“You see,” continued Miss Smith, “just as soon as the announcement of the prospective endowment was sent broadcast by the press, the donations from the North fell off. Letter after letter came from old friends of the school full of congratulations, but no money. I ought to have cut down the teaching force to the barest minimum, and gone North begging—but I couldn’t. I guess my courage was gone. I knew how I’d have to explain and plead, and I just could not. So I used the ten thousand dollars to pay its own interest and help run the school. Already it’s half gone, and when the rest goes then will come the end.”
Without, the great red sun paused a moment over the edge of the swamp, and the long, low cry of night birds broke sadly on the twilight silence. Zora sat stroking the lined hands.
“Not the end,” she spoke confidently. “It cannot end like this. I’ve got a little money that Mrs. Vanderpool gave me, and somehow we must get more. Perhaps I might go North and—beg.” She shivered. Then she sat up resolutely and turned to the book.
“Let’s go over matters carefully,” she proposed.
Together they counted and calculated.
“The balance is four thousand seven hundred and ninety-eight dollars,” said Miss Smith.
“Yes, and then there’s Mrs. Vanderpool’s check.”
“How much is that?”
Zora paused; she did not know. In her world there was little calculation of money. Credit and not cash is the currency of the Black Belt. She had been pleased to receive the check, but she had not examined it.
“I really don’t know,” she presently confessed. “I think it was one thousand dollars; but I was so hurried in leaving that I didn’t look carefully,” and the wild thought surged in her, suppose it was more!
She ran into the other room and plunged into her trunk; beneath the clothes, beneath the beauty of the Silver Fleece, till her fingers clutched and tore the envelope. A little choking cry burst from her throat, her knees trembled so that she was obliged to sit down.
In her fingers fluttered a check for—ten thousand dollars!
It was not until the next day that the two women were sufficiently composed to talk matters over sanely.
“What is your plan?” asked Zora.
“To put the money in a Northern savings bank at three per cent interest; to supply the rest of the interest, and the deficit in the running expenses, from our balance, and to send you North to beg.”
Zora shook her head. “It won’t do,” she objected. “I’d make a poor beggar; I don’t know human nature well enough, and I can’t talk to rich white folks the way they expect us to talk.”
“It wouldn’t be hypocrisy, Zora; you would be serving in a great cause. If you don’t go, I—”
“Wait! You sha’n’t go. If any one goes it must be me. But let’s think it out: we pay off the mortgage, we get enough to run the school as it has been run. Then what? There will still be slavery and oppression all around us. The children will be kept in the cotton fields; the men will be cheated, and the women—” Zora paused and her eyes grew hard.