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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 14. A Clew
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Cy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 14. A Clew Post by :David_C_H Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :1893

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Cy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 14. A Clew


Josiah Dimick has a unique faculty of grasping a situation and summing it up in an out-of-the-ordinary way.

"I think," observed Josiah to the excited group at Simmons's, "that this town owes Cy Whittaker a vote of thanks."

"Thanks!" gasped Alpheus Smalley, so shocked and horrified that he put the one-pound weight on the scales instead of the half pound. "THANKS! After what we've found out? Well, I must say!"

"Ya-as," drawled Captain Josiah, "thanks was what I said. If it wan't for him this gang and the sewin' circle wouldn't have nothin' to talk about but their neighbors. Our reputations would be as full of holes as a skimmer by this time. Now all hands are so busy jumpin' on Whit, that the rest of us can feel fairly safe. Ain't that so, Gabe?"

Mr. Lumley, who had stopped in for a half pound of tea, grinned feebly, but said nothing. If he noticed the clerk's mistake in weights he didn't mention it, but took his package and hurried out. After his departure Mr. Smalley himself discovered the error and charged the Lumley account with "1 1/4 lbs. Mixed Green and Black." Meanwhile the assemblage about the stove had put Captain Cy on the anvil and was hammering him vigorously.

Bayport was boiling over with rumor and surmise. Heman had appealed to the courts asking that Captain Cy's appointment as Bos'n's guardian be rescinded. Cy had hired Lawyer Peabody, of Ostable, to look out for his interests. Mr. Atkins and the captain had all but come to blows over the child. Thomas, the poor father, had broken down and wept, and had threatened to commit suicide. Mrs. Salters had refused to speak to Captain Cy when she met the latter after meeting on Sunday. The land in Orham had been sold and the captain was using the money. Phoebe Dawes had threatened to resign if Bos'n came to school any longer. No, she had threatened to resign if she didn't come to school. She hadn't threatened to resign at all, but wanted higher wages because of the effect the scandal might have on her reputation as a teacher. These were a few of the reports, contradicted and added to from day to day.

To quote Josiah Dimick again: "Sortin' out the truth from the lies is like tryin' to find a quart of sardines in a schooner load of herrin'. And they dump in more herrin' every half hour."

Angeline Phinney was having the time of her life. The perfect boarding house hummed like a fly trap. Keturah and Mrs. Tripp had deserted to the enemy, and the minority, meaning Asaph and Bailey, had little opportunity to defend their friend's cause, even if they had dared. Heman Atkins, his Christian charity and high-mindedness, his devotion to duty, regardless of political consequences, and the magnificent speech at town meeting were lauded and exalted. The Bayport Breeze contained a full account of the meeting, and it was read aloud by Keturah, amidst hymns of praise from the elect.

"'Whom the Lord hath joined,'" read Mrs. Bangs, "'let no man put asunder.' Ain't that splendid? Ain't that FINE? The paper says: 'When Congressman Atkins delivered this noble sentiment a hush fell upon the excited throng.' I should think 'twould. I remember when I was married the minister said pretty nigh the same thing, and I COULDN'T speak. I couldn't have opened my mouth to save me. Don't you remember I couldn't, Bailey?"

Mr. Bangs nodded gloomily. It is possible that he wished the effect of the minister's declaration might have been more lasting. Asaph stirred in his chair.

"I don't care," he said. "This puttin' asunder business is all right, but there's always two sides to everything. I see this Thomas critter when he fust come, and he didn't look like no saint then--nor smell like one, neither, unless 'twas a specimen pickled in alcohol."

Here was irreverence almost atheistic. Keturah's face showed her shocked disapproval. Matilda Tripp voiced the general sentiment.

"Humph!" she sniffed. "Well, all I can say is that I've met Mr. Thomas two or three times, and _I didn't notice anything but politeness and good manners. Maybe my nose ain't so fine for smellin' liquor as some folks's--p'raps it ain't had the experience--but all _I saw was a poor lame man with a black eye. I pitied him, and I don't care who hears me say it."

"Yes," concurred Miss Phinney, "and if he was a drinkin' man, do you suppose Mr. Atkins would have anything to do with him? Cyrus Whittaker made a whole lot of talk about his insultin' some woman or other, but nobody knows who the woman was. 'Bout time for her to speak up, I should think. Teacher," turning to Miss Dawes, "you was at the Whittaker place when Mr. Atkins and Emily's father come for her, I understand. I wish I'd have been there. It must have been wuth seein'."

"It was," replied Miss Dawes. She had kept silent throughout the various discussions of the week following the town meeting, but now, thus appealed to, she answered promptly.

Angeline's news created a sensation. The schoolmistress immediately became the center of interest.

"Is that so? Was you there, teacher? Well, I declare!" The questions and exclamations flew round the table.

"Tell us, teacher," pleaded Keturah. "Wasn't Heman grand? I should so like to have heard him. Didn't Cap'n Whittaker look ashamed of himself?"

"No, he did not. If anyone looked ashamed it was Mr. Atkins and his friends. Perhaps I ought to tell you that my sympathies are entirely with Captain Whittaker in this affair. To give that little girl up to a drunken scoundrel like her father would, in my opinion, be a crime."

The boarders and the landlady gasped. Asaph grinned and nudged Bailey under the table. Keturah was the first to recover.

"Well!" she exclaimed. "Everybody's got a right to their opinion, of course. But I can't see the crime, myself. And as for the drunkenness, I'd like to know who's seen Mr. Thomas drunk. Cyrus Whittaker SAYS he has, but--"

She waved her hand scornfully. Phoebe rose from her chair.

"I have seen him in that condition," she said. "In fact, I am the person he insulted. I saw Captain Whittaker knock him down, and I honored the captain for it. I only wished I were a man and could have done it myself."

She left the room, and, a few moments later, the house. Mr. Tidditt chuckled aloud. Even Bailey dared to look pleased.

"There!" sneered the widow Tripp. "Ain't that--Perhaps you remember that Cap'n Whittaker got her the teacher's place?"

"Yes," put in Miss Phinney, "and nobody knows WHY he got it for her. That is, nobody has known up to now. Maybe we can begin to guess a little after this."

"She was at his house, was she?" observed Keturah. "Humph! I wonder why? Seems to me if _I was a young--that is, a single woman like her, I'd be kind of careful about callin' on bachelors. Humph! it looks funny to me."

Asaph rose and pushed back his chair.

"I cal'late she called to see Emily," he said sharply. "The child was her scholar, and I presume likely, knowin' the kind of father that has turned up for the poor young one, she felt sorry for her. Of course, nobody's hintin' anything against Phoebe Dawes's character. If you want a certificate of that, you've only got to go to Wellmouth. Folks over there are pretty keen on that subject. I guess the town would go to law about it rather'n hear a word against her. Libel suits are kind of uncomf'table things for them that ain't sure of their facts. I'D hate to get mixed up in one, myself. Bailey, I'm going up street. Come on, when you can, won't you?"

As if frightened at his own display of spirit, he hurried out. There was silence for a time; then Miss Phinney spoke concerning the weather.

Up at the Cy Whittaker place the days were full ones. There, also, legal questions were discussed, with Georgianna, the Board of Strategy, Josiah Dimick occasionally, and, more infrequently still, Miss Dawes, as participants with Captain Cy in the discussions. Rumors were true in so far as they related to Mr. Atkins's appeal to the courts, and the captain's retaining Lawyer Peabody, of Ostable. Mr. Peabody's opinion of the case was not encouraging.

"You see, captain," he said, when his client visited him at his office, "the odds are very much against us. The court appointed you as guardian with the understanding that this man Thomas was dead. Now he is alive and claims his child. More than that, he has the most influential politician in this county back of him. We wouldn't stand a fighting chance except for one thing--Thomas himself. He left his wife and the baby; deserted them, so she said; went to get work, HE says. We can prove he was a drunken blackguard BEFORE he went, and that he has been drunk since he came back. But THEY'LL say--Atkins and his lawyer--that the man was desperate and despairing because of your refusal to give him his child. They'll hold him up as a repentant sinner, anxious to reform, and needing the little girl's influence to help keep him straight. That's their game, and they'll play it, be sure of that, It sounds reasonable enough, too, for sinners have repented before now. And the long-lost father coming back to his child is the one sure thing to win applause from the gallery, you know that."

Captain Cy nodded.

"Yup," he said, "I know it. The other night, when Miss Ph-- when a friend of mine was at the house, she said this business was like a play. I didn't say so to her, but all the same I realize it ain't like a play at all. In a play dad comes home, havin' been snaked bodily out of the jaws of the tomb by his coat collar, and the young one sings out 'Papa! Papa!' and he sobs, 'Me child! Me child!' and it's all lovely, and you put on your hat feelin' that the old man is goin' to be rich and righteous for the rest of his days. But here it's different; dad's a rascal, and anybody who's seen anything of the world knows he's bound to stay so; and as for the poor little girl, why--why--"

He stopped, rose, and, striding over to the window, stood looking out. After an interval, during which the good-natured attorney read a dull business letter through for the second time, he spoke again.

