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Full text of "The quest of the Silver Fleece : a novel"


A 



THE QUEST OF THE 
SILVER FLEECE 



By the same author 
THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK 

Eighth edition 
Large 12mo. $1.20 net 



A. C. McClurg & Co., Publishers 
Chicago 




BLES, ALMOST THOU PERSUADEST ME TO BE A FOOL " 

[CHAPTER XXIX] 



THE QUEST OF THE 
SILVER FLEECE 

A NOVEL 



BY 

W. E. BURGHARDT DuBOIS 

AUTHOR OF "THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK" 



ILLUSTRATED BY H. S. DE LAY 




CHICAGO 

A. C. McCLURG & CO. 
1911 



Copyright 

A. C. McCLURG & CO. 
1911 



Published October, 1911 



Entered at Stationers Hall, London, England 



M. 3F. ijall JJrttttuirj (Eampmut 




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 DOUBT 
LESS DUE, THIS FINISHED WORK IS 
HEREWITH DEDICATED 



M515780 



CONTENTS 



CHAPTER PAGE 

I DREAMS ...... 13 

II THE SCHOOL 21 

III Miss MARY TAYLOR .... 26 

IV TOWN 33 

V ZORA 44 

VI COTTON ...... 54 

VII THE PLACE OF DREAMS ... 66 

VIII MR. HARRY CRESSWELL ... 81 

IX THE PLANTING ..... 90 

X MR. TAYLOR CALLS . . . .101 

XI THE FLOWERING OF THE FLEECE . 119 

XII THE PROMISE . . . . . 129 

XIII MRS. GREY GIVES A DINNER . . 146 

XIV LOVE 152 

XV REVELATION . . . . .158 

XVI THE GREAT REFUSAL . . .172 

XVII THE RAPE OF THE FLEECE . . . 181 

XVIII THE COTTON CORNER . . . 190 

XIX THE DYING OF ELSPETH . . .200 

XX THE WEAVING OF THE SILVER FLEECE . 213 

XXI THE MARRIAGE MORNING . . . 223 

XXII Miss CAROLINE WYNN . . . 232 

XXIII THE TRAINING OF ZORA . . .244 

XXIV THE EDUCATION OF ALWYN . . 253 
XXV THE CAMPAIGN .... 266 

XXVI CONGRESSMAN CRESSWELL . . . 282 

XXVII THE VISION OF ZORA , 293 



CONTENTS 



CHAPTER 

XXVIII THE ANNUNCIATION . . 

XXIX A MASTER OF FATE . . 

XXX THE RETURN OF ZORA 

XXXI A PARTING OF WAYS . 

XXXII ZORA S WAY 

XXXIII THE BUYING OF THE SWAMP 

XXXIV THE RETURN OF ALWYN . 
XXXV THE COTTON MILL . 

XXXVI THE LAND . . 

XXXVII THE MOB . . 

XXXVIII ATONEMENT 



PAGE 

303 



326 
337 
35 
363 
376 
389 
402 
418 
426 



ILLUSTRATIONS 

PAGE 
"Bles, almost thou persuadest me to be a fool" 

Frontispiece 

They together, back in the swamp, shadowed by 
the foliage, began to fashion the wonderful gar 
ment 50 

" Can it be, Bles Alwyn," she said, " that you don t 
know the sort of a girl she is?" . . . 168 

"I am not worthy of her," he answered, sinking 
before her . 430 



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 what 
ever 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, THE AUTHOK. 

August 15, 1911. 



THE QUEST OF 
THE SILVER FLEECE 



CHAPTER I 

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 whis 
pered 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. 

[13] 



14 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 hid 
den 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 im 
pelled by some strange power, left the highway and 
slipped into the forest of the swamp, shrinking, yet fol 
lowing 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. 
\f 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 deli 
cate moulding of her dark, young, half-naked limbs. A 
heavy mass of hair clung motionless to her wide fore- 



DREAMS 15 

head. 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 be 
fore, fluttering like a bird s in the full sweetness of her 
utter music. It was no tune nor melody, it was just form 
less, 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. In 
voluntarily the boy gave a gasping cry and awoke to 
swamp and night and fire, while a white face, drawn, red- 
eyed peering 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. 



16 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 mis 
chief 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 se stayed out all alone heaps o nights." 

He looked at her with a curious awe. 



DREAMS 17 

" I don t believe you," he asserted ; but she tossed her 
head and her eyes grew scornful. 

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

He watched her silently, till, waking from her day 
dream, 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 



18 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 11 be friends al 
ways, won t we? " 

" Yes," she said at last, slowly and solemnly, and an 
other 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 talk 
ing 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 11 be so near," he explained. " And why do 
you hate it? " 



DREAMS 19 

"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 



20 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

you if they gits you ; but they do n 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 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, arid 
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." 



CHAPTER II 

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 uncon 
sciousness. 

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

She heard drowsily, and dreamed that it was the nail 
ing 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 star 
ing 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. 

[21] 



g THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 disappoint 
ment had not seemed so bitter as to-day: 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, fin her imagination the significance of these half 
dozen gleaming buildings perched aloft seemed porten 
tous 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^Tand yet 

"Bang! bangTbang! " again went the hard knuckles 
down there at the front. 

Miss Smith slowly arose, shivering a bit and wonder 
ing 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 dur 
ing 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 f and 
what do you want?" 



THE SCHOOL 23 

" 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, listen 
ing only courteously. When Miss Smith finished, she 
had paused and, flicking her glove, 

" My dear Miss Smith," she had 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. f 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 that I ought to encourage itA I would not mind a 
thousand or so to train a good cook for the Cresswells, 
or a clean faithful maid for myself for Helene has 
faults or indeed deft and tractable laboring-folk for 
any one^Jput 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 ? \ 



24 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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 chil 
dren here to count, and not to be like dumb, driven 
cattle. If you don t believe in this, of course you can 
not 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 ab 
sently " 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?" 



THE SCHOOL 25 

"I ve come to school." 

" Humph we can t teach boys for nothing." 

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

" 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 11 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?" 

" Bleaspd Alwyn," he answered, and the passing teach 
ers smiled. 



CHAPTER III 

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 teach 
ing 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, in 
deed, probably would have refused it out of hand had 
it not been for her queer brother, John. John Taylor, 

[26] 



MISS MARY TAYLOR 27 

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 Cress- 
wells 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. L 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. 



28 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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.j 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 un 
selfish. 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 person 
alities, 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 ;Tj?reat 
as the " Negro Problem " might be as a world problem, 
it looked sordid and small at close rangeT^ So for the 
hundredth time she was thinking to-day, 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!" 



MISS MARY TAYLOR 29 

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.) 



30 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

"I I don t know," he faltered. 

"Don t know! Well, of all things!" inwardly com 
mented 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 did n t care. 

" Goobers," answered the smaller boy. 

66 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." 



MISS MARY TAYLOR 31 

" 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 un- 
poetic imagination, and she murmured: 

" The Golden Fleece it s the Silver Fleece ! " 

He barkened. 

"What s that?" he asked. 

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

" No, ma am," he said eagerly ; then glancing up to 
ward the Cresswell fields, he saw two white men watch- 



32 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

ing them. He grasped his hoe and started briskly to 
work. 

" Some time you 11 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 hap 
pened 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 per 
sons 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 befcrre she had 
been veiled from these folk: who had put the veil there? 
Had she herself hung it before her soul, or had they hid 
den timidly behind its other side? Or was it simply a 
brute fact, regardless of both of them A 

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. 



CHAPTER IV 
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 to 
morrow. 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 

[33] 



34 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 pro- 
vokingly 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 classi 
fication 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 com 
fortably 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 lan 
guorous 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." 



TOWN 35 

" 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 to-day. 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. 

ss "*rhe 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 rela 
tions. 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. 



36 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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." 



TOWN 37 

" 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 nig 
gers and would n t let de drivers whip em much." 

" And these Cresswells to-day? " 

"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 
I 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." 



38 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

"And who is Elspeth? " 

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

"Like Medea?" 

" Yes only I do n 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 



TOWN 39 

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 comfort 
ing 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 water 
ing 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 sorrow 
ful 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 im 
posing, 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 



40 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 Tay 
lor 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 rep 
resentative 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 



TOWN 41 

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 embarrass 
ment 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 
court-house 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 



42 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

them, roaring a hymn. He greeted Bles with a compre 
hensive 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 be 
side 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 11 stop this damn riding around or they 11 
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 shad 
ows 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 Cress wells, 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 sift 
ing 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 be- 



TOWN 43 

yond. 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 does n 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 her 
self. 

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 un 
conventional greeting but the woman in her spoke first 
and asked almost before she knew it 

"Why?" 



CHAPTER V 
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; mis- 
chievous, 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 her 
self, 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 meet 
ing, 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." 

[44] 



ZORA 45 

The boy would sit and watch her wonderingly as she 
lay curled along the low branch of the mighty oak, cling 
ing 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 scorn 
ful 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 passion 
ate, 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 



46 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

mighty half-confessed, half-concealed, striving for un 
known things. He seemed to have found a new friend. 

And to-day, 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 cun- 
ninger ; 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." 



ZORA 47 

This appealed to her somewhat. 

" I don t believe they know much," she concluded ; " but 
1 11 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 to-night she slipped away, stopped and 
listened till she heard his footsteps on the pike, and then 
flew homeward. Presently the old black cabin loomed be 
fore 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 



48 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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. 

" Did n 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." 



ZORA 49 

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 11 earn mine," she said. t 

" How? " he asked doubtfully. 

" I 11 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 



50 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 supper- 
less 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 ear 
nestly 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 CaldwelPs "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 be 
fore 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." 




THEY TOGETHER, BACK IN THE SWAMP, SHADOWED BY 
THE FOLIAGE, BEGAN TO FASHION THE WONDERFUL 

GARMENT 



ZORA 51 

" I wants to live here always." 

" But not at Elspeth s." 

" No-o not there, not there." And a troubled ques 
tioning 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 11 need a 
new house, and you 11 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. 



52 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" No ; she would n 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, look 
ing 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 companion 
ship 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. 



ZORA 53 

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 beauti 
ful 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. 



CHAPTER VI 

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 alway there were tense silent white-faced men moving 

[54] 



COTTON 55 

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 officers of Grey and Easterly, Brokers, Mr. Taylor, 
as chief and confidential clerk surveyed the world s naked 
ness 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 bur 
den 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 determina 
tion 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 



56 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 in 
tention 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 ex 
ecutor, 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 



COTTON 57 

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 sud 
den 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 Sarah 
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 Con 
gressman 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 im 
portant 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. 



58 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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, there 
fore, 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 listen 
ing 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 cir 
cumscribed, rather exclusive, set which centred around 



COTTON 59 

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 Massa 
chusetts north shore when she chanced to meet Mary 
Taylor, at a miscellaneous dinner, and found her inter 
esting. 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. Vander 
pool 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 an 
swered 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 Cress- 
wells." 

"Why, yes " faltered Miss Taylor; " but - 
would n 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 



60 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 cor 
dially and kindly, but with a difference." 

