Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Devil in Jersey: Chapter III

In Which the Reverend Longwynde and his Friends Travel to the Village of Crosswicks and There Initiate Their Investigations, But Not Without Interruptions

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

We were crossed over the Delaware in boats manned by Colonel Glover’s Marblehead fishermen. The crossing was most efficiently and quickly made despite the large impedimenta required by Mde. De Baufframont.

I must note that Colonel Glover’s men, despite knowing their business quite well, did so in a peculiar and singular manner. For no reason I could ascertain they insisted that I be taken across in a boat by myself. Also, when we set off into the stream, those remaining ashore let up a great cry of “Thar she blows!” A most extraordinary performance!

We then proceeded the six or seven miles to the town of Trenton and a tedious time it was. I did for a few blessed moment dwell in the abode of Morpheus but rather than an ebon bed surrounded by poppies as in dwells the god of sleep, I rested in the back of a drafty old wagon surrounded by the Frenchwoman’s china.

We arrived near upon midnight in Trenton, a fair sized town of a hundred buildings or more. The streets were deserted and few buildings showed signs of life. Fenniman suggested that most of the inhabitants had fled from the advent of Cornwallis and his legions. We traversed the town directly to the dwelling of Dr. McCleane, which was a pleasant enough cottage on the Street named for the King.

I had hoped to stay the night and renew my acquaintance with the son of Nyx but the rest of my friends were too affrighted by the proximity of the tyrant’s minions to tarry. We had chance for the briefest of repasts that did little to slack the pangs of hunger. Videlicet, I had only a single ham with two loaves of bread and the smallest keg of cider, barely enough to keep a man on his feet.

I had opportunity to observe that Dr. McCleane has undertaken a study of the science and application of springs. He had bespoken all of the articles of furniture in the house, replacing legs with springs of diverse size and strength. The sequel to this discovery was the keeping of Prince Leopold occupied during our discussions, he spending the time there swiveling and bouncing from chair to chair and whooping as if he had just viewed a fox.

During this brief stay, Reverend Longewynde complained of a shortage of holy water, most of which he had aspersed on the late Mr. Varney. It fell to Mrs. Dagget to purloin some replenishment of this. I left it to the good Reverend to discern the morality of thievery in a holy cause and the effects such might have upon the efficacy of such religious nostrums.

Dr. McCleane informed us that nearby was the Church of St. Michael, an Anglican institution that had been closed since this summer due to a cleavage between the Loyalist and Patriot members of the congregation. Mrs. Dagget returned promptly with a fair quantity of the sacred fluid and the smell of sacerdotal wine upon her lips.

It was also suggested that we might attract less attention to ourselves if the Prince, Yap, and I forsake our regimentals. To this, I agreed with alacrity. We had but limited spare attire and so had to take up what was available in the good medicus’ abode. The prince donned a most elaborate suit of clothes quite macaroni in style and indicative of a more merry youth than I had credited to Dr. McCleane. I always keep a suit of casual attire and so had only to borrow an overcoat from the good doctor. He was able to provide a commodious cloak of blue-grey that curiously bore the name of his favorite horse embroidered along the edge. Yap with his Asiatic features was far harder to disguise until I settled upon the excellent ruse of dressing him as a Red Indian from artifacts that were found in the house. Yap was not pleased at the shaving of his head in the Mohawk fashion but the Prince ordered it so.

Ruritanians Clandestine

With this, we took up our journey again, driving on through the rest of that cold night.

We arrived in the village of Crosswicks about dawn. It was a small place, only about a dozen buildings huddled about a small green upon which stood a sizable Presbyterian church and, most happily, a tavern. My suggestion, seconded earnestly by Mrs Dagget, was to go to the latter aedificium as a source for both sustenance and intelligence.

This establishment, owned by a stout hosteller named Mr. Bullfinch, was clean and commodious. The smell of roasting fowl greeted us upon our entry. I immediately ordered up a goose, then enjoyed several sides of bacon, and finished with a delightful apple tansy. The modest repast I finished as the rest of our party took their seats.

The Green at the Village of Crosswicks

After Dr. McCleane explained our purpose, Mr. Bulfinch said that he would fetch Squire Dalby, the local magistrate, who was the originator of our labor and was best acquainted with all the circumstances of murders.

“That is,” remarked Bullfinch with a wink, “If we can pry him from the arms of that pretty new wife of his!”

Surprised at hearing of such a rose in such a thistle as this, I inquired further of her.

“She was a noted beauty in Philadelphia, recently widowed. She had been the ward of a great house there, though said to be Tory in its disposition. Our Squire met and married her in the twinkle of an eye this summer past and brought her here.”
“Oh ho, I had not expected a new conquest in such a place as this.”

