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

THE PLOT

A village bar-room is a village hell.

Jud Carpenter and Joe Hopper were soon there, and the silver their children had earned at the mill began to go for drinks.

The drinks made them feel good. They resolved to feel better, so they drank again. As they drank the talk grew louder. They were joined by others from the town ne’er-do-wells, who hung around the bar and others from the mill.

And so they drank and sang and danced and played cards and drank again, and threw dice for more drinks.

It was nearly nine o’clock before the Bacchanal laugh began to ring out at intervals so easily distinguished from the sober laugh, in that it carries in its closing tones the queer ring of the maniac’s.

Only the mill men had any cash. The village loafers drank at their expense, and on credit.

“And why should we not drink if we wish,” said one of them. “Our children earned the money and do we not own the children?”

Twice only were they interrupted. Once by the wife of a weaver who came in and pleaded with her husband for part of their children’s money. Her tears touched the big-hearted Billy Buch, and as her husband was too drunk to know what he was doing, Billy took what money he had left and gave it to the wife. She had a sick child, she told Billy Buch, and what money she had would not even buy the medicine.

Billy squinted the corner of one eye and looked solemnly at the husband: “He ha’f ten drinks in him ag’in, already. I vill gif you pay for eet all for the child. An’ here ees one dollar mo’ from Billy Buch. Now go, goot voman.”

The other interruption was the redoubtable Mrs. Billings; her brother, also a slubber, had arrived early, but had scarcely taken two delightful, exquisite drinks before she came on the scene, her eyes flashing, her hair disheveled, and her hand playing familiarly with something under her apron.

Her presence threw them into a panic.

“Mine Gott!” said Billy, turning pale. “Eet es Meeses Billings an’ her crockery.”

Half a dozen jubilants pointed out a long-haired man at a center table talking proudly of his physical strength and bravery.

“Cris Ham?” beckoned Mrs. Billings, feeling nervously under her apron. “Come with me!”

“I’ll be along t’orectly, sis.”

“You will come now,” she said, and her hands began to move ominously beneath her apron.

“To be sho’,” he said as he walked out with her. “I didn’t know you felt that away about it, sis.”

It was after ten o’clock when the quick roll of a buggy came up to the door, and Richard Travis and Charley Biggers alighted.

They had both been drinking. Slowly, surely, Travis was going down in the scale of degeneracy. Slowly the loose life he was leading was lowering him to the level of the common herd. A few years ago he would not have thought of drinking with his own mill hands. To-night he was there, the most reckless of them all. Analyzed, it was for the most part conceit with him; the low conceit of the superior intellect which would mingle in infamy with the lowest to gain its ignorant homage. For Intellect must have homage if it has to drag it from the slums.

Charley Biggers was short and boyish, with a fat, round face. When he laughed he showed a fine set of big, sensual teeth. His eyes were jolly, flighty, insincere. Weakness was written all over him, from a derby hat sitting back rakishly on his forehead to the small, effeminate boot that fitted so neatly his small effeminate foot. He had a small hand and his little sensual face had not a rough feature on it. It was set off by a pudgy, half-formed dab of a nose that let his breath in and out when his mouth happened to be shut. His eyes were the eyes of one who sees no wrong in anything.

They came in and pulled off their gloves, daintily. They threw their overcoats on a chair. Travis glanced around the circle of the four or five who were left and said pompously:

“Come up, gentlemen, and have something at my expense.” Then he walked up to the bar.

They came. They considered it both a pleasure and an honor, as Jud Carpenter expressed it, to drink with him.

“It is a good idea to mingle with them now and then,” whispered Travis to Charley. “It keeps me solid with them health, gentlemen!”

Charley Biggers showed his good-natured teeth:

“Health, gentlemen,” he grinned.

Then he hiccoughed through his weak little nose.

“Joe Hopper can’t rise, gentlemen, Joe is drunk, an’ an’ a widderer, besides,” hiccoughed Joe from below.

Joe had been a widower for a year. His wife, after being the mother of eleven children, who now supported Joe in his drunkenness, had passed away.

Then Joe burst into tears.

“What’s up, Joe?” asked Jud kindly.

“Liza’s dead,” he wailed.

“Why, she’s been dead a year,” said Jud.

“Don’t keer, Jud I’m jes’ jes’ beginnin’ to feel it now” and he wept afresh.

It was too much for Charley Biggers, and he also wept. Travis looked fixedly at the ceiling and recited portions of the Episcopal burial service. Then Jud wept. They all wept.

“Gentlemen,” said Travis solemnly, “let us drink to the health of the departed Mrs. Hopper. Here’s to her!”

