Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Devil In Jersey: Chapter VIII

In Which Major Zagloba Suffers a Grevious Loss and the Prince for Once Plays Not the Fool

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

Chapter the Fourth
How I Become an Honest Woman, Continued

“I am Mister Smythe, and this is Mister Johnstone. We desire to have a word with you, Reverend, on a matter of the utmost importance.”

Now these two flash coves I trusted not. They had too much of the look of Bow Street Runners about them and their request to speak with him confidentially had too much of the order about it.

But the good Reverend seemed to be not so troubled, no doubt him not having e’er seen the plain nastiness of lawmen when one is on the wrong side of them. Reverend L announced that he would be pleased to discuss whate’er business they would have of him and so twould closet with them by riding in their calash for a space.

Afore he could be aboard for discourse with these gentlemen of midnight, Mr. Bullfinch took him aside and offered that there were two grown Bulfinch sons, one a man upon his own farm and the other 19 years old. The three of them would take up the forest watch against the Devil until the Reverend could gain the services of reinforcement or until the Reverend could cipher how to free them from this curse perpetual. Bullfinch said he would prepare stores and victuals, those that he was able to hide from Major Zed, that is, this evening and upon the morrow would attend to the blockhouses.

Twas when the Reverend alighted the calash I observed that Zizzendorf was mounted postillion as a watch upon the Reverend’s safety.

Now I am sure twas fatigue and having been long deprived of carnal exercise that made me so moony and randified but I gave him me finest come-hither glance and said, “Have a care for yerself, Mr. Ziz.”

I saw my words and look had their effect for he fair sputtered, “Ur…a…yer… Dumplings…Danke, danke!. Thank you for your good wishes, Mrs. Dagget.”

“Sure we’ve known each other for a long enough, call me ‘Molly.’”

“Thank you again, Molly. You may call me ‘Joachim.’”

“Why certainly, Yockin…Yuckum… I think I shall call you ‘Jack.’”

At this the cure sputtered in fustian dudgeon, “But, but, my name is ‘Joachim!’ Better you call me Zizzendorf than such a ridiculous name as 'Yack' like one of your pimps!”

“Better I call ye a pribblin’ onion-eyed, rump-fed apple-johnny then ! I hope the devil shrivels ye, if there be any carrot ye possess to shrivel!” I said with much heat, more ashamed of me softness for allowing meself to get dewy-eyed o’er that priggish cabbage-eater.

And so off they went with these dark men into the gloom of the woods.

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

I directed that the carriage take us but a brief span into the woods, to the sight of the Reverend Hadley’s grave, thinking that place remote and private enough for any clandestine discourse but close enough to the village so that aid might readily be at hand. I also believed that Messers Smythe and Johnstone would be unfamiliar with the place and so at a disadvantage if they meant me harm. Finally, having blessed the spot a few days afore, I believed that it would be free from the more unnatural dangers that marked the woods.

I need not have been concerned for the two gentlemen proved to be solicitous for the success of my endeavor.

Smythe was the elder and more loquacious of the two, “We are servants to a certain group of interested gentlemen in London who have a strong desire to remain anonymous but have joined to study and impede the growth of evil in our world.”

I inquired, “Before we proceed, I must know if these gentleman are of the King’s Party.”

“We were given to understand that you were neutral in regard to the current terrestrial conflict, Reverend? Nevertheless, rest assured that these gentlemen are concerned over matters beyond work-a-day politics, as such they answer neither to Lord North nor Whitehall.

“They have discovered that a conspiracy of certain individuals who are members of the Hellfire Club, supposedly a place for simple rakish debauchery but truly a mask for far darker purposes. This Club is chaired by a certain Lord Ruthven, a gentleman of great wealth but even greater ambition. It is said that he seeks to increase his power and influence by any means including the infernal. Of late, it has been discovered that he is endeavoring to obtain mastery over a very powerful creature of diabolical origin found in the woods of this province. We had been following his agent, a Mr. Varney, but had lost his trail. Fortunately, we had called upon Lord Cornwallis’ headquarters and from him learned of your work here.”

