My name is Bill Malloy.
In Collinsport in December of 1795, a man is on trial for his life. The charge against him is murder by the means of witchcraft, and the defendant is a time traveler from the future.
Even as the drama in the courtroom begins, deadly peril still stalks the people of Collinsport. The mysterious specter of death is abroad, and no one knows in what form the next death will come: at the hands of a strangler, at the fangs of an unknown beast, or by some other means yet hidden in the dark shadows.
As Peter Bradford sat down again beside Bill, Judge Hanley declared, "The case of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts against William Malloy may now proceed." The judge then proceeded to give the jury a ten-minutes-or-so lecture on the meaning and implications of the phrase, "of his malice aforethought." Bill thought that from now on, he would have that phrase permanently stuck in his head.
When Hanley finally brought his lecture to a close, he addressed Reverend Trask. "Mr. Trask," he asked, "are you prepared to give your opening statement to the jury?"
"I am, your honor," Trask answered, rising to his feet. "First," he continued, turning to face Bradford and Bill, "I should like to give the defendant one last opportunity to denounce his master, and relinquish voluntarily the powers which link him to the prince of darkness."
Bill tensed and his fists clenched. Peter Bradford sprang up like a jack-in-the-box. "Your honor," the young attorney protested, "Mr. Malloy does not admit the possession of any such powers."
"Mr. Bradford is right," Judge Hanley said, with a tired note in his voice.
"Whether he is right or not," Trask countered, eyes blazing, "possession is a most curious word for him to use. Because that's what this trial is about: the possession of innocent souls through witchcraft."
Heatedly Bradford persisted, "Your honor, Mr. Trask keeps talking as if this trial were over, and Mr. Malloy found guilty."
Judge Hanley seemed to share some of Bradford's frustration. His voice was stern as he delivered his injunction, "Trask, you will attempt to limit your editorializing, I trust."
In a supercilious tone that made Bill feel like punching him, Trask replied, "It will not be easy, your honor. But I shall try. Now, gentlemen of the jury, allow me to tell you what I shall prove to you in the course of this trial." He turned abruptly and thrust an accusing finger toward Bill. "You see before you a warlock of the most depraved and resolute stripe; a trusted officer in the army of Satan. He has come among us with the purpose of leading a noble family to their destruction, and to spread terror and despair to all the people of this village. Think of all that has happened here since the day he arrived at Collins House, on the Seventeenth day of November, in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand, Seven Hundred and Ninety-Five. The family of Collins has lost three of its members to cruel death: the illustrious Mr. Jeremiah Collins; a child of tender years in the first blossom of her girlhood; and just last night Jeremiah Collins' sorrowing young widow. And think of the other deaths and assaults that have plagued this village! Miss Felicity Bell, savagely attacked and hovering at the door of death! A woman of the docks found floating alongside the pier with her throat cruelly ravaged just as Felicity Bell's had been. A tender maiden newly arrived in town, mercilessly slain and her throat bearing the livid impressions of the cruel hands that wrenched away her life. Animals attacked and drained of their blood! And the unearthly howls that mock this village, driving out all hope of sleep and speaking with terrible clarity of the implacable enemy who has turned the force of his unholy power against us. In the course of this trial I shall show you, gentlemen of the jury, that all of these vicious assaults are the work of that man, that warlock, sent here among us as the ambassador plenipotentiary of the Prince of Darkness!"
Well, shit, thought Bill. The Reverend Trask's diatribe had certainly woken up the jurymen. They had all seemed more-or-less asleep throughout the start of the trial and the judge's lecture on malice aforethought. Now they made Bill think of a jury composed entirely of owls, all watching Reverend Trask with very wide and startled-looking eyes.
Bill noticed that Peter Bradford's hand, resting on the table beside him, was trembling. He glanced to the young man's face. Bradford had gone pale. He was staring at Trask with a look of barely suppressed fury.
Putting his hand on top of Bradford's, Bill said in an undertone, "It's okay, Peter. Just don't lose your cool, you hear me?"
Too late he remembered that neither "okay" nor "lose your cool" belonged in 18th-century usage. But Bradford at least seemed to catch Bill's general meaning. He gave a minimal nod and whispered back, "I know. Don't worry."
Reverend Trask bowed and thanked the jury for their attention, and took his seat once more. Judge Hanley prompted, "And are you ready to make your opening statement, Mr. Bradford?"
Bradford stood. "I am, your honor," he replied, his voice vibrating with anger. Turning to address the twelve owl-like jurymen, he began his speech. "Gentlemen of the jury, the defense acknowledges that magic is at work in Collinsport. The Collins family and the village are indeed under attack through acts of witchcraft. But Mr. William Malloy is not the perpetrator of these acts. Rather, he is one of their victims. He is a victim of these terrible crimes, in common with the Collins family and with every citizen of this village. The true witch is using Mr. Malloy as a scapegoat, that the eyes of justice may be focused upon him while the evil-doer remains free to pursue these works of darkness! The defense will show you that not only is Mr. Malloy innocent of these crimes, he has been fighting against the real witch and has been seeking to expose her. He came close to uncovering the truth. And so, in a bid to save herself, the witch chose him as her victim, as a sacrificial lamb to be thrown to the wolves of miscarried justice. Make no mistake, gentlemen of the jury: through the prosecution of this innocent man, we have all become the tools of the witch. Nothing could please her, or her unholy master, better than for you to condemn this man for deeds of which he is as innocent as any newborn babe. We are all of us on trial here, not only Mr. William Malloy. If we condemn an innocent man, this court itself is doing the work of Satan, just as did the court at Salem one hundred years ago."
Peter Bradford sat once more, amid the sounds of whispered conversations between the jurymen. Bill nodded to him and muttered, "Bravo." He wasn't completely thrilled with the "newborn babe" comparison, but on the whole he thought young Bradford had done a danged fine job.
Bradford's speech had clearly made an impression on the jury. They looked, if possible, even more wide-eyed and amazed than they had after Reverend Trask finished his address. Bill guessed they had expected a simple case of the prosecution alleging witchcraft and the defense flatly denying it. They didn't know what to make of things, now that defense and prosecution both agreed witchcraft was at work.
Just you wait, boys, Bill thought. It's going to get even weirder. Wait 'till we start telling you about time travel and about the Collins family history book published in the year 1965.
"The jury will please to be silent," Judge Hanley ordered. "Very well. Reverend Trask, are you ready to begin your case?"
"I am, your honor," Trask answered, once again rising to his feet. "With the court's permission, I should like to call my first witness."
Hanley instructed, "Proceed."
Reverend Trask turned toward Constable Hemphill and requested, "Miss Abigail Collins, please."
Bill thought, This ought to be fun.
The constable left the courtroom and returned a few moments later with the summoned witness. Abigail Collins was dressed in the Collinses' now-usual head-to-toe mourning black, including her little lacy head-dress that reminded Bill of the antimacassars his grandparents had on all their armchairs. Constable Hemphill escorted Miss Collins to the judges' high, imposing desk, where Reverend Trask stood waiting for her with an unctuous smile.
Extending a massive Bible toward the witness, Judge Hanley said, "Miss Collins, do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"
"So help me God," declared the virtuous lady, with feeling, as she placed her hand on the Bible. "I have never lied, your honor, as anyone who knows me will be glad to tell you."
Bill wished Judge Hanley would tell Miss Collins, "Just the facts, ma'am." But the judge held his peace, presumably motivated by respect for the illustrious Collins family.
Trask murmured, "Miss Collins," and gestured toward the little podium that was the witness stand. When his witness was situated, the reverend planted himself in front of the stand. He began in sympathetic tones, "Now, Miss Collins, will you kindly tell the court, in your own words, the true beginning of this case: the arrival of William Malloy at Collins House."
