#2 of the original
Elsie & Pooka Stories...

 

by

Lora Craig-Gaddis

  

Candle light flickered over the surface of the Tarot cards and the little witch peered intently at their pictures.  Suddenly, her vision was obscured by the belly of a small black feline. 

“Pooka!” Elsie exclaimed.  “Get off my cards!”

From his upside down position on the table, Pooka purred up at her mischievously.

“Chin scritch?” he begged batting the air playfully with a paw.

“No!  I’m not going to scratch your chin now, you silly cat!  I’m in the middle of a Reading!”

Pooka rolled over on his side, yawned and stretched, his tail whipping the table.  Cards flew in all directions.

“So, what do the cards say?” he asked casually.

“They say you’re in Big Trouble,” growled Elsie.

The little cat, not at all chastened, sprang  to his feet and butted his head under Elsie’s chin, still purring.  “I just wanted a little chin scritch!”  Then Pooka sat down on the remaining cards and scratched an itch behind his ear.  “What was in the reading?”

”We’re going to have a visitor, “ sighed Elsie as she started picking up the mess he’d made.

A visitor?  Pooka perked up his whiskers.  That was unusual!  “Who?” He asked.

Elsie glared.  “I didn’t get a chance to see – thanks to the Wonder Tail!”

Pooka felt badly now.  “ Sorry.” he muttered and began intently washing one of his paws to hide his embarrassment.

Elsie blew out the candles and scooped up her cat. “That’s okay, Pooks,” she murmured into his furry little head.  “We’ll find out soon enough.” And the two of them went up to bed.

  A few days later the little witch and her cat were in the herb garden harvesting dill when they heard the front gate squeak open.  “Pooka, will you see who that is?” asked Elsie as she tied one of the feathery bundles.

Pooka padded to the front of the cottage.  Trundling up the path was a plump, elderly lady dressed in purple from head to foot.  She had a suitcase under one arm and a large broom tucked beneath the other. Now, local villagers often came to Elsie’s door for various herbal concoctions, but Pooka knew them all and this was definitely not one of the witch’s regular customers! Not only that - there was something about this one that the cat's whiskers told him was decidedly "different" and looked vaguely familiar! He scooted back around to the garden and landed heavily on the kneeling witch’s shoulders.

“Watch the claws!” she cried, wincing.

“Elsie!  I've got the feeling I've seen this person before but  I don't think she's from around here!”  Without thinking Pooka flexed his claws again.

“OUCH!” Elsie cried and reached up to pry him off.  “Let’s go see” she soothed the agitated cat now cradled in her arms. 

A determined hammering at the door of the cottage was followed by a piercing call that ended on a shrill high note: “ElsIE?”

Elsie peered through the hollyhocks that bordered the corner of her home.  “Aunt Tilly?”

Turning, the old woman dropped her bags and broom and reached out her arms.  “Well, Blessed Be!  How’s my favorite niece?” she boomed in a large voice.

“Niece?” Pooka glanced up at his mistress.  But Elsie dropped the cat on the walkway and flew to the elderly lady immediately disappearing in her great arms and bosom.

“Oh my dear girl!” crooned the aunt  then held Elsie at arm's length and looked her over. “Why, child, you're still just a little bitty thing!"  She wagged her finger. "Are you eating right?”

“Oh Aunt Tilly!” Elsie laughed.

Her aunt then peered down at Pooka looking up from the garden path. “And this must be Pooka.  Well, he's grown some since I last saw him...but not much!  He's still pretty scrawny if you ask me.”

Elsie noticed the confused look on the cat's face.  "You were too little to remember," she told him.

“Well,” Aunt Tilly smiled broadly. “Looks like both of you could do with a bit of my Good Cooking!” and with that she picked up her broom and her luggage and sailed into the cottage.

Pooka wasn’t sure whether to be insulted or happy.  On the one hand he didn’t exactly appreciate being called scrawny. He may be small, but he knew he was sleek and well fed. On the other hand, the hint of extra meals sounded rather promising!  He looked inquiringly up at Elsie who looked back down at him.  “Looks like she’s going to stay a while.” she smiled  They followed Aunt Tilly’s flapping purple skirt into the cottage.

Elsie got Aunt Tilly settled in the downstairs guest bedroom then went out to finish gathering the rest of the dill.  By the time she and Pooka returned the kitchen was filled with the fragrance of onions, garlic, and bell peppers sizzling on the stove.  Aunt Tilly, her dress protected by a vast, crisp white apron was seated at the little scrubbed wooden table chopping tomatoes.  Her beaming face smiled up at them. “I hope you’re hungry then!”

Elsie assured her they were!

Before long they were all sitting down to a wonderful meal of Aunt Tilly’s goulash and warm buttered slices of sourdough bread.

 After supper was over, the dishes were done. The summer light was fading outside as the lanterns and candles were lit inside and everyone gathered around the parlor.  Edgar the crow had been introduced. He and Aunt Tilly each seemed to have found a kindred spirit in the other.  Elsie tucked her legs up in her favorite chair by the hearth with Pooks snuggled in her lap and realized how much she’d missed having family around her!

“How long will you be staying?” she asked.

Aunt Tilly, in the rocking chair opposite, told her, “Only a few weeks, dear.  I’m afraid I must get back to my group before Beltane and you know your Uncle Tiberius just can't get along without me for long.  I just popped for a bit to see how you were getting on and what you've been up to.” 

“I still sell my herbs and potions down in the village and keep busy in my garden.  Pooka and I are very happy and doing well.”  Elsie smiled contentedly and stroked the purring cat in her lap.

  

The next morning was Market Day. Before dawn, Elsie was gathering her wares into a great wicker basket and right after breakfast she headed off toward the village.  Aunt Tilly claimed to have some shopping to do and went with her.  And of course Edgar flew alongside and Pooka trotted behind.

