THE COTTAGE NOT IN THE WOODS

The cottage stood alone between two villages. In front was a hay meadow, behind it the old wood where no one wanted to go after dark and only the brave or the fool-hardy in the light.

Falling between two village boundaries, whoever occupied it naturally fell under a certain amount of suspicion. But, with the present occupant, people felt they had every right to be wary.

Late travellers swore that they had seen blue light coming from her windows as they quickly passed. Yellow light might be acceptable but no decent body would have blue light. Elspeth had found the cottage through a distant cousin, who was trying to sell it, none of the tenants he had found for the property proving profitable or indeed respectable. She had come into some money through astute dealings and was looking for a retreat in the country. The transaction seemed ideal.

When she moved in it was called Jasmine Cottage. Having failed to find any of that plant anywhere nearby she decided to change it to the more accurate Cottage Not In The Woods. This was another reason why the local people were upset with her.

It was a simple two up, two down affair, which suited her needs, library and kitchen downstairs, bedroom and laboratory upstairs. There was no need for a spare bedroom, she did not intend to have visitors and there was a stream in the woods for water and washing facilities. No distractions so she could concentrate on her studies.

Since she kept herself to herself her distant neighbours might mutter but had no cause to do anything more. One night, when she was falling asleep over an old tome of herbal lore, there was a gentle tap at the door. Elspeth shot up in her chair, her book falling heavily to the floor. Then the tapping came again.

So she had not imagined it. She got up rather too quickly and, staggering slightly, walked the few paces to open the door. Before her was a poorly dressed girl of about fifteen. Elspeth was immediately on her guard. Fifteen was a bad age.

“P…please mam. Would you have anything to eat?”

Elspeth was inclined to shut the door. This could only get complicated. But there was a bigger part of her who would not want a daughter of her own to be out alone in the night. She let the girl over the threshold.

While the creature sat by the fire, Elspeth quickly found a glass of milk and some cake in the kitchen, keeping a check on the girl every so often but she remained where she was, sagging wearily in the chair. When the items were put before her, the gusto with which she attacked them gave Elspeth no doubt that the girl was as hungry as she looked.

During the rare moments that her mouth was sufficiently free of milk or cake, she divulged that her name was Marjorie, her parents were dead of unspecified causes and she was making her way to the big city to see if she could find work.

The last drops of milk and the last crumbs very effectively consumed, Marjorie attempted to rise but dropped back wearily into the chair. Elspeth’s heart sank. Common decency meant she was going to have a guest for the night.

She thought of making a bed up by the fire but thought of the access this would give the girl to her precious books, she helped the child to rise and supported her up the stairs. She could not help noticing Marjorie’s mud stained feet and thought ruefully of her clean sheets.

The girl slumped thankfully into the bed and Elspeth returned downstairs to the chair where, half an hour before, she had been drifting into sleep but now where she was fully and uncomfortably awake.

Even so she must have drifted off into some form of unconsciousness because she was woken by a loud bang and a scream from upstairs. Grabbing the poker she ran to the bedroom to find Marjorie’s legs kicking wildly in the window, the rest of her trapped by the fall of the sash window.

Elspeth pulled it back up and Marjorie slipped back into the room. “Oh, thank you,” said the girl. “I was just trying to get some fresh air when that window fell on me.” Elspeth might have believed here were it not for the bag the girl was trying to hide behind her back.

“You have to be careful of sash windows,” she replied. “They have a tendency to trap you if you’re not careful, especially if you are carrying heavy objects.”

Before the girl could react, Elspeth grabbed the bag and tipped the contents on the bed. This proved to be a tiara that her grandmother had given her, a diamond bracelet from a young man who had been infatuated and various sparkling brooches and pendants that she had bought for herself. Marjorie burst into tears.

“You can stop that.” Elspeth said severely.

Marjorie stopped snivelling but large tears still rolled down her cheeks, making streaks through the grime on her face. “I’m so sorry but they made me.” “Who?” “The men. They found me after my parents died and they said they would look after me. But they make me steal from people houses.”

Elspeth took a deep breath. “Now I am going to say something very important to you. You have a choice. You can either clear out of here and tell the men I have nothing of value or you can remain here with me and we can let those men go hang, which they undoubtedly one day will.”

There was a dark part of Marjorie that wanted to tell the woman that she could go hang herself, she was fine with her life as it was. But another part of her was crying out, “No! This is your chance.”

“They won’t just let me go.”

“Are they outside?”

“No, they’re in the pub. But if I’m not back by the time they wake up they’ll come looking.”

“They know where you are?”

“Yes, we sussed out your place a couple of days ago.”

Elspeth felt a certain disquiet that her home had been reconnoitred without her knowledge and very annoyed that she had not noticed. “At least that gives us a bit of time.”

“Probably late morning by the time they’re sober enough to walk.”

Marjorie was put back to bed while Elspeth went downstairs to think. The girl was almost asleep before she realised that the jewellery that she had almost stolen had been left on top of the chest of drawers. She knew enough about initiation tests to turn over to face the other way and enjoy being in a comfortable bed.

The curtains had been left open so the dawn woke her from a surprisingly deep sleep. A little tentatively she went down the creaking stairs but found the cottage empty, although there was a note on the kitchen door saying, “Help Yourself.”

She cut herself a modest slice of bread but went a little over the top with butter and plum jam. She was just wondering if she was allowed another slice of bread and jam when Elspeth returned, carrying a small bucket covered with a cloth.

“Ah, you’re up,” said Elspeth, who did not sound that happy with the fact. “Can you read?”

“Of course I can read!”

“Then choose one of those books on the shelf and pop upstairs and try to keep quiet.” Marjorie grabbed a book and stomped upstairs.

Elspeth sat down at the table with the bucket in front of her and waited. She had to wait a full hour before she heard the sound of some determined footsteps approaching her door and then some loud knocks. Stooping like an old woman she went and slowly opened it, looking up at two angry and dishevelled men.

“You’ve got our girl. We want her back.”

Elspeth blinked as if trying to recall something. “Oh yes, Marjorie. You want her back?”

“We said so didn’t we.”

Elspeth turned and doddered over to the table and brought back the bucket. Taking off the cloth she held it out to them. “Here she is.”

The men looked down at a small discontented frog.

“Not a good idea to try and rob a witch. I thought you said you wanted her back?” Because the men were now running terrified back the way they had come.

There was a guffaw of laughter from the top of the stairs. “I thought I told you to stay upstairs?” said Elspeth sternly but then she too started laughing.

Over second breakfast Marjorie suddenly grew solemn. “Of course there is one flaw with your plan.”

“And what is that?”

“They won’t let it lie. They’ll go to the nearest village and tell them what they think you did.”

“The direction they were going in will take them to Stapleton, a village with a collective pole up its collective posterior. I don’t think they will take much credence from a couple of scarecrows.”

Elspeth proved correct in that no vengeful mob appeared on their doorstep. They both considered the future. Elspeth rather hoped that Marjorie could take over some of the domestic duties that Elspeth found a bit tedious but Marjorie proved ignorant of how a home was run, was a bit slapdash when sweeping was concerned and was afraid of spiders. She did at least show willing.

Where Marjorie did prove more competent was botany, theory and practice. Once shown a plant she would remember it and the uses Marjorie told her about. Afternoon walks looking for plants became a feature of their existence, supplemented by evenings of decoction and distillation.

Elspeth, who had previously lived an “I’ll do it when I feel like it” routine, found she quite enjoyed the new timetable. Thursday was market day in Stapleton, Thursday in the other village of Knill. They would alternate their shopping expeditions so that the shopkeepers of each village felt they had their custom.

It was in Stapleton that, buying carrots, the greengrocer had turned suspiciously to look at Marjorie.

“This the girl that was turned into a frog?”

“Evidently not,” said Elspeth and no more was said on the subject.

Several months passed, in which Elspeth was amazed at how quickly Marjorie was picking up the skills she was taught. She was a natural in dealing with the spiritual realm. She did not realise how natural until one Thursday when Marjorie burst through the door and shut it quickly behind her.

