'Sweeney, I Bid Thee Depart!'
STRAIGHTENING her long back, Mrs. Haller looked across the potato patch on which she was sprinkling Paris green, across the tomato plants, hung thickly with ripening fruit, across the strawberry patch which had yielded a rich harvest, down Lingle Street to Lanesville. She could see the tall stacks of the linoleum factory, the cupola above the watch factory, the spires of churches, the green crowns of trees. The acre of richly cultivated soil in which she stood was one of her gardens, Lanesville was the other. She carried the products of the acre into her kitchen and storage cellar in basket and wheelbarrow; the harvest from Lanesville was brought to her in automobiles and the trolley.
One extremity of her body was comfortable — the soft, stoneless earth, fine as though it had been sieved, pushed up between her toes; she knew no more delightful sensation. Contact with the earth was not only pleasant, it was healing; ignorant of the Kneipp cure, she practised some of its principles. She was herself a healer of another sort, in a line of descent as old as humanity. She believed that physical ailments were caused by evil persons or evil spirits, and the therapy she applied to her patients was designed accordingly.
Her head was not as comfortable as her feet. She had many times discouraged patients from coming to her on Monday morning; but now that none came she was irritated and disturbed. Annie Getzendaner, a little woman of considerable property, had always ignored her office hours and had brought her friends with her. Mrs. Haller knew exactly how she invited them. ‘Ach, go Mondays along! It is n’t setting so full Mondays. She has then more time.’ Annie had a large circle of relatives and friends; Mrs. Haller realized only after they had ceased to patronize her how many there had been. She had other reasons for anxiety — the depression had diminished her clientele, and a woman who made a specialty of children who were ‘liver-grown’ or had the ‘taking-off’ had robbed her of many patients.
Again she looked across the garden toward the corner. At nine o’clock she heard the feline yowl of the trolley as it turned into Lingle Street; squinting, she saw it stop, and one passenger step out. It was not Annie, or any of her relatives, but a stranger — a short, plump woman.
The little woman climbed the street, looking uneasily at Mrs. Haller’s large brick house. People said she had done very well for herself — they surely spoke the truth! Mrs. Haller was now bending low; she had a wonderful back, stiff as a yardstick when she stood up, pliable as a tapeline when she bent.
‘Hello!’ said the little woman in a shrill voice.
Mrs. Haller rose to her full height.
‘Can you tell me where Mrs. Haller lives?’ The voice was frightened as well as shrill.
‘Yes, I can.’
‘Does she live here?’
‘Do you suppose I dare see her?’
In better times Mrs. Haller would have announced, ‘You dare see her any day but Monday; Monday she must have off.’ She might have added gruffly, ‘Is she to have no time to do her work?’ This, however, was not the time for gruffness.
‘ Yes, you dare see her. Walk in.’
‘Without ringing or anything?’
Mrs. Haller rubbed the soles of her feet on the grass; then she stepped over the immaculate board walk and wiped them on a folded burlap bag lying at the foot of the porch steps. On a bench outside the kitchen door lay a large damp cloth; with this she wiped them again. The handsome linoleum which covered her wide kitchen gave her soles another pleasant sensation. She filled a basin with hot water, thoroughly scrubbed her hands and arms with homemade soap, pulled down her sleeves, and entered the main part of her house.
The first room was a kind of dining room — at least it contained a sideboard, a table, and eight stiff chairs; the second was a kind of sitting room; the third a kind of parlor. None was used for living purposes, but all were crowded with furniture. There were odd easy-chairs and rocking-chairs, — some with presentation cards still attached, — odd rugs upon the carpeted floors. The walls were thickly hung with lithographs and cheap prints, many of them holy pictures, one with a Hebrew inscription. There were few of the many denominations and sects in the county which had not had representatives seeking aid from Mrs. Haller. Chief in abundance were china and glassware — dishes, bowls, pitchers, and tumblers of all shapes, colors, and sizes. On neither shelf nor sideboard nor cupboards nor tables was there room for another article. A player piano, two talking machines, and two radios stood one against the other.
The visitor had not ventured as far as the parlor; she sat in the enclosed front porch, which was furnished with twenty chairs. Plump though she was, she appeared ill; her cheeks were pale and her expression was one of alarm. Approaching on noiseless feet, Mrs. Haller startled her so that she jumped.
