"What can I do, Miss Marlay?" Albert did not ask her what she could do. A self-reliant man at his time of life always asks first what he himself can do.
"I can not think of anything that anybody can do, with any hope of success." Isa's good sense penetrated entirely through the subject, she saw all the difficulties, she had not imagination or sentiment enough to delude her practical faculty with false lights.
"Can not you do something?" asked Charlton, almost begging.
"I have tried everything. I have spoken to your mother. I have spoken to Uncle Plausaby. I have begged Katy to listen to me, but Katy would only feel sorry for him if she believed he was bad. She can love, but she can't think, and if she knew him to be the worst man in the Territory she would marry him to reform him. I did hope that you would have some influence over her."
"But Katy is such a child. She won't listen if I talk to her. Any opposition would only hurry the matter. I wish it were right to blow out his brains, if he has any, and I suppose the monkey has."
"It is a great deal better, Mr. Charlton, to trust in Providence where we can't do anything without doing wrong."
"Well, Miss Marlay, I didn't look for cant from you. I don't believe that God cares. Everything goes on by the almanac and natural law. The sun sets when the time comes, no matter who is belated. Girls that are sweet and loving and trusting, like Katy, have always been and will always be victims of rakish fools like Smith Westcott. I wish I were an Indian, and then I could be my own Providence. I would cut short his career, and make what David said about wicked men being cut off come true in this case, in the same way as I suppose David did in the case of the wicked of his day, by cutting them off himself."
Isabel was thoroughly shocked with this speech. What good religious girl would not have been? She told Mr. Charlton with much plainness of speech that she thought common modesty might keep him from making such criticisms on God. She for her part doubted whether all the facts of the case were known to him. She intimated that there were many things in God's administration not set down in almanacs, and she thought that, whatever God might be, a young man should not be in too great a hurry about arraigning Him for neglect of duty. I fear it would not contribute much to the settlement of the very ancient controversy if I should record all the arguments, which were not fresh or profound. It is enough that Albert replied sturdily, and that he went away presently with his vanity piqued by her censures. Not that he could not answer her reasoning, if it were worthy to be called reasoning. But he had lost ground in the estimation of a person whose good sense he could not help respecting, and the consciousness of this wounded his vanity. And whilst all she said was courteous, it was vehement as any defense of the faith is likely to be; he felt, besides, that he had spoken with rather more of the ex cathedra tone than was proper. A young man of opinions generally finds it so much easier to impress people with his tone than with his arguments! But he consoled himself with the reflection that the average woman—that word average was a balm for every wound—that the average woman is always tied to her religion, and intolerant of any doubts. He was pleased to think that Helen Minorkey was not intolerant. Of that he felt sure. He did not carry the analysis any farther, however; he did not ask why Helen was not intolerant, nor ask whether even intolerance may not sometimes be more tolerable than indifference. And in spite of his unpleasant irritation at finding this "average" woman not overawed by his oracular utterances, nor easily beaten in a controversy, Albert had a respect for her deeper than ever. There was something in her anger at Westcott that for a moment had seemed finer than anything he had seen in the self-possessed Miss Minorkey. But then she was so weak as to allow her intellectual conclusions to be influenced by her feelings, and to be intolerant.
I have said that this thing of falling in love is a very complex catastrophe. I might say that it is also a very uncertain one. Since we all of us "rub clothes with fate along the street," who knows whether Charlton would not, by this time, have been in love with Miss Marlay if he had not seen Miss Minorkey in the stage? If he had not run against her, while madly chasing a grasshopper? If he had not had a great curiosity about a question in botany which he could only settle in her company? And even yet, if he had not had collision with Isa on the question of Divine Providence? And even after that collision I will not be sure that the scale might not have been turned, had it not been that while he was holding this conversation with Isa Marlay, his mother and sister had come into the next room. For when he went out they showed unmistakable pleasure in their faces, and Mrs. Plausaby even ventured to ask: "Don't you like her, Albert?"
And when the mother tried to persuade him to forego his visit to the hotel in the evening, he put this and that together. And when this and that were put together, they combined to produce a soliloquy:
"Mother and Katy want to make a match for me. As if they understood me! They want me to marry an average woman, of course. Pshaw! Isabel Marlay only understands the 'culinary use' of things. My mother knows that she has a 'knack,' and thinks it would be nice for me to have a wife with a knack. But mother can't judge for me. I ought to have a wife with ideas. And I don't doubt Plausaby has a hand in trying to marry off his ward to somebody that won't make too much fuss about his accounts."
And so Charlton was put upon studying all the evening, to find points in which Miss Minorkey's conversation was superior to Miss Marlay's. And judged as he judged it—as a literary product—it was not difficult to find an abundant advantage on her side.
LOVERS AND LOVERS.
Albert Charlton had little money, and he was not a man to remain idle. He was good in mathematics, and did a little surveying now and then; in fact, with true democratic courage, he turned his hand to any useful employment. He did not regard these things as having any bearing on his career. He was only waiting for the time to come when he could found his Great Educational Institution on the virgin soil of Minnesota. Then he would give his life to training boys to live without meat or practical jokes, to love truth, honesty, and hard lessons; he would teach girls to forego jewelry and cucumber-pickles, to study physiology, and to abhor flirtations. Visionary, was he? You can not help smiling at a man who has a "vocation," and who wants to give the world a good send-off toward its "goal." But there is something noble about it after all. Something to make you and me ashamed of our selfishness. Let us not judge Charlton by his green flavor. When these discordant acids shall have ripened in the sunshine and the rain, who shall tell how good the fruit may be? We may laugh, however, at Albert, and his school that was to be. I do not doubt that even that visionary street-loafer known to the Athenians as Sokrates, was funny to those who looked at him from a great distance below.
During the time in which Charlton waited, and meditated his plans for the world's advancement by means of a school that should be so admirable as to modify the whole system of education by the sheer force of its example, he found it of very great advantage to unfold his plans to Miss Helen Minorkey. Miss Helen loved to hear him talk. His enthusiasm was the finest thing she had found, out of books. It was like a heroic poem, as she often remarked, this fine philanthropy of his, and he seemed to her like King Arthur preparing his Table Round to regenerate the earth. This compliment, uttered with the coolness of a literary criticism—and nothing could be cooler than a certain sort of literary criticism—this deliberate and oft-repeated compliment of Miss Minorkey always set Charlton's enthusiastic blood afire with love and admiration for the one Being, as he declared, born to appreciate his great purposes. And the Being was pleased to be made the partner of such dreams and hopes. In an intellectual and ideal fashion she did appreciate them. If Albert had carried out his great plans, she, as a disinterested spectator, would have written a critical analysis of them much as she would have described a new plant.
But whenever Charlton tried to excite in her an enthusiasm similar to his own, he was completely foiled. She shrunk from everything like self-denial or labor of any sort. She was not adapted to it, she assured him. And he who made fierce war on the uselessness of woman in general came to reconcile himself to the uselessness of woman in particular, to apologize for it, to justify it, to admire it. Love is the mother of invention, and Charlton persuaded himself that it was quite becoming in such a woman as the most remarkably cultivated, refined, and intellectual Helen Minorkey, to shrink from the drudgery of life. She was not intended for it. Her susceptibilities were too keen, according to him, though Helen Minorkey's susceptibilities were indeed of a very quiet sort. I believe that Charlton, the sweeping radical, who thought, when thinking on general principles, that every human-creature should live wholly for every other human creature, actually addressed some "Lines to H.M.," through the columns of the St. Paul Advertiser of that day, in which he promulgated the startling doctrine that a Being such as was the aforesaid H.M., could not be expected to come into contact with the hard realities of life. She must content herself with being the Inspiration of the life of Another, who would work out plans that should inure to the good of man and the honor of the Being, who would inspire and sustain the Toiler. The poem was considered very fine by H.M., though the thoughts were a little too obscure for the general public and the meter was not very smooth. You have doubtless had occasion to notice that poems which deal with Beings and Inspirations are usually of very imperfect fluidity.
Charlton worked at surveying and such other employments as offered themselves, wrote poems to Helen Minorkey, and plotted and planned how he might break up little Katy's engagement. He plotted and planned sometimes with a breaking heart, for the more he saw of Smith Westcott, the more entirely detestable he seemed. But he did not get much co-operation from Isabel Marlay. If he resented any effort to make a match between him and "Cousin Isa," she resented it ten times more vehemently, and all the more that she, in her unselfishness of spirit, admired sincerely the unselfishness of Charlton, and in her practical and unimaginative life felt drawn toward the idealist young man who planned and dreamed in a way quite wonderful to her. All her woman's pride made her resent the effort to marry her to a man in love with another, a man who had not sought her.
"Albert is smart," said Mrs. Plausaby to her significantly one day; "he would be just the man for you, Isa."
"Why, Mrs. Plausaby, I heard you say yourself that his wife would have to do without silk dresses and new bonnets. For my part, I don't think much of that kind of smartness that can't get a living. I wouldn't have a man like Mr. Charlton on any, terms."
And she believed that she spoke the truth; having never learned to analyze her own feelings, she did not know that all her dislike for Charlton had its root in a secret liking for him, and that having practical ability herself, the kind of ability that did not make a living was just the sort that she admired most.
