seventy-one          

            The 'twins', if their popularity holds, will make a prompt return on Mother's investment. Mother Moss is pleased, hence less inclined to abuse the one who made that venture possible. Jewel, therefore, has been given work deemed lightthat is to say, no heavier than the chores assigned to other girls. She takes her turn at cooking, keeps clean stairwells, tidies up the loft, does more than her share of laundry (certainly out-performing Éclair) minding, all the while, seven unruly childrenso competently, in fact, that Mother wonders how the House ever coped without her. Domestic worth, however, is presently not at issue. What Mother wants to know is why Jewel should have commanded so dear a price.

            "Sit down, Jewel. You looks very nice in peach; that dress suit you. Éclair's?"

            "No, ma'am, mine. Her boughts it fo' me."

            "Did her now. Well ain't that nice. I glad to see Éclair acknowledgin' you doin' most her chores. Never you mind defendin'. Éclair, I appreciate, know a good thing when her sees it. Mother, too, know a good thing, plop it fo'e her eyes. What I mean to say, Jewel, yo'all doin' wonders with them chillun. Prior to yo' arrival they fo'ever underfoot—mos' unseemly. An' worse yet, unprofess'nal. If a woman 'spec' get along in this life, gots to be profess'nal. P'r'aps yo' unfamil'ar with the princ'ples o' commerce(?)—yo' bein' a country gal. But in a dollar-value world on'y profess'nalism pays. You is a country gal?"

            "Yes, ma'am."

            "I feel I hardly knows you—which entirely my fault; I been busier than a bedbug. Trust yo'all fo'give me? From Geo'gia-way, ain't you?"

            "Sout' Car'lina, ma'am"

            "South Car'lina, course. Where yo'all was snaffle by them traders. You run off, if Mother recall, but I mis-recollec' why. Refresh Mother's mem'ry."

            Jewel has never said. She has said almost nothing, in fact, even to Éclair about her history. The few attempts by Mother Moss to unearth sundry details heretofore have failed. Silence once again constitutes Jewel's reply.

            "Child, you is close-mouthed to a fault. Now Mother askin'; do that sucker in yo' belly b'longs to a Mars o' a slave?"

            Jewel remains mum.

            "Not one them trader's, Mother reckon; seed sowed prior."

            Jewel harkens back to Beulah and her 'divinatory' powers; Mother's, it would appear, are more 'deductive'.

            "P'r'aps I need remind you how much money yo'all set me back. Playin' nursemaid to the chillun useful but it don't pay Mother's rent. I think I'm due, at least, a simple yeah o' nay."

            Jewel's silence seems intransigent; Mother's patience thins.

            "Weren't fo' Mother, you still servicin' that riff-raff drug you here. Last gal they most ruined 'fo'e they pass 'er off."

            Aside from lowering her chin, Jewel remains reticent.

            "Course it on'y of passln' int'rest, seein' 's how yo'all been sold."

            Jewel's chin lifts.

            "I sole?"

            Her query is so plaintive, so infused with bewildered sorrow, Mother fleetingly regrets her deal with Jake.

            "Business, child; nothin' pers'nal. Mother was made a offera most attractive prop'sition, most attractivefrom a man what seem to know you; man name' Ebersole. Ring a bell?... First name Jake?"

"Mojo, iffen I go back will Mist'ess likely sell me? Tell me true."

"Two times
Jewel be sold,
two times
'fo'e Jewel return"

            "That name famil'ar, child?"

            Jewel shakes her head, still reeling from the dismal shock.

            "Well, Mister Ebersole is yo' new Mars. Won't be long, I 'spec', him back to fetch you."

            Mother studies the effect of her remarks.

            "If Mother has to guess, Mister Ebersole took hisse'f to South Car'lina... Guessin' fu'ther, it likely him approach Jewel's former Mars... 'Bout a reward, p'r'aps?"

            Mother's keen eye monitors Jewel's response.

            "Not uncommon, course, dat Mars offer rewards fo' they run'ways... 'Cept in this case parcel lot o' cash mus' be involved—else Jake disint'rested... Sho' do beg the question; what make Jewel so priceless?... Yo' sucker?"

            Jewel keeps quiet.

            "Unlikely, 'less yo' Mars gots a barren wife. Even so... No, not yo' sucker. What, then? What make a White man pay King's ransom—Mother doubt Jake askin' any less—fo' a blue-black nigger?"

            Jewel stays mute.

            "Lust a poss'bility. Lust o' mayhap love?"

            Jewel starts.

            "O' both? Few men knows the diff'rence. Seen it happen time an' time again; man catch scent o' poon, soon leadin' 'im by the snout... Well, mo'e power to you, Jewel. A fella pay what Jake's mos' likely charge to gets you back, is a fella no doubt smitten. An' nothin' easier manip'late dan a fella dat far gone. Want Mother's advice?"

            "What do Mistah Ebersole look like, Mutter Moss?"

            The Madam arches one of her drawn-on brows.

            "Him a dandy. Always dress in the finest duds money can buy."

            "Wear lots o' rings?"

            "Him do."

            "Smellum?"

            "Yo'all know him, then? Is I right? That yo' former Mars' baby? Confide in Mother, Jewel; p'r'aps her can help."

            The prospect of return twists Jewel's very soul. Slavery versus... what; eventual prostitution? Indigence versus avarice? Cruelty versus vice? Running yet again versus capture's dreadful consequences? Thus far, Jewel feels fortunate to have salvaged life and limb. To flee or submit, henceforward, puts at risk her child.