“‘My business, suh?’ said the colonel, risin’ from his chair, mad clear through,—’I’ve no business, suh. I am a prisoner of war waitin’ to be exchanged!’ and he stomped into the house.”
Here the major burst into a laugh, straightened himself up to his full height, squeezed the keys back into his pocket, and said he must take a look into the state-rooms on the deck to see if they were all ready for his friends for the night.
When I turned in for the night, he was on deck again, still talking, his hearty laugh ringing out every few moments. Only the white-whiskered man was left. The other camp-stools were empty.
At early dawn the steamboat slowed down, and a scow, manned by two bare-footed negroes with sweep oars, rounded to. In a few moments the major, two guns, two valises, Jack, and I were safely landed on its wet bottom, the major’s bag with its precious contents stowed between his knees.
To the left, a mile or more away, lay Crab Island, the landed estate of our host,—a delicate, green thread on the horizon line, broken by two knots, one evidently a large house with chimneys, and the other a clump of trees. The larger knot proved to be the manor house that sheltered the belongings of the major, with the wine-cellars of marvelous vintage, the table that groaned, the folding mahogany doors that swung back for bevies of beauties, and perhaps, for all I knew, the gray-haired, ebony butler in the green coat. The smaller knot, Jack said, screened from public view the little club-house belonging to his friends and himself.
As the sun rose and we neared the shore, there came into view on the near end of the island the rickety outline of a palsied old dock, clutching with one arm a group of piles anchored in the marsh grass, and extending the other as if in welcome to the slow-moving scow. We accepted the invitation, threw a line over a thumb of a pile, and in five minutes were seated in a country stage. Ten more, and we backed up to an old-fashioned colonial porch, with sloping roof and dormer windows supported by high white columns. Leaning over the broken railing of the porch was a half-grown negro boy, hatless and bare-footed; inside the door, looking furtively out, half concealing her face with her apron, stood an old negro woman, her head bound with a bandana kerchief, while peeping from behind an outbuilding was a group of children in sun-bonnets and straw hats,—“the farmer’s boys and girls,” the major said, waving his hand, as we drove up, his eyes brightening. Then there was the usual collection of farm-yard fowl, beside two great hounds, who visited each one of us in turn, their noses rubbing our knees.
If the major, now that he was on his native heath, realized in his own mind any difference between the Eldorado which his eloquence had conjured up in my own mind, the morning before in Jack’s room, and the hard, cold facts before us, he gave no outward sign. To all appearances, judging from his perfect ease and good temper, the paint-scaled pillars were the finest of Carrara marble, the bare floors were carpeted with the softest fabrics of Turkish looms, and the big, sparsely furnished rooms were so many salons, where princes trod in pride, and fair ladies stepped a measure.