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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 20. Divided Honors
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Cy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 20. Divided Honors Post by :David_C_H Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :738

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Cy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 20. Divided Honors

CHAPTER XX. DIVIDED HONORS

The blizzard began that night. Bayport has a generous allowance of storms and gales during a winter, although, as a usual thing, there is more rain than snow and more wind than either. But we can count with certainty on at least one blizzard between November and April, and about the time when Captain Cy, feverish and ill, the delayed telegram in his pocket and a great fear in his heart, boarded the sleeper of the East-bound train at Washington, snow was beginning to fall in our village.

Next morning, when Georgianna came downstairs to prepare Bos'n's breakfast--the housekeeper had ceased to "go home nights" since the captain's absence--the world outside was a tumbled, driving whirl of white. The woodshed and barn, dimly seen through the smother, were but gray shapes, emerging now and then only to be wiped from the vision as by a great flapping cloth wielded by the mighty hand of the wind. The old house shook in the blasts, the windowpanes rattled as if handfuls of small shot were being thrown against them, and the carpet on the floor of the dining room puffed up in miniature billows.

School was out of the question, and Bos'n, her breakfast eaten, prepared to put in a cozy day with her dolls and Christmas playthings.

"When DO you s'pose Uncle Cyrus will get home?" she asked of the housekeeper. She had asked the same thing at least three times a day during the fortnight, and Georgianna's answer was always just as unsatisfactory:

"I don't know, dearie, I'm sure. He'll be here pretty soon, though, don't you fret."

"Oh, I ain't going to fret. I know he'll come. He said he would, and Uncle Cy always does what he says he will."

About twelve Asaph made his appearance, a white statue.

"Godfrey scissors!" he panted, shaking his snow-plastered cap over the coal hod. "Say, this is one of 'em, ain't it? Don't know's I ever see more of a one. Drift out by the front fence pretty nigh up to my waist. This 'll be a nasty night along the Orham beach. The lifesavers 'll have their hands full. Whew! I'm about tuckered out."

"Been to the post office?" asked Georgianna in a low tone.

"Yup. I been there. Mornin' mail just this minute sorted. Train's two hours late. Gabe says more'n likely the evenin' train won't be able to get through at all, if this keeps up."

"Was there anything from--"

Mr. Tidditt glanced at Bos'n and shook his head.

"Not a word," he said. "Funny, ain't it? It don't seem a bit like him. And he can't be to Washin'ton, because all them letters came back. I--I swan to man, I'm beginnin' to get worried."

"Worried? I'm pretty nigh crazy! What does Phoebe Dawes say?"

"She don't say much. It's pretty tough, when everything else is workin' out so fine, thanks to her, to have this happen. No, she don't say much, but she acts pretty solemn."

"Say, Mr. Tidditt?"

"Yes, what is it?"

"You don't s'pose anything that happened betwixt her and Cap'n Whittaker that afternoon is responsible for--for his stayin' away so, do you? You know what he told me to tell her--about her not comin' here?"

Asaph fidgeted with the wet cap.

"Aw, that ain't nothin'," he stammered. "That is, I hope it ain't. I did say somethin' to him that--but Phoebe understands. She's a smart woman."

"You haven't told them boardin' house tattletales about the--Emmie, you go fetch me a card of matches from the kitchen, won't you--of what's been found out about that Thomas thing?"

"Course I ain't. Didn't Peabody say not to tell a soul till we was sure? S'pose I'd tell Keturah and Angie? Might's well paint it on a sign and be done with it. No, no! I've kept mum and you do the same. Well, I must be goin'. Hope to goodness we hear some good news from Whit by to-morrer."

But when to-morrow came news of any kind was unobtainable. No trains could get through, and the telephone and telegraph wires were out of commission, owing to the great storm. Bayport was buried under a white coverlet, three feet thick on a level, which shone in the winter sun as if powdered with diamond dust. The street-shoveling brigade, meaning most of the active male citizens, was busy with plows and shovels. Simmons's was deserted in the evenings, for most of the regular habitues went to bed after supper, tired out.

Two days of this. Then Gabe Lumley, his depot wagon replaced by a sleigh, drove the panting Daniel into the yard of the Cy Whittaker place. Gabe was much excited. He had news of importance to communicate and was puffed up in consequence.

