Read CHAPTER V - A WITCH-TALK. of Little Grandmother , free online book, by Sophie May, on

“It was real mean and hateful of Deacon Turner,” says Mary, as they went back to Dr. Hilton’s.  “You didn’t giggle any, hardly, and he knew you didn’t mean to.  I’ll tell father, and he won’t like it one bit.”

Patty choked back a sob.  This was a new way of looking at things, and made them seem a little less dreadful.  Perhaps she wouldn’t stay in the barn forever; possibly not more than a year or two.

“Deacon Turner is a very ha’sh man,” said Siller; “but if he’d stopped to think twice, he wouldn’t have spoken out so to one of you children; for you see your father is about the best friend he’s got.  He likes to keep on the right side of Squire Lyman, and he must have spoke out before he thought.”

Patty drew a long breath.  She began to think the Deacon was the one to blame, and she hadn’t done any thing so very bad after all, and wouldn’t live in the barn more than a day or two, if she did as long as that.

She was glad she was not going home to-night to be seen by any of the family, especially Rachel.  By the time they reached Dr. Hilton’s she was quite calm, and when Siller asked her if she would like some pancakes for breakfast, she danced, and said, “O, yes, ma’am,” in her natural voice.

But, as Siller said, they were all rather stirred up, and wouldn’t be in a hurry about going to bed.  Perhaps the blackberry tea they had drunk at supper time was too strong for Siller’s nerves; at any rate, she felt so wide awake that she chose to sit up knitting, with Patty in her lap, and did not perceive that both the children were growing sleepy.

It was a lovely evening, and the bright moon sailing across the blue sky set the simple woman to thinking, ­not of the great and good God of whom she had been hearing this evening, but, I am ashamed to say, of witches!

“I’m glad I’ve got company,” said she, nodding to Mary, “for there’s kind of a creeping feeling goes over me such shiny nights as this.  It’s just the time for Goody Knowles to be out on a broomstick.”

“Why, Siller Noonin,” exclaimed Mary, “you don’t believe in such foolishness as that!  I never knew you did before!”

Siller did not answer, for she suddenly remembered that Mrs. Lyman was very particular as to what was said before her children.

“Tell me, Siller; you don’t suppose witches go flying round when the moon shines?” asked Mary, curling her lip.

“That’s what folks say, child.”

“Well, I do declare, Siller, I thought you had more sense.”

Mrs. Noonin’s black eyes sparkled with anger.

“That’s free kind of talk for a little girl that’s some related to Sir
William Phips; that used to be Governor of this Commonwealth of
Massachusetts,” said she.

“I never heard of Mr. Phips.”

“Well, that’s nothing strange.  He died over a hundred years ago; but he didn’t make fun of witches, I can tell you.  He had ’em chained up so they couldn’t hurt folks.”

“Hurt folks?” said little Patty.

“Yes; you know witches have a way of taking various shapes, such as cats and dogs, and all sorts of creeturs, and going about doing mischief,” said Siller, with a solemn click of her knitting-needles.

Mary’s nose went farther up in the air.  She had heard plenty about the Salem Witchcraft, and knew the stories were all as silly as silly can be.

“Didn’t you never hear tell of that Joan of Arc over there to Salem?” went on Siller, who knew no more about history than a baby.

“We’ve heard of Noah’s ark,” put in Patty.

“Well, Joan was a witch, and took the shape of a man, and marched at the head of an army, all so grand; but she got found out, and they burnt her up.  It was fifty years ago or more.”

“Beg your pardon, Siller; but it was almost four hundred years ago,” said Mary; “and it wasn’t in this country either, ’twas in France.  Mother told me all about it; she read it in a book of history.”

Siller looked extremely mortified, and picked up a stitch without speaking.

“And besides that,” said Mary, “Joan of Arc was a beautiful young girl, and not a witch.  I know some of the people called her so; but mother says they were very foolish and wicked.”

“Well, I ain’t a going to dispute your mother in her opinion of witches; she knows twice to my once about books; but that ain’t saying she knows everything, Polly Lyman,” returned Siller, laying down her knitting in her excitement; “and ’twill take more’n your mother to beat me out of my seven senses, when I’ve seen witches with my own naked eyes, and heard ’em a talking to their gray cats.”

“Where?  O, where?” cried little Patty.

All the “witch” Siller had ever seen was an Englishwoman by the name of Knowles, and the most she ever heard her say to her cat was “Poor pussy.”  But Siller did not like to be laughed at by a little girl like Polly Lyman; so she tried to make it appear that she really knew some remarkable things.

“Well,” said Mary, “I don’t see why a gray cat is any worse to talk to than a white one:  why is it?  Mrs. Knowles asked my mother if it was having a gray cat that made folks call her a witch. ­Siller, Mrs. Knowles wasn’t the woman you meant, when you said you’d seen a witch?”

“Perhaps so ­perhaps not.  But what did your mother say when Mrs. Knowles asked her that question?”

“Why, mother laughed, and told Mrs. Knowles not to part with her gray cat, if it was good to catch mice.”

“Yes, yes.  I know your mother don’t believe any of these things that’s going; but either Goody Knowles is a witch, or else I am,” said Siller, her tongue fairly running away with her.

“Why, Siller Noonin, what makes you think so?”

“Well, for one thing, she can’t shed but three tears, and them out of her left eye,” said Siller; “that I know to be a fact, for I’ve watched her, and it’s a sure sign.  Then Daddy Wiggins, he weighed her once against the church Bible, and she was the lightest, and that’s another sure sign.  Moreover, he tried her on the Lord’s Prayer, and she couldn’t go through it straight to save her life.  Did you ever mind Goody Knowles’s face, how it’s covered with moles?”

“Do you mean those little brown things,” cried Patty, “with hair in the middle?  I’ve seen ’em lots of times; on her chin, too.”

“Yes, dear.  Well, Polly, there never was a witch that didn’t have moles and warts.”

“But what does Mrs. Knowles do that’s bad?” says Mary, laughing a little, but growing very much interested.

“Well, she has been known to bewitch cattle, as perhaps you may have heard.  Last spring Daddy Wiggins’s cows crept up the scaffold, ­a thing cows never did afore.”

“O, but my father laughed about that.  He said he guessed if Mr. Wiggins’s cows had had hay enough, they wouldn’t have gone out after some more; they’d have staid in the stalls.”

“It will do very well for your father to talk,” returned Siller, who was growing more and more excited.  “Of course Goody Knowles wouldn’t bewitch any of his creeturs; it’s only her enemies she injures.  And that makes me think, children, that it’s kind of curious for us to be sitting here talking about her.  She may be up on the ridge-pole of the house, ­she or one of her imps, ­a hearing every word we say.”

“O, dear!  O, dear!” cried Patty, curling her head under Siller’s cape.

“Nonsense, child.  I was only in fun,” said the thoughtless Siller, beginning to feel ashamed of herself, for she had not intended to talk in this way to the children; “don’t lets think any more about it.”

And with that she hurried the little girls off to bed; but by this time their eyes were pretty wide open, as you may suppose.