Everybody wondered, but no one knew, and only as the months went by did her spirits gain a little, and she begin to sing once more.
It was at a great party on a neighboring estate, amid the swim of the music and the whirl of soft lace. Suddenly loud voices and threats, a shower of cards flung at a man's face, an uplifted arm caught by the host. Then a hall door thrust open and a half-frenzied man with disordered dress staggering out. Then the startled face of a young girl all in white and a cry no one ever forgot:—
"Oh, Robert! Not again?"
Her long ride home in the dead of the night, Nancy alone in the coach, her escort—a distant cousin—on horseback behind. Then the pursuit. The steady rise and fall of the hoof-beats back in the forest; the reining in of Robert's panting horse covered with foam; his command to halt; a flash, and then that sweet face stretched out in the road in the moonlight by the side of the overturned coach, the cousin bending over her with a bullet hole in his hat, and Robert, ghastly white and sobered, with the smoking pistol in his hand.
Then the long, halting procession homeward in the gray dawn.
It was not so easy after this to keep the secret shut away; so one day, when the shock had passed,—her arms about her uncle's neck,—the whole story came out. She told of that other night there in Richmond, with Robert reeling and half crazed; of his promise of reform, and the postponement of the wedding, while she waited and trusted: so sad a story that the old uncle forgot all the traditions that bound Southern families, and sustained her in her determination never to see Robert again.
For days the broken-hearted lover haunted the place, while an out-bound ship waited in Norfolk harbor.
Even Robert's father, crushed and humiliated by it all, had made no intercession for him. But now, he begged, would she see his son for the last time, only that he might touch her hand and say good-by?
That last good-by lasted an hour, Chad walking his horse all the while before the porch door, until that tottering figure, holding to the railings and steadying itself, came down the steps.
A shutter thrown back, and Nancy at the open window watching him mount.
As he wheels he raises his hat. She pushes aside the climbing roses.
In an instant he has cleared the garden beds, and has reined in his horse just below her window-sill. Looking up into her face:—
"Nancy, for the last time, shall I stay?"
She only shakes her head.
"Then look, Nancy, look! This is your work!"
A gleam of steel in a clenched hand, a burst of smoke, and before Chad can reach him Nancy's lover lies dead in the flowers at her feet.
It had not been an easy story for the colonel. When he ceased he passed his hand across his forehead as if the air of the room stifled him. Then laying down his pipe, he bent once more over the slender vase, his face in the roses.
* * * * *
"May I come in?"
In an instant the colonel's old manner returned.
"May you come in, Nancy? Why, you dear woman, if you had stayed away five minutes longer I should have gone for you myself. What! Another skein of yarn?"
"Yes," she said, seating herself. "Hold out your hands."
The loop slipped so easily over the colonel's arms that it was quite evident that the role was not new to him.
"Befo' I forget it, Nancy, Mr. Fitzpatrick was called suddenly away to attend to some business connected with my railroad, and left his vehy kindest regards for you, and his apologies for not seein' you befo' he left."
Fitz had said nothing that resembled this, so far as my memory served me, but it was what he ought to have done, and the colonel always corrected such little slips of courtesy by supplying them himself.
"Politeness," he would sometimes say, "is becomin' rarer every day. I tell you, suh, the disease of bad manners is mo' contagious than the small-pox."
So the deception was quite pardonable in him.
"And what does Mr. Fitzpatrick think of the success of your enterprise, George?"
The colonel sailed away as usual with all his balloon topsails set, his sea-room limited only by the skein, while his aunt wound her yarn silently, and listened with a face expressive at once of deep interest and hope, mingled with a certain undefined doubt.
As the ball grew in size, she turned to me, and, with a penetration and practical insight into affairs for which I had not given her credit, began to dissect the scheme in detail. She had heard, she said, that there was lack of connecting lines and consequent absence of freight, as well as insufficient harbor facilities at Warrentown.
I parried the questions as well as I could, begging off on the plea that I was only a poor devil of a painter with a minimum knowledge ofsuch matters, and ended by referring her to Fitz.
The colonel, much to my surprise, listened to every word without opening his lips—a silence encouraged at first by his pride that she could talk so well, and maintained thereafter because of certain misgivings awakened in his mind as to the ultimate success of his pet enterprise.
When she had punctured the last of his little balloons, he laid his hand on her shoulder, and, looking into her face, said:—
"Nancy, you really don't mean that my railroad will never be built?"
"No, George; but suppose it should not earn its expenses?"
Her thoughts were new to the colonel. Nobody except a few foolish people in the Street, anxious to sell less valuable securities, and utterly unable to grasp the great merits of the Cartersville and Warrentown Air Line Railroad plan, had ever before advanced any such ideas in his presence. He loosened his hands from the yarn, and took a seat by the window. His aunt's misgivings had evidently so thoroughly disturbed him that for an instant I could see traces of a certain offended dignity, coupled with a nervous anxiety lest her inquiries had shaken my own confidence in his scheme.
He began at once to reassure me. There was nothing to be uneasy about. Look at the bonds! Note the perfect safety of the plan of finance—the earlier coupons omitted, the subsequent peace of the investor! The peculiar location of the road, with the ancestral estates dotted along its line! The dignity of the several stations! He could hear them now in his mind called out as they whistled down brakes: "Carter Hall! Barboursville! Talcott!" No; there was nothing about the road that should disturb his aunt. For all that a still more anxious look came into his face. He began pacing the floor, buried in deep thought, his thumbs hooked behind his back. At last he stopped and took her hand.
"Dear Nancy, if anything should happen to you it would break my heart. Don't be angry, it is only the major; but yo' talk with him has so disturbed me that I am determined to secure you against personal loss."
Miss Nancy raised her eyes wonderingly. She evidently did not catch his meaning.
"You have been good enough, my dear, to advance me certain sums of money which I still owe. I want to pay these now."
"But, George, you"—
"My dearest Nancy,"—and he stooped down, and kissed her cheek,—"I will have my way. Of co'se you didn't mean anything, only I cannot let another hour pass with these accounts unsettled. Think, Nancy; it is my right. The delay affects my honor."
The little lady dropped her knitting on the floor, and looked at me in a helpless way.
The colonel opened the table drawer, and handed me pen and ink.
"Now, Major, take this sheet of paper and draw a note of hand."
I looked at his aunt inquiringly. She nodded her head in assent.
"Yes, if it pleases George."
I began with the usual form, entering the words "I promise to pay," and stopped for instructions.
"Payable when, Colonel?" I asked.
"As soon as I get the money, suh."
"But you will do that anyhow, George."
"Yes, I know, Nancy; but I want to settle it in some safe way."
Then he gazed at the ceiling in deep thought.
"I have it, Major!" And the colonel seized the pen. The note read as follows:—
On demand I promise to pay Ann Carter the sum of six hundred dollars, value received, with interest at the rate of six per cent, from January 1st.
Payable as soon as possible.
GEORGE FAIRFAX CARTER.
I looked to see what effect this unexpected influx of wealth would produce on the dear lady; but the trustful smile never wavered.
She read to the very end the modest scrap of paper so suddenly enriched by the colonel's signature, repeated in a whisper to herself "Payable as soon as possible," folded it with as much care as if it had been a Bank of England note, then thanked the colonel graciously, and tucked it in her reticule.
An Allusion to a Yellow Dog
The colonel's office, like many other of his valued possessions, was in fact the property of somebody else.
It really belonged to a friend of Fitzpatrick, who had become so impressed by the Virginian's largeness of manner and buoyancy of enthusiasm that he had whispered to Fitz to bring him in at once and give him any desk in the place; adding that "in a sagging market the colonel would be better than a war boom."
So the colonel moved in—not a very complicated operation in his case; his effects being confined to an old leather portfolio and a bundle of quill pens tied up with a bit of Aunt Nancy's white yarn. The following day he had nailed his visiting card above the firm's name in the corridor, hung his hat and coat on the proprietor's peg, selected a desk nearest the light, and was as much at home in five minutes as if he owned the whole building.
There was no price agreed upon. Once, when Fitz delicately suggested that all such rents were generally payable monthly, the colonel, after some difficulty in grasping the idea, had said:—
"I could not offer it, suh. These gentlemen have treated me with a hospitality so generous that its memory will never fade from my mind. I cannot bring our relations down to the level of bargain and sale,suh; it would be vulgar."
The colonel was perfectly sincere. As for himself he would have put every room in his own Carter Hall at their service for any purpose or for any length of time, and have slept in the woodshed himself; and he would as soon have demanded the value of the bottle of wine on his own table as ask pay for such trivial courtesies.
Nor did he stop at the rent. The free use of stamps, envelopes, paper, messenger service, and clerks were to him only evidences of a lordly sort of hospitality which endeared the real proprietor of the office all the more to him, because it recalled the lavish display of the golden days of Carter Hall.
"Permit a guest to stamp his own letters, suh? Never! Our servants attended to that."
Really he owed his host nothing. No office of its size in the Street made so much money for its customers in a bull market. Nobody lost heart in a tumble and was sold out—that is, nobody to whom the colonel talked. Once convince the enthusiastic Virginian that the scheme was feasible,—and how little eloquence was needed for that!—and the dear old fellow took hold with as much gusto as if it had been his own.
The vein in the copper mine was always going to widen out into a six-foot lead; never by any possibility could it grow any smaller. The trust shares were going up—"not a point or two at a time, gentlemen, but with the spring of a panther, suh." Of course the railroad earnings were a little off this month, but wait until the spring opened; "then, suh, you will see a revival that will sweep you off yo' feet."
