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Letter to Jasper Madigan

December 6, 1917

To Mr. Crowley Madigan.


I hope the courier delivers this letter through the snow, but if he is unable to manage it I will put on my boots and bring it to your front doors my self.


Mr. Madigan, you may not remember me but I certainly remember you. My name is Alethe Lawley. Your son took it upon himself to court my sister this past spring and your estate played host to my family several times over the following months.


My sister Hazel rejected your son’s proposal in October, to the greatest ire of our father, and when we received no further communication I considered that to be the end of it.


Mr. Madigan, I am no great writer of letters. It is my sister who possesses the gift of words and penmanship, but the task of this letter has fallen to me. Why, you may ask? Because my sister no longer speaks. Her hands shake so she cannot hold a pen. In fact, Mr. Madigan, she is on the very edge of death.


The illness came upon her quite suddenly following the date of her last letter. She was afflicted by dreadful tremors and queasiness, and the state of her health declined so rapidly she was bedridden by the end of the day. Her fever and shaking has persisted since, and has worsened, I fear. Father suspects an influenza, and I might as well, were it not for what she said to me before her illness overwhelmed her.


“Keep your eye upon him, Alethe, or he will follow you as well.”


What do you suppose she meant by that, Mr. Madigan? I have my own interpretations. There is a reason this letter will not pass my father’s eyes. I know you will not respond, not after the insult given my sister when her rejection of Mr. Castile’s proposal went ignored. I know you will not break your silence for me. I am counting on it.


Therefore this correspondence is between us alone.


She spoke often of the woods, my sister. She had a strange and childish love for trees, and nothing pleased her more than to walk among them. I have never much enjoyed forests, but I found her enthusiasm charming, even delightful at times (irritating at others, but such is the way of sisterhood).


These past months she has scarcely been able to look at trees, let along venture into the woods. Her listlessness has infected our household. Often I have found her up late at night, wandering the corridors and muttering darkly to herself. She cursed your name. She cursed your son.


Now she has fallen ill and it does not seem she will recover.


Mr Madigan what have you done to my sister?


I have seen a figure moving about our property after dark sometimes. It shuffles to and fro between the woodshed and the garden, and as soon as I catch sight of it, it scurries away and vanishes into the woods. I know you are sending someone to watch us, Mr. Madigan. To see if the poison has claimed Hazel yet.


Yes Mr. Madigan, this is an accusation. Make of it what you will. Break your silence to complain to my father. Send your assassin to poison me as well, I dare you to try. Was it the rejection of your son’s proposal? Or did my sister learn something at your estate you did not wish for her to learn?


I am not like Hazel, Mr. Madigan. I am not gentle and naive and I care not for politeness. If my sister dies of this illness, Mr. Madigan, be assured I will not rest until I have claimed recompense for her murder. I will know it was you. And I will hunt you to my last breath.


Most sincerely,

Alethe Lawley

Note: I found this letter still in its envelope, in a wooden box tucked under a collapsed bed on the second floor. It seems unlikely Crowley Madigan ever received it.


There’s a lot in this letter that unsettles me. First, the date: a month from the day this letter was written, the Madigan Estate shut down and would not open again until the Fox Hollow Lumber Company made their grisly discovery in April.


Alethe definitely comes off as paranoid in this. Her writing is sloppy and disjointed and there isn’t much logic to her thoughts. There are worse ideas than openly accusing the owner of a wealthy estate of attempted murder, but the list isn’t very long. It’s tempting to speculate that Hazel Lawley came down with the Spanish Flu, but the first case wasn’t officially reported until March 1918 in Kansas (which I didn’t know until Quinn sent me some dates and research. Also kind of throws a wrench into the theory that the estate was ravaged by the pandemic in January).


Still, it’s not like there was any shortage of deadly diseases around here in late 1917. I’d probably chalk this letter up to paranoia and Hazel’s sickness up to something nasty but innocuous - if it wasn’t for the other contents of the box.


Among other things - a clipping of Hazel Lawley’s obituary and a scrawled note I’ll copy out later - there is another letter from Hazel herself, apparently written before she became too sick to function.


It scares me.

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