" But but, dear Mrs. Vanderpool, you would n t 
want your children trained that way, would you? " 

" Certainly not, my dear. But these are not my chil 
dren, 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 acquaint 
ance 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. 



COTTON 61 

Vanderpool could think of nothing less boring, she con 
sented to dine. 

The atmosphere of Mrs. Grey s ornate cottage was dif 
ferent 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 at 
mosphere 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 dol 
lars. 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 recon 
struction 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 fol 
low 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 en 
terprises. 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 



62 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 it to 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 ele 
vated 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 puf 
fing 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 to-night 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. 



COTTON 63 

" 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 adjust 
ment over there so damned much law and gospel." 

" But there s another side." 

"What s that?" 

" You are planning to combine and control the manu 
facture 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 nar 
rowed 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 re 
ports and letters." They pored over them a half hour. 
Then Easterly arose. 



64 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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 11 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 11 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 



COTTON 65 

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 Cress wells." 

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 cooperating 
with the local white people." 

"The Cresswells?" 

"Yes you see Mrs. Vanderpool knows the Cress- 
wells." 

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

"Why, yes. But you see, John, I don t just know 
whether one could cooperate 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." 



CHAPTER VII 

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 inter 
esting 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 Cress- 
wells. 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 

[66] 



THE PLACE OF DREAMS 67 

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 remem 
ber 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. 



68 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

"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 sing 
ing, 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 breath 
lessly. 

" He has n t dared," Miss Smith went gently on. " No 



THE PLACE OF DREAMS 69 

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 11 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 try 
ing 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 rum 
bling of the cotton wagons as they swayed toward town. 
The cry of the Naked was sweeping the world, and yon 
der 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. Variderpool is right," she confided to the night, 
with something of the awe with which one suddenly com 
prehends a hidden oracle ; " there must be a difference, 
always, always ! That impudent Negro ! " 



70 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 to-night, 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 



THE PLACE OF DREAMS 71 

masses, at least were not to be linked ; and, too, cul 
ture 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 to do anything 
with a girl like Zora, so stupid in some matters, so start- 
lingly 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 " did n 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 did n 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 imperson 
ally, 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 ? " 



72 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

"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 blab 
bing the truth right out. Only," she added severely, 
" you mus n 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: 



THE PLACE OF DREAMS 73 

"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 would n t work for pay." 

" But you 11 have to, child ; you 11 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 



74 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

her eyes and they were shining. She was beautiful as 
she stood there strangely, almost uncannily, but start- 
lingly 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 do n 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 hur 
ried 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 to-day 
Zora was to show him the long dreamed of spot for the 
planting of the Silver Fleece. He hastened toward tho 
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 



THE PLACE OF DREAMS 75 

together, he nervous and eager; she silent, passive, 
but her eyes restless. Bles was full of his plans. 

" Zora," he said, " we 11 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. 

" Corne," she said, " I 11 take the clothes home, then 
we 11 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 could n t 
plant it," with a sudden shrillness, " it would kill you." 



76 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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

" Git the ground git the ground ; dig it pet it, 
and we 11 see what we 11 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 must n 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 fol 
lowed, 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 stiff 
ened, 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. 



THE PLACE OF DREAMS 77 

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

"Is you af eared, 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 



78 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 plough 
ing," 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 ungra 
ciously while eying 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 con 
versation. 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. 



THE PLACE OF DREAMS 79 

" Zora, don t deny that you took my pin from the 
desk this afternoon," the teacher commanded severely. 

" I did n t say I did n t take no pin." 

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

" Why should n 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 heinous- 
ness 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." 

rs, 

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. 



80 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

Bles handed it silently to Miss Taylor. Mary Taylor 
was beside herself with impatient anger and anger in 
tensified 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 
to-night for disrespect toward a teacher." 



CHAPTER VIII 

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 9 h m h m * a combination of capital and 
power, such as this nation has never seen 4 cotton 
manufacturers and cotton growers. 5 . . . Well, well ! 
Of course, I suppose there s nothing in it. And yet, 
Harry, my boy, this cotton-growing business is get 
ting in a pretty tight pinch. Unless relief comes somehow 
well, we 11 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 

[81] 



82 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 could n 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 11 make Elspeth take 
that girl out of school if I have to horse-whip her, and 
I 11 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 11 hardly miss any work Zora does," he said. 

" I 11 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 



MR. HARRY CRESSWELL 83 

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 11 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 labori 
ously 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 could n 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 in sorry. Miss Smith is engaged this morn 
ing. I am Miss Taylor." 

" I cannot share Miss Taylor s sorrow," returned Mr. 



84 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 11 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 ani 
mated, 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 busi 
ness 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," Cress- 
well pursued, the opening having been so easily accom 
plished. 

" I understand perfectly." 

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

" Oh I realize the difficulties." 

" Perhaps you would n t mind riding by some day 
it s embarrassing to suggest this, but, you know " 



MR. HARRY CRESSWELL 85 

Mary Taylor was perfectly self-possessed. 

" Mr. Cresswell," she said seriously, " I know very 
well that it would n 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 sug 
gested 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 in 
terest, whatever its nature; so in a manner vastly dif 
ferent 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 concern 
ing 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." 



86 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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 11 tell Miss Smith." Mary 
Taylor suddenly felt herself a judge of character. " I 
suspected that she was not what she ought to be. Be 
lieve me, we appreciate your interest." 

A few more words, and Mr. Cress well, after bending 
courteously over her hand with a deference no New Eng- 
lander 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-girl 
ish? 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 interroga 
tory. 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." 



MR. HARRY CRESSWELL 87 

"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 expres 
sion of opinion. 

" I guess we 11 worry along with her a little while 
anyhow," she said. 

The girl stared at Miss Smith in honest, if unpardon 
able, 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 7 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 par 
alyzed 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 to-day 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 



88 [THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

reason to know that the disposition indeed, the plan 
in certain quarters to help this work materially de 
pends very largely on your willingness to meet the ad 
vances 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 irrele 
vance, "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 im 
pudent and disrespectful toward their superiors, not 
even touching his hat when he met a white man. More 
over, 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 fel 
low 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 



MR. HARRY CRESSWELL 89 

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 was n t man 
against man, or he would have dragged the pale puppy 
from his horse and rubbed his face in the earth. It 
was n t even one against many, else how willingly, swing 
ing his axe, he would have stood his ground before a 
mob. 

No, it was one against a world, a world of power, opin 
ion, 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 to 
ward 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. 



CHAPTER IX 

THE PLANTING 

ZORA looked down upon Bles, where he stood to 
his knees in mud. The toil was beyond exhilara 
tion 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 be 
neath 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 flinch 
ing 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." 

[90] 



THE PLANTING 91 

" 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 con 
templated 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 11 
work all day. We just will get it done sometime." 
His mouth closed with determination. 

" We won t work any more to-day, 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 11 be a bright moon to-night," ventured Bles. 

" Then I 11 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 



92 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

in a half-hour was in the lower meadows of the Cress- 
well 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 laby 
rinthine windings of the swamp. It was dark and haunt 
ing, 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 pour 
ing 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 



THE PLANTING 93 

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 giv 
ing 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 



94 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 broad 
ened 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 to 
ward 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, " / stole it." 

" Well, Zora, I don t want you ever to tell another 
lie, or ever to take anything that does n t belong to you." 

She looked at him silently with the shadow of some 
thing 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. 



THE PLANTING 95 

He thought a while. 

" No," said he finally, " it is not necessary always to 
tell all the truth ; but never tell anything that is n 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 would n t take advantage of a 
little girl that did wrong, when she did n 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. 



96 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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

The hag wheeled and approached him swiftly, grasp 
ing 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 af eared, 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 



THE PLANTING 97 

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 have n 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 boister 
ous, 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 11 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 



98 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

enter: the girl was staring silently at the Madonna. She 
seemed to feel rather than hear his presence, and she in 
quired 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 
did n 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 star 
ing 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 ? " 



THE PLANTING 99 

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 was n 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: 

"To-night!" 

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 wan 
dering 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, clasp 
ing 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 



100 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 com 
ing 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! " 



CHAPTER X 

MR. TAYLOR CALLS 

THINKING the matter over," said Harry Cress- 
well 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 11 be passing through Montgomery the 
first of next month, and proposes calling." 

" I 11 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 in 
terest 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 ? " expect 
antly regarding her brother. 

[101] 



102 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" I forgot it, Sis. But I 11 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 to-day? " 

" 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 any 
thing 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 Cress- 
well, carelessly, when the servant appeared. He was a 
young, light-brown boy, his manner obsequious. 



MR. TAYLOR CALLS 103 

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

" Spare you, you black rascal ! You re going anyhow. 
Well, you 11 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: 



104 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" It s quite unnecessary ; she 11 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 stand 
ing straggling and weather-worn. Long, straight, or 
curling rows of ploughers passed by with steaming, strug 
gling mules, with whips snapping and the yodle of work 
ers 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 



MR. TAYLOR CALLS 105 

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 11 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 are n t you at work ? " called 
Cresswell from the roadside. The old man rose pain 
fully 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 as 
sured his companion, in an undertone ; then to the man : 

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

" Yes, Master Harry," the other returned, with con 
ciliatory 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 for 
ward, wincing with pain. Mary Taylor stirred in her 
seat under an involuntary impulse to help, but Cresswell 
touched the horse. 



106 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" All right, Uncle Jim," he said ; " we 11 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 Pse one of Aunt Rachel s chilluns." 

" And where do you live, Buddy ? " 

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

" Well, I 11 see Aunt Rachel and ask her to send you 
to school." 

" Won t do no good she done ast, and Mr. Cress- 
well, 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 talk 
ing deferentially. Cresswell strode carelessly on, answer 
ing 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. 



MR. TAYLOR CALLS 107 

Cresswell the Lord bless him," said the minister, shov 
ing 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 would n t mind," he suggested, " I could in 
troduce 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 ob 
long 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 fac 
ing 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 



108 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 conversa 
tion 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 would n t do it again." 

The girl was angry. 

" I m not a school-girl, but a grown woman, and ca 
pable 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 triumph 
antly up the stairs. 

But John Taylor was not the man to wait weeks when 



MR. TAYLOR CALL 109 

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 pres 
ent, 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 post 
poned until a year later. This experience and the per 
sistence of Mr. Taylor induced Mr. Easterly to take a 
step toward the larger project: he let in some eager out 
side capital to the safer manufacturing scheme, and with 
drew 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 play 
ing a part in the financial situation there. 

" It s a risk, Taylor, of course, and we 11 let the old 
lady take the risk. At the worst it s safer than the 
damned foolishness she has in mind." 



110 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 tenta 
tively, 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, thrust 
ing out a card. " Want to see Mr. Cresswell ; soon as 
possible." 

Sam made him wait a half-hour, for the sake of dis 
cipline, 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 11 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 re 
fused, 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 



MR. TAYLOR CALLS 111 

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 capitaliz 
ation at a billion. The only thing that threatens it is 
child-labor legislation in the South, the tariff, and the con 
trol 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 connec 
tion 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 manufactur 
ing 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 ac 
count as long as they are disfranchised. The half million 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 Na 
tional of Montgomery, of which you are a silent director." 

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

" Don t be alarmed. 1 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 mort 
gage to cover it. 

