Yet the sacrifice, the readjustment was hard; he grew to it gradually, inwardly revolting, feeling always a great longing to take this woman and make her nestle in his arms as she used to; catching himself again and again on the point of speaking to her and urging, yet ever again holding himself back and bowing in silent respect to the dignity of her life. Only now and then, when their eyes met suddenly or unthinkingly, a great kindling flash of flame seemed struggling behind showers of tears, until in a moment she smiled or spoke, and then the dropping veil left only the frank open glance, unwavering, soft, kind, but nothing more. Then Alwyn would go wearily away, vexed or disappointed, or merely sad, and both would turn to their work again.
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.