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The Dobbs House

Some secrets fight to remain secrets.

By Mark GagnonPublished 7 months ago 8 min read
The Dobbs House
Photo by Vitaliy Rigalovsky on Unsplash

I am now the proud owner of this Federal-style house and barn that was built two years before our country was born. Over time, it’s been added to and updated somewhat, but the original structure still stands. Of course, it’s not in move-in condition since the last resident died twenty years ago and the current occupants—spiders, bats in the attic, and a family of raccoons don’t perform maintenance. It will take time and money to restore, but I have plenty of both after winning the lottery.

Last night, I set up my travel trailer in the front yard and spent much of the evening admiring the stars and enjoying the solitude; today it’s time to get to work. I started in the basement with its stone walls and dirt floor. A pungent musty odor assaulted my sense of smell when I descended the stairs, but the floor was dry and the walls and support beams structurally sound. Returning to the main floor, I inspected the kitchen, dining room, living room, and guest parlor. The hand-crafted wood trim around the windows and crown molding made me smile. The mantle over every fireplace was a testament to bygone craftsmanship. Before ascending the steep narrow stairs to the bedrooms, my phone buzzed, reminding me of an appointment with the local hardware store owner. The upstairs would have to wait.

Jack Anderson was in his seventies and had lived in the area his entire life. He sported a congenial smile and proffered a firm handshake. I liked him from the start.

“So, you bought the old Dobbs Farm,” he said, beginning our conversation.

“I don’t know who Dobbs is, but I bought the Winford property. Are we talking about the same house?”

“We are. I forgot you’re new in town. It’s called the Dobbs Farm because until Addie died, every female that’s lived there is a direct descendant of the original owner, Mary Dobbs Smith. We locals gave it another name, The Black Widow House.”

“Well, that certainly sounds ominous,” I replied. “What’s the story behind that name?”

“At age fifteen, Mary Dobbs was forced to marry Martin Smith, a man more than twice her age. She had never met her new husband until their prearranged wedding day. Martin was a mean drunk, and abusive husband. Some say he caused Mary to have three miscarriages before finally giving birth to her daughter, Abigail. Both mother and daughter lived in constant fear whenever Martin was home. One day, he went hunting alone and never returned. The authorities concluded he was ambushed and killed by hostiles camped in the area. His body was never found and was assumed to have been eaten by animals. Unfortunately, Abigail preferred men similar to her father and married John Morgan, the town bully. They were married just over a year when Abigail announced to the ladies’ social club John had left to defend Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812. He never returned. Seven months later, Martha Dobbs Morgan entered the world. Grandmother, daughter, and granddaughter lived in the house until Mary passed away.

Martha’s choice for a husband was a notch above her father and grandfather, but just barely. He enjoyed gambling much more than running a farm and when their daughter, Sarah Dobbs Thomas, was seven, he abandoned his family for a life of cards and whiskey. Sarah found a man she thought loved her, but he left for California during the gold rush of 1849, never to be heard from again. She gave birth out of wedlock to her daughter, Jane Dobbs.

The story repeats throughout the decades until Addie was born; a beautiful person, both inside and out. She found the love of her life in Joseph Winford, her high school sweetheart, and they married shortly after graduation. Before they could conceive a child, Joe was drafted into the Army, sent to fight the Japanese at Corregidor, and was subsequently killed in action. Addie remained a widow until she died.”

“Wow, Jack, that’s quite a story. The real mystery is, what happened to all those missing men? I guess I’m safe though since there are no longer any living Dobbs women. Maybe, once the house is complete, I’ll devote some time to uncovering what happened.”

Our business completed; I drove back to my home mulling over all I had learned about the former owners of this venerable property. Since the sun was still bright in the afternoon sky, I decided to explore the second floor. The steep narrow staircase still made me uncomfortable as I carefully trudged to the upper landing. Feet securely planted on the second story floor, I mentally moved remodeling this staircase to the top of my to-do list.

