THE POWER AND THE GLORY
By GRACE MACGOWAN COOKE
Author of "Mistress Joy," "Huldah," "Their First Formal Call," etc.
WITH FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS BY ARTHUR I. KELLER
I. THE BIRTH OF A WOMAN-CHILD II. THE BIRTH OF AN AMBITION III. A PEAK IN DARIEN IV. OF THE USE OF FEET V. THE MOCCASIN FLOWER VI. WEAVERS AND WEFT VII. ABOVE THE VALLEY VIII. OF THE USE OF WINGS IX. A BIT OF METAL X. THE SANDALS OF JOY XI. THE NEW BOARDER XII. THE CONTENTS OF A BANDANNA XIII. A PATIENT FOR THE HOSPITAL XIV. WEDDING BELLS XV. THE FEET OF THE CHILDREN XVI. BITTER WATERS XVII. A VICTIM XVIII. LIGHT XIX. A PACT XX. MISSING XXI. THE SEARCH XXII. THE ATLAS VERTEBRA XXIII. A CLUE XXIV. THE RESCUE XXV. THE FUTURE
"Yes, I'm a-going to get a chance to work right away," she smiled up at him. Frontispiece
He loomed above them, white and shaking. "You thieves!" he roared. "Give me my bandanner! Give me Johnnie's silver mine!"
"Lost—gone! My God, Mother—it's three days and three nights!"
The car was already leaping down the hill at a tremendous pace.
THE BIRTH OF A WOMAN-CHILD
"Whose cradle's that?" the sick woman's thin querulous tones arrested the man at the threshold.
"Onie Dillard's," he replied hollowly from the depths of the crib which he carried upside down upon his head, like some curious kind of overgrown helmet.
"Now, why in the name o' common sense would ye go and borry a broken cradle?" came the wail from the bed. "I 'lowed you'd git Billy Spinner's, an' hit's as good as new."
Uncle Pros set the small article of furniture down gently.
"Don't you worry yo'se'f, Laurelly," he said enthusiastically. Pros Passmore, uncle of the sick woman and mainstay of the forlorn little Consadine household, was always full of enthusiasm. "Just a few nails and a little wrappin' of twine'll make it all right," he informed his niece. "I stopped a-past and borried the nails and the hammer from Jeff Dawes; I mighty nigh pounded my thumb off knockin' in nails with a rock an' a sad-iron last week."
"Looks like nobody ain't got no sense," returned Laurella Consadine ungratefully. "Even you, Unc' Pros—while you borryin' why cain't ye borry whole things that don't need mendin'?"
Out of the shadows that hoarded the further end of the room came a woman with a little bundle in her arm which had evidently created the necessity for the borrowed cradle.
"Laurelly," the nurse hesitated, "I wouldn't name it to ye whilst ye was a-sufferin,' but I jest cain't find the baby's clothes nowhars. I've done washed the little trick and wrapped her in my flannen petticoat. I do despise to put anything on 'em that anybody else has wore ... hit don't seem right. But I've been plumb through everything, an' cain't find none of her coats. Whar did you put 'em?"
"I didn't have no luck borryin' for this one," complained the sick woman fretfully. "Looks like everybody's got that mean that they wouldn't lend me a rag ... an' the Lord knows I only ast a wearin' of the clothes for my chillen. Folks can make shore that I return what I borry—ef the Lord lets me."
"Ain't they nothin' to put on the baby?" asked Mavity Bence, aghast.
"No. Hit's jest like I been tellin' ye, I went to Tarver's wife—she's got a plenty. I knowed in reason she'd have baby clothes that she couldn't expect to wear out on her own chillen. I said as much to her, when she told me she was liable to need 'em befo' I did. I says, 'Ye cain't need more'n half of 'em, I reckon, an' half'll do me, an' I'll return 'em to ye when I'm done with 'em.' She acted jest as selfish—said she'd like to know how I was goin' to inshore her that it wouldn't be twins agin same as 'twas before. Some folks is powerful mean an' suspicious."
All this time the nurse had been standing with the quiet small packet which was the storm centre of preparation lying like a cocoon or a giant seed-pod against her bosom.
"She's a mighty likely little gal," said she finally. "Have ye any hopes o' gittin' anything to put on her?"
The woman in the bed—she was scarcely more than a girl, with shining dark eyes and a profusion of jetty ringlets about her elfish, pretty little face—seemed to feel that this speech was in the nature of a reproach. She hastened to detail her further activities on behalf of the newcomer.
"Consadine's a poor provider," she said plaintively, alluding to her absent husband. "Maw said to me when I would have him that he was a poor provider; and then he's got into this here way of goin' off like. Time things gets too bad here at home he's got a big scheme up for makin' his fortune somewhars else, and out he puts. He 'lowed he'd be home with a plenty before the baby come. But thar—he's the best man that ever was, when he's here, and I have no wish to miscall him. I reckon he thought I could borry what I'd need. Biney Meal lent me enough for the little un that died; but of course some o' the coats was buried with the child; and what was left, Sis' Elvira borried for her baby. I was layin' off to go over to the Deep Spring neighbourhood when I could git a lift in that direction—the folks over yon is mighty accommodative," she concluded, "but I was took sooner than I expected, and hyer we air without a stitch, I've done sont Bud an' Honey to Mandy Ann Foncher's mebby they'll bring in somethin'."
The little cabin shrank back against the steep side of the mountain as though half terrified at the hollow immensity of the welkin above, or the almost sheer drop to the valley five hundred feet beneath. A sidling mountain trail passed the front of its rail fence, and stones continually rolled from the upper to the lower side of this highway.
The day was darkening rapidly. A low line of red still burned behind the massive bulk of Big Unaka, and the solemn purple mountains raised their peaks against it in a jagged line. Within die single-roomed cabin the rich, broken light from the cavernous fireplace filled the smoke-browned interior full of shadow and shine in which things leaped oddly into life, or dropped out of knowledge with a startling effect. The four corners of the log room were utilized, three of them for beds, made by thrusting two poles through auger holes bored in the logs of the walls, setting a leg at the corner where these met and lacing the bottom with hickory withes. The fourth had some rude planks nailed in it for a table, and a knot-hole in one of the logs served the primitive purpose of a salt-cellar. A pack of gaunt hounds quarrelled under the floor, and the sick woman stirred uneasily on her bed and expressed a wish that her emissaries would return.
Uncle Pros had taken the cradle to a back door to get the last of the evening sun upon his task. One would not have thought that he could hear what the women were saying at this distance, but the old hunter's ears were sharp.
"Never you mind, Laurelly," he called cheerfully. "Wrop the baby up some fashion, and I'll hike out and get clothes for her, time I mend this cradle."
"Ef that ain't just like Unc' Pros!" And the girlish mother laughed out suddenly. You saw the gypsy beauty of her face. "He ain't content with borryin' men's truck, but thinks he can turn in an' borry coats 'mongst the women. Well, I reckon he might have better luck than what I did."
As she spoke a small boy and girl, her dead brother's children, came clattering in from the purple mysteries of dusk outside, hand clasped in hand, and stopped close to the bed, staring.
"Mandy Ann, she wouldn't lend us a thing," Bud began in an aggrieved tone. "I traded for this—chopped wood for it—and hit was all she would give me." He laid a coarse little garment upon the ragged coverlet.
"That!" cried Laurella Passmore, taking it up with angrily tremulous fingers. "My child shain't wear no sech. Hit ain't fittin' for my baby to put on. Oh, I wisht I could git up from here and do about; I'd git somethin' for her to wear!"
"Son," said Mrs. Bence, approaching the bedside, "air ye afeared to go over as far as my house right now?"
"I ain't skeered ef Honey'll go with me," returned the boy doubtfully, as he interrogated the twilit spaces beyond the open cabin door.
"Well, you go ask Pap to look in the green chist and send me the spotted caliker poke that he'll find under the big bun'le. Don't you let him give you that thar big bun'le; 'caze that's not a thing but seed corn, and he'll be mad ef it's tetched. Fell Pap that what's in the spotted poke ain't nothin' that he wants. Tell him it's—well, tell him to look at it before he gives it to you."
The two little souls scuttled away into the gathering dark, and the neighbour woman sat down by the fire to nurse the baby and croon and await the clothing for which she had sent.
She was not an old woman, but already stiff and misshapen by toil and the lack of that saving salt of pride, the stimulation of joy, which keeps us erect and supple. Her broad back was bent; her hands as they shifted the infant tenderly were knotted and work-worn. Mavity Bence was a widow, living at home with her father, Gideon Himes; she had one child left, a daughter; but the clothing for which she had sent was an outfit made for a son, the posthumous offspring of his father; and the babe had not lived long enough to wear it.
Outside, Uncle Pros began to sing at his work. He had a fluty old tenor voice, and he put in turns and quavers that no ear not of the mountains could possibly follow and fix. First it was a hymn, all abrupt, odd, minor cadences and monotonous refrain. Then he shifted to a ballad—and the mountains are full of old ballads of Scotland and England, come down from the time of the first settlers, and with local names quaintly substituted for the originals here and there.
"She's gwine to walk in a silken gownd, An' ha'e plenty o' siller for to spare,"
chanted the old man above the little bed he was repairing.
"Who's that you're a-namin' that's a-goin' to have silk dresses?" inquired Laurella, as he entered and set the mended cradle down by the bedside.
