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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 27. The Arrest
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The Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 27. The Arrest Post by :Des_Walsh Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :1959

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The Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 27. The Arrest

CHAPTER XXVII. THE ARREST

The eloquent editor from whom I have just quoted told the truth when he said that Metropolisville was "the red-hot crater of a boiling and seething excitement." For everybody had believed in Charlton. He was not popular. People with vicarious consciences are not generally beloved unless they are tempered by much suavity. And Charlton was not. But everybody, except Mrs. Ferret, believed in his honesty and courage. Nobody had doubted his sincerity, though Smith Westcott had uttered many innuendoes. In truth, Westcott had had an uncomfortable time during the week that followed the drowning. There had been much shaking of the head about little Katy's death. People who are not at all heroic like to have other people do sublime things, and there were few who did not think that Westcott should have drowned with Katy, like the hero of a romance. People could not forgive him for spoiling a good story. So Smith got the cold shoulder, and might have left the Territory, but that his land-warrant had not come. He ceased to dance and to appear cheerful, and his he! he! took on a sneering inflection. He grew mysterious, and intimated to his friends that he'd give Metropolisville something else to talk about before long. By George! He! he! And when the deputy of the United States marshal swooped down upon the village and arrested the young post-master on a charge of abstracting Smith Westcott's land-warrant from the mail, the whole town was agog. "Told you so. By George!" said Westcott.

At first the villagers were divided in opinion about Albert. Plenty of people, like Mrs. Ferret, were ready to rejoice that he was not so good as he might be, you know. But many others said that he wouldn't steal. A fellow that had thrown away all his chances of making money wouldn't steal. To which it was rejoined that if Charlton did not care for money he was a good hater, and that what such a man would not do for money he might do for spite. And then, too, it was known that Albert had been very anxious to get away, and that he wanted to get away before Westcott did. And that everything depended on which should get a land-warrant first. What more natural than that Charlton should seize upon Smith Westcott's land-warrant, and thus help himself and retard his rival? This sort of reasoning staggered those who would have defended him on the ground of previous good character.

But that which shook the popular confidence in Albert most was his own behavior when arrested. He was perfectly collected until he inquired what evidence there was against him. The deputy marshal said that it was very clear evidence, indeed. "The land-warrant with which you pre-empted your claim bore a certain designating number. The prosecution can prove that that warrant was mailed at Red Owl on the 24th of August, directed to Smith Westcott, Metropolisville, and that he failed to receive it. The stolen property appearing in your hands, you must account for it in some way."

At this Charlton's countenance fell, and he refused to make any explanations or answer any questions. He was purposely kept over one day in Metropolisville in hope that something passing between him and his friends, who were permitted to have free access to him, might bring further evidence to light. But Charlton sat, pale and dejected, ready enough to converse about anything else, but declining to say one word in regard to his guilt or innocence of the crime charged. It is not strange that some of his best friends accepted the charge as true, and only tried to extenuate the offense on the ground that the circumstances made the temptation a very great one, and that the motive was not mercenary. Others stood out that it would yet be discovered that Plausaby had stolen the warrant, until half-a-dozen people remembered that Plausaby himself had been in Red Owl at that very time--he had spent a week there laying out a marshy shore in town lots down to the low-water mark, and also laying out the summit of a bluff three hundred and fifty feet high and sixty degrees steep. These sky and water lots were afterward sold to confiding Eastern speculators, and a year or two later the owner of the water privileges rowed all over his lots in a skiff. Whether the other purchaser used a balloon to reach his is not known. But the operation of staking out these ineligible "additions" to the city of Red Owl had attracted much attention, and consequently Plausaby's _alibi was readily established. So that the two or three who still believed Albert innocent did so by "naked faith," and when questioned about it, shook their heads, and said that it was a great mystery. They could not understand it, but they did not believe him guilty. Isabel Marlay believed in Albert's innocence as she believed the hard passages in the catechism. She knew it, she believed it, she could not prove it, but she would not hear to anything else. She was sure of his innocence, and that was enough. For when a woman of that sort believes anything, she believes in spite of all her senses and all reason. What are the laws of evidence to her! She believes with the _heart_.

Poor Mrs. Plausaby, too, sat down in a dumb despair, and wept and complained and declared that she knew her Albert had notions and such things, but people with such notions wouldn't do anything naughty. Albert wouldn't, she knew. He hadn't done any harm, and they couldn't find out that he had. Katy was gone, and now Albert was in trouble, and she didn't know what to do. She thought Isa might do something, and not let all these troubles come on her in this way. For the poor woman had come to depend on Isa not only in weighty matters, such as dresses and bonnets, but also in all the other affairs of life. And it seemed to her a grievous wrong that Isabel, who had saved her from so many troubles, should not have kept Katy from drowning and Albert from prison.

