She began again rapidly: “We must have land—our own farm with our own tenants—to be the beginning of a free community.”
Miss Smith threw up her hands impatiently.
“But sakes alive! Where, Zora? Where can we get land, with Cresswell owning every inch and bound to destroy us?”
Zora sat hugging her knees and staring out the window toward the sombre ramparts of the swamp. In her eyes lay slumbering the madness of long ago; in her brain danced all the dreams and visions of childhood.
“I’m thinking,” she murmured, “of buying the swamp.”
“It’s a shame,” asserted John Taylor with something like real feeling. He was spending Sunday with his father-in-law, and both, over their after-dinner cigars, were gazing thoughtfully at the swamp.
“What’s a shame?” asked Colonel Cresswell.
“To see all that timber and prime cotton-land going to waste. Don’t you remember those fine bales of cotton that came out of there several seasons ago?”
The Colonel smoked placidly. “You can’t get it cleared,” he said.
“But couldn’t you hire some good workers?”
“Niggers won’t work. Now if we had Italians we might do it.”
“Yes, and in a few years they’d own the country.”
“That’s right; so there we are. There’s only one way to get that swamp cleared.”
“Sell it to some fool darkey.”
“Sell it? It’s too valuable to sell.”
“That’s just it. You don’t understand. The only way to get decent work out of some niggers is to let them believe they’re buying land. In nine cases out of ten he works hard a while and then throws up the job. We get back our land and he makes good wages for his work.”
“But in the tenth case—suppose he should stick to it?”
“Oh,”—easily, “we could get rid of him when we want to. White people rule here.”
John Taylor frowned and looked a little puzzled. He was no moralist, but he had his code and he did not understand Colonel Cresswell. As a matter of fact, Colonel Cresswell was an honest man. In most matters of commerce between men he was punctilious to a degree almost annoying to Taylor. But there was one part of the world which his code of honor did not cover, and he saw no incongruity in the omission. The uninitiated cannot easily picture to himself the mental attitude of a former slaveholder toward property in the hands of a Negro. Such property belonged of right to the master, if the master needed it; and since ridiculous laws safeguarded the property, it was perfectly permissible to circumvent such laws. No Negro starved on the Cresswell place, neither did any accumulate property. Colonel Cresswell saw to both matters.
As the Colonel and John Taylor were thus conferring, Zora appeared, coming up the walk.