* * *
As Rockefeller and Felix entered the small, older building that housed the Aylesbury Historical Society, they noticed a slight commotion at the curatorâ€™s desk in the back, where a spirited discussion occurred between the curator and a visitor who appeared to be an American Indian. Rockefeller put a finger to his lips and he and Felix moved close enough to eavesdrop. It sounded like the visitor was a Nipmuc and was unsuccessfully trying to negotiate the return of Nipmuc artifacts to the tribe. The curator, a middle-aged gentleman, was having nothing to do with it, noting they were the property of the historical society. He then noticed Rockefeller and Felix.
â€œIâ€™ve got to talk to these people,â€ he said. â€œSo, youâ€™re going to have to excuse me.â€
â€œOh, Iâ€™m in no hurry,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œHeâ€™s in no hurry,â€ the Indian said.
â€œI still need to talk to him!â€ the curator said. â€œIâ€™ve been expecting him.â€
He looked at Rockefeller with pleading eyes. The Indian looked at Rockefeller and then glared at the curator before turning and walking out of the building angrily.
â€œOh, thank God,â€ the curator said. â€œWhat can I help you with, sir?â€
â€œFirst, you can tell me what that was all about,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œOh, these Nipmuc. They live down sound of Aylesbury on the reservation and they want these artifacts back. They say theyâ€™re so important to their tribe. Bleah bleah bleah bleah bleah! â€˜Oh, itâ€™s our heritage.â€™ Bleah bleah bleah bleah bleah.â€
He used his hand to mimic someone talking.
â€œWell, we own â€˜em,â€ he went on. â€œAnd I canâ€™t â€¦ theyâ€™re going to have to go before the board before it can even be talked about, discussing giving them back, but he takes it out on me!â€
He continued to complain about the Nipmuc and his problems with them for several minutes. Rockefeller finally looked at his watch.
â€œBut enough about me,â€ the curator said. â€œHow may I help you, sir?â€
â€œAll right, fine, weâ€™ll just forget all about that,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œI just got here to Aylesbury and Iâ€™m new in town. I wanted to find out, I was reading the newspaper article, and it says something about cursed forest. Whatâ€™s that all about?â€
â€œWell, thereâ€™s Nipmuc legends and such. Youâ€™re free to use the facility if youâ€™d like to look around. Iâ€™m sure thereâ€™s plenty of things.â€
â€œAll right. I guess the best thing to do is just roll up my sleeves and get it myself then!â€
â€œThank you so much,â€ he said. â€œAnd I hope you donâ€™t have too hard of a day.â€
â€œOh, thank you,â€ the curator said. â€œYou too, sir.â€
The Historical Society had a small research library filled with books as well as a number of artifacts and exhibits of local historical significance on display, including some ancient American Indian items.
After the first hour of research Rockefeller learned local Nipmuc legends portrayed the region of woods immediately adjacent to the Hollingsworth Textiles Mill as cursed, and no member of the tribe would set foot there. Seventeenth Century ethnologists compiled much of the oral history of the regional tribes, and while the Nipmuc shared much of their history and legends, they steadfastly refused to discuss that subject. Felix found information about an unusual incident occurring during the construction of the mill in 1844. Reports of strange noises in the woods prompted two site workers to investigate. When neither returned, a search party was sent out. One worker was found wandering blindly through the woods, gibbering and incoherent, muttering that the tree had eaten his friend. The only clue to the fate of the missing man was a large swath of bloody forest floor.
They continued researching until about noon. Rockefeller learned that in 1694, a local woman named Ann Bishop Parker and her slave Iyabo were convicted of witchcraft and executed. Parker allegedly bewitched her own husband and a local young girl named Bridget Foster. Legend had it that Foster became pregnant with a demon child which was killed shortly after birth. Parker reputedly had a witchâ€™s altar somewhere in the woods outside Aylesbury, but no evidence of such was ever discovered.
Rockefeller asked Felix to go get some lunch and the man returned shortly after with a basket of sandwiches, potato chips, part of a pie, coffee, Pepsi Cola, and milk. In the time he was gone, Rockefeller had realized the number of items on display were only a small percentage of the total collection. He went back to the curator.
â€œSo, Iâ€™ve been perusing over what you have here and Iâ€™ve been wanting to know: do you have more back in storage?â€ he asked. â€œI mean, surely this is not all you have for such a historical society as yourself.â€
â€œOf course sir,â€ the curator said to him. â€œWe donâ€™t usually allow people to peruse the stuff in storage. Itâ€™s just storage.â€
He glanced at the donation box.
â€œWell, Iâ€™m not a very usual man that comes here, so â€¦ how about this?â€ Rockefeller said.
He slipped a twenty dollar bill into the donation box.
â€œIâ€™d be glad to help you sir,â€ the curator said.
â€œSounds great!â€ Rockefeller replied.
â€œBut why donâ€™t you enjoy your lunch first?â€ the curator said.
He got a small folding table and chairs to eat lunch there in the historical society. He even found a small tablecloth for the table.
â€œNow this is the life, Felix!â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œYes sir,â€ Felix replied. â€œI did bring enough for the curator to join us.â€
â€œSounds great,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œPull up a chair.â€
The man graciously did so.
* * *
Thomas Adler and Abigail Daughton had gone to the Aylesbury Police Department not far from the hotel. Talking to police, they were able to look through the public records of the missing children and put together a list of all of the childrenâ€™s names, when they disappeared, how long they were gone, and who their parents or guardians were.
