Bishop of Cottontown
A STORY OF THE SOUTHERN COTTON MILLS
BY JOHN TROTWOOD MOORE
AUTHOR OF "A Summer Hymnal," "Ole Mistis," "Songs and Stories from Tennessee," etc.
ILLUSTRATED BY THE KINNEYS
"And each in his separate star, Shall paint the thing as he sees it For the God of Things As They Are."
THE JOHN C. WINSTON COMPANY
BY JOHN TROTWOOD MOORE
Entered at Stationers' Hall, London, 1906
All Rights Reserved
IN MEMORY OF MY MOTHER,
EMILY BILLINGSLEA MOORE,
DECEMBER 14TH, 1903,
THE FAITH OF THIS BOOK BEING HERS.
PART FIRST—THE BLOOM.
PROLOGUE—THE COTTON BLOSSOM 7
PART SECOND—THE BOLL.
I. COTTON 13 II. RICHARD TRAVIS 18 III. JUD CARPENTER 27 IV. FOOD FOR THE FACTORY 39 V. THE FLY CATCHER CAUGHT 50 VI. THE FLINT AND THE COAL 64 VII. HILLARD WATTS 84 VIII. WESTMORELAND 92 IX. A MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING 103 X. A STAR AND A SATELLITE 108 XI. A MIDNIGHT BURIAL 117 XII. JACK BRACKEN 127
PART THIRD—THE GIN.
I. ALICE WESTMORE 143 II. THE REAL HEROES 151 III. FRANKLIN 154
PART FOURTH—THE LINT.
I. COTTONTOWN 179 II. BEN BUTLER 187 III. AN ANSWER TO PRAYER 199 IV. HOW THE BISHOP FROZE 205 V. THE FLOCK 209 VI. A BISHOP MILITANT 213 VII. MARGARET ADAMS 219 VIII. HARD-SHELL SUNDAY 226 IX. THE RETURN 232 X. THE SWAN SONG OF THE CREPE MYRTLE 239 XI. THE CASKET AND THE GHOST 248 XII. A MIDNIGHT GUARD 254 XIII. THE THEFT OF A CHILDHOOD 258 XIV. UNCLE DAVE'S WILL 275 XV. EDWARD CONWAY 287 XVI. HELEN'S DESPAIR 296 XVII. THE WHIPPER-IN 305 XVIII. SAMANTHA CAREWE 312 XIX. A QUICK CONVERSION 317 XX. A LIVE FUNERAL 326 XXI. JACK AND THE LITTLE ONES 336 XXII. THE BROKEN THREAD 344 XXIII. GOD WILL PROVIDE 350 XXIV. BONAPARTE'S WATERLOO 355 XXV. A BORN NATURALIST 366 XXVI. BEN BUTLER'S LAST RACE 380 XXVII. YOU'LL COME BACK A MAN 414
PART FIFTH—THE LOOM.
I. A NEW MILL GIRL 419 II. IN THE DEPTHS 431 III. WORK IN A NEW LIGHT 438 IV. MAGGIE 443 V. PAY-DAY 447 VI. THE PLOT 456 VII. MRS. WESTMORE TAKES A HAND 464 VIII. A QUESTION BROUGHT HOME 473 IX. THE PEDIGREE OF ACHIEVEMENT 487 X. MARRIED IN GOD'S SIGHT 493 XI. THE QUEEN IS DEAD 499 XII. IN THYSELF THERE IS WEAKNESS 508 XIII. HIMSELF AGAIN 512 XIV. THE JOY OF THE MORNING 519 XV. THE TOUCH OF GOD 526 XVI. MAMMY MARIA 533 XVII. THE DOUBLE THAT DIED 545 XVIII. THE DYING LION 552 XIX. FACE TO FACE WITH DEATH 564 XX. THE ANGEL WITH THE FLAMING SWORD 572 XXI. THE GREAT FIRE 581 XXII. A CONWAY AGAIN 588 XXIII. DIED FOR THE LAW 596 XXIV. THE ATONEMENT 611 XXV. THE SHADOWS AND THE CLOUDS 624 XXVI. THE MODEL MILL 633
[Transcriber's Note: Obvious printer errors, have been silently corrected. For clarity, have added new paragraphs with respect to dialogue within paragraphs. The name Hillard and Hilliard have been uniformly changed to Hillard. Corrected incorrect usages of 'its' and 'it's.' All other inconsistencies (i.e. The inconsistent spellings—sombre/somber, gray/grey, hyphen/no hyphen) have been left as they were in the original.]
PART FIRST—THE BLOOM
THE COTTON BLOSSOM
The cotton blossom is the only flower that is born in the shuttle of a sunbeam and dies in a loom.
It is the most beautiful flower that grows, and needs only to become rare to be priceless—only to die to be idealized.
For the world worships that which it hopes to attain, and our ideals are those things just out of our reach.
Satiety has ten points and possession is nine of them.
If, in early August, the delicately green leaves of this most aristocratic of all plants, instead of covering acres of Southland shimmering under a throbbing sun, peeped daintily out, from among the well-kept beds of some noble garden, men would flock to see that plant, which, of all plants, looks most like a miniature tree.
A stout-hearted plant,—a tree, dwarfed, but losing not its dignity.
Then, one morning, with the earliest sunrise, and born of it, there emerges from the scalloped sea-shell of the bough an exquisite, pendulous, cream-white blossom, clasping in its center a golden yellow star, pinked with dawn points of light, and, setting high up under its sky of milk-white petals flanked with yellow stars, it seems to the little nestling field-wrens born beneath it to be the miniature arch of daybreak, ere the great eye of the morning star closes.
Later, when the sun rises and the sky above grows pink and purple, it, too, changes its color from pink to purple, copying the sky from zone to zone, from blue to deeper blue, until, at late evening the young nestlings may look up and say, in their bird language: "It is twilight."
What other flower among them can thus copy Nature, the great master?
Under every sky is a sphere, and under this sky picture, when night falls and closes it, a sphere is born. And in that sphere is all of earth.
Its oils and its minerals are there, and one day, becoming too full of richness, it bursts, and throws open a five-roomed granary, stored with richer fabric than ever came from the shuttles of Fez and holding globes of oil such as the olives of Hebron dreamed not of.
And in that fabric is the world clothed.
Oh, little loom of the cotton-plant, poet that can show us the sky, painter that paints it, artisan that reaches out, and, from the skein of a sunbeam, the loom of the air and the white of its own soul, weaves the cloth that clothes the world!
From dawn and darkness building a loom. From sunlight and shadow weaving threads of such fineness that the spider's were ropes of sand and the hoar frost's but clumsy icicles.
Weaving—weaving—weaving them. And the delicately patterned tapestry of ever-changing clouds forming patterns of a fabric, white as the snow of the centuries, determined that since it has to make the garments of men, it will make them unsullied.
Oh, little plant, poet, painter, master-artisan!
It is true to Nature to the last. The summer wanes and the winter comes, and when the cotton sphere bursts, 'tis a ball of snow, but a dazzling white, spidery snow, which warms and does not chill, brings comfort and not care, wealth and the rich warm blood, and not the pinches of poverty.
There are those who cannot hear God's voice unless He speaks to them in the thunders of Sinai, nor see Him unless He flares before them in the bonfires of a burning bush. They grumble because His Messenger came to a tribe in the hill countries of Long Ago. They wish to see the miracle of the dead arising. They see not the miracle of life around them. Death from Life is more strange to them than life from death.
'Tis the silent voice that speaks the loudest. Did Sinai speak louder than this? Hear it:
"I am a bloom, and yet I reflect the sky from the morning's star to the midnight's. I am a flower, yet I show you the heaven from the dawn of its birth to the twilight of its death. I am a boll, and yet a miniature earth stored with silks and satins, oils of the olives, minerals of all lands. And when I am ripe I throw open my five-roomed granary, each fitted to the finger and thumb of the human hand, with a depth between, equalled only by the palm."
O voice of the cotton-plant, do we need to go to oracles or listen for a diviner voice than yours when thus you tell us: Pluck?
PART SECOND—THE BOLL
The frost had touched the gums and maples in the Tennessee Valley, and the wood, which lined every hill and mountain side, looked like huge flaming bouquets—large ones, where the thicker wood clustered high on the side of Sand Mountain and stood out in crimson, gold and yellow against the sky,—small ones, where they clustered around the foot hills.
Nature is nothing if not sentimental. She will make bouquets if none be made for her; or, mayhap, she wishes her children to be, and so makes them bouquets herself.
There was that crispness in the air which puts one to wondering if, after all, autumn is not the finest time of the year.
It had been a prosperous year in the Tennessee Valley—that year of 1874. And it had brought a double prosperity, in that, under the leadership of George S. Houston, the white men of the state, after a desperate struggle, had thrown off the political yoke of the negro and the carpetbagger, and once more the Saxon ruled in the land of his birth.
Then was taken a full, long, wholesome, air-filling Anglo-Saxon breath, from the Tennessee Valley to the Gulf. There was a quickening of pulses that had faltered, and heart-beats that had fluttered, dumb and discouraged, now rattled like kettle-drums, to the fight of life.
It meant change—redemption—prosperity. And more: that the white blood which had made Alabama, need not now leave her for a home elsewhere.
It was a year glorious, and to be remembered. One which marks an epoch. One wherein there is an end of the old and a beginning of the new.
The cotton—the second picking—still whitened thousands of acres. There were not hands enough to pick it. The negroes, demoralized for a half score of years by the brief splendor of elevation, and backed, at first, by Federal bayonets and afterwards by sheer force of their own number in elections, had been correspondingly demoralized and shiftless. True to their instinct then, as now, they worked only so long as they needed money. If one day's cotton picking fed a negro for five, he rested the five.
The negro race does not live to lay up for a rainy day.
And so the cotton being neglected, its lengthened and frowseled locks hung from wide open bolls like the locks of a tawdry woman in early morning.
No one wanted it—that is, wanted it bad enough to pick it. For cotton was cheap that fall—very cheap—and picking cotton is a back-bending business. Therefore it hung its frowsy locks from the boll.
And nothing makes so much for frowsiness in the cotton plant, and in woman, as to know they are not wanted.
The gin-houses were yet full, tho' the gin had been running day and night. That which poured, like pulverized snow, from the mouth of the flues into the pick-room—where the cotton fell before being pressed into bales—scarcely had time to be tramped down and packed off in baskets to the tall, mast-like screws which pressed the bales and bound them with ties, ere the seed cotton came pouring in again from wagon bed and basket.
The gin hummed and sawed and sang and creaked, but it could not devour the seed cotton fast enough from the piles of the incoming fleece.
