Hopkins, Pauline E.
|CHAPTER XVI. -- JOHN LANGLEY CONSULTS MADAM FRANCES.|
Macbeth .--Tell me, thou unknown power,--
.--He knows thy thought:
Hear his speech but say thou nought.
.--Whate'er thou art, for thy good caution thanks;
But one word more,--
.--He will not be commanded: here's another,
More potent than the first.
Many things troubled John Langley. The fact that Dora and he seemed to have lost the close relationship which had distinguished the first period of their engagement, and that she now studiously avoided him and accepted with alacrity all the attention which her childhood's lover so ardently showered upon her, did not disturb him so much as the utter indifference of Sappho Clark. How to bend her to his will was the thought which absorbed his waking hours and haunted him even in sleep. She should not escape him; on that he was determined.
This morning as he walked down town to his office he turned over various plans in his mind, and finally determined to go that very day and consult Madam Frances, who had been
When he reached the office he noticed that an invitation to a dinner given that very evening by the Canterbury Club lay upon the desk; in his absorption in other things he had forgotten the dinner. He pushed his work at the Court House to a quick finish and retraced his steps to the office, and telling the boy that he would not return before three o'clock, hurried toward the quarter of the city in which the fortune-teller lived.
J. Street is in the very heart of what is called the "Negro quarter" of the West End; it is also popularly known among colored people as "the Hill." Here Madam Frances lived in a small ten-foot wooden building which she hired.
"The Hill" has been the scene of many stirring incidents in the peculiar history of the colored people. On the J. Street side the old St. Paul's Baptist Church is situated. This historic old building was the first church the colored people owned in Massachusetts. There were five brothers--black men--bearing the name of Paul, who were educated in
St. Paul's Church became the sacred edifice where the desire for freedom was fostered in the heart of the Negro. There such men as Garrison and Phillips defied the vengeance of howling mobs that thirsted for the lives of the Negro champions.
O glorious times! who can think of them without a quicker heart-throb and a wildly fluttering pulse? O honored men! O happy dead, gone to receive the reward promised to all who do the work of the Master!
As we read of the deeds of such men the question will obtrude itself: Is it the foreordained destiny of some to achieve greatness? and if not foreordained, would these same great ones remain inert and impotent like the mediocre majority? Many of us strive to do what we can, but our efforts do not seem to amount to much. In the present emergency which confronts us as a race, no leader has yet pressed forward to take command, as in those glorious old days; no Sumner to receive upon his precious body the stripes intended for the poor, downtrodden black man.
"God rest us all--we know not what we are!
What nature wills, not what we wish, are we."
Let us press forward and take courage and do the little that we can, leaving the rest to God. The hand of the Divine Architect will fit each life into its own niche, to form an intricate whole of preconceived beauty.
Near the head of G. and P. Streets stands the well-known Twelfth Baptist Church, a split from St. Paul's, and world renowned under its beloved pastor and founder, Leonard Grimes. Just across the way, on P. Street, was the home of the venerable and honored Lewis Hayden. The history of Massachusetts is forever linked with that of the Anti-slavery Movement, and the
John reached the house and rang the bell of the quaint abode. A colored girl, who was evidently a servant, answered the ring, and told him that Madam Frances was now at lunch, and would not be at liberty until an hour later. However, he might come in and wait, if he wished, and she would ask the Madam to see him before her usual time. On second thoughts, she did sometimes see people before her hours. (This was after John had discreetly slipped a small piece of silver into her hand.) She waited on him up the narrow stairway and seated him in a small back room adjoining the audience room.
John took a seat a little behind the door, thereby being completely sheltered from observation. Indeed, a person passing the door on entering or leaving the building would not be likely to see him, and would declare the room empty; but from his seat he commanded a full view of the passageway. He had looked the bare and sparsely furnished room over and settled back in his chair for a tedious period of waiting when the door of the next room opened and his attention was attracted by the sound of a voice which he thought he knew: "That money will do what you wish for the boy, Aunt
He returned to his seat in the bare little room, holding the delicately scented piece of cambric in his hand with the feeling of a man who is on the verge of discovering something of importance to himself. He was confused and uncertain in his thoughts, but when he could command himself sufficiently to reason,
Madam Frances's niece! What could be her motive in hiding her relationship to the old fortune-teller? That she had one he was confidant. The child, too! She appeared never to have seen him before the fair. They had acted in concert. Madam Frances and the boy seemed not to know Sappho, and by their manner denied all previous knowledge of her. Here was something to unravel. But he was used to solving mysteries; it was his business. He would constitute himself a committee of investigation, he told himself; he owed it to the community, to himself, to the Smith family, who were so fond of her. So he planned that the sin of another poor human soul, a vague fraud against no one in particular but society in general, doing wrong to no one, should be suddenly stripped of its coverings. He mused here alone, buried in deep thought, forgetful of the hour and his surroundings. Uncanny shadows were filling the corners of the bare little room when an idea came to him which fairly made him
As he sat there engrossed in speculation the maid who had answered his ring came into the room to tell him that the Madam would see him. He still held the handkerchief in his hand, and said as he held it toward the girl: "The lady who just went out dropped it. I think she called Madam Frances 'Aunt Sally.'"
