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The Quest of the Silver Fleece
W. E. B. Du Bois
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: The Education Of Alwyn
Miss Caroline Wynn of Washington had little faith in the world and its people. Nor was
this wholly her fault. The world had dealt cruelly with the young dreams and youthful
ambitions of the girl; partly with its usual heartlessness, partly with that cynical and
deadening reserve fund which it has today for its darker peoples. The girl had bitterly
resented her experiences at first: she was brilliant and well-trained; she had a real talent
for sculpture, and had studied considerably; she was sprung from at least three
generations of respectable mulattoes, who had left a little competence which yielded her
three or four hundred dollars a year. Furthermore, while not precisely pretty, she was
good-looking and interesting, and she had acquired the marks and insignia of good
breeding. Perhaps she wore her manners just a trifle consciously; perhaps she was a little
morbid that she would fail of recognition as a lady. Nor was this unnatural: her brown
skin invited a different assumption. Despite this almost unconscious mental
aggressiveness, she was unusually presentable and always well-groomed and pleasant of
speech. Yet she found nearly all careers closed to her. At first it seemed accidental, the
luck of life. Then she attributed it to her sex; but at last she was sure that, beyond chance
and womanhood, it was the colorline that was hemming her in. Once convinced of this,
she let her imagination play and saw the line even where it did not exist.
With her bit of property and brilliant parts she had had many suitors but they had been
refused one after another for reasons she could hardly have explained. For years now
Tom Teerswell had been her escort. Whether or not Caroline Wynn would every marry
him was a perennial subject of speculation among their friends and it usually ended in the
verdict that she could not afford it—that it was financially impossible.
Nevertheless, the two were usually seen in public together, and although she often
showed her quiet mastery of the situation, seldom had she snubbed him so openly as at
the Treble Clef concert.
Teerswell was furious and began to plot vengeance; but Miss Wynn was attracted by the
personality of Bles Alwyn. Southern country Negroes were rare in her set, but here was a
man of intelligence and keenness coupled with an amazing frankness and modesty, and
perceptibly shadowed by sorrow. The combination was, so far as she had observed, both
rare and temporary and she was disposed to watch it in this case purely as a matter of
intellectual curiosity. At the door of her home, therefore, after a walk of unusual interest,
"I'm going to have a few friends in next Tuesday night; won't you come, Mr. Alwyn?"
And Mr. Alwyn said that he would.
Next morning Miss Wynn rather repented her hasty invitation, but of course nothing
could be done now. Nothing? Well, there was one thing; and she went to the telephone. A
suggestion to Bles that he might profitably extend his acquaintance sent him to a certain