The autumn months were solidly upon the small town of Walnut Grove. Eva Beadle enjoyed the crisp air that comes in the fall, but regretted that the daylight hours slipped away earlier and earlier with each passing day. She had many things to prepare for the following school day before heading to her room at the boarding house, but the single candle was not giving enough light for her to do it as quickly as she wanted. She made a mental note to bring an extra lantern with her tomorrow. She removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes, tired from straining to read in the dark.
Suddenly she heard the door open. The draft created whipped around the small room. The candle flickered frantically and then went out. She put her glasses back on and tried to see who was there, but the person hid behind a partition that kept the doorway hidden. She scrambled in the dark to find some matches to relight the candle, but the start of footsteps was too distracting.
"Who… who's there?" she called out. A form appeared but didn't speak. She could tell it was a young man. "Please. I can't see you. Tell me who you are."
The figure continued to move steadily toward her without saying a word. She groped around in her desk for matches and found them just as the man stood in front of her. The sudden flare of light revealed one of her oldest students, Benjamin Stevin. She let out a small sigh of relief but was instantly annoyed.
"Benjamin! Why did you scare me like that? Didn't you hear me ask your name?"
"Sorry, Miss Beadle. I didn't mean to scare you. I was walking home from the mercantile and saw the candle light in the window. I forgot my slate and figured if you were here, I could get it."
"Well, that's fine, I guess. " Eva felt a growing sense of uneasiness. Benjamin was not only one of her oldest students, he was the biggest. She often felt awkwardness when dealing with him, a strange glare, the ways his eyes didn't stay on just her face but up and down her whole body. She convinced herself he was just different and unmannered. Here, in the dark schoolhouse, it didn't seem to ease her discomfort. "I was just getting ready to leave, so… please find your slate and go on home."
"Miss Beadle? Do you know how old I am?"
"No, Benjamin. I guess I don't. I really don't think of my students by age but by grade, I guess."
"I'm sixteen years old. Almost seventeen, actually. "
Eva sat and waited. She didn't know what to say and wasn't sure the point of telling her. She reached for her grade book and satchel and stood up, hoping he would take the cue to leave as well.
"My pa says that sixteen is a man. What do you think of that?"
"Well, I don't disagree with your pa, Benjamin. You are certainly fully grown. A full grown man should know manners and know better than to sneak up on people. Even if you are a grown man, you are still my student and I told you to go on home." Eva pointed to the door but he didn't budge.
"Miss Beadle, I don't get much from school."
"I'm very sorry to hear that."
"I do get something when I look at you, Miss Beadle. I get very warm and happy and excited. Why do you think that is?"
Eva shuddered. This was not an appropriate conversation to have anywhere, nevermind in a darkened schoolroom. She quickly stepped around from her desk and headed toward the door.
"Benjamin, please put out the candle after you find your slate. Shut the door behind you. Do not linger long after I leave, please." Eva turned away from him but he suddenly blocked her way. She clutched her belongings closer to her chest and tried to go around him, but he was a wall that loomed over her.
"Please, Benjamin, I… I don't know what you are doing but I beg you to stop and let me go. I won't mention this to your Pa and we'll forget all about it tomorrow in school, okay? I really would like…"
Before she could finish, his hands were on her, grabbing both her arms tightly. She let out a little scream as she pulled away, but he was incredibly strong and all it did was cause him to shake the book and satchel free from her grasp. He pushed her up against the wall and leaned in close to her ear.
"This is going to happen, Miss Beadle. I don't want to hurt you but I might if you don't just settle down." He leaned his body against her and started kissing her neck. Eva struggled to get words out but her mind and throat froze shut in total terror. As she felt his hands move over her body, she mustered strength to push him away.
"NO!" She bolted for the door, but in an instant he grabbed her by the back of her hair and pulled her to him. He wrapped his arms around her and dragged her to the front of the room near her desk.
"No, no, no, no… Benjamin, please, don't do this…", she pleaded. He released her, spun her around and back handed her across the face. Eva flew against her desk and over ended the candle. It the spilling wax extinguished the flame and once again she was in the dark. In a flash he was upon her again, only this time he was not slow or merely groping. He frantically tore at her blouse, at her skirt, touching parts of her, making her cry in desperation.
