Tuesday, June 26, 2012
“Look at this Jack. A tent revival right here in Camden Corners.” Audrey said to her husband of two weeks. “This handbill says we will be saved from our sins if we attend the meeting tonight. What do you say, shall we be saved or do you like all my sinful ways?”
“I like my vixen just the way she is.” Jack said as he caught her around the waist and nuzzled her neck.
“Seriously, I wouldn't mind going tonight. I've told you about my cousin Cora who went to a revival meeting and ended up joining the followers. Aunt Sophie hasn't seen or heard from her in over six years.”
Audrey Lynch was a nurse living in Buffalo. She had a crush on Dr. Grady Murphy and convinced her friend Elizabeth to join her on a trip to Camden Corners to inquire about nursing positions at the new hospital. The hospital hadn't been completed yet and they weren't looking for nurses at the time. Audrey had led her friend on a wild goose chase just to be close to the handsome doctor. Dr. Murphy had just finished his residency with Buffalo General and was meeting with Dr. McMillan about a position with his medical practice.
Elizabeth was not happy about being a pawn in Audrey's scheme but had no choice but to go along after a sudden snowstorm hit Camden Corners stranding the ladies.
To Audrey's dismay, Dr. Murphy only had eyes for her friend, Elizabeth. It wasn't long before Audrey switched her attention to artist, Jack Mackenzie.
“Everybody that comes into the gallery is talking about this revival meeting. I heard some fellow was walking through town telling everyone to come to the meeting and be saved. Shall I bring my tambourine?”
“I can just see you marching around a tent with a tambourine and being saved.”
“I've already been saved by you. You saved me from a life of loneliness,” Jack said with a laugh.
“You, Jack Mackenzie have never been lonely in your life. Some woman is always after you. Remember Daphne St. Marie?”
“Daphne who?” he laughed.
“Hush. I'd better get to the hospital. I'll see if Elizabeth and Grady want to join us tonight. Maybe we can get a quick supper at the pub before the big meeting.”
All of Camden Corners was abuzz with talk of the tent meeting that evening. Some folks had gone the night before and had seen a man cured of his blindness. The collection plates were overflowing but Brother Jeremiah asked that those attending tonight, bring more to help him carry on the Lord's work. Leland Harvey heard the bank was inundated with folks withdrawing their savings. He stood outside the bank and tried to discourage his former customers from taking out all their money but to no avail.
“That man is trouble,” he told his wife, Millie. “I'm afraid it's going to be a mighty sad winter for those who are giving money to that so called man of the cloth. I know Eb Mendenhall will be there with his deputies but the man isn't doing anything illegal, just immoral.”
Audrey and her friends arrived in time to get a seat fairly close to the stage. The music was playing and Audrey thought back to her cousin Cora.
Audrey had been invited to go to the revival with Cora and their friends. Audrey and Cora went to the same school. They both planned to begin nursing school the following month. They had talked about being nurses for as long as Audrey could remember. Audrey stayed home that evening to help her mother bake a cake for her grandmother's 75th birthday party the next evening.
The following morning, the doorbell rang at 4:00 am. Aunt Sophie was standing at the door in her bathrobe. “Audrey, is Cora here with you? She never came home last night. Her friends said she went backstage at the revival and they couldn't find her after that. I'm so worried about her. She was always such a responsible girl.”
Audrey had never been so frightened in her life. Her cousin and best friend was missing. The people involved in the revival claimed they had not seen her. The police and sheriff's department were unable to locate any sign of her. It was assumed she had run away or had been kidnapped. How was it possible an 18 year old girl would disappear into thin air?
Brother Jeremiah was introduced by the man who was prancing through town calling everyone he saw a sinner. The music was so loud the chairs in the tent vibrated. Audrey and Elizabeth were getting into the spirit. Even Grady and an extremely skeptical Jack were tapping their feet. Brother Jeremiah had a booming voice that seemed to go right to the soles of Audrey's feet. She was beginning to see how a young girl could become mesmerized by the whole thing.
Brother Jeremiah called several folks from the audience up on stage. He began his ritual by restoring hearing in a young boy. Next a man in a wheelchair stood up and walked off the stage. The audience was cheering as Brother Jeremiah walked to a young lady who was with an older woman.
“Brother Jeremiah my daughter Charity has been mute since birth. Please wash her sins away so that she may speak.”
Brother Jeremiah put his hand to Charity's head and shouted to the heavens. Charity fell backward and was still.
Shouts could be heard through the tent. “Is she dead?” “Did he kill her?” Suddenly, Charity began to move. She stood tall, opened her mouth and started singing Onward Christian Soldiers in perfect pitch.
