The Good Earth
Pearl S. Buck
Contributed by Bobbie Heil
Chapter 16

One night, Wang discovers that O-lan has kept hidden an array of rich jewels stolen from the rich man’s house during the night of looting. Although it is O-lan who finds the treasure, Wang confiscates the lot, telling her that they are too valuable to be kept and must be used to buy land. However, O-lan requests to keep two small pearls "to hold in [her] hand sometimes" and although Wang is initially unwilling, he allows it after considering that O-lan deserves them, after all the work she has done, never expecting any reward.

Wang makes his way to the House of Hwang, which has seen its share of hard times. He is shocked to see that the Old Lord himself opens the gate, and taking Wang for a debt collector, the old man sternly states that there is no money in the house. Wang, however, says that he has come to conduct business, to which he hears a shriek from a woman who appears before him, excited to see what Wang has to offer. The woman, who seems to have control over the Old Lord, ushers the old man away and engages Wang in the transaction.

Wang is uneasy with negotiating with her, so the woman exasperatingly explains why the House has come to be the way that Wang finds it: bandits scared the Old Mistress to death and all the servants, except her, eventually left the House, some even stealing what they could as they left. The downfall was almost predictable, she surmises, since the young lords did not value their money and spent it recklessly. Yet, even under the current circumstances, she assures Wang that any business conducted through her is legitimate, since the Old Lord will do anything she says.

Although the woman demonstrates her knowledge of the Old Lord’s land holdings, Wang is still reluctant, saying that the young lords must have the final say. However, the woman quickly says that she already has permission from them to sell the land. Wang, however, is unmoved and concerned that the woman, and not the Old Lord, would ultimately receive his money. He leaves without transacting business, saying he will come another day.

Wang makes his way to a small teahouse, with the jewels still in his possession, and laments that it was the family’s distance from the land that has doomed them. He vows to begin training his own sons on the land that very day, to avoid the same fate for his own family. Wang then engages the shop owner to relay the events of the town that he has missed, being away in the south. The most interesting headline was the robbery of the House of Hwang, which dispersed all the slaves except the female, whom Wang learns is called Cuckoo and is quite clever. With this verification that Cuckoo has control of the House, Wang returns and asks her if the Old Lord will set his own seal on the deeds of sale. Cuckoo excitedly guarantees it and happily agrees to sell the land for the jewels.

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