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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 3. "Fixin' Over"
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Cy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 3. 'Fixin' Over' Post by :mkproductions Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :3030

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Cy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 3. "Fixin' Over"


Miss Angeline Phinney made no less than nine calls that afternoon. Before bedtime it was known, from the last house in Woodchuck Lane to the fish shanties at West Bayport, that "young Cy" Whittaker had come back; that he had come back "for good"; that he was staying temporarily at the perfect boarding house; that he was "awful well off"--having made lots of money down in South America; that he intended to "fix over" the Whittaker place, and that it was to be fixed over, not in a modern manner, with plush parlor sets--a la Sylvanus Cahoon--nor with onyx tables and blue and gold chairs like those adorning the Atkins mansion. It was to be, as near as possible, a reproduction of what it had been in the time of the late "Cap'n Cy," young Cy's father.

"_I think he's out of his head," declared Miss Phinney, in confidence, to each of the nine females whom she favored with her calls. "Not crazy, you understand, but sort of touched in the upper story. I says so to Matildy Tripp, said it right out, too: 'Matildy,' I says, 'he's got a screw loose up aloft just as sure as you're a born woman!' 'What makes you think so?' says she. 'Well,' says I, 'do you s'pose anybody that wan't foolish would be for spendin' good money on an old house to make it OLDER?' I says. Goin' to tear down the piazza the fust thing! Perfectly good piazza that cost ninety-eight dollars and sixty cents to build; I know, because I see the bill when the Howeses had it done. And he's goin' to set out box hedges, somethin' that ain't been the style in this town sence Congressman Atkins pulled up his. 'What in the world, Cap'n Whittaker,' says I to him, 'do you want of box hedges? Homely and stiff and funeral lookin'! I might have 'em around my grave in the buryin' ground,' I says, 'but nowheres else.' 'All right, Angie,' says he, 'you shall have 'em there; I'll cut some slips purpose for you. It'll be a pleasure,' he says. Now ain't that crazy talk for a grown man?"

Miss Phinney was not the only one in our village to question Captain Cy Whittaker's sanity during the next few months. The majority of our people didn't understand him at all. He was generally liked, for although he had money, he did not put on airs, but he had his own way of doing things, and they were not Bayport ways.

True to his promise, he had a squad of carpenters busy, on the day following his arrival, tearing down the loathed piazza. These carpenters, and more, were kept busy throughout that entire spring and well into the summer. Then came painters and gardeners. The piazza disappeared; a new picket fence, exactly like the old one torn down by the Howeses, was erected; new shutters were hung; new windowpanes were set; the roof was newly shingled. Captain Cy, Senior, had, in his day, cherished a New England fondness for white and green paint; therefore the new fence was white and the house was white and the blinds a brilliant green. Rows of box hedge, the plants brought from Boston, were set out on each side of the front walk. The Howes front-door bell--a clamorous gong--was removed, and a glass knob attached to a spring bell of the old-fashioned "jingle" variety took its place. An old-fashioned flower garden--Cap'n Cy's mother had loved posies--was laid out on the west lawn beyond the pear trees. All these changes the captain superintended; when they were complete he turned his attention to interior decoration.

And now Captain Cy proceeded to, literally, astonish the natives. Among the Howes "improvements" were gilt wall papers and modern furniture for the lower floor of the house. The furniture they had taken with them; the wall paper had perforce been left behind. And the captain had every scrap of that paper stripped from the walls, and the latter re-covered with quaint, ugly, old-fashioned patterns, stripes and roses and flowered sprays with impossible birds flitting among them. The Bassett decorators has pasted the gilt improvement over the old Whittaker paper, and it was the Whittaker paper that the captain did his best to match, sending samples here, there, and everywhere in the effort. Then, upon the walls he hung old-fashioned pictures, such as Bayport dwellers had long ago relegated to their attics, pictures like "From Shore to Shore," "Christian Viewing the City Beautiful," and "Signing the Declaration." To these he added, bringing them from the crowded garret of the homestead, oil paintings of ships commanded by his father and grandfather, and family portraits, executed--which is a peculiarly fitting word--by deceased local artists in oil and crayon.

