A Brief Account of the Escape and Flight of the Widow Ayers Aug 4, 2018 20:03:07 GMT -5
Post by Char-Vell on Aug 4, 2018 20:03:07 GMT -5
A Brief Account of the Escape and Flight of the Widow Ayers
“But the devils cannot interfere with the stars.”
― Heinrich Kramer, Malleus Maleficarum
I will own that even now in my dotage, I am neither wise nor of particularly strong character, but after bearing witness to the events I am about to relate to you, I came to the conclusion there is naught on God’s earth that can frighten me again. One does not look upon the face of primal, naked horror and come away unchanged.
It was in the summer of the Year of our Lord sixteen-hundred and seventy-five that our village of Farnam’s Green was plagued by a series of unpleasant events ranging from crop failures to the mutilation of livestock, culminating with the disappearance no less than five of the village children.
As to not belabour this account, I will leave off the tortuous series of events the led to Goody Quincy stating her child was last seen upon the property of the widow Ayers and the particulars of the widow Ayers arrest and questioning. Suffice it to say the widow was suspected of being in a league with Satan and a witch. It was determined she should be compelled to confess as much for the good of the community and for the redemption of her immortal soul.
The widow Ayers was a remarkable looking woman to say the least. She was of middle years, pale and gaunt, with a grim countenance and steely grey eyes. But her most striking feature was a complete absence of hair from her entire body. She concealed this with a bonnet or a hooded cloak. After the death of Goodman Ayers, (a peculiar gentleman in his own right.) she kept to herself more often than not. She attended church services regularly to be sure, but did not partake in the fellowship of the congregation. This, among other peculiarities, convinced the elder, Goodman Checketts, that the widow Ayers was in fact a witch.
Here I must pause to mention the other accused witch that was apprehended that same week. Widow Ayers was arrested on a Saturday, Twas on the evening of following Monday, that a strange woman arrived on foot at the house of Goodman Worby, Giving him the name Mary Purlee and asking if she might shelter in his barn for the night, offering him a piece of Spanish silver by way of payment.
This woman was also of remarkable appearance. Dark of hair and eye, with a skin bronzed by the sun. She was dressed as a man in outlandish finery: Red silk breeches, high leather boots, a coat of Spanish make in black and yellow. Her billowing white silken blouse was left open to the navel, exposing Goodman Worby to a scandalous amount of womanly flesh. This also allowed him to note that the flesh about her neck was marred by thick scars, as though from a hangman’s noose. Perhaps more alarmingly, she carried a heavy cutlass from a leathern baldric, and a brace of pistols thrust into the green sash wound about her hips. Another green silk scarf was tied about her head, and was topped by a wide-brimmed and beplumed black felt hat.
This Mary Purlee was not unlovely despite her scars and gaudy attire, but Goodman Worby was horrified by her general lack of decorum, for as she spoke with him she chewed upon a great wad of tobacco, punctuating her sentences by spitting copiously upon his yard. Further, her speech was laced with the foulest of profanities, so severe as to set alight the ears of a God-fearing man like Goodman Worby. Worby also noted that Mary Purlee was filthy and smelled abominably.
The next morning, Worby came to the home of Goodman Checketts and related to him an account of Mary Purlee’s arrival. He further stated that he had occasion to visit his barn sometime after midnight and witnessed Mary Purlee in communion with a black goat, and she both cavorted with it and spoke with it in tongues. Goodman Checketts ordered Mary Purlee’s immediate arrest, suggesting it likely she was part of a coven with the Widow Ayers.
Purlee was easily apprehended, as she lay insensate beside an empty rum bottle. Goodman Rideout, who often conducted business that took him to Plymouth, stated that Mary Purlee matched the description of one “Mad” Morwenna Jones, a somewhat notorious she-pirate wanted by The Crown. Jones was disarmed and locked in the corncrib under the watchful eye of Goodman Stubbs, who had armed himself with a peculiar flintlock pistol/axe combination he had from a Polish trader. The decision was made to extract a confession for the Widow Ayers first, as nothing could be gained from Morwenna Jones while she lay in a drunken stupor.
