From the missives of Emmaline McGowan
16 October, 1782
Would that I could be seated next to you upon our old porch swing, laughing at one of Papa’s childhood tales, or reminiscing of better times! In truth, my heart aches for Papa’s loss, and I yearn for your companionship more with each passing day. Regrettably, my search for employment in this masculine world has taken much longer than anticipated.
It is apparent that by virtue of my sex, I am considered to be devoid of skill, absent of thought, and incapable of sound judgment; making it all the more astounding, given such gross ineptitude, that I am finally able to report some wonderful news!
The gods have smiled upon me. I have secured employment—albeit in such a dark and curious place.
All that seems to be is naught. Deep beneath the brilliant gardens and polished exterior of Sutphin Manor lurks a baleful disposition. Despite the valiant efforts of its owner, the dismal tenor that dwells within its bricks and mortar lingers like an unseen pall.
No doubt Irving Jeffries was a dashing man once, tall and lean with emerald eyes; eyes now consumed by sorrow. Mrs. Abbott, the manor cook, confided in me that his wife had died in childbirth.
Meagre as suitable employment opportunities have been, I must confess to a state of absolute giddiness when Jeffries hired me as governess to his charming six-year-old daughter, Anna. Had my search for a position continued much longer, I might have been living hand to mouth on the streets!
Mrs. Abbott advised that although Jeffries hails from New York, he has settled in Baltimore to start anew. Idle talk among the help suggests that he purchased the manor for a song at auction. He busies himself with renovations, finishing first one room, then bounding to the next like a man hoping to escape the clutches of abject sorrow.
Just yesterday, Jeffries requested my assistance in tidying the attic, ridding it of a past he neither knew nor cared to preserve, save any hidden treasure my woman’s eye might catch.
“Anna and I will fill this loft with our own past,” he’d said. Chased by the echo of our footsteps, we entered the tomb-like alcove and worked our way through the cobwebs and the cloying mustiness. A vague uneasiness took hold; gooseflesh rose on the nape of my neck.
At length, we came upon a weathered wooden trunk that was chained and padlocked. “What have we here that requires such protection?” he asked. “Mayhap we’ve stumbled upon a prize.” Unable to gain entry without tools, he left, but soon returned with an axe. After chopping through the locks and chains, he pried open the lid. It fit snugly on the swollen trunk, causing it to creak and groan like a set of old bones. A sickly, sweet odor wafted through the air—the odor of decay.
A strange assortment of religious relics lay scattered atop a tattered quilt that shrouded the object within. Wasting no time, he threw the quilt aside.
“Merciful heavens!” I whispered, crossing myself.
Jeffries laughed and raised the object for closer inspection. “How perfectly hideous!”
In his hand was a doll with a ruffled nightcap resting atop the crown of its head and a nightshirt covering its body; but, Sweet Margaret, do not doubt me when I say that never in the history of doll-making had a tinker crafted a doll so malignant-looking! Waist-length auburn coils framed a porcelain face that culminated in a decidedly pointed chin. Its features were pinched and severe; its mouth unsmiling. But what gave the doll its malevolent countenance were a pair of large black voids where its eyes should have been! Surely, gauged upon its appearance, some wicked fate had befallen it.
Jeffries tossed the doll into the rubbish heap. “Why would anyone keep this aberration, let alone safeguard it with padlocks and chains?” Why indeed. It lay atop the pile, positioned such that its blackened orbs appeared to follow me. I flung the tattered quilt from the trunk o’er the peculiar doll, blocking those relentless empty sockets—and then continued with my duties.
I gave the matter no further thought until the following day when Mr. Jeffries followed me into the study and closed the pocket door behind us. His lips were taut; his eyes narrow.
“Miss McGowan, why did you give that heinous corpse of a doll to Anna?”
“Sir! I did no such thing, I assure you!”
“None of the other staff knew the doll existed, Miss McGowan. Anna has no one on this earth, save me—and now, you. If I have mistakenly judged your suitability for this position, it is best that I know now.”
“I would not lie to you, sir. I have come to look upon Anna as my own.” My heart ached at the possibility of losing such a treasured thing. All for the gifting of a doll—a gifting in which I had played no part!
There came a tiny knock upon the door. Jeffries slid it back to find Anna, eyes dancing, clutching the disfigured doll against her chest.
“There you are, Miss Emma! I wanted to introduce you to my new dolly, Cora.”
I stooped to meet her gaze. “Such a lonely looking dolly. Wherever did she come from?”
