Chapter 9: The Witch’s Tale
“I have orders from our Father to subject you to further indoctrination,” says Melchom with a sadistic smirk.
I am less than gladdened but I cannot contravene our Father’s wishes. “Will it take long?”
“Less than two earth minutes. Keep in mind that this comes directly from Father. I am merely the conduit.” With that, Melchom inserts his mephitic looking middle talon into my right leg just above the knee.
I hear a murmuring, sonorous voice:
The sickness has come at last to this colony and it is vanity to speak good sense to anyone lest they accuse you of Witchcraft as well. ’Tis a melancholy time when honest folk keep silent while wickedness and knavery prevail.
“Up you foul and lazy wretch. It’s well past dawn and there’s work to be done, Michael, as well you know.” The voice belongs to a woman and is unpleasantly shrill.
I open my eyes to see that I lie upon a bed of straw in a small, barren room. At the end furthest from me is a small stone fireplace. Hunched near the dying coals, blowing vigorously on her cupped hands is the figure of a tiny and remarkably ugly woman with filthy matted dark hair, a prominent crooked nose and a wrinkled hole of a mouth apparently bereft of teeth. The room is bitterly cold and dank. My fingers feel quite numb. I look down at my hands and am startled to see that they are not the handsome appendages of Roger O. Thornhill but rather ugly, heavily calloused, long, bony, and gnarled.
“Where am I?” My voice emerges in a raspy whisper.
The woman turns towards me. I become unpleasantly aware of her stench, a foul odor that suffuses the room. I nearly pass out but the woman’s harsh, penetrating voice quickly brings me around.
“Where are you, Michael Trevisard? Where you ought not to be by heavens!” With this, she strides across the room and jerks the thin blanket from my shivering body.
“Let me be, woman!” I shout.
The ugly woman laughs. “You best be up, husband. You’ll catch your death like that.”
I look down to my now uncovered form to see that I am quite naked from the waist down.
“Here.” The woman hands me a dirty pair of trousers and a cloth jerkin made from a material resembling burlap. Embarrassed by my semi-nudity. I rise and begin to dress. She returns to the fire and resumes her hunched position. A small boy carrying a large iron pot with both hands appears in the doorway. As he sets the pot down on the dirt floor water sloshes from it. He looks at me with an impish grin.
“Damn, that pot is heavy,” he says.
The woman glares at him. “Silence. Peter. That blasphemous tongue you waggle will get you in trouble yet. Bring it here.”
The child sighs deeply and with some difficulty lugs the pot to his mother’s side. She hangs it on a hook over the fire. “We need more wood,” she says to the boy. He sighs again and, with a listless air, traipses outside. The woman glances at me. “Your son near surpasses you in worthlessness.”
Anger stirs in me and I find myself surprised to reply, “But does not exceed you in ugliness, witch.”
The woman scoffs. “If I be a witch, then you’re the Devil himself.”
“Oh Alice,” I say, “Must we fight so? Haven’t we troubles enough?”
“Aye, that we do,” Alice relents. “We’ve no coin to see us through this winter and I’ve little stomach for begging.”
“You’re too proud, woman. There’s plenty of others that get by on alms.”
She sneers. “There are those wretches who slink and cringe and bow and curtsy before such as Joan Baddaford. I will starve before I do the same. Why, when John Baddaford refused you sixpence didn’t you bid him go to Pursever Wood and there gather up his wits?”
“And good advice it was,” I say with a smile, “for he’s witless enough now.”
Peter returns with an armload of wood. Alice places the scrawny twigs on the fire and removes the pot of almost boiling water. She pours meal from a sack into the hot water, stirs it and hangs the pot back up. I am silent, slowly becoming aware of another presence, that of Michael Trevisard, whose body I inhabit. Clearly Michael is in control. I am little better than a spectator. Is Trevisard aware of me? I doubt it. The man has a violent and unreflective nature. He seems scarcely aware of anything other than simple physical needs. At the moment, Michael’s mind is completely occupied with the imminent prospect of filling his belly.
