Infomotions, Inc.The Quest of the Silver Fleece A Novel / Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963



Author: Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963
Title: The Quest of the Silver Fleece A Novel
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): zora; cresswell; bles; vanderpool; alwyn; taylor; colonel cresswell; miss wynn; miss smith; wynn; harry cresswell; smith; miss taylor; cotton; bles alwyn; swamp; colonel; miss; john taylor; silver fleece; mary taylor; harry; mary cresswell; senator smith;
Contributor(s): Baker, Franklin T. [Editor]
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 109,368 words (short) Grade range: 7-9 (grade school) Readability score: 71 (easy)
Identifier: etext15265
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Title: The Quest of the Silver Fleece
       A Novel

Author: W. E. B. Du Bois

Release Date: March 5, 2005 [EBook #15265]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

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THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE

_A Novel_

W.E.B. DU BOIS

1911

A.C. McClurg & Co.




_Contents_

THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE

_Note from the Author_                            3

_One_: DREAMS                                     5

_Two_: THE SCHOOL                                12

_Three_: MISS MARY TAYLOR                        16

_Four_: TOWN                                     23

_Five_: ZORA                                     33

_Six_: COTTON                                    42

_Seven_: THE PLACE OF DREAMS                     53

_Eight_: MR. HARRY CRESSWELL                     66

_Nine_: THE PLANTING                             74

_Ten_: MR. TAYLOR CALLS                          84

_Eleven_: THE FLOWERING OF THE FLEECE            99

_Twelve_: THE PROMISE                           108

_Thirteen_: MRS. GREY GIVES A DINNER            122

_Fourteen_: LOVE                                128

_Fifteen_: REVELATION                           134

_Sixteen_: THE GREAT REFUSAL                    146

_Seventeen_: THE RAPE OF THE FLEECE             154

_Eighteen_: THE COTTON CORNER                   162

_Nineteen_: THE DYING OF ELSPETH                171

_Twenty_: THE WEAVING OF THE SILVER FLEECE      182

_Twenty-one_: THE MARRIAGE MORNING              191

_Twenty-two_: MISS CAROLINE WYNN                199

_Twenty-three_: THE TRAINING OF ZORA            210

_Twenty-four_: THE EDUCATION OF ALWYN           218

_Twenty-five_: THE CAMPAIGN                     230

_Twenty-six_: CONGRESSMAN CRESSWELL             244

_Twenty-seven_: THE VISION OF ZORA              254

_Twenty-eight_: THE ANNUNCIATION                263

_Twenty-nine_: A MASTER OF FATE                 271

_Thirty_: THE RETURN OF ZORA                    283

_Thirty-one_: A PARTING OF WAYS                 293

_Thirty-two_: ZORA'S WAY                        309

_Thirty-three_: THE BUYING OF THE SWAMP         316

_Thirty-four_: THE RETURN OF ALWYN              328

_Thirty-five_: THE COTTON MILL                  339

_Thirty-six_: THE LAND                          350

_Thirty-seven_: THE MOB                         364

_Thirty-eight_: ATONEMENT                       371






THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE




                   TO ONE

whose name may not be written but to whose tireless
faith the shaping of these cruder thoughts to forms
     more fitly perfect is doubtless due, this
        finished work is herewith dedicated






_Note_

He who would tell a tale must look toward three ideals: to tell it well,
to tell it beautifully, and to tell the truth.

The first is the Gift of God, the second is the Vision of Genius, but
the third is the Reward of Honesty.

In _The Quest of the Silver Fleece_ there is little, I ween, divine or
ingenious; but, at least, I have been honest. In no fact or picture have
I consciously set down aught the counterpart of which I have not seen or
known; and whatever the finished picture may lack of completeness, this
lack is due now to the story-teller, now to the artist, but never to the
herald of the Truth.

NEW YORK CITY

_August 15, 1911_

THE AUTHOR




_One_

DREAMS


Night fell. The red waters of the swamp grew sinister and sullen. The
tall pines lost their slimness and stood in wide blurred blotches all
across the way, and a great shadowy bird arose, wheeled and melted,
murmuring, into the black-green sky.

The boy wearily dropped his heavy bundle and stood still, listening as
the voice of crickets split the shadows and made the silence audible. A
tear wandered down his brown cheek. They were at supper now, he
whispered--the father and old mother, away back yonder beyond the night.
They were far away; they would never be as near as once they had been,
for he had stepped into the world. And the cat and Old Billy--ah, but
the world was a lonely thing, so wide and tall and empty! And so bare,
so bitter bare! Somehow he had never dreamed of the world as lonely
before; he had fared forth to beckoning hands and luring, and to the
eager hum of human voices, as of some great, swelling music.

Yet now he was alone; the empty night was closing all about him here in
a strange land, and he was afraid. The bundle with his earthly treasure
had hung heavy and heavier on his shoulder; his little horde of money
was tightly wadded in his sock, and the school lay hidden somewhere far
away in the shadows. He wondered how far it was; he looked and harkened,
starting at his own heartbeats, and fearing more and more the long dark
fingers of the night.

Then of a sudden up from the darkness came music. It was human music,
but of a wildness and a weirdness that startled the boy as it fluttered
and danced across the dull red waters of the swamp. He hesitated, then
impelled by some strange power, left the highway and slipped into the
forest of the swamp, shrinking, yet following the song hungrily and half
forgetting his fear. A harsher, shriller note struck in as of many and
ruder voices; but above it flew the first sweet music, birdlike,
abandoned, and the boy crept closer.

The cabin crouched ragged and black at the edge of black waters. An old
chimney leaned drunkenly against it, raging with fire and smoke, while
through the chinks winked red gleams of warmth and wild cheer. With a
revel of shouting and noise, the music suddenly ceased. Hoarse staccato
cries and peals of laughter shook the old hut, and as the boy stood
there peering through the black trees, abruptly the door flew open and a
flood of light illumined the wood.

Amid this mighty halo, as on clouds of flame, a girl was dancing. She
was black, and lithe, and tall, and willowy. Her garments twined and
flew around the delicate moulding of her dark, young, half-naked limbs.
A heavy mass of hair clung motionless to her wide forehead. Her arms
twirled and flickered, and body and soul seemed quivering and whirring
in the poetry of her motion.

As she danced she sang. He heard her voice as before, fluttering like a
bird's in the full sweetness of her utter music. It was no tune nor
melody, it was just formless, boundless music. The boy forgot himself
and all the world besides. All his darkness was sudden light; dazzled he
crept forward, bewildered, fascinated, until with one last wild whirl
the elf-girl paused. The crimson light fell full upon the warm and
velvet bronze of her face--her midnight eyes were aglow, her full purple
lips apart, her half hid bosom panting, and all the music dead.
Involuntarily the boy gave a gasping cry and awoke to swamp and night
and fire, while a white face, drawn, red-eyed, peered outward from some
hidden throng within the cabin.

"Who's that?" a harsh voice cried.

"Where?" "Who is it?" and pale crowding faces blurred the light.

The boy wheeled blindly and fled in terror stumbling through the swamp,
hearing strange sounds and feeling stealthy creeping hands and arms and
whispering voices. On he toiled in mad haste, struggling toward the road
and losing it until finally beneath the shadows of a mighty oak he sank
exhausted. There he lay a while trembling and at last drifted into
dreamless sleep.

It was morning when he awoke and threw a startled glance upward to the
twisted branches of the oak that bent above, sifting down sunshine on
his brown face and close curled hair. Slowly he remembered the
loneliness, the fear and wild running through the dark. He laughed in
the bold courage of day and stretched himself.

Then suddenly he bethought him again of that vision of the night--the
waving arms and flying limbs of the girl, and her great black eyes
looking into the night and calling him. He could hear her now, and hear
that wondrous savage music. Had it been real? Had he dreamed? Or had it
been some witch-vision of the night, come to tempt and lure him to his
undoing? Where was that black and flaming cabin? Where was the girl--the
soul that had called him? _She_ must have been real; she had to live and
dance and sing; he must again look into the mystery of her great eyes.
And he sat up in sudden determination, and, lo! gazed straight into the
very eyes of his dreaming.

She sat not four feet from him, leaning against the great tree, her
eyes now languorously abstracted, now alert and quizzical with mischief.
She seemed but half-clothed, and her warm, dark flesh peeped furtively
through the rent gown; her thick, crisp hair was frowsy and rumpled, and
the long curves of her bare young arms gleamed in the morning sunshine,
glowing with vigor and life. A little mocking smile came and sat upon
her lips.

"What you run for?" she asked, with dancing mischief in her eyes.

"Because--" he hesitated, and his cheeks grew hot.

"I knows," she said, with impish glee, laughing low music.

"Why?" he challenged, sturdily.

"You was a-feared."

He bridled. "Well, I reckon you'd be a-feared if you was caught out in
the black dark all alone."

"Pooh!" she scoffed and hugged her knees. "Pooh! I've stayed out all
alone heaps o' nights."

He looked at her with a curious awe.

"I don't believe you," he asserted; but she tossed her head and her eyes
grew scornful.

"Who's a-feared of the dark? I love night." Her eyes grew soft.

He watched her silently, till, waking from her daydream, she abruptly
asked:

"Where you from?"

"Georgia."

"Where's that?"

He looked at her in surprise, but she seemed matter-of-fact.

"It's away over yonder," he answered.

"Behind where the sun comes up?"

"Oh, no!"

"Then it ain't so far," she declared. "I knows where the sun rises, and
I knows where it sets." She looked up at its gleaming splendor glinting
through the leaves, and, noting its height, announced abruptly:

"I'se hungry."

"So'm I," answered the boy, fumbling at his bundle; and then, timidly:
"Will you eat with me?"

"Yes," she said, and watched him with eager eyes.

Untying the strips of cloth, he opened his box, and disclosed chicken
and biscuits, ham and corn-bread. She clapped her hands in glee.

"Is there any water near?" he asked.

Without a word, she bounded up and flitted off like a brown bird,
gleaming dull-golden in the sun, glancing in and out among the trees,
till she paused above a tiny black pool, and then came tripping and
swaying back with hands held cupwise and dripping with cool water.

"Drink," she cried. Obediently he bent over the little hands that seemed
so soft and thin. He took a deep draught; and then to drain the last
drop, his hands touched hers and the shock of flesh first meeting flesh
startled them both, while the water rained through. A moment their eyes
looked deep into each other's--a timid, startled gleam in hers; a wonder
in his. Then she said dreamily:

"We'se known us all our lives, and--before, ain't we?"

He hesitated.

"Ye--es--I reckon," he slowly returned. And then, brightening, he asked
gayly: "And we'll be friends always, won't we?"

"Yes," she said at last, slowly and solemnly, and another brief moment
they stood still.

Then the mischief danced in her eyes, and a song bubbled on her lips.
She hopped to the tree.

"Come--eat!" she cried. And they nestled together amid the big black
roots of the oak, laughing and talking while they ate.

"What's over there?" he asked pointing northward.

"Cresswell's big house."

"And yonder to the west?"

"The school."

He started joyfully.

"The school! What school?"

"Old Miss' School."

"Miss Smith's school?"

"Yes." The tone was disdainful.

"Why, that's where I'm going. I was a-feared it was a long way off; I
must have passed it in the night."

"I hate it!" cried the girl, her lips tense.

"But I'll be so near," he explained. "And why do you hate it?"

"Yes--you'll be near," she admitted; "that'll be nice; but--" she
glanced westward, and the fierce look faded. Soft joy crept to her face
again, and she sat once more dreaming.

"Yon way's nicest," she said.

"Why, what's there?"

"The swamp," she said mysteriously.

"And what's beyond the swamp?"

She crouched beside him and whispered in eager, tense tones: "Dreams!"

He looked at her, puzzled.

"Dreams?" vaguely--"dreams? Why, dreams ain't--nothing."

"Oh, yes they is!" she insisted, her eyes flaming in misty radiance as
she sat staring beyond the shadows of the swamp. "Yes they is! There
ain't nothing but dreams--that is, nothing much.

"And over yonder behind the swamps is great fields full of dreams, piled
high and burning; and right amongst them the sun, when he's tired o'
night, whispers and drops red things, 'cept when devils make 'em black."

The boy stared at her; he knew not whether to jeer or wonder.

"How you know?" he asked at last, skeptically.

"Promise you won't tell?"

"Yes," he answered.

She cuddled into a little heap, nursing her knees, and answered slowly.

"I goes there sometimes. I creeps in 'mongst the dreams; they hangs
there like big flowers, dripping dew and sugar and blood--red, red
blood. And there's little fairies there that hop about and sing, and
devils--great, ugly devils that grabs at you and roasts and eats you if
they gits you; but they don't git me. Some devils is big and white, like
ha'nts; some is long and shiny, like creepy, slippery snakes; and some
is little and broad and black, and they yells--"

The boy was listening in incredulous curiosity, half minded to laugh,
half minded to edge away from the black-red radiance of yonder dusky
swamp. He glanced furtively backward, and his heart gave a great bound.

"Some is little and broad and black, and they yells--" chanted the girl.
And as she chanted, deep, harsh tones came booming through the forest:

"_Zo-ra! Zo-ra!_ O--o--oh, Zora!"

He saw far behind him, toward the shadows of the swamp, an old
woman--short, broad, black and wrinkled, with fangs and pendulous lips
and red, wicked eyes. His heart bounded in sudden fear; he wheeled
toward the girl, and caught only the uncertain flash of her
garments--the wood was silent, and he was alone.

He arose, startled, quickly gathered his bundle, and looked around him.
The sun was strong and high, the morning fresh and vigorous. Stamping
one foot angrily, he strode jauntily out of the wood toward the big
road.

But ever and anon he glanced curiously back. Had he seen a haunt? Or was
the elf-girl real? And then he thought of her words:

"We'se known us all our lives."




_Two_

THE SCHOOL


Day was breaking above the white buildings of the Negro school and
throwing long, low lines of gold in at Miss Sarah Smith's front window.
She lay in the stupor of her last morning nap, after a night of
harrowing worry. Then, even as she partially awoke, she lay still with
closed eyes, feeling the shadow of some great burden, yet daring not to
rouse herself and recall its exact form; slowly again she drifted toward
unconsciousness.

"_Bang! bang! bang!_" hard knuckles were beating upon the door below.

She heard drowsily, and dreamed that it was the nailing up of all her
doors; but she did not care much, and but feebly warded the blows away,
for she was very tired.

"_Bang! bang! bang!_" persisted the hard knuckles.

She started up, and her eye fell upon a letter lying on her bureau. Back
she sank with a sigh, and lay staring at the ceiling--a gaunt, flat,
sad-eyed creature, with wisps of gray hair half-covering her baldness,
and a face furrowed with care and gathering years.

It was thirty years ago this day, she recalled, since she first came to
this broad land of shade and shine in Alabama to teach black folks.

It had been a hard beginning with suspicion and squalor around; with
poverty within and without the first white walls of the new school home.
Yet somehow the struggle then with all its helplessness and
disappointment had not seemed so bitter as today: then failure meant but
little, now it seemed to mean everything; then it meant disappointment
to a score of ragged urchins, now it meant two hundred boys and girls,
the spirits of a thousand gone before and the hopes of thousands to
come. In her imagination the significance of these half dozen gleaming
buildings perched aloft seemed portentous--big with the destiny not
simply of a county and a State, but of a race--a nation--a world. It was
God's own cause, and yet--

"_Bang! bang! bang!_" again went the hard knuckles down there at the
front.

Miss Smith slowly arose, shivering a bit and wondering who could
possibly be rapping at that time in the morning. She sniffed the
chilling air and was sure she caught some lingering perfume from Mrs.
Vanderpool's gown. She had brought this rich and rare-apparelled lady up
here yesterday, because it was more private, and here she had poured
forth her needs. She had talked long and in deadly earnest. She had not
spoken of the endowment for which she had hoped so desperately during a
quarter of a century--no, only for the five thousand dollars to buy the
long needed new land. It was so little--so little beside what this woman
squandered--

The insistent knocking was repeated louder than before.

"Sakes alive," cried Miss Smith, throwing a shawl about her and leaning
out the window. "Who is it, and what do you want?"

"Please, ma'am. I've come to school," answered a tall black boy with a
bundle.

"Well, why don't you go to the office?" Then she saw his face and
hesitated. She felt again the old motherly instinct to be the first to
welcome the new pupil; a luxury which, in later years, the endless push
of details had denied her.

"Wait!" she cried shortly, and began to dress.

A new boy, she mused. Yes, every day they straggled in; every day came
the call for more, more--this great, growing thirst to know--to do--to
be. And yet that woman had sat right here, aloof, imperturbable,
listening only courteously. When Miss Smith finished, she had paused
and, flicking her glove,--

"My dear Miss Smith," she said softly, with a tone that just escaped a
drawl--"My dear Miss Smith, your work is interesting and your
faith--marvellous; but, frankly, I cannot make myself believe in it. You
are trying to treat these funny little monkeys just as you would your
own children--or even mine. It's quite heroic, of course, but it's sheer
madness, and I do not feel I ought to encourage it. I would not mind a
thousand or so to train a good cook for the Cresswells, or a clean and
faithful maid for myself--for Helene has faults--or indeed deft and
tractable laboring-folk for any one; but I'm quite through trying to
turn natural servants into masters of me and mine. I--hope I'm not too
blunt; I hope I make myself clear. You know, statistics show--"

"Drat statistics!" Miss Smith had flashed impatiently. "These are
folks."

Mrs. Vanderpool smiled indulgently. "To be sure," she murmured, "but
what sort of folks?"

"God's sort."

"Oh, well--"

But Miss Smith had the bit in her teeth and could not have stopped. She
was paying high for the privilege of talking, but it had to be said.

"God's sort, Mrs. Vanderpool--not the sort that think of the world as
arranged for their exclusive benefit and comfort."

"Well, I do want to count--"

Miss Smith bent forward--not a beautiful pose, but earnest.

"I want you to count, and I want to count, too; but I don't want us to
be the only ones that count. I want to live in a world where every soul
counts--white, black, and yellow--all. _That's_ what I'm teaching these
children here--to count, and not to be like dumb, driven cattle. If you
don't believe in this, of course you cannot help us."

"Your spirit is admirable, Miss Smith," she had said very softly; "I
only wish I could feel as you do. Good-afternoon," and she had rustled
gently down the narrow stairs, leaving an all but imperceptible
suggestion of perfume. Miss Smith could smell it yet as she went down
this morning.

The breakfast bell jangled. "Five thousand dollars," she kept repeating
to herself, greeting the teachers absently--"five thousand dollars." And
then on the porch she was suddenly aware of the awaiting boy. She eyed
him critically: black, fifteen, country-bred, strong, clear-eyed.

"Well?" she asked in that brusque manner wherewith her natural timidity
was wont to mask her kindness. "Well, sir?"

"I've come to school."

"Humph--we can't teach boys for nothing."

The boy straightened. "I can pay my way," he returned.

"You mean you can pay what we ask?"

"Why, yes. Ain't that all?"

"No. The rest is gathered from the crumbs of Dives' table."

Then he saw the twinkle in her eyes. She laid her hand gently upon his
shoulder.

"If you don't hurry you'll be late to breakfast," she said with an air
of confidence. "See those boys over there? Follow them, and at noon come
to the office--wait! What's your name?"

"Blessed Alwyn," he answered, and the passing teachers smiled.




_Three_

MISS MARY TAYLOR


Miss Mary Taylor did not take a college course for the purpose of
teaching Negroes. Not that she objected to Negroes as human
beings--quite the contrary. In the debate between the senior societies
her defence of the Fifteenth Amendment had been not only a notable bit
of reasoning, but delivered with real enthusiasm. Nevertheless, when the
end of the summer came and the only opening facing her was the teaching
of children at Miss Smith's experiment in the Alabama swamps, it must be
frankly confessed that Miss Taylor was disappointed.

Her dream had been a post-graduate course at Bryn Mawr; but that was out
of the question until money was earned. She had pictured herself earning
this by teaching one or two of her "specialties" in some private school
near New York or Boston, or even in a Western college. The South she had
not thought of seriously; and yet, knowing of its delightful
hospitality and mild climate, she was not averse to Charleston or New
Orleans. But from the offer that came to teach Negroes--country Negroes,
and little ones at that--she shrank, and, indeed, probably would have
refused it out of hand had it not been for her queer brother, John. John
Taylor, who had supported her through college, was interested in cotton.
Having certain schemes in mind, he had been struck by the fact that the
Smith School was in the midst of the Alabama cotton-belt.

"Better go," he had counselled, sententiously. "Might learn something
useful down there."

She had been not a little dismayed by the outlook, and had protested
against his blunt insistence.

"But, John, there's no society--just elementary work--"

John had met this objection with, "Humph!" as he left for his office.
Next day he had returned to the subject.

"Been looking up Tooms County. Find some Cresswells there--big
plantations--rated at two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Some
others, too; big cotton county."

"You ought to know, John, if I teach Negroes I'll scarcely see much of
people in my own class."

"Nonsense! Butt in. Show off. Give 'em your Greek--and study Cotton. At
any rate, I say go."

And so, howsoever reluctantly, she had gone.

The trial was all she had anticipated, and possibly a bit more. She was
a pretty young woman of twenty-three, fair and rather daintily moulded.
In favorable surroundings, she would have been an aristocrat and an
epicure. Here she was teaching dirty children, and the smell of confused
odors and bodily perspiration was to her at times unbearable.

Then there was the fact of their color: it was a fact so insistent, so
fatal she almost said at times, that she could not escape it.
Theoretically she had always treated it with disdainful ease.

"What's the mere color of a human soul's skin," she had cried to a
Wellesley audience and the audience had applauded with enthusiasm. But
here in Alabama, brought closely and intimately in touch with these dark
skinned children, their color struck her at first with a sort of
terror--it seemed ominous and forbidding. She found herself shrinking
away and gripping herself lest they should perceive. She could not help
but think that in most other things they were as different from her as
in color. She groped for new ways to teach colored brains and marshal
colored thoughts and the result was puzzling both to teacher and
student. With the other teachers she had little commerce. They were in
no sense her sort of folk. Miss Smith represented the older New England
of her parents--honest, inscrutable, determined, with a conscience which
she worshipped, and utterly unselfish. She appealed to Miss Taylor's
ruddier and daintier vision but dimly and distantly as some memory of
the past. The other teachers were indistinct personalities, always very
busy and very tired, and talking "school-room" with their meals. Miss
Taylor was soon starving for human companionship, for the lighter
touches of life and some of its warmth and laughter. She wanted a glance
of the new books and periodicals and talk of great philanthropies and
reforms. She felt out of the world, shut in and mentally anaemic; great
as the "Negro Problem" might be as a world problem, it looked sordid and
small at close range. So for the hundredth time she was thinking today,
as she walked alone up the lane back of the barn, and then slowly down
through the bottoms. She paused a moment and nodded to the two boys at
work in a young cotton field.

"Cotton!"

She paused. She remembered with what interest she had always read of
this little thread of the world. She had almost forgotten that it was
here within touch and sight. For a moment something of the vision of
Cotton was mirrored in her mind. The glimmering sea of delicate leaves
whispered and murmured before her, stretching away to the Northward.
She remembered that beyond this little world it stretched on and on--how
far she did not know--but on and on in a great trembling sea, and the
foam of its mighty waters would one time flood the ends of the earth.

She glimpsed all this with parted lips, and then sighed impatiently.
There might be a bit of poetry here and there, but most of this place
was such desperate prose.

She glanced absently at the boys.

One was Bles Alwyn, a tall black lad. (Bles, she mused,--now who would
think of naming a boy "Blessed," save these incomprehensible creatures!)
Her regard shifted to the green stalks and leaves again, and she started
to move away. Then her New England conscience stepped in. She ought not
to pass these students without a word of encouragement or instruction.

"Cotton is a wonderful thing, is it not, boys?" she said rather primly.
The boys touched their hats and murmured something indistinctly. Miss
Taylor did not know much about cotton, but at least one more remark
seemed called for.

"How long before the stalks will be ready to cut?" she asked carelessly.
The farther boy coughed and Bles raised his eyes and looked at her; then
after a pause he answered slowly. (Oh! these people were so slow--now a
New England boy would have answered and asked a half-dozen questions in
the time.)

"I--I don't know," he faltered.

"Don't know! Well, of all things!" inwardly commented Miss
Taylor--"literally born in cotton, and--Oh, well," as much as to ask,
"What's the use?" She turned again to go.

"What is planted over there?" she asked, although she really didn't
care.

"Goobers," answered the smaller boy.

"Goobers?" uncomprehendingly.

"Peanuts," Bles specified.

"Oh!" murmured Miss Taylor. "I see there are none on the vines yet. I
suppose, though, it's too early for them."

Then came the explosion. The smaller boy just snorted with irrepressible
laughter and bolted across the fields. And Bles--was Miss Taylor
deceived?--or was he chuckling? She reddened, drew herself up, and then,
dropping her primness, rippled with laughter.

"What is the matter, Bles?" she asked.

He looked at her with twinkling eyes.

"Well, you see, Miss Taylor, it's like this: farming don't seem to be
your specialty."

The word was often on Miss Taylor's lips, and she recognized it. Despite
herself she smiled again.

"Of course, it isn't--I don't know anything about farming. But what did
I say so funny?"

Bles was now laughing outright.

"Why, Miss Taylor! I declare! Goobers don't grow on the tops of vines,
but underground on the roots--like yams."

"Is that so?"

"Yes, and we--we don't pick cotton stalks except for kindling."

"I must have been thinking of hemp. But tell me more about cotton."

His eyes lighted, for cotton was to him a very real and beautiful thing,
and a life-long companion, yet not one whose friendship had been
coarsened and killed by heavy toil. He leaned against his hoe and talked
half dreamily--where had he learned so well that dream-talk?

"We turn up the earth and sow it soon after Christmas. Then pretty soon
there comes a sort of greenness on the black land and it swells and
grows and, and--shivers. Then stalks shoot up with three or four leaves.
That's the way it is now, see? After that we chop out the weak stalks,
and the strong ones grow tall and dark, till I think it must be like the
ocean--all green and billowy; then come little flecks here and there
and the sea is all filled with flowers--flowers like little bells, blue
and purple and white."

"Ah! that must be beautiful," sighed Miss Taylor, wistfully, sinking to
the ground and clasping her hands about her knees.

"Yes, ma'am. But it's prettiest when the bolls come and swell and burst,
and the cotton covers the field like foam, all misty--"

She bent wondering over the pale plants. The poetry of the thing began
to sing within her, awakening her unpoetic imagination, and she
murmured:

"The Golden Fleece--it's the Silver Fleece!"

He harkened.

"What's that?" he asked.

"Have you never heard of the Golden Fleece, Bles?"

"No, ma'am," he said eagerly; then glancing up toward the Cresswell
fields, he saw two white men watching them. He grasped his hoe and
started briskly to work.

"Some time you'll tell me, please, won't you?"

She glanced at her watch in surprise and arose hastily.

"Yes, with pleasure," she said moving away--at first very fast, and then
more and more slowly up the lane, with a puzzled look on her face.

She began to realize that in this pleasant little chat the fact of the
boy's color had quite escaped her; and what especially puzzled her was
that this had not happened before. She had been here four months, and
yet every moment up to now she seemed to have been vividly, almost
painfully conscious, that she was a white woman talking to black folk.
Now, for one little half-hour she had been a woman talking to a boy--no,
not even that: she had been talking--just talking; there were no persons
in the conversation, just things--one thing: Cotton.

She started thinking of cotton--but at once she pulled herself back to
the other aspect. Always before she had been veiled from these folk: who
had put the veil there? Had she herself hung it before her soul, or had
they hidden timidly behind its other side? Or was it simply a brute
fact, regardless of both of them?

The longer she thought, the more bewildered she grew. There seemed no
analogy that she knew. Here was a unique thing, and she climbed to her
bedroom and stared at the stars.




_Four_

TOWN


John Taylor had written to his sister. He wanted information, very
definite information, about Tooms County cotton; about its stores, its
people--especially its people. He propounded a dozen questions, sharp,
searching questions, and he wanted the answers tomorrow. Impossible!
thought Miss Taylor. He had calculated on her getting this letter
yesterday, forgetting that their mail was fetched once a day from the
town, four miles away. Then, too, she did not know all these matters and
knew no one who did. Did John think she had nothing else to do? And
sighing at the thought of to-morrow's drudgery, she determined to
consult Miss Smith in the morning.

Miss Smith suggested a drive to town--Bles could take her in the
top-buggy after school--and she could consult some of the merchants and
business men. She could then write her letter and mail it there; it
would be but a day or so late getting to New York.

"Of course," said Miss Smith drily, slowly folding her napkin, "of
course, the only people here are the Cresswells."

"Oh, yes," said Miss Taylor invitingly. There was an allurement about
this all-pervasive name; it held her by a growing fascination and she
was anxious for the older woman to amplify. Miss Smith, however,
remained provokingly silent, so Miss Taylor essayed further.

"What sort of people are the Cresswells?" she asked.

"The old man's a fool; the young one a rascal; the girl a ninny," was
Miss Smith's succinct and acid classification of the county's first
family; adding, as she rose, "but they own us body and soul." She
hurried out of the dining-room without further remark. Miss Smith was
more patient with black folk than with white.

The sun was hanging just above the tallest trees of the swamp when Miss
Taylor, weary with the day's work, climbed into the buggy beside Bles.
They wheeled comfortably down the road, leaving the sombre swamp, with
its black-green, to the right, and heading toward the golden-green of
waving cotton fields. Miss Taylor lay back, listlessly, and drank the
soft warm air of the languorous Spring. She thought of the golden sheen
of the cotton, and the cold March winds of New England; of her brother
who apparently noted nothing of leaves and winds and seasons; and of the
mighty Cresswells whom Miss Smith so evidently disliked. Suddenly she
became aware of her long silence and the silence of the boy.

"Bles," she began didactically, "where are you from?"

He glanced across at her and answered shortly:

"Georgia, ma'am," and was silent.

The girl tried again.

"Georgia is a large State,"--tentatively.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Are you going back there when you finish?"

"I don't know."

"I think you ought to--and work for your people."

"Yes, ma'am."

She stopped, puzzled, and looked about. The old horse jogged lazily on,
and Bles switched him unavailingly. Somehow she had missed the way
today. The Veil hung thick, sombre, impenetrable. Well, she had done her
duty, and slowly she nestled back and watched the far-off green and
golden radiance of the cotton.

"Bles," she said impulsively, "shall I tell you of the Golden Fleece?"

He glanced at her again.

"Yes'm, please," he said.

She settled herself almost luxuriously, and began the story of Jason and
the Argonauts.

The boy remained silent. And when she had finished, he still sat silent,
elbow on knee, absently flicking the jogging horse and staring ahead at
the horizon. She looked at him doubtfully with some disappointment that
his hearing had apparently shared so little of the joy of her telling;
and, too, there was mingled a vague sense of having lowered herself to
too familiar fellowship with this--this boy. She straightened herself
instinctively and thought of some remark that would restore proper
relations. She had not found it before he said, slowly:

"All yon is Jason's."

"What?" she asked, puzzled.

He pointed with one sweep of his long arm to the quivering mass of
green-gold foliage that swept from swamp to horizon.

"All yon golden fleece is Jason's now," he repeated.

"I thought it was--Cresswell's," she said.

"That's what I mean."

She suddenly understood that the story had sunk deeply.

"I am glad to hear you say that," she said methodically, "for Jason was
a brave adventurer--"

"I thought he was a thief."

"Oh, well--those were other times."

"The Cresswells are thieves now."

Miss Taylor answered sharply.

"Bles, I am ashamed to hear you talk so of your neighbors simply because
they are white."

But Bles continued.

"This is the Black Sea," he said, pointing to the dull cabins that
crouched here and there upon the earth, with the dark twinkling of their
black folk darting out to see the strangers ride by.

Despite herself Miss Taylor caught the allegory and half whispered, "Lo!
the King himself!" as a black man almost rose from the tangled earth at
their side. He was tall and thin and sombre-hued, with a carven face and
thick gray hair.

"Your servant, mistress," he said, with a sweeping bow as he strode
toward the swamp. Miss Taylor stopped him, for he looked interesting,
and might answer some of her brother's questions. He turned back and
stood regarding her with sorrowful eyes and ugly mouth.

"Do you live about here?" she asked.

"I'se lived here a hundred years," he answered. She did not believe it;
he might be seventy, eighty, or even ninety--indeed, there was about him
that indefinable sense of age--some shadow of endless living; but a
hundred seemed absurd.

"You know the people pretty well, then?"

"I knows dem all. I knows most of 'em better dan dey knows demselves. I
knows a heap of tings in dis world and in de next."

"This is a great cotton country?"

"Dey don't raise no cotton now to what dey used to when old Gen'rel
Cresswell fust come from Carolina; den it was a bale and a half to the
acre on stalks dat looked like young brushwood. Dat was cotton."

"You know the Cresswells, then?"

"Know dem? I knowed dem afore dey was born."

"They are--wealthy people?"

"Dey rolls in money and dey'se quality, too. No shoddy upstarts dem,
but born to purple, lady, born to purple. Old Gen'ral Cresswell had
niggers and acres no end back dere in Carolina. He brung a part of dem
here and here his son, de father of dis Colonel Cresswell, was born. De
son--I knowed him well--he had a tousand niggers and ten tousand acres
afore de war."

"Were they kind to their slaves?"

"Oh, yaas, yaas, ma'am, dey was careful of de're niggers and wouldn't
let de drivers whip 'em much."

"And these Cresswells today?"

"Oh, dey're quality--high-blooded folks--dey'se lost some land and
niggers, but, lordy, nuttin' can buy de Cresswells, dey naturally owns
de world."

"Are they honest and kind?"

"Oh, yaas, ma'am--dey'se good white folks."

"Good white folk?"

"Oh, yaas, ma'am--course you knows white folks will be white
folks--white folks will be white folks. Your servant, ma'am." And the
swamp swallowed him.

The boy's eyes followed him as he whipped up the horse.

"He's going to Elspeth's," he said.

"Who is he?"

"We just call him Old Pappy--he's a preacher, and some folks say a
conjure man, too."

"And who is Elspeth?"

"She lives in the swamp--she's a kind of witch, I reckon, like--like--"

"Like Medea?"

"Yes--only--I don't know--" and he grew thoughtful.

The road turned now and far away to the eastward rose the first
straggling cabins of the town. Creeping toward them down the road rolled
a dark squat figure. It grew and spread slowly on the horizon until it
became a fat old black woman, hooded and aproned, with great round hips
and massive bosom. Her face was heavy and homely until she looked up and
lifted the drooping cheeks, and then kindly old eyes beamed on the young
teacher, as she curtsied and cried:

"Good-evening, honey! Good-evening! You sure is pretty dis evening."

"Why, Aunt Rachel, how are you?" There was genuine pleasure in the
girl's tone.

"Just tolerable, honey, bless de Lord! Rumatiz is kind o' bad and Aunt
Rachel ain't so young as she use ter be."

"And what brings you to town afoot this time of day?"

The face fell again to dull care and the old eyes crept away. She
fumbled with her cane.

"It's de boys again, honey," she returned solemnly; "dey'se good boys,
dey is good to de're old mammy, but dey'se high strung and dey gits
fighting and drinking and--and--last Saturday night dey got took up
again. I'se been to Jedge Grey--I use to tote him on my knee,
honey--I'se been to him to plead him not to let 'em go on de gang,
'cause you see, honey," and she stroked the girl's sleeve as if pleading
with her, too, "you see it done ruins boys to put 'em on de gang."

Miss Taylor tried hard to think of something comforting to say, but
words seemed inadequate to cheer the old soul; but after a few moments
they rode on, leaving the kind face again beaming and dimpling.

And now the country town of Toomsville lifted itself above the cotton
and corn, fringed with dirty straggling cabins of black folk. The road
swung past the iron watering trough, turned sharply and, after passing
two or three pert cottages and a stately house, old and faded, opened
into the wide square. Here pulsed the very life and being of the land.
Yonder great bales of cotton, yellow-white in its soiled sacking, piled
in lofty, dusty mountains, lay listening for the train that, twice a
day, ran out to the greater world. Round about, tied to the well-gnawed
hitching rails, were rows of mules--mules with back cloths; mules with
saddles; mules hitched to long wagons, buggies, and rickety gigs; mules
munching golden ears of corn, and mules drooping their heads in
sorrowful memory of better days.

Beyond the cotton warehouse smoked the chimneys of the seed-mill and the
cotton-gin; a red livery-stable faced them and all about three sides of
the square ran stores; big stores and small wide-windowed, narrow
stores. Some had old steps above the worn clay side-walks, and some were
flush with the ground. All had a general sense of dilapidation--save
one, the largest and most imposing, a three-story brick. This was
Caldwell's "Emporium"; and here Bles stopped and Miss Taylor entered.

Mr. Caldwell himself hurried forward; and the whole store, clerks and
customers, stood at attention, for Miss Taylor was yet new to the
county.

She bought a few trifles and then approached her main business.

"My brother wants some information about the county, Mr. Caldwell, and I
am only a teacher, and do not know much about conditions here."

"Ah! where do you teach?" asked Mr. Caldwell. He was certain he knew the
teachers of all the white schools in the county. Miss Taylor told him.
He stiffened slightly but perceptibly, like a man clicking the buckles
of his ready armor, and two townswomen who listened gradually turned
their backs, but remained near.

"Yes--yes," he said, with uncomfortable haste. "Any--er--information--of
course--" Miss Taylor got out her notes.

"The leading land-owners," she began, sorting the notes searchingly, "I
should like to know something about them."

"Well, Colonel Cresswell is, of course, our greatest landlord--a
high-bred gentleman of the old school. He and his son--a worthy
successor to the name--hold some fifty thousand acres. They may be
considered representative types. Then, Mr. Maxwell has ten thousand
acres and Mr. Tolliver a thousand."

Miss Taylor wrote rapidly. "And cotton?" she asked.

"We raise considerable cotton, but not nearly what we ought to; nigger
labor is too worthless."

"Oh! The Negroes are not, then, very efficient?"

"Efficient!" snorted Mr. Caldwell; at last she had broached a phase of
the problem upon which he could dilate with fervor. "They're the
lowest-down, ornriest--begging your pardon--good-for-nothing loafers you
ever heard of. Why, we just have to carry them and care for them like
children. Look yonder," he pointed across the square to the court-house.
It was an old square brick-and-stucco building, sombre and stilted and
very dirty. Out of it filed a stream of men--some black and shackled;
some white and swaggering and liberal with tobacco-juice; some white and
shaven and stiff. "Court's just out," pursued Mr. Caldwell, "and them
niggers have just been sent to the gang--young ones, too; educated but
good for nothing. They're all that way."

Miss Taylor looked up a little puzzled, and became aware of a battery of
eyes and ears. Everybody seemed craning and listening, and she felt a
sudden embarrassment and a sense of half-veiled hostility in the air.
With one or two further perfunctory questions, and a hasty expression of
thanks, she escaped into the air.

The whole square seemed loafing and lolling--the white world perched on
stoops and chairs, in doorways and windows; the black world filtering
down from doorways to side-walk and curb. The hot, dusty quadrangle
stretched in dreary deadness toward the temple of the town, as if doing
obeisance to the court-house. Down the courthouse steps the sheriff,
with Winchester on shoulder, was bringing the last prisoner--a
curly-headed boy with golden face and big brown frightened eyes.

"It's one of Dunn's boys," said Bles. "He's drunk again, and they say
he's been stealing. I expect he was hungry." And they wheeled out of the
square.

Miss Taylor was tired, and the hastily scribbled letter which she
dropped into the post in passing was not as clearly expressed as she
could wish.

A great-voiced giant, brown and bearded, drove past them, roaring a
hymn. He greeted Bles with a comprehensive wave of the hand.

"I guess Tylor has been paid off," said Bles, but Miss Taylor was too
disgusted to answer. Further on they overtook a tall young yellow boy
walking awkwardly beside a handsome, bold-faced girl. Two white men came
riding by. One leered at the girl, and she laughed back, while the
yellow boy strode sullenly ahead. As the two white riders approached the
buggy one said to the other:

"Who's that nigger with?"

"One of them nigger teachers."

"Well, they'll stop this damn riding around or they'll hear something,"
and they rode slowly by.

Miss Taylor felt rather than heard their words, and she was
uncomfortable. The sun fell fast; the long shadows of the swamp swept
soft coolness on the red road. Then afar in front a curled cloud of
white dust arose and out of it came the sound of galloping horses.

"Who's this?" asked Miss Taylor.

"The Cresswells, I think; they usually ride to town about this time."
But already Miss Taylor had descried the brown and tawny sides of the
speeding horses.

"Good gracious!" she thought. "The Cresswells!" And with it came a
sudden desire not to meet them--just then. She glanced toward the swamp.
The sun was sifting blood-red lances through the trees. A little
wagon-road entered the wood and disappeared. Miss Taylor saw it.

"Let's see the sunset in the swamp," she said suddenly. On came the
galloping horses. Bles looked up in surprise, then silently turned into
the swamp. The horses flew by, their hoof-beats dying in the distance. A
dark green silence lay about them lit by mighty crimson glories beyond.
Miss Taylor leaned back and watched it dreamily till a sense of
oppression grew on her. The sun was sinking fast.

"Where does this road come out?" she asked at last.

"It doesn't come out."

"Where does it go?"

"It goes to Elspeth's."

"Why, we must turn back immediately. I thought--" But Bles was already
turning. They were approaching the main road again when there came a
fluttering as of a great bird beating its wings amid the forest. Then a
girl, lithe, dark brown, and tall, leaped lightly into the path with
greetings on her lips for Bles. At the sight of the lady she drew
suddenly back and stood motionless regarding Miss Taylor, searching her
with wide black liquid eyes. Miss Taylor was a little startled.

"Good--good-evening," she said, straightening herself.

The girl was still silent and the horse stopped. One tense moment pulsed
through all the swamp. Then the girl, still motionless--still looking
Miss Taylor through and through--said with slow deliberateness:

"I hates you."

The teacher in Miss Taylor strove to rebuke this unconventional greeting
but the woman in her spoke first and asked almost before she knew it--

"Why?"




_Five_

ZORA


Zora, child of the swamp, was a heathen hoyden of twelve wayward,
untrained years. Slight, straight, strong, full-blooded, she had dreamed
her life away in wilful wandering through her dark and sombre kingdom
until she was one with it in all its moods; mischievous, secretive,
brooding; full of great and awful visions, steeped body and soul in
wood-lore. Her home was out of doors, the cabin of Elspeth her port of
call for talking and eating. She had not known, she had scarcely seen, a
child of her own age until Bles Alwyn had fled from her dancing in the
night, and she had searched and found him sleeping in the misty morning
light. It was to her a strange new thing to see a fellow of like years
with herself, and she gripped him to her soul in wild interest and new
curiosity. Yet this childish friendship was so new and incomprehensible
a thing to her that she did not know how to express it. At first she
pounced upon him in mirthful, almost impish glee, teasing and mocking
and half scaring him, despite his fifteen years of young manhood.

"Yes, they is devils down yonder behind the swamp," she would whisper,
warningly, when, after the first meeting, he had crept back again and
again, half fascinated, half amused to greet her; "I'se seen 'em, I'se
heard 'em, 'cause my mammy is a witch."

The boy would sit and watch her wonderingly as she lay curled along the
low branch of the mighty oak, clinging with little curved limbs and
flying fingers. Possessed by the spirit of her vision, she would chant,
low-voiced, tremulous, mischievous:

"One night a devil come to me on blue fire out of a big red flower that
grows in the south swamp; he was tall and big and strong as anything,
and when he spoke the trees shook and the stars fell. Even mammy was
afeared; and it takes a lot to make mammy afeared, 'cause she's a witch
and can conjure. He said, 'I'll come when you die--I'll come when you
die, and take the conjure off you,' and then he went away on a big
fire."

"Shucks!" the boy would say, trying to express scornful disbelief when,
in truth, he was awed and doubtful. Always he would glance involuntarily
back along the path behind him. Then her low birdlike laughter would
rise and ring through the trees.

So passed a year, and there came the time when her wayward teasing and
the almost painful thrill of her tale-telling nettled him and drove him
away. For long months he did not meet her, until one day he saw her deep
eyes fixed longingly upon him from a thicket in the swamp. He went and
greeted her. But she said no word, sitting nested among the greenwood
with passionate, proud silence, until he had sued long for peace; then
in sudden new friendship she had taken his hand and led him through the
swamp, showing him all the beauty of her swamp-world--great shadowy oaks
and limpid pools, lone, naked trees and sweet flowers; the whispering
and flitting of wild things, and the winging of furtive birds. She had
dropped the impish mischief of her way, and up from beneath it rose a
wistful, visionary tenderness; a mighty half-confessed, half-concealed,
striving for unknown things. He seemed to have found a new friend.

And today, after he had taken Miss Taylor home and supped, he came out
in the twilight under the new moon and whistled the tremulous note that
always brought her.

"Why did you speak so to Miss Taylor?" he asked, reproachfully. She
considered the matter a moment.

"You don't understand," she said. "You can't never understand. I can see
right through people. You can't. You never had a witch for a mammy--did
you?"

"No."

"Well, then, you see I have to take care of you and see things for you."

"Zora," he said thoughtfully, "you must learn to read."

"What for?"

"So that you can read books and know lots of things."

"Don't white folks make books?"

"Yes--most of the books."

"Pooh! I knows more than they do now--a heap more."

"In some ways you do; but they know things that give them power and
wealth and make them rule."

"No, no. They don't really rule; they just thinks they rule. They just
got things--heavy, dead things. We black folks is got the _spirit_.
We'se lighter and cunninger; we fly right through them; we go and come
again just as we wants to. Black folks is wonderful."

He did not understand what she meant; but he knew what he wanted and he
tried again.

"Even if white folks don't know everything they know different things
from us, and we ought to know what they know."

This appealed to her somewhat.

"I don't believe they know much," she concluded; "but I'll learn to read
and just see."

"It will be hard work," he warned. But he had come prepared for
acquiescence. He took a primer from his pocket and, lighting a match,
showed her the alphabet.

"Learn those," he said.

"What for?" she asked, looking at the letters disdainfully.

"Because that's the way," he said, as the light flared and went out.

"I don't believe it," she disputed, disappearing in the wood and
returning with a pine-knot. They lighted it and its smoky flame threw
wavering shadows about. She turned the leaves till she came to a picture
which she studied intently.

"Is this about this?" she asked, pointing alternately to reading and
picture.

"Yes. And if you learn--"

"Read it," she commanded. He read the page.

"Again," she said, making him point out each word. Then she read it
after him, accurately, with more perfect expression. He stared at her.
She took the book, and with a nod was gone.

It was Saturday and dark. She never asked Bles to her home--to that
mysterious black cabin in mid-swamp. He thought her ashamed of it, and
delicately refrained from going. So tonight she slipped away, stopped
and listened till she heard his footsteps on the pike, and then flew
homeward. Presently the old black cabin loomed before her with its wide
flapping door. The old woman was bending over the fire, stirring some
savory mess, and a yellow girl with a white baby on one arm was placing
dishes on a rickety wooden table when Zora suddenly and noiselessly
entered the door.

"Come, is you? I 'lowed victuals would fetch you," grumbled the hag.

But Zora deigned no answer. She walked placidly to the table, where she
took up a handful of cold corn-bread and meat, and then went over and
curled up by the fire.

Elspeth and the girl talked and laughed coarsely, and the night wore
on.

By and by loud laughter and tramping came from the road--a sound of
numerous footsteps. Zora listened, leapt to her feet and started to the
door. The old crone threw an epithet after her; but she flashed through
the lighted doorway and was gone, followed by the oath and shouts from
the approaching men. In the hut night fled with wild song and revel, and
day dawned again. Out from some fastness of the wood crept Zora. She
stopped and bathed in a pool, and combed her close-clung hair, then
entered silently to breakfast.

Thus began in the dark swamp that primal battle with the Word. She hated
it and despised it, but her pride was in arms and her one great life
friendship in the balance. She fought her way with a dogged persistence
that brought word after word of praise and interest from Bles. Then,
once well begun, her busy, eager mind flew with a rapidity that
startled; the stories especially she devoured--tales of strange things
and countries and men gripped her imagination and clung to her memory.

"Didn't I tell you there was lots to learn?" he asked once.

"I knew it all," she retorted; "every bit. I'se thought it all before;
only the little things is different--and I like the little, strange
things."

Spring ripened to summer. She was reading well and writing some.

"Zora," he announced one morning under their forest oak, "you must go to
school."

She eyed him, surprised.

"Why?"

"You've found some things worth knowing in this world, haven't you,
Zora?"

"Yes," she admitted.

"But there are more--many, many more--worlds on worlds of things--you
have not dreamed of."

She stared at him, open-eyed, and a wonder crept upon her face battling
with the old assurance. Then she looked down at her bare brown feet and
torn gown.

"I've got a little money, Zora," he said quickly.

But she lifted her head.

"I'll earn mine," she said.

"How?" he asked doubtfully.

"I'll pick cotton."

"Can you?"

"Course I can."

"It's hard work."

She hesitated.

"I don't like to work," she mused. "You see, mammy's pappy was a king's
son, and kings don't work. I don't work; mostly I dreams. But I can
work, and I will--for the wonder things--and for you."

So the summer yellowed and silvered into fall. All the vacation days
Bles worked on the farm, and Zora read and dreamed and studied in the
wood, until the land lay white with harvest. Then, without warning, she
appeared in the cotton-field beside Bles, and picked.

It was hot, sore work. The sun blazed; her bent and untrained back
pained, and the soft little hands bled. But no complaint passed her
lips; her hands never wavered, and her eyes met his steadily and
gravely. She bade him good-night, cheerily, and then stole away to the
wood, crouching beneath the great oak, and biting back the groans that
trembled on her lips. Often, she fell supperless to sleep, with two
great tears creeping down her tired cheeks.

When school-time came there was not yet money enough, for cotton-picking
was not far advanced. Yet Zora would take no money from Bles, and worked
earnestly away.

Meantime there occurred to the boy the momentous question of clothes.
Had Zora thought of them? He feared not. She knew little of clothes and
cared less. So one day in town he dropped into Caldwell's "Emporium"
and glanced hesitantly at certain ready-made dresses. One caught his
eye. It came from the great Easterly mills in New England and was red--a
vivid red. The glowing warmth of this cloth of cotton caught the eye of
Bles, and he bought the gown for a dollar and a half.

He carried it to Zora in the wood, and unrolled it before her eyes that
danced with glad tears. Of course, it was long and wide; but he fetched
needle and thread and scissors, too. It was a full month after school
had begun when they, together back in the swamp, shadowed by the
foliage, began to fashion the wonderful garment. At the same time she
laid ten dollars of her first hard-earned money in his hands.

"You can finish the first year with this money," Bles assured her,
delighted, "and then next year you must come in to board; because, you
see, when you're educated you won't want to live in the swamp."

"I wants to live here always."

"But not at Elspeth's."

"No-o--not there, not there." And a troubled questioning trembled in her
eyes, but brought no answering thought in his, for he was busy with his
plans.

"Then, you see, Zora, if you stay here you'll need a new house, and
you'll want to learn how to make it beautiful."

"Yes, a beautiful, great castle here in the swamp," she dreamed; "but,"
and her face fell, "I can't get money enough to board in; and I don't
want to board in--I wants to be free."

He looked at her, curled down so earnestly at her puzzling task, and a
pity for the more than motherless child swept over him. He bent over
her, nervously, eagerly, and she laid down her sewing and sat silent and
passive with dark, burning eyes.

"Zora," he said, "I want you to do all this--for me."

"I will, if you wants me to," she said quietly, but with something in
her voice that made him look half startled into her beautiful eyes and
feel a queer flushing in his face. He stretched his hand out and taking
hers held it lightly till she quivered and drew away, bending again
over her sewing.

Then a nameless exaltation rose within his heart.

"Zora," he whispered, "I've got a plan."

"What is it?" she asked, still with bowed head.

"Listen, till I tell you of the Golden Fleece."

Then she too heard the story of Jason. Breathless she listened, dropping
her sewing and leaning forward, eager-eyed. Then her face clouded.

"Do you s'pose mammy's the witch?" she asked dubiously.

"No; she wouldn't give her own flesh and blood to help the thieving
Jason."

She looked at him searchingly.

"Yes, she would, too," affirmed the girl, and then she paused, still
intently watching him. She was troubled, and again a question eagerly
hovered on her lips. But he continued:

"Then we must escape her," he said gayly. "See! yonder lies the Silver
Fleece spread across the brown back of the world; let's get a bit of it,
and hide it here in the swamp, and comb it, and tend it, and make it the
beautifullest bit of all. Then we can sell it, and send you to school."

She sat silently bent forward, turning the picture in her mind. Suddenly
forgetting her trouble, she bubbled with laughter, and leaping up
clapped her hands.

"And I knows just the place!" she cried eagerly, looking at him with a
flash of the old teasing mischief--"down in the heart of the
swamp--where dreams and devils lives."

       *       *       *       *       *

Up at the school-house Miss Taylor was musing. She had been invited to
spend the summer with Mrs. Grey at Lake George, and such a
summer!--silken clothes and dainty food, motoring and golf, well-groomed
men and elegant women. She would not have put it in just that way, but
the vision came very close to spelling heaven to her mind. Not that she
would come to it vacant-minded, but rather as a trained woman, starved
for companionship and wanting something of the beauty and ease of life.
She sat dreaming of it here with rows of dark faces before her, and the
singsong wail of a little black reader with his head aslant and his
patched kneepants.

The day was warm and languorous, and the last pale mist of the Silver
Fleece peeped in at the windows. She tried to follow the third-reader
lesson with her finger, but persistently off she went, dreaming, to some
exquisite little parlor with its green and gold, the clink of dainty
china and hum of low voices, and the blue lake in the window; she would
glance up, the door would open softly and--

Just here she did glance up, and all the school glanced with her. The
drone of the reader hushed. The door opened softly, and upon the
threshold stood Zora. Her small feet and slender ankles were black and
bare; her dark, round, and broad-browed head and strangely beautiful
face were poised almost defiantly, crowned with a misty mass of waveless
hair, and lit by the velvet radiance of two wonderful eyes. And hanging
from shoulder to ankle, in formless, clinging folds, blazed the scarlet
gown.




_Six_

COTTON


The cry of the naked was sweeping the world. From the peasant toiling in
Russia, the lady lolling in London, the chieftain burning in Africa, and
the Esquimaux freezing in Alaska; from long lines of hungry men, from
patient sad-eyed women, from old folk and creeping children went up the
cry, "Clothes, clothes!" Far away the wide black land that belts the
South, where Miss Smith worked and Miss Taylor drudged and Bles and Zora
dreamed, the dense black land sensed the cry and heard the bound of
answering life within the vast dark breast. All that dark earth heaved
in mighty travail with the bursting bolls of the cotton while black
attendant earth spirits swarmed above, sweating and crooning to its
birth pains.

After the miracle of the bursting bolls, when the land was brightest
with the piled mist of the Fleece, and when the cry of the naked was
loudest in the mouths of men, a sudden cloud of workers swarmed between
the Cotton and the Naked, spinning and weaving and sewing and carrying
the Fleece and mining and minting and bringing the Silver till the Song
of Service filled the world and the poetry of Toil was in the souls of
the laborers. Yet ever and always there were tense silent white-faced
men moving in that swarm who felt no poetry and heard no song, and one
of these was John Taylor.

He was tall, thin, cold, and tireless and he moved among the Watchers of
this World of Trade. In the rich Wall Street offices of Grey and
Easterly, Brokers, Mr. Taylor, as chief and confidential clerk surveyed
the world's nakedness and the supply of cotton to clothe it. The object
of his watching was frankly stated to himself and to his world. He
purposed going into business neither for his own health nor for the
healing or clothing of the peoples but to apply his knowledge of the
world's nakedness and of black men's toil in such a way as to bring
himself wealth. In this he was but following the teaching of his highest
ideal, lately deceased, Mr. Job Grey. Mr. Grey had so successfully
manipulated the cotton market that while black men who made the cotton
starved in Alabama and white men who bought it froze in Siberia, he
himself sat--

     _"High on a throne of royal state
     That far outshone the wealth
     Of Ormuz or of Ind._"

Notwithstanding this he died eventually, leaving the burden of his
wealth to his bewildered wife, and his business to the astute Mr.
Easterly; not simply to Mr. Easterly, but in a sense to his spiritual
heir, John Taylor.

To be sure Mr. Taylor had but a modest salary and no financial interest
in the business, but he had knowledge and business daring--effrontery
even--and the determination was fixed in his mind to be a millionaire at
no distant date. Some cautious fliers on the market gave him enough
surplus to send his sister Mary through the high school of his country
home in New Hampshire, and afterward through Wellesley College; although
just why a woman should want to go through college was inexplicable to
John Taylor, and he was still uncertain as to the wisdom of his charity.

When she had an offer to teach in the South, John Taylor hurried her off
for two reasons: he was profoundly interested in the cotton-belt, and
there she might be of service to him; and secondly, he had spent all the
money on her that he intended to at present, and he wanted her to go to
work. As an investment he did not consider Mary a success. Her letters
intimated very strongly her intention not to return to Miss Smith's
School; but they also brought information--disjointed and incomplete, to
be sure--which mightily interested Mr. Taylor and sent him to atlases,
encyclopaedias, and census-reports. When he went to that little lunch
with old Mrs. Grey he was not sure that he wanted his sister to leave
the cotton-belt just yet. After lunch he was sure that he did not want
her to leave.

The rich Mrs. Grey was at the crisis of her fortunes. She was an elderly
lady, in those uncertain years beyond fifty, and had been left suddenly
with more millions than she could easily count. Personally she was
inclined to spend her money in bettering the world right off, in such
ways as might from time to time seem attractive. This course, to her
husband's former partner and present executor, Mr. Edward Easterly, was
not only foolish but wicked, and, incidentally, distinctly unprofitable
to him. He had expressed himself strongly to Mrs. Grey last night at
dinner and had reinforced his argument by a pointed letter written this
morning.

To John Taylor Mrs. Grey's disposal of the income was unbelievable
blasphemy against the memory of a mighty man. He did not put this in
words to Mrs. Grey--he was only head clerk in her late husband's
office--but he became watchful and thoughtful. He ate his soup in
silence when she descanted on various benevolent schemes.

"Now, what do you know," she asked finally, "about Negroes--about
educating them?" Mr. Taylor over his fish was about to deny all
knowledge of any sort on the subject, but all at once he recollected his
sister, and a sudden gleam of light radiated his mental gloom.

"Have a sister who is--er--devoting herself to teaching them," he said.

"Is that so!" cried Mrs. Grey, joyfully. "Where is she?"

"In Tooms County, Alabama--in--" Mr. Taylor consulted a remote mental
pocket--"in Miss Sara Smith's school."

"Why, how fortunate! I'm so glad I mentioned the matter. You see, Miss
Smith is a sister of a friend of ours, Congressman Smith of New Jersey,
and she has just written to me for help; a very touching letter, too,
about the poor blacks. My father set great store by blacks and was a
leading abolitionist before he died."

Mr. Taylor was thinking fast. Yes, the name of Congressman Peter Smith
was quite familiar. Mr. Easterly, as chairman of the Republican State
Committee of New Jersey, had been compelled to discipline Mr. Smith
pretty severely for certain socialistic votes in the House, and
consequently his future career was uncertain. It was important that such
a man should not have too much to do with Mrs. Grey's philanthropies--at
least, in his present position.

"Should like to have you meet and talk with my sister, Mrs. Grey; she's
a Wellesley graduate," said Taylor, finally.

Mrs. Grey was delighted. It was a combination which she felt she needed.
Here was a college-girl who could direct her philanthropies and her
etiquette during the summer. Forthwith Mary Taylor received an
intimation from her brother that vast interests depended on her summer
vacation.

Thus it had happened that Miss Taylor came to Lake George for her
vacation after the first year at the Smith School, and she and Miss
Smith had silently agreed as she left that it would be better for her
not to return. But the gods of lower Broadway thought otherwise. Not
that Mary Taylor did not believe in Miss Smith's work, she was too
honest not to believe in education; but she was sure that this was not
her work, and she had not as yet perfected in her own mind any theory of
the world into which black folk fitted. She was rather taken back,
therefore, to be regarded as an expert on the problem. First her brother
attacked her, not simply on cotton, but, to her great surprise, on Negro
education; and after listening to her halting uncertain remarks, he
suggested to her certain matters which it would be better for her to
believe when Mrs. Grey talked to her.

"Interested in darkies, you see," he concluded, "and looks to you to
tell things. Better go easy and suggest a waiting-game before she goes
in heavy."

"But Miss Smith needs money--" the New England conscience prompted. John
Taylor cut in sharply:

"We all need money, and I know people who need Mrs. Grey's more than
Miss Smith does at present."

Miss Taylor found the Lake George colony charming. It was not
ultra-fashionable, but it had wealth and leisure and some breeding.
Especially was this true of a circumscribed, rather exclusive, set which
centred around the Vanderpools of New York and Boston. They, or rather
Mr. Vanderpool's connections, were of Old Dutch New York stock; his
father it was who had built the Lake George cottage.

Mrs. Vanderpool was a Wells of Boston, and endured Lake George now and
then during the summer for her husband's sake, although she regarded it
all as rather a joke. This summer promised to be unusually lonesome for
her, and she was meditating a retreat to the Massachusetts north shore
when she chanced to meet Mary Taylor, at a miscellaneous dinner, and
found her interesting. She discovered that this young woman knew things,
that she could talk books, and that she was rather pretty. To be sure
she knew no people, but Mrs. Vanderpool knew enough to even things.

"By the bye, I met some charming Alabama people last winter, in
Montgomery--the Cresswells; do you know them?" she asked one day, as
they were lounging in wicker chairs on the Vanderpool porch. Then she
answered the query herself: "No, of course you could not. It is too bad
that your work deprives you of the society of people of your class. Now
my ideal is a set of Negro schools where the white teachers _could_ know
the Cresswells."

"Why, yes--" faltered Miss Taylor; "but--wouldn't that be difficult?"

"Why should it be?"

"I mean, would the Cresswells approve of educating Negroes?"

"Oh, 'educating'! The word conceals so much. Now, I take it the
Cresswells would object to instructing them in French and in dinner
etiquette and tea-gowns, and so, in fact, would I; but teach them how to
handle a hoe and to sew and cook. I have reason to know that people like
the Cresswells would be delighted."

"And with the teachers of it?"

"Why not?--provided, of course, they were--well, gentlefolk and
associated accordingly."

"But one must associate with one's pupils."

"Oh, certainly, certainly; just as one must associate with one's maids
and chauffeurs and dressmakers--cordially and kindly, but with a
difference."

"But--but, dear Mrs. Vanderpool, you wouldn't want your children trained
that way, would you?"

"Certainly not, my dear. But these are not my children, they are the
children of Negroes; we can't quite forget that, can we?"

"No, I suppose not," Miss Taylor admitted, a little helplessly. "But--it
seems to me--that's the modern idea of taking culture to the masses."

"Frankly, then, the modern idea is not my idea; it is too socialistic.
And as for culture applied to the masses, you utter a paradox. The
masses and work is the truth one must face."

"And culture and work?"

"Quite incompatible, I assure you, my dear." She stretched her silken
limbs, lazily, while Miss Taylor sat silently staring at the waters.

Just then Mrs. Grey drove up in her new red motor.

Up to the time of Mary Taylor's arrival the acquaintance of the
Vanderpools and Mrs. Grey had been a matter chiefly of smiling bows.
After Miss Taylor came there had been calls and casual intercourse, to
Mrs. Grey's great gratification and Mrs. Vanderpool's mingled amusement
and annoyance. Mrs. Grey announced the arrival of the Easterlys and John
Taylor for the week-end. As Mrs. Vanderpool could think of nothing less
boring, she consented to dine.

The atmosphere of Mrs. Grey's ornate cottage was different from that of
the Vanderpools. The display of wealth and splendor had a touch of the
barbaric. Mary Taylor liked it, although she found the Vanderpool
atmosphere more subtly satisfying. There was a certain grim power
beneath the Greys' mahogany and velvets that thrilled while it appalled.
Precisely that side of the thing appealed to her brother. He would have
seen little or nothing in the plain elegance yonder, while here he saw a
Japanese vase that cost no cent less than a thousand dollars. He meant
to be able to duplicate it some day. He knew that Grey was poor and less
knowing than he sixty years ago.

The dead millionaire had begun his fortune by buying and selling
cotton--travelling in the South in reconstruction times, and sending his
agents. In this way he made his thousands. Then he took a step forward,
and instead of following the prices induced the prices to follow him.
Two or three small cotton corners brought him his tens of thousands.
About this time Easterly joined him and pointed out a new road--the
buying and selling of stock in various cotton-mills and other industrial
enterprises. Grey hesitated, but Easterly pushed him on and he made his
hundreds of thousands. Then Easterly proposed buying controlling
interests in certain large mills and gradually consolidating them. The
plan grew and succeeded, and Grey made his millions.

Then Grey stopped; he had money enough, and he would venture no farther.
He "was going to retire and eat peanuts," he said with a chuckle.

Easterly was disgusted. He, too, had made millions--not as many as Grey,
but a few. It was not, however, simply money that he wanted, but power.
The lust of financial dominion had gripped his soul, and he had a vision
of a vast trust of cotton manufacturing covering the land. He talked
this incessantly into Grey, but Grey continued to shake his head; the
thing was too big for his imagination. He was bent on retiring, and just
as he had set the date a year hence he inadvertently died. On the whole,
Mr. Easterly was glad of his partner's definite withdrawal, since he
left his capital behind him, until he found his vast plans about to be
circumvented by Mrs. Grey withdrawing this capital from his control. "To
give to the niggers and Chinamen," he snorted to John Taylor, and strode
up and down the veranda. John Taylor removed his coat, lighted a black
cigar, and elevated his heels. The ladies were in the parlor, where the
female Easterlys were prostrating themselves before Mrs. Vanderpool.

"Just what is your plan?" asked Taylor, quite as if he did not know.

"Why, man, the transfer of a hundred millions of stock would give me
control of the cotton-mills of America. Think of it!--the biggest trust
next to steel."

"Why not bigger?" asked Taylor, imperturbably puffing away. Mr. Easterly
eyed him. He had regarded Taylor hitherto as a very valuable asset to
the business--had relied on his knowledge of routine, his judgment and
his honesty; but he detected tonight a new tone in his clerk, something
almost authoritative and self-reliant. He paused and smiled at him.

"Bigger?"

But John Taylor was dead in earnest. He did not smile.

"First, there's England--and all Europe; why not bring them into the
trust?"

"Possibly, later; but first, America. Of course, I've got my eyes on the
European situation and feelers out; but such matters are more difficult
and slower of adjustment over there--so damned much law and gospel."

"But there's another side."

"What's that?"

"You are planning to combine and control the manufacture of cotton--"

"Yes."

"But how about your raw material? The steel trust owns its iron mines."

"Of course--mines could be monopolized and hold the trust up; but our
raw material is perfectly safe--farms growing smaller, farms isolated,
and we fixing the price. It's a cinch."

"Are you sure?" Taylor surveyed him with a narrowed look.

"Certain."

"I'm not. I've been looking up things, and there are three points you'd
better study: First, cotton farms are not getting smaller; they're
getting bigger almighty fast, and there's a big cotton-land monopoly in
sight. Second, the banks and wholesale houses in the South _can_ control
the cotton output if they work together. Third, watch the Southern
'Farmers' League' of big landlords."

Mr. Easterly threw away his cigar and sat down. Taylor straightened up,
switched on the porch light, and took a bundle of papers from his coat
pocket.

