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 sorrow 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 helplessness 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 doesn’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.
“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.
Zora looked. The girl was Emma, and beside her, smiling, stood a half-grown white man. It was Emma, Bertie’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.