“Ah, but Major, she is known here abouts for her cold and haughty ways.”

“Oh my dear Bullfinch, there is nothing better for reducing a woman’s pride than a little touch of Zagloba in the night!”

The squire arrived soon after. He was a tall man about forty and five with a distinguished bearing. Reverend Longewynde fell to an inquiry of him. Since I am hardly to be bothered with such a banausic endeavor more befitting an bailiff or other officer of the law, I partook of some additional bacon along with several dozens of Johnny cakes and a quantity of cornmeal mixed with headcheese washed down with small beer, it being early in the day, and a few bottles of brandy.

Between courses, I ascertained that Dalby had offered us, as our pied-a-terre, the house of the late Reverend Hadley, empty these past thirty-five years or more. The Squire reported that, at his direction, several of the women of the village had restored most of it to habitability. The only exception was Hadley’s study, wherein the poor man had died and to which a deep dread was attached.

I had hoped that this might allow some opportunity to recover from our travels but, betimes, the Reverend announced that he would venture to examine the locus of the most recent murder. Mrs. Dagget, attended by Fennimen, would see to the house of Reverend Hadley, especially the abandoned study, Mrs. Dagget saying she had no fear of ghosts or devils since she was hell-bound already and might as well get use to her future companions.

I had intended to join the latter pair when I observed the Prince cavorting down the street to the Hadley house. I determined to avoid his company for an articulus since he seemed more frolicsome than usual, if such can be contemplated.

I said to the Reverend, “I shall attend upon you, Reverend, to the very purlieus of this hamlet. It would be far safer for all for me to avoid making the acquaintance of Squire Dalby’s lady since a person of such sophistication would invariable fall in love with me and cuckolding our patron in this matter would present something of an inconvenience.”

A very curious look appeared on the Reverend’s face and he then sighed heavily, “You and the Prince are both borne and bread in Ruritania?”

“Yes, but of course,” I replied.

“Then I hope never to have the occasion to visit the place.”

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

From information obtained of Matthew Dalby, Justice of the Peace for the village of

There have been three occurrences of slayings of one or more persons in the vicinity of this place occurring at irregular times from September of this year until December.

The first slaying occurred on September 12th that was during a period of the quarter moon. James Crump, aged 63, and his wife, Amanda, aged 63 were slain outside their cabin which lay some two miles into the Pine Barrens.

Next, the family of Thomas McCrann, age 43, his wife Emeline, age 41, and his two sons, aged 14 and 17 killed on October 21st which was the period of a half moon. The location is about the same distance from the village into the Barrens and directly to the south of the Crump farm.

The most recent slaying occurred on the farm belonging to the Luske family, upon the last day of November 30, which was in the period of a full moon. Josiah Luske was the slain. He was aged 34 and a bachelor. The Luske farm lies directly north of the Crump farm.

It was at first believed that the murder of Crump and his wife was the work of the Pine Robbers, a band of which under a harridan calling herself Black Meg, had been troubling the area at that time. However, the brutality of the slaying surpassed anything even the Robbers were thought capable of.

All the victims were found out of doors in vicinity of their cabins, with the bodies savagely rendered as if by the claws and teeth of some fearsome beast of unusual size.

Application of a talisman at the sight of the Luske killing revealed an abundance of supernatural residue in the vicinity of the cabin.

Upon investigation of the sight of the Luske killing, it was observed that a sizeable blockhouse stood some one hundred yards from the cabin within a mature stand of woods with no obvious effort to clear the area about it.

When inquiry was made of Squire Dalby as to the method for such a seemingly useless structure, he reported that this building was erected at the instruction of the late Reverend Hadley some thirty-five years ago.

Dalby confirmed the stories regarding Mother Leeds and her offspring. He added the fact that for five years after its birth, the creature remained quietly in the woods being seen but upon occasion. In the fifth year, 1740, the creature began to stir. Crops and livestock were killed and finally a child of the village. In all cases, the victims or their families had been engaged in disputes with Mother Leeds who was the most disagreeable of persons.

Dalby was but a child at the time and so was not privy to the discussion that led Reverend Hadley and the six elders of the village Congregation to take action against the Leeds woman and her offspring. Dalby recalled troubling nights in the village, with much firing of guns and burning of buildings. In time, Mother Leeds was killed and buried in secret and the creature adjured to remain in the woods of the Barrens. A line of strongholds was placed in the Barrens as a defense against the creature’s return. The Elders swore to stand as guardians in these places and farmland was cleared within the woods so they might remain ever on guard.

