Tom Upcott was a farmer from the parish of Walkhampton, he lived on a small, remote farm with his wife and two boys. One morning, as he was about to drove some bullocks to Tavistock market, his wife dashed out into the yard. “Tummas” she yelled, “I want ee to get a foo things to Tavistock, I knawed ee ‘ud never mind ’em so I ‘ave penned um down on paper fur ee”. With that she handed over a neatly folded piece of paper. Tom looked at the note and sighed, “Prabably fur the best, us’ll ‘ave to git some’un to read it fur I, ee knawed I bant no skollard”. His wife nodded, “ess but anybody’ll ull raid it fur ee in Tavvy, ee knaw’d that.” With that Tom stuffed the paper into his pocket, whistled his dog and mounted his pony.
It was a ‘hansum’ morning and so the farmer and his bullocks were in no hurry, he was looking forward to some ale and ‘newsin’ with his friends and hopefully a good price for his bullocks. As they approached the sharp bend near Huckworthy Bridge a small figure came scurrying around the corner. The speed at which they appeared startled the bullocks and made the pony swerve into the road, just missing what the farmer could now see was an old lady. Tom recognised the woman as ‘Old Mary Mallop’ who lived nearby and was rumoured to have knowledge of the ‘black art’. Having got the pony back under control the farmer nervously approached the old maid, ” I be mortal sorry missus, tis a young colt and ee startled un,” Tom mumbled. ‘Old Mary’ was having none of it, she was fair spitting, “That’s the way you ride ‘pon the public highway be it,” she screeched, “You’ve no care for an old soul like me, but I tell ee what, I wan’t be upset by no mortal, specially ee Tom Upcott, an’ I’ll tell ee summat else, ee u’ll suffer for what ee dun, mark my words, ee u’ll suffer.” With that she flicked two fingers up, spat between them and scuttled off.
Poor old Tom continued down the road towards Whitchurch, “I hope ‘er ‘ent ill-wished I” he said to the pony as he patted it for comfort.” “Her’s a spiteful ole toad so um say, an I’ve a bin an crossed ‘er”. By the time they got to Whitchurch, Tom was ‘spitting feathers’ and decided to call in the small inn for some ale. He drove the bullocks into small field and set the dog to mind them. Inside he found another moor farmer who he knew well and so took his foaming tankard over to his table. Whilst they were ‘newsin’ he remembered about the note his wife had given him and so asked his friend to read it out. The farmer took the note and studied it intently for a few minutes, then a frown as deep as a plough furrow came across his brow and he started to read: “Well the fust thing it says is ‘Six pennard of green vardy’. Tom nodded and inwardly digested the first item. His friend continued, “second thing it says is ‘wan pound an’ a-half of hay’, ess that’s wat it reads.” Tom looked up, “what, us ‘as a tallet full of hay, wat do ‘er wan more fur?” His friend re-examined the note, “Sorry, I missed read un, ‘wan pound an’ a-half of tay’, ess praper drinking tay.” Tom nodded, “ess us drinks a lot of tay.” Next on the list was “six pennard o’ gin.” Tom frowned again, ” six pennard of gin, wat use be that to anyone, tis nought but a swallow.” The farmer pulled the note closer to his face, “Aw, bless I, tis ‘six pennard of ginger’, oh an’ ‘a quart of vinegar, two poun’s o’ currants an’ an ounce of allspice. Tom grimaced, “allspice, I ‘ates that tack but mother says her likes to put un in the cakes, zo allspice tis.” The list grew longer, “six pounds o’ dry fish, an’ six pounds o’ sugar, quarter poun’ o’ bakin’ powder, and wan poun’ o’ plain biscuits.” By now Tom was fed up, “I ‘ave only got me pawny, if I ‘ud knaw ‘er wanted the shop I ‘ud brought the old cart hoss, poor blimmer, ee u’ll be knackered by time ee gits hawm.” No more was said about the shopping list, instead the talk turned to matters more agricultural.
When Tom finally dragged himself out of the inn he was distraught to see the field where his bullocks were left was empty and his dog gone. He whistled and whistled but no dog and so mounted the pony to set off in search of both bullocks and dog. He went up this lane and down that lane but there was no sign of his animals. By now his temper was getting short, it would soon be too late to get to the market and he knew that eventually his cattle would end up in the pound and that meant spending money to get them out. Then he remembered his encounter with Mary Mallop, “tis, the old woman’s doing, I’m bewitched fur sartin” he said, “knawed her be a vengeful awld toad.”
