Chapter One only
By Cathy Richard Dodson
Copyright October, 2004, all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction, any resemblance to actual persons or events are completely coincidental.
This is the first chapter of Shadowed Memories by Cathy Richard Dodson. If you enjoy this sample chapter, you can read the entire eNovel for only $3.99. To buy the entire eNovel, available in HTML, Adobe Acrobat PDF, Microsoft Reader LIT, and Palm Reader PRC, click the Buy Now button.
The night was filled with the still silence of moonlight as the tall severely clad man made his way across the churchyard. The square granite building in the distance was the one place he could always go for peace from the often harsh realities of his world. Tonight he felt his excitement rising as he contemplated his time of solitude, locked away from the never-ending complaints of poverty-stricken villagers, illness and death, even the chatter of his well-meaning companions. These were his few moments of relief, and he cherished them at the end of each day.
As he pulled open the heavy oak door, he breathed deep, savoring once more the musty odor of the old place, enjoying the damp chill which never quite seemed to dissipate, regardless of the season. His church! How hard he'd worked for it, and how he loved these cold walls etched with the presence of God! Now-to seek out his favorite place, the ancient bench with its swan-chained carving, where he would at last commence his prayers and meditations.
Then he heard it. A slight movement. A sound-almost as if someone were in pain. Moaning. . .
He moved toward the noise. It's coming from the bench, he thought, becoming more than a little anxious. What troubles had invaded his private spot?
Feeling his way along the pews, little by little his eyes adjusted to the darkened sanctuary. As he neared the bench, where the sounds seemed to originate, the noises grew louder, the breathing harsher and faster. My God, he thought, knowledge dawning as he peered into the shadows. Two people, not one, and not pain he heard, but rather the throes of passion. Fornicators! In the house of God, no less!
Anger unlike any he'd experienced rose in him like a phantom moon. He reached forward into the darkness and pulled one of the bodies up, away from its sinful embrace. Yanking it up like a madman, he shook the startled form until its teeth seemed to rattle aloud in the quiet, and then, without a second thought, he cast the figure aside like dirty laundry.
Next he turned to the unmoving form lying upon the bench. His bench. The girl, with still spread legs and full breasts tumbling from a half-open bodice, looked young, perhaps no more than fifteen, and even in the shadows, he could see fear outlined on her face. Yet she made no sound, no scream, merely stared at him, waiting, he supposed, for her own punishment.
Without warning he felt an unexpected emotion. She must pay for disrupting his place of piety. And he would make sure she did-in a way only she could understand. A hardness rose in his groin; he reached down and unfastened the buttons of his trousers. He took her quickly, before a second thought had any chance to dissuade him, ravishing, hurting, yet entertaining within his depths a satisfaction beyond his wildest fantasies. When at last he lifted his drained body from hers, he thought he caught a glimpse of triumph in her eyes; but no, surely not. He knew he'd caused her pain-still, she hadn't cried out, had merely lain there, taking his assault.
Abruptly, he remembered the other, the body of the boy he'd so carelessly cast aside. Had he slipped out unnoticed during the interlude or was he lying there yet, unconscious and needing attention? Guilt began to creep in.
The girl seemed suddenly to remember as well, for she pulled herself up and, holding her tattered clothes together, moved slowly toward the form, now lying still on the hard stone floor. She bent down and touched the fellow's head, slowly bringing her face close to his in the dark. She backed away from the body slightly, then without a word turned to face the wooden bench and he who sat there with shame in his heart.
Never would he forget the honeyed words that came next, in a voice as sensual and compelling as harem silk. Even in the shadows, he could see the faint trace of a smile playing at the corners of her mouth, and somehow he knew he'd been led into a drama from which he could never return. The girl held out her hand almost enticingly, and he drew back from both the words and the blood on her fingertips.
"Reverend Jaspar, I do believe you've killed him."
As I went out a ragged child,
With wasted cheeks and ringlets wild...
Again, voices woke me, but this time they were real. Pushing aside thoughts of the whispery, nightmarish others that had haunted me from childhood, I listened with mounting curiosity to a heated confrontation occurring in the room downstairs. Due to the sultry August heat, my bedchamber door stood open, and the sounds floated in clearly through the still night air. That angry exchange frightened me long before I understood it was merely a precursor to events which would change my life forever; a forewarning of the choices soon to be made-choices affecting not only my future, but my past as well.
