A Tale for Hallowe’en

  • Posted on: 29/10/2021

For the last 9 years, Muriel & Jasper have been making regular posts on their life set exactly 60 years from the present day. The blog is a delightful mixture of fact and fiction, designed to entertain, engage and perhaps learn a wee thing too. The Wylies are preparing for Hallowe’en in their rural bolthole…

Down to the Rural Bolthole

Unusually it has been a long slow drift into autumn. Although there are still leaves on the trees, many have now fallen and lie damp and soggy on lawns and disintegrating into the spaces between old square stone cobblestones. There have been dark and stormy nights. Exceptional rain has fallen on the land of the mountain and the flood. On rotting trees and damp lawns, toadstools grow in grotesque form or as delicate fairy rings around bronzing bracken. On wooden stumps, in golden beech glades, the filaments of etiolated fungi spread like the tracery of medieval windows trying to connect with one another in the dark.

In the Rural Bolthole, the rustics are trying to connect too. They know that the Wylies are back, and that Mrs Travers is not with them. It is almost Hallowe’en a traditional time for suspicion and wariness.  Rumours are rife in Intelligence HQ or as we know it The Post Office and the Grocery Shop.

At the Post Office

“Mrs Wylie, I see you are newly returned to us from across the pond, how lovely to see you. How may I help?”

“Good morning, Mrs Robertson. I would like to send this letter to America, par avion if you please. Might I request that the stamps have a border of equal dimensions from the top and the side of the envelope? It’s going to the First Lady, Mrs Kennedy.”

“I do like her new pillbox hats, your idea I assume.”


“The Women’s Rural are rather hoping that you will give us a talk on your Washington experiences and a little peek into the designs that you have suggested for the redecoration of the White House. I have asked Madam Acting President- if you are agreeable – that we squeeze you in between Mrs Manders’ , ‘My Life as a Missionary’ and Mrs Davidson’s ‘New Ways with Date and Walnut’. Of course, the annual ‘How many items can you get into a matchbox?’ competition is immovable. I know you will understand.”

“Of course, I understand just as I am sure you understand that I am never squeezed anywhere. Equally I am sworn to secrecy as to the design until it is revealed to the American public. ”

“I will tell Mrs Macaulay.”

“She already knows.”

Gossip at the Grocer’s 

“Mrs Wylie, you brighten our morning. How lovely to have you back. The Rural Bolthole has been dull without you. No Mrs Travers? I hear she has been appointed Director of an Oxford college.”

“Not quite Mr McGill; who told you that?”

“Mrs Macaulay’s woman what does far more than Mrs Travers ever did. They say she is destined for great things. Still, you must miss her.”

“They say many things, as you know. I wonder if I might place an order with you for delivery on Friday. Here is my list on an engraved sheet of writing paper. Please make sure the sausages are pork links not flat and that the apples are of a floating variety.”

“That’s an awful lot of sausages and apples.”

“Yes, if you must know Mr McGill (and it will, I realise, save me from posting a bulletin on my front gate), they are for the History Society’s Hallow’en Party.”

“I heard Mrs Wylie that the Hysterical were having a wee night, but I understood that Mrs Macaulay was organising that. She’s already ordered beef links.”

“She was. However, and mercifully, she isn’t now Mr McGill. After all we want to make sure the evening runs smoothly, do we not?”

“I am sure we do. Who is carving the turnip lanterns?”

A Typical Piece of Muriel Management

“I have persuaded Young Auld Jock to organise a masterclass for the boys and girls of The Band of Hope. He has agreed, as the television company with whom he is currently associated with want to film this for their ‘Disappearing Rural Life’ series.”

“Very skilful Mrs Wylie if I may say so. I hear no one can get Jock to do anything these days since he has become a local cultural expert.”

“It is all a question of management Mr McGill and the fact that Sharon, who is helping me in the house, saw the continuity lady coming out of his cottage at 6 a.m. on Sunday.”

“Yes, I have heard Young Auld Jock say she is very good with a stopwatch. Who would have thought it Mrs Wylie? Although, having said that, his grandfather, who was also a quick mover, was just the same.  I remember when we had that new midwife, you ken yon one who came in 1906, she was only here ten minutes, when Jock was round with his tools putting new doors on her original box bed.”

 Jasper and a Sneaky bar of Caramac

“By the way I haven’t seen much of Mr Wylie, although I believe he was in here first thing for a new notepad and a bar of Caramac.”

“Oh, was he indeed! Actually, he is fine, glad to be home although he loved his trip to America. He is up at the church taking some photographs to be made into transparencies for the hysterical talk before the supper. He wants some images to set the scene for his talk ‘Black Cats and Broomsticks – The Scottish Witch Panics of the 16th and 17th Centuries’. Are you and Mrs McGill coming?”

“Don’t know; my wife likes that new series The Rag Trade with Shelia Hancock and Reg Varney, depends on what you are making with the sausages. Dead Man’s fingers I suppose.”

“Certainly not, I shall be preparing a French style sausage cassoulet with onions and a hint of Amontillado served with a jacket potato and seasonal garnish.”

“Is there pudding?”

“Gingerbread and custard.”

“Keep me two tickets, it’s our grilled Spam night, so I can give that a miss. I can always bring our Dan, he can eat for Dumfries, if Shelia can’t be dragged away from a programme about a sweatshop. Will Jasper’s talk be quite long?”

