The Mystery of Metropolisville
Part 3 out of 5
"What is the matter, Katy, dear?" she would say in a voice so full of
natural melody and genuine sympathy, that it never failed to move Katy to
the depths of her heart. Then Katy would cry more than ever, and fling
her arms about the neck of dear, dear, _dear_ Cousin Isa, and lavish on
her the tenderness of which her heart was full.
"O Cousin Isa! what must I do? I'm breaking poor Smith's heart. You don't
know how much he loves me, and I'm afraid something dreadful will happen
to him, you know. What shall I do?"
"I don't think he cares much, Katy. He's a bad man, I'm afraid, and
doesn't love you really. Don't think any more of him." For Isabel
couldn't find it in her heart to say to Katy just what she thought
"Oh! but you don't know him," Katy cries. "You don't know him. He says
that he does naughty things sometimes, but then he's got such a tender
heart. He made me promise I wouldn't throw him over, as he called it, for
his faults. He said he'd come to be good if I'd only keep on loving him.
And I said I would. And I haven't. Here's more than a week now that he
hasn't been here, and I haven't been to the store. And he said he'd go to
sleep in the lake some night if I ever, ever proved false to him. And I
lie awake nearly all night thinking how hard and cruel I've been to him.
And oh!"--here Katy cried awhile--"and oh! I think such awful things
sometimes," she continued in a whisper broken by sobs. "You don't know,
Cousin Isa. I think how cold, how dreadful cold the lake must be! Oo-oo!"
And a shudder shook her frame. "If poor, dear Smith were to throw himself
in! What if he is there now?" And she looked up at Isa with staring eyes.
"Do you know what an awful thing I heard about that lake once?" She
stopped and shivered. "There are leeches in it--nasty, black worms--and
one of them bit my hand once. And they told me that if a person should
be drowned in Diamond Lake the leeches would--oo!--take all their blood,
and their faces would be white, and not black like other drowned people's
faces. Oh! I can't bear to think about poor Smith. If I could only write
him a note, and tell him I love him just a little! But I told Albert I
wouldn't see him nor write to him. What shall I do? He mayn't live till
morning. They say he looks broken-hearted. He'll throw himself into that
cold lake to-night, maybe--and the leeches--the black worms--oo!--or else
he'll kill himself with that ugly pistol."
It was in vain that Isabel talked to her, in vain that she tried to argue
with a cataract of feeling. It was rowing against Niagara with a
canoe-paddle. It was not wonderful, therefore, that before Albert got
back, Isa Marlay found Katy reading little notes from Westcott, notes
that ho had intrusted to one of his clerks, who was sent to the
post-office three or four times a day on various pretexts, until he
should happen to find Katy in the office. Then he would hand her the
notes. Katy did not reply. She had promised Albert she wouldn't. But
there was no harm in her reading them, just to keep Smith from drowning
himself among those black leeches in Diamond Lake.
Isabel Marlay, in her distressful sense of responsibility to Albert,
could yet find no means of breaking up this renewed communication. In
sheer desperation, she appealed to Mrs. Plausaby.
"Well, now," said that lady, sitting in state with the complacent
consciousness of a new and more stunning head-dress than usual, "I'll
tell you what it is, Isabel, I think Albert makes altogether too much
fuss over Katy's affairs. He'll break the girl's heart. He's got notions.
His father had. Deliver _me_ from notions! Just let Katy take her own
course. Marryin's a thing everybody must attend to personally for
themselves. You don't like to be meddled with, and neither does Albert.
You won't either of you marry to suit me. I have had my plans about you
and Albert. Now, Isabel, Mr. Westcott's a nice-looking man. With all his
faults he's a nice man. Cheerful and good-natured in his talk, and a good
provider. He's a store-keeper, too. It's nice to have a storekeeper for a
husband. I want Plausaby to keep store, so that I can get dresses and
such things without having to pay for them. I felt mad at Mr. Westcott
about his taking out his pistol so at Albert. But if Albert had let Mr.
Westcott alone, I'm sure Smith wouldn't a-touched him. But your folks
with notions are always troubling somebody else. For my part, I shan't
meddle with Katy. Do you think this bow's nice? Too low down, isn't it?"
and Mrs. Plausaby went to the glass to adjust it.
And so it happened that all Isa Marlay's watching could not keep Westcott
away. For the land-office regulations at that time required that Albert
should live on his claim thirty days. This gave him the right to buy it
at a dollar and a quarter an acre, or to exchange a land-warrant for it.
The land was already worth two or three times the government price. But
that thirty days of absence, broken only by one or two visits to his
home, was enough to overturn all that Charlton had done in breaking up
his sister's engagement with Westcott. The latter knew how long Albert's
absence must be, and arranged his approaches to correspond. He gave her
fifteen days to get over her resentment, and to begin to pity him on
account of the stories of his incurable melancholy she would hear. After
he had thus suffered her to dream of his probable suicide for a
fortnight, he contrived to send her one little lugubrious note,
confessing that he had been intoxicated and begging her pardon. Then he
waited three days, days of great anxiety to her. For Katy feared lest her
neglect to return an answer should precipitate Westcott's suicide. But he
did not need an answer. Her looks when she received the note had been
reported to him. What could he need more? On the very evening after he
had sent that contrite note to Katy, announcing that he would never drink
again, he felt so delighted with what he had heard of its reception, that
he treated a crony out of his private bottle as they played cards
together in his room, and treated himself quite as liberally as he did
his friend, got up in the middle of the floor, and assured his friend
that he would be all right with his sweet little girl before the brother
got back. By George! If folks thought he was going to commit suicide,
they were fooled. Never broke his heart about a woman yet. Not much, by
George! But when he set his heart on a thing, he generally got it. He!
he! And he had set his heart on that little girl. As for jumping into the
lake, any man was a fool to jump into the drink on account of a woman.
When there were plenty of them. Large assortment constantly on hand. Pays
yer money and takes yer ch'ice! Suicide? Not much, by George! he! he!
Hung his coat on a hickory limb,
Then like a wise man he jumped in,
My ole dad! My ole dad!
Wondered what tune Charlton would sing when he found himself beat? Guess
Can't stay in de wilderness.
In a few days, in a few days,
Can't stay in de wilderness,
A few days ago.
Goin' to pre-empt my claim, too. I've got a month's leave, and I'll
follow him and marry that girl before he gets far. Bruddern and sistern,
sing de ole six hundredth toon. Ahem!
I wish I was a married man,
A married man I'd be!
An' ketch the grub fer both of us
A-fishin' in the sea.
It's all the same to me!
I got a organ stop in my throat. Can't sing below my breath to save my
life. He! he!
After three days had elapsed, Westcott sent a still more melancholy note
to Katy. It made her weep from the first line to the last. It was full of
heartbreak, and Katy was too unobserving to notice how round and steady
and commercial the penmanship was, and how large and fine were the
flourishes. Westcott himself considered it his masterpiece. He punched
his crony with his elbow as he deposited it in the office, and assured
him that it was the techin'est note ever written. It would come the
sympathies over her. There was nothing like the sympathies to fetch a
woman to terms. He knew. Had lots of experience. By George! You could
turn a woman round yer finger if you could only keep on the tender side.
Tears was what done it. Love wouldn' keep sweet without it was pickled in
brine. He! he! he! By George!
SAWNEY AND WESTCOTT.
David Sawney was delighted with the news that Albert Charlton and Smith
Westcott had quarreled. "Westcott's run of luck in that quarter's broke.
When a feller has a run of luck right along, and they comes a break, 'ts
all up with him. Broke luck can't be spliced. It's David Sawney's turn
now. Poor wind that blows no whar. I'll bet a right smart pile I'll pack
the little gal off yet."
But if an inscrutable Providence had omitted to make any Smith Westcotts,
Dave Sawney wouldn't have stood the ghost of a chance with Katy. His
supreme self-complacency gave her no occasion to pity him. Her love was
close of kin to her tender-heartedness, and all pity was wasted on Dave.
He couldn't have been more entirely happy than he was if he had owned the
universe in fee simple.
However, Dave was resolved to try his luck, and so, soon after Albert's
departure, he blacked up his vast boots and slicked his hair, and went to
Plausaby's. He had the good luck to find Katy alone.
"Howdy! Howdy! Howdy git along? Lucky, ain't I, to find you in? Haw! haw!
I'm one of the luckiest fellers ever was born. Always wuz lucky. Found a
fip in a crack in the hearth 'fore I was three year old. 'Ts a fack.
Found a two-and-a-half gole piece wunst. Golly, didn't I feel _some_!
Haw! haw! haw! The way of't wuz this." But we must not repeat the story
in all its meanderings, lest readers should grow as tired of it as Katy
did; for Dave crossed one leg over the other, looked his hands round his
knee, and told it with many a complacent haw! haw! haw! When he laughed,
it was not from a sense of the ludicrous: his guffaw was a pure eruption
of delighted self-conceit.
"I thought as how as I'd like to explain to you somethin' that might
'a' hurt yer feelin's, Miss Charlton. Didn't you feel a little teched
"No, Mr. Sawney, you never hurt my feelings."
"Well, gals is slow to own up that they're hurt, you know. But I'm shore
you couldn't help bein', and I'm ever so sorry. Them Injin goin'-ons of
mine wuz enough to 'a' broke your heart."
"What do you mean?"
"Why, my sellin' out to Perritaut for ten thousand dollars, only I
didn't. Haw! haw!" and Dave threw his head back to laugh. "You had a
right to feel sorter bad to think I would consent to marry a Injin. But
'tain't every feller as'll git ten thousand offered in five annooal
payments; an' I wanted you to understand 'twan't the Injin, 'twas the
cash as reached me. When it comes to gals, you're the posy fer me."
Katy grew red, but didn't know what to say or do.
"I heerd tell that that feller Westcott'd got his walkin' papers. Sarved
him right, dancin' roun' like a rang-a-tang, and jos'lin' his keys and
ten-cent pieces in his pocket, and sayin' imperdent things. But I could
'a' beat him at talk the bes' day he ever seed ef he'd on'y 'a' gi'n me
time to think. I kin jaw back splendid of you gin me time. Haw! haw! haw!
But he ain't far--don't never gin a feller time to git his thoughts
gethered up, you know. He jumps around like the Frenchman's flea. Put yer
finger on him an' he ain't thar, and never wuz. Haw! haw! haw! But jest
let him stay still wunst tell I get a good rest on him like, and I'll be
dog-on'd ef I don't knock the hine sights offen him the purtiest day he
ever seed! Haw! haw! haw! Your brother Albert handled him rough, didn't
he? Sarved him right. I say, if a man is onrespectful to a woman, her
brother had orter thrash him; and your'n done it. His eye's blacker'n my
boot. And his nose! Haw! haw! it's a-mournin' fer his brains! Haw I haw!
haw! And he feels bad bekase you cut him, too. Jemently, ef he don' look
like 's ef he'd kill hisself fer three bits."
Katy was so affected by this fearful picture of poor, dear Smith's
condition, that she got up and hurried out of the room to cry.
"What on airth's the matter?" soliloquized Dave. "Bashful little creeter,
I 'low. Thought I wuz a-comin to the p'int, maybe. Well, nex' time'll
do. Haw! haw! Young things is cur'us now, _to_ be shore. Mout's well be a
gittin' on, I reckon. Gin her time to come round, I 'low."
With such wooing, renewed from time to time, the clumsy and complacent
Dave whiled away his days, and comforted himself that he had the
persimmon-tree all to himself, as he expressed it. Meanwhile, the notes
of Westcott were fast undoing all that Albert had done to separate him
from "the purty little girl."
[Illustration: "WHAT ON AIRTH'S THE MATTER?"]
