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

THE QUEEN IS DEAD LONG LIVE THE QUEEN

All that week at the mill, Richard Travis had been making preparations for his trip to Boston. Regularly twice, and often three times a year, he had made the same journey, where his report to the directors was received and discussed. After that, there were always two weeks of theatres, operas, wine-suppers and dissipations of other kinds though never of the grossest sort for even in sin there is refinement, and Richard Travis was by instinct and inheritance refined.

He was not conscious and who of his class ever are? of the effects of the life he was leading the tightening of this chain of immoral habits, the searing of what conscience he had, the freezing of all that was generous and good within him.

Once his nature had been as a lake in midsummer, its surface shimmering in the sunlight, reflecting something of the beauty that came to it. Now, cold, sordid, callous, it lay incased in winter ice and neither could the sunlight go in nor its reflection go out. It slept on in coarse opaqueness, covered with an impenetrable crust which he himself did not understand.

“But,” said the old Bishop more than once, “God can touch him and he will thaw like a spring day. There is somethin’ great in Richard Travis if he can only be touched.”

But vice cannot reason. Immorality cannot deduce. Only the moral ponders deeply and knows both the premises and the conclusions, because only the moral thinks.

Vice, like the poisonous talons of a bird of prey, while it buries its nails in the flesh of its victim, carries also the narcotic which soothes as it kills.

And Richard Travis had arrived at this stage. At first it had been with him any woman, so there was a romance and hence Maggie. But he had tired of these, and now it was the woman beautiful as Helen, or the woman pure and lovely as Alice Westmore.

What a tribute to purity, that impurity worships it the more as itself sinks lower in the slime of things. It is the poignancy of the meteorite, which, falling from a star, hisses out its life in the mud.

The woman pure Alice the very thought of her sent him farther into the mud, knowing she could not be his. She alone whom he had wanted to wed all his life, the goal of his love’s ambition, the one woman in the world he had never doubted would one day be his wife.

Her note to him “Never ... never ... again” he kept reading it over, stunned, and pale, with the truth of it. In his blindness it had never occurred to him that Alice Westmore and Maggie would ever meet. In his blindness for Wrong, daring as a snake, which, however alert and far-seeing it may be in the hey-day of its spring, sees less clearly as the Summer advances, until, in the August of its infamy, it ceases to see altogether and becomes an easy victim for all things with hoofs.

Then, the poignant reawakening. Now he lay in the mud and above him still shone the star.

The star his star! And how it hurt him! It was the breaking of a link in the chain of his life.

Twice had he written to her. But each time his notes came back unopened. Twice had he gone to Westmoreland to see her. Mrs. Westmore met him at the door, cordial, sympathetic, but with a nervous jerk in the little metallic laugh. His first glance at her told him she knew everything and yet, knew nothing. Alice was locked in her room and would not see him.

“But, oh, Richard,” and again she laughed her little insincere, unstable, society laugh, beginning with brave frankness in one corner of her mouth and ending in a hypocritical wave of forgetfulness before it had time to finish the circle, but fluttering out into a cynical twitching of a thing which might have been a smile or a sneer

“True love you know dear Richard you must remember the old saying.”

She pressed his hand sympathetically. The mouth said nothing, but the hand said plainly: “Do not despair I am working for a home at The Gaffs.”

He pitied her, for there was misery in her eyes and in her laugh and in the very touch of her hand. Misery and insincerity, and that terrible mental state when weakness is roped up between the two and knows, for once in its life, that it has no strength at all.

And she pitied him, for never before on any human face had she seen the terrible irony of agony. Agony she had often seen but not this irony of it this agony that saw all its life’s happiness blasted and knew it deserved it.

Richard Travis, when he left Westmoreland, knew that he left it forever.

“The Queen is dead long live the Queen,” he said bitterly.

And then there happened what always happens to the thing in the mud he sank deeper desperately deeper.

Now now he would have Helen Conway. He would have her and own her, body and soul. He would take her away as he had planned, and keep her away. That was easy, too too far away for the whisper of it ever to come back. If he failed in that he would marry her. She was beautiful and with a little more age and education she would grace The Gaffs. So he might marry her and set her up, a queen over their heads.

This was his determination when he went to the mill the first of the week. All the week he watched her, talked with her, was pleasant, gallant and agreeable. But he soon saw that Helen was not the same. There was not the dull wistful resignation in her look, and despair had given way to a cheerfulness he could not understand. There was a brightness in her eyes which made her more beautiful.

The unconscious grip which the shamelessness of it all had over him was evidenced in what he did. He confided his plans to Jud Carpenter, and set him to work to discover the cause.

“See what’s wrong,” he said significantly. “I am going to take that girl North with me, and away from here. After that it is no affair of yours.”

“Anything wrong?” He had reached the point of his moral degradation when right for Helen meant wrong for him.

Jud, with a characteristic shrewdness, put his finger quickly on the spot.

