The Mystery of Metropolisville
Part 2 out of 5
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 _a 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 _pere_ to settle that question.
_Voila 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? _Tres 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. _Tres 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. _Tres 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
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