Part 4 out of 6
Eldridge was re-elected selectman and so also was Asaph Tidditt.
Nobody but Asaph seemed surprised at this result. His speech of
acceptance would undoubtedly have been a triumph of oratory had it
not been interrupted by Uncle Bedny, who rose to emphatically
protest against "settin' round and wastin' time" when the Bassett's
Hollow road "had ruts deep enough to drown a cat in whenever there
was a more'n average heavy dew."
The Bassett's Hollow delegate being again temporarily squelched,
Moderator Knowles announced that nominations for the vacant place
on the school committee were in order. There was a perceptible
stir on the settees. This was what the meeting had been waiting
"No sign of Cy or Heman yet," observed Mr. Cahoon, craning his neck
in the direction of the door. "It's the queerest thing ever I
"Queer enough about Cy, that's a fact," concurred Captain Dimick.
"I ain't so surprised about Heman's not comin'. Looks as if Whit
was right; he always said Atkins dodged a row where folks could
watch it. Does most of his fightin' from round the corner. Hello!
there's Tad. Now you'll see the crown of glory set on 'Lonzo
Snow's head. Hope the crown's padded nice and soft. Anything with
sharp edges would sink in."
But Mr. Simpson, it seemed, was not yet ready to proceed with the
coronation. He had risen to ask permission of the meeting to defer
the school committee matter for a short time. Persons, important
persons, who should be present while the nominating was going on,
had not yet arrived. He was sure that the gathering would wish to
hear from these persons. He asked for only a slight delay.
Matters such as this, affecting the welfare of our posterity, ought
not to be hurried, etc., etc.
Mr. Simpson's request was unexpected. The meeting, apparently,
didn't know how to take it. Uncle Bedny was firmly held in his
seat by those about him. Lemuel Myrick took the floor to protest.
"I must say," he declared, "that I don't see any reason for waitin'.
If folks ain't here, that's their own fault. Mr. Moderator, I
demand that the nominatin' go ahead."
Tad was on his feet instantly.
"I'm goin' to appeal," he cried, "to the decency and gratitude of
the citizens of the town of Bayport. One of the persons I'm--that
is, we're waitin' for has done more for our beautiful village than
all the rest of us put together. There ain't no need for me to
name him. A right up-to-date town pump, a lovely memorial window,
"How about that harbor appropriation?" cried a voice from the
Mr. Simpson was taken aback. His face flushed and he angrily
turned toward the interrupter.
"That's you, Joe Dimick!" he shouted, pointing an agitated
forefinger. "You needn't scooch down. I know your tongue. The
idea of you findin' fault because a big man like Congressman Atkins
don't jump when you holler 'Git up!' What do YOU know about doin's
at Washington? That harbor appropriation 'll go through if anybody
on earth can get it through. There's other places besides Bayport
to be provided for and--"
"And their congressmen provide for 'em," called another voice. Tad
whirled to face his new tormentor.
"Huh!" he grunted with sarcasm. "That's Lem Myrick, _I_ know.
Lem, the great painter, who votes where he paints and gets paid
"Order!" cried several.
"Oh, all right, Mr. Moderator! I'll keep order all right. But I
say to you, Lem, and you, Joe Dimick, that I know who put these
smart notions into your heads. We all know, unless we're born
fools. Who is it that's been sayin' the Honorable Heman Atkins
was shirkin' that appropriation? Who was it said if HE was
representative the thing would have gone through afore this? Who's
been makin' his brags that he could get it through if he had the
chance? You know who! So do I! I wish he was here. I only wish
he was here! I'd say it to his face."
"Well, he is. Heave ahead and say it."
Everyone turned toward the door. Captain Cy had entered the hall.
He was standing in the aisle, and with him was Bailey Bangs. The
captain looked very tired, almost worn out, but he nodded coolly to
Mr. Simpson, who had retired to his seat with surprising quickness
and apparent discomfiture.
"Here I am, Tad," continued the captain. "Say your piece."
But Tad, it appeared, was not anxious to "say his piece." He was
whispering earnestly with a group of his followers. Captain Cy
held up his hand.
"Mr. Moderator," he asked, "can I have the floor a minute? All I
want to say is that I cal'late I'm the feller the last speaker had
reference to. I HAVE said that I didn't see why that appropriation
was so hard to get. I say it again. Other appropriations are got,
and why not ours? I DID say if I was a congressman I'd get it.
Yes, and I'll say more," he added, raising his voice, "I'll say
that if I was sent to Washin'ton by this town, congressman or not,
I'd move heaven and earth, and all creation from the President down
till I did get it. That's all. So would any live man, I should
He sat down. There was some applause. Before it had subsided Abel
Leonard, one of the quickest-witted of Mr. Simpson's workers, was
on his feet, gesticulating for attention.
"Mr. Moderator," he shouted, "I want to make a motion. We've all
heard the big talk that's been made. All right, then! I move you,
sir, that Captain Cyrus Whittaker be appointed a committee of one
to GO to Washin'ton, if he wants to, or anywheres else, and see
that we get the appropriation. And if we don't get it the blame's
his! There, now!"
There was a roar of laughter. This was exactly the sort of "tit-
for-tat" humor that appeals to a Yankee crowd. The motion was
seconded half a dozen times. Moderator Knowles grinned and shook
"A joke's a joke," he said, "and we all like a good one. However,
this meetin' is supposed to be for business, not fun, so--"
"Question! Question! It's been seconded! We've got to vote on
it!" shouted a chorus.
"Don't you think--seems to me that ain't in order," began the
moderator, but Captain Cy rose to his feet. The grim smile had
returned to his face and he looked at the joyous assemblage with
almost his old expression of appreciative alertness.
"Never mind the vote," he said. "I realize that Brother Leonard
has rather got one on me, so to speak. All right, I won't dodge.
I'll BE a committee of one on the harbor grab, and if nothin' comes
of it I'll take my share of kicks. Gentlemen, I appreciate your
trustfulness in my ability."
This brief speech was a huge success. If, for a moment, the
pendulum of public favor had swung toward Simpson, this trumping of
the latter's leading card pushed it back again. The moderator had
some difficulty in restoring order to the hilarious meeting.
Then Mr. Myrick was accorded the privilege of the floor, in spite
of Tad's protests, and proceeded to nominate Cyrus Whittaker for
the school committee. Lem had devoted hours of toil and wearisome
mental struggle to the preparation of his address, and it was
lengthy and florid. Captain Cy was described as possessing all the
virtues. Bailey, listening with a hand behind his ear, was moved
to applause at frequent intervals, and even Asaph forgot the
dignity of his exalted position on the platform and pounded the
official desk in ecstasy. The only person to appear uninterested
was the nominee himself. He sat listlessly in his seat, his eyes
cast down, and his thoughts apparently far away.
Josiah Dimick seconded the captain's nomination. Then Mr. Simpson
stepped to the front and, after a wistful glance at the door, began
"Feller citizens," he said, "it is my privilege to put in nomination
for school committee a man whose name stands for all that's good and
clean and progressive in this township. But afore I do it I'm goin'
to ask you to let me say a word or two concernin' somethin' that
bears right on this matter, and which, I believe, everyone of you
ought to know. It's somethin' that most of you don't know, and
it'll be a surprise, a big surprise. I'll be as quick as I can, and
I cal'late you'll thank me when I'm done."
He paused. The meeting looked at each other in astonishment.
There was whispering along the settees. Moderator Knowles was
plainly puzzled. He looked inquiringly at the town clerk, but
Asaph was evidently quite as much in the dark as he concerning the
"Feller Bayporters," went on Tad, "there's one thing we've all
agreed on, no matter who we've meant to vote for. That is, that a
member of our school committee should be an upright, honest man,
one fit morally to look out for our dear children. Ain't that so?
Well, then, I ask you this: Would you consider a man fit for that
job who deliberately came between a father and his child, who
pizened the mind of that child against his own parent, and when
that parent come to claim that child, first tried to buy him off
and then turned him out of the house? Yes, and offered violence to
him. And done it--mark what I say--for reasons which--which--well,
we can only guess 'em, but the guess may not be so awful bad. Is
THAT the kind of man we want to honor or to look out for our own
Mr. Simpson undoubtedly meant to cause a sensation by his opening
remarks. He certainly did so. The stir and whispering redoubled.
Asaph, his mouth open, stared wildly down at Captain Cy. The
captain rose to his feet, then sank back again. His listlessness
was gone and, paying no attention to those about him, he gazed
fixedly at Tad.
"Gentlemen," continued the speaker, "last night I had an experience
that I shan't forget as long as I live. I met a poor man, a poor,
lame man who'd been away out West and got hurt bad. Folks thought
he was dead. His wife thought so and died grievin' for him. She
left a little baby girl, only seven or eight year old. When this
man come back, well again but poor, to look up his family, he found
his wife had passed away and the child had been sent off, just to
get rid of her, to a stranger in another town. That stranger fully
meant to send her off, too; he said so dozens of times. A good
many of you folks right here heard him say it. But he never sent
her--he kept her. Why? Well, that's the question. _I_ shan't
answer it. _I_ ain't accusin' nobody. All I say is, what's easy
enough for any of you to prove, and that is that it come to light
the child had property belongin' to her. Property! land, wuth
He paused once more and drew his sleeve across his forehead. Most
of his hearers were silent now, on tiptoe of expectation. Dimick
looked searchingly at Captain Cy. Then he sprang to his feet.
"Order!" he shouted. "What's all this got to do with nominatin'
for school committee? Ain't he out of order, Alvin?"
The moderator hesitated. His habitual indecision was now complicated
by the fact that he was as curious as the majority of those before
him. There were shouts of, "Go ahead, Tad!" "Tell us the rest!"
"Let him go on, Mr. Moderator!"
Cy Whittaker slowly rose.
"Alvin," he said earnestly, "don't stop him yet. As a favor to me,
let him spin his yarn."
Simpson was ready and evidently eager to spin it.
"This man," he proclaimed, "this father, mournin' for his dead wife
and longin' for his child, comes to the town where he was to find
and take her. And when he meets the man that's got her, when he
comes, poor and down on his luck, what does this man--this rich
man--do? Why; fust of all, he's sweeter'n sirup to him, takes him
in, keeps him overnight, and the next day he says to him: 'You
just be quiet and say nothin' to nobody that she's your little
girl. I'll make it wuth your while. Keep quiet till I'm ready for
you to say it.' And he gives the father money--not much, but some.
