They get away with it in this small, rural village because nobody wants to question the Wildings for fear of what might happen. They are, after all, supposedly witches and their ancestor, more than two hundred years ago, is said to have put a curse on the village of Slowly Fell. Nobody knows who will end up drowned in that pond next, or whose body will never be found. Odd things have happened in the past two hundred years and many folk have disappeared without trace. Superstition is rife in Slowly Fell and folk there don't like to make waves. As long as Marguerite stays in her house and is left alone, they all feel safer.
Marguerite is now in her seventies ( it is believed, for nobody knows for sure how old she is) and she confines her life to the upper floor of the house, from where she can look down on her property, spy upon any intruders and keep watch over the deadly pond, which has claimed members of her own family, as well as people from the village. She keeps a cook, a maid and a very old gardener, but refuses to let anybody else into her house. She never comes out of her room on the upper floor and her meals are served by way of a pulley device that moves trays up and down through a cupboard (an early version of what would later be called a "Dumb Waiter").
But now, quite suddenly, she has decided to hire a handyman. Her gardener is not able to get about very well any longer and she requires a younger, stronger man. For this service she calls upon the village blacksmith, Adam Wyatt. And he is the only one who will do. When he's summoned to her house, "Slowly Rising," to mend the broken pulley system, Adam realizes he ought to try and keep her as a customer, since she has plenty of coin and seems willing to pay promptly. But why has she chosen him? And why is she opening her house to a man again for the first time in many years?
The cook laughingly suggests that Marguerite has her eye on Adam for services beyond fixing the house.
"She's the last of 'em left now, after the last tragedy with her daughter and the little grandkiddy. Mark my words, that's why she wants you around now. Hope you're up to it after all these years of never putting that to good use. Make a sport out of avoiding any woman who flashes her ankles, don't you, Wyatt? Though I don't know why they bother. You won't avoid the mistress, lad, not if she wants you badly enough. She'll be brewing a potion to make your parts stand to attention. For all you know she could have put some in your cup already."
Adam isn't the sort of man to believe in curses and witchcraft, so he will answer her summons, do the work for her and collect his fee, minding his own business as usual. What can the frail old woman do to him in any case?
* * * *
(Excerpt below from Slowy Fell)
Standing in the center of the room, she was a figure colored in two halves—on one side dipped in the cool blue shades of a crisp winter's afternoon, and on the other dusty with grey shadow. As usual she wore a heavy robe of turquoise and gold taffeta brocade with a dark fur trim on the inside— very lavish with big sleeves and hooks that ran the length of the front. The cook referred to it as a Muscovy gown, although since none of them had ever been to such a place he supposed the mistress had told her it was called that.
"Vanity," the cook had sneered about that veil. "She doesn't like anybody to see how wrinkled she is, I daresay. She was once a beauty, you know. It's always hardest on those with the good looks in youth— to be old, I mean. The rest of us just get on with it."
Nobody knew for sure how old the mistress was, but everything about Marguerite Wilding belonged to another century. Sometimes it seemed to Adam as if she was acting a part, keeping up appearances and maintaining the Wilding mystique that was meant to keep folk at bay. To keep them all in fear of reactivating a centuries-old curse.
"Oh, Wyatt, I almost forgot. The sash window here won't stay up when I open it."
Adam set his hat on the console table and reluctantly stepped further into the parlor. Marguerite moved aside and watched from behind as he reached up to investigate the troublesome window. Again he felt her demanding gaze, this time traveling across his back and shoulders, tickling up along his arms. Then all the way down again.
A slab of meat on a butcher's cart could not have been assessed more thoroughly and greedily. Adam began to fear that saucy-tongued cook might be right about her mistress. But that would be ridiculous. Marguerite Wilding had to be seventy at least, for she was a young woman when his own father was a babe in swaddling.
"Still no wife in your thoughts, Wyatt?" she inquired abruptly.
"No, madam. Too set in my ways now. Happy just as I am." He stepped back, tripping over the edge of a frayed carpet. "Needs new weights, madam."
"Hmm? What does?"
"Window." He pointed at it. "To hold it open. I'll bring tools to fix it when next I come." He backed toward the door, looking for his hat.
"I must wait then," she snapped, as if she never waited for anything.
"The weather is cold, madam, you surely won't need to open this window for now."
"Fresh air," she grumbled wistfully. "Sometimes... I long to feel it again. Now I am a prisoner of this place, I miss the smallest of pleasures I once took for granted."
"You could go outside once in a while, madam. Walk about the grounds and—"
"I have not been outside this house in a great many years, Wyatt."
"Precisely, madam. 'Tis no wonder you want fresh air, cooped up in these few stale rooms."
"Stale? In these rooms I am safe." She waved her stick. "I have all these comforts around me. I am exceeding fortunate. Just because I sometimes miss a fresh breeze across my face, does not mean I intend to go out there where dangers await." She shook her head and the veil trembled. "The pond awaits."
* * * *
And the "pond" awaits you too...
So pick up your copy of Slowly Fell HERE before Marguerite sees you creeping around her house!
(Photo included is of The Yeoman's House in the little hamlet of Bignor, West Sussex, England. You can actually rent it to stay in. The building is a well preserved medieval "hall" house and serves here as an example of what Marguerite's house could have looked like. Painting is The Lady in the Veil by Alexander Roslin 1768)