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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 13. The Repulse
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Cy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 13. The Repulse Post by :33851 Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :2958

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Cy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 13. The Repulse

CHAPTER XIII. THE REPULSE

When Deacon Zeb Clark--the same Deacon Zeb who fell into the cistern, as narrated by Captain Cy--made his first visit to the city, years and years ago, he stayed but two days. As he had proudly boasted that he should remain in the metropolis at least a week, our people were much surprised at his premature return. To the driver of the butcher cart who found him sitting contentedly before his dwelling, amidst his desolate acres, the nearest neighbor a half mile away, did Deacon Zeb disclose his reason for leaving the crowded thoroughfares. "There was so many folks there," he said, "that I felt lonesome."

And Captain Cy, returning from the town meeting to the Whittaker place, felt lonesome likewise. Not for the Deacon's reason--he met no one on the main road, save a group of school children and Miss Phinney, and, sighting the latter in the offing, he dodged behind the trees by the schoolhouse pond and waited until she passed. But the captain, his trouble now heavy upon him, did feel the need of sympathy and congenial companionship. He knew he might count upon Dimick and Asaph, and, whenever Keturah's supervision could be evaded, upon Mr. Bangs. But they were not the advisers and comforters for this hour of need. All the rest of Bayport, he felt sure, would be against him. Had not King Heman the Great from the steps of the throne, banned him with the royal displeasure! "If Heman ever SHOULD come right out and say--" began Asaph's warning. Well, strange as it might seem, Heman had "come right out."

As to why he had come out there was no question in the mind of the captain. The latter had left Mr. Thomas, the prodigal father, prostrate and blasphemous in the road the previous evening. His next view of him was when, transformed and sanctified, he had been summoned to the platform by Mr. Atkins. No doubt he had returned to the barber shop and, in his rage and under Mr. Simpson's cross examination, had revealed something of the truth. Tad, the politician, recognizing opportunity when it knocked at his door, had hurried him to the congressman's residence. The rest was plain enough, so Captain Cy thought.

However, war was already declared, and the reasons for it mattered little. The first skirmish might occur at any moment. The situation was desperate. The captain squared his shoulders, thrust forward his chin, and walked briskly up the path to the door of the dining room. It was nearly one o'clock, but Bos'n had not yet gone. She was waiting, to the very last minute, for her "Uncle Cyrus."

"Hello, shipmate," he hailed. "Not headed for school yet? Good! I cal'late you needn't go this afternoon. I'm thinkin' of hirin' a team and drivin' to Ostable, and I didn't know but you'd like to go with me. Think you could, without that teacher woman havin' you brought up aft for mutiny?"

Bos'n thought it over.

"Yes, sir," she said; "I guess so, if you wrote me an excuse. I don't like to be absent, 'cause I haven't been before, but there's only my reading lesson this afternoon and I know that ever so well. I'd love to go, Uncle Cy."

The captain removed his coat and hat and pulled a chair forward to the table.

"Hello!" he exclaimed. "What's this--the mail?"

Bos'n smiled delightedly.

"Yes, sir," she replied. "I knew you was at the meeting and so I brought it from the office. Ain't you glad?"

"Sure! Yes, indeed! Much obliged. Tryin' to keep house without you would be like steerin' without a rudder."

Even as he said it there came to him the realization that he might have to steer without that rudder in the near future. His smile vanished. He smothered a groan and picked up the mail.

"Hum!" he mused, "the Breeze, a circular, and one letter. Hello! it isn't possible that--Well! well!"

The letter was in a long envelope. He hastily tore it open. At the inclosure he glanced in evident excitement. Then his smile returned.

"Bos'n," he said, after a moment's reflection, "I guess you and me won't have to go to Ostable after all." Noticing the child's look of disappointment, he added: "But you needn't go to school. Maybe you'd better not. You and me'll take a tramp alongshore. What do you say?"

"Oh, yes, Uncle Cy! Let's--shall we?"

"Why, I don't see why not. We'll cruise in company as long as we can, hey, little girl? The squall's likely to strike afore night," he muttered half aloud. "We'll enjoy the fine weather till it's time to shorten sail."

They walked all that afternoon. Captain Cy was even more kind and gentle with his small companion than usual. He told her stories which made her laugh, pointed out spots in the pines where he had played Indian when a boy, carried her "pig back" when she grew tired, and kissed her tenderly when, at the back door of the Whittaker place, he set her on her feet again.

"Had a good time, dearie?" he asked.

"Oh, splendid! I think it's the best walk we ever had, don't you, Uncle Cy?"

"I shouldn't wonder. You won't forget our cruises together when you are a big girl and off somewheres else, will you?"

