We’re almost through the month. That’s good and bad. We’ve almost burned through another month of our lives! What do we have to show for it? Something good I hope.
The schoolhouse was packed. I feared there wouldn’t be enough seating even though we’d hauled out all the desks and crammed every chair and bench we could fit and still leave space along the wall and down the aisle. Children lined the walls like dark, fidgeting pickets. Mrs. Sullivan’s crew stood in succeeding shades of black where the dye had diluted the further she got into the wardrobes down to little Emma in a sweet charcoal gray dress.
I was still irked Pastor Jessop refused to allow us to use the church seeing as Mr. Stossel had committed suicide and he was still irked at me for quoting the scripture about fools to him.
Mr. Stossel would have liked the send off here better anyway, I think. Even with all the windows open, it was stifling hot with all the bodies, though. The girls at the boarding school arranged several bright and fragrant bouquets over the casket, which helped cover the mounting odor of sweating bodies and one deceased schoolmaster who was bound to be getting a bit ripe.
Mr. Walker, a lay preacher and the father of two of Mr. Stossel’s students, agreed to do the service. I felt no shame in not buying a casket from town as the one resting on the desk was as nice as anything in any storefront. The woodwork was beautiful and he’d even carved an eagle into the side, saying Mr. Stossel was passing fond of the birds. The brass handles set off the black lacquer paint admirably.
To my relief he did not dwell of fire and brimstone and the evils of self murder, but rather told stories about Mr. Stossel and the children and how Jesus had called the children to him also. We found ourselves laughing through our tears at some of the stories. And not for the first time I realized how very remarkable the man had been and how much he would be missed. Where would I ever find another like him?
Though we knew nothing of him before, Mr. Walker made it sound like he had lived a very full life and we celebrated as well as mourned him. He drew his remarks to an end with a short prayer and we sang Just As I Am and Amazing Grace.
I was thankful for such a lovely service, but it would be good to get a breath of fresh air also. Men mopped their foreheads with handkerchiefs and women fanned and panted in the heat and their stays.
Abigail leaned over and whispered, “Might I look upon his fair face one more time and get a lock of his hair?”
I was inclined to decline her request for various reasons, but she was insistent. I had placed a volume of Shakespeare Mr. Stossel particularly enjoyed with him and invited the children to also add some small treasure. To my dismay, most of them treasured books and his casket soon filled with arithmetic and spelling primers. I tried to convince them maybe a favorite rock or flower, but enough books remained I worried we wouldn’t be able to close the lid. We would be hearing about missing books soon, but I was loathe to steal from the dead.
“Of course, Abigail.”
Mr. Walker unlocked the casket with a small brass key, then lifted the upper half. The Pennsylvania hex sign Mr. Stossel kept on his door was still wedged inside the casket lid where I had placed it. Abigail’s breath sucked in sharply behind me.
“Are you all right, Abigail?”
“Yes, I’m just overcome with emotion.”
Something green, about the size of a man’s fist slowly rose up above the edge of the casket. Then two great, golden, unblinking eyes peered at me from the casket. Mixed astonishment and horror swept over me, rendering me immobile. I couldn’t have moved if I’d been set on fire. Then, the eyes blinked, breaking the spell. It was the biggest bullfrog around these parts, Billy Tidwell’s prize jumping frog, General Lee.
Without thinking, I blurted out, “General Lee! What are you doing in that casket?”
The frog croaked and jumped, knocking the hex sign loose and sending it rolling toward Abigail who screamed and fled like a wraith in her cloud of black crepe.
“Oh, dear God! General Lee is dead?” Mrs. Beckham jumped to her feet and raised her arm heavenward. “No, Lord. Not the General. Take me! Take me!” She then collapsed in a puddle of black silk and I wondered if indeed the Lord had taken her.
As you all may have guessed by now, I’m kind of meticulous about research. In one scene, I have a butterfly everyone is convinced is the spirit of a boy who drowned. Maybe it is. I decided to make sure what kind of butterflies would be around the Shenandoah Valley in April. That gave me some ideas of description and what I might use for the boy’s mother later. Long story.
Later I have Lorena traveling by carriage, but some heavy rains washed out three bridges over a river she would have crossed. Obviously, that’s going to affect her travel plans and the days she’s traveling due to the floods.
In this scene, the beloved school master was found hanging in the stables in an apparent suicide. The minister refused to allow the service in the church since it was self murder, so Lorena holds the funeral in the schoolhouse and the plantation carpenter, who is also a lay minister, conducts the service. Involved in the service is either a jumping toad or frog, but it had to be about the size of a man’s fist. As always, this is rough draft as Rain Crow is barely being birthed.
So, that sent me off on another round of research and I found two specimens who would fit the bill. I would have preferred a toad, but none were big enough, so I had to go with the bullfrog.