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OR, THE SHEDDING OF THE HEART OF SIS' MYRA

BY L. FRANK TOOKER

WITH PICTURES BY CHARLES JOHNSON POST

"LD

IDDIE LADY MYRA” danced and tion of gaiety, would veil his shy love

sang no more. The washing-beach making under an incessant stream of gosno longer heard her laugh, nor the public sip. Though she never welcomed his square, when on market-days her friends coming, and rarely spoke, she missed him came down from the hills with calabashes when suddenly his visits ceased. His prespiled high with red and golden fruit, and ence had been a check on her brooding yams, and yellow meal. When, with the thoughts, and now in her long, solitary swift fall of the tropic night, the signal . vigils under the quiet stars, to her naïve, conch-shells blew along the heights, and superstitious mind every rustling leaf the chattering pleasure-seekers went past seemed a whispering voice, and the night on the dark street, the glimmer of their wind blowing across her cheek the touch light dresses Auttering in the night wind of a ghostly hand. Then one sunset she like wavering moths, she would crouch on saw his tall, shambling form come up the the door-sill, and, chin in hand, gaze out path again, and her heart stirred faintly across the darkness with sullen, hopeless with the first thrill of pleasure that it had eyes.

known for months. Nevertheless, she gave For the blight of the hoodoo was on him only a curt nod in greeting. Myra. Her piquant little face grew thin, “Well, heeh Ah am once mo', lak a and shadowy rings deepened about her bad penny,” he said lightly as he seated eyes, which gave no answering look to the himself. “Seem' lak Ah been gone a yeah." awed and furtive glances of passing She bridled at that. friends. Though she was dying there be- "Nobuddy as' yo' tow come," she said, fore their eyes, no one openly recognized "or done miss yo'.” the change. It stood like a wall between He laughed, unnoticing her mood. them, weird and mysterious, but as impas- “Ah done miss maself," he replied, "an' sable as the wall between the living and nobuddy yen’t goin' keep me away. Sis' the dead.

Rose Ma’y she done call out tow me, yen't Only Gumbo Jim braved her introspec- Ah comin' tow do Co’al Bells' ball dis tive hopelessness. Night after night he ebenin', an' Ah say I got somepin' betteh would saunter up the road, and, dropping tow do dan shakin' ma foots wid obbe on the step at her side, with a fine assump- dem-an' heeh Ah ahm a-doin' it." He

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glanced at the girl, hoping to see some gimme da chance, an' Ah lead yo' right little flicker of interest soften the impas- smack out in da sun, laughin' lak yo' ust siveness of her averted face; but saw none.

tow." He sighed, but went on:“Ah done been - She had listened, crouching low over tow St. Thomas-on business. Seem' lak her knees; but now she sprang up, Ainga long ways f'om home, Sis' Myra." ing her arms wide, like one stilling.

Forty mile'!” she said, with a scornful “It yen't no sorteh use talkin' lak dat," toss of her head.

she cried; "faw Ah done tuhn ma back “Dat so,” he agreed; "but forty mile' on joy, an' cain't tuhn no mo'. Ah nebber is bad as a million when yo' cain't see what can laugh no mo', er sing, er dance. yo'wan' tow see -- an' is longin' tow see." Ah 'm done wid obbe dem."

She made no reply, and he dropped into “ 'T will all pass erway-all pass erher silent mood, and watched the closing way," he urged. "Yo' know ma houseday. As he looked, the red, white-crossed who 's got er betteh? Yo' know mefag on the fort at the water's-edge, stand- what Ah can do faw yo'. An' Ah 'll do ing straight out on its staff, dropped it, an' mo'. Mah'y me, an' come home swiftly as the boom of the sunset gun tow joy." He looked about him with an echoed among the hills. Far down the affectation of dread as he continued: “Ah street Sis' Angelica, crying the last of her tell yo', Sis' Myra, dis yerry yen't no place hot arepas, lifted her voice in a whining faw a young gal; no 'm. Hit 's tow whistreble. On the white road, a donkey, peh’y. Heah dem trees a-blowin'! Heah drawing a high cart, trotted past with dat bird a-singin' mou’nful!" drooping head, its long ears flapping in She looked up with shuddering fear. unison with its dainty stepping. The jut “Don' Ah heah it all ?" she cried. “An' of land northward changed from white mo'; yes, mo''n yo' heah.” and green to gray and brown madder, and "Den tuhn erway wid me!" he urged. then suddenly became black. All at once "Tuhn erway, Myra gal!" the silent lover was aware of the stars A primal creature, she was being wooed blazing overhead.

by the practical side of life-she who had “Yen't yo' goin' speak tow me no mo', sung with her lost lover by moonlight on Myra?" he asked pathetically.