"I'll NEVER forget 'em. And I'm never going anywhere without you."

It was after five as they entered the kitchen.

"Anybody been here while I was out?" asked the captain of Georgianna. The housekeeper's eyes were red and swollen, and she hugged Bos'n as she helped her off with her jacket and hood.

"Yes, there has," was the decided answer. "First Ase Tidditt, and then Bailey Bangs, and then that--that Angie Phinney."

"Humph!" mused Captain Cy slowly. "So Angie was here, was she? Where the carcass is the vultures are on deck, or words similar. Humph! Did our Angelic friend have much to say?"

"DID she? And _I had somethin' to say, too! I never in my life!"

"Humph!" Her employer eyed her sharply. "So? And so soon? Talk about the telegraph spreadin' news! I'd back most any half dozen tongues in Bayport to spread more news, and add more trimmin' to it, in a day than the telegraph could do in a week. Especially if all the telegraph operators was like the one up at the depot. Well, Georgianna, when you goin' to leave?"

"Leave? Leave where? What are you talkin' about?"

"Leave here. Of course you realize that this ship of ours," indicating the house by a comprehensive wave of his hand around the room, "is goin' to be a mighty unpopular craft from now on. We may be on a lee shore any minute. You've got your own well-bein' to think of."

"My own well-bein'! What do you s'pose I care for my well-bein' when there's--Cap'n Whittaker, you tell me now! Is it so?"

"Some of it is--yes. He's come back and he's who he says he is. You've seen him. He was here all day yesterday."

"So Angie said, but I couldn't scarcely believe it. That toughy! Cap'n Whittaker, do you intend to hand over that poor little innocent thing to--to such a man as THAT?"

"No. There'll be no handin' over about it. But the odds are against us, and there's no reason why you should be in the rumpus, Georgianna. You may not understand what we're facin'."

The housekeeper drew herself up. Her face was very red and her small eyes snapped.

"Cy Whittaker," she began, manners and deference to employer alike forgotten, "don't you say no more of that wicked foolishness to me. I'll leave the minute you're mean-spirited enough to let that child go and not afore. And when THAT happens I'll be GLAD to leave. Land sakes! there's somebody at the door; and I expect I'm a perfect sight."

She rubbed her face with her apron, thereby making it redder than ever, and hurried into the dining room.

"Bos'n," said Captain Cy quickly, "you stay here in the kitchen."

Emmie looked at him in surprised bewilderment, but she suppressed her curiosity concerning the identity of the person who had knocked, and obeyed. The captain pulled the kitchen door almost shut and listened at the crack.

The first spoken words by the visitor appeared to relieve Captain Cy's anxiety; but they seemed to astonish him greatly.

"Why!" he exclaimed in a whisper. "Ain't that--It sounds like--"

"It's teacher," whispered Bos'n, who also had been listening. "She's come to find out why I wasn't at school. You tell her, Uncle Cy."

Georgianna returned to announce:

"It's Miss Dawes. She says she wants to see you, Cap'n. She's in the settin' room."

The captain drew a long breath. Then, repeating his command to Emmie to stay where she was, he left the room, closing the door behind him. The latter procedure roused Bos'n's indignation.

"What made him do that?" she demanded. "I haven't been bad. He NEVER shut me up before!"

The schoolmistress was standing by the center table in the sitting room when Captain Cy entered.

"Good evenin'," he said politely. "Won't you sit down?"

But Miss Dawes paid no attention to trivialities. She seemed much agitated.

"Cap'n Whittaker," she began, "I just heard something that--"

The captain interrupted her.

"Excuse me," he said, "but I think we'll pull down the curtains and have a little light on the subject. It gets dark early now, especially of a gray day like this one."

He drew the shades at the windows and lit the lamp on the table. The red glow behind the panes of the stove door faded into insignificance as the yellow radiance brightened. The ugly portraits and the stiff old engravings on the wall retired into a becoming dusk. The old-fashioned room became more homelike.

"Now won't you sit down?" repeated Captain Cy. "Take that rocker; it's the most comf'table one aboard--so Bos'n says, anyhow."

Miss Phoebe took the rocker, under protest. Her host remained standing.

"It's been a nice afternoon," he said. "Bos'n--Emmie, of course--and I have been for a walk. 'Twan't her fault, 'twas mine. I kept her out of school. I was--well, kind of lonesome."

The teacher's gray eyes flashed in the lamplight.

"Cap'n Whittaker," she cried, "please don't waste time. I didn't come here to talk about the weather nor Emily's reason for not attending school. I don't care why she was absent. But I have just heard of what happened at that meeting. Is it true that--" She hesitated.

