Part 4 out of 6
It was almost large enough for that, and the great load of hickory logs
which Himes hauled into the yard from the neighbouring mountain-side was
cut to length. Fire was kindled in the new chimney; it drew perfectly;
and Pap himself carried Laurella in his arms and laid her on some quilts
beside the hearthstone, demanding eagerly, "Thar now--don't that make
you feel better?"
"Uh-huh." The ailing woman turned restlessly on her pallet. The big,
awkward, ill-favoured old man stood with his disproportionately long
arms hanging by his sides, staring at her, unaware that his presence
half undid the good the leaping flames were doing her.
"I wish't Uncle Pros was sitting right over there, t'other side the
fire," murmured Laurella dreamily. "How is Pros, Johnnie?"
For nobody understood, as the crazed man in the hospital might have
done, that Laurella's bodily illness was but the cosmic despair of the
little girl who has broken her doll. It had been the philosophy of this
sun-loving, butterfly nature to turn her back on things when they got
too bad and take to her bed till, in the course of events, they bettered
themselves. But now she had emerged into a bleak winter world where
Uncle Pros was not, where Johnnie was powerless, and where she had been
allowed by an unkind Providence to work havoc with her own life and the
lives of her little ones; and her illness was as the tears of the girl
with a shattered toy.
The children in their broken shoes and thin, ill-selected clothing,
shivered on the roads between house and mill, and gave colour to the
statement of many employers that they were better off in the thoroughly
warmed factories than at home. But the factories were a little too
thoroughly warmed. The operatives sweated under their tasks and left the
rooms, with their temperature of eighty-five, to come, drenched with
perspiration, into the chill outside air. The colds which resulted were
always supposed to be caught out of doors. Nobody had sufficient
understanding of such matters to suggest that the rebreathed,
superheated atmosphere of the mill room was responsible.
Deanie, who had never been sick a day in her life, took a heavy cold and
coughed so that she could scarcely get any sleep. Johnnie was
desperately anxious, since the lint of the spinning room immediately
irritated the little throat, and perpetuated the cold in a steady,
hacking cough, that cotton-mill workers know well. Pony was from the
first insubordinate and well-nigh incorrigible--in short, he died hard.
He came to Johnnie again and again with stories of having been cursed
and struck. She could only beg him to be good and do what was demanded
without laying himself liable to punishment. Milo, the serious-faced
little burden bearer, was growing fast, and lacked stamina. Beneath the
cotton-mill regime, his chest was getting dreadfully hollow. He was all
too good a worker, and tried anxiously to make up for his brother's
"Pony, he's a little feller," Milo would say pitifully. "He ain't nigh
as old as I am. It comes easier to me than what it does to him to stay
in the house and tend my frames, and do like I'm told. If the bosses
would call me when he don't do to suit 'em, I could always get him
Lissy had something of her mother's shining vitality, but it dimmed
woefully in the rough-and-ready clatter and slam of the big
The children had come from the sunlit heights and free air of the
Unakas. Their play had been always out of doors, on the mosses under
tall trees, where fragrant balsams dropped cushions of springy needles
for the feet; their labour, the gathering of brush and chips for the
fire in winter, the dropping corn, and, with the older boys, the hoeing
of it in spring and summer--all under God's open sky. They had been
forced into the factory when nothing but places on the night shift could
be got for them. Day work was promised later, but the bitter winter wore
away, and still the little captives crept over the bridge in the
twilight and slunk shivering home at dawn. Johnnie made an arrangement
to get off from her work a little earlier, and used to take the two
girls over herself; but she could not go for them in the morning. One
evening about the holidays, miserably wet, and offering its squalid
contrast to the season, Johnnie, plodding along between the two little
girls, with Pony and Milo following, met Gray Stoddard face to face. He
halted uncertainly. There was a world of reproach in his face, and
Johnnie answered it with eyes of such shame and contrition as convinced
him that she knew well the degradation of what she was doing.
"You need another umbrella," he said abruptly, putting down his own as
he paused under the store porch where a boy stood at the curb with his
car, hood on, prepared for a trip in to Watauga.
"I lost our'n," ventured Pony. "It don't seem fair that Milo has to get
wet because I'm so bad about losing things, does it?" And he smiled
engagingly up into the tall man's face--Johnnie's own eyes,
large-pupilled, black-lashed, full of laughter in their clear depths.
Gray Stoddard stared down at them silently for a moment. Then he pushed
the handle of his umbrella into the boy's grimy little hand.
"See how long you can keep that one," he said kindly. "It's marked on
the handle with my name; and maybe if you lost it somebody might bring
it back to you."
Johnnie had turned away and faltered on a few paces in a daze of
humiliation and misery.
"Sis' Johnnie--oh, Sis' Johnnie!" Pony called after her, flourishing the
umbrella. "Look what Mr. Stoddard give Milo and me." Then, in sudden
consternation as Milo caught his elbow, he whirled and offered voluble
thanks. "I'm a goin' to earn a whole lot of money and pay back the
trouble I am to my folks," he confided to Gray, hastily. "I didn't know
I was such a bad feller till I came down to the Settlement. Looks like I
cain't noways behave. But I'm goin' to earn a big heap of money, an' buy
things for Milo an' maw an' the girls. Only now they take all I can earn
away from me."
There was a warning call from Johnnie, ahead in the dusk somewhere; and
the little fellow scuttled away toward the Victory and a night of work.
Spring came late that year, and after it had given a hint of relieving
the misery of the poor, there followed an Easter storm which covered all
the new-made gardens with sleet and sent people shivering back to their
winter wear. Deanie had been growing very thin, and the red on her
cheeks was a round spot of scarlet. Laurella lay all day and far into
the night on her pallet of quilts before the big fire in the front room,
spent, inert, staring at the ceiling, entertaining God knows what guests
of terror and remorse. Nothing distressing must be brought to her.
Coming home from work once at dusk, Johnnie found the two little girls
on the porch, Deanie crying and Lissy trying to comfort her.
"I thest cain't go to that old mill to-night, Sis' Johnnie," the little
one pleaded. "Looks like I thest cain't."
"I could tell Mr. Reardon, and he'd put a substitute on to tend her
frames," Lissy spoke up eagerly. "You ask Pap Himes will he let us do
that, Sis' Johnnie."
Johnnie went past her mother, who appeared to be dozing, and into the
dining room, where Himes was. He had promised to do some night work,
setting up new machines at the Victory, and he was in that uncertain
humour which the prospect of work always produced. Gideon Himes was an
old man, pestered, as he himself would have put it, by the mysterious
illness of his young wife, fretted by the presence of the children, no
doubt in a measure because he felt himself to be doing an ill part by
them. His grumpy silence of other days, his sardonic humour, gave place
to hypochondriac complainings and outbursts of fierce temper. Pony had
hurt his foot in a machine at the factory and it required daily
dressing. Johnnie understood from the sounds which greeted her that the
sore foot was being bandaged.
"Hold still, cain't ye?" growled Himes. "I ain't a-hurtin' ye. Now you
set in to bawl and I'll give ye somethin' to bawl for--hear me?"
The old man was skilful with hurts, but he was using such unnecessary
roughness in this case as set the plucky little chap to sobbing, and,
just as Johnnie entered the room, got him heavy-handed punishment for
it. It was an unfortunate time to bring up the question of Deanie; yet
it must be settled at once.
"Pap," said the girl, urgently, "the baby ain't fit to go to the mill
to-night--if ever she ought. You said that you'd get day work for them
all. If you won't do that, let Deanie stay home for a spell. She sure
enough isn't fit to work."
Himes faced his stepdaughter angrily.
"When I say a child's fitten to work--it's fitten to work," he rounded
on her. "I hain't axed your opinion--have I? No. Well, then, keep it to
yourself till it is axed for. You Pony, your foot's done and ready. You
get yourself off to the mill, or you'll be docked for lost time."
The little fellow limped sniffling out; Johnnie reached down for Deanie,
who had crept after her to hear how her cause went. It was evident that
sight of the child lingering increased Pap's anger, yet the elder sister
gathered up the ailing little one in her strong arms and tried again.
"Pap, I'll pay you for Deanie's whole week's work if you'll just let her
stay home to-night. I'll pay you the money now."
"All right," Pap stuck out a ready, stubbed palm, and received in it the
silver that was the price of the little girl's time for a week. He
counted it over before he rammed it down in his pocket. Then, "You can
pay me, and she can go to the mill, 'caze your wages ought to come to me
anyhow, and it don't do chaps like her no good to be muchin' 'em all the
time. Would you ruther have her go before I give her a good beatin' or
after?" and he looked Johnnie fiercely in the eyes.
Johnnie looked back at him unflinching. She did not lack spirit to defy
him. But her mother was this man's wife; the children were in their
hands. Devoted, high-couraged as she was, she saw no way here to fight
for the little ones. To her mother she could not appeal; she must have
support from outside.
"Never you mind, honey," she choked as she clasped Deanie's thin little
form closer, and the meagre small arms went round her neck. "Sister'll
find a way. You go on to the mill to-night, and sister'll find somebody
to help her, and she'll come there and get you before morning."
When the pitiful little figure had lagged away down the twilight street,
holding to Lissy's hand, limping on sore feet, Johnnie stood long on the
porch in the dark with gusts of rain beating intermittently at the
lattice beside her. Her hands were wrung hard together. Her desperate
gaze roved over the few scattered lights of the little village, over the
great flaring, throbbing mills beyond, as though questioning where she
could seek for assistance. Paying money to Pap Himes did no good. So
much was plain. She had always been afraid to begin it, and she realized
now that the present outcome was what she had apprehended. Uncle Pros,
the source of wisdom for all her childish days, was in the hospital, a
harmless lunatic. Of late the old man's bodily health had mended
suddenly, almost marvellously; but he remained vacant, childish in mind,
and so far the authorities had retained him, hoping to probe in some way
to the obscure, moving cause of his malady. Twice when she spoke to her
mother of late, being very desperate, Laurella had said peevishly that
if she were able she'd get up and leave the house. Plainly to-night she
was too sick a woman to be troubled. As Johnnie stood there, Shade
Buckheath passed her, going out of the house and down the street toward
the store. Once she might have thought of appealing to him; but now a
sure knowledge of what his reply would be forestalled that.
There remained then what the others called her "swell friends." Gray
Stoddard--the thought brought with it an agony from which she flinched.
But after all, there was Lydia Sessions. She was sure Miss Sessions
meant to be kind; and if she knew that Deanie was really sick--. Yes, it
would be worth while to go to her with the whole matter.
At the thought she turned hesitatingly toward the door, meaning to get
her hat, and--though she had formulated no method of appeal--to hurry to
the Hardwick house and at least talk with Miss Sessions and endeavour to
enlist her help.
But the door opened before she reached it, and Mavity Bence stood there,
in her face the deadly weariness of all woman's toil and travail
since the fall.
