COLONEL CARTER OF CARTERSVILLE
BY F. HOPKINSON SMITH
I dedicate this book to the memory of my counselor and my friend,—that most delightful of story-tellers, that most charming of comrades,—my dear old Mother; whose early life was spent near the shade of the Colonel's porch, and whose keen enjoyment of the stories between these covers—stories we have so often laughed over together—is still among my pleasantest recollections.
F. H. S.
New York, May, 1891.
CONTENTS AND LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"My fire is my friend."
I. THE COLONEL'S HOUSE IN BEDFORD PLACE.
The Street Entrance.
Chad "dishin' the Dinner."
"Gentlemen, a true Southern lady."
II. THE GARDEN SPOT OF VIRGINIA SEEKS AN OUTLET TO THE SEA.
"Chad was groaning under a square wicker basket."
"The little negroes around the door."
III. AN OLD FAMILY SERVANT.
The old Clock Tower.
IV. THE ARRIVAL OF A TRUE SOUTHERN LADY.
V. AN ALLUSION TO A YELLOW DOG.
The Colonel's Office.
The Advance Agent.
The Nervous Man.
VI. CERTAIN IMPORTANT LETTERS.
"Like an ebony Statue of Liberty."
VII. THE OUTCOME OF A COUNCIL OF WAR.
"Down a flight of stone steps."
VIII. A HIGH SENSE OF HONOR.
"Klutchem looked at him in perfect astonishment."
IX. A VISIT OF CEREMONY.
The Colonel's Door.
X. CHAD IN SEARCH OF A COAL-FIELD.
XI. CHAD ON HIS OWN CABIN FLOOR.
Polishing the Parlor Floor.
Some Stray Pickaninnies.
XII. The ENGLISHMAN'S CHECK.
The Colonel's House in Bedford Place
The dinner was at the colonel's—an old-fashioned, partly furnished, two-story house nearly a century old which crouches down behind a larger and more modern dwelling fronting on Bedford Place within a stone's throw of the tall clock tower of Jefferson Market.
The street entrance to this curious abode is marked by a swinging wooden gate opening into a narrow tunnel which dodges under the front house. It is an uncanny sort of passageway, mouldy and wet from a long-neglected leak overhead, and is lighted at night by a rusty lantern with dingy glass sides.
On sunny days this gruesome tunnel frames from the street a delightful picture of a bit of the yard beyond, with the quaint colonial door and its three steps let down in a welcoming way.
Its retired location and shabby entrance brought it quite within the colonel's income, and as the rent was not payable in advance, and the landlord patient, he had surrounded himself not only with all the comforts but with many of the luxuries of a more pretentious home. In this he was assisted by his negro servant Chad,—an abbreviation of Nebuchadnezzar,—who was chambermaid, cook, butler, body-servant, and boots, and who by his marvelous tales of the magnificence of "de old fambly place in Caartersville" had established a credit among the shopkeepers on the avenue which would have been denied a much more solvent customer.
To this hospitable retreat I wended my way in obedience to one of the colonel's characteristic notes:—
No. 51 BEDFORD PLACE Friday.
Everything is booming—Fitz says the scheme will take like the measles—dinner tomorrow at six—don't be late.
The colonel had written several similar notes that week,—I lived but a few streets away,—all on the spur of the moment, and all expressive of his varying moods and wants; the former suggested by his unbounded enthusiasm over his new railroad scheme, and the latter by such requests as these: "Will you lend me half a dozen napkins—mine are all in the wash, and I want enough to carry me over Sunday. Chad will bring, with your permission, the extra pair of andirons you spoke of." Or, "Kindly hand Chad the two magazines and a corkscrew."
Of course Chad always tucked them under his arm, and carried them away, for nobody ever refused the colonel anything—nobody who loved him. As for himself, he would have been equally generous in return, and have emptied his house, and even his pocketbook, in my behalf, had that latter receptacle been capable of further effort. Should this have been temporarily overstrained,—and it generally was,—he would have promptly borrowed the amount of the nearest friend, and then have rubbed his hands and glowed all day with delight at being able to relieve my necessity.
"I am a Virginian, suh. Command me," was his way of putting it.
So to-night I pushed open the swinging door, felt my way along the dark passage, and crossed the small yard choked with snow at the precise minute when the two hands of the great clock in the tall tower pointed to six.
The door was opened by Chad.
"Walk right in, suh; de colonel's in de dinin'-room."
Chad was wrong. The colonel was at that moment finishing his toilet upstairs, in what he was pleased to call his "dressing-room," his cheery voice announcing that fact over the balusters as soon as he heard my own, coupled with the additional information that he would be down in five minutes.
What a cosy charming interior, this dining-room of the colonel's! It had once been two rooms, and two very small ones at that, divided by folding doors. From out the rear one there had opened a smaller room answering to the space occupied by the narrow hall and staircase in front. All the interior partitions and doors dividing these three rooms had been knocked away at some time in its history, leaving an L interior having two windows in front and three in the rear.
Some one of its former occupants, more luxurious than the others, had paneled the walls of this now irregular-shaped apartment with a dark wood running half way to the low ceiling badly smoked and blackened by time, and had built two fireplaces—an open wood fire which laughed at me from behind my own andirons, and an old-fashioned English grate set into the chimney with wide hobs—convenient and necessary for the various brews and mixtures for which the colonel was famous.
Midway, equally warmed by both fires, stood the table, its centre freshened by a great dish of celery white and crisp, with covers for three on a snow-white cloth resplendent in old India blue, while at each end shone a pair of silver coasters,—heirlooms from Carter Hall,—one holding a cut-glass decanter of Madeira, the other awaiting its customary bottle of claret.
On the hearth before the wood fire rested a pile of plates, also Indiablue, and on the mantel over the grate stood a row of bottles adapting themselves, like all good foreigners, to the rigors of our climate. Add a pair of silver candelabra with candles,—the colonel despised gas,—dark red curtains drawn close, three or four easy chairs, a few etchings and sketches loaned from my studio, together with a modest sideboard at the end of the L, and you have the salient features of a room so inviting and restful that you wanted life made up of one long dinner, continually served within its hospitable walls.
But I hear the colonel calling down the back stairs:—
"Not a minute over eighteen, Chad. You ruined those ducks last Sunday."
The next moment he had me by both hands.
"My dear Major, I am pa'alized to think I kep' you waitin'. Just up from my office. Been workin' like a slave, suh. Only five minutes to dress befo' dinner. Have a drop of sherry and a dash of bitters, or shall we wait for Fitzpatrick? No? All right! He should have been here befo' this. You don't know Fitz? Most extraord'nary man; a great mind, suh; literature, science, politics, finance, everything at his fingers' ends. He has been of the greatest service to me since I have been in New York in this railroad enterprise, which I am happy to say is now reachin' a culmination. You shall hear all about it after dinner. Put yo' body in that chair and yo' feet on the fender—my fire and yo' fender! No, Fitz's fender and yo' andirons! Charmin' combination!"
It is always one of my delights to watch the colonel as he busies himself about the room, warming a big chair for his guests, punching the fire, brushing the sparks from the pile of plates, and testing the temperature of the claret lovingly with the palms of his hands.
He is perhaps fifty years of age, tall and slightly built. His iron gray hair is brushed straight back from his forehead, overlapping his collar behind. His eyes are deep-set and twinkling; nose prominent; cheeks slightly sunken; brow wide and high; and chin and jaw strong and marked. His moustache droops over a firm, well-cut mouth and unites at its ends with a gray goatee which rests on his shirt front.
Like most Southerners living away from great cities his voice is soft and low, and tempered with a cadence that is delicious.
He wears a black broadcloth coat,—a double-breasted garment,—with similar colored waistcoat and trousers, a turn-down collar, a shirt of many plaits which is under-starched and over-wrinkled but always clean, large cuffs very much frayed, a narrow black or white tie, and low shoes with white cotton stockings.
This black broadcloth coat, by the way, is quite the most interesting feature of the colonel's costume. So many changes are constantly made in its general make-up that you never quite believe it is the same ill-buttoned, shiny garment until you become familiar with its possibilities.
When the colonel has a funeral or other serious matter on his mind, this coat is buttoned close up under his chin showing only the upper edge of his white collar, his gaunt throat and the stray end of a black cravat. When he is invited to dinner he buttons it lower down, revealing as well a bit of his plaited shirt, and when it is a wedding this old stand-by is thrown wide open discovering a stiff, starched, white waistcoat with ivory buttons and snowy neck-cloth.
These several make-ups used once to surprise me, and I often found myself insisting that the looseness and grace with which this garment flapped about the colonel's thin legs was only possible in a brand-new coat having all the spring and lightness of youth in its seams. I was always mistaken. I had only to look at the mis-mated buttons and the raveled edge of the lining fringing the tails. It was the same coat.
The colonel wore to-night the lower-button style with the white tie. It was indeed the adjustment of this necessary article which had consumed the five minutes passed in his dressing-room, slightly lengthened by the time necessary to trim his cuffs—a little nicety which he rarely overlooked and which it mortified him to forget.
What a frank, generous, tender-hearted fellow he is: happy as a boy; hospitable to the verge of beggary; enthusiastic as he is visionary; simple as he is genuine. A Virginian of good birth, fair education, and limited knowledge of the world and of men, proud of his ancestry, proud of his State, and proud of himself; believing in states' rights, slavery, and the Confederacy; and away down in the bottom of his soul still clinging to the belief that the poor white trash of the earth includes about everybody outside of Fairfax County.
With these antecedents it is easy to see that his "reconstruction" is as hopeless as that of the famous Greek frieze, outwardly whole andyet always a patchwork. So he chafes continually under what he believes to be the tyranny and despotism of an undefined autocracy, which, in a general way, he calls "the Government," but which really refers to the distribution of certain local offices in his own immediate vicinity.