Of course, when the right time came, he happened to meet Katy on the
street, and to take off his hat and make a melancholy bow, the
high-tragedy air of which confirmed Katy's suspicions that he meant to
commit suicide at the first opportunity. Then he chanced to stop at the
gate, and ask, in a tone sad enough to have been learned from the
gatherers of cold victuals, if he might come in. In three days more, he
was fully restored to favor and to his wonted cheerfulness. He danced, he
sang, he chirruped, he rattled his keys, he was the Privileged Infant
once more. He urged Katy to marry him at once, but her heart was now rent
by pity for Albert and by her eager anxiety lest he should do something
desperate when he heard of her reconciliation. She trembled every day at
thought of what might happen when he should return.
"Goin' to pre-empt in a few days, Katy. Whisky Jim come plaguey near to
gittin' that claim. He got Shamberson on his side, and if Shamberson's
brother-in-law hadn't been removed from the Land Office before it was
tried, he'd a got it. I'm going to pre-empt and build the cutest little
bird's nest for you.
"If I was young and in my prime,
I'd lead a different life,
I'd save my money, and buy me a farm,
Take Dinah for my wife.
Oh! carry me back--
"Psha! Dat dah ain't de toon, bruddern. Ahem!
"When you and I get married, love,
How jolly it will be!
We'll keep house in a store-box, then,
Just two feet wide by three!
All the same to me!
"And when we want our breakfast, love,
We'll nibble bread and chee--
It's good enough for you, love,
And most too good for me!
All the same to me!
"Dog-on'd ef 'tain't. White bread's good as brown bread. One's jest as
good as the other, and a good deal better. It's all the same to me, and
more so besides, and something to carry. It's all the same, only
"Jane and Sukey and July Ann--
Too brown, too slim, too stout!
You needn't smile on this 'ere man,
Git out! git out! git out!
But the maiden fair
With bonny brown hair--
Let all the rest git out!"--
"Get out yourself!" thundered Albert Charlton, bursting in at that
moment. "If you don't get your pack of tomfoolery out of here quick, I'll
get it out for you," and he bore down on Westcott fiercely.
"I beg pardon, Mr. Charlton. I'm here to see your sister with her consent
and your mother's, and--"
"And I tell you," shouted Albert, "that my sister is a little girl, and
my mother doesn't understand such puppies as you, and I am my sister's
protector, and if you don't get out of here, I'll kill you if I can."
"Albert, don't be so quarrelsome," said Mrs. Plausaby, coming in at the
instant. "I'm sure Mr. Westcott's a genteel man, and good-natured to
"Out! out! I say, confound you! or I'll break your empty head," thundered
Charlton, whose temper was now past all softening. "Put your hand on
that pistol, if you dare," and with that he strode at the Privileged
Infant with clenched fist, and the Privileged Infant prudently backed out
the door into the yard, and then, as Albert kept up his fierce advance,
the Privileged Infant backed out of the gate into the street. He was not
a little mortified to see the grinning face of Dave Sawney in the crowd
about the gate, and to save appearances, he called back at Albert, who
was returning toward the house, that he would settle this affair with him
yet. But he did not know how thoroughly Charlton's blood was up.
"Settle it?" said Albert--yelled Albert, I should say--turning back on
him with more fury than ever. "Settle it, will you? I'll settle it right
here and now, you cowardly villain! Let's have it through, now," and he
walked swiftly at Westcott, who walked away; but finding that the
infuriated Albert was coming after him, the Privileged Infant hurried on
until his retreat became a run, Westcott running down street, Charlton
hotly pursuing him, the spectators running pell-mell behind, laughing,
cheering, and jeering.
"Don't come back again if you don't want to get killed," the angry
Charlton called, as he turned at last and went toward home.
"Now, Katy," he said, with more energy than tenderness, as he entered the
house, "if you are determined to marry that confounded rascal, I shall
leave at once. You must decide now. If you will go East with me next
week, well and good. If you won't give up Smith Westcott, then I shall
leave you now forever."
Katy couldn't bear to be the cause of any disaster to anybody; and just
at this moment Smith was out of sight, and Albert, white and trembling
with the reaction of his passion, stood before her. She felt, somehow,
that she had brought all this trouble on Albert, and in her pity for him,
and remorse for her own course, she wept and clung to her brother, and
begged him not to leave her. And Albert said: "There, don't cry any more.
It's all right now. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. There, there!"
There is nothing a man can not abide better than a woman in tears.
To get away with Katy immediately. These were the terms of the problem
now before Albert His plan was to take her to visit friends at the East,
and to keep her there until Westcott should pass out of her mind, or
until she should be forgotten by the Privileged Infant. This was not
Westcott's plan of the campaign at all. He was as much bent on securing
Katy as he could have been had he been the most constant, devoted, and
disinterested lover. He would have gone through fire and flood. The
vindictive love of opposition and lust for triumph is one of the most
powerful of motives. Men will brave more from an empty desire to have
their own way, than they could be persuaded to face by the most
Smith Westcott was not a man to die for a sentiment, but for the time he
had the semblance of a most devoted lover. He bent everything to the
re-conquest of Katy Charlton. His pride served him instead of any higher
passion, and he plotted by night and managed by day to get his affairs
into a position in which he could leave. He meant to follow Albert and
Katy, and somewhere and somehow, by working on Katy's sympathies, to
carry off the "stakes," as he expressed it. He almost ceased trifling,
and even his cronies came to believe that he was really in love. They saw
signs of intense and genuine feeling, and they mistook its nature. Mrs.
Ferret expressed her sympathy for him--the poor man really loved Kate,
and she believed that Kate had a right to marry anybody she pleased. She
did not know what warrant there was in Scripcherr for a brother's
exercising any authority. She thought Mrs. Plausaby ought to have brought
up her son to have more respect for her authority, and to hold
Scripcherral views. If he were her son, now! What she would have done
with him in that case never fully appeared; for Mrs. Ferret could not
bring herself to complete the sentence. She only said subjunctively: "If
he were _my_ son, now!" Then she would break off and give her head two or
three awful and ominous shakes. What would have happened if such a young
man as Albert had been her son, it would be hard to tell. Something
unutterably dreadful, no doubt.
Even the charms of Miss Minorkey were not sufficient to detain Albert in
his eager haste and passionate determination to rescue Katy. But to go,
he must have money; to get money, he must collect it from Plausaby, or at
least get a land-warrant with which he could pre-empt his claim. Then he
would mortgage his land for money to pay his traveling expenses. But it
was so much easier to lend money to Plausaby, Esq., than it was to
collect it. Plausaby, Esq., was always just going to have the money;
Plausaby, Esq., had ever ready so many excuses for past failure, and so
many assurances of payment in the immediate future, that Charlton was
kept hoping and waiting in agony from week to week. He knew that he was
losing ground in the matter of Westcott and Katy. She was again grieving
over Smith's possible suicide, was again longing for the cheerful rattle
of flattery and nonsense which rendered the Privileged Infant so
diverting even to those who hated him, much more to her who loved him.
Albert's position was the more embarrassing that he was obliged to spend
a part of his time on his claim to maintain a residence. One night, after
having suffered a disappointment for the fifth time in the matter of
Plausaby and money, he was walking down the road to cool his anger in the
night air, when he met the Inhabitant of the Lone Cabin, again.
"Well, Gray," he said, "how are you? Have you written any fresh
"Varses? See here, Mr. Charlton, do you 'low this 'ere's a time
"_To_ be shore! Why not? I should kinder think yer own heart should orter
tell you. You don' know what I'm made of. You think I a'n't good fer
nothin' but varses. Now, Mr. Charlton, I'm not one of them air fellers as
lets theirselves all off in varses that don' mean nothin'. What my pomes
says, that my heart feels. And that my hands does. No, sir, my po'try 's
like the corn crap in August. It's laid by. I ha'n't writ nary line sence
I seed you afore. The fingers that holds a pen kin pull a trigger."
"What do you mean, Gray?"
"This 'ere," and he took out a pistol. "I wuz a poet; now I'm a gardeen
angel. I tole you I wouldn' do nothin' desperate tell I talked weth you.
That's the reason I didn' shoot him t'other night. When you run him off,
I draw'd on him, and he'd a been a gone sucker ef't hadn' been fer yore
makin' me promise t'other day to hold on tell I'd talked weth you. Now,
I've talked weth you, and I don't make no furder promises. Soon as he
gits to makin' headway agin, I'll drap him."
It was in vain that Charlton argued with him. Gray said life wurn't no
'count no how; he had sot out to be a Gardeen Angel, and he wuz agoin'
through. These 'ere Yankees tuck blam'd good keer of their hides, but
down on the Wawbosh, where he come from, they didn't valley life a
copper in a thing of this 'ere sort. Ef Smith Westcott kep' a shovin'
ahead on his present trail, he'd fetch up kinder suddent all to wunst,
weth a jolt.
After this, the dread of a tragedy of some sort did not decrease Albert's
eagerness to be away. He began to talk violently to Plausaby, and that
poor gentleman, harassed now by a suit brought by the town of Perritaut
to set aside the county-seat election, and by a prosecution instituted
against him for conspiracy, and by a suit on the part of the fat
gentleman for damages on account of fraud in the matter of the two watery
lots in block twenty-six, and by much trouble arising from his illicit
speculation in claims--this poor Squire Plausaby, in the midst of this
accumulation of vexations, kept his temper sweet, bore all of Albert's
severe remarks with serenity, and made fair promises with an unruffled
countenance. Smith Westcott had defeated Whisky Jim in his contest for
the claim, because the removal of a dishonest receiver left the case to
be decided according to the law and the regulations of the General Land
Office, and the law gave the claim to Westcott. The Privileged Infant,
having taken possession of Jim's shanty, made a feint of living in it,
having moved his trunk, his bed, his whisky, and all other necessaries to
the shanty. As his thirty days had expired, he was getting ready to
pre-empt; the value of the claim would put him in funds, and he
proposed, now that his blood was up, to give up his situation, if he
should find it necessary, and "play out his purty little game" with
Albert Charlton. It was shrewdly suspected, indeed, that if he should
leave the Territory, he would not return. He knew nothing of the pistol
which the Gardeen Angel kept under his wing for him, but Whisky Jim had
threatened that he shouldn't enjoy his claim long. Jim had remarked to
several people, in his lofty way, that Minnesoty wuz a healthy place fer
folks weth consumption, but a dreffle sickly one fer folks what jumped
other folks's claims when they wuz down of typus. And Jim grew more and
more threatening as the time of Westcott's pre-emption drew near. While
throwing the mail-bag off one day at the Metropolisville post-office he
told Albert that he jest wished he knowed which mail Westcott's
land-warrant would come in. He wouldn't steal it, but plague ef he
wouldn't heave it off into the Big Gun River, accidentally a purpose, ef
he had to go to penitensh'ry fer it.
But after all his weary and impatient waiting on and badgering of
Plausaby, Albert got his land-warrant, and hurried off to the
land-office, made his pre-emption, gave Mr. Minorkey a mortgage with a
waiver in it, borrowed two hundred dollars at three per cent a month and
five after maturity, interest to be settled every six months.
Then, though it was Friday evening, he would have packed everything and
hurried away the next morning; but his mother interposed her authority.
Katy couldn't be got ready. What was the use of going to Red Owl to stay
over Sunday? There was no boat down Sunday, and they could just as well
wait till Monday, and take the Tuesday boat, and so Albeit reluctantly
consented to wait.
But he would not let Katy be out of his sight. He was determined that in
these last hours of her stay in the Territory, Smith Westcott should not
have a moment's opportunity for conversation with her. He played the
tyrannical brother to perfection. He walked about the house in a fighting
mood all the time, with brows drawn down and fist ready to clench.
He must have one more boat-ride with Helen Minorkey, and he took Katy
with him, because he dared not leave her behind. He took them both in the
unpainted pine row-boat which belonged to nobody in particular, and he
rowed away across the little lake, looking at the grassy-green shores on
the one side, and at the basswood trees that shadowed the other. Albert
had never had a happier hour. Out in the lake he was safe from the
incursions of the tempter. Rowing on the water, he relaxed the strain of
his vigilance; out on the lake, with water on every side, he felt secure.