"The baby." he returned. "Ef I find my silver mine—or ruther when I find my silver mine, for you know in reason with the directions Pap's Grandpap left, and that word from Great Uncle Billy that helped the Injuns work it, I'm bound to run the thing down one o' these days—when I find my silver mine this here little gal's a-goin' to have everything she wants—ain't ye, Pretty?"
And, having made a bed in the cradle from some folded covers, he lifted the baby with strange deftness and placed it in.
"See thar," he called their attention proudly. "As good as new. And ef I git time I'm a-goin' to give it a few licks o' paint."
Hands on knees, he bent to study the face of the new-born, that countenance so ambiguous to our eyes, scarce stamped yet with the common seal of humanity.
"She's a mighty pretty little gal," he repeated Mavity Bence's words. "She's got the Passmore favour, as well as the Consadine. Reckon I better be steppin' over to Vander's and see can I borry their cow. If it's with you this time like it was with the last one, we'll have to have a cow. I always thought if we'd had a fresh cow for that other one, hit would 'a' lived. I know in reason Vander'll lend the cow for a spell"—Uncle Pros always had unbounded confidence in the good will of his neighbours toward himself, since his own generosity to them would have been fathomless—"I know in reason he'll lend hit, 'caze they ain't got no baby to their house."
He bestowed one more proud, fond look upon the little face in the borrowed cradle, and walked out with as elated a step as though a queen had been born to the tribe.
In the doorway he met Bud and Honey, returning with the spotted calico poke clutched fast between them.
"I won't ask nothin' but a wearin' of em for my child," Laurella Consadine, born Laurella Passmore, reiterated when the small garments were laid out on the bed, and the baby was being dressed. "They're mighty fine, Mavity, an' I'll take good keer of 'em and always bear in mind that they're only borried."
"No," returned Mavity Bence, with unwonted firmness, as she put the newcomer into the slip intended for her own son. "No, Laurelly, these clothes ain't loaned to you. I give 'em to this child. I'm a widder, and I never look to wed again, becaze Pap he has to have somebody to do for him, an' he'd just about tear up the ground if I was to name sech a thing. I'm mighty glad to give 'em to yo' little gal. I only wisht," she said wistfully, "that hit was a boy. Ef hit was a boy, mebbe you'd give hit the name that should 'a' went with the clothes. I was a-goin' to call the baby John after hit's pappy."
Laurella Consadine lay quiescent for a moment, big black eyes studying the smoky logs that raftered the roof. Then all at once she laughed, with a flash of white teeth.
"I don't see why Johnnie ain't a mighty fine name for a gal," she said. "I vow I'm a-goin' to name her Johnnie!"
And so this one of the tribe of borrowing Passmores wore her own clothing from the first. No borrowed garment touched her. She rejected the milk from the borrowed cow, fiercely; lustily she demanded—and eventually received—her own legitimate, unborrowed sustenance.
Perhaps such a beginning had its own influence upon her future.
THE BIRTH OF AN AMBITION
All day the girl had walked steadily, her bare feet comforted by the warm dust, shunning the pebbles, never finding sham stones in the way, making friends with the path—that would always be Johnnie. From the little high-hung valley in the remote fastnesses of the Unakas where she was born, Johnnie Consadine was walking down to Cottonville, the factory town on the outskirts of Watauga, to find work. Sometimes the road wound a little upward for a quarter of a mile or so; but the general tendency was persistently down.
In the gray dawn of Sunday morning she had stepped from the door of that room where the three beds occupied three corners, and a rude table was rigged in the fourth. It might almost seem that the same hounds were quarrelling under the floor that had scrambled there eighteen years before when she was born. At first the way was entirely familiar to her. It passed few habitations, and of those the dwellers were not yet abroad, since it was scarce day. As time went on she got to the little settlement at the foot of the first mountain, and had to explain to everybody her destination and ambition. Beyond this, she stopped occasionally for direction, she met more people; yet she was still in the heart of the mountains when noon found her, and she crept up a wayside bank and sat down alone to eat her bite of corn pone.
Guided by the instinct—or the wood-craft—of the mountain born and bred, she had sought out one of the hermit springs of beautiful freestone water that hide in these solitudes. When she had slaked her thirst at its little ice-cold chalice, she raised her head with a low exclamation of rapture. There, growing and blowing beside the cool thread of water which trickled from the spring, was a stately pink moccasin flower. She knelt and gazed at it with folded hands, as one before a shrine.
What is it in the sweeping dignity of these pointed, oval, parallel-veined leaves, sheathed one within another, the clean column of the bloom stalk rising a foot and a half perhaps above, and at its tip the wonderful pink, dreaming Buddha of the forest, that so commands the heart? It was not entirely the beauty of the softly glowing orchid that charmed Johnnie Consadine's eyes; it was the significance of the flower. Somehow the finding this rare, shy thing decking her path toward labour and enterprise spoke to her soul of success. For a long time she knelt, her bright uncovered head dappled by a ray of sunlight which filtered through the deep, cool green above her, her face bent, her eyes brooding, as though she prayed. When she had finished her dinner of corn pone and fried pork, she rose and parted with almost reverent fingers the pink wonder from its stalk, sought out a coarse, clean handkerchief from her bundle and, steeping it in the icy water of the spring, lapped it around her treasure. Not often in her eighteen summers had she found so fine a specimen. Then she took up her journey, comforted and strangely elated.
"Looks like it was waiting right there to tell me howdy," she murmured to herself.
The keynote of Johnnie Consadine's character was aspiration. In her cabin home the wings of desire were clipped, because she must needs put her passionate young soul into the longing for food, to quiet the cravings of a healthy stomach, which generally clamoured from one blackberry season to the other; the longing for shoes, when her feet were frostbitten; the yet more urgent wish to feed the little ones she loved; the pressing demand, when the water-bucket gave out and they had to pack water in a tin tomato can with a string bail; the dull ache of mortification when she became old enough to understand their position as the borrowing Passmores. Yet all human desire is sacred, and of God; to desire—to want—to aspire—thus shall the individual be saved; and surely in this is the salvation of the race. And Johnnie felt vaguely that at last she was going out into a world where she should learn what to desire and how to desire it.
Now as she tramped she was conning over her present plans. Again she saw the cabin at home in that pitchy black which precedes the first leavening of dawn, and herself getting up to start early on the long walk. Her mother would get up too, and that was foolish. She saw the slight figure stooping to rake together the embers in the broad chimney's throat that the coffee-pot might be set on. She remonstrated with the little mother, saying that she aimed not to disturb anybody—not even Uncle Pros.
"Uncle Pros!" Laurella echoed from the hearthstone, where she sat on her heels, like a little girl playing at mud-pies. Johnnie smiled at the memory of how her mother laughed over the suggestion, with a drawing of slant brows above big, tragic dark eyes, a look of suffering from the mirth which adds the crown to joyousness. "Your Uncle Pros he got a revelation 'long 'bout midnight as to just whar that thar silver mine is that's been dodgin' him for more'n forty year. He come a-shakin' me by the shoulder—like I reckon he's done fifty times ef he's done it once—and telling me that he's off to make all our fortunes inside of a week. He said if you still would go down to that thar old fool cotton mill and hire out, to name it to you that Shade Buckheath would stand some watchin'. Your Uncle Pros has got sense—in streaks. Why in the world you'll pike out and go to work in a cotton mill is more than I can cipher."
"To take care of you and the children," the girl had said, standing tall and straight, deep-bosomed and red-lipped, laughing back at her little mother. "Somebody's got to take care of you-all, and I just love to be the one."
Laurella Consadine, commonly called in mountain fashion by her maiden name of Laurella Passmore, scrambled to her feet and tossed the dark curls out of her eyes.
"Aw—law—huh!" she returned carelessly. "We'll get along; we always have. How do you reckon I made out before you was born, you great big somebody? What's the matter with you? Did you fail to borry a frock for the dance over at Rainy Gap? Try again, honey—I'll bet S'lomy Buckheath would lend you one o' her'n."
That was it; borrowing—borrowing—borrowing till they were known as the borrowing Passmores and became the jest of the neighbourhood.
"No, I couldn't stand it," the girl justified herself. "I had obliged to get out and go where money could be earned—me, that's big and stout and able."
And sighingly—yet light-heartedly, for with Laurella Consadine and Johnnie there was always the quaint suggestion of a little girl with a doll quite too big for her—the mother let her go. It had been just so when Johnnie would have her time for every term of the "old field hollerin' school," where she learned to read and write; even when she persisted in going to Rainy Gap where some charitably inclined northern church maintained a little school, and pushed her education to dizzy heights that to mountain vision appeared "plumb foolish."
That morning she had cautioned her mother to be careful lest they waken the children, for if the little ones roused and began, as the mountain phrase has it, "takin' on," she scarcely knew how she should find heart to leave them. The children—there was the thing that drove. Four small brothers and sisters there were; with little Deanie, the youngest, to make the painfully strong plea of recent babyhood. Consadine, who never could earn money, and used to be from home following one wild scheme or another most of the time, was gone these two years upon his last dubious, adventurous journey; there was not even his intermittent assistance to depend upon. Johnnie was the man of the family, and she shouldered her burden bravely, declaring to herself that she would yet have a chance, which the little ones could share.
She had kissed her mother, picked up her bundle and got as far as the door, when there came a spat of bare feet meeting the floor, a pattering rush, and Deanie's short arms went around her knees, almost tripping her up.
