THE MYSTERY OF METROPOLISVILLE
BY EDWARD EGGLESTON
AUTHOR OF "THE HOOGLEE SCHOOL-MASTER," "THE END OF THE WORLD," ETC
TO ONE WHO KNOWS WITH ME A LOVE-STORY, NOW MORE THAN FIFTEEN YEARS IN
LENGTH, AND BETTER A HUNDREDFOLD THAN ANY I SHALL EVER BE ABLE TO WRITE,
THIS BOOK IS INSCRIBED, ON AN ANNIVERSARY.
MARCH 18TH, 1873.
A novel should be the truest of books. It partakes in a certain sense of
the nature of both history and art. It needs to be true to human nature
in its permanent and essential qualities, and it should truthfully
represent some specific and temporary manifestation of human nature: that
is, some form of society. It has been objected that I have copied life
too closely, but it seems to me that the work to be done just now, is to
represent the forms and spirit of our own life, and thus free ourselves
from habitual imitation of that which is foreign. I have wished to make
my stories of value as a contribution to the history of civilization in
America. If it be urged that this is not the highest function, I reply
that it is just now the most necessary function of this kind of
literature. Of the value of these stories as works of art, others must
judge; but I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that I have at least
rendered one substantial though humble service to our literature, if I
have portrayed correctly certain forms of American life and manners.
BROOKLYN, March, 1873.
CHAPTER I. The Autocrat of the Stage-Coach
CHAPTER II. The Sod Tavern
CHAPTER III. Land and Love
CHAPTER IV. Albert and Katy
CHAPTER V. Corner Lots
CHAPTER VI. Little Katy's Lover
CHAPTER VII. Catching and Getting Caught
CHAPTER VIII. Isabel Marlay
CHAPTER IX. Lovers and Lovers
CHAPTER X. Plausaby, Esq., takes a Fatherly Interest
CHAPTER XI. About Several Things
CHAPTER XII. An Adventure
CHAPTER XIII. A Shelter
CHAPTER XIV. The Inhabitant
CHAPTER XV. An Episode
CHAPTER XVI. The Return
CHAPTER XVII. Sawney and his Old Love
CHAPTER XVIII. A Collision
CHAPTER XIX. Standing Guard in Vain
CHAPTER XX. Sawney and Westcott
CHAPTER XXI. Rowing
CHAPTER XXII. Sailing
CHAPTER XXIII. Sinking
CHAPTER XXIV. Dragging
CHAPTER XXV. Afterwards
CHAPTER XXVI. The Mystery
CHAPTER XXVII. The Arrest
CHAPTER XXVIII. The Tempter
CHAPTER XXIX. The Trial
CHAPTER XXX. The Penitentiary
CHAPTER XXXI. Mr. Lurton
CHAPTER XXXII. A Confession
CHAPTER XXXIII. Death
CHAPTER XXXIV. Mr. Lurton's Courtship
CHAPTER XXXV. Unbarred
CHAPTER XXXVI. Isabel
CHAPTER XXXVII. The Last
ILLUSTRATIONS BY FRANK BEARD
The Superior Being
Mr. Minorkey and the Fat Gentleman
Plausaby sells Lots
"By George! He! he! he!"
A Pinch of Snuff
One Savage Blow full in the Face
"What on Airth's the Matter?"
His Unselfish Love found a Melancholy Recompense
The Editor of "The Windmill"
"Git up and Foller!"
THE MYSTERY OF METROPOLISVILLE.
Metropolisville is nothing but a memory now. If Jonah's gourd had not
been a little too much used already, it would serve an excellent turn
just here in the way of an apt figure of speech illustrating the growth,
the wilting, and the withering of Metropolisville. The last time I saw
the place the grass grew green where once stood the City Hall, the
corn-stalks waved their banners on the very site of the old store—I ask
pardon, the "Emporium"—of Jackson, Jones & Co., and what had been the
square, staring white court-house—not a Temple but a Barn of
Justice—had long since fallen to base uses. The walls which had echoed
with forensic grandiloquence were now forced to hear only the bleating of
silly sheep. The church, the school-house, and the City Hotel had been
moved away bodily. The village grew, as hundreds of other frontier
villages had grown, in the flush times; it died, as so many others died,
of the financial crash which was the inevitable sequel and retribution
of speculative madness. Its history resembles the history of other
Western towns of the sort so strongly, that I should not take the trouble
to write about it, nor ask you to take the trouble to read about it, if
the history of the town did not involve also the history of certain human
lives—of a tragedy that touched deeply more than one soul. And what is
history worth but for its human interest? The history of Athens is not of
value on account of its temples and statues, but on account of its men
and women. And though the "Main street" of Metropolisville is now a
country road where the dog-fennel blooms almost undisturbed by comers and
goers, though the plowshare remorselessly turns over the earth in places
where corner lots were once sold for a hundred dollars the front foot,
and though the lot once sacredly set apart (on the map) as "Depot Ground"
is now nothing but a potato-patch, yet there are hearts on which the
brief history of Metropolisville has left traces ineffaceable by sunshine
or storm, in time or eternity.
THE AUTOCRAT OF THE STAGECOACH.
No leader of a cavalry charge ever put more authority into his tones than
did Whisky Jim, as he drew the lines over his four bay horses in the
streets of Red Owl Landing, a village two years old, boasting three
thousand inhabitants, and a certain prospect of having four thousand a
Even ministers, poets, and writers of unworldly romances are sometimes
influenced by mercenary considerations. But stage-drivers are entirely
consecrated to their high calling. Here was Whisky Jim, in the very
streets of Red Owl, in the spring of the year 1856, when money was worth
five and six per cent a month on bond and mortgage, when corner lots
doubled in value over night, when everybody was frantically trying to
swindle everybody else—here was Whisky Jim, with the infatuation of a
life-long devotion to horse-flesh, utterly oblivious to the chances of
robbing green emigrants which a season of speculation affords. He was
secure from the infection. You might have shown him a gold-mine under the
very feet of his wheel-horses, and he could not have worked it
twenty-four hours. He had an itching palm, which could be satisfied with
nothing but the "ribbons" drawn over the backs of a four-in-hand.
The coach moved away—slowly at first—from the front door of the large,
rectangular, unpainted Red Owl Hotel, dragging its wheels heavily through
the soft turf of a Main street from which the cotton-wood trees had been
cut down, but in which the stumps were still standing, and which remained
as innocent of all pavement as when, three years before, the chief whose
name it bore, loaded his worldly goods upon the back of his oldest and
ugliest wife, slung his gun over his shoulder, and started mournfully
away from the home of his fathers, which he, shiftless fellow, had
bargained away to the white man for an annuity of powder and blankets,
and a little money, to be quickly spent for whisky. And yet, I might add
digressively, there is comfort in the saddest situations. Even the
venerable Red Owl bidding adieu to the home of his ancestors found solace
in the sweet hope of returning under favorable circumstances to scalp the
white man's wife and children.
"Git up, thair! G'lang!" The long whip swung round and cracked
threateningly over the haunches of the leaders, making them start
suddenly as the coach went round a corner and dipped into a hole at the
same instant, nearly throwing the driver, and the passenger who was
enjoying the outride with him, from their seats.
"What a hole!" said the passenger, a studious-looking young man, with an
entomologist's tin collecting-box slung over his shoulders.
The driver drew a long breath, moistened his lips, and said in a cool and
aggravatingly deliberate fashion:
"That air blamed pollywog puddle sold las' week fer tew thaousand."
[Illustration: THE SUPERIOR BEING.]
"Dollars?" asked the young man.
Jim gave him an annihilating look, and queried: "Didn' think I meant tew
thaousand acorns, did ye?"
"It's an awful price," said the abashed passenger, speaking as one might
in the presence of a superior being.
Jim was silent awhile, and then resumed in the same slow tone, but with
something of condescension mixed with it:
"Think so, do ye? Mebbe so, stranger. Fool what bought that tadpole lake
done middlin' well in disposin' of it, how-sumdever."
Here the Superior Being came to a dead pause, and waited to be
"How's that?" asked the young man.
After a proper interval of meditation, Jim said: "Sol' it this week. Tuck
jest twice what he invested in his frog-fishery."
"Four thousand?" said the passenger with an inquisitive and surprised
"Hey?" said Jim, looking at him solemnly. "Tew times tew use to be four
when I larnt the rewl of three in old Varmount. Mebbe 'taint so in the
country you come from, where they call a pail a bucket."
The passenger kept still awhile. The manner of the Superior Being chilled
him a little. But Whisky Jim graciously broke the silence himself.
"Sell nex' week fer six."
The young man's mind had already left the subject under discussion, and
it took some little effort of recollection to bring it back.
"How long will it keep on going up?" he asked.
"Tell it teches the top. Come daown then like a spile-driver in a hurry.
Higher it goes, the wuss it'll mash anybody what happens to stan'
percisely under it."
"When will it reach the top?"
The Superior Being turned his eyes full upon the student, who blushed a
little under the half-sneer of his look.
"Yaou tell! Thunder, stranger, that's jest what everybody'd pay money tew
find out. Everybody means to git aout in time, but—thunder!—every piece
of perrary in this territory's a deadfall. Somebody'll git catched in
every one of them air traps. Gee up! G'lang! Git up, won't you? Hey?"
And this last sentence was ornamented with another magnificent
writing-master flourish of the whip-lash, and emphasized by an explosive
crack at the end, which started the four horses off in a swinging gallop,
from which Jim did not allow them to settle back into a walk until they
had reached the high prairie land in the rear of the town.
"What are those people living in tents for?" asked the student as he
pointed back to Red Owl, now considerably below them, and which presented
a panorama of balloon-frame houses, mostly innocent of paint, with a
sprinkling of tents pitched here and there among the trees; on lots not
yet redeemed from virgin wildness, but which possessed the remarkable
quality of "fetching" prices that would have done honor to well-located
land in Philadelphia.
"What they live that a-way fer? Hey? Mos'ly 'cause they can't live no
other." Then, after a long pause, the Superior Being resumed in a tone of
half-soliloquy: "A'n't a bed nur a board in the hull city of Red Owl to
be had for payin' nur coaxin'. Beds is aces. Houses is trumps. Landlords
is got high, low, Jack, and the game in ther hands. Looky there! A
bran-new lot of fools fresh from the factory." And he pointed to the old
steamboat "Ben Bolt," which was just coming up to the landing with deck
and guards black with eager immigrants of all classes.
But Albert Charlton, the student, did not look back any longer. It marks
an epoch in a man's life when he first catches sight of a prairie
landscape, especially if that landscape be one of those great rolling
ones to be seen nowhere so well as in Minnesota. Charlton had crossed
Illinois from Chicago to Dunleith in the night-time, and so had missed
the flat prairies. His sense of sublimity was keen, and, besides his
natural love for such scenes, he had a hobbyist passion for virgin nature
"What a magnificent country!" he cried.
"Talkin' sense!" muttered Jim. "Never seed so good a place fer stagin'
in my day."
For every man sees through his own eyes. To the emigrants whose white-top
"prairie schooners" wound slowly along the road, these grass-grown hills
and those far-away meadowy valleys were only so many places where good
farms could be opened without the trouble of cutting off the trees. It
was not landscape, but simply land where one might raise thirty or forty
bushels of spring wheat to the acre, without any danger of "fevernager;"
to the keen-witted speculator looking sharply after corner stakes, at a
little distance from the road, it was just so many quarter sections,
"eighties," and "forties," to be bought low and sold high whenever
opportunity offered; to Jim it was a good country for staging, except a
few "blamed sloughs where the bottom had fell out." But the enthusiastic
eyes of young Albert Charlton despised all sordid and "culinary uses" of
the earth; to him this limitless vista of waving wild grass, these green
meadows and treeless hills dotted everywhere with purple and yellow
flowers, was a sight of Nature in her noblest mood. Such rolling hills
behind hills! If those rolls could be called hills! After an hour the
coach had gradually ascended to the summit of the "divide" between Purple
River on the one side and Big Gun River on the other, and the rows of
willows and cotton-woods that hung over the water's edge—the only trees
under the whole sky—marked distinctly the meandering lines of the two
streams. Albert Charlton shouted and laughed; he stood up beside Jim, and
cried out that it was a paradise.
"Mebbe 'tis," sneered Jim, "Anyway, it's got more'n one devil into it.
And under the inspiration of the scenery, Albert, with the impulsiveness
of a young man, unfolded to Whisky Jim all the beauties of his own
theories: how a man should live naturally and let other creatures live;
how much better a man was without flesh-eating; how wrong it was to
speculate, and that a speculator gave nothing in return; and that it was
not best to wear flannels, seeing one should harden his body to endure
cold and all that; and how a man should let his beard grow, not use
tobacco nor coffee nor whisky, should get up at four o'clock in the
morning and go to bed early.
"Looky here, mister!" said the Superior Being, after a while. "I wouldn't
naow, ef I was you!"
"Wouldn't fetch no sich notions into this ked'ntry. Can't afford tew.
'Taint no land of idees. It's the ked'ntry of corner lots. Idees is in
the way—don't pay no interest. Haint had time to build a 'sylum fer
people with idees yet, in this territory. Ef you must have 'em, why let
me rec-ommend Bost'n. Drove hack there wunst, myself." Then after a
pause he proceeded with the deliberation of a judge: "It's the best
village I ever lay eyes on fer idees, is Bost'n. Thicker'n hops! Grow
single and in bunches. Have s'cieties there fer idees. Used to make money
outen the fellows with idees, cartin 'em round to anniversaries and sich.
Ef you only wear a nice slick plug-hat there, you kin believe anything
you choose or not, and be a gentleman all the same. The more you believe
or don't believe in Bost'n, the more gentleman you be. The
don't-believers is just as good as the believers. Idees inside the head,
and plug-hats outside. But idees out here! I tell you, here it's nothin'
but per-cent." The Superior Being puckered his lips and whistled. "Git
up, will you! G'lang! Better try Bost'n."
Perhaps Albert Charlton, the student passenger, was a little offended
with the liberty the driver had taken in rebuking his theories. He was
full of "idees," and his fundamental idea was of course his belief in
the equality and universal brotherhood of men. In theory he recognized
no social distinctions. But the most democratic of democrats in theory
is just a little bit of an aristocrat in feeling—he doesn't like to be
patted on the back by the hostler; much less does he like to be
reprimanded by a stage-driver. And Charlton was all the more sensitive
from a certain vague consciousness that he himself had let down the bars
of his dignity by unfolding his theories so gushingly to Whisky Jim.
What did Jim know—what could a man who said "idees" know—about the
great world-reforming thoughts that engaged his attention? But when
dignity is once fallen, all the king's oxen and all the king's men can't
stand it on its legs again. In such a strait, one must flee from him who
saw the fall.
Albert Charlton therefore determined that he would change to the inside
of the coach when an opportunity should offer, and leave the Superior
Being to sit "wrapped in the solitude of his own originality."
THE SOD TAVERN.
Here and there Charlton noticed the little claim-shanties, built in every
sort of fashion, mere excuses for pre-emption. Some were even constructed
of brush. What was lacking in the house was amply atoned for by the
perjury of the claimant who, in pre-empting, would swear to any necessary
number of good qualities in his habitation. On a little knoll ahead of
the stage he saw what seemed to be a heap of earth. There must have been
some inspiration in this mound, for, as soon as it came in sight, Whisky
Jim began to chirrup and swear at his horses, and to crack his long whip
threateningly until he had sent them off up the hill at a splendid pace.
Just by this mound of earth he reined up with an air that said the
forenoon route was finished. For this was nothing less than the "Sod
Tavern," a house built of cakes of the tenacious prairiesod. No other
material was used except the popple-poles, which served for supports to
the sod-roof. The tavern was not over ten feet high at the apex of the
roof; it had been built for two or three years, and the grass was now
growing on top. A red-shirted publican sallied out of this artificial
grotto, and invited the ladies and gentlemen to dinner.
It appeared, from a beautifully-engraved map hanging on the walls of the
Sod Tavern, that this earthly tabernacle stood in the midst of an ideal
town. The map had probably been constructed by a poet, for it was quite
superior to the limitations of sense and matter-of-fact. According to the
map, this solitary burrow was surrounded by Seminary, Depôt, Court-House,
Woolen Factory, and a variety of other potential institutions, which
composed the flourishing city of New Cincinnati. But the map was meant
chiefly for Eastern circulation.
Charlton's dietetic theories were put to the severest test at the table.
He had a good appetite. A ride in the open air in Minnesota is apt to
make one hungry. But the first thing that disgusted Mr. Charlton was the
coffee, already poured out, and steaming under his nose. He hated coffee
because he liked it; and the look of disgust with which he shoved it away
was the exact measure of his physical craving for it. The solid food on
the table consisted of waterlogged potatoes, half-baked salt-rising
bread, and salt-pork. Now, young Charlton was a reader of the Water-Cure
Journal of that day, and despised meat of all things, and of all meat
despised swine's flesh, as not even fit for Jews; and of all forms of
hog, hated fat salt-pork as poisonously indigestible. So with a dyspeptic
self-consciousness he rejected the pork, picked off the periphery of the
bread near the crust, cautiously avoiding the dough-bogs in the middle;
but then he revenged himself by falling furiously upon the aquatic
potatoes, out of which most of the nutriment had been soaked.
Jim, who sat alongside him, doing cordial justice to the badness of the
meal, muttered that it wouldn't do to eat by idees in Minnesoty. And with
the freedom that belongs to the frontier, the company begun to discuss
dietetics, the fat gentleman roundly abusing the food for the express
purpose, as Charlton thought, of diverting attention from his voracious
eating of it.
"Simply despicable," grunted the fat man, as he took a third slice of the
greasy pork. "I do despise such food."
"Eats it like he was mad at it," said Driver Jim in an undertone.
But as Charlton's vegetarianism was noticed, all fell to denouncing it.
Couldn't live in a cold climate without meat. Cadaverous Mr. Minorkey,
the broad-shouldered, sad-looking man with side-whiskers, who complained
incessantly of a complication of disorders, which included dyspepsia,
consumption, liver-disease, organic disease of the heart, rheumatism,
neuralgia, and entire nervous prostration, and who was never entirely
happy except in telling over the oft-repeated catalogue of his disgusting
symptoms—Mr. Minorkey, as he sat by his daughter, inveighed, in an
earnest crab-apple voice, against Grahamism. He would have been in his
grave twenty years ago if it hadn't been for good meat. And then he
recited in detail the many desperate attacks from which he had been saved
by beefsteak. But this pork he felt sure would make him sick. It might
kill him. And he evidently meant to sell his life as dearly as possible,
for, as Jim muttered to Charlton, he was "goin' the whole hog anyhow."
"Miss Minorkey," said the fat gentleman checking a piece of pork in the
middle of its mad career toward his lips, "Miss Minorkey, we should
like to hear from you on this subject." In truth, the fat gentleman was
very weary of Mr. Minorkey's pitiful succession of diagnoses of the awful
symptoms and fatal complications of which he had been cured by very
allopathic doses of animal food. So he appealed to Miss Minorkey for
relief at a moment when her father had checked and choked his utterance
Miss Minorkey was quite a different affair from her father. She was
thoroughly but not obtrusively healthy. She had a high, white forehead, a
fresh complexion, and a mouth which, if it was deficient in sweetness and
warmth of expression, was also free from all bitterness and
aggressiveness. Miss Minorkey was an eminently well-educated young lady
as education goes. She was more—she was a young lady of reading and of
ideas. She did not exactly defend Charlton's theory in her reply, but she
presented both sides of the controversy, and quoted some scientific
authorities in such a way as to make it apparent that there were two
sides. This unexpected and rather judicial assistance called forth from
Charlton a warm acknowledgment, his pale face flushed with modest
pleasure, and as he noted the intellectuality of Miss Minorkey's forehead
he inwardly comforted himself that the only person of ideas in the whole
company was not wholly against him.
Albert Charlton was far from being a "ladies' man;" indeed, nothing was
more despicable in his eyes than men who frittered away life in ladies'
company. But this did not at all prevent him from being very human
himself in his regard for ladies. All the more that he had lived out of
society all his life, did his heart flutter when he took his seat in the
stage after dinner. For Miss Minorkey's father and the fat gentleman felt
that they must have the back seat; there were two other gentlemen on the
middle seat; and Albert Charlton, all unused to the presence of ladies,
must needs sit on the front seat, alongside the gray traveling-dress of
the intellectual Miss Minorkey, who, for her part, was not in the least
bit nervous. Young Charlton might have liked her better if she had been.
But if she was not shy, neither was she obtrusive. When Mr. Charlton had
grown weary of hearing Mr. Minorkey pity himself, and of hearing the fat
gentleman boast of the excellence of the Minnesota climate, the dryness
of the air, and the wonderful excess of its oxygen, and the entire
absence of wintry winds, and the rapid development of the country, and
when he had grown weary of discussions of investments at five per cent a
month, he ventured to interrupt Miss Minorkey's reverie by a remark to
which she responded. And he was soon in a current of delightful talk. The
young gentleman spoke with great enthusiasm; the young woman without
warmth, but with a clear intellectual interest in literary subjects, that
charmed her interlocutor. I say literary subjects, though the range of
the conversation was not very wide. It was a great surprise to Charlton,
however, to find in a new country a young woman so well informed.
Did he fall in love? Gentle reader, be patient. You want a love-story,
and I don't blame you. For my part, I should not take the trouble to
record this history if there were no love in it. Love is the universal
bond of human sympathy. But you must give people time. What we call
falling in love is not half so simple an affair as you think, though it
often looks simple enough to the spectator. Albert Charlton was pleased,
he was full of enthusiasm, and I will not deny that he several times
reflected in a general way that so clear a talker and so fine a thinker
would make a charming wife for some man—some intellectual man—some man
like himself, for instance. He admired Miss Minorkey. He liked her. With
an enthusiastic young man, admiring and liking are, to say the least,
steps that lead easily to something else. But you must remember how
complex a thing love is. Charlton—I have to confess it—was a little
conceited, as every young man is at twenty. He flattered himself that the
most intelligent woman he could find would be a good match for him. He
loved ideas, and a woman of ideas pleased his fancy. Add to this that he
had come to a time of life when he was very liable to fall in love with
somebody, and that he was in the best of spirits from the influence of
air and scenery and motion and novelty, and you render it quite probable
that he could not be tossed for half a day on the same seat in a coach
with such a girl as Helen Minorkey was—that, above all, he could not
discuss Hugh Miller and the "Vestiges of Creation" with her, without
imminent peril of experiencing an admiration for her and an admiration
for himself, and a liking and a palpitating and a castle-building that
under favorable conditions might somehow grow into that complex and
inexplicable feeling which we call love.
In fact, Jim, who drove both routes on this day, and who peeped into the
coach whenever he stopped to water, soliloquized that two fools with
idees would make a quare span ef they had a neck-yoke on.
LAND AND LOVE.
Mr. Minorkey and the fat gentleman found much to interest them as the
coach rolled over the smooth prairie road, now and then crossing a
slough. Not that Mr. Minorkey or his fat friend had any particular
interest in the beautiful outline of the grassy knolls, the gracefulness
of the water-willows that grew along the river edge, and whose paler
green was the prominent feature of the landscape, or in the sweet
contrast at the horizon where grass-green earth met the light blue
northern sky. But the scenery none the less suggested fruitful themes for
talk to the two gentlemen on the back-seat.
"I've got money loaned on that quarter at three per cent a month and five
after due. The mortgage has a waiver in it too. You see, the security was
unusually good, and that was why I let him have it so low." This was what
Mr. Minorkey said at intervals and with some variations, generally adding
something like this: "The day I went to look at that claim, to see
whether the security was good or not, I got caught in the rain. I
expected it would kill me. Well, sir, I was taken that night with a
pain—just here—and it ran through the lung to the point of the
shoulder-blade—here. I had to get my feet into a tub of water and take
some brandy. I'd a had pleurisy if I'd been in any other country but
this. I tell you, nothing saved me but the oxygen in this air. There!
there's a forty that I lent a hundred dollars on at five per cent a month
and six per cent after maturity, with a waiver in the mortgage. The day I
came here to see this I was nearly dead. I had a—"
Just here the fat gentleman would get desperate, and, by way of
preventing the completion of the dolorous account, would break out with:
"That's Sokaska, the new town laid out by Johnson—that hill over there,
where you see those stakes. I bought a corner-lot fronting the public
square, and a block opposite where they hope to get a factory. There's a
brook runs through the town, and they think it has water enough and fall
enough to furnish a water-power part of the day, during part of the year,
and they hope to get a factory located there. There'll be a territorial
road run through from St. Paul next spring if they can get a bill through
the legislature this winter. You'd best buy there."
"I never buy town lots," said Minorkey, coughing despairingly, "never! I
run no risks. I take my interest at three and five per cent a month on a
good mortgage, with a waiver, and let other folks take risks."
But the hopeful fat gentleman evidently took risks and slept soundly.
There was no hypothetical town, laid out hypothetically on paper, in
whose hypothetical advantages he did not covet a share.
"You see," he resumed, "I buy low—cheap as dirt—and get the rise. Some
towns must get to be cities. I have a little all round, scattered here
and there. I am sure to have a lucky ticket in some of these lotteries."
[Illustration: MR. MINORKEY AND THE FAT GENTLEMAN.]
Mr. Minorkey only coughed and shook his head despondently, and said that
"there was nothing so good as a mortgage with a waiver in it. Shut down
in short order if you don't get your interest, if you've only got a
waiver. I always shut down unless I've got five per cent after maturity.
But I have the waiver in the mortgage anyhow."
As the stage drove on, up one grassy slope and down another, there was
quite a different sort of a conversation going on in the other end of the
coach. Charlton found many things which suggested subjects about which he
and Miss Minorkey could converse, notwithstanding the strange contrast in
their way of expressing themselves. He was full of eagerness,
positiveness, and a fresh-hearted egoism. He had an opinion on
everything; he liked or disliked everything; and when he disliked
anything, he never spared invective in giving expression to his
antipathy. His moral convictions were not simply strong—they were
vehement. His intellectual opinions were hobbies that he rode under whip
and spur. A theory for everything, a solution of every difficulty, a
"high moral" view of politics, a sharp skepticism in religion, but a
skepticism that took hold of him as strongly as if it had been a faith.
He held to his non credo with as much vigor as a religionist holds to
Miss Minorkey was just a little irritating to one so enthusiastic. She
neither believed nor disbelieved anything in particular. She liked to
talk about everything in a cool and objective fashion; and Charlton was
provoked to find that, with all her intellectual interest in things, she
had no sort of personal interest in anything. If she had been a
disinterested spectator, dropped down from another sphere, she could not
have discussed the affairs of this planet with more complete
impartiality, not to say indifference. Theories, doctrines, faiths, and
even moral duties, she treated as Charlton did beetles; ran pins through
them and held them up where she could get a good view of them—put them
away as curiosities. She listened with an attention that was surely
flattering enough, but Charlton felt that he had not made much impression
on her. There was a sort of attraction in this repulsion. There was an
excitement in his ambition to impress this impartial and judicial mind
with the truth and importance of the glorious and regenerating views he
had embraced. His self-esteem was pleased at the thought that he should
yet conquer this cool and open-minded girl by the force of his own
intelligence. He admired her intellectual self-possession all the more
that it was a quality which he lacked. Before that afternoon ride was
over, he was convinced that he sat by the supreme woman of all he had
ever known. And who was so fit to marry the supreme woman as he, Albert
Charlton, who was to do so much by advocating all sorts of reforms to
help the world forward to its goal?
He liked that word goal. A man's pet words are the key to his character.
A man who talks of "vocation," of "goal," and all that, may be laughed at
while he is in the period of intellectual fermentation. The time is sure
to come, however, when such a man can excite other emotions than mirth.
And so Charlton, full of thoughts of his "vocation" and the world's
"goal," was slipping into an attachment for a woman to whom both words
were Choctaw. Do you wonder at it? If she had had a vocation also, and
had talked about goals, they would mutually have repelled each other,
like two bodies charged with the same kind of electricity. People with
vocations can hardly fall in love with other people with vocations.
But now Metropolisville was coming in sight, and Albert's attention was
attracted by the conversation of Mr. Minorkey and the fat gentleman.
"Mr. Plausaby has selected an admirable site," Charlton heard the fat
gentleman remark, and as Mr. Plausaby was his own step-father, he began
to listen. "Pretty sharp! pretty sharp!" continued the fat gentleman. "I
tell you what, Mr. Minorkey, that man Plausaby sees through a millstone
with a hole in it. I mean to buy some lots in this place. It'll be the
county-seat and a railroad junction, as sure as you're alive. And
Plausaby has saved some of his best lots for me."
"Yes, it's a nice town, or will be. I hold a mortgage on the best
eighty—the one this way—at three per cent and five after maturity, with
a waiver. I liked to have died here one night last summer. I was taken
just after supper with a violent—"
"What a beauty of a girl that is," broke in the fat gentleman, "little
Katy Charlton, Plausaby's step-daughter!" And instantly Mr. Albert
Charlton thrust his head out of the coach and shouted "Hello, Katy!" to a
girl of fifteen, who ran to intercept the coach at the hotel steps.
"Hurrah, Katy!" said the young man, as she kissed him impulsively as soon
as he had alighted.
"P'int out your baggage, mister," said Jim, interrupting Katy's raptures
with a tone that befitted a Superior Being.
In a few moments the coach, having deposited Charlton and the fat
gentleman, was starting away for its destination at Perritaut, eight
miles farther on, when Charlton, remembering again his companion on the
front seat, lifted his hat and bowed, and Miss Minorkey was kind enough
to return the bow. Albert tried to analyze her bow as he lay awake in bed
that night. Miss Minorkey doubtless slept soundly. She always did.
ALBERT AND KATY.
All that day in which Albert Charlton had been riding from Red Owl
Landing to Metropolisville, sweet Little Katy Charlton had been expecting
him. Everybody called her sweet, and I suppose there was no word in the
dictionary that so perfectly described her. She was not well-read, like
Miss Minorkey; she was not even very smart at her lessons: but she was
sweet. Sweetness is a quality that covers a multitude of defects. Katy's
heart had love in it for everybody. She loved her mother; she loved
Squire Plausaby, her step-father; she loved cousin Isa, as she called her
step-father's niece; she loved—well, no matter, she would have told you
that she loved nobody more than Brother Albert.
And now that Brother Albert was coming to the new home in the new land
he had never seen before, Katy's heart was in her eyes. She would show
him so many things he had never seen, explain how the pocket-gophers
built their mounds, show him the nestful of flying-squirrels—had he
ever seen flying-squirrels? And she would show him Diamond Lake, and
the speckled pickerel among the water-plants. And she would point out
the people, and entertain Albert with telling him their names and the
curious gossip about them. It was so fine to know something that even
Albert, with all his learning, did not know. And she would introduce
Albert to him. Would Albert like him? Of course he would. They were
both such dear men.
And as the hours wore on, Katy grew more and more excited and nervous.
She talked about Albert to her mother till she wearied that worthy woman,
to whom the arrival of any one was an excuse for dressing if possible in
worse taste than usual, or at least for tying an extra ribbon in her
hair, and the extra ribbon was sure to be of a hue entirely discordant
with the mutually discordant ones that preceded it. Tired of talking to
her mother, she readily found an excuse to buy something—ribbons, or
candles, or hair-pins, or dried apples—something kept in the very
miscellaneous stock of the "Emporium," and she knew who would wait upon
her, and who would kindly prolong the small transaction by every artifice
in his power, and thus give her time to tell him about her Brother
Albert. He would be so glad to hear about Albert. He was always glad to
hear her tell about anybody or anything.
And when the talk over the counter at the Emporium could not be farther
prolonged, she had even stopped on her way home at Mrs. Ferret's, and
told her about Albert, though she did not much like to talk to her—she
looked so penetratingly at her out of her round, near-sighted eyes, which
seemed always keeping a watch on the tip of her nose. And Mrs. Ferret,
with her jerky voice, and a smile that was meant to be an expression of
mingled cheerfulness and intelligence, but which expressed neither,
said: "Is your brother a Christian?"
And Katy said he was a dear, dear fellow, but she didn't know as he was a
"Does he hold scriptural views? You know so many people in colleges are
Mrs. Ferret had a provoking way of pronouncing certain words
unctuously—she said "Chrishchen" "shcripcherral," and even in the word
evangelical she made the first e very hard and long.
And when little Katy could not tell whether Albert held "shcripcherral"
views or not, and was thoroughly tired of being quizzed as to whether she
"really thought Albert had a personal interest in religion," she made an
excuse to run away into the chamber of Mrs. Morrow, Mrs. Ferret's mother,
who was an invalid—Mrs. Ferret said "inva_leed_," for the sake of
emphasis. The old lady never asked impertinent questions, never talked
about "shcripcherral" or "ee-vangelical" views, but nevertheless breathed
an atmosphere of scriptural patience and evangelical fortitude and
Christian victory over the world's tribulations. Little Katy couldn't
have defined, the difference between the two in words; she never
attempted it but once, and then she said that Mrs. Ferret was like a
crabapple, and her mother like a Bartlett pear.
But she was too much excited to stay long in one place, and so she
hurried home and went to talking to Cousin Isa, who was sewing by the
west window. And to her she poured forth praises of Albert without stint;
of his immense knowledge of everything, of his goodness and his beauty
and his strength, and his voice, and his eyes.
"And you'll love him better'n you ever loved anybody," she wound up.
And Cousin Isa said she didn't know about that.
After all this weary waiting Albert had come. He had not been at home for
two years. It was during his absence that his mother had married Squire
Plausaby, and had moved to Minnesota. He wanted to see everybody at home.
His sister had written him favorable accounts of his step-father; he had
heard other accounts, not quite so favorable, perhaps. He persuaded
himself that like a dutiful son he wanted most to see his mother, who was
really very fond of him. But in truth he spent his spare time in thinking
about Katy. He sincerely believed that he loved his mother better than
anybody in the world. All his college cronies knew that the idol of his
heart was Katy, whose daguerreotype he carried in the inside pocket of
his vest, and whose letters he looked for with the eagerness of a lover.
At last he had come, and Katy had carried him off into the house in
triumph, showing him—showing is the word, I think—showing him to her
mother, whom he kissed tenderly, and to her step-father, and most
triumphantly to Isa, with an air that said, "Now, isn't he just the
finest fellow in the world!" And she was not a little indignant that Isa
was so quiet in her treatment of the big brother. Couldn't she see what a
forehead and eyes he had?
And the mother, with one shade of scarlet and two of pink in her
hair-ribbons, was rather proud of her son, but not satisfied.
"Why didn't you graduate?" she queried as she poured the coffee
"Because there were so many studies in the course which were a dead
waste of time. I learned six times as much as some of the dunderheads
that got sheepskins, and the professors knew it, but they do not dare to
put their seal on anybody's education unless it is mixed in exact
proportions—so much Latin, so much Greek, so much mathematics. The
professors don't like a man to travel any road but theirs. It is a
reflection on their own education. Why, I learned more out of some of the
old German books in the library than out of all their teaching."
"But why didn't you graduate? It would have sounded so nice to be able to
say that you had graduated. That's what I sent you for, you know, and I
don't see what you got by going if you haven't graduated."
"Why, mother, I got an education. I thought that was what a
college was for."
"But how will anybody know that you're well-educated, I'd like to know,
when you can't say that you've graduated?" answered the mother
"Whether they know it or not, I am."
"I should think they'd know it just to look at him," said Katy, who
thought that Albert's erudition must be as apparent to everybody as
Mr. Plausaby quietly remarked that he had no doubt Albert had improved
his time at school, a remark which for some undefined reason vexed Albert
more than his mother's censures.
"Well," said his mother, "a body never has any satisfaction with boys
that have got notions. Deliver me from notions. Your father had notions.
If it hadn't been for that, we might all of us have been rich to-day.
But notions kept us down. That's what I like about Mr. Plausaby. He
hasn't a single notion to bother a body with. But, I think, notions run
in the blood, and, I suppose, you'll always be putting some fool notion
or other in your own way. I meant you to be a lawyer, but I s'pose you've
got something against that, though it was your own father's calling."
"I'd about as soon be a thief as a lawyer," Albert broke out in his
"Well, that's a nice way to speak about your father's profession, I'm
sure," said his mother. "But that's what comes of notions. I don't care
much, though, if you a'n't a lawyer. Doctors make more than lawyers do,
and you can't have any notions against being a doctor."
"What, and drug people? Doctors are quacks. They know that drugs are good
for nothing, and yet they go on dosing everybody to make money. It people
would bathe, and live in the open air, and get up early, and harden
themselves to endure changes of climate, and not violate God's decalogue
written in their own muscles and nerves and head and stomach, they
wouldn't want to swallow an apothecary-shop every year."
"Did you ever!" said Mrs. Plausaby, looking at her husband, who smiled
knowingly (as much as to reply that he had often), and at Cousin Isa, who
looked perplexed between her admiration at a certain chivalrous courage
in Albert's devotion to his ideas, and her surprise at the ultraism of
"Did you ever!" said the mother again. "That's carrying notions further
than your father did. You'll never be anything, Albert. Well, well, what
comfort can I take in a boy that'll turn his back on all his chances,
and never be anything but a poor preacher, without money enough to make
your mother a Christmas present of a—a piece of ribbon?"
"Why, ma, you've got ribbons enough now, I'm sure," said Katy, looking at
the queer tri-color which her mother was flying in revolutionary defiance
of the despotism of good taste. "I'm sure I'm glad Albert's going to be a
minister. He'll look so splendid in the pulpit! What kind of a preacher
will you be, Albert?"
"I hope it'll be Episcopal, or any way Presbyterian," said Mrs. Plausaby,
"for they get paid better than Methodist or Baptist. And besides, it's
genteel to be Episcopal. But, I suppose, some notion'll keep you out of
being Episcopal too. You'll try to be just as poor and ungenteel as you
can. Folks with notions always do."
"If I was going to be a minister, I would find out the poorest sect in
the country, the one that all your genteel folks turned up their noses
at—the Winnebrenarians, or the Mennonites, or the Albrights, or
something of that sort. I would join such a sect, and live and work for
"Yes, I'll be bound!" said Mrs. Plausaby, feeling of her breastpin to be
sure it was in the right place.
"But I'll never be a parson. I hope I'm too honest. Half the preachers
Then, seeing Isa's look of horrified surprise, Albert added: "Not in
money matters, but in matters of opinion. They do not deal honestly with
themselves or other people. Ministers are about as unfair as pettifoggers
in their way of arguing, and not more than one in twenty of them is brave
enough to tell the whole truth."
"Such notions! such notions!" cried Mrs. Plausaby.
And Cousin Isa—Miss Isabel Marlay, I should say for she was only a
cousin by brevet—here joined valiant battle in favor of the clergy. And
poor little Katy, who dearly loved to take sides with her friends, found
her sympathies sadly split in two in a contest between her dear, dear
brother and her dear, dear Cousin Isa, and she did wish they would quit
talking about such disagreeable things. I do not think either of the
combatants convinced the other, but as each fought fairly they did not
offend one another, and when the battle was over, Albert bluntly
confessed that he had spoken too strongly, and though Isa made no
confession, she felt that after all ministers were not impeccable, and
that Albert was a brave fellow.
And Mrs. Plausaby said that she hoped Isabel would beat some sense into
the boy, for she was really afraid that he never would have anything but
notions. She pitied the woman that married him. She wouldn't get many
silk-dresses, and she'd have to fix her old bonnets over two or three
Mr. Plausaby was one of those men who speak upon a level pitch, in a
gentle and winsome monotony. His voice was never broken by impulse, never
shaken by feeling. He was courteous without ostentation, treating
everybody kindly without exactly seeming to intend it. He let fall
pleasant remarks incidentally or accidentally, so that one was always
fortuitously overhearing his good opinion of one's self. He did not have
any conscious intent to flatter each person with some ulterior design in
view, but only a general disposition to keep everybody cheerful, and an
impression that it was quite profitable as a rule to stand well with
The morning after Charlton's arrival the fat passenger called, eager as
usual to buy lots. To his lively imagination, every piece of ground
staked off into town lots had infinite possibilities. It seemed that the
law of probabilities had been no part of the sanguine gentleman's
education, but the gloriousness of possibilities was a thing that he
appreciated naturally; hopefulness was in his very fiber.
Mr. Plausaby spread his "Map of Metropolisville" on the table, let his
hand slip gently down past the "Depot Ground," so that the fat gentleman
saw it without seeming to have had his attention called to it; then
Plausaby, Esq., looked meditatively at the ground set apart for
"College," and seemed to be making a mental calculation. Then Plausaby
proceeded to unfold the many advantages of the place, and Albert was a
pleased listener; he had never before suspected that Metropolisville had
prospects so entirely dazzling. He could not doubt the statements of the
bland Plausaby, who said these things in a confidential and reserved way
to the fat gentleman. Charlton did not understand, but Plausaby did, that
what is told in a corner to a fat gentleman with curly hair and a hopeful
nose is sure to be repeated from the house-tops.
"You are an Episcopalian, I believe?" said Plausaby, Esq. The fat
gentleman replied that he was a Baptist.
"Oh! well, I might have known it from your cordial way of talking.
Baptist myself, in principle. In principle, at least Not a member of any
church, sorry to say. Very sorry. My mother and my first Wife were both
Baptists. Both of them. I have a very warm side for the good old Baptist
church. Very warm side. And a warm side for every Baptist. Every Baptist.
To say nothing of the feeling I have always had for you—well, well, let
us not pass compliments. Business is business in this country. In this
country, you know. But I will tell you one thing. The lot there marked
'College' I am just about transferring to trustees for a Baptist
university. There are two or three parties, members of Dr. Armitage's
church in New York City, that are going to give us a hundred thousand
dollars endowment. A hundred thousand dollars. Don't say anything about
it. There are people who—well, who would spoil the thing if they could.
We have neighbors, you know. Not very friendly ones. Not very friendly.
Perritaut, for instance. It isn't best to tell one's neighbor all one's
good luck. Not all one's good luck," and Plausaby, Esq., smiled knowingly
at the fat man, who did his best to screw his very transparent face into
a crafty smile in return. "Besides," continued Squire Plausaby, "once let
it get out that the Baptist University is going to occupy that block, and
there'll be a great demand—"
[Illustration: PLAUSABY SELLS LOTS.]
"For all the blocks around," said the eager fat gentleman, growing
impatient at Plausaby's long-windedness.
"Precisely. For all the blocks around," went on Plausaby. "And I want to
hold on to as much of the property in this quarter as—"
"As you can, of course," said the other.
"As I can, of course. As much as I can, of course. But I'd like to have
you interested. You are a man of influence. A man of weight. Of weight of
character. You will bring other Baptists. And the more Baptists, the
better for—the better for—"
"For the college, of course."
"Exactly. Precisely. For the college, of course. The more, the better.
And I should like your name on the board of trustees of—of—"
"The university, of course. I should like your name."
The fat gentleman was pleased at the prospect of owning land near the
Baptist University, and doubly pleased at the prospect of seeing his name
in print as one of the guardians of the destiny of the infant
institution. He thought he would like to buy half of block 26.
"Well, no. I couldn't sell in 26 to you or any man. Couldn't sell to any
man. I want to hold that block because of its slope. I'll sell in 28 to
you, and the lots there are just about as good. Quite as good, indeed.
But I want to build on 26."
The fat gentleman declared that he wouldn't have anything but lots in 26.
That block suited his fancy, and he didn't care to buy if he could not
have a pick.
"Well, you're an experienced buyer, I see," said Plausaby, Esq. "An
experienced buyer. Any other man would have preferred 28 to 26. But
you're a little hard to insist on that particular block. I want you here,
and I'll give half of 28 rather than sell you out of 26."
"Well, now, my friend, I am sorry to seem hard. But I fastened my eye on
26. I have a fine eye for direction and distance. One, two, three, four
blocks from the public square. That's the block with the solitary
oak-tree in it, if I'm right. Yes? Well, I must have lots in that very
block. When I take a whim of that kind, heaven and earth can't turn me,
Mr. Plausaby. So you'd just as well let me have them."
Plausaby, Esq., at last concluded that he would sell to the plump
gentleman any part of block 26 except the two lots on the south-east
corner. But that gentleman said that those were the very two he had fixed
his eyes upon. He would not buy if there were any reserves. He always
took his very pick out of each town.
"Well," said Mr. Plausaby coaxingly, "you see I have selected those two
lots for my step-daughter. For little Katy. She is going to get married
next spring, I suppose, and I have promised her the two best in the town,
and I had marked off these two. Marked them off for her. I'll sell you
lots alongside, nearly as good, for half-price. Just half-price."
But the fat gentleman was inexorable. Mr. Plausaby complained that the
fat gentleman was hard, and the fat gentleman was pleased with the
compliment. Having been frequently lectured by his wife for being so easy
and gullible, he was now eager to believe himself a very Shylock. Did not
like to rob little Kate of her marriage portion, he said, but he must
have the best or none. He wanted the whole south half of 26.
And so Mr. Plausaby sold him the corner-lot and the one next to it for
ever so much more than their value, pathetically remarking that he'd have
to hunt up some other lots for Kate. And then Mr. Plausaby took the fat
gentleman out and showed him the identical corner, with the little oak
and the slope to the south.
"Mother," said Albert, when they were gone, "is Katy going to be married
in the spring?"
"Why, how should I know?" queried Mrs. Plausaby, as she adjusted her
collar, the wide collar of that day, and set her breastpin before the
glass. "How should I know? Katy has never told me. There's a young man
hangs round here Sundays, and goes boating and riding with her, and makes
her presents, and walks with her of evenings, and calls her his pet and
his darling and all that kind of nonsense, and I half-suspect"—here she
took out her breastpin entirely and began over again—"I half-suspect
he's in earnest. But what have I got to do with it? Kate must marry for
herself. I did twice, and done pretty well both times. But I can't see to
Kate's beaux. Marrying, my son, is a thing everybody must attend to
personally for themselves. At least, so it seems to me." And having
succeeded in getting her ribbon adjusted as she wanted it, Mrs. Plausaby
looked at herself in the glass with an approving conscience.
"But is Kate going to be married in the spring?" asked Albert.
"I don't know whether she will have her wedding in the spring or summer.
I can't bother myself about Kate's affairs. Marrying is a thing that
everybody must attend to personally for themselves, Albert. If Kate gets
married, I can't help it; and I don't know as there's any great sin in
it. You'll get married yourself some day."
"Did fa—did Mr. Plausaby promise Katy some lots?"
"Law, no! Every lot he sells 'most is sold for Kate's lot. It's a way he
has. He knows how to deal with these sharks. If you want any trading
done, Albert, you let Mr. Plausaby do it for you."
"But, mother, that isn't right."
