Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chapter 12

     Roderick was anxious to access the damage and his heart sank when he saw the dams and canals washed away into big ditches and no sign of the locks or other infrastructure.  Biggers' accessment was correct...rebuilding the paddies was futile. He determined not to consider using  land nearest to the river for anything other than flower gardens, focal points and foot paths, a place to stroll in the evenings.
     Except for some fodder raked up for the farm animals, the fields were sadly neglected with the uncleared rotten corn stalks and other vegetation. What had the overseer done for three years?  Roderick shook his head, realizing that it was Angus who stirred the pot and made the plantation work.  He would to somehow need to step into his father's boots and take charge. His studies at Oxford and employment with the earl would assist him in the financial aspect of it, but he knew nothing of farming, only what Biggers had told him of cotton.  Suddenly he saw Lucas' lean figure walking in long strides towards him, swinging his arms and whistling a tune. The sight of his father's old partner gave him a sense of endearing appreciation for the older generation.  Lucas would know what to do. 
     "Lucas!" Roderick said, shaking his hand vigorously.  "I am Roderick, returned from England."
      Lucas chuckled.  "Ye nought 'ave told me that with yer flaming red hair and father's stride..  Welcome home, boy!"
     "Were you able to replant?" Roderick asked anxiously,  recalling that he'd once had a substantial rice crop."
     "Well, there is time enough to speak of crops after you are settled except to say that had we gotten the sprigs to replant, no one could get their shipments out. So we just sat on the dead weeds.  But I will tell you one thing,  if ye father had lasted, I believe that he would have succeeded. What are your plans?"
     Roderick smiled and raising his hands sweeped a space from the river to where they stood. "I plan to plant sea island cotton as far as your eye can see. I brought barrels of the black seeds all the way from London and intend to share some with you."
     Lucas was excited.  "They say that people are getting rich from it."
     "Cotton is king!" Roderick said, repeating the words of Mr. Biggers.
    They ambled towards one of the barns needing dire repair.  "We are going to need more barns and silos to keep it dry. If you prefer, we can construct those buildings as a joint-enterprise and put them in the road between our plantations but still near the loading dock.  Do you have any extra plank board?"
     Lucas nodded.  The enthusiasm of Roderick's voice was energiziing. "You just show me the spot to haul it to!"
    Grandpa Duncan caught on to the idea and as the fields were being plowed and the big black seeds planted invited to Ashley Loche  the widows he'd with whom he'd associated before the death of Angus. The summer passed with large pitchers of lemon aid being served to the ladies on the porch while they continually played their favorite card game and remarked on the spectacle of clouds blooming in little white puff balls. "It is heartening," Mrs. Sullivan said, to see so many acres in bloom despite the damage pounced upon us by the british."
     "Oh no, the british can never beat us nor destroy our spirit. Angus proved that when he went up against Lord Cornwallis!" Duncan said proudly. 
     In the fall of the year just as Mr. Biggers had projected the land was covered with spindley yellow flowers and white cotton balls. The picking began with large sacks strapped to the shoulders of darkies who worked from dawn to dust. The vision of it provided hope for the surrounding plantations.  As the seeds were ginned out,  all that remained were wire bales of thick white balls of cotton. With Roderick and Lucas' crops baled and ready for shipment and the pleasantly cool afternoons, Catherine decided that she would have a barbecue that all of the neighbors could view their success.  Roderick hastened to send an invitation to Mr. Bacot, adding the enticement that he wished to purchase another keg of iron nails and for Bacot to bring it along. Naturally, all members of the family were invited, his wife and children, and especially the fiesty Suzette.
     On the morning of the barbecue the cotton bales were stacked high and wide on the dock waiting for the arrival of a vessel which Biggers had promised to send during the first week in October. If Roderick knew Biggers, he'd already obtained some generous offers from some purchasers in the London markets. His trustworthiness and opinon was so valued among his peers that he could sell most anything, sight unseen. "I want canvas over that!" He shouted while pointing to the bales, thinking of Biggers' reputation and wishing to make a good impression for himself.
     The neighbors began arriving in wagons and carriages. Some were those who'd rode with his father in his fox hunts, others had attended the fabulous dinner parties and balls given by his mother. They all remembered the glistening crystal chandliers hanging from the high ceiling of the foyer and a set of white wooden columns as the place where Catherine and Angus stood greeting their guests.  On special occasions a spinet and couches were rolled into the foyer transforming it into a ballroom. Roderick watched the river all morning for "the Prize", a small sloop belonging to Mr. Bacot and as the morning wore on, fretted that they might not attend. Everything had been arranged to impress Suzette.  All morning he was prancing around singing to himself "I want that kiss! I want that kiss!" He could not forget the taste of her lips when he gave his impetious kiss. He was already ahead of himself on his feelings for her but there was need to slow down and gain her trust.  It was a task that he would have to earn for himself because Suzette was quick-minded and would put him through the drill.
     When she arrived Roderick was seated on the porch playing a hand of whist with his grandpa and Mrs. Sullivan and one of the young girls was practising a sonat on the spinet.  The banging sounds reverberated through the foyer to the outside.  From this vantage he had a full view of Mr. Bacot as he carefully tied a knot around a post and helped his wife and two daughters onto the dock. The smell of roasting pigs was in the air.  His eyes fell on several spits roasting pigs and chickens then from his huguenot spirituality momentarily studied the celebratory aspect of the barbecue to make certain that his daughters were in a proper environment.  An expression of satisfaction and pleasure were caught in the vision of a friendly Roderick eagerly stepping forward to greet them.  A big smile on his lips.
     "Roderick McDonald," he said, shaking his hand cautiously.  The gentlemen had exchanged impersonal information about their business while onboard "the Elizabeth". If Roderick thought that Lord Neville was overly secretative in his affairs, Nicholas Bacot had the inconvenient mannerism of not revealing the slightest detail about  himself. As the day developed,  Roderick found himself seeking Bacot's approval at every turn, something he felt he needed if he were to win Suzette.
     The petite curly-haired Suzette Bacot was sharply aware that she was being pursued. She avoided his eyes by making a polite curtsey. Nicholas introduced his wife and daughters to the porch company. Duncan attempted to convince Mrs. Bacot into playing a game of whist, but she pronounced that card playiing was against her religion.
     "Is that also your way, Miss Suzette?" Roderick asked.
     "Indeed!" Unlike her quietly discerning father, Suzette was not afraid to express her opinion and in so doing, was somewhat overbearing. Perhaps her strong opinions and the fact that she held him at bey is what attracted Roderick.  He did not truly understand it but in those first months of having social pleansantries with the Bacot family, he was careful never to stand too close to her. He did not wished to be slapped nor to have to deal with his own intolerant temper should she do it again.
     The afternoon passed without incident and Roderick promising to open an account with Bacot & Company.   He walked the plantation with Roderick observing the improvements and questioning him regarding the market value of sea island cotton.  Nicholas Bacot seemed satisfied.

No comments:

Post a Comment