Zora looked down upon Bles, where he stood to his knees in mud. The toil was beyond exhilaration—it was sickening weariness and panting despair. The great roots, twined in one unbroken snarl, clung frantically to the black soil. The vines and bushes fought back with thorn and bramble. Zora stood wiping the blood from her hands and staring at Bles. She saw the long gnarled fingers of the tough little trees and they looked like the fingers of Elspeth down there beneath the earth pulling against the boy. Slowly Zora forgot her blood and pain. Who would win—the witch, or Jason?
Bles looked up and saw the bleeding hands. With a bound he was beside her.
“Zora!” The cry seemed wrung from his heart by contrition. Why had he not known—not seen before! “Zora, come right out of this! Sit down here and rest.”
She looked at him unwaveringly; there was no flinching of her spirit.
“I sha’n’t do it,” she said. “You’se working, and I’se going to work.”
“But—Zora—you’re not used to such work, and I am. You’re tired out.”
“So is you,” was her reply.
He looked himself over ruefully, and dropping his axe, sat down beside her on a great log. Silently they contemplated the land; it seemed indeed a hopeless task. Then they looked at each other in sudden, unspoken fear of failure.
“If we only had a mule!” he sighed. Immediately her face lighted and her lips parted, but she said nothing. He presently bounded to his feet.
“Never mind, Zora. To-morrow is Saturday, and I’ll work all day. We just will get it done—sometime.” His mouth closed with determination.
“We won’t work any more today, then?” cried Zora, her eagerness betraying itself despite her efforts to hide it.
“You won’t,” affirmed Bles. “But I’ve got to do just a little—”
But Zora was adamant: he was tired; she was tired; they would rest. To-morrow with the rising sun they would begin again.
“There’ll be a bright moon tonight,” ventured Bles.
“Then I’ll come too,” Zora announced positively, and he had to promise for her sake to rest.
They went up the path together and parted diffidently, he watching her flit away with sorrowful eyes, a little disturbed and puzzled at the burden he had voluntarily assumed, but never dreaming of drawing back.
Zora did not go far. No sooner did she know herself well out of his sight than she dropped lightly down beside the path, listening intently until the last echo of his footsteps had died away. Then, leaving the cabin on her right, and the scene of their toil on her left, she cut straight through the swamp, skirted the big road, and in a half-hour was in the lower meadows of the Cresswell plantations, where the tired stock was being turned out to graze for the night. Here, in the shadow of the wood, she lingered. Slowly, but with infinite patience, she broke one strand after another of the barbed-wire fencing, watching, the while, the sun grow great and crimson, and die at last in mighty splendor behind the dimmer westward forests.