“If you’re feelin’ lost and fussin’ o’er the best path to take,
follow the first animal ye spot
(be it a hare, bird, cat, insect or mouse).
When it fades from view follow the next creature that crosses your path.
Then the next. And the next. And so on, ’til they lead
to where your destiny lies.
Look with faithful eyes and you’ll soon see
what answer doth await thee!”
Sandor Bihari: “Old Woman”
Old age is the caul of wisdom!
Our biggest rivals are the Chattox lot over at West Close in Higham. And their lass Anne’s a comely wench if ever there was one, though too much of a handful for poor Tom Redferne to manage. She’s quite a bit older than our Ali, and Jim used to follow her round like a dog chasing heat. Of course, being bonny as summer she’d not give the dim lad the slightest sniff, finally shooing him off with a bucket of pig shit until he finally got the message.
Anne was widowed at thirty, with naught to show for ten years of wedlock except one scrawny lass called Marie. Yet she kept her curves and rosy cheeks, and her coppery hair never grew tatty like our Lizzie’s. So whenever the cheeky whelp sets off doing business, her sister Bessie steps in. Bessie’s not much use for aught else really – not very wise at all.
Aye, Anne’s the one to watch now that Old Chattox stoops blind over her stick and can’t stop her toothless gob from jabbering. She’s dangerous, that crafty trollop is, and not the type to cross if you value your health. They say she put that young Nutter lad in hancke and I’ll warrant there might be some truth in that.
Right now though, Anne and her mum are locked up in the Well Tower with us. There’s a whisper she may be plotting her escape as folks believe she can shape-shift into a raven. But I don’t believe a word of that nonsense, for I taught those two foolish bitches everything they know!
Our Lizzie’s lass is only nine years old but everyone’s heard of Jennet Device! She’s made quite a name for herself lately, tattling to the Justice on the doings at Malkin Tower. I don’t know who’s feeding the little wench, since I’m stuck here in the castle, but one of the jailors says she’s living at Read Hall with the Nowells, and is like to give evidence against us at the assizes. She’d best not say aught about me though, the hell cat. And Lizzie will wring her neck if she opens her gob too far.
Jenny’s fooled everyone. She looks the perfect angel – all long blonde curls and big eyes. But don’t be taken in by her bonny smile! She’s a viper in disguise, and no mistake. I’ve never trusted her as far as I could spit – and she’s got the lightest fingers of anyone I’ve ever met. That minx just can’t keep her hands to herself and she’s always landing the lot of us in bother. The final straw came last year when she filched Mistress Bulcock’s diamond pin! What a to-do there was over that. Aye, she’s a proper thieving magpie, that one. I just wish she didn’t keep getting caught.
There’s summat odd about that child I can’t quite put my finger on. She was a sulky bairn who grew up fast and secretive, yet she’s got to be the center of aught going on, and if you don’t stamp her back into place she’ll pull some trick or other to get herself admired.
Has she got any cunning though? It’s too soon to tell. But if she ever decides she’s a sorceress the good folks of Pendle better sit up and take note. They’ll never sleep soundly again!
Our Ali’s a bonnie wench and no mistaking. She makes everyone in the village call her Alizon as she thinks it sounds much grander than Ali. And that pride’s always been her downfall. She’s eighteen years, if I’ve counted up right, and since she turned twelve she’s earned more money than the rest of us put together.
You’d think a lass with those curves would have suitors falling all over themselves, but there’s summat about Ali that puts the lads off – and not just her slattern reputation! She’s got the finest light brown hair and big wide eyes, and you can see from her arms that she’s strong and capable. But she’s also got a wicked tongue and won’t take No! for an answer. Of course, that’s what got us all in this mess in the first place. She can’t keep her gob shut and she likes to brag. Silly baggage.
Her black dog’s called Nip – an apt name for the snarly creature – and she doesn’t go anywhere without him. Since we’ve been put in the castle it’s the first time they’ve ever been parted so I hope my son Chris can handle the mutt while we’re gone.
I must admit, our Ali’s got the gift alright – she’s a real chip off the old block when it comes to cunning. It’s a pity she’s not more kindly disposed to Jenny, but I’ve never known two sister who hate each other like they do. Her only mate’s Cousin Gracie – our Chris’ lass from Hay Booth. I’m dead surprised they’ve not rounded her up too, but I’m glad at least one of my granddaughters won’t be standing trial.
When Constable Hargreaves arrested us I was gob smacked. “Can they do you for magic then, nowadays?” I asked.
He wiped his brow and said, “Not magic. Witchcraft!” We didn’t ken the difference back then, and by the time we found out it was too late to save our Ali. But I decided if I was going to swing I’d take the Old Chattox bitch with me so I pointed the finger at her, saying Anne Whittle bade me sell my soul to the Devil. And a mighty fine yarn I span!
Our rivals live o’er at West Close in Higham. Old Chattox has two lassies – Anne Redferne and Bessie Whittle – and a grandchild called Marie. Anne’s the widow of Tom Redferne, a handsome lad cuckolded more times than I’ve had hot porridge. Bessie though, she’s plainer than milk, and no one ever came courting for that lump of lard.
Now there once was a time me and Anne Whittle were best mates, when we’d swap potions and recipes for herbals. But then she grew jealous of my reputation and her wenches broke into Malkin Tower to steal all our hard-earned treasures. After that, it was war between the two clans so I told Justice Nowell a thing or two about that lot – how we’d seen them hex Christopher and Robert Nutter with our very own eyes.
They’d filched enough of my secrets to fool a good many folk in Pendle. And some would even argue that Old Chattox is wiser then me. Ha!
But afore I go on any further let me prove my powers to you. Today, wear RED for luck and see what happens.
The death bell tolls:
“nine knells for a man
six for a woman
and three for a child.”
But the church bell protects from witches:
“Much the witches fear the spell
When by night they hear a bell,
Off they fly over the sky
When they hear dondo dondo.”
(Old Gypsy Song)