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The Ring Sing Twins

ISSUE:  Winter 1931

Caldonie sat hunched forward, her bare feet resting flat on the cool ground under the chinaberry tree and her elbows resting heavily on her knees. With a slow, gentle swing of her hands, she moved a leafy twig from the tree to and fro, fanning away the flies and mosquitoes from the twins that lay on a piece of quilt at her feet.

“I ought to take y’all out and drown you,” she said quietly. “In de bayou, like a rat.” She stopped fanning long enough to adjust the quilt so it would be more comfortable. “Lookin’ more like yo’ squinch-eyed daddy ev’y day.”

She was worried in her mind. More so than usual. Philip, the big stable boss, was coming to see the twins that evening, and was bringing his guitar along. Hayes finally had invited him. Hayes, her husband—that squinch-eyed little runt!

She studied the two tiny men-children intently. She tried to put out of her heart that strange feeling of love and hate that she held for them so she could see something—just what, she did not know. The twins were naked, save for flannel “bellybands” about their stomachs to ward off the colic. They were inky black and large for month-old babies. And long, too. Their bodies were willowy like the tough young cane that grew along the bayou, just in front of the cabin.

For a brief, tense instant Caldonie thought she saw what she was searching for. The kink-covered tar balls that sat on their shoulders already were taking definite shapes like human heads, and for one instant she thought she saw Big Philip’s face—just like it looked to her for one brief moment at the ring sing that night. But she knew she did not see Philip’s face on the twins.

For that matter, she knew she had not seen Philip’s face for that brief giddy moment at the ring sing. The only thing that she was certain that she knew about the ring sing, was when she woke up the next morning, bruised and battered and nearly naked, and saw Hayes sitting by her side and staring stupidly at her. The very memory of that picture curdled her blood.

“Dat squinch-eyed little bastard,” she grumbled bitterly. “Hayes.” Her voice immediately became a sad effort to be proud. “But he de pappy er de onliest pair er boy twins on de place.” She resumed fanning away mosquitoes and flies. “Humph!” Then, still feeling the cross currents of mixed emotions, love and hate, duty and desire, instinctive knowledge in contradiction to known facts, and unable to find words with which to express the inexpressible mixture of feeling, she began “blubbering”—a series of wordless sounds, soft, plaintive, meaningless. “Blul-mmm-bulul-oomn-bla-uuunn—”

It had been like that ever since the twins came. Before they were born, she frankly and openly hated Hayes. He was a nothing. A nobody. But of course she had married him. She was a Christian girl and could not do otherwise. Preacher Wes had explained it:

“You vexed de Lawd wid yo’ sin,” he told her, “and dat’s how come you got to marry him.”

She could understand that. She had sinned and the Lord visited a punishment on her for it; she had to marry the man she despised.

That, of course, was before she knew there would be twins. But when the twins came—a fine, black, husky pair of twins, and boy twins at that—the fact that her husband, who was the nearest to nothing that wore pants on Whitehall Plantation, was their father simply was too disturbing to comprehend. Even Preacher Wes admitted that the Lord “hit her a powerful lick,” but added, “I told you not to stay to de ring sing, and now you see.” Well, that was the whole trouble. Caldonie was a Christian woman, but she would stay for the ring sing. She went, and she went for no other reason than to make her eyes at the big, black, easy-tongued new stable boss, Philip. Caldonie was a shiny black, supple-jointed young woman, just ripe for marriage and motherhood. The minute she laid eyes on Philip she knew he was the very man for a fine looking girl like her. He was picking his guitar and singing a crazy song that he had learned while riding horses in Uncle Sam’s army. She grinned and he did something to the small string that made it whine wistfully at her. “Dat’s for you, you long-laigged lump er axel grease,” he said.

Caldonie grinned again and said, “Yeah?”

That was as far as they got the first time they saw each other. But Caldonie hoped to further the courtship at the ring sing.

The ring sing was held on a hot, steamy Sunday night about the middle of September. As far back as the old people could remember, Whitehall negroes held a ring sing to celebrate, in a spiritual way, the final picking of the cotton crop. Preacher Wes was inclined to be against the celebration, but he always led the sing-singing.

