Part 2 out of 6
"Nobody but you ever accused me of such a thing. Marriage concerns the
race and a man's whole future. If the children of the marriage are
likely to be unsatisfactory, the marriage will certainly be so. We
moderns bedeck and bedrape us in all sorts of meretricious togas, till a
pair of fine eyes and a dashing manner pass for beauty; but when life
tries the metal--when nature applies her inevitable test--the degenerate
or neurotic type goes to the wall."
Again MacPherson grunted. "No doubt you're sound enough; but it is
rather uncanny to hear a young fellow talk like his grandfather," the
Scotchman said finally. "Are there many of your sort in this
"A good many," Stoddard told him. "The modern young man of education and
wealth is doing one of two things--burning up his money and going to the
dogs as fast as he can; or putting in a power of thinking, and trying,
while he saves his own soul, to do his part in the regeneration of
"Yes. Well, it's a big job. It's been on hand a long time. The young men
of America have their work cut out for them," said MacPherson drily.
"No doubt," returned Stoddard with undisturbed cheerfulness. "But when
every man saves his own soul, the salvation of the world will come
ABOVE THE VALLEY
All week in Johnnie the white flame of purpose burned out every
consciousness of weariness, of bodily or mental distaste. The
preposterously long hours, the ill-ventilated rooms, the savage monotony
of her toil, none of these reached the girl through the glow of hope and
ambition. Physically, the finger of the factory was already laid upon
her vigorous young frame; but when Sunday morning came, though there was
no bellowing whistle to break in on her slumbers, she waked early, and
while nerve and muscle begged achingly for more sleep, she rose with a
sense of exhilaration which nothing could dampen. She had seen a small
mountain church over the Ridge by the spring where her moccasin flowers
grew; and if there were preaching in it to-day, the boys and girls
scouring the surrounding woods during the intermissions would surely
find and carry away the orchids. There was no safety but to take the
The room was dark. Mandy slept noisily beside her. All the beds were
full, because the night-turn workers were in. She meant to be very
careful to waken nobody. Poor souls, they needed this one day of rest
when they could all lie late. Searching for something, she cautiously
struck a match, and in the flaring up of its small flame got a glimpse
of Mandy's face, open-mouthed, pallid, unbeautiful, against the tumbled
pillow. A great rush of pity filled her eyes with tears, but then she
was in a mood to compassionate any creature who had not the prospect of
a twelve-mile walk to get a flower for Gray Stoddard.
It was in that black hour before dawn that Johnnie let herself out the
front door, finding the direction by instinct rather than any assistance
from sight, since fences, trees, houses, were but vague blots of deeper
shadow in the black. She was well on her way before a light here and
there in a cabin window showed that, Sunday morning as it was, the
earliest risers were beginning to stir. Her face was set to the east,
and after a time a pallid line showed itself above the great bulk of
mountains which in this quarter backed up the ramparts of the circling
ridges about Watauga. The furthest line was big Unaka, but this
passionate lover of her native highlands gave it neither thought nor
glance, as she tramped steadily with lifted face, following
unconsciously the beckoning finger of Fate.
It was a dripping-sweet spring morning, dew-drenched, and with the air
so full of moisture that it gathered and pattered from the scant
leafage. She was two miles up, swinging along at that steady pace her
mountain-bred youth had given her, when the sky began to flush faintly,
and the first hint of dawn rested on her upraised countenance.
Rain-laden mists swept down upon her from the heights, and she walked
through them unnoting; the pale light from the eastern sky shone on an
aspect introverted, rapt away from knowledge of its surroundings. She
was going to get something for him. She had promised him the flowers,
and he would be pleased with them. He would smile when he thanked her
for them, and look at her as he had when she gave him the broken
blossom. A look like that was to the girl in her present mood as the
sword's touch on the shoulder of the lad who is being knighted by his
king--it made her want to rise up and be all that such a man could ever
demand of her. Twelve miles of walking after a week's toil in the mill
was a very small offering to put before so worshipful a divinity. She
sought vaguely to conjecture just what his words would be when next they
spoke together. Her lips formed themselves into tender, reminiscent
half-smiles as she went over the few and brief moments of her three
interviews with Stoddard.
Johnnie was not inexperienced in matters of the heart. Mating time comes
early in the mountains. Had her dreams been of Shade Buckheath, or any
of the boys of her own kind and class, she would have been instantly
full of self-consciousness; but Gray Stoddard appeared to her a creature
so apart from her sphere that this overwhelming attraction he held for
her seemed no more than the admiration she might have given to Miss
Lydia Sessions. And so the dream lay undisturbed under her eyelashes,
and she breasted the slope of the big mountain with a buoyant step,
oblivious of fatigue.
She reached the little wayside spring before even the early-rising
mountain folk were abroad, found three pink blossoms in full perfection,
plucked them and wrapped them carefully in damp cloths disposed in a
little hickory basket that Uncle Pros had made for her years ago. It was
a tiny thing, designed to hold a child's play-pretties or a young girl's
sewing, but shaped and fashioned after the manner of mountain baskets,
and woven of stout white hickory withes shaved down to daintier size and
pliancy by the old man's jack-knife. Life was very sweet to Johnnie
Consadine as she straightened up, basket in hand, and turned toward the
It was nearly nine o'clock when she reached the gap above Cottonville.
She was singing a little, softly, to herself, as she footed it down the
road, and wishing that she might see Gray's face when he got her
flowers. She planned to put them in a glass on his desk Monday morning,
and of course she would be at her loom long before he should reach the
office. She was glad they were such fine specimens--all perfect.
Lovingly she pulled aside the wet cloth and looked in at them. She began
to meet people on the road, and the cabins she passed were open and
thronged with morning life. The next turn in the road would bring her to
the spring where she had rested that evening just a week ago, and where
Shade had met her.
Suddenly, she caught the sheen of something down the road between the
scant greenery. It was a carriage or an automobile. Now, it was more
likely to be the former than the latter; also, there were a half-dozen
cars in Cottonville; yet from the first she knew, and was prepared for
it when the shining vehicle came nearer and showed her Gray Stoddard
driving it. They looked at each other in silence. Stoddard brought the
machine to a halt beside her. She came mutely forward, a hesitating hand
at her basket covering, her eyes raised to his. With the mountaineer's
deathless instinct for greeting, she was first to speak.
"Howdy," she breathed softly. "I--I was looking for--I got you--"
She fell silent again, still regarding him, and fumbling blindly at the
cover of the basket.
"Well--aren't you lost?" inquired Stoddard with a rather futile
assumption of surprise. He was strangely moved by the direct gaze of
those clear, wide-set gray eyes, under the white brow and the ruffled
coronet of bright hair.
"No," returned Johnnie gently, literally. "You know I said I'd come up
here and get those moccasin flowers for you this morning. This is my
road home, anyhow. I'm not as near lost on it as I am at a loom, down in
Stoddard continued to stare at the hand she had laid on the car.
"It'll be an awfully long walk for you," he said at last, choosing his
words with some difficulty. "Won't you get in and let me take you up to
Johnnie laughed softly, exultantly.
"Oh, I picked your flowers before day broke. I'll bet there have been a
dozen boys over from Sunday-school to drink out of that spring before
this time. You wouldn't have had any blooms if I hadn't got up early."
Again she laughed, and, uncovering the orchids, held them up to him.
"These are beauties," he exclaimed with due enthusiasm, yet with a
certain uneasy preoccupation in his manner. "Were you up before day, did
you tell me, to get these? That seems too bad. You needed your sleep."
Johnnie flushed and smiled.
"I love to do it," she said simply. "It was mighty sweet out on the road
this morning, and you don't know how pretty the blooms did look,
standing there waiting for me. I 'most hated to pick them."
Stoddard's troubled eyes raised themselves to her face. Here was a royal
nature that would always be in the attitude of the giver. He wanted to
offer her something, and, as the nearest thing in reach, sprang down
from the automobile and, laying a hand on her arm, said, almost
"Get in. Come, let me help you. I want to go up and see the spring where
these grow. I'll get you back to Cottonville in time for church, if
that's what you're debating about."
Both of them knew that Johnnie's reluctance had nothing to do with the
question of church-time. Stoddard himself was well aware that a factory
girl could not with propriety accept a seat in his car; yet when once
they were settled side by side, and the car resumed that swift, tireless
climb which is the wonder and delight of the mechanical vehicle, it was
characteristic that both put aside definitely and completely all
hesitations and doubts. The girl was freely, innocently, exultantly
blissful. Stoddard noticed her intent examination of the machine, and
began explaining its workings to her.
"Was that what you were doing," she asked, alluding to some small item
of the operating, "when you stopped by the side of the road, Sunday
night, when Miss Lydia was with you?"
He looked his astonishment.
"You were right under my window when you stopped," Johnnie explained to
him. "I watched you-all when you started away. I was sure you
"We did," Stoddard assured her. "But we came near missing it. That
connection Buckheath put in for me the evening you were with him on the
Ridge worked loose. But I discovered the trouble in time to fix it."
Remembrance of that evening, and of the swift flight of the motors
through the dusk moonlight, made Johnnie wonder at herself and her
present position. She was roused by Stoddard's voice asking:
"Are you interested in machinery?"
"I love it," returned Johnnie sincerely. "I never did get enough of
tinkerin' around machines. If I was ever so fortunate as to own a
sewing machine I could take it all apart and clean it and put it
together again. I did that to the minister's wife's sewing machine
down at Bledsoe when it got out of order. She said I knew more about
it than the man that sold it to her."
"Would you like to run the car?" came the next query.
Would she like to! The countenance of simple rapture that she turned to
him was reply sufficient.
"Well, look at my hands here on the steering-wheel. Get the position,
and when I raise one put yours in its place. There. No, a little more
this way. Now you can hold it better. The other one's right."
Smilingly he watched her, like a grown person amusing a child.
"You see what the wheel does, of course--guides. Now," when they had run
ahead for some minutes, "do you want to go faster?"
Johnnie laughed up at him, through thick, fair lashes.
"Looks like anybody would be hard to suit that wanted to go faster than
this," she apologized. "But if the machine can make a higher speed,
there wouldn't be any harm in just running that way for a spell,
It was Stoddard's turn to laugh.
"No manner of harm," he agreed readily. "Well, you advance your spark
and open the throttle--that speeds her up. This is the spark and this
the gas, here. Then you shove your shifting lever--see, here it is--over
to the next speed. Remember that, any time you shift the gears, you'll
have to pull the clutch. The machine has to gain headway on one speed
before it can take the next."
Johnnie nodded soberly. Her intent gaze studied the mechanism before her
"We're going a heap faster now," she suggested in a moment. "Can I move
that--whatever it is--over to the third speed?"
"Yes," agreed Stoddard. "Here's a good, long, straight stretch of road
for us to take it on. I'll attend to the horn when we come to the turn
up there. We mustn't make anybody's horse run away."
