceedings of the first half hour were disappointingly tame. Most of us had come there to witness a political wrestling match between Tad Simpson and Cyrus Whittaker. Some even dared hope that Congressman Atkins might direct his fight in person. But neither the Honorable nor Captain Cy was in the hall as yet. Solon Eldridge was re-elected selectman and so also was Asaph Tidditt. Nobody but Asaph seemed surprised at this result. His speech of acceptance would undoubtedly have been a triumph of oratory had it not been interrupted by Uncle Bedny, who rose to emphatically protest against "settin' round and wastin' time" when the Bassett's Hollow road "had ruts deep enough to drown a cat in whenever there was a more'n average heavy dew."

The Bassett's Hollow delegate being again temporarily squelched, Moderator Knowles announced that nominations for the vacant place on the school committee were in order. There was a perceptible stir on the settees. This was what the meeting had been waiting for.

"No sign of Cy or Heman yet," observed Mr. Cahoon, craning his neck in the direction of the door. "It's the queerest thing ever I see."

"Queer enough about Cy, that's a fact," concurred Captain Dimick. "I ain't so surprised about Heman's not comin'. Looks as if Whit was right; he always said Atkins dodged a row where folks could watch it. Does most of his fightin' from round the corner. Hello! there's Tad. Now you'll see the crown of glory set on 'Lonzo Snow's head. Hope the crown's padded nice and soft. Anything with sharp edges would sink in."

But Mr. Simpson, it seemed, was not yet ready to proceed with the coronation. He had risen to ask permission of the meeting to defer the school committee matter for a short time. Persons, important persons, who should be present while the nominating was going on, had not yet arrived. He was sure that the gathering would wish to hear from these persons. He asked for only a slight delay. Matters such as this, affecting the welfare of our posterity, ought not to be hurried, etc., etc.

Mr. Simpson's request was unexpected. The meeting, apparently, didn't know how to take it. Uncle Bedny was firmly held in his seat by those about him. Lemuel Myrick took the floor to protest.

"I must say," he declared, "that I don't see any reason for waitin'. If folks ain't here, that's their own fault. Mr. Moderator, I demand that the nominatin' go ahead."

Tad was on his feet instantly.

"I'm goin' to appeal," he cried, "to the decency and gratitude of the citizens of the town of Bayport. One of the persons I'm--that is, we're waitin' for has done more for our beautiful village than all the rest of us put together. There ain't no need for me to name him. A right up-to-date town pump, a lovely memorial window, a--"

"How about that harbor appropriation?" cried a voice from the settees.

Mr. Simpson was taken aback. His face flushed and he angrily turned toward the interrupter.

"That's you, Joe Dimick!" he shouted, pointing an agitated forefinger. "You needn't scooch down. I know your tongue. The idea of you findin' fault because a big man like Congressman Atkins don't jump when you holler 'Git up!' What do YOU know about doin's at Washington? That harbor appropriation 'll go through if anybody on earth can get it through. There's other places besides Bayport to be provided for and--"

"And their congressmen provide for 'em," called another voice. Tad whirled to face his new tormentor.

"Huh!" he grunted with sarcasm. "That's Lem Myrick, _I know. Lem, the great painter, who votes where he paints and gets paid accordin'."

"Order!" cried several.

"Oh, all right, Mr. Moderator! I'll keep order all right. But I say to you, Lem, and you, Joe Dimick, that I know who put these smart notions into your heads. We all know, unless we're born fools. Who is it that's been sayin' the Honorable Heman Atkins was shirkin' that appropriation? Who was it said if HE was representative the thing would have gone through afore this? Who's been makin' his brags that he could get it through if he had the chance? You know who! So do I! I wish he was here. I only wish he was here! I'd say it to his face."

"Well, he is. Heave ahead and say it."

Everyone turned toward the door. Captain Cy had entered the hall. He was standing in the aisle, and with him was Bailey Bangs. The captain looked very tired, almost worn out, but he nodded coolly to Mr. Simpson, who had retired to his seat with surprising quickness and apparent discomfiture.

"Here I am, Tad," continued the captain. "Say your piece."

But Tad, it appeared, was not anxious to "say his piece." He was whispering earnestly with a group of his followers. Captain Cy held up his hand.

"Mr. Moderator," he asked, "can I have the floor a minute? All I want to say is that I cal'late I'm the feller the last speaker had reference to. I HAVE said that I didn't see why that appropriation was so hard to get. I say it again. Other appropriations are got, and why not ours? I DID say if I was a congressman I'd get it. Yes, and I'll say more," he added, raising his voice, "I'll say that if I was sent to Washin'ton by this town, congressman or not, I'd move heaven and earth, and all creation from the President down till I did get it. That's all. So would any live man, I should think."

He sat down. There was some applause. Before it had subsided Abel Leonard, one of the quickest-witted of Mr. Simpson's workers, was on his feet, gesticulating for attention.

"Mr. Moderator," he shouted, "I want to make a motion. We've all heard the big talk that's been made. All right, then! I move you, sir, that Captain Cyrus Whittaker be appointed a committee of one to GO to Washin'ton, if he wants to, or anywheres else, and see that we get the appropriation. And if we don't get it the blame's his! There, now!"

There was a roar of laughter. This was exactly the sort of "tit-for-tat" humor that appeals to a Yankee crowd. The motion was seconded half a dozen times. Moderator Knowles grinned and shook his head.

"A joke's a joke," he said, "and we all like a good one. However, this meetin' is supposed to be for business, not fun, so--"

"Question! Question! It's been seconded! We've got to vote on it!" shouted a chorus.

"Don't you think--seems to me that ain't in order," began the moderator, but Captain Cy rose to his feet. The grim smile had returned to his face and he looked at the joyous assemblage with almost his old expression of appreciative alertness.

"Never mind the vote," he said. "I realize that Brother Leonard has rather got one on me, so to speak. All right, I won't dodge. I'll BE a committee of one on the harbor grab, and if nothin' comes of it I'll take my share of kicks. Gentlemen, I appreciate your trustfulness in my ability."

This brief speech was a huge success. If, for a moment, the pendulum of public favor had swung toward Simpson, this trumping of the latter's leading card pushed it back again. The moderator had some difficulty in restoring order to the hilarious meeting.

Then Mr. Myrick was accorded the privilege of the floor, in spite of Tad's protests, and proceeded to nominate Cyrus Whittaker for the school committee. Lem had devoted hours of toil and wearisome mental struggle to the preparation of his address, and it was lengthy and florid. Captain Cy was described as possessing all the virtues. Bailey, listening with a hand behind his ear, was moved to applause at frequent intervals, and even Asaph forgot the dignity of his exalted position on the platform and pounded the official desk in ecstasy. The only person to appear uninterested was the nominee himself. He sat listlessly in his seat, his eyes cast down, and his thoughts apparently far away.

Josiah Dimick seconded the captain's nomination. Then Mr. Simpson stepped to the front and, after a wistful glance at the door, began to speak.

"Feller citizens," he said, "it is my privilege to put in nomination for school committee a man whose name stands for all that's good and clean and progressive in this township. But afore I do it I'm goin' to ask you to let me say a word or two concernin' somethin' that bears right on this matter, and which, I believe, everyone of you ought to know. It's somethin' that most of you don't know, and it'll be a surprise, a big surprise. I'll be as quick as I can, and I cal'late you'll thank me when I'm done."

He paused. The meeting looked at each other in astonishment. There was whispering along the settees. Moderator Knowles was plainly puzzled. He looked inquiringly at the town clerk, but Asaph was evidently quite as much in the dark as he concerning the threatened disclosure.

"Feller Bayporters," went on Tad, "there's one thing we've all agreed on, no matter who we've meant to vote for. That is, that a member of our school committee should be an upright, honest man, one fit morally to look out for our dear children. Ain't that so? Well, then, I ask you this: Would you consider a man fit for that job who deliberately came between a father and his child, who pizened the mind of that child against his own parent, and when that parent come to claim that child, first tried to buy him off and then turned him out of the house? Yes, and offered violence to him. And done it--mark what I say--for reasons which--which--well, we can only guess 'em, but the guess may not be so awful bad. Is THAT the kind of man we want to honor or to look out for our own children's schoolin'?"

Mr. Simpson undoubtedly meant to cause a sensation by his opening remarks. He certainly did so. The stir and whispering redoubled. Asaph, his mouth open, stared wildly down at Captain Cy. The captain rose to his feet, then sank back again. His listlessness was gone and, paying no attention to those about him, he gazed fixedly at Tad.

"Gentlemen," continued the speaker, "last night I had an experience that I shan't forget as long as I live. I met a poor man, a poor, lame man who'd been away out West and got hurt bad. Folks thought he was dead. His wife thought so and died grievin' for him. She left a little baby girl, only seven or eight year old. When this man come back, well again but poor, to look up his family, he found his wife had passed away and the child had been sent off, just to get rid of her, to a stranger in another town. That stranger fully meant to send her off, too; he said so dozens of times. A good many of you folks right here heard him say it. But he never sent her--he kept her. Why? Well, that's the question. _I shan't answer it. _I ain't accusin' nobody. All I say is, what's easy enough for any of you to prove, and that is that it come to light the child had property belongin' to her. Property! land, wuth money!"

He paused once more and drew his sleeve across his forehead. Most of his hearers were silent now, on tiptoe of expectation. Dimick looked searchingly at Captain Cy. Then he sprang to his feet.

"Order!" he shouted. "What's all this got to do with nominatin' for school committee? Ain't he out of order, Alvin?"

The moderator hesitated. His habitual indecision was now complicated by the fact that he was as curious as the majority of those before him. There were shouts of, "Go ahead, Tad!" "Tell us the rest!" "Let him go on, Mr. Moderator!"

Cy Whittaker slowly rose.

"Alvin," he said earnestly, "don't stop him yet. As a favor to me, let him spin his yarn."

Simpson was ready and evidently eager to spin it.

"This man," he proclaimed, "this father, mournin' for his dead wife and longin' for his child, comes to the town where he was to find and take her. And when he meets the man that's got her, when he comes, poor and down on his luck, what does this man--this rich man--do? Why; fust of all, he's sweeter'n sirup to him, takes him in, keeps him overnight, and the next day he says to him: 'You just be quiet and say nothin' to nobody that she's your little girl. I'll make it wuth your while. Keep quiet till I'm ready for you to say it.' And he gives the father money--not much, but some. All right so fur, maybe; but wait! Then it turns out that the father knows about this land--this property. And THEN the kind, charitable man--this rich man with lots of money of his own--turns the poor father out, tellin' him to get the girl and the land if he can, knowin'--KNOWIN', mind you--that the father ain't got a cent to hire lawyers nor even to pay for his next meal. And when the father says he won't go, but wants his dear one that belongs to him, the rich feller abuses him, knocks him down with his fist! Knocks down a poor, weak, lame invalid, just off a sick bed! Is THAT the kind of a man we want on our school committee?"

He asked the question with both hands outspread and the perspiration running down his cheeks. The meeting was in an uproar.

"No need for me to tell you who I mean," shouted Tad, waving his arms. "You know who, as well as I do. You've just heard him praised as bein' all that's good and great. But _I say--"

"You've said enough! Now let me say a word!"

It was Captain Cy who interrupted. He had pushed his way through the crowd, down the aisle, and now stood before the gesticulating Mr. Simpson, who shrank back as if he feared that the treatment accorded the "poor weak invalid" might be continued with him.

"Knowles," said Captain Cy, turning to the moderator, "let me speak, will you? I won't be but a minute. Friends," he continued, facing the excited gathering--"for some of you are my friends, or I've come to think you are--a part of what this man says is so. The girl at my house is Emily Thomas; her mother was Mary Thomas, who some of you know, and her father's name is Henry Thomas. She came to me unexpected, bein' sent by a Mrs. Oliver up to Concord, because 'twas either me or an orphan asylum. I took her in meanin' to keep her a little while, and then send her away. But as time went on I kept puttin' off and puttin' off, and at last I realized I couldn't do it; I'd come to think too much of her.

