THE MOCCASIN FLOWER
Johnnie was used to hardship and early
rising, but in an intermittent fashion; for the Passmores
and Consadines were a haggard lot that came to no
lure but their own pleasure. They might and
often did go hungry, ill-clad, ill-housed;
they might sometimes in order to keep soul
and body together have to labour desperately
at rude tasks unsuited to them; but these times were
exceptions, and between such seasons, down to the
least of the tribe, they had always followed the Vision,
pursuing the flying skirts of whatever ideal was in
their shapely heads. The little cabin in the
gash of the hills owned for domain a rocky ravine
that was the standing jest of the mountain-side.
“Sure, hit’s good land fine
land,” the mountaineers would comment with their
inveterate, dry, lazy humour. “Nothing on
earth to hender a man from raisin’ a crap
off ’n it ef he could once git the
leathers on a good stout, willin’ pa’r
o’ hawks or buzzards, an’ a plough hitched
to ’em.” And Johnnie could remember
the other children teasing her and saying that her
folks had to load a gun with seed corn and shoot it
into the sky to reach their fields. Yet, the
unmended roof covered much joy and good feeling.
They were light feet that trod the unsecured puncheons.
The Passmores were tender of each other’s eccentricities,
admiring of each other’s virtues. A wolf
race nourished on the knees of purple kings, how should
they ever come down to wearing any man’s collar,
to slink at heel and retrieve for him?
One would have said that to the daughter
of such the close cotton-mill room with its inhuman
clamour, its fetid air, its long hours of enforced,
monotonous, mechanical toil, would be prison with the
torture added. But Johnnie looked forward to
her present enterprise as a soldier going into a new
country to conquer it. She was buoyantly certain,
and determinedly delighted with everything. When,
the next morning after her arrival, Mandy Meacham
shook her by the shoulder and bade her get up, the
room was humming with the roar of mill whistles, and
the gray dawn leaking in at its one window in a churlish,
chary fashion, reminded her that they were under the
shadow of a mountain instead of living upon its top.
“I don’t see what in the
world could ‘a’ made me sleep so!”
Johnnie deprecated, as she made haste to dress herself.
“Looks like I never had nothing to do yesterday,
except walking down. I’ve been on foot that
much many a time and never noticed it.”
The other girls in the room, poor
souls, were all cross and sleepy. Nobody had
time to converse with Johnnie. As they went down
the stairs another contingent began to straggle up,
having eaten a hasty meal after their night’s
work, and making now for certain of the just-vacated
Johnnie ran into the kitchen to help
Mrs. Bence get breakfast on the table, for Pap Himes
was bad off this morning with a misery somewhere,
and his daughter was sending word to the cotton mill
to put a substitute on her looms till dinner time.
Almost as much to her own surprise as to that of everybody
else, Mandy Meacham proposed to stay and take Johnnie
in to register for a job.
When the others were all seated at
table, the new girl from the mountains took her cup
of coffee and a biscuit and dropped upon the doorstep
to eat her breakfast. The back yard was unenclosed,
a litter of tin cans and ashes running with its desert
disorder into a similar one on either side. But
there were no houses back of the Himes place, the
ground falling away sharply to the rocky creek bed.
Across the ravine half a dozen strapping young fellows
were lounging, waiting for breakfast; loom-fixers
and mechanics these, whose hours were more favourable
than those of the women and children workers.
“It’s lots prettier out
here than it is in the house,” she returned
smilingly, when Mavity Bence offered to get her a chair.
“I do love to be out-of-doors.”
“Huh,” grunted Mandy with
her mouth full of biscuit, “I reckon a cotton
mill’ll jest about kill you. What makes
you work in one, anyhow? I wouldn’t if
I could help it.”
Johnnie eyed the tall girl gravely.
“I’ve got to earn some money,” she
said at length. “Ma and the children have
to be taken care of. I don’t know of any
better way than the mill.”
“An’ I don’t know
of any worse,” retorted Mandy sourly, as they
went out together.
Johnnie began to feel timid.