 In the village square around the large old fountain little stands of vegetables and booths displaying various wares were already being set up.  As they passed, many people called out a cheery greeting and Elsie introduced her aunt to several of her friends and customers.  They stopped under a great market umbrella that shaded buckets of fresh colorful flowers.  A woman in a big straw hat was bent over an arrangement.  She smiled when she saw them.  “Ah, Elsie!  I’ll have another batch of rose petals ready for you in a few days. Do you have some of that wonderful potpourri with you?”

“I do indeed” Elsie told her and pulled a large bag from the basket.  “Here you go.  May I introduce my aunt, Miss Matilda Mellissa McKenzle?  She’s staying with me for a while.  Aunt Tilly, this is Sally Green, our florist.”

The two women shook hands.  Suddenly Sally got a strange look on her face. “Elsie,” she said.  “I think I’ll take two bags of that potpourri!”

Elsie’s eyebrows shot up.  “I’m sorry,” she said, shaking her head.  “I only brought one, since that’s all you ordered.”

Sally looked confused for a moment, then shrugged her shoulders and laughed. “Oh well.  I’ll get the other one when I bring by your rose petals!”

“I’ll have it for you.” Elsie promised.  “See you then!”   

They moved on past several more stalls and up onto the sidewalk where a shop window displayed an assortment of books neatly propped up to show their titles.  “I think I’ll just pop in here for a moment.” said Aunt Tilly. 

“Fine,” Elsie nodded.  “I have a few more customers to visit.  Shall I meet you in the Pharmacy?  It’s just a block down.”  

Aunt Tilly agreed and the little bell on the door jingled as she entered the bookstore.  Several customers were already inside and she moved past them, quickly finding the book she wanted.  She headed toward the counter where a thin, bespectacled man was waiting on a stout farmer’s wife. Behind her a noisy, rowdy group of children of various heights and ages were indulging in a game of tag.  They raced down the narrow aisles of tall books screaming with laughter and bumping into several elderly customers.  Over the noise, the farmer’s wife was trying to explain to the shopkeeper which title she was looking for. “A book on canning,” she yelled.

The owner looked perplexed. “Rook and Salmon? Fish market’s across the way.” he yelled back. 

“No, no.” she shook her head and shouted, “I want to make some berry jelly.”

 “Very smelly?" The owner shook his head. "No, not if they're fresh!” 

Exasperated, the farmer’s wife hollered over her shoulder for the children to settle down.  Her brood ignored her. 

 Aunt Tilly tapped her foot in irritation as she waited her turn at the counter. This was going to take forever! 

 She spotted one child diving under a small table displaying books by the latest best selling author.  The table rocked precariously for a moment before crashing over.  One of the books landed with a thud on the child’s head and he began wailing. A slightly older boy, spotting him, leaped over the books scattered on the floor and smacked the child’s sore head with his hand shouting, “Tommy’s It!” then dashed around a corner colliding with a young lady in a pretty white frock.  They both went tumbling to the floor. Tommy wailed even louder. Meanwhile, in another corner of the shop two more children were wrestling over a book.  They each had hold of it and were angrily tugging and fighting at the top of their lungs.  

 “I saw it first!” 

“No you didn’t! Ma, make her give it to me!”

“Children, be quiet!” their mother yelled angrily.

 The store became suddenly silent.  The children, their mouths all gaping open, froze in place.

Aunt Tilly smiled and all the customers that hadn’t fled the shop grinned in relief!

The farmer’s wife looked surprised but quickly took advantage of the quiet to explain to the shopkeeper what she wanted.

“Canning?” he asked.  “Well, Mrs. Kettlesworth, why didn’t you say so?  Second aisle on your left.”

The woman headed in the direction he’d indicated and Aunt Tilly, still smiling, paid for her purchase and left the shop.

 

She easily found the pharmacy. Edgar, perched on a lamp post by the curb, cawed and flapped his wings when he saw her. Pooka sat on the steps of the shop enjoying the sunshine and watching the people pass by. 

Inside, Elsie was handing Mr. Ambercromby, the pharmacist, several jars of her calendula face cream.  Beside her a skinny woman with a waspish expression was proclaiming loudly, “I’d never use that stuff myself!  Lord only knows what’s in it!” Several other customers glanced toward her with raised eyebrows and the pharmacist shook his head and sighed, "Now, now Lavinia..." 

Aunt Tilly bristled inwardly, but she smiled sweetly and told the woman, “Actually, Elsie’s creams are excellent for the complexion.”

As Mr. Ambercromby paid Elsie, who turned to leave the shop, the sour faced woman patted her own cheek, winked flirtatiously at the pharmacist and announced in a smug tone, “ Well, I certainly don’t need any of that muck for my complexion!”

As she followed Elsie out the door, Aunt Tilly leaned over and gently whispered in the woman’s ear: “Check again, dearie!” 

The customer looked startled, then glanced quickly at her reflection in a mirror on the counter.  The door closed on her shrieks of dismay at the green spots she saw covering her face!

On the other side, Elsie paused, a concerned look on her face.  “What ever was the matter with her?” she asked.  Aunt Tilly swept past her into the street.  “Pretty is as pretty does,” she answered enigmatically.  “Now!  Who’s hungry?”

 

Across the square outside a busy tearoom were a number of little tables and chairs for outside dining.  Elsie and Aunt Tilly settled at one of them, glad to be off their feet for a while. Pooka leaped gracefully onto one of the vacant chairs and Edgar hopped around under the tables searching for fallen tidbits.

 A young waiter bustled over to take their order.  “Let’s see-” murmured Aunt Tilly studying the menu.  “How about a pot of Earl Grey and some raspberry scones?” 

“That sounds good,” nodded Elsie and then as Pooka caught her eye she added, “and may we also have a tuna sandwich without mayonnaise?”

The waiter left to get their tea and Elsie turned to her aunt.  “So, did you find the book you wanted?”

