Hoodooed by Alice Hegan Rice

Gordon Lee Surrender Jones lay upon what he confidently claimed to be his death-bed. Now and again he glanced furtively at the cabin door and listened. Being assured that nobody was coming, he cautiously extricated a large black foot from the bedclothes, and, holding it near the candle, laboriously tied a red string about one of his toes. He was a powerful negro, with a close-cropped bullet-head, a massive bulldog jaw, and a pair of incongruously gentle and credulous eyes.

According to his own diagnosis, he was suffering from "asmy, bronketers, pneumony, grip, diabeters, and old age." The last affliction was hardly possible, as Gordon Lee was probably born during the last days of the Civil War, though he might have been eighty, for all he knew to the contrary. In addition to his acknowledged ailments, there was one he cherished in secret. It was by far the most mysterious and deadly of the lot, a malady to be pondered on in the dark watches of the night, to be treated with weird rites and ceremonies, and to be cured only by some specialist versed in the deepest lore of witchcraft; for Gordon Lee knew beyond the faintest shadow of a doubt that a hoodoo had been laid upon him.

Of course, like most of his race, he had had experiences in this line before; but this was different. In fact, it was no less a calamity than a cricket in his leg. Just how the cricket got into his leg was a matter too deep for human speculation; but the fact that it was there, and that it hopped with ease from knee to ankle, and made excruciating excursions into his five toes, was as patent as the toes themselves.

What complicated the situation for Gordon Lee was that he could not discuss this painful topic with his wife. Amanda Jones had embarked on the higher education, and had long ago thrown overboard her old superstitions. She was not only Queen Mother of the Sisters of the Order of the Star, and an officer in various church societies, but she was also a cook in the house of Mrs. James Bertram, President of the State Federation of Women's Clubs. The crumbs of wisdom that fell from the lips of the great Mrs. Bertram were carefully preserved by Amanda, and warmed over, with sundry garnishings of her own, for the various colored clubs to which she belonged.

Gordon Lee had succeeded in adorning only three toes when he heard a quick step on the gravel outside and, hastily getting his foot under cover, he settled back on the pillow, closed his eyes, and began laboriously inhaling with a wheeze and exhaling with a groan.

The candle sputtered as the door was flung open, and a small, energetic mulatto woman, twenty years Gordon Lee's junior, bustled into the room.

"Good lan'! but it's hot in heah!" she exclaimed, flinging up a window. "I got a good mind to nail this heah window down f'om the top."

"I done open' de door fer a spell dis mawnin'," said Gordon Lee, sullenly, pulling the bedclothes tighter about his neck. "Lettin' in all dis heah night air meks my eyes sore."

The bedclothes, having thus been drawn up from the bottom of the bed, left the patient's feet exposed, and Amanda immediately spied the string-encircled toes.

"Gordon Lee Surrender Jones," she exclaimed indignantly, "has that there meddlin' ol' Aunt Kizzy been here again?"

Gordon Lee's eyes blinked, and his thick, sullen under lip dropped half an inch lower.

"Ef you think," continued Amanda, furiously, "that I'm a-goin' to keep on a-workin' my fingers to the bone, lak I been doin' for the past year, a-payin' doctors' bills, an' buyin' medicines fer you, while you lay up in this here bed listenin' to the fool talk of a passel of igneramuses, you's certainly mistaken. Hit's bad enough to have you steddyin' up new ailments ever' day, without folks a-puttin' 'em in yer head. Whut them strings tied on yer toes fer?"

Gordon Lee's wheezing had ceased under his severe mental strain, and now he lay blinking at the ceiling, utterly unable to give a satisfactory answer.

"Aunt Kizzy jes happen' 'long," he muttered presently. "Ain't no harm in a' ol' frien' passin' de time ob day."

"Whut them strings tied on yer toes fer?" repeated Amanda with fearful insistence.

Gordon Lee, pushed to the extreme, and knowing by experience that he was as powerless in the hands of his diminutive wife as an elephant in those of his keeper, weakly capitulated.

