The Quest of the Silver Fleece HTML version

Thirty-six: The Land
Colonel Cresswell started all the more grimly to overthrow the new work at the school
because somewhere down beneath his heart a pity and a wonder were stirring; pity at the
perfectly useless struggle to raise the unraisable, a wonder at certain signs of rising. But it
was impossible—and unthinkable, even if possible. So he squared his jaw and cheated
Zora deliberately in the matter of the cut timber. He placed every obstacle in the way of
getting tenants for the school land. Here Johnson, the "faithful nigger," was of
incalculable assistance. He was among the first to hear the call for prospective tenants.
The meeting was in the big room of Zora's house, and Aunt Rachel came early with her
cheery voice and smile which faded so quickly to lines of sorrow and despair, and then
twinkled back again. After her hobbled old Sykes. Fully a half-hour later Rob hurried in.
"Johnson," he informed the others, "has sneaked over to Cresswell's to tell of this
meeting. We ought to beat that nigger up." But Zora asked him about the new baby, and
he was soon deep in child-lore. Higgins and Sanders came together—dirty, apologetic,
and furtive. Then came Johnson.
"How do, Miss Zora—Mr. Alwyn, I sure is glad to see you, sir. Well, if there ain't Aunt
Rachel! looking as young as ever. And Higgins, you scamp—Ah, Mr. Sanders—well,
gentlemen and ladies, this sure is gwine to be a good cotton season. I remember—" And
he ran on endlessly, now to this one, now to that, now to all, his little eyes all the while
dancing insinuatingly here and there. About nine o'clock a buggy drove up and Carter and
Simpson came in—Carter, a silent, strong-faced, brown laborer, who listened and looked,
and Simpson, a worried nervous man, who sat still with difficulty and commenced many
sentences but did not finish them. Alwyn looked at his watch and at Zora, but she gave no
sign until they heard a rollicking song outside and Tylor burst into the room. He was
nearly seven feet high and broad-shouldered, yellow, with curling hair and laughing
brown eyes. He was chewing an enormous quid of tobacco, the juice of which he
distributed generously, and had had just liquor enough to make him jolly. His entrance
was a breeze and a roar.
Alwyn then undertook to explain the land scheme.
"It is the best land in the county—"
"When it's cl'ared," interrupted Johnson, and Simpson looked alarmed.
"It is partially cleared," continued Alwyn, "and our plan is to sell off small twenty-acre
"You can't do nothing on twenty acres—" began Johnson, but Tylor laid his huge hand
right over his mouth and said briefly: