What should she do? She never thought of appeal to courts, for Colonel Cresswell was Justice of the Peace and his son was bailiff. Why had they stolen from her? She knew. She was now penniless, and in a sense helpless. She was now a peon bound to a master’s bidding. If Elspeth chose to sign a contract of work for her to-morrow, it would mean slavery, jail, or hounded running away. What would Elspeth do? One never knew. Zora walked on. An hour ago it seemed that this last blow must have killed her. But now it was different. Into her first despair had crept, in one fierce moment, grim determination. Somewhere in the world sat a great dim Injustice which had veiled the light before her young eyes, just as she raised them to the morning. With the veiling, death had come into her heart.
And yet, they should not kill her; they should not enslave her. A desperate resolve to find some way up toward the light, if not to it, formed itself within her. She would not fall into the pit opening before her. Somehow, somewhere lay The Way. She must never fall lower; never be utterly despicable in the eyes of the man she had loved. There was no dream of forgiveness, of purification, of re-kindled love; all these she placed sadly and gently into the dead past. But in awful earnestness, she turned toward the future; struggling blindly, groping in half formed plans for a way.
She came thus into the room where sat Miss Smith, strangely pallid beneath her dusky skin. But there lay a light in her eyes.
All over the land the cotton had foamed in great white flakes under the winter sun. The Silver Fleece lay like a mighty mantle across the earth. Black men and mules had staggered beneath its burden, while deep songs welled in the hearts of men; for the Fleece was goodly and gleaming and soft, and men dreamed of the gold it would buy. All the roads in the country had been lined with wagons—a million wagons speeding to and fro with straining mules and laughing black men, bearing bubbling masses of piled white Fleece. The gins were still roaring and spitting flames and smoke—fifty thousand of them in town and vale. Then hoarse iron throats were filled with fifteen billion pounds of white-fleeced, black-specked cotton, for the whirling saws to tear out the seed and fling five thousand million pounds of the silken fibre to the press.
And there again the black men sang, like dark earth-spirits flitting in twilight; the presses creaked and groaned; closer and closer they pressed the silken fleece. It quivered, trembled, and then lay cramped, dead, and still, in massive, hard, square bundles, tied with iron strings. Out fell the heavy bales, thousand upon thousand, million upon million, until they settled over the South like some vast dull-white swarm of birds. Colonel Cresswell and his son, in these days, had a long and earnest conversation perforated here and there by explosions of the Colonel’s wrath. The Colonel could not understand some things.