COLONEL CARTER'S CHRISTMAS
THE ROMANCE OF AN OLD-FASHIONED GENTLEMAN
F. HOPKINSON SMITH
F. C. YOHN and A. I. KELLER
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS NEW YORK:::::::::::::::::::::1911
COLONEL CARTER'S CHRISTMAS
COPYRIGHT, 1903, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
THE ROMANCE OF AN OLD-FASHIONED GENTLEMAN
COPYRIGHT, 1907, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
To my Readers:
It will be remembered, doubtless, that the chronicles of my very dear friend, Colonel Carter (published some years ago), make mention of but one festival of importance—a dinner given at Carter Hall, near Cartersville, Virginia; the Colonel's ancestral home. This dinner, as you already know, was to celebrate two important events—the sale to the English syndicate of the coal lands, the exclusive property of the Colonel's beloved aunt, Miss Nancy Carter; and the instantaneous transfer by that generous woman of all the purchase money to the Colonel's slender bank account: a transaction which, to quote his own words as he gallantly drank her health in acknowledgment of the gift, "enabled him to provide for one of the loveliest of her sex—she who graces our boa'd—and to enrich her declining days not only with all the comforts, but with many of the luxuries she was bawn to enjoy."
Several other festivals, however, did take place: not in the days of the dear Colonel's prosperity, nor yet at Carter Hall, but in his impecunious days in New York, while he was still living in the little house on Bedford Place within a stone's throw of the tall clock-tower of Jefferson Market. This house, you will recall, sat back from the street behind a larger and more modern dwelling, its only outlet to the main thoroughfare being through a narrow, grewsome tunnel, lighted during the day by a half-moon sawed out in the swinging gate which marked its street entrance and illumined at night by a rusty lantern with dingy glass sides.
All reference to one of these festivals—a particular and most important festival—was omitted, much to my regret, from my published chronicles, owing to the express commands of the Colonel himself: commands issued not only out of consideration for the feelings of one of the participants—a man who had been challenged by him to mortal duel, and therefore his enemy—but because on that joyous occasion this same offender was his guest, and so protected by his hospitality.
This man was no less a person than the eminent financier, Mr. P. A. Klutchem, of Klutchem, Skinham & Co., who, you will remember, had in an open office and in the presence of many mutual friends, denounced in unmeasured terms the Cartersville & Warrentown Air Line Railroad—an enterprise to which the Virginian had lent his name and which, with the help of his friend Mr. Fitzpatrick, he was then trying to finance. Not content with thus slandering the road itself, characterizing it as "beginning nowhere and ending nowhere," Mr. Klutchem had even gone so far as to attack the good name of its securities, known as the "Garden Spot" Bonds, and to state boldly that he would not "give a yellow dog" for "enough of 'em to paper a church." The Colonel's immediate resentment of this insult; his prompt challenge to Mr. Klutchem to meet him in mortal duel; Mr. Klutchem's refusal and the events which followed, are too well known to you to need further reference here.
The death of this Mr. Klutchem some years ago decided me again to seek the Colonel's permission to lay before my readers a succinct account, first of what led up to this most important celebration, and then some of the details of the celebration itself—one of the most delightful, if not the most delightful, of all the many delightful festivals held in the Colonel's cosy quarters on Bedford Place.
My communication drew from Colonel Carter the following characteristic letter:
CARTER HALL, CARTERSVILLE, VA.,
MY DEAR MAJOR:
I have your very kind and welcome letter, and am greatly impressed by the views you hold. I was averse at the time to any reference being made to the matter to which you so kindly refer, for the reason that some men are often more sensitive over their virtues than they are over their faults.
Mr. Klutchem's death, of course, completely alters the situation, and you can make what use you please of the incidents. In this decision I have been helped by my dear Fitz, who spent last Sunday with us on his way South to investigate a financial matter of enormous magnitude and which only a giant intellect like his own can grasp. Fitz's only fear—I quote his exact words, my dear Major,—is that "you will let Klutchem down easy instead of roasting him alive as he deserves," but then you must not mind Fitz, for he always uses intemperate language when speaking of this gentleman.
Your room is always ready for you, and if you will run down to us now, we can smother you in roses. Chad is over his cold, but the old man seems feeble at times. Aunt Nancy is out in her coach paying some visits, and doesn't know I am writing or she would certainly send you her love.
I thanked you, did I not, for all your kindness about the double sets of harness? But I must tell you again how well the leaders look in them. The two sorrels are particularly splendid. Go into Wood's some day this week and write me what you think of a carriage he has just built for me,—a small affair in which Aunt Nancy can drive to Warrentown, or I can send to the depot for a friend.
All my heart to you, my dear Major. An open hand and a warm welcome is always yours at Carter Hall.
Your ever obedient servant and honored friend,
GEORGE FAIRFAX CARTER.
With the Colonel's permission, then, I am privileged to usher you into his cosy dining-room in Bedford Place, there to enjoy the Virginian's rare hospitality.
F. HOPKINSON SMITH.
September 30, 1903.
Katy dropped her head on his shoulder again Frontispiece
"Take them upstairs and put them on my dressin'-table" 4
Each guest had a candle alight 84
And so the picture was begun 104
"Promise me that you will stop the whole business" 172
"It is all her doing, Phil" 205
COLONEL CARTER'S CHRISTMAS
"What am I gwine to do wid dese yere barkers, Colonel?" asked Chad, picking up his master's case of duelling pistols from the mantel. "I ain't tetched der moufs since I iled 'em up for dat Klutchem man."
"Take them upstairs, Chad, and put them away," answered the Colonel with an indignant wave of the hand.
"No chance o' pickin' him, I s'pose? Done got away fo' sho, ain't he?"
The Colonel nodded his head and kept on looking into the fire. The subject was evidently an unpleasant one.
"Couldn't Major Yancey an' de Jedge do nuffin?" persisted the old servant, lifting one of the pistols from the case and squinting into its polished barrel.
"Eve'ything that a gentleman could do was done, Chad. You are aware of that, Major?" and he turned his head towards me—the Colonel will insist on calling me "Major." "But I am not done with him yet, Chad. The next time I meet him I shall lay my cane over his back. Take them upstairs and put them on my dressin' table. We'll keep them for some gentleman at home."
The Colonel arose from his chair, picked up the decanter, poured out a glass for me and one for himself, replenished his long clay pipe from a box of tobacco within reach of his hand and resumed his seat again. Mention of Mr. Klutchem's name produced a form of restlessness in my host which took all his self-control to overcome.
"—And, Chad." The old darky had now reached the door opening into the narrow hall, the case of pistols in his hand.
"I think you have a right to know, Chad, why I did not meet Mr. Klutchem in the open field."
Chad bent his head in attention. This had really been the one thing of all others about which this invaluable servant had been most disturbed. Before this it had been a word, a blow, and an exchange of shots at daybreak in all the Colonel's affairs—all that Chad had attended—and yet a week or more had now elapsed since this worthy darky had moulded some extra bullets for these same dogs "wid der moufs open," and until to-night the case had never even left its place on the mantel.
"I was disposed, Chad," the Colonel continued, "to overlook Mr. Klutchem's gross insult after a talk I had with Mr. Fitzpatrick, and I went all the way to the scoundrel's house to tell him so. I found him in his chair suffe'in' from an attack of gout. I had my caa'ridge outside, and offe'ed in the most co'teous way to conduct him to it and drive him to my office, where a number of his friends and mine were assembled in order that the apology I p'posed might be as impressive as the challenge I sent. He refused, Chad, in the most insolent manner, and I left him with the remark that I should lay my cane over his shoulders whenever I met him; and I shall."
"Well, befo' Gawd, I knowed sumpin' had been gwine on pretty hot, for I never seed you so b'ilin' as when you come home, Colonel," replied the old servant, bowing low at the mark of his master's confidence. "I spec', though, I'd better put a couple o' corks in der moufs so we kin hab 'em ready if anythin' comes out o' dis yere caanin' business. I've seen 'em put away befo' in my time," he added in a louder voice, looking towards me as if to include me in his declaration; "but they allus hab to come for 'em agin, when dey get to caanin' one another." And he patted the box meaningly and left the room.
The Colonel again turned to me.
"I have vehy few secrets from Chad, Major, and none of this kind. By the way, I suppose that yaller dog has gotten over his gout by this time."
"Don't call him names, Colonel. He will write his own for a million if he goes on. I was in Fitz's office this morning, and I hear that Klutchem and his Boston crowd have got about every share of Consolidated Smelting issued, and the boys are climbing for it. Fitz told me it went up fifteen points in an hour. By the by, Fitz is coming up to-night."
"I am not surprised, suh,—I am not surprised at anything these Yankees do. A man who could not appreciate a gentleman's feelin's placed as I was would never feel for a creditor, suh. He thinks of nothin' but money and what it buys him, and it buys him nothin' but vulgaarity, suh."
The Colonel was in the saddle now; I never interrupt him in one of these moods. He had risen from his chair and was standing on the mat before the fire in his favorite attitude, thumbs in his armholes, his threadbare, well-brushed coat thrown wide.