"You've got queer notions, Albert. You'll want us all to quit eating
meat, I suppose. Mr. Plausaby said last night you'd be cheated out of
your eyes before you'd been here a month, if you stuck to your ideas of
things. You see, you don't understand sharks. Plausaby does. But then
that is not my lookout. I have all I can do to attend to myself. But Mr.
Plausaby does know how to manage sharks."
The more Albert thought the matter over, the more he was convinced that
Mr. Plausaby did know how to manage sharks. He went out and examined the
stakes, and found that block 26 did not contain the oak, but was much
farther down in the slough, and that the corner lots that were to have
been Katy's wedding portion stretched quite into the peat bog, and
further that if the Baptist University should stand on block 27, it would
have a baptistery all around it.
LITTLE KATY'S LOVER.
Katy was fifteen and a half, according to the family Bible. Katy was a
woman grown in the depth and tenderness of her feeling. But Katy wasn't
twelve years of age, if measured by the development of her
discretionary powers. The phenomenon of a girl in intellect with a
woman's passion is not an uncommon one. Such girls are always
attractive—feeling in woman goes for so much more than thought. And
such a girl-woman as Kate has a twofold hold on other people—she is
loved as a woman and petted as a child.
Albert Charlton knew that for her to love was for her to give herself
away without thought, without reserve, almost without the possibility of
revocation. Because he was so oppressed with dread in regard to the young
man who walked and boated with Katy, courted and caressed her, but about
the seriousness of whose intentions the mother seemed to have some
doubt—because of the very awfulness of his apprehensions, he dared not
ask Kate anything.
The suspense was not for long. On the second evening after Albert's
return, Smith Westcott, the chief clerk, the agent in charge of the
branch store of Jackson, Jones & Co., in Metropolisville, called at the
house of Plausaby. Mr. Smith Westcott was apparently more than
twenty-six, but not more than thirty years of age, very well-dressed,
rather fast-looking, and decidedly blasé. His history was written in
general but not-to-be-misunderstood terms all over his face. It was not
the face of a drunkard, but there was the redness of many glasses of wine
in his complexion, and a nose that expressed nothing so much as pampered
self-indulgence. He had the reputation of being a good, sharp business
man, with his "eye-teeth cut," but his conversation was:
"Well—ha! ha!—and how's Katy? Divine as ever! he! he!" rattling the
keys and coins in his pocket and frisking about. "Beautiful evening! And
how does my sweet Katy? The loveliest maiden in the town! He! he! ha! ha!
Then, as Albert came in and was introduced, he broke out with:
"Glad to see you! By George! He! he! Brother, eh? Always glad to see
anybody related to Kate. Look like her a little. That's a compliment to
you, Mr. Charlton, he! he! You aren't quite so handsome though, by
George! Confound the cigar"—throwing it away; "I ordered a box in Red
Owl last week—generally get 'em in Chicago. If there's anything I like
it's a good cigar, he! he! Next to a purty girl, ha! ha! But this last
box is stronger'n pison. That sort of a cigar floors me. Can't go
entirely without, you know, so I smoke half a one, and by that time I get
so confounded mad I throw it away. Ha! ha! Smoke, Mr. Charlton? No! No
small vices, I s'pose. Couldn't live without my cigar. I'm glad smoking
isn't offensive to Kate. Ah! this window's nice, I do like fresh air.
Kate knows my habits pretty well by this time. By George, I must try
another cigar. I get so nervous when trade's dull and I don't have much
to do. Wish you smoked, Mr. Charlton. Keep a man company, ha! ha! Ever
been here before? No? By George, must seem strange, he! he! It's a
confounded country. Can't get anything to eat. Nor to drink neither, for
that matter. By cracky! what nights we used to have at the Elysian Club
in New York! Ever go to the Elysian? No? Well, we did have a confounded
time there. And headaches in the morning. Punch was too sweet, you see.
Sweet punch is sure to make your headache. He! he! But I'm done with
clubs and Delmonico's, you know. I'm going to settle down and be a steady
family man." Walking to the door, he sang in capital minstrel style:
"When de preacher took his text
He looked so berry much perplext,
Fer nothin' come acrost his mine
But Dandy Jim from Caroline!
"Yah! yah! Plague take it! Come, Kate, stick on a sun-bonnet or a hat,
and let's walk. It's too nice a night to stay in the house, by George!
You'll excuse, Mr. Charlton? All right; come on, Kate."
And Katy hesitated, and said in a deprecating tone: "You won't mind, will
you, Brother Albert?"
And Albert said no, that he wouldn't mind, with a calmness that
astonished himself; for he was aching to fall foul of Katy's lover, and
beat the coxcombry out of him, or kill him.
"By-by!" said Westcott to Albert, as he went out, and young Charlton went
out another door, and strode off toward Diamond Lake. On the high knoll
overlooking the lake he stopped and looked away to the east, where the
darkness was slowly gathering over the prairie. Night never looks so
strange as when it creeps over a prairie, seeming to rise, like a
shadowy Old Man of the Sea, out of the grass. The images become more and
more confused, and the landscape vanishes by degrees. Away to the west
Charlton saw the groves that grew on the banks of the Big Gun River, and
then the smooth prairie knolls beyond, and in the dim horizon the "Big
Woods." Despite ail his anxiety, Charlton could not help feeling the
influence of such a landscape. The greatness, the majesty of God, came to
him for a moment. Then the thought of Kate's unhappy love came over him
more bitterly from the contrast with the feelings excited by the
landscape. He went rapidly over the possible remedies. To remonstrate
with Katy seemed out of the question. If she had any power of reason, he
might argue. Bat one can not reason with feeling. It was so hard that a
soul so sweet, so free from the all but universal human taint of egoism,
a soul so loving, self-sacrificing, and self-consecrating, should throw
"O God!" he cried, between praying and swearing, "must this alabaster-box
of precious ointment be broken upon the head of an infernal coxcomb?"
And then, as he remembered how many alabaster-boxes of precious womanly
love were thus wasted, and as he looked abroad at the night settling down
so inevitably on trees and grass and placid lake, it seemed to him that
there could be no Benevolent Intelligence in the universe. Things rolled
on as they would, and all his praying would no more drive away the
threatened darkness from Kate's life than any cry of his would avail to
drive back the all-pervading, awesome presence of night, which was
putting out the features of the landscape one after another.
Albert thought to go to his mother. But then with bitterness he
confessed to himself, for the first time, that his mother was less wise
than Katy herself. He almost called her a fool. And he at once rejected
the thought of appealing to his step-father. He felt, also, that this was
an emergency in which all his own knowledge and intelligence were of no
account. In a matter of affection, a conceited coxcomb, full of
flattering speeches, was too strong for him.
The landscape was almost swallowed up. The glassy little lake was at his
feet, smooth and quiet. It seemed to him that God was as unresponsive to
his distress as the lake. Was there any God?
There was one hope. Westcott might die. He wished he might. But Charlton
had lived long enough to observe that people who ought to die, hardly
ever do. You, reader, can recall many instances of this general
principle, which, however, I do not remember to have seen stated in any
discussions of mortality tables.
After all, Albert reflected that he ought not to expect Kate's lover to
satisfy him. For he flattered himself that he was a somewhat peculiar
man—a man of ideas, a man of the future—and he must not expect to
conform everybody to his own standard. Smith Westcott was a man of fine
business qualities, he had heard; and most commercial men were, in
Albert's estimation, a little weak, morally. He might be a man of deep
feeling, and, as Albert walked home, he made up his mind to be
charitable. But just then he heard that rattling voice:
"Purty night! By George! Katy, you're divine, by George! Sweeter'n honey
and a fine-tooth comb! Dearer to my heart than a gold dollar! Beautiful
as a dew-drop and better than a good cigar! He! he! he!"
At such wit and such a giggle Charlton's charity vanished. To him this
idiotic giggle at idiotic jokes was a capital offense, and he was seized
with a murderous desire to choke his sister's lover. Kate should not
marry that fellow if he could help it. He would kill him. But then to
kill Westcott would be to kill Katy, to say nothing of hanging himself.
Killing has so many sequels. But Charlton was at the fiercely executive
stage of his development, and such a man must act. And so he lingered
about until Westcott kissed Katy and Katy kissed Westcott back again, and
Westcott cried back from the gate, "Dood night! dood night, 'ittle girl!
By-by! He! he! By George!" and passed out rattling the keys and coins in
his pocket and singing:
"O dear Miss Lucy Neal!" etc.
Then Albert went in, determined to have it all out with Katy. But one
sight of her happy, helpless face disarmed him. What an overturning of
the heaven of her dreams would he produce by a word! And what could be
more useless than remonstrance with one so infatuated! How would she
receive his bitter words about one she loved to idolatry?
He kissed her and went to bed.
As Albert Charlton lay awake in his unplastered room in the house of
Plausaby, Esq., on the night after he had made the acquaintance of the
dear, dear fellow whom his sister loved, he busied himself with various
calculations. Notwithstanding his father's "notions," as his mother
styled them, he had been able to leave his widow ten thousand dollars,
besides a fund for the education of his children. And, as Albert phrased
it to himself that night, the ten thousand dollars was every cent clean
money, for his father had been a man of integrity. On this ten thousand,
he felt sure, Plausaby, Esq., was speculating in a way that might make
him rich and respected, or send him to State's-prison, as the chance fell
out, but at any rate in a way that was not promotive of the interests of
those who traded with him. Of the thousand set apart for Katy's education
Plausaby was guardian, and Kate's education was not likely to be greatly
advanced by any efforts of his to invest the money in her intellectual
development. It would not be hard to persuade the rather indolent and
altogether confiding Katy that she was now old enough to cease bothering
herself with the rules of syntax, and to devote herself to the happiness
and comfort of Smith Westcott, who seemed, poor fellow, entirely unable
to exist out of sight of her eyes, which he often complimented by
singing, as he cut a double-shuffle on the piazza,
"Her eyes so bright
Dey shine at night
When de moon am far away!"
generally adding, "Ya! ya! dat am a fack, Brudder Bones! He! he!
As Charlton's thoughts forecast his sister's future, it seemed to him
darker than before. He had little hope of changing her, for it was clear
that all the household authority was against him, and that Katy was
hopelessly in love. If he should succeed in breaking the engagement, it
would cost her untold suffering, and Albert was tender-hearted enough to
shrink from inflicting suffering on any one, and especially on Kate. But
when that heartless "he! he!" returned to his memory, and he thought of
all the consequences of such a marriage, he nerved himself for a sharp
and strong interference. It was his habit to plunge into every conflict
with a radical's recklessness, and his present impulse was to attempt to
carry his point by storm. If there had been opportunity, he would have
moved on Katy's slender reasoning faculties at once. But as the night of
sleeplessness wore on, the substratum of practical sense in his
character made itself felt. To attack the difficulty in this way was to
insure a great many tears from Katy, a great quarrel with a coxcomb, a
difficulty with his mother, an interference in favor of Kate's marriage
on the part of Plausaby, and a general success in precipitating what he
desired to prevent.
And so for the first time this opinionated young man, who had always
taken responsibility, and fought his battles alone and by the most direct
methods, began to look round for a possible ally or an indirect approach.
He went over the ground several times without finding any one on whom he
could depend, or any device that offered the remotest chance of success,
until he happened to think of Isabel Marlay—Cousin Isa, as Katy called
her. He remembered how much surprised he had been a few days before, when
the quiet girl, whom he had thought a sort of animated sewing-machine,
suddenly developed so much force of thought in her defense of the clergy.
Why not get her strong sense on his side?
CATCHING AND GETTING CAUGHT.
Did you never notice how many reasons, never thought of before, against
having an aching tooth drawn, occur to you when once you stand on the
dentist's door-stone ready to ring the bell? Albert Charlton was full of
doubts of what Miss Isabel Marlay's opinion of his sister might be, and
of what Miss Isabel Marlay might think of him after his intemperate
denunciation of ministers and all other men of the learned professions.
It was quite a difficult thing for him to speak to her on the subject of
his sister's love-affair, and so, whenever an opportunity presented
itself, he found reason to apprehend interruption. On one plea or another
he deferred the matter until afternoon, and when afternoon came, Isa had
gone out. So that what had seemed to him in the watchfulness of the night
an affair for prompt action, was now deferred till evening. But in his
indecision and impatience Charlton found it impossible to remain quiet.
He must do something, and so he betook himself to his old recreation of
catching insects. He would have scorned to amuse himself with so cruel a
sport as fishing; he would not eat a fish when it was caught. But though
he did not think it right for man to be a beast of prey, slaughtering
other animals to gratify his appetites, he did not hesitate to sacrifice
the lives of creeping things to satisfy the intellectual needs of
humanity. Even this he did with characteristic tenderness, never leaving
a grasshopper to writhe on a pin for two days, but kindly giving him a
drop of chloroform to pass him into the Buddhist's heaven of eternal
repose. In the course of an hour or two he had adorned his hat with a
variety of orthoptera, coleoptera, and all the other opteras known to the
insect-catching profession. A large Cecropia spread its bright wings
across the crown of his hat, and several green Katydids appeared to be
climbing up the sides for an introduction to the brilliant moth; three
dragon-flies sat on the brim, and two or three ugly beetles kept watch
between them. As for grasshoppers, they hung by threads from the
hat-brim, and made unique pendants, which flew and flopped about his face
as he ran hither and thither with his net, sweeping the air for new
victims. Hurrying with long strides after a large locust which he
suspected of belonging to a new species, and which flew high and far, his
eyes were so uplifted to his game that he did not see anything else, and
he ran down a hill and fairly against a lady, and then drew back in
startled surprise and apologized. But before his hasty apology was
half-uttered he lifted his eyes to the face of the lady and saw that it
was Miss Minorkey, walking with her father. Albert was still more
confused when he recognized her, and his confusion was not relieved by
her laughter. For the picturesque figure of Charlton and his portable
museum was too much for her gravity, and as the French ladies of two
centuries ago used to say, she "lost her serious." Guessing the cause of
her merriment, Charlton lifted his hat off his head, held it up, and
laughed with her.
"Well, Miss Minorkey, no wonder you laugh. This is a queer hat-buggery
and dangling grasshoppery."
"That's a beautiful Cecropia," said Helen Minorkey, recovering a little,
and winning on Albert at once by showing a little knowledge of his pet
science, if it was only the name of a single specimen. "I wouldn't mind
being an entomologist myself if there were many such as this and that
green beetle to be had. I am gathering botanical specimens," and she
opened her portfolio.
"But how did you come to be in Metropolisville?"
"Why," interrupted Mr. Minorkey, "I couldn't stand the climate at
Perritaut. The malaria of the Big Gun River affected my health seriously.
I had a fever night before last, and I thought I'd get away at once, and
I made up my mind there was more oxygen in this air than in that at
Perritaut. So I came up here this morning. But I'm nearly dead," and here
Mr. Minorkey coughed and sighed, and put his hand on his breast in a
As Mr. Minorkey wanted to inspect an eighty across the slough, on which
he had been asked to lend four hundred dollars at three per cent a month,
and five after maturity, with a waiver in the mortgage, he suggested that
Helen should walk back, leaving him to go on slowly, as the rheumatism in
his left knee would permit. It was quite necessary that Miss Minorkey
should go back; her boots were not thick enough for the passage of the
slough. Mr. Charlton kindly offered to accompany her.
Albert Charlton thought that Helen Minorkey looked finer than ever, for
sun and wind had put more color into her cheeks, and he, warm with
running, pushed back his long light hair, and looked side-wise at the
white forehead and the delicate but fresh cheeks below.
"So you like Cecropias and bright-green beetles, do you?" he said, and he
gallantly unpinned the wide-winged moth from his hat-crown and stuck it
on the cover of Miss Minorkey's portfolio, and then added the green
beetle. Helen thanked him in her quiet way, but with pleased eyes.
"Excuse me, Miss Minorkey," said Albert, blushing, as they approached the
hotel, "I should like very much to accompany you to the parlor of the
hotel, but people generally see nothing but the ludicrous side of
scientific pursuits, and I should only make you ridiculous."
"I should be very glad to have you come," said Helen. "I don't mind being
laughed at in good company, and it is such a relief to meet a gentleman
who can talk about something besides corner lots and five per cent a
month, and," with a wicked look at the figure of her father in the
distance, "and mortgages with waivers in them!"
Our cynic philosopher found his cynicism melting away like an iceberg in
the Gulf-stream. An hour before he would have told you that a woman's
flattery could have no effect on an intellectual man; now he felt a
tremor of pleasure, an indescribable something, as he shortened his steps
to keep time with the little boots with which Miss Minorkey trod down the
prairie grass, and he who had laughed at awkward boys for seeking the aid
of dancing-masters to improve their gait, wished himself less awkward,
and actually blushed with pleasure when this self-possessed young lady
praised his conversation. He walked with her to the hotel, though he took
the precaution to take his hat off his head and hang it on his finger,
and twirl it round, as if laughing at it himself—back-firing against the
ridicule of others. He who thought himself sublimely indifferent to the
laughter of ignoramuses, now fencing against it!
The parlor of the huge pine hotel (a huge unfinished pine hotel is the
starting point of speculative cities), the parlor of the Metropolisville
City Hotel was a large room, the floor of which was covered with a very
cheap but bright-colored ingrain carpet; the furniture consisted of six
wooden-bottomed chairs, very bright and new, with a very yellow rose
painted on the upper slat of the back of each, a badly tattered
hair-cloth sofa, of a very antiquated pattern, and a small old piano,
whose tinny tones were only matched by its entire lack of tune. The last
two valuable articles had been bought at auction, and some of the keys of
the piano had been permanently silenced by its ride in an ox-cart from
Red Owl to Metropolisville.
But intellect and culture are always superior to external circumstances,
and Mr. Charlton was soon sublimely oblivious to the tattered hair-cloth
of the sofa on which he sat, and he utterly failed to notice the stiff
wooden chair on which Miss Minorkey reposed. Both were too much
interested in science to observe furniture; She admired the wonders of
his dragon-flies, always in her quiet and intelligent fashion; he
returned the compliment by praising her flowers in his eager, hearty,
enthusiastic way. Her coolness made her seem to him very superior; his
enthusiasm made him very piquant and delightful to her. And when he got
upon his hobby and told her how grand a vocation the teacher's
profession was, and recited stories of the self-denial of Pestalozzi and
Froebel, and the great schemes of Basedow, and told how he meant here
in this new country to build a great Institute on rational principles,
Helen Minorkey found him more interesting than ever. Like you and me,
she loved philanthropy at other people's expense. She admired great
reformers, though she herself never dreamed of putting a little finger
to anybody's burden.
It took so long to explain fully this great project that Albert staid
until nearly supper-time, forgetting the burden of his sister's unhappy
future in the interest of science and philanthropy. And even when he rose
to go, Charlton turned back to look again at a "prairie sun-flower" which
Helen Minorkey had dissected while he spoke, and, finding something
curious, perhaps in the fiber, he proposed to bring his microscope over
in the evening and examine it—a proposition very grateful to Helen, who
had nothing but ennui to expect in Metropolisville, and who was
therefore delighted. Delighted is a strong word for one so cool: perhaps
it would be better to say that she was relieved and pleased at the
prospect of passing an evening with so curious and interesting a
companion. For Charlton was both curious and interesting to her. She
sympathized with his intellectual activity, and she was full of wonder at
his intense moral earnestness.
As for Albert, botany suddenly took on a new interest in his eyes. He had
hitherto regarded it as a science for girls. But now he was so profoundly
desirous of discovering the true character of the tissue in the plant
which Miss Minorkey had dissected, that it seemed to him of the utmost
importance to settle it that very evening. His mother for the first time
complained of his going out, and seemed not very well satisfied about
something. He found that he was likely to have a good opportunity, after
supper, to speak to Isabel Marlay in regard to his sister and her lover,
but somehow the matter did not seem so exigent as it had. The night
before, he had determined that it was needful to check the intimacy
before it went farther, that every day of delay increased the peril; but
things often look differently under different circumstances, and now the
most important duty in life for Albert Charlton was the immediate
settlement of a question in structural botany by means of microscopic
investigation. Albert was at this moment a curious illustration of the
influence of scientific enthusiasm, for he hurriedly relieved his hat of
its little museum, ate his supper, got out his microscope, and returned
to the hotel. He placed the instrument on the old piano, adjusted the
object, and pedagogically expounded to Miss Minorkey the true method of
observing. Microscopy proved very entertaining to both. Albert did not
feel sure that it might not become a life-work with him. It would be a
delightful thing to study microscopic botany forever, if he could have
Helen Minorkey to listen to his enthusiastic expositions. From her
science the transition to his was easy, and they studied under every
combination of glasses the beautiful lace of a dragon-fly's wing, and the
irregular spots on a drab grasshopper which ran by chance half-across one
of his eyes. The thrifty landlord had twice looked in at the door in hope
of finding the parlor empty, intending in which case to put out the lamp.
But I can not tell how long this enthusiastic pursuit of scientific
knowledge might have lasted had not Mr. Minorkey been seized with one of
his dying spells. When the message was brought by a Norwegian
servant-girl, whose white hair fairly stood up with fright, Mr. Charlton
was very much shocked, but Miss Minorkey did not for a moment lose her
self-possession. Besides having the advantage of quiet nerves, she had
become inured to the presence of Death in all his protean forms—it was
impossible that her father should be threatened in a way with which she
was not already familiar.
Emotions may be suspended by being superseded for a time by stronger
ones. In such case, they are likely to return with great force, when
revived by some association. Charlton stepped out on the piazza with his
microscope in his hand and stopped a moment to take in the scene—the
rawness and newness and flimsiness of the mushroom village, with its
hundred unpainted bass-wood houses, the sweetness, peacefulness, and
freshness of the unfurrowed prairie beyond, the calmness and immutability
of the clear, star-lit sky above—when he heard a voice round the corner
of the building that put out his eyes and opened his ears, if I may so
speak. Somebody was reproaching somebody else with being "spooney on the
"He! he!"—the reply began with that hateful giggle—"I know my business,
gentlemen. Not such a fool as you think." Here there was a shuffling of
feet, and Charlton's imagination easily supplied the image of Smith
Westcott cutting a "pigeon-wing."
"Don't I know the ways of this wicked world? Haven't I had all the silly
sentiment took out of me? He! he! I've seen the world," and then he
danced again and sang:
"Can't you come out to-night,
Can't you come out to-night,
And dance by the light of the moon?"
"Now, boys," he began, again rattling his coins and keys, "I learnt too
much about New York. I had to leave. They didn't want a man there that
knew all the ropes so well, and so I called a meeting of the mayor and
told him good-by. He! he! By George! 'S a fack! I drank too much and I
lived two-forty on the plank-road, till the devil sent me word he didn't
want to lose his best friend, and he wished I'd just put out from New
York. 'Twas leave New York or die. That's what brought me here. It I'd
lived in New York I wouldn't never 've married. Not much, Mary Ann or
Sukey Jane. He! he!" And then he sang again:
[Illustration: "BY GEORGE! HE! HE! HE!"]
"If I was young and in my prime,
I'd lead a different life,
I'd spend my money—
"but I'd be hanged if I'd marry a wife to save her from the Tower of
London, you know. As long as I could live at the Elysian Club, didn'
want a wife. But this country! Psha! this is a-going to be a land of
Sunday-schools and sewing-societies. A fellow can't live here
without a wife:
"'Den lay down de shubble and de hoe,
Den hang up de fiddle and de bow—
For poor old Ned—'
"Yah! Can't sing! Out of practice! Got a cold! Instrument needs tuning!
Excuse me! He! he!"
There was some other talk, in a voice too low for Albert to hear, though
he listened with both ears, waiving all sense of delicacy about
eavesdropping in his anger and his desire to rescue Katy. Then Westcott,
who had evidently been drinking and was vinously frank, burst out with:
"Think I'd marry an old girl! Think I'd marry a smart one! I want a sweet
little thing that would love me and worship me and believe everything I
said. I know! By George! He! he! That Miss Minorkey at the table! She'd
see through a fellow! Now, looky here, boys, I'm goin' to be serious for
once. I want a girl that'll exert a moral influence over me, you know!
But I'll be confounded if I want too much moral influence, by George, he!
he! A little spree now and then all smoothed over! I need moral
influence, but in small doses. Weak constitution, you know! Can't stand
too much moral influence. Head's level. A little girl! Educate her
yourself, you know! He! he! By George! And do as you please.
"'O Jinny! git yer hoe-cake done, my dear!
O Jinny! git yer hoe-cake done!'
"Yah! yah! He! he! he!"
It is not strange that Charlton did not sleep that night, that he was a
prey to conflicting emotions, blessing the cool, intellectual,
self-possessed face of Miss Minorkey, who knew botany, and inwardly
cursing the fate that had handed little Katy over to be the prey of such
a man as Smith Westcott.
Isabel Marlay was not the niece of our friend Squire Plausaby, but of his
first wife. Plausaby, Esq., had been the guardian of her small
inheritance in her childhood, and the property had quite mysteriously
suffered from a series of curious misfortunes: the investments were
unlucky; those who borrowed of the guardian proved worthless, and so did
their securities. Of course the guardian was not to blame, and of course
he handled the money honestly. But people will be suspicious even of the
kindest and most smoothly-speaking men; and the bland manner and
innocent, open countenance of Plausaby, Esq., could not save him from the
reproaches of uncharitable people. As he could not prove his innocence,
he had no consolation but that which is ever to be derived from a
conscience void of offense.
Isabel Marlay found herself at an early age without means. But she had
never seen a day of dependence. Deft hands, infallible taste in matters
of dress, invincible cheerfulness, and swift industry made her always
valuable. She had not been content to live in the house of her aunt, the
first Mrs. Plausaby, as a dependent, and she even refused to remain in
the undefined relation of a member of the family whose general utility,
in some sort, roughly squares the account of board and clothes at the
year's end. Whether or not she had any suspicions in regard to the
transactions of Plausaby, Esq., in the matter of her patrimony, I do not
know. She may have been actuated by nothing but a desire to have her
independence apparent. Or, she may have enjoyed—as who would
not?—having her own money to spend. At any rate, she made a definite
bargain with her uncle-in-law, by which she took charge of the sewing in
his house, and received each year a hundred dollars in cash and her
board. It was not large pay for such service as she rendered, but then
she preferred the house of a relative to that of a stranger. When the
second Mrs. Plausaby had come into the house, Mr. Plausaby had been glad
to continue the arrangement, in the hope, perhaps, that Isa's good taste
might modify that lady's love for discordant gauds.
To Albert Charlton, Isa's life seemed not to be on a very high key. She
had only a common-school education, and the leisure she had been able to
command for general reading was not very great, nor had the library in
the house of Plausaby been very extensive. She had read a good deal of
Matthew Henry, the "Life and Labors of Mary Lyon" and the "Life of
Isabella Graham," the "Works of Josephus," "Hume's History of England,"
and Milton's "Paradise Lost." She had tried to read Mrs. Sigourney's
"Poems" and Pollok's "Course of Time," but had not enjoyed them much. She
was not imaginative. She had plenty of feeling, but no sentiment, for
sentiment is feeling that has been thought over; and her life was too
entirely objective to allow her to think of her own feelings. Her
highest qualities, as Albert inventoried them, were good sense, good
taste, and absolute truthfulness and simplicity of character. These were
the qualities that he saw in her after a brief acquaintance. They were
not striking, and yet they were qualities that commanded respect. But he
looked in vain for those high ideals of a vocation and a goal that so
filled his own soul. If she read of Mary Lyon, she had no aspiration to
imitate her. Her whole mind seemed full of the ordinary cares of life.
Albert could not abide that anybody should expend even such abilities as
Isa possessed on affairs of raiment and domestic economy. The very tokens
of good taste and refined feeling in her dress were to him evidences of
But when his mother and Katy had gone out on the morning after he had
overheard Smith Westcott expound his views on the matter of marriage,
Charlton sought Isa Marlay. She sat sewing in the parlor, as it was
called—the common sitting-room of the house—by the west window. The
whole arrangement of the room was hers; and though Albert was neither an
artist nor a critic in matters of taste, he was, as I have already
indicated, a man of fine susceptibility. He rejoiced in this
susceptibility when it enabled him to appreciate nature. He repressed it
when he found himself vibrating in sympathy with those arts that had, as
he thought, relations with human weakness and vanity; as, for instance,
the arts of music and dress. But, resist as one may, a man can not fight
against his susceptibilities. And those who can feel the effect of any
art are very many more than those who can practice it or criticise it. It
does not matter that my Bohemian friend's musical abilities are slender.
No man in the great Boston Jubilee got more out of Johann Strauss, in
his "Kunstleben," that inimitable expression of inspired vagabondage,
than he did. And so, though Albert Charlton could not have told you what
colors would "go together," as the ladies say, he could, none the less,
always feel the discord of his mother's dress, as now he felt the beauty
of the room and appreciated the genius of Isa, that had made so much out
of resources so slender. For there were only a few touch-me-nots in the
two vases on the mantel-piece; there were wild-flowers and
prairie-grasses over the picture-frames; there were asparagus-stalks in
the fireplace; there was—well, there was a tout-ensemble of coolness
and delightfulness, of freshness and repose. There was the graceful
figure of Isabel by the window, with the yet dewy grass and the distant
rolling, boundless meadow for a background. And there was in Isabel's
brown calico dress a faultlessness of fit, and a suitableness of color—a
perfect harmony, like that of music. There was real art, pure and
refined, in her dress, as in the arrangement of the room. Albert was
angry with it, while he felt its effect; it was as though she had set
herself there to be admired. But nothing was further from her thought.
The artist works not for the eyes of others, but for his own, and Isabel
Marlay would have taken not one whit less of pains if she could have been
assured that no eye in the universe would look in upon that
I said that Charlton was vexed. He was vexed because he felt a weakness
in himself that admired such "gewgaws," as he called everything relating
to dress or artistic housekeeping. He rejoiced mentally in the
superiority of Helen Minorkey, who gave her talents to higher themes. And
yet he felt a sense of restfulness in this cool room, where every color
was tuned to harmony with every other. He was struck, too, with the
gracefulness of Isa's figure. Her face was not handsome, but the good
genius that gave her the feeling of an artist must have molded her own
form, and every lithe motion was full of poetry. You have seen some
people who made upon you the impression that they were beautiful, and yet
the beauty was all in a statuesque figure and a graceful carriage. For it
makes every difference how a face is carried.
The conversation between Charlton and Miss Marlay had not gone far in the
matter of Katy and Smith Westcott until Albert found that her instincts
had set more against the man than even his convictions. A woman like
Isabel Marlay is never so fine as in her indignation, and there never was
any indignation finer than Isa Marlay's when she spoke of the sacrifice
of such a girl as Katy to such a man as Westcott. In his admiration of
her thorough-going earnestness, Albert forgave her devotion to domestic
pursuits and the arts of dress and ornamentation. He found sailing with
her earnestness much pleasanter than he had found rowing against it on
the occasion of his battle about the clergy.
"What can I do, Miss Marlay?" Albert did not ask her what she could do.
A self-reliant man at his time of life always asks first what he
himself can do.
"I can not think of anything that anybody can do, with any hope of
success." Isa's good sense penetrated entirely through the subject, she
saw all the difficulties, she had not imagination or sentiment enough to
delude her practical faculty with false lights.
"Can not you do something?" asked Charlton, almost begging.
"I have tried everything. I have spoken to your mother. I have spoken to
Uncle Plausaby. I have begged Katy to listen to me, but Katy would only
feel sorry for him if she believed he was bad. She can love, but she
can't think, and if she knew him to be the worst man in the Territory she
would marry him to reform him. I did hope that you would have some
influence over her."
"But Katy is such a child. She won't listen if I talk to her. Any
opposition would only hurry the matter. I wish it were right to blow out
his brains, if he has any, and I suppose the monkey has."
"It is a great deal better, Mr. Charlton, to trust in Providence where we
can't do anything without doing wrong."
"Well, Miss Marlay, I didn't look for cant from you. I don't believe that
God cares. Everything goes on by the almanac and natural law. The sun
sets when the time comes, no matter who is belated. Girls that are sweet
and loving and trusting, like Katy, have always been and will always be
victims of rakish fools like Smith Westcott. I wish I were an Indian, and
then I could be my own Providence. I would cut short his career, and make
what David said about wicked men being cut off come true in this case, in
the same way as I suppose David did in the case of the wicked of his day,
by cutting them off himself."
Isabel was thoroughly shocked with this speech. What good religious girl
would not have been? She told Mr. Charlton with much plainness of speech
that she thought common modesty might keep him from making such
criticisms on God. She for her part doubted whether all the facts of the
case were known to him. She intimated that there were many things in
God's administration not set down in almanacs, and she thought that,
whatever God might be, a young man should not be in too great a hurry
about arraigning Him for neglect of duty. I fear it would not contribute
much to the settlement of the very ancient controversy if I should record
all the arguments, which were not fresh or profound. It is enough that
Albert replied sturdily, and that he went away presently with his vanity
piqued by her censures. Not that he could not answer her reasoning, if it
were worthy to be called reasoning. But he had lost ground in the
estimation of a person whose good sense he could not help respecting, and
the consciousness of this wounded his vanity. And whilst all she said was
courteous, it was vehement as any defense of the faith is likely to be;
he felt, besides, that he had spoken with rather more of the ex
cathedra tone than was proper. A young man of opinions generally finds
it so much easier to impress people with his tone than with his
arguments! But he consoled himself with the reflection that the average
woman—that word average was a balm for every wound—that the average
woman is always tied to her religion, and intolerant of any doubts. He
was pleased to think that Helen Minorkey was not intolerant. Of that he
felt sure. He did not carry the analysis any farther, however; he did not
ask why Helen was not intolerant, nor ask whether even intolerance may
not sometimes be more tolerable than indifference. And in spite of his
unpleasant irritation at finding this "average" woman not overawed by his
oracular utterances, nor easily beaten in a controversy, Albert had a
respect for her deeper than ever. There was something in her anger at
Westcott that for a moment had seemed finer than anything he had seen in
the self-possessed Miss Minorkey. But then she was so weak as to allow
her intellectual conclusions to be influenced by her feelings, and to be
I have said that this thing of falling in love is a very complex
catastrophe. I might say that it is also a very uncertain one. Since we
all of us "rub clothes with fate along the street," who knows whether
Charlton would not, by this time, have been in love with Miss Marlay if
he had not seen Miss Minorkey in the stage? If he had not run against
her, while madly chasing a grasshopper? If he had not had a great
curiosity about a question in botany which he could only settle in her
company? And even yet, if he had not had collision with Isa on the
question of Divine Providence? And even after that collision I will not
be sure that the scale might not have been turned, had it not been that
while he was holding this conversation with Isa Marlay, his mother and
sister had come into the next room. For when he went out they showed
unmistakable pleasure in their faces, and Mrs. Plausaby even ventured to
ask: "Don't you like her, Albert?"
And when the mother tried to persuade him to forego his visit to the
hotel in the evening, he put this and that together. And when this and
that were put together, they combined to produce a soliloquy:
"Mother and Katy want to make a match for me. As if they understood
me! They want me to marry an average woman, of course. Pshaw! Isabel
Marlay only understands the 'culinary use' of things. My mother knows
that she has a 'knack,' and thinks it would be nice for me to have a wife
with a knack. But mother can't judge for me. I ought to have a wife
with ideas. And I don't doubt Plausaby has a hand in trying to marry off
his ward to somebody that won't make too much fuss about his accounts."
And so Charlton was put upon studying all the evening, to find points in
which Miss Minorkey's conversation was superior to Miss Marlay's. And
judged as he judged it—as a literary product—it was not difficult to
find an abundant advantage on her side.
LOVERS AND LOVERS.
Albert Charlton had little money, and he was not a man to remain idle.
He was good in mathematics, and did a little surveying now and then; in
fact, with true democratic courage, he turned his hand to any useful
employment. He did not regard these things as having any bearing on his
career. He was only waiting for the time to come when he could found
his Great Educational Institution on the virgin soil of Minnesota. Then
he would give his life to training boys to live without meat or
practical jokes, to love truth, honesty, and hard lessons; he would
teach girls to forego jewelry and cucumber-pickles, to study
physiology, and to abhor flirtations. Visionary, was he? You can not
help smiling at a man who has a "vocation," and who wants to give the
world a good send-off toward its "goal." But there is something noble
about it after all. Something to make you and me ashamed of our
selfishness. Let us not judge Charlton by his green flavor. When these
discordant acids shall have ripened in the sunshine and the rain, who
shall tell how good the fruit may be? We may laugh, however, at Albert,
and his school that was to be. I do not doubt that even that visionary
street-loafer known to the Athenians as Sokrates, was funny to those
who looked at him from a great distance below.
During the time in which Charlton waited, and meditated his plans for the
world's advancement by means of a school that should be so admirable as
to modify the whole system of education by the sheer force of its
example, he found it of very great advantage to unfold his plans to Miss
Helen Minorkey. Miss Helen loved to hear him talk. His enthusiasm was the
finest thing she had found, out of books. It was like a heroic poem, as
she often remarked, this fine philanthropy of his, and he seemed to her
like King Arthur preparing his Table Round to regenerate the earth. This
compliment, uttered with the coolness of a literary criticism—and
nothing could be cooler than a certain sort of literary criticism—this
deliberate and oft-repeated compliment of Miss Minorkey always set
Charlton's enthusiastic blood afire with love and admiration for the one
Being, as he declared, born to appreciate his great purposes. And the
Being was pleased to be made the partner of such dreams and hopes. In an
intellectual and ideal fashion she did appreciate them. If Albert had
carried out his great plans, she, as a disinterested spectator, would
have written a critical analysis of them much as she would have described
a new plant.
But whenever Charlton tried to excite in her an enthusiasm similar to his
own, he was completely foiled. She shrunk from everything like
self-denial or labor of any sort. She was not adapted to it, she assured
him. And he who made fierce war on the uselessness of woman in general
came to reconcile himself to the uselessness of woman in particular, to
apologize for it, to justify it, to admire it. Love is the mother of
invention, and Charlton persuaded himself that it was quite becoming in
such a woman as the most remarkably cultivated, refined, and intellectual
Helen Minorkey, to shrink from the drudgery of life. She was not intended
for it. Her susceptibilities were too keen, according to him, though
Helen Minorkey's susceptibilities were indeed of a very quiet sort. I
believe that Charlton, the sweeping radical, who thought, when thinking
on general principles, that every human-creature should live wholly for
every other human creature, actually addressed some "Lines to H.M.,"
through the columns of the St. Paul Advertiser of that day, in which he
promulgated the startling doctrine that a Being such as was the aforesaid
H.M., could not be expected to come into contact with the hard realities
of life. She must content herself with being the Inspiration of the life
of Another, who would work out plans that should inure to the good of man
and the honor of the Being, who would inspire and sustain the Toiler. The
poem was considered very fine by H.M., though the thoughts were a little
too obscure for the general public and the meter was not very smooth. You
have doubtless had occasion to notice that poems which deal with Beings
and Inspirations are usually of very imperfect fluidity.
Charlton worked at surveying and such other employments as offered
themselves, wrote poems to Helen Minorkey, and plotted and planned how he
might break up little Katy's engagement. He plotted and planned sometimes
with a breaking heart, for the more he saw of Smith Westcott, the more
entirely detestable he seemed. But he did not get much co-operation from
Isabel Marlay. If he resented any effort to make a match between him and
"Cousin Isa," she resented it ten times more vehemently, and all the
more that she, in her unselfishness of spirit, admired sincerely the
unselfishness of Charlton, and in her practical and unimaginative life
felt drawn toward the idealist young man who planned and dreamed in a way
quite wonderful to her. All her woman's pride made her resent the effort
to marry her to a man in love with another, a man who had not sought her.
[Illustration: MRS. PLAUSABY.]
"Albert is smart," said Mrs. Plausaby to her significantly one day; "he
would be just the man for you, Isa."
"Why, Mrs. Plausaby, I heard you say yourself that his wife would have to
do without silk dresses and new bonnets. For my part, I don't think much
of that kind of smartness that can't get a living. I wouldn't have a man
like Mr. Charlton on any, terms."
And she believed that she spoke the truth; having never learned to
analyze her own feelings, she did not know that all her dislike for
Charlton had its root in a secret liking for him, and that having
practical ability herself, the kind of ability that did not make a living
was just the sort that she admired most.
It was, therefore, without any co-operation between them, that Isabel and
young Charlton were both of them putting forth their best endeavor to
defeat the plans of Smith Westcott, and avert the sad eclipse which
threatened the life of little Katy. And their efforts in that direction
were about equally fruitful in producing the result they sought to avoid.
For whenever Isa talked to little Katy about Westcott, Katy in the
goodness of her heart and the vehemence of her love was set upon finding
out, putting in order, and enumerating all of his good qualities. And
when Albert attacked him vehemently and called him a coxcomb, and a rake,
and a heartless villain, she cried, and cried, out of sheer pity for
"poor Mr. Westcott;" she thought him the most persecuted man in the
world, and she determined that she would love him more fervently and
devotedly than ever, that she would! Her love should atone for all the
poor fellow suffered. And "poor Mr. Westcott" was not slow in finding out
that "feelin' sorry for a feller was Katy's soft side, by George! he!
he!" and having made this discovery he affected to be greatly afflicted
at the treatment he received from Albert and from Miss Marlay; nor did he
hesitate to impress Katy with the fact that he endured all these things
out of pure devotion to her, and he told her that he could die for her,
"by George! he! he!" any day, and that she mustn't ever desert him if she
didn't want him to kill himself; he didn't care two cents for life except
for her, and he'd just as soon go to sleep in the lake as not, "by
George! he! he!" any day. And then he rattled his keys, and sang in a
quite affecting way, to the simple-minded Kate, how for "bonnie Annie
Laurie," with a look at Katy, he could "lay him down and dee," and added
touchingly and recitatively the words "by George! he! he!" which made his
emotion seem very real and true to Katy; she even saw a vision of "poor
Mr. Westcott" dragged out of the lake dead on her account, and with that
pathetic vision in her mind she vowed she'd rather die than desert him.
And as for all the ills which her brother foreboded for her in case she
should marry Smith Westcott, they did not startle her at all. Such
simple, loving natures as Katy Charlton's can not feel for self. It is
such a pleasure to them to throw themselves away in loving.
Besides, Mrs. Plausaby put all her weight into the scale, and with the
loving Katy the mother's word weighed more even than Albert's. Mrs.
Plausaby didn't see why in the world Katy couldn't marry as she pleased
without being tormented to death. Marrying was a thing everybody must
attend to personally for themselves. Besides, Mr. Westcott was a
nice-spoken man, and dressed very well, his shirt-bosom was the finest in
Metropolisville, and he had a nice hat and wore lavender gloves on
Sundays. And he was a store-keeper, and he would give Katy all the nice
things she wanted. It was a nice thing to be a store-keeper's wife. She
wished Plausaby would keep a store. And she went to the glass and fixed
her ribbons, and reflected that if Plausaby kept a store she could get
plenty of them.
And so all that Cousin Isa and Brother Albert said came to naught, except
that it drove the pitiful Katy into a greater devotion to her lover, and
made the tender-hearted Katy cry. And when she cried, the sentimental
Westcott comforted her by rattling his keys in an affectionate way, and
reminding her that the course of true love never did run smooth, "by
George! he! he! he!"
PLAUSABY, ESQ., TAKES A FATHERLY INTEREST.
Plausaby, Esq., felt a fatherly interest. He said so. He wanted Albert to
make his way in the world. "You have great gifts, Albert," he said. But
the smoother Mr. Plausaby talked, the rougher Mr. Albert felt. Mr.
Plausaby felt the weight of all that Albert had said against the learned
professions. He did, indeed. He would not care to say it so strongly. Not
too strongly. Old men never spoke quite so strongly as young ones. But
the time had been, he said, when Thomas Plausaby's pulse beat as quick
and strong as any other young man's. Virtuous indignation was a beautiful
emotion in a young man. For his part he never cared much for a young man
who did not know how to show just such feeling on such questions. But one
must not carry it too far. Not too far. Never too far. For his part ho
did not like to see anything carried too far. It was always bad to carry
a thing too far. A man had to make his bread somehow. It was a necessity.
Every young man must consider that he had his way to make in the world.
It was a fact to be considered. To be considered carefully. He would
recommend that Albert consider it. And consider it carefully. Albert must
make his way. For his part, he had a plan in view that he thought could
not be objectionable to Albert's feelings. Not at all objectionable. Not
in the least.
All this Plausaby, Esq., oozed out at proper intervals and in gentlest
tones. Charlton for his mother's sake kept still, and reflected that Mr.
Plausaby had not said a word as yet that ought to anger him. He
therefore nodded his head and waited to hear the plan which Plausaby had
concocted for him.
Mr. Plausaby proceeded to state that he thought Albert ought to pre-empt.
Albert said that he would like to pre-empt as soon as he should be of
age, but that was some weeks off yet, and he supposed that when he got
ready there would be few good claims left.
The matter of age was easily got over, replied Plausaby. Quite easily got
over. Nothing easier, indeed. All the young men in the Territory who were
over nineteen had pre-empted. It was customary. Quite customary, indeed.
And custom was law. In some sense it was law. Of course there were some
customs in regard to pre-emption that Plausaby thought no good man could
approve. Not at all. Not in the least.
There was the building of a house on wheels and hauling it from claim to
claim, and swearing it in on each claim as a house on that claim.
Plausaby, Esq., did not approve of that. Not at all. Not in the least. He
thought it a dangerous precedent. Quite dangerous. Quite so. But good men
did it. Very good men, indeed. And then he had known men to swear that
there was glass in the window of a house when there was only a
whisky-bottle sitting in the window. It was amusing. Quite amusing, these
devices. Four men just over in Town 21 had built a house on the corners
of four quarter sections. The house partly on each of the four claims.
Swore that house in on each claim. But such expedients were not to be
approved. Not at all. They were not commendable. However, nearly all the
claims in the Territory had been made irregularly. Nearly all of them.
And the matter of age could be gotten over easily. Custom made law. And
Albert was twenty-three in looks. Quite twenty-three. More than that,
indeed. Twenty-five, perhaps. Some people were men at sixteen. And some
were always men. They were, indeed. Always men. Always. Albert was a man
in intellect. Quite a man. The spirit of the law was the thing to be
looked at. The spirit, not the letter. Not the letter at all. The spirit
of the law warranted Albert in pre-empting.
Here Plausaby, Esq., stopped a minute. But Albert said nothing. He
detested Plausaby's ethics, but was not insensible to his flattery.
"And as for a claim, Albert, I will attend to that. I will see to it. I
know a good chance for you to make two thousand dollars fairly hi a
month. A very good chance. Very good, indeed. There is a claim adjoining
this town-site which was filed on by a stage-driver. Reckless sort of a
fellow. Disreputable. We don't want him to hold land here. Not at all.