So the lesson proceeded. He showed her brake and clutch. He gave her
some theoretical knowledge of cranking up, because she seemed to enjoy
it as a child enjoys exploiting the possibilities of a new toy.
Up and up they went, the sky widening and brightening above them. Hens
began to lead forth their broods. Overhead, a hawk wheeled high in the
blue, uttering his querulous cry.
"I'm mighty glad I came," the girl said, more to herself than to the man
at her side. "This is the most like flying of anything that ever
chanced to me."
From time to time Stoddard had sent swift, sidelong glances at his
companion, noting the bright, bent head, the purity of line in the
profile above the steering-wheel, the intelligent beauty of the intent,
down-dropped eyes, with long lashes almost on the flushed cheeks. He
wondered at her; born amid these wide, cool spaces, how had she endured
for a week the fetid atmosphere of the factory rooms? How, having tested
it, could she look forward to a life like that? Something in her
innocent trust choked him. He began some carefully worded inquiries as
to her experience in the mill and her opinion of the work. The answers
partook of that charm which always clung about Johnnie. She told him of
Mandy and, missing no shade of the humour there was in the Meacham girl,
managed to make the description pathetic. She described Pap Himes and
his boarding-house, aptly, deftly, and left it funny, though a
sympathetic listener could feel the tragedy beneath.
Presently they met the first farm-wagon with its load of worshippers for
the little mountain church beyond. As these came out of a small side
road, and caught sight of the car, the bony old horses jibbed and shied,
and took all the driver's skill and a large portion of his vocabulary to
carry them safely past, the children staring, the women pulling their
sunbonnets about their faces and looking down. Something in the sight
brought home to Johnnie the incongruity of her present position. On the
instant, a drop of rain splashed upon the back of her hand.
"There!" she cried in a contrite voice. "I knew mighty well and good
that it was going to rain, and I ought to have named it to you, because
you town folks don't understand the weather as well as we do. I ought
not to have let you come on up here."
"We'll have to turn and run for it," said Stoddard, laughing a little.
"I wish I'd had the hood put on this morning," as he surveyed the narrow
way in which he had to turn. "Is it wider beyond here, do you remember?"
"There's a bluff up about a quarter of a mile that you could run under
and be as dry as if you were in the shed at home," said Johnnie. "This
won't last long. Do you want to try it?"
"You are the pilot," Stoddard declared promptly, resigning the wheel
once more to her hands. "If it's a bad place, you might let me take
the car in."
Rain in the mountains has a trick of coming with the suddenness of an
overturned bucket. Johnnie sent the car ahead at what she considered a
rapid pace, till Stoddard unceremoniously took the wheel from her and
shoved the speed clutch over to the third speed.
"I'm mighty sorry I was so careless and didn't warn you about the rain,"
she declared with shining eyes, as her hair blew back and her colour
rose at the rapid motion. "But this is fine. I believe that if I should
ever be so fortunate as to own an automobile I'd want to fly like this
every minute of the time I was in it."
As she spoke, they swept beneath the overhanging rocks, and a great
curtain of Virginia creeper and trumpet-vine fell behind them, half
screening them from the road, and from the deluge which now broke more
fiercely. For five minutes the world was blotted out in rain, with these
two watching its gray swirls and listening to its insistent drumming,
safe and dry in their cave.
Nothing ripens intimacy so rapidly as a common mishap. Also, two people
seem much to each other as they await alone the ceasing of the rain or
the coming of the delayed boat.
"This won't last long," Johnnie repeated. "We won't dare to start out
when it first stops; but there'll come a little clearing-up shower after
that, and then I think we'll have a fair day. Don't you know the saying,
'Rain before seven, quit before eleven?' Well, it showered twice just as
day was breaking, and I had to wait under a tree till it was over."
The big drops lengthened themselves, as they came down, into tiny
javelins and struck upon the rocks with a splash. The roar and drumming
in the forest made a soft, blurring undertone of sound. The first rain
lasted longer than Johnnie had counted on, and the clearing-up shower
was slow in making its appearance. The two talked with ever-growing
interest. Strangely enough Johnnie Consadine, who had no knowledge of
any other life except through a few well-conned books, appreciated the
values of this mountain existence with almost the detached view of an
outsider. Her knowledge of it was therefore more assorted and available,
and Stoddard listened to her eagerly.
"But what made you think you'd like to work in a cotton mill?" he asked
suddenly. "After all, weren't you maybe better off up in these
And then and there Johnnie strove to put into exact and intelligent
words what she had possessed and what she had lacked in the home of her
childhood. Unconsciously she told him more than was in the mere words.
He got the situation as to the visionary, kindly father with a turn for
book learning and a liking for enterprises that appealed to his
imagination. Uncle Pros and the silver mine were always touched upon
with the tender kindness Johnnie felt for the old man and his life-long
quest. But the little mother and the children--ah, it was here that the
listener found Johnnie's incentive.
"Mr. Stoddard," she concluded, "there wasn't a bit of hope of schooling
for the children unless I could get out and work in the factory. I think
it's a splendid chance for a girl. I think any girl that wouldn't take
such a chance would be mighty mean and poor-spirited."
Gray Stoddard revolved this conception of a chance in the world in his
mind for some time.
"I did get some schooling," she told him. "You wouldn't think it to hear
me talk, because I'm careless, but I've been taught, and I can do
better. Yet if I don't see to it, how am I to know that the children
will have as much even as I've had? Mountain air is mighty pure and
healthy, and the water up here is the finest you ever drank; but that's
only for the body. Of course there's beauty all about you--there was
never anything more sightly than big Unaka and the ridges that run from
it, and the sky, and the big woods--and all. And yet human beings have
got to have more than that. I aim to make a chance for the children."
"Are you going to bring them down and let them work in the mills with
you?" Stoddard asked in a perfectly colourless tone.
Johnnie looked embarrassed. Her week in the cotton mill had fixed
indelibly on her mind the picture of the mill child, straggling to work
in the gray dawn, sleepy, shivering, unkempt; of the young things
creeping up and down the aisles between the endlessly turning spools,
dully regarding the frames to see that the threads were not fouled or
broken; of the tired little groups as they pressed close to the shut
windows, neglecting their work to stare out into a world of blue sky and
blowing airs--a world they could see but not enter, and no breath of
which could come in to them. And so she looked embarrassed. She was
afraid that memory of those tired little faces would show in her own
countenance. Her hands on the steering-wheel trembled. She remembered
that Mr. Stoddard was, as Shade had said, one of the bosses in the
Hardwick mill. It seemed too terrible to offend him. He certainly
thought no ill of having children employed; she must not seem to
criticize him; she answered evasively:
"Well, of course they might do that. I did think of it--before I went
"Before you went to work in the mills yourself," supplied Stoddard,
again in that colourless tone.
"Ye--yes," hesitated Johnnie; "but you mustn't get the idea that I don't
love my work--because I do. You see the children haven't had any
schooling yet, and--well, I'm a great, big, stout somebody, and it looks
like I'm the one to work in the mill."
She turned to him fleetingly a countenance of appeal and perplexity. It
seemed indeed anything but certain that she was one to work in the mill.
There was something almost grotesque in the idea which made Stoddard
smile a little at her earnestness.
"I'd like to talk it over with you when you've been at work there
longer," he found himself saying. "You see, I'm studying mill conditions
from one side, and you're studying them from the opposite--perhaps we
could help each other."
"I sure will tell you what I find out," agreed Johnnie heartily. "I
reckon you'll want to know how the work seems to me at the side of such
as I was used to in the mountains; but I hope you won't inquire how long
it took me to learn, for I'm afraid I'm going to make a poor record. If
you was to ask me how much I was able to earn there, and how much back
on Unaka, I could make a good report for the mill on that, because
that's all that's the matter with the mountains--they're a beautiful
place to live, but a body can't hardly earn a cent, work as they may."
Johnnie forgot herself--she was always doing that--and she talked freely
and well. It was as inevitable that she should be drawn to Gray Stoddard
as that she should desire the clothing and culture Miss Lydia possessed.
For the present, one aspiration struck her as quite as innocent as the
other. Stoddard had not yet emerged from the starry constellations among
which she set him, to take form as a young man, a person who might
indeed return her regard. Her emotions were in that nebulous, formative
stage when but a touch would be needed to show her whither the regard
tended, yet till that touch should come, she as unashamedly adored Gray
as any child of five could have done. It was not till they were well
down the road to Cottonville that she realized the bald fact that she, a
mill girl, was riding in an automobile with one of the mill owners.
She was casting about for some reasonable phrase in which to clothe the
statement that it would be better he should stop the car and let her
out; she had parted her lips to ask him to take the wheel, when they
rounded a turn and came upon a company of loom-fixers from the village
below. Behind them, in a giggling group, strolled a dozen mill girls in
their Sunday best. Johnnie had sight of Mandy Meacham, fixing eyes of
terrified admiration upon her; then she nodded in reply to Shade
Buckheath's angry stare, and a rattle of wheels apprized her that a
carriage was passing on the other side. This vehicle contained the
entire Hardwick family, with Lydia Sessions turning long to look her
incredulous amazement back at them from her seat beside her
It was all over in a moment. The loom-fixers had debouched upon the
long, wooden bridge which crossed the ravine to their quarters; the
girls were going on, Mandy Meacham hanging back and staring; a tree
finally shut out Miss Sessions's accusing countenance.
"Please stop and let me out here," said Johnnie, in a scarcely audible
When Stoddard would have remonstrated, or asked why, his lips were
closed by sight of her daunted, miserable face. He knew as well as she
the mad imprudence of the thing which they had done, and blamed himself
roundly with it all.
"I'll not forget to bring the books we were talking of," he made haste
to say. He picked up the little basket from the floor of the car.
"You'd better keep the flowers in that," Johnnie told him lifelessly.
Her innocent dream was broken into by a cruel reality. She was
struggling blindly under the weight of all her little world's
"You'll let me return the basket when I bring you the books," Gray
"I don't know," Johnnie hesitated. Then, as a sudden inspiration came to
her, "Mandy Meacham said she'd try to get me into a club for girls that
Miss Sessions has. She said Miss Sessions would lend me books. Maybe you
might just leave them with her. I'm sure I should be mighty proud to
have them. I know I'll love to read them; but--well, you might just
leave them with her."
A little satiric sparkle leaped to life in Stoddard's eyes. He looked at
the innocent, upraised face in wonder. The most experienced manoeuverer
of Society's legion could not have handled a difficult situation
"The very thing," he said cheerily. "I'll talk to Miss Sessions about it
OF THE USE OF WINGS
"I told you I'd speak a good word for you," shouted Mandy Meacham,
putting her lips down close to Johnnie's ear where she struggled and
fought with her looms amid the deafening clamour of the weaving room.
