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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 36. Isabel
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The Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 36. Isabel Post by :Des_Walsh Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :2603

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The Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 36. Isabel


What to do about going to see Isabel?

Albert knew perfectly well that he would be obliged to visit her. Isa had no doubt heard of his arrival before this time. The whole village must know it, for there was a succession of people who came on the hotel piazza to shake hands with him. Some came from friendliness, some from curiosity, but none remained long in conversation with him. For in truth conversation was quite embarrassing under the circumstances. You can not ask your acquaintance, "How have you been?" when his face is yet pale from confinement in a prison; you can not inquire how he liked Stillwater or Sing Sing, when he must have disliked what he saw of Stillwater or Sing Sing. One or two of the villagers asked Albert how he had "got along," and then blushed when they remembered that he couldn't have "got along" at all. Most of them asked him if Metropolisville had "grown any" since he left, and whether or not he meant to stay and set up here, and then floundered a little and left him. For most people talk by routine. Whatever may be thought of development from monkeys, it does seem that a strong case might be made out in favor of a descent from parrots.

Charlton knew that he must go to see Isa, and that the whole village would know where he had gone, and that it would give Isa trouble, maybe. He wanted to see Isa more than he wanted anything else in the world, but then he dreaded to see her. She had pitied him and helped him in his trouble, but her letters had something of constraint in them. He remembered how she had always mingled the friendliness of her treatment with something of reserve and coolness. He did not care much for this in other times. But now he found in himself such a hungering for something more from Isa, that he feared the effect of her cool dignity. He had braced himself against being betrayed into an affection for Isabel. He must not allow himself to become interested in her. As an honorable man he could not marry her, of course. But he would see her and thank her. Then if she should give him a few kind words he would cherish them as a comforting memory in all the loneliness of following years. He felt sorry for himself, and he granted to himself just so much indulgence.

Between his fear of compromising Isa and his feeling that on every account he must see her, his dread of meeting her and his desire to talk with her, he was in a state of compound excitement when he rose from his seat on the piazza of the City Hotel, and started down Plausaby street toward the house of Mrs. Ferret. He had noticed some women going to the weekly prayer-meeting, and half-hoped, but feared more than he hoped, that Isabel should have gone to meeting also. He knew how constant and regular she was in the performance of religious duties.

But Isa for once had staid at home. And had received from Mrs. Ferret a caustic lecture on the sin of neglecting her duty for the sake of anybody. Mrs. Ferret was afterward sorry she had said anything, for she herself wanted to stay to gratify her curiosity. But Isabel did not mind the rebuke. She put some petunias on the mantel-piece and some grasses over the looking-glass, and then tried to read, but the book was not interesting. She was alarmed at her own excitement; she planned how she would treat Albert with mingled cordiality and reserve, and thus preserve her own dignity; she went through a mental rehearsal of the meeting two or three times--in truth, she was just going over it the fourth time when Charlton stood between the morning-glory vines on the doorstep. And when she saw his face pale with suffering, she forgot all about the rehearsal, and shook his hand with sisterly heartiness--the word "sisterly" came to her mind most opportunely--and looked at him with the utmost gladness, and sat him down by the window, and sat down facing him. For the first time since Katy's death he was happy. He thought himself entitled to one hour of happiness after all that he had endured.

When Mrs. Ferret came home from prayer-meeting she entered by the back-gate, and judiciously stood for some time looking in at the window. Charlton was telling Isa something about his imprisonment, and Mrs. Ferret, listening to the tones of his voice and seeing the light in Isa's eyes, shook her head, and said to herself that it was scandalous for a Chrischen girl to act in such a way.

If the warmth of feeling shown in the interview between Albert and Isa had anything improper in it under the circumstances, Mrs. Ferret knew how to destroy it. She projected her iceberg presence into the room and froze them both.

Albert had many misgivings that night. He felt that he had not acted with proper self-control in his interview with Isabel. And just in proportion to his growing love for Isa did he chafe with the bitterness of the undeserved disgrace that must be an insurmountable barrier to his possessing her. How should he venture to hope that a woman who had refused Lurton, should be willing to marry him? And to marry his dishonor besides?

He lay thus debating what he should do, sometimes almost resolved to renounce his scruples and endeavor to win Isa, sometimes bravely determined to leave with Gray in the morning, never to come back to Metropolisville again. Sleep was not encouraged by the fact that Westcott occupied the bed on the other side of a thin board partition. He could hear him in that pitiful state of half-delirium that so often succeeds a spree, and that just touches upon the verge of _mania-a-potu.

"So he's out, is he?" Charlton heard him say. "How the devil did he get out? Must a swum out, by George! That's the only way. Now her face is goin' to come. Always does come when I feel this way. There she is! Go 'way! What do you want? What do you look at me for? What makes you look that way? I can't help it. I didn't drown you. I had to get out some way. What do you call Albert for? Albert's gone to penitentiary. He can't save you. Don't look that way! If you're goin' to drown, why don't you do it and be done with it? Hey? You will keep bobbin' up and down there all night and staring at me like the devil all the time! I couldn't help it. I didn't want to shake you off. I would 'ave gone down myself if I hadn't. There now, let go! Pullin' me down again! Let go! If you don't let go, Katy, I'll have to shake you off. I couldn't help it. What made you love me so? You needn't have been a fool. Why didn't somebody tell you about Nelly? If you'd heard about Nelly, you wouldn't have--oh! the devil! I knew it! There's Nelly's face coming. That's the worst of all. What does _she come for? She a'n't dead. Here, somebody! I want a match! Bring me a light!"