You would be a great addition to us. You would indeed. A great addition.
A valuable addition to the town. And it would be a great comfort to your
mother and to me to have you near us. It would indeed. A great comfort.
We could secure this Whisky Jim's claim very easily for you, and you
could lay it off into town lots. I have used my pre-emption right, or I
would take that myself. I advise you to secure it. I do, indeed. You
couldn't use your pre-emption right to a better advantage. I am sure you
"Well," said Albert, "if Whisky Jim will sell out, why not get him to
hold it for me for three weeks until I am of age?"
"He wouldn't sell, but he has forfeited it. He neglected to stay on it.
Has been away from it more than thirty days. You have a perfect right to
jump it and pre-empt it. I am well acquainted with Mr. Shamberson, the
brother-in-law of the receiver. Very well acquainted. He is a land-office
lawyer, and they do say that a fee of fifty dollars to him will put the
case through, right or wrong. But in this case we should have right on
our side, and should make a nice thing. A very nice thing, indeed. And
the town would be relieved of a dissipated man, and you could then carry
out your plan of establishing a village library here."
"But," said Albert between his teeth, "I hear that the reason Jim didn't
come back to take possession of his claim at the end of his thirty days
is his sickness. He's sick at the Sod Tavern."
"Well, you see, he oughtn't to have neglected his claim so long before he
was taken sick. Not at all. Besides, he doesn't add anything to the moral
character of a town. I value the moral character of a settler above all I
do, indeed. The moral character. If he gets that claim, he'll get rich
off my labors, and be one of our leading citizens. Quite a leading
citizen. It is better that you should have it. A great deal better.
Better all round. The depot will be on one corner of the east forty of
that claim, probably. Now, you shouldn't neglect your chance to get on.
You shouldn't, really. This is the road to wealth and influence. The road
to wealth. And influence. You can found your school there. You'll have
money and land. Money to build with. Land on which to build. You will
"You want me to swear that I am twenty-one when I am not, to bribe the
receiver, and to take a claim and all the improvements on it from a sick
man?" said Albert with heat.
"You put things wrong. Quite so. I want to help you to start. The claim
is now open. It belongs to Government, with all improvements.
Improvements go with the claim. If you don't take it, somebody will. It
is a pity for you to throw away your chances."
"My chances of being a perjured villain and a thief! No, thank you, sir,"
said the choleric Charlton, getting very red in the face, and stalking
out of the room.
"Such notions!" cried his mother. "Just like his father over again. His
father threw away all his chances just for notions. I tell you, Plausaby,
he never got any of those notions from me. Not one."
"No, I don't think he did," said Plausaby. "I don't think he did. Not at
all. Not in the least."
ABOUT SEVERAL THINGS.
Albert Charlton, like many other very conscientious men at his time of
life, was quarrelsomely honest. He disliked Mr. Plausaby's way of doing
business, and he therefore determined to satisfy his conscience by
having a row with his step-father. And so he startled his sister and
shocked his mother, and made the house generally uncomfortable, by
making, in season and out of season, severe remarks on the subject of
land speculation, and particularly of land-sharks. It was only Albert's
very disagreeable way of being honest. Even Isabel Marlay looked with
terror at what she regarded as signs of an approaching quarrel between
the two men of the house.
But there was no such thing as a quarrel with Plausaby. Moses may have
been the meekest of men, but that was in the ages before Plausaby, Esq.
No manner of abuse could stir him. He had suffered many things of many
men in his life, many things of outraged creditors, and the victims of
his somewhat remarkable way of dealing; his air of patient
long-suffering and quiet forbearance under injury had grown chronic. It
was, indeed, part of his stock in trade, an element of character that
redounded to his credit, while it cost nothing and was in every way
profitable. It was as though the whole catalogue of Christian virtues had
been presented to Plausaby to select from, and he, with characteristic
shrewdness, had taken the one trait that was cheapest and most
In these contests Albert was generally sure to sacrifice by his
extravagance whatever sympathy he might otherwise have had from the rest
of the family. When he denounced dishonest trading, Isabel knew that he
was right, and that Mr. Plausaby deserved the censure, and even Mrs.
Plausaby and the sweet, unreasoning Katy felt something of the justice of
what he said. But Charlton was never satisfied to stop here. He always
went further, and made a clean sweep of the whole system of town-site
speculation, which unreasonable invective forced those who would have
been his friends into opposition. And the beautiful meekness with which
Plausaby, Esq., bore his step-son's denunciations never failed to excite
the sympathy and admiration of all beholders. By never speaking an unkind
word, by treating Albert with gentle courtesy, by never seeming to feel
his innuendoes, Plausaby heaped coals of fire on his enemies' head, and
had faith to believe that the coals were very hot. Mrs. Ferret, who once
witnessed one of the contests between the two, or rather one of these
attacks of Albert, for there could be no contest with embodied meekness,
gave her verdict for Plausaby. He showed such a "Chrischen" spirit. She
really thought he must have felt the power of grace. He seemed to hold
schripcherral views, and show such a spirit of Chrischen forbearance,
that she for her part thought he deserved the sympathy of good people.
Mr. Charlton was severe, he was unchar-it-able—really unchar-it-able in
his spirit. He pretended to a great deal of honesty, but people of
unsound views generally whitened the outside of the sep-ul-cher. And Mrs.
Ferret closed the sentence by jerking her face into an astringed smile,
which, with the rising inflection of her voice, demanded the assent of
The evidences of disapproval which Albert detected in the countenances of
those about him did not at all decrease his irritation. His irritation
did not tend to modify the severity of his moral judgments. And the fact
that Smith Westcott had jumped the claim of Whisky Jim, of course at
Plausaby's suggestion, led Albert into a strain of furious talk that must
have produced a violent rupture in the family, had it not been for the
admirable composure of Plausaby, Esq., under the extremest provocation.
For Charlton openly embraced the cause of Jim; and much as he disliked
all manner of rascality, he was secretly delighted to hear that Jim had
employed Shamberson, the lawyer, who was brother-in-law to the receiver
of the land-office, and whose retention in those days of mercenary
lawlessness was a guarantee of his client's success. Westcott had offered
the lawyer a fee of fifty dollars, but Jim's letter, tendering him a
contingent fee of half the claim, reached him in the same mail, and the
prudent lawyer, after talking the matter over with the receiver who was
to decide the case, concluded to take half of the claim. Jim would have
given him all rather than stand a defeat.
Katy, with more love than logic, took sides of course with her lover in
this contest. Westcott showed her where he meant to build the most
perfect little dove-house for her, by George, he! he! and she listened
to his side of the story, and became eloquent in her denunciation of the
drunken driver who wanted to cheat poor, dear Smith—she had got to the
stage in which she called him by his Christian name now—to cheat poor,
dear Smith out of his beautiful claim.
If I were writing a History instead of a Mystery of Metropolisville, I
should have felt under obligation to begin with the founding of the town,
in the year preceding the events of this story. Not that there were any
mysterious rites or solemn ceremonies. Neither Plausaby nor the silent
partners interested with him cared for such classic customs. They sought
first to guess out the line of a railroad; they examined corner-stakes;
they planned for a future county-seat; they selected a high-sounding
name, regardless of etymologies and tautologies; they built shanties,
"filed" according to law, laid off a town-site, put up a hotel, published
a beautiful colored map, and began to give away lots to men who would
build on them. Such, in brief, is the unromantic history of the founding
of the village of Metropolisville.
And if this were a history, I should feel bound to tell of all the
maneuvers resorted to by Metropolisville, party of the second part, to
get the county-seat removed from Perritaut, party of the first part,
party in possession. But about the time that Smith Westcott's contest
about the claim was ripening to a trial, the war between the two villages
was becoming more and more interesting. A special election was
approaching, and Albert of course took sides against Metropolisville,
partly because of his disgust at the means Plausaby was using, partly
because he thought the possession of the county-seat would only enable
Plausaby to swindle more people and to swindle them more effectually,
partly because he knew that Perritaut was more nearly central in the
county, and partly because he made it a rule to oppose Plausaby on
general principles. Albert was an enthusiastic and effective talker, and
it was for this reason that Plausaby had wished to interest him by
getting him to "jump" Whisky Jim's claim, which lay alongside the town.
And it was because he was an enthusiastic talker, and because his entire
disinterestedness and his relations to Plausaby gave his utterances
peculiar weight, that the Squire planned to get him out of the county
until after the election.
Mrs. Plausaby suggested to Albert that he should go and visit a cousin
thirty miles away. Who suggested it to Mrs. Plausaby we may not guess,
since we may not pry into the secrets of a family, or know anything of
the conferences which a husband may hold with his wife in regard to the
management of the younger members of the household. As an authentic
historian, I am bound to limit myself to the simple fact, and the fact is
that Mrs. Plausaby stated to Albert her opinion that it would be a nice
thing for him to go and see Cousin John's folks at Glenfleld. She made
the suggestion with characteristic maladroitness, at a moment when Albert
had been holding forth on his favorite hobby of the sinfulness of
land-speculation in general, and the peculiar wickedness of
misrepresentation and all the other arts pertaining to town-site
swindling. Perhaps Albert was too suspicious. He always saw the hand of
Plausaby in everything proposed by his mother. He bluntly refused to go.
He wanted to stay and vote. He would be of age in time. He wanted to stay
and vote against this carting of a county-seat around the country for
purposes of speculation. He became so much excited at what he regarded
as a scheme to get him out of the way, that he got up from the table and
went out into the air to cool off. He sat down on the unpainted piazza,
and took up Gerald Massey's poems, of which he never tired, and read
until the light failed.
And then came Isa Marlay out in the twilight and said she wanted to
speak to him, and he got her a chair and listened while she spoke in a
voice as full of harmony as her figure was full of gracefulness. I have
said that Isabel was not a beauty, and yet such was the influence of her
form, her rhythmical movement, and her sweet, rich voice, that Charlton
thought she was handsome, and when she sat down and talked to him, he
found himself vibrating, as a sensitive nature will, under the influence
of grace or beauty.
"Don't you think, Mr. Charlton, that you would better take your mother's
suggestion, and go to your cousin's? You'll excuse me for speaking about
what does not concern me?"
Charlton would have excused her for almost anything she might have said
in the way of advice or censure, for in spite of all his determination
that it should not be, her presence was very pleasant to him.
"Certainly I have no objection to receive advice, Miss Marlay; but have
you joined the other side?"
"I don't know what you mean by the other side, Mr. Charlton. I don't
belong to any side. I think all quarreling is unpleasant, and I hate it.
I don't think anything you say makes any change in Uncle Plausaby, while
it does make your mother unhappy."
"So you think, Miss Isabel, that I ought to go away from Wheat County and
not throw my influence on the side of right in this contest, because my
mother is unhappy?" Albert spoke with some warmth.
"I did not say so. I think that a useless struggle, which makes your
mother unhappy, ought to be given over. But I didn't want to advise you
about your duty to your mother. I was led into saying so much on that
point. I came to say something else. It does seem to me that if you could
take Katy with you, something might turn up that would offer you a chance
to influence her. And that would be better than keeping the county-seat
at Perritaut." And she got up to go in.
Charlton was profoundly touched by Isabel's interest in Katy. He rose
to his feet and said: "You are right, I believe. And I am very, very
And as the straightforward Isa said, "Oh! no, that is nothing," and
walked away, Charlton looked after her and said, "What a charming woman!"
He felt more than he said, and he immediately set himself loyally to work
to enumerate all the points in which Miss Helen Minorkey was superior to
Isa, and said that, after all, gracefulness of form and elasticity of
motion and melodiousness of voice were only lower gifts, possessed in a
degree by birds and animals, and he blamed himself for feeling them at
all, and felt thankful that Helen Minorkey had those higher qualities
which would up-lift—he had read some German, and compounded his
words—up-lift a man to a higher level. Perhaps every loyal-hearted lover
plays these little tricks of self-deception on himself. Every lover
except the one whose "object" is indeed perfect. You know who that is. So
do I. Indeed, life would be a very poor affair if it were not for
these—what shall I call them? If Brown knew how much Jones's wife was
superior to his own, Brown would be neither happier nor better for the
knowledge. When he sees the superiority of Mrs. Jones's temper to Mrs.
Brown's somewhat energetic disposition, he always falls back on Mrs.
Brown's diploma, and plumes himself that at any rate Mrs. Brown graduated
at the Hobson Female College. Poor Mrs. Jones had only a common-school
education. How mortified Jones must feel when he thinks of it!
That Katy should go with Albert to see the cousins at Glenfield was a
matter easily brought about. Plausaby, Esq., was so desirous of Albert's
absence that he threw all of Mrs. Plausaby's influence on the side of the
arrangement which Charlton made a sine qua non. Albert felt a little
mean at making such a compromise of principle, and Plausaby felt much as
a man does who pays the maker of crank-music to begone. He did not like
Katy's going; he wanted to further her marriage with so influential a
person as Smith Westcott, the agent in charge of the interests of
Jackson, Jones & Co., who not only owned the Emporium, but were silent
partners in the town-site. But Katy must go. Plausaby affectionately
proffered the loan of his horse and buggy, which Charlton could not well
refuse, and so the two set out for Glenfleld with many kind adieus.
Westcott came down, and smoked, and rattled his keys, and hoped they'd
have a pleasant journey and get back soon, you know, Katy, by George! he!
he! he! Couldn't live long without the light of her countenance. 'S a
fact! By George! He! he! And when the carpet-bags and lunch-basket and
all the rest were stowed away under the seat of the buggy, Mrs.
Plausaby, with a magnificent number of streamers, kissed them, and she
and Cousin Isa stood by the gate and nodded their heads to the departing
buggy, as an expression of their feelings, and Mr. Plausaby lifted his
hat in such a way as to conceal his feelings, which, written out, would
be, "Good riddance!" And Smith Westcott blandly waved his good-by and
bowed to the ladies at the gate, and started back to the store. He was
not feeling very happy, apparently, for he walked to the store moodily,
rattling the coppers and keys in his right pantaloons-pocket. But he
seemed to see a little daylight, for just as he arrived in front of the
Emporium, he looked up and said, as if he had just thought of something,
"By George! he! he! he!"
Owing to some delay in fixing the buggy, Charlton had not got off till
about noon, but as the moon would rise soon after dark, he felt sure of
reaching Glenfleld by nine in the evening. One doesn't mind a late
arrival when one is certain of a warm welcome. And so they jogged on
quietly over the smooth road, the slow old horse walking half the time.
Albert was not in a hurry. For the first time since his return, he felt
that for a moment he possessed little Katy again. The shadow had gone; it
might come back; he would rejoice in the light while he could. Katy was
glad to be relieved of the perpetual conflict at home, and, with a
feeling entirely childish, she rejoiced that Albert was not now reproving
her. And so Albert talked in his old pedagogic fashion, telling Katy of
all the strange things he could think of, and delighting himself in
watching the wonder and admiration in her face. The country was now
smooth and now broken, and Albert thought he had never seen the grass so
green or the flowers so bright as they were this morning. The streams
they crossed were clear and cold, the sun shone hot upon them, but the
sky was so blue and the earth so green that they both abandoned
themselves to the pleasure of living with such a sky above and such a
world beneath. There were here and there a few settlers' houses, but not
yet a great many. The country was not a lonely one for all that. Every
now and then the frightened prairie-chickens ran across the road or rose
with their quick, whirring flight; ten thousand katydids and grasshoppers
were jumping, fluttering, flying, and fiddling their rattling notes, and
the air seemed full of life. They were considerably delayed by Albert's
excursions after new insects, for he had brought his collecting-box and
net along. So that when, about the middle of the afternoon, as they
stopped, in fording a brook, to water old Prince, and were suddenly
startled by the sound of thunder, Albert felt a little conscience-smitten
that he had not traveled more diligently toward his destination. And when
he drove on a quarter of a mile, he found himself in a most unpleasant
dilemma, the two horns being two roads, concerning which those who
directed him had neglected to give him any advice. Katy had been here
before, and she was very sure that to the right hand was the road. There
was now no time to turn back, for the storm was already upon them—one of
those fearful thunderstorms to which the high Minnesota table-land is
peculiarly liable. In sheer desperation, Charlton took the right-hand
road, not doubting that he could at least find shelter for the night in
some settler's shanty. The storm was one not to be imagined by those who
have not seen its like, not to be described by any one. The quick
succession of flashes of lightning, the sudden, sharp, unendurable
explosions, before, behind, and on either side, shook the nerves of
Charlton and drove little Katy frantic. For an hour they traveled through
the drenching rain, their eyes blinded every minute by lightning; for an
hour they expected continually that the next thunder-bolt would smite
them. All round them, on that treeless prairie, the lightning seemed to
fall, and with every new blaze they held their breath for fear of sudden
death. Charlton wrapped Katy in every way he could, but still the storm
penetrated all the wrapping, and the cold rain chilled them both to the
core. Katy, on her part, was frightened, lest the lightning should strike
Brother Albert. Muffled in shawls, she felt tolerably safe from a
thunderbolt, but it was awful to think that Brother Albert sat out there,
exposed to the lightning. And in this time of trouble and danger,
Charlton held fast to his sister. He felt a brave determination never to
suffer Smith Westcott to have her. And if he had only lived in the middle
ages, he would doubtless have challenged the fellow to mortal combat.
Now, alas! civilization was in his way.
At last the storm spent itself a little, and the clouds broke away in
the west, lighting up the rain and making it glorious. Then the wind
veered, and the clouds seemed to close over them again, and the
lightning, not quite so vivid or so frequent but still terrible, and
the rain, with an incessant plashing, set in as for the whole night.
Darkness was upon them, not a house was in sight, the chill cold of
the ceaseless rain seemed beyond endurance, the horse was well-nigh
exhausted and walked at a dull pace, while Albert feared that Katy
would die from the exposure. As they came to the top of each little
rise he strained his eyes, and Katy rose up and strained her eyes, in
the vain hope of seeing a light, but they did not know that they were
in the midst of—that they were indeed driving diagonally across—a
great tract of land which had come into the hands of some corporation
by means of the location of half-breed scrip. They had long since
given up all hope of the hospitable welcome at the house of Cousin
John, and now wished for nothing but shelter of any sort. Albert knew
that he was lost, but this entire absence of settlers' houses, and
even of deserted claim-shanties built for pre-emption purposes,
puzzled him. Sometimes he thought he saw a house ahead, and endeavored
to quicken the pace of the old horse, but the house always transformed
itself to a clump of hazel-brush as he drew nearer. About nine o'clock
the rain grew colder and the lightning less frequent. Katy became
entirely silent—Albert could feel her shiver now and then. Thus, in
numb misery, constantly hoping to see a house on ascending the next
rise of ground and constantly suffering disappointment, they traveled
on through the wretched monotony of that night. The ceaseless plash of
the rain, the slow tread of the horse's hoofs in the water, the roar
of a distant thunderbolt—these were the only sounds they heard during
the next hour—during the longer hour following—during the hours
after that. And then little Katy, thinking she must die, began to send
messages to the folks at home, and to poor, dear Smith, who would cry
so when she was gone.
But just in the moment of extremity, when Charlton felt that his very
heart was chilled by this exposure in an open buggy to more than seven
hours of terrific storm, he caught sight of something which cheered him.
He had descended into what seemed to be a valley, there was water in the
road, he could mark the road by the absence of grass, and the glistening
of the water in the faint light. The water was growing deeper; just
ahead of him was a small but steep hill; on top of the hill, which showed
its darker form against the dark clouds, he had been able to distinguish
by the lightning-light a hay-stack, and here on one side of the road the
grass of the natural meadow gave unmistakable evidence of having been
mowed. Albert essayed to cheer Katy by calling her attention to these
signs of human habitation, but Katy was too cold and weary and numb to
say much or feel much; an out-door wet-sheet pack for seven hours does
not leave much of heart or hope in a human soul.
Albert noticed with alarm that the water under the horse's feet
increased in depth continually. A minute ago it was just above the
fetlocks; now it was nearly to the knees, and the horse was obliged to
lift his feet still more slowly. The rain had filled the lowland with
water. Still the grass grew on either side of the road, and Charlton did
not feel much alarm until, coming almost under the very shadow of the
bluff, the grass suddenly ceased abruptly, and all was water, with what
appeared to be an inaccessible cliff beyond. The road which lost itself
in this pool or pond, must come out somewhere on the other side. But
where? To the right or left? And how bottomless might not the morass be
if he should miss the road!
But in such a strait one must do something. So he selected a certain
point to the left, where the hill on the other side looked less broken,
and, turning the horse's head in that direction, struck him smartly with
the whip. The horse advanced a step or two, the water rose quickly to his
body, and he refused to go any farther. Neither coaxing nor whipping
could move him. There was nothing to do now but to wait for the next
flash of lightning. It was long to wait, for with the continuance of the
storm the lightning had grown less and less frequent. Charlton thought it
the longest five minutes that he ever knew. At last there came a blaze,
very bright and blinding, leaving a very fearful darkness after it. But
short and sudden as it was, it served to show Charlton that the sheet of
water before him was not a pool or a pond, but a brook or a creek over
all its banks, swollen to a river, and sweeping on, a wild torrent. At
the side on which Charlion was, the water was comparatively still; the
stream curved in such a way as to make the current dash itself against
the rocky bluff.
Albert drove up the stream, and in a fit of desperation again essayed to
ford it. The staying in the rain all night with Katy was so terrible to
him that he determined to cross at all hazards. It were better to drown
together than to perish here. But again the prudent stubbornness of the
old horse saved them. He stood in the water as immovable as the ass of
Balaam. Then, for the sheer sake of doing something, Charlton drove down
the stream to a point opposite where the bluff seemed of easy ascent.
Here he again attempted to cross, and was again balked by the horse's
regard for his own safety. Charlton did not appreciate the depth and
swiftness of the stream, nor the consequent certainty of drowning in any
attempt to ford it. Not until he got out of the buggy and tried to cross
afoot did he understand how impossible it was.
When Albert returned to the vehicle he sat still. The current rippled
against the body of the horse and the wheels of the buggy. The incessant
rain roared in the water before him. There was nothing to be done. In
the sheer exhaustion of his resources, in his numb despondency, he
neglected even to drive the horse out of the water. How long he sat
there it would be hard to say. Several times he roused himself to utter
a "Halloo!" But the roar of the rain swallowed up his voice, which was
husky with emotion.
After a while he heard a plashing in the water, which was not that of
the rain. He thought it must be the sound of a canoe-paddle. Could
anybody row against such a torrent? But he distinctly heard the
plashing, and it was below him. Even Katy roused herself to listen, and
strained her eyes against the blackness of the night to discover what it
might be. It did not grow any nearer. It did not retreat. At the end of
ten minutes this irregular but distinct dipping sound, which seemed to
be in some way due to human agency, was neither farther nor nearer,
neither slower nor more rapid than at first. Albert hallooed again and
again at it, but the mysterious cause of this dipping and dashing was
deaf to all cries for help. Or if not deaf, this oarsman seemed as
incapable of giving reply as the "dumb old man" that rowed the "lily
maid of Astolat" to the palace of Arthur.
But it was no oarsman, not even a dumb one. The lightning for which
Albert prayed came at last, and illumined the water and the shores,
dispelling all dreams of canoe or oarsman. Charlton saw in an instant
that there was a fence a few rods away, and that where the fence crossed
the stream, or crossed from bank to bank of what was the stream at its
average stage, long poles had been used, and one of these long and supple
poles was now partly submerged. The swift current bent it in the middle
until it would spring out of the water and drop back higher up. It was
thus kept in a rotary motion, making the sound which he had mistaken for
the paddling of a canoeman. With this discovery departed all thought of
human help from that quarter.
But with the dissipating of the illusion came a new hope. Charlton
turned the head of the horse back and drove him out of the water, or at
least to a part of the meadow where the overflowed water did not reach to
his knees. Here he tied him to a tree, and told Katy she must stay alone
until he should cross the stream and find help, if help there should be,
and return. It might take him half an hour. But poor Katy said that she
could not live half an hour longer in this rain. And, besides, she knew
that Albert would be drowned in crossing. So that it was with much ado
that he managed to get away from her, and, indeed, I think she cried
after he had gone. He called back to her when he got to the brook's bank,
"All right, Katy!" but Katy heard him through the roar of the rain, and
it seemed to her that he was being swallowed up in a Noachian deluge.
Charlton climbed along on the precarious footing afforded by the
submerged pole, holding to the poles above while the water rushed about
his feet. These poles were each of them held by a single large nail at
each end, and the support was doubly doubtful. He might fall off, or the
nails might come out. Even had he not been paralyzed by long exposure to
the cold, he could have no hope of being able to swim in such a torrent.
In the middle of the stream he found a new difficulty. The posts to which
these limber poles were nailed at either end sloped in opposite
directions, so that while he started across on the upper side he found
that when he got to the middle the pole fence began to slant so much up
the stream that he must needs climb to the other side, a most difficult
and dangerous performance on a fence of wabbling popple poles in the
middle of a stream on a very dark night. When at last he got across the
stream, he found himself in the midst of a hazel thicket higher than his
head. He hallooed to Katy, and she was sure this time that it was his
last drowning cry. Working his way out of the hazel-brush, he came to a
halt against a fence and waited for lightning. That there was a house in
the neighborhood he could not doubt, but whether it were inhabited or not
was a question. And where was it?
For full five minutes—an eternal five minutes—the pitiless rain poured
down upon Charlton as he stood there by the fence, his eyes going forward
to find a house, his heart running back to the perishing Katy. At last
the lightning showed him a house, and from the roof of the house he saw a
stovepipe. The best proof that it was not a deserted claim-shanty!
Stumbling round the fence in the darkness, Charlton came upon the house,
a mere cabin, and tried three sides of it before he found the entrance.
When he knocked, the door was opened by a tall man, who said:
"Right smart sprinkle, stranger! Where did you come from? Must 'a' rained
down like a frog."
But Albert had no time for compliments. He told his story very briefly,
and asked permission to bring his sister over.
"Fetch her right along, stranger. No lady never staid in this 'ere shed
afore, but she's mighty welcome."
Albert now hurried back, seized with a fear that he would find Katy dead.
He crossed on the poles again, shouting to Katy as he went. He found her
almost senseless. He quickly loosed old Prince from the buggy, and
tethered him with the lines where he would not suffer for either water or
grass, and then lifted Kate from the buggy, and literally carried her to
the place where they must needs climb along the poles. It was with much
difficulty that he partly carried her, partly persuaded her to climb
along that slender fence. How he ever got the almost helpless girl over
into that hazel-brush thicket he never exactly knew, but as they
approached the house, guided by a candle set in the window, she grew more
and more feeble, until Albert was obliged to carry her in and lay her
down in a swoon of utter exhaustion.
The inhabitant of the cabin ran to a little cupboard, made of a
packing-box, and brought out a whisky-flask, and essayed to put it to her
lips, but as he saw her lying there, white and beautiful in her
helplessness, he started back and said, with a rude reverence, "Stranger,
gin her some of this 'ere—I never could tech sech a creetur!"
And Albert gave her some of the spirits and watched her revive. He warmed
her hands and chafed her feet before the fire which the backwoodsman had
made. As she came back to consciousness, Charlton happened to think that
he had no dry clothes for her. He would have gone immediately back to the
buggy, where there was a portmanteau carefully stowed under the seat, but
that the Inhabitant had gone out and he was left alone with Katy, and he
feared that she would faint again if he should leave her. Presently the
tall, lank, longhaired man came in.
"Mister," he said, "I made kinder sorter free with your things. I thought
as how as the young woman might want to shed some of them air wet
feathers of her'n, and so I jist venter'd to go and git this yer bag
'thout axin' no leave nor license, while you was a-bringin' on her to.
Looks pooty peart, by hokey! Now, mister, we ha'n't got no spar rooms
here. But you and me'll jes' take to the loff thar fer a while, seein'
our room is better nor our comp'ny. You kin change up stars."
They went to the loft by an outside ladder, the Inhabitant speaking very
reverently in a whisper, evidently feeling sure that there was an angel
down-stairs. They went down again after a while, and the Inhabitant piled
on wood so prodigally that the room became too warm; he boiled a pot of
coffee, fried some salt-pork, baked some biscuit, a little yellow and a
little too short, but to the hungry travelers very palatable. Even
Charlton found it easy to forego his Grahamism and eat salt-pork,
especially as he had a glass of milk. Katy, for her part, drank a cup of
coffee but ate little, though the Inhabitant offered her the best he had
with a voice stammering with emotion. He could not speak to her without
blushing to his temples. He tried to apologize for the biscuit and the
coffee, but could hardly ever get through his sentence intelligibly, he
was so full of a sentiment of adoration for the first lady into whose
presence he had come in years. Albert felt a profound respect for the man
on account of his reverence for Katy. And Katy of course loved him as she
did everybody who was kind to her or to her friends, and she essayed once
or twice to make him feel comfortable by speaking to him, but so great
was his agitation when spoken to by the divine creature, that he came
near dropping a plate of biscuit the first time she spoke, and almost
upset the coffee the next time. I have often noticed that the anchorites
of the frontier belong to two classes—those who have left humanity and
civilization from sheer antagonism to men, a selfish, crabbed love of
solitude, and those who have fled from their fellows from a morbid
sensitiveness. The Inhabitant was of the latter sort.
When Albert awoke next morning from a sound sleep on the buffalo-robe in
the loft of the cabin of the Inhabitant, the strange being who had slept
at his side had gone. He found him leaning against the foot of the
"Waitin', you know," he said when he saw Albert, "tell she gits up. I was
tryin' to think what I could do to make this house fit fer her to stay
in; fer, you see, stranger, they's no movin' on tell to-morry, fer though
the rain's stopped, I 'low you can't git that buggy over afore to-morry
mornin'. But blam'd ef 'ta'n't too bad fer sech as her to stay in sech a
cabin! I never wanted no better place tell las' night, but ever sence
that creetur crossed the door-sill. I've wished it was a palace of
di'monds. She hadn't orter live in nothin' poarer."
"Where did you come from?" asked Charlton.
"From the Wawbosh. You see I couldn't stay. They treated me bad. I had a
idee. I wanted to write somethin' or nother in country talk. I need to
try to write potry in good big dictionary words, but I hadn't but 'mazin
little schoolin', and lived along of a set of folks that talked jes' like
I do. But a Scotchman what I worked along of one winter, he read me some
potry, writ out by a Mr. Burns, in the sort of bad grammar that a
Scotchman talks, you know. And I says, Ef a Scotchman could write poetry
in his sort of bad grammar, why couldn't a Hoosier jest as well write
poetry in the sort of lingo we talk down on the Wawbosh? I don't see why.
Do you, now?"
Albert was captivated to find a "child of nature" with such an idea, and
he gave it his entire approval.
"Wal, you see, when I got to makin' varses I found the folks down in
Posey Kyounty didn' take to varses wrote out in their own talk. They
liked the real dictionary po'try, like 'The boy stood on the burnin'
deck' and 'A life on the ocean wave,' but they made fun of me, and when
the boys got a hold of my poortiest varses, and said 'em over and over
as they was comin' from school, and larfed at me, and the gals kinder
fooled me, gittin' me to do some varses fer ther birthdays, and then
makin' fun of 'em, I couldn' bar it no ways, and so I jist cleaned out
and left to git shed of their talk. But I stuck to my idee all the
same. I made varses in the country talk all the same, and sent 'em to
editors, but they couldn' see nothin' in 'em. Writ back that I'd
better larn to spell. When I could a-spelt down any one of 'em the best
day they ever seed!"
"I'd like to see some of your verses," said Albert.
"I thought maybe you mout," and with that he took out a soiled blue paper
on which was written in blue ink some verses.
"Now, you see, I could spell right ef I wanted to, but I noticed that Mr.
Burns had writ his Scotch like it was spoke, and so I thought I'd write
my country talk by the same rule."
And the picturesque Inhabitant, standing there in the morning light in
his trapper's wolf-skin cap, from the apex of which the tail of the wolf
hung down his back, read aloud the verses which he had written in the
Hoosier dialect, or, as he called it, the country talk of the Wawbosh. In
transcribing them, I have inserted one or two apostrophes, for the poet
always complained that though he could spell like sixty, he never could
mind his stops.
[Illustration: THE INHABITANT.]
WHAT DUMB CRITTERS SAYS
The cat-bird poorty nigh splits his throat,
Ef nobody's thar to see.
The cat-bird poorty nigh splits his throat,
But ef I say, "Sing out, green coat,"
Why, "I can't" and "I shan't," says he.
I 'low'd the crows mout be afeard
Of a man made outen straw.
I 'low'd the crows mout be afeard,
But laws! they warn't the least bit skeered,
They larfed out, "Haw! haw-haw!"
A long-tail squir'l up in th' top
Of that air ellum tree,
A long-tail squir'l up in th' top,
A lis'nin' to the acorns drop,
Says, "Sh! sh-sh!" at me.
The big-eyed owl a-settin' on a limb
With nary a wink nur nod,
The big-eyed owl a-settin' on a limb,
Is a-singin' a sort of a solemn hymn
Of "Hoo! hoo-ah!" at God.
Albert could not resist a temptation to smile at this last line.
"I know, stranger. You think a owl can't sing to God. But I'd like to
know why! Ef a mockin'-bird kin sing God's praises a-singin' trible, and
so on through all the parts—you see I larnt the squar notes oncet at a
singin'—why, I don't see to save me why the bass of the owl a'n't jest
as good praisin' ef 'ta'n't quite sech fine singin'. Do you, now? An' I
kinder had a feller-feelin' fer the owl. I says to him,' Well, ole
feller, you and me is jist alike in one thing. Our notes a'n't
appreciated by the public.' But maybe God thinks about as much of the
real ginowine hootin' of a owl as he does of the highfalugeon whistlin'
of a mockin'-bird all stole from somebody else. An' ef my varses is
kinder humbly to hear, anyway they a'n't made like other folkses; they're
all of 'em outen my head—sech as it is."
"You certainly have struck an original vein," said Albert, who had a
passion for nature in the rough. "I wish you would read some of your
verses to my sister."
"Couldn' do it," said the poet; "at least, I don't believe I could. My
voice wouldn' hold up. Laid awake all las' night tryin' to make some
varses about her. But sakes, stranger, I couldn' git two lines strung
together. You mout as well try to put sunshine inter a gallon-jug, you
know, as to write about that lovely creetur. An' I can't make poetry in
nothin' 'ceppin' in our country talk; but laws! it seems sech a rough
thing to use to say anything about a heavenly angel in. Seemed like as ef
I was makin' a nosegay fer her, and hadn't no poseys but jimson-weeds,
hollyhocks, and big yaller sunflowers. I wished I could 'a' made real
dictionary poetry like Casabianca and Hail Columby. But I didn' know
enough about the words. I never got nary wink of sleep a-thinkin' about
her, and a-wishin' my house was finer and my clo'es purtier and my hair
shorter, and I was a eddicated gentleman. Never wished that air afore."
Katy woke up a little dull and quite hungry, but not sick, and she
good-naturedly set herself to work to show her gratitude to the
Inhabitant by helping, him to get breakfast, at which he declared that he
was never so flustrated in all his born days. Never.
They waited all that day for the waters to subside, and Katy taught the
Poet several new culinary arts, while he showed her his traps and hunting
gear, and initiated the two strangers into all the mysteries of mink and
muskrat catching, telling them more about the habits of fur-bearing
animals than they could have learned from books. And Charlton recited
many pieces of "real dictionary poetry" to the poor fellow, who was at
last prevailed on to read some of his dialect pieces in the presence of
Katy. He read her one on "What the Sunflower said to the Hollyhock," and
a love-poem, called "Polly in the Spring-house." The first strophe of
this inartistic idyl will doubtless be all the reader will care to see.
POLLY IN THE SPRING-HOUSE.
Purtier'n dressed-up gals in town
Is peart and larfin' Polly Brown,
With curly hair a-hangin' down,
An' sleeves rolled clean above her elbow.
Barfeooted stan'in on the rocks,
A-pourin' milk in airthen crocks,
An' kiverin' 'em with clean white blocks—
Jest lis'en how my fool heart knocks—
Shet up, my heart! what makes you tell so?
"You see," he said, blushing and stammering, "you see, miss, I had a sort
of a preju_dice_ agin town gals in them air days, I thought they was all
stuck up and proud like; I didn' think the—the—well—you know I don't
mean no harm nur nothin'—but I didn' expect the very purtiest on 'em all
was ever agoin' to come into my shanty and make herself at home like as
ef I was a eddicated gentleman. All I said agin town gals I take back.
I—I—you see—" but finding it impossible to get through, the Poet
remembered something to be attended to out of doors.
The ever active Charlton could not pass a day in idleness. By ten
o'clock he had selected a claim and staked it out. It was just the place
for his great school. When the country should have settled up, he would
found a farm-school here and make a great institution out of it. The
Inhabitant was delighted with the prospect of having the brother of an
angel for a neighbor, and readily made a bargain to erect for Charlton a
cabin like his own for purposes of pre-emption. Albert's lively
imagination had already planned the building and grounds of his
During the whole of that sunshiny day that Charlton waited for the waters
of Pleasant Brook to subside, George Gray, the Inhabitant of the lone
cabin, exhausted his ingenuity in endeavoring to make his hospitality as
complete as possible. When Albert saw him standing by the ladder in the
morning, he had already shot some prairie-chickens, which he carefully
broiled. And after they had supped on wild strawberries and another night
had passed, they breakfasted on some squirrels killed in a neighboring
grove, and made into a delicious stew by the use of such vegetables as
the garden of the Inhabitant afforded. Charlton and the Poet got the
horse and buggy through the stream. When everything was ready for a
start, the Inhabitant insisted that he would go "a piece" with them to
show the way, and, mounted on his Indian pony, he kept them company to
their destination. Then the trapper bade Albert an affectionate adieu,
and gave a blushing, stammering, adoring farewell to Katy, and turned his
little sorrel pony back toward his home, where he spent the next few days
in trying to make some worthy verses in commemoration of the coming to
the cabin of a trapper lonely, a purty angel bright as day, and how the
trapper only wep' and cried when she went away. But his feelings were
too deep for his rhymes, and his rhymes were poorer than his average,
because his feeling was deeper. He must have burned up hundreds of
couplets, triplets, and sextuplets in the next fortnight. For, besides
his chivalrous and poetic gallantry toward womankind, he found himself
hopelessly in love with a girl whom he would no more have thought of
marrying than he would of wedding a real angel. Sometimes he dreamed of
going to school and getting an education, "puttin' some school-master's
hair-ile onter his talk," as he called it, but then the hopelessness of
any attempt to change himself deterred him. But thenceforth Katy became
more to him than Laura was to Petrarch. Habits of intemperance had crept
upon him in his isolation and pining for excitement, but now he set out
to seek an ideal purity, he abolished even his pipe, he scrupulously
pruned his conversation of profanity, so that he wouldn' be onfit to love
her any way, ef he didn' never marry her.
I fear the gentle reader, how much more the savage one, will accuse me of
having beguiled him with false pretenses. Here I have written XIV
chapters of this story, which claims to be a mystery, and there stand the
letters XV at the head of this chapter and I have not got to the mystery
yet, and my friend Miss Cormorant, who devours her dozen novels a week
for steady diet, and perhaps makes it a baker's dozen at this season of
the year, and who loves nothing so well as to be mystified by
labyrinthine plots and counterplots—Miss Cormorant is about to part
company with me at this point. She doesn't like this plain sailing. Now,
I will be honest with you, Miss Cormorant, all the more that I don't care
if you do quit. I will tell you plainly that to my mind the mystery lies
yet several chapters in advance, and that I shouldn't be surprised if I
have to pass out of my teens and begin to head with double X's before I
get to that mystery. Why don't I hurry up then? Ah! there's the rub. Miss
Cormorant and all the Cormorant family are wanting me to hurry up with
this history, and just so surely as I should skip over any part of the
tale, or slight my background, or show any eagerness, that other family,
the Critics—the recording angels of literature—take down their pens,
and with a sad face joyfully write: "This book is, so-so, but bears
evident marks of hurry in its execution. If the author shall ever learn
the self-possession of the true artist, and come to tell his stories with
leisurely dignity of manner—and so on—and so on—and so forth—he
will—well, he will—do middling well for a man who had the unhappiness
to be born in longitude west from Washington." Ah! well, I shrug my
shoulders, and bidding both Cormorant and Critic to get behind me, Satan,
I write my story in my own fashion for my gentle readers who are neither
Cormorants nor Critics, and of whom I am sincerely fond.
For instance, I find it convenient to turn aside at this point to mention
Dave Sawney, for how could I relate the events which are to follow to
readers who had not the happiness to know Katy's third lover—or
thirteenth—the aforesaid Dave? You are surprised, doubtless, that Katy
should have so many lovers as three; you have not then lived in a new
country where there are generally half-a-dozen marriageable men to every
marriageable woman, and where, since the law of demand and supply has no
application, every girl finds herself beset with more beaux than a
heartless flirt could wish for. Dave was large, lymphatic, and conceited;
he "come frum Southern Eelinoy," as he expressed it, and he had a
comfortable conviction that the fertile Illinois Egypt had produced
nothing more creditable than his own slouching figure and
self-complaisant soul. Dave Sawney had a certain vividness of imagination
that served to exalt everything pertaining to himself; he never in his
life made a bargain to do anything—he always cawntracked to do it. He
cawntracked to set out three trees, and then he cawntracked to dig six
post-holes, and-when he gave his occupation to the census-taker he set
himself down as a "cawntractor."
He had laid siege to Katy in his fashion, slouching in of an evening, and
boasting of his exploits until Smith Westcott would come and chirrup and
joke, and walk Katy right away from him to take a walk or a boat-ride.
Then he would finish the yarn which Westcott had broken in the middle, to
Mrs. Plausaby or Miss Marlay, and get up and remark that he thought maybe
he mout as well be a-gittin' on.
In the county-seat war, which had raged about the time Albert had left
for Glenfleld, Dave Sawney had come to be a man of importance. His own
claim lay equidistant from the two rival towns. He bad considerable
influence with a knot of a dozen settlers in his neighborhood, who were,
like himself, without any personal interest in the matter. It became
evident that a dozen or a half-dozen votes might tip the scale after
Plausaby, Esq., had turned the enemy's flank by getting some local
politician to persuade the citizens of Westville, who would naturally
have supported the claims of Perritaut, that their own village stood the
ghost of a chance, or at least that their interests would be served by
the notoriety which the contest would give, and perhaps also by defeating
Perritaut, which, from proximity, was more of a rival than
Metropolisville. After this diversion had weakened Perritaut, it became
of great consequence to secure even so small an influence as that of Dave
Sawney. Plausaby persuaded Dave to cawntrack for the delivery of his
influence, and Dave was not a little delighted to be flattered and paid
at the same time. He explained to the enlightened people in his
neighborhood that Squire Plausaby was a-goin' to do big things fer the
kyounty; that the village of Metropolisville would erect a brick
court-house and donate it; that Plausaby had already cawntracked to
donate it to the kyounty free gratis.
This ardent support of Dave, who saw not only the price which the squire
had cawntracked to pay him, but a furtherance of his suit with little
Katy, as rewards of his zeal, would have turned the balance at once in
favor of Metropolisville, had it not been for a woman. Was there ever a
war, since the days of the Greek hobby-horse, since the days of Rahab's
basket indeed, in which a woman did not have some part? It is said that a
woman should not vote, because she can not make war; but that is just
what a woman can do; she can make war, and she can often decide it. There
came into this contest between Metropolisville and its rival, not a Helen
certainly, but a woman. Perritaut was named for an old French trader, who
had made his fortune by selling goods to the Indians on its site, and who
had taken him an Indian wife—it helped trade to wed an Indian—and
reared a family of children who were dusky, and spoke both the Dakota and
the French à la Canadien. M. Perritaut had become rich, and yet his
riches could not remove a particle of the maternal complexion from those
who were to inherit the name and wealth of the old trader. If they should
marry other half-breeds, the line of dusky Perritauts might stretch out
the memory of a savage maternity to the crack of doom. Que voulez-vous?
They must not many half-breeds. Each generation must make advancement
toward a Caucasian whiteness, in a geometric ratio, until the Indian
element should be reduced by an infinite progression toward nothing. But
how? It did not take long for Perritaut père to settle that question.
Voilà tout. The young men should seek white wives. They had money.
They might marry poor girls, but white ones. But the girls? Eh bien!
Money should wash them also, or at least money should bleach their
descendants. For money is the Great Stain-eraser, the Mighty Detergent,
the Magic Cleanser. And the stain of race is not the only one that money
makes white as snow. So the old gentleman one day remarked to some
friends who drank wine with him, that he would geeve one ten tousant
tollare, begare, to te man tat maree his oltest daughtare, Mathilde. Eh
bien, te man must vary surelee pe w'ite and re-spect-ah-ble. Of
course this confidential remark soon spread abroad, as it was meant to
spread abroad. It came to many ears. The most utterly worthless white
men, on hearing it, generally drew themselves up in pride and vowed
they'd see the ole frog-eatin' Frenchman hung afore they'd many his
Injin. They'd druther marry a Injin than a nigger, but they couldn' be
bought with no money to trust their skelp with a Injin.
Not so our friend Dave. He wurn't afeared of no Injin, he said; sartainly
not of one what had been weakened down to half the strength. Ef any man
dared him to marry a Injin and backed the dare by ten thousand dollars,
blamed ef he wouldn't take the dare. He wouldn' be dared by no Frenchman
to marry his daughter. He wouldn't. He wa'n't afeard to marry a Injin.
He'd cawntrack to do it fer ten thousand.
The first effect of this thought on Dave's mind was to change his view of
the county-seat question. He shook his head now when Plausaby's brick
court-house was spoken of. The squire was awful 'cute; too 'cute to live,
he said ominously.
Dave concluded that ten thousand dollars could be made much more easily
by foregoing his preferences for a white wife in favor of a red one, than
by cawntracting to set out shade-trees, dig post-holes, or drive oxen.
So he lost no time in visiting the old trader.
[Illustration: A PINCH OF SNUFF.]
He walked in, in his slouching fashion, shook hands with M. Perritaut,
gave his name as David Sawney, cawntracter, and after talking a little
about the county-seat question, he broached the question of marriage with
"I hearn tell that you are willin' to do somethin' han'some fer a
"Varee good, Mistare Sonee. You air a man of bisnees, perhaps, maybe. You
undairstand tese tings. Eh? Très bien—I mean vary well, you see. I
want that my daughtare zhould maree one re-spect-ah-ble man. Vare good.
You air one, maybe. I weel find out. Très bien, you see, my daughtare
weel marree the man that I zay. You weel come ovare here next week. Eef I
find you air respect-ah-ble, I weel then get my lawyare to make a
"A cawntrack?" said Dave, starting at the sound of his favorite word.
