"Come down here," Eloise said in a very serious tone.
I climbed down the ladder from the roof and ran through the barn and to the yard, where the young white girl stood. She wore a yellow bonnet held under her chin by a red ribbon, and a yellow dress with a flouncy slip underneath the skirt. She was eleven years old and pretty as a child can be.
I came up to her with my head hanging down and my eyes on the ground.
"Yes'm?" I said.
"Were you spyin' on me, boy?"
"I was jes lookin', Miss Eloise. I didn't know you was down here."
"Why you lookin' at your feet?" she asked. "You know it's rude not to look at someone when you're talkin' to 'em."
"I ain't s'posed to look at you, ma'am. You's a white lady an' niggers ain't s'posed to look at white ladies."
It was true. Even Fred Chocolate, Master Tobias's butler, was not supposed to look at a white woman straight on.
"You were lookin' at me from up in the barn," she said.
"No, ma'am," I lied. "I mean I looked out but I didn't know that you was there."
"That's not true," she said.
"I swear it is," I said, still looking at my feet.
"Look up at me this instant, you insolent boy," she said then.
I raised my head slowly. I had to look up because Eloise was elevated above me, on the porch. When I saw her face there was a big smile on it.
"Don't be scared," she said. "I won't tell."
My heart skipped at her kind words. I felt as if she were saving me even though it was her threats that I was afraid of.
"Do you want a molasses cookie?" she said.
"Yes, ma'am," I replied.
From a tin can on the swinging chair she brought out a big brown cookie. She knelt down in her pretty dress and handed it to me.
"Now run along," she said. "And don't worry, I won't tell that you were lookin'."
I ran back into the barn and up to my crow's nest. Mama Flore had let me taste the crumbs from cookies before but I never had a whole one, or even a proper piece. I sat up next to the window and ate my cookie, thinking of young Eloise.
I was hoping that somehow she would remember me and make me her page. That way I could always be near her and eat sugary cookies every night of the week.
That was all before I met Tall John and learned that no man or woman should serve another because that made them a slave.
From 47 by Walter Mosley. Copyright © 2005 by Walter Mosley. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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