The Manchester Witch
“Goddess, we really never learn, do we?”
Juliette looked round the room, and then back down at her book. Why she’d picked this particular volume off the shelf she didn’t know, but it was one she hadn’t read and it seemed as good a way of getting off to sleep as any other. The book was a history of witchcraft in Massachusetts, concentrating largely on Salem of course, but with other cases and trials as well.
She looked up again; the snow was still falling heavily outside the window. Hopefully by mid-morning they’d have the Interstate clear and she could drive back to New York. In the meantime she had decided that rather than take a hotel room in the city she’d go home to Manchester and spend the night there.
“Alice, next time I come to see you on business I check the forecast first,” she said to herself as she sipped her drink, before looking round the old place.
In a way she regretted her decision, she didn’t particularly like spending nights alone in the old house, the creaks and little noises had a way of playing on her imagination. After living in Manhattan all these years it took her a few days usually to get used to the quiet.
“One O’clock.” She said aloud as she glanced at her watch, “I guess there is time for one more chapter. The Manchester Witch,” she read the title aloud. “I didn’t know we had a witch here?” she thought.
Suddenly the supposed witches name jumped off the page at her. Temperance Huntingdown. A member of her own family? How had she never even heard of this girl, let alone read about her?
Temperance was born in 1709 in Manchester. “That must have been in the old house, the one that stood here originally,” Juliette thought. The first couple of pages described a normal Puritan upbringing of the time with nothing being noticed as wrong, or different about the girl till she reached about the age of 14.
That was about the time that women in the small town started to begin miscarrying babies, that dogs and cats started to be found dead and mutilated, and that the cattle started dying from a mysterious illness.
“Oh typical,” the modern skeptic in Juliette thought, a series of natural calamities and maybe some kid wrong in the head, “and they thought it was due to supernatural forces.” She was tempted to put the book down; the story was so familiar, the only difference being that this time it was one of her distant relatives who had been blamed.
She read on, and then jumped at the sound of a gust of wind blowing snow against the windows. “I really should not read stories like this late at night.” She told herself as she settled back down again.
“And so it was, in the year 1691, that the Witchfinder Matthew Bourne came to the town of Manchester, there to test the veracity of the claims.”
Juliette could feel her eyes getting heavier as she tried to keep reading…
As Juliette opened her eyes, she looked at the two people who had somehow appeared in her front room. They were dressed in the traditional dark Puritan clothing, the man wearing a tall hat, the woman a simple white bonnet.
“Master Bourne,” the woman said, and as Juliette looked at her she was amazed to see how much she looked like her own mother. “What brings you to my house this day?”
“I seek your husband – is he around the house?”
“No – he is with the other workers in the field,” the woman said as she stood with her head bowed. “May I offer you refreshment?”
“Thank ye, no,” the man said. “Where is your daughter, Goodwife Huntingdown?”
“Temperance? I believe she is with the other young woman of the town, doing the Lord’s bidding for her.”
“Alas no – I came from the threshing floor and she was not there. Where could she have gone?”
“Then I have no idea, but be assured I will chastise her most severely when…”
“Temperance, my child,” the woman said as Juliette looked at the young woman who walked in, “Master Bourne was asking why you were not at the threshing floor?”
“I was called to tend to a sick animal,” Temperance said, “a lamb had fallen into a hole in the ground. I retrieved it and set its leg.” She was as tall as Juliette, with the plain bonnet resting over her long blonde hair.
“I see,” the man said, “so you were about the Lord’s work.”
“I was, for was he not the Good Shepherd,” Temperance said, and Juliette could see the red glow in her eyes as she said it. Was it a trick of the light?
“There is a gathering at the meeting house at eight this night – I expect to see you and the rest of your family there,” Master Bourne said as he left the house, mother and daughter looking at each other.
“Child, I fear he suspects you of more than goodwill and charity,” her mother finally said as she went back to stirring the pot.
“I do not fear him, mother, I fear no man,” Temperance said proudly.
“You should fear man,” her mother said, “for he is made in God’s image, and do you not fear God?”
The room seemed to blur before Juliette’s eyes, and she found herself in a meeting room at the church, the rows of seats filled with the local families. Temperance and her mother was sat next to a thick set man, who stared straight ahead as Master Bourne preached from the pulpit.
“For we are warned, dearest brothers and sisters, we are warned in the word of the Lord of the sinister and vile ways in which those who worship Satan will come amongst us and seek to corrupt us. You will know not just by the mark on them, but by the things that happen, the signs and portents that show the beast walks amongst you.”
She could see Temperance roll her eyes, and smiled while at the same time trying not to think of how she was seeing this.
“I hear reports,” Master Bourne said, “of illness amongst the animals, and of strange lights in the woods. These are the signs of Satan amongst us, my people – and we must do what we can to burn that influence out of our lives. We need to find the devils in our midst and drive them out.”
