Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Lavender Witch: serialised part 5

‘It’s still a clear night out there,’ he said pulling the bedroom curtains closed. ‘No more hail or boulders falling.’
‘It wasn’t hail.’
 Kitty padded through from the bathroom.

‘You have left all the lights on,’ Gordon complained.
‘I’m going to leave them on.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, I pay enough for the electricity as it is!’
Gordon strode past her to the bathroom and turned out the light then turned off the one on the landing, leaving the hall in darkness except for the light flooding out of the bedroom. As he did so he heard the sound of footsteps in the hall below and glanced down the stairs expecting to see Nero moving about.
 He leant on the banister and called down.  ‘Back in your bed, Nero!’
 Down in the dark well of the hall a pale faced figure stood looking up at him.
 Gordon uttered a muffled yelp and staggered back from the top of the stairs. He stared in horrified amazement, frozen to the spot as the grey clad figure stared intently up at him, keeping her pale eyes fixed on his she gathered her long skirt in one hand and slowly lifted one foot and placed it on the first step.
‘What is it?’
 His gaze just for a minute flicked away from the strange apparition as Kitty called from the bedroom and when he looked back the figure had vanished.
‘There’s somebody down there,’ he called through to her.
There was a thump as Kitty jumped out of the bed and ran out to the landing.
Gordon was peering intently down into the hall.
‘Turn the light on.’
Kitty clicked on all the switches, flooding the stair and the downstairs with light.
‘There was somebody stood there at the bottom of the stairs, I could just see her in the dark staring at me,’ he ran a shaky hand over his chin and shook his head in disbelief.
‘It was a woman?’
Gordon nodded and started slowly down the stairs.
 ‘You’re not going down are you?’ Kitty pulled at his arm in panic.
Gordon shrugged her off. ‘Damn right I am! If somebody is in my house I want to know who it is.’
 He carried on closely followed by Kitty who kept a firm grip on his arm.
Nero came out from the kitchen and wagged his tail.
 ‘Why isn’t he barking?’ Gordon looked puzzled; he turned the lights on in the living room and stared around the empty room, even peering behind the door.
 ‘You didn’t check behind the sofa.’
‘The front door is locked so she didn’t get out this way,’ he said checking the bolt on the door.
There was nobody in the study and the kitchen was empty except for the dog  who had climbed back into his bed and was watching them curiously.
‘This door is locked as well.’
Kitty shivered. ‘Now who’s imagining things?’
‘I didn’t! She was there. I could describe to you in detail what the woman was wearing and what she looked like and if I could I would draw a portrait of her for you!’
 He ran a hand over his hair and rubbed the back of his neck.
‘This is ridiculous! This is a new house, new houses don’t have ghosts.’
‘Perhaps she climbed out one of the windows.’
‘They’re all locked,’ he said. ‘And I would have heard her opening one. I don’t understand this at all, Kitty.’
She folded her arms tightly around her body and shivered.
 ‘So I wasn’t being hysterical then! There is something in this house,’ Kitty pulled at her bottom lip. ‘What are we going to do?’
Gordon sighed and looked around. ‘I think we had better go back to bed, come on,’ he put an arm around her shoulder and gave her a hug. ‘Sorry I didn’t believe you,’ he said apologetically. ‘I think we’ll leave all the lights on, just for tonight, otherwise we’ll be jumping at all the shadows.’
 Kitty pulled the quilt up and watched Gordon sitting thoughtfully on the edge of the bed.
‘What?’ she asked.
‘Uhhm? What?’
‘What are you thinking about?’
‘Nothing,’ he got up and looked out of the window.
‘What is it?’
‘Nothing, go to sleep.’
 Gordon pulled the curtains closed and climbed into bed. He pulled the pillows up behind his head and picked up his book, perched his glasses on his nose and began to read.
‘Are you going to read?’ she asked incredulously.
‘Yep, this is a good book and I want to finish it.’
Kitty curled up in a ball close to his side, the quilt wrapped up around her head. His hand came down and started to gently stroke her head.
 ‘Go to sleep Kitty.’
She didn’t think for a moment that she would but a strange feeling of calm swept over her and she felt herself slowly relaxing and drift off into a deep dreamless sleep.