It was, therefore, without any co-operation between them, that Isabel and young Charlton were both of them putting forth their best endeavor to defeat the plans of Smith Westcott, and avert the sad eclipse which threatened the life of little Katy. And their efforts in that direction were about equally fruitful in producing the result they sought to avoid. For whenever Isa talked to little Katy about Westcott, Katy in the goodness of her heart and the vehemence of her love was set upon finding out, putting in order, and enumerating all of his good qualities. And when Albert attacked him vehemently and called him a coxcomb, and a rake, and a heartless villain, she cried, and cried, out of sheer pity for "poor Mr. Westcott;" she thought him the most persecuted man in the world, and she determined that she would love him more fervently and devotedly than ever, that she would! Her love should atone for all the poor fellow suffered. And "poor Mr. Westcott" was not slow in finding out that "feelin' sorry for a feller was Katy's soft side, by George! he! he!" and having made this discovery he affected to be greatly afflicted at the treatment he received from Albert and from Miss Marlay; nor did he hesitate to impress Katy with the fact that he endured all these things out of pure devotion to her, and he told her that he could die for her, "by George! he! he!" any day, and that she mustn't ever desert him if she didn't want him to kill himself; he didn't care two cents for life except for her, and he'd just as soon go to sleep in the lake as not, "by George! he! he!" any day. And then he rattled his keys, and sang in a quite affecting way, to the simple-minded Kate, how for "bonnie Annie Laurie," with a look at Katy, he could "lay him down and dee," and added touchingly and recitatively the words "by George! he! he!" which made his emotion seem very real and true to Katy; she even saw a vision of "poor Mr. Westcott" dragged out of the lake dead on her account, and with that pathetic vision in her mind she vowed she'd rather die than desert him. And as for all the ills which her brother foreboded for her in case she should marry Smith Westcott, they did not startle her at all. Such simple, loving natures as Katy Charlton's can not feel for self. It is such a pleasure to them to throw themselves away in loving.
Besides, Mrs. Plausaby put all her weight into the scale, and with the loving Katy the mother's word weighed more even than Albert's. Mrs. Plausaby didn't see why in the world Katy couldn't marry as she pleased without being tormented to death. Marrying was a thing everybody must attend to personally for themselves. Besides, Mr. Westcott was a nice-spoken man, and dressed very well, his shirt-bosom was the finest in Metropolisville, and he had a nice hat and wore lavender gloves on Sundays. And he was a store-keeper, and he would give Katy all the nice things she wanted. It was a nice thing to be a store-keeper's wife. She wished Plausaby would keep a store. And she went to the glass and fixed her ribbons, and reflected that if Plausaby kept a store she could get plenty of them.
And so all that Cousin Isa and Brother Albert said came to naught, except that it drove the pitiful Katy into a greater devotion to her lover, and made the tender-hearted Katy cry. And when she cried, the sentimental Westcott comforted her by rattling his keys in an affectionate way, and reminding her that the course of true love never did run smooth, "by George! he! he! he!"
PLAUSABY, ESQ., TAKES A FATHERLY INTEREST.
Plausaby, Esq., felt a fatherly interest. He said so. He wanted Albert to make his way in the world. "You have great gifts, Albert," he said. But the smoother Mr. Plausaby talked, the rougher Mr. Albert felt. Mr. Plausaby felt the weight of all that Albert had said against the learned professions. He did, indeed. He would not care to say it so strongly. Not too strongly. Old men never spoke quite so strongly as young ones. But the time had been, he said, when Thomas Plausaby's pulse beat as quick and strong as any other young man's. Virtuous indignation was a beautiful emotion in a young man. For his part he never cared much for a young man who did not know how to show just such feeling on such questions. But one must not carry it too far. Not too far. Never too far. For his part ho did not like to see anything carried too far. It was always bad to carry a thing too far. A man had to make his bread somehow. It was a necessity. Every young man must consider that he had his way to make in the world. It was a fact to be considered. To be considered carefully. He would recommend that Albert consider it. And consider it carefully. Albert must make his way. For his part, he had a plan in view that he thought could not be objectionable to Albert's feelings. Not at all objectionable. Not in the least.
All this Plausaby, Esq., oozed out at proper intervals and in gentlest tones. Charlton for his mother's sake kept still, and reflected that Mr. Plausaby had not said a word as yet that ought to anger him. He therefore nodded his head and waited to hear the plan which Plausaby had concocted for him.
Mr. Plausaby proceeded to state that he thought Albert ought to pre-empt.
Albert said that he would like to pre-empt as soon as he should be of age, but that was some weeks off yet, and he supposed that when he got ready there would be few good claims left.
The matter of age was easily got over, replied Plausaby. Quite easily got over. Nothing easier, indeed. All the young men in the Territory who were over nineteen had pre-empted. It was customary. Quite customary, indeed. And custom was law. In some sense it was law. Of course there were some customs in regard to pre-emption that Plausaby thought no good man could approve. Not at all. Not in the least.
There was the building of a house on wheels and hauling it from claim to claim, and swearing it in on each claim as a house on that claim. Plausaby, Esq., did not approve of that. Not at all. Not in the least. He thought it a dangerous precedent. Quite dangerous. Quite so. But good men did it. Very good men, indeed. And then he had known men to swear that there was glass in the window of a house when there was only a whisky-bottle sitting in the window. It was amusing. Quite amusing, these devices. Four men just over in Town 21 had built a house on the corners of four quarter sections. The house partly on each of the four claims. Swore that house in on each claim. But such expedients were not to be approved. Not at all. They were not commendable. However, nearly all the claims in the Territory had been made irregularly. Nearly all of them. And the matter of age could be gotten over easily. Custom made law. And Albert was twenty-three in looks. Quite twenty-three. More than that, indeed. Twenty-five, perhaps. Some people were men at sixteen. And some were always men. They were, indeed. Always men. Always. Albert was a man in intellect. Quite a man. The spirit of the law was the thing to be looked at. The spirit, not the letter. Not the letter at all. The spirit of the law warranted Albert in pre-empting.
Here Plausaby, Esq., stopped a minute. But Albert said nothing. He detested Plausaby's ethics, but was not insensible to his flattery.
"And as for a claim, Albert, I will attend to that. I will see to it. I know a good chance for you to make two thousand dollars fairly hi a month. A very good chance. Very good, indeed. There is a claim adjoining this town-site which was filed on by a stage-driver. Reckless sort of a fellow. Disreputable. We don't want him to hold land here. Not at all. You would be a great addition to us. You would indeed. A great addition. A valuable addition to the town. And it would be a great comfort to your mother and to me to have you near us. It would indeed. A great comfort. We could secure this Whisky Jim's claim very easily for you, and you could lay it off into town lots. I have used my pre-emption right, or I would take that myself. I advise you to secure it. I do, indeed. You couldn't use your pre-emption right to a better advantage. I am sure you couldn't."
"Well," said Albert, "if Whisky Jim will sell out, why not get him to hold it for me for three weeks until I am of age?"
"He wouldn't sell, but he has forfeited it. He neglected to stay on it. Has been away from it more than thirty days. You have a perfect right to jump it and pre-empt it. I am well acquainted with Mr. Shamberson, the brother-in-law of the receiver. Very well acquainted. He is a land-office lawyer, and they do say that a fee of fifty dollars to him will put the case through, right or wrong. But in this case we should have right on our side, and should make a nice thing. A very nice thing, indeed. And the town would be relieved of a dissipated man, and you could then carry out your plan of establishing a village library here."
"But," said Albert between his teeth, "I hear that the reason Jim didn't come back to take possession of his claim at the end of his thirty days is his sickness. He's sick at the Sod Tavern."
"Well, you see, he oughtn't to have neglected his claim so long before he was taken sick. Not at all. Besides, he doesn't add anything to the moral character of a town. I value the moral character of a settler above all I do, indeed. The moral character. If he gets that claim, he'll get rich off my labors, and be one of our leading citizens. Quite a leading citizen. It is better that you should have it. A great deal better. Better all round. The depot will be on one corner of the east forty of that claim, probably. Now, you shouldn't neglect your chance to get on. You shouldn't, really. This is the road to wealth and influence. The road to wealth. And influence. You can found your school there. You'll have money and land. Money to build with. Land on which to build. You will have both."
"You want me to swear that I am twenty-one when I am not, to bribe the receiver, and to take a claim and all the improvements on it from a sick man?" said Albert with heat.
"You put things wrong. Quite so. I want to help you to start. The claim is now open. It belongs to Government, with all improvements. Improvements go with the claim. If you don't take it, somebody will. It is a pity for you to throw away your chances."
"My chances of being a perjured villain and a thief! No, thank you, sir," said the choleric Charlton, getting very red in the face, and stalking out of the room.
"Such notions!" cried his mother. "Just like his father over again. His father threw away all his chances just for notions. I tell you, Plausaby, he never got any of those notions from me. Not one."
"No, I don't think he did," said Plausaby. "I don't think he did. Not at all. Not in the least."
ABOUT SEVERAL THINGS.
Albert Charlton, like many other very conscientious men at his time of life, was quarrelsomely honest. He disliked Mr. Plausaby's way of doing business, and he therefore determined to satisfy his conscience by having a row with his step-father. And so he startled his sister and shocked his mother, and made the house generally uncomfortable, by making, in season and out of season, severe remarks on the subject of land speculation, and particularly of land-sharks. It was only Albert's very disagreeable way of being honest. Even Isabel Marlay looked with terror at what she regarded as signs of an approaching quarrel between the two men of the house.
But there was no such thing as a quarrel with Plausaby. Moses may have been the meekest of men, but that was in the ages before Plausaby, Esq. No manner of abuse could stir him. He had suffered many things of many men in his life, many things of outraged creditors, and the victims of his somewhat remarkable way of dealing; his air of patient long-suffering and quiet forbearance under injury had grown chronic. It was, indeed, part of his stock in trade, an element of character that redounded to his credit, while it cost nothing and was in every way profitable. It was as though the whole catalogue of Christian virtues had been presented to Plausaby to select from, and he, with characteristic shrewdness, had taken the one trait that was cheapest and most remunerative.
In these contests Albert was generally sure to sacrifice by his extravagance whatever sympathy he might otherwise have had from the rest of the family. When he denounced dishonest trading, Isabel knew that he was right, and that Mr. Plausaby deserved the censure, and even Mrs. Plausaby and the sweet, unreasoning Katy felt something of the justice of what he said. But Charlton was never satisfied to stop here. He always went further, and made a clean sweep of the whole system of town-site speculation, which unreasonable invective forced those who would have been his friends into opposition. And the beautiful meekness with which Plausaby, Esq., bore his step-son's denunciations never failed to excite the sympathy and admiration of all beholders. By never speaking an unkind word, by treating Albert with gentle courtesy, by never seeming to feel his innuendoes, Plausaby heaped coals of fire on his enemies' head, and had faith to believe that the coals were very hot. Mrs. Ferret, who once witnessed one of the contests between the two, or rather one of these attacks of Albert, for there could be no contest with embodied meekness, gave her verdict for Plausaby. He showed such a "Chrischen" spirit. She really thought he must have felt the power of grace. He seemed to hold schripcherral views, and show such a spirit of Chrischen forbearance, that she for her part thought he deserved the sympathy of good people. Mr. Charlton was severe, he was unchar-it-able—really unchar-it-able in his spirit. He pretended to a great deal of honesty, but people of unsound views generally whitened the outside of the sep-ul-cher. And Mrs. Ferret closed the sentence by jerking her face into an astringed smile, which, with the rising inflection of her voice, demanded the assent of her hearers.