"Here are census figures," he said, "commercial reports and letters."
They pored over them a half hour. Then Easterly arose.

"There's something in it," he admitted, "but what can we do? What do you
propose?"

"Monopolize the growth as well as the manufacture of cotton, and use
the first to club European manufacturers into submission."

Easterly stared at him.

"Good Lord!" he ejaculated; "you're crazy!"

But Taylor smiled a slow, thin smile, and put away his papers. Easterly
continued to stare at his subordinate with a sort of fascination, with
the awe that one feels when genius unexpectedly reveals itself from a
source hitherto regarded as entirely ordinary. At last he drew a long
breath, remarking indefinitely:

"I'll think it over."

A stir in the parlor indicated departure.

"Well, you watch the Farmers' League, and note its success and methods,"
counselled John Taylor, his tone and manner unchanged. "Then figure what
it might do in the hands of--let us say, friends."

"Who's running it?"

"A Colonel Cresswell is its head, and happens also to be the force
behind it. Aristocratic family--big planter--near where my sister
teaches."

"H'm--well, we'll watch _him_."

"And say," as Easterly was turning away, "you know Congressman Smith?"

"I should say I did."

"Well, Mrs. Grey seems to be depending on him for advice in distributing
some of her charity funds."

Easterly appeared startled.

"She is, is she!" he exclaimed. "But here come the ladies." He went
forward at once, but John Taylor drew back. He noted Mrs. Vanderpool,
and thought her too thin and pale. The dashing young Miss Easterly was
more to his taste. He intended to have a wife like that one of these
days.

"Mary," said he to his sister as he finally rose to go, "tell me about
the Cresswells."

Mary explained to him at length the impossibility of her knowing much
about the local white aristocracy of Tooms County, and then told him all
she had heard.

"Mrs. Grey talked to you much?"

"Yes."

"About darky schools?"

"Yes."

"What does she intend to do?"

"I think she will aid Miss Smith first."

"Did you suggest anything?"

"Well, I told her what I thought about cooeperating with the local white
people."

"The Cresswells?"

"Yes--you see Mrs. Vanderpool knows the Cresswells."

"Does, eh? Good! Say, that's a good point. You just bear heavy on
it--cooeperate with the Cresswells."

"Why, yes. But--you see, John, I don't just know whether one _could_
cooeperate with the Cresswells or not--one hears such contradictory
stories of them. But there must be some other white people--"

"Stuff! It's the Cresswells we want."

"Well," Mary was very dubious, "they are--the most important."




_Seven_


THE PLACE OF DREAMS

When she went South late in September, Mary Taylor had two definite but
allied objects: she was to get all possible business information
concerning the Cresswells, and she was to induce Miss Smith to prepare
for Mrs. Grey's benevolence by interesting the local whites in her work.
The programme attracted Miss Taylor. She felt in touch, even if dimly
and slightly, with great industrial movements, and she felt, too, like a
discerning pioneer in philanthropy. Both roles she liked. Besides, they
held, each, certain promises of social prestige; and society, Miss
Taylor argued, one must have even in Alabama.

Bles Alwyn met her at the train. He was growing to be a big fine bronze
giant, and Mary was glad to see him. She especially tried, in the first
few weeks of opening school, to glean as much information as possible
concerning the community, and particularly the Cresswells. She found the
Negro youth quicker, surer, and more intelligent in his answers than
those she questioned elsewhere, and she gained real enjoyment from her
long talks with him.

"Isn't Bles developing splendidly?" she said to Miss Smith one
afternoon. There was an unmistakable note of enthusiasm in her voice.
Miss Smith slowly closed her letter-file but did not look up.

"Yes," she said crisply. "He's eighteen now--quite a man."

"And most interesting to talk with."

"H'm--very"--drily. Mary was busy with her own thoughts, and she did not
notice the other woman's manner.

"Do you know," she pursued, "I'm a little afraid of one thing."

"So am I."

"Oh, you've noted it, too?--his friendship for that impossible girl,
Zora?"

Miss Smith gave her a searching look.

"What of it?" she demanded.

"She is so far beneath him."

"How so?"

"She is a bold, godless thing; I don't understand her."

"The two are not quite the same."

"Of course not; but she is unnaturally forward."

"Too bright," Miss Smith amplified.

"Yes; she knows quite too much. You surely remember that awful scarlet
dress? Well, all her clothes have arrived, or remained, at a simplicity
and vividness that is--well--immodest."

"Does she think them immodest?"

"What she thinks is a problem."

"_The_ problem, you mean?"

"Well, yes."

They paused a moment. Then Miss Smith said slowly: "What I don't
understand, I don't judge."

"No, but you can't always help seeing and meeting it," laughed Miss
Taylor.

"Certainly not. I don't try; I court the meeting and seeing. It is the
only way."

"Well, perhaps, for us--but not for a boy like Bles, and a girl like
Zora."

"True; men and women must exercise judgment in their intercourse
and"--she glanced sharply at Miss Taylor--"my dear, you yourself must
not forget that Bles Alwyn is a man."

Far up the road came a low, long, musical shouting; then with creaking
and straining of wagons, four great black mules dashed into sight with
twelve bursting bales of yellowish cotton looming and swaying behind.
The drivers and helpers were lolling and laughing and singing, but Miss
Taylor did not hear nor see. She had sat suddenly upright; her face had
flamed crimson, and then went dead white.

"Miss--Miss Smith!" she gasped, overwhelmed with dismay, a picture of
wounded pride and consternation.

Miss Smith turned around very methodically and took her hand; but while
she spoke the girl merely stared at her in stony silence.

"Now, dear, don't mean more than I do. I'm an old woman, and I've seen
many things. This is but a little corner of the world, and yet many
people pass here in thirty years. The trouble with new teachers who come
is, that like you, they cannot see black folk as human. All to them are
either impossible Zoras, or else lovable Blessings. They forget that
Zora is not to be annihilated, but studied and understood, and that Bles
is a young man of eighteen and not a clod."

"But that he should dare--" Mary began breathlessly.

"He hasn't dared," Miss Smith went gently on. "No thought of you but as
a teacher has yet entered his dear, simple head. But, my point is simply
this: he's a man, and a human one, and if you keep on making much over
him, and talking to him and petting him, he'll have the right to
interpret your manner in his own way--the same that any young man
would."

"But--but, he's a--a--"

"A Negro. To be sure, he is; and a man in addition. Now, dear, don't
take this too much to heart; this is not a rebuke, but a clumsy warning.
I am simply trying to make clear to you _why_ you should be careful.
Treat poor Zora a little more lovingly, and Bles a little less warmly.
They are just human--but, oh! so human."

Mary Taylor rose up stiffly and mumbled a brief good-night. She went to
her room, and sat down in the dark. The mere mention of the thing was to
her so preposterous--no, loathsome, she kept repeating.

She slowly undressed in the dark, and heard the rumbling of the cotton
wagons as they swayed toward town. The cry of the Naked was sweeping the
world, and yonder in the night black men were answering the call. They
knew not what or why they answered, but obeyed the irresistible call,
with hearts light and song upon their lips--the Song of Service. They
lashed their mules and drank their whiskey, and all night the piled
fleece swept by Mary Taylor's window, flying--flying to that far cry.
Miss Taylor turned uneasily in her bed and jerked the bed-clothes about
her ears.

"Mrs. Vanderpool is right," she confided to the night, with something of
the awe with which one suddenly comprehends a hidden oracle; "there must
be a difference, always, always! That impudent Negro!"

All night she dreamed, and all day,--especially when trim and immaculate
she sat in her chair and looked down upon fifty dark faces--and upon
Zora.

Zora sat thinking. She saw neither Miss Taylor nor the long straight
rows of desks and faces. She heard neither the drone of the spellers nor
did she hear Miss Taylor say, "Zora!" She heard and saw none of this.
She only heard the prattle of the birds in the wood, far down where the
Silver Fleece would be planted.

For the time of cotton-planting was coming; the gray and drizzle of
December was past and the hesitation, of January. Already a certain
warmth and glow had stolen into the air, and the Swamp was calling its
child with low, seductive voice. She knew where the first leaves were
bursting, where tiny flowers nestled, and where young living things
looked upward to the light and cried and crawled. A wistful longing was
stealing into her heart. She wanted to be free. She wanted to run and
dance and sing, but Bles wanted--

"Zora!"

This time she heard the call, but did not heed it. Miss Taylor was very
tiresome, and was forever doing and saying silly things. So Zora paid no
attention, but sat still and thought. Yes, she would show Bles the place
that very night; she had kept it secret from him until now, out of
perverseness, out of her love of mystery and secrets. But tonight, after
school, when he met her on the big road with the clothes, she would take
him and show him the chosen spot.

Soon she was aware that school had been dismissed, and she leisurely
gathered up her books and rose. Mary Taylor regarded her in perplexed
despair. Oh, these people! Mrs. Vanderpool was right: culture and--some
masses, at least--were not to be linked; and, too, culture and
work--were they incompatible? At any rate, culture and _this_ work were.

Now, there was Mrs. Vanderpool--she toiled not, neither did she spin,
and yet! If all these folk were like poor, stupid, docile Jennie it
would be simpler, but what earthly sense was there in trying do to
anything with a girl like Zora, so stupid in some matters, so
startlingly bright in others, and so stubborn in everything? Here, she
was doing some work twice as well and twice as fast as the class, and
other work she would not touch because she "didn't like it." Her
classification in school was nearly as difficult as her classification
in the world, and Miss Taylor reached up impatiently and removed the
gold pin from her stock to adjust it more comfortably when Zora
sauntered past unseeing, unheeding, with that curious gliding walk which
Miss Taylor called stealthy. She laid the pin on the desk and on sudden
impulse spoke again to the girl as she arranged her neck trimmings.

"Zora," she said evenly, "why didn't you come to class when I called?"

"I didn't hear you," said Zora, looking at her full-eyed and telling the
half-truth easily.

Miss Taylor was sure Zora was lying, and she knew that she had lied to
her on other occasions. Indeed, she had found lying customary in this
community, and she had a New England horror of it. She looked at Zora
disapprovingly, while Zora looked at her quite impersonally, but
steadily. Then Miss Taylor braced herself, mentally, and took the war
into Africa.

"Do you ever tell lies, Zora?"

"Yes."

"Don't you know that is a wicked, bad habit?"

"Why?"

"Because God hates them."

"How does _you_ know He does?" Zora's tone was still impersonal.

"He hates all evil."

"But why is lies evil?"

"Because they make us deceive each other."

"Is that wrong?"

"Yes."

Zora bent forward and looked squarely into Miss Taylor's blue eyes. Miss
Taylor looked into the velvet blackness of hers and wondered what they
veiled.

"Is it wrong," asked Zora, "to make believe you likes people when you
don't, when you'se afeared of them and thinks they may rub off and dirty
you?"

"Why--why--yes, if you--if you, deceive."

"Then you lies sometimes, don't you?"

Miss Taylor stared helplessly at the solemn eyes that seemed to look so
deeply into her.

"Perhaps--I do, Zora; I'm sure I don't mean to, and--I hope God will
forgive me."

Zora softened.

"Oh, I reckon He will if He's a good God, because He'd know that lies
like that are heaps better than blabbing the truth right out. Only," she
added severely, "you mustn't keep saying it's wicked to lie 'cause it
ain't. Sometimes I lies," she reflected pensively, "and sometimes I
don't--it depends."

Miss Taylor forgot her collar, and fingered the pin on the desk. She
felt at once a desperate desire to know this girl better and to
establish her own authority. Yet how should she do it? She kept toying
with the pin, and Zora watched her. Then Miss Taylor said, absently:

"Zora, what do you propose to do when you grow up?"

Zora considered.

"Think and walk--and rest," she concluded.

"I mean, what work?"

"Work? Oh, I sha'n't work. I don't like work--do you?"

Miss Taylor winced, wondering if the girl were lying again. She said
quickly:

"Why, yes--that is, I like some kinds of work."

"What kinds?"

But Miss Taylor refused to have the matter made personal, as Zora had a
disconcerting way of pointing all their discussions.

"Everybody likes some kinds of work," she insisted.

"If you likes it, it ain't work," declared Zora; but Mary Taylor
proceeded around her circumscribed circle:

"You might make a good cook, or a maid."

"I hate cooking. What's a maid?"

"Why, a woman who helps others."

"Helps folks that they love? I'd like that."

"It is not a question of affection," said Miss Taylor, firmly: "one is
paid for it."

"I wouldn't work for pay."

"But you'll have to, child; you'll have to earn a living."

"Do you work for pay?"

"I work to earn a living."

"Same thing, I reckon, and it ain't true. Living just comes free,
like--like sunshine."

"Stuff! Zora, your people must learn to work and work steadily and work
hard--" She stopped, for she was sure Zora was not listening; the far
away look was in her eyes and they were shining. She was beautiful as
she stood there--strangely, almost uncannily, but startlingly beautiful
with her rich dark skin, softly moulded features, and wonderful eyes.

"My people?--my people?" she murmured, half to herself. "Do you know my
people? They don't never work; they plays. They is all little, funny
dark people. They flies and creeps and crawls, slippery-like; and they
cries and calls. Ah, my people! my poor little people! they misses me
these days, because they is shadowy things that sing and smell and bloom
in dark and terrible nights--"

Miss Taylor started up. "Zora, I believe you're crazy!" she cried. But
Zora was looking at her calmly again.

"We'se both crazy, ain't we?" she returned, with a simplicity that left
the teacher helpless.

Miss Taylor hurried out, forgetting her pin. Zora looked it over
leisurely, and tried it on. She decided that she liked it, and putting
it in her pocket, went out too.

School was out but the sun was still high, as Bles hurried from the barn
up the big road beside the soft shadows of the swamp. His head was busy
with new thoughts and his lips were whistling merrily, for today Zora
was to show him the long dreamed of spot for the planting of the Silver
Fleece. He hastened toward the Cresswell mansion, and glanced anxiously
up the road. At last he saw her coming, swinging down the road, lithe
and dark, with the big white basket of clothes poised on her head.

"Zora," he yodled, and she waved her apron.

He eased her burden to the ground and they sat down together, he
nervous and eager; she silent, passive, but her eyes restless. Bles was
full of his plans.

"Zora," he said, "we'll make it the finest bale ever raised in Tooms;
we'll just work it to the inch--just love it into life."

She considered the matter intently.

"But,"--presently,--"how can we sell it without the Cresswells knowing?"

"We won't try; we'll just take it to them and give them half, like the
other tenants."

"But the swamp is mortal thick and hard to clear."

"We can do it."

Zora had sat still, listening; but now, suddenly, she leapt to her feet.

"Come," she said, "I'll take the clothes home, then we'll go"--she
glanced at him--"down where the dreams are." And laughing, they hurried
on.

Elspeth stood in the path that wound down to the cottage, and without a
word Zora dropped the basket at her feet. She turned back; but Bles,
struck by a thought, paused. The old woman was short, broad, black and
wrinkled, with yellow fangs, red hanging lips, and wicked eyes. She
leered at them; the boy shrank before it, but stood his ground.

"Aunt Elspeth," he began, "Zora and I are going to plant and tend some
cotton to pay for her schooling--just the very best cotton we can
find--and I heard"--he hesitated,--"I heard you had some wonderful
seed."

"Yes," she mumbled, "I'se got the seed--I'se got it--wonder seed, sowed
wid the three spells of Obi in the old land ten tousand moons ago. But
you couldn't plant it," with a sudden shrillness, "it would kill you."

"But--" Bles tried to object, but she waved him away.

"Git the ground--git the ground; dig it--pet it, and we'll see what
we'll see." And she disappeared.

Zora was not sure that it had been wise to tell their secret.

"I was going to steal the seed," she said. "I knows where it is, and I
don't fear conjure."

"You mustn't steal, Zora," said Bles, gravely.

"Why?" Zora quickly asked.

But before he answered, they both forgot; for their faces were turned
toward the wonder of the swamp. The golden sun was pouring floods of
glory through the slim black trees, and the mystic sombre pools caught
and tossed back the glow in darker, duller crimson. Long echoing cries
leapt to and fro; silent footsteps crept hither and yonder; and the
girl's eyes gleamed with a wild new joy.

"The dreams!" she cried. "The dreams!" And leaping ahead, she danced
along the shadowed path. He hastened after her, but she flew fast and
faster; he followed, laughing, calling, pleading. He saw her twinkling
limbs a-dancing as once he saw them dance in a halo of firelight; but
now the fire was the fire of the world. Her garments twined and flew in
shadowy drapings about the perfect moulding of her young and dark
half-naked figure. Her heavy hair had burst its fastenings and lay in
stiffened, straggling masses, bending reluctantly to the breeze, like
curled smoke; while all about, the mad, wild singing rose and fell and
trembled, till his head whirled. He paused uncertainly at a parting of
the paths, crying:

"Zora! Zora!" as for some lost soul. "Zora! Zora!" echoed the cry,
faintly.

Abruptly the music fell; there came a long slow-growing silence; and
then, with a flutter, she was beside him again, laughing in his ears and
crying with mocking voice:

"Is you afeared, honey?"

He saw in her eyes sweet yearnings, but could speak nothing. He could
only clasp her hand tightly, and again down they raced through the wood.

All at once the swamp changed and chilled to a dull grayness; tall,
dull trees started down upon the murky waters; and long pendent
streamings of moss-like tears dripped from tree to earth. Slowly and
warily they threaded their way.

"Are you sure of the path, Zora?" he once inquired anxiously.

"I could find it asleep," she answered, skipping sure-footed onward. He
continued to hold her hand tightly, and his own pace never slackened.
Around them the gray and death-like wilderness darkened. They felt and
saw the cold white mist rising slowly from the ground, and waters
growing blacker and broader.

At last they came to what seemed the end. Silently and dismally the
half-dead forest, with its ghostly moss, lowered and darkened, and the
black waters spread into a great silent lake of slimy ooze. The dead
trunk of a fallen tree lay straight in front, torn and twisted, its top
hidden yonder and mingled with impenetrable undergrowth.

"Where now, Zora?" he cried.

In a moment she had slipped her hand away and was scrambling upon the
tree trunk. The waters yawned murkily below.

"Careful! careful!" he warned, struggling after her until she
disappeared amid the leaves. He followed eagerly, but cautiously; and
all at once found himself confronting a paradise.

Before them lay a long island, opening to the south, on the black lake,
but sheltered north and east by the dense undergrowth of the black swamp
and the rampart of dead and living trees. The soil was virgin and black,
thickly covered over with a tangle of bushes, vines, and smaller growth
all brilliant with early leaves and wild flowers.

"A pretty tough proposition for clearing and ploughing," said Bles, with
practised eye. But Zora eagerly surveyed the prospect.

"It's where the Dreams lives," she whispered.

Meantime Miss Taylor had missed her brooch and searched for it in vain.
In the midst of this pursuit the truth occurred to her--Zora had stolen
it. Negroes would steal, everybody said. Well, she must and would have
the pin, and she started for Elspeth's cabin.

On the way she met the old woman in the path, but got little
satisfaction. Elspeth merely grunted ungraciously while eyeing the white
woman with suspicion.

Mary Taylor, again alone, sat down at a turn in the path, just out of
sight of the house, and waited. Soon she saw, with a certain grim
satisfaction, Zora and Bles emerging from the swamp engaged in earnest
conversation. Here was an opportunity to overwhelm both with an
unforgettable reprimand. She rose before them like a spectral vengeance.

"Zora, I want my pin."

Bles started and stared; but Zora eyed her calmly with something like
disdain.

"What pin?" she returned, unmoved.

"Zora, don't deny that you took my pin from the desk this afternoon,"
the teacher commanded severely.

"I didn't say I didn't take no pin."

"Persons who will lie and steal will do anything."

"Why shouldn't people do anything they wants to?"

"And you knew the pin was mine."

"I saw you a-wearing of it," admitted Zora easily.

"Then you have stolen it, and you are a thief."

Still Zora appeared to be unimpressed with the heinousness of her fault.

"Did you make that pin?" she asked.

"No, but it is mine."

"Why is it yours?"

"Because it was given to me."

"But you don't need it; you've got four other prettier ones--I counted."

"That makes no difference."

"Yes it does--folks ain't got no right to things they don't need."

"That makes no difference, Zora, and you know it. The pin is mine. You
stole it. If you had wanted a pin and asked me I might have given you--"

The girl blazed.

"I don't want your old gifts," she almost hissed. "You don't own what
you don't need and can't use. God owns it and I'm going to send it back
to Him."

With a swift motion she whipped the pin from her pocket and raised her
arm to hurl it into the swamp. Bles caught her hand. He caught it
lightly and smiled sorrowfully into her eyes. She wavered a moment, then
the answering light sprang to her face. Dropping the brooch into his
hand, she wheeled and fled toward the cabin.

Bles handed it silently to Miss Taylor. Mary Taylor was beside herself
with impatient anger--and anger intensified by a conviction of utter
helplessness to cope with any strained or unusual situations between
herself and these two.

"Alwyn," she said sharply, "I shall report Zora for stealing. And you
may report yourself to Miss Smith tonight for disrespect toward a
teacher."




_Eight_


MR. HARRY CRESSWELL


The Cresswells, father and son, were at breakfast. The daughter was
taking her coffee and rolls up stairs in bed.

"P'sh! I don't like it!" declared Harry Cresswell, tossing the letter
back to his father. "I tell you, it is a damned Yankee trick."

He was a man of thirty-five, smooth and white, slight, well-bred and
masterful. His father, St. John Cresswell, was sixty, white-haired,
mustached and goateed; a stately, kindly old man with a temper and much
family pride.

"Well, well," he said, his air half preoccupied, half unconcerned, "I
suppose so--and yet"--he read the letter again, aloud: "'Approaching you
as one of the most influential landowners of Alabama, on a confidential
matter'--h'm--h'm--'a combination of capital and power, such as this
nation has never seen'--'cotton manufacturers and cotton growers.' ...
Well, well! Of course, I suppose there's nothing in it. And yet, Harry,
my boy, this cotton-growing business is getting in a pretty tight pinch.
Unless relief comes somehow--well, we'll just have to quit. We simply
can't keep the cost of cotton down to a remunerative figure with niggers
getting scarcer and dearer. Every year I have to pinch 'em closer and
closer. I had to pay Maxwell two hundred and fifty to get that old darky
and his boys turned over to me, and one of the young ones has run away
already."

Harry lighted a cigarette.

"We must drive them more. You're too easy, father; they understand that.
By the way, what did that letter say about a 'sister'?"

"Says he's got a sister over at the nigger school whom perhaps we know.
I suppose he thinks we dine there occasionally." The old man chuckled.
"That reminds me, Elspeth is sending her girl there."

"What's that?" An angry gleam shot into the younger man's eye.

"Yes. She announced this morning, pert as you please, that she couldn't
tote clothes any more--she had to study."

"Damn it! This thing is going too far. We can't keep a maid or a
plough-boy on the place because of this devilish school. It's going to
ruin the whole labor system. We've been too mild and decent. I'm going
to put my foot down right here. I'll make Elspeth take that girl out of
school if I have to horse-whip her, and I'll warn the school against
further interference with our tenants. Here, in less than a week, go two
plough-hands--and now this girl."

The old man smiled.

"You'll hardly miss any work Zora does," he said.

"I'll make her work. She's giving herself too many damned airs. I know
who's back of this--it's that nigger we saw talking to the white woman
in the field the other day."

"Well, don't work yourself up. The wench don't amount to much anyhow. By
the way, though, if you do go to the school it won't hurt to see this
Taylor's sister and size the family up."

"Pshaw! I'm going to give the Smith woman such a scare that she'll keep
her hands off our niggers." And Harry Cresswell rode away.

Mary Taylor had charge of the office that morning, while Miss Smith,
shut up in her bedroom, went laboriously over her accounts. Miss Mary
suddenly sat up, threw a hasty glance into the glass and felt the back
of her belt. It was--it couldn't be--surely, it was Mr. Harry Cresswell
riding through the gateway on his beautiful white mare. He kicked the
gate open rather viciously, did not stop to close it, and rode straight
across the lawn. Miss Taylor noticed his riding breeches and leggings,
his white linen and white, clean-cut, high-bred face. Such apparitions
were few about the country lands. She felt inclined to flutter, but
gripped herself.

"Good-morning," she said, a little stiffly.

Mr. Cresswell halted and stared; then lifting the hat which he had
neglected to remove in crossing the hall, he bowed in stately grace.
Miss Taylor was no ordinary picture. Her brown hair was almost golden;
her dark eyes shone blue; her skin was clear and healthy, and her white
dress--happy coincidence!--had been laundered that very morning. Her
half-suppressed excitement at the sudden duty of welcoming the great
aristocrat of the county, gave a piquancy to her prettiness.

"The--devil!" commented Mr. Harry Cresswell to himself. But to Miss
Taylor:

"I beg pardon--er--Miss Smith?"

"No--I'm sorry. Miss Smith is engaged this morning. I am Miss Taylor."

"I cannot share Miss Taylor's sorrow," returned Mr. Cresswell gravely,
"for I believe I have the honor of some correspondence with Miss
Taylor's brother." Mr. Cresswell searched for the letter, but did not
find it.

"Oh! Has John written you?" She beamed suddenly. "I'm so glad. It's more
than he's done for me this three-month. I beg your pardon--do sit
down--I think you'll find this one easier. Our stock of chairs is
limited."

It was delightful to have a casual meeting receive this social stamp;
the girl was all at once transfigured--animated, glowing, lovely; all of
which did not escape the caller's appraising inspection.

"There!" said Mr. Cresswell. "I've left your gate gaping."

"Oh, don't mind ... I hope John's well?"

"The truth is," confessed Cresswell, "it was a business matter--cotton,
you know."

"John is nothing but cotton; I tell him his soul is fibrous."

"He mentioned your being here and I thought I'd drop over and welcome
you to the South."

"Thank you," returned Miss Taylor, reddening with pleasure despite
herself. There was a real sincerity in the tone. All this confirmed so
many convictions of hers.

"Of course, you know how it is in the South," Cresswell pursued, the
opening having been so easily accomplished.

"I understand perfectly."

"My sister would be delighted to meet you, but--"

"Oh I realize the--difficulties."

"Perhaps you wouldn't mind riding by some day--it's embarrassing to
suggest this, but, you know--"

Miss Taylor was perfectly self-possessed.

"Mr. Cresswell," she said seriously, "I know very well that it wouldn't
do for your sister to call here, and I sha'n't mind a bit coming by to
see her first. I don't believe in standing on stupid ceremony."

Cresswell thanked her with quiet cordiality, and suggested that when he
was driving by he might pick her up in his gig some morning. Miss Taylor
expressed her pleasure at the prospect. Then the talk wandered to
general matters--the rain, the trees, the people round about, and,
inevitably--the Negro.

"Oh, by the bye," said Mr. Cresswell, frowning and hesitating over the
recollection of his errand's purpose, "there was one matter"--he paused.
Miss Taylor leant forward, all interest. "I hardly know that I ought to
mention it, but your school--"

This charming young lady disarmed his truculent spirit, and the usually
collected and determined young man was at a loss how to proceed. The
girl, however, was obviously impressed and pleased by his evidence of
interest, whatever its nature; so in a manner vastly different from the
one he had intended to assume, he continued:

"There is a way in which we may be of service to you, and that is by
enlightening you upon points concerning which the nature of your
position--both as teacher and socially--must keep you in the dark.

"For instance, all these Negroes are, as you know, of wretchedly low
morals; but there are a few so depraved that it would be suicidal to
take them into this school. We recognize the good you are doing, but we
do not want it more than offset by utter lack of discrimination in
choosing your material."

"Certainly not--have we--" Miss Mary faltered. This beginning was a bit
ominous, wholly unexpected.

"There is a girl, Zora, who has just entered, who--I must speak
candidly--who ought not to be here; I thought it but right to let you
know."

"Thank you, so much. I'll tell Miss Smith." Mary Taylor suddenly felt
herself a judge of character. "I suspected that she was--not what she
ought to be. Believe me, we appreciate your interest."

A few more words, and Mr. Cresswell, after bending courteously over her
hand with a deference no New Englander had ever shown, was riding away
on his white mare.

For a while Mary Taylor sat very quietly. It was like a breath of air
from the real world, this hour's chat with a well-bred gentleman. She
wondered how she had done her part--had she been too eager and
school-girlish? Had she met this stately ceremony with enough breeding
to show that she too was somebody? She pounced upon Miss Smith the
minute that lady entered the office.

"Miss Smith, who do you think has been here?" she burst out
enthusiastically.

"I saw him on the lawn." There was a suspicious lack of warmth in this
brief affirmation.

"He was so gracious and kindly, and he knows my brother. And oh, Miss
Smith! we've got to send that Zora right away."

"Indeed"--the observation was not even interrogatory. The preceptress of
the struggling school for Negro children merely evinced patience for the
younger woman's fervency.

"Yes; he says she's utterly depraved."

"Said that, did he?" Miss Smith watched her with tranquil regard. Miss
Taylor paused.

"Of course, we cannot think of keeping her."

Miss Smith pursed her lips, offering her first expression of opinion.

"I guess we'll worry along with her a little while anyhow," she said.

The girl stared at Miss Smith in honest, if unpardonable, amazement.

"Do you mean to say that you are going to keep in this school a girl who
not only lies and steals but is positively--_immoral_?"

Miss Smith smiled, wholly unmoved.

"No; but I mean that _I_ am here to learn from those whose ideas of
right do not agree with mine, to discover _why_ they differ, and to let
them learn of me--so far as I am worthy."

Mary Taylor was not unappreciative of Miss Smith's stern
high-mindedness, but her heart hardened at this, to her, misdirected
zeal. Echo of the spirit of an older day, Miss Smith seemed, to her, to
be cramped and paralyzed in an armor of prejudice and sectionalisms.
Plain-speaking was the only course, and Mary, if a little complacent
perhaps in her frankness, was sincere in her purpose.

"I think, Miss Smith, you are making a very grave mistake. I regard
Zora as a very undesirable person from every point of view. I look upon
Mr. Cresswell's visit today as almost providential. He came offering an
olive branch from the white aristocracy to this work; to bespeak his
appreciation and safeguard the future. Moreover," and Miss Taylor's
voice gathered firmness despite Miss Smith's inscrutable eye, "moreover,
I have reason to know that the disposition--indeed, the plan--in certain
quarters to help this work materially depends very largely on your
willingness to meet the advances of the Southern whites half way."

She paused for a reply or a question. Receiving neither, she walked with
dignity up the stairs. From her window she could see Cresswell's
straight shoulders, as he rode toward town, and beyond him a black speck
in the road. But she could not see the smile on Mr. Cresswell's lips,
nor did she hear him remark twice, with seeming irrelevance, "The
devil!"

The rider, being closer to it, recognized in Mary Taylor's "black speck"
Bles Alwyn walking toward him rapidly with axe and hoe on shoulder,
whistling merrily. They saw each other almost at the same moment and
whistle and smile faded. Mr. Cresswell knew the Negro by sight and
disliked him. He belonged in his mind to that younger class of
half-educated blacks who were impudent and disrespectful toward their
superiors, not even touching his hat when he met a white man. Moreover,
he was sure that it was Miss Taylor with whom this boy had been talking
so long and familiarly in the cotton-field last Spring--an offence
doubly heinous now that he had seen Miss Taylor.

His first impulse was to halt the Negro then and there and tell him a
few plain truths. But he did not feel quarrelsome at the moment, and
there was, after all, nothing very tangible to justify a berating. The
fellow's impudence was sure to increase, and then! So he merely reined
his horse to the better part of the foot-path and rode on.

Bles, too, was thinking. He knew the well-dressed man with his
milk-white face and overbearing way. He would expect to be greeted with
raised hat but Bles bit his lips and pulled down his cap firmly. The
axe, too, in some indistinct way felt good in his hand. He saw the horse
coming in his pathway and stepping aside in the dust continued on his
way, neither looking nor speaking.

So they passed each other by, Mr. Cresswell to town, Bles to the swamp,
apparently ignorant of each other's very existence. Yet, as the space
widened between them, each felt a more vindictive anger for the other.

How dares the black puppy to ignore a Cresswell on the highway? If this
went on, the day would surely come when Negroes felt no respect or fear
whatever for whites? And then--my God! Mr. Cresswell struck his mare a
vicious blow and dashed toward town.

The black boy, too, went his way in silent, burning rage. Why should he
be elbowed into the roadside dust by an insolent bully? Why had he not
stood his ground? Pshaw! All this fine frenzy was useless, and he knew
it. The sweat oozed on his forehead. It wasn't man against man, or he
would have dragged the pale puppy from his horse and rubbed his face in
the earth. It wasn't even one against many, else how willingly, swinging
his axe, would have stood his ground before a mob.

No, it was one against a world, a world of power, opinion, wealth,
opportunity; and he, the one, must cringe and bear in silence lest the
world crash about the ears of his people. He slowly plodded on in bitter
silence toward the swamp. But the day was balmy, the way was beautiful;
contempt slowly succeeded anger, and hope soon triumphed over all. For
yonder was Zora, poised, waiting. And behind her lay the Field of
Dreams.




_Nine_


THE PLANTING


Zora looked down upon Bles, where he stood to his knees in mud. The toil
was beyond exhilaration--it was sickening weariness and panting despair.
The great roots, twined in one unbroken snarl, clung frantically to the
black soil. The vines and bushes fought back with thorn and bramble.
Zora stood wiping the blood from her hands and staring at Bles. She saw
the long gnarled fingers of the tough little trees and they looked like
the fingers of Elspeth down there beneath the earth pulling against the
boy. Slowly Zora forgot her blood and pain. Who would win--the witch, or
Jason?

Bles looked up and saw the bleeding hands. With a bound he was beside
her.

"Zora!" The cry seemed wrung from his heart by contrition. Why had he
not known--not seen before! "Zora, come right out of this! Sit down here
and rest."

She looked at him unwaveringly; there was no flinching of her spirit.

"I sha'n't do it," she said. "You'se working, and I'se going to work."

"But--Zora--you're not used to such work, and I am. You're tired out."

"So is you," was her reply.

He looked himself over ruefully, and dropping his axe, sat down beside
her on a great log. Silently they contemplated the land; it seemed
indeed a hopeless task. Then they looked at each other in sudden,
unspoken fear of failure.

"If we only had a mule!" he sighed. Immediately her face lighted and her
lips parted, but she said nothing. He presently bounded to his feet.

"Never mind, Zora. To-morrow is Saturday, and I'll work all day. We just
_will_ get it done--sometime." His mouth closed with determination.

"We won't work any more today, then?" cried Zora, her eagerness
betraying itself despite her efforts to hide it.

"_You_ won't," affirmed Bles. "But I've got to do just a little--"

But Zora was adamant: he was tired; she was tired; they would rest.
To-morrow with the rising sun they would begin again.

"There'll be a bright moon tonight," ventured Bles.

"Then I'll come too," Zora announced positively, and he had to promise
for her sake to rest.

They went up the path together and parted diffidently, he watching her
flit away with sorrowful eyes, a little disturbed and puzzled at the
burden he had voluntarily assumed, but never dreaming of drawing back.

Zora did not go far. No sooner did she know herself well out of his
sight than she dropped lightly down beside the path, listening intently
until the last echo of his footsteps had died away. Then, leaving the
cabin on her right, and the scene of their toil on her left, she cut
straight through the swamp, skirted the big road, and in a half-hour
was in the lower meadows of the Cresswell plantations, where the tired
stock was being turned out to graze for the night. Here, in the shadow
of the wood, she lingered. Slowly, but with infinite patience, she broke
one strand after another of the barbed-wire fencing, watching, the
while, the sun grow great and crimson, and die at last in mighty
splendor behind the dimmer westward forests.

The voices of the hands and hostlers grew fainter and thinner in the
distance of purple twilight until the last of them disappeared. Silence
fell, deep and soft; the silence of a day sinking to sleep. Not until
then did Zora steal forth from her hiding-place.

She had chosen her mule long before--a big, black beast, snorting over
his pile of corn,--and gliding up to him, she gathered his supper into
her skirt, found a stout halter, and fed him sparingly as he followed
her. Quickly she unfastened the pieces of the fence, led the animal
through, and spliced them again; and then, with fox-like caution, she
guided her prize through the labyrinthine windings of the swamp. It was
dark and haunting, and ever and again rose lonely night cries. The girl
trembled a little, but plodded resolutely on until the dim silver disk
of the half-moon began to glimmer through the trees. Then she pressed on
more swiftly, and fed more scantily, until finally, with the moonlight
pouring over them at the black lagoon, Zora attempted to drive the
animal into the still waters; but he gave a loud protesting snort and
balked. By subtle temptings she gave him to understand that plenty lay
beyond the dark waters, and quickly swinging herself to his back she
started to ride him up and down along the edge of the lagoon, petting
and whispering to him of good things beyond. Slowly her eyes grew wide;
she seemed to be riding out of dreamland on some hobgoblin beast.

Deeper and deeper they penetrated into the dark waters. Now they entered
the slime; now they stumbled on hidden roots; but deeper and deeper they
waded until at last, turning the animal's head with a jerk, and giving
him a sharp stroke of the whip, she headed straight for the island. A
moment the beast snorted and plunged; higher and higher the black still
waters rose round the girl. They crept up her little limbs, swirled
round her breasts and gleamed green and slimy along her shoulders. A
wild terror gripped her. Maybe she was riding the devil's horse, and
these were the yawning gates of hell, black and sombre beneath the cold,
dead radiance of the moon. She saw again the gnarled and black and
claw-like fingers of Elspeth gripping and dragging her down.

A scream struggled in her breast, her fingers relaxed, and the big
beast, stretching his cramped neck, rose in one mighty plunge and
planted his feet on the sand of the island.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bles, hurrying down in the morning with new tools and new determination,
stopped and stared in blank amazement. Zora was perched in a tree
singing softly and beneath a fat black mule was finishing his breakfast.

"Zora--" he gasped, "how--how did you do it?"

She only smiled and sang a happier measure, pausing only to whisper:

"Dreams--dreams--it's all dreams here, I tells you."

Bles frowned and stood irresolute. The song proceeded with less
assurance, slower and lower, till it stopped, and the singer dropped to
the ground, watching him with wide eyes. He looked down at her, slight,
tired, scratched, but undaunted, striving blindly toward the light with
stanch, unfaltering faith. A pity surged in his heart. He put his arm
about her shoulders and murmured:

"You poor, brave child."

And she shivered with joy.

All day Saturday and part of Sunday they worked feverishly. The trees
crashed and the stumps groaned and crept up into the air, the brambles
blazed and smoked; little frightened animals fled for shelter; and a
wide black patch of rich loam broadened and broadened till it kissed,
on every side but the sheltered east, the black waters of the lagoon.
Late Sunday night the mule again swam the slimy lagoon, and disappeared
toward the Cresswell fields. Then Bles sat down beside Zora, facing the
fields, and gravely took her hand. She looked at him in quick,
breathless fear.

"Zora," he said, "sometimes you tell lies, don't you?"

"Yes," she said slowly; "sometimes."

"And, Zora, sometimes you steal--you stole the pin from Miss Taylor, and
we stole Mr. Cresswell's mule for two days."

"Yes," she said faintly, with a perplexed wrinkle in her brows, "I stole
it."

"Well, Zora, I don't want you ever to tell another lie, or ever to take
anything that doesn't belong to you."

She looked at him silently with the shadow of something like terror far
back in the depths of her deep eyes.

"Always--tell--the truth?" she repeated slowly.

"Yes."

Her fingers worked nervously.

"All the truth?" she asked.

He thought a while.

"No," said he finally, "it is not necessary always to tell all the
truth; but never tell anything that isn't the truth."

"Never?"

"Never."

"Even if it hurts me?"

"Even if it hurts. God is good, He will not let it hurt much."

"He's a fair God, ain't He?" she mused, scanning the evening sky.

"Yes--He's fair, He wouldn't take advantage of a little girl that did
wrong, when she didn't know it was wrong."

Her face lightened and she held his hands in both hers, and said
solemnly as though saying a prayer:

"I won't lie any more, and I won't steal--and--" she looked at him in
startled wistfulness--he remembered it in after years; but he felt he
had preached enough.

"And now for the seed!" he interrupted joyously. "And then--the Silver
Fleece!"

That night, for the first time, Bles entered Zora's home. It was a
single low, black room, smoke-shadowed and dirty, with two dingy beds
and a gaping fire-place. On one side of the fire-place sat the yellow
woman, young, with traces of beauty, holding the white child in her
arms; on the other, hugging the blaze, huddled a formless heap, wreathed
in coils of tobacco smoke--Elspeth, Zora's mother.

Zora said nothing, but glided in and stood in the shadows.

"Good-evening," said Bles cheerily. The woman with the baby alone
responded.

"I came for the seed you promised us--the cotton-seed."

The hag wheeled and approached him swiftly, grasping his shoulders and
twisting her face into his. She was a horrible thing--filthy of breath,
dirty, with dribbling mouth and red eyes. Her few long black teeth hung
loosely like tusks and the folds of fat on her chin curled down on her
great neck. Bles shuddered and stepped back.

"Is you afeared, honey?" she whispered.

"No," he said sturdily.

She chuckled drily. "Yes, you is--everybody's 'feared of old Elspeth;
but she won't hurt you--you's got the spell;" and wheeling again, she
was back at the fire.

"But the seed?" he ventured.

She pointed impressively roofward. "The dark of the moon, boy, the dark
of the moon--the first dark--at midnight." Bles could not wring another
word from her; nor did the ancient witch, by word or look, again give
the slightest indication that she was aware of his presence.

With reluctant farewell, Bles turned home. For a space Zora watched him,
and once she started after him, but came slowly back, and sat by the
fire-place.

Out of the night came voices and laughter, and the sound of wheels and
galloping horses. It was not the soft, rollicking laughter of black men,
but the keener, more metallic sound of white men's cries, and Bles Alwyn
paused at the edge of the wood, looked back and hesitated, but decided
after a moment to go home and to bed.

Zora, however, leapt to her feet and fled into the night, while the hag
screamed after her and cursed. There was tramping of feet on the cabin
floor, and loud voices and singing and cursing.

"Where's Zora?" some one yelled, with an oath. "Damn it! where is she? I
haven't seen her for a year, you old devil."

The hag whimpered and snarled. Far down in the field of the Fleece, Zora
lay curled beneath a tall dark tree asleep. All night there was coming
and going in the cabin; the talk and laughter grew loud and boisterous,
and the red fire glared in the night.

       *       *       *       *       *

The days flew by and the moon darkened. In the swamp, the hidden island
lay spaded and bedded, and Bles was throwing up a dyke around the edge;
Zora helped him until he came to the black oak at the western edge. It
was a large twisted thing with one low flying limb that curled out
across another tree and made a mighty seat above the waters.

"Don't throw the dirt too high there," she begged; "it'll bring my seat
too near the earth."

He looked up.

"Why, it's a throne," he laughed.

"It needs a roof," he whimsically told her when his day's work was done.
Deftly twisting and intertwining the branches of tree and bush, he wove
a canopy of living green that shadowed the curious nest and warded it
snugly from wind and water.

Early next morning Bles slipped down and improved the nest; adding
foot-rests to make the climbing easy, peep-holes east and west, a bit
of carpet over the bark, and on the rough main trunk, a little picture
in blue and gold of Bougereau's Madonna. Zora sat hidden and alone in
silent ecstasy. Bles peeped in--there was not room to enter: the girl
was staring silently at the Madonna. She seemed to feel rather than hear
his presence, and she inquired softly:

"Who's it, Bles?"

"The mother of God," he answered reverently.

"And why does she hold a lily?"

"It stands for purity--she was a good woman."

"With a baby," Zora added slowly.

"Yes--" said Bles, and then more quickly--"It is the Christ Child--God's
baby."

"God is the father of all the little babies, ain't He, Bles?"

"Why, yes--yes, of course; only this little baby didn't have any other
father."

"Yes, I know one like that," she said,--and then she added softly: "Poor
little Christ-baby."

Bles hesitated, and before he found words Zora was saying:

"How white she is; she's as white as the lily, Bles; but--I'm sorry
she's white--Bles, what's purity--just whiteness?"

Bles glanced at her awkwardly but she was still staring wide-eyed at the
picture, and her voice was earnest. She was now so old and again so much
a child, an eager questioning child, that there seemed about her
innocence something holy.

"It means," he stammered, groping for meanings--"it means being
good--just as good as a woman knows how."

She wheeled quickly toward him and asked him eagerly:

"Not better--not better than she knows, but just as good, in--lying and
stealing and--and everything?"

Bles smiled.

"No--not better than she knows, but just as good."

She trembled happily.

"I'm--pure," she said, with a strange little breaking voice and
gesture. A sob struggled in his throat.

"Of course you are," he whispered tenderly, hiding her little hands in
his.

"I--I was so afraid--sometimes--that I wasn't," she whispered, lifting
up to him her eyes streaming with tears. Silently he kissed her lips.

From that day on they walked together in a new world. No revealing word
was spoken; no vows were given, none asked for; but a new bond held
them. She grew older, quieter, taller, he humbler, more tender and
reverent, as they toiled together.

So the days passed. The sun burned in the heavens; but the silvered
glory of the moon grew fainter and fainter and each night it rose later
than the night before. Then one day Zora whispered:

"Tonight!"

Bles came to the cabin, and he and Zora and Elspeth sat silently around
the fire-place with its meagre embers. The night was balmy and still;
only occasionally a wandering breeze searching the hidden places of the
swamp, or the call and song of night birds, jarred the stillness. Long
they sat, until the silence crept into Bles's flesh, and stretching out
his hand, he touched Zora's, clasping it.

After a time the old woman rose and hobbled to a big black chest. Out of
it she brought an old bag of cotton seed--not the white-green seed which
Bles had always known, but small, smooth black seeds, which she handled
carefully, dipping her hands deep down and letting them drop through her
gnarled fingers. And so again they sat and waited and waited, saying no
word.

Not until the stars of midnight had swung to the zenith did they start
down through the swamp. Bles sought to guide the old woman, but he found
she knew the way better than he did. Her shadowy figure darting in and
out among the trunks till they crossed the tree bridge, moved ever
noiselessly ahead.

She motioned the boy and girl away to the thicket at the edge, and
stood still and black in the midst of the cleared island. Bles slipped
his arm protectingly around Zora, glancing fearfully about in the
darkness. Slowly a great cry rose and swept the island. It struck madly
and sharply, and then died away to uneasy murmuring. From afar there
seemed to come the echo or the answer to the call. The form of Elspeth
blurred the night dimly far off, almost disappearing, and then growing
blacker and larger. They heard the whispering "_swish-swish_" of falling
seed; they felt the heavy tread of a great coming body. The form of the
old woman suddenly loomed black above them, hovering a moment formless
and vast then fading again away, and the "_swish-swish_" of the falling
seed alone rose in the silence of the night.

At last all was still. A long silence. Then again the air seemed
suddenly filled with that great and awful cry; its echoing answer
screamed afar and they heard the raucous voice of Elspeth beating in
their ears:

_"De seed done sowed! De seed done sowed!"_




_Ten_

MR. TAYLOR CALLS


"Thinking the matter over," said Harry Cresswell to his father, "I'm
inclined to advise drawing this Taylor out a little further."

The Colonel puffed his cigar and one eye twinkled, the lid of the other
being at the moment suggestively lowered.

"Was she pretty?" he asked; but his son ignored the remark, and the
father continued:

"I had a telegram from Taylor this morning, after you left. He'll be
passing through Montgomery the first of next month, and proposes
calling."

"I'll wire him to come," said Harry, promptly.

At this juncture the door opened and a young lady entered. Helen
Cresswell was twenty, small and pretty, with a slightly languid air.
Outside herself there was little in which she took very great interest,
and her interest in herself was not absorbing. Yet she had a curiously
sweet way. Her servants liked her and the tenants could count on her
spasmodic attentions in time of sickness and trouble.

"Good-morning," she said, with a soft drawl. She sauntered over to her
father, kissed him, and hung over the back of his chair.

"Did you get that novel for me, Harry?"--expectantly regarding her
brother.

"I forgot it, Sis. But I'll be going to town again soon."

The young lady showed that she was annoyed.

"By the bye, Sis, there's a young lady over at the Negro school whom I
think you'd like."

"Black or white?"

"A young lady, I said. Don't be sarcastic."

"I heard you. I did not know whether you were using our language or
others'."

"She's really unusual, and seems to understand things. She's planning to
call some day--shall you be at home?"

"Certainly not, Harry; you're crazy." And she strolled out to the porch,
exchanged some remarks with a passing servant, and then nestled
comfortably into a hammock. She helped herself to a chocolate and called
out musically:

"Pa, are you going to town today?"

"Yes, honey."

"Can I go?"

"I'm going in an hour or so, and business at the bank will keep me until
after lunch."

"I don't care, I just must go. I'm clean out of anything to read. And I
want to shop and call on Dolly's friend--she's going soon."

"All right. Can you be ready by eleven?"

She considered.

"Yes--I reckon," she drawled, prettily swinging her foot and watching
the tree-tops above the distant swamp.

Harry Cresswell, left alone, rang the bell for the butler.

"Still thinking of going, are you, Sam?" asked Cresswell, carelessly,
when the servant appeared. He was a young, light-brown boy, his manner
obsequious.

"Why, yes, sir--if you can spare me."

"Spare you, you black rascal! You're going anyhow. Well, you'll repent
it; the North is no place for niggers. See here, I want lunch for two at
one o'clock." The directions that followed were explicit and given with
a particularity that made Sam wonder. "Order my trap," he finally
directed.

Cresswell went out on the high-pillared porch until the trap appeared.

"Oh, Harry! I wanted to go in the trap--take me?" coaxed his sister.

"Sorry, Sis, but I'm going the other way."

"I don't believe it," said Miss Cresswell, easily, as she settled down
to another chocolate. Cresswell did not take the trouble to reply.

Miss Taylor was on her morning walk when she saw him spinning down the
road, and both expressed surprise and pleasure at the meeting.

"What a delightful morning!" said the school-teacher, and the glow on
her face said even more.

"I'm driving round through the old plantation," he explained; "won't you
join me?"

"The invitation is tempting," she hesitated; "but I've got just oodles
of work."

"What! on Saturday?"

"Saturday is my really busy day, don't you know. I guess I could get
off; really, though, I suspect I ought to tell Miss Smith."

He looked a little perplexed; but the direction in which her
inclinations lay was quite clear to him.

"It--it would be decidedly the proper thing," he murmured, "and we
could, of course, invite Miss--"

She saw the difficulty and interrupted him:

"It's quite unnecessary; she'll think I have simply gone for a long
walk." And soon they were speeding down the silent road, breathing the
perfume of the pines.

Now a ride of an early spring morning, in Alabama, over a leisurely old
plantation road and behind a spirited horse, is an event to be enjoyed.
Add to this a man bred to be agreeable and outdoing his training, and a
pretty girl gay with new-found companionship--all this is apt to make a
morning worth remembering.

They turned off the highway and passed through long stretches of
ploughed and tumbled fields, and other fields brown with the dead ghosts
of past years' cotton standing straggling and weather-worn. Long,
straight, or curling rows of ploughers passed by with steaming,
struggling mules, with whips snapping and the yodle of workers or the
sharp guttural growl of overseers as a constant accompaniment.

"They're beginning to plough up the land for the cotton-crop," he
explained.

"What a wonderful crop it is!" Mary had fallen pensive.

"Yes, indeed--if only we could get decent returns for it."

"Why, I thought it was a most valuable crop." She turned to him
inquiringly.

"It is--to Negroes and manufacturers, but not to planters."

"But why don't the planters do something?"

"What can be done with Negroes?" His tone was bitter. "We tried to
combine against manufacturers in the Farmers' League of last winter. My
father was president. The pastime cost him fifty thousand dollars."

Miss Taylor was perplexed, but eager. "You must correspond with my
brother, Mr. Cresswell," she gravely observed. "I'm sure he--" Before
she could finish, an overseer rode up. He began talking abruptly, with a
quick side-glance at Mary, in which she might have caught a gleam of
surprised curiosity.

"That old nigger, Jim Sykes, over on the lower place, sir, ain't showed
up again this morning."

Cresswell nodded. "I'll drive by and see," he said carelessly.

The old man was discovered sitting before his cabin with his head in
his hands. He was tall, black, and gaunt, partly bald, with tufted hair.
One leg was swathed in rags, and his eyes, as he raised them, wore a
cowed and furtive look.

"Well, Uncle Jim, why aren't you at work?" called Cresswell from the
roadside. The old man rose painfully to his feet, swayed against the
cabin, and clutched off his cap.

"It's my leg again, Master Harry--the leg what I hurt in the gin last
fall," he answered, uneasily.

Cresswell frowned. "It's probably whiskey," he assured his companion, in
an undertone; then to the man:

"You must get to the field to-morrow,"--his habitually calm, unfeeling
positiveness left no ground for objection; "I cannot support you in
idleness, you know."

"Yes, Master Harry," the other returned, with conciliatory eagerness; "I
knows that--I knows it and I ain't shirking. But, Master Harry, they
ain't doing me right 'bout my cabin--I just wants to show you." He got
out some dirty papers, and started to hobble forward, wincing with pain.
Mary Taylor stirred in her seat under an involuntary impulse to help,
but Cresswell touched the horse.

"All right, Uncle Jim," he said; "we'll look it over to-morrow."

They turned presently to where they could see the Cresswell oaks waving
lazily in the sunlight and the white gleam of the pillared "Big House."

A pause at the Cresswell store, where Mr. Cresswell entered, afforded
Mary Taylor an opportunity further to extend her fund of information.

"Do you go to school?" she inquired of the black boy who held the horse,
her mien sympathetic and interested.

"No, ma'am," he mumbled.

"What's your name?"

"Buddy--I'se one of Aunt Rachel's chilluns."

"And where do you live, Buddy?"

"I lives with granny, on de upper place."

"Well, I'll see Aunt Rachel and ask her to send you to school."

"Won't do no good--she done ast, and Mr. Cresswell, he say he ain't
going to have no more of his niggers--"

But Mr. Cresswell came out just then, and with him a big, fat, and
greasy black man, with little eyes and soft wheedling voice. He was
following Cresswell at the side but just a little behind, hat in hand,
head aslant, and talking deferentially. Cresswell strode carelessly on,
answering him with good-natured tolerance.

The black man stopped with humility before the trap and swept a profound
obeisance. Cresswell glanced up quizzically at Miss Taylor.

"This," he announced, "is Jones, the Baptist preacher--begging."

"Ah, lady,"--in mellow, unctuous tones--"I don't know what we poor black
folks would do without Mr. Cresswell--the Lord bless him," said the
minister, shoving his hand far down into his pocket.

Shortly afterward they were approaching the Cresswell Mansion, when the
young man reined in the horse.

"If you wouldn't mind," he suggested, "I could introduce my sister to
you."

"I should be delighted," answered Miss Taylor, readily.

When they rolled up to the homestead under its famous oaks the hour was
past one. The house was a white oblong building of two stories. In front
was the high pillared porch, semi-circular, extending to the roof with a
balcony in the second story. On the right was a broad verandah looking
toward a wide lawn, with the main road and the red swamp in the
distance.

The butler met them, all obeisance.

"Ask Miss Helen to come down," said Mr. Cresswell.

Sam glanced at him.

"Miss Helen will be dreadful sorry, but she and the Colonel have just
gone to town--I believe her Aunty ain't well."

Mr. Cresswell looked annoyed.

"Well, well! that's too bad," he said. "But at any rate, have a seat a
moment out here on the verandah, Miss Taylor. And, Sam, can't you find
us a sandwich and something cool? I could not be so inhospitable as to
send you away hungry at this time of day."

Miss Taylor sat down in a comfortable low chair facing the refreshing
breeze, and feasted her eyes on the scene. Oh, this was life: a smooth
green lawn, and beds of flowers, a vista of brown fields, and the dark
line of wood beyond. The deft, quiet butler brought out a little table,
spread with the whitest of cloths and laid with the brightest of silver,
and "found" a dainty lunch. There was a bit of fried chicken breast,
some crisp bacon, browned potatoes, little round beaten biscuit, and
rose-colored sherbet with a whiff of wine in it. Miss Taylor wondered a
little at the bounty of Southern hospitality; but she was hungry, and
she ate heartily, then leaned back dreamily and listened to Mr.
Cresswell's smooth Southern _r_'s, adding a word here and there that
kept the conversation going and brought a grave smile to his pale lips.
At last with a sigh she arose to her feet.

"I must go! What shall I tell Miss Smith! No, no--no carriage; I must
walk." Of course, however, she could not refuse to let him go at least
half-way, ostensibly to tell her of the coming of her brother. He
expressed again his disappointment at his sister's absence.

Somewhat to Miss Taylor's surprise Miss Smith said nothing until they
were parting for the night, then she asked:

"Was Miss Cresswell at home?"

Mary reddened.

"She had been called suddenly to town."

"Well, my dear, I wouldn't do it again."

The girl was angry.

"I'm not a school-girl, but a grown woman, and capable of caring for
myself. Moreover, in matter of propriety I do not think you have usually
found my ideas too lax--rather the opposite."

"There, there, dear; don't be angry. Only I think if your brother
knew--"

"He will know in a very few weeks; he is coming to visit the
Cresswells." And Miss Taylor sailed triumphantly up the stairs.

But John Taylor was not the man to wait weeks when a purpose could be
accomplished in days or hours. No sooner was Harry Cresswell's telegram
at hand than he hastened back from Savannah, struck across country, and
the week after his sister's ride found him striding up the carriage-way
of the Cresswell home.

John Taylor had prospered since summer. The cotton manufacturers'
combine was all but a fact; Mr. Easterly had discovered that his chief
clerk's sense and executive ability were invaluable, and John Taylor was
slated for a salary in five figures when things should be finally
settled, not to mention a generous slice of stock--watery at present,
but warranted to ripen early.

While Mr. Easterly still regarded Taylor's larger trust as chimerical,
some occurrences of the fall made him take a respectful attitude toward
it. Just as the final clauses of the combine agreement were to be
signed, there appeared a shortage in the cotton-crop, and prices began
to soar. The cause was obviously the unexpected success of the new
Farmers' League among the cotton-growers. Mr. Easterly found it
comparatively easy to overthrow the corner, but the flurry made some of
the manufacturers timid, and the trust agreement was postponed until a
year later. This experience and the persistence of Mr. Taylor induced
Mr. Easterly to take a step toward the larger project: he let in some
eager outside capital to the safer manufacturing scheme, and withdrew a
corresponding amount of Mrs. Grey's money. This he put into John
Taylor's hands to invest in the South in bank stock and industries with
the idea of playing a part in the financial situation there.

"It's a risk, Taylor, of course, and we'll let the old lady take the
risk. At the worst it's safer than the damned foolishness she has in
mind."

So it happened that John Taylor went South to look after large
investments and, as Mr. Easterly expressed it, "to bring back facts,
not dreams." His investment matters went quickly and well, and now he
turned to his wider and bigger scheme. He wrote the Cresswells
tentatively, expecting no reply, or an evasive one; planning to circle
around them, drawing his nets closer, and trying them again later. To
his surprise they responded quickly.

"Humph! Hard pressed," he decided, and hurried to them.

So it was the week after Mary Taylor's ride that found him at
Cresswell's front door, thin, eagle-eyed, fairly well dressed and
radiating confidence.

"John Taylor," he announced to Sam, jerkily, thrusting out a card. "Want
to see Mr. Cresswell; soon as possible."

Sam made him wait a half-hour, for the sake of discipline, and then
brought father and son.

"Good-morning, Mr. Cresswell, and Mr. Cresswell again," said Mr. Taylor,
helping himself to a straight-backed chair. "Hope you'll pardon this
unexpected visit. Found myself called through Montgomery, just after I
got your wire; thought I'd better drop over."

At Harry's suggestion they moved to the verandah and sat down over
whiskey and soda, which Taylor refused, and plunged into the subject
without preliminaries.

"I'm assuming that you gentlemen are in the cotton business for making
money. So am I. I see a way in which you and your friends can help me
and mine, and clear up more millions than all of us can spend; for this
reason I've hunted you up. This is my scheme.

"See here; there are a thousand cotton-mills in this country, half of
them in the South, one-fourth in New England, and one-fourth in the
Middle States. They are capitalized at six hundred million dollars. Now
let me tell you: we control three hundred and fifty millions of that
capitalization. The trust is going through capitalization at a billion.
The only thing that threatens it is child-labor legislation in the
South, the tariff, and the control of the supply of cotton. Pretty big
hindrances, you say. That's so, but look here: we've got the stock so
placed that nothing short of a popular upheaval can send any Child Labor
bill through Congress in six years. See? After that we don't care. Same
thing applies to the tariff. The last bill ran ten years. The present
bill will last longer, or I lose my guess--'specially if Smith is in the
Senate.

"Well, then, there remains raw cotton. The connection of cotton-raising
and its raw material is too close to risk a manufacturing trust that
does not include practical control of the raw material. For that reason
we're planning a trust to include the raising and manufacturing of
cotton in America. Then, too, cornering the cotton market here means the
whip-hand of the industrial world. Gentlemen, it's the biggest idea of
the century. It beats steel."

Colonel Cresswell chuckled.

"How do you spell that?" he asked.

But John Taylor was not to be diverted; his thin face was pale, but his
gray eyes burned with the fire of a zealot. Harry Cresswell only smiled
dimly and looked interested.

"Now, again," continued John Taylor. "There are a million cotton farms
in the South, half run by colored people and half by whites. Leave the
colored out of account as long as they are disfranchised. The half
million white farms are owned or controlled by five thousand wholesale
merchants and three thousand big landowners, of whom you, Colonel
Cresswell, are among the biggest with your fifty thousand acres. Ten
banks control these eight thousand people--one of these is the Jefferson
National of Montgomery, of which you are a silent director."

Colonel Cresswell started; this man evidently had inside information.
Did he know of the mortgage, too?

"Don't be alarmed. I'm safe," Taylor assured him. "Now, then, if we can
get the banks, wholesale merchants, and biggest planters into line we
can control the cotton crop."

"But," objected Harry Cresswell, "while the banks and the large
merchants may be possibilities, do you know what it means to try to get
planters into line?"

"Yes, I do. And what I don't know you and your father do. Colonel
Cresswell is president of the Farmers' League. That's the reason I'm
here. Your success last year made you indispensable to our plans."

"Our success?" laughed Colonel Cresswell, ruefully, thinking of the
fifty thousand dollars lost and the mortgage to cover it.

"Yes, sir--success! You didn't know it; we were too careful to allow
that; and I say frankly you wouldn't know it now if we weren't convinced
you were too far involved and the League too discouraged to repeat the
dose."

"Now, look here, sir," began Colonel Cresswell, flushing and drawing
himself erect.

"There, there, Colonel Cresswell, don't misunderstand me. I'm a plain
man. I'm playing a big game--a tremendous one. I need you, and I know
you need me. I find out about you, and my sources of knowledge are wide
and unerring. But the knowledge is safe, sir; it's buried. Last year
when you people curtailed cotton acreage and warehoused a big chunk of
the crop you gave the mill men the scare of their lives. We had a hasty
conference and the result was that the bottom fell out of your credit."

Colonel Cresswell grew pale. There was a disquieting, relentless element
in this unimpassioned man's tone.

"You failed," pursued John Taylor, "because you couldn't get the banks
and the big merchants behind you. We've got 'em behind us--with big
chunks of stock and a signed iron-clad agreement. You can wheel the
planters into line--will you do it?" John Taylor bent forward tense but
cool and steel-like. Harry Cresswell laid his hand on his father's arm
and said quietly:

"And where do we come in?"

"That's business," affirmed John Taylor. "You and two hundred and fifty
of the biggest planters come in on the ground-floor of the
two-billion-dollar All-Cotton combine. It can easily mean two million
to you in five years."

"And the other planters?"

"They come in for high-priced cotton until we get our grip."

"And then?"

The quiet question seemed to invoke a vision for John Taylor; the gray
eyes took on the faraway look of a seer; the thin, bloodless lips formed
a smile in which there was nothing pleasant.

"They keep their mouths shut or we squeeze 'em and buy the land. We
propose to own the cotton belt of the South."

Colonel Cresswell started indignantly from his seat.

"Do you think--by God, sir!--that I'd betray Southern gentlemen to--"

But Harry's hand and impassive manner restrained him; he cooled as
suddenly as he had flared up.

"Thank you very much, Mr. Taylor," he concluded; "we'll consider this
matter carefully. You'll spend the night, of course."

"Can't possibly--must catch that next train back."

"But we must talk further," the Colonel insisted. "And then, there's
your sister."

"By Jove! Forgot all about Mary." John Taylor after a little desultory
talk, followed his host up-stairs.

The next afternoon John Taylor was sitting beside Helen Cresswell on the
porch which overlooked the terrace, and was, on the whole, thinking less
of cotton than he had for several years. To be sure, he was talking
cotton; but he was doing it mechanically and from long habit, and was
really thinking how charming a girl Helen Cresswell was. She fascinated
him. For his sister Taylor had a feeling of superiority that was almost
contempt. The idea of a woman trying to understand and argue about
things men knew! He admired the dashing and handsome Miss Easterly, but
she scared him and made him angrily awkward. This girl, on the other
hand, just lounged and listened with an amused smile, or asked the most
child-like questions. She required him to wait on her quite as a matter
of course--to adjust her pillows, hand her the bon-bons, and hunt for
her lost fan. Mr. Taylor, who had not waited on anybody since his mother
died, and not much before, found a quite inexplicable pleasure in these
little domesticities. Several times he took out his watch and frowned;
yet he managed to stay with her quite happily.

On her part Miss Cresswell was vastly amused. Her acquaintance with men
was not wide, but it was thorough so far as her own class was concerned.
They were all well-dressed and leisurely, fairly good looking, and they
said the same words and did the same things in the same way. They paid
her compliments which she did not believe, and they did not expect her
to believe. They were charmingly deferential in the matter of dropped
handkerchiefs, but tyrannical of opinion. They were thoughtful about
candy and flowers, but thoughtless about feelings and income. Altogether
they were delightful, but cloying. This man was startlingly different;
ungainly and always in a desperate, unaccountable hurry. He knew no
pretty speeches, he certainly did not measure up to her standard of
breeding, and yet somehow he was a gentleman. All this was new to Helen
Cresswell, and she liked it.

Meanwhile the men above-stairs lingered in the Colonel's office--the
older one perturbed and sputtering, the younger insistent and
imperturbable.

"The fact is, father," he was saying, "as you yourself have said, one
bad crop of cotton would almost ruin us."

"But the prospects are good."

"What are prospects in March? No, father, this is the situation--three
good crops in succession will wipe off our indebtedness and leave us
facing only low prices and a scarcity of niggers; on the other hand--"
The father interrupted impatiently.

"Yes, on the other hand, if we plunge deeper in debt and betray our
friends we may come out millionaires or--paupers."

"Precisely," said Harry Cresswell, calmly. "Now, our plan is to take no
chances; I propose going North and looking into this matter thoroughly.
If he represents money and has money, and if the trust has really got
the grip he says it has, why, it's a case of crush or get crushed, and
we'll have to join them on their own terms. If he's bluffing, or the
thing looks weak, we'll wait."

It all ended as matters usually did end, in Harry's having his way. He
came downstairs, expecting, indeed, rather hoping, to find Taylor
impatiently striding to and fro, watch in hand; but here he was,
ungainly, it might be, but quite docile, drawing the picture of a
power-loom for Miss Cresswell, who seemed really interested. Harry
silently surveyed them from the door, and his face lighted with a new
thought.

Taylor, espying him, leapt to his feet and hauled out his watch.

