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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 26. The Mystery
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The Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 26. The Mystery Post by :Des_Walsh Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :694

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The Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 26. The Mystery

CHAPTER XXVI. THE MYSTERY

I have before me, as one of the original sources of information for this history, a file of _The Wheat County Weakly Windmill for 1856. It is not a large sheet, but certainly it is a very curious one. In its day this _Windmill ground many grists, though its editorial columns were chiefly occupied with impartial gushing and expansive articles on the charms of scenery, fertility of soil, superiority of railroad prospects, admirableness of location, healthfulness, and general future rosiness of the various paper towns that paid tribute to its advertising columns. And the advertising columns! They abounded in business announcements of men who had "Money to Loan on Good Real Estate" at three, four, five, and six per cent a month, and of persons who called themselves "Attorneys-at-Law and Real Estate Agents," who stated that "All business relating to pre-emption and contested claims would be promptly attended to" at their offices in Perritaut. Even now, through the thin disguise of honest-seeming phrases, one can see the bait of the land-shark who speculated in imaginary titles to claims, or sold corner-lots in bubble-towns. And, as for the towns, it appears from these advertisements that there was one on almost every square mile, and that every one of them was on the line of an inevitable railroad, had a first-class hotel, a water-power, an academy, and an indefinite number of etcaeteras of the most delightful and remunerative kind. Each one of these villages was in the heart of the greatest grain-growing section of the State. Each, was the "natural outlet" to a large agricultural region. Each commanded the finest view. Each point was the healthiest in the county, and each village was "unrivaled." (When one looks at these town-site advertisements, one is tempted to think that member serious and wise who, about this time, offered a joint resolution in the Territorial Legislature, which read: "_Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives_, That not more than two thirds of the area of this Territory should be laid out in town-sites and territorial roads, the remaining one third to be sacredly reserved for agricultural use.")

But I prize this old file of papers because it contains a graphic account of the next event in this narrative. And the young man who edited the _Windmill at this time has told the story with so much sprightliness and vigor that I can not serve my reader a better turn than by clipping his account and pasting it just here in my manuscript. (I shall also rest myself a little, and do a favor to the patient printer, who will rejoice to get a little "reprint copy" in place of my perplexing manuscript.) For where else shall I find such a dictionariful command of the hights and depths--to say nothing of the lengths and breadths--of the good old English tongue? This young man must indeed have been a marvel of eloquent verbosity at that period of his career. The article in question has the very flavor of the golden age of Indian contracts, corner-lots, six per cent a month, and mortgages with waiver clauses. There, is also visible, I fear, a little of the prejudice which existed at that time in Perritaut against Metropolisville.

I wish that an obstinate scruple on the part of the printers and the limits of a duodecimo page did not forbid my reproducing here, in all their glory, the unique head-lines which precede the article in question. Any pageant introduced by music is impressive, says Madame de Stael. At least she says something of that sort, only it is in French, and I can not remember it exactly. And so any newspaper article is startling when introduced by the braying of head-lines. Fonts of type for displayed lines were not abundant in the office of the _Windmill_, but they were very stunning, and were used also for giving prominence to the euphonious names of the several towns, whose charms were set forth in the advertisements. Of course the first of these head-lines ran "Startling Disclosures" and then followed "Tremendous Excitement in Metropolisville!" "Official Rascality!" "Bold Mail Robbery!" "Arrest of the Postmaster!" "No Doubt of his Guilt!" "An Unexplained Mystery!" "Sequel to the Awful Drowning Affair of Last Week!" Having thus whetted the appetite of his reader, and economized in type-setting by nearly a column of such broad and soul-stirring typography, the editor proceeds:

"Metropolisville is again the red-hot crater of a boiling and seething excitement. Scarcely had the rascally and unscrupulous county-seat swindle begun to lose something of its terrific and exciting interest to the people of this county, when there came the awful and sad drowning of the two young ladies, Miss Jennie Downing and Miss Katy Charlton, the belles of the village, a full account of which will be found in the _Windmill of last week, some copies of which we have still on hand, having issued an extra edition. Scarcely had the people of Metropolisville laid these two charming and much-lamented young ladies in their last, long resting-place, the quiet grave, when there comes like an earthquake out of a clear sky, the frightful and somewhat surprising and stunning intelligence that the postmaster of the village, a young man of a hitherto unexceptionable and blameless reputation, has been arrested for robbing the mails. It is supposed that his depredations have been very extensive and long continued, and that many citizens of our own village may have suffered from them. Farther investigations will doubtless bring all his nefarious and unscrupulous transactions to light. At present, however, he is under arrest on the single charge of stealing a land-warrant.

"The name of the rascally, villainous, and dishonest postmaster is Albert Charlton, and here comes in the wonderful and startling romance of this strange story. The carnival of excitement in Metropolisville and about Metropolisville has all had to do with one family. Our readers will remember how fully we have exposed the unscrupulous tricks of the old fox Plausaby, the contemptible land-shark who runs Metropolisville, and who now has temporary possession of the county-seat by means of a series of gigantic frauds, and of wholesale bribery and corruption and nefarious ballot-box stuffing. The fair Katy Charlton, who was drowned by the heart-rending calamity of last week, was his step-daughter, and now her brother, Albert Charlton, is arrested as a vile and dishonest mail-robber, and the victim whose land-warrant he stole was Miss Kate Charlton's betrothed lover, Mr. Smith Westcott. There was always hatred and animosity, however, between the lover and the brother, and it is hinted that the developments on the trial will prove that young Charlton had put a hired and ruthless assassin on the track of Westcott at the time of his sister's death. Mr. Westcott is well known and highly esteemed in Metropolisville and also here in Perritaut. He is the gentlemanly Agent in charge of the branch store of Jackson, Jones & Co., and we rejoice that he has made so narrow an escape from death at the hands of his relentless and unscrupulous foe.

"As for Albert Charlton, it is well for the community that he has been thus early and suddenly overtaken in the first incipiency of a black career of crime. His poor mother is said to be almost insane at this second grief, which follows so suddenly on her heart-rending bereavement of last week. We wish there were some hope that this young man, thus arrested with the suddenness of a thunderbolt by the majestic and firm hand of public justice, would reform; but we are told that he is utterly hard, and refuses to confess or deny his guilt, sitting in moody and gloomy silence in the room in which he is confined. We again call the attention of the proper authorities to the fact that Plausaby has not kept his agreement, and that Wheat County has no secure jail. We trust that the youthful villain Charlton will not be allowed to escape, but that he will receive the long term provided by the law for thieving postmasters. He will be removed to St. Paul immediately, but we seize the opportunity to demand in thunder-tones how long the citizens of this county are to be left without the accommodations of a secure jail, of which they stand in such immediate need? It is a matter in which we all feel a personal interest. We hope the courts will decide the county-seat question at once, and then we trust the commissioners will give us a jail of sufficient size and strength to accommodate a county of ten thousand people.

"We would not judge young Charlton before he has a fair trial. We hope he will have a fair trial, and it is not for us to express any opinions on the case in advance. If he shall be found guilty--and we do not for a moment doubt he will--we trust the court will give him the full penalty of the law without fear or favor, so that his case may prove a solemn and impressive warning that shall make a lasting impression on the minds of the thoughtless young men of this community in favor of honesty, and in regard to the sinfulness of stealing. We would not exult over the downfall of any man; but when the proud young Charlton gets his hair cropped, and finds himself clad in 'Stillwater gray,' and engaged in the intellectual employments of piling shingles and making vinegar-barrels, he will have plenty of time for meditation on that great moral truth, that honesty is generally the best policy."

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