I left my seat, strolled out into the garden, crossed the grass jeweled with dew, and filled my lungs with the odor of the sweet box bordering the beds,—a rare delight in these days of modern gardens. Suddenly I came upon a wide straw hat and a broad back bending among the bushes. It was Chad.
"Mawnin', Major; fust fox out de hole, is yer? Lawd a massey, ain't I glad ter git back to my ole mist'ess! Lan' sakes alive! I ain't slep' none all night a-thinkin' ober it. You ain't seen my Henny? Dat was her sister's chile rubbin' down de flo'. She come ober dis mawnin' ter help, so many folks here. Wait till I git a basket ob dese yer ole pink rose-water roses. See how I snip 'em short? Know what I'm gwineter do wid 'em? Sprinkle 'em all ober de tablecloth. I lay dey ain't nobody done dat for my mist'ess since I been gone. But, Major,"—here Chad laid down the basket on the garden walk and looked at me with a serious air,—"I done got dat coal lan' business down to a fine p'int. I was up dis mawnin' 'fo' daylight, an' I foun' dat rock, an' de crotch is dar yit; I scrape de moss offen it myself; an' I foun' de tree too. I ain't sayin' nuffin', but jes you wait till after breakfas' an' dey all go out lookin' for de coal! Jes you wait, dat's all! Chad's on his own cabin flo' now. Can't fool dis chile no mo'."
This was good news so far as it went. Our sudden exodus from Bedford Place had been determined upon immediately after Chad's dismal failure to locate the coal-field: Fitz having carried the day against Yancey, Kerfoot, and even the agent himself, who was beginning to waver under the accumulation of uncertainties.
"Dat's enough roses to bury up de dishes. Rub yo' nose down in 'em. Ain't dey sweet! Now, come along wid me, Major. I done tole Henny 'bout you an' de tar'pins an' de times de gemmen had. Dis way, Major; won't take a minute, an' ef ye all go back to-night,—an' I yerd Mister Englishman say he got to go,—you mightn't hab anudder chance. Henny's cookin', ye know. Dis way. Step underdat honeysuckle!" I looked through an open door and into a dingy, smoke-dried interior, ceiled with heavy rafters, and hung with herbs, red peppers, onions, and the like. This was lighted by three small windows, and furnished with a row of dressers filled with crockery and kitchen ware, and permeated by that savory smell which presages a generous breakfast On one side of the fireplace rested the great hominy mortar, cut from a tree trunk, found in all Virginia kitchens, and on the other the universal brick oven with its iron doors,—the very doors, I thought, that had closed over Chad's goose when Henny was a girl. Between the mortar and the oven opened, or rather caverned, a fireplace as wide as the colonel's hospitality, and high and deep enough to turn a coach in. It really covered one end of the room.
Bending over the swinging crane hung with pots and fringed with hooks,—baited so often with good dinners,—stood an old woman with bent back, her gray head bound up with a yellow handkerchief.
"Henny, de major made a special p'int o' cumin' to see ye 'fo' he gits his break-fas'."
She looked up and dropped me a curtsey.
"Mawnin', marsa. I ain't much ter see, I'm so ole an' mizzble wid dese yer cricks in my back an' sich a passel o' white folks. How did my Chad git along up dar 'mong de Yankees?"
I gave Chad so good a character that every tooth in his head came out on dress parade, and was about to draw from Henny some of her own experiences,—this loyal old servant whose life from her girlhood to her old age had been one of the romantic traditions of the roof that sheltered her,—when Chad, who had gone out with the roses, returned with the news that the colonel and his guests were breathing the morning air on the front porch, and were much disturbed over my prolonged absence.
The colonel caught sight of me as I rounded the corner, Fitz and the agent joining in his outburst of hilarious welcome, intoxicated as they all were with the elixir of that most exhilarating of all hours—the hour before breakfast of a summer morning in the country.
"Welcome, my dear Major," called the colonel; "a hearty welcome to Caarter Hall! Come up here where you can get a view of Fairfax, suh!" and by the time I had mounted the steps he was leaning over the railing, with Fitz on the one side and the agent on the other, sweeping the horizon with his index finger and drawing imaginary curves and building bridges and locating railroad stations in the air with as much confidence and hope as if he really saw the gangs of laborers at work across the fields, their shovels glinting in the dazzling sunlight.