* * *
The Sheltering Pines Childrenâ€™s Home was a bit of a dump. It looked like a barn that had been renovated into an orphanage and stood near the hospital. It was apparent the town did not put a lot of money into the building.
He met with the woman in charge, a stout lady with plain features and a careworn air. She had long, curly hair that seemed to have a life of its own and obviously couldnâ€™t be tamed. She was probably in her 40s and named Penelope Chapman. She seemed quite frazzled and she told him she managed the home with a staff of only four others in charge of some 47 children of various ages, orphans all.
She was happy to visit with him.
â€œHow can I help you Mr. â€¦?â€ she said when she met him.
â€œBernard,â€ he said.
â€œMr. Bernard. How nice to meet you. Please, please come in.â€
She led him into a tiny office that barely fit a small desk, two small, uncomfortable chairs, and a filing cabinet. There was not even a window. It was very stuffy in the cramped room. Pictures on the walls were childrenâ€™s drawings in colored pencil or crayon. She sat down behind her desk hurriedly.
â€œI donâ€™t have much time to spare but how can I help you?â€ she asked again.
â€œYes,â€ he said. â€œSo, I have heard about the child disappearances and was curious as to â€¦ whether or not there were any strange occurrences with the kids lately, any of the children at all, particularly â€¦â€
â€œNo, not at all. Aside from the children vanishing for three or four days and then just reappearing and not even realizing they had been gone. I mean, it was very stressful of course, very upsetting, terrifying.â€
â€œBut all of the children have come back except for, there was a little girl about nine months ago disappeared. Um â€¦ uh â€¦ um â€¦ Gracie! Gracie Portman. She was one of ours. She was here at the home as well. And she never came back. Itâ€™s thought that maybe sheâ€™s not connected, I think thatâ€™s what the police said. I donâ€™t really recall. She was 12 or 13 years old. Hold on.â€
She looked through her filing cabinet and found a file, telling Bernard the little girl had been 13 at the time.
â€œShe worked at the mill,â€ Miss Chapman said. â€œBut she lived here. Bless her heart. She was a great kid. Itâ€™s sad that she didnâ€™t come back and I donâ€™t understand that and itâ€™s a shame. Another boy disappeared last night. Did you read the paper?â€
â€œYes, I saw that,â€ Bernard said.
â€œHeâ€™s not from here. Iâ€™m not sure â€¦ I donâ€™t know much about that.â€
â€œI think they were kidnapped by rum-runners myself. Thatâ€™s what I think.â€
â€œI think they were used for a few days and then let go so that the Federal government would be less likely to investigate the situation. Thatâ€™s what I think is going on. I really do. I really think thatâ€™s whatâ€™s going on.â€
â€œTheyâ€™re all coming from the forest?â€
â€œNo. I think the only thing they had in common is they worked at the mill. Hollingsworth Mill. Other than that â€¦ most of them came from here.â€
She listed off the names of the children from the home: James Hollings, Yancy Beatty, Jake Torrance, Chastity Willis, and Polly Murray. She noted they all worked at the mill, telling her those who could work often did so with the money going towards making their lives a little better and helping the childrenâ€™s home.
â€œItâ€™s distressing how little help we have,â€ she said. â€œItâ€™s very sad.â€
Bernard felt the woman did really care about the children and their welfare. At one point, a child opened the door to the stuffy office and asked to talk to Miss Portman. The woman went to console the child about a bully and she told the child to stand up for herself and to talk to another of the women who worked there. She gave the child a lollypop and told her not to let the other child take if from her. She seemed bent on helping the child.
â€œI wonâ€™t take up any more of your time,â€ Bernard said. â€œThank you for your help.â€
â€œYouâ€™re welcome,â€ she said. â€œItâ€™s very nice to meet you, Mr. Bernard. I donâ€™t if youâ€™d be interested in adopting a child â€¦?â€
â€œOne day, perhaps,â€ he replied.
She told him he was welcome to talk to any of the children though noted most of them were working at the mill at the time. Some of the younger ones were there but she said he could return that evening.
â€œPerhaps,â€ he said. â€œI may come back later.â€
â€œOkay, well, it was very nice to meet you,â€ she said.
She shook his hand and he was off.
* * *
The Hollingsworth Textile Mill was about three miles out of town and Ingerton and Sayers took a taxicab to the place. As soon as they arrived, Ingerton leapt from the motorcar as it was still in motion.
â€œOh, weâ€™re finally here!â€ he cried, heading for the front door.
That left Sayers to pay for the few cents for the taxicab ride. He would remember it.
â€œYou want me to wait?â€ the cabbie asked.
â€œUh â€¦ yes,â€ he said.
â€œAll righty,â€ the cabbie replied.
The building had faded paint with the worlds â€œHollingsworth Textile Millâ€ in black on the wall facing the road. It stood next to the river and had obviously seen better days, the rumble of a great water wheel loud even on this side of the building. Woods stretched from the river to the south as far as they could see, perhaps a quarter or an eighth of a mile past the mill. An automobile marked with Aylesbury Police Department stood in front of the building.