But before Aunt Tilly could reply they were distracted by a cry of dismay from a nearby table.  Craning their necks to see over the heads of the other diners, they saw a pretty young lady leap out of her seat and snatch her baby from the basinet carrier that had been set on the ground next to her.  A dog balanced on three legs, the fourth being hoist into the air over the basinet.  A steady yellow stream arched from between his legs. “Oh you horrid beast” cried the lady as she grabbed napkins from the table to mop off the basinet and the stain that was spreading on her skirts. The dog grinned up at her, tongue lolling out of his mouth.  Suddenly his expression changed as his eyes bugged out in surprise.  He gave a yelp and hastily began hopping away, the offending leg still sticking up at the ridiculous angle.  He ki-yied down the street, hobbling on three legs the whole way. 

Pooka, usually careful to behave like a “normal cat” around the villagers, collapsed on his chair and rolled around in helpless laughter.

Elsie’s eyes narrowed from amazement to suspicion as she looked from the retreating dog to her aunt who’s own face was contorted with suppressed merriment.

“Aunt Tilly…” she began in a dangerous voice.

“Oh honey,” the older woman chuckled. “Now don’t be cross.  It won’t last long. But,” she added, “I’ll wager that mongrel will be more careful the next time he gets the urge to lift his leg!” and with that she exploded into hearty laughter.  This set Pooka off once more and he actually laughed so hard he fell off the chair!

Elsie looked around hastily.  Luckily the people around them were too busy watching the dog and laughing to take any notice of them. She breathed a sigh of relief and picked up the still giggling cat.  “Your sandwich is coming,” she told him. 

 

After lunch, Elsie had a few more deliveries and purchases to make and then they started back through the town towards home. 

As they passed Mr. Ambercromby rushed out of his pharmacy to catch her.  “Elsie!  I need more of that cream!”

Elsie was startled. “I just gave you seven jars.” she reminded him.

“I know,” the little man panted.  “Lavinia Hinkle bought every one of them!”

“But she’s always ridiculed my potions,” Elsie frowned. “Why …?”

Mr. Ambercromby shrugged his shoulders and grinned at her. “She seems to have suddenly developed a highly unusual rash!”

Elsie cocked an eyebrow and glanced toward her aunt, who became very busy studying a shop window display.

“Very well,” she said.  “I’ll make more up as soon as I get home and deliver them tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Elsie” smiled the grateful pharmacist and hurried back into his store.

 

 As they reached the outskirts of the village, Elsie noticed ahead of them Mrs. Kettlesworth, the wife of one of the neighboring farmers.  She was followed by her normally boisterous and unruly brood of children. But now Elsie noticed they were all walking very strangely and stiff legged and amazingly silent.

Mrs. Kettlesworth called over her shoulder to them to “do come along and quit dawdling!”

“Don’t say anything, Elsie,” begged Pooka.  “Those kids always try to pull my tail!”

Elsie ignored him and hailed her neighbor. “Hello Mrs. Kettlesworth!”

The woman smiled as she spotted them.  “Hello there” she waved and waited for the little witch’s group to catch up.  Pooka raced up a tree out of harms way.

Elsie introduced her aunt.  Mrs. Kettlesworth nodded and asked, “Didn’t I see you in the bookstore?”  She turned to the string of children behind her.  “Kids, say hello to Elsie and her aunt.”  But the children just gaped at them with mouths frozen open and didn’t say a word.

Their mother shrugged and told Elsie and Aunt Tilly, “You’ll have to excuse them.  Some silly new game they’ve been playing ever since the bookstore.”

Elsie’s face turned bright red. She looked straight at her aunt as she spoke: “No doubt they’ll be their normal selves by the time they get home, right?”

Aunt Tilly smirked.  “No doubt.”

Mrs. Kettlesworth chuckled.  “Actually, I wouldn’t mind if this game lasted a few more hours!  It’s a nice change!”

They said their goodbyes, and the farmer’s wife, with her stiff legged, silent brood, turned off the lane towards their home.  As soon as they were out of hearing, Elsie rounded on her relative.

“Aunt Tilly, you can’t be doing magic in the village!”

“Why ever not?” asked her aunt startled. “That bunch was a positive menace!  All I did was slow them down and shut them up for a while.”

“Auntie, you can't be tossing magic around the village like that!"

“But Elsie,” her aunt interrupted, “I didn’t hurt anybody.  I just helped things a bit.”

“That’s not the point,” Elsie told her. “Promise me, no more magic in the village!”

“All right,” sighed the older woman crossly.  “If you insist.  But it’s unnatural” she added under her breath, “for a witch not to do magic!”

Elsie heard and put her hand on Aunt Tilly’s arm.  “Oh Auntie, I didn’t say not to do magic.  Just not in the village, okay?”

Her aunt’s face softened and she hugged her niece.  “Okay, honey.   I promise.”

“Thanks Aunt Tilly!” smiled Elsie, very relieved.

 

 That night Elsie stayed up late making more calendula cream for the pharmacist and bagging up extra potpourri for Mrs. Green.  By the time she snuggled down in bed she was very tired.  As she blew out the lamp next to her bed, she looked forward to a bit of quiet the next day, but it was not to be.

 It began at breakfast.  Elsie, Pooka, Edgar and Aunt Tilly had just sat down to fluffy, golden herbed omelets and toast when they heard a gentle rapping on the cottage door.

“Who could that be?” Elsie wondered.  She opened the door and standing there was Mrs. Kettlesworth.

“Oh my!” exclaimed Elsie suddenly worried.  “Are the children all right?  They aren’t still…”

“Oh no!” the woman assured her.  “They’re fine!  In fact, they are a little too fine!  They were extra energetic all night, bouncing on the beds and getting into pillow fights. They didn’t settle down ‘til real late.  And this morning they were racing around my kitchen at first light, making a racket and getting underfoot and, well, after the peace and quiet I got yesterday, I was wondering if you might not have a little something, you know? A tea or what not that I can give them to calm them down a bit?” and she gave Elsie a beseeching look.

Elsie was stunned.  “Mrs. Kettlesworth, they’re children!  It’s normal for them to be a bit rowdy and in high spirits.”

“But I’m exhausted!” the woman wailed.

