Part 3 out of 6
discarded half a dozen explanations. "There--why, there's our dance!"
And he stood up in relief, as the fiddlers began on an old-fashioned
Johnnie responded with alacrity, not aware of having either risen or
fallen in her companion's estimation. She danced through the set with
smiling enjoyment, prompting her partner, who knew only modern dances.
On his part Conroy studied her covertly, trying to adjust his slow mind
to this astonishing new state of things, and to decide what a man's
proper attitude might be toward such a girl. In the end he found himself
with no conclusion.
"They say they're going to try a plain waltz," he began as he led her
back to a seat. He hesitated, glanced about him, and finally placed
himself uneasily in the chair beside her. Good Lord! The situation was
impossible. What should he say if anybody--Gray Stoddard, for
instance--chaffed him about being smitten in this quarter?
"A waltz?" echoed Johnnie helpfully when he did not go on. "I believe I
could dance that--I tried it once."
"Then you'll dance it with me?" Conroy found himself saying, baldly,
awkwardly, but unable, for the life of him, to keep the eagerness out of
Upon the instant the music struck up. The two rose and made ready for
the dance; Conroy placing Johnnie in waltzing position, and instructing
Gray Stoddard looking on, was amazed at the naif simple jealousy that
swept over him at the sight. She had danced with Conroy twice
already--he ought to be more considerate than to bring the girl into
notice that way--a chump like Charlie Conroy, what would he understand
of such a nature as Johnnie Consadine's? Before he fully realized his
own intentions, he had paused in front of the two and was speaking.
"I think Miss Johnnie promised me a dance this evening. I'll have to go
back to the office in twenty minutes, and--I hate to interrupt you, but
I guess I'll have to claim my own."
He became suddenly aware that Conroy was signalling him across Johnnie's
unconscious head with Masonic twistings of the features. Stoddard met
these recklessly inconsiderate grimacings with an impassive stare, then
"I want to see you before you go," the man from Watauga remarked, as he
reluctantly resigned his partner. "Don't you forget that there's a waltz
coming to me, Miss Johnnie. I'm going to have it, if we make the band
play special for us alone."
Lydia Sessions, passing on the arm of young Baker, glanced at Johnnie,
star-eyed, pink-cheeked and smiling, with a pair of tall cavaliers
contending for her favours, and sucked her lips in to that thin, sharp
line of reprobation Johnnie knew so well. Dismissing her escort
graciously, she hurried to the little supper room and found another
member of the committee.
"Come here, Mrs. Hexter. Just look at that, will you?" She called
attention in a carefully suppressed, but fairly tragic tone, to Stoddard
and Johnnie dancing together, the only couple on the floor. "None of the
girls know how to waltz. I am not sure that it would be suitable if they
did. When I came past, just now, there were two of the men--two--talking
to John Consadine, and they were all three laughing. I can't think how
it is that girls of that sort manage to stir things up so and get all
the men around them."
"Neither can I," said Mrs. Hexter wickedly. "If I did know how, I
believe I'd do it sometimes myself. What is it you want of me, Miss
Sessions? I must run back and see to supper, if you don't need me."
"But I do," fretted Lydia. "I want your help. This waltzing and--and
such things--ought to be stopped."
"All right," rejoined practical Mrs. Hexter. "The quickest way to do it
is to stop the music."
She had meant the speech as a jeer, but literal-minded Lydia Sessions
welcomed its suggestion. Hurrying down the long room, she spoke to the
leader of their small orchestra. The Negro raised to her a brown face
full of astonishment. His fiddle-bow faltered--stopped. He turned to his
two fellows and gave hasty directions. The waltz measure died away, and
a quadrille was announced.
"That was too bad," said Stoddard as they came to a halt; "you were just
getting the step beautifully."
The girl flashed a swift, sweet look up at him. "I do love to dance,"
"John, would you be so kind as to come and help in the supper room,"
Miss Sessions's hasty tones broke in.
She was leaning on Charlie Conroy's arm, and when she departed to hide
Johnnie safely away in the depths of their impromptu kitchen, it left
the two men alone together. Conroy promptly fastened upon the other.
Charlie Conroy was a young man who had made up his mind to get on
socially. Such figures are rarer in America than in the old world. Yet
Charlie Conroy with his petty ambitions does not stand entirely alone.
He seriously regarded marriage as a stepping-stone to a circle which
should include "the best people." That this term did not indicate the
noblest or most selfless, need hardly be explained. It meant only that
bit of froth which in each community rides high on the top of the cup,
and which, in Watauga, was augmented by the mill owners of its suburb of
Cottonville. Conroy had been grateful for the opportunity to make an
entry into this circle by means of assisting Miss Sessions in her
charitable work. That lady herself, as sister-in-law of Jerome Hardwick
and a descendant of an excellent New England family, he regarded with
absolute veneration, quite too serious and profound for anything so
assured as mere admiration.
"I tried to warn you," he began: "but you were bound to get stung."
"I beg your pardon?" returned Stoddard in that civil, colourless
interrogation which should always check over-familiar speech, even from
the dullest. But Conroy was not sensitive.
"That big red-headed girl, you know," he said, leaning close and
speaking in a confidential tone. "I mistook her for a lady. I was going
my full length--telling her what fun the mill girls were, and trying to
do the agreeable--when I found out."
"Found out what?" inquired Stoddard. "That she was not a lady?"
"Aw, come off," laughed Conroy. "You make a joke of everything."
"I knew that she was a weaver in the mill," said Stoddard quietly.
Conroy glanced half wistfully over his shoulder in the direction where
Johnnie had vanished.
"She's a good-looker all right," he said thoughtfully. "And smile--when
that girl smiles and turns those eyes on you--by George! if she was
taken to New York and put through one of those finishing schools she'd
make a sensation in the swagger set."
Stoddard nodded gravely. He had not Conroy's faith in the fashionable
finishing school; but what he lacked there, he made up in conviction as
to Johnnie's deserts and abilities.
"There she comes now," said Conroy, as the door swung open to admit a
couple of girls with trays of coffee cups. "She walks mighty well. I
wonder where a girl like that learned to carry herself so finely. By
George, she _is_ a good-looker! She's got 'em all beaten; if she was
only--. Queer about the accidents of birth, isn't it? Now, what would
you say, in her heredity, makes a common girl like that step and look
like a queen?"
Gray Stoddard's face relaxed. A hint of his quizzical, inscrutable smile
was upon it as he answered.
"Nature doesn't make mistakes. I don't call Johnnie Consadine a common
girl--it strikes me that she is rather uncommon."
And outside, a young fellow in the Sunday suit of a workingman was
walking up and down, staring at the lighted windows, catching a glimpse
now and again of one girl or another, and cursing under his breath when
he saw Johnnie Consadine.
"Wouldn't go with me to the dance at Watauga--oh no! But she ain't too
tired to dance with the swells!" he muttered to the darkness. "And I
can't get a word nor a look out of her. Lord, I don't know what some
THE NEW BOARDER
Pap Himes was sitting on the front gallery, dozing in the westering
sunshine. On his lap the big, yellow cat purred and blinked with a
grotesque resemblance in colouring and expression to his master. It was
Sunday afternoon, when the toilers were all out of the mills, and most
of them lying on their beds or gone in to Watauga. The village seemed
curiously silent and deserted. Through the lazy smoke from his cob pipe
Pap noticed Shade Buckheath emerge from the store and start up the
street. He paid no more attention till the young man's voice at the
porch edge roused him from his half-somnolence.
"Evenin', Pap," said the newcomer.
"Good evenin' yourself," returned Himes with unusual cordiality. He
liked men, particularly young, vigorous, masterful men. "Come in, Buck,
an' set a spell. Rest your hat--rest your hat."
It was always Pap's custom to call Shade by the first syllable of his
second name. Buck is a common by-name for boys in the mountains, and it
could not be guessed whether the old man used it as a diminutive of the
surname, or whether he meant merely to nickname this favourite of his.
Shade threw himself on the upper step of the porch and searched in his
pockets for tobacco.
"Room for another boarder?" he asked laconically.
The old man nodded.
"I reckon there's always room, ef it's asked for," he returned. "Hit's
the one way I got to make me a livin', with Louvany dyin' off and Mavity
puny like she is. I have obliged to keep the house full, or we'd see the
bottom of the meal sack."
"All right," agreed Buckheath, rising, and treating the matter as
terminated. "I'll move my things in a-Monday."
"Hold on thar--hold on, young feller," objected Pap, as Shade turned
away. It was against all reasonable mountain precedent to trade so
quickly; but indeed Shade had merely done so with a view to forcing
through what he well knew to be a doubtful proposition.
"I'm a-holding on," he observed gruffly at last, as the other continued
to blink at him with red eyes and say nothing. "What's the matter with
what I said? You told me you had room for another boarder and I named it
that I was comin' to board at your house. Have you got any objections?"
"Well, yes, I have," Himes opened up ponderously. "You set yourself down
on that thar step and we'll have this here thing out. My boardin'-house
is for gals. I fixed it so when I come here. There ain't scarcely a
rowdy feller in Cottonville that hain't at one time or another had the
notion he'd board with Pap Himes; but I've always kep' a respectable
house, and I always aim to, I am a old man, and I bear a good name, and
I'm the only man in this house, and I aim to stay so. Now, sir, there's
my flatform; and you may take it or leave it."
Buckheath glanced angrily and contemptuously into the stupid, fatuous
countenance above him; he appeared to curb with some difficulty the
disposition to retort in kind. Instead, he returned, sarcastically:
"The fellers around town say you won't keep anything but gals because
nothin' but gals would put up with your hectorin' 'em, and crowdin' ten
in a room that was intended for four. That's what folks say; but I've
got a reason to want to board with you, Pap, and I'll pay regular prices
and take what you give me."
Himes looked a little astonished; then an expression of distrust stole
over his broad, flat face.
"What's bringin' you here?" he asked bluntly.
"Johnnie Consadine," returned Shade, without evasion or preamble.
"Before I left the mountains, Johnnie an' me was aimin' to wed. Now
she's got down here, and doin' better than ever she hoped to, and I
cain't get within hand-reach of her."
"Ye cain't?" inquired Pap scornfully. "Why anybody could marry that gal
that wanted to. But Lord! anybody can marry _any_ gal, if he's got the
sense he was born with."
"All right," repeated Shade grimly. "I come to you to know could I get
board, not to ask advice. I aim to marry Johnnie Consadine, and I know
my own business--air you goin' to board me?"
The old man turned this speech in his mind for some time.
"Curious," he muttered to himself, "how these here young fellers will
get petted on some special gal and break their necks to have her."
"Shut up--will you?" ejaculated Buckheath, so suddenly and fiercely that
the old man fairly jumped, rousing the yellow cat to remonstrative
squirmings. "I tell you I know my business, and I ask no advice of
you--will you board me?"