"They've about ruined our country, suh, these money-grubbers. I saw the workin' of one of their damnable schemes only a year or so ago, in my own town of Caartersville. Some Nawthern men came down there, suh, and started a Bank. Their plan was to start a haalf dozen mo' of them over the County, and so they called this one the Fust National. They never started a second, suh. Our people wouldn't permit it, and befo' I get through you'll find out why. They began by hirin' a buildin' and movin' in an iron safe about as big as a hen-coop. Then they sent out a circular addressed to our prominent citizens which was a model of style, and couched in the most co'teous terms, but which, suh, was nothin' mo' than a trap. I got one and I can speak by the book. It began by sayin' that eve'y accommodation would be granted to its customers, and ended by offerin' money at the lowest rates of interest possible. This occurred, suh, at a time of great financial depression with us, following as it did the close of hostilities, and their offer was gladly accepted. It was the fust indication any of us had seen on the part of any Yankee to bridge over the bloody chasm, and we took them at their word. We put in what money we had, and several members of our oldest families, in order to give chaaracter to the enterprise, had their personal notes discounted and used the money they got for them for various private purposes—signin' as a gaarantee of their good faith whatever papers the bank people requi'ed of them. Now, suh, what do you think happened—not to me, for I was not in need of financial assistance at the time, Aunt Nancy havin' come into possession of some funds of her own in Baltimo',—but to one of my personal friends, Colonel Powhatan Tabb, a near neighbor of mine and a gentleman of the highest standin'? Because, suh"—here the Colonel spoke with great deliberation—"his notes had not been paid on the vehy day and hour—a thing which would have greatly inconvenienced him—Colonel Tabb found a sheriff in charge of his home one mornin' and a red flag hangin' from his po'ch. Of co'se, suh, he demanded an explanation of the outrage, and some words followed of a blasphemous nature which I shall not repeat. I shall never forget my feelin's, suh, as I stood by and witnessed that outrage. Old family plate that had been in the Tabb family for mo' than a century was knocked down to anybody who would buy; and befo' night, suh, my friend was stripped of about eve'ything he owned in the world. Nothin' escaped, suh, not even the po'traits of his ancestors!"
"What became of the bank, Colonel?" I asked in as serious a tone as I could command.
"What became of it? What could become of it, Major? Our people were aroused, suh, and took the law into their own hands, and the last I saw of it, suh, the hen-coop of a safe was standin' in the midst of a heap of smokin' ashes. I heard that the Bank people broke it open with a sledge-hammer when it cooled off, put the money they had stolen from our people in a black caarpet-bag, and escaped. Such pi'acies, suh, are not only cruel but vulgaar. Mr. Klutchem's robries are quite in line with these men. He takes you by the throat in another way, but he strangles you all the same."
The Colonel stroked his goatee in a meditative way, reached over my chair, picked up his half-emptied wine-glass, sipped its contents absent-mindedly and said in an apologetic tone:
"Forgive me, Major, for mentionin' Mr. Klutchem's name, I have no right to speak of him in this way behind his back. I promise you, suh, that it will not occur again."
As the Colonel ceased I caught sight of Fitz's round, good-natured face, ruddy with the cold of the snowy December night, his shoe-button eyes sparkling behind his big-bowed spectacles peering around the edge of the open door. Chad had heard his well-known brisk tread as he mounted the steps and had let him in before he could knock.
"Who are you going to kill now?" we heard Fitz ask the old darky.
"Dey was iled up for dat Klutchem man, but he done slid, the Colonel says."
"Klutchem! Klutchem!—nothing but Klutchem. I don't seem to get rid of him downtown or up," Fitz blurted out as he entered the room.
The Colonel had bounded forward at the first sound of Fitz's voice, and had him now by both hands. In another minute he had slipped off Fitz's wet overcoat and was forcing him into a chair beside my own, calling to Chad in the meanwhile to run for hot water as quick as his legs could carry him, as Mr. Fitzpatrick was frozen stiff and must have a hot toddy before he could draw another breath.
"Keep still, Fitz, don't move. I'll be back in a minute," the Colonel cried, and off he went to the sideboard for the ingredients—a decanter of whiskey, the sugar-bowl, and a nutmeg-grater, all of which he placed on the mantel over Fitz's head.
The toddy made with the help of Chad's hot water, the Colonel moved his chair so that as he talked he could get his hand on Fitz's knee and said:
"What were you doing out in the cold hall talkin' to Chad, anyhow, you dear boy, with this fire burnin' and my hands itchin' for you?"
"Dodging Chad's guns. Got that same old arsenal with him, I see," Fitz answered, edging his chair nearer the fire and stretching out his hands to the blaze. "Pity you didn't fill Klutchem full of lead when you had the chance, Colonel. It would have saved some of us a lot of trouble. He's got the Street by the neck and is shaking the life out of it."
"How was it when you left, Fitz?" I asked in an undertone.
"Looked pretty ugly. I shouldn't wonder if the stock opened at 60 in the morning."
"Have you covered your shorts yet?" I continued in a whisper.
"Not yet." Here Fitz leaned over and said to me behind his hand: "Not a word of all this now to the Colonel. Only worry him, and he can't do any good."
"By the by, Colonel"—here Fitz straightened up, and with a tone in his voice as if what he really wanted to talk about was now on the end of his tongue said: "is Aunt Nancy coming for Christmas? Chad thinks she is."
The Colonel, who had noticed the confidential aside, did not reply for a moment. Then he remarked, with a light trace of impatience in his voice:
"If you have unloaded all the caares of yo' office, Fitz, I will answer yo' question, but I cannot soil the dear lady's name by bringin' it into any conversation in which that man has a part. There are some subjects no gentleman should discuss; Mr. Klutchem's affairs is one of them. I have already expressed my opinion of him both to the Major and to Chad and I have promised them both that that scoundrel's name shall never again pass my lips. Oblige me by never mentionin' it. Forgive me, Fitz. There's my hand. You know I love you too well for you to think that I say this in anythin' but kindness. Let me put a little mo' whiskey in that toddy, Fitz—it lacks color. So—that's better. Aunt Nancy did you ask about, my dear Fitz?—of co'se, she's comin'. And, Major,—did I tell you"—here the Colonel turned to me—"that she's going to bring a servant with her this time? The dear woman is gettin' too old to travel alone, and since Chad has been with me she has felt the need of some one to wait upon her. She has passed some weeks or mo' in Richmond, she writes, and has greatly enjoyed the change. Make no engagement for Christmas, either one of you. That loveliest of women, suh, will grace our boa'd, and it is her special wish that both of you be present."
Fitz crushed the sugar in his glass, remarked that there was not the slightest doubt of his being present, winked at me appreciatingly over the edge of the tumbler, rubbed his paunch slowly with one hand, and with eyes upcast took another sip of the mixture.
The Virginian to Fitz was a never-ending well of pleasure. The Colonel's generosity, his almost Quixotic sense of honor, his loyalty to his friends, his tenderness over Chad and his reverence and love for that dear Aunt—who had furnished him really with all the ready money he had spent for years, and who was at the moment caring for the old place at Cartersville while the Colonel was in New York endeavoring to float, through Fitz, the bonds of the Cartersville & Warrentown Railroad—excited not only Fitz's admiration and love, but afforded the broker the pleasantest of contrasts to the life he led in the Street, a contrast so delightful that Fitz seldom missed at least an evening's salutation with him. That not a shovel of earth had yet been dug on the line of the Colonel's Railroad, and that the whole enterprise was one of those schemes well nigh impossible to finance, made no difference to Fitz. He never lost an opportunity to work off the securities whenever there was the slightest opening. The bonds, of course, had not been issued; they had never been printed, in fact. These details would come later,—whenever the capitalist or syndicate should begin to look into the enterprise in earnest.
Up to the moment when this whirl had caught the Street—an event which Klutchem acting for his friends had helped—Fitz had never quite given up the hope that somehow, or in some way, or by some hook or crook, some deluded capitalist, with more money than brains, would lose both by purchasing these same "Garden Spots" as the securities of the Colonel's proposed road were familiarly called in the Street. That but one single inquiry had thus far ever been made, and that no one of his or anybody else's customers had ever given them more than a hasty dismissal, had never discouraged Fitz.
As for the Colonel he was even more sanguine. The dawn of success was already breaking through the darkness and his hopes would soon be realized. Hour after hour he would sit by his fire, building fairy castles in its cheery coals. Almost every night there was a new picture. In each the big bridge over the Tench was already built, bearing his double track road to Warrentown and the sea—he could see every span and pier of it; the town of Fairfax, named after his ancestors, was crowning the plateau; the round-house for his locomotives was almost complete, the wharves and landing docks finished. And in all of these pictures, warm and glowing, there was one which his soul coveted above all others—the return of the proud days of the old Estate: the barns and outbuildings repaired; the fences in order; Carter Hall restored to its former grandeur, and dear Aunt Nancy once more in her high spring coach, with Chad standing by to take her shawl and wraps. These things, and many others as rose colored and inspiring, the Colonel saw night after night in the glow and flash and sparkle of his wood fire.
No wonder then that Fitz kept hoping against hope; deluding him with promises and keeping up his spirits with any fairy tale his conscience would permit his telling or his ingenuity contrive.
To-night, however, Fitz's nerve seemed to have failed him. To the Colonel's direct inquiry regarding the slight nibble of an English syndicate—(that syndicate which some months later made the Colonel's fortune and with which Fitz had buoyed up his hopes) the broker had only an evasive answer. The Colonel noticed the altered tone and thought he had divined the cause.
