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

Dulcibel before the Magistrates.

The next afternoon the meeting-house at Salem village was crowded to its utmost capacity; for Dulcibel Burton and Antipas Newton were to be brought before the worshipful magistrates, John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin. These worthies were not only magistrates, but persons of great note and influence, being members of the highest legislative and judicial body in the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

Among the audience were Joseph Putnam and Ellis Raymond; the former looking stern and indignant, the latter wearing an apparently cheerful countenance, genial to all that he knew, and they were many; and especially courteous and agreeable to Mistress Ann Putnam, and the “afflicted” maidens. It was evident that Master Raymond was determined to preserve for himself the freedom of the village, if complimentary and pleasant speeches would effect it. It would not do to be arrested or banished, now that Dulcibel was in prison.

When the constable, Joseph Herrick, brought in Dulcibel, he stated that having made “diligent search for images and such like,” they had found a “yellow bird,” of the kind that witches were known to affect; a wicked book of stage-plays, which seemed to be about witches, especially one called “he-cat”; and a couple of rag dolls with pins stuck into them.

“Have you brought them?” said Squire Hathorne.

“We killed the yellow bird and threw it and the wicked book into the fire.”

“You should not have done that; you should have produced them here.”

“We can get the book yet; for it was lying only partly burned near the back-log. It would not burn, all we could do to it.”

“Of course not. Witches’ books never burn,” said Squire Hathorne.

“Here are the images,” said a constable, producing two little rag-babies, that Dulcibel was making for a neighbor’s children.

The crowd looked breathlessly on as “these diabolical instruments of torture” were placed upon the table before the magistrates.

“Dulcibel Burton, stand up and look upon your accusers,” said Squire Hathorne.

Dulcibel had sunk upon a bench while the above conversation was going on she felt overpowered by the curious and malignant eyes turned upon her from all parts of the room. Now she rose and faced the audience, glancing around to see one loved face. At last her eyes met his; he was standing erect, even proudly; his arms crossed over his breast, his face composed and firm, his dark eyes glowing and determined. He dared not utter a word, but he spoke to her from the inmost depths of his soul: “Be firm, be courageous, be resolute!”

This was what Raymond meant to say; and this is what Dulcibel, with her sensitive and impassioned nature, understood him to mean. And from that moment a marked change came over her whole appearance. The shrinking, timid girl of a moment before stood up serene but heroic, fearless and undaunted; prepared to assert the truth, and to defy all the malice of her enemies, if need be, to the martyr’s death.

And she had need of all her courage. For, before three minutes had passed Squire Hathorne pausing to look over the deposition on which the arrest had been made Mistress Ann Putnam shrieked out, “Turn her head away, she is tormenting us! See, her yellow-bird is whispering to her!” And with that, she and her little daughter Ann, and Abigail Williams and Sarah Churchill and Leah Herrick and several others, flung themselves down on the floor in apparent convulsions.

“Oh, a snake is stinging me!” cried Leah Herrick.

“Her black horse is trampling on my breast!” groaned Sarah Churchill.

“Make her look away; turn her head!” cried several in the crowd. And one of the constables caught Dulcibel by the arm, and turned her around roughly.

“This is horrible!” cried Thomas Putnam “and so young and fair-looking, too!”

“Ah, they are the worst ones, Master Putnam,” said his sympathetic friend, the Rev. Master Parris.

“She looks young and pretty, but she may really be a hundred years old,” said deacon Snuffles.

Quiet at last being restored, Magistrate Hathorne said:

“Dulcibel Burton, why do you torment Mistress Putnam and these others in this grievous fashion?”

“I do not torment them,” replied Dulcibel calmly, but a little scornfully.

“Who does torment them, then?”

“How should I know perhaps Satan.”

“What makes you suppose that Satan torments them?”

“Because they tell lies.”

“Do you know that Satan cannot torment these people except through the agency of other human beings?”

“No, I do not.”

“Well, he cannot our wisest ministers are united upon that. Is it not so, Master Parris?”

“That is God’s solemn truth,” was the reply.

“Who is it that torments you, Mistress Putnam?” continued Squire Hathorne, addressing Mistress Ann Putnam, who had sent so many already to prison and on the way to death.

Mistress Putnam was angered beyond measure at Dulcibel’s intimation that she and her party were instigated and tormented directly by the devil. And yet she could not, if she would, bear falser witness than she already had done against Rebecca Nurse and other women of equally good family and reputation. But at this appeal of the Magistrate, she flung her arms into the air, and spoke with the vehemence and excitement of a half-crazy woman.

“It is she, Dulcibel Burton. She was a witch from her very birth. Her father sold her to Satan before she was born, that he might prosper in houses and lands. She has the witch’s mark a snake on her breast, just over her heart. I know it, because goodwife Bartley, the midwife, told me so three years ago last March. Midwife Bartley is dead; but have a jury of women examine her, and you will see that it is true.”