Sayers entered the mill proper and found himself on a factory floor of the textile mill. Great machines filled the place, all of them running noisily. Ingerton stood nearby, surveying the large room. Most of the workers were children. They were all dirty, wearing frayed or faded clothing, and many of them were barefoot, which didnâ€™t seem particularly safe. A piece of paper on the wall declared the mills operating hours from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Off to one side was a small building set in the far wall, obviously the office of the place. The office had windows on all the walls and a door in the front. Blinds hung over most of the windows.
As the two men headed for the office, they noticed a young woman trying to attract their attention surreptitiously. As they headed towards her, she nodded and left her workstation, heading to a door that obviously led outside. Sayers looked around carefully but didnâ€™t note anyone else watching the young woman. He followed Ingerton out the side door.
They found the young woman standing by the creaking waterwheel where there were no windows nearby. They walked over to her. On closer investigation, she proved to be a plain-looking young woman in a simple dress, her hair pulled into buns on either side of her head. She was probably 19 or 20 years old.
â€œLook, Iâ€™m in danger from Mr. Evans and the police officer thatâ€™s inside the office with him right now is his cousin,â€ she said. â€œSo you canâ€™t trust him. Iâ€™ve got some information that might relate to the disappearances.â€
â€œPlease, tell us!â€ Ingerton said.
â€œWell, in return for this, you have to protect me from Evansâ€™ retaliation. I want something. I want â€¦ I want a new dress â€¦ and I want a train ticket back to Nebraska.â€
â€œWell, Iâ€™d like to see the money first.â€
Ingerton took out a fifty-dollar bill and showed it to the woman. Her eyes grew wide.
â€œWhat is your name?â€ she asked.
â€œIâ€™m Robert Ingerton, concerned citizen,â€ he said.
â€œCan he be trusted?â€ she asked Sayers.
â€œUh â€¦ yes,â€ he said. â€œYes, he can.â€
â€œOkay,â€ she said uncertainly. â€œIâ€™m going to trust both you gentlemen.â€
She looked around carefully, especially towards the door they came through.
â€œAbout a month ago, I walked in on Curtiss Evans, heâ€™s the foreman here,â€ she said. â€œThere was one of his child workers, Jessica Morris, and â€¦ he had hitched her dress up and his pants were down and he was trying to have sex with her. I walked in and â€¦ I walked in to tell him about an accident on one of the looms and I tried to pull him off of her and, as he was dealing with me, Jessica got away, and then he grabbed me and he attacked me and he hurt me and he said if I breathed a word of what I saw to anyone that he would kill me. I think heâ€™s got something to do with these children disappearing from here.â€
â€œWell, I never,â€ Ingerton said. â€œWhat is your name, maâ€™am?â€
â€œIâ€™m Holly Jeffers. But you have to protect me. Now, the man thatâ€™s in there right now, he works for the police department and heâ€™s corrupt and he is Evansâ€™ cousin. Heâ€™s going to protect him. So, if youâ”€â€
â€œDo you think he does anything with the children?â€
â€œNo. But heâ€™s a policeman. He doesnâ€™t have any contact with us usually, but heâ€™s here today because â€¦ because â€¦ I donâ€™t know why. Iâ€™m guessing itâ€™s because that other boy disappeared. That Travers boy disappeared. All I know is what I saw and I saw Curtiss Evans forcing himself on a 12-year-old girl.â€
â€œWhat kind of monster does that?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know. But all I know is I need the money to get out of here and Iâ€™m waiting for it from you right now.â€
She looked at him expectantly.
â€œThank you for your information and letting us know this man is â€¦ human garbage,â€ Ingerton said.
â€œYouâ€™re welcome,â€ she said hurriedly. â€œCan I have the money, please? I would like to leave right now.â€
He handed her the $50 bill and she folded it up and tucked it away, thanking him profusely.
â€œIâ€™m going to be leaving within a day,â€ she said.
â€œIn case of retaliation, I would just go home now,â€ Ingerton told her. â€œBecause that police officer, that just seems shady.â€
She thought about it a moment.
â€œIâ€™m going to go call in sick,â€ she said, heading for the door. â€œGive me five minutes.â€
She disappeared into the mill. The men waited about five minutes by the millwheel before they went in as well, seeing no sign of Holly Jeffers. They passed the children working at the looms and made their way to the office. The door was closed and Sayers peeked into the window to one side where the blinds were damaged.
Inside the officer were two men. One man wore a button-up shirt, suspenders, and a bow tie. He had brown hair that was a little long, and a cruel-looking face. He was probably in his upper 30s. The other man wore a policemanâ€™s uniform and had a thick head and neck. He was also clean-shaven with closely cropped hair under his policemanâ€™s hat.
Ingerton stood patiently in the doorway. Then he knocked.
â€œWhat!?!â€ a shout came from within.
â€œIs this the main office of the Hollingsworth Mill?â€ Ingerton called.
They heard footsteps approaching the door. Sayers stepped to one side as the door was flung open and Curtiss Evens stood there in his sad bow tie, glaring.
â€œWho the hell are you?â€ he asked.
â€œHi!â€ Ingerton said. â€œIâ€™m Robert Ingerton â€¦ from Providence but I came up because I heard there was some sort of reward for finding out the disappearance of these missing children.â€
â€œReward? You heard wrong. There ainâ€™t no reward.â€
â€œIt was in the Aylesbury Transcript.â€
Evans looked back over his shoulder to the police officer who stood in the office, arms crossed. The man shook his head and shrugged.
â€œWell so what?â€ Evans said, turning back to Ingerton. â€œSo what, thereâ€™s a reward! I donâ€™t care. Go talk to the police.â€
â€œIn that case, could I speak to this police officer?â€ Ingerton said.
â€œI donâ€™t care! You bringing your friend?â€
They all entered the office and Ingerton held his hand out to the police officer.
â€œHi!â€ he said. â€œRobert Ingerton.â€
The officer looked at his hand.
â€œYeah, whatta ya want?â€ he asked.
â€œGive me a second,â€ Sayers said to Ingerton.
He pulled the police officer, who had the name Barstow on his badge, aside.
â€œOfficer to officer, can you tell me whatâ€™s going on?â€ he said.
â€œOfficer?â€ Barstow said. â€œWhat are you talking about?â€
â€œIâ€™m an officer in Providence.â€
â€œYou got a badge?â€
Sayers showed the man his badge.
â€œWhatâ€™s Providence got to do with whatâ€™s going on here?â€ Officer Barstow asked.
â€œI hired him as a helpful private investigator type,â€ Ingerton said.
â€œIâ€™m doing this as a personal favor for him,â€ Sayers said.
â€œNothingâ€™s going on here,â€ Barstow said.
â€œWell, Iâ€™m just wondering since itâ€™s mainly the children that work at this factory,â€ Ingerton said. â€œAnd since thereâ€™s a police officer here that I can ask, itâ€™s just convenient.â€
â€œThen why does he need a police officer here if nothingâ€™s going on?â€ Sayers asked.
â€œI was questioning him about the most recent disappearance,â€ Barstow said slowly. â€œIsnâ€™t that right Mr. Evans.â€
â€œYep,â€ Evans said.
They both thought the officer was lying and they guessed Barstow came to warn his cousin that another kid had turned up missing from the mill and he better watch his step. They guessed Barstow suspected Evans had something to do with it and was warning him to be careful if he did. He might have also been there under the pretense of interviewing Evans for the police as well.
â€œSo, Curtis, you donâ€™t have anything to add about any of this?â€ Ingerton said.
â€œItâ€™s a buncha kids, they run off,â€ Evans replied. â€œTheyâ€™re probably goinâ€™ off into the woods.â€
â€œAll righty,â€ Ingerton said.
â€œHave we not tried to send anyone in there to find your workers?â€ Sayers asked. â€œYouâ€™re losing child labor. Donâ€™t you want that back.â€
â€œYeah,â€ Evans said. He looked at Barstow. â€œDidnâ€™t you go in there?â€
â€œWe went in there,â€ Barstow said. â€œSheriffâ€™s Office went in there. Even State Patrol was looking around. Ainâ€™t nothing in there. Why donâ€™t you go look?â€
â€œMaybe I will,â€ Sayers said.
â€œMr. Providence,â€ Barstow went on. â€œBig city man.â€
Ingerton laughed ridiculously.
â€œBut anyways, thank you for your time gentlemen,â€ he said.
He grabbed Barstowâ€™s hand and shook it. He got a good look at the manâ€™s badge.
â€œThank you, Officer Barstow,â€ he said.
The officer shook his hand but got his own back as quickly as possible.
â€œMr. Evans,â€ Ingerton said, giving him a wry salute.
The two men left the office and the door closed behind them. They crossed the factory floor to the entrance to the mill once more. The taxicab waited outside.
â€œDo you want to go look in the woods?â€ Sayers asked Ingerton. â€œOr do you want to go back to the others first? Tell them what weâ€™ve found?â€
â€œI think we should probably all reconvene and then go to the woods,â€ Ingerton said.
They returned to Aylesbury but found none of the others at the hotel. It was about 10:30 a.m. They waited for the others to return, having a light lunch. Ingerton smoked his pipe in one of the sitting rooms. Bernard returned to the hotel around 11 a.m. and they exchanged what theyâ€™d found.
â€œThereâ€™s something going on at that mill,â€ Sayers said. â€œThat mill is definitely connected.â€
â€œI spoke to the woman at the orphanage and she informed me that all of the children that were kidnapped were from the mill or worked at it, so â€¦ I agree with that,â€ Bernard said.
â€œMaybe we should check the woods around the mill,â€ Ingerton said. â€œWhere did the others go?â€
They related that Rockefeller was going to the historical society and Adler and Nurse Daughton were heading for the police station. Bernard figured the others would be back soon and Sayers said they should wait for them.
* * *
Adler and Nurse Daughton decided to talk to the parents of the children who had disappeared. They started at the top of the list theyâ€™d found with the parents of Jessica Morris, who had disappeared on August 22, 1925 and reappeared four days later, and learned the Morris family lived in a small, rundown house on the outskirts of Aylesbury. Though John Morris wasnâ€™t home, his wife Elizabeth was. She proved to be a shy and reserved woman with dark hair and a tired-looking face. They both noticed she had a bruise on her arm that looked like someone grabbed her very hard. She was working on mending and laundry in her house, probably to supplement her husbandâ€™s income. The house was tiny and the family was obviously very poor.
They learned her husband John worked around town performing odd jobs. She told them heâ€™d be back that evening. She said she thought it was fairies who were stealing the children and her daughter, Jessica, she was certain, was taken by them.
â€œThereâ€™s fairy rings, out in the woods,â€ she told them. â€œThe fairies take the children away to take them to a better life. They donâ€™t remember where theyâ€™ve gone because thatâ€™s how fairies work.â€
Nurse Daughton realized the woman was telling the absolute truth about both the fairies and about hoping for a better life for her child. It was very sad, actually.
Mrs. Morris was happy Jessica was returned to her. She said she loved her child very much and related she hated Jessica had to work to help supplement their income but they were very poor. She told them Jessica was working at the mill that morning but if they wanted to return that evening, they were more than welcome.
They next went to look for Sylvia Drakeâ€™s mother Temperance Drake. They learned the two lived in an apartment over a restaurant but found no one at home. When they asked at the restaurant, they learned Temperance Drake worked at the place washing dishes and she proved to be a short-haired, middle aged woman who was probably once very pretty in a boyish kind of way. She was allowed a break to talk to the two and told them she was not sure what happened to her child, Sylvia, who disappeared on Dec. 14, 1926, and was returned some five days later. They also learned her husband had abandoned them several years before and she worked washing dishes in the restaurant and Sylvia worked at the mill.
â€œIâ€™m so glad to have her back,â€ Mrs. Drake said, her eyes filling with tears.
She said she didnâ€™t know what sheâ€™d do without Sylvia, she loved the girl so much. She was her best friend and her whole life. She was obviously very attached to the girl.
They next went looking for Joseph Belknap, the father of Lydia Belknap, the 12-year-old who had gone missing from March 28 to March 31, 1927. They found the small shack on the farm just outside of town, but no one was home there either. There were workers in the field and they found Belknap working there with several other laborers. He was a gruff-looking, thick-jawed man in a cheap hat.
They learned from him his wife had died giving birth to Lydia. He related Lydia worked in the mill to help support them as they were very poor. He thought the world of his daughter and felt bad he had to bring her up without a mother and that she had work at her age. He had no idea what happened to her when she disappeared but he thought she might have run away, perhaps figuring she could make a better life for herself. She obviously couldnâ€™t find anything after a few days so she came back.
They next sought out the Travers and learned the couple lived in a tiny, two-room loft hear the tannery. According to the newspaper, their boy, Preston Travers, age 11, had disappeared just the night before. They met with Elijah Travers and his wife Martha. The first thing they noticed was Traversâ€™ missing right arm and leg, which they learned he lost in the Great War. Martha Travers was a ladyâ€™s maid and her income was barely sufficient to support them so, when Preston turned 10, he decided to go to work at the mill to help support the family.
Martha Travers was hysterical and wanted her boy back. She started crying as soon as they began to talk about the child. She told how much she loved her son and her husband tried to comfort her but she was inconsolable and he didnâ€™t seem to know what to do. It was a terribly uncomfortable scene.
â€œAre you going to help?â€ she cried, falling apart. â€œBring back my son! Bring back my son!â€
â€œI canâ€™t promise anything,â€ Nurse Daughton said, trying to comfort her.
Adler tried to calm her down and reassure her they would try to find her child. She didnâ€™t seem convinced and broke down into tears, convinced Preston would never come back to them.
Adler and Nurse Daughton left with apologies.
* * *
By noon, Bernard had eaten and light lunch. Ingerton said he was going to the historical society and Sayers went with him. Bernard wandered to the wide front porch of the hotel and sat in a rocking chair to watch people and automobiles drive by. He had plenty of pills and didnâ€™t want to deal with the things the other men had told him.
An hour or so after the other two men left, Adler and Nurse Daughton returned to the hotel and found him there. He was sitting on a rocking chair with his feet up on the railing of the porch.
â€œSo, how was your day?â€ Nurse Daughton asked him.
â€œNice,â€ he replied. â€œWhat did you find out?â€
He noticed both of them seemed a little bit out of sorts. Both of them acted like theyâ€™d seen something uncomfortable.
â€œYou seem kind of â€¦ uh â€¦ upset,â€ Bernard said.
â€œWe just came back from the ladyâ€™s house of the kid who just went missing,â€ Nurse Daughton confessed. â€œIt was a little uncomfortable.â€
â€œAh â€¦ thatâ€™s no fun.â€
â€œDid you hear about the mill?â€
â€œNo. I was meaning to ask.â€
â€œSo, thereâ€™s been some crazy stuff at the mill â€¦â€
â€œItâ€™s kind of weird.â€
â€œIf you donâ€™t want to tell us â€¦â€ Adler said.
Bernard took a red pill from his pocket and dry swallowed it. He then told them what he knew of the situation at the mill and the attempted rape of one of the children there.
â€œThis town is messed up,â€ Bernard said. â€œUh-huh. Uh-huh.â€
â€œOkay,â€ Nurse Daughton said.
* * *
Ingerton and Sayers found Rockefeller, Felix, and another gentleman in a cheap suit just finishing eating their lunch at the Aylesbury Historical Society. Rockefeller was telling a story.
â€œâ€¦ and what he meant was an elephant!â€ he said.
The museum curator, whom Rockefeller had learned was Thomas Smith, laughed loudly. Felix smiled.
â€œSo droll, sir,â€ he said.
â€œI must hear this story sometime,â€ Ingerton said to Rockefeller.
â€œOh donâ€™t worry about it,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œIâ€™m sure youâ€™ll hear about it sometime. Itâ€™s a great story, a great story!â€
â€œSo, did you find out anything interesting?â€ Ingerton asked.
â€œOh, are these gentlemen with you, Mr. Rockefeller?â€ Smith asked.
