The Mad Spells of Miss Wycherly

By Ed Sams -

 

Miss Eve Wycherly was my Sunday School teacher and my sister’s piano teacher as well. She was small and thin and had a white neck that smelled like scented soap. To look at her, no one would think she could fly.

But she did—whether by wings or broomstick, Nell and I never knew—but here’s our proof. There was the time that Miss Eve was caught up in a tree, and the time that the church bell rang off the hour, and the time there was the outline of a woman found imprinted in a field of wheat. “Like someone dropped from the sky,” my sister said.

Besides all the Wycherlys had their mad spells, everybody in town knew that. Miss Eve’s grandmother pretended she was Queen Victoria and once a Wycherly woman was said to be a witch. Even Miss Eve, as quiet as she was, suffered from mad spells, at least so her mother claimed.

“Somnambulism,” old Mrs. Wycherly would tell our mother darkly, then sigh, “at night I have to lock her up for her own security.”

“Sleep-walking isn’t healthy,” our mother agreed, then poured her neighbor another cup of morning tea and said, “As it is, Eve Wycherly has trouble walking wide awake. Why, she’s so thin a gust of wind would blow her away. She needs a man to look after her.”


Upon hearing that, old Mrs. Wycherly would always smile over her tea cup. “Some older man, I should think, one who would not tolerate a young girl’s fancies.”

“A decent, sober man,” our mother insisted, “who lives here in town so you could still have a useful daughter by your side.”

I knew they both meant Reverend Angus Crocker, our minister, recently bereaved after a long marriage. Though gray-haired and stooped, Reverend Crocker took to stopping by the Juniors classroom during Sunday School to watch Miss Eve read the lesson.

“And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more . . . .”

“But how was Philip caught away, Miss Eve?” I asked.

Reverend Crocker spoke up. “It is said in the Book of Acts that Philip was found at Azotus, a great distance away,” he said, not really answering my question.

“I like to think, Tommy,” Miss Eve told me, “that Philip was lifted up in the air and carried across the sky.”

“I do not think you will find that detail in Acts, Sister,” Reverend Crocker reminded her.

Miss Eve smiled. “Maybe not, but that’s how I imagine it, like flying in dreams.”

Soon word spread about Miss Eve flying in her dreams. When Mrs. Wycherly heard, Miss Eve stayed indoors all week except for piano lessons and trips to the P. O. Nell and I watched her atop the widow’s walk of the Wycherly house. She would lean out over the railing and stare at the sky. Standing up there, she was at the highest point in the whole town, except maybe for the large catalpa tree that grew next to her house.

Our town is set in a low valley with large fields all around. The town’s center is the square where our house and the Wycherly’s face the church. Then there is the post office on one corner that faces the mercantile on the other. Past the square, railroad tracks cut the town in two. Trains no longer stop here; now they slow down only long enough to throw off bags of mail. While Miss Eve Wycherly watched the sky, and my sister Nell watched Miss Eve, I would look over the tracks and watch another world go by.

I often wondered about the other side of the tracks which we were not allowed to cross. Kids and dogs ran through a row of shanties where large red-faced women stood at the doors to shout out loud, long strings of names for kids to come to supper. I looked long and hard, but never once did I catch one of them looking back at me.

That is why when I grow up, I want to be like Robert Franzreb, who carries the mail. He crosses the tracks and goes along the river on his donkey named Jezebel. Then he crosses back down at the Cascades where the Justice of the Peace lives and comes along the fields behind the cemetery back into town. Usually on summer mornings I wait for him by the wheat field near his house and he gives me a ride back home. We tend to have serious talks then, man to man.

“Mr. Franzreb,” I once asked, “what kind of girl would you want to marry—a pretty one or a homely one?”

Robert Franzreb looked straight ahead for awhile like he did not hear, but actually he was thinking. After a moment, he said, “I figure that a man marries a pretty girl because her beauty gives him pleasure, but a homely girl he must marry out of love. There’s beauty in a plain face that comes on suddenly. It takes a man unawares and steals his heart away.”

“There’s a girl I love,” I admitted shyly, “but I can’t tell if she is pretty or not.”

“Better make up your mind,” Robert Franzreb said and dropped the subject.

I wanted to tell him more, about how small and skinny she was, but how her neck smelled like scented soap, when out of the blue came a cry for help.

“Tommy! Mr. Franzreb!” called a familiar voice.

Robert Franzreb kicked his heels into Jezebel’s sides and I hung on as the donkey maneuvered over to the large catalpa tree. It had branches that swept out off the Wycherly property onto the road. There eight feet off the ground on one of those stout, smooth branches, clung Miss Eve Wycherly in a wool suit.

Robert Franzreb’s wide blue eyes grew large in his round face as he tried to make conversation. “Kinda warm for wool, isn’t it, Miss Wycherly?”

Miss Eve was hanging onto the branch she straddled for dear life; still she made a point of giving a polite reply. “Yes, it is,” she admitted. “I was trying on a suit I keep in my hope chest when I noticed my cat stranded out on a limb.”

