He thought of Zora again. Why not go back to the South where she had gone? He shuddered as one who sees before him a cold black pool whither his path leads. To face the proscription, the insult, the lawless hate of the South again—never! And yet he went home and sat down and wrote a long letter to Miss Smith.
The reply that came after some delay was almost curt. It answered few of his questions, argued with none of his doubts, and made no mention of Zora. Yes, there was need of a manager for the new farm and settlement. She was not sure whether Alwyn could do the work or not. The salary was meagre and the work hard. If he wished it, he must decide immediately.
Two weeks later found Alwyn on the train facing Southward in the Jim Crow car. How he had decided to go back South he did not know. In fact, he had not decided. He had sat helpless and inactive in the grip of great and shadowed hands, and the thing was as yet incomprehensible. And so it was that the vision Zora saw in the swamp had been real enough, and Alwyn felt strangely disappointed that she had given no sign of greeting on recognition.
In other ways, too, Zora, when he met her, was to him a new creature. She came to him frankly and greeted him, her gladness shining in her eyes, yet looking nothing more than gladness and saying nothing more. Just what he had expected was hard to say; but he had left her on her knees in the dirt with outstretched hands, and somehow he had expected to return to some corresponding mental attitude. The physical change of these three years was marvellous. The girl was a woman, well-rounded and poised, tall, straight, and quick. And with this went mental change: a self-mastery; a veiling of the self even in intimate talk; a subtle air as of one looking from great and unreachable heights down on the dawn of the world. Perhaps no one who had not known the child and the girl as he had would have noted all this; but he saw and realized the transformation with a pang—something had gone; the innocence and wonder of the child, and in their place had grown up something to him incomprehensible and occult.
Miss Smith was not to be easily questioned on the subject. She took no hints and gave no information, and when once he hazarded some pointed questions she turned on him abruptly, observing acidly: “If I were you I’d think less of Zora and more of her work.”
Gradually, in his spiritual perplexity, Alwyn turned to Mary Cresswell. She was staying with the Colonel at Cresswell Oaks. Her coming South was supposed to be solely for reasons of health, and her appearance made this excuse plausible. She was lonely and restless, and naturally drawn toward the school. Her intercourse with Miss Smith was only formal, but her interest in Zora’s work grew. Down in the swamp, at the edge of the cleared space, had risen a log cabin; long, low, spacious, overhung with oak and pine. It was Zora’s centre for her settlement-work. There she lived, and with her a half-dozen orphan girls and children too young for the boarding department of the school. Mrs. Cresswell easily fell into the habit of walking by here each day, coming down the avenue of oaks across the road and into the swamp. She saw little of Zora personally but she saw her girls and learned much of her plans.