IN THE HEAT OF THE DAY
It was a morning of the warmest week of mid-July, and Canaan lay inert and helpless beneath a broiling sun. The few people who moved about the streets went languidly, keeping close to the wall on the shady side; the women in thin white fabrics; the men, often coatless, carrying palm-leaf fans, and replacing collars with handkerchiefs. In the Court-house yard the maple leaves, gray with blown dust and grown to great breadth, drooped heavily, depressing the long, motionless branches with their weight, so low that the four or five shabby idlers, upon the benches beneath, now and then flicked them sleepily with whittled sprigs. The doors and windows of the stores stood open, displaying limp wares of trade, but few tokens of life; the clerks hanging over dim counters as far as possible from the glare in front, gossiping fragmentarily, usually about the Cory murder, and, anon, upon a subject suggested by the sight of an occasional pedestrian passing perspiring by with scrooged eyelids and purpling skin. From street and sidewalk, transparent hot waves swam up and danced themselves into nothing; while from the river bank, a half-mile away, came a sound hotter than even the locust’s midsummer rasp: the drone of a planing-mill. A chance boy, lying prone in the grass of the Court-house yard, was annoyed by the relentless chant and lifted his head to mock it: “AWR-EER-AWR-EER! Shut up, can’t you?” The effort was exhausting: he relapsed and suffered with increasing malice but in silence.
Abruptly there was a violent outbreak on the “National House” corner, as when a quiet farm-house is startled by some one’s inadvertently bringing down all the tin from a shelf in the pantry. The loafers on the benches turned hopefully, saw what it was, then closed their eyes, and slumped back into their former positions. The outbreak subsided as suddenly as it had arisen: Colonel Flitcroft pulled Mr. Arp down into his chair again, and it was all over.
Greater heat than that of these blazing days could not have kept one of the sages from attending the conclave now. For the battle was on in Canaan: and here, upon the National House corner, under the shadow of the west wall, it waxed even keener. Perhaps we may find full justification for calling what was happening a battle in so far as we restrict the figure to apply to this one spot; else where, in the Canaan of the Tocsin, the conflict was too one-sided. The Tocsin had indeed tried the case of Happy Fear in advance, had convicted and condemned, and every day grew more bitter. Nor was the urgent vigor of its attack without effect. Sleepy as Main Street seemed in the heat, the town was incensed and roused to a tensity of feeling it had not known since the civil war, when, on occasion, it had set out to hang half a dozen “Knights of the Golden