"Jes cast yo' eyes, suh,"—this to the agent,—"and tell me, suh, if you have ever in yo' world-wide experience seen such a location for a great city. Level as a flo', watered by the Tench, and sheltered by a line of hills that are beauty itself—it is made for it, suh!"
The agent did full justice to the natural advantages and then asked:—
"Is the coal in that range?"
"No, suh; the coal is behind us on an outlyin' spur. I will take you there after breakfast."
And then followed a brief description of the changes the war had made in the homestead, the burning of the barns, the abandonment of the quarters, the destruction of the lawns—"A yard for their damnable wagons, suh;" the colonel pointing out with great delight the very dent in the ridge where General Early had ridden through and captured the whole detachment without the loss of a man.
While we were talking that same rustling of silk that I had learned to know so well in Bedford Place was heard in the hall, then a sweet, cheery voice giving some directions to Chad, and the next instant dear aunt Nancy—Fitz and I had long since dared to call her so—floated (she never seemed to walk) out upon the porch with a word and a curtsey to the agent, a hand each to Fitz and me, and a kiss for the colonel.
Then came the breakfast, and such a breakfast! The outpourings of a Virginia kitchen, with the table showered with roses, and the great urn shining and smoking, and the relays of waffles and corn-bread and broiled chicken; all in the old-fashioned dining-room, with its high wainscoting, spindle—legged sideboards, and deep window seats; the long moon-faced clock in the corner-and the rest of it! After that the quiet smoke under the vine-covered end of the portico with the view towards Cartersville.
"There comes the jedge," said the colonel, pointing to a cloud of dust following a two-wheel gig, "and Major Yancey behind on horseback." (They had both been dropped outside their respective garden gates the night before.) "Now, gentlemen, as soon as my attorney arrives with the surveys and deeds we will adjourn to my library and locate this coal-field."
Yancey's horse proved, on closer inspection, to be the remnant of an army mule with a moth-eaten mane and a polished tail bare of hair—worn off, no doubt, in a lifelong struggle with the Fairfax County fly. The major was without the luxury of a saddle, some one having borrowed the only one the owner of the mule possessed, and his breeches, in consequence, were half way up his knees. The judge arrived in better shape, the gig being his own and fairly comfortable,—the same he rode to circuit, a yellow-painted vehicle washed only when it rained,—and the horse the property of the village livery man, who had a yearly contract with his Honor for its use.
Chad was waiting on the flagstones surrounded by some stray pickaninnies when the procession stopped, and assisted the major to alight, with as much form and ceremony as if he had been the best mounted gentleman in the land. The saddleless fragment was then led to a supporting fence. The judicial equipage was accorded the luxury of a shed, where the annual contract was served with a full measure of oats—Chad's recognition of his more exalted station.
The judge bowed gracefully and with great dignity, and with the air of a chief justice entering the court room; then preceding the colonel and his guests,—without a word having fallen from his lips,—he entered a small room opening into the parlor. There he placed upon a chair certain mysterious-looking packages, long and otherwise, one a tin case, which he uncapped, spreading its contents upon a table.
It proved to be another and larger map than the one Chad had pored over, and showed distinctly the boundary lines between two dots marked "Oak" and "Rock" dividing the Carter and Barbour estates.
Up to this time Fitz and the agent had preserved the outward appearance of two idle gentlemen visiting a friend in the country, with no interest beyond the fresh air and the environments of a charming hospitality. With the unrolling of this map, however, and the discovery of the very boundary points insisted on by Chad in Bedford Place, their excitement could hardly be suppressed. The agent broke loose first.
"Before we find out, Colonel Carter, to whom this coal belongs, which may take some valuable time, I want to examine the quality of the vein itself. I would like to go now."
"By all means, suh; and my people shall go with us," said the colonel, turning to Kerfoot with instructions to bring Chad and all the maps later.—Yancey excused himself on the ground of the heat. Then donning a wide straw hat and picking up a cane,—something he never used in New York,—the colonel led the way through the rear door, across a stone wall, and up a hill covered with a second growth of timber.
