Jeremiah was a Bullfrog by V.L.Sloan
Felicity’s fireplace was not so large as some, yet her hearth gave out steady warmth in the late chill January afternoon. Her stomach churned nervously as she carefully laid the fire beneath the iron cauldron. When the water in the pot started to boil she began adding her ingredients.
Isaiah’s death had been a strain, coming suddenly as it did a few weeks ago. But preceding even that was the trouble of her friends. And though death was a common occurrence in this hard new land, it had all taken a toll on her nerves.
First it had been Hepzibah. Less than a twelve-month after Ezekiel had passed the elder had come. Hepzibah had not been an attractive woman, even in her youth – but what subsequently happened was beyond anything she could ever have expected.
“Else why would he pay respects to such as me?” She had said. “He never so much as gave us the time of day when Ezekiel was alive.”
He had offered no help. What he did offer her was an insubstantial amount for her cabin and land. She thought him not serious at first; but he was – very serious.
Abigail had been next, widowed after her Hezekiah died from an unforeseen fall. His horse had shied encountering a snake. Not three months later, Jeremiah sent word that he would call on her. Abbey had been terrified. Rumors abounded that Jeremiah intended to ask her hand in marriage, but that did not assuage her fear.
“It’s sure that Jeremiah’ll be wanting your hand, Abbey.” Felicity told her. Abigail had been a comely woman in her first youth, and was by no means unattractive, even after thirty-eight winters. Felicity had tried to comfort her.
“You are far prettier than Margaret Baywood or Chastity Cooper – and they both in their prime.” Felicity had assured her.
But it was the same. Jeremiah Smith wanted only Abbey’s house and land and offered next to nothing for it.
Now he was calling on her.
The water in the cauldron was hot and she began to make her soup. She would fix her visitor a good meal. Though still attractive, Felicity did not think herself so pretty as her friend Abbey, nor so good a person as her friend Hepzibah was. But Felicity could cook. Oh yes, she could cook.
How often had her good husband Isaiah, told her: “Woman, no one in the entire colony can cook such as you.”
They had not found him until she had sent Carter Davis’s boy to tell him come home for the noonday meal.
Her hand shaking now, Felicity opened a jar on the mantle and crushed herbs between her fingers into the pot. She took more ingredients from the small sacks that she used to gather the plants. She had spent these past nights in the forest searching for them after being sent word of Jeremiah’s intended visit.
Felicity spent the next hour putting her home in a satisfactory state.
Everything was ready now. All necessaries save one and she would add the last after he arrived, should the brew need it. Felicity checked the wooden cabinet Isaiah had made her to make sure she had this last ingredient, although the brew smelt very good already. Everything else was in the pot mingling and becoming delicious.
The cabin was clean and she had bathed herself two days earlier in the week in order to be pleasant for Jeremiah. She wore her best homespun dress.
Promptly at six o’clock there was a confident knock on the wooden door.
“Good Eve’n, Mistress.” He tipped his hat.
“And to you, Sir. Please, sit down Jeremiah.” Felicity indicated a chair at her table. “I’ll have a good stew for you in moments.”
It was not a wonder that no one had accepted him in his youth. His enormous, bulging eyes matched the stupendous Adam’s apple in his throat.
“I did not come here to eat, Felicity,” he said, as he seated himself.
“No, I expect not,” she said, her voice tremulous. “But you’ll not turn down a bowl of my fine stew on such an blustery eve’n as this?”
“Now Isaiah is gone, I expect you’ll be leaving us,” he began, sociably enough.
“And where would I be going, Sir – a woman alone?” Felicity inquired.
“To join your daughter, no doubt. I understand the Providence settlement is taking newcomers,” Jeremiah answered evenly. His Adam’s apple was bobbing considerably. The man really was most ill favored.
“My daughter Faith and her good husband have only just joined Reverend William’s settlement in Narragansett. I’ve not heard they have a cabin of their own as yet.”
“Well you certainly cannot run your homestead, by yourself, Felicity – a woman alone, as you say.”
“What are you proposing Jeremiah?”
“I am proposing to take it off of your hand for a practicable sum.”
“Practicable, Jeremiah?” Her voice was become low.
“Yes. A reasonable sum.”
“I don’t think that would be convenient right now, Elder Smith,”
she said, trying her best to placate him. “Isaiah left me enough to be comfortable for a time.”
“Have you been well, Felicity?”
“Quite well, thank you. Why?”
“Your countenance is pale. Do you get enough sun?”
“I believe so.” She was frightened but tying to keep her voice steady.