"Fellers," he went on, slowly, "I--I hardly know how to tell you what that little girl's come to be to me. When I first struck Bayport, after forty years away from it, all I thought of was makin' over the old place and livin' in it. I cal'lated it would be a sort of Paradise, and HOW I was goin' to live or whether or not I'd be lonesome with everyone of my folks dead and gone, never crossed my mind. But the longer I lived there alone the less like Paradise it got to be; I realized more and more that it ain't furniture and fixin's that make a home; it's them you love that's in it. And just as I'd about reached the conclusion that 'twas a failure, the whole business, why, then, Bos'n--Emily, that is--dropped in, and inside of a week I knew I'd got what was missin' in my life.

"I never married and children never meant much to me till I got her. She's the best little--little . . . There! I mustn't talk this way. I bluffed a lot about not keepin' her permanent, bein' kind of ashamed, I guess, but down inside me I'd made up my mind to bring her up like a daughter. She and me was to live together till she grew up and got married and I . . . Well, what's the use? A few days ago come a letter from the Oliver woman in Concord sayin' that this Henry Thomas, Bos'n's father, wan't dead at all, but had turned up there, havin' learned somehow or 'nother that his wife was gone and that his child had been willed a little bit of land which belonged to her mother. He had found out that Emmie was with me, and the letter said he would likely come after her--and the land.

"That letter was like a flash of lightnin' to me. I was dismasted and on my beam ends. I didn't know what to do. I'd learned enough about this Henry Thomas to know that he was no use, a drunken, good-for-nothin' scamp who had cruelized his wife and then run off and left her and the baby. But when he come, the very night I got the letter, I gave him a chance. I took him in; I was willin' to give him a job on the place; I was willin' to pay for his keep, and more. I DID ask him to keep his mouth shut and even to use another name. 'Twas weak of me, maybe, but you want to remember this had come on me sudden. And last night--the very second night, mind you--he went out somewhere, perhaps we can guess where, bought liquor with the money I gave him, got drunk, and then insulted one of the best women in this town. Yes, sir! I say it right here, one of the best, pluckiest little women anywhere, although she and I ain't always agreed on certain matters. I DID tell him to clear out, and I DID knock him down. Yes, and by the big dipper, I'd do it again under the same circumstances!

"As for the property," he added fiercely, "why, darn the property, I say! It ain't wuth much, anyhow, and, if 'twas anybody's else, he should have it and welcome. But it's Bos'n's, and, bein' what he is, he SHAN'T have it. And he shan't have HER to cruelize, neither! By the Almighty! he shan't, so long as I've got a dollar to fight him with. I say that to you, Tad Simpson, and to the man--to whoever put you up to this. There! I've said my say. Now, gentlemen, you can choose your side."

He strode back to his seat. There was silence for a moment. Then Josiah Dimick sprang up and waved his hat.

"That's the way to talk!" he shouted. "That's a MAN! Three cheers for Cap'n Whittaker! Come on, everybody!"

But everybody did not "come on." The cheers were feeble. It was evident that the majority of those present did not know how to meet this unexpected contingency. It had taken them by surprise and they were undecided. The uproar of argument and question began again, louder than ever. The bewildered moderator thumped his desk and shouted feebly for order. Tad Simpson took the floor and, in a few words and at the top of his lungs, nominated Alonzo Snow. Abel Leonard seconded the nomination. There were yells of "Question! Question!" and "Vote! Vote!"

Eben Salters was recognized by the chair. Captain Salters made few speeches, and when he did make one it was because he had something to say.

"Mr. Moderator," he said, "I, for one, hate to vote just now. It isn't that the school committee is so important of itself. But I do think that the rights of a father with his child IS pretty important, and our vote for Cap'n Whittaker--and most of you know I intended votin' for him and have been workin' for him--might seem like an indorsement of his position. This whole thing is a big surprise to me. I don't feel yet that we know enough of the inside facts to give such an indorsement. I'd like to see this Thomas man before I decide to give it--or not to give it, either. It's a queer thing to come up at town meetin', but it's up. Hadn't we better adjourn until next week?"

He sat down. The meeting was demoralized. Some were shouting for adjournment, others to "Vote it out." A straw would turn the scale and the straw was forthcoming. While Captain Cy was speaking the door had silently opened and two men entered the hall and sought seclusion in a corner. Now one of these men came forward--the Honorable Heman Atkins.

