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CHAPTER I. “ To hear an open slander is a curse : But not to find an answer is a worse.” Ovid. In the North of Ireland—the Black North, as the hot-blooded southrons call the province where the sun shines less warmly than with themselves, and Protestants and Presbyterians . and Scotch-speaking descendants of Scotch bred colonists abide—there lived some years ago in one of the districts furthest from towns and a widow and her only child. This only child was a girl. The widow’s name -was Daly ; and she and little Mary lived, in a ipoor enough cottage, with two fields attached to it. on the top of a little hill so bleak, bare and solitary, among Surrounding lowlands, that it was ; known through all the country simply as “The Windy Kill.” Just below the hill, however, in the valley, was a farm of rich land—richer indeed than most of the holdings around; and Dennis Ryan, the young farmer who owned it, himself still almost a mere lad, and alone in the world, besides being young, was strong, handsome, and comfortably off. Through the valley ran a little streahi, and where the high road crossed .this by means of the bridge lived the carpenter and his wife. These two were thus the next nearest neighbors to the Widow Daly; but not any the' more welcome for that, since the carpenter’s wife was a shrew and a gossip, with- a bitter tongue in her head. Some years ago, Widoyr. Daly had come to take up her abode at Windy Hill as an utter stranger. , None knew whence she came or wherefore. The peasants round, naturally after awhile, went up the hill to visit her from curosity, although somewhat harsh in her ways and more outspoken ‘than polite.

But the new neighbor was a “ standoff” woman they all afterwards separately declared. Plainly not from those parts of the country, though as to where she did come from they got very little “ satisfaction,” as they expressed it. They all were displeased, more or less, at being thus baffled; and some said she was proud and unfriendly; and soma even said she was a suspicious character. The truth was, the widow was so sad a woman, and one who, with bitter reason, had so sore a heart, that she shrank from the faces and questions of strangers, and would rather have lived alone with her grief, her soul at first refusing comfort. The little daughter, too, was unlike other folk’s children since she was dumb. A dumb only child, and/a strange woman who avoided giving any history of herself, and shunned neighborliness ! That was enough to ; mike the pair on Windy Hill seem strange in the opinion of the countryside. Nevertheless, since human beings were never meant to live solitary lives, by degrees and with time the widow’s heart and manner softened; and although the peasants in the few ami distant cottages around, from want_£f habit, never now thought of going Up to see Widow Daly, still she had to come down to them sometimes, in especial to the wayside grocer’s shop. Here she weekly came to buy Her slender store of tea and tallow candles, salt and sugar, flour and soap—little more. But after so coming for months she was persuaded at times by the good-natured mistress of the shop to stay and drink a friendly cup of left, and rest herself and the child.

Little Mary was the apple of the mother’s eye, so for her sake she would at whiles stop. The dumb chiUf was so pretty, with a beauty of raven-hair and deep-blue eyes, common enough in the southern parts of the island, but, rare in the north among the sandyhaired, raw-boned type of folk found Windy Hill, that the grocer’s ,fvi|e honestly praised its looks. :L, “ But what does she blush up like that for, and hide her wee face in ydur apron, woman dear? Dear bless ui, Mistress Daly, ye don’t tell me the dummy understands what I’m “ Hush, hush !” said the poor mother, with a warning glance, while she caressed the sensitive little creature, who toas then about eight years old ; then added in a burst of confidence, with tears' in her eyes : “ You see, she was not always like this. She’s no born dummy;, slid could speak like any other child till a little while ago—till it pleased God to afflict us sorely, when she lost her voice.” ' “Deary help us! but that is over everything ! How did it come to her ? What made her dumb anyway ? Would she no mend and get back her speech ever again ?” cried out the grocer’s wife.

But at that little Mary broke into such a passion of tears (she had been trembling all over before while the talk about her went on), that the alarmed by her passionate agony M&f emotion, hushed, caressed her, anjJ finally hastened with her homewardsj giving no more explanation. The grocer’s wife, however, naturally gossipped about such a curious fact as little Mary Daly’s strange and recent dumbness to many of her customers. Among others, the carpenter’s wife heard the tale, and as a rival gossip she hastened to put a shawl over her head on the first spare convenient evening, and hied up Windy Hill for the express purpose, as she declared, of hearing all details about the cause of this phenomenon.

But to her the widow Daly would not vouchsafe a word. She disliked the carpenter’s wife ; and she was busy, her cow being sick, and her potatoes unweeded. Also little Mary had a nervous horror of strangers and of her calamity being talked about, that made the mother dread a similar outbreak on the poor child’s part to that in tbe grocer’s shop. Down Windy Hill, accordingly, the carpenter’s wife had to come “ with a flea in her ear,” as she expressed. it to ■ her cronies, and with a strong dislike to “ thon queer, wee witch,” as she called little Mary. “ She is not like any other child, but so cranky and petted that the mother never dared tell a word about her durpt)ness before me, for fear of her crying herself into fits.” . j The carpenter’s wife was right in I saying that the child was unlike others. Not only was she delicate,. and si?fe sensitive and nervous than J c>!det and

coarser minds could well but, besides, the only child lc' 3 .1 frightfully solitary life on the top ; ' ihi ; not a life certainly to make her f the terrible sorrow and affliction '-fat had nearly crushed out her young 1: The widow, seeing this, iried the experiment of sending the Hide one to school. , But the Other children either jeered at the dumb child and her signs; or, if less coarse-natured, looked on her with wide-eyed wonder. This last was , almost as unendurable to the speechless W . > arfmiy aoal among: { them, who, in her * ' silence had thought so much niore than any of the far older ones; felt more; had, alas, more terrible experience of life and its ways already. So she entreated; her mother after a week’s agony and humiliation to send her to school no more ; clung about the widow’s knees with gestures full of meaning and wept. T , To- see so - young a child weep so ' "much wrung the pbor mother’s heart; so little Mary gained the day. She never went again to school; but was taught to write and read by her mother, who was a woman of some education, above that of the surrounding class. She seldom saw’ any of her school playmates, or if by chance they met her in any lane near the cottage, it was with her only companion, a black .c tat in her arms or on Tier shoulder, and little Mary would shrink away to the side of the hedge as the urchins bawled out, “ Look, there is the dummy ! the dummy ! —chase her cat;” or else they would cry, “ Look boys, here is the wee witch of Windy Hill.” For the carpenter’s wife having once given the child the epithet, it had pleased her. own fancy,: and she often repeated it, averring without meaning very much by the remark —that little Mary n tjfnldren, 1 who' went to ’school; naturally repeated their mother’s remarks, and called Mary “the witch.” Other children took it up, and so their parents again said that all the children called wee Mary a witch, and said she This came round to the ears of the carpenter’s wife, who, slapping her hands together declared, “See there—! Just what I always thought, not that I said anything or knew’ much about her. The very children don’t take to the little crowl kindly.” All this was little enough cause of dislike, however, and would very soon have been lived down and forgotten, as Mrs Daly recovered good spirits again and the child gained in health. But there came; to these two poor souls a worse trial. ; r-’ _ , . .{To be continued .)

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THE WITCH OF WINDY HILL., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 290, 11 March 1881

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THE WITCH OF WINDY HILL. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 290, 11 March 1881

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