"You are tired out, Fitz. Isn't it so? I don't wonder when I think of the vast commercial problems you are solvin' every day. Go upstairs, my dear boy, and get into my bed for the night. I won't have you go home. It's too cold for you to go out and the snow is driftin' badly. I'll take the sofa here."
"No, Colonel, I think I'll toddle along home. I am tired, I guess. I ought to be; I've had nothing but hard knocks all day."
"Then you shan't leave my house, suh; I won't permit it. Chad, go upstairs and get Mr. Fitzpatrick's chamber ready for the night, and Chad——"
Fitz laughed. "And have you sleep on that hair-cloth sofa, Colonel?" and he pointed to the sagging lounge.
"Why not?—I've done it befo'. Come, I insist."
Fitz was on his feet now and with Chad's assistance was struggling into his overcoat, which that attentive darky had hung over a chairback that it might dry the easier.
"I'm going home, Colonel, and to bed," Fitz said in a positive tone. "I shouldn't sleep a wink if I knew you were thrashing around on that shake-down, and you wouldn't either. Good-night"; and holding out his hand to his host, he gave me a tap on my shoulder as he passed my chair and left the room, followed by the Colonel.
It was only when the Colonel had found Fitz's rubbers himself and had turned up the collar of his coat and had made it snug around his throat to keep out the snow, and had patted him three times on the shoulder—he only showed that sort of affection to Fitz—and had held the door open until both Fitz and Chad were lost in the gloom of the tunnel, the wind having extinguished the lantern, that the Colonel again resumed his seat by the fire.
"I must say I'm worried about Fitz, Major. He don't look right and he don't act right"—he sighed as he picked up his pipe and sank into his arm-chair until his head rested on its back. "I'm going to have him see a doctor. That's what I'm going to do, and at once. Do you know of a good doctor, Major?"
"Medicine won't help him, Colonel," I answered. I knew the dear old fellow would not sleep a wink even in his own bed if the idea got into his head that Fitz was ill.
The Colonel looked at me in astonishment.
"What kind of money?"
"Any kind that's worth a hundred cents on the dollar."
"Why, what nonsense, Major, I'd take Fitz's check for a million."
"What's the scoundrel got to do with it?"
"Everything, unfortunately. Fitz is short of 10,000 shares of Consolidated Smelting, and Klutchem and his crowd have got about every share of it locked up in their safes. Some of Fitz's customers have gone back on him, and he's got to make the fight alone. If smelting goes up another fifteen points to-morrow Fitz goes with it. It's not a doctor he wants, it's a banker. Cash, not pills, is what will pull Fitz through."
Had a bomb been exploded on the hearth at his feet the Colonel could not have been more astonished. He sat staring into my eyes as I unfolded the story, his face changing with every disclosure; horror at the situation, anger at the man who had caused it, and finally—and this dominated all the others—profound sympathy for the friend he loved. He knew something of the tightening of the grasp of a man like Klutchem and he did not underestimate the gravity of the situation. What Consolidated Smelting represented, or what place it held in the market were unknown quantities to the Colonel. What he really saw was the red flag of the auctioneer floating over the front porch of that friend in Virginia whom the Bank had ruined, and the family silver and old portraits lying in the carts that were to take them away forever. It was part of the damnable system of Northern finance and now Fitzpatrick was to suffer a similar injustice.
"Fitz in Klutchem's power! My God, suh!" he burst out at last, "you don't tell me so! And Fitz never told me a word about it. My po' Fitz! My po' Fitz!" he added slowly with quivering lips. "Are you quite sure, Major, that the situation is as serious as you state it?"
"Quite sure. He told me so himself. He wanted me to keep still about it, but I didn't want you to think he was ill."
"You did right, Major. I should never have forgiven you if you had robbed me of the opportunity of helpin' him. It's horrible; it's damnable. Such men as Klutchem, suh, ought to be drawn and quartered."
For an instant the Colonel leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, and looked steadily into the fire; then he said slowly with a voice full of sympathy, and in a tone as if he had at last made up his mind:
"No, I won't disturb the dear fellow to-night. He needs all the sleep he can get."
* * * * *
The Colonel was still in his chair gazing into the fire when I left. His pipe was out; his glass untasted; his chin buried in his collar.
"My po' Fitz!" was all he said as he lifted his hand and pressed my own. "Good-night, Major."
When I had reached the hall door he roused himself, called me back and said slowly and with the deepest emotion:
"Major, I shall help Fitz through this in the mornin' if it takes eve'y dollar I've got in the world. Stop for me as you go downtown and we will call at his office together."
Fitz had not yet arrived when the Colonel in his eagerness stepped in front of me, and peered through the hole in the glass partition which divided Fitz's inner and outer offices.
"Come inside, Colonel, and wait—expect him after a while," was the reply from one of the clerks,—the first arrival.
But the Colonel was too restless to sit down, and too absorbed even to thank the young man for his courtesy or to accept his invitation. He continued pacing up and down the outer office, stopping now and then to note the heap of white ribbons tangled up in a wicker basket—records of the disasters and triumphs of the day before,—or to gaze silently at the large map that hung over the steam-heater, or to study in an aimless way the stock lists skewered to the wall.
He had risen earlier than usual and had dressed himself with the greatest care and with every detail perfect. His shoes with their patches, one on each toe, were polished to more than Chad's customary brilliancy; his gray hair was brushed straight back from his forehead, its ends overlapping the high collar behind; his goatee was twisted to a fish-hook point and curled outward from his shirt-front; his moustache was smooth and carefully trimmed.
The coat,—it was the same old double-breasted coat, of many repairs—was buttoned tight over his chest giving his slender figure that military air which always distinguished the Virginian when some matter of importance, some matter involving personal defence or offence, had to be settled. In one hand he carried his heavy cane with its silver top, the other held his well-brushed hat.
"What has kept Fitz?" he asked with some anxiety.
"Nothing, Colonel. Board doesn't open till ten o'clock. He'll be along presently," I answered.
Half an hour passed and still no Fitz. By this time I, too, had begun to feel nervous. This was a day of all others for a man in Fitz's position to be on hand early.
I interviewed the clerk privately.
"Stopped at the Bank," he said in an undertone. "He took some cats and dogs up with him last night and is trying to get a loan. Going to rain down here to-day, I guess, and somebody'll get wet. Curb market is steady, but you can't tell anything till the Board opens."
At ten minutes before ten by the clock on the wall Fitz burst into the office, pulled a package from inside his coat, thrust it through the hole in the glass partition, whispered something to a second clerk who had just come in, and who at Fitz's command grabbed up his hat, and with three plunges was through the doorway and racing down the street. Then Fitz turned and saw us.
"Why, you dear Colonel, where the devil did you come from?"
The Colonel did not answer. He had noticed Fitz's concentrated, business-like manner, so different from his bearing of the night before, and had caught the anxious expression on the clerk's face as he bounded past him on his way to the street. It was evident that the situation was grave and the crisis imminent. The Colonel rose from his seat and held out his hand, his manner one of the utmost solemnity.
"I have heard all about it, Fitz. I am here to stand by you. Let us go inside where we can discuss the situation quietly."
Fitz looked at the clock—it was a busy day for him—shook the Colonel's hand in an equally impressive manner, glanced inquiringly at me over his shoulder, and we all three entered the private office and shut the door: he would give us ten minutes at all events. What really perplexed Fitz at the moment was the hour of the Colonel's visit and his reference to the "stand-by." These were mysteries which the broker failed to penetrate.
The Colonel tilted his silver-topped cane against Fitz's desk, put his hat on a pile of papers, drew his chair close and laid his hand impressively on Fitz's arm. He had the air of a learned counsellor consulting with a client.
"You are too busy, Fitz, to go into the details, and my mind is too much occupied to listen to them, but just give me an outline of the situation so that I can act with the main facts befo' me."
Fitz looked at me inquiringly; received my helpless shrug as throwing but little light on the matter, and as was his invariable custom, fell instantly into the Colonel's mood, answering him precisely as he would have done a brother broker in a similar case.
"It is what we call a 'squeeze,' Colonel. I'm through for the day, I hope, for my bank has come to my rescue. My clerk has just carried up a lot of stuff I managed to borrow. But you can't tell what to-morrow will bring. Looks to me as if everything was going to Bally-hack, and yet there are some things in the air that may change it over night."
"Am I right when I say that Mr. Klutchem is leadin' the attack? And on you?"
"That's just what he is doing—all he knows how."
"And that any relief must be with his consent?"
"Absolutely, for, strange to say, some of my defaulting customers have been operating in his office."
The Colonel mused for some time, twisting the fish-hook end of his goatee till it looked like a weapon of offence.
"Is he in town?"
"He was yesterday afternoon."
The Colonel rose from his chair with a determined air and pulled his coat sleeves over his cuffs.
"I'll call upon him at once."
Fitz's expression changed. Once start the dear Colonel on a mission of this kind and there was no telling what complications might ensue.
"He won't see you."
"I have thought of that, Fitz. I do not forget that I informed him I would lay my cane over his back the next time we met, but that mattuh can wait. This concerns the welfare of my dea'est friend and takes precedence of all personal feelin's."
"But, Colonel, he would only show you the door. He don't want talk. He wants something solid as a margin. I've sent it to him right along for their account, and he'll get what's coming to him to-day, but talk won't do any good."
"What do you mean by somethin' solid, Fitz?"
