A little witch.
's Edinburgh Journal
How much we lose by not making the acquaintance of our cousins, the brutes!
I say we, courteously, for I am not included in the class of persons who are contumacious to dogs, horses, and other quadrupedal inhabitants of our planet.
The fact is, I am more interested in a beaver than a beau; and a chained bear, who travels all his waking hours in a circle, and always turns a somersault at a particular point, is much more interesting to me than a fashionable young fellow doing very much the same thing.
I was always very odd, and I cannot tell whether I first liked William Cumming
for his horse Selim
, or for himself.
was a wonderful fellow, and had cost a fabulous price, though he had a bad name.
No one had ever ridden him but William Cumming
, and yet the first five minutes of our acquaintance made us friends.
arched his proud neck to kiss me; and I patted his glossy coat, and smoothed his mane, and put my sidesaddle on him with my own hands.
‘"You must not ride him,"’ said William.--‘"What would be my portion, if any accident should befall you in your mother's absence?--If she were here to give her consent--"’
‘"Nonsense!"’ I cried; ‘"my mother is used to my ways, and she is not a coward.
and I am friends, you can see."’
‘"But he will try to be master, and your hands are not iron, my little friend."’
‘"Never you fear,"’ said I; ‘"I will turn him three ways at once, if he insists on running away.
Skill is better than hard work in most affairs, and especially in managing a horse."’
‘"Who taught you skill in managing a horse?"’ said he.
‘"Common sense,"’ I replied ‘"Now do let me go."’
‘"Common sense, at thirteen!"’ said William, laughing; and he took off the side- saddle, and replaced it with his own, and then rode away.
I went up to my room and cried bitterly.--Girls and babies don't weep — they cry. When my eyes were red, and my curls in a tangle, I looked in the glass.
I was at a trying age; my collar bones were prominent, and had ‘"salt cellars,"’ with dreadful shadows, and my arms were skin and bones.
A weaver would have said I was ‘"all warp, and no filling."’ William Cumming
was thirty years old, and had a farm adjoining my father's. He was a scholar and a gentleman, and cultivated his own land, and had the handsomest horses in the country.
I had a great respect for him, though I am afraid he was indebted to his four- footed friend for a portion of it.
I have said that I was odd. My sense had a sort of preternatural acuteness that seemed miraculous to others, and I am not quite sure but that I had a sense more than belonging to my acquaintance.
used to call me ‘"a little witch,"’ because I could tell him what he was quite sure I knew nothing about, and could not find out by any natural means — but he meant usual, I think, when he said natural.
My ways of acquiring information were very, aple, and natural to me; still, as I had established a character for extraordinary ‘"knowingness,"’ I got credit when I did not deserve it.
For instance, when I said to my little brother: ‘"How came you to go into the china closet, and take mamma's oranges?"’ he answered, redolent of the purloined fruit, ‘ "O sister, how could you see me through the door, when it was locked?"’ and he went away convinced that I was something very like a witch.
Older persons, in a similar manner, cheated themselves into the belief that my gifts were much more wonderful than they were.
‘"Are you quite sure that you are not a little witch?"’ said William Cumming
kissed you and laid his nose on your shoulder, the first five minutes of our acquaintance."’
I answered him with some impatience: ‘"I wish people had as much sense as horses. --They know who mean well by them, while people are always suspecting one.
They suspect poor little me of witchery, or the black art. Even you, Uncle William, are afraid I will cheat you."’
I was grieved, perhaps a little angry, that I had not been trusted to ride Selim
; and now William had returned, I wished to punish him. But he took no notice of my ill-humor, and said very pleasantly: ‘"Tell me, by your black art, where I have been the last half hour. "’
He was standing by the door, and I was at the opposite side of the room, but I was in the draught of air, and I answered: ‘"You have been whisking the flies off Selim
with a bunch of penny-royal, and you have been over to the bank where the wild thyme grows, and you have been among the wild roses on Ginger Hill
I know all this, though I have been here the whole time."’