The chief trouble in the mind of Albert was not the probability of imprisonment, nor the overthrow of his educational schemes--though all of these were cups of bitterness. But the first thought with him was to ask what would be the effect of his arrest on Miss Minorkey. He had felt some disappointment in not finding Helen the ideal woman he had pictured her, but, as I said a while ago, love does not die at the first disappointment. If it finds little to live on in the one who is loved, it will yet find enough in the memories, the hopes, and the ideals that dwell within the lover. Charlton, in the long night after his arrest, reviewed everything, but in thinking of Miss Minorkey, he did not once recur to her lack of deep sympathy with him in his sorrow for Katy. The Helen he thought of was the radiant Helen that sat by his beloved Katy in the boat on that glorious evening in which he rowed in the long northern twilight, the Helen that had relaxed her dignity enough to dip her palm in the water and dash spray into his face. He saw her like one looking back through clouds of blackness to catch a sight of a bit of sky and a single shining star. As the impossibility of his marrying Helen became more and more evident to him, she grew all the more glorious in her culture, her quietness, her thoughtfulness. That she would break her heart for him, he did not imagine, but he did hope--yes, hope--that she would suffer acutely on his account.

And when Isa Marlay bravely walked through the crowd that had gathered about the place of his confinement, and asked to see him, and he was told that a young lady wanted to be admitted, he hoped that it might be Helen Minorkey. When he saw that it was Isabel he was glad, partly because he would rather have seen her than anybody else, next to Helen, and partly because he could ask her to carry a message to Miss Minorkey. He asked her to take from his trunk, which had already been searched by the marshal's deputy, all the letters of Miss Minorkey, to tie them in a package, and to have the goodness to present them to that lady with his sincere regards.

"Shall I tell her that you are innocent?" asked Isabel, wishing to strengthen her own faith by a word of assurance from Albert.

"Tell her--" and Albert cast down his eyes a moment in painful reflection--"tell her that I will explain some day. Meantime, tell her to believe what you believe about me."

"I believe that you are innocent."

"Thank you, Miss Isabel," said Albert warmly, but then he stopped and grew red in the face. He did not give her one word of assurance. Even Isa's faith was staggered for a moment. But only for a moment. The faith of a woman like Isabel Marlay laughs at doubt.

I do not know how to describe the feelings with which Miss Marlay went out from Albert. Even in the message, full of love, which he had sent to his mother, he did not say one word about his guilt or innocence. And yet Isabel believed in her heart that he had not committed the crime. While he was strong and free from suspicion, Isa Marlay had admired him. He seemed to her, notwithstanding his eccentricities, a man of such truth, fervor, and earnestness of character, that she liked him better than she was willing to admit to herself. Now that he was an object of universal suspicion, her courageous and generous heart espoused his cause vehemently. She stood ready to do anything in the world for him. Anything but what he had asked her to do. Why she did not like to carry messages from him to Miss Minorkey she did not know. As soon as she became conscious of this jealous feeling in her heart, she took herself to task severely. Like the good girl she was, she set her sins out in the light of her own conscience. She did more than that. But if I should tell you truly what she did with this naughty feeling, how she dragged it out into the light and presence of the Holy One Himself, I should seem to be writing cant, and people would say that I was preaching. And yet I should only show you the source of Isa's high moral and religious culture. Can I write truly of a life in which the idea of God as Father, Monitor, and Friend is ever present and dominant, without showing you the springs of that life?

When Isabel Marlay, with subdued heart, sought Miss Minorkey, it was with her resolution fixed to keep the trust committed to her, and, as far as possible, to remove all suspicions from Miss Minorkey's mind. As for any feeling in her own heart--she had no right to have any feeling but a friendly one to Albert. She would despise a woman who could love a man that did not first declare his love for her. She said this to herself several times by way of learning the lesson well.

Isa found Miss Minorkey, with her baggage packed, ready for a move. Helen told Miss Marlay that her father found the air very bad for him, and meant to go to St. Anthony, where there was a mineral spring and a good hotel. For her part, she was glad of it, for a little place like Metropolisville was not pleasant. So full of gossip. And no newspapers or books. And very little cultivated society.

Miss Marlay said she had a package of something or other, which Mr. Charlton had sent with his regards. She said "something or other" from an instinctive delicacy.

"Oh! yes; something of mine that he borrowed, I suppose," said Helen. "Have you seen him? I'm really sorry for him. I found him a very pleasant companion, so full of reading and oddities. He's the last man I should have believed could rob the post-office."

"Oh! but he didn't," said Isa.

"Indeed! Well, I'm glad to hear it. I hope he'll be able to prove it. Is there any new evidence?"

