The Whitby Witches 3: The Whitby Child

BOOK: The Whitby Witches 3: The Whitby Child
10.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
The Whitby Witches 3:
The Whitby Child

Robin Jarvis

First published in the UK in 1994.
This ePub is version 1.0, released August 2014.


The broken ruin of the abbey appeared dark and ugly against oppressive black clouds. Its ancient stones were stained by the rain and it seemed as if the jagged pinnacles of its remaining windows had punctured the low ceiling of mist which hung threateningly above the cliffs.

The day belonged to the drizzle. Since the bleak dawn, dismal rain had poured from a slate-coloured sky. Relentlessly it streaked through the chill air, teeming down chimney pots and hissing on the sputtering fires beneath. Drumming on the terracotta rooftops it sluiced through the guttering in a frantic chase to gurgle and rush from the spouts below.

On to the one hundred and ninety-nine steps the drizzle fell until they glistened like black glass and the few muffled figures that dared to climb them slithered and skidded their way to the top.

The narrow streets of the East Cliff were filled by the incessant music of the deluge. Drain-pipes flowed as fountains—gushing into the rivers that churned like rapids beside the pavements, whilst an echoing chorus sang from every gargling grid and grate. The small town was thoroughly drowned, and that bleak morning gradually seeped into an equally drab afternoon.

The month of February was glumly displaying its sourest humour and all hearts grumbled and prayed for the rain to cease.

No, not all, for in the drenched town there was perhaps one who did not care whether it poured for forty days and forty nights. Whitby could be submerged beneath the sea for all she cared, the world outside might be swept down the cliffs forever and what would it matter to her?

Through eyes every bit as watery as the day itself, Alice Boston gazed morosely from the window of her cottage and gave a bored yawn.

Almost a month had passed since she had been discharged from hospital, yet the old lady was compelled to wonder if her life was now worth living.

A pale shadow of her former self, the once vigorous ninety-two-year-old now suffered each and every day of her great age. Her weariness was compounded by a recent birthday which had brought her to the grand total of ninety-three and she felt that she could bear the endless drudge of her dreary existence no longer. For someone who had always been a tireless and sprightly figure, her present condition was a bitter and repugnant one.

Ever since November of the previous year, Alice Boston had been close to death. Her valiant battle with Nathaniel Crozier—the vilest man ever to have sullied the world—now seemed distant and difficult to believe. There were times when she even forgot the horrific spectacle of Morgawrus, the monstrous serpent, whom she had sent back to the caverns beneath the cliffs to perpetual slumber.

Now, sitting in the armchair hour after hour it was easy to let the mind drift and allow fragments of memory to melt away forever. Could that terrible confrontation really have taken place? Was her tragic situation really due to the forces that she had unleashed? Had they drained her energy or was it merely her age? What if she had merely imagined it all? None of it seemed real any more—the threat and menace was over and she found herself regretting it.

The only life she knew now was experienced within the four walls of her sick room and anything beyond their bounds was difficult to comprehend or believe in. The life force that had once burned so fiercely within her soul was almost entirely quenched.

For many weeks she had been in the intensive care unit of the hospital and everyone feared that her time had come. But the thought of Jennet and Ben left alone in the world had kept one last ember of her indomitable spirit glowing. Miss Boston had not allowed herself to submit to that final peace, yet as the days wore on she became ever more despondent.

The old lady was trapped, chained inside the prison of her own crippled body. Propped against pillows in her armchair, she was a frail and wasted figure. Her left side was completely paralysed and she could neither walk nor dress herself. So drawn were the muscles in her face that she could not speak and when she struggled to make herself understood Miss Boston mumbled and grunted as unintelligibly as a new-born baby.

It was a humiliating end to the life which she had always embraced to the full. To think that the person who had saved the world from the threat of Morgawrus was now incapable of going to the toilet unaided.

The thought rankled in the old lady's mind. Never had she known such despairing frustration; her brain was still alert and active yet her body was almost useless.

Of course she was not left to fend for herself. Her good, but irritating friend Edith Wethers had retired from the post office and moved in to tend to the invalid's needs and wants.

For much of her spinster's life, Edith had cared for her own sick mother and was delighted to be of service once more. How she loved to fuss and cosset; tucking in the blankets around the bed, patting the pillows, brushing Alice's white woolly hair and wiping that oh so lined and poorly looking face with a brisk wet flannel. Never had the ex-postmistress felt so needed. What with seeing to Miss Boston and the children she hardly had time for herself and was thoroughly enjoying every last second.

As Miss Boston stared at the drizzle, she repented of those occasions on which she had bullied and bulldozed her tireless nursemaid. She could not help but wonder if this was some divine retribution for those times. If Edith Wethers had indeed sought a terrible revenge upon her then nothing could possibly have been more painful than this.

During the past few weeks, she had learnt to dislike Edith quite considerably and could not fathom how that sick mother of hers had ever endured such suffocating care for so many years.

With these sombre thoughts simmering impotently within her, Alice Boston waited for the hours to roll by. The afternoon grew old and the light began to fail. Across the window, raindrops drew slanting lines and their streaming shadows scored the invalid's wrinkled face.

A ruddy glow in the hearth signalled that the fire too had given up and the room became lost in a dim gloom. Curled up before the fading heat Eurydice, the cat, stretched her three legs and dozed contentedly—dreaming of the many suitors that had pursued and caught her.

Very gently, Miss Boston's eyes closed and her many chins were flattened against her bosom as she nodded and slipped into a fitful slumber.

"Alice Boston!"

Her head jerked and the stern voice snapped again.

"Good Lord, look at the state of you! Wake up, woman!"

