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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 24. Dragging
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The Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 24. Dragging Post by :Des_Walsh Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :1339

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The Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 24. Dragging

CHAPTER XXIV. DRAGGING

Yes, God is indeed more merciful than man. There are many things worse than death. There is a fold where no wolves enter; a country where a loving heart shall not find its own love turned into poison; a place where the wicked cease from troubling--yes, even in this heretical day, let us be orthodox enough to believe that there is a land where no Smith Westcotts ever come.

There are many cases in which it were better to die. It is easy enough to say it before it comes. Albert Charlton had said--how many times!--that he would rather see Katy dead than married to Westcott. But, now that Katy was indeed dead, how did he feel?

Charlton and Gray had paddled hard with crooked limbs, the boat was unmanageable, and they could with difficulty keep her in her coarse. As they neared the capsized boat, they saw that the raft had taken the people from it, and Albert heard the voice--there could be no mistake as to the voice, weak and shivering as it was--of Isa Marlay, calling to him from the raft:

"We are all safe. Go and save Katy and--him!"

"There they air!" said Gray, pointing to two heads just visible above the water. "Pull away, by thunder!" And the two half-exhausted young men swung the boat round, and rowed. How they longed for the good oars that had sent the "Pirate's Bride" driving through the water that afternoon! How they grudged the time spent in righting her when she veered to right or left! At last they heard Katy's voice cry out, "Brother Albert!"

"O God!" groaned Charlton, and bent himself to his oar again.

"Alb--" The last cry was half-drowned in the water, and when the boat, with half-a-dozen more strokes, reached the place where Westcott was, so that he was able to seize the side, there was no Kate to be seen. Without waiting to lift the exhausted swimmer into the boat, Charlton and Gray dived. But the water was twenty feet deep, the divers were utterly out of breath with rowing, and their diving was of no avail. They kept trying until long after all hope had died out of their hearts. At last Charlton climbed back into the boat, and sat down. Then Gray got in. Westcott was so numb and exhausted from staying in the water so long that he could not get in, but he held to the boat desperately, and begged them to help him.

"Help him in," said Charlton to Gray. "I can't."

"I'd like to help him out ef he wuz in, mighty well. I can't kill a drownin' man, but blamed ef I gin him a leetle finger of help. I'd jest as soon help a painter outen the water when I know'd he'd swaller the fust man he come to."

But Charlton got up and reached a hand to the sinking Westcott. He shut his eyes while he pulled him in, and was almost sorry he had saved him. Let us not be too hard on Albert. He was in the first agony of having reached a hand to save little Katy and missed her. To come so near that you might have succeeded by straining a nerve a little more somewhere--that is bitterest of all. If Westcott had only held on a minute!

It was with difficulty that Albert and Gray rowed to the shore, where Plausaby met them, and persuaded them to change their clothes. They were both soon on the shore again, where large fires were blazing, and the old boat that had failed to save little Katy alive, was now in use to recover her body. There is no more hopeless and melancholy work than dragging for the body of a drowned person. The drag moves over the bottom; the man who holds the rope, watching for the faintest sensation of resistance in the muscles of his arm, at last feels something drawing against the drag, calls to the oarsmen to stop rowing, lets the line slip through his fingers till the boat's momentum is a little spent, lest he should lose his hold, then he draws on his line gently, and while the boat drifts back, he reverently, as becomes one handling the dead, brings the drag to the surface, and finds that its hooks have brought up nothing but water-weeds, or a waterlogged bough. And when at last, after hours of anxious work, the drag brings the lifeless body to the surface, the disappointment is bitterest of all. For all the time you have seemed to be seeking the drowned person, and now at last you have got--what?

It was about eleven o'clock when they first began to drag. Albert had a sort of vague looking for something, a superstitious feeling that by some sort of a miracle Katy would yet be found alive. It is the hardest work the imagination has to do--this realizing that one who has lived by us will never more be with us. It is hard to project a future for ourselves, into which one who has filled a large share of our thought and affection shall never come. And so there lingers a blind hope, a hopeless hope of something that shall make unreal that which our impotent imaginations refuse to accept as real. It is a means by which nature parries a sudden blow.

Charlton walked up and down the shore, and wished he might take the drag-line into his own hands; but the mistaken kindness of our friends refuses us permission to do for our own dead, when doing anything would be a relief, and when doing for the dead would be the best possible utterance to the hopeless love which we call grief.