Isa was obliged to confess that she had heard of none, and Miss Minorkey proceeded like a judge to explain to Miss Marlay how strong the evidence against him was. And then she said she thought the warrant had been taken, not from cupidity, but from a desire to serve Katy. It was a pity the law could not see it in that way. But all the time Isa protested with vehemence that she did not believe a word of it. Not one word. All the judges and juries and witnesses in the world could not convince her of Albert's guilt. Because she knew him, and she just knew that he couldn't do it, you see.

Miss Minorkey said it had made her father sick. "I've gone with Mr. Charlton so much, you know, that it has made talk," she said. "And father feels bad about it. And"--seeing the expression of Isa's countenance, she concluded that it would not do to be quite so secretive--"and, to tell you the truth, I did like him. But of course that is all over. Of course there couldn't be anything between us after this, even if he were innocent."

Isa grew indignant, and she no longer needed the support of religious faith and high moral principle to enable her to plead the cause of Albert Charlton with Miss Minorkey.

"But I thought you loved him," she said, with just a spice of bitterness. "The poor fellow believes that you love him."

Miss Minorkey winced a little. "Well, you know, some people are sentimental, and others are not. It is a good thing for me that I'm not one of those that pine away and die after anybody. I suppose I am not worthy of a high-toned man, such as he seemed to be. I have often told him so. I am sure I never could marry a man that had been in the penitentiary, if he were ever so innocent. Now, could you. Miss Marlay?"

Isabel blushed, and said she could if he were innocent. She thought a woman ought to stand by the man she loved to the death, if he were worthy. But Helen only sighed humbly, and said that she never was made for a heroine. She didn't even like to read about high-strung people in novels. She supposed it was her fault--people had to be what they were, she supposed. Miss Marlay must excuse her, though. She hadn't quite got her books packed, and the stage would be along in an hour. She would be glad if Isabel would tell Mr. Charlton privately, if she had a chance, how sorry she felt for him. But please not say anything that would compromise her, though.

And Isa Marlay went out of the hotel full of indignation at the cool-blooded Helen, and full of a fathomless pity for Albert, a pity that made her almost love him herself. She would have loved to atone for all Miss Minorkey's perfidy. And just alongside of her pity for Charlton thus deserted, crept in a secret joy. For there was now none to stand nearer friend to Albert than herself.

And yet Charlton did not want for friends. Whisky Jim had a lively sense of gratitude to him for his advocacy of Jim's right to the claim as against Westcott; and having also a lively antagonism to Westcott, he could see no good reason why a man should serve a long term in State's-prison for taking from a thief a land-warrant with which the thief meant to pre-empt another man's claim. And the Guardian Angel had transferred to the brother the devotion and care he once lavished on the sister. It was this unity of sentiment between the Jehu from the Green Mountains and the minstrel from the Indiana "Pocket" that gave Albert a chance for liberty.

The prisoner was handcuffed and confined in an upper room, the windows of which were securely boarded up on the outside. About three o'clock of the last night he spent in Metropolisville, the deputy marshal, who in the evening preceding had helped to empty two or three times the ample flask of Mr. Westcott, was sleeping very soundly. Albert, who was awake, heard the nails drawn from the boards. Presently the window was opened, and a familiar voice said in a dramatic tone:

"Mr. Charlton, git up and foller."

Albert arose and went to the window.

"Come right along, I 'low the coast's clear," said the Poet.

"No, I can not do that, Gray," said Charlton, though the prospect of liberty was very enticing.

"See here, mister, I calkilate es this is yer last chance fer fifteen year ur more," put in the driver, thrusting his head in alongside his Hoosier friend's.

"Come," added Gray, "you an' me'll jest put out together fer the Ingin kedentry ef you say so, and fetch up in Kansas under some fancy names, and take a hand in the wras'le that's agoin' on thar. Nobody'll ever track you. I've got a Yankton friend as'll help us through."

"My friends, I'm ever so thankful to you--"

"Blame take yer thanks! Come along," broke in the Superior Being. "It's now ur never."

"I'll be dogged ef it haint," said the Poet.

Charlton looked out wistfully over the wide prairies. He might escape and lead a wild, free life with Gray, and then turn up in some new Territory under an assumed name and work out his destiny. But the thought of being a fugitive from justice was very shocking to him.

"No! no! I can't. God bless you both. Good-by!" And he went back to his pallet on the floor. When the rescuers reached the ground the Superior Being delivered himself of some very sulphurous oaths, intended to express his abhorrence of "idees."

"There's that air blamed etarnal infarnal nateral born eejiot'll die in Stillwater penitensh'ry jest fer idees. Orter go to a 'sylum."

But the Poet went off dejectedly to his lone cabin on the prairie.

And there was a great row in the morning about the breaking open of the window and the attempted rescue. The deputy marshal told a famous story of his awaking in the night and driving off a rescuing party of eight with his revolver. And everybody wondered who they were. Was Charlton, then, a member of a gang?

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