With that he gloomily made his way to Tavistock. There was no point in going to the market so he would just get the shopping and head home. He entered the grocery shop and stood a while trying to recall the items on the list, all he could remember was gin. He fumbled in his pockets for the list but to no avail, he had lost the list. “I knawed it I be cussed, I must do the best I can without ‘n”. So he filled his basket, tied it on the pony and deep in thought made for home. All he could think of was his bullocks, what really irked him was that a couple of days previous a local cattle dealer visited the farm and offered him a good price for them. It was at least two pounds more than he hoped to get from market but the dealer wanted them straight away because all the cattle he was buying had to be at the railway station that day. Unfortunately the bullocks were up on the moor and by the time Tom would have brought them down the train would have gone, consequently he had to refuse the dealers offer. Now he had nothing because the bullocks had vanished all together, “I’m bewitched fur sartin,” he said.
Eventually he got back to the farm and walked into the kitchen where he heaved the basket on the kitchen table. His wife bustled in and started to unpack the groceries, “my goodniss, what on earth ‘ave he brung back,” she exclaimed, “there’s ‘nough vardy here to last a century.” Tom sighed, “I’m bewitched,” he moaned. His wife looked around, “daun’t ee talk such nonsense, you’m bin drinkin’ an’ that’s the only thing a bewitchin’ ee.” Tom slowly shook his head, “bewitched,” he groaned.
Mother carried on unpacking the basket, “aw now look at the tay, tis naught but a vew cup fulls,” she scalded. “an’ look ‘ere there be ‘nough ginger to fill a buckit, an’ call that two pound o’ currants, my lord tain’t ‘nough fur a bun.” Tom put his head in his hands and slumped on the table, “I tell ee, I’m bewitched mother, old Mary Mallop ‘as bewitched I.”
By now his wife was stood infront of him, arms akimbo on her wide hips, “ess, I u’ll bewitch ee afore long, where’s me dried fish, an’ me vinegar, an’ what be I to do with all this bakin powder for lordy’s sake,” Tom meekly took his head out of his hands and looked up, “I fogot ’em” he muttered, “tis the work of Mary Mallop, ‘er bewitched I so as I ‘ud forgit ’em.”
His wife stormed out of the room and made for the dairy where plenty of muttering and moaning could be heard. Tom decided to make himself scarce and so went up to the top newtake. When he thought he could stay out no longer he slowly made his way back down to the farm. All was in silence and so Tom decided the safest place would be the barn. No sooner had he stepped into it than ‘mother’ was upon him, she clearly had not forgiven or forgot, “n’other thing Tom Upcott, how much did the bullocks make?” she demanded. He knew this was going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and guiltily replied, “I’ve a lost mun,” not daring to look at her. There was an awful silence followed by a massive nasal inhalation of breath, then another silence. Tom looked up, she was wearing a condescending smirk, “beware the smiling fox,” Tom thought. It was like waiting for a firework to explode and finally she did, “bewitched, bewitched, get in that kitchen now Thomas Upcott.” She drove him across that farmyard like a recalcitrant bullock, it was a good job she didn’t have a switch to hand or Tom knew he would have felt it.
The kitchen table was still laden with his purchases, “the only thing ee got right was the gin, and I wunner why that was, an’ what on earth did ee buy these packets of sweets fur?” Tom started to stutter, “I tell ee I’m bewitched, an the grocery man said that them sweets be ‘surprise sweets’ ’cause some o’ ’em ‘ave a gold sovereign in ’em.” Mrs Upcott picked up the packets and flung them at Tom, “aw, ‘ave um indeed, then ee find un.” Tom started to tear open the packets, “I’m bewitched, old Mary Mallop ‘as bewitched I” he complained. His wife said nothing just scowled at him and the growing pile of empty sweet packets. All of a sudden as the farmer opened the last packet he gave out a whoop of joy, “ah, told ee so, look a gold sovereign, p’raps t’wunt a waste of money after all.”
There came a loud knock at the door and Tom opened it to find the cattle dealer stood in the porch. It transpired that he had another load of cattle going out from Princetown and wanted a few more head to make up the shipment and so would offer Tom the same price as before. Tom was in a quandary, he would love to sell his bullocks if only he knew where they were. His hesitation was taken by the dealer to mean a reluctance to sell and so he said, “come on farmer, let’s have a deal, tell you what I will up the price another two pound a head, take the cash and I will collect the cattle on my way back.” Tom stared at him “collect the cattle” he said. “Yes the farmer said, I see you have them on the common by the road, I recognised them from before.” Tom said nothing, he just eagerly spat on his palm and grabbed the dealers hand.
Once the bullocks had been gathered Tom triumphantly returned to the kitchen. Bravely he walked up to his wife and said, “there now, a sovereign from the sweets, four poun’ a head extra fur the bullocks, I reckon us can stand a bit o’ extra ginger and no tay,” he jubilantly cried, “Old Mary Mallop kin go whistle, I bain’t bewitched no more and niver agin u’ll I fret about her.”