“People in hell don’t forget,” was the matter-of-fact comment. “And, Zora, what way do you seek? The way where?”
Zora sat up in bed, and lifted a gray and stricken face.
“It’s a lie,” she cried, with hoarse earnedstness, “the way nowhere. There is no Way! You know—I want him—I want nothing on earth but him—and him I can’t ever have.”
The older woman drew her down tenderly.
“No, Zora,” she said, “there’s something you want more than him and something you can have!”
“What?” asked the wondering girl.
“His respect,” said Sarah Smith, “and I know the Way.”
Mrs. Vanderpool watched Zora as she came up the path beneath the oaks. “She walks well,” she observed. And laying aside her book, she waited with a marked curiosity.
The girl’s greeting was brief, almost curt, but unintentionally so, as one could easily see, for back in her eyes lurked an impatient hunger; she was not thinking of greetings. She murmured a quick word, and stood straight and tall with her eyes squarely on the lady.
In the depths of Mrs. Vanderpool’s heart something strange—not new, but very old—stirred. Before her stood this tall black girl, quietly returning her look. Mrs. Vanderpool had a most uncomfortable sense of being judged, of being weighed,—and there arose within her an impulse to self-justification.
She smiled and said sweetly, “Won’t you sit?” But despite all this, her mind seemed leaping backward a thousand years; back to a simpler, primal day when she herself, white, frail, and fettered, stood before the dusky magnificence of some bejewelled barbarian queen and sought to justify herself. She shook off the phantasy,—and yet how well the girl stood. It was not every one that could stand still and well.
“Please sit down,” she repeated with her softest charm, not dreaming that outside the school white persons did not ask this girl to sit in their presence. But even this did not move Zora. She sat down. There was in her, walking, standing, sitting, a simple directness which Mrs. Vanderpool sensed and met.
“Zora, I need some one to help me—to do my hair and serve my coffee, and dress and take care of me. The work will not be hard, and you can travel and see the world and live well. Would you like it?”
“But I do not know how to do all these things,” returned Zora, slowly. She was thinking rapidly—Was this the Way? It sounded wonderful. The World, the great mysterious World, that stretched beyond the swamp and into which Bles and the Silver Fleece had gone—did it lead to the Way? But if she went there what would she see and do, and would it be possible to become such a woman as Miss Smith pictured?
“What is the world like?” asked Zora.
Mrs. Vanderpool smiled. “Oh, I meant great active cities and buildings, myriads of people and wonderful sights.”