Feeling that these two men were in earnest, I related to them the course of our investigations, including the fact that the demon had been stirring for some time, had committed numerous murders, and seemed upon the verge of complete liberty.

This last intelligence genuinely troubled them and they offered any assistance
I required, they having some “small talent” in matters occult. I told them of my plan to reestablish the system of watches against the devil. So, with a vast sense of relief, we returned to the village.

Upon return, the gentlemen dismissed themselves. I offered as a test for them to stay in Reverend Hadley’s house, but they declined, perhaps having some report of the strange occurrences there. They reported they had taken a room at Bulfinches but that the Squire Dalby offered them to stay in his large home. Not wishing to rub shoulders with the Hessian soldiery, they had accepted.

Zizzendorf and I returned to the church where I intended our party to remain for the night, not wishing to add to our troubles by remaining in Hadley’s house. I discovered that most of the party had retired to the vestry and were enjoying a large pot of stew. All, that is, save Major Zagloba who was trussed up and tied to the rear door and the Prince and Yap, who the others informed me, were off in search of corn cobs.

A Questionable Repast

Just as we had finished, the sound of a large explosion shattered the night…

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

Chapter the Fourth
How I Become an Honest Woman, Continued

As the Reverend and the Prussian bombast went off, I decided that we should we set about obtaining victuals for we had not eat in near two days.

I reckoned that, with Bullfinch’s short of provender due to the plague of Zagloba, we would have to go abegging from the villagers. The Prince ‘twould have been naught but a sore trial in this endeavor so I sent him off in search of the village privies telling him we twould be needing corn for our rations. So off he went and Yap followed after just to make sure he fell not into any of the jakes.

Asking Fenniman to assist me, I then had Major Zed perk up his nose to determine where we might search for food. Sure twas better than having a pack of scent hounds. For he ran like a shot, sniffing the air and crying out “Delicious!”

He ran to the smith’s shop were we found Madame Froggy-bottom who had ensconced herself with numerous glass vials a brewing. Major Zed inquired most eagerly if she might be distilling a concoction of brandy. When she replied that it twas not brandy but some alchemical vitriol, one founded in the element of water intended to work against the infernal creature, Major Zed’s disappointment knew no bounds.
With her was Doctor McC who was working upon a pumping apparatus, using springs to force a plunger into a piston. He intended that the piston, being fed with water, preferable blessed for the occasion of fighting the devil, would shoot said water a fair distance so as to avoid the hurt that Reverend L had got for coming too close to sprinkle upon the demon.

The smith was casually looking on, his concern for his shop no doubt assuaged by the Louis d’Ors that Madame Frogpond dropped in his lap.

Stifling his disappointment, Major Zed left off but soon caught wind of a smell, coming from a small stone house at the northeast edge of the village. Off he ran, yapping like a Talbot Hound.

As we approached the house, we all noted the oddity of the structure, for each window was blocked by a blackened shade and that tacked around the interior of the window so that no light could be admitted and no view ascertained.

While Fenniman and I were troubled with this, Major Zed determined to feed his never-ending hunger and ever-growing girth. As he was about to give o’er and knock upon the door, not listening to reason, Fenniman clouted him upon the pate with his rifle butt. There was a slight tremor of the earth as the fat mound of Zed collapsed into the road.

“What shall we do, now?” I asked.

Fenniman replied, “Let’s drag this here carcass back to the meeting house and leave him there. Then, we can come back and take a more slinking look at this here house.”

Now truly was the thing more easily said than done. We heaved and hawed and with greatest difficulty, despite the well-slicked bulk, we got him only a few yards from the door to this house.

Whilst we were so engaged, the door to the house opened and an old woman, kindly looking enough, poked her head out. I recognized her as Mrs. Shrouds, one o’ the ladies who we had encountered in the Hadley house when we had first arrived.

She squeaked a bit when she saw us and then said, “I thought I had heard a noise. Good heavens, that is the Prince’s aide is it not! Do not tell me the Prince and his party came to abuse me again?”

“Nay, nay,” I assured her. “The Major here is just in his cups and we are taking him to sober up.”