The next thing she heard was the incessant beeping of the alarm, Gordon didn’t stir, he was still propped up on his pillows, glasses awry on his nose and the book open in his hand.
Kitty reached across him and switched it off.
She brought him a cup of tea a few minutes later but he was still asleep.
‘Gordon, Gordon,’ she poked him on the arm. ‘Wake up.’
‘You’ll be late for work.’
He opened his eyes and yawned. ‘What time is it?’
‘Half seven.’
‘Didn’t hear the alarm,’ he mumbled, rubbing his head.
‘You were out cold, what time did you read until?’
‘Don’t know; it was a good book.’
She picked up the book and looked at it.
 ‘It doesn’t look like you read much, you haven’t finished it.’
 She threw the book back onto the bed next to him and headed for the door.
‘Hurry up, and I’ll make some breakfast.’

Kitty put a plate of toast on the table just as Gordon shambled in yawning.
‘Oh darn my back is stiff.’
‘Sleeping like that I’m not surprised,’ she looked at the clock on the kitchen wall. ‘You had better hurry or you’ll be late for work.’
‘Um, I think I will have the day off, I’ve got some hours owing to me. I know it’s short notice but I’m sure the office can manage without me.’
‘What?’ she said jokingly. ‘They’ll go into meltdown if you’re not there.’
‘They’ll manage,’ he repeated sitting at the table and buttering some toast.
 Kitty sat down in the chair opposite and stared in disbelief. Gordon never had time off except for holidays and was never ill.
‘Why?’ she asked.
‘I was thinking last night for a while, about all this, trying to make sense of it.’
‘I couldn’t to be honest, I’m completely baffled. But I do know what I saw and there was somebody or something stood at the bottom of the stairs.’
She said nothing, staring at her husband who for once looked a bit rattled. He usually sailed through life completely calm and in control. Kitty found this to be the most alarming thing of all.

Gordon checked all the windows after breakfast, trying all the locks.
‘All the windows are locked tight, I was going to check them again last night but I didn’t want to wake you.’
‘How long did you stay awake?’
‘Most of the night, I was just thinking, I finally dropped off after four. Every noise made me jump.’
‘It’s strange to see you so spooked.’
‘Is that because I’m a thick skinned male?’ he joked.
‘Yes,’ Kitty replied, wandering back into the kitchen. Nero looked up hopefully.
‘Ah Nero, it’s that time isn’t it?’ she said patting him on the head. ‘I’ll just get ready and then we’ll be off”
‘What? Who are you talking to?’ Gordon quickly followed her into the kitchen.
‘I’m just talking to the dog; he’s waiting for his walk.’
‘We’ll go together,’ Gordon said firmly.
‘But you don’t like walking with me, I’m too slow remember,’
‘Then we’ll have a slow walk. Go on then, go and get your coat.’

