seventy-two          

            Inside Zachary's waistcoat the ruby necklace throbs. He has carried it night and day since Mojo Rags bestowed it... in the forest... with an eerie admonition, lest Jewel escape forever:

"What hers once
yo's now
—keep it on yo' person

fo' witout dis jewel
you'll be by Jewel
denied"

            Zachary had resented, then rejected the notion of being denied, just as he had convinced himself that Jewel had been abducted. Yet here it was, this pendant, superstitiously retained, stowed within his pocket like a prophesying amulet. He takes it out... regards it in flickering lamplight... facets turning clockwise from a length of slender chain... counter clockwise... fragile in its beauty... clockwise... silver setting intricate... counter clockwise... hauntingly familiar... clockwise... reminiscent as a dream... counter clockwise... recurrent... clockwise... like a story oft recited:

            "Please, Beulah, tell it?"

            "Chile, I musta tol' dat tale nigh a thousan' times. How's come yo' always wantin' me tell dat one? You knows it bring a tear to Beulah's eye."

            It did, too; Beulah cried with each retelling, the characters evidently sisters-of-the-heart, one coloured, one White (a Mistress and her slave).

            'Wear dis whilst yo' birthin', Mist'ess. Mos' pow'ful charm I own. Cain't nuthin' happen in a bad way, gots dis on.'

            "Mist'ess grateful 'coun' her frail an' fearful 'bout dat birth. Went on ovah her jew'ry box an' s'lect a ruby necklace wit sterlin' silver chain. Put it 'round de slave's neck, same 's her done the charm.

            'Keep dis 'til de day yo' baby fully growed fo' to buy its freedom.'

            "Den de two women hug, deir bloated bellies nuzzlin', pressin' one 'gainst de ot'er like a pair o' fresh-bake' biscuits."

            That had been the catch phrase: "deir bloated bellies nuzzlin', pressin' one 'gainst de ot'er like a pair o' fresh-bake' biscuits" that had triggered Zachary's reaction, each and every time, imagining womb to womb, then the babies changing places: White child mothered by a Negress, black child by a corpse.

            "Dem chillen born wit'in a week o' one anot'er, dark un fust. But when de Mist'ess 'bout to d'liver, de Massah see dat charm an' calls it nigger-nonsense. Claim it supahstitious an' un-Christ'an; makes 'er take it off; t'rows it on de fire. Baby come; jus' fine. But Mist'ess; her c'mence bleedin'. Bleedin' nev' stop till Mis'tess up an' die."

            In Zachary's later variation, "Mist'ess" was killed by Zachariah barehanded, strangled when the baby she produced came black not White—a distortion of the facts but no less incredible than the story's actual outcome.

            "Massah blame de slave an' took her own chile fo' a punishmen'. Carried it to de woods an' lef' it dere fo' dead. Fo'ce its mammy be wet nurse fo' de baby what su'vive'."

            Either way, in Beulah's or Zachary's version, Zachariah proved the villain—a role for which he was lastingly despised.

            "In time, her love dat White chile same 's her own."

            "What happened to the ruby necklace, Beulah?"

            "'Less dat Massah spot it, de necklace wit de black chile, wrap' 'round 'is itty-bitty ankle. Buried, I should hope, dough de grave fo' sho' unmarked."

             Counter clockwise... clockwise... the dangling ruby turns... telling its twofold tale of abandonment and reunion.