"It was on the Seventeenth of November," Miss Collins started her recital. "I remember that date clearly, because I had made arrangements with our solicitor in Boston to send us a Miss Phyllis Wick as governess for—for my late niece, Sarah Collins. Miss Wick came highly recommended, but I am sorry to say, she did not fulfill the promise of that recommendation."
"Your honor!" objected Peter Bradford, jumping to his feet. "I ask you to remind the witness that Mr. Malloy is on trial at this time, not Miss Phyllis Wick."
Tiredly, Judge Hanley said, "The witness is so reminded."
"Go on, please, Miss Collins," said the Reverend Trask, smiling. "Miss Wick will have her own day in this court."
Abigail Collins continued, "Miss Wick was scheduled to arrive on the Seventeenth."
"And did she arrive as scheduled?"
"She did, but under very peculiar circumstances. She was several hours later than expected. It transpired that the stagecoach had been wrecked on the way up the hill from Collinsport. Two men, the guard and a passenger, were killed in the wreck. The driver of the coach was missing, and no trace of him was found. Your Honor, he is still unaccounted for, to this very day!"
Judge Hanley did not seem to find this fact as remarkable as Abigail thought he should. He directed, "Continue, please, Miss Collins."
"Well," the witness said, in her tone of prim disapproval, "Mr. Malloy and Miss Wick arrived at the top of the hill, where my brother Jeremiah and my nephew Barnabas were inspecting the construction work on our family's new house. That very afternoon began the unnatural control that Mr. Malloy was to exercise over Jeremiah. My poor, dear brother would be alive today if that man had not come to us!" On those last words she turned to glare accusingly at Bill.
Peter Bradford jumped to his feet again. "I object to this, your honor!" he declared.
"Do you, sir?" Reverend Trask snapped haughtily. "Well, no more than this noble family objects to the loss of one of its most illustrious members."
Bradford argued, "The Collins family has my sympathy, and Mr. Malloy's sympathy, and I'm sure the sympathy of every—"
"Indeed?" Trask interrupted with a sneer.
Bill wondered if he would have to tackle Peter Bradford to stop him from launching himself at Trask. Judge Hanley intervened, instead. "Gentlemen, gentlemen," he reprimanded the attorneys, sharply rapping his gavel on the desk. "Be seated, Mr. Bradford." When the young man scowlingly obeyed him, Hanley turned toward Bradford's opposite number. "Trask, it is your task in this trial to prove the connection between Mr. Malloy and Jeremiah Collins' death. That has not yet been established."
Trask gave a thin smile. "I am confident, your honor, that we will prove that connection. Miss Collins, let us please return to that first afternoon. Under what circumstances did Mr. Malloy and Miss Wick arrive?"
"I was not there to witness their arrival, Reverend Trask, but my brother told me of it the next day. Miss Wick had a bruise on her forehead and her hair and clothing were in disorder, apparently from the carriage wreck. Mr. Malloy showed no such sign of having been in the wreck. However, he was wearing exceedingly peculiar clothing."
"Your honors and gentlemen of the jury," Trask put in, "I should like to show you that clothing now."
Judge Hanley nodded and gestured for him to proceed. Trask walked over to a table that Bill had not noticed before, placed unobtrusively at the far end of the judges' desk. He picked up a neatly-folded stack of clothes. Bill's guts tensed up at the sight. At the top of the stack he recognized his tweed jacket.
Bill and Peter Bradford glanced at each other and grimaced. As Trask was handing Bill's clothing up to the judges, Bill whispered, "Did you know he's had access to my things?"
"No," Bradford hissed back angrily. "Apparently no one thought it needful to inform me."
Bill's 1960s clothes had been inside one of the two trunks he'd been willed by Jeremiah Collins. Bill thought, If Trask has found my clothes, he's found my wallet and everything inside of it, too.
The judges quietly consulted with each other as they examined the peculiar clothing. Bill felt his face going red at the thought that the learned gentlemen were poking through everything he'd worn when he arrived in 1795, down to and including his undershorts.
"If your honors have seen enough for now," politely prompted Trask, "I should like to show this evidence to the jury."
The jurymen were far more voluble than the judges had been in scrutinizing Bill's outfit. In the midst of their mutterings, harrumphs and occasional exclamations, Trask pointed out what he saw as the most salient features. "Observe the craftsmanship," he directed. "The stitching; so miniscule as to be all-but invisible. The curious cut of the garments is so obvious that it scarcely requires mention. And observe the writings inscribed at numerous places within the garments. I dare not read forth any of the legends written there; and I caution you, gentlemen of the jury, not to imperil yourselves by reading them aloud. There is the risk that those writings may prove to be the words of an unholy spell."
Oh, crap, thought Bill. I'd laugh except that Trask would probably say I'm casting a spell by laughing.
"Mr. Trask," Judge Hanley finally said, "the jurors will have the opportunity to examine the evidence further at a later time, if they so wish. The witness may now resume her testimony."
"Of course, your honor." After collecting the potentially bewitched clothing and depositing it back on the evidence table, Trask returned to Abigail Collins. "Please go on, Miss Collins. You were telling us of Mr. Malloy and Miss Wick's arrival at Collinwood."
"Yes, Reverend Trask. As I said, Mr. Malloy showed no physical sign of any injury. But he claimed to have lost his memory. He stated that he had no knowledge of who he was or how he had come to be here. He said that his first memory was of standing in the road near the wrecked carriage. He investigated the wreck and found Miss Wick in the carriage, unconscious. He extricated her from the wreckage, and when she revived, he escorted her to Collinwood."
"I see," said Trask. "But something troubled you about this story?"
"It did," Abigail answered vehemently, "as it should trouble any reasonable person. He claimed to have no memory, but yet he knew his own name. He introduced himself to my brother and my nephew as Bill Malloy."
"Peculiar indeed," Trask remarked, nodding sagely. "Now, Miss Collins, you said that Mr. Malloy's control over your brother Jeremiah began on that very day. What leads you to believe that?"
"Jeremiah invited Mr. Malloy to stay with us at Collins House, without consulting the head of the household, our brother Joshua. Throughout the next day Jeremiah and Mr. Malloy spent much time together, ostensibly while Jeremiah attempted to aid Mr. Malloy in recovering his lost memory. The day after that, Jeremiah announced to the rest of the household that Mr. Malloy's memory had returned. He said that Malloy had flagged down the stagecoach on the way to Collins House in order to ride up the hill, and that his memory loss was due to a blow on the head in the accident. Supposedly Mr. Malloy was on his way to my brother Jeremiah with a letter of introduction from his friend Mr. Barstow in Pembroke. The story was that Malloy had worked in Mr. Barstow's shipyard, and Barstow was now recommending him to work for us."
"Did Jeremiah Collins show this letter of introduction to you or any other member of the household?"
"He did not."
"And, Miss Collins," Trask went on in the voice of a doting teacher addressing his star pupil, "you have told me that you know why he did not show anyone that letter. Your honor," he went on, turning to face the judges, "Miss Collins has received a letter from Mr. Thomas Barstow of Pembroke, which the prosecution asks to enter into evidence. Has the witness your permission to read this letter to the court?"
"The witness may proceed," Hanley granted.
