MOMENT IN TIME
This novel is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's
imagination or are used fictitiously. Any
resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author.
Bridget slowly woke, her brain taking its time to register her surroundings as her eyes fluttered open. The bed was not her own and the room was unknown to her. She groaned, rolling onto her side to get her face out of the morning sunlight beaming through an uncovered window.
The night before, Bridget had driven into Maplewood Village to discover most of the shops and cafes had already closed. Seeing a man walking along the sidewalk in the direction of one of the village’s bed and breakfasts, she had taken the chance that it was the proprietor returning from an evening walk. Happily, she had been correct and quickly arranged for a room.
The smell of fresh coffee and grilling bacon set Bridget’s stomach rumbling and she tossed the quilt covering her to the side. Swinging her legs over the edge of the mattress, she sat up rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Yawning, she looked around the room, something she had not taken the time to do before preferring to just crawl into bed and allow her tired body and exhausted mind to rest.
The bedroom was simply furnished with the double bed in the center of the room. On each side of the head of the bed a night stand was placed with a lamp within easy reach. Tucked into a corner at the front of the room, a short chest provided three drawers for guests to place their clothing. A bowl and water pitcher was placed on top of the chest and hand towels had been laid out beside them. Except for a single straight back chair, the room held no other furnishings, not even a television or phone. Not that she was expecting them but she did wonder how many guests would be disappointed by their absence.
Standing, Bridget padded over to the chest where she had left her overnight bag. She retrieved her shirt and pants from the chair, pulling them back on then snatching up her bag she headed for the bathroom at the end of the hall hoping she would find it empty.
“Good morning, Ms. Donovan,” a women in her mid-forties greeted Bridget cheerfully when she entered the dining room. She had spoken briefly to the wife of the proprietor when she had filled out the registration card for her room.
“Good morning, Mrs. Nolen.” Bridget sat in the first available chair. “Please, call me Bridget.”
“Coffee?” The woman nodded in agreement to the request while asking her own question.
“You’re an early riser. Our other guests won’t be up for at least another hour.”
“I don’t like sleeping in,” Bridge said while she added a spoonful of sugar to her coffee cup. “Especially when I have work to do.”
“Oh? And what would that be, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Not at all. May I?” Bridget reached for the platter of scrambled eggs and bacon. “This all smells so good, I’m afraid if I don’t feed my stomach soon you’ll be able to hear it rumbling all the way to Boston.”
“Please,” the woman laughed. “Help yourself. It tastes a lot better when it’s hot. Something the others rarely enjoy.”
“They’re loss,” Bridget placed a large helping of the eggs and several slices of bacon on her plate. She added two slices of raisin toast and a piece of ham then settled back to enjoy the breakfast.
“I see you have a healthy appetite.”
“Sorry, I didn’t eat very much yesterday and I’m suddenly very hungry. If there’s a limit…”
“Heavens no. Eat all you want. I can always make more. It’s nice to have someone who enjoys my cooking.”
“It’s very good,” Bridget said after swallowing a mouthful of eggs. “Very good.”
“Thank you,” the woman smiled. “We don’t usually get too many visitors who come to the Village to work.”
“I suppose not.” Bridget was aware of Maplewood Village’s reputation as a tourist destination and most of the community’s commerce was based on seeing to the needs of the tourists. “I’m a reporter.”
“A reporter,” the woman gasped in surprise. “Oh my, there hasn’t been any serious crime in these parts in I can’t remember how long.”
Bridget laughed. “Not that kind of reporter. I write for a history magazine, History of Colonial America, I doubt you’ve heard of it.”
“On the contrary, I’m a subscriber. Wait a minute, Bridget Donovan? I knew I had seen that name before. I’ve read many of your stories; you’re a very good writer.”
“Thank you.” Bridget smiled. She didn’t meet too many people that actually knew of the magazine and even fewer that had read it. “I’m hoping to find some information in the Village records about a young woman who may have lived around here in the sixteen eighties. Sarah Goodson.”
“Oh.” The woman sat and poured herself a cup of coffee. “Any particular reason?”
Bridget grinned at the woman’s rather obvious attempt to find out the details of her research. “The magazine has found a journal she may have written. I’m hoping to find information to prove the validity of the journal.” She saw no need to tell the woman the real reason she was looking for Sarah. “I’m hoping the Village records can help. What time does the town hall open?”
“Nine. But you won’t find anything there. All the records prior to nineteen hundred have been moved to the historical museum. It opens at ten.”