Lying silently in the large feather bed, I quickly noted the strange voice, and wondered with dismay who my guardian could be talking with at such a late hour-he rarely entertained, much less in the middle of the night. I became aware at once of anger in Rev. Jaspar's tone, whereas the other man seemed quite calm and collected. Then abruptly I realized I was the topic of their conservation, thus my attention drew away from the harshness of the voices toward the words themselves.
"I will not allow you to take Anne away!" the Rev. cried out, "she is young, and still impressionable. God only knows what would happen to her in those surroundings!"
"I really don't think you have a choice in the matter." The stranger's tone belied nothing but assured composure, as if he were merely playing a part for which he already knew the ending. "She's needed now, and in a few days I'll be back here to take her away. There's nothing to discuss."
"Needed, you say? Needed?" My guardian's outrage resounded in full sermon-like force. "And what about sixteen years ago when she wasn't needed? What about the day she was brought here to me because no one else wanted the little bastard? Did I need her then? Did I?" and even more violently, "Did she?" His words roared out loud enough to wake the dead sleeping in the cemetery next door.
I could almost picture a twisted smile on the face of the other man as he gazed on at the tirade. After a long pause, the anger burst forth again. "What have I got to show for all these years of providing for a child I didn't need or want?"
This brought a low mocking spurt of laughter from the stranger, followed by a sardonic, "You have the satisfaction of knowing you're a holy man. Isn't that enough, considering the circumstances?"
Another short laugh followed, and I imagined the fury burning in Rev. Jaspar's face. He had a short temper and must surely be near the limit of his patience by now, but oddly enough, the room remained silent, as if he had indeed met his match and there was nothing more to say.
Echoing my thoughts, the stranger spoke again. "We've said all there is to say on this matter. As I told you, I'll return for the girl in three days. Have her things ready to go by then." With that I heard a loud slam, and the room fell strangely silent.
With the door's closing, the corridors of my mind flew open. Memories I'd thought forever locked out flooded the depths of my being. Suddenly a child once more, I sank deeper into the four-poster bed, wide-eyed, wanting desperately to put the pieces of my life into one complete picture. The conversation had reminded me that I didn't belong, for although I'd never really forgotten the fact, time had helped to dim the knowledge. Fresh pain confronted me with the remembrance. I was a person who had no beginnings. Alone, abandoned, without love, I had started this life, and certainly my time with Rev. Jaspar had done little to change that.
My guardian didn't enjoy telling the story, but I managed to get a rough idea of it from him; the rest I ascertained from bits and pieces of overheard conversations in the village, as well as our housekeeper's busybody prattle.
"Found you at the church, 'e did. Wrapped in a woolen blanket of some quality, mind you? Your folks weren't poor, whoever they were." Mrs. Rickett would cluck her tongue in disapproval at this, then continue in her austere tone, "Probably scared the poor man to death, finding you lying in
that basket and crying your lungs out, but 'es a God-fearing soul. Took you in, and 'as brought you up in the Lord's way. And you should thank your lucky stars, little miss."
According to her story, Rev. Jaspar had been on his way to evening vespers when he spied me near the heavy wooden door of the building. Evidently I'd been placed there with the hope of certain discovery, but that is of little consolation to a child who wants only to be loved.
Love was reserved for God alone in the Rev. Jaspar Cowper's household. It wasn't something to be wasted on innocent, abandoned orphans. I knew very little about the man himself, except for the fact that he had gone into the ministry as a very young man, and that he valued his calling above all things. As I grew older, I often wondered if ever in his life had he felt love for another human being.
What I never understood was why he kept me at all when he could easily have shipped me off to some family who wanted a child. But keep me he did, and as soon as I was old enough, promptly proceeded to instruct me in the ways of righteousness.
"You were placed in my life by God," he often told me, "to be shaped and molded in the Christian faith. We must strive to carry out His will." And so would begin our morning Bible lesson, during which I spent hours kneeling on the cold, flagstone floor of the church thinking more about my aching knees than about God's holiness.