Well I could not have given her a better score to pluck her harp upon for now she treated us to fine oration of the theme of “Oh how dread is the sin of drunkenness.”
Now I had been sermonized to by some of the best bible-whackers, Reverend L included. So I was not about to put up with a mere amateur.

I interrupted, “No, the poor Major had just a wee bit of a dram but since we had not eat in two days, sure it went right to his knob.”

The old hag clucked a bit but she went into the house and brought out a largish cauldron brimming with as fine smelling a stew as e’er I had sniffed.

As I took up the pot and offered my thanks, I asked, “Why is it that you keep your windows draped so?”

She looked about and said in a whisper, “To prevent the devil from being able to peer in, of course.”

I thought with all the power of Satan within him the Pine Devil was not likely to use it to play the Peeper Tom to such a shriveled old pod as Mrs. Shrouds, but I kept me tongue.

Fenniman and I ran with the stew pot to the church, leaving the prostrate Major Zed behind, intending to return for him after we had eat.

Lo, when we arrived, there was Major Zed waiting at the door and his hands outstretched to grasp the stewpot. Afore I could say a word, Fenniman applied his rifle butt again and Major Zed tottered a bit and said, “Stop doing that!” and then keeled over into the snow. We tied him to the post at the rear of the church and retired to the vestry to eat.

Now all this while, Yap allowed the Prince to traipse all about the village, gathering up corn cobs from a variety of privies. They finally arrived at the outbuilding behind the Bullfinch tavern. In the luxury of a four-seated privy, the Prince settled in to enjoy, what he called, “some contemwative time in my thwone woom.”

Yap, in much dudgeon, waited outside.

Then he noticed that the Hessians were drinking in the common room of the tavern. He went in to seek a bit of comfort but mostly to be free of the Prince’s chattering for a moment.

The Hessians greeted him with jeers for being a Musselman, asking how many wives he had.

When Yap replied that he had none, they jibed him as one of those who does not prefer women.

Thus they jested o’er much until Yap produced one of his sharply folded letter and flung it at the head of the loudest of his tormentors. It clipped the cockade neatly from his hat.

Then, to their surprise, Yap quaffed a huge flagon of ale, slamming it on the table saying “Allah be praised. I never said I was a particularly good Muslim. If you spend any time with the Prince, you’d understand even the most temperate man would be driven to drink.”

Of course, this led to more drinks with the Hessians being most agreeable by now.

In the midst of this, Yap noticed through the corner of his eye a figure in a long cloak that first furtively descended the steps from the upper floor and then crept out the front door. Now suspicion is something of a hazard of being a Ruritanian postman and secret policeman. So Yap got up and went after the mysterious stranger. Sure Allah or Fortune must have favored him for as soon as he set foot upon the green, a great explosion rocked the whole village, and the upper floor of the inn was consumed into a great flaming ball of fire.

The End of the Bullfinch

He glanced up and saw the cloaked figure begin to run across the green. Then it produced a large broom from 'neath its cloak, straddled it, and took flight over the nearby roofs.

“How?” he inquired to himself.

We who were just finishing our supper were knocked near arsy-varsy by the blast. We all jumped to and ran out, Fenniman remembering to cut Major Zed loose. Of course, this was not a mercy for the fat man who, as soon as he saw that twas the whole tavern had gone up in flames, he left out a cry worse than a banshee and burst into slobbering tears.

Yap, who had been knocked down, jumped up and ran back into the inn. A moment later, he came out dragging the Hessian Lieutenant and saying this was the only survivor, the Bullfinches and the rest of the Hessians were dead.

At this, a look of dread came upon the face of the Reverend.

The Doctor came up and seeing the sorry state that Yap and Major Zed were in, inquired about the Prince.

From the yard behind the tavern, where most of the debris from the upper storey had crashed, came a figure, with smoke blackened face and his hair blasted back from his head in weird array and his fine clothes besmirched with having been forcibly dropped into the privy . It was the Prince.

“Don’t twy wighting a pipe in the thwone woom, especiawwy aftew you bweak wind!”

The great ditherin’ pigeon egg was of course not harmed in any other way.

The Reverend got another odd look on his viz and shouted to Ziz and Fenniman to get horses. He said that they would ride to the house of Bullfinch’s eldest son for he feared another killing there. In a moment, Ziz produced them, although only the lead horses from the carriage and they unsaddled.