“Hit’s good for de old’ns,” he explained, “and de married ones, maybe. But de young’ns—” He shook his head. “Hit’s bad. Specially for de gals.”

Even in his sermon which preceded the sing-shout he urged the unmarried men and women to leave the church. “Old Satan hangs mighty close to de shoutin’ line,” he warned. “And he’ll grab sinners and Christians. When y’all young fo’ks gits to sweatin’ and singin’ and shoutin’ and goin’ on, well, sin and salvation gits mighty mixed up.”

Caldonie didn’t care, though. She wasn’t afraid of mixing a little sin with her salvation that night. She was sitting on the right hand side of the church among the members and Philip was away back and on the left with the other sinners. But she knew that they would get mixed up as soon as the ring was formed.

Hayes sat next to Caldonie during the sermon, hunching down in the seat and whining in his usual way. “Good lookin’, whyn’t you kind er love me some? I’s a good man; I got a good name—” He had been whining after Caldonie all summer.

“Whyn’t you go on and butt yo’ haid agin de tree?” retorted Caldonie. “I ain’t got no time for a runty nothin’ like you. Whyn’t you let me alone and quit tryin’ to vex me?” And she craned her neck to exchange a confidential glance with the new stable boss.

The sermon was slow and dull. Preacher Wes wandered about aimlessly and interminably. Frequently he paused to warn the youth that young blood could not stand the pressure of the ring sing, and that they had better forego the rites.

The sermon finally ended, however, and willing hands seized long wooden benches and piled them back against the wall. The women, in a wild, eager scramble, joined hands and formed a circle in the center of the floor, facing outward. The men formed a circle about them, facing the women. Runty Lee, the hunchback cripple who could not keep up with the “marching,” found a loose board among the church benches upon which to beat time with his wrists and fingers. Preacher Wes and Bell, his wife, got in the center to lead the singing.

“Bell, you h’ist de chime,” he commanded, “and ev’ybody wawk sideways twarge de right.”

 Bell raised the tune:

Poor Mary, don’t you weep don’t you moan, Poor Mary, don’t you weep don’t you moan, Pharaoh’s army got drownded— Mary, don’t you moan.

It was a harmless enough tune, slow and rolling. Bell’s voice whined and moaned, and the others joined in the slow chant. Runty, sitting stupidly before the overturned bench, drummed away in the steady, dragging tempo of the singing.

As they circled, the women going in one direction and the men in the other, Caldonie caught Philip’s eye and she sang and stomped with all her might. But that did not last long.

At first she was conscious of a thrill of movement—the giddy jerky side steps and the weaving black ring of men’s faces in front of her. The women were not moving rapidly, nor were the men. But they were going in opposite directions and they seemed to be whirling at top speed. The uneven singing was exhilarating, and Runty was doing wonderfully with his drumming—boom-ta, boom-ta, boom-ta-da-da!

At first there were bright jokes and remarks bantered back and forth between the men and women, but Caldonie paid no attention to that. Her eyes were for Philip, and no one else.

“I’m fixin’ to git happy,” she told the woman to her right. “I hope old Runty whups dat board to de Holy Ghost come down!” But if the woman heard, she did not stop her singing to reply.

The line of moving faces became a mirage. She could not pick out Philip’s face as she passed, any more. The singing receded into a droning whine, and the drumming got louder and louder until it seemed like Runty was beating upon her ears instead of the church bench. She liked that!

One of the women gave up and fell, and Caldonie stepped right on her face as she passed, but the woman got to her feet again. The drumming got faster and faster and other women went down. And men, too. Some of them stayed down, and some of them got up again. Some of the ones who stayed down fought and kicked about the floor, and some of the ones who got up fought and scratched.

Once Caldonie got her feet mixed up and fell, but she didn’t stop going around with the ring. She just rolled over and over until she could regain her feet. People tramped on her while she was down and she grabbed their feet and bit and scratched their legs, but she kept on going.

