The Black Beginning
In 1848, newlyweds Cyrus Black and his wife Heather Blankenship Black moved into their new home. It was not just any home. It was a castle without the stonework, a sign of opulence, fitting for its regal inhabitants.
A handsome man at thirty-five, Cyrus descended from King George II of England who reigned nearly a century earlier; however, the royal life held no allure for him. He spent the majority of his young life under the watchful eyes of royal guardians who hovered over him to correct every mistake he ever made and to shield him from the horrors of life. He longed to own land in a place far away from his relatives' interference.
He wanted to be a simple farmer.
Cyrus hated being pampered. He wanted to choose his own friends instead of the highbrow elites forced upon him. When he was in his early twenties his parents began to pester him about marriage. He had the choice of every titled lady in England though none appealed to him. His parents chose most of the eligible ladies for him, except he wanted to be the one who chose. The women were all young and beautiful; however they seemed set on staying in England as most thought America was the land of the war lovers, peasants, and religious fanatics who would rather live in squalor than submit to the rule of Queen Victoria and her reign in their mother country.
Cyrus chartered a very large sailing ship, filled it to capacity with all his belongings and a ton of gold and sailed to New York, Britain’s ex-colony. Cyrus’ bold move upset his parents however they understood his desire to be free of the monarchy’s adherence to the statutes and strictures of the royal family.
Cyrus landed on the shores of New York in 1845 and immediately purchased a small but livable country house on the Hudson River far away from the bustling city. Once he set foot on New York soil he replaced the dry goods dealer Alexander Turney Stewart as the richest man in the state.
He lived modestly among his neighbors and never mentioned his royal roots, nor did he flash his wealth around to invoke false friendships. However, a year later they knew that he was a man to be respected and he gained many friends.
He attended many parties in New York. Some were held to celebrate a business victory or other events that the wealthy held dear. However, most were designed for the rich to parade their successes in the business world and have a laugh or two at the plight of the downtrodden masses.
Cyrus hated the pompous affairs of the wealthy however, a year after he landed in New York, he felt restricted in the confining walls of his small house and wanted to find a larger house to live in. He wanted a spacious property to farm and enough land to ride his horses. His chance came when he attended one such party in order to meet the host, a wealthy landowner, who owned a five-thousand acre tract of land in northern Virginia with a large stately mansion built in the center of it. The property interested him. Cyrus drank glass after glass of Champagne as he haggled with the landowner until they finally agreed on a price. Once a deal was confirmed, Cyrus grabbed his hat and wanted to hastily leave the opulent affair. He noticed a beautiful woman who appeared to enjoy the company of dignitaries and business leaders.
All the while she glanced at the handsome man who was rumored to be quite wealthy. Cyrus couldn’t resist the looks she gave him that night and he had to meet her.
Known as Heather, Hather Blankenship was the youngest daughter of a wealthy shipping magnate who resided in upstate New York. Named after the purple mountain flower “hather,” she changed her name as a child to Heather because she decided it sounded pleasanter to the ear.
Heather stunned as a raven-haired beauty that, as her friends remarked, instantly fell in love with Cyrus. He was a handsome man and his money added greatly to his allure and for Heather that aspect of her affection far outweighed mere physical beauty.
They fell in love during the party, following hours of private conversations in the ornate parlor of the landowner’s home, and made plans not just to meet afterwards but for months in advance. They dated for a long time. Cyrus always avoided the subject of marriage due to his own misgivings of the ritual that had changed so many of his friends.
Heather had different ideas about their relationship and insisted after two years of engagement it was time to wed-or else. A month later, Cyrus relented and requested her hand in marriage and she enthusiastically accepted his proposal. Cyrus wanted a small wedding though Heather wanted the world to know about her impending nuptials and invited a thousand guests and made the wedding a lavish and luxurious affair.
They were married on an April afternoon in a garden as the forsythia and cherry trees blossomed and flowers bloomed. Heather’s closest female friends, as well as some of her acquaintances, gossiped that the main reason she married Cyrus was because her parents had cut her off from any inheritance years ago. They said she’d instantly tripled the wealth of her family by marrying Cyrus and no longer needed or cared about an inheritance from her father.
The women in town felt that her unfeeling and un-Christian ideas about people who had less than she had were the main reasons why her family dealt with her so harshly. She seldom attended church but when she did, she complained that her time was wasted there and the services bored her.
A few weeks into her marriage she found out about the tract of land that Cyrus had purchased from the New York landowner. She wanted to visit it even though Cyrus explained that the two-day trip was a tough one especially in a horse-drawn carriage. Cyrus couldn’t make the trip because he had to sell his small country house first, as well as the rest of his holdings before he left New York. He sent Heather to Virginia with plans to meet her there a few weeks later. After a rugged trip full of broken wheels, replacement horses and atrocious roads she arrived in Northern Virginia and checked into a hotel about ten miles from Cyrus’ parcel of land. She contacted the land agent and he told her where the property was situated and drove her to see it. Heather had set her sights on living farther south and happily left the verdant meadows of the upper Hudson River Valley for good. She complained that the winters were too harsh for her anyway although the land agent told her that the winters in Virginia were also harsh at times.
When she saw the house she instantly fell in love with it.
She reunited with Cyrus three weeks later in a tiny town in northern Virginia called Leesburg. It had an interesting history. In 1814 the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence were secretly moved to the small town before an imminent British attack on Washington, D.C.
Regardless of Heather's harsh view on those of whom she referred to as “the lesser people,” she knew that they delivered a valuable commodity: to serve her lavish needs. Cyrus had not known of Heather’s pretentious nature prior to their marriage; she had mastered the art of hiding her unsavory attributes to be able to capture a potential beau’s heart.
