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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 2. The Wanderer's Return
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Cy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 2. The Wanderer's Return Post by :mkproductions Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :1469

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Cy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 2. The Wanderer's Return

CHAPTER II. THE WANDERER'S RETURN

Here in Bayport, nowadays, the collecting of "antiques" is a favorite amusement of our summer visitors. Those of us who were fortunate enough to possess a set of nicked blue dishes, a warming pan, or a tall clock with wooden wheels, have long ago parted with these treasures for considerable sums. Oddly enough Sylvanus Cahoon has profited most by this craze. Sylvanus used to be judged the unluckiest man in town; of late this judgment has been revised.

It was Sylvanus who, confined to the house by an illness brought on by eating too much "sugar cake" at a free sociable given by the Methodist Society, arose in the night and drank copiously of what he supposed to be the medicine left by the doctor. It happened to be water-bug poison, and Sylvanus was nearly killed by the dose. He is reported as having admitted that he "didn't mind dyin' so much, but hated to die such a dum mean death."

While convalescent he took to smoking in bed and was burned out of house and home in consequence. Then it was that his kind-hearted fellow citizens donated, for the furnishing of his new residence, all the cast-off bits of furniture and odds and ends from their garrets. "Charity," observed Captain Josiah Dimick at the time, "begins at home with us Bayporters, and it generally begins up attic, that bein' nighest to heaven."

Later Sylvanus sold most of the donations as "antiques" and made money enough therefrom to buy a new plush parlor set. Miss Angeline Phinney never called on the Cahoons after that without making her appearance at the front door. "I'll get some good out of that plush sofy I helped to pay for," declared Angeline, "if it's only to wear it out by settin' on it."

There are two "antiques" in Bayport which have not yet been sold or even bid for. One is Gabe Lumley's "depot wagon," and the other is "Dan'l Webster," the horse which draws it. Both are very ancient, sadly in need of upholstery, and jerky of locomotion.

Gabe was, as usual, waiting at the station when the down train arrived, on the Tuesday--or Wednesday--of the selectmen's meeting. The train was due, according to the time-table, at eleven forty-five. This time-table, and the signboard of the "Bayport Hotel" are the only bits of humorous literature peculiar to our village, unless we add the political editorials of the Bayport Breeze.

So, at eleven forty-five, Mr. Lumley was serenely dozing on the baggage truck, which he had wheeled to the sunny side of the platform. At five minutes past twelve, he yawned, stretched, and looked at his watch. Then, rolling off the truck, he strolled to the edge of the platform and spoke authoritatively to "Dan'l Webster."

"Hi there! stand still!" commanded Mr. Lumley.

Standing still being Dan'l's long suit, the order was obeyed. Gabe then loafed to the door of the station and accosted the depot master, who was nodding in his chair beside the telegraph instrument.

"Where is she now, Ed?" asked Mr. Lumley, referring to the train.

"Just left South Harniss. Be here pretty soon. What's your hurry? Expectin' anybody?"

"Naw; nobody that I know of, special. Sophrony Hallett's gone to Ostable, but she won't be back till to-morrow I cal'late. Hello! there she whistles now."

Needless to say it was the train, not the widow Hallett, that had whistled. The depot master rose from his chair. A yellow dog, his property, scrambled from beneath it, and rushing out of the door and to the farther end of the platform, barked furiously. Cephas Baker, who lives across the road from the depot, slouched down to his front gate. His wife opened the door of her kitchen and stood there, her wet arms wrapped in her apron. The five Baker children tore round the corner of the house, over the back fence, and lined up, whooping joyously, on the platform. A cloud of white smoke billowed above the clump of cedars at the bend of the track. Then the locomotive rounded the curve and bore down upon the station.

"Stand still, I tell you!" shouted Gabe, addressing the horse.

Dan'l Webster opened one eye, closed it and relapsed into slumber.

The train, a combination baggage car and smoker, two freight cars and a passenger coach, rolled ponderously alongside the platform. From the open door of the baggage car were tossed the mail sack and two express packages. The conductor stepped from the passenger coach. Following him came briskly a short, thickset man with a reddish-gray beard and grayish-red hair.

"Goin' down to the village, Mister?" inquired Mr. Lumley. "Carriage right here."

The stranger inspected the driver of the depot wagon, inspected him deliberately from top to toe. Then he said:

"Down to the village? Why, yes, I wouldn't wonder. Say! you're a Lumley, ain't you?"

"Why! why--yes, I be! How'd you know that? Ain't ever seen you afore, have I?"

"Guess not," with a quiet chuckle. "I've never seen you, either, but I've seen your nose. I'd know a Lumley nose if I run across it in China."