"Very well, musheer, I sign a cawntrack and live up to it."
"Vare good. Weel you have one leetle peench of snuff?" said the old man,
politely opening his box.
"Yes, I'm obleeged, musheer," said Dave. "Don't keer ef I do." And by way
of showing his good-will and ingratiating himself with the Frenchman,
Dave helped himself to an amazingly large pinch. Indeed, not being
accustomed to take snuff, he helped himself, as he did to chewing tobacco
when it was offered free, with the utmost liberality. The result did not
add to the dignity of his bearing, for he was seized with a succession of
convulsions of sneezing. Dave habitually did everything in the noisiest
way possible, and he wound up each successive fit of sneezing with a
whoop that gave him the semblance of practicing an Indian war-song, by
way of fitting himself to wed a half-breed wife.
"I declare," he said, when the sneezing had subsided, "I never did see no
"Vare good," resumed M. Perritaut. "I weel promees in the contract to
geeve you one ten tousant tollars—deux mille—two tousant avery yare
for fife yare. Très bien. My daughtare is edu_cate_; she stoody fife,
seex yare in te convent at Montreal. Zhe play on piano evare so many
tune. Bien. You come Monday. We weel zee. Adieu. I mean good-by,
"Adoo, musheer," said Dave, taking his hat and leaving. He boasted
afterwards that he had spoke to the ole man in French when he was comin'
away. Thought it mout kinder tickle him, you know. And he said he didn'
mind a brown complexion a bit. Fer his part, seemed to him 'twas kinder
purty fer variety. Wouldn' want all women reddish, but fer variety 'twas
sorter nice, you know. He always did like sompin' odd.
And he now threw all his energy into the advocacy of Perritaut. It
was the natural location of a county-seat. Metropolisville never
would be nawthin'.
Monday morning found him at Perritaut's house, ready to sell himself in
marriage. As for the girl, she, poor brown lamb—or wolf, as the case may
be—was ready, with true Indian stolidity, to be disposed of as her
father chose. The parties who were interested in the town of Perritaut
had got wind of Dave's proposition; and as they saw how important his
influence might be in the coming election, they took pains to satisfy
Monsieur Perritaut that Mr. Sawney was a very proper person to marry his
tawny daughter and pocket his yellow gold-pieces. The lawyer was just
finishing the necessary documents when Dave entered.
"Eh bien! How you do, Mistare Sonee? Is eet dat you weel have a peench
of snuff?" For the Frenchman had quite forgotten Dave's mishap in
snuff-taking, and offered the snuff out of habitual complaisance.
"No, musheer," said Dave, "I can't use no snuff of late yeers. 'Fection
of the nose; makes me sneeze dreffle."
"Oh! Eh blen! C'est comme il faut. I mean dat is all right, vare good,
mistare. Now, den, Monsieur l'Avocat, I mean ze lawyare, he is ready to
read ze contract."
"Cawntrack? Oh! yes, that's right. We Americans marry without a
cawntrack, you see. But I like cawntracks myself. It's my business,
cawntracking is, you know. Fire away whenever you're ready, mister." This
last to the lawyer, who was waiting to read.
Dave sat, with a knowing air, listening to the legal phraseology as
though he had been used to marriage contracts from infancy. He was
pleased with the notion of being betrothed in this awful diplomatic
fashion. It accorded with his feelings to think that he was worth ten
thousand dollars and the exhaustive verbiage of this formidable
But at last the lawyer read a part which made him open his eyes.
Something about its being further stipulated that the said David Sawney,
of the first part, in and for the consideration named, "hereby binds
himself to have the children which shall issue from this marriage
educated in the Roman Catholic faith," caught his ears.
"Hold on, mister, I can't sign that! I a'n't over-pertikeler about who I
marry, but I can't go that."
"What part do you object to?"
"Well, ef I understand them words you've got kiled up there—an' I'm
purty middlin' smart at big words, you see—I'm to eddicate the children
in the Catholic faith, as you call it."
"Yes, that is it."
"Oui! vare good. Dat I must inseest on," said Perritaut.
"Well, I a'n't nothin' in a religious way, but I can't stan' that air.
I'm too well raised. I kin marry a Injin, but to sell out my children
afore they're born to Catholic priests, I couldn't do that air ef you
planked down two ten thousands."
And upon this point Dave stuck. There is a sentiment down somewhere in
almost any man, and there was this one point of conscience with Dave. And
there was likewise this one scruple with Perritaut. And these opposing
scruples in two men who had not many, certainly, turned the scale and
gave the county-seat to Metropolisville, for Dave told all his Southern
Illinois friends that if the county-seat should remain at Perritaut, the
Catholics would build a nunnery an' a caythedral there, and then none of
their daughters would be safe. These priests was a-lookin' arter the
comin' generation. And besides, Catholics and Injins wouldn' have a good
influence on the moral and religious kerecter of the kyounty. The
influence of half-breeds was a bad thing fer civilization. Ef a man was
half-Injin, he was half-Injin, and you couldn't make him white noways.
And Dave distributed freely deeds to some valueless outlots, which
Plausaby had given him for the purpose.
As long as he could, Charlton kept Katy at Glenfield. He amused her by
every means in his power; he devoted himself to her; he sought to win her
away from Westcott, not by argument, to which she was invulnerable, but
by feeling. He found that the only motive that moved her was an emotion
of pity for him, so he contrived to make her estimate his misery on her
account at its full value. But just when he thought he had produced some
effect there would come one of Smith Westcott's letters, written not as
he talked (it is only real simpleheartedness or genuine literary gift
that can make the personality of the writer felt in a letter), but in a
round business hand with plenty of flourishes, and in sentences very
carefully composed. But he managed in his precise and prim way to convey
to Katy the notion that he was pining away for her company. And she,
missing the giggle and the playfulness from the letter, thought his
distress extreme indeed. For it would have required a deeper sorrow than
Smith Westcott ever felt to make him talk in the stiff conventional
fashion in which his letters were composed.
And besides Westcott's letters there were letters from her mother, in
which that careful mother never failed to tell how Mr. Westcott had come
in, the evening before, to talk about Katy, and to tell her how lost and
heart-broken he was. So that letters from home generally brought on a
relapse of Katy's devotion to her lover. She was cruelly torn by
alternate fits of loving pity for poor dear Brother Albert on the one
hand, and poor, dear, dear Smith Westcott on the other. And the latter
generally carried the day in her sympathies. He was such a poor dear
fellow, you know, and hadn't anybody, not even a mother, to comfort him,
and he had often said that if his charming and divine little Katy should
ever prove false, he would go and drown himself in the lake. And that
would be so awful, you know. And, besides, Brother Albert had plenty to
love him. There was mother, and there was that quiet kind of a young lady
at the City Hotel that Albert went to see so often, though how he could
like anybody so cool she didn't know. And then Cousin Isa would love
Brother Albert maybe, if he'd ask her. But he had plenty, and poor Smith
had often said that he needed somebody to help him to be good. And she
would cleave to him forever and help him. Mother and father thought she
was right, and she couldn't anyway let Smith drown himself. How could
she? That would be the same as murdering him, you know.
During the fortnight that Charlton and his sister visited in Glenfield,
Albert divided his time between trying to impress Katy with the general
unfitness of Smith Westcott to be her husband, and the more congenial
employment of writing long letters to Miss Helen Minorkey, and
receiving long letters from that lady. His were fervent and
enthusiastic; they explained in a rather vehement style all the schemes
that filled his brain for working out his vocation and helping the
world to its goal: while hers discussed everything in the most
dispassionate temper. Charlton had brought himself to admire this
dispassionate temper. A man of Charlton's temper who is really in love,
can bring himself to admire any traits in the object of his love. Had
Helen Minorkey shown some little enthusiasm, Charlton would have
exaggerated it, admired it, and rejoiced in it as a priceless quality.
As she showed none, he admired the lack of it in her, rejoiced in her
entire superiority to her sex in this regard, and loved her more and
more passionately every day. And Miss Minorkey was not wanting in a
certain tenderness toward her adorer. She loved him in her way, it made
her happy to be loved in that ideal fashion.
Charlton found himself in a strait betwixt two. He longed to worship
again at the shrine of his Minerva. But he disliked to return with Katy
until he had done something to break the hold of Smith Westcott upon her
mind. So upon one pretext or another he staid until Westcott wrote to
Katy that business would call him to Glenfield the next week, and he
hoped that she would conclude to return with him. Katy was so pleased
with the prospect of a long ride with her lover, that she felt
considerable disappointment when Albert determined to return at once.
Brother Albert always did such curious things. Katy, who had given Albert
a dozen reasons for an immediate return, now thought it very strange that
he should be in such a hurry. Had he given up trying to find that new
kind of grasshopper he spoke of the day before?
One effect of the unexpected arrival of Albert and Katy in
Metropolisville, was to make Smith Westcott forget that he ever had any
business that was likely to call him to Glenfield. Delighted to see Katy
back. Would a died if she'd staid away another week. By George! he! he!
he! Wanted to jump into the lake, you know. Always felt that way when
Katy was out of sight two days. Curious. By George! Didn't think any
woman could ever make such a fool of him. He! he! Felt like ole Dan
Tucker when he came to supper and found the hot cakes all gone. He! he!
he! By George! You know! Let's sing de forty-lebenth hymn! Ahem!
"If Diner was an apple,
And I was one beside her,
Oh! how happy we would be,
When we's skwushed into cider!
And a little more cider too, ah-hoo!
And a little more cider too!
And a little more cider too—ah—hoo!
And a little more cider too."
How much? Pailful! By George! He! he! he! That's so! You know. Them's my
sentiments. 'Spresses the 'motions of my heart, bredren! Yah! yah! By
hokey! And here comes Mr. Albert Charlton. Brother Albert! Just as well
learn to say it now as after a while. Eh, Katy? How do, brother Albert?
Glad to see you as if I'd stuck a nail in my foot. By George! he! he! You
won't mind my carryin' on. Nobody minds me. I'm the privileged infant,
you know. I am, by George! he! he! Come, Kate, let's take a boat-ride.
"Oh! come, love, come; my boat's by the shore;
If yer don't ride now, I won't ax you no more."
And so forth. Too hoarse to sing. But I am not too feeble to paddle my
own canoe. Come, Katy Darling. You needn't mind your shawl when you've
got a Westcott to keep you warm. He! he! By George!
And then he went out singing that her lips was red as roses or poppies
or something, and "wait for the row-boat and we'll all take a ride."
Albert endeavored to forget his vexation by seeking the society of Miss
Minorkey, who was sincerely glad to see him back, and who was more
demonstrative on this evening than he had ever known her to be. And
Charlton was correspondingly happy. He lay in his unplastered room that
night, and counted the laths in the moonlight, and built golden ladders
out of them by which to climb up to the heaven of his desires. But he was
a little troubled to find that in proportion as he came nearer to the
possession of Miss Minorkey, his ardor in the matter of his great
Educational Institution—his American Philanthropinum, as he called
I ought here to mention a fact which occurred about this time, because it
is a fact that has some bearing on the course of the story, and because
it may help us to a more charitable judgment in regard to the character
of Mr. Charlton's step-father. Soon after Albert's return from Glenfield,
he received an appointment to the postmastership of Metropolisville in
such a way as to leave no doubt that it came through Squire Plausaby's
influence. We are in the habit of thinking a mean man wholly mean. But we
are wrong. Liberal Donor, Esq., for instance, has a great passion for
keeping his left hand exceedingly well informed of the generous doings of
his right. He gives money to found the Liberal Donor Female Collegiate
and Academical Institute, and then he gives money to found the Liberal
Donor Professorship of Systematic and Metaphysical Theology, and still
other sums to establish the Liberal Donor Orthopedic Chirurgical
Gratuitous Hospital for Cripples and Clubfooted. Shall I say that the
man is not generous, but only ostentatious? Not at all. He might gratify
his vanity in other ways. His vanity dominates over his benevolence, and
makes it pay tribute to his own glory. But his benevolence is genuine,
notwithstanding. Plausaby was mercenary, and he may have seen some
advantages to himself in having the post-office in his own house, and in
placing his step-son under obligation to himself. Doubtless these
considerations weighed much, but besides, we must remember the injunction
that includes even the Father of Evil in the number of those to whom a
share of credit is due. Let us say for Plausaby that, land-shark as he
was, he was not vindictive, he was not without generosity, and that it
gave him sincere pleasure to do a kindness to his step-son, particularly
when his generous impulse coincided so exactly with his own interest in
the matter. I do not say that he would not have preferred to take the
appointment himself, had it not been that he had once been a postmaster
in Pennsylvania, and some old unpleasantness between him and the
Post-Office Department about an unsettled account stood in his way. But
in all the tangled maze of motive that, by a resolution of force,
produced the whole which men called Plausaby the Land-shark, there was
not wanting an element of generosity, and that element of generosity had
much to do with Charlton's appointment. And Albert took it kindly. I am
afraid that he was just a little less observant of the transactions in
which Plausaby engaged after that. I am sure that he was much less
vehement than before in his denunciations of land-sharks. The post-office
was set up in one of the unfinished rooms of Mr. Plausaby's house, and,
except at mail-times, Charlton was not obliged to confine himself to it.
Katy or Cousin Isa or Mrs. Plausaby was always glad to look over the
letters for any caller, to sell stamps to those who wanted them, and tell
a Swede how much postage he must pay on a painfully-written letter to
some relative in Christiana or Stockholm. And the three or four hundred
dollars of income enabled Charlton to prosecute his studies. In his
gratitude he lent the two hundred and twenty dollars—all that was left
of his educational fund—to Mr. Plausaby, at two per cent a month, on
demand, secured by a mortgage on lots in Metropolisville.
Poor infatuated George Gray—the Inhabitant of the Lone Cabin, the
Trapper of Pleasant Brook, the Hoosier Poet from the Wawbosh
country—poor infatuated George Gray found his cabin untenable after
little Katy had come and gone. He came up to Metropolisville, improved
his dress by buying some ready-made clothing, and haunted the streets
where he could catch a glimpse now and then of Katy.
One night, Charlton, coming home from an evening with Miss Minorkey at
the hotel, found a man standing in front of the fence.
"What do you want here?" he asked sharply.
"Didn' mean no harm, stranger, to nobody."
"Oh! it's you!" exclaimed Charlton, recognizing his friend the Poet.
"Come in, come in."
"Come in? Couldn' do it no way, stranger. Ef I was to go in thar amongst
all them air ladies, my knees would gin out. I was jist a-lookin' at that
purty creetur. But I 'druther die'n do her any harm. I mos' wish I was
dead. But 'ta'n't no harm to look at her ef she don' know it. I shan't
disturb her; and ef she marries a gentleman, I shan't disturb him nuther.
On'y, ef he don' mind it, you know, I'll write po'try about her now and
then. I got some varses now that I wish you'd show to her, ef you think
they won't do her no harm, you know, and I don't 'low they will. Good-by,
Mr. Charlton. Comin' down to sleep on your claim? Land's a-comin' into
market down thar."
After the Poet left him, Albert took the verses into the house and read
them, and gave them to Katy. The first stanza was, if I remember it
rightly, something of this sort:
"A angel come inter the poar trapper's door,
The purty feet tromped on the rough puncheon floor,
Her lovely head slep' on his prairie-grass piller—
The cabin is lonesome and the trapper is poar,
He hears little shoes a-pattin' the floor;
He can't sleep at night on that piller no more;
His Hoosier harp hangs on the wild water-willer!"
SAWNEY AND HIS OLD LOVE.
Self-conceit is a great source of happiness, a buffer that softens all
the jolts of life. After David Sawney's failure to capture Perritaut's
half-breed Atlantis and her golden apples at one dash, one would have
expected him to be a little modest in approaching his old love again; but
forty-eight hours after her return from Glenfield, he was paying his
"devours," as he called them, to little Katy Charlton. He felt confident
of winning—he was one of that class of men who believe themselves able
to carry off anybody they choose. He inventoried his own attractions with
great complacency; he had good health, a good claim, and, as he often
boasted, had been "raised rich," or, as he otherwise stated it, "cradled
in the lap of luxury." His father was one of those rich Illinois farmers
who are none the less coarse for all their money and farms. Owing to
reverses of fortune, Dave had inherited none of the wealth, but all of
the coarseness of grain. So he walked into Squire Plausaby's with his
usual assurance, on the second evening after Katy's return.
"Howdy, Miss Charlton," he said, "howdy! I'm glad to see you lookin' so
smart. Howdy, Mrs. Ferret!" to the widow, who was present. "Howdy do,
Mr. Charlton—back again?" And then he took his seat alongside Katy, not
without a little trepidation, for he felt a very slight anxiety lest his
flirtation With Perritaut's ten thousand dollars "mout've made his
chances juberous," as he stated it to his friends. But then, he
reflected, "she'll think I'm worth more'n ever when she knows I
de-clined ten thousand dollars, in five annooal payments."
"Mr. Sawney," said the widow Ferret, beaming on him with one of her
sudden, precise, pickled smiles, "Mr. Sawney, I'm delighted to hear that
you made a brave stand against Romanism. It is the bane of this country.
I respect you for the stand you made. It shows the influence of
schripcheral training by a praying mother, I've no doubt, Mr. Sawney."
Dave was flattered and annoyed at this mention, and he looked at little
Katy, but she didn't seem to feel any interest in the matter, and so he
"I felt it my dooty, Mrs. Ferret, indeed I did."
"I respect you for it, Mr. Sawney."
"For what?" said Albert irascibly. "For selling himself into a mercenary
marriage, and then higgling on a point of religious prejudice?"
Mrs. Ferret now focused her round eyes at Mr. Charlton, smiled her
deprecating smile, and replied: "I do think, Mr. Charlton, that in this
day of lax views on one side and priestcraft on the other, I respect a
man who thinks enough of ee-vangelical truth to make a stand against any
enemy of the holy religion of—"
"Well," said Charlton rudely, "I must say that I respect Perritaut's
prejudices just as much as I do Dave's. Both of them were engaged in a
contemptible transaction, and both of them showed an utter lack of
conscience, except in matters of opinion. Religion is—"
[Illustration: MRS. FERRET]
But the company did not get the benefit of Mr. Albert's views on the
subject of religion, for at that moment entered Mr. Smith Westcott.
"How do, Katy? Lookin' solemn, eh? How do, Brother Albert? Mrs. Ferret,
how do? Ho! ho! Dave, is this you? I congratulate you on your escape from
the savages. Scalp all sound, eh? Didn' lose your back-hair? By George!
he! he! he!" And he began to show symptoms of dancing, as he sang:
"John Brown, he had a little Injun;
John Brown, he had a little Injun;
Dave Sawney had a little Injun;
One little Injun gal!
"Yah! yah! Well, well, Mr. Shawnee, glad to see you back."
"Looky hyer. Mister Wes'cott," said Dave, growing red, "you're a-makin'
a little too free."
"Oh! the Shawnee chief shouldn' git mad. He! he! by George! wouldn' git
mad fer ten thousand dollars. I wouldn', by George! you know! he! he! Ef
I was worth ten thousand dollars live weight, bide and tallow throw'd in,
"See here, mister," said Dave, rising, "maybe, you'd like to walk out to
some retired place, and hev your hide thrashed tell 'twouldn' hold
"I beg pardon," said Westcott, a little frightened, "didn' mean no harm,
you know, Mr. Sawney. All's fair in war, especially when it's a war for
the fair. Sort of warfare, you know. By George! he! he! Shake hands,
let's be friends, Dave. Don' mind my joking—nobody minds me. I'm the
privileged infant, you know, he! he! A'n't I, Mr. Charlton?"
"You're infant enough, I'm sure," said Albert, "and whether you are
privileged or not, you certainly take liberties that almost any other man
would get knocked down for."
"Oh! well, don't let's be cross. Spoils our faces and voices, Mr.
Charlton, to be cross. For my part, I'm the laughin' philosopher—the
giggling philosopher, by George! he! he! Come Katy, let's walk."
Katy was glad enough to get her lover away fro her brother. She hated
quarreling, and didn't see why people couldn't be peaceable. And so she
took Mr. Westcott's arm, and they walked out, that gentleman stopping to
strike a match and light his cigar at the door, and calling back, "Dood
by, all, dood by! Adieu, Monsieur Sawney, au revoir!" Before he
had passed out of the gate he was singing lustily:
"Ten little, nine little, eight little Injun;
Seven little, six little, five little Injun;
Four, little, three little, two little Injun;
One little Injun girl!
"He! he! By George! Best joke, for the time of the year, I ever heard."
"I think," said Mrs. Ferret, after Katy and her lover had gone—she spoke
rapidly by jerks, with dashes between—"I think, Mr. Sawney—that you are
worthy of commendation—I do, indeed—for your praiseworthy
stand—against Romanism. I don't know what will become of our
liberties—if the priests ever get control—of this country."
Sawney tried to talk, but was so annoyed by the quick effrontery with
which Westcott had carried the day that he could not say anything quite
to his own satisfaction. At last Dave rose to go, and said he had thought
maybe he mout git a chance to explain things to Miss Charlton ef Mr.
Westcott hadn't gone off with her. But he'd come agin. He wanted to know
ef Albert thought her feelin's was hurt by what he'd done in offerin to
make a cawntrack with Perritaut. And Albert assured him he didn't think
they were in the least. He had never heard Katy mention the matter,
except to laugh about it.
At the gate Mr. Sawney met the bland, gentlemanly Plausaby, Esq., who
took him by the hand soothingly, and spoke of his services in the late
election matter with the highest appreciation.
Dave asked the squire what he thought of the chance of his succeeding
with Miss Charlton. He recited to Plausaby his early advantages. "You
know, Squire, I was raised rich, cradled in the lap of luxury. Ef I
ha'n't got much book-stuffin' in my head, 'ta'n't fer want of schoolin'.
I never larnt much, but then I had plenty of edication; I went to school
every winter hand-runnin' tell I was twenty-two, and went to singin'
every Sunday arternoon. 'Ta'n't like as ef I'd been brought up poar,
weth no chance to larn. I've had the schoolin' anyway, and it's all the
same. An' I've got a good claim, half timber, and runnin' water onter
it, and twenty acre of medder. I s'pose mebbe she don't like my going'
arter that air Frenchman's gal. But I didn't mean no 'fense, you
know—ten thousand in yaller gold's a nice thing to a feller like me
what's been raised rich, and's kinder used to havin' and not much used
to gittin'. I wouldn't want her to take no 'fense, you know. 'Ta'n't
like's ef I'd a-loved the red-skin Catholic. I hadn' never seed 'er. It
wasn't the gal, it was the money I hankered arter. So Miss Charlton
needn' be jealous, nor juberous, like's ef I was agoin' to wish I'd a
married the Injun. I'd feel satisfied with Kate Charlton ef you think
she'd be with David Sawney!"
"That's a delicate subject—quite a delicate subject for me to speak
about, Mr. Sawney. To say anything about. But I may assure you that I
appreciate your services in our late battle. Appreciate them highly.
Quite highly. Very, indeed. I have no friend that I think more highly of.
None. I think I could indicate to you a way by which you might remove any
unfavorable impression from Miss Charlton's mind. Any unfavorable
"Anythin' you tell me to do, squire, I'll do. I'd mos' skelp the ole man
Perritaut, and his darter too, ef you said it would help me to cut out
that insultin' Smith Westcott, and carry off Miss Charlton. I don't know
as I ever seed a gal that quite come up to her, in my way of thinkin'.
Now, squire, what is it?"
"Well, Mr. Sawney, we carried the election the other day and got the
county-seat. Got it fairly, by six majority. After a hard battle. A very
hard battle. Very. Expensive contest, too. I pay men that work for me.
Always pay 'em. Always. Now, then, we are going to have trouble to get
possession, unless we do something bold. Something bold. They mean to
contest the election. They've got the court on their side. On their side,
I'm afraid. They will get an injunction if we try to move the records.
Sure to. Now, if I was a young man I'd move them suddenly before they had
time. Possession is nine points. Nine points of law. They may watch the
records at night. But they could be moved in the daytime by some man that
they did not suspect. Easily. Quite so. County buildings are in the edge
of town. Nearly everybody away at noon. Nearly everybody."
"Wal, squire, I'd cawntrack to do it"
"I couldn't make a contract, you see. I'm a magistrate. Conspiracy and
all that. But I always help a man that helps me. Always. In more ways
than one. There are two reasons why a man might do that job. Two of them.
One is love, and the other's money. Love and money. But I mustn't appear
in the matter. Not at all. I'll do what I can for you. What I can. Katy
will listen to me. She certainly will. Do what you think best."
"I a'n't dull 'bout takin' a hint, squire." And Dave winked his left eye
at the squire in a way that said, "Trust me! I'm no fool!"
If this were a History of Metropolisville—but it isn't, and that is
enough. You do not want to hear, and I do not want to tell you, how Dave
Sawney, like another Samson, overthrew the Philistines; how he sauntered
into the room where all the county officers did business together, he and
his associates, at noon, when most of the officers were gone to dinner;
how he seized the records—there were not many at that early day—loaded
them into his wagon, and made off. You don't want to hear all that. If
you do, call on Dave himself. He has told it over and over to everybody
who would listen, from that time to this, and he would cheerfully get out
of bed at three in the morning to tell it again, with the utmost
circumstantiality, and with such little accretions of fictitious ornament
as always gather about a story often and fondly told. Neither do you,
gentle reader, who read for your own amusement, care to be informed of
all the schemes devised by Plausaby for removing the county officers to
their offices, nor of the town lots and other perquisites which accrued
to said officers. It is sufficient for the purposes of this story that
the county-seat was carted off to Metropolisville, and abode there in
basswood tabernacles for a while, and that it proved a great
advertisement to the town; money was more freely invested in
Metropolisville, an "Academy" was actually staked out, and the town grew
rapidly. Not alone on account of its temporary political importance did
it advance, for about this time Plausaby got himself elected a director
of the St. Paul and Big Gun River Valley Land Grant Railroad, and the
speculators, who scent a railroad station at once, began to buy lots—on
long time, to be sure, and yet to buy them. So much did the fortunes of
Plausaby, Esq., prosper that he began to invest also—on time and at high
rates of interest—in a variety of speculations. It was the fashion of
'56 to invest everything you had in first payments, and then to sell out
at an advance before the second became due.
But it is not about Plausaby or Metropolisville that I meant to tell you
in this chapter. Nor yet about the wooing of Charlton. For in his case,
true love ran smoothly. Too smoothly for the interest of this history. If
Miss Minorkey had repelled his suit, if she had steadfastly remained
cold, disdainful, exacting, it would have been better, maybe, for me who
have to tell the story, and for you who have to read it. But disdainful
she never was, and she did not remain cold. The enthusiasm of her lover
was contagious, and she came to write and talk to him with much
earnestness. Next to her own comfort and peace of mind and her own
culture, she prized her lover. He was original, piquant, and talented.
She was proud of him, and loved him with all her heart. Not as a more
earnest person might have loved; but as heartily as she could. And she
came to take on the color of her lover's habits of thought and feeling;
she expressed herself even more warmly than she felt, so that Albert was
happy, and this story was doomed to suffer because of his happiness. I
might give zest to this dull love-affair by telling you that Mr. Minorkey
opposed the match. Next to a disdainful lady-love, the best thing for a
writer and a reader is a furious father. But I must be truthful at all
hazards, and I am obliged to say that while Mr. Minorkey would have been
delighted to have had for son-in-law some man whose investments might
have multiplied Helen's inheritance, he was yet so completely under the
influence of his admired daughter that he gave a consent, tacitly at
least, to anything she chose to do. So that Helen became recognized
presently as the prospective Mrs. Charlton. Mrs. Plausaby liked her
because she wore nice dresses, and Katy loved her because she loved
Brother Albert. For that matter, Katy did not need any reason for loving
anybody. Even Isa stifled a feeling she was unable to understand, and
declared that Miss Minorkey was smart, and just suited to Albert; and she
supposed that Albert, with all his crotchets and theories, might make a
person like Miss Minorkey happy. It wasn't every woman that could put up
with them, you know.
But it was not about the prosperous but uninteresting courtship of two
people with "idees" that I set out to tell in this chapter. If Charlton
got on smoothly with Helen Minorkey, and if he had no more serious and
one-sided outbreaks with his step-father, he did not get on with his
Westcott had been drinking all of one night with some old cronies of the
Elysian Club, and his merry time of the night was subsiding into a
quarrelsome time in the morning. He was able, when he was sober, to
smother his resentment towards Albert, for there is no better ambush than
an entirely idiotic giggle. But drink had destroyed his prudence. And so
when Albert stepped on the piazza of the hotel where Westcott stood
rattling his pocketful of silver change and his keys for the amusement of
the bystanders, as was his wont, the latter put himself in Charlton's
way, and said, in a dreary, half-drunk style:
[Illustration: ONE SAVAGE BLOW FULL IN THE FACE.]
"Mornin', Mr. Hedgehog! By George! he! he! he! How's the purty little
girl? My little girl. Don't you wish she wasn't? Hard feller, I am. Any
gal's a fool to marry me, I s'pose. Katy's a fool. That's just what I
want, by George I he! he! I want a purty fool. And she's purty, and
she's—the other thing. What you goin' to do about it? He! he! he!"
"I'm going to knock you down," said Albert, "if you say another word
"A'n't she mine? You can't help it, either. He! he! The purty little
goose loves Smith Westcott like lots of other purty little—"
Before he could finish the sentence Charlton had struck him one savage
blow full in the face, and sent him staggering back against the side of
the house, but he saved himself from falling by seizing the window-frame,
and immediately drew his Deringer. Charlton, who was not very strong, but
who had a quick, lightning-like activity, knocked him down, seized his
pistol, and threw it into the street. This time Charlton fell on him in a
thoroughly murderous mood, and would perhaps have beaten and choked him
to death in the frenzy of his long pent-up passion, for notwithstanding
Westcott's struggles Albert had the advantage. He was sober, active, and
angry enough to be ruthless. Westcott's friends interfered, but that
lively gentleman's eyes and nose were sadly disfigured by the pummeling
he had received, and Charlton was badly scratched and bruised.
Whatever hesitancy had kept Albert from talking to Katy about Smith
Westcott was all gone now, and he went home to denounce him bitterly.
One may be sure that the muddled remarks of Mr. Westcott about Katy—of
which even he had grace to be a little ashamed when he was sober—were
not softened in the repetition which Albert gave them at home. Even
Mrs. Plausaby forgot her attire long enough to express her indignation,
and as for Miss Marlay, she combined with Albert in a bayonet-charge on
Plausaby had always made it a rule not to fight a current. Wait till the
tide turns, he used to say, and row with the stream when it flows your
way. So now he, too, denounced Westcott, and Katy was fairly borne off
her feet for a while by the influences about her. In truth, Katy was not
without her own private and personal indignation against Westcott. Not
because he had spoken of her as a fool. That hurt her feelings, but did
not anger her much. She was not in the habit of getting angry on her own
account. But when she saw three frightful scratches and a black bruise on
the face of Brother Albert, she could not help thinking that Smith had
acted badly. And then to draw a pistol, too! To threaten to kill her own
dear, dear brother! She couldn't ever forgive him, she said. If she had
seen the much more serious damage which poor, dear, dear Smith had
suffered at the tender hands of her dear, dear brother, I doubt not she
would have had an equally strong indignation against Albert.
For Westcott's face was in mourning, and the Privileged Infant had lost
his cheerfulness. He did not giggle for ten days. He did not swear "by
George" once. He did not he! he! The joyful keys and the cheerful
ten-cent coins lay in his pocket with no loving hand to rattle them. He
did not indulge in double-shuffles. He sang no high-toned negro-minstrel
songs. He smoked steadily and solemnly, and he drank steadily and
solemnly. His two clerks were made to tremble. They forgot Smith's
bruised nose and swollen eye in fearing his awful temper. All the
swearing he wanted to do and dared not do at Albert, he did at his
Smith Westcott had the dumps. No sentimental heart-break over Katy,
though he did miss her company sadly in a town where there were no
amusements, not even a concert-saloon in which a refined young man could
pass an evening. If he had been in New York now, he wouldn't have minded
it. But in a place like Metropolisville, a stupid little frontier village
of pious and New Englandish tendencies—in such a place, as Smith
pathetically explained to a friend, one can't get along without a
sweetheart, you know.
A few days after Albert's row with Westcott he met George Gray, the
Hoosier Poet, who had haunted Metropolisville, off and on, ever since he
had first seen the "angel."
He looked more wild and savage than usual.
"Hello! my friend," said Charlton heartily. "I'm glad to see you. What's
"Well, Mister Charlton, I'm playin' the gardeen angel."
"Guardian angel! How's that?"
"I'm a sorter gardeen of your sister. Do you see that air pistol? Hey?
Jist as sure as shootin,' I'll kill that Wes'cott ef he tries to marry
that angel. I don't want to marry her. I aint fit, mister, that's a fack.
Ef I was, I'd put in fer her. But I aint. And ef she marries a gentleman,
I haint got not a bit of right to object. But looky hyer! Devils haint
got no right to angels. Ef I kin finish up a devil jest about the time
he gits his claws onto a angel and let the angel go free, why, I say it's
wuth the doin'. Hey?"
Charlton, I am ashamed to say, did not at first think the death of Smith
Westcott by violence a very great crime or calamity, if it served to save
Katy. However, as he walked and talked with Gray, the thought of murder
made him shudder, and he made an earnest effort to persuade the
Inhabitant to give up his criminal thoughts. But it is the misfortune of
people like George Gray that the romance in their composition will get
into their lives. They have not mental discipline enough to make the
distinction between the world of sentiment and the world of action, in
which inflexible conditions modify the purpose.
"Ef I hev to hang fer it I'll hang, but I'm goin' to be her
"I didn't know that guardian angels carried pistols," said Albert, trying
to laugh the half-crazed fellow out of a conceit from which he could not
drive him by argument.
"Looky hyer, Mr. Charlton," said Gray, coloring, "I thought you was a
gentleman, and wouldn' stoop to make no sech a remark. Ef you're goin' to
talk that-a-way, you and me don't travel no furder on the same trail. The
road forks right here, mister."
"Oh! I hope not, my dear friend. I didn't mean any offense. Give me your
hand, and God bless you for your noble heart."
Gray was touched as easily one way as the other, and he took Charlton's
hand with emotion, at the same time drawing his sleeve across his eyes
and saying, "God bless you, Mr. Charlton. You can depend on me. I'm the
gardeen, and I don't keer two cents fer life. It's a shadder, and a
mush-room, as I writ some varses about it wonst. Let me say 'em over:
"Life's a shadder,
Never mind it.
A cloud kivers up the sun
And whar is yer shadder gone?
Ye'll hey to be peart to find it!
"Life's a ladder—
What about it?
You've clim half-way t' the top,
Down comes yer ladder ke-whop!
You can't scrabble up without it!
"Nothin's no sadder,
Kordin to my tell,
Than packin' yer life around.
They's good rest under the ground
Ef a feller kin on'y die well."
Charlton, full of ambition, having not yet tasted the bitterness of
disappointment, clinging to life as to all, was fairly puzzled to
understand the morbid sadness of the Poet's spirit. "I'm sorry you feel
that way, Gray," he said. "But at any rate promise me you won't do
anything desperate without talking to me."
"I'll do that air, Mr. Charlton," and the two shook hands again.
STANDING GUARD IN VAIN.
It was Isabel Marlay that sought Albert again. Her practical intellect,
bothered with no visions, dazed with no theories, embarrassed by no broad
philanthropies, was full of resource, and equally full, if not of
general, at least of a specific benevolence that forgot mankind in its
kindness to the individual.
Albert saw plainly enough that he could not keep Katy in her present
state of feeling. He saw how she would inevitably slip through his
fingers. But what to do he knew not. So, like most men of earnest and
half-visionary spirit, he did nothing. Unbeliever in Providence that he
was, he waited in the belief that something must happen to help him out
of the difficulty. Isa, believer that she was, set herself to be her own
Albert had been spending an evening with Miss Minorkey. He spent nearly
all his evenings with Miss Minorkey. He came home, and stood a minute, as
was his wont, looking at the prairie landscape. A rolling prairie is like
a mountain, in that it perpetually changes its appearance; it is
delicately susceptible to all manner of atmospheric effects. It lay
before him in the dim moonlight, indefinite; a succession of undulations
running one into the other, not to be counted nor measured. All accurate
notions of topography were lost; there was only landscape, dim,
undeveloped, suggestive of infinitude. Standing thus in the happiness of
loving and being loved, the soft indefiniteness of the landscape and the
incessant hum of the field-crickets and katydids, sounds which came out
of the everywhere, soothed Charlton like the song of a troubadour.
Like one awaking from a dream, Albert saw Isa Marlay, her hand resting
against one of the posts which supported the piazza-roof, looking even
more perfect and picturesque than ever in the haziness of the moonlight.
Figure, dress, and voice were each full of grace and sweetness, and if
the face was not exactly beautiful, it was at least charming and full of
a subtle magnetism. (Magnetism! happy word, with which we cover the
weakness of our thoughts, and make a show of comprehending and defining
qualities which are neither comprehensible nor definable!)
"Mr. Charlton, I want to speak to you about Katy."
It took Albert a moment or two to collect his thoughts. When he first
perceived Miss Marlay, she seemed part of the landscape. There was about
her form and motion an indefinable gracefulness that was like the charm
of this hazy, undulant, moonlit prairie, and this blue sky seen through
the lace of thin, milk-white clouds. It was not until she spoke Katy's
name that he began to return to himself. Katy was the one jarring string
in the harmony of his hopes.
"About Katy? Certainly, Miss Marlay. Won't you sit down?"
"No, I thank you."
"Mr. Charlton, couldn't you get Katy away while her relations with
Westcott are broken? You don't know how soon she'll slip back into her
old love for him."
"If—" and Albert hesitated. To go, he must leave Miss Minorkey. And the
practical difficulty presented itself to him at the same moment. "If I
could raise money enough to get away, I should go. But Mr. Plausaby has
all of my money and all of Katy's."
Isabel was on the point of complaining that Albert should lend to Mr.
Plausaby, but she disliked to take any liberty, even that of reproof.
Ever since she knew that the family had thought of marrying her to
Albert, she had been an iceberg to him. He should not dare to think
that she had any care for him. For the same reason, another reply died
unuttered on her lips. She was about to offer to lend Mr. Charlton
fifty dollars of her own. But her quick pride kept her back, and,
besides, fifty dollars was not half-enough. She said she thought there
must be some way of raising the money. Then, as if afraid she had been
too cordial and had laid her motives open to suspicion in speaking thus
to Charlton, she drew herself up and bade him good-night with stiff
politeness, leaving him half-fascinated by her presence, half-vexed
with something in her manner, and wholly vexed with himself for having
any feeling one way or the other. What did he care for Isabel Marlay?
What if she were graceful and full of a subtle fascination of presence?
Why should he value such things? What were they worth, after all? What
if she were kind one minute and repellent the next? Isa Marlay was
nothing to him!
Lying in his little unfinished chamber, he dismissed intellectual Miss
Minorkey from his mind with regret; he dismissed graceful but practical
Miss Marlay from his mind also, wondering that he had to dismiss her at
all, and gave himself to devising ways and means of eloping with little
Katy. She must be gotten away. It was evident that Plausaby would make no
effort to raise money to help him and Katy to get away. Plausaby would
prefer to detain Katy. Clearly, to proceed to pre-empt his claim, to
persuade Plausaby to raise money enough for him to buy a land-warrant
with, and then to raise two hundred dollars by mortgaging his land to
Minorkey or any other lover of mortgages with waiver clauses in them, was
the only course open.
Plausaby, Esq., was ever prompt in dealing with those to whom he was
indebted, so far as promises went. He would always give the most solemn
assurance of his readiness to do anything one wished to have done; and
so, when Albert explained to him that it was necessary for him to
pre-empt because he wished to go East, Plausaby told him to go on and
establish his residence on his claim, and when he got ready to prove up
and pre-empt, to come to him. To come and let him know. To let him know
at once. He made the promise so frankly and so repetitiously, and with
such evident consciousness of his own ability and readiness to meet his
debt to Albert on demand, that the latter went away to his claim in
quietness and hopefulness, relying on Miss Marlay to stand guard over his
sister's love affairs in his absence.
But standing guard was not of much avail. All of the currents that
flowed about Katy's life were undermining her resolution not to see
Smith Westcott. Katy, loving, sweet, tenderhearted, was far from being a
martyr, in stubbornness at best; her resolutions were not worth much
against her sympathies. And now that Albert's scratched face was out of
sight, and there was no visible object to keep alive her indignation,
she felt her heart full of ruth for poor, dear Mr. Westcott. How
lonesome he must be without her! She could only measure his lonesomeness
by her own. Her heart, ever eager to love, could not let go when once it
had attached itself, and she longed for other evenings in which she
could hear Smith's rattling talk, and in which he would tell her how
happy she had made him. How lonesome he must be! What if he should drown
himself in the lake?
Mr. Plausaby, at tea, would tell in the most incidental way of something
that had happened during the day, and then, in his sliding, slipping,
repetitious, back-stitching fashion, would move round from one
indifferent topic to another until he managed at last to stumble over
Smith Westcott's name.
"By the way," he would say, "poor Smith looks heartbroken. Absolutely
heart-broken. I didn't know the fellow cared so much for Katy. Didn't
think he had so much heart. So much faithfulness. But he looks down.
Very much downcast. Never saw a fellow look so chopfallen. And, by the
way, Albert did punish him awfully. He looks black and blue. Well, he
deserved it. He did so. I suppose he didn't mean to say anything against
Katy. But he had no business to let old friends coax him to drink.
Still, Albert was pretty severe. Too severe, in fact. I'm sorry for
Westcott. I am, indeed."
After some such talk as this, Cousin Isa would generally find Katy crying
"What is the matter, Katy, dear?" she would say in a voice so full of
natural melody and genuine sympathy, that it never failed to move Katy to
the depths of her heart. Then Katy would cry more than ever, and fling
her arms about the neck of dear, dear, dear Cousin Isa, and lavish on
her the tenderness of which her heart was full.
"O Cousin Isa! what must I do? I'm breaking poor Smith's heart. You don't
know how much he loves me, and I'm afraid something dreadful will happen
to him, you know. What shall I do?"
"I don't think he cares much, Katy. He's a bad man, I'm afraid, and
doesn't love you really. Don't think any more of him." For Isabel
couldn't find it in her heart to say to Katy just what she thought
"Oh! but you don't know him," Katy cries. "You don't know him. He says
that he does naughty things sometimes, but then he's got such a tender
heart. He made me promise I wouldn't throw him over, as he called it, for
his faults. He said he'd come to be good if I'd only keep on loving him.
And I said I would. And I haven't. Here's more than a week now that he
hasn't been here, and I haven't been to the store. And he said he'd go to
sleep in the lake some night if I ever, ever proved false to him. And I
lie awake nearly all night thinking how hard and cruel I've been to him.
And oh!"—here Katy cried awhile—"and oh! I think such awful things
sometimes," she continued in a whisper broken by sobs. "You don't know,
Cousin Isa. I think how cold, how dreadful cold the lake must be! Oo-oo!"
And a shudder shook her frame. "If poor, dear Smith were to throw himself
in! What if he is there now?" And she looked up at Isa with staring eyes.
"Do you know what an awful thing I heard about that lake once?" She
stopped and shivered. "There are leeches in it—nasty, black worms—and
one of them bit my hand once. And they told me that if a person should
be drowned in Diamond Lake the leeches would—oo!—take all their blood,
and their faces would be white, and not black like other drowned people's
faces. Oh! I can't bear to think about poor Smith. If I could only write
him a note, and tell him I love him just a little! But I told Albert I
wouldn't see him nor write to him. What shall I do? He mayn't live till
morning. They say he looks broken-hearted. He'll throw himself into that
cold lake to-night, maybe—and the leeches—the black worms—oo!—or else
he'll kill himself with that ugly pistol."
It was in vain that Isabel talked to her, in vain that she tried to argue
with a cataract of feeling. It was rowing against Niagara with a
canoe-paddle. It was not wonderful, therefore, that before Albert got
back, Isa Marlay found Katy reading little notes from Westcott, notes
that ho had intrusted to one of his clerks, who was sent to the
post-office three or four times a day on various pretexts, until he
should happen to find Katy in the office. Then he would hand her the
notes. Katy did not reply. She had promised Albert she wouldn't. But
there was no harm in her reading them, just to keep Smith from drowning
himself among those black leeches in Diamond Lake.
Isabel Marlay, in her distressful sense of responsibility to Albert,
could yet find no means of breaking up this renewed communication. In
sheer desperation, she appealed to Mrs. Plausaby.
"Well, now," said that lady, sitting in state with the complacent
consciousness of a new and more stunning head-dress than usual, "I'll
tell you what it is, Isabel, I think Albert makes altogether too much
fuss over Katy's affairs. He'll break the girl's heart. He's got notions.
His father had. Deliver me from notions! Just let Katy take her own
course. Marryin's a thing everybody must attend to personally for
themselves. You don't like to be meddled with, and neither does Albert.
You won't either of you marry to suit me. I have had my plans about you
and Albert. Now, Isabel, Mr. Westcott's a nice-looking man. With all his
faults he's a nice man. Cheerful and good-natured in his talk, and a good
provider. He's a store-keeper, too. It's nice to have a storekeeper for a
husband. I want Plausaby to keep store, so that I can get dresses and
such things without having to pay for them. I felt mad at Mr. Westcott
about his taking out his pistol so at Albert. But if Albert had let Mr.
Westcott alone, I'm sure Smith wouldn't a-touched him. But your folks
with notions are always troubling somebody else. For my part, I shan't
meddle with Katy. Do you think this bow's nice? Too low down, isn't it?"
and Mrs. Plausaby went to the glass to adjust it.
And so it happened that all Isa Marlay's watching could not keep Westcott
away. For the land-office regulations at that time required that Albert
should live on his claim thirty days. This gave him the right to buy it
at a dollar and a quarter an acre, or to exchange a land-warrant for it.
The land was already worth two or three times the government price. But
that thirty days of absence, broken only by one or two visits to his
home, was enough to overturn all that Charlton had done in breaking up
his sister's engagement with Westcott. The latter knew how long Albert's
absence must be, and arranged his approaches to correspond. He gave her
fifteen days to get over her resentment, and to begin to pity him on
account of the stories of his incurable melancholy she would hear. After
he had thus suffered her to dream of his probable suicide for a
fortnight, he contrived to send her one little lugubrious note,
confessing that he had been intoxicated and begging her pardon. Then he
waited three days, days of great anxiety to her. For Katy feared lest her
neglect to return an answer should precipitate Westcott's suicide. But he
did not need an answer. Her looks when she received the note had been
reported to him. What could he need more? On the very evening after he
had sent that contrite note to Katy, announcing that he would never drink
again, he felt so delighted with what he had heard of its reception, that
he treated a crony out of his private bottle as they played cards
together in his room, and treated himself quite as liberally as he did
his friend, got up in the middle of the floor, and assured his friend
that he would be all right with his sweet little girl before the brother
got back. By George! If folks thought he was going to commit suicide,
they were fooled. Never broke his heart about a woman yet. Not much, by
George! But when he set his heart on a thing, he generally got it. He!
he! And he had set his heart on that little girl. As for jumping into the
lake, any man was a fool to jump into the drink on account of a woman.