There had been a secret hope that she would meet Shade
on the way to the mill, or that Mrs. Bence would finally
get through in time to accompany her. She was
suddenly aware that there was not a soul within sound
of her voice who had belonged to her former world.
With a little gasp she looked about her as they entered
The Hardwick mill to which they now
came consisted of a number of large, red brick buildings,
joined by covered passage-ways, abutting on one of
those sullen pools Johnnie had noted the night before,
the yard enclosed by a tight board fence, so high
that the operatives in the first-and second-floor
rooms could not see the street. This for the factory
portion; the office did not front on the shut-in yard,
but opened out freely on to the street, through a
little grassy square of its own, tree-shadowed, with
paved walks and flower beds. As with all the mills
in its district, the suggestion was dangerously apt
of a penitentiary, with its high wooden barrier, around
all the building, the only free approach from the
world to its corridors through the seemly, humanized
office, where abided the heads, the bosses, the free
men, who came and went at will. The walls were
already beginning to wear that garment of green which
the American ivy flings over so many factory buildings.
As the two girls came up, Johnnie
looked at the wide, clear, plate windows, the brass
railing that guarded the heavy granite approach, the
shining name “Hardwick” deep-set in brazen
lettering on the step over which they entered.
Inside, the polished oak and metal of office fittings
carried on the idea of splendour, if not of luxury.
Back of the crystal windows were the tempering shades,
all was spacious, ordered with quiet dignity, and
there was no sense of hurry in the well-clad, well-groomed
figures of men that sat at the massive desks or moved
about the softly carpeted floors. The corridor
was long, but cleanly swept, and, at its upper portion,
covered with a material unfamiliar to Johnnie, but
which she recognized as suited to its purpose.
Down at the further end of that corridor, something
throbbed and moaned and roared and growled the
factory was awake there and working. The contrast
struck cold to the girl’s heart. Here, yet
more sharply defined, was the same difference she
had noted between the Palace of Pleasure on the heights
and the mills at the foot of the mountain.
Would the people think she was good
enough? Would they understand how hard she meant
to try? For a minute she had a desperate impulse
to turn and run. Then she heard Mandy’s
thin, flatted tones announcing:
“This hyer girl wants to git
a job in the mill. Miz Bence, she cain’t
come down this morning you’ll have
to git somebody to tend her looms till noon; Pap,
he’s sick, and she has obliged to wait on him so
I brung the new gal.”
“All right,” said the
man she addressed. “She can wait there;
you go on to your looms.”
Johnnie sat on the bench against the
wall where newcomers applying for positions were placed.
The man she was to see had not yet come to his desk,
and she remained unnoticed and apparently forgotten
for more than an hour. The offices were entered
from the other side, yet a doorway close by Johnnie
commanded a view of a room and desk. To it presently
came one who seated himself and began opening and reading
letters. Johnnie caught her breath and leaned
a little forward, watching him, her heart in her eyes,
hands locked hard together in her lap. It was
the young man of the car. He was not in white
flannels now, but he looked almost as wonderful to
the girl in his gray business suit, with the air of
easy command, and the quiet half-smile only latent
on his face. Shade Buckheath had spoken of Gray
Stoddard as the boss of the bosses down at Cottonville.
Indeed, his position was unique. Inheritor of
large holdings in Eastern cotton-mill stock, he had
returned from abroad on the death of his father, to
look into this source of his very ample income.
The mills in which he was concerned were not earning
as they should, so he was told; and there was discussion
as to whether they be moved south, or a Southern mill
be established which might be considered in the nature
of a branch, and where the coarser grades of sheeting
would be manufactured, as well as all the spinning
But Stoddard was not of the blood
that takes opinions second-hand. Upon his mother’s
side he was the grandson of one of the great anti-slavery
agitators. The sister of this man, Gray’s
great-aunt, had stood beside him on the platform when
there was danger in it; and after the Negro was freed
and enfranchised, she had devoted a long life to the
cause of woman suffrage. The mother who bore
him died young. She left him to the care of a
conservative father, but the blood that came through
her did not make for conservatism.
