“Settle yourselves, sinners, and be silent!” bellowed Roderick, vicar of the Olde Annisquam Church. “Prepare to hear the word of the Lord!”
Bearing a strong resemblance to the smarmy, reptilian Uriah Heep with his pointy hawk-like nose, long chicken neck, stringy faded red hair and spindly legs, Roderick was far from the image of a kindly and jovial clergyman. The menfolk detested him, the women shied away from him and the children were frightened of him but he was the only pastor assigned to the villagers of Gloucester, Massachusetts. In fact, the vicar established a mandatory attendance policy that forced the faithful residents to row across the Annisquam River to the church every Sunday – an act that did nothing to improve his popularity or likability.
The vicar continued: “A reading from the Book of Judges. The Lord God madest man to have dominion over the work of his hands and by this you shall have enrichments in everything; blessed are you who believe and act accordingly.” Roderick closed the Bible loudly and preached for the next hour about the “lazy, disreputable and ignorant wretches of Gloucester.” Then like a man possessed he screamed “Repent, ye sinners, lest ye perish!”
No one ever left Sunday services feeling good about themselves. The villagers rowed back across the Annisquam, relieved they had to see the vicar only once a week. He was reprehensible but they were stuck with him. Why he chose to live in the small annex house beside the old church was a mystery; there was a perfectly good church with an attached rectory in the village but Roderick preferred to keep his distance. He didn’t even have a boat to get across the river and he never visited the village, which was quite acceptable with the residents.
The story that everyone heard was that Roderick had a woman who cooked and cleaned for him. Her name was Chenoa, the last of the Agawam Indian tribe; all her clan had succumbed to the plague. Chenoa lived in the forest behind the old church where she hunted and often fished in the Annisquam River. She raised goats and chickens, grew vegetables and maintained a small crop of barley, corn, rye and wheat from which she made bread and whiskey for the elbow-bending vicar.
People talked as they are wont to do; all agreed the relationship seemed particularly strange. Was Chenoa employed by the vicar? He certainly didn’t seem the charitable type. Late one night a few boys decided to paddle across the Annisquam to see what they could find out. Hearing shouting, they crept up to the annex house and peeked in a window.
Roderick was obviously drunk and yelling at a frightened Chenoa; she had overcooked his evening meal and had to face her punishment. The boys were startled when the vicar threw his glass across the room and reached for a birch cane by the hearth. He grabbed Chenoa and ripped the front of her tunic from neck to hem, leaving her standing naked and trembling. He wrestled out of his waistcoat and began whipping Chenoa’s breasts as she whimpered. Purple welts appeared on her chest and bloody droplets trickled down her belly. The vicar dropped the whip and began licking the blood and hungrily sucking Chenoa’s breasts, all the while roughly shoving his fingers inside her. Sweating and breathing heavily, Roderick twisted Chenoa around and entered her from behind, fiercely plunging into her over and over until he cried out like an animal. When he was done he pushed her to the floor.
Scared out of their wits and afraid of being caught, the boys rowed home as fast as possible and told their parents what they had witnessed. The next morning the men reported the night’s horrendous events to the sheriff. They rowed out to investigate, shocked to discover the old church and annex house burned to the ground, still smoldering. Roderick was dead, sprawled just outside the door. An arrow stuck angrily out of his back and he had been scalped; there was no sign of Chenoa. No tears were shed for the ungodly vicar. The sheriff announced he wasn’t going to bother searching for the woman. As far as everyone was concerned, judgement had been served.
On a warm June morning the village women went berry picking by the river. They cried out in horror at the tragic sight before them: a despondent Chenoa had hanged herself from an oak tree across the Annisquam River. The papoose on her back cradled a sleeping infant with reddish hair and a tiny hawk-like nose. A scribbled note tucked inside read: “God forgive me. I cannot bear to look at him.”
NAR © 2020