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CHAPTER VII.

THE MEETING.

It did not take Jarrod long to decide that there were no grounds for Wilder's claim that the streets and parks at Tamawaca were in his control. On the contrary they belonged entirely to the cottage and lot owners, neither Easton nor Wilder having any more legal rights thereto than the most insignificant cottager.

They had usurped rights, however, of the most extraordinary character. In the public parks, originally reserved in the recorded plats, the partners had selected the best building locations and erected cottages upon them, which were rented at good figures. They had also sold many "lots" that were nothing less than public property to innocent or ignorant purchasers, who had in some instances built expensive houses upon them, relying confidently for protection upon the guarantee deeds Easton or Wilder had given them.

This wholesale disregard of people's rights had been going on for years—long before the present owners had bought Tamawaca. From his observations Jarrod concluded that the former owners, of whom there had been several sets or combinations, had all come to a realization that their vandalism had rendered their positions unsafe, for which reason they had presently shifted the burden to the shoulders of their successors, who now were Easton and Wilder. Perhaps these two men, because their predecessors had with impunity occupied public lands, had become more careless or more grasping than any of the others, for their usurpations were on a larger scale. Easton, for example, had impudently placed a cottage directly in a public street, disregarding all rights and protests.

One day, during his rambles, Jarrod came upon a fine cottage perched high on the hill overlooking the bay. On the porch was seated an old gentleman whom the lawyer recognized as Colonel Kerry.

"Come up and sit down," called the colonel, hospitably.

So Jarrod sat down to rest.

"I'm glad to learn you're a new resident," said Kerry. "You have bought Lake View, I understand."

"Yes," acknowledged Jarrod. "There was nothing to rent, so I had to buy a cottage or go elsewhere."

The colonel smiled.

"Plenty of places to rent," he observed.

"Wilder said not."

"He may have said so. See that cottage across the way? It's a very nice place; belongs to Grant of St. Louis; has been for rent all this spring."

"Oh. Wilder said it was rented. I tried to get it, you know."

Again the colonel smiled, and his smile was the sardonic kind that is sometimes exasperating.

"Wilder wanted to sell Lake View," he exclaimed; "but he's been holding the place for seventeen hundred and fifty, which is more than it's worth. Perhaps you whittled the price down to where it belonged."

Jarrod did not reply. He felt rather uncomfortable under the colonel's shrewd glance.

"Tamawaca's a beautiful place," said he, glancing over the wonderful scene spread out before him—a scene with few rivals in America. Framed by the foliage of the near-by trees, Tamawaca Pool lay a hundred feet below him, its silver bosom dotted here and there with sailing craft, launches, or pudgy ferry-boats speeding on their way, while the opposite shore was lined with pretty cottages nestled in shady groves.

"Glad you like it, sir," said the colonel, following his gaze. "I'm fond of the place myself."

"But your public affairs are in a terrible condition, Colonel Kerry."

"I agree with you."

"Why don't the people rise up, and demand their rights?" enquired Jarrod, curiously.

"Simply because they're here for rest and enjoyment, and not to get mixed up in law-suits and contentions."

"But their vested rights are being disregarded."

"To be sure. That is no secret, sir. But our cottage owners are mostly business men who come here each year for two or three months of rest and relaxation, and conditions which they would fight bitterly at home they here tamely submit to, rather than risk involving their vacations in turmoil and trouble. That's human nature, Mr. Jarrod."

"Perhaps so," said Jarrod, doubtfully. To him a fight was recreation, but others might feel differently about it.

"And it's the salvation of Easton and Wilder," continued the colonel. "As long as people can enjoy the sweet, fresh air, the grateful bathing, the fishing and boating and other recreations, they won't bother about their rights. I feel that way myself. No man knows better than I how our people have been despoiled, for I've been here many years and at one time owned an interest in the place myself. But others know the truth as well as I do, and if my neighbors prefer to submit, surely I am not called upon to fight their battles for them."

"Why did you sell out your interest?" asked Jarrod.

The colonel held a scrap of paper in his hands. He carefully twisted it between his fingers into a neat spiral before he replied.