Aunt Tilly appeared at Elsie’s shoulder.  “Elsie, what about a nice chamomile and catnip tea at bedtime?”

Elsie hesitated.  “Well, that would be alright. And there are some other things I could add that are safe for children.”  She thought to herself that a little discipline wouldn’t hurt either, but it wasn’t her place to say so.  “I’ll get it for you.”

She trotted off to her herb room and returned with the tea.  “One cup at bedtime. “ she instructed the grateful customer.

“Oh thank you Elsie!  Are you sure I can’t just give them each a pot?”

“One cup,” Elsie repeated, smiling.

Mrs. Kettlesworth paid her and left, cradling the tea like it was a priceless treasure.

 After breakfast, Pooka disappeared on Cat Errands.  Aunt Tilly went out to pull weeds in the garden and Elsie was sweeping the kitchen when she recognized Emily Tiddle, the village seamstress, coming up the walk.  Emily was a soft-spoken middle-aged lady who occasionally stopped by for southernwood & cedar sachets to keep the moths from her material.  Opening the cottage door, Elsie greeted her with a smile.  “Back for more sachets already, Miss Tiddle?
Her customer blushed a rosy pink.  “I hope I’m not bothering you at this hour, Elsie.”

“No bother at all,” Elsie assured her.  “Would you like some tea while I get them? I think the kettle is still hot…”
Miss Tiddle shook her head “No” and then seemed to hesitate on the verge of saying something else.

Elsie felt a prick of concern. “Is there anything the matter with the sachets I just sold you?”

Miss Tiddle’s eyes flew open and she stammered, “No! No, not at all! They work wonderfully!  That’s why I wanted some more, you see.”  Again she seemed to hesitate and then the shy woman plunged forward: “Elsie, my hair lately…” She gestured to her tidy brown bun.  “Well, I’ve noticed a bit of gray here and there and it just isn’t as shiny as it used to be.  I hate to seem vain but this morning I woke thinking perhaps you would know something I could put on it, but then you are so young how would you know about aging hair and I really don’t know what I was thinking….” And Miss Tiddle’s voice trailed off in flustered embarrassment.

Elsie smiled and her eyes sparkled with amusement. “Come in, Miss Tiddle.  I think I have just what you need! ”

Miss Tiddle sat primly at the kitchen table while Elsie disappeared back to her herb room.  A few minutes later she returned.  “Here are some more sachets and  here...” She sat a green bottle plugged with a cork, tied with raffia and a rosemary sprig on the table.  “This is a hair rinse made of rosemary, horsetail grass, black walnut, and nettles.  I think you’ll like what it does for your hair!”

Miss Tiddle blushed again and smiled broadly.  “You ARE a dear! I’ll take them all! How much?”

 Emily Tiddle left and Elsie went back to her housework.  The sun was climbing, and she was anxious to be out in the garden before it grew too hot!  She had just gone upstairs to make the bed when Edgar landed on the windowsill.  “Customer!” he cawed. 

Elsie looked up frowning.  “Another one?”

She trotted back downstairs and opened the door.  There on her doorstep stood George, the village baker. “Well!” thought Elsie. “He’s never been here before!”  Aloud she inquired: “May I help you?”

The baker seemed a bit nervous.  “Mr. Ambercromby, the pharmacist, recommended you.  I have a problem and he said you might be able to help.”

”I’ll be happy to try.  What seems to be the matter?” Elsie asked. 

“Well, my hands are in and out of dough all day. I’m always washing them and they get so dry and painful.”  He held out his red and roughened hands for her to see.   “This morning, when I spoke to him – Mr. Ambercromby, that is - he said you’d be just the person to come to!”  The baker’s round face squinted at her hopefully.

“I have just the thing,” Elsie nodded.  “I’ll be right back!”

A few minutes later she reappeared.  “Here,” she said handing him a package.  “This oatmeal and comfrey soap will be more gentle than what you’re probably using!  And there’s a lotion too, made of comfrey, calendula and other herbs that will help the healing.  Rub it in every night.”

“Oh, I will!” cried the grateful baker opening his coin purse. “How much do I owe you?”

 A few more surprise customers showed up before Elsie finally got out into the garden.  It had been  a busy morning!  But now the sun was shining and the bees were humming among the fragrant stalks of lavender.  She and Aunt Tilly made happy conversation as they snipped bunches of oregano and mugwort.

It wasn't long, however, before another customer showed up ...and then another.

They continued to beat a path to her little door all day long and into the evening.  By bedtime,  Elsie was shaking her head in amazement.  "I can't believe how busy it's been today!  Usually there's only a few that come during the week.  Most of my sales take place in the village on Market Day.
 I know we planned a picnic tomorrow, Auntie, but I'm afraid I'll need to spend the day making up more teas and lotions."

“Yes, dear,” smiled Aunt Tilly.  “Business is booming! And don't you worry - we'll do that picnic another day.”  And with that she took her new book and disappeared into her room.

However, the picnic seemed destined to never happen.  Each day became even busier than the last!  Before long customers were lined up on Elsie’s front path waiting their turn in the little kitchen.  She’d never brewed so many pots of tea and her supply of herbs was becoming sadly depleted!  Aunt Tilly took over preparing the meals since Elsie scarcely had time to eat, let alone cook.  People began knocking on her door before breakfast and she worked late into the nights replenishing her stocks of ointments, teas and potions.  

Pooka complained that the only time he saw her was when she was sleeping. Elsie knew she wasn’t even getting enough of that! The little witch was exhausted!

“What is going on here?” she wondered aloud one night in bed.  “It would be easier just to open a shop!  At least then I could keep regular hours!”

Pooka’s eyes gleamed in the moonlight streaming in from the window.  “Maybe you should ask your aunt!” he said.

Elsie sat straight up.  “You don’t think…?”

Pooka curled up at her side and reminded her “You told her not to do magic in the village.  You never said anything about here!”  Then he wrapped his tail around over his nose and purred himself to sleep while Elsie remained awake staring at the ceiling and thinking….