Bridget looked at her watch. “Darn,” she said seeing it was not yet eight-thirty. “Leaves me with a lot of time to kill.” She winced at the unintentional use of the word. Ignoring the woman’s quizzical look, she asked “you wouldn’t happen to know if there is a cemetery around here that dates back to that time, do you?”
“There’s the church cemetery. I’ve seen stones there dating back to the early seventeen hundreds.”
“Well, I haven’t looked at all the headstones so I can’t answer that.”
Bridget chewed on her last bite of toast as she weighed her options. She could wander around the shops that lined the Village main street until the museum opened or she could take a chance and visit the graveyard. It wasn’t much of a decision. “I guess I’ll check out the cemetery for myself. Where will I find it?”
“That’s easy. Walk to the end of town, you can’t miss the church. Don’t let the caretaker scare you away. He’s a little protective of the graves. The museum is at the other end of town. Luckily the Village isn’t too big,” the woman laughed. “It’s next to the town hall. Ask to talk to Riley, he is the curator.”
“Thanks. And thanks for breakfast, it was delicious.”
“Hope you left some for the rest of us,” a man strode into the room followed by his wife and three teenage sons. They took seats at the table and immediately began filling their plates. “This coffee is cold,” the man complained.
“I have a fresh pot warming in the kitchen. I’ll just be a minute.” Turning to Bridget, the woman added, “thank you. It’s always nice to start the day with a pleasant conversation.”
“You’d think for these prices, I could start the day with a cup of hot coffee,” the man repeated his complaint.
Bridget smiled in sympathy; she was sure pleasant conversation was the last thing to be expected from the rude man. She left the family to their morning meal and walked to the front door and outside. Retrieving her laptop and camera from her car, she headed down the sidewalk at a leisurely pace.
With plenty of time and not much distance to cover, Bridget walked unhurried along the brick sidewalk. The fronts of the centuries old buildings were gaily decorated with flags and banners announcing the locations of the antique and curio shops, cafes, bookstores and clothing boutiques that now occupied them. Most shop owners were just getting around to unlocking their doors for the day’s anticipated customers and she enjoyed the opportunity to walk without the jumble of tourists that would soon crowd the sidewalk.
Bridget glanced into the windows of the shops she passed seeing nothing to hold her interest for more than a moment. Her pace never faltered and she quickly found herself walking past the last of the shops. The wide brick sidewalk gave way to a narrow strip of concrete that fronted a tree lined stretch of residential street. She could see a church’s steeple at the end of the block, the morning sun reflecting off its bright white paint.
Bridget took notice of the tidy yards and neat houses as she walked. She estimated that most of the homes dated back at least two hundred years and all showed the obvious signs of being lovingly cared for. As she walked, she let her mind wander back to a time when the houses would have been new and imagined what life for the original owners would have been like. She was so lost in her thoughts that she almost walked into the wrought-iron gate of the church graveyard.
The stern voice brought Bridget back to the present. “Damn,” she muttered as she stopped within inches of the twisted and bent gate.
Though it still retained its original design, the old gate had served the graveyard too many years and gaps betrayed where pieces of the metal had rusted away. Behind the gate, wooden and stone tombstones stood in clusters of varying numbers. Some were enclosed by decorative fences while others stood alone serving as private guards over the resting place of some long forgotten member of the community. Many of the headstones were tilting to one side or the other, some leaning on their neighbors for support.
“What you be wanting?”
Bridget scanned the graveyard, seeking the owner of the voice. “I was told these stones date back to the founding of the village,” she answered.
“And what if they do?”
Bridget was startled when a man rose from behind a tombstone not too far from where she was standing. “Shit. You might want to give a little warning before doing that.” She blew out several short breaths to help calm her racing heart.
“I’ve been talking to you.” The man pulled a rag from his back pocket. “How much more warning would you be needing? You didn’t think I was a ghost rising from my grave, did you?” He laughed as he wiped his dirt covered hands.
“As a matter of fact….” Bridget was embarrassed that she had thought just that.
“In broad daylight?”
“Graveyards spook me out. You popping up like that didn’t help any,” Bridget told him. “I’m Bridget Donovan. I write for History of Colonial America magazine.”
“I’ve read it a time or two.” The man nodded as he shoved the rag back into his pocket. “Are you looking for anyone special?”
“Not really. Just want to see if any of these graves date back to the sixteen eighties.”
The man leaned against the tombstone he had been kneeling next to and studied Bridget.
Bridget decided to return the favor. Though she guessed him to be about seventy years old, he appeared in good health and, in fact, quite robust. His skin was deeply tanned and his dark hair showed little evidence of turning gray. He stood close to six feet tall and his movements were free and easy. She could only hope to retain such good health at the same stage of her life.
