The Town Summary (Conrad Richter)

Conrad Richter


(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Three times in her life Sayward Wheeler had felt that her life was over and done. Not that it frightened her any; she figured she could do as well in the next world as in this. Once was the day before her father told her the game was leaving Pennsylvania. The next week, Sayward and her family traipsed west. The second time was the night she married Portius. This time she was not sure the feeling was more than that she would never have any more babies. She reckoned ten was enough, though one lay in the burying ground.

Her youngest worried her the most. All the others had been hearty enough, but Chancey was so frail that folks thought it would have been easier for him to die when he was born. When he was a little fellow, his heart flopped so much when he walked that he spent most of his time sitting on a stool in his daddy’s office. He looked out of the window for hours, never opening his mouth. Chancey lived in two worlds, the earthy, boisterous one his family loved, and one in which he could float away and do wonderful things.

Sayward had fretted herself to raise him. To harden him, she always had guests sleep with him. She never knew how he shuddered lying next to most of them, but he liked the softness of the bride the time the bridesman got angry up in the loft with all of them and spent the night sitting in the kitchen.

Chancey was his father’s favorite because his mind ran as clear as water. Often he rode his father’s shoulders into town. He had an uncertain ride the day Portius took him to the hay scales. Portius had just returned from the state capitol where he had put through a bill calling for a new county for the township. With the making of the new county went four judgeships. Portius, because he was an agnostic, did not get an appointment as he had expected. It was given instead to a skinflint tax collector. Portius had come home, drunk and disheveled, minus his horse and saddle. Shortly afterward, the new judge came to deliver a load of hay which had to be weighed in town on the new scales. Portius, with Chancey on his shoulders, followed the wavering wagon tracks into town. With one eye on Portius’ unsteady gait, the new judge stayed on the wagon while it was weighed in. They clinched their bargain at the inn, the judge demanding cash which Portius produced. When the judge started to leave, Portius claimed that he had bought the judge’s person with the load of hay. Before he left the inn, the judge had given Portius the hay to avoid being hauled to court. Not many could get ahead of Portius; Sayward thought he had too much of the rascal in him himself.

Although he was not yet a judge, he was a popular lawyer, and he was the leader in the fight to have Americus named the county seat. Resolve had studied law with his father and also practiced at the courthouse. Sayward was pleased when he married a girl who was sensible, even if she did have a lot...

(The entire section is 1191 words.)