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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 19. The Toppling Of A Monument
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Cy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 19. The Toppling Of A Monument Post by :David_C_H Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :1326

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Cy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 19. The Toppling Of A Monument

CHAPTER XIX. THE TOPPLING OF A MONUMENT

The Honorable Heman Atkins sat in the library of his Washington home, before a snapping log fire, reading a letter. Mr. Atkins had, as he would have expressed it, "served his people" in Congress for so many years that he had long since passed the hotel stage of living at the Capital. He rented a furnished house on an eminently respectable street, and the polished doorplate bore his name in uncompromising characters.

The library furniture was solid and dignified. Its businesslike appearance impressed the stray excursionist from the Atkins district, when he or she visited the great man in whose affairs we felt such a personal interest. Particularly impressive and significant was a map of the district hanging over the congressman's desk, and an oil painting of the Atkins mansion at Bayport, which, with the iron dogs and urns conspicuous in its foreground, occupied the middle of the largest wall space.

The cheery fire was very comforting on a night like this, for the sleet was driving against the windowpanes, the sidewalks were ankle deep in slush, and the wet, cold wind from the Potomac was whistling down the street. Somewhere about the house an unfastened shutter slammed in the gusts. Mr. Atkins should have been extremely comfortable as he sat there by the fire. He had spent many comfortable winters in that room. But now there was a frown on his face as he read the letter in his hand. It was from Simpson, and stated, among other things, that Cyrus Whittaker had been absent from Bayport for over two weeks, and that no one seemed to know where he had gone. "The idea seems to be that he started for Washington," wrote Tad; "but if that is so, it is queer you haven't seen him. I am suspicious that he is up to something about that harbor business. I should keep my eye peeled if I was you."

Alicia, the Atkins hopeful, rustled into the room.

"Papa," she said, "I've come to kiss you good night."

Her father performed the ceremony in a perfunctory way.

"All right, all right," he said. "Now run along to bed and don't bother me, there's a good girl. I wish," he added testily to the housekeeper who had followed Alicia into the room, "I wish you'd see to that loose blind. It makes me nervous. Such things as that should be attended to without specific orders from me."

The housekeeper promised to attend to the blind. She and the girl left the library. Heman reread the Simpson letter. Then he dropped it in his lap and sat thinking and twirling his eyeglasses at the end of their black cord. His thoughts seemed to be not of the pleasantest. The lines about his mouth had deepened during the last few months. He looked older.

The telephone bell rang sharply. Mr. Atkins came out of his reverie with a start, arose and walked across the room to the wall where the instrument hung. It was before the days of the convenient desk 'phone. He took the receiver from its hook and spoke into the transmitter.

"Hello!" he said. "Hello! Yes, yes! stop ringing. What is it?"

The wire buzzed and purred in the storm. "Hello!" said a voice. "Hello, there! Is this Mr. Atkins's house?"

"Yes; it is. What do you want?"

"Hey? Is this where the Honorable Heman Atkins lives?"

"Yes, yes, I tell you! This is Mr. Atkins speaking. What do you want?"

"Oh! is that you, Heman? This is Whittaker--Cy Whittaker. Understand?"

Mr. Atkins understood. Yet for an instant he did not reply. He had been thinking, as he sat by the fire, of certain persons and certain ugly, though remote, possibilities. Now, from a mysterious somewhere, one of those persons was speaking to him. The hand holding the receiver shook momentarily.

"Hello! I say, Heman, do you understand? This is Whittaker talkin'."

"I--er--understand," said the congressman, slowly. "Well, sir?"

"I'm here in Washin'ton."

"I have been informed that you were in the city. Well, sir?"

"Oh! knew I was here, did you? Is that so? Who told you? Tad wrote, I suppose, hey?"

The congressman did not reply immediately. This man, whom he disliked more than anyone else in the world, had an irritating faculty of putting his finger on the truth. And the flippancy in the tone was maddening. Mr. Atkins was not used to flippancy.

