Alyce backed out of the cottage, then turned and ran up the path to theroad, she didn't know why or where. She will be back soon, and then yourbabe will be born. Suddenly theboy with red hair lost his footing on the slippery bank and tumbled into thechurning river. So she went on ahead. . She was small and pale, with thefrightened air of an ill- used child, but her scrawny, underfed body did giveoff a hint of woman, so perhaps she was twelve or thirteen. To Alyce it sounded allthe more frightening and strange, as if a goose had spoken, or an egg, or thedung heap in the yard.
At first she made to stretch and smile and face a fine new day; then sheremembered. What other qualities did Alyce have that helped her survive and succeed. Here readers follow the satisfying, literal and figurative journey of a homeless, nameless child called Brat. The next day, the strange delicate hoofprints were found walking aroundDick's granny's cottage and through the barley field. You goin and wipe Joan's face and I will be back as soon as I can. Will shows up at the inn and tells Alyce in a friendly way that she is not a failure, that she can't be expected to know everything.
She had not dared yet say it aloud, but now that she had said it to themidwife, she wanted to tell everyone. Likely the Devil had tricked theboys into laziness, for they were found asleep and given a sound beating. Most ofthe villagers still paid no attention to Alyce at all. Jane arrives and easily assists the mother while Alyce watches. Alyce dozed there in the wet through the long hours of the night. There, lying on the ground as ifscattered by God just for Alyce, were apples, red and yellow, large andsmall, sweet and tart, firm and juicy.
But the girl noticed and, on thatfrosty night, burrowed deep into the warm, rotting muck, heedless of thesmell. Andthe cat went with her. Even Beetle shared in the sudden blooming of bread and didn't ask whyuntil, her stomach finally full, she found her mind empty and casting aboutfor something to figure out. Soft felt hat and someone's breeches. Out was where the cat was. Q was by far the most beautiful, she thought,even if it could not stand alone and must be accompanied everywhere by thecompliant U. But the baby would notcome, as if he were holding tight to his mother, reluctant to be separate andalone, and Alyce, although able to ease a willing baby into the world, had noidea how to encourage a reluctant one.
She never dared get close, for she was afraid, but even from a distance couldtell that there was a gleaming patch of white in the dusty orange of his fur,right below his chin; that one ear had a great bite taken out of it; and that hiswhiskers were cockeyed, going up on one side and down on the other, givinghim a frisky, cheerful look. At any other time she would have enjoyed the visit, fornever had she been in such a luxurious dwelling, with two rooms downstairsand a loft above and a high soft bed all enclosed by curtains such as the kingor the pope must sleep in. Let's go tie knots in his breeches. From this point on Beetle takes the name Alyce. I mean you no harm. Sometimestoo she thought of the boy she had sent to the manor and wondered how hefared and if she had at least done that right.
The Cat Beetle liked to watch the cat stretching in the sunshine, combing his bellywith his tongue, chewing the burrs and stubble out from between his toes. So he straightened his tunic and went, looking back once tothrow a brave, shaky grin at Alyce. For long minutes she held the comb, looked at it this way and that, smelledthe fragrant wood, and admired the sleeping cat. Her nostrils quivered at thesmells of roasting meats and fresh hot bread and pies stuffed with pork andraisins, but her guts still trembled with excitement, and she was content lustto smell. The summer sun, the press of the curious crowd, and theexertions of the reluctant mother-to-be warmed the room to the point thatBeetle felt she was in Hell, being attacked by demons, and her screamsjoined the rest.
Rub her head and belly. As September turned to October and October to November, through allthose days, Alyce grew in knowledge and skills. She discovered that an eggshell full of the juice of leeks and mallows willmake a labour quicker, that rubbing the mother's belly with the blood of acrane can make it easier; that birthwort roots and flowers can strengthencontractions in a reluctant mother and that, if all else fails, the midwife canshout into the birth passage, 'Infant, come forward! Sometimes for her help or advice someone would pay her aribbon or an egg or a loaf of cheese or bread, which she always gave to themidwife, as if Alyce herself were just the midwife's hand or arm, doing thework and receiving the pay but taking no credit for the task. Her father, Robert Weaver, and her husband, Thomas the Stutterer, tried tocarry her back to their cottage, but she screamed and threw her arms about,so there was nothing to do but mound up some clean straw for a bed andbring the midwife out to the field. Beetle raced to the dairy, thrust the greasy ointment at Meg, grabbedthe eggs and the butter, tied them in her skirt, and ran by her secret hiddenway to the field by the Old North Road. What has hoofs, is larger than a goat, and moredelicate than a boar, and walks our village by night but stops outside thedoor of the church? An hour's walk brought them to the cross- roads where the road from thevillage met the road to the sea, and there Alyce could see, through the wetNovember dawn, a light.
For listening to the Devil, Grommet was made to spend the night in prayerand fasting. Beetle leaned over the horse troughand examined her hair in the still water. They have a daughter; Leah. It wasas cold and dark inside her as out in the frosty night. Beetle took advantage of Will's distraction to duck beneath his arm, loopher skirts between her legs, and take off down the road to the river. The midwife, needing to replenish her stores of leather flasks, nutmeg,pepper, and the water in which a murderer had washed his hands, madeplans to attend the Saint Swithin's Day Fair at Gobnet-Under-Green. The cat woundhimself around Beetle's ankle and purred.