twenty-four           

            Him in bad shape; burn up like a lizar' cook' 'top a rock. Heat p'ost'ation, Beulah calls it. Tessie say it de sunstroke. Eit'er way, look awful. Gets to hurtin' myse'f, seein' 'im lay wiff boaf arms spread to air dem barb'que' ribs. Iffen it not so painful, de Massah look downright com'cal; fac' I awmos' laugh out lou' dis mo'nin'. Him don' like bein' lay' up none, not one bit, so mos'ly him kine grumpy—'cep' today, when I come in servin' breakfas'. Him say, "Keep 'way, Jewel," an' I say, "Why?" an' him say, "'Cause yo' Massah jus' transfo'm into a firecrackah. Takes anot'er step, him gwon explo'e." Him joshin', course, but hard ta tell 'coun' o' dat face don' crack no smile. Smarts too much, I reckon, so mos' times him look ser'ous. 'Spite o' what it cos', dough, nice ta see 'im try.

 

            Massah make like him gwon tell Jewel somethin'; star' to, den stop, s'if him shy o' 'shame'what cain't be right; white fo'ks nevah shy o' 'shame' in fron' deir slaves. But him ack anxious. So Jewel ack nat'ral-as-can-be, put him at ease. An' sho 'nuff, Massah Zach'ry say him sorry! Don' say why, 'xac'ly, but boaf us know 'bout what. Den it me feel 'shame' 'bout thinkin' unkine thoughts, like how I glad him hurtin'—I still gladbut I guess him suffer 'nuff.

 

            Beulah back bein' brusque wiff de Massah. At fust her like a mutter hen, fussin',  frettin', an' aw time checkin', see him be comf'ab1e. Now her mos'ly scowl. Colour simmer down some an' Massah's skin aw peelin', but him still weakly. Me an' Marisee take turns smoovin' on de 1in'men; Beulah los' int'res'. Tessie done it once, but Massah complain her rough. Today him holler at Marisee; her rough, likewise. Guess him jus' impatien' 'bout gettin' hisse'f  heal'.

 

            I's doin' my duty, dabbin' on de gel, when somethin' make me nervous. Him lyin' dere like us'al wiff 'is eyes close', grit 'is teef, when aw o' sudden dis lump rise up middle o' de bedclo'es. I thinkin' him mus' notice,  but Massah don' let on. Cain't deci'e should I quit o' keep on what I at. I's tryin' not to look, but seems dat lump be growin'an'  somethin' 'bout de way it growin' feelin' pow'ful strange; wiff me, I mean. I finish up den hurry on out, takes me to my room, but aw de while I shiv'rin'—not even cold—feelin' ill-at-ease—an' Jewel not such a chile her don' know what dat mean... Trouble.

 

            Marisee say de Massah axe why Jewel stop comin' wiff de lin'men'. Marisee 'pose' to say "Jewel busy wiff ot'er cho'es" but her fo'gets. So Massah sen' her fetch me. I begs Beulah tell Massah Zach'ry I cain't go. Her do—wiffout axin' ques'ions'cep' her kine o' "humph". Tessie limp on back sayin' Massah "mad 's ho'nets." Still, I 's keepin' my dis'ance, worry 'bout dat lump.

 

            Wo'kin' hard can sometimes stop a body's head from too much thinkin'. Mammy say "watch out, 'coun' de devil aw time lurkin', whisperin' in yo' ear fo' to turn us gals  astray". Well, I musta turn—leas'wise I been listenin' to dis voice say Massah Zach'ry needy, bes' smoove on dat lin'men', nevah mine de lump. Have ta wo'k mo'e harder, make dat voice hush up.

 

            I outsi'e Massah's room, hears 'im snorin' so I goes in. Look like a snake what sheddin' it's scaly skin. Beulah claim dat pass—butt-ugly nowwiffout it leave no scars. I tidy up, bein' extra quiet so 's not to wake 'im up. Den I feel dis creepy-crawly tickle back my neck—sho 'nuff him spyin'. Turns out him not sleepin' jus' preten'in' so's can sneak hisse'f dat look. Ketcht 'im at it, so Massah Zach'ry tell me, "Jewel, turn 'way"; purty eyes like mine ought not have light on de likes of a ghas'ly leper. Den him chuckle, sof'-like, an' crack a l'ily smile... When dat man smile, I swear, him de han'somes' fellah I seen yet.

 

            Massah Zach'ry sho 'nuff slow be gettin' back dat stren'th; mayhap playin' possum. Seems him less dan keen star' doin' fo' hisse'f again, makin' aw kine 'scuses, wan's be lef' alone. Beulah downright sassy; her say, "Dis place goin' to seed, Massah don' get off 'is rump." Her say it LOUD so's Massah ovahhear. It nigh September. Harves' comin' on, meanin' wo'k aplen'y fo' ev'ry one us niggahswo'k dat numb de brain, thank Lawd A'mighty, from thinkin' foolish thoughts.