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   Chapter 19 THE SCENE SHIFTS.

Unfettered By Sutton E. Griggs Characters: 10335

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

An aged Negro woman trudged along Newton Street in the city of Chicago. The ponderous strokes of Father Time had at last bent her form forward, pushing it toward the dust whence it came. She was aided in her shuffling gait by a crooked and knotted walking stick, which she made use of with her left hand. Her attire betokened extreme poverty and was evidently unequal to the task of shielding her from the chilly winds, which sought with zeal every unprotected spot, and whipped the tears from her eyes. In her right hand she carried a small tin box, her bony fingers clasping it as tightly as they could. A shawl was thrown over her head somewhat concealing her features. Strange to say, a close inspection of the woman's face impressed one that there was cheerfulness, even happiness, written thereon, despite her forlorn condition. As she crept along she scanned the buildings closely, evidently trying to locate some particular house.

A young woman standing in the doorway of the Lincoln Hospital, attired in the garb of a sick nurse, saw the old woman drawing near. "The poor soul must be suffering greatly," said the nurse, reaching for her pocketbook. She had determined upon emptying its contents into the aged woman's hand as the latter passed by.

Instead of passing, however, the woman stopped a short distance from the nurse. Her frame shivering from cold, her eyes surveyed the entire front of the building in the doorway of which stood the nurse. Seemingly satisfied with the result of her inspection she drew nearer and said: "Leddy, please, miss, is dis de Linktum horsepittul?"

"Yes, aunty, this is the Lincoln Hospital," the nurse replied.

The woman dropped her stick and the tin box and clapped her hands, saying, "Thankee! Thankee Jesus! Thankee! Heah at las'! De ole' ship dun foun' er harbur. Got er place ter cross ober Jordun." Looking at the nurse, she said, "Chile, does yer know anyt'ing 'bout Jesus? Oh! he promis' me dis, an' he's kep' his word." Fumbling in her pocket, she drew out a soiled and crumpled piece of paper. This she handed to the nurse, who found that it entitled the woman to admission into the hospital.

"Come with me," said the nurse in kindly tones.

Gathering up her stick and tin box, she did as she was bidden. The woman was duly registered and assigned to the ward in which the nurse was an attendant.

One afternoon, the nurse sat by the bedside of her new patient humming a tune. The woman almost stopped breathing to listen. Sitting up in her bed, she said to the nurse, "Leddy, ken you fin' a pair ub specks fitten' fur one ob my age?"

"I will try, aunty," replied the nurse.

After a diligent search, the nurse succeeded in finding a pair, wondering as she searched what possible use the woman could have for them. The woman adjusted the spectacles to her eyes and bent her gaze on the nurse.

"Leddy, please sing dat chune ergin," she said.

The nurse did as requested. Before she had proceeded far with the singing, the woman burst forth, "Laws 'a mussy! Ef it ain't Lenie!"

"Aunt Catherine!" exclaimed the nurse, springing to her feet and throwing her arms around the woman's neck.

Aunt Catherine's bedimmed eyesight and impaired hearing had prevented her from discovering before this that her nurse was none other than Morlene. On the other hand, Aunt Catherine's changed appearance was what interfered with Morlene's recognition of her when they first met. When the woman said "Lenie," it was all that was needed, for it was an appellation used in addressing Morlene by Aunt Catherine only.

After many exchanges of tender greetings, Morlene disentangled herself from Aunt Catherine's loving embrace, saying, "Dear Aunt Catherine, do tell me all about yourself since the day I left you to wait on-on-Harry. I searched R-- from one end to the other, time and again, looking for you. And here you are in Chicago! Tell me how you have fared?"

"Chile," said Aunt Catherine, "seein' you, Lenie, hez driv' erway all my trubbuls. 'Pears ter me, I dun got young ergin an' am down Souf at de ole home." After an interval Aunt Catherine proceeded to tell her experiences, not, however, before she had taken the tin box from under her pillow. With that clasped fondly, she began:

"W'en I retched de city arter leavin' de ole homestid, I 'gun ter hunt fur wuck. I got er place ter cook fur er white fambly. De leddy dat hi'ed me wuzunt rich. She wus jes a good liver. Her husban's bizness fell off an' she had ter hire jes' one 'oman ter cook, an' wash, an' i'ne, an' scrub de floors, an' keep house. I wuz de fus' ter try it, but I kudden' hole out, chile. I jes' kudden'. Er sprightly gal tuck my place. Den I hed er hard time, Lenie. Yer Aunt Catharine hed ter beg frum door ter door. I slep' on bar' floors in shackly houses, dat wuz empty kase folks wouldn't rent 'um. I went to de dumps an' scratched in de trash piles fur charcoals and scraps ter burn ter keep me warm. I begged money ernuf ter cum ter Churcargo, an' heah I is. Dey tole me dat Linktum wuz frum dis State an' I wuz in hopes ub doin' bettah up heah. But, Lenie, 'pears ter me dat de po darky aint got muc

h ub er show enywhurs. I hez found it hard Norf an' Souf."