Finally, she got to her feet. She remembered that, perfectly. It seemed like the singing would split her head open and the drumming would tear out her heart. The singing and drumming hurt her so bad that she was nearly wild-crazy. But she remembered getting to her feet. Then a cloud came,

And that was the last thing she could remember.

Later, when she lay in Aunt Crippled Lou’s cabin, crazy with the hot fevers, she could see Philip’s huge, black face in front of hers, close and coming closer. And she could feel his mighty fingers burying themselves in her shoulder and yanking, tearing her clothes from her body and nearly tearing her flesh from her bones. But that was the hot fevers that made her see that. The hot fevers tricked you like that. You would want a drink of water so badly, and Aunt Crip wouldn’t give you. Then you could see a whole bucketful, fresh and sweet and cool at the side of the bed. But if you reached for it, it was not there. It was never there. It was a trick that the hot fevers played on you.

Since the twins came, Caldonie had reviewed the incidents of the ring sing so many times that she had a perfect picture of every incident up to the point where she scrambled back to her feet, and the black cloud hid her consciousness. That was as far as she could get. Philip’s face coming against hers and that sharp, tearing sound when he ripped her dress from her shoulders—she could never remember that. She thought she could, some times, but she knew she was lying to herself when she remembered it. It was the hot fevers playing a trick.

She could remember what happened when she came to her senses, though. That was the degrading part. It was almost noon, the next day. She was out in the broiling sun, sprawled flat upon the sand, not too far from the church. She opened her eyes blissfully, as though she had just finished a pleasant dream. But her face hurt. Her lip was badly cut. Her body was bruised and sore. Her clothes were torn to shreds.

And added to her other misery, the despicable Hayes sat close to her, studying her as though he were studying a dead snake that was lying in the road.

“You don’t look so good dis mawnin’,” he remarked in his whining, apologetic voice. “You looked mighty good last night. But you don’t look so good—”

Caldonie came full awake, quickly, and began adjusting her torn clothes hurriedly. “Git on away f’m hyar, you runt!” she commanded. “Can’t you see my dress is tored? Ain’t you got no shame?”

Hayes got up and slunk off like a suck-egg dog caught in the hen-house, and Caldonie got up and started for home.

She could hardly walk. Her feet ached and her legs cramped. When she moved a “catch” in her ribs bent her double. The green cane on either side of the sandy path in front of the church danced like heat devils.

But she made it. And with modesty. Not up the regular path that led from the church to the long row of quarters where everybody could see her. But by the narrow, almost overgrown trail to the bayou and then through the cane brake, like any good Christian girl who had a lick of shame would do.

Instinct led {ier, not to her own home, but through the back door of Aunt Crippled Lou’s cabin, and she no more than staggered in, until she fell upon the floor, screaming with hysterics.

It was weeks before she knew anything more. Her nerves had been shattered by the ring sing. It had been too exhilarating for a sensitive young girl, just rounding into healthy womanhood.

“Quick as you gits so you kin sleep widout squallin’,” the old medicine woman told her, “I’ll fix you up good, so’s dem lyin’ Christians won’t never know you was fixin’ to have a baby.”

Caldonie balked at that, however. She was a Christian.

She had sinned, all right, but she was no sinner. She demanded to see Preacher Wes and tell him all about it.

“F’m what you says,” the preacher concluded, “you done sin wid Hayes, so you got to marry him.”

“I don’t love Hayes,” protested Caldonie. “I got my love on Philip.”

“Don’t make no diffunce,” ruled the preacher. “You got mixed up and done sin wid Hayes. And dat’s how come. De Lawd knowed you was bound to do a sin, so he mixed you up. You vexed de Lawd, and now de Lawd gonter vex you. You marry Hayes.”

Caldonie married Hayes as soon as she got well. Hayes, that squinch-eyed little nobody! And a big, fine looking girl like Caldonie! Hayes was bewildered when Caldonie told him she was going to marry him, but when they lined up in front of Wes, he felt a surge of pride in his undersized body. It was something to be married up with a girl like Caldonie!