The evidences of disapproval which Albert detected in the countenances of those about him did not at all decrease his irritation. His irritation did not tend to modify the severity of his moral judgments. And the fact that Smith Westcott had jumped the claim of Whisky Jim, of course at Plausaby's suggestion, led Albert into a strain of furious talk that must have produced a violent rupture in the family, had it not been for the admirable composure of Plausaby, Esq., under the extremest provocation. For Charlton openly embraced the cause of Jim; and much as he disliked all manner of rascality, he was secretly delighted to hear that Jim had employed Shamberson, the lawyer, who was brother-in-law to the receiver of the land-office, and whose retention in those days of mercenary lawlessness was a guarantee of his client's success. Westcott had offered the lawyer a fee of fifty dollars, but Jim's letter, tendering him a contingent fee of half the claim, reached him in the same mail, and the prudent lawyer, after talking the matter over with the receiver who was to decide the case, concluded to take half of the claim. Jim would have given him all rather than stand a defeat.
Katy, with more love than logic, took sides of course with her lover in this contest. Westcott showed her where he meant to build the most perfect little dove-house for her, by George, he! he! and she listened to his side of the story, and became eloquent in her denunciation of the drunken driver who wanted to cheat poor, dear Smith—she had got to the stage in which she called him by his Christian name now—to cheat poor, dear Smith out of his beautiful claim.
If I were writing a History instead of a Mystery of Metropolisville, I should have felt under obligation to begin with the founding of the town, in the year preceding the events of this story. Not that there were any mysterious rites or solemn ceremonies. Neither Plausaby nor the silent partners interested with him cared for such classic customs. They sought first to guess out the line of a railroad; they examined corner-stakes; they planned for a future county-seat; they selected a high-sounding name, regardless of etymologies and tautologies; they built shanties, "filed" according to law, laid off a town-site, put up a hotel, published a beautiful colored map, and began to give away lots to men who would build on them. Such, in brief, is the unromantic history of the founding of the village of Metropolisville.
And if this were a history, I should feel bound to tell of all the maneuvers resorted to by Metropolisville, party of the second part, to get the county-seat removed from Perritaut, party of the first part, party in possession. But about the time that Smith Westcott's contest about the claim was ripening to a trial, the war between the two villages was becoming more and more interesting. A special election was approaching, and Albert of course took sides against Metropolisville, partly because of his disgust at the means Plausaby was using, partly because he thought the possession of the county-seat would only enable Plausaby to swindle more people and to swindle them more effectually, partly because he knew that Perritaut was more nearly central in the county, and partly because he made it a rule to oppose Plausaby on general principles. Albert was an enthusiastic and effective talker, and it was for this reason that Plausaby had wished to interest him by getting him to "jump" Whisky Jim's claim, which lay alongside the town. And it was because he was an enthusiastic talker, and because his entire disinterestedness and his relations to Plausaby gave his utterances peculiar weight, that the Squire planned to get him out of the county until after the election.
Mrs. Plausaby suggested to Albert that he should go and visit a cousin thirty miles away. Who suggested it to Mrs. Plausaby we may not guess, since we may not pry into the secrets of a family, or know anything of the conferences which a husband may hold with his wife in regard to the management of the younger members of the household. As an authentic historian, I am bound to limit myself to the simple fact, and the fact is that Mrs. Plausaby stated to Albert her opinion that it would be a nice thing for him to go and see Cousin John's folks at Glenfleld. She made the suggestion with characteristic maladroitness, at a moment when Albert had been holding forth on his favorite hobby of the sinfulness of land-speculation in general, and the peculiar wickedness of misrepresentation and all the other arts pertaining to town-site swindling. Perhaps Albert was too suspicious. He always saw the hand of Plausaby in everything proposed by his mother. He bluntly refused to go. He wanted to stay and vote. He would be of age in time. He wanted to stay and vote against this carting of a county-seat around the country for purposes of speculation. He became so much excited at what he regarded as a scheme to get him out of the way, that he got up from the table and went out into the air to cool off. He sat down on the unpainted piazza, and took up Gerald Massey's poems, of which he never tired, and read until the light failed.
And then came Isa Marlay out in the twilight and said she wanted to speak to him, and he got her a chair and listened while she spoke in a voice as full of harmony as her figure was full of gracefulness. I have said that Isabel was not a beauty, and yet such was the influence of her form, her rhythmical movement, and her sweet, rich voice, that Charlton thought she was handsome, and when she sat down and talked to him, he found himself vibrating, as a sensitive nature will, under the influence of grace or beauty.
"Don't you think, Mr. Charlton, that you would better take your mother's suggestion, and go to your cousin's? You'll excuse me for speaking about what does not concern me?"
Charlton would have excused her for almost anything she might have said in the way of advice or censure, for in spite of all his determination that it should not be, her presence was very pleasant to him.
"Certainly I have no objection to receive advice, Miss Marlay; but have you joined the other side?"
"I don't know what you mean by the other side, Mr. Charlton. I don't belong to any side. I think all quarreling is unpleasant, and I hate it. I don't think anything you say makes any change in Uncle Plausaby, while it does make your mother unhappy."
"So you think, Miss Isabel, that I ought to go away from Wheat County and not throw my influence on the side of right in this contest, because my mother is unhappy?" Albert spoke with some warmth.
"I did not say so. I think that a useless struggle, which makes your mother unhappy, ought to be given over. But I didn't want to advise you about your duty to your mother. I was led into saying so much on that point. I came to say something else. It does seem to me that if you could take Katy with you, something might turn up that would offer you a chance to influence her. And that would be better than keeping the county-seat at Perritaut." And she got up to go in.
Charlton was profoundly touched by Isabel's interest in Katy. He rose to his feet and said: "You are right, I believe. And I am very, very much obliged."
And as the straightforward Isa said, "Oh! no, that is nothing," and walked away, Charlton looked after her and said, "What a charming woman!" He felt more than he said, and he immediately set himself loyally to work to enumerate all the points in which Miss Helen Minorkey was superior to Isa, and said that, after all, gracefulness of form and elasticity of motion and melodiousness of voice were only lower gifts, possessed in a degree by birds and animals, and he blamed himself for feeling them at all, and felt thankful that Helen Minorkey had those higher qualities which would up-lift—he had read some German, and compounded his words—up-lift a man to a higher level. Perhaps every loyal-hearted lover plays these little tricks of self-deception on himself. Every lover except the one whose "object" is indeed perfect. You know who that is. So do I. Indeed, life would be a very poor affair if it were not for these—what shall I call them? If Brown knew how much Jones's wife was superior to his own, Brown would be neither happier nor better for the knowledge. When he sees the superiority of Mrs. Jones's temper to Mrs. Brown's somewhat energetic disposition, he always falls back on Mrs. Brown's diploma, and plumes himself that at any rate Mrs. Brown graduated at the Hobson Female College. Poor Mrs. Jones had only a common-school education. How mortified Jones must feel when he thinks of it!
That Katy should go with Albert to see the cousins at Glenfield was a matter easily brought about. Plausaby, Esq., was so desirous of Albert's absence that he threw all of Mrs. Plausaby's influence on the side of the arrangement which Charlton made a sine qua non. Albert felt a little mean at making such a compromise of principle, and Plausaby felt much as a man does who pays the maker of crank-music to begone. He did not like Katy's going; he wanted to further her marriage with so influential a person as Smith Westcott, the agent in charge of the interests of Jackson, Jones & Co., who not only owned the Emporium, but were silent partners in the town-site. But Katy must go. Plausaby affectionately proffered the loan of his horse and buggy, which Charlton could not well refuse, and so the two set out for Glenfleld with many kind adieus. Westcott came down, and smoked, and rattled his keys, and hoped they'd have a pleasant journey and get back soon, you know, Katy, by George! he! he! he! Couldn't live long without the light of her countenance. 'S a fact! By George! He! he! And when the carpet-bags and lunch-basket and all the rest were stowed away under the seat of the buggy, Mrs. Plausaby, with a magnificent number of streamers, kissed them, and she and Cousin Isa stood by the gate and nodded their heads to the departing buggy, as an expression of their feelings, and Mr. Plausaby lifted his hat in such a way as to conceal his feelings, which, written out, would be, "Good riddance!" And Smith Westcott blandly waved his good-by and bowed to the ladies at the gate, and started back to the store. He was not feeling very happy, apparently, for he walked to the store moodily, rattling the coppers and keys in his right pantaloons-pocket. But he seemed to see a little daylight, for just as he arrived in front of the Emporium, he looked up and said, as if he had just thought of something, "By George! he! he! he!"
