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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 21. Captain Cy's "Picture"
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Cy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 21. Captain Cy's 'Picture' Post by :DerekGehl Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :3350

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Cy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 21. Captain Cy's "Picture"

CHAPTER XXI. CAPTAIN CY'S "PICTURE"

"Wonder where Phoebe went to," remarked Mr. Tidditt, a little later. "I thought I saw her with Heman and Georgianna on the front steps when we drove up."

"She was there," affirmed the housekeeper. "She'd been helpin' me trim up the rooms here. What do you think of 'em, Cap'n Cyrus? Ain't they pretty?"

The sitting room and dining room were gay with evergreens and old-fashioned flowers. Our living room windows in the winter time are usually filled with carefully tended potted plants, and the neighbors had loaned their geraniums and fuchsias and heliotrope and begonias to brighten the Whittaker house for its owner's return. Captain Cy, who was sitting in the rocker, with Bos'n on his knee, looked about him. Now that the first burst of excitement was over, he seemed grave and preoccupied.

"They look mighty pretty, Georgianna," he said. "Fine enough. But what was that you just said? Did--"

"Yup," interrupted Miss Taylor, who had scarcely ceased talking since breakfast that morning. "Yes, 'twas teacher that helped fix 'em. Not that I wouldn't have got along without her, but I had more to do than a little, cleanin' and scrubbin' up. So Phoebe she come in, and--Oh! yes, as I was sayin', she was out front with me, but the minute your carriage drove up with that lovely span--AIN'T that a fine span! I cal'late they're--"

"What become of teacher?" broke in Bailey.

"Why, she run off somewheres. I didn't see where she went to; I was too busy hollerin' at Cap'n Whittaker and noticin' that span. I bet you they made Angie Phinney's eyes stick out. I guess she realizes that we in this house are some punkins now. If I don't lord it over her when I run acrost her these days, then I miss my guess. I--"

"Belay!" ordered Captain Cy, his gravity more pronounced than ever. "How does it happen that you--See here, Georgianna, did you tell Ph--er--Miss Dawes what I told you to tell her when I went away?"

"Why, yes, I told her. I hated to, dreadful, but I done it. She was awful set back at fust, but I guess she asked Mr. Tidditt--Where you goin', Mr. Tidditt?"

The town clerk, his face red, was on his way to the door.

"Asked Ase?" repeated the captain. "Ase, come here! Did you tell her anything?"

Asaph was very much embarrassed.

"Well," he stammered, "I didn't mean to, Cy, but she got to askin' me questions, and somehow or nother I did tell her about our confab, yours and mine. I told her that I knew folks was talkin', and I felt 'twas my duty to tell you so. That's why I done it, and I told her you said--well, you know what you said yourself, Cy."

Captain Cy was evidently much disturbed. He put Bos'n down, and rose to his feet.

"Well," he asked sharply, "what did she say?"

"Oh! she was white and still for a minute or two. Then she kind of stamped her foot and went off and left me. But next time she met me she was nice as pie. She's been pretty frosty to Angie and the rest of 'em, but she's been always nice to Bailey and me. Why, when I asked her pardon, she said not at all, she was very glad to know the truth; it helped her to understand things. And you could see she meant it, too. She--"

"So she has been comin' here ever since. And the gossip has been goin' on, I s'pose. Well, by the big dipper, it'll stop now! I'll see to that."

The Board of Strategy and the housekeeper were amazed.

"Gossip!" repeated Bailey. "Well, I guess there ain't nothin' said against her now--not in THIS town, there ain't! Why, all hands can't praise her enough for her smartness in findin' out about that Thomas. If it wan't for her, he'd be botherin' you yet, Cy. You know it. What are you talkin' about?"

Captain Cy passed his hand over his forehead.

"Bos'n," he said slowly, "you run and help Georgianna in the kitchen a spell. She's got her dinner to look out for, I guess likely. Georgianna," to the housekeeper, who looked anything but eager, "you better see to your dinner right off, and take Emmie with you."

