Monday, September 3, 2012

A Devil in Jersey: Chapter VII

In Which the Reverend is Much Vexed by Mysterious Strangers



Except of Letter to Lieutenant Jonathan Longwynde from the Reverend Samuel Longewynde

…Now I can hear you now, my son, questioning why I took such a drastic step as utilizing a spell of Alignment so soon after I had used it to provide myself a glowing aspect for Colonel Maywood and his troops. As I have told you upon many occasions, it is a spell that can have the most deleterious effects upon one’s reason and should be used with the most moderation imaginable. However, I had not anticipated the near invulnerability of the demon and, when taken with the surprise it had achieved in attacking our party, I felt that the most extreme measures were needed if any of us were to escape alive.

Thus, I hazarded an alignment with Stone, taking upon my own skin the aspect of obsidian, which I knew well to be a stone of much magical properties and thus hoped to use it physically attack the demon. Upon retrospection, this was not the wisest of choices since obsidian, being a product of volcanic action, was in the nature of the element of Fire. Only too late did I realize that the demon, being a creature of the Infernal Regions, would prove to be invulnerable to such an attack. I can only blame this lapse upon the wounds I had already suffered in the encounter and the disturbed state of my wits, which had been somewhat disordered by several disturbing dreams I suffered whilst resident in Reverend Hadley’s house.

It transpired thus, Prince Leopold charged toward the creature, ridiculously shouting “Shiny!” This strange mode of attack at least had the virtue of engaging the demon’s attention and so Fenniman was able to leap onto the creature’s back and proceeded to ram the tip of the flaming powder horn in the bullet hole in the creature’s chest. Before it ignited, the demon reached behind and hurled Fennimen over its shoulder. The spry woodsman was able to roll to a stop without injury but the demon tore the flaming horn from its chest and flung into the burning copse of trees where the Hessians had died. It exploded harmlessly therein.

At this point, the Prince charged in, but the demon turn sidewise so as to avoid the direct attack. The Prince’s horse, being more judicious than its rider, came to halt while the prince did not, flying over its head, and, most unfortunately, colliding directly with me. I can only imagine the pains that the Prince suffered when he struck me, my skin being now made of stone. He collapsed at my feet.

The demon was still recovering its stance from its turn and so I took the opportunity to charge it. As I came close to the vile thing, I linked my hands and struck such a blow as would have killed any ordinary man. Much to my consternation, not only did my blow fail to inflict any harm upon the demon but I could feel strength ebbing from my own body and observed that the wound my cold iron ball had inflicted appeared to heal in an instant.

Shocked by this turn of events, I could not defend myself against the staggering blow the demon returned upon me and, as I slipped into unconsciousness, I felt its fearsome claws penetrating the flesh of my body once again.

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

Chapter the Fourth
How I Become an Honest Woman, Continued

Once we had proceeded down the path a bit, I told Zizzendorf that I could keep me feet, so he left me down, and we continued to run to the blockhouse. The Doctor had recovered from his earlier fall and was now bounding across the snow upon his spring heels in great leaps. Major Zed raced ahead us, cutting a wide if greasy path through the snowdrifts.

When I turned back, I saw to me horror that the dear Reverend had been knocked a chink and was lying in the path, his life’s blood draining from him.

Afore I could cry to Zizzendorf that we must save him, up popped the Prince. Now the bonny lad, seeing the Reverend lying lifeless, as neat as some opera buffe dancer, leapt up onto his horse, grabbed the Reverend by the shredded coat, and heaved him across the saddle. Sure, the boy might be a clot-headed idiot, but he did have a great portion of pluck.

Whilst this was occurring, his stouthearted steed, which had knelt to aid the Prince in this maneuvering, kicked back with its hind legs at the oncoming devil. The demon was further distracted by a sudden strike from a large frying pan flung by Fenniman from out of his traveling pack.

All of which conspired to give the now mounted Prince a chance to run to the blockhouse. Fenniman came too, clutching the horse’s tail and running pell-mell after. They charged directly into the blockhouse, the Prince crouching low in his saddle to get through the doorway not that clouting his head would have done an appreciable harm.

After they entered, we barred the door and several took positions at the firing slits. We could hear the devil smashing about outside, clawing at door, roof, and wall. I could feel the heat of flames breathed upon our refuge but despite the blockhouse being all of wood, no fire caught and I assumed that the magic from Hadley’s spell still granted us this respite. As occasion presented itself, one of our party would take a pot shot at the creature when it came near but this had little effect save to enrage the beast. Suffice it to say that somehow the old charms worked to protect us. After an hour or so of such impotent attack from each side, the devil gave up and went away.

