“Miss Smith, who do you think has been here?” she burst out enthusiastically.
“I saw him on the lawn.” There was a suspicious lack of warmth in this brief affirmation.
“He was so gracious and kindly, and he knows my brother. And oh, Miss Smith! we’ve got to send that Zora right away.”
“Indeed”—the observation was not even interrogatory. The preceptress of the struggling school for Negro children merely evinced patience for the younger woman’s fervency.
“Yes; he says she’s utterly depraved.”
“Said that, did he?” Miss Smith watched her with tranquil regard. Miss Taylor paused.
“Of course, we cannot think of keeping her.”
Miss Smith pursed her lips, offering her first expression of opinion.
“I guess we’ll worry along with her a little while anyhow,” she said.
The girl stared at Miss Smith in honest, if unpardonable, amazement.
“Do you mean to say that you are going to keep in this school a girl who not only lies and steals but is positively—immoral?”
Miss Smith smiled, wholly unmoved.
“No; but I mean that I am here to learn from those whose ideas of right do not agree with mine, to discover why they differ, and to let them learn of me—so far as I am worthy.”
Mary Taylor was not unappreciative of Miss Smith’s stern high-mindedness, but her heart hardened at this, to her, misdirected zeal. Echo of the spirit of an older day, Miss Smith seemed, to her, to be cramped and paralyzed in an armor of prejudice and sectionalisms. Plain-speaking was the only course, and Mary, if a little complacent perhaps in her frankness, was sincere in her purpose.
“I think, Miss Smith, you are making a very grave mistake. I regard Zora as a very undesirable person from every point of view. I look upon Mr. Cresswell’s visit today as almost providential. He came offering an olive branch from the white aristocracy to this work; to bespeak his appreciation and safeguard the future. Moreover,” and Miss Taylor’s voice gathered firmness despite Miss Smith’s inscrutable eye, “moreover, I have reason to know that the disposition—indeed, the plan—in certain quarters to help this work materially depends very largely on your willingness to meet the advances of the Southern whites half way.”
She paused for a reply or a question. Receiving neither, she walked with dignity up the stairs. From her window she could see Cresswell’s straight shoulders, as he rode toward town, and beyond him a black speck in the road. But she could not see the smile on Mr. Cresswell’s lips, nor did she hear him remark twice, with seeming irrelevance, “The devil!”