" Yes, sir success ! You did n t know it ; we were 
too careful to allow that ; and I say frankly you would n t 
know it now if we were n t convinced you were too far 
involved and the League too discouraged to repeat the 
dose." 

" Now, look here, sir," began Colonel Cresswell, flush 
ing 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 



MR. TAYLOR CALLS 113 

wide and unerring. But the knowledge is safe, sir ; it 9 s 
buried. Last year when you people curtailed cotton acre 
age and warehoused a big chunk of the crop you gave the 
mill men the scare of their lives. We had a hasty con 
ference 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 
could n 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. 



114 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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 11 consider this matter carefully. You 11 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 ter 
race, and was, on the whole, thinking less of cotton than 
he had for several years. To be sure, he was talking cot 
ton; 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. 



MR. TAYLOR CALLS 115 

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 be 
lieve, and they did not expect her to believe. They were 
charmingly deferential in the matter of dropped hand 
kerchiefs, but tyrannical of opinion. They were thought 
ful about candy and flowers, but thoughtless about feel 
ings 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. 

Meantime 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 your 
self 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, 



116 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 11 have to join them on their own terms. 
If he s bluffing, or the thing looks weak, we 11 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 were n t either," interrupted Harry, with a 
laugh that was unmistakably cordial and friendly. " You 
had quite forgotten what you were waiting for is n 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 for 
sook 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 



MR. TAYLOR CALLS 117 

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 Cress- 
well 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 



118 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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. Cress- 
well was staring at the end of his cigar. 



CHAPTER XI 

THE FLOWERING OF THE FLEECE 

ZORA," observed Miss Smith, " it s a great bless 
ing not to need spectacles, is n t it? " 

Zora thought that it was ; but she was wonder 
ing 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 window s. 
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, guile 
fully. 

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

[119] 



120 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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 should n 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 book 
shelf 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 care 
lessly. " No one uses this room." 



THE FLOWERING OF THE FLEECE 

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 11 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. To-day 
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 9 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 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

one great all-absorbing thing meant nothing to the gaunt 
tired-looking 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 train 
ing. 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 to-night 
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 cot 
tage, 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, 



THE FLOWERING OF THE FLEECE 123 

to work and dream alone. At noon Bles would run down, 
and they would linger until he must hurry back to din 
ner. 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 sud 
denly 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 ex 
pression. 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 ; under 
wear 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 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 wnich 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 march 
ing 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 FLOWERING OF THE FLEECE 125 

The change in Zora, however, had been neither cat 
aclysmic 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 be 
come manifest, some dominant. She would, unhindered, 
develop to a brilliant, sumptuous womanhood ; proud, con 
quering, 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 jeal 
ously; 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 must n 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 cot- 



126 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

ton. 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, be 
yond 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 dif 
ferent 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 



THE FLOWERING OF THE FLEECE 127 

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 satis 
faction, 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 should n t be so ; everything ought to have 
a chance to be beautiful and useful." 

" Perhaps it ought to be so," admitted Bles, " but it 
is n t." 

" Is n 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 



128 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 chil 
dren grew with it into theirs. Zora never forgot how 
they found the first white flower in that green and billow 
ing 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. 



CHAPTER XII 

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. Gray has been to see me, and she has an 
nounced 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 11 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 achieve 
ment ; some, glowing dimly, had plodded on in slow, dumb 
faithful work worth while ; and yet others had suddenly ex- 

[129] 



130 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

ploded, 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, laugh 
ing, 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 aristoc- 



THE PROMISE 

racy, helped by Northern philanthropy, should take 
charge of such gradual changes. 

These conclusions she did not pretend to have origi 
nated; but she adopted them from reading and conver 
sation, 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 an 
nounced 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 hun 
dred acres of the Tolliver plantation, which the school 
needed so sadly for its farm and community. But the 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

owner was a hard and ignorant white man, hating " nig 
gers " 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 Cress- 
well 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?" 



THE PROMISE 133 

" 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, ey 
ing 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 gwirie to move." 

" But I thought it was all arranged." 

" It was," gloomily, " but de ole Gunnel, 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. 



184 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 regard 
ing the matter as at the deed itself. 

" Yas m. He did n 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 11 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? " 

" Yas m, dey had ; but, you see, dey were arrested, 
and then Gunnel Cresswell took em and lowed they 
could n t leave his place. OP 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 11 I 11 see what I can do, Aunt Rachel I must 
do something," murmured Miss Smith hastily, as the 



THE PROMISE 135 

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 Gunnel." 

" 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 does n 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 



136 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 Gunnel 
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?" 

fHe 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 no 
body 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 could n t tell him that 
he would never get one at the present rate; she only 
said: 

" I 11 look this up. You come again next Satur 
day." 

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. 



THE PROMISE 137 

" 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 looked 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. 

" W T hy 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 does n 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 to-day 
practically at the mercy of his keener and more intelli 
gent 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 ? " 



138 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

"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 suc 
ceed; 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 11 think of it," returned the boy soberly. " I 
reckon you re right. I know Miss Taylor do n 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 



THE PROMISE 139 

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 to-day 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." 



140 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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 is n 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, watch 
ing 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 



THE PROMISE 

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 Cress- 
well 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 dis 
concerting 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." 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

"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 ob 
jection. 

" The land is worth, you know, at least fifty dollars 
an acre. 5 

" 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 would n t reckon it as worth more than five thou 
sand 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 apprehen 
sion 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 



THE PROMISE 143 

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 call 
ing, however. 

"Bles hitch up!" 

He was vexed. " Are you in a hurry, Miss Smith? " 
he asked. 

" Yes, I am," sne 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 
to-day she was agitated. She knew she was taking a crit 
ical 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 



144 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 every 
thing. 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 Toombsville 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 thou 
sand 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 prop 
erty as possible. And yet, why should she hesitate? It 



THE PROMISE 145 

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." 



CHAPTER XIII 

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 depart 
ment. 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 neces 
sitate 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 fel- 

[146 ] 



MRS. GREY GIVES A DINNER 147 

lows? 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 wains 
coting 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 twink 
ling 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 al 
ways 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 diffi 
cult combination. 

As she awaited her guests she surveyed the table with 
both satisfaction and disquietude, for her social func 
tions were few. To-night there were she checked them 
off on her fingers Sir James Creighton, the rich Eng 
lish 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 



148 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 English 
man 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 forth 
with. She was therefore most agreeably surprised to 
hear Mr. Cresswell express himself so cordially as ap 
proving of Negro education. 

" Why, I thought," said Mrs. Grey, " that you South 
erners 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 
danger of of amalgamation, do you ? " he sang. 



MRS. GREY GIVES A DINNER 149 

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 South- 

. era 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 English 
man, 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 indi 
viduals 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 use 
less 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 uncom 
fortable, 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 



150 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 dis 
agree 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 con 
fess that I have no personal desire to dabble in philan 
thropy, 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 laugh 
ing. Mrs. Grey wanted to hear the incident, but the 
young man was politely reluctant. Mary Taylor, how 
ever, 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 under 
standing on most of these matters." 



MRS. GREY GIVES A DINNER 151 

"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 preoccu 
pied 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. 



CHAPTER XIV 
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 end 
less 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 cheer 
less leaky cabin with worse than no companions. Ah! 

[152] 



LOVE 153 

the swamp, the cruel swamp! It was a fearful place 
in the rain. Its oozing mud and fetid vapors, its cling 
ing 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 bright 
ened 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. 



154 L THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 drip 
ping shelter in the tree. There she lay wet, be 
draggled, motionless, gray-pallid beneath her dark-drawn 
skin, her burning eyes searching restlessly for some lost 
thing, her lips a-moaning. 



LOVE 155 

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 
arid 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 



156 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

strove for her life, with gnarled and creeping fingers; 
but now at last, weakly, she opened her eyes and ques 
tioned. 

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 burst 
ing 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, tremu 
lous, 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 bor 
ders she had met her love. On she hurried until, sweep 
ing down to the lagoon and the island, lo ! the cotton lay 



LOVE 157 

before her ! A great white foam was spread upon its 
brown and green ; the whole field was waving and shiver 
ing 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. 



CHAPTER XV 

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 bewilder 
ing night in Broadway was expressing its influence; but 
he was satisfied that his ill-temper was due to a para 
graph 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 judg 
ment 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. 

F158 1 



REVELATION 159 

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, how 
ever, for speech, and he spoke almost roughly. 

"Taylor, what does this mean?" He thrust the clip 
ping 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 sys 
tem can be maintained without laborers? Do you think 
there s the slightest chance of cornering cotton and buy 
ing 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 11 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 per 
plexed young man. "Are you men fools, or rascals? 



160 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 



REVELATION 161 

would improve things in the South," he commented, un 
moved. 

" It would if we ran it." 

"We?" 

" Yes we Southerners." 

"Urn! 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 does n t concern us, Taylor ; let Cresswell 
take care of the whole thing. We 11 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 11 see that on such committee you South 
erners 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 ex 
pecting 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 prej 
udice 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 



162 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 Cress- 
wells, 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 law 
yers and professors just yet . . . No, I don t sup 
pose her school is ... Well, then ; see here. She 11 
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 11 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. 



REVELATION 163 

The winter started in severely, and it was easy to fill 
two private cars with members of the new Negro Educa 
tion 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 sociolo 
gist, consented to join. 

" Awfully busy," he said, " but I ve been reading up J 
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, to 
gether with the silent Miss Boldish. They were a com 
fortable 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 sup 
pose they do, for instance. That is an average wage 
to-day." 

" They look lazy," said Mrs. Grey. 

" They are lazy," said Mr. Cresswell. 



164 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" So am I," added Mrs. Vanderpool, suppressing a 
yawn. 

" It is uninteresting," murmured her husband, prepar 
ing for a nap. 

On the whole the members of the party enjoyed them 
selves from the moment they drew out of Jersey City 
to the afternoon when, in four carriages, they rolled be 
neath 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 woman 
hood, 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. 

To-day 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 Cress- 
well coaches were wheeling along with precious burdens. 



REVELATION 165 

In the first carriage were Mrs. Grey and Mrs. Vander- 
pool, 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 com 
placent 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." 



166 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" They must grow larger, then, and soon." 
" Your feet are far too small to travel on." 
" They 11 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. Van- 
derpool smiled; but Mr. Cresswell darkened with anger. 
The couple unclasped shamefacedly, and the young man, 
lifting his hat, started to stammer an apology ; but Cress- 
well 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 burn- 



REVELATION 167 

ing 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 min 
utes, 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 



168 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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. Bend- 




CAN IT BE, BLES ALWYN," SHE SAID, " THAT YOU 

DON T KNOW THE SORT OF A GIRL SHE IS? " 



REVELATION 169 

ing, 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, rend 
ing 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, gray 
ish-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 ; 



170 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 be 
fore? " 

" 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 



REVELATION 171 

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. 



CHAPTER XVI 

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 Cress- 
wells. 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 re 
vived within her memories of long-forgotten days. But 
above lay the vision of her school, redeemed and en 
larged, 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 

[172] 



THE GREAT REFUSAL 173 

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 re 
solved, 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. East 
erly 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." 



