Wednesday, June 27, 2012
“Cora, is it really you? Are these old eyes playing tricks on me?” Sophia said as she gazed into the eyes of the daughter she hadn't seen in six years.
“It's me Mama, I'm so sorry I left you and Papa. I hope you will forgive me.”
“Oh my darling girl. There is nothing to forgive. I'm just glad you are here. What kept you away for so long? Oh never mind that. Come in. Let me pour you a cup of tea. You must be hungry, I'll heat up some nice vegetable soup for you. Oh Cora, I don't know what to say. I can't believe you are standing here in my kitchen. Are you ill child?”
“I'm well Mama. I don't know where to start. Audrey came to see me. I don't remember the town we were in but I heard her call my old name. I had forgotten my name was Cora it had been so long since anyone called me that. I'm Sister Charity now. At least I think that's my name.”
“Cora, I'm going to call Doc Bailey. I want to make sure you are alright.” Sophia picked up the receiver of the telephone that was installed just a week ago. She gave the number for Doc Bailey's office to the operator and was connected. Doc's nurse told her he would be over to check on Cora.
“Doc says not to let her leave Mrs. Lynch. He is on his way.”
Doc arrived and was very gentle with Cora. He determined she was in good shape physically but wondered about her mental state. He called Sophia aside and said “I don't know much about emotional wellness. Cora seems to be in a bit of a daze. From just talking to her I don't think she was abused physically in any way. The way she describes this fellow, Brother Jeremiah, he has cast a spell over her. She has a desire to come home and be a part of her family again. I don't want to alarm you but I think Brother Jeremiah will be anxious to have Cora back. You may want to keep your doors locked for a while.”
“Thank you Doc. Mr. Lynch should be home soon. In the meantime, I think I'll load his old shotgun. Nobody is going to take my darling girl away from me again.”
Cora had gone upstairs to her old room. Her mother left it just the way it was the day Cora disappeared. She came down in one of her old dresses. The ring of flowers she had in her hair had been replaced by shiny barrettes.
“Cora, do you want to talk about what happened to you?”
“Yes, Mama, I think I'd like to talk about it but I'm not sure of all the details.”
“Let me fix you another cup of tea.”
“I remember seeing the men putting up the big tent one afternoon. A man was walking around shouting that we were all sinners and we needed to be saved. Audrey laughed and said the man was a con artist and was trying to take people's money. Sally and Maizy thought it was funny too. Audrey had to be home that night but Sally and Maizy wanted to go to the revival meeting and I said I'd go with them.
“We walked into the tent that evening and people were singing and music was playing. It was very loud and it sounded wonderful to me. Brother Jeremiah walked out on stage and he looked like an angel with his white flowing gown. When he spoke his voice was like a voice from heaven. I saw him make a man see who was blind and then he made a little boy in a wheelchair walk. I thought I was seeing miracles. He called all of us sinners up to the stage. I couldn't help myself, I got into the line and we were all singing Onward Christian Soldiers. That was always one of my very favorite hymns. As I walked by Brother Jeremiah he stopped me and told me to step aside. Sister Maude took my hand and walked me to another tent on the grounds.
“I was a little frightened but I couldn't seem to move to get back to Sally and Maizy. After the music quieted down, Brother Jeremiah came to me and asked if I would like to be one of his disciples. He said if I did become his disciple I would surely have a place in heaven through all eternity. He had such piercing eyes and I believed every word he spoke. I told him I would have to ask you and he said he already did and you said I should go with him.
“From then on, every time I asked about you and why you hadn't tried to see me he would look at me with those eyes and tell me you were happy I was with him and I should forget my earthly family because he was my family now. I thought you and Papa had given up on me and didn't want me anymore.
“Before long, he asked me to pretend to be mute and when he pushed my head and I fell down I was suppose to get up and sing. I didn't feel right about lying but he said it was what the Lord wanted me to do.
“Every few days we would move to another town. During the winter we went south where it was warmer and in the spring we would head back up north. This went on for a long time. I thought I was happy living that way because Brother Jeremiah told me I was.
“Then one day, I heard a familiar voice. She said she was my cousin Audrey. I was in Brother Jeremiah's tent that night after he pushed on my head and made me sing. She kept telling me stories about when we were children and our families and all the good times we had. I started to remember them but I didn't speak because Brother Jeremiah told me not to talk when other people were around. The big men who were always nearby made Audrey leave. I didn't want her to go because I wanted to hear more stories.
