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CHAPTER 35 POLITICS AT FOUR WINDS
When anne came downstairs again, the Island, as well as all Canada, was in the throes of a campaign preceding a general election. Gilbert, who was an ardent Conservative, found himself caught in the vortex, being much in demand for speech-making at the various county rallies. Miss Cornelia did not approve of his mixing up in politics and told Anne so.
"Dr. Dave never did it. Dr. Blythe will find he is making a mistake, believe ME. Politics is something no decent man should meddle with."
"Is the government of the country to be left solely to the rogues then?" asked Anne.
"Yes - so long as it's Conservative rogues," said Miss Cornelia, marching off with the honors of war. "Men and politicians are all tarred with the same brush. The Grits have it laid on thicker than the Conservatives, that's all - CONSIDERABLY thicker. But Grit or Tory, my advice to Dr. Blythe is to steer clear of politics. First thing you know, he'll be running an election himself, and going off to Ottawa for half the year and leaving his practice to go to the dogs."
"Ah, well, let's not borrow trouble," said Anne. "The rate of interest is too high. Instead, let's look at Little Jem. It should be spelled with a G. Isn't he perfectly beautiful? Just see the dimples in his elbows. We'll bring him up to be a good Conservative, you and I, Miss Cornelia."
"Bring him up to be a good man," said Miss Cornelia. "They're scarce and valuable; though, mind you, I wouldn't like to see him a Grit. As for the election, you and I may be thankful we don't live over harbor. The air there is blue these days. Every Elliott and Crawford and MacAllister is on the warpath, loaded for bear. This side is peaceful and calm, seeing there's so few men. Captain Jim's a Grit, but it's my opinion he's ashamed of it, for he never talks politics. There isn't any earthly doubt that the Conservatives will be returned with a big majority again."
Miss Cornelia was mistaken. On the morning after the election Captain Jim dropped in at the little house to tell the news. So virulent is the microbe of party politics, even in a peaceable old man, that Captain Jim's cheeks were flushed and his eyes were flashing with all his old-time fire.
"Mistress Blythe, the Liberals are in with a sweeping majority. After eighteen years of Tory mismanagement this down-trodden country is going to have a chance at last."
"I never heard you make such a bitter partisan speech before, Captain Jim. I didn't think you had so much political venom in you," laughed Anne, who was not much excited over the tidings. Little Jem had said "Wow-ga" that morning. What were principalities and powers, the rise and fall of dynasties, the overthrow of Grit or Tory, compared with that miraculous occurrence?
"It's been accumulating for a long while," said Captain Jim, with a deprecating smile. "I thought I was only a moderate Grit, but when the news came that we were in I found out how Gritty I really was."
"You know the doctor and I are Conservatives."
"Ah, well, it's the only bad thing I know of either of you, Mistress Blythe. Cornelia is a Tory, too. I called in on my way from the Glen to tell her the news."
"Didn't you know you took your life in your hands?"
"Yes, but I couldn't resist the temptation."
"How did she take it?"
"Comparatively calm, Mistress Blythe, comparatively calm. She says, says she, `Well, Providence sends seasons of humiliation to a country, same as to individuals. You Grits have been cold and hungry for many a year. Make haste to get warmed and fed, for you won't be in long.' `Well, now Cornelia,' I says, `mebbe Providence thinks Canada needs a real long spell of humiliation.' Ah, Susan, have YOU heard the news? The Liberals are in."
Susan had just come in from the kitchen, attended by the odor of delectable dishes which always seemed to hover around her.
"Now, are they?" she said, with beautiful unconcern. "Well, I never could see but that my bread rose just as light when Grits were in as when they were not. And if any party, Mrs. Doctor, dear, will make it rain before the week is out, and save our kitchen garden from entire ruination, that is the party Susan will vote for. In the meantime, will you just step out and give me your opinion on the meat for dinner? I am fearing that it is very tough, and I think that we had better change our butcher as well as our government."
One evening, a week later, Anne walked down to the Point, to see if she could get some fresh fish from Captain Jim, leaving Little Jem for the first time. It was quite a tragedy. Suppose he cried? Suppose Susan did not know just exactly what to do for him? Susan was calm and serene.
"I have had as much experience with him as you, Mrs. Doctor, dear, have I not?"
"Yes, with him - but not with other babies. Why, I looked after three pairs of twins, when I was a child, Susan. When they cried, I gave them peppermint or castor oil quite coolly. It's quite curious now to recall how lightly I took all those babies and their woes."
"Oh, well, if Little Jem cries, I will just clap a hot water bag on his little stomach," said Susan.
"Not too hot, you know," said Anne anxiously. Oh, was it really wise to go?
"Do not you fret, Mrs. Doctor, dear. Susan is not the woman to burn a wee man. Bless him, he has no notion of crying."
Anne tore herself away finally and enjoyed her walk to the Point after all, through the long shadows of the sun-setting. Captain Jim was not in the living room of the lighthouse, but another man was - a handsome, middle-aged man, with a strong, clean-shaven chin, who was unknown to Anne. Nevertheless, when she sat down, he began to talk to her with all the assurance of an old acquaintance. There was nothing amiss in what he said or the way he said it, but Anne rather resented such a cool taking-for-granted in a complete stranger. Her replies were frosty, and as few as decency required. Nothing daunted, her companion talked on for several minutes, then excused himself and went away. Anne could have sworn there was a twinkle in his eye and it annoyed her. Who was the creature? There was something vaguely familiar about him but she was certain she had never seen him before.
"Captain Jim, who was that who just went out?" she asked, as Captain Jim came in.
"Marshall Elliott," answered the captain.