Abigail Collins cast a pursed-lipped, triumphant glance at Peter Bradford and Bill. Then she drew a folded sheet of paper out of the little drawstring bag she carried dangling from her wrist. With many coldly smug looks toward the defense's side of the courtroom, Abigail read aloud, "Pembroke, Massachusetts, December the Second, 1795. My Dear Miss Collins: I regret to inform you that I can be of no assistance in the matter into which you inquire in your letter of November the Twenty-Fifth. I fear you must be laboring under some misapprehension. I have no recollection of a Mr. William Malloy having worked for me in my shipyard or in any other capacity, nor do the employé rolls of our company show that such a person has ever been employed by us. If there is any other matter in which I can assist you, I beg that you will inform me. I am, Miss Collins, your most obedient servant to command, Thomas Barstow."
Bill and his attorney shared another grim look. Bill muttered, "It's a good thing we weren't planning to stick with that cover story."
"It is that," Bradford whispered back.
"May we see that letter, Miss Collins?" Judge Hanley requested.
Reverend Trask smilingly ferried Barstow's letter from the witness to the judges, and the three of them leaned together to examine it. The eldest judge, the one who was a near look-alike for Deputy Prescott, spoke up for the first time in the trial. "I presume that the authenticity of this letter can be verified? We can confirm that Mr. Barstow was indeed its author?"
"We can, your honor," said the happily smirking Trask. "Naturally, the court could write to Mr. Barstow and inquire. But there is a swifter and easier method of obtaining this information. Thomas Barstow has for years maintained correspondence with Messrs. Joshua, Jeremiah and Barnabas Collins. There are many examples of this correspondence amongst the family's papers, and it will be a simple matter to obtain samples of the same and compare Mr. Barstow's handwriting with the writing in this letter."
"Very well," said Judge Hanley. "Constable Hemphill, you will please to make a note of the fact that the court directs this comparison be made."
Hanley handed Barstow's letter back to Trask, to be placed on the evidence table. This completed, Trask turned again to his pet witness. He said, "Now, despite the apparent non-existence of any letter of introduction—or its forged nature, if it did, in fact, exist—will you tell us what was your brother Jeremiah's next action regarding Mr. Malloy?"
"Yes, Reverend. At the same time as he told us of Mr. Malloy's recovered memory and the supposed letter, Jeremiah announced that he was hiring Mr. Malloy to work as his secretary. I may add that Jeremiah had never previously had a secretary, and that I know of no prior discussion suggesting that he had any need for such a person in his employ."
"Indeed. And do you happen to know, Miss Collins, what was the salary agreed upon between Jeremiah Collins and Mr. Malloy?"
"A salary of twenty-five dollars per month, which our brother Joshua has stated to be peculiarly high for an individual of whom Jeremiah had no previous knowledge."
Reverend Trask nodded. "Miss Collins, would you now kindly tell us tell us when you wrote your missive to Mr. Barstow, inquiring into his supposed letter of recommendation for William Malloy?"
"Of course, Reverend Trask. It was the afternoon of my brother's death, I believe about two hours after poor Jeremiah met his end. The circumstances under which he died heightened my suspicions of Mr. Malloy. I decided that the first step in determining whether Mr. Malloy were indeed working against us must be to establish if his story of employment at Barstow's shipyard is genuine or not."
Trask beamed delightedly at Abigail and said, "And you established conclusively that it is not. Miss Collins, it shows great fortitude and presence of mind that you were able to undertake such an investigation, in the midst of this terrible tragedy to your family. I submit to you, gentlemen of the jury," he went on, turning to face the twelve good men and true, "that Miss Abigail Collins has here laid bare the entire tissue of lies upon which William Malloy's story was based. He did not come to Collins House seeking employment from Jeremiah Collins with a letter of introduction from Thomas Barstow of Pembroke. In all likelihood he suffered from no loss of memory, since he was able to tell the Collins family his name even during the time when, allegedly, his memory was gone. He was very likely not in the carriage accident at all—or if he was connected with that fearful wreck, the most plausible explanation is that it was he who caused it. He—"
"Objection, your honor!" cried out Peter Bradford, leaping to his feet. "Mr. Trask is indulging in rank speculation! The duty before us at this time is to hear the testimony of this witness, not the imaginings of Mr. Trask."
"Sustained," ruled Judge Hanley. "Trask, I have had occasion to caution you on your tendency to editorialize once already this day. I must warn you that if you continue to insert your own opinions into witness' testimony, you may find yourself in contempt of this court."
Way to go, kid, Bill thought, with a quick grin at Peter Bradford as the young man sat back down. And way to go, Judge Hanley, too.
It was extremely satisfying to see the smirk wiped off of Reverend Trask's face. Mouth narrowed and eyes blazing, Trask said, "I ask the court's pardon, your honor. Miss Collins," he continued, "you have told the court that the circumstances of your brother's death heightened your suspicions of Mr. Malloy. We will return to that point. But we have strayed ahead of the story. Please tell us now what earlier indications led you to conclude that some malign force was at work in Collins House."
Abigail cast another glare toward Bill and Bradford. Then she visibly shivered. She pulled her shawl more tightly around her and turned back to face Reverend Trask. Abigail answered, "The first such event took place on the Nineteenth of November: two days after Mr. Malloy's arrival among us. By that time our household had been added to by further visitors: the Countess Natalie du Prés, her brother Mr. Andre du Prés, and Mr. du Prés' daughter, Josette. They had traveled to us for the wedding of Josette du Prés with my nephew Barnabas. That evening, Barnabas suffered a most peculiar and unexplained attack."
"An attack?" Reverend Trask probed. "What was the nature of this attack, Miss Collins?"
"Its nature?" Abigail repeated, with sudden anger in her voice. "Reverend Trask, it defied all natural explanation! My nephew was standing in the parlor, conversing with his fiancée, when suddenly he seemed unable to breathe. He said later that it felt as though invisible fingers were strangling him. He was helped to his chamber, and for hours he lay there with this strange affliction upon him, slipping in and out of consciousness. A doctor was sent for, and upon examining him, pronounced that he could find nothing physically wrong with Barnabas. Family members gathered by his bedside, and at every moment we expected his demise. And then—as suddenly as it had come upon him, and with as little explanation—his affliction ceased."
"I see," said Trask, steepling his fingers together and looking deep in thought. "Gentlemen of the jury, we will return at a later point to the question of Barnabas Collins' mystery affliction, and examine it through the testimony of another witness. But for this while, in order to keep to a minimum the extent of time that Miss Collins must spend upon the stand, I should like to proceed with the other points on which she is to testify."
The judges consulted briefly, then Hanley announced, "You may continue with this witness, Mr. Trask."
"Thank you, Your Honor. Please tell the court, Miss Collins, if you have any theory as to what caused your nephew's affliction."
"I certainly do," declared Abigail, casting Bill a stabbing-eyed look. "The doll."
Trask smiled, nodded to her and went again to the evidence table. There he rummaged in a bag he had sitting there and pulled out an object which he handed up to the judges. Bill saw what it was. He muttered, "Oh, crap."
"What is it?" Peter Bradford hissed to him urgently.
"Just keep on listening," Bill muttered. "I'm sure we'll hear about it in nauseating detail."
The judges examined the little wooden toy, eyeing it in somber concern. Trask then carried it to the jurymen. As the jury started studying the thing in their turn, Reverend Trask asked his witness, "Will you tell us about this item, please, Miss Collins?"
Abigail Collins said in icy tones, "It is an effigy of my nephew Barnabas, carved by Mr. William Malloy on the very day that Barnabas suffered his attack. As near as I can determine it, he must have completed its carving mere minutes before Barnabas was afflicted. The next day, I found my niece Sarah and her new governess Miss Wick painting the effigy—which Sarah described as a doll. When I questioned Sarah, she told me that Mr. Malloy had carved it the previous afternoon, and gave it to her just before they heard Miss du Prés screaming when Barnabas was attacked."