Once captured, the hopeful young men wallowed at her feet and showered her with expensive gifts while giving her vacuous looks of undying affection. She accepted their presents and allowed them to dream only to suddenly dispatch them to her own “unwelcome” category if they started to demand too much of her time or attention.
It was the largest mansion in the state and was nestled in the middle of a five-thousand acre plantation just outside of town. Though it didn’t have the stonework of a castle it impressively matched the size.
Constructed in 1804, the original owner’s entire family died when part of the mansion caught fire thirty years after its completion; it had been vacant ever since. The enormous home stood majestically on the well-manicured estate with its fifty bedrooms, a spacious ballroom and dining rooms that ached for a party for the elite and well-bred citizens of the tiny community.
Although it had many trees the plantation also included acres upon acres of flat, clear, cultivated fields designed for farming.
All the locals agreed that the plantation’s fertile soil far surpassed the other adjacent farms and that the best crops were grown there.
Heather loved the almost-fifty-year-old mansion, although Cyrus originally wanted a more discreet home to downplay his great wealth.
The plantation came equipped with all the modern implements along with forty slaves. The slaves greeted their new owners with skepticism however they were quick to find out that Cyrus was not like the previous owners of the manor.
Although Heather had different ideas, Cyrus did not want to be viewed as a man who owned people. To him, slavery went against everything he held dear and was a crime against humanity. He hated the fact that he owned slaves given his Christian upbringing and his overwhelming sense of human decency.
However, he couldn’t free them immediately because he believed the slaves owned by his fellow farmers would probably revolt against their owners. Cyrus decided to release his slaves gradually to avoid the sneers and the inevitable questions as to why. However, those who chose to remain to work his fields were paid handsomely though they were still referred to as slaves to appease his neighbors.
Heather, on the other hand, enjoyed owning the staff as opposed to paying them because she relished the power she held over people.
Cyrus’ conscience ate away at him at the notion of being a slave owner so regardless of his neighbor’s morally deficient beliefs he eventually freed all of his slaves despite Heather’s displeasure at the act. The former slaves loved and respected the new owner of the plantation because for the first time they worked as free men and garnered a decent wage for their efforts. They lived happily. They were now equals though only on the plantation and only in Cyrus’ eyes. There were many slave owners in the state and he preferred not to inflict his views on others however, as he told Heather, his farm would not prosper on the backs of forced laborers.
The former slaves lived on the outer edges of his property on land that Cyrus gave them to do with what they would. They split it equally among themselves. The community was made up of dirt streets and hastily built dirt-floor homes made of castoff lumber and whatever wood the forest supplied.
There was a central meeting place where they gathered to talk about how to improve the living conditions of their newly formed settlement.
Cyrus convinced them to replace the old buildings with clean, small homes for them to live in. He supplied the lumber and they built the houses to Cyrus’ standards.
To Cyrus, the slave issue damaged the supposedly Christian, newly liberated country. He noted the ambivalence from the clergy and wondered how people could own slaves and still be right with God.
He visited the new settlement many times and whenever he saw a problem he worked with the slaves to resolve it. Cyrus worked with them to improve their living conditions every time he visited.
The former slaves did all their laundry and cooked with water collected from the local creek however drinking it presented dangers to their health. Cyrus wanted to make the water cleaner to improve the overall health of his workers and their families. The camp needed a well because drinking the creek water made the children susceptible to diseases due to its questionable quality.
He hired a company to dig a community well right in the center of the settlement.
The drillers were puzzled by Cyrus' actions and were unable to understand why he wanted to help the slaves. However, he simply offered enough money for them to overcome their distaste for working around darker-skinned people. That still didn’t stop the drillers from showing their prejudices by their words and actions. The slaves ignored the drillers’ behavior because they rightly deemed the well too important to quibble over words. They had heard these words all their lives and had grown numb to the repetition.
The finished well brought an unlimited supply of clean water and enabled the women of the community to clean their clothes and cook their food and give fresh water to their children free from the threat of disease.
Some of the men in the slave compound made more money than some of the farmers in the area although spending it in the town proved hazardous at times. Dangers existed everywhere for former slaves with money in their pockets so Cyrus accompanied them each week to ensure the men’s safety and to make sure the settlement had the supplies it needed. He visited the camp often and each time he saw changes that bettered the residents’ lives. It warmed his heart.
The children waited for his horse and carriage to arrive. When it did they encircled him because Cyrus always had a pocketful of hard candy that he distributed among them and they happily accepted the sweet confections and thanked him for their gift.
Their parents told Cyrus they had suffered hardships that no man, woman, or child should endure and felt blessed to have him on their side, because it was the first time in their many tortuous years of toil, that a white man treated them as people rather than property.
The former slaves of the Black Plantation were the envy of the local slave population. Those slaves who worked for different masters on adjoining farms saw the changes in the living and work conditions on the Black farm and wanted a similar life. They were the scourge of the local white farm owners who didn't like the example Cyrus set for their slaves. Regardless of Cyrus’ ideas about slavery, they liked, respected and admired him for his kindness in granting free water rights to all the farmers in the area.
Heather seldom visited the site with Cyrus because she did not want to associate with the slaves. Cyrus was perplexed by Heather’s behavior. He’d hoped she would share his views and wanted her to work with him to alleviate the suffering and injustice. Cyrus, in turn puzzled Heather. She viewed them as servants in servant’s quarters and with servant children.
Outwardly, she saw Cyrus’ passion regarding the black people and feigned respect for them to appease her husband. The grimace on her face when they were around made it plain that she loathed them.
She had the best of everything; she used much of Cyrus’ money to furnish and redecorate the manor to show visitors that they were indeed in a house built for a queen and admired anyone who gushed at the lavishly adorned home.
