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   Chapter 6 THE HAYSLOPE WITCH.

Hayslope Grange / A Tale of the Civil War By Emma Leslie Characters: 12145

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


There had never been much communication between the villagers of Hayslope and the family living at the Grange. Mistress Mabel believed that the villagers existed solely for the convenience of the family, but never troubled herself to consider their wants or necessities, and brought up her niece Mary upon the same principle. Maud appeared to be of a similar opinion; but sharing Harry's confidence in everything, she knew he went about among his poorer neighbours, and began to take an interest in them herself, although not very actively.

Now, however, she determined to follow Harry's example, and take up his work; and, mounted on Cavalier, she went out the very next day to make inquiries after an old woman whom she knew Harry had often befriended. She inquired at the blacksmith's shed for Dame Coppins, but was surprised by the man coming to the door, and instead of pointing out the way to the cottage, saying, "We'll do it, Mistress Harcourt! We'll have justice on the old witch that's done the mischief!"

"What mischief?" asked Maud, in some surprise, patting Cavalier to make him stand still.

"What mischief should it be but sending away Master Harry Drury to the Parliament wars, as though the king hadn't had enough of the lads from Hayslope?"

"But this poor old woman did not send Harry away," said Maud, quickly.

"Marry, but she bewitched him. I see it with my own eyes," said the man. "If I had but known it then I'd have ducked her in the horse-pond, and broken the spell."

Maud shivered. The belief in witchcraft was universal then, and she began to fear whether Harry had been under Satanic influence. At length she said, "I should like to see this old woman, if she be a witch, and ask her where Master Harry has gone."

"Prithee, be not so venturesome, lest she send thee after him," said the blacksmith, in some consternation.

Maud thought this would not be so much of a calamity, perhaps, until the man added, "Nobody will ever hear aught of Master Harry again, and if thou dost go to the witch, thou wilt disappear too."

The young lady looked undecided when she heard this, but she could hardly restrain Cavalier from turning down a narrow lane close by, which the blacksmith observing, said, "Now, you may be sure mistress, that the old witch has worked her spells; for Cavalier there is under them, and is bidden by her to take thee to be bewitched too."

It seemed that the horse was determined to take her somewhere, whether she would or no, and the next minute was trotting down the lane, Maud scarcely knowing what to make of the proceeding. After trotting about half a mile he paused, and then turned in at a broken-down gateway, and walked up to the window of a cottage, where he stopped and looked round, as if telling Maud to dismount.

"The horse certainly is bewitched," said Maud, half aloud, determined not to move from her seat, and trying to turn Cavalier's head in the opposite direction.

But Cavalier seemed obstinately bent on looking in at the window, and would not move; and Maud's consternation was complete when the door slowly opened, and an old woman, leaning on a crutched stick, came hobbling out. She was in the presence of the witch herself, and, with a cry of horror, Maud dropped the reins and covered her face with her hands. Finding the witch did not attempt to drag her into the house, now that she had her in her power, Maud ventured to look up in a minute or two, and saw a venerable-looking old woman standing on the threshold, looking very pale and ill, and quite as frightened as she herself did.

* * *

DAME COPPINS.

* * *

But the old woman was the first to recover herself, and she said, "You have come to tell me about Master Harry Drury? The Lord reward you for your kindness to a poor old woman."

Maud hardly knew what to say. She felt ashamed of her fright now, and yet an idea had entered her head that Cavalier could see Harry in the cottage, and she said, "Nay, but I have come to ask _you+ about Harry."

The poor old woman trembled visibly when she heard this. "Prithee, but I cannot tell you that," she said, speaking as calmly as she could. "I have not seen him these three days," she went on, "and sorely have I missed him, for not a word of the Book can I read now. He's been eyes to me ever since my own boy went away to fight for the King."

"What book did he read to you?" asked Maud.

"Marry, and what should it be but God's word?" said Dame Coppins. "It's been open at the place where he left off these three days, for it is sore hard to believe I sha'n't hear his voice again." Tears choked the old woman here, and Maud, quite forgetting her reputation as a witch, jumped off her horse, saying, "Shall I read a chapter for you, as Harry used?"

"Then it is true he's gone away?" said the old woman.

Maud nodded. The tears were in her eyes now. "We don't know where he has gone," she said.

"Poor lamb, it is a sore trial for you; but it will be worse for me, I trow," and the old woman sighed heavily.

"Why?" asked Maud, entering the cottage, where, on a little table lay a Bible open at the Gospel of St. John. There was nothing remarkable in this book, she knew, for she recognised it as an old one of Harry's, which they had read from together many times, until she gave him a new one on his birthday once, when the old one disappeared.

After she had read part of the sixth chapter, the old woman begged for a few verses more about the "mansions," and Maud read part of the fourteenth.

"I'll keep that in mind when the time comes," murmured the old woman; "and if I never see you again, Mistress Harcourt--"

"But I will come and see you again," interrupted Maud.

The old woman shook her head. "It'll be all over soon; I couldn't bear it again," she said.

"What will be all over?" asked Maud. "You are not ill, are-at least, not very ill-not likely to die yet," she added, hastily.

"If I waited till the Lord called me by disease I'd may be wait a good while yet, for I'm strong when I'm well; but the pe

ople hereabout say I am a witch, and but for Master Harry I should have been tried before last night."

"Last night!" uttered Maud. "What did they do to you?" for she had lost all fear of her as a witch now.

The poor old creature looked round fearfully. "They did it," she said, "tried me for a witch. They took me to the horse-pond and ducked me, but there was not enough water to drown me. They'd have done it before if Master Harry had not been my protector, but now he is gone nothing will save me, for they say I've sent him away; as if I should want to lose my best friend," and the old woman burst into tears again.

Maud was indignant. "Prithee, do not be afraid," she said. "I will protect you, they shall not hurt you!"

For a minute the old woman looked up glad and grateful, but then she shook her head sadly. "You can't do it, they are coming again to-night," she said, "and the ill-usage will kill me;" and she pushed up the sleeve of her gown and showed how her arms were cut and bruised.

"You must be protected," said Maud, "it will be murder. I will go to Master Drury at once and tell him about it," and without waiting another minute, Maud mounted Cavalier and cantered up the lane.

At the top, clustered round the blacksmith's shed, were a group of soldiers, who made way for her to pass, but the blacksmith sprang forward and stopped her horse.

"These soldiers have seen Master Harry Drury Mistress Harcourt," he said.

"Then you will not repeat the cowardly attack on Dame Coppins, I trow!" said the young lady, burning with anger still.

The blacksmith drew back somewhat ashamed, and Maud, forgetting all else, turned to the soldiers and said, "Tell me where you met Master Harry Drury."

The man doffed his cap respectfully, for he could see Maud was a lady. "It was near by the gate of London," he said. "Our leader, Captain Stanhope, has now gone to the Grange, bearing tidings of it."

Maud urged Cavalier into a sharp canter when she left the soldiers, for she wished to be in time to hear the Captain's account of his meeting with Harry, which she was likely to lose for ever if not in time to hear it given to Master Drury. Captain Stanhope and his troopers had been to Hayslope before, and the Captain knowing the importance of his meeting with Harry, would be most likely to speak of it at supper time, when they were all assembled in the dining-hall.

Before supper, however, she wanted to consult Master Drury about protecting Dame Coppins from the village mob, and as soon as Cavalier had been left to Roger she went in search of that gentleman. But he was not in the study or the keeping-room, and thinking he must have gone out with Captain Stanhope, she went into the garden to watch for his return.

Walking noiselessly over the velvet turf, she was close to the quaintly-cut leafy screen that sheltered the arbour from the garden, when she heard voices close by, and some one say, "Then we are to arrest him as a traitor, wherever he may be found?"

"Yes," faintly answered Master Drury's voice.

Maud felt as though she were rooted to the spot. Could it be Harry they were talking of? All uncertainty about this was set aside by Master Drury's next words. "He has disgraced the family name by this, and I would you had taken him prisoner ere he entered London to finish his rebellion."

"That might not be, Master Drury, seeing I knew not wherefore he was journeying there," said Captain Stanhope.

Maud disdained to listen to what was not intended for her ears, and rapidly walked away in a tumult of passion against her guardian for his cruelty to his son.

When she entered the keeping-room Mistress Mabel and Mary looked up from their work of spinning, but she did not heed the command to come and sit down at her wheel with them. Passing up to her own room, she took out some warm wraps, and then went round to the stable in search of Roger, to whom she gave some directions about coming to the village with a basket of provisions a little later in the evening.

She then set out on her walk back to Dame Coppins' cottage, determined to stay there all night, and protect the old woman by her presence. She was likewise anxious to tell her of this fresh danger threatening Harry, for she was the only one to whom she could speak about it, and she knew the old woman would sympathise with her in her sorrow.

The poor old woman could give more than sympathy, she found she could give strength and comfort by her apt quotations from God's Word, for she herself had tasted sorrow and learned their power. Then they fell into a conversation about Harry, which lasted until Roger arrived with the basket, and a message from Master Drury that he and Captain Stanhope were coming to the cottage shortly.

Maud was not in a humour to thank either her guardian or the soldier for anything they might do now, but when they arrived she told them what had taken place the night before; and on the gentlemen promising to ride back to the village and make inquiries into the matter, to prevent its recurrence, she was obliged to promise to return to the Grange, upon Roger being sent down as a guard for Dame Coppins for this night. But she was very ungracious in her bearing towards the young soldier, although it was evident that he greatly wished to please her.

It was Captain Stanhope's business just now to get fresh men to recruit his Majesty's army, and he readily consented to Master Drury's proposition that he should make Hayslope Grange his head-quarters for the present. His men could be lodged in the village, and they could make short expeditions into the surrounding country in search of recruits, and thus business could be combined with pleasure on the part of the Captain, while it would afford the Royalist leaders a proof that Master Drury of the Grange was still a staunch Cavalier, should they hear of the defection of his son; and thus the matter was settled to the satisfaction of all parties-at least, all but Maud, and the arrangement vexed her exceedingly.

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