Notes From My Knapsack 5-21-15
A Body in the Well (conclusion)
Back at the tavern, Job Case sat with William and Sarah Gavit on one long bench alongside the large hearth in the public room. Opposite them, closer to the fire himself, was Hezekiah Mirk. Case and Mirk were closest to the warmth, boots to one side, woolen socks steaming.
"So, Chief Justice Gavit, what do you propose that we do?" Case had just finished describing the scene at the well southwest of town, and the conversation he had just had including Mirk with Caleb Munro's widow, Tirzah. "That was near enough to a confession of murder."
"Was it?" asked Mirk gently. "She repeated what her . . . second husband had told her. She might have misunderstood, she could have misheard, we don't know."
Gavit smiled grimly. "You have the makings of a lawyer, Mr. Mirk. That's correct, her statement, even sworn in court, is not a confession. And you told her, Mr. Case said, that her account matches the wounds you saw on Munro's body?"
"That's correct. His face is not marked, and his skull is . . . depressed from the top. If we could call back this Judson fellow, and he's battered about the face and front, I'd be tempted to credit her, or rather his story told us through her. A man choked with rage, blindly lashing out again and again, charging forward and plunging into that open well headfirst…" Mirk looked at his hands in the firelight, and the other three knew he saw them in a different light than they did. Stories of Lundy's Lane had been told, not by him, but of slaughter and blood unimaginable.
Gavit looked at his wife, then back at Case. "We are left with your question, then; what shall we do? We could try to get Tirzah to call back Judson from Lancaster, inspect his wounds, take his statement."
"If he'd return," shrugged Case.
"That's right," Gavit went on. "Or we could send to Newark for a warrant, recruit a bailiff, and go bring him back before he flees farther. What do you think, Mr. Mirk?"
Hezekiah looked up and directly into William's eyes across from him. "Or we could do nothing."
"Nothing, Mr. Mirk?"
"We see to Caleb Munro's proper burial, we report his death. The circumstances of his return are well known in the district. Who is there to file a charge? If anyone believes justice requires one, they can travel the few miles to the courthouse and do so. We honor the man's service in the late war, we allow his friends to help see to his burial and marker, and speak honestly to what we know if asked."
"If it's up to his friends," nodded Case, "he will have a plank for a tombstone. But the village will honor him, and bury him rightly."
After a long silence, Sarah added "There are many problems in this world that are best served by letting them alone for a season."
William stood, and then did the rest. "We all have work to do, and perhaps I can send the parson down to let Tirzah know what's to be done for Caleb."
"Husband," Sarah said, "I think that right, but I should say that my guess would be that she will have been long gone by that time."
A year later, an envelope arrived from Natchez, Mississippi addressed to William Gavit. It came with money enclosed and a note saying only "To cover the costs of burial for Caleb Munro."
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's enjoyed sharing this fiction based on stray facts of life in Granville 200 years ago. Tell him a story at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.