DLS Ch. 23

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Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.

Chapter 23: “. . . but what we are becoming.”


Abigail heard a voice in her head. “I know, Abigail. I should have told you. I’ll explain after the funeral.” It was Solomon Davis’s voice in an act of magical telepathy.

Abigail slowly removed her hands, walked past the coffin, and looked among the mourners for Solomon. She saw him sitting toward the rear, and gave him the coldest stare she could offer.

The rest of the funeral passed by Abigail in a jumble of images. She saw Robert Maxwell up front, looking shattered. The big butler from the Farnsworth’s cottage in Stockbridge was there, with a girl who was probably his daughter. Abigail recognized the officiating minister, the well-known Rev. Henry Martyn Field, but what he said she could never remember.

Solomon seemed to be doing his best to avoid Abigail at the funeral, on the walk to the cemetery, and at the graveside service. But she finally caught up with him once that service was over. Even so, he refused to say anything to the purpose until they were safely behind closed doors in Jeremiah Farnsworth’s study.

Without a word of apology, Solomon began. “Your Rebecca Maxwell was a very busy woman in the brief time when you left alone in her room. She left behind instructions for the disposal of her body, magically sealed so they could only be opened by Jeremiah Farnsworth.”

She knew she was going to die, Abigail realized. That explained the odd laugh, her refusal to reveal her plans.

Solomon continued, “I found the instructions in her rooms, along with a dead body. Took me forever to convince the fool of a manager that neither Rebecca nor I were responsible for the man’s death. Anyhow, I brought the instructions back to Jeremiah. Rebecca had instructed him to hold a fake internment in the cemetery, and then to secretly bury her at a spot along the abandoned south hills road.

“I asked Jeremiah if he knew why. He did. It seems that was where the earlier Rebecca Farnsworth was secretly buried by Israel Farnsworth after she committed suicide. Israel had told Rebecca and Jeremiah about it once long ago when they were younger. Why Rebecca wants to be buried with her, I don’t know. Jeremiah thought it might be that she saw herself as the earlier Rebecca’s successor, but he admits that is just a guess.”

Abigail gave Solomon another cold stare. “And you were not going to tell me this?”

Solomon was not to be put out. “Rebecca had instructed that the business be kept a secret. And when you think of it, Abigail, there are quite a few other people I should tell, if it weren’t for honoring Rebecca’s last wishes.”

It was not a satisfactory answer to Abigail, but it would have to do. In any case, at least she now knew, and would be there.


They set out not long before midnight, long after everyone else in the Farnsworth household was asleep. They were three: Jeremiah, Solomon, and Abigail. The body of Rebecca Farnsworth Maxwell was in the back of the cart, wrapped in cloth.

Jeremiah drove. He knew the road, abandoned and rough as it was. But, as he admitted to the two magicians, he only knew the approximate spot. He was hoping that the two magicians could precisely locate where Rebecca Grimes Farnsworth had been buried thirty one years before.

Abigail took the left side, Solomon the right, and they looked for any trace of magic in the ground. Minutes went by, with nothing to see. Jeremiah began wondering if they would ever find the spot.

With a cry, Abigail jumped out of the wagon. It was not a grave she had seen. She had seen someone standing out there in the woods. And, although she did not dare believe it, that person seemed to be carrying a walking stick. She jumped a low stone wall and came face to face with the woman standing there. The woman was indeed holding the dragon-headed walking stick. But she was not Rebecca.


Two gray eyes stared at Abigail’s gray eyes. Abigail recognized the woman. She had been at Rebecca’s home in Stockbridge. Abigail struggled to remember just who she was.

Jeremiah and Solomon came up. Jeremiah greeted the woman. “Good evening to you, Miss Van Duesen.”

That was it, thought Abigail. This was the daughter’s governess, Amy Van Duesen.

Amy smiled. “It is a nice evening, Mr. Farnsworth. Miss Lane. And . . .?”

Solomon bowed. “My name is Solomon Davis, and I work with Miss Lane.”

Amy acknowledged his greeting with a nod. “I see. This is where you should dig, gentlemen.” She pointed with the walking stick to a place about five feet in front of her.

