“And I knows just the place!” she cried eagerly, looking at him with a flash of the old teasing mischief—“down in the heart of the swamp—where dreams and devils lives.”
* * * * *
Up at the school-house Miss Taylor was musing. She had been invited to spend the summer with Mrs. Grey at Lake George, and such a summer!—silken clothes and dainty food, motoring and golf, well-groomed men and elegant women. She would not have put it in just that way, but the vision came very close to spelling heaven to her mind. Not that she would come to it vacant-minded, but rather as a trained woman, starved for companionship and wanting something of the beauty and ease of life. She sat dreaming of it here with rows of dark faces before her, and the singsong wail of a little black reader with his head aslant and his patched kneepants.
The day was warm and languorous, and the last pale mist of the Silver Fleece peeped in at the windows. She tried to follow the third-reader lesson with her finger, but persistently off she went, dreaming, to some exquisite little parlor with its green and gold, the clink of dainty china and hum of low voices, and the blue lake in the window; she would glance up, the door would open softly and—
Just here she did glance up, and all the school glanced with her. The drone of the reader hushed. The door opened softly, and upon the threshold stood Zora. Her small feet and slender ankles were black and bare; her dark, round, and broad-browed head and strangely beautiful face were poised almost defiantly, crowned with a misty mass of waveless hair, and lit by the velvet radiance of two wonderful eyes. And hanging from shoulder to ankle, in formless, clinging folds, blazed the scarlet gown.
The cry of the naked was sweeping the world. From the peasant toiling in Russia, the lady lolling in London, the chieftain burning in Africa, and the Esquimaux freezing in Alaska; from long lines of hungry men, from patient sad-eyed women, from old folk and creeping children went up the cry, “Clothes, clothes!” Far away the wide black land that belts the South, where Miss Smith worked and Miss Taylor drudged and Bles and Zora dreamed, the dense black land sensed the cry and heard the bound of answering life within the vast dark breast. All that dark earth heaved in mighty travail with the bursting bolls of the cotton while black attendant earth spirits swarmed above, sweating and crooning to its birth pains.
After the miracle of the bursting bolls, when the land was brightest with the piled mist of the Fleece, and when the cry of the naked was loudest in the mouths of men, a sudden cloud of workers swarmed between the Cotton and the Naked, spinning and weaving and sewing and carrying the Fleece and mining and minting and bringing the Silver till the Song of Service filled the world and the poetry of Toil was in the souls of the laborers. Yet ever and always there were tense silent white-faced men moving in that swarm who felt no poetry and heard no song, and one of these was John Taylor.