“That was quick. Did you get everything on the list?”

“Not completely, had a bit of a problem with the butcher.”

“What exactly?”

“He short changed me and then, when I challenged him, told me I was a liar.”

“What did you do?”

“I told him he would vomit up his lie.”

“And then?”

“He did. By this time there was a bit of a crowd. They started getting restive. I heard someone muttering the word witch, so I decided to come away.”

Elspeth sighed. “A pity it was Knill. They’ve always been hot-headed there.”

She looked out of the window. It was only just getting dusk but she thought she detected a series of moving lights along the road, getting closer.

“I may be wrong,” she said, “But I have a feeling we are in for the pitchfork and cudgel treatment.”

“What are we going to do?”

“I have really no idea.”

Marjorie looked terrified, then she screwed up her face in what Elspeth could not help feeling was a most unladylike manner. Then there was something not exactly like a wind and the world outside the cottage turned grey and swirly.

When things had calmed down a bit and Elspeth did not feel so giddy she looked out of the window.

“Where are we?”

“I’m not really sure but I think we are about seventy five years into the future.”

“How did you do that?”

Marjorie shrugged her shoulders. Tentatively they went outside to look at their new environment.

“Where are all the birds and the butterflies?” asked Elspeth.

It was true. Although the countryside had the appearance of high summer it was very quiet, without the abundance of wildlife they had been used to.

As they got used to their new situation they found there were some compensations. All the families that they had known in the area and might have told stories about their disappearance seemed to have moved, to be replaced by people who worked away, only coming back to the countryside to sleep and who took no notice that a derelict cottage had new inhabitants and instantly renovated. The people of this period seemed much more open to herbal tonics and little pieces of metal that could bring you luck. With the money they were able to extend the cottage to a much more commodious four up, four down that better suited their occasional need for solitude.

Elspeth could still every so often teach Marjorie something but it tended to be how to control her skill rather than anything completely new, which Marjorie had a habit of finding all by herself. Neither of them ever thought of wondering if there was a way of getting the cottage to travel back seventy five years although Elspeth did rather miss the butterflies.

“And then?” “He did. By this time there was a bit of a crowd. They started getting restive. I heard someone muttering the word witch, so I decided to come away.” Elspeth sighed. “A pity it was Knill. They’ve always been hot-headed there.” She looked out of the window. It was only just getting dusk but she thought she detected a series of moving lights along the road, getting closer. “I may be wrong,” she said, “But i have a feeling we are in for the pitchfork and cudgel treatment.” “What are we going to do?” “I have really no idea.” Marjorie looked terrified, then she screwed up her face in what Elspeth could not help feeling was a most unladylike manner. Then there was something not exactly like a wind and the world outside the cottage turned grey and swirly. When things had calmed down a bit and Elspeth did not feel so giddy she looked out of the window. “Where are we?” “I’m not really sure but I think we are about seventy five years into the future.” “How did you do that?” Marjorie shrugged her shoulders. Tentatively they went outside to look at their new environment. “Where are all the birds and the butterflies?” asked Elspeth. It was true. Although the countryside had the appearance of high summer it was very quiet, without the abundance of wildlife they had been used to. As they got used to their new situation they found there were some compensations. All the families that they had known in the area and might have told stories about their disappearance seemed to have moved, to be replaced by people who worked away, only coming back to the countryside to sleep and who took no notice that a derelict cottage had new inhabitants and instantly renovated. The people of this period seemed much more open to herbal tonics and little pieces of metal that could bring you luck. With the money they were able to extend the cottage to a much more commodious four up, four down that better suited their occasional need for solitude. Elspeth could still every so often teach Marjorie something but it tended to be how to control her skill rather than anything completely new, which Marjorie had a habit of finding all by herself. Neither of them ever thought of wondering if there was a way of getting the cottage to travel back seventy five years although Elspeth did rather miss the butterflies.

