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THE MYSTERY OF METROPOLISVILLE
BY EDWARD EGGLESTON
AUTHOR OF "THE HOOGLEE SCHOOL-MASTER," "THE END OF THE WORLD," ETC
TO ONE WHO KNOWS WITH ME A LOVE-STORY, NOW MORE THAN FIFTEEN YEARS IN
LENGTH, AND BETTER A HUNDREDFOLD THAN ANY I SHALL EVER BE ABLE TO WRITE,
THIS BOOK IS INSCRIBED, ON AN ANNIVERSARY.
MARCH 18TH, 1873.
A novel should be the truest of books. It partakes in a certain sense of
the nature of both history and art. It needs to be true to human nature
in its permanent and essential qualities, and it should truthfully
represent some specific and temporary manifestation of human nature: that
is, some form of society. It has been objected that I have copied life
too closely, but it seems to me that the work to be done just now, is to
represent the forms and spirit of our own life, and thus free ourselves
from habitual imitation of that which is foreign. I have wished to make
my stories of value as a contribution to the history of civilization in
America. If it be urged that this is not the highest function, I reply
that it is just now the most necessary function of this kind of
literature. Of the value of these stories as works of art, others must
judge; but I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that I have at least
rendered one substantial though humble service to our literature, if I
have portrayed correctly certain forms of American life and manners.
BROOKLYN, March, 1873.
CHAPTER I. The Autocrat of the Stage-Coach
CHAPTER II. The Sod Tavern
CHAPTER III. Land and Love
CHAPTER IV. Albert and Katy
CHAPTER V. Corner Lots
CHAPTER VI. Little Katy's Lover
CHAPTER VII. Catching and Getting Caught
CHAPTER VIII. Isabel Marlay
CHAPTER IX. Lovers and Lovers
CHAPTER X. Plausaby, Esq., takes a Fatherly Interest
CHAPTER XI. About Several Things
CHAPTER XII. An Adventure
CHAPTER XIII. A Shelter
CHAPTER XIV. The Inhabitant
CHAPTER XV. An Episode
CHAPTER XVI. The Return
CHAPTER XVII. Sawney and his Old Love
CHAPTER XVIII. A Collision
CHAPTER XIX. Standing Guard in Vain
CHAPTER XX. Sawney and Westcott
CHAPTER XXI. Rowing
CHAPTER XXII. Sailing
CHAPTER XXIII. Sinking
CHAPTER XXIV. Dragging
CHAPTER XXV. Afterwards
CHAPTER XXVI. The Mystery
CHAPTER XXVII. The Arrest
CHAPTER XXVIII. The Tempter
CHAPTER XXIX. The Trial
CHAPTER XXX. The Penitentiary
CHAPTER XXXI. Mr. Lurton
CHAPTER XXXII. A Confession
CHAPTER XXXIII. Death
CHAPTER XXXIV. Mr. Lurton's Courtship
CHAPTER XXXV. Unbarred
CHAPTER XXXVI. Isabel
CHAPTER XXXVII. The Last
ILLUSTRATIONS BY FRANK BEARD
The Superior Being
Mr. Minorkey and the Fat Gentleman
Plausaby sells Lots
"By George! He! he! he!"
A Pinch of Snuff
One Savage Blow full in the Face
"What on Airth's the Matter?"
His Unselfish Love found a Melancholy Recompense
The Editor of "The Windmill"
"Git up and Foller!"
THE MYSTERY OF METROPOLISVILLE.
Metropolisville is nothing but a memory now. If Jonah's gourd had not
been a little too much used already, it would serve an excellent turn
just here in the way of an apt figure of speech illustrating the growth,
the wilting, and the withering of Metropolisville. The last time I saw
the place the grass grew green where once stood the City Hall, the
corn-stalks waved their banners on the very site of the old store--I ask
pardon, the "Emporium"--of Jackson, Jones & Co., and what had been the
square, staring white court-house--not a Temple but a Barn of
Justice--had long since fallen to base uses. The walls which had echoed
with forensic grandiloquence were now forced to hear only the bleating of
silly sheep. The church, the school-house, and the City Hotel had been
moved away bodily. The village grew, as hundreds of other frontier
villages had grown, in the flush times; it died, as so many others died,
of the financial crash which was the inevitable sequel and retribution
of speculative madness. Its history resembles the history of other
Western towns of the sort so strongly, that I should not take the trouble
to write about it, nor ask you to take the trouble to read about it, if
the history of the town did not involve also the history of certain human
lives--of a tragedy that touched deeply more than one soul. And what is
history worth but for its human interest? The history of Athens is not of
value on account of its temples and statues, but on account of its men
and women. And though the "Main street" of Metropolisville is now a
country road where the dog-fennel blooms almost undisturbed by comers and
goers, though the plowshare remorselessly turns over the earth in places
where corner lots were once sold for a hundred dollars the front foot,
and though the lot once sacredly set apart (on the map) as "Depot Ground"
is now nothing but a potato-patch, yet there are hearts on which the
brief history of Metropolisville has left traces ineffaceable by sunshine
or storm, in time or eternity.
THE AUTOCRAT OF THE STAGECOACH.
No leader of a cavalry charge ever put more authority into his tones than
did Whisky Jim, as he drew the lines over his four bay horses in the
streets of Red Owl Landing, a village two years old, boasting three
thousand inhabitants, and a certain prospect of having four thousand a
Even ministers, poets, and writers of unworldly romances are sometimes
influenced by mercenary considerations. But stage-drivers are entirely
consecrated to their high calling. Here was Whisky Jim, in the very
streets of Red Owl, in the spring of the year 1856, when money was worth
five and six per cent a month on bond and mortgage, when corner lots
doubled in value over night, when everybody was frantically trying to
swindle everybody else--here was Whisky Jim, with the infatuation of a
life-long devotion to horse-flesh, utterly oblivious to the chances of
robbing green emigrants which a season of speculation affords. He was
secure from the infection. You might have shown him a gold-mine under the
very feet of his wheel-horses, and he could not have worked it
twenty-four hours. He had an itching palm, which could be satisfied with
nothing but the "ribbons" drawn over the backs of a four-in-hand.
The coach moved away--slowly at first--from the front door of the large,
rectangular, unpainted Red Owl Hotel, dragging its wheels heavily through
the soft turf of a Main street from which the cotton-wood trees had been
cut down, but in which the stumps were still standing, and which remained
as innocent of all pavement as when, three years before, the chief whose
name it bore, loaded his worldly goods upon the back of his oldest and
ugliest wife, slung his gun over his shoulder, and started mournfully
away from the home of his fathers, which he, shiftless fellow, had
bargained away to the white man for an annuity of powder and blankets,
and a little money, to be quickly spent for whisky. And yet, I might add
digressively, there is comfort in the saddest situations. Even the
venerable Red Owl bidding adieu to the home of his ancestors found solace
in the sweet hope of returning under favorable circumstances to scalp the
white man's wife and children.
"Git up, thair! G'lang!" The long whip swung round and cracked
threateningly over the haunches of the leaders, making them start
suddenly as the coach went round a corner and dipped into a hole at the
same instant, nearly throwing the driver, and the passenger who was
enjoying the outride with him, from their seats.
"What a hole!" said the passenger, a studious-looking young man, with an
entomologist's tin collecting-box slung over his shoulders.
The driver drew a long breath, moistened his lips, and said in a cool and
aggravatingly deliberate fashion:
"That air blamed pollywog puddle sold las' week fer tew thaousand."
[Illustration: THE SUPERIOR BEING.]
"Dollars?" asked the young man.
Jim gave him an annihilating look, and queried: "Didn' think I meant tew
thaousand acorns, did ye?"
"It's an awful price," said the abashed passenger, speaking as one might
in the presence of a superior being.
Jim was silent awhile, and then resumed in the same slow tone, but with
something of condescension mixed with it:
"Think so, do ye? Mebbe so, stranger. Fool what bought that tadpole lake
done middlin' well in disposin' of it, how-sumdever."
Here the Superior Being came to a dead pause, and waited to be
"How's that?" asked the young man.
After a proper interval of meditation, Jim said: "Sol' it this week. Tuck
jest twice what he invested in his frog-fishery."
"Four thousand?" said the passenger with an inquisitive and surprised
"Hey?" said Jim, looking at him solemnly. "Tew times tew use to be four
when I larnt the rewl of three in old Varmount. Mebbe 'taint so in the
country you come from, where they call a pail a bucket."
The passenger kept still awhile. The manner of the Superior Being chilled
him a little. But Whisky Jim graciously broke the silence himself.
"Sell nex' week fer six."
The young man's mind had already left the subject under discussion, and
it took some little effort of recollection to bring it back.
"How long will it keep on going up?" he asked.
"Tell it teches the top. Come daown then like a spile-driver in a hurry.
Higher it goes, the wuss it'll mash anybody what happens to stan'
percisely under it."
"When will it reach the top?"
The Superior Being turned his eyes full upon the student, who blushed a
little under the half-sneer of his look.
"Yaou tell! Thunder, stranger, that's jest what everybody'd pay money tew
find out. Everybody means to git aout in time, but--thunder!--every piece
of perrary in this territory's a deadfall. Somebody'll git catched in
every one of them air traps. Gee up! G'lang! _Git_ up, won't you? Hey?"
And this last sentence was ornamented with another magnificent
writing-master flourish of the whip-lash, and emphasized by an explosive
crack at the end, which started the four horses off in a swinging gallop,
from which Jim did not allow them to settle back into a walk until they
had reached the high prairie land in the rear of the town.
"What are those people living in tents for?" asked the student as he
pointed back to Red Owl, now considerably below them, and which presented
a panorama of balloon-frame houses, mostly innocent of paint, with a
sprinkling of tents pitched here and there among the trees; on lots not
yet redeemed from virgin wildness, but which possessed the remarkable
quality of "fetching" prices that would have done honor to well-located
land in Philadelphia.
"What they live that a-way fer? Hey? Mos'ly 'cause they can't live no
other." Then, after a long pause, the Superior Being resumed in a tone of
half-soliloquy: "A'n't a bed nur a board in the hull city of Red Owl to
be had for payin' nur coaxin'. Beds is aces. Houses is trumps. Landlords
is got high, low, Jack, and the game in ther hands. Looky there! A
bran-new lot of fools fresh from the factory." And he pointed to the old
steamboat "Ben Bolt," which was just coming up to the landing with deck
and guards black with eager immigrants of all classes.
But Albert Charlton, the student, did not look back any longer. It marks
an epoch in a man's life when he first catches sight of a prairie
landscape, especially if that landscape be one of those great rolling
ones to be seen nowhere so well as in Minnesota. Charlton had crossed
Illinois from Chicago to Dunleith in the night-time, and so had missed
the flat prairies. His sense of sublimity was keen, and, besides his
natural love for such scenes, he had a hobbyist passion for virgin nature
"What a magnificent country!" he cried.
"Talkin' sense!" muttered Jim. "Never seed so good a place fer stagin'
in my day."