Johnnie moved to her quickly, putting a hand on her shoulder,
remembering with swift compunction that the poor woman's burdens were
trebled since Laurella lay ill, and Pap gave up so much of his time to
hanging anxiously about his young wife.
"What is it, Aunt Mavity?" she asked. "Is anything the matter?"
"I hate to werry ye, Johnnie," said the other's deprecating voice; "but
looks like I've jest got obliged to have a little help this evenin'. I'm
plumb dead on my feet, and there's all the dishes to do and a stack of
towels and things to rub out." Her dim gaze questioned the young face
above her dubiously, almost desperately. The little brass lamp in her
hand made a pitiful wavering.
"Of course I can help you. I'd have been in before this, only I--I--was
kind of worried about something else, and I forgot," declared Johnnie,
strengthening her heart to endure the necessary postponement of
She went into the kitchen with Mavity Bence, and the two women worked
there at the dishes, and washing out the towels, till after nine
o'clock, Johnnie's anxiety and distress mounting with every minute of
delay. At a little past nine, she left poor Mavity at the door of that
wretched place the poor woman called her room, looked quietly in to see
that her mother seemed to sleep, got her hat and hurried out, goaded by
a seemingly disproportionate fever of impatience and anxiety. She took
her way up the little hill and across the slope to where the Hardwick
mansion gleamed, many-windowed, gay with lights, behind its evergreens.
When she reached the house itself she found an evening reception going
forward--the Hardwicks were entertaining the Lyric Club. She halted
outside, debating what to do. Could she call Miss Lydia from her company
to listen to such a story as this? Was it not in itself almost an
offence to bring these things before people who could live as Miss Lydia
lived? Somebody was playing the violin, and Johnnie drew nearer the
window to listen. She stared in at the beautiful lighted room, the
well-dressed, happy people. Suddenly she caught sight of Gray Stoddard
standing near the girl who was playing, a watchful eye upon her music to
turn it for her. She clutched the window-sill and stood choking and
blinded, fighting with a crowd of daunting recollections and miserable
apprehensions. The young violinist was playing Schubert's Serenade. From
the violin came the cry of hungry human love demanding its mate,
questing, praying, half despairing, and yet wooing, seeking again.
Johnnie's piteous gaze roved over the well-beloved lineaments. She noted
with a passion of tenderness the turn of head and hand that were so
familiar to her, and so dear. Oh, she could never hate him for it, but
it was hard--hard--to be a wave in the ocean of toil that supported the
galleys of such as these!
It began to rain again softly as she stood there, scattered drops
falling on her bright hair, and she gathered her dress about her and
pressed close to the window where the eaves of the building sheltered
her, forcing herself to look in and take note of the difference between
those people in there and her own lot of life. This was not usually
Johnnie's way. Her unfailing optimism prompted her always to measure the
distance below her, and be glad of having climbed so far, rather than to
dim her eyes with straining them toward what was above. But now she
marked mercilessly the light, yet subdued, movements, the deference
expressed when one of these people addressed another; and Gray Stoddard
at the upper end of the room was easily the most marked figure in it.
Who was she to think she might be his friend when all this beautiful
world of ease and luxury and fair speech was open to him?
Like a sword flashed back to her memory of the children. They were being
killed in the mills, while she wasted her thoughts and longings on
people who would laugh if they knew of her presumptuous devotion.
She turned with a low exclamation of astonishment, when somebody touched
her on the shoulder.
"Is you de gal Miss Lyddy sont for?" inquired the yellow waitress a bit
"No--yes--I don't know whether Miss Sessions sent for me or not,"
Johnnie halted out; "but," eagerly, "I must see her. I've--Cassy. I've
got to speak to her right now."
Cassy regarded the newcomer rather scornfully.
Yet everybody liked Johnnie, and the servant eventually put off her
design of being impressive and said in a fairly friendly manner:
"You couldn't noways see her now. I couldn't disturb her whilst she's
got company--without you want to put on this here cap and apron and come
he'p me sarve the refreshments. Dey was a gal comin' to resist me, but
she ain't put in her disappearance yet. Ain't no time for foolin',
Johnnie debated a moment. A servant's livery--but Deanie was sick
and--. With a sudden, impulsive movement, and somewhat to Cassy's
surprise, Johnnie followed into the pantry, seized the proffered cap and
apron and proceeded to put them on.
"I've got to see Miss Sessions," she repeated, more to herself than to
the negress. "Maybe what I have to say will only take a minute. I reckon
she won't mind, even if she has got company. It--well, I've got to see
her some way." And taking the tray of frail, dainty cups and saucers
Cassy brought her, she started with it to the parlour.
The music was just dying down to its last wail when Gray looked up and
caught sight of her coming. His mind had been full of her. To him
certain pieces of music always meant certain people, and the Serenade
could bring him nothing but Johnnie Consadine's face. His startled eyes
encountered with distaste the cap pinned to her hair, descended to the
white apron that covered her black skirt, and rested in astonishment on
the tray that held the coffee, cream and sugar.
"Begin here," Cassie prompted her assistant, and Johnnie, stopping,
offered her tray of cups.
Gray's indignant glance went from the girl herself to his hostess. What
foolery was this? Why should Johnnie Consadine dress herself as a
servant and wait on Lydia Sessions's guests?
Before the two reached him, he turned abruptly and went into the
library, where Miss Sessions stood for a moment quite alone. Her face
brightened; he had sought her society very much less of late. She looked
hopefully for a renewal of that earlier companionship which seemed by
contrast almost intimate.
"Have you hired Johnnie Consadine as a waitress?" Stoddard asked her in
a non-committal voice. "I should have supposed that her place in the
mill would pay her more, and offer better prospects."
"No--oh, no," said Miss Sessions, startled, and considerably
disappointed at the subject he had selected to converse upon.
"How does she come to be here with a cap and apron on to-night?" pursued
Stoddard, with an edge to his tone which he could not wholly subdue.
"I really don't understand that myself," Lydia Sessions told him. "I
made no arrangement with her. I expected to have a couple of
negresses--they're much better servants, you know. Of course when a girl
like John gets a little taste of social contact and recognition, she may
go to considerable lengths to gratify her desire for it. No doubt she
feels proud of forcing herself in this evening; and then of course she
knows she will be well paid. She seems to be doing nicely," glancing
between the portieres where Johnnie bent before one guest or another,
offering her tray of cups. "I really haven't the heart to reprove her."
"Then I think I shall," said Stoddard with sudden resolution. "If you
don't mind, Miss Sessions, would you let her come in and talk to me a
little while, as soon as she has finished passing the coffee? I--really
it seems to me that this is outrageous. Johnnie is a girl of brains and
abilities, and we who have her true welfare at heart should see that she
doesn't--in her youth and ignorance--fall into such errors as this."
"Oh, if you like, I'll talk to her myself," said Miss Lydia smoothly.
The conversation was not so different from others that she and Stoddard
had held concerning this girl's deserts and welfare. She added, after an
instant's pause, speaking quickly, with heightened colour, and a little
nervous catch in her voice, "I'll do my best. I--I don't want to speak
harshly of John, but I must in truth say that she's the one among my
Uplift Club girls that has been least satisfactory to me."
"In what way?" inquired Stoddard in an even, quiet tone.
"Well, I should be a little puzzled to put it into words," Miss Sessions
answered him with a deprecating smile; "and yet it's there--the feeling
that John Consadine is--I hate to say it--ungrateful."
"Ungrateful," repeated her companion, his eyes steadily on Miss
Sessions's face. "To leave Johnnie Consadine out of the matter entirely,
what else do you expect from any of your protegees? What else can any
one expect who goes into what the modern world calls charitable work?"
Miss Sessions studied his face in some bewilderment. Was he arraigning
her, or sympathizing with her? He said no more. He left upon her the
onus of further speech. She must try for the right note.
"I know it," she fumbled desperately. "And isn't it disappointing? You
do everything you possibly can for people and they seem to dislike
you for it."
"They don't merely seem to," said Stoddard, almost brusquely, "they do
dislike and despise you, and that most heartily. It is as certain a
result as that two and two make four. You have pauperized and degraded
them, and they hate you for it."
Lydia Sessions shrank back on the seat, and stared at him, her hand
before her open mouth.
"Why, Mr. Stoddard!" she ejaculated finally. "I thought you were fully
in sympathy with my Uplift work. You--you certainly let me think so. If
you despised it, as you now say, why did you help me and--and all that?"
Stoddard shook his head.
"No," he demurred a little wearily. "I don't despise you, nor your work.
As for helping you--I dislike lobster, and yet I conscientiously provide
you with it whenever we are where the comestible is served, because I
know you like it."
"Mr. Stoddard," broke in Lydia tragically, "that is frivolous! These are
grave matters, and I thought--oh, I thought certainly--that I was
deserving your good opinion in this charitable work if ever I deserved
such a thing in my life."
"Oh--deserved!" repeated Stoddard, almost impatiently. "No doubt you
deserve a great deal more than my praise; but you know--do you
not?--that people who believe as I do, regard that sort of philanthropy
as a barrier to progress; and, really now, I think you ought to admit
that under such circumstances I have behaved with great friendliness and
The words were spoken with something of the old teasing intonation that
had once deluded Lydia Sessions into the faith that she held a relation
of some intimacy to this man. She glanced at him fleetingly; then,
though she felt utterly at sea, made one more desperate effort.
"But I always went first to you when I was raising money for my Uplift
work, and you gave to me more liberally than anybody else. Jerome never
approved of it. Hartley grumbled, or laughed at me, and came reluctantly
to my little dances and receptions. I sometimes felt that I was going
against all my world--except you. I depended upon your approval. I felt
that you were in full sympathy with me here, if nowhere else."
She looked so disproportionately moved by the matter that Stoddard
smiled a little.
"I'm sorry," he said at last. "I see now that I have been taking it for
granted all along that you understood the reservation I held in regard
to this matter."
"You--you should have told me plainly," said Lydia drearily. "It--it
gives me a strange feeling to have depended so entirely on you, and then
to find out that you were thinking of me all the while as Jerome does."
"Have I been?" inquired Stoddard. "As Jerome does? What a passion it
seems to be with folks to classify their friends. People call me a
Socialist, because I am trying to find out what I really do think on
certain economic and social subjects. I doubt that I shall ever bring up
underneath any precise label, and yet some people would think it
egotistical that I insisted upon being a class to myself. I very much
doubt that I hold Mr. Hardwick's opinion exactly in any particular." He
looked at the girl with a sort of urgency which she scarcely
comprehended. "Miss Sessions," he said, "I wear my hair longer than most
men, and the barber is always deeply grieved at my obstinacy. I never
eat potatoes, and many well-meaning persons are greatly concerned over
it--they regard the exclusion of potatoes from one's dietary as almost
criminal. But you--I expect in you more tolerance concerning my
peculiarities. Why must you care at all what I think, or what my views
are in this matter?"
