The general gasped for breath, and turned towards the hall.
“Come out here, Chris!” he called. “Here’s Eugie been walking home with the Burr boy!”
In a moment Miss Chris’s large figure appeared in the doorway, and she handed a brimming mint julep to the general.
“I don’t know what Eugie can be made of,” she remarked. “Amos Burr was overseer for the Carringtons before he got that place of his own, and I remember just as well as if it were yesterday old Mr. Phil Carrington telling me once, when I was on a visit there, that the more his man Burr worked the less he accomplished. But, as for Eugenia, that isn’t the worst about her. Just the other morning, when I was looking out of the storeroom window, I saw her with her arm round the neck of Aunt Verbeny’s little Suke. I declare I was so upset I let the quart pot fall into the potato bin!”
“But there isn’t anybody else, Aunt Chris,” protested Eugenia, looking up from her father’s julep, which she was tasting. “And I’m ’bliged to have a bosom friend.”
The general shook until his face was purple and the ice jingled in the glass.
“Bosom friend, you puss!” he roared. “Why can’t you choose a bosom friend of your own colour? What do you want with a bosom friend as black as the ace of spades?”
“O papa, she ain’t black; she’s jes’ yellow-brown.”
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Eugie,” said Miss Chris severely. “Now go upstairs and wash your face and hands before dinner. It is almost ready. I wonder where Bernard is!”
“Can’t I wait twell the bell rings?” Eugenia asked; but Miss Chris shook her head decisively.
“Eugenia, will you never stop talking like a darkey?” she demanded. “How often must I tell you that there’s no such word as ‘twell’? Now, go right straight upstairs.”
Eugenia rose obediently and went into the hall. She had learned from her father and the servants not to dispute the authority of Miss Chris, though she yielded to it with a mild surprise at her own docility.
“She don’t really manage me,” she had once confided to Delphy, the washerwoman, “but I jes’ plays that she does.”
When Eugenia came downstairs she found the family seated at dinner, Miss Chris and her father beaming upon each other across a dish of fried chicken and a home-cured ham. Bernard was on Miss Chris’s right hand, and on the other side of the table Eugenia’s seat separated the general from Aunt Griselda, who sat severely buttering her toast before a brown earthenware teapot ornamented by a raised design of Rebecca at the well. Aunt Griselda was a lean, dried-up old lady, with a sharp, curved nose like the beak of a bird, and smoothly parted hair brushed low over her ears and held in place by a tortoise-shell comb. There were deep channels about her eyes, worn by the constant falling of acrid tears, and her cheeks were wrinkled and yellowed like old parchment.