"Well--I--" he began lamely.

"No, you weren't either," interrupted Harry, with a laugh that was
unmistakably cordial and friendly. "You had quite forgotten what you
were waiting for--isn't that so, Sis?"

Helen regarded her brother through her veiling lashes: what meant this
sudden assumption of warmth and amiability?

"No, indeed; he was raging with impatience," she returned.

"Why, Miss Cresswell, I--I--" John Taylor forsook social amenities and
pulled himself together. "Well," shortly, "now for that talk--ready?"
And quite forgetting Miss Cresswell, he bolted into the parlor.

"The decision we have come to is this," said Harry Cresswell. "We are in
debt, as you know."

"Forty-nine thousand, seven hundred and forty-two dollars and twelve
cents," responded Taylor; "in three notes, due in twelve, twenty-four,
and thirty-six months, interest at eight per cent, held by--"

The Colonel snorted his amazement, and Harry Cresswell cut in:

"Yes," he calmly admitted; "and with good crops for three years we'd be
all right; good crops even for two years would leave us fairly well
off."

"You mean it would relieve you of the present stringency and put you
face to face with the falling price of cotton and rising wages," was
John Taylor's dry addendum.

"Rising price of cotton, you mean," Harry corrected.

"Oh, temporarily," John Taylor admitted.

"Precisely, and thus postpone the decision."

"No, Mr. Cresswell. I'm offering to let you in on the ground
floor--_now_--not next year, or year after."

"Mr. Taylor, have you any money in this?"

"Everything I've got."

"Well, the thing is this way: if you can prove to us that conditions are
as you say, we're in for it."

"Good! Meet me in New York, say--let's see, this is March tenth--well,
May third."

Young Cresswell was thinking rapidly. This man without doubt represented
money. He was anxious for an alliance. Why? Was it all straight, or did
the whole move conceal a trick?

His eyes strayed to the porch where his pretty sister sat languidly, and
then toward the school where the other sister lived. John Taylor looked
out on the porch, too. They glanced quickly at each other, and each
wondered if the other had shared his thought. Harry Cresswell did not
voice his mind for he was not wholly disposed to welcome what was there;
but he could not refrain from saying in tones almost confidential:

"You could recommend this deal, then, could you--to your own friends?"

"To my own family," asserted John Taylor, looking at Harry Cresswell
with sudden interest. But Mr. Cresswell was staring at the end of his
cigar.




_Eleven_

THE FLOWERING OF THE FLEECE


"Zora," observed Miss Smith, "it's a great blessing not to need
spectacles, isn't it?"

Zora thought that it was; but she was wondering just what spectacles had
to do with the complaint she had brought to the office from Miss Taylor.

"I'm always losing my glasses and they get dirty and--Oh, dear! now
where is that paper?"

Zora pointed silently to the complaint.

"No, not that--another paper. It must be in my room. Don't you want to
come up and help me look?"

They went up to the clean, bare room, with its white iron bed, its cool,
spotless shades and shining windows. Zora walked about softly and
looked, while Miss Smith quietly searched on desk and bureau, paying no
attention to the girl. For the time being she was silent.

"I sometimes wish," she began at length, "I had a bright-eyed girl like
you to help me find and place things."

Zora made no comment.

"Sometimes Bles helps me," added Miss Smith, guilefully.

Zora looked sharply at her. "Could I help?" she asked, almost timidly.

"Why, I don't know,"--the answer was deliberate. "There are one or two
little things perhaps--"

Placing a hand gently upon Zora's shoulder, she pointed out a few odd
tasks, and left the girl busily doing them; then she returned to the
office, and threw Miss Taylor's complaint into the waste-basket.

For a week or more Zora slipped in every day and performed the little
tasks that Miss Smith laid out: she sorted papers, dusted the bureau,
hung a curtain; she did not do the things very well, and she broke some
china, but she worked earnestly and quickly, and there was no thought of
pay. Then, too, did not Bles praise her with a happy smile, as together,
day after day, they stood and watched the black dirt where the Silver
Fleece lay planted? She dreamed and sang over that dark field, and again
and again appealed to him: "S'pose it shouldn't come up after all?" And
he would laugh and say that of course it would come up.

One day, when Zora was helping Miss Smith in the bedroom, she paused
with her arms full of clothes fresh from the laundry.

"Where shall I put these?"

Miss Smith looked around. "They might go in there," she said, pointing
to a door. Zora opened it. A tiny bedroom was disclosed, with one broad
window looking toward the swamp; white curtains adorned it, and white
hangings draped the plain bureau and wash-stand and the little bed.
There was a study table, and a small bookshelf holding a few books, all
simple and clean. Zora paused uncertainly, and surveyed the room.

"Sometimes when you're tired and want to be alone you can come up here,
Zora," said Miss Smith carelessly. "No one uses this room."

Zora caught her breath sharply, but said nothing. The next day Miss
Smith said to her when she came in:

"I'm busy now, dear, but you go up to your little room and read and I'll
call."

Zora quietly obeyed. An hour later Miss Smith looked in, then she closed
the door lightly and left. Another hour flew by before Zora hurried
down.

"I was reading, and I forgot," she said.

"It's all right," returned Miss Smith. "I didn't need you. And any day,
after you get all your lessons, I think Miss Taylor will excuse you and
let you go to your room and read." Miss Taylor, it transpired, was more
than glad.

Day after day Bles and Zora visited the field; but ever the ground lay
an unrelieved black beneath the bright sun, and they would go
reluctantly home again, today there was much work to be done, and Zora
labored steadily and eagerly, never pausing, and gaining in deftness and
care.

In the afternoon Bles went to town with the school wagon. A light shower
flew up from the south, lingered a while and fled, leaving a fragrance
in the air. For a moment Zora paused, and her nostrils quivered; then
without a word she slipped down-stairs, glided into the swamp, and sped
away to the island. She swung across the tree and a low, delighted cry
bubbled on her lips. All the rich, black ground was sprinkled with
tender green. She bent above the verdant tenderness and kissed it; then
she rushed back, bursting into the room.

"_It's come! It's come!--the Silver Fleece!_"

Miss Smith was startled.

"The Silver Fleece!" she echoed in bewilderment.

Zora hesitated. It came over her all at once that this one great
all-absorbing thing meant nothing to the gaunt tired-look woman before
her.

"Would Bles care if I told?" she asked doubtfully.

"No," Miss Smith ventured.

And then the girl crouched at her feet and told the dream and the
story. Many factors were involved that were quite foreign to the older
woman's nature and training. The recital brought to her New England mind
many questions of policy and propriety. And yet, as she looked down upon
the dark face, hot with enthusiasm, it all seemed somehow more than
right. Slowly and lightly Miss Smith slipped her arm about Zora, and
nodded and smiled a perfect understanding. They looked out together into
the darkening twilight.

"It is so late and wet and you're tired tonight--don't you think you'd
better sleep in your little room?"

Zora sat still. She thought of the noisy flaming cabin and the dark
swamp; but a contrasting thought of the white bed made her timid, and
slowly she shook her head. Nevertheless Miss Smith led her to the room.

"Here are things for you to wear," she pointed out, opening the bureau,
"and here is the bath-room." She left the girl standing in the middle of
the floor.

In time Zora came to stay often at Miss Smith's cottage, and to learn
new and unknown ways of living and dressing. She still refused to board,
for that would cost more than she could pay yet, and she would accept no
charity. Gradually an undemonstrative friendship sprang up between the
pale old gray-haired teacher and the dark young black-haired girl.
Delicately, too, but gradually, the companionship of Bles and Zora was
guided and regulated. Of mornings Zora would hurry through her lessons
and get excused to fly to the swamp, to work and dream alone. At noon
Bles would run down, and they would linger until he must hurry back to
dinner. After school he would go again, working while she was busy in
Miss Smith's office, and returning later, would linger awhile to tell
Zora of his day while she busied herself with her little tasks. Saturday
mornings they would go to the swamp and work together, and sometimes
Miss Smith, stealing away from curious eyes, would come and sit and talk
with them as they toiled.

In those days, for these two souls, earth came very near to heaven.
Both were in the midst of that mighty change from youth to womanhood and
manhood. Their manner toward each other by degrees grew shyer and more
thoughtful. There was less of comradeship, but the little meant more.
The rough good fellowship was silently put aside; they no longer lightly
clasped hands; and each at times wondered, in painful
self-consciousness, if the other cared.

Then began, too, that long and subtle change wherein a soul, until now
unmindful of its wrappings, comes suddenly to consciousness of body and
clothes; when it gropes and tries to adjust one with the other, and
through them to give to the inner deeper self, finer and fuller
expression. One saw it easily, almost suddenly, in Alwyn's Sunday suit,
vivid neckties, and awkward fads.

Slower, subtler, but more striking was the change in Zora, as she began
to earn bits of pin money in the office and to learn to sew. Dresses
hung straighter; belts served a better purpose; stockings were smoother;
underwear was daintier. Then her hair--that great dark mass of immovable
infinitely curled hair--began to be subdued and twisted and combed
until, with steady pains and study, it lay in thick twisted braids about
her velvet forehead, like some shadowed halo. All this came much more
slowly and spasmodically than one tells it. Few noticed the change much;
none noticed all; and yet there came a night--a student's social--when
with a certain suddenness the whole school, teachers and pupils,
realized the newness of the girl, and even Bles was startled.

He had bought her in town, at Christmas time, a pair of white satin
slippers, partly to test the smallness of her feet on which in younger
days he had rallied her, and partly because she had mentioned a possible
white dress. They were a cheap, plain pair but dainty, and they fitted
well.

When the evening came and the students were marching and the teachers,
save Miss Smith, were sitting rather primly apart and commenting, she
entered the room. She was a little late, and a hush greeted her. One
boy, with the inimitable drawl of the race, pushed back his ice-cream
and addressed it with a mournful head-shake:

"Go way, honey, yo' los' yo' tas'e!"

The dress was plain and fitted every curving of a healthy girlish form.
She paused a moment white-bodied and white-limbed but dark and
velvet-armed, her full neck and oval head rising rich and almost black
above, with its deep-lighted eyes and crown of silent darkling hair.

To some, such a revelation of grace and womanliness in this hoyden, the
gentle swelling of lankness to beauty, of lowliness to shy self-poise,
was a sudden joy, to others a mere blindness. Mary Taylor was perplexed
and in some indefinite way amazed; and many of the other teachers saw no
beauty, only a strangeness that brought a smile. They were such as know
beauty by convention only, and find it lip-ringed, hoop-skirted,
tattooed, or corsetted, as time and place decree.

The change in Zora, however, had been neither cataclysmic nor
revolutionary and it was yet far--very far--from complete. She still ran
and romped in the woods, and dreamed her dreams; she still was
passionately independent and "queer." Tendencies merely had become
manifest, some dominant. She would, unhindered, develop to a brilliant,
sumptuous womanhood; proud, conquering, full-blooded, and deep
bosomed--a passionate mother of men. Herein lay all her early wildness
and strangeness. Herein lay, as yet half hidden, dimly sensed and all
unspoken, the power of a mighty all-compelling love for one human soul,
and, through it, for all the souls of men. All this lay growing and
developing; but as yet she was still a girl, with a new shyness and
comeliness and a bold, searching heart.

In the field of the Silver Fleece all her possibilities were beginning
to find expression. These new-born green things hidden far down in the
swamp, begotten in want and mystery, were to her a living wonderful
fairy tale come true. All the latent mother in her brooded over them;
all her brilliant fancy wove itself about them. They were her
dream-children, and she tended them jealously; they were her Hope, and
she worshipped them. When the rabbits tried the tender plants she
watched hours to drive them off, and catching now and then a pulsing
pink-eyed invader, she talked to it earnestly:

"Brer Rabbit--poor little Brer Rabbit, don't you know you mustn't eat
Zora's cotton? Naughty, naughty Brer Rabbit." And then she would show it
where she had gathered piles of fragrant weeds for it and its fellows.

The golden green of the first leaves darkened, and the plants sprang
forward steadily. Never before was such a magnificent beginning, a full
month ahead of other cotton. The rain swept down in laughing, bubbling
showers, and laved their thirsty souls, and Zora held her beating breast
day by day lest it rain too long or too heavily. The sun burned fiercely
upon the young cotton plants as the spring hastened, and they lifted
their heads in darker, wilder luxuriance; for the time of hoeing was at
hand.

These days were days of alternate hope and doubt with Bles Alwyn.
Strength and ambition and inarticulate love were fighting within him. He
felt, in the dark thousands of his kind about him, a mighty calling to
deeds. He was becoming conscious of the narrowness and straightness of
his black world, and red anger flashed in him ever and again as he felt
his bonds. His mental horizon was broadening as he prepared for the
college of next year; he was faintly grasping the wider, fuller world,
and its thoughts and aspirations.

But beside and around and above all this, like subtle, permeating ether,
was--Zora. His feelings for her were not as yet definite, expressed, or
grasped; they were rather the atmosphere in which all things occurred
and were felt and judged. From an amusing pastime she had come to be a
companion and thought-mate; and now, beyond this, insensibly they were
drifting to a silenter, mightier mingling of souls. But drifting,
merely--not arrived; going gently, irresistibly, but not yet at the
realized goal.

He felt all this as the stirring of a mighty force, but knew not what
he felt. The teasing of his fellows, the common love-gossip of the
school yard, seemed far different from his plight. He laughed at it and
indignantly denied it. Yet he was uncomfortable, restless, unhappy. He
fancied Zora cared less for his company, and he gave her less, and then
was puzzled to find time hanging so empty, so wretchedly empty, on his
hands. When they were together in these days they found less to talk
about, and had it not been for the Silver Fleece which in magic
wilfulness opened both their mouths, they would have found their
companionship little more than a series of awkward silences. Yet in
their silences, their walks, and their sittings there was a
companionship, a glow, a satisfaction, as came to them nowhere else on
earth, and they wondered at it.

They were both wondering at it this morning as they watched their
cotton. It had seemingly bounded forward in a night and it must be hoed
forthwith. Yet, hoeing was murder--the ruthless cutting away of tenderer
plants that the sturdier might thrive the more and grow.

"I hate it, Bles, don't you?"

"Hate what?"

"Killing any of it; it's all so pretty."

"But it must be, so that what's left will be prettier, or at least more
useful."

"But it shouldn't be so; everything ought to have a chance to be
beautiful and useful."

"Perhaps it ought to be so," admitted Bles, "but it isn't."

"Isn't it so--anywhere?"

"I reckon not. Death and pain pay for all good things."

She hoed away silently, hesitating over the choice of the plants,
pondering this world-old truth, saddened by its ruthless cruelty.

"Death and pain," she murmured; "what a price!"

Bles leaned on his hoe and considered. It had not occurred to him till
now that Zora was speaking better and better English: the idioms and
errors were dropping away; they had not utterly departed, however, but
came crowding back in moments of excitement. At other times she clothed
Miss Smith's clear-cut, correct speech in softer Southern accents. She
was drifting away from him in some intangible way to an upper world of
dress and language and deportment, and the new thought was pain to him.

So it was that the Fleece rose and spread and grew to its wonderful
flowering; and so these two children grew with it into theirs. Zora
never forgot how they found the first white flower in that green and
billowing sea, nor her low cry of pleasure and his gay shout of joy.
Slowly, wonderfully the flowers spread--white, blue, and purple bells,
hiding timidly, blazing luxuriantly amid the velvet leaves; until one
day--it was after a southern rain and the sunlight was twinkling through
the morning--all the Fleece was in flower--a mighty swaying sea,
darkling rich and waving, and upon it flecks and stars of white and
purple foam. The joy of the two so madly craved expression that they
burst into singing; not the wild light song of dancing feet, but a low,
sweet melody of her fathers' fathers, whereunto Alwyn's own deep voice
fell fitly in minor cadence.

Miss Smith and Miss Taylor, who were sorting the mail, heard them
singing as they came up out of the swamp. Miss Taylor looked at them,
then at Miss Smith.

But Miss Smith sat white and rigid with the first opened letter in her
hand.




_Twelve_

THE PROMISE


Miss Smith sat with her face buried in her hands while the tears
trickled silently through her thin fingers. Before her lay the letter,
read a dozen times:

"Old Mrs. Grey has been to see me, and she has announced her intention
of endowing five colored schools, yours being one. She asked if $500,000
would do it. She has plenty of money, so I told her $750,000 would be
better--$150,000 apiece. She's arranging for a Board of Trust, etc.
You'll probably hear from her soon. You've been so worried about
expenses that I thought I'd send this word on; I knew you'd be glad."

Glad? Dear God, how flat the word fell! For thirty years she had sown
the seed, planting her life-blood in this work, that had become the
marrow of her soul.

Successful? No, it had not been successful; but it had been human.
Through yonder doorway had trooped an army of hundreds upon hundreds of
bright and dull, light and dark, eager and sullen faces. There had been
good and bad, honest and deceptive, frank and furtive. Some had caught,
kindled and flashed to ambition and achievement; some, glowing dimly,
had plodded on in a slow, dumb faithful work worth while; and yet others
had suddenly exploded, hurtling human fragments to heaven and to hell.
Around this school home, as around the centre of some little universe,
had whirled the sorrowful, sordid, laughing, pulsing drama of a world:
birth pains, and the stupor of death; hunger and pale murder; the riot
of thirst and the orgies of such red and black cabins as Elspeth's,
crouching in the swamp.

She groaned as she read of the extravagances of the world and saw her
own vanishing revenues; but the funds continued to dwindle until Sarah
Smith asked herself: "What will become of this school when I die?" With
trembling fingers she had sat down to figure how many teachers must be
dropped next year, when her brother's letter came, and she slipped to
her knees and prayed.

Mrs. Grey's decision was due in no little way to Mary Taylor's reports.
Slowly but surely the girl had begun to think that she had found herself
in this new world. She would never be attuned to it thoroughly, for she
was set for different music. The veil of color and race still hung
thickly between her and her pupils; and yet she seemed to see some
points of penetration. No one could meet daily a hundred or more of
these light-hearted, good-natured children without feeling drawn to
them. No one could cross the thresholds of the cabins and not see the
old and well-known problems of life and striving. More and more,
therefore, the work met Miss Taylor's approval and she told Mrs. Grey
so.

At the same time Mary Taylor had come to some other definite
conclusions: she believed it wrong to encourage the ambitions of these
children to any great extent; she believed they should be servants and
farmers, content to work under present conditions until those conditions
could be changed; and she believed that the local white aristocracy,
helped by Northern philanthropy, should take charge of such gradual
changes.

These conclusions she did not pretend to have originated; but she
adopted them from reading and conversation, after hesitating for a year
before such puzzling contradictions as Bles Alwyn and Harry Cresswell.
For her to conclude to treat Bles Alwyn as a man despite his color was
as impossible as to think Mr. Cresswell a criminal. Some compromise was
imperative which would save her the pleasure of Mr. Cresswell's company
and at the same time leave open a way of fulfilling the world's duty to
this black boy. She thought she had found this compromise and she wrote
Mrs. Grey suggesting a chain of endowed Negro schools under the
management of trustees composed of Northern business men and local
Southern whites. Mrs. Grey acquiesced gladly and announced her plan,
eventually writing Miss Smith of her decision "to second her noble
efforts in helping the poor colored people," and she hoped to have the
plan under way before next fall.

The sharpness of Miss Smith's joy did not let her dwell on the proposed
"Board of Trust"; of course, it would be a board of friends of the
school.

She sat in her office looking out across the land. School had closed for
the year and Bles with the carryall was just taking Miss Taylor to the
train with her trunk and bags. Far up the road she could see dotted here
and there the little dirty cabins of Cresswell's tenants--the Cresswell
domain that lay like a mighty hand around the school, ready at a word to
squeeze its life out. Only yonder, to the eastward, lay the way out; the
five hundred acres of the Tolliver plantation, which the school needed
so sadly for its farm and community. But the owner was a hard and
ignorant white man, hating "niggers" only a shade more than he hated
white aristocrats of the Cresswell type. He had sold the school its
first land to pique the Cresswells; but he would not sell any more, she
was sure, even now when the promise of wealth faced the school.

She lay back and closed her eyes and fell lightly asleep. As she slept
an old woman came toiling up the hill northward from the school, and
out of the eastward spur of the Cresswell barony. She was fat and black,
hooded and aproned, with great round head and massive bosom. Her face
was dull and heavy and homely, her old eyes sorrowful. She moved
swiftly, carrying a basket on her arm. Opposite her, to the southward,
but too far for sight, an old man came out of the lower Cresswell place,
skirting the swamp. He was tall, black, and gaunt, part bald with tufted
hair, and a cowed and furtive look was in his eyes. One leg was
crippled, and he hobbled painfully.

Up the road to the eastward that ran past the school, with the morning
sun at his back, strode a young man, yellow, crisp-haired, strong-faced,
with darkly knit brows. He greeted Bles and the teacher coldly, and
moved on in nervous haste. A woman, hurrying out of the westward swamp
up the path that led from Elspeth's, saw him and shrank back hastily.
She turned quickly into the swamp and waited, looking toward the school.
The old woman hurried into the back gate just as the old man appeared to
the southward on the road. The young man greeted him cordially and they
stopped a moment to talk, while the hiding woman watched.

"Howdy, Uncle Jim."

"Howdy, son. Hit's hot, ain't it? How is you?"

"Tolerable, how are you?"

"Poorly, son, poorly--and worser in mind. I'se goin' up to talk to old
Miss."

"So am I, but I just see Aunt Rachel going in. We'd better wait."

Miss Smith started up at the timid knocking, and rubbed her eyes. It was
long since she had slept in the daytime and she was annoyed at such
laziness. She opened the back door and led the old woman to the office.

"Now, what have you got there?" she demanded, eyeing the basket.

"Just a little chicken fo' you and a few aigs."

"Oh, you are so thoughtful!" Sarah Smith's was a grateful heart.

"Go 'long now--hit ain't a thing."

Then came a pause, the old woman sliding into the proffered seat, while
over her genial, dimpled smile there dropped a dull veil of care. Her
eyes shifted uneasily. Miss Smith tried not to notice the change.

"Well, are you all moved, Aunt Rachel?" she inquired cheerfully.

"No'm, and we ain't gwine to move."

"But I thought it was all arranged."

"It was," gloomily, "but de ole Cunnel, he won't let us go."

The listener was instantly sympathetic. "Why not?" she asked.

"He says we owes him."

"But didn't you settle at Christmas?"

"Yas'm; but when he found we was goin' away, he looked up some more
debts."

"How much?"

"I don't know 'zactly--more'n a hundred dollars. Den de boys done got in
dat trouble, and he paid their fines."

"What was the trouble?"

"Well, one was a-gambling, and the other struck the overseer what was
a-whippin' him."

"Whipping him!"--in horrified exclamation, quite as much at Aunt
Rachel's matter-of-fact way of regarding the matter as at the deed
itself.

"Yas'm. He didn't do his work right and he whipped him. I speck he
needed it."

"But he's a grown man," Miss Smith urged earnestly.

"Yas'm; he's twenty now, and big."

"Whipped him!" Miss Smith repeated. "And so you can't leave?"

"No'm, he say he'll sell us out and put us in de chain-gang if we go.
The boys is plumb mad, but I'se a-pleadin' with 'em not to do nothin'
rash."

"But--but I thought they had already started to work a crop on the
Tolliver place?"

"Yes'm, dey had; but, you see, dey were arrested, and then Cunnel
Cresswell took 'em and 'lowed they couldn't leave his place. Ol' man
Tolliver was powerful mad."

"Why, Aunt Rachel, it's slavery!" cried the lady in dismay. Aunt Rachel
did not offer to dispute her declaration.

"Yas'm, hit's slavery," she agreed. "I hates it mighty bad, too, 'cause
I wanted de little chillens in school; but--" The old woman broke down
and sobbed.

A knocking came at the door; hastily wiping her eyes Aunt Rachel rose.

"I'll--I'll see what I can do, Aunt Rachel--I must do something,"
murmured Miss Smith hastily, as the woman departed, and an old black man
came limping in. Miss Smith looked up in surprise.

"I begs pardon, Mistress--I begs pardon. Good-morning."

"Good-morning--" she hesitated.

"Sykes--Jim Sykes--that's me."

"Yes, I've heard of you, Mr. Sykes; you live over south of the swamp."

"Yes, ma'am, that's me; and I'se got a little shack dar and a bit of
land what I'se trying to buy."

"Of Colonel Cresswell?"

"Yas'm, of de Cunnel."

"And how long have you been buying it?"

"Going on ten year now; and dat's what I comes to ask you about."

"Goodness me! And how much have you paid a year?"

"I gen'rally pays 'bout three bales of cotton a year."

"Does he furnish you rations?"

"Only sugar and coffee and a little meat now and then."

"What does it amount to a year?"

"I doesn't rightly know--but I'se got some papers here."

Miss Smith looked them over and sighed. It was the same old tale of
blind receipts for money "on account"--no items, no balancing. By his
help she made out that last year his total bill at Cresswell's store was
perhaps forty dollars.

"An' last year's bill was bigger'n common 'cause I hurt my leg working
at the gin and had to have some medicine."

"Why, as far as I can see, Mr. Sykes, you've paid Cresswell about a
thousand dollars in the last ten years. How large is your place?"

"About twenty acres."

"And what were you to pay for it?"

"Four hundred."

"Have you got the deed?"

"Yes'm, but I ain't finished paying yet; de Cunnel say as how I owes him
two hundred dollars still, and I can't see it. Dat's why I come over
here to talk wid you."

"Where is the deed?"

He handed it to her and her heart sank. It was no deed, but a
complicated contract binding the tenant hand and foot to the landlord.
She sighed, he watching her eagerly.

"I'se getting old," he explained, "and I ain't got nobody to take care
of me. I can't work as I once could, and de overseers dey drives me too
hard. I wants a little home to die in."

Miss Smith's throat swelled. She couldn't tell him that he would never
get one at the present rate; she only said:

"I'll--look this up. You come again next Saturday."

Then sadly she watched the ragged old slave hobble away with his
cherished "papers." He greeted the young man at the gate and passed out,
while the latter walked briskly up to the door and knocked.

"Why, how do you do, Robert?"

"How do you do, Miss Smith?"

"Well, are you getting things in shape so as to enter school early next
year?"

Robert looked embarrassed.

"That's what I came to tell you, Miss Smith. Mr. Cresswell has offered
me forty acres of good land."

Miss Smith looked disheartened.

"Robert, here you are almost finished, and my heart is set on your going
to Atlanta University and finishing college. With your fine voice and
talent for drawing--"

A dogged look settled on Robert's young bright face, and the speaker
paused.

"What's the use, Miss Smith--what opening is there for a--a nigger with
an education?"

Miss Smith was shocked.

"Why--why, every chance," she protested, "and where there's none _make_
a chance!"

"Miss Taylor says"--Miss Smith's heart sank; how often had she heard
that deadening phrase in the last year!--"that there's no use. That
farming is the only thing we ought to try to do, and I reckon she thinks
there ain't much chance even there."

"Robert, farming is a noble calling. Whether you're suited to it or not,
I don't yet know, but I'd like nothing better than to see you settled
here in a decent home with a family, running a farm. But, Robert,
farming doesn't call for less intelligence than other things; it calls
for more. It is because the world thinks any training good enough for a
farmer that the Southern farmer is today practically at the mercy of his
keener and more intelligent fellows. And of all people, Robert, your
people need trained intelligence to cope with this problem of farming
here. Without intelligence and training and some capital it is the
wildest nonsense to think you can lead your people out of slavery. Look
round you." She told him of the visitors. "Are they not hard working
honest people?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Yet they are slaves--dumb driven cattle."

"But they have no education."

"And you have a smattering; therefore are ready to pit yourself against
the organized plantation system without capital or experience. Robert,
you may succeed; you may find your landlord honest and the way clear;
but my advice to you is--finish your education, develop your talents,
and then come to your life work a full-fledged man and not a
half-ignorant boy."

"I'll think of it," returned the boy soberly. "I reckon you're right. I
know Miss Taylor don't think much of us. But I'm tired of waiting; I
want to get to work."

Miss Smith laid a kindly hand upon his shoulder.

"I've been waiting thirty years, Robert," she said, with feeling, and he
hung his head.

"I wanted to talk about it," he awkwardly responded, turning slowly
away. But Miss Smith stopped him.

"Robert, where is the land Cresswell offers you?"

"It's on the Tolliver place."

"The Tolliver place?"

"Yes, he is going to buy it."

Miss Smith dismissed the boy absently and sat down. The crisis seemed
drawing near. She had not dreamed the Tolliver place was for sale. The
old man must be hard pressed to sell to the Cresswells.

She started up. Why not go see him? Perhaps a mortgage on the strength
of the endowment? It was dangerous--but--

She threw a veil over her hair, and opened the door. A woman stood
there, who shrank and cowered, as if used to blows. Miss Smith eyed her
grimly, then slowly stepped back.

"Come in," she commanded briefly, motioning the woman to a chair.

But she stood, a pathetic figure, faded, worn, yet with unmistakable
traces of beauty in her golden face and soft brown hair. Miss Smith
contemplated her sadly. Here was her most haunting failure, this girl
whom she first had seen twelve years ago in her wonderful girlish
comeliness. She had struggled and fought for her, but the forces of the
devil had triumphed. She caught glimpses of her now and then, but today
was the first time she had spoken to her for ten years. She saw the
tears that gathered but did not fall; then her hands quivered.

"Bertie," she began brokenly. The girl shivered, but stood aloof.

"Miss Smith," she said. "No--don't talk--I'm bad--but I've got a little
girl, Miss Smith, ten years old, and--and--I'm afraid for her; I want
you to take her."

"I have no place for one so young. And why are you afraid for her?"

"The men there are beginning to notice her."

"Where?"

"At Elspeth's."

"Do you stay there now?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"_He_ wants me to."

"Must you do as he wants?"

"Yes. But I want the child--different."

"Don't _you_ want to be different?"

The woman quivered again but she answered steadily: "No."

Miss Smith sank into a chair and moistened her dry lips.

"Elspeth's is an awful place," she affirmed solemnly.

"Yes."

"And Zora?"

"She is not there much now, she stays away."

"But if she escapes, why not you?"

"She wants to escape."

"And you?"

"I don't want to."

This stubborn depravity was so distressing that Sarah Smith was at an
utter loss what to say or do.

"I can do nothing--" she began.

"For me," the woman quickly replied; "I don't ask anything; but for the
child,--she isn't to blame."

The older woman wavered.

"Won't you try?" pleaded the younger.

"Yes--I'll try, I'll try; I am trying all the time, but there are more
things than my weak strength can do. Good-bye."

Miss Smith stood a long time in the doorway, watching the fading figure
and vaguely trying to remember what it was that she had started to do,
when the sharp staccato step of a mule drew her attention to a rider who
stopped at the gate. It was her neighbor, Tolliver--a gaunt,
yellow-faced white man, ragged, rough, and unkempt; one of the poor
whites who had struggled up and failed. He spent no courtesy on the
"nigger" teacher, but sat in his saddle and called her to the gate, and
she went.

"Say," he roughly opened up, "I've got to sell some land and them damn
Cresswells are after it. You can have it for five thousand dollars if
you git the cash in a week." With a muttered oath he rode abruptly off;
but not before she had seen the tears in his eyes.

All night Sarah Smith lay thinking, and all day she thought and dreamed.
Toward dark she walked slowly out the gate and up the highway toward the
Cresswell oaks. She had never been within the gates before, and she
looked about thoughtfully. The great trees in their regular curving rows
must have been planted more than half a century ago. The lawn was well
tended and the flowers. Yes, there were signs of taste and wealth. "But
it was built on a moan," cried Miss Smith to herself, passionately, and
she would not look round any more, but stared straight ahead where she
saw old Colonel Cresswell smoking and reading on the verandah.

The Colonel saw her, too, and was uneasy, for he knew that Miss Smith
had a sharp tongue and a most disconcerting method of argument, which
he, as a Southern gentleman, courteous to all white females, even if
they did eat with "niggers," could not properly answer. He received her
with courtesy, offered a chair, laid aside his cigar, and essayed some
general remarks on cotton weather. But Miss Smith plunged into her
subject:

"Colonel Cresswell, I'm thinking of raising some money from a mortgage
on our school property."

The Colonel's face involuntarily lighted up. He thought he saw the
beginning of the end of an institution which had been a thorn in his
flesh ever since Tolliver, in a fit of rage, had sold land for a Negro
school.

"H'm," he reflected deprecatingly, wiping his brow.

"I need some ready money," she continued, "to keep from curtailing our
work."

"Indeed?"

"I have good prospects in a year or so"--the Colonel looked up sharply,
but said nothing--"and so I thought of a mortgage."

"Money is pretty tight," was the Colonel's first objection.

"The land is worth, you know, at least fifty dollars an acre."

"Not more than twenty-five dollars, I fear."

"Why, you wanted seventy-five dollars for poorer land last year! We have
two hundred acres." It was not for nothing that this lady had been born
in New England.

"I wouldn't reckon it as worth more than five thousand dollars,"
insisted the Colonel.

"And ten thousand dollars for improvements."

But the Colonel arose. "You had better talk to the directors of the
Jefferson Bank," he said politely. "They may accommodate you--how much
would you want?"

"Five thousand dollars," Miss Smith replied. Then she hesitated. That
would buy the land, to be sure; but money was needed to develop and run
it; to install tenants; and then, too, for new teachers. But she said
nothing more, and, nodding to his polite bow, departed. Colonel
Cresswell had noticed her hesitation, and thought of it as he settled to
his cigar again.

Bles Alwyn arose next morning and examined the sky critically. He
feared rain. The season had been quite wet enough, particularly down on
the swamp land, and but yesterday Bles had viewed his dykes with
apprehension for the black pool scowled about them. He dared not think
what a long heavy rain might do to the wonderful island of cotton which
now stood fully five feet high, with flowers and squares and budding
bolls. It might not rain, but the safest thing would be to work at those
dykes, so he started for spade and hoe. He heard Miss Smith calling,
however.

"Bles--hitch up!"

He was vexed. "Are you--in a hurry, Miss Smith?" he asked.

"Yes, I am," she replied, with unmistakable positiveness.

He started off, and hesitated. "Miss Smith, would Jim do to drive?"

"No," sharply. "I want you particularly." At another time she might have
observed his anxiety, but today she was agitated. She knew she was
taking a critical step.

Slowly Bles hitched up. After all it might not rain, he argued as they
jogged toward town. In silence they rode on. Bles kept looking at the
skies. The south was getting darker and darker. It might rain. It might
rain only an hour or so, but, suppose it should rain a day--two days--a
week?

Miss Smith was looking at her own skies and despite the promised sunrise
they loomed darkly. Five thousand was needed for the land and at least
another thousand for repairs. Two thousand would "buy" a half dozen
desirable tenants by paying their debts to their present landlords. Then
two thousand would be wanted for new teachers and a carpenter shop--ten
thousand dollars!

It was a great temptation. And yet, once in the hands of these
past-masters of debt-manipulation, would her school be safe? Suppose,
after all, this Grey gift--but she caught her breath sharply just as a
wet splash of rain struck upon her forehead. No. God could not be so
cruel. She pushed her bonnet back: how good and cool the water felt! But
on Bles as he raised the buggy top it felt hot and fiery.

He felt the coming of some great calamity, the end of a dream. This
rain might stay for days; it looked like such a downpour; and that would
mean the end of the Silver Fleece; the end of Zora's hopes; the end of
everything. He gulped in despairing anger and hit the staid old horse
the smartest tap she had known all summer.

"Why, Bles, what's the matter?" called Miss Smith, as the horse started
forward. He murmured something about getting wet and drew up at the
Toomsville bank.

Miss Smith was invited politely into the private parlor. She explained
her business. The President was there and Colonel Cresswell and one
other local director.

"I have come for a mortgage. Our land is, as you know, gentlemen, worth
at least ten thousand dollars; the buildings cost fifteen thousand
dollars; our property is, therefore, conservatively valued at
twenty-five thousand dollars. Now I want to mortgage it for"--she
hesitated--"five thousand dollars."

Colonel Cresswell was silent, but the president said:

"Money is rather scarce just now, Miss Smith; but it happens that I have
ten thousand dollars on hand, which we prefer, however, to loan in one
lump sum. Now, if the security were ample, I think perhaps you might get
this ten thousand dollars."

Miss Smith grew white; it was the sum she wanted. She tried to escape
the temptation, yet the larger amount was more than twice as desirable
to her as the smaller, and she knew that they knew it. They were trying
to tempt her; they wanted as firm a hold on the school property as
possible. And yet, why should she hesitate? It was a risk, but the
returns would be enormous--she must do it. Besides, there was the
endowment; it was certain; yes--she felt forced to close the bargain.

"Very well," she declared her decision, and they handed her the
preliminary papers. She took the pen and glanced at Mr. Cresswell; he
was smiling slightly, but nevertheless she signed her name grimly, in a
large round hand, "Sarah Smith."




_Thirteen_

MRS. GREY GIVES A DINNER


The Hon. Charles Smith, Miss Sarah's brother, was walking swiftly uptown
from Mr. Easterly's Wall Street office and his face was pale. At last
the Cotton Combine was to all appearances an assured fact and he was
slated for the Senate. The price he had paid was high: he was to
represent the interests of the new trust and sundry favorable measures
were already drafted and reposing in the safe of the combine's legal
department. Among others was one relating to child labor, another that
would effect certain changes in the tariff, and a proposed law providing
for a cotton bale of a shape and dimensions different from the
customary--the last constituting a particularly clever artifice which,
under the guise of convenience in handling, would necessitate the
installation of entirely new gin and compress machinery, to be supplied,
of course, by the trust.

As Mr. Smith drew near Mrs. Grey's Murray Hill residence his face had
melted to a cynical smile. After all why should he care? He had tried
independence and philanthropy and failed. Why should he not be as other
men? He had seen many others that very day swallow the golden bait and
promise everything. They were gentlemen. Why should he pose as better
than his fellows? There was young Cresswell. Did his aristocratic air
prevent his succumbing to the lure of millions and promising the
influence of his father and the whole Farmer's League to the new
project? Mr. Smith snapped his fingers and rang the bell. The door
opened softly. The dark woodwork of the old English wainscoting glowed
with the crimson flaming of logs in the wide fireplace. There was just
the touch of early autumn chill in the air without, that made both the
fire and the table with its soft linen, gold and silver plate, and
twinkling glasses a warming, satisfying sight.

Mrs. Grey was a portly woman, inclined to think much of her dinner and
her clothes, both of which were always rich and costly. She was not
herself a notably intelligent woman; she greatly admired intelligence or
whatever looked to her like intelligence in others. Her money, too, was
to her an ever worrying mystery and surprise, which she found herself
always scheming to husband shrewdly and spend philanthropically--a
difficult combination.

As she awaited her guests she surveyed the table with both satisfaction
and disquietude, for her social functions were few, tonight there
were--she checked them off on her fingers--Sir James Creighton, the rich
English manufacturer, and Lady Creighton, Mr. and Mrs. Vanderpool, Mr.
Harry Cresswell and his sister, John Taylor and his sister, and Mr.
Charles Smith, whom the evening papers mentioned as likely to be United
States Senator from New Jersey--a selection of guests that had been
determined, unknown to the hostess, by the meeting of cotton interests
earlier in the day.

Mrs. Grey's chef was high-priced and efficient, and her butler was the
envy of many; consequently, she knew the dinner would be good. To her
intense satisfaction, it was far more than this. It was a most agreeable
couple of hours; all save perhaps Mr. Smith unbent, the Englishman
especially, and the Vanderpools were most gracious; but if the general
pleasure was owing to any one person particularly it was to Mr. Harry
Cresswell. Mrs. Grey had met Southerners before, but not intimately, and
she always had in mind vividly their cruelty to "poor Negroes," a
subject she made a point of introducing forthwith. She was therefore
most agreeably surprised to hear Mr. Cresswell express himself so
cordially as approving of Negro education.

"Why, I thought," said Mrs. Grey, "that you Southerners rather
disapproved--or at least--"

Mr. Cresswell inclined his head courteously.

"We Southerners, my dear Mrs. Grey, are responsible for a variety of
reputations." And he told an anecdote that set the table laughing.
"Seriously, though," he continued, "we are not as black as the blacks
paint us, although on the whole I _prefer_ that Helen should marry--a
white man."

They all glanced at Miss Cresswell, who lay softly back in her chair
like a white lily, gleaming and bejewelled, her pale face flushing under
the scrutiny; Mrs. Grey was horrified.

"Why--why the idea!" she sputtered. "Why, Mr. Cresswell, how can you
conceive of anything else--no Northerner dreams--"

Mr. Cresswell sipped his wine slowly.

"No--no--I do not think you do _mean_ that--" He paused and the
Englishman bent forward.

"Really, now, you do not mean to say that there is a danger of--of
amalgamation, do you?" he sang.

Mr. Cresswell explained. No, of course there was no immediate danger;
but when people were suddenly thrust beyond their natural station,
filled with wild ideas and impossible ambitions, it meant terrible
danger to Southern white women.

"But you believe in some education?" asked Mary Taylor.

"I believe in the training of people to their highest capacity." The
Englishman here heartily seconded him.

"But," Cresswell added significantly, "capacity differs enormously
between races."

The Vanderpools were sure of this and the Englishman, instancing India,
became quite eloquent. Mrs. Grey was mystified, but hardly dared admit
it. The general trend of the conversation seemed to be that most
individuals needed to be submitted to the sharpest scrutiny before being
allowed much education, and as for the "lower races" it was simply
criminal to open such useless opportunities to them.

"Why, I had a colored servant-girl once," laughed Mrs. Vanderpool by way
of climax, "who spent half her wages in piano lessons."

Then Mary Taylor, whose conscience was uncomfortable, said:

"But, Mr. Cresswell, you surely believe in schools like Miss Smith's?"

"Decidedly," returned Mr. Cresswell, with enthusiasm, "it has done great
good."

Mrs. Grey was gratified and murmured something of Miss Smith's
"sacrifice."

"Positively heroic," added Cresswell, avoiding his sister's eyes.

"Of course," Mary Taylor hastened to encourage this turn of the
conversation, "there are many points on which Miss Smith and I disagree,
but I think everybody admires her work."

Mrs. Grey wanted particulars. "What did you disagree about?" she asked
bluntly.

"I may be responsible for some of the disagreement," interrupted Mr.
Cresswell, hesitatingly; "I'm afraid Miss Smith does not approve of us
white Southerners."

"But you mean to say you can't even advise her?"

"Oh, no; we can. But--we're not--er--exactly welcomed. In fact," said
Cresswell gravely, "the chief criticism I have against your Northerners'
schools for Negroes is, that they not only fail to enlist the sympathy
and aid of the _best_ Southerners, but even repel it."

"That is very wrong--very wrong," commented the Englishman warmly, a
sentiment in which Mrs. Grey hastened to agree.

"Of course," continued Cresswell, "I am free to confess that I have no
personal desire to dabble in philanthropy, or conduct schools of any
kind; my hands are full of other matters."

"But it's precisely the advice of such disinterested men that
philanthropic work needs," Mr. Vanderpool urged.

"Well, I volunteered advice once in this case and I sha'n't repeat the
experiment soon," said Cresswell laughing. Mrs. Grey wanted to hear the
incident, but the young man was politely reluctant. Mary Taylor,
however, related the tale of Zora to Mrs. Grey's private ear later.

"Fortunately," said Mr. Vanderpool, "Northerners and Southerners are
arriving at a better mutual understanding on most of these matters."

"Yes, indeed," Cresswell agreed. "After all, they never were far apart,
even in slavery days; both sides were honest and sincere."

All through the dinner Mr. Smith had been preoccupied and taciturn. Now
he abruptly shot a glance at Cresswell.

"I suppose that one was right and one was wrong."

"No," said Cresswell, "both were right."

"I thought the only excuse for fighting was a great Right; if Right is
on neither side or simultaneously on both, then War is not only Hell but
Damnation."

Mrs. Grey looked shocked and Mrs. Vanderpool smiled.

"How about fighting for exercise?" she suggested.

"At any rate," said Cresswell, "we can all agree on helping these poor
victims of our quarrel as far as their limited capacity will allow--and
no farther, for that is impossible."

Very soon after dinner Charles Smith excused himself. He was not yet
inured to the ways of high finance, and the programme of the cotton
barons, as unfolded that day, lay heavy on his mind, despite all his
philosophy.

"I have had a--full day," he explained to Mrs. Grey.




_Fourteen_

LOVE


The rain was sweeping down in great thick winding sheets. The wind
screamed in the ancient Cresswell oaks and swirled across the swamp in
loud, wild gusts. The waters roared and gurgled in the streams, and
along the roadside. Then, when the wind fell murmuring away, the clouds
grew blacker and blacker and rain in long slim columns fell straight
from Heaven to earth digging itself into the land and throwing back the
red mud in angry flashes.

So it rained for one long week, and so for seven endless days Bles
watched it with leaden heart. He knew the Silver Fleece--his and
Zora's--must be ruined. It was the first great sorrow of his life; it
was not so much the loss of the cotton itself--but the fantasy, the
hopes, the dreams built around it. If it failed, would not they fail?
Was not this angry beating rain, this dull spiritless drizzle, this wild
war of air and earth, but foretaste and prophecy of ruin and
discouragement, of the utter futility of striving? But if his own
despair was great his pain at the plight of Zora made it almost
unbearable. He did not see her in these seven days. He pictured her
huddled there in the swamp in the cheerless leaky cabin with worse than
no companions. Ah! the swamp, the cruel swamp! It was a fearful place in
the rain. Its oozing mud and fetid vapors, its clinging slimy
draperies,--how they twined about the bones of its victims and chilled
their hearts. Yet here his Zora,--his poor disappointed child--was
imprisoned.

Child? He had always called her child--but now in the inward
illumination of these dark days he knew her as neither child nor sister
nor friend, but as the One Woman. The revelation of his love lighted and
brightened slowly till it flamed like a sunrise over him and left him in
burning wonder. He panted to know if she, too, knew, or knew and cared
not, or cared and knew not. She was so strange and human a creature. To
her all things meant something--nothing was aimless, nothing merely
happened. Was this rain beating down and back her love for him, or had
she never loved? He walked his room, gripping his hands, peering through
the misty windows toward the swamp--rain, rain, rain, nothing but rain.
The world was water veiled in mists.

Then of a sudden, at midday, the sun shot out, hot and still; no breath
of air stirred; the sky was like blue steel; the earth steamed. Bles
rushed to the edge of the swamp and stood there irresolute. Perhaps--if
the water had but drained from the cotton!--it was so strong and tall!
But, pshaw! Where was the use of imagining? The lagoon had been level
with the dykes a week ago; and now? He could almost see the beautiful
Silver Fleece, bedraggled, drowned, and rolling beneath the black lake
of slime. He went back to his work, but early in the morning the thought
of it lured him again. He must at least see the grave of his hope and
Zora's, and out of it resurrect new love and strength.

Perhaps she, too, might be there, waiting, weeping. He started at the
thought. He hurried forth sadly. The rain-drops were still dripping and
gleaming from the trees, flashing back the heavy yellow sunlight. He
splashed and stamped along, farther and farther onward until he neared
the rampart of the clearing, and put foot upon the tree-bridge. Then he
looked down. The lagoon was dry. He stood a moment bewildered, then
turned and rushed upon the island. A great sheet of dazzling sunlight
swept the place, and beneath lay a mighty mass of olive green, thick,
tall, wet, and willowy. The squares of cotton, sharp-edged, heavy, were
just about to burst to bolls! And underneath, the land lay carefully
drained and black! For one long moment he paused, stupid, agape with
utter amazement, then leaned dizzily against a tree.

The swamp, the eternal swamp, had been drained in its deepest fastness;
but, how?--how? He gazed about, perplexed, astonished. What a field of
cotton! what a marvellous field! But how had it been saved?

He skirted the island slowly, stopping near Zora's oak. Here lay the
reading of the riddle: with infinite work and pain, some one had dug a
canal from the lagoon to the creek, into which the former had drained by
a long and crooked way, thus allowing it to empty directly. The canal
went straight, a hundred yards through stubborn soil, and it was oozing
now with slimy waters.

He sat down weak, bewildered, and one thought was uppermost--Zora! And
with the thought came a low moan of pain. He wheeled and leapt toward
the dripping shelter in the tree. There she lay--wet, bedraggled,
motionless, gray-pallid beneath her dark-drawn skin, her burning eyes
searching restlessly for some lost thing, her lips a-moaning.

In dumb despair he dropped beside her and gathered her in his arms. The
earth staggered beneath him as he stumbled on; the mud splashed and
sunlight glistened; he saw long snakes slithering across his path and
fear-struck beasts fleeing before his coming. He paused for neither path
nor way but went straight for the school, running in mighty strides, yet
gently, listening to the moans that struck death upon his heart. Once he
fell headlong, but with a great wrench held her from harm, and minded
not the pain that shot through his ribs. The yellow sunshine beat
fiercely around and upon him, as he stumbled into the highway, lurched
across the mud-strewn road, and panted up the porch.

"Miss Smith--!" he gasped, and then--darkness.

The years of the days of her dying were ten. The boy that entered the
darkness and the shadow of death emerged a man, a silent man and grave,
working furiously and haunting, day and night, the little window above
the door. At last, of one gray morning when the earth was stillest, they
came and told him, "She will live!" And he went out under the stars,
lifted his long arms and sobbed: "Curse me, O God, if I let me lose her
again!" And God remembered this in after years.

The hope and dream of harvest was upon the land. The cotton crop was
short and poor because of the great rain; but the sun had saved the
best, and the price had soared. So the world was happy, and the face of
the black-belt green and luxuriant with thickening flecks of the coming
foam of the cotton.

Up in the sick room Zora lay on the little white bed. The net and web of
endless things had been crawling and creeping around her; she had
struggled in dumb, speechless terror against some mighty grasping that
strove for her life, with gnarled and creeping fingers; but now at last,
weakly, she opened her eyes and questioned.

Bles, where was he? The Silver Fleece, how was it? The Sun, the Swamp?
Then finding all well, she closed her eyes and slept. After some days
they let her sit by the window, and she saw Bles pass, but drew back
timidly when he looked; and he saw only the flutter of her gown, and
waved.

At last there came a day when they let her walk down to the porch, and
she felt the flickering of her strength again. Yet she looked different;
her buxom comeliness was spiritualized; her face looked smaller, and her
masses of hair, brought low about her ears, heightened her ghostly
beauty; her skin was darkly transparent, and her eyes looked out from
velvet veils of gloom. For a while she lay in her chair, in happy,
dreamy pleasure at sun and bird and tree. Bles did not know yet that she
was down; but soon he would come searching, for he came each hour, and
she pressed her little hands against her breast to still the beating of
her heart and the bursting wonder of her love.

Then suddenly a panic seized her. He must not find her here--not here;
there was but one place in all the earth for them to meet, and that was
yonder in the Silver Fleece. She rose with a fleeting glance, gathered
the shawl round her, then gliding forward, wavering, tremulous, slipped
across the road and into the swamp. The dark mystery of the Swamp swept
over her; the place was hers. She had been born within its borders;
within its borders she had lived and grown, and within its borders she
had met her love. On she hurried until, sweeping down to the lagoon and
the island, lo! the cotton lay before her! A great white foam was spread
upon its brown and green; the whole field was waving and shivering in
the sunlight. A low cry of pleasure burst from her lips; she forgot her
weakness, and picking her way across the bridge, stood still amid the
cotton that nestled about her shoulders, clasping it lovingly in her
hands.

He heard that she was down-stairs and ran to meet her with beating
heart. The chair was empty; but he knew. There was but one place then
for these two souls to meet. Yet it was far, and he feared, and ran with
startled eyes.

She stood on the island, ethereal, splendid, like some tall, dark, and
gorgeous flower of the storied East. The green and white of the cotton
billowed and foamed about her breasts; the red scarf burned upon her
neck; the dark brown velvet of her skin pulsed warm and tremulous with
the uprushing blood, and in the midnight depths of her great eyes flamed
the mighty fires of long-concealed and new-born love.

He darted through the trees and paused, a tall man strongly but slimly
made. He threw up his hands in the old way and hallooed; happily she
crooned back a low mother-melody, and waited. He came down to her
slowly, with fixed, hungry eyes, threading his way amid the Fleece. She
did not move, but lifted both her dark hands, white with cotton; and
then, as he came, casting it suddenly to the winds, in tears and
laughter she swayed and dropped quivering in his arms. And all the world
was sunshine and peace.




_Fifteen_

REVELATION


Harry Cresswell was scowling over his breakfast. It was not because his
apartment in the New York hotel was not satisfactory, or his breakfast
unpalatable; possibly a rather bewildering night in Broadway was
expressing its influence; but he was satisfied that his ill-temper was
due to a paragraph in the morning paper:

"It is stated on good authority that the widow of the late
multimillionaire, Job Grey, will announce a large and carefully planned
scheme of Negro education in the South, and will richly endow schools in
South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas."

Cresswell finally thrust his food away. He knew that Mrs. Grey helped
Miss Smith's school, and supposed she would continue to do so; with that
in mind he had striven to impress her, hoping that she might trust his
judgment in later years. He had no idea, however, that she meant to
endow the school, or entertained wholesale plans for Negro education.
The knowledge made him suspicious. Why had neither Mary nor John Taylor
mentioned this? Was there, after all, some "nigger-loving" conspiracy
back of the cotton combine? He took his hat and started down-town.

Once in John Taylor's Broadway office, he opened the subject
abruptly--the more so perhaps because he felt a resentment against
Taylor for certain unnamed or partially voiced assumptions. Here was a
place, however, for speech, and he spoke almost roughly.

"Taylor, what does this mean?" He thrust the clipping at him.

"Mean? That Mrs. Grey is going to get rid of some of her surplus
cash--is going to endow some nigger schools," Taylor drily retorted.

"It must be stopped," declared Cresswell.

The other's brows drew up.

"Why?" in a surprised tone.

"Why? Why? Do you think the plantation system can be maintained without
laborers? Do you think there's the slightest chance of cornering cotton
and buying the Black Belt if the niggers are unwilling to work under
present conditions? Do you know the man that stands ready to gobble up
every inch of cotton land in this country at a price which no trust can
hope to rival?"

John Taylor's interest quickened.

"Why, no," he returned sharply. "Who?"

"The Black Man, whose woolly head is filled with ideas of rising. We're
striving by main force to prevent this, and here come your damned
Northern philanthropists to plant schools. Why, Taylor, it'll knock the
cotton trust to hell."

"Don't get excited," said Taylor, judicially. "We've got things in our
hands; it's the Grey money, you know, that is back of us."

"That's just what confounds me," declared the perplexed young man. "Are
you men fools, or rascals? Don't you see the two schemes can't mix?
They're dead opposite, mutually contradictory, absolutely--" Taylor
checked him; it was odd to behold Harry Cresswell so disturbed.

"Well, wait a moment. Let's see. Sit down. Wish I had a cigar for you,
but I don't smoke."

"Do you happen to have any whiskey handy?"

"No, I don't drink."

"Well, what the devil--Oh, well, fire away."

"Now, see here. We control the Grey millions. Of course, we've got to
let her play with her income, and that's considerable. Her favorite game
just now is Negro education, and she's planning to go in heavy. Her
adviser in this line, however, is Smith, and he belongs to us."

"What Smith?"

"Why, the man who's going to be Senator from New Jersey. He has a sister
teaching in the South--you know, of course; it's at your home where my
sister Mary taught."

"Great Scott! Is that woman's brother going to spend this money? Why,
are you daft? See here! American cotton-spinning supremacy is built on
cheap cotton; cheap cotton is built on cheap niggers. Educating, or
rather _trying_ to educate niggers, will make them restless and
discontented--that is, scarce and dear as workers. Don't you see you're
planning to cut off your noses? This Smith School, particularly, has
nearly ruined our plantation. It's stuck almost in our front yard; _you_
are planning to put our plough-hands all to studying Greek, and at the
same time to corner the cotton crop--rot!"

John Taylor caressed his lean jaw.

"New point of view to me; I sort of thought education would improve
things in the South," he commented, unmoved.

"It would if we ran it."

"We?"

"Yes--we Southerners."

"Um!--I see--there's light. See here, let's talk to Easterly about
this." They went into the next office, and after a while got audience
with the trust magnate. Mr. Easterly heard the matter carefully and
waved it aside.

"Oh, that doesn't concern us, Taylor; let Cresswell take care of the
whole thing. We'll see that Smith does what Cresswell wants."

But Taylor shook his head.

"Smith would kick. Mrs. Grey would get suspicious, and the devil be to
pay. This is better. Form a big committee of Northern business men like
yourself--philanthropists like Vanderpool, and Southerners like
Cresswell; let them be a sort of Negro Education steering-committee.
We'll see that on such committee you Southerners get what you
want--control of Negro education."

"That sounds fair. But how about the Smith School? My father writes me
that they are showing signs of expecting money right off--is that true?
If it is, I want it stopped; it will ruin our campaign for the Farmers'
League."

John Taylor looked at Cresswell. He thought he saw something more than
general policy, or even racial prejudice--something personal--in his
vehemence. The Smith School was evidently a severe thorn in the flesh of
this man. All the more reason for mollifying him. Then, too, there was
something in his argument. It was not wise to start educating these
Negroes and getting them discontented just now. Ignorant labor was not
ideal, but it was worth too much to employers to lose it now. Educated
Negro labor might be worth more to Negroes, but not to the cotton
combine. "H'm--well, then--" and John Taylor went into a brown study,
while Cresswell puffed impatiently at a cigarette.

"I have it," said Taylor. Cresswell sat up. "First, let Mr. Easterly get
Smith." Easterly turned to the telephone.

"Is that you, Smith?"

"Well, this is Easterly.... Yes--how about Mrs. Grey's education
schemes?... Yes.... h'm--well,--see here Smith, we must go a little easy
there.... Oh, no, no,--but to advertise just now a big scheme of Negro
Education would drive the Cresswells, the Farmers' League, and the whole
business South dead against us.... Yes, yes indeed; they believe in
education all right, but they ain't in for training lawyers and
professors just yet.... No, I don't suppose her school is.... Well,
then; see here. She'll be reasonable, won't she, and placate the
Cresswells?... No, I mean run the school to suit their ideas.... No, no,
but in general along the lines which they could approve.... Yes, I
thought so ... of course ... good-bye."

"Inclined to be a little nasty?" asked Taylor.

"A little sharp--but tractable. Now, Mr. Cresswell, the thing is in your
hands. We'll get this committee which Taylor suggests appointed, and
send it on a junket to Alabama; you do the rest--see?"

"Who'll be the committee?" asked Cresswell.

"Name it."

Mr. Cresswell smiled and left.

The winter started in severely, and it was easy to fill two private cars
with members of the new Negro Education Board right after Thanksgiving.
Cresswell had worked carefully and with caution. There was Mrs. Grey,
comfortable and beaming, Mr. Easterly, who thought this a good business
opportunity, and his family. Mrs. Vanderpool liked the South and was
amused at the trip, and had induced Mr. Vanderpool to come by stories of
shooting.

"Ah!" said Mr. Vanderpool.

Mr. Charles Smith and John Taylor were both too busy to go, but
bronchial trouble induced the Rev. Dr. Boldish of St. Faith's rich
parish to be one of the party, and at the last moment Temple Bocombe,
the sociologist, consented to join.

"Awfully busy," he said, "but I've been reading up on the Negro problem
since you mentioned the matter to me last week, Mr. Cresswell, and I
think I understand it thoroughly. I may be able to help out."

The necessary spice of young womanhood was added to the party by Miss
Taylor and Miss Cresswell, together with the silent Miss Boldish. They
were a comfortable and sometimes merry party. Dr. Boldish pointed out
the loafers at the stations, especially the black ones; Mr. Bocombe
counted them and estimated the number of hours of work lost at ten cents
an hour.

"Do they get that--ten cents an hour?" asked Miss Taylor.

"Oh, I don't know," replied Mr. Bocombe; "but suppose they do, for
instance. That is an average wage today."

"They look lazy," said Mrs. Grey.

"They are lazy," said Mr. Cresswell.

"So am I," added Mrs. Vanderpool, suppressing a yawn.

"It is uninteresting," murmured her husband, preparing for a nap.

On the whole the members of the party enjoyed themselves from the moment
they drew out of Jersey City to the afternoon when, in four carriages,
they rolled beneath the curious eyes of all Toomsville and swept under
the shadowed rampart of the swamp.

"The Christmas" was coming and all the Southern world was busy. Few
people were busier than Bles and Zora. Slowly, wonderfully for them,
heaven bent in these dying days of the year and kissed the earth, and
the tremor thrilled all lands and seas. Everything was good, all things
were happy, and these two were happiest of all. Out of the shadows and
hesitations of childhood they had stepped suddenly into manhood and
womanhood, with firm feet and uplifted heads. All the day that was
theirs they worked, picking the Silver Fleece--picking it tenderly and
lovingly from off the brown and spent bodies which had so utterly
yielded life and beauty to the full fruition of this long and silken
tendril, this white beauty of the cotton. November came and flew, and
still the unexhausted field yielded its frothing fruit.

Today seemed doubly glorious, for Bles had spoken of their marriage;
with twined hands and arms, and lips ever and again seeking their mates,
they walked the leafy way.

Unconscious, rapt, they stepped out into the Big Road skirting the edge
of the swamp. Why not? Was it not the King's Highway? And Love was King.
So they talked on, unknowing that far up the road the Cresswell coaches
were wheeling along with precious burdens. In the first carriage were
Mrs. Grey and Mrs. Vanderpool, Mr. Cresswell and Miss Taylor. Mrs.
Vanderpool was lolling luxuriously, but Mrs. Grey was a little stiff
from long travel and sat upright. Mr. Cresswell looked clean-cut and
handsome, and Miss Taylor seemed complacent and responsible. The dying
of the day soothed them all insensibly. Groups of dark little children
passed them as they neared the school, staring with wide eyes and
greeting timidly.

"There seems to be marrying and giving in marriage," laughed Mrs.
Vanderpool.

"Not very much," said Mr. Cresswell drily.

"Well, at least plenty of children."

"Plenty."

"But where are the houses?" asked Mrs. Grey.

"Perhaps in the swamp," said Mrs. Vanderpool lightly, looking up at the
sombre trees that lined the left.

"They live where they please and do as they please," Cresswell
explained; to which Mrs. Vanderpool added: "Like other animals."

Mary Taylor opened her lips to rebuke this levity when suddenly the
coachman called out and the horses swerved, and the carriage's four
occupants faced a young man and a young woman embracing heartily.

Out through the wood Bles and Zora had come to the broad red road;
playfully he celebrated all her beauty unconscious of time and place.

"You are tall and bend like grasses on the swamp," he said.

"And yet look up to you," she murmured.

"Your eyes are darkness dressed in night."

"To see you brighter, dear," she said.

"Your little hands are much too frail for work."

"They must grow larger, then, and soon."

"Your feet are far too small to travel on."

"They'll travel on to you--that's far enough."

"Your lips--your full and purple lips--were made alone for kissing, not
for words."

"They'll do for both."

He laughed in utter joy and touched her hair with light caressing hands.

"It does not fly with sunlight," she said quickly, with an upward
glance.

"No," he answered. "It sits and listens to the night."

But even as she nestled to him happily there came the harsh thunder of
horses' hoofs, beating on their ears. He drew her quickly to him in
fear, and the coach lurched and turned, and left them facing four pairs
of eyes. Miss Taylor reddened; Mrs. Grey looked surprised; Mrs.
Vanderpool smiled; but Mr. Cresswell darkened with anger. The couple
unclasped shamefacedly, and the young man, lifting his hat, started to
stammer an apology; but Cresswell interrupted him:

"Keep your--your philandering to the woods, or I shall have you
arrested," he said slowly, his face colorless, his lips twitching with
anger. "Drive on, John."

Miss Taylor felt that her worst suspicions had been confirmed; but Mrs.
Vanderpool was curious as to the cause of Cresswell's anger. It was so
genuine that it needed explanation.

"Are kisses illegal here?" she asked before the horses started, turning
the battery of her eyes full upon him. But Cresswell had himself well in
hand.

"No," he said. "But the girl is--notorious."

On the lovers the words fell like a blow. Zora shivered, and a grayish
horror mottled the dark burning of her face. Bles started in anger, then
paused in shivering doubt. What had happened? They knew not; yet
involuntarily their hands fell apart; they avoided each other's eyes.

"I--I must go now," gasped Zora, as the carriage swept away.

He did not hold her, he did not offer the farewell kiss, but stood
staring at the road as she walked into the swamp. A moment she paused
and looked back; then slowly, almost painfully, she took the path back
to the field of the Fleece, and reaching it after long, long minutes,
began mechanically to pick the cotton. But the cotton glowed crimson in
the failing sun.

Bles walked toward the school. What had happened? he kept asking. And
yet he dared not question the awful shape that sat somewhere, cold and
still, behind his soul. He heard the hoofs of horses again. It was Miss
Taylor being brought back to the school to greet Miss Smith and break
the news of the coming of the party. He raised his hat. She did not
return the greeting, but he found her pausing at the gate. It seemed to
her too awful for this foolish fellow thus to throw himself away. She
faced him and he flinched as from some descending blow.

"Bles," she said primly, "have you absolutely no shame?"

He braced himself and raised his head proudly.

"I am going to marry her; it is no crime." Then he noted the expression
on her face, and paused.

She stepped back, scandalized.

"Can it be, Bles Alwyn," she said, "that you don't know the sort of girl
she is?"

He raised his hands and warded off her words, dumbly, as she turned to
go, almost frightened at the havoc she saw. The heavens flamed scarlet
in his eyes and he screamed.

"It's a lie! It's a damned lie!" He wheeled about and tore into the
swamp.

"It's a damned lie!" he shouted to the trees. "Is it?--is it?" chirped
the birds. "It's a cruel falsehood!" he moaned. "Is it?--is it?"
whispered the devils within.

It seemed to him as though suddenly the world was staggering and
faltering about him. The trees bent curiously and strange breathings
were upon the breezes. He unbuttoned his collar that he might get more
air. A thousand things he had forgotten surged suddenly to life. Slower
and slower he ran, more and more the thoughts crowded his head. He
thought of that first red night and the yelling and singing and wild
dancing; he thought of Cresswell's bitter words; he thought of Zora
telling how she stayed out nights; he thought of the little bower that
he had built her in the cotton field. A wild fear struggled with his
anger, but he kept repeating, "No, no," and then, "At any rate, she will
tell me the truth." She had never lied to him; she would not dare; he
clenched his hands, murder in his heart.

Slowly and more slowly he ran. He knew where she was--where she must be,
waiting. And yet as he drew near huge hands held him back, and heavy
weights clogged his feet. His heart said: "On! quick! She will tell the
truth, and all will be well." His mind said: "Slow, slow; this is the
end." He hurled the thought aside, and crashed through the barrier.

She was standing still and listening, with a huge basket of the piled
froth of the field upon her head. One long brown arm, tender with
curvings, balanced the cotton; the other, poised, balanced the slim
swaying body. Bending she listened, her eyes shining, her lips apart,
her bosom fluttering at the well-known step.

He burst into her view with the fury of a beast, rending the wood away
and trampling the underbrush, reeling and muttering until he saw her.
She looked at him. Her hands dropped, she stood very still with drawn
face, grayish-brown, both hands unconsciously out-stretched, and the
cotton swaying, while deep down in her eyes, dimly, slowly, a horror lit
and grew. He paused a moment, then came slowly onward doggedly,
drunkenly, with torn clothes, flying collar, and red eyes. Then he
paused again, still beyond arm's-length, looking at her with fear-struck
eyes. The cotton on her head shivered and dropped in a pure mass of
white and silvery snow about her limbs. Her hands fell limply and the
horror flamed in her wet eyes. He struggled with his voice but it grated
and came hoarse and hard from his quivering throat.

