“Who’s it, Bles?”
“The mother of God,” he answered reverently.
“And why does she hold a lily?”
“It stands for purity—she was a good woman.”
“With a baby,” Zora added slowly.
“Yes—” said Bles, and then more quickly—“It is the Christ Child—God’s baby.”
“God is the father of all the little babies, ain’t He, Bles?”
“Why, yes—yes, of course; only this little baby didn’t have any other father.”
“Yes, I know one like that,” she said,—and then she added softly: “Poor little Christ-baby.”
Bles hesitated, and before he found words Zora was saying:
“How white she is; she’s as white as the lily, Bles; but—I’m sorry she’s white—Bles, what’s purity—just whiteness?”
Bles glanced at her awkwardly but she was still staring wide-eyed at the picture, and her voice was earnest. She was now so old and again so much a child, an eager questioning child, that there seemed about her innocence something holy.
“It means,” he stammered, groping for meanings—“it means being good—just as good as a woman knows how.”
She wheeled quickly toward him and asked him eagerly:
“Not better—not better than she knows, but just as good, in—lying and stealing and—and everything?”
“No—not better than she knows, but just as good.”
She trembled happily.
“I’m—pure,” she said, with a strange little breaking voice and gesture. A sob struggled in his throat.
“Of course you are,” he whispered tenderly, hiding her little hands in his.
“I—I was so afraid—sometimes—that I wasn’t,” she whispered, lifting up to him her eyes streaming with tears. Silently he kissed her lips.
From that day on they walked together in a new world. No revealing word was spoken; no vows were given, none asked for; but a new bond held them. She grew older, quieter, taller, he humbler, more tender and reverent, as they toiled together.
So the days passed. The sun burned in the heavens; but the silvered glory of the moon grew fainter and fainter and each night it rose later than the night before. Then one day Zora whispered:
Bles came to the cabin, and he and Zora and Elspeth sat silently around the fire-place with its meagre embers. The night was balmy and still; only occasionally a wandering breeze searching the hidden places of the swamp, or the call and song of night birds, jarred the stillness. Long they sat, until the silence crept into Bles’s flesh, and stretching out his hand, he touched Zora’s, clasping it.
After a time the old woman rose and hobbled to a big black chest. Out of it she brought an old bag of cotton seed—not the white-green seed which Bles had always known, but small, smooth black seeds, which she handled carefully, dipping her hands deep down and letting them drop through her gnarled fingers. And so again they sat and waited and waited, saying no word.