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- Colonel Carter of Cartersville - 20/23 -
The old darky's face changed from an expression of the deepest anxiety to an effort at the deepest thought. The change was so sudden that the wrinkles got tangled up in the attempt, resulting in an expression of vague uncertainty.
"You mean, Colonel, de hill whar we cotch de big coon?"
"Yes," said the colonel encouragingly, ignorant of the coon, but knowing that there was only one hill.
"Well, Jedge Barbour's niggers always said dat de coon was dere coon, 'ca'se he was treed on dere lan', and we 'sputed dat it was our coon, 'ca'se it was on our lan'."
"Who got de coon?" asked Fitz.
"Oh, _we_ got the coon!" And Chad's eyes twinkled.
"That settles it. It's your land, Colonel," said Fitz, with one of his sudden roars, in which everybody joined but Chad and the judge.
"But den, gemmen,"--Chad was a little uncomfortable at the merriment,--"it was our coon for sho. I knowed whar de line went, 'ca'se I he'p Marsa John caarry de spy-glass when he sold de woodlan's to Jedge Barbour, an' de coon was on our side ob dat line."
If Chad's first statement caused nothing but laughter, the second produced nothing but the profoundest interest. Here was the surveyor himself!
The colonel turned the map to Chad's side of the table. Every man in the room stood up and craned his head forward.
"Now, Chad," said the colonel, "this map is a plan of our lan'--same as if you were lookin' down on it. Here is the road to Caartersville. See that square, black mark? That's Caarter Hall. This is the marsh, and that is the coal hill. Now, standin' here in the marsh,--this is where our line begins, Fitz,--standin' here, Chad, in the marsh, which side of the line is that hill on? Mine or Jedge Barbour's?"
The old man bent over the table, and scanned the plan closely.
"Wat's dis blue wiggle lookin' like a big fish-wum?"
"That's the Tench River."
Chad continued his search, his wrinkled brown hand, with its extended forefinger capped by its stumpy nail, looking for all the world like a mud turtle with head out crawling over the crumpled surface of the map.
"Scuse me till I run down to de kitchen an' git my spec's. I can't see like"--
"Here, take mine!" said Fitz, handing him his gold ones. He would have lent him his eyes if he could have found that coal-field the sooner.
The turtle crawled slowly up, its head thrust out inquiringly, inched along the margin of the map, and backed carefully down again, pausing for such running commentaries as "Dis yer's de ribber;" "Dat's de road;" "Dis de ma'sh."
The group was now a compact mass, every eye watching Chad's finger as though it were a divining rod--Fitz full of smothered fears lest after all the prize should slip from his grasp; the agent anxious but reserved; Yancey and the judge hovering between hope and despair, with eyes on the empty decanter; and last of all the colonel, on the outside, holding a candle himself, so that his guests might see the better--the least interested man in the room.
Presently the finger stopped, and Chad looked up into his master's face.
"If I was down dar, Marsa George, jes a minute, I could tole ye, 'ca'se I reckelmember de berry tree whar Marsa John had de spyglass sot on its legs. I held de pole on de rock way up yander on de hill, an' in dat berry rock Marsa John done cut a crotch."
"And which way is the crotch in the rock from the marsh here?" asked Fitz eagerly.
Chad stood up, looked at the plan glistening under the candlelight, paused an instant, then took off the gold-rimmed glasses, and handed them with great deference to Fitz.
"'T ain't no use, Marsa George. I kin go frough dat ma'sh blindfolded in de night an' cotch a possum airy time along airy one ob dem fences;but dis yer foolin' wid lan's on paper is too much for Chad. 'Fo' Gawd, I doan' know!"
_Chad on his own Cabin Floor_
The night after the eventful dinner in Bedford Place, the colonel, accompanied by his guests, had alighted at a dreary way station, crawled into a lumbering country stage, and with Chad on the box as pilot, had stopped before a great house with ghostly trailing vines and tall chimneys outlined against the sky.
When I left my room on the following morning the sunlight was pouring through the big colonial window, and the breath of the delicious day, laden with the sweet smell of bending blossoms, floated in through the open blinds.