“Praise the Lord,” said Audrey.
Jack couldn't believe what he'd heard. “You aren't falling for that act, are you?”
“It's a miracle!”
“Audrey, what's wrong with you? It's a sham and you know it.”
“I know it's a sham. That's Cora. Charity is Cora.”
Charity was handed a tambourine and began dancing through the aisles as she sang. The woman who claimed to be her mother was emptying her pockets of dollar bills shouting thank you to Brother Jeremiah.
People appeared out of nowhere with collection plates in their hands. The plates were being filled to the brim. Jack noticed others with huge sacks emptying the plates and passing them around for more donations. He and Grady were appalled.
“Let's get out of here. I can't bear to watch this,” said Grady
“You two go ahead, I have to find Cora. Jack, will you come with me? She must have gone backstage. I can't believe she is a part of this abomination.”
“No, we will stay with you. Won't we, Grady?” said Elizabeth
The four of them headed backstage where they were stopped at the doorway by two very large men.
“My cousin is backstage, sir. Please let us pass. I must speak to her.”
“Sorry miss. Nobody goes backstage. Even a pretty little thing like you.”
Audrey began to shout, “Cora, are you back there? Where are you Cora? It's me your cousin Audrey.”
“There's nobody back here named Cora. Now get away from the door or I'll pick you up and carry you away along with your friends.”
Audrey didn't doubt for one minute that he would do just that.
Brother Jeremiah heard every word of the conversation outside the doorway. He remembered a starry eyed young girl coming backstage six years ago. She had the look of innocence. Just what he needed for his act. He took her under his wing. She was his best routine so far. She brought out the generosity in people. He wasn't about to let this cousin get anywhere near his prize disciple.
“Audrey, I think we'd better go home and try to figure out a way to see Cora. It's obvious these gentlemen are not going to let us back there.”
Audrey agreed and walked away. “Did you see the look on her face? She looked dazed. I wouldn't have recognized her had I not heard her voice. She always did have a beautiful singing voice. I don't know what to do Jack. I have to talk to her but I have a feeling those two goons aren't going to let me anywhere near her.”
On their way out of the park Audrey noticed there were several small tents in the background with one large tent in the middle of them. “I'll bet the big tent is for Brother Jeremiah and I wouldn't be surprised if Cora is sitting in that tent right now. The three of you go distract that huge man standing in front of the entrance. I'll see if I can get a peek in there.”
“I don't like this Audrey. I know you want to find your cousin but these men look very dangerous.”
“They won't hurt me. I don't think Brother Jeremiah would want the sheriff to find a beaten body on the grounds where he set up his tents.”
The three friends walked to the far end of the row of tents and started laughing and singing loudly. Just as Audrey planned. The man at the doorway walked over to see what the commotion was all about.
Audrey quietly walked to the entrance of the tent and sitting at a dressing table was her cousin.
“Cora, it's me Audrey.” she whispered.
Cora looked at Audrey with no sign of recognition. “My name is Sister Charity. I don't know anyone named Cora.”
“Oh dear, Cora, what has happened to you? You and I were best friends. Don't you remember what fun we had when we were just children? We used to go to the old swimming hole on Uncle Handley's farm. Remember we used to call him Uncle Handlebar because he had a handlebar mustache. At Christmas our papas would chop down Christmas trees for our parlors. They used to argue over which tree was the prettiest.”
Audrey kept talking about every old memory she could come up with but there wasn't any spark of recognition in Cora's eyes.
Brother Jeremiah appeared at the door and very quietly whispered in Audrey's ear that she had better leave and not come back.
Audrey turned to Cora and said “Your mama cries everyday not knowing where you are. We all still love you Cora.”
She glared at Brother Jeremiah and said “I am going to pray for you sir. I'm going to pray that you rot in Hell for what you have done to my cousin.”
She felt a familiar arm around her. It was Jack telling her she had done all she could and it was time to leave.
Audrey telegraphed her aunt that very evening telling her what transpired. She found it impossible to put a positive slant on the situation. She did tell her aunt that there was an announcement that their next stop would be in a small town outside of Buffalo a week from Thursday. If nothing else, Aunt Sophie would be able to see Cora.
Sophie was happy to hear her precious daughter was still alive. She was grateful to Audrey for trying to persuade her to remember her past. Sophie was counting the days until Thursday when she would see Cora again. She was prepared to face the fact that Cora may be lost to her forever. While sitting at her kitchen table sipping her afternoon tea, there was a gentle knock on the back door. She opened it to see Cora standing there.
“Mama, may I come home?”