The Mystery of Metropolisville by Edward Eggleston

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  • 1873
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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 XIV. The Inhabitant

CHAPTER XV. An Episode


CHAPTER XVII. Sawney and his Old Love


CHAPTER XIX. Standing Guard in Vain

CHAPTER XX. Sawney and Westcott





CHAPTER XXV. Afterwards





CHAPTER XXX. The Penitentiary




CHAPTER XXXIV. Mr. Lurton’s Courtship






The Superior Being

Mr. Minorkey and the Fat Gentleman

Plausaby sells Lots

“By George! He! he! he!”

Mrs. Plausaby

The Inhabitant

A Pinch of Snuff

Mrs. Ferret

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!”



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.



“Git up!”

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 month later.

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.

“_Git_ up!”

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 questioned.

“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 rising inflection.

“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 superadded.

“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. _Gil_–lang!”

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 what?”

“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.”



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 with coffee.

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.



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.”


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 his creed.

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.



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 church-member.

“Does he hold scriptural views? You know so many people in colleges are not evangelical.”

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 at supper.

“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 petulantly.

“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 to herself.

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 irritation.

“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 his opinions.

“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 the poor–“

“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 are dishonest.”

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 years hand-running.



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 one’s neighbors.

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 college?”

“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.



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! I declare!”

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 itself away.

“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! By George!”

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?



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 self-pitying fashion.

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 little girl.”

“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 over-careful vanity.

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 frontier-village parlor.

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 intolerant.

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.



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