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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesColonel Carter Of Cartersville - Chapter 7. The Outcome Of A Council Of War
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Colonel Carter Of Cartersville - Chapter 7. The Outcome Of A Council Of War Post by :Hugh_de_Payen Category :Long Stories Author :Francis Hopkinson Smith Date :May 2012 Read :2050

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Colonel Carter Of Cartersville - Chapter 7. The Outcome Of A Council Of War

CHAPTER VII. The Outcome of a Council of War

When early the next morning, Fitz and I arrived at the colonel's office he was already on hand and in a state of high nervous excitement. His coat, which, so far as a coat might, always expressed in its various combinations the condition of his mind, was buttoned close up under his chin, giving to his slender figure quite a military air. He was pacing the floor with measured tread; one hand thrust into his bosom, senator fashion, the other held behind his back.

"Not a line, suh; not the scrape of a pen. If his purpose, suh, is to ignore me altogether, I shall horsewhip him on sight."

"Have you looked through the firm's mail?" said Fitz, glad of the respite.

"Eve'ywhere, suh--not a scrap."

"I will hunt him up;" and Fitz hurried down to Klutchem's office in the hope of either intercepting the challenge or of pacifying the object of the colonel's wrath, if by any good chance the letter should have been delayed until the morning.

In ten minutes he returned with the mystifying news that Mr. Klutchem's letters had been sent to his apartment the night before, and that a telegram had just been received notifying his clerks that he would not be down that day.

"Escaped, suh, has he? Run like a dog! Like a yaller dog as he is! Where has he gone?"

"After a policeman, I guess," said Fitz.

The colonel stopped, and an expression of profound contempt overspread his face.

"If the gentleman has fallen so low, suh, that he proposes to go about with a constable taggin' after his heels, you can tell him, suh, that he is safe even from my boot."

Then he shut the door of the private office in undisguised disgust, leaving Fitz and me on the outside.

"What are we going to do, Major?" said Fitz, now really anxious. "I am positive that old Klutchem has either left town or is at this moment at police headquarters. If so, the dear old fellow will be locked up before sundown. Klutchem got that letter last night."

It was at once decided to head off the broker, Fitz keeping an eye on his office every half hour in the hope that he might turn up, and I completing the arrangements for the colonel's bail so as to forestall the possibility of his remaining in custody overnight.

Fitz spent the day in efforts to lay hands on Klutchem in order to prevent the law performing the same service for the colonel. My own arrangements were more easily completed, a friend properly possessed of sufficient real estate to make good his bond being in readiness for any emergency. One o'clock came, then three, then five; the colonelall the time keeping to the seclusion of his private office, Fitz watching for Klutchem, and I waiting in the larger office for the arrival of one of those clean-shaven, thick-set young men, in a Derby hat and sack-coat, the unexpected pair of handcuffs in his outside pocket.

The morning of the second day the situation remained still unchanged; Fitz had been unable to find Klutchem either at his office or at his lodgings, the colonel was still without any reply from his antagonist, and no young man answering to my fears had put in any appearance whatever.

The only new features were a telegram from Tom Yancey to the effect that he and Judge Kerfoot would arrive about noon, and another from the judge himself begging a postponement until they could reach the field.

Fitz read both dispatches in a corner by himself, with a face expressive of the effect these combined troubles were making upon his otherwise happy countenance. He then crumpled them up in his hand and slid them into his pocket.

Up to this time not a soul in the office except the colonel, Fitz, and I had the faintest hint of the impending tragedy, it being one of the colonel's maxims that all affairs of honor demanded absolute silence.

"If yo' enemy falls," he would say, "it is mo' co'teous to say nothin' but good of the dead; and when you cannot say that, better keep still. If he is alive let him do the talkin'--he will soon kill himself."

Fitz kept still because he felt sure if he could get hold of Klutchem the whole affair--either outcome powder or law--could be prevented.