‘Where shall we go?’ asked Kitty closing the front door behind them.
‘We’ll walk up the hill and see that cottage.’
‘The cottage? Really?’
‘Yes really, the cottage,’ Gordon slipped his arm through his wife’s. ‘Come on.’
Kitty led the way up the narrow lane to the stile.
 ‘Here’s the footpath I used, the sign is broken though.’
Gordon pushed a few brambles out of the way and picked up the remains of the rotted sign.
‘What does it say?’
‘Castle Hill I think,’ he said, rubbing the moss off the wood. They followed the same route up the hill that Kitty had used on Sunday and up to the copse at the top.
‘Through here,’ Kitty said pointing to the dense bushes, she was feeling a bit nervous after her previous visit but Gordon calmly pushed his way through the brambles to the clearing beyond. There were still a few ragged blooms on the rose bushes even after all the heavy rain and the smell of lavender still hung over the garden.
‘What a beautiful spot,’ he said turning in a full circle. ‘Take those trees down out of the way and what a view it would be.’
‘It’s quite lonely though, up here.’
‘But nice and peaceful,’ said a voice from behind them.
The couple started and turned round.
 ‘Sorry, we didn’t see you there,’ said Gordon.
 It was Mrs Leavenham from the shop, sitting on the remains of the wall, she was well wrapped up against the early morning chill, with a thick coat and a scarf wound around her neck. A small brown cairn terrier sat at her feet.
 ‘It is lovely up here but it’s becoming quite a struggle to get up that hill,’ she said ruefully.
‘We came up to look at the cottage,’ said Gordon.
‘I found it the other day,’ explained Kitty, moving over the rough ground towards her.
‘Well there’s nothing much left of it now, William cleared it all out several years ago, beams floorboards, the lot. I couldn’t see that it was worth much but he said he got a good price from a chap near Ilminster.’
‘What the reclamation yard?’ exclaimed Gordon.
‘That’s the one.’
‘Do you know if there was big wooden fireplace, an old oak one really big?’
‘Well,’ she hesitated. ‘I believe there was one and there was a small cast iron one in the bedroom.’
‘It’s the oak fireplace I’m interested in,’ said Gordon in excitement.
‘That was in the kitchen, they say that was where she made most of her medicines, potions and suchlike.’
‘Medicines? I thought she was supposed to be a witch,’ Kitty said surprised.
‘Oh that’s nonsense,’ said Mrs Leavenham in disgust, curling her lip. ‘I remember my gran telling me she used to come up here all the time, especially when one of the children were ill. There was no chemist to pop into then. She helped Hannah to pick all the herbs.’
‘Herbs? What, from the garden?’
‘Ay, it was her husband’s pride and joy, so my gran said. Spent hours out here he did, now look at it. Still,’ Mrs Leavenham sighed.  ‘It was a long time ago.’
‘I didn’t realise she was married,’ Kitty said in amazement and perched on the wall next to the old woman. ‘She couldn’t have been that horrible then.’
‘No of course she wasn’t, well, she changed after Samuel was killed; she was a good woman but just very sad and lonely.’ Mrs Leavenham said sadly.
‘What happened to him?’ she asked curiously.
‘Well, I was told Samuel was a cripple and couldn’t work much but he used to help his brother with odd jobs on the farm from time to time. They were working on the river bank in one of the lower fields when Samuel slipped into the river and drowned. They found his body in the harbour a few days later.’
‘How dreadful! Couldn’t his brother help him?’ asked Kitty.
‘Well it was said that Robert couldn’t reach him in time.’
‘Robert who?’
‘Why Beamish of course.’
‘What our Mr Beamish’s family?’ asked Kitty in surprise.
‘That’s right, Robert was William’s grandfather and then of course as Hannah and Samuel had no living children when she died the cottage returned to Robert Beamish.’
‘What do you mean Mrs Leavenham?’ asked Kitty perplexed
.‘Their father oh I forget his name, my memory!’ she tapped her forehead in irritation. ‘Well never mind, yes their father gave the cottage to Samuel when he married Hannah. Gran always said there was no love lost between the two brothers, and Robert was furious when he found out.  He didn’t want the property split up; he said the land was his.’
‘Well, well, Mrs Leavenham you are a mine of information,’ said Gordon
‘Well my husband always said I was a gossip and I suppose I am,’ she laughed. ‘But I have lived here all my life and I know most things about the families around here, the stories I could write! Well,’ she pulled her coat around her and stood up. ‘I must be getting on; I have to help in the shop this morning.’
‘We had better be going as well,’ said Gordon
Kitty shivered and stood up. ‘I suppose so and I’m getting chilly. Where’s the dog?’
Nero hadn’t gone far; he had forced himself under the bramble bushes and was trying to dig out one of the rabbit holes.
‘Nero stop that!’
The old woman walked slowly across the garden to the path that Kitty had used.
‘Well goodbye for now,’ she said looking at Kitty.’ I’m sure we’ll bump into each other soon,’ waved and started to walk carefully down the rough path.
‘Come on then let’s get going,’ Gordon pushed his way back through the bramble bushes. ‘We’ll go back the same way.’
Kitty quickly followed not wanting to be left alone.
‘As soon as we get home I’m going to ring the yard and see if he can remember anything about the fireplace,’ said Gordon.
‘Do you think it’s the same one?’
‘Well perhaps, it’s a start anyway and it might explain why she is in our house.’
‘So the witch is haunting our fireplace, isn’t that a bit ridiculous?’Kitty half laughed.
‘Of course it is, this whole thing is ridiculous, but let’s just keep an open mind shall we?’
‘It sounds like Mr Beamish is struggling for money,’ Kitty climbed over the stile and paused to get her breath. ‘He has a rather interesting family history but I don’t see what that has to do with us.’
Gordon walked on quickly down the field to the stile. ‘Maybe we will find out. Come on.’
‘What happened to the slow walk?’
‘I want to phone the reclamation yard so hurry up.

