Witchfinder

   On the Isle of Skye lived a farmer named McKinnon whose cows suddenly gave no more milk.
     "Bewitched they are!" he said, and went to discover the author of his misery. 
      He got himself a buaracb, or bough of juniper, proof against witches, and bound it with horsehair to increase its power.  Then he took himself and the stick off to Euart McLeod, a well-known witchfinder. 
      "Aye, and you have done this thing well," said McLeod, running a roughened hand over the buarach.  "I canna find a thing wrong with it." 
      "Then will you say the words?" asked McKinnon. 
      "That I will," McLeod answered.  And he did.  He spoke for about half an hour over the "puir wee thing," the syllables rolling out like water over stone.  And when he was done, he handed the buarach back to     McKinnon, saying, "Fasten it to your barn and wait and see."
      So McKinnon fastened it to his barn and he waited.  He waited for day after day, till an entire week went by and the new moon rose, pale and thin as an old halfpenny. 
      One of the cows in the barn began to moan, a most unusual sound. And then the entire herd joined in.  Then they muddled about till they broke loose of their ropes and in one terrifying rush shattered the barn door and scattered into the night. 
      Clattering down the road they went, with McKinnon fast behind.  But it was no helter - skelter they were about.  They were headed for one particular house.  And when they got there, down went their heads and horns and they hooked and hacked at the walls. 
      The old woman who lived in the house came out with a stick and it was then McKinnon knew which witch had cursed his cows.  He struck her dead on the spot and his cows gave milk ever after. 
      Wbat an awful story, " Motber said, closing the book.  "Tbat poor old woman.  And wbere was the justice in it? 
      "Was she a witch?" Maddie was confused. 
      "No one said she was a witch, " her mother pointed out.  "Except for
McKinnon.  The cows were crazed, by the moon or by ill treatment.  The
house was probably the first they came to along the road.  Possibly they
were attracted to its thatched roof. 
      "It doesn't say that in the book," Jamie said. He was always the one
who was a stickler for accuracy. 
      "No, it doesn't, " his mother agreed.  "But it is always important to read these old stories between the lines. 
      What do you mean? the children asked together. 
      She smiled gently at them.  "It means there are different ways to look at the same story," she said.  Her eyes closed and she got her story - telling expression on, which rarely happened during the day.  What if it went this way. . .
      On the Isle of Skye lived a nasty old skinflint named McKinnon who hoped that if he could get his cows to eat less and still give good milk he could make a greater profit.  But as these things go, you get back what you put in.  The less he fed them, the less milk his cows had.  Until the day came when they gave none at all. 
      McKinnon was angry and he was cross, but he had a plan.  He went to old Euart McLeod, a man known in some parts as a witchfinder and in some parts as crazy.  "Find me the witch who made my cows dry up," said McKinnon, "and when they give milk again you will get a quart each week." It was an easy promise since he had no milk at all.
      Well, McLeod wasn't as crazy as all that. He pulled his mumble and his jumble together.  Then he took a stick of juniper and tied it with horsehair because that looked like a magical wand.  And then, for good measure-because a quart of milk a week was worth it - he gave McKinnon a whole hour's worth of incantation made up on the spot.  A bit of Bible and a bit of babble.
      McKinnon went home well contented, let his cows out on the full moon as per McLeod's instructions, and followed them.  They were so hungry they grazed along the roadside grass, though it was well into autumn and there was precious little to nibble on but brown stalks.  And when they came to the very first thatched cottage along the road, they began to devour the thatch as well.
      Now, the cottage belonged to Mistress Campbell, a woman not well liked because she came from off -island.  She ran out, stick in hand to drive the cows away, and McKinnon cried, "You are a witch."  And he struck her dead with the juniper wand and took his cows home.
      The cows were so full of fall grass and thatch that they gave milk for the first time in a month.
      McLeod spoke for McKinnon at his trial and there was no one to speak up for the dead woman.  She was judged a witch in truth and since her land adjoined McKinnon's, he was given it by way of compensation,
so he did not begrudge the milk to McLeod.
      And everyone lived happily ever after. 
      "Everyone except the dead old woman, " Jamie pointed out.
      "Exactly," said his mother.
      "Thats not quite fair, " Maddie complained, pulling on her left braid,
something she did when disturbed.  "You stacked the deck."
      "That I did," her mother said. "Could you tell it better?
      Maddie thougbt a minute.  Her left braid was quite straggled with her
thinking and looked like a yellow haystack.  But it wasn't often that she
was positively invited to tell a story.  Usually it was Jamie who got all the
turns, as be was oldest and bad the talent.  I think so," she said. "How      about this?"
       There was an old woman who lived on Skye who lots of people called a witch, but she wasn't.  At least she didn't practice the dark arts.  She was an herbalist.  But she liked to keep herself to herself, which made them call her names even more.
        Her next-door neighbor was a man with bad luck.  He never did anything right.  He would set in potatoes and they never grew, though anyone could grow them.  He would plant corn and it would die.  Even his cows stopped giving milk. His neighbors said he had been born under a thin star.
        The old woman took pity on the man and showed him how to plant the proper way.  She showed him how to nurse his cows so they gave milk again.  All she asked in payment was a bit of milk for her tea.
         At first the man was grateful.  But then he grew tired of it.  Gratitude can be a sour meal.
         "No more milk for you, you old witch!" he said when she came to his door.  He pushed her and she stumbled back and fell, her head hitting the foot of a juniper tree. 
        The man bent over and saw she was dead, and, panicking, ran to his
brother-in-law for help.
        The brother-in-law said, "Leave it to me."  He stripped a bough from the tree, wound it with horsehair, and laid it by the woman's side.  Then he called the town council to witness.  "Look," he said, "the old woman was a witch.  No wonder my poor brother-in-law had such ill luck."
        So they buried the old woman by the crossroads with a stake in her heart and gave her land to the neighbor in compensation. And thus was justice - though it was wrong - served.
        " Why, Maddie, " her mother exclaimed, I believe you do have the
talent after all! You are just a late bloomer.  That was a wondeful telling.
Won't Gran be pleased!"
        "Stakes and crossroads are for vampires," Jamie said in his careful
way.  "Not witches.
        "How do you know?" Maddie asked.
        I read it in one of Gran's books."
        They botb turned to their mother for confirmation, and she nodded.
"Witches were burned.  Or thrown into the water.  If they drowned, they
were considered innocent," she said. 'But if tbey floated, they were guilty.
It was called 'swimming a witch.
        "Fire . . . " Maddie said, and shuddered.
        "And water," Jamie added. What a combination."
        For a moment all three were silent.
        "Lucky it's not done anymore," Maddie said slowly, her band once
again on her left braid.
        Jamie smiled. "At least we can swim on our own. You made us take
lessons at the Y.
        "Well, you were naturals," his mother said. "After all - witcbes can
    float." She got up and went over to the stove and stirred the pot carefully.  "For starters."

 

 

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