"That Emmie's dad is alive and here? Yes, it's true."

"But--but that man last night? Was he THAT man?"

The captain nodded.

"That's the man," he said briefly.

Miss Dawes shuddered.

"Cap'n Whittaker," she asked earnestly, "are you sure he is really her father? Absolutely sure?"

"Sure and sartin."

"Then she belongs to him, doesn't she? Legally, I mean?"

"Maybe so."

"Are--are you going to give her up to him?"

"No."

"Then what I heard was true. You did say at the meeting that you were going to do your best to keep him from getting her."

"Um--hum! What I said amounts to just about that."

"Why?"

Captain Cy was surprised and a little disappointed apparently.

"Why?" he repeated.

"Yes. Why?"

"Well, for reasons I've got."

"Do you mind telling me the reasons?"

"I cal'late you don't want to hear 'em. If you don't understand now, then I can't make it much plainer, I'm afraid."

The little lady sprang to her feet.

"Oh, you are provoking!" she cried indignantly. "Can't you see that I want to hear the reasons from you yourself? Cap'n Whittaker, I shook hands with you last night."

"You remember I told you you'd better wait."

"I didn't want to wait. I believed I knew something of human nature, and I believed I had learned to understand you. I made up my mind to pay no more attention to what people said against you. I thought they were envious and disliked you because you did things in your own way. I wouldn't believe the stories I heard this afternoon. I wanted to hear you speak in your own defense and you refuse to do it. Don't you know what people are saying? They say you are trying to keep Emily because--Oh, I'm ashamed to ask it, but you make me: HAS the child got valuable property of her own?"

Captain Cy had been, throughout this scene, standing quietly by the table. Now he took a step forward.

"Miss Dawes," he said sharply, "sit down."

"But I--"

"Sit down, please."

The schoolmistress didn't mean to obey the order, but for some reason she did. The captain went on speaking.

"It's pretty plain," he said, "that what you heard at the boardin' house--for I suppose that's where you did hear it--was what you might call a Phinneyized story of the doin's at the meetin'. Well, there's another yarn, and it's mine; I'm goin' to spin it and I want you to listen."

He went on to spin his yarn. It was practically a repetition of his reply to Tad Simpson that morning. Its conclusion was also much the same.

"The land ain't worth fifty dollars," he declared, "but if it was fifty million he shouldn't have it. Why? Because it belongs to that little girl. And he shan't have her until he and those back of him have hammered me through the courts till I'm down forty fathom under water. And when they do get her--and, to be honest, I cal'late they will in the end--I hope to God I won't be alive to see it! There! I've answered you."

He was walking up and down the room, with the old quarter-deck stride, his hands jammed deep in his pockets and his face working with emotion.

"It's pretty nigh a single-handed fight for me," he continued, "but I've fought single-handed before. The other side's got almost all the powder and the men. Heman and Tad and that Thomas have got seven eighths of Bayport behind 'em, not to mention the 'Providence' they're so sure of. My crowd is a mighty forlorn hope: Dimick and Ase Tidditt, and Bailey, as much as his wife 'll let him. Oh, yes!" and he smiled whimsically, "there's another one. A new recruit's just joined; Georgianna's enlisted. That's my army. Sort of rag-jacketed cadets, we are, small potatoes, and few in a hill."

The teacher rose and laid a hand on his arm. He turned toward her. The lamplight shone upon her face, and he saw, to his astonishment, that there were tears in her eyes.

"Cap'n Whittaker," she said, "will you take an other recruit? I should like to enlist, please."

"You? Oh, pshaw! I'm thick-headed to-night. I didn't see the joke of it at first."

"There isn't any joke. I want you to know that I admire you for the fight you're making. Law or no law, to let that dear little girl go away with that dreadful father of hers is a sin and a crime. I came here to tell you so. I did want to hear your story, and you made me ask that question; but I was certain of your answer before you made it. I don't suppose I can do anything to help, but I'm going to try. So, you see, your army is bigger than you thought it was--though the new soldier isn't good for much, I'm afraid," she added, with a little smile.

Captain Cy was greatly disturbed.

"Miss Phoebe," he said, "I--I won't say that it don't please me to have you talk so, for it does, more'n you can imagine. Sympathy means somethin' to the under dog, and it gives him spunk to keep on kickin'. But you mustn't take any part in the row; you simply mustn't. It won't do."

"Why not? Won't I be ANY help?"

