A Look of Hope
By Joanne Sher
"Now Clara, you stop that chatterin', or Miss Willingston will send you to the corner. And Abigail, keep your hands to yourself!"
Cynthia Willingston glared at the rag dolls resting against her bedroom wall. Deciding she had scared them into submission, she returned to her lesson for the day.
"Now class, if you have three apples, and then find two more, how many do you have?"
Cynthia turned immediately toward the soft-spoken, kind voice at her bedroom door and smiled. Margaret had worked at the Willingston homestead for seven years, since Cynthia was a baby. Even though she was a negro, the Willingstons treated her well-not like family, perhaps, but like a human being. Of all the Willingstons, Cynthia came the closest to treating the 15-year-old house slave like kin.
"Breakfast time, Miss Cynthia."
Cynthia grabbed one of her rag dolls and walked alongside Margaret as they descended the staircase of the large plantation home.
"So, Miss Cynthia, what was ya playin'?"
"School. I was giving Clara and Abigail their 'rithmetic lesson. They weren't listening very well. I was about to put Clara in the corner!"
"So that's why you lef' her behind," Margaret tittered, pointing at the one doll in the girl's hand.
Cynthia nodded sternly.
The girls could smell the wonderful aroma of sausages and potatoes cooking, well before entering the spacious kitchen. As soon as Cynthia reached the landing, her stroll became a trot as she followed her nose to the stove, where Beulah shooed her away from the flame and to the table.
"Dontcha get burnt, Miss Cynthia," the plump, middle-aged, negro woman chided. "Sit and Marg'ret will bring ya your food."
Cynthia plopped down on the chair Margaret had pulled out for her, and eagerly watched as Beulah served up scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and sausage. As soon as the plate was in front of her, Cynthia ate with gusto.
"Where's Mamma?" she asked between bites.
Beulah sighed softly. "Still sleepin,' I figger. Fixin' to go wake her right now, so she can start ya on your lessons."
"Can't you teach me, Margaret? Then Mamma can keep sleeping!"
Margaret began to speak, but then hesitated, turning toward Beulah.
"Marg'ret can't read, Miss Cynthia. Slaves ain't 'spose to get no learnin'."
Cynthia stood up, banging her hand on the table.
"Now, that's just silly! Why, reading's the very best, most wonderful thing in the world!"
After a moment of thought, Cynthia's face brightened. She did a bit of a pirouette, then walked over and grabbed Margaret's arm.
"I know! I'll teach you! You can sit with Clara and Abigail, and you can learn your letters and words and everything! You'll read good as me soon! I promise not to make you sit in the corner-ever! Oh, please, Margaret, please!"
Beulah shook her head, sighing, but the young girl would not give up.
"But the Good Book says 'there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.' Why can't Margaret learn to read if we're all the same?"¹
Cynthia, eyes afire, blond ringlets quivering with the tossing of her head, looked straight at Beulah. The woman took a deep breath.
"You ask your mamma, Miss Cynthia."
"Don't you want to learn to read, Margaret?"
Cynthia glanced Margaret's way, and for the first time noticed tears running down her ebony cheeks, and a sparkle she had never seen in the eyes of a negro-a look of hope.
"You do, Margaret, don't you? I can tell! Just come upstairs with me! We can start with "A" right now!"
Cynthia grabbed Margaret's hand and skipped toward the stairway, heading up toward the little girl's bedroom.
"Cynthia Miriam Willington! What are you doing?"
Both girls stopped short as the matron of the house appeared at the top of the stairs.
Cynthia took a deep breath. "I'm gonna play upstairs with Margaret, Mamma. 'K?"
"That's fine, dear, but Margaret must get her work done too, and you have your lessons to tend to. Twenty minutes-do you hear me?"
The girls walked past Mrs. Willingston, entered Cynthia's bedroom, and closed the door behind them.
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¹ Galatians 3:28 KJV
Joanne Sher lives in West Michigan with her husband and two children, ages 3 and 5. A Los Angeles native, she was raised Jewish and accepted Christ in her early 30's. She is a homemaker who has been writing off and on since childhood, but has only recently begun doing so for the glory of God. If you would like to write to Joanne, you can do so through the Letters page of this magazine.