The cottage stood alone between two villages. In front was a hay meadow, behind it the old wood where no one wanted to go after dark and only the brave or the fool-hardy in the light. Falling between two village boundaries, whoever occupied it naturally fell under a certain amount of suspicion.

But, with the present occupant, people felt they had every right to be wary. Late travellers swore that they had seen blue light coming from her windows as they quickly passed. Yellow light might be acceptable but no decent body would have blue light.

Elspeth had found the cottage through a distant cousin, who was trying to sell it, none of the tenants he had found for the property proving profitable or indeed respectable. She had come into some money through astute dealings and was looking for a retreat in the country. The transaction seemed ideal.

When she moved in it was called Jasmine Cottage. Having failed to find any of that plant anywhere nearby she decided to change it to the more accurate Cottage Not In The Woods. This was another reason why the local people were upset with her. It was a simple two up, two down affair, which suited her needs, library and kitchen downstairs, bedroom and laboratory upstairs. There was no need for a spare bedroom, she did not intend to have visitors and there was a stream in the woods for water and washing facilities. No distractions so she could concentrate on her studies. Since she kept herself to herself her distant neighbours might mutter but had no cause to do anything more.

One night, when she was falling asleep over an old tome of herbal lore, there was a gentle tap at the door. Elspeth shot up in her chair, her book falling heavily to the floor. Then the tapping came again. So she had not imagined it. She got up rather too quickly and, staggering slightly, walked the few paces to open the door.

Before her was a poorly dressed girl of about fifteen. Elspeth was immediately on her guard. Fifteen was a bad age.

“P…please mam. Would you have anything to eat?”

Elspeth was inclined to shut the door. This could only get complicated. But there was a bigger part of her who would not want a daughter of her own to be out alone in the night. She let the girl over the threshold. While the creature sat by the fire, Elspeth quickly found a glass of milk and some cake in the kitchen, keeping a check on the girl every so often but she remained where she was, sagging wearily in the chair. When the items were put before her, the gusto with which she attacked them gave Elspeth no doubt that the girl was as hungry as she looked.

During the rare moments that her mouth was sufficiently free of milk or cake, she divulged that her name was Marjorie, her parents were dead of unspecified causes and she was making her way to the big city to see if she could find work. The last drops of milk and the last crumbs very effectively consumed, Marjorie attempted to rise but dropped back wearily into the chair. Elspeth’s heart sank. Common decency meant she was going to have a guest for the night. She thought of making a bed up by the fire but thought of the access this would give the girl to her precious books, she helped the child to rise and supported her up the stairs. She could not help noticing Marjorie’s mud stained feet and thought ruefully of her clean sheets.

The girl slumped thankfully into the bed and Elspeth returned downstairs to the chair where, half an hour before, she had been drifting into sleep but now where she was fully and uncomfortably awake. Even so she must have drifted off into some form of unconsciousness because she was woken by a loud bang and a scream from upstairs.

Grabbing the poker she ran to the bedroom to find Marjorie’s legs kicking wildly in the window, the rest of her trapped by the fall of the sash window. Elspeth pulled it back up and Marjorie slipped back into the room.

“Oh, thank you,” said the girl. “I was just trying to get some fresh air when that window fell on me.” Elspeth might have believed here were it not for the bag the girl was trying to hide behind her back.

“You have to be careful of sash windows,” she replied. “They have a tendency to trap you if you’re not careful, especially if you are carrying heavy objects.”

Before the girl could react, Elspeth grabbed the bag and tipped the contents on the bed. This proved to be a tiara that her grandmother had given her, a diamond bracelet from a young man who had been infatuated and various sparkling brooches and pendants that she had bought for herself.

Marjorie burst into tears. “You can stop that.” Elspeth said severely. Marjorie stopped snivelling but large tears still rolled down her cheeks, making streaks through the grime on her face.

“I’m so sorry but they made me.”

“Who?”

“The men. They found me after my parents died and they said they would look after me. But they make me steal from people houses.”