All right so fur, maybe; but wait! Then it turns out that the
father knows about this land--this property. And THEN the kind,
charitable man--this rich man with lots of money of his own--turns
the poor father out, tellin' him to get the girl and the land if he
can, knowin'--KNOWIN', mind you--that the father ain't got a cent
to hire lawyers nor even to pay for his next meal. And when the
father says he won't go, but wants his dear one that belongs to
him, the rich feller abuses him, knocks him down with his fist!
Knocks down a poor, weak, lame invalid, just off a sick bed! Is
THAT the kind of a man we want on our school committee?"
He asked the question with both hands outspread and the perspiration
running down his cheeks. The meeting was in an uproar.
"No need for me to tell you who I mean," shouted Tad, waving his
arms. "You know who, as well as I do. You've just heard him
praised as bein' all that's good and great. But _I_ say--"
"You've said enough! Now let me say a word!"
It was Captain Cy who interrupted. He had pushed his way through
the crowd, down the aisle, and now stood before the gesticulating
Mr. Simpson, who shrank back as if he feared that the treatment
accorded the "poor weak invalid" might be continued with him.
"Knowles," said Captain Cy, turning to the moderator, "let me
speak, will you? I won't be but a minute. Friends," he continued,
facing the excited gathering--"for some of you are my friends, or
I've come to think you are--a part of what this man says is so.
The girl at my house is Emily Thomas; her mother was Mary Thomas,
who some of you know, and her father's name is Henry Thomas. She
came to me unexpected, bein' sent by a Mrs. Oliver up to Concord,
because 'twas either me or an orphan asylum. I took her in meanin'
to keep her a little while, and then send her away. But as time
went on I kept puttin' off and puttin' off, and at last I realized
I couldn't do it; I'd come to think too much of her.
"Fellers," he went on, slowly, "I--I hardly know how to tell you
what that little girl's come to be to me. When I first struck
Bayport, after forty years away from it, all I thought of was
makin' over the old place and livin' in it. I cal'lated it would
be a sort of Paradise, and HOW I was goin' to live or whether or
not I'd be lonesome with everyone of my folks dead and gone, never
crossed my mind. But the longer I lived there alone the less like
Paradise it got to be; I realized more and more that it ain't
furniture and fixin's that make a home; it's them you love that's
in it. And just as I'd about reached the conclusion that 'twas a
failure, the whole business, why, then, Bos'n--Emily, that is--
dropped in, and inside of a week I knew I'd got what was missin' in
"I never married and children never meant much to me till I got
her. She's the best little--little . . . There! I mustn't talk
this way. I bluffed a lot about not keepin' her permanent, bein'
kind of ashamed, I guess, but down inside me I'd made up my mind to
bring her up like a daughter. She and me was to live together till
she grew up and got married and I . . . Well, what's the use? A
few days ago come a letter from the Oliver woman in Concord sayin'
that this Henry Thomas, Bos'n's father, wan't dead at all, but had
turned up there, havin' learned somehow or 'nother that his wife
was gone and that his child had been willed a little bit of land
which belonged to her mother. He had found out that Emmie was with
me, and the letter said he would likely come after her--and the
"That letter was like a flash of lightnin' to me. I was dismasted
and on my beam ends. I didn't know what to do. I'd learned enough
about this Henry Thomas to know that he was no use, a drunken,
good-for-nothin' scamp who had cruelized his wife and then run off
and left her and the baby. But when he come, the very night I got
the letter, I gave him a chance. I took him in; I was willin' to
give him a job on the place; I was willin' to pay for his keep, and
more. I DID ask him to keep his mouth shut and even to use another
name. 'Twas weak of me, maybe, but you want to remember this had
come on me sudden. And last night--the very second night, mind
you--he went out somewhere, perhaps we can guess where, bought
liquor with the money I gave him, got drunk, and then insulted one
of the best women in this town. Yes, sir! I say it right here,
one of the best, pluckiest little women anywhere, although she and
I ain't always agreed on certain matters. I DID tell him to clear
out, and I DID knock him down. Yes, and by the big dipper, I'd do
it again under the same circumstances!
"As for the property," he added fiercely, "why, darn the property,
I say! It ain't wuth much, anyhow, and, if 'twas anybody's else,
he should have it and welcome. But it's Bos'n's, and, bein' what
he is, he SHAN'T have it. And he shan't have HER to cruelize,
neither! By the Almighty! he shan't, so long as I've got a dollar
to fight him with. I say that to you, Tad Simpson, and to the man--
to whoever put you up to this. There! I've said my say. Now,
gentlemen, you can choose your side."
He strode back to his seat. There was silence for a moment. Then
Josiah Dimick sprang up and waved his hat.
"That's the way to talk!" he shouted. "That's a MAN! Three cheers
for Cap'n Whittaker! Come on, everybody!"
But everybody did not "come on." The cheers were feeble. It was
evident that the majority of those present did not know how to meet
this unexpected contingency. It had taken them by surprise and
they were undecided. The uproar of argument and question began
again, louder than ever. The bewildered moderator thumped his desk
and shouted feebly for order. Tad Simpson took the floor and, in a
few words and at the top of his lungs, nominated Alonzo Snow. Abel
Leonard seconded the nomination. There were yells of "Question!
Question!" and "Vote! Vote!"
Eben Salters was recognized by the chair. Captain Salters made few
speeches, and when he did make one it was because he had something
"Mr. Moderator," he said, "I, for one, hate to vote just now. It
isn't that the school committee is so important of itself. But I
do think that the rights of a father with his child IS pretty
important, and our vote for Cap'n Whittaker--and most of you know I
intended votin' for him and have been workin' for him--might seem
like an indorsement of his position. This whole thing is a big
surprise to me. I don't feel yet that we know enough of the inside
facts to give such an indorsement. I'd like to see this Thomas man
before I decide to give it--or not to give it, either. It's a
queer thing to come up at town meetin', but it's up. Hadn't we
better adjourn until next week?"
He sat down. The meeting was demoralized. Some were shouting for
adjournment, others to "Vote it out." A straw would turn the scale
and the straw was forthcoming. While Captain Cy was speaking the
door had silently opened and two men entered the hall and sought
seclusion in a corner. Now one of these men came forward--the
Honorable Heman Atkins.
Mr. Atkins walked solemnly to the front, amidst a burst of
recognition. Many of the voters rose to receive him. It was
customary, when the great man condescended to attend such
gatherings, to offer him a seat on the platform. This the
obsequious Knowles proceeded to do. Asaph was too overcome by
the disclosure of "John Smith's" identity and by Mr. Simpson's
attack on his friend to remember even his manners. He did not
rise, but sat stonily staring.
The moderator's gavel descended "Order!" he roared. "Order, I say!
Congressman Atkins is goin' to talk to us."
The Honorable Heman faced the excited crowd. One hand was in the
breast of his frock coat; the other was clenched upon his hip. He
stood calm, benignant, dignified--the incarnation of wisdom and
righteous worth. The attitude had its effect; the applause began
and grew to an ovation. Men who had intended voting against his
favored candidate forgot their intention, in the magnetism of his
presence, and cheered. He bowed and bowed again.
"Fellow townsmen," he began, "far be it from me to influence your
choice in the matter of the school committee. Still further be it
from me to influence you against an old boyhood friend, a neighbor,
one whom I believe--er--had believed to be all that was sincere and
true. But, fellow townsmen, my esteemed friend, Captain Salters,
has expressed a wish to see Mr. Thomas, the father whose story you
have heard to-day. I happen to be in a position to gratify that
wish. Mr. Thomas, will you kindly come forward?"
Then from the rear of the hall Mr. Thomas came. But the drunken
rowdy of the night before had been transformed. Gone was the
scrubby beard and the shabby suit. Shorn was the unkempt mop of
hair and vanished the impudent swagger. He was dressed in clean
linen and respectable black, and his manner was modest and subdued.
Only a discoloration of one eye showed where Captain Cy's blow had
left its mark.
He stepped upon the platform beside the congressman. The latter
laid a hand upon his shoulder.
"Gentlemen and friends," said Heman, "my name has been brought into
this controversy, by Mr. Simpson directly, and in insinuation by--
er--another. Therefore it is my right to make my position clear.
Mr. Thomas came to me last evening in distress, both of mind and
body. He told me his story--substantially the story which has just
been told to you by Mr. Simpson--and, gentlemen, I believe it. But
if I did not believe it, if I believed him to have been in the past
all that his opponent has said; even if I believed that, only last
evening, spurned, driven from his child, penniless and hopeless, he
had yielded to the weakness which has been his curse all his life--
even if I believed that, still I should demand that Henry Thomas,
repentant and earnest as you see him now, should be given his
rightful opportunity to become a man again. He is poor, but he is
not--shall not be--friendless. No! a thousand times, no! You may
say, some of you, that the affair is not my business. I affirm
that it IS my business. It is my business as a Christian, and that
business should come before all others. I have not allowed
sympathy to influence me. If that were the case, my regard for my
neighbor and friend of former days would have held me firm. But,
gentlemen, I have a child of my own. I know what a father's love
is, as only a father can know it. And, after a sleepless night, I
stand here before you to-day determined that this man shall have
his own, if my money--which you will, I'm sure, forgive my
mentioning--and my unflinching support can give it to him. That
is my position, and I state it regardless of consequences." He
paused, and with raised right hand, like the picture of Jove in the
old academy mythology, launched his final thunderbolt. "Whom God
hath joined," he proclaimed, "let no one put asunder!"
That settled it. The cheers shook the walls. Amidst the tumult
Dimick and Bailey Bangs seized Captain Cy by the shoulders and
endeavored to lift him from his seat.
"For the love of goodness, Whit!" groaned Josiah, desperately,
"stand up and answer him. If you don't, we'll founder sure."
The captain smiled grimly and shook his head. He had not taken his
eyes from the face of the great Atkins since the latter began
"What?" he replied. "After that 'put asunder' sockdolager? Man
alive! do you want me to add Sabbath breakin' to my other crimes?"
The vote, by ballot, followed almost immediately. It was pitiful
to see the erstwhile Whittaker majority melt away. Alonzo Snow was
triumphantly elected. But a handful voted against him.
Captain Cy, still grimly smiling, rose and left the hall. As he
closed the door, he heard the shrill voice of Uncle Bedny demanding
justice for the Bassett's Hollow road.