Owing to some delay in fixing the buggy, Charlton had not got off till about noon, but as the moon would rise soon after dark, he felt sure of reaching Glenfleld by nine in the evening. One doesn't mind a late arrival when one is certain of a warm welcome. And so they jogged on quietly over the smooth road, the slow old horse walking half the time. Albert was not in a hurry. For the first time since his return, he felt that for a moment he possessed little Katy again. The shadow had gone; it might come back; he would rejoice in the light while he could. Katy was glad to be relieved of the perpetual conflict at home, and, with a feeling entirely childish, she rejoiced that Albert was not now reproving her. And so Albert talked in his old pedagogic fashion, telling Katy of all the strange things he could think of, and delighting himself in watching the wonder and admiration in her face. The country was now smooth and now broken, and Albert thought he had never seen the grass so green or the flowers so bright as they were this morning. The streams they crossed were clear and cold, the sun shone hot upon them, but the sky was so blue and the earth so green that they both abandoned themselves to the pleasure of living with such a sky above and such a world beneath. There were here and there a few settlers' houses, but not yet a great many. The country was not a lonely one for all that. Every now and then the frightened prairie-chickens ran across the road or rose with their quick, whirring flight; ten thousand katydids and grasshoppers were jumping, fluttering, flying, and fiddling their rattling notes, and the air seemed full of life. They were considerably delayed by Albert's excursions after new insects, for he had brought his collecting-box and net along. So that when, about the middle of the afternoon, as they stopped, in fording a brook, to water old Prince, and were suddenly startled by the sound of thunder, Albert felt a little conscience-smitten that he had not traveled more diligently toward his destination. And when he drove on a quarter of a mile, he found himself in a most unpleasant dilemma, the two horns being two roads, concerning which those who directed him had neglected to give him any advice. Katy had been here before, and she was very sure that to the right hand was the road. There was now no time to turn back, for the storm was already upon them—one of those fearful thunderstorms to which the high Minnesota table-land is peculiarly liable. In sheer desperation, Charlton took the right-hand road, not doubting that he could at least find shelter for the night in some settler's shanty. The storm was one not to be imagined by those who have not seen its like, not to be described by any one. The quick succession of flashes of lightning, the sudden, sharp, unendurable explosions, before, behind, and on either side, shook the nerves of Charlton and drove little Katy frantic. For an hour they traveled through the drenching rain, their eyes blinded every minute by lightning; for an hour they expected continually that the next thunder-bolt would smite them. All round them, on that treeless prairie, the lightning seemed to fall, and with every new blaze they held their breath for fear of sudden death. Charlton wrapped Katy in every way he could, but still the storm penetrated all the wrapping, and the cold rain chilled them both to the core. Katy, on her part, was frightened, lest the lightning should strike Brother Albert. Muffled in shawls, she felt tolerably safe from a thunderbolt, but it was awful to think that Brother Albert sat out there, exposed to the lightning. And in this time of trouble and danger, Charlton held fast to his sister. He felt a brave determination never to suffer Smith Westcott to have her. And if he had only lived in the middle ages, he would doubtless have challenged the fellow to mortal combat. Now, alas! civilization was in his way.
At last the storm spent itself a little, and the clouds broke away in the west, lighting up the rain and making it glorious. Then the wind veered, and the clouds seemed to close over them again, and the lightning, not quite so vivid or so frequent but still terrible, and the rain, with an incessant plashing, set in as for the whole night. Darkness was upon them, not a house was in sight, the chill cold of the ceaseless rain seemed beyond endurance, the horse was well-nigh exhausted and walked at a dull pace, while Albert feared that Katy would die from the exposure. As they came to the top of each little rise he strained his eyes, and Katy rose up and strained her eyes, in the vain hope of seeing a light, but they did not know that they were in the midst of—that they were indeed driving diagonally across—a great tract of land which had come into the hands of some corporation by means of the location of half-breed scrip. They had long since given up all hope of the hospitable welcome at the house of Cousin John, and now wished for nothing but shelter of any sort. Albert knew that he was lost, but this entire absence of settlers' houses, and even of deserted claim-shanties built for pre-emption purposes, puzzled him. Sometimes he thought he saw a house ahead, and endeavored to quicken the pace of the old horse, but the house always transformed itself to a clump of hazel-brush as he drew nearer. About nine o'clock the rain grew colder and the lightning less frequent. Katy became entirely silent—Albert could feel her shiver now and then. Thus, in numb misery, constantly hoping to see a house on ascending the next rise of ground and constantly suffering disappointment, they traveled on through the wretched monotony of that night. The ceaseless plash of the rain, the slow tread of the horse's hoofs in the water, the roar of a distant thunderbolt—these were the only sounds they heard during the next hour—during the longer hour following—during the hours after that. And then little Katy, thinking she must die, began to send messages to the folks at home, and to poor, dear Smith, who would cry so when she was gone.
But just in the moment of extremity, when Charlton felt that his very heart was chilled by this exposure in an open buggy to more than seven hours of terrific storm, he caught sight of something which cheered him. He had descended into what seemed to be a valley, there was water in the road, he could mark the road by the absence of grass, and the glistening of the water in the faint light. The water was growing deeper; just ahead of him was a small but steep hill; on top of the hill, which showed its darker form against the dark clouds, he had been able to distinguish by the lightning-light a hay-stack, and here on one side of the road the grass of the natural meadow gave unmistakable evidence of having been mowed. Albert essayed to cheer Katy by calling her attention to these signs of human habitation, but Katy was too cold and weary and numb to say much or feel much; an out-door wet-sheet pack for seven hours does not leave much of heart or hope in a human soul.
Albert noticed with alarm that the water under the horse's feet increased in depth continually. A minute ago it was just above the fetlocks; now it was nearly to the knees, and the horse was obliged to lift his feet still more slowly. The rain had filled the lowland with water. Still the grass grew on either side of the road, and Charlton did not feel much alarm until, coming almost under the very shadow of the bluff, the grass suddenly ceased abruptly, and all was water, with what appeared to be an inaccessible cliff beyond. The road which lost itself in this pool or pond, must come out somewhere on the other side. But where? To the right or left? And how bottomless might not the morass be if he should miss the road!
But in such a strait one must do something. So he selected a certain point to the left, where the hill on the other side looked less broken, and, turning the horse's head in that direction, struck him smartly with the whip. The horse advanced a step or two, the water rose quickly to his body, and he refused to go any farther. Neither coaxing nor whipping could move him. There was nothing to do now but to wait for the next flash of lightning. It was long to wait, for with the continuance of the storm the lightning had grown less and less frequent. Charlton thought it the longest five minutes that he ever knew. At last there came a blaze, very bright and blinding, leaving a very fearful darkness after it. But short and sudden as it was, it served to show Charlton that the sheet of water before him was not a pool or a pond, but a brook or a creek over all its banks, swollen to a river, and sweeping on, a wild torrent. At the side on which Charlion was, the water was comparatively still; the stream curved in such a way as to make the current dash itself against the rocky bluff.
Albert drove up the stream, and in a fit of desperation again essayed to ford it. The staying in the rain all night with Katy was so terrible to him that he determined to cross at all hazards. It were better to drown together than to perish here. But again the prudent stubbornness of the old horse saved them. He stood in the water as immovable as the ass of Balaam. Then, for the sheer sake of doing something, Charlton drove down the stream to a point opposite where the bluff seemed of easy ascent. Here he again attempted to cross, and was again balked by the horse's regard for his own safety. Charlton did not appreciate the depth and swiftness of the stream, nor the consequent certainty of drowning in any attempt to ford it. Not until he got out of the buggy and tried to cross afoot did he understand how impossible it was.
When Albert returned to the vehicle he sat still. The current rippled against the body of the horse and the wheels of the buggy. The incessant rain roared in the water before him. There was nothing to be done. In the sheer exhaustion of his resources, in his numb despondency, he neglected even to drive the horse out of the water. How long he sat there it would be hard to say. Several times he roused himself to utter a "Halloo!" But the roar of the rain swallowed up his voice, which was husky with emotion.
After a while he heard a plashing in the water, which was not that of the rain. He thought it must be the sound of a canoe-paddle. Could anybody row against such a torrent? But he distinctly heard the plashing, and it was below him. Even Katy roused herself to listen, and strained her eyes against the blackness of the night to discover what it might be. It did not grow any nearer. It did not retreat. At the end of ten minutes this irregular but distinct dipping sound, which seemed to be in some way due to human agency, was neither farther nor nearer, neither slower nor more rapid than at first. Albert hallooed again and again at it, but the mysterious cause of this dipping and dashing was deaf to all cries for help. Or if not deaf, this oarsman seemed as incapable of giving reply as the "dumb old man" that rowed the "lily maid of Astolat" to the palace of Arthur.
But it was no oarsman, not even a dumb one. The lightning for which Albert prayed came at last, and illumined the water and the shores, dispelling all dreams of canoe or oarsman. Charlton saw in an instant that there was a fence a few rods away, and that where the fence crossed the stream, or crossed from bank to bank of what was the stream at its average stage, long poles had been used, and one of these long and supple poles was now partly submerged. The swift current bent it in the middle until it would spring out of the water and drop back higher up. It was thus kept in a rotary motion, making the sound which he had mistaken for the paddling of a canoeman. With this discovery departed all thought of human help from that quarter.
But with the dissipating of the illusion came a new hope. Charlton turned the head of the horse back and drove him out of the water, or at least to a part of the meadow where the overflowed water did not reach to his knees. Here he tied him to a tree, and told Katy she must stay alone until he should cross the stream and find help, if help there should be, and return. It might take him half an hour. But poor Katy said that she could not live half an hour longer in this rain. And, besides, she knew that Albert would be drowned in crossing. So that it was with much ado that he managed to get away from her, and, indeed, I think she cried after he had gone. He called back to her when he got to the brook's bank, "All right, Katy!" but Katy heard him through the roar of the rain, and it seemed to her that he was being swallowed up in a Noachian deluge.
Charlton climbed along on the precarious footing afforded by the submerged pole, holding to the poles above while the water rushed about his feet. These poles were each of them held by a single large nail at each end, and the support was doubly doubtful. He might fall off, or the nails might come out. Even had he not been paralyzed by long exposure to the cold, he could have no hope of being able to swim in such a torrent.
In the middle of the stream he found a new difficulty. The posts to which these limber poles were nailed at either end sloped in opposite directions, so that while he started across on the upper side he found that when he got to the middle the pole fence began to slant so much up the stream that he must needs climb to the other side, a most difficult and dangerous performance on a fence of wabbling popple poles in the middle of a stream on a very dark night. When at last he got across the stream, he found himself in the midst of a hazel thicket higher than his head. He hallooed to Katy, and she was sure this time that it was his last drowning cry. Working his way out of the hazel-brush, he came to a halt against a fence and waited for lightning. That there was a house in the neighborhood he could not doubt, but whether it were inhabited or not was a question. And where was it?
