An excerpt from local author Doug Ingold’s book serialized here for the next seven days – Redheaded Blackbelt
THE AGNES STORY is taken from THE CAME A CONTAGION, a new literary and historical novel by Doug Ingold, a resident of Humboldt County whose book was just released by Wolfenden. The novel is set in a farming village near Trier, Germany, in the second half of the 16th century.
THE HISTORY OF AGNES consists of nine chapters taken from the first half of the novel and is serialized here over nine successive days. At the time of this story, Agnès was twenty-two years old and worked as a servant at the village inn. Her cousin Elsebett is thirteen. Elsebett is a student of Frau Rachel Mueller, the village midwife and herbal healer. Elsebett lives with Frau Mueller but regularly visits his family home.
It had started to snow again, and a strong wind had picked up, causing snowdrifts to accumulate. As Agnes and her mother trudged back to their house, everyone they encountered was bowed, bowed in the wind. Winter had stripped the scattered trees of their leaves. Their trunks, exposed limbs, and twisted branches looked black and tormented against the gray sky.
There was a lot to think about and Frau Mueller had insisted that no decision be made until the rest of the day and night had passed. But Agnes recognized one thing. She was trapped like an animal. No, it was worse than that; even a trapped animal could squat and curl up in front of her captors, while she, even if she curled up, the fetus would continue to grow.
The bells of their tower rang for the midday news. Hearing them, her mother insisted that they go directly to church. They would find the priest, she said, and Agnes would go to confession. “It is not only your life, but your soul, child, that is in danger!”
Her mother’s sudden request destroyed the fantasy Agnes had concocted, a fantasy somewhat delicious in her horror, into which she would find a precipice by the river from which to throw herself. She imagined the pain her death would inflict on her stern father. His insistent mother. Even on the cold midwife and the village itself with its shaking heads and restless tongues.
But no, his mother was right. There was no escape. Even his own dramatic death wouldn’t provide it. The Devil would rejoice at his suicide. As his crushed and shattered body was thrown into an unmarked grave and outside the hallowed ground, his soul would be cast out of the gate of heaven and into the arms of Lucifer, the Devil himself.
The priest was not available, the sexton informed them. He had gone to a nearby village, and seen the weather, who knew when he would come back. As the sexton walked away, Anna pulled her daughter towards the altar. The church was empty and the clods of snow they tore from their paws followed them a few yards into the sanctuary, having no reason to melt. For the young woman, the church felt empty, without a promise. It was freezing cold inside and out, the bricks, the air, the cruel judgment that weighed on her. What had once been a place of comfort has now become a place of condemnation; even the Jesus on the cross stared at her. Her mother was audibly sobbing as they both knelt on the cold stone.
Her mother being occupied with prayer, Agnes was again forced to face her situation. Crying now herself, she experienced an explosion of extraordinary thoughts and emotions. His life was ruined, that was for sure. No good option was available to her. The idea of entering a convent revolted her. Besides, how could this be accomplished without alerting his father? And more than anything, she feared his conviction. Frau Mueller’s vivid description of how the drug would attack her body had terrified her. She hated all forms of illness, forever. She had a healthy body and a bright disposition; all illnesses seemed insulting to him. Willingly ingest something knowing it would cause such horrors – her imagination now insisted that it would disfigure her, leave her scarred for life if it didn’t kill her outright – well, it was just too horrible to contemplate .
There remained Heinrich, the wine merchant. They were all wrong about him: his mother, Aunt Gisele, Frau Mueller. His aunt Gisèle, the only one to have met him, did not understand. Trivia in the hallways? What dizzy. He brought her honey delicacies from Lucca, stories from other worlds, a little blue stone he swore to come from across the sea, which she had hidden in her chest of hope. He was funny, charming, attentive, patient, but firm, energetic, and he had the eyes of a deer of the woods which gazed at you from long lashes.
Heinrich! Agnès hadn’t thought of anything else for the past six months. Their love was over now, as was his life. But if there was any solace in all of this, she could honestly say that over the past six months, she had lived life the way she always imagined it was meant to be lived.
So how old was he really? Seven years, ten? He was certainly older than her, but not old, young but not immature. Had he lied to her? Perhaps. It made sense that he would, and now she saw how it could be. Was he married? Although he didn’t swear, his very appeal suggested otherwise. Even assuming, as he claimed, that he was only seven years older, it was hard to imagine that an attractive woman with means and designs had not previously captured his heart. Sure, every woman he had met wanted him. In Agnes’ imagination, it was clear that he loved her more than that other scheming woman who had become his wife. He had lied because he had to. Because he loved her so much, wanted her so much. To be true to their love, he had had to speak to her falsely.
But if she confronted him now with her situation, what would happen? How would he react then? How could he? There were probably also children. Yes, he would have no choice. Circumstances would demand that he denounce her in the terrible way his mother and Frau Mueller had described. And then, this denunciation would destroy him too. Having betrayed their love, he would be out of honor obliged to end his life. And this recognition corresponded to his deepest understanding. She had sort of betrayed him by getting pregnant. Her body had betrayed her, making her betray their love. So it was obvious; if she really loved him – and she loved him – then she couldn’t overwhelm him with this news. There really was no escape.
Shivering with cold and terror, Agnes stretched out her hand and gripped her mother’s arm. “Mother, let’s go home. I made a decision.
Tomorrow, Chapter 4. Ready to get your own copy? Find out on Amazon by clicking here.
Or, to get your hands on the book in Humboldt County, the book is available at Blue Moon in Garberville, Eureka Books and Booklegger in Eureka, Northtown Books in Arcata, and Blake’s Books in McKinleyville.