When he hands you his card it bears this unabridged inscription:—
Colonel George Fairfax Carter, of Carter Hall, Cartersville, Virginia.
He omits "United States of America," simply because it would add nothing to his identity or his dignity.
* * * * *
"There's Fitz," said the colonel as a sharp double knock sounded at the outer gate; and the next instant a stout, thick-set, round-faced man of forty, with merry, bead-like eyes protected by big-bowed spectacles, pushed open the door, and peered in good-humoredly.
The colonel sprang forward and seized him by both shoulders.
"What the devil do you mean, Fitz, by comin' ten minutes late? Don't you know, suh, that the burnin' of a canvasback is a crime?
"Stuck in the snow? Well, I'll forgive you this once, but Chad won't. Give me yo' coat—bless me! it is as wet as a setter dog. Now put yo' belated carcass into this chair which I have been warmin' for you, right next to my dearest old friend, the Major. Major, Fitz!—Fitz, the Major! Take hold of each other. Does my heart good to get you both together. Have you brought a copy of the prospectus of our railroad? You know I want the Major in with us on the groun' flo'. But after dinner—not a word befo'."
This railroad was the colonel's only hope for the impoverished acres of Carter Hall, but lately saved from foreclosure by the generosity of his aunt, Miss Nancy Carter, who had redeemed it with almost all her savings, the house and half of the outlying lands being, thereupon, deeded to her. The other half reverted to the colonel.
I explained to Fitz immediately after his hearty greeting that I was a humble landscape painter, and not a major at all, having not the remotest connection with any military organization whatever; but that the colonel always insisted upon surrounding himself with a staff, and that my promotion was in conformity with this habit.
The colonel laughed, seized the poker, and rapped three times on the floor. A voice from the kitchen rumbled up:—
It was Chad "dishin' the dinner" below, his explanations increasing in distinctness as he pushed the rear door open with his foot,—both hands being occupied with the soup tureen which he bore aloft and placed at the head of the table.
In a moment more he retired to the outer hall and reappeared brilliant in white jacket and apron. Then he ranged himself behind the colonel's chair and with great dignity announced that dinner was served.
"Come, Major! Fitz, sit where you can warm yo' back—you are not thawed out yet. One minute, gentlemen,—an old custom of my ancestors which I never omit."
The blessing was asked with becoming reverence; there was a slight pause, and then the colonel lifted the cover of the tureen and sent a savory cloud of incense to the ceiling.
The soup was a cream of something with baby crabs. There was also a fish,—boiled,—with slices of hard boiled eggs fringing the dish, ovaled by a hedge of parsley and supplemented by a pyramid of potatoes with their jackets ragged as tramps. Then a ham, brown and crisp, and bristling all over with cloves.
Then the ducks!
It was beautiful to see the colonel's face when Chad, with a bow like a folding jack-knife, held this dish before him.
"Lay 'em here, Chad—right under my nose. Now hand me that pile of plates sizzlin' hot, and give that carvin' knife a turn or two across the hearth. Major, dip a bit of celery in the salt and follow it with a mou'ful of claret. It will prepare yo' palate for the kind of food we raise gentlemen on down my way. See that red blood, suh, followin' the knife!"
"Suit you, marsa?" Chad never forgot his slave days. "To a turn, Chad,—I wouldn't take a thousand dollars for you," replied the colonel, relapsing as unconsciously into an old habit.
It was not to be wondered at that the colonel loved a good dinner. To dine well was with him an inherited instinct; one of the necessary preliminaries to all the important duties in life. To share with you his last crust was a part of his religion; to eat alone, a crime.
"There, Major," said the colonel as Chad laid the smoking plate before me, "is the breast of a bird that fo' days ago was divin' for wild celery within fo'ty miles of Caarter Hall. My dear old aunt Nancy sends me a pair every week, bless her sweet soul! Fill yo' glasses and let us drink to her health and happiness." Here the colonel rose from his chair: "Gentlemen, the best thing on this earth—a true Southern lady!
"Now, Chad, the red pepper."
"No jelly, Colonel?" said Fitz, with an eye on the sideboard.
"Jelly? No, suh; not a suspicion of it. A pinch of salt, a dust ofcayenne, then shut yo' eyes and mouth, and don't open them 'cept for a drop of good red wine. It is the salt marsh in the early mornin' that you are tastin', suh,—not molasses candy. You Nawtherners don't really treat a canvasback with any degree of respect. You ought never to come into his presence when he lies in state without takin' off yo' hats. That may be one reason why he skips over the Nawthern States when he takes his annual fall outin'." And he laughed heartily.
"But you use it on venison?" argued Fitz.
"Venison is diff'ent, suh. That game lives on moose buds, the soft inner bark of the sugar maple, and the tufts of sweet grass. There is a propriety and justice in his endin' his days smothered in sweets; but the wild duck, suh, is bawn of the salt ice, braves the storm, and lives a life of peyil and hardship. You don't degrade a' oyster, a soft shell crab, or a clam with confectionery; why a canvasback duck?
"Now, Chad, serve coffee."
The colonel pushed back his chair, and opened a drawer in a table on his right, producing three small clay pipes with reed stems and a buckskin bag of tobacco. This he poured out on a plate, breaking the coarser grains with the palms of his hands, and filling the pipes with the greatest care.
Fitz watched him curiously, and when he reached for the third pipe, said:—
"No, Colonel, none for me; smoke a cigar—got a pocketful."
"Smoke yo' own cigars, will you, and in the presence of a Virginian? I don't believe you have got a drop of Irish blood left in yo' veins, or you would take this pipe."
"Too strong for me," remonstrated Fitz.
"Throw that villainous device away, I say, Fitz, and surprise yo' nostrils with a whiff of this. Virginia tobacco, suh,—raised at Cartersville,—cured by my own servants. No? Well, you will, Major. Here, try that; every breath of it is a nosegay," said the colonel, turning to me.
"But, Colonel," continued Fitz, with a sly twinkle in his eye, "your tobacco pays no tax. With a debt like ours it is the duty of every good citizen to pay his share of it. Half the cost of this cigar goes to the Government."
It was a red flag to the colonel, and he laid down his pipe and faced Fitz squarely.
"Tax! On our own productions, suh! Raised on our own land! Are you again forgettin' that you are an Irishman and becomin' one of these money-makin' Yankees? Haven't we suffe'd enough—robbed of our property, our lands confiscated, our slaves torn from us; nothin' left but our honor and the shoes we stand in!"
The colonel on cross-examination could not locate any particular wholesale robbery, but it did not check the flow of his indignation.
"Take, for instance, the town of Caartersville: look at that peaceful village which for mo' than a hundred years has enjoyed the privileges of free government; and not only Caartersville, but all our section of the State."
"Well, what's the matter with Cartersville?" asked Fitz, lighting his cigar.
"Mattah, suh! Just look at the degradation it fell into hardly ten years ago. A Yankee jedge jurisdictin' our laws, a Yankee sheriff enfo'cin' 'em, and a Yankee postmaster distributin' letters and sellin' postage stamps."
"But they were elected all right, Colonel, and represented the will of the people."
"What people? Yo' people, not mine. No, my dear Fitz; the Administration succeeding the war treated us shamefully, and will go down to postehity as infamous."
The colonel here left his chair and began pacing the floor, his indignation rising at every step.
"To give you an idea, suh," he continued, "of what we Southern people suffe'd immediately after the fall of the Confederacy, let me state a case that came under my own observation.
"Colonel Temple Talcott of F'okeer County, Virginia, came into Talcottville one mornin', suh,—a town settled by his ancestors,—ridin' upon his horse—or rather a mule belongin' to his overseer. Colonel Talcott, suh, belonged to one of the vehy fust families in Virginia. He was a son of Jedge Thaxton Talcott, and grandson of General Snowden Stafford Talcott of the Revolutionary War. Now, suh, let me tell you right here that the Talcott blood is as blue as the sky, and that every gentleman bearin' the name is known all over the county as a man whose honor is dearer to him than his life, and whose word is as good as his bond. Well, suh, on this mornin' Colonel Talcott left his plantation in charge of his overseer,—he was workin' it on shares,—and rode through his estates to his ancestral town, some five miles distant. It is true, suh, these estates were no longer in his name, but that had no bearin' on the events that followed; he ought to have owned them, and would have done so but for some vehy ungentlemanly fo'closure proceedin's which occurred immediately after the war.
"On arriving at Talcottville the colonel dismounted, handed the reins to his servant,—or perhaps one of the niggers around the do',—and entered the post-office. Now, suh, let me tell you that one month befo', the Government, contrary to the express wishes of a great many of our leadin' citizens, had sent a Yankee postmaster to Talcottville to administer the postal affairs of that town. No sooner had this man taken possession than he began to be exclusive, suh, and to put on airs. The vehy fust air he put on was to build a fence in his office and compel our people to transact their business through a hole. This in itself was vehy gallin', suh, for up to that time the mail had always been dumped out on the table in the stage office and every gentleman had he'ped himself. The next thing was the closin' of his mail bags at a' hour fixed by himself. This became a great inconvenience to our citizens, who were often late in finishin' their correspondence, and who had always found our former postmaster willin' either to hold the bag over until the next day, or to send it across to Drummondtown by a boy to catch a later train.
"Well, suh, Colonel Talcott's mission to the post-office was to mail a letter to his factor in Richmond, Virginia, on business of the utmost importance to himself,—namely, the raisin' of a small loan upon his share of the crop. Not the crop that was planted, suh, but the crop that he expected to plant. "Colonel Talcott approached the hole, and with that Chesterfieldian manner which has distinguished the Talcotts for mo' than two centuries asked the postmaster for the loan of a three-cent postage stamp.