"Aunt Kizzy 'low'—I ain't sayin' she's right; I's jes tellin' you what she 'low'—Aunt Kizzy 'low' dat, 'cordin' to de symtems, she say',—an' I ain't sayin' I b'lieve her,—but she say' hit looks to her lak I's sufferin' f'om a hoodoo."

"A hoodoo!" Amanda's scorn was unbounded. "Ef it don't beat my time how some of you niggers hang on to them ol' notions. 'Tain't nothin' 't all but ignorant superstition. Ain't I tol' you that a hunderd times?"

"Yes, you done tol' me," said Gordon Lee, putting up a feeble defense. "You all time quoilin' an' runnin' down conjurin' an' bad-luck signs an' all de nigger superstitions; but you's quick 'nough to tek up all dese heah white superstitions."

"How you mean?" demanded Amanda.

Gordon Lee, flattered at having any remark of his noticed, proceeded to elaborate.

"I mean all dis heah talk 'bout hits bein' bad luck to sleep wid de windows shet, an' bout flies carrying disease, an' 'bout worms gittin' in de milk ef you leave it settin' roun' unkivered."

"Not worms," corrected Amanda; "germs. That ain't no superstition; that's a scientific fac'. They is so little you don't see 'em; but they's there all right. Mis' Bertram says they's ever'where—in the water, in the air, crawlin' up the very walls."

Gordon Lee looked fearfully at the ceiling, as if he expected an immediate attack from that direction.

"I ain't sayin' dey ain't, Amanda. Come to think of hit, seems lak I 'member 'em scrunchin' 'g'inst my teeth when I eats. I ain't sayin' nothin' 't all 'bout white folks superstitions,—I 'spec' dey's true, ebery one ob 'em,—but hit look' lak you oughtn't to shet yer min' ag'inst de colored signs dat done come down f'om yer maw an' yer paw, an' yer gran'maw an' gran'paw fer back as Adam. I 'spec' Adam hisself was conjured. Lak as not de sarpint done tricked him into regalin' hisself wid dat apple. But I s'pose you'd lay hit on de germs whut was disportin' deyselves on de apple. But dey ain't no use in 'sputin' dat p'int, 'ca'se de fac' remains dat de apple's done et."

"I ain't astin' you to dispute nothin'," cried Amanda, by this time in a high state of indignation. "I'm a-talkin' scientific fac's, an' you're talkin' nigger foolishness. The ignorance jes nachully oozes outen the pores o' your skin."

Gordon Lee, thus arraigned, lay with contracted brows and protruding lips, nursing his wrongs, while Amanda disappeared into the adjoining room, there to vent her wrath on the pots and pans about the stove.

Despite the fact that it was after eight o'clock and she had been on her feet all day, she set about preparing the evening meal for her husband with all the care she had bestowed on the white folks' supper.

Soon the little cabin was filled with the savory odor of bacon, and when the corn battercakes began to sizzle promisingly, and she flipped them over dexterously with a fork, Gordon Lee forgot his ill humor, and through the door watched the performance with growing eagerness.

"Git yerself propped up," Amanda called when the cakes were encircled with crisp, brown edges. "I'll git the bread-board to put acrost yer knees. You be eatin' this soup while I dishes up the bacon an' onions. How'd you like to have a little jam along with yer apple-dumplin'?"

Gordon Lee, sitting up in bed with this liberal repast spread on the bread-board across his knees, and his large, bare feet, with their pink adornments, rising like ebony tombstones at the foot of the bed, forgot his grievance.

"Jam!" he repeated. "Well, dat dere Sally Ann Slocum's dumplin's may need jam, er Maria Johnsing's, but dis heah dumplin' is complete in hitself. Ef dey ever was a pusson dat could assemble a' apple-dumplin' so's you swoller hit 'most afore hit gits to yer mouf, dat pusson is you."

Harmony being thus restored, and the patient having emptied all the dishes before him, Amanda proceeded to clear up. Her small, energetic figure moved briskly from one room to the other, and as she worked she sang in a low, chanting tone:

"You got a shoe,

I got a shoe,

All God's children got shoes.

