|Other books by Celia Rees include City of Shadows, Pirates!, The Host Rides Out, The Soul Taker, The Vanished, Truth or Dare?, Witch Child. |
|Mary: Massachusetts, November 1660 |
If I am a witch, they will soon know it. I had never ill-wished anyone but as I fled Beulah anger and hatred clashed together, sparking curses like steel striking flint. I had done no wrong, so why was I forced to run like a fugitive? My accusers, Deborah Vane and the other girls, they were the guilty ones. Even as they denounced me as a witch, their eyes gleamed with scheming malice. The madness twisting their faces was counterfeit. Who could not see it? 'Them that's blind and will not see.' My grandmother's words came to me. She was a wise woman, but her wisdom brought her nothing but sorrow. She ended her life on the hanging tree, and now the same fate awaited me.
They searched, and that most diligently. I cowered in Rebekah's borning room, thinking to be safe for a little space, but they demanded entry even there, with voices ringing loud with right and duty. Only Martha stood against them, standing up to Reverend Johnson as brave as a robin before a striking hawk. They went away reluctantly. I tracked them searching through the rest of the house, moving from one room to the next, their heavy tread freighted with hatred.
I got away but they searched for me still. I heard them hallooing through the woods, saw their torches, tiny bonfire sparks in the blackness. I heard the dogs baying and belling. Dogs run faster than men.
Snow started falling soon after I fled the town, icy pellets seeding the wind. It began to come thick, ever more whitening the ground, making it easier for the dogs to pick me out. The first to come upon me was old Tom, Josiah Crompton's hunting dog. He's a gaze hound, hunting by sight. Old Tom came leaping out of the brush towards me and threw back his long bony head, making a sound deep in his throat, somewhere between a yelp and a swallowed bark of triumph. This brought the other dogs tumbling to him. They stood ringed about, tongues lolling, eyes bright.
They had me cornered. I backed against a tree and stared at them, waiting for them to spring. Tom crept nearer, the others following, the circle tightening, then he stopped. He stood, head inclined, his short ears cocked as if harking to some sound. The men's shouting was nearer now. I thought that was what he was hearing and that any minute now he would commence barking, but he did not. He gave me one last look, wheeled round and made of with all the others streaming after him in a raggle-taggle mob.
The baying and yelling thinned to nothing. Tom had led the hunt away from me. I was alone again in the forest's frosty silence. I thought to run on, but tiredness overcame me. I sank down leaning my back against the tree's rough bark, thinking to gather what strength I had.
I have been there ever since. The snow is still falling, drifting through the air and making no sound, feathering across my cheeks like angel fingers, weighting my eyelids, settling upon me, covering me like a counterpane filled with the finest down.
I feel no cold, but I cannot move. My limbs have no feeling in them. To sleep is to die, I know that, but I cannot keep awake. Sometimes I almost hope that they might come back this way, that they might find me, but I dismiss the thought as soon as it arises. I'd rather die here than be taken. I'd rather freeze to this tree than be hanged.
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