"To his astonishment, suh, he was refused.
"Think of a Talcott in his own county town bein' refused a three-cent postage stamp by a low-lived Yankee, who had never known a gentleman in his life! The colonel's first impulse was to haul the scoundrel through the hole and caarve him; but then he remembered that he was a Talcott and could not demean himself, and drawin' himself up again with that manner which was grace itself he requested the loan of a three-cent postage stamp until he should communicate with his factor in Richmond, Virginia; and again he was refused. Well, suh, what was there left for a high-toned Southern gentleman to do? Colonel Talcott drew his revolver and shot that Yankee scoundrel through the heart, and killed him on the spot.
"And now, suh, comes the most remarkable part of this story. If it had not been for Major Tom Yancey, Jedge Kerfoot, and myself there would have been a lawsuit."
Fitz lay back in his chair and roared.
"And they did not hang the colonel?"
"Hang a Talcott! No, suh; we don't hang gentlemen down our way. Jedge Kerfoot vehy properly charged the coroner's jury that it was a matter of self-defense, and Colonel Talcott was not detained mo' than haalf an hour."
The colonel stopped, unlocked a closet in the sideboard, and produced a black bottle labeled in ink, "Old Cherry Bounce, 1848."
"You must excuse me, gentlemen, but the discussion of these topics has quite unnerved me. Allow me to share with you a thimbleful." Fitz drained his glass, cast his eyes upward, and said solemnly, "To the repose of the postmaster's soul."
The Garden Spot of Virginia seeks an Outlet to the Sea
Chad was just entering the small gate which shut off the underground passage when I arrived opposite the colonel's cozy quarters. I had come to listen to the details of that booming enterprise with the epidemic proclivities, the discussion of which had been cut short by the length of time it had taken to kill the postmaster the night before.
It was quite evident that the colonel expected guests, for Chad was groaning under a square wicker basket, containing, among other luxuries and necessities, half a dozen bottles of claret, a segment of cheese, and some heads of lettuce; the whole surmounted by a clean leather-covered pass-book inscribed with the name and avenue number of the confiding and accommodating grocer who supplied the colonel's daily wants.
"De colonel an' Misser Fizpat'ic bofe waitin' for you, sah," said that obsequious darky, preceding me through the dark passage. I followed, mounted the old-fashioned wooden steps, and fell into the outstretched arms of the colonel before I could touch the knocker.
"Here he is, Fitz!" and the next instant I was sharing with that genial gentleman the warmth of the colonel's fire.
"Now then, Chad," called out the colonel, "take this lettuce and give it a dip in the snow for five minutes; and here, Chad, befo' you go hand me that claret. Bless my soul! it is as cold as a dog's nose; Fitz, set it on the mantel. And hurry down to that mutton, Chad. Never mind the basket. Leave it where it is."
Chad chuckled out to me as he closed the door: "'Spec' I know mo' 'bout dat saddle den de colonel. It ain't a-burnin' none." And the colonel, satisfied now that Chad's hand had reached the oven door below, made a vigorous attack on the blazing logs with the tongs, and sent a flight of sparks scurrying up the chimney.
There was always a glow and breeze and sparkle about the colonel's fire that I found nowhere else. It partook to a certain extent of his personality—open, bright, and with a great draft of enthusiasm always rushing up a chimney of difficulties, buoyed up with the hope of the broad clear of the heaven of success above.
"My fire," he once said to me, "is my friend; and sometimes, my dear boy, when you are all away and Chad is out, it seems my only friend. After it talks to me for hours we both get sleepy together, and I cover it up with its gray blanket of ashes and then go to bed myself. Ah, Major! when you are gettin' old and have no wife to love you and no children to make yo' heart glad, a wood fire full of honest old logs, every one of which is doing its best to please you, is a great comfort."
"Draw closer, Major; vehy cold night, gentlemen. We do not have any such weather in my State. Fitz, have you thawed out yet?"
Fitz looked up from a pile of documents spread out on his lap, his round face aglow with the firelight, and compared himself to half a slice of toast well browned on both sides.
"I am glad of it. I was worried about you when you came in. You were chilled through."
Then turning to me: "Fact is, Fitz is a little overworked. Enormous strain, suh, on a man solving the vast commercial problems that he is called upon to do every day."
After which outburst the colonel crossed the room and finished unpacking the basket, placing the cheese in one of the empty plates on the table, and the various other commodities on the sideboard. When he reached the pass-book he straightened himself up, held it off admiringly, turned the leaves slowly, his face lighting up at the goodly number of clean pages still between its covers, and said thoughtfully:—
"Very beautiful custom, this pass-book system, gentlemen, and quite new to me. One of the most co'teous attentions I have received since I have taken up my residence Nawth. See how simple it is. I send my servant to the sto' for my supplies. He returns in haalf an hour with everything I need, and brings back this book which I keep,—remember, gentlemen, which I keep,—a mark of confidence which in this degen'rate age is refreshin'. No vulgar bargaining suh; no disagreeable remarks about any former unsettled account. It certainly is delightful." "When are the accounts under this system generally paid, Colonel," asked Fitz.
With the exception of a slight tremor around the corners of his mouth Fitz's face expressed nothing but the idlest interest.
"I have never inquired, suh, and would not hurt the gentleman's feelin's by doin' so for the world," he replied with dignity. "I presume, when the book is full."
Whatever might have been Fitz's mental workings, there was no mistaking the colonel's. He believed every word he said.
"What a dear old trump the colonel is," said Fitz, turning to me, his face wrinkling all over with suppressed laughter.
All this time Chad was passing in and out, bearing dishes and viands, and when all was ready and the table candles were lighted, he announced that fact softly to his master and took his customary place behind his chair.
The colonel was as delightful as ever, his talk ranging from politics and family blood to possum hunts and modern literature, while the mutton and its accessories did full credit to Chad's culinary skill.
In fact the head of the colonel's table was his throne. Nowhere else was he so charming, and nowhere else did the many sides to his delightful nature give out such varied hues.
Fitz, practical business man as he was, would listen to his many schemes by the hour, charmed into silence and attentive appreciation by the sublime faith that sustained his host, and the perfect honesty and sincerity underlying everything he did. But it was not until the cheese had completely lost its geometrical form, the coffee served, and the pipes lighted, that the subject which of all others absorbed him was broached. Indeed, it was a rule of the colonel's, never infringed upon, that, no matter how urgent the business, the dinner-hour was to be kept sacred.
"Salt yo' food, suh, with humor," he would say. "Season it with wit, and sprinkle it all over with the charm of good-fellowship, but never poison it with the cares of yo' life. It is an insult to yo' digestion, besides bein', suh, a mark of bad breedin'."
"Now, Major," began the colonel, turning to me, loosening the string around a package of papers, and spreading them out like a game of solitaire, "draw yo' chair closer. Fitz, hand me the map."
A diligent search revealed the fact that the map had been left at the office, and so the colonel proceeded without it, appealing now and then to Fitz, who leaned over his chair, his arm on the table.
"Befo' I touch upon the financial part of this enterprise, Major, let me show you where this road runs," said the colonel, reaching for the casters. "I am sorry I haven't the map, but we can get along very well with this;" and he unloaded the cruets.
"This mustard-pot, here, is Caartersville, the startin'-point of our system. This town, suh, has now a population of mo' than fo' thousand people; in five years it will have fo'ty thousand. From this point the line follows the bank of the Big Tench River—marked by this caarvin'-knife—to this salt-cellar, where it crosses its waters by an iron bridge of two spans, each of two hundred and fifty feet. Then, suh, it takes a sharp bend to the southard and stops at my estate, the roadbed skirtin' within a convenient distance of Caarter Hall.
"Please move yo' arm, Fitz. I haven't room enough to lay out the city of Fairfax. Thank you.
"Just here," continued the colonel, utilizing the remains of the cheese, "is to be the future city of Fairfax, named after my ancestor, suh, General Thomas Wilmot Fairfax of Somerset, England, who settled here in 1680. From here we take a course due nawth, stopping at Talcottville eight miles, and thence nawthwesterly to Warrentown and the broad Atlantic; in all fifty miles."
"Any connecting road at Warrentown?" I asked.
"No, suh, nor anywhere else along the line. It is absolutely virgin country, and this is one of the strong points of the scheme, for there can be no competition;" and the colonel leaned back in his chair, and looked at me with the air of a man who had just informed me of a legacy of half a million of dollars and was watching the effect of the news.
I preserved my gravity, and followed the imaginary line with my eye, bounding from the mustard-pot along the carving-knife to the salt-cellar and back in a loop to the cheese, and then asked if the Big Tench could not be crossed higher up, and if so why was it necessary to build twelve additional miles of road.
"To reach Carter Hall," said Fitz quietly.
"Any advantage?" I asked in perfect good faith.
The colonel was on his feet in a moment.
"Any advantage? Major, I am surprised at you! A place settled mo' than one hundred years ago, belongin' to one of the vehy fust fam'lies of Virginia, not to be of any advantage to a new enterprise like this! Why, suh, it will give an air of respectability to the whole thing that nothin' else could ever do. Leave out Caarter Hall, suh, and you pa'alize the whole scheme. Am I not right, Fitz?"
"Unquestionably, Colonel. It is really all the life it has," replied Fitz, solemn as a graven image, blowing a cloud of smoke through his nose.
