“Good-bye, Bles,” she said slowly. “I thank God he gave you to me—just a little time.” She hesitated and waited. There came no word as the man moved slowly away. She stood motionless. Then slowly he turned and came back. He laid his hand a moment, lightly, upon her head.
“Good-bye—Zora,” he sobbed, and was gone.
She did not look up, but knelt there silent, dry-eyed, till the last rustle of his going died in the night. And then, like a waiting storm, the torrent of her grief swept down upon her; she stretched herself upon the black and fleece-strewn earth, and writhed.
All night Miss Smith lay holding the quivering form of Zora close to her breast, staring wide-eyed into the darkness—thinking, thinking. In the morning the party would come. There would be Mrs. Grey and Mary Taylor, Mrs. Vanderpool, who had left her so coldly in the lurch before, and some of the Cresswells. They would come well fed and impressed with the charming hospitality of their hosts, and rather more than willing to see through those host’s eyes. They would be in a hurry to return to some social function, and would give her work but casual attention.
It seemed so dark an ending to so bright a dream. Never for her had a fall opened as gloriously. The love of this boy and girl, blossoming as it had beneath her tender care, had been a sacred, wonderful history that revived within her memories of long-forgotten days. But above lay the vision of her school, redeemed and enlarged, its future safe, its usefulness broadened—small wonder that to Sarah Smith the future had seemed in November almost golden.
Then things began to go wrong. The transfer of the Tolliver land had not yet been effected; the money was ready, but Mr. Tolliver seemed busy or hesitating. Next came this news of Mrs. Grey’s probable conditions. So here it was Christmas time, and Sarah Smith’s castles lay almost in ruins about her.
The girl moaned in her fitful sleep and Miss Smith soothed her. Poor child! here too was work—a strange strong soul cruelly stricken in her youth. Could she be brought back to a useful life? How she needed such a strong, clear-eyed helper in this crisis of her work! Would Zora make one or would this blow send her to perdition? Not if Sarah Smith could save her, she resolved, and stared out the window where the pale red dawn was sending its first rays on the white-pillared mansion of the Cresswells.
Mrs. Grey saw the light on the columns, too, as she lay lazily in her soft white bed. There was a certain delicious languor in the late lingering fall of Alabama that suited her perfectly. Then, too, she liked the house and its appointments; there was not, to be sure, all the luxury that she was used to in her New York mansion, but there was a certain finish about it, an elegance and staid old-fashioned hospitality that appealed to her tremendously. Mrs. Grey’s heart warmed to the sight of Helen in her moments of spasmodic caring for the sick and afflicted on the estate. No better guardian of her philanthropies could be found than these same Cresswells. She must, of course, go over and see dear Sarah Smith; but really there was not much to say or to look at.