"The wire's all right again, Georgianna," he said to the housekeeper, who had hurried to the door to meet him. "Fust message just come through. Guess who it's for?"

"Stop your foolishness, Gabe Lumley!" ordered Miss Taylor. "Hand over that telegram this minute. Don't you stop to talk! Hand it over!"

Gabe didn't intend to be "corked" thus peremptorily.

"It's pretty important news, Georgianna," he declared. "Kind of bad news, too. I think I'd ought to prepare you for it, sort of. When Cap'n Obed Pepper died, I--"

"DIED! For the land sakes! WHAT are you sayin'? Give me that, you foolhead! Give it to me!"

She snatched the telegram from him and tore it open. It was not as bad as might have been, but it was bad enough. Lawyer Peabody wired that Captain Cyrus Whittaker was at his home in Ostable, sick in bed, and threatened with pneumonia.

 

Captain Cy, hurrying homeward in response to the attorney's former telegram, had reached Boston the day of the blizzard. He had taken the train for Bayport that afternoon. The train had reached Ostable after nine o'clock that night, but could get no farther. The captain, burning with fever and torn by chills, had wallowed through the drifts to his lawyer's home and collapsed on his doorstep. Now he was very ill and, at times, delirious.

For two weeks he lay, fighting off the threatened attack of pneumonia. But he won the fight, and, at last, word came to the anxious ones at Bayport that he was past the danger point and would pull through. There was rejoicing at the Cy Whittaker place. The Board of Strategy came and performed an impromptu war dance around the dining-room table.

"Whe-e-e!" shouted Bailey Bangs, tossing Bos'n above his head. "Your Uncle Cy's weathered the Horn and is bound for clear water now. Three cheers for our side! Won't we give him a reception when we get him back here!"

"Won't we?" crowed Asaph. "Well, I just guess we will! You ought to hear Angie and the rest of 'em chant hymns of glory about him. A body'd think they always knew he was the salt of the earth. Maybe I don't rub it in a little, hey? Oh, no, maybe not!"

"And Heman!" chimed in Mr. Bangs. "And Heman! Would you ever believe HE'D change so all of a sudden? Bully old Whit! I can mention his name now without Ketury's landin' onto me like a snowslide. Whee! I say, wh-e-e-e!"

He continued to say it; and Georgianna and Asaph said what amounted to the same thing. A change had come over our Bayport social atmosphere, a marvelous change. And at Simmons's and--more wonderful still--at Tad Simpson's barber' shop, plans were being made and perfected for proceedings in which Cyrus Whittaker was to play the most prominent part.

Meanwhile the convalescence went on at a rapid rate. As soon as he was permitted to talk, Captain Cy began to question his lawyer. How about the appeal? Had Atkins done anything further? The answers were satisfactory. The case had been dropped: the Honorable Heman had announced its withdrawal. He had said that he had changed his mind and should not continue to espouse the Thomas cause. In fact, he seemed to have whirled completely about on his pedestal and, like a compass, now pointed only in one direction--toward his "boyhood friend" and present neighbor, Cyrus Whittaker.

"It's perfectly astounding," commented Peabody. "What in the world, captain, did you do to him while you were in Washington?"

"Oh! nothin' much," was the rather disinterested answer. "Him and me had a talk, and he saw the error of his ways, I cal'late. How's Bos'n to-day? Did you give her my love when you 'phoned?"

"So far as the case is concerned," went on the lawyer, "I think we should have won that, anyway. It's a curious thing. Thomas has disappeared. How he got word, or who he got it from, _I don't know; but he must have, and he's gone somewhere, no one knows where. And yet I'm not certain that we were on the right trail. It seemed certain a week ago, but now--"

The captain had not been listening. He was thinking. Thomas had gone, had he! Good! Heman was living up to his promises. And Bos'n, God bless her, was free from that danger.

"Have you heard from Emmie, I asked you?" he repeated.

He would not listen to anything further concerning Thomas, either then or later. He was sick of the whole business, he declared, and now that everything was all right, didn't wish to talk about it again. He asked nothing about the appropriation, and the lawyer, acting under strict orders, did not mention it.

Only once did Captain Cy inquire concerning a person in his home town who was not a member of his household.