Besides our on-going study of the scriptures, Rev.
Jaspar taught me grammar, history, geography, as well as French and Latin; so I was certainly not lacking in a formal education. Attending the village school with other children wasn't allowed, for after lessons the poor and sick parishioners must be seen to, although I didn't mind this so much, for they were always kind and appreciative. But then the church and rectory had to be dusted and polished, so they too might reflect the pure, clean-heartedness of God's love. My guardian was definitely a man of purpose, and he filled up not only his own life, but mine as well, with duty and discipline, if not with love.
"God punishes those who fail to seek His truth," the deep raspy voice would boom out across the church each Sabbath. Then he would turn his lean, gaunt face toward me, and looking down his long, beak-like nose with coal black eyes that pierced the very core of my being admonished. "Children must overcome the sins of their parents! This is God's will!" His face seemed to me rather hard and cruel for a man of God, but the congregation didn't appear concerned, and each week the pews were filled, although it may have been due more to fear of that gray-headed tyrant than of God.
He must have come to despise me more and more with each day that passed, for I grew to be everything he was not. A man who surrounded himself with blandness and simplicity, his home was sparsely furnished, meals little more than barley bread and cheese, clothes always black. Never, never did I see him wear any color at all, even at Christmastide, when a dash of red or green would surely have been permissible.
And yet, somehow, I became a happy, affectionate creature, who longed to be held and cuddled; who knew at a young age the effect a smile and laughter had on most people. As a child, I loved to play in the rectory garden, decking myself with bright spring flowers and shiny green vines. Once, he caught me at this activity and cast them off, shouting as he did, "Vanity is the Devil's tool, girl. You may have been cursed with a pretty face, but I'll not have you flaunting it about my home."
Mrs. Rickett, a dreary, colorless person as well, never in all my growing up years gave me more than the barest essentials. Before I appeared, she worked only days for the Rev. but afterwards, she became a permanent fixture in his household. Someone, of course, had to take care of me, and with the exception of a village woman named May who served for a time as my wet nurse, Mrs. Rickett practically raised me. Her husband had long since died and she had no children of her own-one would have thought she might have just a little love for a poor, motherless child, but somehow she managed to bring me up without ever offering any real affection. May, my wet-nurse, had a kind and smiling face, but she also had five youngsters of her own at home, and once I was beyond the breast, never appeared to give me another thought. And so I faced the world-left in the hands of those who saw to my needs, but had no real love to offer.
One day I braved the wrath of our housekeeper to ask why, and she replied stoutly, "What do you mean no one cares for you, girl? You've got people to feed and clothe you. Some children don't 'ave that much. And wha' do you know about love anyway."
"May loves her children...I've seen the way she smiles and holds them...But no one truly loves me, Mrs. Rickett. Not you, nor Rev. Jaspar. Sometimes I wonder if even God does."
A snort followed. "God loves everyone who obeys His laws," she answered adamantly, "and it's only by His grace you'll get to Heaven, miss. You'd best be rememberin' that when you're countin' your woes."
And yet again we came back to the same argument; I was a whining, thankless child, unappreciative of those who had taken me in. While Mrs. Rickett wasn't exactly cruel to me, I was treated more like an encumbrance who was always underfoot and causing extra work. At least once every day, she would shoo me out of the kitchen, sending me about some task or errand with the words, "Be off with you then, girlie. Hard work and piety alone twill be your salvation. That pretty face uh'll get you naught."
Obviously she agreed with my guardian's notion that the curse of an attractive countenance made me sinful. I had no real way of knowing how I looked, however, for there were no mirrors in my room at the rectory; and the distorted, dull reflection in my windowpanes showed only wide, timid eyes crowned by curls always seeking to peek out from the ugly white cap they made me wear. Whatever my appearance, evidence stated that I'd been cast upon a man who'd have been happiest with a malnourished plain Jane In fact. I was surprised he didn't call me Jane as was the usual case for poor nameless girls, but instead he chose Anne and that suited me well enough.