 

The next morning, during a brief lull between customers, Elsie decided to talk to her aunt. “Have you been doing spells to increase business?”

“What business would that be, dear?” Aunt Tilly hedged while spreading jam on her toast.  “I say, this is delicious!  You must give me the recipe!”

“MY business, Aunt Tilly,” Elsie said firmly.  “Have you?”

“You make such wonderful herbal products!” Her aunt beamed fondly at Elsie.  

“Aunt Tilly, I liked my quiet life!  I liked having time to work in my garden and read a book in the evening.  I liked everything the way it was!”  It was the first time Pooka had ever seen Elsie close to crying.  He was quite alarmed and, apparently, so was Aunt Tilly. She rose from her chair and put an arm around her niece.

“There, there, dear.  I was only trying to help!”

Elsie threw her arms around her aunt in a great hug.  “Oh Aunt Tilly!  I love you -  but PLEASE, Don’t help!”

Her aunt hugged her back. “All right, child.  I won’t.”  

Elsie smiled up at the kindly face looking down at her. "Thank you!" she said, very relieved.  Pooka went back to his breakfast without comment. By now, he knew Aunt Tilly was a very impulsive witch and she would still be with them for a while...

 Aunt Tilly’s spell had packed quite a punch and it took a few days for business to gradually wind down. 

 In the mean time, Aunt Tilly was trying her very hardest to be good. She had decided the only way not to get into trouble was to refrain from magic all together. She even had Elsie say the Blessed Be’s at supper in case she slipped up and accidentally inserted a spell for fine weather the next day.

Elsie appreciated her effort, and actually wouldn’t have minded a small charm here and there.  Goodness knows she used them herself to keep the milk from going sour or to encourage her herbs to grow healthy and strong.  But she was afraid to mention this to Aunt Tilly, especially since the older woman didn’t seem to understand what was acceptable in Elsie’s world and what was not.  So Elsie held her tongue and practiced her own little bits of enchantment discreetly.

 However, it all seemed to come to a head one afternoon about a week later….

 It was Market Day again and once more Elsie and Aunt Tilly had gone to town to deliver orders and make their purchases.  One of their stops was, of course, the pharmacist who was still having a run on Elsie’s calendula face cream.  And, once again, Miss Hinkle was at the counter.  She eyed Elsie and Aunt Tilly with a sour expression when they entered.  Mr. Ambercromby called a greeting over the heads of his customers: “Elsie!  Am I glad to see you!  I just this morning sold the last of your face cream!”

Miss Hinkle sniffed disdainfully.  “I don’t see what the fuss is over a little jar of homemade goo!”

Mr. Ambercromby’s eyes twinkled as he reminded her that she herself had bought more of it than anyone!

The woman harrumphed. “That was a very peculiar rash if you ask me!  But I’m sure it would have disappeared by itself anyway without me having to lavish my hard earned money on all those pots of amateur mumbo jumbo!”

Elsie sensed Aunt Tilly next to her beginning to bristle and shot her a warning look.

Mr. Ambercromby however had flushed a bright red and said, “Now, Lavinia, nobody twisted your arm to buy practically every jar I had!”

“Didn’t they?” the woman responded and cut her eyes at Aunt Tilly.  Then, abruptly, she placed a hand on the proprietor’s arm and her tone changed to one of cloying sweetness. “Mr. Ambercromby, you’re a pharmacist.  With all your expert knowledge and experience, I don’t see why you don’t make your own face creams and lotions instead of stocking mysterious potions made by this ignorant little bumpkin with her stupid cat and that ridiculous crow..” and Miss Hinkle began to laugh derisively. She glanced around the shop inviting the other customers to join her.  They didn't and her laughter died as she spotted Aunt Tilly’s purple face advancing toward her through the crowd.

Aunt Tilly shoved her nose in the other woman’s face and hissed, “Listen here, you nasty old prune!  You probably couldn’t even get a cat to stay in the same room with you – sensible creatures that they are!”

Several of the customers hid smiles behind their hands.  Miss Hinkle gasped, “Well I Never…!” but Aunt Tilly wasn’t through.

“Furthermore, if you ever dare to insult my niece again, I’ll make sure you’re eating crow for breakfast – and I DON’T mean the feathered kind!”

Aunt Tilly seemed to have even more to say but Elsie’s hand had reached her arm and was dragging her from the shop.

Once outside, she turned to her aunt with a white face. “ Auntie, you didn’t…I mean, you didn’t DO something to her, did you?”

Aunt Tilly smiled grimly. “No dear. I didn’t, not that she wouldn’t have deserved it!”

Elsie exhaled in relief, then grinned impishly.  “But you sure told her off!”

Aunt Tilly winked back.  “Honey, I was just getting started!” 

Pooka, who’d been waiting outside and missed the commotion, stood up on his hind legs and pawed at Elsie’s apron.  “What happened?” and so they told him.

“I miss all the fun!” he grumbled, his tail lashing back and forth. Then he brightened. “How about making it up to me with a nice tuna sandwich at Gruenwold’s Café?”

But Aunt Tilly said she was tired.  "Do you mind if we just go home?" she asked  and so they did.

 

The next morning Elsie realized that there were some items on her shopping list that, in their hasty departure from the village, she’d forgotten to get.   As she picked up her basket by the door she called to Aunt Tilly, asking if she’d like to join her.  Aunt Tilly’s face poked through the door into the entry hall.  “No dear,” she said.  “I’m tired and have a bit of a headache.  If you don’t mind, I think I’ll stay home today.”

“Of course I don’t mind,” Elsie assured her.  “There’s some white willow bark tea in the herb room that may help your headache and I’ll be home soon.  Come on, Pooks!” and she started off.

 In town, the General Store was as busy as usual and Elsie had to stand in line to pay for the material and thread she needed. As she waited, bits of conversation drifted toward her from a chatting group of customers in the dry goods section.

“Doc Clancy’s sure been working over time,” commented one farmer.

“That woman don’t know nuthin about cows, that’s for plain!” added another.