When I git to heaben, gwine try on my shoes,

Gwine walk all over God's heaben, heaben, heaben.

Ever'body's talkin' 'bout heaben ain't gwine to heaben—

Heaben, heaben, gwine walk all over God's heaben."

But the truce, thus declared, was only temporary. During the long days that Amanda was away at her work, Gordon Lee had nothing to do but lie on his back and think of his ailments. For twenty years he had worked in an iron foundry, where his muscles were as active as his brain was passive. Now that the case was reversed, the result was disastrous. From an attack of rheumatism a year ago he had developed an amazing number of complaints, all of which finally fell under the head of the dread hoodoo.

Aunt Kizzy, the object of Amanda's special scorn, he held in great reverence. She had been a familiar figure in his mother's chimney-corner when he was a boy, and to doubt her knowledge of charms and conjuring was to him nothing short of heresy. She knew the value of every herb and simple that grew in Hurricane Hollow. She was an adept in getting people into the world and getting them out of it. She was constantly consulted about weaning calves, and planting crops according to the stage of the moon. And for everything in the heavens above and the earth beneath and the waters under the earth she "had a sign."

Since Gordon Lee's illness, she had fallen into the habit of dropping in to sit with him at such hours as Amanda would not be there. She would crouch over the fire, elbows on knees and pipe in mouth, and regale him with hair-raising tales of "hants" and "sperrits" and the part she had played in exorcising them.

"Dis heah case ob yourn," she said one day, "ain't no ordinary case. I done worked on lizards in de laigs, but I nebber had no 'casion to treat a cricket in de laig. Looks lak de cricket is a more persistent animal dan de lizard. 'Sides, ez I signify afore, dis heah case ob yourn ain't no ordinary case."

"Why—why ain't it?" Gordon Lee stammered apprehensively.

Aunt Kizzy lifted a bony black hand, and shook her turbaned head ominously.

"Dey's two kinds ob hoodoos," she said, "de libin' an' de daid. De daid ones is de easiest to lift, 'ca'se dey answers to charms; but nobody can lift a libin' hoodoo 'ceptin' de one dat laid hit on. I been a-steddyin' an' a-steddyin', an' de signs claim dat dis heah hoodoo ob yourn ain't no daid hoodoo."

By this time the whites of Gordon Lee's eyes were largely in evidence, and he raised himself fearfully on his elbow.

"Aunt Kizzy," he whispered hoarsely, "how am I gwine to fin' out who 't is done conjured me?"

"By de sign ob seben," she answered mysteriously. "I's gwine home an' work hit out, den I come back an' tell yer. Ef my 'spicions am true, dat dis heah is a libin' hoodoo, de only power in de earth to tek it off am ter git er bigger trick an' lay on de top ob hit. I'm gwine home now, an' I'll be back inside de hour."

That night when Amanda returned home she found Gordon Lee preoccupied and silent. He ate gingerly of the tempting meal she prepared, and refused to have his bed straightened before he went to sleep.

"Huccome you put yer pillow on the floor?" she asked.

"I ain't believin' in feathers," he answered sullenly; "dey meks me heah things."

In vain Amanda tried to cheer him; she recounted the affairs of the day; she gave him all the gossip of the Order of the Sisters of the Star. He lay perfectly stolid, his horizontal profile resembling a mountain-range the highest peak of which was his under lip.

Finally Amanda's patience wore thin.

"Whut's the matter with you, Gordon Lee Surrender Jones?" she demanded. "Whut you mean by stickin' out yer lip lak a circus camel?"

Now that the opportunity for action had come, he feared to take advantage of it. Amanda, small as she was, looked firm and determined, and he knew by experience that he was no match for her.

"'Tain't fer you to be astin' me whut's de matter," he began significantly. "De glove's on de other han'."

"Whut you 'sinuatin', nigger?" cried Amanda, now thoroughly roused.

"I's tired layin' heah under dis heah spell," complained Gordon Lee. "I knowed all 'long 'twas a hoodoo, but I neber 'spicioned till to-day who was 'sponsible fer hit. Aunt Kizzy tried de test, an', 'fore de Lawd, hit p'inted powerful' near home."