174 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 com 
mission 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. East 
erly 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 begin 
ning 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. 



THE GREAT REFUSAL 175 

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 ap 
pointed 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 un 
equal, 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." 



176 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

With an upward glance the Rev. Mr. 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 hun 
dred were singing a soft minor wail that gripped the 
hearts and tingled in the ears of the hearers. Mr. Bo- 
combe 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 have n 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, 



THE GREAT REFUSAL 177 

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. Is n t that your idea, Miss 
Smith?" 

"Not exactly," that 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 per 
form their duties as fathers, mothers, and citizens." 

" Yes yes, precisely," said Mrs. Grey, " that s what 
I meant." 

" I think tKe whites can attend to the duties of citizen 
ship 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 
w T omen, 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 pos 
sibilities. 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 



178 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 thou- 
sand dollars. One condition is that my friend, Mr. Cress- 
well 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." 



THE GREAT REFUSAL 179 

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 1 
moved toward the door and Mr. Cresswell bowing slightly 
followed. Dr. Boldish looked indignant and Mr. Bo- 
combe 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 11 talk this mat 
ter 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 concen- 
trate ; notice how some slept when Dr. Boldish was speak 
ing? Mr. Cresswell says they own almost no land here; 
think of it ? This land was worth only ten dollars an acre 



180 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 lectur 
ing 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 wait 
ing 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 cham 
ber 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 preten 
sions built on the poverty, crime, and exploitation of six 
generations of serfs. You 11 marry him and " 

But Miss Taylor leapt to her feet wjth blazing cheeks. 

" How dare you? " she screamed, beside herself. 

" But God in heaven help you if you do," finished Miss 
Smith, calmly. 



CHAPTER XVII 

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 wak 
ened 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 is n 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. To 
ward night a dumb despair settled upon her. Miss Smith 

[181] 



182 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 could n t." 

" Yes, even hurts like this. Bear and stand straight ; 
be brave. After all, Zora, no man is quite worth a wom 
an 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 11 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 for 
get. 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 



THE RAPE OF THE FLEECE 183 

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 awaken 
ing 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 encourage 
ment ; cancel his debt and give him ten dollars for Christ 
mas." 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." 



184 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

"Aunt Rachel?" 

" H m, they re way behind, aren t they? Give her a 
couple of dollars not a cent more." 

" JimSykes?" 

" 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 " unus 
ually interesting " to Mrs. Vanderpool. To Mary Tay 
lor it had the fascination of a puzzle whose other side 
she had already been partially studying. She was par 
ticularly 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 RAPE OF THE FLEECE 185 

" 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." 

" Would n 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, look 
ing 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. 



186 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

His father approached. The cotton lay in silken hand- 
fuls, clean and shimmering, with threads full two inches 
long. The idlers, black and white, clustered round, gaz 
ing 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 11 need to get it picked right off," he suggested. 

" It s all picked, sir." 

"But where is it?" 

" If you 11 sencl 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 some 
thing between contempt and astonishment on his face. 

" You go along with the ladies," Harry added ; " I 11 
see to this cotton." Mary Taylor s smile had rewarded 



THE RAPE OF THE FLEECE 187 

him ; now he must get rid of his company before Zora 
returned. 

It was dark when the cotton came ; such a load as Cress- 
well 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. Some 
where 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. 



188 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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 dark 
ness. 

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-mor 
row, 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. In 
to 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 en- 



THE RAPE OF THE FLEECE 189 

slave her. A desperate resolve to find some way up to 
ward 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 purifica 
tion, 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. 



CHAPTER XVIII 

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 that it would buy. All the roads in the coun 
try had been lined with wagons a million wagons speed 
ing 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 thou 
sand, million upon million, until they settled over the 

[190] 



THE COTTON CORNER 191 

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 ex 
plosions 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 corner 
ing and hold it for higher prices." 

" Lord, son ! if we only could ! " groaned the Colonel. 

" We can; we 11 have unlimited credit." 

" But but " stuttered the bewildered Colonel, " I 
don t understand. Why should the trust " 

" Nonsense, Father what s the use of understand 
ing. Our advantage is plain, and John Taylor guar 
antees the thing." 



192 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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 es 
cape at their expense, even if that escape involves unwar 
ranted 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 11 tell you why there are no Southern gentle 
men," growled his father. 

The Silver Fleece was golden, for its prices were flying 
aloft. Mr. Caldwell told Colonel Cresswell that he con 
fidently 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 de 
mand 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 the Cresswells on the northwest, " yes, if cotton 
goes to twelve or thirteen cents as seems probable, I 



THE COTTON CORNER 193 

think we can begin the New House " for Mrs. Max 
well s cherished dream was a pillared mansion like the 
Cresswclls . 

Mr. Tolliver looked at his house and barns. " Well, 
daughter, if this crop sells at twelve cents, I 11 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 Cress- 
wells 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 chil 
dren 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 



194 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 w r as hurried out. 

" Tightening up on the tenants ? " asked Taylor. 

" Yes ; these niggers are mighty extravagant. Besides, 
cotton fell a little to-day 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 Broad 
way 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 11 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? Tol 
liver 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 dis 
tinguished fellow citizen, Colonel Cresswell," and his 
efforts to revive the Farmers League. It was under 
stood that Colonel Cresswell was risking his whole pri 
vate fortune to hold the price of cotton, and some effort 



THE COTTON CORNER 195 

seemed to be needed, for cotton dropped to nine cents 
within a week. Swift negotiations ensued, and a meet 
ing 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; where 
upon Harry Cresswell introduced John Taylor, who rep 
resented 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. 
r 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 andfthe muttered 
protest became angry denunciation. Why was it? Who 
was doing it?3 

Harry Cresswell went to Montgomery. He was get 
ting 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 



196 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

into submission, down to his thirty-sixth year, had sel 
dom 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 spasmodi 
cally 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 overpower- 
ingly 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 



THE COTTON CORNER 197 

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 thou 
sand 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 al 
ready 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 ! out- 



198 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

side mills are low ; they 11 stampede soon. Meantime 
we 11 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 work 
ing feverishly. He sat down heavily in the chair oppo 
site 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 had n t a cent on 
earth. If it stayed there " My God ! " He felt a faint- 
ness 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 11 be 



THE COTTON CORNER 199 

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% 8 8l/ 2 ." 

Cresswell listened, staggered to his feet, his face crim 
son and his hair wild. 

" My God, Taylor," he gasped, " I m I m a half 
a million ahead great heavens ! " 

The ticker whirred, "83/4 9 91/2 10." Then 
it stopped dead. 

" Exchange closed," said Taylor. " We ve cornered 
the market all right cornered it d ye hear, Cress- 
well? We got over half the crop and we can send prices 
to the North Star you why, I figure it you Cress- 
wells 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 reflec 
tively. 

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." Cress- 
well stretched his hand across the desk, and as he bent 
forward the pistol crashed to the floor. 



CHAPTER XIX 

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 ; per 
haps 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 ! To-day 
the Cresswells were almost millionaires ; aye, and he might 
be married to more millions. 

He sat up with a start. To-day 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 arid 
firm. On the other hand there was about her a certain 
independence that he did not like to associate with wo- 

[200] 



THE DYING OF ELSPETH 201 

men. 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 to-day. 

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 Cress- 
well s correspondence with Mr. Easterly opened his eyes r 
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 Cress- 
wells, and his prejudice on this score must still be reck 
oned 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 defer 
ence, 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 



202 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 



THE DYING OF ELSPETH 

seemed so fitly set in the centre of the wilderness, beside 
its crawling slime. 

She paused in sudden certainty that there lay the an 
swer to her doubts and mistrust. She felt impelled to 
go forward and ask what ? She did not know, but some 
thing 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 sun 
light. 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 stag 
gering along the path whither Zora pointed. 

Slowly the sun was darkened, and plaintive murmur- 
ings 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 



204 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 mys 
ticism ; 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?" 



THE DYING OF ELSPETH 205 

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 must n t go, too ! " 

But the black girl drew proudly back. 

" I am there," she returned, with unmistakable sim 
plicity 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. 



206 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 sud 
denly 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 in 
tuition 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 en- 



THE DYING OF ELSPETH 207 

| couraged 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 su 
perior 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 



208 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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, change 
able 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 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 
I to Mary? The wench was always eluding and mock 
ing him, the black devil! But, pshaw! he poured him 
self 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 down- 



THE DYING OF ELSPETH 209 

stairs 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 mo 
tioned Zora away, and stretching her hands palms up 
ward to the sky, cried with dry and fear-struck gasp: 

"Pse called! Pse 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 for 
gotten 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 crash- 



210 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

ing 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 night 
mare. 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! 19 

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 knock 
ing, and a voice: 



THE DYING OF ELSPETH 211 

" Elspeth! Elspeth! Open the door; it s me." 

Then muttering and wandering noises, and silence 
again. 

The child on the bed turned itself, murmuring un 
easily 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, splint 
ered, 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 snatch 
ing 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 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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. 



CHAPTER XX 

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 to-day 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 North 
ern 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. 

[213] 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 11 go to the fields 
or to the chain-gang. I 11 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 al 
most wildly to understand the foundations of understand 
ing, 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 ar 
rest for herself. To work in the fields meant endless toil 
and a vista that opened upon death. 



THE WEAVING OF THE SILVER FLEECE 215 

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 anchor 
ing it there. That was the Silver Fleece. Like a brood 
ing 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 ringer 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 



216 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 tele 
graphed; 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 im 
patient 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 re 
member to his dying day one awful shriek in the night, as 
of a soul tormenting and tormented. He wanted the pro 
tection 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 distinctly 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 im 
probability 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. 



THE WEAVING OF THE SILVER FLEECE 217 

Said Harry : " Sis, I 11 cable to Paris to-day. 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. a I don t see the con 
nection 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 planta 
tion, and evidently he has a surprise in store for us." 

The Colonel affected to hesitate, but next morning the 
Silver Fleece went to tow T n. 

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. 



218 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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. To-day was the 
last in town; there was craftily advanced money in their 
pockets and riot in their hearts. In the gathering twi 
light 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, have n t 
you a girl about here who would do ? " 

" No," declared Harry decisively, but his sister sug 
gested 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 



THE JVEAVING OF THE SILVER FLEECE 219 

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 mock 
ing 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 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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, beauti 
ful, 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. Vander 
pool. 

" Zora? In town? " Miss Smith rose. " I 11 send her 
to you to-morrow," she said quietly. Mrs. Vanderpool 
had hardly reached the Oaks before Miss Smith was driv 
ing 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 



THE WEAVING OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 burn 
ing 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 stamp 
ing 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 out 
stretched 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 could n t find the Way and I wanted to forget." 

" People in hell don t forget," was the matter-of-fact 



222 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 earnestness, " 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." 



CHAPTER XXI 

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 unin 
tentionally 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. 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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," re 
turned 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 wonderfu] 
sights." 

"Yes but back of it all, what is it really? What 
does it look like? " 

" Heavens, child ! Don t ask. Really, it is n 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 ? " an 
swered 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. 