When there were plenty of them. Large assortment constantly on hand. Pays
yer money and takes yer ch'ice! Suicide? Not much, by George! he! he!
Hung his coat on a hickory limb,
Then like a wise man he jumped in,
My ole dad! My ole dad!
Wondered what tune Charlton would sing when he found himself beat? Guess
Can't stay in de wilderness.
In a few days, in a few days,
Can't stay in de wilderness,
A few days ago.
Goin' to pre-empt my claim, too. I've got a month's leave, and I'll
follow him and marry that girl before he gets far. Bruddern and sistern,
sing de ole six hundredth toon. Ahem!
I wish I was a married man,
A married man I'd be!
An' ketch the grub fer both of us
A-fishin' in the sea.
It's all the same to me!
I got a organ stop in my throat. Can't sing below my breath to save my
life. He! he!
After three days had elapsed, Westcott sent a still more melancholy note
to Katy. It made her weep from the first line to the last. It was full of
heartbreak, and Katy was too unobserving to notice how round and steady
and commercial the penmanship was, and how large and fine were the
flourishes. Westcott himself considered it his masterpiece. He punched
his crony with his elbow as he deposited it in the office, and assured
him that it was the techin'est note ever written. It would come the
sympathies over her. There was nothing like the sympathies to fetch a
woman to terms. He knew. Had lots of experience. By George! You could
turn a woman round yer finger if you could only keep on the tender side.
Tears was what done it. Love wouldn' keep sweet without it was pickled in
brine. He! he! he! By George!
SAWNEY AND WESTCOTT.
David Sawney was delighted with the news that Albert Charlton and Smith
Westcott had quarreled. "Westcott's run of luck in that quarter's broke.
When a feller has a run of luck right along, and they comes a break, 'ts
all up with him. Broke luck can't be spliced. It's David Sawney's turn
now. Poor wind that blows no whar. I'll bet a right smart pile I'll pack
the little gal off yet."
But if an inscrutable Providence had omitted to make any Smith Westcotts,
Dave Sawney wouldn't have stood the ghost of a chance with Katy. His
supreme self-complacency gave her no occasion to pity him. Her love was
close of kin to her tender-heartedness, and all pity was wasted on Dave.
He couldn't have been more entirely happy than he was if he had owned the
universe in fee simple.
However, Dave was resolved to try his luck, and so, soon after Albert's
departure, he blacked up his vast boots and slicked his hair, and went to
Plausaby's. He had the good luck to find Katy alone.
"Howdy! Howdy! Howdy git along? Lucky, ain't I, to find you in? Haw! haw!
I'm one of the luckiest fellers ever was born. Always wuz lucky. Found a
fip in a crack in the hearth 'fore I was three year old. 'Ts a fack.
Found a two-and-a-half gole piece wunst. Golly, didn't I feel some!
Haw! haw! haw! The way of't wuz this." But we must not repeat the story
in all its meanderings, lest readers should grow as tired of it as Katy
did; for Dave crossed one leg over the other, looked his hands round his
knee, and told it with many a complacent haw! haw! haw! When he laughed,
it was not from a sense of the ludicrous: his guffaw was a pure eruption
of delighted self-conceit.
"I thought as how as I'd like to explain to you somethin' that might
'a' hurt yer feelin's, Miss Charlton. Didn't you feel a little teched
"No, Mr. Sawney, you never hurt my feelings."
"Well, gals is slow to own up that they're hurt, you know. But I'm shore
you couldn't help bein', and I'm ever so sorry. Them Injin goin'-ons of
mine wuz enough to 'a' broke your heart."
"What do you mean?"
"Why, my sellin' out to Perritaut for ten thousand dollars, only I
didn't. Haw! haw!" and Dave threw his head back to laugh. "You had a
right to feel sorter bad to think I would consent to marry a Injin. But
'tain't every feller as'll git ten thousand offered in five annooal
payments; an' I wanted you to understand 'twan't the Injin, 'twas the
cash as reached me. When it comes to gals, you're the posy fer me."
Katy grew red, but didn't know what to say or do.
"I heerd tell that that feller Westcott'd got his walkin' papers. Sarved
him right, dancin' roun' like a rang-a-tang, and jos'lin' his keys and
ten-cent pieces in his pocket, and sayin' imperdent things. But I could
'a' beat him at talk the bes' day he ever seed ef he'd on'y 'a' gi'n me
time to think. I kin jaw back splendid of you gin me time. Haw! haw! haw!
But he ain't far—don't never gin a feller time to git his thoughts
gethered up, you know. He jumps around like the Frenchman's flea. Put yer
finger on him an' he ain't thar, and never wuz. Haw! haw! haw! But jest
let him stay still wunst tell I get a good rest on him like, and I'll be
dog-on'd ef I don't knock the hine sights offen him the purtiest day he
ever seed! Haw! haw! haw! Your brother Albert handled him rough, didn't
he? Sarved him right. I say, if a man is onrespectful to a woman, her
brother had orter thrash him; and your'n done it. His eye's blacker'n my
boot. And his nose! Haw! haw! it's a-mournin' fer his brains! Haw I haw!
haw! And he feels bad bekase you cut him, too. Jemently, ef he don' look
like 's ef he'd kill hisself fer three bits."
Katy was so affected by this fearful picture of poor, dear Smith's
condition, that she got up and hurried out of the room to cry.
"What on airth's the matter?" soliloquized Dave. "Bashful little creeter,
I 'low. Thought I wuz a-comin to the p'int, maybe. Well, nex' time'll
do. Haw! haw! Young things is cur'us now, to be shore. Mout's well be a
gittin' on, I reckon. Gin her time to come round, I 'low."
With such wooing, renewed from time to time, the clumsy and complacent
Dave whiled away his days, and comforted himself that he had the
persimmon-tree all to himself, as he expressed it. Meanwhile, the notes
of Westcott were fast undoing all that Albert had done to separate him
from "the purty little girl."
[Illustration: "WHAT ON AIRTH'S THE MATTER?"]
Of course, when the right time came, he happened to meet Katy on the
street, and to take off his hat and make a melancholy bow, the
high-tragedy air of which confirmed Katy's suspicions that he meant to
commit suicide at the first opportunity. Then he chanced to stop at the
gate, and ask, in a tone sad enough to have been learned from the
gatherers of cold victuals, if he might come in. In three days more, he
was fully restored to favor and to his wonted cheerfulness. He danced, he
sang, he chirruped, he rattled his keys, he was the Privileged Infant
once more. He urged Katy to marry him at once, but her heart was now rent
by pity for Albert and by her eager anxiety lest he should do something
desperate when he heard of her reconciliation. She trembled every day at
thought of what might happen when he should return.
"Goin' to pre-empt in a few days, Katy. Whisky Jim come plaguey near to
gittin' that claim. He got Shamberson on his side, and if Shamberson's
brother-in-law hadn't been removed from the Land Office before it was
tried, he'd a got it. I'm going to pre-empt and build the cutest little
bird's nest for you.
"If I was young and in my prime,
I'd lead a different life,
I'd save my money, and buy me a farm,
Take Dinah for my wife.
Oh! carry me back—
"Psha! Dat dah ain't de toon, bruddern. Ahem!
"When you and I get married, love,
How jolly it will be!
We'll keep house in a store-box, then,
Just two feet wide by three!
All the same to me!
"And when we want our breakfast, love,
We'll nibble bread and chee—
It's good enough for you, love,
And most too good for me!
All the same to me!
"Dog-on'd ef 'tain't. White bread's good as brown bread. One's jest as
good as the other, and a good deal better. It's all the same to me, and
more so besides, and something to carry. It's all the same, only
"Jane and Sukey and July Ann—
Too brown, too slim, too stout!
You needn't smile on this 'ere man,
Git out! git out! git out!
But the maiden fair
With bonny brown hair—
Let all the rest git out!"—
"Get out yourself!" thundered Albert Charlton, bursting in at that
moment. "If you don't get your pack of tomfoolery out of here quick, I'll
get it out for you," and he bore down on Westcott fiercely.
"I beg pardon, Mr. Charlton. I'm here to see your sister with her consent
and your mother's, and—"
"And I tell you," shouted Albert, "that my sister is a little girl, and
my mother doesn't understand such puppies as you, and I am my sister's
protector, and if you don't get out of here, I'll kill you if I can."
"Albert, don't be so quarrelsome," said Mrs. Plausaby, coming in at the
instant. "I'm sure Mr. Westcott's a genteel man, and good-natured to
"Out! out! I say, confound you! or I'll break your empty head," thundered
Charlton, whose temper was now past all softening. "Put your hand on
that pistol, if you dare," and with that he strode at the Privileged
Infant with clenched fist, and the Privileged Infant prudently backed out
the door into the yard, and then, as Albert kept up his fierce advance,
the Privileged Infant backed out of the gate into the street. He was not
a little mortified to see the grinning face of Dave Sawney in the crowd
about the gate, and to save appearances, he called back at Albert, who
was returning toward the house, that he would settle this affair with him
yet. But he did not know how thoroughly Charlton's blood was up.
"Settle it?" said Albert—yelled Albert, I should say—turning back on
him with more fury than ever. "Settle it, will you? I'll settle it right
here and now, you cowardly villain! Let's have it through, now," and he
walked swiftly at Westcott, who walked away; but finding that the
infuriated Albert was coming after him, the Privileged Infant hurried on
until his retreat became a run, Westcott running down street, Charlton
hotly pursuing him, the spectators running pell-mell behind, laughing,
cheering, and jeering.
"Don't come back again if you don't want to get killed," the angry
Charlton called, as he turned at last and went toward home.
"Now, Katy," he said, with more energy than tenderness, as he entered the
house, "if you are determined to marry that confounded rascal, I shall
leave at once. You must decide now. If you will go East with me next
week, well and good. If you won't give up Smith Westcott, then I shall
leave you now forever."
Katy couldn't bear to be the cause of any disaster to anybody; and just
at this moment Smith was out of sight, and Albert, white and trembling
with the reaction of his passion, stood before her. She felt, somehow,
that she had brought all this trouble on Albert, and in her pity for him,
and remorse for her own course, she wept and clung to her brother, and
begged him not to leave her. And Albert said: "There, don't cry any more.
It's all right now. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. There, there!"
There is nothing a man can not abide better than a woman in tears.
To get away with Katy immediately. These were the terms of the problem
now before Albert His plan was to take her to visit friends at the East,
and to keep her there until Westcott should pass out of her mind, or
until she should be forgotten by the Privileged Infant. This was not
Westcott's plan of the campaign at all. He was as much bent on securing
Katy as he could have been had he been the most constant, devoted, and
disinterested lover. He would have gone through fire and flood. The
vindictive love of opposition and lust for triumph is one of the most
powerful of motives. Men will brave more from an empty desire to have
their own way, than they could be persuaded to face by the most
Smith Westcott was not a man to die for a sentiment, but for the time he
had the semblance of a most devoted lover. He bent everything to the
re-conquest of Katy Charlton. His pride served him instead of any higher
passion, and he plotted by night and managed by day to get his affairs
into a position in which he could leave. He meant to follow Albert and
Katy, and somewhere and somehow, by working on Katy's sympathies, to
carry off the "stakes," as he expressed it. He almost ceased trifling,
and even his cronies came to believe that he was really in love. They saw
signs of intense and genuine feeling, and they mistook its nature. Mrs.
Ferret expressed her sympathy for him—the poor man really loved Kate,
and she believed that Kate had a right to marry anybody she pleased. She
did not know what warrant there was in Scripcherr for a brother's
exercising any authority. She thought Mrs. Plausaby ought to have brought
up her son to have more respect for her authority, and to hold
Scripcherral views. If he were her son, now! What she would have done
with him in that case never fully appeared; for Mrs. Ferret could not
bring herself to complete the sentence. She only said subjunctively: "If
he were my son, now!" Then she would break off and give her head two or
three awful and ominous shakes. What would have happened if such a young
man as Albert had been her son, it would be hard to tell. Something
unutterably dreadful, no doubt.
Even the charms of Miss Minorkey were not sufficient to detain Albert in
his eager haste and passionate determination to rescue Katy. But to go,
he must have money; to get money, he must collect it from Plausaby, or at
least get a land-warrant with which he could pre-empt his claim. Then he
would mortgage his land for money to pay his traveling expenses. But it
was so much easier to lend money to Plausaby, Esq., than it was to
collect it. Plausaby, Esq., was always just going to have the money;
Plausaby, Esq., had ever ready so many excuses for past failure, and so
many assurances of payment in the immediate future, that Charlton was
kept hoping and waiting in agony from week to week. He knew that he was
losing ground in the matter of Westcott and Katy. She was again grieving
over Smith's possible suicide, was again longing for the cheerful rattle
of flattery and nonsense which rendered the Privileged Infant so
diverting even to those who hated him, much more to her who loved him.
Albert's position was the more embarrassing that he was obliged to spend
a part of his time on his claim to maintain a residence. One night, after
having suffered a disappointment for the fifth time in the matter of
Plausaby and money, he was walking down the road to cool his anger in the
night air, when he met the Inhabitant of the Lone Cabin, again.
"Well, Gray," he said, "how are you? Have you written any fresh
"Varses? See here, Mr. Charlton, do you 'low this 'ere's a time
"To be shore! Why not? I should kinder think yer own heart should orter
tell you. You don' know what I'm made of. You think I a'n't good fer
nothin' but varses. Now, Mr. Charlton, I'm not one of them air fellers as
lets theirselves all off in varses that don' mean nothin'. What my pomes
says, that my heart feels. And that my hands does. No, sir, my po'try 's
like the corn crap in August. It's laid by. I ha'n't writ nary line sence
I seed you afore. The fingers that holds a pen kin pull a trigger."
"What do you mean, Gray?"
"This 'ere," and he took out a pistol. "I wuz a poet; now I'm a gardeen
angel. I tole you I wouldn' do nothin' desperate tell I talked weth you.
That's the reason I didn' shoot him t'other night. When you run him off,
I draw'd on him, and he'd a been a gone sucker ef't hadn' been fer yore
makin' me promise t'other day to hold on tell I'd talked weth you. Now,
I've talked weth you, and I don't make no furder promises. Soon as he
gits to makin' headway agin, I'll drap him."
It was in vain that Charlton argued with him. Gray said life wurn't no
'count no how; he had sot out to be a Gardeen Angel, and he wuz agoin'
through. These 'ere Yankees tuck blam'd good keer of their hides, but
down on the Wawbosh, where he come from, they didn't valley life a
copper in a thing of this 'ere sort. Ef Smith Westcott kep' a shovin'
ahead on his present trail, he'd fetch up kinder suddent all to wunst,
weth a jolt.
After this, the dread of a tragedy of some sort did not decrease Albert's
eagerness to be away. He began to talk violently to Plausaby, and that
poor gentleman, harassed now by a suit brought by the town of Perritaut
to set aside the county-seat election, and by a prosecution instituted
against him for conspiracy, and by a suit on the part of the fat
gentleman for damages on account of fraud in the matter of the two watery
lots in block twenty-six, and by much trouble arising from his illicit
speculation in claims—this poor Squire Plausaby, in the midst of this
accumulation of vexations, kept his temper sweet, bore all of Albert's
severe remarks with serenity, and made fair promises with an unruffled
countenance. Smith Westcott had defeated Whisky Jim in his contest for
the claim, because the removal of a dishonest receiver left the case to
be decided according to the law and the regulations of the General Land
Office, and the law gave the claim to Westcott. The Privileged Infant,
having taken possession of Jim's shanty, made a feint of living in it,
having moved his trunk, his bed, his whisky, and all other necessaries to
the shanty. As his thirty days had expired, he was getting ready to
pre-empt; the value of the claim would put him in funds, and he
proposed, now that his blood was up, to give up his situation, if he
should find it necessary, and "play out his purty little game" with
Albert Charlton. It was shrewdly suspected, indeed, that if he should
leave the Territory, he would not return. He knew nothing of the pistol
which the Gardeen Angel kept under his wing for him, but Whisky Jim had
threatened that he shouldn't enjoy his claim long. Jim had remarked to
several people, in his lofty way, that Minnesoty wuz a healthy place fer
folks weth consumption, but a dreffle sickly one fer folks what jumped
other folks's claims when they wuz down of typus. And Jim grew more and
more threatening as the time of Westcott's pre-emption drew near. While
throwing the mail-bag off one day at the Metropolisville post-office he
told Albert that he jest wished he knowed which mail Westcott's
land-warrant would come in. He wouldn't steal it, but plague ef he
wouldn't heave it off into the Big Gun River, accidentally a purpose, ef
he had to go to penitensh'ry fer it.
But after all his weary and impatient waiting on and badgering of
Plausaby, Albert got his land-warrant, and hurried off to the
land-office, made his pre-emption, gave Mr. Minorkey a mortgage with a
waiver in it, borrowed two hundred dollars at three per cent a month and
five after maturity, interest to be settled every six months.
Then, though it was Friday evening, he would have packed everything and
hurried away the next morning; but his mother interposed her authority.
Katy couldn't be got ready. What was the use of going to Red Owl to stay
over Sunday? There was no boat down Sunday, and they could just as well
wait till Monday, and take the Tuesday boat, and so Albeit reluctantly
consented to wait.
But he would not let Katy be out of his sight. He was determined that in
these last hours of her stay in the Territory, Smith Westcott should not
have a moment's opportunity for conversation with her. He played the
tyrannical brother to perfection. He walked about the house in a fighting
mood all the time, with brows drawn down and fist ready to clench.
He must have one more boat-ride with Helen Minorkey, and he took Katy
with him, because he dared not leave her behind. He took them both in the
unpainted pine row-boat which belonged to nobody in particular, and he
rowed away across the little lake, looking at the grassy-green shores on
the one side, and at the basswood trees that shadowed the other. Albert
had never had a happier hour. Out in the lake he was safe from the
incursions of the tempter. Rowing on the water, he relaxed the strain of
his vigilance; out on the lake, with water on every side, he felt secure.
He had Katy, sweet and almost happy; he felt sure now that she would be
able to forget Westcott, and be at peace again as in the old days when he
had built play-houses for the sunny little child. He had Helen, and she
seemed doubly dear to him on the eve of parting. When he was alone with
her, he felt always a sense of disappointment, for he was ever striving
by passionate speeches to elicit some expression more cordial than it was
possible for Helen's cool nature to utter. But now that Katy's presence
was a restraint upon him, this discord between the pitch of his nature
and of hers did not make itself felt, and he was satisfied with himself,
with Helen, and with Katy. And so round the pebbly margin of the lake he
rowed, while they talked and laughed. The reaction from his previous
state of mental tension put Albert into a sort of glee; he was almost as
boisterous as the Privileged Infant himself. He amused himself by
throwing spray on Katy with his oars, and he even ventured to sprinkle
the dignified Miss Minorkey a little, and she unbent enough to make a cup
of her white palm and to dip it into the clear water and dash a good,
solid handful of it into the face of her lover. She had never in her life
acted in so undignified a manner, and Charlton was thoroughly delighted
to have her throw cold water upon him in this fashion. After this, he
rowed down to the outlet, and showed them where the beavers had built a
dam, and prolonged his happy rowing and talking till the full moon came
up out of the prairie and made a golden pathway on the ripples. Albert's
mind dwelt on this boat-ride in the lonely year that followed. It seemed
to him strange that he could have had so much happiness on the brink of
so much misery. He felt as that pleasure party did, who, after hours of
happy sport, found that they had been merry-making in the very current of
the great cataract.
There are those who believe that every great catastrophe throws its
shadow before it, but Charlton was never more hopeful than when he lifted
his dripping oars from the water at half-past nine o'clock, and said:
"What a grand ride we've had! Let's row together again to-morrow evening.
It is the last chance for a long time."
On the Saturday morning after this Friday evening boat-ride, Charlton was
vigilant as ever, and yet Saturday was not a dangerous day. It was the
busy day at the Emporium, and he had not much to fear from Westcott,
whose good quality was expressed by one trite maxim to which he rigidly
adhered. "Business before pleasure" uttered the utmost self-denial of his
life. He was fond of repeating his motto, with no little exultation in
the triumph he had achieved over his pleasure-loving disposition. To this
fidelity to business he owed his situation as "Agent," or head-clerk, of
the branch store of Jackson, Jones & Co. If he could have kept from
spending money as fast as he made it, he might have been a partner in the
firm. However, he rejoiced in the success he had attained, and, to
admiring neophytes who gazed in admiration on his perilous achievement of
rather reckless living and success in gaining the confidence of his
employers, he explained the marvel by uttering his favorite adage in his
own peculiar style: "Business before pleasure! By George! That's the
doctrine! A merchant don't care how fast you go to the devil out of
hours, if you keep his business straight. Business before pleasure!
That's the ticket! He! he! By George!"
When evening came, and Charlton felt that he had but one more day of
standing guard, his hopes rose, he talked to Isabel Marlay with something
of exultation. And he thought it due to Miss Marlay to ask her to make
one of the boating-party. They went to the hotel, where Miss Minorkey
joined them. Albert found it much more convenient walking with three
ladies than with two. Isa and Katy walked on arm-in-arm, and left Albert
to his tête-à-tête with Helen. And as Sunday evening would be the very
last on which he should see her before leaving for the East, he found it
necessary to walk slowly and say much. For lovers who see each other a
great deal, have more to say the more they are together.
At the lake a disappointment met them. The old pine boat was in use. It
was the evening of the launching of the new sail-boat, "The Lady of the
Lake," and there was a party of people on the shore. Two young men, in a
spirit of burlesque and opposition, had seized on the old boat and had
chalked upon her bow, "The Pirate's Bride." With this they were rowing up
and down the lake, and exciting much merriment in the crowd on the shore.
Ben Towle, who was one of the principal stockholders in "The Lady of the
Lake," and who had been suspected of a tender regard for Isabel Marlay,
promptly offered Albert and his party seats in the boat on her first
trip. There were just four vacancies, he said. The three ladies had
stepped aboard, and Albert was following, when the ex-sailor who held the
rudder touched his arm and said, "I don't think it's safe, Mr. Charlton,
fer nobody else to git in. She's got 'leven now, and ef the wind
freshens, twelve would be dangerous."
"Oh! I'll stay out!" said Albert, retreating.
"Come, Albert, take my place," said Towle. "You're welcome to it."
"No, I won't, Ben; you sit still, and I'll stand on the shore and cheer."
Just as the boat was about to leave her moorings, Smith Westcott came up
and insisted on getting in.
"'Twon't do, Mr. Wes'cott. 'Ta'n't safe," said the helmsman. "I jest
begged Mr. Charlton not to go. She's got a full load now."
"Oh! I don't weigh anything. Lighter'n a feather. Only an infant. And
besides, I'm going anyhow, by George!" and with that he started to get
aboard. But Albert had anticipated him by getting in at the other end of
the boat and taking the only vacant seat. The Privileged Infant scowled
fiercely, but Charlton affected not to see him, and began talking in a
loud tone to Ben Towle about the rigging. The line was thrown off and the
boat pushed out, the wind caught the new white sail, and the "Lady of the
Lake" started along in the shallows, gradually swinging round toward the
open water. Soon after her keel had ceased to grind upon the gravel,
Albert jumped out, and, standing over boot-top in water, waved his hat
and wished them a pleasant voyage, and all the ladies in the boat waved
their handkerchiefs at him, appreciating his efforts to keep the boat
from being overloaded, but not thinking of the stronger motive Charlton
had for keeping Smith Westcott ashore. They could not know how much
exultation Albert felt as he sat down on the green grass and poured the
water from his boots.
There was a fine breeze, the boat sailed admirably, the party aboard
laughed and talked and sang; their voices made merry music that reached
the shore. The merry music was irritating discord to the ears of
Westcott, it made him sweur bitterly at Charlton. I am afraid that it
made Charlton happy to think of Westcott swearing at him. There is great
comfort in being the object of an enemy's curses sometimes—When the
enemy is down, and you are above and master. I think the consciousness
that Westcott was swearing at him made even the fine sunset seem more
glorious to Charlton. The red clouds were waving banners of victory.
But in ten minutes the situation had changed. Albert saw Westcott walking
across the beaver-dam at the lower end of the lake, and heard him
hallooing to the young men who were rowing the "Pirate's Bride" up and
down and around the "Lady of the Lake," for the ugly old boat was
swiftest. The Pirate's Bride landed and took Westcott aboard, and all of
Albert's rejoicing was turned to cursing, for there, right before his
eyes, the Pirate's Bride ran her brown hull up alongside the white and
graceful Lady of the Lake, and Smith Westcott stepped from the one to the
other. The beauty of the sunset was put out. The new boat sailed up and
down the little lake more swiftly and gracefully than ever as the breeze
increased, but Albert hated it.
By some change or other in seats Westcott at last got alongside Katy.
Albert distinctly saw the change made, and his anger was mingled with
despair. For Isabel and Helen were in the other end of the boat, and
there were none to help. And so on, on, in the gray dusk of the evening,
the boat kept sailing from one end of the lake to the other, and as it
passed now and then near him, he could see that Smith was in conversation
with little Katy.
"You needn't worry, Mr. Charlton, I'll fix him." It was the voice of the
Guardian Angel. "I'll fix him, shore as shootin'." And there he stood
looking at Albert. For the first time now it struck Albert that George
Gray was a little insane. There was a strange look in his eyes. If he
should kill Westcott, the law would not hold him accountable. Nobody
would be accountable, and Katy would be saved.
But in a moment Albert's better feeling was uppermost. The horribleness
of murder came distinctly before him. He shuddered that he should have
entertained the thought of suffering it.
"You see, Mr. Charlton," said Gray, with eyes having that strange
mysterious look that only belongs to the eyes of people who are at
least on the borders of insanity, "you see this 'ere pistol's got five
bar'ls, all loadened. I tuck out the ole loads las' night and filled
her up weth powder what's shore to go off. Now you leave that air
matter to me, will you?"
"Let me see your revolver," said Albert.
Gray handed it to him, and Charlton examined it a minute, and then, with
a sudden resolution, he got to his feet, ran forward a few paces, and
hurled the pistol with all his might into the lake.
"Don't let us commit murder," he said, turning round and meeting the
excited eyes of the half-insane poet.
"Well, maybe you're right, but I'll be hanged ef I think it's hardly far
and squar and gentlemanly to wet a feller's catridges that-a-way."
"I had to," said Albert, trembling. "If I hadn't, you or I would have
been a murderer before morning."
"Maybe so, but they ain't nothin else to be done. Ef you don't let me
kill the devil, why, then the devil will pack your sister off, and that's
the end on't."
The moon shone out, and still the boat went sailing up and down the lake,
and still the party in the boat laughed and talked and sang merry songs,
and still Charlton walked up and down the shore, though almost all the
rest of the spectators had gone, and the Poet sat down in helpless
dejection. And still Smith Westcott sat and talked to Katy. What he said
need not be told: how, while all the rest laughed and sang, the
Privileged Infant was serious; and how he appealed to Katy's sympathies
by threatening to jump off into the lake; and how he told her that they
must be married, and have it all over at once. Then, when it was all
over, Albert wouldn't feel bad about it any more. Brothers never did.
When he and Albert should get to be brothers-in-law, they'd get on
splendidly. By George! Some such talk as this he had as they sailed up
and down the lake. Just what it was will never be known, whether he
planned an elopement that very night, or on Sunday night, or on the night
which they must pass in Red Owl Landing, nobody knows. Isabel Marlay, who
saw all, was sure that Smith had carried all his points. He had convinced
the sweet and trusting Katy that an immediate marriage would be best for
Brother Albert as well as for themselves.
And as the boat sailed on, tacking to and fro, even the pilot got over
his anxiety at the overloading which had taken place when Westcott got
in. The old tar said to Towle that she carried herself beautifully.
Five minutes after he made the remark, while Westcott was talking to
Katy, and playfully holding his fingers in the water as he leaned over
the gunwale that almost dipped, there came a flaw in the wind, and the
little boat, having too much canvas and too much loading, careened
suddenly and capsized.
There was a long, broken, mingled, discordant shriek as of a dozen voices
on different keys uttering cries of terror and despair. There was the
confusion of one person falling over another; there was the wild grasping
for support, the seizing of each other's garments and arms, the undefined
and undefinable struggle of the first desperate minute after a boat has
capsized, the scream that dies to a gurgle in the water and then breaks
out afresh, louder and sharper than before, and then is suddenly
smothered into a gurgle again. There were all these things, there was an
alarm on the shore, a rush of people, and then there came stillness, and
those minutes of desperate waiting, in which the drowning people cling to
rigging and boat, and test the problem of human endurance. It is a race
between the endurance of frightened, chilled, drowning people, and the
stupid lack of presence of mind of those on shore. All the inmates of the
boat got hold of something, and for a minute all their heads were out of
water. Their eyes were so near to the water, that not even the most
self-possessed of them could see what exertions were being made by people
on shore to help them. Thus they clung a minute, no one saying anything,
when Jane Downing, who held to the rigging at some distance from the
boat, paralyzed by fear, let go, and slowly sank out of sight, saying
never a word as she went down, but looking with beseeching eyes at the
rest, who turned away as the water closed over her, and held on more
tenaciously than ever, and wondered whether help ever would reach them.
And this was only at the close of the first minute. There were
twenty-nine other minutes before help came.
Isabel Marlay's first care had been to see that little Katy had a good
hold. Helen Minorkey was quite as self-possessed, but her chief care was
to get into a secure position herself. Nothing brings out character more
distinctly than an emergency such as this. Miss Minorkey was resolute and
bent on self-preservation from the first moment. Miss Marlay was
resolute, but full of sympathy for the rest. With characteristic
practical sense, she did what she could to make herself and those within
her reach secure, and then with characteristic faith she composed her
mind to death if it should come, and even ventured with timid courage to
exhort Katy and Miss Minorkey to put their trust in Christ, who could
forgive their sins, and care for them living or dying. Even the most
skeptical of us respect a settled belief in a time of trial. There was
much broken praying from others, simply the cry of terror-stricken
spirits. In all ages men have cried in their extremity to the Unseen
Power, and the drowning passengers in Diamond Lake uttered the same old
cry. Westcott himself, in his first terror, prayed a little and swore a
little by turns.
The result of self-possession in the case of Isa Marlay and Helen
Minorkey was the same. They did not waste their strength. When people
drown, it is nearly always from a lack of economy of force. Here was
poor little Katy so terrified at thoughts of drowning, and of the cold
slimy bed at the bottom of the lake, and more than all at thoughts of the
ugly black leeches that abounded at the bottom, that she was drawing
herself up head and shoulders out of the water all the time, and praying
brokenly to God and Brother Albert to come and help them. Isa tried to
soothe her, but she shuddered, and said that the lake was so cold, and
she knew she should drown, and Cousin Isa, and Smith, and all of them.
Two or three times, in sheer desperation, little Katy let go, but each
time Isa Marlay saved her and gave her a better hold, and cheered her
with assurances that all would be well yet.
While one party on the shore were building a raft with which to reach the
drowning people, Albert Charlton and George Gray ran to find the old
boat. But the young men who had rowed in it, wishing to keep it for their
own use, had concealed it in a little estuary on the side of the lake
opposite to the village, so that the two rescuers were obliged to run
half the circumference of the lake before they found it. And even when
they reached it, there were no oars to be found, the party rowing last
having carefully hidden them in the deep grass of the slough by the
outlet. George Gray's quick frontiersman's instinct supplied the
deficiency with sticks broken from a fallen tree. But with the time
consumed in finding the boat, and the time lost in searching for the
oars, and the slowness of the progress made in rowing with these clumsy
poles, and the distance of the boat's starting-point from the scene of
the disaster, the raft had greatly the advantage of them, though Charlton
and Gray used their awkward paddles with the energy of desperation. The
wrecked people had clung to their frail supports nearly a quarter of an
hour, listening to the cries and shouts of their friends ashore, unable
to guess what measures were being taken for their relief, and filled with
a distrustful sense of having been abandoned by God and man. It just then
occurred to Westcott, who had recovered from his first fright, and who
for some time had neither prayed to God nor cursed his luck, that he
might save himself by swimming. In his boyish days, before he had
weakened his texture by self-indulgence and shattered his nerves by
debauchery, he had been famous for his skill and endurance in the water,
and it now occurred to him that he might swim ashore and save Katy
Charlton at the same time. It is easy enough for us to see the interested
motives he had in proposing to save little Katy. He would wipe out the
censure sure to fall on him for overloading the boat, he would put Katy
and her friends under lasting obligations to him, he would win his game.
It is always easy to see the selfish motive. But let us do him justice,
and say that these were not the only considerations. Just as the motives
of no man are good without some admixture of evil, so are the motives of
no man entirely bad. I do not think that Westcott, in taking charge of
Katy, was wholly generous, yet there was a generous, and after a fashion,
maybe, a loving feeling for the girl in the proposal. That good motives
were uppermost, I will not say. They were somewhere in the man, and that
is enough to temper our feeling toward him.
Isa Marlay was very unwilling to have Katy go. But the poor little thing
was disheartened where she was—the shore did not seem very far away,
looking along the water horizontally—the cries of the people on the bank
seemed near—she was sure she could not hold on much longer—she was so
anxious to get out of this cold lake—she was so afraid to die—she
dreaded the black leeches at the bottom—she loved and trusted Smith as
such women as she always love and trust—and so she was glad to accept
his offer. It was so good of Smith to love her so and to save her. And so
she took hold of his coat-collar as he bade her, and Westcott started to
swim toward the nearest shore. He had swam his two miles once, when he
was a boy, testing his endurance in the waters of the North River, and
Diamond Lake was not a mile wide. There seemed no reason to doubt that he
could swim to the shore, which could not in any event be more than half a
mile away, and which seemed indeed much nearer as he looked over the
surface of the water. But Westcott had not taken all the elements into
the account. He had on his clothing, and before he had gone far, his
boots seemed to fetter him, his saturated sleeves dragged through the
water like leaden weights. His limbs, too, had grown numb from remaining
so long in the water, and his physical powers had been severely taxed of
late years by his dissipations. Add to this that he was encumbered by
Katy, that his fright now returned, and that he made the mistake so often
made by the best of swimmers under excitement, of wasting power by
swimming too high, and you have the causes of rapid exhaustion.
"The shore seems so far away," murmured Katy. "Why don't Albert come and
save us?" and she held on to Smith with a grasp yet more violent, and he
seemed more and more embarrassed by her hold.
"Let go my arm, or we'll both drown," he cried savagely, and the poor
little thing took her left hand off his arm, but held all the more firmly
to his collar; but her heart sank in hopelessness. She had never heard
him speak in that savage tone before She only called out feebly, "Brother
Albert!" and the cry, which revealed to Westcott that she put no more
trust in him, but turned now to the strong heart of her brother, angered
him, and helped him to take the resolution he was already meditating. For
his strength was fast failing; he looked back and could see the raft
nearing the capsized boat, but he felt that he had not strength enough
left to return; he began to sink, and Katy, frightened out of all
self-control as they went under the water, clutched him desperately with
both hands. With one violent effort Smith Westcott tore her little hands
from him, and threw her off. He could not save her, anyhow. He must do
that, or drown. He was no hero or martyr to drown with her. That is all.
It cost him a pang to do it, I doubt not.
Katy came up once, and looked at him. It was not terror at thought of
death, so much as it was heart-break at being thus cast off, that looked
at him out of her despairing eyes. Then she clasped her hands, and cried
aloud, in broken voice: "Brother Albert!"
And then with a broken cry she sank.
Oh! Katy! Katy! It were better to sink. I can hardly shed a tear for
thee, as I see thee sink to thy cold bed at the lake-bottom among the
slimy water-weeds and leeches; but for women who live to trust
professions, and who find themselves cast off and sinking—neglected and
helpless in life—for them my heart is breaking.
Oh! little Katy. Sweet, and loving, and trustful! It were better to
sink among the water-weeds and leeches than to live on. God is more
merciful than man.
Yes, God is indeed more merciful than man. There are many things worse
than death. There is a fold where no wolves enter; a country where a
loving heart shall not find its own love turned into poison; a place
where the wicked cease from troubling—yes, even in this heretical day,
let us be orthodox enough to believe that there is a land where no Smith
Westcotts ever come.
There are many cases in which it were better to die. It is easy enough to
say it before it comes. Albert Charlton had said—how many times!—that
he would rather see Katy dead than married to Westcott. But, now that
Katy was indeed dead, how did he feel?
Charlton and Gray had paddled hard with crooked limbs, the boat was
unmanageable, and they could with difficulty keep her in her coarse. As
they neared the capsized boat, they saw that the raft had taken the
people from it, and Albert heard the voice—there could be no mistake as
to the voice, weak and shivering as it was—of Isa Marlay, calling to him
from the raft:
"We are all safe. Go and save Katy and—him!"
"There they air!" said Gray, pointing to two heads just visible above
the water. "Pull away, by thunder!" And the two half-exhausted young men
swung the boat round, and rowed. How they longed for the good oars that
had sent the "Pirate's Bride" driving through the water that afternoon!
How they grudged the time spent in righting her when she veered to right
or left! At last they heard Katy's voice cry out, "Brother Albert!"
"O God!" groaned Charlton, and bent himself to his oar again.
"Alb—" The last cry was half-drowned in the water, and when the boat,
with half-a-dozen more strokes, reached the place where Westcott was, so
that he was able to seize the side, there was no Kate to be seen. Without
waiting to lift the exhausted swimmer into the boat, Charlton and Gray
dived. But the water was twenty feet deep, the divers were utterly out of
breath with rowing, and their diving was of no avail. They kept trying
until long after all hope had died out of their hearts. At last Charlton
climbed back into the boat, and sat down. Then Gray got in. Westcott was
so numb and exhausted from staying in the water so long that he could not
get in, but he held to the boat desperately, and begged them to help him.
"Help him in," said Charlton to Gray. "I can't."
"I'd like to help him out ef he wuz in, mighty well. I can't kill a
drownin' man, but blamed ef I gin him a leetle finger of help. I'd jest
as soon help a painter outen the water when I know'd he'd swaller the
fust man he come to."
But Charlton got up and reached a hand to the sinking Westcott. He
shut his eyes while he pulled him in, and was almost sorry he had
saved him. Let us not be too hard on Albert. He was in the first
agony of having reached a hand to save little Katy and missed her. To
come so near that you might have succeeded by straining a nerve a
little more somewhere—that is bitterest of all. If Westcott had only
held on a minute!
It was with difficulty that Albert and Gray rowed to the shore, where
Plausaby met them, and persuaded them to change their clothes. They were
both soon on the shore again, where large fires were blazing, and the old
boat that had failed to save little Katy alive, was now in use to recover
her body. There is no more hopeless and melancholy work than dragging for
the body of a drowned person. The drag moves over the bottom; the man who
holds the rope, watching for the faintest sensation of resistance in the
muscles of his arm, at last feels something drawing against the drag,
calls to the oarsmen to stop rowing, lets the line slip through his
fingers till the boat's momentum is a little spent, lest he should lose
his hold, then he draws on his line gently, and while the boat drifts
back, he reverently, as becomes one handling the dead, brings the drag to
the surface, and finds that its hooks have brought up nothing but
water-weeds, or a waterlogged bough. And when at last, after hours of
anxious work, the drag brings the lifeless body to the surface, the
disappointment is bitterest of all. For all the time you have seemed to
be seeking the drowned person, and now at last you have got—what?
It was about eleven o'clock when they first began to drag. Albert had a
sort of vague looking for something, a superstitious feeling that by some
sort of a miracle Katy would yet be found alive. It is the hardest work
the imagination has to do—this realizing that one who has lived by us
will never more be with us. It is hard to project a future for
ourselves, into which one who has filled a large share of our thought and
affection shall never come. And so there lingers a blind hope, a hopeless
hope of something that shall make unreal that which our impotent
imaginations refuse to accept as real. It is a means by which nature
parries a sudden blow.
Charlton walked up and down the shore, and wished he might take the
drag-line into his own hands; but the mistaken kindness of our friends
refuses us permission to do for our own dead, when doing anything would
be a relief, and when doing for the dead would be the best possible
utterance to the hopeless love which we call grief.
Mrs. Plausaby, weak and vain though she was, was full of natural
affection. Her love for Albert was checked a little by her feeling that
there was no perfect sympathy between him and her. But upon Katy she had
lavished all her mother's love. People are apt to think that a love which
is not intelligent is not real; there could be no greater mistake. And
the very smallness of the area covered by Mrs. Plausaby's mind made her
grief for Kate all the more passionate. Katy occupied Albert's mind
jointly with Miss Minorkey, with ambition, with benevolence, with
science, with literature, and with the great Philanthropinum that was to
be built and to revolutionize the world by helping it on toward its
"goal." But the interests that shared Mrs. Plausaby's thoughts along with
Katy were very few. Of Albert she thought, and of her husband. But she
gave the chief place to Katy and her own appearance. And so when the blow
had come it was a severe one. At midnight, Albert went back to try to
comfort his mother, and received patiently all her weeping upbraidings
of him for letting his sister go in the boat, he might have known it was
not safe. And then he hastened back again to the water, and watched the
men in the boat still dragging without result. Everybody on the shore
knew just where the "Lady of the Lake" had capsized, and if accurate
information, plentifully given, could have helped to find the bodies, it
would soon have been accomplished. The only difficulty was that this
accurate information was very conflicting, no two of the positive
eye-witnesses being able to agree. So there was much shouting along
shore, and many directions given, but all the searching for a long time
proved vain. All the shouting people hushed their shouting, and spoke in
whispers whenever Albert came near. To most men there is nothing more
reverend than grief. At half-past two o'clock, the man who held the rope
felt a strange thrill, a sense of having touched one of the bodies. He
drew up his drag, and one of the hooks held a piece of a black silk cape.
When three or four more essays had been made, the body itself was brought
to the surface, and the boat turned toward the shore. There was no more
shouting of directions now, not a single loud word was spoken, the
oarsman rowed with a steady funereal rhythm, while Ben Towle, who had
held the drag-rope, now held half out of water the recovered corpse.
Albert leaned forward anxiously to see the face of Katy, but it was Jane
Downing, the girl who was drowned first. Her father took the body in his
arms, drew it out on shore, and wept over it in a quiet fashion for a
while. Then strong and friendly neighbors lifted it, and bore it before
him to his house, while the man followed in a dumb grief.
Then the dragging for Katy was resumed; but as there was much more doubt
in regard to the place where she went down than there was about the place
of the accident, the search was more difficult and protracted. George
Gray never left Albert for a moment. George wanted to take the drag-rope
himself, but a feeling that he was eccentric, if not insane, kept those
in charge of the boat from giving it to him.
When Sunday morning came, Katy's body had not yet been found, and the
whole village flocked to the lake shore. These were the first deaths in
Metropolisville, and the catastrophe was so sudden and tragic that it
stirred the entire village in an extraordinary manner. All through that
cloudy Sunday forenoon, in a weary waiting, Charlton sat on the bank of
"Mr. Charlton," said Gray, "git me into that air boat and I'll git done
with this. I've watched them fellers go round the place tell I can't
stan' it no longer."
The next time the boat faced toward the place where Charlton stood he
beckoned to them, and the boat came to the shore.
"Let Mr. Gray row a few times, won't you?" whispered Albert. "I think he
knows the place."
With that deference always paid to a man in grief, the man who had the
oars surrendered them to the Hoosier Poet, who rowed gently and carefully
toward the place where he and Albert had dived for Katy the night before.
The quick instinct of the trapper stood him in good stead now. The
perception and memory of locality and direction are developed to a degree
that seems all but supernatural in a man who lives a trapper's life.
"Now, watch out!" said Gray to the man with the rope, as they passed what
he thought to be the place. But the drag did not touch anything. Gray
then went round and pulled at right angles across his former course,
saying again, "Now, watch out!" as they passed the same spot. The man
who held the rope advised him to turn a little to the right, but Gray
stuck to his own infallible instinct, and crossed and re-crossed the same
point six times without success.
"You see," he remarked, "you kin come awful closte to a thing in the
water and not tech it. We ha'n't missed six foot nary time we passed
thar. It may take right smart rowin' to do it yet. But when you miss a
mark a-tryin' at it, you don't gain nothin' by shootin' wild. Now,
And just at that moment the drag caught but did not hold. Gray noticed
it, but neither man said a word. The Inhabitant turned the boat round and
pulled slowly back over the same place. The drag caught, and Gray lifted
his oars. The man with the rope, who had suddenly got a great reverence
for Gray's skill, willingly allowed him to draw in the line. The Poet did
so cautiously and tremblingly. When the body came above the water, he had
all he could do to keep from fainting. He gently took hold of the arms
and said to his companion, "Pull away now." And with his own wild,
longing, desolate heart full of grief, Gray held to the little form and
drew her through the water. Despite his grief, the Poet was glad to be
the one who should bring her ashore. He held her now, if only her dead
body, and his unselfish love found a melancholy recompense. Albert would
have chosen him of all men for the office.
Poor little Kate! In that dread moment when she found herself sinking to
her cold bed among the water-weeds, she had, failing all other support,
clasped her left hand with her right and gone down to darkness. And as
she went, so now came her lifeless body. The right hand clasped tightly
the four little white fingers of the left.
Poor little Kate! How white as pearl her face was, turned up toward that
Sabbath sky! There was not a spot upon it. The dreaded leeches had done
She, whom everybody had called sweet, looked sweeter now than ever. Death
had been kind to the child at the last, and had stroked away every trace
of terror, and of the short anguish she had suffered when she felt
herself cast off by the craven soul she trusted. What might the long
anguish have been had she lived!
[Illustration: HIS UNSELFISH LOVE FOUND A MELANCHOLY RECOMPENSE.]
