the Isle of Skye lived a farmer named McKinnon whose cows suddenly gave
no more milk.
they are!" he said, and went to discover the author of his misery.
He got himself a buaracb, or bough of juniper, proof against witches, and
bound it with horsehair to increase its power. Then he took himself
and the stick off to Euart McLeod, a well-known witchfinder.
"Aye, and you have done this thing well," said McLeod, running a roughened
hand over the buarach. "I canna find a thing wrong with it."
"Then will you say the words?" asked McKinnon.
"That I will," McLeod answered. And he did. He spoke for about
half an hour over the "puir wee thing," the syllables rolling out like
water over stone. And when he was done, he handed the buarach back
to McKinnon, saying, "Fasten it to your barn and
wait and see."
So McKinnon fastened it to his barn and he waited. He waited for
day after day, till an entire week went by and the new moon rose, pale
and thin as an old halfpenny.
One of the cows in the barn began to moan, a most unusual sound. And then
the entire herd joined in. Then they muddled about till they broke
loose of their ropes and in one terrifying rush shattered the barn door
and scattered into the night.
Clattering down the road they went, with McKinnon fast behind. But
it was no helter - skelter they were about. They were headed for
one particular house. And when they got there, down went their heads
and horns and they hooked and hacked at the walls.
The old woman who lived in the house came out with a stick and it was then
McKinnon knew which witch had cursed his cows. He struck her dead
on the spot and his cows gave milk ever after.
Wbat an awful story, " Motber said, closing the book. "Tbat poor
old woman. And wbere was the justice in it?
"Was she a witch?" Maddie was confused.
"No one said she was a witch, " her mother pointed out. "Except for
McKinnon. The cows were
crazed, by the moon or by ill treatment. The
house was probably the first
they came to along the road. Possibly they
were attracted to its thatched
"It doesn't say that in the book," Jamie said. He was always the one
who was a stickler for accuracy.
"No, it doesn't, " his mother agreed. "But it is always important
to read these old stories between the lines.
What do you mean? the children asked together.
She smiled gently at them. "It means there are different ways to
look at the same story," she said. Her eyes closed and she got her
story - telling expression on, which rarely happened during the day.
What if it went this way. . .
On the Isle of Skye lived a nasty old skinflint named McKinnon who hoped
that if he could get his cows to eat less and still give good milk he could
make a greater profit. But as these things go, you get back what
you put in. The less he fed them, the less milk his cows had.
Until the day came when they gave none at all.
McKinnon was angry and he was cross, but he had a plan. He went to
old Euart McLeod, a man known in some parts as a witchfinder and in some
parts as crazy. "Find me the witch who made my cows dry up," said
McKinnon, "and when they give milk again you will get a quart each week."
It was an easy promise since he had no milk at all.
Well, McLeod wasn't as crazy as all that. He pulled his mumble and his
jumble together. Then he took a stick of juniper and tied it with
horsehair because that looked like a magical wand. And then, for
good measure-because a quart of milk a week was worth it - he gave McKinnon
a whole hour's worth of incantation made up on the spot. A bit of
Bible and a bit of babble.
McKinnon went home well contented, let his cows out on the full moon as
per McLeod's instructions, and followed them. They were so hungry
they grazed along the roadside grass, though it was well into autumn and
there was precious little to nibble on but brown stalks. And when
they came to the very first thatched cottage along the road, they began
to devour the thatch as well.
Now, the cottage belonged to Mistress Campbell, a woman not well liked
because she came from off -island. She ran out, stick in hand to
drive the cows away, and McKinnon cried, "You are a witch." And he
struck her dead with the juniper wand and took his cows home.
The cows were so full of fall grass and thatch that they gave milk for
the first time in a month.
McLeod spoke for McKinnon at his trial and there was no one to speak up
for the dead woman. She was judged a witch in truth and since her
land adjoined McKinnon's, he was given it by way of compensation,
so he did not begrudge the milk
And everyone lived happily ever after.
"Everyone except the dead old woman, " Jamie pointed out.
"Exactly," said his mother.
"Thats not quite fair, " Maddie complained, pulling on her left braid,
something she did when disturbed.
"You stacked the deck."
"That I did," her mother said. "Could you tell it better?
Maddie thougbt a minute. Her left braid was quite straggled with
thinking and looked like a yellow
haystack. But it wasn't often that she
was positively invited to tell
a story. Usually it was Jamie who got all the
turns, as be was oldest and bad
the talent. I think so," she said. "How
There was an old woman who lived on Skye who lots of people called a witch,
but she wasn't. At least she didn't practice the dark arts.
She was an herbalist. But she liked to keep herself to herself, which
made them call her names even more.
Her next-door neighbor was a man with bad luck. He never did anything
right. He would set in potatoes and they never grew, though anyone
could grow them. He would plant corn and it would die. Even
his cows stopped giving milk. His neighbors said he had been born under
a thin star.
The old woman took pity on the man and showed him how to plant the proper
way. She showed him how to nurse his cows so they gave milk again.
All she asked in payment was a bit of milk for her tea.
At first the man was grateful. But then he grew tired of it.
Gratitude can be a sour meal.
"No more milk for you, you old witch!" he said when she came to his door.
He pushed her and she stumbled back and fell, her head hitting the foot
of a juniper tree.
The man bent over and saw she was dead, and, panicking, ran to his
brother-in-law for help.
The brother-in-law said, "Leave it to me." He stripped a bough from
the tree, wound it with horsehair, and laid it by the woman's side.
Then he called the town council to witness. "Look," he said, "the
old woman was a witch. No wonder my poor brother-in-law had such
So they buried the old woman by the crossroads with a stake in her heart
and gave her land to the neighbor in compensation. And thus was justice
- though it was wrong - served.
" Why, Maddie, " her mother exclaimed, I believe you do have the
talent after all! You are just
a late bloomer. That was a wondeful telling.
Won't Gran be pleased!"
"Stakes and crossroads are for vampires," Jamie said in his careful
way. "Not witches.
"How do you know?" Maddie asked.
I read it in one of Gran's books."
They botb turned to their mother for confirmation, and she nodded.
"Witches were burned. Or
thrown into the water. If they drowned, they
were considered innocent," she
said. 'But if tbey floated, they were guilty.
It was called 'swimming a witch.
"Fire . . . " Maddie said, and shuddered.
"And water," Jamie added. What a combination."
For a moment all three were silent.
"Lucky it's not done anymore," Maddie said slowly, her band once
again on her left braid.
Jamie smiled. "At least we can swim on our own. You made us take
lessons at the Y.
"Well, you were naturals," his mother said. "After all - witcbes can
got up and went over to the stove and stirred the pot carefully.