THE MARRIAGE MORNING 225 

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 with 
draw 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 i 
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 divina 
tion 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. 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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 danger 
ous 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 fine 
ness 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 110 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 like 
lihood 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 have n 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." 



THE MARRIAGE MORNING 227 

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 intri 
cate ways, with soft shadowings and coverings, she wove 
in that white veil her own strange soul, and Mrs. Vander 
pool 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. Ac 
cordingly the Taylors arrived a week before the wedding 
and the home took on a festive air. Even Colonel Cress- 
well expanded under the genial influences, and while his 
head still protested his heart was glad. He had to re 
spect 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. 

Marjr 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 



228 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 



THE MARRIAGE MORNING 229 

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 to 
morrow 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 care 
fully 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 Cress- 
well s buggy, and a scurrying at the front door. On 
came the dressmaker s footsteps then her door was un 
ceremoniously 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 



230 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

was ripping and snipping, and soon there lay revealed be 
fore 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 noth 
ing 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 
have n 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 dog 
wood; 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 shim 
mering cloth about her, dragging her hair down in a 



THE MARRIAGE MORNING 231 

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. 

" T is 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. 

" T is thy marriage morning, shining in the sun ! " 
Up floated the song of the little dark-faced children, 
and Zora listened. 



CHAPTER XXII 

MISS CAROLINE WYNN 

BLES ALWYN was seated in the anteroom of 
Senator Smith s office in Washington. The Sen 
ator had not come in yet, and there were others 
waiting, too. 

The young man sat in a corner, dreaming. Washing 
ton 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 



MISS CAROLINE WYNN 233 

they were men they filled his mind s ideal he felt 
like going up to them and grasping their hands and say 
ing, "At last, brother!" Ah, it was good to find one s 
dreams, walking in the light, in flesh and blood. Con 
tinually 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 Amer 
ican people deserve salvation?" he sneered, holding off 
the headlines and glancing at them. 

" * League Beats Trust. 9 . . . c 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 no 
body 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 sup 
port 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 



234 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

forming against you ; they met only last night, but I did 
not go. Won t you take a stand on some of these pro 
gressive 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 to-morrow ; Sumdrich is chairman by courtesy, 
but you 11 have the real power. Put the Child Labor 
Bill first, and we 11 work the press. The Tariff will take 
most of the session, of course. We 11 put the cotton in 
spection 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 J s 
going to be the new chairman of the campaign, you know. 
Ever met him?" 

" Yes." 

Well so long." 






MISS CAROLINE WYNN 235 

" 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 pre 
cise, 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 un 
doubtedly 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 hes 
itated for a word well, " white." 

" Yes yes, ma am," he stammered, becoming sud 
denly conscious that the lady had now a second time 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 have n 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." 



MISS CAROLINE WYNN 237 

" 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 con 
ceive 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 11 do anything." 

" No, you 11 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. 



238 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" Do you mean to intimate that Mr. Alwyn s appoint 
ment 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 11 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 en 
dowment 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 



MISS CAROLINE WYNN 239 

keenly scrutinized the young woman, and she steadily re 
turned 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 ear-shot 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 perplex 
ity, then bowing in turn, left. Bles followed, debat 
ing just what he ought to say, how far he might venture 
to accompany her, what but she easily settled it all. 



240 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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 appoint 
ment 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 Uni 
versity 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 al 
though 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 rec 
ognized the old sweet-tempered Negro traits, had also 
looser, uglier manners than he was accustomed to, from 
which he shrank. The u E^ - j^ses of Negroes, on the 
other haueb. ne s ^ observed^from afar^they were stran 
gers not only in acquaintance butjbecause 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 



MISS CAROLINE WYNN 

" 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 de 
lightedly, 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 hand. He was 
foolishly glad to see the former Cresswell butler, whom 
he had known but slightly. His face brought back un- 
uttered 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 sup 
pose, and all that? " 

" No," Bles 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 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

aristocracy. The Treble Clef gives a concert, and every 
body 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 pro 
gramme 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 consider 
able attention to himself. Then the entertainment 
straightway lost all its charm; he grew painfully embar 
rassed, and for the remainder of the evening was awk 
wardly self-conscious. ! When all was over, the audience 
rose leisurely and stood in little knots and eddies, laugh 
ing 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 sec 
ond " Alabama. Miss Taylor Mr. Alwyn and," 



MISS CAROLINE WYNN 

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 did n 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 spe 
cialty," 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 some 
how the fancy struck him that it was a cold hand and not 
always sympathetic in its touch. 



CHAPTER XXIII 

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 com 
pared the lands she passed with the lands she knew: not 
ing 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 under 
stand 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 won 
ders ; the endless going and coming of men ; great piles 

] 



THE TRAINING OF ZORA 245 

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 tower 
ing 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 



246 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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, everything 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 11 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 dis 
cover 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. 



THE TRAINING OF ZORA 247 

" 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 success 
ful 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. VanderpooPs 
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 



248 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 pantomine 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 bet 
ter than many of my friends and then she piques my 



THE TRAINING OF ZORA 249 

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 11 take her to 
France and marry her off in the colonies." 

" Well, that s possible ; but one does n 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 11 
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 impos 
sible. 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 enter 
ing politics." 

" No, I shall do some early house hunting in Washing 
ton," 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 con 
versation 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 



250 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

still intimate, and the Cresswells were bound to him and 
his interests by strong ties. He bowed as Mrs, Cress- 
well 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 some 
thing. 

" 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 Con 
gress for certain matters will depend on the attitude of 
Southerners and you usually spend the winters in Wash 
ington. 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 excel 
lent 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 mat 
ters 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 dis 
appointed air. 

" Of course, Mrs. Vanderpool, I see how it is : you 
have plenty and one can t expect your services or in 
fluence 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 



THE TRAINING OF ZORA 251 

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 ambas 
sadors." 

" To be sure, but we appoint Presidents," laughed Mr. 
Easterly. " Good-day. I shall hope to .see you in Wash 
ington." 

" Good-day," Mrs. Vanderpool returned absently. 

After he had gone she walked slowly to Zora s room 
and opened the door. For a long timeshe stood quietly 
looking in. Zora was curled in a chair with a book. She 
was in dreamland; in a world of books builded thought 
fully 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 Splen 
did. 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 Tooms- 
ville. Paris, she knew, wonderful, haunting Paris: the 
Paris of Clovis, and St. Louis; of Louis the Great, and 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 we like to be Ambassador to France ? " 



CHAPTER XXIV 

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 to-day for its darker peoples.J 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 hun 
dred 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. Per 
haps 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 un 
usually presentable and always well-gowned and pleasant 
of speech. Yet she found nearly all careers closed to 
her. At first it seemed accidental, the luck of life. Then 

[253] 



254 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

she attributed it to her sex; but at last she was sure 
that, beyond chance and womanhood, it was the color- 
line 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 ever 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 to 
gether, 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, there 
fore, 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 EDUCATION OF ALWYN 255 

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 11 send " 

" Oh, no ! A bird in the hand, you know. I 11 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." 



256 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 per 
sons. They formed a picturesque group: conventional 
but graceful in dress; animated in movement; full of 
good-natured laughter, but quite un-American in the beau 
tiful 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 un 
usual 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 be 
tween 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 guests 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 distin 
guish 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 



THE EDUCATION OF ALWYN 257 

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 outbursting. But Bles missed this ; he seemed 
to have slipped and lost his bearings, and the character 
istics 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 wil- 
fulness. 

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 



258 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 to 
ward the cloor 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 have n t learned our lan 
guage yet. We don t just blurt into the Negro Prob 
lem ; 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. 



THE EDUCATION OF ALWYN 259 

" Come here," she said with a sudden turn, and they 
joined an absorbed group in the midst of a conversa 
tion. 

" 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, is n 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 inde 
pendently and not be bought by a few offices." 

" That 9 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?" 



260 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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 Demo 
cratic 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 pa 
tient, resolute man beneath his deferential exterior, and 
he saw in Bles a stepping stone. So he began to drop 
in at his lodgings and to-night 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 



THE EDUCATION OF ALWYN 261 

Stillings so, and told him also of the evening and the 
discussion. 

" Why, that s the subject up to-night," Stillings de 
clared, " 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 en 
thusiastic, 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. Still 
ings 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 



262 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 govern 
ment and conditions in the Black Belt, of the lying, op 
pression, and helplessness of the sodden black masses; 
then, turning, he reminded them of the history of slav 
ery. 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 ridi 
culed 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 the 
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 him 
self swayed, she mused, he would be invincible.! But 
to-night he was moved as greatly as his hearers had been, 
and that was dangerous. If his intense belief happened 



THE EDUCATION OF ALWYN 

to be popular, all right; but if not? She frowned. He 
was worth watching, she concluded; quite worth watch 
ing, 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 her 
self, and that she did. She told him of her youth and 
training, her ambitions, her disappointments. Quite un 
consciously 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, does n 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 sacri 
fice? " 

" Oh, well, we 11 omit Alabama, and admit the excep 
tion." 

" Well, here, in Washington there s your friend, the 
Judge, who has befriended you so, as you admit." 



264 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 de 
served. 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 did n t you have him arrested ? " 

"For what? And suppose I had?" 

Bles threw out his arms helplessly. 



THE EDUCATION OF ALWYN 265 

" Oh! it is n 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. 



CHAPTER XXV 

THE CAMPAIGN 

MR. EASTERLY sat in Mrs. Vanderpool s apart 
ments 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 inter 
rupted. 

" Well, first and foremost, the difficulty of electing our 
man." 

" I thought that a foregone conclusion." 

" It was. But do you know that we J 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." 

[266 ] 



THE CAMPAIGN 367 

"What s the matter?" 

" Well, business interests have driven our party to 
make friends with the South. The South has disfran 
chised 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. Van- 
derpool 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 ? " con 
tinued 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 11 look this young man up," he decided ; " he 
may help. Of course, Mrs. Vanderpool, we 11 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 party 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 



268 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 is n 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 Ne 
gro 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 to-day at all ; he puzzles me ; he does n 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 perplex 
ity 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 



THE CAMPAIGN 269 

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 in 
formation. 

" 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 de 
cisively. 

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 elimi 
nation, finally arrived at Bles Alwyn. 

Why riot 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 round 
ers. 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. 



270 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

Very goo d. She wrote two letters, and then curled up 
to her novel and candy. 

Next day Senator Smith held Miss Wynn s letter un 
opened 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 had n 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-com 
mittee meets to-morrow." 



THE CAMPAIGN 271 

Bles Alwyn hurried up to Senator Smith s office, hop 
ing 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 not more." 

They summoned the young man. The chairman pro 
duced cigars. 

" I don t smoke," said Bles apologetically. 

" Well, we have n t anything to drink," said the chair 
man. 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." 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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 11 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 11 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 to-day." 

" 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, con 
templating 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 promi 
nent Negroes were carefully catalogued, written to, and 



THE CAMPAIGN 273 

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-meet 
ings in the chief cities of the country, culminating in New 
York the night before election. Perhaps the secret news 
paper 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 candi 
date. 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 nfajority. This 
is what Senator Smith said to Mr. Easterly; what Miss 
Wynn said to herself; and it was what Mrs. Vander- 
pool 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 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 thoughts 
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 Reg 
isters 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 11 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 car 
riage. She noted with considerable interest the young 
colored woman who was watching her from the sidewalk: 



THE CAMPAIGN 275 

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 be 
came 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 to-day; 
don t fail. I shall be at home at eight to-night." 

