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

Dulcibel in Prison.

In the previous cases of alleged witchcraft to which I have alluded, the details given in my manuscript volume were fully corroborated, even almost to the minutest particulars, by official records now in existence. But in what I have related, and am about to relate, relative to Dulcibel Burton, I shall have to rely entirely upon the manuscript volume. Still, as there is nothing there averred more unreasonable and absurd than what is found in the existing official records, I see no reason to doubt the entire truthfulness of the story. In fact, it would be difficult to imagine grosser and more ridiculous accusations than were made by Mistress Ann Putnam against that venerable and truly devout and Christian matron, Rebecca Nurse.

When Dulcibel and Antipas, in the custody of four constables, reached the Salem jail, it was about eleven o’clock at night. The jailor, evidently had expected them; for he threw open the door at once. He was a stout, strong-built man, with not a bad countenance for a jailer; but seemed thoroughly imbued with the prevailing superstition, judging by the harsh manner in which he received the prisoners.

“I’ve got two strong holes for these imps of Satan; bring ’em along!”

The jail was built of logs, and divided inside into a number of small rooms or cells. In each of these cells was a narrow bedstead and a stone jug and slop bucket. Antipas was hustled into one cell, and, after being chained, the door was bolted upon him. Then Dulcibel was taken into another, though rather larger cell, and the jailor said, “Now she will not trouble other people for a while, my masters.”

“Are you not going to put irons on her, Master Foster?” said Herrick.

“Of course I am. But I must get heavier chains than those to hold such a powerful witch as she is. Trust her to me, Master Herrick. She’ll be too heavy to fly about on her broomsticks by the time I have done with her.”

Then they all went out and Dulcibel heard the heavy bolt shoot into its socket, and the voices dying away as the men went down the stairs.

She groped her way to the bed in the darkness, sat down upon it and burst into tears. It was like a change from Paradise into the infernal regions. A few hours before and she had been musing in an ecstasy of joy over her betrothal, and dreaming bright dreams of the future, such perhaps as only a maiden can dream in the rapture of her first love. Now she was sitting in a prison cell, accused of a deadly crime, and her life and good reputation in the most imminent danger. One thing alone buoyed her up the knowledge that her lover was fully aware of her innocence; and that he and Joseph Putnam would do all that they could do in her behalf. But then the sad thought came, that to aid her in any way might be only to bring upon themselves a similar accusation. And then, with a noble woman’s spirit of self-sacrifice, she thought: “No, let them not be brought into danger. Better, far better, that I should suffer alone, than drag down my friends with me.”

Here she heard the noise of the bolt being withdrawn, and saw the dim light of the jailer’s candle.

As the jailer entered he threw down some heavy irons in the corner of the room. Then, he closed the door behind him, and came up to the unhappy girl. He laid his hand upon her shoulder and said:

“You little witch!”

Something in the tone seemed to strike upon the maiden’s ear as if it were not unfamiliar to her; and she looked up hastily.

“Do you not remember me, little Dulcy? Why I rocked you on my foot in the old Captain’s house in Boston many a day.”

“Is it not uncle Robie?” said the girl. She had not seen him since she was four years old.

The jailer smiled. “Of course it is,” he replied, “just uncle Robie. The old captain never went to sea that Robie Foster did not go as first mate. And a blessed day it was when I came to be first mate of this jail-ship; though I never thought to see the old captain’s bonnie bird among my boarders.”

“And do you think I really am a witch, uncle Robie?”

“Of course ye are. A witch of the worst kind,” replied Robie, with a chuckle. “Now, when I come in here tomorrow morning nae doobt I will find all your chains off. It is just sae with pretty much all the others. I cannot keep them chained, try my best and prettiest.”

“And Antipas?”

“Oh, he will just be like all the rest of them, doobtless. He is a powerful witch, and half a Quaker, besides.”

“But do you really believe in witches, uncle Robie?”

“What do these deuced Barebones Puritans know about witches, or the devil, or anything else? There is only one true church, Mistress Dulcibel. I have sa mooch respect for the clergy as any man; but I don’t take my sailing orders from a set of sourfaced old pirates.”

Then, leaving her a candle and telling her to keep up a stout heart, the jailer left the cell; and Dulcibel heard the heavy bolt again drawn upon her, with a much lighter heart, than before. Examining the bundle of clothes that Goodwife Buckley had made up, she found that nothing essential to her comfort had been forgotten, and she soon was sleeping as peacefully in her prison cell as if she were in her own pretty little chamber.