The girl shrank away from him.
“What do you do?”
“I teach and nurse at the school.”
“Good! Well, I’m going to give you some money—do you know why?”
A flash of self-consciousness passed over the girl’s face; she looked at him with her wide blue eyes.
“Yes, Grandfather,” she faltered.
Mrs. Cresswell rose to her feet; but the old man slowly dropped the girl’s hand and lay back in his chair, with lips half smiling. “Grandfather,” he repeated softly. He closed his eyes a space and then opened them. A tremor shivered in his limbs as he stared darkly at the swamp.
“Hark!” he cried harshly. “Do you hear the bodies creaking on the limbs? It’s Rob and Johnson. I did it—I—”
Suddenly he rose and stood erect and his wild eyes stricken with death stared full upon Emma. Slowly and thickly he spoke, working his trembling hands.
“Nell—Nell! Is it you, little wife, come back to accuse me? Ah, Nell, don’t shrink! I know—I have sinned against the light and the blood of your poor black people is red on these old hands. No, don’t put your clean white hands upon me, Nell, till I wash mine. I’ll do it, Nell; I’ll atone. I’m a Cresswell yet, Nell, a Cresswell and a gen—” He swayed. Vainly he struggled for the word. The shudder of death shook his soul, and he passed.
A week after the funeral of Colonel Cresswell, John Taylor drove out to the school and was closeted with Miss Smith. His sister, installed once again for a few days in her old room at the school, understood that he was conferring about Emma’s legacy, and she was glad. She was more and more convinced that the marriage of Emma and Bles was the best possible solution of many difficulties. She had asked Emma once if she liked Bles, and Emma had replied in her innocent way,
“Oh, so much.”
As for Bles, he was often saying what a dear child Emma was. Neither perhaps realized yet that this was love, but it needed, Mrs. Cresswell was sure, only the lightning-flash, and they would know. And who could furnish that illumination better than Zora, the calm, methodical Zora, who knew them so well?
As for herself, once she had accomplished the marriage and paid the mortgage on the school out of her legacy, she would go abroad and in travel seek forgetfulness and healing. There had been no formal divorce, and so far as she was concerned there never would be; but the separation from her husband and America would be forever.
Her brother came out of the office, nodded casually, for they had little intercourse these days, and rode away. She rushed in to Miss Smith and found her sitting there—straight, upright, composed in all save that the tears were streaming down her face and she was making no effort to stop them.
“Why—Miss Smith!” she faltered.
Miss Smith pointed to a paper. Mrs. Cresswell picked it up curiously. It was an official notification to the trustees of the Smith School of a legacy of two hundred thousand dollars together with the Cresswell house and plantation. Mrs. Gresswell sat down in open-mouthed astonishment. Twice she tried to speak, but there were so many things to say that she could not choose.