Lammas – 1st August 1685
Hep spluttered to the surface. Her bedraggled hair, streaming with water, was bedecked with slimy strands of seaweed. She was surprised to find that the water was no longer freezing cold, but warm, and that she could feel the heat of the sun on her head. By some miracle she had survived the drowning.
Standing up and blinking the drops from her eyes, she looked around the harbour. Everything was wrong. The harbour was empty. The baying crowd on the quayside were nowhere to be seen. Stranger still, it had been dusk when they had thrown her into the sea, the light failing. Now it was the opposite – the light was growing and the village was bathed in the early light of dawn.
She walked through the winding narrow streets of the village up to her cottage.
Although early in the morning her sodden clothes steamed in the warmth as if it was a summer’s day. Somehow the weather had changed from cold to heat in a matter of minutes.
Hep’s heart leapt with joy as, all of a sudden, her daughter came around the corner carrying a basket of foraged herbs.
Disturbed by the sight of the bedraggled creature in front of her she cried out ‘Mother, why are you soaked like that? Did you fall into the sea?’
‘No, Mizzy, they threw me in, remember?’
Her daughter became even more concerned, ‘You are confused, mother, that is your name, not mine, have you had a blow to the head?’
‘My name? no, my name is Hepzibah.’
‘Mother something has addled you, let us get you home, by the fire, and see what cure might restore you.’
But on entering the cottage, Hep backed away in horror. For, stirring a pot on the hearth was a being who was the mirror image of her self.
Her daughter stared from one to the other, unable to believe her eyes.
‘What are you?’ demanded Hep ‘A spirit double? Who be you and what you be doin’ in my cottage?’
Her counterpart stared at Hep with recognition and cried ‘Mother, is that you? ‘ave you come to haunt me?”
Hep looked into the eyes of her second self, and knew. Despite the wrinkles of age, there was no mistake, this was, in fact, her daughter, Mizzy.
She ran to her and hugged her, and it was clear to the aged Mizzy, from her mother’s hot embrace and warm tears, that she was no spectre.
‘What has become of you, have you some ague that has aged you overnight?’ asked Hep.
‘Mizzy replied in surprise, ‘Mother, tis near twenty years since you left this earth. This is my daughter, Melyor, she will be thirteen on the morrow.’
Melyor, or Mel as she was known by, stared wide-eyed at her two mothers, one of whom, it would appear, she now had to accept as her long dead Grandmother.
‘I don’t un’erstand any of this, you say twenty years ‘ave passed?’ gasped Hep ‘What happened after I drowned then?’
‘The villagers were fearful and sheepish after they had done away with you.’ Mizzy explained ‘They began to wonder who this Witchfinder General was, this man who spoke more like a Necromancer? They asked themselves the meaning of it, for if you had sank did that not mean you were innocent? They crept back to their dwellings, mutterin’ of the ill omens of the nights proceedin’s.’
‘Aye, there was something not right about that so-called Witchfinder,’ mused Hep ‘You have the Grimoire? You have kept it safe?’
‘Aye, mother,’ answered Mizzy ‘we always keep it in the secret place beneath the stairs now, away from prying eyes.’
‘Bring it to me,’ said Hep ‘Mayhap, we will find a reason for all that has befallen us, an explanation for these strange events.’
Hep searched the tattered pages of the book, ‘Now, what was it the Witchfinder cried as I sank? Ah yes, I remember, ‘Vivat, ut ossa sua in tempore !’ it were.’
Hep stopped turning the pages; she had found what she was looking for.
‘Tis Latin, it means ‘May her bones live through time’, I think, mayhap, ‘tis a powerful spell of some kind.’
Hep looked thoughtful and then demanded ‘If I am dead, where is my body?’
Mizzy tried to explain, ‘For weeks the Witchfinder and his pair of minions did search the local beaches for your body, but to no avail. In frustration, they finally give up, but only after warnin’ the villagers that if the body were to appear it must be reported to the Star Chamber on pain of death.’
‘So, ‘twas lost to the sea?’
