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apologized in a low voice, not raising sot to tromp a snake den to come smack

his eyes.

With but a flashing glance and an aloof 'Evenin', Br'er Tom,' she passed him. Dignity and the very essence of tolerant condescension emanated from her.

Without warning, without a look at the little boy who trudged beside her, she asked belligerently, 'Who dat narrer-eyed yaller nigger I see talkin' to yo' ma dis mornin'?'

'He's the new butler, Mammy,' he answered glibly, consciously proud to furnish information to one who was supposed to know of every happening on Kennon Hills plantation-sometimes, strangely, even before the occurrence itself. And he's a tony butler, Mammy,' he continued impressively. 'He learned butlerin' at a college!' And he watched expectantly for the results of this bombshell.

'Un-hun-h?' she drawled with rising inflection. 'Eddicated nigger! I knowed it! Three time I dream 'bout yaller snake las' night'—and she relapsed into silence.

Her reception of his news was disappointing. He looked at her closely, appraising her abstracted silence and far-away expression. Sensing the possible approach of one of her 'spells,' he mutely gave deference to her mood.

Presently he sidled closer and, gently clasping her thin, high-veined hand, held it, in silent sympathy of understanding. The black hand closed tightly over the small chubby one.

'You got a feelin' comin', ain't you, Mammy?' he asked softly, pressing her hand. 'Black sheep crossin' your path...' he mused regretfully, as if visualizing the omen.

'Yes, son,' she answered, looking at him with a sad half-smile, her old eyes lighting with patient, indulgent love. 'Yes, Neal, son, but hit's better to be

on him unbeknowns'.' Pausing, she continued resignedly, but not without pride, 'I was born fo' it. Born to see ol' trouble comin'! Born at fo' . . .' she chanted pensively, 'Wid a coffin on de flo' . . .

'On de moon's first quarter... Yo'ma's sebenth daughter. . . .' Neal took up the chant in unconscious imitative rhythm. 'Born foot-first, you free to reign . . Nothin' hold you, rope or chain.

'Yes, baby,' she nodded, her eyes resting on him pridefully. "You got it all, straight as a bee to de gum.'

Slowly they walked, hand in hand, in closer harmony of spirit than is often given to mother and son. Reaching the picket fence surrounding Runa's little yard and garden, Neal opened the gate, with a clanking of old cowbells, attached to warn her of infrequent visitors. 'Lisha, Mammy's beloved cat, had come to meet her. Neal stooped to stroke his wide yellow back. 'I won't go up, Mammy. You'll be wantin' to wrestle and pray,' he said deferentially. "I'll see you in the mornin'.'

'All right, son,' she acknowledged, resting her hand for a moment on his curly head. "Tell Lila to come home early,' she added.

'I reckon she'll be late,' he suggested, 'havin' to show Charlie everything.'

'Is dat his name asked intently.

Cha'lie?' she

'Yes, Mammy,' softly answered the boy, his big eyes fixed on her uplifted head and far-flung gaze. Gathering courage, he whispered in suppressed excitement, 'Is your feelin' about him, Mammy?'

She glanced at him slantwise. 'Owl all time axin' "Who?" but I ain' hear nobody answer him,' she replied significantly.

Abashed, he looked down at his

wiggling toes for a second, then hopefully persisted, 'Is it a strong feelin', Mammy, or just a little weak one?'

Dropping her head, she pressed her hand over her eyes, as if to shut out the sight of some impending tragedy. With the quavering, sighing moan that always sent chills up his back, she breathed, 'Strong! Strong as pizen!' And without raising her head she walked wearily up the rise to the drab little cabin, perched atop the remnant of an old Confederate battery station.

The boy stood gazing toward the cabin, snugly tucked away under the low-drooping cedars and sycamores. From its porch, closely screened with evening-glory vines, his eyes drifted down the colorful path bordered with larkspur and sweet William, to the row of tall sunflowers along the garden fence. Slowly he turned, and dejectedly shuffled his bare feet back down the soft, dusty lane.

At supper Neal ate spasmodically. From sudden plunges with knife and fork he would subside into periods of intense fascinated gazing at the tradeschool butler. Like the eyes of an animal, his squint followed every deft movement of the slender quadroon, meticulously groomed in the summer garb of spotless white jacket and apron. Occasionally the boy's eyes would flicker to Runa's niece, the trim, brownskinned Lila, assisting Charlie; but they would quickly flash back to the yellow man, with his almost straight hair brushed low over the small black eyes, close-set like big shoe buttons in the waxen, dirty-chalk skin. The man's color reminded him of the coffee-in-cream his mother allowed him on Sunday mornings. Funny-lookin', indeed, was this pale nigger - besides, Mammy had a feelin'.

Soon after supper, Neal vanished. Lying close where the hens dusted

themselves under the big boxwood by the low windows of the servants' cellar dining room, he could safely watch every move, hear every word, of the new butler. So enthralled was the boy by Charlie's bumptious manners that he nearly exclaimed aloud. Then he smiled at his thoughts.


