These days were days of alternate hope and doubt with Bles Alwyn. Strength and ambition and inarticulate love were fighting within him. He felt, in the dark thousands of his kind about him, a mighty calling to deeds. He was becoming conscious of the narrowness and straightness of his black world, and red anger flashed in him ever and again as he felt his bonds. His mental horizon was broadening as he prepared for the college of next year; he was faintly grasping the wider, fuller world, and its thoughts and aspirations.
But beside and around and above all this, like subtle, permeating ether, was—Zora. His feelings for her were not as yet definite, expressed, or grasped; they were rather the atmosphere in which all things occurred and were felt and judged. From an amusing pastime she had come to be a companion and thought-mate; and now, beyond this, insensibly they were drifting to a silenter, mightier mingling of souls. But drifting, merely—not arrived; going gently, irresistibly, but not yet at the realized goal.
He felt all this as the stirring of a mighty force, but knew not what he felt. The teasing of his fellows, the common love-gossip of the school yard, seemed far different from his plight. He laughed at it and indignantly denied it. Yet he was uncomfortable, restless, unhappy. He fancied Zora cared less for his company, and he gave her less, and then was puzzled to find time hanging so empty, so wretchedly empty, on his hands. When they were together in these days they found less to talk about, and had it not been for the Silver Fleece which in magic wilfulness opened both their mouths, they would have found their companionship little more than a series of awkward silences. Yet in their silences, their walks, and their sittings there was a companionship, a glow, a satisfaction, as came to them nowhere else on earth, and they wondered at it.
They were both wondering at it this morning as they watched their cotton. It had seemingly bounded forward in a night and it must be hoed forthwith. Yet, hoeing was murder—the ruthless cutting away of tenderer plants that the sturdier might thrive the more and grow.
“I hate it, Bles, don’t you?”
“Killing any of it; it’s all so pretty.”
“But it must be, so that what’s left will be prettier, or at least more useful.”
“But it shouldn’t be so; everything ought to have a chance to be beautiful and useful.”
“Perhaps it ought to be so,” admitted Bles, “but it isn’t.”
“Isn’t it so—anywhere?”
“I reckon not. Death and pain pay for all good things.”
She hoed away silently, hesitating over the choice of the plants, pondering this world-old truth, saddened by its ruthless cruelty.
“Death and pain,” she murmured; “what a price!”
Bles leaned on his hoe and considered. It had not occurred to him till now that Zora was speaking better and better English: the idioms and errors were dropping away; they had not utterly departed, however, but came crowding back in moments of excitement. At other times she clothed Miss Smith’s clear-cut, correct speech in softer Southern accents. She was drifting away from him in some intangible way to an upper world of dress and language and deportment, and the new thought was pain to him.