‘No, not lost, The Witchfinder did not know these coasts, the currents, the ebb and flow of the tides,’ Mizzy replied, ‘I knew where thy body would be driven, I found you and don’t worry, I hid you well.’
Mel, who had been just staring at the two of them during this bizarre conversation, looked thoughtful.
‘But,’ she paused, considering how to name Hep, ‘Grandmother? Yes, Grandmother! Why did the Witchfinder want you, and why, if he could not have you alive, does he still seek your remains?’
‘I do not know,’ pondered Hep, ‘Mayhap, when I am reunited with my bones all will be explained.’
Mizzy had hidden Hep’s body well, too well, as proved to be the case. She had placed the body in a casket deep in the recesses of a sea cave, at Spriggan Point. Unfortunately she had not counted on the cruel tricks that nature can play.
For over the intervening years there had been countless collapses of the cave roof, and Hep’s bones were sealed by many feet of rock.
Over the year, following Hep’s return, Mel and her Grandmother had grown close. Mel’s father sailed the seas between Port Gwyneth and the New World, for he had a strong, innate desire to rove. Not surprisingly, given that she was no older than her mother, Hep had become more like another parent to Mel.
She taught Mel the mysteries of gathering, the right quarters of the moon to search the hedgerows, ditches, streams and woods for herbs and plants used in their practices. She showed her how to dry and cure them, press and steep them.
In return, Mel helped Hep to try and find her bones. She became skilled in the art of burrowing into small places. All to no avail, they could find no other route to the prize.
The villagers grew suspicious of the woman that Mizzy Kemp claimed as her twin. They wondered what her and the young girl got up to on their nocturnal wanderings, for there was rebellion in the land, an attempt to overthrow the new Scottish King. Could they be signalling to the boats of that usurper, the Duke of Monmouth? The Duke had his supporters in the West Country but the Squire was not one of them. For his fortunes had grown under the new King. He sent word to London, not knowing that all information of the goings on in Port Gwyneth went immediately to the shadowy organisation known as the ‘Star Chamber’.
The next week, two strangers turned up in the village, one of them short and fat and the other tall and thin.
Hep recognised them immediately, for it was only a matter of months, to her, since she had last seen them.
‘Mr Wick and Mr Poppet, and they don’t look any older than when I last saw them!’ muttered Hep to Mel, as they watched them dismount from their horses and enter the tavern.
The next day, Hep made he way her way surreptitiously through the village on an errand of mercy. The baker’s wife had been taken ill in the night, and needed treatment and her daughter was away on the moors helping a farmer’s wife with her birthing.
Suddenly, she heard a cry ‘Stop, woman, we know you, Hepzibah Kemp as I live and breathe!’. She turned and saw Mr Wick and Mr Poppet bearing down on her.
Picking up her skirts she ran towards the harbour, through the alleyways by a circuitous route, hoping to evade her pursuers.
As she ran out of Skittle Alley she discovered Mel, sitting on the Quay, and staring out to sea.
‘Hep, I have heard word from the Huers, they see no pilchards today but they say that they have seen the boat that my father left on, all those many moons ago! Today it is a year since you returned and now my father returns!’
Hep smiled ‘That is wonderful news!’ but then became serious ‘I am being given chase, I must hide, and you must…’
But she stopped as she saw the look of horror in Mel’s eyes.
‘Hep…Hep…Something’s happening to you. You’re-you’re-fading away!’
It was true, Hep was becoming transparent, and Mel could see the water and her father’s boat through her Grandmother’s body.
A puzzled look came across Hep’s face ‘Everything is becoming faint, I feel as if I am drowning again?’
‘Were you a ghost all along?’ cried Mel.
‘No, I don’t think so? A year to the day, you say? Since I came back? Then it must be part of the charm that surrounds me.’
‘Don’t go Hep, I love you.’ Mel sobbed.
‘I fear I must, my dear, but remember you have the gifts of healing and seeing. You must be careful they grow properly. Farewell.’
With a popping noise, Hep completely disappeared as Mr Wick and Poppet ran around the corner of the tavern, in expectation of capturing their prey, only to find a lone child sobbing by the harbour wall.