The widow was taken to Goodman Checketts barn for questioning. I will not go into the full details of the methods applied to the Widow Ayers, suffice it to say they were unpleasant. I was a callow, ignorant youth at the time and had beheld aught of the womanly mysteries nor of violence. I was exposed to both that day in such a manner that it did scar my soul for the rest of my days. It is perhaps the reason that all my life I have remained both unmarried and chaste. Aye that, and another reason I will share later.
For now, I will relate only the details needed to properly inform you of what occurred. Goodman Checketts, aided by Goodman Tillerson, were to extract the confession from the widow Ayers. I was told to act as clark, and record all that transpired should the authorities in Plymouth question our actions. The widow was stripped naked and secured to a pair of sawhorses. Checketts and Tillerson worked on her all day. A great many torments were inflicted upon her, she wailed in pain, but would not answer any question put to her, nor confess to any congress with Satan. Midnight came and went, and Goodman Checketts was probing the widow Ayres with long sharp needles, seeking areas that when pierced, produced no outcry from her. These would be the places the devil had touched her. He also pointed out to me peculiar markings and superfluous details of the widow’s body, these I was forced to record in my ledger.
At length Checketts grew thirsty and weary from his labors.
“Tillerson!” said he. “Get thee to the well and fetch me water, this is thirsty work.”
Tillerson nodded and went to the small door on the side of the barn; I was watching him, as I sought to look at any sight save Widow Ayers tied so vulgarly to the sawhorses. As he swung the door open, the whole of Tillerson’s head exploded in a cloud of scarlet. Checketts and I were sprayed with his blood and pelted with bits of his skull and brains.
Morwenna Jones leapt through the doorway into our midst, wild-eyed and baring her teeth like a cornered wolf.
She‘d been stripped of all her begrimed finery save for blouse, breeches and boots. In her hands she held Stubbs‘ Polish flintlock axe, it‘s barrel smoking.
Checketts, for lack of any other weapon, brandished one of the needles he’d been using to torment the widow Ayers.
“Foul Witch! Get thee…”
Whatever Checketts had to say was cut short. Morwenna closed the distance between them and slashed him savagely across the belly. There was a shower of blood and Checketts fell forward writhing in the tangle of his entrails. He had scarcely met the ground when Morwenna swung the axe down upon his head, dashing his brains out upon the dusty barn floor.
Her eyes then fell upon me.
So fast had the events unfolded, and so deeply had they shocked me, I still sat dumbly upon the milking-stool with quill and ledger in hand. Dropping those, I fumbled for the matchlock leaning against the wall nearby, but the she-pirate was upon me. She forced me to the ground and straddled me, raising the axe. To my shame, I offered little resistance saves to cover my face and whimper. I was neither a strong lad, nor brave.
Morwenna’s maniacal glare faded as she looked upon me, replaced by a sardonic grin spreading across her face. Twice she jerked her arms as though to drop the axe on my skull, and twice did I squeal and flinch. Laughing, she seized me by the ear and pulled me up.
“On your feet, ye baldpated little toad!” said she.
(It was my misfortune that my shock of red hair did fall away near completely by the time I was eighteen, and my height never reached more than five feet.)
Morwenna gestured at the trussed up widow Ayres and Goodman Checketts. Then commanded me in a thick Cornish accent.
“Cut her loose! And throw that dog’s cloak about her!”
I did as I was bid while the she-pirate took up the matchlock and went to the door, no doubt to watch for the arrival of anyone who might investigate the gunshot. I cut the widow’s bonds and helped her to the milking stool. She moaned slightly as I guided her, her flesh was cold, slick with blood and sweat. I went to remove the cloak from Goodman Checketts, but balked when my hands came in contact with his pulped skull. This further enraged Morwenna Jones. She turned upon me, eyes ablaze and the scars about her neck livid.
“God damn yer eyes! Move sharply, baldpate! And where be the balance of me property!”
Nervously I pointed to the main house.
“There! Goodman Checketts placed your things in his house to secure them before bringing the widow here.”
