Daughters of the Witching Hill:
A Novel of the Pendle Witches
She was a very old woman, about the age of Foure-score yeares, and had been a Witch for fiftie yeares. Shee dwelt in the Forrest of Pendle, a vast place, fitte for her profession: What shee committed in her time, no man knows. . . . Shee was a generall agent for the Devill in all these partes: no man escaped her, or her Furies.
Thomas Potts, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the County of Lancaster, 1613
See us gathered here, three women stood at Richard Baldwins
gate. I bide with my daughter, Liza of the squint-eye, and with my granddaughter,
Alizon, just fifteen and dazzling as the noontide sun, so bright that she lights
up the murk of my dim sight. Demdike, folk call me, after the dammed stream
near my dwelling place where the farmers wash their sheep before shearing.
When I was younger and stronger, I used to help with the sheepwash. Wasnt
afraid of the fiercest rams. Id always had a way of gentling creatures
by speaking to them low and soft. Though Im old now, crabbed and near-blind,
my memory is long as a midsummers day and with my inner eye, I see clear.
We three wait till Baldwin catches glimpse of us and out he storms. Through the clouded caul that age has cast over my eyes, I catch his form. Thin as a brittle dead stalk, he is, his face pinched, and hes clad in the dour black weeds of a Puritan. Fancies himself a godly man, does our Dick Baldwin. A loud crack strikes the earthits a horsewhip he carries. My daughter fair leaps as he lashes it against the drought-hard dirt.
Whores and witches, he rails, shrill enough to set the crows to flight. Get out of my ground.
Slashes of air hit my face as he brandishes his whip, seeking to strike fear into us, but its his terror I taste as I let go of Alizons guiding hand and step forward, firm and square on my rag-bundled feet. Weve only come to claim what is ours by right.
Whores and witches, he taunts again, yelling with such bile that his spit sprays me. I will burn the one of you and hang the other.
He speaks to Liza and me, ignoring young Alizon, for he doesnt trust himself to even look at this girl whose beauty and sore hunger would be enough to make him sink to his knobbly knees.
I take another step forward, forcing him to back away. The mans a-fright that Ill so much as breathe on him. I care not for you, I tell him. Hang yourself.
Our Master Baldwin will play the righteous churchman, but what I know of him would besmirch his good name forevermore. He can spout his psalms till hes hoarse, but heavens gates will never open to him. I know this and he knows I know this, and for my knowing, he fears and hates me. Beneath his black clothes beats an even blacker heart. Hired my Liza to card wool, did Baldwin, and then refused to pay her. Whats more, our Liza has done much dearer things for him than carding. Puritan or no, hes taken his pleasure of her and, lost and grieving her poor murdered husband, ten years dead, our Liza was soft enough to let him. Fool girl.
Enough of this, I say. Liza carded your wool. Wheres her payment? Were poor, hungry folk. Would you let us starve for your meanness?
I speak in a low, warning tone, not unlike the growl of a dog before it bites. Man like him should know better than to cross the likes of me. Throughout Pendle Forest Im known as a cunning woman and she who has the power to bless may also curse.
Our Mr. Baldwin blames me because his daughter Ellen is too poorly to rise from her bed. The girl was a pale, consumptive thing from the day she was born, never hale in all her nine years. Once he called on me to heal her. Mopped her brow, I did. Brewed her feverfew and lungwort, but still she ailed and shivered. Tried my best with her, but some who are sick cannot be mended. Yet Baldwin thinks I bewitched the lass out of malice. Why would I seek to harm a hair on the poor girls head when his other daughter, the one he wont name or even look at, is my own youngest granddaughter, seven-year-old Jennet?
Excerpted from Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt. Copyright © 2010 by Mary Sharratt. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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