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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Portygee - Chapter 20
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The Portygee - Chapter 20 Post by :Norman Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :2876

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The Portygee - Chapter 20

CHAPTER XX

Albert, sitting in the private office of Z. Snow and Co., dropped his newspaper and looked up with a smile as his grandfather came in. Captain Zelotes' florid face was redder even than usual, for it was a cloudy day in October and blowing a gale.

"Whew!" puffed the captain, pulling off his overcoat and striding over to warm his hands at the stove; "it's raw as January comin' over the tops of those Trumet hills, and blowin' hard enough to part your back hair, besides. One time there I didn't know but I'd have to reef, cal'late I would if I'd known how to reef an automobile."

"Is the car running as well as ever?" asked Albert.

"You bet you! Took all but two of those hills on full steam and never slowed down a mite. Think of goin' to Trumet and back in a forenoon, and havin' time enough to do the talkin' I went to do besides. Why, Jess would have needed the whole day to make the down cruise, to say nothin' of the return trip. Well, the old gal's havin' a good rest now, nothin' much to do but eat and sleep. She deserves it; she's been a good horse for your grandma and me."

He rubbed his hands before the stove and chuckled.

"Olive's still scared to death for fear I'll get run into, or run over somebody or somethin'," he observed. "I tell her I can navigate that car now the way I used to navigate the old President Hayes, and I could do that walkin' in my sleep. There's a little exaggeration there," he added, with a grin. "It takes about all my gumption when I'm wide awake to turn the flivver around in a narrow road, but I manage to do it. . . . Well, what are you doin' in here, Al?" he added. "Readin' the Item's prophesy about how big your majority's goin' to be?"

Albert smiled. "I dropped in here to wait for you, Grandfather," he replied. "The novel-writing mill wasn't working particularly well, so I gave it up and took a walk."

"To the parsonage, I presume likely?"

"Well, I did stop there for a minute or two."

"You don't say! I'm surprised to hear it. How is Helen this mornin'? Did she think you'd changed much since you saw her last night?"

"I don't know. She didn't say so if she did. She sent her love to you and Grandmother--"

"What she had left over, you mean."

"And said to tell you not to tire yourself out electioneering for me. That was good advice, too. Grandfather, don't you know that you shouldn't motor all the way to Trumet and back a morning like this? I'd rather--much rather go without the votes than have you do such things."

Captain Zelotes seated himself in his desk chair.

"But you ain't goin' to do without 'em," he chuckled. "Obed Nye--he's chairman of the Trumet committee--figgers you'll have a five-to-one majority. He told me to practice callin' you 'the Honorable' because that's what you'd be by Tuesday night of week after next. And next winter Mother and I will be takin' a trip to Washin'ton so as to set in the gallery and listen to you makin' speeches. We'll be some consider'ble proud of you, too, boy," he added, with a nod.

His grandson looked away, out of the window, over the bleak yard with its piles of lumber. The voice of Issacher raised in expostulation with the driver of Cahoon's "truck-wagon" could be faintly heard.

"I shall hate to leave you and Grandmother and the old place," he said. "If I am elected--"

"WHEN you're elected; there isn't any 'if.'"

"Well, all right. I shall hate to leave South Harniss. Every person I really care for will be here. Helen--and you people at home."

"It's too bad you and Helen can't be married and go to Washin'ton together. Not to stay permanent," he added quickly, "but just while Congress is in session. Your grandma says then she'd feel as if you had somebody to look after you. She always figgers, you know, that a man ain't capable of lookin' out for himself. There'd ought to be at least one woman to take care of him, see that he don't get his feet wet and goes to meetin' reg'lar and so on; if there could be two, so much the better. Mother would have made a pretty good Mormon, in some ways."

Albert laughed. "Helen feels she must stay with her father for the present," he said. "Of course she is right. Perhaps by and by we can find some good capable housekeeper to share the responsibility, but not this winter. IF I am sent to Washington I shall come back often, you may be sure."

"When ARE you cal'latin' to be married, if that ain't a secret?"

"Perhaps next spring. Certainly next fall. It will depend upon Mr. Kendall's health. But, Grandfather, I do feel rather like a deserter, going off and leaving you here--"

"Good Lord! You don't cal'late I'M breakin' down, runnin' strong to talk and weakenin' everywhere else, like old Minister Kendall, do you?"

"Well, hardly. But . . . well, you see, I have felt a little ungrateful ever since I came back from the war. In a way I am sorry that I feel I must give myself entirely to my writing--and my political work. I wish I might have gone on here in this office, accepted that partnership you would have given me--"

"You can have it yet, you know. Might take it and just keep it to fall back on in case that story-mill of yours busts altogether or all hands in Ostable County go crazy and vote the wrong ticket. Just take it and wait. Always well to have an anchor ready to let go, you know."

