“Better go,” he had counselled, sententiously. “Might learn something useful down there.”
She had been not a little dismayed by the outlook, and had protested against his blunt insistence.
“But, John, there’s no society—just elementary work—”
John had met this objection with, “Humph!” as he left for his office. Next day he had returned to the subject.
“Been looking up Tooms County. Find some Cresswells there—big plantations—rated at two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Some others, too; big cotton county.”
“You ought to know, John, if I teach Negroes I’ll scarcely see much of people in my own class.”
“Nonsense! Butt in. Show off. Give ’em your Greek—and study Cotton. At any rate, I say go.”
And so, howsoever reluctantly, she had gone.
The trial was all she had anticipated, and possibly a bit more. She was a pretty young woman of twenty-three, fair and rather daintily moulded. In favorable surroundings, she would have been an aristocrat and an epicure. Here she was teaching dirty children, and the smell of confused odors and bodily perspiration was to her at times unbearable.
Then there was the fact of their color: it was a fact so insistent, so fatal she almost said at times, that she could not escape it. Theoretically she had always treated it with disdainful ease.
“What’s the mere color of a human soul’s skin,” she had cried to a Wellesley audience and the audience had applauded with enthusiasm. But here in Alabama, brought closely and intimately in touch with these dark skinned children, their color struck her at first with a sort of terror—it seemed ominous and forbidding. She found herself shrinking away and gripping herself lest they should perceive. She could not help but think that in most other things they were as different from her as in color. She groped for new ways to teach colored brains and marshal colored thoughts and the result was puzzling both to teacher and student. With the other teachers she had little commerce. They were in no sense her sort of folk. Miss Smith represented the older New England of her parents—honest, inscrutable, determined, with a conscience which she worshipped, and utterly unselfish. She appealed to Miss Taylor’s ruddier and daintier vision but dimly and distantly as some memory of the past. The other teachers were indistinct personalities, always very busy and very tired, and talking “school-room” with their meals. Miss Taylor was soon starving for human companionship, for the lighter touches of life and some of its warmth and laughter. She wanted a glance of the new books and periodicals and talk of great philanthropies and reforms. She felt out of the world, shut in and mentally anaemic; great as the “Negro Problem” might be as a world problem, it looked sordid and small at close range. So for the hundredth time she was thinking today, as she walked alone up the lane back of the barn, and then slowly down through the bottoms. She paused a moment and nodded to the two boys at work in a young cotton field.