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- The Earth Trembled - 10/74 -


allies."

Thoughts like these had been swiftly coursing through her mind while dining, and therefore, when she joined Aun' Sheba in the kitchen, she was ready to employ every faculty, sharpened to the utmost, in the tasks before her.

In that humble arena, and by the prosaic method contemplated, she would assert her unsubdued spirit, and maintain a consistency which should not be marred, even at the bidding of love, by an insincere acceptance of his views and associations.

CHAPTER VIII

NEVER FORGET; NEVER FORGIVE

While Ann' Sheba finished her dinner Mara began to open and put in their places the slender materials which she had purchased as her first step toward self-support. The generous meal, and especially the coffee combining with the strong incentive of her purpose, gave elasticity to her step and flushed her face slightly with color. The old aunty watched her curiously and sympathetically as she thought, "Bress her heart how purty she am, bendin' heah an' dar like a willow an' lookin' de lady ebery inch while she doin' kitchen work! Quar pahner fer sech an ole woman as me ter hab, but I dun declar dat her han's, ef dey am little, seem po'ful smart. Dey takes hole on tings jes' as if dey'd coax 'em right along whar she wants dem!" Then she broke out, "Wot a fool dat Owen Clancy am!"

Mara started and was suddenly busy in a distant part of the room. "I reckon you are the only one that thinks so, Aun' Sheba," she remarked quietly.

"Ef he could see you now he'd tink so hisself."

"Very likely," and there was a little bitterness in Mara's accent.

"De mo' fool he be den," said Aun' Sheba with an indignant toss of her head. "Whar ud his eyes be ef he could see you and not go down on his marrow-bones, I'd like to know? Habn't I seen all de quality ob dis town? and dat fer de new quality," with a snap of her fingers, "an you take de shine off'n dem all eben in de kitchen. Law sakes, what kin' ob blood dat man Clancy hab to lebe you kase you po'? Pears ter me de ole cun'l, his fader, ud be orful figety in his coffin."

"Mr. Clancy has not left me because I am poor, Aun' Sheba," said Mara gravely. "You do him great injustice. We are not so good friends as we were simply because we cannot agree on certain subjects. But I would rather you would not talk about him to me or to any one else. Come now, you must give me some lessons in your mystery of making cakes that melt in one's mouth. Otherwise people will say you are growing old and losing your high art."

"Dey better not tell me no sech lies. Law, Missy, you is gwine ter beat me all holler wen onst you gits de hang ob de work. You little white han's gib fancy teches dat ain't in my big black han'. Arter all, tain't de han's; it's de min'. Dere's my darter Mis Watson. Neber could larn her much mo'n plain cookin'. Dere's a knack at dese tings dat's bawn in one. It's wot you granpa used ter call genus, an' you allus hab it, eben when you was a chile an' want ter muss in de kitchen."

Thus full of reminiscence and philosophy eminently satisfactory to her own mind, Aun' Sheba taught her apt and eager pupil the secrets of her craft. Mara was up with the dawn on the following day, and achieved fair success. Other lessons followed, and it was not very long before the girl passed beyond the imitative stage and began to reason upon the principles involved in her work and then to experiment.

One day an old customer said to Aun' Sheba: "There's a new hand at the bellows."

"Dunno not'n 'bout bellus. Ain't de cakes right?"

"Well, then, you've got some new receipts."

"Like a'nuff I hab," said the vender warily. "De pint am, howsumeber, isn't de cakes good?"

"Yes, they seem better every day, but they are not the same every day. I reckon some one's coaching you."

"Law sakes, Massa, wo't you mean by coachin' me?"

"Do you make the cakes?" was asked pointblank.

"Now, Massa, you's gittin' too cur'us. Wot de Scripter say? Ask no questions fer conscience' sake."

"Come, come, Aun' Sheba; if you begin to wrest Scripture, I'll take pains to find you out."

She shuffled away in some trepidation and shook her head over the problem of keeping her relations with Mara secret. "Missy puttin' her min' in de cakes an' I didn't hab much min' to put in an' folks know de dif'ence," she soliloquized. Later on she was down among the cotton warehouses, and finding herself weary and warm, stopped to rest in the shade of a building. Suddenly Owen Clancy turned the corner. His brow was contracted as if in deep and not agreeable thought.

Aun' Sheba's lowered at him, for he seemed about to pass her without noticing her. The moment he became aware of her presence, however, he stopped and fixed upon her his penetrating gray eyes. His gaze was so persistent and stern that she was disconcerted, but she spoke with her accustomed assurance: "You ain't gwine ter call de perlice, is you, Mars' Clancy?" and she placed her arms akimbo on her hips.

This reference was shrewd, for it reminded him that his grievance was purely personal and one that he could not resent in her case, yet his heart was so sore with the suspicion that Mara was looking to this negress for help instead of to himself, that for the time being he detested the woman. Love is not a judicial quality, and rarely has patience with those who interfere with its success. He had hoped that eventually the pressure of poverty would turn Mara's thoughts to him, especially as he had revealed so emphatically his wish to help her disinterestedly as a friend even; but if his present fears were well grounded, he would have to admit that her heart had grown utterly cold toward him.

"Why should you think of the police, Aun' Sheba, unless you have something on your mind?" he asked, coolly removing the cover of the basket and helping himself. "You didn't make these cakes. Did you steal them?"

"Marse Clancy, what you take me fer?"

"That depends on how honest your answers are."'

"I ain't 'bliged ter answer 'tall."

"Oh, you're afraid then."

"No, I ain't afeerd. Ef dey is stolen, you'se a 'ceivin ob stolen goods, fum de way dem cakes dis'pearin'."

"You're pert, Aun'Sheba."

"Oh co'se I'se peart. Hab to be spry to arn a libin' in dese yer times, but I can do it fum dem dat's fren'ly and not fum dem dat glower at me."

"Will you tell me if Miss Wallingford--"

"Marse Clancy, hab Miss Wallingford sent you word dat she want you to know 'bout her 'fairs?"

"I understand," he said almost savagely, and throwing a quarter into the basket he passed on.

There had been a tacit understanding at first that Mara's part in Aun' Sheba's traffic should not be revealed. The girl had not wholly shaken off the influence of her aunt's opposition, and she shrank with almost morbid dread from being the subject of remark even among those of her own class. The chief and controlling motive for secrecy, however, had been distrust, the fear that the undertaking would not be successful. As the days had passed this fear had been removed. Aun' Sheba did not come to make her returns until after she had taken her supper in the evening, and at about ten in the morning she reached Mara's home by an unfrequented side street. There were those, however, who had begun to notice the regularity of her visits and among them was Owen Clancy. We have also seen that the daintiness of the viands had caused surmises.

Mara had become preoccupied with her success and with plans for increasing it. At first Aun' Sheba had supplemented her attempts, and her plan had been entered on so quietly and carried forward so smoothly that even Mrs. Hunter was becoming reconciled to the scheme although she tried to conceal the fact. It would be hard to find two women more ignorant of the world, or more averse to being known by it, yet from it the unsophisticated girl now hoped to divert a little sustaining rill of currency without a ripple of general comment until the hour should come when she could reveal the truth to Clancy as a rebuke to his course and as a suggestion that a man might do more and yet not compromise himself. Full of these thoughts and hopes, her life, if not happy, had at least ceased to stagnate and was growing in zest and interest.

The day on which occurred the events just narrated was destined to prove a fateful one. When Aun' Sheba came in the evening it was soon evident that she had something on her mind. She paid little heed to the accounts while Mara was writing them down and explaining the margin of profit, as the girl was always careful to do, for it satisfied her conscience that her over-loyal partner was prospering now as truly as before. After everything had been attended to and the programme arranged for the morning, Aun' Sheba still sat and fidgeted in her chair. Mara leaned back in hers and looking across the kitchen table said: "Be honest now. There's something you want to say."

"Don't want ter say it, but s'pose I ought."

"I reckon you had, Aun' Sheba."

The woman's native shrewdness had been sharpened by the varied experience of her calling, and she had become convinced that the policy of secrecy would be a failure. What would be Mara's course when compelled to face the truth, was the question that troubled her. The kind soul hoped that it would make no difference, and proposed to use all her tact to induce the girl to continue her enterprise openly, believing that this course would be best for several reasons. She had the wit to know that Mara would yield far more out of consideration for her than for any thought of self, so she said as a masterpiece of strategy, "Marse Clancy ax me to-day if I stole de cakes."


The Earth Trembled - 10/74

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