Suddenly back behind there in the darkness a shriek split the night like a sudden flash of flame—a great ringing scream that cracked and swelled and stopped. With one wild effort the man hurled himself out the door and plunged through the darkness. Panting and cursing, he flashed his huge revolver—“bang! bang! bang!” it cracked into the night. The sweat poured from his forehead; the terror of the swamp was upon him. With a struggling and tearing in his throat, he tripped and fell fainting under the silent oaks.
The Silver Fleece, darkly cloaked and girded, lay in the cotton warehouse of the Cresswells, near the store. Its silken fibres, cramped and close, shone yellow-white in the sunlight; sadly soiled, yet beautiful. Many came to see Zora’s twin bales, as they lay, handling them and questioning, while Colonel Cresswell grew proud of his possession.
The world was going well with the Colonel. Freed from money cares, praised for his generalship in the cotton corner, able to entertain sumptuously, he was again a Southern gentleman of the older school, and so in his envied element. Yet today he frowned as he stood poking absently with his cane at the baled Fleece.
This marriage—or, rather, these marriages—were not to his liking. It was a mesalliance of a sort that pricked him tenderly; it savored grossly of bargain and sale. His neighbors regarded it with disconcerting equanimity. They seemed to think an alliance with Northern millions an honor for Cresswell blood, and the Colonel thumped the nearer bale vigorously. His cane slipped along the iron bands suddenly, and the old man lurching forward, clutched in space to save himself and touched a human hand.
Zora, sitting shadowed on the farther bale, drew back her hand quickly at the contact, and started to move away.
“Who’s that?” thundered the Colonel, more angry at his involuntary fright than at the intrusion. “Here, boys!”
But Zora had come forward into the space where the sunlight of the wide front doors poured in upon the cotton bales.
“It’s me, Colonel,” she said.
He glared at her. She was taller and thinner than formerly, darkly transparent of skin, and her dark eyes shone in strange and dusky brilliance. Still indignant and surprised, the Colonel lifted his voice sharply.
“What the devil are you doing here?—sleeping when you ought to be at work! Get out! And see here, next week cotton chopping begins—you’ll go to the fields or to the chain-gang. I’ll have no more of your loafing about my place.”
Awaiting no reply, the Colonel, already half ashamed of his vehemence, stormed out into the sunlight and climbed upon his bay mare.