Copyright © 2012 by Brian Bixby.
Chapter 18: A day in the life of Patty Leigh
Patty Leigh was in her element, or so she thought. Servant, spy, assistant to magicians, she was now doing everything her sister Grace had done with Becca a decade before, and then some. True, she knew less magic than Grace, but Grace had gone on three adventures with Becca, while Patty was on her first. Anyhow, Grace wasn’t a magician either. Patty had even been in deadly peril and encountered a ghost. And helping Abigail by getting her a change of clothes, pedestrian as it might sound, meant that she was a crucial member of this team with Becca and Abigail Lane.
When Rebecca returned from visiting her family, Patty delighted in describing her adventures with Abigail. She was secretly thrilled to see how alarmed Becca was when she described the perils she and Abigail had undergone in the company of Asenath Shattuck’s ghost. Patty didn’t know Rebecca had already heard this from Abigail only two hours before, and was more worried about how the protective spell she had placed around Patty had not kept her safe from the Taryan demons’ mental influences.
Patty wasn’t much interested in discussing the Taryan demons. In truth she didn’t remember much about them, just that she had been terrified. But she was fascinated by Asenath’s ghost. Patty had never encountered a ghost before, and asked all sorts of questions about what ghosts were usually like. Inevitably, it led her to a question she had found out Abigail couldn’t answer, but she was sure Becca could. “Why is Asenath on her old farm as a ghost?”
They were sitting in Rebecca’s rooms at the Double Eagle, Rebecca sitting with her chair turned away from the side table where she’d been making notes to herself on her plans for the next few days, Patty stretched out on the couch, her shoes on the floor, her stocking feet on the couch. Bridget would never let her put her feet up on a couch, but Becca didn’t seem to mind, so Patty indulged herself. Rebecca thought about Patty’s question for a bit, and then gave an odd laugh. “She’s there thanks to Eighteen-Hundred-and-Froze-To-Death, Patty.”
Patty closed her eyes, opened them, and gave Becca a frown. “You’re not making this any clearer, Becca,” she said in a tone that implied Becca was being deliberately unclear.
Rebecca gave a snort. “You’re almost as patient as Grace, Patty. Asenath was a woman whose life was marked by portents. She was born on the Dark Day, which you’ve never heard of either, in 1780. She married Lemuel Shattuck and they moved out here and cleared the farm with the help of their seven children. Asenath knew some magic, and acquired a reputation as a witch. There are a lot of silly stories told about her.” Including, Rebecca reminded herself, the story about the possessed dog that someone used as their model in attacking Samuel Taylor. She wondered what had happened to Ellen Taylor, whether she remained as part of the reduced staff in the Maxwells’ Berkshire cottage or not. When she returned to Stockbridge, she would have to find out.
She continued speaking to Patty. “In the year 1816, the weather was unseasonably cold and the spring came late, so late that, unless the weather was perfect for the rest of the year, the harvest would fail. Maybe Asenath could see what was coming, maybe she couldn’t. What she did was to bind her life and magic to the farm to make the crops grow. That’s what she intended, but she cast the spell in broader terms, to preserve her farm and family. It was much the same thing to Asenath at the time.
“Well, 1816 was the worst year ever. Snow fell in every month. Cold and rain and frost blasted the crops repeatedly. Everywhere in New England the crops failed, livestock died, people went hungry. But not on the Shattuck farm, no. Asenath’s magic protected and saved the crops, the farm, and the family. And much of the rest of the town, I should add. Lemuel was a hard man, but not so hard that he would see his neighbors starve.
“But what was good for the farm was fatal to Asenath. She may have anticipated a hard year, but 1816 was so much worse than anyone could recall, and we’ve never seen its equal since. Asenath got sicker and weaker with each frost, each drought, each bad spell of weather. She lived to see the start of the harvest, and then died, thin and cold, like all the weather she had protected the farm from.
“And this is where the exact words of Asenath’s magic affected her in an entirely unexpected manner. Instead of passing into the magical world as a ghost and then beyond, as happens with normal people, she was bound to the farm to guard and protect her farm and family. Her soul attached itself to every living thing on the farm. So long as anything lives on that farm, Asenath is bound to it, forever. Since the farm was abandoned and the land is reverting to forest, there may be more living matter on it that there was in Asenath’s day, and she may be stronger now than she ever was when alive.”
Patty could not even begin to imagine what sort of existence Asenath had. But Rebecca’s concluding words puzzled her. Patty asked, “Why did the Shattucks abandon the farm?”