“Aye! Secure them, did he? A very conciencious man, this Checketts. See here. Baldpate! I’ll be going to yon house to secure me property. You get yerself and yon lady ready to travel. Cross me and by God ye’ll make a feast of yer own liver!”
I feared for the safety of Checketts’ wife and children who slumbered in yon house. But such was my cowardice, I only did as I was bid and aided the widow Ayers. Her clothing was nearby and I helped her dress. Slowly she came to herself again. She said nothing, but looked upon me with venomous hate, and, I fancied, disappointment.
She regarded me thus from the milking stool while I stood about fidgeting uselessly. Such was the state Morwenna Jones found us in when she returned to the barn. She had outfitted herself once more in her full attire and accoutrements, save for her wide hat. She also carried a laden sack over her shoulder, this she cast to the ground.
“Ye spoke true baldpate! All me property lie in the anteroom. Save me hat, oh, and me gold ear-hoops, and three silver chains, and the wee purse of Spanish silver I carried. I wonder where those could have got to?”
“I don’t know of any such items!” I stammered.
Morwenna sneered and knelt by the corpse of Goodman Checketts. She rifled through his garments. To my surprise she produced from his waistcoat the purse in question.
“Ah! The noble Goodman Checketts. I see he gave special consideration to me more valuable possessions! What’s this then? It seems, in an effort to further safeguard me property, he‘s placed me silver chains about his own neck!” Morwenna tugged and pulled upon the three silver necklaces, struggling to work them around the ruined mass of Goodman Checketts' head. Her efforts caused more of his gray matter to tumble out on the ground along with one of his eyeballs. My stomach churned and I felt I would retch.
She rose, and working a quid of tobacco about in her mouth, spat full in the ruined face of Goodman Checketts.
“His Wife, children…” I uttered.
Morwenna turned to me with an arched eyebrow, fitting a gold hoop into her earlobe. “Smothered them in their beds, I did, baldpate! Children first of course, they struggle less!”
I nearly swooned. “You’re a monster!” I groaned.
The she-pirate guffawed and grinned at me with stained teeth.
“I but jest with ye, toad! They sleep safe and sound. I’m as quiet as a cat when I’ve a mind for it! And I’m no child killer, nor a wife killer. I never killed no-one what wasn’t like to kill me in turn! True, his family will be much grieved by his passing, but I warrant they be better off without such a blackguard as head of their household!”
“How did you escape the corncrib? How did you get past Stubbs?”
“Was that the oaf’s name? I shewed yer Stubbs about a hand’s breadth of the flesh of me bosom. He fairly fell over himself unlocking the door and joining me in yon corncrib. Then I put about a hand’s breadth of the dirk I had hid in me boot in the dog’s heart. Always take a prisoner’s boots from them, baldpate.”
Rage filled me. “Murderess!” I spat. “truly thou art a minion of the Devil! Goodman Worby was right to name you a witch!”
“Witch? So that’s what this is! That explains your treatment of yon spinster! Worby named me a witch did he?”
“Aye! he saw you in communion with the Devil in the form of a black goat!”
“He saw me in communion with this purse of Spanish silver more likely! It’s lighter than it was. Checketts must have give him his share ere coming hither! Had I more time I’d visit that scurvy dog and crop his ears rightly!”
“What do you intend?” I asked.
“Beat it out of here forthwith. I can’t bring me self to leave yon spinster in the hands of you lot, so she comes with me. I’ve no wish to carry her though. Since you had a part in putting her in the state she’s in, you can help her along. Carry yon sack as well! In it is vittles I procured from Checketts larder.”
Mechanically, I obeyed. Shouldering the sack and helping the widow Ayers to her feet.
“Where would you go?” I asked.
The Widow Ayers spoke up, her voice a hoarse croak.
“I have… family… a day’s march from here. They will receive us.”
Mad Morwenna Jones shouldered the matchlock and spat once more upon the corpse of Goodman Checketts.
“There ye have it, baldpate! Now step lively ere we wake any more of yer neighbors!”