Phoebe’s Elixir
patent medicine bottle labeled phoebes elixir

HOW THE NILSON CEMETERY COMMITTEE settled on the name “Green Hill” is a mystery, as neither the adjective nor the noun were well-suited to the landscape–a perfectly level swath of prairie stubbornly averse to nurturing the growth of any sort of vegetation not consisting primarily of thorns.

     Meyer Clark, who left his home in Nilson and joined the Confederate Army to impress a girl, became Green Hill’s first permanent resident.

     After the war, Nilson grew quickly, and Green Hill, originally a good mile outside of town, wormed its way closer and closer to the heart of things. By the time Texas was readmitted to the Union in 1870, the shortest route from where you were in Nilson to where you wanted to be was, as often as not, the gravestone-flanked gravel footpath through Green Hill.

     In July of 1873, when Tilly and Leroy Dobber were shot dead at their homestead out on Chicken Neck Creek, Silas Creech was both gravedigger and groundskeeper at Green Hill. With his sturdy back and strong arms, Silas dug the single grave they would occupy together, and with his calloused hand, he wrote their names into the groundskeeper’s registry.

***

     “Let us pray,” Widow Murray said, “that twenty-eight years of incarceration will afford young Mathew Mulkey the opportunity to repent of his crimes and open his heart to our savior, for only He can wash the Dobbers’ blood from Mathew’s hands. Let us pray for Mathew’s mother, who lies broken in body and in spirit. And finally, let us pray for the safe travels and safe return of Mr. Fowler, who will be taking Mathew to the penitentiary in Huntsville to serve out his sentence. Amen”

     The six elegantly dressed ladies sitting shoulder-to-shoulder around Widow Murray’s dining table echoed, softly, “Amen.”

     “Molly,” Miss McCormick said, “where did you hear that Mr. Fowler would be taking Mathew to Huntsville?”

     “From Mr. Fowler,” Widow Murray replied. Her guests exchanged meaningful glances and knowing smiles. It was no surprise that Molly Murray would be the first to hear any news issuing from the lips of Eugene Fowler.

     “But Molly,” Miss Zuckerman said, “why Mr. Fowler? Why not Deputy Hayes?”

     “All I know is what Mr. Fowler told me,” Widow Murray said. “He said Marshal Litch rode down to New Orleans, and before he left, he asked Deputy Hayes to keep an eye on things here, and Mr. Fowler to take Mathew to Huntsville. As you know, Marshal Litch occasionally calls upon Mr. Fowler to—”

     “What is Marshal Litch doing in New Orleans?” Mrs. Bailey said.

     “No doubt gambling and associating with lewd women.” Widow Murray said.

     “Perhaps we should pray for the immortal soul of Marshal Litch,” Mrs. Hardwicke said.

     “I suppose it would be the Christian thing to do,” Widow Murray said. “Consider it so prayed. Amen. Shall we begin–”

     “Has Mr. Fowler left already?” Miss Zuckerman said.

     “I don’t know, Miss Zuckerman. I believe so.”

     “How long will he be gone?” Miss McCormick said.

     “Please, ladies,” Widow Murray said, “can we move on to the discussion planned for tonight? I trust everyone has read Dr. Tyler’s paper. Mrs. Bailey, would you like to begin?”

     “Thank you, I would,” Mrs. Bailey said. “If Dr. Tyler wishes to give birth without benefit of anesthesia then he is free to do so. But I don’t see why it matters whether it is a tooth or an infant that is being extracted–we should all be free to take advantage of advancements in the medical sciences to relieve our suffering, regardless of our sex or medical condition.”

     “I believe Dr. Tyler would hold that a woman’s suffering in childbirth is God’s will,” Widow Murray said. “As he points out, God makes his intentions perfectly clear, when he tells Eve In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children.

     Mrs. Hardwicke raised her hand, and was recognized. “But if a man should fall and break his leg,” she said, “is that not also God’s will? And if his physician gives him morphine to ease his pain while setting the bone, isn’t that God’s will, as well?”

     “An excellent argument in opposition to Dr. Tyler’s thesis,” Widow Murray said. “Now, who would like to say a word in his defense?”

     When the dependably conservative and always formidable Miss Zuckerman and Miss McCormick both raised their hands, the company felt certain that the debate that night would be one that not only elevated the spirit, but got the blood up as well.

     “Go ahead, Miss Zuckerman,” Widow Murray said.