He walked over where I was standing, and said, ‘"How do you know all this?"’
As he came beside me, I said, ‘"And you saw Mary Stacy
, and shook hands with her; and you have something in your pocket from Luke Stacy
‘"How do you know all this?"’ said he, wonder struck, as he had been half a dozen times before.
‘"No spy-glass could tell you this, for Mary was at home in her father's house beyond the hill; and the thyme bank is beyond that, and hidden from everybody; and the roses and penny-royal are beyond the hill; and the whole is three miles from here.
You could not have followed me, unless you had been on the back of another Selim
; and, besides, you say that you have been here all the time.
How do you know that I have something in my pocket from Luke Stacy
; and what is it?"’
‘"It is a letter,"’ said I, ‘"that he has brought you from some one."’
‘"Even so. What you say is all true; but how do you know it?"’
‘"Simply and only,"’ I replied, ‘"because I have a nose.
When you came in, I smelt Selim
and the penny-royal.
The mingled odors told me that you had been brushing the flies off the horse with some springs of the herb.
The next odor I smelt was the thyme, and then the wild roses.
When you came to this side of the room.
I smelt the verbena — the only perfume Mary Stacy
When you came a little nearer, I smelt Turkish tobacco and the sizing of paper; and then I was sure you had some paper from Luke Stacy
, and the most probable idea was, a letter.
Why, I can smell Luke
at the lower end of our lane, when I stand in the door.--Now you can see that I have fairly accounted for everything."’
‘"Except for the fact that you are all nose,"’ said William.
‘"You are a cross between a vulture and a dove.
But I must attend to Selim
I dare say he thinks he is hungry."’
He went out to see the horse, but he was gone.
He looked all around, but did not find him.
‘"He is stolen,"’ said William, much alarmed.
‘"I saw an ill-looking fellow watching me as I rode home.
The gate is shut, and there was no way for him to disappear, unless some one has taken him."’
‘"The gate is shut,"’ said I, ‘"but it is not fastened."’
The gate was fastened by a pin, which was put in a hole bored in the gate-post.
When this pin was taken out the gate swung open, and if the wind were right, it might be closed again.
I examined the pin; Selim
's breath was warm on it. This was perfectly perceptible to me, but not to William.
don't know enough to take out that pin and then replace it,"’ said he.
‘"He has more sense than a great many men,"’ I said, as I passed into the orchard, and when the crushed clover blossoms gave me notice that the horse had passed but a few minutes previous.
‘"If I find him over the bill, may I ride him, Uncle William I"’
"You will not find him, he answered.
I ran to the top of the hill.
On the other side, Selim
was trying to eat with his bit between his teeth.
I went to him and tried to unbuckle the bridal on the wrong side.
He quietly turned the other side of his head to my awkward hands, putting the right buckle pertinaciously before me, till I unfastened it.--William Cumming
came along, greatly pleased, but said that Selim
should do the gate-trick again, that he might see him. So he led him back, and let him to himself in the yard again.
He drew out the gate-pin with his teeth, and when the gate was sprung open, he put the pin again in the hole, and went his way again to feast upon the sweet grass.
‘"Leave him to me,"’ said I; ‘"I will take care of him."’ When William was gone, and Selim
was satisfied with the grass, I called him by a low whistle that his master used.
He trotted up to me, and laid his nose upon my shoulder.
I led him to the door, and saddled him with my own side-saddle, and then, with very little preparation, I started for a contraband ride.--Selim
cantered away seemingly proud of his burden, and I was rocking in the cradle of an ecstatic delight.
There is, in my opinion, no terrestrial ecstasy to be compared with a canter, provided your horse be of the right kind, and the atmosphere and scenery equally desirable.
For myself, I want no better company but my horse.