â€œOf course, of course!â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œWell, theyâ€™re welcome to peruse our archives as well, if you wish.â€
â€œThe more the merrier. I could use more eyes on it for sure!â€
â€œWell, since weâ€™ve finished lunch and everything â€¦â€
Smith wiped his hands off and led them into the back of the building. Rockefeller told the others about the woods being cursed and some dark things happened there. He noted the Nipmuc Indians wanted their artifacts back from the historical society as well. He said they were going to check more records in the back and he could use their eyes on it as well. Smith asked them to be respectful of the things in the back and if they needed his help to let him know.
â€œWell yes, apparently the Indians always believe in some weird, strange, horrifying tales,â€ Ingerton said.
â€œOf course,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œBut yeah, it seems to be localized around the woods at the mill.â€
â€œTheyâ€™ll find anything to say itâ€™s cursed! Iâ€™ve never met an Indian who didnâ€™t know of a curse.â€
Once the curator left, Sayers and Ingerton told him what they had learned at the mill.
â€œBy God!â€ Rockefeller said. â€œYouâ€™re going to tell me that in a time like this? This is dark stuff! This is terrible, terrible stuff.â€
â€œSomething must be done about this,â€ Ingerton said.
â€œOf course something must be done about this!â€
They began their search of the archives by 1 p.m. The place had a great deal of books, unmarked boxes of artifacts, and the like, none of it in any kind of order. They searched for four hours before Felix discovered a roughly-bound book covered in a sheet of leather held by a leather cord. He had looked within it and said it appeared to be the diary of Ann Bishop Parker, the woman executed as a witch in 1694.
â€œFrom the 17th century?â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œYes sir,â€ Felix said. â€œI would handle it very carefully.â€
He gave it to Rockefeller. While Felix, Sayers, and Ingerton continued to search the archives, Rockefeller examined the diary.
The script within was elegantly written and, for the most part, legible and coherent. The entries began in October of 1693 and ended in February of 1694, somewhat abruptly. The journal detailed Parkerâ€™s introduction to and subsequent worship of a goddess she called The Great Mother. Several entries were in the book, detailing Parkerâ€™s indoctrination into the worship of the Great Mother and several spells.
Entries of interest included:
16th day of October in the year 1693:
As I am not an unreasonable owner, I have been allowing Iyabo some small time in which
she may do as she pleases, as she has proven herself quite useful and has shown no signs of a
rebellious nature. She often slips off into the woods during these periods of free time, returning
with a lightness of step and a smile on her face. I wonder if my little maid has found herself a
lover - and if so, who it might be. I shall follow her sometime to see what sheâ€™s getting up to â€¦
21st day of October, 1693:
A fascinating day indeed! I followed Iyabo into the woods, hoping to discover who she is
trysting with. Little did I guess that my little slave was worshipping a pagan goddess at an alter
deep in the forest! There is a statue upon the alter, a statue of a pregnant woman with fulsome,
pendulous breasts, but with the legs of a goat and the head and curling horns of a ram. The
eyes of the statue are what truly beguile me - not a mere two as one might expect, but seven
glowing orbs staring out at me, hinting at the secrets lurking behind them. I spent the afternoon
watching Iyabo worship at the altar, performing strange per profane rituals. She even called forth
a demon. It resembled a monstrously twisted tree, replete with stamping hooves and tentacles for
branches, and it did her bidding! Think what I could do with such power!
30th day of October, 1693:
I finally confronted Iyabo about her witchery in the depths of the woods. She was quite fearful,
afraid that I might expose her practices and turn her over to the Magistrate, or worse, to the fire
and brimstone of Minister Cromwell. She was taken aback when I commanded her to instruct me
in the ways of her dark goddess. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the sacred glad, and I was
introduced to the ways of The Great Mother.
10th day of Febrâ€™y, 1694:
Tonight we set my plans into motion. In one act, we plant the seed to bring the Great Mother
to our earthly realm. A glamour cast upon my fool husband and the young Foster chit will lead
them to the Motherâ€™s altar, where they shall rut like animals. My magics will ensure that his
seed takes root in her belly. The child she bears will be the perfect vessel for the Mother, and
the fool townsfolk will think my husband either an adulterer or a witch, either of which gets
him out of my way!
Rockefeller was quite disturbed by what he read and thought about it for a long time after.
Meanwhile, Ingerton found an American Indian tomahawk that was probably hundreds of years old. The axe-head was made of antler or bone of some sort, and the long shaft was crafted from ash. It was decorated with wolf teeth, hawk feathers, and carved symbols. He brought it back to the rest. He realized he couldnâ€™t sneak it out on his person. When he tried to show it to Rockefeller, the man just shook his head, still disturbed by what heâ€™d skimmed in the book.
â€œAre you all right sir?â€ Felix asked.
Rockefeller just shook his head.
â€œWhat was in the book?â€ Ingerton asked.
Rockefeller took a deep breath.
â€œTerrible,â€ he finally said. â€œTerrible, terrible stuff. I wouldnâ€™t want you to see it.â€
It was probably about 9 p.m.
â€œIâ€™ll tell you whatâ€™s in the book when we get back to the hotel with a bourbon in our hand and a pipe in the other,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œSounds like a marvelous idea!â€ Ingerton said. â€œHow do we go about taking this?â€
â€œCould we ask him if heâ€™s willing to part with it?â€ Sayers asked.