Perhaps it was some admixture of his
father’s traits which set the young man to investigating
the cotton-mill situation in his own fashion.
To do this as he conceived it should be done, he had
hired himself to the Hardwick Spinning Company in
an office position which gave him a fair outlook on
the business, and put him in complete touch with the
practical side of it; yet the facts of the case made
the situation evident to those under him as well as
his peers. Whatever convictions and opinions
he was maturing in this year with the Hardwicks, he
kept to himself; but he was supposed to hold some
socialistic ideas, and Lydia Sessions, James Hardwick’s
sister-in-law, made her devoir to these by engaging
zealously in semi-charitable enterprises among the
mill-girls. He was a passionate individualist.
The word seems unduly fiery when one remembers the
smiling, insouciant manner of his divergences from
the conventional type; yet he was inveterately himself,
and not some schoolmaster’s or tailor’s
or barber’s version of Gray Stoddard; and in
this, though Johnnie did not know it, lay the strength
of his charm for her.
The moments passed unheeded after
he came into her field of vision, and she watched
him for some time, busy at his morning’s work.
It took her breath when he raised his eyes suddenly
and their glances encountered. He plainly recognized
her at once, and nodded a cheerful greeting. After
a while he got up and came out into the hall, his hands
full of papers, evidently on his way to one of the
other offices. He paused beside the bench and
spoke to her.
“Waiting for the room boss?
Are they going to put you on this morning?”
he asked pleasantly.
“Yes, I’m a-going to get
a chance to work right away,” she smiled up at
him. “Ain’t it fine?”
The smile that answered hers held
something pitying, yet it was a pity that did not
hurt or offend.
“Yes I’m sure
it’s fine, if you think so,” said Stoddard,
half reluctantly. Then his eye caught the broken
pink blossom which Johnnie had pinned to the front
of her bodice. “What’s that?”
he asked. “It looks like an orchid.”
He was instantly apologetic for the
word; but Johnnie detached the flower from her dress
and held it toward him.
“It is,” she assented.
“It’s an orchid; and the little yellow
flower that we-all call the whippoorwill shoe is an
Stoddard thrust his papers into his
coat pocket and took the blossom in his hand.
“That’s the pink moccasin
flower,” Johnnie told him. “They don’t
bloom in the valley at all, and they’re not
very plenty in the mountains. I picked this one
six miles up on White Oak Ridge yesterday. I reckon
I haven’t seen more than a dozen of these in
my life, and I’ve hunted flowers all over Unaka.”
“I never had the chance to analyze
one,” observed Stoddard. “I’d
like to get hold of a good specimen.
“I’m sorry this one’s
broken,” Johnnie deprecated. Then her clouded
face cleared suddenly with its luminous smile.
“If it hadn’t been for you I reckon it
would have been knocked over the edge of the road,”
she added. “That’s the flower I had
in my handkerchief yesterday evening.”
Stoddard continued to examine the
pink blossom with interest.
“You said it grew up in the
mountains and didn’t grow in the valley,”
he reminded her.
She nodded. “Of course
I’m not certain about that,” and while
she spoke he transferred his attention from the flower
to the girl. “I really know mighty little
about such things, and I’ve not been in the valley
to exceed ten times in my life. Miss Baird, that
taught the school I went to over at Rainy Gap, had
a herbarium, and put all kinds of pressed flowers
in it. I gathered a great many for her, and she
taught me to analyze them like you were
speaking of but I never did love to do
that. It seemed like naming over and calling out
the ways of your friends, to pull the flower all to
pieces and press it and paste it in a book and write
down all its its ways and faults.”
Again she smiled up at him radiantly,
and the young man’s astonished glance went from
her dusty, cowhide shoes to the thick roll of fair
hair on her graceful head. What manner of mill-girls
did the mountains send down to the valley?
“But I ” began
Stoddard deprecatingly, when Johnnie reddened and broke
“Oh, I don’t mean that
for you. Miss Baird taught me for three years,
and I loved her as dearly as I ever could any one.