I do not want to put my foot into the hand of any cavalier; but I want to spring into my æ cradle, and skim over hill and dale, like a creature with wings.
Once only Selim
tried my metal; but when he found that I understood his game, and swayed him first to one side, and then to the other, and finally turned him completely round, he made up his mind to go swiftly forward, and give me no more trouble.
I patted his neck to let him know that I appreciated his good manners; and after a canter of ten minutes, I turned him homeward.
On the way, I saw the same ill-looking fellow watching the horse that William had observed.
We compared descriptions, and found that he was the came person.
William was delighted to know that I had ridden Selim
without accident or ill-behavior on the part of the horse.
His partiality for the orchard caused him to be left there in the clover, and the next day he was stolen.
The hill separated him from our sight, and a breach was made in the fence, and he was taken away about mid-day.
My father had been to the village, three miles distant, and was returning.
Just as he left the village he came into a piece of woody ground.
Recent rains had filled puddles into the road that were miniature ponds.
As he entered the wood he saw Selim
approaching, backed by a strange rider, even the ill-looking fellow who had just succeeded in stealing him. In the middle of one of the largest pools of water Selim
very deliberately lay down, and rolled, so as to detach his rider; he then rose suddenly, and galloped away at the top of his speed.
The fellow got up. He was ‘"the knight of the rueful countenance,"’ and rueful coat, and all other habiliments, when my father met him.
‘"My horse has thrown me,"’ said he, using some adjectives to Selim
‘"Where did you get that horse?"’ said my father.
‘"I bought him on a farm about three miles from here."’
‘"How much did you give?"’ asked my father.
‘"Twenty-five pounds; and I'll have back my money: I will never keep such a brute."’
had paid one hundred and twenty-five, and he valued the horse at double that sum.
‘"That story can't impose upon me,"’ said my father.
‘"Only two persons were over on that horse's back before; and when you steal another horse, you will do well to find out beforehand whether you can ride him. It is not nice to be spilt in a mud puddle; but you may congratulate yourself that you deserve it."’
He drove on, leaving the crest fallen villain dripping with dirty water.
Not long after this we heard of the arrest and conviction of a horse-thief, and on inquiry we learned that he was the same person who had been treated so unceremoniously to a mud bath by Selim
He was sentenced to the State
prison for four years. During this time I felt very secure about Selim
; and William used to tell me that I thought there was only one rascal in the world.
The days flew by, for my youth was happy.
Four years fled, and I was in my eighteenth year.
had been my instructor in many things, and my friend in all during this time.
I always called him Uncle William, and it never occurred, to me that our relations could be changed.
People asked why he did not marry.
He said that his old bachelorism was a chronic complaint, and would probably never be cured.
I remember one night as I lay in bed that the thought occurred to me. What if William Cumming
It is surely no harm to speak of it now, for he has been married several years, and I--.But I will not anticipate.
The pretty widow, Mrs Jameson
, had been staying a month with a friend in our neighborhood, and William had often been very polite to her, and, what was worse than all, he had promised that she should ride Selim
The next day was appointed for her to ride, and by a net very strange coincidence, I this night asked myself the question: ‘"Why cannot I be married to William Cumming
?"’ The answer was, he is old enough to be your father.
The beautiful Mrs. Jameson
was still young, but nearer William's age than I was. My pulse beat fast, and the long vista of my future life looked gloomy and terrible.
After tormenting myself till I thought I wanted to die, I fell asleep.
I awoke in a kind of shuddering horror.
I had heard sounds the like of which I had never heard before; they seemed compounded of the squeal of a horse and the groans and cries of a human being.
I was sure I had heard these sounds, that it was not a sleeping fancy; but when I was fully awake I heard them no more.
It was a warm night in the latter part of June, and my windows were raised.
I slept on the second floor, and two large windows of my room faced the south.--Half a mile in a direct line from these windows was a post road.
I was sure that the sounds I had heard came from the road, or its near vicinity.