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 in 
terest, 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. 



276 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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 



THE CAMPAIGN 277 

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 11 think it over," and he went out. 

When Caroline Wynn heard of that extraordinary con 
versation her amazement knew no bounds. Yet Alwyn 
ventured to voice doubts : 

s^Jr? 

" I m not fitted for either of those high offices ; there 
are many others who deserve more, and I don t some 
how 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 sur 
prise but said reflectively: 



278 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

"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 does n 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 preju 
diced 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 11 dine 
next Tuesday, and we 11 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 



THE CAMPAIGN 279 

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, 
j straightened, and solved. If she had come to you, as she 
did to me yesterday, with her theory that all that South 
ern Negroes needed was to learn how to make good serv 
ants 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 has n 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 



280 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

buy a cast of Minerva for the assembly-room. More than 
that, I have now a wealthy friend. She thinks me an un 
usually clever person who, by a process of thought not un 
like her own, has arrived at very similar conclusions." 

" But but," objected Bles, " if the time spent cajol 
ing fools were used in convincing the honest and upright, 
think how much we would gain." 

" Very little. The honest and upright are a sad minor 
ity. 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, per 
haps 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 think 
ing 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." 



THE CAMPAIGN 281 

i 

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 rose 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. 



CHAPTER XXVI 

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. 

u 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 sev 
enty-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 fur- 



CONGRESSMAN CRESSWELL 283 

nished 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 pic 
tured 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 to-day 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 Wash- 



284 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

ington, 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 do 
ing nothing. He arose at ten, dined at seven, and went to 
bed between midnight and sunrise. There were some com 
mittee 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 under 
taking 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 conver 
sation. 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 associa 
tion. 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 



CONGRESSMAN CRESSWELL 285 

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 be 
fore 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, mak 
ing them sweet and beautiful. But in this world, not per 
haps 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 



286 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

But it was no caller. It was simply some one named 
Stillings to see Mr. Cresswell. She went down to see 
hi m h e 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 11 be in earlier to-night," 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 



CONGRESSMAN CRESSWELL 287 

again. Of course, the Club was an affair with more of 
gossip than of intellectual effort, but to-day, 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 cer 
tainly her husband did n 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 



288 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

a discreet pigeon-wing as he rounded the corner. He had 
been promised the backing of the whole Southern delega 
tion 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 is n 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 recom 
mends him for the campaign " 

" What ! " Teerswell again exploded. But Stillings 
continued smoothly: 

" Oh, I have ways of finding things out. She corre 
sponds 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 " 



CONGRESSMAN CRESSWELL 289 

" I don t see as it 9 s all up yet," Stillings tried to reas 
sure him. 

" But did n 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 any 
thing to down that nigger. I hate him. If you 11 help 
me I 11 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 deter 
mined 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 do n 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 sorpe fool talking and get it into 
the papers, he 11 be ditched, and 1 11 be Register." 

"Greet!" shouted Teerswell. 

" Wait wait. Now, if I get the job, how would you 
like to be my assistant ? " 



290 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" Like it ? Why, great Jehoshaphat ! I d marry 
Carrie but how can I help you?" 

" This way. I want to be better known among in 
fluential 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 11 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 ; 1 m hand in glove with Alwyn. 
I 11 put stuff into him that 11 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 11 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 11 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 re 
garded the promise to him of a high office as a menace to 
the South. 

The second speech which Alwyn made at the Bethel 



CONGRESSMAN CRESSWELL 291 

Literary was, as Stillings foresaw, a reply to the sting 
ing 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 Re 
publican Party to redeem its pledges. 

Caroline Wynn, seeing the rocks for which her political 
craft was headed, adroitly steered several newspaper re 
ports 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 CresswelPs 
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 11 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." 



292 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" When, as a matter of fact," drawled Mrs. Vander- 
pool, " he was simply honest." 

" The South won t stand it," Cresswell decisively 
affirmed. 

" Well " began Mr. Easterly. 

" See here," interrupted Mrs. Vanderpool. " I m in 
terested in Alwyn; in fact, an honest man in politics, 
even if he is black, piques my curiosity. Give him a 
chance and I 11 warrant he 11 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 ap 
pointed 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 must n 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 keep 
ing his mouth shut. We may land him," hte repeated, 

" Engaged ! " gaspd Mrs. Vanderpool. 

Zora quietly closed the door. 



CHAPTER XXVII 
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 night 
fall, 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 un 
seeing 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 haunt 
ing 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, un 
seen 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 

[ 293] 



294 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 receiv 
ing 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 ser 
mons 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, win 
dow, 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 emaciation ; 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 



THE VISION OF ZORA 095 

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 sal 
vation. 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 sac 
rifice." ("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. Be 
hold 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 



296 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 in 
quired, for she seemed to see in the girl s face and car 
riage 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 Resur 
rection 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." 



THE VISION OF ZORA 297 

" Maybe," said Zora serenely and quietly ; " but he 
brought the Word." 

" Zora, don t talk cant ; it is n t worthy of your 
intelligence." 

" It was more than intelligent it was true." 

" Zora listen, child ! You were wrought up to-night, 
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 lov 
ingly 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. 



298 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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, un 
welcome truth was that her husband had no great inter 
ests in life in which she could find permanent pleasure. 
Companionship and love there was and, she told herself, 



THE VISION OF ZORA 299 

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 to-day. 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 se 
cured 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." 



300 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

Discussion followed; not flamboyant and declamatory, 
but tense, staccato, pointed. Mrs. Cresswell found her 
self 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. 

Congressman 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 indi 
cate 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 personal proprietor- 



THE VISION OF ZORA 301 

ship 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 whit* 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-posses 
sion, would conquer and she would go gracefully out 
leaving a rather bewildered audience behind. She sat to 
day 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 ques 
tions 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 probiem. 

" I suppose the next bit of excitement will be the in 
auguration," she said to Mrs. Vanderpool. 

" I understand it will be unusually elaborate," re 
turned Mrs. Vanderpool, a little surprised at the turn. 




302 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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. 
" Is n 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 af 
ford 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 de 
liberately : 

"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. 



CHAPTER XXVIII 

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 dec 
orated 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, swing 
ing 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 pro 
tected 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 ! " 

[303] 



304 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" Come," Cresswell invited. But just then the crowd 
pushed them apart and shot them along, and Mrs. Cress- 
well 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 es 
caped 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 
v 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 Els- 
peth s cabin : the dirt, the smell, the squalor : of course, 
this would be different; but well, Mrs. Cresswell had 

I 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!" 

TJaen there was a hitch. 
" Tickets ?" 

" Where can we buy them ? " 
" Not on sale," was the curt reply. 
" Actually exclusive ! " sneered Cresswell, for he could 



THE ANNUNCIATION 305 

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 Cress- 
well leaned forward. It was interesting. Beneath her 
was an ordinary pretty ball flowered, silked, and rib 
boned ; 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 liv 
ing 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 hu 
man 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. 



306 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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, look 
ing 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 fond 
ness 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 



THE ANNUNCIATION 307 

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 meas 
ure 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 South 
erners in three ways : Todd s revived Blair Bill is too good 
a thing for niggers; the South is clamoring for a first 
class embassy appointment; and the President s nomina 
tion 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 ambassa 
dorship provided she d help keep the Southerners feel 
ing good toward us. She s hand in glove with the 
Southerners, all right; but she wants not only her hus 
band s appointment but this darkey s too." 

" But that s been decided, has n t it? " put in Smith. 

" Yes," grumbled Easterly ; " but it makes it hard al 
ready. At any rate, the Educational Bill must be killed 
right off. No more talk ; no more consideration kill 



308 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

it, and kill it now. Now about this Child Labor Bill: 
Todd s Civic Club is raising the mischief. Who s respon 
sible?" 

The silent Jackson spoke up. " Congressman Cress- 
well 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 un 
restricted labor conditions, as we must throughout the 
South. Does n t Cresswell know this ? " 

" Of course. I think it s just a bluff. If he gets the 
appointment he 11 let the bill drop." 

" I see everybody is raising his price, is he? Pretty 
soon the darky will be holding us up. Well, see Cress- 
well, and put it to him strong. I must go. Wire me." 

Senator Smith presented the matter bluntly to Cress- 
well as soon as he saw him. " Which would the South 
prefer Todd s Education Bill, or Alwyn s appoint 
ment? " 

It was characteristic of Cresswell that the smaller mat 
ter of Stillings intrigue should interest him more than 
Todd s measure, of which he knew nothing. 



THE ANNUNCIATION 309 

"What is Todd s bill?" asked Harry Cresswell, dark 
ening. 

Smith, surprised, got out a copy and explained. Cress- 
well 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 play 
ing a shrewd game? 

" Why," he said at length, " are n 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 nat 
urally 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 



310 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 do n 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." 

" Did n t you know that this Child Labor business was 
opposed to my interests ? " 



THE ANNUNCIATION 311 

" 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 did n 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 her 
self upon his neck, with a joyful, half hysterical cry. 

" I will give it all up everything ! Willingly, will 
ingly ! " Her voice dropped abruptly to a tremulous 
whisper. " Oh, Harry ! I I am to be the mother of a 
child!" 



CHAPTER XXIX 
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 c 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 de 
priving 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." 

[312] 



A MASTER OF FATE 313 

" Not at all ; you mean the colored newspapers, I pre 
sume." 

" The same, with TeerswelPs 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 their sup 
port 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 As 
sistant 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 
Educational Bill. He s been in to see me several times, 
as you probably know. His heart is set on it. He re 
gards its passage as a sort of vindication of his defence 
of the party." 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" Yes." 

" Now, the party has dropped the bill for good, and 
Alwyn does n t like it. If he should attack the party : 

" But he would n 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 John 
son; 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, repeat 
ing 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 



A MASTER OF FATE 315 

on this soil ; yet if she stepped into this hotel to rest, even 
with full purse, she would be politely refused accommo 
dation. 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 police 
man 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 at 
tack 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. 

" Was n 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?" 



316 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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 sell 
ing 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 11 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 wel 
comed 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." 



A MASTER OF FATE 317 

"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 lia 
ble to lose my position as teacher." 

He looked at her quickly, and she explained the com 
ing 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 



318 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 attain 
ment 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 extrava 
gances? 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 not how strait the gate, 

How charged with punishment the scroll ; 
I am the master of my fate, 
I am the captain of my soul." 



A MASTER OF FATE 319 

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 pre 
ferment; 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 especial 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 un 
usual 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 con 
cession to the South." 

Mrs. Vanderpool looked up, and an interjection hov- 



320 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

ered 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 11 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 grop 
ing. 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. Van- 
derpool. 

" 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 en 
lightenment. 

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 desper 
ate even for her steady nerves. 

" You would not like me to act dishonestly, would 
you? " he asked. 

" No," she involuntarily replied, regretting the word tne 
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 



A MASTER OF FATE 321 

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 be 
tween 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 sugges 
tions, her hints, but she had no intimation of what he 
would finally say. 

