“Of course, it is optional with you, Major Dabney, whether you sell us our right of way peaceably or compel us to acquire it by condemnation proceedings in the courts. As for the rest—is it possible that you don’t know the war is over?”
With a roar like that of a maddened lion the Major bowed himself, caught his man in a mighty wrestler’s grip and flung him broadcast into the coleus bed. The words that went with the fierce attack made Ardea crouch and shiver and take refuge behind the great dog. Japheth Pettigrass jumped down from his step-ladder and went to help the engineer out of the flower bed. The Major had sworn himself to a stand, but the fine old face was a terrifying mask of passion.
“The old firebrand!” the engineer was muttering under his breath when Pettigrass reached him; but the foreman cut him short.
“You got mighty little sense, looks like, to me. Stove up any?”
“Nothing to hurt, I guess.”
“Well, your hawss is waitin’ for ye down yonder at the gate, and I don’t b’lieve the Major is allowin’ to ask ye to stay to supper.”
The railroad man scowled and recovered his dignity, or some portion of it.
“You’re a hospitable lot,” he said, moving off toward the driveway. “You can tell the old maniac he’ll hear from us later.”
Pettigrass stooped with his back to the portico and patted the dog.
“Don’t you look so shuck up, little one,” he whispered reassuringly to Ardea. “There ain’t nothin’ goin’ to happen, worse than has happened, I reckon.” But Ardea was mute.
When the engineer had mounted and ridden away down the pike, the foreman straightened himself and faced about. The Major had dropped into his big arm-chair and was trying to relight his pipe. But his hands shook and the match went out.
Pettigrass moved nearer and spoke so that the child should not hear. “If you run me off the place the nex’ minute, I’m goin’ to tell you you ort to be tolerably ‘shamed of yourse’f, Maje’ Dabney. That po’ little gal is scared out of a year’s growin’, right now.”
“I know, Japheth; I know. I’m a damned old heathen! For, insultin’ as he was, the man was for the time bein’ my guest, suh—my guest!”
“I’m talkin’ about the little one—not that railroader. So far as I know, he earned what he got. I allowed they’d make some sort of a swap with you, so I didn’t say anything when they was layin’ out their lines thoo’ the hawss-lot and across the lower corn-field this mornin’—easy, now; no more r’arin’ and t’arin’ with that thar little gal not a-knowin’ which side o’ the earth’s goin’ to cave in next!”
The Major dropped his pipe, laid fast hold of the arms of his chair, and breathed hard.
“Laid out theyuh lines—across my prope’ty? Japheth, faveh me by riding down to the furnace and askin’ Caleb Gordon if he will do me the honor to come up heah—this evenin’, if he can. I—I—it’s twenty yeahs and mo’ since I’ve troubled the law cou’ts of ouh po’, Yankee-ridden country with any affai-ah of mine; and now—well, I don’t know—I don’t know,” with a despondent shake of the leonine head.