I am taken aback by the crude power of Trevisard’s emotions. I have never experienced anything so direct and spontaneous as the sudden fits of raw anger that overcome the man. Rage appears, vanishes and reappears in rapid succession while the exterior world has a profound physical impact on his every mood. Cold, hunger, warmth, food. These represent the outward perimeters of Trevisard’s consciousness but within this narrow range of concern he exudes a vitality that I have not previously experienced. Part of this vital energy is physical in origin. His body is strong and hard, tempered by years of grueling physical labor. But part is mental as well. Trevisard is an ignorant man but not a stupid one. His mind is clear and vigorous. Given a set of circumstances he comprehends, Trevisard reacts swiftly and shrewdly. He never ponders over the implications of an act as I’ve noticed modern humans tend to do.
The family eats its gruel in silence. It is watery, tasteless stuff but Michael consumes it with great zest. When we are finished, Peter gathers up the wooden bowls and goes outside to wash them at the stream. Alice looks up from the table. “The widow Webbar wants her rent.”
I laugh harshly. “Tell we can give her neither pence nor pound till the fish run again.”
“I doubt she’ll like that answer.”
I stand up. “I must work on the boat. I need Peter’s help.”
“Take him then. Much good as he’ll be to you.”
“You’re too hard on the boy. He’ll be a good fisherman yet.”
“As good as you?” Her tone is bitter.
I shake my head. “No, Alice. I’ll fight no more with you this morning. Go see the widow and mind your tongue.”
I leave her sitting forlornly at the table and encounter Peter on his way back from the creek. “Take the bowls inside,” I order, “then come with me to the village.”
Peter runs into the cabin, emerging a moment later with a woolen cap on his head. “Are we to fish today?” he asks.
“If we caulk the boat in time, lad.”
We walk in the direction of Hardness, more than two miles away. When we reach the village, I note how small it is, no more than twenty houses clustered together near the seashore, all of wood, gray and worn. The largest building in the village is the church and it is tiny by modern standards. This is the world I am familiar with, a man-sized world. But what year is it and where are we? If Michael Trevisard knows the date his mind fails to reveal that fact to me.
I have seen and heard enough to determine that the period is not too many years after the early sixteenth century of my memories. The speech patterns are familiar. But is this England or one of the American colonies?
No one speaks to us as we walk towards the Old Quay. Most of the villagers look away as we pass by. The more friendly among them smile at Peter but ignore me. Trevisard is ashamed and angry. Ashamed of being penniless, angry that his neighbors look down on him. For all that he had warned Alice about pride, he is a proud and resentful man.
At the mouth of the tiny harbor near where the fishermen spread their nets lie a number of small boats in various stages of disrepair. Our boat requires recaulking, a long and tedious process that Michael has put off for several days. The fish haven’t been running so what was the use?
Peter helps mix the caulk but when it comes time to apply it to the boat’s underside, I tell him to run off and play. The boy is too awkward and careless to be of help at this task. Delighted by this rare display of fatherly kindliness, Peter runs off to join Chris Honeywell at the quay. As I work, I hear the boys shouting and laughing in the distance.
After applying the initial coat, I wait for the caulk to dry, lying back against another overturned boat and watch the boys at play. For a time they chase each other in, out, and around the boat belonging to Chris’s father, which floats tied to the Old Quay. Growing bored after a time, they rest and try to think of fresh mischief. Then Peter begins to untie Honeywell’s boat. Chris protests at first but Peter murmurs something I cannot hear and he evidently changes his mind for he starts to help Peter push the boat further into the water.
What deviltry does the boy have in mind? wonders Michael. Then it comes to him. It was a trick he had learned from an old fisherman when he was but a boy. Michael smiles and gives up any thought of interfering.
The boat is well into the water now and Peter gives it a powerful shove just as the breakers start to recede. Poor Chris looks on in horror as his father’s valuable boat drifts out into the harbor.
