“Take her out,” Taylor promptly directed.
Zora was troubled when the child came. She knew the suspicious temper of the town whites. The very next day Taylor sent out a second case, a child who had been hurt some time before and was not recovering as she should. Under the care of the little hospital and the gentle nurse the children improved rapidly, and in two weeks were outdoors, playing with the little black children and even creeping into classrooms and listening. The grateful mothers came out twice a week at least; at first with suspicious aloofness, but gradually melting under Zora’s tact until they sat and talked with her and told their troubles and struggles. Zora realized how human they were, and how like their problems were to hers. They and their children grew to love this busy, thoughtful woman, and Zora’s fears were quieted.
The catastrophe came suddenly. The sheriff rode by, scowling and hunting for some poor black runaway, when he saw white children in the Negro school and white women, whom he knew were mill-hands, looking on. He was black with anger; turning he galloped back to town. A few hours later the young physician arrived hastily in a cab to take the women and children to town. He said something in a low tone to Zora and drove away, frowning.
Zora came quickly to the school and asked for Alwyn. He was in the barn and she hurried there.
“Bles,” she said quietly, “it is reported that a Toomsville mob will burn the school tonight.”
Bles stood motionless.
“I’ve been fearing it. The sheriff has been stirring up the worst elements in the town lately and the mills pay off tonight.”
“Well,” she said quietly, “we must prepare.”
He looked at her, his face aglow with admiration.
“You wonder-woman!” he exclaimed softly.
A moment they regarded each other. She saw the love in his eyes, and he saw rising in hers something that made his heart bound. But she turned quickly away.
“You must hurry, Bles; lives are at stake.” And in another moment he thundered out of the barn on the black mare.
Along the pike he flew and up the plantation roads. Across broad fields and back again, over to the Barton pike and along the swamp. At every cabin he whispered a word, and left behind him grey faces and whispering children.
His horse was reeking with sweat as he staggered again into the school-yard; but already the people were gathering, with frightened, anxious, desperate faces. Women with bundles and children, men with guns, tottering old folks, wide-eyed boys and girls. Up from the swamp land came the children crying and moaning. The sun was setting. The women and children hurried into the school building, closing the doors and windows. A moment Alwyn stood without and looked back. The world was peaceful. He could hear the whistle of birds and the sobbing of the breeze in the shadowing oaks. The sky was flashing to dull and purplish blue, and over all lay the twilight hush as though God did not care.