It had, indeed, been a "memoriable" town meeting.
When Deacon Zeb Clark--the same Deacon Zeb who fell into the
cistern, as narrated by Captain Cy--made his first visit to the
city, years and years ago, he stayed but two days. As he had
proudly boasted that he should remain in the metropolis at least a
week, our people were much surprised at his premature return. To
the driver of the butcher cart who found him sitting contentedly
before his dwelling, amidst his desolate acres, the nearest
neighbor a half mile away, did Deacon Zeb disclose his reason for
leaving the crowded thoroughfares. "There was so many folks
there," he said, "that I felt lonesome."
And Captain Cy, returning from the town meeting to the Whittaker
place, felt lonesome likewise. Not for the Deacon's reason--he met
no one on the main road, save a group of school children and Miss
Phinney, and, sighting the latter in the offing, he dodged behind
the trees by the schoolhouse pond and waited until she passed. But
the captain, his trouble now heavy upon him, did feel the need of
sympathy and congenial companionship. He knew he might count upon
Dimick and Asaph, and, whenever Keturah's supervision could be
evaded, upon Mr. Bangs. But they were not the advisers and
comforters for this hour of need. All the rest of Bayport, he felt
sure, would be against him. Had not King Heman the Great from the
steps of the throne, banned him with the royal displeasure! "If
Heman ever SHOULD come right out and say--" began Asaph's warning.
Well, strange as it might seem, Heman had "come right out."
As to why he had come out there was no question in the mind of the
captain. The latter had left Mr. Thomas, the prodigal father,
prostrate and blasphemous in the road the previous evening. His
next view of him was when, transformed and sanctified, he had been
summoned to the platform by Mr. Atkins. No doubt he had returned
to the barber shop and, in his rage and under Mr. Simpson's cross
examination, had revealed something of the truth. Tad, the
politician, recognizing opportunity when it knocked at his door,
had hurried him to the congressman's residence. The rest was plain
enough, so Captain Cy thought.
However, war was already declared, and the reasons for it mattered
little. The first skirmish might occur at any moment. The
situation was desperate. The captain squared his shoulders, thrust
forward his chin, and walked briskly up the path to the door of the
dining room. It was nearly one o'clock, but Bos'n had not yet
gone. She was waiting, to the very last minute, for her "Uncle
"Hello, shipmate," he hailed. "Not headed for school yet? Good!
I cal'late you needn't go this afternoon. I'm thinkin' of hirin' a
team and drivin' to Ostable, and I didn't know but you'd like to go
with me. Think you could, without that teacher woman havin' you
brought up aft for mutiny?"
Bos'n thought it over.
"Yes, sir," she said; "I guess so, if you wrote me an excuse. I
don't like to be absent, 'cause I haven't been before, but there's
only my reading lesson this afternoon and I know that ever so well.
I'd love to go, Uncle Cy."
The captain removed his coat and hat and pulled a chair forward to
"Hello!" he exclaimed. "What's this--the mail?"
Bos'n smiled delightedly.
"Yes, sir," she replied. "I knew you was at the meeting and so I
brought it from the office. Ain't you glad?"
"Sure! Yes, indeed! Much obliged. Tryin' to keep house without
you would be like steerin' without a rudder."
Even as he said it there came to him the realization that he might
have to steer without that rudder in the near future. His smile
vanished. He smothered a groan and picked up the mail.
"Hum!" he mused, "the Breeze, a circular, and one letter. Hello!
it isn't possible that-- Well! well!"
The letter was in a long envelope. He hastily tore it open. At
the inclosure he glanced in evident excitement. Then his smile
"Bos'n," he said, after a moment's reflection, "I guess you and me
won't have to go to Ostable after all." Noticing the child's look
of disappointment, he added: "But you needn't go to school. Maybe
you'd better not. You and me'll take a tramp alongshore. What do
"Oh, yes, Uncle Cy! Let's--shall we?"
"Why, I don't see why not. We'll cruise in company as long as we
can, hey, little girl? The squall's likely to strike afore night,"
he muttered half aloud. "We'll enjoy the fine weather till it's
time to shorten sail."
They walked all that afternoon. Captain Cy was even more kind and
gentle with his small companion than usual. He told her stories
which made her laugh, pointed out spots in the pines where he had
played Indian when a boy, carried her "pig back" when she grew
tired, and kissed her tenderly when, at the back door of the
Whittaker place, he set her on her feet again.
"Had a good time, dearie?" he asked.
"Oh, splendid! I think it's the best walk we ever had, don't you,
"I shouldn't wonder. You won't forget our cruises together when
you are a big girl and off somewheres else, will you?"
"I'll NEVER forget 'em. And I'm never going anywhere without you."
It was after five as they entered the kitchen.
"Anybody been here while I was out?" asked the captain of Georgianna.
The housekeeper's eyes were red and swollen, and she hugged Bos'n
as she helped her off with her jacket and hood.
"Yes, there has," was the decided answer. "First Ase Tidditt, and
then Bailey Bangs, and then that--that Angie Phinney."
"Humph!" mused Captain Cy slowly. "So Angie was here, was she?
Where the carcass is the vultures are on deck, or words similar.
Humph! Did our Angelic friend have much to say?"
"DID she? And _I_ had somethin' to say, too! I never in my life!"
"Humph!" Her employer eyed her sharply. "So? And so soon? Talk
about the telegraph spreadin' news! I'd back most any half dozen
tongues in Bayport to spread more news, and add more trimmin' to
it, in a day than the telegraph could do in a week. Especially if
all the telegraph operators was like the one up at the depot.
Well, Georgianna, when you goin' to leave?"
"Leave? Leave where? What are you talkin' about?"
"Leave here. Of course you realize that this ship of ours,"
indicating the house by a comprehensive wave of his hand around the
room, "is goin' to be a mighty unpopular craft from now on. We may
be on a lee shore any minute. You've got your own well-bein' to
"My own well-bein'! What do you s'pose I care for my well-bein'
when there's--Cap'n Whittaker, you tell me now! Is it so?"
"Some of it is--yes. He's come back and he's who he says he is.
You've seen him. He was here all day yesterday."
"So Angie said, but I couldn't scarcely believe it. That toughy!
Cap'n Whittaker, do you intend to hand over that poor little
innocent thing to--to such a man as THAT?"
"No. There'll be no handin' over about it. But the odds are
against us, and there's no reason why you should be in the rumpus,
Georgianna. You may not understand what we're facin'."
The housekeeper drew herself up. Her face was very red and her
small eyes snapped.
"Cy Whittaker," she began, manners and deference to employer alike
forgotten, "don't you say no more of that wicked foolishness to me.
I'll leave the minute you're mean-spirited enough to let that child
go and not afore. And when THAT happens I'll be GLAD to leave.
Land sakes! there's somebody at the door; and I expect I'm a
She rubbed her face with her apron, thereby making it redder than
ever, and hurried into the dining room.
"Bos'n," said Captain Cy quickly, "you stay here in the kitchen."
Emmie looked at him in surprised bewilderment, but she suppressed
her curiosity concerning the identity of the person who had
knocked, and obeyed. The captain pulled the kitchen door almost
shut and listened at the crack.
The first spoken words by the visitor appeared to relieve Captain
Cy's anxiety; but they seemed to astonish him greatly.
"Why!" he exclaimed in a whisper. "Ain't that-- It sounds like--"
"It's teacher," whispered Bos'n, who also had been listening.
"She's come to find out why I wasn't at school. You tell her,
Georgianna returned to announce:
"It's Miss Dawes. She says she wants to see you, Cap'n. She's in
the settin' room."
The captain drew a long breath. Then, repeating his command to
Emmie to stay where she was, he left the room, closing the door
behind him. The latter procedure roused Bos'n's indignation.
"What made him do that?" she demanded. "I haven't been bad. He
NEVER shut me up before!"
The schoolmistress was standing by the center table in the sitting
room when Captain Cy entered.
"Good evenin'," he said politely. "Won't you sit down?"
But Miss Dawes paid no attention to trivialities. She seemed much
"Cap'n Whittaker," she began, "I just heard something that--"
The captain interrupted her.
"Excuse me," he said, "but I think we'll pull down the curtains and
have a little light on the subject. It gets dark early now,
especially of a gray day like this one."
He drew the shades at the windows and lit the lamp on the table.
The red glow behind the panes of the stove door faded into
insignificance as the yellow radiance brightened. The ugly
portraits and the stiff old engravings on the wall retired into a
becoming dusk. The old-fashioned room became more homelike.
"Now won't you sit down?" repeated Captain Cy. "Take that rocker;
it's the most comf'table one aboard--so Bos'n says, anyhow."
Miss Phoebe took the rocker, under protest. Her host remained
"It's been a nice afternoon," he said. "Bos'n--Emmie, of course--
and I have been for a walk. 'Twan't her fault, 'twas mine. I kept
her out of school. I was--well, kind of lonesome."
The teacher's gray eyes flashed in the lamplight.
"Cap'n Whittaker," she cried, "please don't waste time. I didn't
come here to talk about the weather nor Emily's reason for not
attending school. I don't care why she was absent. But I have
just heard of what happened at that meeting. Is it true that--"
"That Emmie's dad is alive and here? Yes, it's true."
"But--but that man last night? Was he THAT man?"
The captain nodded.
"That's the man," he said briefly.
Miss Dawes shuddered.
"Cap'n Whittaker," she asked earnestly, "are you sure he is really
her father? Absolutely sure?"
"Sure and sartin."
"Then she belongs to him, doesn't she? Legally, I mean?"
"Are--are you going to give her up to him?"
"Then what I heard was true. You did say at the meeting that you
were going to do your best to keep him from getting her."
"Um--hum! What I said amounts to just about that."
Captain Cy was surprised and a little disappointed apparently.
"Why?" he repeated.
"Well, for reasons I've got."
"Do you mind telling me the reasons?"
"I cal'late you don't want to hear 'em. If you don't understand
now, then I can't make it much plainer, I'm afraid."
The little lady sprang to her feet.
"Oh, you are provoking!" she cried indignantly. "Can't you see
that I want to hear the reasons from you yourself? Cap'n Whittaker,
I shook hands with you last night."
"You remember I told you you'd better wait."
"I didn't want to wait. I believed I knew something of human
nature, and I believed I had learned to understand you. I made up
my mind to pay no more attention to what people said against you.