At this, as all thought it, horrible charge, a cold thrill ran through the crowd. They all had heard of witch-marks, but never of one like this the very serpent, perhaps, which had deluded Eve. Joseph Putnam smiled disdainfully. “A set of stupid, superstitious fools!” he muttered through his teeth. “Half the De Bellevilles had that mark."

“I will have that looked into,” said Squire Hathorne. “In what shape does the spectre come, Mistress Putnam?”

“In the shape of a yellow-bird. She whispers to it who it is that she wants tormented, and it comes and pecks at my eyes.”

Here she screamed out wildly, and began as if defending her eyes from an invisible assailant.

“It is coming to me now,” cried Leah Herrick, striking out fiercely. “Oh, do drive it away!” shrieked Sarah Churchill, “it will put out our eyes.”

There was a scene of great excitement, several men drawing their swords and pushing and slashing at the places where they supposed the spectral bird might be.

Leah Herrick said the spectre that hurt her came oftenest in the shape of a small black horse, like that which Dulcibel Burton was known to keep and ride. Everybody supposed, she said, that the horse was itself a witch, for it was perfectly black, with not a white hair on it, and nobody could ride it but its mistress.

Here Sarah Churchill said she had seen Dulcibel Burton riding about twelve o’clock one night, on her black horse, to a witches’ meeting.

Ann Putnam, the child, said she had seen the same thing. One curious thing about it was that Dulcibel had neither a saddle nor a bridle to ride with. She thought this was very strange; but her mother told her that witches always rode in that manner.

Here the two ministers of Salem, Rev. Master Parris and Rev. Master Noyes, said that this was undeniably true, that it was a curious fact that witches never used saddles nor bridles. Master Noyes explaining further that there was no necessity for such articles, as the familiar was instantly cognizant of every slightest wish or command of the witch to whom he was subject, and going thus through the air, there being no rocks or gullies or other rough places, there was no necessity of a saddle. Both the magistrates and the people seemed to be very much instructed by the remarks of these two godly ministers.

That “pious and excellent young man,” Jethro Sands, here came forward and testified as follows: He had been at one time on very intimate terms with the accused; but her conduct on one occasion was so very singular that he declined thereafter to keep company with her. Hearing one day that she had gone to Master Joseph Putnam’s, he had walked up the road to meet her on her return to the village. He looked up after walking about a mile, and saw her coming towards him on a furious gallop. There seemed to have been a quarrel of some kind between her and her familiar, for it would not stop all she could do to it. As she came up to him she snatched a rod that he had cut in the woods, out of his hand, and that moment the familiar stopped and became as submissive as a pet dog. He could not understand what it meant, until it suddenly occurred to him that the rod was a branch of witch-hazel!

Here the audience drew a long breath, the whole thing was satisfactorily explained. Every one knew the magical power of witch-hazel.

Jethro further testified that Mistress Dulcibel freely admitted to him that her horse was a witch; never speaking of the mare in fact but as a “little witch.” As might be expected, the horse was a most vicious animal, worth nothing to anybody save one who was a witch himself. He thought it ought to be stoned, or otherwise killed, at once.

The Rev. Master Noyes suggested that if it were handed over to his reverend brother Parris, he might be able, by a course of religious exercises, to cast out the evil spirit and render the animal serviceable. The apostles and disciples, it would be remembered, often succeeded in casting out evil spirits; though sometimes, we are told, they lamentably failed.

The magistrates here consulted a few minutes, and Squire Hathorne then ordered that the black mare should be handed over to the Rev. Master Parris for his use, and that he might endeavor to exorcise the evil spirit that possessed it.

Dulcibel had regarded with calm and serious eyes the concourse around her while this wild evidence was being given. Notwithstanding the peril of her position, she could not avoid smiling occasionally at the absurdity of the charges made against her; while at other times her brow and cheeks glowed with indignation at the maliciousness of her accusers. Then she thought, how could I ever have injured these neighbors so seriously that they have been led to conspire together to take my life? Oh, if I had never come to Salem, to a place so overflowing with malice, evil-speaking and all uncharitableness! Where there was so much sanctimonious talk about religion, and such an utter absence of it in those that prated the most of its possession. Down among the despised Quakers of Pennsylvania there was not one-half as much talking about religion but three times as much of that kindly charity which is its essential life.

“Dulcibel Burton,” said Squire Hathorne, “you have heard what these evidence against you; what answer can you make to them?”

Blood will assert itself. The daughter of the old sea-captain, himself of Norse descent on the mother’s side, felt her father’s spirit glowing in her full veins.

“The charges that have been made are too absurd and ridiculous for serious denial. The ‘yellow bird’ is my canary bird, Cherry, given me by Captain Alden when we lived in Boston. He brought it home with him from the West Indies. Ask him whether it is a familiar. My black horse misbehaved on that afternoon Jethro Sands tells of, as I told him at the time; simply because I had no whip. When he gave me his switch, the vixenish animal came at once into subjection to save herself a good whipping. It was not a hazel switch, his statement is false, and he knows it, it was a maple one.”