The experienced eye of the Englishman took in the lay of the land at a glance, and beckoning Fitz to one side he stooped and picked something from the ground which he examined carefully with a magnifying glass. Then they both disappeared hurriedly over the hill.
When they returned, half an hour later, the perspiration was rolling from the agent, and Fitz's eyes were blazing. Both were loaded down with bundles of broken bits of rock, tied up in their several handkerchiefs, large enough to start a geological collection in a country museum.
"What is it, Fitz—diamonds?" I said, laughing.
"Yes; black ones at that." He was almost breathless. "Solid bed of bituminous! Clear down to China! Don't breathe a word yet, for your life!"
The agent was calmer. The coal-bed, he said, seemed to be of more than ordinary richness, and as far as he could judge lay in a vein of generous width. He was ready for the survey, and would like the boundary points located at once.
The next instant Chad's head peered through the tangled underbrush. He carried the roll of maps, the judge, who followed, contenting himself with a package tied with red tape.
The old darky's face was one broad grin from ear to ear.
The judge unrolled a map and placed it on a flat rock with a stone at each corner. Then he untied the package, selected an ink-stained and faded document marked "Deed—John Carter to E. A. Barbour," and ran his eye along the quaint page, reading as he went:—
Starting from an oak, blazed diamond C, along a line S. E. to a rock marked C cross B, C+B, in all a distance of 1437 linear feet.
"Now, Chad, we will fust find the tree," said the judge, looking around for his map-bearer. "Where's that nigger? Chad!"
The old man had disappeared as completely as if the earth had swallowed him up. The next minute we heard a faint halloo below us near the edge of a small swamp. A man was waving his hat and shouting:—
"Eve'ybody come yer!"
Fitz started on a run, and the agent and I followed on the double-quick. At the end of a crooked stone wall, half surrounded by water, was a great spreading oak, its branches reaching half way across the narrow marsh. Within touching distance of the yielding ground stood Chad pointing to a smooth blaze, stained and overgrown with lichen.
It bore this mark, [C in a diamond]!
"It tallies to a dot. Now, Chad, the rock! the rock!" said Fitz, hardly able to contain himself.
The darky pointed straight up the hill, the sky line of which could be seen entire from where we stood, and indicated an isolated rock jutting out above the tree-tops.
I thought Fitz would have hugged him.
"How do you know it is the rock with the crotch in it? Speak, you grinning lunatic!"
"I was dar dis mawnin' by daylight."
"What's it marked?" said Fitz, catching him by both shoulders. "What's it marked? Quick!"
"Wid a C an' a cross an' a B—so." And the old man traced it with his finger in the mud.
"Every pound of coal on the colonel's land!" said Fitz, with a yell that brought his host and Kerfoot as fast as their legs could carry them.
"Stop!" said Kerfoot. "This only settles the Caarter and Barbour division. There was another division here a year ago between Miss Ann Caarter and the colonel. With that I am mo' familiar, for I drew the deeds, which are here," holding up a bundle; "and I was also present with the surveyor. You are wrong, Mr. Fitzpatrick; this entire hill outside the Barbour division is Miss Ann Caarter's, and the coal is on her land. The colonel's portion is back there along the Tench."
The Englishman's Check
An hour later I found Fitz flat on the grass under one of the apple-trees behind the house, completely broken up by the discoveries of the morning.
After all his work, here was the colonel worse off than ever. Nobody could tell what a woman would do. Aunt Nancy was better than the average (Fitz was a bachelor), but then she had peculiar old family notions about selling land, and ten chances to one she would not sell a foot of it, and there right in the house sat a man with his pocket full of blank checks, any one of which was good for a million of pounds sterling. Even if she did sell it, she would pension the dear old fellow off on a stipend instead of an establishment. He wanted somebody to dig a hole and cover Fitzpatrick up. Anybody could see that the railroad scheme was deader than a last year's pass, the farm hopeless, and the house fast becoming a ruin. It was enough to make a man jump off a dock.
Fitz's tirade was interrupted by Chad, who appeared with a message. The colonel wanted everybody in the library.