“Meet me at the New Quay,” Peter shouts. He begins to run and, after a moment’s hesitation, Chris follows him. When Peter reaches the New Quay, scarcely thirty yards distant, he beckons Chris to join him. They stand near where two lighters are tied. Peter makes fanciful passes in the air while Chris looks on in amazement. From where I sit, halfway between the Old and New Quays, I can just see the narrow space between the lighters. Within moments, Honeywell’s boat drifts slowly in the lighters’ direction Peter makes beckoning motions and sinks to his knees. The boat bumps against the lighter on the left, rebounds to the lighter on the right and floats neatly between them right up to the New Quay.
Peter laughs. Chris backs away from him, an expression of fear mixed with awe transfiguring his young face. As Peter starts towards his friend, Chris wheels and runs off in the direction of the village. Peter gazes after him, still laughing. Grinning broadly, Michael strolls over to his son.
“You gave the lad a fright,” he says, placing a hand on Peter’s head and gently ruffling his hair.
“Aye, that I did. More even of a fright than you gave me when you did the same last Whitsuntide.”
Michael helps his son pole the Honeywell boat back to its mooring. In a better mood now, Michael shows Peter how to apply the caulking mixture properly and the two work silently together until dusk.
When they return to the cottage, Alice meets them at the door, unusually agitated. After sending Peter to gather firewood, she takes Michael’s hands in hers. “Joan Baddaford and Elizabeth Tompson have been to the magistrate about us.”
“What about, pray tell?” Michaels anger is once again on the rise. “That our rent is in arrears is not a crime. I hope Thomas gave those meddling harpies short shrift.”
“I know not what charge they brought against us,” says Alice, her countenance troubled and wan, “but the two of them were in a mighty good mood when I met them on the road from Tunstall.”
“They told you they had paid a visit to Thomas Ridgeway?”
“That they did. And, says they, most courteously did he receive them. Then Joan Baddaford cursed me, saying I was not long for this world and she was glad of it. I turned on her and said, ‘Thou and thine will burn before I part this earth.’ She jumped back affrighted and ran down the road, Elizabeth Tompson close behind her.”
“Alice, Alice,” says Michael Trevisard in a weary voice, “When will you learn to hold your tongue? If ought happens to the Baddafords it is you will bear the blame.”
“I care not!” says Alice angrily. “I should like to see crone Baddaford rot in Hell, liar that she is.”
“Alice,” Michael’s voice has the ring of command, “stifle that tongue of yours.”
Alice Trevisard sinks to a chair, puts her head in her hands and begins to weep. “Haven’t we worries and troubles enough without the stock or prison to threaten us?”
Michael draws up a chair and sits beside his wife. “Thomas Ridgeway is a fair minded man. He will do naught against us without the proper evidence and there’s none forthcoming.” He continues in this vein, attempting to allay Alice’s fears but it is no use. After a time he stands and begins to prepare for the evening meal, cutting roots and bark and tossing them into the iron pot above the fire. Peter has retreated to a corner of the small room where he watches his distraught parents, comprehending little of their plight.
The family eats dinner in silence, each preoccupied with discrete dismal thoughts.
Shortly after dinner we all go to bed. I lie next to Alice, unable to sleep. I think of Trevisard’s life and what the years of privation and bone-wearying work had done to him and his wife. He, bad-tempered and surly. She, a common scold. It had not always been so. As a girl, Alice had been sprightly and gay, quick to laugh, and a wanton in the marriage bed. I smile at Michael’s fond recollections of their early years together, a time when their passions ran strong. Now he was but a meacock wretch and Alice, too, had lost her appetite for pleasure. Two good years, perhaps, out of twelve.
A resounding knock at the door disrupts my reveries.
“Open up or we will be forced to drag you from your bed!” A voice, loud and familiar, rings out.
In the darkness I stumble to the door and pull the latch. Outside are two large men whom Michael does not wish to see, Will Hopkins and Theodore Morgan, Thomas Ridgeway’s men, and huddled behind them I make out the figures of the couple known to Michael as John and Joan Baddaford. She sobs hysterically while he gives me such a look of hate and fear that I instinctively recoil.
“What goes on here?” Michael asks Hopkins.
“We have a writ for your arrest and that of your household, signed this hour by Thomas Ridgeway, magistrate,” Hopkins intones solemnly.