     “Who will be watching over Mr. Fowler’s apothecary while he is gone?” Miss Zuckerman said.

     “Miss Zuckerman,” Widow Murray said, “I insist we stick to the topic we agreed on for tonight. Miss McCormick, what were you going to say?”

     Miss McCormick did not reply, she only shook her head, and with that, both Miss McCormick and Miss Zuckerman retreated into a stubborn silence, and the discussion that followed was the most disappointingly congenial in the history of The Nilson Ladies Methodist Class.

     A violent thunderstorm blowing in from the northwest waited patiently over the open prairie until Widow Murray’s guests were all safely home, then worked Nilson over thoroughly. At dawn, the sky was clear, and the night’s rain had wet the whistle of every creature of the prairie, wild and domesticated. Peggy Graham’s rooster crowed, Eddie Ettle’s cows lowed, and an endless variety of living things belonging only to themselves croaked, chirped, sang, or buzzed ecstatically, each according to its kind. To this extempore performance, Miss McCormick and Miss Zuckerman contributed the quick and regular crunch of their mud-splattered black shoes on the gravel path through Green Hill. Exiting the cemetery, it was a short walk to Fowler’s Apothecary, where disappointment was waiting to greet them. Next to the neatly painted sign hung inside the door that read “CLOSED” was another, a scrap of board upon which was written, in the thick black scrawl of a carpenter’s pencil, back in two weeks. Some other writing underneath was scratched out.

     “Can you read what was scratched out?” Miss McCormick said, huffing a little.

     Miss Zuckerman, whose eyes were somewhat better than Miss McCormick’s, said “It looks like I hope you.

     “I hope you what?”

     “Just I hope you.”

     “How long will what we have last us?”

     “Never two weeks.”

     “We could call on Dr. Sutton.”

     “He would only say it’s for the best. He is no friend of patent medicine.”

     “Or any cure that does not profit him, personally.”

     “I kept saying to myself, ‘it’s time we visit Mr. Fowler’s Apothecary.’ I should have–”

     “Don’t blame yourself, Emily,” Miss McCormick said. “This is entirely Mr. Fowler’s fault. As an apothecary, he has a duty. He should never have left us . . . left us to turn old and brain-sickly before our time.”

     On their way home, passing once again through Green Hill, it struck Miss Zuckerman that she hadn’t visited her mother in some time. If she could see her mother’s grave, and if she said a little prayer as she passed by, she could count that as a visit, couldn’t she? Looking around her, she was alarmed at how crowded the cemetery had become. She had buried her mother here in the company of a few unassuming slices of marble. Now, the simple black headstone that marked her mother’s grave was adrift somewhere in a roiling horde of looming crosses, weeping angels, and virgin mothers. Miss Zuckerman felt like a pawn wandering across the board of a fiercely contested chess game.

     “Oh, dear!” Miss Zuckerman said.

     “What is it, Emily?” Miss McCormick said, alarmed.

     “I’ve lost her!”

     “Lost who?”

     “Mother!”

     “Ask Silas. He’ll know where she is.”

     “I can’t ask Silas. What will I say? Oh, Mr. Creech, do you happen to know where I might find my dear mother? It seems she has wandered off.

     “You’re upset,” Miss McCormick said. “You’re worried about our medicine.”

     “Aren’t you?”

     “Yes, but why must you always bring up your mother when something is troubling you? She hounded you with disapproval while she lived–was that not misery enough for you? Must her memory now serve as salt for your every wound?”

     “I can’t help it,” Miss Zuckerman said.

     “Isn’t that her?” Miss McCormick said, pointing.

     Miss Zuckerman looked up, and searching for a glimpse of a black marble headstone, failed to notice a stony clod thrown into the path by recent excavations. She stepped on it, lost her footing, and fell.

     After wiping the mud from Miss Zuckerman’s face and hands, and helping her into clean, dry clothes, Miss McCormick fixed a simple breakfast, and they sat quietly at the kitchen table, with buttered biscuits and tea before them, a mostly empty bottle of Phoebe’s Elixir between them, and the long shadow of impending catastrophe falling over everything.

     “How oft tonight have my old feet stumbled at graves,” Miss Zuckerman said softly.

     “It happens to the best of us, Emily,” Miss McCormick said.

     “Did anyone see?”

     “No one saw.”

     “My mother saw,” Miss Zuckerman said.

     Their unhappy breakfast was interrupted by a knock on the door. When Miss McCormick opened the door, Grover Trulove greeted her with a broad smile, and held aloft a hammer strapped to the stump of his right arm. “I come at long last to fix your roof,” he said, both cheerfully and apologetically. Trulove’s ability to cling to a roof in every pose of the contortionist while swinging a hammer was legendary, as was his reputation for accuracy in estimations. It was said that he once gave the exact distance from the earth to the moon in feet, not through the use of astronomical calculations or published tables, but simply by eyeballing it on a clear night.

     “Mr. Trulove,” Miss McCormick said, picking up the bottle of Phoebe’s Elixir, “how many teaspoons would you say remain?”

     Trulove took the bottle in his left hand and held it in the doorway so the morning sun could illuminate the golden liquid within. He rotated it through several angles, then handed it back to Miss McCormick. “Not a drop more nor less than twenty five,” he said.

     As Trulove tromped around and pounded away on the roof, Miss McCormick and Miss Zuckerman calculated the following: one teaspoon each for twelve days (a quarter their customary dose), and one-half teaspoon on the thirteenth day.

     “We shall be miserable,” Miss Zuckerman said, “Is there nothing we can do?”

     “Not even God can alter the results of mathematical calculations,” Miss McCormick sighed.

     “And if Mr. Fowler hasn’t returned on the fourteenth day?”

     “Then hope must sustain us until he does.”

     It is a credit to the loving spirit of the elderly ladies, that in their time of trouble, the concern each felt for the other was the sharpest of their miseries. How often it was that trembling hand reached out to steady trembling hand, or troubled heart heaved itself up from the depths of despair in order to speak words of comfort to troubled heart. For the first three or four days, anyway.

     A Sunday rolled around, the second since Mr. Fowler closed his apothecary and left town, and neither concern for their reputation, worry over the condition of their immortal souls, nor fear of The Inevitable Consequence was enough to propel Miss McCormick and Miss Zuckerman to church. Their absence was noted, concerns were expressed, and The Inevitable Consequence (Mrs. Hardwicke), was sent ‘round to check on them. Mrs. Hardwicke found their condition alarming. Miss McCormick and Miss Zuckerman had been elderly ladies for as long as she could remember, but always (and perhaps especially recently) had a youthful spring in their step and gleam in their eye. Now, sitting at their kitchen table, it seemed to Mrs. Hardwicke that Death’s moldy fingerbones encircled their hearts. Their countenance was gray and their hair disheveled. It was a warm afternoon, but the stove was lit and the kitchen stiflingly hot, and yet Miss McCormick and Miss Zuckerman shuddered at intervals as though icy winds swirled around them. When they lifted their teacups, their hands trembled.

     “You ladies are unwell,” Mrs. Hardwicke said. “I’ll summon Dr. Sutton.”

     “No, please,” Miss McCormick said. “It is only . . . we are feeling a bit brain-sickly is all, and we know the cure. As soon as Mr. Fowler returns from Huntsville and opens his apothecary–”

     “Haven’t you heard?” Mrs. Hardwicke said.

     “Heard what?”

     Mrs. Hardwicke lowered her voice to emphasize the terrible nature of the news she was about to relate: “Persons who would know have said that Deputy Hayes believes it was Mr. Fowler who murdered Marshal Litch.”

     “Marshal Litch has been murdered?” Miss Zuckerman said.

     “Oh, dear. I hadn’t considered how you ladies have kept to yourselves of late . . . perhaps I shouldn’t . . . as you both are in such a delicate condition . . .”

     “Mrs. Hardwicke,” Miss McCormick said, “you cannot leave us in suspense.”

     “Please, Mrs. Hardwicke,” Miss Zuckerman said.

     “Well, I suppose you will find out sooner or later. It was a week ago Wednesday, I believe, when Marshal Litch’s body was found–shot in the head and hacked to pieces!–in the woods near Widow Murray’s place.”

     “And tell us again–what has all this got to do with Mr. Fowler?”

     “Apparently Marshal Litch never rode down to New Orleans at all, nor did he ask Mr. Fowler to take Mathew Mulkey to Huntsville. It was all a ruse by Mr. Fowler–a clever ploy allowing him to leave town in the company of a fellow cold-blooded killer without raising suspicions. And poor Widow Murray–he played upon her affections–used her to spread his murderous lies! She is completely heartbroken. She took ill and hasn’t left her bed since hearing the news. She insists that Mr. Fowler is innocent–that he will return and vindicate himself.” Mrs. Hardwicke shook her head sadly. “But no one else expects to ever see Mr. Fowler again. Mr. Bailey has already rented out—”

     “We would like you to leave now,” Miss Zuckerman said.