I thought they were envious and disliked you because you did things
in your own way. I wouldn't believe the stories I heard this
afternoon. I wanted to hear you speak in your own defense and you
refuse to do it. Don't you know what people are saying? They say
you are trying to keep Emily because-- Oh, I'm ashamed to ask it,
but you make me: HAS the child got valuable property of her own?"
Captain Cy had been, throughout this scene, standing quietly by the
table. Now he took a step forward.
"Miss Dawes," he said sharply, "sit down."
"Sit down, please."
The schoolmistress didn't mean to obey the order, but for some
reason she did. The captain went on speaking.
"It's pretty plain," he said, "that what you heard at the boardin'
house--for I suppose that's where you did hear it--was what you
might call a Phinneyized story of the doin's at the meetin'. Well,
there's another yarn, and it's mine; I'm goin' to spin it and I
want you to listen."
He went on to spin his yarn. It was practically a repetition of
his reply to Tad Simpson that morning. Its conclusion was also
much the same.
"The land ain't worth fifty dollars," he declared, "but if it was
fifty million he shouldn't have it. Why? Because it belongs to
that little girl. And he shan't have her until he and those back
of him have hammered me through the courts till I'm down forty
fathom under water. And when they do get her--and, to be honest, I
cal'late they will in the end--I hope to God I won't be alive to
see it! There! I've answered you."
He was walking up and down the room, with the old quarter-deck
stride, his hands jammed deep in his pockets and his face working
"It's pretty nigh a single-handed fight for me," he continued, "but
I've fought single-handed before. The other side's got almost all
the powder and the men. Heman and Tad and that Thomas have got
seven eighths of Bayport behind 'em, not to mention the 'Providence'
they're so sure of. My crowd is a mighty forlorn hope: Dimick and
Ase Tidditt, and Bailey, as much as his wife 'll let him. Oh, yes!"
and he smiled whimsically, "there's another one. A new recruit's
just joined; Georgianna's enlisted. That's my army. Sort of
rag-jacketed cadets, we are, small potatoes, and few in a hill."
The teacher rose and laid a hand on his arm. He turned toward her.
The lamplight shone upon her face, and he saw, to his astonishment,
that there were tears in her eyes.
"Cap'n Whittaker," she said, "will you take an other recruit? I
should like to enlist, please."
"You? Oh, pshaw! I'm thick-headed to-night. I didn't see the
joke of it at first."
"There isn't any joke. I want you to know that I admire you for
the fight you're making. Law or no law, to let that dear little
girl go away with that dreadful father of hers is a sin and a
crime. I came here to tell you so. I did want to hear your story,
and you made me ask that question; but I was certain of your answer
before you made it. I don't suppose I can do anything to help, but
I'm going to try. So, you see, your army is bigger than you
thought it was--though the new soldier isn't good for much, I'm
afraid," she added, with a little smile.
Captain Cy was greatly disturbed.
"Miss Phoebe," he said, "I--I won't say that it don't please me to
have you talk so, for it does, more'n you can imagine. Sympathy
means somethin' to the under dog, and it gives him spunk to keep on
kickin'. But you mustn't take any part in the row; you simply
mustn't. It won't do."
"Why not? Won't I be ANY help?"
"Help? You'd be more help than all the rest of us put together.
You and me haven't seen a great deal of each other, and my part in
the few talks we have had has been a mean one, but I knew the first
time I met you that you had more brains and common sense than any
woman in this county--though I was too pig-headed to own it. But
that ain't it. I got you the job of teacher. It's no credit to
me; 'twas just bull luck and for the fun of jarrin' Heman. But I
did it. And, because I did it, the Atkins crowd--and that means
most everybody now--haven't any love for you. My tryin' for school
committee was really just to give you a fair chance in your
position. I was licked, so the committee's two to one against you.
Don't you see that you mustn't have anything to do with me? Don't
you SEE it?"
She shook her head.
"I see that common gratitude alone should be reason enough for my
trying to help you," she said. "But, beside that, I know you are
right, and I SHALL help, no matter what you say. As for the
teacher's position, let them discharge me. I--"
"Don't talk that way. The youngsters need you, and know it, no
matter what their fool fathers and mothers say. And you mustn't
wreck your chances. You're young--"
"Oh, no! I'm not," she said. "Young! Cap'n Whittaker, you
shouldn't joke about a woman's age."
"I ain't jokin'. You ARE young." As she stood there before him he
was realizing, with a curiously uncomfortable feeling, how much
younger she was than he. He glanced up at the mirror, where his
own gray hairs were reflected, and repeated his assertion. "You're
young yet," he said, "and bein' discharged from a place might mean
a whole lot to you. I'm glad you take such an interest in Bos'n,
and your comin' here on her account--"
He paused. Miss Dawes colored slightly and said:
"Your comin' here on her account was mighty good of you. But
you've got to keep out of this trouble. And you mustn't come here
again. That's owner's orders. Why, I'm expectin' a boardin' party
any minute," he added. "I thought when you knocked it was 'papa'
comin' for his child. You'd better go."
But she stood still.
"I shan't go," she declared. "Or, at least, not until you promise
to let me try to help you. If they come, so much the better.
They'll learn where my sympathies are."
Captain Cy scratched his head.
"See here, Miss Phoebe," he said. "I ain't sure that you fully
understand that Scripture and everything else is against us. Did
Angie turn loose on you the 'Whom the Lord has joined' avalanche?"
The schoolmistress burst into a laugh. The captain laughed, too,
but his gravity quickly returned. For steps sounded on the walk,
there was a whispering outside, and some one knocked on the dining-
The situation was similar to that of the evening when the Board of
Strategy called and "John Smith" made his first appearance. But
now, oddly enough, Captain Cy seemed much less troubled. He looked
at Miss Dawes and there was a dancing twinkle in his eye.
"Is it--" began the lady, in an agitated whisper.
"The boardin' party? I presume likely."
"But what can you do?"
"Stand by the repel, I guess," was the calm reply. "I told you
that they had most of the ammunition, but ours ain't all blank
cartridges. You stay below and listen to the broadsides."
They heard Georgianna cross the dining room. There was a murmur of
voices at the door. The captain nodded.
"It's them," he said. "Well, here goes. Now don't you show
"Do you think I am afraid? Indeed, I shan't stay 'below' as you
call it! I shall let them see--"
Captain Cy held up his hand.
"I'm commodore of this fleet," he said; "and that bein' the case, I
expect my crew to obey orders. There's nothin' you can do, and--
Why, yes! there is, too. You can take care of Bos'n. Georgianna,"
to the housekeeper who, looking frightened and nervous, had
appeared at the door, "send Bos'n in here quick."
"They're there," whispered Georgianna. "Mr. Atkins and Tad and
that Thomas critter, and lots more. And they've come after her.
What shall we do?"
"Jump when I speak to you, that's the first thing. Send Bos'n in
here and you stay in your galley."
Emily came running. Miss Dawes put an arm about her. Captain Cy,
the battle lanterns still twinkling under his brows, stepped forth
to meet the "boarding party."
They were there, as Georgianna had said. Mr. Thomas on the top
step, Heman and Simpson on the next lower, and behind them Abel
Leonard and a group of interested volunteers, principally recruited
from the back room of the barber shop.
"Evenin', gentlemen," said the captain, opening the door so briskly
that Mr. Thomas started backward and came down heavily upon the
toes of the devoted Tad. Mr. Simpson swore, Mr. Thomas clawed
about him to gain equilibrium, and the dignity of the group was
"Evenin'," repeated Captain Cy. "Quite a surprise party you're
givin' me. Come in."
"Cyrus," began the Honorable Atkins, "we are here to claim--"
"Give me my daughter, you robber!" demanded Thomas, from his new
position in the rear of the other two.
"Mr. Thomas," said Heman, "please remember that I am conducting
this affair. I respect the natural indignation of an outraged
father, but--ahem! Cyrus, we are here to claim--"
"Then do your claimin' inside. It's kind of chilly to-night,
there's plenty of empty chairs, and we don't need to hold an
overflow meetin'. Come ahead in."
The trio looked at each other in hesitation. Then Mr. Atkins
majestically entered the dining room. Thomas and Simpson followed
"Abe," observed Captain Cy to Leonard, who was advancing toward the
steps, "I'm sorry not to be hospitable, but there's too many of you
to invite at once, and 'tain't polite to show partiality. You and
the rest are welcome to sit on the terrace or stroll 'round the
deer park. Good night."
He closed the door in the face of the disappointed Abel and turned
to the three in the room.
"Well," he said, "out with it. You've come to claim somethin', I
"I come for my rights," shouted Mr. Thomas.
"Yes? Well, this ain't State's prison or I'd give 'em to you with
pleasure. Heman, you'd better do the talkin'. We'll probably get
The Honorable cleared his throat and waved his hand.
"Cyrus," he began, "you are my boyhood friend and my fellow
townsman and neighbor. Under such circumstances it gives me pain--"
"Then don't let us discuss painful subjects. Let's get down to
business. You've come to rescue Bos'n--Emily, that is,--from the
'robber'--I'm quotin' Deacon Thomas here--that's got her, so's to
turn her over to her sorrowin' father. Is that it? Yes. Well,
you can't have her--not yet."
"Cyrus," said Mr. Atkins, "I'm sorry to see that you take it this
way. You haven't the shadow of a right. We have the law with us,
and your conduct will lead us to invoke it. The constable is
outside. Shall I call him in?"
"Uncle Bedny" was the town constable and had been since before the
war. The purely honorary office was given him each year as a joke.
Captain Cy grinned broadly, and even Tad was obliged to smile.
"Don't be inhuman, Heman," urged the captain. "You wouldn't turn
me over to be man-handled by Uncle Bedny, would you?"
"This is not a humorous affair--" began the congressman, with
dignity. But the "bereaved father" had been prospecting on his own
hook, and now he peeped into the sitting room.
"Here she is!" he shouted. "I see her. Come on, Emmie! Your
dad's come for you. Let go of her, you woman! What do you mean by
holdin' on to her?"
The situation which was "not humorous" immediately became much less
so. The next minute was a lively one. It ended as Mr. Thomas was
picked up by Tad from the floor, where he had fallen, having been
pushed violently over a chair by Captain Cy. Bos'n, frightened and
sobbing, was clinging wildly to Miss Dawes, who had clung just as
firmly to her. The captain's voice rang through the room.
