The rider, being closer to it, recognized in Mary Taylor’s “black speck” Bles Alwyn walking toward him rapidly with axe and hoe on shoulder, whistling merrily. They saw each other almost at the same moment and whistle and smile faded. Mr. Cresswell knew the Negro by sight and disliked him. He belonged in his mind to that younger class of half-educated blacks who were impudent and disrespectful toward their superiors, not even touching his hat when he met a white man. Moreover, he was sure that it was Miss Taylor with whom this boy had been talking so long and familiarly in the cotton-field last Spring—an offence doubly heinous now that he had seen Miss Taylor.
His first impulse was to halt the Negro then and there and tell him a few plain truths. But he did not feel quarrelsome at the moment, and there was, after all, nothing very tangible to justify a berating. The fellow’s impudence was sure to increase, and then! So he merely reined his horse to the better part of the foot-path and rode on.
Bles, too, was thinking. He knew the well-dressed man with his milk-white face and overbearing way. He would expect to be greeted with raised hat but Bles bit his lips and pulled down his cap firmly. The axe, too, in some indistinct way felt good in his hand. He saw the horse coming in his pathway and stepping aside in the dust continued on his way, neither looking nor speaking.
So they passed each other by, Mr. Cresswell to town, Bles to the swamp, apparently ignorant of each other’s very existence. Yet, as the space widened between them, each felt a more vindictive anger for the other.
How dares the black puppy to ignore a Cresswell on the highway? If this went on, the day would surely come when Negroes felt no respect or fear whatever for whites? And then—my God! Mr. Cresswell struck his mare a vicious blow and dashed toward town.
The black boy, too, went his way in silent, burning rage. Why should he be elbowed into the roadside dust by an insolent bully? Why had he not stood his ground? Pshaw! All this fine frenzy was useless, and he knew it. The sweat oozed on his forehead. It wasn’t man against man, or he would have dragged the pale puppy from his horse and rubbed his face in the earth. It wasn’t even one against many, else how willingly, swinging his axe, would have stood his ground before a mob.
No, it was one against a world, a world of power, opinion, wealth, opportunity; and he, the one, must cringe and bear in silence lest the world crash about the ears of his people. He slowly plodded on in bitter silence toward the swamp. But the day was balmy, the way was beautiful; contempt slowly succeeded anger, and hope soon triumphed over all. For yonder was Zora, poised, waiting. And behind her lay the Field of Dreams.