"Oh, I don't understand you at all," Lydia said distressfully.
"No?" agreed Stoddard with an interrogative note in his voice. "But
after all there's no need for people to be so determined to understand
each other, is there?"
Lydia looked at him with swimming eyes.
"Why didn't you tell me not to do those things?" she managed finally to
say with some composure.
"Tell you not to do things that you had thought out for yourself and
decided on?" asked Stoddard. "Oh, no, Miss Sessions. What of your own
development? I had no business to interfere like that. You might be
exactly right about it, and I wrong, so far as you yourself were
concerned. And even if I were right and you wrong, the only chance of
growth for you was to exploit the matter and find it out for yourself."
"I don't understand a word you say," Lydia Sessions repeated dully.
"That's the kind of thing you used always to talk when you and I were
planning for John Consadine. Development isn't what a woman wants. She
wants--she needs--to understand how to please those she--approves. If
she fails anywhere, and those she--well, if somebody that she
has--confidence--in tells her, why then she'll know better next time.
You should have told me."
Her eyes overflowed as she made an end, but Stoddard adopted a tone of
"Dear me," he said gently. "What reactionary views! You're out of temper
with me this evening--I get on your nerves with my theorizing. Forgive
me, and forget all about it."
Lydia Sessions smiled kindly on her guest, without speaking. But one
thing remained to her out of it all. Gray Stoddard thought ill of her
work--it carried her further from him, instead of nearer! So many months
of effort worse than wasted! At that instant she had sight of Shade
Buckheath's dark face in the entry. She got to her feet.
"I beg your pardon," she said wanly, "I think there is some one out
there that I ought to speak to."
In the spinning room at the Victory Mill, with its tall frames and
endlessly turning bobbins, where the languid thread ran from hank to
spool and the tired little feet must walk the narrow aisles between the
jennies, watching if perchance a filament had broken, a knot caught, or
other mischance occurred, and right it, Deanie plodded for what seemed
to her many years. Milo and Pony both had work now in another
department, and Lissy's frames were quite across the noisy big room.
Whenever the little dark-haired girl could get away from her own task
and the eye of the room boss, she ran across to the small, ailing sister
and hugged her hard, begging her not to feel bad, not to cry, Sis'
Johnnie was bound to come before long. With the morbidness of a sick
child, Deanie came to dread these well-meant assurances, finding them
almost as distressing as her own strange, tormenting sensations.
The room was insufferably close, because it had rained and the windows
were all tightly shut. The flare of light vitiated the air, heated it,
but seemed to the child's sick sense to illuminate nothing. Sometimes
she found herself walking into the machinery and put out a reckless
little hand to guard her steps. Sister Johnnie had said she would come
and take her away. Sister Johnnie was the Providence that was never
known to fail. Deanie kept on doggedly, and tied threads, almost asleep.
The room opened and shut like an accordion before her fevered vision;
the floor heaved and trembled under her stumbling feet. To lie down--to
lie down anywhere and sleep--that was the almost intolerable longing
that possessed her. Her mouth was hot and dry. The little white, peaked
face, like a new moon, grew strangely luminous in its pallor. Her eyes
stung in their sockets--those desolate blue eyes, dark with unshed
tears, heavy with sleep.
She had turned her row and started back, when there came before her, so
plain that she almost thought she might wet her feet in the clear water,
a vision of the spring-branch at home up on Unaka, where she and Lissy
used to play. There, among the giant roots of the old oak on its bank,
was the house they had built of big stones and bright bits of broken
dishes; there lay her home-made doll flung down among gay fallen leaves;
a little toad squatted beside it; and near by was the tiny gourd that
was their play-house dipper. Oh, for a drink from that spring!
She caught sight of Mandy Meacham passing the door, and ran to her,
heedless of consequences.
"Mandy," she pleaded, taking hold of the woman's skirts and throwing
back her reeling head to stare up into the face above her, "Mandy, Sis'
Johnnie said she'd come; but it's a awful long time, and I'm scared I'll
fall into some of these here old machines, I feel that bad. Won't you go
tell Sis' Johnnie I'm waitin' for her?"
Mandy glanced forward through the weaving-room toward her own silent
looms, then down at the little, flushed face at her knee. If she dared
to do things, as Johnnie dared, she would pick up the baby and leave.
The very thought of it terrified her. No, she must get Johnnie herself.
Johnnie would make it right. She bent down and kissed the little thing,
"Never you mind, honey. Mandy's going straight and find Sis' Johnnie,
and bring her here to Deanie. Jest wait a minute."
Then she turned and, swiftly, lest her courage evaporate, hurried down
the stair and to the time keeper.
"Ef you've got a substitute, you can put 'em on my looms," she said
brusquely. "I've got to go down in town."
"Sick?" inquired Reardon laconically, as he made some entry on a card
and dropped it in a drawer beside him.
"No, I ain't sick--but Deanie Consadine is, and I'm goin' over in town
to find her sister. That child ain't fitten to be in no mill--let alone
workin' night turn. You men ort to be ashamed--that baby ort to be in
her bed this very minute."
Her voice had faltered a bit at the conclusion. Yet she made an end of
it, and hurried away with a choke in her throat. The man stared after
"Well!" he ejaculated finally. "She's got her nerve with her. Old Himes
is that gal's stepdaddy. I reckon he knows whether she's fit to work in
the mills or not--he hired her here. Bob, ain't Himes down in the
basement right now settin' up new machines? You go down there and name
this business to him. See what he's got to say."
A party of young fellows was tramping down the village street singing.
One of them carried a guitar and struck, now and again, a random chord
upon its strings. The street was dark, but as the singers, stepping
rythmically, passed the open door of the store, Mandy recognized a
shape she knew.
"Shade--Shade Buckheath! Wait thar!" she called to him.
The others lingered, too, a moment, till they saw it was a girl
following; then they turned and sauntered slowly on, still singing:
"Ef I was a little bird, I'd nest in the tallest tree,
That leans over the waters of the beautiful Tennessee."
The words came back to Buckheath and Mandy in velvety bass and boyish
"Shade--whar's Johnnie?" panted Mandy, shaking him by the arm. "I been
up to the house, and she ain't thar. Pap ain't thar, neither. I was
skeered to name my business to Laurelly; Aunt Mavity ain't no help and,
and--Shade--whar's Johnnie?" Buckheath looked down into her working,
tragic face and his mouth hardened.
"She ain't at home," he said finally. "I've been at Himes's all evening.
Pap and me has a--er, a little business on hand and--she ain't at home.
They told me that they was some sort of shindig at Mr. Hardwick's
to-night. I reckon Johnnie Consadine is chasin' round after her tony
friends. Pap said she left the house a-goin' in that direction--or
Mavity told me, I disremember which. I reckon you'll find her thar. What
do you want of her?"
"It's Deanie." She glanced fearfully past his shoulder to where the big
clock on the grocery wall showed through its dim window. It was
half-past ten. The lateness of the hour seemed to strike her with fresh
terror, "Shade, come along of me," she pleaded. "I'm so skeered. I never
shall have the heart to go in and ax for Johnnie, this time o' night at
that thar fine house. How she can talk up to them swell people like she
does is more than I know. You go with me and ax is she thar."
The group of young men had crossed the bridge and were well on their way
to the Inn. Buckheath glanced after them doubtfully and turned to walk
at Mandy's side. When they came to the gate, the woman hung back,
whimpering at sight of the festal array, and sound of the voices within.
"They've got a party," she deprecated. "My old dress is jest as dirty as
the floor. You go ax 'em, Shade."
As she spoke, Johnnie, carrying a tray of cups and saucers, passed a
lighted window, and Buckheath uttered a sudden, unpremeditated oath.
"I don't know what God Almighty means makin' women such fools," he
growled. "What call had Johnnie Consadine got to come here and act the
servant for them rich folks?--runnin' around after Gray Stoddard--and
much good may it do her!"
Mandy crowded herself back into the shadow of the dripping evergreens,
and Shade went boldly up on the side porch. She saw the door opened and
her escort admitted; then through the glass was aware of Lydia Sessions
in an evening frock coming into the small entry and conferring at
length with him.
Her attention was diverted from them by the appearance of Johnnie
herself just inside a window. She ran forward and tapped on the pane.
Johnnie put down her tray and came swiftly out, passing Shade and Miss
Sessions in the side entry with a word.
"What is it?" she inquired of Mandy, with a premonition of disaster in
"Hit's Deanie," choked the Meacham woman. "She's right sick, and they
won't let her leave the mill--leastways she's skeered to ask, and so am
I. I 'lowed I ought to come and tell you, Johnnie. Was that right? You
wanted me to, didn't you?" anxiously.
"Yes--yes--yes!" cried Johnnie, reaching up swift, nervous fingers to
unfasten the cap from her hair, thrusting it in the pocket of the apron,
and untying the apron strings. "Wait a minute. I must give these things
back. Oh, let's hurry!"
It was but a moment after that she emerged once more on the porch, and
apparently for the first time noticed Buckheath.
"To-morrow, then," Miss Sessions was saying to him as he moved toward
the two girls. "To-morrow morning." And with a patronizing nod to them
all, she withdrew and rejoined her guests.
"I never found you when I went up to the house," explained Mandy
nervously, "and so I stopped Shade on the street and axed him would he
come along with me. Maybe it would do some good if he was to go up with
us to the mill. They pay more attention to a man person. I tell you,
Johnnie, the baby's plumb broke down and sick."
The three were moving swiftly along the darkened street now.
"I'm going to take the children away from Pap," Johnnie said in a
curious voice, rapid and monotonous, as though she were reciting
something to herself. "I have obliged to do it. There must be a law
somewhere. God won't let me fail."
"Huh-uh," grunted Buckheath, instantly. "You can't do such a thing. Ef
you was married, and yo' mother would let you adopt 'em, I reckon the
courts might agree to that."
"Shade," Johnnie turned upon him, "you've got more influence with Pap
Himes than anybody. I believe if you'd talk to him, he'd let me have the
children. I could support them now."
"I don't want to fall out with Pap Himes--for nothing" responded Shade.
"If you'll say that you'll wed me to-morrow morning, I'll go to Pap and
get him to give up the children." Neither of them paid any attention to
Mandy, who listened open-eyed and open-eared to this singular courtship.
"Or I'll get him to take 'em out of the mill. You're right, I ain't got
a bit of doubt I could do it. And if I don't do it, you needn't
An illumination fell upon Johnnie's mind. She saw that Buckheath was in
league with her stepfather, and that the pressure was put on according
to the younger man's ideas, and would be instantly withdrawn at his
bidding. Yet, when the swift revulsion such knowledge brought with it
made her ready to dismiss him at once, thought of Deanie's wasted little
countenance, with the red burning high on the sharp, unchildish
cheekbone, stayed her. For a while she walked with bent head. Heavily
before her mind's eye went the picture of Gray Stoddard among his own
people, in his own world--where she could never come.
