Thursday, 31 July 2014

The Lavender Witch: serialised

I am going to post 'The Lavender Witch' as a twice weekly series which I hope you will enjoy reading and that you won't get too frustrated that it's in dribs and drabs! ( what a lovely expression, makes me think of old spinster aunts!) Anyway I hope you enjoy it....

evon, a beautiful green county of gentle rolling hills and woodlands. Steeped in history, and home to the Anglo Saxon tribe the Dumnonii from which the county reputedly gained its name. Dumnonii meaning ‘deep valley dwellers’; an apt name for this beautiful countryside.  Hiding scores of small villages and hamlets deep in the fertile valleys of the Blackdown Hills and reached by a maze of winding single track lanes enclosed on either side by high banks and hedges which in high summer grow together and meet overhead forming long green tunnels.  Within just a few miles of the bustling towns and roads you enter a different world where the past is so close that it could be just around the next bend of the road.

The small village of Medbury, worthy of mention in the Domesday book is bounded by the river Yarty to the west and the county border of Dorset to the east, its single street winding its way along the valley and rising gently to the slopes of Castle Hill. The street petering out at the rambling buildings of Castle Farm, originally the last residence on that road but with the overgrown orchard to the side of the barn recently having been sold, a new dwelling had risen inside the old stone walls of the orchard. The builders rubble had gone, lush green turf had been laid and a new gravel drive led up to the front door. Orchard Cottage was finished, and deep in the soil something stirred


There were a few early fallers under the two remaining apple trees in the orchard behind the house, the old neglected trees had long since stopped producing a decent crop but the wasps had found the few apples that had dropped and were drunkenly crawling over the rotting fruit.
 One stray wasp flew in through the kitchen door and buzzed slowly around the room until it found the empty tubs of the Indian takeaway on the table. Kitty flicked it away with a tea towel and swept the debris into a carrier bag.
‘Thanks for bringing the Indian.’
Gordon pushed his empty plate away and stood up. ‘Well, I thought it would be easier for you, after all,’ he said looking at the piles of boxes in the hall. ‘You’ve had a busy day. So what time did the removal company finish?’
Kitty sighed and pushed her greying hair back from her face.
 ‘I think we finished unpacking the van about five, so then they had one last cup of tea and went on about five thirtyish.’ She picked up the dirty plates and piled them in the sink. ‘I’ve run out of milk as well, they drank so much tea and coffee. I was brewing up the whole time they were here.’
‘Oh well, at least they worked hard for it and moving all our junk in one trip! I’m sure they deserved all the tea they could drink for that.’
A cool breeze blew in the door, outside dusk was falling and the last few minutes of bird song drifted over the newly landscaped garden.
‘Thank goodness it stayed dry, there’s nothing worse than trying to move in the rain.’
Gordon opened the fridge. ‘Yeah.. We were lucky this time, is there enough milk left for a cup of tea?’ he picked up the carton and shook it. ‘Nope, it’s dry,’ he complained. ‘It will have to be a black coffee.’
Kitty pulled a couple of clean mugs out of a cardboard box on the table.
‘I hope I’ve got enough coffee left, there’s some tea, but black tea? And by the way there’s something wrong with this door,’ she indicated the back door.  ‘It won’t stay open.’
Gordon raised his eyebrows and sighed mockingly. ‘A new house and you’re finding fault already.’
‘I’m not finding fault, it just won’t stay open. And the front door is just as bad. It kept shutting when we were trying to bring things in. I’m sure the men thought I was doing it for a joke, so Greg propped it open with your armchair. He had a look at it; he said it might be the hinges.’
Gordon rubbed a hand over his face. ‘Okay, I’ll look at it tomorrow; have you found the coffee yet?’
‘The coffee,’ he said impatiently. ‘Oh never mind I’ve got it,’ Gordon opened the jar. ‘There’s not enough here for one cup let alone two,’ he looked at his watch. ‘I wonder if the village shop is still open.’
Kitty looked up from the box. ‘I shouldn’t think so, not at this time of night.’
Gordon sighed. ‘How about a beer then?’
‘A beer? Well,’ she hesitated. ‘Yes, that would be nice, I could do with getting out of here for a while,’ she looked at the dog who was pushing his now empty bowl around the floor. ‘And Nero could do with a walk,’ she bent down and fondled his ears. ‘You’ve been such a good dog today, haven’t you?’
Kitty straightened slowly wincing. ‘I’m going to ache tomorrow,’ she complained rubbing her back.
‘Why didn’t you let the men do the lifting?’
‘I had to help Gordon; I couldn’t stand back and just watch.’

