13 June, 2017 by katelaity
Tansy looked at the sparkling object with considerable curiosity. ‘What on earth can it be?’
‘Have you no idea?’ Mither Wishart looked at me, too. I shrugged. With some considerable pride and ostentation she declared, ‘This is Willox’s Ball and Bridle!’
Tansy made a noise of surprise and delight but I was as much in the dark as ever. ‘Whose whatsit?’ I was sure that a lot of this collection was nothing but humbug, however Tansy seemed to be enjoying it so I wasn’t inclined to say anything at present though I hoped there would be cakes soon.
Mither Wishart smiled like the proud mother of a veritable nursery genius. ‘Oh, this was very famous in the early part of the cemetery. Mr Willox was a well-known practitioner of the healing arts.’ She held up the stone which was transluscent though rather black. The ‘bridle’ was a bit of metal twisted into a sort of hook.
‘How was it used?’ Tansy asked examining the stone curiously as it was handed to him. ‘In water?’
I am always amazed that Tansy seemed to know all manner of curious things, but having lived such a curious life, I suppose it is to be expected. But Scottish magic seemed obscure even for him.
‘Indeed. Mr Willox would fill a bucket with pure river water, drop the stone into it and then after a time swirl the water round with the bridle to get the full effect.’
‘How is this a bridle?’ Tansy asked and well he may, for the thing looked like a hook and not at all anything else.
‘It is only a piece of a bridle,’ Mither Wishart assented. ‘In truth this bit of brass was cut from a kelpie’s bridle by an ancestor of Mr Willox and passed down through the family in secret. Or so he claimed,’ she laughed lightly as if it were not a matter of any moment.
‘A kelpie?’ I could not help asking, though I truly wished for cake rather than more curious facts. I suppose I would be able to dine out on the tales when I got back to London.
‘A water horse.’ Tansy said because of course he knew.
‘Indeed they are said to inhabit the rivers and lochs, luring people onto their backs then sinking to the depths with them, helpless to resist. There’s a river in Aberdeenshire said to have a kelpie with a mane of snakes.’
I shivered. There was something uncanny in the way people’s imaginations could run to the horrifying given the least chance. Why could they not think about cakes instead? ‘I shall be more careful crossing rivers now.’
‘And people believed this story?’ Tansy asked.
‘Oh, Mr Willox dressed in red and had a ready spiel like a hawker in the market. People might laugh at him but when they were desperate, they might also turn to him. Hopelessness changes our beliefs.’
‘But do you know any who can show us genuine wonders?’ Tansy asked, clearly doing his best to conceal impatience.
Mither Wishart looked back and forth between the two of us. ‘Are you bold adventurers who don’t mind a little risk?’
‘Yes!’ Tansy said at once. I sighed.#