For every man sees through his own eyes. To the emigrants whose white-top
"prairie schooners" wound slowly along the road, these grass-grown hills
and those far-away meadowy valleys were only so many places where good
farms could be opened without the trouble of cutting off the trees. It
was not landscape, but simply land where one might raise thirty or forty
bushels of spring wheat to the acre, without any danger of "fevernager;"
to the keen-witted speculator looking sharply after corner stakes, at a
little distance from the road, it was just so many quarter sections,
"eighties," and "forties," to be bought low and sold high whenever
opportunity offered; to Jim it was a good country for staging, except a
few "blamed sloughs where the bottom had fell out." But the enthusiastic
eyes of young Albert Charlton despised all sordid and "culinary uses" of
the earth; to him this limitless vista of waving wild grass, these green
meadows and treeless hills dotted everywhere with purple and yellow
flowers, was a sight of Nature in her noblest mood. Such rolling hills
behind hills! If those _rolls_ could be called hills! After an hour the
coach had gradually ascended to the summit of the "divide" between Purple
River on the one side and Big Gun River on the other, and the rows of
willows and cotton-woods that hung over the water's edge--the only trees
under the whole sky--marked distinctly the meandering lines of the two
streams. Albert Charlton shouted and laughed; he stood up beside Jim, and
cried out that it was a paradise.
"Mebbe 'tis," sneered Jim, "Anyway, it's got more'n one devil into it.
And under the inspiration of the scenery, Albert, with the impulsiveness
of a young man, unfolded to Whisky Jim all the beauties of his own
theories: how a man should live naturally and let other creatures live;
how much better a man was without flesh-eating; how wrong it was to
speculate, and that a speculator gave nothing in return; and that it was
not best to wear flannels, seeing one should harden his body to endure
cold and all that; and how a man should let his beard grow, not use
tobacco nor coffee nor whisky, should get up at four o'clock in the
morning and go to bed early.
"Looky here, mister!" said the Superior Being, after a while. "I wouldn't
naow, ef I was you!"
"Wouldn't fetch no sich notions into this ked'ntry. Can't afford tew.
'Taint no land of idees. It's the ked'ntry of corner lots. Idees is in
the way--don't pay no interest. Haint had time to build a 'sylum fer
people with idees yet, in this territory. Ef you must have 'em, why let
me _rec_-ommend Bost'n. Drove hack there wunst, myself." Then after a
pause he proceeded with the deliberation of a judge: "It's the best
village I ever lay eyes on fer idees, is Bost'n. Thicker'n hops! Grow
single and in bunches. Have s'cieties there fer idees. Used to make money
outen the fellows with idees, cartin 'em round to anniversaries and sich.
Ef you only wear a nice slick plug-hat there, you kin believe anything
you choose or not, and be a gentleman all the same. The more you believe
or don't believe in Bost'n, the more gentleman you be. The
don't-believers is just as good as the believers. Idees inside the head,
and plug-hats outside. But idees out here! I tell you, here it's nothin'
but per-cent." The Superior Being puckered his lips and whistled. "_Git_
up, will you! G'lang! Better try Bost'n."
Perhaps Albert Charlton, the student passenger, was a little offended
with the liberty the driver had taken in rebuking his theories. He was
full of "idees," and his fundamental idea was of course his belief in
the equality and universal brotherhood of men. In theory he recognized
no social distinctions. But the most democratic of democrats in theory
is just a little bit of an aristocrat in feeling--he doesn't like to be
patted on the back by the hostler; much less does he like to be
reprimanded by a stage-driver. And Charlton was all the more sensitive
from a certain vague consciousness that he himself had let down the bars
of his dignity by unfolding his theories so gushingly to Whisky Jim.
What did Jim know--what _could_ a man who said "idees" know--about the
great world-reforming thoughts that engaged his attention? But when
dignity is once fallen, all the king's oxen and all the king's men can't
stand it on its legs again. In such a strait, one must flee from him who
saw the fall.
Albert Charlton therefore determined that he would change to the inside
of the coach when an opportunity should offer, and leave the Superior
Being to sit "wrapped in the solitude of his own originality."
THE SOD TAVERN.
Here and there Charlton noticed the little claim-shanties, built in every
sort of fashion, mere excuses for pre-emption. Some were even constructed
of brush. What was lacking in the house was amply atoned for by the
perjury of the claimant who, in pre-empting, would swear to any necessary
number of good qualities in his habitation. On a little knoll ahead of
the stage he saw what seemed to be a heap of earth. There must have been
some inspiration in this mound, for, as soon as it came in sight, Whisky
Jim began to chirrup and swear at his horses, and to crack his long whip
threateningly until he had sent them off up the hill at a splendid pace.
Just by this mound of earth he reined up with an air that said the
forenoon route was finished. For this was nothing less than the "Sod
Tavern," a house built of cakes of the tenacious prairiesod. No other
material was used except the popple-poles, which served for supports to
the sod-roof. The tavern was not over ten feet high at the apex of the
roof; it had been built for two or three years, and the grass was now
growing on top. A red-shirted publican sallied out of this artificial
grotto, and invited the ladies and gentlemen to dinner.
It appeared, from a beautifully-engraved map hanging on the walls of the
Sod Tavern, that this earthly tabernacle stood in the midst of an ideal
town. The map had probably been constructed by a poet, for it was quite
superior to the limitations of sense and matter-of-fact. According to the
map, this solitary burrow was surrounded by Seminary, Depot, Court-House,
Woolen Factory, and a variety of other potential institutions, which
composed the flourishing city of New Cincinnati. But the map was meant
chiefly for Eastern circulation.
Charlton's dietetic theories were put to the severest test at the table.
He had a good appetite. A ride in the open air in Minnesota is apt to
make one hungry. But the first thing that disgusted Mr. Charlton was the
coffee, already poured out, and steaming under his nose. He hated coffee
because he liked it; and the look of disgust with which he shoved it away
was the exact measure of his physical craving for it. The solid food on
the table consisted of waterlogged potatoes, half-baked salt-rising
bread, and salt-pork. Now, young Charlton was a reader of the _Water-Cure
Journal_ of that day, and despised meat of all things, and of all meat
despised swine's flesh, as not even fit for Jews; and of all forms of
hog, hated fat salt-pork as poisonously indigestible. So with a dyspeptic
self-consciousness he rejected the pork, picked off the periphery of the
bread near the crust, cautiously avoiding the dough-bogs in the middle;
but then he revenged himself by falling furiously upon the aquatic
potatoes, out of which most of the nutriment had been soaked.
Jim, who sat alongside him, doing cordial justice to the badness of the
meal, muttered that it wouldn't do to eat by idees in Minnesoty. And with
the freedom that belongs to the frontier, the company begun to discuss
dietetics, the fat gentleman roundly abusing the food for the express
purpose, as Charlton thought, of diverting attention from his voracious
eating of it.
"Simply despicable," grunted the fat man, as he took a third slice of the
greasy pork. "I do despise such food."
"Eats it _like_ he was mad at it," said Driver Jim in an undertone.
But as Charlton's vegetarianism was noticed, all fell to denouncing it.
Couldn't live in a cold climate without meat. Cadaverous Mr. Minorkey,
the broad-shouldered, sad-looking man with side-whiskers, who complained
incessantly of a complication of disorders, which included dyspepsia,
consumption, liver-disease, organic disease of the heart, rheumatism,
neuralgia, and entire nervous prostration, and who was never entirely
happy except in telling over the oft-repeated catalogue of his disgusting
symptoms--Mr. Minorkey, as he sat by his daughter, inveighed, in an
earnest crab-apple voice, against Grahamism. He would have been in his
grave twenty years ago if it hadn't been for good meat. And then he
recited in detail the many desperate attacks from which he had been saved
by beefsteak. But this pork he felt sure would make him sick. It might
kill him. And he evidently meant to sell his life as dearly as possible,
for, as Jim muttered to Charlton, he was "goin' the whole hog anyhow."
"Miss Minorkey," said the fat gentleman checking a piece of pork in the
middle of its mad career toward his lips, "Miss Minorkey, we _should_
like to hear from you on this subject." In truth, the fat gentleman was
very weary of Mr. Minorkey's pitiful succession of diagnoses of the awful
symptoms and fatal complications of which he had been cured by very
allopathic doses of animal food. So he appealed to Miss Minorkey for
relief at a moment when her father had checked and choked his utterance
Miss Minorkey was quite a different affair from her father. She was
thoroughly but not obtrusively healthy. She had a high, white forehead, a
fresh complexion, and a mouth which, if it was deficient in sweetness and
warmth of expression, was also free from all bitterness and
aggressiveness. Miss Minorkey was an eminently well-educated young lady
as education goes. She was more--she was a young lady of reading and of
ideas. She did not exactly defend Charlton's theory in her reply, but she
presented both sides of the controversy, and quoted some scientific
authorities in such a way as to make it apparent that there _were_ two
sides. This unexpected and rather judicial assistance called forth from
Charlton a warm acknowledgment, his pale face flushed with modest
pleasure, and as he noted the intellectuality of Miss Minorkey's forehead
he inwardly comforted himself that the only person of ideas in the whole
company was not wholly against him.
Albert Charlton was far from being a "ladies' man;" indeed, nothing was
more despicable in his eyes than men who frittered away life in ladies'
company. But this did not at all prevent him from being very human
himself in his regard for ladies. All the more that he had lived out of
society all his life, did his heart flutter when he took his seat in the
stage after dinner. For Miss Minorkey's father and the fat gentleman felt
that they must have the back seat; there were two other gentlemen on the
middle seat; and Albert Charlton, all unused to the presence of ladies,
must needs sit on the front seat, alongside the gray traveling-dress of
the intellectual Miss Minorkey, who, for her part, was not in the least
bit nervous. Young Charlton might have liked her better if she had been.
But if she was not shy, neither was she obtrusive. When Mr. Charlton had
grown weary of hearing Mr. Minorkey pity himself, and of hearing the fat
gentleman boast of the excellence of the Minnesota climate, the dryness
of the air, and the wonderful excess of its oxygen, and the entire
absence of wintry winds, and the rapid development of the country, and
when he had grown weary of discussions of investments at five per cent a
month, he ventured to interrupt Miss Minorkey's reverie by a remark to
which she responded. And he was soon in a current of delightful talk. The
young gentleman spoke with great enthusiasm; the young woman without
warmth, but with a clear intellectual interest in literary subjects, that
charmed her interlocutor. I say literary subjects, though the range of
the conversation was not very wide. It was a great surprise to Charlton,
however, to find in a new country a young woman so well informed.
