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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 18. Congressman Everdean
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Cy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 18. Congressman Everdean Post by :David_C_H Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :3290

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Cy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 18. Congressman Everdean


In the old days, the great days of sailing ships and land merchant fleets, Bayport was a community of travelers. Every ambitious man went to sea, and eventually, if he lived, became a captain. Then he took his wife, and in most cases his children, with him on long voyages. To the stay-at-homes came letters with odd, foreign stamps and postmarks. Our what-nots and parlor mantels were filled with carved bits of ivory, gorgeous shells, alabaster candlesticks, and plaster miniatures of the Leaning Tower at Pisa or the Coliseum at Rome. We usually began a conversation with "When my husband and I were at Hong Kong the last time--" or "I remember at Mauritius they always--" New Orleans or 'Frisco were the nearest domestic ports the mention of which was considered worth while.

But this is so no longer. A trip to Boston is, of course, no novelty to the most of us; but when we visit New York we take care to advertise it beforehand. And the few who avail themselves of the spring "cut rates" and go on excursions to Washington, plan definite programmes for each day at the Capital, and discuss them with envious friends for weeks in advance. And if the prearranged programme is not scrupulously carried out, we feel that we have been defrauded. It was the regret of Aunt Sophronia Hallett's life that, on her Washington excursion, she had not seen the "Diplomatic Corpse." She saw the President and the Monument and Congress and "the relics in the Smithsonian Institute," but the "Corpse" was not on view; Aunt Sophronia never quite got over the disappointment.

Probably no other Bayporter, in recent years, has started for Washington on such short notice or with so ill-defined a programme as Captain Cy. He went because he felt that he must go somewhere. After the conversation with Asaph, he simply could not remain at home. If Phoebe Dawes called, he knew that he must see her, and if he saw her, what should he say to her? He could not tell her that she must not visit the Cy Whittaker place again. If he did, she would insist upon the reason. If he told her of the "town talk," he felt sure, knowing her, that she would indignantly refuse to heed the malicious gossip. And he was firmly resolved not to permit her to compromise her life and her future by friendship with a social outcast like himself. As for anything deeper and more sacred than friendship, that was ridiculous. If, for a moment, a remark of hers had led him to dream of such a thing, it was because he was, as he had so often declared, an "old fool."

So Captain Cy had resolved upon flight, and he fled to Washington because the business of the "committee of one" offered a legitimate excuse for going there. The blunt message he had intrusted to Georgianna would, he believed, arouse Phoebe's indignation. She would not call again. And when he returned to Bos'n, it would be to take up the child's fight alone. If he lost that fight, or WHEN he lost it, he would close the Cy Whittaker place, and leave Bayport for good.

He had been in Washington once before, years ago, when he was first mate of a ship and had a few weeks' shore leave. Then he went there on a pleasure trip with some seagoing friends, and had a jolly time. But there was precious little jollity in the present visit. He had never felt so thoroughly miserable. In order to forget, he made up his mind to work his hardest to discover why the harbor appropriation was not to be given to Bayport.

The city had changed greatly. He would scarcely have known it. He went to the hotel where he had stayed before, and found a big, modern building in its place. The clerk was inclined to be rather curt and perfunctory at first, but when he learned that the captain was not anxious concerning the price of accommodations, but merely wanted a "comf'table berth somewheres on the saloon deck," and appeared to have plenty of money, he grew polite. Captain Cy was shown to his room, where he left his valise. Then he went down to dinner.

After the meal was over, he seated himself in one of the big leather chairs in the hotel lobby, smoked and thought. In the summer, before Bos'n came, and before her father had arisen to upset every calculation and wreck all his plans, the captain had given serious thought to what he should do if Congressman Atkins failed, as even then he seemed likely to do, in securing that appropriation. The obvious thing, of course, would have been to hunt up Mr. Atkins and question him. But this was altogether too obvious. In the first place, the strained relations between them would make the interview uncomfortable; and, in the second, if there was anything underhand in Heman's backsliding on the appropriation, Atkins was too wary a bird to be snared with questions.

But Captain Cy had another acquaintance in the city, the son of a still older acquaintance, who had been a wealthy shipping merchant and mine owner in California. The son was also a congressman, from a coast State, and the captain had read of him in the papers. A sketch of his life had been printed, and this made his identity absolutely certain. Captain Cy's original idea had been to write to this congressman. Now he determined to find and interview him.

He inquired concerning him of the hotel clerk, who, like all Washington clerks, was a walking edition of "Who's Who at the Capital."

"Congressman Everdean?" repeated the all-knowing young gentleman. "Yes. He's in town. Has rooms at the Gloria; second hotel on the right as you go up the avenue. Only a short walk. What can I do for you, sir?"

