Part I: Spelling Murder
“Don’t you worry, Freddie, they’ll not win!” Marie whispered, nodding her head toward the crowd.
“Who’ll not win? God’s eyes, Marie, they’re about to hang us!” Frederick’s panic-stricken face sunk even lower, fear taking control of his limbs as he sagged under the arms of the guards.
“Maybe so, but they won’t win! I’ve seen to that! I’ll be back. If it takes a hundred years, I’ll be back!”
“Yer daft, woman!” Indignation puffed Frederick up; seeing the ropes swinging in front of him made him sag back down.
People usually kept behind closed doors that winter to avoid the misery created by mud and incessant rain along with fear of a cholera outbreak that had already claimed 53,000 lives. However, on November 13, 1849, the crowd in front of the Horsemonger Lane Gaol, Bermondsey District, South London, swelled, jeering and hissing as the accused started up the gallows stairs in the pouring rain.
Frederick did not object as the hangman dropped a dirty cloth bag over his eyes, but Marie threw hers off with a toss of her head. After glaring at the hangman, she screamed out to the crowd, “Just wait! I’ll be back!”
For several months before the hanging, the Mannings had been having financial problems. In one of many attempts to reverse their fortunes, Frederick took a job at a pub, Old King John’s Head, near the Goding Brewery on Old Kingsland Road. When Frederick tried to set up an account at Goding Brewery to furnish ale to the pub, his ruined credibility forced the Brewery to require the surrender of local scrip and bearer securities as collateral.
An infuriated Marie tried in vain to get the securities returned. She became desperate when Frederick, accused of pilfering from the cash drawer, lost his post at the pub. About this time, Marie discovered a group of people exploring the world of black magic under Madame Blavatsky’s leadership.
This Secret Society turned out to be just what Marie was looking for. She defended Blavatsky, claiming that she, too, had occult powers. “Just think; I can use my magical powers to conjure up money!”
Although Frederick was skeptical, he did not argue with her. Instead, he brought up his own moneymaking idea. “Marie, do you ever see your old friend, Patrick O’Conner?” he asked, knowing that Marie had been carrying on with O’Conner behind his back for over a year.
“What?” Her voice sharp, eyes wary, she turned toward Frederick. “Whatever are you talking about?” Marie dropped Blavatsky’s black magic book, trying to discern just how much Frederick knew about her relationship with O’Conner.
“I heard he was loaded.” Frederick continued, ignoring Marie’s thinly disguised anxiety. “Maybe we could borrow some cash from him, since you two are old friends.”
“Well now, that might just be an idea.” Marie mused, thinking she could ply O’Conner with black magic and maybe even pull a double-cross on Frederick, getting more money and hiding some of it. “I will invite him over to dinner next week.”
The next day, Marie met with Madame Blavatsky. “What I really need, Helena, is a spell for money. I don’t care what kind of magic, I just need money and I need it quickly!” Marie was more agitated than usual, first rubbing her hands together, then on her skirt, then pulling them through her hair, all while pacing back and forth in Blavatsky’s foyer.
“Why is it so urgent that you get money?” Helena asked, watching Marie’s nervous pacing with a slightly bored expression. “Really, Marie, it can’t be as bad as all that can it?”
“Oh, aye, it can be.” Marie stopped pacing and pulled a sheaf of papers out of her bag, shaking them. “Frederick gambled away all our savings. Now we’ve got these payments due!”
“Well, I know a few spells to get you money, but the key to them working properly is to know someone who will give you money – with magical help, of course.”
“Oh,” Marie stopped pacing, “I know someone with a lot of money all right, but he hangs onto it like it’s going to disappear. I don’t think he will just hand it over. That’s why I need the spell; to make him give it up.”
“I know just what you need.” Helena disappeared, leaving Marie in the foyer staring after her. A bright flash followed by a loud thunderclap briefly lit up the sky and rain blew in through the still open front door.
Marie pushed the door shut against the wind. “Helena! Where did you go? The foyer is all wet!”
“Here I am.” Helena appeared behind Marie, startling her. “Oh! Careful, don’t spill it!” She was holding a gold chalice filled with a dark red liquid.
“Ohhhh, is that, uh…blood?” Marie asked, peering at the chalice.
“Oh, don’t be so dramatic!” Helena scolded her. “It’s red wine – just what we need for the spell. This will guarantee your friend will hand over his money when you ask.” Grinning, she placed the chalice on a spindly table near a side chair. “ Now, come over here and sit down.”
“Place your hands thus over the chalice.” Helena stacked her open hands over the wine, and then moved away so Marie could imitate her.
“Say these words:
“Money is powerful,
Money is mine.
Money for me,
None for thee.
Money will be all mine.
Money is everywhere.
Now make me take it from there.”
“Memorize them. Stack your hands over the wine while saying them. After your friend drinks the wine, ask him for money and he will give it to you.”
Patrick O’Conner came to dinner at the Manning home on Thursday, August 9. The invitation, coming the week before, was a surprise; he was nervous about being in the same room with both the Mannings. He wasn’t sure how much Frederick knew of his relationship with Marie, but he also was not one to turn down a free meal.
Moments before Patrick’s arrival, Frederick observed Marie mumbling something as she held her hands over a goblet of wine. “What are you up to now?”
“Nothing, just a bit of foolishness Helena told me about. Supposed to bring luck to whoever drinks the wine. Silly, I know.” Marie knew Frederick did not approve of her new fascination with magic.