Gold fixtures abounded; inlaid precious wood walls gleamed throughout the house; ornate ceilings from the finest plaster artisans in England and grand chandeliers made of the clearest crystals the world could produce perched twenty feet above the fine Italian marble-floored main ballroom, dining rooms, sitting rooms, and bedrooms. The huge windows provided much of the light in the home. Colors of the rainbow shone through the crystals of the chandeliers and created colorful prisms of light against the walls.
Old World furniture from the finest craftsmen of both Virginia and England further enhanced the air of opulence. Spacious gardens surrounded the home, along with well-maintained lawns that made the visitors view the mansion and its grounds as a large green park.
Together, Cyrus and Heather hosted many formal affairs. The men talked of politics and the women liked to speak of their children and other wifely duties deemed mundane by Heather.
A new couple moved to town and Cyrus met them on one of his few visits to the local tavern. A wealthy banker named Tom Watts and his wife Karen equaled Cyrus’ wealth though they lived on a smaller tract of land in a decidedly smaller home. They were respectable people who shared the same beliefs as Cyrus with regard to slavery and the outlook of the country. Heather met Karen but once again to Cyrus’ regret, she ignored her. Karen and Tom had the type of wealth that normally made them acceptable in her eyes, however, Heather's coldness toward the woman betrayed the fact that she believed Karen's beauty had caught Cyrus’ eyes more than a few times. It incensed her.
Unbeknownst to anyone, Heather had a dark secret, which she never revealed. She was a practitioner of witchcraft and given that the stigma of witchcraft remained a topic of ridicule in the nation, she didn’t dare reveal her secret. No one suspected her because of her great beauty and her strong negative opinions on the subject. She constantly praised the efforts of the lawmakers and their torturous verdicts during the witch trials of Salem, Massachusetts in the late 1600s in an effort to make sure no one guessed she practiced the satanic art.
She learned the craft as a child.
Her childhood friend and mentor had given her a very old book of spells that she had kept close to her for all the years prior to meeting and marrying Cyrus. She secretly housed the book in one of the darker bedrooms of the mansion. A room not visited by anyone for decades.
Her friend’s female ancestors had practiced witchcraft in Salem and suffered execution at the hands of the Puritans in the small Massachusetts town. The book passed down from mother to daughter until it reached the friend who, in turn, gave it to young Heather because she had no children of her own to pass it onto. The spells within the book helped Heather’s friend when the world got too complicated for her. Later, subsequent bouts of depression and anxiety created an uncontrollable madness within her, and she took her own life. Heather never equated her friend’s maladies with the use of the old and fabled book.
Now she had the enormous mansion and fifty rooms in which to hide her secret. She designated a private, locked room in the darkest part of the west wing as her practicing room and visited it often.
There, she conjured spells, mixed her concoctions, and spouted strange words in accordance to the books teachings — although nothing happened. The spells did not work.
She tried everything to make them work until she realized that the first two pages were stuck together; she had missed performing the initial procedure to unlock the magic within the book and bind the book to her forever.
The procedure would last five days. She had to recite a passage from the book, wait twenty-four hours exactly, return and recite the second passage, wait another twenty-four hours, then say the third passage, and then the fourth and the fifth. After the fifth passage was spoken, she had to prick her finger and drip one drop of blood on each page of the book.
Once she completed this course of action the book and all the magical spells within it would work perfectly for her and her only.
A part of her feared the book and wondered what dark forces would be unleashed if she opened that door and allowed the magic full reign. For this reason she did not perform all of the steps.
Heather loved to explore the expansive mansion in her idle time. Sometimes Cyrus joined her though he did not enjoy the home’s vast and dark recesses. He seldom saw Heather because finding her in such a large mansion proved impossible given her desire to explore every room. He called out hundreds of times as he walked through the house trying to find her and eventually gave up after visiting twenty or thirty bedrooms.
When Heather finally reappeared, usually when the sun went down because of the dimmed light, he asked her where she had been.
“Heather, I’ve called you many times. Where do you go during the day?”
Heather did not want Cyrus to know of her secret place so she merely said, “There are fifty bedrooms in this house and I have to check all of them so I can direct the help to clean them. I won’t have one of our guests stay in a room that is dusty or unkempt or has dirty basins and linens.”
“Are you planning another party?” he asked.
“Oh, God no, those old biddies don’t deserve to sponge off us any longer.”
“Old biddies? Heather, I feel as if I have to remind you that those 'old biddies' are our friends. Their husbands are my friends. Sweetheart, why do you talk as if they are trying to take something from us? They’re good people and have earned our respect.”
“Respect? Most of them don’t even have the means to support their families. Why should we supply them with a day of excellent food and drink when they can’t reciprocate our goodwill?”
“Are you saying that you can’t associate with them because they don’t have the wealth that we do?” Cyrus inquired, as he removed his glasses.
“Well, yes, I guess I am. Cyrus, we are fortunate people, and I don’t want our children to be brought up wanting for anything. I have a feeling that their children would be a bad influence on ours, should we decide to have them.”
Cyrus wondered how his bride could be so cruel.
“Heather, when we have children, I would be happy to see them play among their children or any children. They are just children and we will allow them to associate with many types of people. Do you understand that?”
Heather, who had never heard her husband speak so decisively, looked confused. “Oh, dearest, I’m sorry to make it sound as if those others are not worthy to interact with our children. They are, of course.”
Heather, oblivious to the fact that the women in town secretly didn’t like her, invited them over for tea so they could marvel at her beautifully decorated house though many of the women thought that it appeared somewhat cluttered with too many expensive antiques. Most declined her invitations relaying various reasons, however, they enjoyed Cyrus’ company and while they chose to be with their devoted husbands during all the lavish dinner parties, it was obvious to all that spending any time with Heather was not what the wives wanted to do.
The comment 'too pretentious' was whispered among them.
