Evil and Abigail Carr by Michael Ryder

If it pleases Your Lordship, may I submit to the Gentlemen of the Jury:

The Defense will show that Abigail Carr is innocent of the charges of which she is accused; that the murders of nine people at 47 Mayfair Place on the third of March, 1886, were the actions of a maniac and not young Abigail; and that young Abigail is a victim herself, the only survivor of that terrible night, who must now battle the horror of false accusation.

Your Lordship, I hear the cries of outrage from the Public Gallery, and I hasten to assure the Court that the Defense understands and appreciates the anger so heartily expressed. The good citizens of London demand justice. All of us demand justice. All of us have read the accounts in the broadsheets. All of us have been horrified by the foulness, the wickedness, of these shocking deeds.

You, Gentlemen of the Jury, will have the privilege, the responsibility, of examining the Defendant in person and assessing her character and temperament. You will learn the particulars of that night. You will listen to young Abigail describe, in her own words, the ghastly horrors of that evening.

You are all experienced men of the world. I daresay you will form a sound, wise impression of this young girl. You will see, as others do, a sweet-natured child, sixteen years of age, fair-haired and trusting, the daughter of a farming couple from remote Northumberland who loved her dearly. You will hear evidence that, after her parents became ill and died of consumption in the days following Christmas, young Abigail was sent to her mother’s cousin in London to be trained for service, and hired as a cleaning girl in the household of Sir Edward Gardner at 47 Mayfair Place.

You will hear Abigail describe how happy the household was. How Sir Edward was a firm but fair man, who dined at home every evening with his family, no matter how busy his work at the Ministry. How his wife, Lady Sophia, treated Abigail with consideration and courtesy and was a wonderful mother to the three Gardner children. You will hear much about the Gardner children, two boys and a girl, ages six, four and one, whom Abigail adored. You will hear Abigail describe her warm relations with the servants in the household, including the butler, Mr. Durwood, and the cook, Mrs. Maggs.

You will hear, in Abigail’s own words, the events leading up to the tragedy. How, on the morning before her death, Lady Sophia opened a small package that arrived in the post, and gasped aloud when she found inside a note and a small gold locket on a necklace. You will learn she sent a messenger to the Ministry with an urgent instruction for her husband.

You will learn Lady Sophia and Abigail were in the upstairs sitting room when they heard the front door open and Sir Edward’s heavy boots race up the stairs, and that when Sir Edward burst into the room, breathing heavily from his exertions, Lady Sophia handed him the locket and said, “It’s him. He found us.”

You will learn Sir Edward said in response, “There is no hiding, not any longer. We will have to stand our ground.”

You will learn Sir Edward informed the servants of an important guest that evening and of frenzied preparations that pushed the household to the limit, with Durwood, merciless as only experienced butlers can be, wringing every ounce of effort from the servants’ aching hands. You will learn that many of the tasks were unusual; that Sir Edward spent the afternoon inscribing ancient symbols on the walls and ceiling and floor of the house, particularly in the study; that Lady Sophia conferred with Cook on the ingredients for the dinner and insisted upon a special recipe of rare herbs stuffed in a roasted duck; and that Abigail was ordered to pour an unbroken line of salt beneath the edges of the Oriental carpet in the study.

You will hear Abigail testify that, when she was almost done pouring the line of salt in the study, she heard a cry from the kitchen and ran to find that Elsie, a serving girl, had slipped on a wet spot under a window, and that the roasted duck, fresh from the hearth, lay ruined on the floor.

You will hear how upset Cook was, and how Cook ordered Elsie to “run like you never run before” to the market for a fresh bird.

You will hear how Elsie pulled Abigail aside in the hall and, out of Cook’s hearing, quietly begged Abigail to go to the market instead, because Elsie had hurt her ankle when she slipped.

You will hear, Gentlemen of the Jury, that while young Abigail was away on her errand, the horrors at 47 Mayfair Place unfolded.

~*~

My dear child, your account of the hours leading up to the evening in question has been very helpful to the Court.

Yes, sir.

We come now to the most difficult part of your testimony, to the evening of March 3rd. After Elsie dropped the roasted duck, Cook sent Elsie to the market for a new carcass. But Elsie had turned her ankle when she slipped, so she asked you to go for her?

She could barely walk, she was in so much pain.

It was raining that evening, wasn’t it?

Yes, sir, and so very cold. A cold that gets in the bones. I remember wishing Elsie hadn’t dropped the platter, and wishing I was back at the house, finishing the preparations.

Tell us what you saw when you returned to the house, Abigail.

Must I, sir?

I’m afraid so, my child. Your testimony is essential. I must insist. What happened upon your return to 47 Mayfair Place?

The lights in the house were out, and the front door wide open.

Please go on.

I stood at the door, my heart beating fierce; I was ever so frightened. All was dark and silent inside. I called for Elsie and Lady Sophia. But no one answered.

