Read THE BOLL: CHAPTER II of The Bishop of Cottontown A Story of the Southern Cotton Mills , free online book, by John Trotwood Moore, on ReadCentral.com.

RICHARD TRAVIS

Strength was written in the face of Richard Travis the owner of The Gaffs intellectual, physical, passion-strength, strength of purpose and of doing. Strength, but not moral strength; and hence lacking all of being all-conquering.

He had that kind of strength which made others think as he thought, and do as he would have them do. He saw things clearly, strongly, quickly. His assurance made all things sure. He knew things and was proud of it. He knew himself and other men. And best of all, as he thought, he knew women.

Richard Travis was secretary and treasurer of the Acme Cotton Mills.

To-night he was alone in the old-fashioned but elegant dining-room of the Gaffs. The big log fire of ash and hickory was pleasant, and the blaze, falling in sombre color on the old mahogany side-board which sat opposite the fireplace, on the double ash floor, polished and shining, added a deeper and richer hue to it. From the toes of the dragon on which it rested, to the beak of the hand-carved eagle, spreading his wings over the shield beneath him, carved in the solid mahogany and surrounded by thirteen stars, all was elegance and aristocracy. Even the bold staring eyes of the eagle seemed proud of the age of the side-board, for had it not been built when the stars numbered but thirteen? And was not the eagle rampant then?

The big brass andirons were mounted with the bronzed heads of wood-nymphs, and these looked saucily up at the eagle. The three-cornered cupboard, in one corner of the room, was of cherry, with small diamond-shaped windows in front, showing within rare old sets of china and cut glass. The handsome square dining table matched the side-board, only its dragon feet were larger and stronger, as if intended to stand up under more weight, at times.

Everything was ancient and had a pedigree. Even the Llewellyn setter was old, for he was grizzled around the muzzle and had deep-set, lusterless eyes, from which the firelight, as if afraid of their very uncanniness, darted out as soon as it entered. And he carried his head to one side when he walked, as old and deaf dogs do.

He lay on a rug before the fire. He had won this license, for opposite his name on the kennel books were more field-trials won than by any other dog in Alabama. And now he dozed and dreamed of them again, with many twitchings of feet, and cocked, quivering ears, and rigid tail, as if once more frozen to the covey in the tall sedge-grass of the old field, with the smell of frost-bitten Lespedeza, wet with dew, beneath his feet.

Travis stooped and petted the old dog. It was the one thing of his household he loved most.

“Man or dog ’tis all the same,” he mused as he watched the dreaming dog “it is old age’s privilege to dream of what has been done it is youth’s to do.”

He stretched himself in his big mahogany chair and glanced down his muscular limbs, and drew his arms together with a snap of quick strength.

Everything at The Gaffs was an open diary of the master’s life. It is so in all homes that which we gather around us, from our books to our bed-clothes, is what we are.

And so the setter on the rug meant that Richard Travis was the best wing-shot in the Tennessee Valley, and that his kennel of Gladstone setters had won more field trials than any other kennel in the South. No man has really hunted who has never shot quail in Alabama over a well-broken setter. All other hunting is butchery compared to the scientific sweetness of this sport.

There was a good-night, martial, daring crow, ringing from the Hoss-apple tree at the dining-room window. Travis smiled and called out:

“Lights waked you up, eh, Dick? You’re a gay Lothario go back to sleep.”

Richard Travis had the original stock the Irish Greys which his doughty old grandsire, General Jeremiah Travis, developed to championship honors, and in a memorable main with his friend, General Andrew Jackson, ten years after the New Orleans campaign, he had cleared up the Tennesseans, cock and pocket. It was a big main in which Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama were pitted against each other, and in which the Travis cocks of the Emerald Isle strain, as Old Hickory expressed it, “stood the steel like a stuck she-b’ar, fightin’ for her cubs.”

General Travis had been an expert at heeling a cock; and it is said that his skill on that occasion was worth more than the blood of his Greys; for by a peculiar turn of the gaffs, so slight as to escape the notice of any but an expert his champion cock had struck the blow which ended the battle. With the money won, he had added four thousand acres to his estate, and afterwards called it The Gaffs.

And a strong, brave man had been General Jeremiah Travis, pioneer, Indian fighter, Colonel in the Creek war and at New Orleans, and a General in the war with Mexico.

His love for the Union had been that of a brave man who had gone through battles and shed his blood for his country.

The Civil War broke his heart.

In his early days his heart had been in his thoroughbred horses and his fighting cocks, and when he heard that his nephew had died with Crockett and Bowie at the Alamo, he drew himself proudly up and said: “A right brave boy, by the Eternal, and he died as becomes one crossed on an Irish Grey cock.”

That had been years before. Now, a new civilization had come on the stage, and where the grandsire had taken to thoroughbreds, Richard Travis, the grandson, took to trotters. In the stalls where once stood the sons of Sir Archie, Boston, and imported Glencoe himself, now were sons of Mambrino Patchin, and George Wilkes and Harold. And a splendid lot they were sires, brood mares and colts, in the paddocks of The Gaffs.

Travis took no man’s dust in the Tennessee Valley. At county fairs he had a walk-over.

He had inherited The Gaffs from his grandfather, for both his parents died in his infancy, and his two remaining uncles gave their lives in Virginia, early in the war, following the flag of the Confederacy.

One of them had left a son, whom Richard Travis had educated and who had, but the June before, graduated from the State University.