"I cain't do it, Buck," returned Himes definitely. "I ain't got such a
room to give you by yourself as you'd be willin' to take up with; and
nobody comes into my room. But I'll tell you what I'll do for you--I'll
meal you, ef that will help your case any. I'll meal you for two dollars
a week, and throw in a good word with Johnnie."
Buckheath received the conclusion of this speech with a grin.
"I reckon your good word 'd have a lot to do with Johnnie Consadine," he
said ironically, as he picked up his hat from the floor.
"Uh-huh," nodded Pap. "She sets a heap of store by what I say. All of
'em does; but Johnnie in particular. I don't know but what you're about
right. Ain't no sense in bein' all tore up concernin' any gal or woman;
but I believe if I was pickin' out a good worker that would earn her
way, I'd as soon pick out Johnnie Consadine as any of 'em."
And having thus paid his ultimate compliment to Johnnie, Himes relapsed
into intermittent slumber as Shade moved away down the squalid, dusty
street under the fierce July sun.
Johnnie greeted the new boarder with a reserve which was in marked
contrast to the reception he got from the other girls. Shade Buckheath
was a handsome, compelling fellow, and a good match; this Adamless Eden
regarded him as a rival in glory even to Pap himself. When supper was
over on the first night of his arrival, Shade walked out on the porch
and seated himself on the steps. The girls disposed themselves at a
little distance--your mountain-bred young female is ever obviously shy,
almost to prudery.
"Whar's Johnnie Consadine?" asked the newcomer lazily, disposing himself
with his back against a post and his long legs stretched across the
"Settin' in thar, readin' a book," replied Beulah Catlett curtly. Beulah
was but fourteen, and she belonged to the newer dispensation which
speaks up more boldly to the masculine half of creation. "Johnnie!
Johnnie Consadine!" she called through the casement. "Here's Mr.
Buckheath, wishful of your company. Better come out."
"I will, after a while," returned Johnnie absently. "I've got to help
Aunt Mavity some, and then I'll be there."
"Hit's a sight, the books that gal does read," complained Beulah. "Looks
like a body might get enough stayin' in the house by workin' in a cotton
mill, without humpin' theirselves up over a book all evenin'."
"Mr. Stoddard lends 'em to her," announced Mandy importantly. "He used
to give 'em to Miss Lyddy Sessions, and she'd give 'em to Johnnie; but
now when Miss Lyddy's away, he'll bring one down to the mill about every
so often, and him an' Johnnie'll stand and gas and talk over what's in
'em--I cain't understand one word they say. I tell you Johnnie
Consadine's got sense."
Her pride in Johnnie made her miss the look of rage that settled on
Buckheath's face at her announcement. The young fellow was glad when Pap
Himes began to speak growlingly.
"Yes, an' if she was my gal I'd talk to her with a hickory about that
there business. A gal that ain't too old to carry on that-a-way ain't
too old to take a whippin' for it. Huh!"
For her own self Mandy would have been thoroughly scared by this attack;
in Johnnie's defence she rustled her feathers like an old hen whose one
chick has been menaced.
"Johnnie Consadine is the prettiest-behaved gal I ever seen," she
announced shrilly. "She ain't never said nor done the least thing that
she hadn't ort. Mr. Stoddard he just sees how awful smart she is, and he
loves to lend her books and talk with her about 'em afterward. For my
part I ain't never seen look nor motion about Mr. Gray Stoddard that
wasn't such as a gentleman ort to be. I know he never said nothin' he
ort not to _me_."
The suggestion of Stoddard's making advances of unseemly warmth to Mandy
Meacham produced a subdued snicker. Even Pap smiled, and Mandy herself,
who had been looking a bit terrified after her bold speaking, was
Buckheath had been a week at the Himes boarding-house, finding it not
unpleasant to show Johnnie Consadine how many of the girls regarded him
with favour, whether she did or not, when he came to supper one evening
with a gleam in his eye that spoke evil for some one. After the meal was
over, he followed Pap out on the porch and sat down beside the old man,
the girls being bunched expectantly on the step, for he was apt to delay
for a bit of chat with one or another of them before leaving.
"You infernal old rascal, I've caught up with you," he whispered,
leaning close to his host.
Himes clutched the pipe in his teeth till it clicked, and stared in
helpless resentment at his mealer.
"What's the matter with you?" he demanded.
"Speak lower, so the gals won't hear you, or you'll wish you had,"
counselled Shade. "I sent that there thing on to Washington to get a
patent on it, and now I find that they was a model of the same there in
the name of Gideon Himes. What do you make of that?"
Pap stared at the thin strips of metal lying in Shade's hard, brown
"The little liar!" he breathed. "She told me she got it up herself." He
glared at the bits of steel with protruding eyes, and breathed hard.
"Well, she didn't," Shade countered swiftly, taking advantage of the
turn things were showing. "I made six of 'em; and when I told her to
bring 'em back and I'd give her some that would wear better, she only
brought me five. She said she'd lost one here at home, she believed. I
might have knowed then that you'd get your claws on it ef I wasn't
Old Gideon was not listening; he had fallen into a brown study, turning
the piece of metal in his skilful, wonted, knotty fingers, with their
"Put it out of sight--quick--here she comes!" whispered Shade; and the
old man looked up to see Johnnie Consadine in the doorway. A grin of
triumph grew slowly upon his face, as he gazed from one to the other.
"She did get it up!" he returned in Buckheath's face. "You liar! You're
a-aimin' to steal it from her. You filed out the pieces like she told
you to, and when you found it would work, you tried to get a patent on
it for yo'se'f. Yes, sir, I'm onto _you!_"
Shade looked over his shoulder. The girls had forsaken the steps.
Despairing of his coming, they were strolling two-and-two after Johnnie
on the sidewalk.
"It's you and me for it, Pap," he said hardily. "What was _you_ tryin'
to do? Was you gettin' the patent for Johnnie? Shall I call her up here
and ask her?"
"No, no," exclaimed the old man hastily. "They ain't no use of puttin'
sich things in a fool gal's hands. She never heard of a patent--wouldn't
know one from a hole in the ground. Hit's like you say, Buck--you and
me for it."
The two men rose and stood a moment, Shade smiling a bit to think what
he would do with Pap Himes and his claim if he could only once get
Johnnie to say yes to his suit. The thick wits of the elder man
apparently realized this feature of the matter not at all.
"Why that thar girl is crazy to get married," he argued, half angrily.
"You know in reason she is--they all are. The fust night when you brung
her here I named it to her that she was pretty well along in years, and
she'd better be spry about gettin' her hooks on a man, or she was left.
She said she'd do the best she could--I never heered a gal speak up
pearter--most of 'em would be 'shamed to name it out so free. Why, if it
was me, I'd walk her down to a justice's office an' wed her so quick her
"Who's that talking about getting married?" called Johnnie's voice from
the street, and Johnnie herself ran up the steps.
"Hit was me," harangued Pap Himes doggedly. "I was tellin' Shade how bad
you wanted to git off, and that I 'lowed you'd be a good bargain
He looked hopefully from one to the other, as though he expected to see
his advice accepted and put into immediate practice. Johnnie laughed
"Pap," she said with shining eyes, "if you get me a husband, I'll have
to give you a commission on it. Looks like I can't noways get one for
myself, don't it?"
She passed into the house, and Shade regarded his ally in helpless
"That's the way she talks, here lately," he growled, "Seems like it
would be easy enough to come to something; and by the Lord, it would,
with any other gal I ever seed--or with Johnnie like she was when she
first came down here! But these days and times she's got a way of
puttin' me off that I can't seem to get around."
Neither man quite understood the power of that mental culture which
Johnnie was assimilating so avidly. That reading things in a book should
enable her--a child, a girl, a helpless woman--to negative their wishes
smilingly, this would have been a thing quite outside the comprehension
"Aunt Mavity wants me to go down to the store for her," Johnnie
announced, returning. "Any of you girls like to come along?"
Mandy had parted her lips to accept the general invitation, when Shade
Buckheath rose to his feet and announced curtly, "I'll go with you."
His glance added that nobody else was wanted, and Mandy subsided into a
seat on the steps and watched the two walk away side by side.
"Looks like you ain't just so awful pleased to have me boardin' with
Pap," Shade began truculently, when it appeared that the girl was not
going to open any conversation with him. "Maybe you wasn't a-carin' for
my company down street this evenin'."
"No," said Johnnie, bluntly but very quietly. "I wish you hadn't come to
the house to board. I have told you to let me alone."
Shade laughed, an exasperated, mirthless laugh. "You know well enough
what made me do it," he said sullenly. "If you don't want me to board
with Pap Himes you can stop it any day you say the word. You promise to
wed me, and I'll go back to the Inn. The Lord knows they feed you better
thar, and I believe in my soul the gals at Pap Himes's will run me
crazy. But as long as you hang off the way you do about our marryin',
and I git word of you carryin' on with other folks, I'm goin' to stay
where I can watch you."
"Other folks!" echoed Johnnie, colour coming into her cheeks. "Shade,
there's no use of your quarrelling with me, and I see it's what you're
settin' out to do."
"Yes, other folks--Mr. Gray Stoddard, for instance. I ain't got no auto
to take you out ridin' in, but you're a blame sight safer with me than
you are with him; and if I was to carry word to your mother or your
uncle Pros about your doin's they'd say--"
"The last word my uncle Pros left with ma to give me was that you'd bear
watchin', Shade Buckheath," laughed Johnnie, her face breaking up into
sweet, sudden mirth at the folly of it all. "You're not aimin' for my
good. I don't see what on earth makes you talk like you wanted to
"Because I do," said Buckheath helplessly. He wondered if the girl did
not herself know her own attractions, forgetful that he had not seen
them plainly till a man higher placed in the social scale set the cachet
of a gentleman's admiration upon them.
THE CONTENTS OF A BANDANNA
It was a breathless August evening; all day the land had lain humming
and quivering beneath the glare of the sun. It seemed that such heat
must culminate in a thunder shower. Even Pap Himes had sought the
coolest corner of the porch, his pipe put out, as adding too much to the
general swelter, and the hot, yellow cat perched at a discreet distance.
The old man's dreamy eyes were fixed with a sort of animal content on
the winding road that disappeared in the rise of the gap. If was his
boast that God Almighty never made a day too hot for him, and to the
marrow of them his rheumatic bones felt and savoured the comfort of this
blistering weather. High up on the road he had noted a small moving
speck that appeared and disappeared as the foliage hid it, or gaps in
the trees revealed it. It was not yet time for the mill operatives to be
out; but as he glanced eagerly in the direction of the buildings, the
gates opened and the loom-fixers streamed forth. Pap had matters of some
importance to discuss with Shade Buckheath, and he was glad to see the
young man's figure come swinging down the street. The two were soon deep
in a whispered discussion, their heads bent close together.
