Ephraim Godwin and the Sins of the Past Part 5
Updated: Feb 12
Mrs. Chattoway sat in front of her mirror, studying her reflection. The time since her marriage date was visible in the lines on her face, around her mouth, and the corners of her eyes. Her skin no longer appeared young and fresh but rather reflected the stress she experienced daily. Since learning of the babe, a sense of dread filled her every waking hour, and she wondered how exactly her husband would react. He always wanted an heir and if they played the situation just right, they might be able to pull it off... Unless the child is female.
If that happened, she gave the two of them a fifty-fifty chance. The word would already be out that Penfry and Olive Chattoway were expecting. Maybe a baby will be enough to reignite the fire they initially shared. A sad smile floated across her lips as the memory of their courtship and the first year of marriage ran through her mind's eye. Penfry's passion surprised her the most that first year. He practically burned with it, but after the third miscarriage, he drifted away; more interested in business than making babies.
The last few years were lonely for Mrs. Chattoway. She could admit it now, but at the time her affair begun, she would have used words like bored, disinterested, and plain tired of being ignored. It was about this time that John Roberts began to work for her husband. Mr. Chattoway decided the company needed to expand, and he pulled away to be at the office more and more. John became his messenger, relaying information for the company and more importantly to Mrs. Chattoway.
Their interaction began harmlessly at first, sharing tea or a light lunch while discussing the general goings-on at the company or passing word to or from Mr. Chattoway. A fondness grew, first from Mrs. Chattoway but soon from John as well. Heat rushed to her face, and she studied the deepening blush on her skin as she remembered the first stolen kiss, the caress of his hand, and the passion that inflamed them both. A passion she had not experienced in some time with her husband. Afterward, she tried to distance herself, ashamed and alarmed at her actions, but the need to feel John's touch...anyone's touch, overwhelmed her and soon they found themselves in each other's arms frequently.
Mrs. Chattoway placed her hand on her belly and took a deep breath. Yes, if played correctly Penfry will be overjoyed and a most wonderful father. If what John said earlier was true, Penfry knew of the affair; knew and approved. Olive shook her head in disbelief. The man she married would never approve of such behavior from his wife. But John spoke calmly and was very clear, her husband was happy she had found something to occupy her time.
Olive's cheeks darkened again, from shame and embarrassment, not passion as her earlier thoughts had provoked. To think her husband was not enraged by another man defiling her made her angry. Am I no longer worthy of his desire? Should he not want me to be his and his alone? The thoughts fueled the heat that churned in her belly and flushed her skin red. Closing her eyes, Olive sighed. And what if I'm not? He has not betrayed our marriage... I have.
But if that betrayal delivered the one thing Penfry so desperately wanted, maybe she would earn his forgiveness. For that, the true father had to be kept secret, with all signs pointing to Penfry.
"Tonight I will speak with my husband," she spoke aloud to her reflection. "I will lay out the truth and hope for the best. I will have our baby and one day, Penfry will thank me for it."
In the mirror, Olive noticed the door open a crack. The door's movement paused a moment, before swinging open and exposing a massive African man, dressed similarly as her husband with a high collared shirt and a double-breasted vest under his dark frock coat. A gasp slipped from her lips. She had never been so close to a black man, and she shrank away. While her husband was not a proponent of slavery, he had no use for the Negro and refused to offer them any chance at employment.
The man flashed a wicked smile and stepped closer to allow for space to close the door. Standing over six feet tall, he towered over her, and she stood to step farther away, stopping only when her back hit the wall.
"Who are you?" she asked in a whispered voice. "And where is Pence...or Sara?"
He studied her face a moment before stepping closer. Reaching into his pocket, the man produced a huge folded razor, his smile widening.
"I am a messenger," he replied in a booming voice with a slight slur. His fingers gripped the back of the blade and opened the razor.
"Well...what is your message?" Olive tried to keep her voice level but it shook from the fear filling her belly. She wrapped her arms around her stomach, hunching over to protect the life growing inside her.
His eyes flashed as they widened, and he said, "You will be, my dear lady...once I'm finished of course."
Zona studied Ephraim as he sipped his tea. She pushed the plate of biscuits closer to him and tapped the china until he glanced down.
"You need to eat," she said.
"I'm not hungry," he replied in a hollow voice.
"Even more so then," Zona said tapping the plate again.
Ephraim sighed but picked up a biscuit. He sniffed it before shoving it into his mouth. After swallowing the first one, he began to shovel the remaining biscuits into his mouth, barely pausing to swallow.
"My God man," Livingstone exclaimed as he followed the food's path into Ephraim's mouth.