He boarded up the fireplace in the sitting room and installed a base-burner stove, resurrected from the tinsmith's barn. He purchased a full "haircloth set" of parlor furniture from old Mrs. Penniman, who never had been known to sell any of her hoarded belongings before, even to the "antiquers," and wouldn't have done so now, had it not been that the captain's offer was too princely to be real, and the old lady feared she might be dreaming and would wake up before she received the money. And from Trumet to Ostable he journeyed, buying a chair here and a table there, braided rag mats from this one, and corded bedsteads and "rising sun" quilts from that. At least half of Bayport believed with Gabe Lumley and Miss Phinney that, if Captain Cy had not escaped from a home for the insane, he was a likely candidate for such an institution.

At the table of the perfect boarding house the captain was not inclined to be communicative regarding his reasons and his intentions. He was a prime favorite there, praising Keturah's cooking, joking with Angeline concerning what he was pleased to call her "giddy" manner of dressing and wearing "side curls," and telling yarns of South American dress and behavior, which would probably have shocked Mrs. Tripp--she having recently left the Methodist church to join the "Come-Outers," because the Sunday services of the former were, with the organ and a paid choir, altogether "too play-actin'"--if they had not been so interesting, and if Captain Cy had not always concluded them with the observation: "But there! you can't expect nothin' more from ignorant critters denied the privileges of congregational singin' and experience meetin's; hey, Matilda?"

Mrs. Tripp would sigh and admit that she supposed not.

"Only I do wish Mr. Daniels, OUR minister, might have a chance to preach over 'em, poor things!"

"So do I," with a covert wink at Mrs. Bangs, who was a stanch adherent of the regular faith. "South America 'd be just the place for him; ain't that so, Keturah?"

He evaded all personal questions put to him by the boarders, explaining that he was renovating the old place just for fun--he always had had a gang of men working for him, and it seemed natural somehow. But to the friends of his boyhood, Asaph Tidditt and Bailey Bangs, he told the real truth.

"I swan to man!" exclaimed Bailey, almost tearfully, as the trio wandered through the rooms of the Cy Whittaker place, dodging paper hangers and plasterers; "I swan to man, Whit, if it don't almost seem as though I was a boy again. Why! it's your dad's house come back alive, it is so! Look at this settin' room! Seem's if I could see him now a-settin' by that ere stove, and Mrs. Whittaker, your ma, over there a-sewin', and old Cap'n Cy--your granddad--snoozin' in that big armchair--Why! why, whit! it's the very image of the chair he always set in!"

Captain Cy laughed aloud.

"It's more n' that, Bailey," he said; "it's THE chair. 'Twas up attic, all busted and crippled, but I had it made over like new. And there's granddad's picture, lookin' just as I remember him--only he wan't quite so much of a frozen wax image as he's painted there. I'm goin' to hang it where it always hung, over the mantelpiece, next to the lookin' glass.

"Great land of love, boys!" he went on, "you fellers don't know what this means to me. Many and many's the time I've had this old house and this old room in my mind. I've seen 'em aboard ship in a howlin' gale off the Horn. I've seen 'em down in Surinam of a hot night, when there wan't a breath scurcely and the Caribs went around dressed in a handkerchief and a paper cigar, and it made you wish you could. I've seen 'em--but there! every time I've seen 'em I've swore that some day I'd come back and LIVE 'em, and now, by the big dipper! here I am. Oh, I tell you, chummies, you want to be fired OUT of a home and out of a town to appreciate 'em! Not that I blame the old man; he and I was too much alike to cruise in company. But Bayport I was born in, and in the Bayport graveyard they can plant me when I'm ready for the scrap heap. It's in the blood and--Why, see here! Don't I TALK like a Bayporter?"

"You sartin do!" replied Asaph emphatically.

