“During work involving the construction of the new motorway connection from North to South a large portion of the forest had to be removed. The contractors stumbled upon an old cottage containing human remains of a female whose age is to be determined and many bird skeletons, mainly that of crows. Investigations are being continued.”
“Grandfather do you know something about that house and what they found.”
“Jackie, don’t bother your grandfather when he is reading the newspaper.” and Joyce Walker carried on with her preparations for Sunday lunch.
“No, it’s ok Joyce, I am probably one of the few in these parts who knows what it’s all about. Nearly forgot the whole thing myself. My father told me the story when I was about the same age as our Jackie, too young to earn money but old enough to spend it” my dad always said.
“Did you hear mum, grandad said he will tell me about the house they found” and her brown eyes sparkled with curiosity..
“OK, Jackie but don’t have any bad dreams” her mother said “some of those stories grandad tells can be quite colourful sometimes.”
And grandad began.
Many years ago there was an old manor house in our village, exactly in the place where we now have the town hall, up on the hill. It was one of those large buildings with a driveway big enough for the horse-drawn carriages going to and fro. A lot of people worked at the house and it belonged to one of the oldest family names in the district, the Grants. There are still some tombs in the old church graveyard bearing their names. The lord of the manor was Silas Grant and he had a few children, most of them marrying into other wealthy families in the area. His youngest son was also called Silas, known as Silas Junior and because he was the youngest he was spoilt by all. Anything Silas Junior wanted he got, almost everything. He was quite partial to one of the housemaids, known as Jayne, but she did not want to know anything about Silas. Silas was one of those young men that never really had any friends. At school he was disliked by all the other boys. He was a bully and was often involved in fights where he knew no limits. Once he nearly killed a boy, just because the boy had new boots and Silas wanted them. There was big trouble at the school, but Silas Senior sorted things out promising Silas Junior that he would buy him the same boots. This was not enough, oh no, Silas Junior wanted those boots that his school colleague had, so they were bought from the boys family and were given to Silas and then his youngest son was happy. The boy at school nearly lost the sight of one eye, but that did not matter. They were farmer’s people, labourers, and were not worth the trouble to bother with. Silas Senior gave the family money for the boots and that was the end to it.
As Silas Junior got older he had his eye on one of the housemaids, but she did not want him. It was Jayne Pankhurst, the prettiest girl in the village. Now Silas was not handsome, he seemed to have inherited all the bad signs of the Grant family. His eyes were dark, almost menacing, and his nose was the biggest feature on his face. Indeed if you saw him you were automatically drawn to looking at his nose and wondering whether he saw over it to the ground. His lower lip hung down to make room for his overlarge teeth. Yes, Silas was just plain ugly. My father told me never to judge on how someone looks, it is what is inside that counts, but in the case of Silas, even what was inside was the lowest form of human life known. It was not surprising that Jayne Pankhurst ignored his advances and avoided him when she could. The cook at the manor, Betty Bagnall, saw that Silas was always hanging around where Jayne was and did her best to protect Jayne but Betty had her own cottage in the near bye forest and could not be there to protect Jayne all the time.
One fateful evening Silas came home from the inn as drunk as ever. It was a stormy night, the heavens had opened and the thunder was loud enough to sound as if the world was coming to an end. The lightening lit up the halls of the manor as if it was daylight. Silas entered the manor and made his way to the quarters where the maids slept calling for Jayne Pankhurst to give him dry clothes and bring him something to eat. Jayne knew that disobedience towards the lord’s family would be punished with loss of the job, so she hastily left her bedroom throwing a shawl over her shoulders and went to see to the needs of Silas Junior. He needed more than clean clothes, and he dragged Jayne to his room by her hair threw her on is bed and exercised the privilege he was convinced that all property owners had over their servants. Jayne called for help but no-one heard and came to her rescue. She was only sixteen years old and had no chance against such a brute.. She told Betty the cook the next morning what had happened. Betty was shocked and told Jayne to pack her bag and move in with her in her cottage. Jayne decided this was her only chance that it would not re-occur.
After some time Jayne noticed that she was expecting a child from Silas, as a result of that night and told Betty. Betty told Jayne she would help where she could and so she looked after Jayne as well as she could. Jayne carried on working at the manor and by wearing her apron the change in her figure was not noticed by the other servants. One evening Jayne was shaken by pain and the cook knew that the time had come for the birth. She did what she could, but Jayne died during the birth of her daughter. Betty Bagnall decided to take things in hand. She went to Silas Senior at the manor and told him what had happened hoping he would take pity and at least look after the baby girl that had been born. Although Silas was not surprised, he told Betty he could not take the responsibility of the child, after all the servant Jayne should have known better and it was all her fault. Silas Junior had no chance when the housemaid had made advances to him. Betty was furious but knew that against the Grant family she had no chance. She organised the burial of Jayne at the local church. It was a dismal day, the heaven was hung with black clouds and it started raining in torrents. At the moment when the coffin was lowered into the grave Betty was furious and swore an oath that Silas Grant junior would meet his doom in a terrible way that he would suffer as Jayne had suffered. She said this in a voice that all heard and together with a clap of thunder a cloud of black crows arose from the trees in the forest. All at the funeral were terrified by this occurrence and ran home as quickly as they could leaving Betty at the open grave together with a large black crow sitting beside her.
