In one week the third installment of the Witches of Pendle series, The Pendle Witch Girl, will be released. Today I am delighted to publish an extract from the book – I hope very much that you all enjoy it!
“Ouch!” Jennet exclaimed as she scraped her knees across the large stones which were strewn across the ground. These piles of rubble were all that remained of the back wall of the out-building now; last winter had been harsh and the old walls hadn’t had the strength to resist the relentless frost and biting wind. One day, just after fresh snow had fallen on to the frozen ground, she had wandered outside and round the corner as she usually did and the wall had gone. Just like that – gone. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, really. For as long as Jennet could remember, the building had served no purpose other than to sit there, crumbling. She had asked her mother and grandmother repeatedly what it was for and both had shrugged, claiming not to know. Even when she badgered them for an answer, both continued to plead ignorance. She found adults so irritating when they were evasive like that; they probably did know and they just didn’t want to tell her. Who cares about old buildings and their uses when you’ve grown-up things to worry about?
Still, Jennet felt sorry for the old stone hut, sitting there all alone and falling apart. She decided that if the rest of her family weren’t interested in finding a use for it, then she would take it upon herself to do so. She would give it a purpose. Last summer, it had been her den, a little house all of her very own, but now that the back wall had gone it didn’t make a particularly good or cosy home any more. This spring, she decided, she would play on the rocks instead. That had seemed like a good idea until just a few minutes ago, when she had scraped her knee. Now she had drawn a little blood and her knee ached.
“Mama!” she shouted as she ran back towards her house. She ran inside and slammed the heavy wooden door of Malkin Tower behind her. “Mama!” she called again. “I’ve hurt my knee! Can you look?”
Slowing her pace and feigning a slight limp, Jennet walked to the back of their cottage, where her mother was sitting in the kitchen near to the hearth, chattering away with her friend, Jennet Preston. On Jennet’s lap sat her daughter, Bess, who was wriggling around, dribbling over a piece of soggy bread. Jennet shot the child a disdainful glance.
“Mama, I’ve hurt my knee,” she repeated, offering up her leg for her mother’s examination. There was quite a lot of blood now; it had trickled down her shin and settled on her ankle, where it had begun to dry.
Elizabeth Device wasn’t amused. “It’s nothing, Jennet. Bit of blood is all. No need to make such a fuss,” she said, sharply. “Honestly, you’re eight years old and still acting like a baby!”
“Shouldn’t Grand-mama have a look?” Jennet asked, deciding to pursue the matter of her injured knee and ignoring her mother’s jibe. “Grand-mama is good at mending people,” she added, smiling at Jennet Preston.
Jennet Preston returned the child’s smile. “Yes, your grandmother is good at a great many things,” she replied affirmatively. “You are very lucky to have her.”
“Grandmother’s sleeping,” her mother replied. “Please don’t wake her. Now, go and play, Jennet,” she added, gently but insistently.
“I’ve no one to play with!” Jennet whinged. “James and Alison are both out, and even when they’re here they don’t want to play with me. They think they’re grown up now, too. Everyone’s a grown up except me!” She gesticulated wildly with her arms for dramatic effect. It was a fair point, she thought. Her brother and sister really did think they were too old for her games.
The two women simply laughed at Jennet’s outburst. “What a lass you are,” her mother said, rubbing her hair affectionately. This gesture was intended to offer comfort but Jennet only found it infuriating.
“Can Bess come and play with me?” Jennet asked, glancing warily at the drooling child. Bess’s face was always wet and she couldn’t talk much yet, but she could walk and that meant she would do for a friend, for today at least. Maybe Jennet could teach her to climb on the rocks carefully without scraping her knees.
Jennet Preston chuckled. “Bess is too little, Jennet,” she replied gently. “In a few years when she’s grown a little more, I’m sure she will be your very best friend. Just like your mama is my closest friend,” she added, giving Elizabeth Device a warm smile.
