Witch Wood HTML version

who first stirred my curiosity. In a whirl of wrath at some of my doings
she prayed that the fate of the minister of Woodilee might be mineÑa
fate which she expounded as to be "claught by the Deil and awa' wi'." A
little scared, I carried the affair to my nurse, who was gravely scandal-
ized, and denounced Jess as a "shamefu' tawpie, fyling the wean's mind
wi' her black lees." "Dinna you be feared, dearie," she reassured me. "It
wasna the Deil that cam' for the minister o' Woodilee. I've aye heard tell
that he was a guid man and a kind man. It was the Fairies, hinny. And he
leev'd happy wi' them and dee'd happy, and never drank out o' an
empty cup." I took my information, I remember, to the clan of children
who were my playmates, and they spread it among their households and
came back with confirmation or contradiction. Some held for the Devil,
some for the FairiesÑa proof that tradition spoke with two voices. The
Fairy school slightly outnumbered the others, and in a battle one April
evening close to the ruined kirk we routed the diabolists and established
our version as the canon. But save for that solitary factÑthat the minister
of Woodilee had gone off with the FairiesÑthe canon remained bare.
Years later I got the tale out of many books and places: a folio in the
library of a Dutch college, the muniment-room of a Catholic family in
Lancashire, notes in a copy of the second Latin edition of Wishart's Mon-
trose, the diaries of a captain of Hebron's and of a London glove-maker,
the exercise book of a seventeenth-century Welsh schoolgirl. I could
piece the story together well enough, but at first I found it hard to fit it to
the Woodilee that I knewÑthat decorous landscape, prim, determinate,
without a hint of mystery; the bare hilltops, bleak at seasons, but com-
monly of a friendly Pickwickian baldness, skirted with methodically-
planned woods of selected conifers, and girdled with mathematical stone
dykes; the even, ruled fields of the valley bottom; the studied modera-
tion of the burns in a land meticulously drained; the dapper glass and
stone and metal of the village. Two miles off, it was true, ran the noble
untamed streams of Aller; beyond them the hills rose in dark fields to
mid-sky, with the glen of the Rood making a sword-cut into their heart.
But Woodilee itselfÑwhither had fled the savour? Once, I knew from the
books, the great wood of Melanudrigill had descended from the heights
and flowed in black waves to the village brink. But I could not re-create
the picture out of glistening asphalted highway, singing telegraph wires,
spruce dwellings, model pastures, and manicured woodlands.
Then one evening from the Hill of Deer I saw with other eyes. There
was a curious leaden sky, with a blue break about sunset, so that the
shadows lay oddly. My first thought, as I looked at the familiar scene,