a short story — the SPELLBOUND GARDENS OF EPONYMOUS

 

What if you had a beautiful garden of all your favorite flowers, colorful blossoms of all variety delighting the eye, collective fragrances swirling and blending in aromatic delight? And what if each and every flower in that garden started changing color completely at random every few minutes? Imagine roses and carnations, daisies and chrysanthemums, gladioli, tulips, sunflowers, every bloom in your garden, presenting a living kaleidoscope of randomly changing colors.

Of course that’s impossible. Or is it? If you think so, you’ve never heard the legend of a little Missouri town named Eponymous, and what transpired a few hundred years ago, more or less. Of course all legends have to have a foundation. They have to be about something. And like all of the very best legends, this one is about young love. Make yourself comfortable now, and read the legend of a pleasant little village, a triangle of affection, and witchery.

Eponymous was a snug hamlet in a cozy glen in the southeastern part of the state, near the Mississippi river, but not too near.  It wasn’t very large, just a collection of thirty or forty families and small farms nestled in and around the glen. It sprouted in the same way most small towns and villages do, a family farm here, one there, another down the road a piece. Cows here, pigs over there, wheat across the road, corn and beans, peas and beets around the bend. Of course, everybody had chickens.          The village grew a little when someone moved in, or a newborn arrived. Got smaller when this person or that one died, or moved on looking for the excitement of a bigger town.

The people of Eponymous were content with the quiet peacefulness of the glen and the surrounding forests. They enjoyed the simple pleasures and the company of their neighbors, good people all, who were never quite close enough to each other to be much of a bother in any case. It’s fair to say that life the glen of Eponymous was about as sweet and harmonious as life shared between human beings could get.

The legend of the gardens began where most things do in small villages, at the church. That was where everyone gathered on Sundays to share the bible and sing hymns. It was also the social center of the community. A couple of Saturdays a month, regardless of the season or the weather, the pews were  moved aside for dancing, and the little church was filled with good hearted laughter and singing, lies about the size of fish and hogs, and clandestine kisses between young folk innocent enough to think everyone in the place didn’t know what they were doing.

Of course, all good things sooner or later come to a reckoning. Your grandma probably told you that. She might also have told you that a man loved by two women is a man wearing a bull’s-eye just waiting for an archer to come along.  And that takes us to the legend of the color changing gardens.

Now I should be clear here in the name of fairness. According to the scattered remnants of diaries and journals, and the newspaper account from a nearby town that actually had one, there was no proof that either of the young women actually was a witch. The first one to use the word was reportedly one Lilith Wainscott. Lilith was pretty, country wholesome pretty if you know what I mean. She was vivacious, that is to say energetic in the extreme, smart as a whip, and determined as a bee after honey. Lilith was possessed of sparkling blue eyes, and had just turned sixteen when these events began. She was also completely and breathlessly in love with young Jonathan Meershat Harriman Napoleon Ableton, who was almost exactly one year older than herself. Don’t worry about keeping his name straight. You can just think of him as bulls-eye Johnnie.

Jonathan and Lilith, along with their parents and the rest of Eponymous, were leaving the little church after services one agreeable Sunday morning in April, when a much worn but well cared for wagon arrived on the hardpack road that ran past the church and right on through the center of the glen. Mister Glenwood Scarsbrough looked over the folks in a friendly, noncommittal  way and held his hand up by way of a neighborly wave, while his daughter Amanda, who happened to be the same age as Lilith, charmed the congregation with a shy smile, and wiggled the fingers of one hand in greeting in the way young girls will do. No one could fail to notice the young woman’s beauty, nor her luxurious red hair, which seemed to shine as it drifted in soft waves over her shoulders and down her back. Lilith, meanwhile, took keen notice that when she turned to remark to Jonathan about the newcomers, he seemed to be watching Amanda like a man in a trance.  It took a good nudge with her elbow regain his attention.

William Scarsbrough directed his wagon to the side of the road and dismounted. Then he assisted his daughter as she stepped down, a movement the lithe young woman accomplished with natural grace. They were dressed for church. William Scarsbrough explained that there was no Mrs. Scarsbrough, she having passed away from influenza the previous year, and that he and Amanda planned to settle in the glen. They had hoped to arrive in time for the services, he said, and offered his disappointment at being late. The good and friendly folks of Eponymous opened their arms to their new neighbors. Sunday dinner arrangements were quickly altered, and a flurry of activity resulted in those self same dinners being retrieved and brought back to the church. The day became a welcoming feast that lasted into the twilight.

Once the primary eating and drinking were done — there would be trips back for leftovers throughout the evening — the affair divided as usual into three groups. The adults talked about adult things, the children ran and played among themselves, and the teens, thanks to the efforts of one David Marchy in retrieving his equipment from home, retired to the sizeable, flat grassy area at the side of the church to play pall mall.  It would be advisable at this point to clarify two semi-important bits of information. The first is that pall mall was a game played with mallets, round wooden balls and thin iron arches, which would go on to become known as croquet. The second is that David Marchy bears absolutely no importance to the rest of this story.