They rode off fearing the worse.

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

Just after we had left the village green, we encountered a distraught young woman was running down the road, crying and weeping piteously. I knew immediately the cause of her distress.

I said, “Mrs. Bullfinch, what has happened to your husband?”

The surprise of my question seemed to calm her somewhat.

“My John was struck down, killed. A knock came upon our door and he answered. Without a word, the person, who was heavily cloaked struck him to the heart with a blade.

I had Zizzendorf take her to Mrs. Dalby to look after her. I then proceeded to their house that lay but a quarter of a mile from the green.

The door stood ajar and I could see a body lying therein.

He had been a big man in the prime of young manhood and handsome. Here he was now, struck down because he had the accident of being born the son of a good man, also now dead along with his wife and other son.

When I examined the killing wound, I easily saw that he had been cut by no ordinary blade. I recognized the jagged mark of Hecate’s Wand, a branch hardened with numerous spells so that it struck true and would kill in a moment.

The assassins were not simple killers.

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

Chapter the Fourth
How I Become an Honest Woman, Continued

The whole of the village was there, attempting to douse the fire but ‘twas clear this would be but a gesture to the late Bullfinch for the tavern was doomed.

Then there was Madame Toadstool at me arm, peering, and a sniffling like one of them mushroom-hunting French pigs.

She mumbled then, half to herself, “There is a certain tinge of the electric in the smoke and a scent not natural, no? This was not gunpowder nor was it alchemie moderne but some artifice of magic. Whoever did this was a student of ancient lore.”

“A witches brew, I have seen the like used in Scotland,” offered Mr. Smythe.

Of course, twas not wise to have this discourse within the hearing of the Prince. For that tickle-brained worthy piped up, “Witches? I have hunted witches in my time as well as wampyws. I have even twained my hounds to fowwow the scent of withces as weww!”

The knobby-brained giglet then leapt onto the back of Bucephalus and shouted, “Come Wiwkes! Come Bawwe. The game is a shoe!”

“’Foot’, Highness, ‘the game is a afoot,” you great slobbering pillock!” said Zed as we all charged off after the young scut.

As we ran, Major Zed explained that in the royal family, the eldest was heir to the throne, next was given to the Church and the Grand Bobo of Stelzov was in fact Leopold’s elder brother. After that, it became a chore to determine how to occupy the spare sons. Most went into the army. Some who were particularly irksome were giving the job of Royal Exterminator, trained to eliminate the most bothersome of pests, such as silver fish, earwigs, and werewolves. Thus Leopold had some skill in the tracking of vampires and witches which were somewhat common in the rural parts of Ruritania, especially in a region called Leutonia, of which our clod-brained bum-bailey was titled Duke.

The loggerheaded lumpkin ran up the street and didn’t the dogs halt at Old Mrs. Shrouds’ house, she of the delicious stew.

Afore any of us could say tother, Leopold has his steed give a stout knock and down dropped the door. The fen-sucked dewberry then charged into the house.

The Witch Hunter General of Leutonia

He saw at the fire, an old crone in a long dark cloak, throwing an oddly shaped branch into the fire. She glanced over at a broom that sat in the corner.

“Mrs. Cwackneww?” asked the lumpkin-brained Leopold, somehow remembering the old crone he had terrified when first we arrived at Hadley’s.

Twas then it struck me that the Prince had called her a witch even then. Dear God! Could the ninnyhammer actually be perceptive in things occult?

There was no time to contemplate this further, we heard tumult a plenty coming from the house.

The prince had brought his horse into the hall and put himself betwixt the hag and her broom.

She shook her head and with a puff of smoke transformed into a tiny mouse. Despite the noble Bucephalus trying to stomp it, the witch-mouse managed to squeeze through a tiny hole to the outside. It scurried from the house.

The Prince began to sing and several dozen squirrels descended from the trees in pursuit of the thing. The hounds too broke and ran after, baying something fearful.
Never expecting such a gang to be after her, the mouse fled into the trees with the other animals in hot pursuit and the Prince shouting, “View hawwooo!”

