To Marry for Love or Murder
News traveled quickly in Suffolk, how Miss Ophelia Pellyn, third daughter of Lord Pellyn, baron of a small estate in the country, was found dead, drowned it seemed, perhaps even suicide, after gross implications of a torrid affair with some unnamed young gentleman. It was upon the morning of September, towards the end of the Season. Acquaintances and family members recalled that before the body was discovered that she had been in attendance at a ball held by his lordship George Channing for his firstborn son and rightful and legal heir to the House of Channing, Bascom. It had been the young lord's birthday.
Never had the house seen so much laughter and frivolity, not since Charles II whose reign the Channing's once loudly and proudly supported and whose royal purse strings helped fund the construction thereof. The necklaces and fine jewelry glittered beneath the yellow lights, beaming like sparkling stars; the hopes of wealthy fathers were that these treasures never fail to catch a man. Upon every lord's or baron's or squire's daughter was a silver bracelet or wreath of diamonds specifically designed to ensnare the senses of an unmarried son of a lord or baron or squire. In some instances, a father would settle for a wealthy landowner and businessman, so long as they weren't Papist. They couldn't always afford to be so choosy in terms of eligible bachelors. Gemstones cut by a Hindustani's hands decorated her throat. The Season was to end shortly and back to their mundane lives within the pristine prisons of home, to sit and embroider countless numbers of samplers.
The orchestra played soft and loud, ebbing and flowing as the sea's tides off the southern coast. Dancers in fine coats and gowns were restricted to lively quadrilles, and only on a few occasions permitted to step into a waltz. The wine was sweet, but not as sweet as the unkempt promises from the second or third son of a lord when it was passed onto the ear of an eager young woman, impressionable, delicate, lied to. Their cheeks were pink, their eyes dazzled by false promises for their gentleman callers to call upon them in a few days' time and by the blinding lights of the crystal gasoliers. Twinkling little bulbs were lit by incredibly flammable gas, that, should it come crashing down on their heads, would put an end to their silly romances.
Ophelia Pellyn, should rumors be true, was spotted by a maid, who was promptly dismissed from her station for leaving the kitchens and allowed herself to be spotted by a guest, quietly sneaking away from the dance floor, unchaperoned at that, and enter into the cover of night. For at least half an hour, her whereabouts were unknown. How red her father's cheeks were when the information finally reached his ears the afternoon before her disappearance was known, and how the baron's house turned into a torrent of horror, soon followed by embarrassment over such implications, as real or imagined as they may have been, and then later, after the storm came more horror.
The dress was new. It had been brought from a boutique in London for the occasion. Its taffeta-silk wrapped neatly about her frame. Fronds, moss, and wild lilies lay as a thick film. Pink into brown, the soft, luxurious fabric soaked deep into the marrow. Her hands appeared as unearthly as they lay on top of the water. The white kid glove she wore elongated her already tiny hands. The digits stretched out like ghostly fingers towards the river bed, ever near and every out of reach. Her other hand was above her head, tangled in the mess of dark curls, wild lilies, and fronds. This hand was bare.
Water drenched the fabric through the petticoats and the lady's...unmentionables. It twisted and curled about her body. Her feet were bound up in the dark pink and brown taffeta, the white lace of her petticoats well hidden. Her bustle wrapped around her like a snake. It had dragged her down into the river's deepest pit where the water finished the job and strangled her until the darkness drowned her. Nature raised her body in due time to the surface just as two boys from a nearby village had gathered their poles to fish for pikes and trout in the river that cut through the landscape like a knife. She lay on the surface of the water, drifting as it were off to sleep. Gray eyes were staring up into Paradise, though the implications surrounding her brief disappearance at the young lord's birthday party would have pointed that she may have been spirited off just contrariwise. A sickly-looking piece of grass clung to the corner of her mouth whose thin lips were posed in silent murmurs.