Amanda sank into the one rocking-chair the cabin boasted, and dropped her hands in her lap. Her anger had given place for the moment to sheer amazement.

"Well, if this ain't the beatenest thing I ever heard tell of in all my born days! Do you mean to say that that honery old cross-eyed nigger Kizzy had the audacity to set up before my fire, in my house, an' tell my husband I'd laid a spell on him?"

"Dat's whut de signs p'int to," said Gordon Lee, doggedly.

Amanda rose, and it seemed to him that she towered to the ceiling. With hands on hips and head thrown back, she delivered herself, and her voice rang with suppressed passion.

"Yas, I laid a spell on yer! I laid a spell on yer when I let you quit work, an' lay up in bed wid nothin' to do but to circulate yer symtems. I put a spell on yer when I nuss you an' feed you an' s'port you an' spile the life plumb outen you. I ain't claimin' 't wasn't rheumatism in the fust place, but it's a spell now, all right—a spell I did lay on yer, a spell of laziness pure an' simple!"

After this outburst the relations were decidedly strained in the little cabin at the far end of Hurricane Hollow. Gordon Lee persistently refused to eat anything his wife cooked for him, depending upon the food that Aunt Kizzy or other neighbors brought in.

To Amanda the humiliation of this was acute. She used every strategy to conciliate him, and at last succeeded by bringing home some pig's feet. His appetite got the better of his resentment, and he disposed of four with evident relish.

With the approach of winter, however, other and graver troubles developed. The rent of the cabin, which had always been promptly paid out of Gordon Lee's wages, had now to come out of Amanda's limited earnings. Two years' joint savings had gone to pay the doctor and the druggist.

Amanda gave up the joys of club life, and began to take in small washings, which she did at night. Gordon Lee, surrounded by every luxury save that of approbation, continued to lie on his back in the white bed and nurse his hallucinations.

"'Mandy," he said one morning as she was going to work, "wished you'd ast Marse Jim ef he got a' ol' pair of pants he could spare me."

Her face brightened.

"You fixin' to git up, Honey?" she asked hopefully.

"No, I's jes collectin' ob my grave-clothes," said Gordon Lee. "Dere's a pair ob purple socks in de bottom drawer, an' a b'iled shirt in de wardrobe. But I been layin' heah steddyin' 'bout dat shirt. Hit's got Marse Jim's name on de tail of it, an' s'pose I git to heaben, an' St. Peter he read de name an' look hit up in de jedgment book. He's 'lowable to come to me an' say, 'Huccome you wearin' dat shirt? Dey ain't but one James Bartrum writ down in de book, an' he ain't no colored pusson.' 'Co'se I could explain, but I's got 'splainin' 'nough to do when I git to heaben widout dat."

Amanda paused with her hand on the doorknob.

"Marse Jim'll beat you to heaben; that is, ef he don't beat you to the bad place first. You git that idea of dyin' outen yer mind, and you'll git well."

"I can't git well till de hoodoo's lifted. Aunt Kizzy 'lows—"

But the door was slammed before he could finish.

The limit of Amanda's endurance was reached about Christmas-time. One gloomy Sunday afternoon when she had finished the numerous chores that had accumulated during the week, she started for the coal-shed to get an armful of kindling.

Dusk was coming on, and Hurricane Hollow had never seemed more lonesome and deserted. The corn-shocks leaned toward one another as if they were afraid of a common enemy. Somewhere down the road a dog howled dismally.

Amanda resolutely pushed open the door of the shed, and felt her way toward the pile of chips. Suddenly she found her progress blocked by a strange and colossal object. It was an oblong affair, and it stood on one end, which was larger than the other. With growing curiosity she felt its back and sides, and then peered around it to get a front view. What she saw sent her flying back to the cabin with her mouth open and her limbs shaking.

"Gordon Lee," she cried, "whose coffin is that settin' in our coal-shed?"

The candidate for the next world looked very much embarrassed.