For full five minutes—an eternal five minutes—the pitiless rain poured down upon Charlton as he stood there by the fence, his eyes going forward to find a house, his heart running back to the perishing Katy. At last the lightning showed him a house, and from the roof of the house he saw a stovepipe. The best proof that it was not a deserted claim-shanty!
Stumbling round the fence in the darkness, Charlton came upon the house, a mere cabin, and tried three sides of it before he found the entrance. When he knocked, the door was opened by a tall man, who said:
"Right smart sprinkle, stranger! Where did you come from? Must 'a' rained down like a frog."
But Albert had no time for compliments. He told his story very briefly, and asked permission to bring his sister over.
"Fetch her right along, stranger. No lady never staid in this 'ere shed afore, but she's mighty welcome."
Albert now hurried back, seized with a fear that he would find Katy dead. He crossed on the poles again, shouting to Katy as he went. He found her almost senseless. He quickly loosed old Prince from the buggy, and tethered him with the lines where he would not suffer for either water or grass, and then lifted Kate from the buggy, and literally carried her to the place where they must needs climb along the poles. It was with much difficulty that he partly carried her, partly persuaded her to climb along that slender fence. How he ever got the almost helpless girl over into that hazel-brush thicket he never exactly knew, but as they approached the house, guided by a candle set in the window, she grew more and more feeble, until Albert was obliged to carry her in and lay her down in a swoon of utter exhaustion.
The inhabitant of the cabin ran to a little cupboard, made of a packing-box, and brought out a whisky-flask, and essayed to put it to her lips, but as he saw her lying there, white and beautiful in her helplessness, he started back and said, with a rude reverence, "Stranger, gin her some of this 'ere—I never could tech sech a creetur!"
And Albert gave her some of the spirits and watched her revive. He warmed her hands and chafed her feet before the fire which the backwoodsman had made. As she came back to consciousness, Charlton happened to think that he had no dry clothes for her. He would have gone immediately back to the buggy, where there was a portmanteau carefully stowed under the seat, but that the Inhabitant had gone out and he was left alone with Katy, and he feared that she would faint again if he should leave her. Presently the tall, lank, longhaired man came in.
"Mister," he said, "I made kinder sorter free with your things. I thought as how as the young woman might want to shed some of them air wet feathers of her'n, and so I jist venter'd to go and git this yer bag 'thout axin' no leave nor license, while you was a-bringin' on her to. Looks pooty peart, by hokey! Now, mister, we ha'n't got no spar rooms here. But you and me'll jes' take to the loff thar fer a while, seein' our room is better nor our comp'ny. You kin change up stars."
They went to the loft by an outside ladder, the Inhabitant speaking very reverently in a whisper, evidently feeling sure that there was an angel down-stairs. They went down again after a while, and the Inhabitant piled on wood so prodigally that the room became too warm; he boiled a pot of coffee, fried some salt-pork, baked some biscuit, a little yellow and a little too short, but to the hungry travelers very palatable. Even Charlton found it easy to forego his Grahamism and eat salt-pork, especially as he had a glass of milk. Katy, for her part, drank a cup of coffee but ate little, though the Inhabitant offered her the best he had with a voice stammering with emotion. He could not speak to her without blushing to his temples. He tried to apologize for the biscuit and the coffee, but could hardly ever get through his sentence intelligibly, he was so full of a sentiment of adoration for the first lady into whose presence he had come in years. Albert felt a profound respect for the man on account of his reverence for Katy. And Katy of course loved him as she did everybody who was kind to her or to her friends, and she essayed once or twice to make him feel comfortable by speaking to him, but so great was his agitation when spoken to by the divine creature, that he came near dropping a plate of biscuit the first time she spoke, and almost upset the coffee the next time. I have often noticed that the anchorites of the frontier belong to two classes—those who have left humanity and civilization from sheer antagonism to men, a selfish, crabbed love of solitude, and those who have fled from their fellows from a morbid sensitiveness. The Inhabitant was of the latter sort.
When Albert awoke next morning from a sound sleep on the buffalo-robe in the loft of the cabin of the Inhabitant, the strange being who had slept at his side had gone. He found him leaning against the foot of the ladder outside.
"Waitin', you know," he said when he saw Albert, "tell she gits up. I was tryin' to think what I could do to make this house fit fer her to stay in; fer, you see, stranger, they's no movin' on tell to-morry, fer though the rain's stopped, I 'low you can't git that buggy over afore to-morry mornin'. But blam'd ef 'ta'n't too bad fer sech as her to stay in sech a cabin! I never wanted no better place tell las' night, but ever sence that creetur crossed the door-sill. I've wished it was a palace of di'monds. She hadn't orter live in nothin' poarer."
"Where did you come from?" asked Charlton.
"From the Wawbosh. You see I couldn't stay. They treated me bad. I had a idee. I wanted to write somethin' or nother in country talk. I need to try to write potry in good big dictionary words, but I hadn't but 'mazin little schoolin', and lived along of a set of folks that talked jes' like I do. But a Scotchman what I worked along of one winter, he read me some potry, writ out by a Mr. Burns, in the sort of bad grammar that a Scotchman talks, you know. And I says, Ef a Scotchman could write poetry in his sort of bad grammar, why couldn't a Hoosier jest as well write poetry in the sort of lingo we talk down on the Wawbosh? I don't see why. Do you, now?"
Albert was captivated to find a "child of nature" with such an idea, and he gave it his entire approval.
"Wal, you see, when I got to makin' varses I found the folks down in Posey Kyounty didn' take to varses wrote out in their own talk. They liked the real dictionary po'try, like 'The boy stood on the burnin' deck' and 'A life on the ocean wave,' but they made fun of me, and when the boys got a hold of my poortiest varses, and said 'em over and over as they was comin' from school, and larfed at me, and the gals kinder fooled me, gittin' me to do some varses fer ther birthdays, and then makin' fun of 'em, I couldn' bar it no ways, and so I jist cleaned out and left to git shed of their talk. But I stuck to my idee all the same. I made varses in the country talk all the same, and sent 'em to editors, but they couldn' see nothin' in 'em. Writ back that I'd better larn to spell. When I could a-spelt down any one of 'em the best day they ever seed!"
"I'd like to see some of your verses," said Albert.
"I thought maybe you mout," and with that he took out a soiled blue paper on which was written in blue ink some verses.
"Now, you see, I could spell right ef I wanted to, but I noticed that Mr. Burns had writ his Scotch like it was spoke, and so I thought I'd write my country talk by the same rule."
And the picturesque Inhabitant, standing there in the morning light in his trapper's wolf-skin cap, from the apex of which the tail of the wolf hung down his back, read aloud the verses which he had written in the Hoosier dialect, or, as he called it, the country talk of the Wawbosh. In transcribing them, I have inserted one or two apostrophes, for the poet always complained that though he could spell like sixty, he never could mind his stops.
WHAT DUMB CRITTERS SAYS
The cat-bird poorty nigh splits his throat, Ef nobody's thar to see. The cat-bird poorty nigh splits his throat, But ef I say, "Sing out, green coat," Why, "I can't" and "I shan't," says he.
I 'low'd the crows mout be afeard Of a man made outen straw. I 'low'd the crows mout be afeard, But laws! they warn't the least bit skeered, They larfed out, "Haw! haw-haw!"
A long-tail squir'l up in th' top Of that air ellum tree, A long-tail squir'l up in th' top, A lis'nin' to the acorns drop, Says, "Sh! sh-sh!" at me.
The big-eyed owl a-settin' on a limb With nary a wink nur nod, The big-eyed owl a-settin' on a limb, Is a-singin' a sort of a solemn hymn Of "Hoo! hoo-ah!" at God.
Albert could not resist a temptation to smile at this last line.
"I know, stranger. You think a owl can't sing to God. But I'd like to know why! Ef a mockin'-bird kin sing God's praises a-singin' trible, and so on through all the parts—you see I larnt the squar notes oncet at a singin'—why, I don't see to save me why the bass of the owl a'n't jest as good praisin' ef 'ta'n't quite sech fine singin'. Do you, now? An' I kinder had a feller-feelin' fer the owl. I says to him,' Well, ole feller, you and me is jist alike in one thing. Our notes a'n't appreciated by the public.' But maybe God thinks about as much of the real ginowine hootin' of a owl as he does of the highfalugeon whistlin' of a mockin'-bird all stole from somebody else. An' ef my varses is kinder humbly to hear, anyway they a'n't made like other folkses; they're all of 'em outen my head—sech as it is."
"You certainly have struck an original vein," said Albert, who had a passion for nature in the rough. "I wish you would read some of your verses to my sister."
"Couldn' do it," said the poet; "at least, I don't believe I could. My voice wouldn' hold up. Laid awake all las' night tryin' to make some varses about her. But sakes, stranger, I couldn' git two lines strung together. You mout as well try to put sunshine inter a gallon-jug, you know, as to write about that lovely creetur. An' I can't make poetry in nothin' 'ceppin' in our country talk; but laws! it seems sech a rough thing to use to say anything about a heavenly angel in. Seemed like as ef I was makin' a nosegay fer her, and hadn't no poseys but jimson-weeds, hollyhocks, and big yaller sunflowers. I wished I could 'a' made real dictionary poetry like Casabianca and Hail Columby. But I didn' know enough about the words. I never got nary wink of sleep a-thinkin' about her, and a-wishin' my house was finer and my clo'es purtier and my hair shorter, and I was a eddicated gentleman. Never wished that air afore."
Katy woke up a little dull and quite hungry, but not sick, and she good-naturedly set herself to work to show her gratitude to the Inhabitant by helping, him to get breakfast, at which he declared that he was never so flustrated in all his born days. Never.
They waited all that day for the waters to subside, and Katy taught the Poet several new culinary arts, while he showed her his traps and hunting gear, and initiated the two strangers into all the mysteries of mink and muskrat catching, telling them more about the habits of fur-bearing animals than they could have learned from books. And Charlton recited many pieces of "real dictionary poetry" to the poor fellow, who was at last prevailed on to read some of his dialect pieces in the presence of Katy. He read her one on "What the Sunflower said to the Hollyhock," and a love-poem, called "Polly in the Spring-house." The first strophe of this inartistic idyl will doubtless be all the reader will care to see.
