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The Quest of the Silver Fleece

Thirty-four: The Return Of Alwyn
Bles Alwyn stared at Mrs. Harry Cresswell in surprise. He had not seen her since that
moment at the ball, and he was startled at the change. Her abundant hair was gone; her
face was pale and drawn, and there were little wrinkles below her sunken eyes. In those
eyes lurked the tired look of the bewildered and the disappointed. It was in the lofty
waiting-room of the Washington station where Alwyn had come to meet a friend. Mrs.
Cresswell turned and recognized him with genuine pleasure. He seemed somehow a part
of the few things in the world—little and unimportant perhaps—that counted and stood
firm, and she shook his hand cordially, not minding the staring of the people about. He
took her bag and carried it towards the gate, which made the observers breathe easier,
seeing him in servile duty. Someway, she knew not just how, she found herself telling
him of the crisis in her life before she realized; not everything, of course, but a great deal.
It was much as though she were talking to some one from another world—an outsider;
but one she had known long, one who understood. Both from what she recounted and
what she could not tell he gathered the substance of the story, and it bewildered him. He
had not thought that white people had such troubles; yet, he reflected, why not? They,
too, were human.
"I suppose you hear from the school?" he ventured after a pause.
"Why, yes—not directly—but Zora used to speak of it."
Bles looked up quickly.
"Yes. Didn't you see her while she was here? She has gone back now."
Then the gate opened, the crowd surged through, sweeping them apart, and next moment
he was alone.
Alwyn turned slowly away. He forgot the friend he was to meet. He forgot everything but
the field of the Silver Fleece. It rose shadowy there in the pale concourse, swaying in
ghostly breezes. The purple of its flowers mingled with the silver radiance of tendrils that
trembled across the hurrying throng, like threads of mists along low hills. In its midst
rose a dark, slim, and quivering form. She had been here—here in Washington! Why had
he not known? What was she doing? "She has gone back now"—back to the Sun and the
Swamp, back to the Burden.
Why should not he go back, too? He walked on thinking. He had failed. His apparent
success had been too sudden, too overwhelming, and when he had faced the crisis his
hand had trembled. He had chosen the Right—but the Right was ineffective, impotent,
almost ludicrous. It left him shorn, powerless, and in moral revolt. The world had