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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 9. Politics And Birthdays
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Cy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 9. Politics And Birthdays Post by :mkproductions Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :1997

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Cy Whittaker's Place - Chapter 9. Politics And Birthdays

CHAPTER IX. POLITICS AND BIRTHDAYS

"Town meeting" was called for the twenty-first of November.

With the summer boarders gone, the cranberry picking finished, state election over, school begun and under way, and real winter not yet upon us, Bayport, in the late fall, distinctly needs something to enliven it. The Shakespeare Reading Society and the sewing circle continue, of course, to interest the "women folks," there is the usual every evening gathering at Simmons's, and the young people are looking forward to the "Grand Ball" on Thanksgiving eve. But for the men, on week days, there is little to do except to "putter" about the house, banking its foundations with dry seaweed as a precaution against searching no'theasters, whitewashing the barns and outbuildings, or fixing things in the vegetable cellar where the sticks of smoked herring hang in rows above the barrels of cabbages, potatoes, and turnips. The fish weirs, most of them, are taken up, lest the ice, which will be driven into the bay later on, tear the nets to pieces. Even the hens grow lazy and lay less frequently. Therefore, away back in the "airly days," some far-sighted board of selectmen arranged that "town meeting" should be held during this lackadaisical season. A town meeting--and particularly a Bayport town meeting, where everything from personal affairs to religion is likely to be discussed--can stir up excitement when nothing else can.

This year there were several questions to be talked over and settled at town meeting. Two selectmen, whose terms expired, were candidates for re-election. Lem Myrick had resigned from the school committee, not waiting until spring, as he had announced that he should do. Then there was the usual sentiment in favor of better roads and the usual opposition to it. Also there was the ever-present hope of the government appropriation for harbor improvement.

Mr. Tidditt was one of the selectmen whose terms expired. In his dual capacity as selectman and town clerk Asaph felt himself to be a very important personage. To elect some one else in his place would be, he was certain, a calamity which would stagger the township. Therefore he was a busy man and made many calls upon his fellow citizens, not to influence their votes--he was careful to explain that--but just, as he said, "to see how they was gettin' along," and because he "thought consider'ble of 'em" and "took a real personal interest, you understand," in their affairs.

To Captain Cy he came, naturally, for encouragement and help, being--as was his habit at such times--in a state of gloom and hopeless despair.

"No use, Whit," he groaned. "'Tain't no use at all. I'm licked. I'm gettin' old and they don't want me no more. I guess I'd better get right up afore the votin' begins and tell 'em my health ain't strong enough to be town clerk no longer. It's better to do that than to be licked. Don't you think so?"

"Sure thing!" replied his friend, with sarcasm. "If I was you I'd be toted in on a bed so they can see you're all ready for the funeral. Might have the doctor walkin' ahead, wipin' his eyes, and the joyful undertaker trottin' along astern. What's the particular disease that's got you by the collar just now--facial paralysis?"

"No. What made you think of that?"

"Oh, nothin'! Only I heard you stopped in at ten houses up to the west end of the town yesterday, and talked three quarters of an hour steady at everyone. That would fit me for the scrap heap inside of a week, and you've been goin' it ever since September nearly. What does ail you--anything?"

"Why, no; nothin' special that way. Only there don't seem to be any enthusiasm for me, somehow. I just hint at my bein' a candidate and folks say, 'Yes, indeed. Looks like rain, don't it?' and that's about all."

"Well, that hadn't ought to surprise you. If anybody came to me and says, 'The sun's goin' to rise to-morrer mornin',' I shouldn't dance on my hat and crow hallelujahs. Enthusiasm! Why, Ase, you've been a candidate every two years since Noah got the ark off the ways, or along there. And there ain't been any opposition to you yet, except that time when Uncle 'Bial Stickney woke up in the wrong place and hollered 'No,' out of principle, thinkin' he was to home with his wife. If I was you I'd go and take a nap. You'll read the minutes at selectmen's meetings for another fifty year, more or less; take my word for it. As for the school committee, that's different. I ain't made up my mind about that."

There had been much discussion concerning the school committee. Who should be chosen to replace Mr. Myrick on the board was the gravest question to come before the meeting. Many names had been proposed at Simmons's and elsewhere, but some of those named had refused to run, and others had not, after further consideration, seemed the proper persons for the office. In the absence of Mr. Atkins, Tad Simpson was our leader in the political arena. But Tad so far had been mute.

