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The Quest of the Silver Fleece
W. E. B. Du Bois
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Zora, child of the swamp, was a heathen hoyden of twelve wayward, untrained years.
Slight, straight, strong, full-blooded, she had dreamed her life away in wilful wandering
through her dark and sombre kingdom until she was one with it in all its moods;
mischievous, secretive, brooding; full of great and awful visions, steeped body and soul
in wood-lore. Her home was out of doors, the cabin of Elspeth her port of call for talking
and eating. She had not known, she had scarcely seen, a child of her own age until Bles
Alwyn had fled from her dancing in the night, and she had searched and found him
sleeping in the misty morning light. It was to her a strange new thing to see a fellow of
like years with herself, and she gripped him to her soul in wild interest and new curiosity.
Yet this childish friendship was so new and incomprehensible a thing to her that she did
not know how to express it. At first she pounced upon him in mirthful, almost impish
glee, teasing and mocking and half scaring him, despite his fifteen years of young
"Yes, they is devils down yonder behind the swamp," she would whisper, warningly,
when, after the first meeting, he had crept back again and again, half fascinated, half
amused to greet her; "I'se seen 'em, I'se heard 'em, 'cause my mammy is a witch."
The boy would sit and watch her wonderingly as she lay curled along the low branch of
the mighty oak, clinging with little curved limbs and flying fingers. Possessed by the
spirit of her vision, she would chant, low-voiced, tremulous, mischievous:
"One night a devil come to me on blue fire out of a big red flower that grows in the south
swamp; he was tall and big and strong as anything, and when he spoke the trees shook
and the stars fell. Even mammy was afeared; and it takes a lot to make mammy afeared,
'cause she's a witch and can conjure. He said, 'I'll come when you die—I'll come when
you die, and take the conjure off you,' and then he went away on a big fire."
"Shucks!" the boy would say, trying to express scornful disbelief when, in truth, he was
awed and doubtful. Always he would glance involuntarily back along the path behind
him. Then her low birdlike laughter would rise and ring through the trees.
So passed a year, and there came the time when her wayward teasing and the almost
painful thrill of her tale-telling nettled him and drove him away. For long months he did
not meet her, until one day he saw her deep eyes fixed longingly upon him from a thicket
in the swamp. He went and greeted her. But she said no word, sitting nested among the
greenwood with passionate, proud silence, until he had sued long for peace; then in
sudden new friendship she had taken his hand and led him through the swamp, showing
him all the beauty of her swamp-world—great shadowy oaks and limpid pools, lone,
naked trees and sweet flowers; the whispering and flitting of wild things, and the winging
of furtive birds. She had dropped the impish mischief of her way, and up from beneath it
rose a wistful, visionary tenderness; a mighty half-confessed, half-concealed, striving for
unknown things. He seemed to have found a new friend.