The funeral was over, and there were two fresh graves—the only ones in
the bit of prairie set apart for a graveyard. I have written enough in
this melancholy strain. Why should I pause to describe in detail the
solemn services held in the grove by the lake? It is enough that the
land-shark forgot his illegal traffic in claims; the money-lender ceased
for one day to talk of mortgages and per cent and foreclosure; the fat
gentleman left his corner-lots. Plausaby's bland face was wet with tears
of sincere grief, and Mr. Minorkey pressed his hand to his chest and
coughed more despairingly than ever. The grove in which the meeting was
held commanded a view of the lake at the very place where the accident
occurred. The nine survivors sat upon the front seat of all; the friends
of the deceased were all there, and, most pathetic sight of all, the two
mute white faces of the drowned were exposed to view. The people wept
before the tremulous voice of the minister had begun the service, and
there was so much weeping that the preacher could say but little. Poor
Mrs. Plausaby was nearly heart-broken. Nothing could have been more
pathetic than her absurd mingling for two days of the sincerest grief and
an anxious questioning about her mourning-dress. She would ask Isa's
opinion concerning her veil, and then sit down and cry piteously the next
minute. And now she was hopeless and utterly disconsolate at the loss of
her little Katy, but wondering all the time whether Isa could not have
fixed her bonnet so that it would not have looked quite so plain.
The old minister preached on "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy
youth." I am afraid he said some things which the liberalism of to-day
would think unfit—we all have heresies nowadays; it is quite the style.
But at least the old man reminded them that there were better investments
than corner-lots, and that even mortgages with waivers in them will be
brought into judgment. His solemn words could not have failed entirely of
But the solemn funeral services were over; the speculator in claims dried
his eyes, and that very afternoon assigned a claim, to which he had no
right, to a simple-minded immigrant for a hundred dollars. Minorkey was
devoutly thankful that his own daughter had escaped, and that he could go
on getting mortgages with waivers in them, and Plausaby turned his
attention to contrivances for extricating himself from the embarrassments
of his situation.
The funeral was over. That is the hardest time of all. You can bear up
somehow, so long as the arrangements and cares and melancholy tributes of
the obsequies last. But if one has occupied a large share of your
thoughts, solicitudes, and affections, and there comes a time when the
very last you can ever do for them, living or dead, is done, then for the
first time you begin to take the full measure of your loss. Albert felt
now that he was picking up the broken threads of another man's life.
Between the past, which had been full of anxieties and plans for little
Kate, and the future, into which no little Kate could ever come, there
was a great chasm. There is nothing that love parts from so regretfully
as its burdens.
Mrs. Ferret came to see Charlton, and smiled her old sudden puckered
smile, and talked in her jerky complacent voice about the uses of
sanctified affliction, and her trust that the sudden death of his sister
in all the thoughtless vanity of youth would prove a solemn and
impressive warning to him to repent in health before it should be with
him everlastingly too late. Albert was very far from having that
childlike spirit which enters the kingdom of heaven easily. Some
natures, are softened by affliction, but they are not such as his.
Charlton in his aggressiveness demanded to know the reason for
everything. And in his sorrow his nature sent a defiant why back to
the Power that had made Katy's fate so sad, and Mrs. Ferret's rasping
way of talking about Katy's death as a divine judgment on him filled him
with curses bitterer than Job's.
Miss Isa Marlay was an old-school Calvinist. She had been trained on the
Assembly's Catechism, interpreted in good sound West Windsor fashion. In
theory she never deviated one iota from the solid ground of the creed of
her childhood. But while she held inflexibly to her creed in all its
generalizations, she made all those sweet illogical exceptions which
women of her kind are given to making. In general, she firmly believed
that everybody who failed to have a saving faith in the vicarious
atonement of Christ would be lost. In particular, she excepted many
individual cases among her own acquaintance. And the inconsistency
between her creed and her applications of it never troubled her. She
spoke with so much confidence of the salvation of little Kate, that she
comforted Albert somewhat, notwithstanding his entire antagonism to Isa's
system of theology. If Albert had died, Miss Marlay would have fixed up a
short and easy road to bliss for him also. So much, more generous is
faith than logic! But it was not so much Isa's belief in the salvation of
Katy that did Albert good, as it was her tender and delicate sympathy,
expressed as much when she was silent as when she spoke, and when she
spoke expressed more by the tones of her voice than by her words.
There was indeed one part of Isabel's theology that Charlton would have
much liked to possess. He had accepted the idea of an Absolute God. A
personal, sympathizing, benevolent Providence was in his opinion one of
the illusions of the theologic stage of human development. Things
happened by inexorable law, he said. And in the drowning of Katy he saw
only the overloading of a boat and the inevitable action of water upon
the vital organs of the human system. It seemed to him now an awful thing
that such great and terrible forces should act irresistibly and blindly.
He wished he could find some ground upon which to base a different
opinion. He would like to have had Isabel's faith in the Paternity of God
and in the immortality of the soul. But he was too honest with himself to
suffer feeling to exert any influence on his opinions. He was in the
logical stage of his development, and built up his system after the
manner of the One-Hoss Shay. Logically he could not see sufficient ground
to change, and he scorned the weakness that would change an opinion
because of feeling. His soul might cry out in its depths for a Father in
the universe. But what does Logic care for a Soul or its cry? After a
while a wider experience brings in something better than Logic. This is
Philosophy. And Philosophy knows what Logic can not learn, that reason is
not the only faculty by which truth is apprehended—that the hungers and
intuitions of the Soul are worth more than syllogisms.
Do what he would, Charlton could not conceal from himself that in
sympathy Miss Minorkey was greatly deficient. She essayed to show
feeling, but she had little to show. It was not her fault. Do you blame
the dahlia for not having the fragrance of a tuberose? It is the most
dangerous quality of enthusiastic young men and women that they are able
to deceive themselves. Nine tenths of all conjugal disappointments come
from the ability of people in love to see more in those they love than
ever existed there. That love is blind is a fable. He has an affection of
the eyes, but it is not blindness. Nobody else ever sees so much as he
does. For here was Albert Charlton, bound by his vows to Helen Minorkey,
with whom he had nothing in common, except in intellect, and already his
sorrow was disclosing to him the shallowness of her nature, and the depth
of his own; even now he found that she had no voice with which to answer
his hungry cry for sympathy. Already his betrothal was becoming a fetter,
and his great mistake was disclosing itself to him. The rude suspicion
had knocked at his door before, but he had been able to bar it out. Now
it stared at him in the night, and he could not rid himself of it. But he
was still far enough from accepting the fact that the intellectual Helen
Minorkey was destitute of all unselfish feeling. For Charlton was still
in love with her. When one has fixed heart and hope and thought on a
single person, love does not die with the first consciousness of
disappointment. Love can subsist a long time on old associations.
Besides, Miss Minorkey was not aggressively or obtrusively selfish—she
never interfered with anybody else. But there is a cool-blooded
indifference that can be moved by no consideration outside the Universal
Ego. That was Helen.
I have before me, as one of the original sources of information for this
history, a file of The Wheat County Weakly Windmill for 1856. It is not
a large sheet, but certainly it is a very curious one. In its day this
Windmill ground many grists, though its editorial columns were chiefly
occupied with impartial gushing and expansive articles on the charms of
scenery, fertility of soil, superiority of railroad prospects,
admirableness of location, healthfulness, and general future rosiness of
the various paper towns that paid tribute to its advertising columns. And
the advertising columns! They abounded in business announcements of men
who had "Money to Loan on Good Real Estate" at three, four, five, and six
per cent a month, and of persons who called themselves "Attorneys-at-Law
and Real Estate Agents," who stated that "All business relating to
pre-emption and contested claims would be promptly attended to" at their
offices in Perritaut. Even now, through the thin disguise of
honest-seeming phrases, one can see the bait of the land-shark who
speculated in imaginary titles to claims, or sold corner-lots in
bubble-towns. And, as for the towns, it appears from these advertisements
that there was one on almost every square mile, and that every one of
them was on the line of an inevitable railroad, had a first-class hotel,
a water-power, an academy, and an indefinite number of etcaeteras of the
most delightful and remunerative kind. Each one of these villages was in
the heart of the greatest grain-growing section of the State. Each, was
the "natural outlet" to a large agricultural region. Each commanded the
finest view. Each point was the healthiest in the county, and each
village was "unrivaled." (When one looks at these town-site
advertisements, one is tempted to think that member serious and wise who,
about this time, offered a joint resolution in the Territorial
Legislature, which read: "Resolved by the Senate and House of
Representatives, That not more than two thirds of the area of this
Territory should be laid out in town-sites and territorial roads, the
remaining one third to be sacredly reserved for agricultural use.")
But I prize this old file of papers because it contains a graphic account
of the next event in this narrative. And the young man who edited the
Windmill at this time has told the story with so much sprightliness and
vigor that I can not serve my reader a better turn than by clipping his
account and pasting it just here in my manuscript. (I shall also rest
myself a little, and do a favor to the patient printer, who will rejoice
to get a little "reprint copy" in place of my perplexing manuscript.) For
where else shall I find such a dictionariful command of the hights and
depths—to say nothing of the lengths and breadths—of the good old
English tongue? This young man must indeed have been a marvel of eloquent
verbosity at that period of his career. The article in question has the
very flavor of the golden age of Indian contracts, corner-lots, six per
cent a month, and mortgages with waiver clauses. There, is also visible,
I fear, a little of the prejudice which existed at that time in Perritaut
[Illustration: THE EDITOR OF "THE WINDMILL."]
I wish that an obstinate scruple on the part of the printers and the
limits of a duodecimo page did not forbid my reproducing here, in all
their glory, the unique head-lines which precede the article in question.
Any pageant introduced by music is impressive, says Madame de Stael. At
least she says something of that sort, only it is in French, and I can
not remember it exactly. And so any newspaper article is startling when
introduced by the braying of head-lines. Fonts of type for displayed
lines were not abundant in the office of the Windmill, but they were
very stunning, and were used also for giving prominence to the euphonious
names of the several towns, whose charms were set forth in the
advertisements. Of course the first of these head-lines ran "Startling
Disclosures!!!!" and then followed "Tremendous Excitement in
Metropolisville!" "Official Rascality!" "Bold Mail Robbery!" "Arrest of
the Postmaster!" "No Doubt of his Guilt!" "An Unexplained Mystery!"
"Sequel to the Awful Drowning Affair of Last Week!" Having thus whetted
the appetite of his reader, and economized in type-setting by nearly a
column of such broad and soul-stirring typography, the editor proceeds:
"Metropolisville is again the red-hot crater of a boiling and seething
excitement. Scarcely had the rascally and unscrupulous county-seat
swindle begun to lose something of its terrific and exciting interest to
the people of this county, when there came the awful and sad drowning of
the two young ladies, Miss Jennie Downing and Miss Katy Charlton, the
belles of the village, a full account of which will be found in the
Windmill of last week, some copies of which we have still on hand,
having issued an extra edition. Scarcely had the people of
Metropolisville laid these two charming and much-lamented young ladies in
their last, long resting-place, the quiet grave, when there comes like an
earthquake out of a clear sky, the frightful and somewhat surprising and
stunning intelligence that the postmaster of the village, a young man of
a hitherto unexceptionable and blameless reputation, has been arrested
for robbing the mails. It is supposed that his depredations have been
very extensive and long continued, and that many citizens of our own
village may have suffered from them. Farther investigations will
doubtless bring all his nefarious and unscrupulous transactions to light.
At present, however, he is under arrest on the single charge of stealing
"The name of the rascally, villainous, and dishonest postmaster is Albert
Charlton, and here comes in the wonderful and startling romance of this
strange story. The carnival of excitement in Metropolisville and about
Metropolisville has all had to do with one family. Our readers will
remember how fully we have exposed the unscrupulous tricks of the old fox
Plausaby, the contemptible land-shark who runs Metropolisville, and who
now has temporary possession of the county-seat by means of a series of
gigantic frauds, and of wholesale bribery and corruption and nefarious
ballot-box stuffing. The fair Katy Charlton, who was drowned by the
heart-rending calamity of last week, was his step-daughter, and now her
brother, Albert Charlton, is arrested as a vile and dishonest
mail-robber, and the victim whose land-warrant he stole was Miss Kate
Charlton's betrothed lover, Mr. Smith Westcott. There was always hatred
and animosity, however, between the lover and the brother, and it is
hinted that the developments on the trial will prove that young Charlton
had put a hired and ruthless assassin on the track of Westcott at the
time of his sister's death. Mr. Westcott is well known and highly
esteemed in Metropolisville and also here in Perritaut. He is the
gentlemanly Agent in charge of the branch store of Jackson, Jones & Co.,
and we rejoice that he has made so narrow an escape from death at the
hands of his relentless and unscrupulous foe.
"As for Albert Charlton, it is well for the community that he has been
thus early and suddenly overtaken in the first incipiency of a black
career of crime. His poor mother is said to be almost insane at this
second grief, which follows so suddenly on her heart-rending bereavement
of last week. We wish there were some hope that this young man, thus
arrested with the suddenness of a thunderbolt by the majestic and firm
hand of public justice, would reform; but we are told that he is utterly
hard, and refuses to confess or deny his guilt, sitting in moody and
gloomy silence in the room in which he is confined. We again call the
attention of the proper authorities to the fact that Plausaby has not
kept his agreement, and that Wheat County has no secure jail. We trust
that the youthful villain Charlton will not be allowed to escape, but
that he will receive the long term provided by the law for thieving
postmasters. He will be removed to St. Paul immediately, but we seize
the opportunity to demand in thunder-tones how long the citizens of this
county are to be left without the accommodations of a secure jail, of
which they stand in such immediate need? It is a matter in which we all
feel a personal interest. We hope the courts will decide the county-seat
question at once, and then we trust the commissioners will give us a
jail of sufficient size and strength to accommodate a county of ten
"We would not judge young Charlton before he has a fair trial. We hope he
will have a fair trial, and it is not for us to express any opinions on
the case in advance. If he shall be found guilty—and we do not for a
moment doubt he will—we trust the court will give him the full penalty
of the law without fear or favor, so that his case may prove a solemn and
impressive warning that shall make a lasting impression on the minds of
the thoughtless young men of this community in favor of honesty, and in
regard to the sinfulness of stealing. We would not exult over the
downfall of any man; but when the proud young Charlton gets his hair
cropped, and finds himself clad in 'Stillwater gray,' and engaged in the
intellectual employments of piling shingles and making vinegar-barrels,
he will have plenty of time for meditation on that great moral truth,
that honesty is generally the best policy."
The eloquent editor from whom I have just quoted told the truth when he
said that Metropolisville was "the red-hot crater of a boiling and
seething excitement." For everybody had believed in Charlton. He was not
popular. People with vicarious consciences are not generally beloved
unless they are tempered by much suavity. And Charlton was not. But
everybody, except Mrs. Ferret, believed in his honesty and courage.
Nobody had doubted his sincerity, though Smith Westcott had uttered many
innuendoes. In truth, Westcott had had an uncomfortable time during the
week that followed the drowning. There had been much shaking of the head
about little Katy's death. People who are not at all heroic like to have
other people do sublime things, and there were few who did not think that
Westcott should have drowned with Katy, like the hero of a romance.
People could not forgive him for spoiling a good story. So Smith got the
cold shoulder, and might have left the Territory, but that his
land-warrant had not come. He ceased to dance and to appear cheerful, and
his he! he! took on a sneering inflection. He grew mysterious, and
intimated to his friends that he'd give Metropolisville something else to
talk about before long. By George! He! he! And when the deputy of the
United States marshal swooped down upon the village and arrested the
young post-master on a charge of abstracting Smith Westcott's
land-warrant from the mail, the whole town was agog. "Told you so. By
George!" said Westcott.
At first the villagers were divided in opinion about Albert. Plenty of
people, like Mrs. Ferret, were ready to rejoice that he was not so good
as he might be, you know. But many others said that he wouldn't steal. A
fellow that had thrown away all his chances of making money wouldn't
steal. To which it was rejoined that if Charlton did not care for money
he was a good hater, and that what such a man would not do for money he
might do for spite. And then, too, it was known that Albert had been very
anxious to get away, and that he wanted to get away before Westcott did.
And that everything depended on which should get a land-warrant first.
What more natural than that Charlton should seize upon Smith Westcott's
land-warrant, and thus help himself and retard his rival? This sort of
reasoning staggered those who would have defended him on the ground of
previous good character.
But that which shook the popular confidence in Albert most was his own
behavior when arrested. He was perfectly collected until he inquired
what evidence there was against him. The deputy marshal said that it was
very clear evidence, indeed. "The land-warrant with which you pre-empted
your claim bore a certain designating number. The prosecution can prove
that that warrant was mailed at Red Owl on the 24th of August, directed
to Smith Westcott, Metropolisville, and that he failed to receive it.
The stolen property appearing in your hands, you must account for it in
At this Charlton's countenance fell, and he refused to make any
explanations or answer any questions. He was purposely kept over one day
in Metropolisville in hope that something passing between him and his
friends, who were permitted to have free access to him, might bring
further evidence to light. But Charlton sat, pale and dejected, ready
enough to converse about anything else, but declining to say one word in
regard to his guilt or innocence of the crime charged. It is not strange
that some of his best friends accepted the charge as true, and only tried
to extenuate the offense on the ground that the circumstances made the
temptation a very great one, and that the motive was not mercenary.
Others stood out that it would yet be discovered that Plausaby had stolen
the warrant, until half-a-dozen people remembered that Plausaby himself
had been in Red Owl at that very time—he had spent a week there laying
out a marshy shore in town lots down to the low-water mark, and also
laying out the summit of a bluff three hundred and fifty feet high and
sixty degrees steep. These sky and water lots were afterward sold to
confiding Eastern speculators, and a year or two later the owner of the
water privileges rowed all over his lots in a skiff. Whether the other
purchaser used a balloon to reach his is not known. But the operation of
staking out these ineligible "additions" to the city of Red Owl had
attracted much attention, and consequently Plausaby's alibi was readily
established. So that the two or three who still believed Albert innocent
did so by "naked faith," and when questioned about it, shook their heads,
and said that it was a great mystery. They could not understand it, but
they did not believe him guilty. Isabel Marlay believed in Albert's
innocence as she believed the hard passages in the catechism. She knew
it, she believed it, she could not prove it, but she would not hear to
anything else. She was sure of his innocence, and that was enough. For
when a woman of that sort believes anything, she believes in spite of all
her senses and all reason. What are the laws of evidence to her! She
believes with the heart.
Poor Mrs. Plausaby, too, sat down in a dumb despair, and wept and
complained and declared that she knew her Albert had notions and such
things, but people with such notions wouldn't do anything naughty. Albert
wouldn't, she knew. He hadn't done any harm, and they couldn't find out
that he had. Katy was gone, and now Albert was in trouble, and she didn't
know what to do. She thought Isa might do something, and not let all
these troubles come on her in this way. For the poor woman had come to
depend on Isa not only in weighty matters, such as dresses and bonnets,
but also in all the other affairs of life. And it seemed to her a
grievous wrong that Isabel, who had saved her from so many troubles,
should not have kept Katy from drowning and Albert from prison.
The chief trouble in the mind of Albert was not the probability of
imprisonment, nor the overthrow of his educational schemes—though all of
these were cups of bitterness. But the first thought with him was to ask
what would be the effect of his arrest on Miss Minorkey. He had felt some
disappointment in not finding Helen the ideal woman he had pictured her,
but, as I said a while ago, love does not die at the first
disappointment. If it finds little to live on in the one who is loved, it
will yet find enough in the memories, the hopes, and the ideals that
dwell within the lover. Charlton, in the long night after his arrest,
reviewed everything, but in thinking of Miss Minorkey, he did not once
recur to her lack of deep sympathy with him in his sorrow for Katy. The
Helen he thought of was the radiant Helen that sat by his beloved Katy in
the boat on that glorious evening in which he rowed in the long northern
twilight, the Helen that had relaxed her dignity enough to dip her palm
in the water and dash spray into his face. He saw her like one looking
back through clouds of blackness to catch a sight of a bit of sky and a
single shining star. As the impossibility of his marrying Helen became
more and more evident to him, she grew all the more glorious in her
culture, her quietness, her thoughtfulness. That she would break her
heart for him, he did not imagine, but he did hope—yes, hope—that she
would suffer acutely on his account.
And when Isa Marlay bravely walked through the crowd that had gathered
about the place of his confinement, and asked to see him, and he was told
that a young lady wanted to be admitted, he hoped that it might be Helen
Minorkey. When he saw that it was Isabel he was glad, partly because he
would rather have seen her than anybody else, next to Helen, and partly
because he could ask her to carry a message to Miss Minorkey. He asked
her to take from his trunk, which had already been searched by the
marshal's deputy, all the letters of Miss Minorkey, to tie them in a
package, and to have the goodness to present them to that lady with his
"Shall I tell her that you are innocent?" asked Isabel, wishing to
strengthen her own faith by a word of assurance from Albert.
"Tell her—" and Albert cast down his eyes a moment in painful
reflection—"tell her that I will explain some day. Meantime, tell her to
believe what you believe about me."
"I believe that you are innocent."
"Thank you, Miss Isabel," said Albert warmly, but then he stopped and
grew red in the face. He did not give her one word of assurance. Even
Isa's faith was staggered for a moment. But only for a moment. The faith
of a woman like Isabel Marlay laughs at doubt.
I do not know how to describe the feelings with which Miss Marlay went
out from Albert. Even in the message, full of love, which he had sent to
his mother, he did not say one word about his guilt or innocence. And yet
Isabel believed in her heart that he had not committed the crime. While
he was strong and free from suspicion, Isa Marlay had admired him. He
seemed to her, notwithstanding his eccentricities, a man of such truth,
fervor, and earnestness of character, that she liked him better than she
was willing to admit to herself. Now that he was an object of universal
suspicion, her courageous and generous heart espoused his cause
vehemently. She stood ready to do anything in the world for him. Anything
but what he had asked her to do. Why she did not like to carry messages
from him to Miss Minorkey she did not know. As soon as she became
conscious of this jealous feeling in her heart, she took herself to task
severely. Like the good girl she was, she set her sins out in the light
of her own conscience. She did more than that. But if I should tell you
truly what she did with this naughty feeling, how she dragged it out into
the light and presence of the Holy One Himself, I should seem to be
writing cant, and people would say that I was preaching. And yet I
should only show you the source of Isa's high moral and religious
culture. Can I write truly of a life in which the idea of God as Father,
Monitor, and Friend is ever present and dominant, without showing you the
springs of that life?
When Isabel Marlay, with subdued heart, sought Miss Minorkey, it was
with her resolution fixed to keep the trust committed to her, and, as far
as possible, to remove all suspicions from Miss Minorkey's mind. As for
any feeling in her own heart—she had no right to have any feeling but a
friendly one to Albert. She would despise a woman who could love a man
that did not first declare his love for her. She said this to herself
several times by way of learning the lesson well.
Isa found Miss Minorkey, with her baggage packed, ready for a move. Helen
told Miss Marlay that her father found the air very bad for him, and
meant to go to St. Anthony, where there was a mineral spring and a good
hotel. For her part, she was glad of it, for a little place like
Metropolisville was not pleasant. So full of gossip. And no newspapers or
books. And very little cultivated society.
Miss Marlay said she had a package of something or other, which Mr.
Charlton had sent with his regards. She said "something or other" from an
"Oh! yes; something of mine that he borrowed, I suppose," said Helen.
"Have you seen him? I'm really sorry for him. I found him a very pleasant
companion, so full of reading and oddities. He's the last man I should
have believed could rob the post-office."
"Oh! but he didn't," said Isa.
"Indeed! Well, I'm glad to hear it. I hope he'll be able to prove it. Is
there any new evidence?"
Isa was obliged to confess that she had heard of none, and Miss Minorkey
proceeded like a judge to explain to Miss Marlay how strong the evidence
against him was. And then she said she thought the warrant had been
taken, not from cupidity, but from a desire to serve Katy. It was a pity
the law could not see it in that way. But all the time Isa protested with
vehemence that she did not believe a word of it. Not one word. All the
judges and juries and witnesses in the world could not convince her of
Albert's guilt. Because she knew him, and she just knew that he couldn't
do it, you see.
Miss Minorkey said it had made her father sick. "I've gone with Mr.
Charlton so much, you know, that it has made talk," she said. "And father
feels bad about it. And"—seeing the expression of Isa's countenance, she
concluded that it would not do to be quite so secretive—"and, to tell
you the truth, I did like him. But of course that is all over. Of course
there couldn't be anything between us after this, even if he were
Isa grew indignant, and she no longer needed the support of religious
faith and high moral principle to enable her to plead the cause of Albert
Charlton with Miss Minorkey.
"But I thought you loved him," she said, with just a spice of bitterness.
"The poor fellow believes that you love him."
Miss Minorkey winced a little. "Well, you know, some people are
sentimental, and others are not. It is a good thing for me that I'm not
one of those that pine away and die after anybody. I suppose I am not
worthy of a high-toned man, such as he seemed to be. I have often told
him so. I am sure I never could marry a man that had been in the
penitentiary, if he were ever so innocent. Now, could you. Miss Marlay?"
Isabel blushed, and said she could if he were innocent. She thought a
woman ought to stand by the man she loved to the death, if he were
worthy. But Helen only sighed humbly, and said that she never was made
for a heroine. She didn't even like to read about high-strung people in
novels. She supposed it was her fault—people had to be what they were,
she supposed. Miss Marlay must excuse her, though. She hadn't quite got
her books packed, and the stage would be along in an hour. She would be
glad if Isabel would tell Mr. Charlton privately, if she had a chance,
how sorry she felt for him. But please not say anything that would
compromise her, though.
And Isa Marlay went out of the hotel full of indignation at the
cool-blooded Helen, and full of a fathomless pity for Albert, a pity that
made her almost love him herself. She would have loved to atone for all
Miss Minorkey's perfidy. And just alongside of her pity for Charlton thus
deserted, crept in a secret joy. For there was now none to stand nearer
friend to Albert than herself.
And yet Charlton did not want for friends. Whisky Jim had a lively sense
of gratitude to him for his advocacy of Jim's right to the claim as
against Westcott; and having also a lively antagonism to Westcott, he
could see no good reason why a man should serve a long term in
State's-prison for taking from a thief a land-warrant with which the
thief meant to pre-empt another man's claim. And the Guardian Angel had
transferred to the brother the devotion and care he once lavished on the
sister. It was this unity of sentiment between the Jehu from the Green
Mountains and the minstrel from the Indiana "Pocket" that gave Albert a
chance for liberty.
The prisoner was handcuffed and confined in an upper room, the windows of
which were securely boarded up on the outside. About three o'clock of the
last night he spent in Metropolisville, the deputy marshal, who in the
evening preceding had helped to empty two or three times the ample flask
of Mr. Westcott, was sleeping very soundly. Albert, who was awake, heard
the nails drawn from the boards. Presently the window was opened, and a
familiar voice said in a dramatic tone:
"Mr. Charlton, git up and foller."
Albert arose and went to the window.
"Come right along, I 'low the coast's clear," said the Poet.
"No, I can not do that, Gray," said Charlton, though the prospect of
liberty was very enticing.
"See here, mister, I calkilate es this is yer last chance fer fifteen
year ur more," put in the driver, thrusting his head in alongside his
"Come," added Gray, "you an' me'll jest put out together fer the Ingin
kedentry ef you say so, and fetch up in Kansas under some fancy names,
and take a hand in the wras'le that's agoin' on thar. Nobody'll ever
track you. I've got a Yankton friend as'll help us through."
"My friends, I'm ever so thankful to you—"
"Blame take yer thanks! Come along," broke in the Superior Being. "It's
now ur never."
"I'll be dogged ef it haint," said the Poet.
Charlton looked out wistfully over the wide prairies. He might escape and
lead a wild, free life with Gray, and then turn up in some new Territory
under an assumed name and work out his destiny. But the thought of being
a fugitive from justice was very shocking to him.
[Illustration: "GIT UP AND FOLLER!"]
"No! no! I can't. God bless you both. Good-by!" And he went back to his
pallet on the floor. When the rescuers reached the ground the Superior
Being delivered himself of some very sulphurous oaths, intended to
express his abhorrence of "idees."
"There's that air blamed etarnal infarnal nateral born eejiot'll die in
Stillwater penitensh'ry jest fer idees. Orter go to a 'sylum."
But the Poet went off dejectedly to his lone cabin on the prairie.
And there was a great row in the morning about the breaking open of the
window and the attempted rescue. The deputy marshal told a famous story
of his awaking in the night and driving off a rescuing party of eight
with his revolver. And everybody wondered who they were. Was Charlton,
then, a member of a gang?
Albert was conveyed to St. Paul, but not until he had had one
heart-breaking interview with his mother. The poor woman had spent nearly
an hour dressing herself to go to him, for she was so shaken with
agitation and blinded with weeping, that she could hardly tie a ribbon or
see that her breast-pin was in the right place. This interview with her
son shook her weak understanding to its foundations, and for days
afterward Isa devoted her whole time to diverting her from the
accumulation of troubled thoughts and memories that filled her with
anguish—an anguish against the weight of which her feeble nature could
offer no supports.
When Albert was brought before the commissioner, he waived examination,
and was committed to await the session of the district court. Mr.
Plausaby came up and offered to become his bail, but this Charlton
vehemently refused, and was locked up in jail, where for the next two or
three months he amused himself by reading the daily papers and such books
as he could borrow, and writing on various subjects manuscripts which he
The confinement chafed him. His mother's sorrow and feeble health
oppressed him. And despite all he could do, his own humiliation bowed his
head a little. But most of all, the utter neglect of Helen Minorkey hurt
him sorely. Except that she had sent, through Isabel Marlay, that little
smuggled message that she was sorry for him—like one who makes a great
ado about sending you something which turns out to be nothing—except
this mockery of pity, he had no word or sign from Helen. His mind dwelt
on her as he remembered her in the moments when she had been carried out
of herself by the contagion of his own enthusiasm, when she had seemed to
love him devotedly. Especially did he think of her as she sat in quiet
and thoughtful enjoyment in the row-boat by the side of Katy, playfully
splashing the water and seeming to rejoice in his society. And now she
had so easily accepted his guilt!
These thoughts robbed him of sleep, and the confinement and lack of
exercise made him nervous. The energetic spirit, arrested at the very
instant of beginning cherished enterprises, and shut out from hope of
ever undertaking them, preyed upon itself, and Albert had a morbid
longing for the State's prison, where he might weary himself with toil.
His counsel was Mr. Conger. Mr. Conger was not a great jurist. Of the
philosophy of law he knew nothing. For the sublime principles of equity
and the great historic developments that underlie the conventions which
enter into the administration of public justice, Mr. Conger cared
nothing. But there was one thing Mr. Conger did understand and care for,
and that was success. He was a man of medium hight, burly, active, ever
in motion. When he had ever been still long enough to read law, nobody
knew. He said everything he had to say with a quick, vehement utterance,
as though he grudged the time taken to speak fully about anything. He
went along the street eagerly; he wrote with all his might. There were
twenty men in the Territory, at that day, any one of whom knew five times
as much law as he. Other members of the bar were accustomed to speak
contemptuously of Conger's legal knowledge. But Conger won more cases and
made more money than any of them. If he did not know law in the widest
sense, he did know it in the narrowest. He always knew the law that
served his turn. When he drew an assignment for a client, no man could
break it. And when he undertook a case, he was sure to find his
opponent's weak point. He would pick flaws in pleas; he would postpone;
he would browbeat witnesses; he would take exceptions to the rulings of
the court in order to excite the sympathy of the jury; he would object to
testimony on the other side, and try to get in irrelevant testimony on
his own; he would abuse the opposing counsel, crying out, "The counsel on
the other side lies like thunder, and he knows it!" By shrewdness, by an
unwearying perseverance, by throwing his whole weight into his work,
Conger made himself the most successful lawyer of his time in the
Territory. And preserved his social position at the same time, for though
he was not at all scrupulous, he managed to keep on the respectable side
of the line which divides the lawyer from the shyster.
Mr. Conger had been Mr. Plausaby's counsel in one or two cases, and
Charlton, knowing no other lawyer, sent for him. Mr. Conger had, with his
characteristic quickness of perception, picked up the leading features of
the case from the newspapers. He sat down on the bed in Charlton's cell
with his brisk professional air, and came at once to business in his
"Bad business, this, Mr. Charlton, but let us hope we'll pull through.
We generally do pull through. Been in a good many tight places in my
time. But it is necessary, first of all, that you trust me. The boat is
in a bad way—you hail a pilot—he comes aboard. Now—hands off the
helm—you sit down and let the pilot steer her through. You understand?"
And Mr. Conger looked as though he might have smiled at his own
illustration if he could have spared the time. But he couldn't. As for
Albert, he only looked more dejected.
"Now," he proceeded, "let's get to business. In the first place, you must
trust me with everything. You must tell me whether you took the warrant
or not." And Mr. Conger paused and scrutinized his client closely.
Charlton said nothing, but his face gave evidence of a struggle.
"Well, well, Mr. Charlton," said the brisk man with the air of one who
has gotten through the first and most disagreeable part of his business,
and who now proposes to proceed immediately to the next matter on the
docket. "Well, well, Mr. Charlton, you needn't say anything if the
question is an unpleasant one. An experienced lawyer knows what silence
means, of course," and there was just a trifle of self-gratulation in his
voice. As for Albert, he winced, and seemed to be trying to make up his
mind to speak.
"Now," and with this now the lawyer brought his white fat hand down
upon his knee in an emphatic way, as one who says "nextly." "Now—there
are several courses open to us. I asked you whether you took the warrant
or not, because the line of defense that presents itself first is to
follow the track of your suspicions, and fix the guilt on some one else
if we can. I understand, however, that that course is closed to us?"
Charlton nodded his head.
"We might try to throw suspicion—only suspicion, you know—on the
stage-driver or somebody else. Eh? Just enough to confuse the jury?"
Albert shook his head a little impatiently.
"Well, well, that's so—not the best line. The warrant was in your
hands. You used it for pre-emption. That is very ugly, very. I don't
think much of that line, under the circumstances. It might excite
feeling against us. It is a very bad case. But we will pull through, I
hope. We generally do. Give the case wholly into my hands. We'll
postpone, I think. I shall have to make an affidavit that there are
important witnesses absent, or something of the sort. But we'll have the
case postponed. There's some popular feeling against you, and juries go
as the newspapers do. Now, I see but one way, and that is to postpone
until the feeling dies down. Then we can manage the papers a little and
get up some sympathy for you. And there's no knowing what may happen.
There's nothing like delay in a bad case. Wait long enough, and
something is sure to turn up."
"But I don't want the case postponed," said Charlton decidedly.
"Very natural that you shouldn't like to wait. This is not a pleasant
room. But it is better to wait a year or even two years in this jail than
to go to prison for fifteen or twenty. Fifteen or twenty years out of the
life of a young man is about all there is worth the having."
Here Charlton shuddered, and Mr. Conger was pleased to see that his words
"You'd better make up your mind that the case is a bad one, and trust to
my experience. When you're sick, trust the doctor. I think I can pull you
through if you'll leave the matter to me."
"Mr. Conger," said Charlton, lifting up his pale face, twitching with
nervousness, "I don't want to get free by playing tricks on a court of
law. I know that fifteen or twenty years in prison would not leave me
much worth living for, but I will not degrade myself by evading justice
with delays and false affidavits. If you can do anything for me fairly
and squarely, I should like to have it done."
"Scruples, eh?" asked Mr. Conger in surprise.
"Yes, scruples," said Albert Charlton, leaning his head on his hands with
the air of one who has made a great exertion and has a feeling of
"Scruples, Mr. Charlton, are well enough when one is about to break the
law. After one has been arrested, scruples are in the way."
"You have no right to presume that I have broken the law," said Charlton
with something of his old fire.
"Well, Mr. Charlton, it will do no good for you to quarrel with your
counsel. You have as good as confessed the crime yourself. I must insist
that you leave the case in my hands, or I must throw it up. Take time to
think about it. I'll send my partner over to get any suggestions from you
about witnesses. The most we can do is to prove previous good character.
That isn't worth anything where the evidence against the prisoner is so
conclusive—as in your case. But it makes a show of doing something." And
Mr. Conger was about leaving the cell when, as if a new thought had
occurred to him, he turned back and sat down again and said: "There is
one other course open to you. Perhaps it is the best, since you will not
follow my plan. You can plead guilty, and trust to the clemency of the
President. I think strong political influences could be brought to bear
at Washington in favor of your pardon?"
Charlton shook his head, and the lawyer left him "to think the matter
over," as he said. Then ensued the season of temptation. Why should he
stand on a scruple? Why not get free? Here was a conscienceless attorney,
ready to make any number of affidavits in regard to the absence of
important witnesses; ready to fight the law by every technicality of the
law. His imprisonment had already taught him how dear liberty was, and,
within half an hour after Conger left him, a great change came over him.
Why should he go to prison? What justice was there in his going to
prison? Here he was, taking a long sentence to the penitentiary, while
such men as Westcott and Conger were out. There could be no equity in
such an arrangement. Whenever a man begins to seek equality of
dispensation, he is in a fair way to debauch his conscience. And another
line of thought influenced Charlton. The world needed his services. What
advantage would there be in throwing away the chances of a lifetime on a
punctilio? Why might he not let the serviceable lawyer do as he pleased?
Conger was the keeper of his own conscience, and would not be either more
or less honest at heart for what he did or did not do. All the kingdoms
of the earth could not have tempted Charlton to serve himself by another
man's perjury. But liberty on one hand and State's-prison on the other,
was a dreadful alternative. And so, when the meek and studious man whom
Conger used for a partner called on him, he answered all his questions,
and offered no objection to the assumption of the quiet man that Mr.
Conger would carry on the case in his own fashion.
Many a man is willing to be a martyr till he sees the stake and fagots.
From the time that Charlton began to pettifog with his conscience, he
began to lose peace of mind. His self-respect was impaired, and he became
impatient, and chafed under his restraint. As the trial drew on, he was
more than ever filled with questionings in regard to the course he should
pursue. For conscience is like a pertinacious attorney. When a false
decision is rendered, he is forever badgering the court with a bill of
exceptions, with proposals to set aside, with motions for new trials,
with applications for writs of appeal, with threats of a Higher Court,
and even with contemptuous mutterings about impeachment. If Isa had not
written to him, Albert might have regained his moral aplomb in some
other way than he did—he might not. For human sympathy is Christ's own
means of regenerating the earth. If you can not counsel, if you can not
preach, if you can not get your timid lips to speak one word that will
rebuke a man's sin, you can at least show the fellowship of your heart
with his. There is a great moral tonic in human brotherhood. Worried,
desperate, feeling forsaken of God and man, it is not strange that
Charlton should shut his teeth together and defy his scruples. He would
use any key he could to get out into the sunlight again. He quoted all
those old, half-true, half-false adages about the lawlessness of
necessity and so on. Then, weary of fencing with himself, he wished for
strength to stand at peace again, as when he turned his back on the
temptations of his rescuers in Metropolisville. But he had grown weak and
nervous from confinement—prisons do not strengthen the moral power—and
he had moreover given way to dreaming about liberty until he was like a
homesick child, who aggravates his impatience by dwelling much on the
delightfulness of the meeting with old friends, and by counting the
slow-moving days that intervene.
But there came, just the day before the trial, a letter with the
post-mark "Metropolisville" on it. That post-mark always excited a
curious feeling in him. He remembered with what boyish pride he had taken
possession of his office, and how he delighted to stamp the post-mark on
the letters. The address of this letter was not in his mother's undecided
penmanship—it was Isa Marlay's straightforward and yet graceful
writing, and the very sight of it gave him comfort. The letter was simply
a news letter, a vicarious letter from Isabel because Mrs. Plausaby did
not feel well enough to write; this is what Isa said it was, and what she
believed it to be, but Charlton knew that Isa's own friendly heart had
planned it. And though it ran on about this and that unimportant matter
of village intelligence, yet were its commonplace sentences about
commonplace affairs like a fountain in the desert to the thirsty soul of
the prisoner. I have read with fascination in an absurdly curious book
that people of a very sensitive fiber can take a letter, the contents and
writer of which are unknown, and by pressing it for a time against the
forehead can see the writer and his surroundings. It took no spirit of
divination in Charlton's case. The trim and graceful figure of Isa
Marlay, in perfectly fitting calico frock, with her whole dress in that
harmonious relation of parts for which she was so remarkable, came before
him. He knew that by this time she must have some dried grasses in the
vases, and some well-preserved autumn leaves around the picture-frames.
The letter said nothing about his trial, but its tone gave him assurance
of friendly sympathy, and of a faith in him that could not be shaken.
Somehow, by some recalling of old associations, and by some subtle
influence of human sympathy, it swept the fogs away from the soul of
Charlton, and he began to see his duty and to feel an inspiration toward
the right. I said that the letter did not mention the trial, but it did.
For when Charlton had read it twice, he happened to turn it over, and
found a postscript on the fourth page of the sheet. I wonder if the habit
which most women have of reserving their very best for the postscript
comes from the housekeeper's desire to have a good dessert. Here on the
back Charlton read:
"P.8.—Mr. Gray, your Hoosier friend, called on me yesterday, and sent
his regards. He told me how you refused to escape. I know you well enough
to feel sure that you would not do anything mean or unmanly. I pray that
God will sustain you on your trial, and make your innocence appear. I am
sure you are innocent, though I can not understand it. Providence will
overrule it all for good, I believe."
Something in the simple-hearted faith of Isabel did him a world of good.
He was in the open hall of the jail when he read it, and he walked about
the prison, feeling strong enough now to cope with temptation. That very
morning he had received a New Testament from a colporteur, and now, out
of regard to Isa Marlay's faith, maybe—out of some deeper feeling,
possibly—he read the story of the trial and condemnation of Jesus. In
his combative days he had read it for the sake of noting the
disagreements between the Evangelists in some of the details. But now he
was in no mood for small criticism. Which is the shallower, indeed, the
criticism that harps on disagreements in such narratives, or the
pettifogging that strives to reconcile them, one can hardly tell. In
Charlton's mood, in any deeply earnest mood, one sees the smallness of
all disputes about sixth and ninth hours. Albert saw the profound
essential unity of the narratives, he felt the stirring of the deep
sublimity of the story, he felt the inspiration of the sublimest
character in human history. Did he believe? Not in any orthodox sense.
But do you think that the influence of the Christ is limited to them who
hold right opinions about Him? If a man's heart be simple, he can not see
Jesus in any light without getting good from Him. Charlton, unbeliever
that he was, wet the pages with tears, tears of sympathy with the high
self-sacrifice of Jesus, and tears of penitence for his own moral
weakness, which stood rebuked before the Great Example.
And then came the devil, in the person of Mr. Conger. His face was full
of hopefulness as he sat down in Charlton's cell and smote his fat white
hand upon his knee and said "Now!" and looked expectantly at his client.
He waited a moment in hope of rousing Charlton's curiosity.
"We've got them!" he said presently. "I told you we should pull through.
Leave the whole matter to me."
"I am willing to leave anything to you but my conscience," said Albert.
"The devil take your conscience, Mr. Charlton. If you are guilty, and so
awfully conscientious, plead guilty at once. If you propose to cheat the
government out of some years of penal servitude, why, well and good. But
you must have a devilish queer conscience, to be sure. If you talk in
that way, I shall enter a plea of insanity and get you off whether you
will or not. But you might at least hear me through before you talk about
conscience. Perhaps even your conscience would not take offense at my
plan, unless you consider yourself foreordained to go to penitentiary."
"Let's hear your plan, Mr. Conger," said Charlton, hoping there might be
some way found by which he could escape.
Mr. Conger became bland again, resumed his cheerful and hopeful look,
brought down his fat white hand upon his knee, looked up over his
client's head, while he let his countenance blossom with the promise of
his coming communication. He then proceeded to say with a cheerful
chuckle that there was a flaw in the form of the indictment—the grand
jury had blundered. He had told Charlton that something would certainly
happen. And it had. Then Mr. Conger smote his knee again, and said
"Now!" once more, and proceeded to say that his plan was to get the
trial set late in the term, so that the grand jury should finish their
work and be discharged before the case came on. Then he would have the
He said this with so innocent and plausible a face that at first it did
not seem very objectionable to Charlton.
"What would we gain by quashing the indictment, Mr. Conger?"
"Well, if the indictment were quashed on the ground of a defect in its
substance, then the case falls. But this is only defective in form.
Another grand jury can indict you again. Now if the District Attorney
should be a little easy—and I think that, considering your age, and my
influence with him, he would be—a new commitment might not issue perhaps
before you could get out of reach of it. If you were committed again,
then we gain time. Time is everything in a bad case. You could not be
tried until the next term. When the next term comes, we could then see
what could be done. Meantime you could get bail."
If Charlton had not been entirely clear-headed, or entirely in a mood
to deal honestly with himself, he would have been persuaded to take
"Let me ask you a question, Mr. Conger. If the case were delayed, and I
still had nothing to present against the strong circumstantial evidence
of the prosecution—if, in other words, delay should still leave us in
our present position—would there be any chance for me to escape by a
fair, stand-up trial?"
"Well, you see, Mr. Charlton, this is precisely a case in which we will
not accept a pitched battle, if we can help it. After a while, when the
prosecuting parties feel less bitter toward you, we might get some of the
evidence mislaid, out of the way, or get some friend on the jury,
or—well, we might manage somehow to dodge trial on the case as it
stands. Experience is worth a great deal in these things."
"There are, then, two possibilities for me," said Charlton very quietly.
"I can run away, or we may juggle the evidence or the jury. Am I right?"
"Or, we can go to prison?" said Conger, smiling.
"I will take the latter alternative," said Charlton.
"Then you owe it to me to plead guilty, and relieve me from
responsibility. If you plead guilty, we can get a recommendation of mercy
from the court."
"I owe it to myself not to plead guilty," said Charlton, speaking still
gently, for his old imperious and self-confident manner had left him.
"Very well," said Mr. Conger, rising, "if you take your fate into your
own hands in that way, I owe it to myself to withdraw from the case."
"Very well, Mr. Conger."
"Good-morning, Mr. Charlton!"
"Good-morning, Mr. Conger."
And with Mr. Conger's disappearance went Albert's last hope of escape.
The battle had been fought, and lost—or won, as you look at it. Let us
say won, for no man's case is desperate till he parts with manliness.
Charlton had the good fortune to secure a young lawyer of little
experience but of much principle, who was utterly bewildered by the
mystery of the case, and the apparently paradoxical scruples of his
client, but who worked diligently and hopelessly for him. He saw the flaw
in the indictment and pointed it out to Charlton, but told him that as it
was merely a technical point he would gain nothing but time. Charlton
preferred that there should be no delay, except what was necessary to
give his counsel time to understand the case. In truth, there was little
enough to understand. The defense had nothing left to do.
When Albert came into court he was pale from his confinement. He
looked eagerly round the crowded room to see if he could find the
support of friendly faces. There were just two. The Hoosier Poet sat
on one of the benches, and by him sat Isa Marlay. True, Mr. Plausaby
sat next to Miss Marlay, but Albert did not account him anything in
his inventory of friends.