Elspeth took a deep breath. “Now I am going to say something very important to you. You have a choice. You can either clear out of here and tell the men I have nothing of value or you can remain here with me and we can let those men go hang, which they undoubtedly one day will.”

There was a dark part of Marjorie that wanted to tell the woman that she could go hang herself, she was fine with her life as it was. But another part of her was crying out, “No! This is your chance.”

“They won’t just let me go.”

“Are they outside?”

“No, they’re in the pub. But if I’m not back by the time they wake up they’ll come looking.”

“They know where you are?”

“Yes, we sussed out your place a couple of days ago.”

Elspeth felt a certain disquiet that her home had been reconnoitred without her knowledge and very annoyed that she had not noticed.

“At least that gives us a bit of time.”

“Probably late morning by the time they’re sober enough to walk.”

Marjorie was put back to bed while Elspeth went downstairs to think. The girl was almost asleep before she realised that the jewellery that she had almost stolen had been left on top of the chest of drawers. She knew enough about initiation tests to turn over to face the other way and enjoy being in a comfortable bed.

The curtains had been left open so the dawn woke her from a surprisingly deep sleep. A little tentatively she went down the creaking stairs but found the cottage empty, although there was a note on the kitchen door saying, “Help Yourself.” She cut herself a modest slice of bread but went a little over the top with butter and plum jam.

She was just wondering if she was allowed another slice of bread and jam when Elspeth returned, carrying a small bucket covered with a cloth.

“Ah, you’re up,” said Elspeth, who did not sound that happy with the fact. “Can you read?”

“Of course I can read!”

“Then choose one of those books on the shelf and pop upstairs and try to keep quiet.”

Marjorie grabbed a book and stomped upstairs. Elspeth sat down at the table with the bucket in front of her and waited. She had to wait a full hour before she heard the sound of some determined footsteps approaching her door and then some loud knocks. Stooping like an old woman she went and slowly opened it, looking up at two angry and dishevelled men.

“You’ve got our girl. We want her back.”

Elspeth blinked as if trying to recall something.

“Oh yes, Marjorie. You want her back?”

“We said so didn’t we.”

Elspeth turned and doddered over to the table and brought back the bucket. Taking off the cloth she held it out to them. “Here she is.”

The men looked down at a small discontented frog. “Not a good idea to try and rob a witch. I thought you said you wanted her back?” Because the men were now running terrified back the way they had come. There was a guffaw of laughter from the top of the stairs.

“I thought I told you to stay upstairs?” said Elspeth sternly but then she too started laughing.

Over second breakfast Marjorie suddenly grew solemn.

“Of course there is one flaw with your plan.”

“And what is that?”

“They won’t let it lie. They’ll go to the nearest village and tell them what they think you did.”

“The direction they were going in will take them to Stapleton, a village with a collective pole up its collective posterior. I don’t think they will take much credence from a couple of scarecrows.”

Elspeth proved correct in that no vengeful mob appeared on their doorstep. They both considered the future. Elspeth rather hoped that Marjorie could take over some of the domestic duties that Elspeth found a bit tedious but Marjorie proved ignorant of how a home was run, was a bit slapdash when sweeping was concerned and was afraid of spiders. She did at least show willing. Where Marjorie did prove more competent was botany, theory and practice. Once shown a plant she would remember it and the uses Marjorie told her about.

Afternoon walks looking for plants became a feature of their existence, supplemented by evenings of decoction and distillation. Elspeth, who had previously lived an “I’ll do it when I feel like it” routine, found she quite enjoyed the new timetable. Thursday was market day in Stapleton, Thursday in the other village of Knill. They would alternate their shopping expeditions so that the shopkeepers of each village felt they had their custom.

It was in Stapleton that, buying carrots, the greengrocer had turned suspiciously to look at Marjorie. “This the girl that was turned into a frog?”

“Evidently not,” said Elspeth and no more was said on the subject.

Several months passed, in which Elspeth was amazed at how quickly Marjorie was picking up the skills she was taught. She was a natural in dealing with the spiritual realm. She did not realise how natural until one Thursday when Marjorie burst through the door and shut it quickly behind her. “That was quick. Did you get everything on the list?”