"That's enough," he said. "That's enough and some over. Atkins,
take that feller out of this house and off my premises. As for the
girl, that's for us to fight out in the courts. I'm her guardian,
lawfully appointed, and you nor nobody else can touch her while
that appointment's good. Here it is--right here. Now look at it
and clear out."
He held, for the congressman's inspection, the document which,
inclosed in the long envelope, had been received that morning. His
visit to Ostable, made some weeks before, had been for the purpose
of applying to the probate court for the appointment as Emily's
guardian. He had applied before the news of her father's coming to
life reached him. The appointment itself had arrived just in time.
Mr. Atkins studied the document with care. When he spoke it was
with considerable agitation and without his usual diplomacy.
"Humph!" he grunted. "Humph! I see. Well, sir, I have some
influence in this section and I shall see how long your--your TRICK
will prevent the child's going where she belongs. I wish you to
understand that I shall continue this fight to the very last. I--I
am not one to be easily beaten. Simpson, you and Thomas come with
me. This night's despicable chicanery is only the beginning. This
is bad business for you, Cy Whittaker," he snarled, his self-control
vanishing, "and"--with a vindictive glance at the schoolmistress--
"for those who are with you in it. That appointment was obtained
under false pretenses and I can prove it. Your tricks don't scare
me. I've had experience with TRICKS before."
"Yup. So I've heard. Well, Heman, I ain't as well up in tricks as
you claim to be, nor my stockin' isn't as well padded as yours,
maybe. But while there's a ten-cent piece left in the toe of it
I'll fight you and the skunk whose 'rights' you seem to have taken
such a shine to. And, after that, while there's a lawyer that 'll
trust me. And, meantime, that little girl stays right here, and
you touch her if you dare, any of you! Anything more to say?"
But the Honorable's dignity had returned. Possibly he thought he
had said too much already. A moment later the door banged behind
the discomforted boarding party.
Captain Cy pulled his beard and laughed.
"Well, we repelled 'em, didn't we?" he observed. "But, as friend
Heman says, the beginnin's only begun. I wish he hadn't seen you
Miss Dawes looked up from the task of stroking poor Bos'n's hair.
"I don't," she said, "I'm glad of it." Then she added, laughing
nervously: "Cap'n Whittaker, how could you be so cool? It was
like a play. I declare, you were just splendid!"
Josiah Dimick has a unique faculty of grasping a situation and
summing it up in an out-of-the-ordinary way.
"I think," observed Josiah to the excited group at Simmons's, "that
this town owes Cy Whittaker a vote of thanks."
"Thanks!" gasped Alpheus Smalley, so shocked and horrified that he
put the one-pound weight on the scales instead of the half pound.
"THANKS! After what we've found out? Well, I must say!"
"Ya-as," drawled Captain Josiah, "thanks was what I said. If it
wan't for him this gang and the sewin' circle wouldn't have nothin'
to talk about but their neighbors. Our reputations would be as
full of holes as a skimmer by this time. Now all hands are so busy
jumpin' on Whit, that the rest of us can feel fairly safe. Ain't
that so, Gabe?"
Mr. Lumley, who had stopped in for a half pound of tea, grinned
feebly, but said nothing. If he noticed the clerk's mistake in
weights he didn't mention it, but took his package and hurried out.
After his departure Mr. Smalley himself discovered the error and
charged the Lumley account with "1 1/4 lbs. Mixed Green and Black."
Meanwhile the assemblage about the stove had put Captain Cy on the
anvil and was hammering him vigorously.
Bayport was boiling over with rumor and surmise. Heman had
appealed to the courts asking that Captain Cy's appointment as
Bos'n's guardian be rescinded. Cy had hired Lawyer Peabody, of
Ostable, to look out for his interests. Mr. Atkins and the captain
had all but come to blows over the child. Thomas, the poor father,
had broken down and wept, and had threatened to commit suicide.
Mrs. Salters had refused to speak to Captain Cy when she met the
latter after meeting on Sunday. The land in Orham had been sold
and the captain was using the money. Phoebe Dawes had threatened
to resign if Bos'n came to school any longer. No, she had
threatened to resign if she didn't come to school. She hadn't
threatened to resign at all, but wanted higher wages because of the
effect the scandal might have on her reputation as a teacher.
These were a few of the reports, contradicted and added to from day
To quote Josiah Dimick again: "Sortin' out the truth from the lies
is like tryin' to find a quart of sardines in a schooner load of
herrin'. And they dump in more herrin' every half hour."
Angeline Phinney was having the time of her life. The perfect
boarding house hummed like a fly trap. Keturah and Mrs. Tripp had
deserted to the enemy, and the minority, meaning Asaph and Bailey,
had little opportunity to defend their friend's cause, even if they
had dared. Heman Atkins, his Christian charity and high-mindedness,
his devotion to duty, regardless of political consequences, and the
magnificent speech at town meeting were lauded and exalted. The
Bayport Breeze contained a full account of the meeting, and it was
read aloud by Keturah, amidst hymns of praise from the elect.
"'Whom the Lord hath joined,'" read Mrs. Bangs, "'let no man put
asunder.' Ain't that splendid? Ain't that FINE? The paper says:
'When Congressman Atkins delivered this noble sentiment a hush fell
upon the excited throng.' I should think 'twould. I remember when
I was married the minister said pretty nigh the same thing, and I
COULDN'T speak. I couldn't have opened my mouth to save me. Don't
you remember I couldn't, Bailey?"
Mr. Bangs nodded gloomily. It is possible that he wished the
effect of the minister's declaration might have been more lasting.
Asaph stirred in his chair.
"I don't care," he said. "This puttin' asunder business is all
right, but there's always two sides to everything. I see this
Thomas critter when he fust come, and he didn't look like no saint
then--nor smell like one, neither, unless 'twas a specimen pickled
Here was irreverence almost atheistic. Keturah's face showed her
shocked disapproval. Matilda Tripp voiced the general sentiment.
"Humph!" she sniffed. "Well, all I can say is that I've met Mr.
Thomas two or three times, and _I_ didn't notice anything but
politeness and good manners. Maybe my nose ain't so fine for
smellin' liquor as some folks's--p'raps it ain't had the
experience--but all _I_ saw was a poor lame man with a black eye.
I pitied him, and I don't care who hears me say it."
"Yes," concurred Miss Phinney, "and if he was a drinkin' man, do
you suppose Mr. Atkins would have anything to do with him? Cyrus
Whittaker made a whole lot of talk about his insultin' some woman
or other, but nobody knows who the woman was. 'Bout time for her
to speak up, I should think. Teacher," turning to Miss Dawes, "you
was at the Whittaker place when Mr. Atkins and Emily's father come
for her, I understand. I wish I'd have been there. It must have
been wuth seein'."
"It was," replied Miss Dawes. She had kept silent throughout the
various discussions of the week following the town meeting, but
now, thus appealed to, she answered promptly.
Angeline's news created a sensation. The schoolmistress immediately
became the center of interest.
"Is that so? Was you there, teacher? Well, I declare!" The
questions and exclamations flew round the table.
"Tell us, teacher," pleaded Keturah. "Wasn't Heman grand? I
should so like to have heard him. Didn't Cap'n Whittaker look
ashamed of himself?"
"No, he did not. If anyone looked ashamed it was Mr. Atkins and
his friends. Perhaps I ought to tell you that my sympathies are
entirely with Captain Whittaker in this affair. To give that
little girl up to a drunken scoundrel like her father would, in my
opinion, be a crime."
The boarders and the landlady gasped. Asaph grinned and nudged
Bailey under the table. Keturah was the first to recover.
"Well!" she exclaimed. "Everybody's got a right to their opinion,
of course. But I can't see the crime, myself. And as for the
drunkenness, I'd like to know who's seen Mr. Thomas drunk. Cyrus
Whittaker SAYS he has, but--"
She waved her hand scornfully. Phoebe rose from her chair.
"I have seen him in that condition," she said. "In fact, I am the
person he insulted. I saw Captain Whittaker knock him down, and I
honored the captain for it. I only wished I were a man and could
have done it myself."
She left the room, and, a few moments later, the house. Mr.
Tidditt chuckled aloud. Even Bailey dared to look pleased.
"There!" sneered the widow Tripp. "Ain't that-- Perhaps you
remember that Cap'n Whittaker got her the teacher's place?"
"Yes," put in Miss Phinney, "and nobody knows WHY he got it for
her. That is, nobody has known up to now. Maybe we can begin to
guess a little after this."
"She was at his house, was she?" observed Keturah. "Humph! I
wonder why? Seems to me if _I_ was a young--that is, a single
woman like her, I'd be kind of careful about callin' on bachelors.
Humph! it looks funny to me."
Asaph rose and pushed back his chair.
"I cal'late she called to see Emily," he said sharply. "The child
was her scholar, and I presume likely, knowin' the kind of father
that has turned up for the poor young one, she felt sorry for her.
Of course, nobody's hintin' anything against Phoebe Dawes's
character. If you want a certificate of that, you've only got to
go to Wellmouth. Folks over there are pretty keen on that subject.
I guess the town would go to law about it rather'n hear a word
against her. Libel suits are kind of uncomf'table things for them
that ain't sure of their facts. I'D hate to get mixed up in one,
myself. Bailey, I'm going up street. Come on, when you can, won't
As if frightened at his own display of spirit, he hurried out.
There was silence for a time; then Miss Phinney spoke concerning
Up at the Cy Whittaker place the days were full ones. There, also,
legal questions were discussed, with Georgianna, the Board of
Strategy, Josiah Dimick occasionally, and, more infrequently still,
Miss Dawes, as participants with Captain Cy in the discussions.
Rumors were true in so far as they related to Mr. Atkins's appeal
to the courts, and the captain's retaining Lawyer Peabody, of
Ostable. Mr. Peabody's opinion of the case was not encouraging.
"You see, captain," he said, when his client visited him at his
office, "the odds are very much against us. The court appointed
you as guardian with the understanding that this man Thomas was
dead. Now he is alive and claims his child. More than that, he
has the most influential politician in this county back of him.
We wouldn't stand a fighting chance except for one thing--Thomas
himself. He left his wife and the baby; deserted them, so she
said; went to get work, HE says. We can prove he was a drunken
blackguard BEFORE he went, and that he has been drunk since he came
back. But THEY'LL say--Atkins and his lawyer--that the man was
desperate and despairing because of your refusal to give him his
child. They'll hold him up as a repentant sinner, anxious to
reform, and needing the little girl's influence to help keep him
straight. That's their game, and they'll play it, be sure of that,
It sounds reasonable enough, too, for sinners have repented before
now. And the long-lost father coming back to his child is the one
sure thing to win applause from the gallery, you know that."
Captain Cy nodded.
"Yup," he said, "I know it. The other night, when Miss Ph--when a
friend of mine was at the house, she said this business was like a
play. I didn't say so to her, but all the same I realize it ain't
like a play at all. In a play dad comes home, havin' been snaked
bodily out of the jaws of the tomb by his coat collar, and the
young one sings out 'Papa! Papa!' and he sobs, 'Me child! Me
child!' and it's all lovely, and you put on your hat feelin' that
the old man is goin' to be rich and righteous for the rest of his
days. But here it's different; dad's a rascal, and anybody who's
seen anything of the world knows he's bound to stay so; and as for
the poor little girl, why--why--"
He stopped, rose, and, striding over to the window, stood looking
out. After an interval, during which the good-natured attorney
read a dull business letter through for the second time, he spoke
"I hope you understand, Peabody," he said. "It ain't just
selfishness that makes me steer the course I'm runnin'. Course,
Bos'n's got to be the world and all to me, and if she's taken away
I don't know's I care a tinker's darn what happens afterwards.
But, all the same, if her dad was a real man, sorry for what he's
done and tryin' to make up for it--why, then, I cal'late I'm decent
enough to take off my hat, hand her over, and say: 'God bless you
and good luck.' But to think of him carryin' her off the Lord
knows where, to neglect her and cruelize her, and to let her grow
up among fellers like him, I--I--by the big dipper, I can't do it!
That's all; I can't!"
"How does she feel about it, herself?" asked Peabody.
"Her? Bos'n? Why, that's the hardest of all. Some of the
children at school pester her about her father. I don't know's you
can blame 'em; young ones are made that way, I guess--but she comes
home to me cryin', and it's 'O Uncle Cy, he AIN'T my truly father,
is he?' and 'You won't let him take me away from you, will you?'
till it seems as if I should fly out of the window. The poor
little thing! And that puffed-up humbug Atkins blowin' about his
Christianity and all! D--n such Christianity as that, I say! I've
seen heathen Injuns, who never heard of Christ, with more of His
spirit inside 'em. There! I've shocked you, I guess. Sometimes
I think this place is too narrer and cramped for me. I've been
around, you know, and my New England bringin' up has wore thin in
spots. Seem's if I must get somewheres and spread out, or I'll
He threw himself into a chair. The lawyer clapped him on the
"There, there, captain," he said. "Don't 'bust' yet awhile. Don't
give up the ship. If we lose in one court, we can appeal to
another, and so on up the line. And meantime we'll do a little
investigating of friend Thomas's career since he left Concord.
I've written to a legal acquaintance of mine in Butte, giving him
the facts as we know them, and a description of Thomas. He will
try to find out what the fellow did in his years out West. It's
our best chance, as I told you. Keep your pluck up and wait and
The captain repeated this conversation to the Board of Strategy
when he returned to Bayport. Miss Dawes had walked home from
school with Bos'n, and had stopped at the house to hear the report.
She listened, but it was evident that something else was on her
"Captain Whittaker," she asked, "has it ever struck you as queer
that Mr. Atkins should take such an interest in this matter? He is
giving time and counsel and money to help this man Thomas, who is a
perfect stranger to him. Why does he do it?"
Captain Cy smiled.
"Why?" he repeated. "Why, to down me, of course. I was gettin'
too everlastin' prominent in politics to suit him. I'd got you in
as teacher, and I had 'Lonzo Snow as good as licked for school
committee. Goodness knows what I might have run for next, 'cordin'
to Heman's reasonin', and I simply had to be smashed. It worked
all right. I'm so unhealthy now in the sight of most folks in this
town, that I cal'late they go home and sulphur-smoke their clothes
after they meet me, so's not to catch my wickedness."
But the teacher shook her head.
"That doesn't seem reason enough to me," she declared. "Just see
what Mr. Atkins has done. He never openly advocated anything in
town meeting before; you said so yourself. Even when he must have
realized that you had the votes for committeeman he kept still.
He might have taken many of them from you by simply coming out and
declaring for Mr. Snow; but he didn't. And then, all at once, he
takes this astonishing stand. Captain Whittaker, Mr. Tidditt says
that, the night of Emily's birthday party, you and he told who she
was, by accident, and that Mr. Atkins seemed very much surprised
and upset. Is that so?"
Captain Cy laughed.
"His lemonade was upset; that's all I noticed special. Oh! yes,
and he lost his hat off, goin' home. But what of it? What are you
"I was wondering if--if it could be that, for some reason, Mr.
Atkins had a spite against Emily or her people. Or if he had any
reason to fear her."
"Fear? Fear Bos'n? Oh, my, that's funny! You've been readin'
novels, I'm 'fraid, teacher, 'though I didn't suspect it of you."
He laughed heartily. Miss Dawes smiled, too, but she still
"Well," she said, "I don't know. Perhaps it is because I'm a
woman, and politics don't mean as much to me as to you men, but to
me political reasons don't seem strong enough to account for such
actions as those of Mr. Atkins. Emily's mother was a Thayer,
wasn't she? and the Thayers once lived in Orham. I wish we could
find out more about them while they lived there."
Asaph Tidditt pulled his beard thoughtfully.
"Well," he observed, "maybe we can, if we want to, though I don't
think what we find out 'll amount to nothin'. I was kind of
cal'latin' to go to Orham next week on a little visit. Seth
Wingate over there--Barzilla Wingate's cousin, Whit--is a sort of
relation of mine, and we visit back and forth every nine or ten
year or so. The ten year's most up, and he's been pesterin' me to
come over. Seth's been Orham town clerk about as long as I've been
the Bayport one, and he's lived there all his life. What he don't
know about Orham folks ain't wuth knowin'. If you say so, I'll
pump him about the Thayers and the Richards. 'Twon't do no harm,
and the old fool likes to talk, anyhow. I don't know's I ought to
speak that way about my relations," he added doubtfully, "but Seth
IS sort of stubborn and unlikely at odd times. We don't always
agree as to which is the best town to live in, you understand."
So it was settled that Mr. Wingate should be subjected to the
"pumping" process when Asaph visited him. He departed for this
visit the following week, and remained away for ten days.
Meanwhile several things happened in Bayport.
One of these things was the farewell of the Honorable Heman Atkins.
Congress was to open at Washington, and the Honorable heeded the
call of duty. Alicia and the housekeeper went with him, and the
big house was closed for the winter. At the gate between the stone
urns, and backed by the iron dogs, the great man bade a group of
admiring constituents good-by. He thanked them for their trust in
him, and promised that it should not be betrayed.
"I leave you, my fellow townsmen, er--ladies and friends," he said,
"with regret, tempered by pride--a not inexcusable pride, I
believe. In the trying experience which my self-respect and
sympathy has so recently forced upon me, you have stood firm and
cheered me on. The task I have undertaken, the task of restoring
to a worthy man his own, shall be carried on to the bitterest
extremity. I have put my hand to the plow, and it shall not be
withdrawn. And, furthermore, I go to my work at Washington
determined to secure for my native town the appropriation which it
so sorely needs. I shall secure it if I can, even though--" and
the sarcasm was hugely enjoyed by his listeners--"I am, as I seem
likely to be, deprived of the help of the 'committee,' self-
appointed at our recent town meeting. If I fail--and I do not
conceal the fact that I may fail--I am certain you will not blame
me. Now I should like to shake each one of you by the hand."
The hands were shaken, and the train bore the Atkins delegation
away. And, on the day following, Mr. Thomas, the prodigal father,
also left town. A position in Boston had been offered him, he
said, and he felt that he must accept it. He would come back some
of these days, with the warrant from the court, and get his little
"Position offered him! Um--ya-as!" quoth Dimick the cynical, in
conversation with Captain Cy. "Inspector of sidewalks, I shouldn't
wonder. Well, please don't ask me if I think Heman sent him to
Boston so's to have him out of the way, and 'cause he'd feel
consider'ble safer than if he was loose down here. Don't ask me
that, for, with my strict scruples against the truth I might say,
No. As it is, I say nothin'--and wink my port eye."
The ten-day visit ended, Mr. Tidditt returned to Bayport. On the
afternoon of his return he and Bailey called at the Whittaker
place, and there they were joined by Miss Dawes, who had been
summoned to the conclave by a note intrusted to Bos'n.
"Now, Ase," ordered Captain Cy, as the quartet gathered in the
sitting room, "here we are, hangin' on your words, as the feller
said. Don't keep us strung up too long. What did you find out?"
The town clerk cleared his throat. When he spoke, there was a
trace of disappointment in his tone. To have been able to
electrify his audience with the news of some startling discovery
would have been pure joy for Asaph.
"Well," he began, "I don't know's I found out anything much. Yet I
did find out somethin', too; but it don't really amount to nothin'.
I hoped 'twould be somethin' more'n 'twas, but when nothin' come of
it except the little somethin' it begun with, I--"
"For the land sakes!" snapped Bailey Bangs, who was a trifle
envious of his friend's position in the center of the stage, "stop
them 'nothin's' and 'somethin's,' won't you? You keep whirlin' 'em
round and over and over till my head's FULL of 'nothin',' and--"
"That's what it's full of most of the time," interrupted Asaph
tartly. Captain Cy hastened to act as peacemaker.
"Never mind, Bailey," he said; "you let Ase alone. Tell us what
you did find out, Ase, and cut out the trimmin's."
"Well," continued Mr. Tidditt, with a glare at Bangs, "I asked Seth
about the Thayers and the Richards folks the very fust night I
struck Orham. He remembered 'em, of course; he can remember Adam,
if you let him tell it. He told me a whole mess about old man
Thayer and old man Richards and their granddads and grandmarms, and
what houses they lived in, and how many hens they kept, and what
their dog's name was, and how they come to name him that, and
enough more to fill a hogshead. 'Twas ten o'clock afore he got out
of Genesis, and down so fur as John and Emily. He remembered their
bein' married, and their baby--Mary Thayer, Bos'n's ma--bein' born.
"Folks used to call John Thayer a smart young feller, so Seth said.
They used to cal'late that he'd rise high in the seafarin' and
ship-ownin' line. Maybe he would, only he died somewheres in
Californy 'long in '54 or thereabouts. 'Twas the time of the gold
craziness out there, and he left his ship and went gold huntin'.
