Becky made sure that she arrived early to see Miss Wright. She was shown into a surprisingly large and comfortable room, where the old lady was sitting in a huge armchair that dwarfed her tiny frame. Miss Wright pointed a bony finger at a footstool just in front of her. “Sit here, girl. I can still just about see, but you have to be close for me to hear you”. Despite her grand age, Elizabeth Wright hardly looked older than any woman in her late seventies. Only her milky, wet eyes gave some indication that she was lucky to wake up every morning. Becky perched on the stool, and opened her notebook.
“I live at Wright’s Mill, and I am writing a school project about its history. I thought as your name was Wright, you might know something about it”. Elizabeth scowled. “That mill has been nothing but trouble since it was built. The Oliphants claimed to be millers, but the local people never trusted that they knew what they were doing. Their flour was always bad, so the stories go. And there was jealousy too. My family were keen to get their hands on the land, and the Vospers were enlisted to help them. But it never did anyone any good, and my ancestors ending up squabbling over the place without ever sorting it out. Until my father of course. He ended up inheriting all of it. Then he became ill, and sold it to old man Vosper. I got the money from the sale, and that has enabled me to live comfortably ever since”. She looked around. “It pays for this place now, until the cash runs out”.
Becky was writing notes, but was ready with her question when the old lady stopped talking. “What do you know about the Oliphants? I mean not just the ones who had the mill, but the rest of them too?” With a groan, and an audible clicking of some bones, Elizabeth shifted her weight and moved forward. “They tried to get rid of them all, the people around here. The miller and his daughter were killed, accused of some sort of witchcraft, crimes that carried the death penalty. But his wife escaped with the two sons, and the family carried on away from here. Then one day, Christian returned out of the blue, and claimed the mill as his inheritance. That put the cat among the pigeons I can tell you, girl. But he was no miller, and couldn’t make a go of it. Eventually it was bought by one of my family, and they argued about who it should be left to until the day my father sold it”. Good riddance, if you ask me. It was said to be cursed, and I believe it was”.
Scribbling away in the book, Becky was annoyed that she didn’t have time to write neatly. She looked up at Elizabeth, her next question ready. But the old lady had settled back in the chair, her eyes closed. She sat watching her for a while, until a woman arrived dressed in what looked like a nurse’s uniform. “You had best go now, I think Miss Wright is sleeping. She will have tired herself out, with all her chatting”. Becky nodded, and stood up. There was so much more she would have liked to know. Maybe she could come back another day.
Back at home, Becky wrote up her notes neatly, then tore out the scribbled pages she had used at the care home. Bessie had not been the complete fountain of knowledge that she had hoped for, but her few recollections had helped to harden up some of the facts. Mum suddenly appeared at the bedroom door. “Becky, I have to go out for a while. I am going to get some shopping, and do some other stuff in town. Will you be alright on your own?” Mum looked worried, an expression rarely seen on her face. “I’ll be fine, Mum. Do whatever you need”. A few minutes after Mum’s car had pulled out into the lane, there was a knock at the door. Before opening it, Becky looked through the living-room window. It was the driver of the school bus.
The woman smiled, which did nothing to soften her masculine features. “Can I come in and talk to you girly? I waited until I saw your Mum leave. I’ve been hanging around for ages”. She came in and sat on the sofa, declining the polite offer of something to drink. “I wanted to talk to you away from the others on the bus. There are things you need to know. I’m worried that you are getting involved in things you should be careful of. Dark things, things from years ago that have ruined this village”. Becky moved Mum’s computer chair, and sat opposite her as she continued.
“That Vosper girl. Well all her family really, but Matilda’s the worst of them. They have been greedy and devious as long as anyone around here can remember. Them and the Wrights grabbed all the land around here, made themselves a fortune. And they mean to hang onto it, I tell you. Some say there’s a curse on both their families, but it doesn’t seem to have affected them. I reckon the Vospers are just waiting for old Bessie Wright to die, then they will be in control of everything. She’s the last of the Wrights, never married. And their secrets will die with her. They have Town Councillors under their control, planning officers, all sorts. Even some senior policemen. People say they can do what they want, as they know all the secrets. Some say that Matilda has been with many powerful men, then blackmails them in the interests of her family. I have no proof of course, but you’ve seen her. She’s hard to resist, isn’t she? I need a cigarette, shall we stand outside?”
Becky followed the woman as she walked away from the house, and stood beside one of the empty apartments. She rolled a cigarette, and blew out smoke as she carried on talking. “You should find out who owns these flats on the mill land, next to your house. You will be surprised, girly, I bet. For hundreds of years now, just a few families have fought to take control of the village, and everything around it. They will stop at nothing, and I reckon the Vospers are set to come out on top. So if I was you, I would keep away from that Tilly, for your own good.”
Becky finally asked her a question? “But what is this all about? They have their land and money, and a good business. The Wrights sold out to them a long time ago, and now my Mum owns the mill house. What more could they want?” The woman took a deep drag on the cigarette before answering. “Bless you, girly, it’s not really about the money, they already have that. It’s the curse. They have to settle the curse on their families, or they will never profit in the long term. Why do you think Bessie never married? You should ask her. And there is no son in the Vosper house, despite the name of the company. Nobody to carry on their name, whether Wright, or Vosper. It was because of the curse. They must have a plan to do something about that, and I am guessing almost everyone around these parts is involved in some way”.
The woman suddenly turned, and started to walk off. She stopped for a moment, her face looking genuinely concerned. “I’ve said enough. I have to keep away from those people, and I suggest you do the same”. Becky walked a little of the way with her, until she turned right, and entered the country lane. She called out to her. “Thanks for your help. By the way, what’s your name?” She called back, without turning her head. “It’s Bridget. But I’m called Bridie”.
As Becky turned back to her house, she could see Charity standing outside the door.