Tuesday, 29 March 2011
"It is not wise to seek revenge, there are all kinds of unforeseen consequences," Great Aunt Lilian said softly.
Suzette had got pushed in the mud on the way home from school and had sworn bitterly that she would get the girls who had done it.
"I don't see why they shouldn't suffer, they make others suffer," she replied.
"Then sooner or later my love they will get their comeuppance, I assure you," Lilian said, drawing the young girl too her and kissing her now clean hair.
Suzette breathed deeply in and caught the scent that Great Aunt Lilian used and which the young girl loved. She put her arms around her Great Aunt's neck and kissed her. Lilian was one of those aunts who speaks softly and carries a big stick. Mostly she spoke softly and Suzette adored her. Her mother had told her that Great Aunt Lilian had been quite the adventurer in the old days. She had flown planes and driven cars far too fast. She had once wrestled an alligator and rescued a young man from pirates. Suzette did not quite believe that Great Aunt Lilian had been anywhere near pirates, but it had been a good story and she liked the thought of it. She did find it hard to believe that Great Aunt Lilian had been an adventurer, what with being so old, but her mother remarked that one day Suzette would also be as old as her Great Aunt.
"I remember," Lilian began.
She paused and smiled to herself and Suzette saw that there was a wicked twinkle in her eye.
"What do you remember Great Aunt Lilian?" she asked as innocently as she could manage.
If she doesn't tell me, Suzette thought, I am sure I shall die of disappointment and be very languid too. She did not know what languid was, but she had read of a young woman dying languidly and it sounded very romantic.
"Pull up a chair, listen carefully and above all things - "
"Don't tell your mother!" Suzette murmured with a chuckle.
Lilian grinned and nodded,
"Quite. We don't want to worry her now do we?" she said.
Suzette shook her head and pulled a chair close to Lilian.
"I knew a woman once who had been known for her tolerance, which was possibly why she got married. She ended up by being struck dumb with shock and horror. It was sadly her own fault - well at least it ended by being her own fault.
Her husband had six sisters all very beautiful and elegant. The family was very religious and expected that Celia for that was the lady's name, would also be religious. She was however very definitely not religious. She believed in all the old things like hedgerows and faeries and pixie-rings and toadstools and being careful around elms and bowing to oaks because they are regal trees and we ought to respect them.
I am afraid that Celia soon found out that while her husband did not press the issue, his sisters were very wicked and not in a good way either. She referred to them as the Inquisition whom nobody expects because they would turn up when least expected and certainly uninvited and start to cajole Celia and try to persuade her of the error of her ways. They tried in all kinds of ways to convert her until she was worn out with rage.
Now Celia and her husband lived in a charming house that backed onto woodland and in summer the bluebells burst up through the soil and bloomed beautifully in all their glory. Seeing them, Celia knew that there would be faeries there. One twilight evening, she went out into the woods with a horseshoe in her pocket and held onto it firmly. She knew all about the faeries and she didn't want to be in their woods unprotected. She sat very quietly upon a fallen log and began to sigh. She talked as if to the bluebells and the trees about the six sisters and their mother, who I am afraid was no better than her daughters where Celia was concerned.
Suddenly a little old woman appeared strolling through the trees. Her cheeks were like two pippins and her eyes like sloe berries and while she had a charming smile on her face, there was something of the fox about her. It was not the russet dress she wore or the yew green shoes either. She came and sat on the log next to Celia and chuckled.
"Got anything to eat?" she asked Celia, who had for she knew that the faeries loved human food as much as their own.
She gave the woman a large piece of the fruit cake she had made earlier and the old woman thanked her and said that she would see about the family for her but that Celia was expecting something precious and the old woman wanted it. Celia did not know what the woman meant, she wasn't expecting anything precious that she knew of.
"It will come at the end of the month and when it does you'll bring it to me. If not, I'll take it," the old woman said quietly and then she was like a fox or a cat with a mouse.
Celia wondered if the old woman knew something she didn't but she knew that it was unwise to cross the faeries so she agreed.
