Aunt Rachel’s Curse

Intermediate
3 min read
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    On a headland near Plymouth lived “Aunt Rachel,” a reputed seer, who made a scant livelihood by forecasting the future for such seagoing people as had crossed her palm. The crew of a certain brig came to see her on the day before sailing, and she reproached one of the lads for keeping bad company. “Avast, there, granny,” interrupted another, who took the chiding to himself. “None of your slack, or I’ll put a stopper on your gab.” The old woman sprang erect. Levelling her skinny finger at the man, she screamed, “Moon cursers! You have set false beacons and wrecked ships for plunder. It was your fathers and mothers who decoyed a brig to these sands and left me childless and a widow. He who rides the pale horse be your guide, and you be of the number who follow him!”

    That night old Rachel’s house was burned, and she barely escaped with her life, but when it was time for the brig to sail she took her place among the townfolk who were to see it off. The owner of the brig tried to console her for the loss of the house. “I need it no longer,” she answered, “for the narrow house will soon be mine, and you wretches cannot burn that. But you! Who will console you for the loss of your brig?”

    “My brig is stanch. She has already passed the worst shoal in the bay.”

    “But she carries a curse. She cannot swim long.”

    As each successive rock and bar was passed the old woman leaned forward, her hand shaking, her gray locks flying, her eyes starting, her lips mumbling maledictions, “like an evil spirit, chiding forth the storms as ministers of vengeance.” The last shoal was passed, the merchant sighed with relief at seeing the vessel now safely on her course, when the woman uttered a harsh cry, and raised her hand as if to command silence until something happened that she evidently expected. For this the onlookers had not long to wait: the brig halted and trembled—her sails shook in the wind, her crew were seen trying to free the cutter—then she careened and sank until only her mast-heads stood out of the water. Most of the company ran for boats and lines, and few saw Rachel pitch forward on the earth-dead, with a fierce smile of exultation on her face. The rescuers came back with all the crew, save one—the man who had challenged the old woman and revengefully burned her cabin. Rachel’s body was buried where her house had stood, and the rock—before unknown—where the brig had broken long bore the name of Rachel’s Curse.

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