"Marshall Elliott!" cried Anne. "Oh, Captain Jim - it wasn't - yes, it WAS his voice - oh, Captain Jim, I didn't know him - and I was quite insulting to him! WHY didn't he tell me? He must have seen I didn't know him."
"He wouldn't say a word about it - he'd just enjoy the joke. Don't worry over snubbing him - he'll think it fun. Yes, Marshall's shaved off his beard at last and cut his hair. His party is in, you know. I didn't know him myself first time I saw him. He was up in Carter Flagg's store at the Glen the night after election day, along with a crowd of others, waiting for the news. About twelve the 'phone came through - the Liberals were in. Marshall just got up and walked out - he didn't cheer or shout - he left the others to do that, and they nearly lifted the roof off Carter's store, I reckon. Of course, all the Tories were over in Raymond Russell's store. Not much cheering THERE. Marshall went straight down the street to the side door of Augustus Palmer's barber shop. Augustus was in bed asleep, but Marhall hammered on the door until he got up and come down, wanting to know what all the racket was about.
"Come into your shop and do the best job you ever did in your life, Gus,' said Marshall. `The Liberals are in and you're going to barber a good Grit before the sun rises.'
"Gus was mad as hops - partly because he'd been dragged out of bed, but more because he's a Tory. He vowed he wouldn't shave any man after twelve at night.
"`You'll do what I want you to do, sonny,' said Marshall, `or I'll jest turn you over my knee and give you one of those spankings your mother forgot.'
"He'd have done it, too, and Gus knew it, for Marshall is as strong as an ox and Gus is only a midget of a man. So he gave in and towed Marshall in to the shop and went to work. `Now,' says he, `I'll barber you up, but if you say one word to me about the Grits getting in while I'm doing it I'll cut your throat with this razor,' says he. You wouldn't have thought mild little Gus could be so bloodthirsty, would you? Shows what party politics will do for a man. Marshall kept quiet and got his hair and beard disposed of and went home. When his old housekeeper heard him come upstairs she peeked out of her bedroom door to see whether 'twas him or the hired boy. And when she saw a strange man striding down the hall with a candle in his hand she screamed blue murder and fainted dead away. They had to send for the doctor before they could bring her to, and it was several days before she could look at Marshall without shaking all over."
Captain Jim had no fish. He seldom went out in his boat that summer, and his long tramping expeditions were over. He spent a great deal of his time sitting by his seaward window, looking out over the gulf, with his swiftly-whitening head leaning on his hand. He sat there tonight for many silent minutes, keeping some tryst with the past which Anne would not disturb. Presently he pointed to the iris of the West:
"That's beautiful, isn't, it, Mistress Blythe? But I wish you could have seen the sunrise this morning. It was a wonderful thing - wonderful. I've seen all kinds of sunrises come over that gulf. I've been all over the world, Mistress Blythe, and take it all in all, I've never seen a finer sight than a summer sunrise over the gulf. A man can't pick his time for dying, Mistress Blythe - jest got to go when the Great Captain gives His sailing orders. But if I could I'd go out when the morning comes across that water. I've watched it many a time and thought what a thing it would be to pass out through that great white glory to whatever was waiting beyant, on a sea that ain't mapped out on any airthly chart. I think, Mistress Blythe, that I'd find lost Margaret there."
Captain Jim had often talked to Anne of lost Margaret since he had told her the old story. His love for her trembled in every tone - that love that had never grown faint or forgetful.
"Anyway, I hope when my time comes I'll go quick and easy. I don't think I'm a coward, Mistress Blythe - I've looked an ugly death in the face more than once without blenching. But the thought of a lingering death does give me a queer, sick feeling of horror."
"Don't talk about leaving us, dear, DEAR Captain, Jim," pleaded Anne, in a choked voice, patting the old brown hand, once so strong, but now grown very feeble. "What would we do without you?"
Captain Jim smiled beautifully.
"Oh, you'd get along nicely - nicely - but you wouldn't forget the old man altogether, Mistress Blythe - no, I don't think you'll ever quite forget him. The race of Joseph always remembers one another. But it'll be a memory that won't hurt - I like to think that my memory won't hurt my friends - it'll always be kind of pleasant to them, I hope and believe. It won't be very long now before lost Margaret calls me, for the last time. I'll be all ready to answer. I jest spoke of this because there's a little favor I want to ask you. Here's this poor old Matey of mine" - Captain Jim reached out a hand and poked the big, warm, velvety, golden ball on the sofa. The First Mate uncoiled himself like a spring with a nice, throaty, comfortable sound, half purr, half meow, stretched his paws in air, turned over and coiled himself up again. "HE'll miss me when I start on the V'yage. I can't bear to think of leaving the poor critter to starve, like he was left before. If anything happens to me will you give Matey a bite and a corner, Mistress Blythe?"
"Indeed I will."
"Then that is all I had on my mind. Your Little Jem is to have the few curious things I picked up - I've seen to that. And now I don't like to see tears in those pretty eyes, Mistress Blythe. I'll mebbe hang on for quite a spell yet. I heard you reading a piece of poetry one day last winter - one of Tennyson's pieces. I'd sorter like to hear it again, if you could recite it for me."
Softly and clearly, while the seawind blew in on them, Anne repeated the beautiful lines of Tennyson's wonderful swan song - "Crossing the Bar." The old captain kept time gently with his sinewy hand.
"Yes, yes, Mistress Blythe," he said, when she had finished, "that's it, that's it. He wasn't a sailor, you tell me - I dunno how he could have put an old sailor's feelings into words like that, if he wasn't one. He didn't want any `sadness o' farewells' and neither do I, Mistress Blythe - for all will be well with me and mine beyant the bar."
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 36 BEAUTY FOR ASHES