I am lost and running. Stiff grass cuts my bare legs and feet. I am searching for Samuel. I call to him, my voice barely a whisper despite my effort. He answers not. A whip that cracks behind me loudens, no matter my speed. In whose hand it lies I cannot see, for the face is masked in black and blood. The whip cracks once more, and then coils around my neck. It burns as it slides to unbearable tightness. I call no more as I am pulled back into darkness...
I wake with a jump, drenched with damp. The sight of my yellow drawing room around me is most welcoming. Nothing is amiss. Rectangles of sunlight spill onto the floral carpet. Smeared ink from my unfinished letter streaks my hand. Worry from Samuel’s lateness hath exhausted me to slumber. A warm hand on the back of my neck hath stirred me from my nightmare. Samuel is home!
“Pleasant dreams, my dove?” Samuel whispers. I turn and laugh, knowing I must be a sight. I pull my shawl up and smooth my hair, my hands still shaking from my fright. “I have brought you something,” he says. Gently, he takes my hand and places a long, thin leather box of dark blue onto my palm. “I thought of you every minute on this trip, Helen.”
“And I of thee,” I say, smiling to the kind, hazel eyes that have not aged since our marriage thirty years past. I straighten my spectacles, then trace my finger over the leather’s fine gold lines, pressed just inside the box’s edges. I slide the delicate gold latch, and lift the top. Nestled in a thin pillow of creme silk, lies a string of pearls like no other. Round and round they twirl in a most bonny pattern. “Oh, Samuel! They are a sight full of grace.” I lift the necklace and gaze at the fine workmanship. “How lucky am I to have a merchant husband who is so thoughtful.” I let the pearls roll and slide across my fingers. “How is it, Samuel, that something can be hard and so soft all at once?”
Samuel takes the necklace from my hand and fastens it behind my neck. “Just as is thee, my dove. Strong with the beauty of a tender heart.”
I take his hands into mine and look into his eyes. “Too tired you look… A difficult trip?
Samuel shakes his head. “No Helen, the voyage was successful.”
“What weighs on thee, husband? Tell me, or I shall worry all the more!”
Samuel breaths deeply. “’Tis Francis who weighs heavy on me this day.” I shudder at the thought of Samuel’s brother. Not to be trusted, and a thorn in our sides for too long. Yet tolerated, as Samuel has respected his father’s dying wish to have both his sons working side by side. “He is in need of a talking to. I must see him today.”
I think for a moment, then suggest, “Samuel, let us both go for a stroll into town. I to the market, it being Friday, and you to the office to speak to thy brother. The walk will ease our minds and restore us both!”
Together, Samuel and I walk down High Street. I wear the pearls, and the lovely new red silk cloak also given to me by Samuel, for all to see. The scent of the mud flats, along with the ocean that lies down river, is thick in the air. We pass thatched houses, nodding to the occasional person or child standing on their doorsill. The sight of children tugs at my heartstrings still, bringing to mind thoughts of our own dear little Caleb, lost to us so many years ago. I look to Samuel’s face. He smiles, but his skin is ashen and his brow beads with damp. “Does something ail thee, husband?” I ask.
“I am fine, wife, do not worry. Only my task at hand greys my sky.” We stop out front of the Market Cross. Samuel squeezes my hand. “See thee soon, my dove. I will find thee whilst thou buys thy wares.” For a moment, I watch him go. Then upon turning, I see a felon that hath been pilloried, head and hands bound in the stocks, standing in view of all the passers-by. Stale eggs and other insults have been thrown at him already. Poor man, to come by such a treatment, I think to myself. I look away, and join the market. Stallengers, their stalls laden with the motley goods of wine, meat, salt, fruit, wax, shoes, cloth and suchlike surround me, taking my mind off that poor soul.
My silver watch shows the late hour. I take my parcels and hurry to Samuel’s office to see what keeps him. I arrive to see him stepping out into the street. He looks much disturbed. On the office steps stands Francis, clearly defiant. Samuel takes my hand, and we turn to leave. We take but four steps, when Samuel begins to walk unbalanced. He stumbles and falls hard onto the street. His head makes the most dreadful sound upon landing. I take his hands to help him up. He shakes his head faintly. “No, Dove. Something is amiss. My head is dizzy and hurts unbearably. I cannot feel anything on my right.” His words are slurring. “I don’t understand… What is happening… Helen! Are you there? Helen!” These are his last words, as he now gasps for breath.
The life in his eyes fades. I cradle his head and call to him “I am here Samuel! I am here!” I look desperately to Francis.
