Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 2, by William Bottrell, , at sacred-texts.com
The following case of au ill-wished woman, living in ——, was told me a few days since by one of her neighbours.
In the Autumn of 1870 a pilot, or one of a pilot's grew, that my informant called a "hobbler," gained upwards of twenty pounds for his share of the "hobble," or pilotage of a ship, which was only one night's work.
Next morning, whilst the "hobbler" was in bed, his wife, elated with her husband's good luck, stood outside her door when the neighbouring women were passing by to the spring for water, and she was saying to a number of them, who gathered around her, how lucky it was that her husband had met with such a good hobble, just in time for her to pay off old scores at the shops, and to enable her to get a little comfortable winter's
clothing for her husband and children before cold weather came. In her joy at the godsend, she continued a long time detailing her plans for disposing of it to the best advantage, and was about to go in as the women took up their pitchers, when another hobbler's wife, who had been listening for some time, turned round, in taking up her vessel of water, and said,
Thee art ready to burst with pride because good luck es come to thy door, but I wish to God that thee may’st never be the better for it."
Saying this she departed. The pilot's wife—a moment before full of gladness-was now "struck all of a heap." Cold shivers passed through her; as she fell on the form she said that no good would now come to her from the begrudged money, and that the ill-wish had taken effect.
From that day to this she has never been like the same woman; she has lost all heart to struggle for her family; when her husband is at sea she fears he will no more return, and believes something evil is constantly hanging over her head. Yet she can't be said to have any known bodily ailment; the doctor told her he didn't know what to give her, nor what could be amiss with her, unless she was bewitched, so my informant said. She had also sought aid of the pellar, or white wizzard, who visits the district at stated times, and even he had to give her up.
In answer to my inquiry if the woman that ill-wished the hobbler's wife was a witch, she replied, "No, not that the neighbours knew of, and they supposed she didn't altogether mean to do the harm she did, but it so happened that the bad words passed her lips at the fatal minute when ill-wishes won't fall to the ground; some call her a witch now, but they don't think her one—she's too big a fool."
After a pause, as if to settle the matter, she added, "No, on the whole, I don't think she's anything better or worse than the general run of women; I have known her all my life time; she was a 'professor' for years; we used to meet in the same class till she got married, when she left off, because she couldn't afford then, with a family coming quick, to pay class-money every week, ticket-money and preacher's-money every quarter, and give to all the collections, as et es expected of members, however poor they may be, it was busy all to make both ends meet. No more could she then spare time to go to preaching, or other means of grace, every night is the week, like she did in her courting days; besides she was a very wicked talking woman, and said worse than she meant. She would rap out an oath like nothing it eased her mind she said—if anybody 'thurted' (crossed) her. Like other backsliders she was worse than anyone that had always been 'carnal-minded.' Class-leaders,
and others of 'the people,' tried all they could do, by talking to her, to get her in the right way again; when her husband was in good getting they even prayed for her in the meetings, and it made her worse than ever to be told that. She said, in her sinful way, they had better leave her alone, for she knew they were no better than a set of 'duffans,' and backbiting and undermining hypocrites; that all they wanted of her was money, money all the time, and if one hadn't plenty of that for them, they wouldn't so much as dip the tip of their finger in water to save a poor soul from perishing. Pinching hard times made her spiteful, for there's nothing so bad as poverty to make one feel ugly. As for the poor ill-wished woman, she never had half enough of the Old One in her to help her stand up in her own defence."
We give another out of many recent instances of ill-wishing. The other day a small farmer, living in the higher side of Madron parish, came in to a surgeon, in this town, and told him that his wife was very bad in bed, and that neither he nor any the neighbours could make out what was amiss with her unless she was ill-wished by a woman, who lived on the downs y near his dwelling, or else 'overlooked' by her evil eyes.
His wife objected to borrow or lend with her—above all to lend. "And good reason why," said the man, "for she never paid what she borrowed. A month or so ago she wanted six-pence of my woman to clear scores with a 'Johnny-fortnight,' (pack-man), my wife refused her; on leaving our door she scraped her feet on the 'drussel,' then turned round, shaked her finger at my wife, and' said, 'See if I don't make thee wish, the longest day thee hast got to live, that thee had’st never denied me anything.'"
My poor dear had to take to her bed next day, and she han't been much out of it since. Do come and see her as quick as you can."
In answer to the surgeon's questions, the farmer told him she wasn't what one could call heart sick; but there was no "sprowl" (energy) in her; and her bowels were never in a right state. The surgeon gave him medicine for his wife, and promised to see her shortly. A few days after, having to visit a patient who lived near the ailing farmer's wife, he called to see her also. The husband, who was in "great stroath, and all of a stroll," molly-caudling about the household work, told the doctor that his wife was still in bed, no better for the medicine that he could see, and showed him up stairs to her room, where he found a big fat woman, sleeping soundly; when awoke, she described her ailment just as her husband had stated, dwelling much on her bad appetite, the weakness she felt all over, and her having
no heart to do anything. The doctor noticed, all about the chamber, a number of bottles and tea-cups; with the remains of all sorts of cordials and caudles in them, which showed that she had been nursed to the surfeiting point. Having felt her pulse, examined her tongue, and gone through all the ceremonies usual on such occasions, he shook his head and left the room, followed by the husband, who, with a long face, begged that he might be told the worst. "Now don't ’e be afraid to tell me," said he, "for if there is no hopes I can bear to hear it; thank goodness I have done all in my power for her, poor dear, and have nothing on my mind to answer for." "Her best chance of being cured depends upon you, I think," said the doctor, with a serious face, "if you can make up your mind to undertake a difficult job." "Oh, do tell me what I shall do," replied the man, "and I will go through fire and water for her, the dear." "That's all very easy to say," rejoined the doctor, "but it will require all your strength and courage. If you have a wheelbarrow about the place, bring it in, put your wife into it, and trundle her out into the middle of the largest field or croft hereabouts, there leave her, and if she won't come in let her stay there until she's tired; there's no more amiss with your wife than there is with me, except laziness and a diseased fancy, that you have made worse by indulging her whims; you should have been out in the fields about your work, and have left her to do without her caudles till she rose and cooked them."
We don't know how the farmer proceeded to execute the doctor's advice, but next market day he called in, thanked him for his hint, said his wife was then doing her work, and as well as ever she was in her life. "But you had better not venture to see her again soon," said he, "for I believe she would as lieve meet the Old One as you for a bit."
Almost every day one may hear of similar cases which show the power of superstitious fears over weak minds.