"A body 'd think you'd been diggin' clams and pickin' cranberries in Bassett's Holler all your life long, to hear you."

"You bet! Well, that's pride; that's what that is. I prided myself on hangin' to the Bayport twang through thick and thin. Among all the Spanish 'Carambas' and 'Madre de Dioses' it did me good to come out with a good old Yankee 'darn' once in a while. Kept me feelin' like a white man. Oh, I'm a Whittaker! _I know it. And I've got all the Whittaker pig-headedness, I guess. And because the old man--bless his heart, I say now--told me I shouldn't BE a Whittaker no more, nor live like a Whittaker, I simply swore up and down I would be one and come back here, when I'd made my pile, to heave anchor and stay one till I die. Maybe that's foolishness, but it's me."

He puffed vigorously at the pipe which had taken the place of the Snowflake cigar, and added:

"Take this old settin' room--why, here it is; see! Here's dad in his chair and ma in hers, and, if you go back far enough, granddad in his, just as you say, Bailey. And here's me, a little shaver, squattin' on the floor by the stove, lookin' at the pictures in a heap of Godey's Lady's Book. And says dad, 'Bos'n,' he says--he used to call me 'Bos'n' in those days--'Bos'n,' says dad, 'run down cellar and fetch me up a pitcher of cider, that's a good feller.' Yes, yes; that's this room as I've seen it in my mind ever since I tiptoed through it the night I run away, with my duds in a bundle under my arm. Do you wonder I was fightin' mad when I saw what that Howes tribe had done to it?"

Superintending the making over of the old home occupied most of Captain Cy's daylight time that summer. His evenings were spent at Simmons's store. We have no clubs in Bayport, strictly speaking, for the sewing circle and the Shakespeare Reading Society are exclusively feminine in membership; therefore Simmons's store is the gathering place of those males who are bachelors or widowers or who are sufficiently free from petticoat government to risk an occasional evening out. Asaph Tidditt was a regular sojourner at the store. Bailey Bangs, happening in to purchase fifty cents' worth of sugar or to have the molasses jug filled, lingered occasionally, but not often. Captain Cy explained Bailey's absence in characteristic fashion.

"Variety," observed the captain, "is the spice of life. Bailey gets talk enough to home. What's the use of his comin' up here to get more?"

"Oh, I don't know," said Josiah Dimick, with a grin, "we let him do some of the talkin' himself up here. Down at the boardin' house Keturah and Angie Phinney do it all."

"Yes. Still, if a feller was condemned to live over a biler factory he wouldn't hanker to get a job IN it, would he? When Bailey was a delegate to the Methodist Conference up in Boston, him and a crowd visited the deef and dumb asylum. When 'twas time to go, he was missin', and they found him in the female ward lookin' at the inmates. Said that the sight of all them women, every one of 'em not able to say a word, was the most wonderful thing ever he laid eyes on. Said it made him feel kind of reverent and holy, almost as if he was in Paradise. So Ase Tidditt says, anyway; it's his yarn."

"'Tain't nuther, Cy Whittaker!" declared the indignant Asaph. "If you expect I'm goin' to father all your lies, you're mistaken."

The crowd at Simmons's discuss politics, as a general thing; state and national politics in their seasons, but county politics and local affairs always. The question in Bayport that summer, aside from that of the harbor appropriation, was who should be hired as downstairs teacher. Our schoolhouse is a two-story building, with a schoolroom on each floor. The lower room, where the little tots begin with their "C--A--T Cat," and progress until they have mastered the Fourth Reader, is called "downstairs." "Upstairs" is, of course, the second story, where the older children are taught. To handle some of the "big boys" upstairs is a task for a healthy man, and such a one usually fills the teacher's position there. Downstairs being, in theory, at least, less strenuous, is presided over by a woman.

Miss Seabury, who had been downstairs teacher for one lively term, had resigned that spring in tears and humiliation. Her scholars had enjoyed themselves and would have liked her to continue, but the committee and the townspeople thought otherwise. There was a general feeling that enjoyment was not the whole aim of education.

"Betty," said Captain Dimick, referring to his small granddaughter, "has done fust rate so fur's marksmanship and lung trainin' goes. I cal'late she can hit a nail head ten foot off with a spitball three times out of four, and she can whisper loud enough to be understood in Jericho. But, not wishing to be unreasonable, still I should like to have her spell 'door' without an 'e.' I've always been used to seein' it spelled that way and--well, I'm kind of old-fashioned, anyway."

There was a difference of opinion concerning Miss Seabury's successor. A portion of the townspeople were for hiring a graduate of the State Normal School, a young woman with modern training. Others, remembering that Miss Seabury had graduated from that school, were for proved ability and less up-to-date methods. These latter had selected a candidate in the person of a Miss Phoebe Dawes, a resident of Wellmouth, and teacher of the Wellmouth "downstairs" for some years. The arguments at Simmons's were hot ones.

"What's the use of hirin' somebody from right next door to us, as you might say?" demanded Alpheus Smalley, clerk at the store. "Don't we want our teachin' to be abreast of the times, and is Wellmouth abreast of ANYthing?"

"It's abreast of the bay, that's about all, I will give in," replied Mr. Tidditt. "But, the way I look at it, we need disCIPline more 'n anything else, and Phoebe Dawes has had the best disCIPline in her school, that's been known in these latitudes. Order? Why, say! Eben Salters told me that when he visited her room over there 'twas so still that he didn't dast to rub one shoe against t'other, it sounded up so. He had to set still and bear his chilblains best he could. And POPULAR! Why, when she hinted that she might leave in May, her scholars more 'n ha'f of 'em, bust out cryin'. Now you hear me, I--"

"It seems to me," put in Thaddeus Simpson, who ran the barber shop and was something of a politician, "it seems to me, fellers, that we'd better wait and hear what Mr. Atkins has to say in this matter. I guess that's what the committee 'll do, anyhow. We wouldn't want to go contrary to Heman, none of us; hey?"

"Tad" Simpson was known to be deep in Congressman Atkins's confidence. The mention of the great man's name was received with reverence and nods of approval.

"That's right. We mustn't do nothin' to displease Heman," was the general opinion.

Captain Cy did not join the chorus. He refilled his pipe and crossed his legs.

"Humph!" he grunted. "Heman Atkins seems to be--Give me a match, Ase, won't you? Thanks. I understand there's a special prayer meetin' at the church to-morrow night, Alpheus. What's it for?"

"For?" Mr. Smalley seemed surprised. "It's to pray for rain, that's what. You know it, Cap'n, as well's I do. Ain't everybody's garden dryin' up and the ponds so low that we shan't be able to get water for the cranberry ditches pretty soon? There's need to pray, I should think!"

"Humph! Seems a roundabout way of gettin' a thing, don't it? Why don't you telegraph to Heman and ask him to fix it for you? Save time."

This remark was received in horrified silence. Tad Simpson was the first to recover.

"Cap'n," he said, "you ain't met Mr. Atkins yet. When you do, you'll feel same as the rest of us. He's comin' home next week; then you'll see."

A part at least of Mr. Simpson's prophecy proved true. The Honorable Atkins did come to Bayport the following week, accompanied by his little daughter Alicia, the housekeeper, and the Atkins servants. The Honorable and his daughter had been, since the adjournment of Congress, on a pleasure trip to the Yosemite and Yellowstone Park, and now they were to remain in the mansion on the hill for some time. The big house was opened, the stone urns burst into refulgent bloom, the iron dogs were refreshed with a coat of black paint, and the big iron gate was swung wide. Bayport sat up and took notice. Angeline Phinney was in her glory.

The meeting between Captain Cy and Mr. Atkins took place the morning after the latter's return. The captain and his two chums had been inspecting the progress made by the carpenters and were leaning over the new fence, then just erected, but not yet painted. Down the gravel walk of the mansion across the road came strolling its owner, silk-hatted, side-whiskered, benignant.