“I will fetch forth the physician,” he says fearfully, and takes flight down the street. For once, I am thankful to Francis. My sight of him becomes blocked by the growing crowd.
My sister, Grissel, doth stay at the house to comfort me. “Be of good courage, Helen,” she says. Three days have I sat, dark in my melancholy. There is no lifting my sorrow. Suddenly the clomp of hooves is heard outside. Grissel peers out the window. “’Tis Francis, come for a visit.” She leaves me to let him in. I have not seen Francis since Friday.
I straighten myself so that I might thank him for his efforts in helping Samuel.
Francis enters the room and immediately I see his manner bloats of defiance and provocation. “Relict, you bilk me of what is rightly mine!” His wide, raised shoulders and clenched fists are frightening. My heart pounds wildly.
“Thou knowest no ill of me, that thou should speak to me thus!” I say, my sister at my side.
“Thou have stolen from me what is mine! I am the rightful heir to half of my brother’s moveable goods. And thou art to be out of this house and off my property in forty days!”
My ears and face prickle with heat. With as much composure as I can gather, I say, “Samuel’s will left you the family business. Being his only brother, yes, you do have succession of his land. But Samuel’s will hath granted me all the possessions that we, together, shared whilst he was alive.” I could hear my voice rising. “His will hath also granted me the liferent that will allow me the use of this land, and house, until the day I die!”
“Samuel knew not what he was doing in composing such a will. He was sick, most certainly. Living with thee must have sickened him to death!”
I gasp, holding back my tears. Then, standing tall and too full of anger to be fearful of this wretched man, I shout, “You should have a care what you say to a lady.
To harass and dispute with me thus… Be gone now! Come no more!”
Francis is suddenly quiet, as if mulling something over. With a nod, he says between gritted teeth
, “Yes, until the day you die.” He turns and leaves as quickly as he came.
“Grissel, I thought I knew the limits of Francis. I am mistaken.”
I cry, remembering, whilst they tie rope to my wrists behind me. ‘Let God reveal the truth,’ the cruel man had said, whilst standing beside Samuel’s putrefying body. ‘Touch it!’ he had commanded. With great anguish, I touched my love’s rotting flesh. ‘Touch it properly!’ he said, pushing my finger harder, causing Samuel’s dark blood to trickle out. ‘She draws blood! Guilty!’ the man had said with satisfaction.
I look around me now. My hands bound behind my back, the rope tied to my wrists hath been threaded through a loop in the ceiling. “I am innocent!” I scream.
The rope is pulled upon, and I am hoisted upwards many feet off the floor. My shoulder blades are wrung from their place. I cry out in pain. Minutes? Hours? I know not what passes. Suddenly, the rope lets me drop, but stops suddenly before I hit the floor. Both of my shoulders make sickening sounds. Out of their sockets, the sinews twisted from them. “I am innocent,” I whisper through pain.
My torturer retrieves two iron weights to be fastened to my ankles. “They are as heavy as thee,” he says grimly. Weighted, I am hoisted up and held there for what seems an eternity. I drop like a rock. So loud are my screams from the vicious pain, my ears hear only silence. Unable to endure another weighted drop, I choose to tell them what their questions and torture have led me to.
“I, Helen Moorheid, am a witch. The Devil came to me inside of a dream. He assumed the body of my husband, Samuel, and did lustfully have sexual intercourse with me, and I to Him. He promised that if I was to do his bidding, I should be richly rewarded. I disowned God in heaven, the blessed saints, and Jesus Christ. I flew to great nocturnal gatherings on a silver coach. Drinking and feasting upon stolen children, we danced indecently and coupled with the Devil, and with one another. As a vow of our obedience, we lined up behind Him and, in turns, lifted his tail and kissed his posterior. I killed my husband. I killed our son, Caleb, also. The Devil granted me a powerful tongue. With its bitter scoldings and cursings, I have caused many an illness and death.” Then looking directly at Francis, I add, “Should I be granted any wish at all, it would be for this madness of acquiring wealth under the guise of cleansing this country of witches be ended. May God have mercy on thy soul.”
I speak no more. My tongue hath been nailed to the stake that awaits me after my blessed strangulation. I think of Francis and wonder. Doth he know much of the goods he bled from me will now fall not into his hands, but will be confiscated by those that govern, as is the custom in these farcical witch trials. The coiled rope tightens. I leave this living hell.
Helen Moorheid of Kirkcudbright, Widow
Found guilty of witchcraft, strangled and burned at the stake
Dumfries, Scotland, April 1659
Story written by Tori Jones
copywrite 2004 Tori Jones