“She was rocking in my dolly chair when I awoke this morning. Isn’t she grand?”
Despite the thing’s wicked appearance, Anna was drawn to it and took it under her wing as if it were a wounded bird.
Dear Margaret, I knew not what to think of her attachment to this grotesque moppet, yet I hadn’t the heart to take it from her. Neither could I rid myself of the disquiet that came from wondering how it had found its way into Anna’s arms.
This place portends such mystery! When my next missive finds you, perhaps I shall be able to say that my concerns had been for naught.
Your loving sister,
30 October, 1782
Would that I could report that the fears plaguing me were unwarranted. Both father and child mire deeper into a roiling pool of despair. Anna’s skin is becoming pallid, her eyes hollow. She is inseparable from that doll, even insisting that a place be set for it at meal time. Anna has gone so far as to lay her own infant bunting in her toy cradle—as if Cora were a real babe! Torn between indulging a lonely child and rescuing her from the precipice of fantasy, Mrs. Abbott and I still our tongues; but any indecision on Mr. Jeffries part disappeared when Anna asked, “Daddy, which color eyes are best?”
“Without a doubt, my love, your blue eyes are my favorite. So like your mother’s they are.”
Curled snugly in his lap, she took his face in her tiny hands and peered up at him. “Cora says she wants green eyes like yours, Daddy.”
His back stiffened though his tone remained neutral. “Anna, darling, you know that dolls cannot speak. Why must you pretend so?”
“But Daddy, Cora does speak.”
“I have never heard her.” With a nod, he enjoined me to follow suit.
“Nor have I, Anna. Perhaps she speaks to you in your dreams.”
Her eyes welled. “She only speaks when we are alone. She says you do not like her, Daddy. Is that so?”
He shifted and sighed. “Why don’t you give me Cora, and I will bring you a pretty new dolly from town?” He reached for the doll, but Anna began to wail. He rose to his feet and lowered her to the floor. “There, there. Take Cora and go play in your room now, my dear. Miss Emma and I have grown-up things to discuss.” He closed the door behind her before speaking again. “The child is much too attached to that monstrosity—to the point of losing perspective. Tonight, when she is asleep, I will dispose of it once and for all. I do not wish to see it reappear. Am I understood?”
I blanched. “Of course; but you must believe me, sir. Neither I, nor any staff member gave her the doll.”
“More’s the pity, Miss McGowan, for then, by some unknown means that doll has defied the laws of natural order.” His voice trailed to a whisper. “There is something unsettling about that thing.” He left me in the study and went to town to run his errands.
Late that evening while Anna slumbered, I watched Jeffries steal across her room and take the thing from its cradle. In its place, he left a beautiful new doll with golden curls, a cherubic face, and innocent azure eyes. He carried Cora outside to the water well. Without so much as a moment’s hesitation, he threw the abomination into the void and did not leave until he heard the tell-tale splashing of water. He returned looking unburdened, as if a tremendous weight had been lifted from him. The manor itself seemed to breathe, as if freed from the crush of some malevolent force.
Good sister, could that doll be the albatross that plagues Sutphin Manor—the source of its ill humor? Pray that this act of a father’s love has driven the darkness away.
With deepest affection,
31 October, 1782
So quickly hope fades! In the blink of an eye, Anna has wasted to a shadow and her eyes have lost their shine. She awoke to find Cora gone, replaced by the sweet-faced cherub chosen by her father, and became inconsolable, beseeching us to find her baby. My heart near beat its last, when through a veil of tears she whimpered that Cora was wet and cold. Her eyes grew suddenly wide; she pummeled her tiny fists against her father’s chest. “You did this, Daddy! You threw her into the well! Why were you so mean to Cora? Why?”
My eyes met Jeffries’, and we seemed to exchange a single thought. How could she have known?
It pained us to watch Anna grieve. Nothing we did or said could appease her. She spent the day pining in her room, unwilling to speak or eat. She peered out of her window and slept sporadically, only to awaken in renewed torrents of tears. At dusk, wracked by exhaustion, she settled into a peaceful sleep. Fearful that melancholy would swallow her whole, we resigned to monitor her throughout the night and enlisted the aid of Mrs. Abbott, who fed us tea and kept vigil with us.
At the midnight hour, we started once again for her room. The stillness split from the peal of a child’s giggle. But it was not Anna’s infectious titter—it was a cackle, maniacal and taunting. Surely this wasn’t possible!
