As she pointed across the room, Becky’s voice was little more than a whisper. “Mum. Your hair”. It was obvious Mum had already seen it, and she tried to make light of it, smiling. “I know. Must have been the shock or something. I quite like it, truth be told. Some women pay a lot of money to have their hair dyed this colour”. Becky knew she was still lying, and that made her angry. As soon as Mum sat down at the computer, she went up to her room, and pulled the canvas bag from under the bed.
The photos meant nothing. Most were of children, and from their clothes, probably taken at least twenty years ago, if not more. Becky slid out the heavy journals again, and flicked through them quickly. In the second one, she noticed a heading, ‘THE CURSE’. Stopping at that page, she started to read Sara’s writing.
‘The villagers all walked behind the magistrate, and the troopers who were carrying Charity. She had been bound hand and foot, and continued to struggle all the way to the riverbank. As she was laid on the grass close to the edge, some people pushed to the front, eager to see the drowning. One of those was Abraham Vosper, who came to stand beside Magistrate Wright Charity rolled onto her back, staring at the men with a cold hard gaze. Two troopers bent down to roll her into the water, and the girl suddenly spoke. Her voice was calm, but her words sent a chill through the assembled crowd. “I curse you, all you here. You shall have no son to carry on your name as long as an Oliphant lives. Even with all your wealth, your names will die with you, or your descendants, one day”. The magistrate nodded to the soldiers. “In with her”.
As Charity disappeared under the water, Abraham Vosper led a chant of “Witch, witch. See, she’s a witch”. But she didn’t float. Pastor Drake walked forward, a sad expression on his face. He was against such barbarity, and had made that clear. But he had little influence in this closed community. The Pastor turned to face those remaining. At least half the number had already scuttled away, upset by the scene they had witnessed. Drake grasped his Bible, and turned his eyes to the sky. “The girl did not float, she is innocent. Dear God take this soul into your kingdom”. When he looked back, everyone had gone.
At first, it seemed the curse had failed. Sons were born, and the Wrights and the Vospers continued to flourish, becoming even richer once the war had ended. But things began to change for the Wright family, and by 1930, Bessie was the only remaining heir to their wealth, once her father died. Five years later, she met an army colonel when he was home on leave, and they were engaged to be married. It was decided that they would wait until her fiance returned from service in India, and would coincide with her twenty-fifth birthday, in August 1939. The night before the wedding, the colonel went to the local inn, for a traditional drink on the eve of the nuptials. He didn’t stay long, and witnesses stated that he had only two drinks, before setting off to walk home, on that hot, humid night.
The next morning, his body was found wedged against the sluice gate, next to the old mill wheel. He had drowned, and nobody had seen or heard anything. Bessie was distraught. She withdrew to her room, and stayed there for many years. Some said her father was secretly pleased. At least his daughter would inherit, and continue the name. If she had married, her name would have changed, and no children would have had the name of Wright.’
As she went to turn the page, Charity appeared at the bottom of the bed. “Don’t turn that page yet, Rebecca. I want to test you. Now, think hard. Show me how clever you are. Remember all you have discovered, everything you have read. Without turning the page, tell me the name of the Colonel who drowned”. Becky was surprised to realise she didn’t have to think about the answer at all. The name came straight into her head, it was obvious. She smiled at Charity.
“Colonel Mallet. A descendant of the cavalry officer who complained about the flour”.
Charity clapped her filthy hands together with glee. “I knew it. I knew you had the gift. You are a good Oliphant indeed”.
And then she was gone.
Going back to the pile of things from the canvas bag, Becky found some more documents. They looked fairly new, and were all inside a clear plastic wallet. The various logos and seals were all in black and white, so she guessed they were photocopies. It was easy enough to work out that they were copies of deeds, and they were in some sort of order. One was for the house, and the others for the apartments next door. The person selling all the properties was named as Samuel Vosper. And the person named on each one as the buyer was Catherine Webster. Becky shook her head. More lies. Her Mum owned them all. No wonder nobody else had come to view them, or the people who owned the supposed weekend holiday flat had never appeared. Between her Mum and the Vospers, they had made sure that there would never be any neighbours around, to bear witness to any happenings.
Placing the journals and photos back in the bag, Becky kept the deeds and papers on top of the bed, along with the large architect’s drawing. Then she took out her notebook, and added some lines to what she had written previously.
‘No boy children to inherit, or carry on the name’.
‘The curse is finally working, and this year is important’.
‘Everyone involved with the deaths of Thomas and Charity to be punished’.
‘Bessie was the last of the Wright family. They are all gone now’.
‘Something going on with Mum and Samuel Vosper?’
‘Charity says there are good and bad people in the Oliphant family’.
‘Why did Mum’s hair turn white?’
Placing the notebook on top of the other papers and the folded drawing, Becky stood up, and slid everything under one arm. She headed for the door, a determined look on her face. Enough was enough.
It was time to confront Mum.