POLLY IN THE SPRING-HOUSE.
Purtier'n dressed-up gals in town Is peart and larfin' Polly Brown, With curly hair a-hangin' down, An' sleeves rolled clean above her elbow. Barfeooted stan'in on the rocks, A-pourin' milk in airthen crocks, An' kiverin' 'em with clean white blocks— Jest lis'en how my fool heart knocks— Shet up, my heart! what makes you tell so?
"You see," he said, blushing and stammering, "you see, miss, I had a sort of a prejudice agin town gals in them air days, I thought they was all stuck up and proud like; I didn' think the—the—well—you know I don't mean no harm nur nothin'—but I didn' expect the very purtiest on 'em all was ever agoin' to come into my shanty and make herself at home like as ef I was a eddicated gentleman. All I said agin town gals I take back. I—I—you see—" but finding it impossible to get through, the Poet remembered something to be attended to out of doors.
The ever active Charlton could not pass a day in idleness. By ten o'clock he had selected a claim and staked it out. It was just the place for his great school. When the country should have settled up, he would found a farm-school here and make a great institution out of it. The Inhabitant was delighted with the prospect of having the brother of an angel for a neighbor, and readily made a bargain to erect for Charlton a cabin like his own for purposes of pre-emption. Albert's lively imagination had already planned the building and grounds of his institution.
During the whole of that sunshiny day that Charlton waited for the waters of Pleasant Brook to subside, George Gray, the Inhabitant of the lone cabin, exhausted his ingenuity in endeavoring to make his hospitality as complete as possible. When Albert saw him standing by the ladder in the morning, he had already shot some prairie-chickens, which he carefully broiled. And after they had supped on wild strawberries and another night had passed, they breakfasted on some squirrels killed in a neighboring grove, and made into a delicious stew by the use of such vegetables as the garden of the Inhabitant afforded. Charlton and the Poet got the horse and buggy through the stream. When everything was ready for a start, the Inhabitant insisted that he would go "a piece" with them to show the way, and, mounted on his Indian pony, he kept them company to their destination. Then the trapper bade Albert an affectionate adieu, and gave a blushing, stammering, adoring farewell to Katy, and turned his little sorrel pony back toward his home, where he spent the next few days in trying to make some worthy verses in commemoration of the coming to the cabin of a trapper lonely, a purty angel bright as day, and how the trapper only wep' and cried when she went away. But his feelings were too deep for his rhymes, and his rhymes were poorer than his average, because his feeling was deeper. He must have burned up hundreds of couplets, triplets, and sextuplets in the next fortnight. For, besides his chivalrous and poetic gallantry toward womankind, he found himself hopelessly in love with a girl whom he would no more have thought of marrying than he would of wedding a real angel. Sometimes he dreamed of going to school and getting an education, "puttin' some school-master's hair-ile onter his talk," as he called it, but then the hopelessness of any attempt to change himself deterred him. But thenceforth Katy became more to him than Laura was to Petrarch. Habits of intemperance had crept upon him in his isolation and pining for excitement, but now he set out to seek an ideal purity, he abolished even his pipe, he scrupulously pruned his conversation of profanity, so that he wouldn' be onfit to love her any way, ef he didn' never marry her.
I fear the gentle reader, how much more the savage one, will accuse me of having beguiled him with false pretenses. Here I have written XIV chapters of this story, which claims to be a mystery, and there stand the letters XV at the head of this chapter and I have not got to the mystery yet, and my friend Miss Cormorant, who devours her dozen novels a week for steady diet, and perhaps makes it a baker's dozen at this season of the year, and who loves nothing so well as to be mystified by labyrinthine plots and counterplots—Miss Cormorant is about to part company with me at this point. She doesn't like this plain sailing. Now, I will be honest with you, Miss Cormorant, all the more that I don't care if you do quit. I will tell you plainly that to my mind the mystery lies yet several chapters in advance, and that I shouldn't be surprised if I have to pass out of my teens and begin to head with double X's before I get to that mystery. Why don't I hurry up then? Ah! there's the rub. Miss Cormorant and all the Cormorant family are wanting me to hurry up with this history, and just so surely as I should skip over any part of the tale, or slight my background, or show any eagerness, that other family, the Critics—the recording angels of literature—take down their pens, and with a sad face joyfully write: "This book is, so-so, but bears evident marks of hurry in its execution. If the author shall ever learn the self-possession of the true artist, and come to tell his stories with leisurely dignity of manner—and so on—and so on—and so forth—he will—well, he will—do middling well for a man who had the unhappiness to be born in longitude west from Washington." Ah! well, I shrug my shoulders, and bidding both Cormorant and Critic to get behind me, Satan, I write my story in my own fashion for my gentle readers who are neither Cormorants nor Critics, and of whom I am sincerely fond.
For instance, I find it convenient to turn aside at this point to mention Dave Sawney, for how could I relate the events which are to follow to readers who had not the happiness to know Katy's third lover—or thirteenth—the aforesaid Dave? You are surprised, doubtless, that Katy should have so many lovers as three; you have not then lived in a new country where there are generally half-a-dozen marriageable men to every marriageable woman, and where, since the law of demand and supply has no application, every girl finds herself beset with more beaux than a heartless flirt could wish for. Dave was large, lymphatic, and conceited; he "come frum Southern Eelinoy," as he expressed it, and he had a comfortable conviction that the fertile Illinois Egypt had produced nothing more creditable than his own slouching figure and self-complaisant soul. Dave Sawney had a certain vividness of imagination that served to exalt everything pertaining to himself; he never in his life made a bargain to do anything—he always cawntracked to do it. He cawntracked to set out three trees, and then he cawntracked to dig six post-holes, and-when he gave his occupation to the census-taker he set himself down as a "cawntractor."
He had laid siege to Katy in his fashion, slouching in of an evening, and boasting of his exploits until Smith Westcott would come and chirrup and joke, and walk Katy right away from him to take a walk or a boat-ride. Then he would finish the yarn which Westcott had broken in the middle, to Mrs. Plausaby or Miss Marlay, and get up and remark that he thought maybe he mout as well be a-gittin' on.
In the county-seat war, which had raged about the time Albert had left for Glenfleld, Dave Sawney had come to be a man of importance. His own claim lay equidistant from the two rival towns. He bad considerable influence with a knot of a dozen settlers in his neighborhood, who were, like himself, without any personal interest in the matter. It became evident that a dozen or a half-dozen votes might tip the scale after Plausaby, Esq., had turned the enemy's flank by getting some local politician to persuade the citizens of Westville, who would naturally have supported the claims of Perritaut, that their own village stood the ghost of a chance, or at least that their interests would be served by the notoriety which the contest would give, and perhaps also by defeating Perritaut, which, from proximity, was more of a rival than Metropolisville. After this diversion had weakened Perritaut, it became of great consequence to secure even so small an influence as that of Dave Sawney. Plausaby persuaded Dave to cawntrack for the delivery of his influence, and Dave was not a little delighted to be flattered and paid at the same time. He explained to the enlightened people in his neighborhood that Squire Plausaby was a-goin' to do big things fer the kyounty; that the village of Metropolisville would erect a brick court-house and donate it; that Plausaby had already cawntracked to donate it to the kyounty free gratis.
This ardent support of Dave, who saw not only the price which the squire had cawntracked to pay him, but a furtherance of his suit with little Katy, as rewards of his zeal, would have turned the balance at once in favor of Metropolisville, had it not been for a woman. Was there ever a war, since the days of the Greek hobby-horse, since the days of Rahab's basket indeed, in which a woman did not have some part? It is said that a woman should not vote, because she can not make war; but that is just what a woman can do; she can make war, and she can often decide it. There came into this contest between Metropolisville and its rival, not a Helen certainly, but a woman. Perritaut was named for an old French trader, who had made his fortune by selling goods to the Indians on its site, and who had taken him an Indian wife—it helped trade to wed an Indian—and reared a family of children who were dusky, and spoke both the Dakota and the French a la Canadien. M. Perritaut had become rich, and yet his riches could not remove a particle of the maternal complexion from those who were to inherit the name and wealth of the old trader. If they should marry other half-breeds, the line of dusky Perritauts might stretch out the memory of a savage maternity to the crack of doom. Que voulez-vous? They must not many half-breeds. Each generation must make advancement toward a Caucasian whiteness, in a geometric ratio, until the Indian element should be reduced by an infinite progression toward nothing. But how? It did not take long for Perritaut pere to settle that question. Voila tout. The young men should seek white wives. They had money. They might marry poor girls, but white ones. But the girls? Eh bien! Money should wash them also, or at least money should bleach their descendants. For money is the Great Stain-eraser, the Mighty Detergent, the Magic Cleanser. And the stain of race is not the only one that money makes white as snow. So the old gentleman one day remarked to some friends who drank wine with him, that he would geeve one ten tousant tollare, begare, to te man tat maree his oltest daughtare, Mathilde. Eh bien, te man must vary surelee pe w'ite and re-spect-ah-ble. Of course this confidential remark soon spread abroad, as it was meant to spread abroad. It came to many ears. The most utterly worthless white men, on hearing it, generally drew themselves up in pride and vowed they'd see the ole frog-eatin' Frenchman hung afore they'd many his Injin. They'd druther marry a Injin than a nigger, but they couldn' be bought with no money to trust their skelp with a Injin.
Not so our friend Dave. He wurn't afeared of no Injin, he said; sartainly not of one what had been weakened down to half the strength. Ef any man dared him to marry a Injin and backed the dare by ten thousand dollars, blamed ef he wouldn't take the dare. He wouldn' be dared by no Frenchman to marry his daughter. He wouldn't. He wa'n't afeard to marry a Injin. He'd cawntrack to do it fer ten thousand.
The first effect of this thought on Dave's mind was to change his view of the county-seat question. He shook his head now when Plausaby's brick court-house was spoken of. The squire was awful 'cute; too 'cute to live, he said ominously.