“On what charge?”
“The charge is witchcraft.”
“Witchcraft?” Michael laughs. “You are a fool, Will Hopkins, and Tom Ridgeway, too. What witchcraft?”
Joan Baddaford steps forward. “Liar!” she screams. “He pretends he doesn’t know.” Hopkins and Morgan try to calm her. But she is having none of it. “He and his slut and their bastard son are in league, I tell you. This night they have foully murdered Jamie, my Jamie!” Joan Baddaford collapses into a fit, shrieking and sobbing.
“Come,” says Hopkins to Michael, “gather up your family. You will hear all of the charges at the proper time.
Michael turns away from Hopkins and looks at Alice, still in the cabin. She sits upright, eyes frightened, the thin blanket about her waist, exposing sagging breasts. “So,” she whispers hoarsely, “it has come to this.”
Michael makes no reply and walks to where Peter lies, still half asleep. “Come, boy,” he says gently. “We must go.” Silently, Peter drags himself from the floor and begins to pull on his clothes.
The Hardness gaol proves even colder and more uncomfortable than the Trevisard cabin. There are no amenities, no fire, no pile of straw, not even a thin blanket to cover the family as they lie on near-frozen dirt.
Early the next morning, without having been given anything to eat or drink, the Trevisards stand before Thomas Ridgeway’s great desk as the magistrate, a handsome man of middling age and gentle demeanor, gazes down at the depositions before him, He clears his throat and looks down at Michael who stands as erectly as his aching body permits, one arm draped protectively over Peter’s shoulders.
“These are serious charges,” Ridgeway says. “To my mind they warrant a trial.” His expression is troubled. He is a kind man, thinks Michael, who detests this task. Perhaps there is hope here.
“These are vicious lies, Thomas,” says Michael. “We are God-fearing people as you well know, more so than our accusers.”
“If that be true, you will have your chance to prove it. For now, you must listen to the charges.” Ridgeway selects one of the depositions and begins to read.
“The Examination of Alice Butler, widow, of Hardness Village, in the County of Hartford, Crown Colony of Connecticut, taken before Thomas Ridgeway, magistrate, the second of October, 1662.
“1. The examinate sayeth that she, sitting at a door or bench in Hardness aforesaid about twelvemonth last with one Michael Trevisard of Hardness aforesaid used these words: ‘I would my child were able to run as well as any children that run here in the street.’ Then said Trevisard, ‘It shall never run.’ ‘No?’ said the examinate. ‘That’s hard.’ ’It shall never run, ‘til thou hast another,’ repeating the same or similar words many times with great vehemency. Whereupon this examinate, being in mind much troubled, especially upon a fear conceived by her through the general bad report that went of Trevisard, and knowing that, as a widow, she could bear no more children, understood Trevisard’s words to be a curse and departed from him. And the very same week the same child sickened and consumed away, being well one day and ill another, for the space of seventeen weeks or thereabout and then died.”
Michael remembers this incident but not as Alice Butler had told it. True, he had been sitting with Widow Butler and she had mentioned her son, how sickly he was, and expressed the wish that he would improve in health and Michael had said in a kindly manner, “It shall run one day as well as any of these,” pointing to several young children frolicking on the green. Then Alice had said she was afraid it would never run and they had lapsed into a melancholy silence.
The woman is mad with grief, Michael thinks, and has put her own words in my mouth, remembering them not as a lament on her part but as a curse on mine.
There is more to Alice Butler’s deposition. Peter Trevisard had gone to to the Butler cabin to borrow a hatchet and Mrs. Butler’s servant, Rebecca Beere, had refused to lend it to him. “I will do thee a good turn if I can have it and a bad one if I cannot,” Peter had said. But Rebecca turned him away and a few weeks later became sick and, not long after, died. Peter’s remark, overheard by Alice Butler, she deemed another Trevisard curse.
Having completed the Butler deposition, Ridgeway turns to that of William Cozen. Cozen had argued with Michael and within weeks his daughter-in-law had taken ill, “her neck shrunk down between her shoulders in a very strange manner, her body wasted and consumed in pain.”