I tried entering the first room I saw, but found the door locked. On a whim, I reached above the door, ran my finger along the top of the molding, and was rewarded when a skeleton key fell to the floor. I knew this house liked me! Using my newly gained key, I opened the door and surveyed the contents of the room. Next to the window stood a four-poster bed covered in a thin layer of dust, it’s canopy threadbare. A multi-drawer writing desk with a chair occupied the left wall, while an enormous wardrobe stood against the right wall. This had to be the master bedroom. I tried to imagine all the heartache and pain these walls had witnessed.

The desk seemed the obvious starting place, so I pulled out the chair and sat down. No hidden secrets were lurking in the drawers, just stationery. My next point of attack, the wardrobe. I swung open the double doors, revealing a few dresses from another era, three hat boxes on the overhead shelf, and several pairs of shoes. The wardrobe floor appeared unusually high compared to its base. I pressed on various areas of the floor until it pivoted upwards—Jackpot! Secreted away in the hidden compartment lay a leather satchel filled with journals and a pre-revolutionary war single-shot pistol.

As excited as a kid at Christmas, I removed my treasure and placed everything on the desk. The flintlock pistol was in pristine condition, a collector’s item worth a hefty price at auction. I set it carefully aside and opened the oldest looking journal first.

July 24, 1779

Dear Diary,

I killed my husband with his pistol while he lay in a drunken stupor. The beatings were getting more severe, and he was making improper advances toward Abigail. It took me all night, but I dragged his body to the basement and buried him.

July 27, 1779

Dear Diary,

I went to speak to the constable today and expressed my concern about Martin not returning from a hunting trip. He gathered a group of men and went in search of Martin.

July 30, 1779

Dear Diary,

The constable arrived at my door today, conveying his condolences. The search party concluded he must have been killed by savages even though no body was recovered. Fortunately, they never asked to search the house and basement.

I continued to pour through Mary’s sporadic accounts of life’s struggles and triumphs. A major concern became a reality when her daughter Abigail married John Morgan, the town bully. He moved in with Abigail and Mary and unleashed a new reign of abuse on both women.

The second journal was written in a new hand.

June 5, 1812

Dear Diary,

My time of fear and desperation is finally over! Drunk as usual, John crossed the hallway between my mother’s bedroom and ours, oblivious to his surroundings. When he was opposite the stairway, I emerged from the shadows, and with all my strength, pushed him down the stairs. The fall snapped his neck. My mother and I buried him next to my father in the basement. Good riddance to both of them.

June 7, 1812

Dear Diary,

The members of the lady’s quilting group were not especially surprised to hear that John had left several days ago to defend Washington D.C. against the British in President Madison’s War. They all knew how much he liked a good fight. They also congratulated me when I told them I was with child and hoped John would make it back before his son or daughter was born. Later this evening, mother and I discussed the day’s events. She assured me I had nothing to worry about because she and the house would never give up our secrets.

I read until the fading light made it impossible to continue. The writings had transported me back in time to reveal the suffering the women of this household endured, coupled with their resolve to overcome every desperate situation. I placed the journals back in the pouch, put the pistol in my belt, and walked to the stairway, intent on reading the rest of the entries in the morning.

One line from Mary to her daughter puzzled me. What had she meant when she said the house would never give up their secrets? A puzzle for another day, I mused. A loud crack echoed through the empty house as the top step gave way beneath my feet. Terror filled every cell in my body as I desperately struggled unsuccessfully to regain my balance. I plunged headfirst, crashing to the bottom of the staircase, much like Abigail’s John. Everything went black.

I regain consciousness just long enough to assess my injuries. My spine must be broken because none of my limbs respond to my commands and there is a growing halo of blood encircling my head. As I slowly drift into oblivion, I finally understand the meaning behind Mary Dobbs’ words, “The house will never give up our secrets.”


About the Creator

Mark Gagnon

I have spent most of my life traveling around the US and the globe. Now it's time to draw on these experiences and create what I hope are interesting fictional stories. Only you, the reader, can tell me if I've achieved my goal.

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