“Drink,” she cried. Obediently he bent over the little hands that seemed so soft and thin. He took a deep draught; and then to drain the last drop, his hands touched hers and the shock of flesh first meeting flesh startled them both, while the water rained through. A moment their eyes looked deep into each other’s—a timid, startled gleam in hers; a wonder in his. Then she said dreamily:
“We’se known us all our lives, and—before, ain’t we?”
“Ye—es—I reckon,” he slowly returned. And then, brightening, he asked gayly: “And we’ll be friends always, won’t we?”
“Yes,” she said at last, slowly and solemnly, and another brief moment they stood still.
Then the mischief danced in her eyes, and a song bubbled on her lips. She hopped to the tree.
“Come—eat!” she cried. And they nestled together amid the big black roots of the oak, laughing and talking while they ate.
“What’s over there?” he asked pointing northward.
“Cresswell’s big house.”
“And yonder to the west?”
He started joyfully.
“The school! What school?”
“Old Miss’ School.”
“Miss Smith’s school?”
“Yes.” The tone was disdainful.
“Why, that’s where I’m going. I was a-feared it was a long way off; I must have passed it in the night.”
“I hate it!” cried the girl, her lips tense.
“But I’ll be so near,” he explained. “And why do you hate it?”
“Yes—you’ll be near,” she admitted; “that’ll be nice; but—” she glanced westward, and the fierce look faded. Soft joy crept to her face again, and she sat once more dreaming.
“Yon way’s nicest,” she said.
“Why, what’s there?”
“The swamp,” she said mysteriously.
“And what’s beyond the swamp?”
She crouched beside him and whispered in eager, tense tones: “Dreams!”
He looked at her, puzzled.
“Dreams?” vaguely—“dreams? Why, dreams ain’t—nothing.”
“Oh, yes they is!” she insisted, her eyes flaming in misty radiance as she sat staring beyond the shadows of the swamp. “Yes they is! There ain’t nothing but dreams—that is, nothing much.
“And over yonder behind the swamps is great fields full of dreams, piled high and burning; and right amongst them the sun, when he’s tired o’ night, whispers and drops red things, ’cept when devils make ’em black.”
The boy stared at her; he knew not whether to jeer or wonder.
“How you know?” he asked at last, skeptically.
“Promise you won’t tell?”
“Yes,” he answered.
She cuddled into a little heap, nursing her knees, and answered slowly.
“I goes there sometimes. I creeps in ’mongst the dreams; they hangs there like big flowers, dripping dew and sugar and blood—red, red blood. And there’s little fairies there that hop about and sing, and devils—great, ugly devils that grabs at you and roasts and eats you if they gits you; but they don’t git me. Some devils is big and white, like ha’nts; some is long and shiny, like creepy, slippery snakes; and some is little and broad and black, and they yells—”