“I think the whites can attend to the duties of citizenship without help,” observed Mr. Cresswell.
“Don’t let the blacks meddle in politics,” said Dr. Boldish.
“I want to make these children full-fledged men and women, strong, self-reliant, honest, without any ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’ to their development,” insisted Miss Smith.
“Of course, and that is just what Mr. Cresswell wants. Isn’t it, Mr. Cresswell?” asked Mrs. Grey.
“I think I may say yes,” Mr. Cresswell agreed. “I certainly want these people to develop as far as they can, although Miss Smith and I would differ as to their possibilities. But it is not so much in the general theory of Negro education as in its particular applications where our chief differences would lie. I may agree that a boy should learn higher arithmetic, yet object to his loafing in plough-time. I might want to educate some girls but not girls like Zora.”
Mrs. Vanderpool glanced at Mr. Cresswell, smiling to herself.
Mrs. Grey broke in, beaming:
“That’s just it, dear Miss Smith,—just it. Your heart is good, but you need strong practical advice. You know we weak women are so impractical, as my poor Job so often said. Now, I’m going to arrange to endow this school with at least—at least a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. One condition is that my friend, Mr. Cresswell here, and these other gentlemen, including sound Northern business men like Mr. Easterly, shall hold this money in trust, and expend it for your school as they think best.”
“Mr. Cresswell would be their local representative?” asked Miss Smith slowly with white face.
“Why yes—yes, of course.”
There was a long, tense silence. Then the firm reply,
“Mrs. Grey, I thank you, but I cannot accept your offer.”
Sarah Smith’s voice was strong, the tremor had left her hands. She had expected something like this, of course; yet when it came—somehow it failed to stun. She would not turn over the direction of the school, or the direction of the education of these people, to those who were most opposed to their education. Therefore, there was no need to hesitate; there was no need to think the thing over—she had thought it over—and she looked into Mrs. Grey’s eyes and with gathering tears in her own said:
“Again, I thank you very much, Mrs. Grey.”
Mrs. Grey was a picture of the most emphatic surprise, and Mr. Cresswell moved to the window. Mrs. Grey looked helplessly at her companions.
“But—I don’t understand, Miss Smith—why can’t you accept my offer?”
“Because you ask me to put my school in control of those who do not wish for the best interests of black folk, and in particular I object to Mr. Cresswell,” said Miss Smith, slowly but very distinctly, “because his relation to the forces of evil in this community has been such that he can direct no school of mine.” Mrs. Vanderpool moved toward the door and Mr. Cresswell bowing slightly followed. Dr. Boldish looked indignant and Mr. Bocombe dove after his note-book. Mary Taylor, her head in a whirl, came forward. She felt that in some way she was responsible for this dreadful situation and she wanted desperately to save matters from final disaster.