“I say, daughter.”
Eugenia looked up eagerly.
“Didn’t that spotted cow of Moses’ die last week?”
“That it did,” replied Eugenia emphatically. “It got loose in your clover, pasture and ate itself too full. Moses says it bu’st.”
“Pish!” exclaimed the general angrily. “My clover! I tell you, they won’t leave me a roof over my head. They’ll eat me into the poorhouse. But I’ll turn them off. I’ll send them packing, bag and baggage. My clover!”
“Moses ain’t got much of a garden patch,” said Eugenia. “It looks mighty poor. The potato-bugs ate all his potatoes.”
The general was silent again.
“I say, daughter,” he began at last, blowing a heavy cloud of smoke upon the air, “the next time you go by Sweet Gum Spring you had just as well tell Moses that I can let him have a side of bacon if he wants it. The rascal can’t starve. But they won’t leave me a mouthful—not one. And Eugie—”
“You needn’t mention it to your Aunt Chris—”
At that instant a little barefooted negro came running across the lawn from the spring-house, a large tin pail in his hand.
“Here, boy!” called the general. “Where’re you off to? What have you got in that pail?”
“It’s Jake,” said Eugenia in a whisper, while Jim barked frantically from the shelter of her arms. “He’s Delphy’s Jake.”
The small negro stood grinning in the walk, his white eyeballs circling in their sockets. “Hit’s Miss Chris, suh,” he said at last.
“Miss Chris, you rascal!” shouted the general. “Do you expect me to believe you’ve got Miss Chris in that pail? Open it, sir; open it!”
Jake showed a shining row of ivory teeth and stood shaking the pail from side to side.
“Miss Chris, she gun hit ter me, suh,” he explained. “Hit’s Miss Chris herse’f dat’s done sont me ter tote dish yer buttermilk ter Unk Mose.”
“Bless my soul!” cried the general wrathfully. “Get away with you! The whole place is bent on ruining me. I’ll be in the poorhouse before the week’s up.” And he strode indoors in a rage.
Twice a year, on fine days in spring and fall, Aunt Griselda’s bombazine dresses were taken from the whitewashed closet and hung out to air upon the clothesline at the back of the house, while pungent odours of tar and camphor were exhaled from the full black folds. On these days Aunt Griselda would remain in her room, sorting faded relics which she took from a cedar chest and spread beside her on the floor. The door was kept locked at such times, but once Eugenia, who had gone with Congo to carry Aunt Griselda her toast and tea, had caught a glimpse of a yellowed swiss muslin frock and the leather case of a daguerreotype containing the picture of a round-eyed girl with rosy cheeks. Aunt Griselda had hidden them hastily away at the child’s entrance—hidden them with that nervous, awkward haste which dreads a dawning jest of itself; but Eugenia had seen that her old eyes were red and her voice more rasping than usual.