The men always talked of politics. They speculated on the possibility of the Old South fighting the North in hopes of solidifying the republic under one flag. Many of the men wanted the battle between brothers however Cyrus stood firmly against such a conflict. A man of great ideals, Cyrus considered the war, which would probably be fought on Virginia lands would destroy substantially more than the architects of war predicted. The fact that the proximity of his home was near to the Mason-Dixon Line troubled him. He knew wars were always the most intense near boundaries and his plantation lay only a hundred or so miles from this one. He feared that a great battle would certainly be fought on his land given that he owned more than his neighbors.
Although he lived in an area that people deemed part of the South he agreed with many of the North’s stances with regard to slavery.
Yet the glorious South embraced its culture and had no intentions of changing to please the intellectuals of the North.
Heather did not want a war to happen either because she feared her property would be taken over by whichever side won such a war.
No one wanted their land stained with blood-soaked bodies and the remnants of gunpowder replacing the sweet smell of honeysuckles in the air. Cyrus and Heather had not come to this rich, green country only for it to be marred by war.
Cyrus had seen too much bloodshed in his own country and wanted no part of it in his new paradise. He made his views known to many of the plantation owners, which caused arguments within the usually cordial and gentlemanly conversations. However, before the end of the spirited if somewhat contentious debate they offered each other a hearty handshake and a thank you and parted friends.
Cyrus tried to discuss Heather’s attitude towards people but to no avail. When she saw that her attitude had an effect on her relationship with her husband, whom she loved with all her heart, she attempted to change her ways.
To this end she invited the ladies over for tea, or a woman’s meeting, as they called it and once again the conversations bored her and she prayed for them to end. Try as she may she couldn’t bring herself to like any one of the fine ladies of the town.
She explained to Cyrus of her attempt to interact with the local people had not succeeded.
Her failure in that regard incensed Cyrus. Heather seldom saw her husband's temper. That day he stormed out of the room and left her alone to contemplate why he was so angry with her.
Heather made yet another vow to change.
It was a change that wouldn't please her husband had he known what her plans were.
She walked to her secret room at the end of the darkest hallway in the manor, opened the evil book of witch spells, and determined to carry out the five-day ritual. She recited the passage as the oil lamps affixed to the walls ominously flickered dim and then shone brighter.
She closed the book, blew out the lamp and left the room. She returned at the exact same time the next day and performed the second stage. The oil lamps’ flames were brighter than before.
At first she was unaware the brightness of the lamp had anything to do with the procedure, that is, until her third visit after she had recited the third passage. The heat generated by the lamps’ flames singed the lampshades to an ugly brown.
The incident with the lamps scared her and she questioned whether to return for the reading of the fourth passage.
However, the next morning a rancher’s wife sneered at her for no reason she could determine. That simple gesture gave Heather the courage she needed to recite the fourth passage. The lamps’ flames ignited the shades and melted the small glass sleeves. Heather shielded her face from the heat and managed to turn the oil supply off and the flames extinguished. She closed the book and left the room, frightened, although resolute that the one sneer she'd received also warranted the final visit to the room.
Heather wished there was an easier way however her ego did not accept the status quo. Heather walked down the hall on the fifth and final day. She slowly entered the room, opened the book and recited the passage. The lamps exploded. They lay on the floor in a million pieces, but the flames magically blazed on their own without fuel supply or wicks. She uttered an additional phrase and noticed a slight wind swirling in the dusty, unlived-in room. She chanted more of the incantation; the wind grew in intensity. A tornado surrounded her in the closed room. Heather noticed that when the wind blew through various stones of the fireplace she could hear sounds, like words, which beckoned her to continue.
The walls of the room spun in the opposite direction of the wind, matching its velocity, as the floor remained stationary. Items in the large room were tossed around her and her long black hair whipped against her face with such speed that she felt the sting for many minutes. She secured her hair in one hand amid the swirling confusion the room created. She didn't feel fear as she battled the elements within the room. Resolute, she withstood the velocity of the storm as long as the end result delivered the desired effect.
The wind stopped, as well as the movement of the walls, and she looked around to see that all the flying pillows, sheets, and debris were back in their normal places. Even the dust once layered on the book returned to its original place. She silently read another incantation designed to affect anyone, other than herself, who should enter the secret room. According to the spell, the book was bound to her and her only and all the spells within were hers to conjure as long as the pages remained in the book. The unlocking procedure was completed and the book released its secrets. The lamps returned to their original state.
She searched the book for a spell she could use to coerce her husband’s friends to like her. Heather viewed witchcraft as her only avenue to gain their respect. She had sought to change her attitude and soften her personality to allow the kinder, sweeter Heather to shine through however it hadn't worked. She also searched for a spell to make her husband see her as she saw herself, to love her and not scold her or make her feel bad.
She did not want to change and hoped she'd find a spell that could change other people and use magic to gain their honor and respect. She searched and searched until she finally found a spell she could use. It was an old spell that garnered the results she desired. The charm, originally conjured centuries earlier to make minions respect the kingdom’s rulers, reversed the thinking of those who wanted to overthrow the ruling class.
Heather decided the spell fit her situation perfectly. She uttered the words:
“I summon the dark places to heed my request. I call to you, the Lord of the Book, to answer my plea! Change my husband and the visitors of this house to see my light and not question their minds. I call upon you, the Dark Lord, to make them view me as their Goddess!”
Afterwards she closed the book and walked out of the room. She strolled through the darkened hallways with only a candle to light her way because the oil sconces on the walls were devoid of oil.
Heather arrived back at the main room of the manor, where she sat at her writing table to address select invitations to a party. She planned to see if the spell worked. She sent out the invitations and they were delivered by carrier to every farm and to all the elite of the community.
Many of the women initially declined her invitation although the insistence by their husbands that they attend won over their objections. Once they entered the house, the spell took hold and they were enthusiastically pleased that they were there.