‘Come inside,’ invited Mrs. Haller,
‘Are you Mrs. Haller?’
‘Yes, I am.’ Mrs. Haller led the way through the parlor into the second room. ‘Take place.’
A frequent visitor to doctors’ offices, the stranger selected a chair in the full light of the uncurtained window. Mrs. Haller did not take advantage of this observance of professional custom; she stood obstructing the light.
‘What is your name?’
The stranger’s cheeks blanched still more. ‘Brenner is my name — Mrs. Brenner.’
Mrs. Haller looked cross; Mrs. Brenner might understand the ways of ordinary doctors; she did not understand the technique of the exorcist.
‘I asked your name.’
‘ Your name — your given name.’
‘Oh! Elizabeth is my given name.’
‘Well, Elizabeth, what ails you?’
Mrs. Brenner winced as though even the description of her ailment were painful. ‘I have a lame arm from the shoulder down. My elbow is sometimes sore, and my hand is stiff.’
‘Is your one arm getting thinner as the other?’
‘How long did you have this already?’
‘A couple of years. I ’ve been to many doctors. They say it’s neuritis; they say time will cure it.’
‘Who sent you here?’
‘A long time back Annie Getzendaner told me I should come here. She said I ’d waste money elsewhere. I sure have wasted it.’ Mrs. Brenner burst into tears. ‘I have a chance to get married again, but I can ’t get married with a lame arm.’
‘Did you see Annie lately?’
‘No. Oh, can you help me?’
‘Be sure I can help you!’
‘My name’s not Mrs. Brenner,’ confessed the little woman. ‘It ’s Mrs. Shryock.’
‘So!’ Mrs. Haller took the afflicted arm in her left hand, holding it gently. She spoke in an oratorical tone. ‘Last week a woman came here to get cured from a lame arm. The doctors said it was rheumatism. It was not rheumatism; it was sweeney.’
‘Sweeney?’ Mrs. Shryock’s voice quivered.
‘Sweeney. When you have sweeney, your parts get thinner as the parts they should match, like one arm or one leg gets thinner as the other. In the end it withers away. That’s what you have in your arm. An enemy is after you, and if you had not come it would wither away.’
‘But you are yet in time.’ Mrs. Haller passed her clean, warm hand from Mrs. Shryock’s shoulder to the tips of her fingers. Behind her thumb she made the sign of the cross, and in the name of God the Father bade the sweeney depart. Twice she repeated this adjuration, until she had called upon the three Persons in the Trinity. ‘Now you can go. Come at twelve and at three, then come two more days, next Monday and the Monday after.’
‘Don’t you use oil or liniment?’ Mrs. Shryock’s voice reminded Mrs. Haller of a fine drill.
‘No, I don’t.’
‘Did you learn this from your mother or father?’
‘No, I did n’t.’
‘Where did you learn it?’
‘I learned it from a book.’ Mrs. Haller stood with arms akimbo. ‘Twelve o’clock and three o’clock.’
When Mrs. Shryock returned, Mrs. Haller had had her dinner. Her family consisted of two sons who worked at the stockyards and carried their lunch with them. The house was saturated with the hearty odor of cabbage. Mrs. Haller’s brow was clouded; apparently all her Monday-morning patients had been of Annie Getzendaner’s bringing, and apparently all had been induced to stay away. At noon she smoothed Mrs. Shryock’s arm once more and, in the names of the Trinity, again bade the sweeney depart. She had risen at four o’clock, had done a large washing, and had worked for four hours in the garden; now, having gathered the wash and folded it into the basket, she stood watching for the trolley car. Just before three o’clock it stopped again, to let Mrs. Shryock out.
The third visit differed from the others in that Mrs. Shryock carried a large parcel. Mrs. Haller knew what was in it — a glass or china bowl; and she had at least a hundred bowls, and had quietly sold two hundred to a dealer in secondhand articles.
‘Annie said you did n’t take money.’