The girl looked up, flushed, tired, but eagerly receptive.
"Yes," her red lips shaped the word to the other's eyes, though no sound
could make itself heard above that din except such eldritch shrieks
"I done it. I got you a invite to some doin's at the Uplift Club
Again Johnnie nodded and shaped "Yes" with her lips. She added something
which might have been "thank you"; the adorable smile that accompanied
it said as much.
Mandy watched her, fascinated as the lithe, strong young figure bent and
strained to correct a crease in the web where it turned the roll.
"They never saw anything like you in their born days, I'll bet," she
yelled. "I never did. You're awful quare--but somehow I sorter like ye."
And she scuttled back to her looms as the room boss came in. A weaver
works by the piece, but Mandy had been reproved too often for slovenly
methods not to know that she might be fined for neglect. Her looms stood
where she could continually get the newcomer's figure against the light,
with its swift motion, its supple curves, and the brave carriage of the
well-formed head. The sight gave Mandy a curious satisfaction, as though
it uttered what she would fain have said to the classes above her. Hers
was something the feeling which the private in the ranks has for the
standard-bearer who carries the colours aloft, or the dashing officer
who leads the charge. Johnnie was the challenge she would have flung in
the face of the enemy.
"I'll bet if you'd put one of Miss Lyddy's dresses on her she'd look
nobby," Mandy ruminated, addressing her looms. "That's what she would.
She'd have 'em all f--fa--faded away, as the feller says."
And so it came about that the next day Johnnie Consadine did not go to
the mill at all, but spent the morning washing and ironing her one light
print dress. It was as coarse almost as flour-sacking, and the blue dots
on it had paled till they made a suspicious speckle not unlike mildew;
yet when she had combed her thick, fair hair, rolled it back from the
white brow and braided it to a coronet round her head as she had seen
that of the lady on the porch at the Palace of Pleasure; when, cleansed
and smooth, she put the frock on, one forgot the dress in the youth of
her, the hope, the glorious expectation there was in that eager face.
The ladies assisting in Miss Lydia Sessions's Uplift
Club for work among the mill girls, were almost all young and youngish
women. The mothers in Israel attacked the more serious problems of
orphanages, winter's supplies of coal, and clothing for the destitute.
"But their souls must be fed, too," Miss Lydia asserted as she recruited
her helpers for the Uplift work. "Their souls must be fed; and who can
reach the souls of these young girls so well as we who are near their
own age, and who have had time for culture and spiritual growth?"
It was a good theory. Perhaps one may say that it remains a good theory.
The manner of uplifting was to select a certain number of mill girls
whom it was deemed well to help, approach them on the subject, and, if
they appeared amenable, pay a substitute to take charge of their looms
while those in process of being uplifted attended a meeting of the Club.
The gathering to which Johnnie was bidden was held in honour of a lady
from London who had written a book on some subject which it was thought
ought to appeal to workingwomen. This lady intended to address the
company and to mingle with them and get their views. Most of those
present being quite unfurnished with any views whatever on the problem
she discussed, her position was something that of a pick-pocket in a
moneyless crowd; but of this she was fortunately and happily unaware.
Mandy Meacham regarded Johnnie's preparation for the function with some
"Ef you fix up like that," she remonstrated, "you're bound to look too
nice to suit Miss Lyddy. They won't be no men thar. I'm goin' to wear my
workin' dress, and tell her I hadn't nary minute nor nary cent to
Johnnie laughed a little at this, as though it were intended for a joke.
"But I did have time," she objected. "Miss Sessions would pay a
substitute for the whole day though I told her I'd only need the
afternoon for the party. I think it was mighty good of her, and it's as
little as I can do to make myself look as nice as I can."
"You ain't got the sense you was born with!" fretted Mandy. "Them thar
kind ladies ain't a-carin' for you to look so fine. They'll attend to
all the fine lookin' theirselves. What they want is to know how bad off
you air, an' to have you say how much what they have did or give has
Such interchange of views brought the two girls to the door of the
little frame chapel, given over for the day to Uplift work. Within it
rose a bustle and clatter, a hum of voices that spoke, a frilling of
nervous, shrill laughter to edge the sound, and back of that the clink
of dishes from a rear room where refreshments were being prepared.
Miss Sessions, near the door, had a receiving line, quite in the manner
of any reception. She herself, in a blouse of marvellous daintiness and
sweeping skirts, stood beside the visitor from London to present her. To
this day Johnnie is uncertain as to where the wonderful blue silk frock
of that lady from abroad was fastened, though she gave the undivided
efforts of sharp young eyes and an inquiring mind to the problem a good
portion of the time while it was within her view. The Englishwoman was
called Mrs. Archbold, and on her other hand stood a tall, slim lady with
long gray-green eyes, prematurely gray hair which had plainly been red,
and an odd little twist to her smile. This was Mrs. Hexter, wife of the
owner of the big woollen mills across the creek, and only bidden in to
assist the Uplift work because the position of her husband gave her much
power. These, with the Misses Burchard, daughters of the rector, formed
the reception committee.
"I am so charmed to see you here to-day," Miss Lydia smiled as they
entered. It was part of her theory to treat the mill girls exactly as
she would members of her own circle. Mandy, being old at the business,
possessed herself of the high-held hand presented; but Johnnie only
looked at it in astonishment, uncertain whether Miss Lydia meant to
shake hands or pat her on the head. Yet when she did finally divine what
was intended, the quality of her apologetic smile ought to have atoned
for her lapse.
"I'm sure proud to be here with you-all," she said. "Looks like to me
you are mighty kind to strangers."
The ineradicable dignity of the true mountaineer, who has always been as
good as the best in his environment, preserved Johnnie from any
embarrassment, any tendency to shrink or cringe. Her beauty, in the
fresh-washed print gown, was like a thing released and, as Miss Sessions
might have put it, rampant.
Gray Stoddard had gone directly to Lydia Sessions, with his proffers of
books, and his suggestions for Johnnie. The explanation of how the girl
came to be riding in his car that Sunday morning was neither as full nor
as penitent as Miss Lydia could have wished; yet it did recognize the
impropriety of the act, and was, in so far, satisfactory. Miss Sessions
made haste to form an alliance with the young man for the special
upliftment of Johnnie Consadine. She would have greatly preferred to
interest him in Mandy Meacham, but beggars can not be choosers, and she
took what she could get.
"Whom have we here?" demanded the lady from London, leaning across and
peering at Johnnie with friendly, near-sighted eyes. "Why, what a
blooming girl, to be sure! You haven't been long from the country, I'll
venture to guess, my dear."
Johnnie blushed and dimpled at being so kindly welcomed. The mountain
people are undemonstrative in speech and action; and that "my dear"
"I come from away up in the mountains," she said softly.
"From away up in the mountains," repeated the Englishwoman, her smiling
gaze dwelling on Johnnie's radiant face. "Why yes--so one would
conceive. Well, you mustn't lose all those pretty roses in the mill down
here." She was a visitor, remember; residents of Cottonville never
admitted that roses, or anything else desirable, could be lost in
"I'll not," said Johnnie sturdily. "I'm goin' to earn my way and send
for Mother and the children, if hard work'll do it; but I'm a mighty
big, stout, healthy somebody, and I aim to keep so."
Mrs. Archbold patted the tall young shoulder as she turned to Mandy
Meacham whom Miss Lydia was eager to put through her paces for the
benefit of the lady from London.
"Isn't that the girl Mr. Stoddard was speaking to me about?" she
inquired in a whisper as Johnnie moved away. "I think it must be. He
said she was such a beauty, and I scarcely believe there could be two
like her in one town."
"Such a type,' were Mr. Stoddard's exact words I believe," returned Miss
Sessions a little frostily. "Yes, John Consadine is quite a marked type
of the mountaineer. She is, as she said to you, a stout, healthy
creature, and, I understand, very industrious. I approve of John."
She approved of John, but she addressed herself to exploiting Mandy; and
the lady in the blue silk frock learned how poor and helpless the
Meacham woman had been before she got in to the mill work, how greatly
the Uplift Club had benefited her, with many interesting details. Yet as
the English lady went from group to group in company with Miss Lydia and
T.H. Hexter's wife, her quick eyes wandered across the room to where a
bright head rose a little taller than its fellows, and occasional bursts
of laughter told that Johnnie was in a merry mood.
The threadbare attempt at a reception was gotten through laboriously.
The girls were finally settled in orderly rows, and Mrs. Archbold led to
the platform. The talk she had prepared for them was upon aspiration. It
was an essay, in fact, and she had delivered it successfully before many
women's clubs. She is not to be blamed that the language was as
absolutely above the comprehension of her hearers as though it had been
Greek. She was a busy woman, with other aims and activities than those
of working among the masses; Miss Lydia had heard her present talk,
fancied it, and thought it would be the very thing for the Uplift Club.
For thirty minutes Johnnie sat concentrating desperately on every
sentence that fell from the lips of the lady from London, trying harder
to understand than she had ever tried to do anything in her life. She
put all her quick, young mind and avid soul into the struggle to
receive, though piercingly aware every instant of the difference between
her attire and that of the women who had bidden her there, noting
acutely variations between their language and hers, their voices, their
gestures and hers. These were the women of Gray Stoddard's world. Such
were his feminine associates; here, then, must be her models.
Mandy and her likes got from the talk perhaps nothing at all, except
that rich people might have what they liked if they wanted it--that at
least was Miss Meacham's summing up of the matter when she went home
that night. But to Johnnie some of the sentences remained.
"You struggle and climb and strive," said Mrs. Archbold earnestly,
"when, if you only knew it, you have wings. And what are the wings of
the soul? The wings of the soul are aspiration. Oh, that we would spread
them and fly to the heights our longing eyes behold, the heights we
dream of when we cannot see them, the heights we foolishly and
mistakenly expect to climb some day."
Again Johnnie saw herself coming down the ridge at Shade's side;
descending into the shadow, stepping closer to the droning mills; while
above her the Palace of Pleasure swam in its golden glory, and these who
were privileged to do so went out and in and laughed and were happy.
Were such heights as that what this woman meant? Johnnie had let it
typify to her the heights to which she intended to climb. Was it indeed
possible to fly to them instead? The talk ended. She sat so long with
bent head that Miss Sessions finally came round and took the unoccupied
chair beside her.
"Are you thinking it over, John?" she inquired with that odd little note
of hostility which she could never quite keep out of her voice when she
addressed this girl.
"Yes'm," replied Johnnie meekly.
Several who were talking together in the vicinity relinquished their
conversation to listen to the two. Mrs. Hexter shot one of her quaint,
crooked smiles at the lady from London and, with a silent gesture, bade
"I think these things are most important for you girls who have to earn
your daily bread," Miss Sessions condescended.