"And then, suh," continued the colonel with increasing enthusiasm, oblivious to the point of Fitz's remark, "see the improvements. Right here to the eastward of this cheese we shall build a round-house marked by this napkin-ring, which will accommodate twelve locomotives, construct extensive shops for repairs, and erect large foundries and caar-shops. Altogether, suh, we shall expend at this point mo' than— mo' than—one million of dollars;" and the colonel threw back his head and gazed at the ceiling, his lips computing imaginary sums.
"Befo' these improvements are complete it will be necessary, of course, to take care of the enormous crowds that will flock in for a restin'-place. So to the left of this napkin-ring, on a slightly risin' ground,—just here where I raise the cloth,—is where the homes of the people will be erected. I have the refusal"—here the colonel lowered his voice—"of two thousand acres of the best private-residence land in the county, contiguous to this very spot, which I can buy for fo' dollars an acre. It is worth fo' dollars a square foot if it is worth a penny. But, suh, it would be little short of highway rob'ry to take this property at that figger, and I shall arrange with Fitz to include in his prospectus the payment of one hundred dollars an acre for this land, payable either in the common stock of our road or in the notes of the company, as the owners may elect."
"But, Colonel," said I, with a sincere desire to get at the facts, "where is the Golconda—the gold mine? Where do I come in?"
"Patience, my dear Major; I am coming to that.
"Fitz, read that prospectus."
"I have," said Fitz, turning to the colonel, "somewhat modified your rough draft, to meet the requirements of our market; but not materially. Of course I cannot commit myself to any fixed earning capacity until I go over the ground, which we will do together shortly. But"—raising the candle to the level of his nose—"this is as near as I can come to your ideas with any hopes of putting the loan through here. I have, as you will see, left the title of the bond as you wished, although the issue is a novel one to our Exchange." Then turning to me: "This of course is only a preliminary announcement."
THE CARTERSVILLE AND WARRENTOWN AIR LINE RAILROAD.
THE GARDEN SPOT OF VIRGINIA SEEKS AN OUTLET TO THE SEA.
CAPITAL ONE MILLION OF DOLLARS, DIVIDED INTO
50,000 Founders' shares at .... $1000. each 5,000 Ordinary " " .... 100.00 "
BONDED DEBT FOR PURPOSES OF CONSTRUCTION ONLY.
ONE MILLION OF DOLLARS IN 1,000 FIRST MORTGAGE BONDS OF $1000.00 EACH.
FULL PROTECTION GUARANTEED.
The undersigned, Messrs. . . . . offer for sale $500,000.00 of the 6% Deferred Debenture Bonds of the C.& W. Air Line Railroad at par and accrued interest, together with a limited amount of the ordinary shares at 50%.
Subscription books close. . . . . Promoters reserve the right to advance prices without further notice.
"There, Major, is a prospectus that caarries conviction on its vehy face," said the colonel, reaching for the document.
I complimented the eminent financier on his skill, and was about to ask him what it all meant, when the colonel, who had been studying it carefully, broke in with:—
"Fitz, there is one thing you left out."
"Yes, I know, the name of the banker; I haven't found him yet."
"No, Fitz; but the words, 'Subscriptions opened Simultaneously in New York, London, Richmond,' and"—
"Cartersville?" suggested Fitz.
"Any money in Cartersville?"
"No, suh, not much; but we can subscribe, can't we? The name and influence of our leadin' citizens would give tone and dignity to any subscription list. Think of this, suh!" and the colonel traced imaginary inscriptions on the back of Fitz's prospectus with his forefinger, voicing them as he went on:—
The Hon. JOHN PAGE LOWNES, Member of the State Legislature.. 1,000 shares The Hon. I.B. KERFOOT, Jedge of the District Court of Fairfax County....... 1,000 shares Major THOMAS C. YANCEY, Late of the Confederate Army... 500 shares
"These gentlemen are my friends, suh, and would do anythin' to oblige me."
Fitz sharpened a lead pencil and without a word inserted the desired amendment.
The colonel studied the document for another brief moment and struck another snag.
"And, Fitz, what do you mean, by 'full protection guaranteed'?"
"To the bondholder, of course,—the man who pays the money."
"What kind of protection?"
"Why, the right to foreclose the mortgage when the interest is not paid, of course," said Fitz, with a surprised look.
"Put yo' pencil through that line, quick—none of that for me. This fo'closure business has ruined haalf the gentlemen in our county, suh. But for that foolishness two thirds of our fust families would still be livin' in their homes. No, suh, strike it out!"
"But, my dear Colonel, without that protecting clause you couldn't get a banker to touch your bonds with a pair of tongs. What recourse have they?"
"What reco'se? Reorganization, suh! A boilin'-down process which will make the stock—which we practically give away at fifty cents on the dollar—twice as valuable. I appreciate, my dear Fitz, the effo'ts which you are makin' to dispose of these secu'ities, but you must remember that this plan is mine.
"Now Major," locking his arm in mine, "listen; for I want you both to understand exactly the way in which I propose to forward this enterprise. Chad, bring me three wine-glasses and put that Madeira on the table—don't disturb that railroad!—so.
"My idea, gentlemen," continued the colonel, filling the glasses himself, "is to start this scheme honestly in the beginnin', and avoid all dissatisfaction on the part of these vehy bondholders thereafter.
"Now, suh, in my experience I have always discovered that a vehy general dissatisfaction is sure to manifest itself if the coupons on secu'ities of this class are not paid when they become due. As a gen'ral rule this interest money is never earned for the fust two years, and the money to pay it with is inva'ably stolen from the principal. All this dishonesty I avoid, suh, by the issue of my Deferred Debenture Bonds."
"How?" I asked, seeing the colonel pause for a reply.
"By cuttin' off the fust fo' coupons. Then everybody knows exactly where they stand. They don't expect anythin' and they never get it."
Fitz gave one of his characteristic roars and asked if the fifth would ever be paid.
"I can't at this moment answer, but we hope it will."
"It is immaterial," said Fitz, wiping his eyes. "This class of purchasers are all speculators, and like excitement. The very uncertainty as to this fifth coupon gives interest to the investment, if not to the investor."
"None of yo' Irish impudence, suh. No, gentlemen, the plan is not only fair, but reasonable. Two years is not a long period of time in which to foster a great enterprise like the C.& W.A.L.R.R., and it is for this purpose that I issue the Deferred Debentures. Deferred—put off; Debenture—owed. What we owe we put off. Simple, easily understood, and honest.
"Now, suh," turning to Fitz, "if after this frank statement any graspin' banker seeks to trammel this enterprise by any fo'closure clauses, he sha'n't have a bond, suh. I'll take them all myself fust."
Fitz agreed to the striking out of all such harassing clauses, and the colonel continued his inspection.
"One mo' and I am done, Fitz. What do you mean by Founders' shares?" "Shares for the promoters and the first subscribers. They cost one tenth of the ordinary shares and draw five times as much dividend. It is quite a popular form of investment. They, of course, are not sold until all the bonds are disposed of."
"How many of these Founders' shares are there?"
"Fifty thousand at ten dollars each."
The colonel paused a moment and communed inwardly with himself.
"Put me down for twenty-five thousand, Fitz. Part cash, and the balance in such po'tion of my estate as will be required for the purposes of the road."
The colonel did not specify the proportions, but Fitz made a pencil memorandum on the margin of the prospectus with the same sort of respectful silence he would have shown the Rothschilds in a similar transaction, while the colonel refilled his glass and held it between his nose and the candle.
"And now, Major, what shall we reserve for you?" said he, laying his hand on my shoulder. Before I could reply Fitz raised his finger, looked at me significantly over the rims of his spectacles, and said:—
"With your permission, Colonel, the Major and I will divide the remaining twenty-five thousand between ourselves."
Then seeing my startled look, "I will give you ample notice, Major, before the first partial payment is called in."
"You overwhelm me, gentlemen," said the colonel, rising from his seat and seizing us by the hands. "It has been the dream of my life to have you both with me in this enterprise, but I had no idea it would be realized so soon. Fill yo' glasses and join me in a sentiment that is dear to me as my life,—'The Garden Spot of Virginia in search of an Outlet to the Sea.'"
Nothing could have been more exhilarating than the colonel's manner after this. His enthusiasm became so contagious that I began to feel something like a millionaire myself, and to wonder whether this were not the opportunity of my life. Fitz was so far affected that he recanted to a certain extent his disbelief in the omission of the foreclosure clause, and even expressed himself as being hopeful of getting around it in some way.
As for the colonel, the railroad was to him already a fixed fact. He could really shut his eyes at any time and hear the whistle of the down train nearing the bridge over the Tench. Such trifling details as the finding of a banker who would attempt to negotiate the loan, the subsequent selling of the securities, and the minor items of right of way, construction, etc., were matters so light and trivial as not to cause him a moment's uneasiness. Cartersville was to him the centre of the earth, hampered and held back by lack of proper connections with the outlying portions of the universe. What mattered the rest?
"Make a memorandum, Fitz, to have me send for a bridge engineer fust thing after I get to my office in the mornin'. There will be some difficulty in gettin' a proper foundation for the centre-pier of that bridge, and some one should be sent at once to make a survey. We can't be delayed at this point a day. And, Fitz, while I think of it, there should be a wagon bridge at or near this iron structure, and the timber might as well be gotten out now. It will facilitate haulin' supplies into Fairfax city."
Fitz thought so too, and made a second memorandum to that effect, recording the suggestion very much as a private secretary would an order from his railroad magnate.
The colonel gave this last order with coat thrown open,—thumbs in his vest,—back to the fire,—an attitude never indulged in except on rare occasions, and then only when the very weight of the problem necessitated a corresponding bracing up, and more breathing room.
