“Yes, they is devils down yonder behind the swamp,” she would whisper, warningly, when, after the first meeting, he had crept back again and again, half fascinated, half amused to greet her; “I’se seen ’em, I’se heard ’em, ’cause my mammy is a witch.”
The boy would sit and watch her wonderingly as she lay curled along the low branch of the mighty oak, clinging with little curved limbs and flying fingers. Possessed by the spirit of her vision, she would chant, low-voiced, tremulous, mischievous:
“One night a devil come to me on blue fire out of a big red flower that grows in the south swamp; he was tall and big and strong as anything, and when he spoke the trees shook and the stars fell. Even mammy was afeared; and it takes a lot to make mammy afeared, ’cause she’s a witch and can conjure. He said, ’I’ll come when you die—I’ll come when you die, and take the conjure off you,’ and then he went away on a big fire.”
“Shucks!” the boy would say, trying to express scornful disbelief when, in truth, he was awed and doubtful. Always he would glance involuntarily back along the path behind him. Then her low birdlike laughter would rise and ring through the trees.
So passed a year, and there came the time when her wayward teasing and the almost painful thrill of her tale-telling nettled him and drove him away. For long months he did not meet her, until one day he saw her deep eyes fixed longingly upon him from a thicket in the swamp. He went and greeted her. But she said no word, sitting nested among the greenwood with passionate, proud silence, until he had sued long for peace; then in sudden new friendship she had taken his hand and led him through the swamp, showing him all the beauty of her swamp-world—great shadowy oaks and limpid pools, lone, naked trees and sweet flowers; the whispering and flitting of wild things, and the winging of furtive birds. She had dropped the impish mischief of her way, and up from beneath it rose a wistful, visionary tenderness; a mighty half-confessed, half-concealed, striving for unknown things. He seemed to have found a new friend.
And today, after he had taken Miss Taylor home and supped, he came out in the twilight under the new moon and whistled the tremulous note that always brought her.
“Why did you speak so to Miss Taylor?” he asked, reproachfully. She considered the matter a moment.
“You don’t understand,” she said. “You can’t never understand. I can see right through people. You can’t. You never had a witch for a mammy—did you?”
“Well, then, you see I have to take care of you and see things for you.”
“Zora,” he said thoughtfully, “you must learn to read.”
“So that you can read books and know lots of things.”
“Don’t white folks make books?”
“Yes—most of the books.”
“Pooh! I knows more than they do now—a heap more.”