He had Katy, sweet and almost happy; he felt sure now that she would be
able to forget Westcott, and be at peace again as in the old days when he
had built play-houses for the sunny little child. He had Helen, and she
seemed doubly dear to him on the eve of parting. When he was alone with
her, he felt always a sense of disappointment, for he was ever striving
by passionate speeches to elicit some expression more cordial than it was
possible for Helen's cool nature to utter. But now that Katy's presence
was a restraint upon him, this discord between the pitch of his nature
and of hers did not make itself felt, and he was satisfied with himself,
with Helen, and with Katy. And so round the pebbly margin of the lake he
rowed, while they talked and laughed. The reaction from his previous
state of mental tension put Albert into a sort of glee; he was almost as
boisterous as the Privileged Infant himself. He amused himself by
throwing spray on Katy with his oars, and he even ventured to sprinkle
the dignified Miss Minorkey a little, and she unbent enough to make a cup
of her white palm and to dip it into the clear water and dash a good,
solid handful of it into the face of her lover. She had never in her life
acted in so undignified a manner, and Charlton was thoroughly delighted
to have her throw cold water upon him in this fashion. After this, he
rowed down to the outlet, and showed them where the beavers had built a
dam, and prolonged his happy rowing and talking till the full moon came
up out of the prairie and made a golden pathway on the ripples. Albert's
mind dwelt on this boat-ride in the lonely year that followed. It seemed
to him strange that he could have had so much happiness on the brink of
so much misery. He felt as that pleasure party did, who, after hours of
happy sport, found that they had been merry-making in the very current of
the great cataract.
There are those who believe that every great catastrophe throws its
shadow before it, but Charlton was never more hopeful than when he lifted
his dripping oars from the water at half-past nine o'clock, and said:
"What a grand ride we've had! Let's row together again to-morrow evening.
It is the last chance for a long time."
On the Saturday morning after this Friday evening boat-ride, Charlton was
vigilant as ever, and yet Saturday was not a dangerous day. It was the
busy day at the Emporium, and he had not much to fear from Westcott,
whose good quality was expressed by one trite maxim to which he rigidly
adhered. "Business before pleasure" uttered the utmost self-denial of his
life. He was fond of repeating his motto, with no little exultation in
the triumph he had achieved over his pleasure-loving disposition. To this
fidelity to business he owed his situation as "Agent," or head-clerk, of
the branch store of Jackson, Jones & Co. If he could have kept from
spending money as fast as he made it, he might have been a partner in the
firm. However, he rejoiced in the success he had attained, and, to
admiring neophytes who gazed in admiration on his perilous achievement of
rather reckless living and success in gaining the confidence of his
employers, he explained the marvel by uttering his favorite adage in his
own peculiar style: "Business before pleasure! By George! That's the
doctrine! A merchant don't care how fast you go to the devil out of
hours, if you keep his business straight. Business before pleasure!
That's the ticket! He! he! By George!"
When evening came, and Charlton felt that he had but one more day of
standing guard, his hopes rose, he talked to Isabel Marlay with something
of exultation. And he thought it due to Miss Marlay to ask her to make
one of the boating-party. They went to the hotel, where Miss Minorkey
joined them. Albert found it much more convenient walking with three
ladies than with two. Isa and Katy walked on arm-in-arm, and left Albert
to his _tete-a-tete_ with Helen. And as Sunday evening would be the very
last on which he should see her before leaving for the East, he found it
necessary to walk slowly and say much. For lovers who see each other a
great deal, have more to say the more they are together.
At the lake a disappointment met them. The old pine boat was in use. It
was the evening of the launching of the new sail-boat, "The Lady of the
Lake," and there was a party of people on the shore. Two young men, in a
spirit of burlesque and opposition, had seized on the old boat and had
chalked upon her bow, "The Pirate's Bride." With this they were rowing up
and down the lake, and exciting much merriment in the crowd on the shore.
Ben Towle, who was one of the principal stockholders in "The Lady of the
Lake," and who had been suspected of a tender regard for Isabel Marlay,
promptly offered Albert and his party seats in the boat on her first
trip. There were just four vacancies, he said. The three ladies had
stepped aboard, and Albert was following, when the ex-sailor who held the
rudder touched his arm and said, "I don't think it's safe, Mr. Charlton,
fer nobody else to git in. She's got 'leven now, and ef the wind
freshens, twelve would be dangerous."
"Oh! I'll stay out!" said Albert, retreating.
"Come, Albert, take my place," said Towle. "You're welcome to it."
"No, I won't, Ben; you sit still, and I'll stand on the shore and cheer."
Just as the boat was about to leave her moorings, Smith Westcott came up
and insisted on getting in.
"'Twon't do, Mr. Wes'cott. 'Ta'n't safe," said the helmsman. "I jest
begged Mr. Charlton not to go. She's got a full load now."
"Oh! I don't weigh anything. Lighter'n a feather. Only an infant. And
besides, I'm going anyhow, by George!" and with that he started to get
aboard. But Albert had anticipated him by getting in at the other end of
the boat and taking the only vacant seat. The Privileged Infant scowled
fiercely, but Charlton affected not to see him, and began talking in a
loud tone to Ben Towle about the rigging. The line was thrown off and the
boat pushed out, the wind caught the new white sail, and the "Lady of the
Lake" started along in the shallows, gradually swinging round toward the
open water. Soon after her keel had ceased to grind upon the gravel,
Albert jumped out, and, standing over boot-top in water, waved his hat
and wished them a pleasant voyage, and all the ladies in the boat waved
their handkerchiefs at him, appreciating his efforts to keep the boat
from being overloaded, but not thinking of the stronger motive Charlton
had for keeping Smith Westcott ashore. They could not know how much
exultation Albert felt as he sat down on the green grass and poured the
water from his boots.
There was a fine breeze, the boat sailed admirably, the party aboard
laughed and talked and sang; their voices made merry music that reached
the shore. The merry music was irritating discord to the ears of
Westcott, it made him sweur bitterly at Charlton. I am afraid that it
made Charlton happy to think of Westcott swearing at him. There is great
comfort in being the object of an enemy's curses sometimes--When the
enemy is down, and you are above and master. I think the consciousness
that Westcott was swearing at him made even the fine sunset seem more
glorious to Charlton. The red clouds were waving banners of victory.
But in ten minutes the situation had changed. Albert saw Westcott walking
across the beaver-dam at the lower end of the lake, and heard him
hallooing to the young men who were rowing the "Pirate's Bride" up and
down and around the "Lady of the Lake," for the ugly old boat was
swiftest. The Pirate's Bride landed and took Westcott aboard, and all of
Albert's rejoicing was turned to cursing, for there, right before his
eyes, the Pirate's Bride ran her brown hull up alongside the white and
graceful Lady of the Lake, and Smith Westcott stepped from the one to the
other. The beauty of the sunset was put out. The new boat sailed up and
down the little lake more swiftly and gracefully than ever as the breeze
increased, but Albert hated it.
By some change or other in seats Westcott at last got alongside Katy.
Albert distinctly saw the change made, and his anger was mingled with
despair. For Isabel and Helen were in the other end of the boat, and
there were none to help. And so on, on, in the gray dusk of the evening,
the boat kept sailing from one end of the lake to the other, and as it
passed now and then near him, he could see that Smith was in conversation
with little Katy.
"You needn't worry, Mr. Charlton, I'll fix him." It was the voice of the
Guardian Angel. "I'll fix him, shore as shootin'." And there he stood
looking at Albert. For the first time now it struck Albert that George
Gray was a little insane. There was a strange look in his eyes. If he
should kill Westcott, the law would not hold him accountable. Nobody
would be accountable, and Katy would be saved.
But in a moment Albert's better feeling was uppermost. The horribleness
of murder came distinctly before him. He shuddered that he should have
entertained the thought of suffering it.
"You see, Mr. Charlton," said Gray, with eyes having that strange
mysterious look that only belongs to the eyes of people who are at
least on the borders of insanity, "you see this 'ere pistol's got five
bar'ls, all loadened. I tuck out the ole loads las' night and filled
her up weth powder what's shore to go off. Now you leave that air
matter to me, will you?"
"Let me see your revolver," said Albert.
Gray handed it to him, and Charlton examined it a minute, and then, with
a sudden resolution, he got to his feet, ran forward a few paces, and
hurled the pistol with all his might into the lake.
"Don't let us commit murder," he said, turning round and meeting the
excited eyes of the half-insane poet.
"Well, maybe you're right, but I'll be hanged ef I think it's hardly far
and squar and gentlemanly to wet a feller's catridges that-a-way."
"I had to," said Albert, trembling. "If I hadn't, you or I would have
been a murderer before morning."
"Maybe so, but they ain't nothin else to be done. Ef you don't let me
kill the devil, why, then the devil will pack your sister off, and that's
the end on't."
The moon shone out, and still the boat went sailing up and down the lake,
and still the party in the boat laughed and talked and sang merry songs,
and still Charlton walked up and down the shore, though almost all the
rest of the spectators had gone, and the Poet sat down in helpless
dejection. And still Smith Westcott sat and talked to Katy. What he said
need not be told: how, while all the rest laughed and sang, the
Privileged Infant was serious; and how he appealed to Katy's sympathies
by threatening to jump off into the lake; and how he told her that they
must be married, and have it all over at once. Then, when it was all
over, Albert wouldn't feel bad about it any more. Brothers never did.
When he and Albert should get to be brothers-in-law, they'd get on
splendidly. By George! Some such talk as this he had as they sailed up
and down the lake. Just what it was will never be known, whether he
planned an elopement that very night, or on Sunday night, or on the night
which they must pass in Red Owl Landing, nobody knows. Isabel Marlay, who
saw all, was sure that Smith had carried all his points. He had convinced
the sweet and trusting Katy that an immediate marriage would be best for
Brother Albert as well as for themselves.
And as the boat sailed on, tacking to and fro, even the pilot got over
his anxiety at the overloading which had taken place when Westcott got
in. The old tar said to Towle that she carried herself beautifully.
Five minutes after he made the remark, while Westcott was talking to
Katy, and playfully holding his fingers in the water as he leaned over
the gunwale that almost dipped, there came a flaw in the wind, and the
little boat, having too much canvas and too much loading, careened
suddenly and capsized.
There was a long, broken, mingled, discordant shriek as of a dozen voices
on different keys uttering cries of terror and despair. There was the
confusion of one person falling over another; there was the wild grasping
for support, the seizing of each other's garments and arms, the undefined
and undefinable struggle of the first desperate minute after a boat has
capsized, the scream that dies to a gurgle in the water and then breaks
out afresh, louder and sharper than before, and then is suddenly
smothered into a gurgle again. There were all these things, there was an
alarm on the shore, a rush of people, and then there came stillness, and
those minutes of desperate waiting, in which the drowning people cling to
rigging and boat, and test the problem of human endurance. It is a race
between the endurance of frightened, chilled, drowning people, and the
stupid lack of presence of mind of those on shore. All the inmates of the
boat got hold of something, and for a minute all their heads were out of
water. Their eyes were so near to the water, that not even the most
self-possessed of them could see what exertions were being made by people
on shore to help them. Thus they clung a minute, no one saying anything,
when Jane Downing, who held to the rigging at some distance from the
boat, paralyzed by fear, let go, and slowly sank out of sight, saying
never a word as she went down, but looking with beseeching eyes at the
rest, who turned away as the water closed over her, and held on more
tenaciously than ever, and wondered whether help ever would reach them.
And this was only at the close of the first minute. There were
twenty-nine other minutes before help came.
Isabel Marlay's first care had been to see that little Katy had a good
hold. Helen Minorkey was quite as self-possessed, but her chief care was
to get into a secure position herself. Nothing brings out character more
distinctly than an emergency such as this. Miss Minorkey was resolute and
bent on self-preservation from the first moment. Miss Marlay was
resolute, but full of sympathy for the rest. With characteristic
practical sense, she did what she could to make herself and those within
her reach secure, and then with characteristic faith she composed her
mind to death if it should come, and even ventured with timid courage to
exhort Katy and Miss Minorkey to put their trust in Christ, who could
forgive their sins, and care for them living or dying. Even the most
skeptical of us respect a settled belief in a time of trial. There was
much broken praying from others, simply the cry of terror-stricken
spirits. In all ages men have cried in their extremity to the Unseen
Power, and the drowning passengers in Diamond Lake uttered the same old
cry. Westcott himself, in his first terror, prayed a little and swore a
little by turns.
The result of self-possession in the case of Isa Marlay and Helen
Minorkey was the same. They did not waste their strength. When people
drown, it is nearly always from a lack of economy of force. Here was
poor little Katy so terrified at thoughts of drowning, and of the cold
slimy bed at the bottom of the lake, and more than all at thoughts of the
ugly black leeches that abounded at the bottom, that she was drawing
herself up head and shoulders out of the water all the time, and praying
brokenly to God and Brother Albert to come and help them. Isa tried to
soothe her, but she shuddered, and said that the lake was so cold, and
she knew she should drown, and Cousin Isa, and Smith, and all of them.
Two or three times, in sheer desperation, little Katy let go, but each
time Isa Marlay saved her and gave her a better hold, and cheered her
with assurances that all would be well yet.
While one party on the shore were building a raft with which to reach the
drowning people, Albert Charlton and George Gray ran to find the old
boat. But the young men who had rowed in it, wishing to keep it for their
own use, had concealed it in a little estuary on the side of the lake
opposite to the village, so that the two rescuers were obliged to run
half the circumference of the lake before they found it. And even when
they reached it, there were no oars to be found, the party rowing last
having carefully hidden them in the deep grass of the slough by the
outlet. George Gray's quick frontiersman's instinct supplied the
deficiency with sticks broken from a fallen tree. But with the time
consumed in finding the boat, and the time lost in searching for the
oars, and the slowness of the progress made in rowing with these clumsy
poles, and the distance of the boat's starting-point from the scene of
the disaster, the raft had greatly the advantage of them, though Charlton
and Gray used their awkward paddles with the energy of desperation. The
wrecked people had clung to their frail supports nearly a quarter of an
hour, listening to the cries and shouts of their friends ashore, unable
to guess what measures were being taken for their relief, and filled with
a distrustful sense of having been abandoned by God and man. It just then
occurred to Westcott, who had recovered from his first fright, and who
for some time had neither prayed to God nor cursed his luck, that he
might save himself by swimming. In his boyish days, before he had
weakened his texture by self-indulgence and shattered his nerves by
debauchery, he had been famous for his skill and endurance in the water,
and it now occurred to him that he might swim ashore and save Katy
Charlton at the same time. It is easy enough for us to see the interested
motives he had in proposing to save little Katy. He would wipe out the
censure sure to fall on him for overloading the boat, he would put Katy
and her friends under lasting obligations to him, he would win his game.
It is always easy to see the selfish motive. But let us do him justice,
and say that these were not the only considerations. Just as the motives
of no man are good without some admixture of evil, so are the motives of
no man entirely bad. I do not think that Westcott, in taking charge of
Katy, was wholly generous, yet there was a generous, and after a fashion,
maybe, a loving feeling for the girl in the proposal. That good motives
were uppermost, I will not say. They were somewhere in the man, and that
is enough to temper our feeling toward him.
Isa Marlay was very unwilling to have Katy go. But the poor little thing
was disheartened where she was--the shore did not seem very far away,
looking along the water horizontally--the cries of the people on the bank
seemed near--she was sure she could not hold on much longer--she was so
anxious to get out of this cold lake--she was so afraid to die--she
dreaded the black leeches at the bottom--she loved and trusted Smith as
such women as she always love and trust--and so she was glad to accept
his offer. It was so good of Smith to love her so and to save her. And so
she took hold of his coat-collar as he bade her, and Westcott started to
swim toward the nearest shore. He had swam his two miles once, when he
was a boy, testing his endurance in the waters of the North River, and
Diamond Lake was not a mile wide. There seemed no reason to doubt that he
could swim to the shore, which could not in any event be more than half a
mile away, and which seemed indeed much nearer as he looked over the
surface of the water. But Westcott had not taken all the elements into
the account. He had on his clothing, and before he had gone far, his
boots seemed to fetter him, his saturated sleeves dragged through the
water like leaden weights. His limbs, too, had grown numb from remaining
so long in the water, and his physical powers had been severely taxed of
late years by his dissipations. Add to this that he was encumbered by
Katy, that his fright now returned, and that he made the mistake so often
made by the best of swimmers under excitement, of wasting power by
swimming too high, and you have the causes of rapid exhaustion.
"The shore seems so far away," murmured Katy. "Why don't Albert come and
save us?" and she held on to Smith with a grasp yet more violent, and he
seemed more and more embarrassed by her hold.
"Let go my arm, or we'll both drown," he cried savagely, and the poor
little thing took her left hand off his arm, but held all the more firmly
to his collar; but her heart sank in hopelessness. She had never heard
him speak in that savage tone before She only called out feebly, "Brother
Albert!" and the cry, which revealed to Westcott that she put no more
trust in him, but turned now to the strong heart of her brother, angered
him, and helped him to take the resolution he was already meditating. For
his strength was fast failing; he looked back and could see the raft
nearing the capsized boat, but he felt that he had not strength enough
left to return; he began to sink, and Katy, frightened out of all
self-control as they went under the water, clutched him desperately with
both hands. With one violent effort Smith Westcott tore her little hands
from him, and threw her off. He could not save her, anyhow. He must do
that, or drown. He was no hero or martyr to drown with her. That is all.
It cost him a pang to do it, I doubt not.
Katy came up once, and looked at him. It was not terror at thought of
death, so much as it was heart-break at being thus cast off, that looked
at him out of her despairing eyes. Then she clasped her hands, and cried
aloud, in broken voice: "Brother Albert!"
And then with a broken cry she sank.
Oh! Katy! Katy! It were better to sink. I can hardly shed a tear for
thee, as I see thee sink to thy cold bed at the lake-bottom among the
slimy water-weeds and leeches; but for women who live to trust
professions, and who find themselves cast off and sinking--neglected and
helpless in life--for them my heart is breaking.
Oh! little Katy. Sweet, and loving, and trustful! It were better to
sink among the water-weeds and leeches than to live on. God is more
merciful than man.
Yes, God is indeed more merciful than man. There are many things worse
than death. There is a fold where no wolves enter; a country where a
loving heart shall not find its own love turned into poison; a place
where the wicked cease from troubling--yes, even in this heretical day,
let us be orthodox enough to believe that there is a land where no Smith
Westcotts ever come.
There are many cases in which it were better to die. It is easy enough to
say it before it comes. Albert Charlton had said--how many times!--that
he would rather see Katy dead than married to Westcott. But, now that
Katy was indeed dead, how did he feel?
Charlton and Gray had paddled hard with crooked limbs, the boat was
unmanageable, and they could with difficulty keep her in her coarse. As
they neared the capsized boat, they saw that the raft had taken the
people from it, and Albert heard the voice--there could be no mistake as
to the voice, weak and shivering as it was--of Isa Marlay, calling to him
from the raft:
"We are all safe. Go and save Katy and--him!"
"There they air!" said Gray, pointing to two heads just visible above
the water. "Pull away, by thunder!" And the two half-exhausted young men
swung the boat round, and rowed. How they longed for the good oars that
had sent the "Pirate's Bride" driving through the water that afternoon!
How they grudged the time spent in righting her when she veered to right
or left! At last they heard Katy's voice cry out, "Brother Albert!"
"O God!" groaned Charlton, and bent himself to his oar again.
"Alb--" The last cry was half-drowned in the water, and when the boat,
with half-a-dozen more strokes, reached the place where Westcott was, so
that he was able to seize the side, there was no Kate to be seen. Without
waiting to lift the exhausted swimmer into the boat, Charlton and Gray
dived. But the water was twenty feet deep, the divers were utterly out of
breath with rowing, and their diving was of no avail. They kept trying
until long after all hope had died out of their hearts. At last Charlton
climbed back into the boat, and sat down. Then Gray got in. Westcott was
so numb and exhausted from staying in the water so long that he could not
get in, but he held to the boat desperately, and begged them to help him.
"Help him in," said Charlton to Gray. "I can't."
"I'd like to help him out ef he wuz in, mighty well. I can't kill a
drownin' man, but blamed ef I gin him a leetle finger of help. I'd jest
as soon help a painter outen the water when I know'd he'd swaller the
fust man he come to."
But Charlton got up and reached a hand to the sinking Westcott. He
shut his eyes while he pulled him in, and was almost sorry he had
saved him. Let us not be too hard on Albert. He was in the first
agony of having reached a hand to save little Katy and missed her. To
come so near that you might have succeeded by straining a nerve a
little more somewhere--that is bitterest of all. If Westcott had only
held on a minute!
It was with difficulty that Albert and Gray rowed to the shore, where
Plausaby met them, and persuaded them to change their clothes. They were
both soon on the shore again, where large fires were blazing, and the old
boat that had failed to save little Katy alive, was now in use to recover
her body. There is no more hopeless and melancholy work than dragging for
the body of a drowned person. The drag moves over the bottom; the man who
holds the rope, watching for the faintest sensation of resistance in the
muscles of his arm, at last feels something drawing against the drag,
calls to the oarsmen to stop rowing, lets the line slip through his
fingers till the boat's momentum is a little spent, lest he should lose
his hold, then he draws on his line gently, and while the boat drifts
back, he reverently, as becomes one handling the dead, brings the drag to
the surface, and finds that its hooks have brought up nothing but
water-weeds, or a waterlogged bough. And when at last, after hours of
anxious work, the drag brings the lifeless body to the surface, the
disappointment is bitterest of all. For all the time you have seemed to
be seeking the drowned person, and now at last you have got--what?
It was about eleven o'clock when they first began to drag. Albert had a
sort of vague looking for something, a superstitious feeling that by some
sort of a miracle Katy would yet be found alive. It is the hardest work
the imagination has to do--this realizing that one who has lived by us
will never more be with us. It is hard to project a future for
ourselves, into which one who has filled a large share of our thought and
affection shall never come. And so there lingers a blind hope, a hopeless
hope of something that shall make unreal that which our impotent
imaginations refuse to accept as real. It is a means by which nature
parries a sudden blow.
Charlton walked up and down the shore, and wished he might take the
drag-line into his own hands; but the mistaken kindness of our friends
refuses us permission to do for our own dead, when doing anything would
be a relief, and when doing for the dead would be the best possible
utterance to the hopeless love which we call grief.
Mrs. Plausaby, weak and vain though she was, was full of natural
affection. Her love for Albert was checked a little by her feeling that
there was no perfect sympathy between him and her. But upon Katy she had
lavished all her mother's love. People are apt to think that a love which
is not intelligent is not real; there could be no greater mistake. And
the very smallness of the area covered by Mrs. Plausaby's mind made her
grief for Kate all the more passionate. Katy occupied Albert's mind
jointly with Miss Minorkey, with ambition, with benevolence, with
science, with literature, and with the great Philanthropinum that was to
be built and to revolutionize the world by helping it on toward its
"goal." But the interests that shared Mrs. Plausaby's thoughts along with
Katy were very few. Of Albert she thought, and of her husband. But she
gave the chief place to Katy and her own appearance. And so when the blow
had come it was a severe one. At midnight, Albert went back to try to
comfort his mother, and received patiently all her weeping upbraidings
of him for letting his sister go in the boat, he might have known it was
not safe. And then he hastened back again to the water, and watched the
men in the boat still dragging without result. Everybody on the shore
knew just where the "Lady of the Lake" had capsized, and if accurate
information, plentifully given, could have helped to find the bodies, it
would soon have been accomplished. The only difficulty was that this
accurate information was very conflicting, no two of the positive
eye-witnesses being able to agree. So there was much shouting along
shore, and many directions given, but all the searching for a long time
proved vain. All the shouting people hushed their shouting, and spoke in
whispers whenever Albert came near. To most men there is nothing more
reverend than grief. At half-past two o'clock, the man who held the rope
felt a strange thrill, a sense of having touched one of the bodies. He
drew up his drag, and one of the hooks held a piece of a black silk cape.