"Just as I had got the syndicate to look into the coal land," said Fitz, "which is the only thing the colonel's got worth talking about, here he goes and gets into a first-class cast-iron scrape like this. What a lovely old idiot he is! But I tell you, Major, something has got to be done about this shooting business right away! Here I have arranged for a meeting at the colonel's house on Saturday to discuss this new coal development, and the syndicate's agent is coming, and yet we can't for the life of us tell whether the colonel will be on his way home in a pine box or locked up here for trying to murder that old windbag. It's horrible!

"And to cap the climax,"--and he pulled out the crumpled telegrams,--"here come a gang of fire-eaters who will make it twice as difficult for me to settle anything. I wish I could find Klutchem!"

While he spoke the office door opened, ushering in a stout man with a red face, accompanied by an elderly white-haired gentleman, in a butternut suit. The red-faced man was carrying a carpet bag--not the Northern variety of wagon-curtain canvas, but the old-fashioned carpet kind with leather handles and a mouth like a catfish. The snuff-colored gentleman's only charge was a heavy hickory cane and an umbrella with a waist like a market-woman's.

The red-faced man took off a wide straw hat and uncovered a head slightly bald and reeking with perspiration.

"I'm lookin' fur Colonel Caarter, suh. Is he in?"

Fitz pointed to the door of the private office, and the elderly man drew his cane and rapped twice. The colonel must have recognized the signal as familiar, for the door opened with a spring, and the next moment he had them both by the hands.

"Why, Jedge, this is indeed an honor--and Tom! Of co'se I knew you would come, Tom; but the Jedge I did not expec' until I got yo' telegram. Give me yo' bag, and put yo' umbrella in the corner.

"Here Fitz, Major; both of you come in here at once.

"Jedge Kerfoot, gentlemen, of the district co'te of Fairfax County. Major Tom Yancey, of the army."

The civilities over, extra chairs were brought in, the door again closed, and a council of war was held.

Major Yancey's first word--but I must describe Yancey. Imagine a short, oily skinned, perpetually perspiring sort of man of forty, with a decollete collar, a double-breasted waistcoat with glass buttons, and skin-tight light trousers held down to a pair of high-heeled boots by leather straps. The space between his waistband and his waistcoat was made good by certain puckerings of his shirt anxious to escape the thralldom of his suspenders. His paunch began and ended so suddenly that he constantly reminded you of a man who had swallowed a toy balloon.

Yancey's first word was an anxious inquiry as to whether he was late, adding, "I came ez soon ez I could settle some business mattahs." He had borrowed his traveling expenses from Kerfoot, who in turn had borrowed them from Miss Nancy, keeping the impending duel carefully concealed from that dear lady, and reading only such part of the colonel's letter as referred to the drawing up of some important papers in which he was to figure as chief executor.

"Late? No, Tom," said the colonel; "but the scoundrel has run to cover. We are watchin' his hole."

"You sholy don't tell me he's got away, Colonel?" replied Major Yanccy.

"What could I do, Yancey? He hasn't had the decency to answer my letter."

Yancey, however, on hearing more fully the facts, clung to the hope that the Yankee would yet be smoked out.

"I of co'se am not familiar with the code as practiced Nawth--perhaps these delays are permis'ble; but in my county a challenge is a ball, and a man is killed or wounded ez soon ez the ink is dry on the papah. The time he has to live is only a mattah of muddy roads or convenience of seconds. Is there no way in which this can be fixed? I doan't like to return home without an effo't bein' made."

The colonel, anxious to place the exact situation before Major Yancey so that he might go back fully assured that everything that a Carter could do had been done, read the copy of the challenge, gave the details of Fitz's efforts to find Klutchem, the repeated visits to his office, and finally the call at his apartments.

The major listened attentively, consulted aside with the judge, and then in an authoritative tone, made the more impressive by the decided way with which he hitched up his trousers, said:--

"You have done all that a high-toned Southern gemman could do, Colonel. Yo' honor, suh, is without a stain."

In which opinion he was sustained by Kerfoot, who proved to be a ponderous sort of old-fashioned county judge, and who accentuated his decision by bringing down his cane with a bang.