The possessor of the "Lumley nose" rubbed that organ in a bewildered fashion. Recovering in a measure he laughed, rather half-heartedly, and begged to know if the trunk, then being unloaded from the baggage car, belonged to his prospective passenger. As the answer was an affirmative nod, he secured the trunk check and departed, still rubbing his nose.

When he returned, with the trunk on the truck, he found the stranger, with his hands in his pockets, standing before Dan'l Webster and gazing at that animal with an expression of acute interest.

"Is this your--horse?" demanded the newcomer, pausing before the final word of his question.

"It's so cal'lated to be," replied Gabe, with dignity.

"Hum! Does he work nights?"

"Work nights? No, course he don't!"

"Oh, all right! Then you can wake him up with a clear conscience. I didn't know but he needed the sleep. What's his record?"

"Record?"

"Yup; his trottin' record. Anybody can see he's built for speed, narrow in the beam and sharp fore and aft. Shall I get aboard the barouche?"

The depot master, who was on hand to help with the trunk, grinned broadly. Mr. Lumley sulkily made answer that his passenger might get aboard if he wanted to. Apparently he wanted to, for he sprang into the depot wagon with a bounce that made the old vehicle rock on its springs.

"Jerushy!" he exclaimed, "she rolls some, don't she? Never mind, MY ballast 'll keep her on an even keel. Trunk made fast astern? All right! Say! you might furl some of this spare canvas so's I can take an observation as we go along. Don't go so fast that the scenery gets blurred, will you? It's been some time since I made this cruise, and I'd rather like to keep a lookout."

The driver "furled the canvas"--that is, he rolled up the curtains at the sides of the carryall. Then he climbed to the front seat and took up the reins.

"Git up!" he shouted savagely. Dan'l Webster did not move.

The passenger offered a suggestion. "Why don't you try hangin' an alarm clock in his fore-riggin'?" he asked.

"Haw! haw!" roared the depot master.

"Git up, you--you lump!" bellowed the harassed Mr. Lumley. Dan'l pricked up one ear, then a hoof, and slowly got under way. As the equipage passed the Baker homestead, the whole family was clustered about the gate, staring at the occupant of the wagon. The stare was returned.

"Who lives in there?" demanded the stranger. "Who are those folks?"

"Ceph Baker's tribe," was the sullen answer.

"Baker, hey? Humph! new folks, I presume likely. Used to be Seth Snow's house, that did. Where'd Seth go to?"

Gabe grunted that he did not know. He believed Mr. Snow was dead, had died years before.

"Humph! dead, hey? Then I know where he went. Do you ever smoke--or does drivin' this horse make you too nervous?"

Mr. Lumley thawed a bit at the sight of the proffered cigar. He admitted that he smoked occasionally and that he guessed "'twouldn't interfere with the drivin' none."

"Good enough! then we'll light up. I can talk better if I'm under a head of steam. There's a new house; who built that?"

The "new" house was fifteen years old, but Gabe gave the name of its builder. Then, thinking that the catechising had been altogether too one-sided, he ventured an observation of his own.

"This is a pretty good cigar, Mister," he said. "Smokes like a Snowflake."

"Like a what?"

"Like a Snowflake. That's about the best straight five center you can get around here. Simmons used to keep 'em, but the drummer's cart ain't called lately and he's all out."

"That's a shame. I told the train boy that these smoked like somethin', but I didn't know what to call it. Much obliged to you. Here's another; put it in your pocket. Oh, no thanks; pleasure's all mine. Who's Simmons?"

Gabe described the Simmons general store and its proprietor. Then he added:

"I was noticin' that trunk of yours, mister; it's all plastered over with labels, ain't it? Cal'late that trunk's done some travelin', hey?"

"Think so, do you?"

"Yup. Gee! I'd like to travel myself. But no! I got to stay all my life in this dead 'n' alive hole. I wanted to go to Boston and clerk in a store, but the old man put his foot down, and here I've stuck ever sence. Git up, Dan'l! What's the matter with you?"

The passenger smiled, but there was a dreamy look in his gray eyes.

"Don't find fault, son," he said. "There's worse places in the world than old Bayport, and worse judgment than mindin' your dad. Don't forget that or you may be sorry for it some day." He sniffed eagerly. "Ah!" he exclaimed, "just smell that, will you? Ain't that FINE?"

"Humph! that's the flats. You can smell 'em any time when the tide's out and the wind's right. You see, the tide goes out pretty fur here and--"

"Don't I know it? Son, I've been waitin' thirty odd year for that smell and here 'tis at last. Drive slow and let me fill up on it. Just blow that--that Snowstorm of yours the other way for a spell, won't you? Thanks."

The request to be driven slow was so superfluous that Mr. Lumley paid no attention to it. He puffed industriously at the Snowflake and watched his companion, who, leaning forward on the seat, was gazing out at the town and the bay beyond it. The "depot hill" is not as high as Whittaker's Hill, but the view is almost as extensive.

