Chapter Seventeen: Saint Louise of Vine

Editor’s Note: these fragments were found lining the pages of Census archives for the years 1872 and 1873. Ellipsis are mine, since these are torn scraps of paper. I don’t know if these pages are a diary or an obituary written by a devoted friend. Some might disagree, but Louise’s story should begin this way, I think.

Born along Vine’s riverbanks Louise Marilyn was eventually abandoned by her mother, who succumbed to tuberculosis. Her father, a soldier, died before meeting her. She was entrusted to the Church of Vine. While she seemed happy in her heart she suffered. She applied herself to any work at hand and liked to paint, making landscapes of meadows with lilac and twinberry. When she found out about the life of Jesus…whispering for hours until succumbing to sleep…often used to say a prayer to the Lord that she made up…Now it was in those days that the orphanage at the Church of Vine…volunteer women told her more about their life of prayer and work, the daily diligence of mundane tasks…she dreamt of entering the Seminary because she wanted to love Jesus by living like these women…Preacher refused permission. Louise was diligent and humble but Seminary was for men in those days…the volunteer women all have husbands, she was told this by Preacher…for nights succumbed to despair and wailing…her prayers with such volume she was forced to sleep in the cellar lest other children…

…engaging her with conversations over simmering stock pots or cutting boards piled with vegetables or knitting chairs where she spent diligent hours making things only to selflessly give away to hungry farmers…Preacher showing confidence in her would ask her ideas and input…allowed Louise to start enjoying life once…her competence and gentleness worked wonders… from a little rotting house on the outskirts came an orphaned girl Margaret N…agreed to come and serve the poor…other young country girls, their parents dead of plague or war turned up…they were like Louise…the fruitful labor of serving Jesus and daily diligence prevented them succumbing to the demon of despair…work that had to be done for the sick…Louise…amazed at the devotion of these young country-women proposed that they should pray together and reflect on their work with the sick and the poor…group was called “Community of the Daughters of Charity”…serve the poor and show them God loves them…

…began to attract women from Vine to assist with daily tasks and cleaning. These were rich women…left at the end of the day, returning home to husbands with their perfumed necks freshly scented by the aroma of soup and dusted with flour…difficulties as husbands didn’t appreciate their wives visiting the poor…came home clothes were crumpled…smelled awful…

Editor’s Note: I said I thought Louise’s story should start this way, so that you could see a side that didn’t get recorded in Council Court transcriptions or Preacher’s sermons. What happens next will seem like skipping steps, but it’s what we have on historical record. Sure, there’s later mention of “Community of the Daughters of Charity,” but it’s like this: 

Sermon: “Witches In Sheep’s Clothing,” by Preacher Jed Jefferson, courtesy of the archives of the Church of Vine, May 11, 1872

My brothers and sisters, we know the story of the Good Samaritan, who helped the man who had been beaten and robbed. We know this story tells us not to overlook the suffering of our fellow man. There is an important part of that story we forget sometimes: the Good Samaritan does not take care of the beaten man for the rest of his life. After some time, the beaten man is healed, and my brothers and sisters, he does not then begin a life of living in the Good Samaritan’s house, eating the Good Samaritan’s food, and demanding further charity from the Good Samaritan. This is because the beaten man, like all good Christians, was a hard-working, self-sufficient man. For we know that to work hard is the highest virtue, to till the land that God has given you, and to know that you are fulfilling your station in this consecrated land. A hard worker does not ask the Lord for help, nor does he rely on his neighbor for unpaid labor. One does not have to be a rich man to see the virtue of hard work.

Do you know why witchcraft was considered a sin by the Israelites, my brothers and sisters? For the time of the Bible was a time of miracles, and in our time in Vine we have seen miracles again performed on the Earth. So we know that God is the Lord and in God’s creation there is evil. God placed evil in the world as a test to his Chosen People—the Israelites in Canaan and now us, here in Vine. And when the Israelites saw witchcraft, they saw women—created from Adam, who was created from God—possessing power akin to whom? To God? No, my brothers and sisters, power akin to demons and malicious spirits. For hexes and spells grant a certain ease of life which results in sloth. As we know hard work is the highest virtue, and to circumvent or make easier the tasks which God has set out for you is a sin. 

