Jasper experiences strong witchcraft
Elisabeth entered the Lower Rumble School by the back door, rather breathless. ‘Sir Jasper is nearly here.’ she said. ‘He has got nothing so far and is not in the best of moods.’
‘Well done, child, well done.’ said Aunt Hetty, rubbing her hands together with pleasure. ‘I told you we would have some fun with this lot. Now Alfred should soon be collecting the bells and taking them up to the church to hang them. We need to get the pirates all together again back in Goldcaster so that we can give them a sound seeing to and have all that they have stolen returned. That cloak is just about useless now Elisabeth. You had better hide in the stationery cupboard. Mr Mayor – out the back with you I think.’
‘Are you sure you can manage on your own?’ said Mr Bagley.
‘I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.’ sniffed Aunt Hetty. ‘Quick now, away with you both…’
Jasper reined in his horse beside the village green, and most of his men slumped down on the grass, grumbling.
‘God knows where the rest of the crew gave got to.’ he said. ‘This place appears totally deserted. Archibald, see if anyone’s in there will you?’ He gestured wearily towards the open School House door.
Archibald went into the building and promptly came out again, shaking his head. ‘Only an old dreary knickers with a face like a bag full of spanners.’
‘Are you referring to the person now standing behind you?’ sighed Jasper, for Aunt Hetty was now in the entrance, looking not best pleased.
‘I apologise madam. I do sometimes despair. This man has the social skills of a marrow.’
‘Your words are too kind, your highness.’ said Aunt Hetty grimly. ‘How good of you to apologise to a battered old bat like me. She turned to Archibald. ‘As for you moishe, you ought to realise that rudeness can bring retribution – probably quite soon.’
‘Don’t you threaten me, you horrible old bag.’
‘No good you trying to sweet talk me, sunshine. You’re for it, sooner rather than later.’
‘Enough, enough!’ beseeched Jasper. ‘Please don’t let us quarrel dear lady. Perhaps you can help me? I was hoping to meet with some of my colleagues in this hamlet. It appears to be deserted. Is there anyone else about?’
‘No, my fine gentleman. Only me toad, and me moke, and me.’ She pointed to Arnold, who was now sitting in the sun on the School House doorstep, and to Horace who was tethered to a rail.
Tantamount, who was perched on Jasper’s shoulder, looked down at Arnold with interest.
‘ “What a wonderful bird the frog are, she hops from twig to twig. And when she hops she sits almost, and when she sits, she sits upon what she ain’t got hardly.” ‘
‘Not now, Tantamount.’ said Jasper, but Tantamount was bored and felt it was time he took a larger part in the proceedings of the so far fruitless day. He looked around, hoping to see one of his new seagull acquaintances.
‘ “Spring is sprung, the grass is griz. I wonder where the birdies is? The birdies is upon the wing, but that’s absurd because the wing is on the bird.” Ah, here they are – “Gathering swallows twitter in the sky.” ‘
Well, perhaps not swallows, but Malin and Rockall swooped down, circled around the village green, and then perched on the lintel of the School House entrance. They hunched themselves down and stared fixedly at Jasper.
‘Shoo!’ he said. ‘Be off!’ He turned to Aunt Hetty. ‘Everywhere I go today I’m beset with the basilisk stares of deranged seagulls.’
‘Dear me.’ she said. ‘How very inconvenient. You look rather stressed if I may say so. Can I offer you and your – er – employees, some refreshment?’
‘Well that is most kind, but I don’t think we have the time. I seem to have been up and down every lane and track in Summerdale this morning, round and round in circles, getting absolutely nowhere…’
‘ “It’s a damned long, dark, boggy, dirty dangerous way.” ‘ said Tantamount. ‘ “From hedge to hedge about the new mown mead…” ‘
Malin hopped down on to Aunt Hetty’s shoulder. He put his head on one side and looked between her and Jasper. ‘I don’t think it matters him knowing now.’ she whispered to him. ‘As long as he can’t hear our actual words. Once Alfred has the bells we are bound to succeed, so it’ll just help to make Sir Jasper more jittery and uncertain.’
Malin whispered to her, she whispered again to him, and then he flew off. Rockall remained, smugly preening himself.