"Daily bread," echoed Johnnie softly. She loved fine phrases as she
loved fine clothes. "I know where that comes from. It's in the prayer
about 'daily bread,' and 'the kingdom and the power and the glory.'
Don't you think those are beautiful words, Miss Lydia--the 'power and
Miss Sessions's lips sucked in with that singular, half-reluctant
expression of condemnation which was becoming fairly familiar
"Oh, John!" she said reprovingly, 'Daily bread' is all we have anything
to do with. Don't you remember that it says 'Thine be the kingdom and
the power and the glory'? Thine, John--Thine."
"Yes'm," returned Johnnie submissively. But it was in her heart that
certain upon this earth had their share of kingdoms and powers and the
glories. And, although she uttered that submissive "Yes'm," her
high-couraged young heart registered a vow to achieve its own slice of
these things as well as of daily bread.
"Didn't you enjoy Mrs. Archbold's talk? I thought it very fine," Miss
"It sure was that," sighed Johnnie. "I don't know as I understand it
all--every word. I tried to, but maybe I got some of it wrong."
"What is it you don't understand, John?" inquired
Miss Lydia patronizingly. "Ask me. I'll explain anything you care to
Johnnie turned to her, too desperately in earnest to note the other
listeners to the conversation.
"Why, that about stretching out the wings of your spirit and flying. Do
you believe that?"
"I certainly do," Miss Sessions said brightly, as delighted at Johnnie's
remembering part of the visitor's words as a small boy when he has
taught his terrier to walk on its hind legs.
"Then if a body wants a thing bad enough, and keeps on a-wanting it--Oh,
just awful--is that aspiration? Will the thing you want that-a-way
come to pass?"
"We-e-ell," Miss Sessions deemed it necessary to qualify her statement
to this fiery and exact young questioner. "You have to want the right
thing, of course, John. You have to want the right thing."
"Yes'm," agreed Johnnie heartily. "And I'd 'low it was certainly the
right thing, if it was what good folks--like you--want."
Miss Sessions flushed, yet she looked pleased, aware, if Johnnie was
not, of the number of listeners. Here was her work of Uplift among the
mill girls being justified.
"I--Oh, really, I couldn't set myself up as a pattern," she said
"But you are," Johnnie assured her warmly. "There ain't anybody in this
room I'd rather go by as by you." The fine gray eyes had been travelling
from neck to belt, from shoulder to wrist of the lady who was
enlightening her, "I think I never in all my life seen anything more
sightly than that dress-body you're a-wearin'," she murmured softly.
"Where--how might a person come by such a one? If you thought that my
wishing and--aspiring--would ever bring me such as that, I'd sure try."
There rose a titter about the two. It spread and swelled till the whole
assembly was in a gale of laughter. Miss Sessions's becoming blush
deepened to the tint of angry mortification. She looked about and
assumed the air of a schoolmistress with a room full of noisy pupils;
but Johnnie, her cheeks pink too, first swept them all with an
astonished gaze which flung the long lashes up in such a wide curve of
innocence as made her eyes bewitching, then joined it, and laughed as
loud as any of them at she knew not what. It was the one touch to put
her with the majority, and leave her mentor stranded in a bleak
minority. Miss Sessions objected to the position.
"Oh, John!" she said severely, so soon as she could be heard above the
giggles. "How you have misunderstood me, and Mrs. Archbold, and all we
intended to bring to you! What is a mere blouse like this to the uplift,
the outlook, the development we were striving to offer? I confess I am
deeply disappointed in you."
This sobered Johnnie, instantly.
"I'm sorry," she said, bending forward to lay a wistful, penitent hand
on that of Miss Sessions. "I'll try to understand better. I reckon I'm
right dumb, and you'll have to have a lot of patience with me. I don't
rightly know what to aspire after."
The amende was so sweetly made that even Lydia Sessions, still
exceedingly employed at being pictorially chagrined over the depravity
of her neophyte, could but be appeased.
"I'll try to furnish you more suitable objects for your ambition," she
But the lady with the gray hair and the odd little twist to her smile
now leaned forward and took a hand in the conversation.
"See here, Lydia," Mrs. Hexter remonstrated in crisp tones, "what's the
matter with the girl's aspiring after a blouse like yours? You took a
lot of trouble and spent a lot of money to get that one. I noticed you
were careful to tell me it was imported, because I couldn't see the
neck-band and find out that detail for myself. That blouse is a
dream--it's a dream. If it's good enough aspiration for you or me, why
not for this girl?"
"Oh, but Mrs. Hexter," murmured the mortified Miss Sessions, glancing
uneasily toward the mill-girl contingent which was listening eagerly,
and then at the speaker of the day, "I am sure Mrs. Archbold will agree
with me that it would be a gross, material idea to aspire after blouses
and such-like, when the poor child needs--er--other things so
"Yes'm, I do that," conceded Johnnie dutifully, those changeful eyes of
hers full of pensive, denied desire, as they swept the dainty gowns of
the women before her. "I do--you're right. I wouldn't think of spending
my money for a dress-body like that when I'm mighty near as barefoot as
a rabbit this minute, and the little 'uns back home has to have every
cent I can save. I just thought that if beautiful wishes was ever really
coming true--if it was right and proper for a person to have beautiful
Her voice faltered into discouraged silence. Tears gathered and hung
thick on her lashes. Miss Sessions sent a beseeching look toward the
lady from London. Mrs. Archbold stepped accommodatingly into the breach.
"All aspiration is good," she said gently. "I shouldn't be discouraged
because it took a rather concrete form."
Johnnie's eyes were upon her face, trying to understand. A "concrete
form" she imagined might allude to the fact that Miss Sessions had a
better figure than she.
Mrs. Hexter, glad of an ally, tossed that incorrigible gray head of hers
and dashed into the conversation once more.
"If I were you, Johnnie, I'd just aspire as hard as I could in that
direction," she said recklessly, her mischievous glance upon the flowing
lines of Johnnie's young shoulders and throat. "A blouse like that would
be awfully fetching on you. You'd look lovely in it. Why shouldn't you
aspire to it? Maybe you'll have one just as pretty before the style
changes. I am sure you're nice enough, and good-looking enough, for the
best in the way of purple and fine linen to come to you by the law of
attraction--don't you believe in the law of attraction, Mrs. Archbold?"
Lydia Sessions got up and moved away in shocked silence. Mrs. Hexter was
a good deal of a thorn in her flesh, and she only tolerated her because
of Mr. Hexter and his position. After the retreating and disaffected
hostess came Mrs. Archbold's voice, with a thread of laughter in it.
"I believe in the law of such attraction as this girl has," she said
kindly. "What is it your Walt Whitman says about the fluid and attaching
character? That all hearts yearn toward it, that old and young must give
it love. That is, my dear," turning explainingly to Johnnie, "the
character which gives much love, takes much interest in those about it,
makes itself one with other people and their affairs--do you get
"I think I understand," half whispered Johnnie, glowing eyes on the face
of the speaker. "Do you mean that I am anything like that? I do love
everybody--most. But how could I help it, when everybody is so good and
kind to me?"
The glances of the older women met across the bright head.
"She won't have much use for feet to climb with," Mrs. Hexter summed it
up, taking her figure from the talk earlier in the afternoon. "She's
And puzzled Johnnie could only smile from one to the other.
"Wings!" whispered Mandy Meacham to herself. Mandy was not only
restricted to the use of spiritual feet; she was lame in the soul as
well, poor creature, "Wings--air they callin' her a angel?"
A BIT OF METAL
In the valleys of Tennessee, spring has a trick of dropping down on the
world like a steaming wet blanket. The season that Johnnie Consadine
went to work in the mills at Cottonville, May came in with warm rains.
Stifling nights followed sultry, drenching days, till vegetation
everywhere sprouted unwholesomely and the mountain slopes had almost the
reek of tropic jungles.
Yet the girl performed the labours of a factory weaver with almost
passionate enthusiasm and devotion. Always and always she was looking
beyond the mere present moment. If tending loom was the road which led
to the power and the glory, what need to complain that it--the mere
road--was but dull earth?
She tried conscientiously, to do and be exactly what Lydia Sessions
seemed to want. Gray Stoddard's occasional spoken word, or the more
lengthy written messages he had taken to putting in the books he sent
her, seemed to demand of her nothing, but always inspired to much. For
all his disposition to keep hands off the personal development of his
friends, perhaps on account of it, Gray made an excellent teacher, and
these writings--the garnered grain, the gist, of his own wide
culture--were the very sinews for the race Johnnie was setting out on.
She began to intelligently guard her speech, her manner, her very
thoughts, conforming them to what she knew of his ideals. Miss Session's
striving to build up an imitation lady on the sincere foundation Johnnie
offered appealed less to the girl, and had therefore less effect; but
she immediately responded to Stoddard's methods, tucking in to the books
she returned written queries or records of perplexity, which gradually
expanded into notes, expressions of her own awakened thought, and even
fancies, which held from the first a quaint charm and individuality.
The long, hot days at the foot of the hills did seem to the
mountain-bred creature interminable and stifling. Perspiration dripped
from white faces as the operatives stood listlessly at their looms, or
the children straggled back and forth in the narrow lanes between the
frames, tending the endlessly turning spools.
The Hardwick Mill had both spinning and weaving departments.
Administrative ability is as much a native gift as the poet's voice or
the actor's grace, and the managers of any large business are always on
the lookout for it. Before Johnnie Consadine had been two months in the
factory she was given charge of a spinning room. But the dignity of the
new position--even the increase of pay--had a cloud upon it. She was
beginning to understand the enmity there is between the soulless factory
and the human tide that feeds its life. She knew now that the tasks of
the little spinners, which seemed less than child's play, were deadly in
their monotony, their long indoor hours, and the vibrant clamour amid
which they were performed. Her own vigorous young frame resisted
valiantly; yet the Saturday half-holiday, the Sunday of rest, could
scarcely renew her for the exorbitant hours of mechanical toil.
As she left the mill those sultry evenings, with the heat mists still
tremulous over the valley and heat lightnings bickering in the west, she
went with a lagging step up the village street, not looking, as had been
her wont, first toward the far blue mountains, and then at the glorious
state of the big valley. The houses of the operatives were set up
haphazard and the village was denied all beauty. Most of the yards were
unfenced, and here and there a row of shanties would be crowded so close
together that speech in one could be heard in the other.
"And then if any ketchin' disease does break out, like the dipthery did
last year," Mavity Bence said one evening as she walked home with
Johnnie, "hit's sartin shore to go through 'em like it would go through
Johnnie looked curiously at the dirty yards with their debris of lard
buckets and tin cans. Space--air, earth and sky--was cheap and plentiful
in the mountains. It seemed strange to be sparing of it, down here where
people were so rich.
"What makes 'em build so close, Aunt Mavity?" she asked.
