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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesColonel Carter Of Cartersville - Chapter 2. The Garden Spot Of Virginia Seeks An Outlet To The Sea
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Colonel Carter Of Cartersville - Chapter 2. The Garden Spot Of Virginia Seeks An Outlet To The Sea Post by :Hugh_de_Payen Category :Long Stories Author :Francis Hopkinson Smith Date :May 2012 Read :2268

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Colonel Carter Of Cartersville - Chapter 2. The Garden Spot Of Virginia Seeks An Outlet To The Sea

CHAPTER II. 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."




50,000 Founders' shares at .... $1000. each
5,000 Ordinary " " .... 100.00 "




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.

"Certainly, suh."

"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:--

Member of the State Legislature...1,000 shares

The Hon. I.B. KERFOOT,
Jedge of the District
Court of Fairfax County.......... 1,000 shares

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."

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