The members of the jury, unsurprisingly, began muttering amongst themselves. Trask cast his smug glance over at Bill and his lawyer. As if anticipating a question Peter Bradford might ask in cross-examination, Trask inquired of Abigail, "Have you specific reason to believe that this effigy does depict your nephew?"
"Sarah told me that it did. She said Mr. Malloy gave it to her as a doll of her brother. In addition, if you will note the details of the waistcoat and the suit: they are painted to replicate a specific outfit owned by Barnabas."
"Then, Miss Collins, you believe that this doll …?"
Glowering straight at Bill, Abigail answered, "I believe that this doll is a tool of witchcraft, carved by Mr. Malloy that he might cast a spell to manipulate it. Through such a spell, any action committed against the doll could be transferred to Barnabas himself."
Bill couldn't help noticing that over half of the jurymen were now glancing across the room at him with very worried-looking expressions. He thought, Well, isn't that just dandy. Now the gentlemen of the jury are afraid I'll carve dolls of them and make them choke. Good thing I'm not allowed a knife or any pieces of wood in my jail cell.
Peter Bradford whispered to him, "Did you actually carve that thing?"
Bill answered in an undertone, "Yes, as a toy for Sarah. I started whittling while she and Miss Wick and I were sitting on the porch and Sarah was working on her sampler. I offered to carve something for Sarah; she asked me to make her a doll of Barnabas. There was a little wood left over. She asked me to carve a cat from it, so I did that for her, too."
"She asked it of you? Good. That could be useful." Bradford hastily jotted down some notes on the subject.
Reverend Trask asked the jurymen, "Have you gentlemen completed examining the effigy?"
The last juryman in the front row of seats seemed more than finished with it. He thrust the doll at Trask. To Bill he looked like he feared the miniature Barnabas would start trying to strangle him with its own little wooden hands.
Trask returned the dreaded doll to the evidence table and then made his way back to Miss Collins. Although Bill saw no sign that Abigail felt any strain from testifying, the reverend now rhapsodized in praise of her devotion and stamina. "Miss Collins," he said, "I am certain I speak for all here when I express my heartfelt thanks for your fortitude in testifying on these troubling topics, and in such trying circumstances. I would that it were possible for me to permit you some rest from this ordeal. But I know that in your strength of spirit you are prepared for what is to come. Will you, then, please tell the court what suspicious happening followed next at Collins House?"
Abigail Collins cast her eyes heavenward and spoke in her most pious tones. "You understand, Reverend, how difficult it is for me to speak of the events that transpired next. I would not dream of noising abroad the scandals that have shattered my family, except that the jury cannot understand the true horror without knowledge of these facts." She paused dramatically and wrung her hands. "In the days that followed Barnabas' strange attack and his recovery, two members of our household began behaving in a most uncharacteristic fashion. My brother Jeremiah and Miss Josette du Prés—you remember, I said she had come to Collins House as the intended bride of my nephew Barnabas—began to experience what Jeremiah described as a 'compulsion.' They felt—your honors, there is no polite way to state this—they felt an overwhelming lust for each other. Jeremiah stated that while this compulsion was upon them, they believed that they loved one another and were destined to be together. However, the compulsion was temporary, and Jeremiah told us that when its effects wore off, both he and Miss du Prés felt horror and disgust for what had, moments before, seemed their greatest goal."
"This 'compulsion' came upon them a number of times?"
"It did, over a period of several days. At first they attempted to conceal what was happening to them, but its effects were strong enough that it could not long remain concealed. Eventually Jeremiah told his story of this compulsion to our sister-in-law Mrs. Collins, to Mr. du Prés and his sister the countess—and, of course, to Mr. Malloy," she added, with another bitter glare toward Bill.
"He did not include you among those to whom he made this confession, Miss Collins?"
"No, he did not, and I would to God that he had. I would have known to begin actively searching for a witch in our midst that much the sooner. It was not until the next day that my brother, my sister-in-law and the Countess and Mr. du Prés finally told me of this latest assault upon our family."
"Forgive me for returning to this point, but the court will wish to be certain upon it. You said that the actions of Jeremiah Collins and Miss du Prés, while under this 'compulsion,' were uncharacteristic of both of them?"
"They most certainly were. Jeremiah had always been the most exemplary gentleman. No breath of scandal ever touched his name. And even more important than that, he loved our nephew. He was only two years older than Barnabas; they grew up together more like brothers than nephew and uncle. In his true mind, nothing would give him greater pain than the thought of causing Barnabas to suffer. As for Barnabas' fiancée, I did not know her well, but she did seem deeply in love with Barnabas. I see no reason to believe she would willingly have betrayed him with a man she had only just met a few days before."
"I thank you for your honesty, Miss Collins," Trask said. "Let us proceed. How did those in whom Jeremiah confided react to his confession? Was the possibility of witchcraft discussed among them?"
"They told me the next day that it had been. Mr. Malloy attempted to dissuade them from that belief. He tried to make them believe that, instead, the compulsion had been imposed on Jeremiah and Miss du Prés through the means of some sort of trance. He claimed it is possible to induce such a trance through a process akin to Mesmerism, and that while the victims are in that trance state, suggestions can be imposed upon them—a suggestion such as telling Jeremiah and Miss du Prés that they passionately desired each other."
"I see," remarked Reverend Trask, quirking his eyebrows upward. "Most intriguing. So it was William Malloy who attempted to convince the others that witchcraft was not involved?"
"Yes, reverend," Abigail answered primly. "It was."
"Very well. Now, once Jeremiah had confessed to this hideous compulsion, what did his confidants do then?"
"They made plans for Barnabas and Miss du Prés to marry that same day, instead of on the 20th of December as had originally been scheduled. The theory was put forward that whoever had imposed this compulsion on Jeremiah and Miss du Prés—whether that evil deed was accomplished through witchcraft or through some other means—might have designs on either Barnabas or his fiancée, and so might hope to win the object of their desire through forestalling the intended marriage. Jeremiah and the others hoped that if Barnabas and Josette could wed at once, the unknown evil-doer might leave off his or her attack."
"And did this hastily moved-forward wedding take place as its planners hoped?"
"No. I am sorry to say that it did not. Preparations were well underway for them to be wed that evening, but a few hours before it would have taken place—"
Miss Collins broke off her recital, seeming suddenly and uncharacteristically confused. She turned with a pleading look toward the judges. "Your honors," she said in a flustered attempt at explanation, "this is so difficult to say, and even more difficult to believe! My brother Joshua had not been informed of this attempt to expedite his son's wedding, and when he returned home he was furious to learn that such a step had been taken without consulting him. He called Barnabas into his study to discuss the matter. And then—"
She stopped for a moment with her eyes closed and her hands clasped in obvious prayer. Then, opening her eyes once more, she forced herself to continue. "In the parlor, we could hear their voices raised in argument. The parlor is just down the hall from the study, your honors," she added, "and the study door can be seen from where I stood. No one emerged from the study until suddenly we heard the argument cease, and we heard Barnabas crying out for his father. Then Barnabas walked out from the study. In his arms he was carrying a cat—the animal of the Devil!"
Assorted mutterings around the courtroom followed this declamation. Trask pursued, "And what did your nephew tell you had happened there in his father's study?"
"Barnabas said he had his back turned to his father, and suddenly Joshua ceased talking. Barnabas turned to face him, to find that Joshua had vanished! The cat was there in his place, sitting on the footstool of Joshua's favorite chair!"
"Is it usual to find cats in Collins House?" Trask inquired.
"It most certainly is not. I have never permitted those animals on the premises, knowing their frequent use as familiars by Lucifer's followers."