When we entered, the judge occupied the head of the table, surrounded by law papers, all of which were opened. The agent was bending over him, reading attentively, and entering extracts in his notebook. Every one became seated.
"Mr. Fitzpatrick," said the agent, "I have spent an hour with Judge Kerfoot going over the title of this property, and I am prepared to make a proposition for its purchase. I have reduced it to writing,"—picking up a half-sheet of foolscap from the table,—"and I submit it to the owners through you."
Fitz read it without changing a muscle, and handed it to the colonel. Yancey and the judge craned forward to catch the first syllables.
The colonel read it to the end, getting paler and paler as its meaning became clear, and then, with a certain pathos in his voice that was childlike, it was so genuine, said:—
"If this is accepted, I presume, suh, you will not look any further into my road?"
"You are right. My instructions cover only the purchase of this deposit. I have room for only one operation."
The colonel rose from his chair, steadied himself on the low window-sill, and looked out across the Tench. The silence was oppressive—only the ticking of the clock in the next room and the bees among the flowers outside.
"Wait until I return," he said, crumpling the paper.
In a moment he was back, leading in his aunt by the hand. Miss Nancy entered with a half-puzzled look on her face, which deepened into certain anxiety as she began to realize the pronounced formality of the proceedings. The colonel cleared his throat impressively.
"Nancy, an investigation begun in New York by my dear friend Fitz, and completed here to-day, results in the discov'ry that what you have always considered as slight outcroppin's of coal, and wuthless, is really of vehy great value." The colonel here unbuttoned his coat, and threw out his chest. "A syndicate of English capitalists have, through our guest, offered you the sum of one hundred thousand dollars for the coal-hill, with a royalty of ten cents per ton for every ton mined over a certain amount, one thousand dollars to be paid now and the balance on the search of title and signin' of the contract. I believe I have stated it correctly, suh?"
The agent bowed his head, and scrutinized Miss Nancy's face with the eye of a hawk.
The dear lady sank into a chair. For a moment she lost her breath. Yancey handed her a fan with a quickness of movement never seen in him before, and the colonel continued:—
"This will of course still leave you, Nancy, this house and about half of the farm property transferred to you by me at the fo'closure sale."
The little woman looked from one to the other in a dazed sort of way, and her eye rested on Fitz.
"What shall I do, Mr. Fitzpatrick? It seems to me a grave step to sell any part of the estate."
Fitz blushed at the mark of her confidence, and said that with the royalty clause he thought the proposition a favorable one.
"And you, George?" turning to the colonel.
The colonel bowed his head. He must advise its acceptance.
"When do you want an answer, sir?"
"To-day, Madam," said the Englishman, who had not taken his eyes from her face.
"You shall have it in half an hour," she said gently, then rose hastily, and left the room.
I looked at the colonel. Whatever great wave of disappointment had swept over him when his own idol was broken, there was no trace of it in his face. Even the change this sudden influx of wealth into the family might make in his own condition never seemed to have crossed his mind. He did not follow her. He simply waited. Between his own plans and his aunt's good fortune there was but one course for him.
The room took on the whispered silence of a court awaiting an overdue jury. Fitz was still incredulous and still anxious, saying to me in an undertone that he felt sure she would either refuse it altogether or couple it with some conditions that the agent could not accept; either would be fatal. Yancey and the judge, who had been partly paralyzed at the rapidity of the transaction, conferred in a corner, while the agent proceeded to make a copy of the proposition with as much composure as if he bought a coal-mine every day. The colonel sat by himself, his chair tilted back, his eyes half closed.
In the midst of this uncertainty Chad entered with a message. "Miss Nancy wants de colonel." In five minutes more he entered with another. Miss Nancy wanted Fitz and me.
We followed the old servant up the winding staircase and down the long hall, past the old-fashioned wardrobe and the great chintz-covered lounge, waited until Chad knocked gently, and entered the dear lady's bedroom. She sat near the window by the side of the high post bedstead, rocking gently to and fro. The colonel was standing with his back to the light, coat open, thumbs in his armholes, face beaming.
"I sent for you," she began, "because I want you both to hear my answer before I inform the agent. The land only was mine, and but for your love and devotion to the colonel would still be a wild hill. The coal, therefore, belongs to him. Go and tell the Englishman I accept his offer. The land and all the coal I give to George."
