Read CHAPTER VII of Dulcibel A Tale of Old Salem , free online book, by Henry Peterson, on

A Conversation with Dulcibel.

As Dulcibel sat in the little room which she had furnished in a pretty but simple way for a parlor, some days after the meeting of the ministers, her thoughts naturally dwelt upon all these exciting events which were occurring around her. It was an April day, and the snow had melted earlier than usual, and it seemed as if the spring might be an exceptionally forward one. The sun was pleasantly warm, and the wind blowing soft and gently from the south; and a canary bird in the rustic cage that hung on the wall was singing at intervals a hymn of rejoicing at the coming of the spring. The bird was one that had been given her by a distinguished sea-captain of Boston town, who had brought it home from the West Indies. Dulcibel had tamed and petted it, until she could let it out from the cage and allow it to fly around the room; then, at the words, “Come Cherry,” as she opened the little door of the cage, the bird would fly in again, knowing that he would be rewarded for his good conduct with a little piece of sweet cake.

Cherry would perch on her finger and sing his prettiest strains on some occasions; and at others eat out of her hand. But his prettiest feat was to kiss his mistress by putting his little beak to her lips, when she would say in a caressing tone, “Kiss me, pretty Cherry.”

After playing with the canary for a little while, Dulcibel sighed and put him back in his cage, hearing a knock at the front door of the cottage. And she had just turned from the cage to take a seat, when the door opened and two persons entered.

“I am glad to see you, friends,” she said calmly, inviting them to be seated.

It was Joseph Putnam, accompanied by his friend and visitor, Ellis Raymond, the young man of whom Dulcibel had spoken to Jethro Sands.

Joseph Putnam was one of that somewhat distinguished family from whom came the Putnams of Revolutionary fame; Major-General Israel Putnam, the wolf-slayer, being one of his younger children. He, the father I mean, was a man of fine, athletic frame, not only of body but of mind. He was one of the very few in Salem village who despised the whole witch-delusion from the beginning. He did not disbelieve in the existence of witches or that the devil was tormenting the “afflicted children” but that faith should be put in their wild stories was quite another matter.

Of his companion, Master Ellis Raymond, I find no other certain account anywhere than in my Quaker friend’s manuscript. From the little that is there given of personal description I have only the three phrases “a comelie young man,” “a very quick-witted person,” “a very determined and courageous man,” out of which to build a physical and spiritual description. And so I think it rather safer to leave the portraiture to the imagination of my readers.

“Do you expect to remain long in Salem?” asked Dulcibel.

“I do not know yet,” was the reply. “I came that I might see what prospects the new world holds out to young men.”

“I want Master Raymond to purchase the Orchard Farm, and settle down among us,” said Joseph Putnam. “It can be bought I think.”

“I have heard people say the price is a very high one,” said Dulcibel.

“It is high but the land is worth the money. In twenty years it will seem very low. My father saw the time when a good cow was worth as much as a fifty-acre farm, but land is continually rising in value.”

“I shall look farther south before deciding,” said Raymond. “I am told the land is better there; besides there are too many witches here,” and he smiled.

“We have been up to see my brother Thomas,” continued Joseph Putnam. “He always has had the reputation of being a sober-headed man, but he is all off his balance now.”

“What does Mistress Putnam say?” asked Dulcibel.

“Oh, she is at the bottom of all his craziness, she and that elfish daughter. Sister Ann is a very intelligent woman in some respects, but she is wild upon this question.”

“I am told by the neighbors that the child is greatly afflicted.”

“She came in the room while we were there,” responded Master Raymond. “I knew not what to make of it. She flung herself down on the floor, she crept under the table, she shrieked, she said Goody Osburn was sticking pins in her, and wound up by going into convulsions.”

“What can it all mean? it is terrible,” said Dulcibel.

“Well, the Doctor says she is suffering under an ‘evil hand,’ and the ministers have given their solemn opinion that she is bewitched; and brother Thomas and Sister Ann, and about all the rest of the family agree with them.”

“I am afraid it will go hard with those two old women,” interposed Ellis Raymond.

“They will hang them as sure as they are tried,” answered Joseph Putnam. “Not that it makes much difference, for neither of them is much to speak of; but they have a right to a fair trial nevertheless, and they cannot get such a thing just now in Salem village.

“I can hardly believe there are such things as witches,” said Dulcibel, “and if there are, I do not believe the good Lord would allow them to torment innocent children.”

“Oh, I don’t know that it will do to say there are no witches,” replied Joseph Putnam gravely. “It seems to me we must give up the Bible if we say that. For the Old Testament expressly commands that we must not suffer a witch to live; and it would be absurd to give such a command if there were no such persons as witches.”

“I suppose it must be so,” admitted Dulcibel, with a deep sigh.

“And then again in the New Testament we have continual references to persons possessed with devils, and others who had familiar spirits, and if such persons existed then, why not now?”

“Oh, of course, it is so,” again admitted Dulcibel with even a deeper sigh than before.

But even in that day, outside of the Puritan and other religious bodies, there were unbelievers; and Ellis Raymond had allowed himself to smile once or twice, unperceived by the others, during their conversation. Thus we read in the life of that eminent jurist, the Honorable Francis North, who presided at a trial for witchcraft about ten years before the period of which we are writing, that he looked upon the whole thing as a vulgar delusion, though he said it was necessary to be very careful to conceal such opinions from the juries of the time, or else they would set down the judges at once as irreligious persons, and bring in the prisoners guilty.

“I am not so certain of it,” said Ellis Raymond.

“How! What do you mean, Master Raymond?” exclaimed Joseph Putnam; like all his family, he was orthodox to the bone in his opinions.

“My idea is that in the old times they supposed all distracted and insane people especially the violent ones, the maniacs to be possessed with devils.”

“Do you think so?” queried Dulcibel in a glad voice, a light seeming to break in upon her.

“Well, I take it for granted that there were plenty of insane people in the old times as there are now; and yet I see no mention of them as such, in either the Old or the New Testament.”

“I never thought of that before; it seems to me a very reasonable explanation, does it not strike you so, Master Putnam?”

“So reasonable, that it reasons away all our faith in the absolute truthfulness of every word of the holy scriptures,” replied Joseph Putnam sternly. “Do you suppose the Evangelists, when they spoke of persons having ‘familiar spirits,’ and being ‘possessed of devils,’ did not know what they were talking about? I would rather believe that every insane person now is possessed with a devil, and that such is the true explanation of his or her insanity, than to fly in the face of the holy scriptures as you do, Master Raymond.”

Dulcibel’s countenance fell. “Yes,” she responded in reverential tones, “the holy Evangelists must know best. If they said so, it must be so.”

“You little orthodox darling!” thought young Master Raymond, gazing upon her beautiful sad face. But of course he did not express himself to such an effect, except by his gaze; and Dulcibel happening to look up and catch the admiring expression of two clear brown eyes, turned her own instantly down again, while a faint blush mantled her cheeks.

The young Englishman knew that in arousing such heterodox opinions he was getting on dangerous ground. For expressing not a greater degree of heresy than he had uttered, other men and even women had been turned neck and heels out of the Puritan settlements. And as he had no desire to leave Salem just at present, he began to “hedge” a little, as betting men sometimes say.

“Insane people, maniacs especially, do sometimes act as if they were possessed of the devil,” he said frankly. “And no doubt their insanity is often the result of the sinful indulgence of their wicked propensities and passions.”

“Yes, that seems to be very reasonable,” said Dulcibel. “Every sinful act seems to me a yielding to the evil one, and such yielding becoming common, he may at least be able to enter into the soul, and take absolute possession of it. Oh, it is very fearful!” and she shuddered.

“But I find one opinion almost universal in Salem,” continued Raymond, “and that is one which I think has no ground to sustain it in the scriptures, and is very mischievous. It is that the devil cannot act directly upon human beings to afflict and torment them; but that he is forced to have recourse to the agency of other human beings, who have become his worshipers and agents. Thus in the cases of these children and young girls, instead of admitting that the devil and his imps are directly afflicting them, they begin to look around for witches and wizards as the sources of the trouble.”

“Yes,” responded Joseph Putnam earnestly, “that false and unscriptural doctrine is the source of all the trouble. That little Ann Putnam, Abigail Williams and the others are bewitched, may perhaps be true a number of godly ministers say so, and they ought to know. But, if they are bewitched, it is the devil and his imps that have done it. If they are ’possessed with devils’ and does not that scripture mean that the devils directly take possession of them what is their testimony worth against others? It is nearly the testimony of Satan and his imps, speaking through them. While they are in that state, their evidence should not be allowed credence by any magistrate, any more than the devil’s should.”

It seems very curious to those of the present day who have investigated this matter of witch persécutions, that such a sound and orthodox view as this of Joseph Putnam’s should have had such little weight with the judges and ministers and other leading men of the seventeenth century. While a few urged it, even as Joseph Putnam did, at the risk of his own life, the great majority not only of the common people but of the leading classes, regarded it as unsound and irreligious. But the whole history of the world proves that the vox populi is very seldom the vox Dei. The light shines down from the rising sun in the heavens, and the mountain tops first receive the rays. The last new truth is always first perceived by the small minority of superior minds and souls. How indeed could it be otherwise, so long as truth like light always shines down from above?