"Hit's the Company," returned Mrs. Bence lifelessly. "They don't want to
spend any more than they have to for land. Besides they want everything
to be nigh to the mill. Lord--hit don't make no differ. Only when a fire
starts in a row of 'em hit cleans up the Company's property same as it
does the plunder of the folks that lives in 'em. You just got to be
thankful if there don't chance to be one or more baby children locked up
in the houses and burned along with the other stuff. I've knowed that to
happen more than oncet."
Johnnie's face whitened.
"Miss Lydia says she's going to persuade her brother-in-law to furnish a
kindergarten and a day nursery for the Hardwick Mill," she offered
hastily. "They have one at some other mill down in Georgia, and she says
it's fine the way they take care of the children while the mothers are
at work in the factory."
"Uh-uh," put in Mandy Meacham slowly, speaking over the shoulders of the
two, "but I'd a heap ruther take care of my own child--ef I had one. An'
ef the mills can afford to pay for it the one way, they can afford to
pay for it t'other way. Miss Liddy's schemes is all for the showin' off
of the swells and the rich folks. I reckon that, with her, hit'll end in
talk, anyhow--hit always does."
"Aunt Mavity," pursued Johnnie timidly, "do you reckon the water's
unhealthy down here in Cottonville? Looks like all the children in the
mill have the same white, puny look. I thought maybe the water didn't
agree with them."
Mavity Bence laughed out mirthlessly. "The water!" she echoed in a tone
of amused contempt. "Johnnie, you're mighty smart about some things;
cain't you see that a cotton mill is bound to either kill or cripple a
child? Them that don't die, sort o' drags along and grows up to be
mis'able, undersized, sickly somebodies. Hit's true the Hardwick Mill
won't run night turn; hit's true they show mo' good will about hirin'
older children; but if you can make a cotton mill healthy for young-uns,
you can do more than God A'mighty." She wiped her eyes furtively.
"Lou was well growed before ever she went in the mill. I know in reason
hit never hurt her. I mean these here mammies that I see puttin' little
tricks to work that ort to be runnin' out o' doors gettin' their
strength and growth--well, po' souls, I reckon they don't know no
better, God forgive 'em!"
"But if they got sick or anything, there's always the hospital," Johnnie
spoke up hopefully, as they passed the clean white building standing
high on its green slope.
"The hospital!" echoed Mandy, with a half-terrified glance over her
shoulder. "Yes, ef you want to be shipped out of town in a box for the
student doctors to cut up, I reckon the hospital is a good place. It's
just like everything else the rich swells does--it's for their profit,
not for our'n. They was a lot of big talk when they built that thar
hospital, and every one of us was axed to give something for beds and
such. We was told that if we got hurt in the mill we could go thar free,
and if we fell sick they'd doctor us for little or nothin'. They can
afford it--considerin' the prices they git for dead bodies, I reckon."
"Now, Mandy, you don't believe any such as that," remonstrated Johnnie,
with a half-smile.
"Believe it--I know it to be true!" Mandy stuck to her point stubbornly.
"Thar was Lura Dawson; her folks was comin' down to git the body and
bury hit, and when they got here the hospital folks couldn't tell 'em
whar to look--no, they couldn't. Atlas Dawson 'lows he'll git even with
'em if it takes him the rest of his natural life. His wife was a
Bushares and her whole tribe is out agin the hospital folks and the mill
folks down here. I reckon you live too far up in the mountains to hear
the talk, but some of these swells had better look out."
As the long, hot days followed each other, Johnnie noticed how Mandy
failed. Her hand was forever at her side, where she had a stitch-like
pain, that she called "a jumpin' misery." Even broad, seasoned Mavity
Bence grew pallid and gaunt. Only Pap Himes thrived. His trouble was
rheumatism, and the hot days were his best. Of evenings he would sit on
the porch in his broad, rush-bottomed chair, the big yellow cat on his
knees, and smoke his pipe and, if he cared to do so, banter unkindly
with the girls on the steps. Early in the season as it was, the upstairs
rooms were terribly hot; and sometimes the poor creatures sat or lay on
the porch till well past midnight. Across the gulch were songs and the
strumming of banjos or guitars, where the young fellows at the inn
The rich people on top of the hill were beginning to make their
preparations to flit to the seashore or mountains. Lydia Sessions left
for two weeks, promising to return in June, and the Uplift work drooped,
neglected. There seems to be an understanding that people do not need
uplifting so much during hot weather. Gray Stoddard was faithful in the
matter of books. He carried them to Lydia Sessions and discussed with
that young lady a complete course of reading for Johnnie. Lydia was in
the position of one taking bad medicine for good results. She could not
but delight in any enterprise which brought Stoddard intimately to her,
yet the discussion of Johnnie Consadine, the admiration he expressed for
the girl's character and work, were as so much quinine.
Johnnie herself was dumb and abashed, now, in his presence. She sought
vainly for the poise and composure which were her natural birthright in
most of the situations of life. Yet her perturbation was not that of
distress. The sight of him, the sound of his voice, even if he were not
saying good morning to her, would cheer her heart for one whole, long,
hot day: and if he spoke to her, if he looked at her, nothing could
touch her with sadness for hours afterward. She asked no questions why
this was so; she met it with a sort of desperate bravery, accepting the
joy, refusing to see the sorrow there might be in it. And she robbed
herself of necessary sleep to read Stoddard's books, to study them, to
wring from them the last precious crumb of help or information that they
might have for her. The mountain dweller is a mental creature. An
environment which builds lean, vigorous bodies, is apt to nourish keen,
alert minds. Johnnie crowded into her few months of night reading a
world, of ripening culture.
Ever since the Sunday morning of the automobile ride, Shade Buckheath
had been making elaborate pretense of having forgotten that such a
person as Johnnie Consadine existed. If he saw her approaching, he
turned his back; and when forced to recognize her, barely growled some
unintelligible greeting. Then one evening she came suddenly into the
machine room. She walked slowly down the long aisle between pieces of
whirring machinery, carrying all eyes with her. It was an offence to
Buckheath to note how the other young fellows turned from their tasks to
look after her. She had no business down here where the men were. That
was just like a fool girl, always running after--. She paused at
"Shade," she said, bending close so that he might hear the words, "I got
leave to come in and ask you to make me a thing like this--see?" showing
a pattern for a peculiarly slotted strip of metal.
Buckheath returned to the surly indifference of demeanour which was
natural to him. Yet he smiled covertly as he examined the drawing she
had made of the thing she wanted. He divined in this movement of
Johnnie's but an attempt to approach himself, and, as she explained with
some particularity, he paid more attention to the girl than to
"I want a big enough hole here to put a bolt through," she repeated.
"Shade--do you understand? You're not listening to one word I say."
Buckheath turned and grinned broadly at her.
"What's the use of this foolishness, Johnnie?" he inquired, clinking the
strips of metal between his fingers. "Looks like you and me could find a
chance to visit without going to so much trouble."
Johnnie opened her gray eyes wide and stared at him.
"Foolishness!" she echoed. "Mr. Stoddard didn't call it foolishness when
I named it to him. He said I was to have anything I wanted made, and
that one of the loom-fixers could attend to it."
"Mr. Stoddard--what's he got to do with it?" demanded Shade.
"He hasn't anything; but that I spoke to him about it, and he told me to
try any plan I wanted to."
"Well, the less you talk to the bosses--a girl like you, working here in
the mill--the better name you'll bear," Shade told her, twisting the
drawing in his hands and regarding her from under lowered brows.
"Don't tear that," cautioned Johnnie impatiently. "I have to speak to
some of the people in authority sometimes--the same as you do. What's
the matter with you, Shade Buckheath?"
"There's nothing the matter with me," Buckheath declared wagging his
head portentously, and avoiding her eye. Then the wrath, the sense of
personal injury, which had been simmering in him ever since he saw her
sitting beside Stoddard in the young mill owner's car, broke forth.
"When I see a girl riding in an automobile with one of these young
bosses," he growled, close to her ear, "I know what to think--and so
does everybody else."
It was out. He had said it at last. He stared at her fiercely. The red
dyed her face and neck at his words and look. For a desperate moment she
took counsel with herself. Then she lifted her head and looked squarely
in Buckheath's face.
"Oh, _that's_ what has been the matter with you all this time, is it?"
she inquired. "Well, I'm glad you spoke and relieved your mind." Then
she went on evenly, "Mr. Stoddard had been up in the mountains that
Sunday to get a flower that he wanted, like the one you stepped on and
broke the day I came down. I was up there and showed him where the
things grow. Then it rained, and he brought me down in his car. That's
all there was to it."
"Mighty poor excuse," grunted Shade, turning his shoulder to her.
"It's not an excuse at all," said Johnnie. "You have no right to ask
excuses for what I do--or explanations, either, for that matter. I've
told you the truth about it because we were old friends and you named it
to me; but I'm sorry now that I spoke at all. Give me that drawing and
those patterns back. Some of the other loom-fixers can make what
"You get mad quick, don't you?" Buckheath asked, turning to her with a
half-taunting, half-relenting smile on his face. "Red-headed people
"No, I'm not mad," Johnnie told him, as she had told him long ago. "But
I'll thank you not to name Mr. Stoddard to me again. If I haven't the
right to speak to anybody I need to, why it certainly isn't your place
to tell me of it."
"Go 'long," said Buckheath, surlily; "I'll fix 'em for you." And without
another word the girl left him.
After Johnnie was gone, Buckheath chewed for some time the bitter cud of
chagrin. He was wholly mistaken, then, in the object of her visit to the
mechanical department? Yet he was a cool-headed fellow, always alert for
that which might bring him gain. Pushing, aspiring, he subscribed for
and faithfully studied a mechanics' journal which continually urged upon
its readers the profit of patenting small improvements on machinery
already in use. Indeed everybody, these days, in the factories, is on
the lookout for patentable improvements. Why might not Johnnie have
stumbled on to something worth while? That Passmore and Consadine tribe
were all smart fools. He made the slotted strips she wanted, and
delivered them to her the next day with civil words. When, after she had
them in use on the spinning jennies upstairs for a week, she came down
bringing them for certain minute alterations, his attitude was one of
"You say you use 'em on the frames? What for? How do they work?" he
asked her, examining the little contrivance lingeringly.
"They're working pretty well," she told him, "even the way they are--a
good deal too long, and with that slot not cut deep enough, I'm right
proud of myself when I look at them. Any boy or girl tending a frame can
go to the end of it and see if anything's the matter without walking
plumb down. When you get them fixed the way I want them, I tell you
they'll be fine."
The next afternoon saw Shade Buckheath in the spooling room, watching
the operation of Johnnie Consadine's simple device for notifying the
frame-tender if a thread fouled or broke.