To Patty’s surprise, Rebecca didn’t answer immediately. Instead, she sat there, looking pensive. Then she stood up, came over to the sofa, and indicated Patty should move over. Patty swung her legs down and sat up, and Rebecca sat down beside her. To Patty’s surprise, she could see Rebecca’s knuckles were white from clutching her walking stick.
Rebecca didn’t look at Patty, but leaned forward and looked down at the floor as she spoke. “It was hilly land, never very good land. Better lands opened in Ohio, Illinois, out in the Midwest, and many families, especially those in the hills, sold or abandoned their farms and moved west. Even with Asenath guarding it, the Shattuck farm could never produce as much as the better lands in the west.”
Rebecca’s voice took on a bitter tone. “But it was what happened in 1817 that caused the Shattucks to leave. Lemuel had saved many from starvation, and lost his wife in the process. The townspeople had been happy to be saved with Lemuel’s crops and livestock. But behind his back they called Asenath a witch and the farm unnatural. Once it became clear that the harvest of 1817 would be bountiful, they shunned Lemuel. When the harvest came in, some paid him back the grain he had given them, bushel for bushel, for a fraction of the value they would have paid the previous year. The others gave him nothing. And the Shattucks became pariahs thereafter. No one wanted to be in their debt, no one wanted to be reminded of the debt they owed the Shattucks, no one wanted to be associated with them. The Shattucks stood it for two more years, and then left, never to return. Asenath could not go with them, and no one would farm that land afterwards. Some say there is a curse on the farm if anyone other than a Shattuck lives on it.”
Patty couldn’t help but exclaim, “That’s horrible!”
Rebecca sat up, looked at Patty, gave her a smile. “True. But there was a good side to the story, Patty. Well, at least somewhat good. There was one farmer who paid Lemuel back in full, full value and then some. It took him all three years the Shattucks remained here to do it, but he did. Seems he had a son who wanted to marry one of Lemuel’s daughters. They married just before the rest of the Shattucks left for the West. The son’s name was Jeremiah Farnsworth, and he was my grandfather, which is how I am Asenath’s great-granddaughter.”
Patty nodded vigorously. “She said you were of her blood. Well, her ghost did.”
Rebecca’s smile turned sad. “And that is why the Farnsworths haven’t exactly been favorites in the town ever since, and why it’s been so easy to raise charges of witchcraft, first against the earlier Rebecca, and now me. People remember.”
There was a moment there where Patty thought Rebecca’s eyes changed, growing larger and golden in color. But it was so fleeting Patty assumed she must have imagined it.
Rebecca dismissed history from her mind and turned to Patty. “Pull out that cross on your necklace, Patty. I’m going to change the spell on it, make it so much more powerful that even one of those demons you saw last night won’t be able to affect you.” I hope, she thought to herself.
Patty accompanied Rebecca on her visits to the town’s leaders that day. She spent most of her time chatting with the house servants and helping them with their work. Now that they knew what their adversary looked like, Patty tried to guide conversations to strangers and people who might be the magician William Maverick. She had no success, but still enjoyed herself.
In the early days of the Republic, Americans had thoroughly disliked the occupation of servant. It suggested subordination in a very personal way that was, so people claimed, antithetical to the democratic ethos of the American political and social order. Europeans who had come to visit this country before the Civil War had remarked with considerable annoyance about how hard it was to find servants, and how quickly they deserted service if another opportunity arose.
The immigrants who started coming over in the 1840s and later did not share this disdain for service, and sometimes found it a more pleasant alternative than working in the factories. So common were Irish servant girls in the major port cities of the Northeast that some families indifferently referred to them all as “Bridget,” no matter their given names.
Out in the Berkshires, immigrants were not so common. The servants in Rebecca’s home town, few as they were, were predominately a mixture of native English stock and French Canadians. There was prestige in having servants of native stock, and those servants felt their superiority. The two rich shareholders in the mills whom Rebecca visited had native servants. Those servants looked down on Patty as an Irish girl, a “Bridget,” no matter how wealthy her mistress. Patty was not much troubled by their slights, since she had the comfort of knowing her role as a servant was assumed. Instead, she gave her sense of sly humor free rein, and baited the native servants with stories about what privileges and luxuries Rebecca allowed her to have.
When they went to visit one of the town’s selectmen, Tom Hill (the more respectable cousin of the Amos Hill who was part of the crowd in front of Rev. Wilson’s home the previous day), Patty found to her delight that the one house servant was another Irish girl, Kate O’Brien. Kate was only a few years older than Patty, but less sophisticated and less educated, so Patty was able to assume an air of superiority in their chat. Like Patty, Kate was a younger daughter, and the two girls found common ground in complaining about the dictatorial rule of older sisters, the unreasonableness of the people they served, and the lack of eligible Irish lads to marry. This was more a problem for Kate than for Patty, for there were many Irish lads in Boston, though few with the money Patty expected to see in a prospective spouse. Kate, on the other hand, was as desperate as Beth Finch. Patty entertained fantasies of introducing Kate in Boston and finding a match for her, for Kate was a naturally attractive girl, even though her sense of fashion and make-up was horribly quaint by Patty’s standard.
At dinnertime, Rebecca joined the other guests at the Double Eagle for dinner. To Barnabas Dawson’s delight, Rebecca actually engaged in conversation about local affairs and history with several of his guests. He almost hoped she would join the ladies in the parlor for their after-dinner coffee. However, she excused herself on the grounds of fatigue. Instead, she returned to her room, got changed into her odd Oneida-influenced clothing, and went out to rendezvous with Abigail, as we have seen.
Personal servants such as Patty were expected to have their dinner at the same time as their masters. Their dinner was certainly not as fancy. The humbler fare was set on platters in a small room off the kitchen, indifferently furnished, and the servants were expected to serve themselves. They had to eat in a hurry, for they needed to be at hand the moment their masters rose from the table. For all that, they still had just as good a time gossiping as their masters, and that gossip was frequently about their masters.
It was not unusual for a romance to begin at such dinners, to last only so long as the masters of the respective parties stayed at the Double Eagle. Patty found herself receiving the attentions of one Dan Smith, servant to Prof. Fisher of Yale. She had heard that Smith had seduced and ruined a maidservant there at the Double Eagle last year. He certainly had the looks and airs for it, and Patty found herself attracted to him despite the story, or, to be more accurate, partly because of the story. While determined to preserve her own virginity (equally from fears of Bridget and of pregnancy), Patty found herself imagining just how far she might let Dan Smith go. Without entirely meaning to, she led him on, and was taken by surprise when he snatched a kiss from her after dinner while they were walking down the hall to the main dining room.
Patty had been too flustered to repel Smith before he released her and continued down the hall. No one had ever dared to do such a thing to her before this. She just stood there, not sure whether to be pleased, embarrassed, or offended. The kiss had been seen by several servants behind them in the hallway, and they gave Patty winks and leers as they passed her. Embarrassment won. Patty flushed red, and hurried up to join Rebecca. She went upstairs with Becca, helped her change, and resolved to spend the evening in Becca’s room. She would be passing up opportunities to collect information, but she could not face her fellow servants, not just yet. And she certainly feared what might happen if she ran into Dan Smith again.
Patty was lying on the couch again, daydreaming, when Abigail Lane returned to Rebecca’s rooms that evening. They had been very pleasant daydreams about a man who looked and kissed like Dan Smith, but with higher social station and better manners. So she gave Abigail a dreamy smile when she came in. Casually, she asked, “Where’s Becca?”
Abigail was in no hurry to begin that topic. Among all her other worries, her knee was hurting again from overuse. She took off and hung up her jacket, then headed over to the couch and motioned for Patty to make room for her.
Once she sat down, she noticed that there was a different protective spell on Patty, stronger than the one she had the previous night. Jumping to the most obvious explanation, Abigail asked Patty, “Did Rebecca put some sort of protective spell on you today?”
Patty was pleased Abigail noticed. “Yes, she’d put one on me before, but decided I needed a stronger one.” Then she asked Abigail again, “Where is she?”
Abigail put her finger to Patty’s lips. “Hush, Patty, I want to study this spell a moment.” Abigail peered at the magic around Patty. As with all of Rebecca’s magic, it was powerful but crude. Not as crude as Abigail first thought, though: Rebecca had built in a warning message that would go back to her if the spell was breached. Well, Abigail thought to herself, that won’t be of much use while Rebecca is missing. She decided to do Rebecca one better, and placed another spell on Patty, one that would not only tell Abigail if Rebecca’s spell was breached, but would allow Abigail to trace Patty’s whereabouts. It was an information spell, and required very little magical power. Abigail did it in a trice.
Patty had let Abigail work. After all, Abigail was a magician. But once Abigail turned away from her and lay back on the couch, Patty renewed her query. In an impatient tone, she asked, “Where’s Rebecca?”