"Zora!"

"Yes, Bles."

"You--you told me--you were--pure."

She was silent, but her body went all a-tremble. He stepped forward
until she could almost touch him; there standing straight and tall he
glared down upon her.

"Answer me," he whispered in a voice hard with its tight held sobs. A
misery darkened her face and the light died from her eyes, yet she
looked at him bravely and her voice came low and full as from afar.

"I asked you what it meant to be pure, Bles, and--and you told--and I
told you the truth."

"What it meant!--what it meant!" he repeated in the low, tense anguish.


"But--but, Bles--" She faltered; there came an awful pleading in her
eyes; her hand groped toward him; but he stepped slowly back--"But,
Bles--you said--willingly--you said--if--if she knew--"

He thundered back in livid anger:

"Knew! All women know! You should have _died_!"

Sobs were rising and shaking her from head to foot, but she drove them
back and gripped her breasts with her hands.

"No, Bles--no--all girls do not know. I was a child. Not since I knew
you, Bles--never, never since I saw you."

"Since--since," he groaned--"Christ! But before?"

"Yes, before."

"My God!"

She knew the end had come. Yet she babbled on tremblingly:

"He was our master, and all the other girls that gathered there did his
will; I--I--" she choked and faltered, and he drew farther away--"I
began running away, and they hunted me through the swamps. And
then--then I reckon I'd have gone back and been--as they all are--but
you came, Bles--you came, and you--you were a new great thing in my
life, and--and--yet, I was afraid I was not worthy until you--you said
the words. I thought you knew, and I thought that--that purity was just
wanting to be pure."

He ground his teeth in fury. Oh, he was an innocent--a blind baby--the
joke and laughing-stock of the country around, with yokels grinning at
him and pale-faced devils laughing aloud. The teachers knew; the girls
knew; God knew; everybody but he knew--poor blind, deaf mole, stupid
jackass that he was. He must run--run away from this world, and far off
in some free land beat back this pain.

Then in sheer weariness the anger died within his soul, leaving but
ashes and despair. Slowly he turned away, but with a quick motion she
stood in his path.

"Bles," she cried, "how can I grow pure?"

He looked at her listlessly.

"Never--never again," he slowly answered her.

Dark fear swept her drawn face.

"Never?" she gasped.

Pity surged and fought in his breast; but one thought held and burned
him. He bent to her fiercely:

"Who?" he demanded.

She pointed toward the Cresswell Oaks, and he turned away. She did not
attempt to stop him again, but dropped her hands and stared drearily up
into the clear sky with its shining worlds.

"Good-bye, Bles," she said slowly. "I thank God he gave you to me--just
a little time." She hesitated and waited. There came no word as the man
moved slowly away. She stood motionless. Then slowly he turned and came
back. He laid his hand a moment, lightly, upon her head.

"Good-bye--Zora," he sobbed, and was gone.

She did not look up, but knelt there silent, dry-eyed, till the last
rustle of his going died in the night. And then, like a waiting storm,
the torrent of her grief swept down upon her; she stretched herself upon
the black and fleece-strewn earth, and writhed.




_Sixteen_

THE GREAT REFUSAL


All night Miss Smith lay holding the quivering form of Zora close to her
breast, staring wide-eyed into the darkness--thinking, thinking. In the
morning the party would come. There would be Mrs. Grey and Mary Taylor,
Mrs. Vanderpool, who had left her so coldly in the lurch before, and
some of the Cresswells. They would come well fed and impressed with the
charming hospitality of their hosts, and rather more than willing to see
through those host's eyes. They would be in a hurry to return to some
social function, and would give her work but casual attention.

It seemed so dark an ending to so bright a dream. Never for her had a
fall opened as gloriously. The love of this boy and girl, blossoming as
it had beneath her tender care, had been a sacred, wonderful history
that revived within her memories of long-forgotten days. But above lay
the vision of her school, redeemed and enlarged, its future safe, its
usefulness broadened--small wonder that to Sarah Smith the future had
seemed in November almost golden.

Then things began to go wrong. The transfer of the Tolliver land had not
yet been effected; the money was ready, but Mr. Tolliver seemed busy or
hesitating. Next came this news of Mrs. Grey's probable conditions. So
here it was Christmas time, and Sarah Smith's castles lay almost in
ruins about her.

The girl moaned in her fitful sleep and Miss Smith soothed her. Poor
child! here too was work--a strange strong soul cruelly stricken in her
youth. Could she be brought back to a useful life? How she needed such a
strong, clear-eyed helper in this crisis of her work! Would Zora make
one or would this blow send her to perdition? Not if Sarah Smith could
save her, she resolved, and stared out the window where the pale red
dawn was sending its first rays on the white-pillared mansion of the
Cresswells.

Mrs. Grey saw the light on the columns, too, as she lay lazily in her
soft white bed. There was a certain delicious languor in the late
lingering fall of Alabama that suited her perfectly. Then, too, she
liked the house and its appointments; there was not, to be sure, all the
luxury that she was used to in her New York mansion, but there was a
certain finish about it, an elegance and staid old-fashioned hospitality
that appealed to her tremendously. Mrs. Grey's heart warmed to the sight
of Helen in her moments of spasmodic caring for the sick and afflicted
on the estate. No better guardian of her philanthropies could be found
than these same Cresswells. She must, of course, go over and see dear
Sarah Smith; but really there was not much to say or to look at.

The prospects seemed most alluring. Later, Mr. Easterly talked a while
on routine business, saying, as he turned away:

"I am more and more impressed, Mrs. Grey, with your wisdom in placing
large investments in the South. With peaceful social conditions the
returns will be large."

Mrs. Grey heard this delicate flattery complacently. She had her streak
of thrift, and wanted her business capacity recognized. She listened
attentively.

"For this reason, I trust you will handle your Negro philanthropies
judicially, as I know you will. There's dynamite in this race problem
for amateur reformers, but fortunately you have at hand wise and
sympathetic advisers in the Cresswells."

Mrs. Grey agreed entirely.

Mary Taylor, alone of the committee, took her commission so seriously as
to be anxious to begin work.

"We are to visit the school this morning, you know," she reminded the
others, looking at her watch; "I'm afraid we're late already."

The remark created mild consternation. It seemed that Mr. Vanderpool had
gone hunting and his wife had not yet arisen. Dr. Boldish was very
hoarse, Mr. Easterly was going to look over some plantations with
Colonel Cresswell, and Mr. Bocombe was engrossed in a novel.

"Clever, but not true to life," he said.

Finally the clergyman and Mr. Bocombe, Mrs. Grey and Mrs. Vanderpool and
Miss Taylor started for the school, with Harry Cresswell, about an hour
after lunch. The delay and suppressed excitement among the little folks
had upset things considerably there, but at the sight of the visitors at
the gate Miss Smith rang the bell.

The party came in, laughing and chatting. They greeted Miss Smith
cordially. Dr. Boldish was beginning to tell a good story when a silence
fell.

The children had gathered, quietly, almost timidly, and before the
distinguished company realized it, they turned to meet that battery of
four hundred eyes. A human eye is a wonderful thing when it simply waits
and watches. Not one of these little things alone would have been worth
more than a glance, but together, they became mighty, portentous. Mr.
Bocombe got out his note-book and wrote furiously therein. Dr. Boldish,
naturally the appointed spokesman, looked helplessly about and whispered
to Mrs. Vanderpool:

"What on earth shall I talk about?"

"The brotherhood of man?" suggested the lady.

"Hardly advisable," returned Dr. Boldish, seriously, "in our friend's
presence,"--with a glance toward Cresswell. Then he arose.

"My friends," he said, touching his finger-tips and using blank verse in
A minor. "This is an auspicious day. You should be thankful for the
gifts of the Lord. His bounty surrounds you--the trees, the fields, the
glorious sun. He gives cotton to clothe you, corn to eat, devoted
friends to teach you. Be joyful. Be good. Above all, be thrifty and save
your money, and do not complain and whine at your apparent
disadvantages. Remember that God did not create men equal but unequal,
and set metes and bounds. It is not for us to question the wisdom of the
Almighty, but to bow humbly to His will.

"Remember that the slavery of your people was not necessarily a crime.
It was a school of work and love. It gave you noble friends, like Mr.
Cresswell here." A restless stirring, and the battery of eyes was turned
upon that imperturbable gentleman, as if he were some strange animal.
"Love and serve them. Remember that we get, after all, little education
from books; rather in the fields, at the plough and in the kitchen. Let
your ambition be to serve rather than rule, to be humble followers of
the lowly Jesus."

With an upward glance the Rev. Dr. Boldish sat down amid a silence a
shade more intense than that which had greeted him. Then slowly from the
far corner rose a thin voice, tremulously. It wavered on the air and
almost broke, then swelled in sweet, low music. Other and stronger
voices gathered themselves to it, until two hundred were singing a soft
minor wail that gripped the hearts and tingled in the ears of the
hearers. Mr. Bocombe groped with a puzzled expression to find the pocket
for his note-book; Harry Cresswell dropped his eyes, and on Mrs.
Vanderpool's lips the smile died. Mary Taylor flushed, and Mrs. Grey
cried frankly:

"Poor things!" she whispered.

"Now," said Mrs. Grey, turning about, "we haven't but just a moment and
we want to take a little look at your work." She smiled graciously upon
Miss Smith.

Mrs. Grey thought the cooking-school very nice.

"I suppose," she said, "that you furnish cooks for the county."

"Largely," said Miss Smith. Mrs. Vanderpool looked surprised, but Miss
Smith added: "This county, you know, is mostly black." Mrs. Grey did not
catch the point.

The dormitories were neat and the ladies expressed great pleasure in
them.

"It is certainly nice for them to know what a clean place is," commented
Mrs. Grey. Mr. Cresswell, however, looked at a bath-room and smiled.

"How practical!" he said.

"Can you not stop and see some of the classes?" Sarah Smith knew in her
heart that the visit was a failure, still she would do her part to the
end.

"I doubt if we shall have time," Mrs. Grey returned, as they walked on.
"Mr. Cresswell expects friends to dinner."

"What a magnificent intelligence office," remarked Mr. Bocombe, "for
furnishing servants to the nation. I saw splendid material for cooks and
maids."

"And plough-boys," added Cresswell.

"And singers," said Mary Taylor.

"Well, now that's just my idea," said Mrs. Grey, "that these schools
should furnish trained servants and laborers for the South. Isn't that
your idea, Miss Smith?"

"Not exactly," the lady replied, "or at least I shouldn't put it just
that way. My idea is that this school should furnish men and women who
can work and earn an honest living, train up families aright, and
perform their duties as fathers, mothers, and citizens."

"Yes--yes, precisely," said Mrs. Grey, "that's what I meant."

"I think the whites can attend to the duties of citizenship without
help," observed Mr. Cresswell.

"Don't let the blacks meddle in politics," said Dr. Boldish.

"I want to make these children full-fledged men and women, strong,
self-reliant, honest, without any 'ifs' and 'ands' to their
development," insisted Miss Smith.

"Of course, and that is just what Mr. Cresswell wants. Isn't it, Mr.
Cresswell?" asked Mrs. Grey.

"I think I may say yes," Mr. Cresswell agreed. "I certainly want these
people to develop as far as they can, although Miss Smith and I would
differ as to their possibilities. But it is not so much in the general
theory of Negro education as in its particular applications where our
chief differences would lie. I may agree that a boy should learn higher
arithmetic, yet object to his loafing in plough-time. I might want to
educate some girls but not girls like Zora."

Mrs. Vanderpool glanced at Mr. Cresswell, smiling to herself.

Mrs. Grey broke in, beaming:

"That's just it, dear Miss Smith,--just it. Your heart is good, but you
need strong practical advice. You know we weak women are so impractical,
as my poor Job so often said. Now, I'm going to arrange to endow this
school with at least--at least a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. One
condition is that my friend, Mr. Cresswell here, and these other
gentlemen, including sound Northern business men like Mr. Easterly,
shall hold this money in trust, and expend it for your school as they
think best."

"Mr. Cresswell would be their local representative?" asked Miss Smith
slowly with white face.

"Why yes--yes, of course."

There was a long, tense silence. Then the firm reply,

"Mrs. Grey, I thank you, but I cannot accept your offer."

Sarah Smith's voice was strong, the tremor had left her hands. She had
expected something like this, of course; yet when it came--somehow it
failed to stun. She would not turn over the direction of the school, or
the direction of the education of these people, to those who were most
opposed to their education. Therefore, there was no need to hesitate;
there was no need to think the thing over--she had thought it over--and
she looked into Mrs. Grey's eyes and with gathering tears in her own
said:

"Again, I thank you very much, Mrs. Grey."

Mrs. Grey was a picture of the most emphatic surprise, and Mr. Cresswell
moved to the window. Mrs. Grey looked helplessly at her companions.

"But--I don't understand, Miss Smith--why can't you accept my offer?"

"Because you ask me to put my school in control of those who do not wish
for the best interests of black folk, and in particular I object to Mr.
Cresswell," said Miss Smith, slowly but very distinctly, "because his
relation to the forces of evil in this community has been such that he
can direct no school of mine." Mrs. Vanderpool moved toward the door and
Mr. Cresswell bowing slightly followed. Dr. Boldish looked indignant and
Mr. Bocombe dove after his note-book. Mary Taylor, her head in a whirl,
came forward. She felt that in some way she was responsible for this
dreadful situation and she wanted desperately to save matters from final
disaster.

"Come," she said, "Mrs. Grey, we'll talk this matter over again later. I
am sure Miss Smith does not mean quite all she says--she is tired and
nervous. You join the others and don't wait for me and I will be along
directly."

Mrs. Grey was only too glad to escape and Mr. Bocombe got a chance to
talk. He drew out his note-book.

"Awfully interesting," he said, "awfully. Now--er--let's see--oh, yes.
Did you notice how unhealthy the children looked? Race is undoubtedly
dying out; fact. No hope. Weak. No spontaneity either--rather languid,
did you notice? Yes, and their heads--small and narrow--no brain
capacity. They can't concentrate; notice how some slept when Dr. Boldish
was speaking? Mr. Cresswell says they own almost no land here; think of
it? This land was worth only ten dollars an acre a decade ago, he says.
Negroes might have bought all and been rich. Very shiftless--and that
singing. Now, I wonder where they got the music? Imitation, of course."
And so he rattled on, noting not the silence of the others.

As the carriage drove off Mary turned to Miss Smith.

"Now, Miss Smith," she began--but Miss Smith looked at her, and said
sternly, "Sit down."

Mary Taylor sat down. She had been so used to lecturing the older woman
that the sudden summoning of her well known sternness against herself
took her breath, and she sat awkwardly like the school girl that she was
waiting for Miss Smith to speak. She felt suddenly very young and very
helpless--she who had so jauntily set out to solve this mighty problem
by a waving of her wand. She saw with a swelling of pity the drawn and
stricken face of her old friend and she started up.

"Sit down," repeated Miss Smith harshly. "Mary Taylor, you are a fool.
You are not foolish, for the foolish learn; you are simply a fool. You
will never learn; you have blundered into this life work of mine and
well nigh ruined it. Whether I can yet save it God alone knows. You have
blundered into the lives of two loving children, and sent one wandering
aimless on the face of the earth and the other moaning in yonder chamber
with death in her heart. You are going to marry the man that sought
Zora's ruin when she was yet a child because you think of his
aristocratic pose and pretensions built on the poverty, crime, and
exploitation of six generations of serfs. You'll marry him and--"

But Miss Taylor leapt to her feet with blazing cheeks.

"How dare you?" she screamed, beside herself.

"But God in heaven help you if you do," finished Miss Smith, calmly.




_Seventeen_

THE RAPE OF THE FLEECE


When slowly from the torpor of ether, one wakens to the misty sense of
eternal loss, and there comes the exquisite prick of pain, then one
feels in part the horror of the ache when Zora wakened to the world
again. The awakening was the work of days and weeks. At first in sheer
exhaustion, physical and mental, she lay and moaned. The sense of
loss--of utter loss--lay heavy upon her. Something of herself, something
dearer than self, was gone from her forever, and an infinite loneliness
and silence, as of endless years, settled on her soul. She wished
neither food nor words, only to be alone. Then gradually the pain of
injury stung her when the blood flowed fuller. As Miss Smith knelt
beside her one night to make her simple prayer Zora sat suddenly
upright, white-swathed, dishevelled, with fury in her midnight eyes.

"I want no prayers!" she cried, "I will not pray! He is no God of mine.
He isn't fair. He knows and won't tell. He takes advantage of us--He
works and fools us." All night Miss Smith heard mutterings of this
bitterness, and the next day the girl walked her room like a
tigress,--to and fro, to and fro, all the long day. Toward night a dumb
despair settled upon her. Miss Smith found her sitting by the window
gazing blankly toward the swamp. She came to Miss Smith, slowly, and put
her hands upon her shoulders with almost a caress.

"You must forgive me," she pleaded plaintively. "I reckon I've been
mighty bad with you, and you always so good to me; but--but, you see--it
hurts so."

"I know it hurts, dear; I know it does. But men and women must learn to
bear hurts in this world."

"Not hurts like this; they couldn't."

"Yes, even hurts like this. Bear and stand straight; be brave. After
all, Zora, no man is quite worth a woman's soul; no love is worth a
whole life."

Zora turned away with a gesture of impatience.

"You were born in ice," she retorted, adding a bit more tenderly, "in
clear strong ice; but I was born in fire. I live--I love; that's all."
And she sat down again, despairingly, and stared at the dull swamp. Miss
Smith stood for a moment and closed her eyes upon a vision.

"Ice!" she whispered. "My God!"

Then, at length, she said to Zora:

"Zora, there's only one way: do something; if you sit thus brooding
you'll go crazy."

"Do crazy folks forget?"

"Nonsense, Zora!" Miss Smith ridiculed the girl's fantastic vagaries;
her sound common sense rallied to her aid. "They are the people who
remember; sane folk forget. Work is the only cure for such pain."

"But there's nothing to do--nothing I want to do--nothing worth
doing--now."

"The Silver Fleece?"

The girl sat upright.

"The Silver Fleece," she murmured. Without further word, slowly she
arose and walked down the stairs, and out into the swamp. Miss Smith
watched her go; she knew that every step must be the keen prickle of
awakening flesh. Yet the girl walked steadily on.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was the Christmas--not Christmas-tide of the North and West, but
Christmas of the Southern South. It was not the festival of the Christ
Child, but a time of noise and frolic and license, the great Pay-Day of
the year when black men lifted their heads from a year's toiling in the
earth, and, hat in hand, asked anxiously: "Master, what have I earned?
Have I paid my old debts to you? Have I made my clothes and food? Have I
got a little of the year's wage coming to me?" Or, more carelessly and
cringingly: "Master, gimme a Christmas gift."

The lords of the soil stood round, gauging their cotton, measuring their
men. Their stores were crowded, their scales groaned, their gins sang.
In the long run public opinion determines all wage, but in more
primitive times and places, private opinion, personal judgment of some
man in power, determines. The Black Belt is primitive and the landlord
wields the power.

"What about Johnson?" calls the head clerk.

"Well, he's a faithful nigger and needs encouragement; cancel his debt
and give him ten dollars for Christmas." Colonel Cresswell glowed, as if
he were full of the season's spirit.

"And Sanders?"

"How's his cotton?"

"Good, and a lot of it."

"He's trying to get away. Keep him in debt, but let him draw what he
wants."

"Aunt Rachel?"

"H'm, they're way behind, aren't they? Give her a couple of dollars--not
a cent more."

"Jim Sykes?"

"Say, Harry, how about that darky, Sykes?" called out the Colonel.

Excusing himself from his guests, Harry Cresswell came into the office.

To them this peculiar spectacle of the market place was of unusual
interest. They saw its humor and its crowding, its bizarre effects and
unwonted pageantry. Black giants and pigmies were there; kerchiefed
aunties, giggling black girls, saffron beauties, and loafing white men.
There were mules and horses and oxen, wagons and buggies and carts; but
above all and in all, rushing through, piled and flying, bound and
baled--was cotton. Cotton was currency; cotton was merchandise; cotton
was conversation.

All this was "beautiful" to Mrs. Grey and "unusually interesting" to
Mrs. Vanderpool. To Mary Taylor it had the fascination of a puzzle whose
other side she had already been partially studying. She was particularly
impressed with the joy and abandon of the scene--light laughter, huge
guffaws, handshakes, and gossipings.

"At all events," she concluded, "this is no oppressed people." And
sauntering away from the rest she noted the smiles of an undersized
smirking yellow man who hurried by with a handful of dollar bills. At a
side entrance liquor was evidently on sale--men were drinking and women,
too; some were staggering, others cursing, and yet others singing. Then
suddenly a man swung around the corner swearing in bitter rage:

"The damned thieves, they'se stole a year's work--the white--" But some
one called, "Hush up, Sanders! There's a white woman." And he threw a
startled look at Mary and hurried by. She was perplexed and upset and
stood hesitating a moment when she heard a well-known voice:

"Why, Miss Taylor, I was alarmed for you; you really must be careful
about trusting yourself with these half drunken Negroes."

"Wouldn't it be better not to give them drink, Mr. Cresswell?"

"And let your neighbor sell them poison at all hours? No, Miss Taylor."
They joined the others, and all were turning toward the carriage when a
figure coming down the road attracted them.

"Quite picturesque," observed Mrs. Vanderpool, looking at the tall, slim
girl swaying toward them with a piled basket of white cotton poised
lightly on her head. "Why," in abrupt recognition, "it is our Venus of
the Roadside, is it not?"

Mary saw it was Zora. Just then, too, Zora caught sight of them, and for
a moment hesitated, then came on; the carriage was in front of the
store, and she was bound for the store. A moment Mary hesitated, too,
and then turned resolutely to greet her. But Zora's eyes did not see
her. After one look at that sorrow-stricken face, Mary turned away.

Colonel Cresswell stood by the door, his hat on, his hands in his
pockets.

"Well, Zora, what have you there?" he asked.

"Cotton, sir."

Harry Cresswell bent over it.

"Great heavens! Look at this cotton!" he ejaculated. His father
approached. The cotton lay in silken handfuls, clean and shimmering,
with threads full two inches long. The idlers, black and white,
clustered round, gazing at it, and fingering it with repeated
exclamations of astonishment.

"Where did this come from?" asked the Colonel sharply. He and Harry were
both eying the girl intently.

"I raised it in the swamp," Zora replied quietly, in a dead voice. There
was no pride of achievement in her manner, no gladness; all that had
flown.

"Is that all?"

"No, sir; I think there's two bales."

"Two bales! Where is it? How the devil--" The Colonel was forgetting his
guests, but Harry intervened.

"You'll need to get it picked right off," he suggested.

"It's all picked, sir."

"But where is it?"

"If you'll send a wagon, sir--"

But the Colonel hardly waited.

"Here you, Jim, take the big mules and drive like--Where's that wench?"

But Zora was already striding on ahead, and was far up the red road when
the great mules galloped into sight and the long whip snapped above
their backs. The Colonel was still excited.

"That cotton must be ours, Harry--all of it. And see that none is
stolen. We've got no contract with the wench, so don't dally with her."
But Harry said firmly, quietly:

"It's fine cotton, and she raised it; she must be paid well for it."
Colonel Cresswell glanced at him with something between contempt and
astonishment on his face.

"You go along with the ladies," Harry added; "I'll see to this cotton."
Mary Taylor's smile had rewarded him; now he must get rid of his
company--before Zora returned.

It was dark when the cotton came; such a load as Cresswell's store had
never seen before. Zora watched it weighed, received the cotton checks,
and entered the store. Only the clerk was there, and he was closing. He
pointed her carelessly to the office in the back part. She went into the
small dim room, and laying the cotton-check on the desk, stood waiting.
Slowly the hopelessness and bitterness of it all came back in a great
whelming flood. What was the use of trying for anything? She was lost
forever. The world was against her, and again she saw the fingers of
Elspeth--the long black claw-like talons that clutched and dragged her
down--down. She did not struggle--she dropped her hands listlessly,
wearily, and stood but half conscious as the door opened and Mr. Harry
Cresswell entered the dimly lighted room. She opened her eyes. She had
expected his father. Somewhere way down in the depths of her nature the
primal tiger awoke and snarled. She was suddenly alive from hair to
finger tip. Harry Cresswell paused a second and swept her full length
with his eye--her profile, the long supple line of bosom and hip, the
little foot. Then he closed the door softly and walked slowly toward
her. She stood like stone, without a quiver; only her eye followed the
crooked line of the Cresswell blue blood on his marble forehead as she
looked down from her greater height; her hand closed almost caressingly
on a rusty poker lying on the stove nearby; and as she sensed the hot
breath of him she felt herself purring in a half heard whisper.

"I should not like--to kill you."

He looked at her long and steadily as he passed to his desk. Slowly he
lighted a cigarette, opened the great ledger, and compared the
cotton-check with it.

"Three thousand pounds," he announced in a careless tone. "Yes, that
will make about two bales of lint. It's extra cotton--say fifteen cents
a pound--one hundred fifty dollars--seventy-five dollars to you--h'm."
He took a note-book out of his pocket, pushed his hat back on his head,
and paused to relight his cigarette.

"Let's see--your rent and rations--"

"Elspeth pays no rent," she said slowly, but he did not seem to hear.

"Your rent and rations with the five years' back debt,"--he made a hasty
calculation--"will be one hundred dollars. That leaves you twenty-five
in our debt. Here's your receipt."

The blow had fallen. She did not wince nor cry out. She took the
receipt, calmly, and walked out into the darkness.

They had stolen the Silver Fleece.

What should she do? She never thought of appeal to courts, for Colonel
Cresswell was Justice of the Peace and his son was bailiff. Why had they
stolen from her? She knew. She was now penniless, and in a sense
helpless. She was now a peon bound to a master's bidding. If Elspeth
chose to sign a contract of work for her to-morrow, it would mean
slavery, jail, or hounded running away. What would Elspeth do? One never
knew. Zora walked on. An hour ago it seemed that this last blow must
have killed her. But now it was different. Into her first despair had
crept, in one fierce moment, grim determination. Somewhere in the world
sat a great dim Injustice which had veiled the light before her young
eyes, just as she raised them to the morning. With the veiling, death
had come into her heart.

And yet, they should not kill her; they should not enslave her. A
desperate resolve to find some way up toward the light, if not to it,
formed itself within her. She would not fall into the pit opening before
her. Somehow, somewhere lay The Way. She must never fall lower; never be
utterly despicable in the eyes of the man she had loved. There was no
dream of forgiveness, of purification, of re-kindled love; all these she
placed sadly and gently into the dead past. But in awful earnestness,
she turned toward the future; struggling blindly, groping in half formed
plans for a way.

She came thus into the room where sat Miss Smith, strangely pallid
beneath her dusky skin. But there lay a light in her eyes.




_Eighteen_

THE COTTON CORNER


All over the land the cotton had foamed in great white flakes under the
winter sun. The Silver Fleece lay like a mighty mantle across the earth.
Black men and mules had staggered beneath its burden, while deep songs
welled in the hearts of men; for the Fleece was goodly and gleaming and
soft, and men dreamed of the gold it would buy. All the roads in the
country had been lined with wagons--a million wagons speeding to and fro
with straining mules and laughing black men, bearing bubbling masses of
piled white Fleece. The gins were still roaring and spitting flames and
smoke--fifty thousand of them in town and vale. Then hoarse iron throats
were filled with fifteen billion pounds of white-fleeced, black-specked
cotton, for the whirling saws to tear out the seed and fling five
thousand million pounds of the silken fibre to the press.

And there again the black men sang, like dark earth-spirits flitting in
twilight; the presses creaked and groaned; closer and closer they
pressed the silken fleece. It quivered, trembled, and then lay cramped,
dead, and still, in massive, hard, square bundles, tied with iron
strings. Out fell the heavy bales, thousand upon thousand, million upon
million, until they settled over the South like some vast dull-white
swarm of birds. Colonel Cresswell and his son, in these days, had a long
and earnest conversation perforated here and there by explosions of the
Colonel's wrath. The Colonel could not understand some things.

"They want us to revive the Farmers' League?" he fiercely demanded.


"Yes," Harry calmly replied.

"And throw the rest of our capital after the fifty thousand dollars
we've already lost?"

"Yes."

"And you were fool enough to consent--"

"Wait, Father--and don't get excited. Listen. Cotton is going up--"

"Of course it's going up! Short crop and big demand--"

"Cotton is going up, and then it's going to fall."

"I don't believe it."

"I know it; the trust has got money and credit enough to force it down."

"Well, what then?" The Colonel glared.

"Then somebody will corner it."

"The Farmers' League won't stand--"

"Precisely. The Farmers' League can do the cornering and hold it for
higher prices."

"Lord, son! if we only could!" groaned the Colonel.

"We can; we'll have unlimited credit."

"But--but--" stuttered the bewildered Colonel, "I don't understand. Why
should the trust--"

"Nonsense, Father--what's the use of understanding. Our advantage is
plain, and John Taylor guarantees the thing."

"Who's John Taylor?" snorted the Colonel. "Why should we trust him?"

"Well," said Harry slowly, "he wants to marry Helen--"

His father grew apopletic.

"I'm not saying he will, Father; I'm only saying that he wants to,"
Harry made haste to placate the rising tide of wrath.

"No Southern gentleman--" began the Colonel. But Harry shrugged his
shoulders.

"Which is better, to be crushed by the trust or to escape at their
expense, even if that escape involves unwarranted assumptions on the
part of one of them? I tell you, Father, the code of the Southern
gentleman won't work in Wall Street."

"And I'll tell you why--there _are_ no Southern gentlemen," growled his
father.

The Silver Fleece was golden, for its prices were flying aloft. Mr.
Caldwell told Colonel Cresswell that he confidently expected twelve-cent
cotton.

"The crop is excellent and small, scarcely ten million bales," he
declared. "The price is bound to go up."

Colonel Cresswell was hesitant, even doubtful; the demand for cotton at
high prices usually fell off rapidly and he had heard rumors of
curtailed mill production. While, then, he hoped for high prices he
advised the Farmers' League to be on guard.

Mr. Caldwell seemed to be right, for cotton rose to ten cents a
pound--ten and a half--eleven--and then the South began to see visions
and to dream dreams.

"Yes, my dear," said Mr. Maxwell, whose lands lay next to the
Cresswells' on the northwest, "yes, if cotton goes to twelve or thirteen
cents as seems probable, I think we can begin the New House"--for Mrs.
Maxwell's cherished dream was a pillared mansion like the Cresswells'.

Mr. Tolliver looked at his house and barns. "Well, daughter, if this
crop sells at twelve cents, I'll be on my feet again, and I won't have
to sell that land to the nigger school after all. Once out of the
clutch of the Cresswells--well, I think we can have a coat of paint."
And he laughed as he had not laughed in ten years.

Down in the bottoms west of the swamp a man and woman were figuring
painfully on an old slate. He was light brown and she was yellow.

"Honey," he said tremblingly, "I b'lieve we can do it--if cotton goes to
twelve cents, we can pay the mortgage."

Two miles north of the school an old black woman was shouting and waving
her arms. "If cotton goes to twelve cents we can pay out and be free!"
and she threw her apron over her head and wept, gathering her children
in her arms.

But even as she cried a flash and tremor shook the South. Far away to
the north a great spider sat weaving his web. The office looked down
from the clouds on lower Broadway, and was soft with velvet and leather.
Swift, silent messengers hurried in and out, and Mr. Easterly, deciding
the time was ripe, called his henchman to him.

"Taylor, we're ready--go South."

And John Taylor rose, shook hands silently, and went.

As he entered Cresswell's plantation store three days later, a colored
woman with a little boy turned sadly away from the counter.

"No, aunty," the clerk was telling her, "calico is too high; can't let
you have any till we see how your cotton comes out."

"I just wanted a bit; I promised the boy--"

"Go on, go on--Why, Mr. Taylor!" And the little boy burst into tears
while he was hurried out.

"Tightening up on the tenants?" asked Taylor.

"Yes; these niggers are mighty extravagant. Besides, cotton fell a
little today--eleven to ten and three-fourths; just a flurry, I reckon.
Had you heard?"

Mr. Taylor said he had heard, and he hurried on. Next morning the long
shining wires of that great Broadway web trembled and flashed again and
cotton went to ten cents.

"No house this year, I fear," quoth Mr. Maxwell, bitterly.

The next day nine and a half was the quotation, and men began to look at
each other and asked questions.

"Paper says the crop is larger than the government estimate," said
Tolliver, and added, "There'll be no painting this year." He looked
toward the Smith School and thought of the five thousand dollars
waiting; but he hesitated. John Taylor had carefully mentioned seven
thousand dollars as a price he was willing to pay and "perhaps more."
Was Cresswell back of Taylor? Tolliver was suspicious and moved to delay
matters.

"It's manipulation and speculation in New York," said Colonel Cresswell,
"and the Farmers' League must begin operations."

The local paper soon had an editorial on "our distinguished fellow
citizen, Colonel Cresswell," and his efforts to revive the Farmers'
League. It was understood that Colonel Cresswell was risking his whole
private fortune to hold the price of cotton, and some effort seemed to
be needed, for cotton dropped to nine cents within a week. Swift
negotiations ensued, and a meeting of the executive committee of the
Farmers' League was held in Montgomery. A system of warehouses and
warehouse certificates was proposed.

"But that will cost money," responded each of the dozen big landlords
who composed the committee; whereupon Harry Cresswell introduced John
Taylor, who represented thirty millions of Southern bank stock.

"I promise you credit to any reasonable amount," said Mr. Taylor, "I
believe in cotton--the present price is abnormal." And Mr. Taylor knew
whereof he spoke, for when he sent a cipher despatch North, cotton
dropped to eight and a half. The Farmers' League leased three warehouses
at Savannah, Montgomery, and New Orleans.

Then silently the South gripped itself and prepared for battle. Men
stopped spending, business grew dull, and millions of eyes were glued
to the blackboards of the cotton-exchange. Tighter and tighter the
reins grew on the backs of the black tenants.

"Miss Smith, is yo' got just a drap of coffee to lend me? Mr. Cresswell
won't give me none at the store and I'se just starving for some," said
Aunt Rachel from over the hill. "We won't git free this year, Miss
Smith, not this year," she concluded plaintively.

Cotton fell to seven and a half cents and the muttered protest became
angry denunciation. Why was it? Who was doing it?

Harry Cresswell went to Montgomery. He was getting nervous. The thing
was too vast. He could not grasp it. It set his head in a whirl. Harry
Cresswell was not a bad man--are there any bad men? He was a man who
from the day he first wheedled his black mammy into submission, down to
his thirty-sixth year, had seldom known what it was voluntarily to deny
himself or curb a desire. To rise when he would, eat what he craved, and
do what the passing fancy suggested had long been his day's programme.
Such emptiness of life and aim had to be filled, and it was filled; he
helped his father sometimes with the plantations, but he helped
spasmodically and played at work.

The unregulated fire of energy and delicacy of nervous poise within him
continually hounded him to the verge of excess and sometimes beyond.
Cool, quiet, and gentlemanly as he was by rule of his clan, the ice was
thin and underneath raged unappeased fires. He craved the madness of
alcohol in his veins till his delicate hands trembled of mornings. The
women whom he bent above in languid, veiled-eyed homage, feared lest
they love him, and what work was to others gambling was to him.

The Cotton Combine, then, appealed to him overpoweringly--to his passion
for wealth, to his passion for gambling. But once entered upon the game
it drove him to fear and frenzy: first, it was a long game and Harry
Cresswell was not trained to waiting, and, secondly, it was a game whose
intricacies he did not know. In vain did he try to study the matter
through. He ordered books from the North, he subscribed for financial
journals, he received special telegraphic reports only to toss them
away, curse his valet, and call for another brandy. After all, he kept
saying to himself, what guarantee, what knowledge had he that this was
not a "damned Yankee trick"?

Now that the web was weaving its last mesh in early January he haunted
Montgomery, and on this day when it seemed that things must culminate or
he would go mad, he hastened again down to the Planters' Hotel and was
quickly ushered to John Taylor's room. The place was filled with tobacco
smoke. An electric ticker was drumming away in one corner, a telephone
ringing on the desk, and messenger boys hovered outside the door and
raced to and fro.

"Well," asked Cresswell, maintaining his composure by an effort, "how
are things?"

"Great!" returned Taylor. "League holds three million bales and controls
five. It's the biggest corner in years."

"But how's cotton?"

"Ticker says six and three-fourths."

Cresswell sat down abruptly opposite Taylor, looking at him fixedly.

"That last drop means liabilities of a hundred thousand to us," he said
slowly.

"Exactly," Taylor blandly admitted.

Beads of sweat gathered on Cresswell's forehead. He looked at the
scrawny iron man opposite, who had already forgotten his presence. He
ordered whiskey, and taking paper and pencil began to figure, drinking
as he figured. Slowly the blood crept out of his white face leaving it
whiter, and went surging and pounding in his heart. Poverty--that was
what those figures spelled. Poverty--unclothed, wineless poverty, to dig
and toil like a "nigger" from morning until night, and to give up horses
and carriages and women; that was what they spelled.

"How much--farther will it drop?" he asked harshly.

Taylor did not look up.

"Can't tell," he said, "'fraid not much though." He glanced through a
telegram. "No--damn it!--outside mills are low; they'll stampede soon.
Meantime we'll buy."

"But, Taylor--"

"Here are one hundred thousand offered at six and three-fourths."

"I tell you, Taylor--" Cresswell half arose.

"Done!" cried Taylor. "Six and one-half," clicked the machine.

Cresswell arose from his chair by the window and came slowly to the wide
flat desk where Taylor was working feverishly. He sat down heavily in
the chair opposite and tried quietly to regain his self-control. The
liabilities of the Cresswells already amounted to half the value of
their property, at a fair market valuation. The cotton for which they
had made debts was still falling in value. Every fourth of a cent fall
meant--he figured it again tremblingly--meant one hundred thousand more
of liabilities. If cotton fell to six he hadn't a cent on earth. If it
stayed there--"My God!" He felt a faintness stealing over him but he
beat it back and gulped down another glass of fiery liquor.

Then the one protecting instinct of his clan gripped him. Slowly,
quietly his hand moved back until it grasped the hilt of the big Colt's
revolver that was ever with him--his thin white hand became suddenly
steady as it slipped the weapon beneath the shadow of the desk.

"If it goes to six," he kept murmuring, "we're ruined--if it goes to
six--if--"

"Tick," sounded the wheel and the sound reverberated like sudden thunder
in his ears. His hand was iron, and he raised it slightly. "Six," said
the wheel--his finger quivered--"and a half."

"Hell!" yelled Taylor. "She's turned--there'll be the devil to pay now."
A messenger burst in and Taylor scowled.

"She's loose in New York--a regular mob in New Orleans--and--hark!--By
God! there's something doing here. Damn it--I wish we'd got another
million bales. Let's see, we've got--" He figured while the wheel
whirred--"7--7-1/2--8--8-1/2."

Cresswell listened, staggered to his feet, his face crimson and his hair
wild.

"My God, Taylor," he gasped. "I'm--I'm a half a million ahead--great
heavens!"

The ticker whirred, "8-3/4--9--9-1/2--10." Then it stopped dead.

"Exchange closed," said Taylor. "We've cornered the market all
right--cornered it--d'ye hear, Cresswell? We got over half the crop and
we can send prices to the North Star--you--why, I figure it you
Cresswells are worth at least seven hundred and fifty thousand above
liabilities this minute," and John Taylor leaned back and lighted a big
black cigar.

"I've made a million or so myself," he added reflectively.

Cresswell leaned back in his chair, his face had gone white again, and
he spoke slowly to still the tremor in his voice.

"I've gambled--before; I've gambled on cards and on horses; I've
gambled--for money--and--women--but--"

"But not on cotton, hey? Well, I don't know about cards and such; but
they can't beat cotton."

"And say, John Taylor, you're my friend." Cresswell stretched his hand
across the desk, and as he bent forward the pistol crashed to the floor.




_Nineteen_

THE DYING OF ELSPETH


Rich! This was the thought that awakened Harry Cresswell to a sense of
endless well-being. Rich! No longer the mirage and semblance of wealth,
the memory of opulence, the shadow of homage without the substance of
power--no; now the wealth was real, cold hard dollars, and in piles. How
much? He laughed aloud as he turned on his pillow. What did he care?
Enough--enough. Not less than half a million; perhaps three-quarters of
a million; perhaps--was not cotton still rising?--a whole round million!
That would mean from twenty-five to fifty thousand a year. Great
heavens! and he'd been starving on a bare couple of thousand and trying
to keep up appearances! today the Cresswells were almost millionaires;
aye, and he might be married to more millions.

He sat up with a start. Today Mary was going North. He had quite
forgotten it in the wild excitement of the cotton corner. He had
neglected her. Of course, there was always the hovering doubt as to
whether he really wanted her or not. She had the form and carriage; her
beauty, while not startling, was young and fresh and firm. On the other
hand there was about her a certain independence that he did not like to
associate with women. She had thoughts and notions of the world which
were, to his Southern training, hardly feminine. And yet even they
piqued him and spurred him like the sight of an untrained colt. He had
not seen her falter yet beneath his glances or tremble at his touch. All
this he desired--ardently desired. But did he desire her as a wife? He
rather thought that he did. And if so he must speak today.

There was his father, too, to reckon with. Colonel Cresswell, with the
perversity of the simple-minded, had taken the sudden bettering of their
fortunes as his own doing. He had foreseen; he had stuck it out; his
credit had pulled the thing through; and the trust had learned a thing
or two about Southern gentlemen.

Toward John Taylor he perceptibly warmed. His business methods were such
as a Cresswell could never stoop to; but he was a man of his word, and
Colonel Cresswell's correspondence with Mr. Easterly opened his eyes to
the beneficent ideals of Northern capital. At the same time he could not
consider the Easterlys and the Taylors and such folk as the social
equals of the Cresswells, and his prejudice on this score must still be
reckoned with.

Below, Mary Taylor lingered on the porch in strange uncertainty. Harry
Cresswell would soon be coming downstairs. Did she want him to find her?
She liked him frankly, undisguisedly; but from the love she knew to be
so near her heart she recoiled in perturbation. He wooed her--whether
consciously or not, she was always uncertain--with every quiet
attention and subtle deference, with a devotion seemingly quite too
delicate for words; he not only fetched her flowers, but flowers that
chimed with day and gown and season--almost with mood. He had a woman's
premonitions in fulfilling her wishes. His hands, if they touched her,
were soft and tender, and yet he gave a curious impression of strength
and poise and will.

Indeed, in all things he was in her eyes a gentleman in the fine
old-fashioned aristocracy of the term; her own heart voiced all he did
not say, and pleaded for him to her own confusion.

And yet, in her heart, lay the awful doubt--and the words kept ringing
in her ears! "You will marry this man--but heaven help you if you do!"

So it was that on this day when she somehow felt he would speak, his
footsteps on the stairs filled her with sudden panic. Without a word she
slipped behind the pillars and ran down among the oaks and sauntered out
upon the big road. He caught the white flutter of her dress, and smiled
indulgently as he watched and waited and lightly puffed his cigarette.

The morning was splendid with that first delicious languor of the spring
which breathes over the Southland in February. Mary Taylor filled her
lungs, lifted her arms aloft, and turning, stepped into the deep shadow
of the swamp.

Abruptly the air, the day, the scene about her subtly changed. She felt
a closeness and a tremor, a certain brooding terror in the languid
sombre winds. The gold of the sunlight faded to a sickly green, and the
earth was black and burned. A moment she paused and looked back; she
caught the man's silhouette against the tall white pillars of the
mansion and she fled deeper into the forest with the hush of death about
her, and the silence which is one great Voice. Slowly, and mysteriously
it loomed before her--that squat and darksome cabin which seemed to
fitly set in the centre of the wilderness, beside its crawling slime.

She paused in sudden certainty that there lay the answer to her doubts
and mistrust. She felt impelled to go forward and ask--what? She did not
know, but something to still this war in her bosom. She had seldom seen
Elspeth; she had never been in her cabin. She had felt an inconquerable
aversion for the evil hag; she felt it now, and shivered in the warm
breeze.

As she came in full view of the door, she paused. On the step of the
cabin, framed in the black doorway, stood Zora. Measured by the squat
cabin she seemed in height colossal; slim, straight as a pine,
motionless, with one long outstretched arm pointing to where the path
swept onward toward the town.

It was too far for words but the scene lay strangely clear and sharp-cut
in the green mystery of the sunlight. Before that motionless, fateful
figure crouched a slighter, smaller woman, dishevelled, clutching her
breast; she bent and rose--hesitated--seemed to plead; then turning,
clasped in passionate embrace the child whose head was hid in Zora's
gown. Next instant she was staggering along the path whither Zora
pointed.

Slowly the sun was darkened, and plaintive murmurings pulsed through the
wood. The oppression and fear of the swamp redoubled in Mary Taylor.

Zora gave no sign of having seen her. She stood tall and still, and the
little golden-haired girl still sobbed in her gown. Mary Taylor looked
up into Zora's face, then paused in awe. It was a face she did not know;
it was neither the beautifully mischievous face of the girl, nor the
pain-stricken face of the woman. It was a face cold and mask-like,
regular and comely; clothed in a mighty calm, yet subtly, masterfully
veiling behind itself depths of unfathomed misery and wild revolt. All
this lay in its darkness.

"Good-morning, Miss Taylor."

Mary, who was wont to teach this woman--so lately a child--searched in
vain for words to address her now. She stood bare-haired and hesitating
in the pale green light of the darkened morning. It seemed fit that a
deep groan of pain should gather itself from the mysterious depths of
the swamp, and drop like a pall on the black portal of the cabin. But
it brought Mary Taylor back to a sense of things, and under a sudden
impulse she spoke.

"Is--is anything the matter?" she asked nervously.

"Elspeth is sick," replied Zora.

"Is she very sick?"

"Yes--she has been called," solemnly returned the dark young woman.

Mary was puzzled. "Called?" she repeated vaguely.

"We heard the great cry in the night, and Elspeth says it is the End."

It did not occur to Mary Taylor to question this mysticism; she all at
once understood--perhaps read the riddle in the dark, melancholy eyes
that so steadily regarded her.

"Then you can leave the place, Zora?" she exclaimed gladly.

"Yes, I could leave."

"And you will."

"I don't know."

"But the place looks--evil."

"It is evil."

"And yet you will stay?"

Zora's eyes were now fixed far above the woman's head, and she saw a
human face forming itself in the vast rafters of the forest. Its eyes
were wet with pain and anger.

"Perhaps," she answered.

The child furtively uncovered her face and looked at the stranger. She
was blue-eyed and golden-haired.

"Whose child is this?" queried Mary, curiously.

Zora looked coldly down upon the child.

"It is Bertie's. Her mother is bad. She is gone. I sent her. She and the
others like her."

"But where have you sent them?"

"To Hell!"

Mary Taylor started under the shock. Impulsively she moved forward with
hands that wanted to stretch themselves in appeal.

"Zora! Zora! _You_ mustn't go, too!"

But the black girl drew proudly back.

"I _am_ there," she returned, with unmistakable simplicity of absolute
conviction.

The white woman shrank back. Her heart was wrung; she wanted to say
more--to explain, to ask to help; there came welling to her lips a flood
of things that she would know. But Zora's face again was masked.

"I must go," she said, before Mary could speak. "Good-bye." And the dark
groaning depths of the cabin swallowed her.

With a satisfied smile, Harry Cresswell had seen the Northern girl
disappear toward the swamp; for it is significant when maidens run from
lovers. But maidens should also come back, and when, after the lapse of
many minutes, Mary did not reappear, he followed her footsteps to the
swamp.

He frowned as he noted the footprints pointing to Elspeth's--what did
Mary Taylor want there? A fear started within him, and something else.
He was suddenly aware that he wanted this woman, intensely; at the
moment he would have turned Heaven and earth to get her. He strode
forward and the wood rose darkly green above him. A long, low, distant
moan seemed to sound upon the breeze, and after it came Mary Taylor.

He met her with tender solicitude, and she was glad to feel his arm
beneath hers.

"I've been searching for you," he said after a silence. "You should not
wander here alone--it is dangerous."

"Why, dangerous?" she asked.

"Wandering Negroes, and even wild beasts, in the forest depths--and
malaria--see, you tremble now."

"But not from malaria," she slowly returned.

He caught an unfamiliar note in his voice, and a wild desire to justify
himself before this woman clamored in his heart. With it, too, came a
cooler calculating intuition that frankness alone would win her now. At
all hazards he must win, and he cast the die.

"Miss Taylor," he said, "I want to talk to you--I have wanted to for--a
year." He glanced at her: she was white and silent, but she did not
tremble. He went on:

"I have hesitated because I do not know that I have a right to speak or
explain to--to--a good woman."

He felt her arm tighten on his and he continued:

"You have been to Elspeth's cabin; it is an evil place, and has meant
evil for this community, and for me. Elspeth was my mother's favorite
servant and my own mammy. My mother died when I was ten and left me to
her tender mercies. She let me have my way and encouraged the bad in me.
It's a wonder I escaped total ruin. Her cabin became a rendezvous for
drinking and carousing. I told my father, but he, in lazy indifference,
declared the place no worse than all Negro cabins, and did nothing. I
ceased my visits. Still she tried every lure and set false stories going
among the Negroes, even when I sought to rescue Zora. I tell you this
because I know you have heard evil rumors. I have not been a good
man--Mary; but I love you, and you can make me good."

Perhaps no other appeal would have stirred Mary Taylor. She was in many
respects an inexperienced girl. But she thought she knew the world; she
knew that Harry Cresswell was not all he should be, and she knew too
that many other men were not. Moreover, she argued he had not had a fair
chance. All the school-ma'am in her leaped to his teaching. What he
needed was a superior person like herself. She loved him, and she
deliberately put her arms about his neck and lifted her face to be
kissed.

Back by the place of the Silver Fleece they wandered, across the Big
Road, up to the mansion. On the steps stood John Taylor and Helen
Cresswell hand in hand and they all smiled at each other. The Colonel
came out, smiling too, with the paper in his hands.

"Easterly's right," he beamed, "the stock of the Cotton Combine--" he
paused at the silence and looked up. The smile faded slowly and the red
blood mounted to his forehead. Anger struggled back of surprise, but
before it burst forth silently the Colonel turned, and muttering some
unintelligible word, went slowly into the house and slammed the door.

So for Harry Cresswell the day burst, flamed, and waned, and then
suddenly went out, leaving him dull and gray; for Mary and her brother
had gone North, Helen had gone to bed, and the Colonel was in town.
Outside the weather was gusty and lowering with a chill in the air. He
paced the room fitfully.

Well, he was happy. Or, was he happy?

He gnawed his mustache, for already his quick, changeable nature was
feeling the rebound from glory to misery. He was a little ashamed of his
exaltation; a bit doubtful and uncertain. He had stooped low to this
Yankee school-ma'am, lower than he had ever stooped to a woman. Usually,
while he played at loving, women grovelled; for was he not a Cresswell?
Would this woman recognize that fact and respect him accordingly?

Then there was Zora; what had she said and hinted to Mary? The wench was
always eluding and mocking him, the black devil! But, pshaw!--he poured
himself a glass of brandy--was he not rich and young? The world was his.

His valet knocked.

"Gentleman is asking if you forgits it's Saturday night, sir?" said Sam.

Cresswell walked thoughtfully to the window, swept back the curtain, and
looked toward the darkness and the swamp. It lowered threateningly;
behind it the night sky was tinged with blood.

"No," he said; "I'm not going." And he shut out the glow.

Yet he grew more and more restless. The devil danced in his veins and
burned in his forehead. His hands shook. He heard a rustle of departing
feet beneath his window, then a pause and a faint halloo.

"All right," he called, and in a moment went downstairs and out into
the night. As he closed the front door there seemed to come faintly up
from the swamp a low ululation, like the prolonged cry of some wild
bird, or the wail of one's mourning for his dead.

Within the cabin, Elspeth heard. Tremblingly, she swayed to her feet, a
haggard, awful sight. She motioned Zora away, and stretching her hands
palms upward to the sky, cried with dry and fear-struck gasp:

"I'se called! I'se called!"

On the bed the child smiled in its dreaming; the red flame of the
firelight set the gold to dancing in her hair. Zora shrank back into the
shadows and listened. Then it came. She heard the heavy footsteps
crashing through the underbrush--coming, coming, as from the end of the
world. She shrank still farther back, and a shadow swept the door.

He was a mighty man, black and white-haired, and his eyes were the eyes
of death. He bent to enter the door, and then uplifting himself and
stretching his great arms, his palms touched the blackened rafters.

Zora started forward. Thick memories of some forgotten past came piling
in upon her. Where had she known him? What was he to her?

Slowly Elspeth, with quivering hands, unwound the black and snake-like
object that always guarded her breast. Without a word, he took it, and
again his hands flew heavenward. With a low and fearful moan the old
woman lurched sideways, then crashed, like a fallen pine, upon the
hearthstone. She lay still--dead.

Three times the man passed his hands, wave-like, above the dead. Three
times he murmured, and his eyes burned into the shadows, where the girl
trembled. Then he turned and went as he had come, his heavy feet
crashing through the underbrush, on and on, fainter and fainter, as to
the end of the world.

Zora shook herself from the trance-like horror and passed her hands
across her eyes to drive out the nightmare. But, no! there lay the dead
upon the hearth with the firelight flashing over her, a bloated,
hideous, twisted thing, distorted in the rigor of death. A moment Zora
looked down upon her mother. She felt the cold body whence the
wandering, wrecked soul had passed. She sat down and stared death in the
face for the first time. A mighty questioning arose within, a
questioning and a yearning.

Was Elspeth now at peace? Was Death the Way--the wide, dark Way? She had
never thought of it before, and as she thought she crept forward and
looked into the fearful face pityingly.

"Mammy!" she whispered--with bated breath--"Mammy Elspeth!" Out of the
night came a whispered answer: "_Elspeth! Elspeth!_"

Zora sprang to her feet, alert, fearful. With a swing of her arm, she
pulled the great oaken door to and dropped the bar into its place. Over
the dead she spread a clean white sheet. Into the fire she thrust
pine-knots. They glared in vague red, and shadowy brilliance, waving and
quivering and throwing up thin swirling columns of black smoke. Then
standing beside the fireplace with the white, still corpse between her
and the door, she took up her awful vigil.

There came a low knocking at the door; then silence and footsteps
wandering furtively about. The night seemed all footsteps and whispers.
There came a louder knocking, and a voice:

"_Elspeth! Elspeth! Open the door; it's me._"

Then muttering and wandering noises, and silence again.

The child on the bed turned itself, murmuring uneasily in its dreams.
And then _they_ came. Zora froze, watching the door, wide-eyed, while
the fire flamed redder. A loud quick knock at the door--a pause--an oath
and a cry.

"_Elspeth! Open this door, damn you!_"

A moment of waiting and then the knocking came again, furious and long
continued. Outside there was much trampling and swearing. Zora did not
move; the child slept on. A tugging and dragging, a dull blow that set
the cabin quivering; then,--

"_Bang! Crack! Crash!_"--the door wavered, splintered, and dropped upon
the floor.

With a snarl, a crowd of some half-dozen white faces rushed forward,
wavered and stopped. The awakened child sat up and stared with wide blue
eyes. Slowly, with no word, the intruders turned and went silently away,
leaving but one late comer who pressed forward.

"What damned mummery is this?" he cried, and snatching at the sheet,
dragged it from the black distorted countenance of the corpse. He
shuddered but for a moment he could not stir. He felt the midnight eyes
of the girl--he saw the twisted, oozing mouth of the hag, blue-black and
hideous.

Suddenly back behind there in the darkness a shriek split the night like
a sudden flash of flame--a great ringing scream that cracked and swelled
and stopped. With one wild effort the man hurled himself out the door
and plunged through the darkness. Panting and cursing, he flashed his
huge revolver--"_bang! bang! bang!_" it cracked into the night. The
sweat poured from his forehead; the terror of the swamp was upon him.
With a struggling and tearing in his throat, he tripped and fell
fainting under the silent oaks.




_Twenty_

THE WEAVING OF THE SILVER FLEECE


The Silver Fleece, darkly cloaked and girded, lay in the cotton
warehouse of the Cresswells, near the store. Its silken fibres, cramped
and close, shone yellow-white in the sunlight; sadly soiled, yet
beautiful. Many came to see Zora's twin bales, as they lay, handling
them and questioning, while Colonel Cresswell grew proud of his
possession.


The world was going well with the Colonel. Freed from money cares,
praised for his generalship in the cotton corner, able to entertain
sumptuously, he was again a Southern gentleman of the older school, and
so in his envied element. Yet today he frowned as he stood poking
absently with his cane at the baled Fleece.

This marriage--or, rather, these marriages--were not to his liking. It
was a _mesalliance_ of a sort that pricked him tenderly; it savored
grossly of bargain and sale. His neighbors regarded it with
disconcerting equanimity. They seemed to think an alliance with
Northern millions an honor for Cresswell blood, and the Colonel thumped
the nearer bale vigorously. His cane slipped along the iron bands
suddenly, and the old man lurching forward, clutched in space to save
himself and touched a human hand.

Zora, sitting shadowed on the farther bale, drew back her hand quickly
at the contact, and started to move away.

"Who's that?" thundered the Colonel, more angry at his involuntary
fright than at the intrusion. "Here, boys!"

But Zora had come forward into the space where the sunlight of the wide
front doors poured in upon the cotton bales.

"It's me, Colonel," she said.

He glared at her. She was taller and thinner than formerly, darkly
transparent of skin, and her dark eyes shone in strange and dusky
brilliance. Still indignant and surprised, the Colonel lifted his voice
sharply.

"What the devil are you doing here?--sleeping when you ought to be at
work! Get out! And see here, next week cotton chopping begins--you'll go
to the fields or to the chain-gang. I'll have no more of your loafing
about my place."

Awaiting no reply, the Colonel, already half ashamed of his vehemence,
stormed out into the sunlight and climbed upon his bay mare.

But Zora still stood silent in the shadow of the Silver Fleece, hearing
and yet not hearing. She was searching for the Way, groping for the
threads of life, seeking almost wildly to understand the foundations of
understanding, piteously asking for answer to the puzzle of life. All
the while the walls rose straight about her and narrow. To continue in
school meant charity, yet she had nowhere to go and nothing to go with.
To refuse to work for the Cresswells meant trouble for the school and
perhaps arrest for herself. To work in the fields meant endless toil and
a vista that opened upon death.

Like a hunted thing the girl turned and twisted in thought and faced
everywhere the blank Impossible. Cold and dreamlike without, her shut
teeth held back seething fires within, and a spirit of revolt that
gathered wildness as it grew. Above all flew the dream, the phantasy,
the memory of the past, the vision of the future. Over and over she
whispered to herself: "This is not the End; this can not be the End."

Somehow, somewhere, would come salvation. Yet what it would be and what
she expected she did not know. She sought the Way, but what way and
whither she did not know, she dared not dream.

One thing alone lay in her wild fancy like a great and wonderful fact
dragging the dream to earth and anchoring it there. That was the Silver
Fleece. Like a brooding mother, Zora had watched it. She knew how the
gin had been cleaned for its pressing and how it had been baled apart
and carefully covered. She knew how proud Colonel Cresswell was of it
and how daily he had visitors to see it and finger the wide white wound
in its side.

"Yes, sir, grown on my place, by my niggers, sir!" he assured them; and
they marvelled.

To Zora's mind, this beautiful baled fibre was hers; it typified
happiness; it was an holy thing which profane hands had stolen. When it
came back to her (as come it must, she cried with clenched hands) it
would bring happiness; not the great Happiness--that was gone
forever--but illumination, atonement, and something of the power and the
glory. So, involuntarily almost, she haunted the cotton storehouse,
flitting like a dark and silent ghost in among the workmen, greeting
them with her low musical voice, warding them with the cold majesty of
her eyes; each day afraid of some last parting, each night
triumphant--it was still there!

The Colonel--Zora already forgotten--rode up to the Cresswell Oaks,
pondering darkly. It was bad enough to contemplate Helen's marriage in
distant prospect, but the sudden, almost peremptory desire for marrying
at Eastertide, a little less than two months away, was absurd. There
were "business reasons arising from the presidential campaign in the
fall," John Taylor had telegraphed; but there was already too much
business in the arrangement to suit the Colonel. With Harry it was
different. Indeed it was his own quiet suggestion that made John Taylor
hurry matters.

Harry trusted to the novelty of his father's new wealth to make the
latter complacent; he himself felt an impatient longing for the haven of
a home. He had been too long untethered. He distrusted himself. The
devil within was too fond of taking the bit in his teeth. He would
remember to his dying day one awful shriek in the night, as of a soul
tormenting and tormented. He wanted the protection of a good woman, and
sometimes against the clear whiteness of her letters so joyous and
generous, even if a bit prim and didactic, he saw a vision of himself
reflected as he was, and he feared.

It was distinctively disconcerting to Colonel Cresswell to find Harry
quite in favor of early nuptials, and to learn that the sole objection
even in Helen's mind was the improbability of getting a wedding-gown in
time. Helen had all a child's naive love for beautiful and dainty
things, and a wedding-gown from Paris had been her life dream. On this
point, therefore, there ensued spirited arguments and much
correspondence, and both her brother and her lover evinced
characteristic interest in the planning.

Said Harry: "Sis, I'll cable to Paris today. They can easily hurry the
thing along."

Helen was delighted; she handed over a telegram just received from John
Taylor. "Send me, express, two bales best cotton you can get."

The Colonel read the message. "I don't see the connection between this
and hurrying up a wedding-gown," he growled. None of them discerned the
handwriting of Destiny.

"Neither do I," said Harry, who detected yielding in his father's tone.
"But we'd better send him the two prize bales; it will be a fine
advertisement of our plantation, and evidently he has a surprise in
store for us."

The Colonel affected to hesitate, but next morning the Silver Fleece
went to town.

Zora watched it go, and her heart swelled and died within her. She
walked to town, to the station. She did not see Mrs. Vanderpool arriving
from New Orleans; but Mrs. Vanderpool saw her, and looked curiously at
the tall, tragic figure that leaned so dolorously beside the freight
car. The bales were loaded into the express car; the train pulled away,
its hoarse snorting waking vague echoes in the forest beyond. But to the
girl who stood at the End, looking outward to darkness, those echoes
roared like the crack of doom. A passing band of contract hands called
to her mockingly, and one black giant, laughing loudly, gripped her
hand.

"Come, honey," he shouted, "you'se a'dreaming! Come on, honey!"

She turned abruptly and gripped his hand, as one drowning grips anything
offered--gripped till he winced. She laughed a loud mirthless laugh,
that came pouring like a sob from her deep lungs.

"Come on!" she mocked, and joined them.

They were a motley crowd, ragged, swaggering, jolly. There were husky,
big-limbed youths, and bold-faced, loud-tongued girls. To-morrow they
would start up-country to some backwoods barony in the kingdom of
cotton, and work till Christmas time. Today was the last in town; there
was craftily advanced money in their pockets and riot in their hearts.
In the gathering twilight they marched noisily through the streets; in
their midst, wide-eyed and laughing almost hysterically, marched Zora.

Mrs. Vanderpool meantime rode thoughtfully out of town toward Cresswell
Oaks. She was returning from witnessing the Mardi Gras festivities at
New Orleans and at the urgent invitation of the Cresswells had stopped
off. She might even stay to the wedding if the new plans matured.

Mrs. Vanderpool was quite upset. Her French maid, on whom she had
depended absolutely for five years or more, had left her.

"I think I want to try a colored maid," she told the Cresswells,
laughingly, as they drove home. "They have sweet voices and they can't
doff their uniform. Helene without her cap and apron was often mistaken
for a lady, and while I was in New Orleans a French confectioner married
her under some such delusion. Now, haven't you a girl about here who
would do?"

"No," declared Harry decisively, but his sister suggested that she might
ask Miss Smith at the colored school.

Again Mrs. Vanderpool laughed, but after tea she wandered idly down the
road. The sun behind the swamp was crimsoning the world. Mrs. Vanderpool
strolled alone to the school, and saw Sarah Smith. There was no
cordiality in the latter's greeting, but when she heard the caller's
errand her attention was at once arrested and held. The interests of her
charges were always uppermost in her mind.

"Can't I have the girl Zora?" Mrs. Vanderpool at last inquired.

Miss Smith started, for she was thinking of Zora at that very instant.
The girl was later than usual, and she was momentarily expecting to see
her tall form moving languidly up the walk.

She gave Mrs. Vanderpool a searching look. Mrs. Vanderpool glanced
involuntarily at her gown and smiled as she did it.

"Could I trust you with a human soul?" asked Miss Smith abruptly.

Mrs. Vanderpool looked up quickly. The half mocking answer that rose
involuntarily to her lips was checked. Within, Mrs. Vanderpool was a
little puzzled at herself. Why had she asked for this girl? She had felt
a strange interest in her--a peculiar human interest since she first saw
her and as she saw her again this afternoon. But would she make a
satisfactory maid? Was it not a rather dangerous experiment? Why had she
asked for her? She certainly had not intended to when she entered the
house.

In the silence Miss Smith continued: "Here is a child in whom the
fountains of the great deep are suddenly broken up. With peace and care
she would find herself, for she is strong. But here there is no peace.
Slavery of soul and body awaits her and I am powerless to protect her.
She must go away. That going away may make or ruin her. She knows
nothing of working for wages and she has not the servant's humility; but
she has loyalty and pluck. For one she loves there is nothing she would
not do; but she cannot be driven. Or rather, if she is driven, it may
rouse in her the devil incarnate. She needs not exactly affection--she
would almost resent that--but intelligent interest and care. In return
for this she will gradually learn to serve and serve loyally. Frankly,
Mrs. Vanderpool, I would not have chosen you for this task of human
education. Indeed, you would have been my last thought--you seem to
me--I speak plainly--a worldly woman. Yet, perhaps--who can tell?--God
has especially set you to this task. At any rate, I have little choice.
I am at my wits' end. Elspeth, the mother of this child, is not long
dead; and here is the girl, beautiful, unprotected; and here am I,
almost helpless. She is in debt to the Cresswells, and they are pressing
the claim to her service. Take her if you can get her--it is, I fear,
her only chance. Mind you--if you can persuade her; and that may be
impossible."

"Where is she now?"

Miss Smith glanced out at the darkening landscape, and then at her
watch.

"I do not know; she's very late. She's given to wandering, but usually
she is here before this time."

"I saw her in town this afternoon," said Mrs. Vanderpool.

"Zora? In town?" Miss Smith rose. "I'll send her to you tomorrow," she
said quietly. Mrs. Vanderpool had hardly reached the Oaks before Miss
Smith was driving toward town.

A small cabin on the town's ragged fringe was crowded to suffocation.
Within arose noisy shouts, loud songs, and raucous laughter; the
scraping of a fiddle and whine of an accordion. Liquor began to appear
and happy faces grew red-eyed and sodden as the dances whirled. At the
edge of the orgy stood Zora, wild-eyed and bewildered, mad with the pain
that gripped her heart and hammered in her head, crying in tune with the
frenzied music--"the End--the End!"

Abruptly she recognized a face despite the wreck and ruin of its beauty.

"Bertie!" she cried as she seized the mother of little Emma by the arm.

The woman staggered and offered her glass.

"Drink," she cried, "drink and forget."