"I hope you understand, Peabody," he said. "It ain't just selfishness that makes me steer the course I'm runnin'. Course, Bos'n's got to be the world and all to me, and if she's taken away I don't know's I care a tinker's darn what happens afterwards. But, all the same, if her dad was a real man, sorry for what he's done and tryin' to make up for it--why, then, I cal'late I'm decent enough to take off my hat, hand her over, and say: 'God bless you and good luck.' But to think of him carryin' her off the Lord knows where, to neglect her and cruelize her, and to let her grow up among fellers like him, I--I--by the big dipper, I can't do it! That's all; I can't!"

"How does she feel about it, herself?" asked Peabody.

"Her? Bos'n? Why, that's the hardest of all. Some of the children at school pester her about her father. I don't know's you can blame 'em; young ones are made that way, I guess--but she comes home to me cryin', and it's 'O Uncle Cy, he AIN'T my truly father, is he?' and 'You won't let him take me away from you, will you?' till it seems as if I should fly out of the window. The poor little thing! And that puffed-up humbug Atkins blowin' about his Christianity and all! D--n such Christianity as that, I say! I've seen heathen Injuns, who never heard of Christ, with more of His spirit inside 'em. There! I've shocked you, I guess. Sometimes I think this place is too narrer and cramped for me. I've been around, you know, and my New England bringin' up has wore thin in spots. Seem's if I must get somewheres and spread out, or I'll bust."

He threw himself into a chair. The lawyer clapped him on the shoulder.

"There, there, captain," he said. "Don't 'bust' yet awhile. Don't give up the ship. If we lose in one court, we can appeal to another, and so on up the line. And meantime we'll do a little investigating of friend Thomas's career since he left Concord. I've written to a legal acquaintance of mine in Butte, giving him the facts as we know them, and a description of Thomas. He will try to find out what the fellow did in his years out West. It's our best chance, as I told you. Keep your pluck up and wait and see."

The captain repeated this conversation to the Board of Strategy when he returned to Bayport. Miss Dawes had walked home from school with Bos'n, and had stopped at the house to hear the report. She listened, but it was evident that something else was on her mind.

"Captain Whittaker," she asked, "has it ever struck you as queer that Mr. Atkins should take such an interest in this matter? He is giving time and counsel and money to help this man Thomas, who is a perfect stranger to him. Why does he do it?"

Captain Cy smiled.

"Why?" he repeated. "Why, to down me, of course. I was gettin' too everlastin' prominent in politics to suit him. I'd got you in as teacher, and I had 'Lonzo Snow as good as licked for school committee. Goodness knows what I might have run for next, 'cordin' to Heman's reasonin', and I simply had to be smashed. It worked all right. I'm so unhealthy now in the sight of most folks in this town, that I cal'late they go home and sulphur-smoke their clothes after they meet me, so's not to catch my wickedness."

But the teacher shook her head.

"That doesn't seem reason enough to me," she declared. "Just see what Mr. Atkins has done. He never openly advocated anything in town meeting before; you said so yourself. Even when he must have realized that you had the votes for committeeman he kept still. He might have taken many of them from you by simply coming out and declaring for Mr. Snow; but he didn't. And then, all at once, he takes this astonishing stand. Captain Whittaker, Mr. Tidditt says that, the night of Emily's birthday party, you and he told who she was, by accident, and that Mr. Atkins seemed very much surprised and upset. Is that so?"

Captain Cy laughed.

"His lemonade was upset; that's all I noticed special. Oh! yes, and he lost his hat off, goin' home. But what of it? What are you drivin' at?"

"I was wondering if--if it could be that, for some reason, Mr. Atkins had a spite against Emily or her people. Or if he had any reason to fear her."

"Fear? Fear Bos'n? Oh, my, that's funny! You've been readin' novels, I'm 'fraid, teacher, 'though I didn't suspect it of you."

He laughed heartily. Miss Dawes smiled, too, but she still persisted.

"Well," she said, "I don't know. Perhaps it is because I'm a woman, and politics don't mean as much to me as to you men, but to me political reasons don't seem strong enough to account for such actions as those of Mr. Atkins. Emily's mother was a Thayer, wasn't she? and the Thayers once lived in Orham. I wish we could find out more about them while they lived there."

Asaph Tidditt pulled his beard thoughtfully.

