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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 35. Unbarred
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The Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 35. Unbarred Post by :Des_Walsh Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :1603

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The Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 35. Unbarred


Lurton was gone six weeks. His letters to Charlton were not very hopeful. People are slow to believe that a court has made a mistake.

I who write and you who read get over six weeks as smoothly as we do over six days. But six weeks in grim, gray, yellowish, unplastered, limestone walls, that are so thick and so high and so rough that they are always looking at you in suspicion and with stern threat of resistance! Six weeks in May and June and July inside such walls, where there is scarcely a blade of grass, hardly a cool breeze, not even the song of a bird! A great yard so cursed that the little brown wrens refuse to bless it with their feet! The sound of machinery and of the hammers of unwilling toilers, but no mellow voice of robin or chatter of gossiping chimney-swallows! To Albert they were six weeks of alternate hope and fear, and of heart-sickness.

The contractor gave a Fourth-of-July dinner to the convicts. Strawberries and cream instead of salt pork and potatoes. The guards went out and left the men alone, and Charlton was called on for a speech. But all eulogies of liberty died on his lips. He could only talk platitudes, and he could not say anything with satisfaction to himself. He tossed wakefully all that night, and was so worn when morning came that he debated whether he should not ask to be put on the sick-list.

He was marched to the water-tank as usual, then to breakfast, but he could not eat. When the men were ordered to work, one of the guards said:

"Charlton, the warden wants to see you in the office."

Out through the vestibule of the main building Charlton passed with a heart full of hope, alternating with fear of a great disappointment. He noticed, as he passed, how heavy the bolts and bars were, and wondered if these two doors would ever shut him in again. He walked across the yard, feeble and faint, and then ascended the long flight of steps which went up to the office-door. For the office was so arranged as to open out of the prison and in it also, and was so adapted to the uneven ground as to be on top of the prison-wail. Panting with excitement, the convict Charlton stopped at the top of this flight of steps while the guard gave an alarm, and the door was opened from the office side. Albert could not refrain from looking back over the prison-yard; he saw every familiar object again, he passed through the door, and stood face to face with the firm and kindly Warden Proctor. He saw Lurton standing by the warden, he was painfully alive to everything; the clerks had ceased to write, and were looking at him expectantly.

"Well, Charlton," said the warden kindly, "I am glad to tell you that you are pardoned. I never was so glad at any man's release."

"Pardoned?" Charlton had dreamed so much of liberty, that now that liberty had come he was incredulous. "I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Proctor," he gasped.

"That is the man to thank," said the warden, pointing to Lurton. But Charlton couldn't thank Lurton yet. He took his hand and looked in his face and then turned away. He wanted to thank everybody--the guard who conducted him out, and the clerk who was recording the precious pardon in one of the great books; but, in truth, he could say hardly anything.

"Come, Charlton, you'll find a change of clothes in the back-room. Can't let you carry those off!" said the warden.

Charlton put off the gray with eagerness. Clothes made all the difference. When once he was dressed like other men, his freedom became a reality. Then he told everybody good-by, the warden first, and then the guard, and then the clerks, and he got permission to go back into the prison, as a visitor, now, and tell the prisoners farewell.

Then Lurton locked arms with him, and Charlton could hardly keep back the tears. Human fellowship is so precious to a cleansed leper! And as they walked away down the sandy street by the shore of Lake St. Croix, Charlton was trying all the while to remember that walls and grates and bars and bolts and locks and iron gates and armed guards shut him in no longer. It seemed so strange that here was come a day in which he did not have to put up a regular stint of eight vinegar-barrels, with the privilege of doing one or two more, if he could, for pay. He ate some breakfast with Lurton. For freedom is a great tonic, and satisfied hopes help digestion. It is a little prosy to say so, but Lurton's buttered toast and coffee was more palatable than the prison fare. And Lurton's face was more cheerful than the dark visage of Ball, the burglar, which always confronted Charlton at the breakfast-table.

Charlton was impatient to go back to Metropolisville. For what, he could hardly say. There was no home there for him, but then he wanted to go somewhere. It seemed so fine to be able to go anywhere. Bidding Lurton a grateful adieu, he hurried to St. Paul. The next morning he was booked for Metropolisville, and climbed up to the driver's seat with the eager impatience of a boy.

"Wal, stranger, go tew thunder! I'm glad to see you're able to be aout. You've ben confined t' the haouse fer some time, I guess, p'r'aps?"

It was the voice of Whisky Jim that thus greeted Albert. If there was a half-sneer in the words, there was nothing but cordial friendliness in the tone and the grasp of the hand. The Superior Being was so delighted that he could only express his emotions by giving his leaders several extra slashes with his whip, and by putting on a speed that threatened to upset the coach.

"Well, Jim, what's the news?" said Charlton gayly.

"Nooze? Let me see. Nothin' much. Your father-in-law, or step-father, or whatever you call him, concluded to cut and run las' week. I s'pose he calkilated that your gittin' out might leave a vacancy fer him. Thought he might hev to turn in and do the rest of the ten years' job that's owin' to Uncle Sam on that land-warrant, eh? I guess you won't find no money left. 'Twixt him and the creditors and the lawyers and the jedges, they a'n't nary cent to carry."

"When did you hear from Gray?"

"Oh! he was up to Metropolisville las' week. He a'n't so much of a singster as he wus. Gone to spekilatin'. The St. Paul and Big Gun River Valley Railroad is a-goin' t' his taown."

Here the Superior Being stopped talking, and waited to be questioned.

"Laid off a town, then, has he?"

