Friday, August 17, 2012

A Devil in Jersey: Chapter IV

In which the Reverend and his Friends Enjoy No Respite from Their Labors, Major Zagloba Waxes Poetical, and the Reverend's Sermon is Most Rudely Interrupted

Excerpt from Samuel Longewynde, Notes upon the Investigation into the Occurrences at the village of Crosswicks, in the State of New Jersey, December 1776

Next, an examination of the blockhouse on the Luske property was conducted. Markings similar to those found on the cabin were present upon the entrance and apertures of the building. Some effort recently had been made to remove or obscure the wardings. The door was unsecured and entrance easily made.

Upon entry into the blockhouse, it was apparent that the building had not been occupied for a considerable time. There was no furniture or other items in the structure.

There was no evidence of any animal life ever having been present, neither were vermin present nor even weeds.

An examination for alchemical presences determined that some form of ritual substances had been used in the preparation of the building. Of note was the fact that no gunpowder apparently had ever been present in the blockhouse despite the obvious defensive nature of the structure.

The upper story was similarly empty. It was seen from this location that another blockhouse, about one mile distant, was visible to the south.

On the side facing the depths of the woods were three posts planted in a triangular pattern. The posts were approximately seven feet in height and six inches in diameter with warding marks visible on all three.

While the investigation of the location was underway, Major Z. had been sent for Sergeant F., with the intent of pursuing the signs left by the presumed beast responsible for the slayings.

It being on to dusk with no sign of the tracker coming, it was determined to return to Crosswicks and renew the investigation upon the morrow, following church services…

Excerpt from The Truest Son of Liberty, Being an Account of My Life Spent in Defense of the Rights of Man in the American, French, Polish, and Ruritanian Revolutions by Valeri Zagloba

While the others examined the farm of the late, lamented Luske, I remained in the carriage and took the opportunity to consult with Themis, the goddess of thought, seeking inspiration for our quest. For some reason, the Reverend Longewynde took umbrage at me for this endeavor. He veritably flung me from the carriage and stated that since I was being of no help here I should go and fetch Fenniman, and perhaps the Prince’s hunting dogs, for he intended to track the devil that very day.

Quite perplexed by the Reverend’s outrage, I set off down the long and winding path to the village. A fearsome cold snow began to fall and I was drenched and freezing within moments, cursing to myself the unjustness of the Reverend for placing me in such a situation and also cursing my own equanimity for I am so mild and humble a man that I bore this persecution without complaint.

Fortuitously, just as I was about to expire from these privations, I arrived before Bulfinch’s tavern. I staggered with my last ounce of life remaining and croaked out a plea to be saved from Boreas’ grim grasp and be provided with aqua vita.

Good Mr. Bulfinch, as sagacious an aubergier as one could imagine, saved my life by producing a small cup filled with the sustenance of life.

“Why Mr. Zagloba, you look like you should be home abed with a hot toddy,” he said whilst handing me another cup.

“What is that?” I inquired.

“A hot toddy? Why that’s a drink.”

“Why, that’s too bad,” I replied.

But his words brought to my mind our earlier dialogue concerning the fair Mrs. Dalby. Realizing that the earnest squire was likely to be following the Reverend Longewynde through the woods in search of his demon, I thought it high time I paid my respects to his undoubtedly lonely lady.

If was but a short step from thought to deed and I soon found myself crossing the village green to the fine house of the Squire. When a prim and officious servant answered my knock upon the door, I asked to see the lady of the house.

When the servant showed some reluctance to my entreaty and asked who I might be, I said, “Tell her that I am a Major in the Continental Army and a European, thereby making me irresistible to American women.”

I was instantly introduced into the well-appointed drawing room. Before me was one of the most strikingly beautiful women I had ever seen. She was about five and thirty but with lustrous raven hair and eyes as blue and deep as the heart of the sea.

Hoping to Place Horns Upon the Head of Mr. Dalby

Inspired by such beauty, I offered her Marlowe, quoth I,

Had we but World enough, and Time,
This coyness Lady were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long Love’s Day.