King Hill, and had danced with him in an She laughed with sad bitterness.

ecstasy of emotion, with the threat of “What Ah got tow speak erbout tow death in the air. She missed the romance, anybuddy?" she asked. “Ah done come but she longed, too, for rest and peace. · down tow da Valley o’ da Shadeh. An' But she could not yield. Ah 'm walkin' in da darkness; Ah cain't She sprang nervously to her feet. see da light no mo'. How Ah goin' speak “No sorteh use!” she exclaimed. “No tow yo', 'way up in da high, light places ?" sorteh use!” and passed into the house.

“Lift up yo'liddie hands, an' Ah raise He could hear her walking restlessly about yo' up,” he cried eagerly. “Lift up yo' in the dark. eyes, an' Ah draw yo' back tow da sun- It was then that Gumbo Jim, going light. Trus' tow me, Sis' Myra. Trus' away, met Sis' Mame, the obi-woman. tow me.”

She was walking in the middle of the She shook her head hopelessly.

road, shaking her head and muttering to “Dat all done pass,” she said. "Ah herself; but she turned sharply at the done been marked faw sorreh."

sound of Gumbo Jim's melancholy but He shifted his ground.

courteous, “Good ebenin', Sis' Mame." Yo' know me — what Ah ahm, " he He was passing on, but she called him pleaded. “Some folks call me Gumbo back peremptorily. Jim, an' some say Laughin' Jim. Dat 's “Seems lak some folks mighty lowright. When Trouble comes a-knockin' sperited dis ebenin'," she said good-naat ma do', Ah laugh an' say, 'Come in, ma turedly. He looked down at his feet and frien'. An' he doan' come. Ah 'm da sighed. bes' stevedo' on da beach. Missa Roach "No eend o' trouble an' mis'ry, Sis' say so; ebrybuddy say so; faw Ah doan' Mame," he replied; "no eend, an' dat 's dribe ma men: Ah lead 'em. Ah lead 'em wid a laugh. Gimme da chance, honey, “What yo' call mis’ry ?" she demanded.

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"Won't dat gal Myra look at yo'?” She Myra turned away her eyes. laughed.

"What yo' eyes faw if yo' cain't see He shuffled his feet in an embarrassed widout tellin'?" she asked sullenly. way as he replied in a low voice:

"Who? Me?" demanded Sis' Mame. “She yen't nebber goin' look at no- She lifted her claw-like hand to her mouth buddy on dis yerth, Sis' Mame: she done to hide her laughter, then leered into marked faw death.'

Myra's face, her own darkly grim. Sis' Mame laughed light-heartedly. "What ma eyes faw?" she repeated. “Plumb fool talk, Jim; plumb fool "Tow see mo' ’n yo'kin, gal — tow see da talk," she assured him. “She 's jes er- libin' an' da dead, an' obbe doin's. Huh!" sheddin' her heart.”

She snorted scornfully. He looked at her blankly, and she gave For the first time the girl looked at a little scornful sniff, and took up her her with other than indifferent eyes. A sidling march up the middle of the road grayish hue of fear settled upon her tense again; but fifty feet away, she turned face. and sent back a cackling call.

“What yo' see, Sis' Mame?" she whis“Doan' yo' b'liebe Ah know what Ah pered. know?" she snapped. “Go 'long, fool The old woman gazed long in her face. yalleh man! Ah was suckin' aigs 'fo' yo' At first the girl dropped her own eyes, but mammy cut her toofs; er yo'gran’mammy, that narrowed, unwinking look held her eider. Yah!" And turning her back like a bird in a snare. It was a serpent again, she derisively waved her staff over threatening to spring, a wave about to enher shoulder, and went muttering up the gulf her, and, like one in a nightmare, she road.