 She turned away from him to shut the back door and noticed an elderly grey cat sitting in the doorway.
‘Hey, we’ve got a visitor, our first one. Hello puss.’ She put out a tentative hand and gently tickled it behind its ear. ‘Now who do you belong to?’
Gordon came back in from the hall, he had taken off his jacket and tie and had pulled on a thick jumper.
‘A cat,’ she turned back to the door. ‘Oh it’s gone already.’
‘It’s probably from the farm or a stray.’
‘It looked too plump to be a stray.’
‘Then it’s from the village or the farm, and no... we are not taking it in,’ he warned her.
‘I wasn’t thinking of that,’ she muttered. ‘Anyway Nero wouldn’t like it, would you boy?’
She patted his head and stepped over him to shut the door and caught sight of her hands, they were covered in the black ink from the newspapers.
 ‘I had better wash my hands first, they are filthy from unpacking this lot,’ she looked at the box of crockery.  ‘I should have got rid of all this china before we moved, who uses cups and saucers these days anyway?’ she said moving the box off the table. ‘We’ve got far too much now.’
‘Didn’t you wash them before we ate?’
‘Nope,’ she grimaced. ‘I forgot, I was too hungry, never mind,’ she rinsed them under the tap.  ‘A bit of ink won’t kill me.’
Gordon waited impatiently as Kitty dried her hands and got the dog lead from the utility room.
‘Are you ready now?’
‘Yes I am,’ she replied calmly. ‘Oh where’s my handbag?’
Gordon was walking to the front door and called back over his shoulder ‘You don’t need it, I’ve got some money, will you come on Kitty?’
Gordon pulled the door shut behind him and followed his wife down the drive. He glanced back at the house.
‘Once we sort out the front garden the place will look as though it has always been here.’
Kitty stopped and turned round, she smiled contentedly. ‘It blends in nicely with the old farm buildings, doesn’t it? And it feels like home already.’
Gordon put his arm around her shoulder and gave her a hug as they walked out into the lane.  ‘We need to plant some more apple trees in the back garden, we can’t call it Orchard Cottage if it hasn’t got an orchard.’
‘Perhaps we ought to grow some of the older types of apple, I wonder if Mr Beamish can remember what varieties the original trees were.’‘Maybe, it’s a shame we couldn’t keep a few more but I think most of the old trees were past saving.’
They turned right and followed the old stone wall of the orchard past the farm and walked down the lane into the village, the dog running a few paces in front of them
 A bat swooped over their heads and disappeared into the farm buildings.
‘What a lovely evening.’
The lights were still on in the shop as the couple walked past.
‘It looks open,’ said Kitty surprised. ‘Shall I try the door?’
An elderly woman stood behind the counter reading a newspaper, she looked up, sensing she was being watched and smiled when she saw Kitty peering in through the window.
Kitty opened the door making the bell over the door tinkle madly.
 ‘Are you still open?’ she asked.
‘Yes dear,’ she looked at her wrist watch. ‘Oh goodness! Is that the time? I didn’t realise it was so late,’ she shook her head and folded the newspaper.
‘We’ve run out of milk and coffee, are you usually open this late?’
‘No, I just lost track of time, I don’t usually work on Friday night but my nephew had an appointment so I volunteered.’ The woman watched as Kitty wandered around the shop picking up the milk and coffee, she also picked up a crusty loaf of bread.
‘Freshly baked this morning, dear.’