Miss Taylor reluctantly departed, leading Bos'n by the hand. The child was loath to leave her uncle, but he told her he wouldn't give a cent for his first dinner at home if she didn't help in preparing it. So she went out happy.

"Now, then," demanded the captain, "what's this about Phoebe and Thomas? I want to know. Stop! Don't ask another question. Answer me first."

So the Board of Strategy, by turns and in concert, told of the drive to Trumet and the call on Debby Beasley. Asaph would have narrated the story of the upset sulky, but Bailey shut him up in short order.

"Never mind that foolishness," he snapped. "You see, Cy, Debby had just been out to Arizona visitin' old Beasley's niece. And she'd fell in with a woman out there whose husband had run off and left her. And Debby, she read the advertisement about him in the Arizona paper, and it said he had the spring halt in his off hind leg, or somethin' similar. Now, Thomas, he had that, too, and there was other things that reminded Phoebe of him. So she don't say nothin' to nobody, but she writes to this woman askin' for more partic'lars and a photograph of the missin' one. The partic'lars come, but the photograph didn't; the wife didn't have none, I b'lieve. But there was enough to send Phoebe hotfoot to Mr. Peabody. And Peabody he writes to his lawyer friend in Butte, Montana. And the Butte man he--"

"Well, the long and short of it is," cut in Tidditt, "that it looked safe and sartin that Thomas HAD married the Arizona woman while his real wife, Bos'n's ma, was livin', and had run off and left her same as he did Mary. And the funny part of it is--"

"The funny part of it is," declared Bangs, drowning his friend's voice by raising his own, "that somebody out there, some scalawag friend of this Thomas, must have got wind of what was up, and sent word to him. 'Cause, when they went to hunt for him in Boston, he'd gone, skipped, cut stick. And they ain't seen him since. He was afraid of bein' took up for bigamist, you see--for bein' a bigamy, I mean. Well, you know what I'm tryin' to say. Anyhow, if it hadn't been for me and Phoebe--"

"YOU and Phoebe!" snorted Asaph. "You had a whole lot to do with it, didn't you? You and Aunt Debby 'll do to go together. I understand she's cruisin' round makin' proclamations that SHE was responsible for the whole thing. No, sir-ree! it's Phoebe Dawes that the credit belongs to, and this town ain't done nothin' but praise her since it come out. You never see such a quick come-about in your life--unless 'twas Heman's. But you knew all this afore, Whit. Peabody must have told you."

Captain Cy had listened to his friends' story with a face expressive of the most blank astonishment. As he learned of the trip to Trumet and its results, his eyes and mouth opened, and he repeatedly rubbed his forehead and muttered exclamations. Now, at the mention of his lawyer's name, he seemed to awaken.

"Hold on!" he interrupted, waving his hand. "Hold on! By the big dipper! this is--is--Where IS Peabody? I want to see him."

"Here I am, captain," said the attorney. He had been out to the barn to superintend the stabling of the span, but for the past five minutes had been standing, unnoticed by his client, on the threshold of the dining room.

"See here," demanded Captain Cy, "see here, Peabody; is this yarn true? IS it, now? this about--about Phoebe and all?"

"Certainly it's true. I supposed you knew it. You didn't seem surprised when I told you the case was settled."

"Surprised? Why, no! I thought Heman had--Never mind that. Land of love! SHE did it. She!"

He sat weakly down. The lawyer looked anxious.

"Mr. Tidditt," he whispered, "I think perhaps he had better be left alone for the present. He's just up from a sick bed, and this has been a trying forenoon. Come in again this afternoon. I shall try to persuade him to take a nap."

The Board of Strategy, its curiosity unsatisfied, departed reluctantly. When Mr. Peabody returned to the sitting room he found that naps were far, indeed, from the captain's thoughts. The latter was pacing the sitting-room floor.

"Where is she?" he demanded. "She was standin' on the steps with Heman. Have you seen her since?"