"Gilt-edged collateral,—5.20's or something as good."
"I presume any absolutely safe security would answer?"
"And of what amount?"
"Oh, perhaps fifty thousand,—perhaps a hundred. I'll know to-morrow."
The Colonel communed with himself for a moment, made a computation with his lips assisted by his fingers, and said with great dignity:
"You haven't had my 'Garden Spots' bonds printed yet, have you?"
"Nothin' lookin' to'ards it?"
"Yes, certainly, but nothing definite. I've got the proposition I told you about from the Engraving Company. Here it is." And Fitz pulled out a package of papers from a pigeon-hole and laid the letter before the Colonel. It was the ordinary offer agreeing to print the bonds for a specified sum, and had been one of the many harmless dodges Fitz had used to keep the Colonel's spirits up.
The Colonel studied the document carefully.
"When I accept this, of co'se, the mattuh is closed between me and the Company?"
"And no other party could either print or receive the bonds except on my written order?"
"No." Fitz was groping now in the dark. Why the Colonel should have suddenly dropped Consolidated Smelting to speak of the "Garden Spots" was another mystery.
"And I have a right to transfer this order to any one I please?"
"Of course, Colonel." The mystery was now impenetrable.
"You have no objection to my takin' this letter, Fitz?"
"Not the slightest."
The Colonel walked to the window, looked out for a moment into the street, walked back to Fitz's desk, and with a tinge of resignation in his voice as if he had at last nerved himself for the worst, laid his hand on Fitz's shoulder:
"I should never have a moment's peace, Fitz, if I did not exhaust every means in my power to ward off this catastrophe from you. Kindly give me a pen."
I moved closer. Was the Colonel going to sign his check for a million, or was there some unknown friend who, at a stroke of his pen, would come to Fitz's rescue?
The Colonel smoothed out the letter containing the proposition of the Engraving Company, tried the pen on his thumbnail, dipped it carefully in the inkstand, poised it for an instant, and in a firm round hand wrote across its type-written face the words:
"Accepted. GEORGE FAIRFAX CARTER, of Cartersville."
Then he folded the paper carefully and slipped it into his inside pocket.
This done, he shook Fitz's hand gravely, nodded to me with the air of a man absorbed in some weighty matter, picked up his cane and hat and left the office.
"What in the name of common-sense is he going to do with that, Fitz?" I asked.
"I give it up," said Fitz. "Ask me an easy one. Dear old soul, isn't he lovely? He's as much worried over the market as if every dollar at stake was his own. Now you've got to excuse me, Major. I've got a land-office business on hand to-day."
The Colonel's manner as he left the room had been so calm and measured, his back so straight, the swing of his cane so rhythmical, his firm military tread so full of courage and determination, that I had not followed him. When he is in these moods it is best to let him have his own way. Fitz and I had discovered this some days before, when we tried to dissuade him from planting into Klutchem's rotundity the bullets which Chad had cast with so much care.
Had I questioned him as he walked out this morning he would doubtless have said, "I do not expect you Nawthern men, with yo'r contracted ideas of what constitutes a man's personal honor, to understand the view I take of this mattuh, Major, but my blood requires it. I never forget that I am a Caarter, suh,—and you must never forget it either."
Moreover, had I gone with him the visit might have assumed an air of undue importance. There was nothing therefore for me to do but to wait. So I buried my self in an arm-chair, picked up the morning papers, and tried to possess my soul in patience until the Colonel should again make his appearance with a full report of his mission.
Twice during my long wait Fitz burst in, grabbed up some papers from his desk and bounded out again, firing some orders to his clerks as he disappeared through the door. He was too absorbed to more than nod to me, and he never once mentioned the Colonel's name.
About noon a customer in the outer office—there were half a dozen of them watching the ticker—handed an "extra" to the clerk, who brought it to me. Consolidated Smelting was up ten points; somebody had got out an injunction, and two small concerns in Broad Street had struck their colors and sent word to the Exchange that they could not meet their contracts.
Still no Colonel!
Had he failed to find Klutchem; had he been thrown out of the office or had he refrained from again visiting Fitz until he had accomplished something definite for his relief?
With the passing of the hours I became uneasy. The Colonel, I felt sure, especially in his present frame of mind, would not desert Fitz unless something out of the common had happened. I would go to Klutchem's office first, and not finding him there, I would keep on to Bedford Place and interview Chad.
"Been here?" growled Klutchem's clerk in answer to my question. "Well, I should think so. Tried to murder Mr. Klutchem. They're all up at the police station. Nice day for a muss like this when everything's kitin'! You don't know whether you're a-foot or a-horseback! These fire-eaters ought to be locked up!"
"Well, you'd a-thought so if you'd been here half an hour ago. He kept comin' in callin' for Mr. Klutchem, and then he sat down and said he'd wait. Looked like a nice, quiet old fellow, and nobody took any notice of him. When Mr. Klutchem came in—he'd been to the Clearing-house—they both went into his private office and shut the door. First thing we heard was some loud talk and then the thump of a cane, and when I got inside the old fellow was beatin' Mr. Klutchem over the head with a stick thick as your wrist. We tried to put him out, or keep him quiet, but he wanted to fight the whole office. Then a cop heard the row and came in and took the bunch to the station. Do you know him?"
This last inquiry coming at the end of the explosion showed me how vivid the scene still was in the clerk's mind and how it had obliterated every other thought.
"Know him! I should think I did," I answered, my mind in a whirl. "Where have they taken him?"
"Where have they taken 'em, Billy?" asked the clerk, repeating my question to an assistant.
"Old Slip. You can't miss it. It's got a lamp over the door."
* * * * *
The Sergeant smiled when I stepped up to the desk and made the inquiry.
Yes; a man named Klutchem had made a charge of assault against one George Carter. Carter was then locked up in one of the cells and could not be interviewed without the consent of the Captain of the Precinct who would be back in a few minutes.
"Guess it ain't serious," the Sergeant added. "Couple of old sports got hot, that's all, and this old feller—" and he hunched his shoulder towards the cells—"pasted the other one over the nut with his toothpick. Step one side. Next!"
I sat down on a bench. The dear Colonel locked up in a cell like a common criminal. What would Chad say; what would Aunt Nancy say; what would Fitz say; what would everybody say? And then the mortification to him; the wounding of his pride; the disgrace of it all.
Men and women came and went; some with bruised heads, some with blackened eyes, one wearing a pair of handcuffs—a sneak thief, caught, with two overcoats. Was the Colonel sharing a cell with such people as these? The thought gave me a shiver.
A straightening-up of half a dozen policemen; a simultaneous touching of caps, and the Captain, a red-faced, black-moustached, blue-coated chunk of a man, held together at the waist by a leather belt and be-decked and be-striped with gilt buttons and gold braid, climbed into the pulpit of justice and faced the room.
I stepped up.
He listened to my story, nodded his head to a doorman and I followed along the iron corridor and stood in front of a row of cells. The Turnkey looked over a hoop of keys, turned one in a door, threw it wide and said, waving his finger:
"Inside!" These men use few words.
The Colonel from the gloom of the cell saw me first.
"Why, you dear Major!" he cried. "You are certainly a good Sama'itan. In prison and you visited me. I am sorry that I can't offer you a chair, suh, but you see that my quarters are limited. Fortunately so far I have been able to occupy it alone. Tell me of Fitz——"
"But Colonel!" I gasped. "I want to know how this happened? How was it possible that you——"
"My dear Major, that can wait. Tell me of Fitz. He has not been out of my thoughts a moment. Will he get through the day? I did eve'ything I could, suh, and exhausted eve'y means in my power."
"Fitz is all right. They've got out an injunction and the market is steadier——"
"And will he weather the gale?"
"I think so."
"Thank God for that, suh!" he answered, his lips quivering. "When you see him give him my dea'est love and tell him that I left no stone unturned."
"Why you'll see him in an hour yourself. You don't suppose we are going to let you stay here, do you?"
"I don't know, suh. I am not p'epared to say. I have violated the laws of the State, suh, and I did it purposely, and I'm willin' to abide the consequences and take my punishment. I should have struck Mr. Klutchem after what he said to me if I had been hanged for it in an hour. I may be released, suh, but it will not be with any taint on my honor. And now that my mind is at rest about Fitz, I will tell you exactly what occurred and you can judge for yo'self.
"When Mr. Klutchem at last arrived at his office—I had gone there several times—I said to him:
"'Don't start, Mr. Klutchem, I have come in the interest of my friend, Mr. Fitzpatrick. And diff'ences between you and me can wait for a mo' convenient season.'
"'Come in,' he said, and he looked somewhat relieved, 'what do you want?' and we entered his private office and sat down. I then, in the most co'teous manner, went into the details of the transaction, and asked him in the name of decency that he would not crowd Fitz to the wall and ruin him, but that he would at least give him time to make good his obligations.
"'He can have it,' he blurted out, 'have all the time he wants—all of 'em can have it.' You know how coarse he can be, Major, and can understand how he said this. 'But'—and here Mr. Klutchem laid his finger alongside his nose—a vulgaar gesture, of co'se, but quite in keepin' with the man—'we want some collateral that are copper-fastened and gilt-edged all the way through'—I quote his exact words, Major.
"'I have expected that, suh,' I said, 'and I came p'epared,' and I unbuttoned my coat, took out the document you saw me sign in Fitz's office, and laid it befo' him.