"I wasn't 'sleep—I was 'wake the whole time," whispered the baby, lifting a warm, pursed mouth for a kiss. "Deanie'll be good an' let you go, Sis' Johnnie. An' then when you get down thar whar it's all so sightly, you'll send for Deanie, 'cause deed and double you couldn't live without her, now could ye?" And she looked craftily up into the face bent above her, bravely choking back the tears that wanted to drown her long speech.
Johnnie dropped her bundle and caught up the child, crushing the warm, soft, yielding little form against her breast in a very passion of tenderness.
"Deed and double I couldn't," she whispered back. "Sister's goin' to earn money, and Deanie shall have plenty of good things to eat next winter, and some shoes. She shan't be housed up every time it snows. Sis's goin' to—"
She broke off abruptly and kissed the small face with vehemence.
"Good-bye," she managed to whisper, as she set the baby down and turned to her mother. The kindling touch of that farewell warmed her resolution yet. She was not going down to Cottonville to work in the mill merely; she was going into the Storehouse of Possibilities, to find and buy a chance in the world for these poor little souls who could never have it otherwise.
Before she kissed her mother, took up her bundle and trudged away in the chill, gray dawn, she declared an intention to come home and pay back every one to whom they were under obligations. Now her face dimpled as she remembered the shriek of dismay Laurella sent after her.
"Good land, Johnnie Consadine! If you start in to pay off all the borryin's of the Passmore family since you was born, you'll ruin us—that's what you'll do—you'll ruin us."
These things acted themselves over and over in Johnnie's mind as, throughout the fresh April afternoon, her long, free, rhythmic step, its morning vigour undiminished, swung the miles behind her; still present in thought when, away down in Render's Gap, she settled herself on a rock by the wayside where a little stream crossed the road, to wash her feet and put on the shoes which she had up to this time carried with her bundle.
"I reckon I must be near enough town to need 'em," she said regretfully, as she drew the big, shapeless, cowhide affairs on her slim, brown, carefully washed and dried feet, and with a leathern thong laced down a wide, stiff tongue. She had earned the money for these shoes picking blackberries at ten cents the gallon, and Uncle Pros had bought them at the store at Bledsoe according to his own ideas. "Get 'em big enough and there won't be any fussin' about the fit," the old man explained his theory: and indeed the fit of those shoes on Johnnie's feet was not a thing to fuss over—it was past considering.
The sun was westering; the Gap began to be in shadow, although the point at which she sat was well above the valley. The girl was all at once aware that she was tired and a little timid of what lay before her. She had written to Shade Buckheath, a neighbour's boy with whom she had gone to school, now employed as a mechanic or loom-fixer in one of the cotton mills, and from whom she had received a reply saying that she could get work in Cottonville if she would come down.
Mavity Bence, who had given Johnnie her first clothes, was a weaver in the Hardwick mill at Cottonville, Watauga's milling suburb; her father, Gideon Himes, with whom Shade Buckheath learned his trade, was a skilled mechanic, and had worked as a loom-fixer for a while. At present he was keeping a boarding-house for the hands, and it was here Johnnie was to find lodging. Shade himself was reported to be doing extremely well. He had promised in his letter that if Johnnie came on a Sunday evening he would walk up the road a piece and meet her. She now began to hope that he would come. Then, waiting for him, she forgot him, and set herself to imagine what work in the cotton mill and life in town would be like.
To Shade Buckheath, strolling up the road, in the expansiveness of his holiday mood and the dignity of his Sunday suit, the first sight of Johnnie came with a little unwelcome shock. He had left her in the mountains a tall, thin, sandy-haired girl in the growing age. He got his first sight of her profile relieved against the green of the wayside bank, with a bunch of blooming azaleas starring its verdure behind her bright head. He was not artist enough to appreciate the picture at its value; he simply had the sudden resentful feeling of one who has asked for a hen and been offered a bird of paradise. She was tall and lithe and strong; her thick, fair hair, without being actually curly, seemed to be so vehemently alive that it rippled a bit in its length, as a swift-flowing brook does over a stone. It rose up around her brow in a roll that was almost the fashionable coiffure. Those among whom she had been bred, laconically called the colour red; but in fact it was only too deep a gold to be quite yellow. Johnnie's face, even in repose, was always potentially joyous. The clear, wide, gray eyes, under their arching brows, the mobile lips, held as it were the smile in solution; when one addressed her it broke swiftly into being, the pink lips lifting adorably above the white teeth, the long fringed eyes crinkling deliciously about the corners. Johnnie loved to laugh, and the heart of any reasonable being was instantly moved to give her cause.
For himself, the young man was a prevalent type among his people. Brown, well built, light on his feet, with heavy black hair growing low on his forehead, and long blackish-gray eyes, there was something Latin in the grace of his movements and in his glance. Life ran strong in Shade Buckheath. He stepped with an independent stride that was almost a swagger, and already felt himself a successful man; but that one of the tribe of borrowing Passmores should presume to such opulence of charm struck him as well-nigh impudent. The pure outlines of Johnnie's features, their aristocratic mould, the ruddy gold of her rich, clustering hair, those were things it seemed to him a good mill-hand might well have dispensed with. Then the girl turned, saw him, and flashed him a swift smile of greeting.
"It's mighty kind of you to come up and meet me," she said, getting to her feet a little awkwardly on account of the shoes, and picking up her bundle.
"I 'lowed you might get lost," bantered the young fellow, not offering to carry the packet as they trudged away side by side. "How's everybody back on Unaka? Has your Uncle Pros found his silver mine yet?"
"No," returned Johnnie seriously, "but he's lookin' for it."
Shade threw back his head and laughed so long and loud that it would have been embarrassing to any one less sound and sweet-natured than this girl.
"I reckon he is," said Buckheath. "I reckon Pros Passmore will be lookin' for that silver mine when Gabriel blows. It runs in the family, don't it?"
Johnnie looked at him and shook her head.
"You've been learnin' town ways, haven't you?" she asked simply.
"You mean my makin' game of the Passmores?" he inquired coolly. "No, I never learned that in the settlement; I learned it in the mountains. I just forgot your name was Passmore, that's all," he added sarcastically. "Are you goin' to get mad about it?"
Johnnie had put on her slat sunbonnet and pulled it down so he could not see her face.
"No," she returned evenly, "I'm not goin' to get mad at anything. And my name's not Passmore, either. My name is Consadine, and I aim to be called that. Uncle Pros Passmore is my mother's uncle, and one of the best men that ever lived, I reckon. If all the folks he's nursed in sickness or laid out in death was numbered over it would be a-many a one; and I never heard him take any credit to himself for anything he did. Why, Shade, the last three years of your father's life Uncle Pros didn't dare hunt his silver mine much, because your father was paralysed and had to have close waitin' on, and—and there wasn't nobody but Uncle Pros, since all his boys was gone and—"
"Oh, say it. Speak out," urged Shade hardily. "You mean that all us chaps had cut out and left the old man, and there wasn't a cent of money to pay anybody, and no one but Pros Passmore would 'a' been fool enough to do such hard work without pay. Well, I reckon you're about right. You and me come of a mighty poor nation of folks; but I'm goin' to make my pile and have my share, if lookin' out for number one'll do it."
Johnnie turned and regarded him curiously. It was characteristic of the mountain girl, and of her people, that she had not on first meeting stared, village fashion, at his brave attire; and she seemed now concerned only with the man himself.
"I reckon you'll get it," she said meditatively. "I reckon you will. Sometimes I think we always get just what we deserve in this here world, and that the only safe way is to try to deserve something good. I hope I didn't say too much for Uncle Pros; but he's so easy and say-nothin' himself, that I just couldn't bear to hear you laughin' at him and not answer you."
"I declare, you're plenty funny!" Buckheath burst put boisterously. "No, I ain't mad at you. I kind o' like you for stickin' up for the old man. You and me'll get along, I reckon."
As they moved forward, the man and the girl fell into more general chat, the feeling of irritation at Johnnie's beauty, her superior air, growing rather than diminishing in the young fellow's mind. How dare Pros Passmore's grandniece carry a bright head so high, and flash such glances of liquid fire at her questioner? Shade looked sidewise sometimes at his companion as he asked the news of their mutual friends, and she answered. Yet when he got, along with her mild responses, one of those glances, he was himself strangely subdued by it, and fain to prop his leaning prejudices by contrasting her scant print gown, her slat sunbonnet, and cowhide shoes with the apparel of the humblest in the village which they were approaching.
A PEAK IN DARIEN
So walking, and so desultorily talking, they came out on a noble white highway that wound for miles along the bluffy edge of the upland overlooking the valley upon the one side, fronted by handsome residences on the other.
It was Johnnie's first view of a big valley, a river, or a city. She had seen the shoestring creek bottoms between the endless mountains among which she was born and bred, the high-hung, cup-like depressions of their inner fastnesses; she was used to the cool, clear, boulder-checked mountain creeks that fight their way down those steeps like an armed man beating off assailants at every turn; she had been taken a number of times to Bledsoe, the tiny settlement at the foot of Unaka Old Bald, where there were two stores, a blacksmith shop, the post-office and the church.
Below her, now beginning to glow in the evening light, opened out one of the finest valleys of the southern Appalachees. Lapped in it, far off, shrouded with rosy mist which she did not identify as transmuted coal smoke, a city lay, fretted with spires, already sparkling with electric lights, set like a glittering boss of jewels in the broad curve of a shining river.
