Miss Smith bent forward—not a beautiful pose, but earnest.
“I want you to count, and I want to count, too; but I don’t want us to be the only ones that count. I want to live in a world where every soul counts—white, black, and yellow—all. That’s what I’m teaching these children here—to count, and not to be like dumb, driven cattle. If you don’t believe in this, of course you cannot help us.”
“Your spirit is admirable, Miss Smith,” she had said very softly; “I only wish I could feel as you do. Good-afternoon,” and she had rustled gently down the narrow stairs, leaving an all but imperceptible suggestion of perfume. Miss Smith could smell it yet as she went down this morning.
The breakfast bell jangled. “Five thousand dollars,” she kept repeating to herself, greeting the teachers absently—“five thousand dollars.” And then on the porch she was suddenly aware of the awaiting boy. She eyed him critically: black, fifteen, country-bred, strong, clear-eyed.
“Well?” she asked in that brusque manner wherewith her natural timidity was wont to mask her kindness. “Well, sir?”
“I’ve come to school.”
“Humph—we can’t teach boys for nothing.”
The boy straightened. “I can pay my way,” he returned.
“You mean you can pay what we ask?”
“Why, yes. Ain’t that all?”
“No. The rest is gathered from the crumbs of Dives’ table.”
Then he saw the twinkle in her eyes. She laid her hand gently upon his shoulder.
“If you don’t hurry you’ll be late to breakfast,” she said with an air of confidence. “See those boys over there? Follow them, and at noon come to the office—wait! What’s your name?”
“Blessed Alwyn,” he answered, and the passing teachers smiled.
Miss Mary Taylor did not take a college course for the purpose of teaching Negroes. Not that she objected to Negroes as human beings—quite the contrary. In the debate between the senior societies her defence of the Fifteenth Amendment had been not only a notable bit of reasoning, but delivered with real enthusiasm. Nevertheless, when the end of the summer came and the only opening facing her was the teaching of children at Miss Smith’s experiment in the Alabama swamps, it must be frankly confessed that Miss Taylor was disappointed.
Her dream had been a post-graduate course at Bryn Mawr; but that was out of the question until money was earned. She had pictured herself earning this by teaching one or two of her “specialties” in some private school near New York or Boston, or even in a Western college. The South she had not thought of seriously; and yet, knowing of its delightful hospitality and mild climate, she was not averse to Charleston or New Orleans. But from the offer that came to teach Negroes—country Negroes, and little ones at that—she shrank, and, indeed, probably would have refused it out of hand had it not been for her queer brother, John. John Taylor, who had supported her through college, was interested in cotton. Having certain schemes in mind, he had been struck by the fact that the Smith School was in the midst of the Alabama cotton-belt.