I took a torch from the hall table and lit it. Such shadows the lamp cast on the wall! When I left for the market, the house had smelled of fresh bread and cooked bird. But now it stank of something foul. I went toward to the kitchen, hoping Cook and Mr. Durwood could explain. I stepped down the hallway, sir, and that’s when I heard….

Heard what, child? You must tell us.

The laugh, sir. That awful deep, rough cackle. From the study.

What did you do next?

I was terrified, sir. This awful laugh haunted me. I had to get away. I ran to the kitchen, and when I opened the door, I — oh, sir!

Please, child, what did you find?

Cook and Mr. Durwood and Elsie and the others. Strewn on the floor like wet dolls….

Wet dolls, child?

From the blood — their blood. Stabbed, all stabbed, most viciously. I nearly slipped, like Elsie. The kitchen stank like a slaughterhouse. Fear and blood and pain. Oh, sir….

What happened next?

I heard him laugh again. It echoed through the house. He said, “You will join us in the study, Abigail.”

Why did you not run, child?

I froze, sir. I was overcome. I could not think.

Did you, perhaps, hope Sir Edward and Lady Sophia might still be alive?

Oh, yes, sir. Very much!

Please tell us what happened next.

I crept to the study door.

What did you see, child?

Lady Sophia was tied by her hands to a chair. She had a gag in her mouth. She was awake. She stared at me, her eyes wide with terror. She grunted and shook her head, warning me to get away.

Was anyone else in the room?

Sir Edward was there….

Where was he?

At his desk…. Dead, sir! Oh, sir, the blood…. The blood ran from his neck down the sides of the desk….

You must pull yourself together, child. We’re almost there. We must continue. Tell us about the man with the terrible laugh.

He stood behind Lady Sophia, a knife in his hand.

Had you ever seen this man before?

Never laid eyes on him, sir, but I —

Let me ask the questions, child. Please describe this man.

Ever so tall. Dressed like a gentleman, dark suit and top hat. A young man in appearance, black hair, younger than Sir Edward. Handsome, if one didn’t know what he was….

What did he do next?

He laughed again, so low and rough and awful. He could not hide the evil inside. He said, “The Lord and Lady thought their spells could trap me. They were wrong. Step forward, Abigail. I require your services.”

What happened next?

Lady Sophia shook her head at me, desperate for me to stay back. But he waved the knife in front of her eyes. “Come, Abigail,” he said.

I had no choice. I went to him. He smelled of rot. Like he was already dead.

He said, “Stand here, behind the lady of the house.” He grasped my hand with his — like ice it was, sir — and put the knife in my hand, the handle sticky with blood.

“The final severing must be by you,” he said. “With this act, you will be mine.”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“Surely by now you understand?” he said. “They hoped to protect you. You must choose your fate, Abigail. You must break the ties that bind you to this realm.”

“I do not understand!” I said.

He pressed the knife against Lady Sophia’s throat. “Kill her yourself, and no more innocents will suffer. Continue to resist your fate, Abigail Carr, and death will follow wherever you may go.”

I was horrified, sir. I couldn’t move. I said, “Please. I can’t. I won’t.”

He said, “Is that your choice?”

“I could never harm Lady Sophia,” I said.

He laughed again and said, “Soon enough, you will understand what you must do.”

Then, with my hand still trapped on the knife, he pressed down into Lady Sophia’s throat. Oh, sir, the blood! So much blood….

My dear, I cannot tell you how sorry I am you were forced to undergo such a terrible ordeal. But I must ask you: What did you do next?

I ran, sir, I ran! I know not where, but I ran. I had to get away from him, from that low awful laugh that had followed me from Northumberland….

Abigail, we need to keep to the events at Mayfair Place —

He followed me from up north, he did, and punished those who took me in!

Abigail, we agreed you wouldn’t mention —

I overheard him with Father! He said he would kill all who stood between me and him! He said I had been given to him! That I would be his — forever!

Abigail, you must calm down! Sit down! Bailiff!

He’ll never stop! Stay back — don’t touch me! Let me go! A demon, sir, is what he is! Here to take what’s his! He won’t stop till he has me in his clutches!

~*~

Gentlemen of the Jury:

I would like to commend My Friend of the Defense for the fantastical tale he has weaved. He is, I’m sure you will agree, a gifted man, who has presented a story of considerable force and emotion. Were he to grace the stages of the West End, or apply his imagination to the published word, I have every confidence he would give Dickens himself a run for his money.

But our responsibility to the Court is clear, Gentlemen. We are here not to indulge allegations of witchcraft, or entertain the existence of an acquisitive demon. We are here to examine incontrovertible facts, and to assess the Defendant’s guilt or innocence in a trial for mass murder.