Whether it was good luck, or the good heart that the colonel put into his friend's customers, the results were always the same. Singular as it may seem, his cheery word just at the right time tided over the critical moment many an uncertain watcher at the "ticker," often to an enlargement of his bank account. Nor would he allow any one to pay him for any service of this kind, even though he had spent days engrossed in their affairs.
"Take money, suh, for helpin' a friend out of a hole? My dear suh, I see you do not intend to be disco'teous; but look at me, suh! There's my hand; never refer to it again." And then he would offer the offender his card in the hope, perhaps, that its ample record might furnish some further slight suggestion as to who he really was.
His popularity, therefore, was not to be wondered at. Everybody regarded him kindly, total stranger as he was, and although few of them believed to any extent in his "Garden Spot of Virginia," as his pet enterprise soon came to be known around the Street, everybody wished it well, and not a few would have started it with a considerable subscription could the colonel have managed the additional thousands required to set it on its financial legs.
Fitz never lost heart in the scheme,—that is, never when the colonel was about. As the weeks rolled by and one combination after the other failed, and the well-thumbed bundle of papers in the big blue envelope was returned with various comments. "In view of our present financial engagements we are unable to undertake your very attractive railroad scheme," or the more curt "Not suited to our line of customers," he would watch the colonel's face anxiously, and rack his brain for some additional excuse.
He always found one. Tight money, or news from Europe, or an overissue of similar bonds; next week it would be better. And the colonel always believed him. Fitz was his guiding star, and would lead him to some safe haven yet. This faith was his stronghold, and his only one.
This morning, however, there was a touch of genuine enthusiasm about Fitz. He rushed into the office, caught up the blue bundle and the map, nearly upsetting the colonel, who was balanced back in his chair with his long legs over the desk,—a favorite attitude when down town,—rushed out, and returned in half an hour with a fat body surmounted by a bald head fringed about with gray curls.
He was the advance agent of that mysterious combination known to the financial world as an "English syndicate," an elusive sort of commercial sea-serpent with its head in London and its tail around the globe. The "inquiry" which had so gladdened the colonel's heart the morning ofthe breakfast with aunt Nancy had proceeded from this rotund negotiator.
The colonel had, as usual, started the road at Cartersville, and had gotten as far as the double-span iron bridge over the Tench when the rotund gentleman asked abruptly,—
"How far are you from a coal-field?"
The colonel lifted the point of his pen, adjusted his glasses, and punched a hole in the rumpled map within a hair's breadth of a black dot labeled "Cartersville."
"Right there, suh. Within a stone's throw of our locomotives."
Fitz looked into the hole with as much astonishment as if it were the open mouth of the mine itself.
"Hard or soft?" said the stout man.
"Soft, suh, and fairly good coal, I understand, although I have never used it, suh; my ancestors always burned wood."
Fitz heard the statement in undisguised wonder. In all his intercourse with the colonel he had never before known him to depart so much as a razor's edge from the truth.
The fat man communed with himself a moment, and then said suddenly, "I'll take the papers and give you an answer in a week," and hurried away.
"Do you really mean, Colonel," said Fitz, determined to pin him down, "that there is a single pound of coal in Cartersville?"
"Do I mean it, Fitz? Don't it crop out in half a dozen spots right on our own place? One haalf of my estate, suh, is a coal-field."
"You never told me a word about it."
"I don't know that I did, Fitz. But it has never been of any use to me. Besides, suh, we have plenty of wood. We never burn coal at Caarter Hall."
Fitz did not take that view of it. He went into an exhaustive cross-examination of the colonel on the coal question: who had tested it, the character of the soil, width of the vein, and dip of the land. This information he carefully recorded in a small book which he took from his inside pocket.
Loosened from Fitz's pinioning grasp, the colonel, entirely oblivious to his friend's sudden interest in the coal-field, and slightly impatient at the delay, bounded like a balloon with its anchors cut.
"An answer from the syndicate within a week! My dear Fitz, I see yo' drift. You have kept the Garden Spots for the foreign investors. That man is impressed, suh; I saw it in his eye."
The room began filling up with the various customers and loungers common to such offices: the debonair gentleman in check trousers and silk hat, with a rose in his button-hole, who dusts his trousers broadside with his cane—short of one hundred shares with thirty per cent. margin; the shabby old man with a solemn face who watches the ticker a moment and then wanders aimlessly out, looking more like an underpaid clerk in a law office than the president of a crosstown railroad—long of one thousand shares with no margin at all; the nervous man who stops the messenger boys and devours the sales' lists before they can be skewered on the files,—not a dollar's interest either way; and, last of all, the brokers with little pads and nimble pencils.
The news that the great English syndicate was looking into the C. & W. A. L R. R. was soon around the office, and each habitue had a bright word for the colonel, congratulating him on the favorable turn his affairs had taken.
All but old Klutchem, a broker in unlisted securities, who had been trying for weeks to get a Denver land scheme before the same syndicate, and had failed.
"Garden Spot bonds! Bosh! Road begins nowhere and ends nowhere. If any set of fools built it, the only freight it would get, outside of peanuts and sweet potatoes, would be razor-back hogs and niggers. I wouldn't give a yellow dog for enough of those securities to paper a church."
The colonel was on his feet in an instant. "Mr. Klutchem, I cannot permit you, suh, to use such language in my presence unrebuked; you"—
"Now, see here, old Garden Spot, you know"—
The familiarity angered the colonel even more than the outburst.
"Caarter, suh,—George Fairfax Caarter," said the colonel with dignity.
"Well, Caarter, then," mimicking him, perhaps unconsciously. "You know"—
The intonation was the last straw. The colonel lost all control of himself. No man had ever thus dared before.
"Stop, Mr. Klutchem! What I know, suh, I decline to discuss with you. Yo' statements are false, and yo' manner of expressin' them quite in keepin' with the evident vulga'ity of yo' mind. If I can ascertain that you have ever had any claim to be considered a gentleman you will hear from me ag'in. If not, I shall rate you as rankin' with yo' yallar dog; and if you ever speak to me ag'in I will strike you, suh, with my cane."
And the colonel, his eyes flashing, strode into the private office with the air of a field marshal, and shut the door.
Klutchem looked around the room and into the startled faces of the clerks and bystanders, burst into a loud laugh, and left the office. On reaching the street he met Fitz coming in.
"Better look after old Garden Spot, Fitzpatrick. I poked holes in his road, and he wanted to swallow me alive."
Certain Important Letters
When I reached my lodgings that night I found this note, marked in the left-hand corner "Important," and in the right-hand corner "In haste." A boy had left it half an hour before.
Be at my house at six, prepared to leave town at an hour's notice.
I hurried to Bedford Place, dived through the tunnel, and found Fitzpatrick with his hand on the knocker. I followed him through the narrow hall and into the dining-room. He had a duplicate, also marked "Important" and "In haste," with this additional postscript: "Bring address of a prudent doctor."
"What does all this mean, Fitz?" I asked, spreading my letter out.
"I give it up, Major. The last I saw of the colonel was at two o'clock. He was then in the private office writing. That old wind-bag Klutchem had been worrying him, I heard, and the colonel sat down on him hard. But he had forgotten all about it when I talked to him, for he was as calm as a clock. But what the devil, Major, does he want with a doctor? Chad!"
"Was the colonel sick this morning?"
"No, sah. Eat two b'iled eggs, and a dish ob ham half as big as yo' han'. He wa'n't sick, 'cause I yerd him singin' to hisself all fru de tunnel cl'ar out to de street."
We sat down and looked at each other. Could anybody else be sick? Perhaps aunt Nancy had been taken ill on her way home to Virginia, and the doctor was for the dear lady. But why a "prudent doctor," and why both of us to go?
Fitz paced up and down the room, and I sat by the open window, and looked out into the dreary yard. The hands of the clock in the tall tower outlined against the evening sky were past the hour, long past, and yet no colonel.
Suppose he had been suddenly stricken down himself! Suppose—
The slamming of the outer gate, followed by a sentry-like tread in the tunnel, cut short our quandary, and the colonel's tall figure emerged from the archway, and mounted the steps.
"What has happened?" we both blurted out, opening the door for him. "Who's sick? Where are we going?"
The colonel's only reply was a pressure of our hands. Then, placing his hat with great deliberation on the hall table, he drew off his gloves, waved us before him, and took his seat at the dining-room table.
Fitz and I, now thoroughly alarmed, and quite prepared for the worst, stood on each side.
The colonel dropped his hand into his inside pocket, and drew forth three letters.
"Gentlemen, you see befo' you a man on the verge of one of the great crises of his life. You heard, Fitz, of what occurred in my office this mornin'? You know how brutally I was assaulted, and how entirely without provocation on my part? I am a Caarter, suh, and a gentleman. No man can throw discredit on an enterprise bearin' my name without bein' answerable to me."
And the colonel with great dignity opened one of the letters, and read as follows:—
51 BEDFORD PLACE. Tuesday.
P. A. KLUTCHEM. Sir,—You took occasion this morning, in the presence of a number of my friends, to make use of certain offensive remarks reflecting upon a great commercial enterprise to which I have lent my name. This was accompanied by a familiarity as coarse as it was unwarranted. The laws of hospitality, which your own lack of good breeding violated, forbade my having you ejected from my office on the spot.