"I believe I am not called upon to disclose my source of information," he said with chilling dignity. "It appears to have been trustworthy. I presume you have 'phoned me concerning the appropriation matter. I do not recognize your right to intrude in that affair, and I shall decline to discuss it. Yes, sir. To my people, to those who have a right to question, I am and shall always be willing to explain my position. Good night."

"Wait! Hello! Hold on a minute. Don't get mad, Heman. I only wanted to say just a word. You'll let me say a word, won't you?"

This was more like it. This was more nearly the tone in which Mr. Atkins was wont to be addressed. It was possible that the man, recognizing the uselessness of further opposition, desired to surrender.

"I cannot," declared the Honorable, "understand why you should wish to speak with me. We have very little in common, very little, I'm thankful to say. However, I will hear you briefly. Go on."

"Much obliged. Well, Heman, I only wanted to say that I thought maybe you'd better have a little talk with me. I'm here at the hotel, the Regent. You know where 'tis, I presume likely. I guess you'd better come right down and see me."

Heman gasped, actually gasped, with astonishment.

"_I had better come and see YOU? I--! Well, sir! WELL! I am not accustomed--"

"I know, but I think you'd better. It's dirty weather, and I've got cold somehow or other. I ain't feelin' quite up to the mark, so I cal'late I'll stay in port much as I can. You come right down. I'll be in my room, and the hotel folks 'll tell you where 'tis. I'll be waitin' for you."

Mr. Atkins breathed hard. In his present frame of mind he would have liked to deliver a blast into that transmitter which would cause the person at the other end of the line to shrivel under its heat. But he was a politician of long training, and he knew that such blasts were sometimes expensive treats. It might be well to hear what his enemy had to say. But as to going to see him--that was out of the question.

"I do not," he thundered, "I do not care to continue this conversation. If--if you wish to see me, after what has taken place between us, I am willing, in spite of personal repugnance, to grant you a brief interview. My servants will admit you here at nine o'clock to-morrow morning. But I tell you now, that your interference with this appropriation matter is as useless as it is ridiculous and impudent. It is of a piece with the rest of your conduct."

"All right, Heman, all right," was the calm answer. "I don't say you've got to come. I only say I guess you'd better. I'm goin' back to Bayport tomorrer, early. And if I was you I'd come and see me to-night."

"I have no wish to see you. Nor do I care to talk with you further. That appropriation--"

"Maybe it ain't all appropriation."

"Then I cannot understand--"

"I know, but _I understand. I've come to understand consider'ble many things in the last fortni't. There! I can't holler into this machine any longer. I've been clear out to 'Frisco and back in eleven days, and I got cold in those blessed sleepin' cars. I--"

The receiver fell from the congressman's hand. It was a difficult object to pick up again. Heman groped for it in a blind, strangely inadequate way. Yet he wished to recover it very much.

"Wait! wait!" he shouted anxiously. "I--I--I dropped the--Are you there, Whittaker? Are you--Oh! yes! I didn't--Did you say--er--'Frisco?"

"Yes, San Francisco, California. I've been West on a little cruise. Had an interestin' time. It's an interestin' place; don't you think so? Well, I'm sorry you can't come. Good night."

"Wait!" faltered the great man. "I--I--let me think, Cyrus. I do not wish to seem--er--arrogant in this matter. It is not usual for me to visit my constituents, but--but--I have no engagement this evening, and you are not well, and--Hello! are you there? Hello! Why, under the circumstances, I think--Yes, I will come. I'll come--er--at once."

The telephone enables one to procure a cab in a short time. Yet, to Heman Atkins, that cab was years in coming. He paced the library floor, his hand to his forehead and his brain whirling. It couldn't be! It must be a coincidence! He had been an idiot to display his agitation and surrender so weakly. And yet--and yet--

The ride through the storm to the Regent Hotel gave him opportunity for more thought. But he gained little comfort from thinking. If it was a coincidence, well and good. If not--

A bell boy conducted him to the Whittaker room "on the saloon deck." It was a small room, very different from the Atkins library, and Captain Cy, in a cane-seated chair, was huddled close to the steam radiator. He looked far from well.

