eighty-six            

            "MASSAH ZACH'RY COMIN'! TESSIE, BEULAH, PRISSY! MASSAH COMIN' UP DE DRIVE! GOTS JEWEL WIT 'IM! HER SETTIN' RIGHT B'SIDE 'IM IN..."

            "Keep dat voice down, Marisee!"

            "But..."

            "An' don' you rouse Priscilla! Mist'ess learn soon 'nuff what dat fool done."

            "Beulah!"

            "You nev' mind. I guess I know when Massah Zach'ry ackin' like a fool, an' dis time Beulah not gwon stand by dumb. Gots trouble in de worse way poss'ble; knowed it; knowed dis bound to happen. Minute dat boy set off dis las' time, knowed him bringin' back trouble."

           Den us dere, Zach'ry he'pin' me climb down off de buckboar', feelin' de steps' cool ma'ble un'er my nekid feets, thinkin' I ought wear shoes—seein' 's how I free—but glad I's wiffout.

            "Go put watah on de stove fo' Massah's bath, den set de table... Marisee?... Girl, you hear me?... Marisee!"

            "Her wit chile."

            "What?... Lawd o' mercy!"

            No one come to meet us, what pecul'ar 'coun' de pa'lour cu'tains twitchin'.

            "What you gawkin' at?"

            "Jewel, o' course. Seem her change'."

            "Tessie, where you goin'?"

            "Gwon to say hello."

            "I's comin' too."

            "You two stop right dere! Tessie! Marisee!... Wait fo' Beulah."

            Den out rush Tessie an' Marisee, Beulah close behine, ev'one ackin' like dey's truly glad ta see us, me an' Zach'ry boaf.

            "Jewel! Well ain't you a sight!"

            The two girls embrace.

            Marisee waits impatiently to take her turn at hugging.  

            "How you, Jewel?" Sho done miss ya."

            Tessie yields to Marisee.

            "Give you up fo' los', us did."

            Beulah joins the welcoming committee.

            "Massah, glad yo' home." With a glance askance at Jewel's distended belly, Beulah greets her no less warmly. "Foun' yo' way back to us, has you Jewel? Seems in de nick o' time."

            Despite this dubious salutation, Beulah cracks a smile.

            Jewel, overcome with gratitude and relief (mostly gratitude; she had not dared to hope for such a fond reception), basks in what soon proves too fleeting a sentiment—overcast by Zachary:

            "Jewel is free."

            Spoken for everyone to hear—though his eye is fixed emphatically upon Beulah—Zachary's blunt pronouncement catches everyone off guard; smiles turn suddenly sombre, glad tidings wither, fellow-feelings wane.

            Ev'thin' change den an' dere; knowed it would. Stare' like I's pois'nous... make me feel disown... fust time in my life I don' feel colourt.

            Den Zach'ry say, fo' now, I's to stay in my ol' room. Him sen' Marisee an' Tessie make it up. Dem lef' in shock. Den Beulah stick her ches' out, fixin' ta speak her mine, 'cep' Zach'ry check 'er wiff a look. "Yassah" all her say, den lef' in one her huffs.

            Wisht him lemme tell 'em on my own, in my own way. Don' know how I'd done it. 'Hell in sto'e', I 's thinkin' de ot'er day; seem Hell arrive.