Those grew lighter and larger all the time.
The eight Tennessee sugar-mules, big and sinewy, hitched to the lever underneath the gin-house at The Gaffs, sweated until they sprinkled in one continual shower the path which they trod around the pivot-beam from morning until night.
For the levers turned the pivot-beam, and the pivot-beam turned the big shaft-wheel which turned the gin-wheel, and the gin had to go or it seemed as if the valley would be smothered in cotton.
Picked once, the fields still looked like a snowfall in November, if such a thing were possible in a land which scarcely felt a dozen snowfalls in as many years.
Dust! There is no dust like that which comes from a gin-house. It may be tasted in the air. All other dust is gravel compared to the penetrating fineness of that diabolical, burning blight which flies out of the lint, from the thousand teeth of the gin-saws, as diamond dust flies from the file.
It is all penetrating, consumptive-breeding, sickening, stifling, suffocating. It is hot and has a metallic flavor; and it flies from the hot steel teeth of the saws, as pestilence from the hot breath of the swamps.
It is linty, furry, tickling, smothering, searing.
It makes one wonder why, in picturing hell, no priest ever thought of filling it with cotton-gin dust instead of fire.
And it clings there from the Lint to the Loom.
Small wonder that the poor little white slaves, taking up their serfdom at the loom where the negro left off at the lint, die like pigs in a cotton-seed pen.
There was cotton everywhere—in the fields, unpicked; in the gin-houses, unginned. That in the fields would be plowed under next spring, presenting the strange anomaly of plowing under one crop to raise another of the same kind. But it has been done many times in the fertile Valley of the Tennessee.
There is that in the Saxon race that makes it discontented, even with success.
There was cotton everywhere; it lay piled up around the gin-houses and screws and negro-cabins and under the sheds and even under the trees. All of it, which was exposed to the weather, was in bales, weighing each a fourth of a ton and with bulging white spots in their bellies where the coarse cotton baling failed to cover their nakedness.
It was cotton—cotton—cotton. Seed,—ginned,—lint,—baled,—cotton.
The Gaffs was a fine estate of five thousand acres which had been handed down for several generations. The old home sat in a grove of hickory, oak and elm trees, on a gentle slope. Ancient sentinels, and they were there when the first Travis came from North Carolina to the Tennessee Valley and built his first double-log cabin under the shelter of their arms.
From the porch of The Gaffs,—as the old home was called—the Tennessee River could be seen two miles away, its brave swift channel glittering like the flash of a silver arrow in the dark green wood which bordered it.
Back of the house the mountain ridge rolled; not high enough to be awful and unapproachable, nor so low as to breed contempt from a too great familiarity. Not grand, but the kind one loves to wander over.
Strength was written in the face of Richard Travis—the owner of The Gaffs—intellectual, physical, passion-strength, strength of purpose and of doing. Strength, but not moral strength; and hence lacking all of being all-conquering.
He had that kind of strength which made others think as he thought, and do as he would have them do. He saw things clearly, strongly, quickly. His assurance made all things sure. He knew things and was proud of it. He knew himself and other men. And best of all, as he thought, he knew women.
Richard Travis was secretary and treasurer of the Acme Cotton Mills.
To-night he was alone in the old-fashioned but elegant dining-room of the Gaffs. The big log fire of ash and hickory was pleasant, and the blaze, falling in sombre color on the old mahogany side-board which sat opposite the fireplace, on the double ash floor, polished and shining, added a deeper and richer hue to it. From the toes of the dragon on which it rested, to the beak of the hand-carved eagle, spreading his wings over the shield beneath him, carved in the solid mahogany and surrounded by thirteen stars, all was elegance and aristocracy. Even the bold staring eyes of the eagle seemed proud of the age of the side-board, for had it not been built when the stars numbered but thirteen? And was not the eagle rampant then?
The big brass andirons were mounted with the bronzed heads of wood-nymphs, and these looked saucily up at the eagle. The three-cornered cupboard, in one corner of the room, was of cherry, with small diamond-shaped windows in front, showing within rare old sets of china and cut glass. The handsome square dining table matched the side-board, only its dragon feet were larger and stronger, as if intended to stand up under more weight, at times.
Everything was ancient and had a pedigree. Even the Llewellyn setter was old, for he was grizzled around the muzzle and had deep-set, lusterless eyes, from which the firelight, as if afraid of their very uncanniness, darted out as soon as it entered. And he carried his head to one side when he walked, as old and deaf dogs do.
He lay on a rug before the fire. He had won this license, for opposite his name on the kennel books were more field-trials won than by any other dog in Alabama. And now he dozed and dreamed of them again, with many twitchings of feet, and cocked, quivering ears, and rigid tail, as if once more frozen to the covey in the tall sedge-grass of the old field, with the smell of frost-bitten Lespedeza, wet with dew, beneath his feet.
Travis stooped and petted the old dog. It was the one thing of his household he loved most.
"Man or dog—'tis all the same," he mused as he watched the dreaming dog—"it is old age's privilege to dream of what has been done—it is youth's to do."
He stretched himself in his big mahogany chair and glanced down his muscular limbs, and drew his arms together with a snap of quick strength.
Everything at The Gaffs was an open diary of the master's life. It is so in all homes—that which we gather around us, from our books to our bed-clothes, is what we are.
And so the setter on the rug meant that Richard Travis was the best wing-shot in the Tennessee Valley, and that his kennel of Gladstone setters had won more field trials than any other kennel in the South. No man has really hunted who has never shot quail in Alabama over a well-broken setter. All other hunting is butchery compared to the scientific sweetness of this sport.
There was a good-night, martial, daring crow, ringing from the Hoss-apple tree at the dining-room window. Travis smiled and called out:
"Lights waked you up, eh, Dick? You're a gay Lothario—go back to sleep."
Richard Travis had the original stock—the Irish Greys—which his doughty old grandsire, General Jeremiah Travis, developed to championship honors, and in a memorable main with his friend, General Andrew Jackson, ten years after the New Orleans campaign, he had cleared up the Tennesseans, cock and pocket. It was a big main in which Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama were pitted against each other, and in which the Travis cocks of the Emerald Isle strain, as Old Hickory expressed it, "stood the steel like a stuck she-b'ar, fightin' for her cubs."
General Travis had been an expert at heeling a cock; and it is said that his skill on that occasion was worth more than the blood of his Greys; for by a peculiar turn of the gaffs,—so slight as to escape the notice of any but an expert—his champion cock had struck the blow which ended the battle. With the money won, he had added four thousand acres to his estate, and afterwards called it The Gaffs.
And a strong, brave man had been General Jeremiah Travis,—pioneer, Indian fighter, Colonel in the Creek war and at New Orleans, and a General in the war with Mexico.
His love for the Union had been that of a brave man who had gone through battles and shed his blood for his country.
The Civil War broke his heart.
In his early days his heart had been in his thoroughbred horses and his fighting cocks, and when he heard that his nephew had died with Crockett and Bowie at the Alamo, he drew himself proudly up and said: "A right brave boy, by the Eternal, and he died as becomes one crossed on an Irish Grey cock."
That had been years before. Now, a new civilization had come on the stage, and where the grandsire had taken to thoroughbreds, Richard Travis, the grandson, took to trotters. In the stalls where once stood the sons of Sir Archie, Boston, and imported Glencoe himself, now were sons of Mambrino Patchin, and George Wilkes and Harold. And a splendid lot they were—sires,—brood mares and colts, in the paddocks of The Gaffs.
Travis took no man's dust in the Tennessee Valley. At county fairs he had a walk-over.
He had inherited The Gaffs from his grandfather, for both his parents died in his infancy, and his two remaining uncles gave their lives in Virginia, early in the war, following the flag of the Confederacy.
One of them had left a son, whom Richard Travis had educated and who had, but the June before, graduated from the State University.
Travis saw but little of him, since each did as he pleased, and it did not please either of them to get into each other's way.
There had been no sympathy between them. There could not be, for they were too much alike in many ways.
There can be no sympathy in selfishness.
All through the summer Harry Travis had spent his time at picnics and dances, and, but for the fact that his cousin now and then missed one of his best horses from the stable, or found his favorite gun put away foul, or his fishing tackle broken, he would not have known that Harry was on the place.
Cook-mother Charity kept the house. Bond and free, she had spent all her life at The Gaffs. Of this she was prouder than to have been housekeeper at Windsor. Her word was law; she was the only mortal who bossed, as she called it, Richard Travis.
Usually, friends from town kept the owner company, and The Gaffs' reputation for hospitality, while generous, was not unnoted for its hilarity.
To-night Richard Travis was lonely. His supper tray had not been removed. He lit a cigar and picked up a book—it was Herbert Spencer, and he was soon interested.
Ten minutes later an octoroon house-girl, with dark Creole eyes, and bright ribbons in her hair, came in to remove the supper dishes. She wore a bright-colored green gown, cut low. As she reached over the table near him he winced at the strong smell of musk, which beauties of her race imagine adds so greatly to their aesthetic status-quo. She came nearer to him than was necessary, and there was an attempted familiarity in the movement that caused him to curve slightly the corner of his thin, nervous lip, showing beneath his mustache. She kept a half glance on him always. He smoked and read on, until the rank smell of her perfume smote him again through the odor of his cigar, and as he looked up she had busied around so close to him that her exposed neck was within two feet of him bent in seeming innocence over the tray. With a mischievous laugh he reached over and flipped the hot ashes from his cigar upon her neck. She screamed affectedly and danced about shaking off the ashes. Then with feigned maidenly piquancy and many reproachful glances, she went out laughing good humoredly.
He was good natured, and when she was gone he laughed boyishly.
Good nature is one of the virtues of impurity.
Still giggling she set the tray down in the kitchen and told Cook-mother Charity about it. That worthy woman gave her a warning look and said:
"The frisk'ness of this new gen'ration of niggers makes me tired. Better let Marse Dick alone—he's a dan'g'us man with women."
In the dining-room Travis sat quiet and thoughtful. He was a handsome man, turning forty. His face was strong, clean shaved, except a light mustache, with full sensual lips and an unusually fine brow. It was the brow of intellect—all in front. Behind and above there was no loftiness of ideality or of veneration. His smile was constant, and though slightly cold, was always approachable. His manner was decisive, but clever always, and kind-hearted at times.