I now demand that satisfaction to which I am entitled, and I herewith inform you that I am ready at an hour's notice to meet you at any point outside the city most convenient to yourself.
Immediately upon your reply my friend Mr. T. B. Fitzpatrick will wait upon you and arrange the details. I name Major Thos. C. Yancey of Virginia as my second in the field.
I have the honor to remain Your obedient servant, GEORGE FAIRFAX CARTER, Late Colonel C. S. A.
"Suffering Moses!" cried out Fitz. "You are not going to send that?"
"It is sent, my dear Fitz. Mailed from my office this afternoon. This is a copy." Fitz sank into a chair with both hands to his head.
"My object in sendin' for you both," the colonel continued, "was to be fully prepared should my antagonist select some early hour in the mornin'. In that case, Fitz, I shall have to rely on you alone, as Major Yancey cannot reach here until the followin' day. That was why a prudent doctor might be necessary at once."
Fitz's only reply was to thump his own head, as if the situation was too overpowering for words.
The colonel, with the same deliberation, opened the second letter. It was addressed to Judge Kerfoot, informing him of the nature of the "crisis," and notifying him of his (the colonel's) intention to appoint him sole executor of his estate should fate provide that vacancy.
The third was a telegram to Major Yancey summoning him at once "to duty on the field in an affair of honor."
"I am aware, Fitz, that some secrecy must be preserved in an affair of this kind Nawth—quite diffe'ent from our own county, and"—
"Secrecy! Secrecy! With that bellowing Klutchem? Don't you know that that idiot will have it all over the Street by nine o'clock to-morrow, unless he is ass enough to get scared, get out a warrant, and clap you into the Tombs before breakfast? O Colonel! How could you do a thing like this without letting us know?"
The colonel never changed a muscle in his face. He was courteous, even patient with Fitz, now really alarmed over the consequences of what he considered a most stupendous piece of folly. He could not, he said, sit in judgment on other gentlemen. If Fitz felt that way, it was doubtless due to his education. As for himself, he must follow the traditions of his ancestors.
"But at all events, my friends, my dear friends,"—and he extended both hands,—"we must not let this affair spoil our ap'tites. Nothing can now occur until the mornin', and we have ample time befo' daylight to make our preparations. Major, kindly touch the bell. Thank you! Chad, serve the soup."
So short a time elapsed between the sound of the bell and the thrusting in of Chad's head that it was quite evident the darky had been listening on the outside.
If, however, that worthy guardian of the honor and dignity of the Carter family was at all disturbed by what he had heard, there was nothing in his face to indicate it. On the contrary, every wrinkle was twisted into curls and curves of hilarity. He even went so far during dinner as to correct his master in so slight a detail as to where Captain Loynes was hit in the famous duel between the colonel's father and that distinguished Virginian.
"Are you shore, Chad, it was in the leg?"
"Yes, sah, berry sho. You don't reckel-member, Colonel; but I had Marsa John's coat, an' I wrop it round Cap'in Loynes when he was ca'aied to his ca'aige. Yes, sah, jes above de knee. Marsa John picked him de fust shot."
"I remember now. Yes, you are right. The captain always walked a little lame."
"But, gentlemen,"—still with great dignity, but yet with an air as if he desired to relieve our minds from any anxiety concerning himself,—"by far the most interesting affair of honor of my time was the one in which I met Major Howard, a prominent member of the Fairfax County bar. Some words in the heat of debate led to a blow, and the next mornin' the handkerchief was dropped at the edge of a wood near the cote-house just as the sun rose over the hill. As I fired, the light blinded me, and my ball passed through his left arm. I escaped with a hole in my sleeve."
"Living yet?" said Fitz, repressing a smile.
"Certainly, suh, and one of the fo'most lawyers of our State. Vehy good friend of mine. Saw him on'y the week befo' I left home."
When dinner was served, I could detect no falling off in the colonel's appetite. With the exception of a certain nervous expectance, intensified when there was a rap at the front door, followed by a certain consequent disappointment when Chad announced the return of a pair of shoes—out to be half-soled—instead of the long-delayed reply from the offending broker, he was as calm and collected as ever.
It was only when he took from his table drawer some sheets of foolscap, spread the nib of a quill pen on his thumb nail, and beckoned Fitz to his side, that I noticed any difference even in his voice.
"You know, Fitz, that my hand is not so steady as it was, and if I should fall, there are some things that must be attended to. Sit here and write these memoranda at my dictation."
Fitz drew nearer, and bent his ear in attention.
"I, George Fairfax Caarter of Caarter Hall, Caartersville, Virginia, bein' of sound mind"—
The pen scratched away.
"Everything down but the sound mind," said Fitz; "but go on."
"Do hereby," continued the colonel.
"What's all this for—another challenge?" said Fitz, looking up.
"No, Fitz,"—the colonel did not like his tone,—"but a few partin' instructions which will answer in place of a more formally drawn will."
Fitz scratched on until the preamble was finished, and the unincumbered half of Carter Hall had been bequeathed to "my ever valued aunt Ann Carter, spinster," and he had reached a new paragraph beginning with, "All bonds, stocks, and shares, whether founders', preferred, or common, of the corporation known as the Cartersville and Warrentown Air Line Railroad, particularly the sum of 25,000 shares of said company subscribed for by the undersigned, I hereby bequeath," when Fitz stopped and laid down his pen.
"You can't leave that stock. Not transferred to you yet."
"I know it, Fitz; but I have pledged my word to take it, and so far as I am concerned, it is mine."
Fitz looked over his glasses at me, and completed the sentence by which this also became "the exclusive property of Ann Carter, spinster." Then followed a clause giving his clothes to Chad, his seal and chain to Fitz, and his fowling-piece to me.
When the document was finished, the colonel signed it in a bold, round hand, and attested it by a burning puddle of red wax into which he plunged the old family seal. Fitz and I duly witnessed it, and then the colonel, with the air of a man whose mind had been suddenly relieved of some great pressure, locked the important document in his drawer, and handed the key to Fitz.
The change now in the colonel's manner was quite in keeping with the expression of his face. All his severe dignity, all the excess of responsibility and apparent studied calmness, were gone. He even became buoyant enough to light a pipe.
Presently he gave a little start as if suddenly remembering something until that moment overlooked, then he lighted a candle, and mounted the stairs to his bedroom. In a few minutes he returned, carrying in both hands a mysterious-looking box. This he placed with great care on the table, and proceeded to unlock with a miniature key attached to a bunch which he invariably carried in his trousers pocket.
It was a square box made of mahogany, bound at each corner with brass, and bearing in the centre of the top a lozenge-shaped silver tablet engraved with a Carter coat of arms, the letters "G. F. C." being beneath.
The colonel raised the lid and uncovered the weapons that had defended the honor of the Carter family for two generations. They were the old fashioned single-barrel kind, with butts like those of the pirates in a play, and they lay in a bed of faded red velvet surrounded by ramrods, bullet-moulds, a green pill-box labeled "G. D. Gun Caps," some scraps of wash leather, together with a copper powder-flask and a spoonful of bullets. The nipples were protected by little patches cut from an old kid glove.
The colonel showed with great pride a dent on one side of the barrel where a ball had glanced, saving some ancestor's life; then he rang the bell for Chad, and consigned the case to that hilarious darky very much as the knight of a castle would place his trusty blade in the hands of his chief armorer.
"Want a tech o' ile in dese baals, Colonel," said Chad, examining them critically. "Got to keep dere moufs clean if you want dese dogs to bark right;" and he bore away the battery, followed by the colonel, who went down into the kitchen to see if the fire was hot enough to cast a few extra bullets.
Fitz and I, being more concerned about devising some method to prevent the consequences of the colonel's rash act than in increasing the facilities for bloodshed, remained where we were and discussed the possible outcome of the situation.
We had about agreed that should Klutchem demand protection of the police, and the colonel be hauled up for violating the law of the State, I should go bail and Fitz employ the lawyer, when we were startled by a sound like the snap of a percussion-cap, followed by loud talking in the front yard.
First came a voice in a commanding tone: "Stand where you are! Drop yo' hand!"
Then Chad's "Don't shoot yit, Colonel."
Fitz and I started for the front door on a run, threw it open, and ran against Chad standing on the top step with his back to the panels. Over his head he held the stub of a candle flickering in the night wind. This he moved up and down in obedience to certain mysterious sounds which came rumbling out of the tunnel. Beside him on the stone step lay the brass-cornered mahogany dueling case with both weapons gone.
The only other light visible was the glowing eye of the tall tower.
"Where's the colonel?" we both asked in a breath.
Chad kept the light aloft with one hand like an ebony Statue of Liberty, and pointed straight ahead into the tunnel with the other.
"Mo' to the left," came the voice.
Chad swayed the candle towards the broken-down fence, and sent his magnified shadow scurrying up the measly wall and halfway over to the next house. "So! Now steady."
The darky stood like the Sphinx, the light streaming atop of the tall candlestick, and then said from out one side of his mouth, "Spec' you gemmen better squat; she's gwineter bite."
Fitz peered into the tunnel, caught the gleam of a pistol held in a shadowy hand, made a clear leap, and landed out of range among the broken flower-pots. I sprang behind the hydrant, and at the same instant another cap snapped.
"Ah, gentlemen," said the voice emerging from the tunnel. "Had I been quite sure of myself I should have sent for you. I used to snuff a candle at fo'ty yards, and but that my powder is a little old I could do it ag'in."