Bill muttered under his breath, "Oh, for crying out loud …"
"You say that you could see the door to the study, from where you stood in the parlor. Is there any other way that Joshua Collins could have emerged from that room?"
"Not as far as any of us are aware. Barnabas was facing the windows, so Joshua certainly could not have exited that way. And after Joshua's disappearance, members of the household searched the room diligently for sign of an entrance to any secret passage. They found none."
"And so you believe, Miss Collins," Trask went on with an eager smile, "that through the means of some act of witchcraft, Joshua Collins had been transformed into this cat?"
"I do more than believe it, reverend," Abigail announced triumphantly, "I know it!"
What the heck? wondered Bill. This case is even crazier than I thought it was!
"Indeed? Pray tell the court how it is that you know."
"For one whole day and two nights, Joshua was missing. Extensive searches of the house and grounds failed to discover any trace of him. Then, on the second morning after Joshua's disappearance, one of the maids came to me in a terrified state. She said she had been cleaning my brother Jeremiah's chamber, and she found the cat sitting on Jeremiah's bed. The cat had been seen around the house repeatedly since Joshua vanished," Abigail added parenthetically, "and somehow continued to gain entrance despite being evicted on multiple occasions. I went to Jeremiah's room, determined to remove the beast once and for all. The cat was sitting there on Jeremiah's pillow, staring at me. And then—your honors, I was looking straight at the animal when this took place—the cat gave an unearthly howl and the room was filled with smoke! I screamed. As the smoke began to clear, I saw—I saw that the cat was gone. And there, where the animal had been, sat my brother Joshua!"
The courtroom erupted in startled exclamations. Bill's jaw dropped. He and Peter Bradford shared a flabbergasted look before Bradford hissed to him, "Did you know about this?"
"No," Bill managed, "it's the first I've heard of it. I mean, I know about the cat being around the house, and about Joshua vanishing. But that Abigail actually saw the cat turn into Joshua…"
Judge Hanley banged his gavel on the desk. "The court will please come to order," he commanded, although his own voice sounded rather shaky.
"Thank you, your honor," smiled Trask. "Miss Collins, was Mr. Joshua Collins able to cast any light on what had happened to him?"
"None at all. He remembered nothing from the moment he disappeared in his study, until he appeared again, seated on Jeremiah's bed."
Reverend Trask aimed another of his vindictive smirks towards Bill and his attorney. "Now—although I realize that this will be merely speculation on the witness' part—would you be so good, Miss Collins, as to tell us your theory on who transformed Joshua Collins into a cat, and how that transformation was effected?"
"Certainly, reverend. I found the evidence of how it was effected a little over a week later, when my niece Sarah was stricken ill. Believing that her illness also was the work of witchcraft, I searched the house for any object that might have been used to cast the spell against her. I did not find such an item then, but I did discover something else. In a basket amongst Sarah's other toys, was a small, carved wooden cat. Not recognizing the carving as one of her possessions, I kept it and asked her about it when she recovered. She told me that Mr. Malloy had carved the cat for her, the day after he carved the effigy of Barnabas."
"I don't believe this," muttered Bill.
Trask went to the evidence table again and returned with the little wooden cat in his hand. He asked, "Is this the item you found in your niece's toy basket?"
"It is, Reverend Trask."
Turning to address the judges, Trask said, "Your honor, the defense requests that this carving be entered into evidence."
Once again the witch-hunter went through his routine of showing the latest evidence to judges and jurymen. While that was going on, Bill sat in disbelief, his mind staggering to catch up with the latest craziness.
The cat, he thought. The tuxedo cat I carried around. The cat that hung out with me while I dug our escape route out of the secret passage. Are you seriously telling me that cat was Joshua Collins?
It sounded utterly ridiculous. Sure, he'd accepted the idea that witchcraft did exist. He'd accepted that a witch had cast a love spell on Jeremiah and Josette, had caused Bill and Monsieur Labouret to imagine a blinding snowstorm, and had forced Jeremiah and probably Josette to kill themselves. But it was one thing for a witch to set all these traps for people's minds, and a whole different kettle of fish to literally transform someone into a cat.
Maybe that was another illusion? Bill wondered. Maybe we all just thought he was a cat, and he really was still Joshua Collins?
But, his thoughts argued, I sure as heck didn't carry Joshua Collins snuggled up under my coat when Jeremiah and I took the cat out to the barn!
The cat had appeared at the very same moment when Joshua Collins disappeared. And if Abigail was telling the truth, the same thing happened in reverse when the master of Collinwood made his reappearance.
But, for Chrissakes, thought Bill, it's nuts! It sounds like something on that TV show Mrs. Johnson and David watch; the one about the housewife who's also a witch.
He didn't really know why changing people into animals sounded more impossible to him than time travel. Why ever that was, it was pretty danged tough for him to accept. If Joshua Collins had been turned into a cat, maybe leprechauns were about to come dancing into the courtroom, followed closely by a fire-breathing dragon and the Easter Bunny.
Having finished showing the wooden cat to the jury, Reverend Trask returned it to the evidence table. He now addressed his witness, "So, Miss Collins, you believe that this carving was somehow utilized in transforming Mr. Collins to a cat."
"I do," Abigail declared. "I believe Mr. Malloy carved it as a tool for his witchcraft, and cast a spell with it which effected that hideous transformation."
I wouldn't call it all that hideous, Bill thought. I'd rather have that cat hanging around me than Joshua Collins.
"Now," Trask continued, "you said the disappearance of Joshua Collins forestalled the marriage of Barnabas Collins to Miss du Prés?"
"It did—and thus tragically ensured that the marriage would never take place. Most of our household, including both Barnabas and Jeremiah, spent the evening and night that followed in searching for Joshua. The next morning, Jeremiah departed from Collins House. He left letters for various family members, and those letters gave different explanations for his departure. To Barnabas he said that he had left in the search for Joshua. To Mrs. Collins and the Countess du Prés he confided that he had suffered another attack of that vile compulsion. He told them he was leaving because it was the only way he could see to stop himself from committing acts that would destroy our family's happiness forever."
Abigail suddenly stopped. She looked down and put both her hands to her forehead. "I am sorry," she said. Her subdued tone was unrecognizable as the voice of the crusading Abigail Collins. "It is difficult for me to speak of this."
"Have courage, Miss Collins," Reverend Trask told her admiringly. "This ordeal is nearly ended. Although I know that what you have yet to tell may be more painful than all that has gone before."
"Thank you, Reverend," Abigail murmured. She took out her handkerchief and dabbed hastily at her eyes.
"When you are able to go on," the reverend continued, "please tell us of the events that followed."
Miss Collins stashed her handkerchief away again and looked up, stonily staring ahead of her. "Shortly after Jeremiah's departure, Josette du Prés also vanished from Collins House. All of us who were aware of the spell on Jeremiah and Josette, feared that they had fled together
"Barnabas and a number of the servants searched the estate for Miss du Prés. Her father and another of our servants set out on the road north of town to search for her and for Jeremiah. Mr. du Prés' valet and Mr. Malloy took the road south."
The witness once more sent her stabbing gaze toward Bill. Then, as though deciding he was not worth looking at, she turned back to face the judges
"As I am certain was no coincidence, it was Mr. Malloy's party who eventually returned to Collins House with the fugitives. But they returned too late to do any good. They had, supposedly, only caught up with the fleeing two the next morning—even though Mr. du Prés' valet later told his master that he and Mr. Malloy had spent the night at a house less than two miles away from the inn at which the fugitives spent the night. When the guilty pair returned home, their loathsome compulsion had once more ended. But that change, also, came too late. Jeremiah and Josette had not merely spent the night together: they confessed to us that they were also, since the evening before, man and wife."
