by Will Gray
Why did this name Ginny Gallis create an aura of fear for the youngsters of my village? Who was she? My mother-in-law, who died at the great age of ninety-eight, used to speak about her but, even then, she never admitted she had seen or spoken to Ginny.
I remember being shown the area where Ginny’s cottage used to be and for some reason I could see a slight wisp of white smoke emitting from some left-over ashes. When I mentioned this to one of the locals, a fisherman, he said it was Ginny brewing up some potions, and she was angry because no one had bought any of them.
I have always known that deep sea fishermen are a race of their own. Even in this village, the fishing fraternity still believes in some superstitions. For example, if they saw a nun or a Jackie, a local name for a pig, they would not go to sea that day.
I am not a local man. I had heard so many different stories about this woman that most of the time I didn’t believe them. From what I had gleaned from the elders of the village, this is how I came to view Ginny and to believe that she actually existed.
Her cottage, like many, was a white brick affair, probably constructed with the large chalk pebbles that had fallen from the white cliffs and been shaped by the ebb and flow of the tides. It had glass bottle windows in small frames. The roof was constructed with the peculiar tiles still viewable in some old cottages even to this day. The garden was a conglomeration of local weeds and flowers, with wisteria growing up and over the surrounding walls.
Ginny’s black cat could always be seen lazing on an upturned barrel. At night, the fearless who dared enter her garden were greeted by the spitting and snarling animal whose eyes shone like highly polished ebony. In the dark, the garden took on an eerie feeling. Even the beetles on the trees appeared to grow in size, said one young man who had dared to violate the sanctuary of Ginny’s cottage.
To see Ginny was a regular occurrence to the fishermen. She would be perched on the large stone at the top of the slip leading down to the small harbour. On her knees was a wicker basket full of bottles, each containing a concoction of weed juice. The price was a halfpenny a bottle. Some of the hardy fisherman would say it was good for keeping the warmth in their bones.
The fact that Ginny would be waiting for them made the younger fisherman get up a lot earlier just to miss her. In fact, and in general, they were afraid of her. A refusal to buy her concoction would cause her to curse them with the words, “Beware of the serpents who control the deep. Refuse me once and your punishment is the deep.” Then she would break the proffered bottle on the large stone on which she was sitting.
Many of the fishermen used to laugh at her and throw stones at her out of bravado. Some of the cursed thought better of it and often returned home.
Ginny was a terribly ugly woman, so claimed the people who had seen her. From the stories handed down, it was said she was always dressed in black, and her face was always covered with a cowl.
It was during a storm and, fortunately, none of the locals were at sea because of the weather, when one Isaiah Ingersen entered the local hostelry and claimed he had seen a giant of a man entering Ginny’s house. The giant had been carrying something that Isaiah declared was a harpoon. The fact that Ginny had a visitor was news, and it spread through the small saloon like wildfire. Someone remarked that her husband had been a harpoon man on a whaling ship that sailed out of Whitby.
“Aye he waa but he waa lost at sea some yeers ago.”
“Who towd you that?” Isiah asked.
“Me mother towd me. She said Ginny was never the same when she heard that her husband had died at sea.”
Two or three of the locals left the pub to take a look at Ginny’s cottage. They could see sparks coming out of the chimney, which was nothing out of the ordinary. On returning to the hostelry, Isiah remarked, “Thee kin niver see nowt noo but I did see some yan in the garden. It put the fear of God through me.”
The other men just laughed and carried on with their drinking.
Isiah was not pleased at their suggestion that he was drunk or just making it up. He remarked, “Thee canst laugh and call me a liar. I know what I saw, so thee kin aal wait and see what happens. Me, I dain’t like it and I am off haem.”
Since that night, Ginny Gallis has never been seen again. Some dared to walk up to the garden and would come back saying she must be there because the chimney was smoking. Even the cat was still snarling and spitting away.
Although Ginny was a feared person, she was still part of the folklore of the village, and the villagers were concerned about her disappearance. Villagers, when passing the entrance to her garden, would say to each other, “I wonder where she is?”
One morning at about four, the local men were walking towards the harbour to go out fishing. When they passed the cottage, they swore that they heard the whalers’ cry, “Whale tha she blows!” Then the cottage exploded in a ball of flame. There was a shout, “Let it burn.”
And it did burn. The whole of it was reduced to ashes. No one ever saw Ginny again, and her death was likened to the burning of a witch. Even to this day the locals wonder what happened to her. “Be careful: that’s where Ginny lived.”
Can you believe it? In this day and age, that fear still exists.
Copyright © 2009 by Will Gray