This cheered all except Joe Hopper he refused to be comforted. They tried to console him, but he only wept the more. They went on drinking and left him out, but this did not tend to diminish his tears.

“Oh, Mister Hopper, shet up,” said Jud peremptorily “close up I’ve arranged for you to marry a grass-widder.”

This cheered him greatly.

“O Jud Jud if I marry a grass-widder whut whut’ll I be then?”

“Why? a grasshopper, sure,” said Travis.

They all roared. Then Jud winked at Travis and Travis winked at the others. Then they sat around a table, all winking except poor Joe, who continued to weep at the thought of being a grasshopper. He did not quite understand how it was, but he knew that in some way he was to be changed into a grasshopper, with long green wings and legs to match.

“Gentlemen,” said Jud seriously “it is our duty to help out po’ Joe. Now, Joe, we’ve arranged it for you to marry Miss Kate Galloway the grass-widder.”

“Not Miss Kate,” said Travis with becoming seriousness.

“Why not her, Mr. Travis?” asked Jud, winking.

“Because his children will be Katydids,” said Travis.

This brought on thundering roars of laughter and drinks all around. Only Joe wept wept to think his children would be katydids.

“Now, Joe, it’s this way. I’ve talked it all over and arranged it. That’s what we’ve met for to-night ain’t it, gents?” said Jud.

“Sure sure,” they all exclaimed.

“Now, Joe, you musdry yo’ tears an’ become reconciled we’ve got a nice scheme fixed for you.”

“I’ll never be reconciled never,” wailed Joe. “Liza’s dead an’ I’m a grasshopper.”

“Now, wait till I explain to you but, dear, devoted friend, everything is ready. The widder’s been seen an’ all you’ve got to do is to come with us and get her.”

“She’s a mighty handsome ’oman,” said Jud, winking his eye. “Dear dear frien’s all I’m feelin’ reconciled already” said Joe.

They all joined in the roar. Jud winked. They all winked. Jud went on:

“Joe, dear, dear Joe we have had thy welfare at heart, as the books say. We wanted thee to become a millionaire. Thou hast eleven children to begin with. They pay you ”

“Eighteen dollars a week, clear,” said Joe proudly.

“Well, now, Joe it’s all arranged you marry the widder an’ in the course of time you’ll have eleven mo’. That’s another eighteen dollars or thirty-six dollars a week clear in the mills.”

“Now, but I hadn’t thought of that,” said Joe enthusiastically “that’s a fact. When when did you say the ceremony’d be performed?”

“Hold on,” said Jud, “now, we’ve studied this thing all out for you. You’re a Mormon the only one of us that is a Mormon openly.”

They all laughed.

“Openly ” he went on “you’ve j’ined the Mormon church here up in the mountains.”

“But we don’t practise polygamy now” said Joe.

“That’s only on account of the Grand Jury and the law not yo’ religion. You see you’ll marry an’ go to Utah but es the kids come you’ll sen’ ’em all down here to the mills every one a kinder livin’ coupon. All any man’s got to do in this country to git rich is to marry enough wives.”

“Can I do that do the marryin’ in Utah an’ keep sendin’ the the chilluns down to the mill?” His eyes glittered.

“Sart’inly” said Jud “sure!”

“Then there’s Miss Carewe” he went on “you haf’ter cal’clate on feedin’ several wives in one, with her. But say eleven mo’ by her. That’s thirty-seven mo’.”

Joe jumped up.

“Is she willin’?”

“Done seen her,” said Jud; “she say come on.”

“Hold on,” said Travis with feigned anger. “Hold on. Joe is fixin’ to start a cotton-mill of his own. That’ll interfere with the Acme. No no we must vote it down. We mustn’t let Joe do it.”

Joe had already attempted to rise and start after his wives. But in the roar of laughter that followed he sat down and began to weep again for Liza.

It was nearly midnight. Only Travis, Charley Biggers and Jud remained sober enough to talk. Charley was telling of Tilly and her wondrous beauty.

“Now it’s this way,” he hiccoughed “I’ve got to go off to school but but I’ve thought of a plan to marry her first, with a bogus license and preacher.”

There was a whispered conversation among them, ending in a shout of applause.

“What’s the matter with you takin’ yo’ queen at the same time?” asked Jud of Travis.

Travis, drunk as he was, winced to think that he would ever permit Jud Carpenter to suggest what he had intended should only be known to himself. His tongue was thick, his brain whirled, and there were gaps in his thoughts; but through the thickness and heaviness he thought how low he had fallen. Lower yet when, despite all his vanishing reserve, all his dignity and exclusiveness, he laughed sillily and said:

“Just what I had decided to do two queens and an ace.”

They all cheered drunkenly.