"Help? You'd be more help than all the rest of us put together. You and me haven't seen a great deal of each other, and my part in the few talks we have had has been a mean one, but I knew the first time I met you that you had more brains and common sense than any woman in this county--though I was too pig-headed to own it. But that ain't it. I got you the job of teacher. It's no credit to me; 'twas just bull luck and for the fun of jarrin' Heman. But I did it. And, because I did it, the Atkins crowd--and that means most everybody now--haven't any love for you. My tryin' for school committee was really just to give you a fair chance in your position. I was licked, so the committee's two to one against you. Don't you see that you mustn't have anything to do with me? Don't you SEE it?"

She shook her head.

"I see that common gratitude alone should be reason enough for my trying to help you," she said. "But, beside that, I know you are right, and I SHALL help, no matter what you say. As for the teacher's position, let them discharge me. I--"

"Don't talk that way. The youngsters need you, and know it, no matter what their fool fathers and mothers say. And you mustn't wreck your chances. You're young--"

She laughed.

"Oh, no! I'm not," she said. "Young! Cap'n Whittaker, you shouldn't joke about a woman's age."

"I ain't jokin'. You ARE young." As she stood there before him he was realizing, with a curiously uncomfortable feeling, how much younger she was than he. He glanced up at the mirror, where his own gray hairs were reflected, and repeated his assertion. "You're young yet," he said, "and bein' discharged from a place might mean a whole lot to you. I'm glad you take such an interest in Bos'n, and your comin' here on her account--"

He paused. Miss Dawes colored slightly and said:

"Yes."

"Your comin' here on her account was mighty good of you. But you've got to keep out of this trouble. And you mustn't come here again. That's owner's orders. Why, I'm expectin' a boardin' party any minute," he added. "I thought when you knocked it was 'papa' comin' for his child. You'd better go."

But she stood still.

"I shan't go," she declared. "Or, at least, not until you promise to let me try to help you. If they come, so much the better. They'll learn where my sympathies are."

Captain Cy scratched his head.

"See here, Miss Phoebe," he said. "I ain't sure that you fully understand that Scripture and everything else is against us. Did Angie turn loose on you the 'Whom the Lord has joined' avalanche?"

The schoolmistress burst into a laugh. The captain laughed, too, but his gravity quickly returned. For steps sounded on the walk, there was a whispering outside, and some one knocked on the dining-room door.

The situation was similar to that of the evening when the Board of Strategy called and "John Smith" made his first appearance. But now, oddly enough, Captain Cy seemed much less troubled. He looked at Miss Dawes and there was a dancing twinkle in his eye.

"Is it--" began the lady, in an agitated whisper.

"The boardin' party? I presume likely."

"But what can you do?"

"Stand by the repel, I guess," was the calm reply. "I told you that they had most of the ammunition, but ours ain't all blank cartridges. You stay below and listen to the broadsides."

They heard Georgianna cross the dining room. There was a murmur of voices at the door. The captain nodded.

"It's them," he said. "Well, here goes. Now don't you show yourself."

"Do you think I am afraid? Indeed, I shan't stay 'below' as you call it! I shall let them see--"

Captain Cy held up his hand.

"I'm commodore of this fleet," he said; "and that bein' the case, I expect my crew to obey orders. There's nothin' you can do, and--Why, yes! there is, too. You can take care of Bos'n. Georgianna," to the housekeeper who, looking frightened and nervous, had appeared at the door, "send Bos'n in here quick."

"They're there," whispered Georgianna. "Mr. Atkins and Tad and that Thomas critter, and lots more. And they've come after her. What shall we do?"

"Jump when I speak to you, that's the first thing. Send Bos'n in here and you stay in your galley."

Emily came running. Miss Dawes put an arm about her. Captain Cy, the battle lanterns still twinkling under his brows, stepped forth to meet the "boarding party."

They were there, as Georgianna had said. Mr. Thomas on the top step, Heman and Simpson on the next lower, and behind them Abel Leonard and a group of interested volunteers, principally recruited from the back room of the barber shop.

"Evenin', gentlemen," said the captain, opening the door so briskly that Mr. Thomas started backward and came down heavily upon the toes of the devoted Tad. Mr. Simpson swore, Mr. Thomas clawed about him to gain equilibrium, and the dignity of the group was seriously impaired.

"Evenin'," repeated Captain Cy. "Quite a surprise party you're givin' me. Come in."

"Cyrus," began the Honorable Atkins, "we are here to claim--"

"Give me my daughter, you robber!" demanded Thomas, from his new position in the rear of the other two.

"Mr. Thomas," said Heman, "please remember that I am conducting this affair. I respect the natural indignation of an outraged father, but--ahem! Cyrus, we are here to claim--"

"Then do your claimin' inside. It's kind of chilly to-night, there's plenty of empty chairs, and we don't need to hold an overflow meetin'. Come ahead in."