Dave concluded that ten thousand dollars could be made much more easily by foregoing his preferences for a white wife in favor of a red one, than by cawntracting to set out shade-trees, dig post-holes, or drive oxen. So he lost no time in visiting the old trader.
He walked in, in his slouching fashion, shook hands with M. Perritaut, gave his name as David Sawney, cawntracter, and after talking a little about the county-seat question, he broached the question of marriage with Mathilde Perritaut.
"I hearn tell that you are willin' to do somethin' han'some fer a son-in-law."
"Varee good, Mistare Sonee. You air a man of bisnees, perhaps, maybe. You undairstand tese tings. Eh? Tres bien—I mean vary well, you see. I want that my daughtare zhould maree one re-spect-ah-ble man. Vare good. You air one, maybe. I weel find out. Tres bien, you see, my daughtare weel marree the man that I zay. You weel come ovare here next week. Eef I find you air respect-ah-ble, I weel then get my lawyare to make a marriage contract."
"A cawntrack?" said Dave, starting at the sound of his favorite word. "Very well, musheer, I sign a cawntrack and live up to it."
"Vare good. Weel you have one leetle peench of snuff?" said the old man, politely opening his box.
"Yes, I'm obleeged, musheer," said Dave. "Don't keer ef I do." And by way of showing his good-will and ingratiating himself with the Frenchman, Dave helped himself to an amazingly large pinch. Indeed, not being accustomed to take snuff, he helped himself, as he did to chewing tobacco when it was offered free, with the utmost liberality. The result did not add to the dignity of his bearing, for he was seized with a succession of convulsions of sneezing. Dave habitually did everything in the noisiest way possible, and he wound up each successive fit of sneezing with a whoop that gave him the semblance of practicing an Indian war-song, by way of fitting himself to wed a half-breed wife.
"I declare," he said, when the sneezing had subsided, "I never did see no sech snuff."
"Vare good," resumed M. Perritaut. "I weel promees in the contract to geeve you one ten tousant tollars—deux mille—two tousant avery yare for fife yare. Tres bien. My daughtare is educate; she stoody fife, seex yare in te convent at Montreal. Zhe play on piano evare so many tune. Bien. You come Monday. We weel zee. Adieu. I mean good-by, Mistare Sonee."
"Adoo, musheer," said Dave, taking his hat and leaving. He boasted afterwards that he had spoke to the ole man in French when he was comin' away. Thought it mout kinder tickle him, you know. And he said he didn' mind a brown complexion a bit. Fer his part, seemed to him 'twas kinder purty fer variety. Wouldn' want all women reddish, but fer variety 'twas sorter nice, you know. He always did like sompin' odd.
And he now threw all his energy into the advocacy of Perritaut. It was the natural location of a county-seat. Metropolisville never would be nawthin'.
Monday morning found him at Perritaut's house, ready to sell himself in marriage. As for the girl, she, poor brown lamb—or wolf, as the case may be—was ready, with true Indian stolidity, to be disposed of as her father chose. The parties who were interested in the town of Perritaut had got wind of Dave's proposition; and as they saw how important his influence might be in the coming election, they took pains to satisfy Monsieur Perritaut that Mr. Sawney was a very proper person to marry his tawny daughter and pocket his yellow gold-pieces. The lawyer was just finishing the necessary documents when Dave entered.
"Eh bien! How you do, Mistare Sonee? Is eet dat you weel have a peench of snuff?" For the Frenchman had quite forgotten Dave's mishap in snuff-taking, and offered the snuff out of habitual complaisance.
"No, musheer," said Dave, "I can't use no snuff of late yeers. 'Fection of the nose; makes me sneeze dreffle."
"Oh! Eh blen! C'est comme il faut. I mean dat is all right, vare good, mistare. Now, den, Monsieur l'Avocat, I mean ze lawyare, he is ready to read ze contract."
"Cawntrack? Oh! yes, that's right. We Americans marry without a cawntrack, you see. But I like cawntracks myself. It's my business, cawntracking is, you know. Fire away whenever you're ready, mister." This last to the lawyer, who was waiting to read.
Dave sat, with a knowing air, listening to the legal phraseology as though he had been used to marriage contracts from infancy. He was pleased with the notion of being betrothed in this awful diplomatic fashion. It accorded with his feelings to think that he was worth ten thousand dollars and the exhaustive verbiage of this formidable cawntrack.
But at last the lawyer read a part which made him open his eyes.
Something about its being further stipulated that the said David Sawney, of the first part, in and for the consideration named, "hereby binds himself to have the children which shall issue from this marriage educated in the Roman Catholic faith," caught his ears.
"Hold on, mister, I can't sign that! I a'n't over-pertikeler about who I marry, but I can't go that."
"What part do you object to?"
"Well, ef I understand them words you've got kiled up there—an' I'm purty middlin' smart at big words, you see—I'm to eddicate the children in the Catholic faith, as you call it."
"Yes, that is it."
"Oui! vare good. Dat I must inseest on," said Perritaut.
"Well, I a'n't nothin' in a religious way, but I can't stan' that air. I'm too well raised. I kin marry a Injin, but to sell out my children afore they're born to Catholic priests, I couldn't do that air ef you planked down two ten thousands."
And upon this point Dave stuck. There is a sentiment down somewhere in almost any man, and there was this one point of conscience with Dave. And there was likewise this one scruple with Perritaut. And these opposing scruples in two men who had not many, certainly, turned the scale and gave the county-seat to Metropolisville, for Dave told all his Southern Illinois friends that if the county-seat should remain at Perritaut, the Catholics would build a nunnery an' a caythedral there, and then none of their daughters would be safe. These priests was a-lookin' arter the comin' generation. And besides, Catholics and Injins wouldn' have a good influence on the moral and religious kerecter of the kyounty. The influence of half-breeds was a bad thing fer civilization. Ef a man was half-Injin, he was half-Injin, and you couldn't make him white noways. And Dave distributed freely deeds to some valueless outlots, which Plausaby had given him for the purpose.
As long as he could, Charlton kept Katy at Glenfield. He amused her by every means in his power; he devoted himself to her; he sought to win her away from Westcott, not by argument, to which she was invulnerable, but by feeling. He found that the only motive that moved her was an emotion of pity for him, so he contrived to make her estimate his misery on her account at its full value. But just when he thought he had produced some effect there would come one of Smith Westcott's letters, written not as he talked (it is only real simpleheartedness or genuine literary gift that can make the personality of the writer felt in a letter), but in a round business hand with plenty of flourishes, and in sentences very carefully composed. But he managed in his precise and prim way to convey to Katy the notion that he was pining away for her company. And she, missing the giggle and the playfulness from the letter, thought his distress extreme indeed. For it would have required a deeper sorrow than Smith Westcott ever felt to make him talk in the stiff conventional fashion in which his letters were composed.
And besides Westcott's letters there were letters from her mother, in which that careful mother never failed to tell how Mr. Westcott had come in, the evening before, to talk about Katy, and to tell her how lost and heart-broken he was. So that letters from home generally brought on a relapse of Katy's devotion to her lover. She was cruelly torn by alternate fits of loving pity for poor dear Brother Albert on the one hand, and poor, dear, dear Smith Westcott on the other. And the latter generally carried the day in her sympathies. He was such a poor dear fellow, you know, and hadn't anybody, not even a mother, to comfort him, and he had often said that if his charming and divine little Katy should ever prove false, he would go and drown himself in the lake. And that would be so awful, you know. And, besides, Brother Albert had plenty to love him. There was mother, and there was that quiet kind of a young lady at the City Hotel that Albert went to see so often, though how he could like anybody so cool she didn't know. And then Cousin Isa would love Brother Albert maybe, if he'd ask her. But he had plenty, and poor Smith had often said that he needed somebody to help him to be good. And she would cleave to him forever and help him. Mother and father thought she was right, and she couldn't anyway let Smith drown himself. How could she? That would be the same as murdering him, you know.
During the fortnight that Charlton and his sister visited in Glenfield, Albert divided his time between trying to impress Katy with the general unfitness of Smith Westcott to be her husband, and the more congenial employment of writing long letters to Miss Helen Minorkey, and receiving long letters from that lady. His were fervent and enthusiastic; they explained in a rather vehement style all the schemes that filled his brain for working out his vocation and helping the world to its goal: while hers discussed everything in the most dispassionate temper. Charlton had brought himself to admire this dispassionate temper. A man of Charlton's temper who is really in love, can bring himself to admire any traits in the object of his love. Had Helen Minorkey shown some little enthusiasm, Charlton would have exaggerated it, admired it, and rejoiced in it as a priceless quality. As she showed none, he admired the lack of it in her, rejoiced in her entire superiority to her sex in this regard, and loved her more and more passionately every day. And Miss Minorkey was not wanting in a certain tenderness toward her adorer. She loved him in her way, it made her happy to be loved in that ideal fashion.
Charlton found himself in a strait betwixt two. He longed to worship again at the shrine of his Minerva. But he disliked to return with Katy until he had done something to break the hold of Smith Westcott upon her mind. So upon one pretext or another he staid until Westcott wrote to Katy that business would call him to Glenfield the next week, and he hoped that she would conclude to return with him. Katy was so pleased with the prospect of a long ride with her lover, that she felt considerable disappointment when Albert determined to return at once. Brother Albert always did such curious things. Katy, who had given Albert a dozen reasons for an immediate return, now thought it very strange that he should be in such a hurry. Had he given up trying to find that new kind of grasshopper he spoke of the day before?
One effect of the unexpected arrival of Albert and Katy in Metropolisville, was to make Smith Westcott forget that he ever had any business that was likely to call him to Glenfield. Delighted to see Katy back. Would a died if she'd staid away another week. By George! he! he! he! Wanted to jump into the lake, you know. Always felt that way when Katy was out of sight two days. Curious. By George! Didn't think any woman could ever make such a fool of him. He! he! Felt like ole Dan Tucker when he came to supper and found the hot cakes all gone. He! he! he! By George! You know! Let's sing de forty-lebenth hymn! Ahem!