It took two men from the village to fish her out of the river after the boys had come screaming bloody murder, so it seemed, through the village, shrieking like banshees and pointing their small, dirty fingers towards the river. A few men and women went to the riverside. With a collective gasp from the gathering of curious onlookers, the lady's body drifted down stream. She seemed to wave with her upraised arm to the crowd, saying good-bye. The first of the men who tried to fish her out was unsuccessful. Her dress was so weighted down by the water that he, a hardy and hard-working farmer, could not lift her out himself. Another slid down the bank of the river, and with the greatest amount of respect for the dead, slung the bustle about her feet. They lifted her up from the waters by her shoulders and ankles and clambered up the steep slope of the bank. Villagers shook off their coats to lie down on the road where she was laid. A woman threw an old blanket over the sopping wet form. The body was silhouetted; its cold, wet frame clearly outlined as the blanket absorbed the moisture from the skin. It was hours before police arrived.
An inspector lifted the blanket away from the face, and recognized the high cheek bones and dark hair of at least one of the baron's daughters. Her mother swooned when the body was wheeled into the family's tiny chapel, the multicolored stained windows painted the pallid mask of death in warmth. Her father, in anguish at the loss of his child and guilt, his shaking hand brushed over her face to close her eyes which had remained opened til that point.
His hand, half-crippled by grief and age, and bony, moved the ringlets from her face. His face turned as white as the body's when his eyes were drawn to the gaping red gash in her temple, hiding behind her curls. Blood had been wiped cleaned by the river.
It was all so very strange and tragic. But the worst was yet to come. The carriage, which was used to convey her to the Pellyn mansion before the end of the ball, vanished into thin air. There was no sign of it along the highways and by-ways and the dirt roads. The carriage wheels' tracks were lost. How were they to find it?
A young woman came forward, the only daughter of one Mister George Roberts, who owned a few mills and textile factory. He had the great benefit of luck and money on his side, otherwise the acquaintance of his daughter, Lucille Rose, and the victim might not have happened. The old money snubbed him for being of new money, his daughter for her plain looks. She wasn't particularly pretty nor was she ugly. She was awfully plain, but her eyes were shiny as new pennies. These bright eyes were brought to tears when the Pellyn's told her of Ophelia's sudden death. The poor dear went into hysterics. There were some who said that she laughed amid her cries, weeping into her handkerchief.
She led them to the spot where she last saw the Miss Ophelia's carriage.
Lucille Rose, accompanied by her father and mother, led the police to a secluded hillside. The river the cut through the countryside flowed east towards the Thames and London where the great loungers and idlers of the empire were irresistibly drained. The fog was thick, the day gloomy. Policeman scanned the fog with lanterns, still the carriage, even just a fragment of its wooden construct was nowhere to be seen. There seemed to be no trace of it along the river. There was no chance it sunk completely into the water; the river was nowhere deep enough that to be a viable cause of death for Ophelia, her driver, and the horses. It reached to the men's waists at its deepest level, but a horse and carriage could not be sunk into its depths.
The Rose family stood on the hilltop, scanning like ravens over the river as the search party continued in vain. Lucille's yellow dress was stark against the gray backdrop. Her dull brown hair barely moved in the inclement wind.
"Are you certain this is where you last spotted the carriage," the inspector asked for the umpteenth time.
The shook her head, and then looked to the officer with big, brown doe eyes.
"I would not lie, sir. I had seen the carriage as we passed. I was so very sick last night that I could not stand the company. I told my driver to carry on in hopes that someone would pass by them too, and assist them. This is the spot where I had seen the carriage."
There was a small wooden area to one end of the river. Here, they found nothing. What light they had was exhausted. Their lamps grew dimmer. The little flames in their glass shelters flickered back and forth. The glass cages in which the lights were held captive sputtered in the wind, which had begun to grow fierce.
Night had just begun to settle. Darkness loomed over. With shaking heads and shivering limps, they made their way back to the Rose family. Water sloshed around them, creating giant ripples. The toads were silenced as they passed. All was silent.