Whatever anger Albert may have had toward the poor fellow was all turned into pity after this night. Charlton felt as though he had been listening to the plaints of a damned soul, and moralized that it were better to go to prison for life than to carry about such memories as haunted the dreams of Westcott. And he felt that to allow his own attachment to Isa Marlay to lead to a marriage would involve him in guilt and entail a lifelong remorse. He must not bring his dishonor upon her. He determined to rise early and go over to Gray's new town, sell off his property, and then leave the Territory. But the Inhabitant was to leave at six o'clock, and Charlton, after his wakeful night, sank into a deep sleep at daybreak, and did not wake until half-past eight. When he came down to breakfast, Gray had been gone two hours and a half.

He sat around during the forenoon irresolute and of course unhappy. After a while decision came to him in the person of Mrs. Ferret, who called and asked for a private interview.

Albert led her into the parlor, for the parlor was always private enough on a pleasant day. Nobody cared to keep the company of a rusty box stove, a tattered hair-cloth sofa, six wooden chairs, and a discordant tinny piano-forte, when the weather was pleasant enough to sit on the piazza or to walk on the prairie. To Albert the parlor was full of associations of the days in which he had studied botany with Helen Minorkey. And the bitter memory of the mistakes of the year before, was a perpetual check to his self-confidence now. So that he prepared himself to listen with meekness even to Mrs. Ferret.

"Mr. Charlton, do you think you're acting just right--just as you would be done by--in paying attentions to Miss Marlay when you are just out of--of--the--penitentiary?"

Albert was angered by her way of putting it, and came near telling her that it was none of her business. But his conscience was on Mrs. Ferret's side.

"I haven't paid any special attention to Miss Marlay. I called to see her as an old friend." Charlton spoke with some irritation, the more that he knew all the while he was not speaking with candor.

"Well, now, Mr. Charlton, how would you have liked to have your sister marry a man just out of--well, just--just as you are, just out of penitentiary, you know? I have heard remarks already about Miss Marlay--that she had refused a very excellent and talented preacher of the Gospill--you know who I mean--and was about to take up with--well, you know how people talk--with a man just out of the--out of the penitentiary--you know. A _jail-bird is what they said. You know people will talk. And Miss Marlay is under my care, and I must do my duty as a Chrischen to her. And I know she thinks a great deal of you, and I don't think it would be right, you know, for you to try to marry her. You know the Scripcherr says that we must do as we'd be done by; and I wouldn't want a daughter of mine to marry a young man just--well--just out of--the--just out of the penitentiary, you know."

"Mrs. Ferret, I think this whole talk impertinent. Miss Marlay is not at all under your care, I have not proposed marriage to her, she is an old friend who was very kind to my mother and to me, and there is no harm in my seeing her when I please."

"Well, Mr. Charlton, I know your temper is bad, and I expected you'd talk insultingly to me, but I've done my duty and cleared my skirts, anyhow, and that's a comfort. A Chrischen must expect to be persecuted in the discharge of duty. You may talk about old friendships, and all that; but there's nothing so dangerous as friendship. Don't I know? Half the marriages that oughtn't to be, come from friendships. Whenever you see a friendship between a young man and a young woman, look out for a wedding. And I don't think you ought to ask Isabel to marry you, and you just out of--just--you know--out of the--the penitentiary."

When Mrs. Ferret had gone, Albert found that while her words had rasped him, they had also made a deep impression on him. He was, then, a jail-bird in the eyes of Metropolisville--of the world. He must not compromise Isa by a single additional visit. He could not trust himself to see her again. The struggle was not fought out easily. But at last he wrote a letter:

"MY DEAR MISS MARLAY: I find that I can not even visit you without causing remarks to be made, which reflect on you. I can not stay here without wishing to enjoy your society, and you can not receive the visits of a 'jail-bird,' as they call me, without disgrace. I owe everything to you, and it would be ungrateful, indeed, in me to be a source of affliction and dishonor to you. I never regretted my disgrace so much as since I talked with you last night. If I could shake that off, I might hope for a great happiness, perhaps.

"I am going to Gray's Village to-morrow. I shall close up my business, and go away somewhere, though I would much rather stay here and live down my disgrace. I shall remember your kindness with a full heart, and if I can ever serve you, all I have shall be yours--I would be wholly yours now, if I could offer myself without dishonoring you, and you would accept me. Good-by, and may God bless you.

"Your most grateful friend, ALBERT CHARLTON."

The words about offering himself, in the next to the last sentence, Albert wrote with hesitation, and then concluded that he would better erase them, as he did not mean to give any place to his feelings. He drew his pen through them, taking pains to leave the sentence entirely legible beneath the canceling stroke. Such tricks does inclination play with the sternest resolves!

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