“Funny him getting a call just after she insults our little Elsie!  You know that girl's a witch,” the first chuckled and a third injected “I’d have hexed the old biddy ages ago if I’d only known how!” 

The men all laughed, but one of their wives scolded, “Now Amos, you don’t need to be spreading talk like that around!  That’s how trouble gets started. And you know Elsie would never do something like that!”

Elsie’s face burned with anger.  Obviously they were discussing Miss Hinkle.  What had Aunt Tilly done?!

She strained to hear more, but the group of customers had moved on to another subject of gossip.  It didn’t matter.  Elsie had heard enough to tell her that Aunt Tilly had broken her promise!

She paid for her purchases and raced home.  Entering the cottage, she slammed the front door behind her (almost catching Pooka’s tail!) and yelled for her aunt. 

Aunt Tilly’s voice answered her from the kitchen.  Elsie threw down her packages and stormed into the room.

“Aunt Tilly, you promised!”

Her aunt looked up from the table where she sat sipping a cup of tea. “Promised what, dear?”

“You promised you wouldn’t do any more magic! And you said you hadn’t done anything to Miss Hinkle!  Outside the pharmacy you told me that!”  Elsie’s fists were clenched tight.

Aunt Tilly nodded and continued sipping her tea.

Elsie folded her arms over her chest and glared at her aunt.  “Well?  What did you do to her cow?”

At this, Aunt Tilly's eyes popped open and she sprang up from the table, repeating: “Her cow?” but at the same moment a high little voice sang out, “Elsie, Pooka, I’m Here!”  

A tiny blur of colorful motion flew in through the kitchen window  and ran smack into Aunt Tilly’s forehead. Thistle, their little fairy friend, bounced off and landed on the kitchen table with a small thump. Blowing a teensy strand of hair out of her eyes, she looked up in surprise at Aunt Tilly.  “Hello.  Who are you?  You have a fever!”

Aunt Tilly rubbed her forehead where the little fairy had collided and murmured vaguely, “I suppose I do.”

“You do?” exclaimed Elsie and peered at her aunt more closely.  Aunt Tilly’s face was flushed and there were circles under her eyes.  “Auntie, you’d better finish that tea and get to bed.  I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Thistle had stood up on the table and was checking her wings for signs of damage but at this her tiny head swiveled from one human to the other.  “Your aunt?”

“Where are you going?” Aunt Tilly asked the little witch.

“To see what I can do about Miss Hinkle’s cow!  I need to try and undo whatever it was you did.” and Elsie headed back out the door again.

“Don’t worry about your aunt,” Thistle called after her.  “I’ll take care of her!”

Closing the door behind her, she suddenly noticed Pooka by her ankles.  “Not this trip, Pooks,” she told him.  “I need you to stay here and keep an eye on things.” 

The cat sat down, not at all happy about this.  He could already hear Tilly and Thistle arguing in the kitchen.  Then he noticed that Elsie had grabbed her broom.  “All right,” he agreed.  Pooka did NOT like flying!

 

Elsie hopped on her broom and set off, keeping low to the trees so as not to be seen.  She cut across fields, practically skimming the ground and keeping a sharp eye out.  Luckily, by now most of the farmers were inside having their noon-day meal.  As she approached Miss Hinkle’s land, she touched down.  Hiding her broom in some bushes Elsie ran the rest of the way to the barn on foot.  She could hear voices coming from inside.  She paused in the doorway.

Doc Clancy, kneeling beside the flank of a sad looking cow, was the first to spot her.  He broke into a wide grin as he recognized his little friend.  “Elsie!  Come on in!”

Miss Hinkle whirled around and glared at the girl as she approached.  “What are you doing here?” she demanded.

“I thought maybe I could help.”

Before Miss Hinkle could say anymore, Doc said, “Why that was very kind of you, Elsie, and I can always use an extra hand!”

“What seems to be the matter?” Elsie asked hesitantly.

Doc had opened up his bag and was removing a syringe.  “Nothing more then a neglected case of mastitis that finally got serious.”  He glanced up at Miss Hinkle.  “You should have called me sooner,” he told her and added, “Elsie, hold this cow’s head while I give her an injection, will you?”

Miss Hinkle reluctantly handed the rope over to Elsie.  “I don’t have money to be calling every time a cow gets a little under the weather!” she told the Doc stiffly.

The cow gave a little moo of protest as she received her shot.  Doc Clancy glanced around the barn. Piles of manure and wet straw filled the stalls.  “If you don’t want to spend money on sick animals, I suggest you clean this place up,” he said bluntly.

“But I’m a just a single woman trying to do everything here by myself!” Miss Hinkle whined. 

“Then I suggest you hire yourself some help. Now, before and after every milking, you need to clean those udders.  Understand?”

Miss Hinkle nodded, scowling.

“And you’re going to need to use a special ointment on them.  Elsie can provide you with that.” Doc added as he bent to put his instruments away.

“Don’t you have any?” Miss Hinkle cried in dismay.

Doc raised an eyebrow at her.  “I usually just have Elsie make it up but if you like I can order something for you.”  He added, “Of course it will take longer to get and be a lot more expensive.”  then winked at Elsie who grinned back at him.

“No, no.  I’m sure if you say so, what ever she has will be fine,” Miss Hinkle sighed grudgingly. 

“All right, then,” Doc said.  “Elsie, how soon can you get that ointment here?”

“I’ll make it up as soon as I get home and have Edgar deliver it.”

“That ugly old crow?” cried Miss Hinkle.  “You mean you’ve got that thing trained to deliver stuff?”

“Edgar’s not ugly and he’s not old and he’s a lot smarter than some people I know!” Elsie shot back.

Doc Clancy chuckled and Miss Hinkle looked surprised.  “Well, I suppose that will be alright, then,” she said slowly.

“Good!” said Doc. “that’s settled then!  I want you to use that ointment every time you milk her and as soon as you spot symptoms in any of the others.  And until you get this place cleaned up, trust me, you will! I’m surprised they’re not all down with it!”

