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Fortune favoured Caxton in the matter of the note. Fetters was in Clarendon the following morning. Caxton saw him passing, called him into his office, and produced the note.
"That's no good," said Fetters contemptuously. "It was outlawed yesterday. I suppose you allowed I'd forgotten it. On the contrary, I've a memorandum of it in my pocketbook, and I struck it off the list last night. I always pay my lawful debts, when they're properly demanded. If this note had been presented yesterday, I'd have paid it. To-day it's too late. It ain't a lawful debt."
"Do you really mean to say, Mr. Fetters, that you have deliberately robbed those poor women of this money all these years, and are not ashamed of it, not even when you're found out, and that you are going to take refuge behind the statute?"
"Now, see here, Mr. Caxton," returned Fetters, without apparent emotion, "you want to be careful about the language you use. I might sue you for slander. You're a young man, that hopes to have a future and live in this county, where I expect to live and have law business done long after some of your present clients have moved away. I didn't owe the estate of John Treadwell one cent--you ought to be lawyer enough to know that. He owed me money, and paid me with a note. I collected the note. I owed him money and paid it with a note. Whoever heard of anybody's paying a note that wasn't presented?"
"It's a poor argument, Mr. Fetters. You would have let those ladies starve to death before you would have come forward and paid that debt."
"They've never asked me for charity, so I wasn't called on to offer it. And you know now, don't you, that if I'd paid the amount of that note, and then it had turned up afterward in somebody else's hands, I'd have had to pay it over again; now wouldn't I?"
Caxton could not deny it. Fetters had robbed the Treadwell estate, but his argument was unanswerable.
"Yes," said Caxton, "I suppose you would."
"I'm sorry for the women," said Fetters, "and I've stood ready to pay that note all these years, and it ain't my fault that it hasn't been presented. Now it's outlawed, and you couldn't expect a man to just give away that much money. It ain't a lawful debt, and the law's good enough for me."
"You're awfully sorry for the ladies, aren't you?" said Caxton, with thinly veiled sarcasm.
"I surely am; I'm honestly sorry for them."
"And you'd pay the note if you had to, wouldn't you?" asked Caxton.
"I surely would. As I say, I always pay my legal debts."
"All right," said Caxton triumphantly, "then you'll pay this. I filed suit against you yesterday, which takes the case out of the statute."
Fetters concealed his discomfiture.
"Well," he said, with quiet malignity, "I've nothing more to say till I consult my lawyer. But I want to tell you one thing. You are ruining a fine career by standing in with this Colonel French. I hear his son was killed to-day. You can tell him I say it's a judgment on him; for I hold him responsible for my son's condition. He came down here and tried to demoralise the labour market. He put false notions in the niggers' heads. Then he got to meddling with my business, trying to get away a nigger whose time I had bought. He insulted my agent Turner, and came all the way down to Sycamore and tried to bully me into letting the nigger loose, and of course I wouldn't be bullied. Afterwards, when I offered to let the nigger go, the colonel wouldn't have it so. I shall always believe he bribed one of my men to get the nigger off, and then turned him loose to run amuck among the white people and shoot my boy and my overseer. It was a low-down performance, and unworthy of a gentleman. No really white man would treat another white man so. You can tell him I say it's a judgment that's fallen on him to-day, and that it's not the last one, and that he'll be sorrier yet that he didn't stay where he was, with his nigger-lovin' notions, instead of comin' back down here to make trouble for people that have grown up with the State and made it what it is."
Caxton, of course, did not deliver the message. To do so would have been worse taste than Fetters had displayed in sending it. Having got the best of the encounter, Caxton had no objection to letting his defeated antagonist discharge his venom against the absent colonel, who would never know of it, and who was already breasting the waves of a sorrow so deep and so strong as almost to overwhelm him. For he had loved the boy; all his hopes had centred around this beautiful man child, who had promised so much that was good. His own future had been planned with reference to him. Now he was dead, and the bereaved father gave way to his grief.
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