Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Wizard of Wisecombe, Part I

This is the first part of a short story draft.

Yes, I knew old Jack DuFarge. He was something of a celebrity around these parts, so everyone knew him. He lived in that old ruin of a house outside of town, out near where the village of Wisecombe used to be before it was infested with that never-ending swarm of ladybugs. Yes, it's pronounced Wisk'm, not Wise-comb; you can always tell whether someone is from around here by how they pronounce it. Because of the house, and because he used to peddle spells and luck charms, DuFarge was called the Wizard of Wisecombe. He was a mountebank, of course. The local farmers went to him for everything -- love charms, luck spells, healing potions -- but in reality, as I know for a fact, the only thing he actually knew how to do was put weather in bottles.

Superstition is such a tough weed, it can even grow in this day and age! Everybody is looking to believe anything that can solve their problems and bring comfort to their lives; promise them sorcery and they'll come running. I've tried a few times to convince people that he was really a charlatan, and it never works. They'll talk about how he managed to find the Sullyrood boy who fell down the well, or how he saved the Mablethrop apple orchard from the rotting disease, or, more ridiculously, how he revived Dave Haythorne's last cow, Millie, after it had died. But the one story that always comes up, that they always take as the definitive proof, is the one that makes my point. At some point in the discussion, they'll say, "Oh, but wait, you can't deny that Jenny Shay married Simon Caster, now can you?" That's a tale I know a lot about, as it happens, and there was no magic in it at all.

It was about twenty years ago. Jenny, who is my second cousin, was a wonderfully beautiful girl -- blonde hair, blue eyes. The boys were always looking at her. She had a head on her shoulders, too. She developed a crush on Simon, though, a sulky and quiet boy with dark hair and dark eyes. But he never seemed to notice her. And I guess that's the sort of thing that makes even intelligent girls indulge in a bit of superstition, because she went up the road to Wisecombe one day and knocked on Jack DuFarge's door.

That house has been in a dilapidated state for as long as anyone can remember. If you go up there today, you'll see that the front gate is hanging by a single hinge, the pavement up to the house is has been broken by the grass, and the paint on the front door is coming off in long, ugly strips. It looked exactly the same when I was a boy. People used to talk about how it was haunted by ghosts, who would bang the shutters when people passed by. It never happened to me. I imagine some country bumpkin was passing one day while the 'Wizard' was bottling the wind and mistook it for a ghost. Then the story spread everywhere, because people will believe anything.

Jenny told DuFarge her plight and asked him for a love philtre. Usually at this point the old charlatan would give a long spiel about how love spells were dangerous and that they often did not work in the way one wished, so that they should only be used in the greatest need. You know, the kind of thing salesmen say to drive up the price when faced with desperate buyers. But perhaps Jenny struck him as more intelligent than most, or perhaps even he was touched by the appeal of a pretty and earnest face, because this time he gave no such speech. He went into another room and came back with a little cobalt blue bottle that said, IODINE, and, after wiping the dust off of it, handed it to her.

"You'll need to get him alone," he said, "preferably in a shaded area, and then pour out this bottle on the ground. If there is any chance that he will ever love you, you will know."

So Jenny took the bottle and by the end of the week, she and Simon were courting. She had asked him up to the Mablethrop apple orchard on some pretense or other, and then poured out the bottle, to be sure. And everyone takes it to be 'magic' this and 'love spell' that. But, honestly, I'm sure what he did was just give her a bit of bottled spring day. If you put a young man and beautiful young woman together in an apple orchard on a fine spring day, the light shining as if through crystal and the scent of distant rain on the air, you will never need magic to get results.

In any case, that would probably have been the end of it, and it would take its place with Millie the cow in the background of the Wizard of Wisecombe's legend, except that Jenny Shay's father hated the entire Caster family.

to be continued

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