You may keep this flower if you want to; and, come
Sunday, I’ll get you another one that won’t
“Why Sunday?” asked Stoddard.
“Well, I wouldn’t have
time to go after them till then, and the ones I know
of wouldn’t be open before Sunday. I saw
just three there by the spring. That’s
the way they grow, you know two or three
in a place, and not another for miles.”
“You saw them growing?”
repeated Stoddard. “I should like to see
one on its roots, and maybe make a little sketch of
it. Couldn’t you just as well show me the
For no reason that she could assign,
and very much against her will, Johnnie’s face
“I reckon I couldn’t,”
she answered evasively. “Hit’s a long
ways up and hit’s a long
“And yet you’re going
to walk it after a week’s work here
in the mill?” persisted Stoddard. “You’d
better tell me where they grow, and let me go up in
“I wish’t I could,”
said Johnnie, embarrassed. “But you’d
never find it in the world. They isn’t
one thing that I could tell you to know the place
by: and you have to leave the road and walk a
little piece oh, it’s no use and
I don’t mind, I’d just love to go up there
and get the flowers for you.”
“Are you the new girl?”
inquired a voice at Johnnie’s shoulder.
They turned to find a squat, middle-aged
man regarding them dubiously.
“Yes,” answered Johnnie,
rising. “I’ve been waiting quite a
“Well, come this way,”
directed the man and, turning, led her away. Down
the hall they went, then up a flight of wooden stairs
which carried them to a covered bridge, and so to
the upper story of the factory.
“That’s an unusual-looking
girl.” Old Andrew MacPherson made the comment
as he received the papers from Stoddard’s hands.
“The one I was speaking to in
the hall?” inquired Stoddard rather unnecessarily.
“Yes; she seems to have an unusual mind as well.
These mountain people are peculiar. They appear
to have no idea of class, and therefore are in a measure
“Well, that ought to square
with your socialistic notions,” chaffed MacPherson,
sorting the work on his desk and pushing a certain
portion of it toward Stoddard. “Sit down
here, if you please, and we’ll go over these
now. The girl looked a good deal like a fairy
princess. I don’t think she’s a safe
topic for susceptible young chaps like you and me,”
the grizzled old Scotchman concluded with a chuckle.
“Your socialistic hullabaloo makes you liable
to foregather with all sorts of impossible people.”
Gray shook his head, laughing, as
he seated himself at the desk beside the other.
“Oh, I’m only a theoretical socialist,”
“Hum,” grunted the older
man. “A theoretical socialist always seemed
to me about like a theoretical pickpocket neither
of them stands to do much harm. For example,
here you are, one of the richest young fellows of
my acquaintance, living along very contentedly where
every tenet you profess to hold is daily outraged.
You’re not giving away your money. You
take a healthy interest in a good car, a good dinner,
the gals; I’m even told you have a fad for old
porcelains and yet you call yourself a
“These economic conditions are
not a pin,” answered Gray, smiling. “I
don’t have to jump and say ‘ouch!’
the minute I find they prick me. Worse conditions
have always been, and no doubt bad ones will survive
for a time, and pass away as mankind outgrows them.
I haven’t the colossal conceit to suppose that
I can reform the world not even push it
much faster toward the destination of good to which
it is rolling. But I want to know I
want to understand, myself; then if there is anything
for me to do I shall do it. It may be that the
present conditions are the best possible for the present
moment. It may be that if a lot of us got together
and agreed, we could better them exceedingly.
It is not certain in my mind yet that any growth is
of value to humanity which does not proceed from within.
This is true of the individual must it
not be true of the class?”
“No doubt, no doubt,”
agreed MacPherson, indifferently. “Most
of the men who are loud in the leadership of socialism
have made a failure of their own lives. We’ll
see what happens when a man who is a personal and
economic success sets up to teach.”
“If you mean that very complimentary
description for me,” said Gray with sudden seriousness,
“I will say to you here and now that there is
no preacher in me. But when I am a little clearer
in my own mind as to what I believe, I shall practise.
The only real creed is a manner of life. If you
don’t live it, you don’t really believe