Directly down the steep at their feet was the cotton-mill town, a suburb clustered about a half-dozen great factories, whose long rows of lighted windows defined their black bulk. There was a stream here, too; a small, sluggish thing that flowed from tank to tank among the factories, spanned by numerous handrails, bridged in one place for the wagon-road to cross. Mills, valley, town, distant rimming mountains, river and creek, glowed and pulsed, dissolved and relimned themselves in the uprolling glory of sunset.
"Oh, wait for me a minute, Shade," pleaded the girl, pulling off her sunbonnet.... "I want to look.... Never in my life did I see anything so sightly!"
"Good land!" laughed the man, with a note of impatience in his voice. "You and me was raised on mountain scenery, as a body may say. I should think we'd both had enough of it to last us."
"But this—this is different," groped Johnnie, trying to explain the emotions that possessed her. "Look at that big settlement over yon. I reckon it's a city. It must be Watauga. It looks like the—the mansions of the blest, in the big Bible that preacher Drane has, down at Bledsoe."
"I reckon they're blest—they got plenty of money," returned Shade, with the cheap cynicism of his kind.
"So many houses!" the girl communed with herself. "There's bound to be a-many a person in all them houses," she went on. One could read the loving outreach to all humanity in her tones.
"There is," put in Shade caustically. "There's many a rogue. You want to look out for them tricky town folks—a girl like you."
Had he been more kind, he would have said, "a pretty girl like you." But Johnnie did not miss it; she was used to such as he gave, or less.
"Come on," he urged impatiently. "We won't get no supper if you don't hurry."
Supper! Johnnie drew in her breath and shook her head. With that scene unrolled there, as though all the kingdoms of earth were spread before them to look upon, she was asked to remember supper! Sighing, but submissively, she moved to follow her guide, a reluctant glance across her shoulder, when there came a cry something like that which the wild geese make when they come over in the spring; and a thing with two shining, fiery eyes, a thing that purred like a giant cat, rounded a curve in the road and came to a sudden jolting halt beside them.
Shade stopped immediately for that. Johnnie did not fail to recognize the vehicle. Illustrated magazines go everywhere in these days. In the automobile rode a man, bare-headed, dressed in a suit of white flannels, strange to Johnnie's eyes. Beside him sat a woman in a long, shimmering, silken cloak, a great, misty, silver-gray veil twined round head and hat and tied in a big bow under the chin. Johnnie had as yet seen nothing more pretentious than the starched and ruffled flummeries of a small mountain watering-place. This beautiful, peculiar looking garb had something of the picturesque, the poetic, about it, that appealed to her as the frocks worn at Chalybeate Springs or Bledsoe had never done. She had not wanted them. She wanted this. The automobile was stopped, the young fellow in it calling to Shade:
"I wonder if you could help me with this thing, Buckheath? It's on a strike again. Show me what you did to it last time."
Along the edge of the road at this point, for safety's sake, a low stone wall had been laid. Setting down her bundle, Johnnie leaned upon this, and shared her admiration between the valley below and these beautiful, interesting newcomers. Her bonnet was pushed far back; the wind ruffled the bright hair about her forehead; the wonder and glory and delight of it all made her deep eyes shine with a child's curiosity and avid wishfulness. Her lips were parted in unconscious smiles. White and red, tremulous, on tiptoe, the eager soul looking out of her face, she was very beautiful. The man in the automobile observed her kindly; the woman's features she could not quite see, though the veil was parted.
Neither Johnnie nor the driver of the car saw the quick, resentful glance her companion shot at the city man as Shade noted the latter's admiring look at the girl. Buckheath displayed an awesome familiarity with the machine and its workings, crawling under the body, and tapping it here and there with a wrench its driver supplied. They backed it and moved it a little, and seemed to be debating the short turn which would take them into the driveway leading up to a house on the slope above the road.
Johnnie continued to watch with fascinated eyes; Shade was on his feet now, reaching into the bowels of the machine to do mysterious things.
"It's a broken connection," he announced briefly.
"Is the wire too short to twist together?" inquired the man in the car. "Will you have to put in a new piece?"
"Uh-huh," assented Buckheath.
"There's a wire in that box there," directed the other.
Shade worked in silence for a moment.
"Now she'll go, I reckon," he announced, and once more the driver started up his car. It curved perilously near the bundle she had set down, with the handkerchief containing her cherished blossom lying atop; the mud-guard swept this latter off, and Buckheath set a foot upon it as he followed the machine in its progress.
"Take care—that was a flower," the man in the auto warned, too late.
Shade answered with a quick, backward-flung glance and a little derisive laugh, but no words. The young fellow stopped the machine, jumped down, and picked up the coarse little handkerchief which showed a bit of drooping green stem at one end and a glimpse of pink at the other.
"I'm sorry," he said, presenting it to Johnnie with exactly the air and tone he had used in speaking to the lady who was with him in the car. "If I had seen it in time, I might have saved it. I hope it's not much hurt."
Buckheath addressed himself savagely to his work at the machine. The woman in the auto glanced uneasily up at the house on the slope above them. Johnnie looked into the eyes bent so kindly upon her, and could have worshipped the ground on which their owner trod. Kindness always melted her heart utterly, but kindness with such beautiful courtesy added—this was the quality in flower.
"It doesn't make any differ," she said softly, turning to him a rapt, transfigured face. "It's just a bloom I brought from the mountains—they don't grow in the valley, and I found this one on my way down."
The man wondered a little if it were only the glow of the sunset that lit her face with such shining beauty; he noted how the fires of it flowed over her bright, blown hair and kindled its colour, how it lingered in the clear eyes, and flamed upon the white neck and throat till they had almost the translucence of pearl.
"I think this thing'll work now—for a spell, anyhow," Shade Buckheath's voice sounded sharply from the road behind them.
"Are you afraid to attempt it, Miss Sessions?" the young man called to his companion. "If you are, we'll walk up, I'll telephone at the house for a trap and we'll drive back:—Buckheath will take the machine in for us."
The voice was even and low-toned, yet every word came to Johnnie distinctly. She watched with a sort of rapture the movements of this party. The man's hair was dark and crisp, and worn a little long about the temples and ears; he had pleasant dark eyes and an air of being slightly amused, even when he did not smile. The lady apparently said that she was not afraid, for her companion got in, the machine negotiated the turn safely and began to move slowly up the steep ascent. As it did so, the driver gave another glance toward where the mountain girl stood, a swift, kind glance, and a smile that stayed with her after the shining car had disappeared in the direction of the wide-porched building where people were laughing and calling to each other and moving about—people dressed in beautiful garments which Johnnie would fain have inspected more closely.
Buckheath stood gazing at her sarcastically.
"Come on," he ordered, as she held back, lingering. "They ain't no good in you hangin' 'round here. That was Mr. Gray Stoddard, and the lady he's beauin' is Miss Lydia Sessions, Mr. Hardwick's sister-in-law. He's for such as her—not for you. He's the boss of the bosses down at Cottonville. No use of you lookin' at him."
Johnnie scarcely heard the words. Her eyes were on the wide porch of the house above them.
"What is that place?" she inquired in an awestruck whisper, as she fell into step submissively, plodding with bent head at his shoulder.
"The Country Club," Shade flung back at her. "Did you 'low it was heaven?"
Heaven! Johnnie brooded on that for a long time. She turned her head stealthily for a last glimpse of the portico where a laughing girl tossed a ball to a young fellow on the terrace below. After all, heaven was not so far amiss. She had rather associated it with the abode of the blest. The people in it were happy; they moved in beautiful raiment all day long; they spoke to each other kindly. It was love's home, she was sure of that. Then her mind went back to the dress of the girl in the auto.
"I'm a-going to have me a frock like that before I die," she said, half unconsciously, yet with a sudden passion of resolution. "Yes, if I live I'm a-goin' to have me just such a frock."
Shade wheeled in his tracks with a swift narrowing of the slate-gray eyes. He had been more stirred than he was willing to acknowledge by the girl's beauty, and by a nameless power that went out from the seemingly helpless creature and laid hold of those with whom she came in contact. It was the open admiration of young Stoddard which had roused the sullen resentment he was now spending on her.
"Ye air, air ye?" he demanded sharply. "You're a-goin' to have a frock like that? And what man's a-goin' to pay for it, I'd like to know?"
Such talk belonged to the valley and the settlement. In the mountains a woman works, of course, and earns her board and keep. She is a valuable industrial possession or chattel to the man, who may profit by her labour; never a luxury—a bill of expense. As she walked, Johnnie nodded toward the factory in the valley, beginning to blaze with light—her bridge of toil, that was to carry her from the island of Nowhere to the great mainland of Life, where everything might be had for the working, the striving.
"I didn't name no man," she said mildly. "I don't reckon anybody's goin' to give me things. Ain't there the factory where a body may work and earn money for all they need?"
"Well, I reckon they might, if they was good and careful to need powerful little," allowed Shade.
