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Georgia, February 1892
Helen Edwards flung the gown, for she couldn't rightly call the ruffled, silk expanse of elegance a dress, into the growing pile on the floor of the cluttered third floor storage room. At least, it was a storage room now, whatever it might have been in the Quincy Family past. Bending, she pulled another sheet-wrapped gown from the ancient trunk, releasing a fragrance of spices and mothballs. Her breath caught in her throat as she shook out the lovely blue silk and held it in front of her.
She bit her lip as she gazed into the oval, French mirror that stood in the corner. If only her hair was blond or black or even red. Her brown locks pulled up in a severe bun, appeared mousy against the shining blue fabric. She sighed and focused on the dress. Should she try it on? How embarrassing if anyone should walk in and catch her, the proper, spinsterish school teacher, primping in who-knew-how-many-decades-old fancy clothing. She cocked an ear. Hammering and other noises from the west wing assured her that Albert and his helpers were busy with the third floor renovations. The Cecilia Quincy School for the Deaf would soon be moving their classrooms from the second floor of the old renovated mansion to the third with its much needed space.
Quickly she spread the gown across the trunk. Unbuttoning her sensible, dark brown, garment, Helen lifted it over her head and laid it across a straight-back chair.
A moment later, the sky-blue silk slid down her small frame. She closed her eyes for a moment and ran her hands across the smooth, billowing yards and yards of the skirt. Then taking a deep breath, she opened her eyes. Her breath caught. Why, she looked young. Nowhere near her thirty-two years.
A gasp from the doorway was the only warning that she wasn't alone.
"Oh! Miss Edwards. You're so beautiful. You look just like a princess."
Her cheeks blazing and heart thumping, she turned to the ten-year-old girl standing in the doorway, her blue eyes enormous.
"Please shut the door, Molly." She was careful to enunciate and look straight at Molly so the child could read her lips.
Molly Flannigan hastened to obey and then stepped over to Helen. Her hand reached out. She jerked it back. "May I touch it?"
Helen gave a nervous laugh. "Of course you may. Then I have to change back into my own dress before someone else comes in here. By the way, what are you doing up here?"
"Miss Wellington sent me to find you. She wants to talk to you about something."
"Very well. Would you like to help me put these things away? Then we'll go downstairs together."
Molly chattered in her slightly high voice and clipped off words as she helped return the garments to the huge trunk. She exclaimed over each one. "But who do they belong to?"
"I'm not sure. They're very old, so their owners must be long dead by now. I suppose they belong to Dr. Trent." Helen smiled, wondering what Dr. Trent Quincy's new bride, Abigail, would think of them. Helen couldn't wait to show her. It would be like Abigail to cut them all down into dresses for the little girls and fancy vests for the boys.
Helen wrapped the blue gown in its old white sheet and placed it on top of the others. Sighing, she closed the lid with a thunk then walked down the hall with Molly.
"I sure wish I knew who owned those dresses. They must have been awfully rich." Molly shook her head in emphasis, causing her long black braids to wave from side to side.
"I suppose they were," Helen said. "It's my understanding the school's original benefactress, who was our own Dr. Trent's grandmother, was quite wealthy."
"Is she the one who freed all her slaves?" Molly turned her eyes up to her teacher.
"That's right." Helen nodded and gave the girl's hand a gentle squeeze. "I'm pleased you remember the facts you've learned about the history of our school."
Molly's eyes danced. "Mrs. Alexandra Quincy, widow of Mr. George Quincy, freed all her slaves ten years before the Civil War began. She gave them all land and a cabin and the opportunity to work for wages if they wished. Soon afterward, she moved into a small house on her property and told her son, Thomas, to make the big house into a school in memory of her youngest daughter, Cecilia, who was deaf"her expression sobered"completely deaf like me. And they named it the Cecilia Quincy School for the Deaf."
"Excellent, Miss Flannigan. Perhaps you can recite those facts during the end of the year program."
"Really?" She giggled as they rounded the corner to the main hallway.
"Yes, really." Helen gave a gentle pull to one of Molly's braids.
"I won't tell anyone you tried on the dress."
Warmth rushed over Helen's cheeks. "Thank you. It would be rather embarrassing if anyone knew."
Molly nodded her head. "You want to know a secret?"
"Only if it's yours to tell and you want to."
"It is." She swallowed. "I used to try on Mama's dresses. You know, after she went to heaven."
Helen's heart lurched, and she paused at the head of the stairway, blinking back tears. "Oh, sweetheart. I understand. It must have made you feel close to her."
Molly swallowed again then nodded. "Pa walked in one day and saw me. He hugged me really tight. But when I went home again at the end of school, they were all gone. And so was her picture."
Helen put her hand on Molly's shoulder. "I'm sure your father thought that was best for you."
"I know. He said we had to move on. But we'd see Mama again some day." Her lips quivered. "Do you think that's true? Will I ever see my mama again?"
Gathering the girl into her arms, Helen sent a silent prayer for the right words.
"Your mother knew Jesus and so do you. Yes, I believe someday you'll see her again."
A sigh of relief escaped from Molly's lips. "I believe so, too. It's just sometimes it seems so long. And I can't remember exactly what she looked like anymore."
The conversation remained with Helen as she went about her Saturday chores. She wondered if Molly's father knew what his daughter was going through inside. Probably not. He'd seemed distracted ever since his wife had passed away two years before.
Patrick Flannigan, with a grin he couldn't hold back, drove his buggy down the street toward home. He couldn't recall the name or the words to the tune he whistled, but its jolly rhythm matched the satisfaction he felt inside. Who would have thought his small leather shop would gain so much popularity. The last year he'd seen a steady increase, but in the past four months business had boomed. He'd need to hire more hands soon.