"'What is this?' he said.
"'My entire interest in the Caartersville and Warrenton Air Line Railroad,' I answered. 'The whole issue of the Gaarden Spots, as you have no doubt heard them familiarly and very justly called, suh.'
"He looked at me and said:
"'Why these are not bonds—it is only an offer to print 'em,' he said.
"'I am aware of that,' I answered, 'but look at my signature, suh. I shall on your acceptance of my proposition, transfer the whole issue to you—then they become yo' absolute property.'
"'For what?' he interrupted.
"'As an offerin' for my friend, suh.'
"'What! As margin for Consolidated Smeltin'?'
"'True, suh. They are, of co'se, largely in excess of yo' needs, but Mr. Fitzpatrick is one of my dea'est friends. You, of co'se, realize that I am left penniless myself if my friend's final obligation to you should exceed their face value.'
"He got up, opened the door of a safe and said, 'Do you see that tin box?'
"'I do, suh.'
"'Do you know what is in it?'
"'I do not, suh.'
"'Full of stuff that will sell under the hammer above par. Tell Mr. Fitzpatrick if he and his customers have anythin' like that to bring it in—and look here'—and he pulled out a small drawer. 'See that watch?' I looked in and saw a gold watch, evidently a gentleman's, Major. 'That watch belonged to a customer who got short of our stock last week. It's wiped out now and a lot of other things he brought in. That's what we call collateral down here.'
"'I am not surprised, suh,' I answered. 'If men of yo' class can fo'ce themselves into our county; divest a man of his silver-plate and family po'traits, as was done to a gentleman friend of mine of the highest standin' in my own State by a Nawthern caarpet-bag Bank, I am not astonished that you avail yo'self of a customer's watch.' I said 'divest' and 'avail,' Major. I intended to say 'steal' and 'rob' but I checked myself in time.
"'Do you think that's any worse than yo' comin' down here and tryin' to bunco me with a swindle like that'—and he picked up the document and tossed it on the flo'.
"You know me well enough, Major, to know what followed. Befo' the words were out of his mouth he was flat on his back and I standin' over him with my cane. Then his clerks rushed in and separated us. My present situation is the result."
The Colonel stopped and looked about the prison corridor. "Strange and interestin' place, isn't it, Major? I shall be reasonably comfo'table here, I s'pose"—and he raised his eyes towards the white-washed ceiling. "There is not quite so much room as I had at City Point when I was a prisoner of war, but I shall get along, no doubt. I have not inqui'ed yet whether they will allow me a servant, but if they do I shall have Chad bring me down some comfo'ts in the mornin'. I think I should like a blanket and pillow and perhaps an easy-chair. I can tell better after passin' the night here. By the way, Major, on yo' way home you might stop and see Chad. Tell him the facts exactly as I have stated them to you. He will understand; he was with me, you remember, when I was overpow'ed and captured the last year of the War."
The Turnkey, who had been pacing up and down the corridor, stopped in front of the gate. The Colonel read the expression on his face, and shaking my hand warmly, said with the same air that a captured general might have had in taking leave of a member of his staff:
"The officer seems impatient, Major, and I must, therefo', ask you to excuse me. My dear love to Fitz, and tell him not to give my imprisonment a thought. Good-by," and he waved his hand majestically and stepped back into the cell.
The arrival of Fitz in a cab at the police-station half an hour later—just time enough for me to run all the way to his office—the bailing out of the Colonel much against his protest, his consent being gained only when Fitz and I assured him that such things were quite within the limit of our judicial code, and that no stain on his honor would or could ensue from any such relief; the Colonel's formal leave-taking of the Captain, the Sergeant and the Turnkey, each of whom he thanked impressively for the courtesies they had shown him; our driving—the Colonel and I—post-haste to Bedford Place, lest by any means Chad might have heard of the affair and so be frightened half out of his wits; the calm indifference of that loyal darky when he ushered us into the hall and heard the Colonel's statement, and Chad's sententious comment: "In de Calaboose, Colonel! Well, fo' Gawd! what I tell ye 'bout dis caanin' bis'ness. Got to git dem barkers ready jes' I tol' ye; dat's de only thing dat'll settle dis muss,"—these and other incidents of the day equally interesting form connecting links in a story which has not only become part of the history of the Carter family but which still serve as delightful topics whenever the Colonel's name is mentioned by his many friends in the Street.
More important things, however, than the arrest and bailing out of the Colonel were taking place in the Street. One of those financial bombs which are always lying around loose—a Pacific Mail, or Erie, or N. P.—awaiting some fool-match to start it, sailed out from its hiding-place a few minutes before the Exchange closed—while Fitz was bailing out the Colonel, in fact—hung for an instant trembling in mid-air, and burst into prominence with a sound that shook the Street to its foundations. In five minutes the floor of the Exchange was a howling mob, the brokers fighting, tearing, yelling themselves hoarse. Money went up to one per cent and legal interest over night, and stocks that had withstood every financial assault for years tottered, swayed and plunged headlong. Into the abyss fell Consolidated Smelting. Not only were the ten points of the day's rise wiped out, but thirty points besides. Shares that at the opening sold readily at 55 went begging at 30. Klutchem and his backers were clinging to the edges of the pit with ruin staring them in the face, and Fitz was sailing over the crater thousands of dollars ahead of his obligations.
* * * * *
The following morning another visitor—a well-dressed man with a diamond pin in his scarf—walked up and down Fitz's office awaiting his arrival—a short, thick-set, large-paunched man with a heavy jaw, a straight line of a mouth, two little restless eyes wobbling about in a pulp of wrinkles, flabby cheeks, a nose that was too small for the area it failed to ornament, and a gray stubbly beard shaven so closely at its edges that it looked as if its owner might either wear it on his chin or put it in his pocket at his pleasure.
"Down yet?" asked the visitor in a quick, impatient voice.
"Not yet, Mr. Klutchem. Take a seat." Then the clerk passed his hand over his face to straighten out a rebellious smile and hid his head in the ledger.
"I'll wait," retorted the banker, and stepping inside Fitz's private office he settled himself in a chair, legs apart, hands clasped across his girth.
Fitz entered with an air that would have carried comfort to the Colonel's soul—with a spring, a breeze, a lightness; a being at peace with all the world; and best of all with a self-satisfied repose that was in absolute contrast to the nervousness of the day before.
"Who?" he asked of his clerk.
The clerk pointed to the office door.
Fitz's face straightened out and grew suddenly grave, but he stepped briskly into his sanctum and faced his enemy.
"Well, what is it, Mr. Klutchem?"
Before his visitor opened his mouth, Fitz saw that the fight was all out of the Head Centre of Consolidated Smelting. A nervous, conciliatory smile started from the line of Klutchem's mouth, wrinkled the flesh of his face as far as his cheeks, and died out again.
"We got hit pretty bad yesterday, Fitzpatrick, and I thought we might as well talk it over and see if we couldn't straighten out the market."
"Then it isn't about Colonel Carter?" said Fitz coldly.
He had all the Consolidated he wanted and didn't see where Klutchem could be of the slightest use in straightening out anything.
"I'll attend to him later," replied Klutchem, and a curious expression overspread his face. "You heard about it, then?"
"Heard about it! I bailed him out. If you wanted to lock anybody up why didn't you get after some one who knew the ropes, not a man like the Colonel who never had a dishonest thought in his head and who is as tender-hearted as a child."
"You don't know what you're talking about," flared Klutchem. "He came down with a cock-and-bull story and wanted me to take——"
"I know the whole story, every word of it. He came down to offer you every dollar of his interest in a scheme that is as real to him as if the bonds were selling on the Exchange at par. They are all he has in the world, and if some miracle should occur and they should be worth their face value he would never touch a penny of the proceeds if he was starving to death, because of the promise he made you. And in my interest, too, not his own, and all for love of me, his friend."
"But it was only a letter from a concern offering to print——"
"Certainly. And across it he had written his name—both, I grant you, not worth the paper they were written on. But why didn't you have the decency to humor the dear old fellow as we all do, and treat him with the same courtesy with which he treated you, instead of insulting him by throwing the letter in his face. You'll excuse me, Mr. Klutchem, when I say it gets me pretty hot when I think of it. I don't blame him for cracking you over the head, and neither would you, if you understood him as I do."
Klutchem looked out of the window and twisted his thumbs for an instant as if in deep thought. The outcome of the interview was of the utmost importance to him, and he did not want anything to occur which would prejudice his case with the broker. Fitz sat in front of him, bent forward, his hands on his knees, his eyes boring into Klutchem's.
Then a puzzled, and strange to say what appeared to be a more kindly expression broke over Klutchem's face.
"I guess I was rough, but I didn't mean it, really. You know how it was yesterday—regular circus all day. I wouldn't have made the charge at the police-station—for he didn't hurt me much—if the policeman hadn't compelled me. And then don't forget, this isn't the first time I've come across him. He came to my house once when I was laid up with the gout, and——"
"Yes," interrupted Fitz, "I haven't forgotten it, and what did he come for? To apologize, didn't he? I should have thought you'd have seen enough of him at that time to know what kind of a man he was. Down here in the Street we've got to put things down on paper and we don't trust anybody. We don't understand the kind of a man whose word is literally as good as his bond, and who, to help any man he calls his friend, would spend his last cent and go hungry the balance of his life. I've lived round here a good deal in my time and I've seen all kinds of men, but the greatest compliment I ever had paid me in my life was when the Colonel offered you yesterday the scrap of paper that you threw back in his face."