"There are two ways to make money," said he, finally. "I favored one way and my partners the other. So I quit the business."

Jarrod sat silent for a time. Then he asked:

"Does your Cottagers' Association amount to anything?"

"No."

"Then why does it exist?"

"To save Wilder and Easton from the danger of a more serious organization. They encourage it. Once a year the cottagers meet and talk things over, and rail at their oppressors and become very indignant. Then they go home with the idea they've performed their full duty. Those meetings are good fun, Mr. Jarrod. Wilder always attends them and welcomes every cottager as cordially as if he were giving a party. Then he sits in a front seat and laughs heartily at the rabid attacks upon himself and his partner. The next annual meeting is tomorrow night. I advise you to go."

"I intend to," said Jarrod. "By the way, how do Wilder and Easton agree with each other?"

"Not at all. They constantly quarrel over one thing or another. Wilder resents the fact that old man Easton is pocketing two-thirds of the profits, while Easton resents Wilder's habit of laying every unpopular act to his partner, who is therefore bitterly hated while Wilder is considered by many a good fellow. Each would be glad to get rid of the other, if that were possible, but neither wants to be got rid of."

"I see."

"Outside of their business peculiarities," continued the colonel, "both these men possess many good qualities. I don't want to give you a wrong impression of them. Wilder is really kind and accommodating. It is his nature to want to please people and to stand well in popular opinion. Easton honestly believes that he is a Christian gentleman, and he is said to be a good father and husband. But in their dealings with the cottagers these partners have contracted a sort of moral color-blindness; they can't distinguish their own rights from those of others."

"I believe I understand you. Good morning, Colonel."

"Good morning, Mr. Jarrod."

Saturday evening Jarrod attended the meeting. It was held in a big, shedlike structure in the woods called the "Auditorium," where divine services were held on Sundays. All Tamawaca was there, for the men took their wives to enjoy the "fun." It was the only occasion during the whole year when the cottagers got together, and here they were accustomed to frankly air their grievances and then go home and forget them.

On the platform sat a dignified, pleasant faced old gentleman who nodded courteously to each arrival. At the secretary's desk was a little man intently perusing a newspaper.

When all had assembled the chairman arose and rapped gently upon the rostrum.

"The meeting will please come to order," he said, and a sudden hush fell upon the place.

"I believe the first thing in order is for the secretary to read the minutes of the last meeting."

The secretary glanced over his paper.

"I've mislaid 'em somewhere," he said; "but they don't amount to anything, anyhow."

The chairman looked reproachful when the meeting joyously applauded this announcement.

"Ahem!" he said. "Are there any remarks?"

A tall, thin man rose from the benches and cleared his throat. Instantly every eye was upon him. Someone beside Jarrod laughed, and the lawyer turned around to find George B. Still seated there.

"La—dies and gen—tle—men!" began the orator. "We are gathered together this evening to—ah—to meet one another. The—er—reason we are so—ah—so gathered together in one meeting is to—er—consider why we should be—er—should be brought in contact one with another for the public welfare of Tamawaca this gathering!"

As he paused impressively Geo. B. murmured: "Gather up the sands from the s—e—a sho—o—r—e!"

"I take it," continued the speaker, raising his voice aggressively, "that we are met here with a purpose; I may say—er—an object in here gathering together. It is my earnest wish, ladies and gentlemen, that this—er—purpose may be fulfilled!"

He sat down amid a round of applause, mainly bestowed because he sat down. But he held himself erect and did n't lean against the back of the bench for a good five minutes.

"I call for the reports of the committees," announced the chairman.

A man arose and said:

"The committee on water begs to report that it has had the water analyzed by a competent chemist and found the said water perfectly pure."

Here a gentleman with a ruddy face jumped up and asked:

"Is the committee referring to the bathing water?"

"I refer to the drinking water," said the committee.

"Ah," ejaculated the red-faced man, a total lack of interest in his tone.

Little Stakes jumped up.