Descending the great spiral staircase with its slender mahogany balusters,--here and there a break,--I caught sight of the entrance hall below with its hanging glass lantern, quaint haircloth sofas lining the white walls, and half-oval tables heaped with flowers, and so on through the wide-open door leading out upon a vine-covered porch. This had high pillars and low railings against which stood some broad settles--all white.
The colonel, Fitz, and the English agent were still in their rooms,--three pairs of polished shoes outside their several doors bearing silent witness to the fact,--and the only person stirring was a pleasant-faced negro woman with white apron and gay-colored bandana, who was polishing the parlor floor with a long brush, her little pickaninny astraddle on the broom end for weight.
I pushed aside the hanging vines, sat down on one of the wooden benches, and looked about me. This, then, was Carter Hall!
The house itself bore evidence of having once been a stately home. It was of plaster stucco, yellow washed, peeled and broken in places, with large dormer windows and sloping roof, one end of which was smothered in a tangle of Virginia creeper and trumpet vine climbing to the very chimney-top.
In front there stretched away what had once been a well-kept lawn, now a wild of coarse grass broken only by the curving line of the driveway and bordered by a row of Lombardy poplars with here and there a gap,--bitten out by hungry camp-fires.
To the right rose a line of hills increasing in height as they melted into the morning haze, and to the left lay an old-fashioned garden,--one great sweep of bloom. With the wind over it, and blowing your way, you were steeped in roses.
I began unconsciously to recall to myself all the traditions of this once famous house.
Yes, there must be the window where Nancy waved good-by to her lover, and there were the flower-beds into which he had fallen headlong from his horse,--only a desolate corner now with the grass and tall weeds grown quite up to the scaling wall, and the wooden shutters tightly closed. I wondered whether they had ever been opened since.
And there under my eyes stood the very step where Chad had helped his old master from his horse the day his sweetheart Henny had been purchased from Judge Barbour, and close to the garden gate were the negro quarters where they had begun their housekeeping. I thought I knew the very cabin.
And that line of silver glistening in the morning light must be the river Tench, and the bend near the willows the spot where the colonel would build the iron bridge with the double span, and across and beyond on the plateau, backed by the hills, the site of the future city of Fairfax.
I left my seat, strolled out into the garden, crossed the grass jeweled with dew, and filled my lungs with the odor of the sweet box bordering the beds,--a rare delight in these days of modern gardens. Suddenly I came upon a wide straw hat and a broad back bending among the bushes. It was Chad.
"Mawnin', Major; fust fox out de hole, is yer? Lawd a massey, ain't I glad ter git back to my ole mist'ess! Lan' sakes alive! I ain't slep' none all night a-thinkin' ober it. You ain't seen my Henny? Dat was her sister's chile rubbin' down de flo'. She come ober dis mawnin' ter help, so many folks here. Wait till I git a basket ob dese yer ole pink rose-water roses. See how I snip 'em short? Know what I'm gwineter do wid 'em? Sprinkle 'em all ober de tablecloth. I lay dey ain't nobody done dat for my mist'ess since I been gone. But, Major,"--here Chad laid down the basket on the garden walk and looked at me with a serious air,--"I done got dat coal lan' business down to a fine p'int. I was up dis mawnin' 'fo' daylight, an' I foun' dat rock, an' de crotch is dar yit; I scrape de moss offen it myself; an' I foun' de tree too. I ain't sayin' nuffin', but jes you wait till after breakfas' an' dey all go out lookin' for de coal! Jes you wait, dat's all! Chad's on his own cabin flo' now. Can't fool dis chile no mo'."
This was good news so far as it went. Our sudden exodus from Bedford Place had been determined upon immediately after Chad's dismal failure to locate the coal-field: Fitz having carried the day against Yancey, Kerfoot, and even the agent himself, who was beginning to waver under the accumulation of uncertainties.
"Dat's enough roses to bury up de dishes. Rub yo' nose down in 'em. Ain't dey sweet! Now, come along wid me, Major. I done tole Henny 'bout you an' de tar'pins an' de times de gemmen had. Dis way, Major; won't take a minute, an' ef ye all go back to-night,--an' I yerd Mister Englishman say _he_ got to go,--you mightn't hab anudder chance.
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