When three or four more essays had been made, the body itself was brought
to the surface, and the boat turned toward the shore. There was no more
shouting of directions now, not a single loud word was spoken, the
oarsman rowed with a steady funereal rhythm, while Ben Towle, who had
held the drag-rope, now held half out of water the recovered corpse.
Albert leaned forward anxiously to see the face of Katy, but it was Jane
Downing, the girl who was drowned first. Her father took the body in his
arms, drew it out on shore, and wept over it in a quiet fashion for a
while. Then strong and friendly neighbors lifted it, and bore it before
him to his house, while the man followed in a dumb grief.
Then the dragging for Katy was resumed; but as there was much more doubt
in regard to the place where she went down than there was about the place
of the accident, the search was more difficult and protracted. George
Gray never left Albert for a moment. George wanted to take the drag-rope
himself, but a feeling that he was eccentric, if not insane, kept those
in charge of the boat from giving it to him.
When Sunday morning came, Katy's body had not yet been found, and the
whole village flocked to the lake shore. These were the first deaths in
Metropolisville, and the catastrophe was so sudden and tragic that it
stirred the entire village in an extraordinary manner. All through that
cloudy Sunday forenoon, in a weary waiting, Charlton sat on the bank of
"Mr. Charlton," said Gray, "git me into that air boat and I'll git done
with this. I've watched them fellers go round the place tell I can't
stan' it no longer."
The next time the boat faced toward the place where Charlton stood he
beckoned to them, and the boat came to the shore.
"Let Mr. Gray row a few times, won't you?" whispered Albert. "I think he
knows the place."
With that deference always paid to a man in grief, the man who had the
oars surrendered them to the Hoosier Poet, who rowed gently and carefully
toward the place where he and Albert had dived for Katy the night before.
The quick instinct of the trapper stood him in good stead now. The
perception and memory of locality and direction are developed to a degree
that seems all but supernatural in a man who lives a trapper's life.
"Now, watch out!" said Gray to the man with the rope, as they passed what
he thought to be the place. But the drag did not touch anything. Gray
then went round and pulled at right angles across his former course,
saying again, "Now, watch out!" as they passed the same spot. The man
who held the rope advised him to turn a little to the right, but Gray
stuck to his own infallible instinct, and crossed and re-crossed the same
point six times without success.
"You see," he remarked, "you kin come awful closte to a thing in the
water and not tech it. We ha'n't missed six foot nary time we passed
thar. It may take right smart rowin' to do it yet. But when you miss a
mark a-tryin' at it, you don't gain nothin' by shootin' wild. Now,
And just at that moment the drag caught but did not hold. Gray noticed
it, but neither man said a word. The Inhabitant turned the boat round and
pulled slowly back over the same place. The drag caught, and Gray lifted
his oars. The man with the rope, who had suddenly got a great reverence
for Gray's skill, willingly allowed him to draw in the line. The Poet did
so cautiously and tremblingly. When the body came above the water, he had
all he could do to keep from fainting. He gently took hold of the arms
and said to his companion, "Pull away now." And with his own wild,
longing, desolate heart full of grief, Gray held to the little form and
drew her through the water. Despite his grief, the Poet was glad to be
the one who should bring her ashore. He held her now, if only her dead
body, and his unselfish love found a melancholy recompense. Albert would
have chosen him of all men for the office.
Poor little Kate! In that dread moment when she found herself sinking to
her cold bed among the water-weeds, she had, failing all other support,
clasped her left hand with her right and gone down to darkness. And as
she went, so now came her lifeless body. The right hand clasped tightly
the four little white fingers of the left.
Poor little Kate! How white as pearl her face was, turned up toward that
Sabbath sky! There was not a spot upon it. The dreaded leeches had done
She, whom everybody had called sweet, looked sweeter now than ever. Death
had been kind to the child at the last, and had stroked away every trace
of terror, and of the short anguish she had suffered when she felt
herself cast off by the craven soul she trusted. What might the long
anguish have been had she lived!
[Illustration: HIS UNSELFISH LOVE FOUND A MELANCHOLY RECOMPENSE.]
The funeral was over, and there were two fresh graves--the only ones in
the bit of prairie set apart for a graveyard. I have written enough in
this melancholy strain. Why should I pause to describe in detail the
solemn services held in the grove by the lake? It is enough that the
land-shark forgot his illegal traffic in claims; the money-lender ceased
for one day to talk of mortgages and per cent and foreclosure; the fat
gentleman left his corner-lots. Plausaby's bland face was wet with tears
of sincere grief, and Mr. Minorkey pressed his hand to his chest and
coughed more despairingly than ever. The grove in which the meeting was
held commanded a view of the lake at the very place where the accident
occurred. The nine survivors sat upon the front seat of all; the friends
of the deceased were all there, and, most pathetic sight of all, the two
mute white faces of the drowned were exposed to view. The people wept
before the tremulous voice of the minister had begun the service, and
there was so much weeping that the preacher could say but little. Poor
Mrs. Plausaby was nearly heart-broken. Nothing could have been more
pathetic than her absurd mingling for two days of the sincerest grief and
an anxious questioning about her mourning-dress. She would ask Isa's
opinion concerning her veil, and then sit down and cry piteously the next
minute. And now she was hopeless and utterly disconsolate at the loss of
her little Katy, but wondering all the time whether Isa could not have
fixed her bonnet so that it would not have looked quite so plain.
The old minister preached on "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy
youth." I am afraid he said some things which the liberalism of to-day
would think unfit--we all have heresies nowadays; it is quite the style.
But at least the old man reminded them that there were better investments
than corner-lots, and that even mortgages with waivers in them will be
brought into judgment. His solemn words could not have failed entirely of
But the solemn funeral services were over; the speculator in claims dried
his eyes, and that very afternoon assigned a claim, to which he had no
right, to a simple-minded immigrant for a hundred dollars. Minorkey was
devoutly thankful that his own daughter had escaped, and that he could go
on getting mortgages with waivers in them, and Plausaby turned his
attention to contrivances for extricating himself from the embarrassments
of his situation.
The funeral was over. That is the hardest time of all. You can bear up
somehow, so long as the arrangements and cares and melancholy tributes of
the obsequies last. But if one has occupied a large share of your
thoughts, solicitudes, and affections, and there comes a time when the
very last you can ever do for them, living or dead, is done, then for the
first time you begin to take the full measure of your loss. Albert felt
now that he was picking up the broken threads of another man's life.
Between the past, which had been full of anxieties and plans for little
Kate, and the future, into which no little Kate could ever come, there
was a great chasm. There is nothing that love parts from so regretfully
as its burdens.
Mrs. Ferret came to see Charlton, and smiled her old sudden puckered
smile, and talked in her jerky complacent voice about the uses of
sanctified affliction, and her trust that the sudden death of his sister
in all the thoughtless vanity of youth would prove a solemn and
impressive warning to him to repent in health before it should be with
him everlastingly too late. Albert was very far from having that
childlike spirit which enters the kingdom of heaven easily. Some
natures, are softened by affliction, but they are not such as his.
Charlton in his aggressiveness demanded to know the reason for
everything. And in his sorrow his nature sent a defiant _why_ back to
the Power that had made Katy's fate so sad, and Mrs. Ferret's rasping
way of talking about Katy's death as a divine judgment on him filled him
with curses bitterer than Job's.
Miss Isa Marlay was an old-school Calvinist. She had been trained on the
Assembly's Catechism, interpreted in good sound West Windsor fashion. In
theory she never deviated one iota from the solid ground of the creed of
her childhood. But while she held inflexibly to her creed in all its
generalizations, she made all those sweet illogical exceptions which
women of her kind are given to making. In general, she firmly believed
that everybody who failed to have a saving faith in the vicarious
atonement of Christ would be lost. In particular, she excepted many
individual cases among her own acquaintance. And the inconsistency
between her creed and her applications of it never troubled her. She
spoke with so much confidence of the salvation of little Kate, that she
comforted Albert somewhat, notwithstanding his entire antagonism to Isa's
system of theology. If Albert had died, Miss Marlay would have fixed up a
short and easy road to bliss for him also. So much, more generous is
faith than logic! But it was not so much Isa's belief in the salvation of
Katy that did Albert good, as it was her tender and delicate sympathy,
expressed as much when she was silent as when she spoke, and when she
spoke expressed more by the tones of her voice than by her words.
There was indeed one part of Isabel's theology that Charlton would have
much liked to possess. He had accepted the idea of an Absolute God. A
personal, sympathizing, benevolent Providence was in his opinion one of
the illusions of the theologic stage of human development. Things
happened by inexorable law, he said. And in the drowning of Katy he saw
only the overloading of a boat and the inevitable action of water upon
the vital organs of the human system. It seemed to him now an awful thing
that such great and terrible forces should act irresistibly and blindly.
He wished he could find some ground upon which to base a different
opinion. He would like to have had Isabel's faith in the Paternity of God
and in the immortality of the soul. But he was too honest with himself to
suffer feeling to exert any influence on his opinions. He was in the
logical stage of his development, and built up his system after the
manner of the One-Hoss Shay. Logically he could not see sufficient ground
to change, and he scorned the weakness that would change an opinion
because of feeling. His soul might cry out in its depths for a Father in
the universe. But what does Logic care for a Soul or its cry? After a
while a wider experience brings in something better than Logic. This is
Philosophy. And Philosophy knows what Logic can not learn, that reason is
not the only faculty by which truth is apprehended--that the hungers and
intuitions of the Soul are worth more than syllogisms.
Do what he would, Charlton could not conceal from himself that in
sympathy Miss Minorkey was greatly deficient. She essayed to show
feeling, but she had little to show. It was not her fault. Do you blame
the dahlia for not having the fragrance of a tuberose? It is the most
dangerous quality of enthusiastic young men and women that they are able
to deceive themselves. Nine tenths of all conjugal disappointments come
from the ability of people in love to see more in those they love than
ever existed there. That love is blind is a fable. He has an affection of
the eyes, but it is not blindness. Nobody else ever sees so much as he
does. For here was Albert Charlton, bound by his vows to Helen Minorkey,
with whom he had nothing in common, except in intellect, and already his
sorrow was disclosing to him the shallowness of her nature, and the depth
of his own; even now he found that she had no voice with which to answer
his hungry cry for sympathy. Already his betrothal was becoming a fetter,
and his great mistake was disclosing itself to him. The rude suspicion
had knocked at his door before, but he had been able to bar it out. Now
it stared at him in the night, and he could not rid himself of it. But he
was still far enough from accepting the fact that the intellectual Helen
Minorkey was destitute of all unselfish feeling. For Charlton was still
in love with her. When one has fixed heart and hope and thought on a
single person, love does not die with the first consciousness of
disappointment. Love can subsist a long time on old associations.
Besides, Miss Minorkey was not aggressively or obtrusively selfish--she
never interfered with anybody else. But there is a cool-blooded
indifference that can be moved by no consideration outside the Universal
Ego. That was Helen.