As they used to be fond of saying, a good time was had by everyone on that pleasant Sunday afternoon in April. Everyone, that is, save for Lilith Wainscott, who grew increasingly aware of — and progressively unhappy about — the attention directed toward her Jonathan, by winsome Amanda Scarsbrough. Matters were exacerbated by the fashion in which the young man appeared to go well out of his way to welcome the newcomer. Making matters worse, Amanda, her bright green eyes flashing and waves of long rich red hair flowing like a ballerina with each puff of breeze, floated about him like a humming bird hovering over a bowl of nectar. It was said that one of the women whispered to her husband a different analogy, one dealing with a spider and a fly.

The three of them became inseparable, which is by way of saying that Lilith, no matter what she tried, could not remove herself, and more especially Jonathan, from Amanda’s attentions.  To his detriment, Jonathan made no clear attempts to assist in the removal. An account preserved from a friend’s diary described young Lilith’s eyes as growing increasingly narrow and taking on a decidedly darker shade of blue, as the day progressed. A deep dark blue, described the entry, that seemed almost to gleam. The account described how Lilith’s jaw became ever more firmly set, her smile fading from friendly to pleasant, pleasant to strained, and finally disappearing entirely. The entry also said that afternoon was the first time Lilith Wainscott, in an aside, used the word witch, though the possibility must be noted that her whispered utterance might have been misunderstood.

There had of course been jealousies before in Eponymous. Even friends and neighbors will have occasional disagreements, and young people will be, well, young people. It has in fact been suggested that the Lord created children in order to keep adults from getting too settled. But this was decidedly different. The tension that arose beneath the mild April sun of that day would be followed by events that would spread twisting tendrils of unrest over the entire glen. More than one resident of Eponymous was of the opinion that it would not end well.

An uneasy peace settled upon the close knit folk of Eponymous Glen, as the days following that Sunday came and went, and came and went again, in a state of being best described as timorous peace. While the pot didn’t boil over during these weeks, neither did it cease to simmer. Nary a soul in the glen could fail to take notice of the three young people who seemed to move about, most always together, like a singularity looking for a place to erupt. To observe it was rare to see young Mr. Ableton out and about without the accompaniment of Lilith, or Amanda, and most frequently both, would qualify as an understatement of epic proportion.  The notable exception to the magma that bubbled beneath his very feet was the young man himself, who seemed possessed of an abnormally bright delight. He gave the impression, as one observant resident noted in her journal, of a happy mouse in the escort of two hungry cats, totally unaware of the delicacy of his situation.

As the days and weeks passed, life in the village achieved an imitation of normality. Glenwood Scarsbrough built a charming small house with the assistance of his neighbors, as was the custom in the glen. His daughter added those touches of feminine inspired decoration and sense of home that throughout the ages have redeemed the structures of men. Much of the time, Jonathan and  Lilith worked right along beside her. Those instances were known to inspire a subtle holding of breath by those close by. The other young folks found the whole all sort of exciting, while the adults watched, reserved their opinions, and kept smiled as if they meant it when encountering the cyclonic trio. To those who quietly expressed apprehension and sought heavenly guidance, the hamlet’s lay minister counseled that the Lord would help the youngsters work it all out for the best.  What the ‘best’ might be, was anyone’s guess.

The situation, described in one diary as “…tightly wound,” began to unravel soon after the completion of the Scarsbrough home. Midway through a bright Tuesday morning, Jonathan Ableton opened the front door to find himself stunned by the alluring sight of Amanda Scarsbrough carrying a beautiful  and lovingly prepared cake, delectable two layer vanilla cake with thick chocolate icing, layered and swirled with such artistic finesse that it seemed to almost reach out curled tendrils of tasty temptation. What the cake’s appearance and aroma promised, the concoction itself would eloquently provide, evidence of the young woman’s advanced culinary talents.  Glenwood Scarsbrough’s daughter was herself a vision of breathtaking beauty. Wearing a sparkling blue dress that perfectly complemented her red tresses, themselves more resplendent than usual, and her dancing green eyes, she was a sight worthy of an artist’s brush. Amanda presented the cake as a gift to the family, but there was no question that her attentions and her enthusiastic attention were for Jonathan himself. At this point, historically inclined readers may remember another instance from the same general time period in France, when cake did not bode well.

The very next morning, an equally attractive and appetizing cake was presented to the Ableton family. This one was a chocolate cake with endless swirls and peaks of frothy vanilla frosting, delivered by Lilith Wainscott, every inch as eloquently dressed, coiffed and beautiful as her antagonist.

This was the beginning of what would become known as the Kitchen Wars.          Cakes and pies, breads and rolls, cookies and brownies formed a steady march of baked goods from the Wainscott and  Scarsbrough houses to the Ableton front door. Little more than a day or two passed without something delicious arriving. On at least one occasion, the two young ladies passed each other on the road, one returning from a delivery while the other was headed forth to make one. These were of course always presented as though to the family, but there was no doubt they were clearly intended, along with increasing degrees of  enticingly prepped and primped young female splendor, to impress Jonathan.

