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- Colonel Carter of Cartersville - 4/23 -
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
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