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
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
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,
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"Whut you 'sinuatin', nigger?" cried Amanda, now
"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,
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
"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
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
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
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
"'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
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
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
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
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
"Gordon Lee," she cried, "whose coffin is that settin'
in our coal-shed?"
The candidate for the next world looked very much
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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;
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
"I wished we knowed some corpse we could sell dat coffin