[BOOK II] CHAPTER XII
WHEN Gaston reached his home that night St. Clare had gone to bed. It was one o'clock. He could not sleep yet, so he sat in the window and tried to realise his great happiness, as he looked out on the green lawn with its white gravelled walk glistening in the full moon.
"The world is beautiful, life is sweet, and God is good!" he cried in an ecstasy of joy.
He sat there in the moonlight for an hour dreaming of his love and the great strenuous life of achievement he would live with her to inspire him. It seemed too good to be true. And yet it was the largest living fact. Like throbbing music the words were ringing in his heart keeping time with the rhythm of its beat, "I do love you!"
And then he did something he had not done for years,—not since his boyhood,—he knelt in the silence of the moonlit room and prayed. Love the great Revealer had led him into the presence of God. The impulse was spontaneous and resistless. "Lord, I have seen Thy face, heard Thy voice, and felt the touch of Thy hand to-day! I bless and praise Thee! Forgive my doubts and fears and sins, cleanse and make me worthy of her whom Thou has sent as Thy messenger!" So he poured out his soul.
Next morning he grasped St. Clare's hand as he entered the room. "Bob, I'm the happiest man in the world!"
"Congratulations! You look it."
"She loves me! I'd like to climb up on the top of this house and shout it until all earth and heaven could hear and be glad with me!"
"Well, don't do it, my boy. See her father first!"
"She says he likes me."
"Then you're elected."
"I'm going to tackle him before I go home."
"Don't rush him. There's a superstition prevalent here that the old gentleman has no idea of ever letting his daughter leave that home, and that he will never give his consent, when driven to the wall, unless his son-in-law that is to be, will agree to settle down there and take his place in those big mills. He has two great loves, his daughter and his mills, and he don't mean to let either one of them go if he can help it."
"Do you believe it's true?"
"Yes, I do. How do you like the idea?"
"It's not my style. I've a pretty clear idea of what I'm going to do in this world."
"Well, you'd better begin to haul in your silk sails, and study cotton goods, is my advice."
"I'll manage him."
"I don't know about it, but if you've got her, you're the first man that ever got far enough to measure himself with the General. I wish you luck."
"You the same, old chum. May you conquer Boston and all the Pilgrim Fathers!"
"Thanks. The vision of one of them disturbs my dreams. One will be enough."
Then followed six golden days on the banks of the Catawba. Every
day he insisted with boyish enthusiasm on returning to that rock and
seating her on her throne. He called her his queen, and worshipped at
her feet. He had the friendliest little chat with her mother, and
told her how he loved her daughter and hoped for her
approval. She answered with frankness that she was glad, and would love him as her own son, but that she disapproved of kissing and extravagant love-making until they were ready to be married, and their engagement duly announced.
So he could only hold Sallie's hand and kiss the tips of her fingers and the little dimples where they joined the hand, and sometimes he would hold it against his own cheek while she smiled at him.
But when they rode homeward one evening he dared to put his arm behind her, high on the phaeton's leather cushion, as they were going down a hill, and then lowered it a little as they started up the grade. She leaned back and found it there. At first she nestled against it very timidly and then trustingly. She looked into his face and both smiled.
"Isn't that nice, Sallie?"
"Yes, it is,—I don't think Mama would mind that, do you?"
"Of course not."
"Well, I never promised not to lean back in a phaeton, did I?"
"Certainly not, and it's all right."
Toward the end of the week the General began to show him a grave friendly interest. He invited Gaston to go over the mills with him. The mills were located back of the wooded cliffs a quarter of a mile up the river. There were now four magnificent brick buildings stretching out over the river bottoms at right angles to its current. And there was a big dye house, a ginning house and a cotton-seed oil mill. The General stood on the hill top and proudly pointed it out to him.
"Isn't that a grand sight, young man! We employ 2,000 hands down
there, and consume hundreds of bales of cotton a day. We began here
after the war without
a cent, except our faith, and this magnificent water power. Now look!"
"You have certainly done a great work," said Gaston, "I had no idea you had so many industries in the enclosure."
"Yes, I sit down here on the hill some nights in the moonlight and look into this valley, and the hum of that machinery is like ravishing music. The machinery seems to me to be a living thing, with millions of fingers of steel and a great throbbing soul. I dream of the day when those swift fingers will weave their fabrics of gold and clothe the whole South in splendour!—the South I love, and for which I fought, and have yearned over through all these years. Ah! young man, I wish you boys of brain and genius would quit throwing yourselves away in law and dirty politics, and devote your powers to the South's development!"
"Yes, but General, the people of the South had to go into politics instead of business on account of the enfranchisement of the Negro. It was a matter of life and death."
"I didn't do it."
"No, sir, but others did for you."
"How?" he asked incredulously, with just a touch of wounded pride.
"Well how many negroes do you employ in these mills?"
"None. We don't allow a negro to come inside the enclosure."
"Precisely so. You have prospered because you have got rid of the Negro."
"I've simply let the Negro alone. Let others do the same."
"But everybody can't do it. There are now nine millions of them. You've simply shifted the burden on others' shoulders. You haven't solved the problem."
"If we had less politics and more business, we would be better off."
"But the trouble is, General, we can't have more business until politics have settled some things."
"Bah! You're throwing yourself away in politics, young man! There's nothing in it but dirt and disappointment."
"To me, sir, politics is a religion."
"Religion! Politics! I didn't know you could ever mix 'em. I thought they were about as far apart as heaven is from hell!" exclaimed the General.
"They ought not to be, sir, whatever the terrible facts. I believe that the Government is the organised virtue of the community, and that politics is religion in action. It may be a poor sort of religion, but it is the best we are capable of as members of society."
"Well, that's a new idea."
"It's coming to be more and more recognised by thoughtful men, General. I believe that the State is now the only organ through which the whole people can search for righteousness, and that the progress of the world depends more than ever on its integrity and purity."
"Well, you've cut out a big job for yourself, if that's your ideal. My idea of politics is a pig pen. The way to clean it is to kill the pigs."
Gaston laughed and shook his head.
When they returned from the mills, Mrs. Worth drew the General into her room.
"Did he ask you for Sallie?"
"No, the young galoot never mentioned her name. I thought he would. But I must have scared him."
"You didn't quarrel over anything?"
"No! But I found out he had a mind of his own."
"So have you, sir."