The Quest of the Silver Fleece HTML version

Twelve: The Promise
Miss Smith sat with her face buried in her hands while the tears trickled silently through
her thin fingers. Before her lay the letter, read a dozen times:
"Old Mrs. Grey has been to see me, and she has announced her intention of endowing
five colored schools, yours being one. She asked if $500,000 would do it. She has plenty
of money, so I told her $750,000 would be better—$150,000 apiece. She's arranging for a
Board of Trust, etc. You'll probably hear from her soon. You've been so worried about
expenses that I thought I'd send this word on; I knew you'd be glad."
Glad? Dear God, how flat the word fell! For thirty years she had sown the seed, planting
her life-blood in this work, that had become the marrow of her soul.
Successful? No, it had not been successful; but it had been human. Through yonder
doorway had trooped an army of hundreds upon hundreds of bright and dull, light and
dark, eager and sullen faces. There had been good and bad, honest and deceptive, frank
and furtive. Some had caught, kindled and flashed to ambition and achievement; some,
glowing dimly, had plodded on in a slow, dumb faithful work worth while; and yet others
had suddenly exploded, hurtling human fragments to heaven and to hell. Around this
school home, as around the centre of some little universe, had whirled the sorrowful,
sordid, laughing, pulsing drama of a world: birth pains, and the stupor of death; hunger
and pale murder; the riot of thirst and the orgies of such red and black cabins as Elspeth's,
crouching in the swamp.
She groaned as she read of the extravagances of the world and saw her own vanishing
revenues; but the funds continued to dwindle until Sarah Smith asked herself: "What will
become of this school when I die?" With trembling fingers she had sat down to figure
how many teachers must be dropped next year, when her brother's letter came, and she
slipped to her knees and prayed.
Mrs. Grey's decision was due in no little way to Mary Taylor's reports. Slowly but surely
the girl had begun to think that she had found herself in this new world. She would never
be attuned to it thoroughly, for she was set for different music. The veil of color and race
still hung thickly between her and her pupils; and yet she seemed to see some points of
penetration. No one could meet daily a hundred or more of these light-hearted, good-
natured children without feeling drawn to them. No one could cross the thresholds of the
cabins and not see the old and well-known problems of life and striving. More and more,
therefore, the work met Miss Taylor's approval and she told Mrs. Grey so.
At the same time Mary Taylor had come to some other definite conclusions: she believed
it wrong to encourage the ambitions of these children to any great extent; she believed
they should be servants and farmers, content to work under present conditions until those
conditions could be changed; and she believed that the local white aristocracy, helped by
Northern philanthropy, should take charge of such gradual changes.