“Not completely, had a bit of a problem with the butcher.”

“What exactly?”

“He short changed me and then, when I challenged him, told me I was a liar.”

“What did you do?”

“I told him he would vomit up his lie.”

“And then?”

“He did. By this time there was a bit of a crowd. They started getting restive. I heard someone muttering the word witch, so I decided to come away.”

Elspeth sighed. “A pity it was Knill. They’ve always been hot-headed there.”

She looked out of the window. It was only just getting dusk but she thought she detected a series of moving lights along the road, getting closer.

“I may be wrong,” she said, “But I have a feeling we are in for the pitchfork and cudgel treatment.”

“What are we going to do?”

“I have really no idea.”

Marjorie looked terrified, then she screwed up her face in what Elspeth could not help feeling was a most unladylike manner. Then there was something not exactly like a wind and the world outside the cottage turned grey and swirly. When things had calmed down a bit and Elspeth did not feel so giddy she looked out of the window. “Where are we?”

“I’m not really sure but I think we are about seventy five years into the future.”

“How did you do that?”

Marjorie shrugged her shoulders. Tentatively they went outside to look at their new environment.

“Where are all the birds and the butterflies?” asked Elspeth. It was true. Although the countryside had the appearance of high summer it was very quiet, without the abundance of wildlife they had been used to. As they got used to their new situation they found there were some compensations. All the families that they had known in the area and might have told stories about their disappearance seemed to have moved, to be replaced by people who worked away, only coming back to the countryside to sleep and who took no notice that a derelict cottage had new inhabitants and instantly renovated.

The people of this period seemed much more open to herbal tonics and little pieces of metal that could bring you luck. With the money they were able to extend the cottage to a much more commodious four up, four down that better suited their occasional need for solitude. Elspeth could still every so often teach Marjorie something but it tended to be how to control her skill rather than anything completely new, which Marjorie had a habit of finding all by herself. Neither of them ever thought of wondering if there was a way of getting the cottage to travel back seventy five years although Elspeth did rather miss the butterflies.

The cottage stood alone between two villages. In front was a hay meadow, behind it the old wood where no one wanted to go after dark and only the brave or the fool-hardy in the light. Falling between two village boundaries, whoever occupied it naturally fell under a certain amount of suspicion.