A few of the jurymen whispered to each other. Bill thought of what great entertainment this case must be, in these 18th-century days before soap operas.
"Please go on, Miss Collins," Trask respectfully urged. "Remember, it is nearly over."
"My nephew Barnabas had only been told of the foul compulsion after his uncle and his fiancée disappeared. He did not believe in it when we told him, and he continued to disbelieve after their return. He challenged his uncle to a duel, but Jeremiah refused to fight him. Jeremiah spoke instead of finding some legal means of putting an end to this unwanted marriage. Jeremiah went to his chamber—I believe in order to pack for a journey to Boston, where he meant to seek legal aid—and Mr. Malloy followed him."
"Yes, Miss Collins? Please, tell us the rest."
"The next thing that we knew, Mr. du Prés' valet was racing down the stairs, crying out that he needed the key to Jeremiah's chamber. He said that Jeremiah had locked himself within and would not open the door, and that Mr. Malloy feared Jeremiah would do harm to himself. Joshua fetched the key from his study, and he, Mrs. Collins and I hastened upstairs. Before we could reach Jeremiah's chamber, a lone gunshot rang out."
Everyone in the courtroom sat listening in the proverbial you-could-hear-a-pin-drop silence.
"Mr. du Prés' valet was the first to reach the room, to door to which was now unlocked. He told us that Mr. Malloy was within with Jeremiah, and that Jeremiah had ended his own life. None of the women of the household were permitted to view the scene until the body had been moved to the bed, but my brother Joshua told me what he had witnessed upon entering. Mr. Malloy was kneeling beside Jeremiah's body. Jeremiah was dead from a single gunshot wound to his temple, inflicted with one of his own dueling pistols. The pistol, Joshua said, was still clutched in Jeremiah's hand."
The bereaved sister aimed another evil glance at Bill. Then she continued to Reverend Trask and the judges, "One of my late brother's final acts before he pulled the trigger was to write an unofficial revision to his will. In that so-called will, he left two trunks of clothing, as well as his watch, to Mr. William Malloy."
Bill noticed that Peter Bradford was once again furiously scribbling notes. Meanwhile, Bill wondered, Is Abigail really implying I caused Jeremiah's death for the sake of two trunks of clothes and a watch? I'd have to be a pretty petty warlock to kill a guy for mundane pickings like that.
"You have my sincere thanks and sympathy, dear Miss Collins," came the purring voice of Reverend Trask. "I have only one final question for you. Will you please tell us your opinion on the question of why your brother Jeremiah Collins pulled that fatal trigger?"
"I will, Reverend Trask," she said. "It is my firm belief that my brother Jeremiah did not intend to kill himself when he went into that room. I believe that William Malloy compelled him to pull the trigger, through the means of a spell by which he controlled Jeremiah's actions. Just as he had compelled Jeremiah and Josette to betray Barnabas and to marry, he forced my unhappy brother to end his own life. Perhaps once the prospect of Barnabas' wedded happiness was irretrievably destroyed, then the warlock had no further need for Jeremiah—and his death was of more use to Mr. Malloy than his continued life, which carried with it the risk that Jeremiah might someday reveal the identity of Satan's lieutenant who has wreaked our family's destruction."
Trying to distract himself from his sickening feeling of anger, Bill thought, What do you know, I've been promoted. I only made corporal in the army. And now I've skipped a few ranks and turned into Satan's lieutenant!
Meanwhile, Reverend Trask was saying, "Thank you again. Your honor, the prosecution has no further questions for Miss Abigail Collins." The witch-hunter clasped one of his witness' hands and then departed to take his seat, looking like a cat who'd just dined on several canaries.
"Very well," Judge Hanley answered, nodding. "Miss Collins, do you feel able to retain the stand at this time for questioning by the defense?"
"Yes, your honor. I most certainly do."
"And you, Mr. Bradford? Does the defense have any questions to put to this witness?"
The young would-be lawyer cast a queasy look over at Bill. For his part, Bill patted the kid's shoulder and muttered, "You'll do fine. You can handle this."
"I hope you're right," Peter Bradford whispered back. He stood up and answered in a clear, firm voice, "Yes, your honor. The defense does."
"Very well. You may proceed."
Bradford gave Bill another rueful look before picking up his notes and crossing to the witness stand. "Miss Collins," the defense attorney said, "Permit me to begin by expressing my sympathy for the terrible losses your family has undergone."
Abigail gave him a chilly nod, and Bradford continued. "Let us return to the 17th of November, the day on which Mr. Malloy arrived at Collins House. You said of that day, and I quote, 'That very afternoon began the unnatural control that Mr. Malloy was to exercise over Jeremiah.' Now, Miss Collins, will you please tell us what these first indications were that led you to make this observation?"
At first Miss Collins seemed slightly flustered by his question. Quickly, however, she regained her composure. "The very first act which led me to hold suspicions is the fact that Jeremiah almost immediately offered Mr. Malloy the hospitality of our household. This seems to me a strange action for him to take, since he knew nothing of Mr. Malloy or of whence he had come. It was, also, particularly strange that he should offer our hospitality without first seeking permission from our brother Joshua, the master of the household."
"Really?" Peter Bradford asked, an innocent note in his voice. "Was this truly so unusual an action on the part of Mr. Jeremiah Collins? Do you know of no other instances in which he acted without the express permission of his brother?"
Grimly Abigail admitted, "There have been occasions on which he took action independently of Joshua. Yet in matters such as the inviting of guests into our household, normally he did respect our brother's authority."
"And when did Mr. Joshua Collins become aware of the invitation his brother had issued?"
"Not until the next morning."
"Can you tell us anything of precisely how he became aware?"
From what Bill remembered of the conversation that morning, he thought Peter Bradford had trapped Miss Collins neatly. Judging by her thin-lipped expression, it looked like she might be starting to think so, too. She answered, "Jeremiah told me, when I confronted him on the question, that he had told Joshua of our mysterious guest that morning, and Joshua had given his approval for granting Mr. Malloy our hospitality."
"Did Jeremiah Collins tell you anything of why he had not sought permission from the master of the household earlier?"
"Yes. He said it was because Joshua had retired early the night before, suffering from his gout."
"Then, Miss Collins," Bradford said mildly, "I submit to you that there was nothing disrespectful or unusual in Jeremiah not seeking his brother's permission until the next day. Rather, it was the act of a dutiful sibling who did not wish to deprive his elder of some much-needed rest."
Abigail opened her mouth to make some reply, but Bradford was already going on. "You said that you find it strange for your brother to offer hospitality to a man of whom he knew nothing. This surprises me. The description of Mr. Jeremiah Collins that I have heard most frequently stated around Collinsport is that he was a man of vast kindness and generosity. I have heard tales such as his paying the wages of an injured laborer while the man was unfit to work, for the sake of saving that man's family from the privations of poverty. It seems to me that a gentleman whose generous acts are legend in this town might well extend to a stranger the hospitality of his home."
Miss Collins made a stiff reply, "That is your opinion, Mr. Bradford. I knew my brother Jeremiah far better than did you."
"Indeed, Miss Collins. I do not dispute that." With a little smile, Peter Bradford continued. "Am I right in thinking that another early indication you had of something being amiss was the fact of your brother Jeremiah hiring Mr. Malloy as his secretary?"
"You are right."
"And would you please tell the court why this troubled you?"
Abigail Collins said, "I should think that would be obvious."
Bill thought Peter seemed to be enjoying himself. The kid was blossoming right before Bill's eyes; it looked like a career as a trial lawyer was a good match for young Bradford. "Nevertheless, Miss Collins," he said, "would you please explain it to me?"