Contrary to his habit, he grew reminiscent. He despised this kind of a mood, because, as he said, "It is the weakness of a fool to think about himself." He walked to the window and looked out on the broad fields of The Gaffs in the valley before him. He looked at the handsomely furnished room and thought of the splendid old home. Then he deliberately surveyed himself in the mirror. He smiled:
"'Survival of the fittest'—yes, Spencer is right—a great—great mind. He is living now, and the world, of course, will not admit his greatness until he is dead. Life, like the bull that would rule the herd, is never ready to admit that other life is great. A poet is always a dead rhymester,—a philosopher, a dead dreamer.
"Let Spencer but die!
"Tush! Why indulge in weak modesty and fool self-depreciation? Even instinct tells me—that very lowest of animal intellectual forces—that I survive because I am stronger than the dead. Providence—God—whatever it is, has nothing to do with it except to start you and let you survive by overcoming. Winds you up and then—devil take the hindmost!
"It is brains—brains—brains that count—brains first and always. This moral stuff is fit only for those who are too weak to conquer. I have accomplished everything in life I have ever undertaken—everything—and—by brains! Not once have I failed—I have done it by intellect, courage—intuition—the thing in one that speaks.
"Now as to things of the heart,"—he stopped suddenly—he even scowled half humorously. It came over him—his failure there, as one who, sweeping with his knights the pawns of an opponent, suddenly finds himself confronting a queen—and checkmated.
He walked to the window again and looked toward the northern end of the valley. There the gables of an old and somewhat weather-beaten home sat in a group of beech on a rise among the foothills.
"Westmoreland"—he said—"how dilapidated it is getting to be! Something must be done there, and Alice—Alice,"—he repeated the name softly—reverently—"I feel—I know it—she—even she shall be mine—after all these years—she shall come to me yet."
He smiled again: "Then I shall have won all around. Fate? Destiny? Tush! It's living and surviving weaker things, such for instance as my cousin Tom."
He smiled satisfactorily. He flecked some cotton lint from his coat sleeve.
"I have had a hard time in the mill to-day. It's a beastly business robbing the poor little half-made-up devils."
He rang for Aunt Charity. She knew what he wished, and soon came in bringing him his cocktail—his night-cap as she always called it,—only of late he had required several in an evening,—a thing that set the old woman to quarreling with him, for she knew the limit of a gentleman. And, in truth, she was proud of her cocktails. They were made from a recipe given by Andrew Jackson. For fifty years Cook-mother Charity had made one every night and brought it to "old marster" before he retired. Now she proudly brought it to his grandson.
"Oh, say Mammy," he said as the old woman started out—"Carpenter will be here directly with his report. Bring another pair of these in—we will want them."
The old woman bristled up. "To be sure, I'll fix 'em, honey. He'll not know the difference. But the licker he gits in his'n will come outen the bottle we keep for the hosses when they have the colic. The bran' we keep for gem'men would stick in his th'oat."
Travis laughed: "Well—be sure you don't get that horse brand in mine."
An hour afterwards, Travis heard a well-known walk in the hall and opened the door.
He stepped back astonished. He released the knob and gazed half angry, half smiling.
A large dog, brindled and lean, walked complacently and condescendingly in, followed by his master. At a glance, the least imaginative could see that Jud Carpenter, the Whipper-in of the Acme Cotton Mills, and Bonaparte, his dog, were well mated.
The man was large, raw-boned and brindled, and he, also, walked in, complacently and condescendingly.
The dog's ears had been cropped to match his tail, which in his infancy had been reduced to a very few inches. His under jaw protruded slightly—showing the trace of bull in his make-up.
That was the man all over. Besides he had a small, mean, roguish ear.
The dog was cross-eyed—"the only cross-eyed purp in the worl'"—as his master had often proudly proclaimed, and the expression of his face was uncanny.
Jud Carpenter's eastern-eye looked west, and his western-eye looked east, and the rest of the paragraph above fitted him also.
The dog's pedigree, as his master had drawlingly proclaimed, was "p'yart houn', p'yart bull, p'yart cur, p'yart terrier, an' the rest of him—wal, jes' dog."
Reverse this and it will be Carpenter's: Just dog, with a sprinkling of bull, cur, terrier, and hound.
Before Richard Travis could protest, the dog walked deliberately to the fireplace and sprang savagely on the helpless old setter dreaming on the rug. The older dog expostulated with terrific howls, while Travis turned quickly and kicked off the intruder.
He stood the kicking as quietly as if it were part of the programme in the last act of a melodrama in which he was the villain. He was kicked entirely across the room and his head was driven violently into the half-open door of the side-board. Here it came in contact with one of Cook-mother's freshly baked hams, set aside for the morrow's lunch. Without even a change of countenance—for, in truth, it could not change—without the lifting even of a hair in surprise, the brute seized the ham and settled right where he was, to lunch. And he did it as complacently as he had walked in, and with a satisfied growl which seemed to say that, so far as the villain was concerned, the last act of the melodrama was ending to his entire satisfaction.
Opening a side door, Travis seized him by the stump of a tail and one hind leg—knowing his mouth was too full of ham to bite anything—and threw him, still clutching the ham, bodily into the back yard. Without changing the attitude he found himself in when he hit the ground, the brindled dog went on with his luncheon.
The very cheek of it set Travis to laughing. He closed the door and said to the man who had followed the dog in: "Carpenter, if I had the nerve of that raw-boned fiend that follows you around, I'd soon own the world."
The man had already taken his seat by the fire as unaffectedly as had the dog. He had entered as boldly and as indifferently and his two deep-set, cat-gray cross-eyes looked around as savagely.
He was a tall, lank fellow, past middle age, with a crop of stiff, red-brown hair, beginning midway of his forehead, so near to an equally shaggy and heavy splotch of eyebrows as to leave scarce a finger's breadth between them.
He was wiry and shrewd-looking, and his two deep-set eyes seemed always like a leopard's,—walking the cage of his face, hunting for some crack to slip through. Furtive, sly, darting, rolling hither and thither, never still, comprehensive, all-seeing, malicious and deadly shrewd. These were the eyes of Jud Carpenter, and they told it all. To this, add again that they looked in contrary directions.
As a man's eye, so is the tenor of his life.
Yet in them, now and then, the twinkle of humor shone. He had a conciliatory way with those beneath him, and he considered all the mill hands in that class. To his superiors he was a frowning, yet daring and even presumptuous underling.
Somewhat better dressed than the Hillites from whom he sprang was this Whipper-in of the Acme Cotton Mills—somewhat better dressed, and with the air of one who had arisen above his surroundings. Yet, withal, the common, low-born, malicious instinct was there—the instinct which makes one of them hate the man who is better educated, better dressed than he. All told, it might be summed up and said of Jud Carpenter that he had all the instincts of a Hillite and all the arrogance of a manager.
"Nobody understands that dog, Bonaparte, but me," said Carpenter after a while—"he's to dogs what his namesake was to man. He's the champ'un fighter of the Tennessee Valley, an' the only cross-eyed purp in the worl', as I have often said. Like all gen'uses of course, he's a leetle peculiar—but him and me—we understan's each other."
He pulled out some mill papers and was about to proceed to discuss his business when Travis interrupted:
"Hold on," he said, good humoredly, "after my experience with that cross-eyed genius of a dog, I'll need something to brace me up."
He handed Carpenter a glass and each drank off his cocktail at a quaff.
Travis settled quickly to business. He took out his mill books, and for an hour the two talked in a low tone and mechanically. The commissary department of the mill was taken up and the entire accounts gone over. Memoranda were made of goods to be ordered. The accounts of families were run over and inspected. It was tedious work, but Travis never flagged and his executive ability was quick and incisive. At last he closed the book with an impatient gesture:
"That's all I'll do to-night," he muttered decisively. "I've other things to talk to you about. But we'll need something first."
He went to the side-board and brought out a decanter of whiskey, two goblets and a bowl of loaf sugar.
He laughed: "Mammy knows nothing about this. Two cocktails are the limit she sets for me, and so I keep this private bottle."
He made a long-toddy for himself, but Carpenter took his straight. In all of it, his furtive eyes, shining out of the splotch of eyebrows above, glanced inquiringly around and obsequiously followed every movement of his superior.
"Now, Carpenter," said the Secretary after he had settled back in his chair and lit a cigar, handing the box afterwards to the other—"You know me—you and I—must understand each other in all things."
"'Bleeged to be that way," drawled the Whipper-in—"we must wu'ck together. You know me, an' that Jud Carpenter's motto is, 'mum, an' keep movin'.' That's me—that's Jud Carpenter."
Travis laughed: "O, it's nothing that requires so much heavy villain work as the tone of your voice would suggest. We're not in a melodrama. This is the nineteenth century and we're talking business and going to win a thing or two by common sense and business ways, eh?"
"Well, now, the first is quite matter of fact—just horses. I believe we are going to have the biggest fair this fall we have ever had."
"It's lots talked about," said Carpenter—"'specially the big race an' purse you've got put up."
Travis grew interested quickly and leaned over excitedly.
"My reputation is at stake—and that of The Gaffs' stable. You see, Carpenter, it's a three-cornered race for three-thousand dollars—each of us, Col. Troup, Flecker and me, have put up a thousand—three heats out of five—the winner takes the stake. Col. Troup, of Lenox, has entered a fast mare of his, and Flecker, of Tennessee, will be there with his gelding. I know Flecker's horse. I could beat him with Lizette and one of her legs tied up. I looked him over last week. Contracted heels and his owner hasn't got horse-sense to know it. It's horse-sense, Carpenter, that counts for success in life as in a race."
Carpenter nodded again.
"But it's different with Col. Troup's entry. Ever been to Lenox?" he asked suddenly.
Carpenter shook his head.
"Don't know anybody there?" asked Travis. "I thought so—just what I want."
He went on indifferently, but Carpenter saw that he was measuring his words and noting their effect upon himself. "They work out over there Tuesdays and Fridays—the fair is only a few weeks off—they will be stepping their best by Friday. Now, go there and say nothing—but just sit around and see how fast Col. Troup's mare can trot."
"That'll be easy," said Carpenter.
"I have no notion of losing my thousand and reputation, too." He bent over to Carpenter and laughed. "All's fair in love and—a horse race. You know it's the 2:25 class, and I've entered Lizette, but Sadie B. is so much like her that no living man who doesn't curry them every day could tell them apart. Sadie B.'s mark is 2:15. Now see if Troup can beat 2:25. Maybe he can't beat 2:15."
Then he laughed ironically.
Carpenter looked at him wonderingly.
It was all he said, but it was enough for Carpenter. Fraud's wink to the fraudulent is an open book. Her nod is the nod of the Painted Thing passing down the highway.