‘It smells lovely; I’ll have one of these as well.’ Kitty placed it all on the counter. ‘Do you have any eggs?’ she asked looking around the shelves.
‘Over there by the newspapers. They’re free range; they come from Mr Squire’s farm.’
Kitty placed a half a dozen next her other purchases on the counter. ‘I’m afraid I didn’t bring a bag, we weren’t expecting the shop to be open.’
The woman pulled a carrier out from under the counter and started packing Kitty’s groceries.
‘How’s the move going?’ she asked suddenly. ‘William’s a good friend, he’s been keeping me informed,’ she smiled at Kitty’s surprised face. ‘It’s a small village dear, you’ll get used to it.’
Kitty smiled back at her. ‘It’s lovely here, it feels like home already.’
‘I’m sure it does,’ the woman said quietly. She passed Kitty’s shopping over. ‘That will be six pounds fifty please.’
Kitty opened Gordon’s wallet and handed over a ten pound note. The women’s hand closed over the money and Kitty’s hand.
‘Sybil,’ she said.
‘Sybil Leavenham, my name,’ she explained. ‘I know you’re going to be happy here Kitty, and if you need help with anything,’ she shook Kitty’s hand as if to emphasis the point. ‘Anything at all just ask.’
Kitty smiled hesitantly. ‘Thank you, that’s very kind of you.’
Sybil smiled and released her hand, she nodded towards Gordon standing outside, ‘He’s getting impatient and he wants his beer.’
Kitty glanced around; her husband was gently tapping on the window and gesturing at her to her to hurry up.
‘I’d better go,’ she gathered up the bag and her change. ‘Thanks, see you again.’
‘Oh you will. Goodnight.’
Kitty smiled and pulled the shop door closed behind her. Gordon looked at the carrier bag in her hand and smiled ruefully.
‘I thought it was just milk and coffee you needed?’
‘Well I thought I would pick up a few things for breakfast as well.’ Kitty handed back his wallet and looked up, Sybil was standing in the window calmly watching the couple outside.
Kitty waved and she smiled slightly in response.
‘She seemed very nice, she’s a friend of Mr Beamish. She knew all about us.’
‘She even knew I was called Kitty.’
Gordon looked puzzled for a minute. He started to say something but behind them the shop lights suddenly turned off leaving them standing in the dark.
 ‘Oh, time to go I think,’ as he said this he turned and glanced back into the darkened interior of the shop, just on the other side of the window a dim figure stood, arms folded watching them through the glass. Gordon shrugged off the strange feeling of unease and took Kitty’s hand.
‘Come on; let’s get off to the pub Kitty.’
The street was deserted, pools of light shone out of the cottage windows lighting their way down to the public house. They crossed the narrow lane leading to Castle Hill and walked the few yards to the traditional square red brick building, which had a brand new sign hanging over the front door.
‘The Witch and Broomstick, huh! They’ve changed the name. It used to be The Red Lion,’ said Gordon.
‘I don’t remember coming here before,’ said Kitty surprised, looking at Gordon in the dim light.
She looked up at the lurid painted sign, a fearsome looking witch was riding across the night sky on a broomstick.
‘What a strange thing to call a pub.’
‘Remind you of anybody?’ Gordon said raising an eyebrow at her.
Kitty looked puzzled ‘Not really.’
‘No? I thought it was quite a good likeness of your mother,’ he laughed at her indignant face and pushed open the door to the public bar and reminded her. 'I used to play darts here many years ago with the Young Farmers Club.'