     “Of course,” Mrs. Hardwicke said. “This is all very upsetting. You two should have a nap.”

     Mrs. Hardwicke grasped Miss Zuckerman’s wrist with one hand, and Miss McCormick’s wrist with the other, closed her eyes, and lowered her head. “Father in heaven,” she said, “I pray you assist these, your poor, elderly, and faithful servants. I implore you: Cast the brain-sicklyness from their troubled brows, and–”

     “Oh for Christ’s sake!” Miss McCormick cried out, shaking loose of Mrs. Hardwicke’s grip, “Leave us alone!”

     Mrs. Hardwicke, her tender feelings wounded, bustled off. Miss McCormick and Miss Zuckerman, like inimical cats whose paths have crossed, stared at each other without speaking or moving for some time. It was Miss Zuckerman who finally broke the silence. “That mole which grows upon your left eyelid,” she said, “has come to resemble a fat old housefly.”

     “That is an alarming observation indeed,” Miss McCormick replied coolly, “coming from a woman with a face so very like a toad’s.”

     “A toad, you say?” and with that, Miss Zuckerman leapt from her chair in impressive imitation of that very creature. Miss McCormick, divining Miss Zuckerman’s intentions, sprang after her. The bottle of Phoebe’s Elixir sat upon a shelf in the kitchen, and in an instant, the elderly ladies were boxing at each other with one hand while grabbing for the bottle with the other. In the ensuing struggle, the bottle tipped and fell off the shelf. Miss Zuckerman made a grab for it, but only managed to deflect it in the direction of the stove, where it was dashed to pieces, and the few precious drops of Phoebe’s Elixir still remaining hissed and spat on the hot iron as they became one with the atmosphere.

     The elderly ladies went to bed that night without exchanging the tender words and kisses that had, for the last forty years, always accompanied their unwilling separation into private worlds of dreams. In the morning, Miss McCormick awoke to see Miss Zuckerman standing over her wearing a lace bonnet, a sky-blue dress, and her good gloves, those gloves wrapped tightly around the handle of a pickaxe. Where Miss Zuckerman had gotten a pickaxe, Miss McCormick could not imagine. What she was planning to do with it, Miss McCormick could.

     “Go ahead, Emily,” Miss McCormick said, shutting her eyes tightly, “it will be a relief to both of us.”

     “I’m going to Fowler’s Apothecary to retrieve our medication,” Miss Zuckerman said, “are you coming with me or not?”

     The sign hanging inside the door of Fowler’s Apothecary announced to the world that the business was OPEN. Miss McCormick and Miss Zuckerman pushed their way inside, the pickaxe proving unnecessary. The bell above the door gave its customary tinkle. A beam of morning sun streaming through an open window fell precisely upon three bottles of Phoebe’s Elixir situated on a shelf behind the counter. But what was not behind the counter was Mr. Fowler, or anyone else, for that matter–which is not to say that the elderly ladies were alone. A double-sided slant top desk occupied most of the floor of the apothecary, and on either side of the desk sat a well-dressed and bespectacled gentleman in a tall silk hat, each of whom appeared to be studying, all at the same time, multiple thick volumes opened before them.

     “Good morning, ladies,” one of the gentlemen said, looking up. “What can we do for you?”

     “Is Mr. Fowler here?” Miss McCormick said.

     “He is not,” the gentleman replied.

     “Who are you?” Miss Zuckerman said.

     “Mr. Talmage of Talmage and Keene, Attorneys at Law,” the gentleman said, standing up.

     “Mr. Keene of Keene and Talmage, General Accountants,” the other said, also standing up.

     “We don’t need lawyers, or bookkeepers either,” Miss Zuckerman said. “We are brain-sickly, and what we need is a bottle of Phoebe’s Elixir. One of those, right there.”

     Miss Zuckerman and Miss McCormick both pointed at the bottles on the shelf behind the counter. Neither Talmage nor Keene glanced in the indicated direction.

     “I’m afraid all of Mr. Fowler’s personal property is in nubibus until such time as he should return to claim it, or the courts should otherwise dispose of it.” Talmage said.

     “We want to purchase a bottle of Phoebe’s Elixir,” Miss McCormick said. “We have brought three dollars, which we were going to leave here for Mr. Fowler. We will leave it with you instead.” She held out her hand with the money. Neither Talmage nor Keene stepped forward to take it.