"Thanks, but that wouldn't be fair. I wish I MIGHT have taken it--for your sake. I wish for your sake I were so constituted as to be good for something at it. Of course I don't mean by that that I should be willing to give up my writing--but--well, you see, Grandfather, I owe you an awful lot in this world . . . and I know you had set your heart on my being your partner in Z. Snow and Co. I know you're disappointed."

Captain Lote did not answer instantly. He seemed to be thinking. Then he opened a drawer in his desk and took out a box of cigars similar to those he had offered the Honorable Fletcher Fosdick on the occasion of their memorable interview.

"Smoke, Al?" he asked. Albert declined because of the nearness to dinner time, but the captain, who never permitted meals or anything else to interfere with his smoking, lighted one of the cigars and leaned back in his chair, puffing steadily.

"We-ll, Al," he said slowly, "I'll tell you about that. There was a time--I'll own up that there was a time when the idea you wasn't goin' to turn out a business man and the partner who would take over this concern after I got my clearance papers was a notion I wouldn't let myself think of for a minute. I wouldn't THINK of it, that's all. But I've changed my mind about that, as I have about some other things." He paused, tugged at his beard, and then added, "And I guess likely I might as well own up to the whole truth while I'm about it: I didn't change it because I wanted to, but because I couldn't help it--'twas changed for me."

He made this statement more as if he were thinking aloud than as if he expected a reply. A moment later he continued.

"Yes, sir," he said, "'twas changed for me. And," with a shrug, "I'd rather prided myself that when my mind was made up it stayed that way. But--but, well, consarn it, I've about come to the conclusion that I was a pig-headed old fool, Al, in some ways."

"Nonsense, Grandfather. You are the last man to--"

"Oh, I don't mean a candidate for the feeble-minded school. There ain't been any Snows put there that I can remember, not our branch of 'em, anyhow. But, consarn it, I--I--" he was plainly finding it hard to express his thought, "I--well, I used to think I knew consider'ble, had what I liked to think was good, hard sense. 'Twas hard enough, I cal'late--pretty nigh petrified in spots."

Albert laid a hand on his knee.

"Don't talk like that," he replied impulsively. "I don't like to hear you."

"Don't you? Then I won't. But, you see, Al, it bothers me. Look how I used to talk about makin' up poetry and writin' yarns and all that. Used to call it silliness and a waste of time, I did--worse names than that, generally. And look what you're makin' at it in money, to say nothin' of its shovin' you into Congress, and keepin' the newspapers busy printin' stuff about you. . . . Well, well," with a sigh of resignation, "I don't understand it yet, but know it's so, and if I'd had my pig-headed way 'twouldn't have been so. It's a dreadful belittlin' feelin' to a man at my time of life, a man that's commanded ten-thousand-ton steamers and handled crews and bossed a business like this. It makes him wonder how many other fool things he's done. . . . Why, do you know, Al," he added, in a sudden burst of confidence, "I was consider'ble prejudiced against you when you first came here."

He made the statement as if he expected it to come as a stunning surprise. Albert would not have laughed for the world, nor in one way did he feel like it, but it was funny.

"Well, perhaps you were, a little," he said gravely. "I don't wonder."

"Oh, I don't mean just because you was your father's son. I mean on your own account, in a way. Somehow, you see, I couldn't believe--eh? Oh, come in, Labe! It's all right. Al and I are just talkin' about nothin' in particular and all creation in general."

Mr. Keeler entered with a paper in his hand.

"Sorry to bother you, Cap'n Lote," he said, "but this bill of Colby and Sons for that last lot of hardware ain't accordin' to agreement. The prices on those butts ain't right, and neither's those half-inch screws. Better send it back to em, eh?"

Captain Zelotes inspected the bill.

"Humph!" he grunted. "You're right, Labe. You generally are, I notice. Yes, send it back and tell 'em--anything you want to."

Laban smiled. "I want to, all right," he said. "This is the third time they've sent wrong bills inside of two months. Well, Al," turning toward him, "I cal'late this makes you kind of homesick, don't it, this talk about bills and screws and bolts and such? Wa'n't teasin' for your old job back again, was you, Al? Cal'late he could have it, couldn't he, Cap'n? We'll need somebody to heave a bucket of water on Issy pretty soon; he's gettin' kind of pert and uppish again. Pretty much so. Yes, yes, yes."

He departed, chuckling. Captain Zelotes looked after him. He tugged at his beard.

"Al," he said, "do you know what I've about made up my mind to do?"

Albert shook his head.

"I've about made up my mind to take Labe Keeler into the firm of Z. Snow and Co. YOU won't come in, and," with a twinkle, "I need somebody to keep my name from gettin' lonesome on the sign."

Albert was delighted.

"Bully for you, Grandfather!" he exclaimed. "You couldn't do a better thing for Labe or for the firm. And he deserves it, too."

"Ye-es, I think he does. Labe's a mighty faithful, capable feller, and now that he's sworn off on those vacations of his he can be trusted anywheres. Yes, I've as good as made up my mind to take him in. Of course," with the twinkle in evidence once more, "Issachar'll be a little mite jealous, but we'll have to bear up under that as best we can."

"I wonder what Labe will say when you tell him?"

"He'll say yes. I'll tell Rachel first and she'll tell him to say it. And then I'll tell 'em both I won't do it unless they agree to get married. I've always said I didn't want to die till I'd been to that weddin'. I want to hear Rachel tell the minister she'll 'obey' Labe. Ho, ho!"

"Do you suppose they ever will be married?"

"Why, yes, I kind of think so. I shouldn't wonder if they would be right off now if it wasn't that Rachel wouldn't think of givin' up keepin' house for your grandmother. She wouldn't do that and Labe wouldn't want her to. I've got to fix that somehow. Perhaps they could live along with us. Land knows there's room enough. They're all right, those two. Kind of funny to look at, and they match up in size like a rubber boot and a slipper, but I declare I don't know which has got the most common-sense or the biggest heart. And 'twould be hard to tell which thinks the most of you, Al. . . . Eh? Why, it's after half-past twelve o'clock! Olive'll be for combin' our topknots with a belayin' pin if we keep her dinner waitin' like this."

As they were putting on their coats the captain spoke again.

"I hadn't finished what I was sayin' to you when Labe came in," he observed. "'Twasn't much account; just a sort of confession, and they say that's good for the soul. I was just goin' to say that when you first came here I was prejudiced against you, not only because your father and I didn't agree, but because he was what he was. Because he was--was--"

Albert finished the sentence for him.

"A Portygee," he said.

"Why, yes, that's what I called him. That's what I used to call about everybody that wasn't born right down here in Yankeeland. I used to be prejudiced against you because you was what I called a half-breed. I'm sorry, Al. I'm ashamed. See what you've turned out to be. I declare, I--"

"Shh! shh! Don't, Grandfather. When I came here I was a little snob, a conceited, insufferable little--"

"Here, here! Hold on! No, you wa'n't, neither. Or if you was, you was only a boy. I was a man, and I ought to--"

"No, I'm going to finish. Whatever I am now, or whatever I may be. I owe to you, and to Grandmother, and Rachel and Laban--and Helen. You made me over between you. I know that now."

They walked home instead of riding in the new car. Captain Zelotes declared he had hung on to that steering wheel all the forenoon and he was afraid if he took it again his fingers would grow fast to the rim. As they emerged from the office into the open air, he said:

"Al, regardin' that makin'-over business, I shouldn't be surprised if it was a kind of--er--mutual thing between you and me. We both had some prejudices to get rid of, eh?"

"Perhaps so. I'm sure I did."

"And I'm sartin sure I did. And the war and all that came with it put the finishin' touches to the job. When I think of what the thousands and thousands of men did over there in those hell-holes of trenches, men with names that run all the way from Jones and Kelly to--er--"

"Speranza."

"Yes, and Whiskervitch and the land knows what more. When I think of that I'm ready to take off my hat to 'em and swear I'll never be so narrow again as to look down on a feller because he don't happen to be born in Ostable County. There's only one thing I ask of 'em, and that is that when they come here to live--to stay--under our laws and takin' advantage of the privileges we offer 'em--they'll stop bein' Portygees or Russians or Polacks or whatever they used to be or their folks were, and just be Americans--like you, Al."

"That's what we must work for now, Grandfather. It's a big job, but it must be done."

They walked on in silence for a time. Then the captain said:

"It's a pretty fine country, after all, ain't it, Albert?"

Albert looked about him over the rolling hills, the roofs of the little town, the sea, the dunes, the pine groves, the scene which had grown so familiar to him and which had become in his eyes so precious.

"It is MY country," he declared, with emphasis.

His grandfather caught his meaning.

"I'm glad you feel that way, son," he said, "but 'twasn't just South Harniss I meant then. I meant all of it, the whole United States. It's got its faults, of course, lots of 'em. And if I was an Englishman or a Frenchman I'd probably say it wasn't as good as England or France, whichever it happened to be. That's all right; I ain't findin' any fault with 'em for that--that's the way they'd ought to feel. But you and I, Al, we're Americans. So the rest of the world must excuse us if we say that, take it by and large, it's a mighty good country. We've planned for it, and worked for it, and fought for it, and we know. Eh?"

"Yes. We know."

"Yes. And no howlin', wild-eyed bunch from somewhere else that haven't done any of these things are goin' to come here and run it their way if we can help it--we Americans; eh?"

Alberto Miguel Carlos Speranza, American, drew a long breath.

"No!" he said, with emphasis.

"You bet! Well, unless I'm mistaken, I smell salt fish and potatoes, which, accordin' to Cape Cod notion, is a good American dinner. I don't know how you feel, Al, but I'm hungry."


(THE END)
Joseph Crosby Lincoln's novel: Portygee

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