“Not too many but there’s a few on the other side of the church. Would help if I had a name.”
“You know the names on all these stones?”
“I’ve worked here almost sixty years tending to these graves. There’s not much I don’t know about these stones. Come on through the gate and I’ll take you over. Mind the latch, it’s a bit troublesome,” the man said as he pushed off the tombstone and walked away.
Bridget discovered the gate latch was more than a bit troublesome. The rusty parts refused to budge under the pressure of just one hand and she had to set her laptop and camera down to force the gate open. Once through, she gathered up the items before re-closing the gate. “Dang, he never told me his name,” she muttered as she hurried after the cemetery’s caretaker.
Bridget carefully walked around the oldest area of the churchyard, gingerly stepping between graves to take pictures of any marker dating from the time Sarah had lived. She didn’t recognize any of the names but knowing she was just starting her research she didn’t want to skip any either. “I would have thought there would be more from back then,” she said after taking the last of a dozen pictures.
“Used to be but the wooden markers disappeared long ago. And not everyone was buried in the churchyard. Some were buried in family plots or even shipped back to England after they died, if they were real important. Still say it would be easier to point you in the right direction if I had a name.”
“Goodson,” Bridget said as she placed her camera back into its carrying case hanging from her shoulder. “Sarah Goodson.”
The caretaker started to speak but stopped when Bridget revealed the full name. He had been standing beside the church casually leaning against the wood siding but his back stiffened when Sarah’s name was spoken. He straightened and purposely moved closer to Bridget, his eyes darting from her to the front of the churchyard and back. “You won’t be finding her buried in this hallowed ground,” he said in a voice no more than a whisper.
“You know of Sa…?”
“Hush. It is forbidden to speak her name.”
Bridget studied the caretaker. He seemed to have aged, his face suddenly displaying the burdens of several generations. When he turned to walk toward the gate, she followed.
The caretaker opened the gate and held it for Bridget to pass through. “If you name the one you seek, you will find nothing but trouble.”
Before Bridget could respond, the gate was shut with a loud clang and the caretaker hurried away. “What the hell?” she muttered as she watched the man disappear behind the church. “Why would speaking Sarah’s name still be forbidden?” she asked the old gate, frowning when she received no answer. ‘Strange,’ she thought, ‘Mrs. Nolen didn’t seem to react to Sarah’s name. Come to think of it, she didn’t react at all.’ The inconsistency raised more questions and Bridget hoped she might find some answers in the village’s historical records. As she walked away from the graveyard, she debated if she should take the caretaker at his word about mentioning Sarah’s name. “Well, one thing’s for sure,” she said to herself, “Maplewood Village and Maplewood Settlement must be the same place.”
“We don’t have much from that far back,” Riley, the museum curator, told Bridget as he led her through the exhibits to the room where the archives were stored. “Maplewood Settlement was founded around sixteen seventy, best we can figure. We have lots of documents beginning about seventeen hundred but not much before then.”
“Isn’t that unusual?” Bridget asked. “I thought the early colonists were known for keeping detailed records so they could report back to England.”
“Some villages were better at that than others,” Riley said. “And a lot of records were lost over the years due to fires, water damage, misplaced, you name it. Three hundred plus years is a long time to keep a piece of paper.”
“Well, whatever you have will be helpful.”
“Are you looking for anyone in particular? Sometimes a name will ring a bell and can save hours of looking.”
The caretaker’s warning flashed across Bridget’s memory. “No, just doing some general research on the Settlement’s beginnings.”
“Okay. Anything we have will be on these shelves.” Riley waved a hand in front of a section of floor to ceiling oversized shelves holding fragile looking documents and books. “Sorry but I haven’t had time to scan everything into our computer database yet. Stepladder is over there if you want to check out the top shelves. You can use the table to spread things out but please be careful. Let me know if you have any questions, I’ll be around.”
“Any luck?” Riley asked as he entered the archive room at the end of the museum’s business day.
“Unfortunately, not as much as I hoped,” Bridget said as she closed a thick ledger full of yellowed papers and stretched her arms over her head to relieve the kinks in her back. “I’m surprised that in all of this there wasn’t a single listing of the settlement’s occupants.” She stood to carry the ledger back to its resting spot.
“Oh, those are still kept at the courthouse.”
Bridget stopped in mid-step. “But Mrs. Nolen said all the records were moved here.”
“All but the census logs and the property records. You’d be surprised how often conflicts over property boundaries still come up between the old families.”
“The ‘old’ families? There are descendents still living here from the original settlers?”
Bridget returned the ledger to its proper place then rushed back to the table and her laptop. She brought up a blank screen to record the curator’s response. “Which ones? And don’t leave any out.”
