Accused of witchcraft, threatened by the Plague.
The Great Plague has come to England, and no one is safe, least of all Gwendoline Riston. With fair skin and hair and a way with plants and animals, the villagers are calling her a witch and blaming her for the disease. A story of survival and self-discovery, this is historical fiction with a bit of suspense and even romance mixed in and is sure to captivate today's reader.
|Publisher:||Roaring Brook Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)|
|Age Range:||10 - 14 Years|
About the Author
JANET GRABER lives in Minnesota. This is her first book for Roaring Brook Press.
Read an Excerpt
White Witch, The
"What good fortune I happened upon a field of chamomile flowers this summer morn," I say, nipping the white-and-yellow blooms from their long, downy stalks. They flutter onto the scrubbed-wood table set beside the cottage door. "For a fomentation of chamomile will ease those swollen joints, Samuel, I promise you."
The old shepherd kneads his gnarled hands into a web of fingers and thumbs. "God bless you, Gwendoline Riston, for your healing ways. You've the gift, just like your poor departed ma."
Sad to say, my mammy died the day that I were born, but in truth Pappy has cared well for me these past fourteen years. I toss the flower heads into ajar, add two beakers of boiling water, and cover it tight to await the infusion.
"When does your pa return?" grunts Samuel, easing into Pappy's rocking chair beside the hearth.
"This very evening, if the fullness of the moon is my guide." Pappy is dear to me as all the world, and I miss him sore when he delivers wool from his barge to the merchants and weavers up and down the River Thames.
"Bringing word of that handsome rascal Jack Marlow, no doubt?"
I nod, but my heart lurches at the mention of Jack, apprenticed since early May to a wheelwright downriver in Oxford. He has been gone three long months, and I pray that Pappy has met up with him.
"Rest your weary limbs awhile, Samuel, and sup with us tonight," I say, straining the chamomile potion into a bottle. "Share in all Pappy's news."
"Thank you kindly, Gwendoline, but I must away." He struggles to push the medicine into the pocket of his smock. "For my dog tends the sheep alone on the common."
Samuel hobbles from the cottage, and I tick off my chores with haste. Eggs collected, speckled brown beauties piled in a bowl in the larder. Water pumped and in a pail beneath the table. Laundry hung upon the line. Pewter plates polished on the dresser. I tweak rosemary from a ceiling sprig and stir a pinch into the black cauldron of rabbit stew simmering over the fire.
Then snatching my cap, I dash down the lane past the smithy. The heat from the fire is near unbearable, but fat, fleshy Joe pumps away on his bellows and pounds the anvil just the same, sweat pouring from his dreary brow. A cheerless neighbor indeed.
As I hasten toward the village green, my skirt lifts in a sudden breeze.
"A scarlet frill sewn upon a petticoat," spits Mistress Mullin from her doorstep, "does naught but aid the Devil in his work."
She feeds a twisted hank of raw wool onto her spindle-whorl with nimble fingers and scowls at me. But then, she scowls at the world. Mistress Mullin still favors Oliver Cromwell's dull, drab ways, despite King Charles sits safe upon his throne and delights in ruffles and frills.
Over the green, past the tavern, through the churchyard, and across the meadow I fly to await Pappy's return. The scolding click of Mistress Mullin's spindle sticks fade into the sluggish air.
It is a fearsome hot summer. I toss aside my cap, kick off my wooden clogs, and sprawl beside the riverbank. It was a day much like this when Jack spilled into my life. Pappy had returned from a similar journey on the River Thames, with a filthy ragamuffin tucked beneath his cape. Under the grit and grime was a bonny boy with a thatch of auburn hair and freckles like a spray of pollen across his nose. This lad will share our home, my angel here on earth girl, Pappy had said, for I could not leave him homeless and begging on the riverbank. And we called him Jack, for he said it was his name, and Marlow because that is the town thirty miles west of London where Pappy discovered him.
I pull an apple from the pocket of my pinny and crunch my teeth into its rosy peel. A water vole, attracted by the sweet fruity smell, emerges from his bank house and wiggles his snout.
"Evening, little creature of God," I murmur, chewing steadily.
His ears twitch.
"Do you wish to sup?" I whisper.
He climbs into the palm of my hand and gnaws at the apple core with much grace. His whiskers wobble up and down. I stroke his chestnut brown fur. When his feasting is done, he dives into the river with a soft splash and disappears.
Mistress Mullin declares it witchy to commune with the animals and birds of the countryside. So be it. All God's creatures, I do declare.
The sun is set, and I gaze beyond the first looping bend in the meandering river where the ancient willow tree sweeps the surface of the water like a giant broom. No barge can I spy. I strain my ears for the distant sound of Rosie's harness bells but hear no telltale jingle-jangle. Where is Pappy? Has misfortune befallen him? But it is too soon to fret. A quibbling merchant must have caused Pappy delay. Or perhaps dear Rosie is simply slowed by the unusual summer heat.