Did he fall in love? Gentle reader, be patient. You want a love-story,
and I don't blame you. For my part, I should not take the trouble to
record this history if there were no love in it. Love is the universal
bond of human sympathy. But you must give people time. What we call
falling in love is not half so simple an affair as you think, though it
often looks simple enough to the spectator. Albert Charlton was pleased,
he was full of enthusiasm, and I will not deny that he several times
reflected in a general way that so clear a talker and so fine a thinker
would make a charming wife for some man--some intellectual man--some man
like himself, for instance. He admired Miss Minorkey. He liked her. With
an enthusiastic young man, admiring and liking are, to say the least,
steps that lead easily to something else. But you must remember how
complex a thing love is. Charlton--I have to confess it--was a little
conceited, as every young man is at twenty. He flattered himself that the
most intelligent woman he could find would be a good match for him. He
loved ideas, and a woman of ideas pleased his fancy. Add to this that he
had come to a time of life when he was very liable to fall in love with
somebody, and that he was in the best of spirits from the influence of
air and scenery and motion and novelty, and you render it quite probable
that he could not be tossed for half a day on the same seat in a coach
with such a girl as Helen Minorkey was--that, above all, he could not
discuss Hugh Miller and the "Vestiges of Creation" with her, without
imminent peril of experiencing an admiration for her and an admiration
for himself, and a liking and a palpitating and a castle-building that
under favorable conditions might somehow grow into that complex and
inexplicable feeling which we call love.
In fact, Jim, who drove both routes on this day, and who peeped into the
coach whenever he stopped to water, soliloquized that two fools with
idees would make a quare span ef they had a neck-yoke on.
LAND AND LOVE.
Mr. Minorkey and the fat gentleman found much to interest them as the
coach rolled over the smooth prairie road, now and then crossing a
slough. Not that Mr. Minorkey or his fat friend had any particular
interest in the beautiful outline of the grassy knolls, the gracefulness
of the water-willows that grew along the river edge, and whose paler
green was the prominent feature of the landscape, or in the sweet
contrast at the horizon where grass-green earth met the light blue
northern sky. But the scenery none the less suggested fruitful themes for
talk to the two gentlemen on the back-seat.
"I've got money loaned on that quarter at three per cent a month and five
after due. The mortgage has a waiver in it too. You see, the security was
unusually good, and that was why I let him have it so low." This was what
Mr. Minorkey said at intervals and with some variations, generally adding
something like this: "The day I went to look at that claim, to see
whether the security was good or not, I got caught in the rain. I
expected it would kill me. Well, sir, I was taken that night with a
pain--just here--and it ran through the lung to the point of the
shoulder-blade--here. I had to get my feet into a tub of water and take
some brandy. I'd a had pleurisy if I'd been in any other country but
this. I tell you, nothing saved me but the oxygen in this air. There!
there's a forty that I lent a hundred dollars on at five per cent a month
and six per cent after maturity, with a waiver in the mortgage. The day I
came here to see this I was nearly dead. I had a--"
Just here the fat gentleman would get desperate, and, by way of
preventing the completion of the dolorous account, would break out with:
"That's Sokaska, the new town laid out by Johnson--that hill over there,
where you see those stakes. I bought a corner-lot fronting the public
square, and a block opposite where they hope to get a factory. There's a
brook runs through the town, and they think it has water enough and fall
enough to furnish a water-power part of the day, during part of the year,
and they hope to get a factory located there. There'll be a territorial
road run through from St. Paul next spring if they can get a bill through
the legislature this winter. You'd best buy there."
"I never buy town lots," said Minorkey, coughing despairingly, "never! I
run no risks. I take my interest at three and five per cent a month on a
good mortgage, with a waiver, and let other folks take risks."
But the hopeful fat gentleman evidently took risks and slept soundly.
There was no hypothetical town, laid out hypothetically on paper, in
whose hypothetical advantages he did not covet a share.
"You see," he resumed, "I buy low--cheap as dirt--and get the rise. Some
towns must get to be cities. I have a little all round, scattered here
and there. I am sure to have a lucky ticket in some of these lotteries."
[Illustration: MR. MINORKEY AND THE FAT GENTLEMAN.]
Mr. Minorkey only coughed and shook his head despondently, and said that
"there was nothing so good as a mortgage with a waiver in it. Shut down
in short order if you don't get your interest, if you've only got a
waiver. I always shut down unless I've got five per cent after maturity.
But I have the waiver in the mortgage anyhow."
As the stage drove on, up one grassy slope and down another, there was
quite a different sort of a conversation going on in the other end of the
coach. Charlton found many things which suggested subjects about which he
and Miss Minorkey could converse, notwithstanding the strange contrast in
their way of expressing themselves. He was full of eagerness,
positiveness, and a fresh-hearted egoism. He had an opinion on
everything; he liked or disliked everything; and when he disliked
anything, he never spared invective in giving expression to his
antipathy. His moral convictions were not simply strong--they were
vehement. His intellectual opinions were hobbies that he rode under whip
and spur. A theory for everything, a solution of every difficulty, a
"high moral" view of politics, a sharp skepticism in religion, but a
skepticism that took hold of him as strongly as if it had been a faith.
He held to his _non credo_ with as much vigor as a religionist holds to
Miss Minorkey was just a little irritating to one so enthusiastic. She
neither believed nor disbelieved anything in particular. She liked to
talk about everything in a cool and objective fashion; and Charlton was
provoked to find that, with all her intellectual interest in things, she
had no sort of personal interest in anything. If she had been a
disinterested spectator, dropped down from another sphere, she could not
have discussed the affairs of this planet with more complete
impartiality, not to say indifference. Theories, doctrines, faiths, and
even moral duties, she treated as Charlton did beetles; ran pins through
them and held them up where she could get a good view of them--put them
away as curiosities. She listened with an attention that was surely
flattering enough, but Charlton felt that he had not made much impression
on her. There was a sort of attraction in this repulsion. There was an
excitement in his ambition to impress this impartial and judicial mind
with the truth and importance of the glorious and regenerating views he
had embraced. His self-esteem was pleased at the thought that he should
yet conquer this cool and open-minded girl by the force of his own
intelligence. He admired her intellectual self-possession all the more
that it was a quality which he lacked. Before that afternoon ride was
over, he was convinced that he sat by the supreme woman of all he had
ever known. And who was so fit to marry the supreme woman as he, Albert
Charlton, who was to do so much by advocating all sorts of reforms to
help the world forward to its goal?
He liked that word goal. A man's pet words are the key to his character.
A man who talks of "vocation," of "goal," and all that, may be laughed at
while he is in the period of intellectual fermentation. The time is sure
to come, however, when such a man can excite other emotions than mirth.
And so Charlton, full of thoughts of his "vocation" and the world's
"goal," was slipping into an attachment for a woman to whom both words
were Choctaw. Do you wonder at it? If she had had a vocation also, and
had talked about goals, they would mutually have repelled each other,
like two bodies charged with the same kind of electricity. People with
vocations can hardly fall in love with other people with vocations.
But now Metropolisville was coming in sight, and Albert's attention was
attracted by the conversation of Mr. Minorkey and the fat gentleman.
"Mr. Plausaby has selected an admirable site," Charlton heard the fat
gentleman remark, and as Mr. Plausaby was his own step-father, he began
to listen. "Pretty sharp! pretty sharp!" continued the fat gentleman. "I
tell you what, Mr. Minorkey, that man Plausaby sees through a millstone
with a hole in it. I mean to buy some lots in this place. It'll be the
county-seat and a railroad junction, as sure as you're alive. And
Plausaby has saved some of his best lots for me."
"Yes, it's a nice town, or will be. I hold a mortgage on the best
eighty--the one this way--at three per cent and five after maturity, with
a waiver. I liked to have died here one night last summer. I was taken
just after supper with a violent--"
"What a beauty of a girl that is," broke in the fat gentleman, "little
Katy Charlton, Plausaby's step-daughter!" And instantly Mr. Albert
Charlton thrust his head out of the coach and shouted "Hello, Katy!" to a
girl of fifteen, who ran to intercept the coach at the hotel steps.
"Hurrah, Katy!" said the young man, as she kissed him impulsively as soon
as he had alighted.
"P'int out your baggage, mister," said Jim, interrupting Katy's raptures
with a tone that befitted a Superior Being.
In a few moments the coach, having deposited Charlton and the fat
gentleman, was starting away for its destination at Perritaut, eight
miles farther on, when Charlton, remembering again his companion on the
front seat, lifted his hat and bowed, and Miss Minorkey was kind enough
to return the bow. Albert tried to analyze her bow as he lay awake in bed
that night. Miss Minorkey doubtless slept soundly. She always did.
ALBERT AND KATY.
All that day in which Albert Charlton had been riding from Red Owl
Landing to Metropolisville, sweet Little Katy Charlton had been expecting
him. Everybody called her _sweet_, and I suppose there was no word in the
dictionary that so perfectly described her. She was not well-read, like
Miss Minorkey; she was not even very smart at her lessons: but she was
sweet. Sweetness is a quality that covers a multitude of defects. Katy's
heart had love in it for everybody. She loved her mother; she loved
Squire Plausaby, her step-father; she loved cousin Isa, as she called her
step-father's niece; she loved--well, no matter, she would have told you
that she loved nobody more than Brother Albert.
And now that Brother Albert was coming to the new home in the new land
he had never seen before, Katy's heart was in her eyes. She would show
him so many things he had never seen, explain how the pocket-gophers
built their mounds, show him the nestful of flying-squirrels--had he
ever seen flying-squirrels? And she would show him Diamond Lake, and
the speckled pickerel among the water-plants. And she would point out
the people, and entertain Albert with telling him their names and the
curious gossip about them. It was so fine to know something that even
Albert, with all his learning, did not know. And she would introduce
Albert to _him_. Would Albert like _him_? Of course he would. They were
both such _dear_ men.
And as the hours wore on, Katy grew more and more excited and nervous.
She talked about Albert to her mother till she wearied that worthy woman,
to whom the arrival of any one was an excuse for dressing if possible in
worse taste than usual, or at least for tying an extra ribbon in her
hair, and the extra ribbon was sure to be of a hue entirely discordant
with the mutually discordant ones that preceded it. Tired of talking to
her mother, she readily found an excuse to buy something--ribbons, or
candles, or hair-pins, or dried apples--something kept in the very
miscellaneous stock of the "Emporium," and she knew who would wait upon
her, and who would kindly prolong the small transaction by every artifice
in his power, and thus give her time to tell him about her Brother
Albert. He would be so glad to hear about Albert. He was always glad to
hear her tell about anybody or anything.
And when the talk over the counter at the Emporium could not be farther
prolonged, she had even stopped on her way home at Mrs. Ferret's, and
told her about Albert, though she did not much like to talk to her--she
looked so penetratingly at her out of her round, near-sighted eyes, which
seemed always keeping a watch on the tip of her nose. And Mrs. Ferret,
with her jerky voice, and a smile that was meant to be an expression of
mingled cheerfulness and intelligence, but which expressed neither,
said: "Is your brother a Christian?"
And Katy said he was a dear, dear fellow, but she didn't know as he was a
"Does he hold scriptural views? You know so many people in colleges are
Mrs. Ferret had a provoking way of pronouncing certain words
unctuously--she said "Chrishchen" "shcripcherral," and even in the word
evangelical she made the first _e_ very hard and long.