I looked down at the hedge and saw a black and white face look up at me. “Is this your cat, Miss Eve?” I asked.

Miss Eve looked down and nodded miserably. “Yes, Tommy. That’s Pinks. As soon as I climbed out to rescue her, I found her already gone and myself stranded in her place. So, if you gentlemen don’t mind--”

“No trouble at all,” Robert Franzreb said, promptly kicking Jezebel once more in the sides and maneuvering directly under the branch. “Now if you let go slow-like, that’s right, loosen your grip, don’t worry about your heels, they’ll drop naturally, that’s right, that’s right—“

I sat back silently watching as Miss Eve Wycherly dropped like a peach in Robert Franzreb’s roomy lap. Her shoes had dropped to the ground, her stockings were torn and her normally neat hair had come loose from its bun. Her face usually so pale was blushing and on it came such an expression of glory, like sun shining through morning rain, that the beauty in it caught me unawares just as Robert Franzreb said. He saw it too, for when he set her on the ground, his face had turned scarlet so that his blond lashes and brows could hardly be seen.

Miss Eve, conscious of her appearance, bent her head low and muttered, “Thank you, Mr. Franzreb, for your trouble.”

Robert Franzreb looked straight ahead regaining his composure. “No harm done,” he said stalwartly. I hopped off Jezebel, and he rode on with the mail. That was that.

Except for now on out, I kept pretty close eye on Miss Wycherly, and when I was not with her, I wondered what she was doing. Naturally that Saturday afternoon I volunteered to help her at church. We were in the Juniors class room getting ready for the scripture sword drill come Sunday morning. Miss Eve had out the stars and ribbons making medals and I was flipping through the Bible practicing to locate verses for the Sunday School competition.

“It’s very nice of you to help me, Tommy,” Miss Eve said, “but wouldn’t you rather be outside playing on such a nice day?” I only smiled and shook my head.

Just then came a grating sound from the front double doors of the church being opened. Miss Eve looked up. “If anyone comes looking for me, tell them I stepped out.”

I watched as Miss Eve got up quickly and headed out the side door that led to the wardrobe next to the choir loft. No sooner was she out the door than I heard a low voice call, “Miss Eve, are you there?” It was Reverend Angus Crocker.

He had called maybe twice without answer when he stuck his head through the door to the Juniors classroom. “Tommy, did Miss Eve come this way?” he asked. I stood there staring at him not knowing what to say.

“Young man, answer me,” he ordered, striding into the room, “did she leave by this door?” He pointed toward the wardrobe next to the choir loft, and all I could do was nod. Without even looking back, he rushed through the door calling, “Miss Eve, are you there, Miss Eve?”

I felt really low telling on Miss Eve that way. Now Reverend Crocker was sure to find her, if not in the wardrobe, then hiding in the choir loft. But to my surprise, I heard, “Where are you, Miss Eve? Are you up there?”

When I heard that, I knew there was only one place she could be—she had climbed up the steps to the belfry and now was treed for sure. I could hear the sounds of Reverend Crocker hastily climbing the belfry steps. Then all of a sudden, the church bell chimed; then came sounds of the rusty hinges as the belfry trapdoor swung open, and finally the horrified gasp of Angus Crocker, “Miss Eve! Where did you go?”

Where indeed? Nell and I speculated long and hard on the question until the following day after church when the outline of someone spread-eagle was discovered imprinted in a field of wheat just beyond the graveyard. We figured that once in the belfry Miss Eve must have heard Reverend Crocker coming up the steps, so she took flight and sailed out over the cemetery to make her getaway. A good strong breeze at her back would have carried her past the churchyard, but the wind must have shifted suddenly over the wheat field causing her to drop like a bag of shot. Everyone in town talked all week about nothing else, but no one came up with any explanations for what had happened, except our mother who said, “There’s mischief afoot. Mark my words: something’s going to happen.”

When you are old, something happening sounds like a threat, but when you are young those words ring like a promise. Nell and I kept even closer watch on Miss Eve, and our mother did as well. Sure enough it was she who caught her next, this time at night coming through the tall hedge that separates ours from the Wycherly property.

“Somnambulism,” old Mrs. Wycherly said. “Moonshine,” our mother answered.

Whether sleep-walking or not, Miss Eve was kept under an even closer watch than before. She was not even allowed to go to the P. O. anymore. If she left her yard at all, it was to go to church, either for service or piano lessons. Now the Wycherlys have a big grand piano locked up in an unused room, but old Mrs. Wycherly complains of headaches whenever there’s music in the house, so Miss Eve teaches at church. There my sister Nell took her lessons.

One afternoon Miss Eve had the windows open so they could smell the roses blooming underneath. Nell was learning to soft pedal a piece by Debussy Miss Eve called, “The Magic Carpet of Dreams.” Nell told me Miss Eve would always sigh when she said the title, as if that was the one thing she needed, a magic carpet of dreams. As Nell struggled valiantly shifting from the first pedal to the third, both heard a donkey braying down the road. Without a word, Miss Eve took over the piano and began playing a loud, sad song, not Debussy at all, just as Robert Franzreb pulled up just outside the open window.