â€œIâ€™ve already talked to the curator,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œIâ€™m pretty sure heâ€™ll give us whatever we want. If not, Iâ€™ll deal with him myself.â€
â€œI see,â€ Ingerton said. â€œI think we should take this as well, then.â€
They left the back of the place and returned to the curator, whoâ€™d been looking in on them every half hour or so since about 6 p.m. He seemed greatly relieved to see them enter the main part of the building.
â€œAh, Mr. Rockefeller,â€ Smith said. â€œYou ready to leave?â€
â€œNow Thomas, I want you to hear me out and I want you to hear me out good and I want you to hear me out in full until youâ€™ve began to talk,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œWe have two things here. I have a book here and I have a tomahawk. My friend has very special needs, special desires, and this tomahawk has definitely filled it!â€
â€œHe is right,â€ Ingerton said.
â€œNow, this book here, this book here, is a good read!â€ Rockefeller went on. â€œItâ€™s a good read, Thomas, and I need to read it in full. I want to read it twice! No! Hear me again, I want to read it three times, Thomas! And I canâ€™t do that here! I need to do it in the privacy of my own home with a pipe and a bourbon! You surely understand that Thomas! Youâ€™re a good man, Iâ€™m sure you understand it!
â€œNow hereâ€™s what Iâ€™m going to do for you sir, hereâ€™s what Iâ€™m going to do! I saw your eyes light up when I put in that donation box! Iâ€™m going to put another ten in there for you, Thomas, and Iâ€™m going to give you a ten for the way youâ€™ve treated me today! Itâ€™s been good, Thomas, and I know youâ€™re going to see this through! I know youâ€™re going to do this! And we will bring these back in better condition than you saw them leave today. Now, how does that sound for you, sir?â€
â€œUh â€¦ very well,â€ Smith said.
He was fine with it and Rockefeller donated an additional $10 to the society and $10 to Smith. Smith told them if there was anything else they needed from the historical society to contact him. They took the book and the tomahawk and returned to the hotel.
* * *
After they had dinner, Adler, Bernard, and Nurse Daughton decided, as the others still hadnâ€™t returned, to visit the Sheltering Pines Childrenâ€™s Home and try to interview some of the children who had gone missing. Bernard needed a minute and went around the side of the hotel to smoke a rolled cannabis cigarette to calm his nerves. Only then did he return to the others and they went to the orphanage.
They met with Penelope Chapman, who was still working. When they asked if they could talk to some of the children, she was fine with it, asking only that they didnâ€™t upset them. She seemed delighted to see Bernard again, shaking his hand and patting him on the shoulder. Introductions were made to the other two. Then she asked who they wanted to talk to. She noted the children had not gone to bed yet and those who worked had just finished supper and were having playtime as best they could.
They asked to speak to James Hollings and she went off to find him. He proved to be a polite 11-year-old boy with brown hair and large ears who wore a flat hat. He was dirty, of course, and afraid he was in trouble, but shyly came over to talk to them.
â€œYeah?â€ he said. â€œWhat? What? Yeah?â€
He focused on Nurse Daughton, who knelt by the youth.
â€œHi,â€ she said.
â€œHi!â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m James.â€
â€œPleased to meet you.â€
â€œAbigail? Thatâ€™s a long name. Thatâ€™s a mouthful!â€
â€œI heard you were playing in the woods that one day.â€
â€œI wasnâ€™t playing in the woods. People keep telling me I was in the woods. I wasnâ€™t in the woods.â€
â€œNo?â€ You donâ€™t remember the woods?â€
â€œNo! You talking about when they say I disappeared?â€
â€œThat was months ago.â€
â€œIâ€™m just curious where in the woods?â€
â€œThat was back in November. I wasnâ€™t in the woods! I wasnâ€™t in the woods! I was justâ”€â€
â€œIâ€™ve just been hearing about the woods.â€
â€œâ”€I just got back to here, to home, and they said â€˜Where have you been James? Youâ€™ve been gone.â€™ I said â€˜What, no I havenâ€™t.â€™ And they said â€˜Yes, you have. Youâ€™ve been gone for three days.â€™ And I said â€˜I walked straight here, cross my heart and hope to die. I walked straight here from work. From the mill.â€™â€
She didnâ€™t think he was lying.
â€œThank you for the information,â€ she said.
â€œYouâ€™re welcome,â€ he said.
â€œGo on and play.â€
â€œOkay. Are you going to adopt one of us?â€
â€œIâ€™m a little young, still.â€
â€œI think youâ€™re just right!â€
â€œThatâ€™s very nice,â€ she said.
â€œSo, you remember James,â€ he said.
He left to play with the others and they sent for Yancy Beatty. He was a child of 13, taller than James and with dark hair. He had a cocky look on his face when he approached them. He, too, wore a cheap flat hat and dirty overalls. He was chewing on something.
â€œYeah?â€ he said.
â€œI know youâ€™re probably tired of hearing this question,â€ Nurse Daughton said. â€œBut were you in the woods, ever?â€
Yancy sighed angrily.
â€œNo!â€ he said.
â€œOkay, okay,â€ she replied.
â€œLook. They â”€ they â€¦ that was months ago. They said, the cops, said that I was somewhere in the woods but Iâ€™d worked at the mill all day. I wasnâ€™t in the woods. Then they said itâ€™d been three days. Do I have something on my face, lady?â€
Nurse Daughton had been tapping her lips in thought.
