Lilac Mines: A Novel
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Presently there was a knock on the dining-room door.
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If he had not been informed that her age was fifteen Wade would have supposed Zephania's years to be not over a baker's dozen. She was a round-faced, smiling-visaged, black-haired, black-eyed, ruddy-cheeked little mite who simply oozed cheerfulness and energy. She wore a shapeless pink cotton dress which reached almost to her ankles, and over that a blue-checked apron which nearly trailed on the floor.
Her sleeves were rolled elbow-high and one little thin hand clutched a dish-cloth as a badge of office. Wade stared dubiously at Zephania and Zephania smiled brightly back. You might fry the eggs and toast the bread. I guess that will do for this morning. I could just clear the end of that table. There's a fine big tray, sir. Breakfast was prepared that morning to the strains of "Jesus, Lover of My Soul.
Watching her for a minute or two dispelled all doubts as to her ability. The way in which she broke the eggs and slipped them into the boiling water was a revelation of dexterity. And all the while she sang on uninterruptedly, joyously, like the gray-breast on the hedge. Wade went out into the garden and breathed in deep breaths of the cool, moist air. The grass and the shrubs were heavy with dew and the morning world was redolent of the perfume exhaled from moist earth and growing things.
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In the neglected orchard the birds were chattering and piping, and from a nearby field came the excited cawing of crows. It was corn-planting time. Wade ate his breakfast by the open window. He didn't know in which of the three ways Zephania had prepared his coffee, but it was excellent, and even the condensed milk couldn't spoil it.
The eggs were snowy cushions of delight on golden tablets of toast, and the butter was hued like old ivory.
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Zephania objected to condensed milk, however, and suggested that she be allowed to bring a quart of "real milk" with her when she came in the mornings. We get six cents for milk. I was about to broach the subject," was the mendacious answer. Why, when they had the church fair over to The Center last winter I sent four loaves, and Mrs. Whitely, that's the minister's wife, sir, said it was just as good as any there. I can make two kinds of bread. I'll make the milk bread first, though, and let you try that. Most folks likes milk bread the best. Shall I set some to-night?
While she was removing the tray Zephania asked: "Which room would you like to have me clean first, sir? Everything's just covered with dust. I never did see such a dirty house. Houses do get that way, though, if they're shut up for a long time. Maybe I'd just better begin at the top and work down? I'd clean each room separately, sir; sweep and wash up the floors and around the mop-board and—".
Mother says I'm a real smart cleaner.
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Shall I get some more flowers in this vase, sir? This piece of lilac's dreadfully wilted. The fact, is, that—that's a rather particular piece of lilac; something out of the common. That piece of lilac, Zephania, is a clue; at least, I think it is. Do you know what a clue is? It's something you find that puts you on the trail of the murderer. I suppose, Zephania, you know about every one in the village, don't you? Now suppose you tell me something about my neighbors.
Every one ought to know about his neighbors, eh? Now, for instance, who lives over there on my left; the square white house with the drab blinds? She's a maiden lady and has a great deal of money. They say she owns some of the railroad. She plays the organ in church, and—".
Is she rather stout with quite black hair, Zephania? I guess you saw Mrs. Sampson, the dressmaker. She lives over there across the common, in the little yellowish house with the vines; see? That's where Miss Sampson lives, eh? But we were speaking about Miss Walton, weren't we? Miss Walton's a young lady and as pretty as—as—" Zephania's words failed her and she looked about apparently in search of a simile.
She has beautiful eyes, Mr. Herring, just heavenly! Sometimes I think I'd just give almost anything if my eyes were like hers. But you seem to have a very good pair of your own. Don't trouble you, do they? She's awfully pretty, Mr. It's real light. Some folks say she's too pale, but I don't think so. And sometimes she has just lots of pink in her cheeks, like—like a doll I have at home.
Folks that think she's too pale ought to have seen her yesterday afternoon. She looked like; she'd been running and her face was just as pink as—as that lamp-mat! Maybe a bee or a wasp—". She hadn't ought to run like that in hot weather, and I told her so. I said 'Miss Eve'—What, sir?
And then Miss Mullett came out and I went home. They live there together in the Walton house every summer. Folks say Miss Mullett's very poor and Miss Walton looks after her. She's kind of middle-aged, I guess. She's real pleasant. Miss Walton thinks a lot of her.