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The Quest of the Silver Fleece

Nineteen: The Dying Of Elspeth
Rich! This was the thought that awakened Harry Cresswell to a sense of endless well-
being. Rich! No longer the mirage and semblance of wealth, the memory of opulence, the
shadow of homage without the substance of power—no; now the wealth was real, cold
hard dollars, and in piles. How much? He laughed aloud as he turned on his pillow. What
did he care? Enough—enough. Not less than half a million; perhaps three-quarters of a
million; perhaps—was not cotton still rising?—a whole round million! That would mean
from twenty-five to fifty thousand a year. Great heavens! and he'd been starving on a bare
couple of thousand and trying to keep up appearances! today the Cresswells were almost
millionaires; aye, and he might be married to more millions.
He sat up with a start. Today Mary was going North. He had quite forgotten it in the wild
excitement of the cotton corner. He had neglected her. Of course, there was always the
hovering doubt as to whether he really wanted her or not. She had the form and carriage;
her beauty, while not startling, was young and fresh and firm. On the other hand there
was about her a certain independence that he did not like to associate with women. She
had thoughts and notions of the world which were, to his Southern training, hardly
feminine. And yet even they piqued him and spurred him like the sight of an untrained
colt. He had not seen her falter yet beneath his glances or tremble at his touch. All this he
desired—ardently desired. But did he desire her as a wife? He rather thought that he did.
And if so he must speak today.
There was his father, too, to reckon with. Colonel Cresswell, with the perversity of the
simple-minded, had taken the sudden bettering of their fortunes as his own doing. He had
foreseen; he had stuck it out; his credit had pulled the thing through; and the trust had
learned a thing or two about Southern gentlemen.
Toward John Taylor he perceptibly warmed. His business methods were such as a
Cresswell could never stoop to; but he was a man of his word, and Colonel Cresswell's
correspondence with Mr. Easterly opened his eyes to the beneficent ideals of Northern
capital. At the same time he could not consider the Easterlys and the Taylors and such
folk as the social equals of the Cresswells, and his prejudice on this score must still be
reckoned with.
Below, Mary Taylor lingered on the porch in strange uncertainty. Harry Cresswell would
soon be coming downstairs. Did she want him to find her? She liked him frankly,
undisguisedly; but from the love she knew to be so near her heart she recoiled in
perturbation. He wooed her—whether consciously or not, she was always uncertain—
with every quiet attention and subtle deference, with a devotion seemingly quite too
delicate for words; he not only fetched her flowers, but flowers that chimed with day and
gown and season—almost with mood. He had a woman's premonitions in fulfilling her
wishes. His hands, if they touched her, were soft and tender, and yet he gave a curious
impression of strength and poise and will.