“You go along with the ladies,” Harry added; “I’ll see to this cotton.” Mary Taylor’s smile had rewarded him; now he must get rid of his company—before Zora returned.
It was dark when the cotton came; such a load as Cresswell’s store had never seen before. Zora watched it weighed, received the cotton checks, and entered the store. Only the clerk was there, and he was closing. He pointed her carelessly to the office in the back part. She went into the small dim room, and laying the cotton-check on the desk, stood waiting. Slowly the hopelessness and bitterness of it all came back in a great whelming flood. What was the use of trying for anything? She was lost forever. The world was against her, and again she saw the fingers of Elspeth—the long black claw-like talons that clutched and dragged her down—down. She did not struggle—she dropped her hands listlessly, wearily, and stood but half conscious as the door opened and Mr. Harry Cresswell entered the dimly lighted room. She opened her eyes. She had expected his father. Somewhere way down in the depths of her nature the primal tiger awoke and snarled. She was suddenly alive from hair to finger tip. Harry Cresswell paused a second and swept her full length with his eye—her profile, the long supple line of bosom and hip, the little foot. Then he closed the door softly and walked slowly toward her. She stood like stone, without a quiver; only her eye followed the crooked line of the Cresswell blue blood on his marble forehead as she looked down from her greater height; her hand closed almost caressingly on a rusty poker lying on the stove nearby; and as she sensed the hot breath of him she felt herself purring in a half heard whisper.
“I should not like—to kill you.”
He looked at her long and steadily as he passed to his desk. Slowly he lighted a cigarette, opened the great ledger, and compared the cotton-check with it.
“Three thousand pounds,” he announced in a careless tone. “Yes, that will make about two bales of lint. It’s extra cotton—say fifteen cents a pound—one hundred fifty dollars—seventy-five dollars to you—h’m.” He took a note-book out of his pocket, pushed his hat back on his head, and paused to relight his cigarette.
“Let’s see—your rent and rations—”
“Elspeth pays no rent,” she said slowly, but he did not seem to hear.
“Your rent and rations with the five years’ back debt,”—he made a hasty calculation—“will be one hundred dollars. That leaves you twenty-five in our debt. Here’s your receipt.”
The blow had fallen. She did not wince nor cry out. She took the receipt, calmly, and walked out into the darkness.
They had stolen the Silver Fleece.