There was a short silence. Jasper dismounted, tied his reins to the rail, patted his horse’s head, looked around him, at the lovely day, the disgruntled crew, the peaceful empty village, and at Aunt Hetty. He sighed.
‘That seagull was talking to you, wasn’t it?’
‘And you were talking to it?’
‘Oh, yes.’ said Aunt Hetty, smiling sweetly. ‘Well, I am a witch.’
Archibald’s face was beginning to look rather grey with tinges of green about the jowls. He began to discretely shuffle away, but Jasper’s hand grasped him by the collar. ‘STAY!’ he said. ‘What would they say, shipmate, those stalwart frequenters of the sophisticated salons of Tunbridge Wells, if they could see their representative now? What prattle on the Pantiles? What musings on Mount Ephraim? This is the eighteenth century for heaven’s sake.’ He turned back to Aunt Hetty. ‘And I presume I am supposed to believe that my efforts today have been frustrated by occult powers?’
‘That’s for me to know and for you to ponder on.’
‘ “Fillet of a fenny snake, in the cauldron boil and bake…” ‘ said Tantamount.
‘Be quiet!’ said Jasper.
“ ‘Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog…” ‘
‘No!’ snarled Jasper.
‘ “ Adder’s fork and blind worm’s sting”? ‘
‘Definitely not. There is no need to be gratuitously offensive.’
‘ “Lizard’s leg?” ‘
Aunt Hetty slowly raised a bony finger and pointed it at Tantamount. ‘Listen parrot, ’ she said, ‘Don’t push your luck. We are well inclined towards you at the moment, but if you value your gender, identity, and belonging to your present species, you would be wise to confine yourself to remarks that merely amuse and inform without giving offence. Do you get my drift?’
Tantamount hung his head. ‘ “Dreadful sorry, Clementine.” ‘ he said.
‘Thank you madam.’ said Jasper. ‘He does rather get carried away by the euphoria of the moment I am afraid. May we declare a momentary truce? I am rapidly becoming aware that I have some rather formidable opponents and would wish to clarify certain matters if that were possible without imperilling your plans? Also my men are rather hungry and very thirsty…’
‘Fair enough.’ Said Aunt Hetty. ‘I have some produce left over which Mr Rathbone’s party did not consume, and from which they are now surely suffering, so I will not offer you that. (Yes, they have passed this way, but you are not too far behind.) However the pump on the green will provide fresh, safe, water, and the orchard behind that rectory is full of apples, plums, and pears. Why not allow your men to enjoy that simple fare whilst you and I parley? Let us retire into the comfort of the School House. I suggest you bring your Mr Archibald with you as a witness in your best interest…’
‘Why would that be necessary madam? (Although I suspect you know the reason.)’
‘I do. Pirates on the Account generally operate as a Commonwealth, a co-operative venture in which, however superior in skill and experience the leader, his position depends upon the trust and support of all his subordinates. Yes, Sir Jasper, I also know who you are as well as what you’re at. Why do you smile in such a sad way?.’
They entered the School House, Jasper almost dragging Archibald. They sat together on the pupil’s benches and Aunt Hetty drew from one of her panniers a large flagon, some pork pies, and some sandwiches. ‘Lunch.’ she said. ‘Take what you wish, it’s all quite safe. To show good faith I shall take mine after you two have made your choices. So, I ask you again, why smile you so?’
‘I smile wryly madam because the only remotely stimulating and almost enjoyable events for me in these last few miserable hours have been the meetings with the widow I recently left up on the hill and now with yourself. Two highly intelligent ladies who, in other circumstances, would undoubtedly be most pleasant company but who, of course, such is my fate, are now my sworn enemies.
‘So you took to Esme Trundle did you? I’m not surprised – a woman of spirit.’
‘Trundle? Oh. I see… I am beginning to feel thoroughly trundled in my endeavours. Are you also by chance…?’
‘No, Sir Jasper. My name is Hepzibah Paragon. My friends call me Hetty. You may call me Madam.’
‘I am obliged to you, dear lady. Well here we are, with doubtless the majority of my intentions and activities known to you by various means – message carrying seagulls, every other bush infested with Trundles, dung gatherers lurking behind the hedgerows, and heavens knows what else I shall encounter before the day is out. But upon reflection it seems to me that my fruitless wanderings could well have been contrived by artifice, and even though you appear to share with St. Francis the gift of conversation with our feathered friends, I doubt that I am the subject of occult powers.’
‘Doubt on sir. The full extent of my resources has yet to be revealed. But did not your mother tell you that there would be days like this, full of challenge, mystery, adventure, and not a gleam of hope?’
‘It’s all in your stars.’
‘Astrology? Load of twaddle for gullible fools. Besides, how could you tell?’
‘Well, you’re a Scorpio aren’t you?’
‘How did you know that?’
‘I used my pendulum. And I looked at Romany Rachel’s forecast in the Summerdale and District Advertiser and there it was.’
‘What was madam?’
‘Your forecast for today – “Scorpio in conjunction with Uranus” – very painful.’
‘Ah! There I have you, madam. There is no such planet as Uranus.’
‘Oh, yes there is. You must be a little out of touch. It was confirmed as a planet by Sir William Herschel eight months ago.’
‘Well, all things considered I suppose I must count my blessings.’ Said Jasper bitterly. ‘I haven’t met any of my targets, my men are exhausted and almost mutinous, I haven’t got a penny to show for the day’s endeavours yet, but at least I am still alive – that must be a bonus.’
‘Ah, but you have as yet had only a modest exposure to the magical skills of the Paragons.’
‘There are more of you are there?’
‘My nephew has a considerable reputation.’
‘Indeed. Why is it then that we haven’t all been struck by lightning or turned into toadstools already?’
‘Well, er – certain matters had to be arranged. Our powers were rather limited by unforeseen circumstances.’
‘I thought they might be. With respect madam, I believe this all to be a bluff, possibly to protect yourself, but more likely to spread demoralisation amongst my gullible crew when Archibald here returns to them. That task should not be difficult. Some of them haven’t even got the brains of a stunned herring. For myself I am a modern, educated man, who has had to live by his wits and his sword. I do not believe in necromancy, alchemy, sorcery, converse with the devil, the prophesies of Old Mother Shipton, the Hand of Glory, riding on broomsticks, raising the wind, or any other form of magical mumbo jumbo. I do not anticipate being kidnapped by goblins and pigs might fly but I haven’t seen any.’
‘You should have been in Summerdale three years ago. Anyway, Mr Rathbone and his party might disagree with you. They have had some strange experiences today.’
‘Have they now? And I suppose you know where they are at the moment, do you?’
‘Oh yes. They are only about a mile away, down by the seashore, probably squatting in the sand dunes even as we speak.’
‘I don’t doubt you. But any inconveniences they may be experiencing are most likely to be due to what you have given them to eat or drink. I do not believe in magic.’
Aunt Hetty was beginning to get annoyed. ‘You doubt that I can utilise the earth’s energy and its life force? For that is what we do (and if I was you I’d keep a more open mind about broomsticks and wind raising – you might regret those doubts a little later.)’
‘ “You may call spirits from the vasty deep, and so can I, and so can any man. But will they come when you do call for them?” ‘said Tantamount.
‘Oh, they will come, cocky, they will come!’
‘I did not intend to upset you madam.’ said Jasper. ‘If you feel that you are able to summon strange, primeval, threatening life forms from where they are doubtless lurking under the floorboards of this school room, then please feel free to do so as a demonstration… Sit down Archibald’
Aunt Hetty rubbed her hands together and smiled malevolently. ‘How ironic that you should refer to what lies beneath the floor boards of this school. Are you really sure you wish to try my powers Sir Jasper Scabbard?’
‘Indulge me, please.’
Tantamount hopped off his shoulder and walked to the back of the room where he positioned himself behind a desk, peering back at them. ‘ “Tears before bed time…” ‘ he squawked.
Aunt Hetty leant out of a window and called to Rockall. ‘Best fly off for a bit. Come back in half an hour.’ Jasper heard her muttering to herself and she appeared to be waving her arms about through the window. What he could not see were his crew, stuffing themselves with fruit in the Rectory orchard, beginning to yawn, slump to the ground, then falling fast asleep and all soon snoring like perpetually creaking doors.
