Sunday, 15 February 2009

Betty Trenoweth

Betty Trenoweth is a witch from the Land's End area of Cornwall. She used to fly around on a piece of yellow-flowered ragwort in the days before railways and radios and mobile phones. She's renowned for her shape-changing abilities and can transform herself into a hare in an instant. She can even talk to animals and put them under a spell, which is what she's done to this pig. She whispered in it's ear so it'd follow her home, to be fattened up and eaten along with tatties and a sprig of herbs. Special herbs, mind, that give her the ability to fly, see into the future, and into other people's minds.
So be warned, if you ever happen to be up on the moors near Land's End and you see a tall lady in a black hat...

This is a tale told by the folk who knew her years back.

One Thursday at the end of harvest Betty went to the market to buy a pig to fatten up for Christmas. She had nearly agreed on a price with the seller but pretending she didn't really want the pig and saying she wouldn't give a farthing more, she turned her back and went to look at some others with the intention of scaring the farmer into lowering  his price. In the meantime her cousin Tom offered a little more and purchased the sow.

When Betty returned to say she would have the sow she found Tom the new owner and was fuming as you can well imagine.
"Well if I don't have her you’ll find the sow the dearest bargain thee hast ever had." Tom refused to give up his purchase and Betty went off mumbling threats and curses, and shaking her bony finger at Tom.

Tom got the sow home, put her in a sty, filled the trough and firmly fastened the door. When he rose early next morning he found the door open and his sow rooting in a neighbour's garden and it took many hours to get the troublesome beast back into her sty again. In spite of all he could do, scarce a night passed without her getting out to do some mischief that Tom would have to pay for.

Months passed, during which the more the sow ate the leaner she became. One day Old Betty met Tom and said, quite friendly-like,
"Well, Cousin Tom, how is thy sow getting on, will she be fat ready for Christmas? I hear she is very troublesome; perhaps you had better sell her to me.”
Tom replied, "I'll drive her to market and sell her for less than I gave, rather than you shall have her!"

More time passed and Tom, finding that his sow had eaten and destroyed more than she was worth and all the time getting leaner, fastened a rope to her leg and started early one Thursday morning for market, determined to sell her for anything he might be offered.

The sow walked quiet as a lamb till she came to a stream but she wouldn't cross the water; he tried to push her across wheel-barrow fashion, holding her up by the hind legs; then he endeavoured to drag her through the water, but she turned right around, bolted between his legs and the rope slipped from his hand. She ran up the moors over hedges and ditches, Tom following through bogs, brambles and furze for many miles till all his clothes were torn to rags with the thickets.

At last Tom caught hold of the rope and tied it round his wrist. No sooner had he done that a hare leaped out of a bush beside the road crying "Chee-ah!" It ran down the moor, the sow following, dragging Tom along, till the sow bolted under a bridge so far as the rope would let her.
Tom by good luck had his knife in his pocket and cut the rope but he could neither drive nor coax his pig from under the bridge! About noon Tom got very hungry yet he was afraid to leave his sow and go to the nearest house that he might have something to eat because whilst he was out of sight the bewitched pig might bolt away, no one could tell whither!

So he sat down beside the bridge in case someone might pass by then near sunset who should appear but Old Betty with her basket on her arm and knitting in her hand. She walked clicking her needles, knitting all the way, and looking as demure as if butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. When she saw Tom sitting beside the road she seemed all surprised and said,
"Cousin, is that you? Have 'e sold the sow and got drunk on the profit, that you have missed your way back?"

"Well, Old Betty, is that thee? I must say that thee hast beaten me hollow." Tom replied. "The sow is under the bridge and thee dust know it well for who but thee crossed the road and went over the moor in the shape of a hare? Thy friend, the devil, lent thee his hounds, I suppose, to drive her in.”
"Well, thank the powers," said she, according to her custom when anyone came to grief, "As you are a cousin of my own, I'll give 'e the value of the sow still, and that is about half of what she cost 'e because she's now gone to skin and bone, and it’ll take months to fatten her up again."
"If you will give me something from your basket to eat and what you offered, you may take her and be damned to 'e!"

Then the dame went down to the mouth of the bridge and called "Chee-ah! Chee-ah!" and the sow came out and followed her home like a dog! All who heard Tom's story agreed that the hare was no other than Old Betty in that shape and they wished they could send a silver bullet through her (lead has no effect on a witch-hare). Betty kept her pig many years and she became the parent of a numerous progeny.

After Betty had gained her ends with Tom Trenoweth nobody dared deny her anything she coveted except Madam Noy who was a strong minded lady who kept the best hunter and hounds which she coursed with daily as she rode over her farms, across hedges and ditches, to inspect her lands. She took great pride in her poultry, above all in her rare breed of hens with large tufts on their heads, called coppies.

Now Betty knew that Madam Noy refused to give or sell any eggs from her coppies yet one morning she put on her steeple-crown hat, took her stick and hobbled down to Madam Noy’s where she sat herself on a stile till she saw the Madam coming from a barn with a bowl of corn in her hands to feed her poultry.

"Good day to your honour," said Betty, as she went up curtseying and nodding to Madam, "Dear me, how well you are lookan, you're gettan to look younger and younger I do declare, and what beautiful hens you've got, the finest in the parish I do believe. I don’t suppose you could you spare me a dozen eggs?"

Said Madam Noy, "I've no eggs to spare! Dust thee think that when I've refused to sell any to my own sister or to my cousin, that I would spare them to the likes of you?"
Betty replied, "If you won't sell me some eggs you shall regret it heartily, me dear."
"Now go thee  home and what business hast thee here pryin’ about the place, covetan all thee can spy with thy evil eye, I'd like to know. Be gone or I'll set the dogs on thee, don’t think thou that I'm afraid of thy witchcraft."

Madam Noy and Betty continued their threats until Madam Noy snatched up a stone, threw it at Betty and hit her with a blow that made her jaw rattle. Betty limped to the stile mumbling to herself. Standing on it she pointed her finger at Madam Noy, making the lady shake in her shoes, whilst she waved her out-stretched  hand and ill-wished her by saying,

"Mary Noy, thou ugly, old, and spiteful plague,             
I give thee the collick, the palsy, and ague.
All the eggs thy fowls lay, from this shall be addle,
All thy hens have the pip and die with the straddle.
And before nine moons have come and gone,
Of all thy coppies there shan't live one:
Thy arm and thy hand, that cast the stone,
Shall wither and waste to skin and bone."

Madam Noy was never well from that day on, her coppie’s eggs were always bad and all Betty's spell took effect. Before six months were past she lost her every one of her coppies and her arm withered to skin and bone. She was never to ride with her hounds again and  rarely left the confines of her home. 

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