"Very well. There was, first, the obvious peculiarity of Jeremiah hiring a man he had known for only a day. I also find it very peculiar that he should hire this man despite the nonexistence of a letter of recommendation, and that he should tell the rest of us such a letter existed. Beyond those two points, Jeremiah had never employed a secretary before. It seems odd to me that he should suddenly decide to hire someone for a position for which he had never previously seen a need, at precisely the moment when Mr. Malloy had arrived and required some excuse for remaining in our household."
"I see. Now, Miss Collins, do you know of any indication that your brother might have been considering hiring a secretary? Or that he and Mr. Joshua Collins may have discussed his hiring for such a position?"
Abigail declared primly, "My brothers are not in the habit of discussing business matters with me."
"Ah," said Peter Bradford, smiling. "Then if they are not in that habit, you have no way of knowing whether or not they planned on hiring a secretary for Jeremiah Collins."
Bullseye! thought Bill, unable to restrain a grin. You're batting 1000 so far, kid.
"I suppose that I do not," Abigail Collins snapped back. "But how do you explain Jeremiah lying to his family about the existence of a letter of introduction, and hiring Mr. Malloy in the absence of such a letter?"
"As to Miss Collins' points about the letter, your honor," Bradford said, turning to face the judges, "the defense will address the question of this letter at a later point."
"Very well," assented Hanley.
Once again turning toward the witness, Peter Bradford rather ostentatiously consulted his notes. "So, Miss Collins," he said, when he looked up from the papers, "You have said that your first clear indication that a 'malign force' was at work came on the Nineteenth day of November, two days after Mr. Malloy's arrival. It was on that date that your nephew Barnabas suffered an unexplained choking attack, which you believe was the work of Mr. Malloy, using a wooden effigy of Barnabas Collins which he had carved in order to cast this spell with it. Is that true?"
"Did you witness Mr. Malloy using this effigy, or doll, to cast a spell?"
"Of course I did not!"
"Then you have no real way of knowing whether it is, in fact, an effigy carved for witchcraft, or if it is simply an ordinary doll." Before Miss Collins could splutter a scandalized reply, Peter Bradford went on, "Will you please remind the court under what circumstances you first encountered this doll?"
"It was the day after the attack on Barnabas. I found my niece Sarah and her new governess Miss Wick—who, I will remind the court, had arrived at Collins House in company with Mr. Malloy—painting the figure, which Sarah herself told me was meant to represent Barnabas. She told me Mr. Malloy had carved the item and given it to her just before Barnabas was attacked."
"Did she?" asked Bradford, sounding surprised. "Then if the doll was in Sarah's possession rather than that of Mr. Malloy, when Barnabas suffered his attack, how could Mr. Malloy have used the doll to attack Barnabas Collins?"
"I—I suppose it was the work of some spell he cast in the process of carving the effigy."
"Really, Miss Collins? That seems very strange to me. Didn't Sarah Collins tell you she had been with Mr. Malloy when he carved the doll, and that she saw him carve it?"
The worthy Miss Collins looked daggers at Peter Bradford. "I believe Sarah did tell me that, yes."
"Then how could Mr. Malloy have cast a spell in carving the doll, without Sarah noticing?"
"I do not pretend to know about such things. Perhaps it was a spell that he whispered, or otherwise cast without it drawing Sarah's attention."
"Didn't Sarah also tell you that she had asked Mr. Malloy to carve the doll for her? That he had offered to whittle a toy for her, and she specifically asked him to carve her a doll to represent her brother Barnabas?"
"She … may have said something of the sort."
"Did she or didn't she, Miss Collins?"
Frostily the witness claimed, "I do not remember."
Peter paused for an eloquent raising of his eyebrows. "Very well, Miss Collins. Now, you have also told the court of another wooden figure carved by Mr. Malloy, which you believe he used in another act of witchcraft. I refer to the carving of a cat which has been entered into evidence. You believe that this carving was the tool with which Mr. Malloy cast a spell that transformed Mr. Joshua Collins into a cat. Is this true?"
"It is true."
"Would you kindly describe for the court the cat into which your brother Joshua was transformed?"
"Describe it?" Abigail echoed in a tone of disgust. "Mr. Bradford, I spent as little time looking at that Devil's pet as possible."
"Yet you testified that the animal turned up around the house repeatedly over several days. In that amount of time you must have noticed at least something about this devilish beast's appearance."
Bill had to hold back a laugh, and Abigail Collins regarded Peter Bradford with venom in her gaze.
"Very well," she said flatly. "The animal's coloration was black and white. I believe it had black on its head and back, and white below. I recall no details beyond that."
Young Bradford politely asked the judges, "Have I the court's permission to show Miss Collins the carving of a cat that was entered into evidence?"
For form's sake, Judge Hanley glanced at his two fellows, who both nodded. "You have," Hanley answered.
Bradford went to collect the cat and brought it back for Miss Collins' inspection. She would not touch it, of course, and eyed it as though the attorney was presenting her with a live tarantula.
"Miss Collins," Bradford inquired, "would you say that this carving resembles the cat you saw at Collins House?"
Impatiently she replied, "They resemble each other because this is the representation of a cat."
"But they have no more specific resemblance? There is nothing to show that this, indeed, depicts that particular cat?"
"This object is not painted. Naturally its coloring does not match that of the creature that we saw."
"I see," said Peter Bradford. "Will you kindly tell us again where you found this carving?"
"In a basket of my niece Sarah's toys."
"Very well. Please excuse me while I return this to the table." When he had done so and then strolled back to the witness, Bradford asked, "And Sarah told you that Mr. Malloy had carved it for her?" He consulted his notes briefly, and added, "She told you he carved it the day after he carved the doll of Barnabas?"
"That is correct."
"Miss Collins, what opinion did your niece Sarah hold of cats?"
Abigail Collins hesitated. She kept silent long enough that Judge Hanley remarked, "Miss Collins, let me remind you that you are obliged to answer the question. And pray remember that you are under oath."
"I remember, your honor," she said testily. "My niece," Abigail answered Bradford, "was an innocent child, easily swayed by emotion and sentiment and, despite my efforts to instruct and guide her, largely ignorant of the pitfalls prepared for us by Satan. She did not understand cats to be the Devil's creatures."
"What you are saying, Miss Collins," Peter pursued, smiling, "is that your niece Sarah liked cats?"
"Yes," Abigail snapped, the admission clearly costing her great effort. "The child had a sentimental fondness for the beasts."
"Had she ever owned a cat?"
"Certainly not! I would not permit them in the house."
"Do you know if she had ever requested a cat as a pet?"
Again Miss Collins paused before admitting, "I believe she did once or twice make such a request of her father. He did not grant the request, of course, being guided by my warnings upon the subject."
"Now, when Sarah told you that Mr. Malloy had carved that wooden cat for her, did she also tell you that she had asked him to carve it?"
"She did not."
"You are certain of that, Miss Collins?"
"I am certain of it. My niece had just been desperately ill. She was still very weak, and knowing that, I did not seek to engage her in extended conversation. What she told me was simply that Mr. Malloy had carved the cat, and he gave it to her the day after her brother's mysterious attack."
"I submit to you, Miss Collins," Peter Bradford said forcefully, "that Sarah did ask Mr. Malloy to carve a cat for her, just as she had asked him to carve a doll of her brother. I submit to you that, since your dread of the animals prevented her from having a live cat as a pet, she asked Mr. Malloy to carve her a toy cat, instead."