Mrs. Haller grew furiously angry — Annie knew better than to say she did n’t take money. She did n’t ask for money, or set a price — that would have brought the law down upon her. The policemen did n’t care — she had treated more than one policeman; it was the ever-watchful, hateful Medical Society. She could not ask money; but there was nothing to prevent her taking it. The fools could lay down a greenback just as well as a bowl. Why, Annie herself had paid her hundreds of dollars! Some people had sense, some had none. A man from the country had given her ten one-hundred-dollar bills; a man from Lanesville had sent her the useless player piano, which must have cost almost as much. Neither the player piano nor the electric talking machine nor the radio had been attached; she hated noise, and of the radio she was afraid.
‘Set down what you brought,’ she said ungraciously to Mrs. Shryock. She observed that the bowl was wrapped in wrinkled paper. ‘Something she had in the house, no doubt.’
Mrs. Shryock rocked back and forth. More at home each moment, she proved to be not only anxious to acquire information but eager to impart it.
‘Annie Getzendaner has found a new doctor. I heard it this noon.’
‘A new doctor!’ Mrs. Haller sat down, her voice dripping scorn. ‘What doctor?’
‘A lady. She lives in the third house beyond the umbrella factory, going that way. She’s entirely English. She has meetings and she reads from a book. She does n’t give oils or liniments either; she reads and talks.’
‘Do they say out loud at the meeting what ails them?’
‘Nothing ails them. They’re at once cured. Many are going.’
‘Were you there?’
‘I looked in the window from the side.’
Mrs. Haller applied the third treatment so firmly that it hurt. She watched Mrs. Shryock go down the street, and saw the trolley take her away without leaving anyone in exchange. She was, in spite of her irritability, grateful to Mrs. Shryock. When her sons asked her at supper whether she had had any business, she was able to say, ‘To be sure!’ Her younger boy gave her an invitation, extended each evening but never accepted— ‘Take you to the movies, Mom.’
When the boys had driven away and darkness had fallen, Mrs. Haller put on her shoes, stepped out of her house, and locked the door. The new and almost unoccupied suburb was laid out in alleys as well as streets. One was no less visible in the alleys, but Mrs. Haller preferred them, though they were unpaved and dusty. She wore a dark gingham dress and apron and sunbonnet; no one would have guessed that in one of the Lanesville banks, deposited to her credit, lay a small fortune, its capital growing, its interest piling on interest. Almost unseen, she passed into the city. The third house beyond the umbrella factory was not hard to find, and the vantage point in the alley from which Mrs. Shryock had watched was empty. The shades in the doctor’s parlor were drawn, but a breeze, gathering momentum in the narrow space between the houses, lifted them obligingly.
The long parlor was filled with rows of chairs, and on them sat many acquaintances of Mrs. Haller’s. She saw Annie Getzendaner, meagre and brown, peering nearsightedly. ‘My, what a peaked nose!’ she thought. ‘Like a weasel she looks.’ She saw Annie’s sister-in-law, her crutches beside her. ‘Did I not cure the pain in her leg that was taken off?’ She saw Annie’s cousin, Eliza Harry, a Mennonite.
‘Her that I cured of the wildfire!’ She saw Annie’s next-door neighbor. ‘What warts she had till she obeyed me and buried the chicken head under the eaves!’
She not only saw the audience; she heard every word spoken by the doctor, who stood by a little table. She was a tall and very good-looking lady
— there was no denying that. Her hair was reddish, and her voice was like honey.
‘Thousands of mankind’s ills are entirely imaginary.’
‘There’s that fat woman,’ thought Mrs. Haller. ‘Her name’s Mrs. Lentz. She was often by me.’ She remembered hungrily the ten-dollar bill left on the table by Mrs. Lentz. ‘She had good sense.’
‘ You can create illness,’ continued the doctor. ‘If you say to your neighbor each morning, “You are pale, your eyes are dull, you’re losing weight,” you’ll make her ill. Having made her ill, you can cure her. “How well you look! How your eyes shine! You are”’
— the lady smiled, but her joke did not register — ‘ “you are a perfect thirty-six.” Soon you can restore her to the health of which you have robbed her. Let us apply the principle to ourselves. Let us sit in darkness and concentrate upon it. Let us say, “There is no illness, there is no evil.” Let us say in concert, “ I am well! I am well! I am well!” ’
Mrs. Haller stood flattened against the wall, her mouth open. The lights went out; two-score voices chanted, ‘I am well! I am well! I am well!’ A few of the voices were masculine — there must be a room into which she could not see. The lights were turned up, a collection basket was circulated. To Mrs. Haller’s outraged eyes all the bills were fives and tens. ‘So that’s how she works it!’ In profound discouragement, she made her way home.