Base-born that he was—low by instinct and inheritance, he had never heard of so brilliant and so gentlemanly a piece of fraud. The consummate boldness of it made Carpenter's eyes twinkle—a gentleman and in a race with gentlemen—who would dare to suspect? It was the boldness of a fine woman, daring to wear a necklace of paste-diamonds.
He sat looking at Travis in silent admiration. Never before had his employer risen to such heights in the eyes of the Whipper-in. He sat back in his chair and chuckled. His furtive eyes danced.
"Nobody but a born gen'us 'ud ever have tho'rt of that," he said—"never seed yo' e'kal—why, the money is your'n, any way you fix it. You can ring in Lizette one heat and Sadie B."——
"There are things to be thought and not talked of," replied Travis quickly. "For a man of your age ar'n't you learning to talk too much out loud? You go and find out what I've asked—I'll do the rest. I'm thinking I'll not need Sadie B. Never run a risk, even a dead sure one, till you're obliged to."
"I'll fetch it next week—trust me for that. But I hope you will do it—ring in Sadie B. just for the fun of it. Think of old bay-window Troup trottin' his mare to death ag'in two fast horses an' never havin' sense enough to see it."
He looked his employer over—from his neatly turned foot to the cravat, tied in an up-to-date knot. At that, even, Travis flushed. "Here," he said—"another toddy. I'll trust you to bring in your report all right."
Carpenter again took his straight—his eyes had begun to glitter, his face to flush, and he felt more like talking.
Travis lit another cigar. He puffed and smoked in silence for a while. The rings of smoke went up incessantly. His face had begun to redden, his fingers to thrill to the tip with pulsing blood. With it went his final contingency of reserve, and under it he dropped to the level of the base-born at his side.
Whiskey is the great leveler of life. Drinking it, all men are, indeed, equal.
"When are you going out to get in more hands for the mill?" asked Travis after a pause.
"So soon?" asked Travis.
"Yes, you see," said Carpenter, "there's been ha'f a dozen of the brats died this summer an' fall—scarlet fever in the mill."
Travis looked at him and smiled.
"An' I've got to git in some mo' right away," he went on. "Oh, there's plenty of 'em in these hills."
Travis smoked for a few minutes without speaking.
"Carpenter, had you ever thought of Helen Conway—I mean—of getting Conway's two daughters into the mill?" He made the correction with a feigned indifference, but the other quickly noticed it. In an instant Carpenter knew.
As a matter of fact the Whipper-in had not thought of it, but it was easy for him to say what he thought the other wished him to say.
"Wal, yes," he replied; "that's jes' what I had been thinkin' of. They've got to come in—'ristocrats or no 'ristocrats! When it comes to a question of bread and meat, pedigree must go to the cellar."
"To the attic, you mean," said Travis—"where their old clothes are."
Carpenter laughed: "That's it—you all'ers say the k'rect thing. 'N' as I was sayin'"—he went on—"it is a ground-hog case with 'em. The Major's drunk all the time. His farm an' home'll be sold soon. He's 'bleeged to put 'em in the mill—or the po'-house."
He paused, thinking. Then, "But ain't that Helen about the pretties' thing you ever seed?" He chuckled. "You're sly—but I seen you givin' her that airin' behin' Lizette and Sadie B.—"
"You've nothing to do with that," said Travis gruffly. "You want a new girl for our drawing-in machine—the best paying and most profitable place in the mill—off from the others—in a room by herself—no contact with mill-people—easy job—two dollars a day—"
"One dollar—you forgit, suh—one dollar's the reg'lar price, sah," interrupted the Whipper-in.
The other turned on him almost fiercely: "Your memory is as weak as your wits—two dollars, I tell you, and don't interrupt me again—"
"To be sho'," said the Whipper-in, meekly—"I did forgit—please excuse me, sah."
"Then, in talking to Conway, you, of course, would draw his attention to the fact that he is to have a nice cottage free of rent—that will come in right handy when he finds himself out in the road—sold out and nowhere to go," he said.
"'N' the commissary," put in Carpenter quietly. "Excuse me, sah, but there's a mighty good bran' of whiskey there, you know!"
Travis smiled good humoredly: "Your wits are returning," he said; "I think you understand."
"I'll see him to-morrow," said Carpenter, rising to go.
"Oh, don't be in a hurry," said Travis.
"Excuse me, sah, but I'm afraid I've bored you stayin' too long."
"Sit down," said the other, peremptorily—"you will need something to help you along the road. Shall we take another?"
So they took yet another drink, and Carpenter went out, calling his dog.
Travis stood in the doorway and watched them go down the driveway. They both staggered lazily along. Travis smiled: "Both drunk—the dog on ham."
As he turned to go in, he reeled slightly himself, but he did not notice it.
When he came back he was restless. He looked at the clock. "Too early for bed," he said. "I'd give a ten if Charley Biggers were here with his little cocktail laugh to try me a game of poker."
Suddenly he went to the window, and taking a small silver whistle from his pocket he blew it toward the stables. Soon afterwards a well dressed mulatto boy entered.
"How are the horses to-night, Jim?" he asked.
"Fine, sir—all eatin' well an' feelin' good."
"And Coquette—the saddle mare?"
"Like split silk, sir."
"Exercise her to-morrow under the saddle, and Sunday afternoon we will give Miss Alice her first ride on her—she's to be a present for her on her birth-day, you know—eh?"
Jim bowed and started out.
"You may fix my bath now—think I'll retire. O Jim!" he called, "see that Antar, the stallion, is securely stalled. You know how dangerous he is."
He was just dozing off when the front door closed with a bang.
Then a metal whip handle thumped heavily on the floor and the jingling of a spur rattled over the hall floor, as Harry Travis boisterously went down the hall, singing tipsily,
"Oh, Johnny, my dear, Just think of your head, Just think of your head In the morning."
Another door banged so loudly it awakened even the setter. The old dog came to the side of the bed and laid his head affectionately in Travis' palm. The master of The Gaffs stroked his head, saying: "It is strange that I love this old dog so."
FOOD FOR THE FACTORY
The next morning being Saturday, Carpenter, the Whipper-in, mounted his Texas pony and started out toward the foothills of the mountains.
Upon the pommel of his saddle lay a long single-barreled squirrel gun, for the hills were full of squirrels, and Jud was fond of a tender one, now and then. Behind him, as usual, trotted Bonaparte, his sullen eyes looking for an opportunity to jump on any timid country dog which happened along.
There are two things for which all mills must be prepared—the wear and tear of Time on the machinery—the wear and tear of Death on the frail things who yearly work out their lives before it.
In the fight for life between the machine and the human labor, in the race of life for that which men call success, who cares for the life of one little mill hand? And what is one tot of them from another? And if one die one month and another the next, and another the next and the next, year in and year out, who remembers it save some poverty-hardened, stooped and benumbed creature, surrounded by a scrawny brood calling ever for bread?
The world knows not—cares not—for its tiny life is but a thread in the warp of the great Drawing-in Machine.
So fearful is the strain upon the nerve and brain and body of the little things, that every year many of them pass away—slowly, surely, quietly—so imperceptibly that the mill people themselves scarcely miss them. And what does it matter? Are there not hundreds of others, born of ignorance and poverty and pain, to take their places?
And the dead ones—unknown, they simply pass into a Greater Unknown. Their places are filled with fresh victims—innocents, whom Passion begets with a caress and Cupidity buys with a curse. Children they are—tots—and why should they know that they are trading—life for death?
It was a bright fall morning, and Jud Carpenter rode toward the mountain a few miles away. They are scarcely mountains—these beautifully wooded hills in the Tennessee Valley, hooded by blue in the day and shrouded in somber at night; but it pleases the people who live within the sweet influence of their shadows to call them mountains.
Jud knew where he was going, and he rode leisurely along, revolving in his mind the plan of his campaign. He needed the recruits for the Acme Mills, and in all his past experience as an employment agent he had never undertaken to bring in a family where as much tact and diplomacy was required as in this case.
It was a dilapidated gate at which he drew rein. There had once been handsome pillars of stone and brick, but these had fallen and the gate had been swung on a convenient locust tree that had sprung up and grown with its usual rapidity from its sheltered nook near the crumbling rock wall. Only one end of the gate was hung; and it lay diagonally across the entrance of what had once been a thousand acres of the finest farm in the Tennessee Valley.
Dismounting, Jud hitched his horse and set his gun beside the tree; and as it was easier to climb over the broken-down fence than to lift the gate around, he stepped over and then shuffled along in his lazy way toward the house.
It was an old farmhouse, now devoid of paint; and the path to it had once been a well-kept gravel walk, lined with cedars; but the box-plants, having felt no pruning shears for years, almost filled, with their fantastically jagged boughs, the narrow path, while the cedars tossed about their broken and dead limbs.
The tall, square pillars in the house, from dado above to where they rested in the brick base below, showed the naked wood, untouched so long by paint that it had grown furzy from rain and snow, and splintery from sun and heat. Its green shutters hung, some of them, on one hinge; and those which could be closed, were shut up close and sombre under the casements.
A half dozen hounds came baying and barking around him. As Jud proceeded, others poured out from under the house. All were ribby, and half starved.
Without a moment's hesitation they promptly covered Bonaparte, much to the delight of that genius. Indeed, from the half-satisfied, half malignant snarl which lit up his face as they piled rashly and brainlessly on him, Jud took it that Bonaparte had trotted all these miles just to breakfast on this remnant of hound on the half-shell.
In a few minutes Bonaparte's terrible, flashing teeth had them flying in every direction.
Jud promptly cuffed him back to the gate and bade him wait there.
On the front portico, his chair half-tilted back, his trousers in his boot legs, and his feet on the balustrade rim, the uprights of which were knocked out here and there, like broken teeth in a comb,—sat a man in a slouch hat, smoking a cob pipe. He was in his shirt sleeves. His face was flushed and red; his eyes were watery, bleared. His head was fine and long—his nose and chin seemed to meet in a sharp point. His face showed that form of despair so common in those whom whiskey has helped to degenerate. He did not smile—he scowled continuously, and his voice had been imprecatory so long that it whined in the same falsetto twang as one of his hounds.
Jud stepped forward and bowed obsequiously.
"How are you to-day, Majah, sah?" he asked while his puckered and wrinkled face tried to smile.
Jud was chameleon. Long experience had taught him to drop instinctively into the mannerism—even the dialect—of those he hoped to cajole. With the well-bred he could speak glibly, and had airs himself. With the illiterate and the low-bred, he could out-Caliban the herd of them.
The man did not take the pipe out of his mouth. He did not even turn his head. Only his two bleared eyes shot sidewise down to the ground, where ten feet below him stood the employment agent of the mills, smiling, smirking, and doing his best to spell out on the signboard of his unscrupulous face the fact that he came in peace and good will.