And the next thing they knew he was dead and buried."
"When was that?" inquired the schoolmistress.
"In '54, I tell you. So Seth says."
"What ship was he on?" asked Bailey.
"Wan't on any ship. Why don't you listen, instead of settin' there
moonin'? He was gold diggin', I tell you."
"He'd BEEN on a ship, hadn't he? What was the name of her?"
"I didn't ask. What diff'rence does that make?"
"Wasn't Mr. Atkins at sea in those days?" put in the teacher. The
captain answered her.
"Yes, he was," he said. "That is, I think he was. He was away
from here when I skipped out, and he didn't get back till '61 or
"Well, anyhow," went on Asaph, "that's all I could find out. Seth
and me went rummagin' through town records from way back to glory,
him gassin' away and stringin' along about this old settler and
that, till I 'most wished he'd choke himself with the dust he was
raisin'. We found John's grandad's will, and Emily's dad's will,
and John's own will, and that's all. John left everything he had
and all he might become possessed of to his wife and baby and their
heirs forever. He died poorer'n poverty. What's the use of a will
when you ain't got nothin' to leave?"
"Why!" exclaimed Captain Cy. "The answer to that's easy. John was
goin' to sea, and, more'n likely, intended to have a shy at the
diggin's afore he got back. So, if he did make any money, he
wanted his wife and baby to have it."
"Well, what they got wan't wuth havin'. Emily had to scrimp along
and do dressmakin' till she died. She done fairly well at that,
though, and saved somethin' and passed it over to Mary. And Mary
married Henry Thomas, after she went with the Howes tribe to
Concord, and he got rid of it for her in double quick time--all but
the Orham land."
"So that was all you could find out, hey, Ase?" asked the captain.
"Well, it's at least as much as I expected. You see, teacher,
these story-book notions don't work out when it comes to real
Miss Dawes was plainly disappointed.
"I wish we knew more," she said. "Who was on this ship with Mr.
Thayer? And who sent the news of his death home?"
"Oh, I can tell you that," said Asaph. "'Twas some one-hoss doctor
out there, gold minin' himself, he was. John died of a quick
fever. Got cold and went off in no time. Seth remembered that
much, though he couldn't remember the doctor's name. He said, if I
wanted to learn more about the Thayers, I might go see-- Humph,
well, never mind that. 'Twas just foolishness, anyhow."
But Phoebe persisted.
"To see whom?" she asked. "Some one you knew? A friend of yours?"
Asaph turned red.
"Friend of mine!" he snarled. "No, SIR! she ain't no friend of
mine, I'm thankful to say. More a friend of Bailey's, here, if
she's anybody's. One of his pets, she was, for a spell. A patient
of his, you might say; anyhow, he prescribed for her. 'Twas that
deef idiot, Debby Beasley, Cy; that's who 'twas. Her name was
Briggs afore she married Beasley, and she was hired help for Emily
Thayer, when Mary was born, and until John died."
Captain Cy burst into a roar of laughter. Bailey sprang out of his
"De--Debby Beasley!" he stammered. "Debby Beasley!"
"She was that deef housekeeper Bailey hired for me, teacher,"
explained the captain. "I've told you about her. Ho! ho! so
that's the end of the mystery huntin'. We go gunnin' for Heman
Atkins, and we bring down Debby! Well, Ase, goin' to see the old
Mr. Tidditt's retort was emphatic.
"Goin' to SEE her?" he repeated. "I guess not! Godfrey scissors!
I told Seth, says I, 'I've had all the Debby Beasley _I_ want, and
I cal'late Cy Whittaker feels the same way.' Go to see her! I
wouldn't go to see her if she was up in Paradise a-hollerin' for
"Nobody up there's goin' to holler for YOU, Ase Tidditt," remarked
Bailey, with sarcasm; "so don't let that worry you none."
"Are YOU going to see her, Captain Whittaker?" asked Phoebe.
The captain shook his head.
"Why, no, I guess not," he said. "I don't take much stock in what
she'd be likely to know; besides, I'm a good deal like Ase--I've
had about all the Debby Beasley I want."
DEBBY BEASLEY TO THE RESCUE
"Mrs. Bangs," said the schoolmistress, as if it was the most casual
thing in the world, "I want to borrow your husband to-morrow."
It was Friday evening, and supper at the perfect boarding house
had advanced as far as the stewed prunes and fruit-cake stage.
Keturah, who was carefully dealing out the prunes, exactly four to
each saucer, stopped short, spoon in air, and gazed at Miss Dawes.
"You--you want to WHAT?" she asked.
"I want to borrow your husband. I want him all day, too, because
I'm thinking of driving over to Trumet, and I need a coachman.
You'll go, won't you, Mr. Bangs?"
Bailey, who had been considering the advisability of asking for a
second cup of tea, brightened up and looked pleased.
"Why, yes," he answered, "I'll go. I can go just as well as not.
Fact is, I'd like to. Ain't been to Trumet I don't know when."
Miss Phinney and the widow Tripp looked at each other. Then they
both looked at Keturah. That lady's mouth closed tightly, and she
resumed her prune distribution.
"I'm sorry," she said crisply, "but I'm 'fraid he can't go. It's
Saturday, and I'll need him round the house. Do you care for cake
to-night, Elviry? I'm 'fraid it's pretty dry; I ain't had time to
do much bakin' this week."
"Of course," continued the smiling Phoebe, "I shouldn't think of
asking him to go for nothing. I didn't mean borrow him in just
that way. I was thinking of hiring your horse and buggy, and, as
I'm not used to driving, I thought perhaps I might engage Mr. Bangs
to drive for me. I expected to pay for the privilege. But, as you
need him, I suppose I must get my rig and driver somewhere else.
I'm so sorry."
The landlady's expression changed. This was the dull season, and
opportunities to "let" the family steed and buggy--"horse and
team," we call it in Bayport--were few.
"Well," she observed, "I don't want to be unlikely and disobligin'.
Far's he's concerned, he'd rather be traipsin' round the country
than stay to home, any day; though it's been so long sence he took
ME to ride that I don't know's I'd know how to act."
"Why, Ketury!" protested her husband. "How you talk! Didn't I
drive you down to the graveyard only last Sunday--or the Sunday
"Graveyard! Yes, I notice our rides always fetch up at the
graveyard. You're always willin' to take me THERE. Seems
sometimes as if you enjoyed doin' it."
"Now, Keturah! you know yourself that 'twas you proposed goin'
there. You said you wanted to look at our lot, 'cause you was
afraid 'twan't big enough, and you didn't know but we'd ought to
add on another piece. You said that it kept you awake nights
worryin' for fear when I passed away you wouldn't have room in that
lot for me. Land sakes! don't I remember? Didn't you give me the
blue creeps talkin' about it?"
Mrs. Bangs ignored this outburst. Turning to the school teacher,
she said with a sigh:
"Well, I guess he can go. I'll get along somehow. I hope he'll be
careful of the buggy; we had it painted only last January."
Mrs. Tripp ventured a hinted question concerning the teacher's
errand at Trumet. The reply being noncommittal, the widow
cheerfully prophesied that she guessed 'twas going to rain or snow
next day. "It's about time for the line storm," she added.
But it did not storm, although a brisk, cold gale was blowing when,
after breakfast next morning, the "horse and team," with Bailey in
his Sunday suit and overcoat, and Miss Dawes on the buggy seat
beside him, turned out of the boarding-house yard and started on
the twelve-mile journey to Trumet.
It was a bleak ride. Denboro, the village adjoining Bayport on the
bay side, is a pretty place, with old elms and silverleafs shading
the main street in summer, and with substantial houses set each in
its trim yard. But beyond Denboro the Trumet road winds out over
rolling, bare hills, with cranberry bogs, now flooded and skimmed
with ice, in the hollows between them, clumps of bayberry and
beach-plum bushes scattered over their rounded slopes, and white
scars in their sides showing where the cranberry growers have cut
away the thin layer of coarse grass and moss to reach the sand
beneath, sand which they use in preparing their bogs for the new
And the wind! There is always a breeze along the Trumet road,
even in summer--when the mosquitoes lie in wait to leeward like
buccaneers until, sighting the luckless wayfarer in the offing,
they drive down before the wind in clouds, literally to eat him
alive. They are skilled navigators, those Trumet road mosquitoes,
and they know the advantage of snug harbors under hat brims and
behind spreading ears. And each individual smashed by a frantic
palm leaves a thousand blood relatives to attend his funeral and
exact revenge after the Corsican fashion.
Now, in December, there were, of course, no mosquitoes, but the
wind tore across those bare hilltops in gusts that rocked the buggy
on its springs. The bayberry bushes huddled and crouched before
it. The sky was covered with tumbling, flying clouds, which
changed shape continually, and ripped into long, fleecy ravelings,
that broke loose and pelted on until merged into the next billowy
mass. The bay was gray and white, and in the spots where an
occasional sunbeam broke through and struck it, flashed like a
turned knife blade.
Bailey drove with one hand and held his hat on his head with the
other. The road had been deeply rutted during the November rains,
and now the ruts were frozen. The buggy wheels twisted and scraped
as they turned in the furrows.
"What's the matter?" asked the schoolmistress, shouting so as to be
heard above the flapping of the buggy curtains. "Why do you watch
"'Fraid of the axle," whooped Mr. Bangs in reply. "Nut's kind of
loose, for one thing, and the way the wheel wobbles I'm scart
she'll come off. Call this a road!" he snorted indignantly. "More
like a plowed field a consider'ble sight. Jerushy, how she blows!
No wonder they raise so many deef and dumb folks in Trumet. I'd
talk sign language myself if I lived here. What's the use of
wastin' strength pumpin' up words when they're blowed back down
your throat fast enough to choke you? Git dap, Henry! Don't you
see the meetin' house steeple? We're most there, thank the
In Trumet Center, which is not much of a center, Miss Dawes
alighted from the buggy and entered a building bearing a sign with
the words "Metropolitan Variety Store, Joshua Atwood, Prop'r,
Groceries, Coal, Dry Goods, Insurance, Boots and Shoes, Garden
Seeds, etc." A smaller sign beneath this was lettered "Justice of
the Peace," and one below that read "Post Office."
She emerged a moment later, followed by an elderly person in a red
cardigan jacket and overalls.