They feared a banshee was pealing into the night. They ran towards the sound. Miss Lucy was in a swoon half-way down the hill. Her father held her up in his arms. When the officers arrived, Lucy's white hand was pointing a large stone. One of the policemen picked it up to examine. They raised their lamps and in the golden light of their circle, surely as plain as day, the rock was shining with rust. Red painted, splattered, one side of the rock with the cursed stigma of Cain's crime. There was no way to tell whose blood it was, but there was no doubt among all present that a rock had been used to bash Ophelia's head in. There was a great deal of it. Some began to think that she had been dead before she hit the water.
The search began in the villages and towns north and south of the river. None could tell with certainty that the carriage and its driver were seen. It happened in the dark of the night. So few were awake. The driver, Mister Oliver, could not be found. The rock, the missing carriage, and the very fact that he was a man made him guilty without a jury's approval. He was guilty without a trial to have ever been arranged. There was an outrage. The nobility in the Suffolk county and all the regions surrounding the area were up in arms. They only seemed to care about murder of a young woman only if they had been one of their own. Another rumor raised itself from the grave amid the search for Mister Oliver. No one knows for certain who started it but it caught like wild fire.
"Victoria," Miss Blanche whispered across the table over a cup of jasmine tea. "You don't suppose it was him, do you?"
Victoria set down her cup. "Suppose it was who?"
"You know," Blanche lowered her voice even more. She glanced over at the other tables, not wanting to cause a stir at another lady's tea party. "Jack the Ripper."
Victoria scoffed, chuckling at the absurdity of it all.
"Jack the Ripper?" She raised the cup to her lips again, breathing in heavily the jasmine perfume and taking a sip. "I believe that those books of yours have caused a terrible fever. Jack the Ripper, honestly."
"But he hasn't been caught, has he? He could still be out there."
"Those women should have known better. He is not interested in those who have more social standing. And even if he dared, he would be swinging from the gallows by now."
"But poor Ophelia. Who else..."
"I don't want to hear of this, Blanche. This whole business is trifling and depressing."
One day, a man entered the police station. He was a straggly man, beaten by the weather and something that was weighing on his soul. His suit was stained at the bottom of his trousers. His coat was in the same manner and the patches at the elbows were loose, flapping around as he moved. The policemen within the building eyed him as if he had already committed a crime. They stood aside while he walked towards the sheriff's desk, shuffling his clogs in a sloppy manner.
His shoulders and back were weighed down by some invisible parcel he was forced to carry with him. The total appearance of him gave the officers the impression that he was an old drunkard stumbling his way around, causing trouble. Their quick, eager fingers were pressed sharply along their clubs. The man neither saw nor heard them. He carried on with such a conviction that there was little, it seemed, that could stop him. He looked the sheriff in the eyes with red-rims. His dirty hand tossed a white glove on his desk. The officer picked it up, noting how small it was. It couldn't possibly belong to the man. He looked at the size, the fabric, the small embroidery at the decorated the bottom hem and determined it was a woman's glove.
"What is this?"
The officer was unprepared for the tears that came from the man standing in front of him. He crashed onto his knees and started begging for forgiveness. Amidst his blubbering, he called out one name.
"Poor, poor Miss Ophelia. Poor Miss Ophelia."
They each grinned. They had their man. Handcuffs were thrown on him and the Pellyn's were contacted. In a black carriage, they arrived not an hour later after they received the telegram. Lord Pellyn recognized the man as the driver, George. Her ladyship was escorted out of the room when George began his tale.
"The young lady asked to leave the ball shortly after ten o'clock. She ordered me to take her home. I drove on the main road; I knew there was no traffic there. Not that night." He shuddered. "Not long after, I saw something in the moonlight. A carriage. I didn't know who it was, but it was clear to the young lady who they were. She ordered me to stop, and so I did. She went to the carriage, against my wishes, mind you, to see who had been stranded. I saw from the box that the carriage was in deep trouble, in very bad shape. It had tumbled from the hill and rested to one side. Two of its wheels were missin'. I knew that the lady should not have tread closer, but how could I have stopped her?"