While all this was going on in the private office under cover of profound secrecy, another sort of consultation of a much more public character was being held in the office outside.

A very bright young man--one of the clerks--held in his hand a large envelope, bearing on one end the printed address of the firm whose private office the colonel was at that moment occupying as a council chamber. It was addressed in the colonel's well-known round hand. This was not the fact, however, which excited interest; for the colonel never used any other envelopes than those of the firm.

The postman, who had just taken it from his bag, wanted to deliver it at its destination. The proprietor wanted to throw it back into the box for remailing, believing it to be a Garden Spot circular, and so of no especial importance. The bright young man wanted to return it to the colonel.

The bright young man prevailed, rapped at the door, and laid the letter under the colonel's nose. It bore this address:--

Room 21, Star Building, Wall Street,
_Immediate. New York.

The colonel turned pale and broke the seal. Out dropped his challenge!

"Where did you get this?" he asked, aghast.

"From the carrier. It was held for postage."

Had a bombshell been exploded the effect could not have been more startling.

Yancey was the first man on his feet.

"And the scoundrel never got it! Here, Colonel, give me the letter. I'll go through this town like a fine-tooth comb but what I'll find him. He will never escape me. My name is Yancey, suh!"

The judge was more conservative. He had grave doubts as to whether a second challenge, after a delay of two days and two nights, could be sent at all. The traditions of the Carter family were a word and a blow, not a blow and a word in two days. To intrust the letter to the United States mail was a grave mistake; the colonel might have known that it would miscarry.

Fitz said grimly that letters always did, without stamps. The Government was running the post-office on a business basis, not for its health.

Yancey looked at Fitz as if the interruption wearied him, then, turning to the colonel, said that he was dumbfounded that a man who had been raised as Colonel Carter could have violated so plain a rule of the code. A challenge should always be delivered by the hand of the challenger's friend. It should never be mailed.

The poor colonel, who since the discovery of the unstamped letter had sat in a heap buried in his coat collar,--the military button having given way,--now gave his version of the miscarriage.

He began by saying that when his friend Major Yancey became conversant with all the facts he would be more lenient with him. He had, he said, found the proprietor's drawer locked, and, not having a stamp about him, had dropped the document into the mail-box with the firm's letters, presuming that the clerks would affix the tax the Government imposed. That the document had reached the post-office was evidenced by the date-stamp on the envelope. It seemed to him a picayune piece of business on the part of the authorities to detain it, and all for the paltry sum of two cents.

Major Yancey conferred with the judge for a moment, and then said that the colonel's explanation had relieved him of all responsibility. He owed him a humble apology, and he shook his hand. Colonel Carter had done all that a high-bred gentleman could do. The letter was intrusted to the care of Mr. Klutchem's own government, the post-office as now conducted being peculiarly a Yankee institution.

"If Mr. Klutchem's own government, gemmen,"--and he repeated it with a rising voice,--"if Mr. Klutchem's own government does not trust him enough to deliver to him a letter in advance of a payment of two cents, such action, while highly discreditable to Mr. Klutchem, certainly does not relieve that gemman from the responsibility of answerin' Colonel Caarter."

The colonel said the point was well taken, and the judge sustained him.

Yancey looked around with the air of a country lawyer who had tripped up a witness, decorated a corner of the carpet, and continued:--

"My idee, suh, now that I am on the ground, is for me to wait upon the gemman at once, hand him the orig'nal challenge, and demand an immediate answer. That is, "turning to Fitz, "unless he is in hidin'."

Fitz replied that it was pretty clear to him that a man could not hide from a challenge he had never received. It was quite evident that Klutchem was detained somewhere.

The colonel coincided, and said in justice to his antagonist that he would have to acquit him of this charge. He did not now believe that Mr. Klutchem had run away. Fitz, who up to this time had enjoyed every turn in the discussion, and who had listened to Yancey with a face like a stone god, his knees shaking with laughter, now threw another bombshell almost as disastrous as the first.