And when little Katy could not tell whether Albert held "shcripcherral"
views or not, and was thoroughly tired of being quizzed as to whether she
"really thought Albert had a personal interest in religion," she made an
excuse to run away into the chamber of Mrs. Morrow, Mrs. Ferret's mother,
who was an invalid--Mrs. Ferret said "inva_leed_," for the sake of
emphasis. The old lady never asked impertinent questions, never talked
about "shcripcherral" or "ee-vangelical" views, but nevertheless breathed
an atmosphere of scriptural patience and evangelical fortitude and
Christian victory over the world's tribulations. Little Katy couldn't
have defined, the difference between the two in words; she never
attempted it but once, and then she said that Mrs. Ferret was like a
crabapple, and her mother like a Bartlett pear.
But she was too much excited to stay long in one place, and so she
hurried home and went to talking to Cousin Isa, who was sewing by the
west window. And to her she poured forth praises of Albert without stint;
of his immense knowledge of everything, of his goodness and his beauty
and his strength, and his voice, and his eyes.
"And you'll love him better'n you ever loved anybody," she wound up.
And Cousin Isa said she didn't know about that.
After all this weary waiting Albert had come. He had not been at home for
two years. It was during his absence that his mother had married Squire
Plausaby, and had moved to Minnesota. He wanted to see everybody at home.
His sister had written him favorable accounts of his step-father; he had
heard other accounts, not quite so favorable, perhaps. He persuaded
himself that like a dutiful son he wanted most to see his mother, who was
really very fond of him. But in truth he spent his spare time in thinking
about Katy. He sincerely believed that he loved his mother better than
anybody in the world. All his college cronies knew that the idol of his
heart was Katy, whose daguerreotype he carried in the inside pocket of
his vest, and whose letters he looked for with the eagerness of a lover.
At last he had come, and Katy had carried him off into the house in
triumph, showing him--showing is the word, I think--showing him to her
mother, whom he kissed tenderly, and to her step-father, and most
triumphantly to Isa, with an air that said, "_Now_, isn't he just the
finest fellow in the world!" And she was not a little indignant that Isa
was so quiet in her treatment of the big brother. Couldn't she see what a
forehead and eyes he had?
And the mother, with one shade of scarlet and two of pink in her
hair-ribbons, was rather proud of her son, but not satisfied.
"Why _didn't_ you graduate?" she queried as she poured the coffee
"Because there were so many studies in the course which were a dead
waste of time. I learned six times as much as some of the dunderheads
that got sheepskins, and the professors knew it, but they do not dare to
put their seal on anybody's education unless it is mixed in exact
proportions--so much Latin, so much Greek, so much mathematics. The
professors don't like a man to travel any road but theirs. It is a
reflection on their own education. Why, I learned more out of some of the
old German books in the library than out of all their teaching."
"But why didn't you graduate? It would have sounded so nice to be able to
say that you had graduated. That's what I sent you for, you know, and I
don't see what you got by going if you haven't graduated."
"Why, mother, I got an education. I thought that was what a
college was for."
"But how will anybody know that you're well-educated, I'd like to know,
when you can't say that you've graduated?" answered the mother
"Whether they know it or not, I am."
"I should think they'd know it just to look at him," said Katy, who
thought that Albert's erudition must be as apparent to everybody as
Mr. Plausaby quietly remarked that he had no doubt Albert had improved
his time at school, a remark which for some undefined reason vexed Albert
more than his mother's censures.
"Well," said his mother, "a body never has any satisfaction with boys
that have got notions. Deliver me from notions. Your father had notions.
If it hadn't been for that, we might all of us have been rich to-day.
But notions kept us down. That's what I like about Mr. Plausaby. He
hasn't a single notion to bother a body with. But, I think, notions run
in the blood, and, I suppose, you'll always be putting some fool notion
or other in your own way. I meant you to be a lawyer, but I s'pose you've
got something against that, though it was your own father's calling."
"I'd about as soon be a thief as a lawyer," Albert broke out in his
"Well, that's a nice way to speak about your father's profession, I'm
sure," said his mother. "But that's what comes of notions. I don't care
much, though, if you a'n't a lawyer. Doctors make more than lawyers do,
and you can't have any notions against being a doctor."
"What, and drug people? Doctors are quacks. They know that drugs are good
for nothing, and yet they go on dosing everybody to make money. It people
would bathe, and live in the open air, and get up early, and harden
themselves to endure changes of climate, and not violate God's decalogue
written in their own muscles and nerves and head and stomach, they
wouldn't want to swallow an apothecary-shop every year."
"Did you ever!" said Mrs. Plausaby, looking at her husband, who smiled
knowingly (as much as to reply that he had often), and at Cousin Isa, who
looked perplexed between her admiration at a certain chivalrous courage
in Albert's devotion to his ideas, and her surprise at the ultraism of
"Did you ever!" said the mother again. "That's carrying notions further
than your father did. You'll never be anything, Albert. Well, well, what
comfort can I take in a boy that'll turn his back on all his chances,
and never be anything but a poor preacher, without money enough to make
your mother a Christmas present of a--a piece of ribbon?"
"Why, ma, you've got ribbons enough now, I'm sure," said Katy, looking at
the queer tri-color which her mother was flying in revolutionary defiance
of the despotism of good taste. "I'm sure I'm glad Albert's going to be a
minister. He'll look so splendid in the pulpit! What kind of a preacher
will you be, Albert?"
"I hope it'll be Episcopal, or any way Presbyterian," said Mrs. Plausaby,
"for they get paid better than Methodist or Baptist. And besides, it's
genteel to be Episcopal. But, I suppose, some notion'll keep you out of
being Episcopal too. You'll try to be just as poor and ungenteel as you
can. Folks with notions always do."
"If I was going to be a minister, I would find out the poorest sect in
the country, the one that all your genteel folks turned up their noses
at--the Winnebrenarians, or the Mennonites, or the Albrights, or
something of that sort. I would join such a sect, and live and work for
"Yes, I'll be bound!" said Mrs. Plausaby, feeling of her breastpin to be
sure it was in the right place.
"But I'll never be a parson. I hope I'm too honest. Half the preachers
Then, seeing Isa's look of horrified surprise, Albert added: "Not in
money matters, but in matters of opinion. They do not deal honestly with
themselves or other people. Ministers are about as unfair as pettifoggers
in their way of arguing, and not more than one in twenty of them is brave
enough to tell the whole truth."
"Such notions! such notions!" cried Mrs. Plausaby.
And Cousin Isa--Miss Isabel Marlay, I should say for she was only a
cousin by brevet--here joined valiant battle in favor of the clergy. And
poor little Katy, who dearly loved to take sides with her friends, found
her sympathies sadly split in two in a contest between her dear, dear
brother and her dear, dear Cousin Isa, and she did wish they would quit
talking about such disagreeable things. I do not think either of the
combatants convinced the other, but as each fought fairly they did not
offend one another, and when the battle was over, Albert bluntly
confessed that he had spoken too strongly, and though Isa made no
confession, she felt that after all ministers were not impeccable, and
that Albert was a brave fellow.
And Mrs. Plausaby said that she hoped Isabel would beat some sense into
the boy, for she was really afraid that he never would have anything but
notions. She pitied the woman that married _him_. She wouldn't get many
silk-dresses, and she'd have to fix her old bonnets over two or three
Mr. Plausaby was one of those men who speak upon a level pitch, in a
gentle and winsome monotony. His voice was never broken by impulse, never
shaken by feeling. He was courteous without ostentation, treating
everybody kindly without exactly seeming to intend it. He let fall
pleasant remarks incidentally or accidentally, so that one was always
fortuitously overhearing his good opinion of one's self. He did not have
any conscious intent to flatter each person with some ulterior design in
view, but only a general disposition to keep everybody cheerful, and an
impression that it was quite profitable as a rule to stand well with
The morning after Charlton's arrival the fat passenger called, eager as
usual to buy lots. To his lively imagination, every piece of ground
staked off into town lots had infinite possibilities. It seemed that the
law of probabilities had been no part of the sanguine gentleman's
education, but the gloriousness of possibilities was a thing that he
appreciated naturally; hopefulness was in his very fiber.
Mr. Plausaby spread his "Map of Metropolisville" on the table, let his
hand slip gently down past the "Depot Ground," so that the fat gentleman
saw it without seeming to have had his attention called to it; then
Plausaby, Esq., looked meditatively at the ground set apart for
"College," and seemed to be making a mental calculation. Then Plausaby
proceeded to unfold the many advantages of the place, and Albert was a
pleased listener; he had never before suspected that Metropolisville had
prospects so entirely dazzling. He could not doubt the statements of the
bland Plausaby, who said these things in a confidential and reserved way
to the fat gentleman. Charlton did not understand, but Plausaby did, that
what is told in a corner to a fat gentleman with curly hair and a hopeful
nose is sure to be repeated from the house-tops.
"You are an Episcopalian, I believe?" said Plausaby, Esq. The fat
gentleman replied that he was a Baptist.
"Oh! well, I might have known it from your cordial way of talking.
Baptist myself, in principle. In principle, at least Not a member of any
church, sorry to say. Very sorry. My mother and my first Wife were both
Baptists. Both of them. I have a very warm side for the good old Baptist
church. Very warm side. And a warm side for every Baptist. Every Baptist.
To say nothing of the feeling I have always had for you--well, well, let
us not pass compliments. Business is business in this country. In this
country, you know. But I will tell _you_ one thing. The lot there marked
'College' I am just about transferring to trustees for a Baptist
university. There are two or three parties, members of Dr. Armitage's
church in New York City, that are going to give us a hundred thousand
dollars endowment. A hundred thousand dollars. Don't say anything about
it. There are people who--well, who would spoil the thing if they could.
We have neighbors, you know. Not very friendly ones. Not very friendly.
Perritaut, for instance. It isn't best to tell one's neighbor all one's
good luck. Not all one's good luck," and Plausaby, Esq., smiled knowingly
at the fat man, who did his best to screw his very transparent face into
a crafty smile in return. "Besides," continued Squire Plausaby, "once let
it get out that the Baptist University is going to occupy that block, and
there'll be a great demand--"
[Illustration: PLAUSABY SELLS LOTS.]
"For all the blocks around," said the eager fat gentleman, growing
impatient at Plausaby's long-windedness.
"Precisely. For all the blocks around," went on Plausaby. "And I want to
hold on to as much of the property in this quarter as--"
"As you can, of course," said the other.
"As I can, of course. As much as I can, of course. But I'd like to have
you interested. You are a man of influence. A man of weight. Of weight of
character. You will bring other Baptists. And the more Baptists, the
better for--the better for--"
"For the college, of course."
"Exactly. Precisely. For the college, of course. The more, the better.
And I should like your name on the board of trustees of--of--"
"The university, of course. I should like your name."
The fat gentleman was pleased at the prospect of owning land near the
Baptist University, and doubly pleased at the prospect of seeing his name
in print as one of the guardians of the destiny of the infant
institution. He thought he would like to buy half of block 26.
"Well, no. I couldn't sell in 26 to you or any man. Couldn't sell to any
man. I want to hold that block because of its slope. I'll sell in 28 _to
you_, and the lots there are just about as good. Quite as good, indeed.
But I want to build on 26."
The fat gentleman declared that he wouldn't have anything but lots in 26.
That block suited his fancy, and he didn't care to buy if he could not
have a pick.
