Old Reliable in Africa/Foreword
WHY THEY WENT TO THE SUDAN
OLD RELIABLE never did rightly get the hang of that white man's name—the one with the single-barreled specs who came to visit the Colonel on Sherwood Plantation. And 'twarn't only negroes that couldn't understand; even the white folks had a mighty lot of trouble. Zack heard Doctor Paulding laugh and inquire, "Look here, Colonel, I don't know what to call your English Lord. Can't quite get my tongue twisted around 'Your Lordship' or 'Your Serene Highness.' What's the correct thing, 'My Lord'? or 'Lord Meadowcroft'?"
"Reckon so," chuckled the Colonel. "This 'lord' business kinder got me for a while. I sasshayed around it until he commenced calling me 'Spottiswoode' and I called him 'Meadowcroft.' Fine fellow, isn't he?"
Zack cocked his head on one side and listened to everybody before addressing the distinguished stranger as, "Oh Lordy," and the problem of courtesy bothered Zack no more.
"Oh Lordy" rambled all over the plantation, horseback and afoot, poking into everything, just like that Health Officer who used to come spying around the Hot Cat Eating House. Oh Lordy would stick up his eyeglass and ask a million questions a minute about cotton and seed, and ginning and picking, and mules and negroes. When he switched off to "soil" and "climate" and "precipitation"—Zack knew there wasn't nothing like that on Sherwood.
"What makes Lord Meadowcroft so inquisitive?" Dr. Paulding asked.
"Business," the Colonel laughed. "He wants to learn how we raise cotton. You see, Doctor, it's this way: the British Cotton Growers' Association is making experiments all over the world, trying to find a soil and climate adapted to cotton culture. Meadowcroft is particularly interested in the Sudan———"
"Where's the Sudan?" for Dr. Paulding had hazy geographical ideas.
"Don't know, exactly—somewhere in Middle Africa. Ask your geography. Anyway, Meadowcroft thinks the Sudan will produce cotton. They've got all kinds of theoretical experts on the ground—and want some experienced planter who understands the practical side of it—just to give them a start, you know. I've agreed to go—for six months."
"You? Go to Africa?"
"Sure, why not? I've always wanted to see the negro at home—had a curiosity to know if he's like our negro."
"Heavens, Colonel, that's a mighty long trip."
"Yes, I know; but there'll be several British officers at the Concession. Of course, I'll take Zack along, to shave me and look after my baggage, so I won't get lonesome."
Dr. Paulding glanced at Old Reliable, "No, Colonel, you won't get lonesome—not if you have Zack."
Many a time before he got home again Colonel Spottiswoode remembered how Doctor Paulding had laughed and said, "You won't get lonesome—not if you have Zack."