Their reaction upon entering her home convinced her that her spell worked perfectly. Everyone in the town attended the lavish affair. Cyrus and the rest of the men congregated in the massive oak-trimmed den, smoking cigars, telling war stories from their youth, and proudly comparing scars received from great battles.
The men heard laughter emanating from the room where their wives had gathered.
When the laughter became louder than the men’s concerns of wars and political talk, curiosity stilled their conversation. The men investigated the boisterous laughter. Shocked, Cyrus saw his beautiful wife engaged in a raucous conversation with the other wives who actually appeared to like her.
Cyrus whispered in her ear. “I’m so proud of you, my darling. The women adore you.”
“Thank you, Cyrus. I think that all your good husbandly advice has finally made me realize that I do like these women and they appear to like me as well. Now leave us because I want to continue to get to know them better.”
Cyrus lovingly kissed her on her head and left the room. He smiled as if content that the difficulties they’d had were over. The other men followed Cyrus and scratched their heads in confusion. It was odd to see their wives cuddle up to a woman they'd said they despised just hours prior to their arrival.
The spell had had an extraordinary and profound effect on all the women in the room and Heather was happy to bask in their respect and ignored the fact it was due to mind-controlling sorcery.
Heather and her new friends talked throughout the evening. They hung on to every word she said and agreed with her views of the world. To her delight her beauty also suddenly and overly intrigued them.
Heather noticed that her spell carried over to the men as well and soon the gentlemen of the community admired her as much as they admired Cyrus.
At the time Heather did not realize that there was a price for the magic she commanded.
A few days after the party, a strange and unsettling concept came into her mind.
Something deep inside her told her to poison her beloved husband.
She quickly dismissed it and carried on happily with her newly acquired friends.
The evil idea was not stilled for long and weeks later the urge for her to accomplish her deadly mission grew in intensity.
As she prepared tea for Cyrus one afternoon, she saw a jar containing a spray of pretty flowers and green leaves were added to provide another color to the bouquet — hemlock. Her hands shook violently as she peppered his tea with the mashed leaves however couldn’t bring it upon herself to put in enough to kill him. Something, even deeper within her, stopped her.
Even though Heather knew that she placed poison in Cyrus’ tea, she couldn’t prevent herself from doing so because for a fleeting moment, the urge to kill him overwhelmed her love for him.
Cyrus greeted her and she offered him the freshly made tea. The heat of the midday sun caused him to drink it quickly so she could not, and did not, stop him. He looked at Heather and told her, once again, about the pride he felt for her by allowing the town to view her as he did.
A few hours drifted by until Heather found Cyrus on the floor violently ill and writhing in pain. Although she knew the reason why he was ill, she did not dare confess her part as the cause of his condition, to him or anyone else. She had no way to summon the doctor so she ordered Hector, the manor’s butler, to prepare the carriage to drive Cyrus to town to see Doctor Silas Smith, a friend and drinking companion of Cyrus’.
Hector, one of the newly freed slaves, showed serious concern when Cyrus lost consciousness during the two-mile trip to town.
They arrived with the horses panting loudly. A strong man, Hector easily lifted Cyrus into his arms and quickly carried him into the doctor’s office. Heather cried all the way to the door as she followed Hector inside the doctor’s home.
He regained consciousness when the doctor applied smelling salts and he told Silas that he burned inside. The doctor had sewed Cyrus up after many a mishap around the farm and he didn’t offer a single twitch of pain however, regardless of his high threshold for pain, this time he writhed in great agony.
“This man’s been poisoned! Cyrus, did you eat something you shouldn’t have?”
Cyrus began struggling for breath. “No Silas, I had a cup of tea. That’s all! My stomach’s burning up!”
“Heather, get those towels from over there along with that bucket and three glasses of water. Hector, take his shirt off, it may cool him off a bit,” the doctor demanded. He reached into a glass cabinet and took out a bottle of brown liquid. “Cyrus, I’m going to give you this. You must drink it all down. Do you hear me?”
“Yes, I hear you,” Cyrus muttered, between painful grunts.
Silas gave him an antidote designed to assist in many ailments within the digestive tract. He also gave him a lot of water to dilute whatever he’d ingested to cause his pain. He grabbed the bucket and gave it to Cyrus.
“What’s this for?”
“You’ll see soon; just keep drinking the water,” the doctor requested.
Cyrus found out quickly what the bucket for as he vomited violently multiple times, which purged the poison before it could do any real permanent damage.
After a few hours of intense pain, Cyrus began to feel better and was able to walk, though still shaky. The more time passed, the stronger he became.
He told the doctor he'd probably ate uncured pork during dinner the night before. He stood up and told Silas that he felt well enough to go back to his home.
Heather was relieved he did not die and did not confess she'd poisoned him.
Hector drove Heather and Cyrus back to their house at a much more leisurely pace with Heather cradling her husband in her arms all the way home.
“I don’t know what happened, Heather. I remember our dinner of pork roast but it didn’t seem to affect you the way it affected me. You did eat some of the roast as well, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I did. I do admit feeling a little unwell afterwards except not to the degree that it affected you. I probably did not have as much,” she confessed.
Heather allowed him to think that tainted pork caused his illness and reiterated that she hadn’t eaten as much as Cyrus. When they arrived back to the manor, Heather tucked him comfortably in his bed and allowed him to sleep.
She took the opportunity to go to her secret room and read more about the spell she’d put on all the women in town. She read of repercussions and side effects and noted that every time she used the chosen spell conjured to endear her to others she suffered an opposite reaction to the one she loved most dearly. The more she used the spell the greater her husband suffered by her hand from its evil intent.
She'd read that her evil intentions were penance paid for tampering with fate. The side effects dictated that she kill Cyrus however at the moment her inner love for him prevented that unwelcome end.