In time, however, the threat was forgotten and the inconvenience of these dwellings led to an abandonment by many of the

Crump, the first slain, had been the last of the original Elders and the only one to remain at his post of duty.

Further, said Squire Dalby related that upon Crump’s death, Luske and McCrann returned to the places of their fathers in hopes of again restraining the creature.

Examinations at the Luske Farm

Upon examination of Luske’s house, it was determined that nothing within was disturbed but there were marks upon the door and walls as if claws had been drawn across them. Also noted were markings of a spiritual nature, in Hebrew and Greek letters, placed upon each of the thresholds. These latter marks were, according to Squire Dalby, made upon the instructions of Reverend Hadley.

Upon one of the outbuildings, it was determined that several of the shingles had been smashed as if by the foot of a large man or beast leaping upon them. It was also noted that scorched wood marked some of the trees and fences nearby the cabin but not the cabin itself. There was also noted that some of the higher branches and limbs of the trees were broken and suggested the landing place of some large beast.

It was believed that these marks might permit the track of the beast to its lair.

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

Chapter the Fourth
How I Become an Honest Woman, Continued

So, it twas that I said I twould go and examine the deceased reverend’s house, thinking I would gain a respite from the antics and travails of the rest of our party. Also since twas hard-by the Bullfinch, I thought betimes I might enjoy a dram or two with no one the wiser. As for the ghost of the self-murdered harp polisher, thought I twas no more than tosh.

Since this house was to be our settling place, Fenniman led the great ox cart that that French lolpoop had forced us to drag along. E’en better thinks I since Fenniman, though he might blow away in the wind, was not such as might offend when all twas said and done and it had been some time since I had enjoyed any sport in me life.
But then all was spoilt, for who came capering after us, all cock-a-hoop about the fulsome welcome he’d received here with much privy-visitations and cob-devouring, but Prince Leopold with all his hounds about him including his Chinaman.

Soon we came to dead devil dodger’s house, a small trim cottage all of brick but with much wear as one twould see from a place standing vacant for so long. Still, the roof looked sound and brick keeps the wind out better than a draughty shift, especially when it is hiked up and yer back’s agin an alley wall … not that I would know aught about playing the three-legged upright but I have heard it twas so.

As we approached the place, we encountered a grim little dumpling of a man, along with lad of about eleven or twelve, coming out from the yard. When I hallooed, the fubsey squint drew himself up and seemed to be struggling inside himself to determine how he answered or perhaps trying to remember his own name for he seemed to be a puzzle-headed sort.

Betimes he said his name was Francois and he was taker-care of the village church, there being no permanent parson since Hadley kicked out his last dance in his own library. When we told him that we intended to abide in the house, he said that the house twas haunted but it matter not and we should suit ourselves, as likes, we were doomed anyway if we intended to chase the Devil in the woods.

Still, he helped to settle the great wagon near the churchyard and led the oxen off to a near pasture. But then he wandered off, muttering something like, “doomed, doomed, all doomed.”

“Well now, that’s one right cheery fellah!” said Fenniman.

As we approached the house, we noticed that the front door stood slightly ajar and strange sounds came from within, rustlings, thumpings, and great sighings.

When I turned I saw that Fenniman had his great barreled rifle in his hands. “Something just aint aright in there,” he said.

I debated with him who should enter first, expecting who ever did would as like have his head delivered to him in a hand-basket. Thus we turned to the Prince and said we must, as a courtesy, allow him to go first. We reckoned that, the royal jobbernole being the least used part of his anatomy, its absence would be noticed the least. Even Yap agreed, soul-sick no doubt from all the cob-gathering and hair-shaving and such he had endured.

Entering Upon a Dead Man's Home

Thus, we ventured to the rear of the house where the clack-brained royal entered, the rest of us standing ready to protect him in the likely happenstance of a misadventure.
God save me but he showed some small wit, entering slowly and whispering if anyone twas at home. He said later that he had seen, in the corner of his eye, something flitting about at the front of the house. So, he of a sudden let out a whooping cry and propelled himself into the front parlor with saber drawn.

We hustled in after him, weapons drawn. When we came up with him, there was the motley-minded pumpion standing over an old woman prostrate with the royal boot upon her chest and he brandishing his fly-slicer, hallooing how he had subdued a witch. The poor old woman was weeping piteously all the while, trying to grasp her hearing trumpet in a vain endeavor to encompass the misfortune that had thrust itself upon her.

Just at this moment, two other ladies came bustling down the stairs, only to have Fenniman stick his great turnpike of a fowling piece into their noses. There was much screaming and fainting until we could assure them, the Prince’s beef-witted belligerence notwithstanding, that we meant them no ill.

