MoboReader > Literature > The Story of a Country Town

   Chapter 24 A LETTER FROM JO.

The Story of a Country Town By E. W. Howe Characters: 10565

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


MY Dear Old Friend,-I am much alarmed when I realize that I am becoming a thinking man, like your father, and that my trouble will some time become so great that I shall disgrace myself and everyone connected with me. Since you were here last I have done little else than think, and I have been very lonely, for I have no companion now. I have not spoken to Mateel since you went away, except when it was necessary, and that has not been a frequent circumstance. This adds to my wretchedness, for I feel contemptible that I am not able to be to all appearance what I always was. I have tried to be, but to no purpose, so I have given it up. I cannot say that I wish I could forget, for then I should feel that I was the man she described in the letter. I am a shrinking, dejected coward, which I never was before, and I think it is because I am not treating Mateel as I should, though I solemnly assert that I cannot do differently.

A man who mistreats a woman becomes a coward as I am, and I accept the ignominy as my punishment. I was bold as a lion when we were happy together, and could look any man in the face; but I cannot now, for I think that everyone who looks at me is an accuser that I am worrying and fretting a helpless woman, which I believe to be the meanest crime of which a man can be guilty. I cannot but acknowledge the accusation, though it is not intentional. I am low and despicable in spite of all I can do, and I can think of no remedy for it.

I continue to make new discoveries which add to my wretchedness. A long while before we were married, Mateel gave me a book full of pretty love stories, and I valued it highly, because many of the passages were underscored, with notes on the margin indorsing the sentiment. The stories were very pretty, and I read them a great deal, but I have discovered that the book was originally given to Bragg; that it was returned when he tired of her, and that the pretty passages were marked for him. It was given to me, no doubt, because it happened to be convenient, and no one else wanted it. Mateel, with the candor which I have come to dread, admitted it, though reluctantly, on being questioned.

One of the romances to which I refer tells of a lady who had quarrelled with her lover, and in a pique married a cold, heartless man, who had no other good quality than that he was kind, and successful, and the story is her reverie. After seven or eight years she accidentally meets her old lover, and confesses that she loves him yet, and has loved him all the while, though she is kind enough to refer to her husband as a dear, good soul. This was particularly full of pencil marks, as though it aptly stated her case, and I think that after she knew a separation with Bragg was imminent, she was anxious to let him know that her future would be something like that.

Another one tells of an eccentric bachelor who meets a pale but strikingly beautiful girl on the street on a cold winter's night. He once loved a face like that, and interested himself in the girl. In course of time it developed that the bachelor had been engaged to the girl's mother, and that they were separated by some sort of an unfortunate mistake, and she married a man who was willing to support her in her grief, but who unfortunately died, and could no longer feed her while she mourned. Humiliated and broken, she refused to return to her old friends, but lived with her only daughter in poverty, talking a great deal of her lover, but not a word of the poor fellow who had been her husband. When she finds death approaching she writes a letter to her lover, consigning the girl to his care, and the letter of course falls into his hands, which affects him so much that he surprised his friends by marrying the daughter. I suppose the inference is that Mateel, acknowledging her own weakness, desired Bragg to understand that she would only consent to marry another man with the hope of rearing a daughter good enough for him.

There have been a few sweet chords of music in my life (a very, very few, and simple in construction), but while never complete in my boyhood, I have listened to them in my lonely hours with a great deal of pleasure. They were the whisperings of hope; of happiness which I had never known, but now the familiar air scarcely begins until it is lost in the yells of demons and the harsh laughter of devils. I do not know whether I read it, or dreamed it, but there was once a deep cave said to be haunted. The people who went there without lights, and did not speak for a long while, heard the beginning of the most delicious symphony, as sweet and perfect as the music of the choirs in heaven, but suddenly it was all lost in coarse uproar and laughter, as if the Devil and his imps were flushed with wine at a banquet, and were telling each other of the follies of men, to laugh at them. This dreadful tumult continued until the music was quite forgotten, and no one could remember the strain, although they all said it was very tender and beautiful. Sometimes the people who went there would hear neither the music nor the tumult which always broke into it, but this always happened when the night was fine, and the visitors noisy and in good spirits. But every dark and threatening night, when

the wind came hurrying down from the north to be present at the destruction threatened, those who went into the cave always heard the music, and it was notably tender and touching on such occasions, but the devils broke into it more quickly, and were hoarser and louder in their laughing and jeering.

