Monday, July 29, 2013

One Life In Stead

A letter to Master Siljien Hendlin from the prisoner Thomas Bauman, written on this day of our Lord, Tuesday February 12, 1701; to be opened no earlier than one month past the completion of my execution.


It was said that the women of Welsh fishing villages would band together on Saturday nights, and by the light of candles placed inside carved field beets, crude farm lanterns called "punkies", they would parade into their town's taverns to snatch and drag their drunken husbands home that the men might be well rested for church on the morrow. The citizens of Commer's Creek are far removed from Wales, most three generations distant, and yet I'd have assumed another historical romantic hereabouts might have kept a verbal accounting of our forbearers eccentricities and folklore. Alas it seems I am the only font of petty knowledge of it’s type and sadly, it was that knowledge that has forced me into this position.

The fact that Susan Lundeen passed while in the grip of a hellish fever was sad news indeed, and more than enough one would think, to keep a small town’s populace humbled as to the mysteries of God. She was so young, only 11 years and as talented as any pianist I’d ever witnessed; and as a patron of the arts I have heard my share. And yet the Puritan fervor that has ravaged these people’s beliefs, like a well of good wishes turned sour by zealots bathing and passing waste into what was meant only to drink, to quench, to replenish… was not satisfied with medical explanations for the girls demise. Nay, some saw witchery at work, her illness too strong, engaged too quickly, her decimation too complete to be natural selection. And once they’d searched the estate grounds and came upon two jack-o-lanterns, rotting upon a wide branch of a silver Maple, facing the very window past which little Susan had contracted and been consumed by a mysterious disease, they had all the “proof” they needed.

Witchery! I was aghast at the notion that after 60 some years in a new land we’d still not have dropped our superstitions and boorish myth. Witches indeed; black cloaked hags with crooked noses riding crooked broomsticks shouting crooked curses perhaps, the gothic vision of an All Hallows Eve costumed ball replete with spooks and specters, monsters and malevolents. I’d thought ourselves more civilized, the town more intellectually advanced than to have accepted the dogma that Satan works through the hand of possessed spellcasters, flaunting evil so as to entice the young to stray from the righteous path and delve into the blackness; and laying waste to those who choose to ignore his call.

These were toys, these "punkies", these jack-o-lanterns. For what reason only their carvers might know but I can assure anyone of sound mind they are created in the spirit of fun, not in the image of the satyr of hell. And yet as I've said, only a trivial mind such as mine would care to know the history behind such magic, such tripe; and it seemed only I could do anything to right the wrong created by ignorance.

As was spewed from the pulpit of Commer's Creek Episcopalian Church, someone had hexed poor Susan unto her death, surely as a result of her having been tested by the devil and her refusal to leave her place at the foot of the Almighty’s throne. Where the pastor might have found facts that would support his theories, no one knew. But he was a charismatic man, at least as charismatic as he might describe Satan himself; so each time he was asked to substantiate his accusations, and he refused, another parishioner would come to his aid demanding “if Pastor Clarke says it’s so, then it must be so!” Until a preponderance of the voting public, spurred on by the Lundeen family’s vocal desire to have someone to blame for their daughter’s death, were in agreement that a witch or witches were hiding amongst them, and needed to be culled and eliminated before another unfortunate innocent was to pass.

I thought it all too convenient that the mob came upon the Hendlin sisters as their first suspects. Molly at age 13 was a bit slow for her years, nearly an emotional twin of her 9 year old sibling Rebecca. And neither is attractive; nay say both are homely truly, their olive skin and Roman noses starkly differing from those whitewashed Anglo-Saxon features appreciated by the nearly ethnically pure majority. And both were pranksters ‘tis true, prone to leaping from dark places shouting boos and cackles, and then running off giggling like young girls are wont to do. Now I will offer the likelihood is that they did carve the lanterns and place them where Susan might see them, and though their confessions to that fact were coerced by the rod, (gauging by the welts on their knuckles I’d noted at their trial) my guess is they’d only wanted to cheer her in their way, with the power of fright followed by a hearty, relieved laughter.

