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

HELEN’S DESPAIR

An hour afterward, the old nurse found Helen at the piano, her head bowed low over the old yellow keys. “It’s gittin’ t’wards dinner time, chile,” she said tenderly, “an’ time I was dressin’ my queen gal for dinner an sendin’ her out to get roses in her cheeks.”

“Oh, Mammy, don’t don’t dress me that way any more. I am I am to be after this just a mill girl, you know?”

There was a sob and her head sank lower over the piano.

“You may be for a while, but you’ll always be a Conway” and the old woman struck an attitude with her arms akimbo and stood looking at the portraits which hung on the parlor wall.

“That that makes it worse, Mammy.” She wiped away her tears and stood up, and her eyes took on a look Aunt Maria had not seen since the old Governor had died. She thought of ghosts and grew nervous before it.

“If my father sends me to work in that place if he does ” she cried with flaming eyes “I shall feel that I am disgraced. I cannot hold my head up again. Then you need not be surprised at anything I do.”

“It ain’t registered that you’re gwine there yet,” and Mammy Maria stroked her head. “But if you does it won’t make no difference whar you are nor what you have to do, you’ll always be a Conway an’ a lady.”

An hour afterwards, dressed as only Mammy Maria could dress her, Helen had walked out again to the rock under the wild grape vine.

How sweet and peaceful it was, and yet how changed since but a short time ago she had sat there watching for Harry!

“Harry” she pulled out the crumpled, tear-stained note from her bosom and read it again. And the reading surprised her. She expected to weep, but instead when she had finished she sat straight up on the mossy rock and from her eyes gleamed again the light before which the political enemies of the old dead Governor had so often quailed.

Nor did it change in intensity, when, at the sound of wheels and the clatter of hoofs, she instinctively dropped down on the moss behind the rock and saw through the grape leaves one of Richard Travis’s horses, steaming hot, and stepping, right up to its limit a clipping gait down the road.

She had dropped instinctively because she guessed it was Harry. And instinctively, too, she knew the girl with the loud boisterous laugh beside him was Nellie.

The buggy was wheeled so rapidly past that she heard only broken notes of laughter and talk. Then she sat again upon her rock, with the deep flush in her eyes, and said:

“I hate him I hate him and oh to think ”

She tore his note into fragments, twisted and rolled them into a ball and shot it, as a marble, into the gulch below.

Then, suddenly she remembered, and reaching over she looked into a scarred crevice in the rock. Twice that summer had Clay Westmore left her a quaint love note in this little rock-lined post-office. Quaint indeed, and they made her smile, for they had been queer mixtures of geology and love. But they were honest and they had made her flush despite the fact that she did not love him.

Still she would read them two or three times and sigh and say: “Poor Clay ” after every reading.

“Surely there will be one this afternoon,” she thought as she peeped over.

But there was not, and it surprised her to know how much she was disappointed.

“Even Clay has forgotten me,” she said as she arose hastily to go.

A big sob sprang up into her throat and the Conway light of defiance, that had blazed but a few moments before in her eyes, died in the depths of the cloud of tears which poured between it and the open.

A cruel, dangerous mood came over her. It enveloped her soul in its sombre hues and the steel of it struck deep.

She scarcely remembered her dead mother only her eyes. But when these moods came upon Helen Conway and her life had been one wherein they had fallen often the memory of her mother’s eyes came to her and stood out in the air before her, and they were sombre and sad, and full, too, of the bitterness of hopes unfulfilled.

All her life she had fought these moods when they came. But now now she yielded to the subtle charm of them the wild pleasure of their very sinfulness.

“And why not,” she cried to herself when the consciousness of it came over her, and like a morphine fiend carrying the drug to his lips, she knew that she also was pressing there the solace of her misery.

“Why should I not dissipate in the misery of it, since so much of it has fallen upon me at once?

“Mother? I never knew one only the eyes of one, and they were the eyes of Sorrow. Father?” she waved her hand toward the old home “drunk-wrecked he would sell me for a quart of whiskey.

“Then I loved loved an image which is mud mud” she fairly spat it out. “One poor friend I had I scorned him, and he has forgotten me, too. But I did know that I had social standing that my name was an honored one until now.”

“Now!” she gulped it down. “Now I am a common mill girl.”

She had been walking rapidly down the road toward the house. So rapidly that she did not know how flushed and beautiful she had become. She was swinging her hat impatiently in her hand, her fine hair half falling and loose behind, shadowing her face as rosy sunset clouds the temple on Mt. Ida. A face of more classic beauty, a skin of more exquisite fairness, flushed with the bloom of youth, Richard Travis had never before seen.