He tipped his cap. “Sorry to disturb your music, Miss Eve, but that package you sent for came.”

“Why, thank you, Robert. Nell, would you get it for me?” Nell got up off the bench and went to the window while Miss Eve started up again the deep swelling music. “Do you like Tschaikovsky? This is his song, ‘None but the Lonely Heart.’”

Nell said that Robert Franzreb scratched his head and answered, “Well, you play it right pretty, but it’s a mite sad for my tastes. I like jolly numbers like ‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon.’”

No sooner said than Miss Eve began banging away at Robert Franzreb’s favorite. This time she began singing too, and Nell and Robert both chimed in on the chorus.

Honeymoon,

Keep a shining in June

Your silvery beams will bring Love’s dream

We’ll be cuddling soon

By the Silvery Moon!

At the end of the song, Nell gave Miss Eve her parcel which she opened to show the contents. “It’s lace I ordered for my hope chest,” she explained.

“It’s mighty pretty,” Robert Franzreb said politely.

“It’s meant to be a wedding veil. I plan to wear it when I marry.”

“When will that be, Miss Eve?” Nell asked.

Miss Eve shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know, but I’ve always wanted a June wedding.”

“Not many days left in June,” Robert Franzreb commented.

“That’s true,” said Miss Eve, “but then the moon won’t be full until tomorrow night.”

When Nell told me all about her music lesson, I brooded a day and night over what it all might mean. Then came the night of the full moon, and I had my dream. In my dream I was woken by all the shanty dogs across the tracks howling in the wind, as if frightened by something in the air. I got up out of bed and went to the window. There I saw on top of the widow’s walk Miss Eve Wycherly perched in white with her little cat Pinks beside her. She stood a moment with the full moon behind her when suddenly she glided off the roof and sailed to the eave outside my window. In my dream I climbed out my window and into her outstretched arms. Then she lifted me high over the catalpa tree as the dogs barked urgently and a cat cried at the moon. We rose gently in the air circling the river, turning at the Cascades where the Justice of the Peace lives and came back by the farms behind town. We came to the little house where Robert Franzreb lives next to the wheat field just beyond the cemetery. I noticed his light was on, though it was late at night. That’s when I woke up.

I thought the dogs were still howling at first, but then I recognized the voices of our mother and old Mrs. Wycherly raised in confusion.

“She’s gone! She’s gone!” Mrs. Wycherly kept yelling. “My little girl has been abducted!”

“She’s flown the coop,” our mother exclaimed much closer to the truth.

I got up and went to the window in time to see Reverend Crocker still in his night shirt joining them. The grayness of dawn had not yet disappeared, and no one in town seemed to be stirring except for the three sad figures on our front lawn. I quickly rousted Nell out of bed telling her all my dream as we hurriedly got dress.


We just got out the front door when we witnessed a sight no one that morning will ever forget. Miss Eve Wycherly, dressed in white and wearing a lace veil, rode up on Jezebel with Robert Franzreb at her side.

“We got married, Mama,” she called from the saddle. “We woke up the Justice of the Peace down at the Cascades. Oh, Mama, I’m so happy.” Miss Eve looked over at Robert Franzreb who looked back at her just as happy as she was. Seeing them together like that I did not mind so much Miss Eve’s not waiting for me to grow up and marry her myself.

Mrs. Wycherly, maybe not so charitable, nevertheless put her best face on the hearing the news and consoled herself knowing her new son-in-law would not take her daughter too far away. The only one completely left out in the cold was Reverend Crocker in his night shirt.

“Go home and put your drawers on, Preacher,” our mother told him, “you’re no use to anyone now.”

After Mother ran off Reverend Crocker and Mrs. Wycherly had the Franzrebs go to her house for breakfast, Nell and I were left alone in the early morning light to consider all that had happened.


“How do you know it was a dream?” Nell asked.

I wondered. Looking up I realized that somehow the only answers left might be found in that old catalpa tree. We both set to climbing hoping to see something on the widow’s walk or maybe under the eave outside my window. However, once up in the tree all we noticed was the tree itself. We climbed with our mouths open in wonder at all the balconies of branches and turrets of limbs with vines like twisted stairs. We climbed all the way to the very top without seeing much more than leaves and bark until the branches fanned out and down unable to hold our weight.


I saw something. “Look, look!” I cried.


There on the topmost branch clung a piece of tattered lace. I scrambled towards it just as a gust of wind blew through the branch taking the scrap of lace with it. My sister looked up in the air, but it was gone. All we saw was blue sky everywhere, everywhere blue sky.

 

Ed Sams is a Californian writer whose award-winning fiction has been published in regional and national publications. In spring 2021 his short story "Shuis Slo Slumus Sheen" appeared in Berkeley's Fiddler's Green, in 2018 his short story "Among the Fairies" was anthologized in Santa Cruz Weird, and in 2012 Main Street Rag published his novella Wicked Hill. Every year he recites “The Raven” at Poe Fest, San Jose State University’s celebration of Edgar Allan Poe at Halloween. More information can be found in Wikipedia under the entry "Ed Sams."

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