The Gloria was an even bigger hotel than the one where the captain had his "berth." An inquiry at the desk, of another important clerk, was answered with a brisk:

"Mr. Everdean? Yes, he rooms here. Don't know whether he's in or not. Evening, judge. Nice Winter weather we're having."

The judge, who was a ponderous person vaguely suggesting the great Heman, admitted that the weather was fine, patronizing it as he did so. The clerk continued the conversation. Captain Cy waited. At length he spoke.

"Excuse me, commodore," he said; "I don't like to break in until you've settled whether you have it snow or not, but I'm here to see Congressman Everdean. Hadn't you better order one of your fo'mast hands to hunt him up?"

The judge condescended to smile, as did several other men who stood near. The clerk reddened.

"Do you want to see Mr. Everdean?" he snapped.

"Why, yes, I did. But I can't see him from here without strainin' my eyesight."

The clerk sharply demanded one of the captain's visiting cards. He didn't get one, for the very good reason that there was none in existence.

"Tell him an old friend of his dad's is here on the main deck waitin' for him," said Captain Cy. "That'll do first rate. Thank you, admiral."

Word came that the congressman would be down in a few moments. The captain beguiled the interval by leaning on the rail and regarding the clerk with an awed curiosity that annoyed its object exceedingly. The inspection was still on when a tall man, of an age somewhere in the early thirties, walked briskly up to the desk.

"Who is it that wants to see me?" he asked.

The clerk waved a deprecatory hand in Captain Cy's direction. The newcomer turned.

"My name is Everdean," he said. "Are you--hey?--Great Scott! Is it possible this is Captain Whittaker?"

The captain was immensely pleased.

"Well, I declare, Ed!" he exclaimed. "I didn't believe you'd remember me after all these years. You was nothin' but a boy when I saw you out in 'Frisco. Well! well! No wonder you're in Congress. A man that can remember faces like that ought to be President."

Everdean laughed as they shook hands.

"Don't suppose I'd forget the chap who used to dine with us and tell me those sea stories, do you?" he said. "I'm mighty glad to see you. What are you doing here? The last father and I heard of you, you were in South America. Given up the sea, they said, and getting rich fast."

Captain Cy chuckled.

"It's a good thing I learned long ago not to believe all I hear," he answered, "else I'd have been so sure I was rich that I'd have spent all I had, and been permanent boarder at the poorhouse by now. No, thanks; I've had dinner. Why, yes, I'll smoke, if you'll help along. How's your father? Smart, is he?"

The congressman insisted that they should adjourn to his rooms. An unmarried man, he kept bachelor's hall at the hotel during his stay in Washington. There, in comfortable chairs, they spoke of old times, when the captain was seafaring and the Everdean home had been his while his ship was in port at 'Frisco. He told of his return to Bayport, and the renovation of the old house. Of Bos'n he said nothing. At last Everdean asked what had brought him to Washington.

"Well," said Captain Cy, "I'll tell you. I'm like the feller in court without a lawyer; he said he couldn't tell whether he was guilty or not 'count of havin' no professional advice. That's what I've come to you for, Ed--professional advice."

He told the harbor appropriation story. At the incident of the "committee of one" his friend laughed heartily.

"Rather put your foot in it that time, Captain, didn't you?" he said.

"Yup. Then I got t'other one stuck tryin' to get the first clear. How's it look to you? All straight, do you think? or is there a nigger in the wood pile?"

Mr. Everdean seemed to reflect.

"Well, Captain," he said, "I can't tell. You're asking delicate questions. Politicians are like doctors, they usually back up each other's opinions. Still, you're at least as good a friend of mine as Atkins is. Queer HE should bob up in this matter! Why, he--but never mind that now. I tell you, Captain Whittaker, you come around and have dinner with me to-morrow night. In the meantime I'll see the chairman of the committee on that bill--one of the so-called 'pork' bills it is. Possibly from him and some other acquaintances of mine I may learn something. At any rate, you come to dinner."

So the invitation was accepted, and Captain Cy went back to his own hotel and his room. He slept but little, although it was not worry over the appropriation question which kept him awake. Next morning he wrote a note to Georgianna, giving his Washington address. With it he enclosed a long letter to Bos'n, telling her he should be home pretty soon, and that she must be a good girl and "boss the ship" during his absence. He sent his regards to Asaph and Bailey, but Phoebe's name he did not mention. Then he put in a miserable day wandering about the city. At eight that evening he and his Western friend sat down at a corner table in the big dining room of the Gloria.

The captain began to ask questions as soon as the soup was served, but Everdean refused to answer.

"No, no," he said, "pleasure first and business afterwards; that's a congressional motto. I can't talk Atkins with my dinner and enjoy it."

