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

IN THYSELF THERE IS WEAKNESS

It was the middle of Saturday afternoon, and all the week Edward Conway had fought against the terrible thirst which was in him. Not since Monday morning had he touched whiskey at all, and now he walked the streets of the little town saying over and over to himself: “I am a Conway again.”

He had come to town to see Jud Carpenter about the house which had been promised him for he could not expect to hold Millwood much longer. With his soberness some of his old dignity and manhood returned, and when Carpenter saw him, the Whipper-in knew instinctively what had happened.

He watched Edward Conway closely the clear eye, the haughty turn of his head, the quiet, commanding way of the man sober; and the Whipper-in frowned as he said to himself:

“If he keeps this up I’ll have it to do all over.”

And yet, as he looked at him, Jud Carpenter took it all in the weakness that was still there, the terrible, restless thirst which now made him nervous, irritable, and turned his soul into a very tumult of dissatisfaction.

Carpenter, even as he talked to him, could see the fight which was going on; and now and then, in spite of it and his determination, he saw that the reformed drunkard was looking wistfully toward the bar-room of Billy Buch.

And so, as Jud talked to Edward Conway about the house, he led him along toward the bar-room. All the time he was complimenting him on his improved health, and telling how, with help from the mill, he would soon be on his feet again.

At the bar door he halted:

“Let us set down here an’ res’, Majah, sah, it’s a good place on this little porch. Have somethin’? Billy’s got a mighty fine bran’ of old Tennessee whiskey in there.”

Jud watched him as he spoke and saw the fire of expectancy burn in his despairing eyes.

“No no Carpenter no I am obliged to you but I have sworn never to touch another drop of it. I’ll just rest here with you.” He threw up his head and Jud Carpenter saw how eagerly he inhaled the odor which came out of the door. He saw the quivering lips, the tense straining of the throat, the wavering eyes which told how sorely he was tempted.

It was cool, but the sweat stood in drops on Edward Conway’s temple. He gulped, but swallowed only a dry lump, which immediately sprang back into his throat again and burned as a ball of fire.

“No no Carpenter,” he kept saying in a dazed, abstracted way “no no not any more for me. I’ve promised I’ve promised.”

And yet even while saying it his eyes were saying: “For God’s sake bring it to me quick quick.”

Jud arose and went into the bar and whispered to Billy Buch. Then he came back and sat down and talked of other things. But all the time he was watching Edward Conway the yearning look turned half pleadingly to the bar the gulpings which swallowed nothing.

Presently Jud looked up. He heard the tinkle of glasses, and Billy Buch stood before them with two long toddies on a silver waiter. The ice tinkled and glittered in the deep glasses the cherries and pineapple gleamed amid it and the whiskey the rich red whiskey!

“My treat an’ no charges, gentlemen! Compliments of Billy Buch.”

Conway looked at the tempting glass for a moment in the terrible agony of indecision. Then remorse, fear, shame, frenzy, seized him:

“No no I’ve sworn off, Billy I’ll swear I have. My God, but I’m a Conway again” and before the words were fairly out of his mouth he had seized the glass and swallowed the contents.

It was nearly dark when Helen, quitting the mill immediately on its closing, slipped out of a side door to escape Richard Travis and almost ran home across the fields. Never had she been so full of her life, her plans for the future, her hopes, her pride to think her father would be himself again.

“For if he will,” she whispered, “all else good will follow.”

Just at the gate she stopped and almost fell in the agony of it all. Her father lay on the dry grass by the roadside, unable to walk.

She knelt by his side and wept. Her heart then and there gave up her soul quit in the fight she was making.

With bitterness which was desperate she went to the spring and brought water and bathed his face. Then when he was sufficiently himself to walk, she led him, staggering, in, and up the steps.

Jud Carpenter reached the mill an hour after dark: He sought out Richard Travis and chuckled, saying nothing.

Travis was busy with his books, and when he had finished he turned and smiled at the man.

“Tell me what it is?”

“Oh, I fixed him, that’s all.”

Then he laughed:

“He was sober this morning an’ was in a fair way to knock our plans sky high as to the gal, you kno’. Reformed this mornin’, but you’ll find him good and drunk to-night.”

“Oh,” said Travis, knitting his brows thoughtfully.

“Did you notice how much brighter, an’ sech, she’s been for a day or two?” asked Jud.

“I notice that she has shunned me all day” said Travis “as if I were poison.”

“She’ll not shun you to-morrow,” laughed Jud. “She is your’s for a woman desperate is a woman lost ” and he chuckled again as he went out.