And so, long before she reached him, he reined in his trotters and sat silently watching her come. What a graceful step she had what a neck and head and hair half bent over with eyes on the ground, unconscious of the beauty and grace of their own loveliness.

She almost ran into his buggy she stopped with a little start of surprise, only to look into his clean-cut face, smiling half patronizingly, half humorously, and with a look of command too, and of patronage withal, of half-gallant heart-undoing.

It was the look of the sharp-shinned hawk hovering for an instant, in sheer intellectual abandon and physical exuberance, above the unconscious oriole bent upon its morning bath.

He was smiling down into her eyes and repeating half humorously, half gallantly, and altogether beautifully, she thought, Keats’ lines:

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever;
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams and health and
Quiet breathing....”

Even Helen could not tell how it was done nor why she had consented....

“No no you are hot and tired and you shall not walk.... I will give you just a little spin before Mammy Maria calls you to dinner.... Yes, Lizzette and Sadie B. always do their best when a pretty girl is behind them.”

How refreshing the air hot and tired as she was. And such horses she had never before ridden behind anything so fine. How quickly he put her at her ease how intellectual he was how much of a gentleman. And was it not a triumph a social triumph for her? A mill girl, in name, to have him notice her? It made her heart beat quickly to think that Richard Travis should care enough for her to give her this pleasure and at a time when when she always saw her mother’s eyes.

Timidly she sat by him scarce lifting her eyes to speak, but conscious all the time that his eyes were devouring her, from her neck and hair to her slippered foot, sticking half way out from skirts of old lace-trimmed linen.

She reminded him at last that they should go back home.

No he would have her at home directly. Yes, he’d have her there before the old nurse missed her.

She knew the trotters were going fast, but she did not know just how fast, until presently, in a cloud of whirling dust they flew around a buggy whose horse, trot as fast as it could, seemed stationary to the speed the pair showed as they passed.

It was Harry and Nellie. She glanced coldly at him, and when he raised his hat she cut him with a smile of scorn. She saw his jaw drop dejectedly as Richard Travis sang out banteringly:

“Sweets to the sweet, and good-bye to the three-minute class.”

It was a good half hour, but it seemed but a few minutes before he had her back at the home gate, her cheeks burning with the glory of that burst of speed, and rush of air.

He had helped her out and stood holding her hand as one old enough to be her father. He smiled and, looking down at her glowing face, and hair, and neck, repeated:

“What thou art we know not.
What is most like thee?
From rainbow clouds there flow not
Drops so bright to see
As from thy presence showers a rain of melody.”

Then he changed as she thanked him, and said: “When you go into the mill I shall have many pleasant surprises for you like this.”

He bent over her and whispered: “I have arranged for your pay to be double we are neighbors, you know your father and I, and a pretty girl, like you, need not work always.”

She started and looked at him quickly.

The color went from her cheeks. Then it came again in a crimson tide, so full and rich, that Richard Travis, like Titian with his brush, stood spellbound before the work he had done.

Fearing he had said too much, he dropped his voice and with a twinkle in his eye said:

“For there is Harry you know.”

All her timidity vanished her hanging of the head, her silence, her blushes. Instead, there leaped into her eyes that light which Richard Travis had never seen before the light of a Conway on mettle.

“I hate him.”

“I do not blame you,” he said. “I shall be a father to you if you will let me.”

He pressed her hand, and raising his hat, was gone.

As he drove away he turned and looked at her slipping across the lawn in the twilight. In his eyes was a look of triumphant excitement.

“To own her such a creature God it were worth risking my neck.”

The mention of Harry brought back all her bitter recklessness to Helen. She was but a child and her road, indeed, was hard. And as she turned at the old gate and looked back at the vanishing buggy she said:

“Had he asked me this evening I’d yes I’d go to the end of the world with him. I’d go go go and I care not how.”

Richard Travis was in a jolly mood at the supper table that night, and Harry became jolly also, impertinently so. He had not said a word about his cousin being with Helen, but it burned in his breast, and he awaited his chance to mention it.

“I have thought up a fable since I have been at supper, Cousin Richard. Shall I tell you?”

“Oh” with a cynical smile “do!”

“Well,” began Harry unabashed, and with many sly winks and much histrionic effort, “it is called the ‘Fox and the Lion.’ Now a fox in the pursuit ran down a beautiful young doe and was about to devour her when the lion came up and with a roar and a sweep of his paw, took her saying....”

“‘Get out of the way, you whelp,’” said his cousin, carrying the fable on, “for I perceive you are not even a fox, but a coyote, since no fox was ever known to run down a doe.”

The smile was gradually changed on his face to a cruel sneer, and Harry ceased talking with a suddenness that was marked.