She reasoned that she could continue to use the spells because her love for him lessened the amount of the poison thus preventing Cyrus' death. Heather had to make sure that she did not use any spells again until he had completely healed and back to his old vivacious self. She felt that the value of the spell’s results superseded the importance of her husband suffering minor bouts of sickness and as long as he fully recovered she accepted the risk.
There were new people settling in town all the time, and Heather enjoyed being the center of attention amid the townswomen. The positive attention from her neighbors acted like a drug to the new Heather and she coveted the attention of everyone in town including the town’s most recent citizens. Though Cyrus had to pay a significant price for Heather’s popularity he recovered quickly each time she used the deadly spell. He withstood the poisoning and the pain although the fact that his own body appeared to let him down perplexed him.
Two months later, Heather and Cyrus decided to get together once again with the townspeople.
The War Between the States seemed years away although that didn’t stop it from being the main topic of conversation. The men were happy that Cyrus had recovered from his mysterious illness and each of them had their own notions as to why he’d gotten sick. The most recent townsmen appreciated Cyrus as much as his older neighbors.
The women sat down to tea and talked for hours, gushing over Heather’s beauty and her worldly mannerisms. The six new ladies of the town did not appear to be influenced by Heather’s spell. They did not care for her pompous attitude and couldn’t see why the other women seemed mesmerized by her.
The ladies in the original group considered she emanated class, which demanded attention and envy, while the new people saw her as a spoiled woman who had a high opinion of herself.
The manifesting guilt Heather suffered from Cyrus' previous malaise made her decide to try to endure the ugly looks and scorn of the new members of their community without subjecting Cyrus to additional pain. Heather, addicted to the women showering her with respect and adoration, implored her possessed friends to make the new people in town like her. She wanted them to fall in line very badly because she felt awful about her unwilling attacks on her loving husband.
However, after two months, she could not stand it anymore and decided to return to the secret room to conjure the spell again.
Heather targeted the six women with the spell to make them like her and it was as if she had reached the point where she did not care that she had to put Cyrus through even more peril to achieve her desires.
Once conjured, the women fell under her spell. Now the entire female population of the town adored her. Heather had a few weeks of happiness because she had no ill thoughts of harming her husband. She basked in the unanimous love of everyone and her husband did not suffer further for it.
She enjoyed going to town with Cyrus now. They walked arm in arm down the avenue with waves of friendship and envy coming from everyone.
“The people seem friendlier these days, dear,” Cyrus noticed.
“That’s because they adore you, Cyrus,” Heather said.
She guessed many of the salutations were for her because of the spells that she had placed on the people.
They walked to their favorite restaurant and received favored treatment from the staff and proprietor, who even went so far as to offer the couple their dinner gratis.
The number of people who came up to their table and wished them well amazed him. Most of them wanted Heather’s attention and that made him proud to be with her.
Cyrus had the respect of men in town, whom he had never met before, for reasons unknown to him.
Four years after they moved to Leesburg the threat of imminent war, which worried Cyrus, was no longer mere fodder to give the men something to talk about over cigars and brandy. Sadly, Cyrus saw that his friends had already taken sides. To his mind the battle over states’ rights versus federal control had begun years earlier although with words instead of bullets. His friends were not as gentlemanly in their beliefs as they were before and some even raised their voices in defense of the South. There were fewer in favor of the North.
Cyrus stood his ground against slavery; he also philosophized that one union stood much stronger than ten rogue states that made their own federal laws. He heard all the arguments and lamented that some of his friends made plans to venture North or further South to prepare to fight each other and nothing said in the small gatherings changed their decisions.
Heather did not like to discuss the possibility of war and refused to allow Cyrus to mention it in her presence.
The war loomed so Cyrus gave his freed slaves more of his land. He believed they would fare better during the war as landowners. Forty men and women worked on his farm and he gave five acres to each of them. Now they sowed their own fields and raised their children aware they were property owners and an important part of the community and the country. Cyrus believed that if a man owned land he owned his future and he wanted them to determine their future as free men and women.
As before most of the town didn’t like what Cyrus had done with regard to his slaves and he didn’t care. He was aware his ideals were in the minority in the tiny community however they did not dare fight him on the issue. Cyrus still held the mantle as the richest and most powerful man in town. The people knew it and they did not want to get on his bad side since Cyrus owned all the water rights for many of the outlying farms and they depended on his kind desire to see all the farms prosper as much as his did.
Heather had no such concern with the women in town because they all adored her and agreed with everything she said or suggested. As much as she enjoyed being loved and doted on, it inexplicably irritated her at times. However, as the town expanded she continually made its new citizens like her with magic.
It was as if the magic had a hold over her.
Just as before, the idea of killing Cyrus returned, except this time it suggested a different method to use to murder Cyrus. The idea tortured her because it seemed she needed to kill Cyrus through blood loss. She hated to see her own blood much less Cyrus’. The more she came to love him the greater the desire to kill him ran through her tortured mind. She didn’t know how to accomplish the task although the idea of bleeding her husband to death made her cry uncontrollably.
Cyrus saw her in the parlor weeping and walked over to ask her why she hurt so.
“My darling, are you all right? Why are you crying?” he asked.
Heather had to think quickly because she could not tell him about the terrors which pounded at her head. “I just found out that one of my favorite horses died.”
Cyrus hugged her and asked her which one had died. She said the first name that came into her muddled mind.
“Chief, the Appaloosa.”
“I’m so sorry, sweetheart. There are plenty more to choose from. I promise that you will have the pick of the spring foals. Now, no more tears.” Cyrus comforted his grieving wife.
He noted that Heather’s sensitive nature had intensified over the years because when they had first moved to the manor the death of her favorite horse would’ve held no special meaning. She would have just picked another animal without as much as a tear.
Since Heather had told Cyrus that Chief was dead she had to make sure that her lie became reality. As soon as she could she left the house and went to the fields. She spied Chief grazing amid the high plains grass. The horse, upon noticing Heather walking toward him, galloped briskly and greeted her with great joy as he normally did.