The Outcome of a Council of War
When early the next morning, Fitz and I arrived at the colonel's office he was already on hand and in a state of high nervous excitement. His coat, which, so far as a coat might, always expressed in its various combinations the condition of his mind, was buttoned close up under his chin, giving to his slender figure quite a military air. He was pacing the floor with measured tread; one hand thrust into his bosom, senator fashion, the other held behind his back.
"Not a line, suh; not the scrape of a pen. If his purpose, suh, is to ignore me altogether, I shall horsewhip him on sight."
"Have you looked through the firm's mail?" said Fitz, glad of the respite.
"Eve'ywhere, suh—not a scrap."
"I will hunt him up;" and Fitz hurried down to Klutchem's office in the hope of either intercepting the challenge or of pacifying the object of the colonel's wrath, if by any good chance the letter should have been delayed until the morning.
In ten minutes he returned with the mystifying news that Mr. Klutchem's letters had been sent to his apartment the night before, and that a telegram had just been received notifying his clerks that he would not be down that day.
"Escaped, suh, has he? Run like a dog! Like a yaller dog as he is! Where has he gone?"
"After a policeman, I guess," said Fitz.
The colonel stopped, and an expression of profound contempt overspread his face.
"If the gentleman has fallen so low, suh, that he proposes to go about with a constable taggin' after his heels, you can tell him, suh, that he is safe even from my boot."
Then he shut the door of the private office in undisguised disgust, leaving Fitz and me on the outside.
"What are we going to do, Major?" said Fitz, now really anxious. "I am positive that old Klutchem has either left town or is at this moment at police headquarters. If so, the dear old fellow will be locked up before sundown. Klutchem got that letter last night."
It was at once decided to head off the broker, Fitz keeping an eye on his office every half hour in the hope that he might turn up, and I completing the arrangements for the colonel's bail so as to forestall the possibility of his remaining in custody overnight.
Fitz spent the day in efforts to lay hands on Klutchem in order to prevent the law performing the same service for the colonel. My own arrangements were more easily completed, a friend properly possessed of sufficient real estate to make good his bond being in readiness for any emergency. One o'clock came, then three, then five; the colonelall the time keeping to the seclusion of his private office, Fitz watching for Klutchem, and I waiting in the larger office for the arrival of one of those clean-shaven, thick-set young men, in a Derby hat and sack-coat, the unexpected pair of handcuffs in his outside pocket.
The morning of the second day the situation remained still unchanged; Fitz had been unable to find Klutchem either at his office or at his lodgings, the colonel was still without any reply from his antagonist, and no young man answering to my fears had put in any appearance whatever.
The only new features were a telegram from Tom Yancey to the effect that he and Judge Kerfoot would arrive about noon, and another from the judge himself begging a postponement until they could reach the field.
Fitz read both dispatches in a corner by himself, with a face expressive of the effect these combined troubles were making upon his otherwise happy countenance. He then crumpled them up in his hand and slid them into his pocket.
Up to this time not a soul in the office except the colonel, Fitz, and I had the faintest hint of the impending tragedy, it being one of the colonel's maxims that all affairs of honor demanded absolute silence.
"If yo' enemy falls," he would say, "it is mo' co'teous to say nothin' but good of the dead; and when you cannot say that, better keep still. If he is alive let him do the talkin'—he will soon kill himself."
Fitz kept still because he felt sure if he could get hold of Klutchem the whole affair—either outcome powder or law—could be prevented.
"Just as I had got the syndicate to look into the coal land," said Fitz, "which is the only thing the colonel's got worth talking about, here he goes and gets into a first-class cast-iron scrape like this. What a lovely old idiot he is! But I tell you, Major, something has got to be done about this shooting business right away! Here I have arranged for a meeting at the colonel's house on Saturday to discuss this new coal development, and the syndicate's agent is coming, and yet we can't for the life of us tell whether the colonel will be on his way home in a pine box or locked up here for trying to murder that old windbag. It's horrible!
"And to cap the climax,"—and he pulled out the crumpled telegrams,—"here come a gang of fire-eaters who will make it twice as difficult for me to settle anything. I wish I could find Klutchem!"
While he spoke the office door opened, ushering in a stout man with a red face, accompanied by an elderly white-haired gentleman, in a butternut suit. The red-faced man was carrying a carpet bag—not the Northern variety of wagon-curtain canvas, but the old-fashioned carpet kind with leather handles and a mouth like a catfish. The snuff-colored gentleman's only charge was a heavy hickory cane and an umbrella with a waist like a market-woman's.
The red-faced man took off a wide straw hat and uncovered a head slightly bald and reeking with perspiration.
"I'm lookin' fur Colonel Caarter, suh. Is he in?"
Fitz pointed to the door of the private office, and the elderly man drew his cane and rapped twice. The colonel must have recognized the signal as familiar, for the door opened with a spring, and the next moment he had them both by the hands.
"Why, Jedge, this is indeed an honor—and Tom! Of co'se I knew you would come, Tom; but the Jedge I did not expec' until I got yo' telegram. Give me yo' bag, and put yo' umbrella in the corner.
"Here Fitz, Major; both of you come in here at once.
"Jedge Kerfoot, gentlemen, of the district co'te of Fairfax County. Major Tom Yancey, of the army."
The civilities over, extra chairs were brought in, the door again closed, and a council of war was held.
Major Yancey's first word—but I must describe Yancey. Imagine a short, oily skinned, perpetually perspiring sort of man of forty, with a decollete collar, a double-breasted waistcoat with glass buttons, and skin-tight light trousers held down to a pair of high-heeled boots by leather straps. The space between his waistband and his waistcoat was made good by certain puckerings of his shirt anxious to escape the thralldom of his suspenders. His paunch began and ended so suddenly that he constantly reminded you of a man who had swallowed a toy balloon.
Yancey's first word was an anxious inquiry as to whether he was late, adding, "I came ez soon ez I could settle some business mattahs." He had borrowed his traveling expenses from Kerfoot, who in turn had borrowed them from Miss Nancy, keeping the impending duel carefully concealed from that dear lady, and reading only such part of the colonel's letter as referred to the drawing up of some important papers in which he was to figure as chief executor.
"Late? No, Tom," said the colonel; "but the scoundrel has run to cover. We are watchin' his hole."
"You sholy don't tell me he's got away, Colonel?" replied Major Yanccy.
"What could I do, Yancey? He hasn't had the decency to answer my letter."
Yancey, however, on hearing more fully the facts, clung to the hope that the Yankee would yet be smoked out.
"I of co'se am not familiar with the code as practiced Nawth—perhaps these delays are permis'ble; but in my county a challenge is a ball, and a man is killed or wounded ez soon ez the ink is dry on the papah. The time he has to live is only a mattah of muddy roads or convenience of seconds. Is there no way in which this can be fixed? I doan't like to return home without an effo't bein' made."
The colonel, anxious to place the exact situation before Major Yancey so that he might go back fully assured that everything that a Carter could do had been done, read the copy of the challenge, gave the details of Fitz's efforts to find Klutchem, the repeated visits to his office, and finally the call at his apartments.
The major listened attentively, consulted aside with the judge, and then in an authoritative tone, made the more impressive by the decided way with which he hitched up his trousers, said:—
"You have done all that a high-toned Southern gemman could do, Colonel. Yo' honor, suh, is without a stain."
In which opinion he was sustained by Kerfoot, who proved to be a ponderous sort of old-fashioned county judge, and who accentuated his decision by bringing down his cane with a bang.
While all this was going on in the private office under cover of profound secrecy, another sort of consultation of a much more public character was being held in the office outside.
A very bright young man—one of the clerks—held in his hand a large envelope, bearing on one end the printed address of the firm whose private office the colonel was at that moment occupying as a council chamber. It was addressed in the colonel's well-known round hand. This was not the fact, however, which excited interest; for the colonel never used any other envelopes than those of the firm.
The postman, who had just taken it from his bag, wanted to deliver it at its destination. The proprietor wanted to throw it back into the box for remailing, believing it to be a Garden Spot circular, and so of no especial importance. The bright young man wanted to return it to the colonel.
The bright young man prevailed, rapped at the door, and laid the letter under the colonel's nose. It bore this address:—
P. A. KLUTCHEM, ESQ., Room 21, Star Building, Wall Street, Immediate. New York.
The colonel turned pale and broke the seal. Out dropped his challenge!
"Where did you get this?" he asked, aghast.
"From the carrier. It was held for postage."
Had a bombshell been exploded the effect could not have been more startling.
Yancey was the first man on his feet.
"And the scoundrel never got it! Here, Colonel, give me the letter. I'll go through this town like a fine-tooth comb but what I'll find him. He will never escape me. My name is Yancey, suh!"
The judge was more conservative. He had grave doubts as to whether a second challenge, after a delay of two days and two nights, could be sent at all. The traditions of the Carter family were a word and a blow, not a blow and a word in two days. To intrust the letter to the United States mail was a grave mistake; the colonel might have known that it would miscarry.
Fitz said grimly that letters always did, without stamps. The Government was running the post-office on a business basis, not for its health.
Yancey looked at Fitz as if the interruption wearied him, then, turning to the colonel, said that he was dumbfounded that a man who had been raised as Colonel Carter could have violated so plain a rule of the code. A challenge should always be delivered by the hand of the challenger's friend. It should never be mailed.
The poor colonel, who since the discovery of the unstamped letter had sat in a heap buried in his coat collar,—the military button having given way,—now gave his version of the miscarriage.
