Three months had flown. It was Spring again, and Zora sat in the transformed swamp—now a swamp in name only—beneath the great oak, dreaming. And what she dreamed there in the golden day she dared not formulate even to her own soul. She rose with a start, for there was work to do. Aunt Rachel was ill, and Emma went daily to attend her; today, as she came back, she brought news that Colonel Cresswell, who had been unwell for several days, was worse. She must send Emma up to help, and as she started toward the school she glanced toward the Cresswell Oaks and saw the arm-chair of its master on the pillared porch.
Colonel Cresswell sat in his chair on the porch, alone. As far as he could see, there was no human soul. His eyes were blood-shot, his cheeks sunken, and his breath came in painful gasps. A sort of terror shook him until he heard the distant songs of black folk in the fields. He sighed, and lying back, closed his eyes and the breath came easier. When he opened them again a white figure was coming up the avenue of the Oaks. He watched it greedily. It was Mary Cresswell, and she started when she saw him.
“You are worse, father?” she asked.
“Worse and better,” he replied, smiling cynically. Then suddenly he announced: “I’ve made my will.”
“Why—why—” she stammered.
“Why?” sharply. “Because I’m going to die.”
She said nothing. He smiled and continued:
“I’ve got it all fixed. Harry was in a tight place—gambling as usual—and I gave him a lump sum in lieu of all claims. Then I gave John Taylor—you needn’t look. I sent for him. He’s a damned scoundrel; but he won’t lie, and I needed him. I willed his children all the rest except two or three legacies. One was one hundred thousand dollars for you—”
“Oh, father!” she cried. “I don’t deserve it.”
“I reckon two years with Harry was worth about that much,” he returned grimly. “Then there’s another gift of two hundred thousand dollars and this house and plantation. Whom do you think that’s for?”
“Helen!” he raised his hand in threatening anger. “I might rot here for all she cares. No—no—but then—I’ll not tell you—I—ah—” A spasm of pain shot across his face, and he lay back white and still. Abruptly he sat up again and peered down the oaks. “Hush!” he gasped. “Who’s that?”
“I don’t know—it’s a girl—I—”
He gripped her till she winced.
“My God—it walks—like my wife—I tell you—she held her head so—who is it?” He half rose.
“Oh, father, it’s nobody but Emma—little Emma—Bertie’s child—the mulatto girl. She’s a nurse now, and I asked to have her come and attend you.”
“Oh,” he said, “oh—” He looked at the girl curiously. “Come here.” He peered into her white young face. “Do you know me?”