Bles Alwyn met her at the train. He was growing to be a big fine bronze giant, and Mary was glad to see him. She especially tried, in the first few weeks of opening school, to glean as much information as possible concerning the community, and particularly the Cresswells. She found the Negro youth quicker, surer, and more intelligent in his answers than those she questioned elsewhere, and she gained real enjoyment from her long talks with him.
“Isn’t Bles developing splendidly?” she said to Miss Smith one afternoon. There was an unmistakable note of enthusiasm in her voice. Miss Smith slowly closed her letter-file but did not look up.
“Yes,” she said crisply. “He’s eighteen now—quite a man.”
“And most interesting to talk with.”
“H’m—very”—drily. Mary was busy with her own thoughts, and she did not notice the other woman’s manner.
“Do you know,” she pursued, “I’m a little afraid of one thing.”
“So am I.”
“Oh, you’ve noted it, too?—his friendship for that impossible girl, Zora?”
Miss Smith gave her a searching look.
“What of it?” she demanded.
“She is so far beneath him.”
“She is a bold, godless thing; I don’t understand her.”
“The two are not quite the same.”
“Of course not; but she is unnaturally forward.”
“Too bright,” Miss Smith amplified.
“Yes; she knows quite too much. You surely remember that awful scarlet dress? Well, all her clothes have arrived, or remained, at a simplicity and vividness that is—well—immodest.”
“Does she think them immodest?”
“What she thinks is a problem.”
“The problem, you mean?”
They paused a moment. Then Miss Smith said slowly: “What I don’t understand, I don’t judge.”
“No, but you can’t always help seeing and meeting it,” laughed Miss Taylor.
“Certainly not. I don’t try; I court the meeting and seeing. It is the only way.”
“Well, perhaps, for us—but not for a boy like Bles, and a girl like Zora.”
“True; men and women must exercise judgment in their intercourse and”—she glanced sharply at Miss Taylor—“my dear, you yourself must not forget that Bles Alwyn is a man.”
Far up the road came a low, long, musical shouting; then with creaking and straining of wagons, four great black mules dashed into sight with twelve bursting bales of yellowish cotton looming and swaying behind. The drivers and helpers were lolling and laughing and singing, but Miss Taylor did not hear nor see. She had sat suddenly upright; her face had flamed crimson, and then went dead white.
“Miss—Miss Smith!” she gasped, overwhelmed with dismay, a picture of wounded pride and consternation.
Miss Smith turned around very methodically and took her hand; but while she spoke the girl merely stared at her in stony silence.