Caldonie tacked the marriage license over the mantlepiece and tried to make Hayes a good wife. She put the stable boss out of her mind and tried her best not to hate Hayes. But she hated him. And heaps of times in the evening when everybody was home from the fields and Philip got out his guitar and played for somebody up the line, Caldonie sat on her porch and listened.

Not sinfully. There was no sin in Caldonie now, Lord. Having to marry Hayes had knocked the last bit of sin out of her for the rest of her life. But she listened.

And sometimes, when Hayes was back in the house, asleep and snoring, and Caldonie listened to Philip’s guitar, the mosquitoes and varmints in the cane brake wheezed and whined like the singing at the ring sing and the heavy, semi-tropical night air thundered and rumbled in silence like Runty’s drumming, Caldonie would get to blubbering at the nothingness about her: “blul-rrimrnnn-omm-blabl-nn—”

Then the twins came! Boy twins!

Before Caldonie could get out of the house, Hayes was a changed man! Before, he had been a nobody. Even after he married the good looking Caldonie, the menfolks had no words to say to him, and the women passed him by. But when the twins came it was different!

“You see what me and dat good lookin’ gal er mine done, don’t you? A pair of boy twins! Dat’s what us done!”

It was something, too. Nobody else on the plantation had done it. Girl twins, maybe. Or even a girl and a boy could be recalled by some of the old people. But not twin boys. It was something for folks to talk about, all right!

They talked, tool “Well, Hayes, how de boy twins gittin’ along?” the men asked him. And the women 1 They laughed and made remarks with him and followed him about like a somebody. But not too close, Lord. “Don’t git too close to dat scound’el!” they laughed. “He might be a runt, but jest looky at what happened to Caldonie!” And they laughed some more.

It was good talk. Hayes liked it.

Only Philip, of all the men on the place, made no talk. He kept to himself when Hayes was around, and he quit going to other people’s houses to play and sing in the evenings. He just sat on his own porch and played. But he did not sing.

Philip worried Hayes, in a way, and he enjoyed seeing the stable boss sulk, too. Before the twins came, Philip was the favorite of all the people, with his singing and easy talk. Now, Hayes was the center of attraction. But—well, Philip never asked about the twins and he never came to see them, like the other people did.

Caldonie was glad Philip didn’t come, though. Before, she had put him out of her mind. But since the twins came, her mind got to tricking her again, just like it had done when she was having the hot fevers. She would sit en her porch and listen to Philip’s plaintive tunes, and then, before she knew it, her mind would start reviewing the ring sing.

Well, there was no harm in that. She kept Philip out of her mind, like any Christian married woman should. She would conjure up the picture of the hilarious start of the ring sing, and she would ride through the deadening rumble of the chanting and drumming. She would fall down and fight on the floor, and then scramble back to her feet again. Then she would see the black cloud that came over her eyes. There was no harm in that. But just there was where her mind tricked her. The black cloud would take the form of Philip’s big face—blood-shot, wild eyes, spreading nostrils in a flat nose, big thick lips that hung open—But it was a lie! The hot fevers had left that lie in her brain, and she knew it. “Blul-bulull-mmm-booolmm—”

How the runty little Hayes strutted! Almost every evening someone came to see the twins, and listened in envious admiration while Hayes outlined their best points. “Cou’se dey’s healthy,” he told his visitors. “I’s healthy, ain’t I? And Caldonie is a big woman, and me, I’m bigger’n most fo’ks thinks I is, only I don’t go around braggin’ on how big and stout I’m is.”

That went on for a whole month. Everybody came but Philip. And then Philip gave Hayes the shock and surprise of his life, one day. The big, easy-going, happy, friendly stable boss—the man that people liked because he was likable, and feared because he was almost a giant—asked Hayes all about the twins! He was so humble, so pitiful, the way he did it that even Hayes almost felt sorry for him!

“I hyars you got a pair er twins down to yo’ house,” he said. “You and Caldonie.”

“Boy twins,” amended Hayes proudly.