Gordon wasn’t on the phone long but Kitty couldn’t catch much of the conversation as he had shut the kitchen door, after straining to hear for a while she gave up, shrugged her shoulders and started to make some tea.
The door opened and he came in looking very pleased with himself.
 ‘Well I was right, the fireplace did come from Hannah’s cottage and you’ll never guess what else they found!’
‘A dead body?’
‘No!’ he said impatiently ‘There was a dried up bulls heart up the chimney, stuck all over with nails.’
Kitty looked blankly at him. ‘What?’
 She put two mugs of tea on the table and pulled out a chair.
‘It’s quite common to find things like that stuck in chimneys, under floorboards. Old bottles filled with pins, skulls, old shoes.’
‘What are you talking about Gordon?’
He picked up a mug. ‘It’s all to do with witchcraft.’
Gordon walked over to the sink, stared out of the window into the garden and sipped thoughtfully at the tea.
‘So she was a witch then?’ queried Kitty.
‘No I don’t think so, these sort of things were used a protection against evil spirits and witchcraft.’
‘Well she was supposed to have been taken by the devil; perhaps she was trying to protect herself against Old Nick.’
Kitty wrapped her hands around the hot mug of tea and watched Gordon staring thoughtfully outside.
‘Shall we take the fireplace out?’
‘No,’ he said crossly. ‘I’ll get to the bottom of this. Let me get my laptop and we’ll see what we can find out about Hannah.’
‘Newspaper reports or local records; if she’s as famous as the chap from the pub made out there’s bound to be some information on her.’
Gordon brought in his computer and opened it.
‘Now let’s see what we can find, I’ll just Google her name first and see if anything comes up.’
He tapped away for a few minutes. ‘Ahh! Here we are.’
Kitty pulled her chair around the table next to Gordon and started to read.

Transactions of the Devonshire Association

About one hundred and ten years ago at a place called Medbury there lived a witch called Hannah Beamish. She was reputed to possess great powers and could turn herself into a hare when desired and the Cotley Harriers were often supposed to have hunted her across the county.
At that time a well to do Farmer Mr........... lived at Medbury, his family was prosperous and well thought of in the local area.
Hannah would often visit the farm of Mr ............ begging for food and sometimes for money. For a while she was given what she asked for but then Mr......... protested that it became too much and she was refused.  A young girl of eleven who was in the service of Mr.........was often a visitor to Hannah’s cottage and became great friends with the witch. She would often take Hannah food even though the master forbade it.
The farmer complained bitterly that this was the beginning of his trouble. The milk would not set, the butter could not be made, bread put to bake only ran about the oven. His livestock suffered as well, sheep died of a strange sickness sometimes as many as ten in a day. A horse that Mr............ was going to sell was strangely blinded in one eye and so could not be sold.
Mr.......... said that with one thing and another he was nigh to being ruined. So he brought in a white witch from Chard. This man stayed for a month in the farmhouse while he worked to bring down the witch who was the strongest and ‘runkest’ he ever knew.
A large crock of water into which he had put a large quantity of barley was kept boiling all the time he was in the house. He also ordered six bullocks hearts to be hung in the fireplace, these were stuck all over with pins and nails. They slowly melted in the flames and it was believed that the witch’s heart was to be melted too.
The white witch was sure that this would have broken Hannah’s powers and at four in the morning went towards her cottage. This was Good Friday morning. He found the window broken and looking about he saw high above him in a tree lying on a branch the witch wound in a sheet. There she was left for the village folk and the servants to see. The tree was cut down as she was too high to be got at and as the tree fell the witch fell into a gully. Hannah’s flesh was much torn and a great round bruise was found on the side of her temple, it was said in the shape of a cloven hoof.
Inside the cottage there was blood smeared about and broken glass on the floor. This was caused, so they said, by Hannah struggling with the devil who pulled her through the window.
The corpse was visited by scores of people from all parts and then buried at a crossroads between Medbury and Axminster. It was said that no horse could pass the spot without shying.
The white witch was paid one hundred pounds for his work.
The inquest on the death of Hannah was held at Axminster on April 12th 1841, the verdict was returned of ‘water on the brain’. An impassioned plea by the servant girl that Hannah had been murdered was ignored by the Coroner Mr Edmund Foulstone, due to the youth and emotional state of the young girl. She declared that she had witnessed Mr........threatening to kill Hannah and that she knew Hannah to be no witch. This evidence was struck from the records.
Hannah Beamish became the most famous witch in East Devon. The manner of her death suggests that the devil must have been extremely angered that she had been bested by the white witch.