"No doctor, this is exactly what he needs," Zona said, a smile on her lips. If she could get him moving in the right direction there was still hope. Hope they could finish whatever her brother started last night.
"Are you sure?" Livingstone asked. Zona bit her bottom lip to stop from laughing at the incredulous expression on the doctor's face. There was no chance she was going to explain why Ephraim needed the substance. Doctors rarely understood the ways of spiritualism.
"I'm just hungry," Ephraim mumbled through the wad of food stuffed in his mouth as crumbles sprayed outwards with each word. The clock on the mantle chimed four times and Zona stood.
"Gentlemen, we should visit the others before business ends today. I'm quite confident we shall find Mr. Devitt and Mr. Stanbury still at their office if we hurry."
Ephraim gulped down the rest of his tea and followed Livingstone to the front door. Mary met them holding their coats and hats, handing each to the correct person. Ephraim and Livingstone nodded their thanks as Mary helped Zona into her coat before pinning her hat back in place.
The three entered the carriage after Zona told the driver where to go. The driver cracked his whip as Ephraim pulled the door shut. He fell back into the seat with a whoosh of air leaving his chest. Zona studied him a moment longer before turning her attention to Livingstone.
"So doctor," she said, "you said you know Devitt but what about his partner, Stanbury?"
Livingstone shook his head after a moment's pause, "I don't think so but until I see the man I won't know for sure."
Zona nodded, not happy with the answer but understanding it. Her brother stated all that were invited had a connection but that doesn't mean it covered partnerships...of course, it doesn't not mean it either. Her brother played that night close to the vest and in the end, it cost him his life and quite possibly all theirs as well. She simply couldn't decide the best course of action.
"So we must follow the clues," she said under her breath as the carriage came to a stop.
"I'm sorry...did you say something?" Ephraim asked his attention focused through the carriage window.
Zona shook her head before speaking, "Nothing important...simply reminding myself to follow the clues" She held her breath, waiting for either man to offer a comment but both stayed quiet. Ephraim nodded and leaned forward before turning his head.
"I recognize a man out there. He's been following us for the day at the very least."
"Yes, a rather immense black man," Ephraim replied, his attention switched back to the others in the carriage. "He's tall, still shorter than your brother, but tall...dressed as a gentleman with a grand top hat."
Livingstone leaned forward and glanced out the window. "I've seen him as well...outside the morgue to be exact."
"Interesting," Ephraim said glancing at Zona. "Have you seen him?"
Zona sighed before peaking past Livingstone and after a moment shook her head. "I've never seen him before but that doesn't mean he's not a part of this."
"Perhaps we should ask," Ephraim said slipping from the carriage and marching towards the man.
The crowd flowed around the man as he stood a few steps off the main street in front of a row of businesses. A few small children moved back and forth, offering matchbooks and flowers for sale to everyone who passed by. Ephraim weaved his way through the throng of people until he stood in front of the man.
"Are you following us?" Ephraim asked as he studied the man. His suit was immaculate; his hat made from fine silk added almost 8 more inches to his already impressive height. Although the man's dark skin contrasted starkly with the white collar of his dress shirt, the rest of the suit was only a shade lighter than his skin color. He rested his weight on a tall wooden cane, carved with strange symbols and shapes, and a thick silver handle.
"Shouldn't there be more of you to be an 'us'?" the man asked with a voice smooth and deep. There was a slight accent that betrayed the man as not English born, but Ephraim could not place his exact origins. As he opened his mouth to speak, Zona and Livingstone both appeared and slipped next to him. "Ah, now I see."
"And yet you haven't answered my question," Ephraim said. "So I ask it again...are you following us?"
The man smiled and Zona gasped. His teeth ended in sharp points, filed with some abrasive substance so the man had a mouth of fangs. His tongue slithered out of his mouth, split in the middle like a serpent's, to lick his lips.
"No, I am not following you. This is a simple coincidence, Mr. Godwin," the man said with a wink before turning and slipping into the foot traffic.
They watched him stroll away and Ephraim shook his head as if waking from a trance. He burst forward, slipping through and around the crowd to catch the man. He kept his eyes locked on the tall dark hat as he made his way through the throng at a maddeningly slow pace.
With his eyes locked on the hat, Ephraim placed his foot down in a glob of muck and slipped. He stumbled forward; bring his eyes down and waving his arms to capture his balance. As he regained his footing, Ephraim glanced up and saw the man pull the hat from his head. For a moment it appeared like the man was shrinking and then suddenly a hefty dark crow burst into the sky.
Ephraim pushed through the last group of people and stooped down, snatching the silk top hat from the ground before it was trampled. The man was gone, but he may have left some clues.
"Well?" Zona asked as Ephraim reappeared.
