Fear. Ruby’s jaw dropped. I seen me anger and I me seen meanness, but I ain’t never seen fear.
She hastened to shut her mouth and droop her shoulders in the proper way as Master John approached.
“Where’s your mama?” he demanded.
“I gets her for you right now.” Ruby curtseyed and fled.
“Mama, Mama,” she cried, bursting into a rude cabin. “Master be callin’ for you. You best git there right quick like.” Ruby dropped on her bare mattress, panting, as her mother dashed out the door.
In what seemed like two winks, Mama was back.
“You must hide these,” she instructed. “Stand up.”
“Whatcha meanin’?” Ruby asked.
“Them Yankee’s be comin’,” Mama said. “We’s gonna hide these here treasures for the missus.”
“Why?” Ruby’s brow furrowed like cotton-planting time. “Master John’s been knocking us around since … forever. Why you heppin’ ’im now?”
Mama dropped a bag on the floor and turned to the table, where she began wrapping small items.
“This be priceless to the missus,” she said, holding up a broach of intricate weaving. “This be Master Sam’s own hair.”
Sam was the master’s oldest son. “He done got kilt way up thar in Gettysburg. This be all his mama has left.”
“They be needin’ all this after the war to trade fer vittles.” Mama’s dusky hands flashed against the white linen strips as she deftly wrapped earrings, brooches, necklaces. Come over here, child.”
Ruby approached on hesitant feet.
“You lift up yer skirt,” Mama instructed, “so’s I kin tie these ‘round yer middle.”
“Why?” Ruby repeated.
“Yankees don’t be roughin’ up the black folk,” Mama explained. “This be the only Master’s treasures be safe. An’ this…,” she pointed to the bag on the floor, “…be they silver. We gonna bury it.”
“Why?” This time Ruby all but screamed. “Why you bein’ good to Master? Ain’t he knocked you ’round for years? Ain’t he beat my papa and your sons anytime he pleased?”
Mama looked deep into Ruby’s eyes. “I seen me how the master done knocked his missus ’bout as bad as myself,” she said. “She gots her fancy dresses an’ hats an’ gloves, but she be in bondage herself.”
“But, iffen them Yanks be comin’,” Ruby said, “we could use all this for ourselves. I hear tell they gonna free us forever!”
Mama put her hands on each hip. “We’s gonna hide this stuff and we’s gonna dress us likes field hands, cuz the Yankees don’t question ’em.”
Ruby pushed out her lip and crossed arms over her scrawny chest while Mama tied the small bundles to a hidden belt. Mama dropped Ruby’s worn skirt and fluffed it. “Don’t show a bit,” she said, pride shining in her dark eyes. “Jest be careful how ya walk.”
“What if I refuse?” Ruby demanded. “Then what?”
Mama pushed her face close to Ruby’s. “Ya’ll do it cuz I sez so.”
“But Mama,” Ruby cried. “Here’s our chance for freedom and treasures to go with it. Them Yanks’ll protect us.”
“You not be understandin’.” Mama’s face grew sad, then resolute. “Sure, Master’s been cruel an’ unfair, but Missus allays been kind to me. I love the missus an’ I be hidin’ all this fer her.”
Ruby slumped but her eyes spit defiance.
“Ya be too young to be understandin’,” Mama said, with a gentle hug. “Love beats out hate … ever’ time.”
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