She started crying as she hugged her loving horse. She pulled out a sharp knife and stabbed the great animal severing a main artery in his neck. The horse reared up and then stared at Heather as she cried and apologized for what she had done to her trusted steed. He took a few steps back and then fell to the ground. Heather could see her reflection in his eyes. They held the image of his cruel owner.
Chief died seconds later with Heather lying in the field and leaning on her fallen horse. She cried again as the wind blew his high mane around her face. She stood up and apologized to her friend once more and pulled the knife out of him.
As she walked slowly back to the house she realized that she still carried the bloody knife she’d used. She dug a hole quickly and buried it beneath the fertile yet fallow soil.
Heather walked back to the house. Hector met her at the door. “Mr. Black is looking for you. He wants to know where your horse fell so he can have it removed.”
Heather pointed to a place in the field where Chief lay and then went straight to her bedroom to cry again as she remembered the look on her favorite horse’s face when she betrayed him.
Cyrus ordered all reminders of Chief to be taken from the premises and told the stable people to move his saddle, reins, blanket, and everything once used on Chief before his wife saw them. Cyrus went to the fields with five other men to remove the horse’s carcass.
He ruled out an animal attack because he had seen few large predators in his years in Virginia and knew that Chief could handle most of them anyway.
The men heaved and pulled the horse onto the cart in preparation for its burial as Cyrus unknowingly took the same path to the house as Heather had done earlier in the day. He took only a few steps when he looked up and saw Heather run toward him.
"Let me see Chief again before you take him away."
Cyrus stopped her because the men had used a few 'unmentionable' methods to get the massive horse onto the cart and he didn’t want her to see her pride and joy in pieces.
She got down on her knees and prayed silently and hoped God and Chief would forgive her for what she had done.
Cyrus told her that he suspected Chief had jumped a fence and a post gouged his neck. "He didn't suffer," he said.
She knew differently and turned away from Cyrus as her guilt overwhelmed her and ran back toward the house. Cyrus ran after her and then stumbled over a groundhog burrow and fell. He hit the ground hard.
He saw that something had impaled him. He bled profusely from a knife wound. Heather, in her haste to hide the evidence of her earlier crime, didn't realize the knife she’d hidden deep within the soil, now protruded from Cyrus’ right leg.
He called out to Heather. He saw her look back except she did not see him amidst the tall grass. The blood gushed. He applied pressure on the wound. He called out to Heather again. She followed his voice and then saw him. "Go back to the house and get Hector," he asked. "I need to go to see Silas again."
She stood frozen as she looked at the blood stream through his fingers.
“Quickly, Heather, I don’t know if I can stop the bleeding! Where the hell did this knife come from?”
Cyrus ripped his shirt into strips and tied them tightly around his leg. He screamed in agony as he yanked the blade out. The blood kept flowing.
"Hurry. I need to get to a doctor, Heather."
Heather ran toward the house. The evil presence within her told her to slow down until she walked at a snail pace and then stopped suddenly. It was as if she forgot why she ran.
She waited for ten minutes before she turned and looked at the field and then the urgency of her flight came back to her. She wanted to stay. Her love for Cyrus won the battle being played out in her mind and she continued toward the house to get help.
Hector saw her and heard her wild screams for help. He went to meet her and she told him what happened. Hector called the men back to where they had collected Chief’s body.
They found Cyrus still lucid however weak but he had managed to stop the bleeding although he lost an enormous amount of blood. The men immediately placed him in the cart and rode with him back to the carriage.
They then drove him to Silas’ home and carried him into the doctor’s office. The wound proved more serious and he screamed in agony as Silas cauterized the wound.
"You'll have to stay here for a few days. It's just to make sure an infection does not set in."
Cyrus replied, “A few days?”
Silas responded, “Yes, I don’t have many medicines to combat a major infection. Those bandages need to be changed often until I see a clear sign that the wound is healing properly. Then you can go home."
Heather drove another team of horses to the doctor’s office and almost burst open the doors to see her groggy husband. He reached out his arms to her as she ran toward him.
They embraced and he thanked Heather for saving his life. “Sweetheart, Doc Silas said that I would've been dead in another five minutes. You saved my life!”
The doctor agreed. “You lost almost half the blood in your system. As I said you will need to stay here at least for tonight and I’ll check you again tomorrow.”
Heather felt overwhelmed with emotion as she saw her husband on the bed white as a sheet, convalescing with his huge bandaged leg propped up. Luckily, Cyrus, full of morphine, felt very little pain.
The morphine wore off the next morning and Cyrus moaned. Heather, who had slept on the floor beside his bed at the doctor’s office, woke up.
She wanted to ease his pain but had no way to help however, a few minutes later Silas entered the room and injected him with another dose of morphine. Gradually the pain dissipated and Cyrus settled back down and apologized to Heather for waking her up the way he did.
“What are you doing here, my turtledove?” Cyrus asked,
“I couldn’t leave you, Cyrus. I had to be with you and I’ll not leave here without you,” she proclaimed.
The doctor removed the bandages to inspect the wound. He made an assessment of the wound. “I think that you’ll be just fine, Cyrus. Your wound is healing nicely for just one day. How’s the pain now?”
“It’s not as bad as earlier. I think I can walk on it,” Cyrus said.
Perplexed and scratching his head the doctor asked the question, which he said, puzzled him. “How the hell did you get a knife wound in the middle of a field?”
“I don’t know, doc. I ran after Heather and then I stepped in a groundhog hole and landed on the knife. It stuck straight out of the ground. It went clean through my leg.” He looked at Heather. “Sweetheart, you should go home and get some sleep. I know you must be tired because no one could sleep on that cold floor.”
“I told you, Cyrus, I’m not leaving here without you.”
