So it rained for one long week, and so for seven endless days Bles watched it with leaden heart. He knew the Silver Fleece—his and Zora’s—must be ruined. It was the first great sorrow of his life; it was not so much the loss of the cotton itself—but the fantasy, the hopes, the dreams built around it. If it failed, would not they fail? Was not this angry beating rain, this dull spiritless drizzle, this wild war of air and earth, but foretaste and prophecy of ruin and discouragement, of the utter futility of striving? But if his own despair was great his pain at the plight of Zora made it almost unbearable. He did not see her in these seven days. He pictured her huddled there in the swamp in the cheerless leaky cabin with worse than no companions. Ah! the swamp, the cruel swamp! It was a fearful place in the rain. Its oozing mud and fetid vapors, its clinging slimy draperies,—how they twined about the bones of its victims and chilled their hearts. Yet here his Zora,—his poor disappointed child—was imprisoned.
Child? He had always called her child—but now in the inward illumination of these dark days he knew her as neither child nor sister nor friend, but as the One Woman. The revelation of his love lighted and brightened slowly till it flamed like a sunrise over him and left him in burning wonder. He panted to know if she, too, knew, or knew and cared not, or cared and knew not. She was so strange and human a creature. To her all things meant something—nothing was aimless, nothing merely happened. Was this rain beating down and back her love for him, or had she never loved? He walked his room, gripping his hands, peering through the misty windows toward the swamp—rain, rain, rain, nothing but rain. The world was water veiled in mists.
Then of a sudden, at midday, the sun shot out, hot and still; no breath of air stirred; the sky was like blue steel; the earth steamed. Bles rushed to the edge of the swamp and stood there irresolute. Perhaps—if the water had but drained from the cotton!—it was so strong and tall! But, pshaw! Where was the use of imagining? The lagoon had been level with the dykes a week ago; and now? He could almost see the beautiful Silver Fleece, bedraggled, drowned, and rolling beneath the black lake of slime. He went back to his work, but early in the morning the thought of it lured him again. He must at least see the grave of his hope and Zora’s, and out of it resurrect new love and strength.
Perhaps she, too, might be there, waiting, weeping. He started at the thought. He hurried forth sadly. The rain-drops were still dripping and gleaming from the trees, flashing back the heavy yellow sunlight. He splashed and stamped along, farther and farther onward until he neared the rampart of the clearing, and put foot upon the tree-bridge. Then he looked down. The lagoon was dry. He stood a moment bewildered, then turned and rushed upon the island. A great sheet of dazzling sunlight swept the place, and beneath lay a mighty mass of olive green, thick, tall, wet, and willowy. The squares of cotton, sharp-edged, heavy, were just about to burst to bolls! And underneath, the land lay carefully drained and black! For one long moment he paused, stupid, agape with utter amazement, then leaned dizzily against a tree.