“Have you communicated this view to your brother and sister?” asked Dulcibel.

“I have talked with them for a whole evening, but I do think Sister Ann is possessed too,” replied Joseph Putnam. “She fairly raves sometimes. You know how bitterly she feels about that old church quarrel, when a small minority of the Parish succeeded in preventing the permanent settlement of her sister’s husband as minister. She seems to have the idea that all that party are emissaries of Satan. I do not wonder her little girl should be so nervous and excitable, being the child of such a nervous, high-strung woman. But I am going to see them again this afternoon; will you go too, Master Raymond?’

“I think not,” replied the latter with a smile, “I should do harm, I fear, instead of good. I will stay here and talk with Mistress Dulcibel a little while longer.”

Master Putnam departed, and then the conversation became of a lighter character. The young Englishman told Dulcibel of his home in the old world, and of his travels in France and Switzerland. And they talked of all those little things which young people will little things, but which afford constant peeps into each other’s mind and heart. Dulcibel thought she had never met such a cultivated young man, although she had read of such; and he felt very certain that he never met with such a lovely young woman. Not that she was over intelligent one of those precociously “smart” young women that, thanks to the female colleges and the “higher culture” are being “developed” in such alarming numbers nowadays. If she had been such a being, I fancy Master Raymond would have found her less attractive. Ah, well, after a time perhaps, we of the present day shall have another craze that of barbarism in which the “coming woman” shall pride herself mainly upon possessing a strong, healthy and vigorous physical organization, developed within the feminine lines of beauty, and only a reasonable degree of intelligence and “culture.” And then I hope we shall see the last of walking female encyclopedias, with thin waists, and sickly and enfeebled bodies; fit to be the mothers only of a rapidly dwindling race, even if they have the wish and power to become mothers at all.

I am not much of a believer in love at first sight, but certainly persons may become very much interested in each other after a few hours’ conversation; and so it was in the case before us. When Ellis Raymond took up his hat, and then lingered minute after minute, as if he could not bring himself to the point of departure, he simply manifested anew to the maiden what his tones and looks had been telling her for an hour, that he admired her very greatly.

“Come soon again,” Dulcibel said softly, as the young man managed to open the door at last, and make his final adieu. “And indeed I shall if you will permit me,” was his earnest response.

But some fair reader may ask, “What were these two doing during all the winter, that they had not seen each other?”

I answer that Dulcibel had withdrawn from the village gatherings since the breaking of the engagement with Jethro. At the best, it was an acknowledgment that she had been too hasty in a matter that she should not have allowed herself to fail in; and she felt humbled under the thought. Besides, it seemed to her refined and sensitive nature only decorous that she should withdraw for a time into the seclusion of her own home under such circumstances.

As for the village gossips, they entirely misinterpreted her conduct. Inasmuch as Jethro went around as usual, and put a bold face upon the matter, they came to the conclusion that he had thrown her off, and that she was moping at home, because she felt the blow so keenly.

Thus it was that while the young Englishman had attended many social gatherings during the winter he had never met the one person whom he was especially desirous of again meeting.

One little passage of the conversation between the two it may be well however to refer to expressly for its bearing upon a very serious matter. Raymond had mentioned that he had not seen her recently flying around on that little jet black horse, and had asked whether she still owned it.

“Oh, yes,” replied Dulcibel; “I doubt that I should be able to sell Little Witch if I wished to do so.”

“Ah, how is that? She seems to be a very fine riding beast.”

“She is, very! But you have not heard that I am the only one that has ever ridden her or that can ride her.”

“Indeed! that is curious.”

I have owned her from a little colt. She was never broken to harness; and no one, as I said, has ever ridden her but me. So that now if any other person, man or woman, attempts to do so, she will not allow it. She rears, she plunges, and finally as a last resort, if necessary, lies down on the ground and refuses to stir. “Why, that is very flattering to you, Dulcibel,” said Raymond smiling. “I never knew an animal of better taste.”

“That may be,” replied the maiden blushing; “but you see how it is that I shall never be able to sell Little Witch if I desire to do so. She is not worth her keep to any one but me.”

“Little Witch! Why did you ever give her a name like that?”

“Oh, I was a mere child and my father, who had been a sea-captain, and all over the world, did not believe in witches. He named her “Little Witch” because she was so black, and so bent on her own way. But I must change her name now that people are talking so about witches. In truth my mother never liked it.”