‘Ah.. Your wild and woolly past.’‘Half a pint of cider and a bag of chips on the way home,’ Gordon grinned at her and shrugged.  ‘Yeah, really wild!’
‘Yes and I suppose you still had change from a shilling or was it a farthing?’
‘Half a pig actually, so who’s buying, you or me?’
‘You are, I left my bag at home remember?’
‘Oh yeah,’ he said ruefully.
Inside it was deserted except for the landlord who was wiping down the bar; it looked a traditional pub with horse brasses hanging from the old beams, however there were a few unusual additions to the decor.
Gordon bumped his head on one as he approached the bar.
‘Good evening, what can I get you?’
‘Evening, it’s quiet in here,’ said Gordon looking around the small room. ‘Well now let’s see, what local beers have you got?’
The landlord smiled. ‘It’s a bit early for the regulars yet, they’ll be in  later. Now,’ he said turning to the pumps. ‘We have Plymouth Pilgrim, Hunters Gold, or there’s Palmers IPA, and I’ve just put on a fresh barrel of Otter.’
‘I’ll try a pint of the Otter thanks, what will you have Kitty?’
‘I think I’ll have the same but just a half.’
Kitty stared at the toy witches hanging from the beams.
 ‘Why all the witches?’
‘That’s all to do with our famous local witch, The Witch of Medbury.’
‘Who? I’ve never heard of her,’ said Kitty puzzled.
‘Oh well you can’t be local then if you’ve never heard of Hannah.’
‘Well my family are local, from Axmouth, they used to run The Ship Inn,’ said Kitty.
‘Really? Here you are sir,’ and placed a foaming beer glass in front of Gordon who took a mouthful. 
‘Ahh... that’s good... that doesn’t sound like a Devon accent, where are you from?’
‘My partner and I are from Woking, in Surrey that is. We think it’s important to keep the local traditions alive. It’s surprising that so few people around here know about her.’
‘Hmm, really,’ Gordon said drily.
‘Rumour has it that she was an evil old woman, terrorised the village, it’s even said that she killed several people. She was snatched away by old Nick himself at the end.’
‘Where did you find out about all this? It sounds like nonsense to me,’ said Gordon disparagingly.
‘Well Sheena is very interested in the occult, she has been researching the witch and thought it would be great to try and bring local history alive. She was even thinking of having a séance here.’
‘A séance! Wow,’ said Kitty.
‘Perhaps you’d be interested in attending?’‘Oh I don’t think so,’ said Gordon firmly, picked up the glasses and pushed Kitty towards a small table near the fireplace. ‘I don’t think we want to get involved in anything like that.’
Nero plodded over to the smouldering fire and sat down on the hearth with his nose just inches from the burning embers. Kitty hooked a finger through his collar and pulled him away from the fire.
‘Move you silly dog, you’ll burn,’ and pushed him under the table. ‘Now sit there, I hope they don’t mind the dog coming in but the landlord didn’t say anything did he?’
Gordon placed the glasses down on the table and sat down.
‘The dog is fine Kitty, stop fussing.’ He put a glass in front of her. ‘There you are.’
‘Thanks,’ she picked up a beer mat off the table. ‘Look, the witch is on here as well.’
Kitty handed it to Gordon for him to read and while he searched for his glasses in his coat pocket she took the opportunity to gaze around the pub. Her examination of the many obligatory horse brasses hanging around the fireplace was cut short by the sound of Gordon laughing as he read out the text on the mat.