"Well, 'Mandy," he began lamely, "I can't say 'zactly ez hit's any pusson's jes yit. But hit's gwine be mine when de summons comes."

"Where'd you git it at?" demanded his Nemesis.

His eyes shifted guiltily.

"De foundry boss done been heah las' week, an' he gimme some money. I 'lowed I was layin' hit up fer a rainy day."

"An' you mean to tell me," she cried, "that you took that money an' spent it for a coffin, a white one with shiny handles, an' a satin bolster that'll done be wore out, an' et up by moths, 'fore you ever git a chancet to use it?"

"Couldn't you fix hit up in terbaccy er mothballs ag'in' de time I need hit?" Gordon Lee asked helplessly.

But Amanda was too exasperated this time to argue the matter. Fifty dollars' worth of coffin in the coal-shed and fifty cents' worth of coal in the bin constituted a situation that demanded her entire attention.

For six months now Gordon Lee had remained in bed, firm in the belief that he could not walk on account of the spell that had been laid upon him. During that time he had come to take a luxurious satisfaction in the interest his case was exciting in the neighborhood. Being in excellent physical condition, he could afford the melancholy joy of playing with the idea of death. He spent hours discussing the details of his funeral, which had assumed in his mind the proportions of a pageant.

Amanda, on the other hand, overworked and anxious, and compelled to forego her lodges and societies, became more and more irascible and depressed. In some subtle way she was aware that the sympathy of the colored community was solidly with Gordon Lee. Nobody now asked her how he was. Nobody came to the cabin when she was there, though it was apparent that visitors were frequent during her absence. Aunt Kizzy had evidently been busy in the neighborhood.

One night Amanda sat very long over the stove rolling her hair into little wads about the length and thickness of her finger, then tightly wrapping each with a stout bit of cord to take out the kink. When Gordon Lee roused himself now and then to inquire suspiciously what she was doing, she answered with ominous calm.

"Jes steddyin', that's all."

Her meditations evidently resulted in a plan of action, for the next night she came home from her work in a most mysterious and unusual mood. Gordon Lee heard her moving some heavy and cumbersome article across the kitchen floor, then he saw her surreptitiously put something into a tin can before she presented herself at the foot of his bed.

"'Mandy," he said, anxious to break the silence, and distrusting that subdued look of excitement in her eyes, "did you bring me dat possum, lak you 'lowed you was gwine to?"

Her lips tightened.

"Yes, I got the possum, an' also some apples fer a dumplin'; but before I lays a stick to the fire I'm goin' to say my say."

Gordon Lee looked at her with consternation. She stood at the foot of his bed as if it wore a rostrum, and with an air of detached dignity addressed him as if he had been the whole Order of the Sisters of the Star.

"I done arrive' at a decision," she declared. "I arrive' at it in the watches of the night. I'm goin' to cure you 'cordin' to yer lights an' knowledge. I'm goin' to lif' that spell ef I has to purge my immortal soul to do it."

"'Mandy," cried Gordon Lee, eagerly, "you mean to say you gwine to remove the hoodoo?"

"I am," she said solemnly. "I'm goin' to draw out all yer miseries fer the rest of yer life, includin' of the cricket in yer leg."

"'Mandy," he cried again fearfully, "you ain't gwine ter hurt me in no way, is you?"

"Not effen you do as I tell you. But fust of all you got to take the pledge of silence. Whatsomever takes place heah in this cabin to-night ain't never to be revealed till the jedgment-day. Do you swear?"

The big negro, fascinated with the mystery, and deeply impressed with his wife's manner, laid his hand on the Bible and solemnly took the oath.

"Now," she continued impressively, "while I go in the kitchen an' git the supper started, I want you to ease yerse'f outen the bed on to the floor, an' lay with yer head to the north an' your han's outspread, an' yer mind on the heabenly kingdom."

"Air you shore hit ain't gwine hurt me?" again he queried.

"Not if you do 'zactly like I say. Besides," she added dryly, "if it comes to the worst, ain't you ready an' waitin' to go!"

