AN AFRICAN IN WHOM WAS NO GUILE
FRANCIS CUMMINGS was born of a race that even now have few advantages, and in his youth had far less. He yet attained to that highest wisdom which taught him how to lead an upright and righteous life. Familiarly known throughout the village of Flatbush, in which he lived, as "Old Uncle Frankey," he reached extreme old age; yet those who knew him most intimately have said of him that, through this long life, they never heard of his saying anything or doing a wrong thing.
When Mrs. Stowe's novel of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was first published, some one said, in the presence of a friend who knew old Frankey very intimately, "Uncle Tom's character is unnatural." "It is not," said he: "Uncle Frankey might have stood for the model."
Humble and unassuming as was his demeanor, he was by no means an inactive Christian. He was not one of those who are passively content with doing no evil. Wherever I was called to visit the sick or the suffering of his race, I invariably found that Uncle Frankey had been there before me; his spectacles would be there lying in the open Bible, from which he had been feebly and slowly reading aloud, or I would hear his earnest tones in prayer, solemnly pleading for the sick or the dying. His broken language, his ungrammatical sentences, the figurative character of his ideas, could not lessen the strange power with which he controlled those whom he led in prayer. He seemed to address a well-beloved and visible Father, and the solemn fervor of his petitions, carried with them an assurance that they went directly to God and must be answered. Never can I forget the last prayer he made in the mission-school, of which he was a member. Perhaps he had a half-revealed consciousness that this was the last time on earth he could pray for the children, or perhaps God was already teaching him the songs of praise he was soon to sing in heaven; so were his supplications mixed with praise and his praise with supplication. He seemed to be wrestling with God for a blessing, and then, scarce finishing his petition, he broke out in thanksgiving and halleluia, as if he felt assured that God would grant what he so longed for, without forming it in words. He opened his prayer by saying, "Oh Fader, we is so gloriously tankful that we is permitted to 'semble together to praise thee;" and those words, "gloriously thankful," described exactly his frame of mind. He felt the coming glory in his heart, as we feel the summer in the sunshine of spring.
Though so old that he could only walk very feebly and slowly, he was rarely absent from our mission-school. We always felt glad when we saw him coming up the aisle, with his Bible under his arm; for, however we might feel discouraged as to the good we were doing for others, he so heartily enjoyed the exercises, that we felt sure he would be refreshed by the cup of cold water offered to God's children. Within the memory of middle-aged men and women, Uncle Frankey has always been a Christian—no one living could recall the time when he was otherwise. He had spent his whole life as a servant of God. I never felt so humble as when at time called to teach the class of which he was a member; he with his gray hair, he who had for so many years been taught of God, what could I presume to teach him? As I sat before him, shrinking at my own unworthiness, and feeling the littleness of mere human learning before this saint whom God had so filled with heavenly wisdom, he, so simply unconscious of this, would be rubbing his spectacles, and slowly putting them on, then opening his Bible, the large print of which he could barely manage to see, he would look up, wondering why I could not commence!
He was present every evening on which the children assembled to practice the hymns for their Christmas festival—he loved so much to hear them sing. But, alas for us, he did not live to see the dawn of Christmas day. On Christmas eve, while we were singing, he was dying; and we doubt not that he echoed back to us those strains of Glory to God in the highest, as the everlasting doors opened to him and the angels carried him home to God.
G. L. V.