"Wait a while," he said. "There's some weeks afore town meetin' day. This is a serious business. We can't have no more--I mean no unsuitable man to fill such an important place as that. The welfare of our posterity," he added, and we all recognized the quotation, "depends upon the choice that's to be made."

A choice was made, however, on the very next day but one after this declaration. A candidate announced himself. Asaph and Bailey hurried to the Cy Whittaker place with the news. Captain Cy was in the woodshed building a doll house for Bos'n. "Just for my own amusement," he hastily explained. "Somethin' for her to take along when she goes out West to Betsy."

Mr. Tidditt was all smiles.

"What do you think, Cy?" he cried. "The new school committee man's as good as elected. 'Lonzo Snow's goin' to take it."

The captain laid down his plane.

"'Lonzo Snow!" he repeated. "You don't say! Humph! Well, well!"

"Yes, sir!" exclaimed Bailey. "He's come forward and says it's his duty to do so. He--"

"Humph! His duty, hey? I wonder who pointed it out to him?"

"Well, I don't know. But even Tad Simpson's glad; he says that he knows Heman will be pleased with THAT kind of a candidate and so he won't have to do any more huntin'. He thinks 'Lonzo's comin' out by himself this way is a kind of special Providence."

"Yes, yes! I shouldn't wonder. Did you ever notice how dead sure Tad and his kind are that Providence is workin' with 'em? Seems to me 'twould be more satisfactory if we could get a sight of the other partner's signature to the deed."

"What's the matter with you?" demanded Asaph. "You ain't findin' fault with 'Lonzo, are you? Ain't he a good man?"

"Good! Sure thing he's good! Nobody can say he isn't and tell the truth."

No one could truthfully speak ill of Alonzo Snow, that was a fact. He lived at the lower end of the village, was well to do, a leading cranberry grower, and very prominent in the church. A mild, easygoing person was Mr. Snow, with an almost too keen fear of doing the wrong thing and therefore prone to be guided by the opinion of others. He was distinctly not a politician.

"Then what ails you?" asked Asaph hotly.

"Why, nothin', maybe. Only I'm always suspicious when Tad pats Providence on the back. I generally figure that I can see through a doughnut, when there's a light behind the hole. Who is 'Lonzo's best friend in this town? Who does he chum with most of anybody?"

"Why, Darius Ellis, I guess. You know it."

"Um--hum. And Darius is on the committee--why?"

"Well, I s'pose 'cause Heman Atkins thought he'd be a good feller to have there. But--"

"Yes, and 'Lonzo's pew in church is right under the Atkins memorial window. The light from it makes a kind of halo round his bald head every Sunday."

"Well, what of it? Heman, nor nobody else, could buy 'Lonzo Snow."

"Buy him? Indeed they couldn't. But there are some things you get without buyin'--the measles, for instance. And the one that's catchin' 'em don't know he's in danger till the speckles break out. Fellers, this committee voted in Phoebe Dawes by just two votes to one, and one of the two was Lem Myrick. Darius was against her. Now with Tad and his 'Providence' puttin' in 'Lonzo Snow, and Heman Atkins settin' behind the screen workin' his Normal School music box so's they can hear the tune--well, Phoebe MAY stay this term out, but how about next?"

"Hey? Why, I don't know. Anyhow, you're down on Phoebe as a thousand of brick. I don't see why you worry about HER. After the way she treated poor Bos'n and all."

Captain Cy stirred uneasily and kicked a chip across the floor.

"Well," he said, "well, I--I don't know's that's--That is, right's right and wrong's wrong. I've seen bullfights down yonder--" jerking his thumb over his shoulder in the vague direction of Buenos Ayres, "and every time my sympathy's been with the bull. Not that I loved the critter for his own sake, but because all Greaserdom was out to down him. From what I hear, this Phoebe Dawes--for all her pesky down-East stubbornness--is teachin' pretty well, and anyhow she's one little woman against Tad Simpson and Heman Atkins and--and Tad's special brand of Providence. She deserves a fair shake and, by the big dipper, she's goin' to have it! Look here, you two! how would I look on the school committee?"

"You?" repeated the pair in concert. "YOU?"

"Yes, me. I ain't a Solomon for wisdom, but I cal'late I'd be as near the top of the barrel as Darius Ellis, and only one or two layers under Eben Salters or 'Lonzo Snow. I'm a candidate--see?"