But, with the present occupant, people felt they had every right to be wary. Late travellers swore that they had seen blue light coming from her windows as they quickly passed. Yellow light might be acceptable but no decent body would have blue light. Elspeth had found the cottage through a distant cousin, who was trying to sell it, none of the tenants he had found for the property proving profitable or indeed respectable. She had come into some money through astute dealings and was looking for a retreat in the country. The transaction seemed ideal. When she moved in it was called Jasmine Cottage. Having failed to find any of that plant anywhere nearby she decided to change it to the more accurate Cottage Not In The Woods. This was another reason why the local people were upset with her. It was a simple two up, two down affair, which suited her needs, library and kitchen downstairs, bedroom and laboratory upstairs. There was no need for a spare bedroom, she did not intend to have visitors and there was a stream in the woods for water and washing facilities. No distractions so she could concentrate on her studies. Since she kept herself to herself her distant neighbours might mutter but had no cause to do anything more. One night, when she was falling asleep over an old tome of herbal lore, there was a gentle tap at the door. Elspeth shot up in her chair, her book falling heavily to the floor. Then the tapping came again. So she had not imagined it. She got up rather too quickly and, staggering slightly, walked the few paces to open the door. Before her was a poorly dressed girl of about fifteen. Elspeth was immediately on her guard. Fifteen was a bad age. “P…please mam. Would you have anything to eat?” Elspeth was inclined to shut the door. This could only get complicated. But there was a bigger part of her who would not want a daughter of her own to be out alone in the night. She let the girl over the threshold. While the creature sat by the fire, Elspeth quickly found a glass of milk and some cake in the kitchen, keeping a check on the girl every so often but she remained where she was, sagging wearily in the chair. When the items were put before her, the gusto with which she attacked them gave Elspeth no doubt that the girl was as hungry as she looked. During the rare moments that her mouth was sufficiently free of milk or cake, she divulged that her name was Marjorie, her parents were dead of unspecified causes and she was making her way to the big city to see if she could find work. The last drops of milk and the last crumbs very effectively consumed, Marjorie attempted to rise but dropped back wearily into the chair. Elspeth’s heart sank. Common decency meant she was going to have a guest for the night. She thought of making a bed up by the fire but thought of the access this would give the girl to her precious books, she helped the child to rise and supported her up the stairs. She could not help noticing Marjorie’s mud stained feet and thought ruefully of her clean sheets. The girl slumped thankfully into the bed and Elspeth returned downstairs to the chair where, half an hour before, she had been drifting into sleep but now where she was fully and uncomfortably awake. Even so she must have drifted off into some form of unconsciousness because she was woken by a loud bang and a scream from upstairs. Grabbing the poker she ran to the bedroom to find Marjorie’s legs kicking wildly in the window, the rest of her trapped by the fall of the sash window. Elspeth pulled it back up and Marjorie slipped back into the room. “Oh, thank you,” said the girl. “I was just trying to get some fresh air when that window fell on me.” Elspeth might have believed here were it not for the bag the girl was trying to hide behind her back. “You have to be careful of sash windows,” she replied. “They have a tendency to trap you if you’re not careful, especially if you are carrying heavy objects.” Before the girl could react, Elspeth grabbed the bag and tipped the contents on the bed. This proved to be a tiara that her grandmother had given her, a diamond bracelet from a young man who had been infatuated and various sparkling brooches and pendants that she had bought for herself. Marjorie burst into tears. “You can stop that.” Elspeth said severely. Marjorie stopped snivelling but large tears still rolled down her cheeks, making streaks through the grime on her face. “I’m so sorry but they made me.” “Who?” “The men. They found me after my parents died and they said they would look after me. But they make me steal from people houses.” Elspeth took a deep breath. “Now I am going to say something very important to you. You have a choice. You can either clear out of here and tell the men I have nothing of value or you can remain here with me and we can let those men go hang, which they undoubtedly one day will.” There was a dark part of Marjorie that wanted to tell the woman that she could go hang herself, she was fine with her life as it was. But another part of her was crying out, “No! This is your chance.” “They won’t just let me go.” “Are they outside?” “No, they’re in the pub. But if I’m not back by the time they wake up they’ll come looking.” “They know where you are?” “Yes, we sussed out your place a couple of days ago. Elspeth felt a certain disquiet that her home had been reconnoitred without her knowledge and very annoyed that she had not noticed. “At least that gives us a bit of time.” “Probably late morning by the time they’re sober enough to walk.” Marjorie was put back to bed while Elspeth went downstairs to think. The girl was almost asleep before she realised that the jewellery that she had almost stolen had been left on top of the chest of drawers. She knew enough about initiation tests to turn over to face the other way and enjoy being in a comfortable bed. The curtains had been left open so the dawn woke her from a surprisingly deep sleep. A little tentatively she went down the creaking stairs but found the cottage empty, although