HALFMOON

Copyright 2000 Peter N. Dudar

31 October, The year of our Lord 18__,

Dearest Margaret,

My sweet, loving sister.  How shall I tell you of the wretched state I’ve fall into?  How shall I impart upon you the wickedness that has moved me to sin, so that I spend my days wailing and gnashing my teeth.  It is almost more than I can bear to tell such a tale of horror to you, whom I’ve spent a lifetime offering my brotherly love and affections.  And yet I must, for it concerns you as it does my own self.  Our sweet, gentle mother has died by my own hands.  With tears in my eyes do I tell you of what happened, with a prayer that someday you may find it in your heart to forgive me and help me to assuage my own guilt.  I am haunted!  Even if this guilt should dissipate over time, some wounds can never heal.

Mother’s condition was terminal.  She had fallen under the fever, as so many others have that it could be construed an epidemic.  And I, her only male offspring whom she’d borne into this world and raised in the word of God with the stolid faith and piety of the saints, had denied her a death accorded of God’s will.  A foul and tainted death!  Oh, that only I could have arrived to her side too late!  I’d die a thousand deaths if only she could have succumbed under the hands of God instead of my own!  It would be more bearable that way.  My dearest sister, I’d been deceived by a malevolent spirit, an apparition which manifest itself unto me with a mischievous trickery of which only Satan could be the author.  Though it scares me not that I’d seen the ghost with my own eyes, but that it has invaded my own mind like a dirty secret or some horrid nightmare, one which has no end.  I am plagued by a terror so shocking that it horrifies my soul to its very core to reveal it to you.  I’ve been deceived, used as an instrument of evil.  May God have mercy on my wretched soul.

‘Twas a cold, rainy evening just after the passing of the harvest moon that I was awakened from my slumber by a desperate and menacing knock on my door, accompanied by the frantic cries of a courier whom had come to Albany to call on me unexpected, and at such an ungodly hour.  In the light of my oil lamp the boy stood before me in my hallway, damp and chilled to the bone from his journey.  He was quite exhausted from his trip, and it was some time before the boy found the strength to speak.  When he did, he relayed a story of an unspeakable horror that had befallen him on his journey that very night.

At first I thought the boy to be in jest, but the seriousness in his face and the wavering in his voice lead me to believe otherwise.  Whatever the case, he was deeply troubled, and even his shadow thrown against the cobblestone wall of my hallway seemed to tremble.

“I beg your pardon, Sire,” the lad stated between gasps, “but you must realize that I am not mad, but that I’ve had my wits scared from me.  I’ve come from Saratoga, where your mother has fallen ill, and at this moment awaits the Lord’s angels on her deathbed…”

His message filled me with great sorrow and trouble, but the boy continued with his speech  before I could respond, and judging by the sound of his voice, I was certain that his speech was quite well rehearsed.

“She sent me to escort you in person to her side, but I am unable to make the journey back to Saratoga with you…”

The boy stood before me trembling like a leaf in the Autumn breeze, his face pale with fright.

“For as I passed through the town of Halfmoon, I saw a ghost, and it threatened to kill me should I pass through again.”

The lad hang his head before me, waiting I suppose for me to rebuke him for either creating such a nonsensical fabrication, or for being cowardly in scaring so easily.  As for myself, I was more interested in the news of dear Mother’s ailment.  I begged of him to tell me more of her condition.

Oh, that he might have distracted me all night, or at least bid me to wait until morning to make my traverse.  That I could be relieved of this heavy burden of guilt, and bear a lighter guilt of missing her final hour, and not having to witness such pain in Mother’s tired old eyes.  Forgive me, Dearest Sister, for the tears come all too frequently and with such great ease.

When the boy had come to his breath and to his senses, he spoke slowly, all the while trying to distract himself from making eye contact with me.

“Doctor Hallowell is by her side,” he spoke as if he was addressing his boots.  “She is ravaged by fever and hasn’t been able to ingest food or water for several days, without her body rejecting it.  Her skin is withered and peeling, and covered with strange markings, the likes of which the doctor cannot recognize.”