When Betty returned to her house the crow accompanied her flying above her head. The cook found this strange, but she had another problem, now that Jayne was no longer there, she had a baby girl to look after. She decided to keep the baby, not wanting that the baby would spend its childhood in an orphanage. She knew a woman in the village that had just given birth to a baby and would be only too glad to earn some extra money, so this woman was engaged as a wet nurse for the baby, Betty knowing that at least the little baby would have a chance to grow up on mother’s milk. So life went on for Betty and the baby who was given the name of Emily. Emily was christened in the village church and once again there was a gathering of crows over the church, but this time not accompanied by stormy weather, but a beautiful summer day. Betty was again followed by the large black crow when she left the church. Actually Betty was a little bit disturbed by this reoccurrence as she had learned over the years that crows can contain the souls of someone that died when their soul could find not peace and if it was someone that had no peace, it would be Jayne.
Emily grew up and was a very pretty girl. Betty noticed that she had inherited her fathers eyes, very dark and a little fearsome. She had a certain wildness about her and spent most of her spare time outside in the forest. Betty’s crow was often perched on a tree in the cottage garden and Emily would feed it with scraps from the table. She had even managed to tame the crow and it would eat out of Emily’s hand. If Betty tried to feed it she was chased away by loud noises and pecking motions from the crow. Only Emily was allowed to be near the crow.
Betty had a wonderful herb garden and was known in the village for her potions and mixtures to cure various illnesses. The crop, fever, childbirth: these complaints were no problem for Betty and she had taught Emily how to make the various medicines, thinking that it would one day be something she could use. Emily was not allowed to go to school as she had no father and the village knew that her mother was never married. Such children were no welcome to be with others.
One day Emily had a request:
“Aunt Betty, I am now old enough to look after myself. I think I should now find work, perhaps at the manor.”
Betty was not very happy about the choice, but in the village it was the only place where work was to be found. She took Emily with her to the manor hoping that she would be given work in the kitchen, but the Grant family found that they only needed Betty for this work. By this time Silas Senior had passed on and it was Silas Junior that was in charge of the manor. In a way this was a streak of luck for Betty as Silas Junior had never been told of his daughter. Unfortunately the only work to be had in the house was as a private servant to Silas junior. This position was often vacant as it was difficult to keep a servant for his personal use.
Emily accepted the job but Betty told the manor that she would only work in this position when she could leave the manor in the evening and sleep in the cottage. This was accepted and Betty was glad. Whether Emily knew that Silas Junior was her father was never known, but she did her work well, leaving in the evening. She had also become well known in the village for her potions that she mixed with the herbs in the garden and Betty had handed that job over to Emily as well, thinking that when she was no longer there, Emily would have work and not have to go alone to the manor every day.
Eventually Betty became too old for the work as a cook and had to leave the manor. Emily remained at the manor. She was very much liked by all, but she still avoided Silas Junior when she could. One evening she was preparing to leave when Silas was standing in her way.
“Where are you going Emily, it looks like a storm is coming and it has already started raining. You will catch your death outside. Come to my room and wait until the storm passes.”
“No thank you sir, I am awaited at home and I would not like to put you to trouble.”
“It is no trouble and when I command you, you would not like to refuse my commands, now would you.”
“No sir, but my but I am awaited at home and my guardian will get worried if I arrive home too late..”
“Guardian, you mean the old cook. Well we will let the cook wait, and now come to my room.”
Emily had no great choice. The wind was blowing furiously outside and it had started to rain accompanied by crashes of thunder and forks of lightening. Silas literally dragged her to his room and was about to push her onto the bed when the window broke and the wind blew against the candle that had been lit. The curtains started burning and Silas was completely surprised. He tried to put out the fire that had started, but with no success. It quickly caught the linen on the bed and spread until all was burning.
The next morning there was only the charred remains of the foundations of the manor left and of Silas Junior. He had been burnt alive. Emily had run as fast as she could away from the manor when the fire started and arrived back home, being followed by a large black crow. What Emily did not see was that it was the crow that had broken open the window which hit the candle causing it to ignite the curtains.
Emily continued living with Betty in the forest for the next few years. Betty had put enough money on one side that they could both live comfortably on it. Eventually after some years Betty died and Emily stayed at the cottage. The cottage was known to be a place where the crows gathered in the near bye trees in the evening. Emily had a reputation for making herbal medicine from the plants growing around her cottage and was often to be seen on market days in the surrounding villages selling her goods. One day Emily was no longer seen, and so the inhabitants of the village thought she had probably got too old.
Times change and the villages of yesterday became the towns of today, their past being only seen in history books in the school or at the library. There was no mention of Emily’s cottage in these books.
“Grandad what happened to Emily”
“I don’t know exactly Jackie, but I suspect that the house and skeleton they found in the forest was her last abode on this earth.”
“So father I think you have told enough history to you granddaughter for today. Sunday lunch is ready and I want her to be able to sleep this evening.”
“The town Gazette
After an examination of the human remains found at the cottage in the forest, they are believed to belong to one of the village inhabitants known as the Crow woman, on account of the numerous skeletal remains of the crows found around the cottage. It was decided that an official burial of the bones would take place at the local church”
“The Town Gazette – one week later”
Local church engulfed in crows.
During the burial of an unknown person, known as the Crow Woman, at the local church, a gathering was seen in the surrounding skies. Apart from a raging storm with crashes of thunder and streaks of lightening, there was a gathering of at least one hundred crows in the sky above the chapel. After the burial the sun shone again coupled with a spectacular rainbow.”