there was a note on the kitchen door saying, “Help Yourself.” She cut herself a modest slice of bread but went a little over the top with butter and plum jam. She was just wondering if she was allowed another slice of bread and jam when Elspeth returned, carrying a small bucket covered with a cloth. “Ah, you’re up,” said Elspeth, who did not sound that happy with the fact. “Can you read?” “Of course I can read!” “Then choose one of those books on the shelf and pop upstairs and try to keep quiet.” Marjorie grabbed a book and stomped upstairs. Elspeth sat down at the table with the bucket in front of her and waited. She had to wait a full hour before she heard the sound of some determined footsteps approaching her door and then some loud knocks. Stooping like an old woman she went and slowly opened it, looking up at two angry and dishevelled men. “You’ve got our girl. We want her back.” Elspeth blinked as if trying to recall something. “Oh yes, Marjorie. You want her back?” “We said so didn’t we.” Elspeth turned and doddered over to the table and brought back the bucket. Taking off the cloth she held it out to them. “Here she is.” The men looked down at a small discontented frog. “Not a good idea to try and rob a witch. I thought you said you wanted her back?” Because the men were now running terrified back the way they had come. There was a guffaw of laughter from the top of the stairs. “I thought I told you to stay upstairs?” said Elspeth sternly but then she too started laughing. Over second breakfast Marjorie suddenly grew solemn. “Of course there is one flaw with your plan.” “And what is that?” “They won’t let it lie. They’ll go to the nearest village and tell them what they think you did.” The direction they were going in will take them to Stapleton, a village with a collective pole up its collective posterior. I don’t think they will take much credence from a couple of scarecrows.” Elspeth proved correct in that no vengeful mob appeared on their doorstep. They both considered the future. Elspeth rather hoped that Marjorie could take over some of the domestic duties that Elspeth found a bit tedious but Marjorie proved ignorant of how a home was run, was a bit slapdash when sweeping was concerned and was afraid of spiders. She did at least show willing. Where Marjorie did prove more competent was botany, theory and practice. Once shown a plant she would remember it and the uses Marjorie told her about. Afternoon walks looking for plants became a feature of their existence, supplemented by evenings of decoction and distillation. Elspeth, who had previously lived an “I’ll do it when I feel like it” routine, found she quite enjoyed the new timetable. Thursday was market day in Stapleton, Thursday in the other village of Knill. They would alternate their shopping expeditions so that the shopkeepers of each village felt they had their custom. It was in Stapleton that, buying carrots, the greengrocer had turned suspiciously to look at Marjorie. “This the girl that was turned into a frog?” “Evidently not,” said Elspeth and no more was said on the subject. Several months passed, in which Elspeth was amazed at how quickly Marjorie was picking up the skills she was taught. She was a natural in dealing with the spiritual realm. She did not realise how natural until one Thursday when Marjorie burst through the door and shut it quickly behind her. “That was quick. Did you get everything on the list?” “Not completely, had a bit of a problem with the butcher.” “What exactly?” “He short changed me and then, when I challenged him, told me I was a liar.” “What did you do?” “I told him he would vomit up his lie.” “And then?” “He did. By this time there was a bit of a crowd. They started getting restive. I heard someone muttering the word witch, so I decided to come away.” Elspeth sighed. “A pity it was Knill. They’ve always been hot-headed there.” She looked out of the window. It was only just getting dusk but she thought she detected a series of moving lights along the road, getting closer. “I may be wrong,” she said, “But i have a feeling we are in for the pitchfork and cudgel treatment.” “What are we going to do?” “I have really no idea.” Marjorie looked terrified, then she screwed up her face in what Elspeth could not help feeling was a most unladylike manner. Then there was something not exactly like a wind and the world outside the cottage turned grey and swirly. When things had calmed down a bit and Elspeth did not feel so giddy she looked out of the window. “Where are we?” “I’m not really sure but I think we are about seventy five years into the future.” “How did you do that?” Marjorie shrugged her shoulders. Tentatively they went outside to look at their new environment. “Where are all the birds and the butterflies?” asked Elspeth. It was true. Although the countryside had the appearance of high summer it was very quiet, without the abundance of wildlife they had been used to. As they got used to their new situation they found there were some compensations. All the families that they had known in the area and might have told stories about their disappearance seemed to have moved, to be replaced by people who worked away, only coming back to the countryside to sleep and who took no notice that a derelict cottage had new inhabitants and instantly renovated. The people of this period seemed much more open to herbal tonics and little pieces of metal that could bring you luck. With the money they were able to extend the cottage to a much more commodious four up, four down that better suited their occasional need for solitude. Elspeth could still every so often teach Marjorie something but it tended to be how to control her skill rather than anything completely new, which Marjorie had a habit of finding all by herself. Neither of them ever thought of wondering if there was a way of getting the cottage to travel back seventy five years although Elspeth did rather miss the butterflies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.