"Couldn' help hisself. The Wanosia and Dakota Crossing Road makes a junction there, and his claim and yourn has doubled in valoo two or three times."

"But I suppose mine has been sold under mortgage?"

"Under mortgage? Not much. Some of your friends jest sejested to Plausaby he'd better pay two debts of yourn. And he did. He paid Westcott fer the land-warrant, and he paid Minorkey's mortgage. Ole chap didn't want to be paid. Cutthroat mortgage, you know. He'd heerd of the railroad junction. Jemeny! they's five hundred people livin' on Gray's claim, and yourn's alongside."

"What does he call his town?" asked Albert.

Jim brought his whip down smartly on a lazy wheel-horse, crying out:

"Puck-a-chee! Seechy-do!" (Get out--bad.) For, like most of his class in Minnesota at that day, the Superior Being had enriched his vocabulary of slang with divers Indian words. Then, after a pause, he said: "What does he call it? I believe it's 'Charlton,' or suthin' of that sort. _Git up!"

Albert was disposed at first to think the name a compliment to himself, but the more he thought of it, the more clear it became to him that the worshipful heart of the Poet had meant to preserve the memory of Katy, over whom he had tried in vain to stand guard.

Of course part of Driver Jim's information was not new to Albert, but much of it was, for the Poet's letters had not been explicit in regard to the increased value of the property, and Charlton had concluded the claim would go out of his hands anyhow, and had ceased to take any further interest in it.

When at last he saw again the familiar balloon-frame houses of Metropolisville, he grew anxious. How would people receive him? Albert had always taken more pains to express his opinions dogmatically than to make friends; and now that the odium of crime attached itself to him, he felt pretty sure that Metropolisville, where there was neither mother nor Katy, would offer him no cordial welcome. His heart turned toward Isa with more warmth than he could have desired, but he feared that any friendship he might show to Isabel would compromise her. A young woman's standing is not helped by the friendship of a post-office thief, he reflected. He could not leave Metropolisville without seeing the best friend he had; he could not see her without doing her harm. He was thoroughly vexed that he had rashly put himself in so awkward a dilemma; he almost wished himself back in St. Paul.

At last the Superior Being roused his horses into a final dash, and came rushing up to the door of the "City Hotel" with his usual flourish.

"Hooray! Howdy! I know'd you'd be along to-night," cried the Poet. "You see a feller went through our town--I've laid off a town you know--called it Charlton, arter _her you know--they wuz a feller come along yisterday as said as he'd come on from Washin'ton City weth Preacher Lurton, and he'd heern him tell as how as Ole Buck--the President I mean--had ordered you let out. An' I'm _that glad! Howdy! You look a leetle slim, but you'll look peart enough when we git you down to Charlton, and you see some of your ground wuth fifteen dollar a front foot! You didn' think I'd ever a gin up po'try long enough to sell lots. But you see the town wuz named arter _her you know--a sorter moniment to a angel, a kind of po'try that'll keep her name from bein' forgot arter my varses is gone to nothin'. An' I'm a-layin' myself out to make that town nice and fit to be named arter her, you know. I didn't think I could ever stan' it to have so many neighbors a drivin' away all the game. But I'm a-gittin' used to it."

Charlton could see that the Inhabitant was greatly improved by his contact with the practical affairs of life and by human society. The old half-crazed look had departed from his eyes, and the over-sensitive nature had found a satisfaction in the standing which the founding of a town and his improved circumstances had brought him.

"Don't go in thar!" said Gray as Charlton was about to enter the room used as office and bar-room for the purpose of registering his name. "Don't go in thar!" and Gray pulled him back. "Let's go out to supper. That devilish Smith Wes'cott's in thar, drunk's he kin be, and raisin' perdition. They turned him off this week fer drinkin' too steady, and he's tryin' to make a finish of his money and Smith Wes'cott too."

Charlton and Gray sat down to supper at the long table where the Superior Being was already drinking his third cup of coffee. The exquisite privilege of doing as he pleased was a great stimulant to Charlton's appetite, and knives and forks were the greatest of luxuries.

"Seems to me," said Jim, as he sat and watched Albert, "seems to me you a'n't so finicky 'bout vittles as you was. Sheddin' some of yer idees, maybe."

"Yes, I think I am."

"Wal, you see you hed too thick a coat of idees to thrive. I guess a good curryin' a'n't done you no pertickeler hurt, but blamed ef it didn't seem mean to me at first. I've cussed about it over and over agin on every mile 'twixt here and St. Paul. But curryin's healthy. I wish some other folks as I know could git put through weth a curry-comb as would peel the hull hide offen 'em."

This last remark was accompanied by a significant look at the rough board partition that separated the dining-room from the bar-room. For Westcott's drunken voice could be heard singing snatches of negro melodies in a most melancholy tone.

Somebody in the bar-room mentioned Charlton's name.

"Got out, did he?" said Westcott in a maudlin tone. "How'd 'e get out? How'd 'e like it fur's he went? Always liked simple diet, you know.

"Oh! if I wuz a jail-bird,
With feathers like a crow,
I'd flop around and--

"Wat's the rest? Hey? How does that go? Wonder how it feels to be a thief? He! he! he!"

Somehow the voice and the words irritated Albert beyond endurance. He lost his relish for supper and went out on the piazza.

"Git's riled dreffle easy," said Jim as Charlton disappeared. "Fellers weth idees does. I hope he'll gin Wes'cott another thrashin'."

"He's powerful techy," said the Poet. "Kinder curus, though. I wanted to salivate Wes'cott wunst, and he throwed my pistol into the lake."

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