“I beg your pardon, sir, but may I assist you in some manner?” came her perplexed reply.

But at my back I always hear
Times winged Chariot hurrying near:
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast Eternity.

A look of trepidation entered her eyes, “What is it that you require, sir?”

The Grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

I observed that my words had the intended effect of rendering her incapable of reasoned thought. She shook visibly as I approached her and took her hand in mine. I pressed her sweet fingers to my lips and said,

Now therefore, while the youthful hew
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing Soul transpires
At every pore with instant Fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am'rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our Time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapt pow'r.

“You are a member of the Reverend’s party, I believe,” she stammered out between hurried breaths.

“No dear lady, the Reverend is part of my party.” I took her other hand in mine and pressed my lips gently to her delicate dactyls. “I am aide to General Radziwill and he commands our enterprise while I command him.”

“He is the celebrated young prince wounded at New York, is he not?” she said as she coyly pulled away from me, yet taking care not to allow her digits to escape my grasp.

“Yes, and I was by his side that day where but for me the young royal gallant would have died on that dread field.”

“How brave you must be, sir!”

“I am Zagloba, Major Zagloba. But you may call me Valeri.”

“How please I am to meet you, Valerie. You may call me Constance.”

“Oh dear Constance, how glad I am for constant shall be my love.”

“You flatter me shamelessly, Valerie, as so many of the men of Europe do. I spent my youth in England and visited the Continent many times. I do miss it so.”

“Then, dear Constance, allow me to make this drawing room a canvas on which to paint you a portrait of the continent that misses you.”

I regaled her with tales of my travels about the ancestral lands and among the courts of Europe, fashion and food first, music next.

Throughout she strove vainly to mask her growing amor for me, making inquiry as to the progress of the Reverend's investigations. To return her to more pleasant fields of endeavor, I turned our conversation to the most recent dances I had enjoyed in Paris.

When I spoke of the dances, her lustrous eyes shown with the brightness of the sun. I offered my regrets that we could not share a step, having no music. At this, she called for her servant, Tabitha. Soon a fetching young Negress came and sat at a small pianoforte that stood in the corner. Tabitha began to play most excellently, a talent boasted of by her mistress, who taught the girl herself.

I accompanied our dance with verse as a spice to our rising passion. Thus, we began with a gigue lente, to which I applied the lines,

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove…

followed by a minuet,

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant poises…

and then I swept her away with a most improper waltz,

And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

We concluded with her clinging to me and gasping for breath. I then said, “And now, from the Portuguese, our final dance - La Lambada.”

I dipped her head lowly towards the floor and pressed my lips to hers to which she responded most passionately.

At this most inopportune moment, the sounds of her husband’s arrival reached me.

I released my fair Constance, who dropped importunely to the floor. I hastened towards a window and flung it open. I easily squeezed through the small aperture. One of the advantages of never wiping the grease from my hands after dining is to have a ready source of lubricant.

As I hastened away, I heard a plaintive cry, “Do call again, Valerie.”

Excerpt from A Hussy’s Progress, the Autobiography of Moll Daggett

Chapter the Fourth
How I Become an Honest Woman, Continued

As we stood huddled about the headstone, Fenniman produced an oddly shaped stick from his pack. He said ‘twas a “dousing rod,” normally used for locating good water but it sometimes had a knack for sorting other sorts of things buried below the dirt.

Before he could commence, up returned Reverend Longwynde and company. I provided him with the intelligence regarding the late Hadley’s notes that Yap had discerned as well as our discovery of the Leeds grave.

The Reverend told Fenniman to pray continue and so the woodsman did. The stick quavered in his hands like an old man’s pickle at the Johnny Tub as he trod about the graveside. Betimes, though, he announced that there twas something underlying it, of coffin size and shape.

Then the Froggish tart, Madam de B.M., took up here jewelry and waived it about the grave. She announced in that thick, garlicky voice of hers that there was a residue of evil to be found thereunder.

Finally the Reverend had me sprinkle some holy water upon the grave. When I did so, it boiled up as soon as it touched the ground.