The little speck far up the road between the trees announced itself to
the eye now as a moving figure, walking down toward Cottonville.
"Well, I'll read it again, if you don't believe me," Buckheath said
impatiently. "All that Alabama mill wants is to have me go over there
and put this trick on their jennies, and if it works they'll give us a
royalty of--well, I'll make the bargain."
"Or I will," countered Pap swiftly.
"You?" inquired Shade contemptuously. "Time they wrote some of the
business down and you couldn't read it, whar'd you be, and whar'd our
The moving speck on the road appeared at this time to be the figure of a
tall man, walking unsteadily, reeling from side to side of the road, yet
approaching the village.
"Shade," pacified Himes, with a truckling manner that the younger man's
aggressions were apt to call out in him, "you know I don't mean anything
against you, but I believe in my soul I'd ruther sell out the patent.
That man in Lowell said he'd give twenty thousand dollars if it was
proved to work--now didn't he?"
"Yes, and by the time it's proved to work we'll have made three times
that much out of it. There ain't a spinning mill in the country that
won't save money by putting in the indicator, and paying us a good
royalty on it. If Johnnie and me was wedded, I'd go to work to-morrow
advertising the thing."
"The gal ain't in the mill this afternoon, is she?" asked old Himes.
"No, she's gone off somewheres with some folks Hardwick's sister-in-law
has got here. If you want to find her these days, you've got to hunt in
some of the swell houses round on the hills."
He spoke with bitterness, and Pap nodded comprehendingly; the subject
was an old one between them. Then Shade drew from his pocket a letter
and prepared to read it once more to the older man.
Himes started so violently that he disturbed the equilibrium of his
chair and brought the front legs to the floor with a slam, so that he
sat staring straight ahead. Shade Buckheath whirled and saw Pros
Passmore standing at the foot of the steps--the moving speck come to
full size. The old man was a wilder-looking figure than usual. He had no
hat on, and a bloody cloth bound around his head confined the straggling
gray locks quaintly. The face was ghastly, the clothing in tatters, and
his hands trembled as they clutched a bandanna evidently full of some
small articles that rattled together in his shaking grasp.
"Good Lord--Pros! You mighty nigh scared me out of a year's growth,"
grumbled Pap, hitching vainly to throw his chair back into position.
"Come in. Come in. You look like you'd been seein' trouble."
"Whar's Johnnie?" repeated old Pros hollowly.
It was the younger man who answered this time, with an ugly lift of the
lip over his teeth, between a sneer and a snarl.
"She's gone gaddin' around with some of her swell friends. She may be
home before midnight, an' then again she may not," he said.
The old man collapsed on the lower step.
"I wish't Johnnie was here," he said querulously. "I--" he looked about
him confusedly--"I've found her silver mine."
At the words the two on the porch became suddenly rigid. Then Buckheath
sprang down the steps, caught Passmore under the arm-pits and half led,
half dragged him up to a chair, into which he thrust him with
He stood before the limp figure, peering into the newcomer's face with
eyes of greed and hands that clenched and unclenched themselves
"You've found the silver mine!" he volleyed excitedly. "Whose land is it
on? Have you got options yet? My grandpappy always said they was a
"Hush!" Pap Himes's voice hissed across the loud explosive tones. "No
need to tell your business to the town. I'll bet Pros ain't thought
about no options yit. He may need friends to he'p him out on such
matters; and here's you and me, Buck--God knows he couldn't have
The old man stared about him in a dazed fashion.
"I've got my specimens in this here bandanner," he explained
quaveringly. "I fell over the ledge, was the way I chanced upon it at
the last, and I lay dead for a spell. My head's busted right bad. But
the ore specimens, they're right here in the bandanner, and I aimed to
give 'em to Johnnie--to put 'em right in her lap--the best gal that ever
was--and say to her, 'Here's your silver mine, honey, that your
good-for-nothin' old uncle found for ye; now you can live like a lady!'
That's what I aimed to say to Johnnie. I didn't aim that nobody else
should tetch them samples till she'd saw 'em."
Himes and Buckheath were exchanging glances across the old man's bent,
gray head. Common humanity would have suggested that they offer him rest
or refreshment, but these two were intent only on what the
What is it in the thought of wealth from the ground that so intoxicates,
so ravishes away from all reasonable judgment, the generality of
mankind? People never seem to conceive that there might be no more than
moderate repayal for great toil in a mine of any sort. The very word
mine suggests to them tapping the vast treasure-house of the world, and
drawing an unlimited share--wealth lavish, prodigal, intemperate. These
two were as mad with greed at the thought of the silver mine in the
mountains as ever were forty-niners in the golden days of California, or
those more recent ignoble martyrs who strewed their bones along the icy
trails of the Klondike.
"Ye better let me look at 'em Pros," wheedled Pap Himes. "I know a heap
about silver ore. I've worked in the Georgia gold mines--and you know
you never find gold without silver. I was three months in the mountains
with a feller that was huntin' nickel; he l'arned me a heap."
The old man turned his disappointed gaze from one face to the other.
"I wish't Johnnie was here," he repeated his plaintive formula, as he
raised the handkerchief and untied the corners.
Pap glanced apprehensively up and down the street; Buckheath ran to the
door and shut it, that none in the house might see or overhear; and then
the three stared at the unpromising-looking, earthy bits of mineral in
silence. Finally Himes put down a stubby forefinger and stirred them
"Le' me try one with my knife," he whispered, as though there were any
one to hear him.
"All right," returned the old man nervelessly. "But hit ain't soft
enough for lead--if that's what you're meanin'. I know that much. A lead
mine is a mighty good thing. Worth as much as silver maybe; but this
A curious tremor had come over Pap Himes's face as he furtively compared
the lump of ore he held in his hand with something which he took from
his pocket. He seemed to come to some sudden resolution.
"No, 'tain't lead--and 'tain't nothin'," he declared contemptuously,
flinging the bit he held back into the handkerchief. "Pros Passmore--ye
old fool--you come down here and work us all up over some truck that
wasn't worth turnin' with a spade! You might as well throw them things
away. Whar in the nation did you git 'em, anyhow?"
Passmore stumbled to his feet. He had eaten nothing for three days. The
fall over the ledge had injured him severely. He was scarcely sane at
"Ain't they no 'count?" he asked pitifully. "Why, I made shore they was
silver. Well"--he looked aimlessly about--"I better go find Johnnie,"
and he started down the steps.
"Leave 'em here, Pros, and go in. Mavity'll give you a cup of coffee,"
suggested Pap, in a kinder tone.
The bandanna slipped rattling from the old man's relaxed fingers. The
specimens clattered and rolled on the porch floor. With drooping head he
shambled through the door.
A woman's face disappeared for a moment from the shadowy front-room
window, only to reappear and watch unseen. Mavity was listening in a
sort of horror as she heard her father's tones.
"Git down and pick 'em up--every one! Don't you miss a one. Yo' eyes is
younger'n mine. Hunt 'em up! hunt 'em up," hissed Pap, casting himself
upon the handkerchief and its contents.
"What is it?" questioned Buckheath keenly. "I thort you had some game on
hand." And he hastened to comply. "Air they really silver?"
[Illustration: HE LOOMED ABOVE THEM, WHITE AND SHAKING. "YOU THIEVES,"
HE ROARED. "GIVE ME MY BANDANNER! GIVE ME JOHNNIE'S SILVER MINE!"]
"No--better'n that. They're nickel. The feller that was here from the
North said by the dips and turns of the stratagems an' such-like we was
bound to have nickel in these here mountains somewhar. A nickel mine's
better'n a gold mine--an' these is nickel. I know 'em by the piece o'
nickel ore from the Canady mines that I carry constantly in my pocket.
We'll keep the old fool out of the knowin' of it, and find whar the mine
is at, and we'll--"
The two men squatted on the floor, tallying over the specimens they had
already collected, and looking about them for more. In the doorway
behind them appeared a face, gaunt, grimed, a blood-stained bandage
around the brow, and a pair of glowing, burning eyes looking out
beneath. Uncle Pros had failed to find Mavity Bence, and was returning.
Too dazed to comprehend mere words, the old prospector read instantly
and aright the attitude and expression of the two. As they tied the last
knot in the handkerchief, he loomed above them, white and shaking.
"You thieves!" he roared. "Give me my bandanner! Give me Johnnie's
"Yes--yes--yes! Don't holler it out that-a-way!" whispered Pap Himes
from the floor, where he crouched, still clutching the precious bits
"We was a-goin' to give 'em to you, Uncle Pros. We was just foolin',"
Buckheath attempted to reassure him.
The old man bent forward and shot down a long arm to recover his own. He
missed the bandanna, and the impetus of the movement sent him staggering
a pace or two forward. At the porch edge he strove to recover himself,
failed, and with a short, coughing groan, pitched down the steps and
lay, an inert mass, at their foot.
"Cover that handkecher up," whispered Himes before either man moved to
A PATIENT FOR THE HOSPITAL
When the Hardwick carriage drove up in the heavy, ill-odoured August
night, and stopped at the gate to let Johnnie Consadine out, Pap Himes's
boarding-house was blazing with light from window and doorway, clacking
and humming like a mill with the sound of noisy footsteps and voices.
Three or four men argued and talked loudly on the porch. Through the
open windows of the front room, Johnnie had a glimpse of a long, stark
figure lying on the lounge, and a white face which struck her with a
strange pang of vague yet alarming resemblance. She made her hasty
thanks to Miss Sessions and hurried in. Gray Stoddard's horse was
standing at the hitching post in front, and Gray met her at the head of
Stoddard looked particularly himself in riding dress. Its more
unconventional lines suited him well; the dust-brown Norfolk, the
leathern puttees, gave an adventurous turn to the expression of a
personality which was only so on the mental side. He always rode
bareheaded, and the brown hair, which he wore a little longer than other
men's, was tossed from its masculine primness to certain hyacinthine
lines which were becoming. Just now his clear brown eyes were luminous
with feeling. He put out a swift, detaining hand and caught hers, laying
sympathetic fingers over the clasp and retaining it as he spoke.
"I'm so relieved that you've come at last," he said. "We need somebody
of intelligence here. I just happened to come past a few minutes after
the accident. Don't be frightened; your uncle came down to see you, and
got a fall somehow. He's hurt pretty badly, I'm afraid, and these people
are refusing to have him taken to the hospital."
On the one side Himes and Buckheath drew back and regarded this scene
with angry derision. In the carriage below Lydia Sessions, who could
hear nothing that was said, stared incredulously, and moved as though to
get down and join Johnnie.
"You'll want him sent to the hospital?" Stoddard urged, half
interrogatively. "Look in there. Listen to the noise. This is no fit
place for a man with a possible fracture of the skull."
"Yes--oh, yes," agreed Johnnie promptly. "If I could nurse him myself
I'd like to--or help; but of course he's got to go to the hospital,
first of everything."