" Will you come to hear me ? " he asked. 

" No," she murmured. 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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 head 
ings. 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 Teers- 
well 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: 



A MASTER OF FATE 

" 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 dia 
mond. 

He rose. " Whose is that ? " he demanded apprehen 
sively. 

" Mine " her eyes met his. 

" But who gave it to you ? " 

" Mr. Stillings," was the soft reply. 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

He stared at her helplessly. "I I don t under 
stand ! " 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. To-day, 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 11 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-con 
ceit 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 



A MASTER OF FATE 825 

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 did n 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 is n 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." 



CHAPTER XXX 

THE RETURN OF ZORA 

I NEVER realized before just what a lie meant," said 
Zora. 

The paper in Mrs. Vanderpool s hands fell quickly 
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 un 
til 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. 

[326 ] 



THE RETURN OF ZORA 327 

" 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 ap 
pointment would cost you the embassy unless Bles was 
tempted and should fall. So I came to you to say 
to say you must n 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 did n 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, opin 
ionated country boy, and I wrote and said Oh, I said 



328 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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. Vander 
pool 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?" 



THE RETURN OF ZORA 329 

" When you leave for the summer." 

Mrs. Vandexpool 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 have n 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. Van 
derpool 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 peo 
ple. 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 






330 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 under 
stand 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 mut 
tering 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, i She felt no 
anger, she simply wondered what he f eared. | The in 
creasing 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 none o my business," he flung back at her 
and moved away. All day white men passed back and 



THE RETURN OF ZORA 331 

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 of 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 sud 
denly stopped. 

A gang of colored section hands got on, dirty and 
loud. They sprawled about and smoked, drank, and 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 hap 
pening, but the continued apprehension of unknown pos 
sibilities. 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 desper 
ately 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 eat 
ing 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 lunch 
room 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. 



THE RETURN OF ZORA 333 

" Yes, Miss ; certainly I 11 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 passen 
ger 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 de 
termined 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 11 sho pay Sata day." 

Yet the little voices that summoned her back to earth 
were less clamorous than in other years, for the school 



334 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 manipula 
tion. 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 Max 
wells 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 methodi 
cally; 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 mort 
gage 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. 



THE RETURN OF ZORA 335 

" It s the Lord s work. I ve done what I could. I 
guess if He wants it to go on, He 11 find a way. And 
if He does n t " She looked off across the swamp and 
was silent. 

Then came Zora s letter, simple and brief, but breath 
ing 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 board 
ers complain and the teachers gossip Zora was com 
ing. 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 to 
gether. 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 : 



336 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

VANDEEPOOL 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? Wlmt 
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. 



CHAPTER XXXI 
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, to-day, she lay repeat 
ing them mechanically, grasping vaguely at their mean 
ing. 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 ly 
ing there. To-day 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: 

[337] 






338 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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 win 
dow and chair a long, long j ourney ; 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 little 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 speak 
ing 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 



A PARTING OF WAYS 339 

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 hus 
band, the muttered exclamation, the studied, almost over 
done welcome. Then she went up to her mirror and looked 
long, and knew. 

She was strong; she felt well; but she was slight, al 
most 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 



340 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 of 
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 man 
ner 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 commenda 
tions; a praise that piqued as well as pleased him, be 
cause 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 sug 
gested. 

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 tempta 
tion to knowledge before him, even inspiring Senator 
Smith to ask him to defend that schedule against the low- 



A PARTING OF WAYS 341 

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 ar 
ranged 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 South 
erner 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 men 
tioned a candidate, and those who did not seemed to 
refrain from motives of personal modesty. 

Mary Cresswell sped her departing guests with a dis 
tinct 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 orna- 



342 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

mental 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 Cress well back in time for 
greater advancement. At any rate, it was the only tangi 
ble 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 hus 
band 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 selfish 
ness, 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 Presi 
dent stood ready to send her husband s appointment again 
to the Senate whenever Easterly could assure him of fav 
orable action. Easterly had long and satisfactory inter 
views with several senators, while the Todd insurgents 
were losing heart at the prospect of choosing between 



A PARTING OF WAYS 343 

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 con 
tingent, Mrs. Vanderpool was engineering exclusive din 
ners 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 South 
ern girl had nearly won first prize over a Western man. 
The concensus of Southern opinion was that the judg 
ment 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 ascer 
tained and a certain sense of justice combined in a curious 
way with her political intrigue to bring about the undoing 
of Mary Cresswell. 



344 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

Mrs. VanderpooPs 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 thor 
oughfares and called on Mrs. Stillings. Had Mrs. Still 
ings 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, al 
though 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 tremen 
dously. 

" 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 ex 
hibit 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 



A PARTING OF WAYS 345 

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 ex 
hibit 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 ambassa 
dor 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 



346 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 oc 
curred 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 unimpeach 
able 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 remem 
ber, 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 



A PARTING OF WAYS 347 

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 
WSLS not wanted? " 

" Because you asked me to." 

" We did not ask for colored people." 



348 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" You asked all Southern-born persons. I am a per 
son 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. 
L" 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 wo 
man 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 sought her motor and fell wearily back on its 
cushions. 



A PARTING OF WAYS 349 

"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 be 
lieve 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 an 
niversary 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 tele 
phone 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 to-night, 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 



350 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 lis 
tened 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 to-night, 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 to-night." 

He laughed awkwardly. 

" Nonsense, girl ! The sub-committee on the cotton 
schedule meets to-night 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, 



A PARTING OF WAYS 351 

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. Some 
thing 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 op 
posite 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 5 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 11 walk by it if you want to." 



352 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 Wash 
ington, 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 have n t any name," answered the woman sus 
piciously. 

" 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 11 turn in." 

Mary Cresswell turned to see her husband and his com 
panions 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 vacilla 
tion 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 



A PARTING OF WAYS 356 

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 cloak- 
man, 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 phys 
ically 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 ex 
plain that she had followed him to save him, not to betray 
him. She would point out the great 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 



354 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 ! " 



CHAPTER XXXII 
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; to-day 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 country-side 

[355] 



356 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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. 

To-day, more than ever before, Zora sensed the vast 
unorganized power in this mass, and her mind was leap 
ing here and there, scheming and testing, when voices ar 
rested her. 

It was a desolate bit of the Cresswell manor, a tiny 
cabin, new-boarded and bare, in front of it a blazing bon 
fire. 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 did n 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 11 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 WAY 357 

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 sor 
row 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 help 
lessness 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 does n 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. 



358 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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, Ber 
tie 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 in 
nocence and the fright shining in the child s eyes. Her 
own eyes softened, her grip became a caress, but her 
heart was hard. 



ZORA S WAY 859 

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, pov 
erty, and crime. All this in turn but now and first, the 
innocent girlhood of this daughter of shame must be res 
cued 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 board 
ing-school, somewhere far away ; but the money ? God ! 
it was money, money, always money. Then she stopped 
suddenly, thrilled with the recollection of Mrs. Vander- 
pool 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 had n 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." 



360 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

There lay a silence in the room while the two women 
stared into each other s souls with startled eyes. Swal 
lowing hard, Miss Smith spoke. 

" When I thought the endowment sure, I mortgaged 
the school in order to buy Tolliver s land. The endow 
ment failed, as you know, because perhaps I was too 
stubborn." 

But Zora s eyes snapped " No ! " and Miss Smith con 
tinued : 

" 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 did n 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 could n 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. 



ZORA S WAY S61 

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 cur 
rency 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 did n 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 en 
velope. 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! 



2 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 would n 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 win 
dow 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." 



CHAPTER XXXIII 

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 could n 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." 

[ 363] 



364 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 



" 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 under 
stand Colonel Cresswell. As a matter of fact, Colonel 
Cresswell was an honest man. In most matters of com 
merce 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 slave 
holder 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 prop 
erty, 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. Van- 
derpool," 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 gentleman 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 



THE BUYING OF THE SWAMP 365 

years ago who had marched a dozen times unthinking be 
fore 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 5 s just what J 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? " 



366 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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 mort 
gage 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 would n t sell it to anybody else." 

She still hesitated. 



THE BUYING OF THE SWAMP 367 

" 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 medita 
tively. 

" 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 11 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 11 make the bargain." 

" All right. Bring the money and we 11 fix the thing 
up." 

" The money is here," said Zora, taking an envelope 
out of her bosom. 

" Well, leave it here, and I 11 see to it." 

" But you see, sir, Miss Smith is so methodical ; she 
expects some papers or receipts." 

" Well, it >s too late to-night." 

" 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 CresswelPs 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? 



368 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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, stream 
ing 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 indiffer 
ence. 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. Remem 
bering some former snubs, his manner was lordly. 

" I does n 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. 



THE BUYING OF THE SWAMP 369 

" 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 sus 
piciously, 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 suf 
fering, 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 straight-forward talk which they seldom heard 
and for which they were hungering. 

And Zora forgot time and occasion. The moment* 
flew; the crowd increased until the wonderful spell of 
those dark and upturned faces pulsed in her blood. She 



370 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

felt the wild yearning to help them beating in her ears 
and blinding her eyes. 

" Oh, my people ! " she almost sobbed. " My own peo 
ple, 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 him 
self 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 dur 
ing the week; but the week was full of planning and 
journeying and talking. 

Saturday dawned cool and clear. She had dinner pre 
pared 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 high 
way 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 misera 
bly 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. 



THE BUYING OF THE SWAMP 371 

He says your mother was a voodoo woman and that you 
don t believe in God, and the deacons voted that the mem 
bers must n t help you." 

" And do the people believe that ? " she asked in con 
sternation. 

" 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 won 
dered, 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 to 
ward 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. 



372 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 re 
vival 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 hur 
ried 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? 



THE BUYING OF THE SWAMP 373 

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, com 
ing as from the end of the world; there swelled a rhyth 
mical 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 



374 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 to-day. 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 wav 
ing 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 neg 
lect. " 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 
half way between midnight and dawn, but nevertheless 
the people leapt frenziedly to their feet. 



THE BUYING OF THE SWAMP 376 

" 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 ap 
peared in the thick south side of the swamp, which wid 
ened 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 them 
selves 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. 



CHAPTER XXXIV 
THE RETURN OF ALWYN 

BLES ALWYN stared at Mrs. Harry Cresswell in 
surprise. He had not seen her since that mo 
ment 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 per 
haps 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 real 
ized; 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 

[376] 



THE RETURN OF ALWYN 377 

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. Did n t you see her while she was here ? She 
has gone back now." 

Then the gate opened, the crowd surged through, sweep 
ing 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 con 
course, 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 quiver 
ing 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, al 
most 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. 



378 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 de 
cided. 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 noth 
ing 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 correspond 
ing mental attitude. The physical change of these three 
years was marvellous. The girl was the woman, well- 
rounded and poised, tall, straight, and quick. And with 
this went mental change: a self-mastery; a veiling of the 



THE RETURN OF ALWYN 879 

self even in intimate talk; a subtle air as of one look 
ing 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, over 
hung 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 board 
ing 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, sup 
plied with books and pictures, simple toys, and a phono 
graph. The yard was one wide green and golden 



880 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

play-ground, and all day the music of children s glad 
crooning and the singing of girls went echoing and tremb 
ling 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, think 
ing, till her head whirled and the world danced red be 
fore her eyes. To-day 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; con 
sequently he made opportunities to talk with Mrs. Cress- 
well 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. 