"How is--er--how's the teacher?" he inquired one morning.

"How's who?"

"Why--Phoebe Dawes, the school-teacher. Smart, is she?"

"Yes, indeed! Why, she has been the most--"

The doctor came in just then and the interview terminated. It was not resumed, because that afternoon Mr. Peabody started for Boston on a business trip, to be gone some time.

And at last came the great day, the day when Captain Cy was to be taken home. He was up and about, had been out for several short walks, and was very nearly his own self again. He was in good spirits, too, at times, but had fits of seeming depression which, under the circumstances, were unexplainable. The doctor thought they were due to his recent illness and forbade questioning.

The original plan had been for the captain to go to Bayport in the train, but the morning set for his departure was such a beautiful one that Mr. Peabody, who had the day before returned from the city, suggested driving over. So the open carriage, drawn by the Peabody "span," was brought around to the front steps, and the captain, bundled up until, as he said, he felt like a wharf rat inside a cotton bale, emerged from the house which had sheltered him for a weary month and climbed to the back seat. The attorney got in beside him.

"All ashore that's goin' ashore," observed Captain Cy. Then to the driver, who stood by the horses' heads, he added: "Stand by to get ship under way, commodore. I'm homeward bound, and there's a little messmate of mine waitin' on the dock already, I wouldn't wonder. So don't hang around these waters no longer'n you can help."

But Mr. Peabody smiled and laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Just a minute, captain," he said. "We've got another passenger. She came to the house last evening, but Dr. Cole thought this would be an exciting day for you, and you must sleep in preparation for it. So we kept her in the background. It was something of a job but--Hurrah! here she is!"

Mrs. Peabody, the lawyer's wife, opened the front door. She was laughing. The next moment a small figure shot past her, down the steps, and into the carriage like a red-hooded bombshell.

"Uncle Cyrus!" she screamed joyously. "Uncle Cyrus, it's me! Here I am!"

And Captain Cy, springing up and shedding wraps and robes, received the bombshell with open arms and hugged it tight.

"Bos'n!" he shouted. "By the big dipper! BOS'N! Why, you little--you--you--"

That was a wonderful ride. Emily sat in the captain's lap--he positively refused to let her sit beside him on the seat, although Peabody urged it, fearing the child might tire him--and her tongue rattled like a sewing machine. She had a thousand things to tell, about her school, about Georgianna, about her dolls, about Lonesome, the cat, and how many mice he had caught, about the big snowstorm.

"Georgianna wanted me to stay at home and wait for you, Uncle Cy," she said, "but I teased and teased and finally they said I could come over. I came yesterday on the train. Mr. Tidditt went with me to the depot. Mrs. Peabody let me peek into your room last night and I saw you eating supper. You didn't know I was there, did you?"

"You bet I didn't! There'd have been a mutiny right then if I'd caught sight of you. You little sculpin! Playin' it on your Uncle Cy, was you? I didn't know you could keep a secret so well."

"Oh, yes I can! Why, I know an ever so much bigger secret, too. It is--Why! I 'most forgot. You just wait."

The captain laughingly begged her to divulge the big secret, but she shook her small head and refused. The horses trotted on at a lively pace, and the miles separating Ostable and Bayport were subtracted one by one. It was magnificent winter weather. The snow had disappeared from the road, except in widely separated spots, but the big drifts still heaped the fields and shone and sparkled in the sunshine. Against their whiteness the pitch pines and cedars stood darkly green and the skeleton scrub oaks and bushes cast delicate blue-penciled shadows. The bay, seen over the flooded, frozen salt meadows and distant dunes, was in its winter dress of the deepest sapphire, trimmed with whitecaps and fringed with stranded ice cakes. There was a snap and tang in the breeze which braced one like a tonic. The party in the carriage was a gay one.

"Getting tired, captain?" asked Peabody.

"Who? Me? Well, I guess not. 'Most home, Bos'n. There's the salt works ahead there."

They passed the abandoned salt works, the crumbling ruins of a dead industry, and the boundary stone, now half hidden in a drift, marking the beginning of Bayport township. Then, from the pine grove at the curve farther on, appeared two capped and coated figures, performing a crazy fandango.