Still we had been sore hurt with the Reverend on death’s door. Good Doctor McC. immediately went to work to bind the poor Reverend’s wounds and I provided what small knowledge I had as well. The Doctor applied dressings and such but then to my amazement, he produced a small Indian pipe from his coat and began blowing the smoke and breathing it out. As this was occurring, I observed that the Reverend’s wounds were beginning to heal afore me eyes and he soon came conscious though was sore weak. We next turned to Prince Leopold who had been sore hurt but not as fearful as the Parson. Here, the treatment was e’en more effective for, aside from scars across his belly, the boy was full healed in a few moments. Finally, the doctor applied some of the smoke to himself for the ills he suffered from his numerous falls.

While the Reverend rested, we had time to take stock of our situation. Twas at one point, I noticed that Zizzendorf had his eyes upon me and, if my imagination twas not running wild, they did not have the usual look of disdain in them.

Besieged

I thus spake mildly to him for what must’ve been the first time in our acquaintance.

“Mr. Zizzendorf,” says I, “of me many, many sins, ingratitude tis not one them. I do thank ye with all me heart for pluckin’ me from danger.”

He was genuinely surprised and stammered an answer, “Well… I…what I mean… the Reverend views you as an asset in his work…It would have inconvenienced him to lose you.”

“So you saved me only for the Reverend’s sake?” said I, surprised by my own disappointment.

“Well… I … myself… I consider also that you are a very adequate cook!”

Ordinarily, I would have railed at such a trite return but the silly oaf said it with such sincerity and good will that I had not the heart to berate him. Truly I must have been going soft with all the religion that was about me.

Once we twere settled, it grew exceedingly hard for me, for the walls of that blockhouse seemed to close in upon me and all I could think of was the dream I had tother night of the walls closing in upon me in dead Hadley’s house.

I was near to bursting and would have fled from the place had not Doctor McC offered that, upon his approach to the blockhouse, he had seen a body at the nearby cabin. He asked if we should not examine it.

Betimes the Reverend felt well enough that he wished to examine the body the Doctor had seen. So we all piled o’ver to the cabin, Yap excepted for to remain and watch the horses. We approached much worried and much upon our guard for the short winter day was coming to an end, using only the most discreet of links to light our way.

We saw that there, splayed out in front of the door was the body of a man with great, fresh blood spattered about it on the ice. Now I had seen a few that was murdered in my life, especially during my days in London but I had ne’er seen a body in such a state. He was lying on his stomach and when we turned him o’er we saw that he had been ripped from stem to stern and his guts came spilling out upon snow.

Young Bozarth, after being sick at the sight, recognized him as a farmer of the village, one Ramsey by name and one of the congregation Elders, having inherited that office from his father. This elder Ramsey had been one of them that had originally agreed to Reverend Hadley to stand watch for the devil. The younger Ramsey whose body now lay before us had argued to the village before our arrival that the sons of the Elders owed a family’s duty. Thus he had volunteered to come back to take up his father’s stance and hold back the devil.

Twas clear he had just arrived that day. Fresh footprints were in the snow and we could hear his horse in the barn that stood behind the cabin.

There was a big pile of provisions, mostly hardtack and bacon sitting on the floor. That twas until Major Zed dove into the pile and ate them, the bacon still being raw.
There were woodworking tools lying strewn about the floor. Twas then the Doctor noticed that the wards and charms carved upon the house were freshly renewed and the posts outside the blockhouse had been carefully placed back in order. Among Ramsey’s baggage, we found an aged sheet containing the charms and designs copied no doubt from Reverend Hadley’s original notes.

Reverend L concluded that this Ramsey must have been endeavoring to restore this watch post and our survival proved that he had had some success. He must have been lured out by the same method as the others had been, perhaps the same urgings I had felt to flee the blockhouse, and so killed by the terrible demon.

In darkness then, we buried Ramsey and the two Hessians whose burned corpses we retrieved from the burned woods. While the Reverend said words o’er their graves, I wondered how many more would perish from this creature’s wrath.

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 Valerian Zagloba

With the knowledge that the blockhouse and cabin were places of sanctuary, we determined to enjoy the sleep of the worthy. I thus took a place to ease my ill-used body and soon found myself in sweet Morpheus’ embrace although still quite famished from our endeavors. It was the first night of blessed, peaceful sleep that we had had since setting forth upon this road of trials.