“Your guess is as good as  mine.”

Creeping Around the Churchyard

“Mr Wylie, how nice to see you back at the Rural Bolthole.”

“Oh, Reverend I didn’t see you creeping around the tombstones.”

“I was just in the church checking all is as it should be, I have a funeral tomorrow, old Alec the clockmaker. Wound the church clock for neigh on 60 years too ”

“His time has run out then?”

“Very droll as always Mr Wylie, time and tide wait for no man, the Lord giveth and the Lord takes away.”

“Ah probably, Geoffrey Chaucer.”

“Not forgetting Job 1:21.”

“Of course, not who could.”

“What brings you to the dead centre of town, Mr Wylie?”

“Just preparation for my Hallowe’en talk at the weekend; taking a few transparencies for the old projector. I need a bit of atmosphere.”

“Rather sad that too many people just see the church as providing atmosphere, Mr Wylie.”

“Rather disappointing you won’t let us use the church hall, Reverend.”

“One has to make a stand somewhere Mr Wylie and I think you will find the Abrahamic religions at one on the matter of ghosts and witches.”

“Funny that but fear not my presentation will be low on broomsticks and black cats. I’m going to focus on the experience of rural communities and the plight of many women in the years after the Scottish Witchcraft Act of 1563. Hundreds were executed in the Lowlands.”

“I am well aware Mr Wylie, before you go any further, that the kirk was implicated in this terrible series of events.”

“In fairness Reverend, though it pains me to say so, it was not just the church. The fires were stoked by a whole range of complex circumstances and people including the King James VI, economic circumstances, personal feuds, fear of women and yes of course a church in complete control of the Lowlands.”

“We should continue this conversation Mr Wylie, I always enjoy our debates. However, I must dash to the manse and telephone the organist about tomorrow.”

Abide With Me I presume.”

“Oh yes we need to end on a high note. Now do give my best wishes to your dear wife. Tell her I will reply, in due course, to her letter with the delightful, deckled edges about the non-local soups only being available with advance notice. So good to have you home.”

A Meeting

“Good day to you Sir.”

“Good heavens, I mean good day to you, young lady. I didn’t see you there. I was busy speaking to the minister.  It’s like Paddy’s Market here this morning. I am sorry I don’t think we have met, Jasper Wylie.”

“Good to have your acquaintance, sir. My name is Kate.”

“Pleased to meet you, have you just moved into the parish? I am afraid I have been abroad for a while. My wife and I were in America, so we have missed one or two people who have moved in. Are you in one of the new houses perhaps?”

“I have been abroad too, or so they say, flee’n’ here, flee’n’ there.”

“It’s nice to travel, isn’t it, but nice to get home by one’s own fire.”

“Certainly not someone else’s fire! What are you doing and what is that you hold?”

“I am taking some pictures for a talk I am giving about witches in the village many, many years ago, and this is my new camera, it is rather fancy. Got it when we are away – they’re ahead with everything across the pond.  I am particularly interested in this old grave. This is the family grave of local people, but they would not bury one of their daughters here because she was accused of being a witch. You are most welcome to come to the talk; we are having a seasonal supper afterwards.”

“Thank you for your kindness, but I cannot stay. Look! There is smoke!”

“It’s only the Session Clerk burning some leaves, they want the church looking tidy for the funeral tomorrow; nothing to be afraid of my dear. Are you all right; would you like a piece of Caramac?  I always find a wee piece of something sweet gives a boost mid-morning. I would offer you a coffee from my flask, but it only has one cup.”

Setting The Record Straight

“Thank you, I like a sweet-meat. Will you do something for me sir?”

“Yes, if I can; how can I help?”

“I would be grateful if at your meeting you would tell them that Kate didn’t do it.”

“Do what?”

“Poison the water with a spell and consort with fairies or go to his party.”

“I’m not sure I heard that correctly. Just a minute, you look most unwell.  Is there someone you would like me to call for help?”

“It is too late for that; but perhaps you could get a name put here.”


“Here on the stone, that you are so interested in.”

“What name?”

“Kate, who was accused of riding through the air on a broomstick to attend the devil’s levée.”

“Just a minute…. where have you gone? This is all very confusing, and you’ve dropped something shiny. Kate….are you there?”

Back Home

“Sorry Jasper to have missed lunch but I popped in on Lady P-F, just to make sure she was still providing the Helensburgh Tablet for the hysterical, I mean Historical, party. You look rather pale dear, as if you’ve seen a ghost!”

“Well I think I might have!”

“Oh Dahling, you do exaggerate. Now what is that shiny thing lying on the table? A prop for your talk?”

“I found this in the churchyard. It’s like a needle but the point is blunt. I’ve read about something like this being used to find witches – if the woman was pricked with the needle and did not bleed it was proof she was a witch. It was all a pretence, because no one bleeds from a blunt point. Those poor women hadn’t a chance.”

“Jasper, that is terrible. I hope you will tell this story at your evening. Who did you meet in the graveyard, then?”

“The minister and a woman called, Kate.”

“Isn’t that the name of the woman you said was accused of being a witch here in the Bolthole?”

“Exactly, my dear.”

Jasper Wylie

All Hallows’ Eve 1961