Part 5 out of 5
my disgrace. I shall remember your kindness with a full heart, and if I
can ever serve you, all I have shall be yours--I would be wholly yours
now, if I could offer myself without dishonoring you, and you would
accept me. Good-by, and may God bless you.
"Your most grateful friend, ALBERT CHARLTON."
The words about offering himself, in the next to the last sentence,
Albert wrote with hesitation, and then concluded that he would better
erase them, as he did not mean to give any place to his feelings. He drew
his pen through them, taking pains to leave the sentence entirely legible
beneath the canceling stroke. Such tricks does inclination play with the
The letter was deposited at the post-office immediately. Charlton did not
dare give his self-denying resolution time to cool.
Isa was not looking for letters, and Mrs. Ferret ventured to hint that
the chance of meeting somebody on the street had something to do with her
walk. Of course Miss Marlay was insulted. No woman would ever do such a
thing. Consciously, at least.
And after reading Charlton's letter, what did Isa do? What could she do?
A woman may not move in such a case. Her whole future happiness may drift
to wreck by somebody's mistake, and she may not reach a hand to arrest
it. What she does must be done by indirection and under disguise. It is a
way society has of training women to be candid.
The first feeling which Isa had was a sudden shock of surprise. She was
not so much astonished at the revelation of Charlton's feeling as at the
discovery of her own. With Albert's abrupt going away, all her heart and
hope seemed to be going too. She had believed her interest in Charlton to
be disinterested until this moment. It was not until he proposed going
away entirely that she came to understand how completely that interest
had changed its character.
But what could she do? Nothing at all. She was a woman.
As evening drew on, Charlton felt more and more the bitterness of the
self-denial he had imposed upon himself. He inwardly abused Mrs. Ferret
for meddling. He began to hope for all sorts of impossible accidents that
might release him from his duty in the case. Just after dark he walked
out. Of course he did not want to meet Miss Marlay--his mind was made
up--he would not walk down Plausaby street--at least not so far as Mrs.
Ferret's house. There could be no possible harm in his going half-way
there. Love is always going half-way, and then splitting the difference
on the remainder. Isa, on her part, remembered a little errand she must
attend to at the store. She felt that, after a day of excitement, she
needed the air, though indeed she did not want to meet Charlton any more,
if he had made up his mind not to see her. And so they walked right up to
one another, as lovers do when they have firmly resolved to keep apart.
"Good-evening, Isabel," said Albert. He had not called her Isabel before.
It was a sort of involuntary freedom which he allowed himself--this was
to be the very last interview.
"Good-evening--Albert." Isa could not refuse to treat him with
sisterly freedom--now that she was going to bid him adieu forever. "You
were going away without so much as saying good-by."
"One doesn't like to be the cause of unpleasant remarks about one's best
friend," said Charlton.
"But what if your best friend doesn't care a fig for anybody's remarks,"
said Isabel energetically.
"How?" asked Albert. It was a senseless interrogatory, but Isa's words
almost took his breath.
Isa was startled at having said so much, and only replied indistinctly
that it didn't matter what people said.
"Yes, but you don't know how long such things might cleave to you. Ten
years hence it might be said that you had been the friend of a man who
was--in--the penitentiary." Charlton presented objections for the sake of
having them refuted.
"And I wouldn't care any more ten years hence than I do now. Were you
going to our house? Shall I walk back with you?"
"I don't know." Charlton felt his good resolutions departing. "I started
out because I wanted to see the lake where Katy was drowned before I go
away. I am ever so glad that I met you, if I do not compromise you. I
would rather spend this evening in your company than in any other way in
the world--" Albert hadn't meant to say so much, but he couldn't
recall it when it was uttered--"but I feel that I should be selfish to
bring reproach on you for my own enjoyment."
"All right, then," said Isa, laughing, "I'll take the responsibility. I
am going to the lake with you if you don't object."
"You are the bravest woman in the world," said Albert with effusion.
"You forget how brave a man you have shown yourself."
I am afraid this strain of talk was not at all favorable to the strength
and persistence of Charlton's resolution, which, indeed, was by this time
After they had spent an hour upon the knoll looking out upon the lake,
and talking of the past, and diligently avoiding all mention of the
future, Charlton summoned courage to allude to his departure in a voice
more full of love than of resolve.
"Why do you go, Albert?" Isa said, looking down and breaking a weed with
the toe of her boot. They had called each other by their Christian names
during the whole interview.