You will note the Defense did not introduce to this Court a single person who knew Abigail Carr when she lived in Northumberland. I will tell you now, Gentlemen of the Jury, the Prosecution endeavored mightily to find witnesses who knew the Defendant in Northumberland, and the Prosecution failed.

Why did we fail, you ask? For a simple, terrible reason: Every single person who knew Abigail Carr before she arrived in London is dead. Yes, Gentlemen — dead. Her mother and father — dead from consumption, or so we’ve been told. The minister of their church, who lived closest to their farm, who buried her mother and father — dead from an apparent heart attack. The minister’s wife — dead after a fall down a ravine. The landowner who rented out the farmland to her father — dead after his horse trampled and dragged him. Abigail’s other neighbors, who lived two miles away — dead after their house caught fire in the middle of the night. All of them, Gentlemen, struck dead in the days immediately following the burial of Abigail’s parents, before the Defendant left for London.

You will recall the Defendant said her parents died from consumption. A sad turn of events, if true. But one must ask: Is it true? The answer, Gentlemen: We do not know. Not a single person alive today can corroborate the Defendant’s statements about the nature of her relationship with her parents. No independent evidence exists to corroborate the manner of her parents’ deaths. Her parents’ bodies, which we exhumed, were too far decomposed to determine cause of death.

Let us turn our attention to the Defendant herself. She is presented by the Defense as an innocent young girl, a victim. But what if, in fact, she is not? What if her testimony, so affectingly presented, does not reflect the true nature of the events of that evening?

Gentlemen of the Jury, I command you to review the facts of this case, for they are clear and unambiguous. I command you to not be distracted by fanciful tales of the supernatural. The facts in this case show the Defendant willfully murdered nine people, including three children. The motive was robbery.

The sequence of the crimes was as follows. The Defendant found a package addressed to Lady Sophia in the morning mail and opened it. She found a locket on a necklace inside and took it. She was seen by one of the children, the six-year-old boy named Jeremy. The child ran up the stairs to tell his mother. Before he could, the Defendant caught up with him. Whether she meant to or not, she grabbed at him, and he hit his head and fell down the stairs. The boy’s neck broke, and he died.

The Defendant was, at that point, seen by the second child from the top of the stairs. We know this because the child, the four-year-old boy named Elliott, urinated at a spot at the top of the stairs. The Defendant carried Jeremy’s body upstairs to Lady Sophia, who was in the sitting room. While Lady Sophia was prostrate over her dead son, the Defendant hit her over the head with a crystal goblet and rendered her unconscious. We know this because of the nature of the bruising on Lady Sophia’s head. When the remaining two children started crying, or perhaps when the Defendant realized the children might, if they cried, sound an alarm, the Defendant suffocated them and hid their bodies, along with Jeremy’s, in the closet. We know this because of the stains on the pillow she used to smother them.

At this point, the Defendant could have walked out the front door and vanished into the vastness of London. Instead, having murdered three children and attacked their mother, she chose to go further.

Again, the motive was robbery. The master of the house, Sir Edward, kept a wall safe in the study. The Defendant desired to open the safe and take whatever might be inside. Having already murdered three children, she had no compunction about killing the servants. One by one, in the kitchen, she surprised them. We know this because of the manner of their deaths. All were slashed at the neck and bled out. None showed the wounds one would see on their hands and arms had they known of the attack and attempted to defend themselves.

Once the servants were dispatched, the Defendant dragged the still-unconscious Lady Sophia down the stairs and tied her to a chair in the study. The Defendant then went outside, where she flagged a boy to run to the Ministry with an urgent summons for Sir Edward.

When Sir Edward arrived home a short while later, he found the Defendant in the study with a knife to Lady Sophia’s throat. After forcing him to open the safe, she killed him and Lady Sophia. She then set to work on her alibi. Using a book on ancient superstitions from the study as reference, she applied witchcraft symbols throughout the house.

She was discovered the next morning at Charing Cross Station, where she was observed sitting alone, without emotion, on a bench in the center of the station. When she saw the police, she stood and, after realizing she could not escape, began, at that point, to sob and cry hysterically. In her possession was a small bag with money and jewels from Sir Edward’s safe. Around her neck was the locket necklace she stole from Lady Sophia.

Evil existed in that house, Gentlemen — make no mistake. The house at 47 Mayfair Place was befouled by a demon. You are looking at her.

~*~

My Lord, we have reached a verdict.

We the Jury, in the matter of the Crown versus Miss Emily Carr, on nine counts of murder in the first degree, find the Defendant —

Wait —

No

Dear God —


Michael Ryder is often found in his local neighborhood cafe in San Francisco, typing madly into his trusty laptop. His short fiction has appeared in Fiction River, Penumbra, and now Devilfish Review. His debut thriller, Shock and Awe, was published in July. Go to MichaelRyderBooks.com to learn more.

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