"Godfrey!" exclaimed Asaph. "There's Heman. See him, Whit?"

"Yup, I see him. Seems to be headin' this way."

"I--I do believe he's comin' across," whispered Mr. Bangs. "Yes, he is. He's real everyday, Cy. HE won't mind if you ain't dressed up."

"Won't he? That's comfortin'. Well, I'll do the best I can without stimulants, as the doctor says. If you hear my knees rattle just nudge me, will you, Bailey?"

Mr. Tidditt removed his hat. Bailey touched his. Captain Cy looked provokingly indifferent; he even whistled.

"Good mornin', Mr. Atkins," hailed the town clerk, raising his voice because of the whistle. "I'm proud to see you back among us, sir. Hope you and Alicia had a nice time out West. How is she--pretty smart?"

Mr. Atkins smiled a bland, congressional smile. He approached the group by the fence and extended his hand.

"Ah, Asaph!" he said; "it is you then? I thought so. And Bailey, too. It is certainly delightful to see you both again. Yes, my daughter is well, I thank you. She, like her father, is glad to be back in the old home nest after the round of hotel life and gayety which we have--er--recently undergone. Yes."

"Mr. Atkins," said Bailey, glancing nervously at Captain Cy, who had stopped whistling and was regarding the Atkins hat and whiskers with an interested air, "I want to make you acquainted with your new neighbor. You used to know him when you was a boy, but--but--er--Mr. Atkins, this is Captain Cyrus Whittaker. Cy, this is Congressman Atkins. You've heard us speak of him."

The great man started.

"Is it possible!" he exclaimed. "Is it possible that this is really my old playmate Cyrus Whittaker?"

"Yup," replied the captain calmly. "How are you, Heman? Fatter'n you used to be, ain't you? Washin'ton must agree with you."

Bailey and Asaph were scandalized. Mr. Atkins himself seemed a trifle taken aback. Comments on his personal appearance were not usual in Bayport. But he rallied bravely.

"Well, well!" he cried. "Cyrus, I am delighted to welcome you back among us. I should scarcely have known you. You are older--yes, much older."

"Well, forty year more or less, added to what you started with, is apt to make a feller some older. Don't need any Normal School graduate to do that sum for us. I'm within seven or eight year of bein' as old as you are, Heman, and that's too antique to be sold for veal."

Mr. Atkins changed the subject.

"I had heard of your return, Cyrus," he said. "It gave me much pleasure to learn that you were rebuilding and--er--renovating the--er--the ancestral--er--"

"The old home nest? Yup, I'm puttin' back a few feathers. Old birds like to roost comf'table. You've got a fairly roomy coop yourself."

"Hum! Isn't it--er--I should suppose you would find it rather expensive. Can you--do you--"

"Yes, I can afford it, thank you. Maybe there'll be enough left in the stockin' to buy a few knickknacks for the yard. You can't tell."

The captain glanced at the iron dogs guarding the Atkins gate. His tone was rather sharp.

"Yes, yes, certainly; certainly; of course. It gives me much pleasure to have you as a neighbor. I have always felt a fondness for the old place, even when you allowed it--even when it was most--er--run down, if you'll excuse the term. I always felt a liking for it and--"

"Yes," was the significant interruption. "I judged you must have, from what I heard."

This was steering dangerously close to the selectmen and the contemplated "sale for taxes." The town clerk broke in nervously.

"Mr. Atkins," he said, "there's been consider'ble talk in town about who's to be teacher downstairs this comin' year. We've sort of chawed it over among us, but naturally we wanted your opinion. What do you think? I'm kind of leanin' toward the Dawes woman, myself."

The Congressman cleared his throat.

"Far be it from me," he said, "to speak except as a mere member of our little community, an ordinary member, but, AS such a member, with the welfare of my birthplace very near and dear to me, I confess that I am inclined to favor a modern teacher, one educated and trained in the institution provided for the purpose by our great commonwealth. The Dawes--er--person is undoubtedly worthy and capable in her way, but--well--er--we know that Wellmouth is not Bayport."