Then there was John Davye who, after a quarrel with Michael, had been injured while shooting his musket and Susan Tooker whose husband lost his best sow soon after Alice Trevisard had cursed her and her family for refusing Peter a drink from their well. There were also William Martin and Thomas Whittle and Anne Redferne, all with similar tales of misfortune, a cow whose milk had suddenly turned sour, a goat that died mysteriously, a son or husband or wife struck by illness, injury or death, all seemingly the direct consequence of a falling out, an argument, a grievance, a stray remark on the part of a member of the Trevisard family. In the village of Hardness, the Trevisards appeared to be the maleficent source of all woe and affliction.
There are two articles of testimony that stand out sharply from the rest, the first that of William Tompson. A sailor and great carouser while in port, Tompson and his friend John Furseman, both half drunk, had, some six years previous, come upon Alice Trevisard returning home from the village. She was dressed in a long black cape with a hood, which looked to Tompson and Furseman like the garb of a priest. The two sailors, who despised Papists, fell upon Alice and began beating her. She freed herself with some difficulty and snarled at the men, “It would be better if thou hadst never met me.”
A few weeks later Tompson and Furseman left together on a voyage. Several days out, their ship mysteriously caught fire and sank. Furseman drowned but Tompson was one of six survivors who were rescued by a Spanish ship, where they were shackled and later imprisoned at Cadiz. After a year, Tompson and the others were set free.
Upon Tompson’s return, Alice Trevisard had laughingly remarked to his wife, Elizabeth, that he was luckier than he deserved and that a Spanish gaol was a good place for him. Six months later another ship on which William had sailed was captured by the Portugese and he languished in a Lisbon prison for two years.
Finally there is Joan Baddaford’s deposition. After Alice had cursed her the day before, she had been afraid to build a fire. As darkness grew near her husband begged her to let him start one else the children would be frozen before the night was out. At last she relented and borrowed some coals from a neighbor to kindle the flame. As she gathered firewood she suddenly heard Jamie scream. She ran into the cabin where she found her young son sitting on the hearth where she had left him, a ring of fire around his neck. She smelled burning flesh and, horror-stricken, saw the bones in Jamie’s tiny neck through the flames. Before she could move, the child toppled dead into the fire.
What possible explanation could there be for such a hideous death, except witchcraft?
The depositions having all been read, Thomas Ridgeway dismisses the Trevisards with a weary wave of his hand. They would be examined and then brought before the assizes, he tells them. How soon, he does not know.
In the anteroom outside the magistrate’s chambers Chris Honeywell waits to enter. As Peter passes, Chris averts his eyes. Here is yet another accuser, thinks Michael sadly, looking down at his son and remembering the day before. It seems a year ago.
The days in Hardness gaol pass slowly. There are no visitors, no one save themselves to talk to. The gaolers avoid the Trevisards, fearful of being bewitched themselves. As winter deepens, it becomes almost unbearably cold in the tiny cell. The Trevisard family huddle together for warmth most of the time now, day and night, saying little, surrounded by the excrement that the gaolers refuse to touch, knowing as they do that witches’ dung carries a powerful curse.
Peter grows ill. He lies shivering in his parents’ arms, half-delirious sometimes. No one comes to tend to him. In less than a week he is dead.
It takes endless pleading to persuade anyone to remove the boy’s body. Finally, Old Tom Maron, the village fool, is induced by a few shillings and the promise of a pint of ale to enter the cell and remove Peter’s budy from the feeble grasp of his grief-stricken parents.
Alice scarcely speaks now. It is all Michael can do to get her to eat the bowl of thin gruel that is shoved into the cell each day. She soon becomes ill and Michael reckons that she will not last long.
One day Michael is surprised to hear the clanging of the gaol’s outer door and the rattling of keys at an unaccustomed time, hours before their daily ration is to be delivered. On the other side of the bars stands a man Michael has never seen before, of average height, well dressed, with a kindly air about him. The gaoler opens the cell door and the stranger enters. The door clatters shut and the stranger kneels by Michael’s side. “I have been sent by Thomas Ridgeway to conduct the examination,” he says in a low voice. “I am John Aspinall.”