â€œNo, Iâ€™m just thinking,â€ she said. â€œSorry.â€
â€œOh,â€ he said. â€œI wasnâ€™t in the woods. I came back from the mill.â€
â€œAre you cops?â€
â€œNo, weâ€™re just curious.â€
â€œDo I look like a cop?â€ Bernard asked.
Yancy looked at him.
â€œYou donâ€™t,â€ he admitted.
â€œGood,â€ Bernard said.
â€œYou like a bohemian,â€ Yancy said. â€œOr a member of the proletariat who doesnâ€™t want to push down on the workers. Iâ€™ve been reading. I gotta book.â€
â€œI like books.â€
â€œYeah. This oneâ€™s by Karl Marx. I been reading. I seen some things in that damned mill.â€
He talked to them about how much he hated working at the mill and that making children work was a terrible thing that needed to be changed and even how Henry Ford had switched to a five-day workweek just the year before.
â€œSounds like a great idea,â€ Bernard said.
â€œYeah, youâ€™re going to hear from Yancy Beatty,â€ Yancy said. â€œYouâ€™re gonna hear about me.â€
â€œIâ€™m gonna change the world!â€
â€œAre you gonna adopt me?â€
â€œDamn it! Then why am I talking to you?â€
He walked away, angry.
â€œWhat the hell?â€ Nurse Daughton said.
They asked for Jake Torrance, who proved to be a cute little nine-year-old boy with close-cropped blonde hair. He, too, wore a little hat and overalls.
â€œIâ€™m Jake,â€ the boy said when he came over to where they stood.
â€œHi!â€ Nurse Daughton said.
â€œHi!â€ he replied.
â€œI know people ask this a lot but â€¦ have you been in the woods?â€
â€œI played in the woods.â€
â€œCan you show me where? Or tell me where?â€
â€œWell, itâ€™s just the woods. I donâ€™t know. Wherever I go in. Itâ€™s just woods though.â€
â€œI know. I want to go too.â€
â€œWell â€¦ I gotta get up at five and then I gotta go to work at the mill and itâ€™s already dark out. Sunday, I could take you in the woods. But thatâ€™s several days from now.â€
â€œCould you just tell me where you go.â€
â€œI havenâ€™t been in the woods in a long time â€˜cause I have to work â€˜cause - â€˜cause they money here and I need money so I can eat and the woods are nice and the mill is awful and so â€¦ I gotta go to work. I have to go to work tomorrow.â€
â€œShould we bribe him?â€ Nurse Daughton whispered to Bernard.
â€œProbably,â€ Bernard replied.
â€œIâ€™ll give him a dollar.â€
â€œIâ€™ll give him two.â€
â€œIs he okay?â€ Jake asked Nurse Daughton.
Though she had been whispering, Bernardâ€™s whispers were more like stage whispers and the child could obviously hear them. Jake walked over to Bernard and pulled on his sleeve.
â€œMister?â€ he said. â€œAre you okay, mister?â€
â€œWhat the heck!?!â€ Bernard said, staring wide-eyed in terror at the child. â€œWhat the heck!?!â€
â€œOver here, Jake,â€ Adler said.
â€œHeâ€™s so short!â€ Bernard said.
â€œIâ€™m gonna be bigger though, someday,â€ Jake said.
Bernard looked at him in disbelief.
â€œI am!â€ Jake said.
â€œDonâ€™t grow!â€ Bernard said.
Nurse Daughton looked at the man. He was terrified.
â€œThatâ€™s impossible,â€ Bernard said.
â€œItâ€™s not,â€ Jake said. â€œIâ€™m gonna grow up. I am. Iâ€™m gonna have muscles. Iâ€™m gonna be a muscle man. I wanna - I wanna work at the circus.â€
â€œThat sounds fun!â€ Nurse Daughton said.
â€œIt will be fun! Itâ€™ll be much better than the mill and Mr. â€¦ Mr. â€¦ whatâ€™s-his-name. I donâ€™t remember. Mr. Evans. Heâ€™s mean.â€
â€œOh. I heard.â€
â€œMean mean mean mean mean.â€
â€œAnd hurts people.â€
â€œHe yells at everybody. Says work faster.â€
â€œBecky. Becky Thomas. When she got grinded up in one of the machines and he yelled as us to keep working. Heâ€™s mean.â€
â€œYep. I donâ€™t like Mr. Evans.â€
â€œBut Iâ€™m sorry that youâ€™re scared of me,â€ Jake said to Bernard. â€œI like your hair.â€
â€œThatâ€™s okay, tiny man,â€ Bernard said.
â€œI want long hair like that someday. I like your hair.â€
He went back to playing with the other children.
They talked to Chastity Willis, a blonde-haired 11-year-old, and Polly Murray, a cute and happy 10-year-old with flying blonde hair. Neither of the girls remembered anything about being in the woods and neither had even known they were missing until someone told them. Chastity seemed world-worn, as if sheâ€™d seen things that would have broken others. She never expected to be adopted and guessed she would work in the mill her whole life. Polly, on the other hand, was a breath of fresh air among the children. She seemed very happy and, though she didnâ€™t like working in the mill, she was so happy to have a huge extended family in, as she put it, â€œall of her brothers and sisters hereâ€ at the orphanage. She hoped everyone would be happy with her and was very sweet. Nurse Daughton gave the little girl a big hug.