"Who's them two lunatics," inquired Captain Cy, "whoopin' and carryin' on in the middle of the road? Has anybody up this way had a jug come by express or--Hey! WHAT? Why, you old idiots you! COME here and let me get a hold of you!"

The Board of Strategy swooped down upon the carriage like Trumet mosquitoes on a summer boarder. They swarmed into the vehicle, Bailey on the front seat and Asaph in the rear, where, somehow or other, they made room for him. There were handshakings and thumps on the back.

"What you doin' 'way up here in the west end of nowhere?" demanded Captain Cy. "By the big dipper, I'm glad to see you! How'd you get here?"

"Walked," cackled Bailey. "Frogged it all the way. Soon's Mrs. Peabody wired you was goin' to ride, me and Ase started to meet you. Wan't you surprised?"

"We wanted to be the fust to say howdy, old man," explained Asaph. "Wanted to welcome you back, you know."

The captain was immensely pleased.

"Well, I'm glad I've got so much popularity, anyhow," he said. "Guess 'twill be different when I get down street, hey? Don't cal'late Tad and Angie 'll shed the joyous tear over me. Never mind; long's my friends are glad I don't care about the rest."

The Board looked at each other.

"Tad?" repeated Bailey. "And Angie? What you talkin' about? Why, they--Ugh!"

The last exclamation was the result of a tremendous dig in the ribs from the Tidditt fist. Asaph, who had leaned forward to administer it, was frowning and shaking his head. Mr. Bangs relapsed into a grinning silence.

West Bayport seemed to be deserted. At one or two houses, however, feminine heads appeared at the windows. One old lady shook a calico apron at the carriage. A child beside her cried: "Hurrah!"

"Aunt Hepsy h'istin' colors by mistake," laughed the captain. "She ain't got her specs, I guess, and thinks I'm Heman. That comes of ridin' astern of a span, Peabody."

But as they drew near the Center flags were flying from front-yard poles. Some of the houses were decorated.

"What in the world--" began Captain Cy. "Land sakes! look at the schoolhouse. And Simmons's! And--and Simpson's!"

The schoolhouse flag was flapping in the wind. The scarred wooden pillars of its portico were hidden with bunting. Simmons's front displayed a row of little banners, each bearing a letter--the letters spelled "Welcome Home." Tad's barber shop was more or less artistically wreathed in colored tissue paper. There, too, a flag was draped over the front door. Yet not a single person was in sight.

"For goodness' sake!" cried the bewildered captain. "What's all this mean? And where is everybody. Have all hands--"

He stopped in the middle of the sentence. They were at the foot of Whittaker's Hill. Its top, between the Atkins's gate and the Whittaker fence, was black with people. Children pranced about the outskirts of the crowd. A shout came down the wind. The horses, not in the least fatigued by their long canter, trotted up the slope. The shouting grew louder. A wave of youngsters came racing to meet the equipage.

"What--what in time?" gasped Captain Cy. "What's up? I--"

And then the town clerk seized him by the arm. Peabody shook his other hand. Bos'n threw her arms about his neck. Bailey stood up and waved his hat.

"It's you, you old critter!" whooped Asaph. "It's YOU, d'you understand?"

"The appropriation has gone through," explained the lawyer, "and this is the celebration in consequence. And you are the star attraction because, you see, everyone knows you are responsible for it."

"That's what!" howled the excited Bangs. "And we're goin' to show you what we think of you for doin' it. We've been plannin' this for over a fortni't."

"And I knew it all the time," squealed Bos'n, "and I didn't tell a word, did I?"

"Three cheers for Captain Whittaker!" bellowed a person in the crowd. This person--wonder of wonders!--was Tad Simpson.

The cheering was, considering the size of the crowd, tremendous. Bewildered and amazed, Captain Cy was assisted from the carriage and escorted to his front door. Amidst the handkerchief-waving, applauding people he saw Keturah Bangs and Alpheus Smalley and Angeline Phinney and Captain Salters--even Alonzo Snow, his recent opponent in town meeting. Josiah Dimick was there, too, apparently having a fit.

On the doorstep stood Georgianna and--and--yes, it was true--beside her, grandly extending a welcoming hand, the majestic form of the Honorable Heman Atkins. Some one else was there also, some one who hurriedly slipped back into the crowd as the owner of the Cy Whittaker place came up the path between the hedges.