"But--but, Whit," gasped the town clerk, "are you popular enough? Could you get elected?"

"I don't know, but I can find out. You and Bailey 'll vote for me, won't you?"

"Course we will, but--"

"All right. There's two votes. A hundred and odd more'll put me in. Here goes for politics and popularity. I may be president yet; you can't tell. And say! this town meetin' won't be DULL, whichever way the cat jumps."

This last was a safe prophecy. All dullness disappeared from Bayport the moment it became known that Captain Cyrus Whittaker was "out" for the school committee. The captain began his electioneering at once. That very afternoon he called upon three people--Eben Salters, Josiah Dimick, and Lemuel Myrick.

Captain Salters was chairman of selectmen as well as chairman of the committee. He was a hard-headed old salt, who had made money in the Australian packet service. He had common sense, independence, and considerable influence in the town. Next to Congressman Atkins he was, perhaps, our leading citizen. And, more than all, he was not afraid, when he thought it necessary, to oppose the great Heman.

"Well," he said reflectively, after listening to Captain Cy's brief statement of his candidacy, "I cal'late I'll stand in with you, Cy. I ain't got anything against 'Lonzo, but--but--well, consarn it! maybe that's the trouble. Maybe he's so darned good it makes me jealous. Anyhow, I'll do what I can for you."

Joe Dimick laughed aloud. He was an iconoclast, seldom went to church, and was entirely lacking in reverence. Also he really liked the captain.

"Ho, ho!" he crowed. "Whit, do you realize that you're underminin' this town's constitution? Oh, sartin, I'm with you, if it's only to see the fur fly! I do love a scrap."

With Lem Myrick Captain Cy's policy was different. He gently reminded that gentleman of the painting contract, intimated that other favors might be forthcoming, and then, as a clincher, spoke of Tad Simpson's comment when Mr. Myrick voted for Phoebe Dawes.

"Of course," he added, "if you think Tad's got a right to boss all hands and the cook, why, I ain't complainin'. Only, if _I was a painter doin' a good, high-class trade, and a one-hoss barber tried to dictate to me, I shouldn't bow down and tell him to kick easy as he could. Seems to me I'd kick first. But I'M no boss; I mustn't influence you."

Lemuel was indignant.

"No barber runs me," he declared. "You stand up for me when that townhall paintin's to be done and I'll work hard for you now, Cap'n Whittaker. 'Lonzo Snow's an elder and all that, but I can't help it. Anyway, his place was all fixed up a year ago and I didn't get the job. A feller has to look after himself these days."

With these division commanders to lead their forces into the enemy's country and with Asaph and Bailey doing what they could to help, Captain Cy's campaign soon became worthy of respectful consideration. For a while Tad Simpson scoffed at the opposition; then he began to work openly for Mr. Snow. Later he marshaled his trusted officers around the pool table in the back room of the barber shop and confided to them that it was anybody's fight and that he was worried.

"It's past bein' a joke," he said. "It's mighty serious. We've got to hustle, we have. Heman trusted me in this job, and if I fall down it 'll be bad for me and for you fellers, too. I wish he was home to run things himself, but he's got business down South there--some property he owns or somethin'--and says he can't leave. But we must win! By mighty! we've GOT to. So get every vote you can. Never mind how; just get 'em, that's all."

Captain Cy was thoroughly enjoying himself. The struggle suited him to perfection. He was young, in spite of his fifty-five years, and this tussle against odds, reminding him of other tussles during his first seasons in business, aroused his energies and, as he expressed it, "stirred up his vitals and made him hop round like a dose of 'pain killer.'"

He did not, however, forget Bos'n. He and she had their walks and their pleasant evenings together in spite of politics. He took the child into his confidence and told her of the daily gain, or loss, in votes, as if she were his own age. She understood a little of all this, and tried hard to understand the rest, preaching between times to Georgianna how "the bad men were trying to beat Uncle Cyrus because he was gooder than they, but they couldn't, 'cause everybody loved him so." Georgianna had some doubts, but she kept them to herself.