"Well, you're an experienced buyer, I see," said Plausaby, Esq. "An
experienced buyer. Any other man would have preferred 28 to 26. But
you're a little hard to insist on that particular block. I want you here,
and I'll _give_ half of 28 rather than sell you out of 26."
"Well, now, my friend, I am sorry to seem hard. But I fastened my eye on
26. I have a fine eye for direction and distance. One, two, three, four
blocks from the public square. That's the block with the solitary
oak-tree in it, if I'm right. Yes? Well, I must have lots in that very
block. When I take a whim of that kind, heaven and earth can't turn me,
Mr. Plausaby. So you'd just as well let me have them."
Plausaby, Esq., at last concluded that he would sell to the plump
gentleman any part of block 26 except the two lots on the south-east
corner. But that gentleman said that those were the very two he had fixed
his eyes upon. He would not buy if there were any reserves. He always
took his very pick out of each town.
"Well," said Mr. Plausaby coaxingly, "you see I have selected those two
lots for my step-daughter. For little Katy. She is going to get married
next spring, I suppose, and I have promised her the two best in the town,
and I had marked off these two. Marked them off for her. I'll sell you
lots alongside, nearly as good, for half-price. Just half-price."
But the fat gentleman was inexorable. Mr. Plausaby complained that the
fat gentleman was hard, and the fat gentleman was pleased with the
compliment. Having been frequently lectured by his wife for being so easy
and gullible, he was now eager to believe himself a very Shylock. Did not
like to rob little Kate of her marriage portion, he said, but he must
have the best or none. He wanted the whole south half of 26.
And so Mr. Plausaby sold him the corner-lot and the one next to it for
ever so much more than their value, pathetically remarking that he'd have
to hunt up some other lots for Kate. And then Mr. Plausaby took the fat
gentleman out and showed him the identical corner, with the little oak
and the slope to the south.
"Mother," said Albert, when they were gone, "is Katy going to be married
in the spring?"
"Why, how should I know?" queried Mrs. Plausaby, as she adjusted her
collar, the wide collar of that day, and set her breastpin before the
glass. "How should I know? Katy has never told me. There's a young man
hangs round here Sundays, and goes boating and riding with her, and makes
her presents, and walks with her of evenings, and calls her his pet and
his darling and all that kind of nonsense, and I half-suspect"--here she
took out her breastpin entirely and began over again--"I half-suspect
he's in earnest. But what have I got to do with it? Kate must marry for
herself. I did twice, and done pretty well both times. But I can't see to
Kate's beaux. Marrying, my son, is a thing everybody must attend to
personally for themselves. At least, so it seems to me." And having
succeeded in getting her ribbon adjusted as she wanted it, Mrs. Plausaby
looked at herself in the glass with an approving conscience.
"But is Kate going to be married in the spring?" asked Albert.
"I don't know whether she will have her wedding in the spring or summer.
I can't bother myself about Kate's affairs. Marrying is a thing that
everybody must attend to personally for themselves, Albert. If Kate gets
married, I can't help it; and I don't know as there's any great sin in
it. You'll get married yourself some day."
"Did fa--did Mr. Plausaby promise Katy some lots?"
"Law, no! Every lot he sells 'most is sold for Kate's lot. It's a way he
has. He knows how to deal with these sharks. If you want any trading
done, Albert, you let Mr. Plausaby do it for you."
"But, mother, that isn't right."
"You've got queer notions, Albert. You'll want us all to quit eating
meat, I suppose. Mr. Plausaby said last night you'd be cheated out of
your eyes before you'd been here a month, if you stuck to your ideas of
things. You see, you don't understand sharks. Plausaby does. But then
that is not my lookout. I have all I can do to attend to myself. But Mr.
Plausaby _does_ know how to manage sharks."
The more Albert thought the matter over, the more he was convinced that
Mr. Plausaby did know how to manage sharks. He went out and examined the
stakes, and found that block 26 did not contain the oak, but was much
farther down in the slough, and that the corner lots that were to have
been Katy's wedding portion stretched quite into the peat bog, and
further that if the Baptist University should stand on block 27, it would
have a baptistery all around it.
LITTLE KATY'S LOVER.
Katy was fifteen and a half, according to the family Bible. Katy was a
woman grown in the depth and tenderness of her feeling. But Katy wasn't
twelve years of age, if measured by the development of her
discretionary powers. The phenomenon of a girl in intellect with a
woman's passion is not an uncommon one. Such girls are always
attractive--feeling in woman goes for so much more than thought. And
such a girl-woman as Kate has a twofold hold on other people--she is
loved as a woman and petted as a child.
Albert Charlton knew that for her to love was for her to give herself
away without thought, without reserve, almost without the possibility of
revocation. Because he was so oppressed with dread in regard to the young
man who walked and boated with Katy, courted and caressed her, but about
the seriousness of whose intentions the mother seemed to have some
doubt--because of the very awfulness of his apprehensions, he dared not
ask Kate anything.
The suspense was not for long. On the second evening after Albert's
return, Smith Westcott, the chief clerk, the agent in charge of the
branch store of Jackson, Jones & Co., in Metropolisville, called at the
house of Plausaby. Mr. Smith Westcott was apparently more than
twenty-six, but not more than thirty years of age, very well-dressed,
rather fast-looking, and decidedly _blase_. His history was written in
general but not-to-be-misunderstood terms all over his face. It was not
the face of a drunkard, but there was the redness of many glasses of wine
in his complexion, and a nose that expressed nothing so much as pampered
self-indulgence. He had the reputation of being a good, sharp business
man, with his "eye-teeth cut," but his conversation was:
"Well--ha! ha!--and how's Katy? Divine as ever! he! he!" rattling the
keys and coins in his pocket and frisking about. "Beautiful evening! And
how does my sweet Katy? The loveliest maiden in the town! He! he! ha! ha!
Then, as Albert came in and was introduced, he broke out with:
"Glad to see you! By George! He! he! Brother, eh? Always glad to see
anybody related to Kate. Look like her a little. That's a compliment to
you, Mr. Charlton, he! he! You aren't quite so handsome though, by
George! Confound the cigar"--throwing it away; "I ordered a box in Red
Owl last week--generally get 'em in Chicago. If there's anything I like
it's a good cigar, he! he! Next to a purty girl, ha! ha! But this last
box is stronger'n pison. That sort of a cigar floors me. Can't go
entirely without, you know, so I smoke half a one, and by that time I get
so confounded mad I throw it away. Ha! ha! Smoke, Mr. Charlton? No! No
_small_ vices, I s'pose. Couldn't live without my cigar. I'm glad smoking
isn't offensive to Kate. Ah! this window's nice, I do like fresh air.
Kate knows my habits pretty well by this time. By George, I must try
another cigar. I get so nervous when trade's dull and I don't have much
to do. Wish you smoked, Mr. Charlton. Keep a man company, ha! ha! Ever
been here before? No? By George, must seem strange, he! he! It's a
confounded country. Can't get anything to eat. Nor to drink neither, for
that matter. By cracky! what nights we used to have at the Elysian Club
in New York! Ever go to the Elysian? No? Well, we did have a confounded
time there. And headaches in the morning. Punch was too sweet, you see.
Sweet punch is sure to make your headache. He! he! But I'm done with
clubs and Delmonico's, you know. I'm going to settle down and be a steady
family man." Walking to the door, he sang in capital minstrel style:
"When de preacher took his text
He looked so berry much perplext,
Fer nothin' come acrost his mine
But Dandy Jim from Caroline!
"Yah! yah! Plague take it! Come, Kate, stick on a sun-bonnet or a hat,
and let's walk. It's too nice a night to stay in the house, by George!
You'll excuse, Mr. Charlton? All right; come on, Kate."
And Katy hesitated, and said in a deprecating tone: "You won't mind, will
you, Brother Albert?"
And Albert said no, that he wouldn't mind, with a calmness that
astonished himself; for he was aching to fall foul of Katy's lover, and
beat the coxcombry out of him, or kill him.
"By-by!" said Westcott to Albert, as he went out, and young Charlton went
out another door, and strode off toward Diamond Lake. On the high knoll
overlooking the lake he stopped and looked away to the east, where the
darkness was slowly gathering over the prairie. Night never looks so
strange as when it creeps over a prairie, seeming to rise, like a
shadowy Old Man of the Sea, out of the grass. The images become more and
more confused, and the landscape vanishes by degrees. Away to the west
Charlton saw the groves that grew on the banks of the Big Gun River, and
then the smooth prairie knolls beyond, and in the dim horizon the "Big
Woods." Despite ail his anxiety, Charlton could not help feeling the
influence of such a landscape. The greatness, the majesty of God, came to
him for a moment. Then the thought of Kate's unhappy love came over him
more bitterly from the contrast with the feelings excited by the
landscape. He went rapidly over the possible remedies. To remonstrate
with Katy seemed out of the question. If she had any power of reason, he
might argue. Bat one can not reason with feeling. It was so hard that a
soul so sweet, so free from the all but universal human taint of egoism,
a soul so loving, self-sacrificing, and self-consecrating, should throw
"O God!" he cried, between praying and swearing, "must this alabaster-box
of precious ointment be broken upon the head of an infernal coxcomb?"
And then, as he remembered how many alabaster-boxes of precious womanly
love were thus wasted, and as he looked abroad at the night settling down
so inevitably on trees and grass and placid lake, it seemed to him that
there could be no Benevolent Intelligence in the universe. Things rolled
on as they would, and all his praying would no more drive away the
threatened darkness from Kate's life than any cry of his would avail to
drive back the all-pervading, awesome presence of night, which was
putting out the features of the landscape one after another.
Albert thought to go to his mother. But then with bitterness he
confessed to himself, for the first time, that his mother was less wise
than Katy herself. He almost called her a fool. And he at once rejected
the thought of appealing to his step-father. He felt, also, that this was
an emergency in which all his own knowledge and intelligence were of no
account. In a matter of affection, a conceited coxcomb, full of
flattering speeches, was too strong for him.
The landscape was almost swallowed up. The glassy little lake was at his
feet, smooth and quiet. It seemed to him that God was as unresponsive to
his distress as the lake. Was there any God?
There was one hope. Westcott might die. He wished he might. But Charlton
had lived long enough to observe that people who ought to die, hardly
ever do. You, reader, can recall many instances of this general
principle, which, however, I do not remember to have seen stated in any
discussions of mortality tables.
After all, Albert reflected that he ought not to expect Kate's lover to
satisfy him. For he flattered himself that he was a somewhat peculiar
man--a man of ideas, a man of the future--and he must not expect to
conform everybody to his own standard. Smith Westcott was a man of fine
business qualities, he had heard; and most commercial men were, in
Albert's estimation, a little weak, morally. He might be a man of deep
feeling, and, as Albert walked home, he made up his mind to be
charitable. But just then he heard that rattling voice:
"Purty night! By George! Katy, you're divine, by George! Sweeter'n honey
and a fine-tooth comb! Dearer to my heart than a gold dollar! Beautiful
as a dew-drop and better than a good cigar! He! he! he!"