Jonathan most certainly did take note. What red blooded young man could not? Young Ableton had, however, also discovered the downside of such devoted attention. When one or the other of the young women was not visiting or dragging him from his house, the other one was. Where one pulled him, the other showed up. His early delight started to wear heavily upon him. He began wishing to have an occasional bit of privacy and peace, and was starting to look strained and haggard. The discomfort of that bulls-eye grew daily more pronounced.

The good citizens of Eponymous began to collectively and ever so carefully exhale. Amanda and Lilith appeared dedicated to wooing Jonathan in customary, which is to say non-violent, fashion.

Then the strange things began to happen.  On a bright Saturday morning, Lilith was standing at Jonathan’s front door with a freshly baked cherry pie, and just as he opened the door, she felt the plate wiggle. Both of them looked down to see, not a scrumptious pie, but a plate full of large wriggling worms. They screamed together as the plate fell to the ground. After the initial shock, Lilith, her face set in determination as she glared at the plate, then at Jonathan, turned without a word and walked steadfastly homeward.

Two days later, a scream erupted from the kitchen of the Scarsbrough house when Amanda found a sizeable spider crawling on her shoulder, then turned to find that her plate of hot cookies had all turned into arachnids. It was said that she broke several pieces of dishware wielding her broom as a weapon that morning.

The events of what would be remembered as the war of the witches escalated quickly, though to give some small amount of credit of all involved, no deadly atrocities occurred. There was the Sunday that Lilith entered church beautifully dressed as usual, only to suddenly find herself wearing nothing but her underwear; the occasion when Amanda was walking along the road with Jonathan and began shrieking as her luxurious, freshly washed red hair started tying itself into knots, until there were precisely thirteen of them; the day that Lilith was doing the family laundry, only to have a tubful of wet clothes rise up, fly out the door and settle itself in the dirt; the morning that Amanda went to pick roses for a bouquet, and they all turned to poison ivy.

The people of the glen started to pick sides then, and things with clear consequences. One morning every family that favored Lilith awoke to find their house painted in multicolored polka dots, and all of the flowers in their yard the wrong colors. The next day, those who sympathized with Amanda found their houses painted in various colors of squares and triangles, the grass in their yards growing in every color but green. Making things woefully worse, the colors and patterns of all of the houses, yards and gardens periodically and randomly changed themselves. And that, as they say, was that.

The whole glen was called to the church, and both young ladies were brought before the pulpit. The good people of Eponymous made it clear that though they were not inclined to repeat the tragic mistakes of Salem, all witchery activities would come to a stop immediately. Or else. It was a very large or else. Amanda and Lilith protested their innocence -after all, no one would ever confess to such a thing- upon deaf ears. So the girls tearfully promised to cease and desist. Unfortunately, they steadfastly maintained that they knew not how to undo what they had already done.  Grumpily but with love in their hearts, the folk of the glen accepted that, and allowed as how theirs would at least be the most unique community in the vicinity. They did make one very clear additional stipulation. Both young women would stay away, far, far away, from Jonathan Ableton. The two glared at each other as they made the oath.

So the homes and gardens of Eponymous, Missouri continued to change colors, and the glen did in fact enjoy some prosperity as a result. You might even say the hamlet became the first tourist attraction west of the Mississippi. The residents got used to seeing the transformations and, truth be known, a bit proud at the special nature of their little community. Most of the houses are gone now of course, these two hundred years and some later, but the ones that remain still change colors, as do their flowers and yards, and are in fact kept in good condition as museum pieces. If you visit Eponymous, if you can find it don’t forget to take your camera. You might be able to get a tour.

By the bye, Amanda and Lilith did go on to find other beaus and build loving families, leaving the disgrace of their youthful transgressions behind them. They even became friends, and in their later years laughed as they told the stories. Most significantly, neither ever used magic again.

As for Jonathan Ableton, he of the bulls-eye Abletons, he found calmness and then love, in the Marchy family, with David’s sister Emily, who was a year older than Jonathan. Emily was a mousy, though not at all unattractive girl, quiet, and unassuming, who had been Jonathan’s friend since childhood.  He had found peace and comfort with Emily during the height of his despair, and love had followed naturally. Her beauty blossomed through their marriage. They  raised five children together in the glen, then helped raise eleven grandchildren and twenty-three grandchildren. They both lived to ripe old ages, Emily outliving Jonathan by a year to the day. On the day of her funeral, her youngest daughter, Carol Ann, leaned into the coffin to kiss Emily’s still attractive cheek, and to place between her folded hands her mother’s most treasured item, a plain wooden box, three inches wide, two inches tall, and eighteen inches in length. The box was held closed by a bright pink ribbon, which had never lost its brilliant shine, and which no one, however hard they tried, had ever been able to untie.

 

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