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The Quest of the Silver Fleece

Night fell. The red waters of the swamp grew sinister and sullen. The tall pines lost their
slimness and stood in wide blurred blotches all across the way, and a great shadowy bird
arose, wheeled and melted, murmuring, into the black-green sky.
The boy wearily dropped his heavy bundle and stood still, listening as the voice of
crickets split the shadows and made the silence audible. A tear wandered down his brown
cheek. They were at supper now, he whispered—the father and old mother, away back
yonder beyond the night. They were far away; they would never be as near as once they
had been, for he had stepped into the world. And the cat and Old Billy—ah, but the world
was a lonely thing, so wide and tall and empty! And so bare, so bitter bare! Somehow he
had never dreamed of the world as lonely before; he had fared forth to beckoning hands
and luring, and to the eager hum of human voices, as of some great, swelling music.
Yet now he was alone; the empty night was closing all about him here in a strange land,
and he was afraid. The bundle with his earthly treasure had hung heavy and heavier on
his shoulder; his little horde of money was tightly wadded in his sock, and the school lay
hidden somewhere far away in the shadows. He wondered how far it was; he looked and
harkened, starting at his own heartbeats, and fearing more and more the long dark fingers
of the night.
Then of a sudden up from the darkness came music. It was human music, but of a
wildness and a weirdness that startled the boy as it fluttered and danced across the dull
red waters of the swamp. He hesitated, then impelled by some strange power, left the
highway and slipped into the forest of the swamp, shrinking, yet following the song
hungrily and half forgetting his fear. A harsher, shriller note struck in as of many and
ruder voices; but above it flew the first sweet music, birdlike, abandoned, and the boy
crept closer.
The cabin crouched ragged and black at the edge of black waters. An old chimney leaned
drunkenly against it, raging with fire and smoke, while through the chinks winked red
gleams of warmth and wild cheer. With a revel of shouting and noise, the music suddenly
ceased. Hoarse staccato cries and peals of laughter shook the old hut, and as the boy
stood there peering through the black trees, abruptly the door flew open and a flood of
light illumined the wood.
Amid this mighty halo, as on clouds of flame, a girl was dancing. She was black, and
lithe, and tall, and willowy. Her garments twined and flew around the delicate moulding
of her dark, young, half-naked limbs. A heavy mass of hair clung motionless to her wide
forehead. Her arms twirled and flickered, and body and soul seemed quivering and
whirring in the poetry of her motion.