But Zora still stood silent in the shadow of the Silver Fleece, hearing and yet not hearing. She was searching for the Way, groping for the threads of life, seeking almost wildly to understand the foundations of understanding, piteously asking for answer to the puzzle of life. All the while the walls rose straight about her and narrow. To continue in school meant charity, yet she had nowhere to go and nothing to go with. To refuse to work for the Cresswells meant trouble for the school and perhaps arrest for herself. To work in the fields meant endless toil and a vista that opened upon death.
Like a hunted thing the girl turned and twisted in thought and faced everywhere the blank Impossible. Cold and dreamlike without, her shut teeth held back seething fires within, and a spirit of revolt that gathered wildness as it grew. Above all flew the dream, the phantasy, the memory of the past, the vision of the future. Over and over she whispered to herself: “This is not the End; this can not be the End.”
Somehow, somewhere, would come salvation. Yet what it would be and what she expected she did not know. She sought the Way, but what way and whither she did not know, she dared not dream.
One thing alone lay in her wild fancy like a great and wonderful fact dragging the dream to earth and anchoring it there. That was the Silver Fleece. Like a brooding mother, Zora had watched it. She knew how the gin had been cleaned for its pressing and how it had been baled apart and carefully covered. She knew how proud Colonel Cresswell was of it and how daily he had visitors to see it and finger the wide white wound in its side.
“Yes, sir, grown on my place, by my niggers, sir!” he assured them; and they marvelled.
To Zora’s mind, this beautiful baled fibre was hers; it typified happiness; it was an holy thing which profane hands had stolen. When it came back to her (as come it must, she cried with clenched hands) it would bring happiness; not the great Happiness—that was gone forever—but illumination, atonement, and something of the power and the glory. So, involuntarily almost, she haunted the cotton storehouse, flitting like a dark and silent ghost in among the workmen, greeting them with her low musical voice, warding them with the cold majesty of her eyes; each day afraid of some last parting, each night triumphant—it was still there!
The Colonel—Zora already forgotten—rode up to the Cresswell Oaks, pondering darkly. It was bad enough to contemplate Helen’s marriage in distant prospect, but the sudden, almost peremptory desire for marrying at Eastertide, a little less than two months away, was absurd. There were “business reasons arising from the presidential campaign in the fall,” John Taylor had telegraphed; but there was already too much business in the arrangement to suit the Colonel. With Harry it was different. Indeed it was his own quiet suggestion that made John Taylor hurry matters.