"Excuse me, Mister," observed Gabe, after an interval, "but you ain't said where you're goin'."

The passenger came out of his day dream with a start.

"Why, that's right!" he exclaimed. "So I haven't! Well, now, where would you go, if you was me? Is there a hotel or tavern or somethin'?"

"Yup. There's the Bayport Hotel. 'Tain't exactly a hotel, neither. We call it the perfect boardin' house 'round here. You see--"

He proceeded to tell the story of "the perfect boarding house." His listener seemed greatly interested, and although he laughed, did not interrupt until the tale was ended.

"So!" he said, chuckling. "Bailey Bangs, hey? Stub Bangs! Well, well! And he married Ketury Payson! How in time did he ever find spunk enough to propose? And Ketury runs the perfect boardin' house! Well, that ought to be job enough for one woman. She runs Bailey, too, on the side, I s'pose?"

"You bet you! He don't dast to say 'boo' to a chicken when she's 'round. I say, Mister! I don't know's I know your name, do I? I judge you've been here afore so--"

"Yes, I've been here before. Whose is that big place up there across our bows? The one with the cupola on the main truck?"

"That, sir," said Mr. Lumley, oratorically, "belongs to the Honorable Heman G. Atkins, and it's probably the finest in this county. Heman is our representative in Washin'ton, and--Did you say anything?"

The passenger had said something, but he did not repeat it. He was leaning from the carriage and gazing steadily up the slope ahead. And his gaze, strange to say, was not directed at the imposing Atkins estate, but at its opposite neighbor, the old "Cy Whittaker place."

Slowly, laboriously, Dan'l Webster mounted the hill. At the crest he would have paused to take breath, but the driver would not let him.

"Git along, you!" he commanded, flapping the reins.

And then Mr. Lumley suffered the shock of a surprise. The hitherto cool and self-possessed occupant of the rear seat seemed very much excited. His big red hand clasped Mr. Lumley's over the reins, and Dan'l was brought to an abrupt standstill.

"Heave to!" he ordered, sharply, and the tone was that of one who has given many orders and expects them to be obeyed. "Belay! Whoa, there! Great land of love! look at that! LOOK at it! Who did that?"

The mate to the big red hand pointed to the front door of the Whittaker place. Gabe was alarmed.

"Done what? Done which?" he gasped. "What you talkin' about? There ain't nobody lives in there. That house has been empty for--"

"Where's the front fence?" demanded the excited passenger. "What's become of the hedge? And who put up that--that darned piazza?"

The piazza had been where it now was almost since Mr. Lumley could remember. He hastened to reply that he didn't know; he wasn't sure; he presumed likely 'twas "them New Hampshire Howeses," when they ran a summer boarding house.

The stranger drew a long breath. "Well, of all the--" he began. Then he choked, hesitated, and ordered his driver to heave ahead and run alongside the hotel as quick as the Almighty would let him. Gabe hastened to obey. He was now absolutely certain that his companion was an escaped lunatic, and the sooner another keeper was appointed the better. The remainder of the trip was made in silence.

Mrs. Bangs opened the door of the perfect boarding house and stood majestically waiting to receive the prospective guest. Over her shoulders peered the faces of the boarders.

"Good afternoon," began the landlady. "I presume likely you would like to--"

She was interrupted. The newcomer turned toward her and extended his hand.

"Hello, Ketury!" he said. "I ain't seen you sence you wore your hair up, but you're just as good-lookin' as ever. And ain't that Bailey? Yes, 'tis, and Asaph, too! How are you, boys? Shake!"

Mr. Bangs and his chum, the town clerk, had emerged from the doorway. Their mouths and eyes were wide open and they seemed to be suffering from a sort of paralysis.

"Well? What's the matter with you?" demanded the arrival. "Ain't too stuck up to shake hands after all these years, are you?"

Bailey's mouth closed in order that it's possessor might swallow. Then it slowly reopened.

"I swan to man!" he ejaculated. "WELL! I swan to man! I--I b'lieve you're Cy Whittaker!"

"Course I am. Have to dye my carrot top if I want to play anybody else. But look here, boys, you answer my question: who had the cheek to rig up that blasted piazza on my house? It starts to come down to-morrow mornin'!"

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CHAPTER I. THE PERFECT BOARDING HOUSEIt is queer, but Captain Cy himself doesn't remember whether the day was Tuesday or Wednesday. Asaph Tidditt's records ought to settle it, for there was a meeting of the board of selectmen that day, and Asaph has been town clerk in Bayport since the summer before the Baptist meeting house burned. But on the record the date, in Asaph's handwriting, stands "Tuesday, May 10, 189-" and, as it happens, May 10 of that year fell on Wednesday, not Tuesday at all. Keturah Bangs, who keeps "the perfect boarding house," says it was Tuesday, because she
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