Temperance stared back at the preacher as he looked in her direction. “For be sure, I am the hand of the Lord, and his hand is just.”
“Why did Master Bourne look at you so intently, Temperance,” her mother said as they walked back to their home.
“I know not, mother, but if he is minded to believe I am a witch, he is wrong. I am no witch – I merely see things and observe well. For example, our town well – has anyone actually looked in it to assure themselves the water is clear?”
“Quiet, child,” her father said sternly, “the town elders assure us the well is good, and that should be enough for us.”
“Yes, father,” she said as they walked on, Juliette watching.
“Smart girl – maybe it was the town well,” she thought as the scene blurred again, and when it cleared they were in the meeting house. Temperance was standing in front of Master Bourne, her head bowed as he looked at her.
“You claim the water from the well is tainted, and that is what is afflicting the townsfolk?”
“Yes, Master Bourne – I fetched water from further upstream for Goodwife Richmond, and the sores on her cattle disappeared.”
“The well has been declared clean by the church and the two elders – do you accuse them of error?”
“No, Master Bourne – I merely say things have changed since their…”
“Silence,” Bourne said as he stepped down and looked into Temperance’s eyes. “You do know one sign of a witch is that when they touch the one they afflicted, they are cured again?”
“I am no witch, Master Bourne – I fear the lord and seek to do his will.”
“Aye, but which lord? Would you serve me as you would serve the Lord most high?”
“I do not follow, Master Bourne…”
Juliette watched as Bourne grabbed the young girl and kissed her roughly, Temperance trying to fight him off. He suddenly groaned and collapsed to the floor as Temperance stood back.
“I will say nothing of this, Master Bourne, but if you try to take me again, I will tell the good folk of this borough of you.”
She turned and walked off as Master Bourne stood up, anger and hatred in his eyes.
The scene changed again to the Huntingdown home, where Temperance was sitting with her mother. The door was suddenly flung open, and two town elders came in. As one grabbed Temperance, the other started to bind her arms to her side with rough rope.
“Goodsister Temperance,” the other elder said, “an accusation has been made that you have consorted with fell spirits, and have practised witchcraft to bring harm to this town.”
“Who brings such an accusation,” her mother cried out as she stood up.
“Peace, Goodwife Huntingdown, lest you also be accused,” the second elder said as he held her, “we are about the Lord’s business.”
“Mother, I swear I have done nothing wrong,” Temperance called out as her legs were bound, and the two men carried her through the small town. As people came out to see what was happening, Master Bourne stood impassively at the door of the meeting room.
The pond at the edge of the town was wide and deep, and as the crowd followed the two elders they realised that the trial be water had been selected.
“Throw her in,” one man said, “if she drowns, then the Lord will receive her spirit in gladness. If she floats, then she is in fell consort and must be tried as such.”
Her mother was unable to help as Temperance was thrown fully clothed and tightly bound into the water, the townsfolk watching to see what would happen. A few moments passed, before she broke the water and floated on her back, gasping for air.
“Lord protect us,” one old woman said, “she is a witch!”
“Retrieve her and lock her in the cellar of the meeting house,” the elder said, “until such time as a court can be convened.” Two men waded in and dragged Temperance out, her cries of “they are mistaken” ignored by all as they turned away.
All save her mother, who cried softly as she watched her child being taken into custody. Juliette shook her head as the scene started to shift once again, this time to a dark cell where Temperance was sitting on a rough wooden bench.
“Lord,” she whispered, “I know not why this has happened, but I ask for your protection here in this place, and for your peace as to what may…”
She looked up as the heavy wooden door was opened, and three men stood there – two she recognised as the guards, the third as Master Bourne.
Temperance had no time to react before the guards grabbed her and pulled her over to the wall, where two manacles were hanging down. These they fastened over her wrists, and then a second set on the floor were fastened round her ankles, spreading her legs apart as she tried to break free.
The rough cloth stank and almost made her retch as it was stuffed into her mouth, but Master Bourne merely laughed as he walked in. “You may leave us – I wish to offer counsel and succour to the accused,” he said, waiting until the two guards left and closed the door.
“Whtrudnnggmstrrbrn,” Temperance said, and then her eyes widened as he ripped her dress open, his hand moving between her legs.
“You should have chosen to serve me instead,” he said as he began to assault the young girl, her muffled screams unheard on the other side of the thick stone walls or in the meeting house, as the elders and townsfolk met.
Juliette screamed out “LEAVE THAT GIRL ALONE!!!” and to her shock and surprise she saw Temperance look directly at her, and shake her head slightly from side to side. She could only turn and weep, trying to block out the noise as the room mercifully started to fade again.
“What do you mean she is with child?”
“That is what I have heard, Goodwife Huntingdown – your daughter is expecting a child.”
“But she has…” Juliette watched as the older woman shook her head, and said “then I must approach the town elders and ask for clemency.”
“They will not judge her while she carries the baby,” the other woman said, “you must plead for her.”