Mrs. Plausaby, weak and vain though she was, was full of natural affection. Her love for Albert was checked a little by her feeling that there was no perfect sympathy between him and her. But upon Katy she had lavished all her mother's love. People are apt to think that a love which is not intelligent is not real; there could be no greater mistake. And the very smallness of the area covered by Mrs. Plausaby's mind made her grief for Kate all the more passionate. Katy occupied Albert's mind jointly with Miss Minorkey, with ambition, with benevolence, with science, with literature, and with the great Philanthropinum that was to be built and to revolutionize the world by helping it on toward its "goal." But the interests that shared Mrs. Plausaby's thoughts along with Katy were very few. Of Albert she thought, and of her husband. But she gave the chief place to Katy and her own appearance. And so when the blow had come it was a severe one. At midnight, Albert went back to try to comfort his mother, and received patiently all her weeping upbraidings of him for letting his sister go in the boat, he might have known it was not safe. And then he hastened back again to the water, and watched the men in the boat still dragging without result. Everybody on the shore knew just where the "Lady of the Lake" had capsized, and if accurate information, plentifully given, could have helped to find the bodies, it would soon have been accomplished. The only difficulty was that this accurate information was very conflicting, no two of the positive eye-witnesses being able to agree. So there was much shouting along shore, and many directions given, but all the searching for a long time proved vain. All the shouting people hushed their shouting, and spoke in whispers whenever Albert came near. To most men there is nothing more reverend than grief. At half-past two o'clock, the man who held the rope felt a strange thrill, a sense of having touched one of the bodies. He drew up his drag, and one of the hooks held a piece of a black silk cape. When three or four more essays had been made, the body itself was brought to the surface, and the boat turned toward the shore. There was no more shouting of directions now, not a single loud word was spoken, the oarsman rowed with a steady funereal rhythm, while Ben Towle, who had held the drag-rope, now held half out of water the recovered corpse. Albert leaned forward anxiously to see the face of Katy, but it was Jane Downing, the girl who was drowned first. Her father took the body in his arms, drew it out on shore, and wept over it in a quiet fashion for a while. Then strong and friendly neighbors lifted it, and bore it before him to his house, while the man followed in a dumb grief.

Then the dragging for Katy was resumed; but as there was much more doubt in regard to the place where she went down than there was about the place of the accident, the search was more difficult and protracted. George Gray never left Albert for a moment. George wanted to take the drag-rope himself, but a feeling that he was eccentric, if not insane, kept those in charge of the boat from giving it to him.

When Sunday morning came, Katy's body had not yet been found, and the whole village flocked to the lake shore. These were the first deaths in Metropolisville, and the catastrophe was so sudden and tragic that it stirred the entire village in an extraordinary manner. All through that cloudy Sunday forenoon, in a weary waiting, Charlton sat on the bank of Diamond Lake.

"Mr. Charlton," said Gray, "git me into that air boat and I'll git done with this. I've watched them fellers go round the place tell I can't stan' it no longer."

The next time the boat faced toward the place where Charlton stood he beckoned to them, and the boat came to the shore.

"Let Mr. Gray row a few times, won't you?" whispered Albert. "I think he knows the place."

With that deference always paid to a man in grief, the man who had the oars surrendered them to the Hoosier Poet, who rowed gently and carefully toward the place where he and Albert had dived for Katy the night before. The quick instinct of the trapper stood him in good stead now. The perception and memory of locality and direction are developed to a degree that seems all but supernatural in a man who lives a trapper's life.

"Now, watch out!" said Gray to the man with the rope, as they passed what he thought to be the place. But the drag did not touch anything. Gray then went round and pulled at right angles across his former course, saying again, "Now, watch out!" as they passed the same spot. The man who held the rope advised him to turn a little to the right, but Gray stuck to his own infallible instinct, and crossed and re-crossed the same point six times without success.

"You see," he remarked, "you kin come awful closte to a thing in the water and not tech it. We ha'n't missed six foot nary time we passed thar. It may take right smart rowin' to do it yet. But when you miss a mark a-tryin' at it, you don't gain nothin' by shootin' wild. Now, watch out!"

And just at that moment the drag caught but did not hold. Gray noticed it, but neither man said a word. The Inhabitant turned the boat round and pulled slowly back over the same place. The drag caught, and Gray lifted his oars. The man with the rope, who had suddenly got a great reverence for Gray's skill, willingly allowed him to draw in the line. The Poet did so cautiously and tremblingly. When the body came above the water, he had all he could do to keep from fainting. He gently took hold of the arms and said to his companion, "Pull away now." And with his own wild, longing, desolate heart full of grief, Gray held to the little form and drew her through the water. Despite his grief, the Poet was glad to be the one who should bring her ashore. He held her now, if only her dead body, and his unselfish love found a melancholy recompense. Albert would have chosen him of all men for the office.

Poor little Kate! In that dread moment when she found herself sinking to her cold bed among the water-weeds, she had, failing all other support, clasped her left hand with her right and gone down to darkness. And as she went, so now came her lifeless body. The right hand clasped tightly the four little white fingers of the left.

Poor little Kate! How white as pearl her face was, turned up toward that Sabbath sky! There was not a spot upon it. The dreaded leeches had done their work.

She, whom everybody had called sweet, looked sweeter now than ever. Death had been kind to the child at the last, and had stroked away every trace of terror, and of the short anguish she had suffered when she felt herself cast off by the craven soul she trusted. What might the long anguish have been had she lived!

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