Something stopped him. He began to tremble violently. Lord Pellyn threatened to throw a royal fit and thrash the man with his cane until he confessed fully. It took several men to restrain the distraught father, but in the end he was still able to make good his promise. When George regained consciousness, he mumbled about how this was just punishment. He wept bitterly into his hands, praying to God for mercy. There was nothing that the police could do to get him to talk again. There was more than enough sufficient evidence against him. He knew nothing about the rock used to break open Ophelia's temple, but there was the fact that he had taken possession of her glove, the fact that he was the last man to be seen with her, and that he had not spoken up since her disappearance. In all accounts, he was guilty. No one felt sorry when he was led to the gallows and strung up from the neck until dead. His last words were indiscernible. He kept muttering to the executioner about the yellow shape in the medieval crowd shouting for his death.
A gentleman's lips pressed quickly to her cheek. Alone in the shade of night and the great stone wall, Ophelia turned and had her arms about his neck like a ring. He kissed each cheek, tinging the maidenly flesh as rosy as her taffeta dress.
"You were not followed?" She stared into his eyes, his bright beautiful eyes that seemed to dance and twinkle in the yellow lights pouring from the windows. All was dark outside, perfect for hiding but she glanced at the gilded windows. Her heart beat against her chest. Could he hear it? Whether it was the rush of Cupid's forbidden charms or the terror that would come from being caught, her heart almost broke the bones of its cage. She looked past Armand's shoulders. There were no human-shaped shadows in the night.
"Am I daft, my Ophelia? I would not have risked seeing you here if I was followed." Bascom lowered her hands, grasping them tightly. His eyes were grew dark, brows drawn. She could see much of his father in him as he deepened the expression. His voice, occasionally soft and sweet, lowered. It sent chills across her flesh. "We cannot keep meeting like this. What will your father think?"
"What would your mother think?" She retorted. She flashed him a smirk knowing full well that he was the only one who could bear shrewd remarks without a threat to box her ears.
"My mother would like to see a ring on a lady's finger before I do anything rash."
"And which lady in the ballroom would she like to see your ring upon her hand? Mary's, Lucille's, Agatha's?"
Bascom threw his head back, stifling a thunderous laugh.
"Not any of them, not those poor girls. I'd have to be blind and without half my wits to marry one of them."
"Then which lady inside would you like to propose to, Bascom dearest?"
His hand gave hers an affirmative squeeze. "There is no woman inside those walls that I would have for a wife more than you, my lovely Ophelia."
Her blush ran all the way down her neck and to the top of her chest. Her skin became the color of her dress, dyed pink in hue. The white lace making its way around the bodice suddenly became unbearably stifling. Her gloved hand brushed his cheek.
"Then do so. Go in there and tell the world that you will have only me."
"In due time, pet. Just wait a little longer."
Her cherry lips pouted.
"A little longer may not be good enough for me, Mister Channing," she whispered with such venom, Medusa might have been proud. She held her neck high, waving her fan in his vision, opening and closing it will. Her cheeks were red with impatience. She turned a haughty eye at him while she attempted leave the scene. It quickly became clear to him that her intentions were to leave him there and quietly rejoin the party inside. She could as easily sneak in as she had sneaked out.
There was something about Miss Ophelia's temperament. Neither the lady her father wanted her to be nor the loose damsel her rivals made her out during those hushed and vicious conversations behind their Chantilly fans fluttering over their lips. There was something about her wild, ambitious spirit that her one of his favorites. She was, if her favor could be won, in the running for his hand in marriage. Perhaps not the wealthiest, but her beauty was enough to keep his attention and her wits made her all the more desirable.
Bascom then seized her wrist as the rustling of her gown passed him by. In the shadows, their lips met. She was hazy-eyed for a moment, squealing like a piglet at the assault. After a second or two, her hesitation or repulsion, he couldn't honestly tell one from the other, dissipated. Her untrained lips kissed him back. When she did with fervor, he pulled away, if only to see the scowling face of childish young lady before him. He kissed her hand before she could tear it away from him.
"Soon, very soon." He whispered against the satin fabric of her glove.
Ophelia turned away, wiping her lips with her thumb. Her curls bounced as she stormed away in to the night. Bascom stood there, beneath the shadows of the walls. He waited. The party inside was beckoning to him. There was the sound of music, laughter, and the clinking of glasses in toast of the absent man of the hour. He stayed clear of the windows lest someone should see him. However, he had little to fear of that happening. With the blinding lights and wine, how could anyone stop and look outside the window for a moving figure. His thoughts did return to the idea that he should rejoin the world inside where enough money could buy you happiness, if for a while and still some left over. It was a world that became, for him, increasingly dull. There were few things he enjoyed wine, gambling, and the pursuit of women.
"Is she gone?" A quiet, tender voice asked from the other end of the shadowy valley.
Behind him stood yet another young woman with rosy cheeks and bright eyes. She was onto his games, and could play them just as equally well. That is what made her his second favorite. There was a charm with her ordinary face, the freckles that dotted her throat, and how her lips could most so sensually. Hers was a slow seduction. She knew the game. Bascom could say without uncertainty that she knew it inside and out. For her, it was not a game of cat and mouse. It was a game of poker in one of the smoky gambling dens he frequented when he was in London, while his father attended Parliament. The game of seduction became a game of who had the better cards. And who ever had the best hand, would win everything while the loser walked away with empty pockets and shame. The girls that came from the nouveau riche weren't quite like the girls from old money. If anything, they were more like the Americans, bold. He liked that.
"Quite gone, I'd say," his hands found her petite waist.
She swatted his hands away, giving them a good smack with her fan.
"You were enjoying yourself entirely too much, I think. Implying that I was ugly," she was as green as the grassed she walked on. Her sickly yellow gown paled in the golden light pouring in from the ballroom as she half-stepped from the shadows.
"You heard?" He leaned away, brows furrowed. "You weren't supposed to be out here until I fetched you. How did you know?"
"The bystander often sees more of the game than those that play," scoffed, offering him only her shoulder. "I saw her giving you signals with her fan all night. I am not a woman to be trifled with. I have my ways."
"Have your ways with what?"
"Of getting revenge, you would be surprised at what price a person's loyalty may cost. Today it might be the housemaid of Lord Barkus, whose daughter is engaged to your cousin. He wouldn't care to hear that you've been flirting with her behind his back. A little tidbit from the maid could have the two of you in a feud. Tomorrow it could be Miss Ophelia's driver, who has spotted your carriage driving up the road towards the sordid places a gentleman of your peerage never be seen. Rest assured, my accomplices are everywhere. I have eyes and ears on the things that go on. I am no fool. If my father is to gain more respect, I must marry into a noble house. Yours, I have come to an understanding, is the most prominent in this county, and I'm certainly not going to travel all the way to London to find another suitor. This isn't just a game for you men. There are clever women who can design plans to have their match made in heaven, even if it comes at the devil's price." Her little mouth twitched into a smirk, one befitting of the cold, cruel devil-woman she was.
Bascom stood his ground. He would not be made a fool by a mere strumpet.
"You, you have the audacity to blackmail me?" He laughed with the bitterness of an old man. "Silly woman, if I can even call you as such, you have no idea who you threaten."
"Yes, yes I am a silly woman," pressing her fan to her lips, "but this silly woman knows that you've been in the company of at least three girls in there, and their reputations, and yours, would be ruined beyond repair. And if you think to use your information against me, and say I am among your numerous conquests, a check to a doctor will clear my name of any wrong-doing, while you'll be left in the gutter of your misery and vice. I will forgive your transgressions, my lovely Bascom, if you give me a kiss."
He miscalculated. Bascom, approached, bowing to the whim like a little pup following its master. Her brown eyes were anything but humble. This creature was like a devil in sheep's clothing. Her demure nature, the upbringing she endured, the education in the art of refinement were all disguises to hide the wicked nature that lay deep within. The Bard might have said it best: there were daggers in her smile. He kissed her mouth, anything but sweet. Her lips were cold, frozen even.
Ophelia wrapped herself tightly in the fur wrap. Her gloved hand ran along the pelt, a gift from Bascom. Her fingers played in the soft tufts; hands splayed across the warmth on the chilled night. She glanced out the window only to retreat back. The hilly countryside was so boring. After dark, it grew more so. She couldn't see far beyond the carriage window. Hills were round, dark giants sleeping. Trees were like hands, spindly fingers reaching up to the star encrusted skies. Little blocks that made up the farmhouses and peasants' country homes squatted in the bogs and valleys between the giants. Every now and then she would see a small flame in these short boxes resting on the hills but then it was quickly extinguished.
The gentle rolling of the carriage wheels lulled her into a sleepy state. Her eyes clumsily fell. If the driver hit a bump in the road, Ophelia was startled awake. The wood creaked. The curtains and interior decorations flitted to and fro matching the motions of the carriage. She leaned back into the seat, feeling herself go under the hypnotic rolling of the carriage and into a little sleep. Through dim eyes, she parted the curtains one last time.
Silvery light from the full, robust moon made the road a ribbon, and in its light a strange figure appeared in the dark. It was like a dog only…bigger. It had pointed ears sticking up on the top of its head. It did not budge. It stood there by the road. Ophelia's eyes widened with curiosity as the carriage approached. The dog stood stock still even as the carriage rumbled its way closer. She had seen animals run in terror from carriages. The great wheels tumbling over dirt and cobblestone roads and the mighty hooves of the horses were more than enough to send any animal, no matter how wild or feral it may have been, skitter away with its tale between its legs. But this dog, because despite its size it couldn't possibly be a wolf, remained on the roadside til the carriage passed it.
Ophelia shrugged her shoulders, confident that it must have been a very brave dog to have just stood there. Though, she did wonder why it was standing like at all. Perhaps, she thought to herself, it was waiting for its master?
She thought no more of the dog and its abnormal size. The carriage's steady rumble drifted her back to sleep. Her body slumped in an unladylike manner in the backseat. Her head was resting against the wall when George pulled harshly on the reigns. The carriage stopped abruptly, almost knocking poor Ophelia to the floor. She held onto the window frame for balance. The horses went wild. Their neighing cries echoed along the hills like some kind of strange chorus. Impatient, Ophelia ducked her head out of the window and called the driver.
"Forgive me, Miss," George replied from the driver's box, "but there seems to be some folks up ahead that may need assistance." He pointed his leather-gloved hand towards this murky river.
Ophelia squinted in the dark. She could barely make out the shape with the shadows, dark trees, and the rolling hills covering whatever it was in their shadows. There was a faint little lamp far off in the distance. There were three figures. One was some kind of large animal, laying prone on the ground. The second was that of a man. The third was a woman dressed in yellow.
"George, George, go up the road a little bit and then stop."
"Yes, Miss." He tipped his hat.
Ophelia retreated into the carriage until it came to a stop. She stood, still wearing her wrap, and opened the carriage door herself. Seeing that the young mistress was attempting to exit the carriage, George jumped from the box and leant his hand. She received it with a hesitant grace. Once on the ground, she squinted once more into the night. The male figure was waving with the lamp. She trotted across the grassy knolls, George following close behind. When they approached the scene, a broken carriage lay on its side, water lapping at it and the horse dead.
"Miss Ophelia, it was so terribly dreadful." She knew that voice. "I do not know what happened to the horse. It was spooked by some dog that ran across the road. Poor thing, Michael, the driver, lost control of it, and we landed here. Won't you help us?"
Ophelia felt pity and a cold, shaking hand grab both of her wrists. She turned to her driver.
"We will take Miss—"
"Oh, no," the woman stopped her. "I would not wish to be a bother. Send your driver to the nearest village. It's a mile away from here. You can make it out over the hillside. He will send for help there."
