The cock stands stock still, comb erect, red-rimmed amber eye unblinking—fixed upon an unsuspecting mate. His hackles rise. His gizzard stretches, sun-stroked feathers bristling, wattle dangling from his domineering beak. He takes a step, stalking... halts... takes three steps; the hen, his aim, retreats. With a rush, the cock commences an instinct-fuelled assault... averted as the earth begins to tremble, then, under dust clouds raised, to quake.
"Goddamn it, whoa!"
A horse comes snorting to a stop.
"Where is your Master, nigger-woman?"
"Yassuh. Dead an' in de grave."
"Not Zachariah; I mean Zachary, his son?"
The saddle groans as Randolph Bates stands in the stirrups to air his crotch.
"Oh, Massah Zach'ry. Massah Zachariah gone so shoat a while us ain't got use' to callin' 'Massah Zach'ry' Massah." She strokes the horse's muzzle."Easy, boy. Go easy. Got yo'se'f aw wo’k’ up in a lathah."
"'Master Zachary; where is he?"
"Oh, him gone to town. Him gwon buy hisse'f a big buck niggah. Him say Massah Zachariah's niggahs ol' an' don' do nuffin' lessen Overseer Tune lays on de whip. Massah Zach'ry him don' truck wit all dat whippin'. Him tell Mistah Tune bes' lay off iffen him 'spec' stay on."
"A little whippin' never spoilt no nigger."
"No, suh. Not what's got one comin'. But Massah Zach'ry say, 'things gwon be diff'ent'."
"Have to run your horse to death to catch a breeze."
"You nigh done dat, suh."
Bates scowls and reaches for his tobacco.
"Well, nigger, you tell your young Master that Miss Felicia's pa consents."
"I sholy will, suh."
"No sense chasin' all the way to Charleston just to tell him that."
"Not in this infernal heat."
"No, suh. Do you wants dat I should draw yo' hawse some watah? Him sho look thusty."
"Damn the mangy horse, girl. Can't you see I need a drink?"
"Yassuh. Sorry, suh. You jus' res' righ' here whilst I go fetch you one."
Tessie takes the clothespin basket from her arm and sets it down, then limps off rather sluggishly toward the porch-side pump.
Bates a patterroller. Mean as chiggers. Him ketch you wiff'out yo' pass yo' sho 'nuff sorry. You be lay up fo' a week. Dey gots dis paddle wiffin holes all tru it dat raise de blistahs ev'where it hit. You git done wiff dat a while, den dey bus' dem blisters open wiff a hawse-hide whip. Rubs de brine in, den, what jus' 'bout kill mos' any niggah.
From the mansion's upstairs window, Beulah watches.
"Pssst... Beulah. Pssst... Beulah! What dey doin' now?"
"I thought I tol' you mind."
"What Tessie doin'?"
"Fetchin' water. Hush!"
"What de patterroller doin'?"
"Marisee, I tol' you once; I tol' you twice; dis yo' las' an' final warnin'. Push dat dus'mop not yo' curyos'ty. Curyous niggers ends up six feet b'low."
Marisee mops, but with each stroke inches closer to the window.
Beulah traces a scar across her forehead with her index finger. She clucks her tongue three times, then spits, narrowing her eyes.
"You hexin' 'im, Beulah?"
The elder negress glares.
Bates grabs the water dipper from Tessie's up-stretched hand and takes a drink... catching sight of Beulah at the dining room window.
"Mistah Bates, is you alright?"
Bates' jaw drops open. His face turns scarlet. He lurches forward.
"Hol' up yo' arms above yo' head."
He makes a croaking sound. Another. He gags. He wretches. His throat constricts... a disgorged tobacco chaw drops horse-turd fashion into the dirt. Bates wipes his mouth, regains composure, then looks for Beulah at the now-deserted window.
"Don't forget that message, nigger."
Bates tosses Tessie the dipper and, snapping the reins, digs in his heels. The horse responds, leaping to a canter, then to a gallop.
Po' white trash.
"I'LL SEE YOU IN HERE, IFFEN YOU PLEASE."
Tessie slows her pace by half, wading through the heat. Her dress is soaked with sweat and is plastered to her body.
"An' don' you takes one step insi'e 'til you wipes dem filthy feets."
Marisee hurries downstairs to help with the interrogation. A glance from Beulah checks her at the landing.
"I's finished... Hones'."
Tessie lets the back door slam behind her.
"What him wan', Tess? What fo' him talk to you out back 'stead a comin' roun' de front?"
"I'll ast de ques'ions iffen you please, Miss Marisee. Dey lookin' fo' a run'way, ain't dey, Tessie?"
Beulah scowls... then checks, with another fearsome glance, Marisee's urge to speak. Tessie gloats, pleased to be the informant.
"Him lookin' fo' Massah Zach'ry 's all."
Marisee chimes in.
"Bout Miss Felicia."
"Mind yo' own business, nigger. Tessie, what him say 'bout Miss Felicia?"
"Him say, 'You tells yo' young Massah Miss Felicia's pa con cents."
Marisee pulls a face.
"What mean 'con cents'?"
"It mean dat us gwon soon has us a Mist'ess."
"But us nevah done have no Mist'ess."
"Did once, but dat befo'e yo' time."
"Now who you think? You think Massah Zach'ry gots hisse'f hatch from outten a hen egg?"
"No, ma'am; chickens come outten hen eggs."
"Girl, you 's thick 's tar."
"Leas'-ways I can walk straight."
"Stop it; both o' you. Was dat all Randolph Bates come here to say?"
"At breakneck speed?"
"Him say him run dat hawse to ketch a breeze. It hot out."
Beulah shakes her head, then shoos away the girls to their respective tasks.
Isabella Asquith Squire—purty as a honeysuckle
blossom. Yella hair. Bones like a canary bird, wit a sweet li'l voice to
match. How her end up marryin' Zachariah was a puzzlement; him bein'
such a mean, unfeelin', hard-ass of a man, with nary a kindly word fo'
no one, specially his son. 'Twas given birth to him killt Isabella—died befo'e us coax him ha'fways out. Zachariah nev' did fo'get
nor fo'give Zach'ry fo' Isabella's death. Done some terr'ble things 'roun' dat
time, too. I knows... Beulah not fo'gettin' nor fo'givin' no one