"Can't, hey? You wouldn't be popular at our perfect boarding house back home. There they serve Heman hot for breakfast and dinner, and warm him over for supper. All right, I can wait."

The conversation wandered from Buenos Ayres to 'Frisco and back again until the cigars and coffee were reached. Then the congressman blew a fragrant ring into the air and, from behind it, looked quizzically at his companion.

"Well," he observed, "so far as that appropriation of yours is concerned--"

He paused and blew a second ring. Captain Cy stroked his beard.

"Um--yes," he drawled, "now that you mention it, seems to me there was some talk of an appropriation."

Mr. Everdean laughed.

"I've been making inquiries," he said. "I saw the chairman of the committee on the pork bill. I know him well. He's a good fellow, but--"

"Yes, I know. I've seen lots of politicians like that; they're all good fellers, but--If I was in politics I'd make a law to cut 'But' out of the dictionary."

"Well, this chap really is a good fellow. I asked about the thirty thousand dollars for your town. He asked me why I didn't go to the congressman from that district, and not bother him about it. I said perhaps I would go to the congressman later, but I came to him first."

"Sartin. Same as the feller with a sick mother-in-law stopped in at the undertaker's on his way to call the doctor. All right; heave ahead."

"Well, we had a rather long conversation. I discovered that the Bayport item was originally included in the bill, but recently had been stricken out."

"Yes, I see. Uncle Sam had to economize, hey? Save somethin' for a rainy day."

"Well, possibly. Still the bill is just as heavy. Now, Captain Whittaker, I don't KNOW anything about this affair, and it's not my business. But I've been about to-day, and I asked questions, and--I'm going to tell you a fairy tale. It isn't as interesting as your sea yarns, but--Do you like fairy stories?"

"Land, yes! Tell a few myself when it's necessary. Sometimes I almost believe 'em. Well?"

"Of course, you must remember this IS a fairy story. Let's suppose that once on a time--that's the way they always begin--once on a time there was a great man, great in his own country, who was sent abroad by his people to represent them among the rulers of the land. So, in order to typically represent them, he dressed in glad and expensive raiment, went about in dignity, and--"

"And whiskers. Don't leave out the whiskers!"

"All right--and whiskers. And it came to pass that the people whom he represented wished to--to--er--bring about a certain needed improvement in their--their beautiful and enterprising community."

"Sho! sho! how natural that sounds! You must be a mind reader."

"No. But I have to make speeches in my own community occasionally. Well, the people asked their great man to get the money needed for this improvement from the rulers of the land aforementioned. And he was at first all enthusiasm and upon the--the parchment scroll where such matters are inscribed was written the name of the beautiful and enterprising community, and the sum of money it asked for. And the deal was as good as made. Excuse the modern phraseology; my fairy lingo got mixed there."

"Never mind. I can get the drift just as well--maybe better."

"And the deal was as good as made. But before the vote was taken another chap came to the great man and said: 'Look here! I want to get an appropriation of, say, fifty thousand dollars, to deepen and improve a river down in my State'--a Southern State we'll say. 'I've been to the chairman of the pork bill committee, and he says it's impossible. The bill simply can't be loaded any further. But I find that you have an item in there for deepening and improving a harbor back in your own district. Why don't you cut that item out--shove it over until next year? You can easily find a satisfactory explanation for your constituents. AND you want to remember this: the improvement of this river means that the--the--well, a certain sugar-growing company--can get their stuff to market at a figure which will send its stock up and up. And you are said to own a considerable amount of that stock. So why not drop the harbor item and substitute my river slice? Then--' Well, I guess that's the end of the tale."

He paused and relit his cigar. Captain Cy thoughtfully marked with his fork on the tablecloth.

"Hum!" he grunted. "That's a very interestin' yarn. Yes, yes! don't know's I ever heard a more interestin' one. I presume likely there ain't a mite of proof that it's true?"

"Not an atom. I told you it was a fairy tale. And I mustn't be quoted in the matter. Honestly, the most of it is guess work, at that. But perhaps a 'committee of one,' dropping a hint at home, might at least arouse some uncomfortable questioning of a certain great man. That's about all, though. Proof is quite another thing."

The captain pondered. He was fully aware that the unpopularity of the "committee" would nullify whatever good its hinting might do.

"Humph!" he grunted again. "It's one thing to smell a rat and another to nail its tail to the floor. But I'm mighty obliged to you, all the same. And I'll think it over hard. Say! I can see one thing--you don't take a very big shine to Heman yourself."

"Not too big--no. Do you?"

"Well, I don't wake up nights and cry for him."

Everdean laughed.