Occasionally I wondered if my real parents had given me some exotic, fanciful name and were using it when they referred to me, whoever and wherever they were. As a young child, I loved to make up all sorts of stories about my family; how someday they'd return and tell me how sorry they'd been to give me up for a time. "But here we are now, darling, and we're going to make up for all the years you ye spent without us!" Then we'd go home in their fancy carriage, but on the way to that wonderful place, we'd stop at some little shop and buy me a few new outfits, "just to tide you over until we can get a complete wardrobe." Happily, I'd cast off the drab browns and grays of the rectory, and pull off the unseemly white cap, freeing those imprisoned curls at last. My mother would choose a blue-green dress of the softest velveteen for me, "because it matches your eyes" and those same eyes would fill with tears knowing the dismal days were over and finally I was loved.
But things never turned out the way I imagined; and little by little, I gave up those childish daydreams. Continual letdowns and unfulfilled illusions forced me to shut my mind to the fantasy and look elsewhere for comfort.
Growing older, I discovered the world beyond Countisbury, and every free moment found me wandering the valleys and cliffs surrounding our small Devon hamlet. I learned to finish chores quickly or hurry through visits and errands; even, I'm ashamed to admit, to tell Mrs. Rickett I'd be studying my scriptures in the church, then escape after reading only one or two verses. Surely God would overlook this small untruth; the whole universe waited beyond the walls of my prison; and I felt closer to Heaven rambling those hills and vales than I ever had inside the church or rectory walls. Usually I paid dearly for my freedom though. Ironically, the very person who would keep me from that world had introduced me to it. Geography lessons with Rev. Jaspar taught me so much about the area where we lived, I wanted to see for myself the rivers, the sea, the coaches from the towns nearby.
A small inn sat at the edge of Countisbury proper, the Blue Ball, which boasted a bright sign in the shape and color of its name. The mail coach stopped there each day to change the horses, the climb over Porlock Hill being extremely steep and the poor animals completely exhausted by the time they reached the top. In fact, the imposing hills that bordered us kept our village, as well as the neighboring towns, remarkably isolated from any sense of the world beyond. So I loved to creep down among the shrubs encircling the inn to listen to the driver and the innkeeper exchange news about places which-to me-existed only in books or dreams.
"Wha's tha news of the ton, these days?" Old Pete ran the inn, and his raspy voice always made me wonder if he hadn't had one drink-or perhaps one smoke!-too many.
"Wha' ton?" the driver innocently queried, always holding back the news until Pete was fair to bursting, and me in my hiding spot as well.
"Wha' da ya mean, 'wha' ton'?" Pete would shoot back. "Thar's only one ton worth knownin' the news about? London, my man, London, of course."
Then the driver's laughter burst forth, for of course he had known all along it was the news from London Old Pete was craving.
Would I ever see that world, I wondered? Would I ever go to London and see Queen Victoria or Prince Albert? Would I ever visit a castle or dine at a fine restaurant? Perhaps not, but for now it was enough to know such a place existed, and to content myself with dreams. In reality, I was happy enough exploring the countryside, finding special nooks and crannies, learning which plants grew best in the rocky soil of the moors and which grew best along the cliffs, the different sounds of the birds according to the season, reveling in the rush of the rivers which was never absent from my hearing.
Unfortunately, upon returning to the rectory, cheeks rubbed red by the wind and strands of hair falling from a hastily pulled on cap usually gave my secret away.
"Out again, are you then?" Mrs. Rickett would admonish, "Rev. says you're to go straight to bed without supper," and she would send me off with a swat on the ear. But occasionally, depending on her mood, she might slip me a small slice of bread and butter before retiring. No matter what the price, however, the hours spent outdoors were worth the trouble.
Extraordinary beauty surrounded the drab grayness of my home. The craggy cliffs of the western English coastline stood jagged and white and Foreland Point, being the tallest, towered above the exquisite blue brilliance of ocean waves crashing below. Leading to its culmination were gorse-covered hills, rough and rocky beneath a patchy exterior of brilliant yellow or green, depending on the season. The hills possessed a sweet serenity of their own, and standing on their summits brought me complete contentment. At the peak of Countisbury Hill, just before the Point, a wide, open space beckoned with a view that went on for miles. Some days I'd climb up there, stopping for a time to gaze at that far horizon, envisioning a distant world which certainly must be filled with laughter and love and happy people. Other times, I'd follow a crooked path along the downstream banks of the East Lyn, where trees and vines grew so thick it seemed I might lose myself in their lush green depths forever, thus never coming to know any place beyond.