"Would you rather not step into the carriage?"
The brunette shook her head. "I fear that I am too humble to share the same carriage. Would you please stay with me? I'm afraid of the dark."
Her humble brown eyes were sweet as chocolate. She was shaking all the down to her bones. Her yellow gown was crumbled beyond repair. Ophelia wasn't sure if she should force the girl to enter the carriage or take pity on her and comply with her request. However, if she was so bent on staying out in the cold night, and the mud on her shoes would have stained the carpeting in Ophelia's carriage.
"George, send word to the nearest village that this lady needs assistance. Her carriage is damaged."
"Are you sure, Miss?" He was unsure himself of leaving the young girls alone with just one man to defend them, in the dark. Granted it was no Whitechapel or the fictitious Fleet Street, by these courtly young ladies would be no match for the things that go bump in the night.
"I'll be fine. Now, just do as I say," she ordered like a queen.
George nodded, bowing his head, his chin almost touching his chest. He climbed back up the hill, hopped into the driver's box, and got the horses going again. The empty carriage tittered back and forth as it sped down the road. It vanished in the night.
The ladies stood by the river. One didn't simply wear ball gowns and lie in the marshy grass. The other driver went up the hill to roll up some tobacco and smoke his paper cigarette. Ophelia reluctantly placed the fur wrap on the woman's shoulders.
"That should keep the chill away." She turned and began to stroll leisurely along the side of the river.
She stopped to look at the moon's rippling reflection in the water's surface. It moved just as it moved the ocean's tides. She raised her head to look at its still form. In the dark sky, the moon was a flat disc. It was the eye of heaven with the darkness as silken tresses and bejeweled with the stars. Her companion strolled in the opposite direction, upwards along the slope of the hill. Ophelia's eyes were dazzled by the brightness of the bewitching moon. Had she ever seen it so full?
"Come here," she beckoned with her hand for the companion to come and gaze with her. "You must see this."
The woman clambered down the hillside, loudly. The grass was crushed beneath her. She spoke not a word but answered Ophelia's call. She was behind her now. Ophelia was still stunned by the beauty to look over to the other woman, to speak more politely to her.
"Have you ever seen such a thing?" She was mesmerized. "I cannot remember the last time I saw the moon so big. Isn't it lovely, Miss—"
There was pain in her temple. She was taken aback, physically and mentally. A second blow to the same spot sent her reeling. Her left foot was the first to feel the icy grip of the river to wrap around her. Black spots danced across her vision as she tried to blindly feel for the assailant. Her hands weakly resisted, the blows to her skull could be blamed for her delayed reaction. But the assailant was a tiger, fighting back tooth and nail, and they were fighting with full strength.
The water rose to her waist. She gripped the rock-wielding fist in one hand the scratching claws in the other, above her head. The pale image of a face stood next to the pale, dimming image of the moon. The man in the moon was distant to her plight, her murder. He hung there in the sky like a useless ornament. Water choked her. She swallowed it. Her bones and muscles weighed all the more. Her hand slipped out of its glove but she couldn't reach to cut out the eye from its socket. There was third blow, and a fourth, and maybe more after that. Her eyes were drowning in a black fog and her mind was going. There was an oppressive fog in her brain and all she could remember was the dog sitting by the road. She thought she remembered how it turned its head to stare at her through the window as they passed. What color were its eyes? Brown like mud, black as sin?
Red like murder.
How strange it was the next morning when the barn of Mr. and Mrs. Rothschilde was burning. They awoke to the smell of burning wood and some kind of meaty smell, like roasted pork on the spit. There wasn't time to put out the fire. No one could fetch water from the river fast enough. Within an hour the barn, as well as whatever was in short distance from it, was nothing but black cinders.
That was around the same time the villagers noticed a poor drunkard stumbling his way out of the tavern in the wee hours of that same morning, mumbling about a confession before he tipped the bottle of gin down his throat.