“I can’t wait that long,” Jennet answered rudely. She paused for a moment, allowing the two women to stare at her with confused faces. Jennet enjoyed moments like this, when adults stopped talking about boring things and listened to her. “By the time Bess is old enough to play with me, all the walls on my house will have fallen down and there will be nothing left. I won’t need a friend then, if there’s nothing left to play with.”
Later that day, Jennet watched from behind the front wall of her house as Jennet Preston and Bess finally left. She took care to make sure that she wasn’t seen; she liked the sense of watching other people without being spotted. Her brother James had once remarked that she was so good at it, perhaps she could go and spy for the King! The King indeed! James could be so silly at times. What would the King want with a little girl from Pendle?
Jennet watched her mother’s friend as she carried her daughter down the hill and disappeared into the distance. She liked Jennet Preston; she was always kind and friendly to her, but she talked a lot which was no use if Jennet wanted to speak to her mother. With Jennet Preston around, she could never get a word in edgeways. A couple of years ago, which felt like a long time ago to Jennet, her mother’s friend had lived at Malkin Tower for a little while. Jennet had quite forgotten all about it, and perhaps would have forgotten forever if her sister Alison hadn’t reminded her. Alison liked to talk about people she knew and everything she knew about them, especially if she knew bad things. As young as she was, Jennet knew that if you wanted to know about something bad, you could go to Alison and she would tell you.
“Do you know why Jennet Preston lived here?” Alison had asked mischievously once she knew that her little sister was hanging on to her every word.
“No. Why?” Jennet had replied, her eyes wide with wonder.
“Because she had to run away when everyone in Gisburn found out that she was having Master Lister’s baby,” Alison answered, her tone matter-of-fact but catty.
“Who’s Master Lister?” Jennet had asked innocently.
“A gentleman,” Alison replied, tossing her head sharply, as though to emphasise the importance of this man’s rank. “And he wasn’t her husband. Jennet Preston seduced a gentleman, can you imagine it?” she added with a giggle.
Jennet had been confused. She didn’t really understand a lot of what Alison was telling her, but guessed that this Master Lister must have fallen in love with kind, smiling Jennet Preston. That was quite clever of Jennet, she thought, to make a gentleman fall in love with her.
“How did she do that?” Jennet asked.
“Who knows,” Alison replied. “Maybe she bewitched him!” she added with a mischievous cackle.
“Alison! You can’t say things like that!” Jennet exclaimed.
“Why not?” asked Alison with a casual shrug. “I only mean that she might have cast a love spell. People do spells all the time, for all sorts of things. Look at what Grandmother does. She’s started teaching me too, so that I might know spells and remedies for everything, just like she does.”
“Can I learn?” Jennet asked eagerly.
“When you’re much older,” replied Alison haughtily. “And only if you have the gift. Not everyone has the gift, you know. Even if you do have it, Grandmother will want to be sure that you won’t use it for ill-wishing before she’ll teach you. Ill-wishing is witchcraft.”
“I would never do anything bad!” Jennet exclaimed. “I only want to mend people, like Grand-mama.”
Despite her pleas, neither Alison nor their grandmother had checked to see if Jennet had the gift. Alison didn’t share any of her learning with her younger sister, and no amount of prying or pleading could persuade her to loosen her tongue. Now, sitting in her crumbling den, Jennet was reminded of how much she wanted to have her grandmother’s gift and some of her powerful knowledge. She realised, however, that she could still pretend. She could make up her own spells in the safety of her den and pretend that she was turning milk to butter, or making ale taste better. She’d no use for love spells yet, but she could pretend to cure a few sick animals. If she pretended to do all these things now, she was sure that when her grandmother decided she was old enough to learn properly, she would be even better prepared than Alison.
It was almost dark when Jennet decided to venture back indoors that evening. She had been so absorbed in her game of magic that she hadn’t noticed the fading light. She approached the door of Malkin Tower with some trepidation, feeling certain that her mother would be waiting behind it, armed with some harsh words and a cross expression. Carefully, she opened the door, trying to prevent it from creaking so that she could sneak in without drawing attention to herself.
