A moment more and Arthur passed the door, equipped with overcoat and umbrella, and she heard his rapid steps upon the back piazza as he went towards the carriage house. Aunt Phillis now re-entered the library, curtesying low to Edith, who saw upon her old black face the trace of recent tears.
“Is Mr. St. Claire’s friend very sick?” Edith ventured to ask, and instantly the round bright eyes shot at her a glance of alarm, while the negress replied, “Dunno, misses. He keeps his ’fars mostly to hisself, and Phillis has done larnt not to pry.”
Thus rebuked, Edith arose and began to tie on her hat preparatory to leaving.
“Come in dis way a minute, Miss,” said Phillis. “We’re from Floridy, and dunno more’n the dead what to do in such a shiny kitchen as Marster St. Claire done keeps.”
Edith followed her to the kitchen, in which she found several dusky forms crouched before the fire, and gazing about them with a wondering look. To Edith they were exceedingly polite, and taking a seat in their midst she soon learned from a loquacious old lady, who seemed to be superannuated, that “they were all one family, she being the grandmother, Ike and Phillis the father and mother, and ’tothers the children. We’re all Ber-NARDS,” she said, “case that was ole marster’s name, but now I dunno who we does ’long to. Some says to Marster St. Claire and some says to Miss—–”
“Mother!” and Phillis bustled up to the old lady, who, uttering a loud outcry, exclaimed,
“The Lord, Phillis; you needn’t done trod on my fetched corns. I warn’t a gwine to tell,” and she loudly bewailed her aching foot, encased in a shoe of most wonderful make.
When the pain had partially subsided, the talkative Judy continued,
“There wasn’t no sense, so I tole ’em, in ‘totin’ us way off here in the dead o’ winter. I’se kotched a misery in my back, and got the shivers all over me. I’se too old any way to leave my cabin thar in Floridy, and I’d a heap sight rather of stayed and died on de old plantation. We has good times thar, me and Uncle Abe— that’s an old colored gentleman that lives jinin’, and does nothin’, just as I do. He lost his wife nex Christmas’ll be a year; and, bein’ lonesome like, he used to come over o’ nights to talk about her, and tell how mizzable it was to be alone.”
“You are a widow, I presume,” said Edith, her black eyes brimming with fun.
“Yes, chile, I’se been a widdy thirty year, an’ Uncle Abe was such a well-to-do nigger, a trifle shaky in the legs, I know; but it don’t matter. Marster St. Claire wouldn’t part the family, he said, and nothin’ to do but I must come. Uncle Abe’s cabin was comfable enough, and thar was a hull chest of Rhody’s things, a doin’ nobody no good.”
Aunt Judy paused, and looked into the fire as if seeing there images of the absent Abel, while Edith regarded her intently, pressing her hands twice upon her forehead, as if trying to retain a confused, blurred idea which flitted across her mind.