How I hanker for Pappy's report of Jack and his new life in Oxford. Until Pappy rescued Jack and brought him home I had never possessed a playmate of my own. When my mammy died a white rook alighted on our chimney pot, an evil omen indeed according to Mistress Mullin. My fate was sealed when she peered into my cradle and spied my pale skin and thatch of ash white hair. A witchling was her verdict. And the villagers took notice nine months later when she birthed a daft babby. Ever after they and their children blamed me.
Jack was my one true friend. My trusty companion. Once when I tarried too long upon the wolds and was caught in a fearsomegale, it was Jack came searching for me. His lantern flashed across the hills. He found me taken shelter in one of Samuel's sheepfolds, and there we stayed through all the night of lashing rain and thunder and lightning, safe and dry beneath his cape.
Now the sweet little Ting-Tang bell, high in the church steeple, tolls curfew across the meadow, warning all to be home in bed. The moon is settled over the river, showering gleaming ripples, like a myriad sparkling stars. Pushing stray curls under my cap, I struggle into my clogs and toil back across the meadow and through the churchyard of St. Giles.
Long ago, when Jack and I stole into the church to see for ourselves the damage that Puritan rule had wrought, we discovered instead a secret chamber overflowing with paintings, silverware, and pots of gold. Royalist riches Jack declared, hid well from Oliver Cromwell and his parliament. It was our secret. Jack's and mine.
I slip swiftly into the shadows of the cottages down Sherborne Lane. Something has roused the hens from their roosts, for they scratch in their pens and set up an almighty squawking.
"Shame on you, Reynard," I chide, glimpsing a familiar bushy tail. "Seek your supper in the woodland." And the wily dog fox slinks away.
At home I open the door and an eerie shiver skitters across my shoulder blades. I sense a presence in the darkened room. Has Samuel returned after all to partake of my rabbit stew? But a rose petal fragrance tells me it is Mistress Mullin's daughter, Hannah. Many is the time I have glimpsed the older girl rinsing her long black tresses with rose water when she thought herself alone. Hergray skirt and weskit blend into the smudgy glow of the hearth.
"God's thunder, what are you doing here, Hannah?" I hold a spelk to the cinders and light the candle. "Did you not hear the curfew bell?" Her face is blotched with tears, her eyes swollen red, and snot drips from her nose. "Your brother Amos will be sent a-searching. If you are discovered with me, who your mother declares a witch, Lord knows what your punishment will be."
"I cannot worry on that now." Hannah shrugs. "Was your pa not due to return home this day?"
"What is it to do with you?" I snap.
"I must beg him take a message to Jack when next he journeys downriver. Our family will shortly board a ship bound for the New World," Hannah sobs, wringing a tear-sodden kerchief between slender fingers. "And I cannot bear the thought of it."
"But what has this to do with Jack?"
But even as I ask, I know what is true. My childhood companion long since sprouted to a handsome sapling, turning the heads of many an addle-brained lass about the village. Then Jack was not so much with me about my hearth. And I cannot forget the smarting hurtful sting I suffered when Jack chose Hannah Mullin to be Queen of the May. Not only that. Jack stole a kiss from Hannah as they twirled about the maypole. They are sweet on each other.
"I love Jack well," sighs Hannah. "We will wed."
"Wed!" I collapse onto the stool beside the hearth. "How can you wed?" My head throbs. "You must leave with your family to cross the sea."
Hannah kneels at my feet. "Please beg your pa give this to Jack." She draws from her pocket the hair ribbon she wove through her locks for the May Day dance, before she was dragged away by her mother and beaten with a birch for flaunting such frippery. "Jack will know then that I am in need of him."
"Jack is not free to drop all," I choke. "Pappy labored long to seek this living for him. He is but sixteen and will be apprenticed for years."
"We spoke before his leaving, Gwen. He swore naught would keep him from me. If my family decided to risk the fearsome ocean journey, I was to send a token."
My heart is a leaden weight in my chest; I so wished for Jack to fetch me away over all the other village lassies. And now Hannah Mullin dares to come here begging my help.
Brushing ashes from her skirt, Hannah rises from her knees. "If need be, I will hide till Jack returns. My family will take their passage without me."
"I doubt it, Hannah Mullin. Sorely I do."
Hannah dangles the token before me. "Please help me."
But I cannot move. My fingers clench. Hannah lets the shiny yellow ribbon flutter into my lap, before slipping from the cottage, a silent ghostly shadow in the candle glow.
Envy gnaws at my gut, for now I know with certainty. Jack, whom I love with all my heart, has pledged himself to Hannah Mullin.
Roaring Brook Press is a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership Text copyright © 2009 by Janet Graber All rights reserved
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This "historical fiction" book got a few details right. Charles II and the Bathursts are characters, Puritans are leaving for the New World, cats and dogs were ordered exterminated. So much of this is ridiculous, though. She's hidden in an attic like Anne Frank for no reason. A bird brings her food. It's really dumb. And it's written in what can only be described as a "half-assed attempt at Middle English."