At the moment they came to the opening of a small path which plunged abruptly down the steep side of the ridge, curving in and out with—and sometimes across—a carriage road. As they took the first steps on this the sun forsook the valley at last, and lingered only on the mountain top where was that Palace of Pleasure into which He and She had vanished, before which the strange chariot waited. And all at once the little brook that wound, a golden thread, between the bulk of the mills, flowed, a stream of ink, from pool to pool of black water. The way down turned and turned; and each time that Shade and Johnnie got another sight of the buildings of the little village below, they had changed in character with the changing point of view. They loomed taller, they looked darker in spite of the pulsing light from their many windows.
And now there burst out a roar of whistles, like the bellowing of great monsters. Somehow it struck cold upon the girl's heart. They were coming down from that wonderful highland where she had seemed to see all the kingdoms of earth spread before her, hers for the conquering; they were descending into the shadow.
As they came quite to the foot they saw groups of women and children, with here and there a decrepit man, leaving the cottages and making their way toward the lighted mills. From the doors of little shanties tired-faced women with boys and girls walking near them, and, in one or two cases, very small ones clinging to their skirts and hands, reinforced the crowd which set in a steady stream toward the bridges and the open gates in the high board fences.
"What are they a-goin' to the factory for on Sunday evening?" Johnnie inquired.
"Night turn," replied Buckheath briefly. "Sunday's over at sundown."
"Oh, yes," agreed Johnnie dutifully, but rather disheartened. "Trade must be mighty good if they have to work all night."
"Them that works don't get any more for it," retorted Shade harshly.
"What's the little ones goin' to the mill for?" Johnnie questioned, staring up at him with apprehensive eyes.
"Why, to play, I reckon," returned the young fellow ironically. "Folks mostly does go to the mill to play, don't they?"
The girl ran forward and clasped his arm with eager fingers that shook. "Shade!" she cried; "they can't work those little babies. That one over there ain't to exceed four year old, and I know it."
The man looked indifferently to where a tiny boy trotted at his mother's heels, solemn, old-faced, unchildish. He laughed a little.
"That thar chap is the oldest feller in the mills," he said. "That's Benny Tarbox. He's too short to tend a frame, but his maw lets him help her at the loom—every weaver has obliged to have helpers wait on 'em. You'll get used to it."
Get used to it! She pulled the sunbonnet about her face. The gold was all gone from the earth, and from her mood as well. She raised her eyes to where the last brightness lingered on the mountain-top. Up there they were happy. And even as her feet carried her forward to Pap Himes's boarding-house, her soul went clamouring, questing back toward the heights, and the sunlight, the love and laughter, she had left behind.
"The power and the glory—the power and the glory," she whispered over and over to herself. "Is it all back there?" Again she looked wistfully toward the heights. "But maybe a body with two feet can climb."
OF THE USE OF FEET
The suburb of Cottonville bordered a creek, a starveling, wet-weather stream which offered the sole suggestion of sewerage. The village was cut in two by this natural division. It clung to the shelving sides of the shallow ravine; it was scattered like bits of refuse on the numerous railroad embankments, where building was unhandy and streets almost impossible, to be convenient to the mills. Six big factories in all, some on one side of the state line and some on the other, daily breathed in their live current of operatives and exhaled them again to fill the litter of flimsy shanties.
The road which wound down from the heights ran through the middle of the village and formed its main street. Across the ravine from it, reached by a wooden bridge, stood a pretentious frame edifice, a boarding-house built by the Gloriana mill for the use of its office force and mechanics. Men were lounging on the wide porches of this structure in Sabbath-afternoon leisure, smoking and singing. The young Southern male of any class is usually melodious. Across the hollow came the sounds of a guitar and a harmonica.
"Listen a minute, Shade. Ain't that pretty? I know that tune," said Johnnie, and she began to hum softly under her breath, her girlish heart responding to the call.
"Hush," admonished Buckheath harshly. "You don't want to be runnin' after them fellers. It's some of the loom-fixers."
In silence he led the way past the great mill buildings of red brick, square and unlovely but many-windowed and glowing, alight, throbbing with the hum of pent industry. Johnnie gazed steadily up at those windows; the glow within was other than that which gilded turret and pinnacle and fairy isle in the Western sky, yet perchance this light might be a lamp to the feet of one who wished to climb that way. Her adventurous spirit rose to the challenge, and she said softly, more to herself than to the man:
"I'm a-goin' to be a boss hand in there. I'm goin' to get the highest wages of any girl in the mill, time I learn my trade, because I'm goin' to try harder 'n anybody."
Shade looked around at her, curiously. Her beauty, her air of superiority, still repelled him—such fancy articles were not apt to be of much use—but this sounded like a woman who might be valuable to her master.
Johnnie returned his gaze with the frank good will of a child, and suddenly he forgot everything but the adorable lift of her pink lip over the shining white teeth.
The young fellow now halted at the step of a big frame house. The outside was of an extent to seem fairly pretentious; yet so mean was the construction, so sparing of window and finish, that the building showed itself instantly for what it was—the cheap boarding-house of a mill town. A group of tired-looking girls sitting on the step in blessed Sunday idleness and cheap Sunday finery stared as he and Johnnie ascended and crossed the porch. One of these, a tall lank woman of perhaps thirty years, got up and followed a few hesitating paces, apparently more as a matter of curiosity than with any hospitable intent.
A man with a round red face and a bald pate whose curly fringe of grizzled, reddish hair made him look like a clown in a pantomime, motioned them with a surly thumb toward the back of the house, where clattering preparations for supper were audible and odoriferous. The old fellow sat in a splint-bottomed chair of extra size and with arms. This he had kicked back against the wall of the house, so that his short legs did not reach the floor, the big carpet-slippered feet finding rest on the rung of the chair. His attitude was one of relaxation. The face, broad, flat, small of eye and wide of mouth, did indeed suggest the clown countenance; yet there was in it, and in the whole personality, something of the Eastern idol, the journeyman attempt of crude humanity to represent power. And the potential cruelty of the type slept in his placid countenance as surely as ever in the dreaming face of Shiva, the destroyer.
"Mrs. Bence—Aunt Mavity," called Shade, advancing into the narrow hall. In answer a tired-faced woman came from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her checked apron.
"Good Lord, if it ain't Johnnie! I was 'feared she Wouldn't git here to-night," she ejaculated when she saw the girl. "Take her out on the porch, Shade; I ain't got a minute now. Pap's poorly again, and I'm obliged to put the late supper on the table for them thar gals—the night shift's done eat and gone. I'll show her whar she's to sleep at, after while. I don't just rightly know whar Pap aimed to have her stay," she concluded hastily, as something boiled over on the stove. Johnnie set her bundle down in the corner of the kitchen.
"I'll help," she said simply, as she drew the excited coffee-pot to a corner of the range and dosed it judiciously with cold water.
"Well, now, that's mighty good of you," panted worried Mavity Bence. "How queer things comes 'round," she ruminated as they dished up the biscuits and fried pork. "I helped you into the very world, Johnnie. I lived neighbour to your maw, and they wasn't nobody else to be with her when you was born, and I went over. I never suspicioned that you would be helpin' me git supper down here in the settlement inside o' twenty year."
Johnnie ran and fetched and carried, as though she had never done anything else in her life, intent on the one task. She was alive in every fibre of her young body; she saw, she heard, as these words cannot always be truthfully applied to people.
"Did Shade tell you anything about Louvania?" inquired the woman at length.
"No," replied Johnnie softly, "but I seen it in the paper."
Louvania Bence, the only remaining child of the widow, had, two weeks before, left her work at the mill, taken the trolley in to Watauga, walked out upon the county bridge across the Tennessee and jumped off. Johnnie had read the published account, passed from hand to hand in the mountains where Pap Himes and Mavity Bence had troops of kin and where Louvania was born. The statement ran that there was no love affair, and that the girl's distaste for her work at the cotton mill must have been the reason for the suicide.
"That there talk in the newspaper wasn't right," Louvania's mother choked. "They wasn't a word of truth in it. You know in reason that if Louvany hated to work in the mill as bad as all that she'd have named it to me—her own mother—and she never did. She never spoke a word like it, only to say now and ag'in, as we all do, that it was hard, and that she'd—well, she did 'low she'd ruther be dead, as gals will; but she couldn't have meant it. Do you think she could have meant it, Johnnie?"
The faded eyes, clouded now by tears, stared up into Johnnie's clear young orbs.
"Of course she couldn't have meant it," Johnnie comforted her. "Why, I'm sure it's fine to work in the mill. If she didn't feel so, she'd have told you the thing. She must have been out of her mind. People always are when they—do that."
"That's what I keep a-thinkin'," the poor mother said, clinging pathetically to that which gave her consolation and cheer. "I say to myself that it must have been some brain disease took her all of a sudden and made her crazy that-a-way; because God knows she had nothing to fret her nor drive her to such."
By this time the meal was on the table, and the girls trooped in from the porch. The old man with the bald pate was seating himself at the head of the board, and Johnnie asked the privilege of helping wait on table.
"No, you ain't a-goin' to," Mrs. Bence said hospitably, pushing her into a seat. "If you start in to work in the morning, like I reckon you will, you ain't got no other time to get acquainted with the gals but right now. You set down. We don't take much waitin' on. We all pass things, and reach for what we want."