I have before me, as one of the original sources of information for this
history, a file of _The Wheat County Weakly Windmill_ for 1856. It is not
a large sheet, but certainly it is a very curious one. In its day this
_Windmill_ ground many grists, though its editorial columns were chiefly
occupied with impartial gushing and expansive articles on the charms of
scenery, fertility of soil, superiority of railroad prospects,
admirableness of location, healthfulness, and general future rosiness of
the various paper towns that paid tribute to its advertising columns. And
the advertising columns! They abounded in business announcements of men
who had "Money to Loan on Good Real Estate" at three, four, five, and six
per cent a month, and of persons who called themselves "Attorneys-at-Law
and Real Estate Agents," who stated that "All business relating to
pre-emption and contested claims would be promptly attended to" at their
offices in Perritaut. Even now, through the thin disguise of
honest-seeming phrases, one can see the bait of the land-shark who
speculated in imaginary titles to claims, or sold corner-lots in
bubble-towns. And, as for the towns, it appears from these advertisements
that there was one on almost every square mile, and that every one of
them was on the line of an inevitable railroad, had a first-class hotel,
a water-power, an academy, and an indefinite number of etcaeteras of the
most delightful and remunerative kind. Each one of these villages was in
the heart of the greatest grain-growing section of the State. Each, was
the "natural outlet" to a large agricultural region. Each commanded the
finest view. Each point was the healthiest in the county, and each
village was "unrivaled." (When one looks at these town-site
advertisements, one is tempted to think that member serious and wise who,
about this time, offered a joint resolution in the Territorial
Legislature, which read: "_Resolved by the Senate and House of
Representatives_, That not more than two thirds of the area of this
Territory should be laid out in town-sites and territorial roads, the
remaining one third to be sacredly reserved for agricultural use.")
But I prize this old file of papers because it contains a graphic account
of the next event in this narrative. And the young man who edited the
_Windmill_ at this time has told the story with so much sprightliness and
vigor that I can not serve my reader a better turn than by clipping his
account and pasting it just here in my manuscript. (I shall also rest
myself a little, and do a favor to the patient printer, who will rejoice
to get a little "reprint copy" in place of my perplexing manuscript.) For
where else shall I find such a dictionariful command of the hights and
depths--to say nothing of the lengths and breadths--of the good old
English tongue? This young man must indeed have been a marvel of eloquent
verbosity at that period of his career. The article in question has the
very flavor of the golden age of Indian contracts, corner-lots, six per
cent a month, and mortgages with waiver clauses. There, is also visible,
I fear, a little of the prejudice which existed at that time in Perritaut
[Illustration: THE EDITOR OF "THE WINDMILL."]
I wish that an obstinate scruple on the part of the printers and the
limits of a duodecimo page did not forbid my reproducing here, in all
their glory, the unique head-lines which precede the article in question.
Any pageant introduced by music is impressive, says Madame de Stael. At
least she says something of that sort, only it is in French, and I can
not remember it exactly. And so any newspaper article is startling when
introduced by the braying of head-lines. Fonts of type for displayed
lines were not abundant in the office of the _Windmill_, but they were
very stunning, and were used also for giving prominence to the euphonious
names of the several towns, whose charms were set forth in the
advertisements. Of course the first of these head-lines ran "Startling
Disclosures!!!!" and then followed "Tremendous Excitement in
Metropolisville!" "Official Rascality!" "Bold Mail Robbery!" "Arrest of
the Postmaster!" "No Doubt of his Guilt!" "An Unexplained Mystery!"
"Sequel to the Awful Drowning Affair of Last Week!" Having thus whetted
the appetite of his reader, and economized in type-setting by nearly a
column of such broad and soul-stirring typography, the editor proceeds:
"Metropolisville is again the red-hot crater of a boiling and seething
excitement. Scarcely had the rascally and unscrupulous county-seat
swindle begun to lose something of its terrific and exciting interest to
the people of this county, when there came the awful and sad drowning of
the two young ladies, Miss Jennie Downing and Miss Katy Charlton, the
belles of the village, a full account of which will be found in the
_Windmill_ of last week, some copies of which we have still on hand,
having issued an extra edition. Scarcely had the people of
Metropolisville laid these two charming and much-lamented young ladies in
their last, long resting-place, the quiet grave, when there comes like an
earthquake out of a clear sky, the frightful and somewhat surprising and
stunning intelligence that the postmaster of the village, a young man of
a hitherto unexceptionable and blameless reputation, has been arrested
for robbing the mails. It is supposed that his depredations have been
very extensive and long continued, and that many citizens of our own
village may have suffered from them. Farther investigations will
doubtless bring all his nefarious and unscrupulous transactions to light.
At present, however, he is under arrest on the single charge of stealing
"The name of the rascally, villainous, and dishonest postmaster is Albert
Charlton, and here comes in the wonderful and startling romance of this
strange story. The carnival of excitement in Metropolisville and about
Metropolisville has all had to do with one family. Our readers will
remember how fully we have exposed the unscrupulous tricks of the old fox
Plausaby, the contemptible land-shark who runs Metropolisville, and who
now has temporary possession of the county-seat by means of a series of
gigantic frauds, and of wholesale bribery and corruption and nefarious
ballot-box stuffing. The fair Katy Charlton, who was drowned by the
heart-rending calamity of last week, was his step-daughter, and now her
brother, Albert Charlton, is arrested as a vile and dishonest
mail-robber, and the victim whose land-warrant he stole was Miss Kate
Charlton's betrothed lover, Mr. Smith Westcott. There was always hatred
and animosity, however, between the lover and the brother, and it is
hinted that the developments on the trial will prove that young Charlton
had put a hired and ruthless assassin on the track of Westcott at the
time of his sister's death. Mr. Westcott is well known and highly
esteemed in Metropolisville and also here in Perritaut. He is the
gentlemanly Agent in charge of the branch store of Jackson, Jones & Co.,
and we rejoice that he has made so narrow an escape from death at the
hands of his relentless and unscrupulous foe.
"As for Albert Charlton, it is well for the community that he has been
thus early and suddenly overtaken in the first incipiency of a black
career of crime. His poor mother is said to be almost insane at this
second grief, which follows so suddenly on her heart-rending bereavement
of last week. We wish there were some hope that this young man, thus
arrested with the suddenness of a thunderbolt by the majestic and firm
hand of public justice, would reform; but we are told that he is utterly
hard, and refuses to confess or deny his guilt, sitting in moody and
gloomy silence in the room in which he is confined. We again call the
attention of the proper authorities to the fact that Plausaby has not
kept his agreement, and that Wheat County has no secure jail. We trust
that the youthful villain Charlton will not be allowed to escape, but
that he will receive the long term provided by the law for thieving
postmasters. He will be removed to St. Paul immediately, but we seize
the opportunity to demand in thunder-tones how long the citizens of this
county are to be left without the accommodations of a secure jail, of
which they stand in such immediate need? It is a matter in which we all
feel a personal interest. We hope the courts will decide the county-seat
question at once, and then we trust the commissioners will give us a
jail of sufficient size and strength to accommodate a county of ten
"We would not judge young Charlton before he has a fair trial. We hope he
will have a fair trial, and it is not for us to express any opinions on
the case in advance. If he shall be found guilty--and we do not for a
moment doubt he will--we trust the court will give him the full penalty
of the law without fear or favor, so that his case may prove a solemn and
impressive warning that shall make a lasting impression on the minds of
the thoughtless young men of this community in favor of honesty, and in
regard to the sinfulness of stealing. We would not exult over the
downfall of any man; but when the proud young Charlton gets his hair
cropped, and finds himself clad in 'Stillwater gray,' and engaged in the
intellectual employments of piling shingles and making vinegar-barrels,
he will have plenty of time for meditation on that great moral truth,
that honesty is generally the best policy."
The eloquent editor from whom I have just quoted told the truth when he
said that Metropolisville was "the red-hot crater of a boiling and
seething excitement." For everybody had believed in Charlton. He was not
popular. People with vicarious consciences are not generally beloved
unless they are tempered by much suavity. And Charlton was not. But
everybody, except Mrs. Ferret, believed in his honesty and courage.
Nobody had doubted his sincerity, though Smith Westcott had uttered many
innuendoes. In truth, Westcott had had an uncomfortable time during the
week that followed the drowning. There had been much shaking of the head
about little Katy's death. People who are not at all heroic like to have
other people do sublime things, and there were few who did not think that
Westcott should have drowned with Katy, like the hero of a romance.
People could not forgive him for spoiling a good story. So Smith got the
cold shoulder, and might have left the Territory, but that his
land-warrant had not come. He ceased to dance and to appear cheerful, and
his he! he! took on a sneering inflection. He grew mysterious, and
intimated to his friends that he'd give Metropolisville something else to
talk about before long. By George! He! he! And when the deputy of the
United States marshal swooped down upon the village and arrested the
young post-master on a charge of abstracting Smith Westcott's
land-warrant from the mail, the whole town was agog. "Told you so. By
George!" said Westcott.
At first the villagers were divided in opinion about Albert. Plenty of
people, like Mrs. Ferret, were ready to rejoice that he was not so good
as he might be, you know. But many others said that he wouldn't steal. A
fellow that had thrown away all his chances of making money wouldn't
steal. To which it was rejoined that if Charlton did not care for money
he was a good hater, and that what such a man would not do for money he
might do for spite. And then, too, it was known that Albert had been very
anxious to get away, and that he wanted to get away before Westcott did.
And that everything depended on which should get a land-warrant first.
What more natural than that Charlton should seize upon Smith Westcott's
land-warrant, and thus help himself and retard his rival? This sort of
reasoning staggered those who would have defended him on the ground of
previous good character.
But that which shook the popular confidence in Albert most was his own
behavior when arrested. He was perfectly collected until he inquired
what evidence there was against him. The deputy marshal said that it was
very clear evidence, indeed. "The land-warrant with which you pre-empted
your claim bore a certain designating number. The prosecution can prove
that that warrant was mailed at Red Owl on the 24th of August, directed
to Smith Westcott, Metropolisville, and that he failed to receive it.
The stolen property appearing in your hands, you must account for it in
At this Charlton's countenance fell, and he refused to make any
explanations or answer any questions. He was purposely kept over one day
in Metropolisville in hope that something passing between him and his
friends, who were permitted to have free access to him, might bring
further evidence to light. But Charlton sat, pale and dejected, ready
enough to converse about anything else, but declining to say one word in
regard to his guilt or innocence of the crime charged. It is not strange
that some of his best friends accepted the charge as true, and only tried
to extenuate the offense on the ground that the circumstances made the
temptation a very great one, and that the motive was not mercenary.
Others stood out that it would yet be discovered that Plausaby had stolen
the warrant, until half-a-dozen people remembered that Plausaby himself
had been in Red Owl at that very time--he had spent a week there laying
out a marshy shore in town lots down to the low-water mark, and also
laying out the summit of a bluff three hundred and fifty feet high and
sixty degrees steep. These sky and water lots were afterward sold to
confiding Eastern speculators, and a year or two later the owner of the
water privileges rowed all over his lots in a skiff. Whether the other
purchaser used a balloon to reach his is not known. But the operation of
staking out these ineligible "additions" to the city of Red Owl had
attracted much attention, and consequently Plausaby's _alibi_ was readily
established. So that the two or three who still believed Albert innocent
did so by "naked faith," and when questioned about it, shook their heads,
and said that it was a great mystery. They could not understand it, but
they did not believe him guilty. Isabel Marlay believed in Albert's
innocence as she believed the hard passages in the catechism. She knew
it, she believed it, she could not prove it, but she would not hear to
anything else. She was sure of his innocence, and that was enough. For
when a woman of that sort believes anything, she believes in spite of all
her senses and all reason. What are the laws of evidence to her! She
believes with the _heart_.