When they had calmed themselves, they said they were Abigail Shrouds and Betsy Butcher, and had been asked by Squire Dalby to clean the house last evening but being much troubled by the noises in the upstairs study, had decided to wait until the light of day to finish their cleaning.

The old woman laying under Prince Jollymug’s boot was Prudence Cracknell, the oldest of the three and she near to deaf and so did not hear our entry, much to her injury.
“Weww, she wooked wike a witch,” the beef-brained son of the purple said sheepishly.

All this while, adding to the tribulation, the Prince’s dogs were baying like banshees at all this hugger-mugger. To get them away, I pulled a shiny button off the royal nigmenog’s coat, waived it before the dogs’ eyes, and then threw it out the back door. The dogs charged after it, followed by the blue-blooded ninny. Soon all three were cavorting in the mud. Fennimen followed more deliberately, saying, “I keep an eye out for safety sake.”

“I’m not thinking the dogs will injure themselves.” said I.

“That’s not who worried me,” was the woodsman’s response.

The three goodwives also retreated from the house, saying that if anything was needed we need only summon Mr. Bozarth, to wit, the glum Francois, who would assist us. They then left, much in the vapors no doubt from being so aggressed by a pack of the oddest scoundrels they had no doubt ever encountered.

Thus, Yap and I went up to the late bible beater’s rooms. The study was a small room at the back of the house. It was all a-tumble with piles of books and huge mountains of papers filling the room, all covered in dust and cobwebs. The walls were covering with strange symbols and drawings of every sort, the image of a horse-headed beast predominating. From one rafter was tied a stout rope that had been cut, no doubt the leavings from when Hadley had taken the last step on his journey to join the choir invisible.

I thought that perhaps somewhere in the room might be information related to our quest but I was sore discouraged when I perceived that all those hundreds of papers bore the dead man’s scribblings.

In the Study of the Late Reverend Hadley

“Sure, twill take a fortnight to search these great stacks!”

“Not at all,” replied Yap. “In the Royal Postal Service, the first job one has is the sorting of the mail.”

With that, he launched himself into the first pile of papers and soon a blizzard was flying about my head as Yap sorted the papers into the neatest of piles. I perceived that he could recognize there content by the barest of glances. After only a couple of hours, all was tidied and Yap handed to me what seemed to be notes that Hadley had made concerning the devil. These were as follows,

I have met with the congregation elders to discuss the question of the Mrs. Leeds and her child. Since the appearance of this creature, there have been three barns burned to the ground and the killing of Benedict Alcott’s pigs. They tell me that the creature has been seen nearby on all of these occasions.

I have suggested that they gather men who are experienced hunters to track this beast which I believe is only a bear or some sort for I do not credit the stories they have told about Mrs. Leeds who is much maligned by villagers.

She is a strange woman, no doubt but hardly a witch. Her behavior is understandable given the loss of her husband and newborn child. Although she may need to be committed to an asylum for the insane, she is hardly bound for the gallows.

I have seen to it that Mrs. Leeds surviving children are placed with other families in the vicinity.

Linus Crotty tells me he has seen the beast and it is no bear but a thing of nightmare. Horse’s head, batlike wings, serpent tail.

The Gadling child was found dead today. The body was ripped in two and the blood had seemingly been wiped up in a cloth or mop.

Crotty tells me that the beast is easy to track but very difficult to kill. He said he had got within twenty yards of the creature and was sure his shot struck home but the thing showed no sign of injury. He says he will got no more into the Pines after it.

I have gathered up all the men of the village. We must go after this creature in its lair in the Pines.

The creature cannot be killed. Adam Dalby, the two Craske brothers, and Tench Alcott have all been killed by it. I must find its secret. I shall go to the Academy in Princeton, they have a large library with many books brought from Europe. Perhaps I can see if anything like this creature has been seen on earth before.

Afore I could fathom the purport of these notes, Fenniman called to me. When I descended, I saw the Prince and his hounds laying sound asleep by the fireplace, mud besmirching the newly cleaned floors and most of the furniture. Still I praised Heaven for the small favor of being spared the Prince’s company for a few precious moments.

I found Fenniman behind the house in the churchyard that stood hard-by. He told me to note that snow and ice were covering most of the yard with the ground frozen hard as iron. But the space in which the Prince and his dogs had frolicked was warm and muddy. Then he pointed to the headstone that marked the spot.

It bore the name of Leeds.

1 comment:

abdul666 said...

Marvelous reading as usual! Not only the Lovecraftian story, but the tone, and the way you play your various characters: a true one man show!