Major Edward Conway scarcely grunted—it might have been anything from an oath to an eructation. Then, taking his pipe-stem from between his teeth, and shifting his tobacco in his mouth,—for he was both chewing and smoking—he expectorated squarely into the eyes of a hound which had followed Jud up the steps, barking and snarling at his heels.
He was a good marksman even with spittle, and the dog fled, whining.
Then he answered, with an oath, that he was about as well as the rheumatism and the beastly weather would permit.
Jud came up uninvited and sat down. The Major did not even turn his head. The last of a long line of gentlemen did not waste his manners on one beneath him socially.
Jud was discreetly silent, and soon the Major began to tell all of his troubles, but in the tone of one who was talking to his servant and with many oaths and much bitterness:
"You see it's this damned rheumatism, Carpenter. Las' night, suh, I had to drink a quart of whiskey befo' I cu'd go to sleep at all. It came on me soon aftah I come out of the wah, an' it growed on me like jim'son weeds in a hog-pen. My appetite's quit on me—two pints of whiskey an' wild-cherry bark a day, suh, don't seem to help it at all, suh. I cyant tell whut the devil's the matter with my stomach. Nothin' I eat or drink seems to agree with me but whiskey. If I drink this malarial water, suh, m'legs an' m'feet begin to swell. I have to go back to whiskey. Damn me, but I was born for Kentucky. Why, I've got a forty dollar thirst on me this very minute. I'm so dry I cu'd kick up a dust in a hog wallow. Maybe, though, it's this rotten stuff that cross-roads Jew is sellin' me an' callin' it whiskey. He's got a mortgage on everything here but the houn's and the house cat, an' he's tryin' to see if he cyant kill me with his bug-juice an' save a suit in Chancery. I'm goin' to sen' off an' see if I cyant git another bran' of it, suh."
Edward Conway was the type of the Southerner wrecked financially and morally by the war. His father and grandfather had owned Millwood, and the present owner had gone into the war a carefully educated, well reared youth of twenty. He came out of it alive, it is true, but, like many another fine youth of both North and South, addicted to drink.
The brutality of war lies not alone in death—it is often more fatal, more degenerating, in the life it leaves behind.
Coming out of the war, Conway found, as did all others in the Tennessee Valley who sided with the South, that his home was a wreck. Not a fence, even, remained—nothing but the old home—shutterless, plasterless, its roof rotten, its cellar the abode of hogs.
Thousands of others found themselves likewise—brave hearts—men they proved themselves to be—in that they built up their homes out of wreck and their country out of chaos.
The man who retrieves his fortune under the protecting arm of law and order is worthy of great praise; but he who does it in the surly, snarling teeth of Disorder itself is worthy of still greater praise.
And the real soldier is not he with his battles and his bravery. All animals will fight—it is instinct. But he who conquers in the great moral battle of peace and good government, overcoming prejudice, ignorance, poverty and even injustice, till he rises to the height of the brave whose deeds do vindicate them—this is the real soldier.
Thousands of Southern soldiers did this, but Edward Conway had not been one of them. For where whiskey sits he holds a scepter whose staff is the body of the Upas tree, and there is no room for the oak of thrift or the wild-flower of sweetness underneath.
From poverty to worse poverty Edward Conway had gone, until now, hopelessly mortgaged, hopelessly besotted, hopelessly soured, he lived the diseased product of weakness, developed through stimulated inactivity.
Nature is inexorable, morally, physically, mentally, and as two generations of atheists will beget a thief, so will two generations of idle rich beget nonentities.
On this particular morning that Jud Carpenter came, things had reached a crisis with Edward Conway. By a decree of the court, the last hope he had of retaining a portion of his family estate had been swept away, and the entire estate was to be advertised for sale, to satisfy a mortgage and judgment. It is true, he had the two years of redemption under the Alabama law, but can a drunkard redeem his land when he can not redeem himself?
And so, partly from despair, and partly from that instinct which makes even the most sensitive of mortals wish to pour their secret troubles into another's ear, partly even from drunken recklessness, Edward Conway sat on his verandah this morning and poured his troubles into the designing ear of Jud Carpenter. The refrain of his woe was that luck—luck—remorseless luck was against him.
Luck, since the beginning of the world, has been the cry of him who gambles with destiny. Work is the watchword of the man who believes in himself.
This thing went because that man had been against him, and this went because of the faithlessness of another. His health—well, that was God's doing.
Jud was too shrewd to let him know that he thought whiskey had anything to do with it—and so, very cautiously did the employment agent proceed.
A child with sunny hair and bright eyes ran across the yard. She was followed by an old black mammy, whose anxiety for fear her charge might get her clothes soiled was plainly evident; from the parlor came the notes of an old piano, sadly out of tune, and Jud could hear the fine voice of another daughter singing a love ballad.
"You've got two mighty pyeart gyrls here," at last he ventured.
"Of course, they are, suh," snapped their father—"they are Conways."
"Ever think of it, sah," went on Jud, "that they could make you a livin' in the mill?"
Conway was silent. In truth, he had thought of that very thing. To-day, however, he was nerved and desperate, being more besotted than usual.
"Now, look aheah—it's this way," went on Jud—"you're gettin' along in age and you need res'. You've been wuckin' too hard. I tell you, Majah, sah, you're dead game—no other man I know of would have stood up under the burdens you've had on yo' shoulders."
The Major drew himself up: "That's a family trait of the Conways, suh."
"Wal, it's time for you to res' awhile. No use to drive a willin' hoss to death. I can get a place for both of the gyrls in the mill, an' aftah the fust month—aftah they learn the job, they can earn enough to support you comf't'bly. Now, we'll give you a nice little cottage—no bother of keepin' up a big run-down place like this—jes' a neat little cottage. Aunt Mariah can keep it in nice fix. The gyrls will be employed and busy an' you can jes' live comf't'bly, an' res'. An' say," he added, slyly—"you can get all the credit at the Company's sto' you want an' I'm thinkin' you'll find a better brand of licker than that you've been samplin'."
Besotted as he was—hardened and discouraged—the proposition came over Conway with a wave of shame. Even through his weakened mind the old instinct of the gentleman asserted itself, and for a moment the sweet refined face of a beautiful dead wife, the delicate beauty of a little daughter, the queenliness of an elder one, all the product of good breeding and rearing, came over him. He sprang to his feet. "What do you mean, suh? My daughters—grandchildren of Gen. Leonidas Conway—my daughters work in the mill by the side of that poor trash from the mountains? I'll see you damned first."
He sat down—he bowed his head in his hands. A glinty look came into his eyes.
Jud drew his chair up closer: "But jes' think a minute—you're sold out—you've got no whur to go, you've wuck'd yo'self down tryin' to save the farm. We've all got to wuck these days. The war has changed all the old order of things. We havn't got any mo' slaves."
"We,"—repeated Conway, and he looked at the man and laughed.
Jud flushed even through his sallow skin:
"Wal, that's all right," he added. "Listen to me, now, I'm tryin' to save you from trouble. The war changed everything. Your folks got to whur they did by wuckin'. They built up this big estate by economy an' wuck. Now, you mus' do it. You've got the old dead-game Conway breedin' in yo' bones an' you've got the brains, too." He lowered his voice: "It's only for a little while—jes' a year or so—it'll give you a nice little home to live in while you brace up an' pull out of debt an' redeem yo' farm. Here—it is only for a year or so—sign this—givin' you a home, an' start all over in life—sign it right there, only for a little while—a chance to git on yo' feet—."
Conway scarcely knew how it happened that he signed—for Jud quickly changed the subject.
After a while Jud arose to go. As he did so, Lily, the little daughter, came out, and putting her arms around her father's neck, kissed him and said:
"Papa—luncheon is served, and oh, do come on! Mammy and Helen and I are so hungry."
Mammy Maria had followed her and stood deferentially behind the chair. And as Jud went away he thought he saw in the old woman's eyes, as she watched him, a trace of that fine scorn bred of generations of gentleness, but which whiskey had destroyed in the master.
THE FLY CATCHER CAUGHT
As Jud went out of the dilapidated gate at Millwood, he chuckled to himself. He had, indeed, accomplished something. He had gained a decided advance in the labor circles of the mill. He had broken into the heretofore overpowering prejudice the better class had against the mill, for he held in his possession the paper wherein an aristocrat had signed his two daughters into it. Wouldn't Richard Travis chuckle with him?
In the South social standing is everything.
To have the mill represented by a first family—even if brought to poverty through drunkenness—was an entering wedge.
His next job was easier. A mile farther on, the poor lands of the mountain side began. Up on the slope was a cabin, in the poorest and rockiest portion of it, around the door of which half a dozen cracker children stared at Jud with unfeigned interest as he rode up.
"Light an' look at yer saddle"—came from a typical Hillite within, as Jud stopped.
Jud promptly complied—alighted and looked at his saddle.
A cur—which, despite his breeding, is always a keen detective of character—followed him, barking at his heels.
This one knew Jud as instinctively and as accurately as he knew a fresh bone from a rank one—by smell. He was also a judge of other dogs and, catching sight of Bonaparte, his anger suddenly fled and he with it.
"Won't you set down an' res' yo' hat?" came invitingly from the doorway.
Jud sat down and rested his hat.
A tall, lank woman, smoking a cob pipe which had grown black with age and Samsonian in strength, came from the next room. She merely ducked her long, sharp nose at Jud and, pretending to be busily engaged around the room, listened closely to all that was said.
Jud told the latest news, spoke of the weather and made many familiar comments as he talked. Then he began to draw out the man and woman. They were poor, child-burdened and dissatisfied. Gradually, carefully, he talked mill and the blessings of it. He drew glorious pictures of the house he would take them to, its conveniences—the opportunities of the town for them all. He took up the case of each of the six children, running from the tot of six to the girl of twenty, and showed what they could earn.
In all it amounted to sixteen dollars a week.
"You sho'ly don't mean it comes to sixteen dollars ev'y week," said the woman, taking the cob pipe out for the first time, long enough to spit and wipe her mouth on the back of her hand, "an' all in silver an' all our'n?" she asked. "Why that thar is mo' money'n we've seed this year. What do you say to tryin' it, Josiah?"
Josiah was willing. "You see," he added, "we needn't stay thar longer'n a year or so. We'll git the money an' then come back an' buy a good piece of land."
Suddenly he stopped and fired this point blank at Jud: "But see heah, Mister-man, is thar any niggers thar? Do we hafter wuck with niggers?"
Jud looked indignant. It was enough.