One evening just as Celia's husband had settled down to watch a football match and Celia was in the kitchen reading there was a little tap at the cat flap and the old woman came in with a box.
"For your sisters-in-law my dear," she said, adding "They'll be here in a minute or two."
Celia thanked the old woman who curtseyed and vanished as if she had never been there. Celia put the kettle on, sighed and opened the box. Inside were the most tempting cakes she had ever seen. It was all she could do to take one herself, but somehow she suddenly did not feel hungry at all. She made tea and just as she had put it on the table she heard the doorbell. She answered the door and sure enough it was the beautiful, elegant and utterly wicked sisters-in-law. They kissed her and cooed and entered removing their coats and following her into the kitchen. Each of them wore a small gold crucifix and sat around the kitchen table to have tea with Celia and to attempt to convert her.
Celia opened the box and placed the cakes on a silver tray that reflected them with a strange moonlight glow. For a brief moment she wanted to sweep the cakes away and throw them into the rubbish bin, but Livia the youngest took one up and licked her lips almost like a cat with a fish in it's paws.
"Darling," she purred, "How charming and how delicious they look!"
The other sisters were not shy either but took a cake each. Celia wondered briefly how they managed to look so slim if they loved their cake that much, but as each sister bit into the cakes they suddenly cooed in delight and turned into doves.
The cat who had been asleep twitched his ears and turning his sleepy head saw the birds - in his kitchen! He sprang up and began to pounce at them. They flew up with little cries of alarm and settled on the curtain rail over the sink. Celia let them out of the window and they flew away into the night.
Now you may imagine the outcry at the disappearance of the six beautiful sisters. They were looked for high and low but never found. Only Celia knew and felt the guilt at seeing them looking reproachfully from the tree at the bottom of the garden. She wished suddenly that she had not done something so awful but it was too late and if that were not bad enough she soon found that she was very pregnant. It was thought that the baby might not survive, but Celia gave birth on the last day of the month and lay happy in hospital with the baby in her arms.
"What a precious little thing she is," a nurse remarked and Celia suddenly gave a sharp cry of horror and fainted.
Now she understood what the old woman had meant and she could only lie there and weep. But she was soon firm with herself and dried her eyes. She would do all that she could to protect her little one. Before she came home she asked her husband to put up iron horseshoes over every door and window. He thought it a little odd but assumed it was a strange old English custom he had not heard of and did it.
This done, Celia brought her baby girl home. The weather was awful. It rained hard and the wind whirled around the house and down the chimney. In the sighing of the wind Celia could hear someone saying softly,
"Give her to me, you promised. Give her to me!"
The baby paused at this and looked sadly at her mother, but made not a sound. Celia held her close. She put a small steel cross over the cradle to protect her daughter. It did no good. One morning she found the cradle empty and rushed downstairs to search for her baby. The back door was open wide and all along the path was a trail of small cakes, each one bitten. Celia cried out in horror and despair but it did no good. She went back to bed and sobbed. The very next day her six sisters-in-law, no longer doves, turned up at the house and brought her a box of charming little cakes. As I said, they might have looked beautiful but they were very wicked really. As for that little girl, she was never seen again. So my darling Suzette, be very careful about revenge, it may be you that gets bitten by your own trap," Great Aunt Lilian told her.
The next day however, Suzette found Great Aunt Lilian at the school gates dressed in a long green dress and red shoes. Her white hair seemed to have a reddish tinge to it and she looked at the girls who had pushed Suzette into the mud.
"Go home my dear," she said softly.
Suzette nodded and Lilian turned around to face the girls, leaning on her walking stick with it's carved head in the shape of a horse. Suzette went a little way and left the path so that she could watch. Lilian went up to the girls and said something Suzette could not hear. The girls suddenly went pale and nodded before running up the path in tears. Lilian sighed, shook her head and walked up to where Suzette crouched.
"Did I ever tell you about the time I fought pirates, Suzette?" she asked.