He began by saying that when his friend Major Yancey became conversant with all the facts he would be more lenient with him. He had, he said, found the proprietor's drawer locked, and, not having a stamp about him, had dropped the document into the mail-box with the firm's letters, presuming that the clerks would affix the tax the Government imposed. That the document had reached the post-office was evidenced by the date-stamp on the envelope. It seemed to him a picayune piece of business on the part of the authorities to detain it, and all for the paltry sum of two cents.
Major Yancey conferred with the judge for a moment, and then said that the colonel's explanation had relieved him of all responsibility. He owed him a humble apology, and he shook his hand. Colonel Carter had done all that a high-bred gentleman could do. The letter was intrusted to the care of Mr. Klutchem's own government, the post-office as now conducted being peculiarly a Yankee institution.
"If Mr. Klutchem's own government, gemmen,"—and he repeated it with a rising voice,—"if Mr. Klutchem's own government does not trust him enough to deliver to him a letter in advance of a payment of two cents, such action, while highly discreditable to Mr. Klutchem, certainly does not relieve that gemman from the responsibility of answerin' Colonel Caarter."
The colonel said the point was well taken, and the judge sustained him.
Yancey looked around with the air of a country lawyer who had tripped up a witness, decorated a corner of the carpet, and continued:—
"My idee, suh, now that I am on the ground, is for me to wait upon the gemman at once, hand him the orig'nal challenge, and demand an immediate answer. That is, "turning to Fitz, "unless he is in hidin'."
Fitz replied that it was pretty clear to him that a man could not hide from a challenge he had never received. It was quite evident that Klutchem was detained somewhere.
The colonel coincided, and said in justice to his antagonist that he would have to acquit him of this charge. He did not now believe that Mr. Klutchem had run away. Fitz, who up to this time had enjoyed every turn in the discussion, and who had listened to Yancey with a face like a stone god, his knees shaking with laughter, now threw another bombshell almost as disastrous as the first.
"Besides, gentlemen, I don't think Mr. Klutchem's remarks were insulting."
The colonel's head rose out of his collar with a jerk, and the forelegs of Yancey's chair struck the floor with a thump. Both sprang to their feet. The judge and I remained quiet. "Not insultin', suh, to call a gemman a—a—Colonel, what did the scoundrel call you?"
"It was mo' his manner," replied the colonel. "He was familiar, suh, and presumin' and offensive."
Yancey broke away again, but Fitz sidetracked him with a gesture, and asked the colonel to repeat Klutchem's exact words.
The colonel gazed at the ceiling a moment, and replied:—
"Mr. Klutchem said that, outside of peanuts and sweet potatoes, all my road would git for freight would be niggers and razor-back hogs."
"Mr. Klutchem was right, Colonel," said Fitz. "Very sensible man. They will form a very large part of our freight. Anything offensive in that remark of Klutchem's, Major Yancey?"
The major conferred with the judge, and said reluctantly that there was not.
"Go on, Colonel," continued Fitz.
"Then, suh, he said he wouldn't trade a yaller dog for enough of our bonds to papah a meetin'-house."
"Did he call you a yaller dog?" said Yancey searchingly, and straightening himself up.
"Call anybody connected with you a yaller dog?"
"Can't say that he did."
"Call yo' railroad a yaller dog?"
"No, don't think so," said the colonel, now thoroughly confused and adrift.
Yancey consulted with the judge a moment in one corner, and then said gravely:—
"Unless some mo' direct insult is stated, Colonel, we must agree with yo' friend Mr. Fitzpatrick, and consider yo' action hasty. Now, if you had pressed the gemman, and he had called you a yaller dog or a liar, somethin' might be done. Why didn't you press him?"
"I did, suh. I told him his statements were false and his manners vulgar."
"And he did not talk back?"
"No, suh; on'y laughed."
"Sneeringly, and in a way that sounded like 'Yo' 're another'?"
The colonel could not remember that it was.
Yancey ruminated, and Fitz now took a hand.
"On the contrary, Major Yancey, Mr. Klutchem's laugh was a very jolly laugh; and, under the circumstances, a laugh very creditable to his good nature. You are young and impetuous, but I know my learned friend, Judge Kerfoot, will agree with me"—here Yancey patted his toy balloon complacently, and the judge leaned forward with rapt attention—"when I say that if any apologies are in order they should not come from Mr. Klutchem."
It was delicious to note how easily Fitz fell into the oratorical method of his hearers.
"Here is a man immersed in stocks, and totally ignorant of the boundless resources of your State, who limits the freight of our road to four staples,—peanuts, hogs, sweet potatoes, and niggers. As a further exhibition of his ignorance he estimates the value of a large block of our securities as far below the price set upon a light, tan-colored canine, a very inexpensive animal; or, as he puts it, and perhaps too coarsely,—a yellow dog. For the expression of these financial opinions in an open office during business hours he is set upon, threatened with expulsion, and finally challenged to a mortal duel. I ask you, as chivalric Virginians, is this right?"
Yancey was about to answer, when the judge raised his hand impressively.
"The co'te, not being familiar with the practice of this section, can on'y decide the question in acco'dance with the practice of his own county. The language used is not objectionable, either under the law or by the code. The prisoner, Klutchem, is discharged with a reprimand, and the plaintiff, Caarter, leaves the co'te room without a stain on his cha'acter. The co'te will now take a recess."
Fitz listened with great gravity to the decision of the learned judge, bowed to him with the pleased deference of the winning attorney, grasped the colonel's hand, and congratulated him warmly on his acquittal.
Then, locking his arm through Yancey's, he conducted that pugnacious but parched Virginian, together with the overworked judge, out into the street, down a flight of stone steps, and into an underground apartment; from which they emerged later with that satisfied, cheerful air peculiar to a group of men who have slaked their thirst.
The colonel and I remained behind. He was in no mood for such frivolity.
A High Sense of Honor
While the judge's decision had relieved the colonel of all responsibility so far as Yancey and Cartersville were concerned,—and Yancey would be Cartersville when he was back at the tavern stove,—there was one person it had not satisfied, and that was the colonel himself.
He began pacing the floor, recounting for my benefit the various courtesies he had received since he had lived at the North,—not only from the proprietors of the office, but from every one of its frequenters. And yet after all these civilities he had so far forgotten himself as to challenge a friend of his host, a very worthy gentleman, who, although a trifle brusque in his way of putting things, was still an open-hearted man. And all because he differed with him on a matter of finance.
"The mo' I think of it, Major, the mo' I am overwhelmed by my action. It was inconsiderate, suh. It was uncalled for, suh; and I am afraid"—and here he lowered his voice—"it was ill-bred and vulgar. What could those gentlemen who stood by have thought? They have all been so good to me, Major. I have betrayed their hospitality. I have forgotten my blood, suh. There is certainly an apology due Mr. Klutchem."
At this juncture Fitz returned, followed by Yancey, who was beaming all over, the judge bringing up the rear.
All three listened attentively.
"Who's goin' to apologize?" said Yancey, shifting his thumbs from his armholes to the side pockets of his vest, from which he pinched up some shreds of tobacco.
"I am, suh!" replied the colonel.
"What for, Colonel?" The doctrine was new to Yancey.
"For my own sense of honor, suh!"
"But he never got the challenge."
"That makes no diffence, suh. I wrote it." And the colonel threw his head up, and looked Major Yancey straight in the eye.
"But, Colonel, we've got the letter. Klutchem don't know a word about it."
"But I do, Major Yancey; and so do you and Fitz, and the jedge and the major here. We all know it. Do you suppose, suh, for one instant, that I am cowardly enough to stab a man in the back this way and give him no chance of defendin' himself? It is monst'ous, suh! Why, suh, it's no better than insultin' a deaf man, and then tryin' to escape because he did not hear you. I tell you, suh, I shall apologize. Fitz, kindly inquire outside if there is any news of Mr. Klutchem."
Fitz opened the door, and sent the inquiry ringing through the office.
"Yes!" came a voice from around the "ticker." "Went to the races two days ago, got soaking wet, and has been laid up ever since at a friend's house with the worst attack of gout he ever had in his life."
The colonel started as if he had been stung, put on his hat, and with a determined air buttoned his coat over his chest. Then, charging Yancey and the judge not to leave the office until he returned, he beckoned Fitz to him, and said:—
"We have not a moment to lose. Get Mr. Klutchem's address, and order a caarriage."
It was the custom with Fitz never to cross the colonel in any one of his sudden whims. Whether this was because he liked to indulge him, or because it gave him an opportunity to study a type of man entirely new to him, the result was always the same,—the colonel had his way. Had the Virginian insisted upon waiting on the offending broker in a palanquin or upon the top of a four-in-hand, Fitz would have found the vehicle somehow, and have crawled in or on top beside him with as much complacency as if he had spent his whole life with palanquins and coaches, and had had no other interests. So when the order came for the carriage, Fitz winked at me with his left eye, walked to the sidewalk, whistled to a string of cabs, and the next instant we were all three whirling up the crowded street in search of the bedridden broker.
The longer the colonel brooded over the situation the more he was satisfied with the idea of the apology. Indeed, before he had turned down the side street leading to the temporary hospital of the suffering man, he had arranged in his mind just where the ceremony would take place, and just how he would frame his opening sentence. He was glad, too, that Klutchem had been discovered so soon—while Yancey and Kerfoot were still in town.
The colonel alighted first, ran up the steps, pulled the bell with the air of a doctor called to an important case, and sent his card to the first floor back.
"Mr. Klutchem says, 'Walk up,'" said the maid.
The broker was in an armchair with his back to the door, only the top of his bald head being visible as we entered. On a stool in front rested a foot of enormous size swathed in bandages. Leaning against his chair were a pair of crutches. He was somewhat startled at the invasion, made as it was in the busiest part of the day.
"What's up? Anybody busted?"
Fitz assured him that the Street was in a mood of the greatest tranquillity; that the visit was purely personal, and made for the express purpose of offering Colonel Carter an opportunity of relieving his mind of a pressure which at the precise moment was greater than he could bear.
"Out with it, old Garden—Colonel," broke out Klutchem, catching himself in time, and apparently greatly relieved that the situation was no worse.
The colonel, who remained standing, bowed courteously, drew himself up with a dress-parade gesture, and recounted slowly and succinctly the incidents of the preceding three days.
When he arrived at the drawing-up of the challenge, Klutchem looked around curiously, gathered in his crutches with his well leg,—prepared for escape or defense,—and remained thus equipped until the colonel reached the secret consultation in the private office and the return of the unstamped letter. Then he toppled his supports over on the floor, and laughed until the pain in his elephantine foot bent him double.
The colonel paused until Klutchem had recovered himself, and then continued, his face still serene, and still expressive of a purpose so lofty that it excluded every other emotion.
"The return of my challenge unopened, suh, coupled with the broad views of my distinguished friends Mr. Fitzpatrick and the major,—both personal friends of yo' own, I believe,—and the calmer reflection of my own mind, have convinced me, Mr. Klutchem, that I have been hasty and have done you a wrong; and, suh, rememberin' my blood, I have left the cares of my office for a brief moment to call upon you at once, and tell you so. I regret, suh, that you have not the use of both yo' legs, but I have anticipated that difficulty. My caarriage is outside."
"Don't mention it, Colonel. You never grazed me. If you want to plaster that syndicate all over with Garden Spots, go ahead. I won't say a word. There's my hand."
The colonel never altered a line in his face nor moved a muscle of his body. Mr. Klutchem's hand remained suspended in mid air.
"Yo' action is creditable to yo' heart, suh, but you know, of course, that I cannot take yo' hand here. I insulted you in a public office, and in the presence of yo' friends and of mine, some of whom are at this moment awaitin' our return. I feel assured, suh, that under the circumstances you will make an effort, however painful it may be to you, to relieve me from this stain on my cha'acter. Allow me to offer you my arm, and help you to my caarriage, suh. I will not detain you mo' than an hour."
Klutchem looked at him in perfect astonishment.
The colonel's color rose.
"That this matter may be settled properly, suh. I insulted you publicly in my office. I wish to apologize in the same way. It is my right, suh."
"But I can't walk. Look at that foot,—big as a hatbox."
"My friends will assist you, suh. I will carry yo' crutches myself. Consider my situation. You surely, as a man of honor, will not refuse me this, Mr. Klutchem?"
The colonel's eyes began to snap, and Fitz edged round to pour oil when the wind freshened. Klutchem's temper was also on the move.
"Get out of this chair with that mush poultice," pointing to his foot, "and have you cart me down to Wall Street to tell me you are sorry you didn't murder me! What do you take me for?"
The colonel's eyes now fairly blazed, and his voice trembled with suppressed anger.
"I did take you, suh, for a gentleman. I find I am mistaken. And you refuse to go, and"—
"Yes!" roared Klutchem, his voice splitting the air like a tomahawk.
"Then, suh, let me tell you right here that if you do not get up now and get into my caarriage, whenever you can stand on yo' wuthless legs, I will thresh you so, suh, that you will never get up any mo'."
A Visit of Ceremony
The Honorable I. B. Kerfoot, presiding judge of the district court of Fairfax County, Virginia, and the gallant Major Thomas C. Yancey, late of the Confederate army, had been the colonel's guests at his hospitable house in Bedford Place for a period of six days and six nights, when my cards—two—were given to Chad, together with my verbal hopes that both gentlemen were within.
My visit was made in conformity with one of the colonel's inflexible rules,—every guest under his roof, within one week of his arrival, was to be honored by a personal call from every friend within reach.
No excuse would have sufficed on the ground of flying visits. And indeed, so far as these particular birds of passage were concerned, the occupation was permanent, the judge having taken possession of the only shake-down sofa on the lower floor, and the warlike major having plumped himself into the middle of the colonel's own bed not ten minutes after his arrival. Even to the casual Northern eye, unaccustomed to the prolonged sedentary life of the average Virginian when a guest, there was every indication that these had come to stay.
Chad laid both of my cards on the table, and indulged in a pantomime more graphic than spoken word. He shut his eyes, laid his cheek on one hand, and gave a groan of intense disgust, followed by certain gleeful chuckles, made the more expressive by the sly jerking of his thumb towards the dining room door and the bobbing up and down of his fore-finger in the direction of the bedroom above.
"Bofe in. Yes, sah! Bofe in, an' bofe abed. Last I yeard from em' dey was hollerin' for juleps."
I entered the dining-room and stopped short. On a low sofa at the far end of the room lay a man of more than ordinary girth, with coat, vest, and shoes off, his face concealed by a newspaper. From beneath this sheet came, at regular intervals, a long-drawn sound like the subdued puff of a tired locomotive at rest on a side-track. Beside him was an empty tumbler, decorated with a broken straw and a spray of withered mint.
The summer air fanned through the closed blinds of the darkened room, and played with the silvery locks that straggled over the white pillow; the paper rose and fell with a crinkling noise, keeping time to the rhythm of the exhaust. Beyond this there was no movement. The Hon. I. B. Kerfoot was asleep.
I watched the slowly heaving figure for a moment, picked up a chair, and gently closed the door. I could now look the colonel in the face so far as the judge was concerned. My account with the colonel was settled.
Retiring to the yard outside, which was cool and shady, and, despite its dilapidated appearance, a grateful relief from the glare of the street, I tilted my chair against the dissipated wall, with its damaged complexion of scaling white-wash, and sat down to await the colonel's return.
Meanwhile Chad busied himself about the kitchen, moving in and out the basement door, and at last brought up a great tin pan, seated himself on the lower step, and proceeded to shell pease, indulging all the while in a running commentary on the events of the preceding week.
One charm in Chad's conversation was its clearness. You always absorbed his meaning. Another was its reliability. When he finished you had the situation in full.
First came the duel.
"So dat Ketchem man done got away? Doan' dat beat all! An' de colonel a-mak-in' his will an' a-rubbin' up his old barkers. Can't have no fun yer naaway; sumpin' allers spiles it. But yer oughter seen de colonel dat day w'en he come home! Sakes alive, warn't he b'ilin'! Much as Jedge Keerfoot could do to keep him from killin' dat Yankee on de street."
Chad's long brown fingers fumbled among the green pea-shells, which he heaped up on one side of the pan, and the conversation soon changed to his master's "second in the field." I encouraged this divergence, for I had been charged by Fitz to find out when these two recent additions to the household in Bedford Place intended returning to their native clime; that loyal friend of the colonel being somewhat disturbed over their preparations for what promised to be a lengthy stay.
"'Fo' de Lawd, I doan' know! Tom Yancey nebber go s'long as de mint patch hol' out, an' de colonel bought putty near a ba'el ob it dis mawnin', an' anudder dimi-john from Mister Grocerman. Makes my blood bile to see dese Yanceys, anyhow. See dat carpet bag w'at he fotch wid him? Knowed w'at he had in it w'en he opened its mouf an' de jedge tuk his own clo'es outen it? A pair ob carpet slippers, two collars, an' a lot ob chicken fixin's. Not a shirt to his back 'cept de one, he had on! Had to stay abed yisteddy till I i'oned it. Dar's one ob his collars on de line now. Dese yer Yanceys no 'count no way. Beats de lan' how de colonel can put up wid 'em, 'cept his faader was quality. You know de old gineral married twice, de las' time his oberseer's daughter. Dat's her chile—Tom Yancey—'sleep now on de colonel's bed upstairs wid a straw in his mouf like a shote. But de colonel say 'tain't Tom's fault dat he takes after his mammy; he's a Yancey, anyhow. But I tell you, Major, Miss Nancy doan' hab nuffin' much to do wid 'im,—she can't abide 'im."
"How long are they going to stay, Chad?" I asked, wishing to make a definite report to Fitz.
"Doan' know. Ole groun'-hog mighty comf'ble in de hole." And he heaped up another pile of shells.
"Fust night de jedge come he tol' de colonel dat Miss Nancy say we all got to come home when de month's up, railroad or no railroad. Dat was a week ago. Den de jedge tasted dat Madary Mister Grocerman sent, an' I ain't yerd nuffin' 'bout goin' home since. Is you yerd, Major?"
Before I could answer, a shutter opened overhead and a voice came sifting down.
"O Chad! Mix me a julep. And, Chad, bring an extra one for the colonel. I reckon he'll be yer d'reckly."
"Yes, sah," replied Chad, without lifting his eyes from the pan.
Then glancing up and finding the blind closed again, he said to me in a half-whisper:—
"Colonel get his julep when he ax fur it. I ain't caayin' no double drinks to nobody. Dis ain't no camp-meetin' bar."
But Chad's training had been too thorough to permit of his refusing sustenance or attention to any guest of his master's, no matter how unworthy, and it was not many minutes before he was picking over "de ba'el" containing that peculiar pungent variety of plant so common to the graveyards of Virginia.
Before the cooling beverage had been surmounted by its delicate mouthpiece the street gate opened and the colonel walked briskly in.
"Ah, Major! You here? Jes the vehy man we wanted, suh! Fitz and the English agent are comin' to dinner. You have heard the news, of co'se? No? Not about the great syndicate absorbin' the Garden Spots? My dear suh, she's floated! The C. & W. A. L. R. R. is afloat, suh! Proudly ridin' the waves of prosperity, suh. Wafted on by the breeze of success."
"What, bought the bonds?" I said, jumping up. "Well, not exactly bought them outright, for these gigantic operations are not conducted in that way; but next to it, suh. To-day,"—and he brought his hand down softly on my shoulder,—"to-day, suh, they have cabled their agent—the same gentleman, suh, you saw in my office some time ago—to make a searchin' investigation into the mineral and agricultural resources of that section of my State, with a view to extendin' its railroad system. I quote, suh, the exact words: 'extendin' its railroad system.' Think, my dear Major, of the effect that a colossal financial concern like the great British syndicate would produce upon Fairfax County, backed as it is, suh, by untold millions of stagnant capital absolutely rottin' in English banks! The road is built!" And the colonel in his excitement opened his waistcoat, and began pacing the yard, fanning himself vigorously with his hat.
Chad substituted a palm-leaf fan from the hall table, and, producing a small tray, picked up the frosted tumbler and mounted the three steps to relieve the thirsty guest on the floor above.
As he reached the last step a hand stretched out, and a voice said:—
"Jes what I wanted."
"Dis julep, Jedge, is Major Yancey's."
"All the better." And nodding to the colonel and bowing gravely to me, the Hon. I. B. Kerfoot settled himself on the top of the front steps with very much the same air with which he would have occupied his own judicial bench.
With the exception that this julep was just begun and tile other just ended, his Honor presented precisely the same outward appearance as when I discovered him asleep on the sofa.
His was, in fact, the extremest limit of dishabille permissible even on the hottest of summer afternoons in the most retired of back yards,—no coat, no vest, no shoes. In one hand he held a crumpled collar and a high, black silk stock; with the other he grasped the julep. His hair was tousled, his face shriveled up and pinched by his heavy nap, his eyes watery and vague. He reminded me of the man one sometimes meets in the aisle of a sleeping-car when one boards the train at a way station in the night.
"I hope you have had a refreshin' sleep, Jedge," said the colonel. "My friend the major here did himself and me the honor of callin' upon you, but findin' that you were restin', suh, he sought the cool of my co'teyard until you should awake."
His Honor looked at me over the edge of his tumbler and bowed feebly. The straw remained glued to his mouth.
"I have been tellin' him, suh, of the extr'o'd'nary boom to-day in Garden Spots, as some of my young friends call the secu'ities of my new road, work upon which will be begun next week."
The announcement made no impression upon the judge, his face remaining sleepily stolid until that peculiar gurgling sound, the death-rattle of a dying julep, caused a shade of sadness to pass over it.
At that instant the shutter again opened overhead.
"Hello, Colonel! Home, are you? Chad, where's my julep? Ah, Major, hope I see you vehy well, suh. Where's Kerfoot?"
That legal luminary craned his head forward as far as it would go without necessitating any additional movement of his body, caught Yancey's eye as he leaned out of the window, and held up the empty glass.
When everybody had stopped laughing the colonel made a critical but silent examination of the judge, called to Yancey, and said:—
"Gentlemen, we do not dine until seven. You will both have ample time to dress."
Chad in Search of a Coal-Field
The colonel was the first man downstairs. When he entered I saw at a glance that it was one of his gala nights, for he wore the ceremonial white waistcoat and cravat, and had thrown the accommodating coat wide open. His hair, too, was brushed back from his broad forehead with more than usual care, each silver thread keeping its proper place in the general scheme of iron-gray; while his goatee was twisted to so fine a point that it curled upward like a fishhook. He had also changed his shoes, his white stockings now being incased in low prunellas tied with a fresh ribbon, which hung over the toes like the drooping ears of a lapdog.
The attention which the colonel paid to these particular details was due, as he frequently said, to his belief that a man would always be well dressed who looked after his extremities.
"I can inva'iably, suh, detect the gentleman under the shabbiest suit of clothes, if his collar and stockings are clean. When, besides this, he brushes his hat and blacks his shoes, you may safely invite him to dinner."
Something like this was evidently passing in his mind as he stood waiting for his guests, his back to the empty grate; for he examined his hands critically, glanced at his shoes, and then excusing himself, turned his face, and taking a pair of scissors from his pocket proceeded leisurely to trim his cuffs.
"These duties of the dressin'-room, my dear Major, should have been attended to in their proper place; but the fact is the jedge is makin' rather an elaborate toilet in honor of our guest, and as Yancey occupies my bedroom, and the jedge is also dressin' there, my own accommodations are limited. I feel sure you will excuse me."
While he spoke the door opened, and his Honor entered in a William Penn style of make-up, ruffled shirt and all. He really was not unlike that distinguished peacemaker, especially when he carried one of the colonel's long pipes in his mouth. He had, I am happy to say, since leaving the front steps, accumulated an increased amount of clothing. The upper half of the familiar butternut suit—the coat—still clung to him, but the middle and lower half had been supplanted by another waistcoat and trousers of faded nankeen, the first corrugated into wrinkles and the second flapping about his ankles.
The colonel absorbed him at a glance, and with a satisfied air placed a chair for him near the window and handed him a palm-leaf fan.
Last of all came Yancey in a flaming red necktie, the only new addition to his costume—a part, no doubt, of the "chicken fixin's" found by Chad in the carpet bag.
The breezy ex-major, as he entered, seized my hand with the warmth of a lifelong friend; then moving over and encircling with his arm the colonel's coat collar, he lowered his voice to a confidential whisper and inquired about the market of the day with as much solicitude as though his last million had been filched from him on insufficient security.
When, a few minutes later, the round-faced man, the agent of the great English syndicate, walked in, preceded by Fitz, nothing could have been more courtly than the way the colonel presented him to his guests—pausing at every name to recount some slight biographical detail complimentary to each, and ending by announcing with great dignity that his honored guest was none other than the very confidential agent and adviser of a group of moneyed magnates whose influence extended to the uttermost parts of the earth.
The agent, like many other sensible Englishmen, was a bluff, hearty sort of man, with a keen eye for the practical side of life and an equally keen enjoyment of every other, and it was not five minutes before he had located in his round head the precise standing and qualifications of every man in the room.
While Yancey amused him greatly as a type quite new to him, the colonel filled him with delight. "So frank, so courteous, so hospitable; quite the air of a country squire of the old school," he told Fitz afterward.
As a host that night, the colonel was in his happiest vein, and by the time the coffee was served, had succeeded not only in entertaining the table in his own inimitable way, but he had drawn out from each one of his guests, not excepting the reticent Fitz, some anecdote or incident of his life, bringing into stronger relief the finer qualities of him who told it.
Kerfoot in a ponderous way gave the details of a murder case, tried before him many years ago, in which the judge's charge so influenced the jury that the man was acquitted, and justly so, as was afterward proved. Yancey related an incident of the war, where he, only a drummer boy at the time, assisted, at great risk, in carrying a wounded comrade from the field. And Fitz was forced to admit that one of the largest financial operations of the day would have been a failure had he not stepped in at the critical moment and saved it.
Up to this point in the dinner not the slightest reference had been made to the railroad or its interests except by the impetuous Yancey, who asked Fitz what the bonds would probably be worth, and who was promptly silenced by the colonel with the suggestive remark that none were for sale, especially at this time.
When, however, by the direction of the colonel, the cloth was removed and the old mahogany table that Chad rubbed down every morning with a cork was left with only the glasses, a pair of coasters and their decanters,—the Madeira within reach of the judge's hand,—the colonel rose from his chair and spread out on the polished surface a stained and ragged map, labeled in one corner in quaint letters, "Lands of John Carter, Esquire, of Carter Hall." Only then was the colonel ready for business.
"This is the correct survey, I believe, Jedge," said the colonel.
The judge emptied his glass, felt all over his person for his spectacles, found them in the inside pocket of his nankeen waistcoat, and, perching them on the extreme end of his nose, looked over their rims and remarked that the original deeds of the colonel's estate had been based upon this map, and that, so far as he knew, it was correct. Then he added:—
"The partition line that was made immejitly aafter the war, dividin' the estate between Miss Ann Caarter and yo'self, Colonel, was also tuk from this survey."
Fitz conferred with the agent for a moment and then asked the colonel where lay the deposit of coal of which he had spoken.
"In a moment, my dear Fitz," said the colonel, deprecatingly, and turning to the agent:—
"The city of Fairfax, suh, that we discussed this mornin', will be located to the right of this section; the Tench runs here; the iron bridge, suh, should cross at this point," marking it with his thumb nail. "Or perhaps you gentlemen will decide to have it nearer the Hall. It is immaterial to me." Then looking at Fitz: "I can't locate the coal, my dear Fitz; but I think it is up here on the hill at the foot of the range."
The agent lost interest immediately in the iron bridge over the Tench, and asked a variety of questions about the deposit, all of which the colonel answered courteously and patiently, but evidently with a desire to change the subject as soon as possible.
The Englishman, however, was persistent, while the judge's last sententious remark regarding the recent subdivision of the estate awakened a new interest in Fitz.