The others all looked at the place. Abigail and Solomon could sense that there was some sort of magical energy there, in the ground, but neither would have cared to guess just what it was.

Solomon gave Amy a smile. “Come on, Jeremiah. We need to get digging.” To Abigail, he shot a magical telepathic question. “That’s the walking stick?

She replied in kind. “Yes. I don’t know how.

Solomon answered, “Well, I’ll leave you to find out.” He turned and went to get a spade from the wagon.

Abigail waited until the two had started digging before she asked, “How did you acquire the walking stick, Miss Van Duesen?”

Amy answered, “Rebecca gave it to me.”

Abigail searched for an explanation. “She somehow told you beforehand that you would get it?”

Amy shook her head. “No. I woke up Friday and it was in my room. Rebecca spoke to me through the walking stick and told me she was giving it to me as the right person to have it.”

Abigail was not going to put up with this nonsense. “Rebecca’s dead. She’s not talking to anyone.”

Amy looked at her in surprise. “You don’t understand, do you, Miss Lane? Rebecca was so certain that you would. To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. She told you.”

Without thinking, Abigail replied, “Yes, when she shot herself, she went from the material plane to the plane of magic, and the dragon did the reverse.”

Amy looked baffled for a moment, and then smiled. “Rebecca says that is clever, Miss Lane. But it is not what she meant.” She paused, as if listening to something. Abigail became aware that there was some sort of magical communication going on between the walking stick and Amy Van Duesen.

Amy resumed, “You thought the dragon was taking over Rebecca, because the dragon was more powerful in magic. But Rebecca and the dragon were magically bound together as equals, Miss Lane, permanently bound. When they were together on the magical plane, they were as one being. It was only because Rebecca had an individual material body that they were not as one all of the time.

“When Rebecca first practiced magic with the dragon, she was very careful, and neither got the better of the other. Then she stopped practicing for nine years. She and the dragon were still bound together. So long as she didn’t practice magic, she didn’t know what the dragon was doing. But it was always watching her through the walking stick. It lived her life as part of its own. And over time, it came to identify with Rebecca, with her thoughts and feelings and values and needs. Far from taking over Rebecca, Rebecca had essentially taken over the dragon.

“So when she began to practice magic again, the dragon worked to help her, willingly. They were not just bound together magically, they even shared many of the same purposes. And once Rebecca realized that they could be together on the magical plane if she were not in her physical body . . . well, you know what she did to save Patty.”

They stood there quietly for several minutes while Abigail tried to understand the implications of what she had just been told. Then Amy spoke, “Stop digging, gentlemen. You don’t want to uncover the old Rebecca’s bones.”

The two men put up their spades and went to get Rebecca Maxwell’s body. Abigail looked down into the grave. There was some sort of magic going on down there, something associated with the dead. But more than that, Abigail could not say.

Jeremiah and Solomon brought Rebecca’s body and laid it in the grave. And just as they started tossing dirt back in, Abigail saw a bit of magic travel off the walking stick into the cloth-wrapped body of Rebecca. Solomon noticed it, too.

Abigail looked at Amy, who quietly said, “Rebecca wants to leave a part of herself to keep the earlier Rebecca company. Or else there would be no point to this.”

The men kept shoveling. Abigail felt she had to clear up some points. “So, Miss Van Duesen, are you telling me Rebecca is still alive?”

Amy gave her a curious look. “In the body, no. Bound together with the dragon on the plane of magic, yes.”

“And you will now wield the walking stick as Rebecca did?”

Amy shook her head. “I am only a sensitive, Miss Lane, not a magician. Whatever I do, it will not be the same as what Rebecca did.”

No, thought, Abigail, I suppose not. And then she had an inspiration. “Miss Van Duesen, why don’t you come back with Mr. Davis and me to Washington? We would be glad to employ you, whatever your talents. I think we would be able to help you explore what you can do with the walking stick.”

Amy looked pensive, and then replied, “I do not think I have a job as a governess any more, Miss Lane. So, yes, I would like that.”

Yes, thought Abigail. You will come back with us, Miss Van Duesen. I will demand Andrew hire you, and if he won’t I’ll go to Chief Brooks. We will help you use your talents. I owe Rebecca that much. We will figure out how to treat Patty and restore her, too. (They did.) And I will ask Solomon to join me in fighting with Andrew, and with Chief Brooks, to make the Office what it should be, what Asa Porter Heard wanted it to be. Who knows, Rebecca, maybe we can live and work as magicians openly, and not in secret. Maybe someday there won’t be secrets, because we won’t have to conceal weakness.

At last the two men were finished. Jeremiah stood over the filled-in grave, and gave himself a moment to grieve for his dear sister. And then they left.


All four of them who were part of that burial detail are dead now, of course. The last to go was Jeremiah Farnsworth, and he died in far-off San Francisco in 1947. No one living knows where that twin grave is. Years of rain and snow have obliterated any visible trace of the grave, and it rests under a century and more of fallen leaves and branches.

And the magic, the strange magics left behind in the bodies of the two women who bore the name of Rebecca Farnsworth? We do not know. Maybe the magics are gone, just dissipated over time, which is what normally happens with the dead. Maybe the part of the second Rebecca in that grave was able to console the first Rebecca, and they both passed onto the magical plane, and perhaps beyond. Maybe they grapple in the dark, fighting each other for some unimaginable goal. And just maybe they have become something else together, just as Rebecca and her dragon did.

May we never find out.



The Dragon Lady of Stockbridge: A Tale of Magic in the Gilded Age


13 Responses to DLS Ch. 23

  1. E. J. Barnes says:

    I had to fight off a tear. Well done. ejb

  2. danagpeleg1 says:

    Beautifully done. What a magical way to go…

    • Brian Bixby says:

      I’m glad you’re pleased. And I’ll have to get hold of you next week to resume our discussion about the story.

      • danagpeleg1 says:

        Any time. I’m curious: did you know the plot – and the ending, in particular – when you started writing, or has it been revealed to you as you wrote?

        • Brian Bixby says:

          I’m actually going to write a post or two about that, but the quick answer is “yes” I did know and “yes” it did develop. I was fairly certain Rebecca was not going to survive the final confrontation right from the beginning. However, it was writing the encounter with the werewolf that forced me to think through the relationship between Rebecca and her walking stick. Once I had decided that, the ending was fixed. How I got there was broadly set, but even major details changed along the way.

  3. Russell says:

    I would say “Rest In Peace, Rebecca,” but I think that’s very unlikely, so I’ll say, “Fare thee well.”

    • Brian Bixby says:

      I originally was thinking of writing a epilogue which would carry the fate of the main surviving characters (Abigail, Solomon, Jeremiah, Amy, Robert Maxwell, the Leigh sisters) through 1934 (which is not to say they are all alive in 1934), but chose to write part iv instead. So I do know about Rebecca and the walking stick up to 1934. Beyond that, I don’t know myself, Russell. I do agree, though, Rebecca’s not likely to ever rest in peace.

  4. Judy says:

    Things have unfolded as they should!! Maybe they are ‘between’ like McCaffrey’s dragons and their riders. It feels peaceful anyway.

    Good story and what others are rattling around your mind?

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Thank you.

      I’ve quite a few stories either contemplated, partially written, or fully written but in need of revision, Judy. There is a completed story involving the Office of Occult Affairs between 1971 and 2001, and three partially completed stories, set in 1930, 1934, and 1953. There’s also the story I mentioned in the post, dealing with vampire-human romances in an offbeat fashion, that will probably be the focus of my revising this month.

      The problem is deciding which, if any of these stories should go on the blog. I have three candidates, all of which exist as fragments, but none feels right, quite yet. And I know from writing “Dragon Lady” that until it feels right, it’s not ready to write.

  5. suzy beal says:

    I enjoyed ” The Dragon Lady” from beginning to end. I felt as though I was living in the past reading a story in serial form from a magazine e.g., Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, etc. Thanks for the history lesson. Am waiting for the next one.

  6. crimsonprose says:

    Sorry I’m late coming to this. I’m knocked out. This one chapter holds it all together, it’s so cleverly done.

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