His friend was troubled.

"Why, yes, I've seen her," he said. "I have been talking with her. She has gone away."

"Gone AWAY! Where? What do you mean? She ain't--ain't left Bayport?"

"No, no. What in the world should she leave Bayport for? She has gone to her boarding house, I guess; at all events, she was headed in that direction."

"Why didn't she shake hands with me? What made her go off and not say a word? Oh, well, I guess likely I know the why!" He sighed despondently. "I told her never to come here again."

"You did? What in the world--"

"Well, for what I thought was good reasons; all on her account they was. And yet she did come back, and kept comin', even after Ase blabbed the whole thing. However, I s'pose that was just to help Georgianna. Oh, hum! I AM an old fool."

The lawyer inspected him seriously.

"Well, captain," he said slowly, "if it is any comfort for you to know that your reason isn't the correct one for Miss Dawes's going away, I can assure you on that point. I think she went because she was greatly disappointed, and didn't wish to see you just now."

"Disappointed? What do you mean?"

"Humph! I didn't mean to tell you yet, but I judge that I'd better. No one knows it here but Miss Dawes and I, and probably no one but us three need ever know it. You see, the fact is that the Arizona woman, Desire Higgins, isn't Mrs. Thomas at all. He isn't her missing husband."

"What?"

"Yes, it's so. Really, it was too much of a coincidence to be possible, and yet it certainly did seem that it would prove true. This Higgins woman was, apparently, so anxious to find her missing man that she was ready to recognize almost any description; and the slight lameness and the fact of his having been in Montana helped along. If we could have gotten a photograph sooner, the question would have been settled. Only last week, while I was in Boston, I got word from the detective agency that a photo had been received. I went to see it immediately. There was some resemblance, but not enough. Henry Thomas was never Mr. Higgins."

"But--but--they say Thomas has skipped out."

"Yes, he has. That's the queer part of it. At the place where he boarded we learned that he got a letter from Arizona--trust the average landlady to look at postmarks--that he seemed greatly agitated all that day, and left that night. No one has seen him since. Why he went is a puzzle. Where, we don't care. So long as he keeps out of our way, that's enough."

Captain Cy did not care, either. He surmised that Mr. Atkins might probably explain the disappearance. And yet, oddly enough, this explanation was not the true one. The Honorable Heman solemnly assured the captain that he had not communicated with Emily's father. He intended to do so, as a part of the compact agreed upon at the hotel, but the man had fled. And the mystery is still unsolved. The supposition is that there really was a wife somewhere in the West. Who or where she was no Bayporter knows. Henry Thomas has never come back to explain.

"I told Miss Dawes of the photograph and what it proved," went on Peabody. "She was dreadfully disappointed. She could hardly speak when she left me. I urged her to come in and see you, but she wouldn't. Evidently she had set her heart on helping you and the child. It is too bad, because, practically speaking, we owe everything to her. There is little doubt that the inquiry set on foot by her scared the Thomas fellow into flight. And she has worked night and day to aid us. She is a very clever woman, Captain Whittaker, and a good one. You can't thank her enough. Here! what are you about?"

Captain Cy strode past him into the dining room. The hat rack hung on the wall by the side door. He snatched his cap from the peg, and was struggling into his overcoat.

"Where are you going?" demanded the lawyer. "You mustn't attempt to walk now. You need rest."

"Rest! I'll rest by and by. Just now I've got business to attend to. Let go of that pea-jacket."

"But--"

"No buts about it. I'll see you later. So long."

He threw open the door and hurried down the walk. The lawyer watched him in amazement. Then a slow smile overspread his face.

"Captain," he called. "Captain Whittaker."

Captain Cy looked back over his shoulder. "What do you want?" he asked.

Mr. Peabody's face was now intensely solemn, but there was a twinkle in his eye.

"I think she's at the boarding house," he said demurely. "I'm pretty certain you'll find her there."