"Let me take 'em all down to the basement," he said finally when he had
studied them from every point of view for fifteen minutes. "They ain't
as well polished as I'd like to have 'em and I think they might be a
little longer in the shank. There ought to be a ring of babbit metal
around that slot, too--I reckon I could get it in Watauga. If you'll let
me take 'em now, I'll fix 'em up for you soon as I can, so that
they'll do fine."
Johnnie remonstrated, half-heartedly, as he gathered the crude little
invention from the frames; but his proposition wore a plausible face,
and she suffered him to take them.
"They ain't but five here," he said to her sharply.
"I know I made you six. Where's the other one?" He looked so startled,
he spoke so anxiously, that she laughed.
"I think that must be the one I carried home," she said carelessly. "I
had a file, and was trying to fix it myself one evening, and I reckon I
never brought it back."
"Johnnie," said Shade, coming close, and speaking in a low confidential
tone that was almost affectionate, "if I was you I wouldn't name this
business to anybody. Wait till we get it all fixed right," he pursued,
as he saw the rising wonder in her face. "No need to tell every feller
all you know--so he'll be jest as smart as you are. Ain't that so? And
you git me that other strip. I don't want it layin' round for somebody
to get hold of and--you find me that other strip. Hunt it up,
"Well, you sure talk curious to-day!" Johnnie told him. "I don't see
anything to be ashamed of in my loving to fool with machinery, if I _am_
a girl. But I'll get you the strip, if I can find it. I'm mighty proud
of being a room boss, and I aim to make my room the best one in the
mill. Shade, did you know that I get eight dollars a week? I've been
sending money home to mother, and I've got a room to myself down at Pap
Himes's. And Mr. Sessions says they'll raise me again soon. I wanted 'em
to see this thing working well."
"Look here!" broke in Shade swiftly; "don't you say anything to the
bosses about this"--he shook the strips in his hand--"not till I've had
a chance to talk to you again. You know I'm your friend, don't
"I reckon so," returned truthful Johnnie, with unflattering moderation.
"You get me those things done as quick as you can, please, Shade."
After this the matter dropped. Two or three times Johnnie reminded Shade
of his promise to bring the little strips back, and always he had an
excuse ready for her: he had been very busy--the metal he wanted was out
of stock--he would fix them for her just as soon as he could. With every
interview his manner toward herself grew kinder--more distinctly that
of a lover.
The loom-fixers and mechanics, belonging, be it remembered, to a
trades-union, were out of all the mills by five o'clock. It was a
significant point for any student of economic conditions to note these
strapping young males sitting at ease upon the porches of their homes or
boarding houses, when the sweating, fagged women weavers and childish
spinners trooped across the bridges an hour after. Johnnie was
surprised, therefore, one evening, nearly two weeks later, to find Shade
waiting for her at the door of the mill.
"I wish't you'd walk a piece up the Gap road with me, I want to have
speech with you," the young fellow told her.
"I can't go far; I 'most always try to be home in time to help Aunt
Mavity put supper on the table, or anyway to wash up the dishes for
her," the girl replied to him.
"All right," agreed Buckheath briefly. "Wait here a minute and let me
get some things I want to take along."
He stopped at a little shed back of the offices, sometimes called the
garage because Stoddard's car stood in it. Johnnie dropped down on a box
at the door and the young fellow went inside and began searching the
pockets of a coat hanging on a peg. He spoke over his shoulder to her.
"What's the matter with you here lately since you got your raise? 'Pears
like you won't look at a body."
"Haven't I seemed friendly?" Johnnie returned, with a deprecating smile.
"I reckon I'm just tired. Seems like I'm tired every minute of the
day--and I couldn't tell you why. I sure don't have anything hard to do.
I think sometimes I need the good hard work I used to have back in the
mountains to get rested on."
She laughed up at him, and Buckheath's emotional nature answered with a
dull anger, which was his only reply to her attraction.
"I was going to invite you to go to a dance in at Watauga, Saturday
night," he said sullenly; "but I reckon if you're tired all the time,
you don't want to go."
He had hoped and expected that she would say she was not too tired to go
anywhere that he wished her to. His disappointment was disproportionate
when she sighingly agreed:
"Yes, I reckon I hadn't better go to any dances. I wouldn't for the
world break down at my work, when I've just begun to earn so much, and
am sending money home to mother."
Inside the offices Lydia Sessions stood near her brother's desk. She had
gone down, as she sometimes did, to take him home in the carriage.
"Oh, here you are, Miss Sessions," said Gray Stoddard coming in. "I've
brought those books for Johnnie. There are a lot of them here for her to
make selection from. As you are driving, perhaps you wouldn't mind
letting me set them in the carriage, then I won't go up past
Miss Sessions glanced uneasily at the volumes he carried.
"Do you think it's wise to give an ignorant, untrained girl like that
the choice of her own reading?" she said at length.
"It's as far as my wisdom goes," he replied promptly. "I would as soon
think of getting up a form of prayer for a fellow creature as laying out
a course of reading for him."
"Well, then," suggested Miss Sessions, "why not let her take up a
Chatauqua course? I'm sure many of them are excellent. She would be
properly guided, and--and encroach less on your time."
"My time!" echoed Stoddard. "Never mind that feature. I'm immensely
interested. It's fascinating to watch the development of so fine a mind
which has lain almost entirely fallow to the culture of schools. I quite
enjoy looking out a bunch of books for her, and watching to see which
one will most appeal to her. Her instinct has proved wholly trustworthy
so far. Indeed, if it didn't seem exaggerated, I should say her taste
Miss Sessions flushed and set her lips together.
"Faultless," she repeated, with an attempt at a smile. "I fancy Johnnie
finds out what you admire most, and makes favourites of your
Stoddard looked a bit blank for an instant. Then,
"Well--perhaps--she does," he allowed, hesitatingly. His usual tolerant
smile held a hint of indulgent tenderness, and there was a vibration in
his voice which struck to Lydia Sessions's heart like a knife.
"No, you are mistaken," he added after a moment's reflection. "You don't
realize how little I've talked to the child about books--or anything
else, for that matter. It does chance that her taste is mine in very
many cases; but you underrate our protege when you speak of her as
ignorant and uncultured. She knows a good deal more about some things
than either of us. It is her fund of nature lore that makes Thoreau and
White of Selborne appeal to her. Now I love them because I know so
little about what they write of."
Lydia Sessions instantly fastened upon the one point. She protested
"But surely you would not call her cultured--a factory girl who has
lived in a hut in the mountains all her life? She is trying hard, I
admit; but her speech is--well, it certainly is rather uncivilized."
Stoddard looked as though he might debate that matter a bit. Then he
"Did you ever get a letter from her? She doesn't carry her quaint little
archaisms of pronunciation and wording into her writing. Her letters are
Miss Sessions turned hastily to the window and looked out, apparently to
observe whether her brother was ready to leave or not. Johnnie
Consadine's letters--her letters. What--when--? Of course she could not
baldly question him in such a matter; and the simple explanation of a
little note of thanks with a returned book, or the leaf which reported
impressions from its reading tucked in between the pages occurred to her
"You quite astonish me," she said finally. "Well--that _is_ good
hearing. Mr. Stoddard," with sudden decision, "don't you believe that it
would be well worth while, in view of all this, to raise the money and
send John Consadine away to a good school? There are several fine ones
in New England where she might partially work her way; and really, from
what you say, it seems to me she's worthy of such a chance."
Stoddard glanced at her in surprise.
"Why, Miss Sessions, doesn't this look like going squarely back on your
most cherished theories? If it's only to bestow a little money, and send
her away to some half-charity school, what becomes of your argument that
people who have had advantages should give of themselves and their
comradeship to those they wish to help?" There was a boyish eagerness in
his manner; his changeful gray-brown eyes were alight; he came close and
laid a hand on her arm--quite an unusual demonstration with Gray
Stoddard. "You mustn't discourage me," he said winningly. "I'm such a
hopeful disciple. I've never enjoyed anything more in my life than this
enterprise you and I have undertaken together, providing the right food
for so bright and so responsive a mind."
Miss Lydia looked at him in a sort of despair.
"Yes--oh, yes. I quite understand that," she agreed almost mechanically.
"I don't mean to go back on my principles. But what John needs is a
good, sound education from the beginning. Don't you think so?"
"No," said Stoddard promptly. "Indeed I do not. Development must come
from within. To give it a chance--to lend it stimulus--that's all a
friend can do. A ready-made education plastered on the outside
cultivates nobody. Moreover, Johnnie is in no crying need of mere
schooling. You don't seem to know how well provided she has been in that
respect. But the thing that settles the matter is that she would not
accept any such charitable arrangement. Unless you're tired of our
present method, I vote to continue it."
Lydia Sessions had been for some moments watching Johnnie Consadine who
sat on her box at the door of the little garage. She had refrained from
mentioning this fact to her companion; but now Shade Buckheath stepped
out to join Johnnie, and instantly Lydia turned and motioned Stoddard
"Look there," she whispered. "Don't they make a perfect couple? You and
I may do what we choose about cultivating the girl's mind--she'll marry
a man of her own class, and there it will end."
"Why should you say that?" asked Stoddard abruptly. "Those two do not
belong to the same class. They--"
"Oh, Mr. Stoddard! They grew up side by side; they went to school
together, and I imagine were sweethearts long before they came to
"Do you think that makes them of the same class?" asked Stoddard
impatiently. "I should say the presumption was still greater the other
way. I was not alluding to social classes."
"You're so odd," murmured Lydia Sessions. "These mountaineers are all
* * * * *
The village road was a smother of white dust; the weeds beside it
drooped powdered heads; evil odours reeked through the little place; but
when Shade and Johnnie had passed its confines, the air from the
mountains greeted them sweetly; the dusty white road gave place to
springy leaf-mould, mixed with tiny, sharp stones. A young moon rode low
in the west. The tank-a-tank of cowbells sounded from homing animals. Up
in the dusky Gap, whip-poor-wills were beginning to call.
"I'm glad I came," said Johnnie, pushing the hair off her hot forehead.
She was speaking to herself, aware that Buckheath paid little attention,
but walked in silence a step ahead, twisting a little branch of
sassafras in his fingers. The spicy odour of the bark was afterward
associated in Johnnie's mind with what he had then to say.
"Johnnie," he began, facing around and barring her way, when they were
finally alone together between the trees, "do you remember the last time
you and me was on this piece of road here--do you?"
He had intended to remind her of the evening she came to Cottonville:
but instead, recollection built for her once more the picture of that
slope bathed in Sabbath sunshine. There was the fork where the Hardwick
carriage had turned off; to this side went Shade and his fellows, with
Mandy and the girls following; and down the middle of the road she
herself came, seated in the car beside Stoddard.
For a moment memory choked and blinded Johnnie. She could neither see
the path before them, nor find the voice to answer her questioner. The
bleak pathos of her situation came home to her, and tears of rare
self-pity filled her eyes. Why was it a disgrace that Stoddard should
treat her kindly? Why must she be ashamed of her feeling for him?