Isabel wondered how he would plead. She hoped that he did not mean to
plead guilty, but the withdrawal of Conger from the case filled her with
fear, and she had been informed by Mr. Plausaby that he could refuse to
plead altogether, and it would be considered a plea of not guilty. She
believed him innocent, but she had not had one word of assurance to that
effect from him, and even her faith had been shaken a little by the
innuendoes and suspicions of Mr. Plausaby.
Everybody looked at the prisoner. Presently the District Attorney moved
that Albert Charlton be arraigned.
The Court instructed the clerk, who said, "Albert Charlton, come
Albert here rose to his feet, and raised his right hand in token of
The District Attorney said, "This prisoner I have indicted by the
"Shall we waive the reading of the indictment?" asked Charlton's counsel.
"No," said Albert, "let it be read," and he listened intently while the
clerk read it.
"Albert Charlton, you have heard the charge. What say you: Guilty, or,
Not guilty?" Even the rattling and unmeaning voice in which the clerk was
accustomed to go through with his perfunctory performances took on some
There was dead silence for a moment. Isa Marlay's heart stopped beating,
and the Poet from Posey County opened his mouth with eager anxiety.
When Charlton spoke, it was in a full, solemn voice, with deliberation
"Thank God!" whispered Isa.
The Poet shut his mouth and heaved a sigh of relief.
The counsel for the defense was electrified. Up to that moment he had
believed that his client was guilty. But there was so much of solemn
truthfulness in the voice that he could not resist its influence.
As for the trial itself, which came off two days later, that was a dull
enough affair. It was easy to prove that Albert had expressed all sorts
of bitter feelings toward Mr. Westcott; that he was anxious to leave;
that he had every motive for wishing to pre-empt before Westcott did;
that the land-warrant numbered so-and-so—it is of no use being accurate
here, they were accurate enough in court—had been posted in Red Owl on a
certain day; that a gentleman who rode with the driver saw him receive
the mail at Red Owl, and saw it delivered at Metropolisville; that
Charlton pre-empted his claim—the S.E. qr. of the N.E. qr., and the N.
1/2 of the S.E. qr. of Section 32, T. so-and-so, R. such-and-such—with
this identical land-warrant, as the records of the land-office showed
beyond a doubt.
Against all this counsel for defense had nothing whatever to offer.
Nothing but evidence of previous good character, nothing but to urge that
there still remained perhaps the shadow of a doubt. No testimony to show
from whom Charlton had received the warrant, not the first particle of
rebutting evidence. The District Attorney only made a little perfunctory
speech on the evils brought upon business by theft in the post-office.
The exertions of Charlton's counsel amounted to nothing; the jury found
him guilty without deliberation.
The judge sentenced him with much solemn admonition. It was a grievous
thing for one so young to commit such a crime. He warned Albert that he
must not regard any consideration as a justification for such an offense.
He had betrayed his trust and been guilty of theft. The judge expressed
his regret that the sentence was so severe. It was a sad thing to send a
young man of education and refinement to be the companion of criminals
for so many years. But the law recognized the difference between a theft
by a sworn and trusted officer and an ordinary larceny. He hoped that
Albert would profit by this terrible experience, and that he would so
improve the time of his confinement with meditation, that what would
remain to him of life when he should come out of the walls of his prison
might be spent as an honorable and law-abiding citizen. He sentenced him
to serve the shortest term permitted by the statute, namely, ten years.
The first deep snow of the winter was falling outside the court-house,
and as Charlton stood in the prisoners' box, he could hear the jingling
of sleigh-bells, the sounds that usher in the happy social life of winter
in these northern latitudes. He heard the judge, and he listened to the
sleigh-bells as a man who dreams—the world was so far off from him
now—ten weary years, and the load of a great disgrace measured the gulf
fixed between him and all human joy and sympathy. And when, a few minutes
afterward, the jail-lock clicked behind him, it seemed to have shut out
life. For burial alive is no fable. Many a man has heard the closing of
the vault as Albert Charlton did.
It was a cold morning. The snow had fallen heavily the day before, and
the Stillwater stage was on runners. The four horses rushed round the
street-corners with eagerness as the driver, at a little past five
o'clock in the morning, moved about collecting passengers. From the
up-town hotels he drove in the light of the gas-lamps to the jail where
the deputy marshal, with his prisoner securely handcuffed, took his seat
and wrapped the robes about them both. Then at the down-town hotels they
took on other passengers. The Fuller House was the last call of all.
"Haven't you a back-seat?" The passenger partly spoke and partly coughed
out his inquiry.
"The back-seat is occupied by ladies," said the agent, "you will have to
take the front one."
"It will kill me to ride backwards," whined the desponding voice of
Minorkey, but as there were only two vacant seats he had no choice. He
put his daughter in the middle while he took the end of the seat and
resigned himself to death by retrograde motion. Miss Helen Minorkey was
thus placed exactly vis-à-vis with her old lover Albert Charlton, but
in the darkness of six o'clock on a winter's morning in Minnesota, she
could not know it. The gentleman who occupied the other end of the seat
recognized Mr. Minorkey, and was by him introduced to his daughter. That
lady could not wholly resist the exhilaration of such a stage-ride over
snowy roads, only half-broken as yet, where there was imminent peril of
upsetting at every turn. And so she and her new acquaintance talked of
many things, while Charlton could not but recall his ride, a short
half-year ago, on a front-seat, over the green prairies—had prairies
ever been greener?—and under the blue sky, and in bright sunshine—had
the sun ever shone so brightly?—with this same quiet-voiced, thoughtful
Helen Minorkey. How soon had sunshine turned to darkness! How suddenly
had the blossoming spring-time changed to dreariest winter!
It is really delightful, this riding through the snow and darkness in a
covered coach on runners, this battling with difficulties. There is a
spice of adventure in it quite pleasant if you don't happen to be the
driver and have the battle to manage. To be a well-muffled passenger,
responsible for nothing, not even for your own neck, is thoroughly
delightful—provided always that you are not the passenger in handcuffs
going to prison for ten years. To the passenger in handcuffs, whose good
name has been destroyed, whose liberty is gone, whose future is to be
made of weary days of monotonous drudgery and dreary nights in a damp
cell, whose friends have deserted him, who is an outlaw to society—to
the passenger in handcuffs this dashing and whirling toward a living
entombment has no exhilaration. Charlton was glad of the darkness, but
dreaded the dawn when there must come a recognition. In a whisper he
begged the deputy marshal to pull his cap down over his eyes and to
adjust his woolen comforter over his nose, not so much to avoid the cold
wind as to escape the cold eyes of Helen Minorkey. Then he hid his
handcuffs under the buffalo robes so that, if possible, he might escape
The gentleman alongside Miss Minorkey asked if she had read the account
of the trial of young Charlton, the post-office robber.
"Part of it," said Miss Minorkey. "I don't read trials much."
"For my part," said the gentleman, "I think the court was very merciful.
I should have given him the longest term known to the law. He ought to go
for twenty-one years. We all of us have to risk money in the mails, and
if thieves in the post-office are not punished severely, there is no
There spoke Commerce! Money is worth so much more than humanity, you
Miss Minorkey said that she knew something of the case. It was very
curious, indeed. Young Charlton was disposed to be honest, but he was
high-tempered. The taking of the warrant was an act of resentment, she
thought. He had had two or three quarrels or fights, she believed, with
the man from whom he took the warrant. He was a very talented young man,
but very ungovernable in his feelings.
The gentleman said that that was the very reason why he should have gone
for a longer time. A talented and self-conceited man of that sort was
dangerous out of prison. As it was, he would learn all the roguery of the
penitentiary, you know, and then we should none of us be safe from him.
There spoke the Spirit of the Law! Keep us safe, O Lord! whoever may go
to the devil!
In reply to questions from her companion, Miss Minorkey told the story of
Albert's conflict with Westcott—she stated the case with all the
coolness of a dispassionate observer.
There was no sign—Albert listened for it—of the slightest sympathy for
or against him in the matter. Then the story of little Katy was told as
one might tell something that had happened a hundred years ago, without
any personal sympathy. It was simply a curious story, an interesting
adventure with which to beguile a weary hour of stage riding in the
darkness. It would have gratified Albert to have been able to detect the
vibration of a painful memory or a pitying emotion, but Helen did not
suffer her placidity to be ruffled by disturbing emotion. The
conversation drifted to other subjects presently through Mr. Minorkey's
sudden recollection that the drowning excitement at Metropolisville had
brought on a sudden attack of his complaint, he had been seized with a
pain just under his ribs. It ran up to the point of the right shoulder,
and he thought he should die, etc., etc., etc. Nothing saved him but
putting his feet into hot water, etc., etc., etc.
The gray dawn came on, and Charlton was presently able to trace the
lineaments of the well-known countenance. He was not able to recognize it
again without a profound emotion, an emotion that he could not have
analyzed. Her face was unchanged, there was not the varying of a line in
the placid, healthy, thoughtful expression to indicate any deepening of
her nature through suffering. Charlton's face had changed so that she
would not have recognized him readily had it been less concealed. And by
so much as his countenance had changed and hers remained fixed, had he
drifted away from her. Albert felt this. However painful his emotion was,
as he sat there casting furtive glances at Helen's face, there was no
regret that all relation between them was broken forever. He was not
sorry for the meeting. He needed such a meeting to measure the parallax
of his progress and her stagnation. He needed this impression of Helen to
obliterate the memory of the row-boat. She was no longer to remain in his
mind associated with the blessed memory of little Kate. Hereafter he
could think of Katy in the row-boat—the other figure was a dim unreality
which might have come to mean something, but which never did mean
anything to him.
I wonder who keeps the tavern at Cypher's Lake now? In those old days it
was not a very reputable place; it was said that many a man had there
been fleeced at poker. The stage did not reach it on this snowy morning
until ten o'clock. The driver stopped to water, the hospitable landlord,
whose familiar nickname was "Bun," having provided a pail and cut a hole
through the ice of the lake for the accommodation of the drivers. Water
for beasts—gentlemen could meantime find something less "beastly" than
ice-water in the little low-ceiled bar-room on the other side of the
road. The deputy-marshal wanted to stretch his legs a little, and so,
trusting partly to his knowledge of Charlton's character, partly to
handcuffs, and partly to his convenient revolver, he leaped out of the
coach and stepped to the door of the bar-room just to straighten his
legs, you know, and get a glass of whisky "straight" at the same time. In
getting into the coach again he chanced to throw back the buffalo-robe
and thus exposed Charlton's handcuffs. Helen glanced at them, and then at
Albert's face. She shivered a little, and grew red. There was no
alternative but to ride thus face to face with Charlton for six miles.
She tried to feel herself an injured person, but something in the
self-possessed face of Albert—his comforter had dropped down now—awed
her, and she affected to be sick, leaning her head on her father's
shoulder and surprising that gentleman beyond measure. Helen had never
shown so much emotion of any sort in her life before, certainly never so
much confusion and shame. And that in spite of her reasoning that it was
not she but Albert who should be embarrassed. But the two seemed to have
changed places. Charlton was as cold and immovable as Helen Minorkey ever
had been; she trembled and shuddered, even with her eyes shut, to think
that his eyes were on her—looking her through and through—measuring all
the petty meanness and shallowness of her soul. She complained of the
cold and wrapped her blanket shawl about her face and pretended to be
asleep, but the shameful nakedness of her spirit seemed not a whit less
visible to the cool, indifferent eyes that she felt must be still looking
at her from under the shadow of that cap-front. What a relief it was at
last to get into the warm parlor of the hotel! But still she shivered
when she thought of her ride.
It is one thing to go into a warm parlor of a hotel, to order your room,
your fire, your dinner, your bed. It is quite another to drive up under
the high, rough limestone outer wall of a prison—a wall on which moss
and creeper refuse to grow—to be led handcuffed into a little office, to
have your credentials for ten years of servitude presented to the warden,
to have your name, age, nativity, hight, complexion, weight, and
distinguishing marks carefully booked, to have your hair cropped to half
the length of a prize-fighter's, to lay aside the dress which you have
chosen and which seems half your individuality, and put on a suit of
cheerless penitentiary uniform—to cease to be a man with a place among
men, and to become simply a convict. This is not nearly so agreeable as
living at the hotel. Did Helen Minorkey ever think of the difference?
There is little to be told of the life in the penitentiary. It is very
uniform. To eat prison fare without even the decency of a knife or
fork—you might kill a guard or a fellow-rogue with a fork—to sleep in a
narrow, rough cell on a hard bed, to have your cell unlocked and to be
marched out under guard in the morning, to go in a row of prisoners to
wash your face, to go in a procession to a frugal breakfast served on tin
plates in a dining-room mustier than a cellar, to be marched to your
work, to be watched by a guard while you work, to know that the guard has
a loaded revolver and is ready to draw it on slight provocation, to march
to meals under awe of the revolver, to march to bed while the man with
the revolver walks behind you, to be locked in and barred in and
double-locked in again, to have a piece of candle that will burn two
hours, to burn it out and lie down in the darkness—to go through one
such day and know that you have to endure three thousand six hundred and
fifty-two days like it—that is about all. The life of a blind horse in a
treadmill is varied and cheerful in comparison.
Oh! yes, there is Sunday. I forgot the Sunday. On Sundays you don't have
to work in the shops. You have the blessed privilege of sitting alone in
your bare cell all the day, except the hour of service. You can think
about the outside world and wish you were out. You can read, if you can
get anything interesting to read. You can count your term over, think of
a broken life, of the friends of other days who feel disgraced at mention
of your name, get into the dumps, and cry a little if you feel like it.
Only crying doesn't seem to do much good. Such is the blessedness of the
holy Sabbath in prison!
But Charlton did not let himself pine for liberty. He was busy with
plans for reconstructing his life. What he would have had it, it could
not be. You try to build a house, and it is shaken down about your ears
by an earthquake. Your material is, much of it, broken. You can never
make it what you would. But the brave heart, failing to do what it would,
does what it can. Charlton, who had hated the law as a profession, was
now enamored of it. He thought rightly that there is no calling that
offers nobler opportunities to a man who has a moral fiber able to bear
the strain. When he should have finished his term, he would be
thirty-one, and would be precluded from marriage by his disgrace. He
could live on a crust, if necessary, and be the champion of the
oppressed. What pleasure he would have in beating Conger some day! So he
arranged to borrow law-books, and faithfully used his two hours of candle
in studying. He calculated that in ten years—if he should survive ten
years of life in a cell—he could lay a foundation for eminence in legal
learning. Thus he made vinegar-barrels all day, and read Coke on
Littleton on Blackstone at night. His money received from the contractor
for over-work, he used to buy law-books.
Sometimes he hoped for a pardon, but there was only one contingency that
was likely to bring it about. And he could not wish for that. Unless,
indeed, the prison-officers should seek a pardon for him. From the
beginning they had held him in great favor. When he had been six months
in prison, his character was so well established with the guards that no
one ever thought of watching him or of inspecting his work.
He felt a great desire to have something done in a philanthropic way for
the prisoners, but when the acting chaplain, Mr. White, preached to
them, he always rebelled. Mr. White had been a steamboat captain, a
sheriff, and divers other things, and was now a zealous missionary among
the Stillwater lumbermen. The State could not afford to give more than
three hundred dollars a year for religious and moral instruction at this
time, and so the several pastors in the city served alternately, three
months apiece. Mr. White was a man who delivered his exhortations with
the same sort of vehemence that Captain White had used in giving orders
to his deck-hands in a storm; he arrested souls much as Sheriff White had
arrested criminals. To Albert's infidelity he gave no quarter. Charlton
despised the chaplain's lack of learning until he came to admire his
sincerity and wonder at his success. For the gracefulest and eruditest
orator that ever held forth to genteelest congregation, could not have
touched the prisoners by his highest flight of rhetoric as did the
earnest, fiery Captain-Sheriff-Chaplain White, who moved aggressively on
the wickedness of his felonious audience.
When Mr. White's three months had expired, there came another pastor, as
different from him as possible. Mr. Lurton was as gentle as his
predecessor had been boisterous. There was a strong substratum of manly
courage and will, but the whole was overlaid with a sweetness wholly
feminine and seraphic. His religion was the Twenty-third Psalm. His face
showed no trace of conflict. He had accepted the creed which he had
inherited without a question, and, finding in it abundant sources of
happiness, of moral development, and spiritual consolation, he thence
concluded it true. He had never doubted. It is a question whether his
devout soul would not have found peace and edification in any set of
opinions to which he had happened to be born. You have seen one or two
such men in your life. Their presence is a benison. Albert felt more
peaceful while Mr. Lurton stood without the grating of his cell, and
Lurton seemed to leave a benediction behind him. He did not talk in pious
cant, he did not display his piety, and he never addressed a sinner down
an inclined plane. He was too humble for that. But the settled, the
unruffled, the unruffleable peacefulness and trustfulness of his soul
seemed to Charlton, whose life had been stormier within than without,
nothing less than sublime. The inmates of the prison could not appreciate
this delicate quality in the young minister. Lurton had never lived near
enough to their life for them to understand him or for him to understand
them. He considered them all, on general principles, as lost sinners,
bad, like himself, by nature, who had superadded outward transgressions
and the crime of rejecting Christ to their original guilt and corruption
as members of the human family.
Charlton watched Lurton with intense interest, listened to all he had to
say, responded to the influence of his fine quality, but found his own
doubts yet unanswered and indeed untouched. The minister, on his part,
took a lively interest in the remarkable young man, and often endeavored
to remove his doubts by the well-knit logical arguments he had learned in
"Mr. Lurton," said Charlton impatiently one day, "were you ever troubled
"I do not remember that I ever seriously entertained a doubt in regard to
religious truth in my life," said Lurton, after reflection.
"Then you know no more about my doubts than a blind man knows of your
sense of sight." But after a pause, he added, laughing: "Nevertheless, I
would give away my doubtativeness any day in exchange for your
peacefulness." Charlton did not know, nor did Lurton, that the natures
which have never been driven into the wilderness to be buffeted of the
devil are not the deepest.
It was during Mr. Lurton's time as chaplain that Charlton began to
receive presents of little ornamental articles, intended to make his cell
more cheerful. These things were sent to him by the hands of the
chaplain, and the latter was forbidden to tell the name of the giver.
Books and pictures, and even little pots with flowers in them, came to
him in the early spring. He fancied they might come from some unknown
friend, who had only heard of him through the chaplain, and he was prone
to resent the charity. He received the articles with thankful lips, but
asked in his heart, "Is it not enough to be a convict, without being
pitied as such?" Why anybody in Stillwater should send him such things,
he did not know. The gifts were not expensive, but every one gave
evidence of a refined taste.
At last there came one—a simple cross, cut in paper, intended to be hung
up as a transparency before the window—that in some unaccountable way
suggested old associations. Charlton had never seen anything of the kind,
but he had the feeling of one who half-recognizes a handwriting. The
pattern had a delicacy about it approaching to daintiness, an expression
of taste and feeling which he seemed to have known, as when one sees a
face that is familiar, but which one can not "place," as we say. Charlton
could not place the memory excited by this transparency, but for a moment
he felt sure that it must be from some one whom he knew. But who could
there be near enough to him to send flower-pots and framed pictures
without great expense? There was no one in Stillwater whom he had ever
seen, unless indeed Helen Minorkey were there yet, and he had long since
given up all expectation and all desire of receiving any attention at her
hands. Besides, the associations excited by the transparency, the taste
evinced in making it, the sentiment which it expressed, were not of Helen
Minorkey. It was on Thursday that he hung it against the light of his
window. It was not until Sunday evening, as he lay listlessly watching
his scanty allowance of daylight grow dimmer, that he became sure of the
hand that he had detected in the workmanship of the piece. He got up
quickly and looked at it more closely and said: "It must be Isa Marlay!"
And he lay down again, saying: "Well, it can never be quite dark in a
man's life when he has one friend." And then, as the light grew more and
more faint, he said: "Why did not I see it before? Good orthodox Isa
wants to preach to me. She means to say that I should receive light
through the cross."
And he lay awake far into the night, trying to divine how the flower-pots
and pictures and all the rest could have been sent all the way from
Metropolisville. It was not till long afterward that he discovered the
alliance between Whisky Jim and Isabel, and how Jim had gotten a friend
on the Stillwater route to help him get them through. But Charlton wrote
Isa, and told her how he had detected her, and thanked her cordially,
asking her why she concealed her hand. She replied kindly, but with
little allusion to the gifts, and they came no more. When Isa had been
discovered she could not bring herself to continue the presents. Save
that now and then there came something from his mother, in which Isa's
taste and skill were evident, he received nothing more from her, except
an occasional friendly letter. He appreciated her delicacy too late, and
regretted that he had written about the cross at all.
One Sunday, Mr. Lurton, going his round, found Charlton reading the New
"Mr. Lurton, what a sublime prayer the Pater-noster is!" exclaimed
"Yes;" said Lurton, "it expresses so fully the only two feelings that can
bring us to God—a sense of guilt and a sense of dependence."
"What I admired in the prayer was not that, but the unselfishness that
puts God and the world first, and asks bread, forgiveness, and guidance
last. It seems to me, Mr. Lurton, that all men are not brought to God by
the same feelings. Don't you think that a man may be drawn toward God by
self-sacrifice—that a brave, heroic act, in its very nature, brings us
nearer to God? It seems to me that whatever the rule may be, there are
exceptions; that God draws some men to Himself by a sense of sympathy;
that He makes a sudden draft on their moral nature—not more than they
can bear, but all they can bear—and that in doing right under
difficulties the soul finds itself directed toward God—opened on the
side on which God sits."
Mr. Lurton shook his head, and protested, in his gentle and earnest way,
against this doctrine of man's ability to do anything good before
"But, Mr. Lurton," urged Albert, "I have known a man to make a great
sacrifice, and to find himself drawn by that very sacrifice into a great
admiring of Christ's sacrifice, into a great desire to call God his
father, and into a seeking for the forgiveness and favor that would make
him in some sense a child of God. Did you never know such a case?"
"Never. I do not think that genuine conversions come in that way. A sense
of righteousness can not prepare a man for salvation—only a sense of
sin—a believing that all our righteousness is filthy rags. Still, I
wouldn't discourage you from studying the Bible in any way. You will come
round right after a while, and then you will find that to be saved, a man
must abhor every so-called good thing that he ever did."
"Yes," said Charlton, who had grown more modest in his trials, "I am
sure there is some truth in the old doctrine as you state it. But is
not a man better and more open to divine grace, for resisting a
temptation to vice?"
Mr. Lurton hesitated. He remembered that he had read, in very sound
writers, arguments to prove that there could be no such thing as good
works before conversion, and Mr. Lurton was too humble to set his
judgment against the great doctors'. Besides, he was not sure that
Albert's questions might not force him into that dangerous heresy
attributed to Arminius, that good works may be the impulsive cause by
which God is moved to give His grace to the unconverted.
"Do you think that a man can really do good without God's help?" asked
"I don't think man ever tries to do right in humility and sincerity
without some help from God," answered Albert, whose mode of thinking
about God was fast changing for the better. "I think God goes out a long,
long way to meet the first motions of a good purpose in a man's heart.
The parable of the Prodigal Son only half-tells it. The parable breaks
down with a truth too great for human analogies. I don't know but that
He acts in the beginning of the purpose. I am getting to be a
Calvinist—in fact, on some points, I out-Calvin Calvin. Is not God's
help in the good purposes of every man?"
Mr. Lurton shook his head with a gentle gravity, and changed the subject
by saying, "I am going to Metropolisville next week to attend a meeting.
Can I do anything for you?"
"Go and see my mother," said Charlton, with emotion. "She is sick, and
will never get well, I fear. Tell her I am cheerful. And—Mr. Lurton—do
you pray with her. I do not believe anything, except by fits and starts;
but one of your prayers would do my mother good. If she could be half as
peaceful as you are, I should be happy."
Lurton walked away down the gallery from Albert's cell, and descended
the steps that led to the dining-room, and was let out of the locked and
barred door into the vestibule, and out of that into the yard, and
thence out through other locks into the free air of out-doors. Then he
took a long breath, for the sight of prison doors and locks and bars and
grates and gates and guards oppressed even his peaceful soul. And
walking along the sandy road that led by the margin of Lake St. Croix
toward the town, he recalled Charlton's last remark. And as he
meditatively tossed out of the path with his boot the pieces of
pine-bark which in this lumbering country lie about everywhere, he
rejoiced that Charlton had learned to appreciate the value of Christian
peace, and he offered a silent prayer that Albert might one day obtain
the same serenity as himself. For nothing was further from the young
minister's mind than the thought that any of his good qualities were
natural. He considered himself a miracle of grace upon all sides. As if
natural qualities were not also of God's grace!
It was a warm Sunday in the early spring, one week after Mr. Lurton's
conversation with Charlton, that the latter sat in his cell feeling the
spring he could not see. His prison had never been so much a prison. To
perceive this balminess creeping through the narrow, high window—a mere
orifice through a thick wall—and making itself feebly felt as it fell
athwart the damp chilliness of the cell, to perceive thus faintly the
breath of spring, and not to be able to see the pregnant tree-buds
bursting with the coming greenness of the summer, and not to be able to
catch the sound of the first twittering of the returning sparrows and the
hopeful chattering of the swallows, made Albert feel indeed that he and
life had parted.
Mr. Lurton's three months as chaplain had expired, and there had come in
his stead Mr. Canton, who wore a very stiff white neck-tie and a very
straight-breasted long-tailed coat. Nothing is so great a bar to human
sympathies as a clerical dress, and Mr. Canton had diligently fixed a
great gulf between himself and his fellow-men. Charlton's old, bitter
aggressiveness, which had well-nigh died out under the sweet influences
of Lurton's peacefulness, came back now, and he mentally pronounced the
new chaplain a clerical humbug and an ecclesiastical fop, and all such
mild paradoxical epithets as he was capable of forming. The hour of
service was ended, and Charlton was in his cell again, standing under the
high window, trying to absorb some of the influences of the balmy air
that reached him in such niggardly quantities. He was hungering for a
sight of the woods, which he knew must be so vital at this season. He had
only the geraniums and the moss-rose that Isa, had sent, and they were
worse than nothing, for they pined in this twilight of the cell, and
seemed to him smitten, like himself, with a living death. He almost
stopped, his heart's beating in his effort to hear the voices of the
birds, and at last he caught the harsh cawing of the crows for a moment,
and then that died away, and he could hear no sound but the voice of the
clergyman in long clothes talking perfunctorily to O'Neill, the
wife-murderer, in the next cell. He knew that his turn would come next,
and it did. He listened in silence and with much impatience to such a
moral lecture as seemed to Mr. Canton befitting a criminal.
Mr. Canton then handed him a letter, and seeing that it was addressed
in the friendly hand of Lurton, he took it to the window and opened
it, and read:
"DEAR MR. CHARLTON:
"I should have come to see you and told you about my trip to
Metropolisville, but I am obliged to go out of town again. I send this by
Mr. Canton, and also a request to the warden to pass this and your answer
without the customary inspection of contents. I saw your mother and your
stepfather and your friend Miss Marlay. Your mother is failing very fast,
and I do not think it would be a kindness for me to conceal from you my
belief that she can not live many weeks. I talked with her and prayed
with her as you requested, but she seems to have some intolerable mental
burden. Miss Marlay is evidently a great comfort to her, and, indeed, I
never saw a more faithful person than she in my life, or a more
remarkable exemplification of the beauty of a Christian life. She takes
every burden off your mother except that unseen load which seems to
trouble her spirit, and she believes absolutely in your innocence. By the
way, why did you never explain to her or to me or to any of your friends
the real history of the case? There must at least have been extenuating
circumstances, and we might be able to help you.
"But I am writing about everything except what I want to say, or rather
to ask, for I tremble to ask it. Are you interested in any way other
than as a friend in Miss Isabel Marlay? You will guess why I ask the
question. Since I met her I have thought of her a great deal, and I may
add to you that I have anxiously sought divine guidance in a matter
likely to affect the usefulness of my whole life. I will not take a
single step in the direction in which my heart has been so suddenly
drawn, if you have any prior claim, or even the remotest hope of
establishing one in some more favorable time. Far be it from me to add a
straw to the heavy burden you have had to bear. I expect to be in
Metropolisville again soon, and will see your mother once more. Please
answer me with frankness, and believe me,
"Always your friend,
The intelligence regarding his mother's health was not new to Albert, for
Isa had told him fully of her state. It would be difficult to describe
the feeling of mingled pain and pleasure with which he read Lurton's
confession of his sudden love for Isabel. Nothing since his imprisonment
had so humbled Charlton as the recollection of the mistake he had made in
his estimate of Helen Minorkey, and his preference for her over Isa. He
had lain on his cot sometimes and dreamed of what might have been if he
had escaped prison and had chosen Isabel instead of Helen. He had
pictured to himself the content he might have had with such a woman for a
wife. But then the thought of his disgrace—a disgrace he could not share
with a wife—always dissipated the beautiful vision and made the hard
reality of what was, seem tenfold harder for the ravishing beauty of what
might have been.
And now the vision of the might-have-been came back to him more clearly
than ever, and he sat a long while with his head leaning on his hand.
Then the struggle passed, and he lighted his little ration of candle,
"REV. J.H. LURTON:
"DEAR SIR: You have acted very honorably in writing me as you have, and I
admire you now more than ever. You fulfill my ideal of a Christian. I
never had the slightest claim or the slightest purpose to establish any
claim on Isabel Marlay, for I was so blinded by self-conceit, that I did
not appreciate her until it was too late. And now! What have I to offer
to any woman? The love of a convicted felon! A name tarnished forever!
No! I shall never share that with Isa Marlay. She is, indeed, the best
and most sensible of women. She is the only woman worthy of such a man as
you. You are the only man I ever saw good enough for Isabel. I love you
both. God bless you!
"Very respectfully and gratefully, CHARLTON."
Mr. Lurton had staid during the meeting of the ecclesiastical
body—Presbytery, Consociation, Convention, Conference, or what not, it
does not matter—at Squire Plausaby's Albert had written about him, and
Isa, as soon as she heard that he was to attend, had prompted Plausaby to
enter a request with the committee on the entertainment of delegates for
the assignment of Mr. Lurton to him as guest. His peacefulness had not,
as Albert and Isabel hoped, soothed the troubled spirit of Mrs. Plausaby,
who was in a great terror at thought of death. The skillful surgeon
probes before he tries to heal, and Mr. Lurton set himself to find the
cause of all this irritation in the mind of this weak woman. Sometimes
she seemed inclined to tell him all, but it always happened that when she
was just ready to speak, the placid face of Plausaby glided in at the
door. On the appearance of her husband, Mrs. Plausaby would cease
speaking. It took Lurton a long time to discover that Plausaby was the
cause of this restraint. He did discover it, however, and endeavored to
get an interview when there was no one present but Isabel. In trying to
do this, he made a fresh discovery—that Plausaby was standing guard over
his wife, and that the restraint he exercised was intentional. The
mystery of the thing fascinated him; and the impression that it had
something to do with Charlton, and the yet stronger motive of a sense of
duty to the afflicted woman, made him resolute in his determination to
penetrate it. Not more so, however, than was Isabel, who endeavored in
every way to secure an uninterrupted interview for Mr. Lurton, but
endeavored in vain.
Lurton was thus placed in favorable circumstances to see Miss Marlay's
qualities. Her graceful figure in her simple tasteful, and perfectly
fitting frock, her rhythmical movement, her rare voice, all touched
exquisitely so sensitive a nature as Lurton's. But more than that was he
moved by her diligent management of the household, her unwearying
patience with the querulous and feeble-minded sick woman, her tact and
common-sense, and especially the entire truthfulness of her character.
Mr. Lurton made excuse to himself for another trip to Metropolisville
that he had business in Perritaut. It was business that might have
waited; it was business that would have waited, but for his desire to
talk further with Mrs. Plausaby, and for his other desire to see and talk
with Isabel Marlay again. For, if he should fail of her, where would he
ever find one so well suited to help the usefulness of his life? Happy is
he whose heart and duty go together! And now that Lurton had found that
Charlton had no first right to Isabel, his worst fear had departed.
Even in his palpitating excitement about Isa, he was the true minister,
and gave his first thought to the spiritual wants of the afflicted woman
whom he regarded as providentially thrown upon his care. He was so
fortunate as to find Plausaby absent at Perritaut. But how anxiously did
he wait for the time when he could see the sick woman! Even Isa almost
lost her patience with Mrs. Plausaby's characteristic desire to be fixed
up to receive company. She must have her hair brushed and her bed
"tidied," and, when Isabel thought she had concluded everything, Mrs.
Plausaby would insist that all should be undone again and fixed m some
other way. Part of this came from her old habitual vanity, aggravated by
the querulous childishness produced by sickness, and part from a desire
to postpone as long as she could an interview which she greatly dreaded.
Isa knew that time was of the greatest value, and so, when she had
complied with the twentieth unreasonable exaction of the sick woman, and
was just about to hear the twenty-first, she suddenly opened the door of
Mrs. Plausaby's sickroom and invited Mr. Lurton to enter.
And then began again the old battle—the hardest conflict of all—the
battle with vacillation. To contend with a stubborn will is a simple
problem of force against force. But to contend with a weak and
vacillating will is fighting the air.
Mrs. Plausaby said she had something to say to Mr. Lurton. But—dear
me—she was so annoyed! The room was not fit for a stranger to see. She
must look like a ghost. There was something that worried her. She was
afraid she was going to die, and she had—did Mr. Lurton think she would
die? Didn't he think she might get well?
Mr. Lurton had to say that, in his opinion, she could never get well, and
that if there was anything on her mind, she would better tell it.
Didn't Isa think she could get well? She didn't want to die. But then
Katy was dead. Would she go to heaven if she died? Did Mr. Lurton think
that if she had done wrong, she ought to confess it? Couldn't she be
forgiven without that? Wouldn't he pray for her unless she confessed it?
He ought not to be so hard on her. Would God be hard on her if she did
not tell it all? Oh! she was so miserable!
Mr. Lurton told her that sometimes people committed sin by refusing to
confess because their confession had something to do with other people.
Was her confession necessary to remove blame from others?
"Oh!" cried the sick woman, "Albert has told you all about it! Oh, dear!
now I shall have more trouble! Why didn't he wait till I'm dead? Isn't it
enough to have Katy drowned and Albert gone to that awful place and this
trouble? Oh! I wish I was dead! But then—maybe God would be hard on me!
Do you think God would be hard on a woman that did wrong if she was told
to do it? And if she was told to do it by her own husband? And if she had
to do it to save her husband from some awful trouble? There, I nearly
told it. Won't that do?"
And she turned her head over and affected to be asleep. Mr. Lurton was
now more eager than ever that the whole truth should come out, since he
began to see how important Mrs. Plausaby's communication might be.
Beneath all his sweetness, as I have said, there was much manly firmness,
and he now drew his chair near to the bedside, and began in a tone full
of solemnity, with that sort of quiet resoluteness that a surgeon has
when he decides to use the knife. He was the more resolute because he
knew that if Plausaby returned before the confession should be made,
there would be no possibility of getting it.
"Mrs. Plausaby," he said, but she affected to be asleep. "Mrs. Plausaby,
suppose a woman, by doing wrong when her husband asks it, brings a great
calamity on the only child she has, locking him in prison and destroying
his good name—"
"Oh, dear, dear! stop! You'll kill me! I knew Albert had told you. Now I
won't say a word about it. If he has told it, there is no use of my
saying anything," and she covered up her face in a stubborn, childish
Mr. Lurton wisely left the room. Mrs. Plausaby's fears of death soon
awakened again, and she begged Isa to ask Mr. Lurton to come back. Like
most feeble people, she had a superstitious veneration for ecclesiastical
authority, and now in her weakened condition she had readily got a vague
notion that Lurton held her salvation in his hands, and could modify the
conditions if he would.
"You aren't a Catholic are you, Mr. Lurton?"
"No, I am not at all a Catholic."
"Well, then, what makes you want me to confess?"
"Because you are adding to your first sin a greater one in wronging your
son by not confessing."
"Who told you that? Did Albert?"
"No, you told me as much as that, yourself."
"Did I? Why, then I might as well tell you all. But why won't that do?"
"Because, that much would not get Albert out of prison. You don't want to
leave him in penitentiary when you're gone, do you?"
"Oh, dear! I can't tell. Plausaby won't let me. Maybe I might tell Isa."
"That will do just as well. Tell Miss Marlay." And Lurton walked out on
For half an hour Mrs. Plausaby talked to Isa and told her nothing. She
would come face to face with the confession, and then say that she could
not tell it, that Plausaby would do something awful if he knew she had
said so much.
At last Isabel was tired out with this method, and was desperate at the
thought that Plausaby would return while yet the confession was
incomplete. So she determined to force Mrs. Plausaby to speak.
"Now, Mrs. Plausaby," she said, "what did Uncle Plausaby say to you that
made you take that letter of Smith Westcott's?"
"I didn't take it, did I? How do you know? I didn't say so?"
"You have told me part, and if you tell me the rest I will keep it secret
for the present. If you don't tell me, I shall tell Uncle Plausaby what I
know, and tell him that he must tell me the rest."
"You wouldn't do that, Isabel? You couldn't do that. Don't do that,"
begged the sick woman.
"Then tell me the truth," she said with sternness. "What made you take
that land-warrant—for you know you did, and you must not tell me a lie
when you're just going to die and go before God."
"There now, Isa, I knew you would hate me. That's the reason why I can't
tell it. Everybody has been looking so hateful at me ever since I took
the letter, I mean ever since—Oh! I didn't mean anything bad, but you
know I have to do what Plausaby tells me I must do. He's such a man!
And then he was in trouble. There was some old trouble from Pennsylvania.
The men came on here, and made him pay money, all the money he could get,
to keep them from having him put in prison. I don't know what it was all
about, you know, I never could understand about business, but here was
Albert bothering him about money to pay for a warrant, and these men
taking all his money, and here was a trial about some lots that he sold
to that fat man with curly hair, and he was afraid Albert would swear
against him about that and about the county-seat, and so he wanted to get
him away. And there was an awful bother about Katy and Westcott at the
same time. And I wanted a changeable silk dress, and he couldn't get it
for me because all his money was going to the men from Pennsylvania.
But—I can't tell you any more. I'm afraid Plausaby might come. You won't
tell, and you won't hate me, Isa, dear—now, will you? You used to be
good to me, but you won't be good to me any more!"
"I'll always love you if you only tell me the rest."
"No, I can't. For you see Plausaby didn't mean any harm, and I didn't
mean any harm. Plausaby wanted Albert to go away so they couldn't get
Albert to swear against him. It was all Albert's fault, you know—he had
such notions. But he was a good boy, and I can't sleep at night now for
seeing him behind a kind of a grate, and he seems to be pointing his
finger at me and saying, 'You put me in here.' But I didn't. That's one
of his notions. It was Plausaby made me do it. And he didn't mean any
harm. He said Westcott would soon be his son-in-law. He had helped
Westcott to get the claim anyhow. It was only borrowing a little from
his own son-in-law. He said that I must get the letter out of the
office when Albert did not see me. He said it would be a big letter,
with 'Red Owl' stamped on it, and that it would be in Mr. Westcott's
box. And he said I must take the land-warrant out and burn up the letter
and the envelope. And then he said I must give the land-warrant to
Albert the next day, and tell him that a man that came up in the stage
brought it from Plausaby. And he said he'd get another and bring it home
with him and give it to Westcott, and make it all right. And that would
keep him out of prison, and get Albert away so he couldn't swear against
him in the suit with the fat man, and then he would be able to get me
the changeable silk that I wanted so much. But things went all wrong
with him since, and I never got the changeable silk, and he said he
would keep Albert out of penitentiary and he didn't, and Albert told me
I musn't tell anybody about taking it myself, for he couldn't bear to
have me go to prison. Now, won't that do? But don't you tell Plausaby.
He looks at me sometimes so awfully. Oh, dear! if I could have told that
before, maybe I wouldn't have died. It's been killing me all the time.
Oh, dear! dear! I wish I was dead, if only I was sure I wouldn't go to
the bad place."
Isa now acquainted Lurton briefly with the nature of Mrs. Plausaby's
statement, and Lurton knelt by her bedside and turned it into a very
solemn and penitent confession to God, and very trustfully prayed for
forgiveness, and—call it the contagion of Lurton's own faith, if you
will—at any rate, the dying woman felt a sense of relief that the story
was told, and a sense of trust and more peace than she had ever known in
her life. Lurton had led her feeble feet into a place of rest. And he
found joy in thinking that, though his ministry to rude lumbermen and
hardened convicts might be fruitless, he had at least some gifts that
made him a source of strength and consolation to the weak, the
remorseful, the bereaved, and the dying. He stepped out of the door of
the sick-chamber, and there, right before him, was Plausaby, his smooth
face making a vain endeavor to keep its hold upon itself. But Lurton saw
at once that Plausaby had heard the prayer in which he had framed Mrs.
Plausaby's confession to Isa into a solemn and specific confession to
God. I know no sight more pitiful than that of a man who has worn his
face as a mask, when at last the mask is broken and the agony behind
reveals itself. Lurton had a great deal of presence of mind, and if he
did not think much of the official and priestly authority of a minister,
he had a prophet's sense of his moral authority. He looked calmly and
steadily into the eyes of Plausaby, Esq., and the hollow sham, who had
been unshaken till now, quailed; counterfeit serenity could not hold its
head up and look the real in the face. Had Lurton been abashed or nervous
or self-conscious, Plausaby might have assumed an air of indignation at
the minister's meddling. But Lurton had nothing but a serene sense of
having been divinely aided in the performance of a delicate and difficult
duty. He reached out his hand and greeted Plausaby quietly and
courteously and yet solemnly. Isabel, for her part, perceiving that
Plausaby had overheard, did not care to conceal the indignation she felt.
Poor Plausaby, Esq.! the disguise was torn, and he could no longer hide
himself. He sat down and wiped the perspiration from his forehead, and
essayed to speak, as before, to the minister, of his anxiety about his
poor, dear wife, but he could not do it. Exert himself as he would, the
color would not return to his pallid lips, and he had a shameful
consciousness that the old serene and complacent look, when he tried it,
was sadly crossed by rigid lines of hard anxiety and shame. The mask was
indeed broken—the nakedness and villainy could no more be hidden! And
even the voice, faithful and obedient hitherto, always holding the same
rhythmical pace, had suddenly broken rein, galloping up and down the
gamut in a husky jangling.
"Mr. Plausaby, let us walk," said Lurton, not affecting in the least to
ignore Plausaby's agitation. They walked in silence through the village
out to the prairie. Plausaby, habitually a sham, tried, to recover his
ground. He said something about his wife's not being quite sane, and was
going to caution Lurton about believing anything Mrs. Plausaby might say.
"Mr. Plausaby," said Lurton, "is it not better to repent of your sins and
make restitution, than to hide them?"
Plausaby cleared his throat and wiped the perspiration from his brow, but
he could not trust his voice to say anything.
It was vain to appeal to Plausaby to repent. He had saturated himself in
falsehood from the beginning. Perhaps, after all, the saturation had
began several generations back, and unhappy Plausaby, born to an
inheritance of falsehood, was to be pitied as well as blamed. He was even
now planning to extort from his vacillating wife a written statement that
should contradict any confession of hers to Isa and Lurton.
Fly swiftly, pen! For Isa Marlay knew the stake in this game, and she
did not mean that any chance of securing Charlton's release should be
neglected. She knew nothing of legal forms, but she could write a
straight-out statement after a woman's fashion. So she wrote a paper
which read as follows:
"I do not expect to live long, and I solemnly confess that I took the
land-warrant from Smith Westcott's letter, for which my son Albert
Charlton is now unjustly imprisoned in the penitentiary, and I did it
without the knowledge of Albert, and at the instigation of Thomas
Plausaby, my husband."
This paper Isa read to Mrs. Plausaby, and that lady, after much
vacillation, signed it with a feeble hand. Then Isabel wrote her own name
as a witness. But she wanted another witness. At this moment Mrs. Ferret
came in, having an instinctive feeling that a second visit from Lurton
boded something worth finding out. Isa took her into Mrs. Plausaby's room
and told her to witness this paper.
"Well," said pertinacious Mrs. Ferret, "I'll have to know what is in
it, won't I?"
"No, you only want to know that this is Mrs. Plausaby's signature," and
Isa placed her fingers over the paper in such a way that Mrs. Ferret
could not read it.
"Did you sign this, Mrs. Plausaby?"
The sick woman said she did.
"Do you know what is in it?"
"Yes, but—but it's a secret."
"Did you sign it of your own free will, or did Mr. Plausaby make you?"
"Mr. Plausaby! Oh! don't tell him about it. He'll make such an awful
fuss! But it's true."
Thus satisfied that it was not a case of domestic despotism, Mrs. Ferret
wrote her peculiar signature, and made a private mark besides.
And later in the evening Mrs. Plausaby asked Isa to send word to that
nice-looking young woman that Albert loved so much. She said she
supposed he must feel bad about her. She wanted Isa to tell her all
about it. "But not till I'm dead," she added. "Do you think people know
what people say about them after they're dead? And, Isa, when I'm laid
out let me wear my blue merino dress, and do my hair up nice, and put a
bunch of roses in my hand. I wish Plausaby had got that changeable silk.
It would have been better than the blue merino. But you know best. Only
don't forget to tell Albert's girl that he did not do it. But explain it
all so she won't think I'm a—that I did it a-purpose, you know. I
didn't mean to. What makes you look at me that way? Oh, dear! Isa, you
won't ever love me any more!"
But Isa quieted her by putting her arms around her neck in a way that
made the poor woman cry, and say, "That's just the way Katy used to do.
When I die, Katy'll love me all the same. Won't she? Katy always did love
a body so." Perhaps she felt that Isabel's love was not like Katy's. For
pity is not love, and even Mrs. Plausaby could hardly avoid
distinguishing the spontaneous affection of Katy from this demonstration
of Isa's, which must have cost her some exertion.
Mrs. Plausaby grew more feeble. Her remorse and her feeling of the dire
necessity for confessing her sin had sustained her hitherto. But now her
duty was done, she had no longer any mental stimulant. In spite of Isa's
devoted and ingenious kindness, the sensitive vanity of Mrs. Plausaby
detected in every motion evidence that Isa thought of her as a thief.
