Excerpt of Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt
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In truth, the old ways died that day Elizabeths agents
sacked our church. For the past twenty-odd years, there had been no dancing
of a Sunday, no Sunday ales like we used to have when we made merry within
the very nave of the church. Though the Sabbath was the only day of leisure
we had, Curate refused to let us have any pleasure of it. No football, dice-playing
or card-playing. Magistrate Roger Nowell, my own half-brother, forbade the
Robin Hood plays and summer games, for he said they led to drunkenness and
wantonness amongst the lower orders. Few weeks back, the piper of Clitheroe
was arrested for playing late one Sunday afternoon.
Curate preached that only the Elect would go to heaven and I
was canny enough to know that didnt include me. So if I was damned anyway,
why should I suffer to obey their every command? Mind you, I went to church
of a Sunday. It was that, or suffer Church Wardens whip and fine. But
Id left off trying to hold myself to the straight and narrow. Perhaps
Id have fared no better even if the old church had survived, for hadnt
I been an adulteress? Yet still my heart was rooted, full stubborn, in that
lost world of chanting, processions, and revels that had bound us together,
rich and poor, saint and sinner. My souls home was not with this harsh
new God, but instead I sought the solace of the Queen of Heaven and whispered
the Salve Regina in secret. I swore to cling to the forbidden prayers till
my dying day.
I am getting ahead of myself. Back to the story: that evening,
after Tibb first appeared to me, I hared off in the long spring twilight, heading
home to Malkin Tower. Wasnt safe to be about after dark. Folk talked
of boggarts haunting the night, not that I was ignorant enough to believe every
outlandish tale, but I was shaken to the bone from seeing the boy who disappeared
into nowhere. The moon, nearly full, shone in the violet sky and the first
stars glimmered when, at last, I reached my door.
Our Malkin Tower was an odd place. Tower itself had two rooms,
one below and one above, and each room had narrow slits for windows from the
days, hundreds of years ago, when guardsmen were sat there with their bows
and arrows, on the look-out for raiders and poachers. But, as the tower had
no chimney or hearth, we spent most of our time in the firehouse, a ramshackle
room built on to the foot of the tower. And it was into the firehouse I stumbled
that night. My daughter Liza, sat close by the single rush light, gave a cry
when she saw me.
So late coming home, Mam! Did a devil cross your path?
In the wavering light, my girl looked more frightful than the
devil she spoke of, though she couldnt help it, God bless her. Her left
eye stood lower in her face than the other, and while her right eye looked
up, her left eye looked down. The sight of her was enough to put folk off their
food. Couldnt hire herself out as a kitchen maid because the housewives
of Pendle feared our Liza would spoil their milk and curdle their butter. Looking
the way she did, it would take a miracle for her to get regular work, let alone
a husband. Most she could hope for was a days pittance for carding wool
or weeding some housewifes garden.
Ignoring her talk of the devil, I unpacked the clump of old bread,
the gleanings of the days begging, and Liza sliced it into pieces thin
as communion wafer.
Liza, myself, my son Kit, and Kits wife, also Elizabeth,
though we called her Elsie, gathered for our supper. Kit hired himself out
as a day labourer, but at this time of year, there was little work to be had.
Lambing season had just passed. Shearing wouldnt come till high summer.
Best he could do was ask for work at the slate pits and hope to earn enough
to keep us in oatmeal and barley flour. Kits wife, Elsie, was heavy
with child. Most work she could get was a days mending or spinning.
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.