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

FACE TO FACE WITH DEATH

He came in as naturally as if the house were still inhabited, though he saw the emptiness of it all, and guessed the cause. But when he saw Helen, a flushed surprise beamed through his eyes and he gave her his hand.

“Helen! why, this is unexpected quite unusual, I must say.”

She did not speak, as she gave him her hand, but smiled sadly. It meant: “Mr. Travis will tell you all. I know nothing. It is all his planning.”

Clay sat down in an old chair by the fire and warmed his hands, looking thoughtfully at the two, now and then, and wonderingly. He was not surprised when Travis said:

“I sent for you hurriedly, as one who I knew was a friend of Miss Conway. A crisis has arisen in her affairs to-day in which it is necessary for her friends to act.”

“Why, yes, I suppose I can guess,” said Clay thoughtfully and watching Helen closely all the while as he glanced around the empty room. “I was only waiting. Why, you see ”

Helen flushed scarlet and looked appealingly at Travis. But he broke in on Clay without noticing her.

“Yes, I knew you were only waiting. I think I understand you, but you know the trouble with nearly every good intention is that it waits too long.”

Clay reddened.

Helen arose and, coming over, stood by Travis, her face pale, her eyes shining. “I beg I entreat please, say no more. Clay,” she said turning on him with flushed face, “I did not know you were coming. I did not know where you were. Like all the others, I supposed you too had had deserted me.”

“Why, I was sent off in a hurry to ” he started.

“Mr. Travis told me to-night,” she interrupted. “I understand now. But really, it makes no difference to me now. Since since ”

“Now look here,” broke in Travis with feigned lightness, “I am not going to let you two lovers misunderstand each other. I have planned it all out and I want you both to make me happy by listening to one older, one who admires you both and sincerely wishes to see you happy. Things have happened at your house,” he said addressing Clay “things which will surprise you when you reach home things that affect you and me and Miss Conway. Now I know that you love her, and have loved her a long time, and that only ”

“Only our poverty,” said Clay thankfully to Travis for breaking the ice for him.

Helen stood up quickly a smile on her lips: “Don’t you both think that before this bargain and sale goes further you had better get the consent of the one to be sold?” She turned to Clay.

“Don’t you think you have queer ideas of love of winning a woman’s love in this way? And you” she said turning to Travis “Oh you know better.”

Travis arose with a smile half joyous, half serious, and Clay was so embarrassed that he mopped his brow as if he were plowing in the sun.

“Why, really, Helen I you know I have spoken to you you know, and but for my ”

“Poverty” said Helen taking up the word “And what were poverty to me, if I loved a man? I’d love him the more for it. If he were dying broken-hearted, wrecked even in disgrace, ”

Travis flushed and looked at her admiringly, while the joyous light flashed yet deeper in his eyes.

“Come,” he said. “I have arranged all. I am not going to give you young people an excuse to defer your happiness longer.” He turned to Clay: “I shall show you something which you have been on the track of for some time. I have my lantern in the buggy, and we will have to walk a mile or more. But it is pleasant to-night, and the walk will do us all good. Come.”

They both arose wonderingly Helen came over and put her hand on his arm: “I will go,” she whispered, “if there be no more of that talk.”

He smiled. “You must do as I say. Am I not now your guardian? Bring your leathern sack with your hammer and geological tools,” he remarked to Clay.

Clay arose hastily, and they went out of the old house and across the fields. Past the boundaries of Millwood they walked, Travis silently leading, and Clay following with Helen, who could not speak, so momentous it all seemed. She saw only Travis’s fine square shoulders, and erect, sinewy form, going before them, into the night of shadows, of trees, of rocks, of the great peak of the mountain, silent and dark.

He did not speak. He walked in silent thought. They passed the boundary line of Millwood, and then down a slight ravine he led them to the ragged, flinty hill, on which the old preacher’s cabin stood on their right.

“Now,” he said stopping “if I am correct, Clay, this hill is the old Bishop’s,” pointing to his right where the cabin stood, “and over here is what is left of Westmoreland. This gulch divides them. This range really runs into Westmoreland,” he said with a sweep of his hand toward it. “Get your bearings,” he smiled to Clay, “for I want you to tell whose fortune this is.”

He lit his lantern and walking forward struck away some weeds and vines which partially concealed the mouth of a small opening in the hillside caused by a landslide. It was difficult going at first, but as they went further the opening grew larger, and as the light flashed on its walls, Clay stopped in admiration and shouted:

“Look look there it is!”

Before them running right and left for the cave had split it in two, lay the solid vein of coal, shining in the light, and throwing back splinters of ebony, to Clay more beautiful than gold.