"Yas," agreed Gordon Lee; "but I ain't fixin' to go till I's sent fer."

It took not only time, but courage, for him to follow the prescribed directions. He had for a long time cherished the belief that any exertion would prove fatal; but the prospect of having the hoodoo removed, together with a lively curiosity as to what means Amanda would employ to remove it, spurred him to persist despite groans, wheezes, and ejaculations.

Once stretched upon the floor, with his head to the north and his arms extended, he encountered a new difficulty: his mind refused to dwell upon the heavenly kingdom. Anxiety as to the treatment he was about to be subjected to alternated with satisfaction at the savory odors that floated in from the kitchen. If the ordeal was uncertain, the reward at least was sure.

After what seemed to him an endless vigil, Amanda appeared in the doorway. With measured steps and great solemnity of mien, she approached, holding in her right hand a piece of white chalk.

"De hour has come," she chanted. "With this chalk, an' around this man, I make the mark of his image." Stooping, she began to trace his outline on the dull rag-carpet, speaking monotonously as she worked: "Gordon Lee Surrender Jones, I command all the aches an' the pains, all the miseries an' fool notions, includin' the cricket in yer leg, to pass outen yer real body into this heah image on the floor. Keep yer head still, nigger! I pass 'em through you into yer symbol, an' from thence I draws 'em out to satisfy yer mind now and forever more, amen. Now roll over to the right an' watch what's about to happen."

The patient by this time was so interested that he followed instructions mechanically. He saw Amanda dart into the kitchen and emerge with an object totally unfamiliar to him. It was a heavy, box-shaped object, attached to a long handle. This she placed on the chalked outline of his right leg. Then she stood with her eyes fixed on the floor and solemnly chanted:

"Draw, draw, 'cordin' to the law,

Lif' the hoodoo, now I beg,

An' draw the cricket

F'om this heah leg!"

And Gordon Lee, raised on his elbow, watching with protruding eyes, heard it draw! He heard the heavy, panting breathing as Amanda ran the vacuum cleaner over every inch of the chalked outline, and when she stopped and, kneeling beside the box, removed a small bag of dust and lint, he was not in the least surprised to see a cricket jump from the débris.

"Praise be!" he cried in sudden ecstasy. "De pain's done lef me, do spell's done lifted!"

"An' the cricket's done removed," urged Amanda, skilfully getting the machine out of sight. "You seen it removed with yer own eyes."

"Wid my own eyes," echoed Gordon Lee, still in a state of self-hypnosis.

"An' now," she said, "I'm goin' to git that supper ready jes as quick ez I kin."

"Ain't you gwine help me back in bed fust?" he asked from where he still lay on the floor.

"What fer?" she exclaimed. "Ain't the spell lifted? I'm goin' to set the table in the kitchen, an' ef you wants any of that possum an' sweet pertater an' that apple-dumplin' an' hard sass, you got to walk in there to git em."

For ten minutes Gordon Lee Surrender Jones lay flat on his back on the floor, trying to trace the course of human events during the last half-hour. Against the dim suspicion that Amanda had in some way outwitted him rose the staggering evidence of that very live cricket that still hopped about the room, chirping contentedly.

Twice Amanda spoke to him, but he refused to answer. His silence did not seem to affect her good spirits, for she continued her work, singing softly to herself.

Despite himself, he became aware of the refrain, and before he knew it he was going over the familiar words with her:

"Oh, chicken-pie an 'pepper, oh!

Chicken-pie is good, I know;

So is wattehmillion, too;

So is rabbit in a stew;

So is dumplin's, b'iled with squab;

So is cawn, b'iled on de cob;

So is chine an' turkey breast;

So is aigs des f'om de nest."

Gordon Lee rose unsteadily. Holding to a chair, he reached the table, then the door, through which he shambled, and sheepishly took his old place at the foot of the table. Amanda outdid herself in serving him, emptying the larder in honor of the occasion; but neither of them spoke until the apple-dumpling was reached. Then Gordon Lee turned toward her and said confidentially:

"I wished we knowed some corpse we could sell dat coffin to."