“Why, I thought,” said Mrs. Grey, “that you Southerners rather disapproved—or at least—”
Mr. Cresswell inclined his head courteously.
“We Southerners, my dear Mrs. Grey, are responsible for a variety of reputations.” And he told an anecdote that set the table laughing. “Seriously, though,” he continued, “we are not as black as the blacks paint us, although on the whole I prefer that Helen should marry—a white man.”
They all glanced at Miss Cresswell, who lay softly back in her chair like a white lily, gleaming and bejewelled, her pale face flushing under the scrutiny; Mrs. Grey was horrified.
“Why—why the idea!” she sputtered. “Why, Mr. Cresswell, how can you conceive of anything else—no Northerner dreams—”
Mr. Cresswell sipped his wine slowly.
“No—no—I do not think you do mean that—” He paused and the Englishman bent forward.
“Really, now, you do not mean to say that there is a danger of—of amalgamation, do you?” he sang.
Mr. Cresswell explained. No, of course there was no immediate danger; but when people were suddenly thrust beyond their natural station, filled with wild ideas and impossible ambitions, it meant terrible danger to Southern white women.
“But you believe in some education?” asked Mary Taylor.
“I believe in the training of people to their highest capacity.” The Englishman here heartily seconded him.
“But,” Cresswell added significantly, “capacity differs enormously between races.”
The Vanderpools were sure of this and the Englishman, instancing India, became quite eloquent. Mrs. Grey was mystified, but hardly dared admit it. The general trend of the conversation seemed to be that most individuals needed to be submitted to the sharpest scrutiny before being allowed much education, and as for the “lower races” it was simply criminal to open such useless opportunities to them.
“Why, I had a colored servant-girl once,” laughed Mrs. Vanderpool by way of climax, “who spent half her wages in piano lessons.”
Then Mary Taylor, whose conscience was uncomfortable, said:
“But, Mr. Cresswell, you surely believe in schools like Miss Smith’s?”
“Decidedly,” returned Mr. Cresswell, with enthusiasm, “it has done great good.”
Mrs. Grey was gratified and murmured something of Miss Smith’s “sacrifice.”
“Positively heroic,” added Cresswell, avoiding his sister’s eyes.
“Of course,” Mary Taylor hastened to encourage this turn of the conversation, “there are many points on which Miss Smith and I disagree, but I think everybody admires her work.”
Mrs. Grey wanted particulars. “What did you disagree about?” she asked bluntly.
“I may be responsible for some of the disagreement,” interrupted Mr. Cresswell, hesitatingly; “I’m afraid Miss Smith does not approve of us white Southerners.”