"Have it your way," she said finally in a suffering voice.
"What's that you say? Are you goin' to take me?" demanded Buckheath,
pressing close and reaching out a possessive arm to put around her.
"I said yes," Johnnie shivered, pushing his hand away; "but--but it'll
only be when you can come to me and tell me that the children are all
right. If you fail me there, I--"
Back at the Victory, downstairs went Reardon's messenger to where Pap
Himes was sweating over the new machinery. Work always put the old man
in a sort of incandescent fury, and now as Bob spoke to him, he raised
an inflamed face, from which the small eyes twinkled redly, with a grunt
"That youngest gal o' yours," the man repeated. "She's tryin' to leave
her job and go home. Reardon said tell you, an' see what you had to say.
The Lord knows we have trouble enough with those young 'uns. I'm glad
when any of their folks that's got sand is around to make 'em behave. I
reckon she can't come it over you, Gid."
Himes straightened up with a groan, under any exertion his rheumatic old
back always punished him cruelly for the days of indolence that had let
its suppleness depart.
"Huh?" he grunted. "Whar's she at? Up in the spinnin' room? Well, is
they enough of you up thar to keep her tendin' to business for a spell,
till I can get this thing levelled?" He held to the mechanism he was
adjusting and harangued wheezily from behind it. "I cain't drop my job
an' canter upstairs every time one o' you fellers whistles. The chap
ain't more'n two foot long. Looks like you-all might hold on to her for
one while--I'll be thar soon as I can--'bout a hour"; and he returned
savagely to his work.
When Mandy left her, Deanie tried for a time to tend her frames; but the
endlessly turning spools, the edges of the jennies, blurred before her
fevered eyes. Everything--even her fear of Pap Himes, her dread of the
room boss--finally became vague in her mind. More and more she dreaded
little Lissy's well-meant visitations; and after nearly an hour she
stole toward the door, looking half deliriously for Sister Johnnie.
Nobody noticed in the noisy, flaring room that spool after spool on her
frame fouled its thread and ceased turning, as the little figure left
its post and hesitated like a scared, small animal toward the main exit.
Pap Himes, having come to where he could leave his work in the basement,
climbed painfully the many stairs to the spinning room, and met her
close to where the big belt rose up to the great shaft that gave power
to every machine in that department.
The loving master of the big yellow cat had always cherished a somewhat
clumsily concealed dislike and hostility to Deanie. Perhaps there
lingered in this a touch of half-jealousy of his wife's baby; perhaps he
knew instinctively that Johnnie's rebellion against his tyranny was
always strongest where Deanie was concerned.
"Why ain't you on your job?" he inquired threateningly, as the child saw
him and made some futile attempt to shrink back out of his way.
"I feel so quare, Pap Himes," the little girl answered him, beginning to
cry. "I thes' want to lay down and go to sleep every minute."
"Huh!" Pap exploded his favourite expletive till it sounded ferocious,
"That ain't quare feelin's. That's just plain old-fashioned laziness.
You git yo'self back thar and tend them frames, or I'll--"
"I cain't! I cain't see 'em to tend! I'm right blind in the eyes!"
wailed Deanie. "I wish Sis' Johnnie would come. I wish't she would!"
"Uh-huh," commented Bob Conley, who had strolled up in the old man's
wake. "Reckon Sis' Johnnie would run things to suit her an' you, Himes,
you can cuss me out good an' plenty, but I take notice you seem to have
trouble makin' your own family mind."
"You shut your head," growled Pap.
Reardon had added himself to the spectators.
"See here," the foreman argued, "if you say there's nothing the matter
with that gal, an' she carries on till we have to let her go home, she
goes for good. I'll take her frames away from her."
Pap felt that a formidable show of authority must be made.
"Git back thar!" he roared, advancing upon the child, raising the hand
that still held the wrench with which he had been working on the
machinery down stairs. "Git back thar, or I'll make you wish you had.
When I tell you to do a thing, don't you name Johnnie to me. Git
With a faint cry the child cowered away from him. It is unlikely he
would have struck her with the upraised tool he held. Perhaps he did not
intend a blow at all, but one or two small frame tenders paused at the
ends of their lanes to watch the scene with avid eyes, to extract the
last thrill from the sensation that was being kindly brought into the
midst of their monotonous toilsome hours; and Lissy, who was creeping up
anxiously, yet keeping out of the range of Himes's eye, crouched as
though the hammer had been raised over her own head.
"Johnnie said--" began the little girl, desperately; but the old man,
stung to greater fury, sprang at her; she stumbled back and back; fell
against the slowly moving belt; her frock caught in the rivets which
were just passing, and she was instantly jerked from her feet. If any
one of the three men looking on had taken prompt action, the child might
have been rescued at once; but stupid terror held them motionless.
At the moment Johnnie, Shade and Mandy, coming up the stairs, got sight
of the group, Pap with upraised hammer, the child in the clutches of
With shrill outcries the other juvenile workers swiftly gathered in a
crowd. One broke away and fled down the long room screaming.
"You Pony Consadine! Milo! Come here. Pap Himes is a-killing yo'
The old man, shaking all through his bulk, stared with fallen jaw. Mandy
shrieked and leaped up the few remaining steps to reach Deanie, who was
already above the finger-tips of a tall man.
"Pap! Shade! Quick! Don't you see she'll be killed!" Mandy screamed in
Something in the atmosphere must have made itself felt, for no sound
could have penetrated the din of the weaving room; yet some of the women
left their looms and came running in behind the two pale, scared little
brothers, to add their shrieks to the general clamour. Deanie's fellow
workers, poor little souls, denied their childish share of the world's
excitements, gazed with a sort of awful relish. Only Johnnie, speeding
down the room away from it all, was doing anything rational to avert the
catastrophe. The child hung on the slowly moving belt, inert, a tiny rag
of life, with her mop of tangled yellow curls, her white, little face,
its blue eyes closed. When she reached the top, where the pulley was
close against the ceiling, her brains would be dashed out and the small
body dragged to pieces between beam and ceiling.
Those who looked at her realized this. Numbed by the inevitable, they
made no effort, save Milo, who at imminent risk of his own life, was
climbing on a frame near at hand; but Pony flew at Himes, beating the
old man with hard-clenched, inadequate fists, and screaming.
"You git her down from thar--git her down this minute! She'll be killed,
I tell ye! She'll be killed, I tell ye!"
Poor Mandy made inarticulate moanings and reached up her arms; Shade
Buckheath cursed softly under his breath; the women and children stared,
eager to lose no detail.
"I always have said, and I always shall say, that chaps as young as that
ain't got no business around whar machinery's at!" Bob Conley kept
shouting over and over in a high, strange, mechanical voice, plainly
quite unconscious that he spoke at all.
The child was so near the ceiling now that a universal groan proceeded
from the watchers. Then, all at once the belt ceased to move, and the
clash and tumult were stilled. Johnnie, who had flown to the little
controlling wheel to throw off the power, came running back, crying out
in the sudden quiet.
"Shade--quick--get a ladder! Hold something under there! She might--Oh,
my God!" for Deanie's frock had pulled free and the little form hurled
down before Johnnie could reach them. But the devoted Mandy was there,
her futile, inadequate skirts upheld. Into them the small body dropped,
and together the two came to the floor with a dull sort of crunch.
When Johnnie reached the prostrate pair, Mandy was struggling to her
knees, gasping; but Deanie lay twisted just as she had fallen, the
little face sunken and deathly, a tiny trickle of blood coming from a
corner of her parted lips.
"Oh, my baby! Oh, my baby! They've killed my baby!
Deanie--Deanie--Deanie--!" wailed Mandy.
Johnnie was on her knees beside the child, feeling her over with
tremulous hands. Her face was bleached chalk-white, and her eyes stared
fearfully at the motionless lips of the little one, from which that
scarlet stream trickled; but she set her own lips silently.
"Thar--right thar in the side," groaned Mandy. "She's all staved in on
the side that--my pore little Deanie! Oh, I tried to ketch her, but she
broke right through and pulled my skirts out of my hand and hit
Pap had drawn nearer on shaking limbs; the children crowded so close
that Johnnie looked up and motioned them back.
"Shade--you run for a doctor, and have a carriage fetched," she ordered
"Is--Lord God, is she dead?" faltered the old man.
"Ef she ain't dead now, she'll die," Mandy answered him shrilly. "They
ain't no flesh on her--she's run down to a pore little skeleton. That's
what the factories does to women and children--they jest eats 'em up,
and spits out they' bones."
"Well, I never aimed to skeer her that-a-way," said Himes; "but the
Johnnie's flaming glance silenced him, and his voice died away, a sort
of a rasp in his throat. Mechanically he glanced up to the point on the
great belt from which the child had fallen, and measured the distance to
the floor. He scratched his bald head dubiously, and edged back from the
tragedy he had made.
"Everybody knows I never hit her," he muttered as he went.
Gray Stoddard's eyes had followed Lydia Sessions when she went into the
hall to speak to Shade Buckheath. He had a glimpse of Johnnie, too, in
the passage; he noted that she later left the house with Buckheath
(Mandy Meacham was beyond his range of vision); and the pang that went
through him at the sight was a strangely mingled one.
The talk between him and his hostess had been enlightening to both of
them. It showed Lydia Sessions not only where she stood with Gray, but
it brought home to her startlingly, and as nothing had yet done, the
strength of Johnnie's hold upon him; while it forced Gray himself to
realize that ever since that morning when he met the girl on the bridge
going to put her little brothers and sisters in the Victory mill, he had
behaved more like a sulky, disappointed lover than a staunch friend. He
confessed frankly to himself, that, had Johnnie been a boy, a young man,
instead of a beautiful and appealing woman, he would have been prompt to
go to her and remonstrate--he would have made no bones of having the
matter out clearly and fully. He blamed himself much for the
estrangement which he had allowed to grow between them. He knew
instinctively about what Shade Buckheath was--certainly no fit mate for
Johnnie Consadine. And for the better to desert her--poor, helpless,
unschooled girl--could only operate to push her toward the worse. These
thoughts kept Stoddard wakeful company till almost morning.
Dawn came with a soft wind out of the west, all the odours of spring on
its breath, and a penitent warmth to apologize for last night's storm.
Stoddard faced his day, and decided that he would begin it with an
early-morning horseback ride. He called up his stable boy over the
telephone, and when Jim brought round Roan Sultan saddled there was a
pause, as of custom, for conversation.
"Heared about the accident over to the Victory, Mr. Stoddard?" Jim
"No," said Gray, wheeling sharply. "Anybody hurt?"
"One o' Pap Himes's stepchildren mighty near killed, they say," the boy
told him. "I seen Miss Johnnie Consadine when they was bringing the
little gal down. It seems they sent for her over to Mr. Hardwickses
where she was at."