The next morn we were greeted by dazzling Helios shimmering off the Hyperboreal mantel. We were all in better spirits though to refresh myself I had only my small reserve cordial, a flask of pure vodka, kept sown into the lining of my coat for just such a quandary.

The Reverend, though still sorely injured indicated his desire to examine the last of the three blockhouses before we returned to Crosswicks. I protested most vehemently since there was a poverty of provisions that we could not be expected to further our inquiries being so close to starvation. I argued that we should return to the village and there revive our taxed constitutions before engaging the enemy again.

However, my entreaties proved of no avail. The travails of the previous day had left their mark upon our party who showed much lassitude to my complaints, even though these were raised upon their behalf. Thus we found ourselves, famished, journeying to the McKann residence, site of what had been the final last murder but now, with the killing of Ramsey, becoming penultimate in that distinction.

It was but a mile or so between the two farmsteads but even so, it was a hard journey, there being no path and we had to pick our way through the woods that were copious with snow. I must mention that I was quite famished and weak from hunger but endeavored to do my duty and thus provided protection to the ladies of our party by taking position betwixt and somewhat behind them, that I might be available to defend or rescue them in the event of further misadventure.

We had only but shortly left the enhutment when Fennimen signified to us that he had discerned some riders moving parallel to us along a low ridge to our left. We all halted our progress and attended these newcomers.

All of us that is save His Royal Distractedness. As before, the effervescent Prince and his hounds, lead the way. Whether it was the finest of the day, the well-being felt after a good repose, or the more likely case of witlessness, the utterly chocolate-brained noble rode on despite our efforts to signal him to halt.

It was clear that a large party of brigands, no doubt the infamous Pine Robbers, had crossed our path. Far from showing any fear, our party showed a fortitude bordering on recklessness, most no doubt believing that having faced one of Satan’s children, mere banditti would hardly be cause for fret. Fennimen, Yap, and Mrs. Dagget vanished from sight, using the foliage to obscure their presence. Even Dr. McCleane and Madame retired from view, leaving only myself, the Reverend and Bozarth the Younger to defy the highwaymen.

The Pine Robbers Watch

It was at this juncture that a most charming smell came to my nose, that of cruciferous vegetable reminiscent of simple turnip soup but with a rawer piquancy. Unable to control the calls of my hunger I ran ahead.

Imagine the disappointment then, when, rather than a charming meal, I found several of the marauders lying in wait with the Prince as their captive. They were holding him pinion with a very large turnip shoved in his mouth.

As I later learned, after the bumbling prince had ridden ahead of us, he suddenly encountered a great tree branch that was used to knock him off his horse. The robbers soon trussed him up and shoved a turnip in his mouth as the quickest means of gagging him, telling him that he would not now be able to call his diminutive squirrelly minions to his aid.

Thus, I encountered him as well as the muskets and pistols of the latrones. Not wishing to bring harm to the young dolt-melon, I was forced to surrender. The brigands then with muskets and pistols directed at both of us, marched us back toward the clearing in which I had left our party.

When it was clear that Reverend Longewynde was aware that we had been captured, one of the horsemen on the ridge called out, “Be you the Reverend Longewynde?

To which he replied in the affirmative and asked the identity of his interrogator.

“I am known by the name of ‘Scratch.’”

“That is an unusual and unfortunate choice of names, sir,” said the Reverend with much spirit.

“Aye, I shall not dispute that, Reverend, but not one so professionally embarrassing as being called ‘Long-wind’ when one is a preacher.”

“What is that you want, Mr. Scratch?”

“It is not what I want but that which our leader and employer desires.”

“And what might that be?”

“I wish to speak with you, Reverend,” came a strong but definitely feminine voice from amongst the trees.

Immediately, a figure rode forth into the clearing upon a black horse, in black cloak and with a wide-brimmed black hat upon her head and black mask covering her face. For it was clear that the brigands’ leader was a LADY! Despite her voluminous cloak, I could discern that she bore a most pleasing and shapely figure!

Black Meg

Before I could intervene and render her more amenable to our cause with my charm, she rode up to the Reverend, dismounted, and began to speak.

“I am called Black Meg. These woods are mine and you tread in them at your peril. You are reckless, sir.”

“You may claim what you like, Mistress, but these woods are not yours alone. If you were nearby yesterday, then surely you know about the fight we had with the so-called Devil of these woods.”

“Oh, I know of that and many other things beside. For instance, I know that afore you entered the woods yesterday you were digging in the late Reverend Hadley’s grave and yet said prayers over the grave. What did you intend there? Did you mean to desecrate the grave or perhaps to move his body to consecrated ground?