"That's characteristic," he said. "You have your own way of putting things, Captain, and it's hard to be improved on. Atkins has never done anything to me. I just--I just don't like him, that's all. Father never liked him, either, in the old days; and yet--and it's odd, too--he was the means of the old gentleman's making the most of his money."

"He? Who? Not Heman?"

"Yes, Heman Atkins. But, so far as that goes, father started him toward wealth, I suppose. At least, he was poor enough before the mine was sold."

"What are you talkin' about? Heman got his start tradin' over in the South Seas. Sellin' the Kanakas glass beads and calico for pearls and copra--two cupfuls of pearls for every bead. Anyhow, that's the way the yarn goes."

"I can't help that. He was just a common sailor who had run away from his ship and was gold mining in California. And when he and his partner struck it rich father borrowed money, headed a company, and bought them out. That mine was the Excelsior, and it's just as productive to-day as it ever was. I rather think Atkins must be very sorry he sold. I suppose, by right, I should be very grateful to your distinguished representative."

"Well, I do declare! Sho, sho! Ain't that funny now? He's never said a word about it at home. I don't believe there's a soul in Bayport knows that. We all thought 'twas South Sea tradin' that boosted Heman. And your own dad! I declare, this is a small world!"

"It's odd father never told you about it. It's one of the old gentleman's pet stories. He came West in 1850, and was running a little shipping store in 'Frisco. He met Atkins and the other young sailor, his partner, before they left their ship. They were in the store, buying various things, and father got to know them pretty well. Then they ran away to the diggings--you simply couldn't keep a crew in those times--and he didn't see them again for a good while. Then they came in one day and showed him specimens from a claim they had back in the mountains. They were mighty good specimens, and what they said about the claim convinced father that they had a valuable property. So he went to see a few well-to-do friends of his, and the outcome was that a party was made up to go and inspect. The young fellows were willing to sell out, for it was a quartz working and they hadn't the money to carry it on.

"The inspection showed that the claim was likely to be even better than they thought, so, after some bargaining, the deal was completed. They sold out for seventy-five thousand dollars, and it was the best trade father ever made. He's so proud of his judgment and foresight in making it that I wonder he never told you the story."

"He never did. When was this?"

"In '54. What?"

"I didn't speak. The date seemed kind of familiar to me, that's all. Seem's as if I heard it recent, but I can't remember when. Seventy-five thousand, hey? Well, that wan't so bad, was it? With that for a nest egg, no wonder Heman's managed to hatch a pretty respectable brood of dollars."

"Oh, the whole seventy-five wasn't his, of course. Half belonged to his partner. But the poor devil didn't live to enjoy it. After the articles were signed and before the money was paid over, he was taken sick with a fever and died."

"Hey? He died? With a FEVER?"

"Yes. But he left a pretty good legacy to his heirs, didn't he. For a common sailor--or second mate; I believe that's what he was--thirty-seven thousand five hundred is doing well. It must have come as a big surprise to them. The whole sum was paid to Atkins, who--What's the matter with you?"

Captain Cy was leaning back in his chair. He was as white as the tablecloth.

"Are you ill?" asked the congressman anxiously. "Take some water. Shall I call--"

The captain waved his hand.

"No, no!" he stammered. "No! I'm all right. Do you--for the Lord's sake tell me this! What was the name of this partner that died?"

Mr. Everdean looked curiously at his friend before he answered.

"Sure you're not sick?" he asked. "Well, all right. The partner's name? Why, I've heard it often enough. It's on the deed of sale that father has framed in his room at home. The old gentleman is as proud of that as anything in the house. The name was--was--"

"For God sakes," cried Captain Cy, "don't say 'twas John Thayer! 'Cause if you do I shan't believe it."

"That's what it was--John Thayer. How did you guess? Did you know him? I remember now that he was another Down Easter, like Atkins."

The captain did not answer. He clasped his forehead with both hands and leaned his elbows on the table. Everdean was plainly alarmed.

"I'm going to call a doctor," he began, rising. But Captain Cy waved him back again.

"Set still!" he ordered. "Set still, I tell you! You say the whole seventy-five thousand was paid to Heman, but that John Thayer signed the bill of sale afore he died, as half partner? And your dad's got the original deed and--and--he remembers the whole business?"

"Yes, he's got the deed--framed. It's on record, too, of course. Remembers? I should say he did! He'll talk for a week on that subject, if you give him a chance."

The captain sprang to his feet. His chair tipped backward and fell to the floor. An obsequious waiter ran to right it, but Captain Cy paid no attention to him.

"Where's my coat?" he demanded. "Where's my coat and hat?"

"What ails you?" asked Everdean. "Are you going crazy?"

"Goin' CRAZY? No, no! I'm goin' to California. When's the next train?"

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