In the smoky illumination of the two ill-cleaned lamps which stood one at each end of the table, Johnnie's fair face shone out like a star. The tall woman who had shown a faint interest in them on the porch was seated just opposite. Her bulging light-blue eyes scarcely left the newcomer's countenance as she absent-mindedly filled her mouth. She was a scant, stringy-looking creature, despite her height; the narrow back was hooped like that of an old woman and the shoulders indrawn, so that the chest was cramped, and sent forth a wheezy, flatted voice that sorted ill with her inches; her round eyes had no speculation in them; her short chin was obstinate without power; the thin, half-gray hair that wanted to curl feebly about her lined forehead was stripped away and twisted in a knot no bigger than a walnut, at the back of a bent head.
For some time the old man at the end of the table stowed himself methodically with victuals; his air was that of a man packing a box; then he brought his implements to half-rest, as it were, and gave a divided attention to the new boarder.
"What did I hear them call yo' name?" he inquired gruffly.
Johnnie repeated her title and gave him one of those smiles that went with most of her speeches. It seemed to suggest things to the old sinner.
"Huh," he grunted; "I riccollect ye now. Yo' pap was a Consadine, but you're old Virgil Passmore's grandchild. One of the borryin' Passmores," he added, staring coolly at Johnnie. "Virge was a fine, upstandin' old man. You've got the favour of him—if you wasn't a gal."
He evidently shared Schopenhauer's distaste for "the low-statured, wide-hipped, narrow-shouldered sex."
The girls about the table were all listening eagerly. Johnnie had the sensation of a freshman who has walked out on the campus too well dressed.
"Virge was a great beau in his day," continued Pap, reminiscently. "He liked to wear good clothes, too. I mind how he borried Abner Wimberly's weddin' coat and wore it something like ten year—showed it off fine—it fitted him enough sight better than it ever fitted little old Ab. Then he comes back to Wimberly at the end of so long a time with the buttons. He says, says he, 'Looks like that thar cloth yo' coat was made of wasn't much 'count, Ab,' says he. 'I think Jeeters cheated ye on it. But the buttons was good. The buttons wore well. And them I'm bringin' back, 'caze you may have use for 'em, and I have none, now the coat's gone. Also, what I borry I return, as everybody knows.' That was your granddaddy."
There was a tremendous giggling about the board as the old man made an end. Johnnie herself smiled, though her face was scarlet. She had no words to tell her tormentor that the borrowing trait in her tribe which had earned them the name of the borrowing Passmores proceeded not from avarice, which ate into Pap Himes's very marrow, but from its reverse trait of generosity. She knew vaguely that they would have shared with a neighbour their last bite or dollar, and had thus never any doubt of being shared with nor any shame in the asking.
"Yes," pursued Himes, surveying Johnnie chucklingly, "I mind when you was born. Has your Uncle Pros found his silver mine yet?"
"My mother has often told me how good you and Mrs. Bence was to us when I was little," answered Johnnie mildly. "No, sir, Uncle Pros hasn't found his silver mine yet—but he's still a-hunting for it."
The reply appeared to delight Himes. He laughed immoderately, even as Buckheath had done.
"I'll bet he is," he agreed. "Pros Passmore's goin' to hunt that there silver mine till he finds another hole in the ground about six feet long and six feet deep—that's what he's a-goin' to do."
The hasty supper was well under way now. Mrs. Bence brought the last of the hot bread, and shuffled into a seat. The old man at the head of the board returned to his feeding, but with somewhat moderated voracity. At length, pretty fully gorged, he raised his head from over his plate and looked about him for diversion. Again his attention was directed to the new girl.
"Air ye wedded?" he challenged suddenly.
She shook her head and laughed.
"Got your paigs sot for to git any one?" he followed up his investigations.
Johnnie laughed more than ever, and blushed again.
"How old air ye?" demanded her inquisitor. "Eighteen? 'Most nineteen? Good Lord! You're a old maid right now. Well, don't you let twenty go by without gittin' your hooks on a man. My experience is that when a gal gits to be twenty an' ain't wedded—or got her paigs sot for to wed—she's left. Left," he concluded impressively.
That quick smile of Johnnie's responded.
"I reckon I'll do my best," she agreed reasonably; "but some folks can do that and miss it."
Himes nodded till he set the little red curls all bobbing around the bare spot.
"Uh-huh," he approved, "I reckon that's so. Women is plenty, and men hard to git. Here's Mandy Meacham, been puttin' in her best licks for thirty year or more, an' won't never make it."
Johnnie did not need to be told which one was Mandy. The sallow cheek of the tall woman across from her reddened; the short chin wabbled a bit more than the mastication of the biscuit in hand demanded; a moisture appeared in the inexpressive blue eyes; but she managed a shaky laugh to assist the chorus which always followed Pap Himes's little jokes.
The old man held a sort of state among these poor girls, and took tribute of admiration, as he had taken tribute of life and happiness from daughter and granddaughter. Gideon Himes was not actively a bad man; he was as without personal malice as malaria. When it makes miserable those about it, or robs a girl of her pink cheeks, her bright eyes, her joy of life, wearing the elasticity out of her step and making an old woman of her before her time, we do not fly into a rage at it—we avoid it. The Pap Himeses of this world are to be avoided if possible.
Mandy stared at her plate in mortified silence. Johnnie wished she could think of something pleasant to say to the poor thing, when her attention was diverted by the old man once more addressing herself.
"You look stout and hearty; if you learn to weave as fast as you ort, and git so you can tend five or six looms, I'll bet you git a husband," he remarked in a burst of generosity. "I'll bet you do; and what's more, I'll speak a good word for ye. A gal that's a peart weaver's mighty apt to find a man. You learn your looms if you want to git wedded—and I know in reason you do—it's about all gals of your age thinks of."
When supper was over Johnnie was a little surprised to see the tall woman approach Pap Himes like a small child begging a favour of a harsh taskmaster.
"Can't that there new girl bunk with me?" she inquired earnestly.
"I had the intention to give her Louvany's bed," Pap returned promptly. "As long as nobody's with you, I reckon I don't care; but if one comes in, you take 'em, and she goes with Mavity, mind. I cain't waste room, poor as I am."
Piloted by the tall girl, Johnnie climbed the narrow stair to a long bare room where a row of double beds accommodated eight girls. The couch she was to occupy had been slept in during the day by a mill hand who was on night turn, and it had not been remade. Deftly Johnnie straightened and spread it, while her partner grumbled.
"What's the use o' doin' that?" Mandy inquired, stretching herself and yawning portentously. "We'll jist muss it all up in about two minutes. When you've worked in a mill as long as I have you'll git over the notion of makin' your bed, for hit's but a notion."
Johnnie laughed across her shoulder.
"I'd just as soon do it," she reassured her companion. "I do love smooth bedclothes; looks like I dream better on 'em and under 'em."
Mandy sat down on the edge of the bed, interfering considerably with the final touches Johnnie was putting to it.
"You're a right good gal," she opined patronizingly, "but foolish. The new ones always is foolish. I can put you up to a-many a thing that'll help you along, though, and I'm willin' to do it."
Again Johnnie smiled at her, that smile of enveloping sweetness and tenderness. It made something down in the left side of poor Mandy's slovenly dress-bodice vibrate and tingle.
"I'll thank you mightily," said Johnnie Consadine, "mightily." And knew not how true a word she spoke.
"You see," counselled Mandy from the bed into which she had rolled with most of her clothes on, "you want to get in with Miss Lydia Sessions and the Uplift ladies, and them thar swell folks."
Johnnie nodded, busily at work making a more elaborated night toilet than the others, who were going to bed all about them, paying little attention to their conversation.
"Miss Lyddy she ain't as young as she once was, and the boys has quit hangin' 'round her as much as they used to; so now she has took up with good works," the girl on the bed explained with a directness which Miss Sessions would not perhaps have appreciated. "Her and some other of the nobby folks has started what they call a Uplift club amongst the mill girls. Thar's a big room whar you dance—if you can—and whar they give little suppers for us with not much to eat; and thar's a place where they sorter preach to ye—lecture she calls it. I don't know what-all Miss Lyddy hain't got for her club. But you jist go, and listen, and say how much obliged you are, an she'll do a lot for you, besides payin' your wages to get you out of the mill any day she wants you for the Upliftin' business."
Mandy had a gasp, which occurred between sentences and at the end of certain words, with grotesque effect. Johnnie was to find that this gasp was always very much to the fore when Mandy was being uplifted. It then served variously as the gasp of humility, gratitude, admiration; the gasp of chaste emotion, the gasp of reprobation toward others who did not come forward to be uplifted.
"Did you say there was books at that club?" inquired Johnnie out of the darkness—she had now extinguished the light. "Can a body learn things from the lectures?"
"Uh-huh," agreed Mandy sleepily; "but you don't have to read 'em—the books. They lend 'em to you, and you take 'em home, and after so long a time you take 'em back sayin' how much good they done you. That's the way. If Mr. Stoddard's 'round, he'll ask you questions about 'em; but Miss Lyddy won't—she hates to find out that any of her plans ain't workin'."
For a long time there was silence. Mandy was just dropping off into her first heavy sleep, when a whispering voice asked,
"Is Mr. Stoddard—has he got right brown eyes and right brown hair, and does he ride in one of these—one of these—"
"Good land!" grumbled the addressed, "I thought it was mornin' and I had to git up! You ort to been asleep long ago. Yes, Mr. Stoddard's got sorter brown eyes and hair, and he rides in a otty-mobile. How did you know?"