The week was rainy and Mrs. Haller had only ten or a dozen patients in a day, a small number. No one brought her any money; bowl mounted upon bowl. Fortunately she had enough cash in the house to make her weekly deposit, and her sons need not know of her humiliation. On Monday she neglected her work and sat in the kitchen, her elbow on her knee, her chin in her hand, looking down the street. She counted back — it was three months since Annie Getzendaner or any of her friends had entered the door. She could not put out of her mind the smooth-spoken woman standing beside her little table, the attentive rows before her. ‘To think it should give so many fools!’ She remembered every word the woman had said. ‘What lies! No taking-off! No wildfire! No stomach ache!’
The nine-o’clock trolley brought Mrs. Shryock. She walked briskly up the hill and into the enclosed porch. ‘Hello!’ she called, with a familiarity which Mrs. Haller did not invite.
‘Well?’ said Mrs. Haller.
‘I ’m better. I hope I don’t put a hex on it by saying so; but I ’m better.’
Again Mrs. Haller bade the sweeney depart. ‘ Your arm’s not so thin,’ she said encouragingly. ‘I can easy tell it.’ She felt a sudden warmth toward Mrs. Shryock. ‘You can eat here. It ’s useless to go into town and back. Half past eleven I eat.’
Mrs. Shryock accepted the invitation. She followed Mrs. Haller into the garden, into the cellar, down into the yard to bring in the wash. All the time she talked. It was to Mrs. Haller’s advantage to know a great deal of the affairs of her patients, and this morning added considerably to her store of information. It was plain that Mrs. Shryock told everything she knew.
‘I belong to a club,’ she said. ‘Annie Getzendaner is a member, and Mrs. Lentz, and Annie’s sister, and lots of others. They know I ’ll soon set the day to get married, and on Wednesday when we meet I believe they’ll shower me. Sometimes we play five hundred and sometimes we play flinch, since there are some that do not hold with five hundred, and sometimes we just talk and eat. This Wednesday we ’ll likely talk and eat.’
After dinner Mrs. Haller gave Mrs. Shryock a treatment; then she sat with her on the porch. ‘You can stay,’ she invited again. ‘You can sit till it ’s time.’ She saw in her mind’s eye Annie Getzendaner and her sister and her cousin and the fat woman all listening, wide-eyed and open-mouthed; she remembered all that the goodlooking woman had said.
‘Is it Wednesday they shower you?’
Mrs. Haller rocked back and forth, her bare toes propelling her. Her eyes gleamed cunningly.
‘Annie Getzendaner’s sister that lost her leg better look out or she’ll lose yet another. You have to watch after such things. You have to keep ahead of them.’
‘I guess that ’s true,’ agreed Mrs. Shryock.
‘Mrs. Lentz is very fleshy.’
‘She sure is.’
‘What will happen to her is this — she’ll get a goitre in her neck, and she won’t know it till it ’s too late.’
Mrs. Shryock was alarmed. ‘I know a woman that was operated for goitre — she got well.’
‘That may be so. Was she fleshy?’
‘No, she was n’t.’
‘Then it could be seen in time. Mrs. Lentz has a fleshy chin. Anything could nest there.’
‘I ’d be afraid if I were so fat.’
‘You have right,’ approved Mrs. Haller. ‘Annie Getzendaner’s mother had a tumor and I banished it,’ she went on bitterly. ‘She had heart trouble, too, and of that she died; but I did n’t treat her for heart trouble. I cured Annie’s sister after her leg was amputated. The doctors took the leg, but they could n’t take the pain.’ The trolley uttered an agonizing yowl; it seemed to incite Mrs. Haller to further bitterness. ‘Annie Getzendaner! Do you know what ails her?’
‘No, I don’t.’
‘Did you take notice how brown she is?’
‘And getting browner?’
‘I thought it was sunburn.’
‘Sunburn! The gall flows from her liver into her veins and turns her blood black — that’s what ails her.’
‘Oh, my!’ gasped Mrs. Shryock. ‘Someone should tell her. I ’ll tell her.’