Poor Mrs. Plausaby, too, sat down in a dumb despair, and wept and
complained and declared that she knew her Albert had notions and such
things, but people with such notions wouldn't do anything naughty. Albert
wouldn't, she knew. He hadn't done any harm, and they couldn't find out
that he had. Katy was gone, and now Albert was in trouble, and she didn't
know what to do. She thought Isa might do something, and not let all
these troubles come on her in this way. For the poor woman had come to
depend on Isa not only in weighty matters, such as dresses and bonnets,
but also in all the other affairs of life. And it seemed to her a
grievous wrong that Isabel, who had saved her from so many troubles,
should not have kept Katy from drowning and Albert from prison.
The chief trouble in the mind of Albert was not the probability of
imprisonment, nor the overthrow of his educational schemes--though all of
these were cups of bitterness. But the first thought with him was to ask
what would be the effect of his arrest on Miss Minorkey. He had felt some
disappointment in not finding Helen the ideal woman he had pictured her,
but, as I said a while ago, love does not die at the first
disappointment. If it finds little to live on in the one who is loved, it
will yet find enough in the memories, the hopes, and the ideals that
dwell within the lover. Charlton, in the long night after his arrest,
reviewed everything, but in thinking of Miss Minorkey, he did not once
recur to her lack of deep sympathy with him in his sorrow for Katy. The
Helen he thought of was the radiant Helen that sat by his beloved Katy in
the boat on that glorious evening in which he rowed in the long northern
twilight, the Helen that had relaxed her dignity enough to dip her palm
in the water and dash spray into his face. He saw her like one looking
back through clouds of blackness to catch a sight of a bit of sky and a
single shining star. As the impossibility of his marrying Helen became
more and more evident to him, she grew all the more glorious in her
culture, her quietness, her thoughtfulness. That she would break her
heart for him, he did not imagine, but he did hope--yes, hope--that she
would suffer acutely on his account.
And when Isa Marlay bravely walked through the crowd that had gathered
about the place of his confinement, and asked to see him, and he was told
that a young lady wanted to be admitted, he hoped that it might be Helen
Minorkey. When he saw that it was Isabel he was glad, partly because he
would rather have seen her than anybody else, next to Helen, and partly
because he could ask her to carry a message to Miss Minorkey. He asked
her to take from his trunk, which had already been searched by the
marshal's deputy, all the letters of Miss Minorkey, to tie them in a
package, and to have the goodness to present them to that lady with his
"Shall I tell her that you are innocent?" asked Isabel, wishing to
strengthen her own faith by a word of assurance from Albert.
"Tell her--" and Albert cast down his eyes a moment in painful
reflection--"tell her that I will explain some day. Meantime, tell her to
believe what you believe about me."
"I believe that you are innocent."
"Thank you, Miss Isabel," said Albert warmly, but then he stopped and
grew red in the face. He did not give her one word of assurance. Even
Isa's faith was staggered for a moment. But only for a moment. The faith
of a woman like Isabel Marlay laughs at doubt.
I do not know how to describe the feelings with which Miss Marlay went
out from Albert. Even in the message, full of love, which he had sent to
his mother, he did not say one word about his guilt or innocence. And yet
Isabel believed in her heart that he had not committed the crime. While
he was strong and free from suspicion, Isa Marlay had admired him. He
seemed to her, notwithstanding his eccentricities, a man of such truth,
fervor, and earnestness of character, that she liked him better than she
was willing to admit to herself. Now that he was an object of universal
suspicion, her courageous and generous heart espoused his cause
vehemently. She stood ready to do anything in the world for him. Anything
but what he had asked her to do. Why she did not like to carry messages
from him to Miss Minorkey she did not know. As soon as she became
conscious of this jealous feeling in her heart, she took herself to task
severely. Like the good girl she was, she set her sins out in the light
of her own conscience. She did more than that. But if I should tell you
truly what she did with this naughty feeling, how she dragged it out into
the light and presence of the Holy One Himself, I should seem to be
writing cant, and people would say that I was preaching. And yet I
should only show you the source of Isa's high moral and religious
culture. Can I write truly of a life in which the idea of God as Father,
Monitor, and Friend is ever present and dominant, without showing you the
springs of that life?
When Isabel Marlay, with subdued heart, sought Miss Minorkey, it was
with her resolution fixed to keep the trust committed to her, and, as far
as possible, to remove all suspicions from Miss Minorkey's mind. As for
any feeling in her own heart--she had no right to have any feeling but a
friendly one to Albert. She would despise a woman who could love a man
that did not first declare his love for her. She said this to herself
several times by way of learning the lesson well.
Isa found Miss Minorkey, with her baggage packed, ready for a move. Helen
told Miss Marlay that her father found the air very bad for him, and
meant to go to St. Anthony, where there was a mineral spring and a good
hotel. For her part, she was glad of it, for a little place like
Metropolisville was not pleasant. So full of gossip. And no newspapers or
books. And very little cultivated society.
Miss Marlay said she had a package of something or other, which Mr.
Charlton had sent with his regards. She said "something or other" from an
"Oh! yes; something of mine that he borrowed, I suppose," said Helen.
"Have you seen him? I'm really sorry for him. I found him a very pleasant
companion, so full of reading and oddities. He's the last man I should
have believed could rob the post-office."
"Oh! but he didn't," said Isa.
"Indeed! Well, I'm glad to hear it. I hope he'll be able to prove it. Is
there any new evidence?"
Isa was obliged to confess that she had heard of none, and Miss Minorkey
proceeded like a judge to explain to Miss Marlay how strong the evidence
against him was. And then she said she thought the warrant had been
taken, not from cupidity, but from a desire to serve Katy. It was a pity
the law could not see it in that way. But all the time Isa protested with
vehemence that she did not believe a word of it. Not one word. All the
judges and juries and witnesses in the world could not convince her of
Albert's guilt. Because she knew him, and she just knew that he couldn't
do it, you see.
Miss Minorkey said it had made her father sick. "I've gone with Mr.
Charlton so much, you know, that it has made talk," she said. "And father
feels bad about it. And"--seeing the expression of Isa's countenance, she
concluded that it would not do to be quite so secretive--"and, to tell
you the truth, I did like him. But of course that is all over. Of course
there couldn't be anything between us after this, even if he were
Isa grew indignant, and she no longer needed the support of religious
faith and high moral principle to enable her to plead the cause of Albert
Charlton with Miss Minorkey.
"But I thought you loved him," she said, with just a spice of bitterness.
"The poor fellow believes that you love him."
Miss Minorkey winced a little. "Well, you know, some people are
sentimental, and others are not. It is a good thing for me that I'm not
one of those that pine away and die after anybody. I suppose I am not
worthy of a high-toned man, such as he seemed to be. I have often told
him so. I am sure I never could marry a man that had been in the
penitentiary, if he were ever so innocent. Now, could you. Miss Marlay?"
Isabel blushed, and said she could if he were innocent. She thought a
woman ought to stand by the man she loved to the death, if he were
worthy. But Helen only sighed humbly, and said that she never was made
for a heroine. She didn't even like to read about high-strung people in
novels. She supposed it was her fault--people had to be what they were,
she supposed. Miss Marlay must excuse her, though. She hadn't quite got
her books packed, and the stage would be along in an hour. She would be
glad if Isabel would tell Mr. Charlton privately, if she had a chance,
how sorry she felt for him. But please not say anything that would
compromise her, though.
And Isa Marlay went out of the hotel full of indignation at the
cool-blooded Helen, and full of a fathomless pity for Albert, a pity that
made her almost love him herself. She would have loved to atone for all
Miss Minorkey's perfidy. And just alongside of her pity for Charlton thus
deserted, crept in a secret joy. For there was now none to stand nearer
friend to Albert than herself.
And yet Charlton did not want for friends. Whisky Jim had a lively sense
of gratitude to him for his advocacy of Jim's right to the claim as
against Westcott; and having also a lively antagonism to Westcott, he
could see no good reason why a man should serve a long term in
State's-prison for taking from a thief a land-warrant with which the
thief meant to pre-empt another man's claim. And the Guardian Angel had
transferred to the brother the devotion and care he once lavished on the
sister. It was this unity of sentiment between the Jehu from the Green
Mountains and the minstrel from the Indiana "Pocket" that gave Albert a
chance for liberty.
The prisoner was handcuffed and confined in an upper room, the windows of
which were securely boarded up on the outside. About three o'clock of the
last night he spent in Metropolisville, the deputy marshal, who in the
evening preceding had helped to empty two or three times the ample flask
of Mr. Westcott, was sleeping very soundly. Albert, who was awake, heard
the nails drawn from the boards. Presently the window was opened, and a
familiar voice said in a dramatic tone:
"Mr. Charlton, git up and foller."
Albert arose and went to the window.
"Come right along, I 'low the coast's clear," said the Poet.
"No, I can not do that, Gray," said Charlton, though the prospect of
liberty was very enticing.
"See here, mister, I calkilate es this is yer last chance fer fifteen
year ur more," put in the driver, thrusting his head in alongside his
"Come," added Gray, "you an' me'll jest put out together fer the Ingin
kedentry ef you say so, and fetch up in Kansas under some fancy names,
and take a hand in the wras'le that's agoin' on thar. Nobody'll ever
track you. I've got a Yankton friend as'll help us through."
"My friends, I'm ever so thankful to you--"
"Blame take yer thanks! Come along," broke in the Superior Being. "It's
now ur never."
"I'll be dogged ef it haint," said the Poet.
Charlton looked out wistfully over the wide prairies. He might escape and
lead a wild, free life with Gray, and then turn up in some new Territory
under an assumed name and work out his destiny. But the thought of being
a fugitive from justice was very shocking to him.
[Illustration: "GIT UP AND FOLLER!"]
"No! no! I can't. God bless you both. Good-by!" And he went back to his
pallet on the floor. When the rescuers reached the ground the Superior
Being delivered himself of some very sulphurous oaths, intended to
express his abhorrence of "idees."
"There's that air blamed etarnal infarnal nateral born eejiot'll die in
Stillwater penitensh'ry jest fer idees. Orter go to a 'sylum."
But the Poet went off dejectedly to his lone cabin on the prairie.
And there was a great row in the morning about the breaking open of the
window and the attempted rescue. The deputy marshal told a famous story
of his awaking in the night and driving off a rescuing party of eight
with his revolver. And everybody wondered who they were. Was Charlton,
then, a member of a gang?
Albert was conveyed to St. Paul, but not until he had had one
heart-breaking interview with his mother. The poor woman had spent nearly
an hour dressing herself to go to him, for she was so shaken with
agitation and blinded with weeping, that she could hardly tie a ribbon or
see that her breast-pin was in the right place. This interview with her
son shook her weak understanding to its foundations, and for days
afterward Isa devoted her whole time to diverting her from the
accumulation of troubled thoughts and memories that filled her with
anguish--an anguish against the weight of which her feeble nature could
offer no supports.
When Albert was brought before the commissioner, he waived examination,
and was committed to await the session of the district court. Mr.
Plausaby came up and offered to become his bail, but this Charlton
vehemently refused, and was locked up in jail, where for the next two or
three months he amused himself by reading the daily papers and such books
as he could borrow, and writing on various subjects manuscripts which he
The confinement chafed him. His mother's sorrow and feeble health
oppressed him. And despite all he could do, his own humiliation bowed his
head a little. But most of all, the utter neglect of Helen Minorkey hurt
him sorely. Except that she had sent, through Isabel Marlay, that little
smuggled message that she was sorry for him--like one who makes a great
ado about sending you something which turns out to be nothing--except
this mockery of pity, he had no word or sign from Helen. His mind dwelt
on her as he remembered her in the moments when she had been carried out
of herself by the contagion of his own enthusiasm, when she had seemed to
love him devotedly. Especially did he think of her as she sat in quiet
and thoughtful enjoyment in the row-boat by the side of Katy, playfully
splashing the water and seeming to rejoice in his society. And now she
had so easily accepted his guilt!