But Mandy was too tired to stay awake to marvel over that. Her rhythmic snores soon proved that she slept, while Johnnie lay thinking of the various proffers she had that evening received of a lamp to her feet, a light on her path. And she would climb—yes, she would climb. Not by the road Pap Himes pointed out; not by the devious path Mandy Meacham suggested; but by the rugged road of good, honest toil, to heights where was the power and the glory, she would certainly strive.
She conned over the new things which this day had brought. Again she saw the auto swing around the curve and halt; she got the outline of the man's bent head against the evening sky. They were singing again over at the mechanics' boarding-house; the sound came across to her window; the vibrant wires, the chorus of deep male voices, even the words she knew they were using but could not distinguish, linked themselves in some fashion with memory of a man's eyes, his smile, his air of tender deference as he cherished her broken flower. Something caught in her throat and choked. Her mind veered to the figures on the porch of that Palace of Pleasure; the girl with the ball tossing it to the young fellow below on the lawn. In memory she descended the hill, coming down into the shadows with each step, looking back to the heights and the light. Well, she had said that if one had feet one might climb, and to-night the old man had tried to train her to his pace for attaining heart's desire. In the midst of a jumble of autos and shining mill windows, she watched the room grow ghostly with the light of a late-risen moon. Suddenly afar off she heard the "honk! honk! honk!" which had preceded the advent of the car on the ridge road.
Getting up, she stole, to the one window which the long room afforded. It gave upon the main street of the village. "Honk! honk! honk!" She gazed toward the steep from which the sounds seemed to come. There, flashing in and out of the greenery, appeared half a dozen pairs of fiery eyes. A party of motorists were going in to Watauga, starting from the Country Club on the Ridge crest. Johnnie watched them, fascinated. As the foremost car swept down the road and directly beneath her window, its driver, whom she recognized with a little shiver, by the characteristic carriage of his head, swerved the machine out and stopped it at the curb below. The others passed, calling gay inquiries to him.
"We're all right," she heard a well-remembered voice reply. "You go ahead—we'll be there before you."
The slim, gray-clad figure in the seat beside him laughed softly and fluttered a white handkerchief as the last car went on.
"Now!" exulted the voice. "I'll put on my goggles and cap and we'll show them what running is.
'It's they'll take the high road and we'll take the low, And we'll be in Watauga befo-o-ore them!'"
Even as he spoke he adjusted his costume, and Johnnie saw the car shoot forward like a living creature eager on the trail. She sighed as she looked after them.
Feet—of what use were feet to follow such a flight as that?
THE MOCCASIN FLOWER
Johnnie was used to hardship and early rising, but in an intermittent fashion; for the Passmores and Consadines were a haggard lot that came to no lure but their own pleasure. They might—and often did—go hungry, ill-clad, ill-housed; they might sometimes—in order to keep soul and body together—have to labour desperately at rude tasks unsuited to them; but these times were exceptions, and between such seasons, down to the least of the tribe, they had always followed the Vision, pursuing the flying skirts of whatever ideal was in their shapely heads. The little cabin in the gash of the hills owned for domain a rocky ravine that was the standing jest of the mountain-side.
"Sure, hit's good land—fine land," the mountaineers would comment with their inveterate, dry, lazy humour. "Nothing on earth to hender a man from raisin' a crap off 'n it—ef he could once git the leathers on a good stout, willin' pa'r o' hawks or buzzards, an' a plough hitched to 'em." And Johnnie could remember the other children teasing her and saying that her folks had to load a gun with seed corn and shoot it into the sky to reach their fields. Yet, the unmended roof covered much joy and good feeling. They were light feet that trod the unsecured puncheons. The Passmores were tender of each other's eccentricities, admiring of each other's virtues. A wolf race nourished on the knees of purple kings, how should they ever come down to wearing any man's collar, to slink at heel and retrieve for him?
One would have said that to the daughter of such the close cotton-mill room with its inhuman clamour, its fetid air, its long hours of enforced, monotonous, mechanical toil, would be prison with the torture added. But Johnnie looked forward to her present enterprise as a soldier going into a new country to conquer it. She was buoyantly certain, and determinedly delighted with everything. When, the next morning after her arrival, Mandy Meacham shook her by the shoulder and bade her get up, the room was humming with the roar of mill whistles, and the gray dawn leaking in at its one window in a churlish, chary fashion, reminded her that they were under the shadow of a mountain instead of living upon its top.
"I don't see what in the world could 'a' made me sleep so!" Johnnie deprecated, as she made haste to dress herself. "Looks like I never had nothing to do yesterday, except walking down. I've been on foot that much many a time and never noticed it."
The other girls in the room, poor souls, were all cross and sleepy. Nobody had time to converse with Johnnie. As they went down the stairs another contingent began to straggle up, having eaten a hasty meal after their night's work, and making now for certain of the just-vacated beds.
Johnnie ran into the kitchen to help Mrs. Bence get breakfast on the table, for Pap Himes was bad off this morning with a misery somewhere, and his daughter was sending word to the cotton mill to put a substitute on her looms till dinner time. Almost as much to her own surprise as to that of everybody else, Mandy Meacham proposed to stay and take Johnnie in to register for a job.
When the others were all seated at table, the new girl from the mountains took her cup of coffee and a biscuit and dropped upon the doorstep to eat her breakfast. The back yard was unenclosed, a litter of tin cans and ashes running with its desert disorder into a similar one on either side. But there were no houses back of the Himes place, the ground falling away sharply to the rocky creek bed. Across the ravine half a dozen strapping young fellows were lounging, waiting for breakfast; loom-fixers and mechanics these, whose hours were more favourable than those of the women and children workers.
"It's lots prettier out here than it is in the house," she returned smilingly, when Mavity Bence offered to get her a chair. "I do love to be out-of-doors."
"Huh," grunted Mandy with her mouth full of biscuit, "I reckon a cotton mill'll jest about kill you. What makes you work in one, anyhow? I wouldn't if I could help it."
Johnnie eyed the tall girl gravely. "I've got to earn some money," she said at length. "Ma and the children have to be taken care of. I don't know of any better way than the mill."
"An' I don't know of any worse," retorted Mandy sourly, as they went out together.
Johnnie began to feel timid. There had been a secret hope that she would meet Shade on the way to the mill, or that Mrs. Bence would finally get through in time to accompany her. She was suddenly aware that there was not a soul within sound of her voice who had belonged to her former world. With a little gasp she looked about her as they entered the office.
The Hardwick mill to which they now came consisted of a number of large, red brick buildings, joined by covered passage-ways, abutting on one of those sullen pools Johnnie had noted the night before, the yard enclosed by a tight board fence, so high that the operatives in the first-and second-floor rooms could not see the street. This for the factory portion; the office did not front on the shut-in yard, but opened out freely on to the street, through a little grassy square of its own, tree-shadowed, with paved walks and flower beds. As with all the mills in its district, the suggestion was dangerously apt of a penitentiary, with its high wooden barrier, around all the building, the only free approach from the world to its corridors through the seemly, humanized office, where abided the heads, the bosses, the free men, who came and went at will. The walls were already beginning to wear that garment of green which the American ivy flings over so many factory buildings.
As the two girls came up, Johnnie looked at the wide, clear, plate windows, the brass railing that guarded the heavy granite approach, the shining name "Hardwick" deep-set in brazen lettering on the step over which they entered. Inside, the polished oak and metal of office fittings carried on the idea of splendour, if not of luxury. Back of the crystal windows were the tempering shades, all was spacious, ordered with quiet dignity, and there was no sense of hurry in the well-clad, well-groomed figures of men that sat at the massive desks or moved about the softly carpeted floors. The corridor was long, but cleanly swept, and, at its upper portion, covered with a material unfamiliar to Johnnie, but which she recognized as suited to its purpose. Down at the further end of that corridor, something throbbed and moaned and roared and growled—the factory was awake there and working. The contrast struck cold to the girl's heart. Here, yet more sharply defined, was the same difference she had noted between the Palace of Pleasure on the heights and the mills at the foot of the mountain.
Would the people think she was good enough? Would they understand how hard she meant to try? For a minute she had a desperate impulse to turn and run. Then she heard Mandy's thin, flatted tones announcing:
"This hyer girl wants to git a job in the mill. Miz Bence, she cain't come down this morning—you'll have to git somebody to tend her looms till noon; Pap, he's sick, and she has obliged to wait on him—so I brung the new gal."
"All right," said the man she addressed. "She can wait there; you go on to your looms."
Johnnie sat on the bench against the wall where newcomers applying for positions were placed. The man she was to see had not yet come to his desk, and she remained unnoticed and apparently forgotten for more than an hour. The offices were entered from the other side, yet a doorway close by Johnnie commanded a view of a room and desk. To it presently came one who seated himself and began opening and reading letters. Johnnie caught her breath and leaned a little forward, watching him, her heart in her eyes, hands locked hard together in her lap. It was the young man of the car. He was not in white flannels now, but he looked almost as wonderful to the girl in his gray business suit, with the air of easy command, and the quiet half-smile only latent on his face. Shade Buckheath had spoken of Gray Stoddard as the boss of the bosses down at Cottonville. Indeed, his position was unique. Inheritor of large holdings in Eastern cotton-mill stock, he had returned from abroad on the death of his father, to look into this source of his very ample income. The mills in which he was concerned were not earning as they should, so he was told; and there was discussion as to whether they be moved south, or a Southern mill be established which might be considered in the nature of a branch, and where the coarser grades of sheeting would be manufactured, as well as all the spinning done.