Mr. Atkins shook the captain's hand and then, turning toward the people, held up his own for silence. To all outward appearance, he was still the great Heman, our district idol, philanthropist, and leader. His silk hat glistened as of old, his chest swelled in the old manner, his whiskers were just as dignified and awe-inspiring. For an instant, as he met the captain's eye, his own faltered and fell, and there was a pleading expression in his face, the lines of which had deepened just a little. But only for an instant; then he began to speak.

"Cyrus," he said, "it is my pleasant duty, on behalf of your neighbors and friends here assembled, to welcome you to your--er--ancestral home after your trying illness. I do it heartily, sincerely, gladly. And it is the more pleasing to me to perform this duty, because, as I have explained publicly to my fellow-townspeople, all disagreement between us is ended. I was wrong--again I publicly admit it. A scheming blackleg, posing in the guise of a loving father, imposed upon me. I am sorry for the trouble I have caused you. Of you and of the little girl with you I ask pardon--I entreat forgiveness."

He paused. Captain Cy, the shadow of a smile at the corner of his mouth, nodded, and said briefly:

"All right, Heman. I forgive you." Few heard him: the majority were applauding the congressman. Sylvanus Cahoon, whispering in the ear of "Uncle Bedny," expressed as his opinion that "that was about as magnaminious a thing as ever I heard said. Yes, sir! mag-na-min-ious--that's what _I call it."

"But," continued the great Atkins, "I have said all this to you before. What I have to say now--what I left my duties in Washington expressly to come here and say--is that Bayport thanks you, _I thank you, for your tremendous assistance in obtaining the appropriation which is to make our harbor a busy port where our gallant fishing fleet may ride at anchor and unload its catch, instead of transferring it in dories as heretofore. Friends, I have already told you how this man"--laying a hand on the captain's shoulder--"came to the Capital and used his influence among his acquaintances in high places, with the result that the thirty thousand dollars, which I had despaired of getting, was added to the bill. I had the pleasure of voting for that bill. It passed. I am proud of that vote."

Tremendous applause. Then some one called for three cheers for Mr. Atkins. They were given. But the recipient merely bowed.

"No, no," he said deprecatingly. "No, no! not for me, my friends, much as I appreciate your gratitude. My days of public service are nearly at an end. As I have intimated to some of you already, I am seriously considering retiring from political life in the near future. But that is irrelevant; it is not material at present. To-day we meet, not to say farewell to the setting, but to greet the rising sun. _I call for three cheers for our committee of one--Captain Cyrus Whittaker."

When the uproar had at last subsided, there were demands for a speech from Captain Cy. But the captain, facing them, his arms about the delighted Bos'n, positively declined to orate.

"I--I'm ever so much obliged to you, folks," he stammered. "I am so. But you'll have to excuse me from speechmaking. They--they didn't teach it afore the mast, where I went to college. Thank you, just the same. And do come and see me, everybody. Me and this little girl," drawing Emily nearer to him, "will be real glad to have you."

After the handshaking and congratulating were over, the crowd dispersed. It was a great occasion; all agreed to that, but the majority considered it a divided triumph. The captain had done a lot for the town, of course, but the Honorable Atkins had made another splendid impression by his address of welcome. Most people thought it as fine as his memorable effort at town meeting. Unlike that one, however, in this instance it is safe to say that none, not even the adoring and praise-chanting Miss Phinney, derived quite the enjoyment from the congressman's speech that Captain Cy did. It tickled his sense of humor.

"Ase," he observed irrelevantly when the five--Tidditt, Georgianna, Bailey, Bos'n, and himself were at last alone again in the sitting room, "it DON'T pay to tip over a monument, does it--not out in public, I mean. You wouldn't want to see me blow up Bunker Hill, would you?"

"Blow up Bunker Hill!" repeated Asaph in alarmed amazement. "Godfrey scissors! I believe you're goin' loony. This day's been too much for you. What are you talkin' about?"

"Oh, nothin'," with a quiet chuckle. "I was thinkin' out loud, that's all. Did you ever notice them imitation stone pillars on Heman's house? They're holler inside, but you'd never guess it. And, long as you do know they're holler, you can keep a watch on 'em. And there's one thing sure," he added, "they ARE ornamental."

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