In a moment Zora sprang forward and seized the burning liquid in both
hands. A dozen hands clapped a devil's tattoo. A score of voices yelled
and laughed. The shriek of the music was drowned beneath the thunder of
stamping feet. Men reeled to singing women's arms, but above the roar
rose the song of the voice of Zora--she glided to the middle of the
room, standing tip-toed with skirts that curled and turned; she threw
back her head, raised the liquor to her lips, paused and looked into the
face of Miss Smith.

A silence fell like a lightning flash on the room as that white face
peered in at the door. Slowly Zora's hands fell and her eyes blinked as
though waking from some awful dream. She staggered toward the woman's
outstretched arms....

Late that night the girl lay close in Miss Smith's motherly embrace.

"I was going to hell!" she whispered, trembling.

"Why, Zora?" asked Miss Smith calmly.

"I couldn't find the Way--and I wanted to forget."

"People in hell don't forget," was the matter-of-fact comment. "And,
Zora, what way do you seek? The way where?"

Zora sat up in bed, and lifted a gray and stricken face.

"It's a lie," she cried, with hoarse earnedstness, "the way nowhere.
There is no Way! You know--I want _him_--I want nothing on earth but
him--and him I can't ever have."

The older woman drew her down tenderly.

"No, Zora," she said, "there's something you want more than him and
something you can have!"

"What?" asked the wondering girl.

"His respect," said Sarah Smith, "and I know the Way."




_Twenty-one_

THE MARRIAGE MORNING


Mrs. Vanderpool watched Zora as she came up the path beneath the oaks.
"She walks well," she observed. And laying aside her book, she waited
with a marked curiosity.

The girl's greeting was brief, almost curt, but unintentionally so, as
one could easily see, for back in her eyes lurked an impatient hunger;
she was not thinking of greetings. She murmured a quick word, and stood
straight and tall with her eyes squarely on the lady.

In the depths of Mrs. Vanderpool's heart something strange--not new, but
very old--stirred. Before her stood this tall black girl, quietly
returning her look. Mrs. Vanderpool had a most uncomfortable sense of
being judged, of being weighed,--and there arose within her an impulse
to self-justification.

She smiled and said sweetly, "Won't you sit?" But despite all this, her
mind seemed leaping backward a thousand years; back to a simpler,
primal day when she herself, white, frail, and fettered, stood before
the dusky magnificence of some bejewelled barbarian queen and sought to
justify herself. She shook off the phantasy,--and yet how well the girl
stood. It was not every one that could stand still and well.

"Please sit down," she repeated with her softest charm, not dreaming
that outside the school white persons did not ask this girl to sit in
their presence. But even this did not move Zora. She sat down. There was
in her, walking, standing, sitting, a simple directness which Mrs.
Vanderpool sensed and met.

"Zora, I need some one to help me--to do my hair and serve my coffee,
and dress and take care of me. The work will not be hard, and you can
travel and see the world and live well. Would you like it?"

"But I do not know how to do all these things," returned Zora, slowly.
She was thinking rapidly--Was this the Way? It sounded wonderful. The
World, the great mysterious World, that stretched beyond the swamp and
into which Bles and the Silver Fleece had gone--did it lead to the Way?
But if she went there what would she see and do, and would it be
possible to become such a woman as Miss Smith pictured?

"What is the world like?" asked Zora.

Mrs. Vanderpool smiled. "Oh, I meant great active cities and buildings,
myriads of people and wonderful sights."

"Yes--but back of it all, what is it really? What does it look like?"

"Heavens, child! Don't ask. Really, it isn't worth while peering back of
things. One is sure to be disappointed."

"Then what's the use of seeing the world?"

"Why, one must live; and why not be happy?" answered Mrs. Vanderpool,
amused, baffled, spurred for the time being from her chronic _ennui_.

"Are you happy?" retorted Zora, looking her over carefully, from silken
stockings to garden hat. Mrs. Vanderpool laid aside her little mockery
and met the situation bravely.

"No," she replied simply. Her eyes grew old and tired.

Involuntarily Zora's hand crept out protectingly and lay a moment over
the white jewelled fingers. Then quickly recovering herself, she started
hastily to withdraw it, but the woman's fingers closed around the darker
ones, and Mrs. Vanderpool's eyes became dim.

"I need you, Zora," she said; and then, seeing the half-formed question,
"Yes, and you need me; we need each other. In the world lies
opportunity, and I will help you."

Zora rose abruptly, and Mrs. Vanderpool feared, with a tightening of
heart, that she had lost this strangely alluring girl.

"I will come to-morrow," said Zora.

As Mrs. Vanderpool went in to lunch, reaction and lingering doubts came
trouping back. To replace the daintiest of trained experts with the most
baffling semi-barbarian, well!

"Have you hired a maid?" asked Helen.

"I've engaged Zora," laughed Mrs. Vanderpool, lightly; "and now I'm
wondering whether I have a jewel or--a white elephant."

"Probably neither," remarked Harry Cresswell, drily; but he avoided the
lady's inquiring eyes.

Next morning Zora came easily into Mrs. Vanderpool's life. There was
little she knew of her duties, but little, too, that she could not learn
with a deftness and divination almost startling. Her quietness, her
quickness, her young strength, were like a soothing balm to the tired
woman of fashion, and within a week she had sunk back contentedly into
Zora's strong arms.

"It's a jewel," she decided.

With this verdict, the house agreed. The servants waited on "Miss Zora"
gladly; the men scarcely saw her, and the ladies ran to her for help in
all sorts. Harry Cresswell looked upon this transformation with an
amused smile, but the Colonel saw in it simply evidence of dangerous
obstinacy in a black girl who hitherto had refused to work.

Zora had been in the house but a week when a large express package was
received from John Taylor. Its unwrapping brought a cry of pleasure
from the ladies. There lay a bolt of silken-like cambric of wondrous
fineness and lustre, marked: "For the wedding-dress." The explanation
accompanied the package, that Mary Taylor had a similar piece in the
North.

Helen and Harry said nothing of the cablegram to the Paris tailor, and
Helen took no steps toward having the cambric dress made, not even when
the wedding invitations appeared.

"A Cresswell married in cotton!" Helen was almost in tears lest the
Paris gown be delayed, and sure enough a cablegram came at last saying
that there was little likelihood of the gown being ready by Easter. It
would be shipped at the earliest convenience, but it could hardly catch
the necessary boat. Helen had a good cry, and then came a wild rush to
get John Taylor's cloth ready. Still, Helen was querulous. She decided
that silk embroidery must embellish the skirt. The dressmaker was in
despair.

"I haven't a single spare worker," she declared.

Helen was appealing to Mrs. Vanderpool.

"I can do it," said Zora, who was in the room.

"Do you know how?" asked the dressmaker.

"No, but I want to know."

Mrs. Vanderpool gave a satisfied nod. "Show her," she said. The
dressmaker was on the edge of rebellion. "Zora sews beautifully," added
Mrs. Vanderpool.

Thus the beautiful cloth came to Zora's room, and was spread in a glossy
cloud over her bed. She trembled at its beauty and felt a vague inner
yearning, as if some subtle magic of the woven web were trying to tell
her its story.

She worked over it faithfully and lovingly in every spare hour and in
long nights of dreaming. Wilfully she departed from the set pattern and
sewed into the cloth something of the beauty in her heart. In new and
intricate ways, with soft shadowings and coverings, she wove in that
white veil her own strange soul, and Mrs. Vanderpool watched her
curiously, but in silence.

Meantime all things were arranged for a double wedding at Cresswell
Oaks. As John and Mary Taylor had no suitable home, they were to come
down and the two brides to go forth from the Cresswell mansion.
Accordingly the Taylors arrived a week before the wedding and the home
took on a festive air. Even Colonel Cresswell expanded under the genial
influences, and while his head still protested his heart was glad. He
had to respect John Taylor's undoubted ability; and Mary Taylor was
certainly lovely, in spite of that assumption of cleverness of which the
Colonel could not approve.

Mary returned to the old scenes with mingled feelings. Especially was
she startled at seeing Zora a member of the household and apparently
high in favor. It brought back something of the old uneasiness and
suspicion.

All this she soon forgot under the cadence of Harry Cresswell's pleasant
voice and the caressing touch of his arm. He seemed handsomer than ever;
and he was, for sleep and temperance and the wooing of a woman had put a
tinge in his marble face, smoothed the puffs beneath his eyes, and given
him a more distinguished bearing and a firmer hand. And Mary Taylor was
very happy. So was her brother, only differently; he was making money;
he was planning to make more, and he had something to pet which seemed
to him extraordinarily precious and valuable.

Taylor eagerly inquired after the cloth, and followed the ladies to
Zora's room, adjoining Mrs. Vanderpool's, to see it. It lay uncut and
shimmering, covered with dim silken tracery of a delicacy and beauty
which brought an exclamation to all lips.

"That's what we can do with Alabama cotton," cried John Taylor in
triumph.

They turned to him incredulously.

"But--"

"No 'buts' about it; these are the two bales you sent me, woven with a
silk woof." No one particularly noticed that Zora had hastily left the
room. "I had it done in Easterly's New Jersey mills according to an old
plan of mine. I'm going to make cloth like that right in this county
some day," and he chuckled gayly.

But Zora was striding up and down the halls, the blood surging in her
ears. After they were gone she came back and closed the doors. She
dropped on her knees and buried her face in the filmy folds of the
Silver Fleece.

"I knew it! I knew it!" she whispered in mingled tears and joy. "It
called and I did not understand."

It was her talisman new-found; her love come back, her stolen dream come
true. Now she could face the world; God had turned it straight again.
She would go into the world and find--not Love, but the thing greater
than Love. Outside the door came voices--the dressmaker's tones, Helen's
soft drawl, and Mrs. Vanderpool's finished accents. Her face went
suddenly gray. The Silver Fleece was not hers! It belonged--She rose
hastily. The door opened and they came in. The cutting must begin at
once, they all agreed.

"Is it ready, Zora?" inquired Helen.

"No," Zora quietly answered, "not quite, but tomorrow morning, early."
As soon as she was alone again, she sat down and considered. By and by,
while the family was at lunch, she folded the Silver Fleece carefully
and locked it in her new trunk. She would hide it in the swamp. During
the afternoon she sent to town for oil-cloth, and bade the black
carpenter at Miss Smith's make a cedar box, tight and tarred. In the
morning she prepared Mrs. Vanderpool's breakfast with unusual care. She
was sorry for Mrs. Vanderpool, and sorry for Miss Smith. They would not,
they could not, understand. What would happen to her? She did not know;
she did not care. The Silver Fleece had returned to her. Soon it would
be buried in the swamp whence it came. She had no alternative; she must
keep it and wait.

She heard the dressmaker's voice, and then her step upon the stair. She
heard the sound of Harry Cresswell's buggy, and a scurrying at the front
door. On came the dressmaker's footsteps--then her door was
unceremoniously burst open.

Helen Cresswell stood there radiant; the dressmaker, too, was wreathed
in smiles. She carried a big red-sealed bundle.

"Zora!" cried Helen in ecstasy. "It's come!" Zora regarded her coldly,
and stood at bay. The dressmaker was ripping and snipping, and soon
there lay revealed before them--the Paris gown!

Helen was in raptures, but her conscience pricked her. She appealed to
them. "Ought I to tell? You see, Mary's gown will look miserably common
beside it."

The dressmaker was voluble. There was really nothing to tell; and
besides, Helen was a Cresswell and it was to be expected, and so forth.
Helen pursed her lips and petulantly tapped the floor with her foot.

"But the other gown?"

"Where is it?" asked the dressmaker, looking about. "It would make a
pretty morning-dress--"

But Helen had taken a sudden dislike to the thought of it.

"I don't want it," she declared. "And besides, I haven't room for it in
my trunks."

Of a sudden she leaned down and whispered to Zora: "Zora, hide it and
keep it if you want it. Come," to the dressmaker, "I'm dying to try this
on--now.... Remember, Zora--not a word." And all this to Zora seemed no
surprise; it was the Way, and it was opening before her because the
talisman lay in her trunk.

So at last it came to Easter morning. The world was golden with jasmine,
and crimson with azalea; down in the darker places gleamed the misty
glory of the dogwood; new cotton shook, glimmered, and blossomed in the
black fields, and over all the soft Southern sun poured its awakening
light of life. There was happiness and hope again in the cabins, and
hope and--if not happiness, ambition, in the mansions.

Zora, almost forgetting the wedding, stood before the mirror. Laying
aside her dress, she draped her shimmering cloth about her, dragging her
hair down in a heavy mass over ears and neck until she seemed herself a
bride. And as she stood there, awed with the mystical union of a dead
love and a living new born self, there came drifting in at the window,
faintly, the soft sound of far-off marriage music.

"'Tis thy marriage morning, shining in the sun!"

Two white and white-swathed brides were coming slowly down the great
staircase of Cresswell Oaks, and two white and black-clothed bridegrooms
awaited them. Either bridegroom looked gladly at the flow of his
sister's garments and almost darkly at his bride's. For Helen was decked
in Parisian splendor, while Mary was gowned in the Fleece.

"'Tis thy marriage morning, shining in the sun!"

Up floated the song of the little dark-faced children, and Zora
listened.




_Twenty-two_

MISS CAROLINE WYNN


Bles Alwyn was seated in the anteroom of Senator Smith's office in
Washington. The Senator had not come in yet, and there were others
waiting, too.

The young man sat in a corner, dreaming. Washington was his first great
city, and it seemed a never-ending delight--the streets, the buildings,
the crowds; the shops, and lights, and noise; the kaleidoscopic panorama
of a world's doing, the myriad forms and faces, the talk and laughter of
men. It was all wonderful magic to the country boy, and he stretched his
arms and filled his lungs and cried: "Here I shall live!"

Especially was he attracted by his own people. They seemed transformed,
revivified, changed. Some might be mistaken for field hands on a
holiday--but not many. Others he did not recognize--they seemed strange
and alien--sharper, quicker, and at once more overbearing and more
unscrupulous.

There were yet others--and at the sight of these Bles stood straighter
and breathed like a man. They were well dressed, and well appearing men
and women, who walked upright and looked one in the eye, and seemed like
persons of affairs and money. They had arrived--they were men--they
filled his mind's ideal--he felt like going up to them and grasping
their hands and saying, "At last, brother!" Ah, it was good to find
one's dreams, walking in the light, in flesh and blood. Continually such
thoughts were surging through his brain, and they were rioting through
it again as he sat waiting in Senator Smith's office.

The Senator was late this morning; when he came in he glanced at the
morning paper before looking over his mail and the list of his callers.
"Do fools like the American people deserve salvation?" he sneered,
holding off the headlines and glancing at them.

"'League Beats Trust.' ... 'Farmers of South Smash Effort to Bear Market
... Send Cotton to Twelve Cents ... Common People Triumph.'

"A man is induced to bite off his own nose and then to sing a paean of
victory. It's nauseating--senseless. There is no earthly use striving
for such blockheads; they'd crucify any Saviour." Thus half consciously
Senator Smith salved his conscience, while he extracted a certificate of
deposit for fifty thousand dollars from his New York mail. He thrust it
aside from his secretary's view and looked at his list as he rang the
bell: there was Representative Todd, and somebody named Alwyn--nobody of
importance. Easterly was due in a half-hour. He would get rid of Todd
meantime.

"Poor Todd," he mused; "a lamb for the slaughter."

But he patiently listened to him plead for party support and influence
for his bill to prohibit gambling in futures.

"I was warned that it was useless to see you, Senator Smith, but I would
come. I believe in you. Frankly, there is a strong group of your old
friends and followers forming against you; they met only last night, but
I did not go. Won't you take a stand on some of these progressive
matters--this bill, or the Child Labor movement, or Low Tariff
legislation?"

Mr. Smith listened but shook his head.

"When the time comes," he announced deliberately, "I shall have
something to say on several of these matters. At present I can only say
that I cannot support this bill," and Mr. Todd was ushered out. He met
Mr. Easterly coming in and greeted him effusively. He knew him only as a
rich philanthropist, who had helped the Neighborhood Guild in
Washington--one of Todd's hobbies.

Easterly greeted Smith quietly.

"Got my letter?"

"Yes."

"Here are the three bills. You will go on the Finance Committee
tomorrow; Sumdrich is chairman by courtesy, but you'll have the real
power. Put the Child Labor Bill first, and we'll work the press. The
Tariff will take most of the session, of course. We'll put the cotton
inspection bill through in the last days of the session--see? I'm
manoeuvring to get the Southern Congressmen into line.... Oh, one thing.
Thompson says he's a little worried about the Negroes; says there's
something more than froth in the talk of a bolt in the Northern Negro
vote. We may have to give them a little extra money and a few more minor
offices than usual. Talk with Thompson; the Negroes are sweet on you and
he's going to be the new chairman of the campaign, you know. Ever met
him?"

"Yes."

"Well--so long."

"Just a moment," the statesman stayed the financier.

"Todd just let fall something of a combination against us in
Congress--know anything of it?"

"Not definitely; I heard some rumors. Better see if you can run it down.
Well, I must hurry--good day."

While Bles Alwyn in the outer office was waiting and musing, a lady
came in. Out of the corner of his eye he caught the curve of her gown,
and as she seated herself beside him, the suggestion of a faint perfume.
A vague resentment rose in him. Colored women would look as well as
that, he argued, with the clothes and wealth and training. He paused,
however, in his thought: he did not want them like the whites--so cold
and formal and precise, without heart or marrow. He started up, for the
secretary was speaking to him.

"Are you the--er--the man who had a letter to the Senator?"

"Yes, sir."

"Let me see it. Oh, yes--he will see you in a moment."

Bles was returning the letter to his pocket when he heard a voice almost
at his ear.

"I beg your pardon--"

He turned and started. It was the lady next to him, and she was colored!
Not extremely colored, but undoubtedly colored, with waving black hair,
light brown skin, and the fuller facial curving of the darker world. And
yet Bles was surprised, for everything else about her--her voice, her
bearing, the set of her gown, her gloves and shoes, the whole impression
was--Bles hesitated for a word--well, "white."

"Yes--yes, ma'am," he stammered, becoming suddenly conscious that the
lady had now a second time asked him if he was acquainted with Senator
Smith. "That is, ma'am,"--why was he saying "ma'am," like a child or a
servant?--"I know his sister and have a letter for him."

"Do you live in Washington?" she inquired.

"No--but I want to. I've been trying to get in as a clerk, and I haven't
succeeded yet. That's what I'm going to see Senator Smith about."

"Have you had the civil-service examinations?"

"Yes. I made ninety-three in the examination for a treasury clerkship."

"And no appointment? I see--they are not partial to us there."

Bles was glad to hear her say "us."

She continued after a pause:

"May I venture to ask a favor of you?"

"Certainly," he responded.

"My name is Wynn," lowering her voice slightly and leaning toward him.
"There are so many ahead of me and I am in a hurry to get to my school;
but I must see the Senator--couldn't I go in with you? I think I might
be of service in this matter of the examination, and then perhaps I'd
get a chance to say a word for myself."

"I'd be very glad to have you come," said Bles, cordially.

The secretary hesitated a little when the two started in, but Miss
Wynn's air was so quietly assured that he yielded.

Senator Smith looked at the tall, straight black man with his smooth
skin and frank eyes. And for a second time that morning a vision of his
own youth dimmed his eyes. But he spoke coldly:

"Mr. Alwyn, I believe."

"Yes, sir."

"And--"

"My friend, Miss Wynn."

The Senator glanced at Miss Wynn and she bowed demurely. Then he turned
to Alwyn.

"Well, Mr. Alwyn, Washington is a bad place to start in the world."

Bles looked surprised and incredulous. He could conceive of no finer
starting-place, but he said nothing.

"It is a grave," continued the Senator, "of ambitions and ideals. You
would far better go back to Alabama"--pausing and looking at the young
man keenly--"but you won't--you won't--not yet, at any rate." And Bles
shook his head slowly.

"No--well, what can I do for you?"

"I want work--I'll do anything."

"No, you'll do one thing--be a clerk, and then if you have the right
stuff in you you will throw up that job in a year and start again."

"I'd like at least to try it, sir."

"Well, I can't help you much there; that's in civil-service, and you
must take the examination."

"I have, sir."

"So? Where, and what mark?"

"In the Treasury Department; I got a mark of ninety-three."

"What!--and no appointment?" The Senator was incredulous.

"No, sir; not yet."

Here Miss Wynn interposed.

"You see, Senator," she said, "civil-service rules are not always
impervious to race prejudice."

The Senator frowned.

"Do you mean to intimate that Mr. Alwyn's appointment is held up because
he is colored?"

"I do."

"Well--well!" The Senator rang for a clerk.

"Get me the Treasury on the telephone."

In a moment the bell rang.

"I want Mr. Cole. Is that you, Mr. Cole? Good-morning. Have you a young
man named Alwyn on your eligible list? What? Yes?" A pause. "Indeed?
Well, why has he no appointment? Of course, I know, he's a Negro. Yes, I
desire it very much--thank you."

"You'll get an appointment to-morrow morning," and the Senator rose.
"How is my sister?" he asked absently.

"She was looking worried, but hopeful of the new endowment when I left."
The Senator held out his hand; Bles took it and then remembered.


"Oh, I beg pardon, but Miss Wynn wanted a word on another matter."

The Senator turned to Miss Wynn.

"I am a school-teacher, Senator Smith, and like all the rest of us I am
deeply interested in the appointment of the new school-board."

"But you know the district committee attends to those things," said the
Senator hastily. "And then, too, I believe there is talk of abolishing
the school-board and concentrating power in the hands of the
superintendent."

"Precisely," said Miss Wynn. "And I came to tell you, Senator Smith,
that the interests which are back of this attack upon the schools are no
friends of yours." Miss Wynn extracted from her reticule a typewritten
paper.

He took the paper and read it intently. Then he keenly scrutinized the
young woman, and she steadily returned his regard.

"How am I to know this is true?"

"Follow it up and see."

He mused.

"Where did you get these facts?" he asked suddenly.

She smiled.

"It is hardly necessary to say."

"And yet," he persisted, "if I were sure of its source I would know my
ground better and--my obligation to you would be greater."

She laughed and glanced toward Alwyn. He had moved out of earshot and
was waiting by the window.

"I am a teacher in the M Street High School," she said, "and we have
some intelligent boys there who work their way through."

"Yes," said the Senator.

"Some," continued Miss Wynn, tapping her boot on the carpet, "some--wait
on table."

The Senator slowly put the paper in his pocket.

"And now," he said, "Miss Wynn, what can I do for you?"

She looked at him.

"If Judge Haynes is reappointed to the school-board I shall probably
continue to teach in the M Street High School," she said slowly.

The Senator made a memorandum and said:

"I shall not forget Miss Wynn--nor her friends." And he bowed, glancing
at Alwyn.

The woman contemplated Bles in momentary perplexity, then bowing in
turn, left. Bles followed, debating just what he ought to say, how far
he might venture to accompany her, what--but she easily settled it all.

"I thank you--good-bye," she said briefly at the door, and was gone.
Bles did not know whether to feel relieved or provoked, or disappointed,
and by way of compromise felt something of all three.

The next morning he received notice of his appointment to a clerkship in
the Treasury Department, at a salary of nine hundred dollars. The sum
seemed fabulous and he was in the seventh heaven. For many days the
consciousness of wealth, the new duties, the street scenes, and the city
life kept him more than busy. He planned to study, and arranged with a
professor at Howard University to guide him. He bought an armful of
books and a desk, and plunged desperately to work.

Gradually as he became used to the office routine, and in the hours when
he was weary of study, he began to find time hanging a little heavily on
his hands; indeed--although he would not acknowledge it--he was getting
lonesome, homesick, amid the myriad men of a busy city. He argued to
himself that this was absurd, and yet he knew that he was longing for
human companionship. When he looked about him for fellowship he found
himself in a strange dilemma: those black folk in whom he recognized the
old sweet-tempered Negro traits, had also looser, uglier manners than he
was accustomed to, from which he shrank. The upper classes of Negroes,
on the other hand, he still observed from afar; they were strangers not
only in acquaintance but because of a curious coldness and aloofness
that made them cease to seem his own kind; they seemed almost at times
like black white people--strangers in way and thought.

He tried to shake off this feeling but it clung, and at last in sheer
desperation, he promised to go out of a night with a fellow clerk who
rather boasted of the "people" he knew. He was soon tired of the
strange company, and had turned to go home, when he met a newcomer in
the doorway.

"Why, hello, Sam! Sam Stillings!" he exclaimed delightedly, and was soon
grasping the hand of a slim, well-dressed man of perhaps thirty, with
yellow face, curling hair, and shifting eyes.

"Well, of all things, Bles--er--ah--Mr. Alwyn! Thought you were hoeing
cotton."

Bles laughed and continued shaking his head. He was foolishly glad to
see the former Cresswell butler, whom he had known but slightly. His
face brought back unuttered things that made his heart beat faster and a
yearning surge within him.

"I thought you went to Chicago," cried Bles.

"I did, but goin' into politics--having entered the political field, I
came here. And you graduated, I suppose, and all that?"

"No," Bless admitted a little sadly, as he told of his coming north, and
of Senator Smith's influence. "But--but how are--all?"

Abruptly Sam hooked his arm into Alwyn's and pulled him with him down
the street. Stillings was a type. Up from servility and menial service
he was struggling to climb to money and power. He was shrewd, willing to
stoop to anything in order to win. The very slights and humiliations of
prejudice he turned to his advantage. When he learned all the
particulars of Alwyn's visit to Senator Smith and his cordial reception
he judged it best to keep in touch with this young man, and he forthwith
invited Bles to accompany him the next night to the Fifteenth Street
Presbyterian Church.

"You'll find the best people there," he said; "the aristocracy. The
Treble Clef gives a concert, and everybody that's anybody will be
there."

They met again the following evening and proceeded to the church. It was
a simple but pleasant auditorium, nearly filled with well-dressed
people. During the programme Bles applauded vociferously every number
that pleased him, which is to say, every one--and stamped his feet,
until he realized that he was attracting considerable attention to
himself. Then the entertainment straightway lost all its charm; he grew
painfully embarrassed, and for the remainder of the evening was
awkwardly self-conscious. When all was over, the audience rose leisurely
and stood in little knots and eddies, laughing and talking; many moved
forward to say a word to the singers and players, Stillings stepped
aside to a group of men, and Bles was left miserably alone. A man came
to him, a white-faced man, with slightly curling close gray hair, and
high-bred ascetic countenance.

"You are a stranger?" he asked pleasantly, and Bles liked him.

"Yes, sir," he answered, and they fell to talking. He discovered that
this was the pastor of the church.

"Do you know no one in town?"

"One or two of my fellow clerks and Mr. Stillings. Oh, yes, I've met
Miss Wynn."

"Why, here is Miss Wynn now."

Bles turned. She was right behind him, the centre of a group. She
turned, slowly, and smiled.

"Oh!" she uttered twice, but with difference cadence. Then something
like amusement lurked a moment in her eye, and she quietly presented
Bles to her friends, while Stillings hovered unnoticed in the offing:

"Miss Jones--Mr. Alwyn of--" she paused a second--"Alabama. Miss
Taylor--Mr. Alwyn--and," with a backward curving of her neck, "Mr.
Teerswell," and so on. Mr. Teerswell was handsome and indolent, with
indecision in his face and a cynical voice. In a moment Bles felt the
subtle antagonism of the group. He was an intruder. Mr. Teerswell nodded
easily and turned away, continuing his conversation with the ladies.

But Miss Wynn was perverse and interrupted. "I saw you enjoyed the
concert, Mr. Alwyn," she said, and one of the young ladies rippled
audibly. Bles darkened painfully, realizing that these people must have
been just behind him. But he answered frankly:

"Yes, I did immensely--I hope I didn't disturb you; you see, I'm not
used to hearing such singing."

Mr. Teerswell, compelled to listen, laughed drily.

"Plantation melodies, I suppose, are more your specialty," he said with
a slight cadence.

"Yes," said Bles simply. A slight pause ensued.

Then came the surprise of the evening for Bles Alwyn. Even his
inexperienced eye could discern that Miss Wynn was very popular, and
that most of the men were rivals for her attentions.

"Mr. Alwyn," she said graciously, rising. "I'm going to trouble you to
see me to my door; it's only a block. Good-night, all!" she called, but
she bowed to Mr. Teerswell.

Miss Wynn placed her hand lightly on Bles's arm, and for a moment he
paused. A thrill ran through him as he felt again the weight of a little
hand and saw beside him the dark beautiful eyes of a girl. He felt again
the warm quiver of her body. Then he awoke to the lighted church and the
moving, well-dressed throng. The hand on his arm was not so small; but
it was well-gloved, and somehow the fancy struck him that it was a cold
hand and not always sympathetic in its touch.




_Twenty-three_

THE TRAINING OF ZORA


"I did not know the world was so large," remarked Zora as she and Mrs.
Vanderpool flew east and northward on the New York-New Orleans limited.
For a long time the girl had given herself up to the sheer delight of
motion. Gazing from the window, she compared the lands she passed with
the lands she knew: noting the formation of the cotton; the kind and
growth of the trees; the state of the roads. Then the comparisons became
infinite, endless; the world stretched on and on until it seemed mere
distance, and she suddenly realized how vast a thing it was and spoke.

Mrs. Vanderpool was amused. "It's much smaller than one would think,"
she responded.

When they came to Atlanta Zora stared and wrinkled her brows. It was her
first large city. The other towns were replicas of Toomsville; strange
in number, not in kind; but this was different, and she could not
understand it. It seemed senseless and unreasonable, and yet so
strangely so that she was at a loss to ask questions. She was very
solemn as they rode on and night came down with dreams.

She awoke in Washington to new fairylands and wonders; the endless going
and coming of men; great piles that challenged heaven, and homes crowded
on homes till one could not believe that they were full of living
things. They rolled by Baltimore and Philadelphia, and she talked of
every-day matters: of the sky which alone stood steadfast amid whirling
change; of bits of empty earth that shook themselves here and there
loose from their burden of men, and lay naked in the cold shining
sunlight.

All the while the greater questions were beating and curling and
building themselves back in her brain, and above all she was wondering
why no one had told her before of all this mighty world. Mrs.
Vanderpool, to whom it seemed too familiar for comment, had said no
word; or, if she had spoken, Zora's ears had not been tuned to
understand; and as they flew toward the towering ramparts of New York,
she sat up big with the terror of a new thought: suppose this world were
full yet of things she did not know nor dream of? How could she find
out? She must know.

When finally they were settled in New York and sat high up on the Fifth
Avenue front of the hotel, gradually the inarticulate questioning found
words, albeit strange ones.

"It reminds me of the swamp," she said.

Mrs. Vanderpool, just returned from a shopping tour, burst into
laughter.

"It is--but I marvel at your penetration."

"I mean, it is moving--always moving."

"The swamp seemed to me unearthly still."

"Yes--yes," cried Zora, eagerly, brushing back the rumpled hair; "and so
did the city, at first, to me."

"Still! New York?"

"Yes. You see, I saw the buildings and forgot the men; and the
buildings were so tall and silent against Heaven. And then I came to see
the people, and suddenly I knew the city was like the swamp, always
restless and changing."

"And more beautiful?" suggested Mrs. Vanderpool, slipping her arms into
her lounging-robe.

"Oh, no; not nearly so beautiful. And yet--more interesting." Then with
a puzzled look: "I wonder why?"

"Perhaps because it's people and not things."

"It's people in the swamp," asserted Zora, dreamily, smoothing out the
pillows of the couch, "'little people,' I call them. The difference is,
I think, that there I know how the story will come out; everything is
changing, but I know how and why and from what and to what. Now here,
_every_thing seems to be happening; but what is it that is happening?"

"You must know what has happened, to know what may happen," said Mrs.
Vanderpool.

"But how can I know?"

"I'll get you some books to-morrow."

"I'd like to know what it means," wistfully.

"It is meaningless." The woman's cynicism was lost upon Zora, of course,
but it possessed the salutary effect of stimulating the girl's thoughts,
encouraging her to discover for herself.

"I think not; so much must mean something," she protested.

Zora gathered up the clothes and things and shaded the windows, glancing
the while down on the street.

"Everybody is going, going," she murmured. "I wonder where. Don't they
ever get there?"

"Few arrive," said Mrs. Vanderpool. Zora softly bent and passed her cool
soft hand over her forehead.

"Then why do they go?"

"The zest of the search, perhaps."

"No," said Zora as she noiselessly left the room and closed the door;
"no, they are searching for something they have lost. Perhaps they, too,
are searching for the Way," and the tears blinded her eyes.

Mrs. Vanderpool lay in the quiet darkened room with a puzzled smile on
her lips. A month ago she had not dreamed that human interest in anybody
would take so strong a hold upon her as her liking for Zora had done.
She was a woman of unusual personal charm, but her own interest and
affections were seldom stirred. Had she been compelled to earn a living
she would have made a successful teacher or manipulator of men. As it
was, she viewed the human scene with detached and cynical interest. She
had no children, few near relations, a husband who went his way and
still was a gentleman.

Essentially Mrs. Vanderpool was unmoral. She held the code of her social
set with sportsmanlike honor; but even beyond this she stooped to no
intrigue, because none interested her. She had all the elements of power
save the motive for doing anything in particular. For the first time,
perhaps, Zora gave her life a peculiar human interest. She did not love
the girl, but she was intensely interested in her; some of the interest
was selfish, for Zora was going to be a perfect maid. The girl's
language came to be more and more like Mrs. Vanderpool's; her dress and
taste in adornment had been Mrs. Vanderpool's first care, and it led to
a curious training in art and sense of beauty until the lady now and
then found herself learner before the quick suggestiveness of Zora's
mind.

When Mrs. Harry Cresswell called a month or so later the talk naturally
included mention of Zora. Mary was happy and vivacious, and noted the
girl's rapid development.

"I wonder what I shall make out of her?" queried Mrs. Vanderpool. "Do
you know, I believe I could mould her into a lady if she were not
black."

Mary Cresswell laughed. "With that hair?"

"It has artistic possibilities. You should have seen my hair-dresser's
face when I told her to do it up. Her face and Zora's were a pantomime
for the gods. Yet it was done. It lay in some great twisted cloud and in
that black net gown of mine Zora was simply magnificent. Her form is
perfect, her height is regal, her skin is satin, and my jewels found a
resting place at last. Jewels, you know, dear, were never meant for
white folk. I was tempted to take her to the box at the opera and let
New York break its impudent neck."

Mary was shocked.

"But, Mrs. Vanderpool," she protested, "is it right? Is it fair? Why
should you spoil this black girl and put impossible ideas into her head?
You can make her a perfect maid, but she can never be much more in
America."

"She is a perfect maid now; that's the miracle of it--she's that deft
and quick and quiet and thoughtful! The hotel employees think her
perfect; my friends rave--really, I'm the most blessed of women. But do
you know I like the girl? I--well, I think of her future."

"It's wrong to treat her as you do. You make her an equal. Her room is
one of the best and filled with books and bric-a-brac. She sometimes
eats with you--is your companion, in fact."

"What of it? She loves to read, and I guide her while she keeps me up on
the latest stuff. She can talk much better than many of my friends and
then she piques my curiosity: she's a sort of intellectual sauce that
stirs my rapidly failing mental appetite. I think that as soon as I can
make up my mind to spare her, I'll take her to France and marry her off
in the colonies."

"Well, that's possible; but one doesn't easily give up good servants. By
the way, I learn from Miss Smith that the boy, Bles Alwyn, in whom Zora
was so interested, is a clerk in the Treasury Department at Washington."

"Indeed! I'm going to Washington this winter; I'll look him over and see
if he's worth Zora--which I greatly doubt."

Mrs. Cresswell pursed her lips and changed the subject.

"Have you seen the Easterlys?"

"The ladies left their cards--they are quite impossible. Mr. Easterly
calls this afternoon. I can't imagine why, but he asked for an
appointment. Will you go South with Mr. Cresswell? I'm glad to hear he's
entering politics."

"No, I shall do some early house hunting in Washington," said Mrs.
Cresswell, rising as Mr. Easterly was announced.

Mr. Easterly was not at home in Mrs. Vanderpool's presence. She spoke a
language different from his, and she had shown a disconcerting way, in
the few times when he had spoken with her, of letting the weight of the
conversation rest on him. He felt very distinctly that Mrs. Vanderpool
was not particularly desirous of his company, nor that of his family.
Nevertheless, he needed Mrs. Vanderpool's influence just now, and he was
willing to pay considerable for it. Once under obligation to him her
services would be very valuable. He was glad to find Mrs. Cresswell
there. It showed that the Cresswells were still intimate, and the
Cresswells were bound to him and his interests by strong ties. He bowed
as Mrs. Cresswell left, and then did not beat around the bush because,
in this case, he did not know how.

"Mrs. Vanderpool, I need your aid."

Mrs. Vanderpool smiled politely, and murmured something.

"We are, you know, in the midst of a rather warm presidential campaign,"
continued Mr. Easterly.

"Yes?" with polite interest.

"We are going to win easily, but our majority in Congress for certain
matters will depend on the attitude of Southerners and you usually spend
the winters in Washington. If, now, you could drop a word here and
there--"

"But why should I?" asked Mrs. Vanderpool.

"Mrs. Vanderpool, to be frank, I know some excellent investments that
your influence in this line would help. I take it you're not so rich but
that--"

Mrs. Vanderpool smiled faintly.

"Really, Mr. Easterly, I know little about such matters and care less. I
have food and clothes. Why worry with more?"

Mr. Easterly half expected this and he determined to deliver his last
shot on the run. He arose with a disappointed air.

"Of course, Mrs. Vanderpool, I see how it is: you have plenty and one
can't expect your services or influence for nothing. It had occurred to
me that your husband might like something political; but I presume not."

"Something political?"

"Yes. You see, it's barely possible, for instance, that there will be a
change in the French ambassadorship. The present ambassador is old
and--well, I don't know, but as I say, it's possible. Of course though,
that may not appeal to you, and I can only beg your good offices in
charity if--if you see your way to help us. Well, I must be going."

"What is--I thought the President appointed ambassadors."

"To be sure, but we appoint Presidents," laughed Mr. Easterly.
"Good-day. I shall hope to see you in Washington."

"Good-day," Mrs. Vanderpool returned absently.

After he had gone she walked slowly to Zora's room and opened the door.
For a long time she stood quietly looking in. Zora was curled in a chair
with a book. She was in dreamland; in a world of books builded
thoughtfully for her by Mrs. Vanderpool, and before that by Miss Smith.
Her work took but little of her time and left hours for reading and
thinking. In that thought-life, more and more her real living centred.

Hour after hour, day after day, she lay buried, deaf and dumb to all
else. Her heart cried, up on the World's four corners of the Way, and to
it came the Vision Splendid. She gossiped with old Herodotus across the
earth to the black and blameless Ethiopians; she saw the sculptured
glories of Phidias marbled amid the splendor of the swamp; she listened
to Demosthenes and walked the Appian Way with Cornelia--while all New
York streamed beneath her window.

She saw the drunken Goths reel upon Rome and heard the careless Negroes
yodle as they galloped to Toomsville. Paris, she knew,--wonderful,
haunting Paris: the Paris of Clovis, and St. Louis; of Louis the Great,
and Napoleon III; of Balzac, and her own Dumas. She tasted the mud and
comfort of thick old London, and the while wept with Jeremiah and sang
with Deborah, Semiramis, and Atala. Mary of Scotland and Joan of Arc
held her dark hands in theirs, and Kings lifted up their sceptres.

She walked on worlds, and worlds of worlds, and heard there in her
little room the tread of armies, the paeans of victory, the breaking of
hearts, and the music of the spheres.

Mrs. Vanderpool watched her a while.

"Zora," she presently broke into the girl's absorption, "how would you
like to be Ambassador to France?"




_Twenty-four_

THE EDUCATION OF ALWYN


Miss Caroline Wynn of Washington had little faith in the world and its
people. Nor was this wholly her fault. The world had dealt cruelly with
the young dreams and youthful ambitions of the girl; partly with its
usual heartlessness, partly with that cynical and deadening reserve fund
which it has today for its darker peoples. The girl had bitterly
resented her experiences at first: she was brilliant and well-trained;
she had a real talent for sculpture, and had studied considerably; she
was sprung from at least three generations of respectable mulattoes, who
had left a little competence which yielded her three or four hundred
dollars a year. Furthermore, while not precisely pretty, she was
good-looking and interesting, and she had acquired the marks and
insignia of good breeding. Perhaps she wore her manners just a trifle
consciously; perhaps she was a little morbid that she would fail of
recognition as a lady. Nor was this unnatural: her brown skin invited a
different assumption. Despite this almost unconscious mental
aggressiveness, she was unusually presentable and always well-groomed
and pleasant of speech. Yet she found nearly all careers closed to her.
At first it seemed accidental, the luck of life. Then she attributed it
to her sex; but at last she was sure that, beyond chance and womanhood,
it was the colorline that was hemming her in. Once convinced of this,
she let her imagination play and saw the line even where it did not
exist.

With her bit of property and brilliant parts she had had many suitors
but they had been refused one after another for reasons she could hardly
have explained. For years now Tom Teerswell had been her escort. Whether
or not Caroline Wynn would every marry him was a perennial subject of
speculation among their friends and it usually ended in the verdict that
she could not afford it--that it was financially impossible.

Nevertheless, the two were usually seen in public together, and although
she often showed her quiet mastery of the situation, seldom had she
snubbed him so openly as at the Treble Clef concert.

Teerswell was furious and began to plot vengeance; but Miss Wynn was
attracted by the personality of Bles Alwyn. Southern country Negroes
were rare in her set, but here was a man of intelligence and keenness
coupled with an amazing frankness and modesty, and perceptibly shadowed
by sorrow. The combination was, so far as she had observed, both rare
and temporary and she was disposed to watch it in this case purely as a
matter of intellectual curiosity. At the door of her home, therefore,
after a walk of unusual interest, she said:

"I'm going to have a few friends in next Tuesday night; won't you come,
Mr. Alwyn?" And Mr. Alwyn said that he would.

Next morning Miss Wynn rather repented her hasty invitation, but of
course nothing could be done now. Nothing? Well, there was one thing;
and she went to the telephone. A suggestion to Bles that he might
profitably extend his acquaintance sent him to a certain tailor shop
kept by a friend of hers; a word to the tailor guarded against the least
suspicion of intrigue entering Bles's head.

It turned out quite as Miss Wynn had designed; Mr. Grey, the tailor,
gave Bles some points on dressing, and made him, Southern fashion, a
frock-coat for dress wear that set off his fine figure. On the night of
the gathering at Miss Wynn's Bles dressed with care, hesitating long
over a necktie, but at last choosing one which he had recently purchased
and which pleased him particularly. He was prompt to the minute and was
consequently the first guest; but Miss Wynn's greeting was so quietly
cordial that his embarrassment soon fled. She looked him over at leisure
and sighed at his tie; otherwise he was thoroughly presentable according
to the strictest Washington standard.

They sat down and talked of generalities. Then an idea occurring to her,
she conducted the conversation by devious paths to ties and asked Alwyn
if he had heard of the fad of collecting ties. He had not, and she
showed him a sofa pillow.

"Your tie quite attracted me," she said; "it would make just the dash of
color I need in my new pillow."

"You may have it and welcome. I'll send--"

"Oh, no! A bird in the hand, you know. I'll trade with you now for
another I have."

"Done!"

The exchange was soon made, Miss Wynn tying the new one herself and
sticking a small carved pin in it. Bles slowly sat down again, and after
a pause said, "Thank you."

She looked up quickly, but he seemed quite serious and good-natured.

"You see," he explained, "in the country we don't know much about ties."

The well-balanced Miss Wynn for a moment lost her aplomb, but only for a
moment.

"We must all learn," she replied with penetration, and so their
friendship was established.

The company now began to gather, and soon the double parlor held an
assemblage of twenty-five or thirty persons. They formed a picturesque
group: conventional but graceful in dress; animated in movement; full of
good-natured laughter, but quite un-American in the beautiful modulation
of their speaking tones; chiefly noticeable, however, to a stranger, in
the vast variety of color in skin, which imparted to the throng a
piquant and unusual interest. Every color was here; from the dark brown
of Alwyn, who was customarily accounted black, to the pale pink-white of
Miss Jones, who could "pass for white" when she would, and found her
greatest difficulties when she was trying to "pass" for black. Midway
between these two extremes lay the sallow pastor of the church, the
creamy Miss Williams, the golden yellow of Mr. Teerswell, the golden
brown of Miss Johnson, and the velvet brown of Mr. Grey. The guest
themselves did not notice this; they were used to asking one's color as
one asks of height and weight; it was simply an extra dimension in their
world whereby to classify men.

Beyond this and their hair, there was little to distinguish them from a
modern group of men and women. The speech was a softened English, purely
and, on the whole, correctly spoken--so much so that it seemed at first
almost unfamiliar to Bles, and he experienced again the uncomfortable
feeling of being among strangers. Then, too, he missed the loud but
hearty good-nature of what he had always called "his people." To be
sure, a more experienced observer might have noted a lively, excitable
tropical temperament set and cast in a cold Northern mould, and yet
flashing fire now and then in a sudden anomalous out-bursting. But Bles
missed this; he seemed to have slipped and lost his bearings, and the
characteristics of his simple world were rolling curiously about. Here
stood a black man with a white man's voice, and yonder a white woman
with a Negro's musical cadences; and yet again, a brown girl with
exactly Miss Cresswell's air, and yonder, Miss Williams, with Zora's
wistful willfulness.

Bles was bewildered and silent, and his great undying sorrow sank on his
heart with sickening hopeless weight. His hands got in the way and he
found no natural nook in all those wide and tastefully furnished rooms.
Once he discovered himself standing by a marble statue of a nude woman,
and he edged away; then he stumbled over a rug and saved himself only to
step on Miss Jones's silken train. Miss Jones's smile of pardon was
wintry. When he did approach a group and listen, they seemed speaking of
things foreign to him--usually of people he did not know, their homes,
their doings, their daughters and their fathers. They seemed to know
people intimately who lived far away.

"You mean the Smiths of Boston?" asked Miss Jones.

"No, of Cleveland. They're not related."

"I heard that McGhee of St. Paul will be in the city next week with his
daughter."

"Yes, and the Bentleys of Chicago."

Bles passed on. He was disappointed. He was full of things to say, of
mighty matters to discuss; he felt like stopping these people and
crying: "Ho! What of the morning? How goes the great battle for black
men's rights? I have came with messages from the host, to you who guard
the mountain tops."

Apparently they were not discussing or caring about "the Problem." He
grew disgusted and was edging toward the door when he encountered his
hostess.

"Is all well with you, Mr. Alwyn?" she asked lightly.

"No, I'm not enjoying myself," said Bles, truthfully.

"Delicious! And why not?"

He regarded her earnestly.

"There are so many things to talk about," he said; "earnest things;
things of importance. I--I think when our people--" he hesitated.
Our?--was _our_ right? But he went on: "When our people meet we ought
to talk of our situation, and what to do and--"

Miss Wynn continued to smile.

"We're all talking of it all the time," she said.

He looked incredulous.

"Yes, we are," she insisted. "We veil it a little, and laugh as lightly
as we can; but there is only one thought in this room, and that's grave
and serious enough to suit even you, and quite your daily topic."

"But I don't understand."

"Ah, there's the rub. You haven't learned our language yet. We don't
just blurt into the Negro Problem; that's voted bad form. We leave that
to our white friends. We saunter to it sideways, touch it delicately
because"--her face became a little graver--"because, you see, it hurts."

Bles stood thoughtful and abashed.

"I--I think I understand," he gravely said at last.

"Come here," she said with a sudden turn, and they joined an absorbed
group in the midst of a conversation.

"--Thinking of sending Jessie to Bryn Mawr," Bles heard Miss Jones
saying.

"Could she pass?"

"Oh, they might think her Spanish."

"But it's a snobbish place and she would have to give up all her
friends."

"Yes, Freddie could scarcely visit--" the rest was lost.

"Which, being interpreted," whispered Miss Wynn, "means that Bryn Mawr
draws the color line while we at times surmount it."

They moved on to another group.

"--Splendid draughtsman," a man was saying, "and passed at the head of
the crowd; but, of course, he has no chance."

"Why, it's civil-service, isn't it?"

"It is. But what of that? There was Watson--"

Miss Wynn did not pause. She whispered: "This is the tale of Civil
Service Reform, and how this mighty government gets rid of black men
who know too much."

"But--" Bles tried to protest.

"Hush," Miss Wynn commanded and they joined the group about the piano.
Teerswell, who was speaking, affected not to notice them, and continued:

"--I tell you, it's got to come. We must act independently and not be
bought by a few offices."

"That's all well enough for you to talk, Teerswell; you have no wife and
babies dependant on you. Why should we who have sacrifice the substance
for the shadow?"

"You see, the Judge has got the substance," laughed Teerswell. "Still I
insist: divide and conquer."

"Nonsense! Unite, and keep."

Bles was puzzled.

"They're talking of the coming campaign," said Miss Wynn.

"What!" exclaimed Bles aloud. "You don't mean that any one can advise a
black man to vote the Democratic ticket?"

An elderly man turned to them.

"Thank you, sir," he said; "that is just my attitude; I fought for my
freedom. I know what slavery is; may I forget God when I vote for
traitors and slave-holders."

The discussion waxed warm and Miss Wynn turned away and sought Miss
Jones.

"Come, my dear," she said, "it's 'The Problem' again." They sauntered
away toward a ring of laughter.

The discussion thus begun at Miss Wynn's did not end there. It was on
the eve of the great party conventions, and the next night Sam Stillings
came around to get some crumbs from this assembly of the inner circle,
into which Alwyn had been so unaccountably snatched, and outside of
which, despite his endeavors, Stillings lingered and seemed destined to
linger. But Stillings was a patient, resolute man beneath his
deferential exterior, and he saw in Bles a stepping stone. So he began
to drop in at his lodgings and tonight invited him to the Bethel
Literary.

"What's that?" asked Bles.

"A debating club--oldest in the city; the best people all attend."

Bles hesitated. He had half made up his mind that this was the proper
time to call on Miss Wynn. He told Stillings so, and told him also of
the evening and the discussion.

"Why, that's the subject up tonight," Stillings declared, "and Miss Wynn
will be sure to be there. You can make your call later. Perhaps you
wouldn't mind taking me when you call." Alwyn reached for his hat.

When they arrived, the basement of the great church was filling with a
throng of men and women. Soon the officers and the speaker of the
evening appeared. The president was a brown woman who spoke easily and
well, and introduced the main speaker. He was a tall, thin,
hatchet-faced black man, clean shaven and well dressed, a lawyer by
profession. His theme was "The Democratic Party and the Negro." His
argument was cool, carefully reasoned, and plausible. He was evidently
feeling for the sympathy of his audience, and while they were not
enthusiastic, they warmed to him gradually and he certainly was strongly
impressing them.

Bles was thinking. He sat in the back of the hall, tense, alert,
nervous. As the speaker progressed a white man came in and sat down
beside him. He was spectacled, with bushy eyebrows and a sleepy look.
But he did not sleep. He was very observant.

"Who's speaking?" he asked Bles, and Bles told him. Then he inquired
about one or two other persons. Bles could not inform him, but Stillings
could and did. Stillings seemed willing to devote considerable time to
him.

Bles forgot the man. He was almost crouching for a spring, and no sooner
had the speaker, with a really fine apostrophe to independence and
reason in voting, sat down, than Bles was on his feet, walking forward.
His form was commanding, his voice deep and musical, and his
earnestness terribly evident. He hardly waited for recognition from the
slightly astonished president, but fairly burst into speech.

"I am from Alabama," he began earnestly, "and I know the Democratic
Party." Then he told of government and conditions in the Black Belt, of
the lying, oppression, and helplessness of the sodden black masses;
then, turning, he reminded them of the history of slavery. Finally, he
pointed to Lincoln's picture and to Sumner's and mentioned other white
friends.

"And, my brothers, they are not all dead yet. The gentleman spoke of
Senator Smith and blamed and ridiculed him. I know Senator Smith but
slightly, but I do know his sister well."

Dropping to simple narrative, he told of Miss Smith and of his coming to
school; and if his audience felt that great depth of emotion that welled
beneath his quiet, almost hesitating, address, it was not simply because
of what he did say, but because, too, of the unspoken story that lay too
deep for words. He spoke for nearly an hour, and when he stopped, for a
moment his hearers sighed and then sprang into a whirlwind of applause.
They shouted, clapped, and waved while he sat in blank amazement, and
was with difficulty forced to the rostrum to bow again and again. The
spectacled white man leaned over to Stillings.

"Who is he?" he asked. Stillings told him. The man noted the name and
went quietly out.

Miss Wynn sat lost in thought, and Teerswell beside her fumed. She was
not easily moved, but that speech had moved her. If he could thus stir
men and not be himself swayed, she mused, he would be--invincible. But
tonight he was moved as greatly as his hearers had been, and that was
dangerous. If his intense belief happened to be popular, all right; but
if not? She frowned. He was worth watching, she concluded; quite worth
watching, and perhaps worth guiding.

When Alwyn accompanied her home that night, Miss Wynn set herself to
know him better for she suspected that he might be a coming man. The
best preliminary to her purpose was, she knew, to speak frankly of
herself, and that she did. She told him of her youth and training, her
ambitions, her disappointments. Quite unconsciously her cynicism crept
to the fore, until in word and tone she had almost scoffed at many
things that Alwyn held true and dear. The touch was too light, the
meaning too elusive, for Alwyn to grasp always the point of attack; but
somehow he got the distant impression that Miss Wynn had little faith in
Truth and Goodness and Love. Vaguely shocked he grew so silent that she
noticed it and concluded she had said too much. But he pursued the
subject.

"Surely there must be many friends of our race willing to stand for the
right and sacrifice for it?"

She laughed unpleasantly, almost mockingly.

"Where?"

"Well--there's Miss Smith."

"She gets a salary, doesn't she?"

"A very small one."

"About as large as she could earn. North, I don't doubt."

"But the unselfish work she does--the utter sacrifice?"

"Oh, well, we'll omit Alabama, and admit the exception."

"Well, here, in Washington--there's your friend, the Judge, who has
befriended you so, as you admit."

She laughed again.

"You remember our visit to Senator Smith?"

"Yes."

"Well, it got the Judge his reappointment to the school board."

"He deserved it, didn't he?"

"I deserved it," she said luxuriously, hugging her knee and smiling;
"you see, his appointment meant mine."

"Well, what of it--didn't--"

"Listen," she cut in a little sharply. "Once a young brown girl, with
boundless faith in white folks, went to a Judge's office to ask for an
appointment which she deserved. There was no one there. The benign old
Judge with his saintly face and white hair suggested that she lay aside
her wraps and spend the afternoon."

Bles arose to his feet.

"What--what did you do?" he asked.

"Sit down--there's a good boy." I said: "'Judge, a friend is expecting
me at two,' it was then half-past one, 'would I not best telephone?'"

"'Step right into the booth,' said the Judge, quite indulgently." Miss
Wynn leaned back, and Bles felt his heart sinking; but he said nothing.
"And then," she continued, "I telephoned the Judge's wife that he was
anxious to see her on a matter of urgent business; namely, my
appointment." She gazed reflectively out of the window. "You should have
seen his face when I told him," she concluded. "I was appointed."

But Bles asked coldly:

"Why didn't you have him arrested?"

"For what? And suppose I had?"

Bles threw out his arms helplessly.

"Oh! it isn't as bad as that all over the world, is it?"

"It's worse," affirmed Miss Wynn, quietly positive.

"And you are still friendly with him?"

"What would you have? I use the world; I did not make it; I did not
choose it. He is the world. Through him I earn my bread and butter. I
have shown him his place. Shall I try in addition to reform? Shall I
make him an enemy? I have neither time nor inclination. Shall I resign
and beg, or go tilting at windmills? If he were the only one it would be
different; but they're all alike." Her face grew hard. "Have I shocked
you?" she said as they went toward the door.

"No," he answered slowly. "But I still--believe in the world."

"You are young yet, my friend," she lightly replied. "And besides, that
good Miss Smith has gone and grafted a New England conscience on a
tropical heart, and--dear me!--but it's a gorgeous misfit.
Good-bye--come again." She bowed him graciously out, and paused to take
the mail from the box. There was, among many others, a letter from
Senator Smith.




_Twenty-five_

THE CAMPAIGN


Mr. Easterly sat in Mrs. Vanderpool's apartments in the New Willard,
Washington, drinking tea. His hostess was saying rather carelessly:

"Do you know, Mr. Vanderpool has developed a quite unaccountable liking
for the idea of being Ambassador to France?"

"Dear me!" mildly exclaimed Mr. Easterly, helping himself liberally to
cakes. "I do hope the thing can be managed, but--"

"What are the difficulties?" Mrs. Vanderpool interrupted.

"Well, first and foremost, the difficulty of electing our man."

"I thought that a foregone conclusion."

"It was. But do you know that we're encountering opposition from the
most unexpected source?"

The lady was receptive, and the speaker concluded:

"The Negroes."

"The Negroes!"

"Yes. There are five hundred thousand or more black voters in pivotal
Northern States, you know, and they're in revolt. In a close election
the Negroes of New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois choose the
President."

"What's the matter?"

"Well, business interests have driven our party to make friends with the
South. The South has disfranchised Negroes and lynched a few. The
darkies say we've deserted them."

Mrs. Vanderpool laughed.

"What extraordinary penetration," she cried.

"At any rate," said Mr. Easterly, drily, "Mr. Vanderpool's first step
toward Paris lies in getting the Northern Negroes to vote the Republican
ticket. After that the way is clear."

Mrs. Vanderpool mused.

"I don't suppose you know any one who is acquainted with any number of
these Northern darkies?" continued Mr. Easterly.

"Not on my calling-list," said Mrs. Vanderpool, and then she added more
thoughtfully:

"There's a young clerk in the Treasury Department named Alwyn who has
brains. He's just from the South, and I happened to read of him this
morning--see here."

Mr. Easterly read an account of the speech at the Bethel Literary.

"We'll look this young man up," he decided; "he may help. Of course,
Mrs. Vanderpool, we'll probably win; we can buy these Negroes off with a
little money and a few small offices; then if you will use your
influence for the part with the Southerners, I can confidently predict
from four to eight years' sojourn in Paris."

Mrs. Vanderpool smiled and called her maid as Mr. Easterly went.

"Zora!" She had to call twice, for Zora, with widened eyes, was reading
the Washington Post.

Meantime in the office of Senator Smith, toward which Mr. Easterly was
making his way, several members of the National Republican campaign
committee had been closeted the day before.

"Now, about the niggers," the chairman had asked; "how much more boodle
do they want?"

"That's what's bothering us," announced a member; "it isn't the boodle
crowd that's hollering, but a new set, and I don't understand them; I
don't know what they represent, nor just how influential they are."

"What can I do to help you?" asked Senator Smith.

"This. You are here at Washington with these Negro office-holders at
your back. Find out for us just what this revolt is, how far it goes,
and what good men we can get to swing the darkies into line--see?"

"Very good," the Senator acquiesced. He called in a spectacled man with
bushy eyebrows and a sleepy look.

"I want you to work the Negro political situation," directed the
Senator, "and bring me all the data you can get. Personally, I'm at sea.
I don't understand the Negro of today at all; he puzzles me; he doesn't
fit any of my categories, and I suspect that I don't fit his. See what
you can find out."

The man went out, and the Senator turned to his desk, then paused and
smiled. One day, not long since, he had met a colored person who
personified his perplexity concerning Negroes; she was a lady, yet she
was black--that is, brown; she was educated, even cultured, yet she
taught Negroes; she was quiet, astute, quick and diplomatic--everything,
in fact, that "Negroes" were not supposed to be; and yet she was a
"Negro." She had given him valuable information which he had sought in
vain elsewhere, and the event proved it correct. Suppose he asked
Caroline Wynn to help him in this case? It would certainly do no harm
and it might elect a Republican president. He wrote a short letter with
his own hand and sent it to post.

Miss Wynn read the letter after Alwyn's departure with a distinct thrill
which was something of a luxury for her. Evidently she was coming to
her kingdom. The Republican boss was turning to her for confidential
information.

"What do the colored people want, and who can best influence them in
this campaign?"

She curled up on the ottoman and considered. The first part of the query
did not bother her.

"Whatever they want they won't get," she said decisively.

But as to the man or men who could influence them to believe that they
were getting, or about to get, what they wanted--there was a question.
One by one she considered the men she knew, and, by a process of
elimination, finally arrived at Bles Alwyn.

Why not take this young man in hand and make a Negro leader of him--a
protagonist of ten millions? It would not be unpleasant. But could she
do it? Would he be amenable to her training and become worldly wise? She
flattered herself that he would, and yet--there was a certain steadfast
look in the depths of his eyes that might prove to be sheer
stubbornness. At any rate, who was better? There was a fellow,
Stillings, whom Alwyn had introduced and whom she had heard of. Now he
was a politician--but nothing else. She dismissed him. Of course,
there was the older set of office-holders and rounders. But she was
determined to pick a new man. He was worth trying, at any rate; she knew
none other with the same build, the brains, the gifts, the adorable
youth. Very good. She wrote two letters, and then curled up to her novel
and candy.

Next day Senator Smith held Miss Wynn's letter unopened in his hand when
Mr. Easterly entered. They talked of the campaign and various matters,
until at last Easterly said:

"Say, there's a Negro clerk in the Treasury named Alwyn."

"I know him--I had him appointed."

"Good. He may help us. Have you seen this?"

The Senator read the clipping.

"I hadn't noticed it--but here's my agent."

The spectacled man entered with a mass of documents. He had papers,
posters, programmes, and letters.

"The situation is this," he said. "A small group of educated Negroes are
trying to induce the rest to punish the Republican Party for not
protecting them. These men are not politicians, nor popular leaders, but
they have influence and are using it. The old-style Negro politicians
are no match for them, and the crowd of office-holders are rather
bewildered. Strong measures are needed. Educated men of earnestness and
ability might stem the tide. And I believe I know one such man. He spoke
at a big meeting last night at the Metropolitan church. His name is
Alwyn."

Senator Smith listened as he opened the letter from Caroline Wynn. Then
he started.

"Well!" he ejaculated, looking quickly up at Easterly. "This is
positively uncanny. From three separate sources the name of Alwyn pops
up. Looks like a mascot. Call up the Treasury. Let's have him up when
the sub-committee meets to-morrow."

Bles Alwyn hurried up to Senator Smith's office, hoping to hear
something about the school; perhaps even about--but he stopped with a
sigh, and sat down in the ante-room. He was kept waiting a few moments
while Senator Smith, the chairman, and one other member of the
sub-committee had a word.

"Now, I don't know the young man, mind you," said the Senator; "but he's
strongly recommended."

"What shall we offer him?" asked the chairman.

"Try him at twenty-five dollars a speech. If he balks, raise to fifty
dollars, but no more."

They summoned the young man. The chairman produced cigars.

"I don't smoke," said Bles apologetically.

"Well, we haven't anything to drink," said the chairman. But Senator
Smith broke in, taking up at once the paramount interest.

"Mr. Alwyn, as you know, the Democrats are making an effort to get the
Negro vote in this campaign. Now, I know the disadvantages and wrongs
which black men in this land are suffering. I believe the Republicans
ought to do more to defend them, and I'm satisfied they will; but I
doubt if the way to get Negro rights is to vote for those who took them
away."

"I agree with you perfectly," said Bles.

"I understand you do, and that you made an unusually fine speech on the
subject the other night."

"Thank you, sir." This was a good deal more than Bles had expected, and
he was embarrassed.

"Well, now, we think you're just the man to take the stump during
September and October and convince the colored people of their real
interests."

"I doubt if I could, sir; I'm not a speaker. In fact, that was my first
public speech."

"So much the better. Are you willing to try?"

"Why, yes, sir; but I could hardly afford to give up my position."

"We'll arrange for a leave of absence."

"Then I'll try, sir."

"What would you expect as pay?"

"I suppose my salary would stop?"

"I mean in addition to that."

"Oh, nothing, sir; I'd be glad to do the work."

The chairman nearly choked; sitting back, he eyed the young man. Either
they were dealing with a fool, or else a very astute politician. If the
former, how far could they trust him; if the latter, what was his game?

"Of course, there'll be considerable travelling," the chairman ventured,
looking reflectively out of the window.

"Yes, sir, I suppose so."

"We might pay the railroad fare."

"Thank you, sir. When shall I begin?"

The chairman consulted his calendar.

"Suppose you hold yourself in readiness for one week from today."

"All right," and Bles rose. "Good-day, gentlemen."

But the chairman was still puzzled.

"Now, what's his game?" he asked helplessly.

"He may be honest," offered Senator Smith, contemplating the door almost
wistfully.

The campaign progressed. The National Republican Committee said little
about the Negro revolt and affected to ignore it. The papers were
silent. Underneath this calm, however, the activity was redoubled. The
prominent Negroes were carefully catalogued, written to, and put under
personal influence. The Negro papers were quietly subsidized, and they
began to ridicule and reproach the new leaders.

As the Fall progressed, mass-meetings were held in Washington and the
small towns. Larger and larger ones were projected, and more and more
Alwyn was pushed to the front. He was developing into a most effective
speaker. He had the voice, the presence, the ideas, and above all he was
intensely in earnest. There were other colored orators with voice,
presence, and eloquence; but their people knew their record and
discounted them. Alwyn was new, clear, and sincere, and the black folk
hung on his words. Large and larger crowds greeted him until he was the
central figure in a half dozen great negro mass-meetings in the chief
cities of the country, culminating in New York the night before
election. Perhaps the secret newspaper work, the personal advice of
employers and friends, and the liberal distribution of cash, would have
delivered a large part of the Negro vote to the Republican candidate.
Perhaps--but there was a doubt. With the work of Alwyn, however, all
doubt disappeared, and there was little reason for denying that the new
President walked into the White House through the instrumentality of an
unknown Georgia Negro, little past his majority. This is what Senator
Smith said to Mr. Easterly; what Miss Wynn said to herself; and it was
what Mrs. Vanderpool remarked to Zora as Zora was combing her hair on
the Wednesday after election.

Zora murmured an indistinct response. As already something of the beauty
of the world had found question and answer in her soul, and as she began
to realize how the world had waxed old in thought and stature, so now in
their last days a sense of the power of men, as set over against the
immensity and force of their surroundings, became real to her. She had
begun to read of the lives and doing of those called great, and in her
mind a plan was forming. She saw herself standing dim within the
shadows, directing the growing power of a man: a man who would be great
as the world counted greatness, rich, high in position,
powerful--wonderful because his face was black. He would never see her;
never know how she worked and planned, save perhaps at last, in that
supreme moment as she passed, her soul would cry to his, "Redeemed!" And
he would understand.

All this she was thinking and weaving; not clearly and definitely, but
in great blurred clouds of thought of things as she said slowly:

"He should have a great position for this."

"Why, certainly," Mrs. Vanderpool agreed, and then curiously: "What?"

Zora considered. "Negroes," she said, "have been Registers of the
Treasury, and Recorders of Deeds here in Washington, and Douglas was
Marshal; but I want Bles--" she paused and started again. "Those are not
great enough for Mr. Alwyn; he should have an office so important that
Negroes would not think of leaving their party again."

Mrs. Vanderpool took pains to repeat Zora's words to Mr. Easterly. He
considered the matter.

"In one sense, it's good advice," he admitted; "but there's the South to
reckon with. I'll think it over and speak to the President. Oh, yes; I'm
going to mention France at the same time."