All the regulars at the perfect boarding house had, of course, attended the reception at the Cy Whittaker place. None of them, with the exception of the schoolmistress, had as yet returned. Dinner had been forgotten in the excitement of the great day, and Keturah and Angeline and Mrs. Tripp had stopped in at various dwellings along the main road, to compare notes on the captain's appearance and the Atkins address. Asaph and Bailey and Alpheus Smalley were at Simmons's.

Captain Cy knew better than to attempt his hurried trip by way of the road. He had no desire to be held up and congratulated. He went across lots, in the rear of barns and orchards, wading through drifts and climbing fences as no sane convalescent should. But the captain at that moment was suffering from the form of insanity known as the fixed idea. She had done all this for him--for HIM. And his last message to her had been an insult.

He approached the Bangs property by the stable lane. No one locks doors in our village, and those of the perfect boarding house were unfastened. He entered by way of the side porch, just as he had done when Gabe Lumley's depot wagon first deposited him in that yard. But now he entered on tiptoe. The dining room was empty. He peeped into the sitting room. There, by the center table, sat Phoebe Dawes, her elbow on the arm of her chair, and her head resting on her hand.

"Ahem! Phoebe!" said Captain Cy.

She started, turned, and saw him standing there. Her eyes were wet, and there was a handkerchief in her lap.

"Phoebe," said the captain anxiously, "have you been cryin'?"

She rose on the instant. A great wave of red swept over her face. The handkerchief fell to the floor, and she stooped and picked it up.

"Crying?" she repeated confusedly. "Why, no, of course--of course not! I--How do you do, Captain Whittaker? I'm--we're all very glad to see you home again--and well."

She extended her hand. Captain Cy reached forward to take it; then he hesitated.

"I don't think I'd ought to let you shake hands with me, Phoebe," he said. "Not until I beg your pardon."

"Beg my pardon? Why?"

He absently took the hand and held it.

"For the word I sent to you when I went away. 'Twas an awful thing to say, but I meant it for your sake, you know. Honest, I did."

She laughed nervously.

"Oh! that," she said. "Well, I did think you were rather particular as to your visitors. But Mr. Tidditt explained, and then--You needn't beg my pardon. I appreciate your thoughtfulness. I knew you meant to be kind to me."

"That's what I did. But you didn't obey orders. You kept comin'. Now, why--"

"Why? Did you suppose that _I cared for the malicious gossip of--such people? I came because you were in trouble, and I hoped to help you. And--and I thought I had helped, until a few minutes ago."

Her lip quivered. That quiver went to the captain's heart.

"Helped?" he faltered. "Helped? Why, you've done so much that I can't ever thank you. You've been the only real helper I've had in all this miserable business. You've stood by me all through."

"But it was all wrong. He isn't the man at all. Didn't Mr. Peabody tell you?"

"Yes, yes, he told me. What difference does that make? Peabody be hanged! He ain't in this. It's you and me--don't you see? What made you do all this for me?"

She looked at the floor and not at him as she answered.

"Why, because I wanted to help you," she said. "I've been alone in the world ever since mother died, years ago. I've had few real friends. Your friendship had come to mean a great deal to me. The splendid fight you were making for that little girl proved what a man you were. And you fought so bravely when almost everyone was against you, I couldn't help wanting to do something for you. How could I? And now it has come to nothing--my part of it. I'm so sorry."

"It ain't, neither. It's come to everything. Phoebe, I didn't mean to say very much more than to beg your pardon when I headed for here. But I've got to--I've simply got to. This can't go on. I can't have you keep comin' to see me--and Bos'n. I can't keep meetin' you every day. I CAN'T."

She looked up, as if to speak, but something, possibly the expression in his face, caused her to look quickly down again. She did not answer.

"I can't do it," continued the captain desperately. "'Tain't for what folks might say. They wouldn't say much when I was around, I tell you. It ain't that. It's because I can't bear to have you just a friend. Either you must be more'n that, or--or I'll have to go somewheres else. I realized that when I was in Washin'ton and cruisin' to California and back. I've either got to take Bos'n and go away for good, or--or--"

She would not help him. She would not speak.

