A Vehement Defense

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: church mouse productions

Chapter 16 (v.1) - Dagmar Thorson

Submitted: May 22, 2020

Reads: 7

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Submitted: May 22, 2020

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Erik Thorson was still recovering from Pastor Gustaffson’s testimony when the recess ended: so the wiser course of action seemed to be to call his mother, who was immediately startled by my first question (since I had not warned her that I intended to ask it).

‘Mrs Thorson, how do we know you did not kill Margaret Olin?’

I did not associate Dagmar with an acute sense of humor; all the same, her response was one of nervous laughter, laughter which reverberated a little through the crowd.

‘My disapproval of her was not that extreme, Mr Lincoln.’

‘The betrothal described by your Pastor, was it known to you?’

‘Yes. All of our debate preceded that point. I shared my concerns, as well as I could, and — after a time — he told me that he had decided, on his own. He also informed me that she had accepted him, and that was the end of it. Had his father still been alive, I think that Axel might have prevailed, but my arguments were not enough. In the Old Country, of course, his father and I would have chosen for him. A much simpler system, I think.’

‘Yet you, yourself, chose for yourself: marrying for love.’

‘That is true. And I will again. A bond of affection is helpful, in times of hardship. I think there is more depth in a love marriage. That is why, in the end, I allowed my son to have his way.’

‘What were your concerns about Margaret?’

‘On a personal level there were several, but I hesitate to speak ill of the dead. As a practical matter, Erik would have been bound to her for two more years while the Bitterwoods received all the benefit of her labor. Katarina Søberg is a worthy young woman, who has finished her indentures. A willing worker, who could have come to our farm immediately. And, of course, a match with Elizabeth Bitterwood would have been of great advantage to us — and had been my hope for some time.’

I happened to turn quickly toward the spectators as Mrs Thorson made this remark: so I was able to see Elizabeth Bitterwood reacting as though it had been suggested she climb into a pig sty, and embrace one of the residents. Her brother, David, quickly covered her hand with his: assuring her that her fate was not to be wed to a poor Norski farmer.

‘So, Mrs Thorson: we have disposed of motive. What about means?’ I took up the knife, in its wrappings, and presented it to her. ‘You have placed your hand upon the Scriptures, and promised to say nothing but what is true. Does this knife belong to you, or any one of your household?’

An anxious silence filled the room, and Dagmar Thorson took advantage: speaking as loudly as I had ever heard her speak.

‘By my love of the Holy Scriptures, by my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and by my hope of glory in Heaven: I never saw this knife until Samson Bitterwood brought it into our kitchen, shouting that he had found it in Erik’s room.’

‘We have sworn testimony from Mr Bitterwood saying that he knocked on the door of your farmhouse in a civil fashion, but there was no answer. So he felt required, thinking to capture a wrongdoer, to knock down the door by force—’

‘Then he has perjured himself before God and man. I was in the kitchen, still in my robe, when I heard a very loud noise from the front of the house. My first thought was to wonder if a kerosene lantern had exploded. And suddenly there were men stomping their way through my home, guns drawn — guns drawn, Mr Lincoln, in my home! — shouting Erik’s name: terrorizing us without shame. And then, when Sheriff Rudder arrived — our beacon of law and order — he congratulated them, as though they had done something unselfish and notable.’

During this description Dagmar Thorson looked fiercely at both Bitterwood and Sheriff Rudder: both of whom seemed to be eagerly engaged in looking elsewhere. Rudder was gazing off into the distance, as though examining the texture of a far wall; while Samson Bitterwood stared unhappily at the floor.

Only King Bitterwood and his wife cared to look at the witness: and this with undisguised hostility.

I continued: ‘Obviously you were alarmed by all this.’

‘I was terrified! I had no idea what they were doing there — and what they were doing was clearly illegal!’

‘You were still in the kitchen at this time?’

‘I never left it.’

‘And Erik joined you there?’

‘Yes. He hurried down in his nightshirt, and his first thought was of me: so he followed the sound of my voice. Bitterwood’s men were pleased with that: since it seemed they were very eager to keep us there, in the kitchen, so they could have freedom of the house.’

‘Searching for something, you believe?’

‘No! Not searching — and not finding. Because there was nothing to find. Instead, after a few minutes holding us prisoner, Samson confronted us with that...thing. That weapon that neither of us had ever seen before. Then the Sheriff arrived, and they all congratulated themselves on their courage: confronting a widow and her son before breakfast was even ready.’

I turned toward the Jury, speaking as though thinking out loud: ‘So, that disposes of the topic of means. You knew nothing of the weapon before it suddenly appeared.’ I looked at the members of the Jury, to make certain they were following the logic of all this, and then turned toward the witness again. ‘Now we know that Margaret was found dead the morning of April Fifth. The night previous, April Fourth, can you tell us what you were doing?’

‘We have a steady routine. We had both worked hard, that day, and both retired around nine. Erik never has any difficulty falling asleep, but I was restless. I took a small glass of spirits to help me sleep, but it had no effect. As I was going to be wakeful, no matter what, I went downstairs to sew. I frequently give quilts as gifts, so I had two or three of those projects I was working on, and I sewed until my eyes grew heavy at around two thirty.’

‘And you were sewing in full view of the stairs all this time? Erik could not have made his way out of the house without being seen?’

‘And did not. Like his father, my son sleeps as though dead to the world — hardly even moving — and he was motionless in his bed when I looked in on him before I retired. It was the sound of our door being broken in that awoke him a few hours later.’

I turned toward the Jury: ‘So, in summary: no motive — no means — no opportunity. For  either of you. Is that right?’

‘Margaret Olin was part of the future of our family, Mr Lincoln, no matter what my preferences were. We never would have raised a hand against her.’

Mr Bent had been observing the Jury, just as I had, and also felt the growing sympathy in the room for Mrs Thorson, who had been perfectly credible in her testimony. He understood it would be a terrible error in judgment to badger, or punish her, on the Stand. So he was more cautious than I would have expected: possibly thinking that he would be more aggressive when Erik, himself, was being examined.

‘You do not own the knife in question, you say. Yet it was found under your son’s bed.’

‘It was not under my son’s bed. It was in Samson Bitterwood’s possession when he arrived. That should be obvious to anyone.’

‘And yet your son could have purchased the knife without your knowledge. Such a thing is easily concealed—’

‘Purchased with what? And for what purpose?’ The Prosecutor tried to interrupt, but Dagmar would not have it. ‘A man who obtains such a tool keeps it close at hand, using it every day. Had Erik acquired it: first of all, I would have been very upset to find him spending so much money on just one thing — and secondly, I would have been acquainted with it, as I am familiar with all the tools on our farm.’

‘He could have stolen it. Just as he could have slipped out of your house the morning of the murder—’

‘Stolen the knife? Stolen it from whom? And when? There stands your good friend, the Sheriff. What complaints has he gotten? How many German knives have been reported missing to him?’

‘Mrs Thorson—’

‘As far as speculations about what might have happened in our home: Erik would have had to confirm that I was asleep — knowing that I am a very light sleeper — get dressed, and run some distance to the Bitterwood property — then, after their quarrel, run almost two miles again — undress and get in bed in time enough to pretend to be fast asleep when our home was profaned by Mr Bitterwood and his ruffians. Consider the likelihood of that, sir.’

Mr Bent seemed to be happy to let the witness blow herself out: shrinking, a little, into himself as she delivered all of her speech in almost a single breath. Then he busied himself with documents lying before him on the table before glancing at the Bench.

‘No more questions for this witness, Your Honor.’


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