Bles was now laughing outright.
“Why, Miss Taylor! I declare! Goobers don’t grow on the tops of vines, but underground on the roots—like yams.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes, and we—we don’t pick cotton stalks except for kindling.”
“I must have been thinking of hemp. But tell me more about cotton.”
His eyes lighted, for cotton was to him a very real and beautiful thing, and a life-long companion, yet not one whose friendship had been coarsened and killed by heavy toil. He leaned against his hoe and talked half dreamily—where had he learned so well that dream-talk?
“We turn up the earth and sow it soon after Christmas. Then pretty soon there comes a sort of greenness on the black land and it swells and grows and, and—shivers. Then stalks shoot up with three or four leaves. That’s the way it is now, see? After that we chop out the weak stalks, and the strong ones grow tall and dark, till I think it must be like the ocean—all green and billowy; then come little flecks here and there and the sea is all filled with flowers—flowers like little bells, blue and purple and white.”
“Ah! that must be beautiful,” sighed Miss Taylor, wistfully, sinking to the ground and clasping her hands about her knees.
“Yes, ma’am. But it’s prettiest when the bolls come and swell and burst, and the cotton covers the field like foam, all misty—”
She bent wondering over the pale plants. The poetry of the thing began to sing within her, awakening her unpoetic imagination, and she murmured:
“The Golden Fleece—it’s the Silver Fleece!”
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Have you never heard of the Golden Fleece, Bles?”
“No, ma’am,” he said eagerly; then glancing up toward the Cresswell fields, he saw two white men watching them. He grasped his hoe and started briskly to work.
“Some time you’ll tell me, please, won’t you?”
She glanced at her watch in surprise and arose hastily.
“Yes, with pleasure,” she said moving away—at first very fast, and then more and more slowly up the lane, with a puzzled look on her face.
She began to realize that in this pleasant little chat the fact of the boy’s color had quite escaped her; and what especially puzzled her was that this had not happened before. She had been here four months, and yet every moment up to now she seemed to have been vividly, almost painfully conscious, that she was a white woman talking to black folk. Now, for one little half-hour she had been a woman talking to a boy—no, not even that: she had been talking—just talking; there were no persons in the conversation, just things—one thing: Cotton.
She started thinking of cotton—but at once she pulled herself back to the other aspect. Always before she had been veiled from these folk: who had put the veil there? Had she herself hung it before her soul, or had they hidden timidly behind its other side? Or was it simply a brute fact, regardless of both of them?