"You see?" he groaned. "You see, Phoebe, what an old fool I am. I can't ask you to marry me, me fifty-five, and rough from knockin' round the world, and you, young and educated, and a lady. I ain't fool enough to ask such a thing as that. And yet, I couldn't stay here and meet you every day, and by and by see you marry somebody else. By the big dipper, I couldn't do it! So that's why I can't shake hands with you to-day--nor any more, except when I say good-by for keeps."

Then she looked up. The color was still bright in her face, and her eyes were moist, but she was smiling.

"Can't shake hands with me?" she said. "Please, what have you been doing for the last five minutes?"

Captain Cy dropped her hand as if his own had been struck with paralysis.

"Good land!" he stammered. "I didn't know I did it; honest truth, I didn't."

Phoebe's smile was still there, faint, but very sweet.

"Why did you stop?" she queried. "I didn't ask you to."

"Why did I stop? Why, because I--I--I declare I'm ashamed--"

She took his hand and clasped it with both her own.

"I'm not," she said bravely, her eyes brightening as the wonder and incredulous joy grew in his. "I'm very proud. And very, very happy."

There was to be a big supper at the Cy Whittaker place that night. It was an impromptu affair, arranged on the spur of the moment by Captain Cy, who, in spite of the lawyer's protests and anxiety concerning his health, went serenely up and down the main road, inviting everybody he met or could think of. The captain's face was as radiant as a spring sunrise. His smile, as Asaph said, "pretty nigh cut the upper half of his head off." People who had other engagements, and would, under ordinary circumstances, have refused the invitation, couldn't say no to his hearty, "Can't come? Course you'll come! Man alive! I WANT you."

"Invalid, is he?" observed Josiah Dimick, after receiving and accepting his own invitation. "Well, I wish to thunder I could be took down with the same kind of disease. I'd be willin' to linger along with it quite a spell if it pumped me as full of joy as Whit seems to be. Don't give laughin' gas to keep off pneumonia, do they? No? Well, I'd like to know the name of his medicine, that's all."

Supper was to be ready at six. Georgianna, assisted by Keturah Bangs, Mrs. Sylvanus Cahoon, and other volunteers, was gloriously busy in the kitchen. The table in the dining room reached from one end of the big apartment to the other. Guests would begin to arrive shortly. Wily Mr. Peabody, guessing that Captain Cy might prefer to be alone, had taken the Board of Strategy out riding behind the span.

In the sitting room, around the baseburner stove, were three persons--Captain Cy, Bos'n, and Phoebe. Miss Dawes had "come early," at the captain's urgent appeal. Now she was sitting in the rocker, at one side of the stove, gazing dreamily at the ruddy light behind the isinglass panes. She looked quietly, blissfully contented and happy. At her feet, on the braided mat, sat Bos'n, playing with Lonesome, who purred lazily. The little girl was happy, too, for was not her beloved Uncle Cyrus at home again, with all danger of their separation ended forevermore?

As for Captain Cy himself, the radiant expression was still on his face, brighter than ever. He looked across at Phoebe, who smiled back at him. Then he glanced down at Bos'n. And all at once he realized that this was the fulfillment of his dream. Here was his "picture"; the sitting room was now as he had always loved to think of it--as it used to be. He was in his father's chair, Phoebe in the one his mother used to occupy, and between them--just where he had sat so often when a boy--the child. The Cy Whittaker place had again, and at last, come into its own.

He drew a long breath, and looked about the room; at the stove, the lamp, the old, familiar furniture, at his grandfather's portrait over the mantel. Then, in a flash of memory, his father's words came back to him, and he said, laughing aloud from pure happiness:

"Bos'n, run down cellar and get me a pitcher of cider, won't you?--there's a good feller."


(THE END)
Joseph Crosby Lincoln's Novel: Cy Whittaker's Place

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