Miss Collins looked like she was on the point of answering, but Mr. Bradford did not give her the chance. "I further submit to you that you have no objective evidence that connects this carving with the cat into which Mr. Joshua Collins was transformed. The carving being unpainted, there is nothing to say that it represents that specific black-and-white cat. You did not witness Mr. William Malloy interacting with the carving in any way; certainly you saw nothing to indicate that he used it to cast a spell. I submit to you that both carvings are simply what young Sarah Collins believed them to be: harmless toys, carved at her request by a friend. It is your terrible dread of Satan and his works that leads you to see witchcraft in even the most innocent of things."
"I object to this, your honor," declared the Reverend Trask, rising to his feet. "Mr. Bradford is attempting to brow-beat the witness."
Judge Hanley said wearily, "I do not believe I would characterize Mr. Bradford's tone as 'brow-beating.' Nonetheless, Mr. Bradford, you have sufficiently made your point. Pray move on to your next line of questioning."
Bradford bowed his head in assent. "I will do so, your honor. Miss Collins," he continued with a grim look on his face, as he turned back to face the witness, "I regret the necessity of doing this, but I must ask you to recall some details about the circumstances of your brother's death. Can you remember anything that Jeremiah Collins said just before he departed for his chamber?"
Frowning, Abigail Collins hesitated. "I believe …" she began at last, "I believe he said he would retire to his chamber, because he had some work to do that he had been neglecting."
"And before that?"
"My sister-in-law Mrs. Collins told him she was sorry for what he was going through, and he exchanged some tender words with her."
"Very well," Peter Bradford said. He looked to Bill like he was struggling hard to contain his frustration and impatience. "Can you remember anything he said about his intentions regarding his unfortunate marriage?"
"Yes; I said that already in my testimony. He said he planned to go to Boston to investigate the legal means of ending the marriage. He told our brother Joshua that one way or the other, he would bring the marriage to an end."
"Ah!" Bradford said eagerly, looking like he had finally gotten what he wanted. "One way or the other. Did it not occur to you that in the phrase 'one way or the other,' he might be including suicide as one of those ways?"
"No," was the firm reply, "it did not."
"Well, let us return to what Monsieur du Prés' valet reported when he came hastening down the stairs. Will you please tell the court again what he said was transpiring upstairs?"
"He said that he needed the key to Jeremiah's door, because Jeremiah had locked himself within and would not open it. He said Mr. Malloy, who had been outside Jeremiah's chamber when he left, expressed the fear that Jeremiah would do injury to himself."
"But then when you and the others arrived on the scene, the door was unlocked and open, and Mr. Malloy was within."
"That is correct."
"What interpretation do you place on these facts, Miss Collins?"
"I believe my poor brother had locked the door in a futile effort to defend himself against Mr. Malloy's witchcraft. I believe that Mr. Malloy compelled him to open the door through the means of one of his hellish spells!"
"Then you do not believe it possible that Jeremiah locked himself in so that he might not be disturbed while preparing for his suicide? And that he admitted Mr. Malloy to the room in order to bid farewell to a friend before he ended his own life?"
"No," Abigail said stalwartly, "I do not."
"And may I ask why you do not believe this to be possible? To your knowledge, did Jeremiah hold any personal ethical abhorrence for the concept of suicide?"
"He would not have killed himself because he did not wish to cause his family pain or shame."
"Then you believe that the means by which he intended to end his marriage was…?"
"I believe that means was precisely what he said to us. I believe he intended to seek a divorce. And I have now stated that several times."
"Yes, you have. And was the notion of a divorce acceptable to all of the family members?"
Abigail Collins hesitated.
"No," she admitted. "Our brother Joshua did not approve."
"Can you tell us any specifics of the discussion that Joshua and Jeremiah held on this topic?"
Sounding like she had a bitter taste in her mouth, Abigail answered, "Jeremiah proposed looking into the possibilities of divorce, and Joshua forbade him to conduct any such investigation. Joshua told him there had never been a divorce in our family, and there will never be one."
"Really, Miss Collins?" said Peter Bradford, opening his eyes innocently wide. "Then you believe that a divorce in the Collins family would cause pain and shame to Mr. Joshua Collins?"
"Yes," grated Abigail Collins.
"And you have said that Jeremiah did not wish to inflict pain or shame on the members of his family. Then isn't it possible, in view of his brother's vehemence in opposing a divorce, that Jeremiah felt his suicide was the lesser of two evils? Isn't it possible that Jeremiah Collins felt that his death would be easier for the family to bear than his divorce?"
"I have already told you what I believe."
Bradford nodded, eyeing the witness steadily. Then he consulted his notes again. "You told the court that Jeremiah and his nephew Barnabas were especially close; that they grew up together almost as brothers. You told us that, and I quote, 'nothing would give him greater pain than the thought of causing Barnabas to suffer.' Is it accurate to say that the marriage of Jeremiah Collins and Josette du Prés caused suffering to Barnabas Collins?"
"Yes," Abigail hissed. "Of course it is."
"Then could not grief at the suffering of his beloved nephew, added to the desire to spare his brother from shame, have led Jeremiah to the conclusion that his best, and perhaps only choice was to end his own life?"
Bill thought it was a good thing that Abigail's purse wasn't big enough to hold much more than her handkerchief. If she'd had anything heavier in there, Bill thought she might have whacked Peter Bradford with it. She cried out, "How many times must I tell you what I believe and what I do not believe?"
"No further times, Miss Collins," Peter said in mild tones. "I thank you for your testimony. Your Honor," he went on, turning to the judges, "I have no further questions for the witness."
"Very well," said Judge Hanley, looking rather relieved. "You may step down, Miss Collins. The court thanks you. You are excused."
Judging by the glower that Abigail cast at the defense attorney, she was a bit disappointed not to be able to lock horns with him any longer. Then she said stiffly, "Thank you, your honor," and made her dignified way toward the door. Reverend Trask stood up and exchanged a few quiet words with her as she paused by his table. When Abigail strode out of the court room, it was with a predictable parting glare at Bill Malloy.
Meanwhile, Peter Bradford returned to his seat beside Bill. Patting the young man's shoulder, Bill told him quietly, "You did great, kid."
Peter said with a uneasy grimace, "I hope so."
If this was a Perry Mason episode, Bill thought, we would now pause for a word from our sponsors. But in reality, things were rolling on without a pause. "Mr. Trask," inquired Judge Hanley, "are you ready to call your next witness?"
"I am, your honor. The prosecution calls Dr. Thomas Thornton."
Bill thought, Great. I always knew being snide about Thornton's tooth-powder recipe was going to come back to haunt me.
Constable Hemphill left the courtroom and returned moments later escorting the small Scottish physician. Thornton did not look at Bill as he went to the judge's desk and took the oath. Bill suddenly wondered if Thornton was afraid to look at him. When the doctor was in his place at the stand, Reverend Trask launched into questioning this second witness.
"Dr. Thornton, would you please look at the prisoner and tell me if you have encountered him on any occasion other than in this courtroom?"
On being directed to do so, Thornton cast Bill a glance that reminded him of Abigail Collins' most frequent expression. It was a pursed-mouthed look of disgust, as if Thornton was tasting something nasty. Turning to face Reverend Trask again, Thornton answered, "I have."
"And will you tell us what those occasions were?"
"I encountered him first in my apothecary's shop, when he came to make some purchases. The second time was at Collins House, I believe on the next day after our first meeting. On that occasion I was summoned to examine the critically ill Barnabas Collins, stricken down by an unexplained obstruction of his breath."
"Now, doctor, please tell the court what belief you hold about Mr. William Malloy."
The physician/apothecary seemed to have no trouble looking at Bill now. With a challenging glower he declared, "I believe he was responsible for that unexplained malady. I believe that William Malloy attempted to murder Barnabas Collins."