I held my hands up in a gesture to stop.  I desired to waste no more time in making my journey to Saratoga.  I instructed my servant to tend to the boy’s horse and offer the boy every hospitality during his lodging in my home.  The boy took one last glance at me before I left him to my servant, and with his sincerest voice he ushered these words to me.

“Please take care not to stop as you pass Halfmoon.  Not for man nor beast.  I beg you, Sire, for your mother’s sake!”

For Mother’s sake!  Words unheeded that shall forever ring in my ears in painful reminder of that horrible night.  My God, how do such prophesies go unheard?

The rain had subsided to a slight drizzle as I walked to my stable.  It was cold and indeed very dark that evening.  I placed my oil lamp on the shelf on the far wall of the stable as I prepared my fastest horse, King’s Courage, with saddle and bit rather than harnessing my carriage, which would only succeed in slowing me down in my haste.  I had neglected to take my pistol, or rather, I’d forgotten it, as the terrain is riddled with plunderers and hostile Indians and wild animals (and my courier’s ghost, which at the time I’d already forgotten).

The drizzle had subsided altogether by the time I reached the Township of Newtonville, leaving a heavy fog rolling through the trees surrounding the path I’d been riding.  To my discomfort, I was soaked to the bone, and could feel the coldness of Autumn biting at my extremities.  I was no longer riding my horse at full gallop, but had settled for a steady trot, as not to wear out my best steed so short in my journey.

I’m certain you recall the Township of Newtonville.  It lies to the west of the Hudson River and to the south of Saratoga.  The town consists mostly of farmland and agricultural businesses which make their profits through commerce and shipping through the Port of Albany.  Navigation along the Hudson will take you from the Port district all the way up to Lake George, provided you have a boat to travel by.  On land, the trail has a lot less twists and turns, and every now and then you come to the banks of the Hudson, or to the banks of the Mohawk River, which intersects just past the town of Halfmoon.  Newtonville is closer to the Port district than to the Mohawk River, and so I was still roughly less than a quarter of the way to my destination.

The main road through Newtonville is lined sparsely with all sorts of trade shoppes, including a blacksmith, a cooper, a candle shoppe, and a mill.  There are also a handful of farms and an apple orchard, the trees of which burn even in the darkness with red and yellow shades of foliage.  Each of the shoppes and houses I passed lay dormant in the hours after midnight, leaving no witness to my passage.  For this, I was quite thankful.

It occurred to me as I passed through the surrounding towns and villages that my heart was beginning to fill with an apprehension of a most unsettling nature; the feeling that I was being watched after all, and it made me shift uncomfortably in my saddle.  My eyes peered through darkness, alert and watchful despite the creeping exhaustion coming over me.  I could feel a pair of eyes gaze upon me in the darkness, their origin remaining concealed by the fog and surrounding timber, leaving me in a state of helpless vulnerability.  I felt indeed like the mouse that awaits the cat’s silent strike.

I prodded King’s Courage to full gallop, tearing through the timber with reckless abandon until the awful feeling in me faded.  I had ridden a considerable distance and could tell by the gasping of my horse that it needed a rest and was ready to be watered.

The moon was digging its way through the clouds, casting an eerie light on the trail.  In the glow of my lantern I found a rickety wooden sign nailed to a gnarled, decaying oak tree at the eastern side of the trail.  The sign was weathered through until the dully inked out letters were barely legible.  The sign read only one word, its letters spelling out the name of the town, “Halfmoon,” named after the famed explorer Henrik Hudson’s vessel.

The town itself fell on the valley of the Mohawk River, where I decided to water my steed and rest for a while.  I lead King’s Courage down to the riverbank, stroking his long black mane as he drank his fill.

“That a boy,” I whispered in a soothing voice.  “Drink your fill, for we shall not stop again until we reach Saratoga.”

From out of the darkness a hand dropped on my shoulder, and in a moment of surprise and unexpected fear I turned instantly to face a weary old man.  I held my lantern up to get a better view of him, and was completely chilled by his ghastly appearance.

