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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 18. A Collision
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The Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 18. A Collision Post by :Dutch Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :2012

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The Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 18. A Collision


If this were a History of Metropolisville--but it isn't, and that is enough. You do not want to hear, and I do not want to tell you, how Dave Sawney, like another Samson, overthrew the Philistines; how he sauntered into the room where all the county officers did business together, he and his associates, at noon, when most of the officers were gone to dinner; how he seized the records--there were not many at that early day--loaded them into his wagon, and made off. You don't want to hear all that. If you do, call on Dave himself. He has told it over and over to everybody who would listen, from that time to this, and he would cheerfully get out of bed at three in the morning to tell it again, with the utmost circumstantiality, and with such little accretions of fictitious ornament as always gather about a story often and fondly told. Neither do you, gentle reader, who read for your own amusement, care to be informed of all the schemes devised by Plausaby for removing the county officers to their offices, nor of the town lots and other perquisites which accrued to said officers. It is sufficient for the purposes of this story that the county-seat was carted off to Metropolisville, and abode there in basswood tabernacles for a while, and that it proved a great advertisement to the town; money was more freely invested in Metropolisville, an "Academy" was actually staked out, and the town grew rapidly. Not alone on account of its temporary political importance did it advance, for about this time Plausaby got himself elected a director of the St. Paul and Big Gun River Valley Land Grant Railroad, and the speculators, who scent a railroad station at once, began to buy lots--on long time, to be sure, and yet to buy them. So much did the fortunes of Plausaby, Esq., prosper that he began to invest also--on time and at high rates of interest--in a variety of speculations. It was the fashion of '56 to invest everything you had in first payments, and then to sell out at an advance before the second became due.

But it is not about Plausaby or Metropolisville that I meant to tell you in this chapter. Nor yet about the wooing of Charlton. For in his case, true love ran smoothly. Too smoothly for the interest of this history. If Miss Minorkey had repelled his suit, if she had steadfastly remained cold, disdainful, exacting, it would have been better, maybe, for me who have to tell the story, and for you who have to read it. But disdainful she never was, and she did not remain cold. The enthusiasm of her lover was contagious, and she came to write and talk to him with much earnestness. Next to her own comfort and peace of mind and her own culture, she prized her lover. He was original, piquant, and talented. She was proud of him, and loved him with all her heart. Not as a more earnest person might have loved; but as heartily as she could. And she came to take on the color of her lover's habits of thought and feeling; she expressed herself even more warmly than she felt, so that Albert was happy, and this story was doomed to suffer because of his happiness. I might give zest to this dull love-affair by telling you that Mr. Minorkey opposed the match. Next to a disdainful lady-love, the best thing for a writer and a reader is a furious father. But I must be truthful at all hazards, and I am obliged to say that while Mr. Minorkey would have been delighted to have had for son-in-law some man whose investments might have multiplied Helen's inheritance, he was yet so completely under the influence of his admired daughter that he gave a consent, tacitly at least, to anything she chose to do. So that Helen became recognized presently as the prospective Mrs. Charlton. Mrs. Plausaby liked her because she wore nice dresses, and Katy loved her because she loved Brother Albert. For that matter, Katy did not need any reason for loving anybody. Even Isa stifled a feeling she was unable to understand, and declared that Miss Minorkey was smart, and just suited to Albert; and she supposed that Albert, with all his crotchets and theories, might make a person like Miss Minorkey happy. It wasn't every woman that could put up with them, you know.

But it was not about the prosperous but uninteresting courtship of two people with "idees" that I set out to tell in this chapter. If Charlton got on smoothly with Helen Minorkey, and if he had no more serious and one-sided outbreaks with his step-father, he did not get on with his sister's lover.

Westcott had been drinking all of one night with some old cronies of the Elysian Club, and his merry time of the night was subsiding into a quarrelsome time in the morning. He was able, when he was sober, to smother his resentment towards Albert, for there is no better ambush than an entirely idiotic giggle. But drink had destroyed his prudence. And so when Albert stepped on the piazza of the hotel where Westcott stood rattling his pocketful of silver change and his keys for the amusement of the bystanders, as was his wont, the latter put himself in Charlton's way, and said, in a dreary, half-drunk style:

"Mornin', Mr. Hedgehog! By George! he! he! he! How's the purty little girl? My little girl. Don't you wish she wasn't? Hard feller, I am. Any gal's a fool to marry me, I s'pose. Katy's a fool. That's just what I want, by George I he! he! I want a purty fool. And she's purty, and she's--the other thing. What you goin' to do about it? He! he! he!"

"I'm going to knock you down," said Albert, "if you say another word about her."

"A'n't she mine? You can't help it, either. He! he! The purty little goose loves Smith Westcott like lots of other purty little--"

Before he could finish the sentence Charlton had struck him one savage blow full in the face, and sent him staggering back against the side of the house, but he saved himself from falling by seizing the window-frame, and immediately drew his Deringer. Charlton, who was not very strong, but who had a quick, lightning-like activity, knocked him down, seized his pistol, and threw it into the street. This time Charlton fell on him in a thoroughly murderous mood, and would perhaps have beaten and choked him to death in the frenzy of his long pent-up passion, for notwithstanding Westcott's struggles Albert had the advantage. He was sober, active, and angry enough to be ruthless. Westcott's friends interfered, but that lively gentleman's eyes and nose were sadly disfigured by the pummeling he had received, and Charlton was badly scratched and bruised.