Travis saw but little of him, since each did as he pleased, and it did not please either of them to get into each other’s way.

There had been no sympathy between them. There could not be, for they were too much alike in many ways.

There can be no sympathy in selfishness.

All through the summer Harry Travis had spent his time at picnics and dances, and, but for the fact that his cousin now and then missed one of his best horses from the stable, or found his favorite gun put away foul, or his fishing tackle broken, he would not have known that Harry was on the place.

Cook-mother Charity kept the house. Bond and free, she had spent all her life at The Gaffs. Of this she was prouder than to have been housekeeper at Windsor. Her word was law; she was the only mortal who bossed, as she called it, Richard Travis.

Usually, friends from town kept the owner company, and The Gaffs’ reputation for hospitality, while generous, was not unnoted for its hilarity.

To-night Richard Travis was lonely. His supper tray had not been removed. He lit a cigar and picked up a book it was Herbert Spencer, and he was soon interested.

Ten minutes later an octoroon house-girl, with dark Creole eyes, and bright ribbons in her hair, came in to remove the supper dishes. She wore a bright-colored green gown, cut low. As she reached over the table near him he winced at the strong smell of musk, which beauties of her race imagine adds so greatly to their aesthetic status-quo. She came nearer to him than was necessary, and there was an attempted familiarity in the movement that caused him to curve slightly the corner of his thin, nervous lip, showing beneath his mustache. She kept a half glance on him always. He smoked and read on, until the rank smell of her perfume smote him again through the odor of his cigar, and as he looked up she had busied around so close to him that her exposed neck was within two feet of him bent in seeming innocence over the tray. With a mischievous laugh he reached over and flipped the hot ashes from his cigar upon her neck. She screamed affectedly and danced about shaking off the ashes. Then with feigned maidenly piquancy and many reproachful glances, she went out laughing good humoredly.

He was good natured, and when she was gone he laughed boyishly.

Good nature is one of the virtues of impurity.

Still giggling she set the tray down in the kitchen and told Cook-mother Charity about it. That worthy woman gave her a warning look and said:

“The frisk’ness of this new gen’ration of niggers makes me tired. Better let Marse Dick alone he’s a dan’g’us man with women.”

In the dining-room Travis sat quiet and thoughtful. He was a handsome man, turning forty. His face was strong, clean shaved, except a light mustache, with full sensual lips and an unusually fine brow. It was the brow of intellect all in front. Behind and above there was no loftiness of ideality or of veneration. His smile was constant, and though slightly cold, was always approachable. His manner was decisive, but clever always, and kind-hearted at times.

Contrary to his habit, he grew reminiscent. He despised this kind of a mood, because, as he said, “It is the weakness of a fool to think about himself.” He walked to the window and looked out on the broad fields of The Gaffs in the valley before him. He looked at the handsomely furnished room and thought of the splendid old home. Then he deliberately surveyed himself in the mirror. He smiled:

“’Survival of the fittest’ yes, Spencer is right a great great mind. He is living now, and the world, of course, will not admit his greatness until he is dead. Life, like the bull that would rule the herd, is never ready to admit that other life is great. A poet is always a dead rhymester, a philosopher, a dead dreamer.

“Let Spencer but die!

“Tush! Why indulge in weak modesty and fool self-depreciation? Even instinct tells me that very lowest of animal intellectual forces that I survive because I am stronger than the dead. Providence God whatever it is, has nothing to do with it except to start you and let you survive by overcoming. Winds you up and then devil take the hindmost!

“It is brains brains brains that count brains first and always. This moral stuff is fit only for those who are too weak to conquer. I have accomplished everything in life I have ever undertaken everything and by brains! Not once have I failed I have done it by intellect, courage intuition the thing in one that speaks.

“Now as to things of the heart,” he stopped suddenly he even scowled half humorously. It came over him his failure there, as one who, sweeping with his knights the pawns of an opponent, suddenly finds himself confronting a queen and checkmated.

He walked to the window again and looked toward the northern end of the valley. There the gables of an old and somewhat weather-beaten home sat in a group of beech on a rise among the foothills.

“Westmoreland” he said “how dilapidated it is getting to be! Something must be done there, and Alice Alice,” he repeated the name softly reverently “I feel I know it she even she shall be mine after all these years she shall come to me yet.”

He smiled again: “Then I shall have won all around. Fate? Destiny? Tush! It’s living and surviving weaker things, such for instance as my cousin Tom.”

He smiled satisfactorily. He flecked some cotton lint from his coat sleeve.

“I have had a hard time in the mill to-day. It’s a beastly business robbing the poor little half-made-up devils.”

He rang for Aunt Charity. She knew what he wished, and soon came in bringing him his cocktail his night-cap as she always called it, only of late he had required several in an evening, a thing that set the old woman to quarreling with him, for she knew the limit of a gentleman. And, in truth, she was proud of her cocktails. They were made from a recipe given by Andrew Jackson. For fifty years Cook-mother Charity had made one every night and brought it to “old marster” before he retired. Now she proudly brought it to his grandson.

“Oh, say Mammy,” he said as the old woman started out “Carpenter will be here directly with his report. Bring another pair of these in we will want them.”

The old woman bristled up. “To be sure, I’ll fix ’em, honey. He’ll not know the difference. But the licker he gits in his’n will come outen the bottle we keep for the hosses when they have the colic. The bran’ we keep for gem’men would stick in his th’oat.”

Travis laughed: “Well be sure you don’t get that horse brand in mine.”