These attitudes, by the way, were very suggestive of the colonel's varying moods. Sometimes, when he came home, tired out with the hard pavements of the city, so different from the soft earth of his native roads, I would find him bunched up in his chair in the twilight; face in hands, elbows on knees, crooning over the fire, the silver streaks in his hair glistening in the flickering firelight, building castles in the glowing coals,—the old manor house restored and the barns rebuilt, the gates rehung, the old quarters repaired, the little negroes again around the doors; and he once more catching the sound of the yellow-painted coach on the gravel, with Chad helping the dear old aunt down the porch steps. This, deep down in the bottom of his soul, was really the dream and purpose of his life.
It never seemed nearer of realization than now. The very thought suffused his whole being with a suppressed joy, visible in his face even when he began loosening the two lower buttons of his old threadbare coat, throwing back the lapels and slowly extending his fingers fan-like over his dilating chest.
I always knew what suddenly sweetened his smile from one of triumphant pride to one of tenderness.
"And the old home, Fitz, something must be done there; we must receive our friends properly."
Fitz agreed to everything, offering an amendment here, and a suggestion there, until our host's enthusiasm reached fever heat.
It was nearly midnight before the colonel had confided to Fitz all the pressing necessities of the coming day. Even then he followed us both to the door, with parting instructions to Fitz, saying over and over again that it had been the happiest night of his life. And he would have gone bare-headed to the outer gate had not Chad caught him half way down the steps, thrown a coat over his head and shoulders, and gently led him back with:—
"'Clar to goodness, Marsa George, what kind foolishness dis yer? Is you tryin' to ketch yo' death?"
Once on the outside and the gate shut, Fitz's whole manner changed. He became suddenly thoughtful, and did not speak until we reached the tall clock tower with its full moon of a face shining high up against the black winter night.
Then he stood still, looked out over the white street, dotted here and there with belated wayfarers trudging home through the snow, and said with a tremor in his voice which startled me:—
"I couldn't raise a dollar in a lunatic asylum full of millionaires on a scheme like the colonel's, and yet I keep on lying to the dear old fellow day after day, hoping that something will turn up by which I can help him out."
"Then tell him so."
Fitz laid his hand on my shoulder, looked me straight in the face, and said:—
"I cannot. It would break his heart."
An Old Family Servant
The colonel's front yard, while as quaint and old-fashioned as his house, was not—if I may be allowed—quite so well bred.
This came partly from the outdoor life it had always led and from its close association with other yards that had lost all semblance of respectability, and partly from the fact that it had never felt the refining influences of the friends of the house; for nobody ever lingered in the front yard who by any possibility could get into the front door—nobody, except perhaps now and then a stray tramp, who felt at home at once and went to sleep on the steps.
That all this told upon its character and appearance was shown in the remnants of whitewash on the high wall, scaling off in discolored patches; in the stagger of the tall fence opposite, drooping like a drunkard between two policemen of posts; and in the unkempt, bulging rear of the third wall,—the front house,—stuffed with rags and tied up with clothes-lines.
If in the purity of its youth it had ever seen better days as a garden—but then no possible stretch of imagination, however brilliant, could ever convert this miserable quadrangle into a garden.
It contained, of course, as all such yards do, one lone plant,—this time a honeysuckle,—which had clambered over the front door and there rested as if content to stay; but which later on, frightened at the surroundings, had with one great spring cleared the slippery wall between, reached the rain-spout above, and by its helping arm had thus escaped to the roof and the sunlight.
It is also true that high up on this same wall there still clung the remains of a criss-cross wooden trellis supporting the shivering branches of an old vine, which had spent its whole life trying to grow high enough to look over the tall fence into the yard beyond; but this was so long ago that not even the landlord remembered the color of its blossoms.
Then there was an old-fashioned hydrant, with a half-spiral crank of a handle on its top and the curved end of a lead pipe always aleak thrust through its rotten side, with its little statues of ice all winter and its spattering slop all summer. Besides all this there were some broken flower-pots in a heap in one corner,—suicides from the window-sills above,—and some sagging clothes-lines, and a battered watering-pot, and a box or two that might once have held flowers; and yet with all this circumstantial evidence against me I cannot conscientiously believe that this forlorn courtyard ever could have risen to the dignity of a garden.
But of course nothing of all this can be seen at night. At night one sees only the tall clock tower of Jefferson Market with its one blazing eye glaring high up over the fence, the little lantern hung in the tunnel, and the glow through the curtains shading the old-fashioned windows of the house itself, telling of warmth and comfort within.
To-night when I pushed open the swinging door—the door of the tunnel entering from the street—the lantern was gone, and in its stead there was only the glimmer of a mysterious light moving about the yard,—a light that fell now on the bare wall, now on the front steps, making threads of gold of the twisted iron railings, then on the posts of the leaning fence, against which hung three feathery objects,—grotesque and curious in the changing shadows,—and again on some barrels and boxes surrounded by loose straw.
Following this light, in fact, guiding it, was a noiseless, crouching figure peering under the open steps, groping around the front door, creeping beneath the windows; moving uneasily with a burglar-like tread.
I grasped my umbrella, advanced to the edge of the tunnel, and called out:—
The figure stopped, straightened up, held a lantern high over its head, and peered into the darkness.
There was no mistaking that face.
"Oh, that's you, Chad, is it? What the devil are you doing?" "Lookin' for one ob dese yer tar'pins Miss Nancy sent de colonel. Dey was seben ob 'em in dis box, an' now dey ain't but six. Hole dis light, Major, an' lemme fumble round dis rain-spout."
Chad handed me the lantern, fell on his knees, and began crawling around the small yard like an old dog hunting for a possum, feeling in among the roots of the honeysuckle, between the barrels that had brought the colonel's china from Carter Hall, under the steps, way back where Chad kept his wood ashes—but no "brer tar'pin."
"Well, if dat don't beat de lan'! Dey was two ba'els—one had dat wild turkey an' de pair o' geese you see hangin' on de fence dar, an' de udder ba'el I jest ca'aed down de cellar full er oishters. De tar'pins was in dis box—seben ob 'em. Spec' dat rapscallion crawled ober de fence?" And Chad picked up the basket with the remaining half dozen, and descended the basement steps on his way through the kitchen to the front door above. Before he reached the bottom step I heard him break out with:—
"Oh, yer you is, you black debbil! Tryin' to git in de door, is ye? De pot is whar you'll git!"
At the foot of the short steps, flat on his back, head and legs wriggling like an overturned roach, lay the missing terrapin. It had crawled to the edge of the opening and had fallen down in the darkness.
Chad picked him up and kept on grumbling, shaking his finger at the motionless terrapin, whose head and legs were now tight drawn between its shells.
"Gre't mine to squash ye! Wearin' out my old knees lookin' for ye. Nebber mine, I'm gwine to bile ye fust an' de longest—hear dat?—de longest!" Then looking up at me, "I got him, Major—try dat do'. Spec' it's open. Colonel ain't yer yit. Reckon some ob dem moonshiners is keepin' him down town. 'Fo' I forgit it, dar's a letter for ye hangin' to de mantelpiece."
The door and the letter were both open, the latter being half a sheet of paper impaled by a pin, which alone saved it from the roaring fire that Chad had just replenished.
I held it to the light and learned, to my disappointment, that business of enormous importance to the C. & W. A. L. R. R. might preclude the possibility of the colonel's leaving his office until late. If such a calamity overtook him, would I forgive him and take possession of his house and cellar and make myself as comfortable as I could with my best friend away? This postscript followed:—
"Open the new Madeira; Chad has the key."
Chad wreaked his vengeance upon the absconding terrapin by plunging him, with all his sins upon him, headlong into the boiling pot, and half an hour later was engaged at a side table in removing, with the help of an iron fork, the upper shell of the steaming vagabond, for my special comfort and sustenance.
"Tar'pin jes like a crab, Major, on'y got mo' meat to 'em. But you got to know 'em fust to eat 'em. Now dis yer shell is de hot plate, an' ye do all yo' eatin' right inside it," said Chad, dropping a spoonful of butter, the juice of a lemon, and a pinch of salt into the impromptu dish.
"Now, Major, take yo' fork an' pick out all dat black meat an' dip it in de sauce, an' wid ebery mou'ful take one o' dem little yaller eggs. Dat's de way we eat tar'pin. Dis yer stewin' him up in pote wine is scand'lous. Can't taste nuffin' but de wine. But dat's tar'pin."
I followed Chad's directions to the word, picking the terrapin as I would a crab and smothering the dainty bits in the hot sauce, until only two empty shells and a heap of little bones were left to tell the tale of my appetite.
"Gwine to crawl ober de fence, was ye?" I heard him say with a chuckle as he bore away the debris. "What I tell ye? Whar am ye now?"
"Did Miss Nancy send those terrapin?" I asked, watching the old darky drawing the cork of the new Madeira referred to in the colonel's note.
"Ob co'se, Major; Miss Nancy gibs de colonel eberytin'. Didn't ye know dat? She's de on'y one what's got anythin' to gib, an' she wouldn't hab dat on'y frough de war her money was in de bank in Baltimo'. I know, 'cause I went dar once to git some for her. De Yankee soldiers searched me; but some possums got two holes."
"And did she send him the Madeira too?"
"No, sah; Mister Grocerman gib him dat."
As he pronounced this name his voice fell, and for some time thereafter he kept silent, brushing the crumbs away, replacing a plate or two, or filling my wine-glass, until at last he took his place behind my chair as was his custom with his master. It was easy to see that Chad had something on his mind.
Every now and then a sigh escaped him, which he tried to conceal by some irrelevant remark, as if his sorrow were his own and not to be shared with a stranger. Finally he gave an uneasy glance around, and, looking into my face with an expression of positive pain, said:—
"Don't tell de colonel I axed, but when is dis yer railroad gwineter fotch some money in?"
