fifty                

            "I do declare, my husband has been sweet as sugar, lately. It's out-and-out mystifying, Prissy. A regular metamorphosis, I would say."

            "Yes, Mistress."

            "Do you have any idea what 'metamorphosis' means, Priscilla? I thought not; stop pretending. Metamorphosis is a process by which one particular life form turns into another—like a caterpillar into a butterfly."

            "Dat Master..."

            "That."

            "That Master Zachary, all right. I notice, too. He like a butterfly fo' sure, way his spirits flyin' high."

            "Humming to himself."

            "Yessum. And smilin'. Him all the time smilin'."

            "Yes he is..."

 

 

            "What it feel like, Tess? You know, do it move? Can you feel its little heart go pity-pat?"

            "Touch here."

            "It swellin' up!"

            "Dat me breathin'; jus' be patient; hol' yo' han' still."

 

 

            Where dat girl run off to? Skip 'er supper, duck 'er evenin' cho'es. Dis househol' bes' shape up, o' Beulah know why. Dese girls not gwon be slippin' 'way at all hours; come back mumblin' 'scuses. Fust Tessie, gettin' herse'f wit chile, spoonin' wit dat shif'less lunk Josephus. Now Jewel.

 

 

            "...all smiles, good cheer, utterly chipper; has a pleasant word for everyone—even for his wife."

            "What you mean, Mistress?"

            "I mean, even for his wife. Whatever is making my loving husband so loving extends to me. And I'm so grateful. Oh, ever so grateful. I'm just pleased as pleased can be to get his ever-loving crumbs."

            "What you sayin', Mistress?"

 

 

            "Dere; you feel dat, Marisee?"

            "Yeah; it kick! Feels it tru yo' skin. Gee, Tess, do it hurt?"

            "No. Well, sometimes a little. Mos'ly it kine tickle. Make my bosoms get dis tingle, like a itch  no scratch can reach."

            "Seems yo'all swoll up bigger dan you was."

            "Ain' dat a fac'. Cain't he'p it. I try ev'thin': wo'kin' harder, eatin' less, makin' sho' I still can ben' an' touch my toes. Feel dis groove? Dat where I tie my apron. Use' to be dat tie could hol' me in. Now it seems it cinch like string twixt links o' sausage."

            "What gwon happen when Massah Zach'ry fine out?"

            "Seed 'im yeste'day. 'Look like you fillin' out some, Tess,' is all him say, den flash dat silly smile. Don' think Massah reckon what de reason is. Leas'ways not yet."

            "Him reckon soon."

 

 

            "I am saying, more than insinuating, that my butterfly is feeding on another woman's nectar. I'M NOT BLIND! YOU THINK I'M BLIND? YOU THINK I DON'T KNOW WHAT HE'S DOING BEHIND MY BACK?"

            "Mistress, calm yo'se'f. It isn't so. Master Zachary..."

            "Master Zachary is a lying, cheating, sneaking, shameless, sacrilegious NIGGER-LOVER!"

 

 

            "What you two girls up to? Tessie? Marisee, you gots yo' own bed; get back in it. Gwon. It late. Tessie, you see Jewel?"

            "Not since mo'nin'."

            "Since mo'nin!"

            "I did, Beulah."

            "You did what?"

            "Seen Jewel since den. Jus' a while back."

            "Where?... I is waitin', Marisee; where?"

            "In de pantry."

            "What her doin' in de pantry?"

            "Stealin' food."

 

 

            "He's been so kind, so thoughtful, so considerate. 'Of course, we can have a dinner party.' 'Of course, it's time we cultivate some friends.' 'Though if you're feeling homesick and would like to see your parents, spend a day or two...' Spend a week; why not a month; why not a YEAR? Why not go indefinitely? Stay away FOREVER. Let my doting husband dote in peace on his pickaninny slut."

 

 

            "Stealin'? Jewel? Is Priscilla wit de Mist'ess?"

            "Was."

            "'Spec' her come down late. Jewel be back by den, I hope. Dese disappearin' acks gwon stop. You hear me, Tessie?"

            "Why you pickin' on me? I not de one."

            "Don' back-talk; you jus' mind. Dere gwon be one big hulla­baloo 'coun' o' yo' sh'nanigans. Beulah prayin' dat worse things not in sto'e."

            "Like what?"

            "Dat Tess o' Marisee talkin'?"

            "Marisee."

            "Hush."

 

 

            The night is black. No stars. No moon. Jewel's steps are blind. Lighted windows of the Big House blink, obscured by tree trunks—and by the distance. She has reached the woods, has entered, has been swallowed whole as by some pitch-dark maw, the shadows closing in, cold and thick, as if coagulating.

            Cain't be scairt. It on'y dark. Dey nuffin' here gwon hurt me. 'Cep' de Patterrollers, course. What dat!... Nuffin'. Bushes. Wind make 'em stir. Gots keep wa1kin'. Cain't stop wa1kin'. Cain't stop walkin' no how, no way fo' 's long 's I hol' up. Walk where, dough? De ocean, mayhap. Den turn 1ef'; dat d'rection Norf'. Fo'ks say states up Norf' got niggahs roam free—what Mammy call "dream-time ta1kin'. Oh, Mammy; where you...

            "Ow! Lemme go!"

            Stupit twig! Grab hol' my hair. Cain't see nuffin'! Mayhap I jus' goin' 'roun' in circles. Cain't tell where I been from where I at. Mammy use' to say, "Life ben's." Once her tol' me iffen a body walk in a straight line aw her livelong days she likely res' in peace at de ver' same spot her lef'... Jus' gots a idee; iffen I cain't see dis han' I hol'in' right up fron' my face, how a Patterroller see me? Don' dat feel bettah?... No; fo'got 'bout de houn's. Houn's can sniff a niggah night o' day no mattah. Sho' hopes de houn's don' ketch me. Did my daddy. Don' wan' think 'bout houn's! Walk. Jus' walk an' hush yo' mine up. Sometimes thinkin' on'y make a trouble worse... Dere; not thinkin'... Not even lookin'... Might 's well close my eyes fo' aw de good it do try to see.

            The nerves in Jewel's skin, scalp, and overwrought muscles act as sensors. She moves as if by instinct, merging with the night.