Stoddard motioned the Hardwick driver to wait, and called down to the
carriage load, "I want you people to drive round by the hospital and
send the ambulance, if you'll be so kind. There's a man hurt in here."
Lydia Sessions made this an immediate pretext for getting down and
"Did you say they didn't want to send him to the hospital?" she inquired
sharply and openly, in her tactless fashion, as she crossed the
sidewalk. "That's the worst thing about such people; you provide them
with the best, and they don't know enough to appreciate it. Have they
got a doctor, or done anything for the poor man?"
"I sent for Millsaps, here--he knows more about broken bones than
anybody in Cottonville," Pap offered sullenly, mopping his brow and
shaking his bald head. "Millsaps is a decent man. You know what _he's_
a-goin' to do to the sick."
"Is he a doctor?" asked Stoddard sternly, looking the lank, shuffling
"He can doctor a cow or a nag better'n anybody ever saw," Pap put
forward rather shamefacedly.
"A veterinarian," commented Stoddard. "Well, they've gone for the
ambulance, and the surgeon will soon be here now."
"I don't know nothin' about veterinarians and surgeons," growled Pap,
still alternately mopping his bald head and shaking it contemptuously;
"but I know that Millsaps ain't a-goin' to box up any dead bodies and
send 'em to the medical colleges; and I know he made as pretty a job of
doctoring old Spotty has ever I seen. To be shore the cow died, but he
got the medicine down her when it didn't look as if human hands could do
it--that's the kind of doctor he is."
"I aim to give Mr. Passmore a teaspoonful of lamp oil--karosene," said
the cow doctor, coming forward, evidently feeling that it was time he
spoke up himself. "Lamp oil is mighty rousin' to them as late like he's
doin'. I've used copperas for such--but takes longer. Some say a dose of
turpentine is better lamp oil--but I 'low both of 'em won't hurt."
Johnnie pushed past them all into the front room where the women were
running about, talking lot and exclaiming. A kerosene lamp without a
chimney smoked and flared on the table, filling the room with evil
odours. Pros Passmore's white face thrown up against the lounge cushion
was the only quiet, dignified object in sight.
"Mandy," said Johnnie, catching the Meacham woman by the elbow as she
passed her bearing a small kerosene can, "you go up to my room and get
the good lamp I have there. Then take this thing away. Where's
"I don't know. She's been carryin' on somethin turrible. Yes, Johnnie,
honey--I'll get the lamp for ye."
When Johnnie turned to her uncle, she found Millsaps bending above him,
the small can in his hands, its spout approached to the rigid blue lips
of the patient with the unconcern of a man about to fill a lamp. She
sprang forward and caught his arm, bringing the can away with a clatter
"You mustn't do that," she said authoritatively. "The doctors will be
here in a minute. You mustn't give him anything, Mr. Millsaps."
"Oh, all right--all right," agreed Millsaps, with decidedly the air that
he considered it all wrong.
"There is some people that has objections to having their kin-folks
cyarved up by student doctors. Then agin, there is others that has no
better use for kin than to let 'em be so treated. I 'low that a little
dosin' of lamp oil never hurt nobody--and it's cured a-many, of most any
kind of disease. But just as you say--just as you say." And he shuffled
angrily from the room.
Johnnie went and knelt by the lounge. With deft, careful fingers she
lifted the wet cloths above the bruised forehead. The hurt looked old.
No blood was flowing, and she wondered a little. Catching Shade
Buckheath's eye fixed on her from outside the window, she beckoned him
in and asked him to tell her exactly how the trouble came about.
Buckheath gave her his own version of the matter, omitting, of course,
all mention of the bandanna full of ore which lay now carefully hidden
at the bottom of old Gideon Himes's trunk.
"And you say he fell down the steps?" asked Johnnie. "Who was with him?
Who saw it?"
"Nobody but me and Pap," Shade answered, trying to give the reply
"I--I seen it," whispered Mavity Bence, plucking at Johnnie's sleeve. "I
was in the fore room here--and I seen it all."
She spoke defiantly, but her terrified glance barely raised itself to
the menacing countenances of the two men on the other side of the
lounge, and fell at once. "I never heard nothin' they was sayin'," she
made haste to add. "But I seen Pros fall, and I run out and helped Pap
and Shade fetch him in."
Peculiar as was the attitude of all three, Johnnie felt a certain relief
in the implied assurance that there had been no quarrel, that her uncle
had not been struck or knocked down the steps.
"Why, Pap," she said kindly, looking across at the old man's perturbed,
sweating face, "you surely ain't like these foolish folks round here in
Cottonville that think the hospital was started up to get dead bodies
for the student doctors to cut to pieces. You see how bad off Uncle Pros
is; you must know he's bound to be better taken care of there in that
fine building, and with all those folks that have learned their business
to take care of him, than here in this house with only me. Besides, I
couldn't even stay at home from the mill to nurse him. Somebody's got to
earn the money."
"I wouldn't charge you no board, Johnnie," fairly whined Himes. "I'm
willin' to nurse Pros myself, without he'p, night and day. You speak up
mighty fine for that thar hospital. What about Lura Dawson? Everybody
knows they shipped her body to Cincinnati and sold it. You ort to be
ashamed to put your poor old uncle in such a place."
Johnnie turned puzzled eyes from the rigid face on the lounge--Pros had
neither moved nor spoken since they lifted and laid him there--to the
old man at the window. That Pap Himes should be concerned, even
slightly, about the welfare of any living being save himself, struck her
as wildly improbable. Then, swiftly, she reproached herself for not
being readier to believe good of him. He and Uncle Pros had been boys
together, and she knew her uncle one to deserve affection, though he
seldom commanded it.
There was a sound of wheels outside, and Gray Stoddard's voice with that
of the doctor's. Shade and Pap Himes still hovered nervously about the
window, staring in and hearkening to all that was said, Mavity Bence had
wept till her face was sodden. She herded the other girls back out of
the way, but watched everything with terrified eyes.
"He'll jest about come to hisself befo' he dies," the older conspirator
muttered to Shade as the stretcher passed them, and the skilled,
white-jacketed attendants laid Pros Passmore in the vehicle without so
much as disturbing his breathing. "He'll jest about come to hisself
thar, and them pesky doctors 'll have word about the silver mine. Well,
in this world, them that has, gits, mostly. Ef Johnnie Consadine had
been any manner o' kin to me, I vow I'd 'a' taken a hickory to her when
she set up her word agin' mine and let him go out of the house. The
little fool! she didn't know what she was sendin' away."
And so Pros Passmore was taken to the hospital. His bandanna full of ore
remained buried at the bottom of Gideon Himes's trunk, to be fished up
often by the old sinner, fingered and fondled, and laid back in hiding;
while the man who had carried it down the mountains to fling it in
Johnnie's lap lay with locked lips, and told neither the doctors nor
Himes where the silver mine was. August sweated itself away; September
wore on into October in a procession of sun-robed, dust-sandalled days,
and still Uncle Pros gave no sign of actual recovery.
Johnnie was working hard in the mill. Hartley Sessions had become, in
his cold, lifeless fashion, very much her friend. Inert, slow, he had
one qualification for his position: he could choose an assistant, or
delegate authority with good judgment; and he found in Johnnie Consadine
an adjutant so reliable, so apt, and of such ability, that he
continually pushed more work upon her, if pay and honours did not always
follow in adequate measure.
For a time, much as she disliked to approach Shade with any request,
Johnnie continued to urge him whenever they met to finish up the
indicators and let her have them back again. Then Hartley Sessions
promoted her to a better position in the weaving department, and other
cares drove the matter from her mind.
The condition of Uncle Pros added fearfully to the drains upon her time
and thought. The old man lay in his hospital cot till the great frame
had wasted fairly to the big bones, following her movements when she
came into the room with strange, questioning, unrecognizing eyes, yet
always quieted and soothed by her presence, so that she felt urged to
give him every moment she could steal from her work. The hurts on his
head, which were mere scalp wounds, healed over; the surgeon at the
hospital was unable to find any indentation or injury to the skull
itself which would account for the old man's condition. They talked for
a long time of an operation, and did finally trephine, without result.
They would make an X-ray photograph, they said, when he should be strong
enough to stand it, as a means of further investigation.
Meantime his expenses, though made fairly nominal to her, cut into the
money which Johnnie could send to her mother, and she was full of
anxiety for the helpless little family left without head or protector up
in that gash of the wind-grieved mountains on the flank of Big Unaka.
In these days Shade Buckheath vacillated from the suppliant attitude to
the threatening. Johnnie never knew when she met him which would be
uppermost; and since he had wearied out her gratitude and liking, she
cared little. One thing surprised and touched her a bit, and that was
that Shade used to meet her of an evening when she would be coming from
the hospital, and ask eagerly after the welfare of Uncle Pros. He
finally begged her to get him a chance to see the old man, and she did
so, but his presence seemed to have such a disturbing effect on the
patient that the doctors prohibited further visits.
"Well, I done just like you told me to, and them cussed sawboneses won't
let me go back no more," Shade reported to Pap Himes that evening. "Old
Pros just swelled hisself out like a toad and hollered at me time I got
in the room. He's sure crazy all right. He looks like he couldn't last
long, but them that heirs what he has will git the writin' that tells
whar the silver mine's at. Johnnie's liable to find that writin' any
day; or he may come to hisself and tell her."
"Well, for God's sake," retorted Pap Himes testily, "why don't you wed
the gal and be done with it? You wed Johnnie Consadine and get that
writin', and I'll never tell on you 'bout the old man and such; and you
and me'll share the mine."
Shade gave him a black look.
"You're a good talker," he said sententiously. "If I could _do_ things
as easy as you can _tell_ 'em, I'd be president."
"Huh!" grunted the old man. "Marryin' a fool gal--or any other
woman--ain't nothin' to do. If I was your age I'd have her Miz Himes
"All right," said Buckheath, "if it's so damn' easy done--this here
marryin'--do some of it yourself. Thar's Laurelly Consadine; she's a
widow; and more kin to Pros than Johnnie is. You go up in the mountains
and wed her, and I'll stand by ye in the business."
A slow but ample grin dawned on the old man's round, foolish face. He
looked admiringly at Shade.
"By Gosh!" he said finally. "That ain't no bad notion, neither. 'Course
I can do it. They all want to wed. And thar's Laurelly--light-minded
fool--ain't got the sense she was born with--up thar without Pros nor
Johnnie--I could persuade her to take off her head and play pitch-ball
with it--Lord, yes!"
"Well, you've bragged about enough," put in Buckheath grimly. "You git
down in the collar and pull."
The old man gave him no heed. He was still grinning fatuously.
"It 'minds me of Zack Shalliday, and the way he got wedded," came the
unctuous chuckle. "Zack was a man 'bout my age, and his daughter was
a-keepin' house for him. She was a fine hand to work; the best butter
maker on the Unakas; Zack always traded his butter for a extry price.
But old as Sis Shalliday was--she must 'a' been all of twenty-seven
--along comes a man that takes a notion to her. She named it
to Zack. 'All right,' says he, 'you give me to-morrow to hunt me up one
that's as good a butter maker as you air, and I've got no objections.'
Then he took hisself down to Preacher Blaylock, knowin' in reason that
preachers was always hungry for weddin' fees, and would hustle round to
make one. He offered the preacher a dollar to give him a list of names
of single women that was good butter makers. Blaylock done so. He'd say,
'Now this 'n's right fine-looking, but I ain't never tasted her butter.
Here's one that ain't much to look at, but her butter is prime--jest
like your gal's; hit allers brings a leetle extry at the store. This
'n's fat, yet I can speak well of her workin' qualifications,' He named
'em all out to Zack, and Zack had his say for each one. 'The fat ones is
easy keepers,' he says for the last one, 'and looks don't cut much
figger in this business--it all depends on which one makes the best
"Well, he took that thar string o' names, and he left. 'Long about
sundown, here he is back and hollerin' at the fence. 'Come out here,
preacher--I've got her,' He had a woman in his buggy that Blaylock had
never put eyes on in all his born days. 'Wouldn't none o' them I sent ye
to have ye?' the preacher asked Zack in a kind of whisper, when he
looked at that thar snaggle-toothed, cross-eyed somebody that
Shalliday'd fetched back. 'I reckon they would,' says Zack. 'I reckon
any or all of 'em would 'a' had me,' he says. 'I had only named it to
three o' the four, and I hadn't closed up with none o' them, becaze I
wasn't quite satisfied in my mind about the butter makin'. And as I was
goin' along the road toward the last name you give me, I come up with
this here woman. She was packin' truck down to the store for to trade
it. I offered her a lift and she rid with me a spell. I chanced to tell
her of what I was out after, and she let on that she was a widder, and
showed me the butter she had--hit was all made off of one cow, and the
calf is three months old. I wasn't a-goin' to take nobody's word in such
a matter, and hauled her on down to the store and seed the storekeeper
pay her extry for that thar butter--and here we air. Tie the knot,
preacher; yer dollar is ready for ye, and we must be gittin' along
home--it's 'most milkin' time,' The preacher he tied the knot, and
Shalliday and the new Miz. Shalliday they got along home." The old man
chuckled as he had at the beginning of this tale.
"Well, that was business," agreed Shade impatiently. "When are you goin'
to start for Big Unaka?"
The old man rolled his great head between his shoulders.
"Ye-ah," he assented; "business. But it was bad business for Zack
Shalliday. That thar woman never made a lick of that butter she was a
packin' to the settlement to trade for her sister that was one o' them
widders the preacher had give him the name of. Seems Shalliday's woman
had jest come in a-visitin' from over on Big Smoky, and she turned out
to be the laziest, no-accountest critter on the Unakas. She didn't know
which end of a churn-dasher was made for use. Aw--law--huh!
Business--there's two kinds of business; but that was a bad business for
Zack Shalliday. I reckon I'll go up on Unaka to-morrow, if Mavity can
run the house without me."
A vine on Mavity Bence's porch turned to blood crimson. Its leaves
parted from the stem in the gay Autumn wind, and sifted lightly down to
join the painted foliage of the two little maples which struggled for
existence against an adverse world, crouching beaten and torn at
In these days Johnnie used to leave the mill in the evening and go
directly to the hospital. Gray Stoddard was her one source of
comfort--and terror. Uncle Pros's injuries brought these two into closer
relations than anything had yet done. So far, Johnnie had conducted her
affairs with a judgment and propriety extraordinary, clinging as it were
to the skirts of Lydia Sessions, keeping that not unwilling lady between
her and Stoddard always. But the injured man took a great fancy to Gray.
Johnnie he had forgotten; Shade and Pap Himes he recognized only by an
irritation which made the doctors exclude them from his presence; but
something in Stoddard's equable, disciplined personality, appealed to
and soothed Uncle Pros when even Johnnie failed.
The old mountaineer had gone back to childhood. He would lie by the hour
murmuring a boy's woods lore to Gray Stoddard, communicating deep
secrets of where a bee tree might be found; where, known only to him,
there was a deeply hidden spring of pure freestone water, "so cold it'll
make yo' teeth chatter"; and which one of old Lead's pups seemed likely
to turn out the best coon dog.
When Stoddard's presence and help had been proffered to herself, Johnnie
had not failed to find a gracious way of declining or avoiding; but you
cannot reprove a sick man--a dying man. She could not for the life of
her find a way to insist that Uncle Pros make less demand on the young
mill owner's time.
And so the two of them met often at the bedside, and that trouble which
was beginning to make Johnnie's heart like lead grew with the growing
love Gray Stoddard commanded. She told herself mercilessly that it was
presumption, folly, wickedness; she was always going to be done with it;
but, once more in his presence, her very soul cried out that she was
indeed fit at least to love him, if not to hope for his love in turn.
Stoddard himself was touched by the old man's fancy, and showed a
devotion and patience that were characteristic.
If she was kept late at the hospital, Mavity put by a bite of cold
supper for her, and Mandy always waited to see that she had what she
wanted. On the day after Shade Buckheath and Gideon Himes had come to
their agreement, she stopped at the hospital for a briefer stay than
usual. Her uncle was worse, and an opiate had been administered to quiet
him, so that she only sat a while at the bedside and finally took her
way homeward in a state of utter depression for which she could
It was dusk--almost dark--when she reached the gate, and she noted
carelessly a vehicle drawn up before it.
"Johnnie," called her mother's voice from the back of the rickety old
wagon as the girl was turning in toward the steps.
"Sis' Johnnie--Sis' Johnnie!" crowed Deanie; and then she was aware of
sober, eleven-year-old Milo climbing down over the wheel and trying to
help Lissy, while Pony got in his way and was gravely reproved. She ran
to the wheel and put up ready arms.
"Why, honeys!" she exclaimed. "How come you-all never let me know to
expect you? Oh, I'm so glad, mother. I didn't intend to send you word to
come; but I was feeling so blue. I sure wanted to. Maybe Uncle Pros
might know you--or the baby--and it would do him good."
She had got little Deanie out in her arms now, and stood hugging the
child, bending to kiss Melissa, finding a hand to pat Milo's shoulder
and rub Pony's tousled poll.
"Oh, I'm so glad!--I'm so glad to see you-all," she kept repeating. "Who
brought you?" She looked closely at the man on the driver's seat and
recognized Gideon Himes.
"Why, Pap!" she exclaimed. "I'll never forget you for this. It was
mighty good of you."
The door swung open, letting out a path of light.
"Aunt Mavity!" cried the girl. "Mother and the children have come down
to see me. Isn't it fine?"
Mavity Bence made her appearance in the doorway, her faded eyes so
reddened with weeping that she looked like a woman in a fever. She
gulped and stared from her father, where in the shine of her upheld lamp
he sat blinking and grinning, to Laurella Consadine in a ruffled
pink-and-white lawn frock, with a big, rose-wreathed hat on her dark
curls, and Johnnie Consadine with the children clinging about her.
"Have ye told her?" she gasped. And at the tone Johnnie turned quickly,
a sudden chill falling upon her glowing mood.
"What's the matter?" she asked, startled, clutching the baby tighter to
her, and conning over with quick alarm the tow-heads that bobbed and
surged about her waist. "The children are all right--aren't they?"
Milo looked up apprehensively. He was an old-faced, anxious-looking,
little fellow, already beginning to have a stoop to his thin
shoulders--the bend of the burden bearer.
"I--I done the best I could, Sis' Johnnie," he hesitated apologetically.
"You wasn't thar, and Unc' Pros was gone, an' I thest worked the farm
and took care of mother an' the little 'uns best I knowed how. But when
she--when he--oh, I wish't you and Unc' Pros had been home to-day."
Johnnie, her mind at rest about the children, turned to her mother.
"Was ma sick?" she asked sympathetically. Then, noticing for the first
time the unwonted gaiety of Laurella's costume, the glowing cheeks and
bright eyes, she smiled in relief.
"You don't look sick. My, but you're fine! You're as spick and span as a
The old man bent and spat over the wheel, preparatory to speaking, but
his daughter took the words from his mouth.
"She is a bride," explained Mavity Bence in a flatted, toneless voice.
"Leastways, Pap said he was a-goin' up on Unaka for to wed her and bring
her down--and I know in reason she'd have him."
Johnnie's terror-stricken eyes searched her mother's irresponsible,
"Now, Johnnie," fretted the little woman, "how long air you goin' to
keep us standin' here in the road? Don't you think my frock's pretty? Do
they make em that way down here in the big town? I bought this lawn at
Bledsoe, with the very first money you sent up. Ain't you a bit glad
to see us?"
The lip trembled, the tragic dark brows lifted in their familiar slant.
"Come on in the house," said Johnnie heavily, and she led the way with
Called by the unusual disturbance, Mandy left the supper she was putting
on the table for Johnnie and ran into the front hall. Beulah Catlett and
one or two of the other girls had crowded behind Mavity Bence's
shoulders, and were staring. Mandy joined them in time to hear the
conclusion of Mavity's explanation.
She came through the door and passed the new Mrs. Himes on the porch.
"Why, Johnnie Consadine" she cried. "Is that there your ma?"
Johnnie nodded. She was past speech.
"Well, I vow! I should've took her for your sister, if any kin. Ain't
she pretty? Beulah--she's Johnnie's ma, and her and Pap has just
She turned to follow Johnnie, who was mutely starting the children in to
"Well," she said with a sigh, "some folks gits two, and some folks don't
git nary one." And she brought up the rear of the in-going procession.
"Ain't you goin' to pack your plunder in?" inquired the bridegroom
harshly, almost threateningly, as he pitched out upon the path a number
of bundles and boxes.
"I reckon they won't pester it till you git back from puttin' up the
nag," returned Laurella carelessly as she swung her light, frilled
skirts and tripped across the porch. "You needn't werry about me," she
called down to the old fellow where he sat speechlessly glaring.
"Mavity'll show me whar I can sit, and git me a nice cool drink; and
that's all I'll need for one while."
Pap Himes's mouth was open, but no words came.
He finally shut it with that click of the ill-fitting false teeth which
was familiar--and terrible--to everybody at the boarding-house, shook
out the lines over the old horse, and jogged away into the dusk.
"And this here's the baby," admired Mandy, kneeling in front of little
Deanie, when the newcomers halted in the front room. "Why, Johnnie
Consadine! She don't look like nothin' on earth but a little copy of
you. If she's dispositioned like you, I vow I'll just about love her
Mavity Bence was struggling up the porch steps loaded with the baggage
of the newcomers.
"Better leave that for your paw," the bride counselled her. "It's more
suited to a man person to lift them heavy things."
But Mavity had not lived with Pap Himes for nearly forty years without
knowing what was suited to him, in distinction, perhaps, from mankind in
general. She made no reply, but continued to bring in the baggage, and
Johnnie, after settling her mother in a rocking-chair with the cool
drink which the little woman had specified, hurried down to help her.
"Everybody always has been mighty good to me all my life," Laurella
Himes was saying to Mandy, Beulah and the others. "I reckon they always
will. Uncle Pros he just does for me like he was my daddy, and my
children always waited on me. Johnnie's the best gal that ever was, ef
she does have some quare notions."
"Ain't she?" returned Mandy enthusiastically, as Johnnie of the "quare
notions" helped Mavity Bence upstairs with the one small trunk belonging
"Look out for that trunk, Johnnie," came her mother's caution, with a
girlish ripple of laughter in the tones. "Hit's a borried one. Now don't
you roach up and git mad. I had obliged to have a trunk, bein' wedded
and comin' down to the settlement this-a-way. I only borried Mildred
Faidley's. She won't never have any use for it. Evelyn Toler loaned me
the trimmin' o' this hat--ain't it sightly?"
Johnnie's distressed eyes met the pale gaze of Aunt Mavity across the
little oilcloth-covered coffer.
"I would 'a' told you, Johnnie," said the poor woman deprecatingly, "but
I never knowed it myself till late last night, and I hadn't the heart to
name it at breakfast. I thort I'd git a chance this evenin', but they
come sooner'n I was expectin' 'em."
"Never mind, Aunt Mavity," said Johnnie. "When I get a little used to it
I'll be glad to have them all here. I--I wish Uncle Pros was able to
The children were fed, Milo, touchingly subdued and apologetic, nestling
close to his sister's side and whispering to her how he had tried to get
ma to wait and come down to the Settlement, and hungrily begging with
his pathetic childish eyes for her to say that this thing which had come
upon them was not, after all, the calamity he feared. Snub-nosed,
nine-year-old Pony, whose two front teeth had come in quite too large
for his mouth, Pony, with the quick-expanding pupils, and the
temperament that would cope ill with disaster, addressed himself gaily
to his supper and saw no sorrow anywhere. Little Melissa was half
asleep; and even Deanie, after the first outburst of greeting, nodded in
"I got ready for 'em," Mavity told Johnnie in an undertone, after her
father returned. "I knowed in reason he'd bring her back with him. Pap
always has his own way, and gits whatever he wants. I 'lowed you'd take
the baby in bed with you, and I put a pallet in your room for Lissy."
Johnnie agreed to this arrangement, almost mechanically. Is it to be
wondered at that her mind was already busy with the barrier this must
set between herself and Gray Stoddard? She had never been ashamed of her
origin or her people; but this--this was different.
Next morning she sent word to the mill foreman to put on a substitute,
and took the morning that she might go with her mother to the hospital.
Passmore was asleep, and they were not allowed to disturb him; but on
the steps they met Gray Stoddard, and he stopped so decidedly to speak
to them that Johnnie could not exactly run away, as she felt like doing.
"Your mother!" echoed Stoddard, when Johnnie had told him who the
visitor was. He glanced from the tall, fair-haired daughter to the lithe
little gypsy at her side. "Why, she looks more like your sister,"
Laurella's white teeth flashed at this, and her big, dark eyes glowed.
"Johnnie's such a serious-minded person that she favours older than her
years," the mother told him. "Well, I give her the name of the dead, and
they say that makes a body solemn like."
It was very evident that Stoddard desired to detain them in
conversation, but Johnnie smilingly, yet with decision, cut the
"I don't see why you hurried me a-past that-a-way," the little mother
said resentfully, when they had gone a few steps. "I wanted to stay and
talk to the gentleman, if you didn't. I think he's one of the nicest
persons I've met since I've been in Cottonville. Mr. Gray Stoddard--how
come you never mentioned him to me Johnnie?"
She turned to find a slow, painful blush rising in her daughter's face.
"I don't know, ma," said Johnnie gently. "I reckon it was because I
didn't seem to have any concern with a rich gentleman such as Mr.
Stoddard. He's got more money than Mr. Hardwick, they say--more than
anybody else in Cottonville."
"Has he?" inquired Laurella vivaciously. "Well, money or no money, I
think he's mighty nice. Looks like he ain't studying as to whether you
got money or not. And if you was meaning that you didn't think yourself
fit to be friends with such, why I'm ashamed of you, Johnnie Consadine.
The Passmores and the Consadines are as good a family as there is on
Unaka mountains. I don't know as I ever met up with anybody that I found
was too fine for my company. And whenever your Uncle Pros gets well and
finds his silver mine, we'll have as much money as the best of 'em."
The tears blinded Johnnie so that she could scarcely find her way, and
the voice wherewith she would have answered her mother caught in her
throat. She pressed her lips hard together and shook her head, then
laughed out, a little sobbing laugh.
"Poor ma--poor little mother!" she whispered at length. "You ain't been
away from the mountains as I have. Things are--well, they're a heap
different here in the Settlement."
"They're a heap nicer," returned Laurella blithely. "Well, I'm mighty
glad I met that gentleman this morning. Mr. Himes was talking to me of
Shade Buckheath a-yesterday. He said Shade was wishful to wed you,
Johnnie, and wanted me to give the boy my good word. I told him I
wouldn't say anything--and then afterward I was going to. But since I've
seen this gentleman, and know that his likes are friends of your'n,
well--I--Johnnie, the Buckheaths are a hard nation of people, and that's
the truth. If you wedded Shade, like as not he'd mistreat you."
"Oh mother--don't!" pleaded Johnnie, scarlet of face, and not daring to
raise her eyes.
"What have I done now?" demanded Laurella with asperity.
"You mustn't couple my name with Mr. Stoddard's that way," Johnnie told
her. "He's never thought of me, except as a poor girl who needs help
mighty bad; and he's so kind-hearted and generous he's ready to do for
each and every that's worthy of it. But--not that way--mother, you
mustn't ever suppose for a minute that he'd think of me in that way."
"Well, I wish't I may never!" Laurella exclaimed. "Did I mention any
particular way that the man was supposed to be thinking about you? Can't
I speak a word without your biting my head off for it? As for what Mr.
Gray Stoddard thinks of you, let me tell you, child, a body has only to
see his eyes when he's looking at you."
"Mother--Oh, mother!" protested Johnnie.
"Well, if he can look that way I reckon I can speak of it," returned
Laurella, with some reason.
"I want you to promise never to name it again, even to me," said Johnnie
solemnly, as they came to the steps of the big lead-coloured house. "You
surely wouldn't say such a thing to any one else. I wish you'd forget it
"We-ell," hesitated Laurella, "if you feel so strong; about it, I reckon
I'll do as you say. But there ain't anything in that to hinder me from
being friends with Mr. Stoddard. I feel sure that him and me would get
on together fine. He favours my people, the Passmores. My daddy was just
such an upstanding, dark-complected feller as he is. He's got the look
in the eye, too."
Johnnie gasped as she remembered that the grandfather of whom her mother
spoke was Virgil Passmore, and called to mind the story of the borrowed
THE FEET OF THE CHILDREN
The mountain people, being used only to one class, never find themselves
consciously in the society of their superiors. Johnnie Consadine had
been unembarrassed and completely mistress of the situation in the
presence of Charlie Conroy, who did not fail after the Uplift dance to
make some further effort to meet the "big red-headed girl," as he called
her. She was aware that social overtures from such a person were not to
be received by her, and she put them aside quite as though she had been,
according to her own opinion, above rather than beneath them. The
lover-like pretensions of Shade Buckheath, a man dangerous, remorseless,
as careless of the rights of others as any tiger in the jungle, she
regarded with negligent composure. But Gray Stoddard--ah, there her
treacherous heart gave way, and trembled in terror. The air of perfect
equality he maintained between them, his attitude of intimacy,
flattering, almost affectionate, this it was which she felt she must not
The beloved books, which had seemed so many steps upon which to climb to
a world where she dared acknowledge her own liking and admiration for
Stoddard, were now laid aside. It took all of her heart and mind and
time to visit Uncle Pros at the hospital, keep the children out of Pap's
way in the house, and do justice to her work in the factory. She told
Gray, haltingly, reluctantly, that she thought she must give up the
reading and studying for a time.
"Not for long, I hope," Stoddard received her decision with a puzzled
air, turning in his fingers the copy of "Walden" which she was bringing
back to him. "Perhaps now that you have your mother and the children
with you, there will be less time for this sort of thing for a while,
but you haven't a mind that can enjoy being inactive. You may think
you'll give it up; but study--once you've tasted it--will never let
Johnnie looked up at him with a weak and pitiful version of her usual
"I reckon you're right," she hesitated finally, in a very low voice.
"But sometimes I think the less we know the happier we are."
"How's this? How's this?" cried Stoddard, almost startled. "Why,
Johnnie--I never expected to hear that sort of thing from you. I thought
your optimism was as deep as a well, and as wide as a church."
Poor Johnnie surely had need of such optimism as Stoddard had ascribed
to her. They were weary evenings when she came home now, with the
November rain blowing in the streets and the early-falling dusk almost
upon her. It was on a Saturday night, and she had been to the hospital,
when she got in to find Mandy, seated in the darkest corner of the
sitting room, with a red flannel cloth around her neck--a sure sign that
something unfortunate had occurred, since the tall woman always had sore
throat when trouble loomed large.
"What's the matter?" asked Johnnie, coming close and laying a hand on
the bent shoulder to peer into the drooping countenance.
"Don't come too nigh me--you'll ketch it," warned Mandy gloomily. "A so'
th'oat is as ketchin' as smallpox, and I know it so to be, though they
is them that say it ain't. When mine gits like this I jest tie it up and
keep away from folks best I can. I hain't dared touch the baby sence hit
began to hurt me this a-way."
"There's something besides the sore throat," persisted Johnnie. "Is it
anything I can help you about?"
"Now, if that ain't jest like Johnnie Consadine!" apostrophized Mandy.
"Yes, there is somethin'--not that I keer." She tossed her poor old
gray head scornfully, and then groaned because the movement hurt her
throat. "That thar feisty old Sullivan gave me my time this evenin'. He
said they was layin' off weavers, and they could spare me. I told him,
well, I could spare them, too. I told him I could hire in any other mill
in Cottonville befo' workin' time Monday--but I'm afeared I cain't."
Weak tears began to travel down her countenance. "I know I never will
make a fine hand like you, Johnnie," she said pathetically. "There ain't
a thing in the mill that I love to do--nary thing. I can tend a truck
patch or raise a field o' corn to beat anybody, and nobody cain't outdo
me with fowls; but the mill--"
She broke off and sat staring dully at the floor. Pap Himes had stumped
into the room during the latter part of this conversation.
"Lost your job, hey?" he inquired keenly.
Mandy nodded, with fearful eyes on his face.
"Well, you want to watch out and keep yo' board paid up here. The week
you cain't pay--out you go. I reckon I better trouble you to pay me in
advance, unless'n you've got some kind friend that'll stand for you."
Mandy's lips parted, but no sound came. The gaze of absolute terror with
which she followed the old man's waddling bulk as he went and seated
himself in front of the air-tight stove, was more than Johnnie
"I'll stand for her board, Pap," she said quietly.
"Oh, you will, will ye?" Pap received her remark with disfavour. "Well,
a fool and his money don't stay together long. And who'll stand for you,
Johnnie Consadine? Yo' wages ain't a-goin' to pay for yo' livin' and
Mandy's too. Ye needn't lay back on bein' my stepdaughter. You ain't
acted square by me, an' I don't aim to do no more for you than if we
was no kin."
"You won't have to. Mandy'll get a place next week--you know she will,
Pap--an experienced weaver like she is. I'll stand for her."
Himes snorted. Mandy caught at Johnnie's hand and drew it to her,
fondling it. Her round eyes were still full of tears.
"I do know you're the sweetest thing God ever made," she whispered, as
Johnnie looked down at her. "You and Deanie." And the two went out into
the dining room together.
"Thar," muttered Himes to Buckheath, as the latter passed through on his
way to supper; "you see whether it would do to give Johnnie the handlin'
o' all that thar money from the patent. Why, she'd hand it out to the
first feller that put up a poor mouth and asked her for it. You heard
"Come down to the works with me after supper. I've got something to show
you," he said briefly, and Himes understood that the desired letter
At first Laurella Consadine bloomed like a late rose in the town
atmosphere. She delighted in the village streets. She was as wildly
exhilarated as a child when she was taken on the trolley to Watauga.
With strange, inherent deftness she copied the garb, the hair dressing,
even the manner and speech, of such worthy models as came within her
range of vision--like her daughter, she had an eye for fitness and
beauty; that which was merely fashionable though truly inelegant, did
not appeal to her. She was swift to appreciate the change in Johnnie.
"You look a heap prettier, and act and speak a heap prettier than you
used to up in the mountains," she told the tall girl. "Looks like it was
a mighty sensible thing for you to come down here to the Settlement; and
if it was good for you, I don't see why it wasn't good for me--and won't
be for the rest of the children. No need for you to be so solemn
The entire household was aghast at the bride's attitude toward her old
husband. They watched her with the fascinated gaze we give to a petted
child encroaching upon the rights of a cross dog, or the pretty lady
with her little riding whip in the cage of the lion. She treated him
with a kindly, tolerant, yet overbearing familiarity that appalled. She
knew not to be frightened when he clicked his teeth, but drew up her
pretty brows and fretted at him that she wished he wouldn't make that
noise--it worried her. She tipped the sacred yellow cat out of the
rocking-chair where it always slept in state, took the chair herself,
and sent that astonished feline from the room.
It was in Laurella's evident influence that Johnnie put her trust when,
one evening, they all sat in Sunday leisure in the front room--most of
the girls being gone to church or out strolling with "company"--Pap
Himes broached the question of the children going to work in the mill.
"They're too young, Pap," Johnnie said to him mildly. "They ought to be
in school this winter."
"They've every one, down to Deanie, had mo' than the six weeks schoolin'
that the laws calls for," snarled Himes.
"You wasn't thinking of putting Deanie in the mill--not _Deanie_--was
you?" asked Johnnie breathlessly.
"Why not?" inquired Himes. "She'll get no good runnin' the streets here
in Cottonville, and she can earn a little somethin' in the mill. I'm a
old man, an sickly, and I ain't long for this world. If them chaps is
a-goin' to do anything for me, they'd better be puttin' in their licks."
Johnnie looked from the little girl's pink-and-white infantile
beauty--she sat with the child in her lap--to the old man's hulking,
powerful, useless frame. What would Deanie naturally be expected to do
for her stepfather?
"Nobody's asked my opinion," observed Shade Buckheath, who made one of
the family group, "but as far as I can see there ain't a thing to hurt
young 'uns about mill work; and there surely ain't any good reason why
they shouldn't earn their way, same as we all do. I reckon they had to
work back on Unaka. Goin' to set 'em up now an make swells of 'em?"
Johnnie looked bitterly at him but made no reply.
"They won't take them at the Hardwick mill," she said finally. "Mr.
Stoddard has enforced the rule that they have to have an affidavit with
any child the mill employs that it is of legal age; and there's nobody
going to swear that Deanie's even as much as twelve years old--nor
Lissy--nor Pony--nor Milo. The oldest is but eleven."
Laurella had bought a long chain of red glass beads with a heart-shaped
pendant. This trinket occupied her attention entirely while her daughter
and husband discussed the matter of the children's future.
"Johnnie," she began now, apparently not having heard one word that had
been said, "did you ever in your life see anything so cheap as this here
string of beads for a dime? I vow I could live and die in that
five-and-ten-cent store at Watauga. There was more pretties in it than I
could have looked at in a week. I'm going right back thar Monday and git
me them green garters that the gal showed me. I don't know what I was
thinkin' about to come away without 'em! They was but a nickel."
Pap Himes looked at her, at the beads, and gave the fierce,
inarticulate, ludicrously futile growl of a thwarted, perplexed animal.
"Mother," appealed Johnnie desperately, "do you want the children to go
into the mill?"
"I don't know but they might as well--for a spell," said Laurella Himes,
vainly endeavouring to look grown-up, and to pretend that she was really
the head of the family. "They want to go, and you've done mighty well in
the mill. If it wasn't for my health, I reckon I might go in and try to
learn to weave, myself. But there--I came a-past with Mandy t'other
evenin' when she was out, and the noise of that there factory is enough
for me from the outside--I never could stand to be in it. Looks like
such a racket would drive me plumb crazy."
Pap stared at his bride and clicked his teeth with the gnashing sound
that overawed the others. He drew his shaggy brows in an attempt to look
"Well, ef you cain't tend looms, I reckon you can take Mavity's place in
the house here, and let her keep to the weavin' stiddier. She'll just
about lose her job if she has to be out and in so much as she has had to
be with me here of late."
"I will when I can," said Laurella, patronizingly. "Sometimes I get to
feeling just kind of restless and no-account, and can't do a stroke of
work. When I'm that-a-way I go to bed and sleep it off, or get out and
go somewheres that'll take my mind from my troubles. Hit's by far the
Once more Pap looked at her, and opened and shut his mouth helplessly.
Then he turned sullenly to his stepdaughter, grumbling.
"You hear that! She won't work, and you won't give me your money. The
children have obliged to bring in a little something--that's the way it
looks to me. If the mills on the Tennessee side is too choicy to take
'em--and I know well as you, Johnnie, that they air; their man Connors
told me so--I can hire 'em over at the Victory, on the Georgy side."
The Victory! A mill notorious in the district for its ancient,
unsanitary buildings, its poor management, its bad treatment of its
hands. Yes, it was true that at the Victory you could hire out anything
that could walk and talk. Johnnie caught her breath and hugged the small
pliant body to her breast, feeling with a mighty throb of fierce,
mother-tenderness, the poor little ribs, yet cartilagenous; the
delicate, soft frame for which God and nature demanded time, and chance
to grow and strengthen. Yet she knew if she gave up her wages to Pap she
would be no better off--indeed, she would be helpless in his hands; and
the sum of them would not cover what the children all together
"Oh, Lord! To work in the Victory!" she groaned.
"Now, Johnnie," objected her mother, "don't you get meddlesome just
because you're a old maid. Your great-aunt Betsy was meddlesome disposed
that-a-way. I reckon single women as they get on in years is apt so to
be. Every one of these children has been promised that they should be
let to work in the mill. They've been jest honin' to do it ever since
you came down and got your place. Deanie was scared to death for fear
they wouldn't take her. Don't you be meddlesome."
"Yes, and I'm goin' to buy me a gun and a nag with my money what I
earn," put in Pony explosively. "'Course I'll take you-all to ride." He
added the saving clause under Milo's reproving eye. "Sis' Johnnie, don't
you want me to earn money and buy a hawse and a gun, and a--and most
Johnnie looked down into the blue eyes of the little lad who had crept
close to her chair. What he would earn in the factory she knew
well--blows, curses, evil knowledge.
"If they should go to the Victory, I'd be mighty proud to do all I could
to look after 'em, Johnnie," spoke Mandy from the shadows, where she sat
on the floor at Laurella Consadine's feet, working away with a
shoe-brush and cloth at the cleaning and polishing of the little woman's
tan footwear. "Ye know I'm a-gittin' looms thar to-morrow mornin'. Yes,
I am," in answer to Johnnie's deprecating look. "I'd ruther do it as to
run round a week--or a month--'mongst the better ones, huntin' a job,
and you here standin' for my board."
Till late that night Johnnie laboured with her mother and stepfather,
trying to show them that the mill was no fit place for the children.
Milo was all too apt for such a situation, the very material out of
which a cotton mill moulds its best hands and its worst citizens. Pony,
restless, emotional, gifted and ambitious, craving his share of the joy
of life and its opportunities, would never make a mill hand; but under
the pressure of factory life his sister apprehended that he would make
"Uh-huh," agreed Pap, drily, when she tried to put something of this
into words. "I spotted that feller for a rogue and a shirk the minute I
laid eyes on him. The mill'll tame him. The mill'll make him git down
and pull in the collar, I reckon. Women ain't fitten to bring up
chillen. A widder's boys allers goes to ruin. Why, Johnnie Consadine,
every one of them chaps is plumb crazy to work in the mill--just like
you was--and you're workin' in the mill yourself. What makes you talk so
foolish about it?"
Laurella nodded an agreement, looking more than usually like a little
girl playing dolls.
"I reckon Mr. Himes knows best, Johnnie, honey," was her reiterated
Cautiously Johnnie approached the subject of pay; her stepfather had
already demanded her wages, and expressed unbounded surprise that she
was not willing to pass over the Saturday pay-envelope to him and let
him put the money in the bank along with his other savings. Careful
calculation showed that the four children could, after a few weeks of
learning, probably earn a little more than she could; and in any case
Himes put it as a disciplinary measure, a way of life selected largely
for the good of the little ones.
"If you just as soon let me," she said to him at last, "I believe I'll
take them over to the Victory myself to-morrow morning."
She had hopes of telling their ages bluntly to the mill superintendent
and having them refused.
Pap agreed negligently; he had no liking for early rising. And thus it
was that Johnnie found herself at eight o'clock making her way, in the
midst of the little group, toward the Georgia line and the old Victory
plant, which all good workers in the district shunned if possible.
As she set her foot on the first plank of the bridge she heard a little
rumble of sound, and down the road came a light, two-seated vehicle,
with coloured driver, and Miss Lydia Sessions taking her sister's
children out for an early morning drive. There was a frail, long-visaged
boy of ten sitting beside his aunt in the back, with a girl of eight
tucked between them. The nurse on the front seat held the youngest
child, a little girl about Deanie's age.
As they came nearer, the driver drew up, evidently in obedience to Miss
Sessions's command, and she leaned forward graciously to speak
"Good morning, John," said Miss Sessions as the carriage stopped. "Whose
children are those?"
"They are my little sisters and brothers," responded Johnnie, looking
down with a very pale face, and busying herself with Deanie's hair.
"And you're taking them over to the mill, so that they can learn to be
useful. How nice that is!" Lydia smiled brightly at the little ones--her
best charity-worker's smile.
"No," returned Johnnie, goaded past endurance, "I'm going over to see if
I can get them to refuse to take this one." And she bent and picked
Deanie up, holding her, the child's head dropped shyly against her
breast, the small flower-like face turned a bit so that one blue eye
might investigate the carriage and those in it. "Deanie's too little to
work in the mill," Johnnie went on. "They have night turn over there at
the Victory now, and it'll just about make her sick."
Miss Lydia frowned.
"Oh, John, I think you are mistaken," she said coldly. "The work is very
light--you know that. Young people work a great deal harder racing about
in their play than at anything they have to do in a spooling room--I'm
sure my nieces and nephews do. And in your case it is necessary and
right that the younger members of the family should help. I think you
will find that it will not hurt them."
Individuals who work in cotton mills, and are not adults, are never
alluded to as children. It is an offense to mention them so. They are
always spoken of--even those scarcely more than three feet high--as
Miss Sessions had smiled upon the piteous little group with a judicious
mixture of patronage and mild reproof, and her driver had shaken the
lines over the backs of the fat horses preparatory to moving on, when
Stoddard's car turned into the street from the corner above.
"Wait, Junius, Dick is afraid of autos," cautioned Miss Lydia nervously.
Junius grinned respectfully, while bay Dick dozed and regarded the
approaching car philosophically. As they stood, they blocked the way, so
that Gray was obliged to slow down and finally to stop. He raised his
hat ceremoniously to both groups. His pained eyes went past Lydia
Sessions as though she had been but the painted representation of a
woman, to fasten themselves on Johnnie where she stood, her tall,
deep-bosomed figure relieved against the shining water, the
flaxen-haired child on her breast, the little ones huddled about her.
That Johnnie Consadine should have fallen away all at once from that
higher course she had so eagerly chosen and so resolutely maintained,
had been to Gray a disappointment whose depth and bitterness somewhat
surprised him. In vain he recalled the fact that all his theories of
life were against forcing a culture where none was desired; he went back
to it with grief--he had been so sure that Johnnie did love the real
things, that hers was a nature which not only wished, but must have,
spiritual and mental food. Her attitude toward himself upon their few
meetings of late had confirmed a certain distrust of her, if one may use
so strong a word. She seemed afraid, almost ashamed to face him. What
was it she was doing, he wondered, that she knew so perfectly he would
disapprove? And then, with the return of the books, the dropping of
Johnnie's education, came the abrupt end of those informal letters. Not
till they ceased, did he realize how large a figure they had come to cut
in his life. Only this morning he had taken them out and read them over,
and decided that the girl who wrote them was worth at least an attempt
toward an explanation and better footing. He had decided not to give her
up. Now she confirmed his worst apprehensions. At his glance, her face
was suffused with a swift, distressed red. She wondered if he yet knew
of her mother's marriage. She dreaded the time when she must tell him.
With an inarticulate murmur she spoke to the little ones, turned her
back and hurried across the bridge.
"Is Johnnie putting those children in the mill?" asked Stoddard half
doubtfully, as his gaze followed them toward the entrance of
"I believe so," returned Lydia, smiling. "We were just speaking of how
good it was that the cotton mills gave an opportunity for even the
smaller ones to help, at work which is within their capacity."
"Johnnie Consadine said that?" inquired Gray, startled. "Why is she
taking them over to the Victory?" And then he answered his own question.
"She knows very well they are below the legal age in Tennessee."
Lydia Sessions trimmed instantly.
"That must be it," she said. "I wondered a little that she seemed not to
want them in the same factory that she is in. But I remember Brother
Hartley said that we are very particular at our mill to hire no young
people below the legal age. That must be it."
Stoddard looked with reprehending yet still incredulous eyes, to where
Johnnie and her small following disappeared within the mill doors.
Johnnie--the girl who had written him that pathetic little letter about
the children in her room, and her growing doubt as to the wholesomeness
of their work; the girl who had read the books he gave her, and fed her
understanding on them till she expressed herself logically and lucidly
on the economic problems of the day--that, for the sake of the few cents
they could earn, she should put the children, whom he knew she loved,
into slavery, seemed to him monstrous beyond belief. Why, if this were
true, what a hypocrite the girl was! As coarse and unfeeling as the rest
of them. Yet she had some shame left; she had blushed to be caught in
the act by him. It showed her worse than those who justified this thing,
the enormity of which she had seemed to understand well.
"You mustn't blame her too much," came Lydia Sessions's smooth voice.
"John's mother is a widow, and girls of that age like pretty clothes and
a good time. Some people consider John very handsome, and of course with
an ignorant young woman of that class, flattery is likely to turn the
head. I think she does as well as could be expected."
Johnnie had a set of small volumes of English verse, extensively
annotated by his own hand, which Stoddard had brought to her early in
their acquaintance, leaving it with her more as a gift than as a loan.
She kept these little books after all the others had gone back. She had
read and reread them--cullings from Chaucer, from Spenser, from the
Elizabethan lyrists, the border balladry, fierce, tender, oh, so
human--till she knew pages of them by heart, and their vocabulary
influenced her own, their imagery tinged all her leisure thoughts. It
seemed to her, whenever she debated returning them, that she could not
bear it. She would get them out and sit with one of them open in her
hands, not reading, but staring at the pages with unseeing eyes, passing
her fingers over it, as one strokes a beloved hand, or turning through
each book only to find the pencilled words in the margins. She would be
giving up part of herself when she took these back.
Yet it had to be done, and one miserable morning she made them all into
a neat package, intending to carry them to the mill and place them on
Stoddard's desk thus early, when nobody would be in the office. Then the
children came in; Deanie was half sick; and in the distress of getting
the ailing child comfortably into her own bed, Johnnie forgot the books.
Taking them in at noon, she met Stoddard himself.
"I've brought you back your--those little books of Old English Poetry,"
she said, with a sudden constriction in her throat, and a quick burning
flush that suffused brow, cheek and neck.
Stoddard looked at her; she was thinner than she had been, and otherwise
showed the marks of misery and of factory life. The sight was almost
intolerable to him. Poor girl, she herself was suffering cruelly enough
beneath the same yoke she had helped to lay on the children.
"Are you really giving up your studies entirely?" he asked, in what he
tried to make a very kindly voice. He laid his hand on the package of
books. "I wonder if you aren't making a mistake, Johnnie. You look as
though you were working too hard. Some things are worth more than money
and getting on in the world."
Johnnie shook her head. For the moment words were beyond her. Then she
managed to say in a fairly composed tone.
"There isn't any other way for me. I think some times, Mr. Stoddard,
when a body is born to a hard life, all the struggling and trying just
makes it that much harder. Maybe when the children get a little older
I'll have more chance."
The statement was wistfully, timidly made; yet to Gray Stoddard it
seemed a brazen defence of her present course. It pierced him that she
on whose nobility of nature he could have staked his life, should
justify such action.
"Yes," he said with quick bitterness, "they might be able to earn more,
of course, as time goes on." It was a cruel speech between two people
who had discussed this feature of industrial life as these had; even
Stoddard had no idea how cruel.
For a dizzy moment the girl stared at him, then, though her flushed
cheeks had whitened pitifully and her lip trembled, she answered with
bravely lifted head.
"I thank you very much for all the help you've been to me, Mr. Stoddard.
What I said just now didn't look as though I appreciated it. I ask your
pardon for that. I aim to do the best I can for the children. And
She turned and was gone, leaving him puzzled and with a sore ache at
Winter came on, wet, dark, cheerless, in the shackling, half-built
little village, and Johnnie saw for the first time what the distress of
the poor in cities is. A temperature which would have been agreeable in
a drier climate, bit to the bone in the mist-haunted valleys of that
mountain region. The houses were mostly mere board shanties, tightened
by pasting newspapers over the cracks inside, where the women of the
family had time for such work; and the heating apparatus was generally a
wood-burning cook-stove, with possibly an additional coal heater in the
front room which could be fired on Sundays, or when the family was at
home to tend it.
All through the bright autumn days, Laurella Himes had hurried from one
new and charming sensation or discovery to another; she was like the
butterflies that haunt the banks of little streams or wayside pools at
this season, disporting themselves more gaily even than the insects of
spring in what must be at best a briefer glory. When the weather began
to be chilly, she complained of a pain in her side.
"Hit hurts me right there," she would say piteously, taking Johnnie's
hand and laying it over the left side of her chest. "My feet haven't
been good and warm since the weather turned. I jest cain't stand these
here old black boxes of stoves they have in the Settlement. If I could
oncet lay down on the big hearth at home and get my feet warm, I jest
know my misery would leave me."
At first Pap merely grunted over these homesick repinings; but after a
time he began to hang about her and offer counsel which was often enough
"No, I ain't et anything that disagreed with me," Laurella pettishly
replied to his well-meant inquiries. "You're thinkin' about yo'se'f. I
never eat more than is good for me, nor anything that ain't jest right.
Hit ain't my stomach. Hit's right there in my side. Looks like hit was
my heart, an' I believe in my soul it is. Oh, law, if I could oncet lay
down befo' a nice, good hickory fire and get my feet warm!"
And so it came to pass that, while everybody in the boarding-house
looked on amazed, almost aghast, Gideon Himes withdrew from the bank
such money as was necessary, and had a chimney built at the side of the
fore room and a broad hearth laid. He begged almost tearfully for a
small grate which should burn the soft bituminous coal of the region,
and be much cheaper to install and maintain. But Laurella turned away
from these suggestions with the hopeless, pliable obstinacy of the weak.
"I wouldn't give the rappin' o' my finger for a nasty little smudgy,
smoky grate fire," she declared rebelliously, thanklessly. "A hickory
log-heap is what I want, and if I cain't have that, I reckon I can jest
die without it."
"Now, Laurelly--now Laurelly," Pap quavered in tones none other had ever
heard from him, "don't you talk about dyin'. You look as young as
Johnnie this minute. I'll git you what you want. Lord, I'll have Dawson
build the chimbley big enough for you to keep house in, if them's