In my last email (you can find it here) I mentioned a party at my house every year. After the meal, if the weather is right, we have a bonfire and that’s followed by a walk in the woods. Around the fire, I like to tell the story of the family who built this house two-hundred years ago.
Quick recap – Harris and Eleanor built this house two-hundred years ago and they had four daughters (Elizabeth, Audrey, Carol, and Margaret). Elizabeth was planning her escape to a bigger future down south. At the same time, Jerrold (the field hand) was asking her father for his blessing to propose marriage.
None of the girls trusted Jerrold and they had no shame about spying on him. They were gathering evidence against him so they could petition their father to get rid of him. The girls didn’t know that Harris and Eleanor had already discussed doing just that.
It was Margaret’s turn to spy. She was tending to the kitchen garden when her father asked her to fetch Jerrold from the barn. When he was on his way, Margaret pretended to return to the garden, but snuck up to the house to listen at the window. At first, the conversation went precisely as she had expected.
“Jerrold, we’ve considered your request and I’m sorry to say that I can’t grant you permission to marry my daughter.”
Jerrold’s tone was unusual. Normally, he stammered and floundered for words. He was never forceful or direct.
Harris continued on, ignoring the question. “Further, we’ve decided that we no longer need your services here. We’ll pay you through the end of the month and write you a reference that you can take on your way this afternoon. It will be a fair account of your time here.”
Everything was quiet.
Margaret peeked up over the windowsill. She saw Jerrold stand and her father extend a hand towards him. Jerrold was practically quaking. Margaret figure that the man was shocked by the idea that he had just been fired. Maybe her father thought the same thing. She was wrong though—Jerrold was furious. He threw himself at Harris, catching him off guard. The two tumbled backwards, out of sight.
She found Carol down by the creek, sitting on the rocks.
“Where are Elizabeth and Audrey?”
“Up on the hill, pulling oak seedlings.”
“We have to get them, quick. Jerrold has gone crazy and attacked Father.”
Carol jumped up and ran. She quickly left her sister behind, climbing the hill. The four sisters convened midway up the hill at the flat spot where you can see the house across the way.
(At this point in the telling, I pause the group so they can look back at the lights of the house.)
They saw Jerrold. They knew his blue shirt from a distance. It was stained dark. He was dragging a shape out of the house into the dooryard. A moment later, he disappeared back inside the house. The girls watched breathlessly until he dragged the second shape from the house.
“What do we do?” Audrey asked.
“We have to help Mother and Father,” Elizabeth said.
They ducked down so they could use the blackberry bushes along the path as cover. Elizabeth snuck up close to the house while the others hid. When she returned, her jaw was clenched and her face was pale.
“Are they going to be okay?” Margaret asked.
Elizabeth didn’t answer.
“We have to get to the barn and take two horses so we can ride across the marsh,” she said.
“No,” Carol said. “You said we have to help them. We can’t leave without Mother and Father.”
“And now I’m saying that it’s time to ride. That’s how we’ll help.”
Silent tears rolled down Audrey’s face.
Margaret pursed her lips and shook her head. She was the youngest and, by far, the most stubborn. “He attacked Father. We need to punish him. Also, Carol’s right. We’re not leaving without our whole family.”
Elizabeth lost her temper. “Then we’ll have to get some sacks first because that man has chopped our parents into pieces.”
Audrey covered her face with her hands. Carol gasped.
“Pull yourselves together,” Elizabeth said. “This is no time to lose your wits.”
They all heard the voice from across the field.
“Girls? We need to have a talk.”
It was Jerrold. He wasn’t stammering at all.
Elizabeth whispered to her sisters. “Run for the river. Take the boat and go downstream. I’ll meet you around the bend.”
“What about you?” Audrey asked.
“I’m going to lure him south first. He can’t catch me,” Elizabeth said.
“The boat has a hole, remember?” Carol asked.
Elizabeth’s eyes went wide as she realized her sister was right. She glanced over her shoulder and saw that Jerrold was stalking towards them. He knew the fields as well as any of them. Their only chance was the woods.
(At this point in the story, I lead the group up the hill towards where the woods are dark and deep.)
“Then hide up near the rocks. When you see him run by, go back to the barn and ride for help. I can stay away from him,” Elizabeth said.
“It won’t work,” Audrey said. “You can’t outrun him forever.”
Elizabeth commanded them with her tone. She stood tall and turned towards Jerrold, hearing her sisters flee behind her.
“I need to talk with all of you,” Jerrold called.
Elizabeth held her ground.
“You can talk with me first.”
She wanted to give her sisters a chance to get far enough away so he couldn’t catch them all. He slowed and then stopped, a dozen paces away. The stains on his shirt were sweat and blood. He still held his sailor’s knife. Hiding behind one of the big maple trees, she had seen Jerrold dismembering her parents with that knife.
“Children!” he yelled over her shoulder. “Come on out.”
“They’re halfway to the boat by now,” Elizabeth said.
“Is that so?”
“They’re going to be disappointed to find out that I have knocked a hole in that boat. No salvation there. Audrey? Bring your little sisters and come on out. I won’t hurt you if you come out now.”
“They’ll find some other way. You’ll never catch them. They know the woods ten times better than you.”
Jerrold smiled, showing her all his teeth. Elizabeth was paralyzed by the sight. It wasn’t just the ferocity of his smile that made her feel detached from her own body, it was the stains that were between his teeth. They were dark red, just like the stains on his shirt.
“What evil have you done?” she whispered.
“You’ll know soon enough,” he said.
He began to move towards her.
This is taking longer to tell than I remember I don’t want to ramble on too long in an email. I’ll have to finish up this story in a few days. Until then, I hope you’re well and taking care of yourself and the ones you love. Stay safe.