She somehow got a notion that Mrs. Ferret knew all about it also, and
from her and Mr. Lurton she half-hid her face in the cover. Lurton,
perceiving that his mission to Mrs. Plausaby was ended, returned home,
intending to see Isabel when circumstances should be more favorable. But
the Ferret kept sniffing round after a secret which she knew lay not far
away. Mrs. Plausaby having suddenly grown worse, Isa determined to sit
by her during the night, but Plausaby strenuously objected that this was
unnecessary. The poor woman secretly besought Isa not to leave her alone
with Plausaby, and Isabel positively refused to go away from her
bedside. For the first time Mr. Plausaby spoke harshly to Isa, and for
the first time Isabel treated him with a savage neglect. A housekeeper's
authority is generally supreme in the house, and Isa had gradually come
to be the housekeeper. She sat stubbornly by the dying woman during the
Mr. Plausaby had his course distinctly marked out. In the morning he
watched anxiously for the arrival of his trusted lawyer, Mr. Conger. The
property which he had married with his wife, and which she had derived
from Albert's father, had all been made over to her again to save it from
Plausaby's rather eager creditors. He had spent the preceding day at
Perritaut, whither Mr. Conger had gone to appear in a case as counsel for
Plausaby, for the county-seat had recently returned to its old abode. Mr.
Plausaby intended to have his wife make some kind of a will that would
give him control of the property and yet keep it under shelter. By what
legal fencing this was to be done nobody knows, but it has been often
surmised that Mrs. Plausaby was to leave it to her husband in trust for
the Metropolisville University. Mr. Plausaby had already acquired
experience in the management of trust funds, in the matter of Isa's
patrimony, and it would not be a feat beyond his ability for him to own
his wife's bequest and not to own it at the same time. This was the
easier that territorial codes are generally made for the benefit of
absconding debtors. He had made many fair promises about a final transfer
of this property to Albert and Katy when they should both be of age, but
all that was now forgotten, as it was intended to be.
Mr. Plausaby was nervous. His easy, self-possessed manner had departed,
and that impenetrable coat of mail being now broken up, he shuddered
whenever the honest, indignant eyes of Miss Marlay looked at him. He
longed for the presence of the bustling, energetic man of law, to keep
him in countenance.
When the lawyer came, he and Plausaby were closeted for half an hour.
Then Plausaby, Esq., took a walk, and the attorney requested an interview
with Isabel. She came in, stiff, cold, and self-possessed.
"Miss Marlay," said the lawyer, smiling a little as became a man asking a
favor from a lady, and yet looking out at Isa in a penetrating way from
beneath shadowing eyebrows, "will you have the goodness to tell me the
nature of the paper that Mrs. Plausaby signed yesterday?"
"Did Mrs. Plausaby sign a paper yesterday?" asked Isabel diplomatically.
"I have information to that effect. Will you tell me whether that paper
was of the nature of a will or deed or—in short, what was its
"I will not tell you anything about it. It is Mrs. Plausaby's secret. I
suppose you get your information from Mrs. Ferret. If she chooses to tell
you the contents, she may."
"You are a little sharp, Miss Marlay. I understand that Mrs. Ferret does
not know the contents of that paper. As the confidential legal adviser of
Mr. Plausaby and of Mrs. Plausaby, I have a right to ask what the
contents of that paper were."
"As the confidential legal adviser—" Isa stopped and stammered. She
was about to retort that as confidential legal adviser to Mrs. Plausaby
he might ask that lady herself, but she was afraid of his doing that very
thing; so she stopped short and, because she was confused, grew a little
angry, and told Mr. Conger that he had no right to ask any questions, and
then got up and disdainfully walked out of the room. And the lawyer, left
alone, meditated that women had a way, when they were likely to be
defeated, of getting angry, or pretending to get angry. And you never
could do anything with a woman when she was angry. Or, as Conger framed
it in his mind, a mad dog was easier to handle than a mad woman.
As the paper signed the day before could not have been legally executed,
Plausaby and his lawyer guessed very readily that it probably did not
relate to property. The next step was an easy one to the client if not to
the lawyer. It must relate to the crime—it was a solution of the
mystery. Plausaby knew well enough that a confession had been made to
Lurton, but he had not suspected that Isabel would go so far as to put it
into writing. The best that could be done was to have Conger frame a
counter-declaration that her confession had been signed under a
misapprehension—had been obtained by coercion, over-persuasion, and so
forth. Plausaby knew that his wife would sign anything if he could
present the matter to her alone. But, to get rid of Isabel Marlay?
A very coward now in the presence of Isa, he sent the lawyer ahead, while
he followed close behind.
"Miss Marlay," said Mr. Conger, smiling blandly but speaking with
decision, "it will be necessary for me to speak to Mrs. Plausaby for a
few minutes alone."
It is curious what an effect a tone of authority has. Isa rose and would
have gone out, but Mrs. Plausaby said, "Don't leave me, don't leave me,
Isa; they want to arrest me, I believe."
Seeing her advantage, Miss Marlay said, "Mrs. Plausaby wishes me to
It was in vain that the lawyer insisted. It was in vain that Mr. Plausaby
stepped forward and told Mrs. Plausaby to ask Isabel to leave the room a
minute. The sick woman only drew the cover over her eyes and held fast
to Isabel's hand and said: "No, no, don't go—Isa, don't go."
"I will not go till you ask me," said Isa.
At last, however, Plausaby pushed himself close to his wife and said
something in her ear. She turned pale, and when he asked if she wished
Isabel to go she nodded her head.
"But I won't go at all now," said Isa stubbornly, "unless you will go out
of the room first. Then, if Mrs. Plausaby tells me that she wishes to see
you and this gentleman without my presence, I shall go."
Mr. Plausaby drew the attorney into one corner of the room for
consultation. Nothing but the desperateness of his position and the
energetic advice of Mr. Conger could have induced him to take the course
which he now decided upon, for force was not a common resort with him,
and with all his faults, he was a man of much kindness of heart.
"Isa," he said, "I have always been a father to you. Now you are
conspiring against me. If you do not go out, I shall be under the painful
necessity of putting you out, gently, but by main strength." The old
smile was on his face. He seized her arms, and Isa, seeing how useless
resistance would be, and how much harm excitement might do to the
patient, rose to go. But at that moment, happening to look toward the
bed, she cried out, "Mrs. Plausaby is dying!" and she would not have been
a woman if she could have helped adding, "See what you have done, now!"
There was nothing Mr. Plausaby wanted less than that his wife should die
at this inconvenient moment. He ran off for the doctor, but poor, weak
Mrs. Plausaby was past signing wills or recantations.
The next day she died.
And Isa wrote to Albert:
"METROPOLISVILLE, May 17th, 1857.
"DEAR SIR: Your poor mother died yesterday. She suffered little in body,
and her mind was much more peaceful after her last interview with Mr.
Lurton, which resulted in her making a frank statement of the
circumstances of the land-warrant affair. She afterward had it written
down, and signed it, that it might be used to set you free. She also
asked me to tell Miss Minorkey, and I shall send her a letter by this
mail. I am so glad that your innocence is to be proved at last. I have
said nothing about the statement your mother made to any one except Miss
Minorkey, because I am unwilling to use it without your consent. You have
great reason to be grateful to Mr. Lurton. Ho has shown himself your
friend, indeed. I think him an excellent man. He comforted your mother a
great deal. You had better let me put the writing your mother left, into
his hands. I am sure he will secure your freedom for you.
"Your mother died without any will, and all the property is yours.
Your father earned it, and I am glad it goes back to its rightful
owner. You will not agree with me, but I believe in a Providence, now,
more than ever.
"Truly your friend, ISABEL MARLAY."
The intelligence of his mother's death caused Albert a real sorrow. And
yet he could hardly regret it. Charlton was not conscious of anything but
a filial grief. But the feeling of relief modified his sorrow.
The letter filled him with a hope of pardon. Now that he could without
danger to his mother seek release from an unjust incarceration, he became
eager to get out. The possibility of release made every hour of
He experienced a certain dissatisfaction with Isa's letter. She had
always since his imprisonment taken pains to write cordially. He had been
"Dear Mr. Charlton," or "My Dear Mr. Charlton," and sometimes even "My
Dear Friend." Isa was anxious that he should not feel any coldness in her
letters. Now that he was about to be released and would naturally feel
grateful to her, the case was very different. But Albert could not see
why she should be so friendly with him when she had every reason to
believe him guilty, and now that she knew him innocent should freeze him
with a stranger-like coolness. He had resolved to care nothing for her,
and yet here he was anxious for some sign that she cared for him.
Albert wrote in reply:
"HOUSE OF BONDAGE, May 20th, 1857.
"MY DEAR, GOOD FRIEND: The death of my mother has given me a great deal
of sorrow, though it did not surprise me. I remember now how many times
of late years I have given her needless trouble. For whatever mistakes
her personal peculiarities led her into, she was certainly a most
affectionate mother. I can now see, and the reflection causes me much
bitterness, that I might have been more thoughtful of her happiness
without compromising my opinions. How much trouble my self-conceit must
have given her! Your rebuke on this subject has been very fresh in mind
since I heard of her death. And I am feeling lonely, too. Mother and Katy
have gone, and more distant relatives will not care to know an outlaw.
"If I had not seen Mr. Lurton, I should not have known how much I owe to
your faithful friendship. I doubt not God will reward you. For I, too, am
coming to believe in a Providence!
"Sometimes I think this prison has done me good. There may be some truth,
after all, in that acrid saying of Mrs. Ferret's about 'sanctified
affliction,' though she does know how to make even truth hateful. I
haven't learned to believe as you and Mr. Lurton would have me, and yet I
have learned not to believe so much in my own infallibility. I have been
a high-church skeptic—I thought as much of my own infallibility as poor
O'Neill in the next cell does of the Pope's. And I suppose I shall always
have a good deal of aggressiveness and uneasiness and all that about
me—I am the same restless man yet, full of projects and of opinions. I
can not be Lurton—I almost wish I could. But I have learned some things.
I am yet very unsettled in my opinions about Christ—sometimes he seems
to be a human manifestation of God, and at other times, when my skeptical
habit comes back, he seems only the divinest of men. But I believe in
him with all my heart, and may be I shall settle down on some definite
opinion after a while. I had a mind to ask Lurton to baptize me the other
day, but I feared he wouldn't do it. All the faith I could profess would
be that I believe enough in Christ to wish to be his disciple. I know Mr.
Lurton wouldn't think that enough. But I don't believe Jesus himself
would refuse me. His immediate followers couldn't have believed much more
than that at first. And I don't think you would refuse me baptism if you
were a minister.
"Mr. Lurton has kindly offered to endeavor to secure my release, and he
will call on you for that paper. I hope you'll like Lurton as well as
he does you. You are the only woman in the world good enough for him,
and he is the only man fit for you. And if it should ever come to pass
that you and he should be happy together, I shall be too glad to envy
either of you.
"Do shield the memory of my mother. You know how little she was to blame.
I can not bear that people should talk about her unkindly. She had such a
dread of censure. I think that is what killed her. I am sorry you wrote
to Helen Minorkey. I could not now share my disgrace with a wife; and if
I could marry, she is one of the last I should ever think of seeking. I
do not even care to have her think well of me.
"As to the property, I am greatly perplexed. Plausaby owned it once
rightfully and legally, and there are innocent creditors who trusted him
on the strength of his possession of it. I wish I did not have the
responsibility of deciding what I ought to do.
"I have written a long letter. I would write a great deal more if I
thought I could ever express the gratitude I feel to you. But I am going
to be always,
"Your grateful and faithful friend,
This letter set Isabel's mind in a whirl of emotions. She sincerely
admired Lurton, but she had never thought of him as a lover. Albert's
gratitude and praises would have made her happy, but his confidence that
she would marry Lurton vexed her. And yet the thought that Lurton might
love her made it hard to keep from dreaming of a new future, brighter
than any she had supposed possible to her.
MR. LURTON'S COURTSHIP.
After the death of Mrs. Plausaby, Isa had broken at once with her
uncle-in-law, treating him with a wholesome contempt whenever she found
opportunity. She had made many apologies for Plausaby's previous
offenses—this was too much even for her ingenious charity. For want of a
better boarding-place, she had taken up her abode at Mrs. Ferret's, and
had opened a little summer-school in the village schoolhouse. She began
immediately to devise means for securing Charlton's release. Her first
step was to write to Lurton, but she had hardly mailed the letter, when
she received Albert's, announcing that Lurton was coming to see her; and
almost immediately that gentleman himself appeared again in
Metropolisville. He spent the evening in devising with Isa proper means
of laying the evidences of Charlton's innocence before the President in a
way calculated to secure his pardon. Lurton knew two Representatives and
one Senator, and he had hope of being able to interest them in the case.
He would go to Washington himself. Isa thought his offer very generous,
and found in her heart a great admiration for him. Lurton, on his part,
regarded Isabel with more and more wonder and affection. He told her at
last, in a sweet and sincere humility, the burden of his heart. He
confessed his love with a frankness that was very winning, and with a
gentle deference that revealed him to her the man he was—affectionate,
sincere, and unselfish.
If Isabel had been impulsive, she would have accepted at once, under the
influence of his presence. But she had a wise, practical way of taking
time to think. She endeavored to eliminate entirely the element of
feeling, and see the offer in the light in which it would show itself
after present circumstances had passed. For if Lurton had been a crafty
man, he could not have offered himself at a moment more opportune. Isa
was now homeless, and without a future. If you ask me why, then, she did
not accept Lurton without hesitation, I answer that I can no more explain
this than I can explain all the other paradoxes of love that I see every
day. Was it that he was too perfect? Is it easier for a woman to love a
man than a model? People are not apt to be enamored of monotony, even of
a monotony of goodness. Was it, then, that Isa would have liked a man
whose soul had been a battle-field, rather than one in whom goodness and
faith had had an easy time? Did she feel more sympathy for one who had
fought and overcome, like Charlton, than for one who had never known a
great struggle? Perhaps I have not touched at all upon the real reason
for Isa's hesitation. But she certainly did hesitate. She found it quite
impossible to analyze her own feelings in the matter. The more she
thought about it, the more hopeless her confusion became.
It is one of the unhappy results produced by some works of religious
biography, that people who copy methods, are prone to copy those not
adapted to their own peculiarities. Isabel, in her extremity of
indecision, remembered that some saint of the latter part of the last
century, whose biography she had read in a Sunday-school library-book,
was wont, when undecided in weighty matters, to write down all the
reasons, pro and con, and cipher out a conclusion by striking a
logical balance. It naturally occurred to Isa that what so good and wise
a person had found beneficial, might also prove an assistance to her. So
she wrote down the following:
"REASONS IN FAVOR.
"1. Mr. Lurton is one of the most excellent men in the world. I have a
very great respect and a sincere regard for him. If he were my husband, I
do not think I should ever find anything to prevent me loving him.
"2. The life of a minister's wife would open to me opportunities to do
good. I could at least encourage and sustain him.
"3. It seems to be providential that the offer should come at this time,
when I am free from all obligations that would interfere with it, and
when I seem to have no other prospect.
But here she stopped. There was nothing to be said against Mr. Lurton, or
against her accepting the offered happiness. She would then lead the
quiet, peaceful life of a village-minister's wife who does her duty to
her husband and her neighbors. Her generous nature found pleasure in the
thought of all the employments that would fill her heart and hands. How
much better it would be to have a home, and to have others to work for,
than to lead the life of a stranger in other people's houses! And then
she blushed, and was happy at the thought that there would be children's
voices in the house—little stockings in the basket on a Saturday
night—there would be the tender cares of the mother. How much better was
such a life than a lonely one!
It was not until some hours of such thinking—of more castle-building
than the sober-spirited girl had done in her whole life before—that she
became painfully conscious that in all this dreaming of her future as the
friend of the parishioners and the house-mother, Lurton himself was a
figure in the background of her thoughts. He did not excite any
enthusiasm in her heart. She took up her paper; she read over again the
reasons why she ought to love Lurton. But though reason may chain Love
and forbid his going wrong, all the logic in the world can not make him
go where he will not. She had always acted as a most rational creature.
Now, for the first time, she could not make her heart go where she would.
Love in such cases seems held back by intuition, by a logic so high and
fine that its terms can not be stated. Love has a balance-sheet in which
all is invisible except the totals. I have noticed that practical and
matter-of-fact women are most of all likely to be exacting and ideal in
love affairs. Or, is it that this high and ideal way of looking at such
affairs is only another manifestation of practical wisdom?
Certain it is, that though Isa found it impossible to set down a single
reason for not loving so good a man with the utmost fervor, she found it
equally impossible to love him with any fervor at all.
Then she fell to pitying Lurton. She could make him happy and help him to
be useful, and she thought she ought to do it. But could she love Lurton
better than she could have loved any other man? Now, I know that most
marriages are not contracted on this basis. It is not given to every one
to receive this saying. I am quite aware that preaching on this subject
would be vain. Comparatively few people can live in this atmosphere. But
noblesse oblige—noblesse does more than oblige—and Isa Marlay,
against all her habits of acting on practical expediency, could not bring
herself to marry the excellent Lurton without a consciousness of moral
descending, while she could not give herself a single satisfactory
reason for feeling so.
It went hard with Lurton. He had been so sure of divine approval and
guidance that he had not counted failure possible. But at such times the
man of trustful and serene habit has a great advantage. He took the
great disappointment as a needed spiritual discipline; he shouldered
this load as he had carried all smaller burdens, and went on his way
without a murmur.
Having resigned his Stillwater pastorate from a conviction that his
ministry among red-shirted lumbermen was not a great success, he armed
himself with letters from the warden of the prison and the other
ministers who had served as chaplains, and, above all, with Mrs.
Plausaby's written confession, and set out for Washington. He easily
secured money to defray the expense of the journey from Plausaby, who
held some funds belonging to his wife's estate, and who yielded to a
very gentle pressure from Lurton, knowing how entirely he was in
It is proper to say here that Albert's scrupulous conscience was never
troubled about the settlement of his mother's estate. Plausaby had an old
will, which bequeathed all to him in fee simple. He presented it for
probate, and would have succeeded, doubtless, in saving something by
acute juggling with his creditors, but that he heard ominous whispers of
the real solution of the mystery—where they came from he could not tell.
Thinking that Isa was planning his arrest, he suddenly left the country.
He turned up afterwards as president of a Nevada silver-mine company,
which did a large business in stocks but a small one in dividends; and I
have a vague impression that he had something to do with the building of
the Union Pacific Railroad. His creditors made short work of the property
left by Mrs. Plausaby.
Lurton was gone six weeks. His letters to Charlton were not very hopeful.
People are slow to believe that a court has made a mistake.
I who write and you who read get over six weeks as smoothly as we do over
six days. But six weeks in grim, gray, yellowish, unplastered, limestone
walls, that are so thick and so high and so rough that they are always
looking at you in suspicion and with stern threat of resistance! Six
weeks in May and June and July inside such walls, where there is scarcely
a blade of grass, hardly a cool breeze, not even the song of a bird! A
great yard so cursed that the little brown wrens refuse to bless it with
their feet! The sound of machinery and of the hammers of unwilling
toilers, but no mellow voice of robin or chatter of gossiping
chimney-swallows! To Albert they were six weeks of alternate hope and
fear, and of heart-sickness.
The contractor gave a Fourth-of-July dinner to the convicts. Strawberries
and cream instead of salt pork and potatoes. The guards went out and left
the men alone, and Charlton was called on for a speech. But all eulogies
of liberty died on his lips. He could only talk platitudes, and he could
not say anything with satisfaction to himself. He tossed wakefully all
that night, and was so worn when morning came that he debated whether he
should not ask to be put on the sick-list.
He was marched to the water-tank as usual, then to breakfast, but he
could not eat. When the men were ordered to work, one of the guards said:
"Charlton, the warden wants to see you in the office."
Out through the vestibule of the main building Charlton passed with a
heart full of hope, alternating with fear of a great disappointment. He
noticed, as he passed, how heavy the bolts and bars were, and wondered if
these two doors would ever shut him in again. He walked across the yard,
feeble and faint, and then ascended the long flight of steps which went
up to the office-door. For the office was so arranged as to open out of
the prison and in it also, and was so adapted to the uneven ground as to
be on top of the prison-wail. Panting with excitement, the convict
Charlton stopped at the top of this flight of steps while the guard gave
an alarm, and the door was opened from the office side. Albert could not
refrain from looking back over the prison-yard; he saw every familiar
object again, he passed through the door, and stood face to face with the
firm and kindly Warden Proctor. He saw Lurton standing by the warden, he
was painfully alive to everything; the clerks had ceased to write, and
were looking at him expectantly.
"Well, Charlton," said the warden kindly, "I am glad to tell you that you
are pardoned. I never was so glad at any man's release."
"Pardoned?" Charlton had dreamed so much of liberty, that now that
liberty had come he was incredulous. "I am very much obliged to you, Mr.
Proctor," he gasped.
"That is the man to thank," said the warden, pointing to Lurton. But
Charlton couldn't thank Lurton yet. He took his hand and looked in his
face and then turned away. He wanted to thank everybody—the guard who
conducted him out, and the clerk who was recording the precious pardon in
one of the great books; but, in truth, he could say hardly anything.
"Come, Charlton, you'll find a change of clothes in the back-room. Can't
let you carry those off!" said the warden.
Charlton put off the gray with eagerness. Clothes made all the
difference. When once he was dressed like other men, his freedom became a
reality. Then he told everybody good-by, the warden first, and then the
guard, and then the clerks, and he got permission to go back into the
prison, as a visitor, now, and tell the prisoners farewell.
Then Lurton locked arms with him, and Charlton could hardly keep back the
tears. Human fellowship is so precious to a cleansed leper! And as they
walked away down the sandy street by the shore of Lake St. Croix,
Charlton was trying all the while to remember that walls and grates and
bars and bolts and locks and iron gates and armed guards shut him in no
longer. It seemed so strange that here was come a day in which he did not
have to put up a regular stint of eight vinegar-barrels, with the
privilege of doing one or two more, if he could, for pay. He ate some
breakfast with Lurton. For freedom is a great tonic, and satisfied hopes
help digestion. It is a little prosy to say so, but Lurton's buttered
toast and coffee was more palatable than the prison fare. And Lurton's
face was more cheerful than the dark visage of Ball, the burglar, which
always confronted Charlton at the breakfast-table.
Charlton was impatient to go back to Metropolisville. For what, he could
hardly say. There was no home there for him, but then he wanted to go
somewhere. It seemed so fine to be able to go anywhere. Bidding Lurton a
grateful adieu, he hurried to St. Paul. The next morning he was booked
for Metropolisville, and climbed up to the driver's seat with the eager
impatience of a boy.
"Wal, stranger, go tew thunder! I'm glad to see you're able to be aout.
You've ben confined t' the haouse fer some time, I guess, p'r'aps?"
It was the voice of Whisky Jim that thus greeted Albert. If there was a
half-sneer in the words, there was nothing but cordial friendliness in
the tone and the grasp of the hand. The Superior Being was so delighted
that he could only express his emotions by giving his leaders several
extra slashes with his whip, and by putting on a speed that threatened to
upset the coach.
"Well, Jim, what's the news?" said Charlton gayly.
"Nooze? Let me see. Nothin' much. Your father-in-law, or step-father, or
whatever you call him, concluded to cut and run las' week. I s'pose he
calkilated that your gittin' out might leave a vacancy fer him. Thought
he might hev to turn in and do the rest of the ten years' job that's
owin' to Uncle Sam on that land-warrant, eh? I guess you won't find no
money left. 'Twixt him and the creditors and the lawyers and the jedges,
they a'n't nary cent to carry."
"When did you hear from Gray?"
"Oh! he was up to Metropolisville las' week. He a'n't so much of a
singster as he wus. Gone to spekilatin'. The St. Paul and Big Gun River
Valley Railroad is a-goin' t' his taown."
Here the Superior Being stopped talking, and waited to be questioned.
"Laid off a town, then, has he?"
"Couldn' help hisself. The Wanosia and Dakota Crossing Road makes a
junction there, and his claim and yourn has doubled in valoo two or
"But I suppose mine has been sold under mortgage?"
"Under mortgage? Not much. Some of your friends jest sejested to Plausaby
he'd better pay two debts of yourn. And he did. He paid Westcott fer the
land-warrant, and he paid Minorkey's mortgage. Ole chap didn't want to be
paid. Cutthroat mortgage, you know. He'd heerd of the railroad junction.
Jemeny! they's five hundred people livin' on Gray's claim, and yourn's
"What does he call his town?" asked Albert.
Jim brought his whip down smartly on a lazy wheel-horse, crying out:
"Puck-a-chee! Seechy-do!" (Get out—bad.) For, like most of his class
in Minnesota at that day, the Superior Being had enriched his
vocabulary of slang with divers Indian words. Then, after a pause, he
said: "What does he call it? I believe it's 'Charlton,' or suthin' of
that sort. Git up!"
Albert was disposed at first to think the name a compliment to himself,
but the more he thought of it, the more clear it became to him that the
worshipful heart of the Poet had meant to preserve the memory of Katy,
over whom he had tried in vain to stand guard.
Of course part of Driver Jim's information was not new to Albert, but
much of it was, for the Poet's letters had not been explicit in regard to
the increased value of the property, and Charlton had concluded the
claim would go out of his hands anyhow, and had ceased to take any
further interest in it.
When at last he saw again the familiar balloon-frame houses of
Metropolisville, he grew anxious. How would people receive him? Albert
had always taken more pains to express his opinions dogmatically than to
make friends; and now that the odium of crime attached itself to him, he
felt pretty sure that Metropolisville, where there was neither mother nor
Katy, would offer him no cordial welcome. His heart turned toward Isa
with more warmth than he could have desired, but he feared that any
friendship he might show to Isabel would compromise her. A young woman's
standing is not helped by the friendship of a post-office thief, he
reflected. He could not leave Metropolisville without seeing the best
friend he had; he could not see her without doing her harm. He was
thoroughly vexed that he had rashly put himself in so awkward a dilemma;
he almost wished himself back in St. Paul.
At last the Superior Being roused his horses into a final dash, and came
rushing up to the door of the "City Hotel" with his usual flourish.
"Hooray! Howdy! I know'd you'd be along to-night," cried the Poet. "You
see a feller went through our town—I've laid off a town you know—called
it Charlton, arter her you know—they wuz a feller come along
yisterday as said as he'd come on from Washin'ton City weth Preacher
Lurton, and he'd heern him tell as how as Ole Buck—the President I
mean—had ordered you let out. An' I'm that glad! Howdy! You look a
leetle slim, but you'll look peart enough when we git you down to
Charlton, and you see some of your ground wuth fifteen dollar a front
foot! You didn' think I'd ever a gin up po'try long enough to sell lots.
But you see the town wuz named arter her you know—a sorter moniment to
a angel, a kind of po'try that'll keep her name from bein' forgot arter
my varses is gone to nothin'. An' I'm a-layin' myself out to make that
town nice and fit to be named arter her, you know. I didn't think I could
ever stan' it to have so many neighbors a drivin' away all the game. But
I'm a-gittin' used to it."
Charlton could see that the Inhabitant was greatly improved by his
contact with the practical affairs of life and by human society. The old
half-crazed look had departed from his eyes, and the over-sensitive
nature had found a satisfaction in the standing which the founding of a
town and his improved circumstances had brought him.
"Don't go in thar!" said Gray as Charlton was about to enter the room
used as office and bar-room for the purpose of registering his name.
"Don't go in thar!" and Gray pulled him back. "Let's go out to supper.
That devilish Smith Wes'cott's in thar, drunk's he kin be, and raisin'
perdition. They turned him off this week fer drinkin' too steady, and
he's tryin' to make a finish of his money and Smith Wes'cott too."
Charlton and Gray sat down to supper at the long table where the Superior
Being was already drinking his third cup of coffee. The exquisite
privilege of doing as he pleased was a great stimulant to Charlton's
appetite, and knives and forks were the greatest of luxuries.
"Seems to me," said Jim, as he sat and watched Albert, "seems to me
you a'n't so finicky 'bout vittles as you was. Sheddin' some of yer
"Yes, I think I am."
"Wal, you see you hed too thick a coat of idees to thrive. I guess a
good curryin' a'n't done you no pertickeler hurt, but blamed ef it didn't
seem mean to me at first. I've cussed about it over and over agin on
every mile 'twixt here and St. Paul. But curryin's healthy. I wish some
other folks as I know could git put through weth a curry-comb as would
peel the hull hide offen 'em."
This last remark was accompanied by a significant look at the rough board
partition that separated the dining-room from the bar-room. For
Westcott's drunken voice could be heard singing snatches of negro
melodies in a most melancholy tone.
Somebody in the bar-room mentioned Charlton's name.
"Got out, did he?" said Westcott in a maudlin tone. "How'd 'e get out?
How'd 'e like it fur's he went? Always liked simple diet, you know.
"Oh! if I wuz a jail-bird,
With feathers like a crow,
I'd flop around and—
"Wat's the rest? Hey? How does that go? Wonder how it feels to be a
thief? He! he! he!"
Somehow the voice and the words irritated Albert beyond endurance. He
lost his relish for supper and went out on the piazza.
"Git's riled dreffle easy," said Jim as Charlton disappeared. "Fellers
weth idees does. I hope he'll gin Wes'cott another thrashin'."
"He's powerful techy," said the Poet. "Kinder curus, though. I wanted to
salivate Wes'cott wunst, and he throwed my pistol into the lake."
What to do about going to see Isabel?
Albert knew perfectly well that he would be obliged to visit her. Isa had
no doubt heard of his arrival before this time. The whole village must
know it, for there was a succession of people who came on the hotel
piazza to shake hands with him. Some came from friendliness, some from
curiosity, but none remained long in conversation with him. For in truth
conversation was quite embarrassing under the circumstances. You can not
ask your acquaintance, "How have you been?" when his face is yet pale
from confinement in a prison; you can not inquire how he liked Stillwater
or Sing Sing, when he must have disliked what he saw of Stillwater or
Sing Sing. One or two of the villagers asked Albert how he had "got
along," and then blushed when they remembered that he couldn't have "got
along" at all. Most of them asked him if Metropolisville had "grown any"
since he left, and whether or not he meant to stay and set up here, and
then floundered a little and left him. For most people talk by routine.
Whatever may be thought of development from monkeys, it does seem that a
strong case might be made out in favor of a descent from parrots.
Charlton knew that he must go to see Isa, and that the whole village
would know where he had gone, and that it would give Isa trouble, maybe.
He wanted to see Isa more than he wanted anything else in the world, but
then he dreaded to see her. She had pitied him and helped him in his
trouble, but her letters had something of constraint in them. He
remembered how she had always mingled the friendliness of her treatment
with something of reserve and coolness. He did not care much for this in
other times. But now he found in himself such a hungering for something
more from Isa, that he feared the effect of her cool dignity. He had
braced himself against being betrayed into an affection for Isabel. He
must not allow himself to become interested in her. As an honorable man
he could not marry her, of course. But he would see her and thank her.
Then if she should give him a few kind words he would cherish them as a
comforting memory in all the loneliness of following years. He felt sorry
for himself, and he granted to himself just so much indulgence.
Between his fear of compromising Isa and his feeling that on every
account he must see her, his dread of meeting her and his desire to talk
with her, he was in a state of compound excitement when he rose from his
seat on the piazza of the City Hotel, and started down Plausaby street
toward the house of Mrs. Ferret. He had noticed some women going to the
weekly prayer-meeting, and half-hoped, but feared more than he hoped,
that Isabel should have gone to meeting also. He knew how constant and
regular she was in the performance of religious duties.
But Isa for once had staid at home. And had received from Mrs. Ferret a
caustic lecture on the sin of neglecting her duty for the sake of
anybody. Mrs. Ferret was afterward sorry she had said anything, for she
herself wanted to stay to gratify her curiosity. But Isabel did not mind
the rebuke. She put some petunias on the mantel-piece and some grasses
over the looking-glass, and then tried to read, but the book was not
interesting. She was alarmed at her own excitement; she planned how she
would treat Albert with mingled cordiality and reserve, and thus preserve
her own dignity; she went through a mental rehearsal of the meeting two
or three times—in truth, she was just going over it the fourth time
when Charlton stood between the morning-glory vines on the doorstep. And
when she saw his face pale with suffering, she forgot all about the
rehearsal, and shook his hand with sisterly heartiness—the word
"sisterly" came to her mind most opportunely—and looked at him with the
utmost gladness, and sat him down by the window, and sat down facing him.
For the first time since Katy's death he was happy. He thought himself
entitled to one hour of happiness after all that he had endured.
When Mrs. Ferret came home from prayer-meeting she entered by the
back-gate, and judiciously stood for some time looking in at the window.
Charlton was telling Isa something about his imprisonment, and Mrs.
Ferret, listening to the tones of his voice and seeing the light in Isa's
eyes, shook her head, and said to herself that it was scandalous for a
Chrischen girl to act in such a way.
If the warmth of feeling shown in the interview between Albert and Isa
had anything improper in it under the circumstances, Mrs. Ferret knew how
to destroy it. She projected her iceberg presence into the room and froze
Albert had many misgivings that night. He felt that he had not acted
with proper self-control in his interview with Isabel. And just in
proportion to his growing love for Isa did he chafe with the bitterness
of the undeserved disgrace that must be an insurmountable barrier to his
possessing her. How should he venture to hope that a woman who had
refused Lurton, should be willing to marry him? And to marry his
He lay thus debating what he should do, sometimes almost resolved to
renounce his scruples and endeavor to win Isa, sometimes bravely
determined to leave with Gray in the morning, never to come back to
Metropolisville again. Sleep was not encouraged by the fact that Westcott
occupied the bed on the other side of a thin board partition. He could
hear him in that pitiful state of half-delirium that so often succeeds a
spree, and that just touches upon the verge of mania-à-potu.
"So he's out, is he?" Charlton heard him say. "How the devil did he get
out? Must a swum out, by George! That's the only way. Now her face is
goin' to come. Always does come when I feel this way. There she is! Go
'way! What do you want? What do you look at me for? What makes you look
that way? I can't help it. I didn't drown you. I had to get out some way.
What do you call Albert for? Albert's gone to penitentiary. He can't save
you. Don't look that way! If you're goin' to drown, why don't you do it
and be done with it? Hey? You will keep bobbin' up and down there all
night and staring at me like the devil all the time! I couldn't help it.
I didn't want to shake you off. I would 'ave gone down myself if I
hadn't. There now, let go! Pullin' me down again! Let go! If you don't
let go, Katy, I'll have to shake you off. I couldn't help it. What made
you love me so? You needn't have been a fool. Why didn't somebody tell
you about Nelly? If you'd heard about Nelly, you wouldn't have—oh! the
devil! I knew it! There's Nelly's face coming. That's the worst of all.
What does she come for? She a'n't dead. Here, somebody! I want a match!
Bring me a light!"
Whatever anger Albert may have had toward the poor fellow was all turned
into pity after this night. Charlton felt as though he had been listening
to the plaints of a damned soul, and moralized that it were better to go
to prison for life than to carry about such memories as haunted the
dreams of Westcott. And he felt that to allow his own attachment to Isa
Marlay to lead to a marriage would involve him in guilt and entail a
lifelong remorse. He must not bring his dishonor upon her. He determined
to rise early and go over to Gray's new town, sell off his property, and
then leave the Territory. But the Inhabitant was to leave at six o'clock,
and Charlton, after his wakeful night, sank into a deep sleep at
daybreak, and did not wake until half-past eight. When he came down to
breakfast, Gray had been gone two hours and a half.
He sat around during the forenoon irresolute and of course unhappy. After
a while decision came to him in the person of Mrs. Ferret, who called and
asked for a private interview.
Albert led her into the parlor, for the parlor was always private enough
on a pleasant day. Nobody cared to keep the company of a rusty box stove,
a tattered hair-cloth sofa, six wooden chairs, and a discordant tinny
piano-forte, when the weather was pleasant enough to sit on the piazza or
to walk on the prairie. To Albert the parlor was full of associations of
the days in which he had studied botany with Helen Minorkey. And the
bitter memory of the mistakes of the year before, was a perpetual check
to his self-confidence now. So that he prepared himself to listen with
meekness even to Mrs. Ferret.
"Mr. Charlton, do you think you're acting just right—just as you would
be done by—in paying attentions to Miss Marlay when you are just out
Albert was angered by her way of putting it, and came near telling her
that it was none of her business. But his conscience was on Mrs.
"I haven't paid any special attention to Miss Marlay. I called to see her
as an old friend." Charlton spoke with some irritation, the more that he
knew all the while he was not speaking with candor.
"Well, now, Mr. Charlton, how would you have liked to have your sister
marry a man just out of—well, just—just as you are, just out of
penitentiary, you know? I have heard remarks already about Miss
Marlay—that she had refused a very excellent and talented preacher of
the Gospill—you know who I mean—and was about to take up with—well,
you know how people talk—with a man just out of the—out of the
penitentiary—you know. A jail-bird is what they said. You know people
will talk. And Miss Marlay is under my care, and I must do my duty as a
Chrischen to her. And I know she thinks a great deal of you, and I don't
think it would be right, you know, for you to try to marry her. You know
the Scripcherr says that we must do as we'd be done by; and I wouldn't
want a daughter of mine to marry a young man just—well—just out
of—the—just out of the penitentiary, you know."
"Mrs. Ferret, I think this whole talk impertinent. Miss Marlay is not at
all under your care, I have not proposed marriage to her, she is an old
friend who was very kind to my mother and to me, and there is no harm in
my seeing her when I please."
"Well, Mr. Charlton, I know your temper is bad, and I expected you'd talk
insultingly to me, but I've done my duty and cleared my skirts, anyhow,
and that's a comfort. A Chrischen must expect to be persecuted in the
discharge of duty. You may talk about old friendships, and all that; but
there's nothing so dangerous as friendship. Don't I know? Half the
marriages that oughtn't to be, come from friendships. Whenever you see a
friendship between a young man and a young woman, look out for a wedding.
And I don't think you ought to ask Isabel to marry you, and you just out
of—just—you know—out of the—the penitentiary."
When Mrs. Ferret had gone, Albert found that while her words had rasped
him, they had also made a deep impression on him. He was, then, a
jail-bird in the eyes of Metropolisville—of the world. He must not
compromise Isa by a single additional visit. He could not trust himself
to see her again. The struggle was not fought out easily. But at last he
wrote a letter:
"MY DEAR MISS MARLAY: I find that I can not even visit you without
causing remarks to be made, which reflect on you. I can not stay here
without wishing to enjoy your society, and you can not receive the visits
of a 'jail-bird,' as they call me, without disgrace. I owe everything to
you, and it would be ungrateful, indeed, in me to be a source of
affliction and dishonor to you. I never regretted my disgrace so much as
since I talked with you last night. If I could shake that off, I might
hope for a great happiness, perhaps.
"I am going to Gray's Village to-morrow. I shall close up my business,
and go away somewhere, though I would much rather stay here and live down
my disgrace. I shall remember your kindness with a full heart, and if I
can ever serve you, all I have shall be yours—I would be wholly yours
now, if I could offer myself without dishonoring you, and you would
accept me. Good-by, and may God bless you.
"Your most grateful friend, ALBERT CHARLTON."
The words about offering himself, in the next to the last sentence,
Albert wrote with hesitation, and then concluded that he would better
erase them, as he did not mean to give any place to his feelings. He drew
his pen through them, taking pains to leave the sentence entirely legible
beneath the canceling stroke. Such tricks does inclination play with the
The letter was deposited at the post-office immediately. Charlton did not
dare give his self-denying resolution time to cool.
Isa was not looking for letters, and Mrs. Ferret ventured to hint that
the chance of meeting somebody on the street had something to do with her
walk. Of course Miss Marlay was insulted. No woman would ever do such a
thing. Consciously, at least.
And after reading Charlton's letter, what did Isa do? What could she do?
A woman may not move in such a case. Her whole future happiness may drift
to wreck by somebody's mistake, and she may not reach a hand to arrest
it. What she does must be done by indirection and under disguise. It is a
way society has of training women to be candid.
The first feeling which Isa had was a sudden shock of surprise. She was
not so much astonished at the revelation of Charlton's feeling as at the
discovery of her own. With Albert's abrupt going away, all her heart and
hope seemed to be going too. She had believed her interest in Charlton to
be disinterested until this moment. It was not until he proposed going
away entirely that she came to understand how completely that interest
had changed its character.
But what could she do? Nothing at all. She was a woman.
As evening drew on, Charlton felt more and more the bitterness of the
self-denial he had imposed upon himself. He inwardly abused Mrs. Ferret
for meddling. He began to hope for all sorts of impossible accidents that
might release him from his duty in the case. Just after dark he walked
out. Of course he did not want to meet Miss Marlay—his mind was made
up—he would not walk down Plausaby street—at least not so far as Mrs.
Ferret's house. There could be no possible harm in his going half-way
there. Love is always going half-way, and then splitting the difference
on the remainder. Isa, on her part, remembered a little errand she must
attend to at the store. She felt that, after a day of excitement, she
needed the air, though indeed she did not want to meet Charlton any more,
if he had made up his mind not to see her. And so they walked right up to
one another, as lovers do when they have firmly resolved to keep apart.
"Good-evening, Isabel," said Albert. He had not called her Isabel before.
It was a sort of involuntary freedom which he allowed himself—this was
to be the very last interview.
"Good-evening—Albert." Isa could not refuse to treat him with
sisterly freedom—now that she was going to bid him adieu forever. "You
were going away without so much as saying good-by."
"One doesn't like to be the cause of unpleasant remarks about one's best
friend," said Charlton.
"But what if your best friend doesn't care a fig for anybody's remarks,"
said Isabel energetically.
"How?" asked Albert. It was a senseless interrogatory, but Isa's words
almost took his breath.
Isa was startled at having said so much, and only replied indistinctly
that it didn't matter what people said.
"Yes, but you don't know how long such things might cleave to you. Ten
years hence it might be said that you had been the friend of a man who
was—in—the penitentiary." Charlton presented objections for the sake of
having them refuted.
"And I wouldn't care any more ten years hence than I do now. Were you
going to our house? Shall I walk back with you?"
"I don't know." Charlton felt his good resolutions departing. "I started
out because I wanted to see the lake where Katy was drowned before I go
away. I am ever so glad that I met you, if I do not compromise you. I
would rather spend this evening in your company than in any other way in
the world—" Albert hadn't meant to say so much, but he couldn't
recall it when it was uttered—"but I feel that I should be selfish to
bring reproach on you for my own enjoyment."
"All right, then," said Isa, laughing, "I'll take the responsibility. I
am going to the lake with you if you don't object."
"You are the bravest woman in the world," said Albert with effusion.
"You forget how brave a man you have shown yourself."
I am afraid this strain of talk was not at all favorable to the strength
and persistence of Charlton's resolution, which, indeed, was by this time
After they had spent an hour upon the knoll looking out upon the lake,
and talking of the past, and diligently avoiding all mention of the
future, Charlton summoned courage to allude to his departure in a voice
more full of love than of resolve.
"Why do you go, Albert?" Isa said, looking down and breaking a weed with
the toe of her boot. They had called each other by their Christian names
during the whole interview.
"Simply for the sake of your happiness, Isa. It makes me miserable
enough, I am sure." Charlton spoke as pathetically as he could.
"But suppose I tell you that your going will make me as wretched as it
can make you. What then?"
"How? It certainly would be unmanly for me to ask you to share my
disgrace. A poor way of showing my love. I love you well enough to do
anything in the world to make you happy."
Isa looked down a moment and began to speak, but stopped.
"Well, what?" said Albert.
"May I decide what will make me happy? Am I capable of judging?"
Albert looked foolish, and said, "Yes," with some eagerness. He was more
than ever willing to have somebody else decide for him.
"Then I tell you, Albert, that if you go away you will sacrifice my
happiness along with your own."
* * * * *
It was a real merry party that met at a petit souper at nine o'clock
in the evening in the dining-room of the City Hotel some months later.
There was Lurton, now pastor in Perritaut, who had just given his
blessing on the marriage of his friends, and who sat at the head of the
table and said grace. There were Albert and Isabel Charlton, bridegroom
and bride. There was Gray, the Hoosier Poet, with a poem of nine verses
for the occasion.
"I'm sorry the stage is late," said Albert. "I wanted Jim." One likes to
have all of one's best friends on such an occasion.
Just then the coach rattled up to the door, and Albert went out and
brought in the Superior Being.
"Now, we are all here," said Charlton. "I had to ask Mrs. Ferret, and I
was afraid she'd come."
"Not her!" said Jim.
"She kin do better."
"She staid to meet her beloved."
"Dave." Jim didn't like to give any more information than would serve to
answer a question. He liked to be pumped.
"The same. He told me to-day as him and the widder owned claims as
'jined, and they'd made up their minds to jine too. And then he
haw-haw'd tell you could a-heerd him a mile. By the way, it's the widder
that's let the cat out of the bag."
"What cat out of what bag?" asked Lurton.
"Why, how Mr. Charlton come to go to the State boardin'-house fer takin'
a land-warrant he didn' take."
"How did she find out?" said Isa. Her voice seemed to be purer and
sweeter than ever—happiness had tuned it.
"By list'nin' at the key-hole," said Jim.
"When? What key-hole?"
"When Mr. Lurton and Miss Marlay—I beg your pard'n, Mrs. Charlton—was
a-talkin' about haow to git Mr. Charlton out."
"Be careful," said Lurton. "You shouldn't make such a charge unless you
Jim looked at Lurton a moment indignantly. "Thunder and lightnin'," he
said, "Dave tole me so hisself! Said she tole him. And Dave larfed
over it, and thought it 'powerful cute' in her, as he said in his
Hoosier lingo;" and Jim accompanied this last remark with a patronizing
look at Gray.
"Charlton, what are you thinking about?" asked Lurton when
"One year ago to-day I was sentenced, and one year ago to-morrow I
started to Stillwater."
"Bully!" said Jim. "I beg yer pardon, Mrs. Charlton, I couldn't help it.
A body likes to see the wheel turn round right. Ef 'twould on'y put some
folks in as well as turn some a-out!"
When Charlton with his bride started in a sleigh the next morning to his
new home on his property in the village of "Charlton" a crowd had
gathered about the door, moved partly by that curiosity which always
interests itself in newly-married people, and partly by an exciting rumor
that Charlton was not guilty of the offense for which he had been
imprisoned. Mrs. Ferret had told the story to everybody, exacting from
each one a pledge of secrecy. Just as Albert started his horses, Whisky
Jim, on top of his stage-box, called out to the crowd, "Three cheers, by
thunder!" and they were given heartily. It was the popular acquittal.
Metropolisville is only a memory now. The collapse of the land-bubble and
the opening of railroads destroyed it. Most of the buildings were removed
to a neighboring railway station. Not only has Metropolisville gone, but
the unsettled state of society in which it grew has likewise
disappeared—the land-sharks, the claim speculators, the
town-proprietors, the trappers, and the stage-drivers have emigrated or
have undergone metamorphosis. The wild excitement of '56 is a tradition
hardly credible to those who did not feel its fever. But the most
evanescent things may impress themselves on human beings, and in the
results which they thus produce become immortal. There is a last page to
all our works, but to the history of the ever-unfolding human spirit no
one will ever write.