Edward Conway was sober. Clay saw her daily.

“But jes’ wait till I see him ag’in down there. I’ll make him drunk enough. Then you’ll see a change in the Queen hey?”

And he laughed knowingly. With a little more bitterness she would go to the end of the world with him.

It was that day he held her hands in the old familiar way, but when he would kiss her at the gate she still fled, crimson, away.

The next morning Clay Westmore walked with her to the mill, and Travis lilted his eyebrows haughtily:

“If anything of that kind happens,” he said to himself, “nothing can save me.”

He watched her closely how beautiful she looked that day how regally beautiful! She had come wearing the blue silk gown, with the lace and beads which had been her mother’s. In sheer delight Travis kept slipping to the drawing-in room door to watch her work. Her posture, beautifully Greek, before the machine, so natural that it looked not unlike a harp in her hand; her half-bent head and graceful neck, the flushed face and eyes, the whole picture was like a Titian, rich in color and life.

And she saw him and looked up smiling.

It was not the smile of happiness. He did not know it because, being blind, he could not know. It was the happiness of work achievement.

He came in smiling. “Why are you so much happier than last week?”

“Would you really like to know?” she said, looking him frankly in the eyes.

He touched her hair playfully. She moved her head and shook it warningly.

“It is because I am at work and father is trying so hard to reform.”

“I thought maybe it was because you had found out how much I love you.”

It was his old, stereotyped, brazen way, but she did not know it and blushed prettily.

“You are kind, Mr. Travis, but but that mustn’t be thought of. Please, but I wish you wouldn’t talk that way.”

“Why, it is true, my queen of The Gaffs?” he said smiling.

She began to work again.

He came over to her and bent low:

“You know I am to take you Monday night”

Her hands flew very rapidly her cheeks mantled into a rich glow. One of the threads snapped. She stopped, confused.

Travis glanced around. No one was near. He bent and kissed her hair:

“My queen,” he whispered, “my beautiful queen.”

Then he walked quickly out. He went to his office, but he still saw the beautiful picture. It thrilled him and then there swept up over him another picture, and he cried savagely to himself:

“I’ll make her sorry. She shall bow to that fine thing yet my queen.”

Nor would it leave him that day, and into the night he dreamed of her, and it was the same Titian picture in a background of red sunset. And her machine was a harp she was playing. He wakened and smiled:

“Am I falling in love with that girl? That will spoil it all.”

He watched her closely the next day, for it puzzled him to know why she had changed so rapidly in her manner toward him. He had ridden to Millwood to bring her to the mill, himself; and he had some exquisite roses for her clipped in the hot-house by his own hands. It was with an unmistakable twitch of jealousy that he learned that Clay Westmore had already come by and gone with her.

“I know what it is now,” he said to Jud Carpenter at the mill that morning; “she is half in love with that slow, studious fellow.”

Jud laughed: “Say, excuse me, sah but hanged if you ain’t got all the symptoms, y’self, boss?”

Travis flushed:

“Oh, when I start out to do a thing I want to do it and I’m going to take her with me, or die trying.”

Jud laughed again: “Leave it to me I’ll fix the goggle-eyed fellow.”

That night when the door bell rang at Westmoreland, Jud Carpenter was ushered into Clay’s workshop. He sat down and looked through his shaggy eyebrows at the lint and dust and specimens of ore. Then he spat on the floor disgustedly.

“Sorry to disturb you, but be you a surveyor also?”

The big bowed glasses looked at him quietly and nodded affirmatively.

“Wal, then,” went on Jud, “I come to git you to do a job of surveying for the mill. It’s a lot of timber land on the other side of the mountain some twenty miles off. The Company’s bought five thousand acres of wood and they want it surveyed. What’ll you charge?”

Clay thought a moment: “Going and coming, on horse-back it will take me a week,” said Clay thoughtfully. “I shall charge a hundred dollars.”

“An’ will you go right away to-morrow mornin’?”

Clay nodded.

“Here’s fifty of it,” said Jud “the Company is in a hurry. We want the survey by this day week. Let me see, this is Sat’dy I’ll come next Sat’dy night.”

Clay’s face flushed. Never before had he made a hundred dollars in a week.

“I’ll go at once.”

“To-morrow at daylight?” asked Jud, rising.

Clay looked at him curiously. There was something in the tone of the man that struck him as peculiar, but Jud went on in an easy way.

“You see we must have it quick. All our winter wood to run the mill is there an’ we can’t start into cordin’ till it’s surveyed an’ the deed’s passed. Sorry to hurry you”

Clay promised to start at daylight and Jud left.

He looked at his watch. It was late. He would like to tell Helen about it he said aloud: “Making a hundred dollars a week. If I could only keep up that I’d I’d ”

He blushed. And then he turned quietly and went to bed. And that was why Helen wondered the next day and the next, and all the next week why she did not see Clay, why he did not come, nor write, nor send her a message. And wondering the pang of it went into her hardening heart.