The big stable boss fidgited—actually fidgited! “How dey gittin’ along?” he asked after an awkward minute.

Hayes was master of the situation! He had the big man “gravelin’ ”!

“Gittin’ along good,” he said. “Whyn’t you drap around and see ‘em?”

The stable boss lost his humility, and grinned. “I’ll jest do dat!” he announced. “Tonight after supper, hunh?” Hayes-spread the word to Caldonie. He tried to say it casually. “Dat stable boss countin’ on comin’ and lookin* at we’s twins tonight, Caldonie.” But he was excited.

Caldonie tried to receive the news casually too. “I’m gittin’ tired er ev’ybody comin’ to see de twins. Dey, goes on like twins is somethin’.” But she was excited, too, in a strange, disturbing way.

Philip came early. Caldonie had just finished the supper dishes when she heard him greet Hayes in the front yard.

“Dey tells me,” he said, “dat dem twins is growin’ like a weed,” he offered, pleasantly.

“Yeah,” agreed Hayes. “Dey’s doin’ good, dem boy twins er mine. Hit ain’t ev’y day a man kin git a chance to see boy twins like dem scound’els.”

Caldonie came out of the house and gave Philip howdy. She saw he had brought along his guitar, and she wondered if it would be sinful if she hoped he would play for her some.

“Whar dem twins at, gal?” he demanded cordially enough. But it disturbed Caldonie, and she instinctively knew it would be a sin to hope he would play some. It made her feel like she felt the time he whined his guitar at her and said: “Dat’s for you, you long-laigged lump er axel grease 1”

She led the way into the dark room, where the twins lay upon the spare bed. Philip bent over close to them and peered at them for a long time. “Sho’ is a fine pair er men-childs!” he announced. “Mighty fine! Look at dis’n all scrunched up, frownin’ like he’s mad at somethin’!”

“Sh-h-h-h,” warned Caldonie. “Don’t wake him up. He’ll squall. And de yuther’n’ll wake up and squall, too.”

“And you jest ought to hyar dem scound’els squall, too,” added Hayes, proudly. “Bellers like a bull. Bofe of ‘em.”

Philip grinned in the darkness. “I bet dey do,” he said.

Caldonie felt uncomfortable with her thoughts. She, a Christian wife, simply could not help comparing the big, easy-talking Philip with her insignificant, bragging little husband. She made a desperate effort to drive Philip from her mind. “Hit takes a man to be de pappy er boy twins like dem,” she said. She had heard Hayes say it hundreds of times and now she was trying hard to believe it.

But Hayes spoiled the illusion. “Yeah, hit sho’ do,” he said in his rasping little voice. “And dat’s how come. Cause I’m they’s pappy!”

In the darkness of the room, Philip put his big hand on Caldonie’s shoulder when Hayes said that, and squeezed, gently, affectionately.

For one brief torturous moment Caldonie’s blood rumbled through her veins in savage ecstasy. It was just like it had been at the ring sing when the big hand grabbed her shoulder and snatched her clothes off! But the feeling of ecstasy was followed almost immediately by one of repulsion. It was a lie in her brain left by the fevers, that having a hand tear her dress off. She recoiled from Philip’s touch, and he kept his hands to himself.

Presently they retired to the cool yard in front of the cabin. Philip talked easily with Hayes about the crops and the mules, and finally about himself. He had spent six years in Uncle Sam’s army, traveling about before he came to Whitehall to be stable boss.

“Dat Tenth Cavalry,” he said, “always was a travelin’ outfit. I was in Fort Ethan Allen, and D. A. Russell, and Huu-chu-ca, and Frisco, and mighty nigh ev’ywhars, and den us went to de Philippines, all around Manila, and a place named Mindy-now—dat’s whar dem goo-goo niggers is. And mean? Mankind 1 Dey hit you wid a bolo and chop yo’ gizzard out before you kin bat yo’ eyes! And Valivostopl Dat’s whar us stopped at to load on some coal. Dey got some drinkin’ licker made out’n rice and bramboo and stuff named vockster. And drunk you? I tuck jest two drinks and dey had to tote me on de ship in a sack!”