“Well, I’m not sure I know all of them. I’ve only lived here myself for a little more than five years.”
“Then tell me the ones you do know.” Bridget was impatient for the man to answer.
“Let’s see,” Riley sat on the edge of the table to think. “The antique store at the end of the street is own by Patrick Dolan. His family was one of the first. And Betty Thomason Bennett at the bakery can trace her family back to the beginnings. The Jeffersons have property north of the village, quite a bit too. Oh, and Justin Calvin. The Calvins have owned a chunk of land to the east from way back. His family also files most of the property challenges, seems it’s been a family tradition for generations.”
“None that I can think of. But I’m sure there are some.”
Bridget decided to take a chance. “Goodson. Have you ever heard that name?”
Riley thought, scratching the back of his neck as he did. “No. I don’t think I have. Is that who you’re looking for?”
“Just a name I read somewhere. I was hoping you might have heard of it.”
“That’s okay.” Bridget said, disappointed her gamble hadn’t paid off. “I guess I’ll head over to the courthouse.” Bridget turned off her laptop and reached for the bag she carried it in.
“Too late for that. They closed two hours ago.”
“What? What time is it?” Bridget didn’t wear a watch, preferring to rely on the laptop clock to keep her informed of the time. And she had been too engrossed in the old records to even think about the time until now.
“Almost six thirty.”
“Damn. I hope Mrs. Nolen hasn’t given away my room. I didn’t think I’d need it again but it looks like I’ll be staying around for at least one more day.”
“Oh, I completely forgot about her.”
Picking up her bag and camera, Bridget gave Riley a quizzical look.
“Nolen. Now he’s a newcomer, moved here about forty years ago. But Mrs. Nolen, she was born a Wellesly. That family goes back to the original settlers.”
“Are you sure? She seemed so disinterested when I talked to her.”
“Oh, yes. John Carpenter Wellesly was the patriarch of the family. From what I’ve heard, he arrived in the settlement with little more than the clothes on his back. But he married well-- a widower with property. Of course, women weren’t able to own land so she was forced to remarry, almost as soon as she buried her first husband, to keep her land from being taken from her. Things are a lot different now, aren’t they?” he said thoughtfully. “Today, it’s Mr. Nolen that depends on his wife to support him. All the Wellesly property is in her name not his.”
“I wonder why she didn’t say anything?” Bridget mumbled, more to herself than Riley, as she moved toward the door. “She must have recognized the name.”
“She’s a strange one,” Riley said as he slipped off the table, “when it comes to talking about the past. I’ve asked her many times to write down her family history so we’d have it on record. She’s refused every time. Just says, what’s in the past is best left there.”
“I suppose. But when the roots go that deep, you don’t know what they’re wrapped around. So maybe she has her reasons.”
“Maybe. Thank you, Riley. I appreciate you letting me see the records.”
They had reached the front door of the museum and Riley pulled a key from his pocket to unlock it. “That’s what they’re here for. Come back any time.”
“I may take you up on that. Good evening.”
Bridget had returned to the bed and breakfast to find her room available for a second night’s stay. She paid Mrs. Nolen the additional amount but, thinking it best to sort out her thoughts first, did not say anything about what she had been told by Riley. After eating a quick dinner she decided to take a stroll around the village, now free of tourists, to think.
Walking down the brick sidewalk toward the opposite end of town from the church, Bridget was lost in thought when she heard her name. She looked around but saw no one.
“Pssstt. Over here.”
Bridget couldn’t be sure but she thought the voice was familiar. “Where?”
“Alley beside the bakery. And be quick.”
“Why should I?”
“You want to see where Sarah is buried, don’t you?”
Bridget didn’t hesitate. She turned and walked back a few steps to the alley and slipped into the shadows. A dark shape was moving away from her and she followed it.
“Where are you taking me?” Bridget asked after she had been led through a seemingly endless maze of streets until they reached an open field behind the last few village homes.
“I told you.”
“If you know where Sarah is buried, why didn’t you just take me there this morning?” Bridget asked the graveyard caretaker. “What is your name anyway?”
“You have a problem with Sam?”
“No. I just thought….”
“I would have a more unusual name? Like Morticah? Or Gunther?”
“Well, you have to admit, you are a little creepy. Popping up from behind gravestones; giving me cryptic messages; leading me through town in the dark of night.”
“Can’t be too careful.”
“Careful about what?”
Sam ignored the question. “We’ll be going into the woods. It’s better if we get back a-ways before we use a light. I hope you aren’t too clumsy.”
“I’ll do my best not to trip over my own feet.”