"He...disappeared. This was all that was left behind," Ephraim said holding out a silk top hat.
Zona reached out and took the hat. She gasped as a cold darkness slithered from the hat and up her arm to her chest. With wide eyes, she followed it in horror as the darkness covered her entire body in seconds. The darkness slid over her face, cutting off her scream for help and filling her mouth with its thick oozing slime. Her eyes bulged as the darkness cut off the air and pushed its way down to her stomach. The darkness tightened around her arms, pulling them tight against her body and finished covering over her face, blinding her with its inky black sludge. Her body pulsed with electricity as the darkness filled her from her toes to the top of her head.
Zona's whimpers were muffled, and she fought to regain her breath, so she could cry for help. Her body rocked back and forth before a jolt forced her rigid and a flash of light shocked the darkness from her eyes.
She stood in a meadow on the top of a hill; below she could see the smoldering remains of a village. Bodies of women and children lay scattered on the ground like discarded tin soldiers. As Zona moved closer she could see those not shot, had their heads split open like ripe melons. Blood soaked into the ground, and she wondered how she would be able to make it through the village without slipping in the muck.
As Zona walked through the massacred villagers, each victim's name popped into her head and tears ran down her cheeks at the loss of lives. She prayed to the spirits of their ancestors hoping the newly dead found their way to the other side. As each step took her closer to the center of the village, she spotted random women's bodies pulled into huts, their clothes torn or removed. Looks of horror and disgust frozen on their faces as deep gashes exposed their insides.
Bile rose in Zona's throat as the smell of death hung heavy in the air. A sense of urgency gripped her chest, and she pushed forward, attempting to ignore all the butchery around her. The buzzing of flies grew more intense as she stepped to the middle of the village. The only home not touched by flame stood there. Zona swallowed and ducked into the hut.
Falling to her knees, Zona's scooped up the mangled body of a young boy, her memories telling her no more than five. His throat was slit and blood dried on his chest like some obscene painting. The boy's eyes were open, staring at nothing and Zona cradled the boy to her chest, rocking back and forth. Huge sobs ripped from her throat as she held this child for the last time. Eyes blurry with tears studied the room and red-hot anger filled her chest as she took in the utter carnage in this hut alone...the hut she lived in with her family.
The boy slipped from her hands, and she crawled to the next body, a girl barely into her teens. She studied the face, drinking in the beauty that had been there in life, afraid to look any closer...afraid to discover what those men had done to her little girl. Zona's lips quivered as she kissed the girl's forehead. She crawled to the next body, and the next, each time pausing to kiss the dead and offer a prayer to protect them in the afterlife.
Zona stood and stepped over to the last body, pausing when her reflection caught her attention. A gasp escaped her lips as she stared at the face of a young African man. His eyes were swollen and shined with tears. She studied the man as he reached up and touched his face gingerly as if discovering it for the first time.
"I know you are there," he spoke to his reflection. "You can see what was done and why I will have my revenge. Edwin Roberts is a devil and I will make him and his men pay for this evil."
Zona immediately felt dizzy as the room began to spin. The man bent down and held his wife in his arms. Zona's vision blurred once again as the man's tears rushed out.
The room faded to black and Zona woke in the carriage with both Livingstone and Ephraim hovering over her.
"You appeared to get lightheaded and you fainted," Livingstone offered with a tired smile.
"Yes, fainted but abruptly spoke in a voice not your own in a language, Livingstone assures me is African," Ephraim said patting her hand as he let go of it.
"A rare dialect I heard only one other time," Livingstone said. "It's my understanding the tribe no longer exists and the language is lost forever."
Zona nodded as she struggled to sit up. Ephraim helped her to one of the bench seats. She offered a smile of gratitude and took a deep breath. The vision was beginning to fade but the feeling of dread hung heavy in her chest. She wondered if that would ever leave.
"Where is the hat?"
"We put it away," Livingstone replied, motioning with his head to the back of the carriage.
"I imagine that is for the best. When I touched it I experienced a vision. It showed me a village massacred in Africa where I was...with the lone survivor. He vowed revenge on the men responsible."
Ephraim studied Zona's face and reached out to test her pulse. It seemed quicker but not abnormally so. She glanced at his hand on her wrist before turning her attention to Livingstone.
"Doctor, do you know a man named Edwin Roberts?"
Livingstone frowned and wiped his hand across his brow. "I haven't heard that name in a long time. He was...yes, I'm sure of it...the missionary I spoke of last night. He was the man allegedly responsible for wiping out an entire village once he couldn't convince them to convert, but really all he wanted was their gold."
Zona grimaced as the memory of the bloody ground flashed through her head and lingered. They needed to move quickly if they had a chance of stopping this mad plan for revenge.
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