Gray mounted quickly, settled himself in the saddle, and glanced down
the street which would lead him past Himes's place. For months now, he
had been instinctively avoiding that part of town. Poor Johnnie! She
might be a disappointing character, but he knew well that she was full
of love; he remembered her eyes when, nearly a year ago, up in the mist
and sweetness of April on the Unakas, she had told him of the baby
sister and the other little ones. She must be suffering now. Almost
without reflection he turned his horse's head and rode toward the
forlorn Himes boarding-house.
As he drew near, he noticed a huddled figure at the head of the steps,
and coming up made it out to be Himes himself, sitting, elbows on knees,
staring straight ahead of him. Pap had not undressed at all, but he had
taken out his false teeth "to rest his jaws a spell," as he was in the
habit of doing, and the result was startling. His cheeks were fallen in
to such an extent that the blinking red eyes above looked larger; it was
as though the old rascal's crimes of callous selfishness and greed had
suddenly aged him.
Stoddard pulled in his horse at the foot of the steps.
"I hear one of the little girls was hurt in the mill last night. Was she
badly injured? Which one was it?" he asked abruptly.
"Hit's Deanie. She's all right," mumbled Pap. "Got the whole house
uptore, and Laurelly miscallin' me till I don't know which way to look;
and now the little dickens is a-goin' to git well all right. Chaps is
tough, I tell ye. Ye cain't kill 'em."
"You people must have thought so," said Stoddard, "or you wouldn't have
brought these little ones down and hired them to the cotton mill.
Johnnie knew what that meant."
The words had come almost involuntarily. The old man stared at the
speaker breathing hard.
"What's Johnnie Consadine got to do with it?" he inquired finally. "I'm
the stepdaddy of the children--and Johnnie's stepdaddy too, for the
matter of that--and what I say goes."
"Did you hire the children at the Victory?" inquired Stoddard, swiftly.
Back across his memory came the picture of Johnnie with her poor little
sheep for the shambles clustered about her on the bridge before the
Victory mill. "Did you hire the children to the factory?" he repeated.
"Now Mr. Stoddard," began the old man, between bluster and whine, "I
talked about them chaps to the superintendent of yo' mill, an' you-all
said you didn't want none of that size. And one o' yo' men--he was a
room boss, I reckon--spoke up right sassy to me--as sassy as Johnnie
Consadine herself, and God knows she ain't got no respect for them
that's set over her. I had obliged to let 'em go to the Victory; but I
don't think you have any call to hold it ag'in me--Johnnie was plumb
impident about it--plumb impident."
Stoddard glanced up at the windows and made as though to dismount. All
night at his pillow had stood the accusation that he had been cruel to
Johnnie. Now, as Himes's revelations went on, and he saw what her futile
efforts had been, as he guessed a part of her sufferings, it seemed he
must hurry to her and brush away the tangle of misunderstanding which he
had allowed to grow up between them.
"They've worked over that thar chap, off an' on, all night," the old man
said. "Looks like, if they keep hit up, she'll begin to think somethin's
the matter of her."
Gray realized that his visit at this moment would be ill-timed. He would
ride on through the Gap now, and call as he came back.
"I had obliged to find me a place whar I could hire out them chaps," the
miserable old man before him went on, garrulously. "They's nothin' like
mill work to take the davilment out o' young 'uns. Some of them chaps'll
call you names and make faces at you, even whilst you' goin' through the
mill yard--and think what they'd be ef they _wasn't_ worked! I'm a old
man, and when I married Laurelly and took the keepin' o' her passel o'
chaps on my back, I aimed to make it pay. Laurelly, she won't work."
He looked helplessly at Stoddard, like a child about to cry.
"She told me up and down that she never had worked in no mill, and she
was too old to l'arn. She said the noise of the thing from the outside
was enough to show her that she didn't want to go inside--and go she
"But she let her children go--she and Johnnie," muttered Stoddard,
settling himself in his saddle.
"Well, I'd like to see either of 'em he'p theirselves!" returned Pap
Himes with a reminiscence of his former manner. "Johnnie ain't had the
decency to give me her wages, not once since I've been her pappy; the
onliest money I ever had from her--'ceptin' to pay her board--was when
she tried to buy them chaps out o' workin' in the mill. But when I put
my foot down an' told her that the chillen could work in the mill
without a beatin' or with one, jest as she might see and choose, she had
a little sense, and took 'em over and hired 'em herself. Baylor told me
afterward that she tried to make him say he didn't want 'em, but Baylor
and me stands together, an' Miss Johnnie failed up on that trick."
Pap felt an altogether misplaced confidence in the view that Stoddard,
as a male, was likely to take of the matter.
"A man is obliged to be boss of his own family--ain't that so, Mr.
Stoddard?" he demanded. "I said the chillen had to go into the mill, and
into the mill they went. They all wanted to go, at the start, and
Laurelly agreed with me that hit was the right thing. Then, just because
Deanie happened to a accident and Johnnie took up for her, Laurelly has
to go off into hy-strikes and say she'll quit me soon as she can put
foot to the ground."
Stoddard made no response to this, but touched Sultan with his heel and
moved on. He had stopped at the post-office as he came past, taking from
his personal box one letter. This he opened and read as he rode slowly
away. Halfway up the first rise, Pap saw him rein in and turn; the old
man was still staring when Gray stopped once more at the gate.
"See here, Himes," he spoke abruptly, "this concerns you--this letter
that has just reached me."
Pap looked at the younger man with mere curiosity.
"When Johnnie was first given a spinning room to look after," said Gray,
"she came to Mr. Sessions and myself and asked permission to have a
small device of her own contrivance used on the frames as an Indicator."
Pap shuffled his feet uneasily.
"I thought no more about the matter; in fact I've not been in the
spinning department for--for some time." Stoddard looked down at the
hand which held his bridle, and remembered that he had absented himself
from every place that threatened him with the sight of Johnnie.
Pap was breathing audibly through his open mouth.
"She--she never had nothin' made," he whispered out the ready lie
hurriedly, scrambling to his feet and down the steps, pressing close to
Roan Sultan's shoulder, laying a wheedling hand on the bridle, looking
up anxiously into the stern young face above him.
"Oh, yes, she did," Stoddard returned. "I remember, now, hearing some of
the children from the room say that she had a device which worked well.
From the description they gave of it, I judge that it is the same which
this letter tells me you and Buckheath are offering to the Alabama
mills. Mr. Trumbull, the superintendent, says that you and Buckheath
hold the patent for this Indicator jointly. As soon as I can consult
with Johnnie, we will see about the matter."
Himes let go the roan's bridle and staggered back a pace or two,
open-mouthed, staring. The skies had fallen. His heavy mind turned
slowly toward resentment against Buckheath. He wished the younger
conspirator were here to take his share. Then the door opened and Shade
himself came out wiping his mouth. He was fresh from the breakfast
table, but not on his way to the mill, since it was still too early. He
gave Stoddard a surly nod as he passed through the gate and on down the
street, in the direction of the Inn. Himes, in a turmoil of stupid
uncertainty, once or twice made as though to detain him. His slow wits
refused him any available counsel. Dazedly he fumbled for something
convincing to say. Then on a sudden inspiration, he once more laid hold
of the bridle and began to speak volubly in a hoarse undertone:
"W'y, name o' God, Mr. Stoddard! Who should have a better right to that
thar patent than Buck and me? I'm the gal's stepdaddy, an' he's the man
she's goin' to wed."
Some peculiar quality in the silence of Gray Stoddard seemed finally to
penetrate the old fellow's understanding. He looked up to find the man
on horseback regarding him, square-jawed, pale, and with eyes angrily
bright. He glanced over his shoulder at the windows of the house behind
him, moistened his lips once again, gulped, and finally resumed in a
manner both whining and aggressive.
"Now, Mr. Stoddard, I want to talk to you mighty plain. The whole o'
Cottonville is full o' tales about you and Johnnie. Yes--that's
He stood staring down at his big, shuffling feet, laboriously sorting in
his own mind such phrases as it might do to use. The difficulty of what
he had to say blocked speech for so long that Stoddard, in a curiously
quiet voice, finally prompted him.
"Tales?" he repeated. "What tales, Mr. Himes?"
"Why, they ain't a old woman in town, nor a young one neither--I believe
in my soul that the young ones is the worst--that ain't been
talkin'--talkin' bad--ever since you took Johnnie to ride in your
Again there came a long pause. Stoddard stared down on Gideon Himes, and
Himes stared at his own feet.
"Well?" Stoddard's quiet voice once more urged his accuser forward.
Pap rolled his head between his shoulders with a negative motion which
intimated that it was not well.
"And lending her books, and all sich," he pursued doggedly. "That kind
o' carryin' on ain't decent, and you know it ain't. Buck knows it
ain't--but he's willin' to have her. He told her he was willin' to have
her, and the fool gal let on like she didn't want him. He came here to
board at my house because she wouldn't scarcely so much as speak to him
By the light of these statements Stoddard read what poor Johnnie's
persecution had been. The details of it he could not, of course, know;
yet he saw in that moment largely how she had been harried. At the
instant of seeing, came that swift and mighty revulsion that follows
surely when we have misprized and misunderstood those dear to us.
"What is it you want of me?" he inquired of Himes.
"Why, just this here," Pap told him. "You let Johnnie Consadine alone."
He leaned even closer and spoke in a yet lower tone, because a number of
girls were emerging from the house and starting down the steps. "A big,
rich feller like you don't mean any good by a girl fixed the way Johnnie
is. You wouldn't marry her--then let her alone. Things ain't got so bad
but what Buck is still willin' to have her. You wouldn't marry her."
Stoddard looked down at the shameful old man with eyes that were
indecipherable. If the impulse was strong in him to twist the unclean
old throat against any further ill-speaking, it gave no heat to the tone
in which he answered:
"It's you and your kind that say I mean harm to Johnnie, and that I
would not marry her. Why should I intend ill toward her? Why shouldn't I
marry her? I would--I would marry her."
As he made this, to him the only possible defence of the poor girl, Pap
faltered slowly back, uttering a gurgling expression of astonishment.
With a sense of surprise Stoddard saw in his face only dismay
"Hit--hit's a lie," Himes mumbled half-heartedly. "Ye'd never do it in
Stoddard gathered up his bridle rein, preparatory to moving on.
"You're an old man, Mr. Himes," he said coldly, "and you are excited;
but you don't want to say any more--that's quite enough of that sort
Then he loosened the rein on Roan Sultan, and moved away down the
Gideon Himes stood and gazed after him with bulging eyes. Gray Stoddard
married to Johnnie! He tried to adjust his dull wits to the new position
of affairs; tried to cipher the problem with this amazing new element
introduced. Last night's scene of violence when the injured child was
brought home went dismally before his eyes. Laurella had said she would
leave him so soon as she could put foot to the floor. He had expected to
coax her with gifts and money, with concessions in regard to the
children if it must be; but with a rich man for a son-in-law, of course
she would go. He would never see her face again. And suddenly he flung
up an arm like a beaten schoolboy and began to blubbler noisily in the
crook of his elbow.