Elsie had been so caught up in the conversation that it just now dawned on her: Aunt Tilly had nothing to do with this situation!  

“I have to get back!”  She handed the rope to Miss Hinkle and told her, “I’ll get your ointment to you!  Good bye!” and she ran out of the barn.

Poor Aunt Tilly!

Elsie retrieved her broom from the bushes and set off, once again at top speed. She couldn’t wait to get home and apologize to her aunt!

 

As she screeched to a halt on her front path, Pooka spotted her from his look-out post in the kitchen window.  He leaped to the ground and ran toward her.

“Elsie! Your aunt really IS sick!” and as Elsie raced to the house she heard him warn her: “But I don’t know if you want to go in there! ”

Ignoring her cat, she ran to Aunt Tilly’s room.  The older woman was in bed, propped with pillows and swatting at the air.

Thistle dodged her hand and kept flying at her mouth while gripping a spoon of sloshing broth.

“I told you I don’t want any, you pesky sprite!”

“You need to eat!” Thistle replied, trying to shove the spoon in her mouth.

“You’re getting it all over the pillows!” Aunt Tilly complained.

“Then open your mouth!” scolded Thistle.

“I will not open my….arghh!”

Thistle yelped in triumph as she succeeded in getting the spoon in – then dodged as Aunt Tilly gave a tremendous sneeze.

She hovered in mid-air, her fists on her tiny hips.  “Will you stop that?!” she demanded.

Aunt Tilly made a face and stuck her tongue out.  “I couldn’t help it!”

Thistle sighed and flew to the dresser to get Tilly a handkerchief.  Spotting Elsie, she cried out in exasperation, “This silly old woman won’t do anything I tell her!”

From the bed, Aunt Tilly grouched “That will be the day – when I let some little pixie boss me around!”

Thistle flew back with the handkerchief and handed it to her patient.  “Well that day is today!” she told her firmly. “Now, shall I read to you?”

Elsie tip toed from the room and gently closed the door behind her.

 

Later that evening, she sent Thistle to gather some chamomile and elder flowers.  Thistle was reluctant to leave Tilly until she learned the herbs were for her.  While the fairy was gone, Elsie took the opportunity to apologize to her aunt.

Aunt Tilly waved away her apology.  “Honey, it’s ok!  But believe me, I would never take my anger out on some poor old cow no matter who the old cow was who owned it!”

“I should have realized that,” sighed Elsie. “I’m so sorry!”

“Over and done with,” replied her aunt.  “Not another word!  Now scoot, child.  I’m tired.  Where’s that scatter-brained fairy?  She promised to read some more to me!”

 

Elsie went into the kitchen and started a pot of potato soup.  Edgar flapped onto the window sill with a loud caw, his package delivered.  Thistle returned with the herbs, eyed Edgar (whom she still worried was going to eat her) then flew straight to Aunt Tilly’s room.  It wasn’t long before Elsie could hear them arguing again. 

Pooka came strolling into the kitchen, rubbed against her ankles, and then sat down to wash himself.  “You know,” he commented between licks, “I think they like it!”

“Who likes what?” Elsie asked as she kneaded some biscuit dough to go with the soup.

“Aunt Tilly and Thistle.  I think they like fighting with each other!”  He gave his tail a final swipe and wandered out again.  Elsie stopped and thought for a moment. “I think he's right,” she chuckled.

 

Aunt Tilly was still ill the next day.  She still had a fever and a strange rash had developed on the palms of her hands.  She was shaky and sneezed a great deal.   Little Thistle dashed back and forth with hankies and fanned Aunt Tilly with her wings.

 “Out of my face, you wretched sprite!”

“Now don’t get all worked up!  You know that’s bad for a fever!” the fairy scolded and continued fanning her.

“Here’s some more tea, Auntie,” said Elsie coming into the room. 

“Thank you, dear.  But it doesn’t seem to be helping.”

“I’ll give it to her!” chirped Thistle.

“Now, Fairy, you know you’ll only spill half of it!” grumbled Aunt Tilly.

“If I don’t give it to you, you won’t drink it!” Thistle told her. “And you have to drink it all!  Every drop!”

Aunt Tilly sighed and rolled her eyes at Elsie.  “See what I put up with?” she asked.

“Complain all you want! You’re going to finish it this time!” Thistle ordered.

Elsie sat down on the bed next to her aunt.  “If I knew what was wrong, I could brew up something more effective,” she said. “But I’ve never seen symptoms like this before!”

“Me either,” sighed her aunt.  “Maybe it’s a virus only witches get?”

“Maybe,” Elsie nodded. She was getting very concerned.  

  And the next day after that Aunt Tilly seemed to be even worse!  Thistle stayed with her constantly. 

That's why Elsie was surprised when the fairy suddenly appeared beside her as she was hanging laundry out on the clothesline.  The tiny creature perched on a clothespin and announced, “Elsie!  I’ve been talking to Aunt Tilly and I think I know what is wrong with her!”

“You do?” blinked Elsie.

“Yes!  I believe she is suffering from Congestive Ethereal Blockage!”

Pooka, who’d been washing himself in the laundry basket, perked his ears. “Say what?”

But Elsie exclaimed,  “Aunt Tilly is sick because she hasn’t been doing magic!  Is that what you mean, Thistle?”

The little fairy nodded and then explained.  “Aunt Tilly is used to doing magic on a daily basis.  But she hasn’t done any for a couple of weeks now.  So, it’s all backing up inside her and making her ill!”

“Thistle, I think you may be right!” cried Elsie.

“So all she has to do is put a spell on someone and she’ll be well?” asked Pooka.

“Well, not exactly,” Elsie frowned.  “She’s pretty weak.  She’ll need to start out with small magics and then work her way up.  It will take some time.”

 

That evening they brought Aunt Tilly out into the parlor.  Elsie settled her in a comfy chair and fetched a pillow for her head.  Thistle jumped up and down on it to fluff it.  “Stop that bouncing, Fairy!”

