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

A MIDNIGHT GUARD

Jack Bracken rolled himself in his blanket on the cot, placed in the room next to Captain Tom, and prepared to sleep again.

But the excitement of the night had been great; his sudden awakening from sleep, his missing Captain Tom, and finding him in time to prevent a tragedy, had aroused him thoroughly, and now sleep was far from his eyes.

And so he lay and thought of his past life, and as it passed before him it shook him with nervous sleeplessness.

It hurt him. He lay and panted with the strong sorrow of it.

Perhaps it was that, but with it were thoughts also of little Jack, and the tears came into the eyes of the big-hearted outlaw.

He had his plans all arranged he and the Bishop and now as the village blacksmith he would begin the life of an honest man.

Respected his heart beat proudly to think of it.

Respected how little it means to the man who is, how much to the man who is not.

“Why,” he said to himself “perhaps after a while people will stop and talk to me an’ say as they pass my shop: ‘Good mornin’, neighbor, how are you to-day?’ Little children sweet an’ innocent little children comin’ from school may stop an’ watch the sparks fly from my anvil, like they did in the poem I onct read, an’ linger aroun’ an’ talk to me, shy like; maybe, after awhile I’ll get their confidence, so they will learn to love me, an’ call me Uncle Jack Uncle Jack,” he repeated softly.

“An’ I won’t be suspectin’ people any mo’ an’ none of ’em will be my enemy. I’ll not be carryin’ pistols an’ havin’ buckets of gold an’ not a friend in the worl’.”

His heart beat fast he could scarcely wait for the morning to come, so anxious was he to begin the life of an honest man again. He who had been an outlaw so long, who had not known what it was to know human sympathy and human friendship it thrilled him with a rich, sweet flood of joy.

Then suddenly a great wave swept over him a wave of such exquisite joy that he fell on his knees and cried out: “O God, I am a changed man how happy I am! jus’ to be human agin an’ not hounded! How can I thank You You who have given me this blessed Man the Bishop tells us about this Christ who reaches out an’ takes us by the han’ an’ lifts us up. O God, if there is divinity given to man, it is given to that man who can lift up another, as the po’ outlaw knows.”

He lay silent and thoughtful. All day and night since he had first seen Margaret, her eyes had haunted him. He had not seen her before for many years; but in all that time there had not been a day when he had not thought of loved her.

Margaret her loneliness the sadness of her life, all haunted him. She lived, he knew, alone, in her cottage an outcast from society. He had looked but once in her eyes and caught the lingering look of appeal which unconsciously lay there. He knew she loved him yet it was there as plain as in his own face was written the fact that he loved her. He thought of himself of her. Then he said:

“For fifteen years I have robbed killed oh, God killed how it hurts me now! All the category of crime in bitter wickedness I have run. And she once and now an angel Bishop himself says so.”

“I am a new man I am a respectable and honest man,” here he arose on his cot and drew himself up “I am Jack Smith Mr. Jack Smith, the blacksmith, and my word is my bond.”

He slipped out quietly. Once again in the cool night, under the stars which he had learned to love as brothers and whose silent paths across the heavens were to him old familiar footpaths, he felt at ease, and his nervousness left him.

He had not intended to speak to Margaret then for he thought she was asleep. He wished only to guard her cabin, up among the stunted old field pines while she slept to see the room he knew she slept in the little window she looked out of every day.

The little cabin was a hallowed spot to him. Somehow he knew he felt that whatever might be said in it he knew an angel dwelt. He could not understand he only knew.

There is a moral sense within us that is a greater teacher than either knowledge or wisdom.

For an hour he stood with his head uncovered watching the little cabin where she lived. Everything about it was sacred, because Margaret lived there. It was pretty, too, in its neatness and cleanliness, and there were old-fashioned flowers in the yard and old-fashioned roses clambered on the rock wall.

He sat down in the path the little white sanded path down which he knew she went every day, and so made sacred by her footsteps.

“Perhaps, I am near one of them now,” he said and he kissed the spot.

And that night and many others did the outlaw watch over the lonely cabin on the mountain side. And she, the outcast woman, slept within, unconscious that she was being protected by the man who had loved her all his life.