Abigail didn’t really want to discuss what had happened. But she would not shirk her duty. She sat back up, faced Patty, and said, “I don’t know, Patty. We were at the Devil’s Acre, she stepped in it, she was attacked by demons, and just vanished.”
Patty had not anticipated bad news. After all, it was Becca, and Becca was always successful. However, Patty was feeling guilty about being kissed, and superstitiously expected to face some form of divine retribution. She became alarmed at the thought that her sin had put Becca in danger, and sharply demanded of Abigail, “She’s not dead, is she? You’d tell me if she was dead, wouldn’t you, Abigail?”
Patty looked so distraught that Abigail wanted to comfort her. She couldn’t. Not just because she had no comfort to give, but because Abigail felt that she herself deserved no comfort for her own role in the matter. All she could say was, “I don’t know, Patty. She wasn’t killed there, she didn’t use an operation to escape, but she simply wasn’t there anymore.”
Abigail was astonished at how this news cheered Patty up. That Becca was dead had been Patty’s fear. That she wasn’t, or at least probably wasn’t, meant that Patty was off the hook. At least Patty wanted to think so. She hopped up, stretched, and turned to Abigail with a big smile. “Oh, then she’s probably fine, Abigail. Becca’s managed to vanish out of a locked room before.”
Abigail thought Patty’s confidence was misplaced, but wasn’t sure if it was real or assumed, for Patty had already demonstrated quite a talent for acting. And under other circumstances, she would have asked just how Rebecca had vanished out of a locked room. However, Abigail had lost her partner. Never mind that Rebecca was not part of the Office of Occult Affairs, she had still been Abigail’s partner. There were rules about what you did when you lost a partner. Abigail knew. She had helped write them. They took precedence over everything else. She had to stop putting off the task of explaining to Patty what must happen.
“Sit down again, Patty. I need to explain something very carefully.” Abigail’s severe tone wiped the smile off Patty’s face in an instant, it so closely resembled a tone Bridget sometimes used for similar reasons. Patty sat down and gave Abigail her attention.
Abigail took a deep breath and declared, “Rebecca is missing. When you work for the Government as I do, Patty, if you lose a partner for whatever reason, you have to notify your superiors of what has happened. I have sent off a telegram to Washington explaining what has happened. I expect they will send out help. Until that help arrives, we are to do nothing more on this case. Nothing.”
And that, Abigail said to herself, may be the end of my career. I’ve never lost a partner, until now. I’ve never failed at an assignment, until now. But Andrew will blow up when he gets my telegram. He’ll accuse me of dereliction of duty for not filing timely reports and explaining what I was doing. He may not even send out help, as he’s supposed to. He may just recall me, write off the whole business as my misguided enterprise. And if he recalls me, will I return? I can’t abandon this job. I can’t abandon Rebecca, whatever has happened to her. But the odds are against my finding and defeating William Maverick. And that’s assuming he’s not destroyed Rebecca and left town.
Patty had no idea what Abigail was thinking. But the thought of doing nothing was anathema to her. “Isn’t there something we could do, Abigail? We could go look for Rebecca. Wouldn’t that be all right?”
Abigail shook her head. “No, Patty, no,” she sternly informed the girl. She was about to say something about not adding to their losses when a cold fury blew up inside her.
No, she thought to herself. No. No, no, no. I will not abandon my partner. If she is in Maverick’s power, time is running against her. He at least must still be in town. I will search this town from end to end, block by block, all night if I have to, and all the next day. That is my duty, not sitting waiting for help. I will find Rebecca or I will find Maverick, one or the other. And if it is William Maverick I find, I have some tricks that may yet prevail even against his superior power.
She stood up. “Patty, I will be going out to conduct a search. You will not leave these rooms until I return. Do not even try to argue otherwise. I am responsible for your safety so long as Rebecca is missing, and this is the safest place for you this night. I will return by morning. If you really want to help Rebecca and me, you will get a good night’s sleep and be well rested for whatever we may need to do tomorrow. Do you understand? Answer and tell me on your honor that you will do as I have asked.”
Patty knew better than to argue with someone as determined as Abigail sounded. She nodded, said she would stay, and watched Abigail take up her jacket and limp out of the room.
So it fell out that when Rebecca called on the telephone an hour later, Abigail was not available for a consultation. Rebecca and Patty had to make plans without her knowledge or advice.
End of chapter eighteen