What if this coal should not be on the colonel's land at all! He caught his breath at the thought.
It was Fitz's only chance to restore the colonel's fortunes; and although for obvious reasons he dared not tell him so, it was really the only interest the Englishman had in the scheme at all.
Indeed, the agent had frankly said so to Fitz, adding that he was anxious to locate a deposit of coal somewhere in the vicinity of the line of the colonel's proposed road; because the extension of certain railroads in which the syndicate was interested—not the C. & W. A. L. R. R., however—depended almost entirely upon the purchase of this vital commodity.
Full of these instructions the agent, after listening to a panegyric upon the resources of Fairfax County, interrupted rather curtly a glowing statement of the colonel's concerning the enormous value of the Garden Spot securities by asking this question:— "Are the coal lands for sale?" Fitz shivered at its directness, fearing that the colonel would catch the drift affairs were taking and become alarmed. His fears were groundless; the shot had gone over his head.
"No, suh! My purpose is to use it to supply our shops and motive power."
"If you should decide to sell the lands I would make an investigation at once," replied the agent, quietly, but with meaning in his voice.
The colonel looked at him eagerly.
"Would you at the same time consider the purchase of our securities?"
"When would you go?"
"To-morrow night, or not at all. I return to England in a week."
Yancey and the judge looked at each other inquiringly with a certain anxious expression suggestive of some impending trouble. The judge recovered himself first, and quickly filled his glass, leaving but one more measure in the decanter. This measure Yancey immediately emptied into his own person, as perhaps the only place where it would be entirely safe from the treacherous thirst of the judge.
Fitz read in their faces these mental processes, and was more determined than ever to break up at once what he called "the settlement."
"Are you sho', Colonel," inquired Ker-foot, catching at straws, "that the coal lands lie entirely on yo' father's property? Does not the Barbour lan' jine yo's on the hill?"
"I am not positively sho', suh, but I have always understood that what we call the coal hills belonged to my father. You see," said the colonel, turning to the agent, "this grade of wild lan' is never considered of much value with us, and a few hundred acres mo' or less is never insisted on among old families of our standin' whose estates jine."
Yancey expanded his vest, and said authoritatively that he was quite sure the coal hills were on the Barbour property. He had shot partridges over that land many a time.
The agent, who had listened calmly to the discussion, remarked dryly that until the colonel definitely ascertained whether he had any lands to sell it would be a useless waste of time to make the trip.
"Quite so," said Kerfoot, raising the emptied decanter to his eye, and replacing it again with a look at Yancey expressive of the contempt in which he held a man who could commit so mean an act.
"But, Colonel," said Fitz, "can't you telegraph to-morrow and find out?"
"To whom, my clear Fitz? It would take a week to get the clerk of the co'te to look through the records. Nobody at Bar-hour's knows."
"Does Miss Nancy know?" The colonel shook his head dubiously.
Fitz's face suddenly lighted up as he started from his seat, and caught the colonel by the arm.
"Chad! Yes, Chad might."
Fitz nearly overturned his chair in his eagerness to reach the top ofthe kitchen stairs.
"Come up here, Chad, quick as your legs can carry you—two steps at a time!"
Chad hurried into the room with the face of a man sent for to put out a fire.
"Chad," said the colonel, "you know the big hill as you go up from the marsh at home?"
"Whose lan' is the coal on, mine or Jedge Barbour's?"
The old darky's face changed from an expression of the deepest anxiety to an effort at the deepest thought. The change was so sudden that the wrinkles got tangled up in the attempt, resulting in an expression of vague uncertainty.
"You mean, Colonel, de hill whar we cotch de big coon?"
"Yes," said the colonel encouragingly, ignorant of the coon, but knowing that there was only one hill.
"Well, Jedge Barbour's niggers always said dat de coon was dere coon, 'ca'se he was treed on dere lan', and we 'sputed dat it was our coon, 'ca'se it was on our lan'."
"Who got de coon?" asked Fitz.
"Oh, we got the coon!" And Chad's eyes twinkled.
"That settles it. It's your land, Colonel," said Fitz, with one of his sudden roars, in which everybody joined but Chad and the judge.
"But den, gemmen,"—Chad was a little uncomfortable at the merriment,—"it was our coon for sho. I knowed whar de line went, 'ca'se I he'p Marsa John caarry de spy-glass when he sold de woodlan's to Jedge Barbour, an' de coon was on our side ob dat line."
If Chad's first statement caused nothing but laughter, the second produced nothing but the profoundest interest. Here was the surveyor himself!
The colonel turned the map to Chad's side of the table. Every man in the room stood up and craned his head forward.
"Now, Chad," said the colonel, "this map is a plan of our lan'—same as if you were lookin' down on it. Here is the road to Caartersville. See that square, black mark? That's Caarter Hall. This is the marsh, and that is the coal hill. Now, standin' here in the marsh,—this is where our line begins, Fitz,—standin' here, Chad, in the marsh, which side of the line is that hill on? Mine or Jedge Barbour's?"
The old man bent over the table, and scanned the plan closely.
"Wat's dis blue wiggle lookin' like a big fish-wum?"
"That's the Tench River."
Chad continued his search, his wrinkled brown hand, with its extended forefinger capped by its stumpy nail, looking for all the world like a mud turtle with head out crawling over the crumpled surface of the map.
"Scuse me till I run down to de kitchen an' git my spec's. I can't see like"—
"Here, take mine!" said Fitz, handing him his gold ones. He would have lent him his eyes if he could have found that coal-field the sooner.
The turtle crawled slowly up, its head thrust out inquiringly, inched along the margin of the map, and backed carefully down again, pausing for such running commentaries as "Dis yer's de ribber;" "Dat's de road;" "Dis de ma'sh."
The group was now a compact mass, every eye watching Chad's finger as though it were a divining rod—Fitz full of smothered fears lest after all the prize should slip from his grasp; the agent anxious but reserved; Yancey and the judge hovering between hope and despair, with eyes on the empty decanter; and last of all the colonel, on the outside, holding a candle himself, so that his guests might see the better—the least interested man in the room.
Presently the finger stopped, and Chad looked up into his master's face.
"If I was down dar, Marsa George, jes a minute, I could tole ye, 'ca'se I reckelmember de berry tree whar Marsa John had de spyglass sot on its legs. I held de pole on de rock way up yander on de hill, an' in dat berry rock Marsa John done cut a crotch."
"And which way is the crotch in the rock from the marsh here?" asked Fitz eagerly.
Chad stood up, looked at the plan glistening under the candlelight, paused an instant, then took off the gold-rimmed glasses, and handed them with great deference to Fitz.
"'T ain't no use, Marsa George. I kin go frough dat ma'sh blindfolded in de night an' cotch a possum airy time along airy one ob dem fences;but dis yer foolin' wid lan's on paper is too much for Chad. 'Fo' Gawd, I doan' know!"
Chad on his own Cabin Floor
The night after the eventful dinner in Bedford Place, the colonel, accompanied by his guests, had alighted at a dreary way station, crawled into a lumbering country stage, and with Chad on the box as pilot, had stopped before a great house with ghostly trailing vines and tall chimneys outlined against the sky.
When I left my room on the following morning the sunlight was pouring through the big colonial window, and the breath of the delicious day, laden with the sweet smell of bending blossoms, floated in through the open blinds.
Descending the great spiral staircase with its slender mahogany balusters,—here and there a break,—I caught sight of the entrance hall below with its hanging glass lantern, quaint haircloth sofas lining the white walls, and half-oval tables heaped with flowers, and so on through the wide-open door leading out upon a vine-covered porch. This had high pillars and low railings against which stood some broad settles—all white.
The colonel, Fitz, and the English agent were still in their rooms,—three pairs of polished shoes outside their several doors bearing silent witness to the fact,—and the only person stirring was a pleasant-faced negro woman with white apron and gay-colored bandana, who was polishing the parlor floor with a long brush, her little pickaninny astraddle on the broom end for weight.
I pushed aside the hanging vines, sat down on one of the wooden benches, and looked about me. This, then, was Carter Hall!
The house itself bore evidence of having once been a stately home. It was of plaster stucco, yellow washed, peeled and broken in places, with large dormer windows and sloping roof, one end of which was smothered in a tangle of Virginia creeper and trumpet vine climbing to the very chimney-top.
In front there stretched away what had once been a well-kept lawn, now a wild of coarse grass broken only by the curving line of the driveway and bordered by a row of Lombardy poplars with here and there a gap,—bitten out by hungry camp-fires.
To the right rose a line of hills increasing in height as they melted into the morning haze, and to the left lay an old-fashioned garden,—one great sweep of bloom. With the wind over it, and blowing your way, you were steeped in roses.
I began unconsciously to recall to myself all the traditions of this once famous house.
Yes, there must be the window where Nancy waved good-by to her lover, and there were the flower-beds into which he had fallen headlong from his horse,—only a desolate corner now with the grass and tall weeds grown quite up to the scaling wall, and the wooden shutters tightly closed. I wondered whether they had ever been opened since.
And there under my eyes stood the very step where Chad had helped his old master from his horse the day his sweetheart Henny had been purchased from Judge Barbour, and close to the garden gate were the negro quarters where they had begun their housekeeping. I thought I knew the very cabin.
And that line of silver glistening in the morning light must be the river Tench, and the bend near the willows the spot where the colonel would build the iron bridge with the double span, and across and beyond on the plateau, backed by the hills, the site of the future city of Fairfax.