“Warmed by the fires of hell,” the Reverend concluded.

There was some dispute then whether to dig up the grave, but with the day quickly losing its light, the Reverend declared that he must think on whether to dig up what may be a demon’s mother and this should not be done in the dark of night with no preparations.

Thus, we all retired to the house with the Reverend retreating to the dead man’s study to examine if anything more could be gleaned from Hadley’s notes.

I concluded that this twas as fine a time as any to wet me lips at Bullfinch’s and so left quietly by the back door. Of course, that puking German catch-fart, Zizzendorf, is there laying in wait, though he claimed to be returning from the stabling the carriage horses.

“Where do you go, Madam?”

“As far away from you, ye churlish moldwarp.”

“Zen, pray, Madam, endeavor to return vithout a dosage of ze clapping, please!”

“Fie to you, ye unnatural codpealer!” I gave to him and was off.

When I arrived a few moments later at Bullfinch’s, there sat fat Mr. Zed, guzzling rum like a camel that had just cross all Araby drinks water. He called me o’er and began to regale me with his fancy about the near seduction of Squire Dalby’s dame. I soon surmised that what e’er might have passed betwixt them, there was no congress, continental or totherwise. Still, he twas a merry companion in the cups for an hour or four.

Betimes, we must leave for the good Reverend insisted that I attend his services on the morrow, split head or no. Thus we both staggered back to dead Hadley’s house, fuddled to our gills and Mr. Zed endeavoring to get hold of my maiden dalliance but to no avail for he can scarce reach o’er his great paunch, slippery from grease though he might be.

Now Hadley’s house was small and perforce I must share the attic garret with Lady Frogpond, who no doubt is convinced she breaks spring wind by the airs she so puts on. For the high and mighty froggess does not permit me to share the bed and so I must suffer on a cot neath the roof eaves. Still, I’d had worse at sea or goal but twas a crammed berth no doubt.

Now the dreams that did assail me that night were the true terror of the Nightmare what comes gallopin’. I dreamed that I was back in the study but dead Hadley hung there still, his back to me. I lifted a hand to the body that turned towards me. I saw then his face twas covered in worms and other vermin. The odor of putrescence from the dead man’s body assailed my nose. Asudden, his guts came exploding out of a distended belly. Then this foul ordure took the form of arms such as a squid might have but thrice as large and ten times as strong. They wrapped me up and began the squeezing of the breath from my body.

What Dreams May Come

I awoke with a terrible start finding the sheet had wrapped itself round my throat. At first, I thought I might return to sleep, telling myself that the dream was just the product of the night’s debauch. But I could not sleep and the more I lie there, the more that I grew afraid that the crammed place wherein I slept was closing in to crush me. Finally, I could tolerate no more and, in a panic, fled the room. I could hear that everyone in the house that eve was a stir, the Doctor especially crying out in his dreams. I came to the fire in the main hall and there was Yap sitting bolt upright, a look of fright great in his eyes. The Prince was by his side, offering some comfort by giving to the fierce Tartar a child’s toy, some sort of stuffed clothe animal shaped like a chicken-headed dragon.

I went into the yard and the Prince and Yap followed me, affecting much concern. The Prince saying he had a bad dream about wrestling with scarecrows who then burst into flames when they captured him. Yap said he too dreamed but would not speak of its portent. There we stayed until dawn, trying to cheer each other.

As the sun came up, I returned to the house to cook the breakfast, only to discover that all the victuals that the old village women had laid in for us had gone off. Of course, Mr. Z. partook of a full side of bacon notwithstanding the rot.

We all discussed the varied terrible dreams we suffered and wondered if the house truly was haunted.

When the Reverend came down, he admitted that he too had strange dreams but he had more interest in some additional notes he had discovered in the study.

“Here are a couple of notes that our good postman overlooked. I hasten to add, through no fault of his, for the writing is well neigh illegible. As I can make it out, it says,

“ I have been confirmed in my belief that the creature is supernatural. Guazzo’s Compendium Maleficarum speaks of the Sons of Lilith who lay with the daughters of Man and spawn terrible beasts that cannot be slain.