It is with heavy heart I must now reveal there are those who would consort with demons and malicious spirits amongst us here in Vine. Those who do not understand hard work, who do not value labor, who do not value even the work that a husband does, the lengths a man must go to provide for a family in a world so close to sin. My brothers and sisters, there are those who would tempt wives from their husbands, mothers from their children. These sinners claim to cure diseases before they start simply by eating certain herbs, claim to commune with the divine through false illusions like dance and singing rather than the intermediary power of prayer.  

Editor’s Note: things got predictably nasty from there. The panic over witches seems to have mostly faded by the 1830s, but even the threat of a whisper of witchcraft still freaks people out today, so imagine how they reacted in 1872. The courts in Vine, of course, are presided over by the Elder Council, and no one hates witches like the Elder Council. Louise was given the punishment all witches they bothered to convict was given: roasted alive in a metal coffin, then taken to one of the unholy sites in the mountains so her body may be taken by demons. The other women of the Community of the Daughters of Charity were given the punishment all witches they didn’t bother to convict were given: if they weren’t smart enough to flee (or maybe were too exhausted to flee), they were hunted in their homes and killed on the spot. Then taken to one of the unholy sites in the mountains the following morning by the Elders, after the scavengers of the night ate their fill of the dead. 

So were the Community of the Daughters of Charity witches? It’s hard to say. I tend to think Louise did not begin as a witch, or else she wouldn’t have operated within the Church. I believe one of the other orphan girls, one of the discarded children of Vine, had learned some witchcraft as a survival mechanism without knowing what it was. The knowledge was shared within the Community, and at that point—well, I’m not sure. Maybe Louise starts learning more, maybe whoever brought witchcraft to the community wasn’t so green behind the ears. There’s always the possibility they weren’t witches, and that witches took them in after the accusation as a “protect other outcast women” move of solidarity. 

Why cast them out of the Church, then? Christine’s theory—and Christine wants me to include that she believes the Community of the Daughters of Charity to be witches, but her theory doesn’t preclude them not being witches—is that Preacher Jed Jefferson made sexual advances on Louise and Louise refused. Preachers in Vine cannot marry, but there are plenty of rumors about Preachers having children with widows or spinsters. “Miracle Babies,” they’re called, colloquially. They don’t get official fathers, some of them don’t even get official surnames in the Vine archives, even if the mother shares a surname with an Elder or a Preacher. “Miracle babies,” they’re called. Well, Louise didn’t have a Miracle Baby. 

Were the Community of the Daughters of Charity witches? I’ll leave you, reader, with a list of charges. Now, the people of Vine tell tall tales, I’ve already said. But Vine is a land of miracles. I have to assume some of these are real. 

A List of Accusations Brought Against the Community of the Daughters of Charity, According to Official Records of the Court of Vine

  1. “Crop blight in Jonathan Reynolds’ spring harvest”
  2. “Causing the Church sanctuary to be overrun by skinks for three days on a summer’s day when the door had been left open”
  3. “Causing the disappearance of Preacher Jed Jefferson’s vestments one Sunday morning”
  4. “Sloth befell the children of Adam Vance”
  5. “Alyosius Wilkinson’s second son, Ajax, displayed unexpected and unspeakable cowardice whilst on a hunt”
  6. “Interfering with George Polk’s ability to perform the duties of a husband”
  7. “Causing young Robert MacHenry II’s hounds’ throats to be torn out and replaced with thorny stalks of blackberry brambles”

Editor’s Note: Christine told me that the Community of the Daughters of Charity fled to the outskirts. They were already poor orphans, after all, they were used to life on the outskirts, both in the “a rotting barn will do for shelter” sense and in the metaphorical sense. From a bureaucratic standpoint, they didn’t even exist. According to Christine, the Community of the Daughters of Charity set up a commune. Hidden in the woods. Concealed away and findable only to those who know to speak saying “I seek the Community of the Daughters of Charity” when passing their grounds. I asked if I could go looking and Christine rolled her eyes and said “I would not have told you this if security hadn’t been upgraded since then.” I can, however, confirm that the Community of the Daughters of Charity’s grounds were on the site that would eventually become the Butler House. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *