by Paul Aurandt
“It was in a little colonial house in eastern Virginia . . . that Henry lived . . . apparently alone.
“One late evening, friends came to visit. Henry and his guests sat in the candlelit parlor, quietly talking, watching the flickering shadows on the walls. There was a lull in the conversation . . . and a noise!
“Faint at first, then louder.
“A scratching sound . . . beneath the floor.
“Everyone had heard it. Henry . . . pretended not to.
“There were lighthearted remarks about ghosts and such, and after a minute or so, Henry stretched, yawned, asked to be excused so that he might retire for the night.
“When his visitors had gone, Henry tugged at his collar, sighing. He was alone again. And none too soon.
“For as Henry’s friends rode off into the dark, against the fading counterpoint of their horses’ hoofs . . . another noise. Like the first. Followed by the sound of dragging along the floor joists beneath Henry’s feet.
“Henry stiffened, silently regarding the inconspicuous trapdoor in the hallway floor.
“He reached for a lantern, approached the secret entrance, bent down, took hold of the smooth iron ring . . . and pulled the false panel away.
“Henry peered into the gaping blackness, lowering his lantern, then himself, into the cold cellar.
“As the kerosene flame cast a soft yellow light all about, there was a rustling in the corner. A figure, barely visible through the gloom, cringing in terror of the brightness, waited.
“Henry walked toward it.
“Henry lifted the lantern . . . and the light fell directly . . . upon a face! A horribly animated countenance with twisted features which snarled one moment and wept the next. A blanched wild-eyed visage, filled with torment. The face . . . of Henry’s wife.
“Henry could not recall the duration of her madness, nor could he recount the endless procession of days and months he had descended the cellar stairs to feed and to care for her. All the hours of Henry’s life had by now blended into one solitary hour of despair.
“For Henry, the anguish had not diminished . . . to watch his wife tug against her straitjacket restraints . . . to see his love imprisoned through no wrong of her own.
“Once in a great while, like the pulsing glow of a near-cold ember, the faint reflection of a happiness long past shone in the beleaguered woman’s face. And then, like a flash of black lightning, the horror would return.
“These were the visions that stalked Henry from the depths of that secret place . . . the waking dreams he took to bed with him at night, and at morning into the warm sun.
“Was this on his mind? Did those visions haunt him, as he addressed the assembly at St. John’s Church the next day, March 23, 1775? These were his words:
“‘Shall we try argument? . . . Shall we resort to entreaty? . . . What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? . . . We have petitioned, we have remonstrated, we have supplicated . . . . We have been spurned with contempt. . . . There is no longer any room for hope. . . . Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains? . . . Forbid it, Almighty God! . . . I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!’
“And now you know THE REST OF THE STORY.”