Folktale Friday: “The Witch of Westborough,” By Margaret Anderson

Many years ago in the village of Westborough there lived a woman named Ruth Buck. Ruth Buck was stout and always wore a plaid kerchief on her head. She wandered from house to house plying her trade as a seamstress. She had a very sharp tongue and the children were frightened at the sight of her.

Many farmers and their wives were very superstitious and looked on Ruth with suspicion. You see many in the town believed she was a witch. Whenever the cows did not give milk or the sheep got sick everyone would blame Ruth Buck.

One day a prosperous farmer named John Belknap was loading his wagon with eggs. He was going to travel up the turnpike to Boston and sell them at a handsome profit. John and his hired hand, Eli, loaded the wagon until it was completely full. They carefully placed a board across the back to make sure the eggs would not fall.

John and Eli were working so hard that they did not see Ruth Buck walking up the hill. Ruth called to them, “Good day, Squire Belknap, and where might you be going? Your wagon is loaded particularly full. Would you be so kind as to give me a few eggs, you have so many a few will hardly be missed.”

John Belknap was not glad to see Ruth. He was anxious to get started on his long journey and did not want to be bothered. “I have not time for you, Ruth,” he said. “I must get started for Boston if I am to arrive there by nightfall. I will not tive you any of my eggs. They are packed and ready to be sold.

Eli looked at his master with surprise. “Mr. Belknap, what are you doing? Don’t anger Ruth Buck for you know what they say about her, she is a witch,” he said. John Belknap knew what the townfolk said about Ruth, but he was a sober man who did not consider such things. “Eli, I do not believe in old farmer’s wives tales.”

Ruth grew angry. “I ask you again, Squire Belknap, will you give me some of those eggs?” “No, I must be going so be off with you,” replied John. Ruth looked at him with cold, beady eyes and said, “Squire Belknap, you will never get those eggs to market. I promise you that all the eggs will be broken before you reach Boston, and you will never receive a penny for them.” She walked off leaving an angry John and a scared Eli.

John and Eli clicked the reigns and the horses pulled the wagon through the village of Westborough. The sun was shining and the day was warm. They soon forgot about Ruth Buck. They traveled down the Boston Turnpike through Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, and Newton. The sun was beginning to set as they started to climb Chestnut Hill. Midway up the hill the horses stopped and nothing could persuade them to go further.

John Belknap grew impatient and handed the reigns to Eli. “I will pull them you hold tight,” he said. He grabbed the bridles and pulled the horses until they reluctantly moved forward. The horses stopped again and all of a sudden there was a crash. The board on the back of the wagon fell to the ground and all the eggs tumbled out. Eli and John ran to the back of the wagon and found ALL of the eggs were broken.

All they could do was look at each other and think of what Ruth Buck had said. She was right, none of the eggs had reached Boston. John Belknap had to turn his wagon around and go home. He made no handsome profit selling his eggs at the market that day.

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Note that various versions of the same folk tale will be published so as to compare how each are told.

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