"Evenin', Heman," he said as the congressman entered. "Pretty dirty night, ain't it? What we'd call a gray no'theaster back home. Sit down. Don't mind my not gettin' up. This heatin' arrangement feels mighty comf'table just now. If I get too far away from it I shiver my deck planks loose. Take off your things."

Mr. Atkins did not remove his overcoat. His hat he tossed on the bed. He glanced fearfully at his companion. The latter's greeting had been so casual and everyday that he took courage. And the captain looked anything but formidable as he hugged the radiator. Perhaps things were not so bad as he had feared. He resolved not to seem alarmed, at all events.

"Have a cigar, Heman?" said Captain Cy. "No? Well, all right; I will, if you don't mind."

He lit the cigar. The congressman cleared his throat.

"Cyrus," he said, "I am not accustomed to run at the beck and call of my--er--acquaintances, but, even though we have disagreed of late, even though to me your conduct seems quite unjustifiable, still, for the sake of our boyhood friendship, and, because you are not well, I--er--came."

Captain Cy coughed spasmodically, a cough that seemed to be tearing him to pieces. He looked at his cigar regretfully, and laid it on the top of the radiator.

"Too bad," he observed. "Tobacco gen'rally iles up my talkin' machinery, but just now it seems to make me bark like a ship's dog shut up in the hold. Why, yes, Heman, I see you've come. Much obliged to you."

This politeness was still more encouraging. Atkins leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs.

"I presume," he said, "that you wish to ask concerning the appropriation. I regret--"

"You needn't. I guess we'll get the appropriation."

Heman's condescension vanished. He leaned forward and uncrossed his legs.

"Indeed?" he said slowly, his eyes fixed on the captain's placid face.

"Yes--indeed."

"Whittaker, what are you talking about? Do you suppose that I have been the representative of my people in Congress all these years without knowing whereof I speak? They left the matter in my hands, and your interference--"

"I ain't goin' to interfere. I'M goin' to leave it in your hands, too. And I cal'late you'll be able to find a way to get it. Um--hum, I guess likely you will."

The visitor rose to his feet. The time had come for another blast from Olympus. He raised the mighty right arm. But Captain Cy spoke first.

"Sit down, Heman," said the captain quietly. "Sit down. This ain't town meetin'. Never mind the appropriation now. There's other matters to be talked about first. Sit down, I tell you."

Mr. Atkins was purple in the face, but he sat down. The captain coughed again.

"Heman," he began when the spasm was over, "I asked you to come here to-night for--well, blessed if I know exactly. It didn't make much difference to me whether you came or not."

"Then, sir, I must say that, of all the impudent--"

"S-s-h-h! for the land sakes! Speechmakin' must be as bad as the rum habit, when a feller's got it chronic as you have. No, it didn't make much difference to me whether you came or not. But, honest, you've got to be a kind of Bunker Hill monument to the folks back home. They kneel down at your foundations and look up at you, and tell each other how many foot high you are, and what it cost to build you, and how you stand for patriotism and purity, till--well, _I couldn't see you tumble down without givin' you a chance. I couldn't; 'twould be like blowin' up a church."

The purple had left the Atkins face, but the speechmaking habit is not likely to be broken.

"Cyrus Whittaker," he stammered, "have you been drinking? Your language to me is abominable. Why I permit myself to remain here and listen to such--"

"If you'll keep still I'll tell you why. And, if I was you, I wouldn't be too anxious to find out. This everlastin' cold don't make me over 'n' above good-tempered, and when I think of what you've done to that little girl, or what you tried to do, I have to hold myself down tight, TIGHT, and don't you forget it! Now, you keep quiet and listen. It'll be best for you, Heman. Your cards ain't under the table any longer. I've seen your hand, and I know why you've been playin' it. I know the whole game. I've been West, and Everdean and I have had a talk."