"If Diner was an apple, And I was one beside her, Oh! how happy we would be, When we's skwushed into cider! And a little more cider too, ah-hoo! And a little more cider too! And a little more cider too—ah—hoo! And a little more cider too."
How much? Pailful! By George! He! he! he! That's so! You know. Them's my sentiments. 'Spresses the 'motions of my heart, bredren! Yah! yah! By hokey! And here comes Mr. Albert Charlton. Brother Albert! Just as well learn to say it now as after a while. Eh, Katy? How do, brother Albert? Glad to see you as if I'd stuck a nail in my foot. By George! he! he! You won't mind my carryin' on. Nobody minds me. I'm the privileged infant, you know. I am, by George! he! he! Come, Kate, let's take a boat-ride.
"Oh! come, love, come; my boat's by the shore; If yer don't ride now, I won't ax you no more."
And so forth. Too hoarse to sing. But I am not too feeble to paddle my own canoe. Come, Katy Darling. You needn't mind your shawl when you've got a Westcott to keep you warm. He! he! By George!
And then he went out singing that her lips was red as roses or poppies or something, and "wait for the row-boat and we'll all take a ride."
Albert endeavored to forget his vexation by seeking the society of Miss Minorkey, who was sincerely glad to see him back, and who was more demonstrative on this evening than he had ever known her to be. And Charlton was correspondingly happy. He lay in his unplastered room that night, and counted the laths in the moonlight, and built golden ladders out of them by which to climb up to the heaven of his desires. But he was a little troubled to find that in proportion as he came nearer to the possession of Miss Minorkey, his ardor in the matter of his great Educational Institution—his American Philanthropinum, as he called it—abated.
I ought here to mention a fact which occurred about this time, because it is a fact that has some bearing on the course of the story, and because it may help us to a more charitable judgment in regard to the character of Mr. Charlton's step-father. Soon after Albert's return from Glenfield, he received an appointment to the postmastership of Metropolisville in such a way as to leave no doubt that it came through Squire Plausaby's influence. We are in the habit of thinking a mean man wholly mean. But we are wrong. Liberal Donor, Esq., for instance, has a great passion for keeping his left hand exceedingly well informed of the generous doings of his right. He gives money to found the Liberal Donor Female Collegiate and Academical Institute, and then he gives money to found the Liberal Donor Professorship of Systematic and Metaphysical Theology, and still other sums to establish the Liberal Donor Orthopedic Chirurgical Gratuitous Hospital for Cripples and Clubfooted. Shall I say that the man is not generous, but only ostentatious? Not at all. He might gratify his vanity in other ways. His vanity dominates over his benevolence, and makes it pay tribute to his own glory. But his benevolence is genuine, notwithstanding. Plausaby was mercenary, and he may have seen some advantages to himself in having the post-office in his own house, and in placing his step-son under obligation to himself. Doubtless these considerations weighed much, but besides, we must remember the injunction that includes even the Father of Evil in the number of those to whom a share of credit is due. Let us say for Plausaby that, land-shark as he was, he was not vindictive, he was not without generosity, and that it gave him sincere pleasure to do a kindness to his step-son, particularly when his generous impulse coincided so exactly with his own interest in the matter. I do not say that he would not have preferred to take the appointment himself, had it not been that he had once been a postmaster in Pennsylvania, and some old unpleasantness between him and the Post-Office Department about an unsettled account stood in his way. But in all the tangled maze of motive that, by a resolution of force, produced the whole which men called Plausaby the Land-shark, there was not wanting an element of generosity, and that element of generosity had much to do with Charlton's appointment. And Albert took it kindly. I am afraid that he was just a little less observant of the transactions in which Plausaby engaged after that. I am sure that he was much less vehement than before in his denunciations of land-sharks. The post-office was set up in one of the unfinished rooms of Mr. Plausaby's house, and, except at mail-times, Charlton was not obliged to confine himself to it. Katy or Cousin Isa or Mrs. Plausaby was always glad to look over the letters for any caller, to sell stamps to those who wanted them, and tell a Swede how much postage he must pay on a painfully-written letter to some relative in Christiana or Stockholm. And the three or four hundred dollars of income enabled Charlton to prosecute his studies. In his gratitude he lent the two hundred and twenty dollars—all that was left of his educational fund—to Mr. Plausaby, at two per cent a month, on demand, secured by a mortgage on lots in Metropolisville.
Poor infatuated George Gray—the Inhabitant of the Lone Cabin, the Trapper of Pleasant Brook, the Hoosier Poet from the Wawbosh country—poor infatuated George Gray found his cabin untenable after little Katy had come and gone. He came up to Metropolisville, improved his dress by buying some ready-made clothing, and haunted the streets where he could catch a glimpse now and then of Katy.
One night, Charlton, coming home from an evening with Miss Minorkey at the hotel, found a man standing in front of the fence.
"What do you want here?" he asked sharply.
"Didn' mean no harm, stranger, to nobody."
"Oh! it's you!" exclaimed Charlton, recognizing his friend the Poet. "Come in, come in."
"Come in? Couldn' do it no way, stranger. Ef I was to go in thar amongst all them air ladies, my knees would gin out. I was jist a-lookin' at that purty creetur. But I 'druther die'n do her any harm. I mos' wish I was dead. But 'ta'n't no harm to look at her ef she don' know it. I shan't disturb her; and ef she marries a gentleman, I shan't disturb him nuther. On'y, ef he don' mind it, you know, I'll write po'try about her now and then. I got some varses now that I wish you'd show to her, ef you think they won't do her no harm, you know, and I don't 'low they will. Good-by, Mr. Charlton. Comin' down to sleep on your claim? Land's a-comin' into market down thar."
After the Poet left him, Albert took the verses into the house and read them, and gave them to Katy. The first stanza was, if I remember it rightly, something of this sort:
"A angel come inter the poar trapper's door, The purty feet tromped on the rough puncheon floor, Her lovely head slep' on his prairie-grass piller— The cabin is lonesome and the trapper is poar, He hears little shoes a-pattin' the floor; He can't sleep at night on that piller no more; His Hoosier harp hangs on the wild water-willer!"
SAWNEY AND HIS OLD LOVE.
Self-conceit is a great source of happiness, a buffer that softens all the jolts of life. After David Sawney's failure to capture Perritaut's half-breed Atlantis and her golden apples at one dash, one would have expected him to be a little modest in approaching his old love again; but forty-eight hours after her return from Glenfield, he was paying his "devours," as he called them, to little Katy Charlton. He felt confident of winning—he was one of that class of men who believe themselves able to carry off anybody they choose. He inventoried his own attractions with great complacency; he had good health, a good claim, and, as he often boasted, had been "raised rich," or, as he otherwise stated it, "cradled in the lap of luxury." His father was one of those rich Illinois farmers who are none the less coarse for all their money and farms. Owing to reverses of fortune, Dave had inherited none of the wealth, but all of the coarseness of grain. So he walked into Squire Plausaby's with his usual assurance, on the second evening after Katy's return.
"Howdy, Miss Charlton," he said, "howdy! I'm glad to see you lookin' so smart. Howdy, Mrs. Ferret!" to the widow, who was present. "Howdy do, Mr. Charlton—back again?" And then he took his seat alongside Katy, not without a little trepidation, for he felt a very slight anxiety lest his flirtation With Perritaut's ten thousand dollars "mout've made his chances juberous," as he stated it to his friends. But then, he reflected, "she'll think I'm worth more'n ever when she knows I de-clined ten thousand dollars, in five annooal payments."
"Mr. Sawney," said the widow Ferret, beaming on him with one of her sudden, precise, pickled smiles, "Mr. Sawney, I'm delighted to hear that you made a brave stand against Romanism. It is the bane of this country. I respect you for the stand you made. It shows the influence of schripcheral training by a praying mother, I've no doubt, Mr. Sawney."
Dave was flattered and annoyed at this mention, and he looked at little Katy, but she didn't seem to feel any interest in the matter, and so he took heart.
"I felt it my dooty, Mrs. Ferret, indeed I did."
"I respect you for it, Mr. Sawney."
"For what?" said Albert irascibly. "For selling himself into a mercenary marriage, and then higgling on a point of religious prejudice?"
Mrs. Ferret now focused her round eyes at Mr. Charlton, smiled her deprecating smile, and replied: "I do think, Mr. Charlton, that in this day of lax views on one side and priestcraft on the other, I respect a man who thinks enough of ee-vangelical truth to make a stand against any enemy of the holy religion of—"
"Well," said Charlton rudely, "I must say that I respect Perritaut's prejudices just as much as I do Dave's. Both of them were engaged in a contemptible transaction, and both of them showed an utter lack of conscience, except in matters of opinion. Religion is—"
But the company did not get the benefit of Mr. Albert's views on the subject of religion, for at that moment entered Mr. Smith Westcott.
"How do, Katy? Lookin' solemn, eh? How do, Brother Albert? Mrs. Ferret, how do? Ho! ho! Dave, is this you? I congratulate you on your escape from the savages. Scalp all sound, eh? Didn' lose your back-hair? By George! he! he! he!" And he began to show symptoms of dancing, as he sang:
"John Brown, he had a little Injun; John Brown, he had a little Injun; Dave Sawney had a little Injun; One little Injun gal!
"Yah! yah! Well, well, Mr. Shawnee, glad to see you back."
"Looky hyer. Mister Wes'cott," said Dave, growing red, "you're a-makin' a little too free."
"Oh! the Shawnee chief shouldn' git mad. He! he! by George! wouldn' git mad fer ten thousand dollars. I wouldn', by George! you know! he! he! Ef I was worth ten thousand dollars live weight, bide and tallow throw'd in, I would—"
"See here, mister," said Dave, rising, "maybe, you'd like to walk out to some retired place, and hev your hide thrashed tell 'twouldn' hold shucks? Eh?"
"I beg pardon," said Westcott, a little frightened, "didn' mean no harm, you know, Mr. Sawney. All's fair in war, especially when it's a war for the fair. Sort of warfare, you know. By George! he! he! Shake hands, let's be friends, Dave. Don' mind my joking—nobody minds me. I'm the privileged infant, you know, he! he! A'n't I, Mr. Charlton?"