His face was wrinkled and crooked, as if he’d been badly mistreated his entire lifetime.  His nose was a wad of clay, bent and misshapen until it no longer resembled a nose but something of a malignant growth, displayed in a most gruesome manner.  His right eye bulged out in a pile of flesh that seemed to rise higher up on his face than his left eye.  His thin, cracked lips stretched across his wrinkled cheeks, exposing a smile of decayed, crooked teeth that seemed to sparkle in the glow of the lantern.  A wisp of white hair fell down over his long forehead and rested on his hideous brow and wax-like ears.  His gaze seemed to cut right through me.

“How dare you sneak up on me, cursed wretch?”  I demanded, despite the wave of shock and disgust that gnawed at my heart.

“I’m terribly sorry to disturb you, mister…”  the old man spoke, that miserable smile never leaving his face.  “I don’t mean to trouble you, but I require your help.  The task my master has commanded of me is too much for my own strength.  I beg of you to help me, that my master won’t beat me if I fail to fulfill my duties.”

“I cannot help you!”  I scolded him.  “My mother lays dying in Saratoga, and I make haste to be by her side.”

The smile on his face bent into a frown as he considered my reply.  After a moment’s hesitation, he spoke.

“She has the fever, does she not?”  he whispered, as if he was speaking to me in confidence amidst a roomful of people.  “Alas, it is spreading faster than women’s gossip,” he continued, reaching into the pocket of his dirty overcoat as he said this.  He fished around in his pocket for a minute before pulling out a small, white box.  The box resembled the shade of ivory, with silver ribbon adorning each corner.  He held it up for me to examine, yet just far enough out of my reach so that I may not grab it.

“Behold,” he whispered again, “for I have the very cure that you seek for your dear mother in this box.  Help me with my task and I shall give it to you as a reward.”

Alarmed by the correct diagnosis of our poor mother’s condition, I felt myself growing curious to the sincerity of his offer.  Oh, my dear sister, how I was so easily lured by this evil figure.  How could a just God lead me into such treachery?

“How do I know you speak the truth?  ‘Tis the Devil alone that my deceive so honestly!”  My response seemed to take the old man off guard, yet he answered my question immediately with a question of his own.

“Would you so quickly turn your back on an angel in disguise?  I assure you, my good man, that I am no devil.”

I considered his reply for a moment before venturing to ask of the nature of his task.

“What is it that you require of me?”  I asked, my eyes fixed on the cold, blank stare of his own.

“My master’s brother passed away this very evening, and I am to bury his remains before sunrise.”

“What?  Good God, is there no funeral procession or prayer services to be held?”  I was immediately suspicious as to the moral intentions of this ‘task,’ and wanted an honest answer before I could partake in such heresies.  And even then, there were legal aspects to consider.

“My lord, my master committed a crime of hatred, of which he wishes there to be no trace of remembrance or implication.  I need you to help me bury his brother’s body, and in return, I’ll help you save your mother’s life.  Do we have a deal?”  He extended his scarred, wrinkled hand for me to shake, to which I extended my own.  His skin was cold to the touch, and seemed to slither and slide in my grip like an ancient snake.  I jerked my hand away in disgust.

“We have a deal,” I told him.  “Let me be done with this sinister deed as quickly as possible.”

And so I sealed our poor mother’s fate, and made myself an instrument of evil.  Your loving brother, who has been for years marked by integrity and good will, had been lead to murder.

The old man lead me to a bare patch of earth in an old cemetery, where a wooden box sat camouflaged by the thick vines and weeds surrounding.  The old man handed me a shovel, pointing towards a hole in the ground which he’d already began to unearth.  The hole was filled at the bottom with a shallow puddle from the rain.

“Start digging!”  He commanded.

I dipped the shovel into the muddy earth, which gave way with a thick, soggy groan.  I tossed the mud to the far side of the hole and looked up at the old man.  He was standing above me, his arms folded neatly against the chest of his filthy overcoat, his face set into a lunatic gaze upon the fresh scoop of dirt I had thrust aside.