Gordon and Kitty sat silent and stunned.
‘Well,’ said Gordon slowly. ‘I can’t believe this, after finding blood and glass in the cottage, the body hanging in a tree and it’s put down as water on the brain.’
‘What is water on the brain?’
‘No idea, but whatever it is, it certainly wouldn’t account for her death like this,’
‘How could a death like that be anything but murder?’
‘A hundred pounds was lot of money then, enough to murder somebody,’ Gordon said thoughtfully, rereading the article.
‘I wonder who the servant girl was.’ Kitty said.
‘Let’s see if we can find out, I’ll just save this and I can print it out later.’
 He rummaged in his laptop bag for a memory stick.
‘Hey! I’ve just had a thought,’ Kitty said excitedly. ‘You don’t suppose that the servant girl was Mrs Leavenham’s grandmother?’
‘I wonder?’ he looked at her thoughtfully and smiled. ‘You know you can be quite bright sometimes.’
‘Oh thanks dear, you’re too kind,’ she grinned at him. ‘Can we ask her? She would know if it was her grandmother. I bet she would know who the farmer was as well, Mrs Leavenham seems to know everything about this village.’
Gordon started tapping on his keys again.
 ‘Let’s see what else we can find. I will put in newspaper reports and her name and we’ll see what come up.’
He tapped away for few minutes and suddenly pointed at the screen.
 ‘Hey look at this; we’re really hitting the jackpot today! It’s a newspaper report about Samuel’s death.’

The Seaton Chronicle
14th March 1840
The tragic death of Samuel John Beamish second son of Joseph Beamish of Castle Farm, Medbury, Devon occurred on the 14th day of March 1840. The late Samuel Beamish was drowned after falling into the River Axe. Samuel had been working with his brother Robert Beamish making repairs to the fence bordering the river and had slipped while working and had fallen into the water. His brother Robert had been unable to reach him and Samuel was swept away. His body was found on the 16th of March in the harbour at Seaton by Mr Abraham Tulley, Harbour Master.
The remains of Samuel Beamish were laid to rest at the church of St John the Baptist Medbury.
The Coroner Mr Edward Foulstone recorded death by misadventure at the Inquest held at Axminster 20th April 1840.

Gordon stared pensively at the wall.
 ‘I think I will go and see if Mr Beamish is about and see what he can tell us about Hannah.’
Kitty stood up from the table, ‘I’m coming as well,’ she said firmly.
‘You don’t have to; you can stay here as you don’t like him.’
‘I’m not staying here on my own and anyway I want to hear what he has to say, and you won’t tell me everything.’
‘Just because I don’t repeat every single word of a conversation, I’ll distil it and give you the essence.’
‘But you always miss out the interesting bits,’ she complained.
Gordon stared at her and hesitated. ‘I don’t know though, perhaps it would be better to go and see Mrs Leavenham first, see if we can find out the name of the servant girl and the farmer.’

Gordon slipped the lead over Nero’s head and pulled him to the side of the lane as a car drove slowly up the hill but the vehicle turned into the farmyard before it reached them. A young woman who had a striking resemblance to Mrs Leavenham raised her hand in greeting at the couple as she pulled off the road.
A fine drizzle started to fall wetting the tarmac. Kitty pulled up the hood on her coat and zipped it up against the rain and hurried down the lane after Gordon.
The village was deserted, their footsteps echoing off the walls of the cottages as they walked through the narrow street to the shop. It was closed, the sign on the door declared that it was half day closing.
‘Damn,’ said Gordon. ‘She must live in the village, if we see anybody we could ask.’
‘Or we could look in the phone book and ring.’
Gordon stared moodily at the locked door for a moment. ‘Oh well,’ he said and turned pulling the dog to heel. ‘That’s a shame; I really wanted to talk to her.’
Kitty walked out into the middle of the street and looked up and down.
 ‘There’s nobody about today and it’s no good asking in the pub, they wouldn’t know.’
‘Perhaps she is in there having a pint.’
‘I can’t see her perched on a bar stool can you?’
They walked back through the village and up the hill, the rain had become heavier and little rivulets of water ran down the side of the lane carrying the fast falling leaves of autumn.
A horse and rider appeared out of the farm entrance, they recognised her as the young woman from earlier. She waved and turned left and rode up the lane past their house, the hoof beats quickening into a trot.
‘Perhaps he’s not in,’ Kitty said as they walked into the farmyard.
‘He’s in,’ Gordon pointed to the house where he could see Mr Beamish opening one of the lower floor windows.
 ‘Hello there,’ he called. ‘Everything okay?’

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