“Binsfield speaks of demons bound to their earthly mothers, who cannot stray overly distant from the womb that begat them.”

“'Binsfield' is of course De Confessionibus Maleficarum et Sagarum by Peter Binsfield and I am sure you are all familiar with Guazzo’s great work.”

“Was he the man who sold iced cweams at Wake Geneva?” asked the Prince.

The Reverend signed and shook his head, “No, he’s a famous Italian mystic of the last century.”

“Did he make iced cweam?”

“NO, he didn’t make iced cream! He was famed sorcerer and alchemist! Now, I could find neither work in this house and so I presume that Reverend Hadley availed himself of the Academy’s library at Princeton.

“These notes stand as proof that he came to believe that Mother Leeds did indeed produce this creature by unnatural means and that there is some a linkage between mother and offspring. The Reverend evidently discovered some manner of using the mother to bind the creature to a limited geography. But I cannot begin to surmise how this was done.”

Before we could discourse more, grim Bozarth arrived.

He said, “You are all still alive? And sane? The Devil must have an especially grim fate intended for you. Reverend, the congregation is gathered for your service.”

So we trooped out to the church and a better attendance I had not seen since a triple hanging on Tyburn. The Reverend insisted that we all attend, save Yap, who being of the Turk’s Faith, was excused and waited outside.

Now, I have had numerous sermons delivered to me or about me, most with the mention of Jezebel, but I must give the good Reverend his due. For a stoical man, he was as good a harp polisher as I e’er heard. There he was thumping away, preaching against the hypocrisy of them what attended to services but kept the devil in their hearts. I liked especial a bit about, “Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark…’” I fell to sleep only twice the whole two hours of his sermon.

Then there twas a bustle outside and Yap ran in to say the King’s soldiers are coming into town.

The whole crowd rushed out and I saw already crossing the village common a gaggle of foot-pounders in green coats, bearin’ short rifles and long mustaches. Behind them, coming down the road from the north was a troop of horse and a thick column of marching huffs. From the west side of the common another loose file of red-coated soldiers came running in.

Zizzendorf nodded towards the green-coats and muttered, “Deutsche jaeger.”

“Dutchmen, ye say?” I asked him. “So the English are bringing them into the fight as well?”

The silly German fumed and said, “Deutsch, not Dutch, you clod-headed trollop! We from what you call ‘Germany’ call ourselves 'Deutsche.'”

“Now what sort of a Nation tis so ashamed of itself that they masquerade as Dutchmen?”

Afore we could dispute further, a fobbin’ great bewigged officer rode up, red-faced and angry as if someone spit in his morning mush daily.

He shouted out, “I am Colonel Mayhood of His Britannic Majesty’s Forces. We are here to collect supplies for the army and route out any rebels. Any resistance shall have fatal consequences.”

Arrival of the King's Men

A couple of the Dutch green-coats by this time had wandered over to our great wagon and they commenced to jib-jabbering like monkeys at what they intended to be their plunder. Zizzendorf ran over, screeching baboonishly to them and thinks I that he will soon be shot, a thought that brightened my mood considerable.

Then the officer road up close to the good Reverend and said, “Reverend, I hope you preach loyalty to the Crown in your sermon!”

Dalby, with a quavering voice offers, “Colonel, we are all loyal subjects here. There is no need for violence.”

“Loyal, eh? A messenger brought me word this very morning that agents of the so-called Congress are being hidden here! Well Reverend, shall you make this easy upon your flock and tell me who they are?”

The Reverend looked skyward, and continued with his interrupted sermon, “The text is Matthew 23, verses 27-28, ‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.’”

And with that the Reverend began to glow with bright, heavenly light that shown forth across the whole village green.


Kelroy Was Here said...

Great stuff, as ever. I assume you were the GM and this is what the PCs did in your campaign?

bogdanwaz said...

Kelroy, thanks and yes, I was the GM for the campaign and all of the major characters were run by folks in my regular gaming group. For example, my teenage son played Leopold. That may be why some of the solutions to problems were, how to say it, unusual.