At such wit and such a giggle Charlton's charity vanished. To him this
idiotic giggle at idiotic jokes was a capital offense, and he was seized
with a murderous desire to choke his sister's lover. Kate should not
marry that fellow if he could help it. He would kill him. But then to
kill Westcott would be to kill Katy, to say nothing of hanging himself.
Killing has so many sequels. But Charlton was at the fiercely executive
stage of his development, and such a man must act. And so he lingered
about until Westcott kissed Katy and Katy kissed Westcott back again, and
Westcott cried back from the gate, "Dood night! dood night, 'ittle girl!
By-by! He! he! By George!" and passed out rattling the keys and coins in
his pocket and singing:
"O dear Miss Lucy Neal!" etc.
Then Albert went in, determined to have it all out with Katy. But one
sight of her happy, helpless face disarmed him. What an overturning of
the heaven of her dreams would he produce by a word! And what could be
more useless than remonstrance with one so infatuated! How would she
receive his bitter words about one she loved to idolatry?
He kissed her and went to bed.
As Albert Charlton lay awake in his unplastered room in the house of
Plausaby, Esq., on the night after he had made the acquaintance of the
dear, dear fellow whom his sister loved, he busied himself with various
calculations. Notwithstanding his father's "notions," as his mother
styled them, he had been able to leave his widow ten thousand dollars,
besides a fund for the education of his children. And, as Albert phrased
it to himself that night, the ten thousand dollars was every cent clean
money, for his father had been a man of integrity. On this ten thousand,
he felt sure, Plausaby, Esq., was speculating in a way that might make
him rich and respected, or send him to State's-prison, as the chance fell
out, but at any rate in a way that was not promotive of the interests of
those who traded with him. Of the thousand set apart for Katy's education
Plausaby was guardian, and Kate's education was not likely to be greatly
advanced by any efforts of his to invest the money in her intellectual
development. It would not be hard to persuade the rather indolent and
altogether confiding Katy that she was now old enough to cease bothering
herself with the rules of syntax, and to devote herself to the happiness
and comfort of Smith Westcott, who seemed, poor fellow, entirely unable
to exist out of sight of her eyes, which he often complimented by
singing, as he cut a double-shuffle on the piazza,
"_Her eyes_ so bright
Dey shine at night
When de moon am far away!"
generally adding, "Ya! ya! dat am a fack, Brudder Bones! He! he!
As Charlton's thoughts forecast his sister's future, it seemed to him
darker than before. He had little hope of changing her, for it was clear
that all the household authority was against him, and that Katy was
hopelessly in love. If he should succeed in breaking the engagement, it
would cost her untold suffering, and Albert was tender-hearted enough to
shrink from inflicting suffering on any one, and especially on Kate. But
when that heartless "he! he!" returned to his memory, and he thought of
all the consequences of such a marriage, he nerved himself for a sharp
and strong interference. It was his habit to plunge into every conflict
with a radical's recklessness, and his present impulse was to attempt to
carry his point by storm. If there had been opportunity, he would have
moved on Katy's slender reasoning faculties at once. But as the night of
sleeplessness wore on, the substratum of practical sense in his
character made itself felt. To attack the difficulty in this way was to
insure a great many tears from Katy, a great quarrel with a coxcomb, a
difficulty with his mother, an interference in favor of Kate's marriage
on the part of Plausaby, and a general success in precipitating what he
desired to prevent.
And so for the first time this opinionated young man, who had always
taken responsibility, and fought his battles alone and by the most direct
methods, began to look round for a possible ally or an indirect approach.
He went over the ground several times without finding any one on whom he
could depend, or any device that offered the remotest chance of success,
until he happened to think of Isabel Marlay--Cousin Isa, as Katy called
her. He remembered how much surprised he had been a few days before, when
the quiet girl, whom he had thought a sort of animated sewing-machine,
suddenly developed so much force of thought in her defense of the clergy.
Why not get her strong sense on his side?
CATCHING AND GETTING CAUGHT.
Did you never notice how many reasons, never thought of before, against
having an aching tooth drawn, occur to you when once you stand on the
dentist's door-stone ready to ring the bell? Albert Charlton was full of
doubts of what Miss Isabel Marlay's opinion of his sister might be, and
of what Miss Isabel Marlay might think of him after his intemperate
denunciation of ministers and all other men of the learned professions.
It was quite a difficult thing for him to speak to her on the subject of
his sister's love-affair, and so, whenever an opportunity presented
itself, he found reason to apprehend interruption. On one plea or another
he deferred the matter until afternoon, and when afternoon came, Isa had
gone out. So that what had seemed to him in the watchfulness of the night
an affair for prompt action, was now deferred till evening. But in his
indecision and impatience Charlton found it impossible to remain quiet.
He must do something, and so he betook himself to his old recreation of
catching insects. He would have scorned to amuse himself with so cruel a
sport as fishing; he would not eat a fish when it was caught. But though
he did not think it right for man to be a beast of prey, slaughtering
other animals to gratify his appetites, he did not hesitate to sacrifice
the lives of creeping things to satisfy the intellectual needs of
humanity. Even this he did with characteristic tenderness, never leaving
a grasshopper to writhe on a pin for two days, but kindly giving him a
drop of chloroform to pass him into the Buddhist's heaven of eternal
repose. In the course of an hour or two he had adorned his hat with a
variety of orthoptera, coleoptera, and all the other opteras known to the
insect-catching profession. A large Cecropia spread its bright wings
across the crown of his hat, and several green Katydids appeared to be
climbing up the sides for an introduction to the brilliant moth; three
dragon-flies sat on the brim, and two or three ugly beetles kept watch
between them. As for grasshoppers, they hung by threads from the
hat-brim, and made unique pendants, which flew and flopped about his face
as he ran hither and thither with his net, sweeping the air for new
victims. Hurrying with long strides after a large locust which he
suspected of belonging to a new species, and which flew high and far, his
eyes were so uplifted to his game that he did not see anything else, and
he ran down a hill and fairly against a lady, and then drew back in
startled surprise and apologized. But before his hasty apology was
half-uttered he lifted his eyes to the face of the lady and saw that it
was Miss Minorkey, walking with her father. Albert was still more
confused when he recognized her, and his confusion was not relieved by
her laughter. For the picturesque figure of Charlton and his portable
museum was too much for her gravity, and as the French ladies of two
centuries ago used to say, she "lost her serious." Guessing the cause of
her merriment, Charlton lifted his hat off his head, held it up, and
laughed with her.
"Well, Miss Minorkey, no wonder you laugh. This is a queer hat-buggery
and dangling grasshoppery."
"That's a beautiful Cecropia," said Helen Minorkey, recovering a little,
and winning on Albert at once by showing a little knowledge of his pet
science, if it was only the name of a single specimen. "I wouldn't mind
being an entomologist myself if there were many such as this and that
green beetle to be had. I am gathering botanical specimens," and she
opened her portfolio.
"But how did you come to be in Metropolisville?"
"Why," interrupted Mr. Minorkey, "I couldn't stand the climate at
Perritaut. The malaria of the Big Gun River affected my health seriously.
I had a fever night before last, and I thought I'd get away at once, and
I made up my mind there was more oxygen in this air than in that at
Perritaut. So I came up here this morning. But I'm nearly dead," and here
Mr. Minorkey coughed and sighed, and put his hand on his breast in a
As Mr. Minorkey wanted to inspect an eighty across the slough, on which
he had been asked to lend four hundred dollars at three per cent a month,
and five after maturity, with a waiver in the mortgage, he suggested that
Helen should walk back, leaving him to go on slowly, as the rheumatism in
his left knee would permit. It was quite necessary that Miss Minorkey
should go back; her boots were not thick enough for the passage of the
slough. Mr. Charlton kindly offered to accompany her.
Albert Charlton thought that Helen Minorkey looked finer than ever, for
sun and wind had put more color into her cheeks, and he, warm with
running, pushed back his long light hair, and looked side-wise at the
white forehead and the delicate but fresh cheeks below.
"So you like Cecropias and bright-green beetles, do you?" he said, and he
gallantly unpinned the wide-winged moth from his hat-crown and stuck it
on the cover of Miss Minorkey's portfolio, and then added the green
beetle. Helen thanked him in her quiet way, but with pleased eyes.
"Excuse me, Miss Minorkey," said Albert, blushing, as they approached the
hotel, "I should like very much to accompany you to the parlor of the
hotel, but people generally see nothing but the ludicrous side of
scientific pursuits, and I should only make you ridiculous."
"I should be very glad to have you come," said Helen. "I don't mind being
laughed at in good company, and it is such a relief to meet a gentleman
who can talk about something besides corner lots and five per cent a
month, and," with a wicked look at the figure of her father in the
distance, "and mortgages with waivers in them!"
Our cynic philosopher found his cynicism melting away like an iceberg in
the Gulf-stream. An hour before he would have told you that a woman's
flattery could have no effect on an intellectual man; now he felt a
tremor of pleasure, an indescribable something, as he shortened his steps
to keep time with the little boots with which Miss Minorkey trod down the
prairie grass, and he who had laughed at awkward boys for seeking the aid
of dancing-masters to improve their gait, wished himself less awkward,
and actually blushed with pleasure when this self-possessed young lady
praised his conversation. He walked with her to the hotel, though he took
the precaution to take his hat off his head and hang it on his finger,
and twirl it round, as if laughing at it himself--back-firing against the
ridicule of others. He who thought himself sublimely indifferent to the
laughter of ignoramuses, now fencing against it!
The parlor of the huge pine hotel (a huge unfinished pine hotel is the
starting point of speculative cities), the parlor of the Metropolisville
City Hotel was a large room, the floor of which was covered with a very
cheap but bright-colored ingrain carpet; the furniture consisted of six
wooden-bottomed chairs, very bright and new, with a very yellow rose
painted on the upper slat of the back of each, a badly tattered
hair-cloth sofa, of a very antiquated pattern, and a small old piano,
whose tinny tones were only matched by its entire lack of tune. The last
two valuable articles had been bought at auction, and some of the keys of
the piano had been permanently silenced by its ride in an ox-cart from
Red Owl to Metropolisville.
But intellect and culture are always superior to external circumstances,
and Mr. Charlton was soon sublimely oblivious to the tattered hair-cloth
of the sofa on which he sat, and he utterly failed to notice the stiff
wooden chair on which Miss Minorkey reposed. Both were too much
interested in science to observe furniture; She admired the wonders of
his dragon-flies, always in her quiet and intelligent fashion; he
returned the compliment by praising her flowers in his eager, hearty,
enthusiastic way. Her coolness made her seem to him very superior; his
enthusiasm made him very piquant and delightful to her. And when he got
upon his hobby and told her how grand a vocation the teacher's
profession was, and recited stories of the self-denial of Pestalozzi and
Froebel, and the great schemes of Basedow, and told how he meant here
in this new country to build a great Institute on rational principles,
Helen Minorkey found him more interesting than ever. Like you and me,
she loved philanthropy at other people's expense. She admired great
reformers, though she herself never dreamed of putting a little finger
to anybody's burden.