"Take the fust turnin' to the left, marm," he said pointing. "It's
pretty nigh to East Trumet townhall. Fust house this side of the
blacksmith shop. About two mile, I'd say. Windy day for drivin',
ain't it? That horse of yours belongs in Bayport, I cal'late.
Looks to me like-- Hello, Bailey!"
"Hello, Josh!" grunted Mr. Bangs, adding an explanatory aside to
the effect that he knew Josh Atwood, the latter having once lived
"But say," he asked as they moved on once more, "have we got to go
to EAST Trumet? Jerushy! that's the place where the wind COMES
from. They raise it over there; anyhow, they don't raise much
else. Whose house you goin' to?"
He had asked the same question at least ten times since leaving
home, and each time Miss Dawes had evaded it. She did so now,
saying that she was sure she should know the house when they got to
The two miles to East Trumet were worse than the twelve which they
had come. The wind fairly shrieked here, for the road paralleled
the edge of high sand bluffs close by the shore, and the ruts and
"thank-you-marms" were trying to the temper. Bailey's was
"Teacher," he snapped as they reached the crest of a long hill, and
a quick grab at his hat alone prevented its starting on a balloon
ascension, "get out a spell, will you? I've got to swear or bust,
and 'long's you're aboard I can't swear. What you standin' still
for, you?" he bellowed at poor Henry, the horse, who had stopped to
rest. "I cal'late the critter thinks that last cyclone must have
blowed me sky high, and he's waitin' to see where I light. Git
"I guess I shall get out very soon now," panted Phoebe. "There's
the blacksmith shop over there near the next hill, and this house
in the hollow must be the one I'm looking for."
They pulled up beside the house in the hollow. A little, story-
and-a-half house it was, and, judging by the neglected appearance
of the weeds and bushes in the yard, it had been unoccupied for
some time. However, the blinds were now open, and a few fowls
about the back door seemed to promise that some one was living
there. The wooden letter box by the gate had a name stenciled upon
it. Miss Dawes sprang from the buggy and looked at the box.
"Yes," she said. "This is the place. Will you come in, Mr. Bangs?
You can put your horse in that barn, I'm sure, if you want to."
But Bailey declined to come in. He declared he was going on to the
blacksmith's shop to have that wheel fixed. He would not feel safe
to start for home with it as it was. He drove off, and Miss Dawes,
knowing from lifelong experience that front doors are merely for
show, passed around the main body of the house and rapped on the
door in the ell. The rap was not answered, though she could hear
some one moving about within, and a shrill voice singing "The Sweet
By and By." So she rapped again and again, but still no one came
to the door. At last she ventured to open it.
A thin woman, with her head tied up in a colored cotton handkerchief,
was in the room, vigorously wielding a broom. She was singing in a
high cracked voice. The opening of the door let in a gust of cold
wind which struck the singer in the back of the neck, and caused her
to turn around hastily.
"Hey?" she exclaimed. "Land sakes! you scare a body to death!
Shut that door quick! I ain't hankering for influenzy. Who are
you? What do you want? Why didn't you knock? Where's my specs?"
She took a pair of spectacles from the mantel shelf, rubbed them
with her apron, and set them on the bridge of her thin nose. Then
she inspected the schoolmistress from head to foot.
"I beg pardon for coming in," shouted Phoebe. "I knocked, but you
didn't hear. You are Mrs. Beasley, aren't you?"
"I don't want none," replied Debby, with emphasis. "So there's no
use your wastin' your breath."
"Don't want--" repeated the astonished teacher. "Don't want what?"
"Hey? I say I don't want none."
"Don't want WHAT?"
"Whatever 'tis you're peddlin'. Books or soap or tea, or whatever
'tis. I don't want nothin'."
After some strenuous minutes, the visitor managed to make it clear
to Mrs. Beasley's mind that she was not a peddler. She tried to
add a word of further explanation, but it was effort wasted.
"'Tain't no use," snapped Debby, "I can't hear you, you speak so
faint. Wait till I get my horn; it's in the settin' room."
Phoebe's wonder as to what the "horn" might be was relieved by the
widow's appearance, a moment later, with the biggest ear trumpet
her caller had ever seen.
"There, now!" she said, adjusting the instrument and thrusting the
bell-shaped end under the teacher's nose. "Talk into that. If you
ain't a peddler, what be you--sewin' machine agent?"
Phoebe explained that she had come some distance on purpose to see
Mrs. Beasley. She was interested in the Thayers, who used to live
in Orham, particularly in Mr. John Thayer, who died in 1854. She
had been told that Debby formerly lived with the Thayers, and
could, no doubt, remember a great deal about them. Would she mind
answering a few questions, and so on?
Mrs. Beasley, her hearing now within forty-five degrees of the
normal, grew interested. She ushered her visitor into the
adjoining room, and proffered her a chair. That sitting room was a
wonder of its kind, even to the teacher's accustomed eyes. A gilt-
framed crayon enlargement of the late Mr. Beasley hung in the
center of the broadest wall space, and was not the ugliest thing
in the apartment. Having said this, further description is
unnecessary--particularly to those who remember Mr. Beasley's
"What you so interested in the Thayers for?" inquired Debby. "One
of the heirs, be you? They didn't leave nothin'."
No, the schoolmistress was not an heir. Was not even a relative of
the family. But she was--was interested, just the same. A friend
of hers was a relative, and--
"What is your friend?" inquired the inquisitor. "A man?"
There was no reason why Miss Dawes should have changed color, but,
according to Debby's subsequent testimony, she did; she blushed, so
the widow declares.
"No," she protested. "Oh, no! it's a--she's a child, that's all--a
little girl. But--"
"Maybe you're gettin' up one of them geographical trees," suggested
Mrs. Beasley. "I've seen 'em, fust settlers down in the trunk, and
children and grandchildren spreadin' out in the branches. Is that
Here was an avenue of escape. Phoebe stretched the truth a trifle,
and admitted that that, or something of the sort, was what she was
engaged in. The explanation seemed to be satisfactory. Debby
asked her visitor's name, and, misunderstanding it, addressed her
as "Miss Dorcas" thereafter. Then she proceeded to give her
reminiscences of the Thayers, and it did not take long for the
disappointed teacher to discover that, for all practical purposes,
these reminiscences were valueless. Mrs. Beasley remembered many
things, but nothing at all concerning John Thayer's life in the
West, nor the name of the ship he sailed in, nor who his shipmates
"He never wrote home but once or twice afore he died," she said.
"And when he did Emily, his wife, never told me what was in his
letters. She always burnt 'em, I guess. I used to hunt around for
'em when she was out, but she burnt 'em to spite me, I cal'late.
Her and me didn't get along any too well. She said I talked too
much to other folks about what was none of their business. Now,
anybody that knows me knows THAT ain't one of my failin's. I told
her so; says I--"
And so on for ten minutes. Then Phoebe ventured to repeat the
words "out West," and her companion went off on a new tack. She
had just been West herself. She had been on a visit to her
husband's niece, who lived in Arizona. In Blazeton, Arizona.
"It's the nicest town ever you see," she continued. "And the
smartest, most up-to-date place. Talk about the West bein'
oncivilized! My land! you ought to see that town! Electric
lights, and telephones, and--and--I don't know what all! Why, Miss
What's-your-name--Miss Dorcas, marm, you just ought to see the
photygraphs I've got that was took out there. My niece, she took
'em with one of them little mites of cameras. You wouldn't believe
such a little box of a thing could take such photygraphs. I'm
goin' to get 'em and show 'em to you. No, sir! you ain't got to
go, neither. Set right still and let me fetch them photygraphs.
'Twon't be a mite of trouble. I'd love to do it."
Protests were unavailing. The photographs, at least fifty of them,
were produced, and the suffering caller was shown the Blazeton City
Hall, and the Blazeton "Palace Hotel," and the home of the Beasley
niece, taken from the front, the rear, and both sides. With each
specimen Debby delivered a descriptive lecture.
"You see that house?" she asked. "Well, 'tain't much of a one to
look at, but it's got the most interestin' story tagged on to it.
I made Eva, that's my niece, take a picture of it just on that
account. The woman that lives there's had the hardest time. Her
fust name's Desire, and that kind of made me take an interest in
her right off, 'cause I had an Aunt Desire once, and it's a name
you don't hear very often. Afterwards I got to know her real well.
She was a widder woman, like me, only she didn't have as much sense
as I've got, and went and married a second time. 'Twas 'long in
1886 she done it. This man Higgins, he went to work for her on
her place, and pretty soon he married her. They lived together,
principally on her fust husband's insurance money, I cal'late,
until a year or so ago. Then the insurance money give out, and Mr.
Higgins he says: 'Old woman,' he says--I'D never let a husband of
mine call me 'old woman,' but Desire didn't seem to mind--'Old
woman,' he says, 'I'm goin' over to Phoenix'--that's another city
in Arizona--'to look for a job.' And he went, and she ain't heard
hide--I mean seen hide nor heard hair--What DOES ail me? She ain't
seen nor heard of him since. And she advertised in the weekly
paper, and I don't know what all. She thinks he was murdered, you
know; that's what makes it so sort of creepy and interestin'.
Everybody was awful kind to her, and we got to be real good
friends. Why, I--"
This was but the beginning. It was evident that Mrs. Beasley had
thoroughly enjoyed herself in Blazeton, and that the sorrows of the
bereaved Desire Higgins had been one of the principal sources of
that enjoyment. The schoolmistress endeavored to turn the subject,
but it was useless.
"I fetched home a whole pile of them newspapers," continued Debby.
"They was awful interestin'; full of pictures of Blazeton buildin's
and leadin' folks and all. And in some of the back numbers was the
advertisement about Mr. Higgins. I do wish I could show 'em to
you, but I lent 'em to Mrs. Atwood up to the Center. If 'twan't
such a ways I'd go and fetch 'em. Mrs. Atwood's been awful nice to
me. She took care of my trunks and things when I went West--yes,
and afore that when I went to Bayport to keep house for that
miser'ble Cap'n Whittaker. I ain't told you about that, but I will
by and by. Them trunks had lots of things in 'em that I didn't
want to lose nor have anybody see. My diaries--I've kept a diary
"Diaries?" interrupted Phoebe, grasping at straws. "Did you keep a
diary while you were at the Thayers?"
"Yes. Now, why didn't I think of that afore? More'n likely
there'd be somethin' in that to help you with that geographical