At the end of an hour the family head had signed for a five years' contract. They would move the next week.
"Cash—think of it—cash ever' week. An' in silver, too," said the woman. "Why, I dunno hardly how it'll feel. I'm afeared it mou't gin me the eetch."
Jud, when he left, had induced their parents to sell five children into slavery for five years.
It meant for life.
And both parents declared when he left that never before had they "seed sech a nice man."
Jud had nearly reached the town when he passed, high up on the level plateau by which the mountain road now ran, the comfortable home of Elder Butts. Peach and apple trees adorned the yard, while bee-hives sat in a corner under the shade of them behind the cottage. The tinkle of a sheep bell told of a flock of sheep nearby. A neatly painted new wagon stood under the shed by the house, and all around was an air of thrift and work.
"Now if I cu'd git that Butts family," he mused, "I'd have something to crow about when I got back to Kingsley to-night. He's got a little farm an' is well to do an' is thrifty, an' if I cu'd only git that class started in the mill an' contented to wuck there, it 'ud open up a new class of people. There's that Archie B.—confound him, he cu'd run ten machines at onct and never know it. I'd like to sweat that bottled mischief out of him a year or two.
Jud drew his horse up with a jerk. Above him, with legs locked, high up around the body of a dead willow, his seat the stump of a broken bough and fully twenty feet above the employment agent's head, sat Archie B., a freckled-faced lad, with fiery red hair and a world of fun in his blue eyes. He was one of the Butts twins and the very object of the Whipper-in's thoughts. From his head to his feet he had on but three garments—a small, battered, all-wool hat, a coarse cotton shirt, wide open at the neck, and a pair of jeans pants which came to his knees. But in the pockets of his pants were small samples of everything of wood and field, from shells of rare bird eggs to a small supply of Gypsy Juice.
His pockets were miniature museums of nature.
No one but a small boy, bent on fun, knows what Gypsy Juice is. No adult has ever been able to procure its formula and no small boy in the South cares, so long as he can get it.
"The thing that hit does," Archie B. explained to his timid and pious twin brother, Ozzie B., "is ter make anything it touches that wears hair git up and git."
Coons, possums, dogs, cats—with now and then a country horse or mule, hitched to the town rack—with these, and a small vial of Gypsy Juice, Archie B., as he expressed it, "had mo' fun to the square inch than ole Barnum's show ever hilt in all its tents."
Jud stood a moment watching the boy. It was easy to see what Archie B. was after. In the body of the dead tree a wood-pecker had chiseled out a round hole.
"Hello, yo'se'f"—finally drawled Jud—"whatcher doin' up thar?"
"Why, I am goin' to see if this is a wood-pecker's nes' or a fly-ketcher's."
Bonaparte caught his cue at once and ran to the foot of the tree barking viciously, daring the tree-climber to come down. His vicious eyes danced gleefully. He looked at his master between his snarls as much as to say: "Well, this is great, to tree the real live son of the all-conquering man!"
It maddened him, too, to see the supreme indifference with which the all-conqueror's son treated his presence.
Jud grunted. He prided himself on his bird-lore. Finally he said: "Wal, any fool could tell you—it's a wood-pecker's nest."
"Yes, that's so and jus' exacly what a fool 'ud say," came back from the tree. "But it 'ud be because he is a fool, tho', an' don't see things as they be. It's a fly-ketcher's nest, for all that—" he added.
"Teach yo' gran'-mammy how to milk the house cat," sneered Jud, while Bonaparte grew furious again with this added insult. "Don't you know a wood-pecker's nest when you see it?"
"Yes," said Archie B., "an' I also know a fly-ketcher will whip a wood-pecker and take his nes' from him, an' I've come up here to see if it's so with this one."
"Oh," said Jud, surprised, "an' what is it?"
"Jus' as I said—he's whipped the wood-pecker an' tuck his nes'."
"What's a fly-ketcher, Mister Know-It-All?" said Jud. Then he grinned derisively.
Bonaparte, watching his master, ran around the tree again and squatting on his stump of a tail grinned likewise.
"A fly-ketcher," said Archie B. calmly, "is a sneaking sort of a bird, that ketches flies an' little helpless insects for a—mill, maybe. Do you know any two-legged fly-ketchers a-doin' that?"
Jud glared at him, and Bonaparte grew so angry that he snapped viciously at the bark of the tree as if he would tear it down.
"What do you mean, you little imp?—what mill?"
"Why his stomach," drawled Archie B., "it's a little differunt from a cotton-mill, but it grinds 'em to death all the same."
Jud looked up again. He glared at Archie B.
"How do you know that's a fly-ketcher's nest and not a wood-pecker's, then?" he asked, to change the subject.
"That's what I'd like to know, too," said Bonaparte as plainly as his growls and two mean eyes could say it.
"If it's a fly-ketcher's, the nest will be lined with a snake's-skin," said Archie B. "That's nachrul, ain't it," he added—"the nest of all sech is lined with snake-skins."
Bonaparte, one of whose chief amusements in life was killing snakes, seemed to think this a personal thrust at himself, for he flew around the tree with renewed rage while Archie B., safe on his high perch, made faces at him and laughed.
"I'll bet it ain't that way," said Jud, rattled and discomfited and shifting his long squirrel gun across his saddle. Archie B. replied by carefully thrusting a brown sunburnt arm into the hole and bringing out a nest. "Now, a wood-pecker's egg," he said, carefully lifting an egg out and then replacing it, "'ud be pearly white."
"How did you learn all that?" sneered Jud.
"Oh, by keepin' out of a cotton mill an' usin' my eye," said Archie B., winking at Bonaparte.
Bonaparte glared back.
"I'd like to git you into the mill," said Jud. "I'd put you to wuck doin' somethin' that 'ud be worth while."
"Oh, yes, you would for a few years," sneered back Archie B. "Then you'd put me under the groun', where I'd have plenty o' time to res'."
"I'm goin' up there now to see yo' folks an' see if I can't git you into the mill."
"Oh, you are?—Well, don't be in sech a hurry an' look heah at yo' snake-skin fust—didn't I tell you it 'ud be lined with a snake-skin?" And he threw down a last year's snake-skin which Bonaparte proceeded to rend with great fury.
"Now, come under here," went on Archie B. persuasively, "and I'll sho' you they're not pearly white, like a wood-pecker's, but cream-colored with little purple splotches scratched over 'em—like a fly-ketcher's."
Jud rode under and looked up. As he did so Archie B. suddenly turned the nest upside down, that Jud might see the eggs, and as he looked up four eggs shot out before he could duck his head, and caught him squarely between his shaggy eyes. Blinded, smeared with yelk and smarting with his eyes full of fine broken shell, he scrambled from his horse, with many oaths, and began feeling for the little branch of water which ran nearby.
"I'll cut that tree down, but I'll git you and wring yo' neck," he shouted, while Bonaparte endeavored to tear it down with his teeth.
But Archie B. did not wait. Slowly he slid down the tree, while Bonaparte, thunder-struck with joy, waited at the foot, his eyes glaring, his mouth wide open, anticipating the feast on fresh boy meat. Can he be—dare he be—coming down? Right into my jaws, too? The very thought of it stopped his snarls.
Jud's curses filled the air.
Down—down, slid Archie B., both legs locked around the tree, until some ten feet above the dog, and, then tantalizingly, just out of reach, he suddenly tightened his brown brakes of legs, and thrusting his hand in his pocket, pulled out a small rubber ball. Reaching over, he squirted half of its contents over the dog, which still sat snarling, half in fury and half in wonder.
Then something happened. Jud could not see, being down on his knees in the little stream, washing his eyes, but he first heard demoniacal barks proceed from Bonaparte, ending in wailful snorts, howls and whines, beginning at the foot of the tree and echoing in a fast vanishing wail toward home.
Jud got one eye in working order soon enough to see a cloud of sand and dust rolling down the road, from the rear of which only the stub of a tail could be seen, curled spasmodically downward toward the earth.
Jud could scarcely believe his eyes—Bonaparte—the champion dog—running—running like that?
"Whut—whut—whut,"—he stammered, "Whut did he do to Bonaparte?"
Then he saw Archie B. up the road toward home, rolling in the sand with shouts of laughter.
"If I git my hands on you," yelled Jud, shaking his fist at the boy, "I'll swaller you alive."
"That's what the fly-ketcher said to the butterfly," shouted back Archie B.
It was a half hour before Jud got all the fine eggshell out of his eyes. After that he decided to let the Butts family alone for the present. But as he rode away he was heard to say again:
"Whut—whut—whut did he do to Bonaparte?"
Archie B. was still rolling on the ground, and chuckling now and then in fits of laughter, when a determined, motherly looking, fat girl appeared at the doorway of the family cottage. It was his sister, Patsy Butts:
"Maw," she exclaimed, "I wish you'd look at Archie B. I bet he's done sump'in."
There was a parental manner in her way. Her one object in life, evidently, was to watch Archie B.
"You Archie B.," yelled his mother, a sallow little woman of quick nervous movements, "air you havin' a revulsion down there? What air you been doin' anyway? Now, you git up from there and go see why Ozzie B. don't fetch the cows home."
Archie B. arose and went down the road whistling.
A ground squirrel ran into a pile of rocks. Archie B. turned the rocks about until he found the nest, which he examined critically and with care. He fingered it carefully and patted it back into shape. "Nice little nes'," he said—"that settles it—I thought they lined it with fur." Then he replaced the rocks and arose to go.
A quarter of a mile down the road he stopped and listened.
He heard his brother, Ozzie B., sobbing and weeping.
Ozzie B. was his twin brother—his "after clap"—as Archie B. called him. He was timid, uncertain, pious and given to tears—"bo'hn on a wet Friday"—as Archie B. had often said. He was always the effect of Archie B.'s cause, the illustration of his theorem, the solution of his problem of mischief, the penalty of his misdemeanors.
Presently Ozzie B. came in sight, hatless and driving his cows along, but sobbing in that hiccoughy way which is the final stage of an acute thrashing.
No one saw more quickly than Archie B., and he knew instantly that his brother had met Jud Carpenter, on his way back to the mill.
"He's caught my lickin' ag'in," said Archie B., indignantly—"it's a pity he looks so much like me."
It was true, and Ozzie B. stood and dug one toe into the ground, and sobbed and wiped his eyes on his shirt sleeve, and told how, in spite of his explanations and beseechings, the Whipper-in had met him down the road and thrashed him unmercifully.
"Ozzie B.," said his brother, "you make me tired all over and in spots. I hate for as big a fool as you to look like me. Whyncher run—whyncher dodge him?"