By this time, the Reverend and Zizz had returned and joined us as we charged into the woods behind the Shrouds’ house.

We came upon the Prince and his hounds, all three baying, at the foot of a tall oak tree. The mouse had run up the tree and was fending off a horde of squirrels. The witch then turned herself from mouse into a great black crow, and squawked at the first squirrel to come towards her, slashing with a wicked claw. This gave her the chance to fly off and out of the tree she went.

Just as she did so, she was struck by a blast of cold water, fired from Dr. McC. water cannon. The water drenched her wings which quickly turned to ice in the cold weather and the crow plummeted heavily to the ground. In a moment, the dogs were on her, pawing and rooting. Perhaps realizing that her mortal form was doomed, she turned insubstantial and left her body, a living ghost.

Reverend L produced his bible, and said, “Ghost shall you now be excised!” He thus began shouting a prayer of exorcism. Even with all the tumult and confusion we had suffered that night, I must give the Reverend L his due, for that exorcism prayer twas as fine a spirit-pipin as I e’er heard. The witch-ghost seemed to shrink back from him as he spoke.

But then, just as sudden, the ghostly apparition grew in size and took on an aspect as fearsome as the taxman on collection day. The thing’s face formed a hideous, worm-eaten skull that thrust right towards us. I felt near to dying with the fear of it and I twas not alone. Most of us retreated a bit away from the terrible visage. Worst afeard was young Mr. Johnstone who I later learned was new to this game. The dogs and the squirrels ran off, whining and chattering as they went. Only the Reverend, Mr. Smythe, and Zizzy stood steadfast against the foul spirit, the latter no doubt from shear stupidity and dullness rather than any true courage.

Our withdrawing gave the ghost-witch some respite and it wended its ghostly path away from us through the woods. However, the Reverend was not to be denied his labors. He kicked his mount into motion, crying the prayer of banishment all the while. As he rode, we could here a screeching unearthly cry echoing through the trees. We all gathered up our pluck and followed after. Finally, the caterwauling ended and
I saw the ghost’s vapory form shredded like a morning mist and the thing was gone, sent to a rightly deserved place in Hell.

The Reverend collapsed from his horse in exhaustion. When we approached, he said all was well, the banishing of such creatures always took a toll, and that he would be well in a few moments. But I could see a distress in his eyes and he shook visibly as he walked with us out the woods.

We returned to Old Hag Shrouds’ house. There was Madame Snail-eater coming out the place. She reported that she found all manner of foul things within, the walls lined with all the stuff of witchery. Of especial note was the discovery of several things the high folks called “Devil’s Stones” for to be used in the tormenting of innocents. These were to be buried beneath or totherwise secreted within a house to cause night terrors and other disturbances of the soul, attract evil spirits and the like, and to cause the rot of any perishables therein.

We recollected that the three crones, that is Shrouds, Butcher, and the presumed-late Cracknell, had been in Hadley’s house, claiming they had been cleaning the place. Twas then that they, no doubt, had placed such stones therein, causing all our torments. Of course, I still found it troubling that the only one of us that had suspicion of them was the doodle-brained clotpole Leopold.

Reverend L also surmised that an earlier placement of such stones was as like to be the cause that led Reverend Hadley to his self-murder.

Squire Dalby who had joined us after twas clear there was to be no saving of Bullfinch’s Tavern, confirmed that the three hags had lived in the village for as long as he could recall and that they had lived together in Shrouds’ house for many a year, they all being spinsters or widowed.

We were on our way to Hadley’s house to confirm our suspicions of the stones when I felt a great agitation in my guts. The world went to spinning and I felt worse than the morning after I had drunk the better part of a gallon of back-alley-distilled Strip Me Naked Gin. As we passed o’er the village green, first Fenniman, then Madame Toad-muncher, and then Doctor McC, all fell to their knees and set to heaving their guts upon the sward.

The Reverend L who had been leading us, turned with a look of near panic upon his face and then he too fell in swoon upon the cold ground.

I then reckoned that we had all eat the stew provided us by the foul crone Shrouds. But that was the last thought I had ere the lights about me failed and I fell into total blackness…

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