“And you mean to say, I suppose,” shrieked out Mistress Ann Putnam, “that you have no witch-mark either; that you do not carry the devil’s brand of a snake over your heart?”

“I have some such mark, but it is a birth-mark, and not a witch-mark. It is a simple curving line of red,” and the girl blushed crimson at being compelled to such a reference to a personal peculiarity. But she faltered not in her speech, though her tones were more indignant than before. “It is not a peculiarity of mine, but of my mother’s family. Some say that a distant ancestor was once frightened by a large snake coming into her chamber; and her child was born with this mark upon her breast. That is all of it. There is no necessity of any examination, for I admit the charge.”

“Yes,” screamed Mistress Putnam again, “your ancestress too was a noted witch. It runs in the family. Go away with you!” she cried striking apparently at something with her clenched hand. “It is her old great grandmother! See, there she is! Off! Off! She is trying to choke me!” endeavoring seemingly to unclasp invisible hands from her throat.

The other “afflicted” ones joined in the tumult. With one it was the “yellow bird” pecking at her eyes, with another the black horse rearing up and striking her with its hoofs. Leah Herrick cried that Dulcibel’s “spectre” was choking her.

“Hold her hands still!” ordered Squire Hathorne, and a constable sprang to each side of the accused maiden and held her arms and hands in a grasp of iron.

Joseph Putnam made an exclamation that almost sounded like an oath, and made a step forward; but a firm hand was laid upon his shoulder. “Be patient!” whispered Ellis Raymond, though his own mouth was twitching considerably. “We are the anvil now; wait till our turn comes to be sledgehammer!”

Such a din and babel as the “afflicted” kept up! By the curious power of sympathy it affected the crowd almost to madness. If Dulcibel looked at them, they cried she was tormenting them. If she looked upward in resignation to Heaven, they also stared upwards with fixed, stiff necks. If she leaned her head one side they did the same, until it seemed as if their necks would be broken; and the jailers forced up Dulcibel’s neck with their coarse, dirty hands.

Dulcibel had not attended any of the other examinations, but similar demonstrations on the part of the “afflicted” had been described to her. It was very different, however, to hear of such things and to experience them in her own person. And if she had been at all a nervous and less healthy young woman, she might have been overcome by them, and even led to admit, as so many others had admitted under similar influences, that she really was a witch, and compelled by her master, the devil, could not help tormenting these poor victims.

“Why do you not cease this?” at last cried Squire Hathorne, sternly and wrathfully.

“Cease what?” she replied indignantly.

“Tormenting these poor, suffering children and women!”

“You see I am not tormenting them. Bid these men unloose my hands, they are hurting me.”

“They say your spectre and your familiar are tormenting them.”

“They are bearing false witness against me.”

“Who does hurt them then?”

“Their master, the devil, I suppose and his imps.”

“Why should he hurt them?”

“Because they are liars, and bear false witness; being hungry for innocent blood.”

The spirit of the free-thinking, free-spoken old sea-captain nurtured by the free winds and the free waves for forty years was fully alive now in his daughter. A righteous, holy indignation at the abominable farce that was going on with all its gross lying and injustice had taken possession of her, and she cared no longer for the opinions of any one around her, and thought not even of her lover looking on, but only of truth and justice. “Yes, they are possessed with devils being children of their father, the devil!” she continued scornfully. “And they shall have their reward. As for you, Ann Putnam, in seven years from this day I summon you to meet those you have slain with your wicked, lying tongue, at the bar of Almighty God! It shall be a long dying for you!” Then, seeing Thomas Putnam by his wife’s side, “And you, Thomas Putnam, you puppet in a bad woman’s hands, chief aider and abettor of her wicked ways, you shall die two weeks before her, to make ready for her coming! And you,” turning to the constables on each side of her, “for your cruel treatment of innocent women, shall die by this time next year!”

The constables loosened their grasp of her hands and shrank back in dismay. The “afflicted” suddenly hushed their cries and regained their composure, as they saw the accused maiden’s eyes, lit up with the wildness of inspiration, glancing around their circle with lightning flashes that might strike at any moment.

Even Squire Hathorne’s wine-crimsoned face paled, lest she would turn around and denounce him too. Even if she were a witch, witches it was known sometimes spoke truly. And when she slowly turned and looked upon him, the haughty judge was ready to sink to the floor.

“As for you, John Hathorne, for your part in these wicked doings,” here she paused as if waiting to hear a supernatural voice, while the crowded meeting-house was quiet as a tomb “No! you are only grossly deluded; you shall not die. But a curse shall be upon you and your descendants for a hundred years. They shall not prosper. Then a Hathorne shall arise who shall repudiate you and all your wicked works, and the curse shall pass away!”

Squire Hathorne regained his courage the instant she said he should not die, little he cared for misfortunes that might come upon his descendants.

“Off with the witch to prison we have heard enough!” he cried hoarsely. “Tell the jailer to load her well with irons, hands and feet; and give her nothing to eat but bread and water of repentance. She is committed for trial before the special court, in her turn, and at the worshipful judges’ convenience.”