"No, no, no… please, stop…", she continued to beg, but it was no use. Every attempt Eva made to get free resulted in another punch to the face or a fist full of her hair driving her head into the hard top of the desk. She grew dizzy and short of breath. She closed her eyes as he assaulted her. She wished she could close her ears to the grunting, the heavy breathing. She could tell he was reveling in his conquest of her, not ashamed or sorry. She prayed to God for it to stop, for it to be over quickly, but it seemed to go on forever. Finally, it was over and she heard him stagger away from her. She didn't move. She waited for him to run off. Surely he would run away now that he had committed such a horrific deed. He stood nearby. She opened her eyes. Despite the darkness, she could tell he was still glaring at her.
"That… was good. I really liked that."
"Go away. Leave me alone."
Benjamin didn't leave. He came closer and lifted her up. Eva couldn't stand and slumped to the floor. He slowly guided her down and settled on the floor next to her. He continued to stare at her.
"I'm not done, Miss Beadle. I can't go away."
Eva started to sob as he moved on top of her once again, this time raping her slowly, deliberately. He kissed her neck and face. He tried to kiss her mouth but Eva bit his lip, earning a slap across her sore face. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness by this time and she watched the frenzied wildness in Benjamin's eyes as he moved on her. She tried to look at something else, but his face sweating over hers lingered in her mind's eye.
Finally, he stopped again. He stood up and backed away. She heard the sound of his belt tightening around his waist, the sound of his steps heading toward the back door. He opened the door and paused before cross the threshold.
"Miss Beadle, I sure do hope you recover from that nasty fall you take on your way home. You know, the one that gives you that fat lip and black eye. You really should be more careful. It isn't proper for a lady to stay out so late in the dark. Bad things could happen. You'll only have yourself to blame. Everyone… would blame you, too. Good night, Miss Beadle. And thank you." Benjamin closed the door silently behind him and crept into the darkness and shadows.
Eva didn't trust he wouldn't return. She remained on the cold floor a long time. She heard his words in her head, bouncing off the walls like he was still there. Everyone would blame her, he said. If they found out, she would have to leave in shame. She would never teach again. She would be lost in the world forever.
She sat up slowly. Her body wracked with pain. Her face was sore, especially her jaw. She stood and tried to straighten up her clothes and her hair. Her glasses flew off at some point and she had no clue where. She arranged the items on her desk again and tried to make everything look like it had. She had to come back in the morning. She wanted no trace of what had happened waiting for her.
She draped a long shawl around her shoulders tightly, covering the places on her blouse that exposed her violated skin. Once she trusted she could walk through the town like normal, she headed home. Mercifully there was no one around and she made it to the boarding house unnoticed. She hurried up the stairs to her room, but was stopped by the landlady at the bottom of the stairs.
"Miss Beadle, you missed supper. Are you hungry? There is still some left."
"Uh… no, thank you. I… I really don't feel very well. I think I should just go straight to my room tonight."
"Oh, well, I'd be glad to bring you some tea, then."
"No! I mean, I don't really want tea, thank you. Um, but… I think I would like to take a bath. Might help me sleep, you know? Would that be possible?"
"Oh, sure, dear. I can have Mr. Foster bring up the hot water and let you know when it's ready. You have a good night."
"Good night, Mrs. Foster."
Eva bolted for her room and quickly shed her clothes. She glanced in the mirror and gasped at what she saw. Her face wasn't too badly bruised, but there were marks all over her arms where Benjamin had grabbed her. She quickly reached for a robe and covered herself. She slumped into a large chair and started to cry softly.
She felt so stupid. Why did she stay so long after the school day was over? What was she thinking? Why didn't she heed her instincts when Benjamin leered at her during class? Why couldn't she better protect herself? She hated him for what he did to her, but she blamed herself for letting it happen, for not fighting harder, for not running away. He was despicable, but he was an ill mannered, uneducated overgrown child. He only need to tell a simple lie to make it all her fault.
She wouldn't tell anyone. No one would know anyway. Mrs. Foster didn't suspect anything. She would tell them she fell in the dark on her way home. She stumble headlong into a tree. That would explain her injuries on her face. She had never lied to anyone. Everyone trusted her. They would probably believe her story without afterthought.
There was a knock at the door, causing her to jump.
"Miss? The hot water has arrived. Have a good night. The Mrs. said she hopes you feel better."
"Th-thank you, Mr. Foster. I will try."
Eva walked slowly to the door and listened at he plodded down the stairs. She quietly opened the door and walked down the hall to the wash room. She locked it behind her, shed the robe and eased slowly into the hot water. Her muscles were tense and she hugged herself as the water grew cooler. She let it wash away the filth he left behind on her. She wanted to the shame to go with it, but it remained.
The shame would be her secret until she died. And she wanted to die in the worst of ways.