‘It’s not that alone,’ went on Mrs. Haller. ‘One of her sides is growing less — from the liver the effect is outward as well as inward. Outside she has sweeney.’
Mrs. Haller gave Mrs. Shryock her final treatment for the day. On Tuesday she had only six patients; one brought an old-fashioned carafe, with traces of evaporated water along its sides, one a handkerchief, the others each fifty cents.
‘Poorcattle,’ commented Mrs. Haller.
On Wednesday there were only four patients. In the evening Mrs. Haller sat on the porch looking over the garden, over streets and alleys, into Lanesville. She saw Mrs. Shryock entertaining her guests — fleshy Mrs. Lentz and opulent Annie and all Annie’s friends. What folly for them to risk their lives — to deny evil, to do nothing to make malice ineffective and to turn hatred back into the heart which conceived it!
She heard the loud chatter at Mrs. Shryock’s, the shouts of laughter; she seemed to hear also a sharp voice like a drill, now in a question under cover of the chatter and the laughter, now sinking to a whisper in vestibule or kitchen.
‘Annie, are n’t you getting very brown? It seems to me like you have such a brown spot on your cheek.’
‘Mrs. Lentz, are n’t you afraid of goitre in your chin? Have you perhaps an enemy?’
‘My arm’s better, almost well. I went to her on Lingle Street. She said it was an enemy after me. Did n’t you use to have pains in your leg that was taken off?’
In all probability there would be some girl at Mrs. Shryock’s whose lover was growing inattentive. ‘Someone is enticing him — you ought to go to her on Lingle Street; she’ll get him back! ’
With profound satisfaction Mrs. Haller heard these imagined prophecies and recommendations. ‘I give Mrs. Lentz till Monday,’ said she; ‘no longer.’
Mrs. Haller gave generous measure; Mrs. Lentz did not wait until Monday. On Thursday morning Mrs. Haller rose early, her heart lightened. By seven o’clock she had fed her men and packed their lunches and dusted the multitudinous articles in the parlor. She was not accustomed to pay heed to the shriek of the trolley until nine o’clock. At seven she looked out the window. The trolley had stopped, and eight women were getting out — one of them on crutches. They came slowdy up the hill, accommodating themselves to the lame woman, who was Annie Getzendaner’s sister, and to Mrs. Lentz, who walked heavily. Mrs. Haller was acquainted with all but two, who wore plain bonnets. It was like old times to see them coming. With delight she observed that they bore no parcels; whatever fees they proposed to give were carried in their purses.
Annie Getzendaner walked in the van, glancing sidewise like a sparrow at Mrs. Haller’s house. They entered the closed porch and there Mrs. Haller met them, standing very straight and serious.
‘Here we are,’ announced Annie with a frightened giggle, ‘in a body, like a lodge at a funeral.’
Mrs. Haller looked at Mrs. Lentz. Mrs. Lentz was very pale; she gazed now back at Mrs. Haller, now down at her own chin, which she could see plainly. It was true, as Mrs. Haller said — anything could nest there. Mrs. Haller looked at the strangers — in them was no evidence of anything out of the ordinary except their frightened stare. She looked, last of all, at Annie Getzendaner. Whether or not Annie was shrinking unsymmetrically, she was very tiny. She was also very brown. It was true that she looked a little like a weasel; she looked now like a cornered weasel.
Mrs. Haller was resolute, but she was merciful. ‘Annie can come first,’ she said. ‘Walk in the sitting room.’ She closed the folding doors between sitting room and parlor. She looked at Annie, at her little face and her little body. ‘An evil person has got the better of you,’ she said. ‘Your gall is flowing into your veins, and it ’s causing sweeney on your one side. It ’s a tall woman with red hair who wishes evil to you.’
‘A tall woman with red hair!’ gasped Annie.
‘A tall woman with red hair,’ repeated Mrs. Haller, firmly. ‘She is after many in this town. We banish first the sweeney, then the other.’
She pressed her hand down the side of Annie’s lean body, from her armpit to her thigh. In her side she drew with her forefinger a little cross. Annie closed her eyes; tears of relief stole from under her lids.
Mrs. Haller sighed. The trolley shrieked; surely it had stopped. The zero hour, she believed, was past.
‘In the name of God the Father,’ she said, solemnly, ‘sweeney, I bid thee depart! ’