Thistle ignored the old woman and kept jumping until she was satisfied.  “Ok Elsie!” she said. 

Elsie place the pillow behind her aunt’s head.  “Now, Aunt Tilly, how about a little fire?  Think you can manage it?”

Aunt Tilly stared at the cold grate in concentration.  Pooka sat on the hearth and watched carefully for signs of a flicker.  Nothing happened.

“Maybe it’s still too hard for her,” he commented.

“Nonsense!” exclaimed Thistle from her perch on Aunt Tilly’s shoulder.  She grabbed a lock of Tilly’s gray hair and tugged on it.  “Try harder!” she commanded.

“Ouch!  And quit yelling in my ear, Fairy!” Aunt Tilly’s voice was weak and irritable.  She brushed at the little creature on her shoulder and Thistle went tumbling off backward, landing in between the chair cushions.  She pulled herself out and flew back up to Tilly’s shoulder and sat down.  “Now, try again!”

Elsie shook her head.  Would these two ever stop bickering?

Aunt Tilly, though, leaned forward and gave a mighty effort and was rewarded by a teensy flickering flame on the hearth.

“You did it!”  Thistle clapped her hands and jumped up and down.

“Nothing to brag about!” grumbled Aunt Tilly, but she settled back in her chair, tired but pleased.

Thistle flew over to the log and began blowing on the tiny flame, encouraging it to grow larger.

“Fairy!” cried Aunt Tilly alarmed.  “Get out of there right now!  You’ll scorch your wings!”

Thistle obeyed and flew back to her patient, hugging the old woman’s nose.  “You did it!  I knew you could!”

Aunt Tilly smiled and then suddenly sneezed.  Thistle went flying backwards landing in her lap.  “Sprite!  Are you okay?” Aunt Tilly peered down at her in concern.

“Got a hankie?” laughed the pixie and grabbing a bit of Aunt Tilly’s skirt, proceeded to wipe her self off.

Elsie and Pooka’s laughter was drowned out by Edgar’s jolly caws!

Over the next couple of days, Thistle flipped back and forth between ministering to her patient and badgering her to do more magic.. 

Finally, one morning, Elsie rose early to find Aunt Tilly already seated in the kitchen, still looking a bit wan yet with a touch of color back in her cheeks.  On top of the stove Thistle was happily riding around on the top of a spoon that was all by itself stirring a bubbling pot of oatmeal.  She held out her little arms and threw back her head, crying “Wheeeeeee!”  Aunt Tilly chuckled.

“You seem to be feeling a bit better!” smiled Elsie as she went to get a cup of tea.

“I am some,” nodded Aunt Tilly.

Thistle leaped off the spoon and sailed over to the table.  “She’s feeling a lot better!  Thanks to Me!” she said proudly.

Pooka, who had followed Elsie into the kitchen, asked: “Is that oatmeal? Remember, no raisins!”

“EXTRA raisins!” countered Thistle.  The two glared at each other.

Suddenly, there was a loud Brrrrrrrup and a great billow of purple vapor filled the room!   Thistle went whizzing around the kitchen backwards, an astonished expression on her face.  Pooka’s fur popped straight out in all directions and, from his perch by the window, Edgar began cackling like a chicken! Elsie felt the chair beneath her dancing on its wooden legs. Aunt Tilly's cheeks turned bright pink.

Then, as quickly as it had happened, it was over.  Pooka licked his fur back down frantically and Edgar with a loud crow caw flew out the window to seek his breakfast elsewhere!

“What was THAT?!” exclaimed Elsie as she fanned the remnants of purple smoke from the kitchen with her apron.  Thistle was rolling back and forth on the floor laughing. 

Aunt Tilly blushed even redder and looked quite embarrassed.  "Oh My! Excuse me!" and then she added, sheepishly: "I do suddenly feel much better!"

   

All too soon, Aunt Tilly's visit was over.

Elsie leaned against the door to her aunt’s room and sadly watched her pack.  The old suitcase lying open on the bed and  Aunt Tilly was folding clothes and setting them inside.  Little Thistle was darting about gathering things off of the dressing table.

"I wish you didn't have to leave," she said.

“I know, dear.  I do too, but it’s time,” said her aunt. "Beltane is just around the corner and I'm already late getting back.”

“And I’m going with her!  I was invited!”  Thistle announced happily. She examined the stuffed suitcase and asked: "Shall I sit on that for you so you can close it?"

Aunt Tilly raised an eyebrow at the tiny fairy. 

“I’m going to miss you,” Elsie said sadly.

“And I’ll miss you, dear, “ said her aunt coming over to hug her. “But I'll be back soon.  And you and Pooka will come to visit me, won’t you? And bring Edgar too!”

“We will!” nodded Elsie.

Soon Aunt Tilly was outside, shoving her purple hat firmly down on her head with one hand, her broom in the other hand and her suitcase on the path before her.  Elsie and Pooka stood in the doorway.

“Goodbye, Elsie!  Goodbye, Pooka!” Thistle waved gaily from Aunt Tilly’s shoulder.  

Aunt Tilly hugged her niece with one arm and then leaned down to give Pooks a scratch under the chin.  “I’ll see you two soon!” she promised. "Let's go, fairy!"  She settled herself onto her broom, hooked her suitcase over the handle, then rose gracefully into the air and was off.  

Edgar flew alongside for a bit cawing in his raspy voice (much to Thistle’s dismay!).  Then he turned back around and swooped down, landing on Elsie’s shoulder.  She reached up to stroke his feathers.   

“It’s sure going to be quiet around here!” she told Pooka sadly.  The little cat looked up at her.  Somehow he doubted it!

                                               The end (maybe)  

 

Author's note:

The characters depicted in this story are purely fictitious - with the exceptions of  Pooka, Edgar and Thistle!

 

The stories and pictures on these pages are copyrighted. 
 They may not be reproduced in any fashion
(except for downloading to read to children of course)
without the author/artist's permission. Thank you.

To contact the author/artist, e-mail:  

pookachild@hotmail.com

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