The name is not familiar to Michael. “Examination?” His voice is horse from lack of use.
“Aye,” says Aspinall. “It will take but a short time.”
“Don’t hurt her,” Michael whispers, inclining his head in Alice’s direction.
“I will not,” Aspinall promises. He stands, peers briefly out of the cell door, then swings abruptly around. “Have you any marks upon your body, witch’s marks?”
“Are you certain?”
“Look for yourself.”
“I believe you. What of your wife?”
“The same. I swear it!”
“Good. That is very good,” mutters Aspinall under his breath. “I’m here to help you, Trevisard. You’re not a witch. I know that. Still, there is little that I can do. We can only pray that that little is enough. I must remain here here for a sufficient time to have made a proper, thorough examination. If ever asked, say I stuck needles in you and queried you with hard questions. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” says Michael, hope fleeting briefly through his mind.
“Thomas Ridgeway wishes to be lenient with you but he fears rousing the wrath of the whole county against him. When I tell him that you and your wife are free of the devil’s brands, that may be enough to induce him to set you both free. So this is what you must say. . .”
Aspinall kneels by Michael’s side once again and whispers words of encouragement and advice. When he concludes, Michael looks up.
“Why do you do this?”
“Because you are innocent.”
“How do you know for certain? Are you a Cunning Man?”
“Among other things. The magistrate places faith in me for I cured him of the pox some years past. Now lie still. You need your strength.” Aspinall reaches inside his cloak and extracts a loaf of fresh bread. “Here. Take this. I would it were more but it was all I could safely smuggle in.”
Michael wrenches the loaf from Aspinall’s hands and begins greedily to devour it. Suddenly ashamed, he stops and tears off a piece for Alice. She merely stares at him, making no move to touch the bread. Aspinall shakes his head with great sadness and stands up.
“If I can come again, I will,” he says. He walks to the cell door and rattles the bars. When Michael hears the outer doors open, he remembers the bread and quickly conceals it under his tattered shirt. Aspinall does not look back as he strides past the gaoler.
Michael tries to explain to Alice what has happened but she pays no attention. After a time he gives up and tries to force bits of bread into her mouth but she lets the bread lie on her tongue without chewing. The days drag on and Alice grows ever weaker. Soon her time comes. Michael cradles her in his arms, speaking softly. “Ah Alice, love, don’t leave me here alone. There’s hope yet. Remember when first we met. Oh, you were a lovely lass. And me, you said I was a fine peacock of a man. I plied you hard and was a happy man when at last you agreed to wed. Forget the harsh words I have spoke to you all these years. If you can.”
Alice opens her swollen eyes. She stares at Michael for a moment and seems about to speak. Then her body grows limp and he smells the stench of her death loosened bowels.
It is two days before Old Tom removes her corpse.
For weeks, Michael scarcely moves. He does not notice the change of seasons from winter to spring, stops counting the weeks of his imprisonment.
One day the gaoler opens the cell door and stands looking down at him. “It’s your trial today,” he says gruffly.
Of course there had to be a trial. Michael had forgotten all about it. The gaoler helps him to his feet and leads him from the cell down the narrow corridor to an anteroom where two guards take charge of him.
He follows the guards out of the gaol into the bright spring sunlight and down the lane a short distance to the rear entrance of the courthouse. One or two villagers gawk at him as he passes but most avert their eyes, adjusting their expressions to the solemnity of the occasion.
Inside the courthouse Michael is placed in the dock. The spectators’ benches are full. He recognizes many of the faces in the crowd but a surprising number are unfamiliar, residents of neighboring villages hoping to witness a good show.
As Thomas Ridgeway enters the courtroom from the rear and seats himself at the magistrate’s bench the chattering spectators grow silent.
The clerk reads the charges:
“That one Michael Trevisard in company with his wife Alice Trevisard and son Peter Trevisard did perform an act of witchcraft on the person of Elizabeth Tompson in the month of August last. . .”