“I’d be more concerned about the tree roots but you do what you need to.”
Just then a light came on at the back of one of the houses they were walking behind.
“Come on,” Sam whispered. “The path is just ahead.”
Bridget had to run to keep up with her guide. Moving as quietly as she could, she turned away from the open field and was swallowed up by the forest.
Sam’s disembodied voice floated back to Bridget who did her best to follow him in the darkness. After several minutes, she saw a beam of light appear in front of her. “Thank goodness,” she said, thankful she had avoided walking into any trees. “How far…”
“Quiet.” Sam hissed back at her. “Never know who might be wandering about these woods.”
Bridget was beginning to think she had somehow morphed into a scene from an old Vincent Price movie, what with all the eerie behavior Sam was displaying and the weird shadows cast by the gnarled trees that surrounded them.
In silence, they walked for another half hour before Sam stopped.
“There.” Sam pointed to an unnatural looking circle of trees in the center of a clearing. “She was laid to rest there.”
“Odd looking trees,” Bridget said as she looked toward the copse. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen trees growing together like that.”
“They were planted to protect her.”
As Bridget studied Sarah Goodson’s final resting place, she wondered if anyone could truly rest after suffering such a horrific death. Slowly, she walked across the clearing to the ring of trees. Even without Sam telling her, she would have known they had to have been planted. Standing trunk to trunk, their protective branches had grown together providing an effective barrier between the clearing and the small patch of ground they surrounded.
“There’s a gap here.”
Bridget turned to see Sam standing beside one of the largest of the trees.
“Watch your head. And you’ll want this.”
Bridget took the flashlight from the man before ducking her head under a thick branch and stepping between two trees. She found herself standing inside a tomb, tree trunks and a canopy of tightly entwined branches serving in place of stone walls. At one end of a carefully tended mound of dirt a stone marker provided the name of the grave’s occupant.
died for another’s sin
May she rest knowing we believed her
Bridget sucked in a breath, the shock of reading the words almost too much for her to accept as a deep sadness invaded her body.
She had found Sarah.
“I’m so sorry,” Bridget whispered. Sinking to her knees beside the grave, the flashlight fell from her fingers. For several minutes she was unable to do anything but cry. “Why, Sarah? Why did they do that to you?”
“No one knows,” Sam said softly. He had entered the tomb when Bridget failed to return. “But you know, don’t you?”
“I’ve read her diary.”
“It was always rumored to exist but no one knew where.”
Bridget picked up the flashlight and directed its bright beam on Sam’s face. “Who are you?” she asked again only this time her voice carried a sharpness that warned the man to tell the truth.
“What’s your relationship to Sarah?” Bridget asked as she stood. She didn’t know why, but she was feeling extremely protective of the woman buried beside her.
“Harriett Bishop was Sarah’s best friend and my great-grandmother several generations over. Harriett’s husband, was murdered just before Sarah died and my family has protected her grave ever sense. For what reason, I don’t know. If we ever knew, it was forgotten long before my time. But it is an obligation we continue to take seriously.”
“Does Mrs. Nolen know who you are?” Sarah was starting to put the pieces of the puzzle together. “Does she know you’re a Bishop?”
“No. People in the village know me as Sam. No last name, just Sam. Why?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Yes, you are. I’ve told you what I know. Now you tell me what you know. What is in Sarah’s diary?”
“Not as much as I’d like,” Bridget lowered the flashlight. “Sarah was pressed to death for killing a man. But she didn’t do it.”
“What man? What was his name?”
“Until tonight, I didn’t know. But with what you just told me…”
“Yes. There were no names given in the diary but the man was the husband of Sarah’s friend.”
“How do you know she didn’t do it?”
“Why did your family protect her grave all these years?”
“We just have.”
“The grave of the woman accused of killing your great-great-great-, whatever, grandfather? That doesn’t make much sense.”
“Family legend says she was innocent.”
“And one day someone would come who would prove it.”
“Why would you believe that?”
“Harriett foretold it. The night she buried Sarah, she said someone would come. Are you that someone?”
“I don’t know what Harriett Bishop foretold but I do know that I plan to prove Sarah was innocent. And I plan to uncover who the real murderer was. But first, I need some sleep. It’s been a long day and it seems to be catching up with me. And fast.” Bridget yawned. Surprisingly, after a day being too involved in her research to feel fatigue she was now having trouble keeping her eyes open.
Sam led the way back out between the trees.
Bridget turned back to the grave before following. Kneeling, she placed a hand on the mound, the soil warm against her cooled skin. “I promise, Sarah,” she whispered. “I will find out the truth. I know it’s too late for you but I will find it. I will.”
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