Caldonie was enthralled. She couldn’t help it, even if she was married. She liked talk like that. And she liked the easy, soft words that rolled from Philip’s tongue, too.

But not Hayes. “Dat’s a heap er travelin’,” he admitted.

“But all dat stuff don’t make you de pappy er a pair er boy twins like me!”

Before saying anything, Philip picked a jolly little tune on his guitar. “Yeah,” he agreed, heartily. “And hit takes a man to be de pappy er boy twins!” Another little tune tinkled from the strings. “And when hit’s a pair like dem young colts in yonder,” he added, “well, hit takes a natchal man to be they’s pappy!”

That was good talk for Hayes, and he knew he should have liked it. But he didn’t. It made him feel uncomfortable in his mind. He sat for a minute and pondered. But the more he thought about it, the more mixed it became. Finally, he gave it up. “I b’lieve I’ll git me a drink er water,” he announced. And he went to the cistern in the rear.

As soon as he left, Philip moved over and sat down by Caldonie. “What did you want to give my twins to dat runt for, baby?” he asked without any preliminaries. “Hit made me feel like my heart was layin’ out in de road and you corned along and tromped on hit like a snake.”

The question deadened Caldonie with confusion and uncertainties, and she began blubbering: “Blull-blmmm—”

“Baby, tawk straight to me,” begged the stable boss. “You hadn’t ought to gived we’s twins to dat runt.”

“I wisht deyvwas we’s,” Caldonie stated. “Efn I wan’t a Christian I could set down right now and dreen a ba’al er water outn my eyes ‘cause I ain’t married to you, instid er dat nothin’. But dey’s his twins.” And she described in painstaking detail just what had happened at the ring sing, and how Hayes was sitting right by her the next morning.

“But, darlin’,” protested Philip, “dat little worm didn’t stayed at de ring sing. He wan’t around nowhars dat night. Hit was me which grabbed you, baby. I went mighty nigh crazy, but I didn’t git so crazy so’s I couldn’t pick you outn dat ring when you passed out.”

Caldonie tried to believe it. “I wisht I knowed,” she insisted. “I wisht I knowed. Blull-mmm-oonn—” “Dem’s we’s twins,” Philip repeated, “Me and you, baby.”

Caldonie stood up. “De hot fevers tricked me, mighty nigh,” she told him. “And hyar you mighty nigh got me tricked. A big man like you kin change a woman’s mind, married or single.”

Hayes returned from the cistern and sat down. “I hyars you plays and sings right good, son,” he said in an attempt to show an informal ease that he did not feel. “Le’s hyar you sing dat Kelly’s Love Song.”

Philip fingered his strings searchingly and produced a few preliminary chords. “Dat’s a song you got to feel right to sing,” he said. “Hit’s a true love song.” He fingered a few more meaningless chords. “But I’m gonter sing a song I hyared a man sing over in Manila one time when his woman quit him.” His chords became plaintive:

Baby, ef I knowed you den, Honey, like I knows you now,

How diffunt things would be. Dey say she whiffs and smokes And tells a lot er funny jokes—

She’s de sweetheart of some yuther pal.

The song, frankly, was a failure. Philip knew it. He thought he could manufacture a song to tell Caldonie what was on his heart. But the words got mixed up. In a few minutes he got up and left, explaining that he had to get up early in the morning to feed the stock.

Caldonie and Hayes went to bed in silence. There was a tremendous worry on Caldonie’s mind, and she didn’t talk when she had a worry. Hayes, too, was upset in his mind, but he went to sleep almost immediately after he crawled into bed.

Caldonie lay by his side. The ring sing was in her mind again. Desperately, she reviewed each moment of consciousness—Bell’s whining song, Runty’s time-beating, falling, fighting, getting to her feet again, and finally, the black cloud that hid things from her mind. The cloud quickly shaped itself into Philip’s face again, and she experienced the sharp, ecstatic pain as a reality, when she imagined his hand grabbed her shoulder. But it was a lie, a trick of the hot fevers made more real by, memories of the trick that Philip tried to do to her out in the yard.