To Jennet’s surprise, however, the sound which greeted her was not her mother’s scolding tone but raised voices coming from the back of the house. Unable to dissuade her curiosity, Jennet crept towards the kitchen and hid around the corner, close enough to hear but out of sight. She immediately recognised the two voices as those of her mother and Alison. She sighed disappointedly. Arguments between her mother and Alison were nothing new; Alison was forever disappearing into the countryside for hours on end, and her mother never knew what she was doing or who she was with. She was about to lose interest and walk away from her hiding place, when something Alison said caught her attention.
“You know what John Robinson says about you?” Alison asked her mother. Even from her hiding place, Jennet could sense the vindictiveness in her sister’s tone. She shuddered. She hated it when Alison behaved like this.
“No, Alison,” her mother sighed in reply. “Tell me, what does he say?”
“He says you’re a whore,” Alison spat. “He knows that you had a child with Richard Sellers when my father was still alive.”
“Yes, I’m sure he does know that, Alison,” replied her mother, forcing her tone to remain even through gritted teeth. “I’m sure everyone round here knows that. You’ve known about it yourself for a few years now, and I really wish you’d stop bringing it up. She’s your sister, Alison.”
Jennet’s interest began to dissipate. Her mother was right; Alison was always bringing up the fact that she and Jennet had different fathers. Like Alison, Jennet knew that Richard Sellers was her father, and that she only had the Device name because her mother chose not to mark her as different from her siblings. None of this was anything new. She thought about leaving her hiding place again. Perhaps she could go and find her grandmother, or James.
“How do you feel about people calling you a whore, mother?” Alison demanded, recapturing Jennet’s attention with her raised voice. “Does it not make you angry? Does it not make you ashamed?”
“Ashamed? Never!” said her mother in response, her voice growing louder now as she became angrier. “No one can understand my actions, no one can understand how I felt at the time, and no one should judge me!”
“So it makes you angry?” Alison goaded. Jennet could sense the pleasure she was taking in riling her mother. She shuddered again, feeling glad now that she was still hiding.
“Yes it makes me angry! A pox on John Robinson, and his brother too! A pox on them both!” her mother screamed.
Silence followed. To Jennet it was a long, worrying silence, since from her hiding place she couldn’t see what had happened. Stealthily, she crept towards the door and peered round into the room. There, she could see her mother, sat down, the dog they called Ball spread across her lap. Ball must have come in for scraps before the argument had ensued. Poor Ball, thought Jennet, caught in the middle. He didn’t even live here really; he just came in when he felt like a meal and a fuss.
“It’s alright Ball,” she could just about make out her mother’s muttering. “It’s alright. We’ll show them, won’t we? We’ll teach them to hold their nasty tongues. I curse the Robinson brothers. I curse them both.”
Jennet gasped. This was the first time she’d heard her mother speak in that way. She tiptoed away from the doorway, unseen, and went through to the bedroom where she slipped silently under a blanket. She didn’t feel like eating now, she didn’t want to see her mother; she just wanted to hide away. After a while she fell into a restless slumber, disturbed by the thought that her mother had just wished away two lives, that the Robinson brothers might suffer dreadful deaths as a result of her words. Tossing and turning, she cried out in her sleep, her dreams plagued by images of death and suffering. In the middle of the night, surrounded by darkness, Jennet awoke suddenly, a sharp gasp of air escaping from her lungs as she sat up straight. In the pitch black silence, a terrible thought suddenly occurred to her. If her mother had the gift, she realised, then she had just used it to ill-wish someone, to throw a curse upon them. Alison’s words rang in her ears. Ill-wishing is witchcraft.
Jennet gulped hard. Had her mother just done the work of a witch?
The Pendle Witch Girl will be released on 18th August 2018 and will be available in e-book and paperback from Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, iTunes and Barnes & Noble.