READERS’ STORIES: Sovereigns for Sadie

by Northern Life

The lone figure of a young girl trudged wearily along the rutted cart tracks heading north towards comparative safety.
Behind her, Sadie had fled from her home in Lancashire knowing that she would not see her mother alive again. It was late summer of 1603, a time of turbulence and persecution in England particularly in Lancashire.  Witch-hunting was rife and scores of innocent people were thrown into prisons awaiting trial, many of them sentenced to death.
Her own mother was accused of being a witch simply because she was known to cure ailments from the herbs she collected locally, and was now awaiting trial in a filthy prison in Lancaster Castle.
Neighbours were accused of possessing ‘witches’ marks’ which were only birthmarks or moles or else having “Devil Marks” which were extra fingers or some other physical defect that also branded the unfortunate person  as a witch. Just before her mother was arrested, she had begged Sadie to flee to her Aunt Meggie’s in Cumbria where she would be safe. And so it was that Sadie’s journey began.
Sadie had been walking for about a week and her meagre supply of food and money that she took with her quickly ran out. She had managed to earn a few coppers picking fruit, but the gnawing emptiness in her stomach  told her she must find some work soon. She sat down by the side of the road to rest her aching feet and ate the few berries she had gathered on the way.
Her attention was drawn to a passing pedlar with his collection of jingling pots and pans on his back. Sadie asked him where he was bound and he informed her he was going to Brampton to the Hiring Fair which was  about three miles away. Sadie’s eyes brightened upon learning this because she knew she would probably find work there because at these country gatherings a person could hire oneself out to employers seeking casual  labourers.Sovereigns
Arriving at Brampton, Sadie made her way through throngs of people and traders to the front of a large crowd where a group of peasants stood waiting to be hired. Sadie took her place among them hoping for a few days’  work.
Most of the labourers were picked for farm work as it was harvest time and any extra hands were welcome. A rough-looking man approached Sadie and stood eyeing her youthful body.
She looked with apprehension at him. A battered felt hat was pulled down over his greasy tangled hair. He had a long unkempt beard and his clothes were dirty and coarselooking like that of a farm labourer. He came closer and Sadie’s nose wrinkled at his foul smell. He opened his mouth to speak showing decaying brown stumps.
He asked Sadie if she could look after livestock and as she was used to chickens and cows she nodded. He told her that he was a roof thatcher by trade but needed someone to see to his pigs while he was away working. He  went on to tell her that he would be gone about a week and would pay her half a sovereign when he got back.
Sadie could hardly believe her luck, a half sovereign – that would certainly be more than enough to keep her going until she got to Aunt Meggie’s. She really had no idea about looking after pigs, but decided that it wouldn’t  be very much different from cows or chickens so she readily agreed.
During the journey in the back of his rickety wooden cart, she learnt that this stranger was called Jed and lived about an hour’s ride away. When they arrived Sadie could see that his house was little more than a hovel and  he took her to see the pigs which were in a pen around the back.
Sadie had never seen such big ugly creatures snorting and rooting, and shrank back as their enormous bulk battered the sides of the enclosure. Jed jeered at her and tossed some dead rabbits he had caught into the pen.  With loud squeals and grunts the pigs devoured the rabbits in seconds leaving nothing at all.
He told Sadie he wanted to leave that afternoon, so after they had eaten he gathered his thatching tools and his small hand scythe, putting them in a sackcloth bag around his shoulder and set off in his cart.
While Jed was  away Sadie kept herself busy. She tried to make the house a bit more habitable and set about sweeping and scrubbing and when she was quite satisfied put fresh sweet smelling rushes on the floor. She didn’t neglect the pigs and made sure that they were well fed.
That night Sadie slept soundly and didn’t hear the returnof Jed. He was drunk and staggered through the doorway throwing down his sackcloth bag in a heap which fell with a clatter onto the floor. When he saw Sadie’s  sleeping outline in the half darkness he lurched over towards her, his rough calloused hands clawing at the thin fabric of her dress. Sadie woke up screaming and threshed frantically with her body to escape his probing  grasp. She could smell his ale sodden breath against her face and scurried backwards hitting out with her arms and legs. In the ensuing scuffle to get away from Jed, Sadie’s body encountered his tools scattered on the  floor.
The next morning Sadie set off to market escorting four prime pigs. She knew they would bring a good price, after all they had been very well fed. Jed’s body was never found. The only visible evidence was his scythe which  was rust coloured with blood. Some said it was murder, while others spoke of witchcraft, but nothing was ever proved. Some distance south of Brampton, Sadie paused to examine her gold sovereigns in her hand – the left  hand, the one with six fingers.