could not resist. With a moan of sur

render, she raised her eyes to its compellMYRA was sitting on the door-step in the ing insistence. hot morning sun as the figure of a woman “What yo' see, Sis' Mame?" she reappeared on the steep, white road that peated tremulously. curved upward to her gate. A brown Sis' Mame caught at the girl's dress. dress Alapped in the trade-wind about her "Ah see yo’ foots go creepin', creepin' meager form, and round her head was down in da Valley o'da Shadeh," she bound a high, spotlessly white bandana. muttered hoarsely; "Ah see yo'—" She came sidling up the road, leaning on With a little cry Myra threw her skirt a stout stick, first one long step, then two over her head and rocked to and fro in short hitches with the other foot; she terror. “Doan’ say da wud, Sis' Mame!" stopped frequently to rest. One could see she moaned. “ 'Foh Gord! doan' say da her head wag, as if she talked vehemently wud!" with herself. It was Sis' Mame.

Sis' Mame seemed not to hear. She had It was not until she turned in from the locked her hands about her knees and, road and stopped to rest under a tamarind- rocking slowly on her heels, dropped into tree that she lifted her eyes to the girl. singsong drone: "Yo' go creepin' down She cackled breathlessly, throwing back dah, an' den Ah cain't see yo' no mo', faw her head as she laughed.

dah yen't no light; an’ Ah cain't heah yo' “Oh, ma Lawd!” she exclaimed, "dis foots, faw dey done gone die; but Ah heah yerry hill done beat da ol' 'ooman! Ya! yo' soul er-flyin'roun' an' er-cryin' an' ya!” She sidled up and dropped on the er-mou’nin' 'ca'se it cain't find yo’ body. ground in front of Myra, fanning herself But Ah feel yo’ body go walkin' by; but with her skirt. “Marra, chile. Yen't yo' it doan' know, an' it doan' see, faw yo' goin' say “Marra' tow Sis' Mame, comin' soul 's done gone erway.” all da way up yerry hill faw tow see how Mlyra could hear no more. From the yo’ is ?" she demanded, glancing about her terrifying realism of Sis' Mame's picture carelessly.

of her actual dissolution she shrank with “Marra, Sis' Mame," replied the girl. an unspeakable horror that her old morbid “How yo' is dis marra ?"

resignation to the thought of death had “Me? Libely 's er lizard.” She ducked been far from bringing. With a wailing her head in soundless laughter. "How sob she threw herself forward, clasping yo' is yo'self?"

Sis' Mame's knees. “Hush, Sis' Mame! hush!" she moaned. “Yo' wan' kill me to her feet and walked back and forth bebefo' ma time! Ah don'wan' tow die lak fore Myra in a grotesque but startling dat; Ah 's tow young, Sis' Mame, tow go mimicry of Rose Mary. Then with a wag down dah in da dark all alone. Ah 's of her head, she stooped for her stick as afraid."

she added: “Ah reckon Ah 'll prance er“Yo' stop ri' dah, gal!" sternly com- long maself. Missa Sun 's gittin' mighty manded Sis' Mame. "Yo' heah me-ri' hot an' high; no place faw ol' bag er bones dah! Ah yen't say yo' was dade - ninny! lak me on da road, takin' his sass." She Dat 's jes er sign, gal; it yen't come true turned, but Myra called timidly: - yit."

“What it mean, Sis' Mame— dat sign

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"FOR HOURS THE SOLITARY GIRL WATCHED ITS SLOW MARCH

TO THE WESTERN HORIZON"

"What it mean, Sis' Mame?" gasped yo’ been see?” Her voice was husky with the girl. She shrank from the answer as unspoken dread. from a threatening blow.

"Dah yo' go!" exclaimed Sis' Mame, But Sis' Mare made no reply. With a turning with a quick look of reproach. quick revulsion to her lighter mood, she “Yen't Ah got sorreh 'nough now, widout turned to look down the hot road, ex- weah'in' maself out faw fool gals what claiming :

doan' know da shadeh f'om da sugah“Dah, now, if dah don'go Sis' Rose cane stalk?” She paused in sad deliberaMa'y lumbe'in' erlong lak en ol' cow! tion, sighed, then dolefully shaking her Va Lawd! dat 'ooman 's da beatenest! head, added: “Well, if Ah mus', Ah She sueh is. Jes watch her prance er- mus'.” She drew nearer to the girl. long!" She doubled over with laughter. "When da moon drop down behin da “Hoo-la! Ah 's goin' trim her wings faw sea-wateh tow-night, rise up an' come tow her some fine day; yas 'm.” She sprang ma do'-an' come slow. An' don' look

