Excerpt of Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt
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Richard. My Liza makes bold to step toward him.
She stretches out a beseeching hand. Have a heart. For our Jennets
sake. Weve nothing more to eat in the house.
But he twists away from her in cold dread and still wont
pay her for her honest work, wont grant us so much as a penny. So what
can I do but promise that Ill pray for him till he comes to be of a
better mind? Soft under my breath, masked from his Puritan ears, I murmur the
Latin refrains of the old religion. How my whispered words make him pale and
quakedoes he believe they will strike him dead? Off to his house he
scarpers. Behind his bolted door hell cower till were well gone.
Come, Gran. Alizon takes my arm to lead me home.
Cant make my way round without her in this dark ebb of my years. But
with my inner eye I see Tibb sat there on the drystone wall. Sun breaks through
the clouds to golden-wash his guilesome face. Dick Baldwin would call him a
devil, or even the Devil, but I know better. Tibb, his beautiful form invisible
to all but me.
Now I dont generally stand by woe-working, says
my Tibb, stretching out his long legs. But if you forespoke Master Baldwin,
who could blame you, after all the ill hes done to you and yours? He
cracks a smile. Is revenge what you want?
No, Tibb. Only justice. I speak with my inner voice
that none but Tibb can hear. If Baldwin fell ill and died, what would happen
to his lawful daughter, Ellen? Her mothers long dead. Another poor lass
to live off the alms of the parish. No, Ill not have that burden on
Justice! Tibb laughs, then shakes his head. Off
the likes of Dick Baldwin? Oh, you do set your sights high.
Tibbs laughter makes the years melt away, drawing me back
to the old days, when I could see far with my own two eyes and walk on my own
two legs, with none to guide me.
By daylight gate I first saw him, the boy climbing out of the
stone pit in Goldshaw. The sinking sun set his fair hair alight. Slender, he
was, and so young and beautiful. Pure, too. No meanness on him. No spite or
evil. I knew straight off that he wouldnt spit at me for being a barefoot
beggar woman. Wouldnt curse at me or try to shove me into the ditch.
There was something in his eyesa gentleness, a knowing. When he looked
at me, my hurting knees turned to butter. When he smiled, I melted to my core,
my heart bumping and thumping till I fair fainted away. What would a lad like
that want with a fifty-year-old widow like me?
The month of May, it was, but cold of an evening. His coat was
half black, half brown. I thought to myself that he must be poor like me, left
to stitch his clothes together from mismatched rags. He reached out his hand,
as though making to greet an old friend.
Elizabeth, he said. My own Bess. The
names by which I was known when a girl with a slender waist and strong legs
and rippling chestnut hair. How did he know my true name? Even then I was known
to most as Demdike. The boy smiled wide with clean white teeth, none of them
missing, and his eyes had a devilish spark in them, as though I were still
that young woman with skin like new milk.
Well, well, said I, for I was never one to stay
silent for long. You know my name, so you do. Whats yours then?
Tibb, he said.
Your family name. I nodded to myself, though I
knew of no Tibbs living anywhere in Pendle Forest. But what of your
Christian name? After all, I thought, he knew me by mine, God only knew
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.