Shade's voice broke in harshly.
"Do you remember? You ain't forgot, have you? Ever since that time I've
intended to speak to you--to tell you--"
"Well, you needn't do it," she interrupted him passionately.
"I won't hear a word against Mr. Stoddard, if that's what you're aiming
Buckheath fell back a pace and stared with angry eyes.
"Stoddard--Gray Stoddard?" he repeated. "What's a swell like that got to
do with you and me, Johnnie Consadine? You want to let Gray Stoddard and
his kind alone--yes, and make them let you alone, if you and me are
going to marry."
It was Johnnie's turn to stare.
"If we're going to marry!" she echoed blankly--"going to marry!" The
girl had had her lovers. Despite hard work and the stigma of belonging
to the borrowing Passmore family, Johnnie had commanded the homage of
more than one heart. She was not without a healthy young woman's relish
for this sort of admiration; but Shade Buckheath's proposal came with so
little grace, in such almost sinister form, that she scarcely
"Yes, if we're going to wed," reiterated Buckheath sullenly. "I'm
willin' to have you."
Johnnie's tense, almost tragic manner relaxed. She laughed suddenly.
"I didn't know you was joking, Shade," she said good-humouredly. "I took
you to be in earnest. You'll have to excuse me."
"I am in earnest," Buckheath told her, almost fiercely. "I reckon I'm a
fool; but I want you. Any day"--he spoke with a curious, half-savage
reluctance--"any day you'll say the word, I'll take you."
His eyes, like his voice, were resentful, yet eager. He took off his hat
and wiped the perspiration from his brow, looking away from her now,
toward the road by which they had climbed.
Johnnie regarded him through her thick eyelashes, the smile still
lingering bright in her eyes. After all, it was only a rather unusual
kind of sweethearting, and not a case of it to touch her feelings.
"I'm mighty sorry," she said soberly, "but I ain't aimin' to wed any
man, fixed like I am. Mother and the children have to be looked after,
and I can't ask a man to do for 'em, so I have it to do myself."
"Of course I can't take your mother and the children," Buckheath
objected querulously, as though she had asked him to do so. "But you
I'll take; and you'd do well to think it over. You won't get such a
chance soon again, and I'm apt to change my mind if you put on airs with
me this way."
Johnnie shook her head.
"I know it's a fine chance, Shade," she said in the kindest tone, "but
I'm hoping you will change your mind, and that soon; for it's just like
I tell you."
She turned with evident intention of going back and terminating their
interview. Buckheath stepped beside her in helpless fury. He knew she
would have other, opportunities, and better. He was aware how futile was
this threat of withdrawing his proposition. Hot, tired, angry, the dust
of the way prickling on his face and neck, he was persistently conscious
of a letter in the pocket of his striped shirt, over his heavily beating
heart, warm and moist like the shirt itself, with the sweat of his body.
Good Lord! That letter which had come from Washington this morning
informing him that the device this girl had invented was patentable,
filled her hands with gold. It was necessary that he should have control
of her, and at once. He put from him the knowledge of how her charm
wrought upon him--bound him the faster every time he spoke to her. Cold,
calculating, sluggishly selfish, he had not reckoned with her radiant
personality, nor had the instinct to know that, approached closely, it
must inevitably light in him unwelcome and inextinguishable fires.
"Johnnie," he said finally, "you ain't saying no to me, are you? You
take time to think it over--but not so very long--I'll name it to
"Please don't, Shade," remonstrated the girl, walking on fast, despite
the oppressive heat of the evening. "I wish you wouldn't speak of it to
me any more; and I can't go walking with you this way. I have obliged to
help Aunt Mavity; and every minute of time I get from that, and my work,
I'm putting in on my books and reading."
She stepped ahead of him now, and Buckheath regarded her back with
sullen, sombre eyes. What was he to do? How come nearer her when she
thus held herself aloof?
"Johnnie Consadine!" The girl checked her steps a bit at a new sound in
his voice. "I'll tell you just one thing, and you'd better never forget
it, neither. I ain't no fool. I know mighty well an' good your reason
for treating me this-a-way. Your reason's got a name. Hit's called Mr.
Gray Stoddard. You behave yo'self an' listen to reason, or I'll get even
with him for it. Damn him--I'll fix him!"
THE SANDALS OF JOY
"Come in here, Johnnie," Mavity Bence called one day, as Johnnie was
passing a strange little cluttered cubbyhole under the garret stairs and
out over the roof of the lean-to kitchen. It was a hybrid apartment,
between a large closet and a small room; one four-paned window gave
scant light and ventilation; all the broken or disused plunder about the
house was pitched into it, and in the middle sat a tumbled bed. It was
the woman's sleeping place and her dead daughter had shared it with her
during her lifetime. Johnnie stopped at the door with a hand on each
side of its frame.
"Reddin' up things, Aunt Mavity?" she asked, adding, "If I had time I'd
come in and help you."
"I was just puttin' away what I've got left that belonged to Lou," said
the woman, sitting suddenly down on the bed and gazing up into the
bright face above her with a sort of appeal. Johnnie noticed then that
Mrs. Bence had a pair of cheap slippers in her lap. It came back vividly
to the girl how the newspapers had said that Louvania Bence had taken
off her slippers and left them on the bridge, that she might climb the
netting more easily to throw herself into the water. The mother stared
down at these, dry-eyed.
"She never had 'em on but the once," Mavity Bence breathed. "And I--and
I r'ared out on her for buyin' of 'em. I said that with Pap so old and
all, we hadn't money to spend for slippers. Lord God!"--she
shivered--"We had to find money for the undertaker, when he come to
lay her out."
She turned to Johnnie feverishly, like a thing that writhes on the rack
and seeks an easier position.
"I had the best for her then--I jest would do it--there was white shoes
and stockin's, and a reg'lar shroud like they make at Watauga; we never
put a stitch on her that she'd wore--hit was all new-bought. For once I
said my say to Pap, and made him take money out of the bank to do it.
He's got some in thar for to bury all of us--he says--but he never
wanted to use any of it for Lou."
Johnnie came in and sat down on the bed beside her hostess. She laid a
loving hand over Mavity's that held the slippers.
"What pretty little feet she must have had," she said softly.
"Didn't she?" echoed the mother, with a tremulous half-smile. "I
couldn't more'n get these here on my hand, but they was a loose fit for
her. They're as good as new. Johnnie, ef you ever get a invite to a
dance I'll lend 'em to you. Hit'd pleasure me to think some gal's feet
was dancin' in them thar slippers. Lou, she never learned to
dance--looked like she could never find time." Louvania, be it
remembered had found time in which to die.
So Johnnie thanked poor Mavity, and hurried away, because the warning
whistle was blowing.
The very next Wednesday Miss Sessions gave a dance to the members of her
Uplift Club. These gaieties were rather singular and ingenious affairs,
sterilized dances, Mrs. Hexter irreverently dubbed them. Miss Lydia did
not invite the young men employed about the mill, not having as yet
undertaken their uplifting; and feeling quite inadequate to cope with
the relations between them and the mill girls, which would be something
vital and genuine, and as such, quite foreign--if not inimical--to her
enterprise. She contented herself with bringing in a few well-trained
young males of her own class, who were expected to be attentive to the
girls, treating them as equals, just as Miss Lydia did. For the rest,
the members were encouraged to dance with each other, and find such joy
as they might in the supper, and the fact that Miss Sessions paid for a
half-day's work for them on the morrow, that they might lie late in bed
after a night's pleasuring.
Johnnie Consadine had begun to earn money in such quantities as seemed
to her economic experience extremely large. She paid her board, sent a
little home to her mother, and had still wherewith to buy a frock for
the dance. She treated herself to a trolley ride in to Watauga to select
this dress, going on the Saturday half-holiday which the mills gave
their workers, lest the labour laws regulating the hours per week which
women and children may be employed be infringed upon. There was grave
debate in Johnnie's mind as to what she should buy. Colours would
fade--in cheap goods, anyhow--white soiled easily. "But then I could
wash and iron it myself any evening I wanted to wear it," she argued to
Mandy Meacham, who accompanied her.
"I'd be proud to do it for you," returned Mandy, loyally. Ordinarily the
Meacham woman was selfish; but having found an object upon which she
could centre her thin, watery affections, she proceeded to be selfish
for Johnnie instead of toward her, a spiritual juggle which some mothers
perform in regard to their children.
The store reached, Johnnie showed good judgment in her choice. There was
a great sale on at the biggest shopping place in Watauga, and the
ready-made summer wear was to be had at bargain rates. Not for her were
the flaring, coarse, scant garments whose lack of seemliness was
supposed to be atoned for by a profusion of cheap, sleazy trimming.
After long and somewhat painful inspection, since most of the things she
wanted were hopelessly beyond her, Johnnie carried home a fairly fine
white lawn, simply tucked, and fitting to perfection.
"But you've got a shape that sets off anything," said the saleswoman,
carelessly dealing out the compliments she kept in stock with her goods
"You're mighty right she has," rejoined Mandy, sharply, as who should
say, "My back is not a true expression of my desires concerning backs.
Look at this other--she has the spine of my dreams."
The saleswoman chewed gum while they waited for change and parcel, and
in the interval she had time to inspect Johnnie more closely.
"Working in the cotton mill, are you?" she asked as she sorted up her
stock, jingling the bracelets on her wrists, and patting into shape her
big, frizzy pompadour. "That's awful hard work, ain't it? I should think
a girl like you would try for a place in a store. I'll bet you could get
one," she added encouragingly, as she handed the parcel across the
counter. But already Johnnie knew that the spurious elegance of this
young person's appearance was not what she wished to emulate.
The night of the dance Johnnie adjusted her costume with the nice skill
and care which seem native to so many of the daughters of America.
Mandy, dressing at the same bureau, scraggled the parting of her own
hair, furtively watching the deft arranging of Johnnie's.
"Let me do it for you, and part it straight," Johnnie remonstrated.
"Aw, hit'll never be seen on a gallopin' hoss," returned Mandy
carelessly. "Everybody'll be so tuck up a-watchin' you that they won't
have time to notice is my hair parted straight, nohow."
"But you're not a galloping horse," objected Johnnie, laughing and
clutching the comb away from her. "You've got mighty pretty hair, Mandy,
if you'd give it a chance. Why, it's curly! Let me do it up right for
So the thin, graying ringlets were loosened around the meagre forehead,
and indeed Mandy's appearance was considerably ameliorated.
"There--isn't that nice?" inquired Johnnie, turning her companion around
to the glass and forcing her to gaze in it--a thing Mandy always
"I reckon I've looked worse," agreed the tall woman unenthusiastically;
"but Miss Lyddy ain't carin' to have ye fix up much. I get sort of
feisty and want to dav-il her by makin' you look pretty. Wish't you
would wear that breas'-pin o' mine, an' them rings an' beads I borried
from Lizzie for ye. You might just as well, and then nobody'd know you
from one o' the swells."