An ungentle hand on his shoulder recalled him to time and place.
"For God's sake, what's the matter with you?" inquired Shade Buckheath's
The old man gulped down his grief and made his communication in a few
"An' he'll do it," Pap concluded. "He's jest big enough fool for
anything. Ain't you heard of his scheme for having the hands make the
money in the mill?" (Thus he described a profit-sharing plan.) "Don't
you know he's given ten thousand dollars to start up some sort o' school
for the boys and gals to learn their trade in? A man like that'll do
anything. And if he marries Johnnie, Laurelly'll leave me sure."
"Leave you!" echoed Buckheath darkly. "She won't have to. If Gray
Stoddard marries Johnnie Consadine, you and me will just about roost in
the penitentiary for the rest of our days."
"The patent!" echoed Pap blankly. He turned fiercely on his fellow
conspirator. "Now see what ye done with yer foolishness," he exclaimed.
"Nothin' would do ye but to be offerin' the contraption for sale, and
tellin' each and every that hit'd been used in the Hardwick mill. Look
what a mess ye've made. I'm sorry I ever hitched up with ye. Boy o' yo'
age has got no sense."
"How was I to know they'd write to Stoddard?" growled Shade sulkily. "No
harm did if hit wasn't for him. We've got the patent all right, and
Johnnie cain't help herself. But him--with all his money--he can help
"Yes, and he'll take a holt and hunt up about Pros's silver mine, too,"
said Himes. "I've always mistrusted the way he's been hangin' round Pros
Passmore. Like enough he's hearn of that silver mine, and that's the
reason he's after Johnnie."
The old man paused to ruminate on this feature of the case. He was
pleased with his own shrewdness in fathoming Gray Stoddard's
"Buck," he said finally, with a swift drop to friendliness, "hit's got
to be stopped. Can you stop it?
"Didn't you tell me that Johnnie promised last night to wed you? Didn't
you say she promised it, when you was goin' up to the Victory with her?"
"She promised she would if I'd get you to let the children stay out of
the mill. Deanie's hurt now, and you're afraid to make the others go
back in the mill anyhow, 'count of Laurelly's tongue. I can't hold
Johnnie to that promise. But--but there's one person I want to talk to
about this business, and then I'll be ready to do something."
While Himes and Buckheath yet stood thus talking, the warning whistles
of the various mills began to blow. Groups of girls came down the steps
and stared at the two men conferring with heads close together. Mavity
Bence put her face out at the front door and called.
"Pap, yo' breakfast is gettin' stone cold."
"Do you have to go to the mill right now?" inquired the older man,
timorously. He was already under the domination of this swifter, bolder,
more fiery spirit.
"No, I don't have to go anywhere that I don't want to. I've got business
with a certain party up this-a-way, and when I git to the mill I'll
He turned and hurried swiftly up the minor slope that led to the big
Hardwick home, Pap's fascinated eyes following him as long as he was in
sight. As the young fellow strode along he was turning in his mind Lydia
Sessions's promise to talk to him this morning about Johnnie.
"But she'll be in bed and asleep, I reckon, at this time of day," he
ruminated. "The good Lord knows I would if I had the chance like
As he came in sight of the Hardwick house, he checked momentarily.
Standing at the gate, an astonishing figure, still in her evening frock,
looking haggard and old in the gray, disillusioning light of early
morning, was Lydia Sessions. Upstairs, her white bed was smooth; its
pillows spread fair and prim, unpressed by any head, since the maid had
settled them trimly in place the morning before; but the long rug which
ran from her dressing table to the window might have told a tale of
pacing feet that passed restlessly from midnight till dawn; the mirror
could have disclosed the picture of a white, anxious, and often angry
face that had stared into it as the woman paused now and again to
commune with the real Lydia Sessions.
She was thirty and penniless. She belonged to a circle where everybody
had money. Her sister had married well, and Harriet was no
better-looking than she. All Lydia Sessions's considerable forces were
by heredity and training turned into one narrow channel--the effort to
make a creditable, if not a brilliant, match. And she had thought she
was succeeding. Gray Stoddard had seemed seriously interested. In those
long night watches while the lights flared on either side of her mirror,
and the luxurious room of a modern young lady lay disclosed, with all
its sumptuous fittings of beauty and inutility, Lydia went over her
plans of campaign. She was a suitable match for him--anybody would say
so. He had liked her--he had liked her well enough--till he got
interested in this mill girl. They had never agreed on anything
concerning Johnnie Consadine. If that element were eliminated to-morrow,
she knew she could go back and pick up the thread of their intimacy
which had promised so well, and, she doubted not at all, twist it safely
into a marriage-knot. If Johnnie were only out of the way. If she would
leave Cottonville. If she would marry that good-looking mechanic who
plainly wanted her. How silly of her not to take him!
Toward dawn, she snatched a little cape from the garments hanging in the
closet, flung it over her shoulders and ran downstairs. She must have a
breath of fresh air. So, in the manner of helpless creatures who cannot
go out in the highway to accost fate, she was standing at the gate when
she caught sight of Shade Buckheath approaching. Here was her
opportunity. She must be doing something, and the nearest enterprise at
hand was to foster and encourage this young fellow's pursuit of Johnnie.
"I wanted to talk to you about a very particular matter," she broke out
nervously, as soon as Buckheath was near enough to be addressed in the
carefully lowered tone which she used throughout the interview. She
continually huddled the light cape together at the neck with tremulous,
unsteady fingers; and it was characteristic of these two that, although
the woman had heard of the calamity at the Victory mill the night
before, and knew that Shade came directly from the Himes home, she made
no inquiry as to the welfare of Deanie, and he offered no information.
He gave no reply in words to her accost, and she went on, with
"I--this matter ought to be attended to at once. Something's got to be
done. I've attempted to improve the social and spiritual conditions of
these girls in the mill, and if I've only worked harm by bringing them
in contact with--in contact with--"
She hesitated and stood looking into the man's face. Buckheath knew
exactly what she wished to say. He was impatient of the flummery she
found it necessary to wind around her simple proposition; but he was
used to women, he understood them; and to him a woman of Miss Sessions's
class was no different from a woman of his own.
"I reckon you wanted to name it to me about Johnnie Consadine," he said
"Yes--yes, that was it," breathed Lydia Sessions, glancing back toward
the house with a frightened air. "John is--she's a good girl, Mr.
Buckheath; I beg of you to believe me when I assure you that John is a
good, honest, upright girl. I would not think anything else for a
minute; but it seems to me that somebody has to do something, or--or--"
Shade raised his hand to his mouth to conceal the swift, sarcastic smile
on his lips. He spat toward the pathside before agreeing seriously with
"Her and me was promised, before she come down here and got all this
foolishness into her head," he said finally. "Her mother never could do
anything with Johnnie. Looks like Johnnie's got more authority--her
mother's more like a little girl to her than the other way round. Her
uncle Pros has been crazy in the hospital, and Pap Himes, her
stepfather--well, I reckon she's the only human that ever had to mind
Pap and didn't do it."
This somewhat ambiguous statement of the case failed to bring any smile
to his hearer's lips.
"There's no use talking to John herself," Miss Lydia took up the tale
feverishly. "I've done that, and it had no effect on--. Well, of course
she would say that she didn't encourage him to the things I saw
afterward; but I know that a man of his sort does not do things without
encouragement, and--Mr. Buckheath don't you think you ought to go right
to Mr. Stoddard and tell him that John is your promised wife, and show
him the folly and--and the wickedness of his course--or what would be
wickedness if he persisted in it? Don't you think you ought to do that?"
Shade held down his head and appeared to be giving this matter some
consideration. The weak point of such an argument lay in the fact that
Johnnie was not his promised wife, and Gray Stoddard was very likely to
know it. Indeed, Lydia Sessions herself only believed the statement
because she so wished.
"I reckon I ort," he said finally. "If I could ever get a chance of
private speech with him, mebbe I'd--"
There came a sound of light hoofs down the road, and Stoddard on Roan
Sultan, riding bareheaded, came toward them under the trees.
Miss Sessions clutched the gate and stood staring. Buckheath drew a
little closer, set his shoulder against the fence and tried to look
unconcerned. The rising sun behind the mountains threw long slant rays
across into the bare tree tops, so that the shimmer of it dappled horse
and man. Gray's face was pale, his brow looked anxious; but he rode head
up and alert, and glanced with surprise at the two at the Sessions gate.
He had no hat to raise, but he saluted Lydia Sessions with a sweeping
gesture of the hand and passed on. A blithe, gallant figure cantering
along the suburban road, out toward the Gap, and the mountains beyond,
Gray Stoddard rode into the dip of the ridge and--so far as Cottonville
was concerned--vanished utterly.
Buckheath drew a long breath and straightened up.
"I'm but a poor man," he began truculently, "yit there ain't nobody can
marry the gal I set out to wed and me stand by and say nothing."
"Oh, Mr. Buckheath!" cried Miss Lydia. "Mr. Stoddard had no idea of
_marrying_ John--a mill girl! There is no possibility of any such thing
as that. I want you to understand that there isn't--to feel assured,
once for all. I have reason to know, and I urge you to put that out of
Shade looked at her narrowly. Up to the time Pap gave him definite
information from headquarters, he had never for an instant supposed that
there was a possibility of Stoddard desiring to marry Johnnie; but the
flurried eagerness of Miss Sessions convinced him that such a
possibility was a very present dread with her, and he sent a venomous
glance after the disappearing horseman.
"You go and talk to him right now, Mr. Buckheath," insisted Lydia
anxiously. "Tell him, just as you have told me, how long you and John
have been engaged, and how devoted she was to you before she came down
to the mill. You appeal to him that way. You can overtake him--I mean
you can intercept him--if you start right on now--cut across the turn,
and go through the tunnel."
"If I go after him to talk to him, and we--uh--we have an
interruption--are you going to tell everybody you see about it?"
demanded Shade sharply, staring down at the woman.
She crouched a little, still clinging to the pickets of the gate. The
word "interruption" only conveyed to her mind the suggestion that they
might be interfered with in their conversation. She did not recollect
the mountain use of it to describe a quarrel, an outbreak, or an affray.
"No," she whispered. "Oh, certainly not--I'll never tell anything that
you don't want me to."
"All right," returned Buckheath hardily. "If you won't, I won't. If you
name to people that I was the last one saw with Mr. Stoddard, I shall
have obliged to tell 'em of what you and me was talkin' about when he
passed us. You see that, don't you?"
She nodded silently, her frightened eyes on his face; and without
another word he set off at that long, swinging pace which belongs to his
people. Lydia turned and ran swiftly into the house, and up the stairs
to her own room.