The Reverend seemed truly perplexed, “Strange a common robber would be so concerned about whether an old grave has been disturbed?”

“I am a brigand only because I oppose injustice and there has been much injustice done here over the years,” came the dark lady’s response.

“If you speak of justice then surely you know that no suicide can be buried in consecrated ground. I presumed too much when I said word over his grave.”

“Shall I not dispute that, Reverend? If someone poisoned your soup and you ate it unknowingly, would that be suicide simply because you unwittingly became the instrument of your own death?”

“The two situations cannot be compared. A suicide is a conscious act. The Reverend hung himself in his own study.”

The amazon’s response was filled with spirit, “Reverend Hadley’s mind was deranged, and his actions were not those of a responsible man.

“Mistress, this is an interesting discourse but I have important work to which I must attend first. When the matter of the devil is resolved, I shall be happy to discuss the Reverend Hadley’s interment.”

“But do you not see, Reverend Hadley’s fate bears directly upon your work. There are those in the village who would see that you share the same fate, who are working even now towards that end. Do you think that the raid by the British was a happenstance? Do you think the devil’s attack upon you yesterday was simply because you stumbled upon it along your walk? There are those who intend you to die or be driven mad.”

“Then tell me who they are.”

“I am forbidden by oath from revealing the identity of these evil-doers, these worshippers of Satan, these murderers. Someone else must bring them to justice.”

“A robber that scruples at oath-breaking?”

“You should know better than any that when fighting evil, one is ill served to sin casually.”

“Why do tell you me this, why do you seek me out then?

“Because I hope that someone who is not bound by oath may bring these evil-doers to justice. I had hopes when you arrived that you would be the one so to do. In this I was wrong.”

“Why do you not join us then? You and your men could assist us in the defeating the devil. Surely you can help in some way that will not violate your oath?”

“Though I wish you well, Reverend, I shall not join you now. I fear that you will fail and leave behind you a greater chaos than when you arrived. Examine how you have proceeded here! You run about the woods confusedly, nearly cause a massacre, your fat companion running after the Squire’s wife, the young wastrel prince acting like a fool in the outhouses, you lead your friends blindly into ambush after ambush. All this while the real culprits are before your eyes in the village itself! No Reverend, it is a wonder that you have survived thus long. You and your party possess a certain strength and incredible luck. I had thought we might ally but I can now see you are too rash to avoid folly and too stiff-necked and proud to seek aid from those who would wish you well. It would be unchristian were I to leave you to your fate without warning. My only hope now is that you do no harm to my cause before you are destroyed. To spare you that end, I urge you to leave now.”

The Reverend responded with some defiance and I perceived a look of sadness in the virago’s eyes, as they peer lustrously over her mask.

With that, Prince Leopold and I were released. One of the robbers raised a complaint to his cheiftainess, saying that we should at least be robbed ere we be let go. Without a word, the black-clad lady drew a pistol and shot the brigand in the knee.

“Be glad that you have served me well till now, Thomas,” she said to shot man who rolled on the ground in pain, “For had you not, I would have shot to kill for such impudence.”

With that, the mob faded back into the woods as easily as they had come, dragging the wounded Thomas none too gently with them.

Fennimen emerged from a hiding place and said, “Well, I’m sure glad she don’t sin casuallike. You want me to track them, Parson?”

“No, we have a difficult enough fight already without picking new ones.”

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

Investigation of the McCrann farm revealed it to be similar in particulars to that of the other two locations. Unlike the Crump farm that Ramsey had restored, the charms and other wardings showed evidence of recent desecration.

During this examination, it was determined through application of a compass that the positioning of the blockhouse and three posts were at a slight angle from a straight line drawn between each of the locations.

This observation caused a more detailed examination of the documents obtained from Hadley’s grave. It was seen that these contained a map of the area surrounding the three locations. This map displayed a line from the apex of each blockhouse through the triangle formed by the three posts. The lines were extended into the woods. As was suspected, the two outermost lines were at a slight angle from the centerline and thus all three lines intersected at a point some three miles within the depth of the Pine Woods.

The documents also contained specific instructions for the construction of the blockhouses, noting in particular the need to cap the structures with roofs decidedly pyramidal in shape. Likewise, the placement of the three posts was specified in meticulous detail as well as the charms to be placed thereon.

It was discerned that the structures with their peculiar design were intended to be a means of focusing the life force of those who dwelled within. The point at which these forces converged was decidedly fixed and anything not of a natural condition would be under the greatest coercion from this focused force of life.

