The Village Wise Woman

Until the coming of the motor-car there were many villages in Worcestershire hidden away among wooded hills where life went on seemingly unchanged, as it had done for centuries. They were insignificant, out-of-the-world littlesplaces, inhabited by quaint old-fashioned folk, whose manners and customs wre traditional and superstitious. One such person, Old Mother Miller, a wise woman and quack, only one degree removed from a witch, stands out by far as one of the strangest and most influential. She was renowed throughout the countryside of south Worcestershire for her herbal concoctions, which were said to be infallible cures for all ailments. Partly because of her shrewdness, foresight, and ready wit, she had maintained a growing reputation for well-nigh 40 years, and now old age had brought her to her zenith of her fame.

Mother Miller enjoyed her beneficience as much as reputation, she considered herself everybody's equal and would never acknowledge a superior. A great theme of hers was the obnoxious institution the hospital. 'Thur be money a poor body as 'as gone through the 'ospital to the warld ayont, as ud a bin cured be the application 'uv a few simple remedies as l cud make meself'

She is well worth a description: A thin wiry figure of meduim height, always erect, with a shrivelled, much wrinkled brown skin; a sharpe-featured face, dignified by self-restraint, and by a halo of smooth grey hair; eyes fearless and keenly penetrating, lips thin and firm, with an expression of hardness or bitterness. There was somethingin her swift, mental alertness that baffles description. Her garments were strange patterns of ancient days. She walked with a brisk energy most unusual to those who have passed their three score years and ten.

Her unfailing memory was remarkable, and her brain was a store-house filled with wise-old adages and forgotten recipes. She knew the name and medicinal value of every wild herb. Many an anxious mother came to her for advice concerning her family, and was seldom disappointed. She doled out her wisdom and her remidies free of charge, disdaining to profit by her knowledge, though she loved to do it in an atmosphere of mystery. She concocted her strange smelling mixtures in an iron pot over a wood fire, muttering incantations the while in a droning voice that awed her neighbours. Sometimes she broke into intelligible verse:

'I brews these yearbs, they be designed, A gen'rul medsum fer monkind. Of ev'ry country, clime or place Wide as the circle of our race. In ev'ry case, an' state an stage, Wotever mollady do rage, Fer male an female, young an 'owl, Nar con its valya 'awf be towd -  Let names of a disarders be like the limbs jined on a tree, Work on the rewt an that subdue An a the limbs'ull bow to you!

This is what won her the awesome respect of the villagers; but they were not afraid of her, as they would be of a witch; rather they loved her for her good fellowship and neighbourliness. She put on and took off her mystery as a garment, and when it was laid aside she was an ordinary person, ready to gossip and joke with anyone.

The Consulatation

Such conversation as the following would often be heard when a neighbour called on Mother Miller:

Good evenin, ma-am an oews yourth health and temper? Aw, pretty fair, ows yourn, Mrs Thompson?

Oh, I be jest lingerin' along middlin, l aint felt meself for a good bit. I've ad them tizzeky-wizzekies l me inside, an8 summat. Awever, wot caunt be cured mun be endured.

Aw, Why don't ya get some o' them cowltsfoot leaves, an bile em in a quart o'watter down to a pint. Put some 'oney in to make it taste like an slice of lemon. It don't make no odds wot dose ya takes (and with sudden startling energy she says swiftly), Now take yer bitters be the way, two three or fower times a day. Yer appitite, if it be good, ya may appease be oelsome food.

Thank ya, mother. l 'ull try yer remedy, an if that ont cure, nowt ull, l've lat Polly to look arter the baby, an er be that carlass an fergetful as never was, l dunnow wot be come ower er o late; er be that mpoed like an summat.

Aw,  er be a bit melancholy, l shudden wunner, yun't er? That er be.

Well Mrs Thompson l ull tell ya. Get er a bit borage an make it into a drink fer er an it ull pearten er up wunnerful. Maybe er be pinin be thur a young chap?

Not that l know on, mother.

Thats be as it be, but yer on't find no borage grwin this time o year. l ull get yer a bit.

(she searches among her bundles of dried herbs hanging against the walls and from the smoke blackened ceiling. Finding some she began to recite tonelessly:)

Fer male an female, young and owd, Nar con its valys awf be towd

Thank ya l be much obliged to ya mother, an l 'ull wish ya a very good evening. And as she goes off she hears the old woman saying:

'Me medson's true an this be truth, Mon's air an watter, fire an earth;  And death be cowd, an life be eat Them temper ealths complete.

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