"Oh, yes," replied the girl, as she took it from him. "I will give it to Madam. Miss Clark comes here a great deal. She is Madam Frances's niece."
John's thoughts were in a whirl as he followed the girl to the door of the room Sappho had just quitted. Why had he never heard of this relationship before? He was quite certain that the Smiths knew nothing of it, or he would have heard it spoken of about the house or at the fair. There was a mystery, then, about her. Just at this point he awoke to a realization of the fact that he was within a darkened room. It took a moment for his eyes to become accustomed to the semi-twilight of the apartment,
"How do you do?" said a voice, and turning in the direction from whence it came he beheld the wrinkled, black face, and gaudily turbaned head of Madam Frances. As he returned her greeting another voice said:
"How d'y do? Lord love ye, how d'y do?"
Then he saw that a large green parrot was perched on the back of the chair in which Madam Frances was seated. On the table beside him was silver dish holding two large sea-green stones, in the depths of which one could easily trace the outlines of white coral islands, birds, beasts and reptiles. In one corner of the room was a large screen covered with unbleached cotton. The table beside Madam Frances held a curious instrument which resembled a ship's compass, and on its surface the signs of the zodiac came and went at the will of the seeress. Many curious things were in this darkened room, and no matter how much one might wish to disbelieve the power of this woman to foretell the future, he could not fail to be impressed with the surroundings. And, after all, our surroundings influence our lives and characters as much as fate, destiny or any supernatural agency.
Madam Frances held out her hand for her fee, and as he laid a silver dollar across her palm, she said:
"She will escape you, and you will lose the other one, too. Better stop now, and keep the one you hold."
"Keep the one you hold, fool, fool, fool!" screamed the parrot's shrill voice.
"You come to me for advice about certain property that you would like to get. There is money all about you, piles of it. You will meet one soon who will tell you something of importance concerning a large sum of money. You say you did not come here to find that out. But it is here, and the dial does not lie."
She pointed to the face of the compass-like instrument before her. John felt very uncomfortable as the old woman peered at him from eyes which, while they seemed almost sightless, yet impressed one as being able to pierce the secrets of the soul.
"There are three things you wish to ask about," she continued. "Look on the screen and behold the answer to a question."
John looked toward the screen and saw what appeared to be dim shadows forming there, which gradually took on the shape of a banquet table, and seated around it was a company of men, among whom he recognized himself and
"When you are at that table, in the company of those men, you shall have the answer to one of the questions you would ask me. Look again," she said, and John saw to his amazement that the cloth of which the screen was made had resumed its color, and another shadowy outline was beginning to form. As he gazed in wonder the outlines took shape before his astonished eyes, and he saw the altar of a church. Before a priest a man and woman knelt in bridal dress. The man placed a ring upon the woman's finger. As the picture faded the faces of the couple were turned toward him for one moment, and he recognized Sappho Clark and Will Smith.
"Look again," said the voice of the seeress. He did so, and saw before him a noble ship; on her deck stood a man and a woman. The picture faded before he could distinguish the features of either party. "These are all I am permitted to show you now," said Madam Frances. "These pictures contain the answers to your questions."
"Do I understand them to mean that I shall be defeated in my plans? that I shall not enjoy a part of the wealth which you see about me?"
"You will be defeated, and you will not enjoy
"If not a sharer of the wealth you see, what will my fate be, and in what line shall I prosper? Surely you can tell me something about my success in life."
"Enough has been shown to you. Why persist? But look again, if you will not be advised."
Again he looked at the screen, and saw dark outlines resolve themselves into shapes. He saw what appeared to be a field of ice and snow, vast and unbroken--terrible in its dreary isolation. It faded, and he turned to the fortuneteller in desperation:
"What has such a scene to do with me?"
"Remorse, remorse! who can tell the end of life?" mumbled the crone, as if in self-communion. At length she seemed to come to herself, and said in clear accents: "If you would let an old woman advise you, I should say choose the right path, no matter what the cost. But men are foolish always, foolish always for a pretty face."
She touched a bell on the table beside her, and the boy Alphonse came from behind the curtain and gravely motioned the visitor to follow him out.
"For a pretty face," croaked the parrot, rousing himself from a nap as John left the room. As he descended the stairs the words of the parrot followed him:
"Fools, fools; all men are fools for a pretty face!"
John cursed his own folly in seeking the fortune-teller's aid as he went slowly back to his office, puzzling over the things he had seen and heard. He was a well-read man, and tried to account for these strange things. He knew from reading, the mediumistic powers of all created things; he knew something of the wonderful agencies of electricity and magnetism. The appliances in the room had suggested magnetism as the medium; "yet," he argued, "the same phenomena might have been produced by the power of hypnotism." He knew enough of the latter to practice it in a way for the amusement of his young friends, but had thought himself impervious to its influence.
But with all his reasoning he could not convince himself that there was not an intelligence--invisible and intangible--that had presented to him those soul-disturbing manifestations.