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Update 4 April 2005

The Willow Pages
Willow Fawnsworthy created by M. Mitchell Marmel

"Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa"
by EOCostello

"Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa"
by EOCostello

[Superscript: This MS was given to me by my late mother, Grace Stagg, alias Willow, Lady Buckhorn, on 24 December 1988.  She indicated to me that it had been sent to her by the MS' author, Fr. Augustus Merino, in a sealed envelope, before the latter's death in the early 1950s.  I thought it best to establish some sort of chain of custody.
/s F.J.B., 9 February 2005.]

[Superscript: Darling: after our talk, I looked through my safe for something I thought I had remembered receiving, years ago.  As you can see, I did eventually find it.  While this is addressed to me, upon rereading it, I think it is really meant for someone like you.  You can do with it what you please, though I think you should bear in mind what I said about Grace Stagg being left in peace, and please be sensitive to the feelings of the Brush family, after all they did for your grandfather.  With love from Mummy, Christmas 1988.]

The Rectory
St. Anthony's Catholic Church
Chapel Lane
Meeting Island
Spontoon Islands

17 August 1950

Willow, Lady Buckhorn
Monongahela House
Market Hartford, Bucks.


My Lady:

You will, perhaps, be surprised to hear from me after an interval of some years.  I recently suffered a fairly serious illness, which prompted me to start organizing the papers that have accumulated over the decades in my rectory.  I know you have seen my rectory on various occasions, so you will appreciate the task at paw.  In point of fact, one of your earliest visits prompts this letter.

I found in my desk a sealed envelope, marked "W. Fawnsworthy," dated 1936, and, as you can see, it was securely sealed by me, with instructions to destroy it upon my death, so as to preserve the seal of the confessional.  I did not need to open the envelope to recall its contents.  That day, and that confession, are not to be forgotten.  I have decided, upon reflection, to give the MS to you, to dispose of as you see fit.  You will recall that I had prepared this MS at your request in the event that you needed a record of the events described therein for other purposes.

I have also discovered some notes I had prepared regarding the events of September, 1944, which I have sent to you under separate cover, marked "personal and confidential" as well.

I hope that time, and the love of Lord Buckhorn and your fawns has helped assuage some of the pain you suffered so long ago.  In that hope, I remain

Very truly yours,

Augustus Merino, S.J.


     Memorandum made this 13th day of November, in the Year of Our Lord 1936.  Know that I, Augustus Merino, S.J., of the Parish of St. Anthony's, Meeting Island, Spontoon Islands, do hereby record the contents of a confession made to me by a parishioner in keeping with the tenets of the Church.  The parishioner, mindful of the seal of the confessional, has requested that I make a memorandum of our discussion, so that she may use it for her own purposes, if necessary.  In light of the contents of the confession, I have chosen to accede to her request, unusual as it may be.  I am taking steps to ensure that the confidentiality of this confession is not violated.

     Shortly before ten this morning, I was approached in my rectory by a whitetail doe.  This doe was known to me as Willow Fawnsworthy.  I had previously met this doe, when she had visited this church of St. Anthony's.  Specifically, I had encountered her reacting emotionally to a memorial window that had been installed at the request of another parishioner, Franklin J. Stagg, who believed he had lost his wife and all three of his fawns at the paws of the New Haven revolutionary government.  I had assumed that this was a natural reaction of one deer toward the tragedy of a fellow species member.  This had occurred some time before the approach I referred to above.

     The doe, having seated herself in my study, asked me if she could take a few hours out of my time, to hear confession.  I indicated to her that the regular hours of confession were posted in the church, and that in any event it was unlikely that she would have to wait long, or inconvenience anyone, regarding her confession, owing to the small size of the congregation.  Miss Fawnsworthy was clearly agitated, and indicated that she had much to unburden herself from.  She had deep circles under her eyes, as if she had not slept the previous night.  She begged me to listen to her, and to give her  comfort.  I could see by the look in her eyes that she was telling the truth, regarding her need to unburden her soul, and I telephoned to make arrangements to cancel my other activities for the rest of the morning and the early afternoon.

    Miss Fawnsworthy, having been apprised of this, closed her eyes, breathed deeply a few times, and then kneeled in front of me.  She asked me to bless her, for she had sinned, and it had been since June, 1932 that she had had her last confessional.  She indicated to me that she would explain in due course why it had been so long since she had sought to confess her sins.

     The first hour of her confession was given over to a multiplicity of sins that are endemic to a young lady of these modern times, more is the pity.  Certain incidents were described to me regarding another female; though these were rather shocking to me, the circumstances surrounding the incidents were made plain.  As there was, in my view, heartfelt repentance regarding these sins of the flesh, I was prepared to give her absolution for them, in the proper course of events.

     After a short interval following the confession of these sins, she told me of one reason she wished to cleanse her soul at this time.  It developed that she had met, here in the Islands, another whitetail deer, by the name of Buckhorn, and that for reasons she could not explain, she was developing feelings for him, that she was taking quite seriously.  Mr. Buckhorn was not, as yet, aware of the true nature of them.  These feelings, in and of themselves, were something she wanted to confess, as well, and she did. 

     When these sins had been discussed, she remained on her knees, her paws tightly clenched together.  It could be seen plainly that something else was bothering her, something that went much deeper than drunken escapades or the stirrings young does are bound to have.  I tried to draw her out, indicating that I could only give absolution for sins that were confessed.  Miss Fawnsworthy sighed, and took off her glasses, rubbing her eyes.  She seemed to be searching for a way to start, but was having difficulty expressing herself.  Finally, she unbuttoned her shirt slightly, and removed a small medal and a small locket, which she passed up to me.