As Fitz talked on Klutchem's tightly knit brows began to loosen. He hadn't heard such things for a good many years. Life was a scramble and devil take the hindermost with him. If anybody but Fitz—one of the level-headed men in the Street—had talked to him thus, he might not have paid attention, but he knew Fitz was sincere and that he spoke from his heart. The still water at the bottom of the banker's well—the water that was frozen over or sealed up, or so deep that few buckets ever reached it—began to be stirred. His anxiety over Consolidated only added another length to the bucket's chain.
"Fitzpatrick, I guess you're right. What ought I to do?"
"You ought to go up to his house this very day and beg his pardon, and then wipe out that idiotic charge you made at the police-station."
"I will, Fitzpatrick."
"There's my hand. Now bring out your Consolidated Smelting, and I'll do what's decent."
At four o'clock that same day Fitz, with Mr. Klutchem beside him, swung back the wicket-gate of the tunnel, traversed its gloom, crossed the shabby yard piled high with snow heaped up by Chad's active shovel, and rapped at the front door of the little house.
The Colonel was in his chair by the fire. I had just told him the good news, and he and I were sampling a fresh bottle of the groceryman's Madeira in celebration of the joyous turn in Fitz's affairs, when Chad with eyes staring from his head announced:
"Misser Klutchem and Misser Fitzpatrick."
What the old darky thought was coming I do not know, but I learned afterwards, that as soon as he had closed the door behind the visitors, he mounted the stairs three steps at a time, grabbed up the case of pistols from his master's dressing-table, pulled the corks from their mouths, and hurrying down laid the case and its contents on the hall table to be ready for instant use.
The announcement of Klutchem's name brought the Colonel to his feet as straight as a ramrod.
"It's all right, Colonel," said Fitz, noting the color rise in his friend's face. "Mr. Klutchem and I have settled all our differences. He has just offered me a barrel of Consolidated, and at my own price. That fight's all over, and I bear him no grudge. As to yourself, he has come up to tell you how sorry he is for what occurred yesterday, and to make any reparation to you in his power."
Klutchem had not intended to go so far as that, and he winced a little under Fitz's allusion to the "barrel," but he was in for it now, and would follow Fitz's lead to the end. Then again, the papers in the Consolidated matter would not be signed until the morning.
"Yes, Carter, I'm sorry. Fact is, I misunderstood you. I was very busy, you remember, and I'm sorry, too, for what occurred at the police-station; that, however, you know I couldn't help."
The omission of the Virginian's title scraped the skin from the Colonel's amour propre, but the words "I'm sorry" coming immediately thereafter healed the wound.
The military bearing of our host began to relax.
"And you have come here with my friend Mr. Fitzpatrick to tell me this?"
"And you intended no reflection on my honor when you—when you—handed me back my secu'ities?"
"No, I didn't. The stuff wasn't our kind, you know. If I had stopped to hear what you had to say I'd——"
"Let it all pass, suh. I accept yo' apology in the spirit in which it was given, suh. As to my imprisonment, that is a matter which is not of the slightest consequence. We soldiers are accustomed to these inconveniences, suh. It is part of the fortunes of war. Take that chair, Mr. Klutchem, and let my servant relieve you of yo' coat and hat."
The promptness with which that individual answered to his name left no doubt in my mind that that worthy defender of the Colonel's honor had been standing ready outside the door, which had been left partly open for the purpose, his hand on the knob.
"Yes, sah. I heard ye, Colonel."
"And, Chad, bring some glasses for the gentlemen."
Klutchem settled his large frame in the chair that had been vacated by the Colonel, and watched the glass being slowly filled from a decanter held in his host's own hands. Fitz and I retired to the vicinity of the sideboard, where he gave me in an undertone an account of the events of the morning.
"Got a nice box of a place here, Colonel," remarked Mr. Klutchem. He remembered the title this time—the surroundings had begun to tell upon him. "Cost you much?" and the broker's eyes roamed about the room, taking in the big mantel, the brass andirons, India blue china and silver candlesticks.
"A mere trifle, suh," said the Colonel, stiffening. The cost of things were never mentioned in this atmosphere. "To associate bargain and sale with the appointments of yo' household is like puttin' yo' hospitality up at auction," he would frequently say.
"A mere trifle, suh," he repeated. "My estates, as you probably know, are in Virginia, near my ancestral town of Caartersville. Are you familiar with that part of the country, suh?"
And thereupon, on the banker's expressing his entire ignorance of Fairfax County and its contiguous surroundings, the Colonel, now that his honor as a duellist had been satisfied by Klutchem's apologies; his friend's ruin averted by the banker's generosity, as was attested by his offering Fitz a barrel full of securities which the day previous were worth their weight in gold; and especially because this same philanthropist was his guest, at once launched forth on the beauty of his section of the State. In glowing terms he described the charms of the river Tench; the meadows knee-deep in clover; the mountains filled with the riches of the Orient looming up into the blue; the forests of hardwood, etc., etc., and all in so persuasive and captivating a way that the practical banker, always on the lookout for competent assistants, made a mental memorandum to consult Fitz in the morning on the possibility of hiring the Colonel to work off an issue of State bonds which at the moment were dead stock on his hands.
By this time Klutchem, warmed by his host's Madeira and cheery fire, had not only become really interested in the man beside him, but had lost to a certain extent something of his blunt Wall Street manner and hard commercial way of looking at things. It was, therefore, not surprising to either Fitz or myself, who had watched the gradual adjustment of the two men, to hear the Colonel, who had now entirely forgotten all animosity towards his enemy say to Klutchem with great warmth of manner, and with the evident intention of not being outdone in generosity at such a time:
"I would like to show you that gaarden, suh. Perhaps some time I may have the pleasure of entertainin' you in my own home at Caartersville."
Mr. Klutchem caught his breath. He saw the Colonel was perfectly sincere, and yet he could not but admit the absurdity of the situation. Invited to visit the private estate of a man who had caned him the day before, and against whom he was expected in the morning to make a complaint of assault and battery!
"Oh, that's mighty kind, Colonel, but I guess you'll have to excuse me."
The banker, as he spoke, glanced at Fitz. He didn't want to do anything to offend Fitz—certainly not until the papers in the Consolidated Smelting settlement were complete and the documents signed—and yet he didn't see how he could accept.
"But I won't take no for an answer, suh. Miss Caarter will be here in a day or two, and I will only be too happy to discuss with her the date of yo' visit."
Before Klutchem could refuse again Fitz stepped forward, and, standing over Mr. Klutchem's chair, dug his knuckles into the broker's back. The signal was unmistakable.
"Well, thank you, Colonel. I'll speak to my daughter about it, and if——"
"Yo' daughter, suh? Then I am sure the last obstacle is removed. Miss Caarter will be mo' than delighted, suh, to entertain her, too. I will ascertain my aunt's plans as soon as she arrives, and will let you know definitely when she will be best p'epared for yo' entertainment."
* * * * *
When the party broke up, and Fitz and Mr. Klutchem had been helped on with their coats by Chad, Klutchem remarked to Fitz as we all walked through the tunnel:
"Queer old party, Fitzpatrick; queerest I ever saw. You were right—not a crooked hair in his head. Glad I came. Of course I can't go down to his place—haven't got the time—but I bet you he'd be glad to see me if I did. Funny, too—poor as a rat and busted, and yet he never said 'Garden Spots,' once."
On my re-entering the house,—Fitz had gone on with Klutchem—Chad, who was waiting for me, took me into a corner of the hall and said in a voice filled with disappointment:
"What I tell ye, Major? Ain't dat too bad? I ain't never gwine ter forgib de Colonel for lettin' him git away. Gor-A-Mighty! Did ye see de size of him—hardly git frough de gate! Why, der warn't no chance o' missin' him. Colonel could a-filled him ful o' holes as a sieve."
The Colonel's positive injunction that each one of his friends should call on every one of his guests within forty-eight hours of their arrival was never necessary in the case of Miss Ann Carter. One day was enough for me—one hour would have been more to my liking. Only consideration for her comfort, and the knowledge that she would be somewhat fatigued by her journey from Carter Hall northward, ever kept me away from her that long. Then, again, I knew that she wanted at least one entire day in which to straighten out the various domestic accounts of the little house in Bedford Place, including that complicated and highly-prized pass-book of the "Grocerman."
And then Chad's delight when he opened the door with a sweep, his face a sunburst of smiles and announced Miss Carter's presence in the house! And the new note in the Colonel's voice—a note of triumph and love and pride! And the touches here and there inside the cosy rooms; touches that only a woman can give—a new curtain here, a pot of flowers there: all joyous happenings that made a visit to Aunt Nancy, as we loved to call her, one of the events to be looked forward to.
But it was not Chad who opened the door on this particular morning. That worthy darky was otherwise occupied; in the kitchen, really, plucking the feathers from the canvas-back ducks. They had been part of the dear lady's impedimenta, not to mention a huge turkey, a box of terrapin, and a barrel of Pongateague oysters, besides unlimited celery, Tolman sweet potatoes, and a particular brand of hominy, for which Fairfax County was famous.
I say it was not Chad at all who opened the door and took my card, but a scrap of a pickaninny about three feet high, with closely-cropped wool, two strings of glistening white teeth—two, for his mouth was always open; a pair of flaring ears like those of a mouse, and two little restless, wicked eyes that shone like black diamonds: the whole of him, with the exception of his cocoanut of a head, squeezed into a gray cloth suit bristling with brass buttons and worsted braid, a double row over his chest, and a stripe down each seam of his trousers.
Aunt Nancy's new servant!
The scrap held out a silver tray; received my card with a dip of his head, threw back the door of the dining-room, scraped his foot with the flourish of a clog dancer, and disappeared in search of his mistress.
Chad stepped from behind the door, his face in a broad grin. He had crept up the kitchen stairs, and had been watching the boy's performance from the rear room. His sleeves were rolled up and some of the breast feathers of the duck still stuck to his fingers.
"Don't dat beat de lan'! Major," he said to me. "Did ye see dem buttons on him? Ain't he a wonder? Clar to goodness looks like he's busted out wid brass measles. And he a-waitin' on de Mist'iss! I ain't done nothin' but split myself a-laughin' ever since he come. MY!!!" and Chad bent himself double, the tears starting to his eyes.
"What's his name, Chad?"
"Says his name's Jeems. Jeems, mind ye!" Here Chad went into another convulsion. "Jim's his real name, jes' Jim. He's one o' dem Barbour niggers. Raised down t'other side de Barbour plantation long side of our'n. Miss Nancy's been down to Richmond an' since I been gone she don't hab nobody to wait on her, an' so she tuk dis boy an' fixed him up in dese Richmond clothes. He says he's free. Free, mind ye! Dat's what all dese no count niggers is. But I'm watchin' him, an' de fust time he plays any o' dese yer free tricks on me he'll land in a spell o' sickness," and Chad choked himself with another chuckle.
The door swung back.
"Miss Caarter say dat she'll be down in a minute," said the scrap.
Chad straightened his face and brought it down to a semblance of austerity; always a difficult task with Chad.
"Who did you say was yere?" he asked.
"I didn't say—I handed her de kerd."
"How did you carry it?"
"In my pan."
"What did ye do wid de pan?"
The boy's face fell.
"I lef' it in de hall, sah."
"Sah! sah! Don't you 'sah' me. Ain't nobody 'sah' round yere but de Colonel. What I tell you to call me?"
"Dat's it, Uncle Chad. Now go 'long, honey, an' take yo' seat outside wid yo' pan; plenty folks comin', now dey know de Mist'iss here. Dar she is now. Dat's her step, on de stairs, Major. I doan' want her to catch me lookin' like dis. Drap into de kitchen, Major, as ye go out, I got sumpin' to show ye. Dem tarr'pins de Mist'iss fotch wid her make yo' mouf water."
Some women, when they enter a room, burst in like a child just out of school and overwhelm you with the joyousness of their greetings; others come in without a sound, settle into a seat and regale you in monotones with histories of either the attendant misery or the expected calamity.
Aunt Nancy floated in like a bubble blown along a carpet, bringing with her a radiance, a charm, a gentleness, a graciousness of welcome, a gladness at seeing you, so sincere and so heartfelt, that I always felt as if a window had been opened letting in the sunshine and the perfume of flowers.
"Oh, my dear Major!" and she held out her hand; that tiny little hand which lace becomes so well, and that always suggests its morning baptism of rose water. Such a dainty white hand! I always bend over and kiss it whenever I have the chance, trying my best to be the gallant I know she would like me to be.
After the little ceremony of my salutation was over I handed her to a seat, still holding her finger-tips, bowing low just as her own cavaliers used to do in the days when she had half the County at her feet. I love these make-believe ceremonies when I am with her—and then again I truly think she would not be so happy without them. This over I took my place opposite so I could watch her face and the smiles playing across it—that face which the Colonel always said reminded him of "Summer roses a-bloom in October."
We talked of her journey and of how she had stood the cold and how reluctant she had been at first to leave Carter Hall, especially at the Christmas season, and of the Colonel (not a word, of course, about the encounter with Klutchem—no one would have dared breathe a word of that to her), and then of the scrap of a pickaninny she had brought with her.
"Isn't he too amusing? I brought him up as much to help dear Chad as for any other reason. But he is incorrigible at times and I fear I shall have to send him back to his mother. I thought the livery might increase his self-respect, but it only seems to have turned his head. He doesn't obey me at all, and is so forgetful. Chad is the only one of whom, I think, he is at all afraid."
A knock now sounded in the hall and I could hear the shuffling of Jim's feet, and the swinging back of the door. Then Fitz's card was brought in—not on the silver tray this time, but clutched in the monkey paw of the pickaninny.
Aunt Nancy looked at him with a certain well-assumed surprise and drew back from the proffered card.
"James, is that the way to bring me a card? Have I not told you often——"
The boy looked at her, his face in a tangle of emotions. "De Pan! Fo' Gord, Mist'iss, I done forgot dat pan," and with a spring he was out again, returning with Fitz's pasteboard on the silver tray, closely followed by that gentleman himself, who was shaking with laughter over the incident.
"One of your body-guard, Aunt Nancy?" said Fitz, as he bent over and kissed her hand. It was astonishing how easily Fitz fell into these same old-time customs when he was with the dear lady—he, of all men.
"No, dear friend, one of the new race of whom I am trying to make a good servant. His grandmother in slave times belonged to a neighbor of ours, and this little fellow is the youngest of six. I've just been telling the Major what a trial he is to me. And now let me look at you. Ah! you have been working too hard. I see it in your eyes. Haven't you had some dreadful strain lately?"
Fitz declared on his honor, with one hand over his upper watch pocket, and the other still in hers, that he never felt better in his life, and that so idle had he become lately, that it was hard work for him to keep employed. And then Aunt Nancy made him sit beside her on the hair-cloth sofa, the one on which Fitz would not permit the Colonel to sleep, and I, being nearest, tucked a cushion under her absurdly small feet and rearranged about her shoulders her Indian mull shawl, which didn't require any rearranging at all. And after Fitz had told the dear lady for the third time how glad he was to see her, and after she had told him how glad she was to see both of us, and how she hoped dear George would soon secure the money necessary to build his railroad, so that we could all come to Carter Hall for next Christmas, she adding gravely that she really couldn't see any need for the road's existence or any hope of its completion, although she never said so to dear George, she being a woman and not expected to know much of such things;—after, I say, all these delightful speeches and attentions and confidences had been indulged in, Aunt Nancy bent her head, turned her sweet face framed in the lace cap and ribbons, first towards me and then back to Fitz again—she had been talking to Fitz all this time, I listening—and said with the air of a fairy godmother entertaining two children:
"And now I've got a great Christmas surprise for both of you, and you shall have one guess apiece as to what it is."
Fitz, with the memories of a former Christmas at Carter Hall still fresh in mind, and knowing the dear lady's generosity, and having seen the biggest bundle of feathers and the longest pair of legs he had ever laid his eyes on hanging head down on the measly wall of the shabby yard as he entered, screwed up his eyes, cudgelled his brain by tapping his forehead with his forefinger, and blurted out:
"Wild turkey stuffed with chestnuts."
Aunt Nancy laughed until her side curls shook.
"Oh, you dreadful gourmand! Not a bit like a turkey. How mortified you will be when you find out! Go and stand in the corner, sir, with your face to the wall. Now, Major, it's your turn."
Fitz began to protest that he ought to have another chance, and that it had slipped out before he knew it, since he had never forgotten a brother of that same bird, one that he had eaten at her own table; but the little lady wouldn't hear another syllable, and waved him away with great dignity, whereupon Fitz buried his fat face in his hands, and said that life was really not worth the living, and that if anybody would suggest a comfortable way of committing suicide he would adopt it at once.
When my turn came, I, remembering the buttons on "Jeems," guessed a livery for Chad, at which the dear lady laughed more merrily than before, and Fitz remarked in a disgusted tone that the dense stupidity of some men was one of the characteristics of the time.
"No; it's nothing to eat and it's nothing to wear. It's a most charming young lady who at my earnest solicitation has consented to dine with us, and to whom I want you two young gentlemen (Fitz is forty if he's a day, and looks it) to be most devoted."
"Pretty?" asked Fitz, pulling up his collar—prinking in mock vanity.
"Yes, and better than pretty."
"Young?" persisted Fitz.
"Young, and most entertaining.
"Now listen both of you and I will tell you all about it. She lives up in one of your most desolate streets, Lafayette Place, I think, they call it, and in such a sombre house that it looks as if the windows had never been opened. Her mother is dead, and such a faded, hopeless-looking woman takes care of the house, a relation of the father's, I understand, who is a business friend of George's, and with whom he tells me he once had a slight misunderstanding. George did not want Christmas to pass with these differences unsettled, and so, of course, I went to call the very day I arrived and invited her and her father to dine with us on Christmas Eve. We always celebrate our Christmas then as you both know, on account of our old custom of giving Christmas day to our servants. And I am so glad I went. I did not, of course, see the father. Oh, it would make your heart ache to see the inside of that house. Everything costly and solid, and yet everything so joyless. I always feel sorry for such homes,—no flowers about, no books that are not locked up, no knick-knacks nor pretty things. I hope you will both help me to make her Christmas Eve a happy one. You perhaps may know her father, Mr. Fitzpatrick,—he is in Wall Street I hear, and his name is Klutchem."