Johnnie shook her fair head decidedly. Talk of borrowing things brought
a reminiscent flush to her cheek.
"I'm just as much obliged," she said sweetly. "I'll wear nothing but
what's my own. After a while I'll be able to afford jewellery, and
that'll be the time for me to put it on."
Presently came Mavity Bence bringing the treasured footwear.
"I expect they'll be a little tight for me," Johnnie remarked somewhat
doubtfully; the slippers, though cheap, ill-cut things, looked so much
smaller than her heavy, country-made shoes. But they went readily upon
the arched feet of the mountain girl, Mandy and the poor mother looking
on with deep interest.
"I wish't Lou was here to see you in 'em," whispered Mavity Bence. "She
wouldn't grudge 'em to you one minute. Lord, how pretty you do look,
Johnnie Consadine! You're as sightly as that thar big wax doll down at
the Company store. I wish't Lou _could_ see you."
The dance was being given in the big hall above a store, which Miss
Lydia hired for these functions of her Uplift Club. The room was
half-heartedly decorated in a hybrid fashion. Miss Lydia had sent down a
rose-bowl of flowers; and the girls, being encouraged to use their own
taste, put up some flags left over from last Fourth of July. When
Johnnie and Mandy Meacham--strangely assorted pair--entered the long
room, festivities were already in progress; Negro fiddlers were reeling
off dance music, and Miss Lydia was trying to teach some of her club
members the two-step. Her younger brother, Hartley Sessions, was gravely
piloting a girl down the room in what was supposed to be that popular
dance, and two young men from Watauga, for whom he had vouched, stood
ready for Miss Sessions to furnish them with partners, when she should
have encouraged her learners sufficiently to make the attempt. Round the
walls sat the other girls, and to Johnnie's memory came those words of
Mandy's, "You dance--if you can."
Johnnie Consadine certainly could dance. Many a time back in the
mountains she had walked five miles after a hard day's work to get to a
dance that some one of her mates was giving, tramping home in the dawn
and doing without sleep for that twenty-four hours. The music seemed
somehow to get into her muscles, so that she swayed and moved exactly in
time to it.
"That's the two-step," she murmured to her partner. "I never tried it,
but I've seen 'em dance it at the hotel down at Chalybeate Springs. I
can waltz a little; but I love an old-fashioned quadrille the best--it
seems more friendly."
Gray Stoddard was talking to an older woman who had come with her
daughter--a thin-bodied, deep-eyed woman of forty, perhaps, with a
half-sad, tolerant smile, and slow, racy speech. A sudden touch on his
shoulder roused him, as one of the young men from town leaned over and
asked him excitedly:
"Who's that girl down at the other end of the room, Gray?--the stunning
blonde that just came in? She's got one of the mill girls with her."
Gray looked, and laughed a little. Somehow the adjectives applied to
Johnnie did not please him.
"Both of them work in the mill," he said briefly. "The one you mean is
Johnnie Consadine. She's a remarkable girl in more ways than merely in
"Well, take me down there and give me an introduction," urged the youth
from Watauga, in a tone of animation which was barred from
"All right," agreed Gray, getting to his feet with a twinkle in his eye.
"I suppose you want to meet the tall one. I've got an engagement for the
first dance with Miss Consadine myself."
"Say," ejaculated the other, drawing back, "that isn't fair. Miss
Sessions," he appealed to their hostess as umpire. "Here's Gray got the
belle of the ball mortgaged for all her dances, and won't even give me
an introduction. You do the square thing by me, won't you?"
Lydia Sessions had got her neophites safely launched, and they were
making a more or less tempestuous progress across the floor. She turned
to the two young men a flushed, smiling countenance. In the tempered
light and the extremely favouring costume of the hour, she looked
"What is it?" she asked graciously. "The belle of the ball? I don't know
quite who that is. Oh!" with a slight drop in her tone and the
temperature of her expression; "do you mean John Consadine? Really, how
well she is looking to-night!"
"Isn't she!" blundered the Watauga man with ill-timed enthusiasm. "I
call her a regular beauty, and such an interesting-looking creature.
What is she trying to do? Good Lord, she's going to attempt the two-step
with that Eiffel tower she brought along!"
These frivolous remarks, suited well enough to the ordinary ballroom,
did not please Miss Lydia for an Uplift dance.
"The girl with John is one in whom I take a very deep interest," she
said with a touch of primness.
"John Consadine is young, and exceptionally strong and healthy. But
Amanda Meacham has--er--disabilities and afflictions that make it
difficult for her to get along. She is a very worthy case."
The young man from Watauga, who had not regarded Johnnie as a case at
all, but had considered her purely as an exceptionally attractive young
woman, looked a trifle bewildered. Then Gray took his arm and led him
across to where the attempt at two-stepping had broken up in laughing
disorder. With that absolutely natural manner which Miss Sessions could
never quite achieve, good as her intentions were, he performed the
introduction, and then said pleasantly:
"Mr. Baker wants to ask you to dance, Miss Johnnie. I'll carry on Miss
Amanda's teaching, or we'll sit down here and talk if she'd rather."
"No more two-steppin' for me," agreed Miss Meacham, seating herself
decidedly. "I'll take my steps one at a time from this on. I'd rather
watch Johnnie dance, anyhow; but she would have me try for myself."
Johnnie and the young fellow from Watauga were off now. They halted once
or twice, evidently for some further instructions, as Johnnie got the
step and time, and then moved away smoothly. Gray took the seat
"Ain't she a wonder?" inquired the big woman, staring fondly after the
fluttering white skirts.
"She is indeed," agreed Gray quietly. And then, Mandy being thus
launched on the congenial theme--the one theme upon which she was ever
loquacious--out came the story of the purchase of the dress, the
compliments of the saleswoman, the refusal of the borrowed jewellery.
"Johnnie's quare--she is that--I'll never deny it; but I cain't no more
help likin' her than as if she was my own born sister."
"That's because she is fond of you, too," suggested Gray, thinking of
the girl's laborious attempts to teach poor Mandy to dance.
"Do you reckon she is?" asked the tall woman, flushing. "Looks like
Johnnie Consadine loves every livin' thing on the top side of this
earth. I ain't never seen the human yet that she ain't got a good word
for. But I don't know as she cares 'specially 'bout _me_."
Stoddard could not refuse the assurance for which Mandy so naively
"You wouldn't be so fond of her if she wasn't fond of you," he asserted
"Mebbe I wouldn't," Mandy debated; "but I don't know. Let Johnnie put
them two eyes o' hern on you, and laugh in your face, and you feel just
like you'd follow her to the ends of the earth--or I know I do. Why, she
done up my hair this evening and"--the voice sank to a half-shamed
whisper--"she said it was pretty."
Gray turned and looked into the flushed, tremulous face beside him with
a sudden tightening in his throat. How cruel humanity is when it beholds
only the grotesque in the Mandys of this world. Her hair was pretty--and
Johnnie had the eyes of love to see it.
He stared down the long, lighted room with unseeing gaze. Old Andrew
MacPherson's counsel that he let Johnnie Consadine alone appealed to him
at that moment as cruel good sense. He was recalled from his musings by
"Oh, look thar!" whispered his companion excitedly. "The other town
feller has asked for a knock-down to Johnnie, too. Look at him passin'
his bows with her just like she was one of the swells!"
Stoddard looked. Charlie Conroy was relieving Baker of his partner.
Johnnie had evidently been asked if she was tired, for they saw her
laughingly shake her head, and the new couple finished what was left of
the two-step and seated themselves a moment at the other side of the
room to wait for the next dance to begin.
"These affairs are great fun, aren't they?" inquired Conroy, fanning his
late partner vigorously.
"I love to dance better than anything else in the world, I believe,"
returned Johnnie dreamily.
"Oh, a dance--I should suppose so. You move as though you enjoyed it;
but I mean a performance like this. The girls are great fun, don't you
think? But then you wouldn't get quite our point of view on that."
He glanced again at her dress; it was plain and simple, but good style
and becoming. She wore no jewellery, but lots of girls were rather
affecting that now, especially the athletic type to which this young
beauty seemed to belong. Surely he was not mistaken in guessing her to
be one of Miss Sessions's friends. Of course he was not. She had dressed
herself in this simple fashion for a mill-girl's dance, that she might
not embarrass the working people who attended. Yes, by George! that was
it, and it was a long ways-better taste than the frocks Miss Sessions
and Mrs. Hexter were wearing.
Johnnie considered his last remark, her gaze still following the
movements of the Negro fiddler at the head of the room. Understanding
him to mean that, being a mill-hand herself, she could not get a
detached view of the matter, and thus see the humour of this attempt to
make society women of working-girls, Johnnie was yet not affronted. Her
clear eyes came back from watching Uncle Zeke's manoeuvres and looked
frankly into the eyes of the man beside her.
"I reckon we are right funny," she assented. "But of course, as you say,
I wouldn't see that as quick as you would. Sometimes I have to laugh a
little at Mandy--the girl I was dancing with first this evening
--but--but she's so good-natured it never hurts her feelings. I don't
mind being laughed at myself, either."
"Laughed at--you?" inquired Conroy, throwing an immense amount of
expression into his glance. He was rather a lady's man, and fancied he
had made pretty fair headway with this beautiful girl whom he still
supposed to be of the circle of factory owners. "Oh, you mean your work
among the mill girls here.
"Indeed, I should not laugh at that. I think it's noble for those more
fortunate to stretch a hand to help their brothers and sisters that
haven't so good a chance. That's what brought me over here to-night.
Gray Stoddard explained the plan to me. He doesn't seem to think much of
it--but then, Gray's a socialist at heart, and you know those socialists
never believe in organized charity. I tell him he's an anarchist."
"Mr. Stoddard is a mighty good man," agreed Johnnie with sudden
pensiveness. "They've all been mighty good to me ever since I've been
here; but I believe Mr. Stoddard has done more for me than any one else.
He not only lends me books, but he takes time to explain things to me."
Conroy smiled covertly at the simplicity of this young beauty. He
debated in his mind whether indeed it was not an affected simplicity. Of
course Gray was devoting himself to her and lending her books; of course
he would be glad to assume the position of mentor to a girl who bade
fair to be such a pronounced social success, and who was herself
"How long have you been in Cottonville, Miss Consadine?" he asked. "Do
tell me who you are visiting--or are you visiting here?"
"Oh, no," Johnnie corrected him. "I believe you haven't understood from
the first that I'm one of the mill girls. I board at--well, everybody
calls it Pap Himes's boarding-house."
There was a moment's silence; but Conroy managed not to look quite as
deeply surprised as he felt.
"I--of course I knew it," he began at length, after having sorted and