Mrs. Vanderpool smiled and leaned back in her carriage. She noted with
considerable interest the young colored woman who was watching her from
the sidewalk: a brown, well-appearing young woman of notable
self-possession. Caroline Wynn scrutinized Mrs. Vanderpool because she
had been speaking with Mr. Easterly, and Mr. Easterly was a figure of
political importance. That very morning Miss Wynn had telegraphed Bles
Alwyn. Alwyn arrived at Washington just as the morning papers heralded
the sweeping Republican victory. All about he met new deference and new
friends; strangers greeted him familiarly on the street; Sam Stillings
became his shadow; and when he reported for work his chief and fellow
clerks took unusual interest in him.

"Have you seen Senator Smith yet?" Miss Wynn asked after a few words of
congratulation.

"No. What for?"

"What for?" she answered. "Go to him today; don't fail. I shall be at
home at eight tonight."

It seemed to Bles an exceedingly silly thing to do--calling on a busy
man with no errand; but he went. He decided that he would just thank the
Senator for his interest, and get out; or, if the Senator was busy, he
would merely send in his card. Evidently the Senator was busy, for his
waiting-room was full. Bles handed the card to the secretary with a word
of apology, but the secretary detained him.

"Ah, Mr. Alwyn," he said affably; "glad to see you. The Senator will
want to see you, I know. Wait just a minute." And soon Bles was shaking
Senator Smith's hand.

"Well, Mr. Alwyn," said the Senator heartily, "you delivered the goods."

"Thank you, sir. I tried to."

Senator Smith thoughtfully looked him over and drew out the letters.

"Your friends, Mr. Alwyn," he said, adjusting his glasses, "have a
rather high opinion of you. Here now is Stillings, who helped on the
campaign. He suggests an eighteen-hundred-dollar clerkship for you." The
Senator glanced up keenly and omitted to state what Stillings suggested
for himself. Alwyn was visibly grateful as well as surprised.

"I--I hoped," he began hesitatingly, "that perhaps I might get a
promotion, but I had not thought of a first-class clerkship."

"H'm." Senator Smith leaned back and twiddled his thumbs, staring at
Alwyn until the hot blood darkened his cheeks. Then Bles sat up and
stared politely but steadily back. The Senator's eyes dropped and he put
out his hand for the second note.

"Now, your friend, Miss Wynn"--Alwyn started--"is even more ambitious."
He handed her letter to the young man, and pointed out the words.

"Of course, Senator," Bles read, "we expect Mr. Alwyn to be the next
Register of the Treasury."

Bles looked up in amazement, but the Senator reached for a third letter.
The room was very still. At last he found it. "This," he announced
quietly, "is from a man of great power and influence, who has the ear of
the new President." He smoothed out the letter, paused briefly, then
read aloud:

"'It has been suggested to me by'"--the Senator did not read the name;
if he had "Mrs. Vanderpool" would have meant little to Alwyn--"'It has
been suggested to me by blank that the future allegiance of the Negro
vote to the Republican Party might be insured by giving to some
prominent Negro a high political position--for instance, Treasurer of
the United States'--salary, six thousand dollars," interpolated Senator
Smith--"'and that Alwyn would be a popular and safe appointment for that
position.'"

The Senator did not read the concluding sentence, which ran: "Think this
over; we can't touch political conditions in the South; perhaps this sop
will do."

For a long time Alwyn sat motionless, while the Senator said nothing.
Then the young man rose unsteadily.

"I don't think I quite grasp all this," he said as he shook hands.
"I'll think it over," and he went out.

When Caroline Wynn heard of that extraordinary conversation her
amazement knew no bounds. Yet Alwyn ventured to voice doubts:

"I'm not fitted for either of those high offices; there are many others
who deserve more, and I don't somehow like the idea of seeming to have
worked hard in the campaign simply for money or fortune. You see, I
talked against that very thing."

Miss Wynn's eyes widened.

"Well, what else--" she began and then changed. "Mr. Alwyn, the line
between virtue and foolishness is dim and wavering, and I should hate to
see you lost in that marshy borderland. By a streak of extraordinary
luck you have gained the political leadership of Negroes in America.
Here's your chance to lead your people, and here you stand blinking and
hesitating. Be a man!"

Alwyn straightened up and felt his doubts going. The evening passed very
pleasantly.

"I'm going to have a little dinner for you," said Miss Wynn finally, and
Alwyn grew hot with pleasure. He turned to her suddenly and said:

"Why, I'm rather--black." She expressed no surprise but said
reflectively:

"You _are_ dark."

"And I've been given to understand that Miss Wynn and her set
rather--well, preferred the lighter shades of colored folk."

Miss Wynn laughed lightly.

"My parents did," she said simply. "No dark man ever entered their
house; they were simply copying the white world. Now I, as a matter of
aesthetic beauty, prefer your brown-velvet color to a jaundiced yellow,
or even an uncertain cream; but the world doesn't."

"The world?"

"Yes, the world; and especially America. One may be Chinese, Spaniard,
even Indian--anything white or dirty white in this land, and demand
decent treatment; but to be Negro or darkening toward it unmistakably
means perpetual handicap and crucifixion."

"Why not, then, admit that you draw the color-line?"

"Because I don't; but the world does. I am not prejudiced as my parents
were, but I am foresighted. Indeed, it is a deep ethical query, is it
not, how far one has the right to bear black children to the world in
the Land of the Free and the home of the brave. Is it fair--to the
children?"

"Yes, it is!" he cried vehemently. "The more to take up the fight, the
surer the victory."

She laughed at his earnestness.

"You are refreshing," she said. "Well, we'll dine next Tuesday, and
we'll have the cream of our world to meet you."

He knew that this was a great triumph. It flattered his vanity. After
all, he was entering this higher dark world whose existence had piqued
and puzzled him so long. He glanced at Miss Wynn beside him there in the
dimly lighted parlor: she looked so aloof and unapproachable, so
handsome and so elegant. He thought how she would complete a house--such
a home as his prospective four or six thousand dollars a year could
easily purchase. She saw him surveying her, and she smiled at him.

"I find but one fault with you," she said.

He stammered for a pretty speech, but did not find it before she
continued:

"Yes--you are so delightfully primitive; you will not use the world as
it is but insist on acting as if it were something else."

"I am not sure I understand."

"Well, there is the wife of my Judge: she is a fact in my world; in
yours she is a problem to be stated, straightened, and solved. If she
had come to you, as she did to me yesterday, with her theory that all
that Southern Negroes needed was to learn how to make good servants and
lay brick--"

"I should have shown her--" Bles tried to interject.

"Nothing of the sort. You would have tried to show her and would have
failed miserably. She hasn't learned anything in twenty years."

"But surely you didn't join her in advocating that ten million people be
menials?"

"Oh, no; I simply listened."

"Well, there was no harm in that; I believe in silence at times."

"Ah! but I did not listen like a log, but positively and eloquently;
with a nod, a half-formed word, a comment begun, which she finished."

Bles frowned.

"As a result," continued Miss Wynn, "I have a check for five hundred
dollars to finish our cooking-school and buy a cast of Minerva for the
assembly-room. More than that, I have now a wealthy friend. She thinks
me an unusually clever person who, by a process of thought not unlike
her own, has arrived at very similar conclusions."

"But--but," objected Bles, "if the time spent cajoling fools were used
in convincing the honest and upright, think how much we would gain."

"Very little. The honest and upright are a sad minority. Most of these
white folk--believe me, boy," she said caressingly,--"are fools and
knaves: they don't want truth or progress; they want to keep niggers
down."

"I don't believe it; there are scores, thousands, perhaps millions such,
I admit; but the average American loves justice and right, and he is the
one to whom I appeal with frankness and truth. Great heavens! don't you
love to be frank and open?"

She narrowed her eyelids.

"Yes, sometimes I do; once I was; but it's a luxury few of us Negroes
can afford. Then, too, I insist that it's jolly to fool them."

"Don't you hate the deception?"

She chuckled and put her head to one side.

"At first I did; but, do you know, now I believe I prefer it."

He looked so horrified that she burst out laughing. He laughed too. She
was a puzzle to him. He kept thinking what a mistress of a mansion she
would make.

"Why do you say these things?" he asked suddenly.

"Because I want you to do well here in Washington."

"General philanthropy?"

"No, special." Her eyes were bright with meaning.

"Then you care--for me?"

"Yes."

He bent forward and cast the die.

"Enough to marry me?"

She answered very calmly and certainly:

"Yes."

He leaned toward her. And then between him and her lips a dark and
shadowy face; two great storm-swept eyes looked into his out of a world
of infinite pain, and he dropped his head in hesitation and shame, and
kissed her hand. Miss Wynn thought him delightfully bashful.




_Twenty-six_

CONGRESSMAN CRESSWELL


The election of Harry Cresswell to Congress was a very simple matter.
The Colonel and his son drove to town and consulted the Judge; together
they summoned the sheriff and the local member of the State legislature.

"I think it's about time that we Cresswells asked for a little of the
political pie," the Colonel smilingly opened.

"Well, what do you want?" asked the Judge.

"Harry wants to go to Congress."

The Judge hesitated. "We'd half promised that to Caldwell," he objected.


"It will be a little costly this year, too," suggested the sheriff,
tentatively.

"About how much?" asked the Colonel.

"At least five thousand," said the Legislator.

The Colonel said nothing. He simply wrote a check and the matter was
settled. In the Fall Harry Cresswell was declared elected. There were
four hundred and seventy-two votes cast but the sheriff added a cipher.
He said it would look better.

Early December found the Cresswells domiciled in a small house in Du
Pont Circle, Washington. They had an automobile and four servants, and
the house was furnished luxuriously. Mary Taylor Cresswell, standing in
her morning room and looking out on the flowers of the square, told
herself that few people in the world had cause to be as happy as she.
She was tastefully gowned, in a way to set off her blonde beauty and her
delicate rounded figure. She was surrounded with wealth, and above all,
she was in that atmosphere of aristocracy for which she had always
yearned; and already she was acquiring that poise of the head, and a
manner of directing the servants, which showed her born to the purple.

She had cause to be extremely happy, she told herself this morning, and
yet she was puzzled to understand why she was not. Why was she restless
and vaguely ill at ease so often these days?

One matter, indeed, did worry her; but that would right itself in time,
she was sure. She had always pictured herself as directing her husband's
work. She did not plan to step in and demand a share; she knew from
experience with her brother that a woman must prove her usefulness to a
man before he will admit it, and even then he may be silent. She
intended gradually and tactfully to relieve her husband of care
connected with his public life so that, before he realized it, she would
be his guiding spirit and his inspiration. She had dreamed the details
of doing this so long that it seemed already done, and she could imagine
no obstacle to its realization. And yet she found herself today no
nearer her goal than when first she married. Not because Mr. Cresswell
did not share his work, but because, apparently, he had no work, no
duties, no cares. At first, in the dim glories of the honeymoon, this
seemed but part of his delicate courtesy toward her, and it pleased her
despite her thrifty New England nature; but now that they were settled
in Washington, the election over and Congress in session, it really
seemed time for Work and Life to begin in dead earnest, and New England
Mary was dreaming mighty dreams and golden futures.

But Harry apparently was as content as ever with doing nothing. He arose
at ten, dined at seven, and went to bed between midnight and sunrise.
There was some committee meetings and much mail, but Mary was admitted
to knowledge of none of these. The obvious step, of course, would be to
set him at work; but from this undertaking Mary unconsciously recoiled.
She had already recognized that while her tastes and her husband's were
mostly alike, they were also strikingly different in many respects. They
agreed in the daintiness of things, the elegance of detail; but they did
not agree always as to the things themselves. Given the picture, they
would choose the same frame--but they would not choose the same picture.
They liked the same voice, but not the same song; the same company, but
not the same conversation. Of course, Mary reflected, frowning at the
flowers--of course, this must always be so when two human beings are
thrown into new and intimate association. In time they would grow to
sweet communion; only, she hoped the communion would be on tastes nearer
hers than those he sometimes manifested.

She turned impatiently from the window with a feeling of loneliness. But
why lonely? She idly fingered a new book on the table and then put it
down sharply. There had been several attempts at reading aloud between
them some evenings ago, and this book reminded her of them. She had
bought Jane Addams' "Newer Ideals of Peace," and he had yawned over it
undisguisedly. Then he had brought this novel, and--well, she had balked
at the second chapter, and he had kissed her and called her his "little
prude." She did not want to be a prude; she hated to seem so, and had
for some time prided herself on emancipation from narrow New England
prejudices. For example, she had not objected to wine at dinner; it had
seemed indeed rather fine, imparting, as it did, an old-fashioned
flavor; but she did not like the whiskey, and Harry at times appeared to
become just a bit too lively--nothing excessive, of course, but his eyes
and the smell and the color were a little too suggestive. And yet he was
so kind and good, and when he came in at evening he bent so gallantly
for his kiss, and laid fresh flowers before her: could anything have
been more thoughtful and knightly?

Just here again she was puzzled; with her folk, hard work and inflexible
duty were of prime importance; they were the rock foundation; and she
somehow had always counted on the courtesies of life as added to them,
making them sweet and beautiful. But in this world, not perhaps so much
with Harry as with others of his set, the depths beneath the gravely
inclined head, the deferential smile and ceremonious action, the light
clever converse, had sounded strangely hollow once or twice when she had
essayed to sound them, and a certain fear to look and see possessed her.

The bell rang, and she was a little startled at the fright that struck
her heart. She did not analyze it. In reality--pride forbade her to
admit it--she feared it was a call of some of Harry's friends: some
languid, assured Southern ladies, perilously gowned, with veiled disdain
for this interloping Northerner and her strong mind. Especially was
there one from New Orleans, tall and dark--

But it was no caller. It was simply some one named Stillings to see Mr.
Cresswell. She went down to see him--he might be a constituent--and
found a smirky brown man, very apologetic.

"You don't know me--does you, Mrs. Cresswell?" said Stillings. He knew
when it was diplomatic to forget his grammar and assume his dialect.

"Why--no."

"You remember I worked for Mr. Harry and served you-all lunch one day."

"Oh, yes--why, yes! I remember now very well."

"Well, I wants to see Mr. Harry very much; could I wait in the back
hall?"

Mary started to have him wait in the front hall, but she thought better
of it and had him shown back. Less than an hour later her husband
entered and she went quickly to him. He looked worn and white and tired,
but he laughed her concern lightly off.

"I'll be in earlier tonight," he declared.

"Is the Congressional business very heavy?"

He laughed so hilariously that she felt uncomfortable, which he
observed.

"Oh, no," he answered deftly; "not very." And as they moved toward the
dining-room Mary changed the subject.

"Oh," she exclaimed, suddenly remembering. "There is a man--a colored
man--waiting to see you in the back hall, but I guess he can wait until
after lunch."

They ate leisurely.

"There's going to be racing out at the park this evening," said Harry.
"Want to go?"

"I was going to hear an art lecture at the Club," Mary returned, and
grew thoughtful; for here walked her ghost again. Of course, the Club
was an affair with more of gossip than of intellectual effort, but
today, largely through her own suggestion, an art teacher of European
reputation was going to lecture, and Mary preferred it to the company of
the race track. And--just as certainly--her husband didn't.

"Don't forget the man, dear," she reminded him; but he was buried in his
paper, frowning.

"Look at that," he said finally. She glanced at the
head-lines--"Prominent Negro Politician Candidate for High Office at
Hands of New Administration. B. Alwyn of Alabama."

"Why, it's Bles!" she said, her face lighting as his darkened.

"An impudent Negro," he voiced his disgust. "If they must appoint
darkies why can't they get tractable ones like my nigger Stillings."

"Stillings?" she repeated. "Why, he's the man that's waiting."

"Sam, is it? Used to be one of our servants--you remember? Wants to
borrow more money, I presume." He went down-stairs, after first helping
himself to a glass of whiskey, and then gallantly kissing his wife. Mrs.
Cresswell was more unsatisfied than usual. She could not help feeling
that Mr. Cresswell was treating her about as he treated his wine--as an
indulgence; a loved one, a regular one, but somehow not as the reality
and prose of life, unless--she started at the thought--his life was all
indulgence. Having nothing else to do, she went out and paraded the
streets, watching the people who were happy enough to be busy.

Cresswell and Stillings had a long conference, and when Stillings
hastened away he could not forbear cutting a discreet pigeon-wing as he
rounded the corner. He had been promised the backing of the whole
Southern delegation in his schemes.

That night Teerswell called on him in his modest lodgings, where over
hot whiskey and water they talked.

"The damned Southern upstart," growled Teerswell, forgetting Stillings'
birth-place. "Do you mean to say he's actually slated for the place?"

"He's sure of it, unless something turns up."

"Well, who'd have dreamed it?" Teerswell mixed another stiff dram.

"And that isn't all," came Sam Stillings' unctuous voice.

Teerswell glanced at him. "What else?" he asked, pausing with the
steaming drink poised aloft.

"If I'm not mistaken, Alwyn intends to marry Miss Wynn."

"You lie!" the other suddenly yelled with an oath, overturning his
tumbler and striding across the floor. "Do you suppose she'd look at
that black--"

"Well, see here," said the astute Stillings, checking the details upon
his fingers. "They visit Senator Smith's together; he takes her home
from the Treble Clef; they say he talked to nobody else at her party;
she recommends him for the campaign--"

"What!" Teerswell again exploded. But Stillings continued smoothly:

"Oh, I have ways of finding things out. She corresponds with him during
the campaign; she asks Smith to make him Register; and he calls on her
every night."

Teerswell sat down limply.

"I see," he groaned. "It's all up. She's jilted me--and I--and I--"

"I don't see as it's all up yet," Stillings tried to reassure him.

"But didn't you say they were engaged?"

"I think they are; but--well, you know Carrie Wynn better than I do:
suppose, now--suppose he should lose the appointment?"

"But you say that's sure."

"Unless something turns up."

"But what _can_ turn up?"

"We might turn something."

"What--what--I tell you man, I'd--I'd do anything to down that nigger. I
hate him. If you'll help me I'll do anything for you."

Stillings arose and carefully opening the hall door peered out. Then he
came back and, seating himself close to Teerswell, pushed aside the
whiskey.

"Teerswell," he whispered, "you know I was working to be Register of the
Treasury. Well, now, when the scheme of making Alwyn Treasurer came up
they determined to appoint a Southern white Republican and give me a
place under Alwyn. Now, if Alwyn fails to land I've got no chance for
the bigger place, but I've got a good chance to be Register according to
the first plan. I helped in the campaign; I've got the Negro secret
societies backing me and--I don't mind telling you--the solid Southern
Congressional delegation. I'm trying now ostensibly for a
chief-clerkship under Bles, and I'm pretty sure of it: it pays
twenty-five hundred. See here: if we can make Bles do some fool talking
and get it into the papers, he'll be ditched, and I'll be Register."

"Great!" shouted Teerswell.

"Wait--wait. Now, if I get the job, how would you like to be my
assistant?"

"Like it? Why, great Jehoshaphat! I'd marry Carrie--but how can I help
you?"

"This way. I want to be better known among influential Negroes. You
introduce me and let me make myself solid. Especially I must get in Miss
Wynn's set so that both of us can watch her and Alwyn, and make her
friends ours."

"I'll do it--shake!" And Stillings put his oily hand into Teerswell's
nervous grip.

"Now, here," Stillings went on, "you stow all that jealousy and heavy
tragedy. Treat Alwyn well and call on Miss Wynn as usual--see?"

"It's a hard pill--but all right."

"Leave the rest to me; I'm hand in glove with Alwyn. I'll put stuff into
him that'll make him wave the bloody shirt at the next meeting of the
Bethel Literary--see? Then I'll go to Cresswell and say, 'Dangerous
nigger--, just as I told you.' He'll begin to move things. You see?
Cresswell is in with Smith--both directors in the big Cotton
Combine--and Smith will call Alwyn down. Then we'll think further."

"Stillings, you look like a fool, but you're a genius." And Teerswell
fairly hugged him. A few more details settled, and some more whiskey
consumed, and Teerswell went home at midnight in high spirits. Stillings
looked into the glass and scowled.

"Look like a fool, do I?" he mused. "Well, I ain't!"

Congressman Cresswell was stirred to his first political activity by the
hint given him through Stillings. He not only had a strong personal
dislike for Alwyn, but he regarded the promise to him of a high office
as a menace to the South.

The second speech which Alwyn made at the Bethel Literary was, as
Stillings foresaw, a reply to the stinging criticisms of certain colored
papers engineered by Teerswell, who said that Alwyn had been bribed to
remain loyal to the Republicans by a six thousand dollar office. Alwyn
had been cut to the quick, and his reply was a straight out defence of
Negro rights and a call to the Republican Party to redeem its pledges.

Caroline Wynn, seeing the rocks for which her political craft was
headed, adroitly steered several newspaper reports into the waste
basket, but Stillings saw to it that a circumstantial account was in the
_Colored American_, and that a copy of this paper was in Congressman
Cresswell's hands. Cresswell lost no time in calling on Senator Smith
and pointing out to him that Bles Alwyn was a dangerous Negro: seeking
social equality, hating white people, and scheming to make trouble. He
was too young and heady. It would be fatal to give such a man office and
influence; fatal for the development of the South, and bad for the
Cotton Combine.

Senator Smith was unconvinced. Alwyn struck him as a well-balanced
fellow, and he thought he deserved the office. He would, however, warn
him to make no further speeches like that of last night. Cresswell
mentioned Stillings as a good, inoffensive Negro who knew his place and
could be kept track of.

"Stillings is a good man," admitted Smith; "but Alwyn is better.
However, I'll bear what you say in mind."

Cresswell found Mr. Easterly in Mrs. Vanderpool's parlor, and that
gentleman was annoyed at the news.

"I especially picked out this Alwyn because he was Southern and
tractable, and seemed to have sense enough to know how to say well what
we wanted to say."

"When, as a matter of fact," drawled Mrs. Vanderpool, "he was simply
honest."

"The South won't stand it," Cresswell decisively affirmed.

"Well--" began Mr. Easterly.

"See here," interrupted Mrs. Vanderpool. "I'm interested in Alwyn; in
fact, an honest man in politics, even if he is black, piques my
curiosity. Give him a chance and I'll warrant he'll develop all the
desirable traits of a first class office-holder."

Easterly hesitated. "We must not offend the South, and we must placate
the Negroes," he said.

"The right sort of Negro--one like Stillings--appointed to a reasonable
position, would do both," opined Cresswell.

"It evidently didn't," Mrs. Vanderpool interjected.

Cresswell arose. "I tell you, Mr. Easterly, I object--it mustn't go
through." He took his leave.

Mrs. Vanderpool did not readily give up her plea for Alwyn, and bade
Zora get Mr. Smith on the telephone for discussion.

"Well," reported Easterly, hanging up the receiver, "we may land him. It
seems that he is engaged to a Washington school-teacher, and Smith says
she has him well in hand. She's a pretty shrewd proposition, and
understands that Alwyn's only chance now lies in keeping his mouth shut.
We may land him," he repeated.

"Engaged!" gasped Mrs. Vanderpool.

Zora quietly closed the door.




_Twenty-seven_

THE VISION OF ZORA


How Zora found the little church she never knew; but somehow, in the
long dark wanderings which she had fallen into the habit of taking at
nightfall, she stood one evening before it. It looked warm, and she was
cold. It was full of her people, and she was very, very lonely. She sat
in a back seat, and saw with unseeing eyes. She said again, as she had
said to herself a hundred times, that it was all right and just what she
had expected. What else could she have dreamed? That he should ever
marry her was beyond possibility; that had been settled long
since--there where the tall, dark pines, wan with the shades of evening,
cast their haunting shadows across the Silver Fleece and half hid the
blood-washed west. After _that_ he would marry some one else, of course;
some good and pure woman who would help and uplift and serve him.

She had dreamed that she would help--unknown, unseen--and perhaps she
had helped a little through Mrs. Vanderpool. It was all right, and yet
why so suddenly had the threads of life let go? Why was she drifting in
vast waters; in uncharted wastes of sea? Why was the puzzle of life
suddenly so intricate when but a little week ago she was reading it, and
its beauty and wisdom and power were thrilling her delighted hands?
Could it be possible that all unconsciously she had dared dream a
forbidden dream? No, she had always rejected it. When no one else had
the right; when no one thought; when no one cared, she had hovered over
his soul as some dark guardian angel; but now, now somebody else was
receiving his gratitude. It was all right, she supposed; but she, the
outcast child of the swamp, what was there for her to do in the great
world--her, the burden of whose sin--

But then came the voice of the preacher: _"Behold the Lamb of God, that
taketh away the sin of the world_."

She found herself all at once intently listening. She had been to church
many times before, but under the sermons and ceremonies she had always
sat coldly inert. In the South the cries, contortions, and religious
frenzy left her mind untouched; she did not laugh or mock, she simply
sat and watched and wondered. At the North, in the white churches, she
enjoyed the beauty of wall, windows, and hymn, liked the voice and
surplice of the preacher; but his words had no reference to anything in
which she was interested. Here suddenly came an earnest voice addressed,
by singular chance, to her of all the world.

She listened, bending forward, her eyes glued to the speaker's lips and
letting no word drop. He had the build and look of the fanatic: thin to
emancipation; brown; brilliant-eyed; his words snapped in nervous energy
and rang in awful earnestness.

"Life is sin, and sin is sorrow. Sorrow is born of selfishness and
self-seeking--our own good, our own happiness, our own glory. As if any
one of us were worth a life! No, never. A single self as an end is, and
ought to be, disappointment; it is too low; it is nothing. Only in a
whole world of selves, infinite, endless, eternal world on worlds of
selves--only in their vast good is true salvation. The good of others
is our true good; work for others; not for your salvation, but the
salvation of the world." The audience gave a low uneasy groan and the
minister in whose pulpit the stranger preached stirred uneasily. But he
went on tensely, with flying words:

"Unselfishness is sacrifice--Jesus was supreme sacrifice." ("Amen,"
screamed a voice.) "In your dark lives," he cried, "_who_ is the King of
Glory? Sacrifice. Lift up your heads, then, ye gates of prejudice and
hate, and let the King of Glory come in. Forget yourselves and your
petty wants, and behold your starving people. The wail of black millions
sweeps the air--east and west they cry, Help! Help! Are you dumb? Are
you blind? Do you dance and laugh, and hear and see not? The cry of
death is in the air; they murder, burn, and maim us!" ("Oh--oh--" moaned
the people swaying in their seats.) "When we cry they mock us; they ruin
our women and debauch our children--what shall we do?

"Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away sin. Behold the Supreme
Sacrifice that makes us clean. Give up your pleasures; give up your
wants; give up all to the weak and wretched of our people. Go down to
Pharaoh and smite him in God's name. Go down to the South where we
writhe. Strive--work--build--hew--lead--inspire! God calls. Will you
hear? Come to Jesus. The harvest is waiting. Who will cry: 'Here am I,
send me!'"

Zora rose and walked up the aisle; she knelt before the altar and
answered the call: "Here am I--send me."

And then she walked out. Above her sailed the same great stars; around
her hummed the same hoarse city; but within her soul sang some new song
of peace.

"What is the matter, Zora?" Mrs. Vanderpool inquired, for she seemed to
see in the girl's face and carriage some subtle change; something that
seemed to tell how out of the dream had stepped the dreamer into the
realness of things; how suddenly the seeker saw; how to the wanderer,
the Way was opened.

Just how she sensed this Mrs. Vanderpool could not have explained, nor
could Zora. Was there a change, sudden, cataclysmic? No. There were to
come in future days all the old doubts and shiverings, the old restless
cry: "It is all right--all right!" But more and more, above the doubt
and beyond the unrest, rose the great end, the mighty ideal, that
flickered and wavered, but ever grew and waxed strong, until it became
possible, and through it all things else were possible. Thus from the
grave of youth and love, amid the soft, low singing of dark and bowed
worshippers, the Angel of the Resurrection rolled away the stone.

"What is the matter, Zora?" Mrs. Vanderpool repeated.

Zora looked up, almost happily--standing poised on her feet as if to
tell of strength and purpose.

"I have found the Way," she cried joyously.

Mrs. Vanderpool gave her a long searching look.

"Where have you been?" she asked. "I've been waiting."

"I'm sorry--but I've been--converted." And she told her story.

"Pshaw, Zora!" Mrs. Vanderpool uttered impatiently. "He's a fakir."

"Maybe," said Zora serenely and quietly; "but he brought the Word."

"Zora, don't talk cant; it isn't worthy of your intelligence."

"It was more than intelligent--it was true."

"Zora--listen, child! You were wrought up tonight, nervous--wild. You
were happy to meet your people, and where he said one word you supplied
two. What you attribute to him is the voice of your own soul."

But Zora merely smiled. "All you say may be true. But what does it
matter? I know one thing, like the man in the Bible: 'Whereas I was
blind now I see.'"

Mrs. Vanderpool gave a little helpless gesture. "And what shall you do?"
she asked.

"I'm going back South to work for my people."

"When?" The old careworn look stole across Mrs. Vanderpool's features.

Zora came gently forward and slipped her arms lovingly about the other
woman's neck.

"Not right off," she said gently; "not until I learn more. I hate to
leave you, but--it calls!"

Mrs. Vanderpool held the dark girl close and began craftily:

"You see, Zora, the more you know the more you can do."

"Yes."

"And if you are determined I will see that you are taught. You must know
settlement-work and reform movements; not simply here but--" she
hesitated--"in England--in France."

"Will it take long?" Zora asked, smoothing the lady's hair.

Mrs. Vanderpool considered. "No--five years is not long; it is all too
short."

"Five years: it is very long; but there is a great deal to learn. Must I
study five years?"

Mrs. Vanderpool threw back her head.

"Zora, I am selfish I know, but five years truly is none too long. Then,
too, Zora, we have work to do in that time."

"What?"

"There is Alwyn's career," and Mrs. Vanderpool looked into Zora's eyes.

The girl did not shrink, but she paused.

"Yes," she said slowly, "we must help him."

"And after he rises--"

"He will marry."

"Whom?"

"The woman he loves," returned Zora, quietly.

"Yes--that is best," sighed Mrs. Vanderpool. "But how shall we help
him?"

"Make him Treasurer of the United States without sacrificing his
manhood or betraying his people."

"I can do that," said Mrs. Vanderpool slowly.

"It will cost something," said Zora.

"I will do it," was the lady's firm assurance. Zora kissed her.

The next afternoon Mrs. Cresswell went down to a white social settlement
of which Congressman Todd had spoken, where a meeting of the Civic Club
was to be held. She had come painfully to realize that if she was to
have a career she must make it for herself. The plain, unwelcome truth
was that her husband had no great interests in life in which she could
find permanent pleasure. Companionship and love there was and, she told
herself, always would be; but in some respects their lives must flow in
two streams. Last night, for the second time, she had irritated him; he
had spoken almost harshly to her, and she knew she must brood or work
today. And so she hunted work, eagerly.

She felt the atmosphere the moment she entered. There were carelessly
gowned women and men smart and shabby, but none of them were thinking of
clothes nor even of one another. They had great deeds in mind; they were
scanning the earth; they were toiling for men. The same grim excitement
that sends smaller souls hunting for birds and rabbits and lions, had
sent them hunting the enemies of mankind: they were bent to the chase,
scenting the game, knowing the infinite meaning of their hunt and the
glory of victory. Mary Cresswell had listened but a half hour before her
world seemed so small and sordid and narrow, so trivial, that a sense of
shame spread over her. These people were not only earnest, but expert.
They acknowledged the need of Mr. Todd's educational bill.

"But the Republicans are going to side-track it; I have that on the best
authority," said one.

"True; but can't we force them to it?"

"Only by political power, and they've just won a campaign."

"They won it by Negro votes, and the Negro who secured the votes is
eager for this bill; he's a fine, honest fellow."

"Very well; work with him; and when we can be of real service let us
know. Meantime, this Child Labor bill is different. It's bound to pass.
Both parties are back of it, and public opinion is aroused. Now our work
is to force amendments enough to make the bill effective."

Discussion followed; not flamboyant and declamatory, but tense,
staccato, pointed. Mrs. Cresswell found herself taking part. Someone
mentioned her name, and one or two glances of interest and even
curiosity were thrown her way. Congressmen's wives were rare at the
Civic Club.

Congressmen Todd urged Mrs. Cresswell to stay after the discussion and
attend a meeting of the managers and workers of the Washington social
settlements.

"Have you many settlements?" she inquired.

"Three in all--two white and one colored."

"And will they all be represented?"

"Yes, of course, Mrs. Cresswell. If you object to meeting the colored
people--"

Mrs. Cresswell blushed.

"No, indeed," she answered; "I used to teach colored people."

She watched this new group gather: a business man, two fashionable
ladies, three college girls, a gray-haired colored woman, and a young
spectacled brown man, and then, to her surprise, Mrs. Vanderpool and
Zora.

Zora was scarcely seated when that strange sixth sense of hers told her
that something had happened, and it needed but a side-glance from Mrs.
Vanderpool to indicate what it was. She sat with folded hands and the
old dreamy look in her eyes. In one moment she lived it all again--the
red cabin, the moving oak, the sowing of the Fleece, and its fearful
reaping. And now, when she turned her head, she would see the woman who
was to marry Bles Alwyn. She had often dreamed of her, and had set a
high ideal. She wanted her to be handsome, well dressed, earnest and
good. She felt a sort of person proprietorship in her, and when at last
the quickened pulse died to its regular healthy beat, she turned and
looked and knew.

Caroline Wynn deemed it a part of the white world's education to
participate in meetings like this; doing so was not pleasant, but it
appealed to her cynicism and mocking sense of pleasure. She always
roused hostility as she entered: her gown was too handsome, her gloves
too spotless, her air had hauteur enough to be almost impudent in the
opinion of most white people. Then gradually her intelligence, her cool
wit and self-possession, would conquer and she would go gracefully out
leaving a rather bewildered audience behind. She sat today with her dark
gold profile toward Zora, and the girl looked and was glad. She was such
a woman she would have Bles marry. She was glad, and she choked back the
sob that struggled and fought in her throat.

The meeting never got beyond a certain constraint. The Congressman made
an excellent speech; there were various sets of figures read by the
workers; and Miss Wynn added a touch of spice by several pertinent
questions and comments. Then, as the meeting broke up and Mrs. Cresswell
came forward to speak to Zora, Mrs. Vanderpool managed to find herself
near Miss Wynn and to be introduced. They exchanged a few polite
phrases, fencing delicately to test the other's wrist and interest. They
touched on the weather, and settlement work; but Miss Wynn did not
propose to be stranded on the Negro problem.

"I suppose the next bit of excitement will be in the inauguration," she
said to Mrs. Vanderpool.

"I understand it will be unusually elaborate," returned Mrs. Vanderpool,
a little surprised at the turn. Then she added pleasantly: "I think I
shall see it through, from speech to ball."

"Yes, I do usually," Miss Wynn asserted, adjusting her furs.

Mrs. Vanderpool was further surprised. Did colored people attend the
ball?

"We sorely need a national ball-room," she said. "Isn't the census
building wretched?"

"I do not know," smiled Miss Wynn.

"Oh, I thought you said--"

"I meant _our_ ball."

"Oh!" said Mrs. Vanderpool in turn. "Oh!" Here a thought came. Of
course, the colored people had their own ball; she remembered having
heard about it. Why not send Zora? She plunged in:

"Miss Wynn, I have a maid--such an intelligent girl; I do wish she could
attend your ball--" seeing her blunder, she paused. Miss Wynn was coolly
buttoning her glove.

"Yes," she acknowledged politely, "few of us can afford maids, and
therefore we do not usually arrange for them; but I think we can have
your _protegee_ look on from the gallery. Good-afternoon."

As Mrs. Vanderpool drove home she related the talk to Zora. Zora was
silent at first. Then she said deliberately:

"Miss Wynn was right."

"Why, Zora!"

"Did Helene attend the ball four years ago?"

"But, Zora, must you folk ape our nonsense as well as our sense?"

"You force us to," said Zora.




_Twenty-eight_

THE ANNUNCIATION


The new President had been inaugurated. Beneath the creamy pile of the
old Capitol, and facing the new library, he had stood aloft and looked
down on a waving sea of faces--black-coated, jostling, eager-eyed fellow
creatures. They had watched his lips move, had scanned eagerly his dress
and the gowned and decorated dignitaries beside him; and then, with
blare of band and prancing of horses, he had been whirled down the dip
and curve of that long avenue, with its medley of meanness and thrift
and hurry and wealth, until, swinging sharply, the dim walls of the
White House rose before him. He entered with a sigh.

Then the vast welter of humanity dissolved and streamed hither and
thither, gaping and laughing until night, when thousands poured into the
red barn of the census shack and entered the artificial fairyland
within. The President walked through, smiling; the senators protected
their friends in the crush; and Harry Cresswell led his wife to a
little oasis of Southern ladies and gentlemen.

"This is democracy for you," said he, wiping his brow.

From a whirling eddy Mrs. Vanderpool waved at them, and they rescued
her.

"I think I am ready to go," she gasped. "Did you ever!"

"Come," Cresswell invited. But just then the crowd pushed them apart and
shot them along, and Mrs. Cresswell found herself clinging to her
husband amid two great whirling variegated throngs of driving,
white-faced people. The band crashed and blared; the people laughed and
pushed; and with rhythmic sound and swing the mighty throng was dancing.

It took much effort, but at last the Cresswell party escaped and rolled
off in their carriages. They swept into the avenue and out again, then
up 14th Street, where, turning for some street obstruction, they passed
a throng of carriages on a cross street.

"It's the other ball," cried Mrs. Vanderpool, and amid laughter she
added, "Let's go!"

It was--the other ball. For Washington is itself, and something else
besides. Along beside it ever runs that dark and haunting echo; that
shadowy world-in-world with its accusing silence, its emphatic
self-sufficiency. Mrs. Cresswell at first demurred. She thought of
Elspeth's cabin: the dirt, the smell, the squalor: of course, this would
be different; but--well, Mrs. Cresswell had little inclination for
slumming. She was interested in the under-world, but intellectually, not
by personal contact. She did not know that this was a side-world, not an
under-world. Yet the imposing building did not look sordid.

"Hired?" asked some one.

"No, owned."

"Indeed!"

Then there was a hitch.

"Tickets?"

"Where can we buy them?"

"Not on sale," was the curt reply.

"Actually exclusive!" sneered Cresswell, for he could not imagine any
one unwelcome at a Negro ball. Then he bethought himself of Sam
Stillings and sent for him. In a few minutes he had a dozen
complimentary tickets in his hand.

They entered the balcony and sat down. Mary Cresswell leaned forward. It
was interesting. Beneath her was an ordinary pretty ball--flowered,
silked, and ribboned; with swaying whirling figures, music, and
laughter, and all the human fun of gayety and converse.

And then she was impressed with the fact that this was no ordinary
scene; it was, on the contrary, most extraordinary.

There was a black man waltzing with a white woman--no, she was not
white, for Mary caught the cream and curl of the girl as she swept past:
but there was a white man (was he white?) and a black woman. The color
of the scene was wonderful. The hard human white seemed to glow and live
and run a mad gamut of the spectrum, from morn till night, from white to
black; through red and sombre browns, pale and brilliant yellows, dead
and living blacks. Through her opera-glasses Mary scanned their hair;
she noted everything from the infinitely twisted, crackled, dead, and
grayish-black to the piled mass of red golden sunlight. Her eyes went
dreaming; there below was the gathering of the worlds. She saw types of
all nations and all lands swirling beneath her in human brotherhood, and
a great wonder shook her. They seemed so happy. Surely, this was no
nether world; it was upper earth, and--her husband beckoned; he had been
laughing incontinently. He saw nothing but a crowd of queer looking
people doing things they were not made to do and appearing absurdly
happy over it. It irritated him unreasonably.

"See the washer-woman in red," he whispered. "Look at the monkey. Come,
let's go."

They trooped noisily down-stairs, and Cresswell walked unceremoniously
between a black man and his partner. Mrs. Vanderpool recognized and
greeted the girl as Miss Wynn. Mrs. Cresswell did not notice her, but
she paused with a start of recognition at the sight of the man.

"Why, Bles!" she exclaimed impetuously, starting to hold out her hand.
She was sincerely pleased at seeing him. Then she remembered. She bowed
and smiled, looking at him with interest and surprise. He was correctly
dressed, and the white shirt set off the comeliness of his black face in
compelling contrast. He carried himself like a man, and bowed with
gravity and dignity. She passed on and heard her husband's petulant
voice in her ear.

"Mary--Mary! for Heaven's sake, come on; don't shake hands with
niggers."

It was recurring flashes of temper like this, together with evidences of
dubious company and a growing fondness for liquor, that drove Mary
Cresswell more and more to find solace in the work of Congressman Todd's
Civic Club. She collected statistics for several of the Committee, wrote
letters, interviewed a few persons, and felt herself growing in
usefulness and importance. She did not mention these things to her
husband; she knew he would not object, but she shrank from his ridicule.

The various causes advocated by the Civic Club felt the impetus of the
aggressive work of the organization. This was especially the case with
the National Education Bill and the amendment to the Child Labor Bill.
The movement became strong enough to call Mr. Easterly down from New
York. He and the inner circle went over matters carefully.

"We need the political strength of the South," said Easterly; "not only
in framing national legislation in our own interests, but always in
State laws. Particularly, we must get them into line to offset Todd's
foolishness. The Child Labor Bill must either go through unamended or be
killed. The Cotton Inspection Bill--our chief measure--must be slipped
through quietly by Southern votes, while in the Tariff mix-up we must
take good care of cotton.

"Now, on the other hand, we are offending the Southerners in three ways:
Todd's revived Blair Bill is too good a thing for niggers; the South is
clamoring for a first classy embassy appointment; and the President's
nomination of Alwyn as Treasurer will raise a howl from Virginia to
Texas."

"There is some strong influence back of Alwyn," said Senator Smith; "not
only are the Negroes enthused, but the President has daily letters from
prominent whites."

"The strong influence is named Vanderpool," Easterly drily remarked.
"She's playing a bigger political game than I laid out for her. That's
the devil with women: they can't concentrate: they get too damned many
side issues. Now, I offered her husband the French ambassadorship
provided she'd keep the Southerners feeling good toward us. She's hand
in glove with the Southerners, all right; but she wants not only her
husband's appointment but this darkey's too."

"But that's been decided, hasn't it?" put in Smith.

"Yes," grumbled Easterly; "but it makes it hard already. At any rate,
the Educational Bill must be killed right off. No more talk; no more
consideration--kill it, and kill it now. Now about this Child Labor
Bill: Todd's Civic Club is raising the mischief. Who's responsible?"

The silent Jackson spoke up. "Congressman Cresswell's wife has been very
active, and Todd thinks they've got the South with them."

"Congressman Cresswell's wife!" Easterly's face was one great
exclamation point. "Now what the devil does this mean?"

"I'm afraid," said Senator Smith, "that it may mean an attempt on the
part of Cresswell's friends to boost him for the French ambassadorship.
He's the only Southerner with money enough to support the position, and
there's been a good deal of quiet talk, I understand, in Southern
circles."

"But it's treason!" Easterly shouted. "It will ruin the plans of the
Combine to put this amended Child Labor Bill through. John Taylor has
just written me that he's starting mills at Toomsville, and that he
depends on unrestricted labor conditions, as we must throughout the
South. Doesn't Cresswell know this?"

"Of course. I think it's just a bluff. If he gets the appointment he'll
let the bill drop."

"I see--everybody is raising his price, is he? Pretty soon the darky
will be holding us up. Well, see Cresswell, and put it to him strong. I
must go. Wire me."

Senator Smith presented the matter bluntly to Cresswell as soon as he
saw him. "Which would the South prefer--Todd's Education Bill, or
Alwyn's appointment?"

It was characteristic of Cresswell that the smaller matter of Stillings'
intrigue should interest him more than Todd's measure, of which he knew
nothing.

"What is Todd's bill?" asked Harry Cresswell, darkening.

Smith, surprised, got out a copy and explained. Cresswell interrupted
before he was half through.

"Don't you see," he said angrily, "that that will ruin our plans for the
Cotton Combine?"

"Yes, I do," replied Smith; "but it will not do the immediate harm that
the amended Child Labor Bill will do."

"What's that?" demanded Cresswell, frowning again.

Senator Smith regarded him again: was Cresswell playing a shrewd game?

"Why," he said at length, "aren't you promoting it?"

"No," was the reply. "Never heard of it."

"But," Senator Smith began, and paused. He turned and took up a circular
issued by the Civic Club, giving a careful account of their endeavors to
amend and pass the Child Labor Bill. Cresswell read it, then threw it
aside.

"Nonsense!" he indignantly repudiated the measure. "That will never do;
it's as bad as the Education Bill."

"But your wife is encouraging it and we thought you were back of it."

Cresswell stared in blank amazement.

"My wife!" he gasped. Then he bethought himself. "It's a mistake," he
supplemented; "Mrs. Cresswell gave them no authority to sign her name."

"She's been very active," Smith persisted, "and naturally we were all
anxious."

Cresswell bit his lip. "I shall speak to her; she does not realize what
use they are making of her passing interest."

He hurried away, and Senator Smith felt a bit sorry for Mrs. Cresswell
when he recalled the expression on her husband's face.

Mary Cresswell did not get home until nearly dinner time; then she came
in glowing with enthusiasm. Her work had received special commendation
that afternoon, and she had been asked to take the chairmanship of the
committee on publicity. Finding that her husband was at home, she
determined to tell him--it was so good to be doing something worth
while. Perhaps, too, he might be made to show some interest. She thought
of Mr. and Mrs. Todd and the old dream glowed faintly again.

Cresswell looked at her as she entered the library where he was waiting
and smoking. She was rumpled and muddy, with flying hair and thick
walking shoes and the air of bustle and vigor which had crept into her
blood this last month. Truly, her cheeks were glowing and her eyes
bright, but he disapproved. Softness and daintiness, silk and lace and
glimmering flesh, belonged to women in his mind, and he despised Amazons
and "business" women. He received her kiss coldly, and Mary's heart
sank. She essayed some gay greeting, but he interrupted her.

"What's this stuff about the Civic Club?" he began sharply.

"Stuff?" she queried, blankly.

"That's what I said."

"I'm sure I don't know," she answered stiffly. "I belong to the Civic
Club, and have been working with it."

"Why didn't you tell me?" His resentment grew as he proceeded.

"I did not think you were interested."

"Didn't you know that this Child Labor business was opposed to my
interests?"

"Dear, I did not dream it. It's a Republican bill, to be sure; but you
seemed very friendly with Senator Smith, who introduced it. We were
simply trying to improve it."

"Suppose we didn't want it improved."

"That's what some said; but I did not believe such--deception."

The blood rushed to Cresswell's face.

"Well, you will drop this bill and the Civic Club from now on."

"Why?"

"Because I say so," he retorted explosively, too angry to explain
further.


She looked at him--a long, fixed, penetrating look which revealed more
than she had ever seen before, then turned away and went slowly
up-stairs. She did not come down to dinner, and in the evening the
doctor was called.

Cresswell drooped a bit after eating, hesitated, and reflected. He had
acted too cavalierly in this Civic Club mess, he concluded, and yet he
would not back down. He'd go see her and pet her a bit, but be firm.

He opened her boudoir door gently, and she stood before him radiant,
clothed in silk and lace, her hair loosened. He paused, astonished. But
she threw herself upon his neck, with a joyful, half hysterical cry.

"I will give it all up--everything! Willingly, willingly!" Her voice
dropped abruptly to a tremulous whisper. "Oh, Harry! I--I am to be the
mother of a child!"




_Twenty-nine_

A MASTER OF FATE


"There is not the slightest doubt, Miss Wynn," Senator Smith was saying,
"but that the schools of the District will be reorganized."

"And the Board of Education abolished?" she added.

"Yes. The power will be delegated to a single white superintendent."

The vertical line in Caroline Wynn's forehead became pronounced.

"Whose work is this, Senator?" she asked.

"Well, there are, of course, various parties back of the change: the
'outs,' the reformers, the whole tendency to concentrate responsibility,
and so on. But, frankly, the deciding factor was the demand of the
South."

"Is there anything in Washington that the South does not already own?"

Senator Smith smiled thinly.

"Not much," drily; "but we own the South."

"And part of the price is putting the colored schools of the District in
the hands of a Southern man and depriving us of all voice in their
control?"

"Precisely, Miss Wynn. But you'd be surprised to know that it was the
Negroes themselves who stirred the South to this demand."

"Not at all; you mean the colored newspapers, I presume."

"The same, with Teerswell's clever articles; then his partner Stillings
worked the 'impudent Negro teacher' argument on Cresswell until
Cresswell was wild to get the South in control of the schools."

"But what do Teerswell and Stillings want?"

"They want Bles Alwyn to make a fool of himself."

"That is a trifle cryptic," Miss Wynn mused. The Senator amplified.

"We are giving the South the Washington schools and killing the
Education Bill in return for this support of some of our measures and
their assent to Alwyn's appointment. You see I speak frankly."

"I can stand it, Senator."

"I believe you can. Well, now, if Alwyn should act unwisely and offend
the South, somebody else stands in line for the appointment."

"As Treasurer?" she asked in surprise.

"Oh, no, they are too shrewd to ask that; it would offend their backers,
or shall I say their tools, the Southerners. No, they ask only to be
Register and Assistant Register of the Treasury. This is an office
colored men have held for years, and it is quite ambitious enough for
them; so Stillings assures Cresswell and his friends."

"I see," Miss Wynn slowly acknowledged. "But how do they hope to make
Mr. Alwyn blunder?"

"Too easily, I fear--unless _you_ are very careful. Alwyn has been
working like a beaver for the National Education Bill. He's been in to
see me several times, as you probably know. His heart is set on it. He
regards its passage as a sort of vindication of his defence of the
party."

"Yes."

"Now, the party has dropped the bill for good, and Alwyn doesn't like
it. If he should attack the party--"

"But he wouldn't," cried Miss Wynn with a start that belied her
conviction.

"Did you know that he is to be invited to make the principal address to
the graduates of the colored high-school?"

"But," she objected. "They have selected Bishop Johnson; I--"

"I know you did," laughed the Senator, "but the Judge got orders from
higher up."

"Shrewd Mr. Teerswell," remarked Miss Wynn, sagely.

"Shrewd Mr. Stillings," the Senator corrected; "but perhaps too shrewd.
Suppose Mr. Alwyn should take this occasion to make a thorough defence
of the party?"

"But--will he?"

"That's where you come in," Senator Smith pointed out, rising, "and the
real reason of this interview. We're depending on you to pull the party
out of an awkward hole," and he shook hands with his caller.

Miss Wynn walked slowly up Pennsylvania Avenue with a smile on her face.

"I did not give him the credit," she declared, repeating it; "I did not
give him the credit. Here I was, playing an alluring game on the side,
and my dear Tom transforms it into a struggle for bread and butter; for
of course, if the Board of Education goes, I lose my place." She lifted
her head and stared along the avenue.

A bitterness dawned in her eyes. The whole street was a living insult to
her. Here she was, an American girl by birth and breeding, a daughter of
citizens who had fought and bled and worked for a dozen generations on
this soil; yet if she stepped into this hotel to rest, even with full
purse, she would be politely refused accommodation. Should she attempt
to go into this picture show she would be denied entrance. She was
thirsty with the walk; but at yonder fountain the clerk would roughly
refuse to serve her. It was lunch time; there was no place within a mile
where she was allowed to eat. The revolt deepened within her. Beyond
these known and definite discriminations lay the unknown and hovering.
In yonder store nothing hindered the clerk from being exceptionally
pert; on yonder street-car the conductor might reserve his politeness
for white folk; this policeman's business was to keep black and brown
people in their places. All this Caroline Wynn thought of, and then
smiled.

This was the thing poor blind Bles was trying to attack by "appeals" for
"justice." Nonsense! Does one "appeal" to the red-eyed beast that
throttles him? No. He composes himself, looks death in the eye, and
speaks softly, on the chance. Whereupon Miss Wynn composed herself,
waved gayly at a passing acquaintance, and matched some ribbons in a
department store. The clerk was new and anxious to sell.

Meantime her brain was busy. She had a hard task before her. Alwyn's
absurd conscience and Quixotic ideas were difficult to cope with. After
his last indiscreet talk she had ventured deftly to remonstrate, and she
well remembered the conversation.

"Wasn't what I said true?" he had asked.

"Perfectly. Is that an excuse for saying it?"

"The facts ought to be known."

"Yes, but ought you to tell them?"

"If not I, who?"

"Some one who is less useful elsewhere, and whom I like less."

"Carrie," he had been intensely earnest. "I want to do the best thing,
but I'm puzzled. I wonder if I'm selling my birthright for six thousand
dollars?"

"In case of doubt, do it."

"But there's the doubt: I may convert; I may open the eyes of the blind;
I may start a crusade for Negro rights."

"Don't believe it; it's useless; we'll never get our rights in this
land."

"You don't believe that!" he had ejaculated, shocked.

Well, she must begin again. As she had hoped, he was waiting for her
when she reached home. She welcomed him cordially, made a little music
for him, and served tea.

"Bles," she said, "the Opposition has been laying a pretty shrewd trap
for you."

"What?" he asked absently.

"They are going to have you chosen as High School commencement orator."

"Me? Stuff!"

"You--and not stuff, but 'Education' will be your natural theme. Indeed,
they have so engineered it that the party chiefs expect from you a
defence of their dropping of the Educational Bill."

"What!"

"Yes, and probably your nomination will come before the speech and
confirmation after."

Bles walked the floor excitedly for a while and then sat down and
smiled.

"It was a shrewd move," he said; "but I think I thank them for it."

"I don't. But still,

     _"''T is the sport to see the engineer hoist
     by his own petar.'"_

Bles mused and she watched him covertly. Suddenly she leaned over.

"Moreover," she said, "about that same date I'm liable to lose my
position as teacher."

He looked at her quickly, and she explained the coming revolution in
school management.

He did not discuss the matter, and she was equally reticent; but when he
entered the doors of his lodging-place and, gathering his mail, slowly
mounted the stairs, there came the battle of his life.

He knew it and he tried to wage it coolly and with method. He arrayed
the arguments side by side: on this side lay success; the greatest
office ever held by a Negro in America--greater than Douglass or Bruce
or Lynch had held--a landmark, a living example and inspiration. A man
owed the world success; there were plenty who could fail and stumble and
give multiple excuses. Should he be one? He viewed the other side. What
must he pay for success? Aye, face it boldly--what? Mechanically he
searched for his mail and undid the latest number of the _Colored
American_. He was sure the answer stood there in Teerswell's biting
vulgar English. And there it was, with a cartoon:

                HIS MASTER'S VOICE

     Alwyn is Ordered to Eat His Words or Get Out
            Watch Him Do It Gracefully
           The Republican Leaders, etc.

He threw down his paper, and the hot blood sang in his ears. The
sickening thought was that it was true. If he did make the speech
demanded it would be like a dog obedient to his master's voice.

The cold sweat oozed on his face; throwing up the window, he drank in
the Spring breeze, and stared at the city he once had thought so
alluring. Somehow it looked like the swamp, only less beautiful; he
stretched his arms and his lips breathed--"Zora!"

He turned hastily to his desk and looked at the other piece of mail--a
single sealed note carefully written on heavy paper. He did not
recognize the handwriting. Then his mind flew off again. What would they
say if he failed to get the office? How they would silently hoot and
jeer at the upstart who suddenly climbed so high and fell. And Carrie
Wynn--poor Carrie, with her pride and position dragged down in his ruin:
how would she take it? He writhed in soul. And yet, to be a man; to say
calmly, "No"; to stand in that great audience and say, "My people first
and last"; to take Carrie's hand and together face the world and
struggle again to newer finer triumphs--all this would be very close to
attainment of the ideal. He found himself staring at the little letter.
Would she go? Would she, could she, lay aside her pride and cynicism,
her dainty ways and little extravagances? An odd fancy came to him:
perhaps the answer to the riddle lay sealed within the envelope he
fingered.

He opened it. Within lay four lines of writing--no more--no address, no
signature; simply the words:

     _"It matters now how strait the gate,
       How charged with punishment the scroll;
     I am the master of my fate,
       I am the captain of my soul."_

He stared at the lines. Eleven o'clock--twelve--one--chimed the
deep-voiced clock without, before Alwyn went to bed.

Miss Wynn had kept a vigil almost as long. She knew that Bles had
influential friends who had urged his preferment; it might be wise to
enlist them. Before she fell asleep she had determined to have a talk
with Mrs. Vanderpool. She had learned from Senator Smith that the lady
took special interest in Alwyn.

Mrs. Vanderpool heard Miss Wynn's story next day with some inward
dismay. Really the breadth and depth of intrigue in this city almost
frightened her as she walked deeper into the mire. She had promised Zora
that Bles should receive his reward on terms which would not wound his
manhood. It seemed an easy, almost an obvious thing, to promise at the
time. Yet here was this rather unusual young woman asking Mrs.
Vanderpool to use her influence in making Alwyn bow to the yoke. She
fenced for time.

"But I do not know Mr. Alwyn."

"I thought you did; you recommended him highly."

"I knew of him slightly in the South and I have watched his career
here."

"It would be too bad to have that career spoiled now."

"But is it necessary? Suppose he should defend the Education Bill."

"And criticise the party?" asked Miss Wynn. "It would take strong
influence to pull him through."

"And if that strong influence were found?" said Mrs. Vanderpool
thoughtfully.

"It would surely involve some other important concession to the South."

Mrs. Vanderpool looked up, and an interjection hovered on her lips. Was
it possible that the price of Alwyn's manhood would be her husband's
appointment to Paris? And if it were?

"I'll do what I can," she said graciously; "but I am afraid that will
not be much."

Miss Wynn hesitated. She had not succeeded even in guessing the source
of Mrs. Vanderpool's interest in Alwyn, and without that her appeal was
but blind groping. She stopped on her way to the door to admire a bronze
statuette and find time to think.

"You are interested in bronzes?" asked Mrs. Vanderpool.

"Oh, no; I'm far too poor. But I've dabbled a bit in sculpture."

"Indeed?" Mrs. Vanderpool revealed a mild interest, and Miss Wynn was
compelled to depart with little enlightenment.

On the way up town she concluded that there was but one chance of
success: she must write Alwyn's speech. With characteristic decision she
began her plans at once.

"What will you say in your speech?" she asked him that night as he rose
to go.

He looked at her and she wavered slightly under his black eyes. The
fight was becoming a little too desperate even for her steady nerves.

"You would not like me to act dishonestly, would you?" he asked.

"No," she involuntarily replied, regretting the word the moment she had
uttered it. He gave her one of his rare sweet smiles, and, rising,
before she realized his intent, he had kissed her hands and was gone.

She asked herself why she had been so foolish; and yet, somehow, sitting
there alone in the firelight, she felt glad for once that she had risen
above intrigue. Then she sighed and smiled, and began to plot anew.
Teerswell dropped in later and brought his friend, Stillings. They found
their hostess gay and entertaining.

Miss Wynn gathered books about her, and in the days of April and May she
and Alwyn read up on education. He marvelled at the subtlety of her
mind, and she at the relentlessness of his. They were very near each
other during these days, and yet there was ever something between them:
a vision to him of dark and pleading eyes that he constantly saw beside
her cool, keen glance. And he to her was always two men: one man above
men, whom she could respect but would not marry, and one man like all
men, whom she would marry but could not respect. His devotion to an
ideal which she thought so utterly unpractical, aroused keen curiosity
and admiration. She was sure he would fail in the end, and she wanted
him to fail; and somehow, somewhere back beyond herself, her better self
longed to find herself defeated; to see this mind stand firm on
principle, under circumstances where she believed men never stood. Deep
within her she discovered at times a passionate longing to believe in
somebody; yet she found herself bending every energy to pull this man
down to the level of time-servers, and even as she failed, feeling
something like contempt for his stubbornness.

The great day came. He had her notes, her suggestions, her hints, but
she had no intimation of what he would finally say.

"Will you come to hear me?" he asked.

"No," she murmured.

"That is best," he said, and then he added slowly, "I would not like you
ever to despise me."

She answered sharply: "I want to despise you!"

Did he understand? She was not sure. She was sorry she had said it; but
she meant it fiercely. Then he left her, for it was already four in the
afternoon and he spoke at eight.

In the morning she came down early, despite some dawdling over her
toilet. She brought the morning paper into the dining-room and sat down
with it, sipping her coffee. She leaned back and looked leisurely at the
headings. There was nothing on the front page but a divorce, a
revolution, and a new Trust. She took another sip of her coffee, and
turned the page. There it was, "Colored High Schools Close--Vicious
Attack on Republican Party by Negro Orator."

She laid the paper aside and slowly finished her coffee. A few minutes
later she went to her desk and sat there so long that she started at
hearing the clock strike nine.

The day passed. When she came home from school she bought an evening
paper. She was not surprised to learn that the Senate had rejected
Alwyn's nomination; that Samuel Stillings had been nominated and
confirmed as Register of the Treasury, and that Mr. Tom Teerswell was to
be his assistant. Also the bill reorganizing the school board had
passed. She wrote two notes and posted them as she went out to walk.

When she reached home Stillings was there, and they talked earnestly.
The bell rang violently. Teerswell rushed in.

"Well, Carrie!" he cried eagerly.

"Well, Tom," she responded, giving him a languid hand. Stillings rose
and departed. Teerswell nodded and said:

"Well, what do you think of last night?"

"A great speech, I hear."

"A fool speech--that speech cost him, I calculate, between twenty-four
and forty-eight thousand dollars."

"Possibly he's satisfied with his bargain."

"Possibly. Are you?"

"With his bargain?" quickly. "Yes."

"No," he pressed her, "with your bargain?"

"What bargain?" she parried.

"To marry him."

"Oh, no; that's off."

"Is it off?" cried Teerswell delightedly. "Good! It was foolish from the
first--that black country--"

"Gently," Miss Wynn checked him. "I'm not yet over the habit."

"Come. See what I've bought. You know I have a salary now." He produced
a ring with a small diamond cluster.

"How pretty!" she said, taking it and looking at it. Then she handed it
back.

He laughed gayly. "It's yours, Carrie. You're going to marry me."

She looked at him queerly.

"Am I? But I've got another ring already," she said.

"Oh, send Alwyn's back."

"I have. This is still another." And uncovering her hand she showed a
ring with a large and beautiful diamond.

He rose. "Whose is that?" he demanded apprehensively.

"Mine--" her eyes met his.

"But who gave it to you?"

"Mr. Stillings," was the soft reply.

He stared at her helplessly. "I--I--don't understand!" he stammered.

"Well, to be brief, I'm engaged to Mr. Stillings."

"What! To that flat-headed--"

"No," she coolly interrupted, "to the Register of the Treasury."

The man was too dumbfounded, too overwhelmed for coherent speech.

"But--but--come; why in God's name--will you throw yourself away on--on
such a--you're joking--you--"

She motioned him to a chair. He obeyed like one in a trance.

"Now, Tom, be calm. When I was a baby I loved you, but that is long
ago. Today, Tom, you're an insufferable cad and I--well, I'm too much
like you to have two of us in the same family."

"But, Stillings!" he burst forth, almost in tears. "The snake--what is
he?"

"Nearly as bad as you, I'll admit; but he has four thousand a year and
sense enough to keep it. In truth, I need it; for, thanks to your
political activity, my own position is gone."

"But he's a--a damned rascal!" Wounded self-conceit was now getting the
upper hand.

She laughed.

"I think he is. But he's such an exceptional rascal; he appeals to me.
You know, Tom, we're all more or less rascally--except one."

"Except who?" he asked quickly.

"Bles Alwyn."

"The fool!"

"Yes," she slowly agreed. "Bles Alwyn, the Fool--and the Man. But by
grace of the Negro Problem, I cannot afford to marry a man--Hark! Some
one is on the steps. I'm sure it's Bles. You'd better go now. Don't
attempt to fight with him; he's very strong. Good-night."

Alwyn entered. He didn't notice Teerswell as he passed out. He went
straight to Miss Wynn holding a crumpled note, and his voice faltered a
little.

"Do you mean it?"

"Yes, Bles."

"Why?"

"Because I am selfish and--small."

"No, you are not. You want to be; but give it up, Carrie; it isn't worth
the cost. Come, let's be honest and poor--and free."

She regarded him a moment, searchingly, then a look half quizzical, half
sorrowful came into her eyes. She put both her hands on his shoulders
and said as she kissed his lips:

"Bles, almost thou persuadest me--to be a fool. Now go."




_Thirty_

THE RETURN OF ZORA


"I never realized before just what a lie meant," said Zora.

The paper in Mrs. Vanderpool's hands fell quickly to her lap, and she
gazed across the toilet-table.

As she gazed that odd mirage of other days haunted her again. She did
not seem to see her maid, nor the white and satin morning-room. She saw,
with some long inner sight, a vast hall with mighty pillars; a smooth,
marbled floor and a great throng whose silent eyes looked curiously upon
her. Strange carven beasts gazed on from a setting of rich, barbaric
splendor and she herself--the Liar--lay in rags before the gold and
ivory of that lofty throne whereon sat Zora.

The foolish phantasy passed with the second of time that brought it, and
Mrs. Vanderpool's eyes dropped again to her paper, to those lines,--

"The President has sent the following nominations to the Senate ... To
be ambassador to France, John Vanderpool, Esq."

The first feeling of triumph thrilled faintly again until the low voice
of Zora startled her. It was so low and calm, it came as though
journeying from great distances and weary with travel.

"I used to think a lie a little thing, a convenience; but now I see. It
is a great No and it kills things. You remember that day when Mr.
Easterly called?"

"Yes," replied Mrs. Vanderpool, faintly.

"I heard all he said. I could not help it; my transom was open. And
then, too, after he mentioned--Mr. Alwyn's name, I wanted to hear. I
knew that his appointment would cost you the embassy--unless Bles was
tempted and should fall. So I came to you to say--to say you mustn't pay
the price."

"And I lied," said Mrs. Vanderpool. "I told you that he should be
appointed and remain a man. I meant to make him see that he could yield
without great cost. But I let you think I was giving up the embassy when
I never intended to."

She spoke coldly, yet Zora knew. She reached out and took the white,
still hands in hers, and over the lady's face again flitted that
stricken look of age.

"I do not blame you," said Zora gently. "I blame the world."

"I am the world," Mrs. Vanderpool uttered harshly, then suddenly
laughed. But Zora went on:

"It bewildered me when I first read the news early this morning; the
world--everything--seemed wrong. You see, my plan was all so splendid.
Just as I turned away from him, back to my people, I was to help him to
the highest. I was so afraid he would miss it and think that Right
didn't win in Life, that I wrote him--"

"You wrote him? So did I."

Zora glanced at her quickly.

"Yes," said Mrs. Vanderpool. "I thought I knew him. He seemed an
ordinary, rather priggish, opinionated country boy, and I wrote and
said--Oh, I said that the world is the world; take it as it is. You
wrote differently, and he obeyed you."

"No; he did not know it was I. I was just a Voice from nowhere calling
to him. I thought I was right. I wrote each day, sometimes twice,
sending bits of verse, quotations, references, all saying the same
thing: Right always triumphs. But it doesn't, does it?"

"No. It never does save by accident."

"I do not think that is quite so," Zora pondered aloud, "and I am a
little puzzled. I do not belong in this world where Right and Wrong get
so mixed. With us yonder there is wrong, but we call it wrong--mostly.
Oh, I don't know; even there things are mixed." She looked sadly at Mrs.
Vanderpool, and the fear that had been hovering behind her mistress's
eyes became visible.

"It was so beautiful," said Zora. "I expected a great thing of you--a
sacrifice. I do not blame you because you could not do it; and yet--yet,
after this,--don't you see?--I cannot stay here."

Mrs. Vanderpool arose and walked over to her. She stood above her, in
her silken morning-gown, her brown and gray sprinkled hair rising above
the pale, strong-lined face.