It took so long to explain fully this great project that Albert staid
until nearly supper-time, forgetting the burden of his sister's unhappy
future in the interest of science and philanthropy. And even when he rose
to go, Charlton turned back to look again at a "prairie sun-flower" which
Helen Minorkey had dissected while he spoke, and, finding something
curious, perhaps in the fiber, he proposed to bring his microscope over
in the evening and examine it--a proposition very grateful to Helen, who
had nothing but _ennui_ to expect in Metropolisville, and who was
therefore delighted. Delighted is a strong word for one so cool: perhaps
it would be better to say that she was relieved and pleased at the
prospect of passing an evening with so curious and interesting a
companion. For Charlton was both curious and interesting to her. She
sympathized with his intellectual activity, and she was full of wonder at
his intense moral earnestness.
As for Albert, botany suddenly took on a new interest in his eyes. He had
hitherto regarded it as a science for girls. But now he was so profoundly
desirous of discovering the true character of the tissue in the plant
which Miss Minorkey had dissected, that it seemed to him of the utmost
importance to settle it that very evening. His mother for the first time
complained of his going out, and seemed not very well satisfied about
something. He found that he was likely to have a good opportunity, after
supper, to speak to Isabel Marlay in regard to his sister and her lover,
but somehow the matter did not seem so exigent as it had. The night
before, he had determined that it was needful to check the intimacy
before it went farther, that every day of delay increased the peril; but
things often look differently under different circumstances, and now the
most important duty in life for Albert Charlton was the immediate
settlement of a question in structural botany by means of microscopic
investigation. Albert was at this moment a curious illustration of the
influence of scientific enthusiasm, for he hurriedly relieved his hat of
its little museum, ate his supper, got out his microscope, and returned
to the hotel. He placed the instrument on the old piano, adjusted the
object, and pedagogically expounded to Miss Minorkey the true method of
observing. Microscopy proved very entertaining to both. Albert did not
feel sure that it might not become a life-work with him. It would be a
delightful thing to study microscopic botany forever, if he could have
Helen Minorkey to listen to his enthusiastic expositions. From her
science the transition to his was easy, and they studied under every
combination of glasses the beautiful lace of a dragon-fly's wing, and the
irregular spots on a drab grasshopper which ran by chance half-across one
of his eyes. The thrifty landlord had twice looked in at the door in hope
of finding the parlor empty, intending in which case to put out the lamp.
But I can not tell how long this enthusiastic pursuit of scientific
knowledge might have lasted had not Mr. Minorkey been seized with one of
his dying spells. When the message was brought by a Norwegian
servant-girl, whose white hair fairly stood up with fright, Mr. Charlton
was very much shocked, but Miss Minorkey did not for a moment lose her
self-possession. Besides having the advantage of quiet nerves, she had
become inured to the presence of Death in all his protean forms--it was
impossible that her father should be threatened in a way with which she
was not already familiar.
Emotions may be suspended by being superseded for a time by stronger
ones. In such case, they are likely to return with great force, when
revived by some association. Charlton stepped out on the piazza with his
microscope in his hand and stopped a moment to take in the scene--the
rawness and newness and flimsiness of the mushroom village, with its
hundred unpainted bass-wood houses, the sweetness, peacefulness, and
freshness of the unfurrowed prairie beyond, the calmness and immutability
of the clear, star-lit sky above--when he heard a voice round the corner
of the building that put out his eyes and opened his ears, if I may so
speak. Somebody was reproaching somebody else with being "spooney on the
"He! he!"--the reply began with that hateful giggle--"I know my business,
gentlemen. Not such a fool as you think." Here there was a shuffling of
feet, and Charlton's imagination easily supplied the image of Smith
Westcott cutting a "pigeon-wing."
"Don't I know the ways of this wicked world? Haven't I had all the silly
sentiment took out of me? He! he! I've seen the world," and then he
danced again and sang:
"Can't you come out to-night,
Can't you come out to-night,
And dance by the light of the moon?"
"Now, boys," he began, again rattling his coins and keys, "I learnt too
much about New York. I had to leave. They didn't want a man there that
knew all the ropes so well, and so I called a meeting of the mayor and
told him good-by. He! he! By George! 'S a fack! I drank too much and I
lived two-forty on the plank-road, till the devil sent me word he didn't
want to lose his best friend, and he wished I'd just put out from New
York. 'Twas leave New York or die. That's what brought me here. It I'd
lived in New York I wouldn't never 've married. Not much, Mary Ann or
Sukey Jane. He! he!" And then he sang again:
[Illustration: "BY GEORGE! HE! HE! HE!"]
"If I was young and in my prime,
I'd lead a different life,
I'd spend my money--
"but I'd be hanged if I'd marry a wife to save her from the Tower of
London, you know. As long as I could live at the Elysian Club, didn'
want a wife. But this country! Psha! this is a-going to be a land of
Sunday-schools and sewing-societies. A fellow can't live here
without a wife:
"'Den lay down de shubble and de hoe,
Den hang up de fiddle and de bow--
For poor old Ned--'
"Yah! Can't sing! Out of practice! Got a cold! Instrument needs tuning!
Excuse me! He! he!"
There was some other talk, in a voice too low for Albert to hear, though
he listened with both ears, waiving all sense of delicacy about
eavesdropping in his anger and his desire to rescue Katy. Then Westcott,
who had evidently been drinking and was vinously frank, burst out with:
"Think I'd marry an old girl! Think I'd marry a smart one! I want a sweet
little thing that would love me and worship me and believe everything I
said. I know! By George! He! he! That Miss Minorkey at the table! She'd
see through a fellow! Now, looky here, boys, I'm goin' to be serious for
once. I want a girl that'll exert a moral influence over me, you know!
But I'll be confounded if I want too much moral influence, by George, he!
he! A little spree now and then all smoothed over! I need moral
influence, but in small doses. Weak constitution, you know! Can't stand
too much moral influence. Head's level. A little girl! Educate her
yourself, you know! He! he! By George! And do as you please.
"'O Jinny! git yer hoe-cake done, my dear!
O Jinny! git yer hoe-cake done!'
"Yah! yah! He! he! he!"
It is not strange that Charlton did not sleep that night, that he was a
prey to conflicting emotions, blessing the cool, intellectual,
self-possessed face of Miss Minorkey, who knew botany, and inwardly
cursing the fate that had handed little Katy over to be the prey of such
a man as Smith Westcott.
Isabel Marlay was not the niece of our friend Squire Plausaby, but of his
first wife. Plausaby, Esq., had been the guardian of her small
inheritance in her childhood, and the property had quite mysteriously
suffered from a series of curious misfortunes: the investments were
unlucky; those who borrowed of the guardian proved worthless, and so did
their securities. Of course the guardian was not to blame, and of course
he handled the money honestly. But people will be suspicious even of the
kindest and most smoothly-speaking men; and the bland manner and
innocent, open countenance of Plausaby, Esq., could not save him from the
reproaches of uncharitable people. As he could not prove his innocence,
he had no consolation but that which is ever to be derived from a
conscience void of offense.
Isabel Marlay found herself at an early age without means. But she had
never seen a day of dependence. Deft hands, infallible taste in matters
of dress, invincible cheerfulness, and swift industry made her always
valuable. She had not been content to live in the house of her aunt, the
first Mrs. Plausaby, as a dependent, and she even refused to remain in
the undefined relation of a member of the family whose general utility,
in some sort, roughly squares the account of board and clothes at the
year's end. Whether or not she had any suspicions in regard to the
transactions of Plausaby, Esq., in the matter of her patrimony, I do not
know. She may have been actuated by nothing but a desire to have her
independence apparent. Or, she may have enjoyed--as who would
not?--having her own money to spend. At any rate, she made a definite
bargain with her uncle-in-law, by which she took charge of the sewing in
his house, and received each year a hundred dollars in cash and her
board. It was not large pay for such service as she rendered, but then
she preferred the house of a relative to that of a stranger. When the
second Mrs. Plausaby had come into the house, Mr. Plausaby had been glad
to continue the arrangement, in the hope, perhaps, that Isa's good taste
might modify that lady's love for discordant gauds.
To Albert Charlton, Isa's life seemed not to be on a very high key. She
had only a common-school education, and the leisure she had been able to
command for general reading was not very great, nor had the library in
the house of Plausaby been very extensive. She had read a good deal of
Matthew Henry, the "Life and Labors of Mary Lyon" and the "Life of
Isabella Graham," the "Works of Josephus," "Hume's History of England,"
and Milton's "Paradise Lost." She had tried to read Mrs. Sigourney's
"Poems" and Pollok's "Course of Time," but had not enjoyed them much. She
was not imaginative. She had plenty of feeling, but no sentiment, for
sentiment is feeling that has been thought over; and her life was too
entirely objective to allow her to think of her own feelings. Her
highest qualities, as Albert inventoried them, were good sense, good
taste, and absolute truthfulness and simplicity of character. These were
the qualities that he saw in her after a brief acquaintance. They were
not striking, and yet they were qualities that commanded respect. But he
looked in vain for those high ideals of a vocation and a goal that so
filled his own soul. If she read of Mary Lyon, she had no aspiration to
imitate her. Her whole mind seemed full of the ordinary cares of life.
Albert could not abide that anybody should expend even such abilities as
Isa possessed on affairs of raiment and domestic economy. The very tokens
of good taste and refined feeling in her dress were to him evidences of
But when his mother and Katy had gone out on the morning after he had
overheard Smith Westcott expound his views on the matter of marriage,
Charlton sought Isa Marlay. She sat sewing in the parlor, as it was
called--the common sitting-room of the house--by the west window. The
whole arrangement of the room was hers; and though Albert was neither an
artist nor a critic in matters of taste, he was, as I have already
indicated, a man of fine susceptibility. He rejoiced in this
susceptibility when it enabled him to appreciate nature. He repressed it
when he found himself vibrating in sympathy with those arts that had, as
he thought, relations with human weakness and vanity; as, for instance,
the arts of music and dress. But, resist as one may, a man can not fight
against his susceptibilities. And those who can feel the effect of any
art are very many more than those who can practice it or criticise it. It
does not matter that my Bohemian friend's musical abilities are slender.
No man in the great Boston Jubilee got more out of Johann Strauss, in
his "Kunstleben," that inimitable expression of inspired vagabondage,
than he did. And so, though Albert Charlton could not have told you what
colors would "go together," as the ladies say, he could, none the less,
always feel the discord of his mother's dress, as now he felt the beauty
of the room and appreciated the genius of Isa, that had made so much out
of resources so slender. For there were only a few touch-me-nots in the
two vases on the mantel-piece; there were wild-flowers and
prairie-grasses over the picture-frames; there were asparagus-stalks in
the fireplace; there was--well, there was a _tout-ensemble_ of coolness
and delightfulness, of freshness and repose. There was the graceful
figure of Isabel by the window, with the yet dewy grass and the distant
rolling, boundless meadow for a background. And there was in Isabel's
brown calico dress a faultlessness of fit, and a suitableness of color--a
perfect harmony, like that of music. There was real art, pure and
refined, in her dress, as in the arrangement of the room. Albert was
angry with it, while he felt its effect; it was as though she had set
herself there to be admired. But nothing was further from her thought.
