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

MARGARET ADAMS

There passed out of the church, after the service, a woman leading a boy of twelve.

He was a handsome lad with a proud and independent way about him. He carried his head up and there was that calmness that showed good blood. There was even a haughtiness which was pathetic, knowing as the village did the story of his life.

The woman herself was of middle age, with neat, well-fitting clothes, which, in the smallest arrangement of pattern and make-up, bespoke a natural refinement.

Her’s was a sweet face, with dark eyes, and in their depths lay the shadow of resignation.

Throughout the sermon she had not taken her eyes off the old man in the pulpit, and so interested was she, and so earnestly did she drink in all he said, that any one noticing could tell that, to her, the plain old man in the pulpit was more than a pastor.

She sat off by herself. Not one of them in all Cottontown would come near her.

“Our virtue is all we po’ fo’ks has got if we lose that we ain’t got nothin’ lef’,” Mrs. Banks of grass-widow fame had once said, and saying it had expressed Cottontown’s opinion.

Mrs. Banks was very severe when the question of woman’s purity was up. She was the fastest woman at the loom in all Cottontown. She was quick, with a bright, deep-seeing eye. She had been pretty but now at forty-five she was angular and coarse-looking, with a sharp tongue.

The Bishop had smiled when he heard her say it, and then he looked at Margaret Adams sitting in the corner with her boy. In saying it, Mrs. Banks had elevated her nose as she looked in the direction where sat the Magdalene.

The old man smiled, because he of all others knew the past history of Mrs. Banks, the mistress of the loom.

He replied quietly: “Well, I dun’no the best thing that can be said of any of us in general is, that up to date, it ain’t recorded that the Almighty has appinted any one of us, on account of our supreme purity, to act as chief stoner of the Universe. Mighty few of us, even, has any license to throw pebbles.”

Of all his congregation there was no more devoted member than Margaret Adams “an’ as far as I kno’,” the old man had often said, “if there is an angel on earth, it is that same little woman.”

When she came into church that day, the old man noticed that even the little Hillites drew away from her. Often they would point at the little boy by her side and make faces at him. To-day they had carried it too far when one of them, just out in the church yard, pushed him rudely as he walked proudly by the side of his mother, looking straight before him, in his military way, and not so much as giving them a glance.

“Wood’s-colt,” sneered the boy in his ear, as he pushed him.

“No thoroughbred” came back, and with it a blow which sent the intruder backward on the grass.

Several old men nodded at him approvingly as he walked calmly on by the side of his mother.

“Jimmie Jimmie!” was all she said as she slipped into the church.

“I guess you must be a new-comer,” remarked Archie B. indifferently to the boy who was wiping the blood from his face as he arose from the ground and looked sillily around. “That boy Jim Adams is my pardner an’ I could er tole you what you’d git by meddlin’ with him. He’s gone in with his mother now, but him an’ me we’re in alliance we fights for each other. Feel like you got enough?” and Archie B. got up closer and made motions as if to shed his coat.

The other boy grinned good naturedly and walked off.

To-day, just outside of the church Ben Butler had been hitched up and the Bishop sat in the old buggy.

Bud Billings stood by holding the bit, stroking the old horse’s neck and every now and then striking a fierce attitude, saying “Whoa whoa suh!”

As usual, Ben Butler was asleep.

“Turn him loose, Bud,” said the old man humoring the slubber “I’ve got the reins an’ he can’t run away now. I can’t take you home to-day I’m gwinter take Margaret, an’ you an’ Jimmie can come along together.”

No other man could have taken Margaret Adams home and had any standing left, in Cottontown.

And soon they were jogging along down the mountain side, toward the cabin where the woman lived and supported herself and boy by her needle.

To-day Margaret was agitated and excited more than the Bishop had ever known her to be. He knew the reason, for clean-shaved and neatly dressed, Jack Bracken passed her on the road to church that morning, and as they rode along the Bishop told her it was indeed Jack whom she had seen, “an’ he loves you yet, Margaret,” he said.

She turned pink under her bonnet. How pretty and fresh she looked thought the Bishop and what purity in a face to have such a name.