     “As I said,” Talmage said, “Mr. Fowler’s personal property is in nubibus, and we are not at liberty–”

     “The medicine we need is not in New Beebus, or anywhere else but right there,” Miss McCormick said, pointing. “If you would only turn your head, you would see it. Phoebe’s Elixir. There are three bottles, right there on the shelf.”

     “I’m sorry, Ma’ams,” Talmage said. “The bottles and the contents therein are the rightful property of Mr. Fowler, and it is not within our power–”

     “Mr. Talmage . . . Mr. Keene,” Miss Zuckerman said, “please–we are quite brain-sickly and miserable. Mr. Fowler, were he here, would never suffer us to . . . suffer.”

     “Mr. Talmage,” Keene said, “is there no way we can provide these elderly ladies their nostrum? If the price is three dollars, then may we not simply exchange the bottle for the money, and hold the money for Mr. Fowler in nubibus in place of the bottle?”

     “Pecuniam pro utrem,” Talmage said thoughtfully. “Well I suppose . . . no, I’m afraid not. It’s the pecuniam that is the problem–as it so often is.” Talmage searched through the books and papers on his side of the slant top desk. “I was just reading . . . here it is, the Texas Medical Compounds Act of 1873—passed only last July—explicitly prohibits—and I quote—the selling of medical compounds or patent medicines, whether pills, powders, mixtures or any other form whatsoever, except by duly licensed apothecaries and druggists.”

     The pickaxe Miss Zuckerman was carrying fell to the floor with a clunk, followed shortly by Miss Zuckerman. Miss McCormick knelt down beside her. “Oh, Emily!” she sobbed, tenderly stroking Miss Zuckerman’s forehead. She looked up at Talmage and Keene. “Will you let her die here? When the reviving medication is within arms’ reach? Could you be so heartless?”

     “Mr. Talmage,” Keene said, “is there nothing we can do?”

     “We live in gremio legis, Mr. Keene. To break the law–though the legal consequence be the piddlingest of fines–would be to soil our own nest, and irreparably tarnish our sterling reputation. In a word, we would be through.”

     “What of our officium ad liberandum?” Keene said. “Surely our officium ad liberandum supersedes any mere regulatory proscription against unlicensed persons selling nostrums.”

     “You know full well there is no officium ad liberandum in this jurisdiction unless the injured party has been invited onto the premises. The unfortunate gentlewoman expiring upon the floor of our office was not invited onto the premises, therefore, we have no legal duty to rescue her, therefore, we must abide by the regulatory requirement, or face the just and inescapable wrath of the law.”

     “Maeve,” Miss Zuckerman said weakly, “will you do something for me?”

     “Anything, Emily,” Miss McCormick said.

     “Recite the twenty third psalm with me.”

     “No Emily. Please. I’ll do anything–anything but that.”

     “It’s time, Maeve. I beg you, say it with me: The Lord is my shepherd–

     “I won’t! I won’t say it!”

     “Mr. Talmage,” Keene said pleadingly, “couldn’t we argue that the OPEN sign on the door was the invitation?”

     “Humm,” Talmage said, rubbing his forehead. “Possibly, Mr. Keene. But there is another problem: If we relinquish the bottle of Phoebe’s Elixir to these elderly ladies, and some harm thereby comes to them, would we not be liable for damages?”

     “I respectfully refer counsel to Eckert v. Long Island Railroad Company.

     “Eckert v. Long Island Railroad . . . yes . . . of course! The law has so high a regard for human life that it will not impute negligence to an effort to preserve it. That is a fine precedent, if ever I heard one, Mr. Keene. Perhaps we can conduct an exchange pecuniam pro utrem after all. But it is a very complex legal strategy that you are proposing, and I’d like to consult Blackstone before embarking on such an unexplored and peril-fraught course of action. Unfortunately, it seems Blackstone has been mislaid. I’ve spent this entire morning searching for Blackstone. I’m beginning to wonder if it was lost in transit. I’m sorry ladies, until I can get my hands on Blackstone . . . perhaps come back in a week or two.”

     A rattling wheeze emanated from the lips of Miss Zuckerman.

     “Oh, she is nearly gone!” Miss McCormick sobbed. She grabbed the pickaxe, stood up unsteadily, and raised it over her head. “I’m afraid I must insist that you give us a bottle of Phoebe’s Elixir,” she said.

