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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 19. Standing Guard In Vain
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The Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 19. Standing Guard In Vain Post by :Dutch Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :1687

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The Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 19. Standing Guard In Vain

CHAPTER XIX. STANDING GUARD IN VAIN

It was Isabel Marlay that sought Albert again. Her practical intellect, bothered with no visions, dazed with no theories, embarrassed by no broad philanthropies, was full of resource, and equally full, if not of general, at least of a specific benevolence that forgot mankind in its kindness to the individual.

Albert saw plainly enough that he could not keep Katy in her present state of feeling. He saw how she would inevitably slip through his fingers. But what to do he knew not. So, like most men of earnest and half-visionary spirit, he did nothing. Unbeliever in Providence that he was, he waited in the belief that something must happen to help him out of the difficulty. Isa, believer that she was, set herself to be her own Providence.

Albert had been spending an evening with Miss Minorkey. He spent nearly all his evenings with Miss Minorkey. He came home, and stood a minute, as was his wont, looking at the prairie landscape. A rolling prairie is like a mountain, in that it perpetually changes its appearance; it is delicately susceptible to all manner of atmospheric effects. It lay before him in the dim moonlight, indefinite; a succession of undulations running one into the other, not to be counted nor measured. All accurate notions of topography were lost; there was only landscape, dim, undeveloped, suggestive of infinitude. Standing thus in the happiness of loving and being loved, the soft indefiniteness of the landscape and the incessant hum of the field-crickets and katydids, sounds which came out of the everywhere, soothed Charlton like the song of a troubadour.

"Mr. Charlton!"

Like one awaking from a dream, Albert saw Isa Marlay, her hand resting against one of the posts which supported the piazza-roof, looking even more perfect and picturesque than ever in the haziness of the moonlight. Figure, dress, and voice were each full of grace and sweetness, and if the face was not exactly beautiful, it was at least charming and full of a subtle magnetism. (Magnetism! happy word, with which we cover the weakness of our thoughts, and make a show of comprehending and defining qualities which are neither comprehensible nor definable!)

"Mr. Charlton, I want to speak to you about Katy."

It took Albert a moment or two to collect his thoughts. When he first perceived Miss Marlay, she seemed part of the landscape. There was about her form and motion an indefinable gracefulness that was like the charm of this hazy, undulant, moonlit prairie, and this blue sky seen through the lace of thin, milk-white clouds. It was not until she spoke Katy's name that he began to return to himself. Katy was the one jarring string in the harmony of his hopes.

"About Katy? Certainly, Miss Marlay. Won't you sit down?"

"No, I thank you."

"Mr. Charlton, couldn't you get Katy away while her relations with Westcott are broken? You don't know how soon she'll slip back into her old love for him."

"If--" and Albert hesitated. To go, he must leave Miss Minorkey. And the practical difficulty presented itself to him at the same moment. "If I could raise money enough to get away, I should go. But Mr. Plausaby has all of my money and all of Katy's."

Isabel was on the point of complaining that Albert should lend to Mr. Plausaby, but she disliked to take any liberty, even that of reproof. Ever since she knew that the family had thought of marrying her to Albert, she had been an iceberg to him. He should not dare to think that she had any care for him. For the same reason, another reply died unuttered on her lips. She was about to offer to lend Mr. Charlton fifty dollars of her own. But her quick pride kept her back, and, besides, fifty dollars was not half-enough. She said she thought there must be some way of raising the money. Then, as if afraid she had been too cordial and had laid her motives open to suspicion in speaking thus to Charlton, she drew herself up and bade him good-night with stiff politeness, leaving him half-fascinated by her presence, half-vexed with something in her manner, and wholly vexed with himself for having any feeling one way or the other. What did he care for Isabel Marlay? What if she were graceful and full of a subtle fascination of presence? Why should he value such things? What were they worth, after all? What if she were kind one minute and repellent the next? Isa Marlay was nothing to him!

Lying in his little unfinished chamber, he dismissed intellectual Miss Minorkey from his mind with regret; he dismissed graceful but practical Miss Marlay from his mind also, wondering that he had to dismiss her at all, and gave himself to devising ways and means of eloping with little Katy. She must be gotten away. It was evident that Plausaby would make no effort to raise money to help him and Katy to get away. Plausaby would prefer to detain Katy. Clearly, to proceed to pre-empt his claim, to persuade Plausaby to raise money enough for him to buy a land-warrant with, and then to raise two hundred dollars by mortgaging his land to Minorkey or any other lover of mortgages with waiver clauses in them, was the only course open.

Plausaby, Esq., was ever prompt in dealing with those to whom he was indebted, so far as promises went. He would always give the most solemn assurance of his readiness to do anything one wished to have done; and so, when Albert explained to him that it was necessary for him to pre-empt because he wished to go East, Plausaby told him to go on and establish his residence on his claim, and when he got ready to prove up and pre-empt, to come to him. To come and let him know. To let him know at once. He made the promise so frankly and so repetitiously, and with such evident consciousness of his own ability and readiness to meet his debt to Albert on demand, that the latter went away to his claim in quietness and hopefulness, relying on Miss Marlay to stand guard over his sister's love affairs in his absence.

But standing guard was not of much avail. All of the currents that flowed about Katy's life were undermining her resolution not to see Smith Westcott. Katy, loving, sweet, tenderhearted, was far from being a martyr, in stubbornness at best; her resolutions were not worth much against her sympathies. And now that Albert's scratched face was out of sight, and there was no visible object to keep alive her indignation, she felt her heart full of ruth for poor, dear Mr. Westcott. How lonesome he must be without her! She could only measure his lonesomeness by her own. Her heart, ever eager to love, could not let go when once it had attached itself, and she longed for other evenings in which she could hear Smith's rattling talk, and in which he would tell her how happy she had made him. How lonesome he must be! What if he should drown himself in the lake?

Mr. Plausaby, at tea, would tell in the most incidental way of something that had happened during the day, and then, in his sliding, slipping, repetitious, back-stitching fashion, would move round from one indifferent topic to another until he managed at last to stumble over Smith Westcott's name.

"By the way," he would say, "poor Smith looks heartbroken. Absolutely heart-broken. I didn't know the fellow cared so much for Katy. Didn't think he had so much heart. So much faithfulness. But he looks down. Very much downcast. Never saw a fellow look so chopfallen. And, by the way, Albert did punish him awfully. He looks black and blue. Well, he deserved it. He did so. I suppose he didn't mean to say anything against Katy. But he had no business to let old friends coax him to drink. Still, Albert was pretty severe. Too severe, in fact. I'm sorry for Westcott. I am, indeed."

After some such talk as this, Cousin Isa would generally find Katy crying before bed-time.

"What is the matter, Katy, dear?" she would say in a voice so full of natural melody and genuine sympathy, that it never failed to move Katy to the depths of her heart. Then Katy would cry more than ever, and fling her arms about the neck of dear, dear, _dear Cousin Isa, and lavish on her the tenderness of which her heart was full.

"O Cousin Isa! what must I do? I'm breaking poor Smith's heart. You don't know how much he loves me, and I'm afraid something dreadful will happen to him, you know. What shall I do?"

"I don't think he cares much, Katy. He's a bad man, I'm afraid, and doesn't love you really. Don't think any more of him." For Isabel couldn't find it in her heart to say to Katy just what she thought of Westcott.

"Oh! but you don't know him," Katy cries. "You don't know him. He says that he does naughty things sometimes, but then he's got such a tender heart. He made me promise I wouldn't throw him over, as he called it, for his faults. He said he'd come to be good if I'd only keep on loving him. And I said I would. And I haven't. Here's more than a week now that he hasn't been here, and I haven't been to the store. And he said he'd go to sleep in the lake some night if I ever, ever proved false to him. And I lie awake nearly all night thinking how hard and cruel I've been to him. And oh!"--here Katy cried awhile--"and oh! I think such awful things sometimes," she continued in a whisper broken by sobs. "You don't know, Cousin Isa. I think how cold, how dreadful cold the lake must be! Oo-oo!" And a shudder shook her frame. "If poor, dear Smith were to throw himself in! What if he is there now?" And she looked up at Isa with staring eyes. "Do you know what an awful thing I heard about that lake once?" She stopped and shivered. "There are leeches in it--nasty, black worms--and one of them bit my hand once. And they told me that if a person should be drowned in Diamond Lake the leeches would--oo!--take all their blood, and their faces would be white, and not black like other drowned people's faces. Oh! I can't bear to think about poor Smith. If I could only write him a note, and tell him I love him just a little! But I told Albert I wouldn't see him nor write to him. What shall I do? He mayn't live till morning. They say he looks broken-hearted. He'll throw himself into that cold lake to-night, maybe--and the leeches--the black worms--oo!--or else he'll kill himself with that ugly pistol."

It was in vain that Isabel talked to her, in vain that she tried to argue with a cataract of feeling. It was rowing against Niagara with a canoe-paddle. It was not wonderful, therefore, that before Albert got back, Isa Marlay found Katy reading little notes from Westcott, notes that ho had intrusted to one of his clerks, who was sent to the post-office three or four times a day on various pretexts, until he should happen to find Katy in the office. Then he would hand her the notes. Katy did not reply. She had promised Albert she wouldn't. But there was no harm in her reading them, just to keep Smith from drowning himself among those black leeches in Diamond Lake.