Mr. Atkins walked solemnly to the front, amidst a burst of recognition. Many of the voters rose to receive him. It was customary, when the great man condescended to attend such gatherings, to offer him a seat on the platform. This the obsequious Knowles proceeded to do. Asaph was too overcome by the disclosure of "John Smith's" identity and by Mr. Simpson's attack on his friend to remember even his manners. He did not rise, but sat stonily staring.

The moderator's gavel descended "Order!" he roared. "Order, I say! Congressman Atkins is goin' to talk to us."

The Honorable Heman faced the excited crowd. One hand was in the breast of his frock coat; the other was clenched upon his hip. He stood calm, benignant, dignified--the incarnation of wisdom and righteous worth. The attitude had its effect; the applause began and grew to an ovation. Men who had intended voting against his favored candidate forgot their intention, in the magnetism of his presence, and cheered. He bowed and bowed again.

"Fellow townsmen," he began, "far be it from me to influence your choice in the matter of the school committee. Still further be it from me to influence you against an old boyhood friend, a neighbor, one whom I believe--er--had believed to be all that was sincere and true. But, fellow townsmen, my esteemed friend, Captain Salters, has expressed a wish to see Mr. Thomas, the father whose story you have heard to-day. I happen to be in a position to gratify that wish. Mr. Thomas, will you kindly come forward?"

Then from the rear of the hall Mr. Thomas came. But the drunken rowdy of the night before had been transformed. Gone was the scrubby beard and the shabby suit. Shorn was the unkempt mop of hair and vanished the impudent swagger. He was dressed in clean linen and respectable black, and his manner was modest and subdued. Only a discoloration of one eye showed where Captain Cy's blow had left its mark.

He stepped upon the platform beside the congressman. The latter laid a hand upon his shoulder.

"Gentlemen and friends," said Heman, "my name has been brought into this controversy, by Mr. Simpson directly, and in insinuation by--er--another. Therefore it is my right to make my position clear. Mr. Thomas came to me last evening in distress, both of mind and body. He told me his story--substantially the story which has just been told to you by Mr. Simpson--and, gentlemen, I believe it. But if I did not believe it, if I believed him to have been in the past all that his opponent has said; even if I believed that, only last evening, spurned, driven from his child, penniless and hopeless, he had yielded to the weakness which has been his curse all his life--even if I believed that, still I should demand that Henry Thomas, repentant and earnest as you see him now, should be given his rightful opportunity to become a man again. He is poor, but he is not--shall not be--friendless. No! a thousand times, no! You may say, some of you, that the affair is not my business. I affirm that it IS my business. It is my business as a Christian, and that business should come before all others. I have not allowed sympathy to influence me. If that were the case, my regard for my neighbor and friend of former days would have held me firm. But, gentlemen, I have a child of my own. I know what a father's love is, as only a father can know it. And, after a sleepless night, I stand here before you to-day determined that this man shall have his own, if my money--which you will, I'm sure, forgive my mentioning--and my unflinching support can give it to him. That is my position, and I state it regardless of consequences." He paused, and with raised right hand, like the picture of Jove in the old academy mythology, launched his final thunderbolt. "Whom God hath joined," he proclaimed, "let no one put asunder!"

That settled it. The cheers shook the walls. Amidst the tumult Dimick and Bailey Bangs seized Captain Cy by the shoulders and endeavored to lift him from his seat.

"For the love of goodness, Whit!" groaned Josiah, desperately, "stand up and answer him. If you don't, we'll founder sure."

The captain smiled grimly and shook his head. He had not taken his eyes from the face of the great Atkins since the latter began speaking.

"What?" he replied. "After that 'put asunder' sockdolager? Man alive! do you want me to add Sabbath breakin' to my other crimes?"

The vote, by ballot, followed almost immediately. It was pitiful to see the erstwhile Whittaker majority melt away. Alonzo Snow was triumphantly elected. But a handful voted against him.

Captain Cy, still grimly smiling, rose and left the hall. As he closed the door, he heard the shrill voice of Uncle Bedny demanding justice for the Bassett's Hollow road.

It had, indeed, been a "memoriable" town meeting.

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