He lifted his face to the red-glowing sky and laughed as the
last of the sun sank behind Pendle Hill. Then I heard a noise behind me: the
startled squawk of a pheasant taking flight. When I turned to face the boy
again, he had vanished away. I looked up and down the lane, finding him nowhere.
Couldnt even trace his footprints in the muddy track. Did my mind fail
me? Had that boy been real at all? This was when I grew afraid and went cold
all over, as though frost had settled upon my skin.
First off, I told no one of Tibb. Who would have believed me
when I could scarcely believe it myself? Id no wish to make myself an
even bigger laughingstock than I already was.
Ned Southerns, my husband, such as he was, had passed on just
after our squint-eyed Liza was born, nineteen years ago. He blamed me for our
daughters deformity because he thought Id too much contact with
beasts whilst I was carrying her. In my married years, I raised fine hens,
even kept a nanny goat. There was another child, Christopher, three years older
than Liza and not of my husband, but far and away from being the only bastard
in Pendle Forest. The gentry and the yeomen bred as many ill-begotten babes
as us poor folk, only they did a better job of covering it up. Liza, Kit, and
I made our home in a crumbling old watchtower near the edge of Pendle Forest.
More ancient than Adam, our tower was: too draughty for storing silage, but
it did for us. Malkin Tower, it was called, and, as youll know, Malkin
can mean either hare or slattern. What better place for me and my brood?
Still folk whispered that it seemed a curious thing indeed that
one such as I should live in a tower built of stout stone with a firehouse
boasting a proper hearth at its foot when many a poor widow made do with a
one-room hovel with no hearth at all but only a fire pit in the bare earthen
floor. In truth, my poor dead mother got the tower given her for her natural
lifetowers named after slatterns were meant to hide guilty secrets.
When my mam was young and comely, shed served the Nowell
family at Read Hall. Head ostlers daughter, so she was, and shed
prospects and a modest dowry besides. But what did she do but catch the eye
of Master Nowells son, then a lad of seventeen years? The Nowells were
not an old family, as gentry went, nor half as grand as the Shuttleworths of
Gawthorpe Hall or the de Lacys of Clitheroe. The Nowells fortunes had
risen along with the sway of the new religion. Back when Old King Henrys
troops came to sack Whalley Abbey, the Nowells sent their men to help topple
the ancient stone walls. King rewarded their loyalty by granting the Nowells
a goodly portion of the abbeys lands. One of Old Man Nowells sons
went to faraway Cambridgeshire to make his name as a Puritan divine, or so
Id been told. Far and wide, the Nowells let it be known that they were
godly folk. But even the pious are prey to youthful folly.
My mam, before her fall from grace, had been an upright girl,
so the young Master Roger could hardly discard her as easy as he would some
tavern maid. And that was why Mam was given Malkin Tower for the rest of her
life on the condition that she never trouble the Nowells of Read Hall. Far
enough from Read, it was, for them not to be bothered by the sight of her,
but it was close enough to for them to keep watch of her, should she seek to
blacken their good name. My mam and I were never respectablerespect
costs money and we hadnt two pennies to rub together. Wed Malkin
Tower to live in but no scrap of land for grazing sheep. Most we could manage
was a garden plot in the stony soil. By and by, I think the Nowells had fair
forgotten us. When my mam passed on, bless her eternal soul, the tower was
in such poor repair they didnt seem to want it back. So I stayed on,
for where else had I to go? It seemed they preferred to have no dealings with
me and that it shamed them less to allow me to carry on here like a squatter,
not paying a farthingss rent.
Kenn Nesbitt is new Children's Poet Laureate(Jun 12 2013) Kenn Nesbitt has been named the new Children's Poet Laureate: Consultant in Children's Poetry to the Poetry Foundation, which noted that the two-year position...