A droning mosquito sailed over her and landed on Hayes’ face. He brushed it away sluggishly and opened and closed his mouth three times, emitting a lazy, dull, smacking sound each time. Caldonie envisioned the ring sing again, and the cloud became Philip almost immediately. But it was Philip’s lie helping the fever trick. Philip was a man that a girl had to be careful around. He’d set a girl crazy in her mind, if she wasn’t careful!

The silence from the cane brake rumbled in heavily. Perspiration rolled off Caldonie in streams, and Hayes was so hot that the steam from his body heated Caldonie almost to the gagging point. One of the twins woke up and cried and Hayes opened and closed his mouth again. The twin cried again, and Hayes woke up, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hands and staring into the darkness.

When the twin cried the third time, Hayes got up, went to their bed and soothed and crooned it. When he returned to his and Caldonie’s bed, Caldonie rolled on her side, facing him.

“Hayes,” she said, as though the idea had just occurred to her, “was you at de ring sing, last fall?”

“Who? Me?” The question surprised Hayes. “How come you axin’ me dat?”

“Was you or wa’n’t you?”

“Naw,” Hayes said positively. “Didn’t you hyar de preacher say hit wa’n’t no place for fo’ks which wa’n’t married? I didn’t aim to git no sin mixed up wid my salvation.” And since she had mentioned it, there was something else that had been in Hayes’ mind for a long time. “But I bet you stayed,” he accused. “Or else, how come you tromped mighty nigh to death, when I found you layin’ out by de church?” Caldonie ignored his question, entirely. “When you found me out by de church,” she asked, “you didn’t had no sin wid me?”

“Naw, fool!” Hayes was indignant. “I’m a Christian, woman, and I and you wa’n’t married. Cou’se I didn’t had no sin wid you! Whyn’t you quit dat crazy tawk so’s I kin git back to sleep. I got to hit de field at daylight in de mawnin’.”

So Philip was right! They were his twins! The hot fevers had told her straight! Caldonie was so happy that she felt like getting out of bed, then and there, and shouting and jumping. Tears rolled down her cheeks, and she cackled and blubbered for pure joy.

But suddenly she stopped. She was a married woman and her joy was sinful. She whimpered softly, bitterly. What was a poor girl to do? Wes himself had said the Lord hit her a powerful lick with the twins. But now, with happiness just in reach, and yet so far out of reach, Wes did not know how hard the Lord had hit her! And just for one little sin, too! “Lawd, I was aimin’ to marry Philip,” she pleaded. “Lawd, I’m sorry I vexed you, please Lawd. Don’t be so hard on me.” But it was a sin for a married woman to love another man, and here she was begging the Lord to help her along with that sin! She cried herself to sleep.

By noon the next day, Caldonie had not decided what to do. But Hayes precipitated matters with his bragging. He wanted conversation, and Caldonie was moody.

“Efn you wants to hyar somebody tawk,” she told him, “whyn’t you tawk yo’ ownse’f, and den listen. I ain’t got no tawk for you.”

“Ooman!” Hayes exploded, “dat ain’t no way to short-tawk yo’ husband! And me de pappy er de onliest boy twins on de place!”

They were sitting, facing each other across the kitchen table. Caldonie stared stupidly at him for a full minute. Then, without changing the expression on her face, she broke into a high peal of laughter that was, at the same time, a cry and a scream.

Finally, when she had gained control over herself, she told Hayes the whole truth in detail. He wilted as the truth came out. Once or twice he protested that it was all a lie, but he knew it was not. Then came the final part.

“We’s married up, me and you,” Caldonie told him without a trace of bitterness, “and I don’t love you ‘cause you’s a nothinV

It was the truth. Hayes knew it; he had known it all along. “And I don’t love you, too,” he declared. “Bein’ married up wid you didn’t do me no good. De onliest thing which done me good was dem twins. And dey wan’t mine.”

“But we’s married,” Caldonie repeated with deadening precision.