He looked at the doctor. “Do you have a spare cot for Heather? I know from that look she gave me she will stay regardless of how cold the floor is. If you don’t mind could she stay here with me?”
“Of course she can stay. I have a small cot; I’ll go get it.”
Heather asked, “Is there anything I can get for you? Anything at all?”
Cyrus mulled it over for a minute and then replied, “Well, I’m a little hungry. Could you go to the restaurant and get me something to eat?”
“Sure, sweetheart, I’ll be right back.”
Heather scurried away as the doctor came back. “Where did she go in such a hurry?”
“Oh, she's off to the restaurant to get me something to eat. She’ll be back soon.”
The doctor rolled the cot beside Cyrus’ bed. “She sure is a fine wife, Cyrus. She's a little skinny for my liking but a fine wife nonetheless. I have to say that when I first met her I didn’t quite care for her. I see how she dotes on you. I can see that she genuinely loves you and that’s all that really matters, isn’t it?”
“She has been getting better in that regard. Since I got sick a few years back, remember? I couldn't fault her as a wife.”
“Oh, I remember that. You were sicker than a dog. Did you ever find out what made you ill? If I remember correctly you were very unwell. I remember now - it was the pork. That must have been one very sick hog to cause all that.”
The doctor laid out some blankets on the cot.
“Thank God it never happened again after that. I never want to experience that again. It scared the hell out of Heather as well.”
“Well, she’s a good woman. I told my wife what happened to you and she came over here and talked to Heather. Of course after that my wife went on and on about how well-mannered Heather is while you are laid up here with that injury.”
Heather returned an hour later with as much food as she could carry. They ate and laughed now that both of them knew Cyrus would be fine.
His wound healed quickly and he was soon back at the manor. He called the incident with the knife an accident and attributed it mostly to his clumsiness.
Heather vowed to ease off her desire to be well liked because each time she uttered the spell harm came to her precious husband whether by her hand or fates. That hurt her much more than any jealous sneers of the women in town were able to do. Her spells waned and people again started to wonder why they liked her so much. It was as if they all came out of their trance and saw the real Heather once more.
As much as she tried Heather could not change for the better. She didn’t need many friends however, from the few she did have, she expected obedience.
In 1861, war broke out and it was only a matter of time before its effect was felt at the manor.
Cyrus vowed to protect his land regardless of which side invaded. He gathered up all his workers and allowed them to stay in his home to protect them from the oncoming war, a move that incensed Heather.
She didn’t want them in her home living amongst the finery of such an opulent setting. It did not dawn on her that they were there to assist to protect the property. Cyrus bought an arsenal of guns and ammunition and as he planned the defense of his home from the massive living room, Heather had another plan for the manor’s defense.
She went to her secret room and opened her book to find a recipe for a potion that she could use to protect the entire property. She perused the book for hours until she found one that might deter soldiers from setting foot on their estate. She procured and added the ingredients, stirred the potion, and said the magic incantation. With the potion made, Heather avoided everyone and left through the back door and crept to the stables.
She hitched up a horse and galloped to where her property ended and then rode along the line. She tipped out the concoction every few yards. Just mere drops of the magical liquid insured that anyone who had never set upon the property before could not do so now. She knew the war was near because she heard gunshots and cannon-fire in the distance.
Heather hurriedly sped around the property’s perimeter and completed her task at the fence line up to the manor.
She then went to Cyrus and told him that the soldiers would not put a foot on their land.
Cyrus stood at the window with a gun barrel resting on the sill. “What are you talking about? This damn war has destroyed many of the farms in the area. What makes you think that they won’t come here?” he asked
He directed the staff to the windows, their guns at the ready.
“I just know they won’t. Now can you get all of these people out of my house?” Heather demanded.
“Heather, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Don’t you hear what’s coming our way? Those are gunshots and cannon fire and they are coming from opposite sides of our property. A great battle will be fought right here in our front field.”
Heather, who knew that nothing would take place, grumbled, “No, a battle will not happen here. Perhaps a stray bullet here and there but no soldier will set foot on our property. You just wait and see if I'm right.”
They saw soldiers from both sides advancing although strangely they stopped when they approached the property line. The same thing occurred on the other side of their property. The two armies fired at each other and never advanced onto their land.
Cyrus looked at Hector. “They’re completely out of range! All of their bullets are simply falling in our fields. It’s absurd!”
Cyrus stepped out onto his porch and sat on a chair. He watched in amazement as the two armies fought from a distance. He scratched his head and suddenly dropped to his knees as he felt warm blood escaping down his ribs.
He had been shot.
Hector pulled him inside the house to take off his shirt and saw the bullet’s entry in his side. Luckily for Cyrus the bullet went right through the fleshy part of his side and out three inches from the entry point.
Heather ran from the house because she’d frantically tried to find a hiding place for the gun that she’d unconsciously used to shoot Cyrus. She hid the gun in the barn before she ran to him.
She had no idea why she'd shot him.
Hector, because he'd been doctor to the now ex-slaves, reassured Heather. “He’ll be okay. The bullet passed clean through him.”
Once again, Heather got to use the spell she wanted and managed not to kill Cyrus.
Incredibly, Heather realized for the first time that all the attention and adoration in the world meant nothing if she had to see her husband writhing in pain again.
Now she didn’t want to visit her secret room. She rationalized her past actions because her love for Cyrus would not allow her to strike a fatal blow to him, even though she had crept ever closer to doing the deed.
She hoped that she would never need the book again as the war, which waged all around them, waned.
It appeared that Abraham Lincoln got his way and all the states flew just one banner. The battlefield did not see the final bullet shot. That final bullet came from a gun in a small theater in Washington DC that felled the great President in 1865.
A sad time for the country, but a happy time for both Heather and Cyrus because not only did they get to keep their massive mansion, it remained intact and not harmed in the least.