The artist works not for the eyes of others, but for his own, and Isabel
Marlay would have taken not one whit less of pains if she could have been
assured that no eye in the universe would look in upon that
I said that Charlton was vexed. He was vexed because he felt a weakness
in himself that admired such "gewgaws," as he called everything relating
to dress or artistic housekeeping. He rejoiced mentally in the
superiority of Helen Minorkey, who gave her talents to higher themes. And
yet he felt a sense of restfulness in this cool room, where every color
was tuned to harmony with every other. He was struck, too, with the
gracefulness of Isa's figure. Her face was not handsome, but the good
genius that gave her the feeling of an artist must have molded her own
form, and every lithe motion was full of poetry. You have seen some
people who made upon you the impression that they were beautiful, and yet
the beauty was all in a statuesque figure and a graceful carriage. For it
makes every difference how a face is carried.
The conversation between Charlton and Miss Marlay had not gone far in the
matter of Katy and Smith Westcott until Albert found that her instincts
had set more against the man than even his convictions. A woman like
Isabel Marlay is never so fine as in her indignation, and there never was
any indignation finer than Isa Marlay's when she spoke of the sacrifice
of such a girl as Katy to such a man as Westcott. In his admiration of
her thorough-going earnestness, Albert forgave her devotion to domestic
pursuits and the arts of dress and ornamentation. He found sailing with
her earnestness much pleasanter than he had found rowing against it on
the occasion of his battle about the clergy.
"What can I do, Miss Marlay?" Albert did not ask her what she could do.
A self-reliant man at his time of life always asks first what he
himself can do.
"I can not think of anything that anybody can do, with any hope of
success." Isa's good sense penetrated entirely through the subject, she
saw all the difficulties, she had not imagination or sentiment enough to
delude her practical faculty with false lights.
"Can not _you_ do something?" asked Charlton, almost begging.
"I have tried everything. I have spoken to your mother. I have spoken to
Uncle Plausaby. I have begged Katy to listen to me, but Katy would only
feel sorry for him if she believed he was bad. She can love, but she
can't think, and if she knew him to be the worst man in the Territory she
would marry him to reform him. I did hope that you would have some
influence over her."
"But Katy is such a child. She won't listen if I talk to her. Any
opposition would only hurry the matter. I wish it were right to blow out
his brains, if he has any, and I suppose the monkey has."
"It is a great deal better, Mr. Charlton, to trust in Providence where we
can't do anything without doing wrong."
"Well, Miss Marlay, I didn't look for cant from you. I don't believe that
God cares. Everything goes on by the almanac and natural law. The sun
sets when the time comes, no matter who is belated. Girls that are sweet
and loving and trusting, like Katy, have always been and will always be
victims of rakish fools like Smith Westcott. I wish I were an Indian, and
then I could be my own Providence. I would cut short his career, and make
what David said about wicked men being cut off come true in this case, in
the same way as I suppose David did in the case of the wicked of his day,
by cutting them off himself."
Isabel was thoroughly shocked with this speech. What good religious girl
would not have been? She told Mr. Charlton with much plainness of speech
that she thought common modesty might keep him from making such
criticisms on God. She for her part doubted whether all the facts of the
case were known to him. She intimated that there were many things in
God's administration not set down in almanacs, and she thought that,
whatever God might be, a _young_ man should not be in too great a hurry
about arraigning Him for neglect of duty. I fear it would not contribute
much to the settlement of the very ancient controversy if I should record
all the arguments, which were not fresh or profound. It is enough that
Albert replied sturdily, and that he went away presently with his vanity
piqued by her censures. Not that he could not answer her reasoning, if it
were worthy to be called reasoning. But he had lost ground in the
estimation of a person whose good sense he could not help respecting, and
the consciousness of this wounded his vanity. And whilst all she said was
courteous, it was vehement as any defense of the faith is likely to be;
he felt, besides, that he had spoken with rather more of the _ex
cathedra_ tone than was proper. A young man of opinions generally finds
it so much easier to impress people with his tone than with his
arguments! But he consoled himself with the reflection that the _average_
woman--that word average was a balm for every wound--that the average
woman is always tied to her religion, and intolerant of any doubts. He
was pleased to think that Helen Minorkey was not intolerant. Of that he
felt sure. He did not carry the analysis any farther, however; he did not
ask why Helen was not intolerant, nor ask whether even intolerance may
not sometimes be more tolerable than indifference. And in spite of his
unpleasant irritation at finding this "average" woman not overawed by his
oracular utterances, nor easily beaten in a controversy, Albert had a
respect for her deeper than ever. There was something in her anger at
Westcott that for a moment had seemed finer than anything he had seen in
the self-possessed Miss Minorkey. But then she was so weak as to allow
her intellectual conclusions to be influenced by her feelings, and to be
I have said that this thing of falling in love is a very complex
catastrophe. I might say that it is also a very uncertain one. Since we
all of us "rub clothes with fate along the street," who knows whether
Charlton would not, by this time, have been in love with Miss Marlay if
he had not seen Miss Minorkey in the stage? If he had not run against
her, while madly chasing a grasshopper? If he had not had a great
curiosity about a question in botany which he could only settle in her
company? And even yet, if he had not had collision with Isa on the
question of Divine Providence? And even after that collision I will not
be sure that the scale might not have been turned, had it not been that
while he was holding this conversation with Isa Marlay, his mother and
sister had come into the next room. For when he went out they showed
unmistakable pleasure in their faces, and Mrs. Plausaby even ventured to
ask: "Don't you like her, Albert?"
And when the mother tried to persuade him to forego his visit to the
hotel in the evening, he put this and that together. And when this and
that were put together, they combined to produce a soliloquy:
"Mother and Katy want to make a match for me. As if _they_ understood
_me_! They want me to marry an _average_ woman, of course. Pshaw! Isabel
Marlay only understands the 'culinary use' of things. My mother knows
that she has a 'knack,' and thinks it would be nice for me to have a wife
with a knack. But mother can't judge for _me_. I ought to have a wife
with ideas. And I don't doubt Plausaby has a hand in trying to marry off
his ward to somebody that won't make too much fuss about his accounts."
And so Charlton was put upon studying all the evening, to find points in
which Miss Minorkey's conversation was superior to Miss Marlay's. And
judged as he judged it--as a literary product--it was not difficult to
find an abundant advantage on her side.
LOVERS AND LOVERS.
Albert Charlton had little money, and he was not a man to remain idle.
He was good in mathematics, and did a little surveying now and then; in
fact, with true democratic courage, he turned his hand to any useful
employment. He did not regard these things as having any bearing on his
career. He was only waiting for the time to come when he could found
his Great Educational Institution on the virgin soil of Minnesota. Then
he would give his life to training boys to live without meat or
practical jokes, to love truth, honesty, and hard lessons; he would
teach girls to forego jewelry and cucumber-pickles, to study
physiology, and to abhor flirtations. Visionary, was he? You can not
help smiling at a man who has a "vocation," and who wants to give the
world a good send-off toward its "goal." But there is something noble
about it after all. Something to make you and me ashamed of our
selfishness. Let us not judge Charlton by his green flavor. When these
discordant acids shall have ripened in the sunshine and the rain, who
shall tell how good the fruit may be? We may laugh, however, at Albert,
and his school that was to be. I do not doubt that even that visionary
street-loafer known to the Athenians as Sokrates, was funny to those
who looked at him from a great distance below.
During the time in which Charlton waited, and meditated his plans for the
world's advancement by means of a school that should be so admirable as
to modify the whole system of education by the sheer force of its
example, he found it of very great advantage to unfold his plans to Miss
Helen Minorkey. Miss Helen loved to hear him talk. His enthusiasm was the
finest thing she had found, out of books. It was like a heroic poem, as
she often remarked, this fine philanthropy of his, and he seemed to her
like King Arthur preparing his Table Round to regenerate the earth. This
compliment, uttered with the coolness of a literary criticism--and
nothing _could_ be cooler than a certain sort of literary criticism--this
deliberate and oft-repeated compliment of Miss Minorkey always set
Charlton's enthusiastic blood afire with love and admiration for the one
Being, as he declared, born to appreciate his great purposes. And the
Being was pleased to be made the partner of such dreams and hopes. In an
intellectual and ideal fashion she did appreciate them. If Albert had
carried out his great plans, she, as a disinterested spectator, would
have written a critical analysis of them much as she would have described
a new plant.
But whenever Charlton tried to excite in her an enthusiasm similar to his
own, he was completely foiled. She shrunk from everything like
self-denial or labor of any sort. She was not adapted to it, she assured
him. And he who made fierce war on the uselessness of woman in general
came to reconcile himself to the uselessness of woman in particular, to
apologize for it, to justify it, to admire it. Love is the mother of
invention, and Charlton persuaded himself that it was quite becoming in
such a woman as the most remarkably cultivated, refined, and intellectual
Helen Minorkey, to shrink from the drudgery of life. She was not intended
for it. Her susceptibilities were too keen, according to him, though
Helen Minorkey's susceptibilities were indeed of a very quiet sort. I
believe that Charlton, the sweeping radical, who thought, when thinking
on general principles, that every human-creature should live wholly for
every other human creature, actually addressed some "Lines to H.M.,"
through the columns of the _St. Paul Advertiser_ of that day, in which he
promulgated the startling doctrine that a Being such as was the aforesaid
H.M., could not be expected to come into contact with the hard realities
of life. She must content herself with being the Inspiration of the life
of Another, who would work out plans that should inure to the good of man
and the honor of the Being, who would inspire and sustain the Toiler. The
poem was considered very fine by H.M., though the thoughts were a little
too obscure for the general public and the meter was not very smooth. You
have doubtless had occasion to notice that poems which deal with Beings
and Inspirations are usually of very imperfect fluidity.
Charlton worked at surveying and such other employments as offered
themselves, wrote poems to Helen Minorkey, and plotted and planned how he
might break up little Katy's engagement. He plotted and planned sometimes
with a breaking heart, for the more he saw of Smith Westcott, the more
entirely detestable he seemed. But he did not get much co-operation from
Isabel Marlay. If he resented any effort to make a match between him and
"Cousin Isa," she resented it ten times more vehemently, and all the
more that she, in her unselfishness of spirit, admired sincerely the
unselfishness of Charlton, and in her practical and unimaginative life
felt drawn toward the idealist young man who planned and dreamed in a way
quite wonderful to her. All her woman's pride made her resent the effort
to marry her to a man in love with another, a man who had not sought her.
[Illustration: MRS. PLAUSABY.]
"Albert is smart," said Mrs. Plausaby to her significantly one day; "he
would be just the man for you, Isa."
"Why, Mrs. Plausaby, I heard you say yourself that his wife would have to
do without silk dresses and new bonnets. For my part, I don't think much
of that kind of smartness that can't get a living. I wouldn't have a man
like Mr. Charlton on any, terms."
And she believed that she spoke the truth; having never learned to
analyze her own feelings, she did not know that all her dislike for
Charlton had its root in a secret liking for him, and that having
practical ability herself, the kind of ability that did not make a living
was just the sort that she admired most.
It was, therefore, without any co-operation between them, that Isabel and