"Well," he observed, "maybe we can, if we want to, though I don't think what we find out 'll amount to nothin'. I was kind of cal'latin' to go to Orham next week on a little visit. Seth Wingate over there--Barzilla Wingate's cousin, Whit--is a sort of relation of mine, and we visit back and forth every nine or ten year or so. The ten year's most up, and he's been pesterin' me to come over. Seth's been Orham town clerk about as long as I've been the Bayport one, and he's lived there all his life. What he don't know about Orham folks ain't wuth knowin'. If you say so, I'll pump him about the Thayers and the Richards. 'Twon't do no harm, and the old fool likes to talk, anyhow. I don't know's I ought to speak that way about my relations," he added doubtfully, "but Seth IS sort of stubborn and unlikely at odd times. We don't always agree as to which is the best town to live in, you understand."

So it was settled that Mr. Wingate should be subjected to the "pumping" process when Asaph visited him. He departed for this visit the following week, and remained away for ten days. Meanwhile several things happened in Bayport.

One of these things was the farewell of the Honorable Heman Atkins. Congress was to open at Washington, and the Honorable heeded the call of duty. Alicia and the housekeeper went with him, and the big house was closed for the winter. At the gate between the stone urns, and backed by the iron dogs, the great man bade a group of admiring constituents good-by. He thanked them for their trust in him, and promised that it should not be betrayed.

"I leave you, my fellow townsmen, er--ladies and friends," he said, "with regret, tempered by pride--a not inexcusable pride, I believe. In the trying experience which my self-respect and sympathy has so recently forced upon me, you have stood firm and cheered me on. The task I have undertaken, the task of restoring to a worthy man his own, shall be carried on to the bitterest extremity. I have put my hand to the plow, and it shall not be withdrawn. And, furthermore, I go to my work at Washington determined to secure for my native town the appropriation which it so sorely needs. I shall secure it if I can, even though--" and the sarcasm was hugely enjoyed by his listeners--"I am, as I seem likely to be, deprived of the help of the 'committee,' self-appointed at our recent town meeting. If I fail--and I do not conceal the fact that I may fail--I am certain you will not blame me. Now I should like to shake each one of you by the hand."

The hands were shaken, and the train bore the Atkins delegation away. And, on the day following, Mr. Thomas, the prodigal father, also left town. A position in Boston had been offered him, he said, and he felt that he must accept it. He would come back some of these days, with the warrant from the court, and get his little girl.

"Position offered him! Um--ya-as!" quoth Dimick the cynical, in conversation with Captain Cy. "Inspector of sidewalks, I shouldn't wonder. Well, please don't ask me if I think Heman sent him to Boston so's to have him out of the way, and 'cause he'd feel consider'ble safer than if he was loose down here. Don't ask me that, for, with my strict scruples against the truth I might say, No. As it is, I say nothin'--and wink my port eye."

The ten-day visit ended, Mr. Tidditt returned to Bayport. On the afternoon of his return he and Bailey called at the Whittaker place, and there they were joined by Miss Dawes, who had been summoned to the conclave by a note intrusted to Bos'n.

"Now, Ase," ordered Captain Cy, as the quartet gathered in the sitting room, "here we are, hangin' on your words, as the feller said. Don't keep us strung up too long. What did you find out?"

The town clerk cleared his throat. When he spoke, there was a trace of disappointment in his tone. To have been able to electrify his audience with the news of some startling discovery would have been pure joy for Asaph.

"Well," he began, "I don't know's I found out anything much. Yet I did find out somethin', too; but it don't really amount to nothin'. I hoped 'twould be somethin' more'n 'twas, but when nothin' come of it except the little somethin' it begun with, I--"

"For the land sakes!" snapped Bailey Bangs, who was a trifle envious of his friend's position in the center of the stage, "stop them 'nothin's' and 'somethin's,' won't you? You keep whirlin' 'em round and over and over till my head's FULL of 'nothin',' and--"

"That's what it's full of most of the time," interrupted Asaph tartly. Captain Cy hastened to act as peacemaker.

"Never mind, Bailey," he said; "you let Ase alone. Tell us what you did find out, Ase, and cut out the trimmin's."

"Well," continued Mr. Tidditt, with a glare at Bangs, "I asked Seth about the Thayers and the Richards folks the very fust night I struck Orham. He remembered 'em, of course; he can remember Adam, if you let him tell it. He told me a whole mess about old man Thayer and old man Richards and their granddads and grandmarms, and what houses they lived in, and how many hens they kept, and what their dog's name was, and how they come to name him that, and enough more to fill a hogshead. 'Twas ten o'clock afore he got out of Genesis, and down so fur as John and Emily. He remembered their bein' married, and their baby--Mary Thayer, Bos'n's ma--bein' born.