"Why?' said I, wondering what extravagance the old man had fallen into.
"Nuffin', sah; but if it don't putty quick dar's gwineter be trouble. Dese yer gemmen on de av'nue is gittin' ugly. When I got dar Madary de udder day de tall one warn't gwineter gib it to me, pass-book or no pass-book. On'y de young one say he'd seen de colonel, an' he was a gemmen an" all right, I wouldn't 'a' got it at all. De tall gemmen was comin' right around hisself—what he wanted to see, he said, was de color ob de colonel's money. Been mo' den two months, an' not a cent.
"Co'se I tole same as I been tellin' him, dat de colonel's folks is quality folks; but he say dat don't pay de bills."
"Did you tell the colonel?"
"No, sah; ain't no use tellin' de colonel; on'y worry him. He's got de passbook, but I ain't yerd him say nuffin' yit 'bout payin' him. I been spectin' Miss Nancy up here, an' de colonel says she's comin' putty soon. She'll fix 'em; but dey ain't no time to waste."
While he spoke there came a loud knock at the door, and Chad returned trembling with fear, his face the very picture of despair.
"Dat's de tall man hisself, sah, an' his dander's up. I knowed dese Yankees in de war, an' I don't like 'em when dey's ris'. When I tole him de colonel ain't home he look at me pizen-like, same as I was a-lyin'; an' den he stop an' listen an' say he come back to-night. Trouble comin'; old coon smells de dog. Wish we was home an' out ob dis!"
I tried to divert his attention into other channels and to calm his fears, assuring him that the colonel would come out all right; that these enterprises were slow, etc.; but the old man only shook his head.
"You know, Major, same as me, dat de colonel ain't nuffin' but a chile, an' about his bills he's wuss. But I'm yer, an' I'm 'sponsible. 'Chad,' he says, 'go out an' git six mo' bottles of dat old Madary;' an' 'Chad, don't forgit de sweet ile;' an' 'Chad, is we got claret enough to last ober Sunday?'—an' not a cent in de house. I ain't slep' none for two nights, worritin' ober dis business, an' I'm mos' crazy." I laid down my knife and fork and looked up. The old man's lip was quivering, and something very like a tear stood in each eye.
"I can't hab nuffin' happen to de fambly, Major. You know our folks is quality, an' always was, an' I dassent look my mistress in de face if anythin' teches Marsa George." Then bending down he said in a hoarse whisper: "See dat old clock out dar wid his eye wide open? Know what's down below dat in de cellar? De jail!" And two tears rolled down his cheeks.
* * * * *
It was some time before I could quiet the old man's anxieties and coax him back into his usual good humor, and then only when I began to ask him of the old plantation days.
Then he fell to talking about the colonel's father, General John Carter, and the high days at Carter Hall when Miss Nancy was a young lady and the colonel a boy home from the university.
"Dem was high times. We ain't neber seed no time like dat since de war. Git up in de mawnin' an' look out ober de lawn, an' yer come fo'teen or fifteen couples ob de fustest quality folks, all on horseback ridin' in de gate. Den such a scufflin' round! Old marsa an' missis out on de po'ch, an' de little pickaninnies runnin' from de quarters, an' all hands helpin' 'em off de horses, an' dey all smokin' hot wid de gallop up de lane.
"An' den sich a breakfast an' sich dancin' an' co'tin': ladies all out on de lawn in der white dresses, an' de gemmen in fair-top boots, an' Mammy Jane runnin' round same as a chicken wid its head off,—an' der heads was off befo' dey knowed it, an' dey a-br'ilin' on de gridiron.
"Dat would go on a week or mo', an' den up dey'll all git an' away dey'd go to de nex' plantation, an' take Miss Nancy along wid 'em on her little sorrel mare, an' I on Marsa John's black horse, to take care bofe of 'em. Dem was times!
"My old marsa,"—and his eyes glistened,—"my old Marsa John was a gem-man, sah, like dey don't see nowadays. Tall, sah, an' straight as a cornstalk; hair white an' silky as de tassel; an' a voice like de birds was singin', it was dat sweet.
"'Chad,' he use' ter say,—you know I was young den, an' I was his body servant,—'Chad, come yer till I bre'k yo' head;' an' den when I come he'd laugh fit to kill hisself. Dat's when you do right. But when you was a low-down nigger an' got de debbil in yer, an' ole marsa hear it an' send de oberseer to de quarters for you to come to de little room in de big house whar de walls was all books an' whar his desk was, 't wa'n't no birds about his voice den,—mo' like de thunder."
"Did he whip his negroes?"
"No, sah; don't reckelmember a single lick laid on airy nigger dat de marsa knowed of; but when dey got so bad—an' some niggers is dat way—den dey was sold to de swamp lan's. He wouldn't hab 'em round 'ruptin' his niggers, he use' ter say.
"Hab coffee, sah? Won't take I a minute to bile it. Colonel ain't been drinkin' none lately, an' so I don't make none."
I nodded my head, and Chad closed the door softly, taking with him a small cup and saucer, and returning in a few minutes followed by that most delicious of all aromas, the savory steam of boiling coffee.
"My Marsa John," he continued, filling the cup with the smoking beverage, "never drank nuffin' but tea, eben at de big dinners when all de gemmen had coffee in de little cups—dat's one ob 'em you's drink-in' out ob now; dey ain't mo' dan fo' on 'em left. Old marsa would have his pot ob tea: Henny use' ter make it for him; makes it now for Miss Nancy.
"Henny was a young gal den, long 'fo' we was married. Henny b'longed to Colonel Lloyd Barbour, on de next plantation to ourn.
"Mo' coffee, Major?" I handed Chad the empty cup. He refilled it, andwent straight on without drawing breath.
"Wust scrape I eber got into wid old Marsa John was ober Henny. I tell ye she was a harricane in dem days. She come into de kitchen one time where I was helpin' git de dinner ready an' de cook had gone to de spring house, an' she says:—
"'Chad, what ye cookin' dat smells so nice?'
"'Dat's a goose,' I says, 'cookin' for Marsa John's dinner. We got quality,' says I, pointin' to de dinin'-room do'.
"'Quality!' she says. 'Spec' I know what de quality is. Dat's for you an' de cook.'
"Wid dat she grabs a caarvin' knife from de table, opens de do' ob de big oven, cuts off a leg ob de goose, an' dis'pears round de kitchen corner wid de leg in her mouf.
"'Fo' I knowed whar I was Marsa John come to de kitchen do' an' says, 'Gittin' late, Chad; bring in de dinner.' You see, Major, dey ain't no up an' down stairs in de big house, like it is yer; kitchen an' dinin'-room all on de same flo'.
"Well, sah, I was scared to def, but I tuk dat goose an' laid him wid de cut side down on de bottom of de pan 'fo' de cook got back, put some dressin' an' stuffin' ober him, an' shet de stove do'. Den I tuk de sweet potatoes an' de hominy an' put 'em on de table, an' den I went back in de kitchen to git de baked ham. I put on de ham an' some mo' dishes, an' marsa says, lookin' up:—
"'I t'ought dere was a roast goose, Chad?'
"'I ain't yerd nothin' 'bout no goose,' I says. 'I'll ask de cook.'
"Next minute I yerd old marsa a-hollerin':—
"'Mammy Jane, ain't we got a goose?'
"'Lord-a-massy! yes, marsa. Chad, you wu'thless nigger, ain't you tuk dat goose out yit?'
"'Is we got a goose?' said I.
"'Is we got a goose? Didn't you help pick it?'
"I see whar my hair was short, an' I snatched up a hot dish from de hearth, opened de oven do', an' slide de goose in jes as he was, an' lay him down befo' Marsa John.
"'Now see what de ladies'll have for dinner,' says old marsa, pickin' up his caarvin' knife.
"'What'll you take for dinner, miss?' says I. 'Baked ham?'
"'No,' she says, lookin' up to whar Marsa John sat; 'I think I'll take a leg ob dat goose'—jes so.
"Well, marsa cut off de leg an' put a little stuffin' an' gravy on wid a spoon, an' says to me, 'Chad, see what dat gemman'll have.'
"'What'll you take for dinner, sah?' says I. 'Nice breast o' goose, or slice o' ham?'
"'No; I think I'll take a leg of dat goose,' he says.
"I didn't say nuffin', but I knowed bery well he wa'n't a-gwine to git it.
"But, Major, you oughter seen ole marsa lookin' for der udder leg ob dat goose! He rolled him ober on de dish, dis way an' dat way, an' den he jabbed dat ole bone-handled caarvin' fork in him an' hel' him up ober de dish an' looked under him an' on top ob him, an' den he says, kinder sad like:—
"'Chad, whar is de udder leg ob dat goose?'
"'It didn't hab none,' says I.
"'You mean ter say, Chad, dat de gooses on my plantation on'y got one leg?'
"'Some ob 'em has an' some ob 'em ain't. You see, marsa, we got two kinds in de pond, an' we was a little boddered today, so Mammy Jane cooked dis one 'cause I cotched it fust.'
"'Well,' said he, lookin' like he look when he send for you in de little room, 'I'll settle wid ye after dinner.'
"Well, dar I was shiverin' an' shakin' in my shoes, an' droppin' gravy an' spillin' de wine on de table-cloth, I was dat shuck up; an' when de dinner was ober he calls all de ladies an' gemmen, an' says, 'Now come down to de duck pond. I'm gwineter show dis nigger dat all de gooses on my plantation got mo' den one leg.'
"I followed 'long, trapesin' after de whole kit an' b'ilin', an' when we got to de pond"—here Chad nearly went into a convulsion with suppressed laughter—"dar was de gooses sittin' on a log in de middle of dat ole green goose-pond wid one leg stuck down—so—an' de udder tucked under de wing."
