So it was that the Fleece rose and spread and grew to its wonderful flowering; and so these two children grew with it into theirs. Zora never forgot how they found the first white flower in that green and billowing sea, nor her low cry of pleasure and his gay shout of joy. Slowly, wonderfully the flowers spread—white, blue, and purple bells, hiding timidly, blazing luxuriantly amid the velvet leaves; until one day—it was after a southern rain and the sunlight was twinkling through the morning—all the Fleece was in flower—a mighty swaying sea, darkling rich and waving, and upon it flecks and stars of white and purple foam. The joy of the two so madly craved expression that they burst into singing; not the wild light song of dancing feet, but a low, sweet melody of her fathers’ fathers, whereunto Alwyn’s own deep voice fell fitly in minor cadence.
Miss Smith and Miss Taylor, who were sorting the mail, heard them singing as they came up out of the swamp. Miss Taylor looked at them, then at Miss Smith.
But Miss Smith sat white and rigid with the first opened letter in her hand.
Miss Smith sat with her face buried in her hands while the tears trickled silently through her thin fingers. Before her lay the letter, read a dozen times:
“Old Mrs. Grey has been to see me, and she has announced her intention of endowing five colored schools, yours being one. She asked if $500,000 would do it. She has plenty of money, so I told her $750,000 would be better—$150,000 apiece. She’s arranging for a Board of Trust, etc. You’ll probably hear from her soon. You’ve been so worried about expenses that I thought I’d send this word on; I knew you’d be glad.”
Glad? Dear God, how flat the word fell! For thirty years she had sown the seed, planting her life-blood in this work, that had become the marrow of her soul.
Successful? No, it had not been successful; but it had been human. Through yonder doorway had trooped an army of hundreds upon hundreds of bright and dull, light and dark, eager and sullen faces. There had been good and bad, honest and deceptive, frank and furtive. Some had caught, kindled and flashed to ambition and achievement; some, glowing dimly, had plodded on in a slow, dumb faithful work worth while; and yet others had suddenly exploded, hurtling human fragments to heaven and to hell. Around this school home, as around the centre of some little universe, had whirled the sorrowful, sordid, laughing, pulsing drama of a world: birth pains, and the stupor of death; hunger and pale murder; the riot of thirst and the orgies of such red and black cabins as Elspeth’s, crouching in the swamp.
She groaned as she read of the extravagances of the world and saw her own vanishing revenues; but the funds continued to dwindle until Sarah Smith asked herself: “What will become of this school when I die?” With trembling fingers she had sat down to figure how many teachers must be dropped next year, when her brother’s letter came, and she slipped to her knees and prayed.