“I ask because you were seen twice this week in the dead of night entering the forest, alone.”
Felicity trembled openly now. “What are you suggesting, Jeremiah?”
“Only that it is not common for a natural woman to be entering the forest after dark.”
“It is the only time one can collect certain herbs, Jeremiah.” She said defensively.
“Yes, that is well as may be, I suppose. But as I said, it’s quite uncommon.”
Felicity excused herself and went to the wooden cabinet Isaiah had made for her and gathered the last ingredient. She crushed it between her fingers into the stew and stirred it well. In no time, she wafted the steam towards her face.
“There now,” she said. “That smells lovely.”
She spooned a goodly portion onto a wooden trencher it and placed it before her guest with three large pieces of bread.
“No thank you,” he said. But it took only seconds before the tantalizing aroma caused him to change his mind. “Mayhap, I should take a portion for courtesy’s sake,” he said. “Isaiah always spoke well of your food.”
He began sopping up the stew, smacking his lips loudly with appreciation.
“Truth be told Mistress, your good husband was right about your cooking arts. I’ve never tasted such as this. It is wonderful. What is it?”
“Some odds and ends you’d not be interested in,” she answered. She waited until he asked for a second trencher-full before she added:
“The art comes from the seasonings, ones gathered at certain times – the ones I gather in the forest, after dark.”
“I’m just curious as to the ingredients,” he said. “ I don’t seem to recognize any of them.”
Emboldened now, Felicity said: “Why, master Jeremiah? Will that be one of the questions put to me on the examination?”
“Examination?” He feigned innocence.
“Yes. How long did you intend to wait? Isaiah’s not been dead these six weeks, yet. You grow more greedy, Sir.”
“Now Felicity,” he began, clearing his throat, but there seemed to be a frog in it.
“Hepzibah and Abigail were my friends, you wicked man.” She said.
“You defend witches?” He stated, drawing himself up angrily.
“They were not witches,” she said, and walked over to the mantle board above the hearth. Her back was to Smith, but he saw she took a smallish bottle, put it to her lips and swallowed something. Even from her back, he could see that the woman visibly strengthened from the draught, whereas Jeremiah himself was feeling noticeably unwell.
When she turned to face him, he could not believe the change in her. Her features were the same, but something in the way the light from the fire played on them made her seem younger than her 47 years. Her hair fell from it’s topknot and as she leaned over the cauldron the old bachelor gasped, first in surprise and soon – from lack of air.
“Are you unwell?” She turned and asked. The man finally cleared his throat.
“You know, Felicity,” he said, nervously, “you are not an unattractive woman. Now I discover your skill with the pot was not exaggerated, perhaps…”
The noted feature on his throat was bobbling furiously, causing him much consternation. In direct proportion to his discomfiture, Felicity was feeling better – stronger, younger.
“You were saying about Abigail and Hepzibah, how you thought them bewitched?”
“They were proven such, as you well know from their trials.” He was struggling with his voice and feeling progressively stranger by the moment.
“Drowning Hepzibah and hanging Abigail because she had the temerity to survive the drowning?”
“It is a proven fact,” he tried mightily to speak. “That a witch cannot float.”
She turned to face him fully now, her blondish, silvery hair swirling every which way; light playing over her features making her beautiful one second and grotesque, another.
The man would have been terrified at the sight if he were not so preoccupied with his own bodily struggles.
Felicity felt strong now, no longer afraid. Sometimes they took a space to work – the draught and the spells.
The man before her was struggling to maintain his form. She’d never done this before on anything so large – not even an animal. Only with a pair of insects and she had felt guilty about that. But her life had not been in danger then.
She wanted him to understand before the metamorphosis completed itself.
“Did you really think that you could kill every unprotected woman in the colony for their land, Jeremiah?” His throat and eyes were bulging to an extraordinary size and his extremities were becoming amphibian – his fingers, webbed.
“If I’d had courage and competency,” she said, “I could have saved my friends. But Isaiah wouldn’t have it – he thought I should not try.” Color and light swirled around her figure and face and her eyes were mesmerizing.
Jeremiah’s skin was turning a smooth green and he tried to stay upright on the chair. Felicity took some more of the herb from the little wooden box and sprinkled it on the giant man-frog.
“But just so you know – you odious creature – Hepzibah and Abigail were not witches!” She hissed the words at him.
His long, amphibian tongue was flicking rapidly in and out of his mouth. And just before the loud popping noise that completed the metamorphosis and left him no longer a man but a fat frog croaking on the floor – Felicity placed her face close to his and whispered:
“But I am.”