When Stoddard did not come to his desk that morning the matter remained
for a time unnoticed, except by McPherson, who fretted a bit at so
unusual a happening. Truth to tell, the old Scotchman had dreaded having
this rich young man for an associate, and had put a rod in pickle for
his chastisement. When Stoddard turned out to be a regular worker,
punctual, amenable to discipline, he congratulated himself, and praised
his assistant, but warily. Now came the first delinquency, and in his
heart he cared more that Stoddard should absent himself without notice
than for the pile of letters lying untouched.
"Dave," he finally said to the yellow office boy, "I wish you'd 'phone
to Mr. Stoddard's place and see when he'll be down."
Dave came back with the information that Mr. Stoddard was not at the
house; he had left for an early-morning ride, and not returned to his
"He'll just about have stopped up at the Country Club for a snack,"
MacPherson muttered to himself. "I wonder who or what he found there
attractive enough to keep him from his work."
Looking into Gray's office at noon, the closed desk with its pile of
mail once more offended MacPherson's eye.
"Mr. Stoddard here?" inquired Hartley Sessions, glancing in at the same
"No, I think not," returned the Scotchman, unwilling to admit that he
did not exactly know. "I believe he's up at the club. Perhaps he's got
tangled in for a longer game of golf than he reckoned on."
This unintentional and wholly innocent falsehood stopped any inquiry
that there might have been. MacPherson had meant to 'phone the club
during the day, but he failed to do so, and it was not until evening
that he walked up himself to put more cautious inquiries.
"No, sah--no, sah, Mr. Gray ain't been here," the Negro steward told him
promptly. "I sure would have remembered, sah," in answer to a startled
inquiry from MacPherson. "Dey been havin' a big game on between Mr.
Charley Conroy and Mr. Hardwick, and de bofe of 'em spoke of Mr. Gray,
and said dey was expectin' him to play."
MacPherson came down the stone steps of the clubhouse, gravely
disquieted. Below him the road wound, a dimly conjectured, wavering gray
ribbon; on the other side of it the steep slope took off to a gulf of
inky shadow, where the great valley lay, hushed under the solemn stars,
silent, black, and shimmering with a myriad pulsating electric lights
which glowed like swarms of fireflies caught in an invisible net. That
was Watauga. The strings of brilliants that led from it were arc lights
at switch crossings where the great railway lines rayed out. Near at
hand was Cottonville with its vast bulks of lighted mills whose hum came
faintly up to him even at this distance. MacPherson stood uncertainly in
the middle of the road. Supper and bed were behind him. But he had not
the heart to turn back to either. Somewhere down in that abyss of night,
there was a clue--or there were many clues--to this strange absence of
Gray Stoddard. Perhaps Gray himself was there; and the Scotchman cursed
his own dilatoriness in waiting till darkness had covered the earth
before setting afoot inquiries.
He found himself hurrying and getting out of breath as he took his way
down the ridge and straight to Stoddard's cottage, only to find that the
master's horse was not in the stable, and the Negro boy who cared for it
had seen nothing of it or its rider since five o'clock that morning.
"I wonder, now, should I give the alarm to Hardwick," MacPherson said to
himself. "The lad may have just ridden on to La Fayette, or some little
nearby town, and be staying the night. Young fellows sometimes have
affairs they'd rather not share with everybody--and then, there's Miss
Lydia. If I go up to Hardwick's with the story, she'll be sure to hear
it from Hardwick's wife."
"Did Mr. Stoddard ever go away like this before without giving you
notice?" he asked with apparent carelessness.
The boy shook his head in vigorous negative.
"Never since I've been working for him," he asserted. "Mr. Stoddard
wasn't starting anywhere but for his early ride--at least he wasn't
intending to. He hadn't any hat on, and he was in his riding clothes. He
didn't carry anything with him. I know in reason he wasn't intending
This information sent MacPherson hurrying to the Hardwick home. Dinner
was over. The master of the house conferred with him a moment in the
vestibule, then opened the door into the little sitting room and
"When was the last time any of you saw Gray Stoddard?"
His sister-in-law screamed faintly, then cowered in her chair and stared
at him mutely. But Mrs. Hardwick as yet noted nothing unusual.
"Yesterday evening," she returned placidly. "Don't you remember, Jerome,
he was here at the Lyric reception?"
"Oh, I remember well enough," said Hardwick knitting his brows. "I
thought some of you might have seen him since then. He's missing."
"Missing!" echoed Lydia Sessions with a note of terror in her tones.
Now Mrs. Hardwick looked startled.
"But, Jerome, I think you're inconsiderate," she began, glancing
solicitously at her sister. "Under the circumstances, it seems to me you
might have made your announcement more gently--to Lydia, anyhow. Never
mind, dearie--there's nothing in it to be frightened at."
"I'm not frightened," whispered Lydia Sessions through white lips that
belied her assertion. Hardwick looked impatiently from his sister-in-law
to his wife.
"I'm sorry if I startled you, Lydia," he said in a perfunctory tone,
"but this is a serious business. MacPherson tells me Stoddard hasn't
been at the factory nor at his boarding-house to-day. The last person
who saw him, so far as we know, is his stable boy. Black Jim says
Stoddard rode out of the gate at five o'clock this morning, bareheaded
and in his riding clothes. Have any of you seen him since--that's what I
want to know?"
"Since?" repeated Miss Sessions, who seemed unable to get beyond the
parrot echoing of her questioner's words. "Why Jerome, what makes you
think I've seen him since then? Did he say--did anybody tell you--"
She broke off huskily and sat staring at her interlaced fingers dropped
in her lap.
"No--no. Of course not, Lydia," her sister hastened to reassure her,
crossing the room and putting a protecting arm about the girl's
shoulders. "He shouldn't have spoken as he did, knowing that you and
Gray--knowing how affairs stand."
"Well, I only thought since you and Stoddard are such great friends,"
Hardwick persisted, "he might have mentioned to you some excursion, or
made opportunity to talk with you alone, sometime last night--to--to
say something. Did he tell you where he was going, Lydia? Are you
keeping something from us that we ought to know? Remember this is no
child's play. It begins to look as though it might be a question of the
Lydia Sessions started galvanically. She pushed off her sister's
caressing hand with a fierce gesture.
"There's nothing--no such relation as you're hinting at, Elizabeth,
between Gray Stoddard and me," she said sharply. Memory of what Gray had
(as she supposed) followed her into the library to say to her wrung a
sort of groan from the girl. "I suppose Matilda's told you that we
had--had some conversation in the library," she managed to say.
Her brother-in-law shook his head.
"We haven't questioned the servants yet," he said briefly. "We haven't
questioned anybody nor hunted up any evidence. MacPherson came direct to
me from Stoddard's stable boy. Gray did stop and talk to you last night?
What did he say?"
"I--why nothing in--I really don't remember," faltered Lydia, with so
strange a look that both her sister and Hardwick looked at her in
surprise. "That is--oh, nothing of any importance, you know. I--I
believe we were talking about socialism, and--and different classes of
people.... That sort of thing."
MacPherson, who had pushed unceremoniously into the room behind his
employer, nodded his gray head. "That would always be what he was
speaking of." He smiled a little as he said it.
"All right," returned Hardwick, struggling into his overcoat at the
hat-tree, and seeking his hat and stick, "I'll go right back with you,
Mac. This thing somehow has a sinister look to me."
As the two men were leaving the house, Hardwick felt a light, trembling
touch on his arm, and turned to face his sister-in-law.
"Why--Jerome, why did you say that last?" Lydia quavered. "What do you
think has happened to him? Do you think anybody--that is--? Oh, you
looked at me as though you thought I had something to do with it!"
"Come, come, Lyd. Pull yourself together. You're getting hysterical,"
urged Hardwick kindly. Then he turned to MacPherson. As the two men went
companionably down the walk and out into the street, the Scotchman said
"Of course, I knew Miss Lydia would be alarmed. I understand about her
and Stoddard. It made me hesitate a while before coming up to you folks
with the thing."
"Well, by the Lord, you did well not to hesitate too long, Mac!"
ejaculated Hardwick. "I shouldn't feel the anxiety I do if we hadn't
been having trouble with those mountain people up toward Flat Rock over
that girl that died at the hospital." He laughed a little ruefully.
"Trying to do things for folks is ticklish business. There wasn't a man
in the crowd that interviewed me whom I could convince that our hospital
wasn't a factory for the making of stiffs which we sold to the Northern
Medical College. Oh, it was gruesome!
"I told them the girl had had every attention, and that she died of
pernicious anaemia. They called it 'a big dic word' and asked me point
blank if the girl hadn't been killed in the mill. I told them that we
couldn't keep the body indefinitely, and they said they 'aimed to come
and haul it away as soon as they could get a horse and wagon.' I called
their attention to the fact that I couldn't know this unless they wrote
and told me so in answer to my letter. But between you and me, Mac, I
don't believe there was a man in the crowd who could read or write."
"For God's sake!" exclaimed the Scotchman. "You don't think _those_
people were up to doing a mischief to Stoddard, do you?"
"I don't know what to think," protested Hardwick. "Yes; they are
mediaeval--half savage. The fact is, I have no idea what they would or
what they wouldn't do."
MacPherson gave a whistle of dismay.
"Gad, it sounds like the manoeuvres of one of our Highland clans three
hundred years ago!" he said. "Wouldn't it be the irony of fate that
Stoddard--poor fellow!--a friend of the people, a socialist, ready to
call every man his brother--should be sacrificed in such a way?"
The words brought them to Stoddard's little home, silent and deserted
now. Down the street, the lamps flared gustily. It was after
"Where does that boy live that takes care of the horses--black Jim?"
Hardwick inquired, after they had rung the bell, thumped on the door,
and called, to make sure the master had not returned during
"I don't know--really, I don't know. He might have a room over the
stable," MacPherson suggested.
But the stable proved to be a one-story affair, and they were just
turning to leave when a stamping sound within arrested their notice.
"Good God!--what's that?" ejaculated MacPherson, whose nerves were
"It's the horse," answered Hardwick in a relieved tone. "Stoddard's got
"Of course," broke in old MacPherson, quickly, "and gone over to Mrs.
Gandish's for some supper. That is why he wasn't in the house."
To make assurance doubly sure, they opened the unlocked stable door, and
MacPherson struck a match. The roan turned and whinnied hungrily at
sight of them.
"That's funny," said Hardwick, scarcely above his breath. "It looks to
me as though that animal hadn't been fed."
In the flare of the match MacPherson had descried the stable lantern
hanging on the wall. They lit this and examined the stall. There was no
feed in the box, no hay in the manger. The saddle was on Gray Stoddard's
horse; the bit in his mouth; he was tied by the reins to his stall ring.
The two men looked at each other with lengthening faces.
"Stoddard's too good a horseman to have done that," spoke Hardwick
"And too kind a man," supplied MacPherson loyally. "He'd have seen to
the beast's hunger before he satisfied his own."
As the Scotchman spoke he was picking up the horse's hoofs, and digging
at them with a bit of stick.
"They're as clean as if they'd just been washed," he said, as he
straightened up. "By Heaven! I have it, Hardwick--that fellow came into
town with his hoofs muffled."