Among the things in Bos'n's "box" was a long envelope, sealed with wax and with a lawyer's name printed in one corner. The captain opened it, at Emily's suggestion, and was astonished to find that the inclosure was a will, dated some years back, in which Mrs. Mary Thomas, the child's mother, left to her daughter all her personal property and also the land in Orham, Massachusetts, which had been willed to her by her own mother. There was a note with the will in which Mrs. Thomas stated that no one save herself had known of this land, not even her husband. She had not told him because she feared that, like everything else, it would be sold and the money wasted in dissipation. "He suspected something of the sort," she added, "but he did not find out the secret, although he--" She had evidently scratched out what followed, but Captain Cy mentally filled in the blank with details of abuse and cruelty. "If anything happens to me," concluded the widow, "I want the land sold and the money used for Emily's maintenance as long as it lasts."

The captain went over to Orham and looked up the land. It was a strip along the shore, almost worthless, and unsalable at present. The taxes had been regularly paid each year by Mary Thomas, who had sent money orders from Concord. The self-denial represented by these orders was not a little.

"Never mind, Bos'n," said Captain Cy, when he returned from the Orham trip. "Your ancestral estates ain't much now but a sand-flea menagerie. However, if this section ever does get to be the big summer resort folks are prophesying for it, you may sell out to some millionaire and you and me'll go to Europe. Meantime, we'll try to keep afloat, if the Harniss Bank don't spring a leak."

On the day following this conversation he took a flying trip to Ostable, the county seat, returning the same evening, and saying nothing to anyone about his reasons for going nor what he had done while there.

Bos'n's birthday was the eighteenth of November. The captain, in spite of the warmth of his struggle for committee honors, determined to have a small celebration on the afternoon and evening of that day. It was to be a surprise for Emily, and, after school was over, some of her particular friends among the scholars were to come in, there was to be a cake with eight candles on it, and a supper at which ice cream--lemon and vanilla, prepared by Mrs. Cahoon--was to be the principal feature. Also there would be games and all sorts of fun.

Captain Cy was tremendously interested in the party. He spent hours with Georgianna and the Board of Strategy, preparing the list of guests. His cunning in ascertaining from the unsuspecting child who, among her schoolmates, she would like to invite, was deep and guileful.

"Now, Bos'n," he would say, "suppose you was goin' to clear out and leave this town for a spell, who--"

"But, Uncle Cyrus--" Bos'n's eyes grew frightened and moist in a moment, "I ain't going, am I? I don't want to go."

"No, no! Course you ain't goin'--that is, not for a long while, anyhow," with a sidelong look at the members of the "Board," then present. "But just suppose you and me was startin' on that Europe trip. Who'd you want to say good-by to most of all?"

Each name given by the child was surreptitiously penciled by Bailey on a scrap of paper. The list was a long one and, when the great afternoon came, the Whittaker house was crowded.

The supper was a brilliant success. So was the cake, brought in with candles ablaze, by the grinning Georgianna. Beside the children there were some older people present, Bailey and Asaph, of course, and the "regulars" from the perfect boarding house, who had been invited because it was fairly certain that Mr. Bangs wouldn't be allowed to attend if his wife did not. Miss Dawes had also been asked, at Bos'n's well-understood partiality, but she had declined.

Toward the end of the meal, when the hilarity at the long table was at its height, an unexpected guest made his appearance. There was a knock at the dining-room door, and Georgianna, opening it, was petrified to behold, standing upon the step, no less a personage than the Honorable Heman Atkins, supposed by most of us to be then somewhere in that wide stretch of territory vaguely termed "the South."

"Good evening, all," said the illustrious one, removing his silk hat and stepping into the room. "What a charming scene! I trust I do not intrude."

Georgianna was still speechless, in which unwonted condition she was not alone, Messrs. Bangs and Tidditt being also stricken dumb. But Captain Cy rose to the occasion grandly.

"Intrude?" he repeated. "Not a mite of it! Mighty glad to see you, Heman. Here, give us your hat. Pull up to the table. When did you get back? Thought you was in the orange groves somewheres."

"Ahem! I was. Yes, I was in that neighborhood. But it is hard to stay away from dear old Bayport. Home ties, you know, home ties. I came down on the morning train, but I stopped over at Harniss on business and drove across. Ahem! Yes. The housekeeper informed me that my daughter was here, and, seeing the lights and hearing the laughter, I couldn't resist making this impromptu call. I'm sure as an old friend and neighbor, Cyrus, you will pardon me. Alicia, darling, come and kiss papa."

Darling Alicia accepted the invitation with a rustle of silk and an ecstatic squeal of delight. During this affecting scene Asaph whispered to Bailey that he "cal'lated" Heman had had a hurry-up distress signal from Simpson; to which sage observation Mr. Bangs replied with a vigorous nod, showing that Captain Cy's example had had its effect, in that they no longer stood in such awe of their representative at Washington.