     “What about an IOU?” Keene said, unperturbed.

     “Don’t be silly,” Talmage replied. “We have never accepted an IOU. Not on our own behalf, and certainly not on behalf of a client. I don’t need to tell you that the courts have always held that an IOU is not the equivalent of either a promissory note or cash.”

     “But that is exactly why it is so well-suited to this particular transaction,” Keene said. “If we were to exchange a bottle of Phoebe’s Elixir for an IOU from these gentlewomen, it would not be a cash sale in the eyes of the law.”

     “The Texas Medical Compounds Act of 1873 would not apply,” Mr. Talmage said thoughtfully, “at least, not until actual money changed hands.”

     “And when it did, it wouldn’t be our hands.”

     “And until then, the debio tibi would stand in loco utrem. Very good, Mr. Keene. I have no objection.”

     “Let me see if I can find pen and ink around here somewhere,” Mr. Keene said.

     “What’s happening, Maeve?” Miss Zuckerman said, sitting up.

     “We are saved, Emily,” Miss McCormick replied, “we are saved.”

     Miss McCormick and Miss Zuckerman left the offices of Talmage and Keene, and Keene and Talmage, with three bottles of Phoebe’s Elixir, two of Newbery’s Brain Salt, and a paper sack full of lemon drops. As their arms were full, they left the pickaxe behind, promising to return to retrieve it later that afternoon. Talmage, chuckling, said he would be pleased to keep it safe for them “in New Beebus” until their return.

     “What delightful ladies,” Keene said, after they were gone.

     “Positively enchanting,” Talmage said. “I’m so glad we were able to help them. Do you know what I think?”

     “Often . . . but not at the moment.”

     “Is not a firm’s reputation for benevolence as prized a jewel as a maiden’s for chastity, Mr. Keene? Under the circumstances, surely the firm of Keene and Talmage, General Accountants, should advise the firm of Talmage and Keene, Attorneys at Law, that by rescuing an elderly lady–a bona fide pillar of the community–from the very jaws of death through quick thinking and the successful execution of a brilliant legal strategy, the firm of Keene and Talmage is obliged to record an improvement upon the firm of Talmage and Keen’s Goodwill, and that such an entry is a credit upon operating expenses, and as such will result in an increase in annual profits.”

     “It would only be an increase on paper, Mr. Talmage.”

     “It is all paper, Mr. Keene.”

     “You are exactly right, Mr. Talmage. Keene and Talmage shall make the ledger entry instanter.

     “I believe I’m going to like this town,” Talmage said. “It is just shy of being a heaven on earth.”

     “Just shy? Where is the deficit?”

     “Blackstone,” Talmage sighed.

     “Then consider the town perfected, Mr. Talmage. Look, there, next to Paschal’s Digest.”

     “Blackstone!” Talmage exclaimed. “Glory be! If it had been a snake, it would have bit me!”

     Later, long after night had dropped her sequined veil over the face of the heavens, a brilliant moon rose up, and gruesome shadows cast by the stone forms and figures of Green Hill seemed to come to life, grappling with one another in an inane attempt to settle their fusty grievances. Into the hideous heart of this ghastly kerfuffle two elderly ladies crept, stifling girlish giggles as they tip-toed past Groundskeeper Creech’s cabin.

     Wandering through the cemetery in the moonlight, Miss McCormick and Miss Zuckerman would often place a warm, wistful hand upon the cold stone shoulder of a former friend or adversary. They stopped for a moment at the fresh mound of earth covering the late city marshal.

     “Do you think Widow Murray . . . ?” Miss Zuckerman said.

     “The thought crossed my mind as well,” Miss McCormick said. “She’s perfectly capable, and she never did like him.”

     “There,” Miss Zuckerman said, pointing to a nearby weeping angel, “isn’t that—”

     “Evaline Malone, poor thing,” Miss McCormick said, “only ten years old. Kicked in the head by a horse—if we are to believe Hiram Malone.”

     “We aren’t,” Miss Zuckerman said.

     “Agreed,” Miss McCormick said.

     “And from Evaline Malone,” Miss Zuckerman said, “if I remember correctly . . .”

     They hurried on, Miss McCormick following behind Miss Zuckerman, who now flew through the cemetery like a hound on a scent. It wasn’t long before they found the simple black marble headstone they were looking for, and when they did, they threw a blanket over the plot it demarcated, and that is as good a place as any (and better than some) to end this story.



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