The younger man looked also, and assented mutely, then suggested:
"He hasn't come far; there's not a hair turned on him."
The Scotchman shook his head. "I'm not sure of that," he debated.
"Likely he's been led, and that slowly. God--this is horrible!"
Mechanically Hardwick got some hay down for the horse, while MacPherson
pulled off the saddle and bridle, examining both in the process. Grain
was poured into the box, and then water offered.
"He won't drink," murmured the Scotchman. "D'ye see, Hardwick? He won't
drink. You can't come into Cottonville without crossing a stream. This
fellow's hoofs have been wet within an hour--yes, within the half-hour."
As their eyes encountered, Hardwick caught his breath sharply; both felt
that chill of the cuticle, that stirring at the roots of the hair, that
marks the passing close to us of some sinister thing--stark murder, or
man's naked hatred walking in the dark beside our cheerful, commonplace
path. By one consent they turned back from the stable and went together
to Mrs. Gandish's. The house was dark.
"Of course, you know I don't expect to find him here," said Hardwick. "I
don't suppose they know anything about the matter. But we've got to wake
them and ask."
They did so, and set trembling the first wave of that widening ring of
horror which finally informed the remotest boundaries of the little
village that a man from their midst was mysteriously missing.
The morning found the telegraph in active requisition, flashing up and
down all lines by which a man might have left Cottonville or Watauga.
The police of the latter place were notified, furnished with
information, and set to find out if possible whether anybody in the city
had seen Stoddard since he rode away on Friday morning.
The inquiries were fruitless. A young lady visiting in the city had
promised him a dance at the Valentine masque to be held at the Country
Club-house Friday night. Some clothing put out a few days before to be
cleaned and pressed was ready for delivery. His laundry came home. His
mail arrived punctually. The postmaster stated that he had no
instructions for a change of address; all the little accessories of Gray
Stoddard's life offered themselves, mute, impressive witnesses that he
had intended to go on with it in Cottonville. But Stoddard himself had
dropped as completely out of the knowledge of man as though he had been
whisked off the planet.
The fruitless search was vigorously prosecuted. On Saturday the Hardwick
mill ran short-handed while nearly half its male employees made some
effort to solve the mystery. Parties combed again and again the nearer
mountains. Sunday all the mill operatives were free; and then groups of
women and children added themselves to the men; dinners were taken
along, lending a grotesque suggestion of picnicking to the work, a
suggestion contradicted by the anxious faces, the strained timbre of the
voices that called from group to group. But night brought the amateur
searchers straggling home with nothing to tell. It should have been
significant to any one who knew the mountain people, that information
concerning Gray Stoddard within a week of his disappearance, was
noticeably lacking. Nobody would admit that his had been a familiar
figure on those roads. At the utmost they had "seed him a good deal a
while ago, but he'd sorter quit riding up this-a-way of late." But on no
road could there be found man, woman, or child who had seen Gray
Stoddard riding Friday morning on his roan horse. The whole outlying
district seemed to be in a conspiracy of silence.
In Watauga and in Cottonville itself, clues were found by the police,
followed up and proved worthless. All Gray's Eastern connections were
immediately communicated with by telegraph, in the forlorn hope of
finding some internal clue. The business men in charge of his large
Eastern interests answered promptly that nothing from recent
correspondence with him pointed to any intention on his part of making a
journey or otherwise changing his ordinary way of living. They added
urgent admonitions to Mr. MacPherson to have locked up in the Company's
safe various important papers which they had sent, at Stoddard's
request, for signature, and which they supposed from the date, must be
lying with his other mail. A boyhood friend telegraphed his intention of
coming down from Massachusetts and joining the searchers. Stoddard had
no near relatives. A grand-aunt, living in Boston, telegraphed to Mr.
Hardwick to see that money be spent freely.
Meantime there was reason for Johnnie Consadine, shut in the little
sister's sick room day and night, to hear nothing of these matters.
Lissy had been allowed to help wait upon the injured child only on
promise that nothing exciting should be mentioned. Both boys had
instantly begged to join a searching party, Milo insisting that he could
work all night and search all day, and that nobody should complain that
he neglected his job. Pony, being refused, had run away; Milo the
rulable followed to get him to return; and by Sunday night Mavity was
feeding both boys from the back door and keeping them out of sight of
Pap's vengeance. Considering that Johnnie had trouble enough, she
cautioned everybody on the place to say nothing of these matters to the
girl. Mandy, a feeble, unsound creature at best, was more severely
injured than had been thought. She was confined to her bed for days. Pap
went about somewhat like a whipped dog, spoke little on any subject, and
tolerated no mention of the topic of the day in Cottonville; his face
kept the boarders quiet at table and in the house, anyhow. Shade
Buckheath never entered the place after Deanie was carried in from the
hastily summoned carriage Thursday night.
The doctors told them that if Deanie survived the shock and its violent
reaction, she had a fair chance of recovery. They found at once that she
was not internally injured; the blood that had been seen came only from
a cut lip. But the child's left arm was broken, the small body was
dreadfully bruised, and the terror had left a profound mental
disturbance. Nothing but quiet and careful nursing offered any good
hope; while there was the menace that she would never be strong again,
and might not live to womanhood.
At first she lay with half-closed, glazed eyes, barely breathing, a
ghastly sight. Then, when she roused a bit, she wanted, not Lissy, not
even Johnnie; she called for her mother.
When her child was brought home to her, dying as they all thought,
Laurella had rallied her forces and got up from the pallet on which she
lay to tend on the little thing; but she broke down in the course of a
few hours, and seemed about to add another patient to Johnnie's cares.
Yet when the paroxysms of terror shook the emaciated frame, and the
others attempted to reassure Deanie by words, it was her mother who
called for a bit of gay calico, for scissors and needle and thread, and
began dressing a doll in the little sufferer's sight. Laurella had
carried unspoiled the faculty for play, up with her through the years.
"Let her be," the doctor counselled Johnnie, in reply to anxious
inquiries. "Don't you see she's getting the child's attention? The baby
notices. An ounce of happiness is worth a pound of any medicine I
And so, when Laurella could no longer sit up, they brought another cot
for her, and she lay all day babbling childish nonsense, and playing
dolls within hand-reach of the sick-bed; while Johnnie with Lissy's
help, tended on them both.
"You've got two babies now, you big, old, solemn Johnnie," Laurella
said, with a ghost of her sparkling smile. "Deanie and me is just of one
age, and that's a fact."
If Pap wanted to see his young wife--and thirst for a sight of her was a
continual craving with him; she was the light of the old sinner's
eyes--he had to go in and look on the child he had injured. This kept
him away pretty effectually after that first fiery scene, when Laurella
had flown at him like a fierce little vixen and told him that she never
wanted to see his face again, that she rued the day she married him, and
intended to leave him as soon as she could put foot to the ground.
In the gray dawn of Monday morning, when Johnnie was downstairs eating
her bit of early breakfast, Pap shambled in to make Laurella's fire.
Having got the hickory wood to blazing, he sat humped and shame-faced by
the bedside a while, whispering to his wife and holding her hand, a
sight for the student of man to marvel at. He had brought a paper of
coarse, cheap candy for Deanie, but the child was asleep. The offering
was quite as acceptable to Laurella, and she nibbled a stick as she
listened to him.
The bald head with its little fringe of grizzled curls, bent close to
the dark, slant-browed, lustrous-eyed, mutinous countenance; Pap
whispered hoarsely for some time, Laurella replying at first in a sort
of languid tolerance, but presently with little ejaculations of wonder
and dismay. A step on the stair which he took to be Johnnie's put Himes
to instant flight.
"I've got to go honey," he breathed huskily. "Cain't you say you forgive
me before I leave? I know I ain't fitten fer the likes of you; but when
I come back from this here raid I'm a-goin' to take some money out of
the bank and git you whatever you want. Look-a-here; see what I've
done," and he showed a little book in his hand, and what he had
written in it.
"Oh--I forgive you, if that's any account to you," returned Laurella
with kindly contempt. "I never noticed that forgiving things undid the
harm any; but--yes--oh, of course I forgive you. Go along; I'm tired
now. Don't bother me any more, Gid; I want to sleep."
The old man thrust the treasured bankbook under Laurella's pillow, and
hurried away. Downstairs in the dining room Johnnie was eating her
"Johnnie," said Mavity Bence, keeping behind the girl's chair as she
served the meal to her at the end of the long table, "I ain't never done
you a meanness yet, have I? And you know I've got all the good will in
the world toward you--now don't you?"
"Why, of course, Aunt Mavity," returned Johnnie wonderingly, trying to
get sight of the older woman's face.
Mrs. Bence took a plate and hurried out for more biscuits. She came back
with some resolution plainly renewed in her mind.
"Johnnie," she began once more, "there's something I've got to tell you.
Your Uncle Pros has got away from 'em up at the hospital, and to the
hills, and--and--I have obliged to tell you."
"Yes, I know," returned Johnnie passively. "They sent me word last
night. I'm sorry, but I can't do anything about it. Maybe he won't come
to any harm out that way. I can't imagine Uncle Pros hurting anybody.
Perhaps it will do him good."
"Hit wasn't about your Uncle Pros that I was meaning. At least not about
his gettin' away from the hospital," amended Mavity. "It was about the
day he got hurt here. I--I always aimed to tell you. I know I ort to
have done it. I was always a-goin' to, and then--Pap--he--"
She broke off and stood silent so long that Johnnie turned and looked at
"Surely you aren't afraid of me, Aunt Mavity," she said finally.
"No," said Mavity Bence in a low voice, "but I'm scared of--the others."
The girl stared at her curiously.
"Johnnie," burst out the woman for the third time, "yo' Uncle Pros found
his silver mine! Oh, yes, he did; and Pap's got his pieces of ore
upstairs in a bandanner; and him and Shade Buckheath aims to git it away
from you-all and--oh, I don't know what!"
There fell a long silence. At last Johnnie's voice broke it, asking very
"Did they--how was Uncle Pros hurt?"
"Neither of 'em touched him," Mavity hastened to assure her. "He heard
'em name it how they'd get the mine from him--or thought he did--and he
come out and talked loud, and grabbed for the bandanner, and he missed
it and fell down the steps. He wasn't crazy when he come to the house.
He was jest plumb wore out, and his head was hurt. He called it yo'
silver mine. He said he had to put the bandanner in yo' lap and tell you
hit was for you."
Johnny got suddenly to her feet.
"Thank you, Aunt Mavity," she said kindly. "This is what's been
troubling you, is it? Don't worry any more, I'll see about this,
somehow. I must go back to Mother now."
Laurella had said to Pap Himes that she wanted to sleep, and indeed her
eyes, were closed when Johnnie entered the room; but beneath the shadow
of the sweeping lashes burned such spots of crimson that her nurse
"What was Pap Himes saying to you to get you so excited?" she asked