We raced to her room. Jeffries stood in the doorway, peering into the darkness. I followed his gaze, first to the rocking chair and then to the cradle, each of us breathing a sigh of relief having found no sign of the doll. We turned then to Anna’s bed. There she slept the deep carefree sleep of innocence, breathing steadily, with Cora’s long auburn coils wound loosely ’round her throat!
The malignant monster pursed its pinched mouth and loosed its fiendish voice for all to hear. “Shush, Daddy, your baby is sleeping.”
Jeffries raced toward the bed. “Get away from her, you demon!”
It cackled again, but its coils slithered free of Anna’s neck. Jeffries hurriedly scooped his sleeping daughter against his chest and snatched her away from the cursed doll. With a gentle kiss to her forehead, he placed her into my arms and said, “We are all she has. Take her. I beg you, protect her with your life.”
I carried her outside, absent the fray, and stood transfixed by what next occurred. Jeffries followed me through the door, the evil doll clutched in in his hands. A fierce wind funneled outward from the manor. Trees tore asunder; branches, twigs, and leaves took flight, trapping Jeffries in a vortex of whirling debris. His words barely audible above the din, “Leave this place, hell-hound! Return to the flames that spawned you.”
The demon-doll burst forth an angry howl, polluting the air with a fetid stench. It shone a grisly smile and simpered in a child’s falsetto, “Cora wants green eyes, Daddy.” A menacing growl followed.
He stood his ground. “Then come and get them, hag.”
The cacophony reached a crescendo; the air pressure dropped, threatening to burst my ears. Still I stayed, mesmerized, as Jeffries produced a flask from his pocket. So surprised was I at his timing for a nip, that an incredulous laugh near escaped me until he threw the liquid at the demon and its smell belied my fears.
The demon moved to and fro, dancing out of reach. Jeffries launched forward and latched onto the beast. It yowled and hissed when he produced a match from his pocket.
“Mr. Jeffries, no, please!” I screamed, “Think of your daughter!”
With a tortured look, he said, “But I am!” and struck his match against the cobblestone. The kerosene ignited. Both he and the demon Cora blazed into flames! I turned away, sobbing, blocking their screams from my mind, thankful that Anna’s exhaustion had left her oblivious to the evil doings of the night.
With that, dear sister, there is little more to say. I am all that Anna has in this world. She asks for her father daily, and strangely has no recollection of Cora. For now, I smile and tell her that her father is away. How am I to explain his passing, when the truth defies imagination? Sutphin Manor is a desolate pit that holds no future for us. We shall journey on, toward a new beginning. Pray, kind sister, for prosperity and hope.
All my love,
1 December, 1782
Dear, Sweet Margaret,
Anna and I are safely ensconced in Towsontown; far enough, God willing, that the nightmarish memories will soon begin to fade. For the moment, we survive on God’s good humor, but now, I am responsible for us both and my search for employment must begin anew. I pray that my shoulders will not be considered too slender to be tested.
Mrs. Abbott was kind enough to forward our belongings. She prays that the manor sells quickly, so that she might retain her cook’s position—and she vows that the unholy events of that night will be taken to her grave.
Whilst unboxing our possessions, I took care to ensure Anna was otherwise occupied—a shrewd and prophetic decision. My heart sickened at the sight of a familiar tattered quilt. Gathering my courage, I grasped its edges and slowly folded it back to find that Cora had returned. Her porcelain skin was cracked and peeled, no doubt due to the licking of the flames on that tragic night. I marveled at the bottomless black eye sockets staring back at me. They were proof that Cora had not succeeded in stealing the emerald eyes of Irving Jeffries.
Failing all else, I had learned that evil never dies; at best, it is held in abeyance.
I wrapped the doll in its tattered quilt and placed it in a sturdy trunk, entombed beneath vials of holy water and sanctified relics. Satisfied the demon had been neutralized, I closed the lid, and applied both chains and padlock.
Under cover of night, I returned to Sutphin Manor, hauling the trunk by buckboard. Mrs. Abbott and I buried it deep in an unmarked grave, well concealed from unsuspecting victims. There, the demon would be trapped for all eternity, never again to see the light of day.
Such was the plan I followed. Such was the plan that affords me sleep, lest I toss and turn in the dark of night, wondering when the demon will return to claim new eyes for Cora.
I must retire for the night, dear Sister—I confess that recent events have taken their toll on me. My mirror tells me that there is tired gray skin requiring rest, and that in order to sleep away the darkness, my own green eyes must close.
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