When Neal entered the garden next morning, the negro children were already dotted about the raspberry patch, silently picking under Runa's chilly eye. For an instant her clouded face lightened, but her 'Mornin', son!' was a lifeless monotone. Eying her for a moment, he took a small basket, and joined the pickers. Since his friend Joseph had been drafted into service, the sooner the big baskets were filled and carried to the area-way under the long back porch, the sooner would his henchman be released for the more important work of goat training and cave building.

Nimbly, almost magically, Mammy Runa's slender fingers flew, filling nearly two baskets to one of the little negroes'. There were no signs of jollity, no half-hidden pranks, among the children, as was the wont of all harvests under the white overseer. Only a mumbled word was heard now and then. Occasionally a pair of eyes rolled furtively toward Aunt Runa, but instantly flickered away upon meeting her cold, incisive yellow ones, which seemed, strangely, always looking at that particular child. The bare calling of a picker's name would galvanize the little body into redoubled efforts. Picking under 'An' Runa' was a thing to be finished with the utmost dispatch.

When the baskets, crowned high with their dull garnet caps, were lined up on the bench beside the glowing

charcoal furnaces, she dismissed the waiting children by a mere flick of the hand.

Impassively, austerely, Aunt Runa watched the big simmering kettles, moving silently from one to another, stirring and tasting. In the dim, shadowy coolness of the brick area, she herself might have been but a shadow, here and there clouding the dull glow of the fires. Presently she began softly crooning. The kettles simmered with a low hum, as if in melancholy accompaniment. No servant dropped by for a light word. Alone she worked, secure of her privacy.

Neal did sidle in for a saucer of 'drippings' when the aroma of cooking preserves found its way into the far reaches of the back yard. Joseph's bullet head peered cautiously around the arched opening after Neal, but disappeared like a flash when Runa glanced up. Jenny, the chambermaid, stumbled to a halt as she came through the basement door suddenly upon the old woman. With an apology, she circled wide of the line of kettles and almost tiptoed down the area.

Without warning, a low, silken voice spoke suddenly almost in Runa's ear: 'Mornin', lady!'

She did not start. Not so much as a muscle quivered. Deliberately she turned, and with aloof coolness looked into the confident pale-yellow face of the new butler.

'Miss Runa, I take you to be, lady,' he smirked ingratiatingly. 'I have n't been comp'imented with a int'oduction, but p'esume to name myself Mr. Charles C. Carter, the new help, to Miss Runa Randal,' and he extended his hand.

Ignoring the hand, but with the quick-witted savoir-faire of a grand dame, she dipped him a low curtsy and mockingly matched his elegance

with 'Sir, your lestimation to my lystimaticus!'

He was taken aback by such highflown phrasing; but, presuming the impressive words to carry a complimentary intent, he bowed low.

Entirely with cool self-possession, she gazed into his eyes with a faint sarcastic twinkle in her own, and a grim half-smile on her lips. Unblinkingly she stared, until his small black eyes wavered and fell. Her mocking smile widened slightly.

Shrugging, he assumed a businesslike air: "The Madam wants the sugar bowls filled. Let me have the storeroom keys, please.'

She drew a bunch of keys from her deep dress pocket, and walked serenely past him through the door. 'Dat ol' lock mighty cranky fo' a new hand,' she spoke over her shoulder — sarcastically, he thought. Opening the door, she pointed to the sugar barrel.

Casually he spoke from out of the barrel: 'You always car' the keys?'

'Naw,' she replied, smiling broadly at his back. 'Miss Betty tote 'em when I ain' roun'.'

'Miss Betty?' he almost sneered. 'Ah, you mean the Madam?'

'Hit's all de same,' said Runa indifferently. She de mistiss, anyway.'

'Mistress!' he exclaimed, his thin lips setting. 'I never had a mistress. This ain't slavery time. . .' But, catching himself, he assumed a suave, wheedling tone: 'You sure must stand in, for her to give you the run of things. Pretty soft for you, ain't it?' he insinuated, looking up with a twisted grin.

Resentfully the bent figure straightened, proudly the old head went back; the drooping eyes flashed open, in a stony glare that wiped the smirk from his face. 'Git out wid yo' sugar,' she coldly ordered.

Turning her back on him, she locked

the door, and marched, head up, down breath. 'I likes de smell the hall.

With a disparaging sniff, he glided



This was Saturday, ration day. At the noon-hour clang of the big bell at the overseer's house, Aunt Runa slipped on a high-bibbed checkered apron and started slowly toward the smokehouse. Pausing before inserting the nine-inch key into the massive lock, she turned and allowed her eyes to roam dreamily over the old back yard, perennially shaded in summer by giant elms and poplars. From the whitewashed, low-gabled servants' house, almost smothered in an ancient scuppernong vine, her gaze wandered deliberately over the narrow brick walks, so worn, so colored by years of shadow, that their dull-green brownness all but merged into the mouldy loam enfolding them.