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behine yo', an' don' look beside yo'. Yo' doo, to be merely a place of portents and heah, gal?" And at that she turned and malign influences, and it was with the went shuffling down the hot road, with mysterious rites of the obi cult that she her snuff-colored skirt flapping straight had now to do, Myra was aware. out in the gale.

therefore with a deepening sense of her That night the moon set at eleven, and remoteness from all sympathy or aid that for hours the solitary girl watched its she again took up her slow progress toslow march to the western horizon with ward Sis' Mame's door, now ominously a gaze numbed by terror to sheer impassiveness. As it dipped to the sea, a blood- As she paused irresolutely in the open red drop seemed to elongate its lower rim doorway, it was with an assumption of and clutch at the edge of the world. With well-feigned surprise that Sis' Mame quick-beating heart, Myra watched it dis- greeted her, looking up from the lighted appear. Above her on the heights a dog brazier where she sat crouched on the howled dolefully, and a dark shape, bat or floor, warming her hands at the feeble bird, Aitted unheeded before her eyes as flame, though the night was hot and close. the red upper rim vanished and dark night "Ma Lawd, chile, is dat yo' yo'self!" fell like the sudden closing of a door. she exclaimed, lifting her hands in amazeAt that moment, as she rose, a tragic ment.

“If Ah did n' t'ink it was yo' little figure, from the door-step, she pre- ha’nt!” She ducked her head, doubling sented a well-nigh sublime example of over with laughter. “Says Ah tow mamasking flesh triumphing over the indwell- self: 'Poor Sis' Myra 's done gone at las', ing spirit. For it was as automaton, scrummagin' roun' in da dahk lak dat dis rather than as compelling mind, that she time o' night. Tow be sueh! tow be now moved mechanically to her appoint- sueh!” She laughed again, then beckoned ment, alive only to the mysterious injunc- hospitably. "What yo' standin' dah faw, tions that Sis' Mame had given her for wid yo' eyes all starry? Come in! Come her guidance.

in, if yo' cain't fin' no betteh comp’ny dan It was early in the week, and therefore er ol' open-eye lak me!” not a festival night with the negroes, and "Yo' tol me tow come, yo' know, Sis' the quiet little town had long since given Mame," Myra answered timidly, as she itself to slumber. Only the night wind, advanced uncertainly into the room."Ah softly blowing through the tops of the doan' wan' 'sturb yo'.” trees, went with her-her whispering “Who? Me?" laughed Sis' Mame, voices. Mindful of Sis' Mame's part- with scorn.

“Yen't nobuddy nor nuttin' ing injunction, she went on slowly, with goin' 'sturb no ol' fly-high, fly-low bat eyes steadfastly fixed ahead until, toil

Lawd! gal, dis jes ma time o' somely mounting the steep stairs that led day! Ah feel lak Ah got wings on ma her to Love-Lady Court, she saw within hoofs." Sis' Mame's open doorway the flickering As she spoke, she leaped to her feet, and glow of a hidden fire. Shaken by sound- shuffled through a fantastic little dance, less sobs, Myra laid her hand on the top holding her skirt high that she might of a broken wall.

watch her moving steps. Suddenly she “If yo’ ebber goin' help me, oh, sprang erect, and with wide-spread arms Lawd!" she whispered brokenly, "den whirled round and round on her toes. It help me now; faw Ah cain't go on an’ Ah was with an almost incredible suddenness cain't go back! Lemme die right heeh, that at last she paused, and with her hands Lawd, an' now! Lemme die, an' en’ ma on her knees stood leaning forward, peermis'ry!"

ing at Myra. Her pointed chin and sharp, With streaming eyes she looked up at long nose, wholly unlike the Kongo negro's, the sky, but even the stars were now hid- seemed almost to meet beyond her toothden; the wind had suddenly dropped: it less mouth. Her smile had vanished. was as if all nature stood remotely unre- Under the fixed, uncanny stare of her narsponsive to her distress. The shadowy rowed eyes, Myra's own dropped, and a world in which she had lately moved had tremulous sigh escaped her. Sis' Mame come, with her profound conviction that softly closed the door, and went back to she was under the spell of the obi, or hoo- her crouching position by the brazier.

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