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

SAMANTHA CAREWE

But Jud Carpenter did not finish his work by starting the slubbing machine. Samantha Carewe, one of the main loom women, was absent. Going over to her cottage, he was told by her mother, a glinty-eyed, shrewd looking, hard featured woman that Samantha was “mighty nigh dead.”

“Oh, she’s mighty nigh dead, is she,” said Jud with a tinge of sarcasm “I’ve heurn of her bein’ mighty nigh dead befo’. Well, I wanter see her.”

The mother looked at him sourly, but barred the doorway with her form. Jud fixed his hard cunning eyes on her.

“Cyant see her; I tell you she’s mighty po’ly.”

“Well, cyant you go an’ tell her that Mister Jud Cyarpenter is here an’ ‘ud like to kno’ if he can be of any sarvice to her in orderin’ her burial robe an’ coffin, or takin’ her last will an’ testerment.”

With that he pushed himself in the doorway, rudely brushing the woman aside. “Now lem’me see that gyrl ” he added sternly “that loom is got to run or you will starve, an’ if she’s sick I want to kno’ it. I’ve seed her have the toe-ache befo’.”

The door of the room in which Samantha lay was open, and in plain view of the hall she lay with a look of pain, feigned or real, on her face. She was a woman past forty a spinster truly who had been in the mill since it was first started, and, as she came from a South Carolina mill to the Acme, had, in fact, been in a cotton mill, as she said “all her life.” For she could not remember when, as a child even, she had not worked in one.

Her chest was sunken, her shoulders stooped, her whole form corded and knotted with the fight against machinery. Her skin, bronzed and sallow, looked not unlike the hard, fine wood-work of the loom, oiled with constant use.

Jud walked in unceremoniously.

“What ails you, Samanthy?” he asked, with feigned kindness.

“Oh, I dunno, Jud, but I’ve got a powerful hurtin’ in my innards.”

“The hurtin’ was so bad,” said her mother, “that I had to put a hot rock on her stomach, last night.”

She motioned to a stone lying on the hearth. Jud glanced at it its size staggered him.

“Good Lord! an’ you say you had that thing on her stomach? Why didn’t you send her up to the mill an’ let us lay a hot steam engine on her?”

“What you been eatin’, Samanthy?” he asked suddenly.

“Nuthin’, Jud I aint got no appetite at all!”

“No, she aint eat a blessed thing, hardly, to-day,” said her mother “jes’ seemed to have lost her appetite from a to izzard.”

“I wish the store’d keep wild cherry bark and whiskey somethin’ to make us eat. We cyant work unless we can eat,” said Samantha, woefully.

“Great Scott,” said Jud, “what we want to do is to keep you folks from eatin’ so much. Lem’me see,” he added after a pause, as if still thinking he’d get to the source of her trouble “Yistidday was Sunday you didn’t have to work now what did you eat for breakfast?”

“Nothin’ oh, I aint got no appetite at all” whined Miss Samantha.

“Well, what did you eat I wanter find out what ails you?”

“Well, lem’me see,” said Miss Samantha, counting on her fingers “a biled mackrel, some fried bacon, two pones of corn bread kinder forced it down.”

“Ur-huh ” said Jud, thoughtfully “of course you had to drink, too.”

“Yes” whined Miss Samantha woefully “two glasses of buttermilk.”

Jud elevated his eyebrows “An’ for dinner?”

“O, Lor’. Jes’ cu’dn’t eat nothin’ fur dinner,” she wailed. “If the Company’d only get some cherry bark an’ whiskey”

“At dinner,” said Mrs Carewe, stroking her chin “we had some sour-kraut she eat right pe’rtly of that kinder seemed lak a appetizer to her. She mixed it with biled cabbage an’ et right pe’rtly of it.”

“An’ some mo’ buttermilk it kinder cools my stomach,” whined Miss Samantha. “An’ hog-jowl, an’ corn-bread anything else Maw?”

“A raw onion in vinegar,” said her mother “It’s the only thing that seems to make you want to eat a little. An’ reddishes we had some new reddishes fur dinner didn’t we, Samanthy?”

“Good Lord,” snapped Jud “reddishes an’ buttermilk no wonder you needed that weight on your stomach it’s all that kept you from floatin’ in the air. Cyant eat O good Lord!”

They were silent Miss Samantha making wry faces with her pain.

“Of course you didn’t eat no supper?” he asked.

“No we don’ eat no supper Sunday night,” said Mrs. Carewe.

“Didn’t eat none at all,” asked Jud “not even a little?”

“Well, ’bout nine o’clock I thought I’d eat a little, to keep me from gittin’ hungry befo’ day, so I et a raw onion, an’ some black walnuts, and dried prunes, an’ an’ ”

“A few apples we had in the cellar,” added her mother, “an’ a huckleberry pie, an’ buttermilk ”

Jud jumped up “Good Lord, I thought you was a fool when you said you put that stone on her stomach, but now I know you done the right thing you might have anchored her by a chain to the bed post, too, in case the rock didn’t hold her down. Now look here,” he went on to Mrs. Carewe, “I’ll go to the sto’ an’ send you a half pound of salts, a bottle of oil an’ turbb’ntine. Give her plenty of it an’ have her at the mill by to-morrow, or I’ll cut off all your rations. As it is I don’t see that you need them, anyway, to eat” he sneered “for you ‘aint got no appetite at all.’”

From the Carewe cottage Jud went to a small yellow cottage on the farthest side of the valley. It was the home of John Corbin, and Willis, his ten-year-old son, was one of the main doffers. The father was lounging lazily on the little front verandah, smoking his pipe.

“What’s the matter with Willis?” asked Jud after he had come up.

“Why, nothin’ ” drawled the father. “Aint he at the mill?”

“No the other four children of your’n is there, but Willis aint.”

The man arose with more than usual alacrity. “I’ll see that he is there ” he declared “it’s as much as we can do to live on what they makes, an’ I don’t want no dockin’ for any sickness if I can he’p it.”

Willis, a pale over-worked lad, was down with tonsillitis. Jud heard the father and mother in an angry dispute. She was trying to persuade him to let the boy stay at home. In the end hot words were used, and finally the father came out followed by the pale and hungry-eyed boy.

“He’d better die at the mill at work than here at home,” the father added brutally, as Jud led him off, “fur then the rest of us will have that much ahead to live on.”

He settled lazily back in his chair, and resumed his smoking.