A Touch of the Witch
June Wetherell | Lancer Books | 1969 | 189 pages
Enticed by the prospect of inheriting an old house from a recently deceased relative she never knew existed, Melanie Clauseven is lured out to the New England countryside by a handwritten letter with no return address. Arriving at the appointed destination with her bohemian love-interest Gabriel, Melanie discovers that her potential inheritance is not much more than a ramshackle cabin. Further, the writer of the letter, Whip Benedict, reveals himself to be a distant relative of Melanie’s deceased father, rather than a solicitor handling the estate. Whip seems surprised to find the cabin occupied by Ursula, a feral young girl who speaks in an archaic manner and reacts with surprise to the trappings of modern life.
Deciding to stay the night following a sudden downpour, Melanie is awakened by the sound of people gathering in one of the unused rooms in the original part of the house. Creeping downstairs, she stumbles upon the performance of some occult ritual at a makeshift altar, with Ursula at the center of the proceedings. The next morning, Whip tries to dismiss Melanie’s discovery as a nightmare, but Ursula has suspiciously vanished, and the car has been vandalized—leaving Melanie stranded. Although still denying the ritual in the cabin, Whip confesses a shared family history of witchcraft, and pleads for Melanie’s assistance in a matter he is reluctant to explain further.
A Touch of the Witch, at only 189 large-type pages, unfolds more like a stage play than a fully realized novel, with four characters interacting in a single location over the course of one rain-soaked weekend. With Whip being the last surviving member of two family lines in a small village that actually drowned his great-grandmother for being a witch, it’s hard to imagine who exactly is making up this modern coven meeting secretly in his cabin. The introduction of a possible lost treasure, akin to a leprechaun’s pot of gold, only adds a groan-worthy cliche to the story.
The reveal of Ursula’s true identity comes with little surprise, and a tantalizing possibility teased by Whip while discussing his family origins—namely the “Claus” in Clauseven—disappointingly fails to materialize into Krampus, partner to Santa and seasonal punisher of mischievous children from paganistic folklore.