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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Teacher (10/26/06)

TITLE: 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 ragdolls 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?"

"Miss Cynthia?"

Cynthia turned immediately toward the softspoken, 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. Cynthia came the closest to treating the 15-year-old house slave like kin.

"Breakfast time, Miss Cynthia."

Cynthia grabbed one of her ragdolls and walked alongside Margaret as the two descended the staircase of the large plantation home.

"So, Miss Cynthia, whatall 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 behine," Margaret tittered, pointing at the one doll in the girl’s hand.

Cynthia nodded sternly.

They 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 Ma’gret will bring ya yo’ 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 righ now so she can start ya on yo’ lessons."

"Can’t you teach me, Margaret? Then mamma can keep sleeping!"

Margaret began to speak but then hesitated, turning toward Beulah.

"Ma’gret 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 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?"

Cynthia, eyes afire, blond ringlets quivering with the tossing of her head, looked straight at Beulah. The woman took a deep breath.

"You ask yo’ 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, Margaret! 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?"

"Yes, mamma."

The girls walked past Mrs. Willingston, entered Cynthia’s bedroom, and closed the door behind them.

Galatians 3:28 KJV

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This article has been read 1717 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Marilyn Schnepp 11/04/06
A touching story of the past, and well written also.
Catrina Bradley 11/05/06
Very Good! And a child shall lead them. If only "grown ups" could have the vision of children. Well written, loved it!
Jan Ackerson 11/06/06
Good job, and historically accurate with no anachronisms. A painful period to read about, so your title of "hope" was perfect.
Pat Guy 11/06/06
You did a good job writting about a sensetive time and place. I loved the ending especially - and I loved the little girls spunk.

Good dialogue and atmosphere. It makes the reader feel like they would like to have been there to do something about it too.

Good job!!!
Marilee Alvey11/07/06
I really enjoyed this story. Often, when people venture into the world of dialects, the reader tires of it and it intrudes with the story. Not so here. A seed is being planted and the reader knows it will bear much future fruit. It's neat to think that we are viewing the very beginning of a completely changed life! Thanks for putting a mirror to our past!
Jen Davis11/07/06
A very enjoyable story of hope. I loved how you shared your message from the perspective of a child. The dialect was well done and the piece was very well written. Great job!
Val Clark11/07/06
The other level of hope is that Cynthia could hear the good news from Margarets lips. Well written historical piece. Finely drawn characters and strong sense of place.
Sara Harricharan 11/08/06
An appropriate title for a great story. This was an enjoyable read.
Betty Castleberry11/08/06
This tugged at my heartstrings. You did a wonderful job developing your charcters, and I liked the dialogue as well. Very nice!
Valora Otis11/08/06
I loved the spirit and zeal of your character. I have a passion for historical fiction and you've done a terrific job with this piece. You pull the reader right into the era. A sad time in history; but I'm sure that there were many people who felt just like this little girl. The scripture reference was perfect. Great job!
Laurie Glass 11/08/06
This story reminded me of one of my all time favories, "Roots." What a unique take on the topic and very well written.
Suzanne R11/08/06
Magnificent! I'm another lover of historical fiction, and this was just beautifully done.
Jacquelyn Horne02/14/08
This is so realistic of plantation days. Enjoyed reading it.