"I—I—wanted ter do my duty," sobbed Ozzie B. "Maw tole me ter drive—drive the cows right up the road—"
Archie B. surveyed him with fine scorn:
"When the Devil's got the road," said Archie B., "decent fo'ks had better take to the wood. I'd fixed him an' his ole dorg, an' now you come along an' spile it all."
He made a cross mark in the road and spat on it. Then he turned with his back to the cross, threw his hat over his head and said slowly: "Venture pee wee under the bridge! bam—bam—bam!"
"What's that fur?" asked Ozzie B., as he ceased sobbing. His brother always had something new, and it was always absorbingly interesting to Ozzie B.
"That," said Archie B., solemnly, "I allers say after meetin' a Jonah in the road. The spell is now broke. Jus' watch me fix Jud Carpenter agin. Wanter see me git even with him? Well, come along."
"What'll you do?" asked Ozzie B.
"I'll make that mustang break his neck for the way he treated you, or my name ain't Archie B. Butts—that's all. Venture pee wee under the bridge, bam—bam—bam!"
"No—oo—no," began Ozzie B., beginning to cry again—"Don't kill 'im—it'll be cruel."
"Don't wanter see me go an' git even with the man that's jus' licked you for nuthin'?"
"No—oo—no—" sobbed Ozzie B. "Paw says—leave—leave—that for—the Lord."
"Tarnashun!"—said Archie B., spitting on the ground, disgustedly—, "too much relig'un is a dang'us thing. You've got all of paw's relig'un an' maw's brains, an' that's 'nuff said."
With this he kicked Ozzie B. soundly and sent him, still sobbing, up the road.
Then he ran across the wood to head off Jud Carpenter, who he knew had to go around a bend in the road.
There was no bird that Archie B. could not mimic. He knew every creature of the wood. Every wild thing of the field and forest was his friend. Slipping into the underbrush, a hundred yards from the road down which he knew Jud Carpenter had to ride, he prepared himself for action.
Drawing a turkey-call from his pocket, he gave the call of the wild turkey going to roost, as softly as a violinist tries his instrument to see if it is in tune.
Prut—prut—prut—it rang out clear and distinctly.
"All right,"—he said—"she'll do."
He had not long to wait. Up the road he soon saw the Whipper-in, riding leisurely along.
Archie B. swelled with anger at sight of the complacent and satisfactory way he rode along. He even thought he saw a smile—a kind of even-up smile—light his face.
When opposite his hiding place, Archie B. put his call to his mouth: Prut—Prut—P-R-U-T—it rang out. Then Prut—prut!
Jud Carpenter stopped his horse instantly.
"Turkeys goin' to roost."—he muttered. He listened for the direction.
Prut—Prut—it came out of the bushes on the right—a hundred yards away under a beech tree.
Jud listened: "Eatin' beech-mast,"—he said, and he slipped off his pony, tied him quietly to the limb of a sweet-gum tree, and cocking his long gun, slipped into the wood.
Five minutes later he heard the sound still farther off. "They're walkin'," muttered Jud—"I mus' head 'em off." Then he pushed on rapidly into the forest.
Archie B. let him go—then, making a short circuit, slipped like an Indian through the wood, and came up to the pony hitched on the road side.
Quietly removing the saddle and blanket, he took two tough prickly burrs of the sweet-gum and placed one on each side of the pony's spine, where the saddle would rest. Then he put the blanket and saddle back, taking care to place them on very gently and tighten the girth but lightly.
He shook all over with suppressed mirth as he went farther into the wood, and lay down on the mossy bank behind a clay-root to watch the performance.
It was a quarter of an hour before Jud, thoroughly tired and disgusted, gave up the useless search and came back.
Untying the pony, he threw the bridle rein over its head and vaulted lightly into the saddle.
Archie B. grabbed the clay-root and stuffed his wool hat into his mouth just in time.
"It was worth a dollar," he told Ozzie B. that night, after they had retired to their trundle bed. "The pony squatted fust mighty nigh to the groun'—then he riz a-buckin'. I seed Jud's coat-tail a-turnin' summersets through the air, the saddle and blanket a-followin'. I heard him when he hit the swamp hole on the side of the road kersplash!—an' the pony skeered speechless went off tearin' to-ards home. Then I hollered out: 'Go it ole, fly-ketcher—you're as good for tad-poles as you is for bird-eggs'—an' I lit out through the wood."
Ozzie B. burst out crying: "Oh, Archie B., do you reckin the po' man got hurt?"
Archie B. replied by kicking him in the ribs until he ceased crying.
"Say yo' prayers now and go to sleep. I'll kick you m'se'f, but I'll lick anybody else that does it."
As Ozzie B. dozed off he heard:
"Venture pee-wee under the bridge—bam—bam—bam. Oh, Lord, you who made the tar'nal fools of this world, have mussy on 'em!"
THE FLINT AND THE COAL
Love is love and there is nothing in all the world like it. Its romance comes but once, and it is the perfume that precedes the ripened fruit of all after life. It is not amenable to any of the laws of reason; nor subject to any law of logic; nor can it be explained by the analogy of anything in heaven or earth. Do not, therefore, try to reason about it. Only love once—and in youth—and be forever silent.
One of the mysteries of love to older ones is that two young people may become engaged and never a word be spoken. Put the girl in a convent, even, and let the boy but walk past, and the thing is done. They look and love, and the understanding is complete. They see and sigh, and read each other's secret thoughts, past and present—each other's hopes, fears.
They sigh and are engaged, and there is perfect understanding.
Time and Romance travel not together. Time must hurry on. Romance would loiter by the way. And so Romance, in her completeness, loves to dwell most where Time, traveling over the mile-tracks of the tropics, which belong by heredity to Alabama—stalks slower than on those strenuous half-mile tracks that spin around the earth in latitudes which grow smaller as they approach the frozen pole.
The sun had reached, in his day's journey, the bald knob of Sunset Peak, and there, behind it, seemed to stop. At least to Helen Conway, born and reared under the brow of Sand Mountain, he seemed every afternoon, when he reached the mountain peak, to linger, in a friendly way, behind it.
And a bold warrior-looking crest it was, helmeted with a stratum of sand-stone, jutting out in visor-shaped fullness about his head, and feathery above with scrub-oak and cedar.
Perhaps it had been a fancy which lingered from childhood; but from the time when Mammy Maria had first told her that the sun went to bed in the valley beyond the mountain until now,—her eighteenth year,—Helen still loved to think it was true, and that behind the face of Sunset Rock he still lingered to undress; and, lingering, it made for her the sweetest and most romantic period of the day.
True to her antebellum ideas, Mammy Maria dressed her two girls every afternoon before dinner. It is also true that she cooked the dinner herself and made their dresses with her own fingers, and that of late years, in the poverty of her drunken master, she had little to dress them with and less to cook.
But the resources of the old woman seemed wonderful—to the people round about,—for never were two girls more gorgeously gowned than Helen and Lily. It was humorous, it was pathetic—the way it was done.
From old bureau drawers and cedar chests, stored away in the attic and unused rooms of Millwood, where she herself had carefully put them in days long gone—days of plenty and thrift—she brought forth rich gowns of another age, and made them over for Helen and Lily.
"Now, this gown was Miss Clara's," she would say as she took out a bundle of satin and old lace. She looked at it fondly—often with tears in her honest black eyes. "Lor', how well I disremember the night she fust wore it—the night of the ball we give to Jineral Jackson when he first come to see old Marster. This flowered silk with pol'naize she wore at the Gov'nor's ball and the black velvet with cut steel I've seed her wearin' at many an' many a dinner here in this very house."
And so the old woman would go over all her treasures. Then, in a few days the gossipy and astounded neighbors would behold Helen and Lily, dressed, each, in a gown of white brocaded satin, with a dinner gown of black velvet, and for Sunday, old point lace, with petticoats of finest hand-made Irish linen and silk stockings—all modernized with matchless deft and skill.
"I guess my gals will shine as long as the old chist lasts," she would say, "an' I ain't started on 'em yet. I'm a-savin' some for their weddin', bless Gord, if I ever sees a man fitten for 'em."
It was an hour yet before dinner, and Aunt Maria had dressed Helen, this Saturday afternoon, with great care—for after a little frost, each day and night in Alabama becomes warmer and warmer until the next frost.
Mammy Maria knew things by intuition, and hence her care to see that Helen looked especially pretty to-day.
There was no sun save where he streamed his ribbon rays from behind Sunset Rock, and threw them in pearl and ivory fan handles—white and gold and emerald, across the mackerel sky beyond.
Helen's silk skirt fitted her well, and one of those beautiful old ribbons, flowered in broad leaf and blossoms, wound twice around her slender waist and fell in broad streamers nearly to the ground. The bodice was cut V-shaped at the throat—the corsage being taken from one of her grandmother's made in 1822, and around her neck was a long chain of pure gold beads.
She was a type of Southern beauty obtained only after years of gentle dames and good breeding.
Her face was pure and fine, rather expressionless at her age, with a straight nose and rich fine lips. Her heavy hair was coiled gracefully about her head and fell in a longer coil, almost to her shoulders. She was tall with a sloping, angular form, the flat outlines of which were not yet filled with that fullness that time would soon add.
Her waist was well turned, her shoulders broad and slightly rounded, with that fullness of chest and breast which Nature, in her hour of generosity, gives only to the queenly woman. The curves of her sloping neck were perfect and carried not a wave-line of grossness. It was as unsensual as a swan's.
Her gown, low cut, showed slight bony shoulders of classic turn and whiteness, waiting only for time to ripen them to perfection; and the long curved lines which ran up to where the deep braid of her rich brown hair fell over them, together with the big joints of her arms and the long, fine profile of her face were forerunners of a beauty that is strong—like that of the thoroughbred brood mare after a year's run on blue-grass.
Her eyes were her only weakness. They were deep and hazel, and given to drooping too readily with that feigned modesty wherein vanity clothes boldness. Down in their depths, also, shone that bright, penetrating spark of a taper by which Folly lights, in woman, the lamp of ambition.
Her forehead was high—her whole bearing the unconscious one of a born lady.
Romance—girlish, idealized romance—was her's to-day. A good intentioned, but thoughtless romance—and therefore a weak one. And worse still, one which, coupled with ambition, might be led to ruin.
Down through the tangled box-planted walks she strolled, swinging her dainty hat of straw and old lace in her hand; on through the small gate that bound the first yard, then through the shaded lawn, unkept now and rank with weeds, but still holding the old trees which, in other days, looked down over the well kept lawn of grass beneath. Now gaunt hogs had rooted it up and the weeds had taken it, and the limbs of the old trees, falling, had been permitted to lie as they fell.
