The next day the weather was bright and breezy, a good day for drying washing, so Effie and her Mother went down to the burn to wash their clothes and blankets. When they arrived, some boys were playing around the storm-swollen burn, clambering over tree trunks that had fallen across the water. When they saw Isobel and Effie, they began to chant and jeer.
“Don’t let her look at you or you’ll be turned to stone,” one boy said.
“Or a slimy toad,” laughed another.
Effie looked at her Mother in horror.
“Away with you, you wee scallywags, or I’ll tell your Mothers’ of your mischief!” Isobel yelled.
“My Mother knows you are a witch,” one of the boys retorted. “My father was out setting traps with the Laird last night and they saw you dancing in the clearing in the woods with Janet Ross. The Laird said you must have been meeting the Devil. Then you conjured up a whirlwind and disappeared into it when you saw them.”
The boys ran off laughing.
“Silly boys,” Isobel said.
But Effie noticed her mothers’ hands trembling as she finished the washing.
“Mother, I think we should leave this village,” Effie said quietly as they sat by the fire that night.
“Why on earth should we leave?” Isobel looked up in surprise.
“You know what happened to Agnes in St Andrew’s. She is still locked in the Tollbooth awaiting trial for witchcraft.”
“Don’t be scared by what some silly boys say lassie, anyway mothers need our help when they are labouring, who will help them if we don’t? And who will make up remedies for the sick?”
“But I think we draw attention to ourselves, it’s not good to be making remedies and healing the sick with all this talk of witchcraft going on. We’ve been seen in the woods at night and people think we are meeting the Devil.”
“Nonsense, no one seriously thinks we are Devil worshippers.”
“I still wish you would find a less dangerous occupation.”
Isobel laughed. “What on earth else would I do?”
“There are plenty of things you could do and me too. A midwife and healer’s life is not what I will choose. It is too dangerous now.”
Isobel laughed. “Well it’s up to you Effie; the women of our family have always been midwives, as far back as memory goes, but it’s your choice what you do with your life. If you choose another occupation, I’ll not stand in your way.
The following day Effie decided to find out if the villagers really did think her Mother was a witch. She made her way to where the main village street crossed the burn, right in the centre of the village; this was where the women often met to talk. Effie slipped down the banks of the burn so she could hide herself under the bridge and hear the villagers talking. But she needn’t have worried. The villagers were talking about the Laird’s daughter, a girl of sixteen, who had apparently gone missing.
“When did she go missing?” asked one.
“Last night,” the Bakers’ wife replied.
“Maybe she has eloped,” the Blacksmiths’ wife suggested.
“But who with? None of the lads are missing,” another woman replied.
Effie crept away, her mind at rest.
A few days passed. The weather was dry but cold and windy. Effie and Isobel spent their time tidying the little cottage garden up, clearing the branches and leaves that the storm had blown into it. They gathered in their remaining summer crops, before the frosts came, storing them carefully for the winter ahead. They saw little of their neighbours, as everyone was busy with the last of the harvest and fixing fences, walls and buildings. No babies were due in the village and no one was taken ill, so Isobel was not called out to heal anyone.
One evening, as the two were finishing their work in the cottage garden, they saw their friend Janet appear from the woods that surrounded their side of the village. She was breathless and white-faced. They ushered her inside and Effie poured her a cup of spiced ale. Isobel bid her sit down.
“Whatever is the matter Janet,” she said.
“Isobel, I had to come and tell you,” Janet‘s words came tumbling out. “You know that the Laird’s daughter Beatrice has gone missing?”
“Yes, Effie heard it in the village.”
“Well the Laird is blaming you. He says you have used her as a sacrifice, that you’ve killed her as part of your magical rituals.”
Effie and Isobel were speechless with shock.
“Mother we will have to leave, it’s not safe for us here any longer.” Effie cried.
“Aye lassie, I think you’re right. It would be as well for me to go away for a little while ‘til this trouble has died down.”
“Where will you go?” Janet asked.
“Well I can’t go to any of the neighbouring villages the Laird would easily find me. I will have to hide out in the countryside for a while. Janet, will you keep Effie safe with you?”
“No Mother, I am coming with you, I’ll not leave you.” Effie cried.
“You will be safer with Janet.”
“Of course I will take her Isobel.”
“No, Mother, I will be safer out of this village too. With you gone the Laird and the Minister could easily turn on me, you know that they say witchcraft runs in families, they’ll call me a witch’s get, a witch’s child.”
“I hadn’t thought of that; maybe your right.”
“That’s settled then, shall we leave straight away?” Effie said.
“Hold your horses’ lassie we will need to get ourselves ready; we cannot go into the countryside unprepared or we will not last a night. It is too late to leave today anyway; we’ll go at first light.”
“Oh Mother we must be quick, I’m scared.”
“I’ll get things ready; there is a lot to prepare at such short notice. I haven’t even begun to make my winter cloak, though yours is ready Effie.”
“I have a warm cloak you can take Isobel,” Janet offered, “and lots of other things you can have, food and suchlike. Let Effie come with me now and collect them while you pack up your things.”
“Thank you Janet, you are a very good friend.”
“Come on then Effie, let’s go.”
“I’ll be as quick as I can Mother.”
“Good lassie and don’t worry, we’ll be gone from here by dawn.”
Janet and Effie went off leaving Isobel to pack up the essentials for their journey into the Scottish wilderness. The two soon reached Janet’s cottage where Janet sorted out warm clothing, blankets and food and packed them up securely.
“You take these back to your Mother now and I’ll go and collect a few herbs that might be useful. Bring your Mother back with you later and I’ll make you a good meal before your journey.”
Effie hurried back to the cottage with her pack. It was dark and she was frightened to be out alone at night. As she neared the cottage, she could see several lights. That’s strange, she thought. Why on earth does Mother have so many candles burning? She quickened her pace. Suddenly she heard loud voices shouting followed by a terrible scream. It was followed by more noises: horse’s hooves stomping, dogs barking and an awful crashing and banging and tearing. She dropped her pack and rushed through the copse to her cottage. At last she could see the cottage clearly. It was surrounded by people. Women were screaming and men on horses were trampling through the cottage garden. What seemed like all of Effie and Isobel’s possessions lay strewn on the ground outside. Effie saw the Laird tip a box of medicine bottles onto the grass and trample them under his horses’ hooves.
Then the Laird dismounted his horse and went in to the cottage. He came back out a moment later dragging Isobel behind him. Effie watched in horror as The Laird tied Isobel to his horse and then mounted it. He lashed the horse with his whip and the horse lurched into a canter dragging Isobel feet first behind it. Effie was about to rush forward to try to help her Mother when she heard the Laird’s voice spit out.
“Now let’s find the witches get!”
He means me Effie realised and she shrank back into the copse, curling herself tightly by the roots of a tree. There was no point in her being captured; she would be no good to her Mother if she were locked up with her. A man on horseback came galloping towards the copse, Effie shrank back further in fear and then kept as still as she could, trying not to breath. Adrenaline coursed through her veins making her want to run like a frightened rabbit, but she made herself be still. The man passed. The other people had spread out through the woods and the village to seek her out. Effie began to breathe again in big panting gasps. The cottage in front of her lay deserted, all their possessions strewn about and broken, the herbs, flowers and vegetables in the little garden trampled, her Mother gone. Effie began to cry.