twenty-seven          

            A brown elbow juts overhead, followed by Marisee's dumbfounded face—jaw dropped open, eyes straining to make out Tessie in the storm-cellar's darkness (coolness turned from soothing to chillingly ominous).

            "Fo' true?"

            "Fo' true."

            "Who tol' you?"

            "Who you think? Josephus."

            The top bunk moans as Marisee clambers down.

            "Move ovah; lemme in." Tessie squeezes against the wall to make room. "Don' much soun' like Massah Zach'ry to me, Tess. Sho him know?"

            "Tune wo'k fo' de Massah, right?"

            "Right."

            "Whatev' him say Tune do, right?"

            "Right... Dey still out dere stake' down?"

            "Hm, hm."

            "All dis while?"

            "Hm, hm."

            "An' dey not croakt?"

            "Josephus say him doubt dey las' anot'er day. Tune keepin' 'em alive, dough, fo' a 'xample. 'S long de Massah bed-rid, dem two roast."

            "But Massah up! Him up today. Seed him myse'f. Dat patterrollerRandolph Bates—come pays a visit."

            "When?"

            "Don' know; pass noon-time."

            "Where 's I, all dis happ'nin'?"

            "How should I know? Mayhap un'er yo' ol' man snaggle­toot' nigger fo' to gets anot'er poke. Ouch!"

            "Watch yo' mout', o' I pinch de ot'er one good."

            "Dat hurt, Tess!"

            "Meant to. Gwon on back yo' own bed."

            Marisee scrambles out and scales the three rung ladder to her bunk.

            "Dat really hurt, Tess... Tessie?... Talk to me. You really think de Massah know?... Fo' true?... Maybe him don'. Maybe us ought tells 'im."

            "Ope' yo' mout', girl, Beulah tan yo' hide."

            Marisee pauses to think...

            "Beulah know?"

            "Hm, hm."

            "How you know dat Beulah know, Tess?"

            "'Cause I axt. Beulah hush me up wit one dem spooky looks."

            A silence settles between them, as if in deference to Beulah's real or imaginary powers... Marisee finally speaks.

            "You really thinks de Massah know, Tess."

            She waits... listens hard for Tessie's answer... hears her breathing... feels an eerie stillness that permeates the night.

            "No... Massah Zach'ry foolish but not likely vengeful."