     The medal was a small St. Christopher's medal, marked on the reverse "G.V.S."  I found this somewhat puzzling, and then I opened the locket.

    The locket was a small, antique locket that had room for two oval pictures.  On the left could be seen a whitetail doe, cuddling a small fawn in christening robes with a great deal of pride and affection.  It was the picture on the right, though, that seized my attention.  It was of a whitetail buck, approaching early middle age, standing behind a doe in her early teens, with his paws on her shoulders, obviously taken at confirmation and also obviously the doe before me.  The buck looked horrifyingly familiar, and I looked down.

     Willow Fawnsworthy had taken off her glasses, and had let her hairfur down.  Feeling my gaze on her, she looked up at me, her paws laced together in prayer.  I realized immediately where I had seen her before.  I had seen her nearly every day for some time now, etched in glass alongside her mother and her sisters.  I was not hearing confession from Willow Fawnsworthy.  I was hearing confession from Grace Stagg, "beloved fawn" of Franklin J. Stagg.

     I knew, from speaking with Inspector Stagg's subordinate, outside of confession, that Stagg felt the loss of his family with profound grief.  Anyone who had read the inscription underneath the memorial window could easily discern his sorrow and guilt.  Aside from any practical considerations relating to New Havenites hunting her, the feelings of her father were weighing heavily upon her mind.  The knowledge of her existence, she told me, would force her father to confront his failures, and these would tear him apart to no good purpose.  Hiding the truth from her father was eating away at her, inside, and she needed to tell the full story to someone she could trust.

     What poured out from her, in the next few hours, was unrefined hatred at those who had hurt her father so badly, and had murdered her mother and her sisters.  She told me of the fear and doom that had been on the faces of her family when she had made her escape, and how, often, she could not sleep nights without hearing their final prayers in her mind.  She, too, felt guilt at leaving her mother and her siblings behind, and understood her father's heartsickness.  She told me of seeing the newsreel footage of their bodies hanging from the tree that was their scaffold, and the rage and anger that she could barely keep bottled up inside her at the sight.  She told me of her actions in bringing to justice, in a certain sense (perhaps a higher justice), specific members of the New Haven government who had been involved in her family's murders, and the brutal suppression of the, Church in New Haven; these included the long nights of plotting to kill them by means of a carefully planned explosion that would minimize the danger to any innocent lives.  She told me of equally carefully planned betrayals of other agents of New Haven, so that they would be consumed by their own.  She told me that even here, in the Spontoons, she had killed in cold blood an agent of the Soviet government that had been plotting with a New Haven agent to murder her father.  It was a long catalog of violent, and ofttimes bloody, actions taken to defend or avenge the family, the Church and the country she had held dear.  All throughout this dissertation, she was tightly wringing her paws, as if trying to wash some unseen blood from them.  It was when she strangled the Russian, that she realized what was happening to her, the depths she would go to exact revenge, to express her hate.

     She told me that while on the outside, she could maintain an expression of cheerful meekness and innocence, the need to keep secret from everyone the full details of her life and what she had done was corroding her soul.  She was fearful that if she did not confess her sins, she would destroy herself, and become no better than the revolutionaries that had driven her to the brink of madness.  Recent events that required medical attention were described in full.  Miss Stagg was trying desperately to do something to cleanse her soul, before it was too late for her.  She wanted the ability to be a mother, with fawns of her own, and not have to run and constantly look over her shoulders, and jump at shadows.  It was why she wanted this Buckhorn.  She couldn't explain it coherently, she said, but he had something in him that was the means to at least free some small part of her from the prison she had built for herself.

     It was a physically and emotionally exhausted Grace Stagg that finally broke down and burst into weeping, after nearly three hours of pouring out her soul.  In this light, it was hardly necessary to discuss the issue of whether she repented of her sins.  I brewed each of us a cup of badly needed tea, which gave me some time to think of her penance.  I looked out to see that Miss Stagg's head had dropped to her chest, and she was sleeping.  The actions she mentioned in her confession were indeed extreme, but it could be argued, persuasively, that these were done in defence of family and faith, and the Church, after all, did sanction soldiers doing their duty, and there was clear repentance.  It was now a question of trying to keep her from straying from the path again, in this fashion.  I gave her some more minutes of peace, before I awoke her and gave her her tea.

     It was quite some time, and another cup of tea for each of us, before I could finally discuss her penance with her.  I told her that she could not see, speak to or communicate with Mr. Buckhorn for a period of six weeks.  This would not only be a test of how she felt about Mr. Buckhorn, but penance could only be achieved by self-denial.  She was also not to touch alcohol for six weeks, and was furthermore to deny herself of anything but plain food for a similar period of time.  She was also, if she was here in the Spontoons, to attend Mass twice daily at St. Paul's.  Finally, she was forbidden absolutely to kill again in the name of revenge or justice.  She could bring evil to Justice, but she was not to take upon herself the role of Justice.  Miss Stagg, hearing each of these prescribed acts of penance, swallowed hard, but indicated that she would carry them out faithfully.  She asked only that, somehow, I convey to Mr. Buckhorn that she couldn't deal with him for six weeks.  I indicated that I would.

     We prayed together, and when I finally told her that she could go in peace, and sin no more, she gave a long sigh.  Wiping her eyes, she replaced her glasses and did her hairfur up again.  She got up to go, and asked one further favour: that I would give her father the love and comfort that she couldn't give him, right now.  I gave that promise, and she departed, with a far less troubled soul.  I hoped.

/s/ Augustus Merino, S.J.

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