“I kept remembering the things she told me and then I started remembering other things. I remembered how you always had tea in the afternoon. How you would call me your darling girl. How Papa would light his pipe and read the newspaper after he got home from work. All these memories came back to me. I knew I had to see you again and when the train pulled into the station in Buffalo I got off and hid in the janitor's closet until the train pulled out again. I hitched a ride with a farmer who was delivering fresh eggs. He stopped at Carson's Market and I walked home from there.”
Sophia wanted to take that shotgun and hunt down Brother Jeremiah. She knew she wouldn't do such a thing but it did sound like a good idea.
Just then Burt Lynch walked in the door. He couldn't believe his eyes that his daughter was sitting at the kitchen table sipping tea.
After hugging her and breathing a sigh of relief, he listened as Sophia repeated the story she had heard.
“I'm getting the sheriff. We will track this man down and have him put away for the rest of his sorry life.”
“As much as I'd like that to happen Burt, Cora was 18 when she went with the man. In the eyes of the law she was an adult. He hasn't hurt her physically and I'm not sure mental anguish is punishable although maybe it should be.”
At that moment in the town of Lexington just outside of Buffalo, Brother Jeremiah was berating Sister Maude for letting Sister Charity slip away from them.
“Listen Jerry, I'm not her keeper. She is a grown woman and if she wants to get away from you I don't blame her. If I wasn't your wife I'd leave too. I'm getting sick and tired of traveling around with this group of hangers on. Charity was one of the nice ones. If you hadn't played games with her head she would probably be back in Buffalo married to some farm boy and surrounded by 3 or 4 children by now. Just let her go.”
“Charity is my golden goose. Do you have any idea how much money she can raise with that voice? Those suckers out there can't wait to part with their money once she starts singing.”
“How much is enough money. We could go live on an island somewhere and never work again. We have plenty of money. Your greed is going to get you in trouble. Well, I've got my own nest egg and if you insist on tracking Charity down, I am leaving you.”
“Go ahead and leave because I'm calling the boys in right now. I know exactly where she lives and I'm going to make sure I get my singing angel back. With you out of the picture, I might just make her the second Mrs. Jeremiah Hershey.”
Maude walked out of the room. She knew she wouldn't leave and she knew her husband wouldn't ever be unfaithful to her. He liked to say things just to rile her up. She wished he would listen to her and get out of the con business. She wondered if they hadn't gone too far. She knew people were donating their life savings. They had more money than they would ever be able to use. Maude was still young enough to become a mother. She wanted nothing more than to settle down in a nice little town and raise a couple of kids with Jerry.
Brother Jeremiah called in two of his thugs. He gave them the address where they could find Sister Charity with an order to bring her back to him.
Ace and Buck found the house where Charity was. They walked up to the door and knocked. They were met with two shotguns aimed directly at their faces. Charity was holding one of the guns and an older lady was holding the other.
“Ace get out of here and take Buck with you. I'm not going back and you can tell your boss to get himself another sinner. This one has been saved. The sheriff and my father are on their way to the big tent. I'm sure the sheriff can find some reason to put that man behind bars.”
“We're leavin' Charity. Don't shoot.”
“Ace, I'm tired of travelin' how about we see if we can get a factory job here in Buffalo. I understand the winters are pretty nice here.”
“I'm with you Buck. Let's let old Jerry face that sheriff by himself.”
The most the sheriff could do was convince Brother Jeremiah that it would be more pleasant for him to move on.
Jeremiah told his crew to start packing up. He wondered where Ace and Buck were with Charity and had a bad feeling when night fell and they still weren't back. Maybe Maude had a point. They could find a little place where it was warm all year. A couple of kids would be nice too. Anyway, he was getting tired of tambourine music.
Audrey Mackenzie picked up her mail at the post office. There was a letter from Cora. She couldn't wait to open it.
Dear Cousin Audrey,
How can I ever thank you for coming to see me at the revival meeting a few weeks ago. If you hadn't reminded me of all the wonderful times we had when we were young and the happy days with our families, I would still be traveling with Brother Jeremiah.
I am still trying to sort out the way my life took a turn but I do believe everything will be alright in the end.
Do you remember Elroy Perkins? He was that skinny boy who always followed me home from school. The years have been very kind to him. He is still unmarried. He said he was waiting for me to return. He is the local pharmacist now. He has asked me to marry him and I said yes. Doc Bailey thinks I should settle back into my life before I make any drastic changes. Elroy says he has waited for me this long and he can wait a few months longer. I hope you will plan to come to the wedding. I am anxious to meet your new husband.
Thank you again Audrey. Thank you for giving me back my life.
With Love and Affection, Your Cousin Cora
“Oh Mr. Parker,” Audrey said to Jackson on her way out the door. “isn't life just wonderful?”