"Zora," she faltered, "will you leave me?"

Zora answered, "Yes." It was a soft "yes," a "yes" full of pity and
regret, but a "yes" that Mrs. Vanderpool knew in her soul to be final.

She sat down again on the lounge and her fingers crept along the
cushions.

"Ambassadorships come--high," she said with a catch in her voice. Then
after a pause: "When will you go, Zora?"

"When you leave for the summer."

Mrs. Vanderpool looked out upon the beautiful city. She was a little
surprised at herself. She had found herself willing to sacrifice almost
anything for Zora. No living soul had ever raised in her so deep an
affection, and yet she knew now that, although the cost was great, she
was willing to sacrifice Zora for Paris. After all, it was not too
late; a rapid ride even now might secure high office for Alwyn and make
Cresswell ambassador. It would be difficult but possible. But she had
not the slightest inclination to attempt it, and she said aloud, half
mockingly:

"You are right, Zora. I promised--and--I lied. Liars have no place in
heaven and heaven is doubtless a beautiful place--but oh, Zora! you
haven't seen Paris!"

Two months later they parted simply, knowing well it was forever. Mrs.
Vanderpool wrote a check.

"Use this in your work," she said. "Miss Smith asked for it long ago. It
is--my campaign contribution."

Zora smiled and thanked her. As she put the sealed envelope in her trunk
her hand came in contact with a long untouched package. Zora took it out
silently and opened it and the beauty of it lightened the room.

"It is the Silver Fleece," said Zora, and Mrs. Vanderpool kissed her and
went.

Zora walked alone to the vaulted station. She did not try to buy a
Pullman ticket, although the journey was thirty-six hours. She knew it
would be difficult if not impossible and she preferred to share the lot
of her people. Once on the foremost car, she leaned back and looked. The
car seemed clean and comfortable but strangely short. Then she realized
that half of it was cut off for the white smokers and as the door swung
whiffs of the smoke came in. But she was content for she was almost
alone.

It was eighteen little months ago that she had ridden up to the world
with widening eyes. In that time what had happened? Everything. How well
she remembered her coming, the first reflection of yonder gilded dome
and the soaring of the capitol; the swelling of her heart, with
inarticulate wonder; the pain of the thirst to know and understand. She
did not know much now but she had learned how to find things out. She
did not understand all, but some things she--

"Ticket"--the tone was harsh and abrupt. Zora started. She had always
noted how polite conductors were to her and Mrs. Vanderpool--was it
simply because Mrs. Vanderpool was evidently a great and rich lady? She
held up her ticket and he snatched it from her muttering some direction.

"I beg your pardon?" she said.

"Change at Charlotte," he snapped as he went on.

It seemed to Zora that his discourtesy was almost forced: that he was
afraid he might be betrayed into some show of consideration for a black
woman. She felt no anger, she simply wondered what he feared. The
increasing smell of tobacco smoke started her coughing. She turned. To
be sure. Not only was the door to the smoker standing open, but a white
passenger was in her car, sitting by the conductor and puffing heartily.
As the black porter passed her she said gently:

"Is smoking allowed in here?"

"It ain't non o' my business," he flung back at her and moved away. All
day white men passed back and forward through the car as through a
thoroughfare. They talked loudly and laughed and joked, and if they did
not smoke they carried their lighted cigars. At her they stared and made
comments, and one of them came and lounged almost over her seat,
inquiring where she was going.

She did not reply; she neither looked nor stirred, but kept whispering
to herself with something like awe: "This is what they must endure--my
poor people!"

At Lynchburg a newsboy boarded the train with his wares. The conductor
had already appropriated two seats for himself, and the newsboy routed
out two colored passengers, and usurped two other seats. Then he began
to be especially annoying. He joked and wrestled with the porter, and on
every occasion pushed his wares at Zora, insisting on her buying.

"Ain't you got no money?" he asked. "Where you going?"

"Say," he whispered another time, "don't you want to buy these gold
spectacles? I found 'em and I dassen't sell 'em open, see? They're
worth ten dollars--take 'em for a dollar."

Zora sat still, keeping her eyes on the window; but her hands worked
nervously, and when he threw a book with a picture of a man and
half-dressed woman directly under her eyes, she took it and dropped it
out the window.

The boy started to storm and demanded pay, while the conductor glared at
her; but a white man in the conductor's seat whispered something, and
the row suddenly stopped.

A gang of colored section hands got on, dirty and loud. They sprawled
about and smoked, drank, and bought candy and cheap gewgaws. They eyed
her respectfully, and with one of them she talked a little as he
awkwardly fingered his cap.

As the day wore on Zora found herself strangely weary. It was not simply
the unpleasant things that kept happening, but the continued
apprehension of unknown possibilities. Then, too, she began to realize
that she had had nothing to eat. Travelling with Mrs. Vanderpool there
was always a dainty lunch to be had at call. She did not expect this,
but she asked the porter:

"Do you know where I can get a lunch?"

"Search me," he answered, lounging into a seat. "Ain't no chance betwixt
here and Danville as I knows on."

Zora viewed her plight with a certain dismay--twelve hours without food!
How foolish of her not to have thought of this. The hours passed. She
turned desperately to the gruff conductor.

"Could I buy a lunch from the dining-car?" she inquired.

"No," was the curt reply.

She made herself as comfortable as she could, and tried to put the
matter from her mind. She remembered how, forgotten years ago, she had
often gone a day without eating and thought little of it. Night came
slowly, and she fell to dreaming until the cry came, "Charlotte! Change
cars!" She scrambled out. There was no step to the platform, her bag
was heavy, and the porter was busy helping the white folks to alight.
She saw a dingy lunchroom marked "Colored," but she had no time to go to
it for her train was ready.

There was another colored porter on this, and he was very polite and
affable.

"Yes, Miss; certainly I'll fetch you a lunch--plenty of time." And he
did. It did not look clean but Zora was ravenous.

The white smoker now had few occupants, but the white train crew
proceeded to use the colored coach as a lounging-room and sleeping-car.
There was no passenger except Zora. They took off their coats, stretched
themselves on the seats, and exchanged jokes; but Zora was too tired to
notice much, and she was dozing wearily when she felt a touch on the arm
and found the porter in the seat beside her with his arm thrown
familiarly behind her along the top of the back. She rose abruptly to
her feet and he started up.

"I beg pardon," he said, grinning.

Zora sat slowly down as he got up and left. She determined to sleep no
more. Yet a vast vision sank on her weary spirit--the vision of a dark
cloud that dropped and dropped upon her, and lay as lead along her
straining shoulders. She must lift it, she knew, though it were big as a
world, and she put her strength to it and groaned as the porter cried in
the ghostly morning light:

"Atlanta! All change!"

Away yonder at the school near Toomsville, Miss Smith sat waiting for
the coming of Zora, absently attending the duties of the office. Dark
little heads and hands bobbed by and soft voices called:

"Miss Smith, I wants a penny pencil."

"Miss Smith, is yo' got a speller fo' ten cents?"

"Miss Smith, mammy say please lemme come to school this week and she'll
sho' pay Sata'day."

Yet the little voices that summoned her back to earth were less
clamorous than in other years, for the school was far from full, and
Miss Smith observed the falling off with grave eyes. This condition was
patently the result of the cotton corner and the subsequent
manipulation. When cotton rose, the tenants had already sold their
cotton; when cotton fell the landlords squeezed the rations and lowered
the wages. When cotton rose again, up went the new Spring rent
contracts. So it was that the bewildered black serf dawdled in listless
inability to understand. The Cresswells in their new wealth, the
Maxwells and Tollivers in the new pinch of poverty, stretched long arms
to gather in the tenants and their children. Excuse after excuse came to
the school.

"I can't send the chilluns dis term, Miss Smith; dey has to work."

"Mr. Cresswell won't allow Will to go to school this term."

"Mr. Tolliver done put Sam in the field."

And so Miss Smith contemplated many empty desks.

Slowly a sort of fatal inaction seized her. The school went on; daily
the dark little cloud of scholars rose up from hill and vale and settled
in the white buildings; the hum of voices and the busy movements of
industrious teachers filled the day; the office work went on
methodically; but back of it all Miss Smith sat half hopeless. It cost
five thousand a year to run the school, and this sum she raised with
increasingly greater difficulty. Extra and heart-straining effort had
been needed to raise the eight hundred dollars additional for interest
money on the mortgage last year. Next year it might have to come out of
the regular income and thus cut off two teachers. Beyond all this the
raising of ten thousand dollars to satisfy the mortgage seemed simply
impossible, and Miss Smith sat in fatal resignation, awaiting the coming
day.

"It's the Lord's work. I've done what I could. I guess if He wants it to
go on, He'll find a way. And if He doesn't--" She looked off across the
swamp and was silent.

Then came Zora's letter, simple and brief, but breathing youth and
strength of purpose. Miss Smith seized upon it as an omen of salvation.
In vain her shrewd New England reason asked: "What can a half-taught
black girl do in this wilderness?" Her heart answered back: "What is
impossible to youth and resolution?" Let the shabbiness increase; let
the debts pile up; let the boarders complain and the teachers
gossip--Zora was coming. And somehow she and Zora would find a way.

And Zora came just as the sun threw its last crimson through the black
swamp; came and gathered the frail and white-haired woman in her arms;
and they wept together. Long and low they talked, far into the soft
Southern night; sitting shaded beneath the stars, while nearby blinked
the drowsy lights of the girls' dormitory. At last Miss Smith said,
rising stiffly:

"I forgot to ask about Mrs. Vanderpool. How is she, and where?"

Zora murmured some answer; but as she went to bed in her little white
room she sat wondering sadly. Where was the poor spoiled woman? Who was
putting her to bed and smoothing the pillow? Who was caring for her, and
what was she doing? And Zora strained her eyes Northward through the
night.

At this moment, Mrs. Vanderpool, rising from a gala dinner in the
brilliant drawing-room of her Lake George mansion, was reading the
evening paper which her husband had put into her hands. With startled
eyes she caught the impudent headlines:

              VANDERPOOL DROPPED

          Senate Refuses to Confirm

 Todd Insurgents Muster Enough Votes to Defeat

      Confirmation of President's Nominee

Rumored Revenge for Machine's Defeat of Child Labor

               Bill Amendment.


The paper trembled in her jewelled hands. She glanced down the column.

"Todd asks: Who is Vanderpool, anyhow? What did he ever do? He is known
only as a selfish millionaire who thinks more of horses than of men."

Carelessly Mrs. Vanderpool threw the paper to the floor and bit her lips
as the angry blood dyed her face.

"They _shall_ confirm him," she whispered, "if I have to mortgage my
immortal soul!" And she rang up long distance on the telephone.




_Thirty-one_

A PARTING OF WAYS


"Was the child born dead?"

"Worse than dead!"

Somehow, somewhere, Mary Cresswell had heard these words; long, long,
ago, down there in the great pain-swept shadows of utter agony, where
Earth seemed slipping its moorings; and now, today, she lay repeating
them mechanically, grasping vaguely at their meaning. Long she had
wrestled with them as they twisted and turned and knotted themselves,
and she worked and toiled so hard as she lay there to make the thing
clear--to understand.

"Was the child born dead?"

"Worse than dead!"

Then faint and fainter whisperings: what could be worse than death? She
had tried to ask the grey old doctor, but he soothed her like a child
each day and left her lying there. Today she was stronger, and for the
first time sitting up, looking listlessly out across the world--a queer
world. Why had they not let her see the child--just one look at its
little dead face? That would have been something. And again, as the
doctor cheerily turned to go, she sought to repeat the old question. He
looked at her sharply, then interrupted, saying kindly:

"There, now; you've been dreaming. You must rest quietly now." And with
a nod he passed into the other room to talk with her husband.

She was not satisfied. She had not been dreaming. She would tell Harry
to ask him--she did not often see her husband, but she must ask him now
and she arose unsteadily and swayed noiselessly across the floor. A
moment she leaned against the door, then opened it slightly. From the
other side the words came distinctly and clearly:

"--other children, doctor?"

"You must have no other children, Mr. Cresswell."

"Why?"

"Because the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children unto the
third and fourth generation."

Slowly, softly, she crept away. Her mind seemed very clear. And she
began a long journey to reach her window and chair--a long, long
journey; but at last she sank into the chair again and sat dry-eyed,
wondering who had conceived this world and made it, and why.

A long time afterward she found herself lying in bed, awake, conscious,
clear-minded. Yet she thought as little as possible, for that was pain;
but she listened gladly, for without she heard the solemn beating of the
sea, the mighty rhythmic beating of the sea. Long days she lay, and sat
and walked beside those vast and speaking waters, till at last she knew
their voice and they spoke to her and the sea-calm soothed her soul.

For one brief moment of her life she saw herself clearly: a well-meaning
woman, ambitious, but curiously narrow; not willing to work long for
the Vision, but leaping at it rashly, blindly, with a deep-seated sense
of duty which she made a source of offence by preening and parading it,
and forcing it to ill-timed notice. She saw that she had looked on her
husband as a means not an end. She had wished to absorb him and his work
for her own glory. She had idealized for her own uses a very human man
whose life had been full of sin and fault. She must atone.

No sooner, in this brief moment, did she see herself honestly than her
old habits swept her on tumultuously. No ordinary atonement would do.
The sacrifice must be vast; the world must stand in wonder before this
clever woman sinking her soul in another and raising him by sheer will
to the highest.

So after six endless months Mary Cresswell walked into her Washington
home again. She knew she had changed in appearance, but she had
forgotten to note how much until she saw the stare--almost the
recoil--of her husband, the muttered exclamation, the studied, almost
overdone welcome. Then she went up to her mirror and looked long, and
knew.

She was strong; she felt well; but she was slight, almost scrawny, and
her beauty was gone forever. It had been of that blonde white-and-pink
type that fades in a flash, and its going left her body flattened and
angular, her skin drawn and dead white, her eyes sunken. From the
radiant girl whom Cresswell had met three years earlier the change was
startling, and yet the contrast seemed even greater than it was, for her
glory then had been her abundant and almost golden hair. Now that hair
was faded, and falling so fast that at last the doctor advised her to
cut it short. This left her ill-shaped head exposed and emphasized the
sunken hollows of her face. She knew that she was changed but she did
not quite realize how changed, until now as she stood and gazed.

Yet she did not hesitate but from that moment set herself to her new
life task. Characteristically, she started dramatically and largely. She
was to make her life an endless sacrifice; she was to revivify the
manhood in Harry Cresswell, and all this for no return, no partnership
of soul--all was to be complete sacrifice and sinking soul in soul.

If Mary Cresswell had attempted less she would have accomplished more.
As it was, she began well; she went to work tactfully, seeming to note
no change in his manner toward her; but his manner had changed. He was
studiously, scrupulously polite in private, and in public devoted; but
there was no feeling, no passion, no love. The polished shell of his
clan reflected conventional light even more carefully than formerly
because the shell was cold and empty. There were no little flashes of
anger now, no poutings nor sweet reconciliations. Life ran very smoothly
and courteously; and while she did not try to regain the affection, she
strove to enthrall his intellect. She supplied a sub-committee upon
which he was serving--not directly, but through him--with figures, with
reports, books, and papers, so that he received special commendations; a
praise that piqued as well as pleased him, because it implied a certain
surprise that he was able to do it.

"The damned Yankees!" he sneered. "They think they've got the brains of
the nation."

"Why not make a speech on the subject?" she suggested.

He laughed. The matter under discussion was the cotton-goods schedule of
the new tariff bill, about which really he knew a little; his wife
placed every temptation to knowledge before him, even inspiring Senator
Smith to ask him to defend that schedule against the low-tariff
advocate. Mary Cresswell worked with redoubled energy, and for nearly a
week Harry staid at home nights and studied. Thanks to his wife the
speech was unusually informing and well put, and the fact that a
prominent free-trader spoke the same afternoon gave it publicity, while
Mr. Easterly saw to the press despatches.

Cresswell subscribed to a clipping-bureau and tasted the sweets of
dawning notoriety, and Mrs. Cresswell arranged a select dinner-party
which included a cabinet officer, a foreign ambassador, two
millionaires, and the leading Southern Congressmen. The talk came
around to the failure of the Senate to confirm Mr. Vanderpool, and it
was generally assumed that the President would not force the issue.

Who, then, should be nominated? There were several suggestions, but the
knot of Southern Congressmen about Mrs. Cresswell declared emphatically
that it must be a Southerner. Not since the war had a prominent
Southerner represented America at a first-class foreign court; it was
shameful; the time was ripe for change. But who? Here opinions differed
widely. Nearly every one mentioned a candidate, and those who did not
seemed to refrain from motives of personal modesty.

Mary Cresswell sped her departing guests with a distinct purpose in
mind. She must make herself leader of the Southern set in Washington and
concentrate its whole force on the appointment of Harry Cresswell as
ambassador to France. Quick reward and promotion were essential to
Harry's success. He was not one to keep up the strain of effort a long
time. Unless, then, tangible results came and came quickly, he was
liable to relapse into old habits. Therefore he must succeed and succeed
at once. She would have preferred a less ornamental position than the
ambassadorship, but there were no other openings. The Alabama senators
were firmly seated for at least four years and the Governorship had been
carefully arranged for. A term of four years abroad, however, might
bring Harry Cresswell back in time for greater advancement. At any rate,
it was the only tangible offering, and Mary Cresswell silently
determined to work for it.

Here it was that she made her mistake. It was one thing for her to be a
tactful hostess, pleasing her husband and his guests; it was another for
her to aim openly at social leadership and political influence. She had
at first all the insignia of success. Her dinners became of real
political significance and her husband figured more and more as a
leading Southerner. The result was two-fold. Cresswell, on the one hand,
with his usual selfishness, took his rising popularity as a matter of
course and as the fruits of his own work; he was rising, he was making
valuable speeches, he was becoming a social power, and his only handicap
was his plain and over-ambitious wife. But on the other hand Mrs.
Cresswell forgot two pitfalls: the cleft between the old Southern
aristocracy and the pushing new Southerners; and above all, her own
Northern birth and presumably pro-Negro sympathies.

What Mrs. Cresswell forgot Mrs. Vanderpool sensed unerringly. She had
heard with uneasiness of Cresswell's renewed candidacy for the Paris
ambassadorship, and she set herself to block it. She had worked hard.
The President stood ready to send her husband's appointment again to the
Senate whenever Easterly could assure him of favorable action. Easterly
had long and satisfactory interviews with several senators, while the
Todd insurgents were losing heart at the prospect of choosing between
Vanderpool and Cresswell. At present four Southern votes were needed to
confirm Vanderpool; but if they could not be had, Easterly declared it
would be good politics to nominate Cresswell and give him Republican
support. Manifestly, then, Mrs. Vanderpool's task was to discredit the
Cresswells with the Southerners. It was not a work to her liking, but
the die was cast and she refused to contemplate defeat.

The result was that while Mrs. Cresswell was giving large and brilliant
parties to the whole Southern contingent, Mrs. Vanderpool was
engineering exclusive dinners where old New York met stately Charleston
and gossiped interestingly. On such occasions it was hinted not once,
but many times, that the Cresswells were well enough, but who was that
upstart wife who presumed to take social precedence?

It was not, however, until Mrs. Cresswell's plan for an all-Southern art
exhibit in Washington that Mrs. Vanderpool, in a flash of inspiration,
saw her chance. In the annual exhibit of the Corcoran Art Gallery, a
Southern girl had nearly won first prize over a Western man. The
concensus of Southern opinion was that the judgment had been unfair, and
Mrs. Cresswell was convinced of this. With quick intuition she
suggested a Southern exhibit with such social prestige back of it as to
impress the country.

The proposal caught the imagination of the Southern set. None suspected
a possible intrusion of the eternal race issue for no Negroes were
allowed in the Corcoran exhibit or school. This Mrs. Vanderpool easily
ascertained and a certain sense of justice combined in a curious way
with her political intrigue to bring about the undoing of Mary
Cresswell.

Mrs. Vanderpool's very first cautious inquiries by way of the back
stairs brought gratifying response--for did not all black Washington
know well of the work in sculpture done by Mrs. Samuel Stillings, _nee_
Wynn? Mrs. Vanderpool remembered Mrs. Stillings perfectly, and she
walked, that evening, through unobtrusive thoroughfares and called on
Mrs. Stillings. Had Mrs. Stillings heard of the new art movement? Did
she intend to exhibit? Mrs. Stillings did not intend to exhibit as she
was sure she would not be welcome. She had had a bust accepted by the
Corcoran Art Gallery once, and when they found she was colored they
returned it. But if she were especially invited? That would make a
difference, although even then the line would be drawn somehow.

"Would it not be worth a fight?" suggested Mrs. Vanderpool with a little
heightening of color in her pale cheek.

"Perhaps," said Mrs. Stillings, as she brought out some specimens of her
work.

Mrs. Vanderpool was both ashamed and grateful. With money and leisure
Mrs. Stillings had been able to get in New York and Boston the training
she had been denied in Washington on account of her color. The things
she exhibited really had merit and one curiously original group appealed
to Mrs. Vanderpool tremendously.

"Send it," she counseled with strangely contradictory feelings of
enthusiasm, and added: "Enter it under the name of Wynn."

In addition to the general invitations to the art exhibit numbers of
special ones were issued to promising Southern amateurs who had never
exhibited. For these a prize of a long-term scholarship and other
smaller prizes were offered. When Mrs. Vanderpool suggested the name of
"Miss Wynn" to Mrs. Cresswell among a dozen others, for special
invitation, there was nothing in its sound to distinguish it from the
rest of the names, and the invitation went duly. As a result there came
to the exhibit a little group called "The Outcasts," which was really a
masterly thing and sent the director, Signor Alberni, into hysterical
commendation.

In the private view and award of prizes which preceded the larger social
function the jury hesitated long between "The Outcasts" and a painting
from Georgia. Mrs. Cresswell was enthusiastic and voluble for the bit of
sculpture, and it finally won the vote for the first prize.

All was ready for the great day. The President was coming and most of
the diplomatic corps, high officers of the army, and all the social
leaders. Congress would be well represented, and the boom for Cresswell
as ambassador to France was almost visible in the air.

Mary Cresswell paused a moment in triumph looking back at the darkened
hall, when a little woman fluttered up to her and whispered:

"Mrs. Cresswell, have you heard the gossip?"

"No--what?"

"That Wynn woman they say is a nigger. Some are whispering that you
brought her in purposely to force social equality. They say you used to
teach darkies. Of course, I don't believe all their talk, but I thought
you ought to know." She talked a while longer, then fluttered furtively
away.

Mrs. Cresswell sat down limply. She saw ruin ahead--to think of a black
girl taking a prize at an all-Southern art exhibit! But there was still
a chance, and she leaped to action. This colored woman was doubtless
some poor deserving creature. She would call on her immediately, and by
an offer of abundant help induce her to withdraw quietly.

Entering her motor, she drove near the address and then proceeded on
foot. The street was a prominent one, the block one of the best, the
house almost pretentious. She glanced at her memorandum again to see if
she was mistaken. Perhaps the woman was a domestic; probably she was,
for the name on the door was Stillings. It occurred to her that she had
heard that name before--but where? She looked again at her memorandum
and at the house.

She rang the bell, asking the trim black maid: "Is there a person named
Caroline Wynn living in this house?"

The girl smiled and hesitated.

"Yes, ma'am," she finally replied. "Won't you come in?" She was shown
into the parlor, where she sat down. The room was most interesting,
furnished in unimpeachable taste. A few good pictures were on the walls,
and Mrs. Cresswell was examining one when she heard the swish of silken
skirts. A lady with gold brown face and straight hair stood before her
with pleasant smile. Where had Mrs. Cresswell seen her before? She tried
to remember, but could not.

"You wished to see--Caroline Wynn?"

"Yes."

"What can I do for you?"

Mrs. Cresswell groped for her proper cue, but the brown lady merely
offered a chair and sat down silently. Mrs. Cresswell's perplexity
increased. She had been planning to descend graciously but
authoritatively upon some shrinking girl, but this woman not only seemed
to assume equality but actually looked it. From a rapid survey, Mrs.
Cresswell saw a black silk stocking, a bit of lace, a tailor-made gown,
and a head with two full black eyes that waited in calmly polite
expectancy.

Something had to be said.

"I--er--came; that is, I believe you sent a group to the art exhibit?"

"Yes."

"It was good--very good."

Miss Wynn said nothing, but sat calmly looking at her visitor. Mrs.
Cresswell felt irritated.

"Of course," she managed to continue, "we are very sorry that we cannot
receive it."

"Indeed? I understood it had taken the first prize."

Mrs. Cresswell was aghast. Who had rushed the news to this woman? She
realized that there were depths to this matter that she did not
understand and her irritation increased.

"You know that we could not give the prize to a--Negro."

"Why not?"

"That is quite immaterial. Social equality cannot be forced. At the same
time I recognize the injustice, and I have come to say that if you will
withdraw your exhibit you will be given a scholarship in a Boston
school."

"I do not wish it."

"Well, what do you want?"

"I was not aware that I had asked for anything."

Mrs. Cresswell felt herself getting angry.

"Why did you send your exhibit when you knew it was not wanted?"

"Because you asked me to."

"We did not ask for colored people."

"You asked all Southern-born persons. I am a person and I am Southern
born. Moreover, you sent me a personal letter."

Mrs. Cresswell was sure that this was a lie and was thoroughly incensed.

"You cannot have the prize," she almost snapped. "If you will withdraw I
will pay you any reasonable sum."

"Thank you. I do not want money; I want justice."

Mrs. Cresswell arose and her face was white.

"That is the trouble with you Negroes: you wish to get above your places
and force yourselves where you are not wanted. It does no good, it only
makes trouble and enemies." Mrs. Cresswell stopped, for the colored
woman had gone quietly out of the room and in a moment the maid entered
and stood ready. Mrs. Cresswell walked slowly to the door and stepped
out. Then she turned.

"What does Miss Wynn do for a living?"

The girl tittered.

"She used to teach school but she don't do nothing now. She's just
married; her husband is Mr. Stillings, Register of the Treasury."

Mrs. Cresswell saw light as she turned to go down the steps. There was
but one resource--she must keep the matter out of the newspapers, and
see Stillings, whom she now remembered well.

"I beg pardon, does the Miss Wynn live here who got the prize in the art
exhibition?"

Mrs. Cresswell turned in amazement. It was evidently a reporter, and the
maid was admitting him. The news would reach the papers and be blazoned
to-morrow. Slowly she caught her motor and fell wearily back on its
cushions.

"Where to, Madame?" asked the chauffeur.

"I don't care," returned Madame; so the chauffeur took her home.

She walked slowly up the stairs. All her carefully laid plans seemed
about to be thwarted and her castles were leaning toward ruin.

Yet all was not lost, if her husband continued to believe in her. If, as
she feared, he should suspect her on account of this Negro woman, and
quarrel with her--

But he must not. This very night, before the morning papers came out,
she must explain. He must see; he must appreciate her efforts.

She rushed into her dressing-room and called her maid. Contrary to her
Puritan notions, she frankly sought to beautify herself. She remembered
that it was the anniversary of her coming to this house. She got out her
wedding-dress, and although it hung loosely, the maid draped the Silver
Fleece beautifully about her.

She heard her husband enter and come up-stairs. Quickly finishing her
toilet, she hurried down to arrange the flowers, for they were alone
that night. The telephone rang. She knew it would ring up-stairs in his
room, but she usually answered it for he disliked to. She raised the
receiver and started to speak when she realized that she had broken into
the midst of a conversation.

"--committee won't meet tonight, Harry."

"So? All right. Anything on?"

"Yes--big spree at Nell's. Will you go?"

"Sure thing; you know me! What time?"

"Meet us at the Willard by nine. S'long."

"Good-bye."

She slowly, half guiltily, replaced the receiver. She had not meant to
listen, but now to her desperate longing to keep him home was added a
new motive. Where was "Nell's"? What was "Nell's"? What was--and there
was fear in her heart. At dinner she tried all her powers on him. She
had his favorite dishes; she mixed his salad and selected his wine; she
talked interestingly, and listened sympathetically, to him. He looked at
her with more attention. Her cheeks were more brilliant, for she had
touched them with rouge. Her eyes flashed; but he glanced furtively at
her short hair. She saw the act; but still she strove until he was
content and laughing; then coming round back of his chair, she placed
her arms about his neck.

"Harry, will you do me a favor?"

"Why, yes--if--"

"It is something I want very, very much."

"Well, all right, if--"

"Harry, I feel a little--hysterical, tonight, and--you will not refuse
me, will you, Harry?"

Standing there, she saw the tableau in her own mind, and it looked
strange. She was afraid of herself. She knew that she would do something
foolish if she did not win this battle. She felt that overpowering
fanaticism back within her raging restlessly. If she was not careful--

"But what is it you want?" asked her husband.

"I don't want you to go out tonight."

He laughed awkwardly.

"Nonsense, girl! The sub-committee on the cotton schedule meets
tonight--very important; otherwise--"

She shuddered at the smooth lie and clasped him closer, putting her
cheek to his.

"Harry," she pleaded, "just this once--for me."

He disengaged himself, half impatiently, and rose, glancing at the
clock. It was nearly nine. A feeling of desperation came over her.

"Harry," she asked again as he slipped on his coat.

"Don't be foolish," he growled.

"Just this once--Harry--I--" But the door banged to, and he was gone.

She stood looking at the closed door a moment. Something in her head was
ready to snap. She went to the rack and taking his long heavy overcoat
slipped it on. It nearly touched the floor. She seized a soft
broad-brimmed hat and umbrella and walked out. Just what she meant to do
she did not know, but somehow she must save her husband and herself from
evil. She hurried to the Willard Hotel and watched, walking up and down
the opposite sidewalk. A woman brushed by her and looked her in the
face.

"Hell! I thought you was a man," she said. "Is this a new gag?"

Mrs. Cresswell looked down at herself involuntarily and smiled wanly.
She did look like a man, with her hat and coat and short hair. The woman
peered at her doubtingly. She was, as Mrs. Cresswell noticed, a young
woman, once pretty, perhaps, and a little over-dressed.

"Are you walking?" she asked.

"What do you mean?" asked Mrs. Cresswell, and then in a moment it
flashed upon her. She took the woman's arm and walked with her. Suddenly
she stopped.

"Where's--Nell's?"

The woman frowned. "Oh, that's a swell place," she said. "Senators and
millionaires. Too high for us to fly."

Mrs. Cresswell winced. "But where is it?" she asked.

"We'll walk by it if you want to."

And Mary Cresswell walked in another world. Up from the ground of the
drowsy city rose pale gray forms; pale, flushed, and brilliant, in
silken rags. Up and down they passed, to and fro, looking and gliding
like sheeted ghosts; now dodging policemen, now accosting them
familiarly.

"Hello, Elise," growled one big blue-coat.

"Hello, Jack."

"What's this?" and he peered at Mrs. Cresswell, who shrank back.

"Friend of mine. All right."

A horror crept over Mary Cresswell: where had she lived that she had
seen so little before? What was Washington, and what was this fine,
tall, quiet residence? Was this--"Nell's"?

"Yes, this is it--good-bye--I must--"

"Wait--what is your name?"

"I haven't any name," answered the woman suspiciously.

"Well--pardon me! Here!" and she thrust a bill into the woman's hand.

The girl stared. "Well, you're a queer one! Thanks. Guess I'll turn in."

Mary Cresswell turned to see her husband and his companions ascending
the steps of the quiet mansion. She stood uncertainly and looked at the
opening and closing door. Then a policeman came by and looked at her.

"Come, move on," he brusquely ordered. Her vacillation promptly
vanished, and she resolutely mounted the steps. She put out her hand to
ring, but the door flew silently open and a man-servant stood looking at
her.

"I have some friends here," she said, speaking coarsely.

"You will have to be introduced," said the man. She hesitated and
started to turn away. Thrusting her hand in her pocket it closed upon
her husband's card-case. She presented a card. It worked a rapid
transformation in the servant's manner, which did not escape her.

"Come in," he invited her.

She did not stop at the outstretched arm of the cloakman, but glided
quickly up the stairs toward a vision of handsome women and strains of
music. Harry Cresswell was sitting opposite and bending over an impudent
blue-and-blonde beauty. Mary slipped straight across to him and leaned
across the table. The hat fell off, but she let it go.

"Harry!" she tried to say as he looked up.

Then the table swayed gently to and fro; the room bowed and whirled
about; the voices grew fainter and fainter--all the world receded
suddenly far away. She extended her hands languidly, then, feeling so
utterly tired, let her eyelids drop and fell asleep.

She awoke with a start, in her own bed. She was physically exhausted but
her mind was clear. She must go down and meet him at breakfast and talk
frankly with him. She would let bygones be bygones. She would explain
that she had followed him to save him, not to betray him. She would
point out the greater career before him if only he would be a man; she
would show him that they had not failed. For herself she asked nothing,
only his word, his confidence, his promise to try.

After his first start of surprise at seeing her at the table, Cresswell
uttered nothing immediately save the commonplaces of greeting. He
mentioned one or two bits of news from the paper, upon which she
commented while dawdling over her egg. When the servant went out and
closed the door, she paused a moment considering whether to open by
appeal or explanation. His smooth tones startled her:

"Of course, after your art exhibit and the scene of last night, Mary, it
will be impossible for us to live longer together."

She stared at him, utterly aghast--voiceless and numb.

"I have seen the crisis approaching for some time, and the Negro
business settles it," he continued. "I have now decided to send you to
my home in Alabama, to my father or your brother. I am sure you will be
happier there."

He rose. Bowing courteously, he waited, coldly and calmly, for her to
go.

All at once she hated him and hated his aristocratic repression; this
cold calm that hid hell and its fires. She looked at him, wide-eyed, and
said in a voice hoarse with horror and loathing:

"You brute! You nasty brute!"




_Thirty-two_

ZORA'S WAY


Zora was looking on her world with the keener vision of one who, blind
from very seeing, closes the eyes a space and looks again with wider
clearer vision. Out of a nebulous cloudland she seemed to step; a land
where all things floated in strange confusion, but where one thing stood
steadfast, and that was love. When love was shaken all things moved, but
now, at last, for the first time she seemed to know the real and mighty
world that stood behind that old and shaken dream.

So she looked on the world about her with new eyes. These men and women
of her childhood had hitherto walked by her like shadows; today they
lived for her in flesh and blood. She saw hundreds and thousands of
black men and women: crushed, half-spirited, and blind. She saw how high
and clear a light Sarah Smith, for thirty years and more, had carried
before them. She saw, too, how that the light had not simply shone in
darkness, but had lighted answering beacons here and there in these dull
souls.

There were thoughts and vague stirrings of unrest in this mass of black
folk. They talked long about their firesides, and here Zora began to sit
and listen, often speaking a word herself. All through the countryside
she flitted, till gradually the black folk came to know her and, in
silent deference to some subtle difference, they gave her the title of
white folk, calling her "Miss" Zora.

Today, more than ever before, Zora sensed the vast unorganized power in
this mass, and her mind was leaping here and there, scheming and
testing, when voices arrested her.

It was a desolate bit of the Cresswell manor, a tiny cabin, new-boarded
and bare, in front of it a blazing bonfire. A white man was tossing into
the flames different household articles--a feather bed, a bedstead, two
rickety chairs. A young, boyish fellow, golden-faced and curly, stood
with clenched fists, while a woman with tear-stained eyes clung to him.
The white man raised a cradle to dash it into the flames; the woman
cried, and the yellow man raised his arm threateningly. But Zora's hand
was on his shoulder.

"What's the matter, Rob?" she asked.

"They're selling us out," he muttered savagely. "Millie's been sick
since the last baby died, and I had to neglect my crop to tend her and
the other little ones--I didn't make much. They've took my mule, now
they're burning my things to make me sign a contract and be a slave. But
by--"

"There, Rob, let Millie come with me--we'll see Miss Smith. We must get
land to rent and arrange somehow."

The mother sobbed, "The cradle--was baby's!"

With an oath the white man dashed the cradle into the fire, and the red
flame spurted aloft.

The crimson fire flashed in Zora's eyes as she passed the overseer.

"Well, nigger, what are you going to do about it?" he growled
insolently.

Zora's eyelids drooped, her upper lip quivered.

"Nothing," she answered softly. "But I hope your soul will burn in hell
forever and forever."

They proceeded down the plantation road, but Zora could not speak. She
pushed them slowly on, and turned aside to let the anger, the impotent,
futile anger, rage itself out. Alone in the great broad spaces, she knew
she could fight it down, and come back again, cool and in calm and
deadly earnest, to lead these children to the light.

The sorrow in her heart was new and strange; not sorrow for herself, for
of that she had tasted the uttermost; but the vast vicarious suffering
for the evil of the world. The tumult and war within her fled, and a
sense of helplessness sent the hot tears streaming down her cheeks. She
longed for rest; but the last plantation was yet to be passed. Far off
she heard the yodle of the gangs of peons. She hesitated, looking for
some way of escape: if she passed them she would see something--she
always saw something--that would send the red blood whirling madly.

"Here, you!--loafing again, damn you!" She saw the black whip writhe and
curl across the shoulders of the plough-boy. The boy crouched and
snarled, and again the whip hissed and cracked.

Zora stood rigid and gray.

"My God!" her silent soul was shrieking within, "why doesn't the
coward--"

And then the "coward" did. The whip was whirring in the air again; but
it never fell. A jagged stone in the boy's hand struck true, and the
overseer plunged with a grunt into the black furrow. In blank dismay,
Zora came back to her senses.

"Poor child!" she gasped, as she saw the boy flying in wild terror over
the fields, with hue and cry behind him.

"Poor child!--running to the penitentiary--to shame and hunger and
damnation!"

She remembered the rector in Mrs. Vanderpool's library, and his
question that revealed unfathomable depths of ignorance: "Really, now,
how do you account for the distressing increase in crime among your
people?"

She swung into the great road trembling with the woe of the world in her
eyes. Cruelty, poverty, and crime she had looked in the face that
morning, and the hurt of it held her heart pinched and quivering. A
moment the mists in her eyes shut out the shadows of the swamp, and the
roaring in her ears made a silence of the world.

Before she found herself again she dimly saw a couple sauntering along
the road, but she hardly noticed their white faces until the little
voice of the girl, raised timidly, greeted her.

"Howdy, Zora."

Zora looked. The girl was Emma, and beside her, smiling, stood a
half-grown white man. It was Emma, Bertie's child; and yet it was not,
for in the child of other days Zora saw for the first time the dawning
woman.

And she saw, too, the white man. Suddenly the horror of the swamp was
upon her. She swept between the couple like a gust, gripping the child's
arm till she paled and almost whimpered.

"I--I was just going on an errand for Miss Smith!" she cried.

Looking down into her soul, Zora discerned its innocence and the fright
shining in the child's eyes. Her own eyes softened, her grip became a
caress, but her heart was hard.

The young man laughed awkwardly and strolled away. Zora looked back at
him and the paramount mission of her life formed itself in her mind. She
would protect this girl; she would protect all black girls. She would
make it possible for these poor beasts of burden to be decent in their
toil. Out of protection of womanhood as the central thought, she must
build ramparts against cruelty, poverty, and crime. All this in
turn--but now and first, the innocent girlhood of this daughter of shame
must be rescued from the devil. It was her duty, her heritage. She must
offer this unsullied soul up unto God in mighty atonement--but how? Here
now was no protection. Already lustful eyes were in wait, and the child
was too ignorant to protect herself. She must be sent to
boarding-school, somewhere far away; but the money? God! it was money,
money, always money. Then she stopped suddenly, thrilled with the
recollection of Mrs. Vanderpool's check.

She dismissed the girl with a kiss, and stood still a moment
considering. Money to send Emma off to school; money to buy a school
farm; money to "buy" tenants to live on it; money to furnish them
rations; money--

She went straight to Miss Smith.

"Miss Smith, how much money have you?" Miss Smith's hand trembled a bit.
Ah, that splendid strength of young womanhood--if only she herself had
it! But perhaps Zora was the chosen one. She reached up and took down a
well-worn book.

"Zora," she said slowly, "I've been going to tell you ever since you
came, but I hadn't the courage. Zora," Miss Smith hesitated and gripped
the book with thin white fingers, "I'm afraid--I almost know that this
school is doomed."

There lay a silence in the room while the two women stared into each
other's souls with startled eyes. Swallowing hard, Miss Smith spoke.

"When I thought the endowment sure, I mortgaged the school in order to
buy Tolliver's land. The endowment failed, as you know, because--perhaps
I was too stubborn."

But Zora's eyes snapped "No!" and Miss Smith continued:

"I borrowed ten thousand dollars. Then I tried to get the land, but
Tolliver kept putting me off, and finally I learned that Colonel
Cresswell had bought it. It seems that Tolliver got caught tight in the
cotton corner, and that Cresswell, through John Taylor, offered him
twice what he had agreed to sell to me for, and he took it. I don't
suppose Taylor knew what he was doing; I hope he didn't.

"Well, there I was with ten thousand dollars idle on my hands, paying
ten per cent on it and getting less than three per cent. I tried to get
the bank to take the money back, but they refused. Then I was
tempted--and fell." She paused, and Zora took both her hands in her own.

"You see," continued Miss Smith, "just as soon as the announcement of
the prospective endowment was sent broadcast by the press, the donations
from the North fell off. Letter after letter came from old friends of
the school full of congratulations, but no money. I ought to have cut
down the teaching force to the barest minimum, and gone North
begging--but I couldn't. I guess my courage was gone. I knew how I'd
have to explain and plead, and I just could not. So I used the ten
thousand dollars to pay its own interest and help run the school.
Already it's half gone, and when the rest goes then will come the end."

Without, the great red sun paused a moment over the edge of the swamp,
and the long, low cry of night birds broke sadly on the twilight
silence. Zora sat stroking the lined hands.

"Not the end," she spoke confidently. "It cannot end like this. I've got
a little money that Mrs. Vanderpool gave me, and somehow we must get
more. Perhaps I might go North and--beg." She shivered. Then she sat up
resolutely and turned to the book.

"Let's go over matters carefully," she proposed.

Together they counted and calculated.

"The balance is four thousand seven hundred and ninety-eight dollars,"
said Miss Smith.

"Yes, and then there's Mrs. Vanderpool's check."

"How much is that?"

Zora paused; she did not know. In her world there was little calculation
of money. Credit and not cash is the currency of the Black Belt. She had
been pleased to receive the check, but she had not examined it.

"I really don't know," she presently confessed. "I think it was one
thousand dollars; but I was so hurried in leaving that I didn't look
carefully," and the wild thought surged in her, suppose it was more!

She ran into the other room and plunged into her trunk; beneath the
clothes, beneath the beauty of the Silver Fleece, till her fingers
clutched and tore the envelope. A little choking cry burst from her
throat, her knees trembled so that she was obliged to sit down.

In her fingers fluttered a check for--_ten thousand dollars!_

It was not until the next day that the two women were sufficiently
composed to talk matters over sanely.

"What is your plan?" asked Zora.

"To put the money in a Northern savings bank at three per cent interest;
to supply the rest of the interest, and the deficit in the running
expenses, from our balance, and to send you North to beg."

Zora shook her head. "It won't do," she objected. "I'd make a poor
beggar; I don't know human nature well enough, and I can't talk to rich
white folks the way they expect us to talk."

"It wouldn't be hypocrisy, Zora; you would be serving in a great cause.
If you don't go, I--"

"Wait! You sha'n't go. If any one goes it must be me. But let's think it
out: we pay off the mortgage, we get enough to run the school as it has
been run. Then what? There will still be slavery and oppression all
around us. The children will be kept in the cotton fields; the men will
be cheated, and the women--" Zora paused and her eyes grew hard.

She began again rapidly: "We must have land--our own farm with our own
tenants--to be the beginning of a free community."

Miss Smith threw up her hands impatiently.

"But sakes alive! Where, Zora? Where can we get land, with Cresswell
owning every inch and bound to destroy us?"

Zora sat hugging her knees and staring out the window toward the sombre
ramparts of the swamp. In her eyes lay slumbering the madness of long
ago; in her brain danced all the dreams and visions of childhood.

"I'm thinking," she murmured, "of buying the swamp."




_Thirty-three_

THE BUYING OF THE SWAMP


"It's a shame," asserted John Taylor with something like real feeling.
He was spending Sunday with his father-in-law, and both, over their
after-dinner cigars, were gazing thoughtfully at the swamp.

"What's a shame?" asked Colonel Cresswell.

"To see all that timber and prime cotton-land going to waste. Don't you
remember those fine bales of cotton that came out of there several
seasons ago?"

The Colonel smoked placidly. "You can't get it cleared," he said.

"But couldn't you hire some good workers?"

"Niggers won't work. Now if we had Italians we might do it."

"Yes, and in a few years they'd own the country."

"That's right; so there we are. There's only one way to get that swamp
cleared."

"How?"

"Sell it to some fool darkey."

"Sell it? It's too valuable to sell."

"That's just it. You don't understand. The only way to get decent work
out of some niggers is to let them believe they're buying land. In nine
cases out of ten he works hard a while and then throws up the job. We
get back our land and he makes good wages for his work."

"But in the tenth case--suppose he should stick to it?"

"Oh,"--easily, "we could get rid of him when we want to. White people
rule here."

John Taylor frowned and looked a little puzzled. He was no moralist, but
he had his code and he did not understand Colonel Cresswell. As a matter
of fact, Colonel Cresswell was an honest man. In most matters of
commerce between men he was punctilious to a degree almost annoying to
Taylor. But there was one part of the world which his code of honor did
not cover, and he saw no incongruity in the omission. The uninitiated
cannot easily picture to himself the mental attitude of a former
slaveholder toward property in the hands of a Negro. Such property
belonged of right to the master, if the master needed it; and since
ridiculous laws safeguarded the property, it was perfectly permissible
to circumvent such laws. No Negro starved on the Cresswell place,
neither did any accumulate property. Colonel Cresswell saw to both
matters.

As the Colonel and John Taylor were thus conferring, Zora appeared,
coming up the walk.

"Who's that?" asked the Colonel shading his eyes.

"It's Zora--the girl who went North with Mrs. Vanderpool," Taylor
enlightened him.

"Back, is she? Too trifling to stick to a job, and full of Northern
nonsense," growled the Colonel. "Even got a Northern walk--I thought for
a moment she was a lady."

Neither of the gentlemen ever dreamed how long, how hard, how
heart-wringing was that walk from the gate up the winding way beneath
their careless gaze. It was not the coming of the thoughtless, careless
girl of five years ago who had marched a dozen times unthinking before
the faces of white men. It was the approach of a woman who knew how the
world treated women whom it respected; who knew that no such treatment
would be thought of in her case: neither the bow, the lifted hat, nor
even the conventional title of decency. Yet she must go on naturally and
easily, boldly but circumspectly, and play a daring game with two
powerful men.

"Can I speak with you a moment, Colonel?" she asked.

The Colonel did not stir or remove his cigar; he even injected a little
gruffness into his tone.

"Well, what is it?"

Of course, she was not asked to sit, but she stood with her hands
clasped loosely before her and her eyes half veiled.

"Colonel, I've got a thousand dollars." She did not mention the other
nine.

The Colonel sat up.

"Where did you get it?" he asked.

"Mrs. Vanderpool gave it to me to use in helping the colored people."

"What are you going to do with it?"

"Well, that's just what I came to see you about. You see, I might give
it to the school, but I've been thinking that I'd like to buy some land
for some of the tenants."

"I've got no land to sell," said the Colonel.

"I was thinking you might sell a bit of the swamp."

Cresswell and Taylor glanced at each other and the Colonel re-lit his
cigar.

"How much of it?" he asked finally.

"I don't know; I thought perhaps two hundred acres."

"Two hundred acres? Do you expect to buy that land for five dollars an
acre?"

"Oh, no, sir. I thought it might cost as much as twenty-five dollars."

"But you've only got a thousand dollars."

"Yes, sir; I thought I might pay that down and then pay the rest from
the crops."

"Who's going to work on the place?"

Zora named a number of the steadiest tenants to whom she had spoken.

"They owe me a lot of money," said the Colonel.

"We'd try to pay that, too."

Colonel Cresswell considered. There was absolutely no risk. The cost of
the land, the back debts of the tenants--no possible crops could pay for
them. Then there was the chance of getting the swamp cleared for almost
nothing.

"How's the school getting on?" he asked suddenly.

"Very poorly," answered Zora sadly. "You know it's mortgaged, and Miss
Smith has had to use the mortgage money for yearly expenses."

The Colonel smiled grimly.

"It will cost you fifty dollars an acre," he said finally. Zora looked
disappointed and figured out the matter slowly.

"That would be one thousand down and nine thousand to pay--"

"With interest," said Cresswell.

Zora shook her head doubtfully.

"What would the interest be?" she asked.

"Ten per cent."

She stood silent a moment and Colonel Cresswell spoke up:

"It's the best land about here and about the only land you can buy--I
wouldn't sell it to anybody else."

She still hesitated.

"The trouble is, you see, Colonel Cresswell, the price is high and the
interest heavy. And after all I may not be able to get as many tenants
as I'd need. I think though, I'd try it if--if I could be sure you'd
treat me fairly, and that I'd get the land if I paid for it."

Colonel Cresswell reddened a little, and John Taylor looked away.

"Well, if you don't want to undertake it, all right."

Zora looked thoughtfully across the field--

"Mr. Maxwell has a bit of land," she began meditatively.

"Worked out, and not worth five dollars an acre!" snapped the Colonel.
But he did not propose to hand Maxwell a thousand dollars. "Now, see
here, I'll treat you as well as anybody, and you know it."

"I believe so, sir," acknowledged Zora in a tone that brought a sudden
keen glance from Taylor; but her face was a mask. "I reckon I'll make
the bargain."

"All right. Bring the money and we'll fix the thing up."

"The money is here," said Zora, taking an envelope out of her bosom.

"Well, leave it here, and I'll see to it."

"But you see, sir, Miss Smith is so methodical; she expects some papers
or receipts."

"Well, it's too late tonight."

"Possibly you could sign a sort of receipt and later--"

Cresswell laughed. "Well, write one," he indulgently assented. And Zora
wrote.

When Zora left Colonel Cresswell's about noon that Sunday she knew her
work had just begun, and she walked swiftly along the country roads,
calling here and there. Would Uncle Isaac help her build a log home?
Would the boys help her some time to clear some swamp land? Would Rob
become a tenant when she asked? For this was the idle time of the year.
Crops were laid by and planting had not yet begun.

This too was the time of big church meetings. She knew that in her part
of the country on that day the black population, man, woman, and child,
were gathered in great groups; all day they had been gathering,
streaming in snake-like lines along the country roads, in well-brushed,
brilliant attire, half fantastic, half crude. Down where the
Toomsville-Montgomery highway dipped to the stream that fed the
Cresswell swamp squatted a square barn that slept through day and weeks
in dull indifference. But on the First Sunday it woke to sudden mighty
life. The voices of men and children mingled with the snorting of
animals and the cracking of whips. Then came the long drone and
sing-song of the preacher with its sharp wilder climaxes and the
answering "amens" and screams of the worshippers. This was the shrine of
the Baptists--shrine and oracle, centre and source of inspiration--and
hither Zora hurried.

The preacher was Jones, a big man, fat, black, and greasy, with little
eyes, unctuous voice, and three manners: his white folks manner, soft,
humble, wheedling; his black folks manner, voluble, important,
condescending; and above all, his pulpit manner, loud, wild, and strong.
He was about to don this latter cloak when Zora approached with a
request briefly to address the congregation. Remembering some former
snubs, his manner was lordly.

"I doesn't see," he returned reflectively, wiping his brows, "as how I
can rightly spare you any time; the brethren is a-gettin' mighty
onpatient to hear me." He pulled down his cuffs, regarding her
doubtfully.

"I might speak after you're through," she suggested. But he objected
that there was the regular collection and two or three other
collections, a baptism, a meeting of the trustees; there was no time, in
short; but--he eyed her again.

"Does you want--a collection?" he questioned suspiciously, for he could
imagine few other reasons for talking. Then, too, he did not want to be
too inflexible, for all of his people knew Zora and liked her.

"Oh, no, I want no collection at all. I only want a little voluntary
work on their part." He looked relieved, frowned through the door at the
audience, and looked at his bright gold watch. The whole crowd was not
there yet--perhaps--

"You kin say just a word before the sermont," he finally yielded; "but
not long--not long. They'se just a-dying to hear me."

So Zora spoke simply but clearly: of neglect and suffering, of the sins
of others that bowed young shoulders, of the great hope of the
children's future. Then she told something of what she had seen and read
of the world's newer ways of helping men and women. She talked of
cooperation and refuges and other efforts; she praised their way of
adopting children into their own homes; and then finally she told them
of the land she was buying for new tenants and the helping hands she
needed. The preacher fidgeted and coughed but dared not actually
interrupt, for the people were listening breathless to a kind of
straightforward talk which they seldom heard and for which they were
hungering.

And Zora forgot time and occasion. The moments flew; the crowd increased
until the wonderful spell of those dark and upturned faces pulsed in her
blood. She felt the wild yearning to help them beating in her ears and
blinding her eyes.

"Oh, my people!" she almost sobbed. "My own people, I am not asking you
to help others; I am pleading with you to help yourselves. Rescue your
own flesh and blood--free yourselves--free yourselves!" And from the
swaying sobbing hundreds burst a great "Amen!" The minister's dusky face
grew more and more sombre, and the angry sweat started on his brow. He
felt himself hoaxed and cheated, and he meant to have his revenge. Two
hundred men and women rose and pledged themselves to help Zora; and when
she turned with overflowing heart to thank the preacher he had left the
platform, and she found him in the yard whispering darkly with two
deacons. She realized her mistake, and promised to retrieve it during
the week; but the week was full of planning and journeying and talking.

Saturday dawned cool and clear. She had dinner prepared for cooking in
the yard: sweet potatoes, hoe-cake, and buttermilk, and a hog to be
barbecued. Everything was ready by eight o'clock in the morning. Emma
and two other girl helpers were on the tip-toe of expectancy. Nine
o'clock came and no one with it. Ten o'clock came, and eleven. High
noon found Zora peering down the highway under her shading hand, but no
soul in sight. She tried to think it out: what could have happened? Her
people were slow, tardy, but they would not thus forget her and
disappoint her without some great cause. She sent the girls home at dusk
and then seated herself miserably under the great oak; then at last one
half-grown boy hurried by.

"I wanted to come, Miss Zora, but I was afeared. Preacher Jones has been
talking everywhere against you. He says that your mother was a voodoo
woman and that you don't believe in God, and the deacons voted that the
members mustn't help you."

"And do the people believe that?" she asked in consternation.

"They just don't know what to say. They don't 'zactly believe it, but
they has to 'low that you didn't say much 'bout religion when you
talked. You ain't been near Big Meetin'--and--and--you ain't saved." He
hurried on.

Zora leaned her head back wearily, watching the laced black branches
where the star-light flickered through--as coldly still and immovable as
she had watched them from those gnarled roots all her life--and she
murmured bitterly the world-old question of despair: "What's the use?"
It seemed to her that every breeze and branch was instinct with
sympathy, and murmuring, "What's the use?" She wondered vaguely why, and
as she wondered, she knew.

For yonder where the black earth of the swamp heaved in a formless mound
she felt the black arms of Elspeth rising from the sod--gigantic,
mighty. They stole toward her with stealthy hands and claw-like talons.
They clutched at her skirts. She froze and could not move. Down, down
she slipped toward the black slime of the swamp, and the air about was
horror--down, down, till the chilly waters stung her knees; and then
with one grip she seized the oak, while the great hand of Elspeth
twisted and tore her soul. Faint, afar, nearer and nearer and ever
mightier, rose a song of mystic melody. She heard its human voice and
sought to cry aloud. She strove again and again with that gripping,
twisting pain--that awful hand--until the shriek came and she awoke.

She lay panting and sweating across the bent and broken roots of the
oak. The hand of Elspeth was gone but the song was still there. She rose
trembling and listened. It was the singing of the Big Meeting in the
church far away. She had forgotten this religious revival in her days of
hurried preparation, and the preacher had used her absence and apparent
indifference against her and her work. The hand of Elspeth was reaching
from the grave to pull her back; but she was no longer dreaming now.
Drawing her shawl about her, she hurried down the highway.

The meeting had overflowed the church and spread to the edge of the
swamp. The tops of young trees had been bent down and interlaced to form
a covering and benches twined to their trunks. Thus a low and wide
cathedral, all green and silver in the star-light, lay packed with a
living mass of black folk. Flaming pine torches burned above the
devotees; the rhythm of their stamping, the shout of their voices, and
the wild music of their singing shook the night. Four hundred people
fell upon their knees when the huge black preacher, uncoated, red-eyed,
frenzied, stretched his long arms to heaven. Zora saw the throng from
afar, and hesitated. After all, she knew little of this strange faith of
theirs--had little belief in its mummery. She herself had been brought
up almost without religion save some few mystic remnants of a
half-forgotten heathen cult. The little she had seen of religious
observance had not moved her greatly, save once yonder in Washington.
There she found God after a searching that had seared her soul; but He
had simply pointed the Way, and the way was human.

Humanity was near and real. She loved it. But if she talked again of
mere men would these devotees listen? Already the minister had spied her
tall form and feared her power. He set his powerful voice and the frenzy
of his hearers to crush her.

"Who is dis what talks of doing the Lord's work for Him? What does de
good Book say? Take no thought 'bout de morrow. Why is you trying to
make dis ole world better? I spits on the world! Come out from it. Seek
Jesus. Heaven is my home! Is it yo's?" "Yes," groaned the multitude. His
arm shot out and he pointed straight at Zora.

"Beware the ebil one!" he shouted, and the multitude moaned. "Beware of
dem dat calls ebil good. Beware of dem dat worships debbils; the debbils
dat crawl; de debbils what forgits God."

"Help him, Lord!" cried the multitude.

Zora stepped into the circle of light. A hush fell on the throng; the
preacher paused a moment, then started boldly forward with upraised
hands. Then a curious thing happened. A sharp cry arose far off down
toward the swamp and the sound of great footsteps coming, coming as from
the end of the world; there swelled a rhythmical chanting, wilder and
more primitive than song. On, on it came, until it swung into sight. An
old man led the band--tall, massive, with tufted gray hair and wrinkled
leathery skin, and his eyes were the eyes of death. He reached the
circle of light, and Zora started: once before she had seen that old
man. The singing stopped but he came straight on till he reached Zora's
side and then he whirled and spoke.

The words leaped and flew from his lips as he lashed the throng with
bitter fury. He said what Zora wanted to say with two great differences:
first, he spoke their religious language and spoke it with absolute
confidence and authority; and secondly, he seemed to know each one there
personally and intimately so that he spoke to no inchoate throng--he
spoke to them individually, and they listened awestruck and fearsome.

"God is done sent me," he declared in passionate tones, "to preach His
acceptable time. Faith without works is dead; who is you that dares to
set and wait for the Lord to do your work?" Then in sudden fury, "Ye
generation of vipers--who kin save you?" He bent forward and pointed his
long finger. "Yes," he cried, "pray, Sam Collins, you black devil; pray,
for the corn you stole Thursday." The black figure moved. "Moan, Sister
Maxwell, for the backbiting you did today. Yell, Jack Tolliver, you
sneaking scamp, t'wil the Lord tell Uncle Bill who ruined his daughter.
Weep, May Haynes, for that baby--"

But the woman's shriek drowned his words, and he whirled full on the
preacher, stamping his feet and waving his hands. His anger choked him;
the fat preacher cowered gray and trembling. The gaunt fanatic towered
over him.

"You--you--ornery hound of Hell! God never knowed you and the devil owns
your soul!" There leapt from his lips a denunciation so livid, specific,
and impassioned that the preacher squatted and bowed, then finally fell
upon his face and moaned.

The gaunt speaker turned again to the people. He talked of little
children; he pictured their sin and neglect. "God is done sent me to
offer you all salvation," he cried, while the people wept and wailed;
"not in praying, but in works. Follow me!" The hour was halfway between
midnight and dawn, but nevertheless the people leapt frenziedly to their
feet.

"Follow me!" he shouted.

And, singing and chanting, the throng poured out upon the black highway,
waving their torches. Zora knew his intention. With a half-dozen of
younger onlookers she unhitched teams and rode across the land, calling
at the cabins. Before sunrise, tools were in the swamp, axes and saws
and hammers. The noise of prayer and singing filled the Sabbath dawn.
The news of the great revival spread, and men and women came pouring in.
Then of a sudden the uproar stopped, and the ringing of axes and grating
of saws and tugging of mules was heard. The forest trembled as by some
mighty magic, swaying and falling with crash on crash. Huge bonfires
blazed and crackled, until at last a wide black scar appeared in the
thick south side of the swamp, which widened and widened to full twenty
acres.

The sun rose higher and higher till it blazed at high noon. The workers
dropped their tools. The aroma of coffee and roasting meat rose in the
dim cool shade. With ravenous appetites the dark, half-famished throng
fell upon the food, and then in utter weariness stretched themselves and
slept: lying along the earth like huge bronze earth-spirits, sitting
against trees, curled in dense bushes.

And Zora sat above them on a high rich-scented pile of logs. Her senses
slept save her sleepless eyes. Amid a silence she saw in the little
grove that still stood, the cabin of Elspeth tremble, sigh, and
disappear, and with it flew some spirit of evil.

Then she looked down to the new edge of the swamp, by the old lagoon,
and saw Bles Alwyn standing there. It seemed very natural; and closing
her eyes, she fell asleep.




_Thirty-four_

THE RETURN OF ALWYN


Bles Alwyn stared at Mrs. Harry Cresswell in surprise. He had not seen
her since that moment at the ball, and he was startled at the change.
Her abundant hair was gone; her face was pale and drawn, and there were
little wrinkles below her sunken eyes. In those eyes lurked the tired
look of the bewildered and the disappointed. It was in the lofty
waiting-room of the Washington station where Alwyn had come to meet a
friend. Mrs. Cresswell turned and recognized him with genuine pleasure.
He seemed somehow a part of the few things in the world--little and
unimportant perhaps--that counted and stood firm, and she shook his hand
cordially, not minding the staring of the people about. He took her bag
and carried it towards the gate, which made the observers breathe
easier, seeing him in servile duty. Someway, she knew not just how, she
found herself telling him of the crisis in her life before she realized;
not everything, of course, but a great deal. It was much as though she
were talking to some one from another world--an outsider; but one she
had known long, one who understood. Both from what she recounted and
what she could not tell he gathered the substance of the story, and it
bewildered him. He had not thought that white people had such troubles;
yet, he reflected, why not? They, too, were human.

"I suppose you hear from the school?" he ventured after a pause.

"Why, yes--not directly--but Zora used to speak of it."

Bles looked up quickly.

"Zora?"

"Yes. Didn't you see her while she was here? She has gone back now."

Then the gate opened, the crowd surged through, sweeping them apart, and
next moment he was alone.

Alwyn turned slowly away. He forgot the friend he was to meet. He forgot
everything but the field of the Silver Fleece. It rose shadowy there in
the pale concourse, swaying in ghostly breezes. The purple of its
flowers mingled with the silver radiance of tendrils that trembled
across the hurrying throng, like threads of mists along low hills. In
its midst rose a dark, slim, and quivering form. She had been here--here
in Washington! Why had he not known? What was she doing? "She has gone
back now"--back to the Sun and the Swamp, back to the Burden.

Why should not he go back, too? He walked on thinking. He had failed.
His apparent success had been too sudden, too overwhelming, and when he
had faced the crisis his hand had trembled. He had chosen the Right--but
the Right was ineffective, impotent, almost ludicrous. It left him
shorn, powerless, and in moral revolt. The world had suddenly left him,
as the vision of Carrie Wynn had left him, alone, a mere clerk, an
insignificant cog in the great grinding wheel of humdrum drudgery. His
chance to do and thereby to be had not come.

He thought of Zora again. Why not go back to the South where she had
gone? He shuddered as one who sees before him a cold black pool whither
his path leads. To face the proscription, the insult, the lawless hate
of the South again--never! And yet he went home and sat down and wrote a
long letter to Miss Smith.

The reply that came after some delay was almost curt. It answered few of
his questions, argued with none of his doubts, and made no mention of
Zora. Yes, there was need of a manager for the new farm and settlement.
She was not sure whether Alwyn could do the work or not. The salary was
meagre and the work hard. If he wished it, he must decide immediately.

Two weeks later found Alwyn on the train facing Southward in the Jim
Crow car. How he had decided to go back South he did not know. In fact,
he had not decided. He had sat helpless and inactive in the grip of
great and shadowed hands, and the thing was as yet incomprehensible. And
so it was that the vision Zora saw in the swamp had been real enough,
and Alwyn felt strangely disappointed that she had given no sign of
greeting on recognition.

In other ways, too, Zora, when he met her, was to him a new creature.
She came to him frankly and greeted him, her gladness shining in her
eyes, yet looking nothing more than gladness and saying nothing more.
Just what he had expected was hard to say; but he had left her on her
knees in the dirt with outstretched hands, and somehow he had expected
to return to some corresponding mental attitude. The physical change of
these three years was marvellous. The girl was a woman, well-rounded and
poised, tall, straight, and quick. And with this went mental change: a
self-mastery; a veiling of the self even in intimate talk; a subtle air
as of one looking from great and unreachable heights down on the dawn of
the world. Perhaps no one who had not known the child and the girl as he
had would have noted all this; but he saw and realized the
transformation with a pang--something had gone; the innocence and wonder
of the child, and in their place had grown up something to him
incomprehensible and occult.

Miss Smith was not to be easily questioned on the subject. She took no
hints and gave no information, and when once he hazarded some pointed
questions she turned on him abruptly, observing acidly: "If I were you
I'd think less of Zora and more of her work."

Gradually, in his spiritual perplexity, Alwyn turned to Mary Cresswell.
She was staying with the Colonel at Cresswell Oaks. Her coming South was
supposed to be solely for reasons of health, and her appearance made
this excuse plausible. She was lonely and restless, and naturally drawn
toward the school. Her intercourse with Miss Smith was only formal, but
her interest in Zora's work grew. Down in the swamp, at the edge of the
cleared space, had risen a log cabin; long, low, spacious, overhung with
oak and pine. It was Zora's centre for her settlement-work. There she
lived, and with her a half-dozen orphan girls and children too young for
the boarding department of the school. Mrs. Cresswell easily fell into
the habit of walking by here each day, coming down the avenue of oaks
across the road and into the swamp. She saw little of Zora personally
but she saw her girls and learned much of her plans.

The rooms of the cottage were clean and light, supplied with books and
pictures, simple toys, and a phonograph. The yard was one wide green and
golden play-ground, and all day the music of children's glad crooning
and the singing of girls went echoing and trembling through the trees,
as they played and sewed and washed and worked.

From the Cresswells and the Maxwells and others came loads of clothes
for washing and mending. The Tolliver girls had simple dresses made,
embroidery was ordered from town, and soon there would be the gardens
and cotton fields. Mrs. Cresswell would saunter down of mornings.
Sometimes she would talk to the big girls and play with the children;
sometimes she would sit hidden in the forest, listening and glimpsing
and thinking, thinking, till her head whirled and the world danced red
before her eyes, today she rose wearily, for it was near noon, and
started home. She saw Alwyn swing along the road to the school
dining-room where he had charge of the students at the noonday meal.

Alwyn wanted Mrs. Cresswell's judgment and advice. He was growing
doubtful of his own estimate of women. Evidently something about his
standards was wrong; consequently he made opportunities to talk with
Mrs. Cresswell when she was about, hoping she would bring up the subject
of Zora of her own accord. But she did not. She was too full of her own
cares and troubles, and she was only too glad of willing and sympathetic
ears into which to pour her thoughts. Miss Smith soon began to look on
these conversations with some uneasiness. Black men and white women
cannot talk together casually in the South and she did not know how far
the North had put notions in Alwyn's head.