Aunt Hetty closed the window and dropped the catch. ‘Don’t want a draught, do we?’ she said. ‘Now, I shall need the assistance of a member of the audience. Perhaps, Sir Jasper, this rude young man of yours would like to volunteer?’ She produced a crystal pendulum hanging by a silken cord.
‘NO WAY!’ spluttered Archibald, attempting to leave, but restrained by the vice like grip of Jasper on his collar.
‘Don’t be a fool man. She’s only going to try and hypnotise you, aren’t you madam?’
‘Ah, you’ve rumbled me, haven’t you?’ leered Aunt Hetty. She beckoned to Archibald. ‘I promise that no permanent harm will come to you. (It may do later – if you don’t co-operate now.) Come along, watch the swinging crystal, think beautiful thoughts – you’ll soon be going home to mummy in Tunbridge Wells, taking her all those lovely souvenirs of Summerdale…’
Archibald’s eyes glazed over. Aunt Hetty beckoned him and he slowly rose and followed her up on to the class room platform where she stood him by the teacher’s desk, putting his hands together as though in prayer, and placing a dunce’s hat from inside the desk upon his head.
‘Very impressive dear lady.’ smiled Jasper. ‘But no more than Franz Mesmer has demonstrated already. (You see, I am informed about some recent scientific developments.)’
Aunt Hetty smiled sweetly. ‘I knew it would be a pleasure to do business with you Sir Jasper – I told my colleagues I was looking forward to this day.’
‘You are most kind madam. Well, pleasant as this has been, and I am sure you could provide us with hours of innocent amusement, but we had best be off. If you would kindly deglaze poor Archibald. (Colleagues you say…?)’
‘Oh, but now you must indulge me for a moment. That’s only fair, isn’t it? I haven’t quite finished, and it was only my tenderness – always been my weakness, that placed him unaware of what is to befall him now.’
‘Oh, dear. And what might that be madam? Are we now to see him dance, crawl like the beasts of the field, remove his clothing, or endure some other indignity?’
‘Oh no. I would not demean the poor fellow even though this is his retribution moment. It wouldn’t be fair to make him a laughing stock amongst his fellows.’
‘How considerate. What are you going to do to him then?’
‘I am going to make him fly.’
Jasper shook his head impatiently. ‘Now please desist dear lady. You are a very brave and ingenious person but this has gone on for far too long…’
‘Not yet it hasn’t matey,’ said Aunt Hetty grimly, removing the old scarf from around her head and shaking free surprisingly abundant glistening black locks. ‘Remember your remark about the floorboards? How’s about this then kiddo?’ She twirled the cord of the pendulum about her wrist until the crystal fell into her palm, then she rolled it to and fro in her hands. A golden glow began to rise from her fingers. She freed her right hand from the cord and placed the now incandescent crystal in her other hand. Then she began to move her right arm slowly to and fro before her. It seemed to Jasper that she became straighter and taller, no longer a frail elderly woman, but someone in the prime of her years, and when she spoke her voice was strong and powerful.
‘By Azariel and Mithras, by Brigid and Cernunnos, by Isis, Ishtar, and Parvati, by the stars at night and the lines of fire that on this Autumn Equinox are open for our purpose, and in this special place, I summon the power of Gaia!’
There was a moment’s stillness. Nothing happened and Jasper almost breathed a sigh of relief. But then, from between the floorboards, wisps of coloured smoke began to rise, and pungent, animal and herby smells began to gather in the class room. Jasper coughed – the atmosphere was getting denser, the room began to feel far too small for what it started to contain. The curtains at the windows were now plastered to the glass, the doors were creaking, there was a cracking sound as some of the wooden walls started to split… Then the smoke gave way to shafts of lurid light, swirling in separate places about the room.
Still holding out the now pulsating crystal in one hand, with the other Aunt Hetty wafted the swirls of coloured light around poor Archibald, totally encompassing him with one racing vortex of power until he could hardly be seen within it. The she stabbed her index finger towards him and a fine line of lightning shot from it as she cried out ‘SHAZAM M’ZIEN!
There was an almighty crack of thunder and at first the class room seemed to implode. Jasper felt he was being crushed to death but then there was a huge explosion, the walls of the School House burst apart, the roof split in two and vanished skywards, and Archibald rocketed off into the clouds and out of sight.
Author of Dangerous Chimes, read more about Michael Macauley over here.