Marklake Witches

These notes are based on those written by Donald Mackenzie for the OXFORD WORLD’S CLASSICS edition of Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies (1995) with the kind permission of Oxford University Press. Except where stated otherwise, the page numbers below refer to the Macmillan Uniform Edition of Rewards and Fairies (1910, and frequently reprinted since).

Publication

“Marklake Witches” was first published in Rewards and Fairies in 1910.

The story

This story is told to Una alone, just as “The Wrong Thing” was told to Dan. She meets Philadelphia Bucksteed, the sixteen-year old daughter of the Squire of Marklake, just up the road from Burwash, during the Napoleonic wars. She is suffering from consumption, and will die of it before long, as everyone in the story, apart from her, knows. The reader comes to realise this, but Una does not.

Philadelphia’s nurse steals three silver spoons – a hanging offence – to try to persuade old Jerry Gamm, the village ‘witch-master’ to cure her with a charm. When Philadelphia finds out she goes off in a fury with her riding crop to get the spoons back. Jerry, who knows that no charm will save her, hands them back – he doesn’t want them anyway – and gives her good advice on breathing in fresh air at her open window.

There is a French prisoner on parole at Marklake, René Laennec. He and Jerry are good friends, and René has shown him the stethoscope he has invented. They have tried it out on sick people in the village, only to be accused of witchcraft. Philadelphia, perched above in a tree, has seen the ignorant village doctor challenging René and accusing him of unworthy intentions towards her. René, who knows she is ‘not for any living man’, threatens to strangle the doctor, but when the Squire comes by they hastily make it up. The story ends as Philadelphia entertains her father and a visiting General to dinner, and afterwards sings them a sad elegy – ‘The time of our parting is near’ – which reduces them to tears.

Notes on the Text

[Page 90, line 30] `Oh, what a town! Anna Weygandt (Reading, 168) tracks this to vol. i of The Universal Songster (London, n.d.).

[Page 91, line 11] René René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laennec (1781-1826); inventor of the stethoscope.

[Page 92, line 11] clubbed with the hair worn in a club-shaped knot or tail at the back, a style fashionable in the second half of the eighteenth century.

[Page 92, line 22] emp- i.e. empiricist.

[Page 93, line 30] quizzes those who quiz, i.e. make sport or fun of a person.

[Page 96, line 10] white wizard one who practises a benign magic.

[Page 98, line 5] scrattle ORG glosses this as Sussex dialect for ‘a feeble skinny person’.

[Page 100, line 33] the General who commanded the brigade Arthur Wellesley, born Wesley, Duke of Wellington; served in India 1796-1805 where the battle of Assaye (1803) was his most notable victory. His stationing at Hastings dates the story to 1805-6.

[Page 104, line 24] thorn in the flesh cf. 2 Cor. 12, 7:

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Saran to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

[Page 105, line 31] confrère colleague (French).

[Page 106, line 32] canaille scum.

[Page 109, line 15] vandyked furnished with deep-cut points.

[Page 109, line 16] morone maroon.

[Page 109, line 18] tucker lace worn within or around top of the bodice.

[Page 109, line 28] en grande tenue in full dress (French).

[Page 111, line 16] `I have given … is near!’ Kipling gave his friend, the American novelist Edward Lucas White, an interesting account of how he composed this song:

Shenstone has somewhere or other, about the end, I think, of a long and dreary ode, four lines of pure tears thus:
Yet time may diminish the pain.
The flower and the bud and the tree
That I reared for her pleasure in vain
In time may bring comfort to me.

– or words to that effect. I quote without the book but my heart knows it too well. Well! of course they were the words for my Philadelphia only they wouldn’t have been set to music. So I had to invent a new sort of parallel passage of about the same age and appearance; and if you look closely you’ll see that they in turn owe something to the meditation of Alexander Selkirk, “I am Monarch, etc.” The actual effect comes out of “desolate”, “rare”, and “change”. I’m rejoiced that you spotted it.’ (Quoted in Carrington, 551.)

[Page 112, lines 5-6] Assez … Assaye Evidently a deliberate play on words.

[D.M.]