“And I will – when I have fetched the water,” Goodwife Huntingdown said as she dropped the bucket into the well and drew it up.
As she looked into the bucket, and sniffed, a worried look crossed her face. She peered into the well, and said “Goodwife Richmond, is your son nearby?”
“He is – why?”
“Fetch him and a long, strong rope – there is something in this well.”
“You will not send a boy down this well.”
The two women turned to see Master Bourne standing behind them.
“The well is safe – go about your business.”
“But Master Bourne, the water has a strange sheen, and the smell…”
“Do you doubt the word of the elders?”
The two women shook their heads and walked off, Bourne watching as they did so. Juliette walked over and looked into the wall, able somehow to see to the bottom, and the putrid corpses of the animals that sat in the water…
Juliette turned to see herself in a home again, Temperance screaming as she was attended by her mother and other wives.
Suddenly the air was pierced by another cry – that of a baby as her mother held the child in a towel.
“You have a fine daughter, my child,” she said as she wept.
“May I… May I see her,” Temperance asked, her mother placing the child by her breast as the young girl looked at her.
“Who was it,” her mother whispered, “who was the father?”
As the other women looked away, Temperance whispered into her mother’s ear, and Juliette could see the anger burning in her eyes. “What is the child’s name,” she eventually said.
“I call her Hope – for she is my hope for the truth,” Temperance said as she kissed the child’s head, and then cried out.
“She is bleeding,” one of the other women said, “Goodwife Huntingdown, your daughter…”
“Do what you can,” her mother said as she sat with Temperance, “and then I will decide what to do.”
Juliette was unable to stop herself from crying as she watched the life slipping away from young Temperance, and the night turned to day.
“I was at peace – which was a blessing in itself.”
Juliette suddenly turned to see the young girl standing beside her, fully clothed and smiling. “You wear strange garb,” she said as she looked at Juliette, “may I ask your name?”
“Juliette – Juliette Huntingdown. I… I think I am a descendant of yours, but I never heard of you before today.”
Temperance smiled. “I am not surprised – as was traditional at that time, I was buried in an unmarked grave, lest the Devils they said possessed me came back. It has been many years now I have been waiting for the truth to be told.”
“What happened to Hope?”
“My mother raised her as her own – but that is not the question you wish answered, is it?”
“What really happened?”
“I will show you,” Temperance said as they scene shifted again to a night in the woods outside Manchester. She could see Master Bourne riding slowly on his horse, and then three women step out in front of him.
“Goodwife Huntingdown, Goodwife Richmond, Goodwife Smith – well met this fine night.”
“We know the truth, Master Bourne,” Temperance’s mother said. “Goodwife Richmond’s son has been down the well, and has found the diseased carcasses that were dropped in it.
“Dropped in it by you.”
“I do not know of what you speak,” he said as he sat on his horse.
“Only one man in this area has sheep with a black face – and those are what we found. You poisoned this village, both in body and in mind, Master Bourne – and Temperance knew this. This is why you accused her of being a witch, and why you took her for your own in so base a manner – because she refused you.”
“All lies – who has spread such things?”
“My daughter, before she died. You killed her as surely as you are Hope’s father – and you think yourself untouchable.”
“You make a grave accusation, woman – be careful lest it be turned on you.”
“It will not be,” she said as she stepped forward, and before Bourne knew what was happening cut the throat of his horse with a sickle. The beast fell silently, trapping Bourne underneath him as the three women stood round.
“It is late at night – no one will hear you,” Goodwife Richmond said as she hefted the axe she held in her hand. “A pity – for your last words should be remembered.”
Juliette and Temperance watched as blow after blow rained down on the man, his screams short, before they stood back.
“I… I do not understand,” Juliette finally said.
“Why they did it? Are you a mother?”
“And a grandmother.”
“Then you understand,” Temperance said.
“No – I mean I do not understand why I have seen this.”
“The Family Bible – you still have it?”
Juliette nodded as she looked at Temperance.
“There is a name missing – consider adding it,” she said as the scene began to fade again…
Juliette suddenly sat up and looked round. She was back in the old house, and as she stood up and looked out of the window she saw that the snow had stopped.
“That… that was a vivid dream,” she said as she stretched, and picked up the book.
“Temperance Huntingdown passed away in childbirth, but the events continued for three more months, before the sudden and violent death of her accuser, Witchfinder Matthew Bourne. At the same time, a new well was sunk, and the old one filled in, at the direction of the town elders. The result was an end to the events that had led to the accusations.
The sight of the old well is now…”
Juliette put the book down and went to the shelves, retrieving the large King James Bible and placing it on the table. She opened the front pages, seeing where she had added Judith’s name, and then traced back to the top of the first page.
“There is a name missing,” she said to herself as she took a pen, and wrote in above the name of Hope Huntingdown the name of Temperance Huntingdown.
“Rest easy – you are not forgotten,” Juliette said as she stretched, and went to make some more coffee…