“Well, I suppose conjuring up a bit of luck isn’t a bad thing.” Frederick sighed. “But enough of that nonsense now. I hear O’Conner coming through the gate.”
Marie nodded, placing the goblet near the guest place setting and adding a similar goblet to both hers and Frederick’s places.
“Hello, Marie.” O’Conner said somewhat nervously upon his entry into the kitchen. “Thank you for inviting me to join you both for dinner.” He looked at Frederick, who also seemed a bit nervous.
“Actually, Patrick, this is more of a business meeting than a social call.” Frederick licked his lips, picked up his goblet and took a nervous sip. “Um, Marie and I were wondering …”
“Let the man sit down and relax a minute before you start in with business.” Marie reprimanded her husband. “Do take a drink of your wine and let’s have our meal first.” She added, looking at O’Conner and smiling, gesturing toward the goblet of wine.
The three ate in companionable silence for a few minutes, and then Frederick tried again. Clearing his throat, he stated, “We would like to discuss a business proposition with you, Patrick.”
“What sort of business?” O’Conner was wary now, wondering just what Manning meant.
“A loan. We’ll pay it back, of course, but, you see, um, well, we know you lend money and were wondering if you would help us out.”
“I usually conduct business during business hours, not social encounters. I don’t have any money with me and even if I did, I wouldn’t loan it to you. Loaning money to friends never works out.” O’Conner dismissed the request and went back to his meal.
“What?” An enraged Marie got up abruptly, grabbed Patrick’s goblet, turned her back on the men, mumbled something, poured more wine in the goblet and nearly spilled it when she slammed it back down in front of Patrick. “Try the wine again!”
Patrick knocked over the goblet and stood up at Marie’s frightful behavior. “I’m leaving now.”
Marie grabbed a shovel from behind the door, and struck O’Conner over the head with it, knocking him unconscious. Frederick, horrified at what Marie had done, stood up. Marie shouted, “He was supposed to give us the money! The spell didn’t work!”
“What’re we going to do now?” Frederick asked, “When he wakes he is likely to murder us!”
“Not if we kill him first!
Eight days later, both Mannings were in the Horsemonger Lane Gaol, accused of murder. They were hanged on November 13, 1849.
On November 13, 1949, a woman dreamed of rain, mud, and crowds of jeering people just before giving birth to a little girl in rural Montana.
Part II: Twila Turns 18
Twila opened her eyes slowly, bringing the room into a fuzzy kind of focus. She felt more than saw the sheer curtains stir in the early morning light, the window partially open to the brisk November air. She lay on the bed, her legs tangled in the sheets and sighed before turning her head to squint at the alarm clock.
“7:15. I guess that’s better than waking at 4:00 and lying here waiting for the sun to come up.” She thought, vaguely remembering the dream that was even now scattering into smoky tendrils and wisping out of her head. Something about, what was it? “Scaffolding, lots of people. A party, or maybe just a crowd. Can’t remember. Oh well. Just another weird birthday dream.” Twila untangled her legs, scooted them over the edge of the bed and sat up. She had an odd familiar feeling; something right at the edge of her consciousness trying to poke into her now awake mind.
Today was November 13, 1967, Twila’s 18th birthday. For as long as she could remember, Twila woke on her birthday feeling out of sorts. Sometimes she woke from dreams like the one that drifted out of her reach this morning, and sometimes she woke in a cold sweat, sure someone was about to hurt her in some way. The feeling did not last, but every year she remembered too late that waking on her birthday was never fun. At least today the sun, weak as it was in November, was shining.
Twila grinned to herself, banishing the dream fragments permanently, and stretched before she hopped off the bed and headed for the bathroom down the hall. Her sister, Imogene, had not gotten up yet. Imogene was 17 and Twila just three when their mother disappeared from their ‘wrong side of the tracks’ shanty home in the small Western Montana town near the Golden Sunlight Mine. The girls had different fathers, which accounted for the fact that they did not look much alike. Imogene’s father died when she was ten. Her mother told her he was coming home from a bar and hit a deer going 90 miles an hour. He was drunk. Neither he nor the deer survived.
Imogene told Twila that her dad was a transient miner, attracted by the gold mine, but put off by the harsh Montana winter. He left about a month before Twila was born. The two girls had been on their own for fifteen years; eventually moving into a nicer apartment just on the ‘better’ side of the tracks.
Raising Twila was not hard. She was a sunny, happy child, even during the months after her mother disappeared. She talked about her sometimes, but Imogene had pretty much raised her even before their mom left. Twila naturally gravitated toward Imogene who doted on her little sister. The only problems the girls seemed to have revolved around Twila’s birthday every year.
Sometimes during the days leading up to her birthday Twila became moody or preoccupied. On the day of her birthday she often woke screaming and crying from bad nightmares. Sometimes the nightmares came in the middle of the night, leaving Twila exhausted in the morning. There were a few years when they were not so bad, especially when Twila was younger. They did seem to be getting worse as Twila got older, but she was learning to cope with them better and did not seem to be as affected by them.
This year Twila was determined to have a great birthday, despite the dreams. She quickly shrugged off the mood threatening to spoil her day and happily went to wake her sister.
“Hey! Imogene!” Twila shouted as she hurried down the hallway. “Time to get up! Today is my birthday and the sun is actually shining! It’s going to be a good day!”