However true Asaph's calculation might have been, Mr. Atkins made no mention of politics. He was urbanity itself. He drew up to the table, partook of the ice cream and cake, and greeted his friends and neighbors with charming benignity.

"Wan't it sweet of him to come?" whispered Miss Phinney to Keturah. "And him so nice and everyday and sociable. And when Cap'n Whittaker's runnin' against his friend, as you might say."

Keturah replied with a dubious shake of the head.

"I think Captain Cyrus is goin' to get into trouble," she said. "I've preached to Bailey more 'n a little about keepin' clear, but he won't."

"Games in t'other room now," ordered Captain Cy. But Mr. Atkins held up his hand.

"Pardon me, just a moment, Cyrus, if you please," he said. "I feel that on this happy occasion, it is my duty and pleasure to propose a toast." He held his lemonade glass aloft. "Permit me," he proclaimed, "to wish many happy birthdays and long life to Miss--I beg pardon, Cyrus, but what is your little friend's name?"

"Emily Richards Thayer," replied the captain, carried away by enthusiasm and off his guard for once.

"To Em--" began Heman. Then he paused and for the first time in his public life seemed at a loss for words. "What?" he asked, and his hand shook. "I fear I didn't catch the name."

"No wonder," laughed Mr. Tidditt. "Cy's so crazy to-night he'd forget his own name. Know what you said, Cy? You said she was Emily Richards THAYER! Haw! haw! She ain't a Thayer, Heman; her last name's Thomas. She's Emily Richards Thayer's granddaughter though. Her granddad was John Thayer, over to Orham. Good land! I forgot. Well, what of it, Cy? 'Twould have to be known some time."

Everyone looked at Captain Cy then. No one observed Mr. Atkins for the moment. When they did turn their gaze upon the great man he had sunk back in his chair, the glass of lemonade was upset upon the cloth before him, and he, with a very white face, was staring at Emily Richards Thomas.

"What's the matter, Heman?" asked the captain anxiously. "Ain't sick, are you?"

The congressman started.

"Oh, no!" he said hurriedly. "Oh, no! but I'm afraid I've soiled your cloth. It was awkward of me. I--I really, I apologize--I--"

He wiped his face with his handkerchief. Captain Cy laughed.

"Oh, never mind the tablecloth," he said. "I cal'late it's too soiled already to be hurt by a bath, even a lemon one. Well, you've all heard the toast. Full glasses, now. Here's TO you, Bos'n! Drink hearty, all hands, and give the ship a good name."

If the heartiness with which they drank is a criterion, the good name of the ship was established. Then the assembly adjourned to the sitting room and--yes, even the front parlor. Not since the days when that sacred apartment had been desecrated by the irreverent city boarders, during the Howes regime, had its walls echoed to such whoops and shouts of laughter. The children played "Post Office" and "Copenhagen" and "Clap in, Clap out," while the grown folks looked on.

"Ain't they havin' a fine time, Cap?" gushed Miss Phinney. "Don't it make you wish you was young again?"

"Angie," replied Captain Cy solemnly, "don't tempt me; don't! If they keep on playin' that Copenhagen and you stand right alongside of me, there's no tellin' what 'll happen."

Angeline declared that he was "turrible," but she faced the threatened danger nevertheless, and bravely remained where she was.

Mr. Atkins went home early in the evening, taking Alicia with him. He explained that his long railroad journey had--er--somewhat fatigued him and, though he hated to leave such a--er--delightful gathering, he really felt that, under the circumstances, his departure would be forgiven. Captain Cy opened the door for him and stood watching as, holding his daughter by the hand, he marched majestically down the path.

"Hum!" mused the captain aloud. "I guess he has been travelin' nights. Thought he ought to be here quick, I shouldn't wonder. He does look tired, that's a fact, and kind of pale, seemed to me."

"Well, there, now!" exclaimed Mrs. Tripp, who was looking over his shoulder. "Did you see that?"

"No; what was it?"

"Why, when he went to open his gate, one of them arbor vity bushes he set out this spring knocked his hat off. And he never seemed to notice, but went right on. If 'Licia hadn't picked it up, that nice new hat would have been layin' there yet. That's the most undignified thing ever I see Heman Atkins do. He MUST be tired out, poor man!"

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