The first fence was down. She walked across the road and took a path leading through a cottonfield, which, protected on all sides by the wood, and being on the elevated plateau on which the residence stood, had escaped the severer frosts.
And so she stopped and stood amid it, waist high.
The very act of her stopping showed the romance of her nature.
She had seen the fields of cotton all her life, but she could never pass through one in bloom and in fruit—the white and purple blossoms, mingled with the green of the leaves and all banked over billows of snowy lint,—that she did not stop, thrilled with the same childhood feeling that came with the first reading of the Arabian Nights.
She had seen the field when it was first plowed, in the spring, and the small furrows were thrown up by the little turning shovels. Then, down the entire length of the ridge the cotton-planter had followed, its two little wheels straddling the row, while the small bull-tongue in front opened the shallow furrow for the linty, furry, white seeds to fall in and be covered immediately by the mold-board behind. She had seen it spring up from one end of the ridge to the other, like peas, then chopped out by the hoe, the plants left standing, each the width of the hoe apart. Then she had watched it all summer, growing under the Southern sun, throwing out limb above limb of beautiful delicate leaves, drawing their life and sustenance more from the air and sunshine above than from the dark soil beneath. Drawing it from the air and sunshine above, and therefore cotton, silken, snowy cotton—with the warmth of the sun in the skein of its sheen and the purity of heaven in the fleece of its fold.
Child of the air and the sky and sun; therefore, cotton—and not corn, which draws its life from the clay and mud and decay which comes from below.
She had seen the first cream-white bloom come.
She had found it one sweet day in July, early in the morning, on the tip end of the eldest branch of the cotton stalk nearest the ground. It hung like the flower of the cream-white, pendulous abutilon, with pollen of yellow stars beaded in dew and throwing off a rich, delicate, aromatic odor, smelt nowhere on earth save in a cottonfield, damp with early dew and warmed by the rays of the rising sun. Cream-white it was in the morning, but when she had visited it again at nightfall, it hung purple in the twilight.
Then had she plucked it.
Through the hot month of July she had watched the boll grow and expand, until in August the lowest and oldest one next to the ground burst, and shone through the pale green leaves like the image of a star reflected in waters of green. And every morning new cream-white blooms formed to the very top, only to turn purple by twilight, while beneath, climbing higher and higher as the days went by and the cool nights came, star above star of cotton arose and stood twinkling in its sky of green and purple, above the dank manger where, in early spring, the little child-seed had lain.
To-day, touched by the great frost, the last purple bloom in the very tip-top seemed to look up yearningly and plead with the sun for one more day of life; that it, too, might add in time its snowy tribute to the bank of white which rolled entirely across the field, one big billow of cotton.
And in the midst of it the girl stood dreaming and wondering.
She plucked a purple blossom and pinned it to her breast. Then, with a deep sigh of saddened longing—that this should be the last—she walked on, daintily lifting her gown to avoid the damp stars of cotton, now fast gathering the night dew.
Across the field, a vine of wild grape ran over the top of two small hackberry trees, forming a natural umbrella-shaped arbor above two big moss-covered boulders which cropped out of the ground beneath, making two natural rustic seats. On one of these she sat down. Above her head glowed the impenetrable leaves of the grape-vine and the hackberry, and through them all hung the small purple bunches of wild grapes, waiting for the frost of affliction to convert into sugar the acid of their souls.
She was in plain view of Millwood, not a quarter of a mile away, and in the glow of the blazing red sunset, shining through its broken shutters and windows, she could see Mammy Maria busy about their dinner.
She looked up the road anxiously—then, with an impatient gesture she took the cotton bloom from her bosom and began to pluck the petals apart, one by one, saying aloud:
"One, I love—two, I love— Three, I love, I say. Four, I love with all my heart, And five, I cast away—"
She stopped short and sighed—"O, pshaw! that was Harry; why did I name it for him?"
Again she looked impatiently up the road and then went on:
"Six, he loves, seven, she loves, Eight, both love—"
She turned quickly. She heard the gallop of a saddle horse coming. The rider sprang off, tied his horse and sat on the rock by her side.
She appeared not to notice him, and her piqued face was turned away petulantly.
It was a handsome boyish face that looked at her for a moment mischievously. Then he seized and kissed her despite her struggles.
For this she boxed his ears soundly and sat off on another rock.
"Harry Travis, you can't kiss me every time you want to, no matter if we are engaged."
It was a strong and rather a masculine voice, and it grated on one slightly, being scarcely expected from so beautiful a face. In it was power, self-will, ambition—but no tenderness nor that voice, soft and low, which "is an excellent thing in woman."
He laughed banteringly.
"Did you ever hear that love is not love if it is a minute late? Just see how long I have waited here for you?"
She sat down by his side and looked fondly up into his face, flushed with exercise and smiling half cynically. It was the same smile seen so often on the face of Richard Travis.
"Oh, say," he said, dolefully, "but don't start the hubby-come-to-taw-business on me until we are married. I was late because I had to steal the Gov'nor's new mare—isn't she a beauty?"
"Oh, say," he went on, "but that is a good one—he has bought her for somebody he is stuck on—can't say who—and I heard him tell Jim not to let anybody get on her back.
"Well,"—he laughed—"she certainly has a fine back. I stole her out and galloped right straight here.
"You ought to own her,"—he went on flippantly—pinching playfully at the lobe of her ear—"her name is Coquette."
Then he tried to kiss her again.
"Harry!" she said, pulling away—"don't now—Mammy Maria said I was never to—let you kiss me."
"Oh," he said with some iciness—"Listen to her an' you will die an old maid. Besides, I am not engaged to Mammy Maria."
"Do you think I am a coquette?" she asked, sitting down by him again.
"Worst I ever saw—I said to Nellie just now—I mean—" he stopped and laughed.
She looked at him, pained.
"Then you've stopped to see Nellie, and that is why you are late? I do not care what she says—I am true to you, Harry—because—because I love you."
He was feigning anger, and tapping his boot with his riding whip:
"Well—kiss me yourself then—show me that Mammy Maria does not boss my wife."
She laughed and kissed him. He received it with indifference and some haughtiness.
Then his good nature returned and they sat and talked, watching the sunset.
"Don't you think my dress is pretty?" she asked after a while, with a becoming toss of her head.
"Why, I hadn't noticed it—stunning—stunning. If there is a queen on earth it is you,"—he added.
She flushed under the praise and was silent.
"Harry,"—she said after a while, "I hate to trouble you now, but I am so worried about things at home."
He looked up half frowning.
"You know I have always told you I could not marry you now. I would not burden you with Papa."
"Why, yes," he answered mechanically, "we're both young and can wait. You see, really, Pet—you know I am dependent at present on the Gov'nor an'—"
"I understand all that," she said quickly—"but"—
"A long engagement will only test our love," he broke in with a show of dignity.
"You do not understand," she went on. "Things have got so bad at home that I must earn something."
He frowned and tapped his foot impatiently. She sat up closer to him and put her hand on his. He did not move nor even return the pressure.
"And so, Harry—if—if to help papa—and Millwood is sold—and I can get a good place in the mill—one off by myself—what they call drawer-in—at good wages,—and, if only for a little while I'd work there—to help out, you know—what would you think?"
He sprang up from his seat and dropped her hand.
"Good God, Helen Conway, are you crazy?" he said brutally—"why, I'd never speak to you again. Me? A Travis?—and marry a mill girl?"
The color went out of her face. She looked in her shame and sorrow toward the sunset, where a cloud, but ten minutes before, had stood all rosy and purple with the flush of the sunbeams behind it.
Now the beams were gone, and it hung white and bloodless.
In the crisis of our lives such trifles as these flash over us. In the greatness of other things—often turning points in our life—Nature sometimes points it all with a metaphor.
For Nature is the one great metaphor.
Helen knew that she and the cloud were now one.
But she was not a coward, and with her heart nerved and looking him calmly in the face, she talked on and told him of the wretched condition of affairs at Millwood. And as she talked, the setting sun played over her own cheeks, touching them with a halo of such exquisite colors that even the unpoetic soul of Harry Travis was touched by the beauty of it all.
And to any one but Harry Travis the proper solution would have been plain. Not that he said it or even meant it—for she was too proud a spirit even to have thought of it—there is much that a man should know instinctively that a woman should never know at all.
Harry surprised himself by the patience with which he listened to her. In him, as in his cousin—his pattern—ran a vein of tact when the crisis demanded, through and between the stratum of bold sensuousness and selfishness which made up the basis of his character.
And so as he listened, in the meanness and meagerness of his soul, he kept thinking, "I will let her down easy—no need for a scene."
It was narrow and little, but it was all that could come into the soul of his narrowness.
For we cannot think beyond our fountain head, nor can we even dream beyond the souls of the two things who gave us birth. There are men born in this age of ripeness, born with an alphabet in their mouths and reared in the regal ways of learning, who can neither read nor write. And yet had Shakespeare been born without a language, he would have carved his thoughts as pictures on the trees.
Harry Travis was born as so many others are—not only without a language, but without a soul within him upon which a picture might be drawn.
And so it kept running in his mind, quietly, cold-bloodedly, tactfully down the narrow, crooked, slum-alleys of his mind: "I will—I will drop her—now!" She ceased—there were tears in her eyes and her face was blanched whiter even than the cloud.
He arose quickly and glanced at the setting sun: "Oh, say, but I must get the Gov'nor's mare back. Jim will miss her at feeding time."
There was a laugh on his lips and his foot was already in the stirrup. "Sorry to be in such a hurry just now, too—because there is so much I want to say to you on that subject—awful sorry—but the Gov'nor will raise Cain if he knows what I've done. I'll just write you a long letter to-night—and I'll be over, maybe, soon—ta—ta—but this mare, confound her—see how she cuts up—so sorry I can't stay longer—but I'll write—to-night."
He threw her a kiss as he rode off.
She sat dazed, numbed, with the shallowness of it all—the shale of sham which did not even conceal the base sub-stratum of deceit below.
Nothing like it had ever come into her life before.
She dropped down behind the rock, but instead of tears there came steel. In it all she could only say with her lips white, a defiant poise of her splendid head, and with a flash of the eyes which came with the Conway aroused: "Oh, and I kissed him—and—and—I loved him!"
She sat on the rock again and looked at the sunset. She was too hurt now to go home—she wished to be alone.
She was a strong girl—mentally—and with a deep nature; but she was proud, and so she sat and crushed it in her pride and strength, though to do it shook her as the leaves were now being shaken by the breeze which had sprung up at sunset.