Mr. Atkins had again risen from the chair. Now he fell heavily back into it. His lips moved as if he meant to speak, but he did not. At the mention of the Everdean name he made a queer, choking sound in his throat.

"I know the whole business, Heman," went on the captain. "I know why you was so knocked over when you learned who Bos'n was, the night of the party. I know why you took up with that blackguard, Thomas, and why you've spent your good money hirin' lawyers for him. I know about the mine. I know the whole thing from first to last. Shall I tell you? Do you want to hear it?"

The great man did not answer. A drop of perspiration shone on his high forehead, and the veins of his big, white hands stood out as he clutched the arms of his chair. The monument was tottering on its base.

"It's a dirty mess, the whole of it," continued Captain Cy. "And yet, I can see--I suppose I can see some excuse for you at the beginnin'. When old man Everdean and his crowd bought you and John Thayer out, 'way back there in '54, after John died, and all the money was put into your hands, I cal'late you was honest then. I wouldn't wonder if you MEANT to hand over the thirty-seven thousand five hundred dollars to your partner's widow. But 'twas harder and more risky to send money East in them days than 'tis now, and so you waited, thinkin' maybe that you'd fetch it to Emily when you come yourself. But you didn't come home for some years; you went tradin' down along the Feejees and around that way. That's how I reasoned it out these last few days on the train. I give you credit for bein' honest first along.

"But never mind whether you was or not, you haven't been since. You never paid over a cent of that poor feller's money--honest money, that belonged to his heirs, and belongs to 'em now. You've hung onto it, stole it, used it for yours. And Emily worked and scratched for a livin' and died poor. And Mary, she died, after bein' abused and deserted by that cussed husband of hers. And you thought you was safe, I cal'late. And then Bos'n turns up right in your own town, right acrost the road from you! By the big dipper! it's enough to make a feller believe that the Almighty does take a hand in straightenin' out such things, when us humans bungle 'em--it is so!

"Course I ain't sure, Heman, what you meant to do when you found that the child you'd stole that money from was goin' to be under your face and eyes till you or she died. I cal'late you was afraid I'd find somethin' out, wan't you? I presume likely you thought that I, not havin' quite the reverence for you that the rest of the Bayporters have, might be sharp enough or lucky enough to smell a rat. Perhaps you suspicioned that I knew the Everdeans. Anyhow, you wanted to get the child as fur out of your sight and out of my hands as you could--ain't that so? And when her dad turned up, you thought you saw your chance. Heman, you answer me this: Ain't it part of your bargain with Thomas that when he gets his little girl, he shall take her and clear out, away off somewheres, for good? Ain't it, now--what?"

The monument was swaying, was swinging from side to side, but it did not quite fall--not then. The congressman's cheeks hung flabby, his forehead was wet, and he shook from head to foot; but he clenched his jaws and made one last attempt at defiance.

"I--I don't know what you mean," he declared. "You--you seem to be accusing me of something. Of stealing, I believe. Do you understand who I am? I have some influence and reputation, and it is dangerous to--to try to frighten me. Proofs are required in law, and--"

"S-s-h-h! You know I've got the proofs. They were easy enough to get, once I happened on the track of 'em. Lord sakes, Heman, I ain't a fool! What's the use of your pretendin' to be one? There's the deed out in 'Frisco, with yours and John's name on it. There's the records to prove the sale. There's the receipt for the seventy-five thousand signed by you, on behalf of yourself and your partner's widow. There's old man Everdean alive and competent to testify. There's John Thayer's will on file over to Orham. Proofs! Why, you THIEF! if it's proofs you want, I've got enough to send you to state's prison for the rest of your life. Don't you dare say 'proofs' to me again! Heman Atkins, you owe me, as Bos'n's guardian, thirty-seven thousand five hundred dollars, with interest since 1854. What you goin' to do about it?"