"Simply for the sake of your happiness, Isa. It makes me miserable
enough, I am sure." Charlton spoke as pathetically as he could.
"But suppose I tell you that your going will make me as wretched as it
can make you. What then?"
"How? It certainly would be unmanly for me to ask you to share my
disgrace. A poor way of showing my love. I love you well enough to do
anything in the world to make you happy."
Isa looked down a moment and began to speak, but stopped.
"Well, what?" said Albert.
"May I decide what will make me happy? Am I capable of judging?"
Albert looked foolish, and said, "Yes," with some eagerness. He was more
than ever willing to have somebody else decide for him.
"Then I tell you, Albert, that if you go away you will sacrifice my
happiness along with your own."
* * * * *
It was a real merry party that met at a _petit souper_ at nine o'clock
in the evening in the dining-room of the City Hotel some months later.
There was Lurton, now pastor in Perritaut, who had just given his
blessing on the marriage of his friends, and who sat at the head of the
table and said grace. There were Albert and Isabel Charlton, bridegroom
and bride. There was Gray, the Hoosier Poet, with a poem of nine verses
for the occasion.
"I'm sorry the stage is late," said Albert. "I wanted Jim." One likes to
have all of one's best friends on such an occasion.
Just then the coach rattled up to the door, and Albert went out and
brought in the Superior Being.
"Now, we are all here," said Charlton. "I had to ask Mrs. Ferret, and I
was afraid she'd come."
"Not her!" said Jim.
"She kin do better."
"She staid to meet her beloved."
"Dave." Jim didn't like to give any more information than would serve to
answer a question. He liked to be pumped.
"The same. He told me to-day as him and the widder owned claims as
'jined, and they'd made up their minds to jine too. And then he
haw-haw'd tell you could a-heerd him a mile. By the way, it's the widder
that's let the cat out of the bag."
"What cat out of what bag?" asked Lurton.
"Why, how Mr. Charlton come to go to the State boardin'-house fer takin'
a land-warrant he didn' take."
"How _did_ she find out?" said Isa. Her voice seemed to be purer and
sweeter than ever--happiness had tuned it.
"By list'nin' at the key-hole," said Jim.
"When? What key-hole?"
"When Mr. Lurton and Miss Marlay--I beg your pard'n, Mrs. Charlton--was
a-talkin' about haow to git Mr. Charlton out."
"Be careful," said Lurton. "You shouldn't make such a charge unless you
Jim looked at Lurton a moment indignantly. "Thunder and lightnin'," he
said, "Dave tole me so hisself! Said _she_ tole him. And Dave larfed
over it, and thought it 'powerful cute' in her, as he said in his
Hoosier lingo;" and Jim accompanied this last remark with a patronizing
look at Gray.
"Charlton, what are you thinking about?" asked Lurton when
"One year ago to-day I was sentenced, and one year ago to-morrow I
started to Stillwater."
"Bully!" said Jim. "I beg yer pardon, Mrs. Charlton, I couldn't help it.
A body likes to see the wheel turn round right. Ef 'twould on'y put some
folks _in_ as well _as_ turn some a-out!"
When Charlton with his bride started in a sleigh the next morning to his
new home on his property in the village of "Charlton" a crowd had
gathered about the door, moved partly by that curiosity which always
interests itself in newly-married people, and partly by an exciting rumor
that Charlton was not guilty of the offense for which he had been
imprisoned. Mrs. Ferret had told the story to everybody, exacting from
each one a pledge of secrecy. Just as Albert started his horses, Whisky
Jim, on top of his stage-box, called out to the crowd, "Three cheers, by
thunder!" and they were given heartily. It was the popular acquittal.
Metropolisville is only a memory now. The collapse of the land-bubble and
the opening of railroads destroyed it. Most of the buildings were removed
to a neighboring railway station. Not only has Metropolisville gone, but
the unsettled state of society in which it grew has likewise
disappeared--the land-sharks, the claim speculators, the
town-proprietors, the trappers, and the stage-drivers have emigrated or
have undergone metamorphosis. The wild excitement of '56 is a tradition
hardly credible to those who did not feel its fever. But the most
evanescent things may impress themselves on human beings, and in the
results which they thus produce become immortal. There is a last page to
all our works, but to the history of the ever-unfolding human spirit no
one will ever write.