Hayes’ eyes wandered about stupidly. Suddenly he caught a glimpse of the marriage license over the fireplace, and he had an idea. He got up hurriedly, pulled the paper down, and crammed it into the cook-stove fire box. “Now!” he said with a proud tone of finality. “I might be a runt, but I’m smart enough to git outn a hole you couldn’t git outn.”

But Caldonie smiled a tired smile. “I started to done dat dis mawnin’,” she said. “You kin burn up de writin’ on de paper, but you can’t burn up de words de preacher said.”

Hayes wilted again. He wandered out the front where the twins were on the pallet in the shade, and stared at them longingly, sorrowfully. There was no answer to his worry on the pallet, and he wandered off toward the barn in a daze.

Caldonie finished with the dishes and came out to look at the twins. Although her heart was heavy and tired, it was light and joyful, too. She wouldn’t sin by, loving Philip, Lord. But she knew the twins didn’t belong to the little nothing, Hayes. It was a comfort for a poor girl who had vexed the Lord. She broke a twig from a limb overhead, squatted to the ground and began waving it over the twins. “Y’all is gittin’ to look more like y’all’s daddy ev’y day,” she said.

Presently, she heard the front gate creak, and she looked up. It was Preacher Wes. He greeted her casually, sat down in a chair near the pallet and observed that the weather was pretty warm. After a few more roundabout remarks which Caldonie knew were necessary, he got down to the business of his visit.

“I jest been tawkin’ to Hayes,” he announced.

Caldonie pricked her ears, but Wes changed the subject and began talking about the twins.

In a few minutes Philip came bounding down the path, his guitar on his shoulder and a big, happy grin on his face. Behind him, hurrying with an uncertain shuffle came Hayes. They came into the yard. Philip threw himself confidently, upon the ground by Caldonie’s side, and Hayes sidled over near where Preacher Wes sat. The preacher looked at him.

“Now tell her, son,” he commanded. “Make you tawk-tawk, like you done to me.”

Hayes looked at Caldonie and then to the twins. “Caldonie,” he said haltingly, “I’m a Christian, and I ain’t gonter live in shame wid dem twins no more.” He looked hurriedly to Preacher Wes for approval.

“Dat’s right, Hayes,” the preacher told him. “Now, Philip, is you got any tawkin’ to make?”

Philip had a lot to say, but he couldn’t get his words straightened out. Suddenly he adjusted his guitar across his lap and made the little string whine at Caldonie.

Wes approved the gesture with a nod of his head. “Now, Caldonie,” he said. “You done de sin, and de Lawd vexed you wid Hayes. But de Lawd wa’n’t aimin’ to be too hard on you. He seed you sin, all right, but he seed you doin’ good, too. He had his eye on you all de time. Hayes, he gonter go jine up in Uncle Sam’s army and git smarted up and git him a woman his own size, and den you and Philip kin git married up, ‘cause de Lawd don’t aim for no woman to stay married wid a man which is travelin’ all about de country like Hayes gonter do.” That settled everything, of course. Preacher Wes had spoken.

He got up, took his hat, and wandered up the path. Caldonie and Philip edged closer together so that their bodies pressed against each other and they looked fondly at the twins. Hayes twisted his hat in his hands a few minutes, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, frequently. Once, he bent over to sit down by the pallet, but quickly changed his mind. He looked at the naked pair of men-children on the pallet that up to a few hours ago had been his own, and his only excuse for living among men. Then he backed toward the gate, his eye on the twins and on Caldonie and Philip, who now were resting the sides of their heads together as well as their bodies, and were still looking at the twins.

“Well, so long, Caldonie,” Hayes called. “I got to be gittin’ along.”

Caldonie did not look up. “So long, Hayes,” she said.

“So long,” seconded Philip politely. And then, after a minute, he whispered to Caldonie, “You like dis, hunh?”

Caldonie rolled her head around until her lips were against Philip’s ear: “Blull-mmm-buuubl-nnn—” When a girl is married to a nothing and then gets a big man like Philip to be the papa of her twins, she has to talk, but there are no words to talk it with.


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