Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mystic Doorknob

Mystic Doorknob

The grayness of morning was settling over the weather-beaten clapboard shack.  No lights glowed inside.  The gloominess inside was felt by its two occupants.  

A once beautiful  lady lay silent with closed eyes waiting on the death angel.  Margaret Lynn Hatchet, old looking beyond her thirty-four years, whispered “Elijah, come closer.”  Elijah reached for his mother’s hand saying, “I’m here, mama”.  

“Elijah, remember the glass doorknob; I keep in the old trunk. Promise me you’ll take the doorknob to Cedarbrook Plantation in Enid, Mississippi.  My  father's a wealthy man. Cedarbrook  was   the glory of the Delta.  Big white columns on the front of the house, enormous   Magnolia  and weeping willow trees  glorified the  house.   After  mother died, daddy married her sister, Betsy.  Betsy always wore black to affront the devil.  While daddy was  on  a  business trip to Memphis, she sicced   the dogs on me.  I ran thru the cotton field to the swamp.”   Before a promise was made, a rattling breath left her. A gasp was made and all was quiet.   Elijah sat with bowed head, placing her arms across her chest.  Her burial would have to be in a pauper’s grave.   

Elijah was standing on pauper soil early the next morning  watching the sunrise.  A gravedigger helped him bury his mother wrapped in a blanket.  There was no coffin or pillow for her head.  On his knees, he touched the grave saying goodbye.  

Entering the cabin, he went to the wooden trunk with ornate designs.  Inside he found a shiny glass doorknob. It was just a doorknob but he remembered light shining thru it made brilliant colors. He had spent many hours playing with it as a child.  

He left the cabin for the last time taking only a blanket, a few extra clothes and the doorknob.  Not having made plans, the place to go was the dock.  Living in New Orleans, he had seen the riverboats and heard the cry Mark Twain.  Knowing he had to travel up river, maybe he could work for his passage.

The dock was buzzing with activity. A steady stream of men were loading cargo unto the Orleans Bell. The red and white paddleboat floated serene on the calm water.  Elijah asked a burly man trying to maneuver a barrel, “Where’s  the captain?’

“Reckon that’s Captain Mayhew over there chomping on that big cigar”. Elijah got close enough to see a long scar from Captain Mayhew’s eye to his chin.   With apprehension, he asked for work on the Orleans Bell for passage upriver. Captain Mayhew looked down asking, “How old are you boy?”

Maybe he could deceive the captain by lying.  “I’m 18 and need a ride to Enid.”

“I can get you close by letting you off about thirty miles below Memphis. You’ll  have to walk the rest of the way. Get aboard and tell Jocko to put you to work.

Four days later, Elijah was  carried   ashore in a small skip.  He was told to walk north to Enid.   Finding a trail made by animals, Elijah turned north.   The land was deserted with nothing in sight.  After several  hours ,he was dirty and tired but he was determined to go a few more miles before resting. Trudging down the road, he was surprised to see a colored boy wearing patched overalls sitting on a stump with an old hound dog licking his toes.  The boy was startled to see Elijah.  “You lost.”

“No, I’ve got to go to Enid.  How  far?”

“ About ten miles or so.  Want to come home with me. My name’s Terrance. My ma will have sugar cookies.”  Following Terrance along a hidden path covered with vines, Elijah spied a rough lumbered shack with part of the roof and porch sagging.   Several dogs came running and barking.  Terrance picked up a rock and threw at them yelling, “Git back there!  Ma, I brung somebody.”

Terrance’s mother looked at Elijah said, “Child, you could use a meal. We’ve got greens, corn bread, plenty of milk and sugar cookies. What’re you doing out here?”

“I’ve got to go to Enid and find Cedarbrook Plantation.”

“That’s on down the road. I wouldn’t go there.  Talk is old Mr.  Hatchet went crazy when his only daughter died after falling off her horse.    No one’s there except the old man and Willie John, the doorman. Willie John and the old man were in Memphis when she died and she was buried  before  they got home. Talk is Mr. Hatchet shot the horse but Willie John said something just wasn’t right, that horse was gentle as a kitten.

The big house was in a field overgrown with weeds. A narrow path lead to the structure.  Looking at the dilapidated house, Elijah could tell it was once an icon of wealth and glory.  Many steps lead to the wrap-around porch and a stained glass window in the door.  No sound could be heard.  After several knocks, a sound of someone coming seemed to echo.  A man dressed in threadbare clothes that was much too big for him opened the door.
Made uneasy by the man’s staring, Elijah said,” I need to see Mr. Hatchet.”

“He doesn’t have visitors”.

"I’ve came from New Orleans. My mother, Margaret, sent him a door knob.”

Willie John’s mind flashed back over the years.  After arriving home from Memphis to hear the terrible news, Willie John had gone to Miss Margaret’s room. The inside doorknob was missing. He had heard talk that the young Mrs.  Hatchet   had  locked Margaret in her room telling the help to go to the orchard. “I’ll take you to him”.

The sound of footprints echoing in the house caused Mr. Hatchet to look into the dirt stained face of Elijah asking, "How did you get in?”
Pulling the glass doorknob out of his bundle, Elijah said, "This was my mother’s.  She was your daughter.”

“My daughter died years ago.”

“Your daughter died a week ago.  She  told  me  to give this doorknob to you.     My mother’s name was Margaret.  She said her stepmother ran her off threatening to sic the dogs on her.”

Grabbing Mr. Hatchet before he toppled out of his chair, Willie John said, "The old door is in the attic. The knob looked small in Willie John’s large hand as he slowly left to climb the stairs to the dark and moldy attic.  The doorknob was a perfect match. Willie John‘s steps was slower as he didn’t know how to face his long time friend.

Several days later, two men were hired to dig up a grave.  Identifying a brass ring as belonging to Susanne, Margaret’s personal servant, Willie John knew the younger Mrs. Hatchet had killed her to keep Margaret’s fate secret.  Willie John and Susanne were to be married after he returned from Memphis.  He was told Susanne had left with the overseer of a plantation in Louisiana.

 Cedarbrook had held many secrets.  Several weeks later, Elijah returned to New Orleans with Willie John on the Orleans Belle.  Margaret’s body was placed in a silk lined casket for a ride up river to Cedarbrook.  A tombstone of a smiling young girl on a beautiful steed marks Maragret’s rightful place in the family graveyard next to her mother.

Revia Perrigin is a M.S.C.W. graduate and life-long learner at M.U.W.; She lives in Columbus,Ms. She is from Louisville, Mississippi.  She was formerly Revia Jerenia “Jenks” Hudson.