It was realized that, the purpose of this construction was not to directly hold the demon but rather the essence of its mother. The burial place in the village notwithstanding, the true resting place of Mother Leeds’ essence, either by heart or soul was to be found at this focus. Since the demon was bound by its nature to travel never so far from its mother’s essence, the whole system of construction was intended to fix the creature to this point just as surely as a collected insect is skewered upon a pin.

Further contemplation suggested that the house built close by each of the blockhouses was to provide the regular lodging for the resident Elder but at certain times, perhaps such as All Hallows Eve, or when reports of the creature stirring would be had, the Elder or his sons would adjourn into the blockhouses and devote their energy, both physical and moral, to projecting their strength to form the mystical bonds for the demon.

Further examination of the notes revealed that the intention was that the assigned families were to abide only temporarily in the woods and were to exchange the duty with another of the Elders’ families each year upon Easter Sunday. Thus there were six Elders to stand three guard posts.

It was not difficult to deduce what the sequel to this establishment had been. As the original generation of watchers died and the feeling of danger lessened with each passing year, the more mundane of concerns took priority and so, in time, there was less enthusiasm for returning to the lonely Pines until the binding spells began to fray. This process of demoralization was added perhaps by Black Meg’s mysterious “they.”

Adding to and perhaps completing this demolition of the binding spell, was the arrival of the late Mr. Varney who, before being consumed by Prince Leopold, had visited this place with Franklin’s son, Governor William Franklin.

Likely, Varney had acquired knowledge of the spell and its purpose from the same tome in the possession of the Royal Society that had been the distant origin of Hadley’s spell. Perhaps hearing from William Franklin, who as governor may have had knowledge of them, of the strange structures in Crosswicks and their purpose, Varney determined their exact nature and the means of releasing the creature. Hoping perhaps to control the creature or at least release it upon a rebellious populace, they came to Crosswicks with the intention of finally liberating the demon. Thus, the current troubles have resulted.

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

Chapter the Fourth
How I Become an Honest Woman, Continued

After we had done at the McCrann place, we returned to Crosswicks, arriving after full dark.

The Hessian Lieutenant greeted us as we walked onto the village green. He asked the fate of his men, the Reverend told him of all that had transpired with the Devil, but curiously, he mentioned not our encounter with Black Meg. The Hessian was most upset, no doubt the men and their equipment being costly to replace and likely to have the sum docked from his own pay. He said he would visit their burial place on the morrow to pay respects in their own way. He made it clear that no more of his men would be adventuring with us. The Reverend, looking wearier than ere I had seen him, simply nodded his head.

We would not sleep again in the Hadley house and the Reverend said that we would abide in the church this night. Before we could rest however, he said he must speak with the men of village. He sent young Bozarth to fetch Dalby and as many of the village husbandmen as could be shook out.

I was sent to fetch victuals from the house for, expecting stuff-gut Major Zed, none of us had aught to eat in near two days. I entered the house with great fear and trembling feeling the place was not fit for the tread of man. I found all the food in the house spoilt and all the drink gone bad, even the water which had just been drawn the day afore.

I returned and reported this intelligence that was greeted by a great wailing from Major Zed who would have gone himself to partake of the foul eating but the others forestalled him.

By this time, Dalby and a gang of villagers had arrived. Twas then that the Reverend spoke out, telling them that only a renewal of the defenses created by Hadley would save them now. He said they must have new oath takers since the families of the original Elders were rubbed out, save Dalby and Bullfinch, so others must step forward to take their burden.

Well one could have farted in Westminster on Coronation day and gotten a better reception. There was much shouting and gnashing of teeth at the thought of any of them volunteering to go into the Devil’s woods.

Finally, Dalby spoke up, “My dear friends, at least listen to what the Reverend has to say. Although I do not relish it, it may fall to us to take up the burden of our fathers.”

One old cove, a man named Jessup, glared back and sneered, “Now see here, Squire, ye have no right to speak to us so. Speak not a taking up our father’s burden when you not even of Dalby blood!”

“What do you mean, ‘not of Dalby blood?’” asked the Reverend.

“Why he was an orphan taken into the Dalby house by the Old Squire. So where thinks he to make such demands upon us?”

Before any more could be said, a well-appointed calash drove into the center of the village. Two men, both wearing coats of black velvet of richer sort, dismounted. I saw they bore arms under these fine clothes. They came over to the gathering by the church.

Gentlemen of Midnight

“We seek the Reverend Longewynde.”

At which the Prince whispered loudly, “Whatevew you do, don’t teww them youw name, Wevewand!”

A wicked, sardonic smile sprouted on the lips of the shorter of the two.




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