* * * * *
When, an hour later, the transaction was complete, the receipts and preliminary contracts signed, and the small, modest-looking check—the first instalment—had been transferred from the plethoric bank-book of the agent to the narrow, poverty-stricken pocket of the colonel, and the fact began to dawn simultaneously upon everybody that at last the dear old colonel was independent, an enthusiasm took possession of the room that soon became uncontrollable.
Fitz caught him in his arms, and began hugging him in a way that endangered every rib in his body, calling out all the time that he had never felt so good in all the days of his life. Yancey and Kerfoot, who had stood one side appalled by the magnitude of the sum paid, and who during the signing of the papers had looked at the colonel with the same sort of silent awe with which they would have regarded any other potentate rolling in estates, mines, and millions, broke through the enforced reserve, and exclaimed, with an outburst, that the South was looking up, and that a true Southern gentleman had come into his own, the judge adding with emphasis that the colonel had never looked so much like his noble father as when he stooped over and signed that receipt. Even the Englishman, hard, practical fellow that he was, congratulated him on his good fortune in a few short words that jumped out hot from his heart.
With this atmosphere about him it is not to be wondered that the colonel lost the true inwardness of the situation. The fact that his aunt's boundary line included every acre of valuable land on the plantation, while his own poor portion only bordered the Tench, was to him simply one of those trifling errors which sometimes occur in the partition of vast landed estates. And although when the gift was made he felt more than ever her loving-kindness, he could not now, on more mature reflection and after hearing the encomiums of his friends, really see how she could have pursued any other course.
And yet, with the sale accomplished and he rich beyond his wildest dreams, he was precisely the same man in bearing, manner, and speech that he had been in his impecunious days in Bedford Place. He was rich then—in hopes, in plans, in the reality of his dreamland. He was no richer now. The check in his pocket made no difference.
The only perceptible change was when he recounted to me his plans for the restoration of the homestead and the comfort of its inmates. "I shall rebuild the barns and cabins, and lay out a new lawn. The po'ch"—looking up—"needs some repairs, and the ca'iage-house must be enlarged. The coaching days are not over yet, Major; Nancy must have"—
Chad, entering with a luncheon for the exhausted circle, diverted the colonel's train of thought, cutting short his summary. For a moment he watched his old servant musingly, then following him into the next room he called him to one side, and with marked tenderness in his manner unfolded the Englishman's check.
The old servant put down the empty tray, adjusted his spectacles, and examined it carefully.
"What's dis, Marsa George?"
"A thousand dollars, Chad."
"Golly! Monst'ous quare kind o' money. Jes a scrap. Ain't big enough to wad a gun, is she? An' Misser Englishman gib ye dis for dat ole brier patch?"
Chad was trembling all over, full to the very eyelids.
The colonel held out his hand. The old servant bent his head, his master's hand fast in his. Then their eyes met.
"Yes, Chad, for you and me. There's no hard work for you any mo', old man. Go and tell Henny."
That night at dinner, Fitz on the colonel's right, the Englishman next to aunt Nancy, Kerfoot, Yancey, and I disposed in regular order, Chad noiseless and attentive, the colonel arose in his chair, radiant to the very tip ends of his cravat, and, in a voice which trembled as it rose, said:—
"Gentlemen, the events of the day have unexpectedly brought me an influx of wealth far beyond my brightest anticipations. This is due in great measure to the untirin' brain and vast commercial resources of my dear friend Mr. Fitzpatrick, who has labored with me durin' my sojourn Nawth in the development of these properties, and who now, with that unselfishness which characterizes his life, refuses to accept any share in the result.
"They have also strengthened the tie existin' between my old friend the major on my left, who oftentimes when the day was darkest has cheered me by his counsel and companionship. "But, gentlemen, they have done mo'." The colonel's feet now barely touched the floor. "They have enabled me to provide for one of the loveliest of her sex,—she who graces our boa'd,—and to enrich her declinin' days not only with all the comforts, but with many of the luxuries she was bawn to enjoy.
"Fill yo' glasses, gentlemen, and drink to the health of that greatest of all blessings,—a true Southern lady!"