These thoughts robbed him of sleep, and the confinement and lack of
exercise made him nervous. The energetic spirit, arrested at the very
instant of beginning cherished enterprises, and shut out from hope of
ever undertaking them, preyed upon itself, and Albert had a morbid
longing for the State's prison, where he might weary himself with toil.
His counsel was Mr. Conger. Mr. Conger was not a great jurist. Of the
philosophy of law he knew nothing. For the sublime principles of equity
and the great historic developments that underlie the conventions which
enter into the administration of public justice, Mr. Conger cared
nothing. But there was one thing Mr. Conger did understand and care for,
and that was success. He was a man of medium hight, burly, active, ever
in motion. When he had ever been still long enough to read law, nobody
knew. He said everything he had to say with a quick, vehement utterance,
as though he grudged the time taken to speak fully about anything. He
went along the street eagerly; he wrote with all his might. There were
twenty men in the Territory, at that day, any one of whom knew five times
as much law as he. Other members of the bar were accustomed to speak
contemptuously of Conger's legal knowledge. But Conger won more cases and
made more money than any of them. If he did not know law in the widest
sense, he did know it in the narrowest. He always knew the law that
served his turn. When he drew an assignment for a client, no man could
break it. And when he undertook a case, he was sure to find his
opponent's weak point. He would pick flaws in pleas; he would postpone;
he would browbeat witnesses; he would take exceptions to the rulings of
the court in order to excite the sympathy of the jury; he would object to
testimony on the other side, and try to get in irrelevant testimony on
his own; he would abuse the opposing counsel, crying out, "The counsel on
the other side lies like thunder, and he knows it!" By shrewdness, by an
unwearying perseverance, by throwing his whole weight into his work,
Conger made himself the most successful lawyer of his time in the
Territory. And preserved his social position at the same time, for though
he was not at all scrupulous, he managed to keep on the respectable side
of the line which divides the lawyer from the shyster.
Mr. Conger had been Mr. Plausaby's counsel in one or two cases, and
Charlton, knowing no other lawyer, sent for him. Mr. Conger had, with his
characteristic quickness of perception, picked up the leading features of
the case from the newspapers. He sat down on the bed in Charlton's cell
with his brisk professional air, and came at once to business in his
"Bad business, this, Mr. Charlton, but let us hope we'll pull through.
_We_ generally _do_ pull through. Been in a good many tight places in my
time. But it is necessary, first of all, that you trust me. The boat is
in a bad way--you hail a pilot--he comes aboard. Now--hands off the
helm--you sit down and let the pilot steer her through. You understand?"
And Mr. Conger looked as though he might have smiled at his own
illustration if he could have spared the time. But he couldn't. As for
Albert, he only looked more dejected.
"Now," he proceeded, "let's get to business. In the first place, you must
trust me with everything. You must tell me whether you took the warrant
or not." And Mr. Conger paused and scrutinized his client closely.
Charlton said nothing, but his face gave evidence of a struggle.
"Well, well, Mr. Charlton," said the brisk man with the air of one who
has gotten through the first and most disagreeable part of his business,
and who now proposes to proceed immediately to the next matter on the
docket. "Well, well, Mr. Charlton, you needn't say anything if the
question is an unpleasant one. An experienced lawyer knows what silence
means, of course," and there was just a trifle of self-gratulation in his
voice. As for Albert, he winced, and seemed to be trying to make up his
mind to speak.
"Now," and with this _now_ the lawyer brought his white fat hand down
upon his knee in an emphatic way, as one who says "nextly." "Now--there
are several courses open to us. I asked you whether you took the warrant
or not, because the line of defense that presents itself first is to
follow the track of your suspicions, and fix the guilt on some one else
if we can. I understand, however, that that course is closed to us?"
Charlton nodded his head.
"We might try to throw suspicion--only suspicion, you know--on the
stage-driver or somebody else. Eh? Just enough to confuse the jury?"
Albert shook his head a little impatiently.
"Well, well, that's so--_not_ the _best_ line. The warrant was in your
hands. You used it for pre-emption. That is very ugly, very. I don't
think much of that line, under the circumstances. It might excite
feeling against us. It is a very bad case. But we will pull through, I
hope. We generally do. Give the case wholly into my hands. We'll
postpone, I think. I shall have to make an affidavit that there are
important witnesses absent, or something of the sort. But we'll have the
case postponed. There's some popular feeling against you, and juries go
as the newspapers do. Now, I see but one way, and that is to postpone
until the feeling dies down. Then we can manage the papers a little and
get up some sympathy for you. And there's no knowing what may happen.
There's nothing like delay in a bad case. Wait long enough, and
something is sure to turn up."
"But I don't want the case postponed," said Charlton decidedly.
"Very natural that you shouldn't like to wait. This is not a pleasant
room. But it is better to wait a year or even two years in this jail than
to go to prison for fifteen or twenty. Fifteen or twenty years out of the
life of a young man is about all there is worth the having."
Here Charlton shuddered, and Mr. Conger was pleased to see that his words
"You'd better make up your mind that the case is a bad one, and trust to
my experience. When you're sick, trust the doctor. I think I can pull you
through if you'll leave the matter to me."
"Mr. Conger," said Charlton, lifting up his pale face, twitching with
nervousness, "I don't want to get free by playing tricks on a court of
law. I know that fifteen or twenty years in prison would not leave me
much worth living for, but I will not degrade myself by evading justice
with delays and false affidavits. If you can do anything for me fairly
and squarely, I should like to have it done."
"Scruples, eh?" asked Mr. Conger in surprise.
"Yes, scruples," said Albert Charlton, leaning his head on his hands with
the air of one who has made a great exertion and has a feeling of
"Scruples, Mr. Charlton, are well enough when one is about to break the
law. After one has been arrested, scruples are in the way."
"You have no right to presume that I have broken the law," said Charlton
with something of his old fire.
"Well, Mr. Charlton, it will do no good for you to quarrel with your
counsel. You have as good as confessed the crime yourself. I must insist
that you leave the case in my hands, or I must throw it up. Take time to
think about it. I'll send my partner over to get any suggestions from you
about witnesses. The most we can do is to prove previous good character.
That isn't worth anything where the evidence against the prisoner is so
conclusive--as in your case. But it makes a show of doing something." And
Mr. Conger was about leaving the cell when, as if a new thought had
occurred to him, he turned back and sat down again and said: "There _is_
one other course open to you. Perhaps it is the best, since you will not
follow my plan. You can plead guilty, and trust to the clemency of the
President. I think strong political influences could be brought to bear
at Washington in favor of your pardon?"
Charlton shook his head, and the lawyer left him "to think the matter
over," as he said. Then ensued the season of temptation. Why should he
stand on a scruple? Why not get free? Here was a conscienceless attorney,
ready to make any number of affidavits in regard to the absence of
important witnesses; ready to fight the law by every technicality of the
law. His imprisonment had already taught him how dear liberty was, and,
within half an hour after Conger left him, a great change came over him.
Why should he go to prison? What justice was there in his going to
prison? Here he was, taking a long sentence to the penitentiary, while
such men as Westcott and Conger were out. There could be no equity in
such an arrangement. Whenever a man begins to seek equality of
dispensation, he is in a fair way to debauch his conscience. And another
line of thought influenced Charlton. The world needed his services. What
advantage would there be in throwing away the chances of a lifetime on a
punctilio? Why might he not let the serviceable lawyer do as he pleased?
Conger was the keeper of his own conscience, and would not be either more
or less honest at heart for what he did or did not do. All the kingdoms
of the earth could not have tempted Charlton to serve himself by another
man's perjury. But liberty on one hand and State's-prison on the other,
was a dreadful alternative. And so, when the meek and studious man whom
Conger used for a partner called on him, he answered all his questions,
and offered no objection to the assumption of the quiet man that Mr.
Conger would carry on the case in his own fashion.
Many a man is willing to be a martyr till he sees the stake and fagots.
From the time that Charlton began to pettifog with his conscience, he
began to lose peace of mind. His self-respect was impaired, and he became
impatient, and chafed under his restraint. As the trial drew on, he was
more than ever filled with questionings in regard to the course he should
pursue. For conscience is like a pertinacious attorney. When a false
decision is rendered, he is forever badgering the court with a bill of
exceptions, with proposals to set aside, with motions for new trials,
with applications for writs of appeal, with threats of a Higher Court,
and even with contemptuous mutterings about impeachment. If Isa had not
written to him, Albert might have regained his moral _aplomb_ in some
other way than he did--he might not. For human sympathy is Christ's own
means of regenerating the earth. If you can not counsel, if you can not
preach, if you can not get your timid lips to speak one word that will
rebuke a man's sin, you can at least show the fellowship of your heart
with his. There is a great moral tonic in human brotherhood. Worried,
desperate, feeling forsaken of God and man, it is not strange that
Charlton should shut his teeth together and defy his scruples. He would
use any key he could to get out into the sunlight again. He quoted all
those old, half-true, half-false adages about the lawlessness of
necessity and so on. Then, weary of fencing with himself, he wished for
strength to stand at peace again, as when he turned his back on the
temptations of his rescuers in Metropolisville. But he had grown weak and
nervous from confinement--prisons do not strengthen the moral power--and
he had moreover given way to dreaming about liberty until he was like a
homesick child, who aggravates his impatience by dwelling much on the
delightfulness of the meeting with old friends, and by counting the
slow-moving days that intervene.
But there came, just the day before the trial, a letter with the
post-mark "Metropolisville" on it. That post-mark always excited a
curious feeling in him. He remembered with what boyish pride he had taken
possession of his office, and how he delighted to stamp the post-mark on
the letters. The address of this letter was not in his mother's undecided
penmanship--it was Isa Marlay's straightforward and yet graceful
writing, and the very sight of it gave him comfort. The letter was simply
a news letter, a vicarious letter from Isabel because Mrs. Plausaby did
not feel well enough to write; this is what Isa said it was, and what she
believed it to be, but Charlton knew that Isa's own friendly heart had
planned it. And though it ran on about this and that unimportant matter
of village intelligence, yet were its commonplace sentences about
commonplace affairs like a fountain in the desert to the thirsty soul of
the prisoner. I have read with fascination in an absurdly curious book
that people of a very sensitive fiber can take a letter, the contents and
writer of which are unknown, and by pressing it for a time against the
forehead can see the writer and his surroundings. It took no spirit of
divination in Charlton's case. The trim and graceful figure of Isa
Marlay, in perfectly fitting calico frock, with her whole dress in that
harmonious relation of parts for which she was so remarkable, came before
him. He knew that by this time she must have some dried grasses in the
vases, and some well-preserved autumn leaves around the picture-frames.
The letter said nothing about his trial, but its tone gave him assurance
of friendly sympathy, and of a faith in him that could not be shaken.
Somehow, by some recalling of old associations, and by some subtle
influence of human sympathy, it swept the fogs away from the soul of
Charlton, and he began to see his duty and to feel an inspiration toward
the right. I said that the letter did not mention the trial, but it did.
For when Charlton had read it twice, he happened to turn it over, and
found a postscript on the fourth page of the sheet. I wonder if the habit
which most women have of reserving their very best for the postscript
comes from the housekeeper's desire to have a good dessert. Here on the
back Charlton read:
"P.8.--Mr. Gray, your Hoosier friend, called on me yesterday, and sent
his regards. He told me how you refused to escape. I know you well enough
to feel sure that you would not do anything mean or unmanly. I pray that
God will sustain you on your trial, and make your innocence appear. I am
sure you are innocent, though I can not understand it. Providence will
overrule it all for good, I believe."
Something in the simple-hearted faith of Isabel did him a world of good.
He was in the open hall of the jail when he read it, and he walked about
the prison, feeling strong enough now to cope with temptation. That very
morning he had received a New Testament from a colporteur, and now, out
of regard to Isa Marlay's faith, maybe--out of some deeper feeling,
possibly--he read the story of the trial and condemnation of Jesus. In
his combative days he had read it for the sake of noting the
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