I listened earnestly, but all was still.
Suddenly there floated into the room, filling it, as it were, with an odor that I was perfectly sure was from human blood.
I shrank down into my bed, and shook with horror; then, with a great effort of my will, I arose, threw on a dressing gown, and hurried to my father's room.
‘"Father, father!"’ I cried, ‘"come with me."’
‘"What is it, Agnes dear?"’ said my mother.
‘"What has frightened you?"’
‘"I thought I heard some one,"’ said I evasively.
I waited for my father to dress, and it seemed an hour's time, though only a few minutes, that he was putting on his clothes.
When we were out of hearing of my mother, I told him of the sounds and of the smell of blood.
He always believed me when I told him of anything that seemed incredible, for he had much experience of the truth of the testimony of my senses.
‘"Father,"’ said I, ‘ "half a mile from here, close to the post road, a human being is lying, bleeding to death, I am sure of it"’
My father took a lantern and went to Wm. Cumming
; I dressed, and when they came I led the way to the spot, where I was convinced we should find some one dead or dying.
The howling of the dog that preceded us struck us all with a sad solemnity.
As we drew near the edge of our field, which was bounded by the road, we saw a horse standing, and as we came nearer we saw it was Selim
Lying beside him was a man. My father stooped to examine, and said: ‘"I believe he is dead."’ The halter was buckled to his arm, and he was bitten horribly in his arms and legs, and had bled to death.
They raised him and laid him on the back of the now docile Selim
, thinking that perhaps he had only fainted.
They took him to our house, but he was quite dead.
He proved to be the thief who had stolen Selim
before, and who had only been three days out of prison.
After necessary formalities, the poor wretch was buried.
never passed the place where he had killed him without being seized with a severe fit of shuddering.
I was very ill from the shock of this dreadful scene.
I believe I was out of my senses, and had a sort of brain fever, which was very much aggravated when the widow Jameson
called to see me.
When I was recovering — when I was very well, but very weak — I was one day alone with William Cumming
I was looking at him, and thinking how noble and handsome he was, and then I thought of the widow Jameson
, and of her beauty, and I said: ‘"Uncle William, has Mrs. Jameson
‘"Agnes, dear,"’ he said, almost impatiently, ‘"I wish you never would call me 'Uncle William' again;"’ and his forehead had an ugly scowl on it, which greatly marred its exceeding beauty.
I blushed scarlet, but said nothing.
‘"Please promise never to call me uncle again,"’ he said, beseechingly.
A sweet thrill of happiness stole into my heart, and I said, blushing and smiling?
‘"Why should I not call you uncleJameson
, and Mrs. Jameson
aunt, when she is your wife?"’
‘"My wife!"’ said he, vehemently.
‘"I shall never marry, unless my little Agnes will be my wife."’
‘"You would not marry a little which?"’ I said.
‘"And you would not marry an old bachelor, almost as old as your father?"’ said he.
‘"I wanted to say: 'Who said I would not?' but I did say, 'I am so strange and unlike everybody else, that you could never be willing to taken me for your wife. '"’
‘"Willing,"’ said William; ‘"I would give the wealth of the world to call you my wife, little witch as you are. Will you leave off calling me Uncle William, and be my little wife, Agnes, my heart's pet, my darling?"’
I was sitting beside him in my weakness; his arm stole around my waist, my head sunk upon his bosom, he ped me in a fervent
embrace, and said, ‘"Mine forever;"’ and I answered: ‘"Mine forever."’
is eighteen years old to-day, and my eldest daughter is ten.
She is a lovely girl, and is more like her father than like me, and, to my great joy, she is no way peculiar; unless being a great romp, and very brilliant and healthy in her complexion, may be considered unusual in this day of prim schools and pale girls.
One thing is certain, and it is a great comfort to me, that though she is a child of good sense, and good capacity for moral and intellectual attainments, she is never called ‘"a little witch."’