‘The Witch of Medbury
In the early 1800’s at Castle Hill near the village of Medbury lived a witch called Hannah who was reputed to possess great powers. She was the most famous witch in East Devon and could change into a hare, bewitch animals and it is said her powers caused the death of several residents of the village. Hannah died a horrible death dragged out of her cottage on Castle Hill by the Devil and left hanging in a tree.’

‘For God’s sake where did they dig this nonsense up from?’
‘Perhaps they’re going to turn this into a theme pub with a hologram of a hags head coming out of the wall.’
‘They could hire your mother to sit in the corner of the bar, an authentic witch. Can she cackle?
‘Oh how cruel!’ she laughed. ‘Anyway she would scare all the trade away.’
‘Very true....well here’s to the first day in our new home,’ Gordon raised his glass to his wife. ‘Here’s to our new home, at last!’
 Gordon settled back in his chair and closed his eyes and sighed. ‘I’ve been looking forward to this for months, no maintenance, no painting windows, no worrying about guttering or dodgy drains, great!’
‘The old house wasn’t that bad.’
‘I was tired of having to continually patch things up and we don’t need all that space, not now.’
Kitty looked a bit glum. ‘Will we have room for all the children at Christmas?’
He stared at her over the top of his glass. ‘They’re not children any more, they have all got their own homes and families. We can go to them for Christmas, let the kids wait on us for a change.’‘The grandchildren will still be able to come and stay if they want, we’ll be able to squeeze two or three into the spare room, that would be nice,’ she said hopefully.
Gordon took a few mouthfuls of beer and sighed contentedly. ‘They don’t need to stay, they only live a few miles away. I’m looking forward to a nice peaceful retirement, no kids, no decorating, just fishing!’
Kitty shook her head. ‘I’m sure you don’t mean that and anyway you’re not retired yet.’
She sipped her beer slowly and stared at her husband.
Gordon put down his glass. ‘Just one more year and that will be it.’
The landlord came over and gave the smouldering fire a vigorous poke and then placed a fresh log on the rekindled flames.
‘It’s a bit early for a fire but it gives the place a welcoming feel, don’t you think?’ he asked, addressing Kitty.
‘Yes,’ she agreed. ‘Well it’s getting chillier in the evenings now; I think our Indian summer is over.’
He nodded in agreement. ‘Are you here on holiday?’
‘No, we’ve just moved into Orchard Cottage, at the top of the village.’
The landlord looked blank. ‘I don’t think I know that one.’
‘It’s the new house at Castle Farm,’ explained Kitty.  ‘We bought the orchard off of Mr Beamish.’
‘Oh Castle Farm, I know the one you mean. We walked up the lane a few weeks ago, it’s those lovely old buildings at the top isn’t it?’
‘That’s right,’ said Kitty.
 ‘We haven’t seen Mr Beamish in the pub yet.’
Kitty looked at him in amusement.
‘I don’t think you will, he is rather elderly.’
‘Did you say you were from Axmouth?’ he went on. ‘That’s a busy little village isn’t it? Right on the holiday route. There is a nice pub there; I can’t remember what it’s called.’
‘It’s The Ship,’ put in Kitty.
‘No, no, I’m sure it was The Admiral. We stayed there while we were viewing different properties. Very busy little pub and it is a nice area. W e didn’t realise how quiet this village was when we leased this pub.’
‘Medbury is off the beaten track,’ agreed Kitty.
‘Yes, but,’ he brightened. ‘We do have plans, we’re going to concentrate on food and try and get a regular clientele and give it a bit of atmosphere. Sheena is working on the menu this morning. She’s going to experiment with a Caribbean theme; she wants to get away from the usual pub grub. Gastro pub I think she calls it.’
‘Good food will attract customers, even out here,’ said Kitty. ‘Well, we’ll look forward to seeing how you get on.’
‘We’ll be launching the new menu in a few weeks, I hope you will be able to come and join us?’
Kitty glanced at Gordon uncertainly. ‘Yes I’m sure we will be able to make it, won’t we?’
‘Wonderful, I’ll be able to tell Sheena that we have had positive feedback already.’
Kitty nodded and smiled faintly at him as he hurried back to the bar.
‘Hmm... He’s going to have a table reserved for you now.’
‘Oh well, it might be okay, I not sure how that is going to go down with the locals though, I’m sure they would rather have good cooked English food.’
Kitty yawned and rubbed the back of her neck.
‘I’m so tired and stiff, everything is aching and I’m really looking forward to a long soak in the tub tonight. It seems a long time since the removal van came this morning,’ she hesitated. ‘It’s a shame you couldn’t get the day off to help, it would have made it a bit easier.’
‘That’s why I hired that removal company, so they could do the work, not you.’
‘Yes but even so...’
‘I told you that we are really busy at the moment and I couldn’t spare the time Kitty. Now would you like another drink?’
‘No I’ve had enough.’
‘Okay let’s get on back then as you’re tired, we can have an early night. We can finish unpacking in the morning.’
Gordon picked up the empty glasses and took them back to the bar.
‘Thanks,’ he said, ducking his head to avoid the witches.
‘Thank you, hope to see you again,’ called the landlord from behind the bar.
‘I’m sure we will be back and we’ll give your regards to the witch if we see her on the way home.’

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