“It was Jack, then,” she said simply “tell me about him, please.”

“By the grace of God he has reformed,” said the old man “and Margaret he loves you yet, as I sed. He is going under the name of Jack Smith, the blacksmith here, an’ he’ll lead another life but he loves you yet,” he whispered again.

Then he told her what had happened, knowing that Jack’s secret would be safe with her.

When he told her how they had buried little Jack, and of the father’s admission that his determination to lead the life of an outlaw had come when he found that she had been untrue to him, she was shaken with grief. She could only sit and weep. Not even at the gate, when the old man left her, did she say anything.

Within, she stopped before a picture which hung over the mantle-piece and looked at it, through eyes that filled again and again with tears. It was the picture of a pretty mountain girl with dark eyes and sensual lip.

Margaret knelt before it and wept.

The boy had come and stood moodily at the front gate. The hot and resentful blood still tinged in his cheek. He looked at his knuckles they were cut and swollen where he had struck the boy who had jeered him. It hurt him, but he only smiled grimly.

Never before had any one called him a wood’s-colt. He had never heard the word before, but he knew what it meant. For the first time in his life, he hated his mother. He heard her weeping in the little room they called home. He merely shut his lips tightly and, in spite of the stoicism that was his by nature, the tears swelled up in his eyes.

They were hot tears and he could not shake them off. For the first time the wonder and the mystery of it all came over him. For the first time he felt that he was not as other boys, that there was a meaning in this lonely cabin and the shunned woman he called mother, and the glances, some of pity, some of contempt, which he had met all of his life.

As he stood thinking this, Richard Travis rode slowly down the main road leading from the town to The Gaffs. And this went through the boy successively not in words, scarcely but in feelings:

“What a beautiful horse he is riding it thrills me to see it I love it naturally oh, but to own one!

“What a handsome man he is and how like a gentleman he looks! I like the way he sits his horse. I like that way he has of not noticing people. He has got the same way about him I have got that I’ve always had that I love a way that shows me I’m not afraid, and that I have got nerve and bravery.

“He sits that horse just as I would sit him his head his face the way that foot slopes to the stirrup why that’s me ”

He stopped he turned pale he trembled with pride and rage. Then he turned and walked into the room where Margaret Adams sat. She held out her arms to him pleadingly.

But he did not notice her, and never before had she seen such a look on his face as he said calmly:

“Mother, if you will come to the door I will show you my father.”

Margaret Adams had already seen. She turned white with a hidden shame as she said:

“Jimmie Jimmie who who ?”

“No one,” he shouted fiercely “by God” she had never before heard him swear “I tell you no one on my honor as a Travis no one! It has come to me of itself I know it I feel it.”

He was too excited to talk. He walked up and down the little room, his proud head lifted and his eyes ablaze.

“I know now why I love honesty, why I despise those common things beneath me why I am not afraid why I struck that boy as I did this morning why ” he walked into the little shed room that was his own and came back with a long single barrel pistol in his hand and fondled it lovingly “why all my life I have been able to shoot this as I have ”

He held in his hand a long, single barrel, rifle-bored duelling pistol of the type used by gentlemen at the beginning of the century. Where he had got it she did not know, but always it had been his plaything.

“O Jimmie you would not ” exclaimed the woman rising and reaching for it.

“Tush ” he said bitterly “tush that’s the way Richard Travis talks, ain’t it? Does not my very voice sound like his? No but I expect you now, mother” he said it softly “tell me tell me all about it.”

For a moment Margaret Adams was staggered. She only shook her head.

He looked at her cynically then bitterly. A dangerous flash leaped into his eyes.

“Then, by God,” he cried fiercely, “this moment will I walk over to his house with this pistol in my hand and I will ask him. If he fails to tell me damn him I dare him ”

She jumped up and seized him in her arms.

“Promise me that if I tell you all all, Jimmy, when you are fifteen promise me will you be patient now with poor mother, who loves you so?” And she kissed him fondly again and again.

He looked into her eyes and saw all her suffering there.

The bitterness went out of his.

“I’ll promise, mother,” he said simply, and walked back into his little room.