"Well, henceforth, I shall take charge of you, and walk through life by your side, my dear Aunt Catherine," said Morlene, feelingly.

The woman dropped the tin box, pulled her spectacles down a little and looked over them at Morlene. "Ain't the doctah tole yer yit?" asked Aunt Catherine, in evident surprise.

"Told me what, my dear?" enquired Morlene.

"Why, chile, I aint heah fur long. De doctahs sez I kaint git well. De gospil train dun blowed. It is rollin' into de depot. Capting Jesus is de cunducter. I hez my ticket ready." Aunt Catherine with her broken voice now tried to sing the following lines, swinging to and fro as she sang:

"De Gospil train am comin',

I heah it jes' at han',

I heah de car wheels movin',

Er rumblin' through de lan'

Git on bo'd, little chillun,

Git on bo'd, little chillun,

Git on bo'd, little chillun,

Dare's room fur many mo'."

"Yes, Lenie, I'll soon be on bo'd," resumed Aunt Catherine. "De Yankees was mighty anxious to set us poor darkeys free, but it ain't done me no good. Fack ub de mattah, Lenie, freedum mebbe good fur you young uns who wuzunt use ter de ole times. Fur your sakes I is glad its come. But I'se hed a hard time. Enyhow, it is mos' ober now. Marse Maury is ded, an' Missus is ded, an' a upstart is on de ole place, an' hez been driftin' 'bout frum 'pillar ter pos'.'" Aunt Catherine's mind now ran back to the good old past and a joyful light came into her face. "Do yer see dis tin box?" she asked, breaking her silence.

Morlene nodded affirmatively, not trusting herself to speak, so torn up were her feelings over the account of faithful Aunt Catherine's sufferings.

"Lenie," said she, leaning toward Morlene, a most serious look upon her face, "as yer value yer own soul, do wid dis tin box lack I'm gwine ter tell yer." Aunt Catherine was now speaking in low and solemn tones. "W'en yer wuz er gal, Lenie, did yer ebber heah dat our fust juty on jedgment day would be to git up frum whar eber we wuz burrit and hunt fur de diff'runt pieces ub our finger nails dat we hed cut off all through life?"

"Yes, Aunt Catherine," responded Morlene.

"Wal, dis box hez got all my finger nails dat I cut off since I wuz er gal. Bury dis box at de foot ub Maury and Missus, Lenie. W'en jedgment day comes I want ter git up wid dem. Ef my nails is burrit by dem, I'll have ter go dare whar dey is. See? Yer know white folks ginilly ain't got heart-felt 'ligun like cullud folks. But Marse and Missus shuah got shuah 'nuf 'ligun. I wants ter git up wid 'um an' stan' by 'um in jedgment, ter speak up fur um, ef eny body wants ter go ergin' um jes' kase dey is white. See? Ef dey doan b'long in hebun, den nobody doan." Here Aunt Catherine paused, the talk having nearly exhausted her.

"But, Aunt Catherine," interposed Morlene, "when you do pass away, which I hope will not be soon, let me bury your whole body where you tell me to put this tin box. Lemuel Dalton surely would not refuse to allow the fulfillment of the solemn promise made to you by Uncle Maurice and his wife."

"Chile, I hed ter sell dis ole body ter de doctah ter git mony ter lib on while heah."

"Oh, Aunt Catherine!" exclaimed Morlene, holding up her hands in horror.

"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Aunt Catherine. "That aint so bad, Lenie," she said. "I sole my soul ter Jesus long ergo, an' w'en he takes it, dese doctahs kin do whut dey choose wid my pore ole body." Morlene now burst into tears.

Lovingly Aunt Catherine stroked Morlene's hair with her hand, saying: "Bettah be laughin' fur joy, chile, fur er few more risin's an' settin's ub de sun an' I'll be in glory." Unable to longer endure the contemplation of Aunt Catherine's sufferings and approaching end, Morlene arose and fled to her room.

A few days after the conversation herein recorded Aunt Catherine passed peacefully away. The doctors that had purchased the body presented themselves and laid claim thereto. Morlene told them the story of Aunt Catherine's life of faithful service and subsequent sufferings, and begged the boon of taking the body back to Tennessee for burial. Her request was refused, however, the physicians deciding that they would not allow a matter of sentiment to stand in the way of advancing the interests of science. Taking the tin box, so solemnly committed to her charge, Morlene turned her face toward Tennessee, journeying thither to fulfill the last request of Aunt Catherine.

For some time Morlene had been pondering a proper course to be pursued toward Harry for the future, and her approaching visit to R--accentuated the matter. More and more she began to regard him as an unbalanced enthusiast, whose errors, in view of his outlook, were not altogether unnatural. Pity, deep pity, stole into her heart for poor Harry, and she decided, as her train was speeding onward, to return to him in the hope of widening his horizon and giving him a clearer view of what was required of an American citizen. If she would be of service to Harry, her train must move at a faster rate than that at which it is now traveling.

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