The Quest of the Silver Fleece
Sixteen: The Great Refusal
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.
The prospects seemed most alluring. Later, Mr. Easterly talked a while on routine
business, saying, as he turned away:
"I am more and more impressed, Mrs. Grey, with your wisdom in placing large
investments in the South. With peaceful social conditions the returns will be large."