“Elizabeth, thou must wake now… Elizabeth,” mother says. She gives me quick, little hugs with her arm, that has been round me all the day long. “Time for the bidding of alms, my little Bitty.” She waits a moment. “Poor child. Only the strength to sleep,” I hear her whisper. I open one eye and close it. My waking is hard. “Oh do wake up before the Talbot family gives their table scraps to the pigs!” Sudden thoughts of rabbits in a pot, warm bread from the oven, milk in a ladle… do cause my stomach to fist tightly and my mouth to water. I wake in an instant and stand, legs and bottom stiff as new harness leather. Holding hard onto my mother’s hand, we walk. Even the stones pushing through holes in my shoes do not slow me.
We round the road’s corner and turn toward the Talbot family’s cottage. Mother and I stop to smell roses, fully opened, along the path. Many of these sweet smelling bushes had been a gift from our garden to theirs, together with a feast, for the help in fixing our barn a summer ago. I remember it being just before father died, whilst we still lived in a cottage of our own. “There, Bitty, there,” Mother soothes me, straightening my tangled hair and tattered dress. “Thank the Lord there are still some friends of old who have not turned from us since our pinch by hardship. If ever the same befalls them, let us hope we can return the favour.” She knocks and says to me quickly, “Elizabeth, see if thou canst find Ruthie Talbot and young Jack for a game of tag-and-seek.”
In the barn, I find them both. I have not the strength to run, so I pull the kerchief from my hair. “I can makea mouse!” I say to them.
“Thou canst not!” they protest with smiles and shaking heads. I turn myself round and with twists and ties of the grey cloth, I shape a good likeness of the petty creature. I turn to show them the mouse in my hand. “It doth look like a mouse,” Jack says, his eyes wide with wonder.
“But ‘tis not alive!” Ruthie giggles.
At that, I make little jerks of my arm at my wrist and elbow. The kerchief bounces and flits all the way to my shoulder, looking as alive as any mouse in a grain bin! And so it should. Much time have I had to practice this by the side of the road whilst mother bid for alms.
“Aaah!” screeches Jack, who runs to his cottage so wildly with arms flapping, flying like a baby bird just learning. I see Ruthie jump and run also, much to my surprise. I laugh; but do not chase them.
“Oh, Little Bitty,” clucks my mother. “I see hunger doth steal your running legs; but how our lives shine for us this day! Not only will we sup on the blessed Talbot’s food, we shall sleep in their barn also!” Mother’s arms are heavy with food. Stepping from the barn, I clap and look to the Talbot’s cottage. I wave fully to the family, who stand outside their cottage now. They look at me; but do not wave nor smile. Jack and Ruthie are pointing and whispering something in their parents’ ears. “Come then, to eat,” Mother calls to me from within the barn. I shrug and join her for our feast.
I wake to the rumpus of deep voices out by the road. It grows louder with each of my breaths. My heart hurdles inside me. A cat jumps from my leg and runs skitter scatter out of the barn, the rustle of straw follows her as she goes. Mother stirs and says sleepily, “Sounds like a to-do in the street. Go back to sleep, Bitty.”
Suddenly, the barn door bursts open. Torches swing wildly through the blackness. I am so frightened, I make not a sound. Mother’s arm tightens around me. Many feet thump the earth. A boot hits my foot. “She is the one!” someone yells. It sounds like Ruthie’s father. “Witch!” shouts another. At once voices fill the air. “Do not gaze into her eyes!” “Satan’s servant lives amongst us!” “Lord, rid us of this evil!”
I am torn, screaming, from my Mother’s arms. “Elizabeth!” Mother cries, as she feels for and grabs my hand. I am ripped from her, her nails scratching as she tries to prevent it. I am pulled out of the barn and carried by thick, sweating arms, away from my Mother.
I sit now in front of a man I do not know. He is nice to me and wears finespun clothing. He hath untied me and speaks softly to me. “The making of mice…Who taught you such a thing?”
I say proudly, “My mother.” Then I ask, “Please Sir, canst I be with her now?”
“Yes, thou shall,” he answers me.
The man brings me to the town’s bridge. There are too many faces and voices for me to see or hear just one and know it. “Look over the bridge, Elizabeth,” the man says. He holds me tightly and I look down. I see my mother being thrown into the water by four men. Her hands and feet are tied together with rope and her body makes a big splash. I can see she struggles to breath. Not a hand reaches for her in helping.
“Why do they do this?” I ask. “She cannot breath!” I tell him loudly.
The man nods to me, then looks over the bridge also. He looks carefully. “If she sinks, she is not a witch,” he says. The cracks in his face deepen as he smiles. I look down again. Like a large, slow fish coming up for a floating crumb, Mother rises to the water’s surface. She sees me and calls to me. Her words, mixed with water, make only garbles . “Mother is squirming!” I shriek.
Everyone has gone crazy! The roaring crowd has put my naked Mother on top of a great pile of sticks! I cannot call to her, for the man that holds me, to bruising, has pushed a large kerchief into my mouth, like is in Mother’s mouth also. She looks to me with such a face, her neck straining to call to me. Sobs of crying I cannot stop. I look away, as I know she upsets to see me cry. “Shut up!” the man shouts into my ear directly, the softness of his voice gone from him now. A cloud of black smoke now swirls up into the air. Two men rush at me and hold my shoulders and arms, while a third rubs something in his bloody grasp all over my mouth and cheeks. Wet, warm and soft it is. The taste of iron creeps to my tongue.
The three men step aside. The man still holding me says loudly, “I will tell you a story for you to remember. Before I do, take one last look at your mother.” I look. As smoke blows this way and that, I can see her head is down. Flames lick her skin to the colour of coal. Her breasts, she hath no longer, they being cut from her body. I see black and fall.
The whip tears my flesh. My ribboned skin bleeds down to my legs. “Art thou ready to tell thy story?” I am asked softly.
“I am Elizabeth Hicks, the age of eight summers old. I am a servant of Satan. I was given a taint in my blood from my mother before me, she being a servant of Satan also. He first came to me as a small cat, and spoke to me of wonderful things, should I be willing to help Him. He promised me a large cottage to live in, and riches above any and all gentlefolk around. He pricked my finger and, with my blood, he guided my hand to sign his little book. Then he suckled from my wound and… and…”
I try to remember the rest of their foolish story. I try to say it proper so to keep the whip from my back. But I know not if I am dreaming or awake. No matter, I continue, “Mother took me to lovely parties in the night. Not one person turned from us, all were friendly. I ate food, almost to bursting. Such powers I was given. I made mice from nothing, bad weather from clear skies, and sick cows from but a glance. I traveled by darkness and stole male organs in great numbers and put them into a bird’s nest, twenty or thirty together. One day a man, who had no penis, came to me and asked, ‘Coudst thou restore it?’ I told the man that he might climb the tree and take one penis out of the nest. He chose the big one, that which he most liked. I told him he could not; it being the Vicar’s.
Elizabeth Hicks and her mother, Mary Hicks
Found guilty of witchcraft and executed
Huntingdon, England, July 1716
Story written by Tori Jones
copywrite 2004 Tori Jones