"Folks used to call John Thayer a smart young feller, so Seth said. They used to cal'late that he'd rise high in the seafarin' and ship-ownin' line. Maybe he would, only he died somewheres in Californy 'long in '54 or thereabouts. 'Twas the time of the gold craziness out there, and he left his ship and went gold huntin'. And the next thing they knew he was dead and buried."

"When was that?" inquired the schoolmistress.

"In '54, I tell you. So Seth says."

"What ship was he on?" asked Bailey.

"Wan't on any ship. Why don't you listen, instead of settin' there moonin'? He was gold diggin', I tell you."

"He'd BEEN on a ship, hadn't he? What was the name of her?"

"I didn't ask. What diff'rence does that make?"

"Wasn't Mr. Atkins at sea in those days?" put in the teacher. The captain answered her.

"Yes, he was," he said. "That is, I think he was. He was away from here when I skipped out, and he didn't get back till '61 or thereabouts."

"Well, anyhow," went on Asaph, "that's all I could find out. Seth and me went rummagin' through town records from way back to glory, him gassin' away and stringin' along about this old settler and that, till I 'most wished he'd choke himself with the dust he was raisin'. We found John's grandad's will, and Emily's dad's will, and John's own will, and that's all. John left everything he had and all he might become possessed of to his wife and baby and their heirs forever. He died poorer'n poverty. What's the use of a will when you ain't got nothin' to leave?"

"Why!" exclaimed Captain Cy. "The answer to that's easy. John was goin' to sea, and, more'n likely, intended to have a shy at the diggin's afore he got back. So, if he did make any money, he wanted his wife and baby to have it."

"Well, what they got wan't wuth havin'. Emily had to scrimp along and do dressmakin' till she died. She done fairly well at that, though, and saved somethin' and passed it over to Mary. And Mary married Henry Thomas, after she went with the Howes tribe to Concord, and he got rid of it for her in double quick time--all but the Orham land."

"So that was all you could find out, hey, Ase?" asked the captain. "Well, it's at least as much as I expected. You see, teacher, these story-book notions don't work out when it comes to real life."

Miss Dawes was plainly disappointed.

"I wish we knew more," she said. "Who was on this ship with Mr. Thayer? And who sent the news of his death home?"

"Oh, I can tell you that," said Asaph. "'Twas some one-hoss doctor out there, gold minin' himself, he was. John died of a quick fever. Got cold and went off in no time. Seth remembered that much, though he couldn't remember the doctor's name. He said, if I wanted to learn more about the Thayers, I might go see--Humph, well, never mind that. 'Twas just foolishness, anyhow."

But Phoebe persisted.

"To see whom?" she asked. "Some one you knew? A friend of yours?"

Asaph turned red.

"Friend of mine!" he snarled. "No, SIR! she ain't no friend of mine, I'm thankful to say. More a friend of Bailey's, here, if she's anybody's. One of his pets, she was, for a spell. A patient of his, you might say; anyhow, he prescribed for her. 'Twas that deef idiot, Debby Beasley, Cy; that's who 'twas. Her name was Briggs afore she married Beasley, and she was hired help for Emily Thayer, when Mary was born, and until John died."

Captain Cy burst into a roar of laughter. Bailey sprang out of his chair.

"De--Debby Beasley!" he stammered. "Debby Beasley!"

"She was that deef housekeeper Bailey hired for me, teacher," explained the captain. "I've told you about her. Ho! ho! so that's the end of the mystery huntin'. We go gunnin' for Heman Atkins, and we bring down Debby! Well, Ase, goin' to see the old lady?"

Mr. Tidditt's retort was emphatic.

"Goin' to SEE her?" he repeated. "I guess not! Godfrey scissors! I told Seth, says I, 'I've had all the Debby Beasley _I want, and I cal'late Cy Whittaker feels the same way.' Go to see her! I wouldn't go to see her if she was up in Paradise a-hollerin' for me."

"Nobody up there's goin' to holler for YOU, Ase Tidditt," remarked Bailey, with sarcasm; "so don't let that worry you none."

"Are YOU going to see her, Captain Whittaker?" asked Phoebe.

The captain shook his head.

"Why, no, I guess not," he said. "I don't take much stock in what she'd be likely to know; besides, I'm a good deal like Ase--I've had about all the Debby Beasley I want."

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