"I want to know why the electric lights go out every night at ten o'clock," he shouted, excitedly. "I want to know why we pay—"

"Look here—you're out of order!" cried the chairman.

"So are the lights!" yelled Stakes; but he sat down.

"I call for the report of the committee on lights," continued the chairman, in deference to the protest.

There was an intense silence.

"The committee on lights will please report," said the chairman, looking closely at Geo. B. Still.

The little fat man slowly arose.

"Am I the committee on lights?" he enquired.

"You are, sir."

"Are you sure?"

"Perfectly sure, Mr. Still. I remember Mr. Bennett nominated you and there were several seconds."

"Oh. The minutes being lost, I supposed the seconds were lost, too."

"You were mistaken, Mr. Still."

"Well, the committee on lights, Mr. Chairman and ladies and gentlemen, finds that we are such good livers we have n't the gall to make a report." And Mr. Still subsided slowly into his seat.

"Just like a lady's gown," said a wag, jocosely: "en traile."

"I'd like to know," roared a man on the back row of benches, "if the street lights burn till twelve o'clock."

"Can't say," replied Geo. B. "I don't sit up to watch 'em."

"I move the report of the committee on lights and livers be accepted," said the wag.

The chairman gravely put the motion and it carried.

"How about the treasurer's report?" asked some one. "Did the secretary mislay that, too?"

The secretary glared at the speaker. Then he laid aside his newspaper, took an old envelope from his pocket, and read a memorandum evidently penciled upon the back of it.

"Total receipts," said he, "one dollar and eighty-nine cents. Total expenditures, two cents. Total cash balance on hand, one dollar and eighty-seven cents. Respectfully submitted."

"What shall we do with the report?" asked the chairman.

"I want to know where that two cents went to," cried Mr. Calker, the energetic gentleman on the back bench. "I demand an itemized report!"

The secretary and treasurer swore under his breath—or almost under his breath, while the audience laughed.

"The two cents in question," he shouted, angrily, "was expended for one postage stamp issued by the United States of America, on which there was no rebate; and the stamp was thereafter attached to a letter to Mr. Calker asking him to pay up his back dues to this Association—which letter was absolutely disregarded."

"Then that expenditure was a misappropriation of public funds," said Mr. Calker, in a satisfied tone.

"Move the treasurer's apology be accepted," said a voice.

"Move we adjourn," said another voice.

"Wait—wait!" cried the chairman. "We must elect our officers for the coming year."

"Move the same officers be continued," said the last speaker.

"Second the emotion," said the tall man.

It was carried, unanimously but without emotion.

Then Jarrod arose to his feet, to the evident surprise of the assemblage.

"Mr. President and ladies and gentlemen," he began, in his rich, resonant voice.

The president bowed.

"Mr.—er—er"

"Jarrod."

"Mr. Jarrod has the floor."

"I am a newcomer here," said Jarrod, "and have recently bought the cottage known as 'Lake View.' With that property I acquired an equity in all the parks and highways of Tamawaca; but I find that some one has usurped portions of those parks and highways and erected cottages and other buildings upon them. Those buildings must be removed, and the public lands be restored to the public. I move you that your president be instructed to appoint a committee of five cottage owners, who will be authorized to take any necessary legal steps to enforce the removal of all buildings now upon public grounds, and the restoration of all public lands illegally sold and deeded to individuals."

Had a bomb been exploded in their midst the cottagers could not have been more astonished. They gaped at Jarrod in open-mouthed amazement, and were silent as bridge players struggling for the odd.

"Second the emotion," suddenly yelled Geo. B.

The chairman wiped his brow and looked worried. He repeated the motion and asked for remarks. No one responded. Then he put the motion to vote, and the people shouted "Aye!" with an enthusiasm the old Auditorium had never heard before. For dimly they realized that at last a leader had come among them, and proposed to do the thing they should have done themselves years before.

"I appoint on this committee," said the chairman, "Mr. Jarrod; Colonel Kerry; Judge Toodles; Mr. Wright and Mr. Teekey."

"Move we adjourn!" cried a voice.

This time the motion carried, and the meeting adjourned.