Whatever hesitancy had kept Albert from talking to Katy about Smith Westcott was all gone now, and he went home to denounce him bitterly. One may be sure that the muddled remarks of Mr. Westcott about Katy--of which even he had grace to be a little ashamed when he was sober--were not softened in the repetition which Albert gave them at home. Even Mrs. Plausaby forgot her attire long enough to express her indignation, and as for Miss Marlay, she combined with Albert in a bayonet-charge on poor Katy.

Plausaby had always made it a rule not to fight a current. Wait till the tide turns, he used to say, and row with the stream when it flows your way. So now he, too, denounced Westcott, and Katy was fairly borne off her feet for a while by the influences about her. In truth, Katy was not without her own private and personal indignation against Westcott. Not because he had spoken of her as a fool. That hurt her feelings, but did not anger her much. She was not in the habit of getting angry on her own account. But when she saw three frightful scratches and a black bruise on the face of Brother Albert, she could not help thinking that Smith had acted badly. And then to draw a pistol, too! To threaten to kill her own dear, dear brother! She couldn't ever forgive him, she said. If she had seen the much more serious damage which poor, dear, dear Smith had suffered at the tender hands of her dear, dear brother, I doubt not she would have had an equally strong indignation against Albert.

For Westcott's face was in mourning, and the Privileged Infant had lost his cheerfulness. He did not giggle for ten days. He did not swear "by George" once. He did not he! he! The joyful keys and the cheerful ten-cent coins lay in his pocket with no loving hand to rattle them. He did not indulge in double-shuffles. He sang no high-toned negro-minstrel songs. He smoked steadily and solemnly, and he drank steadily and solemnly. His two clerks were made to tremble. They forgot Smith's bruised nose and swollen eye in fearing his awful temper. All the swearing he wanted to do and dared not do at Albert, he did at his inoffensive subordinates.

Smith Westcott had the dumps. No sentimental heart-break over Katy, though he did miss her company sadly in a town where there were no amusements, not even a concert-saloon in which a refined young man could pass an evening. If he had been in New York now, he wouldn't have minded it. But in a place like Metropolisville, a stupid little frontier village of pious and New Englandish tendencies--in such a place, as Smith pathetically explained to a friend, one can't get along without a sweetheart, you know.

A few days after Albert's row with Westcott he met George Gray, the Hoosier Poet, who had haunted Metropolisville, off and on, ever since he had first seen the "angel."

He looked more wild and savage than usual.

"Hello! my friend," said Charlton heartily. "I'm glad to see you. What's the matter?"

"Well, Mister Charlton, I'm playin' the gardeen angel."

"Guardian angel! How's that?"

"I'm a sorter gardeen of your sister. Do you see that air pistol? Hey? Jist as sure as shootin,' I'll kill that Wes'cott ef he tries to marry that angel. I don't want to marry her. I aint fit, mister, that's a fack. Ef I was, I'd put in fer her. But I aint. And ef she marries a gentleman, I haint got not a bit of right to object. But looky hyer! Devils haint got no right to angels. Ef I kin finish up a devil jest about the time he gits his claws onto a angel and let the angel go free, why, I say it's wuth the doin'. Hey?"

Charlton, I am ashamed to say, did not at first think the death of Smith Westcott by violence a very great crime or calamity, if it served to save Katy. However, as he walked and talked with Gray, the thought of murder made him shudder, and he made an earnest effort to persuade the Inhabitant to give up his criminal thoughts. But it is the misfortune of people like George Gray that the romance in their composition will get into their lives. They have not mental discipline enough to make the distinction between the world of sentiment and the world of action, in which inflexible conditions modify the purpose.

"Ef I hev to hang fer it I'll hang, but I'm goin' to be her gardeen angel."

"I didn't know that guardian angels carried pistols," said Albert, trying to laugh the half-crazed fellow out of a conceit from which he could not drive him by argument.

"Looky hyer, Mr. Charlton," said Gray, coloring, "I thought you was a gentleman, and wouldn' stoop to make no sech a remark. Ef you're goin' to talk that-a-way, you and me don't travel no furder on the same trail. The road forks right here, mister."

"Oh! I hope not, my dear friend. I didn't mean any offense. Give me your hand, and God bless you for your noble heart."

Gray was touched as easily one way as the other, and he took Charlton's hand with emotion, at the same time drawing his sleeve across his eyes and saying, "God bless you, Mr. Charlton. You can depend on me. I'm the gardeen, and I don't keer two cents fer life. It's a shadder, and a mush-room, as I writ some varses about it wonst. Let me say 'em over:

"Life's a shadder,
Never mind it.
A cloud kivers up the sun
And whar is yer shadder gone?
Ye'll hey to be peart to find it!

"Life's a ladder--
What about it?
You've clim half-way t' the top,
Down comes yer ladder ke-whop!
You can't scrabble up without it!

"Nothin's no sadder,
Kordin to my tell,
Than packin' yer life around.
They's good rest under the ground
Ef a feller kin on'y die well."

Charlton, full of ambition, having not yet tasted the bitterness of disappointment, clinging to life as to all, was fairly puzzled to understand the morbid sadness of the Poet's spirit. "I'm sorry you feel that way, Gray," he said. "But at any rate promise me you won't do anything desperate without talking to me."

"I'll do that air, Mr. Charlton," and the two shook hands again.

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