Everything conspires against me now; even Mateel's religion torments me. I can think of nothing that cannot in some way be construed into misery. Mateel's hope of heaven is a hope of torment for me. She knows my unbelief, and must be convinced that, if she is right, the years of her happiness in the future can only be measured by the years of my suffering, but she has no other comfort to offer than the hope that I shall be "saved." How natural it is to disguise fear with hope! I would not regard it as a kindness in a man who saw me drowning to stand peacefully on the bank, and hope I would take hold of a straw, and save myself, but I should admire him if he jumped in, and pulled me out. Hope is often nothing more than an excuse for incapacity and for mistakes, as we hope, in case of an accident caused by carelessness, that nothing serious will result, or as we hope, when we do not do our duty, that everything will turn out fortunately anyway.

If my love for Mateel had never been interrupted, and I had her faith, and she my doubts, I should go mad from thinking of her future. I would make my interest in her impending fate so great that she would become alarmed, and be rescued; or, failing in that, I would be lost with her. I would not own a faith which would not save one I loved, and whom I knew to be honest and pure-minded. I have no particular fears for myself, but, knowing Mateel's belief as I do, I am hurt at her indifference. I am always thinking-really, I cannot help it, much as I try-that she offers up her prayers for Bragg, and that to be reunited with him I must be burned up, for I am certain that I could not exist with him comfortably anywhere.

I take a kind of delight in finding out how unfortunate I am, and once I wrung a confession from her that she thought it extremely probable that I would be lost, but that all knowledge of it would be blotted out of her memory, and forget in her happiness that I had ever lived. If Mateel's religion turns out to be true, I think it will be a part of my punishment to be permitted to look into heaven, and see her happy, without a care or thought of me. I don't think it would be possible to save such a man, but it may become necessary to properly punish my wickedness to place Bragg by her side, in Paradise, that I may contemplate them walking lovingly together.

The skeleton which has found its way into my closet is very noisy now. I think some one, out of consideration for me, has been trying to chain him up, but he has broken loose, and drags his fetters about in the most dismal manner. Either that, or he has company, and I am honored with two skeletons. If other people have but one, I think I shall eventually have two, if I have not now, and be compelled to enlarge my closet. I have occasionally courageously unlocked my skeleton, and tried to look him out of countenance, but he is so indifferent, and I am so unhappy, that I have never succeeded. He is the most impudent skeleton that ever took up an abode in a man's house against his will, and its grinning, malicious face I cannot lock up, for it follows me about the mill at my work, and walks before me into the dark cellar, and into the lonely loft. Once I thought I saw his tracks in the flour dust, but I found it was only where my unmanly tears had fallen. After I have attacked him, he is more noisy than ever at night, and rattles about so much that I acknowledge his power by thinking my disgrace all over, and admitting that there is no hope.

The affairs of men are so small that I wonder they can be serious about them. I wonder about this every time I meet a grave and thoughtful man, and then I remember that I am grave and thoughtful. I have no doubt that, if I were told of a case similar to my own, I should say the man ought to dismiss it without a curse, and never think of it again, but somehow I cannot do it, though I have tried earnestly and honestly. I had so little peace and content as a boy, and expected so much from my marriage, that I cannot resign myself to a life without hope and without happiness. I suppose the people would laugh at my troubles if they knew them, and I call their affairs trivial, so that altogether we have a very contemptuous opinion of each other. Many of those who come to the mill look at me curiously already, and I suppose it is being said that I am queer, or that I am subject to fits of despondency, which is the first symptom of a crazy man. Next to the original difficulty, I dread most to be called queer, for I never heard it said of a man I respected. But this will probably be added to my other troubles, for when once a man becomes involved in trouble's web, everything goes against him.

I am only unhappy because I expected the home I built with so much care to be pleasant, but it is not. I expected no more than this, and I would have been a willing slave to insure that result, but there is not the slightest prospect of it now.

Jo Erring.

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares