The Apprenticeship of Molly Chant

Skilled Healer or Savvy Witch?

Chapter 1 : Excerpt

PART ONE

County Cork, Ireland

April 1869

Molly Chant stood on the docks of Cork in a blood-soaked frock, her hands burning, and her life not worth a tinker’s cuss. Witchcraft, they said in the courtroom, and no one in Ireland accused of it for over a hundred years. Her only friend in the world, Mick, waited for her on the deck of The Myrtle, a shipbound for the desolate island of Newfoundland.

Readjusting the small pack he carried over his shoulder, Mick reached toward her. “Come on, then. Give me yer hand.”

Her mouth dried, her throat ached. She had to get away from here. From the danger of being caught. She knew nothing of the place he planned to take her to, except it was a colony across the ocean, and going to the colonies was never a good thing. Stories abounded of starvation, murder, and other—more shameful—deeds.

“Molly. We have to hurry.”

She shook her head, the ends of her long black hair stiff with blood. The stink of piss and filth coming off her body, stark reminders of the horrors of prison over the last few days. But how could she go and leave them? They were her family. “Mick. What about Bridget? She’ll need—.”

“Molly, please. Bridget is gone and ’tis hanged you’ll be if you stay.”

“Hanged for what? We did nothing wrong.”

“The law doesn’t see it that way. You’ll be safe on the ship. But Alfie and Mariah, they’ll be run off the land, left to starve if you go back.”

“Can we ever return, Mick? How many years will I wait?”

His voice dropped and he pulled his brows together. “When Ireland’s free of the English. Next year, two years at most. I promise ye, Molly.”

His hand, pale against the dark hull of the ship, lay face up, beckoning her. Bridget’s voice sounded in her head ‘Molly, girl. Be careful with Mick. He’s trouble. Not to be trusted.’

“But ‘twas lies, all lies. I tried to tell them. Bridget and I are not witches. We didn’t hurt anyone.”

“I know that. But it’s more than that we’re running from now, isn’t it?” His voice, although hushed in the shadows, came clear to her.

“I did it to save you. I had no other choice.”

“So you’ll tell that to the court and expect they’ll believe you?”

“I can’t leave Bridget.”

“Feck sakes, Molly. Just give me yer hand.”

 Her life was here, her family, her work, and…the threat of hanging for murder. But once she stepped foot on that ship, she’d never see Ireland—never see her family—again.

As much as it cut into her heart, there was no other choice.

She held on to his hand until she found her footing on the deck. ‘Twas as if she had stepped up to the gallows, waited for the hangman to put the sack over her face.

“Stay here ’til I find out who’s on watch.” Mick walked away.

She swayed with the ship, wrapped her arms around herself to keep warm against the breeze cooled by the dark night, dampened by the river. The journey to the courtroom and through the prison had been hard, but not nearly as hard as fighting off Paddy and breaking out, away from the cold and the filth and the blood. Her legs and feet ached from skulking around, one corner to the next, to avoid thieves, drunks, and the police. Running, that’s what she was doing and not taking a single moment to think. Was this the right place to go? Mick said it was, said he’d care for her, in fact he’d promised. But Bridget said…. She balled her hands into fists. Seems like she couldn’t even trust herself these days.

They had gone to trial, she and Bridget, accused of witchcraft, of spoiling crops, causing death. She told the truth when she said they gave medicines and prayed over the sick and dying. The Justice of the Peace twisted her words, calling their medicines ‘potions’ and their prayers to the Mother, ‘spells and incantations, the very work of witches and devils’.

Leaning on the rail now, Molly stared into the murky Lee River below. Bridget. Dear sweet Bridget. Her heart ached.

“I’d not be thinkin’ of jumping in there, lass.” A tall man, his smile comforting and his voice gentle, leaned against the wheelhouse, strong arms crossed in front of him.

“I’ve no intention, sir.”

“Then why so sad?”

“’Tis more than I can speak of.”

“Aye.’ He sighed. “A lost lover, then?”

“No. I been told lovers can be found anywhere, anytime. I lost a true friend.”

Mick came around the side and stopped. “There you be Ignatius. Are ye on watch?”

“I am. Your Uncle Seamus and Mr. O’Rourke was late gettin’ back from the pub.” He straightened.

“Is Uncle still sleeping?”

“He is, and ye best not wake him.” Ignatius pushed away from the wall and walked toward her, his dark eyes never leaving her face. “And who’s the fine colleen here?”

“Molly. She’s sailing with us to Newfoundland.”

“Part of the cargo?”

“No.”

“What, then? Seamus don’t abide the sale of Irish folk into service in the colonies.”

Mick moved closer. “She’s a guest on this ship. That’s all you need to know.”

Ignatius smiled and tipped an invisible hat. “Welcome aboard.” He walked away, sauntered downstairs to the deck below, dark curls pulled back and tied with a leather thong bouncing against his back.

Uneasiness flared up. She moved closer to Mick. “What was that all about?”

“Nothing. Keep yerself out of sight as much as possible until we’re out of port. Uncle Seamus’ll be up soon.” Mick ambled toward the stairway.

She followed. “Who was that man?”

He stopped, turned. “Ignatius? Just a lad out of Waterford. Been sailing with Uncle for five or six years now. Why?”

“No reason.” He pulled down his brow. A scowl shadowed his face. “You best stay away from Ignatius Flynn. Not right in the head, if you know what I mean.” He took her hand, led her along. “Now wait here.”


She walked on, counting on her threat making good in the future. Men here came to her all the time for various complaints and she cured them. Few would ever give her credit for it.

Molly Chant


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