Today both met each other almost eagerly.

Mrs. Cresswell had just had a bit of news which only he would fully
appreciate.

"Have you heard of the Vanderpools?" she asked.

"No--except that he was appointed and confirmed at last."

"Well, they had only arrived in France when he died of apoplexy. I do
not know," added Mrs. Cresswell, "I may be wrong and--I hope I'm not
glad." Then there leapt to her mind a hypothetical question which had to
do with her own curious situation. It was characteristic of her to brood
and then restlessly to seek relief in consulting the one person near who
knew her story. She started to open the subject again today.

But Alwyn, his own mind full, spoke first and rapidly. He, too, had
turned to her as he saw her come from Zora's home. He must know more
about the girl. He could no longer endure this silence. Zora beneath her
apparent frankness was impenetrable, and he felt that she carefully
avoided him, although she did it so deftly that he felt rather than
observed it. Miss Smith still systematically snubbed him when he
broached the subject of Zora. With others he did not speak; the matter
seemed too delicate and sacred, and he always had an awful dread lest
sometime, somewhere, a chance and fatal word would be dropped, a breath
of evil gossip which would shatter all. He had hated to obtrude his
troubles on Mrs. Cresswell, who seemed so torn in soul. But today he
must speak, although time pressed.

"Mrs. Cresswell," he began hurriedly, "there's a matter--a personal
matter of which I have wanted to speak--a long time--I--" The
dinner-bell rang, and he stopped, vexed.

"Come up to the house this afternoon," she said; "Colonel Cresswell will
be away--" Then she paused abruptly. A strange startling thought flashed
through her brain. Alwyn noticed nothing. He thanked her cordially and
hurried toward the dining-hall, meeting Colonel Cresswell on horseback
just as he turned into the school gate.

Mary Cresswell walked slowly on, flushing and paling by turns. Could it
be that this Negro had dared to misunderstand her--had presumed? She
reviewed her conduct. Perhaps she had been indiscreet in thus making a
confidant of him in her trouble. She had thought of him as a boy--an old
student, a sort of confidential servant; but what had he thought? She
remembered Miss Smith's warning of years before--and he had been North
since and acquired Northern notions of freedom and equality. She bit her
lip cruelly.

Yet, she mused, she was herself to blame. She had unwittingly made the
intimacy and he was but a Negro, looking on every white woman as a
goddess and ready to fawn at the slightest encouragement. There had been
no one else here to confide in. She could not tell Miss Smith her
troubles, although she knew Miss Smith must suspect. Harry Cresswell,
apparently, had written nothing home of their quarrel. All the neighbors
behaved as if her excuse of ill-health were sufficient to account for
her return South to escape the rigors of a Northern winter. Alwyn, and
Alwyn alone, really knew. Well, it was her blindness, and she must right
it quietly and quickly with hard ruthless plainness. She blushed again
at the shame of it; then she began to excuse.

After all, which was worse--a Cresswell or an Alwyn? It was no sin that
Alwyn had done; it was simply ignorant presumption, and she must correct
him firmly, but gently, like a child. What a crazy muddle the world was!
She thought of Harry Cresswell and the tale he told her in the swamp.
She thought of the flitting ghosts that awful night in Washington. She
thought of Miss Wynn who had jilted Alwyn and given her herself a very
bad quarter of an hour. What a world it was, and after all how far was
this black boy wrong? Just then Colonel Cresswell rode up behind and
greeted her.

She started almost guiltily, and again a sense of the awkwardness of her
position reddened her face and neck. The Colonel dismounted, despite her
protest, and walked beside her. They chatted along indifferently, of the
crops, her brother's new baby, the proposed mill.

"Mary," his voice abruptly struck a new note. "I don't like the way you
talk with that Alwyn nigger."

She was silent.

"Of course," he continued, "you're Northern born and you have been a
teacher in this school and feel differently from us in some ways; but
mark what I say, a nigger will presume on the slightest pretext, and you
must keep them in their place. Then, too, you are a Cresswell now--"

She smiled bitterly; he noticed it, but went on:

"You are a Cresswell, even if you have caught Harry up to some of his
deviltry,"--she started,--"and got miffed about it. It'll all come out
right. You're a Cresswell, and you must hold yourself too high to
'Mister' a nigger or let him dream of any sort of equality."

He spoke pleasantly, but with a certain sharp insistence that struck a
note of fear in Mary's heart. For a moment she thought of writing Alwyn
not to call. But, no; a note would be unwise. She and Colonel Cresswell
lunched rather silently.

"Well, I must get to town," he finally announced. "The mill directors
meet today. If Maxwell calls by about that lumber tell him I'll see him
in town." And away he went.

He had scarcely reached the highway and ridden a quarter of a mile or
so when he spied Bles Alwyn hurrying across the field toward the
Cresswell Oaks. He frowned and rode on. Then reining in his horse, he
stopped in the shadow of the trees and watched Alwyn.

It was here that Zora saw him as she came up from her house. She, too,
stopped, and soon saw whom he was watching. She had been planning to see
Mr. Cresswell about the cut timber on her land. By legal right it was
hers but she knew he would claim half, treating her like a mere tenant.
Seeing him watching Alwyn she paused in the shadow and waited, fearing
trouble. She, too, had felt that the continued conversations of Alwyn
and Mrs. Cresswell were indiscreet, but she hoped that they had
attracted no one else's attention. Now she feared the Colonel was
suspicious and her heart sank. Alwyn went straight toward the house and
disappeared in the oak avenue. Still Colonel Cresswell waited but Zora
waited no longer. Alwyn must be warned. She must reach Cresswell's
mansion before Cresswell did and without him seeing her. This meant a
long detour of the swamp to approach the Oaks from the west. She
silently gathered up her skirts and walked quickly and carefully away.

She was a strong woman, lithe and vigorous, living in the open air and
used to walking. Once out of hearing she threw away her hat and bending
forward ran through the swamp. For a while she ran easily and swiftly.
Then for a moment she grew dizzy and it seemed as though she was
standing still and the swamp in solemn grandeur marching past--in solemn
mocking grandeur. She loosened her dress at the neck and flew on.

She sped at last through the oaks, up the terraces, and slowing down to
an unsteady walk, staggered into the house. No one would wonder at her
being there. She came up now and then and sorted the linen and piled the
baskets for her girls. She entered a side door and listened. The
Colonel's voice sounded impatiently in the front hall.

"Mary! Mary?"

A pause, then an answer:

"Yes, father!"

He started up the front stairway and Zora hurried up the narrow back
stairs, almost overturning a servant.

"I'm after the clothes," she explained. She reached the back landing
just in time to see Colonel Cresswell's head rising up the front
staircase. With a quick bound she almost fell into the first room at the
top of the stairs.

Bles Alwyn had hurried through his dinner duties and hastened to the
Oaks. The questions, the doubts, the uncertainty within him were
clamoring for utterance. How much had Mrs. Cresswell ever known of Zora?
What kind of a woman was Zora now? Mrs. Cresswell had seen her and had
talked to her and watched her. What did she think? Thus he formulated
his questions as he went, half timid, and fearful in putting them and
yet determined to know.

Mrs. Cresswell, waiting for him, was almost panic-stricken. Probably he
would beat round the bush seeking further encouragement; but at the
slightest indication she must crush him ruthlessly and at the same time
point the path of duty. He ought to marry some good girl--not Zora, but
some one. Somehow Zora seemed too unusual and strange for him--too
inhuman, as Mary Cresswell judged humanity. She glanced out from her
seat on the upper verandah over the front porch and saw Alwyn coming.
Where should she receive him? On the porch and have Mr. Maxwell ride up?
In the parlor and have the servants astounded and talking? If she took
him up to her own sitting-room the servants would think he was doing
some work or fetching something for the school. She greeted him briefly
and asked him in.

"Good-afternoon, Bles"--using his first name to show him his place, and
then inwardly recoiling at its note of familiarity. She preceded him
up-stairs to the sitting-room, where, leaving the door ajar, she seated
herself on the opposite side of the room and waited.

He fidgeted, then spoke rapidly.

"Mrs. Cresswell--this is a personal affair." She reddened angrily. "A
love affair"--she paled with something like fear--"and I"--she started
to speak, but could not--"I want to know what you think about Zora?"

"About Zora!" she gasped weakly. The sudden reaction, the revulsion of
her agitated feelings, left her breathless.

"About Zora. You know I loved her dearly as a boy--how dearly I have
only just begun to realize: I've been wondering if I understood--if I
wasn't--"

Mrs. Cresswell got angrily to her feet.

"You have come here to speak to me of that--that--" she choked, and Bles
thought his worst fears realized.

"Mary, Mary!" Colonel Cresswell's voice broke suddenly in upon them.
With a start of fear Mrs. Cresswell rushed out into the hall and closed
the door.

"Mary, has that Alwyn nigger been here this afternoon?" Mr. Cresswell
was coming up-stairs, carrying his riding whip.

"Why, no!" she answered, lying instinctively before she quite realized
what her lie meant. She hesitated. "That is, I haven't seen him. I must
have nodded over my book,"--looking toward the little verandah at the
front of the upper hall, where her easy chair stood with her book. Then
with an awful flash of enlightenment she realized what her lie might
mean, and her heart paused.

Cresswell strode up.

"I saw him come up--he must have entered. He's nowhere downstairs," he
wavered and scowled. "Have you been in your sitting-room?" And then, not
waiting for a reply, he strode to the door.

"But the damned scoundrel wouldn't dare!"

He deliberately placed his hand in his right-hand hip-pocket and threw
open the door.

Mary Cresswell stood frozen. The full horror of the thing burst upon
her. Her own silly misapprehension, the infatuation of Alwyn for Zora,
her thoughtless--no, vindictive--betrayal of him to something worse than
death. She listened for the crack of doom. She heard a bird singing far
down in the swamp; she heard the soft raising of a window and the
closing of a door. And then--great God in heaven! must she live forever
in this agony?--and then, she heard the door bang and Mr. Cresswell's
gruff voice--

"Well, where is he?--he isn't in there!"

Mary Cresswell felt that something was giving way within. She swayed and
would have crashed to the bottom of the staircase if just then she had
not seen at the opposite end of the hall, near the back stairs, Zora and
Alwyn emerge calmly from a room, carrying a basket full of clothes.
Colonel Cresswell stared at them, and Zora instinctively put up her hand
and fastened her dress at the throat. The Colonel scowled, for it was
all clear to him now.

"Look here," he angrily opened upon them, "if you niggers want to meet
around keep out of this house; hereafter I'll send the clothes down. By
God, if you want to make love go to the swamp!" He stamped down the
stairs while an ashy paleness stole beneath the dark-red bronze of
Zora's face.

They walked silently down the road together--the old familiar road.
Alwyn was staring moodily ahead.

"We must get married--before Christmas, Zora," he presently avowed, not
looking at her. He felt the basket pause and he glanced up. Her dark
eyes were full upon him and he saw something in their depths that
brought him to himself and made him realize his blunder.

"Zora!" he stammered, "forgive me! Will you marry me?"

She looked at him calmly with infinite compassion. But her reply was
uttered unhesitantly; distinct, direct.

"No, Bles."




_Thirty-five_

THE COTTON MILL


The people of Toomsville started in their beds and listened. A new song
was rising on the air: a harsh, low, murmuring croon that shook the
village ranged around its old square of dilapadated stores. It was not a
song of joy; it was not a song of sorrow; it was not a song at all,
perhaps, but a confused whizzing and murmuring, as of a thousand
ill-tuned, busy voices. Some of the listeners wondered; but most of the
town cried joyfully, "It's the new cotton-mill!"

John Taylor's head teemed with new schemes. The mill trust of the North
was at last a fact. The small mills had not been able to buy cotton when
it was low because Cresswell was cornering it in the name of the
Farmers' League; now that it was high they could not afford to, and many
surrendered to the trust.

"Next thing," wrote Taylor to Easterly, "is to reduce cost of
production. Too much goes in wages. Gradually transfer mills South."

Easterly argued that the labor was too unskilled in the South and that
to send Northern spinners down would spread labor troubles. Taylor
replied briefly: "Never fear; we'll scare them with a vision of niggers
in the mills!"

Colonel Cresswell was not so easily won over to the new scheme. In the
first place he was angry because the school, which he had come to regard
as on its last legs, somehow still continued to flourish. The
ten-thousand-dollar mortgage had but three more years, and that would
end all; but he had hoped for a crash even earlier. Instead of this,
Miss Smith was cheerfully expanding the work, hiring new teachers, and
especially she had brought to help her two young Negroes whom he
suspected. Colonel Cresswell had prevented the Tolliver land sale, only
to be inveigled himself into Zora's scheme which now began to worry him.
He must evict Zora's tenants as soon as the crops were planted and
harvested. There was nothing unjust about such a course, he argued, for
Negroes anyway were too lazy and shiftless to buy the land. They would
not, they could not, work without driving. All this he imparted to John
Taylor, to which that gentleman listened carefully.

"H'm, I see," he owned. "And I know the way out."

"How?"

"A cotton mill in Toomsville."

"What's that got to do with it?"

"Bring in whites."

"But I don't want poor white trash; I'd sooner have niggers."

"Now, see here," argued Taylor, "you can't have everything you
want--day's gone by for aristocracy of old kind. You must have
neighbors: choose, then, white or black. I say white."

"But they'll rule us--out-vote us--marry our daughters," warmly objected
the Colonel.

"Some of them may--most of them won't. A few of them with brains will
help us rule the rest with money. We'll plant cotton mills beside the
cotton fields, use whites to keep niggers in their place, and the fear
of niggers to keep the poorer whites in theirs."

The Colonel looked thoughtful.

"There's something in that," he confessed after a while; "but it's a
mighty big experiment, and it may go awry."

"Not with brains and money to guide it. And at any rate, we've got to
try it; it's the next logical step, and we must take it."

"But in the meantime, I'm not going to give up good old methods; I'm
going to set the sheriff behind these lazy niggers," said the Colonel;
"and I'm going to stop that school putting notions into their heads."

In three short months the mill at Toomsville was open and its wheels
whizzing to the boundless pride of the citizens.

"Our enterprise, sir!" they said to the strangers on the strength of the
five thousand dollars locally invested.

Once it had vigor to sing, the song of the mill knew no resting; morning
and evening, day and night it crooned its rhythmic tune; only during the
daylight Sundays did its murmur die to a sibilant hiss. All the week its
doors were filled with the coming and going of men and women and
children: many men, more women, and greater and greater throngs of
children. It seemed to devour children, sitting with its myriad eyes
gleaming and its black maw open, drawing in the pale white mites,
sucking their blood and spewing them out paler and ever paler. The face
of the town began to change, showing a ragged tuberculous looking side
with dingy homes in short and homely rows.

There came gradually a new consciousness to the town. Hitherto town and
country had been ruled by a few great landlords but at the very first
election, Colton, an unknown outsider, had beaten the regular candidate
for sheriff by such a majority that the big property owners dared not
count him out. They had, however, an earnest consultation with John
Taylor.

"It's just as I said," growled Colonel Cresswell, "if you don't watch
out our whole plantation system will be ruined and we'll be governed by
this white trash from the hills."

"There's only one way," sighed Caldwell, the merchant; "we've got to
vote the niggers."

John Taylor laughed. "Nonsense!" he spurned the suggestion. "You're
old-fashioned. Let the mill-hands have the offices. What good will it
do?"

"What good! Why, they'll do as they please with us."

"Bosh! Don't we own the mill? Can't we keep wages where we like by
threatening to bring in nigger labor?"

"No, you can't, permanently," Maxwell disputed, "for they sometime will
call your bluff."

"Let 'em call," said Taylor, "and we'll put niggers in the mills."

"What!" ejaculated the landlords in chorus. Only Maxwell was silent.
"And kill the plantation system?"

"Oh, maybe some time, of course. But not for years; not until you've
made your pile. You don't really expect to keep the darkies down
forever, do you?"

"No, I don't," Maxwell slowly admitted. "This system can't last
always--sometimes I think it can't last long. It's wrong, through and
through. It's built on ignorance, theft, and force, and I wish to God we
had courage enough to overthrow it and take the consequences. I wish it
was possible to be a Southerner and a Christian and an honest man, to
treat niggers and dagoes and white trash like men, and be big enough to
say, 'To Hell with consequences!'"

Colonel Cresswell stared at his neighbor, speechless with bewilderment
and outraged traditions. Such unbelievable heresy from a Northerner or a
Negro would have been natural; but from a Southerner whose father had
owned five hundred slaves--it was incredible! The other landlords
scarcely listened; they were dogged and impatient and they could suggest
no remedy. They could only blame the mill for their troubles.

John Taylor left the conference blithely. "No," he said to the
committee from the new mill-workers' union. "Can't raise wages,
gentlemen, and can't lessen hours. Mill is just started and not yet
paying expenses. You're getting better wages than you ever got. If you
don't want to work, quit. There are plenty of others, white and black,
who want your jobs."

The mention of black people as competitors for wages was like a red rag
to a bull. The laborers got together and at the next election they made
a clean sweep, judge, sheriff, two members of the legislature, and the
registrars of votes. Undoubtedly the following year they would capture
Harry Cresswell's seat in Congress.

The result was curious. From two sides, from landlord and white laborer,
came renewed oppression of black men. The laborers found that their
political power gave them little economic advantage as long as the
threatening cloud of Negro competition loomed ahead. There was some talk
of a strike, but Colton, the new sheriff, discouraged it.

"I tell you, boys, where the trouble lies: it's the niggers. They live
on nothing and take any kind of treatment, and they keep wages down. If
you strike, they'll get your jobs, sure. We'll just have to grin and
bear it a while, but get back at the darkies whenever you can. I'll
stick 'em into the chain-gang every chance I get."

On the other hand, inspired by fright, the grip of the landlords on the
black serfs closed with steadily increasing firmness. They saw one class
rising from beneath them to power, and they tightened the chains on the
other. Matters simmered on in this way, and the only party wholly
satisfied with conditions was John Taylor and the few young Southerners
who saw through his eyes. He was making money. The landlords, on the
contrary, were losing power and prestige, and their farm labor, despite
strenuous efforts, was drifting to town attracted by new and incidental
work and higher wages. The mill-hands were more and more overworked and
underpaid, and hated the Negroes for it in accordance with their
leaders' directions.

At the same time the oppressed blacks and scowling mill-hands could not
help recurring again and again to the same inarticulate thought which no
one was brave enough to voice. Once, however, it came out flatly. It was
when Zora, crowding into the village courthouse to see if she could not
help Aunt Rachel's accused boy, found herself beside a gaunt, overworked
white woman. The woman was struggling with a crippled child and Zora,
turning, lifted him carefully for the weak mother, who thanked her half
timidly. "That mill's about killed him," she said.

At this juncture the manacled boy was led into court, and the woman
suddenly turned again to Zora.

"Durned if I don't think these white slaves and black slaves had ought
ter git together," she declared.

"I think so, too," Zora agreed.

Colonel Cresswell himself caught the conversation and it struck him with
a certain dismay. Suppose such a conjunction should come to pass? He
edged over to John Taylor and spoke to him; but Taylor, who had just
successfully stopped a suit for damages to the injured boy, merely
shrugged his shoulders.

"What's this nigger charged with?" demanded the Judge when the first
black boy was brought up before him.

"Breaking his labor contract."

"Any witnesses?"

"I have the contract here," announced the sheriff. "He refuses to work."

"A year, or one hundred dollars."

Colonel Cresswell paid his fine, and took him in charge.

"What's the charge here?" said the Judge, pointing to Aunt Rachel's boy.

"Attempt to kill a white man."

"Any witnesses?"

"None except the victim."

"And I," said Zora, coming forward.

Both the sheriff and Colonel Cresswell stared at her. Of course, she was
simply a black girl but she was an educated woman, who knew things about
the Cresswell plantations that it was unnecessary to air in court. The
newly elected Judge had not yet taken his seat, and Cresswell's word was
still law in the court. He whispered to the Judge.

"Case postponed," said the Court.

The sheriff scowled.

"Wait till Jim gets on the bench," he growled.

The white bystanders, however, did not seem enthusiastic and one man--he
was a Northern spinner--spoke out plainly.

"It's none o' my business, of course. I've been fired and I'm damned
glad of it. But see here: if you mutts think you're going to beat these
big blokes at their own game of cheating niggers you're daffy. You take
this from me: get together with the niggers and hold up this whole
capitalist gang. If you don't get the niggers first, they'll use 'em as
a club to throw you down. You hear me," and he departed for the train.

Colton was suspicious. The sentiment of joining with the Negroes did not
seem to arouse the bitter resentment he expected. There even came
whispers to his ears that he had sold out to the landlords, and there
was enough truth in the report to scare him. Thus to both parties came
the uncomfortable spectre of the black men, and both sides went to work
to lay the ghost.

Particularly was Colonel Cresswell stirred to action. He realized that
in Bles and Zora he was dealing with a younger class of educated black
folk, who were learning to fight with new weapons. They were, he was
sure, as dissolute and weak as their parents, but they were shrewder and
more aspiring. They must be crushed, and crushed quickly. To this end he
had recourse to two sources of help--Johnson and the whites in town.

Johnson was what Colonel Cresswell repeatedly called "a faithful
nigger." He was one of those constitutionally timid creatures into whom
the servility of his fathers had sunk so deep that it had become
second-nature. To him a white man was an archangel, while the
Cresswells, his father's masters, stood for God. He served them with
dog-like faith, asking no reward, and for what he gave in reverence to
them, he took back in contempt for his fellows--"niggers!" He applied
the epithet with more contempt than the Colonel himself could express.
To the Negroes he was a "white folk's nigger," to be despised and
feared.

To him Colonel Cresswell gave a few pregnant directions. Then he rode to
town, and told Taylor again of his fears of a labor movement which would
include whites and blacks. Taylor could not see any great danger.

"Of course," he conceded, "they'll eventually get together; their
interests are identical. I'll admit it's our game to delay this as long
possible."

"It must be delayed forever, sir."

"Can't be," was the terse response. "But even if they do ally
themselves, our way is easy: separate the leaders, the talented, the
pushers, of both races from their masses, and through them rule the rest
by money."

But Colonel Cresswell shook his head. "It's precisely these leaders of
the Negroes that we mush crush," he insisted. Taylor looked puzzled.

"I thought it was the lazy, shiftless, and criminal Negroes, you
feared?"

"Hang it, no! We can deal with them; we've got whips, chain-gangs,
and--mobs, if need be--no, it's the Negro who wants to climb up that
we've got to beat to his knees."

Taylor could not follow this reasoning. He believed in an aristocracy of
talent alone, and secretly despised Colonel Cresswell's pretensions of
birth. If a man had ability and push Taylor was willing and anxious to
open the way for him, even though he were black. The caste way of
thinking in the South, both as applied to poor whites and to Negroes,
he simply could not understand. The weak and the ignorant of all races
he despised and had no patience with them. "But others--a man's a man,
isn't he?" he persisted. But Colonel Cresswell replied:

"No, never, if he's black, and not always when he's white," and he
stalked away.

Zora sensed fully the situation. She did not anticipate any immediate
understanding with the laboring whites, but she knew that eventually it
would be inevitable. Meantime the Negro must strengthen himself and
bring to the alliance as much independent economic strength as possible.
For the development of her plans she needed Bles Alwyn's constant
cooperation. He was business manager of the school and was doing well,
but she wanted to point out to him the larger field. So long as she was
uncertain of his attitude toward her, it was difficult to act; but now,
since the flash of the imminent tragedy at Cresswell Oaks had cleared
the air, with all its hurt a frank understanding had been made possible.
The very next day Zora chose to show Bles over her new home and grounds,
and to speak frankly to him. They looked at the land, examined the
proposed farm sites, and viewed the living-room and dormitory in the
house.

"You haven't seen my den," said Zora.

"No."

"Miss Smith is in there now; she often hides there. Come."

He went into the large central house and into the living-room, then out
on the porch, beyond which lay the kitchen. But to the left, and at the
end of the porch, was a small building. It was ceiled in dark yellow
pine, with figured denim on the walls. A straight desk of rough hewn
wood stood in the corner by the white-curtained window, and a couch and
two large easy-chairs faced a tall narrow fireplace of uneven stone. A
thick green rag-carpet covered the floor; a few pictures were on the
walls--a Madonna, a scene of mad careering horses, and some sad baby
faces. The room was a unity; things fitted together as if they belonged
together. It was restful and beautiful, from the cheerful pine blaze
before which Miss Smith was sitting, to the square-paned window that let
in the crimson rays of gathering night. All round the room, stopping
only at the fireplace, ran low shelves of the same yellow pine, filled
with books and magazines. He scanned curiously Plato's Republic, Gorky's
"Comrades," a Cyclopaedia of Agriculture, Balzac's novels, Spencer's
"First Principles," Tennyson's Poems.

"This is my university," Zora explained, smiling at his interested
survey. They went out again and wandered down near the old lagoon.

"Now, Bles," she began, "since we understand each other, can we not work
together as good friends?" She spoke simply and frankly, without
apparent effort, and talked on at length of her work and vision.

Somehow he could not understand. His mental attitude toward Zora had
always been one of guidance, guardianship, and instruction. He had been
judging and weighing her from on high, looking down upon her with
thoughts of uplift and development. Always he had been holding her dark
little hands to lead her out of the swamp of life, and always, when in
senseless anger he had half forgotten and deserted her, this vision of
elder brotherhood had still remained. Now this attitude was being
revolutionized. She was proposing to him a plan of wide scope--a bold
regeneration of the land. It was a plan carefully studied out, long
thought of and read about. He was asked to be co-worker--nay, in a sense
to be a follower, for he was ignorant of much.

He hesitated. Then all at once a sense of his utter unworthiness
overwhelmed him. Who was he to stand and judge this unselfish woman? Who
was he to falter when she called? A sense of his smallness and
narrowness, of his priggish blindness, rose like a mockery in his soul.
One thing alone held him back: he was not unwilling to be simply human,
a learner and a follower; but would he as such ever command the love and
respect of this new and inexplicable woman? Would not comradeship on the
basis of the new friendship which she insisted on, be the death of love
and thoughts of love?

Thus he hesitated, knowing that his duty lay clear. In her direst need
he had deserted her. He had left her to go to destruction and expected
that she would. By a superhuman miracle she had risen and seated herself
above him. She was working; here was work to be done. He was asked to
help; he would help. If it killed his old and new-born dream of love,
well and good; it was his punishment.

Yet the sacrifice, the readjustment was hard; he grew to it gradually,
inwardly revolting, feeling always a great longing to take this woman
and make her nestle in his arms as she used to; catching himself again
and again on the point of speaking to her and urging, yet ever again
holding himself back and bowing in silent respect to the dignity of her
life. Only now and then, when their eyes met suddenly or unthinkingly, a
great kindling flash of flame seemed struggling behind showers of tears,
until in a moment she smiled or spoke, and then the dropping veil left
only the frank open glance, unwavering, soft, kind, but nothing more.
Then Alwyn would go wearily away, vexed or disappointed, or merely sad,
and both would turn to their work again.




_Thirty-six_

THE LAND


Colonel Cresswell started all the more grimly to overthrow the new work
at the school because somewhere down beneath his heart a pity and a
wonder were stirring; pity at the perfectly useless struggle to raise
the unraisable, a wonder at certain signs of rising. But it was
impossible--and unthinkable, even if possible. So he squared his jaw and
cheated Zora deliberately in the matter of the cut timber. He placed
every obstacle in the way of getting tenants for the school land. Here
Johnson, the "faithful nigger," was of incalculable assistance. He was
among the first to hear the call for prospective tenants.

The meeting was in the big room of Zora's house, and Aunt Rachel came
early with her cheery voice and smile which faded so quickly to lines of
sorrow and despair, and then twinkled back again. After her hobbled old
Sykes. Fully a half-hour later Rob hurried in.

"Johnson," he informed the others, "has sneaked over to Cresswell's to
tell of this meeting. We ought to beat that nigger up." But Zora asked
him about the new baby, and he was soon deep in child-lore. Higgins and
Sanders came together--dirty, apologetic, and furtive. Then came
Johnson.

"How do, Miss Zora--Mr. Alwyn, I sure is glad to see you, sir. Well, if
there ain't Aunt Rachel! looking as young as ever. And Higgins, you
scamp--Ah, Mr. Sanders--well, gentlemen and ladies, this sure is gwine
to be a good cotton season. I remember--" And he ran on endlessly, now
to this one, now to that, now to all, his little eyes all the while
dancing insinuatingly here and there. About nine o'clock a buggy drove
up and Carter and Simpson came in--Carter, a silent, strong-faced, brown
laborer, who listened and looked, and Simpson, a worried nervous man,
who sat still with difficulty and commenced many sentences but did not
finish them. Alwyn looked at his watch and at Zora, but she gave no sign
until they heard a rollicking song outside and Tylor burst into the
room. He was nearly seven feet high and broad-shouldered, yellow, with
curling hair and laughing brown eyes. He was chewing an enormous quid of
tobacco, the juice of which he distributed generously, and had had just
liquor enough to make him jolly. His entrance was a breeze and a roar.

Alwyn then undertook to explain the land scheme.

"It is the best land in the county--"

"When it's cl'ared," interrupted Johnson, and Simpson looked alarmed.

"It is partially cleared," continued Alwyn, "and our plan is to sell off
small twenty-acre farms--"

"You can't do nothing on twenty acres--" began Johnson, but Tylor laid
his huge hand right over his mouth and said briefly:

"Shut up!"

Alwyn started again: "We shall sell a few twenty-acre farms but keep one
central plantation of one hundred acres for the school. Here Miss Zora
will carry on her work and the school will run a model farm with your
help. We want to centre here agencies to make life better. We want all
sorts of industries; we want a little hospital with a resident physician
and two or three nurses; we want a cooperative store for buying
supplies; we want a cotton-gin and saw-mill, and in the future other
things. This land here, as I have said, is the richest around. We want
to keep this hundred acres for the public good, and not sell it. We are
going to deed it to a board of trustees, and those trustees are to be
chosen from the ones who buy the small farms."

"Who's going to get what's made on this land?" asked Sanders.

"All of us. It is going first to pay for the land, then to support the
Home and the School, and then to furnish capital for industries."

Johnson snickered. "You mean youse gwine to git yo' livin' off it?"

"Yes," answered Alwyn; "but I'm going to work for it."

"Who's gwine--" began Simpson, but stopped helplessly.

"Who's going to tend this land?" asked the practical Carter.

"All of us. Each man is going to promise us so many days' work a year,
and we're going to ask others to help--the women and girls and school
children--they will all help."

"Can you put trust in that sort of help?"

"We can when once the community learns that it pays."

"Does you own the land?" asked Johnson suddenly.

"No; we're buying it, and it's part paid for already."

The discussion became general. Zora moved about among the men whispering
and explaining; while Johnson moved, too, objecting and hinting. At last
he arose.

"Brethren," he began, "the plan's good enough for talkin' but you can't
work it; who ever heer'd tell of such a thing? First place, the land
ain't yours; second place, you can't get it worked; third place, white
folks won't 'low it. Who ever heer'd of such working land on shares?"

"You do it for white folks each day, why not for yourselves," Alwyn
pointed out.

"'Cause we ain't white, and we can't do nothin' like that."

Tylor was asleep and snoring and the others looked doubtfully at each
other. It was a proposal a little too daring for them, a bit too far
beyond their experience. One consideration alone kept them from
shrinking away and that was Zora's influence. Not a man was there whom
she had not helped and encouraged nor who had not perfect faith in her;
in her impetuous hope, her deep enthusiasm, and her strong will. Even
her defects--the hard-held temper, the deeply rooted dislikes--caught
their imagination.

Finally, after several other meetings five men took courage--three of
the best and two of the weakest. During the Spring long negotiations
were entered into by Miss Smith to "buy" the five men. Colonel Cresswell
and Mr. Tolliver had them all charged with large sums of indebtedness
and these sums had to be assumed by the school. As Colonel Cresswell
counted over two thousand dollars of school notes and deposited them
beside the mortgage he smiled grimly for he saw the end. Yet, even then
his hand trembled and that curious doubt came creeping back. He put it
aside angrily and glanced up.

"Nigger wants to talk with you," announced his clerk.

The Colonel sauntered out and found Bles Alwyn waiting.

"Colonel Cresswell," he said, "I have charge of the buying for the
school and our tenants this year and I naturally want to do the best
possible. I thought I'd come over and see about getting my supplies at
your store."

"That's all right; you can get anything you want," said Colonel
Cresswell cheerily, for this to his mind was evidence of sense on the
part of the Negroes. Bles showed his list of needed supplies--seeds,
meat, corn-meal, coffee, sugar, etc. The Colonel glanced over it
carelessly, then moved away.

"All right. Come and get what you want--any time," he called back.

"But about the prices," said Alwyn, following him.

"Oh, they'll be all right."

"Of course. But what I want is an estimate of your lowest cash prices."

"Cash?"

"Yes, sir."

Cresswell thought a while; such a business-like proposition from Negroes
surprised him.

"Well, I'll let you know," he said.

It was nearly a week later before Alwyn approached him again.

"Now, see here," said Colonel Cresswell, "there's practically no
difference between cash and time prices. We buy our stock on time and
you can just as well take advantage of this as not. I have figured out
about what these things will cost. The best thing for you to do is to
make a deposit here and get things when you want them. If you make a
good deposit I'll throw off ten per cent, which is all of my profit."

"Thank you," said Alwyn, but he looked over the account and found the
whole bill at least twice as large as he expected. Without further
parley, he made some excuse and started to town while Mr. Cresswell went
to the telephone.

In town Alwyn went to all the chief merchants one after another and
received to his great surprise practically the same estimate. He could
not understand it. He had estimated the current market prices according
to the Montgomery paper, yet the prices in Toomsville were fifty to a
hundred and fifty per cent higher. The merchant to whom he went last,
laughed.

"Don't you know we're not going to interfere with Colonel Cresswell's
tenants?" He stated the dealers' attitude, and Alwyn saw light. He went
home and told Zora, and she listened without surprise.

"Now to business," she said briskly. "Miss Smith," turning to the
teacher, "as I told you, they're combined against us in town and we must
buy in Montgomery. I was sure it was coming, but I wanted to give
Colonel Cresswell every chance. Bles starts for Montgomery--"

Alwyn looked up. "Does he?" he asked, smiling.

"Yes," said Zora, smiling in turn. "We must lose no further time."

"But there's no train from Toomsville tonight."

"But there's one from Barton in the morning and Barton is only twenty
miles away."

"It is a long walk." Alwyn thought a while, silently. Then he rose. "I'm
going," he said. "Good-bye."

In less than a week the storehouse was full, and tenants were at work.
The twenty acres of cleared swamp land, attended to by the voluntary
labor of all the tenants, was soon bearing a magnificent crop. Colonel
Cresswell inspected all the crops daily with a proprietary air that
would have been natural had these folk been simply tenants, and as such
he persisted in regarding them.

The cotton now growing was perhaps not so uniformly fine as the first
acre of Silver Fleece, but it was of unusual height and thickness.

"At least a bale to the acre," Alwyn estimated, and the Colonel mentally
determined to take two-thirds of the crop. After that he decided that he
would evict Zora immediately; since sufficient land was cleared already
for his purposes and moreover, he had seen with consternation a herd of
cattle grazing in one field on some early green stuff, and heard a drove
of hogs in the swamp. Such an example before the tenants of the Black
Belt would be fatal. He must wait a few weeks for them to pick the
cotton--then, the end. He was fighting the battle of his color and
caste.

The children sang merrily in the brown-white field. The wide baskets,
poised aloft, foamed on the erect and swaying bodies of the dark
carriers. The crop throughout the land was short that year, for prices
had ruled low last season in accordance with the policy of the Combine.
This year they started high again. Would they fall? Many thought so and
hastened to sell.

Zora and Alwyn gathered their tenants' crops, ginned them at the
Cresswells' gin, and carried their cotton to town, where it was
deposited in the warehouse of the Farmers' League.

"Now," said Alwyn, "we would best sell while prices are high."

Zora laughed at him frankly.

"We can't," she said. "Don't you know that Colonel Cresswell will attach
our cotton for rent as soon as it touches the warehouse?"

"But it's ours."

"Nothing is ours. No black man ordinarily can sell his crop without a
white creditor's consent."

Alwyn fumed.

"The best way," he declared, "is to go to Montgomery and get a
first-class lawyer and just fight the thing through. The land is legally
ours, and he has no right to our cotton."

"Yes, but you must remember that no man like Colonel Cresswell regards a
business bargain with a colored man as binding. No white man under
ordinary circumstances will help enforce such a bargain against
prevailing public opinion."

"But if we cannot trust to the justice of the case, and if you knew we
couldn't, why did you try?"

"Because I had to try; and moreover the circumstances are not altogether
ordinary: the men in power in Toomsville now are not the landlords of
this county; they are poor whites. The Judge and sheriff were both
elected by mill-hands who hate Cresswell and Taylor. Then there's a new
young lawyer who wants Harry Cresswell's seat in Congress; he don't know
much law, I'm afraid; but what he don't know of this case I think I do.
I'll get his advice and then--I mean to conduct the case myself," Zora
calmly concluded.

"Without a lawyer!" Bles Alwyn stared his amazement.

"Without a lawyer in court."

"Zora! That would be foolish!"

"Is it? Let's think. For over a year now I've been studying the law of
the case," and she pointed to her law books; "I know the law and most of
the decisions. Moreover, as a black woman fighting a hopeless battle
with landlords, I'll gain the one thing lacking."

"What's that?"

"The sympathy of the court and the bystanders."

"Pshaw! From these Southerners?"

"Yes, from them. They are very human, these men, especially the
laborers. Their prejudices are cruel enough, but there are joints in
their armor. They are used to seeing us either scared or blindly angry,
and they understand how to handle us then, but at other times it is hard
for them to do anything but meet us in a human way."

"But, Zora, think of the contact of the court, the humiliation, the
coarse talk--"

Zora put up her hand and lightly touched his arm. Looking at him, she
said:

"Mud doesn't hurt much. This is my duty. Let me do it."

His eyes fell before the shadow of a deeper rebuke. He arose heavily.

"Very well," he acquiesced as he passed slowly out.

The young lawyer started to refuse to touch the case until he saw--or
did Zora adroitly make him see?--a chance for eventual political
capital. They went over the matter carefully, and the lawyer acquired a
respect for the young woman's knowledge.

"First," he said, "get an injunction on the cotton--then go to court."
And to insure the matter he slipped over and saw the Judge.

Colonel Cresswell next day stalked angrily into his lawyers' office.

"See here," he thundered, handing the lawyer the notice of the
injunction.

"See the Judge," began the lawyer, and then remembered, as he was often
forced to do these days, who was Judge.

He inquired carefully into the case and examined the papers. Then he
said:

"Colonel Cresswell, who drew this contract of sale?"

"The black girl did."

"Impossible!"

"She certainly did--wrote it in my presence."

"Well, it's mighty well done."

"You mean it will stand in law?"

"It certainly will. There's but one way to break it, and that's to
allege misunderstanding on your part."

Cresswell winced. It was not pleasant to go into open court and
acknowledge himself over-reached by a Negro; but several thousand
dollars in cotton and land were at stake.

"Go ahead," he concurred.

"You can depend on Taylor, of course?" added the lawyer.

"Of course," answered Cresswell. "But why prolong the thing?"

"You see, she's got your cotton tied by injunction."

"I don't see how she did it."

"Easy enough: this Judge is the poor white you opposed in the last
primary."

Within a week the case was called, and they filed into the courtroom.
Cresswell's lawyer saw only this black woman--no other lawyer or sign of
one appeared to represent her. The place soon filled with a lazy,
tobacco-chewing throng of white men. A few blacks whispered in one
corner. The dirty stove was glowing with pine-wood and the Judge sat at
a desk.

"Where's your lawyer?" he asked sharply of Zora.

"I have none," returned Zora, rising.

There came a silence in the court. Her voice was low, and the men leaned
forward to listen. The Judge felt impelled to be over-gruff.

"Get a lawyer," he ordered.

"Your honor, my case is simple, and with your honor's permission I wish
to conduct it myself. I cannot afford a lawyer, and I do not think I
need one."

Cresswell's lawyer smiled and leaned back. It was going to be easier
than he supposed. Evidently the woman believed she had no case, and was
weakening.

The trial proceeded, and Zora stated her contention. She told how long
her mother and grandmother had served the Cresswells and showed her
receipt for rent paid.

"A friend sent me some money. I went to Mr. Cresswell and asked him to
sell me two hundred acres of land. He consented to do so and signed this
contract in the presence of his son-in-law."

Just then John Taylor came into the court, and Cresswell beckoned to
him.

"I want you to help me out, John."

"All right," whispered Taylor. "What can I do?"

"Swear that Cresswell didn't mean to sign this," said the lawyer
quickly, as he arose to address the court.

Taylor looked at the paper blankly and then at Cresswell and some
inkling of the irreconcilable difference in the two natures leapt in
both their hearts. Cresswell might gamble and drink and lie "like a
gentleman," but he would never willingly cheat or take advantage of a
white man's financial necessities. Taylor, on the other hand, had a
horror of a lie, never drank nor played games of chance, but his whole
life was speculation and in the business game he was utterly ruthless
and respected no one. Such men could never thoroughly understand each
other. To Cresswell a man who had cheated the whole South out of
millions by a series of misrepresentations ought to regard this little
falsehood as nothing.

Meantime Colonel Cresswell's lawyer was on his feet, and he adopted his
most irritating and contemptuous manner.

"This nigger wench wrote out some illegible stuff and Colonel Cresswell
signed it to get rid of her. We are not going to question the legality
of the form--that's neither here nor there. The point is, Mr. Cresswell
never intended--never dreamed of selling this wench land right in front
of his door. He meant to rent her the land and sign a receipt for rent
paid in advance. I will not worry your honor by a long argument to
prove this, but just call one of the witnesses well known to you--Mr.
John Taylor of the Toomsville mills."

Taylor looked toward the door and then slowly took the stand.

"Mr. Taylor," said the lawyer carelessly, "were you present at this
transaction?"

"Yes."

"Did you see Colonel Cresswell sign this paper?"

"Yes."

"Well, did he intend so far as you know to sign such a paper?"

"I do not know his intentions."

"Did he say he meant to sign such a contract?"

Taylor hesitated.

"Yes," he finally answered. Colonel Cresswell looked up in amazement and
the lawyer dropped his glasses.

"I--I don't think you perhaps understood me, Mr. Taylor," he gasped.
"I--er--meant to ask if Colonel Cresswell, in signing this paper, meant
to sign a contract to sell this wench two hundred acres of land?"

"He said he did," reiterated Taylor. "Although I ought to add that he
did not think the girl would ever be able to pay. If he had thought she
would pay, I don't think he would have signed the paper."

Colonel Cresswell went red, than pale, and leaning forward before the
whole court, he hurled:

"You damned scoundrel!"

The Judge rapped for order and fidgeted in his seat. There was some
confusion and snickering in the courtroom. Finally the Judge plucked up
courage:

"The defendant is ordered to deliver this cotton to Zora Cresswell," he
directed.

The raging of Colonel Cresswell's anger now turned against John Taylor
as well as the Negroes. Wind of the estrangement flew over town quickly.
The poor whites saw a chance to win Taylor's influence and the sheriff
approached him cautiously. Taylor paid him slight courtesy. He was
irritated with this devilish Negro problem; he was making money; his
wife and babies were enjoying life, and here was this fool trial to
upset matters. But the sheriff talked.

"The thing I'm afraid of," he said, "is that Cresswell and his gang will
swing in the niggers on us."

"How do you mean?"

"Let 'em vote."

"But they'd have to read and write."

"Sure!"

"Well, then," said Taylor, "it might be a good thing."

Colton eyed him suspiciously.

"You'd let a nigger vote?"

"Why, yes, if he had sense enough."

"There ain't no nigger got sense."

"Oh, pshaw!" Taylor ejaculated, walking away.

The sheriff was angry and mistrustful. He believed he had discovered a
deep-laid scheme of the aristocrats to cultivate friendliness between
whites and blacks, and then use black voters to crush the whites. Such a
course was, in Colton's mind, dangerous, monstrous, and unnatural; it
must be stopped at all hazards. He began to whisper among his friends.
One or two meetings were held, and the flame of racial prejudice was
studiously fanned.

The atmosphere of the town and country quickly began to change. Whatever
little beginnings of friendship and understanding had arisen now quickly
disappeared. The town of a Saturday no longer belonged to a happy,
careless crowd of black peasants, but the black folk found themselves
elbowed to the gutter, while ugly quarrels flashed here and there with a
quick arrest of the Negroes.

Colonel Cresswell made a sudden resolve. He sent for the sheriff and
received him at the Oaks, in his most respectable style, filling him
with good food, and warming him with good liquor.

"Colton," he asked, "are you sending any of your white children to the
nigger school yet?"

"What!" yelled Colton.

The Colonel laughed, frankly telling Colton John Taylor's philosophy on
the race problem,--his willingness to let Negroes vote; his threat to
let blacks and whites work together; his contempt for the officials
elected by the people.

"Candidly, Colton," he concluded, "I believe in aristocracy. I can't
think it right or wise to replace the old aristocracy by new and untried
blood." And in a sudden outburst--"But, by God, sir! I'm a white man,
and I place the lowest white man ever created above the highest darkey
ever thought of. This Yankee, Taylor, is a nigger-lover. He's secretly
encouraging and helping them. You saw what he did to me, and I'm warning
you in time."

Colton's glass dropped.

"I thought it was you that was corralling the niggers against us," he
exclaimed.

The Colonel reddened. "I don't count all white men my equals, I admit,"
he returned with dignity, "but I know the difference between a white man
and a nigger."

Colton stretched out his massive hand. "Put it there, sir," said he; "I
misjudged you, Colonel Cresswell. I'm a Southerner, and I honor the old
aristocracy you represent. I'm going to join with you to crush this
Yankee and put the niggers in their places. They are getting impudent
around here; they need a lesson and, by gad! they'll get one they'll
remember."

"Now, see here, Colton,--nothing rash," the Colonel charged him,
warningly. "Don't stir up needless trouble; but--well, things must
change."

Colton rose and shook his head.

"The niggers need a lesson," he muttered as he unsteadily bade his host
good-bye. Cresswell watched him uncomfortably as he rode away, and
again a feeling of doubt stirred within him. What new force was he
loosening against his black folk--his own black folk, who had lived
about him and his fathers nigh three hundred years? He saw the huge form
of the sheriff loom like an evil spirit a moment on the rise of the road
and sink into the night. He turned slowly to his cheerless house
shuddering as he entered the uninviting portals.




_Thirty-seven_

THE MOB


When Emma, Bertie's child, came home after a two years' course of study,
she had passed from girlhood to young womanhood. She was white, and
sandy-haired. She was not beautiful, and she appeared to be fragile; but
she also looked sweet and good, with that peculiar innocence which peers
out upon the world with calm, round eyes and sees no evil, but does
methodically its simple, everyday work. Zora mothered her, Miss Smith
found her plenty to do, and Bles thought her a good girl. But Mrs.
Cresswell found her perfect, and began to scheme to marry her off. For
Mary Cresswell, with the restlessness and unhappiness of an unemployed
woman, was trying to atone for her former blunders.

Her humiliation after the episode at Cresswell Oaks had been complete.
It seemed to her that the original cause of her whole life punishment
lay in her persistent misunderstanding of the black people and their
problem. Zora appeared to her in a new and glorified light--a vigorous,
self-sacrificing woman. She knew that Zora had refused to marry Bles,
and this again seemed fitting. Zora was not meant for marrying; she was
a born leader, wedded to a great cause; she had long outgrown the boy
and girl affection. She was the sort of woman she herself might have
been if she had not married.

Alwyn, on the other hand, needed a wife; he was a great, virile boy,
requiring a simple, affectionate mate. No sooner did she see Emma than
she was sure that this was the ideal wife. She compared herself with
Helen Cresswell. Helen was a contented wife and mother because she was
fitted for the position, and happy in it; while she who had aimed so
high had fallen piteously. From such a fate she would save Zora and
Bles.

Emma's course in nurse-training had been simple and short and there was
no resident physician; but Emma, in her unemotional way, was a born
nurse and did much good among the sick in the neighborhood. Zora had a
small log hospital erected with four white beds, a private room, and an
office which was also Emma's bedroom. The new white physician in town,
just fresh from school in Atlanta, became interested and helped with
advice and suggestions.

Meantime John Taylor's troubles began to increase. Under the old
political regime it had been an easy matter to avoid serious
damage-suits for the accidents in the mill. Much child labor and the
lack of protective devices made accidents painfully frequent. Taylor
insisted that the chief cause was carelessness, while the mill hands
alleged criminal neglect on his part. When the new labor officials took
charge of the court and the break occurred between Colonel Cresswell and
his son-in-law, Taylor found that several damage-suits were likely to
cost him a considerable sum.

He determined not to let the bad feelings go too far, and when a
particularly distressing accident to a little girl took place, he showed
more than his usual interest and offered to care for her. The new young
physician recommended Zora's infirmary as the only near place that
offered a chance for the child's recovery.

"Take her out," Taylor promptly directed.

Zora was troubled when the child came. She knew the suspicious temper of
the town whites. The very next day Taylor sent out a second case, a
child who had been hurt some time before and was not recovering as she
should. Under the care of the little hospital and the gentle nurse the
children improved rapidly, and in two weeks were outdoors, playing with
the little black children and even creeping into classrooms and
listening. The grateful mothers came out twice a week at least; at first
with suspicious aloofness, but gradually melting under Zora's tact until
they sat and talked with her and told their troubles and struggles. Zora
realized how human they were, and how like their problems were to hers.
They and their children grew to love this busy, thoughtful woman, and
Zora's fears were quieted.

The catastrophe came suddenly. The sheriff rode by, scowling and hunting
for some poor black runaway, when he saw white children in the Negro
school and white women, whom he knew were mill-hands, looking on. He was
black with anger; turning he galloped back to town. A few hours later
the young physician arrived hastily in a cab to take the women and
children to town. He said something in a low tone to Zora and drove
away, frowning.

Zora came quickly to the school and asked for Alwyn. He was in the barn
and she hurried there.

"Bles," she said quietly, "it is reported that a Toomsville mob will
burn the school tonight."

Bles stood motionless.

"I've been fearing it. The sheriff has been stirring up the worst
elements in the town lately and the mills pay off tonight."

"Well," she said quietly, "we must prepare."

He looked at her, his face aglow with admiration.

"You wonder-woman!" he exclaimed softly.

A moment they regarded each other. She saw the love in his eyes, and he
saw rising in hers something that made his heart bound. But she turned
quickly away.

"You must hurry, Bles; lives are at stake." And in another moment he
thundered out of the barn on the black mare.

Along the pike he flew and up the plantation roads. Across broad fields
and back again, over to the Barton pike and along the swamp. At every
cabin he whispered a word, and left behind him grey faces and whispering
children.

His horse was reeking with sweat as he staggered again into the
school-yard; but already the people were gathering, with frightened,
anxious, desperate faces. Women with bundles and children, men with
guns, tottering old folks, wide-eyed boys and girls. Up from the swamp
land came the children crying and moaning. The sun was setting. The
women and children hurried into the school building, closing the doors
and windows. A moment Alwyn stood without and looked back. The world was
peaceful. He could hear the whistle of birds and the sobbing of the
breeze in the shadowing oaks. The sky was flashing to dull and purplish
blue, and over all lay the twilight hush as though God did not care.

He threw back his head and clenched his hands. His soul groaned within
him. "Heavenly Father, was man ever before set to such a task?" Fight?
God! if he could but fight! If he could but let go the elemental
passions that were leaping and gathering and burning in the eyes of
yonder caged and desperate black men. But his hands were tied--manacled.
One desperate struggle, a whirl of blood, and the whole world would rise
to crush him and his people. The white operatore in yonder town had but
to flash the news, "Negroes killing whites," to bring all the country,
all the State, all the nation, to red vengeance. It mattered not what
the provocation, what the desperate cause.

The door suddenly opened behind him and he wheeled around.

"Zora!" he whispered.

"Bles," she answered softly, and they went silently in to their people.

All at once, from floor to roof, the whole school-house was lighted up,
save a dark window here and there. Then some one slipped out into the
darkness and soon watch-fire after watch-fire flickered and flamed in
the night, and then burned vividly, sending up sparks and black smoke.
Thus ringed with flaming silence, the school lay at the edge of the
great, black swamp and waited. Owls hooted in the forest. Afar the
shriek of the Montgomery train was heard across the night, mingling with
the wail of a wakeful babe; and then redoubled silence. The men became
restless, and Johnson began to edge away toward the lower hall. Alwyn
was watching him when a faint noise came to him on the eastern breeze--a
low, rumbling murmur. It died away, and rose again; then a distant
gun-shot woke the echoes.

"They're coming!" he cried. Standing back in the shadow of a front
window, he waited. Slowly, intermittently, the murmuring swelled, till
it grew distinguishable as yelling, cursing, and singing, intermingled
with the crash of pistol-shots. Far away a flame, as of a burning cabin,
arose, and a wilder, louder yell greeted it. Now the tramp of footsteps
could be heard, and clearer and thicker the grating and booming of
voices, until suddenly, far up the pike, a black moving mass, with
glitter and shout, swept into view. They came headlong, guided by
pine-torches, which threw their white and haggard faces into wild
distortion. Then as bonfire after bonfire met their gaze, they moved
slowly and more slowly, and at last sent a volley of bullets at the
fires. One bullet flew high and sang through a lighted window. Without a
word, Uncle Isaac sank upon the floor and lay still. Silence and renewed
murmuring ensued, and the sound of high voices in dispute. Then the mass
divided into two wings and slowly encircled the fence of fire; starting
noisily and confidently, and then going more slowly, quietly, warily, as
the silence of the flame began to tell on their heated nerves.

Strained whispers arose.

"Careful there!"

"Go on, damn ye!"

"There's some one by yon fire."

"No, there ain't."

"See the bushes move."

_Bang! bang! bang!_

"Who's that?"

"It's me."

"Let's rush through and fire the house."

"And leave a pa'cel of niggers behind to shoot your lights out? Not me."

"What the hell are you going to do?"

"I don't know yet."

"I wish I could see a nigger."

_"Hark!"_

Stealthy steps were approaching, a glint of steel flashed behind the
fire lights. Each band mistook the other for the armed Negroes, and the
leaders yelled in vain; human power can not stay the dashing torrent of
fear-inspired human panic. Whirling, the mob fled till it struck the
road in two confused, surging masses. Then in quick frenzy, shots flew;
three men threw up their hands and tumbled limply in the dust, while the
main body rushed pellmell toward town.

At early dawn, when the men relaxed from the strain of the night's
vigil, Alwyn briefly counselled them: "Hide your guns."

"Why?" blustered Rob. "Haven't I a right to have a gun?"

"Yes, you have, Rob; but don't be foolish--hide it. We've not heard the
last of this."

But Rob tossed his head belligerently.

In town, rumor spread like wildfire. A body of peaceful whites passing
through the black settlement had been fired on from ambush, and six
killed--no, three killed--no, one killed and two severely wounded.

"The thing mustn't stop here," shouted Sheriff Colton; "these niggers
must have a lesson." And before nine next morning fully half the grown
members of the same mob, now sworn in as deputies, rode with him to
search the settlement. They tramped insolently through the school
grounds, but there was no shred of evidence until they came to Rob's
cabin and found his gun. They tied his hands behind him and marched him
toward town.

But before the mob arrived the night before, Johnson feeling that his
safety lay in informing the white folks, had crawled with his gun into
the swamp. In the morning he peered out as the cavalcade approached, and
not knowing what had happened, he recognized Colton, the sheriff, and
signalled to him cautiously. In a moment a dozen men were on him, and he
appealed and explained in vain--the gun was damning evidence. The voices
of Rob's wife and children could be heard behind the two men as they
were hurried along at a dog trot.

The town poured out to greet them--"The murderers! the murderers! Kill
the niggers!" and they came on with a rush. The sheriff turned and
disappeared in the rear. There was a great cloud of dust, a cry and a
wild scramble, as the white and angry faces of men and boys gleamed a
moment and faded.

A hundred or more shots rang out; then slowly and silently, the mass of
women and men were sucked into the streets of the town, leaving but
black eddies on the corners to throw backward glances toward the bare,
towering pine where swung two red and awful things. The pale boy-face of
one, with soft brown eyes glared up sightless to the sun; the dead,
leathered bronze of the other was carved in piteous terror.




_Thirty-eight_

ATONEMENT


Three months had flown. It was Spring again, and Zora sat in the
transformed swamp--now a swamp in name only--beneath the great oak,
dreaming. And what she dreamed there in the golden day she dared not
formulate even to her own soul. She rose with a start, for there was
work to do. Aunt Rachel was ill, and Emma went daily to attend her;
today, as she came back, she brought news that Colonel Cresswell, who
had been unwell for several days, was worse. She must send Emma up to
help, and as she started toward the school she glanced toward the
Cresswell Oaks and saw the arm-chair of its master on the pillared
porch.

Colonel Cresswell sat in his chair on the porch, alone. As far as he
could see, there was no human soul. His eyes were blood-shot, his cheeks
sunken, and his breath came in painful gasps. A sort of terror shook
him until he heard the distant songs of black folk in the fields. He
sighed, and lying back, closed his eyes and the breath came easier. When
he opened them again a white figure was coming up the avenue of the
Oaks. He watched it greedily. It was Mary Cresswell, and she started
when she saw him.

"You are worse, father?" she asked.

"Worse and better," he replied, smiling cynically. Then suddenly he
announced: "I've made my will."

"Why--why--" she stammered.

"Why?" sharply. "Because I'm going to die."

She said nothing. He smiled and continued:

"I've got it all fixed. Harry was in a tight place--gambling as
usual--and I gave him a lump sum in lieu of all claims. Then I gave John
Taylor--you needn't look. I sent for him. He's a damned scoundrel; but
he won't lie, and I needed him. I willed his children all the rest
except two or three legacies. One was one hundred thousand dollars for
you--"

"Oh, father!" she cried. "I don't deserve it."

"I reckon two years with Harry was worth about that much," he returned
grimly. "Then there's another gift of two hundred thousand dollars and
this house and plantation. Whom do you think that's for?"

"Helen?"

"Helen!" he raised his hand in threatening anger. "I might rot here for
all she cares. No--no--but then--I'll not tell you--I--ah--" A spasm of
pain shot across his face, and he lay back white and still. Abruptly he
sat up again and peered down the oaks. "Hush!" he gasped. "Who's that?"

"I don't know--it's a girl--I--"

He gripped her till she winced.

"My God--it walks--like my wife--I tell you--she held her head so--who
is it?" He half rose.

"Oh, father, it's nobody but Emma--little Emma--Bertie's child--the
mulatto girl. She's a nurse now, and I asked to have her come and attend
you."

"Oh," he said, "oh--" He looked at the girl curiously. "Come here." He
peered into her white young face. "Do you know me?"

The girl shrank away from him.

"Yes, sir."

"What do you do?"

"I teach and nurse at the school."

"Good! Well, I'm going to give you some money--do you know why?"

A flash of self-consciousness passed over the girl's face; she looked at
him with her wide blue eyes.

"Yes, Grandfather," she faltered.

Mrs. Cresswell rose to her feet; but the old man slowly dropped the
girl's hand and lay back in his chair, with lips half smiling.
"Grandfather," he repeated softly. He closed his eyes a space and then
opened them. A tremor shivered in his limbs as he stared darkly at the
swamp.

"Hark!" he cried harshly. "Do you hear the bodies creaking on the limbs?
It's Rob and Johnson. I did it--I--"

Suddenly he rose and stood erect and his wild eyes stricken with death
stared full upon Emma. Slowly and thickly he spoke, working his
trembling hands.

"Nell--Nell! Is it you, little wife, come back to accuse me? Ah, Nell,
don't shrink! I know--I have sinned against the light and the blood of
your poor black people is red on these old hands. No, don't put your
clean white hands upon me, Nell, till I wash mine. I'll do it, Nell;
I'll atone. I'm a Cresswell yet, Nell, a Cresswell and a gen--" He
swayed. Vainly he struggled for the word. The shudder of death shook his
soul, and he passed.

A week after the funeral of Colonel Cresswell, John Taylor drove out to
the school and was closeted with Miss Smith. His sister, installed once
again for a few days in her old room at the school, understood that he
was conferring about Emma's legacy, and she was glad. She was more and
more convinced that the marriage of Emma and Bles was the best possible
solution of many difficulties. She had asked Emma once if she liked
Bles, and Emma had replied in her innocent way,

"Oh, so much."

As for Bles, he was often saying what a dear child Emma was. Neither
perhaps realized yet that this was love, but it needed, Mrs. Cresswell
was sure, only the lightning-flash, and they would know. And who could
furnish that illumination better than Zora, the calm, methodical Zora,
who knew them so well?

As for herself, once she had accomplished the marriage and paid the
mortgage on the school out of her legacy, she would go abroad and in
travel seek forgetfulness and healing. There had been no formal divorce,
and so far as she was concerned there never would be; but the separation
from her husband and America would be forever.

Her brother came out of the office, nodded casually, for they had little
intercourse these days, and rode away. She rushed in to Miss Smith and
found her sitting there--straight, upright, composed in all save that
the tears were streaming down her face and she was making no effort to
stop them.

"Why--Miss Smith!" she faltered.

Miss Smith pointed to a paper. Mrs. Cresswell picked it up curiously. It
was an official notification to the trustees of the Smith School of a
legacy of two hundred thousand dollars together with the Cresswell house
and plantation. Mrs. Gresswell sat down in open-mouthed astonishment.
Twice she tried to speak, but there were so many things to say that she
could not choose.

"Tell Zora," Miss Smith at last managed to say.

Zora was dreaming again. Somehow, the old dream-life, with its glorious
phantasies, had come silently back, richer and sweeter than ever. There
was no tangible reason why, and yet today she had shut herself in her
den. Searching down in the depths of her trunk, she drew forth that
filmy cloud of white--silk-bordered and half finished to a gown. Why
were her eyes wet today and her mind on the Silver Fleece? It was an
anniversary, and perhaps she still remembered that moment, that supreme
moment before the mob. She half slipped on, half wound about her, the
white cloud of cloth, standing with parted lips, looking into the long
mirror and gleaming in the fading day like midnight gowned in mists and
stars. Abruptly there came a peremptory knocking at the door.

"Zora! Zora!" sounded Mrs. Cresswell's voice. Forgetting her informal
attire, she opened the door, fearing some mishap. Mrs. Cresswell poured
out the news. Zora received it in such motionless silence that Mary
wondered at her want of feeling. At last, however, she said happily to
Zora:

"Well, the battle's over, isn't it?"

"No, it's just begun."

"Just begun?" echoed Mary in amazement.

"Think of the servile black folk, the half awakened restless whites, the
fat land waiting for the harvest, the masses panting to know--why, the
battle is scarcely even begun."

"Yes, I guess that's so," Mary began to comprehend. "We'll thank God it
has begun, though."

"Thank God!" Zora reverently repeated.

"Come, let's go back to poor, dear Miss Smith," suggested Mary.

"I can't come just now--but pretty soon."

"Why? Oh, I see; you're trying on something--how pretty and becoming!
Well, hurry."

As they stood together, the white woman deemed the moment opportune; she
slipped her arm about the black woman's waist and began:

"Zora, I've had something on my mind for a long time, and I shouldn't
wonder if you had thought of the same thing."

"What is it?"

"Bles and Emma."

"What of them?"

"Their liking for each other."

Zora bent a moment and caught up the folds of the Fleece.

"I hadn't noticed it," she said in a low voice.

"Well, you're busy, you see. They've been very much together--his taking
her to her charges, bringing her back, and all that. I know they love
each other; yet something holds them apart, afraid to show their love.
Do you know--I've wondered if--quite unconciously, it is you? You know
Bles used to imagine himself in love with you, just as he did afterward
with Miss Wynn."

"Miss--Wynn?"

"Yes, the Washington girl. But he got over that and you straightened him
out finally. Still, Emma probably thinks yours is the prior claim,
knowing, of course, nothing of facts. And Bles knows she thinks of him
and you, and I'm convinced if you say the word, they'd love and marry."

Zora walked silently with her to the door, where, looking out, she saw
Bles and Emma coming from Aunt Rachel's. He was helping her from the
carriage with smiling eyes, and her innocent blue eyes were fastened on
him.

Zora looked long and searchingly.

"Please run and tell them of the legacy," she begged. "I--I will
come--in a moment." And Mrs. Cresswell hurried out.

Zora turned back steadily to her room, and locked herself in. After all,
why shouldn't it be? Why had it not occurred to her before in her
blindness? If she had wanted him--and ah, God! was not all her life
simply the want of him?--why had she not bound him to her when he had
offered himself? Why had she not bound him to her? She knew as she
asked--because she had wanted all, not a part--everything, love, respect
and perfect faith--not one thing could she spare then--not one thing.
And now, oh, God! she had dreamed that it was all hers, since that night
of death and circling flame when they looked at each other soul to soul.
But he had not meant anything. It was pity she had seen there, not love;
and she rose and walked the room slowly, fast and faster.

With trembling hands she drew the Silver Fleece round her. Her head swam
again and the blood flashed in her eyes. She heard a calling in the
swamp, and the shadow of Elspeth seemed to hover over her, claiming her
for her own, dragging her down, down.... She rushed through the swamp.
The lagoon lay there before her presently, gleaming in the
darkness--cold and still, and in it swam an awful shape.

She held her burning head--was not everything plain? Was not everything
clear? This was Sacrifice! This was the Atonement for the unforgiven
sin. Emma's was the pure soul which she must offer up to God; for it was
God, a cold and mighty God, who had given it to Bles--her Bles. It was
well; God willed it. But could she live? Must she live? Did God ask
that, too?

All at once she stood straight; her whole body grew tense, alert. She
heard no sound behind her, but knew he was there, and braced herself.
She must be true. She must be just. She must pay the uttermost farthing.

"Bles," she called faintly, but did not turn her head.

"Zora!"

"Bles," she choked, but her voice came stronger, "I know--all. Emma is a
good girl. I helped bring her up myself and did all I could for her and
she--she is pure; marry her."

His voice came slow and firm:

"Emma? But I don't love Emma. I love--some one else."

Her heart bounded and again was still. It was that Washington girl then.
She answered dully, groping for words, for she was tired:

"Who is it?"

"The best woman in all the world, Zora."

"And is"--she struggled at the word madly--"is she pure?"

"She is more than pure."

"Then you must marry her, Bles."

"I am not worthy of her," he answered, sinking before her.

Then at last illumination dawned upon her blindness. She stood very
still and lifted up her eyes. The swamp was living, vibrant, tremulous.
There where the first long note of night lay shot with burning crimson,
burst in sudden radiance the wide beauty of the moon. There pulsed a
glory in the air. Her little hands groped and wandered over his
close-curled hair, and she sobbed, deep voiced:

"Will you--marry me, Bles?"


                              L'ENVOI

     Lend me thine ears, O God the Reader, whose Fathers aforetime sent
     mine down into the land of Egypt, into this House of Bondage. Lay
     not these words aside for a moment's phantasy, but lift up thine
     eyes upon the Horror in this land;--the maiming and mocking and
     murdering of my people, and the prisonment of their souls. Let my
     people go, O Infinite One, lest the world shudder at


                              The End





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