To-day both met each other almost eagerly. 

Mrs. Cresswell had just had a bit of news which only 
he would fully appreciate. 



THE RETURN OF ALWYN 381 

" 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 char 
acteristic 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 to-day. 

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 sys 
tematically 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 trou 
bles on Mrs. Cresswell, who seemed so torn in soul. But 
to-day he must speak, although time pressed. 

" Mrs. Cresswell," he began hurriedly, " there s a mat 
ter 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 



382 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 mis 
understand her had presumed? She reviewed her con 
duct. 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 RETURN OF ALWYN 383 

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 Cress- 
well 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 dif 
ferently from us in some ways; but mark what I sa}% 
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 11 all come out right. You re a Cress- 
well, 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 insist 
ence 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 to-day. If Maxwell calls by 



384 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

about that lumber tell him I 11 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 hurry 
ing 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. Cress- 
well 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 Alwyri 
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 CresswelPs mansion before Cresswell did and with 
out 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 the 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 



THE RETURN OF ALWYN 385 

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 in 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 un 
certainty 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 



386 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 re 
action, 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 j ust 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 sud 
denly in upon them. With a start of fear Mrs. Cress- 
well rushed out into the hall and closed the door. 

" Mary, has that Alwyn nigger been here this after- 



THE RETURN OF ALWYN 387 

noon? " Mr. Cresswell was corning up-stairs, carrying 
his riding- whip. 

" Why, no 1 " she answered, lying instinctively before 
she quite realized what her lie meant. She hesitated. 
" That is, I have n 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 down-stairs," he wavered and scowled. " Have 
you been in your sitting-room? " And then, not wait 
ing for a reply, he strode to the door. 

" But the damned scoundrel would n 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 is n 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 



388 !THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 ; here 
after I 11 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 unhesitatingly; distinct, direct, 

" No, Bles." 



CHAPTER XXXV 

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 dilapidated 
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 con 
fused 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 re 
duce 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 11 scare them with a vision of niggers in the 
mills!" 

[389] 






390 L THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

Colonel Cressvvell 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 any 
way 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 gentle 
man 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 11 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. 



THE COTTON MILL Ml 

We 11 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 J 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, suck 
ing 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. 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

Hitherto town and country had been ruled by a few great 
landlords but at the very first election, Coiton, an un 
known 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 11 be governed by this white trash from 
the hills." 

" There s only one way," sighed Caldwell, the mer 
chant ; " 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 11 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 11 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 ex 
pect 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 conse- 



THE COTTON MILL 

... \ i. 

quences. 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 un 
believable 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 land 
lord 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 threaten 
ing cloud of Negro competition loomed ahead. There was 
some talk of a strike, but Colton, the new sheriff, dis 
couraged it. 

" I tell you, boys, where the trouble lies : it s the nig- 



394 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

gers. They live on nothing and take any kind of treat 
ment, and they keep wages down. If you strike, they 11 
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 11 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 increas 
ing 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, de 
spite 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 court-house 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. 



THE COTTON MILL Jiitf 

" 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 disma} r . Suppose such a con 
junction should come to pass? He edged over to John 
Taylor and spoke to him; but Taylor, who had just suc 
cessfully 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. 



396 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" Wait till Jim gets on the bench," he growled. 

The white bystanders, however, did not seem enthu 
siastic 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 do n t get the niggers first, 
they 11 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 constitution 
ally 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 



THE COTTON MILL 397 

dog-like faith, asking no reward, and for what he gave in 
reverence to them, he took back in contempt for his fel 
lows " 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 direc 
tions. 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 11 eventually get to 
gether ; their interests are identical. I 11 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 must crush," he in 
sisted. 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 V 
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 



398 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 J 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 have n 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, 



THE COTTON MILL 

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, w 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 atti 
tude 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 hod been 
holding her dark littie 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 brother 
hood had still remained. Now this attitude was being 



400 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 narrow 
ness, of his priggish blindness, rose like a mockery in his 
soul. One thing alone held him back: he was not un 
willing 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 comrade 
ship 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 



THE COTTON MILL 401 

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. 



CHAPTER XXXVI 

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 in 
calculable 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. 

[402] 



THE LAND 403 

" 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 lit 
tle 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-shoul 
dered, 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 Simp 
son 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 hun 
dred acres for the school. Here Miss Zora will carry on 



404 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

her work and the school will run a model farm with your 
help. We want to centre here agencies to make life bet 
ter. 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 



THE LAND 405 

among the men whispering and explaining; while John 
son 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 your 
selves," 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 per 
fect faith in her; in her impetuous hope, her deep en 
thusiasm, 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 mort 
gage 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. 



406 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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 11 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 proposi 
tion from Negroes surprised him. 

" Well, I 11 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 



THE LAND 407 

them. If you make a good deposit I 11 throw off ten per 
cent, which is all of my profit." 

" Thank you," said Alwyn, but he looked over the ac 
count and found the whole bill at least twice as large as 
he expected. Without further parley, he made some ex 
cuse 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 prac 
tically the same estimate. He could not understand it. 
He had estimated the current market prices according to 
the Montgomery paper, yet the prices in Toombsville 
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 at 
titude, 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 Toombsville to-night." 

" 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 ten 
ants were at work. The twenty acres of cleared swamp 



408 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 ten 
ants, 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 un 
usual 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 consterna 
tion 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 through 
out 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. 



THE LAND 409 

" We can t," she said. " Do n 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 could n t, why did you try ? " 

" Because I had to try ; and moreover the circum 
stances 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 11 get his advice and then I mean to conduct 
the case myself," Zora calmly concluded. 

" Without a lawyer ! " Bles Alwyn stared his amaze 
ment. 

" Without a lawyer in court." 

" Zora ! That would be foolish ! " 

" Is it ? Let s think. For over a year now I ve been 



410 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

studying the law of the case," and she pointed to her law 
books ; " I know the law and most of the decisions. More 
over, as a black woman fighting a hopeless battle with 
landlords, I 11 gain the one thing lacking." 

"What s that?" 

" The sympathy of the court and the bystanders." 

" Pshaw ! From these Southerners ? " 

ty- I " 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 does n 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. 



THE LAND 411 

" See here," he thundered, handing the lawyer the no 
tice of the injunction. 

" See the Judge," began the lawyer, and then re 
membered, 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 .-;ale ? " 

" 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 op 
posed in the last primary." 

Within a week the case was called, and they filed into 
the court-room. Cresswell s lawyer saw only this black 
woman no other lawyer or sign of one appeared to rep 
resent her. The place soon filled with a lazy, tobacco- 
chewing throng of white men. A few blacks whispered in 



THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 go 
ing 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. Cress- 
well 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 Cress- 
well beckoned to him. 

" I want you to help me out, John." 

" All right," whispered Taylor. " What can I do? " 

" Swear that Cresswell did n 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 Cress- 
well 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 



THE LAND 418 

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 tht 
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. 



414 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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, then pale, and leaning for 
ward 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 court 
room. 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 mat 
ters. 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." 



THE LAND 415 

"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 be 
gan 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 re 
spectable 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 



416 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

work together; his contempt for the officials elected by 
the people. 

" Candidly, Colton," he concluded, " I believe in aris 
tocracy. 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 nig 
ger-lover. He s secretly encouraging and helping them. 
You saw what he did to me, and 1 5 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 rep 
resent. 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 11 get one they 11 remember." 

" Now, see here, Colton, nothing rash," the Colonel 
charged him, warningly. " Do n 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 un 
steadily 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 loosen- 



THE LAND 417 

ing 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. 






CHAPTER XXXVII 

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 Cress- 
well, with the restlessness and unhappiness of an unem 
ployed 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 

[4181 



THE MOB 419 

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 Cress- 
well. 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 of 
ficials took charge of the court and the break occurred 
between Colonel Cress well 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 feeling go too far, and 
when a particularly distressing accident to a little girl 
took place, he showed more than his usual interest and 



420 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

offered to care for her. The new young physician recom 
mended Zora s infirmary as the only near place that of 
fered 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 out 
doors, playing with the little black children and even 
creeping into class-rooms 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 some 
thing 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 Tooms- 
ville mob will burn the school to-night." 

Bles stood motionless. 

" I ve been fearing it. The sheriff has been stirring 



THE MOB 

up the worst elements in the town lately and the mills pay 
off to-night." 

" 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 gather 
ing, with frightened, anxious, desperate faces. Women 
with bundles and children, men with guns, tottering old 
folks, w^ide-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 arid 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 



422 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 operator in yonder town 
had but to flash the news, " Negroes killing whites," In 
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 be 
came restless, and Johnson began to edge away toward 
the lower ihrll. Alwyn was watching him when a faint 
noise came to him on the eastern breeze a low, rumbling 
t 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, intermit 
tently, the murmuring swelled, till it grew distinguishable 
as yelling, cursing, and singing, intermingled with the 



THE MOB 

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. Si 
lence 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." 



424 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

" 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. " Have n t I a right to have 
a gun ? " 

" Yes, you have, Rob ; but do n 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 peace 
ful 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 must n t stop here," shouted Sheriff Col- 
ton ; " 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 morn- 



THE MOB 425 

ing 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 murder 
ers ! 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, tower 
ing 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. 



CHAPTER XXXVIII 

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; to-day, 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. 

[426] 



ATONEMENT 

" 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 need n 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 hun 
dred 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 an 
other 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 11 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 cu- 



428 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

riously. " 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? " 

SA flash of self-consciousness passed over the girl s face ; 
he 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 11 do it, Nell; I 11 atone. I m a Cresswell yet, Nell, a 
Cresswell and a gen He swayed. Vainly he strug 
gled for the word. The shudder of death shook his soul, 
and he passed. 

A week after the funeral of Colonel Cresswell, John 



ATONEMENT 429 

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 mar 
riage and paid the mortgage on the school out of her 
legacy, she would go abroad and in travel seek forget- 
fulness 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. 

Mias 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 



430 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

plantation. Mrs. Cresswell sat down in open-mouthed as 
tonishment. 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 to-day 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 to-day 
and her mind on the Silver Fleece? It was an anni 
versary, 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, stand 
ing 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. For 
getting 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, is n 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 11 thank God it has begun, though." 




I AM NOT WORTHY OF HER," HE ANSWERED, SINKING 

BEFORE HER 



ATONEMENT 

" Thank God ! " Zora reverently repeated. 

" Come, let s go back to poor, dear Miss Smith," sug 
gested 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 should n 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 had n 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 uncon 
sciously, it is you? You know Bles used to imagine him 
self 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, noth 
ing 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." 



432 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

Zora walked silently with her to the door, where, look 
ing 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 
hex 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 ? 



ATONEMENT 433 

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 be 
fore 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 



484 THE QUEST OF THE SILVER FLEECE 

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 ? " 

U ENVOI 

Lend me thine ears, 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, Infinite One, lest the world 
shudder at 



THE END 



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