With a hiss, Eurydice dug her claws into the carpet as every hair bristled and spiked upon her back. Then, emitting a frightful mewling shriek, she raced from the room and tore upstairs to hide beneath one of the children's beds.

Miss Boston stirred and her tired eyes blinked drowsily.

Suddenly she drew in her breath and the invalid's eyes grew round with wonder and amazement. Then her lop-sided mouth gaped wide open.

"Don't gawk, Alice!" said the familiar voice. "Do you have any idea how foolish you look? A shrivelled baboon, that's it exactly."

Miss Boston clapped her mouth shut and one corner of it twitched into a joyous grin. There, standing by the half open door was someone whom she never dreamt she would see again—Prudence Joyster.

But Prudence was dead, and it was several moments before Miss Boston realised that what her eyes beheld was merely a phantom of her departed friend.

Mrs Joyster's silvery hair was scraped back into the usual fist-sized bun and over a linen blouse she wore her comfortable grey cardigan decorated with embroidered roses. Yet like a reflection upon gently rippling water, the unforgettable figure shimmered. Very faintly Miss Boston could see the outline of the bed and the deep cherry glow of the fire through the shadowy form.

The ghost of Mrs Joyster, however, behaved exactly as she had done in life.

Clicking her tongue brusquely she looked with undisguised disdain around the sickroom. Then, folding her arms, she dismissed the whole sorry sight with an impatient shake of the head and before saying another word perched herself upon the other armchair.

"Confined to barracks," she archly observed in her crisp, military manner. "What has that dithering numbskull of a postmistress done to you? I never could bear her, you know. Never did like silly women and she's one of the silliest."

If Miss Boston had been able to speak, she wouldn't have known what to say.

Fortunately this did not seem to matter, for Prudence was quite prepared to do all the talking herself.

"Well, to be brutally honest, Alice," she rattled on briskly, "I am compelled to admit that I am disgusted with you! Such an abysmally wanton display of self-pity and wallowing apathy! You might as well be in one of those homes you always detested. Bed baths and bingo—that's all you're fit for!"

Miss Boston had always admired her friend's direct and incisive comments but now she smarted beneath the withering criticisms.

"Just look at you!" the phantom continued crossly. "Your legs are like spindles, and stop pulling that ridiculous face—it makes me want to slap it! How can you have surrendered to the ministries of that ludicrous Wethers woman? No wonder you look so dreadful. Pull yourself together!"

Finally Miss Boston could take no more and she gave a pitiable grunt.

"Don't you 'oink' at me, Alice Boston!" retorted Prudence indignantly. "If you want to make pig noises you can go to a farmyard. Have you heard yourself? Why, you're even dribbling!"

Miss Boston gazed at her despairingly. Why could she not understand? This was simply being cruel.

The phantom raised her eyebrows and leaned forward in the chair.

"Where did the Terror of Whitby disappear to?" she demanded, "Whatever happened to that Godawful nuisance who badgered and berated everyone? That's right, I'm talking about you, Alice Boston! You were the staunch campaigner, the leader of our ladies' circle, the one who made things happen. Always you were there to sort things out. Remember Mr Lomax, that shiftless plumber who drove Tilly to distraction? Who was it blacked his eye and bullied him to repair the mess he had made? When Howard died, who did I lean on? He sends his regards, by the way. You were always there for us, always ready to come out fighting, colours flying and wits as sharp as knives. So what has happened?"

Tears welled up in Miss Boston's eyes and trickled down her corrugated face. Prudence was right, she was no use to anyone like this.

"Stop snivelling!" the spectre snapped. "That won't solve anything. Why aren't you trying to conquer your disabilities? Where did all that fight and bluster go?"

The old lady blinked the tears away and looked steadily into Prudence's face. The challenge was unmistakable but some things were simply beyond her strength.

"Come on, Alice," Mrs Joyster barked, "you have never shied away from anything—why start now?"

Using all her concentration, Miss Boston tried to move her right arm. The withered limb twitched and trembled as it gingerly rose but she could do no more and after a few moments it flopped limply at her side again.

Prudence was not impressed and sniffed loftily. "Well, if that's the best you can do you might as well forget the whole thing," she uttered. "Oh honestly, have that idiot doctor and that twittering birdbrain really convinced you? I never realised that Edith's dithering foolishness was contagious."

Miss Boston frowned, wondering what Prudence was trying to tell her. The phantom clapped her hands in exasperation then gripped the arms of her chair as a peculiar smile spread over her dead lips.

"What was it you used to boast?" she asked. "You never suffered from colds or pains in the joints like the rest of us. Oh no, you had your own little methods, trifling remedies for this and that. It was no small feat for a woman of ninety-two to climb those abbey steps every morning."

A gleam appeared in the phantom's eyes. "What have you been waiting for all this time? You know what I mean. So what if the doctors have told you to accept your fate—to blazes with the lot! You never paid any heed to them before. Modern medicine has failed you, so throw their pills and lotions down the drain and use your own special talents."

Miss Boston shifted in her seat, for Prudence was talking excitedly now, inspiring her with her words.

"Remember who you are," she continued. "Remember
you are. You have a skill far beyond that of ordinary people; use that knowledge now—heal yourself."

The white woolly head shook in despair; her condition was too severe for those humble ways.

Mrs Joyster slapped the arm of the chair and sprang to her feet in annoyance. "Don't be ridiculous, woman!" she cried. "I don't expect you to do it all by yourself! Have you utterly forgotten what you brought from London? That most precious thing Patricia Gunning entrusted to you?"

An expression of complete bewilderment passed over Miss Boston's face as she finally remembered—the Book of Shadows!

"There!" Prudence exclaimed. "How could you have neglected such a treasure as that? Use the book wisely, study it and make yourself strong again..."

BOOK: The Whitby Witches 3: The Whitby Child
10.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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