Isabel Marlay, in her distressful sense of responsibility to Albert, could yet find no means of breaking up this renewed communication. In sheer desperation, she appealed to Mrs. Plausaby.

"Well, now," said that lady, sitting in state with the complacent consciousness of a new and more stunning head-dress than usual, "I'll tell you what it is, Isabel, I think Albert makes altogether too much fuss over Katy's affairs. He'll break the girl's heart. He's got notions. His father had. Deliver _me from notions! Just let Katy take her own course. Marryin's a thing everybody must attend to personally for themselves. You don't like to be meddled with, and neither does Albert. You won't either of you marry to suit me. I have had my plans about you and Albert. Now, Isabel, Mr. Westcott's a nice-looking man. With all his faults he's a nice man. Cheerful and good-natured in his talk, and a good provider. He's a store-keeper, too. It's nice to have a storekeeper for a husband. I want Plausaby to keep store, so that I can get dresses and such things without having to pay for them. I felt mad at Mr. Westcott about his taking out his pistol so at Albert. But if Albert had let Mr. Westcott alone, I'm sure Smith wouldn't a-touched him. But your folks with notions are always troubling somebody else. For my part, I shan't meddle with Katy. Do you think this bow's nice? Too low down, isn't it?" and Mrs. Plausaby went to the glass to adjust it.

And so it happened that all Isa Marlay's watching could not keep Westcott away. For the land-office regulations at that time required that Albert should live on his claim thirty days. This gave him the right to buy it at a dollar and a quarter an acre, or to exchange a land-warrant for it. The land was already worth two or three times the government price. But that thirty days of absence, broken only by one or two visits to his home, was enough to overturn all that Charlton had done in breaking up his sister's engagement with Westcott. The latter knew how long Albert's absence must be, and arranged his approaches to correspond. He gave her fifteen days to get over her resentment, and to begin to pity him on account of the stories of his incurable melancholy she would hear. After he had thus suffered her to dream of his probable suicide for a fortnight, he contrived to send her one little lugubrious note, confessing that he had been intoxicated and begging her pardon. Then he waited three days, days of great anxiety to her. For Katy feared lest her neglect to return an answer should precipitate Westcott's suicide. But he did not need an answer. Her looks when she received the note had been reported to him. What could he need more? On the very evening after he had sent that contrite note to Katy, announcing that he would never drink again, he felt so delighted with what he had heard of its reception, that he treated a crony out of his private bottle as they played cards together in his room, and treated himself quite as liberally as he did his friend, got up in the middle of the floor, and assured his friend that he would be all right with his sweet little girl before the brother got back. By George! If folks thought he was going to commit suicide, they were fooled. Never broke his heart about a woman yet. Not much, by George! But when he set his heart on a thing, he generally got it. He! he! And he had set his heart on that little girl. As for jumping into the lake, any man was a fool to jump into the drink on account of a woman. When there were plenty of them. Large assortment constantly on hand. Pays yer money and takes yer ch'ice! Suicide? Not much, by George! he! he!


Hung his coat on a hickory limb,
Then like a wise man he jumped in,
My ole dad! My ole dad!


Wondered what tune Charlton would sing when he found himself beat? Guess 'twould be:


Can't stay in de wilderness.
In a few days, in a few days,
Can't stay in de wilderness,
A few days ago.


Goin' to pre-empt my claim, too. I've got a month's leave, and I'll follow him and marry that girl before he gets far. Bruddern and sistern, sing de ole six hundredth toon. Ahem!


I wish I was a married man,
A married man I'd be!
An' ketch the grub fer both of us
A-fishin' in the sea.
Big fish,
Little fish,
It's all the same to me!


I got a organ stop in my throat. Can't sing below my breath to save my life. He! he!

After three days had elapsed, Westcott sent a still more melancholy note to Katy. It made her weep from the first line to the last. It was full of heartbreak, and Katy was too unobserving to notice how round and steady and commercial the penmanship was, and how large and fine were the flourishes. Westcott himself considered it his masterpiece. He punched his crony with his elbow as he deposited it in the office, and assured him that it was the techin'est note ever written. It would come the sympathies over her. There was nothing like the sympathies to fetch a woman to terms. He knew. Had lots of experience. By George! You could turn a woman round yer finger if you could only keep on the tender side. Tears was what done it. Love wouldn' keep sweet without it was pickled in brine. He! he! he! By George!

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