Here was one ray, a feeble ray, of light.

"You're not her guardian," cried Atkins. "The courts have thrown you out. And your appeal won't stand, either. If any money is due, it belongs to her father. She isn't of age! No, sir! her father--"

Captain Cy's patience had been giving way. Now he lost it altogether. He strode across the room and shook his forefinger in his victim's face.

"So!" he cried. "That's your tack, is it? By the big dipper! You GO to her father--just you go to him and tell him! Just hint to him that you owe his daughter thirty-odd thousand dollars, and see what he'll do. Good heavens above! he was ready to sell her out to me for fifty dollars' wuth of sand bank in Orham. Almost ready, he was, till you offered a higher price to him to fight. Why, he'll have your hide nailed up on the barn door! If you don't pay him every red copper, down on the nail, he'll wring you dry. And then he'll blackmail you forever and ever, amen! Unless, of course, _I go home and stop the blackmail by printing my story in the Breeze. I've a precious good mind to do it. By the Almighty, I WILL do it! unless you come off that high horse of yours and talk like a man."

And then the monument fell, fell prostrate, with a sickly, pitiful crash. If we of Bayport could have seen our congressman then! The great man, great no longer, broke down completely. He cried like a baby. It was all true--all true. He had not meant to steal, at first. He had been led into using the money in his business. Then he had meant to send it to the heirs, but he didn't know their whereabouts. Captain Cy smiled at this excuse. And now he couldn't pay--he COULDN'T. He had hardly that sum in the world. He had lost money in stocks, his property in the South had gone to the bad! He would be ruined. He would have to go to prison. He was getting to be an old man. And there was Alicia, his daughter! Think of her! Think of the disgrace! And so on, over and over, with the one recurring burden--what was the captain going to do? what was he going to do? It was a miserable, dreadful exhibition, and Captain Cy could feel no pride in his triumph.

"There! there!" he said at last. "Stop it, man; stop it, for goodness sakes! Pull yourself together. I guess we can fix it up somehow. I ain't goin' to be too hard on you. If it wan't for your meanness in bein' willin' to let Bos'n suffer her life long with that drunken beast of a dad of hers, I'd feel almost like tellin' you to get up and forget it. But THAT'S got to be stopped. Now, you listen to me."

Heman listened. He was on his knees beside the bed, his face buried in his arms, and his gray hair, the leonine Atkins hair, which he was wont to toss backward in the heated periods of his eloquence, tumbled and draggled. Captain Cy looked down at him.

"This whole business about Bos'n must be stopped," he said, "and stopped right off. You tell your lawyers to drop the case. Her dad is only hangin' around because you pay him to. He don't want her; he don't care what becomes of her. If you pay him enough, he'll go, won't he? and not come back?"

The congressman raised his head.

"Why, yes," he faltered; "I think he will. Yes, I think I could arrange that. But, Cyrus--"

The captain held up his hand.

"I intend to look out for Bos'n," he said. "She cares for me more'n anyone else in the world. She's as much to me as my own child ever could be, and I'll see that she is happy and provided for. I'm religious enough to believe she was sent to me, and I intend to stick to my trust. As for the money--"

"Yes, yes! The money?"

"Well, I won't be too hard on you that way, either. We'll talk that over later on. Maybe we can arrange for you to pay it a little at a time. You can sign a paper showin' that you owe it, and we'll fix the payin' to suit all hands. 'Tain't as if the child was in want. I've got some money of my own, and what's mine's hers. I think we needn't worry about the money part."