When I first rambled up those rugged slopes around Countisbury, I discovered a part of me heretofore missing, as if the land and I had always been one, yet were separated for a time. Suddenly I had come home to an old friend. Lying amidst the green grasses, I would whisper to it softly, "What have you to give me today, dearest one? A garland for my hair or perhaps a sprig of golden broom to rest beneath my pillow for the night? Then tomorrow, I'll sew a sachet and tuck you deep inside so you'll rest against my heart and share your sweet secrets all the day long." The plants would sigh quietly and gently brush my cheek with a tender caress, and closing my eyes, I would sleep by their side like a lover.
Following the East Lyn upstream, I came to a place known as Watersmeet, aptly named, for according to my guardian, the Lyn River meets the Hoar Oak Water there. Under large, overhanging trees, the falling water trickles cheerily by over smooth stones, flowing like a carefree, unbothered child. Coming from nowhere, with nowhere to go, completely nonchalant, making me envious of that unrestricted, unencumbered life. How I wanted that total abandon-no commitments, no duties, no God or Rev. Jaspar to appease.
"Why do you have all the frolic?" I'd ask, feigning scorn. The water replied with its merry little laugh, and ran on, undaunted and unashamed.
So I too became unashamed when I roamed. I shook my fair hair loose, letting the breeze toss it about. My high-topped, constricting shoes were unbuttoned and left sitting abandoned under a hedge, freeing my feet to go on alone, liberated at last, through the fields, the stream, the mud or anywhere in particular they chose to go. Throwing off my cloak, I ran with the warm spring air at my back, once again draping myself with flowers and leaves, heedless of vanity, until I felt like a princess awaiting her prince.
While I waited, I fed the animals and birds who lived on the hillsides with breadcrumbs saved from the rectory table. "Are you my prince?" I would gingerly ask a bob-tailed rabbit. "If you are, what shall I do to win your love?" But with a saucy wink and a flick of his white tail, he flounced off without answering, leaving me to wonder if I'd offended or if he were merely as shy and insecure as I.
Walking across the common one spring day, I came across a wild pony looking strangely out of place amidst the fronds of green and gold. He appeared rather startled to see me approaching, but as I spoke very softly and extended a half- eaten apple left from lunch, he began to warm to me and was soon nibbling eagerly from my hand.
"That's a good boy," I purred into his ear as I stroked the dappled gray back. "We're going to be friends, you and I."
As if in agreement, he whinnied loudly. I laughed and scratched between his feather-soft ears. "I'm going to call you Charlie, after the Bonnie Prince, and you shall be my sovereign, and this shall be our kingdom. I do hope Mr. Rabbit will forgive me but you and I seem so much better suited to one another. Aren't we, Charlie?"
Again, the snort of agreement, and I buried my face in his warm coat. "We shall see the world together, shan't we?" and when he tossed his head up and down, I knew I had a friend for life.
Charlie appeared almost every day after that, and eventually kindly allowed me to ride on his smooth, broad back, clutching tightly to the long mane as his gait carried us along. We rode west across the rocky slopes, and I saw the twin villages of Lynton and Lynmouth, one sitting high on a cliff, the other nestled in the shadowy trees below. I waded in the West Lyn, sister to my babbling falls, while Charlie nibbled at grass on the nearby banks. We visited Sillery Sands, and I sat staring endlessly as frothy waves crashed onto a pebbled shore.
This world became my life, but even so, I had to be
cautious lest I be seen and reported to my guardian. I didn't
know what I would do if he should discover and take Charlie
away, I only knew I belonged here, so much more than in that
dreary other place. Amid the trees, on the hills, along the
cliffs, I found contentment and peace; it was there I first
began to hear the voice that would come to change my life.
More than the sounds of the earth, or the water, or the
animals, they were the voices of the future, and while I
didn't realize it at the time, of the past as well. Most were
muted and distant, but one came through clearly, singing soft
lullabies or comforting me with gentle words of love. A
woman's voice, with a mother's tenderness; and though I had
come to know companionship and serenity, only when I met and
made her my friend did I truly begin to know love.
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