The Quest of the Silver Fleece
Two: The School
Day was breaking above the white buildings of the Negro school and throwing long, low
lines of gold in at Miss Sarah Smith's front window. She lay in the stupor of her last
morning nap, after a night of harrowing worry. Then, even as she partially awoke, she lay
still with closed eyes, feeling the shadow of some great burden, yet daring not to rouse
herself and recall its exact form; slowly again she drifted toward unconsciousness.
"Bang! bang! bang!" hard knuckles were beating upon the door below.
She heard drowsily, and dreamed that it was the nailing up of all her doors; but she did
not care much, and but feebly warded the blows away, for she was very tired.
"Bang! bang! bang!" persisted the hard knuckles.
She started up, and her eye fell upon a letter lying on her bureau. Back she sank with a
sigh, and lay staring at the ceiling—a gaunt, flat, sad-eyed creature, with wisps of gray
hair half-covering her baldness, and a face furrowed with care and gathering years.
It was thirty years ago this day, she recalled, since she first came to this broad land of
shade and shine in Alabama to teach black folks.
It had been a hard beginning with suspicion and squalor around; with poverty within and
without the first white walls of the new school home. Yet somehow the struggle then with
all its helplessness and disappointment had not seemed so bitter as today: then failure
meant but little, now it seemed to mean everything; then it meant disappointment to a
score of ragged urchins, now it meant two hundred boys and girls, the spirits of a
thousand gone before and the hopes of thousands to come. In her imagination the
significance of these half dozen gleaming buildings perched aloft seemed portentous—
big with the destiny not simply of a county and a State, but of a race—a nation—a world.
It was God's own cause, and yet—
"Bang! bang! bang!" again went the hard knuckles down there at the front.
Miss Smith slowly arose, shivering a bit and wondering who could possibly be rapping at
that time in the morning. She sniffed the chilling air and was sure she caught some
lingering perfume from Mrs. Vanderpool's gown. She had brought this rich and rare-
apparelled lady up here yesterday, because it was more private, and here she had poured
forth her needs. She had talked long and in deadly earnest. She had not spoken of the
endowment for which she had hoped so desperately during a quarter of a century—no,
only for the five thousand dollars to buy the long needed new land. It was so little—so
little beside what this woman squandered—
The insistent knocking was repeated louder than before.