Chad was now on one leg, balancing himself by my chair, the tears running down his cheeks.
"'Dar, marsa,' says I, 'don't ye see? Look at dat ole gray goose! Dat's de berry match ob de one we had to-day.'
"Den de ladies all hollered an' de gemmen laughed so loud dey yerd 'em at de big house.
"'Stop, you black scoun'rel!' Marsa John says, his face gittin' white an' he a-jerkin' his handkerchief from his pocket. 'Shoo!'
"Major, I hope to have my brains kicked out by a lame grasshopper if ebery one ob dem gooses didn't put down de udder leg!
"'Now, you lyin' nigger,' he says, raisin' his cane ober my head, 'I'll show you'—
'"Stop, Marsa John!' I hollered; ''t ain't fair, 't ain't fair.'
"'Why ain't it fair?' says he.
"''Cause,' says I, 'you didn't say "Shoo!" to de goose what was on de table.'" [Footnote: This story, and the story of the "Postmaster" in a preceding chapter, I have told for so many years and to so many people, and with such varied amplifications, that I have long since persuaded myself that they are creations of my own. I surmise, however, that the basis of the "Postmaster" can be found in the corner of some forgotten newspaper, and I know that the "One-Legged Goose" is as old as the "Decameron".]
Chad laughed until he choked.
"And did he thrash you?"
"Marsa John? No, sah. He laughed loud as anybody; an' den dat night he says to me as I was puttin' some wood on de fire:—
"'Chad, where did dat leg go?' An' so I ups an' tells him all about Henny, an' how I was lyin' 'cause I was 'feared de gal would git hurt, an' how she was on'y a-foolin', thinkin' it was my goose; an' den de ole marsa look in de fire for a long time, an' den he says:—
"'Dat's Colonel Barbour's Henny, ain't it, Chad?'
"'Yes,' marsa, says I.
"Well, de next mawnin' he had his black horse saddled, an' I held the stirrup for him to git on, an' he rode ober to de Barbour plantation, an' didn't come back till plumb black night. When he come up I held de lantern so I could see his face, for I wa'n't easy in my mine all day. But it was all bright an' shinin' same as a' angel's.
"'Chad,' he says, handin' me de reins, 'I bought yo' Henny dis arternoon from Colonel Barbour, an' she's comin' ober tomorrow, an' you can bofe git married next Sunday.'"
* * * * *
A cheerful voice at the yard door, and the next moment the colonel was stamping his feet on the hall mat, his first word to Chad an inquiry after my comfort, and his second an apology to me for what he called his brutal want of hospitality.
"But I couldn't help it, Major. I had some letters, suh, that could not be postponed. Has Chad taken good care of you? No dinner, Chad; I dined down town. How is the Madeira, Major?"
I expressed my entire approbation of the wine, and was about to fill the colonel's glass when Chad leaned over with the same anxious look in his face. "De grocerman was here, Colonel, an' lef' word dat he was comin' agin later."
"You don't say so, Chad, and I was out: most unfortunate occurrence! When he calls again show him in at once. It will give me great pleasure to see him."
Then turning to me, his mind on the passbook and its empty pages,—"I'll lay a wager, Major, that man's father was a gentleman. The fact is, I have not treated him with proper respect. He has shown me every courtesy since I have been here, and I am ashamed to say that I have not once entered his doors. His calling twice in one evening touches me deeply. I did not expect to find yo' tradespeople so polite."
Chad's face was a study while his master spoke, but he was too well trained, and still too anxious over the outcome of the expected interview, to do more than bow obsequiously to the colonel,—his invariable custom when receiving an order,—and to close the door behind him.
"That old servant," continued the colonel, watching Chad leave the room, and drawing his chair nearer the fire, "has been in my fam'ly ever since he was bawn. But for him and his old wife, Mammy Henny, I would be homeless to-night." And then the colonel, with that soft cadence in his voice which I always noticed when he spoke of something that touched his heart, told me with evident feeling how, in every crisis of fire, pillage, and raid, these two faithful souls had kept unceasing watch about the old house; refastening the wrenched doors, replacing the shattered shutters, or extinguishing the embers of abandoned bivouac fires. Indeed, for months at a time they were its only occupants, outside of strolling marauders and bands of foragers, and but for their untiring devotion its tall chimneys would long since have stood like tombstones over the grave of its ashes. Then he added, with a break in his voice that told how deeply he felt it:—
"Do you know, Major, that when I was a prisoner at City Point that darky tramped a hundred miles through the coast swamps to reach me, crossed both lines twice, hung around for three months for his chance, and has carried in his leg ever since the ball intended for me the night I escaped in his clothes, and he was shot in mine.
"I tell you, suh, the color of a man's skin don't make much diffe'ence sometimes. Chad was bawn a gentleman, and he'll never get over it."
As he was speaking, the object of his eulogy opened the hall door, and the next instant a tall, red-headed man with closely trimmed side-whiskers, and wearing a brown check suit and a blue necktie, ran the gauntlet of Chad's profound but anxious bow, and advanced towards the colonel, hat in hand.
"Which is Mr. Carter?"
The colonel arose gracefully. "I am Colonel Carter, suh, and I presume you are the gentleman to whom I am indebted for so many courtesies. My servant tells me that you called earlier in the evenin'. I regret, suh, that I was detained so late at my office, and I have to thank you for perseve'in' the second time. I assure you, suh, that I esteem it a special honor."
The tall gentleman with the auburn whiskers wiped his face with a handkerchief, which he took from his hat, and stated with some timidity that he hoped he did not intrude at that late hour. He had sent his pass-book, and—
"I have looked it over, suh, repeatedly, with the greatest pleasure. It is a custom new to us in my county, but it meets with my hearty approval. Give yo' hat to my servant, suh, and take this seat by the fire."
The proprietor of the hat after some protestations suffered Chad to bear away that grateful protection to his slightly bald head,—retaining his handkerchief, which he finally rolled up into a little wad and kept tightly clenched in the perspiring palm of his left hand,—and then threw out the additional hope that everything was satisfactory.
"Delicious, suh; I have not tasted such Madeira since the wah. In my cellar at home, suh, I once had some old Madeira of '28 that was given to my father, the late General John Caarter, by old Judge Thornton. You, of course, know that wine, suh. Ah! I see that you do."
And then followed one of the colonel's delightful monologues descriptive of all the vintages of that year, the colonel constantly appealing to the dazed and delighted grocerman to be set right in minor technical matters,—the grocer understanding them as little as he did the Aztec dialects,—the colonel himself supplying the needed data and then thanking the auburn gentleman for the information so charmingly that for the moment that worthy tradesman began to wonder why he had not long before risen from the commonplace level of canned vegetables to the more sublime plane of wines in the wood.
"Now the Madeira you sent me this mornin', suh, is a trifle too fruity for my taste. Chad, open a fresh bottle."
The owner of the pass-book instantly detected a very decided fruity flavor, but thought he had another wine, which he would send in the morning, that might suit the colonel's palate better.
The colonel thanked him, and then drifted into the wider field of domestic delicacies,—the preserving of fruits, the making of pickles as practiced on the plantations by the old Virginia cooks,—the colonel waxing eloquent over each production, and the future wine merchant becoming more and more enchanted as the colonel flowed on.
When he rose to go the grocer had a mental list of the things he would send the colonel in the morning all arranged in his commercial head, and so great was his delight that, after shaking hands with me once and with the colonel three times, he would also have extended that courtesy to Chad had not that perfectly trained servant checkmated him by filling his extended palm with the rim of his own hat.
When Chad returned from bowing him through the tunnel, the lines in his face a tangle of emotions, the colonel was standing on the mat, in his favorite attitude—back to the fire, coat thrown open, thumbs in his armholes, his outstretched fingers beating woodpecker tattoos on his vest.
Somehow the visit of the grocer had lifted him out of the cares of the day. How, he could not tell. Perhaps it was the fragrance of the Madeira; perhaps the respectful, overawed bow,—the bow of the tradesman the world over to the landed proprietor,—restoring to him for one brief moment that old feudal supremacy which above all else his soul loved. Perhaps it was only the warmth and cheer and comfort of it all.
Whatever it was, it buoyed and strengthened him. He was again in the old dining-hall at home: the servants moving noiselessly about; the cut-glass decanters reflected in the polished mahogany; the candles lighted; his old, white-haired father, in his high-backed chair, sipping his wine from the slender glass.
Ah, the proud estate of the old plantation days! Would they ever be his again?
The Arrival of a True Southern Lady
"Mistress yer, sah! Come yistidd'y mawnin'."
How Chad beamed all over when this simple statement fell from his lips! I had not seen him since the night when he stood behind my chair and with bated breath whispered his anxieties lest the second advent of "de grocerman" should bring dire destruction to the colonel's household.
To-day he looked ten years younger. His kinky gray hair, generally knotted into little wads, was now divided by a well-defined path starting from the great wrinkle in his forehead and ending in a dense tangle of underbrush that no comb dared penetrate. His face glistened all over. His mouth was wide open, showing a great cavity in which each tooth seemed to dance with delight. His jacket was as white and stiff as soap and starch could make it, while a cast-off cravat of the colonel's—double starched to suit Chad's own ideas of propriety—was tied in a single knot, the two ends reaching to the very edge of each ear. To crown all, a red carnation flamed away on the lapel of his jacket, just above an outside pocket, which held in check a pair of white cotton gloves bulging with importance and eager for use. Every time he bowed he touched with a sweep both sides of the narrow hall.