The reference to "our great commonwealth" had been given in the voice and the manner wont to thrill us at our Fourth-of-July celebrations and October "rallies." Two of his hearers, at least, were visibly impressed. Asaph looked somewhat crestfallen, but he surrendered gracefully to superior wisdom.

"That's so," he said. "That's so, ain't it, Cy? I hadn't thought of that."

"What's so?" asked the captain.

"Why--why, that Wellmouth ain't Bayport."

"No doubt of it. They're twenty miles apart."

"Yes. Well, I'm glad to hear you put it so conclusive, Mr. Atkins. I can see now that Phoebe wouldn't do. Hum! Yes."

Mr. Atkins buttoned the frock coat and turned to go.

"Good day, gentlemen," he said. "Cyrus, permit me once more to welcome you heartily to our village. We--my daughter and myself--will probably remain at home until the fall. I trust you will be a frequent caller. Run in on us at any time. Pray do not stand upon ceremony."

"No," said Captain Cy shortly, "I won't."

"That's right. That's right. Good morning."

He walked briskly down the hill. The trio gazed after him.

"Well," sighed Mr. Tidditt. "That's settled. And it's a comfort to know 'tis settled. Still I did kind of want Phoebe Dawes; but of course Heman knows best."

"Course he knows best!" snapped Bailey. "Ain't he the biggest gun in this county, pretty nigh? I'd like to know who is if he ain't. The committee 'll call the Normal School girl now, and a good thing, too."

Captain Cy was still gazing at the dignified form of the "biggest gun in the county."

"Let's see," he asked. "Who's on the school committee? Eben Salters, of course, and--"

"Yes. Eben's chairman and he'll vote Phoebe, anyhow; he's that pig-headed that nobody--not even a United States Representative--could change him. But Darius Ellis 'll be for Heman's way and so 'll Lemuel Myrick.

"Lemuel Myrick? Lem Myrick, the painter?"

"Sartin. There ain't but one Myrick in town."

"Hum!" murmured the captain and was silent for some minutes.

The school committee met on the following Wednesday evening. On Thursday morning a startling rumor spread throughout Bayport. Phoebe Dawes had been called, by a vote of two to one, to teach the downstairs school. Asaph, aghast, rushed out of Simmons's store and up to the hill to the Cy Whittaker place. He found Captain Cy in the front yard. Mr. Myrick, school committeeman and house painter, was with him.

"Hello, Ase!" hailed the captain. "What's the matter? Hasn't the tide come in this mornin'?"

Asaph, somewhat embarrassed by the presence of Mr. Myrick, hesitated over his news. Lemuel came to his rescue.

"Ase has just heard that we called Phoebe," he said. "What of it? I voted for her, and I ain't ashamed of it."

"But--but Mr. Atkins, he--"

"Well, Heman ain't on the committee, is he? I vote the way I think right, and no one in this town can change me. Anyway," he added, "I'm going to resign next spring. Yes, Cap'n Whittaker, I think three coats of white 'll do on the sides here."

"Lem's goin' to do my paintin' jobs," explained Captain Cy. "His price was a little higher than some of the other fellers, but I like his work."

Mr. Tidditt pondered deeply until dinner time. Then he cornered the captain behind the Bangs barn and spoke with conviction.

"Whit," he said, "you're the one responsible for the committee's hirin' Phoebe Dawes. You offered Lem the paintin' job if he'd vote for her. What did you do it for? You don't know her, do you?"

"Never set eyes on her in my life."

"Then--then--You heard Heman say he wanted the other one. What made you do it?"

Captain Cy grinned.

"Ase," he said, "I've always been a great hand for tryin' experiments. Had one of my cooks aboard put raisins in the flapjacks once, just to see what they tasted like. I judged Heman had had his own way in this town for thirty odd year. I kind of wanted to see what would happen if he didn't have it."

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