Early next morning Effie and Isobel walked back to Dorothy’s house. Effie hadn’t wanted to; she was scared of the reception they would receive, but Isobel was adamant.
“Dorothy’s labour has weakened her; we must take her a tonic to build up her strength.”
The cottage door was answered by Dorothy’s husband.
“We’ve come with a tonic for Dorothy,” Isobel said.
“Don’t you think you’ve done enough damage in this house,” the man replied.
“I did all I could to save the child and now I need to make sure Dorothy does not die too. Please take this tonic to her,” she held out a bottle to the man.
He took the bottle and threw it to the ground. It smashed on the stone path and the tonic oozed out in a red stain. Another man appeared from the dark interior of the cottage and looked down at them.
“Get away from this house!” the man bellowed and Effie recognized the angry red face as that of the Laird. She turned to leave, but Isobel was not so easily scared.
“I have been delivering bairns and caring for the sick of this village for nearly twenty years with no complaints before now, except from you. The women will not thank you for your interference.”
The Laird stepped out of the doorway and leaned over to Isobel, his face close to hers.
“The women will do as I say and so will you. Now get away,” he spat.
Isobel stared up at him, then turned her head haughtily and stalked off down the path. Effie scuttled behind her.
“No doubt we won’t get paid for our work now.” Isobel said as they made their way back to the cottage.
A few moments later, they heard a child’s voice calling:
They turned and saw Dorothy’s eldest daughter running down the road behind them.
“Hello child, what can I do for you?”
“You saved my Mothers’ life last night. My father won’t pay you, the Laird has told him not too, he told him you were to blame for the bairn dying, but I know it’s not true. I came to give you this. She held out her hand to Isobel, a penny lay in her palm.”
“Thank you child,” Isobel took the penny. “How does your Mother fare this morning?
“She is sorely grieved about the death of the child and she is worried also, she fears she might die without your care.”
“If I make another tonic would you be able to get it to her?”
“Then come to my cottage after noon and I will have it ready.”
“Thank you kindly.”
Once home Effie and Isobel busied themselves with the feeding of their cow and the few chickens. The storm the night before had damaged the chicken coop so they set about making repairs. They sat down to their midday meal but were disturbed by a knock on the door. Isobel went to answer it. Their neighbour Mrs Gregg stood on the step.
“Your cow is in my pasture again, eating my grass.” She said angrily. “I’ll not put up with it ruining my livelihood. I’ve told you before and you’ve still not paid me for the last lot of my crops it ate.”
“As I said before Mrs Gregg, if you fixed your fence properly my cow would not be able to get in your field and in any case the amount you asked for was ten times the value of the crops it had eaten,” Isobel replied hotly.
Effie went to get her cloak and set off to recapture the cow, leaving the two women arguing on the doorstep.
When she returned with the cow safely in tow Mrs Gregg was gone. Effie tied the cow to the garden fence so it would not escape again. Her Mother was busy in the cottage preparing the tonic for Dorothy. Soon Dorothy’s daughter appeared to collect it.
“How does your Mother fare?”
“She is very weak.”
“The tonic will help, come back tomorrow to tell me how she does.”
“Yes mistress, thank you.”
Isobel went back to making the ointments and powders that were necessary for a healer and midwife’s work.
“We will need to go out for some more herbs tonight Effie, for it is a full moon and as you know they are often most powerful when picked by the light of a full moon.”
As soon as darkness came, they set off carrying a basket each to gather the last of the summers’ herbs and berries before the harsh Scottish winter came. Isobel led the way into the woods that surrounded the village until they reached a clearing where many wildflowers and herbs grew. By the light of the full moon, they set to work to gather them. Effie knew the herbs to collect and the prayers to say over them as she picked them; she had been gathering herbs with her Mother since she could walk. But tonight she felt scared. The harvest moon shone large and red, casting long shadows that made the trees seem like gnarled old men.
Suddenly Effie heard a rustling in the trees behind them. She jumped and clutched her Mother’s arm, almost knocking Isobel’s basket on the floor. She stared at the bushes and a face appeared. Effie breathed a sigh of relief and Isobel laughed.
“You gave us both a start Janet,” she said to her old friend. “Are you gathering herbs?”
“Aye, with winter coming it’s as well to have a few remedies made up for colds and chills.”
“It is Janet.”
The three women carried on with their gathering. They had nearly filled the baskets when Effie noticed lights dancing through the trees. She clutched her Mothers’ arm again.
“Mother, what’s that?” she said.
Isobel looked. “It’s lanterns Effie. Someone other than us is in these woods tonight. Never mind we’ve nearly finished and the weather is taking a turn for the worse, I’ll just gather some of these Rosehips and then we’ll be off home.”
Effie didn’t take her eyes off the lights.
“Hurry Mother they are getting nearer.”
“Hush child, these things can’t be rushed.”
A gust of wind blew through the trees making them clatter together like dry bones. Effie looked up. Dark clouds were skimming across the moon. She looked towards the lights. They were very near now; in fact snatches of voices could be caught on the wind.
“Please Mother, let’s go home now”
“Come on then,” Isobel agreed.
As they turned towards home, a sudden gust of wind whipped furiously through the trees, swirling around the clearing, like a tornado. It tore the last of the autumn leaves from the branches and swirled them around. The women could barely see where they were going as they slipped from the clearing and began to make their way back to the cottage. Effie felt nervous and jittery; she glanced over her shoulder to see if she could still see the lanterns. She could. They seemed to be following them, their streaming stars of light getting neither closer nor farther away. She shivered.
“Mother the lights are following us. Maybe they are fairies or sprites.”
“Hush child, you’re letting your imagination get the better of you.”
Nevertheless she quickened her pace. They said goodbye to Janet at the edge of the village and were soon home, glad to reach the warmth and light of their little cottage.
Effie lay awake for a long while that night wondering about the lights in the woods. Could it have been fairies, or maybe devil worshippers? Talk of witches and devil worshippers abounded in Fife at present. Witch trials were happening all across the region. Only last week a woman was imprisoned in St Andrews accused of witchcraft and worshipping the devil. The Minister had been full of it at Kirk on Sunday. How the evil was spreading across the land. But could it be possible in their peaceful little village? Effie felt goose bumps rise on her arms and pulled her blankets close around her.