It was the first time in some weeks that I had seen the interior of the colonel's cozy dining-room by daylight. Of late my visits had been made after dark, with drawn curtains, lighted candles, and roaring wood fires. But this time it was in the morning,—and a bright, sunny, lovely spring morning at that,—with one window open in the L and the curtains drawn back from the other; with the honeysuckle beginning to bud, its long runners twisting themselves inquiringly through the half-closed shutters as if anxious to discover what all this bustle inside was about.
It was easy to see that some other touch besides that of the colonel and his faithful man-of-all-work had left its impress in the bachelor apartment. There was a general air of order apparent. The irregular line of foot gear which decorated the washboard of one wall, beginning with a pair of worsted slippers and ending with a wooden bootjack, was gone. Whisk-brooms and dusters that had never known a restful nail since they entered the colonel's service were now suspended peacefully on convenient hooks. Dainty white curtains, gathered like a child's frock, flapped lazily against the broken green blinds, while some sprays of arbutus, plucked by Miss Nancy on her way to the railroad station, drooped about a tall glass on the mantel.
Chad had solved the mystery,—Aunt Nancy came yesterday.
I found the table set for four, its chief feature being a tray bearing a heap of eggshell cups and saucers I had not seen before, and an old-fashioned tea-urn humming a tune all to itself.
"De colonel's out, but he comin' back d'rektly," Chad said eagerly, all out of breath with excitement. Then followed the information that Mr. Fitzpatrick was coming to breakfast, and that he was to tell Miss Nancy the moment we arrived. He then reduced the bulge in his outside pocket by thrusting his big hands into his white gloves, gave a sidelong glance at the flower in his buttonhole, and bore my card aloft with the air of a cupbearer serving a princess.
A soft step on the stair, the rustle of silk, a warning word outside: "Look out for dat lower step, mistress—dat's it;" and Miss Nancy entered the room.
No, I am wrong. She became a part of it; as much so as the old andirons and the easy chairs and the old-fashioned mantelpieces, the snowy curtains and the trailing vine. More so when she gave me the slightest dip of a courtesy and laid her dainty, wrinkled little hand in mine, and said in the sweetest possible voice how glad she was to see me after so many years, and how grateful she felt for all my kindness to the dear colonel. Then she sank into a quaint rocking-chair that Chad had brought down behind her, rested her feet on a low stool that mysteriously appeared from under the table, and took her knitting from her reticule.
She had changed somewhat since I last saw her, but only as would an old bit of precious stuff that grew the more mellow and harmonious in tone as it grew the older. She had the same silky gray hair—a trifle whiter, perhaps; the same frank, tender mouth, winning wherever she smiled; the same slight, graceful figure; and the same manner—its very simplicity a reflex of that refined and quiet life she had always led. For hers had been an isolated life, buried since her girlhood in a great house far away from the broadening influences of a city, and saddened by the daily witness of a slow decay of all she had been taught to revere. But it had been a life so filled with the largeness of generous deeds that its returns had brought her the love and reverence of every living soul she knew.
While she sat and talked to me of her journey I had time to enjoy again the quaintness of her dress,—the quaintness of forty years before. There was the same old-fashioned, soft gray silk with up-and-down stripes spotted with sprigs of flowers, the lace cap with its frill of narrow pink ribbons and two wide pink strings that fell over the shoulders, and the handkerchief of India mull folded across the breast and fastened with an amethyst pin. Her little bits of feet—they were literally so—were incased in white stockings and heelless morocco slippers bound with braid.
But her dress was never sombre. She always seemed to remember, even in her bright ribbons and silks, the days of her girlhood, when half the young men in the county were wild about her. When she moved she wafted towards you a perfume of sweet lavender—the very smell that you remember came from your own mother's old-fashioned bureau drawer when she let you stand on tiptoe to see her pretty things. When you kissed her—and once I did—her cheek was as soft as a child's and fragrant with rose-water.
But I hear the colonel's voice outside, laughing with Fitz.
"Come in, suh, and see the dearest woman in the world."
The next instant he burst in dressed in his gala combination,—white waistcoat and cravat, the old coat thrown wide open as if to welcome the world, and a bunch of red roses in his hand.
"Nancy, here's my dear friend Fitz, whom I have told you about,—the most extraord'nary man of modern times. Ah, Major! you here? Came in early, did you, so as to have aunt Nancy all to yo'self? Sit down, Fitz, right alongside of her." And he kissed her hand gallantly. "Isn't she the most delightful bit of old porcelain you ever saw in all yo' bawn days?"
Miss Nancy rose, made another of her graceful courtesies, and begged that neither of us would mind the colonel's raillery; she never could keep him in order. And she laughed softly as she gave her hand to Fitz, who touched it very much as if he quite believed the colonel's reference to the porcelain to be true.
"There you go, Nancy, 'busin' me like a dog, and here I've been a-trampin' the streets for a' hour lookin' for flowers for you! You are breakin' my heart, Miss Caarter, with yo' coldness and contempt. Another word and you shall not have a single bud." And the colonel gayly tucked a rose under her chin with a loving stroke of his hand, and threw the others in a heap on her lap.
"Breakfast sarved, mistress," said Chad in a low voice.
The colonel gave his arm to his aunt with the air of a courtier; Fitz and I disposed ourselves on each side; Chad, with reverential mien, screwed his eyes up tight; and the colonel said grace with an increased fervor in his voice, no doubt remembering in his heart the blessing of the last arrival.
Throughout the entire repast the colonel was in his gayest mood, brimming over with anecdotes and personal reminiscences and full of his rose-colored plans for the future.
Many things had combined to produce this happy frame of mind. There was first the Scheme, which had languished for weeks owing to the vise-like condition of the money market,—another of Fitz's mendacious excuses,—and which had now been suddenly galvanized into temporary life by an inquiry made by certain bankers who were seeking an outlet for English capital, and who had expressed a desire to investigate the "Garden Spot of Virginia." Only an "inquiry," but to the colonel the papers were already signed. Then there was the arrival of his distinguished guest, whom he loved devotedly and with a certain old-school gallantry and tenderness as picturesque as it was interesting. Last of all there was that important episode of the bills. For Miss Nancy, the night she arrived, had collected all the household accounts, including the highly esteemed pass-book,—they were all of the one kind, unpaid,—and had dispatched Chad early in the morning to the several creditors with his pocket full of crisp bank-notes.
Chad had returned from this liquidating tour, and the full meaning of that trusty agent's mission had dawned upon the colonel. He buttoned his coat tightly over his chest, straightened himself up, sought out his aunt, and said, with some dignity and a slightly injured air:—
"Nancy, yo' interfe'ence in my household affairs this mornin' was vehy creditable to yo' heart, and deeply touches me; but if I thought you regarded it in any other light except as a short tempo'ary loan, it would offend me keenly. Within a few days, however, I shall receive a vehy large amount of secu'ities from an English syndicate that isinvestigatin' my railroad. I shall then return the amount to you with interest, together with that other sum which you loaned me when I left Caarter Hall."
The little lady's only reply was to slip her hand into his and kisshim on the forehead.
And yet that very morning he had turned his pockets inside out for the remains of the last dollar of the money she had given him when he left home. When it had all been raked together, and its pitiable insufficiency had become apparent, this dialogue took place:—
"Chad, did you find any money on the flo' when you breshed my clothes?"
"Look round on the mantelpiece; perhaps I left some bills under the clock."
"Ain't none dar, sah."
Then Chad, with that same anxious look suddenly revived in his face, went below into the kitchen, mounted a chair, took down an old broken tea-cup from the top shelf, and poured out into his wrinkled palm a handful of small silver coin—his entire collection of tips, and all the money he had. This he carried to the colonel, with a lie in his mouth that the recording angel blotted out the moment it fell from his lips.
"Here's some change, Marsa George, I forgot to gib ye; been left ober from de marketin'."
And the colonel gathered it all in, and went out and spent every penny of it on roses for "dear Nancy!"
All of these things, as I have said, had acted like a tonic on the colonel, bracing him up to renewed efforts, and reacting on his guests, who in return did their best to make the breakfast a merry one.
Fitz, always delightful, was more brilliant than ever, his native wit, expressed in a brogue with verbal shadings so slight that it is hardly possible to give it in print, keeping the table in a roar; while Miss Nancy, encouraged by the ease and freedom of everybody about her, forgot for a time her quiet reserve, and was charming in the way she turned over the leaves of her own youthful experiences.
And so the talk went on until, with a smile to everybody, the little lady rose, called Chad, who stood ready with shawl and cushion, and, saying she would retire to her room until the gentlemen had finished smoking, disappeared through the doorway.
The talk had evidently aroused some memory long buried in the colonel's mind; for when Fitz had gone the dear old fellow picked up the glass holding the roses which he had given his aunt in the morning, and, while repeating her name softly to himself, buried his face in their fragrance. Something, perhaps, in their perfume stirred that haunting memory the deeper, for he suddenly raised his head and burst out:— "Ah, Major, you ought to have seen that woman forty years ago! Why, suh, she was just a rose herself!"
And then followed in disconnected scraps, as if he were recalling it to himself, with long pauses between, that story which I had heard hinted at before. A story never told the children, and never even whispered in aunt Nancy's presence,—the one love affair of her life.
She and Robert had grown up together,—he a tall, brown-eyed young fellow just out of the university, and she a fair-haired, joyous girl with half the county at her feet. Nancy had not loved him at first, nor ever did until the day he had saved her life in that wild dash across country when her horse took fright, and he, riding neck and neck, had lifted her clear of her saddle. After that there had been but one pair of eyes and arms for her in the wide world. All of that spring and summer, as the colonel put it, she was like a bird pouring out her soul in one continuous song. Then there had come a night in Richmond,—the night of the ball,—followed by her sudden return home, hollow-eyed and white, and the mysterious postponement of the wedding for a year.