The Quest of the Silver Fleece HTML version

Thirty-eight: Atonement
Three months had flown. It was Spring again, and Zora sat in the transformed swamp—
now a swamp in name only—beneath the great oak, dreaming. And what she dreamed
there in the golden day she dared not formulate even to her own soul. She rose with a
start, for there was work to do. Aunt Rachel was ill, and Emma went daily to attend her;
today, as she came back, she brought news that Colonel Cresswell, who had been unwell
for several days, was worse. She must send Emma up to help, and as she started toward
the school she glanced toward the Cresswell Oaks and saw the arm-chair of its master on
the pillared porch.
Colonel Cresswell sat in his chair on the porch, alone. As far as he could see, there was
no human soul. His eyes were blood-shot, his cheeks sunken, and his breath came in
painful gasps. A sort of terror shook him until he heard the distant songs of black folk in
the fields. He sighed, and lying back, closed his eyes and the breath came easier. When
he opened them again a white figure was coming up the avenue of the Oaks. He watched
it greedily. It was Mary Cresswell, and she started when she saw him.
"You are worse, father?" she asked.
"Worse and better," he replied, smiling cynically. Then suddenly he announced: "I've
made my will."
"Why—why—" she stammered.
"Why?" sharply. "Because I'm going to die."
She said nothing. He smiled and continued:
"I've got it all fixed. Harry was in a tight place—gambling as usual—and I gave him a
lump sum in lieu of all claims. Then I gave John Taylor—you needn't look. I sent for
him. He's a damned scoundrel; but he won't lie, and I needed him. I willed his children all
the rest except two or three legacies. One was one hundred thousand dollars for you—"
"Oh, father!" she cried. "I don't deserve it."
"I reckon two years with Harry was worth about that much," he returned grimly. "Then
there's another gift of two hundred thousand dollars and this house and plantation. Whom
do you think that's for?"
"Helen!" he raised his hand in threatening anger. "I might rot here for all she cares. No—
no—but then—I'll not tell you—I—ah—" A spasm of pain shot across his face, and he