The old latticed well house with its mossy-stoned base and its shallow brick gutter winding irregularly across the yard, dipping under a great lowspreading boxwood, and finally disappearing through a hedge, to the duck pond beyond; the wide, gabled back porch, with its round white pillars and rail, holding in its arms for so many years the green slat benches, the shelf, and the cedar bucket, that they seemed to have grown a part of it - at these she pensively gazed, as if dreaming over beloved memories, one by one.

Sighing, she inserted the big key and swung open the thick iron-bound door. With the rush of the familiar tang of smoked meat, she inhaled deeply. Then she opened the door of the adjoining storeroom. From its meal-splashed interior came the sweetly pungent smell of blackstrap molasses and salt herring. She drew a long

all,' she murmured.

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Soon, busy with her scales and measures, she became absorbed in the problems of rations for the farm hands. Deftly she sliced and weighed and measured. Surely she packed the bags and baskets and filled the jugs that had been set early in the morning in a double row beside the smokehouse wall. This important duty, usually an overseer's responsibility on Virginia plantations, had been temporarily delegated to Runa at the death of the former overseer several years before; but, like most of her temporary investitures of authority at Kennon Hills, it too had smoothly flowed into permanency.

She showed no conceit over this unusual confidence and responsibility. She seemed to take it in a matter-offact way, as she did the many other trusts falling upon her with the passing years. Quite naturally, as if by obvious right, and with dignity itself, she wore the toga of her position. One instinctively knew, however, that she had intense pride of caste - that nebulous caste, uniquely her own. And one sensed that a blow aimed to dislodge her from her niche would strike at her very life's blood. The master and mistress whether mostly through indulgence or through sober earnest they themselves could not have told you told you scrupulously respected the privileges of her station.

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The negroes, by the years of established custom, than which, to them, there is no more immutable law, law, accepted Runa's superior status as they did the Bible: as a fact demanding no analysis, a thing to be swallowed whole.

Soon after the toll of the one-o'clock bell, the hands began straggling down the lane in laughing, bantering groups; but the nearer they drew to the smoke

house, the quieter they became. Collected outside the gate, they bore an air of sombre dignity, as in church. The few low words spoken were sober ones. There was no shoving or pressing about the narrow gate while they waited for their names to be called.

'Mammy,' cried a young voice from inside, 'le' me call 'em?'

of impatience, 'Why n't we eat, Mrs. Cook? What we waitin' for?'

'Jinny gone to call An' Runa now,’ the cook replied, matter-of-fact.

He stared at her unbelievingly. 'You don't mean you all waitin' for 'at old woman?'

'Well, we jes' sorta waits fo' An' Runa,' acknowledged the cook, some

'In a minute, son.' Then she said, what abashed. The others cut stealthy 'Call Big John.' looks at him.

'What's going on out there?' queried Charlie, looking out of the kitchen window.

'Jes' givin' out rations,' replied the cook, sticking the comb in one side of her bushy head while proceeding to pull and plait three strands into a pigtail.

'Who bossin' the job?' he asked, still peering out. 'I hear 'at white boy callin' 'em.'

She looked up at him inquisitively. 'An' Runa givin' 'em out. Huccome you got so much cur'os'ty 'bout rations?'

'Oh, I jus' want to know 'bout things.' Then he continued casually, "At old woman must be big dog round here. How 'at old ape get such a swing?'

The plaiting stopped suddenly. Round-eyed, she looked at him. Then a look of fear, as at a blasphemy, came over her. With a furtive glance toward the door, she half whispered, 'You better hesh,' and, mumbling some excuse, hurried from the room. Charlie looked after her with a puzzled frown. Shrugging, he began softly to whistle a popular air.


Seated for dinner in the servants' cellar room, Charlie made smooth conversation, speaking sophisticatedly of the City and 'college.' Most of his smiling remarks were addressed to Lila. Presently he asked with a touch

'What!' he exclaimed, and went off into a derisive cackle. Ladies and gentlemen waiting on that old hag! They certainly made him laugh! With commanding sang-froid he ordered the dishes passed to him. Yes, it was bad enough to have to knuckle to white folks, but to an old blue-gummed crow bah!

Incredulous eyes were focused on him. Hesitantly, all but Lila began toying with the dishes.

After the first shock of amazement at his temerity, Lila's brown face hardened, her eyes snapped resentfully. 'Free-runnin' mouf cover too much groun',' she offered laconically.

'Now, Miss Lila, Miss Lila!' Charlie said placatingly, breaking into his twisted smile. 'Pretty girl like you don't want to get mad. Poutin' spoils your looks,' and he stared at her so pointedly that her eyes grew softer and fell.

'An' Runa my kinfolks,' she defended, half-heartedly. Pausing, as if weighing a problem, she continued, 'Anyhow-you'll walk safer wid a tighter tongue-roun' dese parts,' and her eyes gave a flicker of warning.

'What you mean?' he bridled. 'You ain't talkin' 'bout 'at old woman -'at old black crow?' He began to chuckle.

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