"Besides, gentlemen, I don't think Mr. Klutchem's remarks were insulting."

The colonel's head rose out of his collar with a jerk, and the forelegs of Yancey's chair struck the floor with a thump. Both sprang to their feet. The judge and I remained quiet. "Not insultin', suh, to call a gemman a--a--Colonel, what did the scoundrel call you?"

"It was mo' his manner," replied the colonel. "He was familiar, suh, and presumin' and offensive."

Yancey broke away again, but Fitz sidetracked him with a gesture, and asked the colonel to repeat Klutchem's exact words.

The colonel gazed at the ceiling a moment, and replied:--

"Mr. Klutchem said that, outside of peanuts and sweet potatoes, all my road would git for freight would be niggers and razor-back hogs."

"Mr. Klutchem was right, Colonel," said Fitz. "Very sensible man. They will form a very large part of our freight. Anything offensive in that remark of Klutchem's, Major Yancey?"

The major conferred with the judge, and said reluctantly that there was not.

"Go on, Colonel," continued Fitz.

"Then, suh, he said he wouldn't trade a yaller dog for enough of our bonds to papah a meetin'-house."

"Did he call you a yaller dog?" said Yancey searchingly, and straightening himself up.


"Call anybody connected with you a yaller dog?"

"Can't say that he did."

"Call yo' railroad a yaller dog?"

"No, don't think so," said the colonel, now thoroughly confused and adrift.

Yancey consulted with the judge a moment in one corner, and then said gravely:--

"Unless some mo' direct insult is stated, Colonel, we must agree with yo' friend Mr. Fitzpatrick, and consider yo' action hasty. Now, if you had pressed the gemman, and he had called _you a yaller dog or a liar, somethin' might be done. Why didn't you press him?"

"I did, suh. I told him his statements were false and his manners vulgar."

"And he did not talk back?"

"No, suh; on'y laughed."

"Sneeringly, and in a way that sounded like 'Yo' 're another'?"

The colonel could not remember that it was.

Yancey ruminated, and Fitz now took a hand.

"On the contrary, Major Yancey, Mr. Klutchem's laugh was a very jolly laugh; and, under the circumstances, a laugh very creditable to his good nature. You are young and impetuous, but I know my learned friend, Judge Kerfoot, will agree with me"--here Yancey patted his toy balloon complacently, and the judge leaned forward with rapt attention--"when I say that if any apologies are in order they should not come from Mr. Klutchem."

It was delicious to note how easily Fitz fell into the oratorical method of his hearers.

"Here is a man immersed in stocks, and totally ignorant of the boundless resources of your State, who limits the freight of our road to four staples,--peanuts, hogs, sweet potatoes, and niggers. As a further exhibition of his ignorance he estimates the value of a large block of our securities as far below the price set upon a light, tan-colored canine, a very inexpensive animal; or, as he puts it, and perhaps too coarsely,--a yellow dog. For the expression of these financial opinions in an open office during business hours he is set upon, threatened with expulsion, and finally challenged to a mortal duel. I ask you, as chivalric Virginians, is this right?"

Yancey was about to answer, when the judge raised his hand impressively.

"The co'te, not being familiar with the practice of this section, can on'y decide the question in acco'dance with the practice of his own county. The language used is not objectionable, either under the law or by the code. The prisoner, Klutchem, is discharged with a reprimand, and the plaintiff, Caarter, leaves the co'te room without a stain on his cha'acter. The co'te will now take a recess."

Fitz listened with great gravity to the decision of the learned judge, bowed to him with the pleased deference of the winning attorney, grasped the colonel's hand, and congratulated him warmly on his acquittal.

Then, locking his arm through Yancey's, he conducted that pugnacious but parched Virginian, together with the overworked judge, out into the street, down a flight of stone steps, and into an underground apartment; from which they emerged later with that satisfied, cheerful air peculiar to a group of men who have slaked their thirst.

The colonel and I remained behind. He was in no mood for such frivolity.

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