I set the shovel into the hole again and again and again, and time after time I would look up at the old man; a grizzly foreman of a most unholy deed.  I noticed that as time passed, his face seemed to change before my own eyes, as if he were growing older by the minute, until his face had decayed into a hideous mask the way fruit goes bad and wrinkles when left in the sun too long.

After the first hour, the blisters began to rise on the skin of my hands.  They would rise up one by one, agitated by the wooden handle of the shovel, until they would swell and rupture, sending a flow of pus and blood streaming across my flesh.  I wanted to stop for a moment to tend to my wretched hands, for they felt like they were afire.  Yet when I slowed down, my overseer would give me a disgusted look and nod his head toward the hole and the growing pile of dirt that had accumulated just outside, gesturing me to continue.

After the second hour, I had forgotten all about my hands, and concentrated on the dull, nagging pain in my back  The ground was completely saturated from the rain, and each scoop of mud was only that much heavier than the last.  I felt as if I would begin crying any moment, and set the shovel down to catch my breath.

The old man stared at me with that hideous face.

“Your mother won’t wait forever, boy…”  the old man chided me.  “…You surely haven’t forgotten about her?”

I picked the shovel up and went to work again, cursing the old man with every gasp of fresh air that my lungs could inhale.

The sky began to cloud over again, and I was certain that my journey would be slowed down by the return of the inevitable rain.  I prayed that I would finish this awful task before the first drops began to fall.  To my disappointment, the sky to the northern horizon lit up with the sharp glow of lightning, followed momentarily by the corresponding clap of thunder.  I doubled my efforts to finish my task.

When I crawled out of the completed hole, I was covered from head to toe with mud and filth.  I felt sick with exhaustion; my arms, legs, and back on fire from the overworking of my muscles.  Every nerve felt as if it had been pricked over and over with needles.  I fell to my knees before the old man.  Showing no sympathy, he nudged me with the hard toe of his boot.

“We mustn’t quit now!”  He said, his voice sounding cold as ice, ringing in my ears like an echo in a vast cavern.  He pointed toward the pine coffin, which had remained unnoticed since my first glance at it before the excavation.

With each of us carrying an end of the casket, we walked over to the hole and dropped it in.  It landed with a thud, sending a splash of muddy water outward from the puddle that had collected at the bottom of the plot.

The old man picked up the shovel and threw it at me, catching me off guard and knocking me over backward.  I landed hard, just inches away from falling into the hole myself.  I gazed up at him, burning with anger.

“Now cover it!”  He demanded.

I looked down at my blistered hands, caked with blood and dirt and pus still oozing from several ruptures.

“I can’t…”  I pleaded.  I thought for sure I would begin to cry.

The old man reached into his jacket and pulled out the small ivory box, holding it out for me to see.

“I think you can,” he retorted with a disgusted voice.

I picked myself up off the ground and for a brief moment I looked into his face.  It had changed entirely from when I had originally looked upon him.  His flesh had cracked and peeled away in several areas, and a blueish-gray tint had settled just under his eyes.  It numbed me to look at this grotesque figure.  He looked as if he were dead.

The thunder rumbled dangerously close by, causing King’s Courage to winnie and bellow in panic.  I wanted nothing more than to reach our old house in Saratoga; to be at our dear Mother’s side, to be away from this terrible man.  I set upon my task like a determined madman, hurling shovels of mud onto the wet pine box.  It was almost dawn when I finished filling in the hole.

The old man walked around the newly covered plot, inspecting it with his cold, bloodshot eyes.  When he was satisfied, he came over to me, his hideous stare boring into my weary brain.

“You’ve filled your part of the bargain,” he spoke, his lips barely moving.  “Now I must fulfill mine.”  He handed the ivory box over to me.  It was a truly magnificent piece of furniture.  The ivory was smooth to the touch, the silver linings perfectly scrolled with imprints of angels set into the corners of the lid.  A piece like this would easily fetch a small fortune itself.

“Heed my directions carefully, boy…” he continued.  “…and the ashes in this box will cease your mother’s suffering!”

Oh, Margaret…had I only listened to his words, my head not so clouded with exhaustion and dreadful thoughts of our poor mother.  If only I’d heard in between the lines.  The old man’s deception was of the worst kind; It was truthful!

I opened the box, viewing the fine, white powder inside.  I held it up to my nose and sniffed, but could detect no odor.  The old man started speaking again.

“Rub the ashes on her forehead and across her lips and tongue.  Then leave her to rest alone until the fever is broken.”

The old man walked around the plot once more, inspecting it with those evil eyes of his.

“One more thing,” he muttered, his eyes meeting mine one last time.  “Never come to this place again.  Ever!  Or I shall have to kill you!”

For the first time that night I thought about the courier who had earlier entertained the thought of seeing a ghost, and was certain that he’d only seen this old man before me.  But why had the old man asked me for help instead?  Perhaps the boy was too afraid to stop when he saw the old man.  He probably just kept on riding, not looking back as the old man shouted at him from behind.  Yet I could understand why he was afraid, as I was horrified at that very moment.

I made haste in mounting King’s Courage to leave the stinking place behind me.  Dawn was approaching rapidly, and the thunder and rain still loomed ominously as I rode off.  Still with miles to travel, I forced my tired body forward to our old home in Saratoga.

Our old home!  Once upon a time it had been filled with so many laughs of gaiety during our childhood.  Such innocence and wonder growing with every bloom in our mother’s garden, and carelessly swept away like leaves in the breeze.  Who would ever believe what evils could follow me in my homecoming?  My only recompense is that you were not there when I arrived.  No, you were safely enveloped in your own home with your fine husband and children, hidden away from such iniquities as you should have been.

What a sight I must have been when I reached the front door of our old home on Danforth Street.  Cold and filthy and soaked to the bone, oozing sin from every pore like a fine layer of sweat.  I was met by a servant girl, who was good enough to remove my filthy jacket and bring me fresh clothing and hot water to wash with.

I went into Mother’s bedroom and fell at her side, weeping like a child.  Dr. Hallowell lay asleep on the couch in the corner.  I left him to sleep.  I was certain he’d earned it from all the time spent trying to bring Mother’s fever down.

A dreadful melancholy filled me to see our poor Mother in such condition.  Everything the courier had said to me was true!  The skin of her face was pale, marked with red blots of fever blisters, which now oozed as the blisters on my own hands did.  Her lips were dry and chapped, her nostrils emitting bubbles of mucous as she exhaled.  My heart filled with pity for her, and I groaned a heavy sigh.

I pulled out the ivory box from my pocket and opened the lid.  The voice of the old man speaking his instructions to me filled my ears as I dipped my index finger into the ashes and began to smear them on Mother’s forehead.  She twitched beneath my fingers, and my heart was thankful to see her move.  I dipped my fingers again into the box and smeared the ashes on her lips and tongue, just as the old man had instructed.  Having accomplished this, I fell to the floor in an exhausted slumber.

I was awakened hours later by Dr. Hallowell.  I sat on the floor, yawning and stretching as he stood above me, viewing me with a cold, callous gaze.

“Your mother is dead!” he told me.  “She passed away a short while ago.”

I immediately stood beside the bed, only to discover that Mother’s body had already been removed.

“What?  How can that be?” I uttered in single amazement to myself.

Dr. Hallowell held out the small ivory box in his hand.

“Where did you get this?” he demanded, a sick look upon his face.

Still confused, I started rambling about the old man in the woods.  I paid no attention to the doctor, who was shrinking back in horror as I spoke.  Finally, he put his hands up for me to stop.

“Your mother didn’t succumb to the fever,” he told me.  “Rather, she was poisoned to death…Sir, you murdered your own mother!”

I reeled in horror to hear him say these awful words.  I looked at the ivory box in his fingers, shiny and perfect in its aesthetic appearance.

“Do you know what powder this is?”  Hallowell asked.  I bowed my head to his question, ashamed and afraid to hear the response.

“Arsenic!”  He answered his own question.  “Sir, I can understand that you didn’t want her to suffer, but you’ve committed murder.  Of your own Mother!”

The tears ran from my eyes as I examined how I was tricked so perfectly.  My heart sank to a terrible, low place as I recalled the events of the night before.  The doctor continued to speak but I could barely pay attention.

“Being that she would have died anyway, I’ll not alert the authorities to your crime.”  He placed the ivory box in his pocket and turned to pick up his coat.  I could not look at him.

“God have mercy on your soul,” he spoke as he turned the doorknob.  “Good day, Mr. Willoughby.”

After hours of tears and remorse, my heart turned black with the deepest of hate, for I had gone completely, totally mad and wished for nothing more than to find the old man and wreak my vengeance upon him, to expose the corruption he’d tricked me into, to avenge the death of our dear Mother.

That evening I left Saratoga, setting out for that awful place in Halfmoon, where I had been used for evil purposes the night before.

I rode King’s Courage at full gallop the whole distance.  When we reached the edge of the cemetery, my steed fell dead of exhaustion from being ridden so hard for so long.  I did not care.

In the light of my lantern the cemetery looked like the mouth of evil, grinning with teeth made from tombstones and tree stumps.  Haunted by my own evils, I pried the iron gate loose and entered, leaving King’s Courage dead behind me.

Again, I had neither pistol nor dagger with me, yet I was unafraid.  The flow of anger and hatred that ran through my brain like a river was enough to make me kill with my own bare hands.  I lurked through the old graveyard like a thief, silent and ready for any attacker.  But when I reached the fresh plot that I’d only covered the night before, my anger turned to terror of the deepest level.  There, on the ground, was only one set of footprints where there should have been two; the prints on the ground only matching the soles of my own boots.  I covered the ground thoroughly, looking for the second set of footprints, but the second set remained non-existent.

The only thing I managed to uncover after an hour of searching was the shovel, which I wasted no time in thrusting its head deep into the fresh plot.  I worked with a fury unparalleled by any man to unearth the coffin, to dig it up and expose the body I’d worked so hastily to bury.  I could hear strange sounds around me, stopping me momentarily to look around the cemetery.  From every direction, a parade of rats was forming.  They were enormously big, even for a horde of river rats.  They crept around me, silently watching in fascination as I continued to dig.

I’m certain that the blisters on my hands reopened as I dug into the earth, but I felt no pain, just as I felt no pain in the muscles of my arms and back.

Within a few short hours I had completely uncovered the lid of the coffin.  I reached out of the hole to grab my lantern, only to find that the rats had closed in on me.  Their fangs glistened in the light of my oil lamp, their beady eyes set upon me with whatever wicked intentions rats will have.  Full of fear and disgust, I brushed them away with the shovel and grabbed my lantern, holding it above the pine box with one hand as I wedged the shovel beneath the coffin’s lid.  I pried the lid loose, and it gave way with a harsh snap, followed by a groaning creek as I lifted the lid on its hinges.

When the light of my lantern fell on the corpse itself, a wave of fear and revulsion took my very breath away.  There, in the coffin, with his arms folded neatly across his chest, was the figure of the old man!  I fell backward against the wall of earth behind me, struggling to make sense of the scene unfolding before my own eyes, whispering prayers without even comprehending my own words.

The old man’s eyes opened, exposing an evil, angry glow which gazed upon me as I cowered in fear.  He sat up straight, his arms extending until his fingers grabbed my coat, pulling me forward towards him.

“I told you never to come back here!” he screamed at me, the foulness of his breath penetrating my nostrils, making me gag.

“Now, I must kill you!”

I fell to my knees, my lips quivering as I choked out a silent scream.  His ghastly fingers found their way around my throat, choking my own life from me.  With every ounce of strength in me, I swung my lantern into his chest, sending a spray of oil across his body as the glass bulb shattered.  The oil ignited immediately as the flame touched his coat.  He released his grip, sending me crashing backwards into the foot of the wooden box..  I turned in time to watch his burning body flailing in the air.  The old man shrieked in a most vile manner, cursing my soul in a foul, demonic dialect that I failed to comprehend.

His spirit then left his body, floating as a phantasm among the thorns and vines, causing the rats to scatter about into the surrounding brush.  The burning remnants of his body fell lifeless, dropping on top of me inside the coffin.  I could feel the flames biting me through my own jacket, the smoke stinging my eyes and invading my lungs.  I struggled free of the lifeless body and climbed out of the hole, falling on the ground and rolling in mud to extinguish the flames.  Of the spirit, I saw no more.  I simply fell unconscious by the side of the grave.

I was not harmed, though, dearest Sister.  Not permanently, anyway, although sometimes I wish I had died, with my story untold to you so that you may remember me with love as the kind-hearted person I once was, and not the monster I’ve become.  As it is, my words can only offer you pain and sadness, and I loathe myself for it.

When I came to, I found myself in the care of the undertaker of that cursed cemetery.  He had found me the following morning, alive and mildly burned.  He was kindly and genial in his hospitalities, and listened with an impartial ear as I told him my horrific tale, which I’m sure made no sense to him.  It was when he identified the old man in the coffin that I understood with clarity the macabre events of that evening.

The man was Dr. Hallowell’s brother Henry, whom I believe was poisoned to death with the very same arsenic that killed our mother.  He was left in the unburied coffin by his brother at the precise moment my courier passed through.  Disturbed in his effort to bury his brother, Hallowell chased my courier, threatening to kill him if he ever returned  (And so it wasn’t my courier, but I, who had seen the ghost).  Having been almost caught in his evil act, Hallowell fled back to Saratoga to our poor Mother’s side, hoping no one else had seen him, and planning to return and finish the job after I’d left.  What threw him off was that I was holding the ivory box, his ivory box, and had used its lethal contents on our mother unknowingly.  He must have left the box in his brother’s jacket, intending to bury it with his brother.  And the man sat there and accused me of murder!  (Not that I say this to rid myself of guilt.  I will forever acknowledge my guilt in the death of our poor Mother.)

The undertaker tended to my wounds and granted me shelter for the night.  He was also good enough to arrange transportation for me to return to my estate in Albany the following morning.

As for Mother’s estate…Dearest Sister, our old house is to be sold at auction, the profits to be split between you and I, in accordance to Mother’s will.  I assure you, I want not cent one from this transaction, lest it were to make me a murderer in profiting from Mother’s death.  I hereby allocate my inheritance to you, Margaret, for you are its rightful heir.  All I ask of you is to find it in your heart to believe my story as the truth, and forgive your wretched brother, and pray for my soul that God show mercy on me as I pray you will.

I have since avoided making any further travels to Saratoga, or more particularly, I should say I’ve been avoiding Halfmoon itself.  Since that horrific journey, I’ve heard legends of the spirit that haunts the cemetery there.  Children’s stories told around fireplaces, folklore of the sincerest form as I can attest to.

Dr.  Hallowell has strangely disappeared from Saratoga.  No one knows his whereabouts, and I’m certain he wants to keep it that way.  Perhaps he’s become a ghost himself, haunting the earth as his brother does.  As for myself, I have spent many nights since quivering with fear from nightmares of the old man and the spirit of our Dear Mother, whom torments me while I slumber for the heinous crime I’ve committed against her during her illness.  She does not haunt me by day, though.  No ghastly manifestations lurking through the dark corners of my home.  Perhaps she has mercy on me, and already knows the truth.  If she hasn’t, then I pray that someday she will forgive me and let me observe my penance in peace.

Take care, dearest sister.  And do not trouble yourself over me.  I am wholeheartedly sorry to tell you of all these things, and yet I already feel a great burden has been lifted from my shoulders.  I remain,

Your Loving Brother,

Sir William Willoughby

Albany, New York

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