Fitz, in his astonishment, so far forgot himself as to indulge in a low whistle.
"Then you do know him?"
"Oh, very well."
"And you tell me that Mr. Klutchem is really coming to dinner and going to bring his daughter?" asked Fitz, in a tone that made his surprise all the more marked.
"Yes; George had a note from him this morning saying his daughter would be here before dark and he would come direct from his office and meet her here in time for dinner. Isn't it delightful? You will be quite charmed with our guest, I'm sure. And about the father—tell me something of him?" Aunt Nancy inquired in her sweetest voice.
"About Mr. Klutchem? Well! Yes, to be sure. Why, Klutchem! Yes, of course. A most genial and kindly man," answered Fitz, controlling himself; "a little eccentric at times I have heard, but not more so than most men of his class. Not a man of much taste, perhaps, but most generous. Would give you anything in the world he didn't want, and be so delighted when you took it off his hands. Insisted on giving me a lot of stock the other day, but of course I wouldn't take it." This was said with so grave a face that its point escaped the dear lady.
"How very kind of him. Perhaps that is where his daughter gets her charm," replied Aunt Nancy, with a winning smile.
There is no telling what additional mendacities regarding the Klutchem family Fitz, who had now regained his equilibrium, would have indulged in, had I not knit my eyebrows at him behind Aunt Nancy's back as a warning to the mendacitor not to mislead the dear lady, whose disappointment, I knew, would only be the greater when she met Klutchem face to face.
When I had risen to take my leave Fitz excused himself for a moment and followed me into the hall.
"Klutchem coming to dinner, Major, and going to bring his daughter? What the devil do you think is up? If the Colonel wasn't so useless financially I'd think Klutchem had some game up his sleeve. But if that is so, why bring his daughter? My lawyer told me to-day the assault and battery case is all settled, so it can't be that. Wonder if the Colonel has converted Klutchem as to the proper way of running a bank? No, that's nonsense! Klutchem would skin a flea and sell the tallow, no matter what the Colonel said to him. Coming to dinner! Well, that gets me!"
As I shut the front door behind me and stopped for a minute on the top step overlooking the yard, I caught sight of the grocer emerging from the tunnel with a basket on his arm for Chad, who was standing below me outside his kitchen door with the half-picked duck in his hand. The settlement of "Misser Grocerman's" unpaid accounts by Miss Nancy on one of her former visits to Bedford Place had worked a double miracle—Chad no longer feared the dispenser of fine wines and other comforts, and the dispenser himself would have emptied his whole shop into Chad's kitchen and waited months for his pay had that loyal old servant permitted it. This was evident from the way in which Chad dropped the half-picked duck on a bench beside the door and hurried forward to help unpack the basket; and the deferential smile on the grocer's face as he took out one parcel after another, commenting on their quality and cheapness.
I had promised Chad to stop long enough to inspect Miss Nancy's "tarr'pins," and so I waited until Chad's duties were over.
"That's the cheekiest little coon ever come into the store," I hear the grocer say with a laugh. "I'd a-slid him out on his ear if he'd said much more."
Chad looked over his pile of bundles—they lay up on his arm; the top one held in place by his chin—and asked with some anxiety:
"Who, Jim? What did he do?"
"Do! He waltzed in yesterday afternoon with his head up and his under lip sticking out as if he owned the place. When I told him to take the sugar back with him, he said he wasn't carrying no bundles for nobody, he was waiting on Miss Carter. He's out at the gate now."
"Do ye hear dat, Major? Ain't dat 'nough to make a body sick? I been 'spectin' dis ever since he come. I'm gwinter stop dis foolishness short off."
The old darky waited until the grocer had reached the street, then he shouted into the gloom of the narrow passage:
"Here, Jim. Come here."
The scrap in buttons slammed to the wicket gate and came running through the tunnel.
"What you tell dat gemman yisterday when I sont you for dat sugar, wid yo' lip stickin' out big 'nough for a body ter sit on?"
The boy hung his head.
"You'se waitin' on Miss Caarter, is ye, an' ye ain't caarryin' no bundles? If I ever hear ye sass anybody round here agin, white or black, I'll tear dem buttons off ye an' skin ye alive—you'se caarryin' what I send ye for—do ye hear dat? Free, is ye? You'se free wid yo' sass an' dat's all de freedom you got."
"I—didn't know—yer want me ter—caa'ry it back," said the boy in a humble tone, but with the twinkle of a smouldering coal in his eye.
"Ye didn't? Who did ye think was gwine to caa'ry it back for ye? Maybe it was de Colonel or de Mist'iss or me?" Chad's voice had now risen to a high pitch, and with a touch of sarcasm in it which was biting. "Pretty soon you'll 'spec' somebody gwine to call for ye in dere caa'ridge. Yo' idea o' freedom is to wait on nobody and hab no manners. What ye got in yo' hand?"
"Cigarette white boy gimme,"—and the boy dropped the burning end on the brick pavement of the yard.
"Dat's mo' freedom, an' dat's all dis po' white trash is gwine to do for ye—stuffin' yo' head wid lies, an' yo' mouf wid a wad o' nastiness. Now go 'long an' git yo' pan."
Chad waited until the boy had mounted the steps and entered the house, then he turned to me.
"Po' li'l chin'ka'pin—he don't know no better. How's he gwine to git a bringin' up? Miss Nancy tryin' to teach him, but she ain't gwine make nuffin' of him. He's got pizened by dis freedom talk, an' he ain't gwine to git cured. Fust thing ye know he'll begin to think he's good as white folks, an' when he's got dat in his head he's done for. I'm gwine to speak to de Mist'iss 'bout dat boy, an' see if sumpin can't be done to save him fo' it gits too late; ain't nuffin' gwine to do him no good but a barr'l stave—hear dat—a barr'l stave!"
The Colonel had come in quietly and stood listening. I had heard the click of the outer gate, but supposed it was the grocer returning with the additional supplies.
"Who's Chad goin' to thresh, Major?" the Colonel asked, with a smile as he put his arm over my shoulder.
"Miss Nancy's pickaninny," I answered.
"What, little Jim?" There was a tone of surprise now in the Colonel's voice.
Chad stood abashed for a moment. He had stowed away the groceries, and had the duck in his hand again, his fingers fumbling among its feathers.
"'Scuse me, Colonel, I ain't gwine whale him, of co'se, 'thout yo' permission, but he's dat puffed up he'll bust fo' long."
"What's he been up to?"
"Sassin' Misser Grocerman—runnin' to de gate wid his head out like a tarr'pin's, smoking dese yer paper seegars dat smell de whole place up vill'nous, 'stid of waitin' on de Mist'iss."
"And you think beatin' him will do him any good, Chad? How many times did yo' Marster John beat you?"
Chad looked up, and a smile broke over his face.
"I don't reckellmember airy lick de Marster ever laid on me."
"Raised you pretty well, didn't he, Chad?"
"Yas, sah—dat he did."
"Anybody beat you since you grew up?"
"Pretty good, Chad, ain't you?"
"I try to be, sah."
"Well, now, be a little patient with that boy. It isn't his fault that he's sp'ilt; it's part of the damnable system this Gov'ment has put upon us since the war. Am I right, Major?"
I nodded assent.
Chad pulled out a handful of feathers from the duck, dropped them into a barrel near where we stood in the yard, and said, as if his mind was finally made up:
"Co'se, Colonel, I ain't nuffin' to say jes' 'cept dis. When I was dat boy's age I was runnin' 'round barefoot an' putty nigh naked, my shirt out o' my pants haalf de time; but Marse John tuk care o' me, an' when I got hongry I knowed whar dey was sumpin to eat an' I got it. Dat boy ain't had nobody take care o' him till de Mist'iss tuk him, and haalf de time he went hongry; no manners, no bringin' up—runnin' wid po' white trash, gittin' his head full o' fool notions 'stid o' waitin' on his betters. Now look at him. Come in yere yisterday mornin', an' want borry my bresh to black his shoes. Den he must bresh his clothes wid yo' bresh—yo' bresh, mind you! I cotched him at it. Den he gits on his toes an' squints at hisself in de Mist'iss glass—I cotched him at dat, too—an' he ugly as one o' dem black tree-toads. You know what done dat? Dem Richmond clothes he's got on. I tell ye, Colonel, sumpin gotter be done, or dem buttons'll spile dat chile."
The Colonel laughed heartily.
"What does Miss Nancy say about yo' barr'l stave?"
"She don't say nuffin', 'cause she don't know."
"Well, don't you thresh Jim till you see her."
"When you do, pick out a little stave. Come, Major, go back with me for just ten minutes mo' and see the dea'est woman in the world."
The day before Christmas was a never-to-be-forgotten day in Bedford Place. Great preparations were being made for the event of the evening, and everybody helped.
Little Jim under the tutelage of Chad, and in hourly fear of the promised thrashing—it had never gone beyond the promise since the Colonel's talk—had so far forgotten his clothes and his dignity as to load himself with Christmas greens—one long string wound around his body like a boa constrictor—much to the amusement of the Colonel, who was looking out of the dining-room window when he emerged from the tunnel. Aunt Nancy went all the way to the grocery for some big jars for the flowers I had sent her (not to mention a bunch of roses of the Colonel's) and brought one of the pots back in her own hand; and spoke in so low and gentle a voice when she purchased them that everybody in the place ceased talking to listen.