But Pastor Clarke and his minions refused to entertain alternate explanations for the girls having placed what they deemed “black magic fetishes” so as to provide Satan a portal through which to corrupt a good Christian girl’s soul.

I might have argued had I station, but though I may have intelligence, I have no scrolls proving my worth and the thought that these learned men would have even allowed me voice is laughable. Surrounding me were a few that thought as I, that these poor girls were victims of an enraged mob led by a sadistic faux priest looking to solidify his earthly grip on the pocketbooks of his flock through the fear of a fantasized supernatural evil. And yet no one spoke, no one stood in protest, and I am ashamed to say even I sat silently as these lambs were led to their defenseless doom.

It was two days I was tortured by the ghosts of my past, two days I heard the cries of coward from the brave men who had struggled to get to this country that their sons and daughters, and eventually myself, would have a better chance at a life free from the very psychic vampires that were now sucking the soul from my own village. Luckily it was only two days methinks, as that gave me but one day to prepare a hoax worthy of a court’s annulment and the retrial of a true witch.

It was elaborate and quite clever I’d admit, with gunpowder explosions and flying bedclothing dyed black as pitch, whooping voices and floating icons of a religious nature. I meant no blasphemy of course, yet to solidify the illusion that I was indeed a powerful maven of wickedness I felt the need to risk God’s disapproval for just that one scene. There is little so sacred as a crucifix, and it’s defacement is crime enough; but within the context of a presumed black arts reverie, I knew the charges would be most extreme and my identification as a sorcerer near immediate.

It was all I could do to not lose my courage whilst being tortured at the hand of the pastor’s handpicked jailors, but praise God I stuck to my tale and demanded that it was I and not those two sweet innocents that had ensorcelled miss Lundeen into premature fatality. And in the end I was believed; I fear because as a self sufficient and quietly unassuming man I was more hateable than young women and so, a more emotionally profitable example for those holy to disembowel. In any case, they were freed, I was imprisoned in their stead and as of the morrow the crime will have been avenged by the noose.

I tell you this sir not as a man begging for beatification. No, I am a sinner as deadly as any and my offering myself to this cause was far from my first instinct. I am a coward at heart, a ne’er do well by trade and my life has been one long series of faithless excuses. And yet, the sight of your two daughters in the clutch of vindictive, self serving liars, created in me the will to do the right thing if only this once. You need to know only these things;

That Molly and Rebecca are as innocent as the lambs of biblical verse and you should never think otherwise. I have no proof, no more than their accusers. But my heart tells me so and my heart, when listened to, has seldom been wrong. And secondly, if you have not already, I beseech you to move them far from Commer’s Creek and the likes of Pastor Clarke, to a place where witchcraft is a myth to be read of in books of fiction, and the devil is to be found within us all, imperfect retches that we are. Where there are none without sin, there is no one to hang but true criminals.

It is to your purview I commend this letter and verse; whether you decide to someday show your girls is your decision to make. I’ve done this for all innocents of which they were just two. Find them a home where they might learn that love is not a product of hate or fear, but only a gift of oneself to any, and all.

Thomas Bauman

Prepared to hang for heresy I ponder oh most tragic night
As comes the dawn my forfeit life will sway amidst the crows
In truth were not my honour born to shirk the most malicious spite
I’d willingly have long confessed those sins their lies expose
If witchery was what they mused then pray they found my poor soul black
For truly I would give my breath that innocents go free
Their accusations toward young jewels, those daughters flailed by their attack
Gave purpose to my life at last, their “crimes” now strapped to me
For in the tempest of my act my smoke and flash were e’er complete
That even those in question thought me filled with Satan’s ire
To draw the priests’ attentions so to spare a child seems bittersweet
Were reason chanced with men as these, our world should be less dire

I pray the dark would lift from eyes so blind
That they might see their heresy in kind

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