Travis watched him with an amused smile as he hastily took off his satchel and struck a piece off the ledge. Helen stood wondering, looking not at Clay, but at Travis, and her eyes shone brilliantly and full of proud splendor.

Clay forgot that they were there. He measured the ledge. He chipped off piece after piece and examined it closely. “I never dreamed it would be here, in this shape,” he said at last. “Look! and fully eight feet, solid. This hill is full of it. The old preacher will find it hard to spend his wealth.”

“But that is not all,” said Travis; “see how the dip runs see the vein this way.” He pointed to the left.

Clay paled: “That means it is remarkable very remarkable. Why, this vein should not have been here. It is too low to be in the Carboniferous.” He suddenly stopped: “But here it is contrary to all my data and and why really it takes the low range of the poor land of Westmoreland. It it will make me rich.”

“You haven’t seen all,” said Travis “look!” He turned and walked to another part of the small cave, where the bank had broken, and there gleamed, not the black, but the red the earth full of rich ore.

Clay picked up one eagerly.

“The finest iron ore! who who ever heard of such a freak of nature?”

“And the lime rock is all over the valley,” said Travis, “and that means, coal, iron and lime ”

“Furnaces why, of course furnaces and wealth. Helen, I I it will make Westmoreland rich. Now, in all earnestness in all sincerity I can tell you ”

“Do not tell me anything, Clay please do not. You do not understand. You can never understand.” Her eyes were following Travis, who had walked off pretending to be examining the cave. Then she gave a shriek which sounded frightfully intense as it echoed around.

Travis turned quickly and saw standing between him and them a gaunt, savage thing, with froth in its mouth and saliva-dripping lips. At first he thought it was a panther, so low it crouched to spring; but almost instantly he recognized Jud Carpenter’s dog. Then it began to creep uncertainly, staggeringly forward, toward Clay and Helen, its neck drawn and contracted in the paroxysms of rabies; its deadly eyes, staring, unearthly yellow in the lantern light. Within two yards of Clay, who stood helpless with fear and uncertainty, it crouched to spring, growling and snapping at its own sides, and Helen screamed again as she saw Travis’s quick, lithe figure spring forward and, grasping the dog by the throat from behind, fling himself with crushing force on the brute, choking it as he fell.

Total darkness for in his rush Travis threw aside his lantern and it seemed an age to Helen as she heard the terrible fight for life going on at her feet, the struggles and howls of the dog, the snapping of the huge teeth, the stinging sand thrown up into her face. Then after a while all was still, and then very quietly from Travis:

“A match, Clay light the lantern! I have choked him to death.”

Under the light he arose, his clothes torn with tooth and fang of the gaunt dog, which lay silent. He stood up hot and flushed, and then turned pallid, and for a moment staggered as he saw the blood trickling from his left arm.

Helen stood by him terror-eyed, trembling, crushed, with a terrible sickening fear.

“He was mad,” said Travis gently, “and I fear he has bitten me, though I managed to jump on him before he bit you two.”

He took off his coat blood was on his shirt sleeve and had run down his arm. Helen, pale and with a great sob in her throat, rolled up the sleeve, Travis submitting, with a strange pallor in his face and the new light in his eyes.

His bare arm came up strong and white. Above the elbow, near the shoulder, the blood still flowed where the fangs had sunk.

“There is only one chance to save me,” he said quietly, “and that, a slim one. It bleeds if I could only get my lips to it ”

He tried to expostulate, to push her off, as he felt her lips against his naked arm. But she clung there sucking out the virus. He felt her tears fall on his arm. He heard her murmur:

“My dying lion my dying lion!”

He bent and whispered: “You are risking your own life for me, Helen! Life for life death for death!”

It was too much even for his great strength, and when he recovered himself he was sitting on the sand of the little cave. How long she had clung to his arm he did not know, but it had ceased to pain him and her own handkerchief was tied around it.

He staggered out, a terrible pallor on his face, as he said: “Not this way not to go this way. Oh, God, your blow I care not for death, but, oh, not this death?”

“Clay,” he said after a while “Take her take her to your mother and sister to-night. I must bid you both good-night, ay, and good-bye. See, you walk only across the field there that is Westmoreland.”

He turned, but he felt some one clinging to his hand, in the dark. He looked down at her, at the white, drawn face, beautiful with a terrible pain: “Take me take me,” she begged “with you to the end of the world oh, I love you and I care not who knows.”

“Child child” he whispered sadly “You know not what you say. I am dying. I shall be mad unless unless what you have done ”

“Take me,” she pleaded “my lion. I am yours.”

He stooped and kissed her and then walked quickly away.