Today I would like to introduce you to Hebzibah Paragon, a witch like no other you may have had any dealings with…
Aunt Hetty, as she prefers to be known, is on her way to Goldcaster Town to see what can be done about the pirates, and has based herself in a local farmhouse. Here our brave young Elisabeth Trundle first meets her…
Elisabeth could see that Professor Alfred Paragon’s Aunt, had indeed made herself at home. On the dresser was a small framed picture of a bearded man with piercing eyes and a knowing smile inscribed ‘Fondeft remembrances, yours ever, John Dee.’ There was an ancient leather bound copy of the Kabala with brass strappings and lock, two black candles glowing brightly but burning without any wax dripping at all, a shrunken head hanging from one of the cup hooks, a partly consumed bottle of London Dry Gin, several small bottles containing mainly dark and suspiciously greasy liquids, one of which had curls of smoke seeping out from around the stopper, a meerschaum pipe carved in the form of a cat with a hinged copper lid over the bowl, current editions of Witchcraft World and What Broomstick magazines, the Summerdale and District Advertiser, a tin of Kentucky Rough Old Shag tobacco, and copies of the Lonely Planet guide to Salem and ‘What I did on my Holidays’ by Aleister Crowley.
‘Sit down child, said Aunt Hetty. ‘ Mind Arnold.’ ‘Arnold?’ said Elisabeth.
‘Me toad dear. He’s on the chair. He don’t hop out from under quite so quick now he’s getting old, do you Arnold?’
‘Ribbit!’ replied the toad, flopping on to the floor and sticking his tongue out at the farm cat (who appeared to understand very clearly that no liberties could be taken).
Is Arnold your ‘familiar’?’ asked Elisabeth.
‘Over familiar sometimes, dearie. Think you know a bit about witchcraft, do you? – No, don’t touch him, girl.’
‘Why ? Does he bite?’
‘No, but he can give you a nasty lick. Never know what might start sprouting (or where). He’s very intelligent and I’ve taught him a lot. After all, it’s a wrong toad that has no learning. Eh?… Eh?!…’ she cackled, then sighed. ‘Never mind. Now then, I’m looking forward to exercising me craft.’
‘Will you be using that?’ said Elisabeth, pointing to a broomstick leaning against the dresser.
‘Er, no.’ said Aunt Hetty, curtly. ‘The battery needs charging or something.’
‘Do you do spells that summon dreadful demons and creatures from the depths?’ asked Elisabeth.
‘Oh, I do, dearie, I do indeed. Known for it , drop dead handy at it I am. But that’s a bit over the top for this sort of occasion. Best stick to practical witching.’
‘What about fire and brimstone and bolts of lightning?’
‘I do that an’ all. My word, what a delicate, sensitive, kindly soul you are. I also do casting into uttermost space, turning into stone, and, when especially provoked, striking certain creatures dumb.’
‘I’m sorry. It’s just that all I ever get to do are card tricks.’
‘Well, never mind girl. When this is all over perhaps I’ll teach you a thing or two – if we get on well. For now just remember that the most important thing in life is to be prepared as well as possible because whatever you do, something will go wrong – it’s called the Doctrine of Inevitability. You just cannot avoid, whilst you are trying to get on with your life, sooner rather than later – and indeed quite often – getting your favourite floral frock of delusion snagged up on the too hastily hoisted knickers of fate. And remember also, there’s always lurking somewhere behind you the shadow of Hubris with the sand filled sock, ever ready to knock us back down if we get too uppity.
‘I expect you are very busy.’ said Elisabeth. It is kind of you to come and help us.’
‘Well, I can spare a bit more time away from home at the moment. Me cat’s in charge of the cottage so no one dare go near it, and the kitchen garden harvest is mostly gathered – just a few mandrake roots need pulling, and the crab apples to get off. The eyebright and feverfew are long since in and sit as juice and syrups in my potions larder. The salamander seeds didn’t germinate this year so I won’t have to catch the little devils when the buds burst – no, nothing will hurt for waiting a bit longer for my return. I have to give a lecture to the local W.I. at the end of October though…’
‘What’s the W.I.?’ asked Elisabeth.
‘The Witch’s Institute dear. Oh, and my cousin Aquilegia is coming for her annual visit soon so I’ll have to get the spare bedroom weeded – unreasonably particular she is. But I’ve still got a couple of weeks to spare to help Alfred out.’
‘Would you have time to teach me anything useful’ ? asked Elisabeth
Aunt Hetty smiled. ‘Well, how would you like to come and stay with me for a while? You’d learn a little more about the craft, I promise you. And you’d meet my cousin, that would be an education on its own. Like me she is a committee member of the SSA.’
‘Yes dear, the Society of Skilful Aunts.’
We shall join Hetty quite often in Dangerous Chimes, but I must leave you now to attend a rare gathering of very old and dear friends in Sussex. I will report back to you on my return.