"God bless you, Cyrus! I--"

"Yes, all right. I'm sure your askin' for the blessin' 'll be a great help. Now, you do your part, and I'll do mine. No one knows of this business but me. I didn't tell Everdean a word. He don't know why I hustled out there and back, nor why I asked so many questions. And he ain't the kind to pry into what don't concern him. So you're pretty safe, I cal'late. Now, if you don't mind, I wish you'd run along home. I'm--I'm used up, sort of."

Mr. Atkins arose from his knees. Even then, broken as he was--he looked ten years older than when he entered the room--he could hardly believe what he had just heard.

"You mean," he faltered, "Cyrus, do you mean that--that you're not going to reveal this--this--"

"That I'm not goin' to tell on you? Yup; that's what I mean. You get rid of Thomas and squelch that law case, and I'll keep mum. You can trust me for that."

"But--but, Cyrus, the people at home? Your story in the Breeze? You're not--"

"No, they needn't know, either. It'll be between you and me."

"God bless you! I'll never forget--"

"That's right. You mustn't. Forgettin' is the one thing you mustn't do. And, see here, you're boss of the political fleet in Bayport; you steer the school committee now. Phoebe Dawes ain't too popular with that committee; I'd see that she was popularized."

"Yes, yes; she shall be. She shall not be disturbed. Is there anything else I can do?"

"Why, yes, I guess there is. Speakin' of popularity made me think of it. That harbor appropriation had better go through."

A very faint tinge of color came into the congressman's chalky face. He hesitated in his reply.

"I--I don't know about that, Cyrus," he said. "The bill will probably be voted on in a few days. It is made up and--"

"Then I'd strain a p'int and make it over. I'd work real hard on it. I'm sorry about that sugar river, but I cal'late Bayport 'll have to come first. Yes, it'll have to, Heman; it sartin will."

The reference to the "sugar river" was the final straw. Evidently this man knew everything.

"I--I'll try my best," affirmed Heman. "Thank you, Cyrus. You have been more merciful than I had a right to expect."

"Yes, I guess I have. Why do I do it?" He smiled and shook his head. "Well, I don't know. For two reasons, maybe. First, I'd hate to be responsible for tippin' over such a sky-towerin' idol as you've been to make ruins for Angie Phinney and the other blackbirds to peck at and caw over. And second--well, it does sound presumin', don't it, but I kind of pity you. Say, Heman," he added with a chuckle, "that's a kind of distinction, in a way, ain't it? A good many folks have hurrahed over you and worshipped you--some of 'em, I guess likely, have envied you; but, by the big dipper! I do believe I'm the only one in this round world that ever PITIED you. Good-by. The elevator's right down the hall."

It required some resolution for the Honorable Atkins to walk down that corridor and press the elevator button. But he did it, somehow. A guest came out of one of the rooms and approached him as he stood there. It was a man he knew. Heman squared his shoulders and set every nerve and muscle.

"Good evening, Mr. Atkins," said the man. "A miserable night, isn't it?"

"Miserable, indeed," replied the congressman. The strength in his voice surprised him. The man passed on. Heman descended in the elevator, walked steadily through the crowded lobby and out to the curb where his cab was waiting. The driver noticed nothing strange in his fare's appearance. He noticed nothing strange when the Atkins residence was reached and its tenant mounted the stone steps and opened the door with his latchkey. But, if he had seen the dignified form collapse in a library chair and moan and rock back and forth until the morning hours, he would have wondered very much indeed.


Meanwhile Captain Cy, coughing and shivering by the radiator, had been summoned from that warm haven by a knock at his door. A bell boy stood at the threshold, holding a brown envelope in his hand.

"The clerk sent this up to you, sir," he said. "It came a week ago. When you went away, you didn't leave any address, and whatever letters came for you were sent back to Bayport, Massachusetts. The clerk says you registered from there, sir. But he kept this telegram. It was in your box, and the day clerk forgot to give it to you this afternoon."

The captain tore open the envelope. The telegram was from his lawyer, Mr. Peabody. It was dated a week before, and read as follows:


"Come home at once. Important."

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