The trio looked at each other in hesitation. Then Mr. Atkins majestically entered the dining room. Thomas and Simpson followed him.

"Abe," observed Captain Cy to Leonard, who was advancing toward the steps, "I'm sorry not to be hospitable, but there's too many of you to invite at once, and 'tain't polite to show partiality. You and the rest are welcome to sit on the terrace or stroll 'round the deer park. Good night."

He closed the door in the face of the disappointed Abel and turned to the three in the room.

"Well," he said, "out with it. You've come to claim somethin', I understand."

"I come for my rights," shouted Mr. Thomas.

"Yes? Well, this ain't State's prison or I'd give 'em to you with pleasure. Heman, you'd better do the talkin'. We'll probably get ahead faster."

The Honorable cleared his throat and waved his hand.

"Cyrus," he began, "you are my boyhood friend and my fellow townsman and neighbor. Under such circumstances it gives me pain--"

"Then don't let us discuss painful subjects. Let's get down to business. You've come to rescue Bos'n--Emily, that is,--from the 'robber'--I'm quotin' Deacon Thomas here--that's got her, so's to turn her over to her sorrowin' father. Is that it? Yes. Well, you can't have her--not yet."

"Cyrus," said Mr. Atkins, "I'm sorry to see that you take it this way. You haven't the shadow of a right. We have the law with us, and your conduct will lead us to invoke it. The constable is outside. Shall I call him in?"

"Uncle Bedny" was the town constable and had been since before the war. The purely honorary office was given him each year as a joke. Captain Cy grinned broadly, and even Tad was obliged to smile.

"Don't be inhuman, Heman," urged the captain. "You wouldn't turn me over to be man-handled by Uncle Bedny, would you?"

"This is not a humorous affair--" began the congressman, with dignity. But the "bereaved father" had been prospecting on his own hook, and now he peeped into the sitting room.

"Here she is!" he shouted. "I see her. Come on, Emmie! Your dad's come for you. Let go of her, you woman! What do you mean by holdin' on to her?"

The situation which was "not humorous" immediately became much less so. The next minute was a lively one. It ended as Mr. Thomas was picked up by Tad from the floor, where he had fallen, having been pushed violently over a chair by Captain Cy. Bos'n, frightened and sobbing, was clinging wildly to Miss Dawes, who had clung just as firmly to her. The captain's voice rang through the room.

"That's enough," he said. "That's enough and some over. Atkins, take that feller out of this house and off my premises. As for the girl, that's for us to fight out in the courts. I'm her guardian, lawfully appointed, and you nor nobody else can touch her while that appointment's good. Here it is--right here. Now look at it and clear out."

He held, for the congressman's inspection, the document which, inclosed in the long envelope, had been received that morning. His visit to Ostable, made some weeks before, had been for the purpose of applying to the probate court for the appointment as Emily's guardian. He had applied before the news of her father's coming to life reached him. The appointment itself had arrived just in time.

Mr. Atkins studied the document with care. When he spoke it was with considerable agitation and without his usual diplomacy.

"Humph!" he grunted. "Humph! I see. Well, sir, I have some influence in this section and I shall see how long your--your TRICK will prevent the child's going where she belongs. I wish you to understand that I shall continue this fight to the very last. I--I am not one to be easily beaten. Simpson, you and Thomas come with me. This night's despicable chicanery is only the beginning. This is bad business for you, Cy Whittaker," he snarled, his self-control vanishing, "and"--with a vindictive glance at the schoolmistress--"for those who are with you in it. That appointment was obtained under false pretenses and I can prove it. Your tricks don't scare me. I've had experience with TRICKS before."

"Yup. So I've heard. Well, Heman, I ain't as well up in tricks as you claim to be, nor my stockin' isn't as well padded as yours, maybe. But while there's a ten-cent piece left in the toe of it I'll fight you and the skunk whose 'rights' you seem to have taken such a shine to. And, after that, while there's a lawyer that 'll trust me. And, meantime, that little girl stays right here, and you touch her if you dare, any of you! Anything more to say?"

But the Honorable's dignity had returned. Possibly he thought he had said too much already. A moment later the door banged behind the discomforted boarding party.

Captain Cy pulled his beard and laughed.

"Well, we repelled 'em, didn't we?" he observed. "But, as friend Heman says, the beginnin's only begun. I wish he hadn't seen you here, teacher."

Miss Dawes looked up from the task of stroking poor Bos'n's hair.

"I don't," she said, "I'm glad of it." Then she added, laughing nervously: "Cap'n Whittaker, how could you be so cool? It was like a play. I declare, you were just splendid!"

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