The clerk’s voice drones on, detailing the several charges that Michael had heard months before. At the conclusion of the reading, Ridgeway addresses Michael. “How does the prisoner plead?”
Indifferent, Michael replies, his voice a low croak, “Not guilty, your Worship.”
“Speak up man,” Ridgeway says, his tone unusually harsh.
“Not guilty!” Michael does his best to shout but his lungs are not up to it.
Ridgeway nods wearily at the prosecutor. “Call the first witness.”
As Elizabeth Tompson takes the witness box Michael notices the jury for the first time. They sit stolid and grim-faced, their minds no doubt already made up.
In a dull monotone, Elizabeth Tompson airs her tale of petty malice. She is followed by a host of other witness, including Joan Baddaford and the Widow Webbar. They tell their stories with no interruption. Michael manages finally to identify his defense counsel by picking out the most indifferent looking man seated on the front bench, no doubt appointed by the court because of his taciturnity.
No witnesses are called in Michael’s defense. The last act of the court before handing the case to the jury is Ridgeway’s terse comment, “An examination was made for witches’ marks and none were found.”
If the jury hears this, their faces do not register the fact. Michael is found guilty within a few minutes, the jury members not bothering to leave their seats.
Michael stands before Thomas Ridgeway as the magistrate reads the statutory sentence: death by hanging. Michael is then led from the courtroom back to his gaol cell, the entire proceeding having lasted less than an hour.
Feeling no emotion, Michael resumes his place on the dirt floor of the cell. Tomorrow he would hang and there would be an end to his suffering. He does not fear death. It does not matter just as the trial had not mattered.
The door to Michael’s cell opens and a figure, unrecognizable in the dim light, enters and stands quietly for a moment.
“A bad business today, Trevisard.” The voice belongs to Aspinall. “I know,” he continues, “I promised to help you but Ridgeway would have none of it. He’s a good man but nearly as addled by superstition as the rest.”
Michael says nothing but stares at Aspinall with faint curiosity. What is the man talking about?
“You’re not a witch, I know that. There are no witches. A few poor, deuded souls perhaps. Melancholics who dream terrible things and take them for truth. But witches? I have yet to meet one and I doubt I ever shall.” Aspinall pauses. He paces nervously back and forth across the tiny cell. “But I can’t go too far. A Cunning Man must watch his step or there are those would say I am a witch as well. A defender of witches is mocked and immediately suspect.” He lapses into an agitated silence.
Unused to speech, Michael clears his throat before finding his voice. “You are mad,” he spits at Aspinall.
“There are witches sure enough. I wouldn’t be surprised if Joan Baddaford was a witch and killed her own son. I am not one but there are others that are and legions of them.”
Aspinall shakes his head sorrowfully. “I suppose I am mad. This gaol cell could not change your beliefs. Nor the trial. Wisdom from suffering? Not a bit of it. And why should there be? Nothing comes from misery but more of the same.” He calls for the gaoler. Michael does not look up as the cell door opens. He removes himself to a world without thought or pain.
That night Michael sleeps well and the next day he is able to walk without help to the gallows built for his execution at the edge of the village. There is a sizeable crowd, their mood festive. Michael, who had himself once witnessed a hanging, knew the feeling.
He stands on the platform and looks out upon his neighbors and does not flinch as the hangman carefully places the noose around his neck. He would die bravely. That is all that matters now. He sees Aspinall standing apart from the crowd, his face averted from the gallows. He holds in his right hand a small black stone, which he raises above his head. The distance is less than twenty feet so that Michael can see the stone is engraved. At once a sense of peace descends upon him, his mind grows quiet and fills with joy. Then he feels his feet give way beneath him and all thought ceases.
Returning to the present, I am not surprised that only a few minutes have passed since Melchom inducted me into the past thoughts and feelings of Michael Trevisard. What I do find unsettling is that for the first time in my long life I have experienced pain, fear, and hatred. Unwanted gifts from Father. As for His purpose in subjecting me to this macabre experience, I haven’t the smaziest suspicion.