16th March

Jack and the Witch

Jack was an easy-going lad who mostly lived without a thought of Death, but sometimes that thought would pop up like a big black question mark right in front of his eyes.

He went to see the local witch. The witch’s cottage was low and dark, and unpleasant smells issued from the pots on the stove, but she herself was friendly enough.

‘Aye, Jack, whit can I dae for ye?’

‘D’ye hae a spell so Death canna kill me?’ says Jack.

‘Och, that’s a hard one,’ she says. ‘I can cure most aches and pains and fevers, but I canna stop Death gaun aboot his business.’

‘That’s a shame,’ says Jack. ‘It seems tae me he must be a right bad character. He causes nothing but trouble and grief. Even just thinkin aboot him makes me feart. Is there nothing tae be done aboot him?’

‘Did ye ever see him?’ says the witch.

‘Naw,’ says Jack, ‘but I’ve heard a lot aboot him. They say he’s a terrible fierce strang fella, so I widna like tae see him.’

‘Well,’ says the witch, ‘I’ll let ye hae a wee look at him, and then ye’ll no be feart. Because he’s no as bad as ye think.’

So she tells Jack if he goes down to the millpond and bends right over the fence he’ll see Death at the bottom of the water. It’s a very still day, and she conjures up a special gust of wind to blow across the millpond. When Jack gets there, the water is as flat and still as a mirror, and he bends over the fence and peers down into it, and along comes the witch’s wind and runkles up the water just where he’s looking. And what he sees down there is a wee, wrinkled, auld man with a crooked back looking back at him with a worried look on his face.

‘Is that Death?’ Jack says to himself. ‘That auld bodach* couldna hurt a flea! I’m no feart frae him.’

So he went home happy, and of course, because he was just a young lad, it would be many, many years before he saw Death looking at him again.

* old man (contemptuous, Scots from Gaelic)

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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