But Stoddard was not of the blood that takes opinions second-hand. Upon his mother's side he was the grandson of one of the great anti-slavery agitators. The sister of this man, Gray's great-aunt, had stood beside him on the platform when there was danger in it; and after the Negro was freed and enfranchised, she had devoted a long life to the cause of woman suffrage. The mother who bore him died young. She left him to the care of a conservative father, but the blood that came through her did not make for conservatism.
Perhaps it was some admixture of his father's traits which set the young man to investigating the cotton-mill situation in his own fashion. To do this as he conceived it should be done, he had hired himself to the Hardwick Spinning Company in an office position which gave him a fair outlook on the business, and put him in complete touch with the practical side of it; yet the facts of the case made the situation evident to those under him as well as his peers. Whatever convictions and opinions he was maturing in this year with the Hardwicks, he kept to himself; but he was supposed to hold some socialistic ideas, and Lydia Sessions, James Hardwick's sister-in-law, made her devoir to these by engaging zealously in semi-charitable enterprises among the mill-girls. He was a passionate individualist. The word seems unduly fiery when one remembers the smiling, insouciant manner of his divergences from the conventional type; yet he was inveterately himself, and not some schoolmaster's or tailor's or barber's version of Gray Stoddard; and in this, though Johnnie did not know it, lay the strength of his charm for her.
The moments passed unheeded after he came into her field of vision, and she watched him for some time, busy at his morning's work. It took her breath when he raised his eyes suddenly and their glances encountered. He plainly recognized her at once, and nodded a cheerful greeting. After a while he got up and came out into the hall, his hands full of papers, evidently on his way to one of the other offices. He paused beside the bench and spoke to her.
"Waiting for the room boss? Are they going to put you on this morning?" he asked pleasantly.
"Yes, I'm a-going to get a chance to work right away," she smiled up at him. "Ain't it fine?"
The smile that answered hers held something pitying, yet it was a pity that did not hurt or offend.
"Yes—I'm sure it's fine, if you think so," said Stoddard, half reluctantly. Then his eye caught the broken pink blossom which Johnnie had pinned to the front of her bodice. "What's that?" he asked. "It looks like an orchid."
He was instantly apologetic for the word; but Johnnie detached the flower from her dress and held it toward him.
"It is," she assented. "It's an orchid; and the little yellow flower that we-all call the whippoorwill shoe is an orchid, too."
Stoddard thrust his papers into his coat pocket and took the blossom in his hand.
"That's the pink moccasin flower," Johnnie told him. "They don't bloom in the valley at all, and they're not very plenty in the mountains. I picked this one six miles up on White Oak Ridge yesterday. I reckon I haven't seen more than a dozen of these in my life, and I've hunted flowers all over Unaka."
"I never had the chance to analyze one," observed Stoddard. "I'd like to get hold of a good specimen.
"I'm sorry this one's broken," Johnnie deprecated. Then her clouded face cleared suddenly with its luminous smile. "If it hadn't been for you I reckon it would have been knocked over the edge of the road," she added. "That's the flower I had in my handkerchief yesterday evening."
Stoddard continued to examine the pink blossom with interest.
"You said it grew up in the mountains—and didn't grow in the valley," he reminded her.
She nodded. "Of course I'm not certain about that," and while she spoke he transferred his attention from the flower to the girl. "I really know mighty little about such things, and I've not been in the valley to exceed ten times in my life. Miss Baird, that taught the school I went to over at Rainy Gap, had a herbarium, and put all kinds of pressed flowers in it. I gathered a great many for her, and she taught me to analyze them—like you were speaking of—but I never did love to do that. It seemed like naming over and calling out the ways of your friends, to pull the flower all to pieces and press it and paste it in a book and write down all its—its—ways and faults."
Again she smiled up at him radiantly, and the young man's astonished glance went from her dusty, cowhide shoes to the thick roll of fair hair on her graceful head. What manner of mill-girls did the mountains send down to the valley?
"But I—" began Stoddard deprecatingly, when Johnnie reddened and broke in hastily.
"Oh, I don't mean that for you. Miss Baird taught me for three years, and I loved her as dearly as I ever could any one. You may keep this flower if you want to; and, come Sunday, I'll get you another one that won't be broken."
"Why Sunday?" asked Stoddard.
"Well, I wouldn't have time to go after them till then, and the ones I know of wouldn't be open before Sunday. I saw just three there by the spring. That's the way they grow, you know—two or three in a place, and not another for miles."
"You saw them growing?" repeated Stoddard. "I should like to see one on its roots, and maybe make a little sketch of it. Couldn't you just as well show me the place Sunday?"
For no reason that she could assign, and very much against her will, Johnnie's face flushed deeply.
"I reckon I couldn't," she answered evasively. "Hit's a long ways up—and—hit's a long ways up."
"And yet you're going to walk it—after a week's work here in the mill?" persisted Stoddard. "You'd better tell me where they grow, and let me go up in my car."
"I wish't I could," said Johnnie, embarrassed. "But you'd never find it in the world. They isn't one thing that I could tell you to know the place by: and you have to leave the road and walk a little piece—oh, it's no use—and I don't mind, I'd just love to go up there and get the flowers for you."
"Are you the new girl?" inquired a voice at Johnnie's shoulder.
They turned to find a squat, middle-aged man regarding them dubiously.
"Yes," answered Johnnie, rising. "I've been waiting quite a while."
"Well, come this way," directed the man and, turning, led her away. Down the hall they went, then up a flight of wooden stairs which carried them to a covered bridge, and so to the upper story of the factory.
"That's an unusual-looking girl." Old Andrew MacPherson made the comment as he received the papers from Stoddard's hands.
"The one I was speaking to in the hall?" inquired Stoddard rather unnecessarily. "Yes; she seems to have an unusual mind as well. These mountain people are peculiar. They appear to have no idea of class, and therefore are in a measure all aristocrats."
"Well, that ought to square with your socialistic notions," chaffed MacPherson, sorting the work on his desk and pushing a certain portion of it toward Stoddard. "Sit down here, if you please, and we'll go over these now. The girl looked a good deal like a fairy princess. I don't think she's a safe topic for susceptible young chaps like you and me," the grizzled old Scotchman concluded with a chuckle. "Your socialistic hullabaloo makes you liable to foregather with all sorts of impossible people."
Gray shook his head, laughing, as he seated himself at the desk beside the other.
"Oh, I'm only a theoretical socialist," he deprecated.
"Hum," grunted the older man. "A theoretical socialist always seemed to me about like a theoretical pickpocket—neither of them stands to do much harm. For example, here you are, one of the richest young fellows of my acquaintance, living along very contentedly where every tenet you profess to hold is daily outraged. You're not giving away your money. You take a healthy interest in a good car, a good dinner, the gals; I'm even told you have a fad for old porcelains—and yet you call yourself a socialist."
"These economic conditions are not a pin," answered Gray, smiling. "I don't have to jump and say 'ouch!' the minute I find they prick me. Worse conditions have always been, and no doubt bad ones will survive for a time, and pass away as mankind outgrows them. I haven't the colossal conceit to suppose that I can reform the world—not even push it much faster toward the destination of good to which it is rolling. But I want to know—I want to understand, myself; then if there is anything for me to do I shall do it. It may be that the present conditions are the best possible for the present moment. It may be that if a lot of us got together and agreed, we could better them exceedingly. It is not certain in my mind yet that any growth is of value to humanity which does not proceed from within. This is true of the individual—must it not be true of the class?"
"No doubt, no doubt," agreed MacPherson, indifferently. "Most of the men who are loud in the leadership of socialism have made a failure of their own lives. We'll see what happens when a man who is a personal and economic success sets up to teach."
"If you mean that very complimentary description for me," said Gray with sudden seriousness, "I will say to you here and now that there is no preacher in me. But when I am a little clearer in my own mind as to what I believe, I shall practise. The only real creed is a manner of life. If you don't live it, you don't really believe it."
WEAVERS AND WEFT
The Hardwick mill was a large one; to the mountain-bred girl it seemed endless, while its clamour and roar was a thing to daunt. They passed through the spinning department, in which the long lines of frames were tended by children, and reached the weaving-rooms whose looms required the attention of women, with here and there a man who had failed to make a success of male occupations and sunk to the ill-paid feminine activities. In a corner of one of these, Johnnie's guide stopped before two silent, motionless looms, and threw on the power. He began to instruct her in their operation, all communication being in dumb show; for the clapping thunder of the weaving-room instantly snatches the sound from one's lips and batters it into shapelessness. Johnnie had been an expert weaver on the ancient foot-power looms of the mountains; but the strangeness of the new machine, the noise and her surroundings, bewildered her. When the man saw that she was not likely to injure herself or the looms, he turned away with a careless nod and left her to her fate.
It was a blowy April day outside, with a gay blue sky in which the white clouds raced, drawing barges of shadow over the earth below. But the necessity of keeping dust out of the machinery, the inconvenience of having flying ends carried toward it, closed every window in the big factory, and the operatives gasped in the early heat, the odour of oil, the exhausted air. There was a ventilating system in the Hardwick mill, and it was supposed to be exceptionally free from lint; but the fagged children crowded to the casements with instinctive longing for the outdoor air which could not of course enter through the glass; or plodded their monotonous rounds to tend the frames and see that the thread was running properly to each spool, and that the spools were removed, when filled.